Book two 1539-1800. Chapter three: Priests of the parish

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

Of the forty vicars of Sandridge whose names are known, there are few if any who had a more difficult task than Hugh Harding, who held the post from 1540 to 1574.

He must have been a patient and persevering man to bear with all the changes in worship, ceremonial, and church ornaments that were forced upon him by the officials in London. The vicissitudes through which he worked have been already mentioned In some part, during the narrative concerning the church. Mr. Harding appears to have been on friendly terms with Ralph Rowlatt, the new lord of the manor for in February of 1543 he witnessed his will; he was only just in time, however, for sixteen days later Rowlatt was dead. Of all the people in the parish it was the vicars who had most business with the lords of the manor, and it would be apt to refer to them here.

St Leonards church nave, SandridgeAfter the fall of the monastery, by charter dated the 12th May 1541, the Crown conveyed the manor of Sandridge to Ralph Rowlatt, who was a London goldsmith and banker. With the manor went the right to appoint the vicar, and this privilege has remained with the descendants of Rowlatt ever since. Well into the twentieth century they were the principal landowners in Sandridge. Rowlatt's son, lost two wives; the bodies of both were buried in London, but he directed in his will that they be reinterred in Sandridge church,1 and he himself was buried in St Albans. Many years later his descendant Richard Jennings was reputed, to have had an income of £4,000 a year,2 but some have it that his father had impoverished the estate by raising troops to fight for Charles I.3 At this time the Jennings family was living at St Albans, in Holywell House, and from there Richard set out in June of 1660 to welcome Charles II back to London. The same month his ninth and most famous child was born, Sarah Jennings. By the time she was seven years old her parents had moved to Waterend House, Sandridge. At the age of ten or eleven Sarah was sent to court, and there, when nineteen, she met Colonel John Churchill, the son of Sir Winston Churchill, who was ten years older than herself. It is needless to recount their careers; in 1685 her husband was created Baron Churchill of Sandridge by James II. Sarah's brothers had died and she had inherited some of the Sandridge estates; her husband bought the shares of her two sisters and so by the time that he became the Duke of Marlborough in 1702 he and his wife owned the entire manor of Sandridge. When he died in 1722 he left his Sandridge estates to his widow Sarah. She founded, in 1736, the Duchess of Marlborough's almshouses in Hatfield Road, St Albans, and made the vicar or Sandridge one of the trustees, a duty which has passed down to the present vicar.

To follow the careers of all the Sandridge vicars would be tedious. In 1581 Richard Woodward came to Sandridge as vicar. He was appointed by the Queen4 because the proper patron, Thomas Jennings, was under age. It is still the custom for the churchwardens to report each year to the Archdeacon on the state of the parish and the conduct of the vicar. In April 1582 Robert Sandar and John Thrale reported that Mr. Woodward was loyal to the Book of Common Prayer of 1559. He wore a surplice in church and did not preach against the State. He used the sign of the cross at baptisms, and all baptisms were at the proper font, which was not moved. Everyone came to the church where the catechism was taught, and they bowed their heads at the name of Jesus. The ring was used in holy matrimony, women were churched after childbirth and the dead were buried5. This is significant, as it shows the kind of thing that was then regarded as controversial. It was the Puritans who objected to the surplice, the ring, and the sign of the cross. Apparently all went well for nearly two more years, and in 1584 the churchwardens gave another good report of their vicar. About that time he went away for a short period, leaving a priest with no experience, William Peagrym, to take duty in his absence. Mr. Peagrym had a school in the church and he was unwilling to leave it when the vicar returned. This led to a sharp quarrel between the two priests, and they were both summoned to the Archdeacon's court for

chiding, brawling and quarrelling, one in the church of Sandridge, and the other in the churchyard, to the discredit of them whom they did so quarrel withal, and to the evil example of others.

Mr. Peagrym acknowledged his fault, apologised, and left the parish. During the latter years of his stay in Sandridge Woodward was often absent and does not appear to have been a great success. So long as he was resident all went well enough, but during the frequent absences of his last two years he seems to have supplied inexperienced, quarrelsome and unlearned curates. Soon after, the new vicar arrived.

Stephen Gosson, vicar from 1586-1592, is noticed in the Dictionary of National Biography because of his fame as a writer. He is also the subject of a modern book by an American historian, William Ringler. After a university education he tried his hand at writing poetry and plays when Shakespeare was a boy of twelve. He also acted occasionally but this work did not keep the wolf from the door. Further, he had been educated in principles of strict morality, and the actors of Elizabethan days were not particularly moral people, so after two years he revolted against the whole theatrical and entertainment profession, which "corrupted morals and wasted time and money." Thus he attacked the profession by writing in 1579 a pamphlet called The Schoole of Abuse containing a pleasant invective against Poets, Pipers, Plaiers, Jesters and such like Catepillars of a Commonwealth This was a huge success and brought the author fame and money. He did not attack the art of acting itself, but the abuse of that art. He said nothing about Sunday performances, and had no objection to honest recreation on that or any other day. Ordained priest in 1584, two years later he came to Sandridge from the rich commercial parish of Stepney, having been appointed by Thomas Jennings. He was loyal to the Church and had no use for the Puritans who wanted to reduce her to a protestant sect. Of them he wrote:

By favour and support these vermin that were long since, by the labours of learned bishops hewn in pieces. have crept out of their holes, and by continual rolling recovered their tails. Their torn papers and maimed pamphlets have been stitched together again with a skein of sister's thread, and wrought round with a white selvedge of reformation to grace them, whereby the ears of the Church have been filled with a nerve hissing, to the very mockery of religion and the impudent slander of the Church of England, which is by God's blessing all his day, even in her ruins the most famous Church In Europe."6

The year 1588 was not unlike 1940, for Spain sent the might of her Armada against England. The country was unprepared; the vicar had seen the danger nine years previously when he wrote:

Bee not careless, Plough with weapons by your sides, study with the book in one hand, and a dart in the other: enjoy peace with provision for war: when you have left the sandes behind you, lookwel to the rocks which lye before you: Let not the overcoming one Tempest make you secure, but have an eye to the cloude which comes from the south and threateneth rain."7

The vicar believed in letting

the word and sword be knit together",

and he supported the 'home guard' of those days. When in May the clergy of the Archdeaconry provided arms and arm our for the defence of England according to their incomes, Gosson supplied as his share

a calyver furnished,"8

that is a musket with flask, touchbox, and murrion or helmet, girdle and leather flask. The man, Gosson also supplied, and he with his equipment was kept ready for service at short notice. Special prayers were offered in the churches three times a week during this time of anxiety, when the fate of England hung in the balance. Even with the defeat of the Armada the danger was not over and the country remained under arms for many years, Gosson keeping his calyver at the ready. In November 1590 there was a home guard parade at Romeland, St Albans, but unfortunately the vicar was sick. He made his will in 1622, leaving

fortye shillinges of lawfull money

to the poor of Sandridge, and died in 1624 aged 69.

Sandridge was fortunate in having two good and learned vicars in succession, for Stephen Gosson was quickly followed by William, brother of John Westerman, schoolmaster of St Albans. When chosen for Sandridge he was not even ordained, but was made a deacon, instituted to Sandridge and ordained priest, all within thirty-three days. In 1593 it was reported that the vicar is

of good learning: he hath served the cure in his own person and preacheth there and catechizeth diligently ever since his induction: of good life and conversation: never detected of any notorious crime.

As the country was still under arms, Mr. Westerman followed the custom of his predecessor in providing a calyver for the home guard. In 1595 this weapon was not in use, as no one could be found to fire it9. The same year the vicar provided a piece of armour called a corslet.10 Mr. Westerman received a certain amount of fame for his sermons at London. Two sermons were published in 1608. They defended the use of the ancient churches and cathedrals in spite of their defilement by popish abuses in earlier times, and they taught about reverent behaviour in church. On the former point, it seems that one of the excuses for not going to church was the complaint that the churches had formerly been abused by popish idolatry. Mr. Westerman agreed that they had been, but he states:

behold the Gospel preached hath pulled idols out of their hearts, and our discipline hath abolished them out of houses and churches.

With regard to reverence, he said that men's hats should be removed on entering church, and that a gesture of reverence to God should be made, and a prayer should be said kneeling down. To ignore these courtesies, and to decline to listen to the sermon, he described as barbarous behaviour.

In 1609 Westerman became vicar of Bushey, but he stayed on at Sandridge and provided Bushey with curates, an arrangement which would not now be permitted. In 1612 he was invited to preach at the beginning of James I's summer progress. There was a large congregation at St Albans Abbey11, and they heard a sermon containing eleven thousand words, which must have taken an hour and a quarter to deliver, perhaps even longer, It is dull reading nowadays, but with some points of interest. One of the objects of the sermon seems to have been to obtain a royal grant towards the restoration of St Albans Abbey, which through neglect was in a bad state of repair. There was a brief reference to the recent Gunpowder Plot, and the preacher denied the claim of the Roman Catholics that they alone were the Catholic Church. A royal grant for the Abbey was made, and a public subscription was opened. Being now a Doctor of Divinity he was in a more fortunate position than his neighbouring clergy, and the bishop suggested that he should provide the home guard with a horse.12 This he did not do, but he continued to supply the calyver until he died In 1622, after thirty years in the parish. He also subscribed to a fund for the maintenance of ex-popish missionaries who had been converted to the Faith of the English Church and so found their income from Italy cut off.

Sandridge did not always have a good vicar. William Westerman had nine children, one of whom, Richard, was twenty-four when his father died In 1622, an age just old enough to be a priest, so it was probably he who became the next vicar. He followed the example of his two predecessors in providing a calyver for the home guard. Early in 1629 the churchwardens reported the vicar for immoral conduct.

