This article came from the Chronicle published April 1988. Pages 35-43
YEOVIL CHURCH ACCOUNTS 1457-8
Author: Leslie Brooke
One of the earliest churchwardens’ accounts in the country is that recorded for Yeovil in 1457-8, the Latin text of which was printed in full, with all its contractions, in ‘Collectanea Topographica et Genealoical, published by J.B.Nicholls & Son in 1836. The original roll is stated to have been ‘communicated by Mr.J.Batten, jun., of Yeovil, one of the subscribers to this work’. It contains a great deal of information which has not hitherto been noticed in local publications, and following are some of the interesting items which occur, rendered into English from the photocopied text supplied through the courtesy of Cambridge University Library. The amounts throughout, in the original, are shown in Roman numerals (rendered here in arabic figures), a practice which continued for a very long period, which may account for some errors in totalling despite the fact that some form of tally or abacus must have been employed in computing. Sums of 13s.4d., 6s.8d., and 3s.4d. are frequently met with in the accounts, these being known as a mark, an angel, and an angelet – two-thirds, one-third, and one-sixth of a £ respectively. The ‘mark’, though a unit of accountancy, was never an actual coin, unlike the angel which superseded the earlier ‘noble’ in 1464-5. It will be remembered,of course, that there were then 240 pennies to the £! The heading reads :
Yevell. Roll’of the account of Guy Corveser and Richard Hosyer proctors of the church of Saint John Baptist from the Feast of Easter in the 35th year of Henry the Sixth after the Conquest of England up to the Feast of Pentecost in the 36th year of the aforesaid king.
It is noteworthy that the first-named proctor (churchwarden) bears a surname denoting the trade of shoemaker (corvesier), while the other is of a hosier. In the following year Corveser was succeded by John Tanner, another prominent trade in Yeovil. It was usual, though not always so, for the ‘second’ proctor to become the ‘first’ in the following year, by which practice continuity was maintained from year to year. The newly-appointed proctor being able to call upon the experience gained by the previous year’s holder in respect of certain regular charges such as ‘fines’ for seats, the rate for knells, burial fees, etc.
The accounts commence with the showing of a credit balance transferred from the previous year of £12.11s.0½d., a large amount for the times, when a craftsman was paid 4d a day and at the end of their term of office, the proctors were able to hand on an amount only somewhat less than twelve shillings under this sum to their successors, despite heavy expenditure on the bells.
Among several sources of income, the first to appear is from the ‘Sale of Seats’, though the charges show that these amounts were more in the nature of a ‘fine’, that is to say, an alienation or transfer from one person to another which was levied by the proctors whenever such a transaction occurred. The detailed list of eleven entries shows that the sexes were segregated, since, with only a single exception, the seats were let to the same sex as previously. The charges vary from 8d. to 16d., the former being for a seat behind the font, and the latter for one opposite the pulpit. The amounts recorded came to 12s.6d., though the total shown is 10s.10d., the difference being accounted for by 12d. not forthcoming ‘because of dearness of rent’, while another, of 10d., ‘for a seat beneath the tower’, had not been paid ‘at this time’.
The next heading under receipts, is ‘Profits from Knells’ with 21 entries. The actual cost for the tolling of a knell was 6d., but John Harewyll and four others paid 10d. each, the extra being to have ‘the cross of latten’ (brass) at the burial, while a payment of 3s.4d. secured for Henry Byndelaus the use of ‘the cope, cross, and thurible of silver of the church for the funeral of the wife of the said Henry’. The thuribleble was the incense burner carried in procession. Some of theknells were rung for the anniversaries of former deaths, and 16d. was ‘received from William Tayllor for ringing the bells at his funeral and the anniversary of John Baker lately deceased with the cross of latten’. One unusual entry under this heading reads:
20d. received from Richard Flynt for ringing the bells when his wife was borne through this town to Crukern to be buried there.
Although there was no legal obligation for this payment to be made, it was customary for church officials to make such a charge, or a similar one, when corpses were conveyed through their parish. In theory burial was being offered and if, as usual, this was declined, then the burial fee was; claimed!
There are only four entries under the next heading, which is ‘Profits of the Churchyard’ (cimiterii). These are:
4d. received from William Tayllor for permission to have his waggons this year on the other side of the churchyard.
4d. received from John Skynner for tenancy easement there for the same period for four waggons.
4d. received from John Hille for tenancy through the year for three waggons.
4d. received from William Beeff for a tenancy in the same place.
