A History of the Parish of Hurst by the Revd. John C F Wimberley
The Revd. Wimberley was vicar of Hurst from 1919 to 1936. His excellent village history was published after his death by his wife in 1937.
Long ages before the dawn of history human beings lived and worked where we are living now. Flint instruments dating from the earlier Stone Age have been found in abundance in the neighbourhood. Shall we hazard a guess and say it may be 25000 years since these were made and used ?
I don't suppose we should recognise the familiar landmarks; the changes of climate have been many and great since those far off days, I picture acres of reed-covered swamps and marshes, the home of innumerable wild fowl. Above the marshes rose the gravel plateau on which most of the Parishioners live today, Perhaps after all we should recognise Church Hill, Bill Hill and Haines Hill; and the Emmbrook and the Broadwater, which have drained the district for ages.
It was a rough hard life that the men of those days lived. They managed somehow to catch the fish in the pools and to trap the wild fowl, but they could not wander far a field; they had no pails or pottery, no means of carrying or storing water. The chipped flint stones, like axe-heads, which they have left behind, suggest that they may have cut down boughs and made some sort of shelter for themselves. The little chipped flints, which the books call "scrapers," may have served for scraping skins of animals for clothes.
Those who have studied the traces of primitive man think that great changes of climate caused mankind to desert all these parts. They tell us that many many centuries rolled by before mankind again appeared, But these men of the later Stone Age were more advanced; they perforated their flint axe-heads so as to fix wooden handles; they used flint arrow heads and made pottery. So we picture them shooting the wild fowl and cooking ;their food and possibly growing some crops. Shall we hazard another guess and say that such were the inhabitants of Hurst 5000 years ago ?
Though the dates I have suggested are conjectures, the traces of primitive man in Hurst are numerous and unquestionable. My friend Mr. Treacher, to whom I am indebted for this and much of the information in these pages, has a large collection of flint implements found in this neighbourhood. Specimens have been found near Lea Farm which undoubtedly belonged to the earlier Stone Age. As for implements of the later Stone Age, they are findable, I am told, in almost any of our fields.
So back through the ages we can trace a human population in this district,
but we can never hope to know much of its lift and, doings. That there were
great centres of faith and social life in Britain 4000 years ago seems proved by
Stonehenge and the artificial mound at Silsbury. These and other stone circles
always occur in places which afford a good uninterrupted view of the sun.
So we will picture a gay throng on Church Hill one bright spring morning before the Call of Abraham. Druid priests in fantastic robes perform strange rites and ceremonies: it is some religious festival connected with the sun and growing crops.
The fore-going paragraph is just a little flight of imagination with which to close this peep of our Parish in pre-historic times.
The Ancient British (Celtic) folk who lived down by the Loddon may have seen a Roman soldier, but I don't suppose the Roman military occupation of Britain made much difference to them.
The occupation lasted four centuries and came to an end in the year 410 A.D.; during part at least of that time there was a considerable Roman camp at Ruscombe.
We must get on to Saxon times before we can begin our story. The first Saxon invaders arrived in 477; they soon made themselves at home and before long they were followed by many more. These invaders inherited the Roman roads which helped matters; thus by the end of the 6th century they were comfortably and firmly established all over this part of Britain. They brought their religion with them, - a species of nature worship.
The conversion of the Saxons to Christianity followed St. Augustine's famous mission of 597 and it was furthered in this Country by the establishment of the Abbey of Abingdon about 675.
The first mention of any part of our parish in historical records occurs in Gaimer's Chronicle. It appears that in the year 871 Danish invaders were encamped at Reading and a battle was fought between them and the Saxons at Englefield. Four days after, the Saxons, led by King Ethelred and his brother Alfred (afterwards known as King Alfred the Great), attacked the Danish camp. But the fierce Danes were too strong and the Saxon forces were driven back as far as " Wiscelet which is on the way to Windsor." I think the identification of Wiscelet with the part of the parish we call Whistley may be regarded as certain; it is supported by the mention of Thinford (Twyford) a few lines further on in the Chronicle.
Extract from Gaimer's Chronicle
So the celebrated King Alfred once visited our parish, but in the circumstances I don't suppose he had happy recollections of the visit. Evidently Whistley was a Saxon settlement; probably the district had become known by the name of the Saxon chief who first made a clearing in the forest and established it.
Passing now to the next (10th) century, - Edgar became king of all England in 959. Historians generally give him a good character but he was abnormally susceptible to the charms of the fair sex. Periods of wild living were followed by fits of depression and repentance. In these moods he was wont to make gifts to the Church; some thirty such gifts are on record.
Hence we arrive at an event of outstanding importance in our story. The Chronicle of the Abbey of Abingdon contains the following entry; - the writer's Latin is somewhat difficult but this is the sense, -
"The King granted to his servant by name Wlfstan 10 hides (mansas) at Wisclea on these terms that to whatever heir he should wish to give it after his decease he should have complete freedom as to leaving it by royal authority. So he made the. Church of Abbingdon his heir after his departure from this life with the consent of the aforesaid witnesses in the year from the Lord's Incarnation 968."
Then follows the Charter"; omitting a very lengthy and pious preamble; -
Eadgar, King of all
the Angles, ruler and governor of all people round about, give to my servant
Uulfstan ten hides in the place which now and formerly the country people of
that locality call by the name Uuiscelea; that he may have and hold it until the
vital spirit shall have left the body. But when the day of his dissolution shall
have arrived let him leave it to whatsoever heir he will, as we have said
before, as a perpetual inheritance. Let the aforesaid gift be given free of all
charges with all the appurtenances which are its by right, open spaces,
pastures, meadows, woods, except those bridges or arches belonging to the
Truly if any man with the rashness of folly try to infringe my gift let him be held down with heavy chains by the neck between a fiery troop of loathsome demons unless he choose to make reparation."
This Charter is dated 968, signed by the King and witnessed by Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, nine other archbishops and bishops, four abbots and twenty other persons.
As to the extent of this clearing called Wiscelea (Whistley): - it was of course 1000 acres if you assume the common reckoning of 100 acres to the hide. But it is well known that the extent of a hide of land varied in different centuries and in different parts of the country. Also the word 'mansa ' which I have rendered 'hide' sometimes means 'farm' or 'holding.' Probably most of the dwellings clustered round what we call 'The Green , which was enclosed in 1809; Whistley extended to the river on the south where there stood a mill in later times, converted still later into a paper mill.
So the first great. event in our history was this gift of Whistley to Abbot Wulfstan. The terrible threat inserted in the Charter seems to have been effective. On Wulfstan's death Whistley became the undisputed possession of the Abbey of Abingdon and the revenue derived from, it was devoted to the up keep of the kitchens, as evidenced by subsequent entries in the Chronicle.
We must resist the temptation to wander off on the subject of Religious Houses but. we might just note that this gift of Whistley to the Abbey was in accordance with Archbishop Dunstan's deliberate policy, namely - that of strengthening the monasteries as opposed to the 'secular ' or parish clergy. Dunstan was a man of outstanding ability; he had been successively Abbot of Glastonbury and Bishop of London. In those days the bulk of the population lived in a state of slavery; every peasant who had no domicile of his own was required to reside with some householder. Such a law tended to stop vagabondage and to bind the landowner and the landless together, but it made oppression possible and easy. The powerful Religious Houses stood for protection, education and social betterment: I don't think there is any doubt about their popularity with the masses in those days.
But the effect on Whistley of thus becoming a possession of the Abbey is another thing. There were spiritual advantages as we shall see later. There were temporal advantages; - the poor no doubt were better cared for; they Abbey built a house to accommodate a resident steward. It is a reasonable guess that the old house by the river known as Whistley Court was originally built for this purpose. It served as the Manor House till the dissolution of the monasteries; later It became part of the Bill Hill property. It was completely demolished during last century but the entrance gates were removed to Bill Hill where they now stand at the top of the drive.
Yes, there were advantages to Whistley both spiritual and temporal in this close connection with the Abbey, but against these there was the disadvantage of having its wealth drained away by an absentee land-lord. It suffered the fate of many other villages which were connected with the great Religious Houses.
Had Whistley been left to develop by itself it might have become a prosperous country town.
In the year 1066 an event occurred which radically and permanently affected all classes, the invasion and conquest of this Country by William, Duke of Normandy. Of the Conqueror's policy, of the effects of the conquest and so forth, this is not the place to speak. For our purpose it will be sufficient to note that the Normans were men of foresight and considerable political ability; their clergy are said to have been the best educated clergy in Europe. William's policy was to fill all the high places in Church and State with his Norman followers and to reward them with titles and land. Some of the bishops and abbots he deposed straight away, others he allowed to continue in office till death, when he invariably filled the vacancies with Normans.
The latter was the case at Abingdon the old Saxon Abbot, Athelm (or Athelhelm), held office till his death in 1084, when he was succeeded by Abbot Rainald, who had been one of the King's chaplains. The Abbey Chronicle of the year 1089 contains the following entry which is of great interest to us because it enables us to fix within a few years the date of the first church in Hurst. The sense is as follows: -
"Concerning a chapel at Uuiscelea (Whistley). In the town which is called Uuiscelea in the time of Abbot Athelm there was no church; for it joined the parish of the priest of Sunningge (Sonning). But because it was very difficult for the inhabitants in winter when the floods were out to go to Sunningge for the purpose of attending divine service, and besides the same Abbot turning aside on his journey to pay a visit to those parts finding that the place never had a celebration of Mass, then for the first time a wooden chapel was built there and by the hand of Bishop Osmund was dedicated in the name of Saint Nicholas. Then in the days when Rainald governed the Abbey the clerk of the church of Sunningge complained to the Bishop that on account of his directions concerning the chapel at Uuiscelea he suffered loss. Thereupon the Bishop forbad the said chapel to be officiated in. In the next Lent just before the fast began the Bishop came to Abingdon where the Abbot came to an agreement with the Bishop about the said chapel."
Here there follows a transcript of the agreement of which I will give the sense in a moment, - when we come to consider the connection of our Parish with Sonning and with Salisbury.
But see how nearly this memorandum enables us to fix the date of the first church in Hurst. It must have been built before September 10th, 1084, because that was the date of Abbot Athelm's death; it could not have been dedicated before 1078, because that was the year of Osmund's appointment to the See of Salisbury. So when next you enter our fine old Parish Church just try to picture its predecessor, the little wooden Chapel which Bishop Osmund dedicated between 1078 and 1084.
Here two questions occur to all of us; - When was the first permanent church erected? ; Does any part of the present building date from these Norman times?
The Abbey Chronicle does not help us; it contains no further word about the Chapel at Whistley, and it comes to an end in 1190.
We try Doomsday Book, that complete survey of the kingdom begun in 1085 and finished in the following year. We find Whistley duly entered there, and its extent given as ten hides; but there is no mention of a church. Since Doomsday Book recorded all permanent churches we must conclude there was no such in Hurst in 1086.
So we turn to those who have made a study of architecture. They tell us that the two chalk pillars and arches on the north side of the nave are undoubtedly work of the Norman period (i.e. 1066-1200). They point to the roughness of the work about the capitals of the pillars and say that it suggests the earlier part of the Norman period. So we conclude that the early 12th century saw the first permanent church at Hurst, and that the two familiar chalk pillars in the nave have stood where they stand today for the last eight hundred years.
Interior of Hurst Parish Church
I am frequently asked why all the tithes of Hurst should be paid to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for the benefit of Salisbury Cathedral. Again, I am occasionally asked why the Incumbent of Hurst is neither a Rector nor a Vicar but a Perpetual Curate. Both questions raise points of historical interest, and they are somewhat closely connected. It will be easier to consider the second question first, and to begin by tracing the connection between our Parish and the ancient Parish of Sonning.
Going back to the early days of the Saxon invasion, I picture a company of the invaders working their way up the river in search of a suitable place to found a settlement. I picture their arriving at the pretty spot we now call Sonning and deciding to stay there. Then, as in time the settlers grew and multiplied, I picture a day when one of the young chieftains would gather his family and a few retainers and set out to explore the forest. Having found a spot to his liking, he would make a clearing and establish a branch settlement. In the last section I suggested that one such chieftain, named Wiscele or Wiscelet or some such, came and settled at Whistlev, and that in time the district became known by his name. I picture another young chief going off one day and settling at Arborfield, and another establishing himself at Wokingham, and so on.
Following the conversion of the Saxon settlers to Christianity, churches began to spring up all about the country, at first in the older and larger settlements. In course of time a church was built at Sonning, and for years no doubt it remained the only place of worship for many miles round. We have just found a clear historical record of how the chapel at Whistley came to be built. I have no information as to the building of the chapels at Wokingham, Sindlesham, Ruscombe, Sandhurst, Arborfield, and Earley. But before 1220 each of these places had a chapel, and Earley had two. When we come to speak of the 13th century we shall find that the Register of St. Osmund records details of all these chapels and their furniture.
But the point to notice is that all these chapels were what we should call chapels-of-ease to the mother-church of Sonning. This is made abundantly clear, and very jealously were the rights of the mother-church guarded; so much so that, as we saw, Bishop Osmund closed the chapel at Whistley on the complaint of the priest at Sonning.
And Whistley Chapel would have remained closed indefinitely had it not been for the intervention of the Abbot, who rightly felt some responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the Abbey's tenants. The opportunity came when the Bishop was on a visit to the Abbey, and before the Episcopal guest left a formal agreement was drawn up and signed. A transcript of this is preserved in the Abbey Chronicle and I propose to give the sense in full. Notice how it confirms what I have said of the care with which the rights of the mother-church were guarded; note also that the right to appoint the priest at Whistley is reserved to the Abbot.
"This is the arrangement made between Bishop Osmund and Abbot Rainald about the church at Uuiscelea which Abbot Athelelm had built and had caused to be dedicated by the same Bishop. In the same church the Abbot of Abingdon will appoint his clerk, performing the duties of the service of God, receiving all the offerings from everybody which were offered to the same church and reserving them to his own use for serving the church. For which (arrangement) the Abbot will give to the Bishop every year on the feast of All Saints half a mark of silver; the church of Sunningge retaining nevertheless all those dues which it had in the days of King Edward from the church of Uuiscelea. This arrangement was made in the 2nd year of William the younger, the day before the Ides of March, when the Bishop was spending Lent in Abingdon."
The Bishop's signature is witnessed by the Archdeacon and two others; that of the Abbot is witnessed by four persons. William the Younger is better known to us as William Rufus, and the date indicated above is March 14th, 1089.
And so for many years, for centuries, our church continued to be a chapel-of-ease to the church of Sonning. In course of time somebody invented the title Perpetual Curate. In these days it indicates the incumbent of a church which, though not an ancient parish church, has had a parish assigned to it, and has had the privileges of a parish church conferred upon it. The right to appoint the Perpetual Curate of Hurst is now exercised by the Bishop of the Diocese. I was looking the other day at the legal document which the Bishop handed to me at the time of my Institution; it bears the following note, -
"The Incumbent of the above-mentioned benefice, being a Perpetual Curacy, is entitled for the purposes of style arid designation to be deemed and styled the Vicar of the Church and Parish, and the Benefice is entitled for the same purpose to be styled and designated a Vicarage."
Well, I soon discovered one advantage of a Perpetual Curacy; - the legal fee for Institution was but £2 instead of £10.
And now we can proceed to trace the connection of our Parish with Salisbury and the Cathedral there, to which all the tithes of Hurst belong.
We must go back to the year 909, in which there appears to have been a wave of enthusiasm for founding new bishoprics. Such waves seem to come periodically; one such broke over the National Assembly a few years back, when it adopted a proposal to found no less than a dozen new sees.
Among four new sees founded in 909 was that of Ramsbury: it comprised the Counties of Wiltshire and Berkshire. Though the Cathedral Church was at Ramsbury in north-east Wiltshire, the Bishop was given an estate and a residence at Sonning. In practice the Bishops of Ramsbury came to be very closely associated with Sonning; so much so that in the Osmund Register I find them referred to as Bishops of Sonning.
But in spite of these estates at Sonning, the see of Ramsbury was a very poor one. So Bishop Herman found, and great were the efforts he made to augment the income. He appears to have succeeded in getting his see united with that of Sherbourne. For in the long fist of prelates who took part in the Consecration of Westminster Abbey on December 28, 1065, I find "Hermon, Bishop of Ramsbury and Sherbourne."
Of course the Conquest held up everything in the way of church-reform for a time. But when things had settled down, it was decided to remove the united sees of Ramsbury and Sherbourne, and to constitute one new diocese comprising the Counties of Wiltshire. Berkshire and Dorsetshire; the Bishop to have his seat at Old Sarum. The aged Herman lived to be the first Bishop of Old Sarum and to lay the foundations of the Cathedral. On his death in 1078, Osmund was appointed to succeed him.
The new Bishop threw himself into the work of completing and endowing the great church which his predecessor had begun. Let us see what became of the estates at Sonning.
The Osmund Register preserves a transcript of the Foundation Charter of Old Sarum Cathedral and a full list of the churches and manors with which Osrnund endowed it. Amongst these we find "the Churches of Sonning with all the tithes there." Traditions of Osmund's private wealth and of his generosity towards his new cathedral may be true enough, but some of the estates mentioned in the Charter were part of the endowments of the old see of Ramsbury. This was certainly the case in regard to the churches and tithes of Sonning.
So that is how the tithes of Hurst came to belong to Salisbury Cathedral. They abandoned Old Sarum in the 13th century and rebuilt the cathedral at New Sarum, - Salisbury. But from the date of the Foundation Charter, 1091, all the tithes of our parish have gone to augment the cathedral treasury.
Bishop Osmund's generosity and other virtues were so loudly praised that in 1456 the Pope Canonised him, and a special Indulgence was promised to those who visited Salisbury Cathedral on the Festival of St. Osmund. But I have no friendly feelings towards him. The commuted value of the Hurst tithe, which he gave away, is £1540 a year. All. that comes back is the £299 a year which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners allow the Vicar from their Common Fund.
So much for the present of the connection of our church and parish with Salisbury. Later the Deans came to exercise a peculiar jurisdiction over the churches of Sonning: but we will leave this for the moment and return to it when we come to the 13th century.
When I read a history book I like to try and picture the daily life of the plain man. By the "plain man," I mean the man who did not meddle in politics but just grew up and went to work and grew old and died a natural death.
If you take up your English History book and turn to the chapter on William the Conqueror, you will find lots about battles and rebellions, intrigues and feudalism. I find myself wondering how all these things affected the daily life of the ordinary resident in a place like this.
I doubt if the introduction of the Feudal System made much difference to the life of the plain man. It is computed that two-thirds of the population continued to live in a state of slavery, much as they had done in Saxon times
I would not be surprised if the Conqueror's passion for hunting affected the ordinary resident in Hurst more than all his other doings put together. Any day he might have come across the King indulging in his favourite sport in the forest. If he sometimes did a bit of poaching, I trust he was not caught. The game in the royal forest was very strictly preserved; he who slew a deer was in danger of having his eyes put out.
It is hard to picture life without a postman or a newspaper. I wonder if our plain man ever heard of the tragic death of William Rufus in the New Forest. News of the first Crusade probably reached him, because the emissaries went far and wide proclaiming the Holy War.
Henry I, who ascended the Throne in 1102, found that many of his most troublesome subjects were absent on the Crusade. I fancy the lot of the plain man much improved during the thirty five years of his reign. Henry courted the plain man; he wanted his support. His policy was to strengthen the Crown against the nobles.
It appears that one, William Osatus, took to molesting the Abbey's tenants at Whistley in these days. The Chronicle preserves a transcript of the writ which King Henry addressed to Osatus. It is dated from Windsor, and in brief but very peremptory language it orders him to desist and leave the men of Whistley in peace.
The nineteen years that Stephen occupied the Throne are called by courtesy his reign. It was a period of unparalleled oppression, violence and robbery. The monks of Abingdon and their tenants at Whistley suffered in the general chaos. A royal writ, addressed to William Martel and others, is transcribed in the Chronicle. It required these persons to give the monks peaceable possession of their land at Whistley, but it is undated and presumably nobody took any notice of it, for we find Pope Eugenius III interfering. Turning on a few pages in the Chronicle we find a transcript of the Papal Bull addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury. This required him to see that William Martel and others refrain from further aggressions upon the Church at Abingdon, and that they restore the property they had already carried off.
