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Some Varieties of Rectors

Barwicker No. 33
March 1994

Rev. William Hiley Bathurst

What follows is what I would call 'speculative' history. I have found that there are two distinct forms of history. We read the accounts of national events in the history books and you have the impression that things happened in an orderly and tidy manner. I shall draw a contrast between this kind of history and local history by looking at two parishes in Yorkshire where J have been rector, Barwick-in-Elmet and Methley. Local history is often compiled from inadequate sources - from bits and pieces. For instance in the church records of Methley for the late 16th. and early 17th. centuries, there are Many footnotes that were written quite accidentally or on purpose but we do not know for what reason. They tell us about things that were going on in the living and sometimes give short biographies of the people who have been buried. Such details can tell us about the burial practices carried out in the parish at that time.

I would like to look at three important events or circumstances in national church history and to see how they were reflected in the lives of the two parishes. These are the Reformation, the Commonwealth and the subsequent Restoration of the Monarchy, and the debased state of the Church of England in the mid- and late-18th. century.

If we look at Barwick only, we might come across many anomalies but we may get a better view of how things went on if we look at Methley also, as the two parishes had a lot in common. Up to the mid 14th century, they were both in the patrimony of the De Lacy family. This affected the kind of people who became rectors. The De Lacys had good working relations with Kirkstall Abbey. Although it is not now thought that Kirkstall Abbey monks were made rectors, it is likely that many local rectors were Kirkstall trained secular priests. There are many with local names, for example, the 5th rector of Barwick was Adam de Potterton. There was a change in the middle of the 14th. century when the living was in the gift of the Dukes of Lancaster and later the Crown and there was not the same local interest.

Another similarity was that Barwick and Methley were both wealthy livings. They could draw on a lot of money , directly by endowments, and especially if the rector or his agent took pains to take in the tithes. Efficiency of tithe collection considerably affected the prosperity of a parish. Barwick was the more wealthy of the two and that was significant. In the 16th. century Methley produced a direct annual income of £100, whereas the figure for Barwick was twice this. The two parishes had similar populations.

The history of the Reformation seems clear and simple. King Henry VIII broke with the Pope over the question of his marriage to Anne Boleyn and he took control over the English church. There was not a great deal of change until at the end of his reign there was much pressure to introduce a prayer book in English. After his son King Edward VI came to the throne in 1547, two new prayer books were introduced to make many changes in the teaching and forms of worship. The church became very protestant. When Mary came to the throne in 1553, catholic practices were re-introduced and when Elizabeth became queen in 1558, the church became protestant once more. How did these changes affect the life of the church in our two parishes? Using the list of rectors and from what we know of the individuals concerned we can see how the two parishes fit in with the wider church history. Did these dramatic changes at the national level lead to corresponding dismissals and appointments of rectors in the appropriate years here? In Methley, the picture seems to fit the national model with changes of rector in 1538, 1552 and 1557. But in Barwick, there was the same rector from 1527 to 1568 during the whole time of these national upheavals.

This rector of Barwick was Thomas Stanley, Bishop of Sodor and Man who never visited the parish. He appears to have been appointed rector solely for the purpose of obtaining money for the bishopric, which was the least endowed in the province. He was appointed to the rectorship by King Henry VIII who as Duke of Lancaster was the patron of the living. We know very little about the curates he appointed to carry out t.he religious functions in his absence. It may be that in their comings and goings they reflected the changes that the history books tell us should have occurred. Bishop Stanley appears to have survived by agreeing with everything that was said to him. He could have been the original 'Vicar of Bray', able to say 'WhatsoverKing shall reign, I'll still be the Bishop of Sod or and Man'. It may be that it was because of the position of the diocese an the geographic fringe that the troubles besetting the rest of the province never reached him.

Towards the end of Elizabeth's reign, we find a man who occurs in both my lists. Timothy Bright was rector of Methley from 1591 to 1615 and after his first three years there he was appointed rector of Barwick as well. He was a remarkable Dan being a distinguished physician in London, possibly physician to the queen herself. He also had some secretarial role with the queen and was the inventor of a kind of shorthand. Why did such an important person leave all that and came up to Yorkshire? This was almost certainly because he needed the money as he was in debt in London. He was at Methley for three years and he appeared to be desperate far money and we find him complaining that the tithes were not coming in.

Quite suddenly, on top of the rectorship of Methley he is given the living at Barwick. He immediately moved to Barwick and never went back to Methley. A couple of years later we find that there is a pathetiC petition from the parishioners of Methley to the Archbishop reporting that they never saw their rector, that he had not put a curate in his place and that there was only a half- literate town clerk to take the morning and evening services. There was no-one to administer the sacraments or to marry the parishioners or bury their dead. Timothy Bright at this time was desperately trying to get in the tithes. He was a tragic man, who had once been great in the world but Barwick saw him in the time of his decline and fall.

The second major event that the history books tell us had a considerable effect on the churches and their incumbents was the Commonwealth under Cromwell and the subsequent Restoration of the Monarchy. After the execution of Charles I the parliamentarians put in 'puritan ministers', perhaps what we should now think of as 'puritan congregationalists'. When Charles II came to the throne these were evicted and Church of England clergy were put back in their place.

