Monuments and Memorials

The Rev. John Bennet (1663-1716),
– Vicar of Penn 1700-16

John Bennet was born in Coventry, went to Oxford University and then straight from there to be an Usher at Berkhamsted School from 1682 until September 1700. He taught all the Curzon boys, who were then living at Penn, as well as Roger Penn, their cousin and heir to the Penn Estate. In September 1700, after the last Curzon boy, Charles, had finished his schooling, Roger Penn gave John Bennet the living of Penn and he was inducted by the Rev. John Theed, the Headmaster of Berkhamsted School.

The long attachment of the Curzons to Berkhamsted for many years after they had moved to Kedleston, was presumably because they thought very highly of their young teacher, who was only 11 years older than John, the eldest Curzon boy. These close ties explain why his is the only portrait of a Vicar of Penn hanging in Penn House. It was painted in 1707 when he was 44 years old.

He was a very active Vicar indeed. He completed a brand-new vicarage; hung five new bells, of which three still survive today; put up a gallery over the south door ‘for a choir of young men who had learned to sing psalms’; hung Queen Anne’s arms over the chancel arch; and put up the unusual one-handed clock on the tower. In subsequent articles we shall look at these important additions to the  church in more detail.

He also completed the first really useful visitation returns which give us a most valuable glimpse of Penn at that time. There were only 480 souls in the parish in 109 families, with no schools, almshouse, or public meetings of any kind. There were four services of Holy Communion held during the year attended by only 50 or 60 people and the Vicar noted that ‘there were many at years of discretion who never communicate’, as well as many baptised who had not been confirmed. About 10% of the families were Dissenters (4 or 5 Quakers, 3 or 4 Anabaptists, 1 Presbyterian) and there were no Roman Catholics. This gives us a surprising view of Penn three centuries ago – only about 1 in 4 or 5 adults were fully-fledged Anglicans, and a considerable majority were not regular church-goers.

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter No 20. May 2011
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS

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The Rev. John Bennet (1663-1716),
– The Church Bells

John Bennet was still only 37 when he was first appointed as Vicar of Penn in 1700 by his former pupil Roger Penn, who was himself only 23, having inherited the manor of Penn from his father when he was 16. So Vicar and Patron, good friends, young and enthusiastic, set about transforming the church and Vicarage. The first few years Bennet concentrated on finishing off and improving the new Vicarage started by his predecessor. He was its first occupant and had no curate, by no means typical of the time. His successor for instance was to live in Amersham and let one half of the Vicarage to a carpenter and the other half to a shoemaker.

1702 Tenor bell. The inscription runs around the top.

John Bennet then turned his attention to the church, to the bells in particular, which he obviously regarded as an important declaration of the church’s presence. We know from churchwardens’ accounts elsewhere (none survive for Penn at that time) that bell-ringing was popular in the 18th-century. The late medieval church had four bells and a sanctus bell (a small bell rung during the high point of the Mass when the host was raised, the bell rope for which has left deep channels in the stone work at the side of the nave west door). One of the bells had gone by 1637, and perhaps more by 1700. Anyway he decided that they should all be  replaced and ordered five new bells for ‘Penn-Church Steeple’ from Samuel Knight, a Reading firm, which were cast in 1702 and hung on 5th January 1703.

Each bell had its own inscription:

  1. I AS TRBELL DO BEE GIN 1702
  2. FEARE GOD HONOUR THE KING 1702
  3. SAMUELL KNIGHT KAST THIS RING 1702
  4. IN PENN TOUR FOR TOO SING 1702
  5. UNTO THE CHURCH I DOO YOU CALL. DETH TO THE GRAVE WILL SUMMANS ALL

THOMAS WINTER AND WILLIAM WINGROVE CW 1702

Three of these bells are still in place today after three centuries. A sixth (treble) bell was added in 1919. The largest bell, the Tenor (no. 5, now no. 6 ), weighs ½ ton  and has a diameter of 3 ft 8 ins.The five bells together weighed nearly 2 tons. (CW stands for Church Wardens.)

On a board in the ringing chamber is a poem painted on a board, probably at about this time, although the reference to a king puts it after Queen Anne died in 1714.

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter No.21, July 2011
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS

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The Rev. John Bennet (1663-1716),
– The Church clock

On the north-facing wall of the tower is a rare example of a one-handed clock. It was put up on 17 April 1715, ten months before the death of the Rev. John Bennet, the very active Vicar whose achievements we are outlining. We know this, both from a note by the Vicar in the parish register and from the clock itself which has inscribed on a brass dial:

William Lee George Salter
Churchwardens 1715
Richard Carter att High Wycombe fecit

Mechanical striking clocks have a much longer history than one might think. The first recorded example in England was in 1352 on the Great Tower of Windsor Castle. By the 15th-century, ‘turret clocks’ as they are called, were common on larger churches. There was one at Aylesbury in 1490, at Wing a few years later, and even at small places like Haddenham before 1552. By 1638, they are recorded in churchwardens’ accounts in at least 33 parishes in Bucks. Unfortunately, Penn’s accounts do not survive for that period. Our clock mechanism has what is called an ‘anchor escapement’ which means it was made after c.1670.

