Book two 1539-1800. Chapter one: The Church

  • Posted on: 24 September 2009
  • By: David Thrale

During the middle of the sixteenth century , the vicissitudes suffered by the church were severe. The services were all in Latin as they had been for five hundred years. There were no less than nine sets of vestments of various colours and three copes, green, red and while. There was a cross made of copper, and two candlesticks, a silver chalice weighing ten and a half ounces, an abundance of linen for the altar, a censer and an incense boat, which shows that incense was used at Mass. There was a handbell which weighed three pounds and three bells hanging in the old Norman tower by which the faithful were summoned to church. Upon the death of Henry VIII in 1547, he was succeeded by his eight year old son, Edward VI. The government, not only of the state but also of the church, fell into the hands of the King's Council and changes came rapidly. A set of sermons was published; outdoor processions were forbidden and the Litany had to be said or sung in church just before High Mass. One important change did have ecclesiastical authority, namely the giving of Communion to the people in both kinds, which came into general use in 1548. The same year the vicar, Mr. Harding, was told, not by his bishop Edmund Bonner, but by the secular rulers, that he must no longer use candles on Candlemas Day, or ashes on Ash Wednesday, or palms on Palm Sunday. During the year following the first English Prayer Book was issued, Mass being said in Sandridge church, as everywhere else, entirely in English. Before The end of the year many of the ancient Latin service books were destroyed by order of parliament.

St Leonards church nave, Sandridge
The ornaments and furniture of St Leonard's also suffered. All mural pictures, or scenes depicted in stained glass of pretended miracles were destroyed, and all candles except two on the High Altar were removed. This change too was made by secular authority but in the main the inside of the church looked much the same as it had done for one hundred and fifty years. Sandridge was in the diocese of London, and the bishop was imprisoned and replaced by Nicholas Ridley.

No sooner did Ridley find himself safe in Bonner's seat than he began of his own accord an attack upon altars.1

Then it was that the axes, crowbars and hammers began the work of destruction. Out came the five altars. One small wooden table was all that was allowed for the celebration of Holy Communion. Then was fulfilled the words of the psalm:

now they break down all the carved work thereof with axes and hammers.

The western side of the chancel screen, which is now so plain and bare was originally enriched with carved and coloured woodwork and surmounted by the Holy Rood. These drastic changes were not popular with the parishioners. During the next few years an attempt was being made to break clean away from the Catholic Church and set up a new religion. In accordance with these principles the vicar was ordered to lay aside all the valuable vestments which had been inherited from the past and to wear no special robe save a surplice. In 1552 the Royal Commissioners paid a visit to Sandridge church. Their errand was to make a list of all the valuable utensils still in the church and see how much of them could be turned into money for use in the King's service. The list, as it was then made, reads as follows:-

This Inventory maid the ffyrst day of Novembre &c Between John Butler &c and Hewe Hardlnge of Sandrudge alias Sandrydge within the said county Clarke of thother parte &c have appointed and delyvered unto the said Hewe all such &c hereunder wrytnne Belonginge to the Parryshe Churche of Sandrydge &c Imprimis iij Belles in the steple Itm a Challilse of Silluer parcell guylte welnge x Onc & dimid Itm a vestment or red vellat Itm a vestment of Blewe Silke Itm iiij other vestments one Sattine another damaske thother twayne of ffuschian Itm a vestment of Tawnye Saye Itm a vestment of Redde Stayned Clothe Itm a vestment of Tawnye Chamlet Itm iij Copps one grene vellat one red vellat thother Whit Saltyne Itm one uppar clothe of redde and grene Sattine of Brudgs and the curteyng of Grene Sarsenet for the highe aulter Itm a uppar clothe and another clothe of yallow sattyne or Brudgs Itm iij Sacrement clothes Itm ij Corporas caysses with clothes to them Itm one alter clothe and ij Towels of lynnon Itm a coverlet and a surples Itm ij Lattine candellstikks Itm a Sensor and a Shlpp of Lattine Itm one Coppar Crosse Somtyme guylidede Itm on lattyne Baysone and ij Crose Clothes of sllke Itm on Crosse of Wodde playted w Siluer thonsid and gultede Itm iij Cruytls of pewdar Itm a hand bell welnge iij li P me Hugone Hardyg"2

