English Villages
P. H. Ditchfield

Part 3 out of 5

the orders degenerated like their predecessors, and long before the
Reformation laid themselves open to the derision and the scoffs of the
more enlightened men of the age. Since the days of the Friars there
has been no building of monasteries in England. Wealth, luxury, and
corruption had destroyed the early piety of the monks, and rich men
preferred to give their wealth for the purpose of founding colleges
and hospitals, rather than in increasing the number of religious houses.


We will now visit these monasteries, and try to picture them as they
stood in the days of their glory, and see the daily life which the monks
led. The rules of the orders differed somewhat, some being stricter than
others; and likewise the arrangements of the buildings were not all
based upon one plan. The Carthusian monasteries differ widely from those
of the other orders, owing to the rule that each monk should have his
separate cell, wherein he lived and had his food, and only met his
brethren in church and in the chapter-house. We will examine the usual
plan of a monastery, the main buildings of which clustered round the
cloister-court. This was called the paradise, around which was a covered
ambulatory. Here the monks read and wrote, and sometimes had little
spaces partitioned off for studies, with bookstands and cupboards. It
was the great centre of the monastic life. The earlier ambulatories were
open, but in the fourteenth century they had windows looking on to the
cloister-court, filled with stained glass. The monks must have found the
open cloister a somewhat chilly place for writing, and although their
fingers were endured to hardness, had sometimes to abandon their tasks.
Orderic Vitalis tells us that his fingers were so numbed by the cold in
a hard winter that he was obliged to leave his writing until a more
congenial season.

On the north of the cloister-court stood the monastic church, the
grandest and noblest of the monastic buildings, adorned with shrines,
and tombs, and altars. Several of our cathedrals were monastic churches,
and afford us some idea of the splendour and magnificence of these
stately buildings. Many other churches built by the monks, quite as
large and noble as any of our cathedrals, are now in ruins, with only a
wall or a buttress remaining to mark the site of the once noble minster.
The church was usually cruciform, with nave and aisles. East of the
high altar in the choir stood the lady-chapel, and round the choir a
retro-choir, or presbytery. There was a door on the south side of the
church, opposite the eastern ambulatory, for the entrance of the monks.
The south transept formed part of the eastern side of the cloister. On
the same side stood the chapter-house, a large chamber richly ornamented
with much architectural detail, and adorned with mural paintings.
Between the chapter-house and the church there is a narrow room, which
was the sacristy, and on the south of the chapter-house a building in
two stories, the ground floor being the frater-house, where the monks
retired after meals to converse, the upper room being the dortor, or
dormitory, where they slept. A passage often separated the chapter-house
from this building.

On the south side of the cloister-court stood the refectory, a long
room in which the monks took their meals; and on the west was a range
of buildings the use of which differed in various monasteries, in some
for cellars and larders, in others for dormitories. Sometimes this
western building was the _domus conversorum_, or house of the lay
brethren. The abbot's lodging was a fine house, consisting of hall,
chambers, kitchen, buttery, and cellars, capable of entertaining a
large number of guests, and frequently stood on the east side of the
chapter-house quite separate from the other buildings. In small monastic
houses governed by a prior his residence often formed the western side
of the cloister-court. The farmery, or infirmary, where sick monks were
nursed during illness, was a separate building, having its own kitchen,
refectory, and chapel. The hospitium was also a separate building near
the outer gate of the abbey, and consisted of a hall, dormitories, and a
chapel, in which each night a goodly company of guests were entertained
and courteously welcomed by the hospitaller. A high wall surrounded the
abbey precincts, in which was the outer gate, consisting of a porter's
lodge, a prison, and a large room in which the manorial court was held,
or the abbot met the representatives of the townsfolk in order to direct
their affairs and choose their chief magistrate or settle their

The author of _Piers Ploughman_ gives a description of the appearance of
a monastery in the fourteenth century. As he approached the monastic
buildings he was so bewildered by their greatness and beauty that for a
long time he could distinguish nothing certainly but stately buildings
of stone, pillars carved and painted, and great windows well wrought. In
the centre quadrangle he notices the stone cross in the middle of grass
sward. He enters the minster, and describes the arches as carved and
gilded, the wide windows full of shields of arms and merchants' marks on
stained glass, the high tombs under canopies, with armed effigies in
alabaster, and lovely ladies lying by their sides in many gay garments.
He passes into the cloister, and sees it pillared and painted, and
covered with lead, and conduits of white metal pouring water into bronze
lavatories beautifully wrought. The chapter-house was like a great
church, carved and painted like a parliament-house. Then he went into
the refectory, and found it a hall fit for a knight and his household,
with broad tables and clean benches, and windows wrought as in a church.
And then he wandered and wondered at "the halls full high and houses
full noble, chambers with chimneys and chapels gay," and kitchens fit
for a king in his castle, and their dorter or dormitory with doors full
strong, their fermerye (infirmary) and frater, and many more houses, and
strong stone walls, enough to harbour the queen. The author was
evidently amazed at all the sights which he witnessed in the monastery.

We will now see the monks at work, and spend a day with them in their
monastic home. It is not easy definitely to map out a monk's day. The
difficulty arises in a measure from the want of distinct marks of time.
A monastic day was divided into twelve hours of uncertain length,
varying according to the season; but the religious observances began at
midnight, when the brethren rose at the sound of a bell in the dortor
for the continuous service of Mattins and Lauds. They then retired to
sleep, until the bell again summoned them at sunrise, when Prime was
said, followed by the morning Mass, private masses and confessions, and
the meeting of the Chapter; after this, work; then Tierce; then High
Mass, followed by Sext. A short time was then devoted to reading, during
which the _ministri_ and the reader at table dined; and then the monks
sat down to dinner. This was the first food of the day, though the
weaker brethren were allowed to sustain themselves with wine and water,
or bread steeped in wine. Dinner was followed by a brief rest in the
dormitory. If the monks did not wish to sleep they could read in the
dorter; but they were to be careful not to disturb their resting
brethren by any noise, such as that caused by turning over the leaves of
their books. At one o'clock the bell rang for None, a short service
consisting of a hymn, two psalms, some collects, the Lord's Prayer, and
versicles. Then the brethren washed themselves, had a stoup of wine in
the frater, and worked until Evensong, which was followed by supper.
After supper they read in the cloister until the bell rang for
Collation, which consisted of a reading in the chapter-house, whence
they retired to the fratery for a draught of wine or beer. Then followed
Compline, and then the monks were ready for bed, and retired to the
dortor. Even there rules followed them, and directed them how they were
to take off their shoes, and "to behave with more quiet, self-restraint,
and devotion than elsewhere."

I have not exhausted all the services which the monks attended. In
addition to the principal ones there were several minor functions, at
which devotion to the Blessed Virgin was the chief feature. The life was
hard and the discipline severe; and lest the animal spirits of the monks
should rise too high, the course of discipline was supplemented by
periodical blood-letting. The doctors of the day were firm believers in
the utility of this practice, and perhaps it had special advantages for
dwellers in monasteries. According to the mediaeval metrical treatise on
medicine, _Flos Medicinae_, or _Regimen Sanitatis Salerni_--

"Spiritus uberior exit per phlebotomaniam."

"It maketh cleane your braine, releeves your eie,
It mends your appetite, restoreth sleep,
Correcting humours that do waking keep;
And inward parts and sences also clearing
It mends the voyce, touch, smell, taste, hearing."

According to the _Observances_ of the Augustinian Priory at Barnwell,
Cambridge, each brother was compelled to be bled seven times a year. It
was probably a welcome duty, as the monks enjoyed a regular holiday, and
were solaced with unwonted good fare.

Those who wished to be bled asked leave in Chapter, and having received
a formal licence, attended High Mass. After the gospel they left the
quire, and were bled in the farmery, where they remained three days.
During this period they were excused attendance at the daily services,
except on very special occasions; and minute directions are given for
their personal comfort. They were allowed fire and lights, with suitable
food, eggs and vegetables being specially mentioned; and they might take
exercise within the precincts, and even beyond them, should the prelate
give them leave. The infirmary seems to have been the most cheerful
place in the monastery. Its inmates were "to lead a life of joy and
freedom from care, in comfort and happiness." Conversation was freely
permitted, though sarcastic and abusive language was strictly forbidden.
"Games of dice and chess, and other games unsuitable to those who lead a
religious life, were forbidden"; "because beyond all doubt they are
offensive to God, and frequently give occasion to strife and contention
among those who play them." We notice that invalids were allowed to walk
in the "vineyards"; evidently the monks grew their own grapes, and made
their own wine. The infirmary must have been well frequented. The
complaints which are often specially mentioned as likely to compel the
monks to resort to it are "irksomeness of life in the cloister," "long
continuance of silence," "fatigue in the quire or extension of fasting,"
and "sleeplessness and overwork."

With regard to blood-letting the various orders had different customs.
The Benedictines and Cluniacs had no stated times or seasons for the
operation. The Cistercians prescribe bleeding four times in the year.
The Carthusians were bled five times, and the Dominicans four times in
the year.

The food of the monastery was varied and plentiful. Fish and flesh were
brought to the table, the former being obtained from the monastic
stew-ponds. Fruit was supplied, both raw and cooked, and a good supply
of beer and wine. Wine seems to have been very commonly used, and some
relaxation was evidently permitted in the matter of drink.

The hospitium, or guest-house, is worthy of a visit. Thither flocked a
mixed crowd of knights and dames, monks and clerks, palmers, friars,
traders with their wares, minstrels with their songs, and beggars,
enjoying to the full the hospitality of the monks, who recognised it as
one of their duties "to entertain strangers." The religious houses were,
to a great extent, the inns of the Middle Ages; and when they were
situated on the high roads, the guests were numerous and their
entertainment costly. We are reminded, however, by the _Observances_ of
Barnwell Priory that "by showing hospitality to guests the reputation of
the monastery is increased, friendships are multiplied, animosities are
blunted, God is honoured, charity is increased, and a plenteous reward
in heaven is promised." It was enjoined that the hosteller, or brother
in charge of the hospitium, should have "facility of expression, elegant
manners, and a respectable bringing up; and if he have no substance to
bestow he may at any rate exhibit a cheerful countenance and agreeable
conversation, for friends are multiplied by agreeable words." He had to
provide clean cloths and towels, cups without flaws, spoons of silver,
mattresses, blankets and untorn sheets, pillows, quilts, etc. His duties
are laid down with much minuteness; every morning he was required to go
through the inventory, lest anything should be missing.

The meeting in the chapter-house we must not omit to describe. When all
the brethren had taken their seats, one monk went to the pulpit and read
aloud the martyrology for the day. Then some psalms and collects were
read, and a portion of the monastic rule, and briefs announcing the
deaths of persons in whom the brethren were interested. The _tabula_, or
notice-board, recording the names of those who were responsible for
certain duties, was read; and a sermon followed. After the precentor had
given minute instructions with regard to the reading and singing of the
services for the day, the abbot said: "Speak of your own order." This
was the call to confession; and any brother who was conscious that he
had transgressed any rule, or neglected his duty, came forward and asked
pardon for his fault. This was followed by the report of the _circator_,
whose duty was to play the spy, and discover the faults of the monks.
And after this the brethren accused each other. One brother started up
saying: "I accuse ---- a brother." The accused came forward and stood
before the abbot, waiting patiently for the charge. The accuser then
stated the charge, which was admitted, or denied, by the accused. If the
abbot judged him to be flogged, the culprit might not be flogged by his
accuser. He rose from his knees and modestly divested himself of his
garments, remaining covered from his girdle downwards; and he who
flogged him might not cease till the abbot bade him. Then he helped the
brother to put on his clothes, who bowed to the abbot and went back to
his place. The Chapter, after this exciting interlude, proceeded to
transact the temporal business of the house, and then adjourned.

