This is a brief description of what the Churchwardens’ Presentments were, together with a discussion of those specific to Tysoe. These Presentments were written over a period of 144 years commencing in 1664 and are discussed chronologically, as this allows changes in style and subject matter to be seen. To put them in context nationally, these years covered the context of the aftermath of the Civil War during the reign of Charles II, the removal of James II from the throne and the reigns of William and Mary and Queen Anne, the accession of the House of Hanover and ending twelve years before the death of George III in 1820.
The Churchwardens’ Presentments are a set of handwritten statements from the Churchwardens to the Bishop in response to a written set of questions. They are described as being a triennial presentation of the affairs within the parish, but in the case of Tysoe parish they do not always seem to have been written triennially. The forty-six documents that still exist for Tysoe cover the period 1664 to 1808. They also include a report from the Vicar stating how much money was expended over the year on meeting the charitable needs of the Parish, although this was not strictly a Churchwardens’ presentment. The original documents are held in Worcestershire County Archive because Tysoe was then in the Kineton Hundred in the Diocese of Worcester. They have been transcribed because the originals were hand-written in a script known as ‘secretary hand’, very different from modern handwriting and because they used non-standard spelling. Sometimes words have changed their meaning over the ensuing centuries. It is also sometimes difficult to be sure of the wording and therefore brackets have been used below where the transcriber was unsure of the original meaning. Punctuation was rarely used which causes additional problems. It is particularly hard to decipher names accurately and the register of births, marriages and deaths has helped to identify local names.
Who were the Churchwardens?
The Churchwardens had a very wide range of responsibilities and were answerable to the Bishop for the state of the building and the churchyard. Visitations (ie personal meetings between the Churchwardens and the Bishop or his representative) allowed the Bishop to collect information directly from them. Thus, approximately every three years the Churchwardens were questioned by the Bishop and were expected to supply answers. They were responsible for the collection of monies and handing out alms to the poor under an act of 1601. At the end of the year they were asked to hand over to two new Churchwardens and to pass on information about the money held and what alms had been given. They were also responsible for ensuring seemly behaviour in the church and churchyard and for reporting Roman Catholics and other non-believers. There is an increasing reluctance to report neighbours as time passes and later presentments told the Bishop that there was nothing presentable at that time.
There was an age requirement for being a Churchwarden: individuals under twenty-one and women were rarely chosen, but in some parishes there were particular houses where the householder automatically became a Churchwarden and hence a woman who was a householder could also be elected. There were two Churchwardens in a church, one representing the state and the other the church. They carried a staff of office and these are often displayed at the ends of two pews on opposite sides of the church. The Churchwardens had many responsibilities and were usually annually elected at the Easter vestry. The church year began on Lady Day (25th March) when the Vestry Committee provided the Churchwardens for the coming year. The Vestry Committee was made up of parishioners who were respected members of the community. There were about ten of them on the Committee in 1800 from when a signed copy of the minutes of their meetings survives. Due to the onerous nature of their duties Churchwardens often stood down after a year although they could stay in post for longer. If there was a disagreement between Vicar and the congregation about those elected then each party elected one Churchwarden. Those elected were not allowed to decline the honour unless by payment of a fine.
Who was the Bishop?
The Bishop was in charge of a diocese. He had a seat in the House of Lords which gave him responsibility at national level and meant that he might be absent from his diocese for long periods. Quite often he was a younger son of an important family and might have connections with other members of the government. In order to know what was happening in each individual church Bishops relied on reports from their clergy and also their Churchwardens. Every three years or so, the Churchwardens were asked to attend a Visitation and report on both the fabric of the church and whether the behaviour of the congregation was consistent with the Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith. The Bishop set questions which indicated his priorities at any given time. The Visitations were not always at the same place and they were held in front of a surrogate chosen by the Bishop. In 1790 the venue for Tysoe was in the parish church of Stratford-Upon-Avon and the Bishop’s representative was his Chancellor, in 1773 in the parish church of Alcester with the Rev C. Green his surrogate and in 1743 it was in St. Marys in Warwick where the Bishop’s Chancellor presided. The venue was one of these three churches each time. Churchwardens could use vestry funds to cover the expense of a Visitation.
Bishops were abolished by act of Parliament in 1641 and their salaries ceased to be paid in 1643. The Book of Common Prayer was abolished and replaced by the Directory for the Publique Worshippe of God in 1644. Bishops were reinstated by Charles II in 1660 and the Book of Common Prayer used once again. After nearly twenty years the Bishops were concerned with re-establishing the Church of England but the details of what happened to the form of worship in Tysoe are unrecorded. However, the Vicar, William Stevenage, remained the incumbentfrom 1654 until his death on February 4th 1670 and straddled this period of change. The recording of births, marriages and deaths under the Commonwealth government was passed to a registrar elected by the parish in 1653 but William Stevenage continued to sign the register, the assumption being that he was also Tysoe’s elected registrar.
