An Early Modern Christmas at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, Singleton near Chichester, West Sussex

12/30/2016 in Uncategorized

Christmas at the Weald and Downland Museum, 2016

 I know that Christmas has now been and gone as it always does with a slow anticipated wait then when it does finally arrive, it seems to go by in a flash and tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. So I apologise if anyone thinks that my post is out of ‘season’ but I wanted to share my trip to the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum on Boxing Day when they were open for their “Christmas at the Museum.”

The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum is located in the Downland village of Singleton, 4 miles north of Chichester in West Sussex. As the name implies the museum collects buildings and artefacts from the geographical area of the North Downs, the South Downs and the Weald.  The North and South Downs are chalk, while the geology of the Weald is made up of greenstone, sandstone and clays and was called the Andredes Weald by the Saxons – Andredes from the Roman place-name Anerida for Pevensey and Weald from the German Wald for forest as in the early medieval period the Weald was still a heavily forested area. There are three areas to the Weald, the high Weald which is in the centre on the sandstone, the low Weald which is located on the outside on the clay and the greensand ridge that is found around the north and west of the Weald. As a forested area, the Weald popular for hunting, while in the low Weald the clay made farming difficult. Arable farming was better suited on the dip slope of the Downland where the chalk provided better drainage of the soil.

My aim in visiting the Weald and Downland Museum was to visit the houses that had been dressed for an early modern Christmas. However, I first visited an old friend, the treadwheel from Catherington in Hampshire, which is a Downland parish as I grew up in Catherington and now live just down the hill from the farm where the treadwheel was located. The well shaft was over 300 feet deep and is most likely Roman. At different locations in Catherington sherds of Roman pottery have been found and the bank which runs along the north boundary of the churchyard of All Saints, the parish church from the eastern boundary right through to the western boundary at Catherington Lane has been dated as Roman. Some years ago the Museum of London built a replica of a Roman treadwheel and in addition to the well shaft that the Catherington treadwheel was built over, it is quite likely that the well shafts of the treadwheels at Beauworth, Hampshire (still in situ at the Milbury’s public house) and Saddlescombe Manor near Brighton – also Downland parishes, were originally dug out in the Roman period. The Catherington treadwheel and the un-daubed timber framed building in which it is housed are both seventeenth-century, no doubt built to replace an older treadwheel and building.

After the treadwheel I visited Tindall’s Cottage an eighteenth-century cottage from Ticehurst in East Sussex, a parish in the High Weald. It was the first time that I had visited this building as it was erected after my last visit to the museum. Tindall’s cottage which was built between c. 1700-1725, has a main room with a fireplace and bread oven and a second smaller unheated room that was used as a buttery. Behind the kitchen an outshot was built at the back of the cottage. This contained a Brewhouse with a built in copper and a smaller room that was probably used as the dairy for making milk, butter and cheese. When I was in the Brewhouse, two visitors remarked to each other: “Oh look there’s the copper for washing clothes!” I felt that this highlighted what I consider to be a major shortcoming as the museum has not provided any interpretation within the rooms of the buildings as to what features and the particular artefact assemblages within a room are. In the kitchen, a duo was playing music on recorders and the table was set for Christmas with a variety of crockery, food such as cheese and some greenery for decoration, very basic but nevertheless a Christmas celebration.

Next up was Pendean a seventeen-century yeoman’s farmhouse from Pendean farm, West Lavington which is a parish in the Weald near Midhurst. Pendean was constructed in 1609 and represents the transition from a medieval open hall house to an enclosed house with a baffle or lobby entrance opening onto the side of the main chimney stack that served the two ingle nock fireplaces. The wider fireplace in the end room contained a bread oven the room being used as a kitchen, while the smaller ingle nock fireplace heated the central room and one upstairs room was also heated by the chimney stack. The central room served as a hall or parlour while the room the other side of the hall, which was unheated would have used as a service room either a buttery or pantry. As Pendean was a yeoman’s house the Christmas spread was of a higher status than that which I found in Tindall’s Cottage. Not only was there a wider selection of food including a pie, but the ceramic / crockery assemblage was also of a higher status as was the table cloth. In the kitchen and buttery/pantry a domestic assemblage had also been set out again of a higher status of that of a yeoman’s household.

Following Pendean, I popped into Bayleaf a fifteenth-century Wealden house from Chiddingstone, Kent, a parish in the Weald. As the term ‘Wealden House’ implies, this design of house was commonplace in the Weald and also in the Downland of southern England. A Wealden house consisted of three bays with the central bay containing the hall that was open to the roof, the front wall of the hall being recessed with a double height unglazed window. The upper storeys of the end bays were jettied out, the chambers above the rooms of the end bays reached by separate stairs. One end bay would be designated the higher status end and in the hall adjacent to the door to this bay, the high table where the yeoman sat would be located. The inner ground floor room of the upper bay being a private room known as a solar and used to house the owner’s bed and other high status furniture and goods. The lower bay was divided from the open hall by a screen and divided into two service rooms the buttery where barrels of beer and other drinking victuals were stored. While food was stored in the pantry next door. Like Pendean, the buttery and pantry in Bayleaf was laid out with a variety of ceramic and other artefacts associated with food and drink manufacture during the early modern period. The hall also housed high status furniture and a hanging behind the high table. The high table was furnished with a high status table cloth and a variety of high status dishes, plates (some of which were pewter) and jugs. The dishes contained a variety of foods that were commonly eaten at Christmas during the early modern period including walnuts and pies. The table was also highly decorated with garlands.