Not long after the vicar had to send almost everything on the list up to London. Sandridge was left with the bells in the steeple, the linen altar cloths, a coverlet and a surplice. All the costly things which Sandridge people had given to the church were swept away. During the five years of Mary's reign hardly anything is known of Sandridge. Edmund Bonner was restored to his bishopric and Bishop Nicholas Ridley was burnt alive along with about three hundred people whom the Queen called heretics. These burnings were mainly In London and Oxford. They have never been forgotten by English people, and the fear and suspicion of anything believed to be popish, still existing in many minds, dates from this time. Queen Elizabeth succeeded her sister Mary on the 17th November 1558, and Hugh Hardyng immediately began to make a careful record of all baptisms, marriages and burials. The oldest document at Sandridge is the first parish register, which records the baptisms from 1559, the marriages from 1593, and the burials from 1558. The earliest marriage entries appear to have been torn out. During the first six months of Elizabeth's reign the use of the Latin Mass was retained but

to put an end to the disorders that had arisen from violent sermons on both sides, preaching was forbidden by proclamation which allowed the gospel and the Epistle and the Ten Commandments to be read in English but without any exposition.3

By the summer of 1559 the English Prayer Book was restored, in a revised form, and the aggressive clause in the Litany about the tyranny of the Pope was deleted. In the same year an outstanding event in church history came about with the consecration of Matthew Parker as Archbishop of Canterbury. The majority of English bishops derive their orders through this Archbishop. It was fifty-seven years later that the Roman Catholics, realising the importance of his consecration in establishing a continuity with the ancient Catholic Church, and in order to throw doubt on its validity, invented a story known as the Nag's Head Fable, which is no longer believed by anyone. The Church of England continued to be in communion with the Catholic churches on the continent and with the Pope himself for over eleven years during the reign of Elizabeth. But in 1588 a new pope, Pius V, was elected, and it was he who in 1570 excommunicated our Queen, and all her subjects, clergy or laity, who remained loyal to her. He then proceeded to send missionaries to England to pervert English churchmen to the popish religion. Such was the origin of the Roman Catholic Church in England. In 1598 a national order was sent out to keep the records of baptisms, marriages and burials in a parchment book. The vicar obtained such a book and copied out the available records for the previous forty years. The original papers were lost and thenceforth the entries were made straight into this book, which is still carefully preserved. On the fly leaves are some rough notes showing how the problem of poor relief was dealt with by the Church in the time of the vicar, William Westerman. The alms of the people were dropped through holes in the lid of the church chest which had three different locks and keys, so that it could only be opened in the presence of the vicar and both churchwardens. As Sandridge was then in the diocese of London, the famous William Laud was the Bishop from 1628 to 1633. From the latter year until his execution in 1645 he was Archbishop of Canterbury and he did his best to see that the churches were properly furnished. Thus, on St. Leonard's day 1638 an inventory of church property containing twenty-eight articles was handed in at the Archdeacon's Court, signed by the vicar and by the two churchwardens. This inventory shows that the altar was restored to its proper place at the east end and covered with a linen cloth. The sanctuary was railed off as now and had a green carpet. There was a silver chalice with lid, a large pewter flagon and two pewter dishes. The font, which stood by a pillar near the north door, had a wooden lid, which was covered with green cloth. The pulpit was old and had to be replaced4 the following year, but in the meantime too was decked in green and had a green cushion and a cover above it. There was a bier for burials and a surplice for the priest. None of the three bells in the lower were cracked, and all had adequate ropes; one of them bore the inscription:

Sancta Maria ora pro nobis4 - Holy Mary pray for us

. Over three hundred years have passed since this inventory was compiled, and there remain today only three of the articles there-listed, namely, the font, the register and one pewter dish. The war between King and Parliament broke out in 1642. Three years later King Charles was decisively defeated at the battle of Naseby, the Archbishop of Canterbury was executed and Parliament controlled the church and proceeded to forbid the use of the Book of Common Prayer. They put in its place the Directory, which gave the outlines upon which puritan meetings were to be conducted in all churches. A fine of £5, and £10 for the second offence, was imposed on all who were found using the prayer book, whether in church or at home. In Hertfordshire forty-seven parish priests were ejected from their posts. Sandridge caught a glimpse of the civil war, when 500 cavalier horsemen passed through the village, fleeing from a defeat at Kingston-on-Thames, and hotly pursued.5 From 1685 onwards misfortune fell upon the parish, in that the fabric fell into worse and worse decay. Lord Churchill, Baron of Sandridge, repaired the chancel, but in 1693 the tower fell down and was demolished. The traditional date, 1688, for the fall of the tower is based on an inaccuracy of Nathaniel Salmon who, writing In 1728, said:

The steeple hath been down and lain in rubbish almost forty years, without any endeavour to repair it, to the great shame of the inhabitants.6

The churchwardens' report in 1691 makes no mention of the disaster. There is no report for 1692, but in the following year they report:

At a Vestry held by the churchwardens and neighbours of Sandridge for surveying the steeple lately fallen down and totally demolished. The cost or charge of the reparations thereof is valued at seven hundred pounds by us, the surveyors.

The early English arch leading from the nave into the tower was happily undamaged and still remains, so the tower must have fallen outwards. The three small bells were not seriously damaged by the fall, so they were removed from the ruins and placed outside the church in Petticoat Lane. The west wall of the church had to be filled up to close the gap caused by the disaster, and in 1699 just over three pounds were spent on taking down the remaining ruins of the lower and

the leads of the steeple was sold for nearly £29 pounds by Thomas Ley the churchwarden, and the money dispersed to the poor.4

One of the overseers, Lawrence Jacques, had all the iron that came out of the steeple and the weather cock which he kept at his house. It was one hundred and forty-four years before another tower was built, but John Jacques hung up the bells on a wooden frame in the north aisle in 1701; ropes were provided and it seems that for a number of years the bells were rung inside the church. When the church tower had been down for seventeen years, the nave roof pierced by at least one dormer window was found to be in a serious condition, so that it was hardly safe to go into the church. The roof was covered with lead supported by rafters which were fixed to the chief capital beam called the crown piece. This beam was broken and the rafters were hanging down. John Jacques was a conscientious churchwarden who held office for two consecutive years, and he called two vestry meetings and reported the danger, and during Lent he and some craftsmen set to work. The church roof was saved, but the other parish officers complained about the cost of this work, so that Henry Wilson, the plumber, and other workmen had difficulty in getting paid for their labours. The following is the vicar's letter to the archdeacon's registrar reporting this state of affairs:-

"Sandridge July 22nd 1710 Mr.Brown: Whereas it happened that the chief capital beam in the body of our church, called the crown piece, to which the rafters were affixed, was by length of time or default of officers not taking timely care to keep it well covered, the said crown piece was much perished and broken in the middle, so that the rafters sunk down and had like to have given away, for the whole covering of lead and timber to have fallen upon our heads. Neither could we perform divine service without evident peril to life or limb. Therefore, John Jacques, our churchwarden, calls a vestry and showed some of the principal neighbours that appeared there, their own danger, particularly one who used to sit under a dormer window, which was just ready to drop upon his head, who, never the less, seemed not very forward with a reparation. However after two vestries called, and Easter approaching, and few appearing either to consent or gainsay, therefore the church-warden sets the plummers and carpenters and smith and bricklayer on work, as he did himself too, and was very deligent to see after the labourers and to put his own shoulder to some of the heaviest burdens to my knowledge, and lost many a day's gainful work by attending to this, which he did not only out of his own good inclination, to the good of the church, but as a sworn officer and guardian of it, as he plainly affirms. Now that the church is well repaired is owing to the care of the said churchwarden, but some of this neighbourhood, to make themselves look like a wise and governing sort of people, since they cannot but deny but that John Jacques has well performed his duty in this matter, and know his power in church affairs, being of their own selection, nevertheless, keep him out of his money, and the workmen too, by a sort of cavilling about the workmen's bills who, God knows, are not yet paid one farthing on the account, or at least, as I hear of Henry Wilson, the plummer, will swear to the truth and equity of his bill, and I doubt not so will the other workmen also. Therefore I pray your Venerable Court will not let honest wellwishers of the church be run down and defrauded, while they are doing their duty, without your care for their relief. With my humble service to you in hopes of your advice and assistance, both In relation to my churchwarden in particular and the Church of England in general. I am, Your very humble servant, EDM. WOOD."