This occurred almost everywhere in the country. It is quite remarkable how well organised the puritans must have been when waiting far the overthrow of Charles I. Almost everyone of the records I have looked at shows that there was a puritan minister in office by the year that the king was executed. In Barwick the puritan interloper Mr Jackson came in four years before and at Methley Mr Johnson was similarly appointed. It is perhaps significant that after many of the previous rectors had names of noble families the two puritan ministers had quite common names. In both Barwick and Methley there is however an interesting twist to the story. Thomas Dalton was appointed rector of Barwick in 1644, just too late. He was instituted and inducted but was removed from the rectory almost before he had time to take his first service. The puritan minister appointed in Barwick was either Nathaniel Jackson whose name is on the rectors' list in the church or possibly his brother John who was resident in Barwick at the time. In those troubled times, it was very difficult for Thomas Dalton, the properly appointed rector, to stand up for what were still his rights. However at the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, he was reinstated at Barwick and remained there for another twelve years as one of the few resident rectors of that period.

At Methley, Mr Johnson remained rector until 1653 when a good Church of England and King's man, Antony Elcock, told sufficient lies to the puritan authorities to persuade them to appoint him. He did this so that the people of Methley should have what he thought was a proper ministry in those dark days. At the Restoration he could easily continue in the office and he remained a distinguished rector for a further ten years.

The third period I shall consider is the mid- and late-18th. century when the Church of England was regarded as a very debased organisation with many non-resident clergy and those who did live in their parishes neglected their duties (see 'The Parish in 1743' in 'The Barwicker' No.18). How do the rectors of Barwick and Methley fit this description?

I think it is fair to say that over the whole period, the list shows that most of the rectors of Barwick have been non-resident or have only been here from time to time. Some have only appeared every three months, which for a long time was regarded as a mark of residency, but otherwise they have been looking after other places or doing totally different jobs. Methley, however, apart from a few notable exceptions, has had resident rectors right through its history.

The reason for this was almost certainly money. Methley was a good living, very good for this area, but it was not totally attractive for someone who just wanted the money so that he could do something else. After the Restoration there were some non- resident rectors, notably Tobias Conyers for whom Methley was only one on a long list of appointments. He lived in a comfortable canon's house in York and occasionally visited his parishes but his work was done by curates. It is significant that he had to collect benefices in addition to Methley so that he could continue to live as he wished.

In Barwick the non-residency system lasted into the 19th. century. William Lort Hansel, another rector who never came here, held the appointment until his death in 1820. He was Bishop of Bristol, a well-endowed bishopric. There is a good deal of evidence that Hansel, a good friend of several monarchs, was a greedy man and managed to find all sorts of ways of supplementing his income. At this time, in Methley the rector, Charles Cathcart, was hauled up before the ecclesiastical authorities for his non-residency.

The successors to these non-resident rectors were William Hiley Bathurst in Barwick and Philip Yorke Saville, the son of the Earl of Mexborough, in Methley. Both men were quite remarkable. These were men who one would think should have been non-resident. Bathurst came to Barwick as a result of a piece of corruption. His father was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and he secured this rich living for his son. I have no doubt that this was in order to carry on the tradition of non-residency to provide William Hi1ey Bathurst with an income. For some reason (J have El theory that there was some instability in the man), he decided that he would not fall in with the plan. He came to Barwick and took his rectorship extremely seriously.

He was active in three important respects. Firstly he made sure that the secular side of the parish was well looked after. He put the farms to rights. He built new barns and he made sure that the rents came in. His log-book which recounts his activities in the parish is one of the most fascinating historical documents I have read. The early 19th. century springs alive in these pages. Secondly he took the village very seriously, so much so that he quarrelled with his parishioners over a number of issues, in particular the school. And thirdly, he took the spiritual life seriously. For over thirty years, here was a rector who was concerned about the preaching and the teaching in the parish. In the midst of all this there is something wrong. He got himself into conflict situations with many people. And he obviously had major problems with his faith. One of the two hymns he wrote that have come down to us is a very peculiar one.

O for a faith that will not shrink,
Though pressed by many a foe,
That will not tremble on the brink
Of poverty or woe,

That will not murmur and complain
Beneath the chastening rod,
But, in the hour of grief or pain,
Can lean upon its God;

A faith that shines more bright and clear
When tempests rage without,
That when in danger knows no fear,
In darkness feels no doubt;

A faith that keeps the narrow way
Till life's last spark is fled,
And with a pure and heavenly ray
Lights up the dying bed!

Lord, give me such a faith as this,
And then, whate'er may come,
I taste even now the hallowed bliss
Of an eternal home.
It is a catalogue of things that will destroy faith. He ends with a fervent prayer for a faith that wi11 survive, a faith he did not have. He left Barwick in the middle of a controversy about baptism and what it does. As far as we can tell, he never held another ecclesiastical office and never ministered again as a Church of England priest. But despite the fact that he was a 'wobbly' character, he set the pattern of resident rectors here.

In Methley, Philip Yorke Sav1l1e was given the rectorship by his family solely I think to provide him with an income. However, he and his wife settled in the 19th. century rectory and exercised an involved, caring and pastoral ministry over a very turbulent community in Methley. During his time, there was the progressive development of the coal mines which brought in people from all parts, including the north-east and Wales, which shows in the appearance of many new names in the church register. Considering his class and background, Saville was quite left wing. He identified with the miners when they were shut out during the strikes of the 1880s. He was a very remarkable man and with Bathurst in Barwick he represents the change over to what we think of as the modern parish's expectations of a rector.

These examples show the ways in which the two parishes fit into the national pattern and the ways in which they don't. Because of the way that the parish system developed in England, there must always have been 'untidiness' in getting great new ideas and historical changes to affect every single place. Of these two parishes which are so close together, one can see these national Changes quite clearly in Meth1ey. They occur when they should and how they should, with not much delay or 'jiggery-pokery', But Barwick because of its wealth is quite different. As you work your way through the list of rectors, you have little idea of what was going an in national history.

TERRY MUNRO Rector (1985-93)

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