Our Church during the Middle Ages

No 15: Chaplains at Penn

My previous article established that whilst the Lady Chapel of Penn Church was in active use during the Middle Ages, it was not licensed separately from the church itself. Thus, there would not have been a chaplain appointed specifically for the Lady Chapel.

However, there are several references to chaplains living in the parish in the Middle Ages. WaIter de Upton Waryn and then Thomas Freelond appear in the records between 1302 and 1337, and John Tagge was a party to a legal document involving the de la Pennes, in 1339. lt is likely that they were, all private chaplains to the de la Penne family, since a license for an oratory or private chapel was granted, in 1342, to John and Agatha de la Penne at their house in Penn.

The most dramatic reference to a medieval chaplain appears in the latest volume (29) of the Bucks Record Society concerning legal cases in the late 14th century, admirably researched and edited by Lesley Boatright, herself a descendent of Robert Rudrope, Vicar of Penn from 1596 to 1607. (Her favourite case was of a man who tried to throw a dog into the river Ouse, fell off the bridge and was drowned himself)

Having recently written a detailed history of Penn Wood, l was especially interested to read Lesley’s account of a chaplain called Wiliam Pullegos, described as ‘habitual robber’, who killed and robbed a man in Penn Wood on Ist September 1382. A party of local people went after him, but he refused to surrender and was killed after a fight in Penn Wood.

© Miles Green, August 1998

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No 16: Early priests at Penn

We noted in Part 1, that our earliest recorded priest was Hugh, Clerk of Penn. In 1183, he was one of several witnesses to an agreement which was sworn in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and which resolved a dispute between Missenden Abbey and the de Turville family about the rights of patronage to the church at Weston Turville.   Geoffrey de Turville, who was one of the other witnesses, was also described as the Clerk of Taplow and since the de Turvilles also held Penn, and Hugh moved in the same superior social circles, it is not unlikely that he was also a member of the same family.

The next recorded Clerk was WaIter de la Penne who first appears as a witness to another Missenden Abbey charter in 1194. He was Clerk of Penn from about 1200 to 1225 and was also a landowner in his own right holding 1/5 of a knight’s fee, a small estate of about 90 acres, which seems to have been in what we now call Tylers Green,  including a third share in a water mill (windmills had not yet been introduced) on the river in the Wycombe valley below. He also held the patronage of Oulton church in Norfolk which had been held by his forbears ‘a conquestu Angliae’, from the Conquest of England.

It is quite possible that both Walter de la Penne and Hugh were younger sons of a branch of the Turville family who had adopted the name of their estate at Penn. This is exactly what happened in the case of the Puttenhams who, as the record clearly shows, were originally Turvilles who changed their name to that of the manor at Puttenham near Halton. They later came to live in Penn in a Turville property known, in 1200, as ‘Withiheg’ (hence Witheridge Lane which led to it – see Part 5).  Withiheg subsequently came to be called Puttenham Place after its owner/occupiers and has just been beautifully restored.

The present Earl Howe, who still holds the patronage of Penn Church, is a descendant of the de la Pennes and is therefore likely to be related in some way to WaIter de la Penne and quite possibly to Hugh as well.

© Miles Green, October 1998

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No 17: Some Medieval Rectors and Vicars

The early, well-born Clerks of Penn, such as ‘Hugh’ and ‘Walter de la Penne’ who we met in Part 16, would have been Rectors, holding the church land in the parish, presumably farmed from Parsonage Farm, as their own property. They would have had humble and probably poorly paid curates, of whom we have almost no record, to actually look after the parishioners.

These priests, both high and low born, may well have been married since clerical celibacy had not yet been enforced in the 12th and 13th centuries.

In 1344, Chalcombe Priory took over as proprietors of the church and enjoyed the rent from the rectory lands, which were let to lay tenants, as well as the rectoral tithes. The Prior started to appoint priests and Canons of his Order as Vicars of Penn but his first appointment, Henry de Rokeby, was not a success. His arrest was ordered, in about 1348, for stealing rabbits.

Together with a party of local worthies, (including Williame Tylere and John le Potterne whose names remind us of that the Penn tile industry was in full swing at the time), the Vicar broke into the close of the neighbouring Vicar of Wooburn and took away 100 rabbits. Presumably they did it for fun but didn’t wait to share the joke with the Sheriff who reported that none of them was to be found. Henry de Rokeby was replaced soon after.

Twenty years later, another Vicar was murdered in the Vicarage. More about him in the next instalment.