In Tysoe John Stevenage became the Vicar in 1621 and was succeeded by William Stevenage in 1654. Their tenures of the post cover Laud’s reform, the Civil War and the use of more Puritanical worship although evidence for how strenuously they changed around the interior or the format of services they conducted there has yet to be found. Post-1660 the Bishop had a Subscription Book by which clergymen had to declare belief in allegiance to certain tenets which were the Royal Supremacy, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith and the lawfulness of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England.1 On the 6th of August 1661 William Stevenage, Richard Rands, the Vicar of Butlers Marston, Samuel Brisco, Rector of Barton on the Heath, Edward Smallbrooke, Vicar of Long Compton and Charles Prince, Rector of Atherstone-on-Stour all subscribed on the same day in Worcester which suggests that they may have travelled together. Calling the clergy to actively subscribe shortly after the accession of Charles II suggests that the Bishop was concerned about the persistence of ecclesiastical differences within the church and wished to ensure that the former supporters of Cromwell had accepted the new regime.
As stated above, the 46 extant documents do not match a submission every three years, for example only one is written during William Stevenage’s tenure of the vicarage (1654-1671). He was replaced by John Heath in 1671. Eighteen of them were written between 1673 and 1690 when John Heath was the Vicar and make it clear that there was discord between the Vicar and his Churchwardens. In June 1705 the Churchwardens refer to William Cox whom they believe to be teaching without a licence. Teachers, doctors and booksellers all required a licence from the Bishop to practice their occupations. In 1714 and 1722 the birth of a bastard in the parish was recorded. Under the Poor Law act of 1601 the parish was responsible for the poor born within the parish and such future possible problems were recorded carefully. In 1717 and 1719 there was mention of a bell being cracked and sent for re-casting. Eleven documents were written between 1728 and 1808 and all stated that there was nothing presentable. Sometimes it is possible to work out the Bishop’s questions from the answers presented. In 1664 the sentences are numbered, presumably to correspond with the number of the question set by the Bishop. In 1676 the churchwardens recorded both the questions and their answers. The first question was about the number of people living in the parish and was only asked once in the existing Presentments between 1664 and 1808. The answer to the question was written at the top left corner of the manuscript, presumably as the Churchwardens did not know the figures when they started and had to check. There were also questions about the existence of Papish Romanists and other dissenters who refused the Communion of the Church of England. Interestingly, these questions were not answered.
The 1664 Presentments
In 1660 a new Bishop was appointed but he was replaced in 1663 presumably without requesting information from Tysoe. There were no Presentments until 1664 when the new Bishop, Robert Skinner, clearly requested information about the income of the church including the glebelands (lands left to individual churches for their expenses were referred to as glebelands). The churchwardens claimed to be ignorant of such matters although there would have been a revenue from renting out of such lands. The responsibilities of the churchwardens included the collection of income, which would have included collecting tithes from the parishioners as well as rents, the distribution of alms and accounting for monies handled at the end of the year. The money and records were passed on to the next set of Churchwardens after the election, usually just after Easter at the vestry meeting. The Bishop also clearly asked about the use of a surplice and was assured that a ‘faire surplice’ existed with other ornaments for the Vicar to use. The country was recovering from the depredations of a civil war and the effects of a Puritan Government, and the Loss Accounts for this period indicate how much individuals suffered from soldiers of both sides requisitioning food, blankets and horses. Paying dues to the Church would have resulted in much hardship and the Churchwardens, suffering from the same deprivation, would have had difficulty raising funds. Indeed, regular payments were collected but they were sent to pay the troops who were besieging Compton Wynyates and Banbury Castle ‘on pain of plundering’, or for providing Lord Brooke at Warwick with dragoon horses. There were also unquantified payments to the Royalist armies.2
The Puritans had strict views on worship and the fabric of the church may have been damaged at this time. Archbishop Laud’s demands of the 1630’s for putting the communion table at the East end of the church and installing rails round it was seen by some as a movement towards re-joining the Roman Catholic church. Whether the interior of the church was much altered after Henry VIII’s reformation or re-altered after Laud’s demands is unknown. Henry VIII remained doctrinally Catholic until his death. Colonel Purefoy and his men are said to have damaged the interior of Tysoe church to make it more conformable to Puritanical ideals. They are also known to have damaged the church at Compton Wynyates and said to have removed or smashed stained glass in Tysoe church, although no written evidence has been found for this. There are fragments of early stained glass in the current windows. Stained glass, representations of saints or wall paintings of Biblical subjects were deemed to be distractions from The Word of God and were removed under Puritan rules. In 1682 John Heath [?], who was the Vicar, annotates a Presentment clearly written by someone else with the words ‘No Railes to the Commion Table’.
