My ancestor was a Clergyman

The Bawdy Courts - coming before the Bishop

Anglican Clergy in the early 18th Century

The 17th Century saw the civil war years (1640-1649), commonwealth period (1649-1660) and restoration (1660) creating upheaval for Anglican Clergy. By the early 18th century their positions were more secure following the 1688 “Glorious Revolution” which held within the church “for the next century and a half”.

Anglican Clergyman were one of the few professions where most had attended Oxford or Cambridge University. Many were from landed gentry families or followed in their father’s footsteps and deemed honorary gentry. An Anglican Clergyman in your ancestry can often provide a portal to family history research in this period when other records can be scant.

Prosperity should not be assumed, as many in fact struggled financially. Their income was often dependant on the category of Clergy and associated source of their income:
Rectors, usually the most prosperous, “’held’ the living …they could retain it for life…[and] had a legal right to the associated income” often from farming the glebe land either by renting out the land and/or from tithes.

Vicars were ‘deputies’ employed by the rector and could be dismissed by the rector, and may have received some income from the living if the rector allowed him part of it, but his income may be solely from his agreed proportion of the tithe income.

Curates could be otherwise described as assistants, deputies or locums. They could be deacons or ordained priests paid a salary or stipend directly by the rector/vicar having no right to the tithes. Often, they were newly ordained clergy, waiting for someone willing to present them to a living or those without ‘connections’ (gentry or patronage) thus “unable ever to gain a living of their own”.

A deacon was also someone who assisted the priest similar to a Curate, however a deacon was not ordained and could therefore not administer the sacraments.

A reference to a clergyman ancestor may be found in several places, including parish register, parish records and in particular the record of the Ecclesiastical Courts.

Being awarded a living was not easy as this often depended on one’s parentage or knowing those with influence. An individual would be ‘presented’ to a living by a ‘sponsor’ or advowson and the bishop of the Diocese would then accept or deny the presentation. Bishops themselves held the advowson for some parishes.

Charles Easton

A Churchwardens presentment for Ewhurst 25th August 1729 found amongst the Ecclesiastical court records for Winchester Diocese, stated of the minister “Does his duty as usual being presented for neglect several visitations past”. A quick search in the parish registers for Ewhurst online8 found the Rector referred to was Charles Easton.

The aim of this project is to research the life of Charles Easton, examining specialist online resources, ecclesiastical court records held at Hampshire Record Office (HROM) and parish chest records held at Surrey History Centre (SHC). Parish registers will be examined to identify records of his baptism, any marriage and burial whilst probate records may offer further insight into his life. As a Rector it is likely that he would have left a will.

Charles Easton – Education and Qualifications

The Clergy Database

A search for “Charles Easton” giving no location details found two results, Charles Easton, BA, CCEd Person ID: 92963 and Charles Easton, BA, CCEd Person ID: 94006, with a comment on record ID 94006:

“FOSTER: s. Thomas, of Beachenstoke (sic), Wilts. pleb. HART HALL, matric. 25 Nov. 1698, aged 18; B.A. 1702, rector of Ewhurst, Surrey, 1714 (and his father rector of Beechingstoke 1670). See Foster’s Ind. Eccles.

If Foster is correct then his father is ID 94005

The Same as ID 92963”

The two records are the same individual graduating with a BA from Oxford in 1702, ordained as Deacon in 1703 and appointed Curate in 1705 Both positions were in the diocese of Salisbury. He was then, in 1707, ordained as Priest in the diocese of Winchester. Interestingly there is no record in the database of him taking a position as Rector of Ewhurst, however for the “Diocese of Worcester: data for the period 1540–1660 has been linked to people and locations; almost all data for the period 1760–1835 has been linked to people and locations.” Thus for the intervening years the link between people and places may be missing.