The chapter-house was often the scene of great events in the history of
England. At Reading Abbey in this noble chamber parliaments were held.
Here Heraclius, the patriarch of Jerusalem, presented to Henry II. the
keys of the Holy Sepulchre, and invoked his aid in the crusade against
the Saracens. Here the bishops assembled and excommunicated Longchamp,
Chancellor and Regent of the country. Here the marriage contract between
John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster was signed, when there were great
rejoicings in the ancient town, and tilts and tournaments took place
daily. These gay scenes must have greatly disturbed the tranquil life of
the monks, and contrasted strangely with their normal condition.

The picture of monastic life, which a study of the records of a
monastery brings before us, is strange and alien to our present ideas;
but it is brightened by a spirit of sincere religion and true charity,
and helps us to understand the attraction of the convent walls in
turbulent and troublous times.



Evolution of a country house--Saxon house--Addition of separate
sleeping-chambers--Castles--Tudor houses--Old manor-houses--Secret
chambers--Rectories and vicarages--Duty of hospitality--Kelvedon
Rectory--Allington--Tithe-barns--Alfriston clergy-house--Almshouses--
Hermitages--Little Budworth--Knaresborough--Reclusorium or anchor-hold--
Laindon--Rattenden--Female recluses--Whalley.

The two principal houses in an English village are the manor-house and
the rectory, wherein according to the theories of the modern political
Socialist and agitator "the two arch-tyrants" of the labourers dwell,
the squire and the parson. There is much of interest in the growth and
evolution of the country house, which resulted in the construction of
these old, pleasant, half-timbered granges and manor-houses, which form
such beautiful features of our English villages.



In our description of the village in Anglo-Saxon times we gave a picture
of a house of a Saxon gentleman, which consisted mainly of one large
hall, wherein the members of the household lived and slept and had their
meals. There was a chapel, and a kitchen, and a ladies' bower, usually
separated from the great hall, and generally built of wood. In Norman
times the same plan and arrangements of a country house continued. The
fire still burnt in the centre of the hall, the smoke finding its way
out through a louvre in the roof. Meals were still served on tables laid
on trestles, which were removed when the meal was finished. The lord and
lady, their family and guests, dined at the high table placed on the
dais, as in a college hall, the floor of which was boarded. The
household and retainers dined in the space below, which was strewn with
rushes and called "the marsh," which, according to Turner's _History of
Domestic Architecture_, "was doubtless dirty and damp enough to deserve
that name." The timbers of the roof in the better houses were moulded,
the walls hung with tapestry, and at the lower end of the hall was a
screen, above which in later times was the minstrels' gallery. The
screen formed a passage which led into a separate building at right
angles to the hall, containing the cellar, buttery, and kitchen.
Parallel with this at the upper end of the hall was a building of two
stories, one used as a parlour, and the other was called the "great
chamber," where the lady and her guests retired after dining in the

[Illustration: RICHMOND PALACE]

Later on a greater refinement of domestic customs was introduced. In the
twelfth century a separate sleeping-chamber for the lord was added. The
next century saw him and his lady dining in a room apart from his
servants, a custom which was much satirised by the author of _Piers
Ploughman_, who wrote--

"Now hath each rich a rule
To eaten by themselve,
In a privy parlour
For poor man sake,
Or in a chamber with a chimney;
And leave the chief hall,
That was made for meals
Men to eaten in."

Evidently the author did not approve of the new fashion. But the
advantages of the custom were much appreciated by the squires and ladies
of the day, and this process of development led to a multiplication of
rooms, and the diminution of the size of the great hall. The walls were
raised, and an upper room was formed under the roof for sleeping
accommodation. There are many old farmhouses throughout the country,
once manor-houses, which retain in spite of subsequent alterations the
distinguishing features of this mediaeval style of architecture.


The nobles built their castles as late as the fourteenth century; but
under the Tudor monarchs, when the government of the country was strong
and more settled, fortified dwellings were deemed no longer necessary,
and the great landowners built splendid country houses. English domestic
architecture then reached the period of its highest perfection. Instead
of castles men built palaces, the noblest specimens of our English
style, before it became corrupted. Hatfield House and Hampton Court are
its best examples.

During the fifteenth century the common hall had decreased in
importance; and now in smaller houses it disappeared altogether, and a
grand entrance hall usually took its place. The number of rooms was
increased enormously, and corridors were introduced. The principal
features of an Elizabethan house are the gallery and noble staircase.

[Illustration: THE PORCH, UFTON COURT]

Early in the seventeenth century Inigo Jones introduced the revived
classic style of architecture into England, and entirely altered the
appearance and arrangement of our manor-houses. Palladio was the
originator of this style. The old English model was declared obsolete,
and fashion dictated that Italian villas must supersede the old houses.
These new buildings were very grand with their porticos and colonnades;
but the architects cared little for comfort and convenience. Indeed a
witty nobleman suggested to the owner of one of these new houses that
he had better hire a lodging over the way and look at it.


The old manor-houses are often surrounded by a moat, and not unfrequently
contain secret rooms and underground passages, which were often used as
places of refuge in troublous times. Those held by recusants usually had
two or three hiding-places ingeniously contrived, which must have baffled
all pursuers, and were needed for the concealment of the Roman Catholic
priest, in the days when his services were proscribed. There are two
cleverly designed hiding-places at Ufton Court, Berkshire, which was held
by the Roman Catholic family of Perkins. In a subterranean vault under an
old house at Hurley, in which the bones of monks were discovered, the
supporters of William of Orange used to meet to plan his succession to
the English Crown. The walls of many of the manor-houses and halls in
Lancashire and Yorkshire could tell of many a plot for the restoration
of the Stuarts to the throne, and of many a deep health drunk to "Bonnie
Charlie," while the chorus rang--

"He's over the seas and far awa',
He's over the seas and far awa',
But of no man we'll stand in awe,
But drink his health that's far awa'."

The rectories and vicarages scattered over the country have passed
through the same transformation as the manor-houses, which they much
resembled. The rectory was often surrounded by a moat, with an entrance
protected by a gatehouse. The duty of entertaining strangers and
travellers was always duly recognised by the clergy, and entailed a
heavy charge upon their income. Those who lived off the main roads used
to provide accommodation for an occasional guest, but the rectors in the
more frequented districts had frequently to entertain many travellers.
There _is_ a description of the rectory-house of Kelvedon, Essex, in a
deed dated 1356, which runs as follows:--

"One hall situate in the manor of the said abbot and convent
[Westminster] near the said church, with a soler and chamber at one end
of the hall, and with a buttery and cellar at the other. Also one other
house in three parts, namely a kitchen with a convenient chamber in the
end of the said house _for guests_, and a bakehouse. Also one other
house in two parts next the gate at the entrance of the manor for a
stable and cow-house. He [the vicar] shall also have a convenient
grange, to be built within a year at the expense of the prior and
convent. He shall also have the curtilage with the garden adjoining the
hall on the north side enclosed as it is with hedges and ditches."


Here the house for guests is an important feature of the clergyman's
house; and about the same date, in 1352, we find the Bishop of
Winchester ordering the prior and convent of Merton to provide "a
competent manse for the vicar, viz. a hall with two rooms, one at one
end of the hall, and the other at the other end, with a drain to each,
and a suitable kitchen with fireplace and oven, and a _stable for six
horses_, all covered with tiles, and completed within one year, such
place to remain to the use of the said vicar and his successors." Unless
the vicar was a very sporting parson he would not require a stable for
six horses, and this was doubtless intended for the accommodation of the
steeds of his guests.

The descriptions of these old rectory-houses are interesting. The Rector
of Allington, Kent, possessed a house consisting of "a hall, parlour,
and chamber over the parlour, stairs-head, beside the parson's
bedchamber, parson's lodging-chamber, study, chamber behind the chimney,
chamber next adjoining westward, buttery, priest's chamber, servants'
chamber, kitchen, mill-house, boulting-house, larder, entries, women's
chamber; gatehouse, still beside the gate, barn next the gate; cartlage,
barn next the church, garden-house, court." The barn next the church was
probably the tithe-barn. Tithe was then paid in kind; hence a barn was
required to contain the dues of the parishioners. Sometimes these
tithe-barns are very large and long, especially when the tithe-owner was
the abbot of some monastery. Near Reading there is still standing the
barn of the abbey, and at Cholsey, in Berkshire, there is one of the
finest specimens of the kind in England.


There still remain several of these old pre-Reformation parsonages and
rectories. The most noted is the clergy-house at Alfriston, Sussex,
which has been carefully preserved. It follows the usual type of
fourteenth-century house, and consists of a fine hall, the lower part
divided off by a screen, a soler of two stories at one end, and a
kitchen at the other. It is built of oak framework, filled in with
"wattle and daub." There is a large chimney and grate in the hall, and
huge beams support the thatched roof. Parsonages of mediaeval times
remain at West Dean, Sussex; at King's Stanley and Notgrove,
Gloucestershire; Wonstone, Hants; Helmsley, Yorkshire; and at several
other places. The Rectory of Shellingford, Berks, though much disguised
by modern additions, is an original fourteenth-century house.

In many villages there are old almshouses founded by pious benefactors
for "poor brethren and sisters." As we enter the quiet courtyard paved
with cobble stones, the spirit of olden days comes over us. The chapel
where daily prayer is said morning and evening; the panelled
dining-hall, with its dark oaken table; the comfortable rooms of the
brethren; the time-worn pump in the courtyard--all recall the memory of
old times, when life was more tranquil, and there was less hurry and
busy bustling.

Sometimes we meet with a curious little house built of stone or timber,
erected along the great highways, near some bridge or ford, wherein a
"holy hermit" once dwelt, and served his generation by directing
travellers to the nearest monastery or rectory, and spent his days in
seclusion and prayer. Such indeed is the traditional idea of the
hermit's life; but the real hermit of the Middle Ages did not always
live a very lonely or ascetic life. He was supported by the alms of the
charitable and did no work, but lived an idle life, endured no
hardships, and escaped not the scoffs of the satirical. _Piers
Ploughman_ tells us of workmen--"webbers and tailors, and carters'
knaves, and clerks without grace, who liked not long labour and light
wages; and seeing that lazy fellows in friars' clothing had fat cheeks,
forsook their toil and turned hermits. They lived in boroughs among
brewers and begged in churches." They had a good house, with sometimes a
chaplain to say daily Mass for them, a servant or two to wait on them,
and plenty of food and drink provided by a regular endowment or the
donations of the charitable. They did not shut themselves up in their
cells and hold no intercourse with their fellow-men; and herein they
differed from the recluses who were not supposed to go outside the doors
of their anchorages. Both males and females were enrolled as recluses,
but only the latter seem to have taken upon themselves the vows of
complete seclusion.

