CLERGYMEN OF SHEPHALL
THE CHURCH AND THE CLERGY
Time like an ever-rolling stream
bears all its sons away.
When Mr. Oldfield arrived about 1800 to record the appearance of Shephall church it looked very different from what we see today. Oldfield painted a collection of Hertfordshire buildings; and in his picture the exterior of St. Mary's is most remarkable. The west end is a high wall reaching straight up to the wooden bell turret, with a squared castellated top and a large window. Behind it is the church of today's proportions but the outer walls appear to be white. The porch is brick with heavy doors and there is a clock on the turret.
The Reformation would have brought changes to the interior of the church. The walls made plain, the statue of Mary gone, its candies extinguished. No longer vestments of white and red silk, copes of red and green gleaming in the dim light. The cross of copper and gilt which once caught the stray sunbeams was lost. The chancel slowly filled with the black marble burial stones and brass name plates of the Nodes family. For 200 years their memorials with those of several of the priests
St. Mary's Church by Oldfield c. 1800
were erected in chancel and nave, some on the north wall, demolished when the north aisle was added. A little of what was happening can be glimpsed through what are known as the Archdeacon's visitations. It has long been one of the duties of the churchwardens to make reports yearly to the visiting Archdeacon or his representatives as to the state of their church. The Shephall churchwardens reported at various times:
1582 Our service is done according to the Book of Common Prayer.
1671 The church and churchyard is nicely put in good repaire and is verre well.
1709 The church roof was repaired using half a thousand tiles at a cost of 7/-.
1726 The church and chancel are in tolerable repair as they have been for many years,
or can be put in order without rebuilding. Our minister resides.'
In 1731 and 1740 the parish priest was instructing a few poor children to read.
When the Archdeacon visited in 1754 he ordered that the pews and floor be repaired, and that the lime and other rubbish lying there be removed. Nine years later the tiling of the roof needed substantial repairs, the church interior had to be whitewashed, a new herse cloth was provided and the cracked bell mended. Twenty years later extensive work was done on the church, and accounts exist for:
'Mr. Hull, the builder, for materials and workmanship
Mr. Muncey the bricklayer and Mr. Duncan the mason
Mr. Emere the carpenter and Mr. Row the glazier
J. Wright, smith. Mr. Porter for carrying materials
Mr. Whittington for bricks, tiles, lime Mr.
Deards for a rope.'
and on 27th June, 1787 the first of four rates was made by the churchwardens and overseers of the parish towards paying the debt for repairing Shephall church, amounting in the whole to ₤162.16s.0d.
In 1765 the inventory of church goods was as follows:
From this list, the bells are the only survivors. The cracked bell was recast; the bell foundry marked it 'Lester & Pack of London fecit 1767', and it still rings today. The great chest stood at the end of the north aisle until about 1950. A tradition had grown up that it was a tomb, because there was a monument above it which read 'Underneath lies buried ...'In fact both chest and monument had been so placed after the north aisle was built in 1865, both removed from another part of the church. About 1930 some inquisitive choirboys managed to raise the lid about half an inch, to their great fright. A few days later it was officially opened and found to be empty, its bottom completely rotted away. The small alms chest survived until about 1960, when it was split open beyond repair by some misguided youth for the few coppers it contained. The old font was replaced at some time during the next hundred years, and stood in the churchyard, a receptacle for flowers, until fairly recently.
The list of Rectors of St. Mary's is incomplete before 1562. In 1351 there is the name of Robert Goderich. During the 15th century, appointed by the Abbot of St. Albans, John Taylour, Thomas atte Hache, William Ledys and William Warner celebrated the sacraments and ministered to the people; the only one of whom we know more was William Ledys, whose will was given in an earlier chapter. For the 16th century there are only half a dozen names, but the records of the old Archdeaconry of St. Albans fill in a few details of interest. About 1584 investigations were being made about a tax levied on the clergy some twenty years earlier for the reedification and repair of 'Powles' (St. Paul's, London), and Robert Flood, the curate, sent a certificate to say that it was reported that Mr. Lowyn, Vicar of Shephall at that time, did pay 10/- to Mr. Kempe, then Archdeacon. In 1588 the clergy were enjoined to find men and armour for the defence of the country against the Spanish Armada (but more of that later). The danger having passed, on the 29th November of that year the Bishop caused 'all Preachers in their sermons upon that day to declare unto the people the wonderful mercies of God in the overthrow of their enemies'. In the places where there was no Preacher, a general ringing of Bells, singing of Psalms and all other signs of joy were to take place.
We do know that Shephall had a Vicar who was a Preacher, because next the Archbishop turned his attention to the preaching abilities of his clergy. He issued his 'Orders for the better increase of Learning in the inferior Ministers and for more Diligent Preaching and Catechizing'. The Sunday Sermon was not preached in every church at this date. Shephall came out of this very well: 'Mr. Robert Wood, the Vicar is of no degree of School, he is resident and a Preacher allowed, and doth preach.' He became one of three Preachers appointed by the Bishop to supervise the encouragement of preaching skills by the 'unlearned sort of ministers' by inspecting their 'exercises'. He was married, and christened his six children in Shephall. In his will he lists several debts owing to him; these seem to have been inherited from his father, who could have been a money-lender, the repayments providing income.