Education records

Both Charles and his father were found in the Alumni Oxonienses. His father was described as “cler. fil” meaning “clerical filius” or clergyman’s son, suggesting a third generation of clergymen. Charles was described as “pleb” meaning “plebeius” or “plebian” meaning common. This raises the question whether the entry in Clergy Database is correct as regards Charles’ father, although the entry does then state that his father was a clergyman. “pleb” in this context may therefore refer to his father’s own background, i.e. he came from a ‘common’ background as opposed to landed gentry.

From Thomas’s alumni record his approximate year of birth was 1637. Searching the parish registers online for his name and the year 1637 +/- 5 years found two possible baptism records in the Wiltshire collection one in 163517 the other in 163218, neither father is described as a rector.

In this era those wishing to become clergy or other learned professions would have had a basic education often at the local grammar school of which many were formed before the reformation. Thomas and Charles likely both attended their local grammar schools, Charles possibly being educated by his father in his infant years given education was dominated by the church.

Charles’s early years

Beechingstoke is a small parish in a largely rural community, being at about the midpoint between Pewsey and Devizes. According to the British History Online” website, at the time his father was appointed rector the glebe totalled 33 acres “of which meadow land lay in North mead, Fowl mead, and Scotchfall, while arable lay chiefly in Gold hill and Hatfield” and he would have had a house of two bays.

Beechingstoke Village and Parish

It is served by St Stephens in the Diocese of Salisbury and Archdeaconry of Wiltshire whose records are held at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre (WSHC) and are searchable at the Ancestry website, and on the Find My Past website.

St Stephen’s Church, Beechingstoke

A search for Charles Easton born 1680 +/- 2 years found a baptism record in Beechingstoke on 15 April 1680 including a date of birth, 24 March 1678/79 (the last day of the Julian calendar year (i.e., new year’s eve as it would be known today) and the day before Lady Day), and both parents, Thomas and Alice. There was an entry in 1674 for a Charles Easton with the same parents. The register dates between 1671 and 1741 is clear, well preserved and easy to read, sectioned into (in order) burials, marriages, and baptisms.

Families would ‘re-use’ names of children who had died and a search of the burial register between 1674 and 1680 found a burial record for the earliest born Charles on 10th October 1676.

His family

The clergy database provides details of Thomas’ career as a clergyman which began five years after the end of the commonwealth period. He was first Curate at Lyneham, Wiltshire (appointed 9 October 1665) and just over a month later was also appointed Curate at Alton Priors, Wiltshire (appointed 16 November 1665). He continued as a Curate for five years until being instituted Rector at Beechingstoke on 9 November 1670. Lyneham is about 36 miles north of Alton Priors which is itself only 3 and a half miles north east of Beechingstoke.

Thomas did not rest at being simply a rector, in 1671 he was appointed Preacher and licenced to preach in the Diocese of Sarum, better known today as Salisbury hence enabling to preach anywhere in the diocese not just his own parish and he went on to be appointed Curate at several locations. He was firstly appointed Curate again for Alton Priors in 1677, in 1680 he was appointed Curate at Alton Barnes/Priors, Overton and Fifield. Overton is about 3 miles west of Fyfield. Having several supplemental incomes in this way certainly give the impression of a hard working devoted clergyman.

A search of the parish registers for Beechingstoke from 1670 for a period of 40 years found only six pages.

Charles was the fourth of Thomas and Alice’s eight children. A wider search in the Wiltshire series found no other siblings.

The clergy database gives Thomas’s death as 17 September 1712. A search at the Ancestry website found he was buried the 8th September 1715 in his own churchyard, the entry confirming he had been the Rector there for about 44 years. The burial record was also found for Charles’ mother. She predeceased his father, being buried on 20 December 1708.

