All Saints Church, Wing, entered the sixteenth century with a history of almost a thousand years of worship behind it, much of it presided over by monks from the monastery and priory at Wing.
With its monastic history and the later patronage of a powerful religious family it is not surprising that Wing church was wealthy. Although the basic structure of the church is seventh century Saxon there were significant additions to the church throughout the medieval period. The tower was replaced in the fourteenth century and the nave walls were raised to insert clerestory windows, which increased the light in the church, and at the same time a magnificent roof with wonderfully carved figures was installed. In the fifteenth century a porch had been added on the south aisle and three windows were inserted in the Apse walls to replace earlier round headed Saxon lights.
The sixteenth century started, for Wing, with a major change in the way the priest was appointed and, although this change was short-lived, it heralded the later break with the monastic tradition. In 1498 William Blacknall of Wing, who had leased land from the Convent and Priory of St Mary at St Albans, appointed Dr Thomas Quarndon as priest. This was the first time that the vicar had been appointed by a lay person other than the King or Queen, when England had been at war with France during the fourteenth century. Wing was a daughter house of the monastery of St Nicholas at Angiers had the advowson of the church. Dr Quarndon was vicar until he died in 1507 when the Prioress of St Mary’s appointed John Clark, a monk, as priest and he had the living until 1546. John Clarke must have been a significant influence on the parish and with the aid of Sir Robert Dormer was probably a brake on the change that was imposed from without during the early part of the English Reformation.
The interior of All Saints’ Church would have looked very different compared with today’s rather stark white. The walls were painted throughout, with a Dome ( A day of judgement painting) over the chancel arch extending upwards to the roof. In addition to the High Altar in the apse there were two chapels dedicated to Our Lady, and to St Katherine, and any number of images and statues all providing a probable explanation of the church’s dedication to All Saints’ . Only the piscinas remain of the original chapels but St Katherine’s chapel was restored earlier this century. There are pedestals and niches previously occupied by these or other statues, but all are now empty. During a re-application of the lime wash in the 1980s traces of wall paintings were found throughout the church confirming an observation made in 1933. Selected pieces of these remain uncovered but they are little more than outline drawings. The Rood and screens were also probably painted in bright red, green, gold and blue in a similar way to the remaining fragment of fifteenth century screen at Brixworth in Northants.
The chapels and statues each had at least one candle burning in front of them and in addition there were candles on the Rood and before the High Altar. During the medieval period, gilds, originating from the craft gilds, were formed among the laity. This first occurred in towns but spread to the countryside and there were at least four gilds in Wing and the records show that St Margaret of Antioch, St Thomas, St Mary Magdalene, and St John the Baptist were the patron saints. Apart from looking after their saint’s image or statue in the church, each gild appointed lightmen who looked after the candles. On Sundays and holy days, and particularly on their patron saint’s day the lightmen elevated their candle at the “sacring” during the mass. Apart these ecclesiastical activities the gilds were also responsible for any alms which parishioners gave as they prayed before the images and these would have been distributed to the poor of the parish by the keeper, although this did not always happen.
During a Visitation to Buckinghamshire in 1519 the Bishop of Lincoln found that the churches were generally in a poor state of repair; there is no specific mention of the state of Wing Church at this time in the Ecclesiastical History of Buckinghamshire and it seems unlikely, in view of the patronage the church, and the work being done that this would have applied to All Saints Wing.
Wing possesses an almost complete set of Churchwardens accounts for the period 1527- 1723 and these are stored in the county archive in Aylesbury. In the 1950’s an historian and archaeologist Vere Woodman transcribed the more interesting entries in the accounts and published them in the local history society proceedings. He also transcribed the parish records for the period 1546-1812.
Four churchwardens were elected every Trinity Sunday representing the village of Wing and three hamlets of Burcott, Ascott and Crafton. At the same time the lightmen who tended the candles on the Altar, Rood screen and in front of the Sepulchre were the Sacrament was reserved, were chosen.
The Churchwardens accounts start with an inventory of the Church’s treasure, and vestments on 22nd June 1527 and indicate a very wealthy church. Perhaps they would come to regret this listing a few years later when the King’s Commissioners confiscated the goods of the church.
