THE GOOD THE BAD & THE ABSENT –
A few of the more notable Rectors of Somerton
In an age when the living of a parish was in the hands of the King, the Church, the Lord of the Manor or indeed anyone who cared to purchase it, it is not surprising that those who looked after the spiritual needs of the community they served were not necessarily particularly qualified or even very interested except in that there was usually a residence and a salary that came with the job. Often the third son of a landowner went into the Church, the eldest having inherited the title the second going into the army. A living could be bestowed as a favour to a friend or relative and it was quite common to have a Rector yet seldom see him. See also the notes on Rev. Price below. So it was in Somerton, good Rectors, indeed some exceptional ones, a few bad ones and those conspicuous by their absence. This is a selection of those thought worthy of mention.
William de Gardinis 1377-92 A cousin of the Giffard family who were the patrons he was alleged to have committed robbery with violence.
Nicholas of Hereford 1397 Nicholas had been a collaborator of John Wycliffe, the Lollard leader who translated the Bible into English. Nicholas himself translated at least part of the Old Testament. He was the leading figure among the Lollards after Wycliffe’s death in 1384. After excommunication and imprisonment he eventually recanted in 1391. He appears to have effected an exchange of rectories for 1 year with Robert de Wermingham but can only have been briefly at Somerton since he became Chancellor and Treasurer of Hereford in 1397. Whether he ever preached at Somerton is not known.
Robert Marying 1401-17 He was allowed to let the rectory and be absent for 7 years whilst staying at the Papal court, studying at University or in the service of a spiritual lord.
Richard Compton 1417- ? Of noble race he was allowed to be a ‘pluralist’ which meant that he held more than one office, or was in charge of more than one benefice.
Robert Nelson 15?- ? He was thought to be ‘undesirable’ and allegedly kept 3 women in his house, but at least he was resident!
Robert King 1537-52 A quiet man of much gentleness ‘not caring to have anything to do with those who were called heretics’. He was the last Abbot of Osney & Thame and in 1545 became the first Bishop of Oxford. He sat at Cranmer’s trial.
Thomas Gardyner 1552- ? Former curate to Robert King he succeeded him as Rector. He was a conservative reformer who was opposed to those who ‘wished to pull down the images of saints and who denied that the Virgin and saints are mediators’.
William Juxon 1615-31 The most famous of the St James’ Rectors he built a new rectory in Somerton and was for 6 years resident in it until in 1621 he became President of St. John’s College Oxford. Even then he still spent his vacations in Somerton with (in his own words) ‘it’s good house and pretty garden’. He rose to dizzy heights as Archbishop of Canterbury, 1660-1663, and is probably best remembered as being present with Charles I on the scaffold. ‘He was permitted to stand by his master to offer his ministration, obnoxious to none, passionately loved by the loyal for this act of fidelity’. His coat of arms was added to the chancel screen in 1632. He remembered the village on his death and left £50 for the poor of Somerton.
Juxon’s Coat of Arms
Thomas Walker 1633-? The Church registers cease in 1647 and probably Thomas was removed from the benefice at that time. Although later he took the Mastership of University College be was never re-instated at Somerton. He had two curates
Edward Archer and John Fenwick Both were dissenters. Edward, a moderate signed a petition against the execution of the King.
Samuel Jemmatt 1665-1709 Held the living for over 40 years but was only resident during the early period. The fees charged by one of his curates, Samuel Lowe were
1/- for burying a corpse
1/- for publishing banns of marriage.
Every inhabitant in the parish of an age to communicate to pay 2d at Easter called ‘offerings’.
John Cobb 1719-22. Warden of New College.
John Watson 1729-69 A conscientious and charitable priest who ‘lived and
worked zealously among his parishioners. Although he tried hard that ‘none should be perverted to popery’ he did not ‘favour a return of the penal laws against the large Roman Catholic community’. During his office it was said that there were ‘too many common drunkards & common swearers’. Some of the parishioners ‘frequent the church tolerably well’ but ‘too many were absent on account of the contemporary disregard for religion’ and there ‘was too much tippling at the ale-house on Sunday’. The blacksmith, John Somerton, was persistently absent and the miller was another ‘backslider’. In 1763 there were 25 named Roman Catholics. They were believed ‘to meet sometimes for their service in a house in the parish, but they are civil, quiet and peaceable’. He kept the church in good order and during his time it was whitewashed and a new pulpit ordered. Buried in 1769 he left £20 to his parishioners to buy bread.