There is also the transcript of another Papal Bun dated 1152. This enumerates and confirms an the privileges and possessions of the Abbey; amongst the latter the land at Whistley is named.
The increasing power of the Pope and his interference in English affairs is a characteristic of this Norman period, which closed with the death of Stephen in 1154.
The records of Henry II's long reign do not, so far as I know, contain any direct references to our parish. It was a reign, not an anarchy like that of Stephen. Henry was a good churchman and a man of great ability, in spite of his proverbial bad temper which brought about the murder of Thomas a Becket.
Henry granted a Charter to Salisbury Cathedral confirming all its previous endowments ; thus he acquiesed in the alienation of our tithe. He also issued writs to his "ministers of the forest of Windsor " ordering them to allow the Abbot of Abingdon to have a tithe of the venison taken there and to have warrens on all his lands. It is interesting to note that both these writs are dated from Rouen; - a reminder that the King of England was still Duke of Normandy and occasionally resident there.
But other good things besides venison found their way from Hurst to the Abbot's table. Those fish ponds down near where Whistley Court used to stand tell a tale: eels from the Loddon were famous. Quantities of fish were required by the Religious Houses during Lent and for the other fast days.
The Abbey cook was really a very Important person. The Abingdon Chronicle gives in detail the duties and privileges of the Abbot, the Prior and the twelve principal officers. Amongst these is reckoned the cook and several pages are devoted to him. One of his duties was to receive the rents from the land at Whistley which, you remember, Abbot Wulfstan had left for the endowment of the Abbey kitchen.
The Religious Houses grew and flourished in Henry II's reign, and they used their increasing wealth and power wisely. The Church had been popular with the Saxon serf; it maintained its popularity with the Norman villein and his family.
At Whistley there was the resident priest; to him the oppressed, the homeless, the sick and the poor could always turn. And behind the priest was the wealth and power of the Abbot of Abingdon, whose nominee he was. The disorders of Stephen's reign had brought the lowest classes to a sorry plight and vagrancy was prevalent. Hence, I suppose, Henry's writ issued to the local justices requiring them to "deliver up to Roger, Abbot of Abingdon, all the fugitives who had fled from the land of the Abbey since the death of Henry I". We are not told how Abbot Roger dealt with these runaway slaves, but the Church had long been leading the way towards the abolition of slavery. So if any of the men of Whistley got apprehended, I hope they received lenient treatment at the Abbot's hand.
The story of King Richard I's exploits in the Holy Land, of his capture, of the huge ransom paid for his release, - this will be found elsewhere. But just before Richard left on that fateful Crusade in 1190, he remembered to grant a Charter confirming to Abingdon Abbey all its privileges and possessions. No doubt Hurst had to bear its share of the enormous taxation levied to raise the ransom, £100,000, - just about twice the whole annual revenue of the kingdom in a normal year. As to Church life, I don't imagine Hurst, or any part of the diocese of Salisbury saw much of the Bishop. Not only did he accompany the King to Palestine, but it was he who organised the collecting of the ransom.
Richard's taste for adventure must have been very costly to the country. No sooner was he free than he started to raise more money for a war with France. Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, refused to pay his taxes; probably the first instance of successful refusal. The face of this hero will be familiar to those who sit in the north aisle. He stands in the stained glass window there holding a model of his cathedral. By the bye, this window was put in to the memory of Hugh Harrison, B.Sc. who died in 1909.
There is no record of our parish during the stormy reign of King John, - "the worst of all English sovereigns". No doubt the parishioners felt the cold during the great frost of 1205, and no doubt the Chapel of St. Nicholas was closed and deserted during the six years of the Papal Interdict. The civil war which followed ended with the signing of the famous Magna Charta in 1215.
Just about this time the Cathedral Chapter of Salisbury revised its statutes. Amongst other things, it was decreed that the Deans should exercise a special jurisdiction over the churches and estates belonging to the Cathedral, and that they should visit them regularly. :; And so it came about that for many centuries the Deans of Salisbury held Visitations at Sonning, at which the priests of all the daughter churches were summoned to appear.
In later times, when the law required that parish registers should be kept, these had to be produced. Hence in our registers many such entries as these, -
"Exhibited into the officials Courte for three years past the XXIXth of August, 1594."
"Exhibited into the Deane's Court at Sonninge the VIth of September, 1600."
Not only so; it was the Dean who examined the priests who were about to take charge of parishes; it was by his licence they held their appointments. It is remarkable that the Deans exercised some of this authority till quite recent times. Our Churchwardens' box contains a bundle of old marriage licences. Three of these were granted by the "Dean of Salisbury" and bear dates as recent as the middle of last century.
The first recorded Visitation of the Churches of Sonning took place in 1220. It ended in a tragedy; the poor Dean, who had arrived at Sonning on August 22nd, was taken ill and died there after four days illness. But the Visitation returns, which had been prepared no doubt in readiness for his visit, are preserved in the Osrnund Register. These help us to form some sort of picture of what our Church was like seven hundred years ago. It is a naked fact that our Church existed; we come into closer touch with it when we read of its condition and of the books and vestments it contained.
Passing over the returns from Sonning and others, the following is the sense of the memorandum concerning our Church, -
"Likewise a chapel belonging to the church of Sonning; chapel of Herst; of St. Nicholas; not dedicated; it has a font but no cemetery. It obtains the Oil and Chrism at Reading. The chapel is not endowed with any land and the vicar has no vicarage house because the chapel has no endowment. John, who holds the, chapel, had the licence of Dean Jordan; he surrendered it to Dean Adam, and he (John) retained it on payment to the Dean of ten marks, which seemed to him intolerable. Further he received his title to Orders as sub-deacon and deacon of this church. Also there is an annual chaplain, Nichilas by name ... No land belongs to the chapel. Below the boundary of the cemetery is a small barn in which the vicar keeps his tithes ... "
Note "Chapel of Herst " ; - so this district had become known by the name familiar to us. This is, I believe, the first occurrence of the name in historical records. I am told that 'hurst' is a Saxon word meaning , forest,' or possibly' thick undergrowth.
That the church was not dedicated means no doubt that the formal act of dedication had been postponed. This was not uncommon; it must have been difficult in those days to secure the personal attendance of the Bishop, who was usually occupied with affairs of state. But the statement is interesting to us because we know that the old wood-built chapel had been dedicated by Bishop Osmund. It confirms our surmise that this had been replaced by a stone building before these days. And further confirmation is afforded by glancing at the returns concerning the other chapels. For example, it is noted that the chapel at Arborfield is built of wood (vetus lignea); that St. Nicholas, Earley, had just been re-built of stone; and that the same was about to be done at St. Bartholomew's where the stone was lying ready in the churchyard.
It is not obvious why our chapel obtained the Holy Oils (used at baptisms and for anointing the sick) at Reading. One would have expected these to have been obtained at the mother-church at Sonning.
Hurst Chapel was exceptional in that it possessed neither vicarage nor glebe-land. Most of the chapels had some land attached to them and a house; the latter at Ruscombe is described as 'broken and tumble-down.' Sonning had no vicarage, as no doubt the Dean discovered on his arrival. The fact impressed him; the deed granting the site begins "We have seen that the vicar has no house wherein he may lay his head" (non habentem domicilium ubi caput possit reclinare). Had it not been for his sudden illness, the Dean might have visited Hurst and moved to provide a vicarage here. But as it was, the matter stood over for some 650 years, - till the Rev. A. A. Cameron built the present house in 1863.
Speaking of vicarages, it is interesting to find references. which imply a priest's wife and family. Though Popes and Councils had for long denounced the marriage of the clergy, it seems to have been tolerated in these times and allowed to pass unrebuked.
All these 'churches of Sonning' appear to have been 'farmed out,' i.e. those who held them paid fixed sums annually to the Dean. For example, Vitalis, Vicar of Sonning, who also held Ruscombe, paid 40 shillings annually; the Vicar of Wokingharn with Sandhust had to send two measures of wheat to the Vicar of Sonning in addition to his payment to the Dean. Perhaps it is not much wonder John of Hurst. found the strain of paying ten marks' intolerable'; he received, I suppose, only certain small tithes and voluntary offerings.
All the vicars had chaplains (i.e. assistant curates), whose stipends were paid either in money or in kind. That of the curate of Hurst is not entered, but the curate of Ruscombe received 'two loads of fine corn.' Arborfield was held with Barkham; the curate lived at Barkham with the vicar and in addition received 20 shillings annually.
There was a chapel at Sindlesham in those days dedicated to St. Nicholas, but I have no information as to the site. It seems to have been a private chapel for the use of one, Robert de Sonning. Vitalis exhibited the licence at the Visitation, from which it appears that its use was strictly limited to Robert, his wife, domestic servants (manupasti) and guests; the out-door servants (rustici) were forbidden to hear Mass except at the Church of Sonning; - another instance of the care with which the rights of the mother - church were guarded.
As to the fabric of our chapel, there is but one note; - "The bell turret has fallen down." This suggests that the general condition was good and that it compared favourably with the chapels at Ruscombe and Arborfield. The former is said to have been 'unroofed'; the latter is described as in a "ruinous state (totaruinosa) with churchyard overrun by cattle and swine."
The list of our service books certainly compared favourably with those of other chapels. The Missal, the Psalter, the Troper were all passed as satisfactory; but the Breviary was pronounced to be 'old and defective' and the Gradual 'old and worthless.'
The list of our Vestments and ornaments is a long one. It includes albs, stoles, surplices, etc.; a chalice silver-gilt inside and out; a pyx hanging before the altar of Limoges work; a chest in which to keep the vestments, the gift of the said John; and a good marble font.
Dean Adam's sudden death brought the Visitation of1220 to an abrupt termination. Two years passed and the new Dean determined to hold another. His memoranda do not include full returns from all the chapels; presumably he had his predecessor's notes by him.
But Dean William de Wanda summoned all the incumbents and curates to meet him at Sonning. He interviewed each of the latter separately. His notes, which are preserved in the Osmund Register, enable us to picture the proceedings on that November day in the year 1222.
Vitalis, as 'Vicar perpetual' of the mother-church, presented his curate first. This individual, Simon by name, had a bad quarter-of-an-hour. Apparently he told the others when he came out and they formed a sort of compact not to answer the Dean's questions. In the interview with Simon the Dean began by questioning him as to his Orders; - when, where, and from what bishop he received them. The matter was important, because men in those days (as occasionally in these), would claim to be in Holy Orders when they were not. It must have been a point against all these curates that none of them could claim Ordination by the Bishop of the diocese; - a claim the Dean could easily have checked. This man Simon. for example, claimed to have been Ordained at Oxford by a "certain Irish Bishop named Albinus, then suffragan of the Bishop of Lincoln"
The Dean then proceeded to question poor Simon as to the Gospel for the 1st Sunday in Advent; he was found 'not understanding what he read.' The Dean then turned to the Canon of the Mass, which begins "Te igitur, clementissime Pater, rogamus" (We pray Thee therefore most merciful Father ... ). But Simon did not know in what case 'Te' was, or by what word in the sentence it was governed. When he was requested to look more closely, he said he supposed 'Te' was governed by 'Pater' because 'the Father governs all things.' He did not know the case of 'clementissime,' nor could he decline it; in fact he could not even give the meaning of' clemens.' Questioned as to his musical capacity, Simon did not know the antiphons, nor any thing about the singing of the hymns; not even some well-known one of which the Dean gave him the opening words. He knew nothing about the 'Divine Office' nor any of the Psalter by heart. At this point he entered a protest against the unbecoming course adopted by the Dean in examining one who was already Ordained. The Dean responded with a question as to by whom and in what he was examined at the time of his Ordination; but Simon said that he did not remember. Thus the interview closed: the Dean's note reads, - ' sufficienter illiteratus est' which means, I take it, 'he is sufficiently unlearned.'
The Curate of Hurst was the third to submit to the ordeal. The Dean's memorandum is not quite so lengthy; the sense is as follows -
"John of Herst presented his chaplain, Richard by name; born at Rosa. He was a young man and knew nothing. He said that he received the order of sub-deacon in London from Bishop William; that six years afterwards he was made deacon by Peter, Bishop of Winchester; that in the same year he was ordained to the priesthood by William, Bishop of Chester. Being tested with the Advent collect 'O Lord, raise up, we pray Thee thy power ... ' ; he said that he was unwilling to make any reply about it. Being questioned about the Canon, he said he would make no reply about this, And when his vicar left the church after the examination he approached the other chaplains and they all made up their minds that they would not reply; yet one of them did reply afterwards at the stern insistence of the Dean. Finally being required to do so, he declined to be examined in the chapter and he was suspended."
Other interviews followed with much the same results. The aged priest at Arborfield, who could not see, and did not know either the Canon of the Mass or a word of the Gospels by heart, was forbidden to officiate any more. The Curate of Sandhurst knew nothing of either reading or singing, and the Curate of Ruscombe was no better. For the latter place Vitalis was immediately responsible and he was ordered "to procure good chaplains both there and at .Sonning, otherwise the Dean would take the benefices into his own hands."
These memoranda in the last few pages of the Osmund Register give a glimpse of the local clergy in the early 13th century. We will hope that such ignorant and such incompetent priests were the exception and not the rule. The writer in the Victoria County History thinks so, and that this was the reason for preserving such lengthy notes.
The system of 'farming out' the churches was thoroughly bad; the incumbents appear to have obtained the services of assistant priests on the cheapest possible terms. It seems impossible to suppose that such men had ever received Ordination at the hands of any bishop. No doubt in days of an absentee king, an absentee bishop, an interdict, and a civil war it was necessary to accept a lower standard than was desirable. But since deacons were required in normal times to know the whole Psalter by heart before Ordination, we can hardly believe that men who did not know a word of it had ever been properly Ordained at all.
We will hope that the Dean found a better state of things at his next Visitation two years later; - the last recorded in the Register. Any way the only notes preserved refer to the two chapels at Earley. It is true he suspended both the chaplains, but not for incompetence; it was for accepting certain offerings which belonged to the mother-church.
The whole trend of the times was towards social improvement and efficiency in the public senvices. In spite of Henry Ill's weaknesses and follies, there is evidence of considerable prosperity in the country, especially in the latter part of his long reign. Slave labour, though perhaps not extinct, was rapidly becoming a thing of the past: the year 1265 saw the assembling of the first English Parliament.
The death of King Henry Ill, which occurred in 1272, seems a suitable point at which to make a break in our story.
We have now arrived at the latter part of the 13th century; I propose in this section to cover some two hundred years. The historical references to our parish are not numerous, nor are they of such a character as to detain us for long. They mainly concern "inquisitions" as to property with a view to taxation. Less arbitrary and more equitable methods of raising money were an obvious consequence of the establishment of a representative parliament.
One such Inquisition was made about the year 1272, and resulted in the following return from this parish; it is written in abbreviated Latin:-
"Robert de Scindlesham in Scindlesham holds the fifth part of one fee of the holding of the Bishop of Salisbury. The Abbot of Abingdon holds in his own hands Winkfield and the Hurst (la Hurste) with their belongings and they pertain to the office of cook of the monks for his alms, as they say."
This is interesting as shewing that "the Hurst" had come to be recognised as an alternative name for Whistley; it also suggests that Whistley was still the only clearing of importance in this part of the forest.
For civil purposes the whole country had for long been divided into "hundreds," and these again were divided into "manors." The lord of the manor usually owned about half the land; some was usually in the bands of free-men, and tile remainder was held by "villeins" who rendered fixed services, paid certain dues and could not be turned out. The lord cultivated his own land through his bailiff and hired the poorer villeins as labourers. Slavery was now extinct; the free labourer had become a recognised person.
King Edward I, being a wise man, took parliament into his confidence and so secured its aid. This resulted in various acts concerning the tenure of land. One such, for example, ordered every owner of land to the value of £20 a year to be knighted; and such knights had to serve when called on. Free-holders had to provide arms in proportion to the extent of their holding. These laws obviously necessitated preliminary enquiries; and furthermore, during the civil disorders of Henry Ill's reign encroachments had been made on the property of the Crown.
A series of Hundred Rolls exists containing information sworn by juries of the various Hundreds of each county. Hurst was reckoned in the Hundred of Charlton and the return is as follows;-
"Of manors which used to be in the hands of the King. They say that the manor of Hurst used to be in the hands of and under the rule of the aforesaid king; that the Abbot of Abingdon now holds it but they do not know by what authority nor by whom the alienation took place."
Had we been there we could have supplied information as to when and how the Abbot became possessed of the manor.
The return proceeds to record details of the holdings; it is interesting as giving the names of the more substantial parishioners in the year 1274.
"They say that Emma de Obrigger holds one and a half acres of encroachment upon the royal forest in the village of Hurst made in the time of the aforesaid King Henry ; Henry the miller holds an acre: John Alward an acre; John Attele one and a half acres: Jordan the forester an acre; Thomas the clerk a rood: Ralph Edolf a rood; William Churchburn a rood; John Bigod an acre; William Bichewod half an acre; Henry Aylrich a rood: William the shepherd a rood; John of the March a rood; and William Attewater a rood. All these encroachments are held of the Abbot of Abingdon."
None of these names are familiar to me except the last, - Attewater, which occurs frequently in our 17th century Parish Register. We have already referred to the increasing power of the Papacy.. This had grown to such an extent that in this 13th century, we find the Pope claiming the first fruits and tenths of all English benefices as his perquisite. Occasionally he would grant these to the King of England for a specific purpose.
In 1288 Pope Nicholas IV granted the Tenths of English benefices to King Edward I for six years towards the expenses of a Crusade. By the King's order a return of their value was made by the Bishops of Winchester and Lincoln. This is known as the Taxation of Pope Nicholas. As regards Hurst it shews that the benefice was a Chapelry in the Deanery of Reading, in the Archdeaconry of Berkshire; that the advowson belonged to the Steward of the Kitchen of the Abbey of Abingdon; - and that the annual value of the benefice was £9 11s. 8d. of which the tenth payable annually for the Crusade amounted to 19/2.
The general prosperity of Edward's reign resulted in a good deal of church building. The King himself made great additions to Westminster Abbey and many of our cathedrals and churches contain work of about the year 1300. In this neighbourhood, for example, - Shottesbrook Church, the Chancel at Warfield, and parts of the Churches at Sonning, Wokingham and Henley.
As to our church, I am not sufficiently learned in architecture to have an original opinion, nor are we in so good a position to judge as was the Rev. A. A. Cameron. I propose to quote at length what he says about it, and remember, - he was the Vicar here in 1855 when the outside walls of the Chancel were reefaced and largely renewed; and he was still Vicar in 1875 when the north and west walls were re-built and the south aisle was added.
From "A Few Words about Hurst " p. 7 - "About or soon after the year 1300 it is plain that the western portion of the body of the church was either taken down and re-built or more likely added to. No doubt the population had increased and wanted more space than the little old church of only two arches afforded. The date is shewn by the shape and workmanship of the window between the porch and the tower (this was taken away when the south aisle was built); and by the character of the arch opposite, so different from the other two; and by the heads put as brackets to support the inner face of the arch, one of which wears a helmet like that which appears on the figure of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral.
It is also plain that about this time the body of the church received a new roof. The slips of stone-work with the heads attached to them, let into the face of the older pillars on which the wall pieces and the tie beams rest, are of nearly the same period. Possibly the present roof may be mainly the one then erected, and the porch, from its form and construction, bears tokens of nearly as great. an age.
The Chancel was also re-built. at the same time; at least such appears to be the fact from the form of the old buttresses and some fragments of stonework found in the walls, when the outer casing of late brick-work was removed for the repairs."
I do not think this work can have been completed before 1300, because there is a brief note in the Salisbury Diocesan records concerning our church, - "Chancel uncovered." But I do not think it can have been long delayed, because the disastrous reign of Edward II began in 1307, and prosperity soon gave place to civil war and the famine of the years 1314 and 1315.
Looking back to school days, most of us remember something of the glorious
doings of Edward III in France, the Battle of Crecy (1346) and the subsequent
capture of Calais. But there is another side; such achievements are costly; see
how they effected our
Parliament seems to have backed up the King in his claim to the Throne of France, and granted him the ninth sheaf, the ninth fleece and the ninth Lamb. The collection of the tax involved Inquisitions throughout the Country; each parish had to give sworn testimony as to the number and value of such property. The records are known as the Nonae Rolls.
