FRONT COVER: Mediieval Buckle, Slade’s Paddock, East Coker. Leslie Brooke

This article came from the Chronicle published April 1988. Pages 35-43 



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 The ‘mark’, though a unit of accountancy, was never an actual coin, unlike the angel which superseded the earlier ‘noble’ in 1464-5.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 [1457]

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:
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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.

Other annual customs and observances for which payments occurred were:
for Lent –

Paid for the annual communion of general remembrance, or obit, at Quadragesima time 8s.3d.

for Lent and Easter –
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For making the sepulchre at Easter and taking down the canopy 1d.
For four iron staples for the covering of the Lord’s body for Easter 1d.
For wax purchased for renewing the Easter taper together with making the same 12d.

Since the receipts show ‘7s.6d. received at the Feast of Easter for the Easter Candle’, the parish funds were increased handsomely by this transaction. The Easter Sepulchre was on the north side of the chancel, in a niche now occupied by a memorial to a former vicar, the Rev. Robert Phelips.

It was here that a crucifix and/or consecrated wafers were placed on Maundy Thursday, and enclosed with a canopy, while all other crucifixes and statues of saints were also veiled, including the rood over the chapcol, which remained until Easter day when the coverings were removed and the fasting of Lent came to an end.
For Christmas –

For one torch newly made for the high altar towards the feast of the birth of our Lord, namely for four pounds of wax purchased at 5½d. per pound 22d.
For twelve pounds of resin bought at the same time at 1½d. per pound 9d.(sic)
For match wicks (macche yeerns) bought at the same time 4d.
For verdigris (verdegrece) in making the torch aforesaid 10d.
Richard Hosyer working at the same place for the same time 2d.

Other items related to church furnishings and furniture include:

For three yards of linen cloth purchased at eight pence per yard for the dex (desk,? lectern) with the dyeing of the same cloth 8s.8d.
For one cloth of silk purchased for lying upon the altar of Saint Thomas 16p

The location of St.Thomas the Martyr’s altar in the Church is not known, but it was here that chantry chaplains were instituted in the following century, while in 1480 John Byconnel and others obtained leave from Edward IV to endow a priest who should say Masses for ever at this altar for the good estate of the king and queen, and for six of their own relations. It would appear to have been one of the principal altars after the high altar in the chancel.

For ten yards of linen cloth of a crimson (blodii) colour to lie before the high altar for the preservation of the vestments at the principal feasts newly bought 4s.8d.

The provision of such a floor covering was necessitated, no doubt, by wear and tear caused to the special apparel worn on the celebration of Mass on the occasion of Easter, Whitsun and Christmas. The chancel floor was probably tiled at this time, and the dragging of heavy brocade over its surface would soon have caused fraying, to say nothing of accumulation of dirt from between the tiles, no matter how assiduous the cleaners had been. The amount of material for a surplice, and the cost of its making is recorded as:

For eleven yards of linen cloth purchased for a surplice and next for new making 4s.6d.
And in making the same surplice with linen threads purchased 21d.

Two items of furniture are:

Paid for two herses (hesses) lying over the biers 2s.0d.
Paid to John ….. te for making one select holy water stoup with boards and planks purchased for the same 8d.

Herses were portable frames with spikes to accommodate candles which were placed over bodies during funeral services, sometimes made of wood, sometimes of iron, and sometimes a combination of both. There are several references in subsequent account rolls which suggest that those at St.John’s were of metal standing on a wooden base, as for instance in 1519 when eightpence was ‘Payd to John Crype for setting eleven spykes in ye bares of yren that standeth about ye herse’, and in 1558 when twopence was expended ‘for mendyng, the bord the Herse is upon’. The modern term, hearse, derives from this early form of contrivance.

With regard to the holy water stoup, the purchase of wood seems to suggest that this was a portable one, probably a metal dish on a wooden stand.
Repair to the fabric of the church necessitated the following expenses:

For boards and planks purchased for covering the openings in the tower 18d.
For two carpenters working in the said tower for half a day 5d.
In nails purchased for the same task 1½d.
In removing and repairing one glass window 20d.
To Richard Hosyer helping to carry the ladder then 2d.
For repairing and mending broken areas in the church 2½d.

Two annual payments were:

Paid to John Mone for keeping and oiling the bells for half a year 2d.
Paid to John Mone for oiling the bells for the half year 2d.
The same for the year 4d.
For cleaning and scouring the large latten candlesticks standing before the high altar with two other small candlesticks 8d.

It looks from the entries relating to the oiling of the bells that John Mone (Moon) had been owed the previous year’s emolument.

   That some payment due to the church was outstanding and difficult to obtain obtain is shown by the entry:

For one man contracted for riding as far as Somerton to seek money of the church from William Frye there three times 4d.

The last entry but one in the accounts reads:

Paid for the ringing of the bells for Stephen Houper 8d.

Stephen Hooper was among those who, in 1432, founded the chantry of the Holy Cross in the north transept of St.John’s church, for which purpose he gave certain lands in Yeovil and East Lambrook. In 1448 he had been granted licence by the Bishop to have a chapel or oratory in his Yeovil dwelling ‘on account of his age and bodily weakness’, but if the entry above shows his death in 1458, he must have lived another ten years, though it is possible that the ringing was for an anniversary of his demise The fact that the ringing was paid for by the churchwardens not only points to the former sugestion, but shows the esteem and respect in which this generous benefactor was held. For, although the date has not been recorded, inscriptions on the ninth. (originally fifth) and tenor bells show that he gave the former, and he and his wife, Joan, the latter. This must have occurred before these accounts for 1457-8, and it is more than likely that he and his wife were responsible for completing the then peal of six soon after the church tower was completed in the first decade of’ the fifteenth century. The cost of providing these would have been considerable, especially as the tenor, generally referred to as the Great Bell, is one of the largest in a parish church in this area. It bears as part of the inscription recording its recasting in 1728 the following:

Take me down and way me right
For I am near Five thousand weight.

The accounts for that year, in fact, show its weight as 2 ton 4 cwt 2 qrs 8½ lbs (4992½ lbs), and although the bell now weighs some 2½ cwt less this is accounted for by the removal of its canons when it was rehung in 1891. (Canons were the former method of attaching bells to their head-stocks.) The other bell which was given by Stephen Hooper, the present ninth, weighs 24 cwt 1 qr. 21 lbs

   The cost of the parchment ‘for writing this roll’ was 2d., ‘And for making this account and completing it, 3s.4d.’ The roll ends with the following, which is in a different had from tle rest, probably by the auditor who passed the accounts:

Total 101s 1½d. And so is owing 12 li 6d. Out of which is allowed to the same 10d. for a knell for Formee de Mynes and for the gold cross to Tayllor because they were quit i.e. released from payment. And so are owing clearly £11.19s.8d. from the above named John English and Nicholas Balduk formerly proctors of the church £6.11s.0½d. 108s.7½d. reckoned. And they elected as proctors of the said church for the following year Richard Hosyer and John Tanner.

   The task of transcribing the original medieval Latin text with all its contractions and idiosyncracies, is due to the painstaking efforts of Mr. and Mrs.L.C.Hayward, to whom the writer acknowledges his gratitude and thanks.

Leslie Brooke – April 1988

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