The long pendulum was invented c.1660. The resulting greatly increased accuracy meant it became worthwhile to have a minute hand, and by the 1670s they were in general use. Our one-handed clock with a long pendulum was therefore some 40 years out-of-date by 1715 and it has been suggested that it may have been transferred from another church. Richard Carter may therefore have installed the clock rather than ‘made’ it, which could explain why his name has so far not been found in the records of clock-makers. (Update – below)

The mechanism was repaired in 1925, after 15 years of silence, at the initiative of Pat Cuthbert, who some of you will remember. She was then only 13, but, unaided, raised the necessary £25 by making and selling baskets. In 1979, there was a far more radical overhaul at a cost of £850. The weekly task of winding up by hand the two very heavy weights which dropped through some 32 feet was replaced by electric winding gear. The mechanism remains entirely original and keeps good time to within half a minute a week. It all now sits inside an oak case given in memory of Frank Perfect (1894-1976) who was responsible for all repairs to the church for 50 years. The clock was featured on a live radio broadcast striking the hour for Britain’s first general election after WWII.

Grateful thanks to Michael Bayley, who looks after the clock and the bells, and Geoff Mansfield, a local clock restorer, for their expertise and advice; and to Eddie Morton for his excellent photographs.

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter No.21, August 2011
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS


The Church clock & Rich Carter
In  my earlier article about the church clock I noted that it is inscribed ‘Richard Carter att High Wycombe fecit’, but since there was no record of Richard Carter as a clock-maker and a one-handed clock was already so old-fashioned when it was installed in 1715, I suggested that maybe he didn’t actually make the clock, but merely transferred it from another church. I have since been contacted by a clock enthusiast who has a very fine grandfather clock, dated to c.1710, and complete with a minute and even a second hand, which is inscribed ‘Rich Carter’ and ‘High Wycombe’. So he clearly was an expert clock-maker working in High Wycombe. The mystery remains, why such an old-fashioned design for our church clock?

© Miles Green July 2012
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS

 


The Clock Face

In April 2016 Miles Green and Michael Bayley inspected the unusual single-handed clock dial on the north wall of the bell tower and reported it was rotten. During that year a number of specialists were called in to submit estimates for its repair/replacement following which the PCC agreed to ask Edward Stuart, BADA Dipl., CGLI Cert., of Curbridge, Nr. Witney, to carry out the work, once a faculty had been obtained from the Oxford Diocesan Registry. In September 2017 the Faculty came through and within days the old face had been taken down and whisked away to Curbridge. As the experts had predicted the woodwork of the old face was so rotten it needed to be replaced entirely. As an aside, although the clock mechanism itself is dated 1715, the face was thought to be from the mid-twentieth century which due to its exposed north-facing position and water overflowing from the blocked hopper above, had done its time.

Edward Stuart and his craftsmen made a new, more solid face in thick marine ply framed with hardwood mouldings. This was then painted in weather resistant paint in blue to match the original and finally the numerals and the pointer were gilded with 24 carat double gold leaf.

Thanks to Bob Graydon and his Red Spider lift which obviated the need for scaffolding, the face (an exact replica) was installed on 8th February 2018 and Revd. Mike Bisset was taken for a fly-past inspection.

© Oliver Heal, March 2018
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS

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The Rev. John Bennet (1663-1716),
– The Church clocks

In my last article I summarised the history of the one-handed church clock which you see as you walk towards the church from the main road. Perhaps the most interesting conclusion that came out of my researches and discussions with Michael Bayley, who looks after the clock, and Geoff Mansfield, a locally-based clock restorer, is that it was almost certainly not the first clock on the tower and that the same mechanism once drove at least three, possibly four clock faces at the same time.

The earliest view of the church was drawn before the present clock was put up in 1715. It may even have been commissioned by John Bennet when he first arrived in 1700. The drawing shows a clock already in the same place on the north wall as it is today. It also shows another one, very high up facing Pauls Hill, which cannot have been a sundial since it was facing east. The 1715 register entry refers to setting up ‘the Church-Clock with the Hand-Dials’, and the plural indicates there were then at least two clock faces. Views of the church for the next 150 years continue to show them both.

There is another clock face now hanging inside the clock chamber in the tower, disconnected from any mechanism. Oscar Muspratt, the Vicar from 1945 to 1989, told me that until 1947 it used to be inside the main body of the church on the west wall of the nave where the organ now hangs. There is a bricked-up hole in the west wall of the clock chamber through which a drive shaft from the clock mechanism went into the nave. This clock face has the date 1813 on it and was presumably added then. Does anyone remember it?

An apparently accurate oilette shows that the east-facing clock-face had been removed, and replaced (assuming it was the same one) on the south side lower down. This must have been before 1903 when major repair work on the tower, which was cracked from top to bottom on two sides, would have required the removal of the south facing clock-face and it was not replaced.

