The miserable state of Ewell vicarage in 1585
The Loseley Manuscripts are a collection of manuscripts, from the reigns of Henry VIII to that of James I, preserved in the muniment room of Loseley House. They include a petition of c.1585 from the parishioners of Ewell to Sir William More, High Sheriff of Sussex and Surrey, for ‘the reliefe of the moste miserable state of their poore vicaridge there’, and this may be of interest to readers of the Newsletter.
Alfred Kempe, who edited the Loseley Manuscripts in 1835–6, commented: ‘The patrons of churches bequeathing the advowsons and tithes to monasteries rendered such churches vicarial and pensionary. At the suppression of the monasteries, the tithes, which ought to have been restored to the churches, were given to laymen, and the Church has ever since suffered under this unjust impoverishment and alienation of its goods: now, it would seem, irremediable without invading the rights of long established property’.
The petition begins, ‘In all humble man’er that wee maye, the parishioners and inhabitants of Ewell, in the Countie of Surr’, moste entirelie beseech your worship in the behalf of our poore vicar Richard Williamson’.
The spelling is erratic, and the construction convoluted, even by the standards of the sixteenth century, and I have freely transcribed most of the remainder of the original to make it less tedious to read.
‘The vicar received by £7 a year by a composition made in about 1485 which remains in the Bishops Registry at Winchester. About forty years ago, for none was able to live upon the said pension, it was augmented by £4 a year, making a total of £11 which comes to not four shillings a week when the tenths and subsidies are deducted. No learned minister can live on such a small pension, but is constrained to beg for his living, a thing more lamentable than can well be spoken of without tears. The high prices to which all things have grown within the seven score years since the said composition was made, at which time and long since a bushel of wheat was not above 6 pence, but is now at three shillings; the Church being a Deanery Church with about half a thousand communicants, besides a multitude of catechises [catechumens?]; and the continual residence of the Vicar among so many with no other support, constrains us to appeal to your worship, being chosen for this present time a special member for our county of Surrey, to help forward in the moving and prosecuting of all lamentable causes, of which we suppose there is none of like nature to be redressed at this instant, nor as lamentable as this at our vicarage of Ewell.
‘May it therefore please your worship to take regard of this most pitiful cause, that by your wisdom some good course of action may be taken to establish a perpetual pension competent for the vicar and his family to live on, and also able to maintain hospitality among the poor and needy in his charge when occasion shall require it. The augmentation may well be deducted from the fruits of the parsonage which Mr. Saunders, gentleman, wholly reaps. Therefore if it stands to your worship’s good liking, the pension being in no wise able to relieve the said vicar, nor none other, it should die and cease and he and his successors perpetual be left tithes together with the glebe lands which should be given and left to the church for the better maintenance of the incumbents for ever’.
‘And’, it concludes. ‘ we shal daylie pray for your woorship in al godliness long to continue to the good pleasure of the almightie’.
It seems likely that his worship Sir William More was not pleased ‘to take regard of this most pitiful cause’ because, some thirty years later, John Taylor, the Water-poet, was complaining about Ewell having neither preacher nor pastor and being served by ‘a poore old man that is halfe blinde, and by reason of his age can scarcely read’.