The Reformation coincided with an increase in the parish’s civil responsibilities. From 1536 parliament required parishes to provide for their poor. From 1538, baptisms, marriages and burials had to be recorded in parish registers. And from 1555, each parish was made responsible by act of parliament for the upkeep of highways within its bounds. The ratepayers had to elect overseers of the poor (1572) and ‘surveyors of the highways’. Local, able bodied men were required to work for four and later six days a year on the repair of highways. 1 p141
The Parish Registers
In 1538, Thomas Cromwell, minister to Henry VIII, issued the first injunction requiring every vicar and rector ‘to kepe one boke or registere wherein ye shall write the day and year of every weddyng, christenyng and buryeng made within yor parishe for your tyme, and so every man succeedyng you lykewise’ 2 p288
Chobham’s parish registers exist from 1654 and are contained in five books covering the periods:
1654-1730 (Baptisms) : 1654-1729 (Marriages) : 1654-1730 (Burials).
1730-1770 (Baptisms) ; 1732-1753 (Marriages) ; 1730-1770 (Burials).
1770-1812 (Baptisms) : 1770-1812 (Burials).
These Parish registers and later entries, are now held in the Surrey History Centre, Woking for the following dates:
Original registers, 1654-1952; microfiche, 1654-1884;
‘Dear Sir, will you kindly search the baptismal registers for the name of Arthur Searle son of Benjamin and Elizabeth Searle 1834-1838. I was born at a house called Lovelands near Pennypot. My father played the Bassoon in Chobham church from that I concluded I was christened there. My father and mother parted and left us children to the mercy of the world so that 1 have only a child’s memory of things that occurred at the time. It may be in the memory of some old resident of Chobham of a child being severely burned. I am that child who was attended by Dr. Arme. I have enclosed a P.O. for 1/- for search also a stamped directed envelope for reply. Please give the date of my birth if you can find it in the reply that 1 may be sure before I send for certificate. I want to apply for an old age pension.
Yours, Arthur Searle. Feb. l1th, 1916 Battle Sussex.’
The second letter reads as follows:-
49 Chapel Grove
‘Sir, it is Eliza Taylor’s Bibligion certificate I wont her father and mother name bearing William and Susannah Taylor she was born at Stanners Hill and christened at Chobham in about 1838 has far has she can account for and finding the prayer book she came accorsed her father and mother lived at Longcross and are buried there it is for the old age pension she wont it if you will oblige me by looking through a few years of the books I will forward the cost has it must be found.
I remain yours truly, Eliza Taylor
These two letters are quoted exactly as they were written. The first is so well expressed and formulated and yet it is written on an old scrap of paper in a very poor hand. The second letter, badly expressed and spelt, is written on expensive embossed note paper in exquisite copper plate hand. These letters and others in the registers make one realise that the keeping of anniversaries by the poorer members of society is a comparatively modern phenomenon.
In 1837 an act was passes which allowed civil registration of births, marriages and deaths via the Poor Law Unions. Thus Chobham people were able to register at Ottershaw. The Chobham Parish Records continued to record baptisms and burials but were no longer a complete record of marriages.
In 1928 the Records and Monuments Committee of Surrey County Council opened the parish chest and listed the contents – click in the left margin to see details of the inventory.
Income and Expenditure
The general allocation of the major items of income and expenditure
Vicar Lesser tithes, glebe lands, salary Maintenance of the vicarage, salary of a curate, visitations by the Bishop, synods, ‘first-fruits’ (first year’s salary paid to the pope)
Rector Greater tithes Chancel, repair of books, etc
Parish Parochial taxes Church, church silver, registers, bells, church lands, poor, roads
Initially, people paid little, if any, rent on their landholdings – instead they performed services to their lord and paid an annual tax on the produce of the land. This tax was known as a tithe (a tenth). The services were often later converted to monetary payments – ‘rent’.
