This is the story of a very ancient but rather obscure East Anglian family named Le Neve (and later Le Neve-Foster). The name Le Neve, in various spellings and sometimes without the "Le", occurs over and over again in the parish registers and other records in various parts of the region, for example in Cavendish, Suffolk, and Ardleigh, Essex, but mainly in Norfolk and particularly in an area a few miles to the west of Norwich. The name occurs here at Tivetshall, Ringland, Aslacton and especially at Great Witchingham.
Map of Norwich and the surrounding area taken from the original book.
The earliest trace of the name is, however, in Cambridgeshire where the county records mention a Geoffry Le Neve of Ashly in 1246 and Mrs. Neve Scarborough claims to have traced a Walter Le Neve who was a substantial landowner at Bottisham in 1235, and who had three sons, Richard, Roger and Henry. The Cambridgeshire County Archivist, however, has been unable to confirm Mrs. Neve Scarborough's statement. There are also some Neves (with- out the Le) traceable in Walmer, Kent, between 1208 and 1230. For example, a Miles Neve and his brother Richard who died on a journey to Santiago, and a Ralph Neve who had a daughter named Christina. There is no known connection between the East Anglian Le Neves and the Kent Neves, and they may well be two quite different families. The earliest record of a Le Neve in Norfolk is that of John Le Neve of Tivetshall in 1248.
There is no traceable connection between these various Le Neves and the subjects of the sketch whose pedigree dates back only to 1399, leaving a gap of about 150 years during which time the Cambridge Le Neves may well have migrated to Norfolk or John Le Neve of Tivetshall in 1248 may have had descendants of whom there is now no trace. The Norfolk Le Neves were an armigerious family whose armorial bearings are as follows:
Arms Argent on a cross sable five fleurs de lys of the field. Crest Out of a Crown Ducal or a silver lily stalked leaved and seeded gold. There are no supporters.
The Le Neve Coat of Arms
The family motto is "Qui me cherche me trouve".
According to Burke's "Armory" of 1884 there have been two grants of arms, first to Robert Le Neve of Tivetshall who was granted the arms described above and later, a second grant to Le Neve of London which was basically the same arms but differenced by the addition of tortoises gradient vert in the first and fourth quarters and the substitution of an azure for the sable cross. The arms over the Richard Le Neve memorial in Westminster Abbey have an azure cross but no tortoises. In addition to the foregoing, a drawing of the Le Neve arms made for my grandfather by the late S. C. Kaines-Smith in 1899 is the original blazon but with the addition of a small shield in the centre which bears what I think are the arms of Lightbownd. My paternal grandmother was the former Annie Abigail Lightbownd, a member of an old Cheshire family whose pedigree dates back to 1648. It is heraldically correct to show a wife's arms on her husband's shield in this way.
The College of Arms has been unable to trace the original grant of arms to Robert Le Neve of Tivetshall, but according to the Herald's Visitation of 1633/4 a Robert Le Neve was the progenitor some nine generations back, of Sir William Le Neve, Clarenceaux King of Arms, who received from Sir William Seagar, the then Garter King of Arms, a confirmation of the arms and crest already described. The preamble to the confirmation, which is dated 5th May 1627, reads as follows:
"these are to certfie as well Nobles as Gentlemen whom it may concern that William Leneve Esqre, York Herald, is lineally descended from the ancient family of Leneve who beare their Armes as above depicted and in the reigne of Edw. the 3rd and of former Kings, were owners of a Seigniory then named Leneves (which from later possessors thereof is since called Spencers Gowyns and Grises) scituate and being in Tivetishall in the county of Norf: and of divers other Messuages, Lands, tenements, Reuts and Services, as well as in the said Town and other Adjacent Villages as also in the County of Suffolk."
According to another Herald's Visitation, that of 1687, there is a record of a pedigree of Peter Le Neve, Norroy King of Arms, going back six generations with arms but no crest. Peter's arms were the same as Sir William's but with the addition of a small inverted crescent in the first quarter as a difference, but this has little, if any, heraldic significance.
The College of Arms has no record of the alleged grant of arms to Le Neve of London (the arms with the tortoises) and this may well have been a quite unauthorised use of arms by this branch of the family. They appear to have been used by Edward Le Neve of Soho and the tortoises to have been taken from the Gawdy arms, which were those of the mother of his wife, Henrietta Le Neve of Great Witchingham. Edward Le Neve was a Justice of the Peace and a Water Bailiff of London who will be referred to again later in this story. The College of Arms has no record of the alleged grant of arms to Le Neve of London (the arms with the tortoises) and this may well have been a quite unauthorised use of arms by this branch of the family. They appear to have been used by Edward Le Neve of Soho and the tortoises to have been taken from the Gawdy arms, which were those of the mother of his wife, Henrietta Le Neve of Great Witchingham. Edward Le Neve was a Justice of the Peace and a Water Bailiff of london who will be referred to again later in this story. From this it would seem clear that the use of armorial bearings by the family of Le Neve goes back to about 1400 even though details of the original grant cannot now be traced.
The shield and crest appear on an engraved stone salvaged from the remains of the original Great Witchingham hall in 1964 and presented to the writer, the present Peter Le Neve-Foster, by Mr. George Stimpson, the owner of Church Farm on which the remnants of the old hall stand. Alongside the Le Neve arms is another shield bearing what appear to be the arms of Wright. Avice Wright (her name appears variously as Avice, Alice and Annie, but Avice is probably the correct one) was the wife of Francis Le Neve who died in 1681 and whose two sons, Oliver and Peter, feature very prominently in the family story.