All these clock faces would have been worked by long drive shafts from the same clock mechanism. This is not an unusual technique and the mechanism is more than strong enough, keeping them all to exactly the same time and using one of the tower bells to strike the hour. No later photographs show a clock-face on the east or south sides and so only one of the three or four clock faces is still in position.

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter, No.23,  January 2012
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS

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The Rev. John Bennet (1663-1716),
– The Royal Arms

A memorandum in the Parish Register by John Bennet records that on 8 July 1709 ‘the Arms of Queen Anne were hung up’. They were painted on canvas mounted in a blue and gilt wooden frame, 7ft x 5ft 6 ins. They are a fine example of Stuart Arms and remain in excellent condition on the north wall of the nave. When first painted, they probably hung above the chancel arch over the Doom, which was still hidden under whitewash and lath and plaster.

The Arms of Elizabeth I and her predecessors for over two centuries had reflected their claim to the thrones of both England (three lions) and France (three fleur-de-lis). When James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I as James I of England in 1603, he added the Arms of the then separate kingdoms of Scotland (a lion rampant) and Ireland (a harp). The Arms were supported by the Lion of England and the Unicorn badge of the Stuarts. The initials A R (Anna Regina). confirm that our Arms were put up in Queen Anne’s reign (1702-14) and they must have been painted or commissioned before the Arms were changed in 1707 after the Act of Union with Scotland. The motto ‘semper eadem’ (always the same) was used by both Elizabeth and Anne.

They are very unlikely to have been the first Royal Arms to have been  hung in the church. Their display was not made compulsory until Charles II’s restoration in 1660, when Samuel Pepys records ‘how the King’s Arms are every day set up in the houses and churches’, but there is plenty of evidence, from Henry VIII’s reformation onwards, that parish churches were actively encouraged to put them up. Even during Catholic Mary’s short reign they were to be set up in a less prominent place, and it was only during Cromwell’s Commonwealth that they were abolished to be replaced by State Arms. A survey of Bucks churches in 1637, makes frequent mention of the absence or faulty position of the Royal Arms, but there is no mention of them in the long and very critical report on Penn Church, which suggests that in this respect at least, all was well.
 
When the Arms were changed, the previous ones were sometimes adapted as an economy. Penn’s failure to amend the Arms to reflect the accession of George I, Elector of Hanover, in 1714, is probably because both Patron and Vicar were strong High Church Tories and greatly resented the new King. The Vicar reportedly refused to pray for King George and took the compulsory oath of fidelity to him only with great reluctance. The claim to be King of France was only dropped in 1801, at which point the fleur-de-lis were removed. Victorian church restoration removed many examples and today only a quarter of Bucks churches still have them.

There is a local tradition that Queen Anne used to visit The Knoll, the large house south of the church and sit in the belvedere on the third floor watching her children play on the lawn at Windsor. This is a fantasy, presumably based on the presence of the Royal Arms in the church.

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter No 24,  March 2012
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS

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The Rev. John Bennet (1663-1716),
– The Little Gallery over the South Door

A memorandum in the Parish Register by John Bennet records that, The little Gallery in Penn-Church over against the South door was finished March 5th 1703, being built at the charges of the young men that had learned to sing Psalms, it was painted at their charge July 8th 1709.

View of the South Door

The gallery is no longer there, but when we look above the south door we can see timbering and unevenness in the wall and plaster which shows where one of its supports was fixed to the wall. However, there is not nearly enough room for a man to stand up in the gallery so clearly the ceiling is now much lower than it once was. The question is settled by the marks of a cross-gabled roof high up in the centre of the south wall of the nave. This tells us that there was once a taller south porch running right across the aisle up to the main nave wall of the church and that it was easily high enough to allow head room for Mr Bennet’s gallery.

The Royal Commission for Historic Monuments completed an inspection of Penn Church exactly a century ago and reported that there appeared to have been a south porch of the 15th century. There would have been a still earlier porch, but by the 14th century it was common for porches to have an upper room which was used for many of the functions now carried out in the vestry. In other churches the upper room was used for the Sexton to sleep in or even as a school room. Presumably there would have been a door or arch through both of its side walls to allow a continuous south aisle and a high window in the south wall overlooking the graveyard to light the upper room.

The clerestory window above the central
arch showing the marks of the cross-gable.

Victorian ‘restorations’, inspired by the Oxford Movement, aimed to restore a church to a 13th/14th-century Gothic perfection and this included removing any galleries. Penn’s ‘restoration’ was carried out in c.1863 at the expense of the Earl Howe of the time. This is when the little gallery would have been removed. The high gabled roof and side walls of the medieval porch were also taken down and judging by the ‘modern’ smoothness of the plaster, caused a partial collapse of the central arch below the clerestory window. The present external south porch would have been constructed at that time.

Thomas Grove (born 1774), the father of Sir George Grove, remembered as a boy playing the hautboy (an older form of oboe often played with violin and bassoon) in Penn church, and was all his life a great singer of hymns. One can perhaps imagine him in the little gallery singing and playing his hautboy.

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter, No.25,  May 2012
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS

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