As regards this parish, our representatives were John Sizewode, Richard Bizewode, Thomas Clerk, Robert Algar, John Kenelmond, and Robert atte Hale. They duly presented themselves at Reading on the Monday after the feast of St. Scholastica the Virgin (Feb. 10), 1342, and got the answer of our parish sealed and dated by the collectors and sellers. the Prior of Wallingford and others. The value as sworn by them was IX marks (£6). Such our contribution to the famous campaign in France, - by no means an inappreciable sum If you compare it with the annual value of the benefice and read what follows as to wages and the cost of Jiving in those days.
The outstanding event of the 14th century is the visitation of plague. We commonly associate the plague with the fire of London. But. the visitation of 1665, which is so vividly described in Pepys Diary, was a mere nothing compared with that of the years 1348 and 1349. The epidemic swept across Europe carrying off, it is estimated, nearly half the population. No register of deaths was kept in those days, but we get a hint of how terribly Berkshire suffered from the Salisbury Diocesan records. The average number of priests instituted to benefices in a normal year was about 50; in 1348 it leached nearly 200, and in 1349 nearly 150. And the plague was no respecter of persons, in the first year two Archbishops of Canterbury died of it.
This terrible visitation caused a crisis in the agricultural industry, which no doubt affected our parish; the survivors indulged in a species of strike - It is interesting to note the line taken by the King and his advisers.. They made it. a punishable offence "to give alms to such as may labour and to presume to favour them in their slothe." They also fixed by Statute a maximum rate of wages, because as the preamble explained, "of the malice of servants which were idle and not willing to serve after the pestilence without taking excessive wages, ... unless they have wages and livery to the double or treble of that they were wont to take before."
So I picture the farm labourer of Hurst accepting the maximum wage of Id. a day. 3d. in harvest time, and making the best of it. If by chance he were dissatisfied, he could go and join the Black Prince in his exploits in France; a soldier's pay was 6d. a day.
If Government start interfering between employer and employed, then it. must go on. As we should expect, it became necessary for Government to fix the prices of agricultural produce. This was done in 1363; a goose, 4d.; a pullet, Id., and so forth. But in spite of all the Statutes the labourer prospered, and he seems to have annoyed his betters by his prosperous appearance. Any way a further Act was passed which forbad the labourer to wear "any manner of cloth but blanket or russet of 12 pence a yard."
But there was a good deal of discontent and some rioting in the country-side during the closing years of the 14th century. As a school-boy I remember well the names of Jack Straw and Wat Tyler, leaders of the riots of 1381.
Our village was not all peace and quiet; for in 1393 the Abbey bond-tenants and bondmen refused to render the customary services. No details are on record, but the trouble was so serious that Abbot Peter obtained special permission from the King to imprison them. And two years later there was more trouble. This time it was the foresters of Windsor, who claimed certain repasts called "Metehome" (i.e. two weekly dinners) out of the "manors of Whishele and Hurste." Again the Abbot had recourse to the King who, if I rightly read the entry in the Patent Roll, released him from the obligation.
However, times had changed; the country labourer had won his way from a state of slavery to that of a free man. From this time onwards he became generally recognised as a person of importance in the national life.
Needless to say, this advance to freedom had its drawbacks. Labourers took to walking the country and hiring themselves to the highest bidder. This led to trouble, and hence the Act of 1388 which forbad labourers to leave the Hundred where they lived unless they had a letter from a Justice of the Peace, and ordered that persons found wandering should be put in the stocks. I have heard this Act spoken of as the beginning of the English Poor Law: well, it certainly recognises an unemployable class, for it forbids "beggars impotent to serve" to leave their city, town or hundred, but it does not make any provision for the maintenance of such persons.
I have ventured upon these rather lengthy digressions in order to shew how greatly the lot of dwellers in a district like this improved during the 14th century. The scarcity of labour seems to have continued more or less throughout the next (15th) century. The scale of maximum wages had to be revised several times and always in the labourers' favour. In spite of wars both at home and abroad, all classes seem to have prospered. Hence, I suppose, the extraordinary Act of 1463. The preamble reads, - "The commons of the realm, as well men as women, have worn and daily do wear excessive and inordinate array to the great displeasure of God. ..."
The Act proceeds to details; - Knights below the rank of lord must not wear cloth of gold or purple silk: all coats and gowns must be of at least a given length; pikes on shoes are restricted to two inches; labourers are forbidden to wear cloth "whereof broad-yard exceeds 2/-, or hosen whereof the price exceeds 14 pence a pair! "
As the country-side prospered no doubt further clearings were made in the
forest. Though Whistley was for long the principal clearing, it did not remain
the only one. In course of time, we do not know when, three other settlements
sprang up, Broad Hinton, Winnersh and Newland. These four "Liberties," as they
were called, together came in course of time to form the ecclesiastical parish
of St. Nicholas, Hurst, 6898 acres in extent. But each Liberty was for civil
purposes a separate parish, having its own churchwardens, holding its own
vestry, and making its own Poor Rate. Whistley and Broad Hinton were reckoned in
the Hundred of
Again, though Whistley is the only manor mentioned in Doomsday Book, it did not remain for ever the only manor in the district. The manor of Hinton Pipard was situated in Broad Hinton and was probably conterminous with it. There appears also to have been a small manor of Sindlesham.
There is no circumstance in our parish which puzzles strangers more than the phrase "Hurst in Wilts" or Hurst in Berks and Wilts." The former is found on Some of the monuments, e.g. that of Richard Bigg in the north aisle; the latter stands at the top of the pages in our Register books right down to the year 1879.
The explanation is that the Liberty of Broad Hinton was a detached portion of the County of Wiltshire, and remained so till last century when all such anomalies were swept away.
If we ask how this ever came about; it is not easy to say for certain. We get a hint however from the returns made to Richard II who caused an Inquisition to be made in 1396. It reads thus, -
"William de Acuto, Earl of Salisbury. Hurst 300 acres of wood together with the hundred of Asherugg, part of the manor of Ambresbury."
From this and from similar returns made to Henry I and Henry VI, I presume that at some time a grant of part of the royal forest had been made to the manor of Amesbury in Wiltshire, and that in course of time this had become known as Broad Hinton and was reckoned as a detached part of Wiltshire. The name Asherugg has a familiar sound; the small wood between Bill Hill and Warren House is still known as Ashridge wood.
As time went on no doubt more and more of the forest was enclosed. Successive kings would reward faithful subjects with grants of unenclosed portions. For instance, the report of the Commissioners of Enclosures, 1517, tells us that Henry VII granted 60 acres of the royal forest in Hurst to Christopher Bellyngham, and that he "enclosed the lands with pailing and hedges to make a park there and placed wild game in it and buildings worth 30/- a year." Most likely both Bill Hill and Haines Hill were originally royal presents, but I can find no record of the recipients.
This gradual clearing of the undergrowth must have greatly changed the aspect of our Village. One building of the period has survived, - the barn at Hatch Gate farm, which bears the date 1441.
But many and greater changes were to come in Tudor times, as we shall see.
When the 16th century dawned the Country had begun to settle down after the civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses. Henry VII, the first of the Tudor kings, had occupied the throne some fifteen years. The history books have much to say of Simnel and Warbeck and other leaders of rebellion whose names we struggled with in our school days. But reading behind the history books, we note the many additions made to parish churches about the year 1500. Hence we conclude that men's minds had turned from the arts of war to those of peace.
Many churches were enriched by carved wooden screens between chancel and nave; to mention one of the finest, - that at King's College, Cambridge. Our screen of carved and painted oak is probably late 15th or early 16th century work. The ornaments carved on the upper beam suggest the reign of Henry VII; - the rose, part red and part white, implies the union of the Houses of York and Lancaster; the golden fruit shedding red seeds seems meant for a pomgranate, a fruit chosen by Henry VII as an emblem of his family.
But we cannot claim our screen as being a first class specimen of early Tudor work. No doubt it had originally a Rood Loft, (i.e. the figure of Our Saviour on the Cross); if so, this would have been removed in accordance with the royal Injunction of 1564.
The ornaments now on the top of the beam are obviously of later date; they are fastened to it by pegs; they are of fir or deal, not oak. And the Royal Arms are those of the Stuarts, which were in use only from 1603 to 1689; so the date of their erection is fixed within that period.
As to the "Prince of Wales' Feathers" over the entrance to the Chapel, the probable explanation is that they were put up to commemorate the granting by James I of certain rents of Crown land in Hurst and Sonning to his son Henry, Prince of Wales. On Prince Henry's death in 1612 these rents were granted to Prince Charles, afterwards King Charles I.
I am sometimes asked when our screen was painted; all I can say is that it is described as having been repainted at the restoration in 1875.
The great events of Henry VIII's reign did not leave our village undisturbed. The first Inhabitant we can really feel to know was one Richard Ward, and his coming here was closely connected with the dissolution of the monasteries.
We must not stay to tell the long story of Religious Houses, of which there were some six hundred at this time. They had rendered good service in the past, but the universities had begun to take their place as homes of learning. Wolsey recognised that some of their wealth might be better employed in supporting colleges and schools. The King appears to have thought that the wealth of the monasteries was a sound reason for their fall, and Parliament saw an easy way of lightening the burden of taxation. There was a crowd of courtiers coveting the estates, and hoping to get something out of the misfortunes of the monks.
A Royal Commission was appointed to visit, enquire and report. Making allowance for exaggeration, it is only fair to say that the report revealed a bad state of things. A Bill was introduced to the effect that the property of all Religious Houses of less than twelve persons or of less value than £200, be granted to the Crown. The Bill passed both Houses with little or no opposition. This is remarkable, since of the 92 members of the Upper House, 20 were bishops and 28 abbots. Under this Act 375 Religious Houses were dissolved.
With the dissolution of the greater monasteries under the Act of 1539, we are not concerned. Abingdon Abbey was dissolved under the Act of 1536, and Abbot Thomas duly delivered up Whistley with the rest of the Abbey property in 1538.
So Whistley passed to the Crown and the King gave it to Richard Ward, Sub-Treasurer of the Court. Ward came to reside here and tradition says he built Hurst House. It seems quite likely he would put up a suitable residence for himself on his newly acquired property, also that he might prefer a site on higher ground to that of the old manor house by the river.
Hurst House was re-built last century, but much of the old material is said to have been used. The tradition that Ward was the original builder is supported by the curious circumstance that the Arms of William Powlett, Marquis of Winchester, Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth, appear in the staircase window. The Marquis of course Ward's chief. The arms may have been put up as a compliment, or possibly to commemorate some visit of the great man to Hurst.
The name of Ward is familiar; I have but to mention Ward's Cross. Richard Ward's tomb is the oldest in our Church; his portrait and that of his wife (mutilated) are preserved on the brasses over his tomb. They kneel at prayer-desks; he is bare-headed, with short beard and moustache, and wears the long gown in which distinguished civilians are commonly represented in monuments of the period. His wife, who possessed the uncommon Christian name of Colubra, died as recorded on a little brass tablet on April 14th, 1574; that, I should say, is about the date of the engraving of the brass. Probably it was put up by Ward to her memory, and he intended that a similar tablet should be added giving the date of his own decease.
This was not done, but documents in the Record Office supply the information. Ward died on February 11, 1577, and directed in his will that he should be buried in my "Chappell at Hurst ". Some old notes on the Parish history give his age as 97 years, but I do not know the authority for this.
Of Ward's personal character we learn much from the Latin epitaph under his effigy, which dwells at length on his many Christian virtues. If my surmise, that he erected the monument himself, be correct, I fear modesty was not one of them. But I can readily believe he was a very tactful person. He kept his court appointment through four most eventful and exciting reigns those of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The epitaph tells us he was "faithful to them all and so by each beloved"
Fifteen children are represented kneeling behind their parents, but of these only two, Richard and Alse, are of interest to us.
Richard inherited the property, was knighted in 1601, and died in 1605, making his great nephew Richard Harrison his heir.
As to Alse, she married Thomas Harrison of Stratfieldsaye and was buried here in 1558. Her portrait in brass may be seen on the wall under the organ; she lies an old-fashioned four-post bed. The inscription tells us that she "died in child-bed of her first son Richard Harrison, Esq., the father of Sir Richard Harrison".
I picture the little motherless infant living at Hurst House with his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Ward: I know his father married again and became lord of the manor of Finchampstead. Anyway he grew up, married and was buried here in 1585. It was his son who inherited the Hurst property from his great-uncle, and no doubt it was he who put up the brass to the memory of his grand-mother. Since he was not knighted till 1621, the brass must be of a later date than that. But we shall have much more to say of Richard Harrison when we come to the days of King James I.
In trying to picture our Village in the days gone by we have had only isolated records of outstanding events, but from 1585 onwards we have a new and reliable source of information.
The first order for the keeping of parish registers was made in September 1538; either it was ignored or the record has been lost. Anyway our earliest surviving book contains the Baptisms and Marriages from 1585 to 1607, and the Burials from 1585 to 1604. It is in wonderful preservation; it was lost to the Parish for years, but was found in the safe at Ruscombe and restored us.
The front page is head thus, -
Hurst. Anno 1585. Emanuell.
All entries have been most carefully made, but it requires a little practice to master the Rev. T. Bearne's abbreviations. The year is of course reckoned to begin on March 25; some two centuries elapsed before Janurary 1 became New Year's Day.
In those days as in these, the number of Baptisms differed greatly; one year there were as many as 45, another as few as 15. Similarly in 1920 there were 31, and next year only 13. But we must not compare the number of baptisms in those days and these, because the ancient Parish of Hurst extended from Arborfield Cross to Wargrave.
The name of Bearwood never occurs, but we find Sindlesham spelt in a variety of ways, - Syndlesham, Sinsam, Synsham, Cyndlesham. Twyford, commonly spelt Twiford, occurs frequently; and Hinton or Hynton is found several times.
Glancing through the entries, one is struck by the familiarity of the names, e.g. Mylam, Myllerd, Giles, Goodchilde and others. One also notices the frequent occurrence of that rare Christian name Colubra; apparently Mrs. Ward's name took the fancy of the Villagers. The gentry are easily distinguishable by the title Mister or Master prefixed, or by the abbreviation Gent suffixed.
So now with the help of this Register book we will try to form a picture of our Village in the closing years of Queen Elizabeth's reign.
At Hurst House lived Richard Ward and with him, Richard Harrison, his great nephew and heir, then a man of about twenty years. I notice the burials of two old family servants in these days; I wonder if the great man attended the funerals. The entries read, -
"One Edward that had bene servant unto Master Ward was buried the XVllth day of Appryll, 1587."
"William Sanfore servant unto Mr. Ward was buried the XXth day of July, 1588."
At Haines Hill lived Mr. Thomas Windebank, Clerk of the Signet. I do not know the authority for saying that his famous son Francis was born there. The name occurs once in our Registers, thus, -
"Ellen Windebank the daughter of Thomas Windebank Esquyer was baptised the fythe of February 1593."
At Hurst Lodge lived Mr. John Barker. The Barkers were an important Berkshire family; another branch had property at Sonning. On the east wall of the Chapel (formerly on the east wall of the Chancel) is a tablet with this inscription, -
"John Barker Esquire servant and Gentleman Usher to Queen Elizabeth 34 years. He died Jan. 23, 1620 aged four score years and upwards. He had 3 sons and 5 daughters."
In the days we are trying to picture, John Barker would have been a man of about sixty years; I don't know when he came to Hurst. Presumably all the eight children were grown up before our Baptism Register begins: one of them, Ann, was buried here in 1589, and another, Maria, in 1598. Of the sons, Henry seems quite like a personal friend to me; I see so much of his life size effigy on the north wall of the Chancel. In the days we are thinking of he must have been a man of about twenty years.
Hinton House was, I think. occupied by the Hyde family; for the following entry occurs in the Burial Register, -
"1589. William Hide of (Hynton) Haines Hill was buried the VIth day of January."
The name of Hynton has been struck out but is quite legible, and Haines Hill has been inserted. I think beyond doubt Hinton House was the home of the Hydes; for we know that the Windebanks were at Haines Hill House, and the name may well have served for the district and not merely for the big house. But more than that; when Hinton House was being pointed last century the initials W.H. were found on the grey bricks.
The Hydes were a well-known Berkshire family; I do not know for certain when this branch settled in our Parish. In Mr. Cameron's little book you will find long extracts from the will of one, Raafe Thomson, dated 1538. In this he bequeaths to his daughter Margery Hyde "my best bed with covering of silk with the best counterpoint of imagery "; he also makes various bequests to " Maister William Hyde ". This Mr. Raafe Thomson appears to have been resident here himself at the time, for he desires to be buried in the "Chancel of St. Nicholas Church in Hurst ", he bequeaths four pence to the Rood Light, and £6 13s. 4d. for the saying of Masses for his soul. There are other bequests to servants and to the poor, all of which suggest a man of wealth.
Maybe it was with his father-in-law's legacy that William Hyde built Hinton
House. However that may be, he left it to his son, also called William. In the
last eight years of the century this William Hyde, Gent brought seven children
for Baptism, and buried two of
But Hurst must have been quite a lively place in those days; the Registers disclose many unfamiliar names; they also suggest occasions for the Village gossips.
Where was one Francis Bamonde, Gent who figures largely; he brought three children for Baptism, and buried three and his wife between 1589 and 1593. Two years later we find the Baptism of "Rebecca a base child daughter of one Francis Bamonde". The name does not occur again in our books.
And here are traces of a little clerical romance; in 1586 "Hughe Evans minister and Curat of Hurst" married "Agnes Gorway wyddowe of the same parish". Two years later they brought a daughter for Baptism and called her Mary .But their married life was brief; he was laid in the Churchyard in 1590.
The new Vicar, Richard Dann, held the living for fourteen years, and he also was buried here.
Other distinguished residents at the time, who figure in the Baptism Register, were, Mr. Richard Wells, Mr. Rowles, Mr. Miles Staples, Raffe Yarrow, Gent and Mr. George Peverill and Mr. William Irish, the two latter gentlemen having been blessed with very numerous offspring. In the Burial Register we find the names of Mr. Thomas Durham, Mr. Gregorye Burton, Mrs. Johan Norreis, and Edithe wife of Thomas Loveden, Gent.
Of quaint names there are several, e.g. Christyan Churche, Dorobella, Damaris, Tobias, Jane Austyn. Persons known by two names, e.g. Edward Deane alias Denman, are not uncommon in ancient Registers; so also among Burials such entries as, Mother Charles, Goodye Larence, Olde Elizabeth, Richard Churche an old man, Old Lutman. I suppose such an entry as "The wife of Thomas Ward a poor Man" is so made to prevent possible confusion with the rich man at Hurst House.
Families like .individuals, have their day and go hence. Four families which became very prominent in the Village life a century or two later were already settled in the Parish, - the Crockfords, the Nashes, the Beards and the Symons; the latter name is spelt in variety of ways. Similarly names such as Pyllgryme, Goodchape, Byforest, which occur frequently in this first book, quite disappear from later records.
Among old papers in our Churchwardens' box is a much-worn and faded scrap which carries us back to the days we are thinking of. It is the original account of the Overseers of Whistley for the year ending Easter 1603. The Act of 1601, which ordered the relief of the impotent and the appointment of Overseers of the poor, has formed the basis of our Poor Law system ever since. The history books say it was long before it got into operation. In Whistley anyway the account for the year 1603 is all in order and duly signed. There are but eleven items on it, e.g. "Pd to poore Widdowe Smythe in her Syckness, 2/8"; " Pd to Mother West at sevrall tymes, 5/- "; " Pd to the clark wh made above, (torne): total payments for the year, 32/8.
So just try and picture the meeting of the Whistley Vestry at Easter 1603, and the importance which attached to this now torn and battered sheet of paper. The Vestry must. have met in the days of mourning for the Queen; she died on March 24th and was buried in the Abbey on April 28th.
In the early years of this 17th century some very valuable additions were made to our Church. The divines of the Reformation period attached great importance to preaching; in 1603 a canon, (i.e. a law of the Church) was passed which ordered that there be "a decent pulpit in every church".