Barfoot Cotton or Colton 1769-1803 Following the death of Watson the parish was considered too poor and small to support a resident priest and Barfoot seemed quite content with that. A pluralist, he was always absent and in 1801 he was accused by the Bishop of neglecting the church and putting in a curate, also non –resident who was not even in holy orders. This was denied by the curate and he was supported by the churchwardens.
An annotation on a watercolour of the Fermor tombs by Thomas Trotter, archival watercolourist of the Royal Society of Antiquaries states – ‘The town of Somerton has long been in the possession (as it still remains) of the family of the Fermors; but however it may be respected for their Sepulchral remains, it is ill calculated for the Visit of the Stranger; it affords no licence house of entertainment of any kind, nor are there any in its vicinity for many Miles; the homely retreat of an hospitable cottager, is the only Asylum, the visitant can expect; neither does Spiritual Concerns, seem better attended to than Temporal Convenience; for scarce had the topographical party engaged in this work, entered the Church Yard with their folios &tc, before it was buzz’d all over the Town, that the Vicar with two Clergymen, with great Bibles under their arms, were come on a Visitation, a circumstance, which had (not?) happened before, during a period of Seven years.
Meantime the Rectory had become uninhabitable through neglect.
Henry Wintle 1804-31 Things didn’t improve with the arrival of Henry. Not surprisingly he was also non-resident. However part of the Rectory had been repaired and he hired curates to live there and carry out his duties. In 1817 he recorded difficulty in obtaining payment of 1 guinea for ‘opening the ground’ of the Fermor vault in addition to his fee of 1 guinea. This was eventually paid by the family’s steward. In 1828 the extra guinea was paid without demur for another Fermor interment.
Robert Clifton 1831-1861 Another non-resident for many years. In about 1850 when he was ordered by Bishop Wilberforce to reside in the parish he pleaded ‘the absence of a suitable house’. His pleas were heard and the old 17th century rectory built by Juxon was demolished and in 1847/8 a new one was built at a cost of £2.000. He was resident in it except for 6 months in each year when he went toManchester. Having a resident priest seems to have done much for the parish and by 1854 the congregation numbered about 140. The sacrament was now administered monthly rather than about 5 times a year. However there were still problems with the ale-house and the rector felt there was ‘need for social activities as a counter-attraction, drinking being the chief hindrance to his ministry’. Be that as it may in 1854 out of a population of 300 about 220 were said to attend church. He is buried in Somerton churchyard alongside a son who died before him.
W.H. Price 1861-75 In his diaries George James Dew, the Relieving Officer of Lower Heyford, writes ‘Rev. W.H. Price is about to vacate his rectory having been presented to a more valuable one elsewhere. The Somerton living is in his own presentation, he having bought it for £3.000. He has been offered £4.000 for it, but wants £200 more. He reckons he had laid out £1000 on it building two cottages & other repairs…. How scandalous a thing it is that incumbencies can be bought & sold in this manner; & yet the parishioners, who alone have the right to choose their own minister, have no voice whatever’.
George Edward Barnes 1875-1923 One of the last hunting parsons, his family still have links with the village. His father William Barnes bought the patronage for him in 1875 and this still remains in the family. William is commemorated in the beautiful stained glass window by Christopher Whall, one of the treasures of the church, and in the memorial on the wall of the north aisle. The rector himself is commemorated in a plaque on the north wall of the chancel. ‘His ceaseless labours for the well being of his parish included the restoration in 1891 of this church which was also enriched by him with many gifts’.
At the memorial service Rev. Charles C. Brookes, vicar of Duns Tew remembered in his sermon ‘a great scaffolding pole standing in the middle of the nave to hold up the roof, the walls bulging and green with damp, the floor broken and uneven. If anything could have lashed him to fury it was the suggestion that the Church was too big for the parish, it would therefore be better to pull it down and build a smaller one in its place’. Instead ‘it was to be restored with scrupulous care for all its old features and that as well as could be’. The restoration went on for about 25 years, much of the cost being borne by the Rector and his wife. The family bought the Old Rectory and lived there for many years. A new rectory was built on theArdley Roadbut this is now in private hands. His wife provided a village meeting place in his memory, known as the Barnes Memorial Hall. The original building was demolished in 2009 but with the aid of the Lottery, fund raising in the village and other grants a new one has been built. The name remains unchanged.
Plaque commemorating George Barnes
The Rectory Staff in Mr. Barnes time.
More Recent Rectors
W.P. Hares 1949-57
F. W. Moyle 1957-59 promised to be another well loved Rector. Sadly he was killed in a car accident two years into his tenure. His wife remained in the Village involving herself in all the activities.
Clifford C. Rhodes 1959-81
The Rectory once again in a dilapidated state, sold by auction, November 1983.