It would appear that these rents were ‘parking fees’ for waggons being brought into town during times of market or fairs, etc., though it is not clear exactly where ‘the other side’ of the churchyard was. It may possibly have been on the north side of the church which was unpopular as a burial site, though whether there was enough room for up to 12 or more such conveyances at any one time seems doubtful, or perhaps in Church Path to the west of the churchyard. The standings, on the other hand, could have been in Silver Street, though there were, about this time and much later, several lean—to buildings against the churchyard wall. However, at a much later date, there is record of tethering rings being set in the wall, so perhaps after all this is where the standings were.
There next follows a list of 14 entries of ‘Gifts Pledged’, among which are:
13s.4d, received for a gown given by Margery Hagard for praying in the pulpit annually, now sold to the vicar of the church.
6s.8d. received from John Fybyan by gift of John Code for the upkeep of the church, etc.
3s.4d. received from John Fybyan for ringing, the cope, cross, and other ornaments of the church on the day of the burial of the same John Gode (nothing because [included in] the aforesaid total).
6s.8d. received from the said John Fybyan by the gift of Thomas lately his servant for the same John for the upkeep and use of the aforesaid. church.
The first of these was a gift in lieu of money (but which realised a mark when sold) in order that the donor’s name should be brought to the ‘Common Mind’, by being placed on the bede roll. This meant that the deceased’s name, with others, would be read from the pulpit during the first week of Lent and then recited around the streets of the town by the bedeman, bidding prayers for their souls. It may be of interest to record that the term ‘beadle’ applied to a crier in the first instance, arose from this custom, though following the Reformation his duties evolved into other channels.
It would seem that in the case of the last three entries, John Fybyan was acting in his capacity as an executor of wills, but with regard to the last it is odd that an entry under knells refers to Thomas as his son.
The list also shows:
3s.4d. received from the vicar of Yevele for the cross, cope, censer used on the day of the burial of the late Rector of Berewyke (Barwick).
18d. received for linen and jewels of the church sent to Sturmyster Nywton Castell in the 35th year [of Henry VI i.e. the previous year] at the Feast of Saint Laurence.
8d. received for the cloths and jewels of the church now loaned to Bradeford [Abbas] in the aforesaid year in summertime.
The loan of church property to Sturminster Newton, some sixteen miles away, and to Bradford Abbas ‘in summertime’, 1457, shows that Yeovil’s church was perhaps unusually well provided in the matter of ornaments and vestments, but it does appear that the promote exercised a tight control on finances when the vicar himself was required to pay for the use of the cross, cope, and censer when he attended the funeral of Barwick’s rector, with whom Yeovil had a particular tie. Barwick had been a chapelry dependent on Yeovil originally, and the rector there was still required to have the approval of Yeovil’s rector before being instituted. The vicar also had to pay the 13s.4d. for the gown which Margery Hagard had demised. Further entries under the same heading are:
3s.6d. received for one cassock (coopertorio) now sold to Richard Rorke from the gift of one named Fullmar.
6d. for three fleeces sold to Guy Corveser shorn from three sheep from the church stock this year 35th 
That the church kept a flock of sheep is also shown by an entry, under, expenditure, of eightpence paid ‘for pasture bought for two ewes from the parish stock’. This was probably acquired by bequests; in the following century, in 1526, John Walle, alias Hamlyn, left ’10 yewes and a kowe for to contynue in a stock for the said church to the mynteyning of the bells and other ornaments there’.
The total amount accruing from the gifts or votive offerings, came to 53s. 4d. according to the roll, though there does seem to be a small discrepancy even after allowing for the second of the Fybyan items.
Finally under the receipts section is ‘Income from Church Weights’ (plumborum):
9d. received the rent for one church weight hired by Alice Sawyer at the birthday of our Lord in the 35th year for this year.
2s.6d. received for payment of one pair of weights from the stock loaned to John Parsons at Bole of Westcoker on the Feast of Saint John the Baptist last past for the year. 15d. received for one weight from the stock loaned to Thomas Chipman of Preston on the Feast of Saint James the Apostle in the 35th year per annum.
8d. for rent of one of the parish weights formerly in the custody of Alice Sawyer loaned to Thomas Holme at the feast of Christmas last past up to Easter last past.
2s.6d. received for one of the parish weights from the church stock loaned to Thomas Mylward of Modeford at the Feast of the Holy Cross last past for the year.
18d. from Nicholas Seyer for the rent of one weight for himself loaned at Easter in the 35th year for the whole year.
Total 9s.1d (sic)
Although the total is a penny short of the sum as itemised, it is possible that tie first entry should have been viijd and that an extra digit was inadvertently added – viiijd. By the statute 11 Henry VII (1496) cap.iv, only certain towns were allowed to keep imperial standards. It is assumed that in Yeovil the weights then came under the jurisdiction of the Portreeve and Burgesses, and that the churchwardens relinquished their stock. Certainly the next church accounts which have survived, for 1516, make no mention of them.
