“Shorncote The Church and some Rectors
Geoffrey Gibbon 1986
It was no surprise when All Saints' Church at Shorncote was declared redundant, for it had never been seriously needed throughout its long history: it served a very small population and there were two other Churches only about a mile away, Somerford Keynes on one side and Lower Siddington, long since destroyed, on the other. At the time of the Domesday enquiry (1086) only 11 men lived on the Manor: in 1334 there were 16, glvlng a total population of about 50, but after the Black Death (1348) the number shrank to 25, and it remained at about that mark to the present day. It was, however, the custom that every Manor, however small, should be an independent parish: the Norman lord demanded, not only his fortified mansion, his dovecot, his mill and, if possible, his gallows, but also his Church and his priest.
Shorncote Church was built, almost certainly, during the reign of Henry 11 (1154-1187).
It consisted of a nave big enough to hold a hundred people in the days when there were no pews or benches, and a very small and narrow chancel. The north wall of the nave was blank, but for an unusually tall doorway, now blocked. When the Church was built, Shorncote was part of the Honour of Gloucester and from the mid 13th Century it was held from the Earl by the Lords of Beverstone-Gurneys, ap Adams and Berkeleys. The Berkeleys, who acquired the manor in 1331, found the Church much decayed and began a drastic restoration. The west wall of the nave was rebuilt and bonded firmly into the south wall, which was out of the perpendicular but has remained stable. A porch was built at the south door, a transeptal chapel on the north side of the nave and a double bellcote above the chancel arch. A very narrow priest's door was cut in the South wall of the chancel, decorated windows were inserted in the east and west walls and in the south wall of the nave, and the whole church was reroofed. As evidence of this great family's work we still have the Berkeley arms in the head of the east window.
At the reformation the stone altars were removed and an oak Holy Table was set in the chancel. A little later, perhaps, four straight-topped, two light windows of domestic type were put in the chancel. The two bells, which were spared by Henry VIII's Commissioners, are said to have been taken by the Parliament's Army during the fighting round Cirencester in 1643: the present bell is dated 1706. no further major expense was incurred until 1882, by which time the Benefice had been united with Somerford Keynes. William Fawcett, Vicar of Somerford, raised £550 to have the church restored under the direction (given free) of William Butterfield. The work was well done in a conservative spirit, and for the last hundred years the little church has never been a burden on the parish.
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
William's ecclesiastical goods were so wasted that, as with Nicholas, no money could be raised: he also found
that William had been guilty of extravagance and mismanagement. William was summoned to the Bishop's manor
of Potterne and there in the chapel he swore to preserve the Bishop and his church unharmed - that is, to pay his debts himself. The Bishop then warned him and commanded him to reside at his church under pain of the law, which
he promised to do. Four months later the Bishop's officer again visited Shorncote and distrained on William's goods
to the value of £2 which was paid to Stephen. The Register notes that so much could barely be raised because the produce and income of Shorncote Church hardly sufficed for the necessary charges.
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
brought to Shorncote in a waggon for safe keeping. Another waggon, worth 26/8, with two oxen worth £6.13.4 and goods worth 20/-, was seized on behalf of the King because John Emyott, a servant, had been killed therewith - run over, or pinned against a wall. The Rector of Shorncote was required to surrender the waggon that had been lodged with him to meet the debt thus incurred. The story is told in the Inquisitions Post Mortem and the Patent Rolls.
In 1532 the patronage of Shorncote church passed from the Berkeleys to the Compton Earls of Northampton. Their
first nominee was HUMPHREY HAYLEY (1537~1554) whose Will is recorded in a diocesan register in Salisbury. He conformed to the widely differing religious settlements of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary and made a comortable
living, supplementing his meagre benefice income by sheep farming. He bequeathed a sheep to each of his servants
and godchildren: four sheep, a cow and some bed linen to his manservant: and ten sheep with a heifer and his bed
and coffer to his brother. In addition he left money for the repair of five churches - Shorncote, Somerford, the two Siddingtons and Kemble.
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
clergyman, Thomas had been bound over by the Salisbury Justices to be of good behaviour after seducing a married
woman. His father, and John Poole of Oaksey Park, petitioned the Justices on his behalf, saying that he had
made two sermons expressing his conversion and repentance. His conversion, however, was not complete. In 1653 he
was summoned to Quarter Sessions to give evidence in a marriage case, when he admitted to having performed a
marriage ceremony in jest while drinking in a friend's house. In the following year he was ejected from his living for scandalous conduct by the Commonwealth Commissioners, who recommended that the parish of Shorncote, having but four families, should be united with Somerford Keynes. This was done, but at the Restoration (1660) Earle was given back his living and he held it till his death in 1663. There is a small wooden tablet to his memory in Crudwell church, where he was buried.
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
Shorncote for the absentee Rector, William Roles of Upton Lovel in Wiltshire. He was followed by JOHN PROSSER GREENLY, Vicar Choral of Salisbury Cathedral (1834-1864), who lived in Somerford Keynes from 1836 to 1840 and then presumably obtained a larger parish to hold in plurality. The last Rector was a local man, WILLIAM BARTRAM. He was Headmaster of Cirencester Grammar School (then very small); Curate of Watermoor and Chaplain to the Workhouse, and he had acted as Curate of Shorncote for the absent Greenly. He died suddenly while taking a service at South Cerney and the benefice of Shorncote was then (1881) united with Somerford Keynes. Under the iniquitous rules which held good till recent years, his widow was dunned for dilapidations' on the tumbledown parsonage which no Rector had occupied for a hundred years or more, and which was now no longer needed. Technically, Shorncote remained a separate parish although it had lost its Rector, but the last Vestry was held in 1912 and since then the church has been treated as a chapel of ease to Somerford Keynes, with a service once a month during the summer - it has no electric lighting nor heating.
Photos © Elaine Kemp