The workmanship and pattern of our pulpit indicate that it was made about this time; no doubt it was put up in consequence of the new canon. It is very similar to that at Ruscombe; so similar as to suggest that both are the work of the same man. It is said, but I doubt it, that from the first our pulpit was richly painted and guilded and that the old painting could still be seen when the Church was re-fitted in 1837. But anyway it did not look then as we see it today; it had a sounding board coloured blue and powdered with gold stars. This was removed at the restoration in 1876 and the panels were painted (or re-painted)., with figures of the four Evangelists.
The most conspicuous addition to our Church was the square red-brick tower which bears the date 1612. About this time similar additions were made to many churches. The fact is, - when King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England he found this Country pretty prosperous and it was some time before his mismanagement destroyed the prosperity. In this neighbourhood the church towers at Ruscombe and at Tilehurst are early 17th century work.
But our tower was not originally exactly as we see it to-day. In 1876, the little cupola, where hangs the bell on which the clock strikes, was added. Looking at a little picture of the Church before the restoration of 1876, we see that the shape of the upper windows has been altered and that the four gargoyles are modern additions. The parapet too has evidently been re-built with new bricks In recent times. Probably all this was done in 1876 when we know that the west window was added and the arch leading to the nave raised. More recent still was the addition of the flag-staff; this was erected to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
So much of the present tower, but I do not suppose it was the first tower our Church possessed. It has the appearance of standing on the foundations of an older one: there is the reference to the "bell-turret" in the Visitation returns of 1220: there are the two undated bells, in the peal.
Of our eight bells, these two undated ones are believed by experts to be of considerably earlier date than 1612. They bear the following inscriptions - "I as Treblbe gin" and "I as third will sing". Of the peal as we hear it to-day these bells form the 4th and 6th. The 5th bell was probably a gift to the new tower; it bears the inscription - "Henry Knight made this bell. ano. 1613"; Knight was a well-known bell founder of Reading. The tenor is inscribed - "Feare God -1632"; the 3rd, "Prayes God - 1634"; and the 7th, "Feare God - 1642". And so it was that for nearly three centuries these six bells reminded the villagers of God and summoned them to worship. It was in 1911, when the peal was re-hung, that the present treble and 2nd bells were added.
Of the residents in the Village in these early years of the 17th century, there is a tradition that the King's only daughter Elizabeth, who had married the King of Bohemia in 1612, lived at Hurst House. I do not know how the tradition arose; it has found its way into print; quite recently I answered a letter from an historian enquiring about it. But Mr. Cameron, who investigated it, writes, - "There is no trace. of her ever having resided at Hurst House and what is known of her life renders it impossible that, if she ever visited the place, it could have been for more than a very short time".
So I am afraid that Elizabeth of Bohemia, grand-mother of King George I and an ancestress of our reigning Sovereign, must not be counted among former residents of Hurst. But maybe there is some truth behind the story. During her long and eventful life, (she died in 1662), it is quite possible she did visit the Village. Both Haines Hill and Hurst House were occupied by such persons as might have entertained a king's daughter.
When last we looked at Hurst House, (close of 16th century) Richard Harrison was a lad in his teens. He grew to manhood, inherited the property in 1605, married, and was knighted in 1621. His wife was a granddaughter of Sir W. Gerrard, Lord Mayor of London, and probably brought a little money into the family. They had three children; - John who appears to have married and lived at Hurst but pre-deceased his father; Richard, born in 1611, who inherited the property and whose tomb is familiar in the Chapel; and a daughter France who married Thomas Howard.
No doubt Sir Richard an Lady Harrison kept up a considerable establishment at Hurst House; we shall see later how Archbishop Laud used to visit them there.
Apparently Sir Richard's mother-in-law lived with them, - a circumstance
perhaps not worth mentioning except that it accounts for the conspicuous
monument to her memory on the north wall of the Chapel. She had married three
times and had had a family by each husband. The inscription at the base tells us
that. she "erected this monument whilst she was yet living for herself and hers
being desirous to deposit her body in that place where living she had found so
much content and so sweet a repose of her age". The monument is peculiar; it has
six figures all kneeling at prayer-desks. I suppose the two figures facing each
other in the centre are the lady herself and the third husband, Sir Henry Savile,
Reader to Queen Elizabeth, Warden of Merton and Provost of Eton. Then I take the
two female figures behind the lady to be her daughters by her first husband,
Lady Carleton and Lady Harrison. As to
When last we looked at Haines Hill House it was occupied by Mr. Thomas Windebank; by this time it had passed into the hands of Francis, his son. Of this Francis Windebank we shall hear more in the next section Laud, in a letter dated 1631, refers to him as his "my greatest friend of thirty years". The future Archbishop (Laud was Bishop of St. David's at this time) visited Haines Hill in the autumn of 1624, as is shewn by the following entry in his diary, -
"Saturday in the evening at Mr. Windebank's my ancient servant Adam Torless fell in a swoon".
Of other residents in King James' reign we know little; the Registers, our principal source of information, fail us. Our first book gave us the Baptisms and Marriage to 1607 and the Burials to 1604. Our next book, which is a copy, begins with the year 1633. I suppose the copyist chanced to have the original entries of burials in 1621 and 1622, for he gives these at the beginning. Among them is that of "Mary wife of William Peverill"; we noticed the Baptisms of Mr. George Peverill's numerous children of whom one was called William, Also among these Burials is that of a son of Edward Moody, Gent: this is the first appearance of the name in our Registers but both Mr. and Mrs. Edward Moody and Mr. and Mrs. William Moody were buried here later. I came upon the Moody pedigree in "Visitations of Berkshire " (Harleian Society) and learnt from it that this Edward Moody married Maria Hyde daughter of William Hyde of Hurst; so that accounts for his connection with this place. I also learnt that Edward Moody's great grandfather had saved Henry VIII from drowning at Hitchin.
Apparently young Mr. Henry Barker had married soon after the turn of the century, for we find the Baptisms of his children. As his father did not die till 1620, I wonder where he lived. Maybe they all lived together at Hurst Lodge; but I do not know what was the custom of married sons in those days.
Of other gentry the name of Mr. John Whistler occurs for the first and only time in the Baptism register for 1607.
Since no further information can be got from the Registers, let us leave them and the Church and go to the Church House. It happens that the first mention of this property occurs in the period we are speaking of. In In 1609 an enquiry was held at Wokingham as to the ancient charities in the neighbourhood. At this it was stated, (see Charity Commissioners Reports) -
"There was in the parish of Hurst one tenement called the Church House, the rents and profits whereof had time out of mind been received and employed by the churchwardens there towards the repair of the church of Hurst, but by whom the said house was given they knew not, but that the yearly rent of 4 pence was paid to the lord of the manor of Whistley, sometime the land of the Abbot of Abingdon, and that one Christopher Stevelin was then tenant to the same by demise from the churchwardens of Hurst, and that the rents were truly and carefully employed to the repairs of the church, according to the charitable will and intent of the donor thereof",
So the "Church House and Land Charity", as it is officially called, is by far
the oldest of our Parish Charities. The mention of the Abbot puts the date of
the gift back to at least the early 16th century. The present house dates from
about the middle of that century;
So much of the Church House in early days; I want to tell something of its history down to the present time.
All our "Ancient Charities" are now administered under a scheme drawn up by the Charity Commissioners in 1885, but the parishioners, to whom they really belong, often. seem to know little of their history. As we trace the story of our Village we shall come upon the names of the donors; when we do so I propose to digress and tell of the gift and its history. We shall see how carefully these gifts have been guarded and how conscientiously the donors' wishes have been observed. The Trustees' accounts are printed annually and put up in the Church porch and these bring the story of our endowed charities right up to date.
So reverting to the Church House, - in 1693 the Churchwardens let it on a lease at an annual. rental of £8. It is described thus on the lease, -
All that messuage or tenement called the Church House and time out of mind belonging to the parish church of Hurst aforesaid and the buildings, outhouses and gardens thereto belonging".
painting of the Bowling Green by Michael Rooker showing an
I do not know when it became an inn, but such it was some fifty years later. In "A Few Words about Hurst" you will find Mr. Belchin's quaint description of his visit to the Village in 1747. He and his friends stayed with relations but after church on Sunday morning his host introduced him to a "noted publican of the place, after saluting each other in. a gentleman like manner we parted with a promise to return to his house in the afternoon". The party paid the promised visit which Mr. Belchin describes thus, - "This house is very pleasantly situated and has belonging to it a large and handsome bowling green for the diversion of those gentlemen who please to play. Being all assembled together we sat down and smoked our pipes and drank some wine in a very sociable manner. The afternoon being half spent, the landlady of the house made her appearance and in a very complasant manner desired the company would be pleased to drink tea. Our ladies immediately accepted the offer ... ". Though the name of the house is not mentioned obviously the Church House is indicated.
In 1837 it was known as the "Bunch of Grapes" and was let at an annual rental of £16. But since then somebody changed its name to the "Castle Inn"; probably in consequence of the finding of a picture of a castle painted on the wall over one of the fireplaces. As to the story of a castle at Hurst which "afforded accommodation for 500 men at arms" and possessed of a hall "large enough to hold with ease 400 dancers", - I know of no historical evidence for its existence; I quote from an article which appeared some few years ago in a local newspaper.
There is a persistent tradition that the Bowling Green belongs to the Charity; but this is not so. In 1812, the time of the Inclosure Award, an allotment of 1a. 0r, 38p. on Lea Heath was made to the lessee of the Church House. And he is said to have exchanged this for the Bowling Green. Very likely he did so, but of course he could only have made such an exchange in respect of his own tenancy. Possibly however this may account for the tradition.
As a matter of fact the allotment on Lea Heath remained the property of the Churchwardens till 1898, when it was sold by order of the Charity Commissioners and the proceeds of the sale were invested in Consolidated Stock.
If now you turn to the "Church House and Land Charity" account for the current year, you will find on the receipts side the interest on this stock together with the rent of the house. On the expenditure side you will see that, in accordance with the Scheme, £5 is put in the Savings Bank towards a fund for permanent improvements to the Church, and the remainder is handed to the Churchwardens for their Church Expenses account.
Such very briefly is the history of the most ancient of our "Ancient Charities".
King James died rather suddenly in the Spring of the year 1625 and was succeeded by his son Charles, then a small of about twenty-five years. The new King married in the year of his Accession Henrietta Maria daughter of. the King of France. Whatever may be thought of King Charles he certainly stepped into an uncommonly difficult position and one for which he was hardly the man either by temperament or training. The disputes with Parliament and the events which led on to the civil war are common knowledge; we shall notice them only in so far as they directly concern the story of our village.
The summer of 1625 was marked by a bad epidemic of plague; in these days of sanitation we hardly realise what these epidemics meant. In the first of July in London only there were 1222 deaths from plague; those who could left the city.
Laud records in his diary; -
"July 13, Wednesday, I went into the country to the house of my good friend Francis Windebank."
"July 20, Wednesday, a Public Fast was held throughout all England. I preached in the Parish of Hurst where I then abode with Master Windebank."
"July 21, Thursday, I visited Sir Richard Harrison and returned."
"July 24, Sunday, I preached in the Parish of Hurst."
In the autumn of this year Richard Kippax was buried in our Church. I know
nothing of his connection with this place and nothing of him other than what is
recorded on the brass tablet in the Chapel. His wife was a sister of Sir Richard
Fleetwood, Bt., so a member
The "Elegiacal or Mournful verses" composed by Kippax's friend are so quaint that I give them at length; -
"Forty-three years about the world
In the winter 1625-26 Laud was much at Hurst. He was in high favour with the
Court and it was he who was mainly responsible for the revision of the Service
for the King's Coronation which was to take place on February 2. No doubt he
found it convenient to stay
Laud called at Haines Hill on November 24 apparently on his way to London from his Welsh diocese. He was back at Hurst on December 4 and stayed till after Christmas, making a day expedition to Windsor on the 14th. He preached in our Church on Christmas Day which fell that year on a Sunday. He left Haines Hill to go to the Court which was at Hampton but he was soon hack again and he mentions in his diary a visit to the Harrisons.
Well, the great day of the Coronation arrived and Laud took a leading part. But in spite of all his efforts the whole affair was, as Stanley stays, "filled with omens of disaster". The royal barge balked the steps at Westminster on arrival; the wing of the silver dove on the sceptre was found at the last minute to have been broken; the Bishop of Carlisle, who preached a funerial sermon on "I will give thee a crown of life", died of "black jaundice" shortly after; a shock of earthquake occurred during the ceremony. Laud was, of course, in no way responsible for these mishaps; he continued in high favour and was one of the King's most trusted advisers. Though he had little time for visiting his Hurst friends he did not forget them. In his diary a year or so later he records a dream in detail, (an odd thing for an otherwise sensible man to do); - he dreamed that he brought the King as an unexpected guest to the house of Francis Windebank.
In 1628 Laud was translated to Bath and Wells and very soon after he was preferred to London. In the struggle with Parliament over the Petition of Right he sided openly with the King.
Some writers tell us Laud was a great saint, others that he was a great sinner. I don't believe he was either; he was a man of considerable ability in a position which needed consumate ability; he was a conscientious worker in a position which demanded a far-sighted statesman. Probably he knew this and it worried him.
In 1629 Laud "fell sick" as he expresses it and was laid up at Haines Hill from the middle of August till the end of October. Three years later he did what he intended to be a good turn for his kind host; -
"1632. June 15. Mr. Francis Windebank my old friend was sworn Secretary of State, which place I obtained for him of my gracious master King Charles".
I don't know when Windebank became Sir Francis; knighthood was no great compliment in those days. It was one of Charles' mistakes that he forced knighthood on all holders of land to the value of £ 40 a year; it irritated the country gentry.
In 1633 Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury. This happens to be the year in which our Communion Plate was presented to the Church; but I have no reason for suggesting there is any connection between the two events.
The Plate as we have it today consists of a Chalice, Paten and Flagon all of which bear the Goldsmith's date-mark of the year 1611-12, and a Latin inscription which means "To God and His parishioners, for use in the Church of Hurst. The gift of an anonymous donor, one of the faithful. In the year of Salvation about 1633". The Flagon is the earliest specimen in this County; older by seventeen years than that at St. Mary's Reading: (See Antiquaries Journal, vol. VIII) but the authorities tell me the spout is a later addition. The Chalice and Paten have the usual characteristics of Laudian Communion Vessels of which some forty or fifty specimens are known.
The rest of the Plate, a Chalice, Paten, Flagon and Alms Dish, bears the same inscription as the other but with the addition of some Latin words which mean "Melted down again in the year of Salvation 1852". The writer of the article referred to above says, - "Keith or the then Incumbent set out to copy the Laudian Vessels but could not resist putting an engrave design round the lip of the Chalice and an Eight-Iobed depression with Agnus Dei in the centre of its Paten".
Our Plate is silver-gilt, as was the Chalice mentioned in the Visitation returns of 1220. I wonder what became of the original Plate; that at Henley was sold in the 16th century to repair the bridge; some such maybe was the fate of our's.
The generous present of the Plate was followed three years later by the gift of the Hour-glass for the pulpit. I need hardly say the original glass has not survived but the iron work is a conspicuous feature of our Church. It bears the date 1636 and the initial letters " E.A.", presumably the initials of the donor. The inscription reads, -
"As this glasse runnethe,
There must have been some good supporters of the Church in the Village in those days. The brick gables of the Chancel and Chancel aisle bore the dates 1627 and 1638 respectively before the restoration of last century. This is remarkable because events were moving rapidly towards the civil war which broke out in 1642.
Laud was Impeached of high treason in 1640 and Windebank was arrested. The latter contrived to escape but Haines Hill saw him no more; he died abroad some six years after. His features are familiar to me because of the little framed print dated 1812 which hangs in the priest's Vestry. It was given to my predecessor but I do not know, nor did the donor, the whereabouts of the original painting.
Sir Francis Windebank
In picking up the threads of our story we again have we the assistance of the Registers. We have the copy of all entries from 1633 and also the original Marriage Register from 1633 to 1720. This latter has I suppose been restored to our Chest of recent years; the author of "A Few Words about Hurst" does not seem to know of it. Comparing this original with the copy I feel justified in saying the latter is not first-rate work. The copyist took pains not to omit any entries but he did not take sufficient trouble to copy the spelling or to decipher difficult handwriting.
The great events of the times are reflected in this old Register. In 1645 the use of the Prayer Book was prohibited and the persecution of the Church began in earnest. So in our Register all the entries to 1646 are neatly made in columns and in an educated hand, but the next year there are no entries and half a page is left blank as if it were intended to write this up later. Then for the next five years the entries are in a different hand; sometimes names begin with capitals, sometimes with small letters.
The number of marriages varied greatly; in 1639 there were as many as eighteen, and three of these took place on the same day. ' In 1640 William Peverill married Margaret Wood ; the name of Peverill does not occur again in our Registers. Five years later Mr. John Deane married Mrs. Marie Blagrave; but I know nothing as to their connection with this place.
Turning to .the Baptisms and Burials as we have them in the copy, we glean quite a lot of information about the residents. Sir Richard Harrison's sons, John and Richard, had married and both seem to have been living in the Village. John brought seven children for Baptism; the last Baptised in 1648, he named Henrietta Maria, - an indication of the Harrison's unswerving loyalty to the fast-failing royal cause. I find no record of John's death but it was Richard who inherited the property. He had married Dorothy, a daughter of William Deane, Esq. of Nethercote in the parish of Lewknor, Oxfordshire. We learn from the great heavy monument on the south wall of the Chapel that they lived together forty-nine years and had thirteen sons and two daughters. In the days we are speaking of these children were arriving in rapid succession. As his father, old Sir Richard survived till 1655, I picture the whole family living at Hurst House in straightened circumstances. For Richard served the King all through the civil war and raised two troops of horse at his own expense: for which he suffered the "persecution of sequestration and composition". But he received his reward at the Restoration as we shall see.
I know nothing of the politics of the Barker family. Henry, now a man near seventy years of age, still lived presumably at Hurst Lodge. The four sons whose names are familiar on the monument must have been middle-aged men at this time. Of William, the founder of the Alms-houses, we shall have more to say.
The only daughter Frances had married Henry Fairfax second son of Viscount Fairfax of Emely in Ireland. Apparently he came to live here; he brought his eldest son Henry for Baptism in 1639 and later a daughter whom he called Frances. But he was not of the same tough material as his father-in-Iaw who survived him. He died in 1650; the slab which covers his grave is on the Chapel floor within the Altar rails. Mr. Cameron identifies the family to which Henry Fairfax belonged with that of the celebrated Lord Fairfax, the leader of the Parliamentary army. In this he is almost certainly wrong; the former belonged to an Irish family whereas the latter was a Scotch peer.
Memorial to Henry Farifax
Hinton House was, I presume, still in the possession of the Hyde family. When last we looked at it, (close of 16th century), we found Mr. and Mrs. William Hyde there. Our Register contains no record of their burial so presumably they were both dead before 1633. A much worn slab under the Chapel Altar marks their grave and those of numerous members of their family. After their death I picture their son Humphrey and his wife Mary reigning at Hinton House; they had three sons and two daughters Cecilia and Mary.
A large slab now covered by the Chapel pews marks the grave of Elizabeth wife of Jacob Marsh, S.T.D. who died at the birth of her daughter Frances in 1634. The ,infant lived and was Baptised here but the Register gives James as the father's Christian name. Dr. James Marsh held various high offices in the Church and was one of the King's Chaplains, but how his first wife came to be buried here I don't know.
A number of unfamiliar names appear in our Registers in these days and disappear. As in the recent air raids there were refugees from London and elsewhere, so in these days maybe there were refugees from Reading, Newbury and districts where there was much fighting. The following of whom we hear no more brought children for Baptism, - James Davis, Esq., Mr. Griffin Eldridge, Mr. Thomas Turner, Mr. Parsons, "ye honourable Thomas Howard", Mr. Tobie Terrale who also buried his wife, Mr. Rise and Mr. Wise, (probably the same person is intended). The Burial Register, which omits all burials in 1646, contains the following, - Mrs. Elizabeth Sidley, Mrs. Bourne, Mrs. Moore; also "Thurstone Riely, curate" in 1 633 and "Mr. White minister" in 1647.
My readers will remember that King Charles was beheaded at Whitehall on January 30, 1649.
An Act of 1645 forbad the use of the Prayer Book and established Presbyterianism, but it does not seem to have been very seriously enforced. After 1648, when the army got the upper hand, all sorts of services were tolerated in the parish churches, excepting only the services of the Prayer Book.
