The promiscuous ways of Sir Pexall Brocas

Court House, Little Brickhill
Court House, Little Brickhill
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O’ to have been a lord of the manor in days of yore.

A rollicking role of wanton wenching, or so to judge the 17th century antics of Sir Pexall Brocas at Little Brickhill, where no female appears to have been safe from his amorous intent.

Indeed he is said to have sired between 70 and 100 illegitimate children while as for legitimate offspring he troubled his wife to produce only one. Pexall had acquired his unusual name from a marriage between the Pexall and the Brocas families, which by a legal settlement stipulated that the name of Pexall should be kept alive, and although he inherited the manor of Little Brickhill in 1589, it would be in London that the 21-year-old preferred to spend most of his time. As for other mischief, in 1601 he was involved in the attempt of the Earl of Essex to rise against the advisers of the ageing Queen Elizabeth, but while Essex was beheaded for his actions Brocas was charged with causing a riot and publishing a forged deed of perjury. He was then saved from further punishment by the accession of James I who not only pardoned but knighted him.

And so he continued his worldly ways, until having been convicted before the High Commissioners for ‘Secret and notorious adultery with divers women’ on Sunday, October 24, 1613, for his promiscuous pursuits he was sentenced to stand at St Pauls Cross, London, in a white sheet emblazoned in red with the letter ‘A’ for adulterer, holding a stick in his hand. Many of those thus convicted actually welcomed this punishment, since it thereby advertised their dubious appeal to a more widespread audience of the more wanton of womenfolk. As for further impudence, at Little Brickhill in 1624 he refused to pay a church rate because the south side of the parish church had not been reserved for the exclusive use of himself and his servants.

Yet in later life perhaps the pleasures of the flesh began to wane for, believed to have been the last private person to do so, he employed a jester to keep him amused.

Perhaps from exhaustion Pexall died on August 13, 1630, to be buried the next day at Little Brickhill. Yet an alternative version states that his heart was buried at Little Brickhill, with the rest of his body interred at Ivingoe Aston, another village of the family influence.

Whatever the truth, a reminder of his prolific legacy is said to be found in the parish register, with the baptism entries of some of his progeny.

Also in the registers are entries marked by a small cross in the margin and these indicate a grim record of 42 people who by the verdict of the Assize ‘suffered death and were buried.’ In medieval times crimes of a more serious nature were tried by travelling justices, and due to the position on the important Watling Street, and because of the nearness to the county border, Little Brickhill became the first stop on the Norfolk circuit.

Until 1638 the Assize Court met in a building now known as Court House and portions of the original construction still remain. Leading off from an upstairs room a little closet is supposedly where the judge retired to powder and put on his wig and as seen from the Watling Street this room is now evident as that small and upper projection on the front of the house.

Additionally, on either side of the doors to certain of the upper rooms remain iron brackets, which once held bars to prevent the door from being opened by anyone on the inside. When a sentence had been pronounced the condemned was led away to await execution, and by tradition the gallows stood ‘on the Heath, about three furlongs out of the town, on the road to Woburn.’ Indeed, this corresponds to that spur of land at the junction of Sandy Lane and the Woburn road, and not surprisingly became known as ‘hangman’s corner.’

In 1638 Little Brickhill then ceased to be a centre for executions, and with these now carried out at Buckingham and Aylesbury so came to an end the village’s judicial status.