After the inventory the accounts deal with the building of a barn which involved payments to Grase of Tring for felling 8 trees. The description of the building as a barn seems to be an understatement because it has a chimney, a hearth and a tiled floor. The tiles and lime were bought from the Brickhills and the tiler took 6 days to lay the 3000 tiles which were bought in two consignments. Assuming the tiles were four inches square, which would be the normal size at the time, the house would have had a floor area of around 300 square feet which would have been much larger than an average villager’s house; there is no record of whom the house is for. In later years accounts there is a mention of Church house and this raises the questions of whether firstly this is the same house built in 1527 and, if so, was it built for the priest as an alternative to his living in the priory, which by now had been leased for some years. Woodman considered that the house built in this year and the Church house were one and the same and that it stood at the entrance to the churchyard.
The accounts show that considerable care was taken over vestments and in 1527 the best cope and one of the vestments were mended and two new albs were bought at a cost of five shillings and sixpence plus two pence for carriage. The expenditure was not confined to mending vestments; one of the Chalices was changed at an additional cost of 5 shillings. and a censer and a holy water stoop were also bought. At the end of the financial year at the following Trinity Sunday contained £19/2/2 and the expenditure for the year was £8/1/5. Woodman found that in total the accounts do not quite balance and there may have been some confusion over the costs of building the house.
The accounts for 1535/6 show that there was significant work done on John Baker’s house in Wingrave which belonged to Wing church. Like the house in Wing the floor required 3000 tiles and was therefore probably of a similar size. Work continued on mending vestments and Anne Buckmaster was paid on three occasions for her work. On the first she made a curtain for “Our Lady of gesofe”, a representation of the Nativity, and for this and mending two albs and making two altar cloths she was paid sixpence. Later she was paid three pence for mending two “aubys and hamysys” and on another occasion five pence for mending four albs and four amices and for making a table cloth. She appears to have been a skilled needlewoman since the making of three surplices was also entrusted to her. She also provided board and lodging for the tilers and their helper, Denis, who were working on the John Baker’s house. Her husband Nicholas Buckmaster was the churchwarden!
In the same year curtains were made for the Rood loft and a gate was made for the churchyard. The great bell which was rehung a new font cover was installed, a table was bought and the accounts show the parish as a hive of activity. Perhaps it is no accident that in 1536 Sir Robert Dormer moved into Ascott Priory after Henry VIII had given him this on the dissolution of the monasteries
Sir Robert Dormer, who was the High Sheriff for Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, had come from West Wycombe. He was well connected at court and Jane Seymour, to whom Henry VIII was married at the time, had earlier been engaged to one of the Dormer family, perhaps William Dormer, Sir Robert’s son.
The effect of the dissolution of the monasteries on Wing was not confined to a change of ownership and a new Lord of the Manor. In 1538, the organ from Woburn Abbey was bought for £9, dismantled and brought to Wing in 3 loads for which each carter was paid 15 pence. At the same time a window and ornaments were also bought from the Abbey. There is no trace of this window in the church now and the organ was replaced in the early nineteenth century. The villagers who went for these items needed to be fed on their journey to Woburn, a distance of about nine miles. The cost of the meat and drink when the villagers was 2 shillings and seven pence; either there were a large number in the party or a few who enjoyed their journey. The organ when it arrived was played by Sir Thomas Brabant who was paid for his trouble and received 4/7 in the midsummer quarter, 2/9 in the Michaelmas quarter, 2/6 for Christmas and 2/4 for the Ladyday quarter during the first year. The larger fee for the first quarter is probably explained by the extra work in rebuildIng and tuning the instrument.
In August 1536 Thomas Cromwell issued a set of spiritual injunctions of which one was that incumbents should provide Bibles both in Latin and English and encourage the parishioners to read them. There was no immediate response to this order in Wing and it was not until 1539-1540 that a Bible was acquired and a payment of 2 pence was made to (Nicholas) Mayne for a cloth in which to bring home the Bible. Woodman did not transcribe any entry for the purchase of the Bible so perhaps the Bible was given by Sir Robert Dormer who would be anxious to maintain an appearance of conformity in the village.
Work continued under Sir Robert’s patronage and in 1537 a carver was paid 19 shillings and sixpence for making a tabernacle. This must have been a quite exceptional piece of work in view of the cost.
In 1538 Thomas Cromwell issued another set of injunctions which, among other things, prohibited the setting of lights before images. Robert Fountaine and Thomas Buckmaster, the lightmen of the gild of St Mary Magdalene, handed their funds of 25 shillings over to the churchwardens presumably for distribution to the poor. There were no funds from St Katherine’s light because the lightmen, Robert Daubeney and Nicholas Mayne, owed the church 50 shillings: had they misappropriated their funds? Ten years later Robert Dobleye still owed 22 shillings and 2 pence and was allowed to pay it off at the rate of 2 shillings per year.