Bayleaf forms part of ‘Bayleaf Farmstead’ a group of farm buildings from the early modern period erected to show what a farmstead in the Weald and Downland would have looked like. The farmstead includes barns, stables and Winkhurst Tudor Kitchen. I have been a visitor to the Weald and Downland Museum since 1982 when I was 15. At that time the buildings were not furnished with furniture and artefacts but were empty. Winkhurst was located up on the Down not far from the treadwheel from Catherington. It was interpreted as a two bay timber framed house with one bay having an upper storey and the other bay open to the roof in the manner of an open hall. However, since Winkhurst’s initial interpretation and erection at the museum, further research has been undertaken into separate kitchen buildings and after 2002 Winkhurst was dismantled and re-erected and reinterpreted as a separate kitchen building to Bayleaf – i.e. Winkhurst was where the food was prepared and cooked away from the main house as a measure of fire safety. Dendro dating of the timbers from Winkhurst suggest that it was constructed sometime during the period c.1492-1537. The re-interpretation of Winkhurst as a kitchen is based on the observation that whilst one bay was open to the roof it lacks architectural features common to open hall houses such as double height windows as found in open hall houses like Bayleaf. I have visited Winkhurst on several occasions since it was re-erected and re-interpreted as a Tudor kitchen and on my visit on Boxing day it was evidence that the cooking and other processes that the re-enactors undertake in Winkhurst is ongoing research. On previous visits the shelves containing the ceramics/crockery was located on the south wall, but on Monday I noticed that they have been moved to the east wall and the south wall has a few artefacts and other items such as dried herbs hanging from it. The kitchen also contains several tables on trestles and benches, a bread oven and copper for brewing, along with a variety of cooking utensils and pots, plates and jugs. Winkhurst is always the highlight of my visit I love watching the re-enactors going about their chores. On Boxing Day, they were offering visitors gingerbread and ale and they were delicious!

The final early modern building that I visited was Poplar Cottage from Washington, Sussex. Washington is a Downland / scarp foot parish on the north facing scarp slope of the South Downs and on the scarp foot where the Downs and the Weald meet. It has a Borstal (sometimes and in this instance spelt as Bostal) which is a steep path that traverses the steep scarp slope of the South Downs diagonally from the scarp foot and the Weald. The term ‘Borstal/Bostal” comes from the Old English burg-steall originally meaning an earthwork or hillfort but which in the case of a steep path up the scarp slope of the South Downs came to mean getting to such a place as an earthwork or hillfort. The term Borstal is particular to these paths up the north facing scarp slope and are not found on the top of the Downs, on the dip slope or south of the Downs on the coastal plain (Professor Richard Coates pers. com.). The Naturalist Gilbert White imported the term into East Hampshire when he had a path constructed up the side of Selborne Hill in the eighteen-century. Poplar Cottage was built down on the scarp foot on Washington Common and built c. mid seventeenth-century, and probably was an example of encroachment onto the common. It was built to house a landless husbandman or labourer and their family. Poplar Cottage was decorated not with Christmas decorations – an A board outside declared: “The Cancellation of Christmas 1647.” Inside the main room of the cottage was devoid of any examples of Christmas food or decorations and instead copies of posters detailing: “The Arraignment, Imprisoning and Conviction of Christmas.” These posters were distributed throughout the land in 1647 after Oliver Cromwell declared that Christmas should be banned. Although as a labourer’s home, Popular Cottage would have little in the way of furnishings the lack of even a small amount of Christmas food and decoration illustrated what life would have been like for people during the mid 1640’s. People who had been born during the later Reformation/Post-Reformation period and who had been used to celebrating the 12 days of Christmas annually, and who now suddenly in their world turned upside down were forced not to celebrate Christmas – the bleakness of this little cottage stood apparent in stark contrast to the Christmas celebrations found in Tindall’s Cottage, Pendean and Bayleaf.

Overall I enjoyed my trip through an early modern Christmas, but I felt that despite the displays it was hard at times to appreciate what the exhibits were attempting to convey. This was due to the volume of people, the museum was proving to be a popular attraction on Boxing Day well not everyone wants to engage in the instant convenience orientated throwaway society that we live in and hit the high street or out of town shopping centres and go to the Boxing Day sales. Clearly, many people were enjoying a wonder round the past. For me as an archaeologist and historian specialising in the early modern period the problem is how the past is presented- and many academics have discussed the question of how we present the past particularly when it’s in the vein of an idealised past or rather how the museum visitor sees and idealises the past. An event such as the Weald and Downland Museum opening on Boxing Day for the ‘Museum at Christmas’ is perhaps more about attracting visitors to give them an opportunity to escape and for the museum to have 2 successful days of visitor numbers in the middle of winter. I admit I see the draw of the escapism I myself talk about “getting lost in the sixteenth-century”, but in my case I’m getting lost in doing research not visiting an attraction to idolise the past. I mentioned the two visitors in the Brewhouse in the outshot at the back of Tindall’s Cottage who thought the copper was for washing clothes rather than brewing ale. They may have said this based on family tales of how their grandmother’s or great grandmothers heated up the copper in order to wash the clothes in. My own late mother frequently talked about how her mother in the 1930’s, as a married woman, while living with her own mother in a Victorian terraced house in Aldershot, Hampshire would heat up the built in copper in the kitchen in order to wash the clothes there being no such thing as an electric washing machine in those days at least not in a working class house. Its these kind of memories – oral histories that can shape people’s experiences when they visit an open air / living history museum and it needs to be acknowledge as an integral part of the visitor experience. For my part as an early modern archaeologist and historian.

