If you look back in history, the official religion of the country prior to Henry VIII’s reign was of course Roman Catholic. Then followed a period of to-ing and fro-ing on this at the whim of the monarch, until the protestant Church of England became firmly established as the “official” religion in 1559, with all others being deemed non-conformist. In turning our attention now to the non-conformist Catholics, I refer to those who clung to those beliefs irrespective of what the monarch may have to say on the matter. This was a hazardous practice with it being illegal to attend Catholic services until 1778 – priests saying mass could get the death penalty, and their flock experienced a wide variety of active discrimination from forfeiting land to naming and shaming.
Any Roman Catholic chapels were private – usually just a room in a house that could be disguised as something else in case of emergency – until after 1791 when chapels could be officially registered. Even then, physical buildings were not a focus of Catholic activity which continued to consist of priests serving whomever they could reach.
The Church was organised into dioceses in 1850. This began the process of moving towards fixed places of worship. You should look to the district and diocese records in order to find what trace if any remains of your Catholic ancestors from Wing. Buckinghamshire fell into the London District from 1688 to 1840, the Eastern District from 1840 to 1850, and the Diocese of Northampton from 1850 onwards. Any Catholic registers handed in to the Registrar General after 1837 can be found in series RG4 at The National Archives (RG4 is indexed online at BMD Registers if you know the surname you are looking for).
Note that Catholicism was not particularly strong in Buckinghamshire, and I suspect the scarcity of records may reflect the underlying scarcity of Catholics. Also note that, as Catholics were actively persecuted, there was a tendency not to keep written evidence like registers. And you may need to brush up on your Latin if you are intending to peruse any original Catholic registers!
From 1715, Catholics who refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Sovereign as head of the church had to register their names and estates at the local quarter sessions, so this is the most likely place you will find mention of your Catholic ancestors.
If your interests are earlier than this, your ancestor may be recorded in the Pipe Rolls or other documents of the Exchequer. These show the fines levied on recusants during the 1581 to 1692 period. The originals are at The National Archives, but some years have been indexed and published by the Catholic Record Society.
Catholicism in Wing
It would seem there was a Catholic chapel in Wing in the late 1700s, however it must have been extremely small. Catholic Missions and Registers 1700-1880 vol 2 by Michael Gandy contains the following entry: “Burcot House, Wing (reg 1794). Domestic chapel (Carmel Eddy). No registers known. Possibly never really functioned.”
There were Catholic families within Wing over the years, including the prominent local family the DORMERs who were rumoured to have their own priest living with them at Ascott House. Despite being a well-known Catholic who was recorded as a “hinderer of religion” in 1564, Sir William Dormer escaped any charges as a result of this, and even had sufficient status within Protestant society to host Queen Elizabeth I at Ascott House in 1570.
Sir Robert Dormer and his heirs held the advowson and rectory of Wing, and therefore you will find many details of the family in the parish church records despite the fact that this was clearly not their primary affiliation. This was one way in which the proprietries of the Protestant regime were observed. As baptisms and marriages officially had to take place in the parish church, it is not really surprising that the parish registers of All Saints Church includes several baptisms, marriages and burials for members of the family, generally marked with a cross. All Saints Church itself also contains a number of Dormer tombs. Charles, Lord Dormer, Baron of Wing is included in the English Catholic Nonjurors of 1715 i.e. was one of those who had to register their name and estates (in his case, in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Sussex) after refusing to take the oath of loyalty to the Sovereign as head of the church that year.
There was a William HITCHCOCK alias NEEDHAM who may have been Catholic. He appears in “Publications of the Catholic Record Society” v55 and in a dictionary of Catholic biographies (as far as I can tell from Google Books – more information would be appreciated!). It would seem he was born in the early 1600s, apparently the son of William HITCHCOCK and Mary HOBBES, although I can’t confirm this.
The Calendars of the Committee for Compounding for May 1647 listed Willliam DANCER and Thomas HIGGs as Papists then holding an estate in Wing.
In the 1662 Episcopal Visitation Book for the Archdeaconry of Buckingham (published by the Buckinghamshire Record Society) the following Wing residents were excommunicated from the Church of England for being “reputed papists” – Gabriel LYON, Michael RATFORD’s wife, William MERRYDALE’s wife, widow CROWCH, and Charles TURGIS. Maria LEACH (wife of William LEACH) was similarly accused but was not excommunicated.
Thomas ROWE born in Wing around 1880 recorded himself as a Roman Catholic in 1900 when joining the Army – as found on his Army Pension papers in the WO364 series.
From the parish registers of All Saints Church, there is the following burial:
ROWE Charles Cecil age 2, 7 May 1909, service performed by F Long R.C. Priest