Being a Rector, it was likely Thomas left a Will. An online search found in his will in two collections one being the original Will with Inventory attached, the other being the Copy transcribed into the Court register. His will dated 7th December 1714/15 and proved in the Consistory Court of Salisbury on the 14th September 1715 names four children, Robert, Elizabeth, Elnor and Charles, and two grandchildren, Thomas and Charles, who are sons of Robert. Elizabeth is referred to as Lye, however the wife of Thomas’ son in law Richard Lye is Elnor. Searching the “Wiltshire, England, Marriages, 1538-1837” collection35, Elnor married Richard Lyn on 6th February 1704 in the Parish of Manningford Bruce whilst Elizabeth married Nathaniel Lye on the 7th November 1711 at Beechingstoke. Perhaps Richard and Nathaniel were brothers? These details confirm the information found in the parish registers and that the entry in the clergy database for Charles and his father is correct.

The inventory provides a description of the Rectory in which Charles was raised. It appears to have had three chambers (bedrooms) in/off the main living rooms, a bed above the Buttery and a bed in the stable. During Charles’s formative years (1680-1690) there would have been 2 adults and 7 children living at the property between five bedrooms so the conditions, depending on the size of the rooms, would have been comfortable and not cramped.

Charles’s career

Curate at Fyfield

The clergy database states he was a “Cure at Fyfield”. He was ordained a deacon on 23rd May 1703 at Salisbury Cathedral. “Cure” was used to mean “carer of souls” and as a deacon he would have assisted the rector but not be able to administer the sacraments. This was his first step onto the ladder of becoming an ordained priest. Deacons, in this era would progress to ordination as a priest although there were no rules or timescales as to when the transition would happen.

Map showing locations and proximity of Beechinstoke, Fyfield and Burbage, Wiltshire

Fyfield is a small village and parish approximately 8 miles north east of Beechingtoke and 28 miles north of Salisbury in the Archdeaconry of Wiltshire, where his father had been appointed curate at twenty three years earlier. A search of Fyfield in the The clergy database found that in 1680 the rector was Sam Gwyn appointed simultaneous to Thomas’s appointment being his first appointment as rector. Following his death in 1695 Thomas Shaw was appointed rector, also his first appointment as rector where he remained until 1711. As a seasoned clergyman, Thomas as curate would have been able to assist and guide them and perhaps Charles was actually appointed “Cure of Fyfield” in place of or in addition to his father as curate.

Curate at Burbiche/Burbage

Charles remains in that role until the 24th October 1705 when he was appointed Curate at Burbiche (also known as Burbage) in Wiltshire in the “Peculiar of prebend of Hurstbourne and Burbage and dean of Salisbury”.

Burbage, according to Gibson and Raymond was under the jurisdiction of the prebendal peculiar of Hurstbourne and Burbage and according to British History Online, a church has stood at Burbage since 1086.

It is again close to where Charles grew up, being 11 miles east of Beechingstoke and includes the villages of Burbage and Durley village, and the hamlets called Ram Alley and Stibb Green. It was under the jurisdiction of the archdeacon of the prebendary of Hurstbourne and Burbage until 1847 with presented vicars to the dean of Salisbury for institution. In 1341 the Rectory estate “included 1 carucate and all the tithes from Burbage parish. Part of the estate was later assigned to the vicar of Burbage, and in 1840 the prebendary held 40 a. and most of the tithes of the parish”.

Appointment as Priest

Charles stayed at Burbage until he was appointed priest (ordained as a Preacher) at a Chapel in Chelsea, which was then in the Archdeaconry of Middlesex, Diocese of London on 21 December 1707, however his ordination record was found at Hampshire Record Office (HRO) amongst Ordination papers for the Diocese of Winchester set out in a well preserved hard back book. Some of the entries are in faded ink and very helpfully the entries are written in latin with an English translation underneath. His entry, with his signature, was found at page 51:

“Vicesima prima die Decembres Ado Domini 1707 [Twenty first December 1707]
“I Char Easton B.A before my admission into holy orders of a Priest do declare that I will be conformable to the Litergy of the Church of England as by Law established, witness my hand. Ca Easton”

No records could be found for Charles at Chelsea having examined the records for the Archdeacon of Middlesex records held at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), and the Winchester diocesan records held at HRO. Powell, in his manuscript notes “Ewhurst Rectors” states Charles was Curate to William Whitfield at Ewhurst from 1708 to 1715 when Charles was appointed Rector. This is also born out by entries in the parish registers for Ewhurst, which are signed by Charles as Curate from 1710.

