Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wolverton's Ecclesiastical History - IV After the Dissolution

In 1155 Baron Meinfelin founded Bradwell priory in his will. He provided land to the south of Bradwell Brook in the area now known as Bradwell Abbey and the church at Wolverton was part of its endowments. This history of Bradwell Priory has been discussed in this post, and again here.

The fortunes of Holy Trinity Church were therefore tied to the priory until its dissolution and it has to be said that after the Black Death of 1349 the Priory went into a long decline which must have had its impact on the church. When the Priory was dissolved in 1526, the property and the church fell into the hands of Cardinal Wolsey, who gave the revenue to New College Oxford. A few years later, at the General dissolution of the monasteries, the Priory was acquired by Arthur Longueville and thus the church was reunited with the Wolverton Manor for the first time since the 12th century.

The Rectory, and the land associated with it,  had a different and slightly more intricate history of ownership. It came into crown ownership in 1531 and was leased to various parties. The rectory was granted to Sir John Spencer in 1599. His daughter and heir, Elizabeth, married William Compton who became Earl of Northampton. The Earls of Northampton owned an interest in this property until 1737, when it was sold to Brazenose College, Oxford. The lease of the property was sold to Henry Longueville in 1601 and this lease was conveyed to Dr John Radcliffe on the sale of the manor in 1712.

The 16th and 17th centuries may not have been prosperous ones for the vicars of Holy Trinity with revenues from the rectory and the church being siphoned off by other interests. Some attempt to simplify matters was agreed in 1656. The Earl of Northampton assigned his rights to the Lord of the Manor in return for a perpetual rent charge of £100 per annum. The Lord of the Manor allotted land to the value of £50 to the Vicar in exchange for his abandoning rights to the tithe. Six years later, the Longuevilles, in their continued zeal for land enclosure,  went back on the agreement and appropriated the land allotted to the Parson and paid him instead £40 per annum. The vicars were now entirely dependent for their income on the Lord of the Manor. This income was reduced to £30 when Thomas Evans became incumbent in 1702. In the meantime, the Lords of the Manor, the Longueville family, were busy enclosing land and depopulating Wolverton Manor.

You can also see the disruption of the 17th century Civil War in the dates of the vicars. In 1645 the incumbent was Robert Ladbroke, who was replaced in that year by Gilbert Newton. Newton, presumably, was acceptable to the Puritan regime, but not to the High Church Anglicans because he was replaced in 1660, the date of the Restoration, by Robert Bostock. He only lasted a year due to some unwise remarks about MPs before his succession by Robert Duncumbe, who had greater longevity.

The Longuevilles were Royalist supporters, but these dates suggest that they had to yield to puritan pressure during the Commonwealth years.

The 16th and 17th centuries may have been a low point in the long history of the church. The manor was largely depopulated through the enclosures of the Longuevilles, and as we have seen these enclosures even extended to the land attached to the church - the parson's piece. The Priory was no longer close by to look after the interests of the church and the Bishop of Lincoln, under whose jurisdiction Wolverton came, was remote. Wolverton went into decline to become a very insignificant parish. The Longueville family appear to have maintained their ancient obligations at the lowest cost to themselves.

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