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Reverend Peter Braby's Survey of Churchwardens' Presentments from the Vale of Evesham, 1660-1717 (part 2)

Articles by Peter Braby

These articles first appeared in The Vale of Evesham Historical Society Research Papers. Permission to reproduce the articles has been granted by The Vale of Evesham Historical Society. The author of the articles, the Reverend Peter Braby, a former Vicar of Badsey, died in 1994. His son, Jonathan, has also given permission for the articles to be reproduced.

Maureen Spinks, November 2003

Vale of Evesham Historical Society Research Papers, 1977, VI, pages 101 - 115.



PAINFUL in his place, exemplary for godly living, charitable and graciable' (a delightful word not in the Oxford English Dictionary). So William Willes, vicar of Cleeve Prior, is described in a presentment of 1670. The fact that it appears to be in his own handwriting does not necessarily imply that this eulogy was self-composed. As we have seen, the minister of the parish often acted as scribe for the churchwardens.

The third section of the visitation articles concerned the minister. In their usual form the questions were under some fifteen heads, but they were rarely answered in full. The presentment for Honeybourne in April 1678 (concerning Thomas Pickering) is a good illustration of the requirements: 1. he is in full episcopal orders; 2. 'not defamed except by detraction'; 3. was lawfully inducted, and subscribed to the Thirty-nine Articles: 4. 'neither hath nor doth supply any other place than this, [. . .] constantly resident, with his family, and in his absence, which is but very seldom, takes care for a supply'; 5. reads the daily morning and evening service on Sundays and holy days according to the rubric 'except when the extremity of cold forces him to be shorter', and observes the prescribed forms without addition or omission; 6. 'never wears the surplice because he hath none';1 7. gives due notice of holy days and fasts; 8. preaches every Lord's Day unless reasonably hindered; 9. has often desired people to send their children to be catechized, 'and does his endeavour to win those who are not conformable'; 10. administers the Lord's Supper in its due seasons 'and is ready to repel those that he knows to be unfit'; 11. visits the sick when sent for, 'and I know not any unbaptized through his default, nor any without godfathers or godmothers'; 12. 'I never knew that he preached any false, schismatical, or seditious doctrine tending to the disturbance of Church or State'; 13. never marries any but at the place and time approved nor without banns or licence; 14. does not hold conventicles; 15. 'his conversation is not in any sort disorderly or scandalous'.

As the churchwardens' replies to the articles had to be approved and signed by the minister before being collected by the apparitor, it is not surprising that most of them gave a highly satisfactory account of their minister. William Millington of Badsey is described in 1678 as being 'very honest and religious, performing his duties with reverence and gravity', while Robert Blondell of Norton and Lenchwick (1692) is 'a man of good conversation, beloved of all that know him'. It is stated in Walter Allen's own handwriting (Nafford with Birlingham 1687) that he is of good grace and sober conversation, 'in all things behaving himself as an obedient son of the Church'. Perhaps the wardens of White Ladies Aston in 1684 were unconsciously describing the ideal Restoration minister, 'who doth what in him lies to conform to the rules and great example of Jesus Christ, is studious, sober, modest, and regular and doth declare the King's supremacy every year four times at least'; while the model Queen Anne incumbent could be John Parker, vicar of Feckenham (1711), 'faithful and painful in his place", who 'reads the Act against cursing and swearing and the Queen's Proclamation for encouragement of piety and punishing of vice, profaneness, and immorality'.

Were those assessments anything more than conventional and meaningless phraseology? No doubt the wardens, or even the minister himself, were sometimes tempted, like teachers writing school reports, to fall back on trite expressions in the search for something to say, but we can surely accept most of the reports as honest delineations of a man's true worth. In the description of Richard Cragge (Middle Littleton 1664), for example, could there be a hint of the qualities that may have enabled him to keep his place at Badsey during the whole of the Interregnum and yet be acceptable for Christ Church to appoint to the Littletons at the Restoration: 'circumspect and wary in performing his duty in every respect without giving offence unto any"? On the other hand, in view of Richard Claridge's subsequent history it is interesting to find him described, in his own handwriting (Peopleton 1664), as 'no scandalous or irregular man, [. . .] an exact observer of the orthodox discipline'. Not many years later he had to be corrected by the bishop for neglecting his cure, and it was suggested that his whole manner of life needed reforming.2 This was not for immorality but for disloyalty to the Church; he was continually going to dissenters' meetings. Eventually he resigned the living in 1691 and became a Baptist minister, first in Oxford, then in London, finally becoming a Quaker, and writing many tracts.3

Where the minister was an absentee, or in dispute with the parishioners, the churchwardens could be uncompromisingly frank. Thus Croome d'Abitot (1670): 'Doctor Dowdeswell is our minister and claims the benefice, and by what authority he is able to give account, but we have had no minister or curate fetched for this two months and upwards'. Dowdeswell was a prebendary of Worcester,4 but the next rector, John Newberry, was chaplain to Lord Coventry's household. As this was only a few hundred yards away, it is surprising to find on 3 September 1674, just over a week after his letter from Croome to the registrar about Defford vicarage5 and three weeks before a presentment in his own handwriting stating that everything in Croome was in perfect order, the churchwardens complain that their minister has not been resident for seven or eight weeks, that he has preached only twice since Whit Sunday, and that the church has not been duly supplied in his absence.6 Now and then it has been served in the afternoon by a neighbouring minister 'and one Mr. Onions, a young raw person, twice, who gave such discontent that scarce any of the people would come to hear him'.