The major source of income for Wing church was the rent from farms. In 1543 there appears to be rent arrears in that two entries refer to rent payments for “midsomer” and “myghellmas” last past. The vicar John Clarke was also paying six shillings a year rent at this time and was therefore presumably working one of the church-owned farms. Alms received by the Sepulchre and (“hocc”?) men provided income amounting to 35 shillings between them.
Throughout the Middle Ages there had been a trade in ale on feast days. In 1535 nineteen and a half quarters of malt were purchased which would have made a large volume of ale. The malting was paid for by the churchwardens who then produced beer which was sold to the parishioners. In 1543 the Whitsun ale was sold for about three pounds. During the reign of Edward VI the Protestants discouraged the Whitsun ale brewing and the tradition died out in many parishes but continued in Wing for many years and the accounts for 1564 are still recording receipts from May ale.
In some years another income producer was wax and in 1543 there is an entry that 4/7 was made by the churchmen of the church wax. In 1546 they sold 16 lbs of wax for 9/1. Without more information it is difficult to know how these items came about. There are a number of possible explanations. The sale of wax in 1543 coincided with the injunction forbidding the burning of candles in front of images. This may have left churches with a surfeit of candles and the best way of dealing with this was to sell them to parishioners. In Wing there was expenditure on wax of forty shillings during the same year and the candle maker was paid 3/1 for turning this into candles which may have been in excess of requirements. This does not explain how the churchwardens came to sell such a large amount of wax in 1546 by which time presumably a lower level of usage would have been budgeted for. If the parish had had their own apiary it is difficult to explain why such a large amount of wax was bought in 1543; was it because the yield in 1542 had been lower than required and more wax was bought to correct this and the excess was then sold to parishioners. Unfortunately the church accounts do not show the expenditures for 1546 so there is no record of wax purchases and the sale in this year may simply be explained by excess wax production brought about by the diminished requirements for candles. The decrease in the use of candles must have had considerable effects on the economy, and bee keepers and candle makers must have suffered.
Edward VI 1547-1553
Edward VI’s reign started with a strengthening of the Protestant cause and a repeal of the Six Articles. All images were ordered to be removed from churches and the burning of candles in front of Roods and in chapels was forbidden. Any funds which the light men had for maintaining the lights of the chapels were transferred to the churchwardens. The Wing accounts show that the Rood men paid 10 shillings and the Sepulchre men 24 shillings and sixpence to the churchwardens.
In 1548 the wardens attended a Visitation by the bishop in Aylesbury on the Friday before midsummer’s day and their costs amounted twenty three pence; almost as much as the sexton was paid for the whole of the midsummer quarter. The Visitation was presumably to pass on the instructions on how churches should be changed including the provision of a Communion table, church boxes, a pulpit, the provision of a Bible, Homilies and prayer books and the paraphrases of Erasmus, All images had to be removed, including Roods, and the filling and whitewashing of walls was to be carried out.
In Wing these changes happened at a variable pace. The first sign of conformance is a payment to the Sexton of two pence “for a thynge to set the sacrament of of the awlter”. This suggests that the change was minimal and perhaps it was a simple low wooden cover for the Altar top.
Some things did not change in spite of attempts at suppression The candle sticks on the altar were still in use in 1547 and lame Em was paid a penny for scouring them. The singing of a dirge on All Souls’ Day continued and apparently lasted all day. The costs of this were paid out of the church box and it was normal for the laity to receive payment for their attendance. The dirges were paid for out of bequests made to the church. In 1548 significant amounts were spent on Wylkys Bridge which was made of wood but with stone pillars, and it seems likely that this would also have been as a result of a bequest to the church.
Sometime between Christmas and Ladyday in 1549 an inventory of the church goods was made (Appendix 2) and the clerk who carried this out charged the churchwardens two shillings. A church book was bought sometime between Ladyday and Trinity Sunday and during the same period a payment was made to the clerk in Leighton Buzzard for “bokes to synge on.” The changes required by the bishops visitation must have put a considerable strain on the church finances and some items had to be sold off to defray these expenses. In the period leading up to Trinity Sunday the wardens recorded that they received £16/2/0 for church goods which had been sold. By the financial year 1549-50 the images had been removed from the church and the gilt sold for four pence, which is a very small price compared with the cost of over £11 paid to the gilder in 1535 when the images were refurbished. The expenses continued with the purchase of two Psalters at a cost of three shillings and eight pence. Later in 1550 the changes in Wing Church became more evident. The Dome in the Rood loft was washed out but the Rood remained; the altars were removed and replaced with a proper communion table. The Homilies were bought in 1551, some four years after the injunction had been issued.
