“Shorncote The Church and some Rectors
Geoffrey Gibbon 1986
The interior has much of interest the font is massive norman: the pulpit seems to have been put together by a village carpenter from odd pieces of panelling, but the ;little sounding board is elegant. the reading-desk is also a composite piece, incorporating old oak from, perhaps, the medieval clergy stall. in the chancel arch, which is pointed (and therefore very late Norman) are oaken gates which formed a part of the old rood screen, the stairs to which can be seen in the south wall.
The North Chapel has been unfurnished and bare since the Reformation. It has a good decorated window with an interior arch; an eplaborate piscina; and a crude niche above where the altar once stood.
The Chancel is too small to hold any furniture except the altar. To the left of the altar is a stone shelf which once, presumably, held a figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary or of some other saint. In the north wall is an Easter Sepulchre in the framework of a blocked Norman window. In the south wall there is an aumbry, or cupboard recess, and a piscina in a windowsill, carved with little fishes. In the sanctuary is a walnut caned chair and tasselled cushion: it was lying in the North Chapel in a very dilapidated state and was restored in 1968. It probably came from somerford Keynes Manor House, for the Stranges of Somerford owned Shorncote in the 17th Century.
The Chancel walls show traces of painting showing that they were originally painted white and ornamented with a line pattern in red. On the windowsills are many crude scratches and initials, suggesting that the chancel here, as in some other village churches, was once used as a school.
The only elaborate memorial in the church is the marble tablet on the south wall of the nave bearing the name of Richard Kemble, Barrister of the Inner Temple, who died in 1733. His father a London merchant, probably of Wiltshire origin, had bought the manor from the Jocelyns of Sawbridgworth, who had themselves inherited it by marriage with a Strange co-heiress. On the west wall of the nave are very plain memorials to William and Joseph Mill, a father and son who owned Manor Farm and nearly all the land in the parish at the end of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th. In the floor of the nave are many inscriptions to members of the Hawkes family, who leased Manor Farm 1652 to 1766. Two former Rectors have memorials in the churchyard, john Davis (d. 1792) under the east window of the church and the last Rector,William Bartram (d.181) near the porch.
Shorncote has a very plain chalice with a paten cover hallmarked in 1632 and a little pewter alms-dish inscribed in Jacobean script 'Church Plate of Shorncote'. The registers go back to 1708 and there are two churchwardens Books, 1706 to 1733, and 1764 to 1787, which record payments under the three heads of Church Expenses (including payment for foxes destroyed); Poor Relief; and Highway Maintenance, as well as the rates levied and the names of the ratepayers and of the churchwardens. These items are no longer kept in the church.
Three groups of farm buildings make a half-circle round the church. to the east is Manor Farm, where the capital messuage (Manor House) stood in 1334 with two gardens and a broken-down dovecote. The present building is of various dates: the oldest part, with very thick walls, might well be Tudor and the last edition was made by the Mills about 1800.
Near the churchyard gate, to the west of the church, is Glebe Farm, formerly the Rectory. It was rebuilt by William Fawcett, Vicar of Somerford Keynes, when he took over Shorncote. The much older coach-house has been converted into a dwelling. Adjoining Glebe Farm to the West is Old Manor Farm with a house built in the mid 18th century by Thomas Baker, Rector of Bibury and ancestor of the Lloyd-Baker family, who bought the farm as an investment.
In such a small parish as Shorncote the tithes were worth little, the Glebe was small and the pickings and perquisites such as burial fees were minimal. In the Middle Ages, when priests were normally required to reside in their parishes , it was hard to find a Rector for Shorncote , and even harder to keep him when he got wind of a better living. The published Registers of Roger de Martival, a 14th Century bishop of Salisbury, shows how the rectors came and went, and what manner of men they were.