Non-residence was a constant complaint. The situation was not very different from that of today, in that a country clergyman often had to serve more than one cure to obtain sufficient financial support. Thus Hampton (£8 a year), Bengeworth (£11), and Offenham (£8) had to be supplied from other parishes. Hampton churchwardens wrote in 1674: 'Our minister not resident, for our living is very small and we have no house, but our cure is constantly supplied and he is a sober and conformable man'. This was none other than Dr. Jephcott of All Saints', Evesham, a great pluralist, who inter alia served St. Lawrence's, Evesham, and Bengeworth and Harvington.7 He probably took over Bengeworth in 1692 (when he signs the accounts) for in 1691 the churchwarden states that there is nothing presentable, 'being no minister resident with us, and therefore matters are in disorder'. Here again there was no house, and the minister's dues had been appropriated by the squire.8 'We cannot have a competent minister to serve amongst us', say Dormston churchwardens (1674). The cure was supplied by the rector of Kington. Besford (£10) was usually served from Holy Cross, Pershore, but in 1699 the inhabitants of Stoulton signed a document expressing satisfaction that their minister, Michael Perry, should continue to serve the cure at Besford as formerly. Little Comberton (1687): 'Our rectory is impropriate, and there is a salary of £25 per annum to the rector'. This was Henry Chamberlain, from 1661 until his death in 1709; he also served Bricklehampton. Always lively in his comments, he made his return to the Commissioners for Trade in 1696 about the poor rate as follows: 'This is to certify that Bricklehampton is a very little poor hamlet, and the poor's tax last year was about thirty shillings [. . .] Henry Chamberlain, poor, old, curate'. Twelve years later he was presented by both parishes as being incapable of performing his duties 'by reason of his great age and infirmities'. Severe poverty could be the lot of those who held only one cure. The chapelwardens of Wick (1676) wrote of Robert Taylor: 'Our curate complaineth he hath not a competency of means to maintain him and his small family, three in number, having a parcel of the small tithes, amounting to but £4 10j., and of the town land, which amounts to £8 around. Hath lived of his own purse these many years whiles his friends were living, which one lately dead. Hath his house (belonging to the minister) much out of repair and is not able to repair it. And desires a way might be found out at least those that have the tithes should help him in these distresses'

The shortage of parochial clergy in the diocese made it difficult to find a substitute if a clergyman wished to be absent from his cure for any length of time. William Watmer, rector of Great Comberton, was cited in 1698 for non-residence.9 The reason appears in a letter from him dated 14 April 1695.10 He had been appointed chaplain to Col. Richard Ingoldsby's regiment of foot, and was about to leave for Flanders. He had been trying to find a curate for Great Comberton and Defford, and had asked John Cother, rector of Severn Stoke, to arrange this for him. Both places, he says, must go together, for one without the other will not supply sufficient means. He is willing to allow the dues of Defford, making the stipend up to £20 a year, plus the fees for occasional offices.

Defford was later served from Holy Cross, Pershore, and in 1708 the curate, Robert Griffith, was presented by the wardens of both parishes 'for being several times drunk in common ale-houses at an unseasonable time of night and in other places, to the great scandal of himself and the Church'. Either Defford was unfortunate in its clergy or its wardens were unduly censorious, for in 1687 the chapelwarden presented 'our minister, Mr. John Neathway, as a man of ill exemplary life and conversation and much given to swearing and often debauched with much drinking'. Earls Croome (1695), presenting John Moore for non-residence and neglect, say: 'We are not satisfied to be served so by him. He is a continual goer to the ale-house and a very gross liver and doth call the parishioners knaves and rogues'. Moore was certainly an eccentric character, as appears from his diary,11 but somehow this description does not seem to fit. Was it really the ale-house? It was about that time that he had begun to associate himself with the Baptists, and he later joined them. He did not resign the \. living until 1701.

The scandalous Rowland Dennis of Himbleton12 was charged with neglect, debauchery, swearing, and drunkenness, as well as with purloining church property (1688). The neighbouring parish of Crowle was a few years later at loggerheads with John Matthew, who at first sight would seem to have been a strict Sabbatarian, for his 'wholly neglecting and omitting to read prayers on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Monday and Tuesday in Easter Week, and Ascension Day, likewise refusing to go the perambulation of the boundaries of our parish for several years last past, and for saying that in case he was forced to go to the boundaries he would not use or wear the surplice or read the epistles and gospels, saying it was a sign or figure of popery'. On Sundays he also frequently omitted the first lesson and would not read the prayer for the Church militant. Whether he was really a man of puritanical principles seems doubtful, for five years later he was presented for not reading prayers for more than a year 'and for not coming to church to hear divine service and sermon'. In a separate deposition against him13 it was said that he would not read prayers at the vestry meeting on Easter Tuesday, but left in haste for the ale-house. There the chief inhabitants followed him and found him in the kitchen chimney-nook known as 'parson's corner', and passed their accounts while he sat drinking with them for some hours. Next year there was a further deposition against him for scandalous and callous behaviour at the funeral of a child. Yet he could be compassionate. Filed with the presentments is a request from him in 1710 that he might church a young woman who had given birth to a bastard child and whose life was despaired of, 'but now much ashamed and sorry for her fault'.