Several of these hermitages remain. There is one at Little Budworth, in
Cheshire, in the park of Sir Philip Egerton. Warkworth has a famous one,
consisting of a chapel hewn out of the rock, with an entrance porch, and
a long, narrow room with a small altar at the east end, wherein the
hermit lived. At Knaresborough, Yorkshire, there is a good example of a
hermitage, hewn out of the rock, consisting of a chapel, called St.
Robert's Chapel, with groined roof, which was used as the living-room of
the hermit. This chapel was the scene of Eugene Aram's murder. At
Wetheral, near Carlisle; Lenton, near Nottingham; on the banks of the
Severn, near Bewdley, Worcestershire, there are anchorages, and also at
Brandon, Downham, and Stow Bardolph, in Norfolk. Spenser in the _Faery
Queen_ gives the following description of a hermit's cell:--

"A little lowly hermitage it was,
Down by a dale, hard by a forest's side,
Far from resort of people that did pass
In traveill to and froe; a little wyde
There was an holy Chappell edifyde,
Wherein the hermite dewly wont to say
His holy things, each morne and eventyde;
Hereby a chrystall streame did gently play,
Which from a sacred fountaine welled forth alway."

Within the churchyard of many a town or village church, and usually
attached to the church, stood a reclusorium, or anchor-hold, wherein a
recluse, male or female, once resided. At Laindon Church, Essex, there
is a fine specimen of a house of this kind attached to the west end.
Generally the anchor-hold was a small room, built of wood, connected
with the church. Frequently there is a room over the porch of a church
which may have been used for this purpose, the recluse living usually in
the church. At Rettenden, Essex, there is a room over the vestry which
has evidently been an anchor-hold. There was a window, now blocked up,
through which the recluse could see the high altar, and the celebration
of the holy mysteries, and another for him to look out, hold converse
with his friends, and receive their alms. The church of St. Patricio,
near Crickhowel, South Wales, has an anchor-hold; also Clifton Campville
Church, Staffordshire; Chipping Norton Church, Oxfordshire; Warmington
Church, Warwickshire; and many churches have rooms over the porch which
were formerly used by recluses. The church itself was frequently the
habitation of the anchorite. There is a notice of a hermit who lived in
St. Cuthbert's Church, Thetford, and performed divine service therein.

Of female recluses we gather many details in the _Ancren Riewle_ of
Bishop Poore of Salisbury, who left very minute directions for the
regulation of their austere and solitary lives. The little cell had an
altar where the anchoress frequently prayed, and through a window saw
the elevation of the Host in the daily Mass. The walls were covered
with mural paintings. There was a table, a fire, and a cat lying before
it. An unglazed window with a shutter was covered by a black curtain,
through which she could converse with anyone outside without being seen.
She was not allowed to put her head out of the open window. "A peering
anchoress, who is always thrusting her head outward, is like an untamed
bird in a cage," says the good bishop. The long hours of solitude were
spent in devotion, working embroidery, reading her few books, talking to
her servant or to those who desired to speak with her through the
curtained window.

The poor caged birds must often have wished to break the bars of their
cage, and occasionally they escaped from their solitary confinement. In
the churchyard of Whalley, Lancashire, there are two cottages which
stand upon the site of a reclusorium, founded by Henry, Duke of
Lancaster, in 1349. Here in the reign of Henry VI. lived one Isole de
Heton, who wearied of her lot, and left the anchor-hold, an example
which was followed by several of her successors. A scandal having
arisen, the hermitage was dissolved.

Many a sad story of ruined hopes and broken hearts could these walls
tell, which were the living tombs of many a devout or erring sister,
who, wounded in the world's war, sought the calm seclusion of a cell,
and found there the peace which elsewhere they had failed to find.



The Porch--Font--Stone benches--Pews--Pulpits--Rood-lofts--Destruction
of--Screens--Royal arms--Chancel--Stalls--_Misereres_--Lectern--High
altar and its furniture--Piscina--Credence--Aumbry--Sedilia--Easter
sepulchre--Reredos--Shrines--Numerous altars--Chantry chapels--
Hagioscopes--Images--Low side windows--Vestries--Vestments--Churches
in olden times--Reading pews--Galleries--Destruction and profanation--
Evils of "restoration."

In the centre of our village stands the church, always the most
important and interesting building in the place. We will suppose that
it has not suffered overmuch at the hands of the "restorers" of the
nineteenth, or the Puritans of the seventeenth, or the spoliators of
an earlier century, so that we may observe all those details which
characterise an ancient church. In spite of all the vandalism which has
taken place, in spite of the changes in ceremonial and forms of worship,
our beautiful old churches still retain relics of the past which time
has spared.

We will enter the church and notice first the porch, often a large
structure with a chamber above. Why was it made so large? According to
the Sarum use several services took place in the porch. Parts of the
baptismal service and of the marriage service and the churching of women
were there performed; hence the porch was an important building, and
it was necessary to make it rather large. Above the door there is
frequently a niche for the image of the patron saint of the church,
which has not usually escaped the destructive hand of the Puritan. The
room over the porch was frequently inhabited by a recluse, as I have
already recorded in the previous chapter. Near the door always stands
the font, signifying that baptism is the entrance to the Church of
Christ. Ancient fonts are large enough to allow the infant to be totally
immersed, and are made of stone or lead. Childrey Church, in our county
of Berks, has a fine cylindrical, leaden font, of Norman date, carved
with figures of bishops. Norman fonts are frequently carved, the
favourite subjects being the Baptism of our Lord, the Twelve Apostles,
and the evangelistic symbols. Early English and Decorated fonts are not
usually carved, but in the Perpendicular style they are rich with
ornamentation, the Seven Sacraments being a not uncommon design. We have
sometimes noticed the symbols of Freemasonry carved on fonts, as at
Bray, in Berkshire. To the same period belong the splendid spire-shaped
font-covers, of immense weight, of which I am sometimes a little
fearful, lest the mechanism by which they are raised should become
damaged, and terrible disaster follow during the progress of a baptismal
service. At Sonning, Berks, there is a small stone desk attached to a
pillar for the service-book to rest on.

The nave of the church is now filled with seats for the use of the
congregation. In early times they do not seem to have been considered
necessary, and until the fourteenth century the stone benches ranged
against the walls were the only seats provided. Even as late as the
fourteenth century it does not appear that many churches had pews, but
in the fifteenth they became general. The hideous monstrosities of
post-Reformation times did not then disfigure our churches. The pews
were low open seats made of oak, sometimes carved at the back, and
panelled, with the ends higher than the rest, and often richly carved.
Many rich men left money in their wills for the _puying_ of churches.


It was not until the beginning of the seventeenth century that the
fashion of erecting high pews set in, which so disfigured our churches,
and were frequently censured by the authorities. Some of these (as at
Whalley) resemble four-posted beds; others are like cattle-pens, large
square boxes with seats all round, wherein the occupants sit and sleep,
screened from the rest of the congregation. The carving of the woodwork
of these erections is often very elaborate. Modern pews are happily
based upon the more primitive fashion.

Preaching not being considered such an important part of the service in
pre-Reformation times, pulpits in churches of that period were not so
usual as in modern churches. Monastic refectories had pulpits, which the
reader occupied when he read to his brethren during meals. Beaulieu
Abbey has the most ancient pulpit in this country, which evidently
belongs to the thirteenth century.

The churches of Devonshire and Norfolk have wooden pulpits of the
fifteenth century, which were painted and gilded, the figures of the
four doctors of the church--SS. Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory, and
Jerome--being the favourite subjects. In 1603 the churchwardens were
ordered to provide in every church "a comely and decent pulpit." Hence
most of our pulpits date from this period. The sides were panelled and
carved with scrollwork; and at the same time a sounding-board was
introduced. Occasionally the hour-glass which regulated the length of
the preacher's discourse remains, with its beautiful scroll-worked

The most striking feature of the pre-Reformation Church was the
rood-loft, a narrow long gallery above the beautifully decorated screen,
which separated the chancel from the nave. In this loft was erected the
rood, or figure of our blessed Lord on the cross, together with figures
of the Virgin and St. John on each side. Both the screen and the loft
were richly panelled and ornamented with tracery and carvings, and
before them hung one or more lamps. Sometimes tall candlesticks stood on
pillars on each side of the figures. A staircase of stone, constructed
in the wall near the chancel-arch, led to the rood-loft, and the
blocked-up archway of this rood-stair frequently remains. The priest
stood in the rood-loft to read the gospel and epistle, and sometimes
preached there; official notices were read, and from it the bishop used
to give the Benediction. The rood-cloth, or veil, hid the rood during
Lent, and in some churches we have seen the roller which was used to
raise this veil. A special altar, called the rood-altar, used to stand
under the screen.


The Reformers played havoc with these old rood-lofts and screens, which
were regarded as monuments of idolatry and superstition. The
churchwardens' account-books of many churches bear witness to this
destruction. Those of St. Giles', Reading, tell of certain _items_ "for
pulling down the rood and carting away the rubbish." Instead of the
figure of our Lord they put up the royal arms; and one John Serjente, of
Hytchen, is licensed in 1614--

"to paynte in all the Churches and Chappells, within this Realme of
England, the Kinges Majesties armes in due forme with helme creste
mantell and supporters as they oughte to be--and to wright in fayre text
letters the tenn commandments, the beliefe, and the Lord's prayer, with
some other fruitefull and profitable sentences of holye scripture."

In spite of this destruction of the ancient roods, several lofts still
remain, _e.g._ at Bradninch, Cullompton, Dartmouth, Hartland, Kenton,
Ugborough, and Plymtree, in Devonshire; in several places in
Somersetshire, and at Charlton-on-Otmoor (erected in 1485) and
Handborough, Oxfordshire. A very large number of the old screens remain,
ornamented with the arms of Elizabeth or James I.

Proceeding eastward we enter the chancel, so called because it is
inclosed with _cancelli_, or the lattice-work of the screen. If the
church was formerly connected with some monastery we shall see some
beautifully carved wooden stalls with rich canopies over them. The seats
are curiously constructed. They can be turned up, and beneath the seats
is a projecting bracket of wood, commonly adorned with carved
work--animals, birds, leaves, and flowers, and often with grotesque,
satirical, and irreverent devices. They are called miserere-stalls, and
were used by the monks or canons to lean against during the portions of
the long mediaeval services, when they were not allowed to be seated. As
this practice was a concession to human weakness or infirmity, the seats
were called in France _misericordes_, and in England _misereres_. The
subjects of the sculptures are often extremely curious. Domestic scenes,
fables, such as the "Fox and the Grapes," demons carrying off monks,
"The Seven Deadly Sins," are some of these subjects. Miss Phipson has
published a learned work on _Choir Stalls and their Carvings_, which
contains reproductions of three hundred of her sketches of curiously
wrought _misereres_.


The lectern formerly stood in the chancel; and then, as now, was often
in the form of a large eagle, emblematic of St. John. Most of these
reading-desks belong to the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, and are
made of wood, latten, iron, or stone, as well as of brass. There is a
very curious wooden one at East Hendred, Berks, representing a foot
resting on the head of a dragon, emblematic of the word of God
conquering the powers of evil. Ancient wooden double reading-desks are
not uncommon. The ornamentation usually denotes the period when they
were constructed.

And now we approach the high altar of the church, made of stone, covered
with a beautifully worked frontal and cloth, and inclosed at the sides
with curtains suspended on iron rods projecting from the wall. A
crucifix hangs above the altar, and two candlesticks stand, one on each
side. The furniture and accessories of the altar in pre-Reformation
times were numerous. There was the pyx, a box or vessel of precious
metal, in which the Host was reverently preserved for the purpose of
giving communion to the sick and infirm. There were two small cruets or
vessels for containing the wine and water used in Holy Communion, one
engraved with the letter "V" (_vinum_), and the other "A" (_aqua_). An
_osculatorium_, or pax tablet, of ivory or wood, overlaid with gold, was
used for giving the kiss of peace during the High Mass just before the
reception of the Host. Of church plate generally we shall write in a
subsequent chapter.


