John Lucas served as MP and town clerk for Colchester and in 1548, some years after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, John Lucas bought St. Johns Abbey and built a large manor house in the grounds. This became the family seat. Over a period of time the original Abbey church was demolished but the outer wall and the Abbey gatehouse were left intact.
The Lucas family were very religious and strong royalist supporters. They were also ambitious and power driven. Farms they owned in Greenstead, Lexden and Great Horksley generated wealth from rents. Thomas was educated at Cambridge University and, like his father, trained as a lawyer. He was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1550.
When John Lucas died in 1556 Thomas Lucas inherited the estate. He was twenty-five.
Thomas Lucas held a number of public roles. He was elected as MP for Colchester in 1558, during the reign of Mary Tudor. From 1566-72 he held the post of Town Clerk. In 1568-9 he was Sheriff of Essex and again in 1583-4. From 1575-6 he was Recorder of Colchester. He received his knighthood in September 1571 from Elizabeth I.
Although Sir Thomas he was removed from his role as Recorder in 1576 he continued as a Justice of the Peace and remained a powerful force in local politics. In 1579 Queen Elizabeth made a three day visit to the family seat of St. John’s. This would have been very expensive for him.
Sir Thomas was known to have an ‘imperious and violent temper’ which caused problems for him throughout his life. In 1556 an outburst resulted in him being expelled from the Inner Temple and imprisoned. He also had another spell in prison for alleged involvement in an assault on one of the Queens footmen.
Despite holding public roles and being knighted Thomas was in fact involved in many disputes with local people and this earned him the reputation of being extremely ruthless. In 1582 and 83 the borough of Colchester was in dispute with Sir Thomas over waste ground in Greenstead. Later on, in the 1600’s there were disagreements over the enclosure of communal ground and damage to pipes of the town’s waterworks. He was also in dispute with his own brother who died in 1576 owing Thomas money.
Thomas married Mary Fermor of Northamptonshire and had five children – Thomas, John, Anne, Constance and Mary. In 1597, when his eldest son was accused of murder, Sir Thomas was obliged to dispose of all his lands to prevent them being taken over by the crown. The estimated value of his estate was about £7 million and included land and property in Northamptonshire, Essex, Wiltshire and Surrey. In the end his son was pardoned and Sir Thomas was able to leave his land and property to his wife and children on his death.
Sir Thomas purchased Bourne Mill in 1590 – this would have included existing buildings, ponds and fish. In 1591 a new mill building was constructed – a panel on the south gable wall shows his name and the date.
Author: Janet Kerry CDFAS