I tend to find that when I visit this type of museum I study the way the houses and other buildings are furnished including the artefact assemblages – ceramics/crockery, pots, pans, jars, cooking utensils, furniture, seating, soft furnishings, bedding etc. then I come home and think about these items and how a particular house has been furnished, laid out and interpreted or not as the case may be. I feel that the Weald and Downland Museum could do more to provide on-site interpretation about how the jars, pots, pans, cooking utensils and other household items have been researched and chosen. The museum has a historic clothing project running which has already produced a small booklet, they need a similar project about the artefact assemblages. I also think they could run study days for academics engaged in research into say the medieval period or the early modern period on a day when the museum is quieter. A seminar could be held in the Downland Gridshell building and a tour of the houses along with some hands on with the Tudor food in Winkhurst. It is something to consider seeing if this could be organised in 2017! Overall presenting Christmas past in an open air museum is a good idea but the large numbers of visitors hinders the experience.

Treadwheel from Catherington,Hampshire

Treadwheel from Catherington, Hampshire

Tindall’s Cottage from Ticehurst, East Sussex

Tindall’s Cottage from Ticehurst, East Sussex

Tindall’s Cottage from Ticehurst, East Sussex


Pendean Farmhouse

Ceramic Assemblage from Pendean


Bayleaf Wealden House







Winkhurst Artefact Assemblage


Winkhurst a small measure of ale


Poplar Cottage

Poplar Cottage the cancellation of Christmas 1647

Poplar Cottage the cancellation of Christmas 1647

Poplar Cottage the cancellation of Christmas 1647

Poplar Cottage the cancellation of Christmas 1647



Petitioning parishes in Sweden in the Age of Liberty, 1719–1772

11/04/2016 in Scandinavia

That the Swedish parish organisation could be used for political purposes in early modern Sweden is something that historians are already well aware of. For example, the appointment of parish clergy was an issue that could antagonize the parishioners and make them turn to the diocese or even to the King-in-Council. The challenge of clergy appointments could involve meetings with diocese representatives as well as supplications and delegations from the parish to the capital in order to persuade the authorities of one clergyman’s suitability over another. Likewise, the right of disposal of local resources, such as wood, could make parishes go toe to toe with iron foundry owners and the central authorities who had permitted the foundry owners to take wood from a local forest common.

The city centre of eighteenth century Stockholm viewed from the south. To the left one can see the buildings where the nobility, the burghers and the peasantry convened during the diets.

The city centre of eighteenth century Stockholm viewed from the south. To the left one can see the buildings where the nobility, the burghers and the peasantry convened during the diets.

For these reasons, it was a bit surprising to me that I did not find many supplications from parishes when I was working on my dissertation. In the dissertation, The voice of the people? Supplications submitted to the Swedish Diet in the Age of Liberty, 1719–1772, I studied samples from the supplications submitted to the Diet in this fifty year era, more precisely to its committee tasked with receiving supplications – Urskillningsdeputationen, the Screening Deputation. The samples stem from the beginning, the middle and the end of the period. The wider aim of the study was to gauge the social width of the political conversation at the time, a time when the central political power was shifted from the King and his council to the Diet and its four estates – the nobility, the clergy, the burghers and the peasantry. The Diet met at least every third year, sometimes more often than that, and most of the time for a year or more. It was certainly a politically dynamic period in Sweden that saw the introduction of an early version of parliamentarianism, where members of the Council of the Realm were made accountable to the Diet and were regularly dismissed. The world’s oldest still existing Freedom of Press bill also saw the light of day in 1766. It was a time where people discussed politics publically like never before and where larger parts of society were able to participate in the political discourse.

In contrast then the parishes did not turn directly to the Diet with supplications. Of the circa 1400 supplications I have studied there are not more than about 10 cases where parishes petitioned the Diet and if we exclude instances where parishes requested financial support for their parish churches not more than a handful of cases remain. In the sample from the early period, there is are two instances. In one the parishioners in Nora Parish, eastern Sweden, complained that the clergyman they wanted for their parish had not been chosen by the King-in-Council. At this point they then wanted clarification on what procedure should inform the appointment, seeing as their candidate had won in an election held in the parish hall. The second and similar complaint was raised by the Undenäs parish in the southwest of Sweden. In the sample from the late period there is one case where the parish can be said to have been used for political mobilization. In this instance the peasantries from three parishes in the west of Sweden protested against a decision made by the King-in-Council in 1769. According to this decision the peasantry in the area would foot the bill for the renovation and improvements of the local vicar residences in the district. Something they refused to do.

Three parishes in the southwest of Sweden, complaining by way of petition about having to pay for the vicar residences in the area. As can be seen at the bottom, their diet delegate at the 1771-72 diet, Lars Torbjörnsson, submitted their supplication for them.