The Saxons introduced the payment of ‘church-scot’ to minster churches at Martinmas (11 November) and ‘soul-scot’ on the death of a parishioner. King Edgar introduced what was to become the most burdensome and long-lived of the taxes, the tithe . 2 p29 There was a differentiation between the greater and the lesser tithes. In general the greater tithes applied to anything produced of the plough (field crops such as wheat, barley, rye and oats); the small tithes anything produced of the spade (smallholders and gardeners multifarious produce of milk, eggs, etc).
When the tithe was first introduced, a man could give his tithe to the poor or whichever religious house he chose. But by later medieval times, the great tithes of the parish went to Chertsey Abbey which in turn passed about 15% of the tithes upwards through the church hierarchy to the dean, chapter, collegiate church and the bishop at Winchester 1 p166.
After St Lawrence was appointed its own vicar in the early 13th century, Chertsey Abbey could still have taken the great (rectorial) tithes, and the lesser tithes and paid the vicar a salary. That Vicar Dagelynworth in the 14th century rented six acres of meadow and 50 acres of arable land rather suggests that he did not receive the tithes, but instead received a salary (pension) from the Abbey. Or the vicar could have received no salary but been allowed to collect the troublesome small tithes and income from his own (glebe) lands. But these together would be very little; more important would have been personal contributions from the congregation. In some churches up to about 75% of the pews were rented to the wealthier families. We have a record from 1725 which seems to indicate that this practice also obtained in St Lawrence’s:-
‘Whereas the Rev. William Oades vicar of the parish has given twenty shillings towards the ceiling of our chancel…. out of a regard to his neighbours who have seats in or near the said chancel
The record also confirms that the 1287 statute of Exeter still applied in Chobham. It stated that the rector was responsible for providing a vicar and maintaining the chancel; whilst the parishioners maintained the nave, tower and churchyard. When monasteries were dissolved in 1537 and their property passed to the Crown, many churches did not receive the funding required for their maintenance and were in poor condition.
Interestingly, there was no tithe to pay on anything not grown. Thus anything quarried, including clay for bricks, or any fish caught was not titheable. 2 p57
When Chertsey Abbey was closed in 1537, the church, with the rectory (the vicars house, glebelands and the great tithes) were surrendered to the Crown by John Cordrey, Abbot of Chertsey. 71 The monks relocated to Bisham Abbey and were allowed to have the rectories of their former parishes including Chobham. In 1538 when Bisham was in turn dissolved, the abbot returned the rectory and the advowson from the monastery to Sir Thomas Pope, treasurer of the Court of Augmentations (the organisation charged with distributing the holdings of the former monasteries). He allocated them to the Dean and Chapter of the cathedral church of St. Paul, London, who held them, in exchange for providing one knight and his men in war, to the use of the chaplains of two chantries in the church of St. Paul.73 But soon after, Henry VIII outlawed chantries and so the rectory and advowson returned to the Crown; an effort made by the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s in 1587 to recover them proved ineffectual,74 as they remained in the Crown until 1620.
The Crown owned, and continues to own, all the land in the Kingdom. Although the Crown never sold ownership of the land, the King was not adverse to selling the income (the rectory) from the land for a fixed period. By 1551 the rectory and advowson seems to have been split since a grant of the rectory alone had been made to William James in 1551 for twenty-one years, reversion being granted in 1564 to William Haber and Richard Duffield,75 from whom it passed immediate to Owen Bray of Aden in Chobham, who died in 1568 possessed of it.76 His grandson was Owen Bray, who conveyed it in 1638 to Sir Thomas White,77 from whom it descended to the Woodroffes.78 The latter conveyed it to Elizabeth and Philip Beauchamp in 1687.79 After this date the rectorial tithes appear to have been divided. Sir Anthony Thomas Abdy of Chobham Place purchased a part of the great tithes of Anthony Beauchamp before 1774.80
In 1811, Manning and Bray recorded that in Chobham were the tythings of “Stanners ; Pentecost, where was formerly a white Cross; and the Forest Tything, in which is a place where two roads intersect, called Long Cross, and near it a hill called Steeple Hill. It is now divided amongst several persons; Sir William Abdy has the West end tithes, Lord Bulkeley has the East end. Mr. Woods of Chobham, and Mr. (blank) have part (presumably the Forest or north end), and several owners of lands have purchased the tithes thereof.”