On the south we see the piscina, which is contained in a beautifully
carved niche--a hollow basin with a stone drain, wherein the priest
washed his hands before consecrating the elements, and poured the water
from the rinsed chalice. Above it in the niche was the credence, a shelf
of stone, on which were placed the chalice and paten and all things
necessary for the celebration. In some churches there is a separate
credence table. On the north side was the aumbry, or locker, where the
sacred vessels, altar linen, and service books were kept, guarded by a
strong wooden door. The doors have usually disappeared, but a very large
number of churches have the hole in the wall which was formerly the

On the south side are the sedilia, or stone seats, for the assistant
clergy, frequently with canopies richly carved, and usually three in
number. Opposite to the sedilia in the north wall is a large arch,
within which the holy sepulchre was set up at Easter. This was a wooden
structure made for the deposition of the consecrated elements of the
Eucharist from the evening of Good Friday until the morning of Easter
Day; during which time it was watched by a quasi-guard, after the manner
of our Lord's sepulchre. The books of St. Lawrence, Reading, record:--

"Anno 1498. In primis payed for Wakyng of the Sepulchre viii'd."

"Anno 1510. It. payed to Walter Barton to the new Sepulchur iiii'li
xiii's x'd."

As this sum of money was a considerable one at that period, the
sepulchre must have been an object of unusual magnificence. Sometimes
it was a permanent structure of stone, carved with figures of soldiers
watching the tomb of our Lord. Behind the altar was the reredos. In
village churches these screens were made up of recessed stone panels,
surrounded by sculptured wallflowers and other devices; but in large
churches they were very ornate, enriched with niches, statues,
tabernacle-work, and other adornments. Many of them were destroyed at
the Reformation, together with the stone altars. Some were covered up
and concealed by plaster, in order to preserve them from iconoclastic
violence. They were buried and forgotten, until by some happy accident
their existence was revealed in modern times. Nearly all large churches,
and some village churches, especially those connected with a monastery,
had shrines, or receptacles for the body or relics of a saint. Some
of them were fixed, and made of stone or wood, adorned with rich
tabernacle-work, such as the shrine of St. Cuthbert at Durham, or of St.
Frideswide at Oxford; and others were portable, shaped like coped boxes,
covered with precious metal, enamels, and engraving. Sculptured stones
in the walls of our churches often mark the spot in the building where
relics were stored.

It is evident from the existence of niches and piscinas in other parts
of the church, besides in the south wall near the high altar, that there
formerly existed many altars in the sacred building. At the east end of
each aisle we usually find these indications of the existence of an
altar, which belonged to a chantry chapel, separated from the rest of
the church by a screen. Here a priest said Mass daily for the soul of
the founder of the chantry, his ancestors, and posterity. Ancient stone
altars still remain in some of our churches. Sometimes they have been
removed from their place, and used as tombstones, or in paving the floor
of the church. They can be recognised by the five crosses engraved on
them, one at each corner, and one in the centre of the stone.

Hagioscopes, or squints, are openings in the thickness of the wall,
enabling worshippers in the chantry chapels to witness the elevation of
the Host at the high altar. They are usually plain; but in some churches
we find these curious apertures moulded and decorated with architectural

Pre-Reformation churches had several wooden images of saints, most of
which were destroyed by the iconoclastic zeal of the Reformers or
Puritans. The brackets on which these figures stood often remain, though
the images have disappeared.


Low side windows, commonly called "Lepers' windows," are very frequently
found in our churches, and usually on the south wall of the chancel.
Their object has been, and is, much disputed among antiquaries. The
vulgar idea is that poor lepers used to come to this window to see the
celebration of the Mass; but unfortunately it is quite impossible in
many cases to see the high altar through this window, and moreover
lepers were not allowed to enter a churchyard. Another idea is that
they were used as confessionals, the priest in the church hearing the
confession of the penitent who knelt on the grass in the churchyard.
A more inconvenient arrangement could not have been devised; and this
idea might be at once dismissed, were it not that one of Henry's
commissioners for suppressing monasteries and chantries wrote: "We think
it best that the place where these friars have been wont to hear outward
confession of all-comers at certain times of the year, be walled up, and
that use to be done for ever." It appears that sometimes at any rate the
low side windows were used for this purpose. However, I am inclined to
think that they were intended for the use of the anchorites or recluses,
who dwelt in churches. The windows were not glazed, but had iron bars on
the outside, and a wooden shutter on the inside of the church. These
windows were probably their means of communication with the outside

Many village churches then, as now, had no vestry. Where a _vestiarium_
existed it was usually on the north side of the chancel, and its
contents were more elaborate than the plain surplice stole and hood of
recent times. In the vestry press we should find an alb of fine white
linen, somewhat similar to a surplice, ornamented with "apparels,"
_i.e._ embroidery, on the cuffs and skirts; a girdle made of white silk
embroidered with colours; an amice, or oblong piece of fine linen, worn
on the head or as a collar; a stole with embroidered ends; a maniple, or
strip of ornamented linen worn by the priest in his left hand during
celebrations; dalmatic, chasuble and other vestments which the ornate
ritual of the mediaeval church required.

Before the Reformation the appearance of our churches was certainly
splendid, and differed much from the Puritan simplicity of later times.
The walls were covered with mural paintings. The windows, soon to be

"Shorn of their glass of a thousand colourings,
Through which the deepened glories once could enter,"

were then resplendent with stained glass. Above, the rood looked down on
all the worshippers. Everywhere there was beautifully carved woodwork,
gilded and painted, tombs of knights and dames all painted and adorned,
altars with rich embroidered hangings. The floor was composed of
encaustic tiles, and had many memorial brasses. Armour, crests, and
banners hung upon the walls. Lights burned before numerous images, and
the whole appearance of our churches was gorgeous and magnificent.

Many changes have taken place since. Coatings of whitewash hide the
mural paintings. Sacrilegious hands "have broken down all the carved
work with axes and hammers." The stone altars have disappeared, and
instead we have "an honest table decently covered." Reading-pews for the
clergy were set up, and in the last century the hideous "three decker,"
which hid the altar and utterly disfigured the sacred building. Instead
of the low open seats great square high pews filled the nave. Hideous
galleries were erected which obstructed the windows and hid the
architectural beauties of former days. The old timber roofs were
covered, and low flat ceilings substituted. Brasses were torn up and
sold by dishonest churchwardens, and old monuments broken and defaced.
The old stained-glass windows were destroyed. The Communion table was
taken from the east end of the chancel, and seats erected round it.
Crosses were defaced everywhere, and crucifixes destroyed. Puritan
profanation and wanton destruction devastated our churches to a degree
which has never been equalled since the hordes of heathens and barbaric
Danish invaders carried fire and sword into the sanctuaries of God.


Much harm was done by the Goths and Vandals of the nineteenth century.
Many old churches, replete with a thousand memories of the past, were
pulled down entirely, and modern structures of "Victorian Gothic" style
erected in their place, which can have none of the precious associations
which the old churches had. Much harm was done to the old features of
many churches by so-called "restoration," carried out by men ignorant of
architecture and antiquities. But we are learning better now. The
Society of Antiquaries has done much to prevent injudicious restoration
and the destruction of our old churches, and if any incumbent and his
parishioners are thinking of restoring their church, they cannot do
better than to consult the secretaries of that learned body, who will
show how best to preserve the interesting memorials of the past which
time has spared.



Spoliation--Few remains of pre-Reformation plate--Testimony of
inventories--Plate found in graves of bishops--Characteristics of
chalices in different periods--Inscriptions--Devices on patens--
Censers--Pyx--Monstrance--Chrismatory--Pax--Sacring bell--Elizabethan
chalice--Bridal cup--Post-Reformation plate--Hall marks.

We have already mourned over the wanton destruction of much that was of
intense interest and value in our churches; but the most systematic
robbery and spoliation of our church goods at the time of the
Reformation were carried out in the matter of church plate. Henry VIII.
stripped our cathedrals and conventual churches of almost all that was
valuable, and the unscrupulous commissioners of Edward VI. performed a
like office for our parish churches and chantries. A large number of
the old chalices were also melted down and converted into Communion
cupsduring the reigns of Edward VI. and Elizabeth. Hence of all the
vast store of church plate which our churches possessed before the
Reformation, at the present time throughout all England only thirty-four
chalices and seventy-three patens remain. It is true that not all the
ancient vessels fell into the hands of the commissioners of the king. In
the churchwardens' account books of the period we read of sundry sales
of church plate. Evidently the parishioners had some presentiment of the
coming spoliation; so they sold their valuables, and kept the proceeds
of the sale for "the paving of the streets," or other parochial

The ancient inventories of church goods show the deplorable loss of the
valuables of the church which has taken place. Thus at the church of St.
Lawrence, Reading, in the year 1517, the inventory tells us of the
following: a cross of silver and gilt; a censer of silver gilt; another
censer; a ship of silver for holding incense; another ship of silver;
two candlesticks of silver; two books bound in silver; two basins of
silver; a pyx of silver gilt, with a silver pin; a monstrance of silver
gilt; a silver gilt chrismatory for the holy oil; a pax; two cruets; a
bell; a chalice, with a crucifix enamelled on the foot and the Trinity
on the paten; another chalice, with a crucifix engraved on the foot
and a hand on the paten; another chalice similarly described; another
similar to first chalice; and two others, with a crucifix on the foot
and a vernicle, or _vera icon_ (a representation of our Lord's face
miraculously delineated on the napkin of St. Veronica). All these
vessels were made of silver or silver gilt. Nor were these all the
treasures. There were several reliquaries of silver gilt containing
parts of the holy cross; a gridiron, with a bone of St. Lawrence, and
other articles contained in silver boxes; and many books bound with
silver clasps. The total weight of silver in this church amounted to
seven hundred ounces.

Village churches were, of course, less sumptuously furnished than this
important town church, which being situated under the shadow of one of
the largest and most important abbeys in the kingdom, would receive many
costly gifts and benefactors. But the inventories of village churches
show that there was no lack of plate, rich altar hangings, copes, and
vestments, which helped to swell the goodly heap of spoil. In country
churches in Oxfordshire there were silver chalices and patens, pyxes,
censers, candlesticks, chrismatories, crosses, sanctus bells, and other
articles of plate.

It was the practice in mediaeval times to place in the coffin of a
bishop a chalice and paten; hence some of the earliest specimens of
church plate which we possess have been recovered from episcopal
graves.[3] The Rites of Durham enjoin that on the death of a bishop
he was to be buried "with a little chalice of silver, other metal, or
wax" aid upon his breast within the coffin.[4] Most of these were made
of pewter or lead, but some have been found of silver gilt, latten,
and tin. It is perhaps scarcely necessary for our present purposes to
describe these early specimens of sacred vessels, as the number of them
is so limited; and few of my readers will be able to discover any
mediaeval examples amongst the plate of their own church. However, I
will point out a few peculiarities of the plate of each period.