Three parishes in the southwest of Sweden, complaining by way of petition about having to pay for the vicar residences in the area. As can be seen at the bottom, their diet delegate at the 1771-72 diet, Lars Torbjörnsson, submitted their supplication for them.

Why did I not find more parishes in the samples? It is certainly a legitimate question to ask, especially when one considers that the Age of Liberty is a period relative political openness, especially compared to the preceding Caroline Absolutism (1680–1718). To a large extent, these meagre findings are a result of the channel I examined. In order to explain, we need to take some time to understand how the Swedish peasantry mobilized politically when it became time for the Diet to summon. Although a parish included people from all ranks of society, peasants composed the majority of the rural parishes’ population.

The parishes in Sweden were indeed very busy before each diet. They elected delegates and furnished them with a list of complaints and requests, referred to as sockenbesvär, parish gravamina. The parish delegate then met with the other parish delegates in their härad, district. Under the watchful eye of häradshövdingen, the district judge, the various complaints were sorted and made coherent. The district judge also culled some of the grievances and sent them to the regional administration when the issues could be resolved at a local or regional level. The remaining gravamina, referred to as häradsbesvär, district gravamina, were handed to the district’s diet delegate or delegates who took them to Stockholm and the Diet.

At the Diet the gravamina faced the final culling process, which was the same in the burgher estate and in the clergy. In this process, the gravamina were put in two piles. The gravamina that gathered the support of the entire state were put together and called allmänna besvär, common gravamina. These gravamina were referred to various diet committees for further examination. The other pile of gravamina were referred to as enskilda besvär, particular gravamina. They were returned to the diet delegates who had brought them to Stockholm, whose constituents expected that he do everything he could to get the gravamina successfully examined one way or another. Again, a gravamen’s possible path bifurcated. The diet delegate could either bring his gravamina to the King-in-Council, which was the expected path. However, as the Diet had created a committee tasked with receiving supplications from the Swedish subjects, diet delegates started seeing this committee as a viable way of getting their errands examined and decided upon successfully. Especially the burgher’s diet delegates used this back-up path into the Diet and accordingly, the second and third samples are filled with their errands as they adapted to the institutional playing field over time.

The peasantry’s diet delegates did not however. As we have seen, the parishes were intrinsically involved in the political process but their errands did not end up in the Screening Deputation. Why? Well, first of all, it might simply be the case that the peasant estate was more successful in accommodating every diet delegate’s wishes than the burgher estate. Meaning, the common gravamina of the peasant estate could include most of grievances brought by the different delegates. The burgher estate was filled with inner tensions where towns competed against each other in a zero sum game over market access, tax reliefs and trade privileges and so on. It was harder to create a coherent package of gravamina that satisfied everyone’s wishes and many grievances had to be excluded. The peasantry’s diet delegates were thus perhaps not left with many particular gravamina after the final culling process had finished.

Secondly, we must not forget the institutional preferences of the peasantry’s diet delegates. It might certainly be argued that they trusted the King-in-Council more than they trusted the Diet, despite having representation in the latter institution. Although the peasant estate was certainly structurally discriminated at the Diet – they were for example barred from the most important committee which decided upon foreign policy and taxes, among other things – they started gaining influence toward the last two decades of the Age of Liberty. Yet, even at their political peak at the 1771–72 Diet, their proposal for a package of peasant privileges among other things contained right for peasants to petition the king. The peasantry argued that a sound and ‘virtuous’ relationship between the king and the people necessitated that the latter could access to the former’s gracious and fatherly care. Perhaps most importantly, with regular information from his peasant subjects the king would be able to keep a watchful eye on the Crowns servants, something which in turn would spur the subjects to piety and diligence.

Thus, the Age of Liberty is most likely a convenient period for the study of the political potential of the Swedish parish organisation. Studying the Diet’s Screening Deputation is however not suitable. The parishes’ political energy ended up elsewhere, such as the peasant estate’s common gravamina or in the King-in-Council. That is not to say that the supplications found in the Screening Deputation’s archives does not give us important access to a mostly unstudied channel for political interaction. It is however a story that does not involve the Swedish parishes.

Call for research on English and Welsh parish registers, 1640-1662

10/10/2016 in Uncategorized

Readers may recall that I appealed for help with a project on parish registers during the Interregnum at the 14th Symposium held in May 2016, and again at a conference held in Portsmouth in July to discuss the 1650s.  The idea is that we might use our humble parish registers as strong indicators of the degree of disruption caused by the Civil Wars and Cromwellian regime – a simple idea – but one which requires a lot of work hence the appeal to local historians across the country.  We all know that the Church of England technically ceased to exist between 1646 and 1660, and it has long been assumed that all remained well at the level of our parishes – but did it?

How did different regions fare regarding the creation and retention of parish registers?  May we discern patterns and significant breaks in recording?  What dates emerge as critical across the country and how smooth and quick was recovery after 1660?  We have growing evidence of some turmoil with regard to the provision (and ejection) of clergy during this period; there may even have been a crisis of supply by 1653 when the Commission for Triers and Ejectors was established.  It was in that year that the nature of parish registers was also ordered to be changed, with the appointment of confusingly named ‘registers’ (for which perhaps read Registrars), and details of births requested rather than the more controversial baptisms.  In many ways we gain better quality evidence from parish registers in the 1650s, with details of both parents, while marriages were transferred to civil jurisdiction.  But is all this data reliable?

