crockford s flock priest and parish in a wiltshire valley

Crockfords Flock: Priest and Parish in a Wiltshire Valley John - PDF document

Crockfords Flock: Priest and Parish in a Wiltshire Valley John Chandler Slides 1 and 2: Title slide, and the Valley My story, of a 17th-century vicar and his parishioners, takes place in a south Wiltshire valley which is now crossed by a

  1. Crockford’s Flock: Priest and Parish in a Wiltshire Valley John Chandler Slides 1 and 2: Title slide, and the Valley My story, of a 17th-century vicar and his parishioners, takes place in a south Wiltshire valley which is now crossed by a major highway (the A303) – part of your escape, maybe, from London to a holiday in Devon or Cornwall. In 1603 a young Latin scholar came down from Oxford to teach in a village school begun by the local rector, himself a respected and published theologian. Our man – his name was Thomas Crockford (though nothing to do with the much later clerical directory) – took holy orders, and a decade later, and recently married, became vicar of the next parish down the valley, Fisherton Delamere. Slide 3: The Village You won’t have been there – there is not even a sign to it – although from the green in front of its church you can sometimes hear the dual carriageway traffic. That was in 1613, and he served his parish, and helped out his neighbouring clergy on either side, until his death twenty years later. Slide 4: Location maps He kept the registers for three parishes, which together served five villages – two on the left bank of the River Wylye and three on the right. If you visit his church at Fisherton, now cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust, you will see the monument Thomas put up to two of his children, Slide 5: Children’s monument who are commemorated by an eloquent Latin poem; and if you visit Stockton church up the valley (still functioning but with a seriously leaking roof) you can admire the squire and all his family, depicted on an expensive tomb, Slide 6: Toppe family monument and a less showy memorial to the rector who engaged him as schoolmaster. And that, apart from his name on a list of clergy, might have been an end to it. But Thomas, for a reason he never properly explains, decided not just to record (in Latin as was perfectly normal) the baptisms, marriages and burials in his register – such as all local and family historians will have encountered. Slide 7: Fisherton register title page He began composing (in Latin) short obituaries of those he buried, descriptions of those he married, and accounts of the perils of childbirth and infancy. All in Latin. And he covered considerably more than twenty years, because he went back before his time, and fleshed out the details of the names he copied from earlier registers. Occasionally, when his subject was clergy or gentry (or himself, because he also wrote an autobiography) his account would run to a page or more, peppered with piety and superlatives. Slide 8: Burial register page Usually he would sum up a life in a sentence or two, in carefully chosen Latin, secure in the knowledge that the subject or their relatives would not be able to read it. And so, through the prism of individual workaday lives, we glimpse the social world of a quiet, rural valley. Farming communities, their riverside meadows occasionally flooded by the usually placid river Wylye, Slide 9: The River Wylye their villages safely elevated along country lanes just above the floodplain. Then sweeping up the valley sides the great open arable fields, Slide 10: Fisherton from above Bapton and beyond them to the horizons on either side the rough sheep grazing on undulating chalk downland – a typical Wessex landscape. Below the gentry four tiers of society worked this land – the yeomen, their inferiors the husbandmen, and below them the labourers and the opportunist incomers who found seasonal work on the demesnes. There were specialists, too, the shepherds, ploughwrights who kept the equipment in good order, a maker of sieves, a carter and two millers. And – because the leading families waxed rich on the woollen trade – there was an inordinate number of so-called ‘tailors’ – clothworkers of various stripes. And of course the universal village tradesmen, the smiths and butchers, carpenters and maltsters. Women figure too, naturally, in equal measure in the registers, Slide 11: Anne, Mary and Elizabeth Toppe though Thomas does not usually record them in occupations, apart from housekeepers, mothers and servants. With few exceptions (he calls out two prostitutes) his verdict on most of his female parishioners is appreciative – of their skills, fastidiousness and piety. Of the men, too, he is generally respectful (although not invariably), praising where due their neighbourliness and community spirit. Slide 12: Obituary of Henry Hoskins Of the squires and their families his accounts are deferential - of course some of them would have understood the Latin, as he well knew (he probably taught them!). Clergy, too, though there are not many, always receive a good report. 1