Surely one of the most curious and unedifying scenes in a parish church is recorded to have been witnessed at Inkberrow one Sunday in 1696. 'There is at present', say the wardens, 'a contest betwixt Mr. Mugg and Mr. Parsons touching their right to the possession of the church, which lately occasioned a disturbance and confusion in divine service, both ministers reading divine service in the said church at the same time'. Henry Mugg had been deprived by order of the court in June 1696 and Thomas Parsons was appointed in his place.14 On 22 June and again on 25 July Mugg managed to be away from home when the apparitor called to serve a process on him. On the first occasion the document was read to his son, and on the second to his wife.15 What happened after that is not clear. Parsons is said to have been instituted on 19 August.16 We do know, however, that Mugg held on to the cure. In 1699 he presented the churchwarden James Heming for various misdemeanours and neglects,17 stating that Fleming's own presentment at Bishop Lloyd's primary visitation had been signed only by himself and rejected by the chancellor. In the visitation notes for the period 1702-418 there is a note of Mugg's 'various neglects', and the churchwardens on 4 August 1709 present 'Mr. Mugg our vicar for his gross neglect in not administering the sacrament of the Lord's Supper [. . .] on Easter Sunday last although there were several of the parishioners that had prepared themselves and come to the church on the same day in the morning with a desire and expectation to receive the same'. He had also not buried a corpse. In his presentment of 1699 Mugg had admitted that he had sometimes delayed burial, but complained that parishioners did not give him sufficient notice.

The cases of Moore, Dennis, Matthew, and Mugg show the ineffectiveness of the church courts at that time, as now, in any attempt to regulate the conduct of the clergy.


He had to be chosen by the minister and approved by the parish. It was required by the visitation articles that he should be able to read, write, and sing the psalms, but many parishes after the Restoration had no clerk qualified in those respects. They were glad to have someone who could keep the church clean and toll the bell. Little Comberton (J687): 'Our parish clerk is honest, and indifferently qualified'. Middle Littleton (1663): 'He performeth his duty diligently in every respect, keepeth due hours to toll to divine service upon all occasions, and keepeth our church diligently'. Not so fortunate was Pinvin (1664): 'We have not any clerk in our town, and the greater part of the town cannot know when to go to divine service for want of a clerk to ring the bell and to keep the church clean'. St. Lawrence's, Evesham (1669): 'Our parish clerk is old and blind, and the clerk of the other parish supplies his place'. Nine years later, however, they had a parish clerk 'able for writing, reading, and singing'. The parishioners were responsible for providing the clerk's wages; negligence in this was another source of difficulty. Honeybourne (1676): 'Our minister cannot have a fit man to be his clerk who will carefully attend him at divine service and do other requisite parts of his office, by reason of a general unwillingness to pay his customary wages'. Two years later: 'We have a clerk but his wages are not well paid, and though he locks the doors yet people can get in at the windows'.

It must not be supposed that all parish clerks were ancient men of unassailable reputation. A clandestine wedding at Bricklehampton is reported at the foot of an undated19 churchwardens' presentment, in another hand: 'Win. Wilson, clerk of the parish, and Mary Sandalls, a player, married at midnight by the minister without licence. The young man undone'.


If it was often advisable for the churchwardens to be wary in their answers concerning the minister, caution might be even more necessary in presenting the conduct of their fellow parishioners. There was no point in losing the goodwill of many years by being too officious during one brief twelvemonth of authority. Thus the wardens of Bricklehampton in 1679: 'All our neighbours come to church. Item: we desire to live in unity and peace with all men'. Feckenham (1682): 'We present all the parish in some sort guilty, but none by way of contempt as we know of. Grafton Flyford (1687): 'Many faults are among the parishioners, but we know not whether we can present or no'. In some of these presentments we can detect the usual English impatience with official questionnaires. Thus Church Lench (1670): 'To conclude, we humbly consider that, according to the exactness of these enquiries, there is no person in our parish but is in some nature an offender. And this we thought good to present, lest for the crime and scandal of perjury we ourselves should be presentable'. Some may have felt that there was no need to waste ink on classification. 'We have no midwife, schoolmaster, or popish recusant in our parish', say the wardens of Elmley Castle in 1714. Where the churchwardens were reluctant to present offenders, it was laid down by the Canons that the minister had a duty to do so. Henry Chamberlain in 1676 presented a young woman of Bricklehampton for refusal to have her child baptized because the churchwarden was related to her and reluctant to take action.


This was a statutory offence20 and the churchwardens were responsible to the civil magistrates for levying the fines for non-attendance, by distress warrant if necessary. As those regulations had been rescinded during the Interregnum, the bishops in their visitations deemed it necessary to prod the churchwardens on their duty in that respect. Many churchwardens expressed ignorance of it until asked by the visitation articles of 1663 and 1664, for example Evenlode: 'Touching levying of twelvepence upon such as absent themselves upon the Lord's Day from divine service, we had no knowledge of, nor order so to do'. The wardens of All Saints', Evesham, made the excuse in 1664 that no warrants had been granted them. If a parish had a resident magistrate the whole business could safely be left to him. Thus Cropthorne (1684): 'Sir Edward Dinely puts the law into execution against the above-named dissenters, making them pay one shilling a week for every Sunday they absent themselves'.