We are asking for your thoughts on what happened to registers during this period in your area so that we can compile a simple listing of parish registers, noting all gaps that may not have been picked up in general cataloguing, which usually stresses the point from which registers commence.  And of course, we have no Bishops’ Transcripts for this period to fall back upon.  We think that this research will offer valuable clues in relation to an host of questions regarding provision of clergy, changing attitudes towards them, data for population studies where some have argued for a demographic crisis at this time (which may be an optical illusion pertaining to survival of records), and valuable data on the role of churchwardens during this period.  In collecting data we would ask you to use your local knowledge to comment on patterns you might discern relating to geography, patronage, and wealth in the survival of registers (and we are always looking for more churchwardens’ accounts!).

We would welcome lists of parishes – by deaneries, archdeaconries and better still dioceses/counties – but even full details with comments on one loved parish would be helpful!  This project will take time, is highly suitable for ‘crowd-sourcing’, and is very worthwhile, so please give it your kind consideration…. We will report back regularly and hopefully results may be mounted on this Warwick platform.   With best wishes, Andrew


David Starkey Lecture Tour: “The King is Dead: Royal Death and Succession Under the Tudors”

05/31/2016 in Uncategorized

Hello Everyone,

This isn’t of a “micro historical” nature but the Tudor historian Dr David Starkey is on a lecture tour with a lecture on “The King is Dead: Royal Death and Succession Under the Tudors.” I attended the lecture that David gave at the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth on Saturday and it was very good. David only made one rude remark and was very complimentary about Suzannah Lipscomb and always addressed the audience as “Ladies and Gentlemen.” In his introduction he said that the Tudor monarchy was like being on a stage and using this analogy he said that in the lecture he would take the audience behind the scenes to the wings and dressing room in his exploration of the deaths of the five Tudor monarchs. David focused on the secrecy surrounding the deaths of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I as all had the announcements of their deaths delayed. In the case of Henry VII this involved the struggle between the leading church men and the lawyers, which delayed the proclamation of his death and of Henry VIII’s kingship by 48 hours. In contrast David said that Henry VIII’s own death was keep secret for 4 days, and he also discussed what he believes was the cause of Henry VIII’s death – septicaemia caused by the  ulcer(s) on his leg – I’m not entirely convinced that this was the cause of Henry’s death. C.R. Chalmers & E.J. Chaloner, referring to documentary evidence have argued that the ulceration on Henry’s leg began in 1527 (Chalmers & Chaloner, J R Soc Med. 2009 Dec 1; 102(12): 514–517) and in an age where injuries often resulted in infection and then death due to the limited medical understanding about infection I would have thought that if Henry’s ulcer caused the development of septicaemia then it would have done so within a shorter time frame that was closer to the development of the ulcer in 1527 rather then 20 years later. After discussing Henry’s death, David moved on to consider the deaths of Edward VI and Elizabeth I. 

Whilst David doesn’t practice history from the bottom up and his lecture wasn’t micro history, I found it an enjoyable event so thought I would share it with, particularly as reflecting on the lecture has helped me to appreciate the wealth of documentary evidence that is available to the micro historian taking a bottom up approach  David talked about the rule of law through parliament particularly in relation to the legality of Henry VIII’s will but whilst he had no reason to mention common law or the canon law (even though he referred to both leading churchmen such as Cardinal John Fisher and to the struggle between the church and the lawyers), his omission of these two types of law could give the impression to the audience that there was only Parliamentary Law during the Tudor period.

Afterwards in the bar David kindly consented to a photo with me.

Dr David Starkey

Dr David Starkey

Dr David Starkey with Hàìghlèàgh Winslade after his lecture at the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth 28 May 2016.

Dr David Starkey with Hàìghlèàgh Winslade after his lecture at the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth 28 May 2016.



Sacred Space: Reflecting on the Fourteenth Warwick Parish Network Symposium and my own research.

05/13/2016 in Uncategorized

Digital StillCamera

The Gage chapel, St Peters, Firle, East Sussex, from the NW.

The Hyde Chapel All Saints Catherington

The Hyde Chapel All Saints Catherington

The largest bay in the church between the Hyde chapel and Chancel, All Saints, Catherington, Hampshire

The largest bay in the church between the Hyde chapel and Chancel, All Saints, Catherington, Hampshire

The tomb of Sir John Gage KG and Dame Philippa Gage, the Gage chapel, St Peter's, Firle, East Sussex.

The tomb of Sir John Gage KG and Dame Philippa Gage, the Gage chapel, St Peter’s, Firle, East Sussex.


This was my first Warwick Parish Network Symposium having recently joined and during discussions I had the opportunity to refer to my ongoing research at both Catherington, Hampshire and Firle, East Sussex. In a break I had a discussion with Elizabeth Norton from Kings College London (who gave a paper on “The Manor and the Parish: Local Organisation in the Sixteenth Century Through the Example of the Blount Family”) about the recusancy of John Gage the Younger as Elizabeth had touched on recusancy. In the final paper of the second session Jörg Widmaier of Eberhard-Karls-Universität, Tübingen talked about “The Gotlandic Parish: Concepts of Identity and Social Differentiation.” This included his study of the adaptation of sacred space by members of the laity in the Reformation / post-Reformation period and in the ensuing discussion I made a comment about lay appropriation of sacred space in the Hyde chapel at All Saints, Catherington, Hampshire.

