Our Church during the Middle Ages

No 14: The Lady Chapel

The South Chapel or Lady Chapel as it was called in the will of William Grove in 1513, was probably added on to the south aisle in the mid – 14th century. it seems to have been used, to some extent at least, as a chantry chapel, a partlcuar feature of the 14th and 15th centuries, in which a priest was employed to sing (or rather ‘chant’) masses for the souls of the departed. William Grove left 2d towards its upkeep and Roger Playter, who died in 1549, left 4d to the priest to say ‘masse in the chapell for my soule at a tyme convenient’.

However, the chapel seems to have remained an integral part of the church since there is no record of a separate chantry licence being issued by the Bishop. Nor is there any record of the transfer of valuables and endowments to the King, as required by the Chantry Act of 1547, shortly after Henry VIII’s death, when the Protestant Reformation expressed the new disapproval of the Catholic doctrines of saying masses for the dead, by dissolving all the chantries.

Medieval man was extremely anxious about his prospects in the next world, and those who could afford it went to considerable expense to employ priests to pray for their souls, sometimes years after they had died. Richard de Wycombe, for instance, who was Rector of Penn in 1322, was licensed by the Bishop to leave the parish for an entire year in order to attend the obsequies of Sir John Segrave (who held Segrave Manor in Penn as a smaIl part of his very large estate).

© Miles Green, June 1998.


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

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

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

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.