VII Peace and Prosperity
In 1538 a law had been made making all vicars liable to keep Parish Registers. The first ones for Hurst date to 1583 when the Rev. Hugh Evans was the vicar, though the transcripts made for the Bishop of Salisbury date back to 1579. Another law dated 1603 stated that every church should have a 'decent pulpit', and Richard Dann who was vicar from 1590 to 1605 would have seen the present one installed. Attached to it is a wrought-iron hour glass stand, bearing the date 1636 and the initials 'E. A.'
The pulpit with hour glass stand on the left
Thurston Riley was vicar from 1605 to 1633 and he would have seen the building of the brick church tower in 1612. One of the bricks bears that date. Six of the bells still in the tower were cast by members of the Knight family of Reading between 1613 and 1642. The treble and second bells were added in 1911.
The Bell Tower, Hurst Church
Church bells awaiting re-hanging in 1911
When the bells of Great Marlow were re-hung in 1640, the Hurst ringers were employed officially to test the work, the parishioners of Great Marlow paying their expenses. Over a hundred years later Hurst bell ringers were still in good form as a report in the Reading Mercury of August 15th 1779 shows: 'At the ringing match on Wokingham church bells the hats were won by the Hurst Youths in their usual style, Reading 2nd, Mortimer 3rd and Binfield 4th'.
It appears that the bells and the tower were financed by the rents from the Castle Inn, previously called the Bunch of Grapes, and before that The Church House. In 1609 an enquiry was held at Wokingham about the ancient charities in the neighbourhood. The Jury noted that Christopher Stevelin was the tenant of a tenement in Hurst called the Church House and that the rents from there were 'truly and carefully' being used towards the repair of the church. They did not know how the arrangement had come about, but 4d a year was also paid to the lord of the manor of Whistley.
With a new tower, new bells, new pulpit and an income from the Church House, the parish church was in a much better condition at the beginning of the 17th century than reported earlier. It had become a suitable building in which the notable residents could attend services, and a fitting place to rest their bones and house their monuments.
Richard Ward, lord of the manor of Hurst and Hinton, married Colubra, a daughter of William Lambede of Chertsey. They had 17 children. He was sub-treasurer, then treasurer to the Crown during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary and Elizabeth. He also held the positions of 'Porter of the outer gate' at Windsor Castle and 'Keeper of the Armoury and Ordnance'. There is a ring in the museum at Reading that was given to Richard Ward by Henry Vlll.
Colubra died in 1574, and Richard in 1577. His will directed that he should be buried in 'my chapel in Hurst'. His intention was carried out but some time afterwards the Ward tomb was badly mutilated, and we know it was not done by modern vandals. In the 17th century, the historian Elias Ashmole visited the church and noted in his diary that Colubra's head was missing from the brass plate. Also he wrote: 'There was a large inscription under her, as large as that under the man, which is gone, also An Escotcheon, which is gone'.
Purbeck marble altar tomb of Richard Ward in Hurst Church
Detail from tomb of Richard Ward, his wife, Colubra, and their children.
There is enough of the brass decoration left to see the 17 children of Richard and Colubra. They are shown kneeling behind their parents as if in prayer. It would be reasonable to assume that with all those children the name of Ward would have continued for many years as lords of the manor of Hurst. But that was not to be the case. Richard Ward the younger did inherit the estate on the death of his father. He was knighted in 1601 but died 4 years later without leaving a son. Consequently he bequeathed the estate to his great nephew, Richard Harrison.
There was an interesting relationship between the Ward and Harrison families, and it is a good example of how interrelated such families were at that time. Richard Ward the younger had a sister called Alice. She married Thomas Harrison of Finchampstead and her portrait can be seen on a brass plate in the church. She is depicted in a four-poster bed, and the inscription says that she 'died in child bed' of her first son Richard Harrison Esq., in the year 1558.
Alice Ward's monument in Hurst Church
That was nearly 20 years before her father died. Her husband then married Katherine Chamberline and, when he died, she in turn married Thomas Anton. Among their children was a daughter, Elizabeth, and she became the wife of Richard Harrison who was born in 1558, son of Alice who had died in 'child bed'. They in turn had a son and he was the Richard Harrison who inherited the property from Richard Ward.
Richard Harrison and his wife, Frances, daughter of Gerorge Savile of London, took up residence in Hurst House. Her mother, Lady Margaret Savile, was buried in Hurst. Their eldest son, Richard, born in 1611, was knighted in 1661 and became an M. P. and a Justice of the Peace.
The Harrisons were often visited at Hurst House by Archbishop William Laud. He was born at Reading in 1573, the son of a master tailor and clothier. He subsequently became one of the most powerful and feared men in the country. He combined the role of religious leader with that of a kings minister, and many suffered through his ruthless judgments. But he did have friends in this area and his diaries contain many references to visits made here to preach in the church, and to visit the Harrisons and Sir Francis Windebank at Haines Hill. Laud came to Hurst in 1629 and wrote in his diary:
I fell sick on the way towards the Court of Woodstock, I took up my lodging at my ancient friends house, Mr Windebank. Here I lay in a most grievous burning fever till Monday, September 7th on which day I had my last fit.
How close the friendship was between Archbishop Laud and Francis Windebank, and the extent of Laud's influence with the King is indicated by the entry in his diary dated June 15th 1632:
Mr Francis Windebank my old friend was sworn Secretary of State, which place I obtained for him of my gracious master King Charles.
When London was suffering from a plague in 1636, King Charles sent an instruction to Lord Stanthorpe:
Secretary Windebank, (by reason of great danger of infection that is like to be in London) will reside at his house at Haines Hill, Berks, and will have often occasion to send and receive despatches from the court as also to and from his Majesty's fleet now at sea, pray Lord Stanthorpe to have a stage laid at Oakingham, and good horses, with guides provided for the performances of that service, to run from thence to Hartford Bridge on the same side of Staines, during the time the Secretary shall remain at Haines Hill, allowing the wages of two shillings per diem as is usual in like cases.
John Barker of Hurst Lodge, who had served the Crown most of his life, died in 1620. He had made his will in 1617 leaving his son Henry to inherit the lodge and some land in Sonning called Broadmead and Rowgrove. Another son, John, was given a house in Wokingham.
Even with these great families serving the Crown in one way or another, relationships with the King were not all that harmonious with all the parish. The wrangling between the Crown and the Bishop of Salisbury in the 14th century over the use of the forest at Bearwood, continued into the 17th century. Queen Elizabeth had been in possession of that area in 1574 and from her it descended to King Charles.
In 1630, a shortage of animals and game in Bearwood resulted in poor sport. So when the King sold part of Windsor Forest, he decided that the deer there should be moved to Bearwood to replenish the herd. He feared the deer would wander off because they were going into new ground, so he ordered Sir Francis Knolly and Richard Arrowsmith, who were the joint keepers, to build a fence to keep the animals in.
The fence enclosed 120 acres of forest, and a lodge house was built for the keepers. But the enclosure was resented by the people of Newland, Sindlesham and Winnersh who had lost their rights of free chase which they had enjoyed when the Bishop had held the land. One night, after dark, the people met together and 'riotesly pulled the fence down, and they subsequently petitioned to have the lodge removed.
When the Civil War came the royal landlords had more urgent things to worry about than hunting rights at Bearwood and during the war most of the deer were killed off. The lodge was finally demolished officially in 1655, and Bearwood retained as forest land, and the people nearby reclaimed their previous rights.