I have been researching the Hyde chapel at All Saints, Catherington, Hampshire for the past 9 ½ years. I have been a member of the congregation on and off since 1978 and the consensus has always been that the Hyde chapel at All Saints is the oldest part of the church. In the C11th the village of Catherington formed part of the hundred of Ceptune. The focus of this post is the lay appropriation of the sacred space that the two chapels discussed offer, but dating issues will be touched on where necessary. To put matters in context, the Hyde chapel is dated c. 1064 and I have proposed that it was built by Edward the Confessor to commemorate his half-brother Athelstan who held land in Catherington and who died c. 1014-1016. The arrangement of the chapel and the chancel is evidence of how the sacredness of the space was perceived in the late C11th and early C12th. There is a large bay between the Hyde chapel and the chancel, this is the largest bay in the church. To the east of this bay is a half bay and David Lloyd the co-editor of The Buildings of England: Hampshire and the Isle of Wight noted the following:

“The N arcade continues without a break into an E bay [the largest bay] opening from chancel to chapel and ends very curiously, in a further bay of about half the width of the others and correspondingly lower, although the details are similar.” (Pevsner & Lloyd: 1967, 159).

Based on my dating of the chapel to c.1064, which would give it a terminus ante quem date to the chancel and nave, I have suggested that the Norman builders of the chancel and nave sought to equate their sacred space of the chancel with that of the earlier chapel by knocking through the south wall of the chapel to the greatest extent possible which would explain why this bay is the largest in the church; especially if the chapel had been built by Edward the Confessor as this was another way of equating and legitimating their rule with that of Edward all be it at a local level.

If the sponsor for the Norman chancel and nave was Earl Roger who held the hundred of Ceptune after the conquest, then it could be argued that the equation of the chancel with the sacred space of the chapel was a form of lay appropriation. The presence of the smaller half bay to the east of the large bay is evidence of the separation of clerical and lay portals between the chapel and the chancel, given the proximity of this half bay to the east end of the chancel it is probable that this would have been reserved for exclusive use by the priest.

Moreover, in the post-Reformation period the chapel acquired lay appropriation of its space when the tomb of Sir Nicholas Hyde of Hinton Daubnay a hamlet to the NW of Catherington who had been Lord Chief Justice and who died in 1631 was erected. In his paper, Jörg Widmaier talked about how during the Reformation and post-Reformation period the laity appropriated sacred space in the Gotlandic churches, such as in the insertion of a gallery into a chancel for the use of the local elite. In considering the former lay appropriation of the late C11th / early C12th of the chapel with the new Norman chancel, Hyde’s tomb can be seen in a similar context, abet in a funerary context.

My research into the Gage chapel at St Peter’s, Firle has revealed a similar pattern in its history to that of the Hyde chapel at Catherington. Like the Hyde chapel it lays to the north of the chancel, and to touch briefly on dating matters it is proving harder to date because there have been changes to the NW quoin column, with some of the higher quoins having been replaced at some point; whilst most of the NE quoin column is hidden by the addition of a double faced buttress of c. C18-19th date and built to prevent the chapel from collapse as it had the combined weight of the latter chancel and nave pushing against it. Also like the Hyde chapel there is a connection with Edward the Confessor, the entry in the Domesday Book for Sussex states that Edward gave Firle to Wilton Abbey (Morris:1976, 56, folio 19 a,b).

However, unlike the Hyde chapel at Catherington, it has been difficult to construct the relationship of the sacred space in the Gage chapel and the chancel, the two spaces are divided by a two bay arcade which is not only separate from the nave’s north arcade but also of a different date. In the first edition of the Buildings of England: Sussex, Ian Nairn thought the arcade between the chapel and chancel to be late Perpendicular (c.C15th-mid C16th) (Narian:1965,623), but the architectural historian Rodney Hubbuck who has visited the chapel with me believes that they are Victorian (Rodney Hubbuck Pers. Comm.). So until the dating of this arcade can be resolved it is only possible to speculate the construction of the sacred space between the Gage chapel and chancel during the middle ages. Rodney Hubbuck has also dated the stone skirt which encompasses most of St Peter’s including the east and north sides of the Gage chapel as C14th (Rodney Hubbuck Pers. Comm.), while Ian Nairn argued that the chapel was built in the C16th (Nairn: 1965,623). Further typological research into the stone skirt needs to be undertaken, but this major dating difference is noted here in order to highlight the extent of the problems in dating the Gage chapel.

In turning to the matter of the use of the Gage chapel as sacred space especially in terms of lay appropriation during the C16th and early C17th, the evidence is clearer. The chapel is dominated by the table tomb of Sir John Gage KG, a second rank Catholic courtier who died in 1557. In his will, Sir John left instructions that a chantry was to be established to commemorate him in the parish church. Chantries had of course been dissolved and abolished during the reign of Edward VI, and this instruction gives an insight into Sir John’s religious mind set indicating that perhaps he expected Mary to reinstate chantries as part of her policy to return England to its Catholic roots.