Gradually, tithe came to be paid in cash rather than actual produce. Chobham had extensive water meadows between the Bournes east of the village and it was the practice to pay ‘meadow silver’ instead of hay itself. In 1836, the Tithe Commutation Act completed the process of substituting payments in cash for tithes. Thus in 1845 Chobham commissioned a detailed survey of all the land on which tithe was still being paid. A surveyor, Edward Ryde, produced the first detailed map of the whole of the parish and an Apportionments Book which lists every titheable field: who owned and who who rented it, its acreage and then an agreed future rent. To read Ryde’s diary of his stay in Chobham click here.
The rent charge was inflation indexed based on the average price or wheat, barley and oats each year.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the owners of the tithes (lay impropriators) were Sir Neville Abdy and Sir Henry le Marchant, the owner of Chobham Place.
So sadly, the one-tenth of peoples income, that they had formally given up to support their poor and local religious house became a levy to support rich landowners. The right to appoint vicars and collect tithes became a commodity that could be bought and sold over the heads of the parish.
In the 1920s several landowners in Chobham paid cash lump sums to the vicar to free their land from tithes. Thus the ancient, and often hated, system of tithes which had lasted for a thousand years came to an end.
When faced with a sudden large expenditure, churchwardens often levied a rate on the parishioners. A variety of means were used to access the rate; it may be according to a parishioners means, or the rentable value of his property, the area of his land, or simply the wardens estimate of his ability to pay. Churchwardens often kept of book of parishioners value and declared a levy at a given ‘rate’ in the pound.
By the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with the increase in parochial responsibilities, the rate lost whatever voluntary character it may have had. It became a compulsory rate, responsibility for enforcement passed from the church court to local justices sitting in quarter sessions. It continued, resented and opposed, but nonetheless paid until, in 1868, it was abolished by statute.2 p238
In the 17th and 18th centuries, expenditure on social issues grew increasingly until financing of the poor law was taken out of the churchwardens’ hands and entrusted to the overseers of the poor who levied a ‘poor rate’ independent of the church rate.
Pews with backrests began replacing benches in the 16th century. The construction of so many pews could be a major financial burden on the wardens; offset by renting choicely-positioned pews to the better off. Some churches retained the benches at the back of the church and the gallery at the west end for the servants and underprivileged.
Apart from the gravedigger’s fee, some churches charged a fee or about 4d for burials – often disguised as a charge for the use of a ‘pall and bier’ or ‘cross and bells’. Burial inside the church itself attracted a much higher fee of half a mark (1/3rd £). Flagstone floors weren’t common in rural churches until the 16/17th centuries – those in the chancel being laid first. In medieval times church floors might be just compacted earth or laid with small tiles. Raising these to effect a burial was relatively easy. In St Lawrence their are three burial stones just inside the chancel; we don’t know how many medieval burials in the church go unmarked.
The vicar had responsibility for maintaining the vicarage, the rector, or receiver of the greater tithes for maintaining the chancel, but the parish had the major responsibility for maintaining for the fabric of the people’s part of the church, its land, the poor and the roads, church silver, registers, and the bells.
It is likely that the major repairs and alterations to St Lawrence’s, including the building of a tower and fitting it out with bells was paid for by the parishioners. It is not surprising that the decision that a church needed a bell tower was usually taken by the bishop rather than the parishioners.
Initially people, in the spirit of Christianity, were free to donate their tithes to the poor, or even poor monks. But gradually this right was eroded and the lord of the manor, in our case the Abbot of Chertsey, demanded the tithes. In theory, the Abbot then donated a portion of the Abbey’s to the poor.