The earliest chalice, used in the church of Berwick St. James, Wilts,
until a few years ago, and now in the British Museum, dates from the
beginning of the thirteenth century. Its bowl is broad and shallow, the
stem and knot (by which the vessel was held) and foot being plain and
circular. Then the makers (from 1250 to 1275) fashioned the stem and
knot separately from the bowl and foot, and shaped them polygonally.
During the remaining years of the century the foot was worked into
ornate lobes. Then the bowl is deepened and made more conical. About
1350 the custom arose of laying the chalice on its side on the paten to
drain at the ablutions at Mass; and as the round-footed chalices would
have a tendency to roll, the foot was made hexagonal for stability.
Henceforth all the mediaeval chalices were fashioned with a six-sided
foot. By degrees the bowl became broader and shallower, and instead of
the base having six points, its form is a sexfoil without any points.
Several old chalices are engraved with the inscription--

Calicem salutaris accipiam et nomen Domini inbocabo.

_Circa_ A.D. 1301]

In one of the compartments of the base there was a representation of a
crucifix, or the Virgin, or ihc, or xpc.

The usual devices on ancient patens were the _Manus Dei_, or hand of
God, in the act of blessing; on later ones the vernicle, or face of our
Lord; the Holy Trinity; the Holy Lamb; the sacred monogram. The oldest
paten in existence is that found at Chichester Cathedral in a coffin,
and its date is about the year 1180. In the centre is a rude engraving
of the _Agnus Dei_, and it bears the inscription--

Agnus Dei qui tollis pecata mundi miserere nobis.

(1) 13th Century
(2) Early 16th Century
(3) Elizabethan
(4) Manus Dei
(5) Vernicle]

The grave of Bishop Grostete at Lincoln yielded up an ancient paten
(1230-53), which has the figure of a bishop vested, the right hand
raised in the act of blessing, the left holding a crozier. The oldest
piece of church plate still in use is a remarkable paten at Wyke Church,
near Winchester, the date of which is about 1280. It bears an engraving
of the _Agnus Dei_ holding a banner, and around the rim is the legend--


Another favourite inscription was _Benedicamus patrem et filium cum
spiritu sancto_; but on the paten in the church of Great Waltham, Essex,
the important word _spiritu_ is omitted for want of room.

[Illustration: CENSER OR THURIBLE]

We have already mentioned several of the important pieces of church
plate which were in use in mediaeval times. Censers, or thuribles, were
common in all our ancient parish churches, sometimes of gold or silver,
more usually of brass or latten, and were in the shape of a covered vase
or cup, perforated so as to allow the fumes of burning incense to
escape. Most of our English censers are now in museums, but several
ancient ones are still in use in the private chapels of Roman Catholic

Old inventories always mention a pyx, a box or vessel of gold or silver,
in which the Host was reserved for the sick and infirm. It often
resembles a chalice, except that instead of the bowl there is a covered
receptacle for the Host. A beautiful specimen was dug up a few years ago
in the churchyard of Yateley, Hants. Another vessel was the monstrance,
in which the Blessed Sacrament was carried in procession, and exposed
on the altar. The form varied. Sometimes monstrances were made in
the shape of a tower, or a covered chalice; sometimes in the form of
images carrying silver pyxes, elaborately ornamented with many jewels.
Processions were always a great feature of mediaeval worship; hence the
monstrance was frequently in use, especially on such occasions as the
celebrations of Corpus Christi Day.

Holy oil was much used in the services, as in the Roman Catholic Church
at the present time. It was blessed by a bishop on Maundy Thursday, and
used in Baptism, Confirmation, and Extreme Unction, as well as at the
Consecration of Churches, Ordination, and the Coronation of Kings. The
vessel for holding the oil was an important piece of church plate, and
was called a chrismatory. Usually there were three distinct vessels, one
for holding the oil for the sick, a second for use at confirmations, and
a third for the baptismal oil. Sometimes these vessels are labelled with
the words EXT. UNC., CAT., and CHR., according to the recommendation of
St. Charles Borromeo, in order that each oil might be kept for its
proper use, and that no confusion might arise.

The pax was a small tablet of silver or other precious metal, used for
giving the kiss of peace during High Mass. The celebrant kissed the
tablet, and held it aloft before all the people. It was usually adorned
with a representation of the _Agnus Dei_. Of the cruets containing wine
and water for the celebration we have already written. Then there was a
sacring bell, often made of silver, which was rung during the service at
the time of the elevation of the Host, and at the sound the congregation

We have now examined the aumbry, and noted its contents, upon which the
commissioners in the reign of Edward VI. made such shameful inroads.
Henceforth the plate was confined to a chalice and paten, alms-dish, and
usually a large silver flagon. The form of the chalice was entirely
changed. As we have noticed, the bowl of the pre-Reformation chalices
became smaller and shallower, on account of the gradually introduced
practice of refusing the wine to the laity. Now in the year 1562 the
size of the bowl was greatly enlarged, and the "Communion cup" took
the place of the "Massing chalice." Some poor parishes were obliged to
content themselves with pewter vessels. St. Lawrence's Church, Reading,
had a curious bridal cup, which was carried before all brides who
were married in that church. The custom of drinking wine in the church
at marriages is enjoined in the Hereford Missal, and the Sarum
Missal ordered that the bread immersed in the wine, and consumed by
the company, should first be blessed by the priest. Some of these
post-Reformation vessels are extremely interesting. They record the
thankofferings of pious donors on the occasion of some great event in
the national annals, such as the Restoration, or of some private mercy
vouchsafed to the individual. They record the connection of some family
with the parish, the arms they bore; and the Hall marks tell us of their
date, which is often anterior to the date of the inscription.

Hall marks were first introduced in 1300 by Edward I. in order to keep
up the purity of silver, and consisted of the lion's or leopard's head
crowned. This was called the king's mark. The maker's mark was
introduced in 1363, and was some initial or badge chosen by the
silversmith. To these were added in 1438 the year letter or assayer's
mark, a different letter being chosen for each year. When the alphabet
was exhausted, another with differently shaped letters was begun. In
1545 the lion passant was introduced, and since 1784 the portrait of the
reigning sovereign has appeared. With the assistance of Mr. Cripps' _Old
English Plate_, which contains a list of the alphabets used in marking
plate, it is not very difficult to discover the date of any piece of
silver. Inventories of church plate are being made in many counties and
dioceses, and no more useful work can be undertaken by our local
antiquarian societies.

[3] _Mediaeval Chalices and Patens_, by W.H. St. John Hope and
T.M. Fallow.

[4] Surtees Society, vol. xv. pp. 45, 49.



Reverence for the dead--Cists--Stone coffins--Devices--Introduction
of effigies--Cross-legged effigies--Wooden effigies--Incised
effigies--Brasses--Essentially English--Vast number of brasses--
Palimpsests--Destruction--Costumes and fashions--Ecclesiastics--
Lawyers--Soldiers--Canopies and inscriptions--Punning inscriptions--

The pious care which we all love to bestow on the mortal remains of our
nearest and dearest, and the respect and honour with which all men
regard the bodies of departed heroes, kings, saints, and warriors, have
produced a remarkable series of sepulchral monuments, examples of which
may be found everywhere. The cairns and tumuli of the primitive races
which inhabited our island were the results of the same feelings of
reverent regard which inspired the beautifully carved mediaeval
monuments, the memorial brass, or the cross-shaped tombstone of to-day.

I have already mentioned the cromlechs and barrows and other memorials
of the early inhabitants of Britain. We have seen the cists of Saxon
times, the coffins formed of several stones placed together in the form
of a table. The Normans introduced stone coffins for the sepulchre of
their great men, many of which may be seen in our cathedrals and old
conventual churches. On the lids of their coffins they frequently cut a
single cross. When the style of architecture changed to that of the
Early English and Decorated periods, monumental slabs were ornamented
with much greater richness and elaboration, and inscriptions were added,
and also some device which showed the trade, rank, or profession of the
departed. Thus the chalice and paten denoted a priest; a sword showed
the knight; an axe, a forester; an ink-horn, a notary; shears, a wool

At the beginning of the thirteenth century it occurred to someone to
preserve the likeness of his departed friend as well as the symbols of
his rank and station. So effigies were introduced upon the surface of
the slabs, and were carved flat; but ere fifty years had passed away the
art of the sculptor produced magnificent monumental effigies. Knights
and nobles lie clad in armour with their ladies by their sides. Bishops
and abbots bless the spectators with their uplifted right hands. Judges
lie in their official garb, and merchants with the emblems of their
trade. At their feet lie animals, usually having some heraldic
connection with the deceased, or symbolical of his work--_e.g._ a dragon
is trodden down beneath the feet of a bishop, signifying the defeat of
sin as the result of his ministry. The heads of effigies usually rest on
cushions, which are sometimes supported by two angels.

A peculiar characteristic of the military effigies in England is that
the knights are often represented with the legs crossed. Many
speculations have been made with regard to the meaning of this fashion
of cross-legged effigy. It is a popular superstition, in which for some
years the writer shared, that such effigies represented Crusaders. We
were told in our young days that when the knight had his legs crossed at
the feet he had gone to the Crusades once; when at the knees, that he
had been to two Crusades; and when crossed at the thighs, he had been
thrice to rescue the Holy City from the hands of the infidels. All this
seemed very plausible and interesting, but it is undoubtedly a myth.
Many known Crusaders have their effigies with uncrossed legs, and many
who never went to the Crusades have cross-legged effigies. Moreover,
there are no such monuments in any foreign country which swelled the
army of Crusaders. Hence we must abandon the pleasing superstition, and
reconcile ourselves to the fact that no particular signification can be
assigned to these cross-legged effigies, and that only fashion prompted
the mediaeval sculptors to adopt this attitude for their figures. This
mode prevailed until about the year 1320.

At the close of the fifteenth century the art of making monumental
effigies degenerated together with the skill of the architects of that
period. We see the husband and wife kneeling facing each other, with a
faldstool before each figure. A company of small figures below the
effigies represent the children, the boys on one side, the girls on the

Early wooden effigies were also in use. There is one much battered by
the careless hands of former generations of villagers in the rural
church of my parish of Barkham. The artists often used much colour,
gilding, and enamel in making these effigies; and often rich canopies
were erected over them, containing fine tabernacle-work and figures of
saints in niches.

Another form of effigy was commonly in use, in addition to the figures
just described. These are called incised effigies, which were cut
in outline upon flat slabs of stone, the lines being filled in with
enamelled metals. Thorton Abbey, Lincolnshire, and Brading, in the Isle
of Wight, have examples of this work. But the great expense of these
enamels, and also their frailty when exposed in the pavements of
churches, led to the use of brass; and hence arose the introduction of
memorial brasses for which our country is famous.

We owe the application of brass to memorial tablets to the artists of
Flanders, and the date of their introduction is about the middle of the
thirteenth century. The execution of almost all of our English brasses
is due to native artists. Foreign brasses are usually of great size,
and consist of a quadrangular sheet of metal, on which is engraved
the figure, usually under a canopy, the background being ornamented
with rich diaper, foliage, or scrollwork, and the incisions filled
with colouring. Several brasses in England conform to this style of
workmanship, and are evidently the production of foreign artists. The
English brasses, on the contrary, consist of separate pieces, with an
irregular outline, corresponding with that of the figure. They have no
brass background; and for delicacy of engraving and general appearance
the English brasses are by far the best.

The names of the makers of brasses have been almost entirely lost. Two
only bear marks which are supposed to be those of the engraver. No other
country can boast of so large a number of these memorials as England, in
spite of the hard usage they have received and their wanton destruction.
About four thousand remain; and constantly we find the matrices cut in
stone slabs, from which brasses have been torn; so that we may assume
that quite as many have been destroyed as those which survive. The
southern and eastern counties are most richly furnished with these
monuments, whereas the western and northern counties have but few
brasses. Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Kent are the most rich in this
respect. The earliest brass of which we have any record is that of
Simon de Beauchamp, who died before 1208. This is mentioned by Leland.
The earliest brass now in existence is that of Sir John D'Aubernown at
Stoke Dabernon, Surrey, which was fashioned in 1277. In the fourteenth
century a very large number of brasses, remarkable for their beauty of
form and execution, were made. The artistic workmanship began to decline
in the fifteenth century, and in the following became utterly degenerate.