The churchwarden and workmen are very willing to lay down their bills in your Court, to be censured by such skilfull workmen as shall in your wisdom be appointed to examine them.7

In the year 1729 the church expenses were as follows:

Church repairs £0. 14s. 4d.
Altar cloth £2. 8s. 0d.
Bread and wine 16s. 4d.
Six prayer books £2. 6s. 8d.
Churchyard 18s. 7d.
Bell ringing 9s. 0d.
Three new bell ropes 4s. 0d.

The bells, as has been related, were inside the church and were rung on three occasions, namely, for the coronation of George II, for the King's birthday, and for Guy Fawkes Day. Each time the ringers got a shilling each, in addition to the previously listed seven items there were the fees for the two visitations. Each visitation involved a journey to St Albans by the vicar and churchwardens, and each time the latter allowed the vicar five shillings for his dinner, though the crafty fellows allowed themselves ten shillings and sixpence each. Nowadays there is only one visitation a year; the vicar is not expected to go and the Parochial Church Council makes no dinner allowance to anyone. The parish churches were not then insured in the same manner as they are now, but if a church was burnt down, other parishes would come to the rescue and help to bear the cost by means of a levy called a brief; These briefs are mentioned in the prayer book, in the rubric after the Nicene Creed. In 1732 Sandridge helped twelve churches in this manner, including St. Peter and St. Paul, Llandaff, which is now a Cathedral. The visitations already mentioned were in fact visits by the vicar and churchwardens to the Archdeacon of St Albans; the churchwardens made their report on the slate of the church and the fabric. This was, and is still, the normal procedure each year. Occasionally, however, there was an energetic archdeacon who, declining to accept these reports at their face value, mounted his horse and visited the churches for himself. Such an untoward event occurred in 1757, when Archdeacon Ibbetson visited St. Leonard's and found the chancel in a poor condition as regards fabric, roof, windows, pews and doors. The chancel was the responsibility of Lord Spencer, the lord of the manor and lay rector. The archdeacon, need it be said, was not pleased; he ordered the church to be whitewashed on the inside; the seals, floor, porches and windows to be repaired, and a new cover for the font to be provided. He also ordered that

the Ten Commandments be fairly written on the wall at the east end of the church.

The churchwardens were allowed less than two months in which to see the matter through. The fabric of St. Leonard's was satisfactory in 1760, except that the chancel floor was uneven; probably there had been some burials under it and the floor not properly relaid. By 1780 the lower had been down for ninety years and the upper part of the nave walls with the clerestory windows were removed as follows:

William Paul lowered the old roof without taking off the lead, having put in fresh beams, laying planks on the old original tier walls which had a row of small windows on each side, and then lowering one side about six inches, and then the other, and so on, using wedges. The wall removed was about a yard high and very tender. The attic windows then put in were made by William Paul.8

For the next hundred years the nave and side aisles were spanned by one ugly low pitched gable roof. Two windows were pierced in the wall which blocked the western lower arch, and external buttresses were built at the four corners of the tottering nave walls, the two on the north side consisting of ugly masses of brickwork. There were two attic windows, one of which can be seen in the picture on the title page, in front of the bell turret which was added a few years later. The outward appearance of the church at the turn of the century has already been noted. The inside furnishings also left much to be desired. The nave was filled from the west wall to the screen with box pews. The walls of these pews were so high that those sitting or kneeling within them could see nothing but the lofty pulpit. Each pew was entered by a separate door, and within the box were seats, some facing east and some west. It was a black period for English church furnishing; many of our wonderful churches had almost ceased to be places of worship and had become mere preaching halls. The disfigurement of the chancel by while marble memorials to the departed gentry began during this period, for which the vicar Robert Welton must be largely held responsible; no doubt though, it would have been almost impossible to deny his more fortunate parishioners their marble whims. Originally they were more offensive than now for they were situated in the sanctuary, one each side, and thrust their front towards the altar. Such then was our church within and without when the eighteenth century closed.

Historic Sandridge by Edward Giles and Richard William Thrale, with sketches by R. Giles. Published 1952. Reproduced with the kind consent of the late Richard Thrale.