From the Reformation, in 1536, parliament required parishes to provide for their poor. The parochial approach led to very unfortunate practices such as hounding vagrants out of the parish and onto the next, and also the need for a person to seek permission from a parish before moving to it. The term ‘poor’ meant unfortunates who were not able to work through accident or misfortune. It did not mean people on a low income, malingerers or the ‘structurally unemployed’.
Chobham’s workhouse for the poor was in Burrowhill; the building which is now Jubilee Cottages (there is a page on this web site dedicated to the history of Chobham’s workhouse). To partly to overcome the injustices which came about from the strictly parochial approach to the poor, in 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act transferred responsibility for the support of the poor from the parish to larger unions of parishes. Chobham joined the Chertsey Union of parishes which built a central workhouse at Ottershaw (the former Murray House hospital).
In Domesday, the entry for ‘Chobham’ refers to an administrative and taxation area (a vill) which encompassed the whole of the western and central area of Chertsey Abbey’s Godley Hundred lands, – including what is now Bisley and Frimley. Since all the income from the vill of ‘Chobham’ and the vills of the rest of the Abbey’s lands was paid to the Abbey, one would expect that strong internal boundaries between the vills were not required. (However, there is a considerable bank and ditch system running along Chobham’s eastern boundary on the edge of Chobham Common.) Of course, it was likely that the boundaries around Godley Hundred were jealously recorded.
Chobham vill included Frimley, Bisley and probably Ash
When, in the 13th century, St Lawrence’s was promoted from a chapel to a church, a vicar was installed and Chobham parish was created. Frimley and Bisley would not have been included since they would have had chapels of their own with their mother church at Chertsey. The bounds of the parish denoted the area over which the vicar has responsibility for souls and the area in which he could collect the small tithe. So suddenly the new Chobham parish boundary needed to be much better defined.
Perambulations on Rogation Day were the standard method of recording the bounds of the parish. Since all our neighbouring parishes were perambulating on the same day one can visualise a rowdy procession, led by the vicar, ‘banners and crossis ben borne and bellis rong’ 2 p77 Perambulations were recorded in 1595 and 1786. But by the 19th century ordinance survey maps recorded parish boundaries and the custom became unnecessary.
In medieval times there were two courts; the lord’s (manor) court and the church court.
The manor court handled the economic affairs of the manor; the inheritance of land, the granting of leases, the regulation of ploughing, encroachments on the common and highway, and the control of common grazing. Chertsey Abbey was effectively the lord of the manor and the monks recorded the proceedings in the court rolls (literally rolls of parchment). These have come down to us today in the form of the Chertsey Cartulary – a fascinating insight into
Double stocks inside the lynch gate of St Lawrence
the lives of people in the 14th century. You can read Chobham’s entries in these records by following this hyperlink.
The Church Court covered moral behaviour, church attendance, marriages and the payment of tithes. Once Chobham became a parish in the 13th century, this court was probably held in St Lawrence’s.
Before the Reformation it is likely that trivial cases were as often as not ventilated in the confessional and settled with a penance. With the coming of Protestantism, punishment for moral lapses increasingly came into the jurisdiction of the church courts.
In early depictions of St Lawrence, stocks can be clearly seen adjacent to the churchyard entrance. It is likely that penance for being found guilty by the church court was to sit in the stocks on Sunday morning for all attending church to see.
Church courts were finally abolished by statute in the 19th century.
The Parish Officials
There were effectively two groups of parish officials; those whose activities principally concentrated on the church – the church wardens, clerk and sexton: and those who managed parish affairs – the constable, overseer and the surveyor. As the power of the manor declined the burden of responsibility for the poor, roads, etc transferred to the parish.
In the mid-thirteenth century we find references to elected guardians of the church, responsible for raising and spending the church maintenance levy; – effectively the first church wardens.
They were responsible for maintaining all the church grounds and the building (except the chancel which was the responsibility of the rector) and for looking after the parish ‘stock’ – the land, houses, animals, etc owned by the parish.
The handling of parochial assets left room for dishonesty and to safeguard against this church wardens were chosen by the peers, elected annually and required to keep detailed accounts. This last obligation has been very useful in reconstructing the history of Chobham parish.