Cromwell's Commissioners traversed the country enquiring and ejecting from their livings all ministers guilty of "scandalous conduct". This term they interpreted to cover all such offences as frivolity, loyalty to the Stuarts, immorality and the use of the Prayer Book. Though patrons were permitted to present to vacant livings, their nominees had to pass a board consisting of Presbyterians, Independents and Baptists.. Many of the clergy were deprived and suffered great hardships; many of our cathedrals and churches were shamefully desecrated.
Of such desecration there is no evidence in our Church. The Vicar at the time was one, William Clark, L.L.D. There is a very black mural tablet to his memory in the south aisle; it is legible, if closely examined in a strong light. This tells us that he died in 1675, having been the "faithful minister" here for thirty-seven years. So he contrived somehow to exercise his ministry right through the days of the civil war and the Commonwealth and till fifteen years after the Restoration.
But Dr. Clark's faithful labours did not extend to the marriage Register, which got into a wonderful muddle in the years of the Commonwealth. In the whole of one year, but three marriages are entered and all these in the same month. And if some marriages were left unentered, as seems probable, others were inserted which certainly ought not to have been. Here is one, for example, -
"1655. It is (illegible) that Thomas Horsey and faintnot Holdersonesse both of this parish were married at Swallofeld December the 24 by fore Thomas (illegible) and Edward Horsey and Elizabeth Horsey ".
Such Christian names as that of the bride were not uncommon in those days; other examples occur in our books, - Comfort, Prudence, Patience.
Again, such a marriage as the following was irregular because neither party was a parishioner, -
"Richard Houlton of Binfield and Elizabeth Arasmith other ways caled Cowley of ockingham wear Maried at this parish Feb. 24, 1654."
In the year before the Restoration fifteen marriages are recorded, but so carelessly have the entries been made that often Christian names of the contracting parties have been omitted. In one case the bridegroom seems to have been forgotten altogether; the entry reads, -
"Ann Harison maried August the 21".
The Registers of the period introduce us to numerous new and distinguished residents; but first a word about our old friends Cecilia and Mary Hyde. In 1656 "Mr. William Bryd and Mrs. Sciscillea Hide were maried": and three years later, "Mr. John Chambers, merchant and Mrs. Mary Hyde were maried". By the bye these young ladies were not widows; the prefix "Mrs." is an intimation that they were of the gentry. The spelling of the elder lady's Christian name presented difficulty; compare the above with the inscription on the grave in the Chapel floor; yet another variety occurs in the Burial Register; for she died within a year of her marriage.
he following entry is of interest for two reasons: -
"1658. Humphefy Duderige and Margret Pilegram alias Coles were maried by justis Bigg May the 13"
It reminds us that civil marriages before a Justice of the Peace were recognised in the time of the Commonwealth: it introduces us to Mr. Richard Bigg, the new occupant of Haines Hill House.
The Bigg family hailed originally from Benenden in Kent. Bigg's father owned property in St. Giles-in-the-Fields, then a village a few miles outside the City walls. His mother was a daughter of a citizen of London, Juxon by name. No doubt Bigg had identified himself with the Parliamentarians and Haines Hill was the reward of services to the party. I don't know the year of his arrival here, but I don't suppose the big house remained long vacant after Windebank's flight. The first appearance of his name is in the Burial Register thus, -
"1653. The Lady Phebe wife of Richard Bigg, Esq., Feb. 17".
The black marble tablet on the wall of the north aisle bears the following inscription, -
"Near this place lyeth buried the body of Lady Phebe, one of the daughters of James Ley, Earl of Marlborough, sometime Lord High Treasurer of England, late wife of Richard Bigg, of Hurst in the County of Wilts, Esq., who had issue by him four sons, viz., James, John, Daniel and Richard. She died the 13th of February, 1653."
Of two of the four sons we shall hear more; for John seems to have inherited the Hurst property, and Richard founded the famous Bread Charity. The latter was an infant of two years at the time of his mother's death.
But their father did not long remain a widower; he married the daughter of one, Timothy Wade, a London merchant. Many a time does ."ye right worthy Richard Bigg, Esq" figure in the Baptism Register. The first occasion was on June 25th, 1657, the day before the Installation of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector. I wonder if Bigg managed to get up to Town for that unique ceremony in Westminster Hall, the one and only occasion on which the Coronation Chair and Stone of Scone have ever left the Abbey. I imagine his presence would have been expected by his patron and by the party. But any way we are safe in picturing a large crowd of brothers and half-brothers playing and quarrelling in the garden at Haines Hill.
Amongst other new residents, "ye Worshipful Perigren Willcox" is conspicuous in our books. His name occurs six times and it is literally true that it is differently spelt on each occasion, though. obviously the same person is intended. His connection with this place was brief; it began with his marriage to Mrs. Mary Ester in 1651. In the five years following he brought four children for Baptism and buried one; but I find no further trace of him, though undoubtedly he was a person of importance in his day. His wife's maiden name is also unfamiliar; but about this time a Mr. Newbury of Britwell married Mrs. Kathren Hestar of this parish. Knowing how carelessly the Registers were being kept, I expect the two ladies were sisters. Mr. and Mrs. Newbery, like Mr. and Mrs. Willcox, appear to have made their home here; for they also brought a child for Baptism.
Those who know our Church will recall the mural tablet by the north door to the memory of Thomas Baggley Gent, who died in 1684. It is curious to notice the sudden appearance of this family in the Burial Register of 1657. Alisia, wife of Edward Baggley, and Christian, wife of Richard Baggley, were both buried on the same day; and within a month John Baggley also. Next year George Baggley was married here; he brought a child for Baptism and was buried here in 1676. William was buried in 1662; and, with the burial of Thomas (of the tablet), the name finally disappears. It is a curious record; it would be interesting to know what led this family of adults to come and settle in our Village.
Other names which just appear and disappear are Mr. John Bettam, or Beetum; and Mr. John Froghill, or Toghill. As with marriages so with burials, some are entered which never took place here; e.g. -
"1653~ Jone Alexander widd buried at Arberfield Oct 17"
Since the Commonwealth lasted but eleven years, this section is a short one; - an opportunity to notice a few of the quaint and rare names which occur in this 17th century Register book. Of Christian names, I find Venus, Flower, and Wineyfruit; the last is probably an error of the copyist. Two Christian names were very rarely given; only three or four instances occur in the century. and then it is such familiar combinations as Marie Magdalene and Henrietta Maria. Of surnames, By is the shortest I have ever come across: Eeeles must surely be the mis-spelling of a name still familiar in the Village. The Baptism of infants-in-arms would appear to have been the invariable custom; to one entry a note is added, - "aged six years or thereabout".
Oliver Cromwell died in 1658. He had declined the title of King which had been pressed on him by Parliament: rather, he had been obliged to decline it, because the offer of it was distasteful to the army. .The Council declared his eldest son Protector, but he, being neither a statesman or a soldier, failed to secure the support of either Parliament or the army. When the new Parliament met it determined to recall Prince Charles.
Thus the Commonwealth came to an end, though Cromwell himself was a fine soldier and a statesman of considerable ability. It is just an instance of the truth that a minority backed by armed force may temporarily seize the reins of government but can never hold them permanently.
Since his father's execution, Charles had spent most of his time in France and Holland. He accepted Parliament's invitation to return with alacrity; he landed at Dover and entered London on May 29th, 1660, which day happened to be his thirtieth birthday.
Of our old friends the Harrisons we saw nothing in the days of the
Commonwealth. The old Sir Richard had died in 1655; so at the time of the
Restoration we picture Richard Harrison, now a man of fifty, and Dorothy, his
wife, reigning supreme at Hurst House.
Sir Richard himself died on August 23, 1683, aged 72 years. His monument on the south wall of the Chapel, is a heavy affair of grey and white marble. He and Lady Dorothy, with outstretched left hand, kneel at a prayer-desk. "The two midle-fingers on her left Hand grew together " - (from an inscription on the Beaver monument in Wokingham churchyard). This may be seen in the effigy, but it is hardly noticeable except it be looked for.
The most remarkable feature of the Harrison monument is the bust of a third person behind the prayer-desk. I take this to represent the son Philip, whose many virtues are detailed in the epitaph below. This epitaph is a lengthy affair; here are the last three lines,-
"But while his mother this sad
Clearly Philip was a very good young man and he died young; - at the early age of 22 years, on the Christmas Day following his father's death. I don't know how to account for the following entry which I came upon in Antony Wood's Diaries, -
"Sept. 1683. Mr. Harrison, commoner of Merton, left us; went to one of the Temples, London; sickned of the small pox; died in Sept this yeare to the grief of his father Sir R. Harrison of Hurst."
The date upon the monument, which is confirmed by the Burial Register, must of course be correct. But is interesting to learn that Philip went to Merton; it is not often, I imagine, that a thirteenth son gets an Oxford education. So much of Philip.
Of the dozen other sons, John was the eldest surviving. He had taken Holy Orders, was a Fellow of New College and a B.C.L. Shortly after the Restoration he had become Rector of Pulborough and a Prebendary of Chichester. Though one of his children was Baptized here, I don't suppose Hurst saw much of him in these days. And shortly before his father's death he assigned his inheritance here by deed to his younger brother William.
William also was in Holy Orders and was a Doctor of Divinity. At the time of his father's death he was a Prebendary of Winchester and Governor of the Hospital of the Holy Cross. He had married and the name of Dr. William Harrison appears in the Baptism Register. So in the closing years of Charles II's reign, I picture the Doctor dividing his time between his duties at Winchester and his property at Hurst. Since his mother, Lady Dorothy, survived till 1690, I imagine her living on at Hurst House and looking after it in his absences. Of the Charity which Lady Dorothy founded, I am giving a brief account at the close of this section.
Then there was Charles; he appears to have married a local girl, by name, Mary Malthus.. The form of the entry in the Register suggests that she was not one of the "gentry". I suppose they made their home here; for they brought several children for Baptism.
And then there was Deane, who bore his mother's maiden name. He, I tear was not a good young man; for his father in his will (dated 1676) left him only 5/- and added that he knew the reason he left him no more.
Of the other sons, two appear to have died in childhood; of all the rest I find no certain trace. It seems reasonable to suppose that of so many some were apprenticed to trade. In the early years of 18th century there was a prosperous tradesman in Reading named Thomas Harrison, whose sons migrated to London and set up a printing business which ultimately developed into the form of "J. Harrison and Sons", printers to the King. It seems likely these enterprising young men were grandchildren of one of Sir Richard's many sons.
Of the Barkers at Hurst Lodge we saw nothing in the days of the Commonwealth. On the death of Henry Barker in 1651, the property passed to his daughter Mrs. Henry Fairfax. I do not know at all why the sons, William and Henry, were passed over; both were living at the time. There is no doubt that the property came to Mrs. Fairfax and that, on her death in 1668, it passed to her son Henry. He, in due course, married Ann, daughter of Sir Thomas Browne, a famous physician and author of the "Religio Medici." They had numerous children most of whom seem to have died in infancy. A carpet covers the stone on the Chapel floor inscribed thus, -
"Under this stone Iyeth interred two deare departed children, William and Ann Alethea Fairfax, 1684."
The marble tablet to their memory on the east wall of the Chapel bears the following epitaph, -
"This little silent gloomy monument
Memorial to Frances Fairfax
And on the floor close by is the grave of yet another child, Frances, aged five years. This is marked by a white incised slab bearing the Fairfax arms, a death's head and cross-bones.
But the connection of the Fairfax family with this place was not a long one. The sole surviving child, a daughter, is said to have married Lord Cardross, after - wards Earl of Buchan, in 1697; but I cannot verify this as the marriage is not in our Register. However it is certain the property changed hands after the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Fairfax. Both were buried here; the former in 1694, and the latter in 1698.
Of course the Dame of Fairfax is familiar enough to all who go about the Village with their eyes open. It is conspicuous on the tablet over the entrance to the Alms-houses. The inscription reads, -
"This Hospital for the maintenance of Eight Poor Persons, each at 6d. per diem for ever, was erected and founded in the year 1664 at the sole charge of William Barker, Esq., who died on the 25th of March, 1685. and lies buried in the South Chancel of this Parish. Henry Fairfax, his nephew and heir, M.P."
I have no notion how William Barker came by the means to found this excellent charity; possibly some of the land, with which he endowed it, was original Barker property inherited from his father. As Mr. Cameron aptly remarks; - this was no death-bed charity bestowed when a man has no further occasion for his wealth, but a gift to the poor made twenty years before the donor's death. Nor does Barker seemed to have desired advertisement; it was his nephew who put up the inscription quoted above. It may be worth remarking that the letters "M.P." do not indicate "Member of Parliament" but "Monumentnm Posuit," i.e. erected .this memorial"
William's brother, Henry Barker, was buried here in 1698, after which the family seems no longer to have been prominent in the Village, though the name does occur again in the Registers.
So at this point we say farewell to both the Barkers and the Fairfaxes. Of the Alms-house Charity, its endowment and later history I am giving a brief account in a special section.
When last we looked at Haines Hill in the days of the Commonwealth, Mr.
Richard Bigg, his second wife and a pretty numerous family were firmly
established there. The Restoration does not seem to have dis-established them.
Bigg himself was buried here in
But it is John's younger brother Richard, founder of the Bread Charity, who interests us most. Presumably he had inherited some of the family property in St. Giles-in-the-Fields, for the inscription on his tomb tells us how "in his great charity" he "gave to the poor of this parish three houses in St. Giles-in-the-Fields in the County of Middlesex, which houses he directed for the buying of bread weekly, for the poor, and died the last day of July, 1677, in the 27th year of his age." The tomb, which is at the west end of the north aisle, is an unusual structure to find inside a church; it consists of a huge black marble slab raised on bricks. Bigg's direction in his will is a partial explanation of this; " I desire that I may lye in that part of the church where a monument may be raised upon my grave like to that monument which is in the churchyard of the said place upon the grave of Mr. Richard Maynard ". Needless to say, we cannot identify this particular grave which took Bigg's fancy. No 17th century monument in our Churchyard is identifiable, but there are several later ones which may well be copies of his.
A further direction in the will, - that the grave be "digged nine or ten feet deep", is justly criticised by Mr. Cameron, who had to re-build the walls at the north-west corner. Doubtless such deep digging had disturbed the foundations; and the walls had been shored up by buttresses years before Mr. Cameron's time.
Richard Bigg's table-top tomb
The story of the Bread Charity and its endowment would mean a rather lengthy digression, so, as with the Alms-house Charity, I am telling it in a separate section.
The fine old house known as "High Chimneys" bears on a brick the initials "G.C. 1661". It is an unusual date for such a house; there was not much money about just after the Restoration. I wonder if the builder were one, George Cole, Gent., who first appears in the Baptism Register in 1665. Three years later he buried his wife and an infant son; presumably his residence here was short, for there is no further trace of him.
Another family to which we must now say goodbye is the Hyde family. After the death of Humphrey in 1665, I cannot trace them. The name occurs once again in the Burial Register in 1687, but after that it entirely disappears.
At the Restoration the Church resumed its old position as the Established Church. Clergy who had been deprived returned to their livings, and ministers who had occupied them during the Commonwealth were in their turn driven out. The change is marked in our Register; untidy mis-spelt records give place to neat entries made in an educated hand.
Amongst the marriages recorded are, - Joseph Chambers, Gent. to Mrs. Elizabeth Racher; William Trumball, Doctor of Laws, to Mrs. Elizabeth Coterell; James Bryan, Esq. to Lady Theodosia Ivey. I know nothing as to the connection. of any of these with this place.
As school days fall further behind, one's English history seems to get rustier. But two events of Charles II's reign. are seldom forgotten, - the Plague of 1665 and the Fire of London in the following year. Our Burial Register records no abnormal number of burials in the plague year; hence, presumably, the infection did not reach us. Refugees from the London district must have been a source of danger in a place like this. Numerous unfamiliar names, which appear only in the Burial Register in these times, suggest refugees from plague-stricken. districts; e.g. Dr. William Offley, John Rogers, Gent., Richard Sheldon, Gent., Mr. Harbour, Mrs. Prudence Martyn, Mr. Lawrence Watts.
The following entry occurs among the burials in 1676, - "Loveliss, Esq. at Hurley ". I think the copyist must have mis-read "of " as "at ". Others of the name are buried here; amongst them one, Colubra, in 1686; - positively the last appearance of that rare Christian name in our records.
One of our smaller Charities was founded in these days of Charles II, of which a few words should be said. Mary Beard., spinster, by her will dated1673, left a house and lands in King Street to her God-son and his heirs subject to the payment of 20/- to the poor of Winnersh on the 22nd of March yearly. In 1837 the Commissioners, found that the distribution had been regularly made. This seems creditable to the successive owners, because no trustees were appointed by the testator and such a payment might easily have been evaded or forgotten. Ultimately the property became part of the Bearwood estate, and the annual rent-charge, £1, is now paid to the Hurst Charity Trustees, who divide it between the Vicars of Hurst and Bear Wood for distribution. I usually put Hurst's share to the funds of the Coal and Clothing Club.
King Charles, " the merry monarch," died suddenly in 1685; - a man of great ability with a talent for intrigue. They buried him very quietly by night in the Abbey and erected no monument. I don't think he deserved one; he never removed his father's remains from Windsor or put up the tomb which Wren designed for the Abbey. Of the £70,000 granted for the purpose there is no record; so we will close this section wondering what became of It.
The story of our celebrated Bread Charity must begin with the will of Richard Bigg dated eleven days before his death in 1677. From this we learn that one of the three. houses referred to on the tombstone was known as the George Inn, also his wishes as to the distribution. He wished this to take place on Sundays; the bread being "put in a basket to be appointed for that purpose and to be set upon his gravestone in the Church during Divine Service". He directed that his will be read in Church yearly, on Nov. 4; that Ecclesiasticus 44 be read as the first Lesson; and that a sermon be preached on "He that giveth to the poor rendereth to the Lord", the preacher to receive 20/- from the funds of the Charity.
Our Churchwarden's box contains a large bundle of papers and scraps concerning the property in St. Giles' and the distribution of the bread. Among these is one dated 1634, - long before the Bigg family came to Haines Hill. No doubt it refers to their property, but its survival in our box is an accident. It is addressed to the Lord of the Manor of Bloomsbury and is concerned with the right to enclose a certain "narow passage adjoining unto ye Bull Inn (heretofore called and knowne by the name of the ffowre de lure inn) ... ten foots eight inches in length and four foots two inches in breadth or there - about lying on the west of the said inn towards the aforesaid Parish Church on the common High way whereon the Parish standeth ... ". The three old inhabitants of St. Giles, who sign this document, claim to have known the neighbourhood for fifty years: they would not recognise it today. The old High Street of St. Giles, on which the Church stands, lies just off the main thoroughfares; but the construction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road during last century must have altered the district beyond recognition. St. Giles' had a bad reputation in the 18th century; it was the last halting place for criminals on their way to Tyburn for public execution and was celebrated for its innumerable taverns.
Our box supplies no information about the St. Giles' property till 1711, when our Overseers determined to insure it against fire. Assuming it was properly covered, its value at the time was £500 and consisted of four houses, three of brick and one of timber.
Only one baker's bill of the 18th century has survived; it is for six dozen -/2 loaves supplied weekly from from April to September, 1750. This is the only indication we have of the income of the Charity in that century. But there is one other receipt; -
"Nov. 25, 1750. Received of Mr. Thomas PaImer twenty shillings for preaching ye Charity Sermon appointed to be preached every year by ye late Mr. Rich. Bigg on ye fourth day of November being his Commemoration day. By me, Rob: Webster.
In the latter half of this 18th century the management of the property was in the hands of Mr. Thomas Palmer, and afterwards of his son, Mr. William Palmer, both residents of Hurst of whom we shall have something to say later. Our box contains much correspondence between these gentlemen and the tenants as to rent, repairs, etc.: there are also many collector's receipts for rates and taxes, no doubt sent by tenants when claiming allowances.
When the 1921 census forms appeared with advertisements of the "Sunday Pictorial" (or some such) on the back, I thought It was a new idea.. But no; the backs of these old receipt forms were utilised in the same way. And not the backs only; the following appears on the front, -
"N .B. These Receipts are printed and given Gratis by J. Hinton at the Kings Arms in Newgate Street London of whom may be had The Universal Magazine published monthly with Maps, Plans and other Copper Plates. Price Six Pence each."