In many places it would have been an impossible task to name all absentees. Blockley wardens point out in 1663: 'Our parish being very great and consisting of five or six villages, some at a mile's distance at least from the church, and the church ordinarily full, we cannot discern or number exactly who are absent'. Holy Cross, Pershore, admitted in 1675 'that there are many persons which do refuse to come to church to hear divine service and to receive the Blessed Sacrament, but they are so numerous and of so many different particulars that we cannot make a full and true presentment'. Even a small place like Hampton made the same excuse. Inkberrow (1684): 'The parish being large and populous we cannot well answer to every person inhabiting or sojourning therein'. In the same year All Saints', Evesham, say: 'Our parish being very large we suppose there are many hundreds above sixteen years old that receive not'. Throckmorton, a chapelry of Fladbury, profess inability to identify non-communicants, 'for our minister does not receive the offerings' (1663). This referred to the annual check there was supposed to be on Easter communicants, easier to carry out because the incumbent would record the names of those who had paid their Easter dues. Bredon (undated): 'Who they were, our minister knows them but we do not'. The poor, it seems, were not expected to be church-goers. Both of the Evesham parishes say they have many poor who seldom or never come to church. Honeybourne say of their absentees (1676): 'but they are very mean and simple poor people which few take notice of.

The diocesan authorities give the appearance of assuming that anyone who does not attend church must be a dissenter of some kind. They must have realized that this was not so; certainly the parochial clergy and churchwardens were well aware that not all absentees could be fitted into neat categories. Pirton (1674) and White Ladies Aston (1682): 'of what sect or persuasion they are, they do not declare'. Redmarley (1674): 'Mark Grymes is so disabled in his limbs that he cannot come to church if he was willing'. Disputes about church seating were sometimes causes of absenteeism. At Inkberrow in 1684 a churchwarden's wife had stopped attending because she was 'debarred of her seat by a sorry wench, a great discouragement to constant church-frequenting'. At White Ladies Aston, where a controversy about seating had been raging for several years, Edward Giles 'did forsake his own parish church ever since, upon pretence that he had no place or seat that he might kneel, sit, or stand to hear divine service and sermon". He had set up a pew 'in the time of the troubles' in the place where the vicarage family used to sit, ejecting them forcibly. A meeting of the inhabitants in 1669, presided over by the Roman Catholic patron, Robert Berkeley, and attended by the diocesan registrar, allotted Giles two other kneelings, on condition that he remove the offending pew 'that the said Giles might be drawn and persuaded to come to his parish church'. At Blockley there was a very bitter dispute about seats, involving the vicar, Giles Collier. On the other hand Honeybourne say (1678): 'Our church is not so well filled as to strive for seat room'.

The most cogent reasons for non-attendance could be economic rather than sectarian. Bishampton in 1674 state that some are 'hindered from the Lord's Table by the charge of cattle and other the like necessary country employments; [. . .] most of them, being annual tenants upon hard rents and others of them poor labourers, are necessitated through want or hardship to employ themselves in their worldly vocations for a subsistence'. There were also 'two or three poor persons lately fallen into decay [. . .] through lawsuits and for a time put into a desperate condition through debt, which we humbly request we may not be compelled to present to this court as yet according to the strictness of the law, for we humbly contend if they should upon our information be put to any legal trouble for the present they would utterly cut themselves off from the Church and forsake the protestant religion, and we doubt not but upon this condition in a short time through the help of Almighty God, by the diligence of our minister, our daily prayers and good advice, we shall recall them to true conformity'. Two Easters later the wardens were still in expectation of these people communicating at Whitsun, and still declining to present them by name. Similar requests for time to win people by persuasion came from other parishes. Norton (1676): 'Some few who upon some grievance did not receive the Sacrament at Easter last, but we hope upon reconciliation they will receive at Whitsuntide next'. Bretforton for the same reasons ask in 1684 to be excused from presenting offenders by name. Fladbury in the same year present by name a couple from Moor for non-attendance, 'but pray that no process be sent out against them for three weeks (they desiring this time to consider with themselves), in which we hope our minister will be able to reclaim them and certify their reformation to this court'.


In practice there was little persecution of nonconformists as such, and action was taken only against declared dissent, and wilful refusal to receive the Sacrament or pay the dues. Church Lench (1670): 'No schismatics that absent themselves out of ordinary from public assembly, nor any Anabaptist except one John Colchester, a very poor fellow, whom we consider better qualified to keep that religion which he has, because he has nothing else to lose'. Wickhamford (1678): 'There are found in this parish that do go to the Quakers' meetings but do pay their dues to the church and are honest peaceable persons amongst us'.

It is difficult to know how many genuine Quakers there were. Many parishes mention reputed Quakers, and it seems to have been a convenient label for anyone who did not conform to accepted standards or beliefs, rather as the name 'Bolshy' was used by certain classes of society a generation or two ago. Nevertheless, real Quakers there certainly were, particularly in Evesham, where several had been imprisoned even before George Fox's first visit in 1655.21 After the Restoration they seem at first to have suffered no harassment. All Saints' and St. Lawrence's churchwardens state in 1663: 'We have many Quakers and because their number is so great we forbear to return their names but shall if called to it'. After the passing of the Conventicles Act in May 1664 the picture is different. At the visitation in July that year ten Quakers are presented by name. They include five cordwainers, one saddler, one baker, and one chandler. Soon after that the magistrates seem to have cracked down on the keeping of conventicles. All Saints' report in May 1665: 'We have some in our parish half a year and upwards at Warwick gaol, and other prisoners at Worcester, several other prisoners at our own gaol in Evesham, poor men'. Bengeworth also report that some Quakers are in Worcester and Evesham gaols. A list in Bishop Skinner's book22 in 1671 does not mention any conventicle at Evesham, but mentions a Quaker meeting at the home of the Stanley family at Inkberrow at which there are said to be sometimes three hundred attending. The Stanleys were still being presented in 1684 for seducing others from receiving the Sacrament. Pershore had three conventicles: Presbyterian, Independent, and Quaker. Seven Quakers were presented there in 1664 for reproaching the Church. The most successful conventicle at Pershore seems to have been held at the house of John Ward, a heel-maker, 'where many both of the town and country do usually meet on Sundays at the time of divine service in the forenoon. Of what persuasion they are we know not but they call themselves a congregational church' (1674). At the same visitation Henry Chamberlain complains of some Bricklehampton women gadding to Ward's meetings, and that in Little Comberton Anthony Phillips, a smith, and his wife, refusing baptism for their children, had them 'named' by Ward at Pershore. Ten years later Phillips was presented for burying his children ('or putting them into the ground'). In 1684 three dissenters were presented at Bengeworth for burying their dead 'in a place called the Grave Yard contrary to the rites of the Church'. Unlawful Quaker marriages were reported in Evesham in 1664. In the district round Feckenham, Baptists were strong. John Poole, a narrow-weaver of Dormston, had a considerable following. He boasted 'continually the schismatical principles of Anabaptism, [. . .] a continual seducer of others from the religion now established in the Church of England'. He also refused to have his children baptized (1674).