Presentments while John Heath was the Vicar
In 1671 a new Vicar was appointed. He was young and had matriculated at Trinity College Oxford in 1665 aged 18 and had been awarded his BA on the 18th of February 1668-9. His name was John Heath and he seems to have caused something of a stir in Tysoe. The Churchwardens had not signed one of the Presentments dated 1674 but Vicars also made Presentments. It is interesting, however, that this particular Presentment was stored with the Churchwarden’s Presentments. In the baptismal register for the church each minister would put his name centre page as he became the incumbent. It was clearly customary to just write the name but in 1671 John Heath stated, ‘John Heath was presented, instituted and inducted Vicar into the Parish Church of Tysoe in the yeare of our Lord one thousand six hundred seventy one’. Perhaps he feared that his youth would make his parishioners disregard him. In 1673 he made a presentment at ‘my Lord Bishop’s Court at Worcester’ about eight parishioners who had refused to pay their dues that belonged to the church and a lady who ‘was married without banns and licence and refuses to pay her marriage money’. There are Presentments dated May 1674 in which the Churchwardens declared that their minister ‘bee Episcopally ordained and of ye discipline of ye Church of England’. The presentments for May of 1674 included the names of some parishioners who did not attend church and end with the statement that they ‘have nothing else presentable in ye parish according to our knowledge’. However, in September of the same year there was a further Presentment assuring the Bishop that ‘none Refuses to pay towards to see repairs’ and ‘it is now repairing of what is amiss our chancell’. It would seem that the Vicar has complained to his churchwardens that there was an insufficient supply of ‘tablets and napkins for the communion table’. There were also many more parishioners named as foreswearers and Papists, a mention of ‘scandilous persons’ who use alehouses ‘and common time quarrelling and fighting’. A man is reported for having failed to bring his daughter to church to be baptised, though it would seem that she ‘may be about a years old’ which might suggest that the churchwardens were offering an explanation. This Presentment was signed by the Vicar as well as the Churchwardens.
On November 5th the Churchwardens declared that the church and chancel were in good repair and that the churchyard walls would be repaired ‘before Christmas next’. This document was not signed by the Vicar but immediately underneath was a statement by four other parishioners that ‘the said churchwardens have bin very industrious and rarifull in their duty and have put our church and chancel always in very good repair and that the churchyard mounds and other things wanting are in a very good forwardness and we verily believe will be put in good repair and oreder before Christmas next’. On November the 8th there was an assurance signed by the Churchwardens that ‘ our Church and Chancholl are in very good repairs our Churchyard walles are in good repairs and bells and bell ropes are in good repairs and for other things we hav order by the ministers that is [Hollan Closis] for the Communion Table with a Carpet for the [ ] and all provided and In a Readieness According to Their order’. Five Presentments for one year indicate considerable agitation and the assurances of four other members of the congregation suggest that John Heath was complaining but that the parishioners were supporting the Churchwardens. The ‘mounds’ (often used as an archaic word for hedges) are probably hedges or walls around the churchyard, and since Tysoe Churchwardens refer over the years to mounds and walls in the same Presentment it seems likely they mean hedges on this occasion. A time of growth to thicken hedges would agree with the promise that the hedges would be in good order by next Christmas. It was necessary to deter farm animals from entering the churchyard as they were moved through the lanes. Yew trees are poisonous to cattle and are often to be found in churchyards and gave the farming community an incentive to help keep the boundary in good order.
In 1676 the focus of the Bishop’s questions was on the fabric of the church and the Churchwardens were at pains to list individually the church and the churchyard as being in good repair. There was a second Presentment that year, dated April, which lists the three questions the Bishop asked as well as giving the answers. John Heath did not countersign the first, but he added his name to the second. The Bishop wanted to know how many residents there were in the parish of Tysoe and the answer given was 1782. He asks how many were Papish Romanists ‘or supposed to be soo’ and how many ‘other Dissenters with either obstinately refusing or wholly absent from the Comunion of the Church of England?’ The names of the Churchwardens differ hence the documents seem to have straddled the election of wardens that year. Perhaps the Bishops were trying to gauge the amount of unrest in the country and were thinking about the percentage of people who were unhappy with the current regime? Titus Oates invented a Jesuit (extreme Roman Catholic) plot to assassinate Charles II and install his brother James on the throne. This was published in 1678 and managed to create a wave of hysteria the following year when his story received widespread publicity. Perhaps the Bishop had received an inkling that something was afoot and that he wished to get a grass roots view.