This economical method of furnishing tax collectors with receipt forms seems to have been forgot ton.
In the early 19th century Mr. Thomas Harman managed the property and supervised the distribution of the bread. He was one of those who file all receipts; hence we have reliable information as to the extent of the Charity in his day. Take, for example, the year 1824; receipted baker's bills amount to £91; there are bills for scales and weights, for a "large bread basket for the Church", and for a "new set of deale shelves for bread in Church".
There is no trace of a balance sheet among these papers, but the report of the Charity Commissioners dated 1837 supplies full information. The Commissioners pay a high tribute to Mr. Harmon who had just negotiated new .leases, and they tell us the income of the Charity had now risen to £209 a year. They found that £2 15s. was being spent weekly on bread, but they add the following significant note, - "It would seem to be very desirable that So large an amount as the present rental should be applied otherwise than in the indiscriminate manner at present observed.
In spite of this, the weekly distribution in Church went on as before; older residents may remember how great was the opposition in the Village to any alteration. But in 1878 the Commissioners became insistent and threatened that unless the Overseers applied for a new scheme the "case would be certified to the Attorney General". So application was made, and in 1884 the Commissioners put. forth the comprehensive scheme under which all our Ancient Charities are now administered. I have heard it said that under this scheme some of the Bigg Charity was lost to the Parish: such is not the case. Part of the St. Giles' property was sold, but with the proceeds £3568 of Consolidated Stock was purchased.
Turn now to Richard Bigg Charity In the annual Statement of Accounts you will find the interest on this Stock, £89; also the rent of the unsold St. Giles' property, now £250. From the expenditure side you will see that a considerable sum, usually about £25, is spent annually on bread, and that all the rest of the money (less the small administrative expenses of all our Charities) goes to the maintenance of the Hurst and Twyford Alms-houses.
So we have reason to thankfully remember Mr. Richard Bigg whose generous gift of long ago has so enormously increased in value. We carry out his intentions today; we make a liberal distribution of bread to our aged poor; we divert the large and unexpected increment towards making the old folk in the Alms-houses happy and comfortable. As we shall see, the Alms-house Charity would be in a bad way without it.
No doubt Mr. William Barker took a keen personal interest in the Alms-houses he had built, and I picture his going in and out looking after the comfort of the first inmates. In August 1682 he thought the time had come to make some permanent provision for their maintenance; this was some three years before his death. Hence the deed of which an abstract has survived.
By this he made the maintenance of the building and the pensions a permanent charge on certain lands in Hurst, Sonning and Wokingham. He directed that each of the eight inmates should have the use of two rooms, a plot of garden and 3/6 weekly; also that every second year between November 20 and November 30 each inmate should be provided with a "cloth gown the colour to be as near purple as may be suitable to the age and sex of such poor person and the price thereof not exceeding 18/-."
As to the filling of vacancies his directions were precise; - age, infirmity,
honesty, good behaviour, poverty and sobriety of the applicant were to be taken
into account, but Lazy, idle persons, or such as have grown poor by their
laziness, idleness, or profuseness, or ill-husbandry, or any other vicious
course of living" were not eligible; single persons were to have preference but
No papers referring to this Charity are to be found in our box, and I have no information as to its administration till the Charity Commissioners' report of 1837. From this we learn that the lands had come into the possession of Mr. Robert Palmer; that he had acted as sole trustee for many years, selecting the inmates himself; that he had regularly paid the pensions and provided the gowns; and that he had recently spent £100 on repairing the buildings.
Such the satisfactory state of affairs in 1837. On Mr. Palmer's death, the land (subject of course to the liability to maintain the Charity) passed to the Rev. H. Golding Palmer; and again on his death to Mr. Wade Palmer. This owner, with the full approval of the Commissioners, redeemed the charge on the land by a payment of £3300 which was invested in Metropolitan Water Board Stock.. So the total income from the original endowment is just the interest on this Stock, £100 2s. 6d.
In 1883 Mr. G. Pooley left a legacy of £1500 to the Alms-houses. This is known as the " Hoot ton and Pooley Augmentation Fund," and produces an income of £36 18 0d.
Turning to the Scheme of 1886 under which we work today, we see that the Barker and the Twyford Alms-houses are administered under one account; that the Hurst Charity Trustees elect the inmates, maintain the buildings pay pensions of 6/- or 8/- weekly and Provide medical attendance.
A glance at the Statement of Accounts shews that the total income of the Alms-house Charities is but £174. So the increased pensions, the medical attendance, etc. all come about by transferring income from the Richard Bigg's Charity Account to the Alms-house Charities Account. I venture to think that Mr. Richard Bigg would be well pleased that we should deal thus with his bequest in the circumstances.
James, being a Roman Catholic, was not partial to the Church of England. The preacher at his Coronation did his best to ingratiate himself and the Church with the new Monarch, whom he compared to King Solomon. He found a phrase in the Book of Chronicles which shewed that the King was above Parliament and another which proved that the King alone should command the Militia. But in spite of this great effort, and of the fact that the Church was popular, James adopted a hostile policy which ended in his committing seven bishops to the Tower.
A remote village like this was probably not much effected by the King's quarrels with the Church and Parliament.
The Incumbent here was one, William Cherreett, who came in 1680. The date of his coming is an inference from the remarkable hand-writing in the Marriage Register which persists for sixteen years: entries were not signed in those days by the officiating minister. His name is furnished by the Baptism Register; for in 1682 we find "Frances dau. of Wm. Cherrett minister." Our inference from the Marriage Register is confirmed by finding the entry of his burial in April, 1697.
The name of John Lewis, Esq., first appears in our Registers in 1685, subsequently it appears frequently; for he had many children and many of them died in infancy. We know where he lived in the Village, because Ashmole refers to the coat-of-arms "in the great parlour window of the house where Mr. Lewis lives, "and he goes on to say, "it did belong to the family of Barker and came by inheritance from them to Mr. Fairfax, the present owner thereof." So Mr. and Mrs. Henry Fairfax must have let Hurst Lodge in their later life; wherever they resided, they were both, as we have already noted, brought here for burial. As to the tenant; - John Lewis was burled here in 1719; I find no further mention of the family.
Within the brief space of four years, King lames succeeded in offending all his father's best supporters, - the Church, the universities and the country gentry. The proceedings commonly called the Revolution followed. James fled to France; William, Prince of Orange, and Mary, James' eldest daughter by his first wife, became King and Queen conjointly. This meant a double Coronation, - a sight never seen before. A second Chair of State had to be provided; but this has come in useful for the Queen's consort on several occasions since.
In this last decade of the 17th century, I notice but two new names, William Compton, Esq., and Stevens Thompson, Esq.; these just appear and disappear in our Registers.
The year 1694 is a memorable one: to the Village it brought the death of Dr. William. Harrison of Hurst House and Winchester; to the Nation it brought the death of Queen Mary of small-pox, and the establishment of the Bank of England.
Dr. Harrison's heir was his son George, whose reign at Hurst House was brief. Three years after his succession he mortgaged it, and two years later he was buried here. His son and heir, George, who was Baptised here, must have been a baby-in-arms at the time.
But the event of perpetual interest to the Village was the death of the aged Lady Dorothy Harrison in 1690. By her will, dated a few days before her death, she founded the charity which bears her name. But no doubt she had had this bequest in mind for some time. A letter from her lawyer, which has chanced to survive in our Churchwardens' box, suggests this. By the bye, what pains they used to take with their letter-writing in those old days. "Honoured Madam," the lawyer begins: after dealing precisely with business, he concludes, "from, Madam, Your most affectionate Kinsman and humble servant": in a postscript he adds, "My wife desires her humble service to your Ladishipp."
Here I propose a brief digression on the "Dame Dorothy Harrison Charity " and its subsequent history. Translated from the un-understandable language of the lawyers, Lady Dorothy left some land at Binfield to trustees, the rent of which was to be used thus, -one third to apprentice a Hurst boy to some trade; one third to be spent in teaching six Hurst boys to read and write, each to receive two years instruction and each, if he could read, to receive a Bible; and the remaining third to be given to five poor widows on St. Stephen's Day.
Such her Ladyship's idea; let us see how it has, worked in practice. In 1749 the trustees let the property for £15 a year; the original agreement is in our Church wardens' box. In 1798 Lord Braybrooke held a lease of the property which then consisted of a small farm house and about 13 acres. But his Lordship wanted to make a carriage drive from Billingbear to the public road, and to this end he effected an exchange with the trustees. He agreed to pay a rent-charge on a certain part of his property in Binfield of £18 a year, and the sum of £98 for the timber. This large sum of money was a "white elephant" to the trustees, who did not know what they ought to do with it. It worried them, so they asked Lord Braybrooke to keep it and pay them the interest at 4%. Thus the income of the Charity was increased to £21 18s. 6d. All these details may be tedious but they serve to shew careful administration; though probably the trustees were technically wrong in agreeing to the exchange. The Commissioners, appointed in 1819 to enquire as to all ancient charities, reported favourably, and so matters proceeded.
But the sixty years of Victoria's reign saw many inventions; amongst them, the Official Trustee of Charitable Funds. So In 1886, Lord Braybrooke paid over the £98, and the trustees handed over accumulated, income to the extent of £68, to the aforesaid Official, who invested it all in Consolidated Stock.
If now you turn to the Statement of Accounts which hangs in the porch, you will find, on the receipts side, the rent-charge (£18, less income tax) and the dividend on the Stock: on the expenditure side you will see that as Lady Dorothy directed, a third is spent in apprenticing boys, a third is divided between the Schools here, at Twyford and at Bear Wood, and a third is distributed in doles to widows. Such the story of Lady Dorothy's bequest in brief.
And here we must just mention another of our Ancient Charities, established about the same time, - the "Abraham Spoore Charity for the poor of Twyford." The annual income, 20/-, is derived from a rent-charge on property at Maidenhead. In former days it was distributed in shillings to twenty poor persons; in these days the distribution is made by the Vicar of Twyford on behalf of the trustees.
King William died in 1702 in consequence of a fall ,from his horse. He left no children; so, in accordance with the Bill of Rights, Anne, Mary's sister, succeeded to the Throne.
Country life was changing; serious efforts were being made to improve the roads. The rivers had been from time immemorial the best means of communication; roads had been used only when water was not available. The old main roads were such that in winter a journey from London to York took a week. The coaches of the gentry required six horses to get them through the mud. The by-roads, as we call them, existed as "pack and pen ways"; they were used only by foot passengers and pack horses.
But as main roads began to improve, coaches began to appear. In 1669 the London-Oxford coach made its appearance on the road. It left at 6 a.m. and was advertised to arrive at 7 p.m. on the same day, - a wonderful and much-talked-of feat. In the days of good Queen Anne, Henley, Wallingford and Windsor were all linked to London by coach services, and the road between Maidenhead and Reading was improved with a view to a through service to Newbury.
Our Registers reflect these changes; many entries in these days have such additions as "of St. Andrews, London," "of Holbom," "of Stepney" and such like.
Several families of the name of Cleeter, described as "of St. Clements, London," seem to have flourished in the Village in these times. It was the names that William Cleeter gave his sons which first caught my eye in the Baptism Register, - Archelaus, Aaron, Benjamin, Absolom, Charles and Giles. The first is an odd name to give an infant; since it was the notorious cruelty of the Archelaus of Scripture which caused the Holy Family to avoid Judaea and settle in Nazareth (St. Matt. 11, 22).
Of gentry from London, I notice the names of Mr. William Demonfryatt of St. Clements, and Mr. James White of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, and of other gentry, Mr. Thomas Moore, Mrs. Harbourn and Charles Willis, Esq.
The Vicar was one, William Hughes , -a remarkable character. The first appearance of his name in our Register is in 1700, when he brought a daughter for Baptism; or, more likely, Baptised her himself. He was still Vicar in 1728, but left soon after to become Vicar of Sonning. Before doing so, however, he secured this living for his son, who rejoiced in the magnificent name of Theophilus Mountjoy William Hughes. We shall hear more of both father and son. The former was a quarrelsome person, judging by the lengthy memoranda he has left in the Parish books both here and at Sonning. He was responsible, as Vicar, for the original and irregular. entries in the Registers, though, judging by the hand-writing, I dont suppose he made them himself. Many of the entries do not belong to our Registers at all; one year, for example, as many as seven of the Baptisms entered .took place in other churches. Marriages between non-parishioners seem to have been quite common, and such, of course, were quite irregular, looks rather as if Mr. Hughes had laid himself to celebrate such marriages. It looks as if couples from Reading, and other places, even from London, had made their way to our Church, where the obliging Vicar (for a consideration, presumably) had been ready to unite them. Here, for example, are two entries, -
"1703. William Hallsted of St. Laurence in Reading and Martha Dew of St. Maryes married Septem. 12."
"1713. Mr. Benjamin Bannister of St. Pulchers and Martha White of St. Bartholomews. July 15."
In the latter entry, no doubt, St. Sepulcher's, Holbom and St.. Bartholomew's the Great, Smithfield are the parishes intended.
Here is another entry which, to say the least of it, is very unusual, -
"John Peggott of the parish of St. Lawrence Reading and Jane Lovejoy of the parish of Sonning were married May 11, 1701, reputed worth £600."
This entry is signed J .G. Turvey. Possibly Hughes had the help of a curate; for the names of John Lewes clerk, and John Eades clerk, occur in our Registers in the days of his vicariate.
A burial in 1705 re-calls Sir Richard Harrison; - that of his grand-daughter, Lady Mary Howard, daughter of the Earl of Berkshire.
And this seems a suitable place in which to speak of another of Sir Richard's grand-daughters, Lady Frances Winchcombe, who endowed the Twyford Alms-houses. These had been built by Sir Richard himself during his life-time to accommodate six poor persons, men or-women, of the Parish of Hurst. But he does not appear to have endowed them or to have executed any deed concerning them. So in 1707 Lady Frances Winchcombe made over to trustees a house and some 80 acres of land at Brokenborough in Wiltshire, and directed that "the rent be spent in keeping the buildings in repair and in giving to each alms person 40/- half-yearly and a gown every other year.
Such the "Twyford Alms-house Charity" as it was originally conceived: now for a brief note on its subsequent history.
In 1730 complaints were made that the Rev. W. Hughes, then Vicar of Sonning, had abused the Charity by appointing his own servant to an alms-house while retaining him in his service at Sonning. Making along story short, a public enquiry was held at Twyford (a full account is preserved in the Record Office) which resulted in a decree excluding Hughes and his son, then Vicar of Hurst, from the management of the Charity for ever.
After this unfortunate incident things seem to have worked smoothly till 1811, when the trustees had to take legal proceedings against the tenant at Brokenborough. However, the Commission of 1837 was well satisfied that rents and pensions were being paid regularly. Under the scheme of 1886, this Charity is now administered by the Hurst Charity Trustees. In the current Statement of Accounts you will find the Brokenborough rents and you will see that the pensions have been augmented as explained in my notes on the Barker Alms-houses.
Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart Sovereigns, died in 1714. A vault in the Abbey contains the mortal remains of her nineteen children; all except the last died in infancy, and he attained but eleven years. So in accordance with the Act of Settlement, the heir to the Throne was George, Elector of Hanover, son of the Electress Sophia, grand-daughter of King James I.
This seems a suitable opportunity for a break; so the next section consists of some notes on the contents of the Churchwardens' box and on the changing social conditions of the times.
Beyond telling the bare facts of the past we have tried to form rough pictures of our Village and of the dwellers here in the days of long ago. These have been but very rough sketches; for the England we know is such a very different place. As the 17th century with its civil wars drew to a close, things began to settle down and in time a social order evolved much more like what we are accustomed to. In these parts the process of clearing the primeval forest and thick undergrowth went on apace; more and more homesteads, meadows and orchards began to appear. Elsewhere manufacturing towns began to grow. And the population too began to increase. In 1700 the total population was but five and a half millions, of which half a million lived in and round about London.
Maybe the tattered old papers in the Churchwardens' box can teach us something of the changing social conditions and help us to a clearer picture of our Village in the 18th century.
I have sorted the contents of the box. The largest bundle consists of some 235 documents concerning the working of the Poor Law Act of 1662. By this act any labourer coming to seek work in a strange parish might within 40 days be removed back to his own parish unless he took a tenement of over £10 a year, or gave security that he would not become chargeable to the rates. So this bundle contains a variety of documents; - orders for the removal of vagrants, examinations of vagrants sworn before two Justices of the Peace, certificates signed by overseers of other parishes acknowledging particular persons as parishioners and accepting responsibility should they at any time require parish relief.
As already explained, the four Liberties were like separate parishes, each having its own wardens and overseers; hence many certificates concern persons moving merely from one Liberty to another. From the signatures on these on could put together a fairly complete list of the Churchwardens of Hurst in the 18th century. Conspicuous on such a list would be the names of Simonds, Nash and Crockford; evidently successive members of these families were most diligent in their service of the Parish. To a member of the first named we owe much in this 20th century, Mr. John Simonds, of Newlands, who for many years and until his death in 1929 served as Treasurer of our Parish Charities.
Amongst the Justices' signatures we find those of Sir Owen Buckingham and Richard Aldworth. These it names recall the story of the duel fought in the park at Stanlake in which Sir Owen was killed and in consequence of which Aldworth had to spend the rest of his days in France.
A few extracts from the depositions of vagrants will be of interest as shewing the conditions of service, wages, etc. of the 18th century labourer: -
"Dated 1732. The exammate stated that about the age of 16 years he was hired by John Magot, Wokingham, for one year to come into ye said service at St. Thomas Day, 1718 to ye best of this examinate's memory at 30/-, and lived there till May following and from thence was hired by Rich: Thirst, Gent: to Rich: Aldworth, Esq. to serve ye said Mr. Aldworlh at 2/- per week for first time as this examinate should be wanted there ... "
Farm labourers were hired for a year at the fairs. One examinate said that he had been hired at Reading Fair for a year at £4 10s.; another that he had been hired at Tame Fair for £6. Domestic servants also appear to have been engaged by the year; - Mary Sells, a single woman, apprehended in 1764, stated that "she lived one year with Mr. Whitfield, a butcher of Twyford, and had 20/- for her year's wages".
The following by a vagrant in 1798 leads to an unexpected conclusion; -
"Joseph Johnson stated that he is near 80 years of age, .. at about 19 he was hired for a year to Farmer Edward Butler of Basildon as carter boy for his victuals and cloaths, ... that he was hired to Farmer Pottinger of Compton some few weeks after Michaelmas till the Michaelmas next ensuing at £1 15s. ... he was hired to Farmer Lawrence of the Liberty of Whistley as carter and to thrash occasionally at £3. 10s., or £4 wages, ... he was hired for a year to Farmer Bye of Sonning as tesker at £5 wages, ... he was hired for a year to Wm. Pocock of Bradfield as carter at 5 guineas wages or upwards ... he went to hoop making and coppice work for several years, 4 or 5 or more, ... after that he came to Farmer Bailey of the Liberty of Hinton and was hired by him for a year as carter and to do the work in the farming business at 5 guineas wages, ... he then went to coppice work again for 5 or 6 years and the end of which he was married, ..."
Our Registers suggest a great increase in vagrancy during this century. Our first book records the burial of but one nameless person; in the whole of the 17th century there are only three or four such nameless burials. But soon after the dawn of the 18th century such entries as the following occur quite frequently, sometimes two in a year; - "a traveller", "a travelling woman", "a foundling". The strange name Mara Pharoah suggests a foreign vagrant, and the following entries in our Baptism Register speak for themselves; -
"Adam Found which was found July 27".
"Moses Found which was found July 27."
We noticed the custom of apprenticing boys to trades when speaking of Lady Dorothy Harrison's Charity. In the case of poor children this was sometimes done by the churchwardens and overseers; hence we find in our box some twenty indentures concerning apprentices; the earliest is dated 1685. The boys were put out in various places to various trades, -"potter", "art and mistery of a basket-maker", "taylor", "sieve-maker". In most cases there is no mention of a premium, but sometimes it was £5. In one case it was £9 9s., but this was to apprentice a boy to a chimney-sweeper in St. Giles', Reading.