After Charles II's short-lived Declaration of Indulgence in 1672 a number of conventicles were licensed, but only for a few months. Bishop Blandford's second visitation of 1674 seems to have been particularly searching about conventicles. Besides those already mentioned, house meetings were reported in Pershore deanery at Bredon, Bredons Norton, Great Comberton, Grafton Flyford, Broughton Hackett, Himbleton, and Crowle. Strangely enough, none of those is named as licensed in the Declaration of Indulgence23 of two years before; instead there are Congregationalists at Evesham, of whom there is no specific mention in the presentments (though they may be some of the 'many poor' who 'seldom or never come to church'), at Broadway, also unmentioned in the presentments, and at Birlingham, where they may include the six presented in 1674 as reputed Anabaptists and the two presented as 'Sabbatarians'. There are also undefined dissenters at Cropthorne, of whom there is no trace in the presentments, although eleven are given in the Compton census.


In 1676 the Danby administration, to further its policy in support of the established Church, ordered a national census to record the number of nonconformists in each parish. Archbishop Sheldon felt himself too old to organize this, and the task was entrusted to Henry Compton, bishop of London.24 The aim was to show that the number of dissenters and papists was so small as to present no threat to the government if a policy of suppression were enforced. When all the returns from the dioceses were recorded and conflated, Compton was able to show a proportion of conformists to nonconformists throughout the country of 23 to 1, and of conformists and protestant dissenters (together) to papists of 187 to 1. Thus the census was successful as a political instrument. To the historian it is practically useless. Anyone with knowledge of particular parishes who has studied their returns in the religious census of 1851 knows how unreliable those can be. The returns of 1676 are still more fallible. Three figures had to be given: inhabitants over sixteen years old, popish recusants ('or such as are suspected of recusancy'), and other dissenters 'which either obstinately refuse, or wholly absent themselves from, the Communion of the Church of England'. The returns for the diocese of Worcester25 show a great variety of interpretation of those questions. Some give only males over sixteen, others 'men, women, and children'. Many of them are rough estimates in round figures, such as 'about 200 of all sorts' (Longdon). Thus we get some strange results. Did Inkberrow (752) really have a bigger population than the whole borough of Evesham (including Bengeworth) (670) or than Pershore (671)? It is hard to believe that Feckenham's return is correct (population, 585; papists, 6; dissenters, 0); only five years earlier Bishop Skinner's book recorded Baptist meetings at Feckenham and in the surrounding villages.26

In 75 parishes in this area, only 34 papists are recorded in the census, but ten times that number of dissenters. Pershore has the largest number of dissenters: 57. Eckington has 44 out of a total given population of 104. Its presentments of that period refer to 'many' non-attenders but few are presented by name: 'we have Quakers, papists, and Anabaptists'. In the census White Ladies Aston has 16 dissenters out of a population of 34; in an undated presentment of that period 14 people are named as non-attenders, all apparently members of the household of that Edward Giles who had a grievance about his pew. Other villages near Pershore show fairly large numbers of dissenters, no doubt members of John Ward's congregation. In the whole area the proportion of conformists to dissenters works out at 27 to 1, and of conformists and dissenters to papists at 250 to F, both ratios being considerably higher than the national average. The figures, however, can be accepted only with considerable reserve.


The licensing of dissenting places of worship under the Act of 1689 made it then |< otiose to present non-attenders (other than Roman Catholics). Yet the visitation tides continued to enquire about them, although stressing that no action could be en if they were going to a licensed conventicle. Norton (1692): 'We have but one an and his wife that desisteth from the church, and they are constant frequenters of Dnventicles which we dare not touch because the book of articles is most particular in that case". Grafton Fly ford (1693): 'We have a meeting in our parish several times but suppose they have qualified themselves according to the Act, and so cannot present any dissenters'. Inkberrow (1699): 'Very many persons since the Toleration Act neglect all public worship'. This may have been a general, if unforeseen, result of the Act. Bishop Compton told his London clergy in 1692 that the Toleration Act was generally abused, for many took advantage of it, on the pretext of being at a meeting-house, to go to a tavern, to loiter in the fields, or even to do business.27


The only great Roman Catholic houses in south-east Worcestershire were the Berkeleys of Spetchley, the Winters of Huddington, and the Hanfords of Woollas Hall. In 1705 and 1706 Bishop Lloyd sent enquiries to all parishes about papists, their qualities and estates, and any livings in their gift. A few of those returns are to be found among the presentments, but there is no separate file for them as for the very detailed returns of 1767.28 There is no return for Huddington, but in 1687 it is stated that Lady Winter pays the curate an annual stipend. For Spetchley twenty-one names of papists are given: Thomas Berkeley, esq., and members of his domestic staff or guests. He had the ecclesiastical patronage of Spetchley, Warndon,29 Upton Snodsbury, and White Ladies Aston. Seven papists (Berkeley tenants) are returned for White Ladies Aston. Forty years before, a couple there were presented for having a child baptized in their house by a popish priest. Nevertheless presentments for recusancy in this period are few and far between: Feckenham and Inkberrow present 6 and 7 respectively, Ripple 4 'poor papists', and Crowle (1674) 'no papist but what hath been anciently bred up in that religion'. Only All Saints', Evesham, report a conversion to popery (in 1708).