In 1690 John Heath was taken to the Consistory Court after a request from his Churchwardens to examine him and assess whether he was capable of carrying out his duties.3 The evidence of his parishioners suggests that he had turned to drink and a new Vicar was appointed in 1691. The Churchwardens’ evidence to the Consistory court implies that the problem of John Heath’s capabilities has existed for a while.
Presentment in Thomas Hope’s tenure of the vicarage
Thomas Hope followed John Heath as minister. He was appointed in 1691 and remained until 1701. In 1699 the focus of the Bishop, now James Fleetwood, was on the Minister. The Churchwardens reported that he wore a surplice and was conformable to the Church of England; he was doing ‘all the offices of a faithful minister to the great satisfaction of the whole parish’. The Bishop clearly has a concern about whether Anglican doctrines were being adhered to. He may also have had concerns about Tysoe because of the earlier reputation of John Heath.
Presentments in the 1700s
There is very little about the fabric of the church or state of the churchyard during the 1700s other than the bell that was cracked and sent for recasting. The Bishops Edward Stillingfleet 1689-1699, William Lloyd 1699-1717, John Hough 1717-1743, Issac Maddox 1743-1759, James Johnson 1759-1774 (who died after falling off his horse in Bath), the Hon. Brownlow North 1774-1781, Richard Hurd 1781-1808 and Folliott Herbert Walker Cornewall 1808-1831) seem to have been concerned about the teaching of the catechism which is a series of questions and their accompanying answers in the Prayer Book.
In 1711 there must have been a question about whether the catechism was being taught by the minister. That question is asked in 1714, 1717, 1719 and 1721 too. The basic tenets of belief included reciting the creed, the ten commandments and observing them in daily life, the Lord’s prayer and an acceptance of Holy Communion as an outward sign of faith which offered an inward spiritual grace. If there was a teacher, who was often the Curate, then that was what he was expected to teach. Teachers were licensed by the Bishop. There was concern nationally about the state of the church and movements such as Methodism and Moravianism were reviving enthusiasm for serving God. George Whitfield and John and Charles Wesley had started to preach to the people in the streets as they were not entering churches to hear the Gospel. The Wesleys wrote many new hymns which could be sung joyfully in contrast to hymns acceptable in church services, which were only permitted if they followed closely the words of the Bible. Most singing in church was confined to the Psalms. The Wesleys were both ordained clergymen of the Anglican church and did not intend to cause a split. Presumably the Bishop was concerned that there was some fault in the approach of Vicars to their congregations if many parishioners did not know their catechism.
Children were mentioned in two of the Presentments for their poor behaviour in the church. In 1664 two children were named because they climbed on the Communion table during the service and refused to get off. In an age when rough handling of miscreants seems to have been common the Churchwardens seem to be suggesting that they are loath to use physical force during the service. On the other occasion in May 1690 it would seem that the person teaching the children was guilty of ‘sufering his scholars to Abuse the Church and Chancell and the Communion tabell’ by being ‘unable to prevent them from inking and ruling in the chancel.’ It is not clear what is meant by ruling. It may be that lines were being drawn in inappropriate places but it is possible that rulers were being used to carve grooves in wooden edges of the furniture. It is conceivable that the master teaching the children the catechism at that time was John Heath, since this was usually the duty of a Curate or the Vicar.
Seen from the Presentments, the Bishops post-1700 seem to have been less concerned with setting questions for the Churchwardens, suggesting that there were other means for establishing that all was well in their parishes.
1 When a Vicar was given a parish he held it for life or until he was transferred to another job in the church. Where a congregation were concerned about the Vicar’s ability to do his job they would have to prove to the Bishop that he had broken Canon Law; i.e. was unable to fulfil his commitment of obedience to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith contained in the Book of Common Prayer.
2 Tennant, P. 1996. The Civil War in Stratford-upon-Avon: Conflict and Community in South Warwickshire 1642-1646. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Stratford-upon-Avon.
3 The Consistory Court was founded by William the Conqueror specifying the rights of the Church to make legal judgements of the clergy and church lands. It still exists but over the centuries its powers have changed. Kings and their governments make the laws of the land. Sometimes the church hierarchy, who regard their laws as coming from God, are at odds with the rulers of the day. Before the Reformation of Henry VIII the church in England was Roman Catholic and the man in charge of Church Law was the Pope. Excommunication, the most potent threat, was a very real threat in medieval times and to some people still is.
Sue Hancox, for the Tysoe Heritage Research Group. 2023