We present Mr. Richard Westerman, minister of our parish, and Mary Roberts, his late servant, for committing incontinency together, as the common fame goeth."13

It look a year and a quarter to gain a conviction; the sentence of the Church Commissioners ran:

We, after invoking, the name of Christ, and having God alone before our eyes, and having fully deliberated with learned counsel on both aides, do find that the aforesaid Richard Westerman, clerk-in-holy-orders, the present vicar of the perpetual vicarage of the parish church of Sandridge in the county of Hertford, casting aside the fear of God has committed and perpetrated the abominable crime of adultery with a certain Mary Roberts formerly of his household ….. Therefore we pronounce determine and declare that the aforenamed Richard Westerman by reason of the adultery by him committed is notorious and exceedingly defamed amongst good and honest persons, and is to be deprived of the orders of a clerk and a priest, and deprived of the care of souls, divine celebration and the administration of the sacraments to faithful Christians, the parishioners of the church of Sandridge. And we deprive and remove him from the vicarage of Sandridge aforesaid, and we declare and pronounce the said personage to be void by this our definite sentence which we make or promulgate in these writings."14

It was during the lime of John Harper in 1645 that King Charles was decisively defeated at the battle of Naseby, the Archbishop of Canterbury beheaded, and that Parliament took over absolute control of all church affairs. The victors forbade him the use of the Book of Common Prayer and 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 in the home. In Hertfordshire forty-seven priests were ejected from their posts, but Harper resigned of his own accord. For a time in 1646 Lawrence Claxton was a Baptist minister in Sandridge. This man is noteworthy for having possessed at least six different religions during his life. Brought up as a member of the Church, he became in turn a Presbyterian, an Independent, an Antimonian, and an Anabaptist. Later he became a professor of astronomy and physics and dabbled in the art of magic. Finally, he joined the Muggletonians15, a small sect founded by a mad London tailor in 1652.

Joseph Draper was ordained priest in 1628. Before coming to Sandridge and at the outbreak of the Civil War he was charged with drunkenness and swearing and with supporting the King against Parliament by saying that all who died in the service of Parliament at the battle of Edgehill would go to the devil. This last charge may have been due to the misrepresentations of his words to a soldier wounded at Edgehill and who died in hospital. As it happens, Joseph went to jail for six months16. He then seems to nave reconciled himself to the new order, for by 1650 he was vicar of Sandridge, with a salary of £35 a year. Here he remained until the restoration of the crown and church in 1660, when he found a post in Bedfordshire. His successor Owen signed a petition to Parliament in 1646 saying:

We have already received many happy fruits of your unwearied endeavours for the Reformation of the Church

and he prayed that the Puritan religion might be upheld, but this did not prevent him from being vicar of Sandridge for nearly twenty years when the religion of the Church was restored.

Charles Horne, vicar of Sandridge from 1681 to 1685, seems to have been the ideal parish priest. At Easter in 1683 the churchwardens reported that there had been a great reformation in the parish, the inhabitants went to church daily, the children were instructed, and all parishioners old enough had received Holy Communion. The next year they reported

our minister is in all things comfortable, and all parishioners come duly to church

there were only two or three ignorant people who had not received Holy Communion at Easter, and the wardens were hopeful that they too would soon be ready to do so. It was during the time of the next vicar, Edmund Wood, that the tower of the church fell. At the time of his death, which coincided with that of Queen Anne in 1714, his salary was £90 a year free of land tax and poor rates. In 1729 the salary of the Sandridge vicars was increased to £200 a year by Queen Anne's Bounty.

Thomas Evans was vicar from 1744 to 1774, and of these thirty years he was resident for the first twenty-three. Then the period of pluralities set in, lasting for a century, during which time Sandridge only had a resident vicar for thirty years.

William Langford, besides being vicar of Sandridge was at the same time Rector of Whiston in Northants, Canon of Windsor and assistant master at Eton, where he lived. His eldest son Edward became a priest,17 the other three children all died young. Frederick, a scholar of King's College Cambridge, was carried off at the age of nineteen by a pulmonary consumption,18 Henry, a midshipman of H.M.S. Phaeton. when eighteen years old died of fever at Sheerness,19 and the daughter Decima was buried at Sandridge in 1786. The vicar, who by 1778 had become a Doctor of Divinity, paid occasional visits to Sandridge on Sundays and once took a wedding.

Robert Welton lived at Sandridge for forty-seven years, seventeen as curate to Dr. Langford and thirty as vicar. He was also curate of St. Stephen's three and a half miles away and Rector of Chaldon, a small village in the Surrey hills. As curate he received £44 a year from St. Stephen's and £30 from Sandridge. He lost his only son at the age of sixteen and one of his four daughters. The boy had been trained as a chemist. During Welton's curacy the oldest surviving chalice and paten were made for the church. Thus Sandridge had a varied collection of priests, good, bad and indifferent.