As might be expected, charges of profanation of the sabbath came more often from zealous clergymen than from churchwardens. In Part 1 of this paper cases were quoted of incumbents accusing churchwardens of neglecting to present 'sabbath-breakers'.30 William Willes of Cleeve Prior, who had presented his wardens in 1663 for not restraining the young people of the parish from profane sportings on the sabbath, made a series of charges in 1669 against Richard Ballard who had since gone to live in North Littleton. Besides being 'an exceptive drinker, swearer and curser, slanderer and liar', he frequently profaned the Lord's Day by 'journeying and riding forth, losing the benefit of the ordinances'. What was more, he had been 'going after sorcerers and cursing people for goods lost', healing a diseased wart, curing a sick child, and 'abusing the Scripture by spells'. His wife Anne had been defacing the vicarage house, barns, and stable (probably in connexion with sorcery). There are few cases of people being presented for working on Sunday, apart from millers at Overbury and Blockley. Some presentments are for selling ale on Sunday and keeping disorderly houses. At Pirton (1687) the churchwardens presented Ephraim Banks for 'suffering persons to play ninepins on the Lord's Day in his alley'. A prototype of Mr. Slope was perhaps John Guest, rector of Churchill, who made this presentment in 1667: Richard Horniblow had been profaning the Lord's Day 'in following that unjustifiable recreation of fishing. I do likewise present him for his most abominable, most unseemly, and unchristian-like behaviour towards me, in that when (according to my duty) I privately reproved him for (he above-mentioned crime, and acquainting him of the heinousness of it and that I would certainly inform against him and give him trouble without his recantation and serious promise of never offending again in the like nature, instead of a Christian-like submission he broke forth into bitter, spiteful, and malicious expressions, saying he cared not a fart for me, and scornfully saying, "Do your worst" '.


Contrary to the modern fantasy of 'merrie England', week-day holidays were not universally popular, and probably had not been since the time of serfdom. They had come to be regarded as depriving a man of his labour and its rewards. These presentments show a general neglect of holy days. 'Holidays (though bid) are not kept', say the churchwardens of St. Lawrence's, Evesham, in 1669. 'Such as live upon labour do work on holidays, and most here are such' (Honeybourne 1678). 'On the sabbath days they forbear, but on the holy days in seed-time and harvest they follow their bodily and ordinary labour and permit their servants so to do' (Evenlode 1674).


It is to be expected that nonconformists should be frequently presented for refusing to send children or servants to be catechized. What is surprising is the general slackness in several places in that respect. At Inkberrow (1699) parents and masters in general were said to neglect that duty, 'after all methods used and repeated admonitions', so that there were offenders in over three hundred families, 'too many to be named'. Bishampton children did not come to be catechized because employed in the fields or at home with the cattle (1684). At Honeybourne (1678) those old enough to be catechized were not being brought, 'but our minister thinks he may persuade to it'. Those parishes were not unusual; there were many similar instances in other parts of the diocese.


It was an ideal of many of the bishops to restore the Laudian standards of reverence in church, and this was usually a subject of enquiry in the visitation articles. 'None stand idle or disturb us in the worship of God', say the wardens of All Saints', Evesham, in 1669. At Norton, however, in 1664 one person was presented for disorderly behaviour in church, while in the previous year in Badsey Robert Yeomans, the servant of Thomas Wilson, was presented for coming to church but once, 'and then mocking the usages of the surplice; being asked what was the text discoursed, scoffed "only White Ladies Aston" '. In 1675 two men made a disturbance in Peopleton church at service-time. We have seen in Part I of this paper the tribulations of the worshippers at Church Honeybourne.31 Otherwise presentments for that offence seem to have been rare in this district. Were all congregations, however, so exemplary as Abbots Morton in 1678?: 'There are none in our parish but doth uncover his head and continue all the time of divine service in the church, and do all reverently kneel at the prayers and stand up when the Creed and gospel are read and making reverence when the name of our Lord Jesus is mentioned'.32 At Inkberrow in 1699 the behaviour of the parishioners in church was reported to be good, and it was not their fault if they could not kneel, because the floor under the seats was in a bad state. Nevertheless 'late coming to church is a great fault and occasions disturbances in the service'. The churchwardens of Eckington reported a nasty experience for their curate in church one September evening in 1714. John Hawker, shoemaker, 'brawling, chiding, and quarrelling at the said curate, [. . .] contrary to our consents and against the positive orders of the said curate did ring the bells backwards [sorcery again?] and endeavour to throw the rope of the bell he was then ringing about the said curate, and likewise refused to depart the said church, but affirmed he would if he pleased, notwithstanding the said curate's orders to the contrary, stay there all night'.