The first Rector whose name we know was ROBERT DE CLYFF, who was appointed by Sir John ap Adam of Beverston in 1309. Seven years later when Sir John was dead and Thomas his heir was a minor, Sir Ralph de Monthermer, as guardian appointed NICHOLAS OF OXFORD. In 1317 the Bishop received a writ against Nicholas for a debt of twenty marks that he owed to William of Langley. He sent his officer to Shorncote, but it was found that nothing could be raised towards paying off the debt, and Nicholas resigned. In his place Sir Ralph appointed JOHN OF WALTHAM, an acolyte - prbably a young man with a smattering of education who had taken minor orders and found an ill-paid job as a secretary. Now he would have to be made reader, subdeacon, deacon and priest in quick succession so that he could administer the sacraments in his church. He remained at shorncote for eight years and then, in 1324, Thomas ap Adam appointed WILLIAM HARDYNG who was Master of Domas Dei in Thetford, a small foundation that provided a pittance for a priest and one or two poor men. Two years later the Bishop , then at his manor house in Ramsbury, received a writ against William for eleven marks that he owed to Master Stephen of Ketelburgh, near Aldeburgh in Suffolk. The Bishop caused search to be made at Shorncote, but his officer found that
In 1386 a Rector of Shorncote was mixed up with a debt of another kind. JOHN HOPE had been appointed executor by WaIter Cheltenham, the Rector of Withington, and when WaIter died some of his goods, to the value of £9, were
In 1532 the patronage of Shorncote church passed from the Berkeleys to the Compton Earls of Northampton. Their
Hayley was one of the last Rectors to live in Shorncote and farm the Glebe. Of his two successors we know nothing: RICHARD ANDREWES, who was appointed in 1579, was the first pluralist, leaving in 1581 to live in his second parish of Little Somerford. After him came the unfortunate RICHARD HARP, who came to Shorncote after being thrown out of three other livings. In June 1583 he was presented to CoIn Rogers but found that John Smythe was already in possession. In December of that year the Bishop of Gloucester appointed him to South Cerney, but the Bishop's right to appoint was successfully challenged and Harp was ejected in or before February 1587. As he had a wife and two infant children he was in a desperate position, and was only too glad to accept the benefice of Somerford Keynes from Robert Strange, even though it meant signing an agreement that robbed him and his successors of a large part of the tithe payable on the Manor lands. Such an agreement was simony - making a financial arrangement in order to obtain a benefice - and it was probably for simony that Harp was ejected from Somerford in 1596. It is possible that he then went to'Shorncote as curate for the absentee Rector and that in 1597 or thereabouts he was himself made Rector - there are gaps in the Register of the Bishop of Salisbury, in whose diocese at that time were Shorncote and Somerford. Harp was certainly Rector of Shorncote in 1608, when, at the Wiltshire Quarter Sessions, he and his two sons were bound over to keep the peace towards Mark Fowler, yeoman of the parish. The quarrel arose when the Rector was assaulted while going to church by one who threw stones at him, the offender being distracted in his wits - and presumably a member of Mark Fowler's family.
Harp died in 1619 and his parish was given to John Sneade,Vicar of Somerford Keynes, to hold in plurality. After his death in 1639 THOMAS EARLE was appointed. He was an Oxford graduate: his father was Rector of Oaksey and Kemble and he had a wealthy cousin, a Bristol merchant, who built Eastcourt House, near Crudwell. As a young
For nearly a hundred years after Earle's death Shorncote was held in plurality by local Vicars -John Turner, father and son, of Somerford Keynes and Francis Walbron of South Cerney. From 1765 to 1792 the Rector was JOHN DAVIS, whose replies to the Bishop's Visitation Questions show us the condition of the parish in 1783. Davis did not live in Shorncote because the parsonage was inconvenient for his bad state of health - the bedrooms were cold and draughty, being neither ceiled nor wainscotted. He resided in Malmesbury, where he gave some help in the Abbey Church, and the curate of South Cerney took his duty at Shorncote - one service each Sunday and Holy Communion at Christmas, Easter and Whitsun, when there might be only three communicants. Children were catechized in Lent, as was usual, but Davis notes 'that it is to be lamented that parents and heads of houses pay but very little regard to this very necessary duty' of sending children for instruction.
From 1815 to 1834 Nathaniel George Woodrooffe, Vicar of Somerford Keynes, took duty at
Photos © Elaine Kemp
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