It was not an uncommon practice for subsequent generations to appropriate
the memorials of their predecessors. Such brasses are called palimpsests.
By the carelessness of churchwardens, by fraud, or spoliation, brasses
were taken from the churches, and acquired by some maker in the town.
When a new one was required, the tradesman would take from his stock,
and on the reverse engrave the figure of the individual whose memory he
was called upon to perpetuate. Hence when brasses are taken up from the
pavements, frequently the remains of a much earlier memorial are found on
the reverse side. There is an example of this curious method of procedure
at St. Lawrence's Church, Reading, where on the reverse of a brass to the
memory of Walter Barton was found the remains of the brass of Sir John
Popham, who was buried at the Charterhouse, London. This monastery was
dissolved in 1536, the monuments sold, Sir John Popham's brass among them,
which was evidently soon converted into a memorial of Walter Barton.

Sometimes the original brass was appropriated as it lay, the figure
being slightly altered to suit the style of costume prevalent at the
later date. In other cases the engraver did not even trouble himself to
alter the figure, and simply added a new inscription and shield of arms.

The wanton destruction and gross neglect of churchwardens, both before
and after the Reformation, were very great. At St. Mary's Church,
Reading, the accounts tell a sad tale of the disgraceful damage in the
year 1547:--

"Receyvid of John Saunders for iii cwt lacking ix'li of metall that was
taken upp of the graves, and of olde candlestycks at vi's the hundred
xlvj's ii'd."

Evidently a clean sweep was made of most of the memorial brasses in the
church, and few escaped destruction. The tale is too familiar. Most
churches have suffered in the same way.

The study of brasses throws much light upon the costumes and fashions of
the day when they were engraved. We see priests, who may be recognised
by the tonsure and vestments, amongst which we find the alb, amice,
stole, maniple, and chasuble. The pastoral staff, ring, mitre, sandals,
tunic, dalmatic, and gloves mark the graves of bishops and mitred

A close skull-cap, a long robe with narrow sleeves, a hood, tippet, and
mantle buttoned on the right shoulder, compose the dress of judges and
officers of the law, as depicted on brasses. The changes in the fashion
and style of armour, which took place between the fourteenth and the
seventeenth centuries, are all accurately represented in these
memorials; and also the picturesque costumes of ladies with their
curious headgear; and the no less various fashions of the male
civilian's dress. A study of brasses is an admirable guide to the
prevailing style of dress during the periods of their construction.

The beautiful canopies over the heads of the figures are well worthy of
attention, and also the inscriptions. These usually take the form of
Latin verses; and although many were written by learned abbots and
scholars, the classical knowledge displayed is somewhat faulty. Here
are a few examples:--

Respice quid prodest precentis temporis aebum
Omne quod est, nichil est, preter amare deum.

Sometimes the author of the inscription recorded his name, as did the
learned Dame Elizabeth Hobby on a brass at Shottesbrooke, which runs--

O multum dilecte senex, pater atqz bocate,
Del quia grandaebis, bel quia probus eras.
Annos bixisti nobies decem, atqz satelles
Fidus eras regum, fidus erasqz tuis.
Iam satis functus baleas, sed tu, deus alme,
Sic mihi concedas bibere siqz mori.

Variety was added sometimes by jumbling together various languages,
Norman-French, Latin, and English being often oddly combined.

People in the Middle Ages loved punning and playing upon the sound of
words. Thus a brass to the memory of Thomas Hylle (or Hill) has some
verses beginning "_Mons_ in valle jacet." John Day, the printer, had a
very extravagant and jocular epitaph beginning--

"Here lies the Daye that darkness could not blynd."

"He set a Fox to wright how Martyrs runne
By death to lyfe"--

alluding to his publication of Foxe's _Book of Martyrs_. His widow
probably married a man named Stone. Hence we read--

"Als was the last encreaser of his store,
Who mourning long for being left alone,
Sett upp this tombe, her self turned to a Stone."

"Orate pro anima," or "of your charite pray for the soul of ----" were
usual inscriptions.

It is somewhat difficult for the unpractised eye to read inscriptions on
brasses, owing to the contractions and omissions of letters. Thus _m_
and _n_ are often omitted, and a line is placed over the adjoining
letter to indicate the omission. Thus a=ia stands for _anima_, leg=u for
_legum_. The letter _r_ is also left out. Z stands for _que_, and there
are many other contractions, such as D=ns for _Dominus_, D=s for _Deus_,
E=ps for _Episcopus_, g=ia for _gratia_, m=ia for _misericordia_, and
many others.

The study of the emblems and devices is full of interest. Of
ecclesiastical emblems we have the symbols of the Holy Trinity--God the
Father represented as an aged person, holding a crucifix on which the
dove, an emblem of the Holy Spirit, is alighting--representations of our
Lord, angels, saints,[5] evangelists, the fylfot cross, roses, and
figures of Death. Sometimes the figure on the brass holds a heart in his
hand, which indicates a response on the part of the deceased to the old
invitatory "Sursum corda."

The armorial bearings of the deceased are usually represented on
brasses, and also personal or professional devices. The founders of
churches hold representations in miniature of the churches which they
founded. Bishops and abbots have a pastoral staff; priests, a chalice,
or a book; wool merchants have woolpacks beneath their feet, and other
tradesmen have similar devices denoting their special calling.
Merchants' marks also frequently appear; and the mediaeval taste for
punning is shown by frequent rebuses formed on the names of the
deceased, _e.g._ a peacock, for one named Pecok; a fox, for a Foxley;
four tuns and a cross, for Master Croston.

England may well be proud of the brass memorials of her worthy sons and
daughters. It is, however, terribly sad to see the destruction which
fanatical and greedy folk have wrought on these beautiful monuments.
As we have already noticed, the spoliators of the Reformation period
accomplished much wanton destruction, and removed tombs "for greedinesse
of the brasse." Cromwell's soldiers and commissioners did a vast deal
more damage, violating sepulchres and monuments, and destroying brasses
everywhere. A third cause of the defacement and loss of these valuable
memorials has been the gross carelessness of churchwardens and
incumbents, who during any alterations or restoration of their churches
have allowed them to be sold, destroyed, or appropriated by the
builders. Truly we have entered upon a diminished inheritance. It
behoves us to preserve with the utmost vigilance and care the memorials
which fanaticism, greed, and carelessness have spared.

[5] The following are the principal emblems of the Apostles:--
St. Andrew, a cross saltier; St. Bartholomew, a knife; St. James the
Great, a pilgrim's staff, wallet, escallop shell; St. James the Less, a
fuller's bat, or saw; St. John, a chalice and serpent; St. Jude, a boat
in his hand, or a club; St. Matthew, a club, carpenter's square, or
money-box; St. Matthias, a hatchet, battle-axe, or sword; St. Paul, a
sword; St. Peter, keys; St. Philip, a tau cross, or a spear; St. Simon,
fishes; St. Thomas, an arrow or spear.



Contents of the parish chest--Parish registers--Effect of Civil War--
Burials in woollen--"Not worth 600"--Care bestowed upon registers--
Curious entries--Astrology--Gipsies--Jester--Heart-burial--Plagues--Royal
visits--Licences for eating flesh, for to be touched for king's evil--
Carelessness of custody of registers--Churchwardens' account books--Their
value--Curious entries--Sports and pastimes--Paschall money--Brief
books--Strange entries in registers and account books--Dog-whippers--
King's evil--Treating bishops and poor scholars of Oxford.

The parish chest in the vestry usually contains many documents, which
are of profound interest to the student of village antiquities. It
contains the old churchwardens' account books, the parish registers,
lists of briefs, and often many other papers and records which bear on
the history of the parish. The old register books record the names of
past generations of villagers, and many curious facts about the parish
and its people, which are not found in the dull dry columns of our
modern books.

Parish registers were first ordered by Thomas Cromwell in the year 1538,
and from that date many of our registers begin.[6] But all vicars did
not obey the injunctions of Viceregent Cromwell; they were renewed by
Edward VI. in 1547 and by Queen Elizabeth in 1559, and most of our old
register books begin with this date. James I. ordered that the registers
should be written over again in a parchment book, the entries previously
having been recorded on paper. Hence many of our books, although they
begin with the year 1538, are really copies of the paper records made
previous to 1603.

The disturbances of the Civil War period caused much neglect in the
keeping of the registers. The incumbent was often driven away from his
flock, and parish registrars were chosen by the parishioners and
approved and sworn before a justice of the peace. Here is a record of
this business taken from the books of this parish:--

"Whereas Robtr Williams of the prish of Barkham in the County of Berks
was elected and chosen by the inhabitants of the same prish to be there
prish Register, he therefore ye sd Ro: Wms was approved and sworne this
sixteenth day of November 1653. Ri: Bigg, J.P."

Henceforth the children are registered as having been _born_, not
_baptised_, until the Restoration brought back the clergyman to his
flock again, and the entries are written in a scholarly hand, and the
disorder of the previous years ceases.

In 1679 an Act was passed requiring that the dead should be buried in
woollen, the purpose being to lessen "the importation of linen from
beyond the seas, and the encouragement of the woollen and paper
manufacturers of this kingdom." A penalty of 5 was inflicted for a
violation of this Act; and as frequently people preferred to be buried
in linen, a record of the fine appears--_e.g._ at Gayton,
Northamptonshire, where we find in the register--

"1708. Mrs. Dorothy Bellingham was buryed April 5, in _Linnen_, and the
forfeiture of the Act payd fifty shillings to ye informer and fifty
shillings to ye poor of the parishe."

Pope wrote the following lines on the burial of Mrs. Oldfield, the
actress, with reference to this custom:--

"Odious! in woollen! 'twould _a_ saint provoke
(Were the last words that poor Narcissa spoke);
No, let a charming chintz and Brussels lace
Wrap my cold limbs, and shade my lifeless face."

Sometimes after the name in the register is added the words, "Not worth
600." This refers to the Act of William III. in 1694, which required
that all persons baptised, married, or buried, having an estate of that
value, should pay a tax of twenty shillings. The money was required for
carrying on the war with France, and the Act was in force for five
years. This description of the personal estate was not intended to be
invidious, but was of practical utility in enforcing the Act.

The parish registers reflect with wonderful accuracy the life of the
people, and are most valuable to the student of history. Clergymen took
great pride in recording "the short and simple annals of the poor." A
Gloucestershire rector (1630 A.D.) wrote in his book the following good
advice which might with advantage be taken in many other villages:--

"If you will have this Book last, bee sure to aire it att the fier, or
in the Sunne, three or four times a yeare--els it will grow dankish and
rott, therefore look to it. It will not be amisse when you find it
dankish to wipe over the leaves with a dry wollen cloth. This Place
is very much subject to dankishness; therefore I say looke to it."

A study of the curious entries which we occasionally find conveys much
remarkable information. Sometimes, in the days of astrology, in order
to assist in casting the nativity, it is recorded that at the time of
the child's birth "the sun was in Libra," or "in Taurus." Gipsies were
evidently numerous in the sixteenth century, as we constantly find
references to "the roguish AEgyptians." The domestic jester finds
his record in the entry: "1580. March 21, William, fool to my Lady
Jerningham." The suicide is "infamously buried." Heart-burial is often
recorded, as at Wooburn, Bucks: "1700. Cadaver Edi Thomas, equitis
aurati, hic inhumatum fuit vicessimo tertio die Junii."