The popular name 'bawdy court'33 shows how often such cases featured in presentments to the consistory courts. To mention more than a few would be tedious. Chamberlain of Bricklehampton in characteristic language presented in 1664 a young man 'who hath often accused himself, and hath often in divers places reported, and impudently gloried in his shame, that he hath many times carnally known A.S., servant, whose unclean actions and vain ostentations do tend much to the dishonour of God, scandal of religion, and offence to all the neighbourhood'. It was not uncommon for an incumbent to ask the court for exemplary penances to be imposed for such offences. Nevertheless, whatever the zeal of some of the clergy for public morals, churchwardens were more often concerned with the poor-law aspect, for which they had recourse to the magistrates.34 Where fornication resulted in bastardy it was important to prevent an additional burden on the rates, if the father could be identified and charged. At Little Comberton in 1693 two young women were presented for 'being of very ill fame' and causing two men to become fugitives by their accusations. People could indeed be cited in the church courts to answer to a 'fame' or common report. Thus at Grafton Flyford in 1708 a woman was presented for 'going under a common fame of keeping company with men of an ill character'. The justice of such a course, however, was questioned by some. The churchwardens of Inkberrow in 1684 suspended further proceedings in the case of a woman presented by their predecessors, "lying under a common fame and vehement suggestion of adultery' and excommunicated. This, they said, was 'construed hard dealing and a thing unheard of to present any on fame'. Moreover the people who made such accusations might be presented themselves for slander, if they had a reputation for it. Inkberrow again (1699): 'A widow lies under a common fame for incontinence, [. . .] if the witnesses give not evidence for her conviction, being noted for railers and filthy talkers of her being a whore, etc., are liable to censure for defamation and belying her'.

Slander, and sowing discord and sedition, together with other sins of the tongue such as swearing and abuse, were also common matters for presentment. None of them is worth quoting, except that a woman in Pershore was presented in 1674 'for giving the churchwarden ill words'.


It was the duty of churchwardens to present parishioners who failed to prove wills or take out letters of administration, and there are a few instances of this. More serious for the parish might be the detention of charitable gifts in the hands of executors. It was easy to lose sight of bequests that had been made before the Civil Wars. At Badsey it was presented in 1663 that £6, given to the poor by Mr. Delabere of Southam about 1640 and entrusted to Thomas Smyth the elder, had never been received by the overseers, and Smyth was now dead. Sometimes the money went out of the parish, as at Evenlode, where £10 given to the poor by Mr. Thomas Freeman was in the hands of his son-in-law, who lived near Ludlow.


Questions concerning these in the visitation articles were generally left unanswered, but Cleeve Prior in 1670 could not resist presenting 'a great want of hospitals, almhouses, schools, etc., in this parish'. 'No hospital', declare Honeybourne (1678), 'though all be poor'. Free schools in the area covered by this paper are mentioned only at Evesham, Inkberrow, Feckenham, and Grafton Fly ford. Private schools with licensed schoolmasters seem to have existed in Blockley and possibly Badsey. At Norton it was presented in 1676 that Lady Walter gave £50 at her departure from Lenchwick for the maintenance of a school for the poor of the parish, and four overseers were named. There is no further mention of that school in the presentments and no record of a schoolmaster licensed there. In any parish with a curate who wanted to teach in his own home, he would be granted a licence to do so to the exclusion of anyone else (Canon 78). Richard Cragge, minister of the Littletons, is mentioned in 1663 as teaching children in his own house. He does not appear in the bishop's book35 as licensed to do so, but his successor Ralph Norris was licensed to teach in 1667.


These also had to have episcopal licence. Evesham is stated to have had two licensed physicians in 1676, and five altogether in 1708 ('whether they have licence or not we know not'). Of those mentioned in the presentment Gerard Smith and John Baylis are known to have been licensed; Francis Halford had been cited a few years earlier for practising physic without licence; there is no trace of Roger Harris or Thomas Hall in the bishop's register. In 1705 the churchwardens of Church Lench had presented a woman for having a bastard by John Kench, a barber-surgeon of Evesham. South Littleton say they have a licensed surgeon in 1663. We know that there were one or two licensed physicians in Pershore, but they are not mentioned in these presentments. Women were not supposed to practise midwifery without licence, but in most communities there have always been some who will perform that office for their neighbours. Thus Blockley (1663): Two or three women in the parish supply the places of midwives for their poor neighbours, but making little or no advantage of it they have not sought for a licence, nor will they except they have it freely'. At Great Comberton William Watmer writes: 'I hear that the Widow Stephens and the Widow Wright are questioned. I have diligently enquired and they tell me they do not profess that calling, and what they did was out of charity and necessity to save the life of their poor neighbour when none else could be had".