Sometimes girls were apprenticed as domestic servants; several indentures refer to such. In one of these, dated 1699, the master and mistress undertake that the girl shall be "taught or instructed in the art of huswifery in the best way and manner as mayor can be."
Among other things in the box are the accounts of the Whistley Overseers for the years from 1752 to 1766. These cover seventy-five pages, Which have evidently been torn from a ledger. They were balanced half-yearly, and shew a total annual expenditure of £100 or £200. Under the heading "Casualties," the Overseer used to put down his expenses in detail. These give us an Idea of the cost of living and of dying in those times. As to the latter, burials at the expenses of the parish seem to have been rather frequent events; hence many, such entries as, - Laying out, 2/-; Shroud, 2/6; Coffin 8/-; Parson and Clark, 3/4; Beer at ye buriall, 3/- ; Bearers, 3/6.
The cost of food is indicated by such entries as, - gallon loaf of bread, 1/4; ˝ sack of flower, 14/2; 2 Ibs. of mutton, - /6˝; 2 Ibs. of cheese, -/7; gallon of beer, 1/2; pint of wine, -/6.
Entries concerning clothing are very numerous, - "foulweather coat, 8/6; coat and pair of breetches, 6/10; shift and petticoat, 5/7; pair of stays for Malon's wife, 1/-; shoes, 3/-; pattins, -/10˝; 5 ells of dowlas, 5/10.
Doles of money, usually 1/-, were sometimes given, but more commonly relief in kind; - bushell of peat, -/4; load of wood, 22/- ; quartern of faggots, 5/6.
Medical attendance on the poor is a large item; Dr. Wilmot and Dr. French used to charge 2/6 for a special visit. Here is a receipted doctor's bill, a model of precision compared with the "for professional services" style to which we are accustomed; -
"1766. Dec. 6. To dressing and curing a tumer on the lip with medicines internal and external 10/6."
In these days of vaccination we don't realise how terrible were the ravages of small-pox. Of the twenty-six burials in 1788, eleven are marked "sm.pox", "S.P.", or some such. No doubt this indicates an epidemic, but in the ten years beginning 1784, each Springtime saw some deaths from this horrible complaint. There were isolated cases in the years covered by our Overseer's book; hence such entries as, -
"Paid ye charges of Tho: Knights having ye small-pox to this day ... £3 15s. 0źd."
"Paid Dr. Wilmot for Deans family with ye small-pox and curing Wm. Simonds toe ... £2 13s.
"Paid for eight weeks nursing Thomas Pithers family, small-pox ... £3 5s."
No doubt some attempt was made to isolate infected cottages and to destroy bedding, etc.; presumably the latter was replaced at the expense of the rate-payers; pair new sheetts and a blankett, 12/6; bedsted and bolster, 5/-.
Now and then sick persons were sent to hospital; - Paid caridge for Gilgrasse's wife to St. George's Hospitale, 10/6; Sent to ye hospital for Stokes wife, £2 2s.
The uncommon name of Headach will be known to those who have examined the old grave-stones in the Churchyard; several generations of the family lived and died here. One of them, Stephen, seems to have been possessed of some medical skill; - Paid Stephen Headach for curing Ann Hugins legg, 2/6. Possibly he was responsible for other cures; - Paid for curing Malins of ye itch, 5/-.
A midwife's fee was 5/-, and that for bleeding 1/-. Some persons were very costly to the parish; the name of Mary Sill appears forty-four times; she cost the ratepayers over £8 in doles, etc.
We have already noted the general improvement of the main roads In the early part of the century and the consequent development of coach services. Our Village has much to be proud of, but, I doubt if it has ever been famous for the excellence of its roads, Let us see what the Overseers of Whistley spent on them in the fourteen years covered by these accounts. One Spring-time, they laid out 6/- on labour; - "Bush and Giles for ye highways": they paid 10/6 for legal advice "about ye roads": and they expended a lot of breath in talking about them; how otherwise would you interpret this entry? - "expenses of beer about ye roads, 9/8." But they spent 10/6 on repairing the Stocks at Whistley and 3/10 on those at, Twyford; also "for making new stocks at at Twyford betwixt Berks and Wilts, £1 2s. 3d."
Travelling expenses are often quite a large item; probably these expeditions concern vagrants; - Paid ye coach to London, 14/-; Expenses going to London, 2 men, 2 horses, £2 2s.; My charges to Bath and back again, £2 1s. 2d.; Charges to Bridgewater and back £11 8s. 2d.
We speak of the changes that motors have brought to country life. But greater still must have been the changes which followed the establishment of the coach services. All classes were. effected. Something like regular postal service came Into being; hence many more letters both personal and commercial. Formerly these had been carried on pack horses and delivered if and when they could be. The letter rate seems high to us; our Overseer enters; - For sending a letter to Bath, 6d.
But not only letters, something like a modern newspaper now became a possibility. In Stuart times, the London Gazette, a two-paged bi-weekly, had been the only thing of the sort allowed. Picture the excitement in the Village when the first copy of the Reading Mercury appeared on. July 8, 1723.
The country clergy too were effected by the new order of things, Since the Revolution they had stood low in the social scale; often their sons would go to plough, their daughters to domestic service. The clergyman in an isolated parish would be glad to serve as chaplain at the mansion and accept £10 a year and his board. The Church has never lacked scholars and divines, but these days such would have been. found in London and the universities. So to clergy in a district such as this, the coaches made a trip to London possible at no enormous cost.
As to the country gentry, they had seldom left their country homes in olden days. They had spent the daylight hours in field sports and in attending neighbouring markets, their evenings in drinking beer. Undoubtedly they had possessed sterling qualities of character, but to us their manners would have appeared rough and uneducated.
The coming of the turnpike roads and coaches brought them into touch with London life. Inns sprang up to provide accommodation on the journey; and assembly rooms, as Vauxhall, to furnish amusement for the country visitors.
So we will picture a lady and gentleman off on a visit to Town: - he, wearing a velvet coat, a waistcoat cut very long, knee-breeches, buckle shoes and a three-cornered cocked hat; she, a skirt extended on hoops, and having on her face the characteristic little patches of black plaster.
But London, when they got there was not the clean and brightly lighted city that we know. There was no pavement; only a row of stakes divided the footway from the road. The streets were very dark at night, though some attempt was made to light them with oil lamps. But there were link-boys with torches to guide belated visitors to their homes, and there were sedan chairs in which they might ride. The gentry dined about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and amused themselves with card-games, gambling and dancing minuets.
But this digression must stop: we will return to our story: it will have served its purpose if it help to a clearer picture of life and manners in Georgian times.
When King George arrived from Hanover at the age of fifty four he could neither speak nor write the English language, nor did he ever learn to do either. Consequently he was obliged to leave most things to his ministers, and the system of party government, which had already started, developed into the recognised English custom.
The changing order of things was reflected in the life of our Village; the influx of Londoners continued and increased in volume.
But first we must say farewell to the Harrisons. George, who, as we saw, inherited the property as an infant, sold it all about the year 1720. So the name which we have traced for so many years disappears from our books; except that George's grandmother, who had been living at Bray; was buried here in 1728.
Hurst House appears to have been sold separately from the estate: the former was purchased by Galen Cope, Esq., who hailed from Chelsea. The new owner lost no time in appearing in the Baptism Register; hence I picture cradles and perambulators there again as in the old days.
The estate was purchased by John Dalby, Esq., who thus became Lord of the Manor of Whistley and Hinton. He also lost no time in perpetuating his name and race; in all he brought six children for Baptism. I think he built and resided at Hurst Grove; this is an inference from the mural tablet in the Chapel to the memory' of his son, - "Thomas Septimus Dalby of Hurst Grove."
Haines Hill was still in the hands of the Bigg family, but Hurst Lodge became the property of Mr. Thomas Palmer: I don't know precisely when, but the new owner brought a son for Baptism in 1714. We owe a great debt to both father and son for their work as trustees of our charities. The latter became a lawyer and managed the St. Giles' property gratuitously for many years. Diamond-shaped brass tablets on the Chancel floor mark their respective graves, and Robert, the son, is commemorated by the large mural tablet In the Chancel.
Palmer family family memorials
A slab in the north aisle marks the grave of Mrs. Elizabeth Morley of St. Giles', who died in 1720; she was a daughter of Sir John Browne, Bt., hence, I presume, a relative of Mrs. Henry Fairfax, which probably accounts for her burial here.
The great yew tree overshadows, and its roots have distorted the tomb of Mr. Edward Rosier, "one of the Master Wine Porters"; he was a native of Hurst but died in London in 1721. Speaking of the yew tree; - a visitor to our Church, who seemed to know what he was talking about, assured me it was of immense age, probably older than any part of the present building.
Other new names in our Register are, - Mr. William Thornborough, Thomas Dorney, Mrs. Reeves of St. Clement's, and Mr. Sloon of London. We are still dependent on the copy only; after 1727 we have the original Registers. The occupations of bridegrooms and of deceased persons are entered occasionally in these days, e.g. parish clerk, cutler, carpenter. The copyist seems .to have had difficulty with some names; "Shoore Dith," for example, must surely be the locality known to us as Shoreditch.
But of all the Londoners connected with the Village in these days Captain Edward Polehampton, of St. Sepulcher's, buried here in 1721! is of the greatest permanent interest to us. In the Register he is called "Captain", but in his will he describes himself as, "Citizen and Painter Stainer", which means, presumably, that he was a member of that City Company. Mr. Cameron preserves in his book the tradition that Polehampton's bequests to Twyford were a thank-offering for the shelter his mother received there at the time of his birth.
Whatever the motive of his generosity, in !720 he began the building of a Chapel in the fast growing hamlet of Twyford, - growing no doubt, in consequence of the improved main road and the coach services. In his will Polehampton directed his executors to finish this Chapel, also to build a school and minister's house in accordance with the plans he had prepared. From his estate he directed them to pay £40 a year to "some able and sufficient orthodox minister of the Church of England" to read Divine Service and preach a sermon morning and afternoon every Sunday, and to teach ten Twyford boys to read and write. If the minister did not teach the boys himself, the school-master was to be allowed £10 out of the £40 and to have the use of the school-house. There were further directions as to the spending of £10 a year on clothing for the boys.
First then in regard to the Chapel; - the following memorandum from our Register book speaks for itself, -
"Memo: That the Chapel at Twiford
was opened on the 15th day of September 1728 by William Hughes (as minister of
Hurst) who by consent and leave of the Dean of Sarum did then an there in the
morning read prayers and preach and did declare that the said Chapel was sett
apart for the Worship and Service of Almighty God without any other
But in spite of this correct beginning, things did not long run smoothly. Hughes, having secured both the living of Hurst and the chaplaincy of Twyford for his son, left to become Vicar of Sonning. Within two years of the opening young Hughes was not providing the two Services at the Chapel; moreover he was employing women to teach the boys. Hence a public enquiry which resulted thus; - Sunday Services ordered to be held at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.; Hughes to be deprived of the chaplaincy on the ground that he could not be both Vicar of Hurst (patron) and minister of Twyford Chapel, (his nominee); both Hughes and his father condemned in costs to the extent of £5 each.
Independent of this but equally unhappy is the story of the Polehampton estates. .Some of the property was free-hold, some copy-hold, and some lease-hold: some of it was at Smithfield and some at Hampton. The matter was before the Court of Chancery in 1730, again in 1771, again in 1775. In 1819 .the Commissioners found that the number of boys was but five, and they were told that the establishment of a silk factory in Twyford had attracted them away. They found that only one Service was being held in the Chapel, but they reported that it was unreasonable to expect "a clergyman regularly bred and at an advanced age" to teach boys and take two Sunday Services for £40 a year. Their lengthy report and detailed recommendations seem to have straightened things out.
Meantime the population of Twyford had been growing rapidly. In 1847 the new Church of St. Mary was built mainly by the generosity of Miss Currie, then resident at Stanlake, and the old Chapel was abandoned as a place of worship.
But as to the Charity, ten years later there were more complaints about the administration and another public enquiry. At length, in 1870, the Law Officers of the Crown advised Her Majesty to seize the copy-hold property and then resign her interest in it towards the foundation of a new charity: - hence the so-called "Polehampton Estates Act Charity"
To end this long story; - Twyford was constituted a separate parish in 1876; a vicar was appointed and a vicarage built. The Charity Commissioners drew up a scheme in 1885 for the future administration of the Charity, the Vicar of Hurst being one of the trustees. We print accounts annually which shew, I think, that the pious Londoner's intentions are being carried out today as nearly as can be in the changed conditions of the times. On the receipts side are the rents of the Hampton property, and the interest on stock purchased when the Smithfield and Twyford property were sold. On the expenditure side is the £30 to the Vicar's stipend and £10 in addition for supervising the religious instruction in the schools; - now, of course, public elementary schools. Since in these days the County Council is responsible for the teachers' salaries, the trustees hand over to the council £126 annually. The rest of the income is spent in repairs to school buildings, etc.
The mention of teachers' salaries re-calls two old accounts which I found among odd scraps in our Churchwardens' box. One of these is the account for the "schooling of the boys put out by the Minister and Churchwardens from Easter, 1727 to Easter, 1728". There were five such boys; the teacher's salary was /2d. a week for reading lessons, and 4d. a week for writing lessons; total for all five boys for the whole year, £2 2s. 8d.
Such the public expenditure on education; I don't think the rate-payers had much to complain of on that score in the year that King George I died and was buried in Hanover.
The thirty-three years of George II's reign witnessed several important changes among the principal residents in our Village.
One large house, Bill Hill, we have but mentioned so far. Originally this was probably a hunting lodge in the forest, but part of the present house is in the Queen Anne or early Georgian style. The owner in those days was Sir Montague Blundell, Bt., who was raised to the peerage in 1720. Our burial Register contains the following entry, - "1732. Montague son of ye Lord and Lady Mary Bluden". This surely must be an error on the part of the copyist; he must have read "Bluden" for "Blundell": for we know that the Blundell peerage became extinct on Lord Blundell's death and that he had had a son called Montague who had died unmarried.
But Lord Blundell left Bill Hill long before his death. He sold the property in 1734 to Lady Harold, the only surviving child of the Earl of Thanet. This lady was the widow of the Earl of Harold, whose tragic death may well be mentioned as a warning, - he had been choked by an ear of barley which he had carelessly put in his mouth.
Two years after the purchase of the Bill Hill estate, Lady Harold became the third wife of John Leveson Gower, Lord Privy Seal, who later was raised from the rank of Baron to that of Earl. There was at least one child of this marriage who inherited the property, but he was not Baptised here. Possibly his parents did not spend much of their time at their Hurst residence. But the Countess' name occurs in our Overseer's book; - "Paid for making all ye cloths as my Lady Gower gave Malin's family, 5/-".
About the time that Lord and Lady Gower came to Bill Hill, new residents came to Haines Hill. This property had remained in the hands of the Bigg family from the time of the Commonwealth, but we must now say goodbye to them. John Bigg seems to have made some additions to the house in the early part of the century, but he died in 1723 and was buried here.
The new owner was James Edward Collerton, Esq., who in 1731 married Lady Ann Cowper, daughter of the Lord Chancellor of the previous reign. But in the days we speak of no children's voices disturbed the silence of the great house, for there was no issue of the marriage. Lady Ann was buried here in 1750, but Mr. Collerton out-lived his wife by many years and built the front part of the present house.
And Hurst House also passed into other hands. As recently as the last reign we looked at it and found Mr. Galen Cope just established there. But it did not remain long in his family; for his son sold it to Mr. James Waller, of Lincoln's Inn. Since this gentleman buried a daughter here in 1740, I presume he was in occupation at that date. But I find no further trace of him, except that in 1764 Penelope Waller, his daughter presumably, was married to " Charles Sturges, Clerk, Vicar of St. Mary Parish in Reading ".
The family of Mr. John Dalby steadily increased in these times; twin daughters arrived and finally a son and that really was the end of it. In due course the twins were married in our Church, - Frances to John Vardy, Esq., of Chelsea, and later, Catherine to Philip Browne, Esq., of St. Margaret's, Westminster. The latter lady was also buried here; the entry describes her as " wife of Captain Philip Browne, R.N.
The fortunes of Stanlake revived in the days of George II. Reference has already been made to the duel, in consequence of which Richard Aldworth had to flee to the Continent. He had however previous to that untoward incident, married the heiress of Richard Neville, of Billingbear. Thus his son, also named Richard, eventually inherited both estates; and he became M.P. for Reading and an Under-Secretary of State and he changed his name to Neville. So prosperity reigned once more at Stanlake.
The name of Dunt appears .first in our Reister in 1749, and subsequently several times. From this family surely Dunt Lane takes its name. But there is no indication that the Dunts were people of any position in the Village; in fact in the Marriage Register Charles Dunt is described as "labourer".
The incumbency of the Rev. William Hughes extended well into the next reign. But the remarkable thing is that latterly he signs himself William Theophilus Mountjoy Webster; he must have changed his surname. In the latter days of his incumbency Twyford Chapel was served by one, Robert Webster, his son probably, and here he seems to have had the assistance of the Rev. John Gardiner, whose name appears several times in our books.
The Registers of these days contain a few names which are new to us, e.g. William Bury, Gent., and Thomas Smith, Esq.; also the marriage of Gilbert Mabbot, Clerk to Mrs. Rachel Warneford.
Two entries in the Baptism Register are worthy of notice; - one is that of an "adult person" in 1727. As the Service for the "Ministration of Baptism to such as are of Riper Years" was only inserted in our Prayer Book in 1662, I expect this was the first occasion of its use in our Church. The other noticeable entry is as follows, -
"Jane Lane daughter of Jane Lane and of Joseph Townsend, taylor, of Norfolk Street, St. Clement's Danes, London, born December 22, 1739, privately baptised ye day following, had publick baptism in ye chapel of Twyford 20th August, 1750, by me, Robert Webster, curate."
I suppose he means that he used the Service for the public reception into the Church of a child privately Baptised. Private Baptism was greatly objected to by the Puritans, but it has always been allowed by the Church in cases of necessity. The above entry is the first of the sort in our books, and the only one in the 18th century; but there are seven such in the next century. In modern times private Baptism is hardly .ever asked for until the infant is in extremis; hence I have seldom had occasion to use the Service myself.
One of the important events of this reign was the change in the calendar. For many centuries the year had been reckoned eleven minutes too long; thus an error of some eleven days had accumulated. In 1752 Parliament ordered that September the 3rd be reckoned the 14th, and at the same time it was enacted that the legal year should begin on January 1, instead of March 25, as heretofore. This correction had been made in most Continental countries long before, but it was not popular with the masses in England and led to some rioting. The Vicar of Hurst seems to have been among the objectors; at any rate he refused to regard January 1 as New Year's Day until the year 1759; - but the Rev. W. T. M. Hughes (alias Webster) always was an awkward man.
One person of permanent interest to us died in 1758, - Moses Sad grave. No doubt he was a native of the Village; the name occurs here and there in our books long before this date. In his will he left some five acres of land at Ruscombe to his heirs subject to the payment of 20/- annually to the Churchwardens of Whistley and Broad Hinton for the purchase of bread. He directed that this should be given to the poor of those Liberties in the form of 40 sixpenny loaves on St. Thomas' Day. Hence in the Whistley Overseers' account book we find such entries as, - ''Spent giving away the Sadgrave bread, 1/-," Since 1886 the rent-charge has been paid to the Hurst Charity Trustees who divide it between the Vicars of Hurst and Twyford for distribution; our portion, 10/-, is credited to the Coal and Clothing Club.
And in the year 1758, the executors of Alice Allwright, in accordance with her wishes, founded the charity which bears her name. She desired that the rent of certain land, called Half Moon Close, should be divided between the Churchwardens of Barkham and Newland and spent by them in the purchase of bread to be given to the poor twice a year in Hurst and Barkham churches. The lady's kind intentions seem to have been duly carried out: in 1837 the value of the bread distributed in Newland was 30/-. Some fifty years ago the land was sold and Stock was purchased, which was apportioned by the Charity Commissioners between Newland and Barkham. The interest on the Newland portion is received by the Hurst Charity Trustees, who hand it over to the Newland Coal and Clothing Club.
The King died in October of the year 1760 and was buried in the Abbey with much pomp and many circumstances.