Parish of Ewhurst

Charles was then admitted, by commission to institute, Rector of Ewhurst on 8th November 1714 where he spent the rest of his career.

Ewhurst Parish Boundaries

His appointment should be recorded the Bishops’ Registers and Act Books held at Hampshire Record Office48 (HRO), unfortunately those for 1714 are amongst several missing50. Further, the visitation book(s) for that year held at (HRO) is also missing.

Ewhurst is a village and parish in the heart of rural Surrey bordering Shere to the north, Ockley and Abinger to the east, Cranleigh to the west and the County of Sussex to the south, 12 miles south-east of Guildford and 11 miles south-west of Dorking. The chief occupation was agriculture.

Replies to the Bishop’s visitation to the Archdeaconry of Surrey in 1725 provide an insight into:
“Charles Easton, rector [1714-] July 3, 1725 (21/M65/B4/1/3/244-5]

  1. Area The parish of Ewhurst is about 5½ miles in length and about 14 in circumference.
  2. Population There are in the parish about 120 families, and about 530 souls.
  3. Marriages &c The number of marriages, one year with another, is about 4, of births about 12, and of burials about the same number.
  4. Patron The patron of the living is the Lord Chancellor of England.
  5. Chapels There is no chapel in the parish of Ewhurst.
  6. Lecturer There is neither lecturer nor curate in the parish.
  7. Papists Neither any Papists or Papist
  8. Dissenters Neither are there any meetings of dissenters of any denomination, and but one family of Anabaptists, and one mane that is a Presbyterian.
  9. Gentry &c There is not any person in the parish of any distinction.
  10. Schools There in no endowed school in the parish, but on small school taught by Thomas Sayer of the same parish.
  11. Charities There is but one charity belonging to the parish, which was conferred on it many years since by Henry Smith of £6 yearly, to be distributed by the minister, churchwardens and overseers from the parish.
  12. Post-town Dorking is the next post-town.”
Ewhurst village showing the Church, Rectory and Glebe

The church of St Peter and St Paul dates from the 12th century. Alterations were made in the 15th century and in 1838-9 repairs caused the central tower to collapse damaging the Chancel thus the church was almost completely rebuilt.

Amongst Ewhurst parish records held at Surrey History Centre (SHC) was a survey of the Glebe prepared by Charles on 26th September 1729 showing a total Glebe of 55 acres 2 rood 18 perches (60 acres 3 roods 19 perch inc. hedges).

On 18th July 1693, it seems the then Rector William Whitfield agreed a lease the tithes for 21 years to the principal landowners in the area, Richard Sayer, William Ryde, Timothy Butt, Thomas Knight, George Knight, Henry Gosden, George Worsfold, Walter Longhurst and Edmund Mitchel, at a rate of 2s 4d in the pound and an agreed amount of their produce. There was also set out an agreement for the “church dues” and “surplus fees” not granted in the lease, including an ‘offering’ of 2p yearly at Easter from every member of the congregation and fees for burials, churching a women (blessings given to mothers after childbirth) and marriage licences; Great and small tithes could be payments in kind at the discretion of the Rector. The estimated income at that time was £1,400 per year from rent.

Church of St Peter and St Paul, Ewhurst today

Given Charles became Rector in 1714/15 this lease and agreement would have expired on his institution. However, the first account of tithes from his period as Rector was found in 1736 when there is a ten page account “from what to how much several estates in this parish were raised to the Tythe at the meeting of the parish upon the occasion March 14 1736”. Tithes were then calculated at 2s 6d in the pound and the accounts comprise two columns, one of rent and one of tithes the totals of which were £1575 17s 0d (rent); £197 5s 10d (tithes). Charles total income from these sources therefore totals £1773 2s 10d which in 2017 would have be worth between approximately £208,862.97 to £209,616.02, quite a substantial income and providing Charles with no doubt a very conmfortable living.