The grand total of the receipts for 1457-8 are shown as: ‘Total sum received with arrears xvijli. xixd.ob. (£17.1s.7½d.).
Expenditure is detailed in 71 entries, many of which relate to the bells of the church. The most important work during the year was the provision and erection of a recast bell for which £5.0s.8d. had been allocated the previous year. The relevant entries are:
|For one man conveying the broken bell in drink||2d.|
|Paid to one man for making the last new bell £5.0s.8d. which were received from Tristram Burnell and Thomas Smythe||£1.0s.1d.|
|Paid for carriage of the old broken bell up to Bristoll||5s.0d.|
|In bringing back the same bell homewards to Yeovil||6s.8d.|
|Paid for hanging of the same bell in the tower to John Hill, Thomas Capenter, and John Harrys||2s.0d.|
|Paid to John Wayte for obtaining the rope at Mountagu (Montacute) and for the help of the said carpenter for one day and a half||6d.|
|Paid to Richard Hosyer being with the same carpenter at the same time||6d.|
|Guy Corveser present at the same place for half a day||2d.|
|One horse brought for carrying the said rope from Mountagu to Yevell||2d.|
|For nails and bolts purchased at Shurbourne for fixing the said bell||5d.|
|Paid to William Barry for repair of the ironwork of the said bell||4d.|
|For meat and drink for the said men helping to raise the said bell in the tower for two days and a half||2s.2½d.|
|In carrying the rope to Mountagu||3d.|
|For timber and boards lying in the tower and placing them in other places for fixing the said new bell||2d.|
These are the specific references to the recasting of an old bell which most probably came from the former church (pre-1380). It seems surprising that in order to hoist the bell up into the bell chamber, it was necessary to send to Montacute to borrow a rope of sufficient strength, and though twopence was spent in its carriage from there, it cost threepence to return it. It was also necessary to go to Sherborne for nails and bolts, and, indeed, in further expenditure on other bells, sevenpence was paid ‘for transport of two clappers, namely the fourth and third bells, to Shurbourne there and back’, the making of these clappers ‘for the Feast of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist’ costing separate payments of 4d. and 6d., while, at the end of the accounts, a. further 12d. was paid to ‘William Smyth of Shurbourne for the repair of the clappers beyond the costs above’ . The reason for this may be due to the existence of a smith working for the Abbey there, who specialised in bell maintenance.
Other bell expenses included repairs to a ‘bawdry’, the thong attaching the clapper to the bell, on two occasions; 1½d. for ‘acsingia’ (flick) for greasing the bells at Whitsuntide; 1d. ‘for a clapper purchased a new for the bell serving the Body of Christ’, this would have been the small hand bell rung at the celebration of Mass; and 2d. ‘for a string (cordu) purchased for the Salsyngbelle’. This last, which is referred to as the ‘Salve’ bell in 1544 and in 1557 accounts, is the ancient Sanctus bell which still remains in St.John’s and which almost certainly came from the former church, which was pre-1380.
Fourpence was also paid ‘for making one hempen rope containing thirteen pounds of hemp by gift of Tristram Burnell serving the great bell’. Tristram Burnell, of Poyntington, had married Agnes, widow of Ralph Brett of Newton Surmaville, and together they acquired the whole of thatmanor in 1442. It seems that Tristram was a descendant from a son or nephew of Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1272 to 1295, who had left large estates in the county. Another entry relating to bells is:
In drink given to the ringers while it thundered (tonutruat) 1d. Payments of this nature for drink either for the ringers or for the clerk, continued until the Reformation when such ‘superstitious practices’ were banned. It was a commonly-held belief that the sound of the bells drove away the devil who.was held responsible for creating thunder.
The following payments refer to the annual ceremony of blessing the crops at Rogationtide, just before Ascension Day, which was also linked with the perambulation of the parish boundaries:
(Please tell the webmaster where this unwanted dot came from!)
|For two and a half yards of woollen cloth purchased for two banners of the church carried around the fields||15d.|
|For dyeing of one yard and aquarter of cloth||1d.|
|For making of the same banners||6d.|
|For seven wooden rods purchased for the banners carried in the procession||2½d.|
The feast of Corpus Christi on the Thursdayafter Trinity Sunday, was also the occasion of a procession through the town’s streets, two payments being made as follows:
|For the ringers on the feast of Corpus Christi while the procession went around the town||1d.|
|Paid to John Mershe for taking down the canopy on the feast of Corpus Christi with the repair of one parish surplice||1d.|