The income from the tithe was purely for the use of the rector and did not cover the above. Therefore the churchwardens raised money by a levy on the parishioners.
Long before the existence of church wardens we find the appointment of parish clerks. In the late Middle Ages these were quasi-ecclesiastical being an assistant to the priest. His functions gradually changed to duties more consistent with the title; recording births, marriages and burials and taking minutes of vestry meetings.2 p188
But however his function changed, he should be literate.
The sexton, on the other hand, was the odd-job man; the digger of graves, cleaner of the church: he had no need to be able to read or write.
From the 16th or 17th centuries, legislation required that the parish has three other officers; who managed parish affairs – the constable, overseer and the surveyor. They served voluntary and, generally, only for a year. Their expenses were covered by the parish, but they were ultimately responsible to the Justices of the Peace.2 p193
During medieval times there was no national standing army. The sheriff (shire reeve) and his sergeants was responsible for organising musters – a county-wide call up. Each hundred within the county had a constable charged with the duties of keeping a list of men capable of defending the realm and of supervising their equipment. But preserving law and order crept into his responsibilities. At the vill level, ‘petty’ constables were elected with the role of storing weapons for war, but also, primarily at this level, of maintaining law and order – keeping the King’s Peace. But since he had no funding the churchwardens were usually expected to provide him with a lockup and weapons of war (so, quaintly, were often stored in the church). Chobham’s lockup was just by Cannon Cottage.
The parish was not at all keen on detaining people at its expense. Vagabonds were apprehended and hustled on to the next parish. Whenever a rogue was sighted, the constable was expected to raise a noisy, horn-blowing hue and cry which usually resulted in the rogue being chased across the vill border where he became the problem of the next vill.
Public order continued to be maintained by the efforts of these unpaid amateurs until well into the nineteenth century.2 p194
Overseers of the Poor
In 1563, the government of Elizabeth passed a law requiring that ‘two able persons’ in each parish to be ‘gatherers and collectors of the charitable alms’ of the parishioners and required them, ‘ when the people are in the church at divine service to gently ask and demand of every man and woman that they of their charity will be contented to give weekly toward the relief of the poor’.
This gentle persuasion was overtaken by the Poor Law of 1598. Two Overseers of the Poor were to be elected for each parish on a yearly basis and were to be assistants to the churchwardens and their duties developed include calling on the wardens to raise a poor rate on the parish and ‘set the idle to work’ .2 p197
We have a record which shows that at a Vestry Meeting in 1786, Edward Jenkins, Butcher, was elected Overseer of the Poor. You can read the original document which gives a comprehensive description of his duties by clicking on ‘vestry’ in the left margin of this page.
Surveyor of the Highways
An act of Mary required every parish to elect ‘two honest persons … to be Surveyors and Orderers’ of the highways. It empowered them to conscript able-bodied parishioners for work on the roads for a period each summer.2 p199 But the Surveyors were in practice ordinary parishioners with no knowledge of road building and resentful of their onerous duties. See the page on ‘roads’ for more detail on the development of roads in our area.
2 A History of the English Parish, N.J.G. Pounds, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
71 Feet of F. Div. Co. Trin. 29 Hen. VIII
72 L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (2), p. 469
73 Pat. 29 Hen. VIII, pt. v, m. 26; Feet of F. Surr. East. 30 Hen. VIII.
74 Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. Ix, App. I, 55b
75 Pat. 7 Eliz. Pt. ii, m. 15.
76 Will proved Nov. 1568; Chan. Inq. P.m. (Ser. 2), cxlviii, 22
77 Feet of F. Surr. Mich. 13 Chas. I.
78 Manning and Bray, History of Surrey. Vol iii, 195
79 Recov. R. Mich. 3 Jas. II.
80 P.C.C. 126 Alexander (will of Sir Ant. Abdy)
Italicised text is extracted from Joy Mason’s book “CEABBA’S HAM; THE STORY OF CHOBHAM”.