have kept this item to the last because it concerns the whole range of offences covered by the visitations, and was the ultimate penalty of the consistory court. One of the articles required the churchwardens to report what parishioners stood excommunicate at the time. Excommunication had to be pronounced by the court, and was the almost invariable penalty for contumacy, that is, refusing to appear when cited by the court or in other respects not complying with its orders.36 Examples are William Bartlett of Blockley, who would not take warning from the vicar for profaning the Lord's Day and was excommunicated 'on contemptuously refusing to appear at the summons of the court' (1663), and Robert Clarke of Pershore, who would not appear on a lawful summons to the ordinary for begetting a bastard child (1684). Excommunication was often imposed for other offences, too, ranging from non-attendance at church to failure of a churchwarden to render his accounts or of a widow to take out letters of administration. The ban of excommunication could only be lifted after absolution, and this involved further fees to the court in addition to the sums usually paid over in commutation of penance. It is no wonder that most excommunicated people made no attempt to be reconciled, particularly if they were dissenters in any case. In earlier days certain civil disabilities, and the social stigma involved, had some deterrent effect. When the greater excommunication was imposed, other parishioners were supposed to refrain from social intercourse or else be in danger of being excommunicated themselves. In practice it must have been only those already unpopular who were thus 'sent to Coventry' by their neighbours. At Inkberrow in 1684 three people were stated to have stood excommunicate for about two years, 'not regarding to be reconciled to the court, nor others deterred from conversing with them'. In parish after parish there were lists of people standing excommunicate for six, seven, or eight years. At Great Comberton in 1684 three had been excommunicate for fifteen years. In the same year eighteen were declared excommunicate at Bengeworth for various offences, and 27 at Pershore for not coming to church. There seems to have been a tightening-up on excommunication that year at the primary visitation of Bishop Thomas. Evidently a general indifference to the ban had set in, for although the lists of excommunicated people were supposed to be read from the pulpit on Sundays, the churchwardens of Overbury say of William Morris and his wife 'we do suppose they are excommunicated, but are not certain of it'.

Altogether the penalty was becoming futile, and rarely features in presentments after the turn of the century. In an earlier generation Bishop John Williams had referred to excommunication as 'the rusty sword of the Church',37 and it had long since lost its terrors. No analysis of the consistory court records is attempted in this study, but the evidence of the presentments shows that the influence of the church courts in regulating personal behaviour was becoming more and more ineffectual. Even during our period it was haphazard, though more often loaded against the poor, who could not afford the court fees, the commutation of penance, or the expenses of neighbours to vouch for them by the old-fashioned method of compurgation still used in those courts. For many antisocial offences the parochial officers could get far more certain and speedy redress at quarter sessions. Even in such matters as the conduct of the clergy the consistory court seems to have been almost impotent. No wonder that churchwardens' presentments had begun to dwindle long before the close of the 18th century, and finally petered out. A valuable source for social and ecclesiastical history had run dry.38

  1. See pt. I of this paper in Vale of Evesham Historical Soc. Research Papers, v (1975), 66.
  2. Heref. and Worc. Record Office, ref. 795.61 BA 2638.
  3. Dictionary of National Biography, s.v.
  4. He preached the first sermon in Worcester Cathedral after the Restoration, 31 Aug. 1660: I.G.
    Smith and P. Onslow, Worcester (Diocesan histories, 1883), 262.
  5. Pt. I, 78.
  6. He was also rector of Pirton at that time.
  7. See pt. I, 62-3. In fairness it must be said that, until he became rector of Northfield (£140) in
    1706, the total annual revenue from his parochial livings does not seem to have amounted to more
    than £336. All Saints', Evesham, was only £15 a year and St. Lawrence's £10.
  8. Pt. I, 70.
  9. H.W.R.O., ref. 778.795 BA 2439, vol. iv, No. 11374.
  10. H.W.R.O., ref. 716.02 BA 2911.
  11. Nineteenth-cent, extracts in B.L. Add. MS. 25463, ff. 197-9; original said to be in the Prattinton
    collection, Soc. of Antiquaries, but Mr. Paul Morgan was unable to find it there after a search.
    Extracts from the diary at this time certainly do not bear out the suggestion of Moore's being an ale
    house man. In 1694 he had made a memorandum to 'write to Mr. Dryden to excite him to pious poetry
    instead of lewd amorous things', and he asked the archdeacon if he might address his brother clergy
    at the visitation at Pershore; but the archdeacon replied that the amount of business that day would
    not allow time.
  12. Pt. I, 73-4, 78.
  13. H.W.R.O., ref. 795.61 BA 2638.
  14. H.W.R.O., ref. 736.1 BA 2775, No. 11058.
  15. Ibid., No. 11060.
  16. H.W.R.O., ref. 712.1716093 BA 3965, p. 97.
  17. Pt. I, 64.
  18. Ibid. 78, n. 7.
  19. From the names of the churchwardens this seems to be about 1695.
  20. 1 Eliz. I, c.2; 23 Eliz. I, c.l; 29 Eliz. I, c.6: 3 & 4 Jas. I, c.4.
  21. J. Noake, Worcestershire sects (1861), 206.
  22. H.W.R.O., ref. 712.1716093 BA 3965.
  23. J.W. Willis-Bund and others (eds.), The Victoria history of the county of Worcester, ii (1906), 81.
  24. E.F. Carpenter, The Protestant bishop (1950), 21-3.
  25. A summary of the returns for Worcester diocese is given in 'Diocese of Worcester, a.d. 1676",
    Associated Architectural Socs. Reports and Papers, xviii (1885-6), 69-75. Many of the original returns
    from the parishes are filed with the presentments.
  26. H.W.R.O., ref. 712.1716093 BA 3965.
  27. Carpenter, Protestant bishop, 169.
  28. H.W.R.O., ref. 736.1 BA 2875.
  29. Curiously enough the return for Warndon states that their parsonage is not in the gift of any
  30. See pt. I, 64-5.
  31. Ibid. 66.
  32. See Canon 18 of 1604.
  33. J.E.C. Hill, Society and puritanism in pre-revohitionary Eng. (1964), 322-3.
  34. Dorothy Marshall, The Eng poor in the eighteenth century (1926), ch. 5; W.E. Tate, The parish
    , 3rd edn. (1969), 215-21.
  35. H.W.R.O., ref. 712.1716093 BA 3965.

(We regret the full list of references were not available when the paper was scanned.)

Articles from the The Vale of Evesham Historical Society Research Papers -