George II was succeeded by his grandson, a man of twenty-two years. The new king had the advantage of his predecessor in that he was a thorough Englishman. His was a goodly heritage: Britain, thanks to the energy and foresight of Pitt, had come to be the first nation of the world.
The sixty years of George Ill's reign take us well into the 19th century, and bring us into contact with persons whom some of our old inhabitants may just remember.
The name of Whitcomb is familiar on account of the large mural tablet at the west end of the north aisle. Among the marriages in 1755 is that of John Whitcomb of St. George's, Hanover Square, to Eleanor Osborn of this Parish. Apparently the bride and bridegroom went to live in London; but they never severed their connection with her native place. Of their seven children commemorated on the tablet, they brought six to Hurst for burial and in their old age they seem to have come back here to live and to die. He died in 1800, being a "magistrate of this county"; she survived him by thirteen years; both are buried here.
Mr. John Dalby died in 1762 and was succeeded by his son Thomas Septimus Dalby, then a man of twenty seven years. We have already mentioned the tablet in the Chapel which bears witness to Thomas Dalby's many virtues but says nothing about any children; he died in 1790. His mother, his three unmarried sisters and his younger brother Walter were all buried here before the end of the century: after which the name disappears from our Registers. It is noticeable that both Mrs. John Dalby and Walter are described in the burial entries as of Hurst Lodge. Maybe this is an error; probably Whistley Court is intended; otherwise I suppose they must have been renting the house from the Palmers.
Thomas Palmer had died within a few months John Dalby and his son Robert, who inherited the property, may have found it inconvenient to live so far from his chambers in Lincoln's Inn. We have already mentioned Robert Palmer's services to our Parish Charities, and also the mural tablet in the Chancel. The latter tells us that he was one "whose professional abilities in the law were only exceeded by that integrity and honour which strongly distinguished his character and endeared him to all"; it further informs us that he married twice, left one son by his second wife and died in 1787 aged 73.
This son was, I presume, the Richard Palmer of the mural tablet by the Screen; thereon he is described as "of Holme Park Sunning and heretofore of Hurst." His wife Jane was a daughter of Oldfield Bowles, Esq., of North Aston. Her portrait as a child by Sir Joshua Reynolds attracts much notice in the Wallace Collection, Manchester Square; (No.36. Miss Bowles:-" Love me love my dog.") She had eleven children and died in June, 1818, aged 40 years. If she were the one and only wife of Richard Palmer, she must have been a youthful bride, for the tablet above is to the memory his second daughter Charlotte Ann, who married the Rev. Charles William Golding and died in 1817 aged 22 years. About this time, one, Edward Golding, brought children for Baptism, but neither this name nor that of Palmer appear again in our books. Hurst Lodge has had several owners since those days.
As to the Manor of Hurst, Mr. John Dalby seems to have parted with it some five years before his death to Mr. Richard Aldworth Neville of Stanlake and Billingbear
Speaking of Stanlake recalls the story of the King's surprise visit there which happened about these days: it was before Mr. Neville became the first Lord Braybrook, i.e. before 1797. The amusing part of the tale is that the family were away at the time, so the King, the Queen and the Princesses had to make the best of a bread-and-cheese lunch served by a caretaker and a dairy-maid.
Lord Braybrook sold Stanlake early in the next century but he retained the Manor of Hurst. The purchaser of the mansion was Sir Nathaniel Duchenfield, whose son sold it to Mr. George Barker, the grandfather of the present owner.
Bill Hill House continued to be the residence of Lady Gower till her death at the age of 84. Like her first husband, she met her death by mis-adventure, - in consequence of her clothes catching fire. Our burial Register contains the entry. "1785. Feb. 25. Mary, Countess Dow. Gower," but a tablet in Barkham Church states that she lies in the vault there. I understand the latter is certainly correct, but I cannot account for the entry in our book. The property passed to her son Rear-Admiral the Honourable John Leveson Gower, but not without a lawsuit with a son of Earl Gower by a former marriage. In this it was established that Lady Gower, then Lady Harold, had purchased Bill Hill with her own money.
But the Admiral did not come to occupy the house till years after. According to Mr. Cameron, he let it to the Marquis of Blandford, who resided there in the closing years of the 18th century and brought four children for Baptism to our Church. One of the entries reads, -
"1794. Jan. 27. George, son of the Hon. George Spencer (commonly called the Marquis of Blandford) and Susanna his wife, was born the twenty seventh day of December 1794 and was Baptised the twenty seventh day of January, 1794."
This infant afterwards became the sixth Duke of Marlborough, who died in 1857. And two years after this Baptism the Marquis' sister, Lady Ann Spencer, was married in our Church to the Hon. Cropley Ashley, afterwards the sixth Earl of Shaftesbury, who died in 1851.
But. before the second year of the new century the Admiral seems to have come to live at Bill Hill himself; for he brought a daughter for Baptism and in subsequent years several other children.
Hurst House did not long remain a possession of the Waller family, for in 1772 it was purchased by Mr. Wowen of Hertford Street, St. George's, Hanover Square. This gentleman is described in glowing terms on the tablet by the porch door. He died in 1786, but his widow, who reached the age of 97 years, survived till 1838. The mural tablet on the extreme opposite side of the Church by the screen was erected to her memory and that of her sister Miss Peacock.
At Haines Hill also there was a change of ownership. Mr. Collerton died there in 1790 and the property passed to his cousin Mr. Charles Garth, who took the name of Collerton. His name does not appear in our Registers till his burial in 1818 at the age of 40.
I find a number of new names in our books during this long reign, e.g. Mr. Buckeridge Noies, Captain Marsh, Rev. G. Wells, Mr. Prettejohn, Mr. Collins, Mr. Smedley, George Ayscough, Esq., Colonel Poole, also Mrs. Goldfrap, to whose memory there is a tablet in the north aisle; and Talbot Blaney Handasyde, whose infant son lies beneath that strange little tomb In the Church yard opposite the entrance to the Alms-houses.
The custom of recording the occupations of bridegrooms was generally followed in these days. The number of paper-makers suggests that Whistley Paper Mill used to employ many hands. Amongst other residents were a peruke-maker, a basket-maker, a collar-maker and several cord-wainers.
In 1769 occurs the last entry signed by the Rev. W. T. M. Webster (alias Hughes) ; so his long incumbency seems to have come to an end that year, but I find no record of his burial. He was succeeded by the Rev. John Griffiths, whose five years incumbency is remarkable because of the shocking manner in which the Registers were kept. Apparently he deputed the duty of making the entries to some person who could scarcely write and spelt abominably. From 1775 and onwards for forty three years the entries are signed by the Rev. John Croft and are very neatly and carefully made. As Mr. Croft was Minister and school-master of Twyford, it is curious that he should have been permitted to hold the living of Hurst at the same time.
It was during Croft's incumbency that Parliament ordered a census to be taken, - on March 10th, 1801. He entered the result in regard to this Parish on the cover of the Baptism Register: Number of inhabited houses; - Whistley, 120; Hinton, 78 ; Winnersh, 69; Newland, 54; total, 321: Total population, 1609. This figure is about half what it is today; to make any comparison we must add the present-day returns from Hurst, Twyford and Bearwood.
In 1815 the Bishop of Salisbury ordered an estimate to be made of the seating accommodation in every church and chapel in his diocese. Mr. Croft has entered the result of this also; - Hurst Church, 631; Twyford Chapel, 121. In these days we reckon that our Church seats 430, and this is with the addition of the south aisle; so either the galleries, removed in 1875, were very roomy, or Mr. Croft estimated for a very congested congregation.
We have no Churchwardens' Account book till the year 1815, but two old receipted bills suggest that the Church roof and windows underwent substantial repairs in 1793. One of these bills is for 3000 tiles, sand and lime, - £8 115. 1d.; the other bill is for glazier's work and includes glass and lead. I do not think the Church has been re-tiled since; it is easy to see the difference between the old tiles on the Chancel and those of the south aisle built in 1875.
One of our Ancient Charities must be mentioned here, - the Sanbury Charity. It was founded in 1783 by William Sanbury and consists of a rent-charge on some land at Hinton. The founder directed that this should be distributed in the form of bread to 40 families in the Liberty of Hinton on the Sunday before Christmas Day. The distribution was duly made for many years; in 1837 it was superintended by one, Francis Sounday, an original trustee, and an inmate of the AIms-houses at the time. Like other such, this rent-charge is now paid to the Hurst Charity Trustees and is distributed by the Vicars of Hurst and Twyford; our share, £1, goes to the Coal and Clothing Club.
The year 1811 is memorable for the foundation of the "National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of Religion." There had been Grammar Schools and Charity Schools, such as the Polehampton foundation, but these were, with a few exceptions, for the education of boys only. Girls were not expected to serve God in Church or State; they could contribute to the comfort of their "betters" by becoming servants or apprentices.
With the foundation of the National Society schools began to spring up all over the Country; in 1816 even the House of Commons was roused to the extent of a select committee to investigate the subject of education.
Our Village was not behindhand: in 1818 the Hurst and Ruscombe National School was founded by the united efforts of the Vicar, Sir N. Duckeifield, Mr. R. Palmer, Mr. Garth Collerton and the Rev. C. Golding. They purchased two cottages in Tape Lane and altered one of them to make a residence for the master and mistress. Subscriptions amounted to £335, and the school was opened on August 31, 1818. The Minute book and Account books are before me. Take the year 1825, for example; - Teachers' salaries, £73; other expenses, £20: about half the total cost was met by the children's payments and the rest came from voluntary subscribers.
In 1843 a new school was built on the site of the present Girls' School; it cost £783. Since the sale of the old building and the Government grant amounted to but £235, the local Church-people must have given liberal support. In 1857 Mr. G. Barker of Stanlake endowed our Schools with £300 of Government Stock, and about that time the Government began making annual capitation grants, but, even so, for many years the Church-people of the district found half the cost of maintenance. The changes made by the Education Acts of 1872 and 1902 must not detain us. I close this digression on our Schools by recording that the Boys' School was built by voluntary subscription in 1881.
The "Great War" of last century came towards the close of George Ill's reign. A brief reference to it will make a filling conclusion to this section. In 1804 the English were occupying Malta; Napoleon was determined to regain it; England demanded to retain it for ten years; Napoleon declared war. At this time France under Napoleon was the aggressor and all Europe was on the defensive. In this Country the great fear was invasion; hence great additions were made to our army and militia.
Many of us remember well enough the first month of the last "Great War." Some tattered papers in our box recall the early days of the Napoleonic war. One of these is an intimation from the Justices to Overseers of Hinton that one, William Stiles, had been chosen by lot to serve in the "Militia of the County now embodied and in actual Service," and that the Overseers had to pay to the said William Stiles the sum of £15. Another paper couched in similar terms informed the Overseers that James Lee had been chosen by lot to serve but that he had "provided Francis Vicars as his substitute," and, that being so, the £15 should be paid to the latter.
One other of these old papers is interesting as indicating the amount of the "separation allowance," as we learnt to call it. It seems that Oliver King of this Parish had been chosen by lot to serve but that he had provided a substitute who lived in the Parish of St. Giles', Reading. This crumpled account is that of the Overseer of St. Giles' for the "relief and maintenance" of the substitute's wife and child for 52 weeks at 3/-, i.e. £7 16s. This sum had to be refunded to St. Giles' by our Overseer .
The war, which was brought to a successful conclusion by Wellington's victory at Waterloo, was followed by years of great distress. In the agricultural districts, which had been very prosperous during the war, many farmers were ruined and many labourers were thrown out of employment. Unfortunately none of the Overseers' books or papers have survived, so we have no information as to the amount of the local Poor rate or the sums distributed in relief.
Distress and discontent were very prevalent both in town and country when the aged King passed away in the January of 1820.
As neither he nor his next two brothers had any legitimate children, Princess Victoria, daughter of his fourth brother, the Duke of Kent, was the heir to the Throne after her uncles and father. One of the uncles lived to ascend the Throne in 1830 as King William IV, but he reigned only seven years. We are getting into close touch now with our own days; the Princess Victoria, whom many of us saw, was born in 1819.
About this time Mr. Croft, who had held the living for over forty years, resigned and the Rev. William Wise, D. D. was appointed. From the inscription on the vault in our Churchyard, we learn that Dr. Wise was Vicar of St. Laurence's, Reading for twenty-one years and Minister of Hurst for fifteen. As he held both livings at once and lived at Reading, I don't suppose Hurst saw much of its Vicar.
The next Vicar was the Rev. A. A. Cameron, to whom frequent reference has been made in these pages. He is remembered by some, for he held the living over forty-six years. On Mrs. Wowen's death he acquired Hurst House and re-built it in 1847. A brass plate in the Chancel floor tells us that the east window was given in 1881 to his memory by parishioners and friends. The subject is Our Lord's Ascension. The Good Shepherd window commemorates fourteen children who died in an epidemic of diphtheria in 1859; among them was Mr. Cameron's little son. The fine east window in the south aisle was given by parishioners in memory of Mrs. Cameron, who died in 1893. The centre light represents the Annunciation; that on the right, St. Mary Magdalene at the Sepulchre; that on the left, Mary of Bethany anointing Our Lord's feet.
At Haines Hill Mr. Garth Collerton was succeeded in 1818 by Captain Thomas Garth, R.N., whose four daughters were Baptised in our Church. The two circular panels of stained glass in the west window of the north aisle were his gift; they represent the Adoration of the Magi and the Last Supper. He was buried here in 1841. His heir, Mr. Thomas Collerton Garth, who died in 1907, is affectionately remembered by many in the parish and neighbourhood.
At Bill Hill also there was a change. Admiral Leveson Gower was succeeded in 1817 by his eldest son John, afterwards known as General Leveson Gower. The General's son, John Edward, Baptised here in 1826, will be remembered by some as Captain Leveson Gower, who died in 1892.
The name of Harman first occurs in our Baptism Register in 1817, and subsequently many times; for Thomas Rickman Harman of Sindlesham House had large family. The tablet in the north west corner of the Church commemorates three of his sons, of whom one died in childhood and the other two abroad. Another of his sons, Thomas Rickman and his sisters gave the west window in the south aisle in memory of their parents; they will also be thankfully remembered as the donors of the organ in 1908. The founder of the Harman Coal Charity was one, William Harman, also of Sindlesham, who died in 1838; he was the elder brother of Mr. T. R. Harman, senior, and an uncle of the gentleman just referred to. His bequest of £500 was invested in Stock and the interest is distributed in the form of coal to the poor of Winnersh by the Hurst Charity Trustees.
New Register books for Baptisms and Burials were issued in 1813; these are the same form in as those in use today, and have columns for the parent's occupation and for the address and age of the deceased, A glance at the occupation column reminds us of the changing conditions and of the coming of the railways. For example; - in 1822, "Loddon turnpike gate keeper": in 1838 and subsequently, "railroad labourer", "railroad porter", "conductor on the railway".
Toutlev House is first mentioned in our books in 1824, when it is given as the address of J. H. Coward, Esq.; six years later Captain Wetherall appears to have occupied it; and in 1837, a Mr. J, J. Gardiner.
It is over two centuries since we have found anything to say about Hinton House; in these days it is given as the address of Mr. Samuel Nicholls, who died in 1832.
Twyford had been growing apace; the following, who figure in the Baptism Register, resided there, - Mr. J. Wardle, Mr. J. Dutton and C. E. Armstrong.
At King Street also there were important residents; among them Mr. Richard Westbrook and family.
The name of Mrs. Sarah Yarnold, who died in 1831, will be familiar on account of the notices which appear yearly in the porch inviting applications from blind persons and domestic servants for gratuities from the Charity which bears her name. By her will she left Stock to the "mayor, burgesses and aldermen of the borough of Wokingham" with directions that they should spend the interest thus; - £10 to be divided equally between four widows of Ruscombe; £12 to be divided equally between four female domestic servants of Hurst or Wokingham who had been in the same situation for three successive years;10/- each to six poor married women of Hinton to provide extra comforts at confinement; £20 to be divided between four blind persons, preference to be given to those residing in Hurst and Ruscombe. Mrs. Yarnold was a parishioner of Ruscombe, but many of our parishioners have had occasion to be thankful for benefits received from her Charity.
As to our Church, we gather some information from .the oldest surviving Churchwardens' Account book, which begins with the minutes of the Easter vestry of 1815. 'All the money required for Church expenses used to be raised by means of a Church rate, which in that year was -/4 in the £. and produced £58 17s. 2d. Two years later the vestry made a rate of .-/9 in order to meet a bricklayer's bill of £45 and a painter's bill of £14; however it was soon down again to -/2.
In the early years covered by this book we find no expenditure on coal. In fact the idea of heating the Church does not seem to have occurred to the vestry till 1823, when £10 was invested in the purchase of a stove. The same year the Churchwardens spent nearly £11 on new Bibles, Prayer Books and Registers. But in a normal year the largest item was "fees and expenses of attending the Dean's Court at Sonning "; the former amounted to about £5, the latter to £3 or £4 (refreshments, I presume).
The singers received £2 25. annually for their services and the ringers £3 10s. The sexton's salary was 11/- but the Churchwardens provided him with shoes at 10/6 a pair.
It was the custom to elect four Churchwardens at the Easter vestry, one for each Liberty, but some years Winnersh and Newland had but one between them.
This book contains the minutes of the first vestry meeting at which Mr. Cameron presided in 1834. The accounts of the following year contain this entry, - "taking persons to Reading for Confirmation, 10/- "; it is the first mention of Confirmation in our records.
William IV, the old sailor King, died on June 20,1837. Many of us remember how the church bells used to ring on June 20 and how the flags used to fly; it was of course, Queen Victoria's Accession Day.
The story of our Village is nearly told now; the events of Queen Victoria's reign are fresh in the memories of many, and some of them we have mentioned already. We have, for instance, told how Twyford was constituted a separate parish in 1876. But twenty years before this Newland and part of Winnersh had been assigned to form the new parish of St. Catherine's, Bear Wood, where Mr. John Walter had built and endowed a church in 1845. Among the Faculties in our box is one obtained by Mr. Walter in 1846 to remove the remains of his daughter, Catherine Mary, from the vault here to the Churchyard at Bear Wood.
Several references have been made to the restorations of our Church in 1855 and 1875. The scope of these can best be gauged by looking at the Faculties; that for the restoration of 1855 reads "to re-face and otherwise renew the walls (externally) of the church and chancel aisle; to erect a new vestry on the north of the chancel aisle; to take down all or any of the present pews and sittings; the expense to be borne by subscription." And the Faculty for the restoration of 1875 reads, - "to remove galleries, to re-seat nave and north aisle with open pews; to take down and re-build dilapidated portions of north and west walls; to take down south wall and carry out new south aisle; to take down and re-build the porch." The cost of all this, or the greater part of it, was met by the late Miss Palmer of Holme Park, Sonning.
The marble reredos, representing the "Fall of Man" and the "Nativity of Christ," was erected in 1873.
The stained glass window in the Chapel was put in by members of the Harrison family in 1905 to the memory of Thomas and Anne Harrison: the centre light represents St. Nicholas, our Patron Saint; that on the left, St. Thomas; that on the right, St. Anne instructing the youthful Virgin Mary.
The window in the Chancel, representing the Holy Family, was given in memory of General. Beauchamp who died in 1894.
To complete the story of our endowed Charities: - The Barker Coal Charity was established under the will of the late Mr. W, G, Barker, dated 1869. By it he left £300 directing that the interest should be distributed in the form of coal to the poor of Hurst at the discretion of the Vicar. And the Sarah Glasspool Charity was founded under Mrs, Glasspool's will. She left £200 in 1881, directing that the interest be spent on flannel or blankets for the "aged, needy and deserving poor" of Whistley. These two Charities are now divided between Hurst and Twyford: the Trustees post notices each December inviting applications for benefits.
The Improvements to the Church and Churchyard, which were made during the long incumbency of the Rev, E, Broome, are such recent history that they, need no telling here. I would, however, mention one, - the fitting up of the North Chancel Aisle as a Chapel. Throughout these pages I have used the term "chapel," but I have done so only because it is shorter and more convenient than the more accurate one, "north chancel aisle".
Mr. Broome loved this place and we owe him a great debt today for the ceaseless care he bestowed on preserving and improving the Church property committed to his trust.
"Our story is told; a Church and Parish with so long and interesting a history is a great inheritance and one of which we may be justly proud.