The chantry was never constructed and Sir John’s grandson, John Gage the Younger suffered 39 years persecution as a recusant, but in the 1590’s he instructed the Flemish artist Garrat (or Gerard) Johnson who was a member of the entourage of John Gage the Younger’s relative Viscount Montague (Questier:2006, 207-8) to design a table tomb for his grandparents and two smaller tombs for his parents and himself and his two wives. The plans that Johnson drew up are extant and survive at Firle Place the seat of the Gages in Firle. They are annotated around the outside with the hand written discussions between John Gage the Younger and Johnson over the design of the three tombs.

The plans provide evidence that John Gage the Younger was very specific when it came to what he wanted in these memorials to his family even specifying what design of hats his two wives should be portrayed as wearing on their images on the memorial brass on their tomb. The plans show that the east elevation of the table tomb of Sir John and his wife Dame Philippa would have had an inscription, which points to the tomb originally being placed in the centre of the chapel. It has since been re-located to the SE corner of the chapel, probably in the C19th to make space in the chapel either for a poor school that Lady Gage established or to accommodate the organ box when the organ box was inserted into the western bay of the two bay arcade between the chapel and chancel (the presence of the organ box in this location is another obstacle to dating the arcade and evaluating the relationship of the sacred spaces of the chapel and chancel in the middle ages). The discussion between John Gage the Younger and Johnson as recorded on these plans therefore provide primary evidence of how John Gage the Younger sought to appropriate this sacred space for the lay commemoration of his family. I have suggested that despite the many years that he was persecuted both financially and through imprisonment for his obstinate recusancy in having these tombs built in the chapel and in particular the grand tomb of his grandparents that he probably saw himself as fulling his grandfather’s wish and whilst not a chantry commemoration one that fitted in with the current culture of commemoration for funerary monuments (Winslade: 2012: 19-25).

My research into these two chapels is ongoing, but to date I have been able to construct an outline of lay appropriation, at Catherington for both the late C11th / early C12th and early C17th. At Firle research is on-going into both the appropriation and application of sacred memory to the spaces of the Gage chapel and chancel for the late C11th / C112th and the late C16th / early C17th.


Morris, J. (ed.), Domesday Book Sussex (Chichester: Philimore, 1976)

Pevsner, N & Nairn, I, The Buildings of England: Sussex (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967)

Questier, Michael, Catholicism and Community in Early Modern England: Politics, Aristocratic Patronage and Religion c. 1550-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Winslade, Hàìghlèàgh, The Gage Family of Firle, East Sussex, c. 1503-1650. Prosopography, Politics, Religion & Recusancy.(Chichester: University of Chichester unpublished BA dissertation, 2012)

Parish records and people of African and Asian origins

03/30/2016 in British Isles, genealogy and family history, Parish sources

This post is a repost of a comment by Marika Sherwood.

Marika Sherwood urges My-Parish members to carry out research in parish records on people of African and Asian origins. They begin appearing in the 16th century.

An example of such records can be seen here:

Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section: Black and Asian people discovered in records held by the Manuscripts Section



Great Packington

03/11/2016 in Uncategorized

The reference to the Church Wardens’ Accounts, Great Packington that I mentioned last Saturday morning is WCRO DR 158/19. The years covered are 1551; then 1556-1631. There are later accounts too. They have been kept in excellent condition because Gt Packington is an estate village. I did a considerable amount of research for the late Earl of Aylesford and have copies of all the Gt Packington wills for this period. There are some interesting facts in these such as details about an estate employee/ husbandman who accompanied Mr John Fisher the owner of the estate on Henry VI1I’s Bologne campaign, 1546. Ronald Hutton in, ‘The Rise and Fall of Merry England’ mentions these accounts. The villagers had to dismantle the Rood Screen under compunction early in Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Later we learn that St James’ church bells rang when she passed through the parish after her 1575 visit to Kenilworth Castle. She had previously stopped at Meriden Hall where she met Sir Edward Aglionby’s step son and family before travelling on into Staffordshire.

Open access to ‘Political Freedom’ collection

02/09/2016 in British Isles, Eastern Europe, Germany, Italian Peninsula, Media, officeholding and local government, Parish Research Today, The Alpine Territories

Front Cover Pic WebThe full text of the essay collection Politische Freiheit und republikanische Kultur im alten Europa (Vitznau, 2015) is now accessible online. Published last year to mark the bicentenary of the (temporary) restoration of the Swiss parish republic of Gersau in 1814, the volume includes studies of political freedom in Austrian, Swiss, German and Italian communities, thematic surveys of republican thought and constitutional conflict alongside two contributions in English: Ann Hughes on ‘Gender and Republicanism’ and Marc Lerner on ‘William Tell – The Material Culture of a Freedom Myth’. If you’d rather have a hardcopy, just drop me a line!

Update on The Medieval Churches of Norwich Research Project

01/18/2016 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, British Isles, towns and urban environment

The Medieval Churches of Norwich research project had a productive year in 2015 and is already busy planning luckhurst-nchchurches-3events and pursuing partnerships for 2016. Visit our website to see drafts of the project’s case studies, updates on partnerships and cultural engagement funding, and news and events. The Medieval Churches of Norwich is a three-year project undertaken by researchers from the University of East Anglia. The research activity, its dissemination and communication have been made possible through the support of The Leverhulme Trust and the Norwich Research Park Translational Fund.



