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Chapter TitleNotes

Amesbury

Title :Notes on Amesbury Church ( Pages 29 - 32)
Author :Rev. C. S. Ruddle
Book Type :Churches
Publisher :Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society
Date :1900
ISBN :
Journal :WAM, Vol. 31
Full Text :Notes on Amesbury Church
By Rev. C. S. Ruddle.
[Read at the Amesbury Meeting of the Society, 1899]
I AM allowed to say as briefly as may be why it seems to me that the Church of Amesbury is the old Parish Church and not the Priory Church deemed superfluous in Henry the Eighth's time. A Parish Church for a parish, the greater part of which by far had not been at any time owned by the convent, could hardly have been judged superfluous [Instructions from ye Crown (x. 71): - "Deemed to be superfluous The Church, Cloister ... Infirmary with the Chapel, Cloister, and lodgings adjoining."]. At the dissolution the lands belonging to the abbey in the parish seem to have been 318 acres with feed for 374 sheep. Now assuming that only one-third of the acreage of Amesbury was then cultivated we have at least 1870 acres of which you will see that only about one-sixth belonged to the abbey, and the great majority of the parishioners were outside its jurisdiction. The area of Amesbury is 5625 acres.
And then consider this in the list of payments for taking down the roofs of the Church (pp. 79, 80): "21 Aug 1542. The roof of the great quire: the roof over the Hy Au [1]tar: the roof of our Lady Chapel. All is made desolate." [(72) "Committed to Mr. Berwick's custody (i.q. for removal) Leads remaing upon ye Church, quire, aisles, steeple, chapells, revestry, cloister &c. "Bells remaing in the steeple yre4 "The lead is not only stripped off H. Altar, Quire, Steeple, aisles, body of ye Church, Vestry, Lady Chapel, St. John's Chapel, Cloisters, but it is melted down, and carted away - ALL 219 TONS EXCEPT a small quantity, perhaps ton, given to the roof of the Chancel of the Parish Church. The Paving tiles before the high Altar, with all the grave stones before the Altar and Vestry are sold: the Roof of the Vestry of the S. Aisle, the great wall of the Mid-quire, all is destroyed. The N. Aisle is filled first with tiles and paving and then with timber."]
Now in this very year, 1542 Nico Chamber dies at Amesbury, and makes his will. He dwells in the parish of S. Melore in Amysbury. He cares for his Parish Church. Does he make provision for its repair - now that it lies desolate and roofless? Nothing of the kind. He wills that his body be buried in the Church of St. Melore, in the body of the Church before the rood. To the high altar of St. Melore in Amysbury my parish aforesaid I leave a groat. Also to the same Church I give a canope to have over the holy and blessed sacrament on Corpus Christi day. Also I give to the attiring of the sepulchre on Good Friday a pall embroidered in gold and silk with the borders of silk and fringe. His wife Agnes is to take charge of it - and repair it if need be.
"And at all time as it shall be occupied she shall deliver unto the wardens of the Church aforesaid and yre to remain."
(Is it not clear that these were the churchwardens of the parish; and that the Parish Church was not then roofless?)
"Also to the maintenance of the service within the same Church, . Also to All Sowlen light in ye same Church 4d. Also to S. Stephen's light 4d. Also to ye Maydens' light 4d."
It seems to me impossible that a man living in Amesbury should make such a will, full of references to his Parish Church services, if the Church itself were being monstrously dilapidated.
Look again at this: in the account of the Abbey Church mention is made of only two chapels - the Chapel of our Lady and St. John's Chapel. There is no Jesus Chapel. But in 1549 Michael Skotte, mercer of Amesbury, desires to be buried in Jesus Chapel in the Parish Church of Amesbury. Apparently it was a family burying-place, for seven years later John Skott, yeo., desires to be buried in the same Jesus Chapel.
I am bold enough to suggest that the Abbey Church was Christ Church: and on this ground. A parishioner of Durrington, probably the chief tenant of Winchester College - Robt. Matyn - made his will in 1509. He was on good terms with the Convent of Amesbury, for he bequeathed to my lady prioress 3s. 4d., and to every lady householder of the same place 8d., and to every lady veiled 4d. To every Church in this bourne from Upavon to Salisbury he left two sheep. But he heads his bequest to Churches "I bequethe to Christ's Churche, 3s. 4d. Also I bequeth to the Pisshe Churche of Ambresbury 4 sheepe." If Christchurch, Hants, had been intended, the county would have been given. It could not be Christ Church, Oxford, for it had not been founded. I submit that it was the Priory Church.
There was, it seems to me, a Parish Church here at a very early date. There is nothing unreasonable in supposing that when the King met his witan here at Easter, 995, and chose the Bishop of Wiltshire to be Archbishop of Canterbury, it was because it was a comparatively populous place, as well as because the King's manor was great. It was at Domesday twelve times as big as the other four manors of Amesbury put together.
And the seven thanes, eight millers, eighty-five villeins, fifty-six bordars, with their families, to say nothing of their serfs, must have required a good-sized Parish Church. Apparently the Abbey then had no land in the parish: the only ecclesiastical holding was a small one of the Abbess of Wilton.
How came the dedication to St. Melore, a Welsh or British saint of the fifth century? Is it possible that the Parish Church was built where the British foundation had been? and that the bones of St. Melore had been brought to Amesbury as a sacred place not long before the kingdom of Wessex was established?
It seems to me that the return made to the Inq. Nonar. indicates that in 1341 there was a parish priest:-
s. d.
The 9th of the parishioners = 23 13 4
- Prioress of Amy in the Psh. = 8 - -
Q. Philippa = 1 - -
Preb. of Rothfen = 1 6 8

And then, the parson has a virgate of land with pasture worth 3s. 4d.; also the tithe there, 13s. 4d. Also the rents and customary services annexed to the Church, 20s; the mortuaries, 3s. 4d.; the oblations, 66s. 8d. - which no doubt went to the rectors. But there is also the small tithe 53s. 4d., which probably the priest had with his virgate of land. The Valor of H. VIII. shows John Belton serving the cure-'benefice valued at 7. Indeed when the prioress disposed of the presentation to Ludgershall, foreseeing evil days, she also parted with the advowson of Amesbury, for when Lady Jane Gildeforde, widow, made her will in 1538, she left the advowson of Amesbury to "Sir George my chaplain." And that advowson could not be the chaplaincy of the Priory Church, for which there seem to have been four priests.
The Church before its restoration had no sign of having been once adorned with the many monuments which must have been in it had it been the great Priory Church; Eleanor of Provence, the queen of Henry III. and mother of Edward I., must have had a grand memorial; and the different princesses buried there would surely have had brasses if they had no effigies. But in this Parish Church fifty years ago there was not one of these: while there was a brass memorial of Editha Matyn, 1470, one of a family which occupied and owned much land hereabouts.



Abbreviations used:
  • WAM Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine
  • WNQ Wiltshire Notes and Queries

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