Records of the visitations of the plague are very numerous in all parts
of England, as at Egglescliffe, Durham: "1644. In this year there died
of the plague in this towne one and twenty people; they are not all
buried in the churchyard, and are not in the Register." Sometimes masses
of human bones are found buried in fields outside towns and villages,
memorials of this devastating plague.

Parish clerks have not always had very musical voices when they shout
out the "Amens." The Rector of Buxted, Sussex (1666 A.D.), records with
a sigh of relief the death of his old clerk, "whose melody warbled forth
as if he had been thumped on the back with a stone."

Sometimes royal visits to the neighbourhood are recorded, even a royal
hunt, as when James I. hunted the hare at Fordham, Cambridgeshire. The
register of Wolverton gives "a license for eating flesh on prohibited
days granted to Sir Tho. Temple, on paying 13s. 4d." Storms,
earthquakes, and floods are described; and records of certificates
granted to persons to go before the king to be touched for the disease
called the king's evil.

The Civil War is frequently mentioned, and also caused the omission of
many entries. At Tarporley, Cheshire, there is a break from 1643 to
1648, for which the rector thus accounts:--

"This intermission hapned by reason of the great wars obliterating
memorials, wasting fortunes, and slaughtering persons of all sorts."

Parish registers have fared ill and suffered much from the gross
carelessness of their custodians. We read of the early books of Christ
Church, Hants, being converted into kettle-holders by the curate's wife.
Many have been sold as waste paper, pages ruthlessly cut out, and
village schoolbooks covered with the leaves of old registers. The
historian of Leicestershire writes of the register of Scraptoft:--

"It has not been a plaything for young pointers--it has not occupied a
bacon scratch, or a bread and cheese cupboard--it has not been scribbled
on within and without; but it has been treasured ever since 1538, to the
honour of a succession of worthy clergymen."--_O si sic omnes_!

The churchwardens' account books are even of greater value to the
student of history than the registers, priceless as the latter are
for genealogical purposes. The Bishop of Oxford states that "in the
old account books and minute books of the churchwardens in town and
country we possess a very large but very perishable and rapidly
perishing treasury of information on matters the very remembrance
of which is passing away, although their practical bearing on the
development of the system of local government is indisputable, and
is occasionally brought conspicuously before the eye of the people
by quaint survivals.... It is well that such materials for the
illustration of this economic history as have real value should be
preserved in print; and that the customs which they illustrate should
be reclaimed by History from the misty region of folklore, whilst they
can." Many of these account books date from pre-Reformation times,
and disclose the changes which took place in the fabric of our churches,
the removal of roods and other ecclesiastical furniture, during the
Reformation. They are usually kept with great exactness, and contain
an accurate record of the receipts and expenditure for each year. Some
of the entries are very curious, and relate to the sports and pastimes
of our ancestors, the mystery plays, and church ales, which were all
under the patronage of the churchwardens. The proceeds of these
entertainments were devoted to the maintenance of the church, and
were included in the accounts, as well as the necessary cost of the
merry diversions. Thus in the books of St. Lawrence's Church, Reading,
we find such items as the following:--

s. d.
"1499. Paid for a coat for Robin Hood 5 4
" for a supper to Robin Hood and
his company 1 6
" for making the church clean
against the day of drinking
in the said church 4"

"1531. Paid for five ells of canvass for a coat
for Maid Marian 1 6-1/4"

"Bells for the Morris dancers," "liveries and coats," "bread and ale,"
"horse-meat of the horses for the kings of Colen on May Day," are some
of the items which appear in these books.

Another book tells us about the "Gatherings" at Hock-tide, when on one
day the men stopped the women, and on the next the women the men, and
refused to let them go until they gave money. The women always succeeded
in collecting the most money.

s. d.
"It'm. receyved of the men's gatherynge 7 3
" " " women's gatherynge 37 5"

Traces of this custom are still found in many country places. The
practice of "hocking" at Hungerford and "lifting" in Lancashire subsist
still, but the money collected is no longer devoted to any pious uses.

The item "Paschall money at Easter" frequently occurs. This was
originally a collection for the Paschal taper, which burned before the
high altar at Eastertide. When, in the reign of Elizabeth, the taper was
no longer used, the money was devoted to buying the bread and the wine
for the Easter Communion. Another item which often appears is a payment
of "Smoke farthings" to the bishop of the diocese at his Visitation
Court. This is another name for Peter's pence, formerly given to the
Pope. In the accounts of Minchinhampton we find the entry under the year
1576: "For Pentecost money, otherwyse peter pence, sometyme payed to
Antecryst of Rome xvi'd." After the Reformation the tax was collected,
but given to the bishop.

There are very many other points of interest which a study of the
churchwardens' books presents. In more recent times we find constant
payments for the slaughter of sparrows, and many other items which
scarcely come under the head of ecclesiastical charges.[7] But of course
the vestry was then the council chamber of the parish, which managed all
the temporal affairs of the village community. Possibly, in these days
of Poor Law Unions, District and County Councils, our affairs may be
managed better; but there is much to be said in favour of the older
system, and Parish Councils are not much of an improvement on the old

Another book which our parish chest contains is the Brief Book. Briefs
were royal letters which were sent to the clergy directing that
collections be made for certain objects. These were very numerous and
varied. The building of St. Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire, a
fire at Drury Lane Theatre, rebuilding of churches, the redemption of
English slaves taken by pirates, the construction of harbours in
Scotland, losses by hail, floods, French refugees, Reformed Episcopal
churches in Great Poland and Polish Prussia, Protestants in Copenhagen,
loss by fire, colleges in Philadelphia--these and many other objects
were commended to the liberality of Churchmen. The sums collected were
usually very small, and Pepys wrote in his _Diary_, June 30th, 1661:--

"To church, when we observe the trade of briefs is come now up to so
constant a course every Sunday that we resolve to give no more to them."

The granting of briefs gave rise to much abuse, and they were finally
abolished by the advice of Lord Palmerston.

The contents of the parish chest afford an unlimited mass of material
for those who love to study the curious customs of our forefathers and
their strange usages. Here is a record of a much-married person:--

"Mary Blewitt, ye wife of nine husbands successively, buried eight of
ym, but last of all ye woman dy'd and was buried, May 7th 1681."

In the margin of the register is written, "This was her funeral text."

The register of Sparsholt, Berks, records an instance of the body of a
dead man being arrested for debt. The entry is:--

"The corpse of John Matthews, of Fawler, was stopt on the churchway for
debt, August 27, 1689. And having laine there fower days, was by
Justices warrant buryied in the place to prevent annoyances--but about
sixe weekes after it was by an order of Sessions taken up and buried in
the churchyard by the wife of the deceased."

A dog-whipper was an ancient parish official, whose duty was to drive
out all dogs from the church. The Wakefield accounts contain the

"1616. Paid to Gorby Stork for whippinge s. d.
doggs 2 6"

"1703. For hatts shoes and hoses for sexton
and dog-whipper 18 6"

Another official was the person appointed to arouse members of the
congregation from their slumbers during divine service. The parish
accounts of Castleton record:--

s. d.
"1702. Paid to sluggard waker 10 0"

Sometimes the cost of a journey to London was
defrayed by the parish in order to enable a sufferer
to be touched for the king's evil. The Ecclesfield
accounts contain the following entry relating to this

"1641. Given to John Parkin wife towards her
travell to London to get cure of his Majestie
for the disease called the Evill, which her s. d.
Sonen Thorn is visited withall 6 8"

The clergymen were required to keep a register of all who were so
touched, in order that they might not again go to the king and receive
the bounty which accompanied the touch. Hence we read in the register of
Hambleden, Bucks:--

"1685. May 17, Mary Wallington had a certificate to goe before the King
for a disease called the King's Evil."

The treating of bishops and clergy is often noticed in the accounts.
Sometimes a sugar-loaf was presented, as at St. James', Bristol:--

"1629. Paid for a sugar loaf for the Lord Bishop 15's 10'd"

Sometimes items relate to their refreshment:--

"1593. Pd for a galland of beer given to the
Beishopp of Hereford iiii'd"

"1617. Pd for a quart of wine and sugar bestowed
upon two preachers x'd"

The status of students at the Universities was not so high in former
days as at present, and poor scholars used to beg their way to Oxford
and Cambridge, and receive the assistance of the charitable. Hence we
read in the Leverton accounts:--

"1562. Gave to a pore scholar at Oxford. 2s. 0d."

With this record of "a pore scholar" we must leave our study of the
contents of the parish chest, which afford such valuable and accurate
information about village and town life of ancient times.

[6] 812 registers begin in 1538, 40 of which contain entries prior to
that date. 1,822 registers date from 1538 to 1558, and 2,448 from
1558 to 1603.

[7] In the Whitchurch books we find: "1671. Paide for a coate and
wastcoate for good wife Clarke 13s., also for linen and shoes; to the
Chiurgeons for looking at Ezechiell Huller's legg 3." And such-like



Destruction of old windows--Wilfrid's glass-window makers--Glass,
stained and painted--Changes in style--Work of foreign artists--Inlaid
tiles--Ironwork on doors and screens--Norman hinges--Mediaeval
plumbing work--Mural decoration, frescoes, and wall-painting--Cause
of their destruction--St. Christopher--Consecration crosses--Norman
art--Favourite subjects--Yew trees in churchyards--Lich-gates--The
churchyard--Curious epitaphs.

No branch of archaeology is more interesting than the study of our
stained-glass windows, which illustrate so clearly the faith, history,
and customs of our ancestors. We have again to thank the fanatics of
the Reformation and Cromwellian periods for the shameful destruction
of so many beautiful windows. How great has been the loss to art and
history caused by their reckless demolition! And in addition to this
miserable violence our windows have suffered greatly from the ignorant
indifference of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which allowed
priceless examples of old glass to be removed and replaced by the
hideous specimens of the modern glass-painters.

In Saxon times this art found a home in England, the _artifices
lapidearum et vitrearum fenestrarum_ having been invited to this country
by Wilfrid, Bishop of York, in 709. The earliest specimen of ancient
glass now in existence is in the choir-aisles of Canterbury Cathedral,
where it was probably fixed when the cathedral was rebuilt after the
fire in 1174.

Coloured glass is of two kinds: (1) _Stained glass_, made by mixing
metallic oxides with the glass when in a state of fusion, the colours
thus going through the whole mass; (2) _Painted glass_, in which
colouring is laid upon the white or tinted glass, and fixed by the
action of fire. As the style of architecture changed, so the art of the
glass-painter changed with it. In the Early English period the colours
were very rich, and the designs consisted of medallions containing
subjects taken from Holy Scripture, or the lives of the saints, upon
grounds of ruby and blue. Mosaic patterns form the groundwork of the
medallions, and a border of scrolls and foliage incloses the whole
design. The outlines of the figures are formed by the lead. In the
Decorated period the medallions disappear, and in their place we find
single figures of large size under canopies. Instead of the mosaic
backgrounds diaper-work in whole colours is used. Lights and shades are
introduced in the dresses and canopies, and foliage is painted on the
panes. The artists of this period first introduced heraldic devices into
the windows. A border of white glass intervenes between the window and
the medallion.