  2. His chronicling of ‘ordinary’ lives is interspersed with the occasional hint of (to quote Thomas Hardy) ‘dramas of a grandeur and unity truly Sophoclean’. In 1622, for instance, a nonagenarian from Somerset died at the inn in Wylye on his way home from London after giving evidence in a lawsuit. And three years later a London cap-maker, fleeing the plague, died on the road and, as he was dying requested that he be rapidly buried in a field on the outskirts of the village. Poor Elizabeth Pierson (a Hardyesque character for sure) was deceived in the hope of matrimony by a married man who seduced and impregnated her. Deserted by him, she died in childbirth on Christmas day 1617, followed by her son a few days later, on New Year’s Eve. Richard Taylour in 1626, almost 80 years old, died suddenly alone, at night in his bed, unseen during a storm. John Potticarie, gentleman clothier, suffered the varying fickleness of the world and the frightening blows of the Devil himself, before dying piously and peacefully during his climacteric - which was perceived (how should I put it?) as a kind of mid-life crisis in old age – to be buried next to his wife ‘under the three upper benches in the south row’ of Wylye church – so what was all that about? Thomas Crockford’s work is not a new discovery. It was remarked upon in the 19th century, and his registers of one of the three parishes were published (in the original Latin) a century ago. But I have been involved (along with two colleagues) in translating and bringing to publication everything he wrote in all three registers, as the latest volume in the Wiltshire Record Society series. Maybe they are not unique, and there are certainly other places which were chronicled in detail by contemporaries – Richard Gough’s account of Myddle in Shropshire is the best known. And maybe the individual entries, for the most part, are not remarkable. But survivals such as this, it seems to me, are to be celebrated and publicised (so thank you for reading and looking) for two important reasons. At one level they provide the foundation for a more wide-ranging study of the social history of a tight-knit community on the eve of the civil wars. And my ambition now, having seen the registers into print, is to scour all the other sources bearing upon these villages at this period – and there are many, church court records, wills and inventories, estate surveys, an early map, and much more. And if I move a little further afield, just down the valley that pious poet George Herbert was telling parish priests how they ought to behave – an exact contemporary and no doubt acquaintance of Crockford. Herbert’s relatives, the earls of Pembroke, who owned one of Crockford’s villages, were just then reorganising the agricultural regime of south Wiltshire and keeping copious records. There was local political turmoil in nearby Salisbury, epidemic disease rampant, religious fervour driven by Puritanism and nonconformist sects, about to spill over into armed conflict, and fortunes to be made by innovating in the cloth industry. Certainly not a static period of history. But understanding it must build on the sometimes mundane foundations of evidence such as Crockford provides – lists of ordinary people doing ordinary things, well or badly, as people always do. And the second level – and here I am speaking as a VCH historian – it seems to me that the French annaliste school, the study of microhistory – which you could define as detailed analysis of a small community in order to draw conclusions about the wider sweep of history – remains a perfectly valid way to conduct research, and one in which the local historian has a distinguished role to play. It is what the VCH has always done, and the amateur local historian too, to the great advancement of historical studies in this country. Last week I visited Fisherton Delamere again, Slide 13: The lane to the village looked in at the church to see the monument to Thomas’s infants, then walked out past the millrace, Slide 14: The Millrace from the footbridge and across the footbridge (which I know caused serious problems in the 17th century when the river was in spate). I took the path to Bapton, which most of Thomas’s parishioners must have used to hear him preach on Sundays, and to take their children for baptism; then up past the dairy herd on to the downs between the former open fields, Slide 15: Bapton’s fields, Fisherton in distance to look down on the valley of the three parishes. In doing so it was not hard to empathise with the Hoskins, the Ingrams, the Eyles, the Surmans and the Wansboroughs, who spent their lives farming this land, and even – for that matter – with Alice Goffe and the aptly-named Eleanor Goodynough who, if Crockford is to be believed, satisfied the needs of at least some of his parishioners. Slide 16: Tombstones in Fisherton churchyard 2

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