There were no other entries by Charles regarding his income, the next entry was for tithe income in 1742 when William Bickerton had been instituted as Rector. The total income from tithes was then £195.

Unfortunately, no presentments prior to the one in 1729 referred to at the start were found at Hampshire Record Office, especially none to identify why Charles had previously been presented for neglect. Further there are no parish records, in particular vestry minutes, available at SHC for the period Charles was Rector which may have thrown some light on his time there and behaviour. Vestry minutes are only available from 1819.

As Rector his duties would have included holding services every Sunday and Holy Communion at least three times a year, conducting baptisms, marriages and funerals and visiting ill parishioners. He would also have had important clerical duties conducting vestry meetings and overseeing the roles of the parish officers, responsible for management of local affairs such as charity, employment, the poor and administration of poor law, repair and maintenance of the church, repair and maintenance of the road and election and appointment of parish officers. He would therefore have play and major role in the lives of his parishioners and the local community.

The parish registers were examined to establish whether they could provide any insight into his character through any little notes or comments he may have made against entries, but there were no such comments. The records were standard for the period providing only basic information save where fees were received for marriage licences or “breaking ground” for burials, the amounts were noted. The last entries in the registers by Charles were the baptism of “Mary D. of Jas & Mary Shrubb “on 27th Oct 1740/41; the marriage of James Baker and Elizabeth Willet on 23rd Oct 1740/41; and the funeral of Simon Balchin 18th Nov 1740/41. There is nothing in the parish registers to suggest he neglected these duties.

His death

There was no mention of his death in his entry in the clergy data base and nothing to suggest he left Ewhurst to preach elsewhere.

Amongst the ecclesiastical court records examined at TNA a record of Charles successor being instituted at Ewhurst was found. His successor, William Bickerton was instituted on 20th February 1740/41, narrowing the time of Charles death to one month (13th January to 19th February 1740/41). This is also confirmed by the parish registers and in the manuscript notes “Ewhurst Rectors”. Charles would therefore have been 62 years old when he died and had by that time spent half his life at Ewhurst.

A search for his burial registers in the “Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812” collection found no record of his burial, nor did a search in the Wiltshire collection. Like his father, it was probable that Charles left a will. The search therefore turned to Wills.

Wills proved in the ecclesiastical courts of Surrey are held at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) are are digitised on Ancestry. A search of his name in Ewhurst found his will dated 13th January 1740/41 with probate granted in the Commissary Court of Surrey on 25th April 1741/42. Although he was still Rector of Ewhurst when he made his will, his address was Bristol at the time.

His Will states his brother Robert had predeceased him, leaving a wife Mary and two sons, Thomas and Charles. He goes on to instruct his executors to buy and distribute a marble bound copy of the book ‘Pious Country Parishioner’ to every parishioner in Ewhurst. This was a book instructing parishioners how to spend their lives in a religious and acceptable manner. This would have been quite a grand gesture and possibly gives an indication of his relationship with his congregation. On the one hand this could suggest his fondness for his parishioners; on the other it may be an indication of a dwindling commitment to the church and religion by his parishioners being one last attempt by Charles to preach to them.

The remainder of his estate was left to his joint executors, Richard Lye of Beechingstoke (his brother-in-law) and Elizabeth Lye of Bristol (his sister, a widow). Perhaps she looked after him in his dying days? There is no mention of any wife or children of his own, so it appears he remained a bachelor.

A search of the parish registers for Bristol and a general search for his name (including variants) and the year 1740 found no burial record for Charles. His place of burial and exact date of death therefore remain unknown at present.

Considering the records examined, Charles appears to have led a comfortable life as the Rector of Ewhurst. The presentment which piques my curiosity and caused me to research his life, suggests he had neglected some of his duties during his time there but not in a way which affected his role there. Perhaps the lack of additional comments or information found in the parish registers could indicate he was someone did his job but perhaps did not push himself to do more than was required.

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