© Miles Green, December 1998

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No 18: Murder in the Vicarage

On 7th June 1368 (19th June in our modern calendar), in the 42nd year of Edward III, William Clifton the Vicar of Penn who was a Canon of Chalcombe Priory, was murdered in the Vicarage.

The machinery of justice was swift and two days later the County Coroner was holding an Inqisition at Penn; taking evidence from twelve local jurors. They swore on oath that,

“On the Wednesday before the Feast of Corpus Christi, during the night, John, the servant of the Vicar of La Penne, assaulted and wounded William de Clifton with an axe in three places in his head and scattered his brains by which he came to his death. On the same night he feloniously stole from the said William one horse of the value of 30 shillings, and 18 silver spoons valued at 18 shillings, and the murderer has money, linen and woolen garments, and other chattels to the value of £10.”

The finder of the body was Oliva atte Dene and as required by law, he immediately ‘raised the hue’.  He also had to find pledges for his own innocence, who were Richard and John Reynbold. The Vicar’s four neighbours who were also required to pledge each others innocence; were named as John Ran senior, Richard Taillour Richard Put and John Paviere.

The jury was provided by Penn and the neighbouring townships of Agmundesham, Woburne and Wicumbe, which were also required by law to follow the hue and cry after the suspected murderer and bring him to justice. Seven of the jurors’ names are still legible – Thomas de Hampden, John le Ran junior, Thomas le norice, Robert atte leye, John le Potter; John paine and john Ran senior .

Whether or not the murderer was caught is not known.

I can take no credit for researching this sorry tale. it is a reworking of J.G.Jenkins, History of Penn (1935), p64.

© Miles Green, February 1999.

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No 19: 14th century changes to the fabric.

After our diverting digression to look at the early chaplains and priests of Penn, we come back again to review all the many changes to the fabric of the church which took place during the 14th century.

We started the century with our present nave, a smaller chancel, and perhaps no tower; not the present one, anyway, which was added early in that century. The chancel seems to have been extended at about the same time, floored with Penn tiles of the period (which stayed until 1918). The south aisle was added in mid-century, probably to cater for an increasing population and the more elaborate ritual which was developing. The Lady Chapel belongs to roughly the same period, but is not on the same alignment as the south aisle and so was not built at the same time.

These expensive undertakings are likely to have been completed in the heyday of Penn tiling, before 1348, when the first wave of the Black Death killed off a third of the population. The parishioners themselves, less than 200 souls even before the Black Death, are likely to have contributed a large part of both the money and labour, spurred on by both local pride and by the belief that their chance of personal salvation would be correspondingly improved.

The Synod of Exeter, in 1287 , had formalised an already established convention that the parishioners were responsible for the upkeep of the nave whilst the rector had the duty of maintaining the chancel. This is still the position today. Our recently completed terrier and inventory recorded Earl Howe as the lay rector and so responsible, in theory at least, for the chancel, although it is many years since he received any rectoral tithes with which to meet the cost of upkeep.

Dr Clive Rouse observed to me that, ‘that, of course, there was no antiquarian prejudice about preserving old buildings in those days’.  The consequence has been that each successive generation has been able to adapt the church to its needs, and the architecture and decoration the church is in itself a history of the parish, marking the passing fortunes and fashions of each generation. There is a danger that recently developed concern for the past, though laudable in intent. will obstruct this vital evolution of the fabric.

© Miles Green, April 1999. 

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No 20: New Roof and Porches

Early in the 15 C, at about the time that Henry V was fighting the French at Agincourt (more about the bowmen of Penn later), the parishioners of Penn once again contributed generously in money and labour to improve their church.

The roof of the nave was removed and several feet were added to the walls with the fine timber structure which is so admired today resting on decorated corbels. The additional walls were thinner than the original as can be clearly seen inside the nave.

At some stage, a plaster ceiling was added between the timbers and it was not until 1923, in the course of work on the roof, that the plaster was removed to reveal more of the interesting 15th C woodwork.

The north porch has a heavily timbered oak frame to the the outer doorway which has the same tracery in the spandrels (the roughly triangular space between the curve of the arch and the enclosing right angle), as on the roof of the nave. This suggests that the porch is also early 15th C and the heavy door frame indicates that it was originally a timber porch which was later walled in.

Mr Muspratt discovered a grave lined with 14th C Penn tiles immediately outside the north porch and this had presumably been forgotten when the porch was built about a century later requiring worshippers to walk over the grave.

The south porch has part of a moulded beam over the entrance which also probably belonged to an earlier 15th C timber porch mostly rebuilt in the 18th C.

© Miles Green, June 1999.

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