08/07/2015 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, genealogy and family history, households and the domestic environment, Italian Peninsula, landscapes and pilgrimage, Mediterranean, Other, Parish Research Today, Parish sources, preservation and memory, Projects, ritual, devotion and religious change, The Alpine Territories, towns and urban environment

When I visit the numerous churches and chapels in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland located south of the Alps, I am always struck by their extraordinary artistic and historical richness. One explanation is the flourishing of devotions and religious art which characterised most Catholic countries after the Council of Trent. This is certainly true especially in the Italian area, to whose cultural sphere the Ticino belonged (even though it fell under Swiss political control in the sixteenth century), but there are other reasons. In fact, a crucial further factor needs to be considered: migration. On the one hand, over the centuries, thousands of people associated with the building trades left their homes in the Lake Lugano region to practice their skills as architects, masons, master builders, stucco workers, stonecutters, sculptors and painters abroad. This phenomenon was generally seasonal and whilst staying in their villages, the artisans helped to build or embellish churches and chapels. On the other hand, many migrants associated with other professions donated substantial parts of their earnings to devotional and charitable purposes.

The migrants’ faith and generosity are still visible in many churches and chapels of these territories, particularly in the Pedemonte region, the Centovalli and in the villages surrounding the town of Locarno. Inhabitants of these places had migrated to different Italian cities – especially Livorno, Florence and Rome – for centuries. Exclusively men, they worked as porters (facchini), coachmen (vetturini), chimney sweeps and food-sellers (rosticcieri), to mention just a few professions. In Livorno and Florence they were even able to obtain the monopoly of the porterage trade.

The following pictures shall help to illustrate the impact of migration as it is still tangible today. (Click the thumbnails to enlarge the images.)

§ Figures 1, 2 and 3 – Chapel of S. Rocco (St Roch, 17th century) in the parish church of S. Maria Assunta (Assumption) in Tegna (Terre di Pedemonte, bailiwick and pieve of Locarno)

On the balustrade of many chapels, and in one case even on a confessional box, we can often find the inscription “B.D.L”, an acronym which means “Benefattori di Livorno” (“Benefactors of Livorno”). The migrants active in Livorno gathered in groups and used to collect money for their parishes and brotherhoods.

§ Figures 4, 5, 6 and 7 – Chapel in Verscio (1740) (Terre di Pedemonte, bailiwick and pieve of Locarno); and Our Lady of Montenero in Livorno (14th century)

References to migration and urban experiences also appear in specific devotions. In many churches of this region, even in small chapels deep in the forests, dozen of paintings depicting the Virgin of Montenero can still be found. Here we can see the original painting at Livorno and a very ‘rustic” copy in Verscio. The shrine of Our Lady of Grace of Montenero is located on a hill overlooking Livorno. The Madonna di Montenero, nowadays patron saint of Tuscany, was already widely venerated in seventeenth and eighteen-century century Livorno. In the chapel in Verscio, under the picture of the Virgin Mary and two further saints, we can see details of the port of Livorno (lighthouse and ships).

§ Figures 8, 9 and 10 – Parish church of S. Michele (St Michael) in Palagnedra (bailiwick and pieve of Locarno), Virgin of the Annunciation in Palagnedra (Lorenzo Cresci, altar piece, 1602) and Virgin of the Annunciation in Florence (fresco, 14th century)

A similarly imported devotion concerns the Virgin of the Annunciation of Florence. A copy of the famous and miraculous painting kept in the basilica of the Annunciation in Florence (fig. 8) can still been admired in the parish church of Palagnedra (fig. 9 and 10), a village in the Centovalli, also in the bailiwick of Locarno. This work of art was commissioned by migrants resident in Florence, as recorded in the inscription under the painting.

These are two very good examples of religious and devotional transfers. Further evidence can be found in rural brotherhoods, where migrants followed customs and devotions they had come across in major cities.


Adamoli Davide, Fratelli per l’eternità. Storia delle confraternite nei baliaggi sudalpini in epoca moderna, PhD presented at the Université de Fribourg and the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, April 2014 (forthcoming).

Beard Geoffrey, Stucco and Decorative Plasterwork in Europe, London, Thames & Hudson, 1983.

Damiani Cabrini Laura, Seicento ritrovato: presenze pittoriche “italiane” nella Lombardia svizzera fra Cinquecento e Seicento, Milano, Skira, 1996.

Gambi Lucio (ed.), “Col bastone e la bisaccia per le strade d’Europa: migrazioni stagionali di mestiere nell’arco alpino nei secoli XVI-XVIII: atti di un seminario di studi tenutosi a Bellinzona l’8 e il 9 settembre 1988”, in Bollettino storico della Svizzera italiana, vol. 103, fasc. I-IV, gennaio-dicembre 1991.

Muchembled Robert (ed.), Cultural exchange in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006-2007.

Orelli Chiara, “Migrazione e mestiere: alcuni percorsi di integrazione nelle città lombarde e toscane di “migranti” dalla Svizzera italiana (secoli XVI-XVIII)”, in Meriggi Marco, Pastore Alessandro (ed.), Le regole dei mestieri e delle professioni, secoli XV-XIX, Milano, Franco Angeli, 2001.

Rüsch Elfi, I monumenti d’arte e di storia del Canton Ticino IV, Distretto di Locarno IV (La Verzasca, il Pedemonte, le Centovalli e l’Onsernone, Berna, Società di storia dell’arte in Svizzera SSAS, 2013.