Sir Robert Dormer died on 12th July 1552 and Sir William Dormer succeeded him to the title. Sir Robert’s death appears to have had an influence on Wing’s conformance. The earlier tardiness on the part of the churchwardens in effecting the changes caused them some trouble. They were summoned to appear before the King’s Commissioners in Aylesbury and wrote pleading against their appearance. The Commissioners were empowered to certify superfluous church plate for the king’s use and to see how much of it was embezzled. The churchwarden’s appeal was apparently in vain because soon after Easter the church goods were delivered to Aylesbury and an indenture against them because they were lacking one vestment. Of the goods sent to Aylesbury only a chalice, a tablecloth and a surplice were returned.
The Act of Uniformity was passed in 1552, and to comply, a 1549 Communion book was bought, although apparently only after the parish had borrowed one for a while. The first expenditure on bread and wine is recorded at the same time
In Wing the old order was restored with alacrity. Edward VI died on 6th July and, although the changes he introduced were not abrogated until October, on the 20th July a Mass book had been bought to be followed shortly by two vestments and two candlesticks. The servant of the Bishop of Oxford was paid sixpence for “hys peynes takynge at the holynge of the chalyce and ye corporus”, which suggests that there was a formal service in which the vessels were rehallowed and new Altar linen was blessed. The church building however could not be restored to its former glory. It was no longer necessary to conceal the fact that £12 had been secreted in 1549; £3 had been used in 1551 and the remaining £9 was returned to the churchwardens.
There is little doubt that the speed with which the Mass returned was due to Sir William Dormer. He had been among the first in the county to declare Mary Queen and his local community would be anxious to please him and also to return to old ways themselves. A total return to the Mass of Henry VIII does not appear to have happened immediately because there is a further payment for bread and wine which was used after Trinity Sunday. A stone mason refurbished the High Altar. By Christmas the use of incense had returned and Ellen London was paid two pence for cleaning censers which suggest that more than one was in use. Some time after Christmas there was further work on stone altars in the chapels; a frame was made about sepulchre and Ellen London washed the canopy. Thus within six months almost everything was back to normal.
During the remainder of Mary’s reign further restorations occurred with the Rood being repaired in 1556 when a cross and pax were bought.
The changes brought about by Elizabeth’s accession were initially not so traumatic in Wing as when Edward VI ascended the throne.
Woodman transcribed few of the entries in Elizabeth reign, perhaps because he did not consider them relevant, giving only a sketchy picture of the parish and more detail could undoubtedly be found in the original documents. Changes did occur but they proceeded slowly. Mary died on 17th November 1558 and on the following Easter the sexton was paid for watching the sepulchre suggesting that little had altered, although this is the last entry of this and the dirge on All Soul’s day in the same year is also the last.
In 1560 the Rood was taken down but the Rood loft was not dismantled until 1562 and even then the lower part of the screen remained in place to be rebuilt during the nineteenth century. The newly built stone altars were removed but only after the sumner (summoner), had threatened the church-wardens with an appearance at Lincoln to explain themselves and had also warned them during the Archdeacon’s Visitation in Aylesbury. The altars were removed at around the same time as the Rood Loft was dismantled. Although whitening of the walls had first started in 1548, and there was further work in 1564, it was not until 1582 that all wall paintings had been completely obliterated.
The injunctions of 1547 had required that the paraphrases of Erasmus should be purchased by each parish and this was required again during Elizabeth’s reign. In 1562 the paraphrases, which had originally cost fifteen shillings were bought for seven shillings. There is no earlier mention of the purchase of this book in Woodman’s transcription of the accounts.
There seems to have been no great urgency about the provision of books and a carelessness with them once bought. Jewel’s book, for example, was bought firstly in 1569 and again in 1600 but by 1612 it was found to be missing during a Visitation.
During a visitation in 1569 the chalice was found to be unsuitable since the wardens were asked if “they ministered in any profane chalice heretofore used in the Mass or in a decent Communion Cup. The chalice was replaced by a Communion cup with a lid, with the date marks for 1569 and it is still in use today.
Outward conformance came to Wing slowly largely because of the influence of the Dormer family and no history of Wing church during this period would be complete without some reference to them.