When the Perpendicular style was in vogue the art of the glass-painter
degenerated, as did that of the architect. Stained glass was little
used, and the artists painted with enamel colours their designs upon the
glass. The figures were larger than before, and the canopies of great
size and with much architectural detail, landscapes and buildings
appearing in the background. During this period inscriptions began to be
used. In the sixteenth century the progress of the art was in the same
direction. Large figures, and groups of figures, fill the whole window,
and the existence of mullions is disregarded in the execution of the
design. Glass-painting flourished until the Civil War period, and then
died out.

English churches benefited much by the work of foreign artists. The
great Florentine Francesco di Lievi da Gambassi visited this country.
There is a letter dated 1434, written "to the master glass-painter
Gambassi, then in Scotland, and who made works in glass of various
kinds, and was held to be the best glass-painter in the world." How much
must we regret the destruction of the windows made by this excellent
artist in Holyrood chapel and elsewhere by fanatical mobs! The Fairford
windows are perhaps the finest and most interesting in England. The
story runs that they were made in Germany for a church in Rome, and that
the vessel conveying them was captured by an English ship; and as the
noble church at Fairford was then being built, the glass was sent there
and given to it. Shiplake Church, Oxfordshire, has some of the beautiful
glass which once adorned the ruined church of St. Bertin at St. Omer,
plundered during the French Revolution.

Some good work was accomplished in the seventeenth century by English
artists, who practised enamel painting, notably by Jervais, who in 1717
executed from designs by Sir Joshua Reynolds the beautiful west window
of New College Chapel, Oxford.

The floors of our churches were enriched with inlaid tiles. Various
patterns and designs were impressed upon them when the clay was moist, a
metallic glaze covered the surface, and then the tiles were placed in
the furnace. Many designs are found on ancient tiles, such as heraldic
devices, monograms, sacred symbols with texts, architectural designs,
figures, and patterns. The age of the tiles may be determined by
comparing the designs imprinted upon them with the architectural
decorations belonging to particular periods. In the sixteenth century
many Flemish tiles were brought to England, and superseded those of
English manufacture.

In the Middle Ages no branch of art was neglected. Even the smith, who
made the ironwork for the doors, locks, and screens, was an artist, and
took pains to adapt his art to the style of architecture prevailing in
his time. Norman doors are remarkable for their beautifully ornamented
hinges. They have curling scrollwork, and a large branch in the form of
the letter C issuing from the straight bar near the head. Early English
doors have much elaborate scrollwork, with foliage and animals' heads.
During the Decorated period the hinges are simpler, on account of the
carved panelling on the doors, and they continue to become plainer in
the subsequent period. The knockers on the doors often assume very
grotesque forms, as at Durham Cathedral. The mediaeval plumber was also
an artist, and introduced shields of arms, fleur-de-lis, and other
devices, for the enrichment of spires, and pipes for carrying off water
from the roof.


No part of the ancient decoration of our churches has suffered more than
the paintings and frescoes which formerly adorned their walls. In the
whole of the country there are very few of the ancient edifices which
retain any traces of the numerous quaint designs and figures painted on
the inner surfaces of their walls during the Middle Ages. Our ancestors
used to make free use of colour for the purpose of architectural
decoration, and employed several means in order to produce the effect.
They sometimes used fresco, by means of which they produced pictures
upon the walls covered with plaster while the plaster was wet. Sometimes
they employed wall-painting, _i.e._ they covered the walls when the
plaster was dry with some pictorial representation. The distinction
between fresco and wall-painting is frequently forgotten. Most of the
early specimens of this art are monochromes, but subsequently the
painters used polychrome, which signifies surface colouring in which
various colours are employed. The vaulted ceilings, the timber roof, the
screens and canopies, the monuments with their effigies, as well as the
surface of the walls, were often coloured with diaper-work. Colour and
gilding were marked features in all mediaeval buildings, and even richly
carved fonts and sculptural monuments were embellished with this method
of decoration. The appearance of our churches in those times must have
been very different from what it is now. Then a blaze of colour met the
eye on entering the sacred building, the events of sacred history were
brought to mind by the representations upon the walls, and many an
unlearned rustic acquired some knowledge of biblical history from the
contemplation of the rude figures with which his village church was

"Even the very walls of this dread place,
And the tall windows, with their breathing lights,
Speak to the adoring heart."

The practice of painting the walls of our churches dates as far back as
Saxon times; but very few fragments of pre-Norman art remain. Of Norman
work we have numerous examples, and sometimes it is found that the early
specimens of the art have been painted over in later Gothic times, and
ruder and larger figures have eclipsed the more careful work of previous
ages. An example of this was discovered in the church of St. Lawrence,
Reading, where no less than five distinct series of paintings were
discovered, painted one over another.


Several circumstances have combined to obliterate these specimens of the
art of former days. It was not the intention of the Reformers themselves
to destroy them. They distinguished carefully between "an embossed and
gilt image, and a process of a story painted with the gestures and
action of many persons; and commonly the sum of the story written withal
hath another use in it than one dumb idol or image standing by itself."
It was left to the Puritans, impelled by fanaticism and ignorance, to
make "a slanderous desolation of the places of prayer," and it is to
them we owe much of the destruction of the old mural paintings. At the
end of the eighteenth century there was a prejudice against these works
of art; for in 1773 we find the Bishop of London refusing to allow
Reynolds, West, and Barry to clothe the naked walls of St. Paul's
Cathedral with pictures painted by themselves. Coated over by layers of
plaster, or whitewashed until all traces were obliterated, these relics
of ancient art have remained for generations, and it is only when an old
church is being restored, and the coats of plaster and whitewash
removed, that their presence is revealed; and then too often the colours
fade away on exposure to the air.

[Illustration: ST. PAUL, KINGSTON LISLE]

One of the favourite subjects of mural decoration was a figure of St.
Christopher with the Infant Saviour on his shoulder.[8] He usually has a
staff, and strange-looking fish swim about his feet as he crosses the
river; on one side there is a hermitage, with the figure of a hermit
holding a lantern to guide the saint, and on the other a windmill. This
figure usually was painted on the wall opposite the principal entrance,
as it was deemed lucky to see St. Christopher on first entering a
church. Moreover the sight of the saint was a preservative against
violent death during the day, and also a preventive against drowsiness
during the service, as the following verses show:--

"Christophori sancti speciem quicunque tuetur
Illo namque die nullo languore tenetur."

Churchwardens' accounts record the painting of these figures--

"1503-4. It. payd to mylys paynter for payntyng
of Seynt X'fer viii's iiii'd"

"1521. It. payd to John Payne for payntyng
of Sent Leonard left by the wyffs
onpaynted xx'd"

A curious order was issued by Edward III. for arresting painters to work
in St. Stephen's Chapel at Westminster, to which artists of every
description were liable to surrender as often as the king required their


In Saxon times Consecration crosses were painted on the interior walls,
twelve in number, on the spots where the bishop marked the cross with holy
oil; and sometimes twelve crosses were carved or painted on the exterior
walls. During Norman times the art made progress, and there are many
specimens of mural decoration of this period, which correspond with the
mouldings generally used then; but not many scenes and figures were
depicted. Representations of bishops, _Agnus Dei_, scenes from the life of
our Lord, the apostles, the Last Judgment, St. George, scenes from the
life of St. Nicholas, St. John writing the Apocalypse, were favourite
subjects. At Copford the painter evidently tried to make the chancel
figuratively to represent the glories of heaven.

During the reign of Henry III. great progress was made, and travelling
monks roamed the country leaving behind them in many a village church
traces of their skill in artistic decoration. The murder of St. Thomas of
Canterbury now became a favourite subject, also the lives of St. Catherine
of Alexandria, St. Nicholas, St. Margaret, St. Edmund, the Seven Acts of
Mercy, and the wheel of fortune. In the fourteenth century the Doom was
the usual decoration of the space over the chancel arch, and scenes from
the New Testament, legends of saints, "moralities," etc., were depicted on
the walls. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the artists paid
little respect to the work of their predecessors, and frequently painted
new designs over the earlier mural decorations. They also adorned very
beautifully the roofs and screens. The arrival of the Flemings in the
eastern counties is shown by the portraying of subjects and saints not
usually worshipped in England. The figures of St. George become more
numerous and also of St. Christopher, who were regarded with much
superstitious reverence by all classes.

The vanity of human greatness is taught by the morality, "Les Trois Rois
Morts et les Trois Rois Vifs," representing three kings going gaily
hunting meeting three skeletons, the remains of kings once as powerful
as they. "The Dance of Death," so popular abroad, also appears in some
English churches. The wholesale destruction of so many specimens of
mediaeval art cannot be too strongly condemned and deplored. If any of my
readers should be fortunate enough to discover any traces of colouring
hidden away beneath the coats of whitewash on the walls of their church,
I would venture to advise them to very carefully remove the covering, and
then to consult Mr. Keyser's book on _Mural Decorations_, where they will
find an account of the best methods for preserving these valuable
specimens of early art.


In the churchyard stands the old weather-beaten yew tree, looking like a
sentinel keeping watch over the graves of our forefathers. Some of these
trees are remarkable for their age; the yews at Fountains Abbey, in
Yorkshire, were probably in a flourishing condition so long ago as the
year 1132, and some are older still. Why they were planted in churchyards
it is difficult to ascertain. It has been conjectured that they were
planted in so secure a spot in order that the men might provide themselves
with bows, as all the bows used by the English, with which they did such
execution against their enemies, were made of yew. Others contend that its
green boughs were used instead of palms on Palm Sunday, or for funerals.
But I think that they were regarded with veneration by our forefathers
when they were still heathen, and that some religious symbolism--such as
of immortality--attached to them; and that when the Christian teachers
came they made use of this religious sentiment of the people, planted the
Christian cross by the side of the yew, and under its shade preached
lessons of true immortality, of which the heathen ideals were only corrupt
legends and vain dreams.

At the entrance of the churchyard there is often a lich-gate, _i.e._ a
corpse-gate, where the body may rest while the funeral procession is
formed. _Lych_ is the Saxon word for a dead body, from which Lich-field,
"the field of dead bodies," is derived. Bray, in Berkshire, famous for
its time-serving vicar, is also famous for its lich-gate, which has two
rooms over it.

"God's acre" is full of holy associations, where sleep "the rude
forefathers of the hamlet." There stands the village cross where the
preachers stood in Saxon times and converted the people to Christianity,
and there the old sundial on a graceful stone pedestal. Sometimes amid
the memorials of the dead stood the parish stocks. Here in olden days
fairs were held, and often markets every Sunday and holiday, and minstrels
and jugglers thronged; and stringent laws were passed to prevent "improper
and prohibited sports within the churchyard, as, for example, wrestling,
football, handball under penalty of twopence forfeit." Here church ales
were kept with much festivity, dancing, and merry-making; and here
sometimes doles were distributed on the tombstones of parochial
benefactors, and even bread and cheese scrambled for, according to the
curious bequests of eccentric donors.

And then there are the quaint epitaphs on the gravestones, of which many
have made collections. Here is one to the memory of the driver of a
coach that ran from Aylesbury to London:--

"Parker, farewell! thy journey now is ended,
Death has the whip-hand, and with dust is blended;
Thy way-bill is examined, and I trust
Thy last account may prove exact and just,
When He who drives the chariot of the day,
Where life is light, whose Word's the living way,
Where travellers, like yourself, of every age,
And every clime, have taken their last stage,
The God of mercy and the God of love,
Show you the road to Paradise above."


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