The Dormer Family
Sir Robert Dormer‘s involvement with Wing started at the dissolution of the Monasteries when he was granted the manor of Wing and Ascott priory. He also owned the manor at West Wycombe and this seems to be the predominant home at least in the middle part of the century. William Dormer, Sir Robert’s son, was engaged to Jane Seymour before Henry VIII decided otherwise. This did not seem to affect the Dormer’s presence at Court and they continued to be a powerful influence. Lady Jane Dormer, William’s sister, was one of the ladies of the court during Mary’s reign and she married the Count de Feria (later Duke de Feria) who was Philip of Spain’s chief envoy at the court and he also visited Elizabeth at Hatfield during the latter part of Mary’s reign
When Mary decided that Elizabeth should no longer be kept in the Tower of London in 1554 she was sent to the palace at Woodstock starting on 19th May. The first night of the journey was spent at Richmond, the second at Windsor and the third at West Wycombe with Sir William Dormer. The following night was spent at Rycote with Lord Williams and she arrived at Woodstock on 23rd May. On the return journey from Woodstock to Hatfield Elizabeth may have spent the night at Ascott Manor again under the auspices of Sir William Dormer. These associations with Elizabeth, and the Dormers obvious loyalty to the crown, stood them in good stead even though they were known to be a Catholic family.
In 1583 the extent of Catholicism was investigated and a list of persons who were “Harbourers of papists and seminaries” include four manors of which Dormer of Wing was one. This was Sir Robert Dormer, William’s son, later Baron Dormer of Wing.
Letters of Sir Francis Englefield to Duchess of Feria in 1570 show plainly how Sir Robert Dormer, in his “old age” was in danger of falling away from the Roman Catholic interest. He was said to be beset by heretics (such as the Earl of Bedford) so that one letter quoted “he breathes their spirit” and ” the use of ill company and all lack of good occasions of reviving a man’s slow devotion to good things, in time corrupts the mind, affection and soul.” It was hoped at the same time that his son’s marriage with a daughter of Lord Montague would make him a “pillar to that family that shall succeed in that realm”.
This marriage did not make Sir Robert an open recusant but it kept him within the old circle and all his children married into Roman Catholic families.
Between 1577 and 1586 there was an increase in recusants throughout the country due largely to the activities of Jesuits and seminary priests. In 1585 Sir Robert as High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire was ordered to draw up a list of recusants for the shire “that they may be compelled to pay their fines and provide horses for the queen’s service.” 22 names were included representing 15 families.
Although clearly a Catholic family the Dormers of Wing were never suspected of any treason and kept themselves out of the recusant lists all through the reign probably by outward conformity. This would have been easier for them with the advowson of Wing Church in their care. The names of their children are entered in the parish register, every one is marked with a sign of a cross, which does not occur with any other entries. The Dormers had their own resident priest at Ascott whose name was Harris. According to the confession of priest, Robert Gray, he had previously been associated with another prominent Catholic family, the Babingtons and in particular with Lady Babington. Harris lived in a chamber at Ascott from which, it is alleged, he never emerged and the family visited him there.
The Dormers were closely associated with the Society of Jesus some members of the family joined the order. Brother John Dormer was probably a grandson of Sir Robert and Brother William Browne, the son of a sister of Sir Robert Dormer’s sister and a brother of Lord Montague entered the order at the same time as a Lee of Pitstone and one of the Penns of Penn.
In 1602 Lord Carnarvon, head of the Dormer family, died at the battle of Newbury. He had been brought up as an Anglican by the Earl of Montgomery but returned at his death to Roman Catholicism. His mother and her younger sons remained recusants. Robert Dormer and his wife of Great Missenden returned to Wing as recusants in 1635 and there were also “Many persons of no note” who were also recusants in Wing.
A Dr Smith, Bishop of Chalcedon, had jurisdiction over the English Roman Catholics at this time and he frequently stayed with Lady Dormer at Wing.
All Saint’s, Wing, endured the reformation, such as it was, with fortitude. The influence and support of the Dormer family seems to have guided the village and churchwardens with wisdom. When the pressure for change became insurmountable then change was allowed to occur slowly and at times as income would allow. Liturgically there was even more reticence than in reordering of the building and conformity was delayed for as long as possible. It is not surprising that a return to Catholicism happened rapidly during the nineteenth century when the opportunity was presented by the Oxford Movement.
This essay originally appeared on the former Wing Village website (currently archived at http://robgodfrey.github.io/archive/wingvillage.org.uk – it is not known by whom or when it was written.