William Lowyn was the first vicar appointed by the Crown, the previous patron having been the Abbot of St. Albans. The royal patronage is probably reflected in some of the later appointments; the Revd. Peter Fisher, who was here 1679-1691, was married to the sister of the then Archbishop of York. William Hawtayne, who served 1719-1734 had been chaplain to Caroline, Princess of Wales before she became Queen. The Hon. Henry Leslie, who became a baronet in 1833 while Rector of Shephall, was chaplain to King George III and Queen Charlotte, and later to Queen Victoria.
Others held Shephall while also Rectors of Stevenage; Stafford Leventhorpe and Richard Shoard in the 17th century and Nicholas Cholwell in the 18th. Thomas
JOHN RUDD'S VICARAGE
Drawlng by Oldfield about 1800
From a terrier of 1637:
There is a dwelling house with a yard and Orchard, the outhouses are a Come Barne, a Straw-house, an Hay-house with a Stable and Garner and a Cartehouse.
From the BISHOP of LONDON to JOHN JONES 1767:
I am told it is a pleasant and healthy spot, the duty small, and the house not a bad one with a very pretty garden.
JOHN JONES 1767:
The place which a gracious Providence hath marked out for me is a commodious retreat and suitable to my inclination at my present time of life.
Sisson, Rector 1792-1806, was Rector of Wallington also during that time; he Iived at Westmill for many years, a halfway house between his two livings, also assisting at Westmill if the incumbent there was called away to fulfil his duties as Archdeacon of Rochester.
Several past Rectors are commemorated in the church. Two original tombstones, once in the chancel, are now in the floor of the north aisle; those of Richard Shoard and Thomas Knight. High on the south wall of the chancel is a plain monument to John Barnwell, who has given his name to the road and school beyond the church. He was the son of William Barnwell who was Rector of Watton for 40 years, and for some time he served his father as curate there. The summer he arrived at Shephall he spent a lot of time in his garden, and was so pleased with his work that he recorded it in the church register:
It is not clear whether the reverend gentleman did this by the sweat of his own brow, or whether he only planned and supervised it!
The lives of two of the Shephall priests are better documented than the others; John Rudd and John Jones. We shall see why.
In June 1603 the representatives of St. Mary's, Shephall reported to the Archdeacon:
It was signed by George Nodes and five senior yeomen of the village, together with the churchwarden and a schoolmaster (the schoolmaster could have been from Alleyne's, founded in Stevenage in 1558; it seems that a clerk often lived at the Rectory, giving help to the priest when needed).
However did the congregation respond to such oratory? John Rudd was certainly no ordinary preacher. Born in 1568, he was educated at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he became a zealous and popular preacher. Perhaps too zealous; because after a certain sermon he gave in Great St. Mary's, Cambridge, he found himself in trouble with his college. He had to appear before the ViceChancellor and heads of houses to answer for certain allegations made in his sermon. His answers did not please the reverend gentlemen, because Rudd was suspended from preferment and had to give up his preacher's licence until he should revoke these statements. This he agreed to do; but later disagreed with the revocation presented to him. Afterwards 'in consequence of his earnest petition and out of a tender regard for his ministry', he was again permitted to preach in St. Mary's, Cambridge, being expected to revoke his earlier offences. Instead he confirmed his earlier points of doctrine! For this contempt he was suspended again and had to pay a bond of forty pounds as a pledge to appear before his spiritual peers at a later date, and the Vice-Chancellor informed Archbishop Whitgift of the offence. Now he was in trouble! Stern letters arrived, commanding that if Mr. Rudd still refused to observe the order he should be bound to appear before the High Commissioners of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I ... and this was less than fifty years after men had been burned at the stake for their religion! Before the High Commissioners he 'made his submission and confessed his oversight'. They sent him back to Cambridge to be dealt with by the Vice-Chancellor; he made a formal recantation and was absolved.
And what was the sermon all about? His recantation was as follows:
It is not known whether this recantation was made from the pulpit or was a signed document. Rudd then left the University and became the minister at Shephall, where it is said he continued a faithful and useful preacher to the end of his days. On his death nearly 50 years later he left ₤200 to his old college to fund two scholarships 'My own kindred to be first chosen if any, next the Vicar's son of Shephall if capable, next scholars brought up at Stevenage school, if none there, at St. Albans' school, if none there, at Hertford school'.
In 1538 it had been ordered that records of baptisms, marriages and burials should be made. These were generally poorly done. About the time John Rudd arrived at Shephall, fresh instructions had been issued. Accordingly he gathered up all past records he could find, and wrote them neatly into a parchment book, one section each for De Baptizatis, De Nuptis and De Sepultis. So thanks to Rudd these records start in 1560.
He also used the back of that register to record the facts, as he saw them, of two disputes he had with George Nodes 'for the use, right and liberty of my successors'. The first was over a fence which he had erected 'betwixt the ground of Half Hyde and my churchyard' (which boundary is now the drive of the Old Rectory). He writes:
Half Hyde was a separate manor with its own court, and neither it nor George Nodes' manor court would have any jurisdiction over the church and its Rector.
The Vicarage, by then known as the Rectory, c. 1900
The second dispute was over a rebuilding of part of the Rectory. Rudd was alleged to have encroached on a neighbour's land, in length fifteen foot and in breadth 6 inches. As this complaint was made eight years after the building was finished 'when no man living could deserne at all where any old foundation had beene' it doesn't seem to have had much chance. Nevertheless John Rudd took a testimony from his carpenter Robert Nash, and one from his bricklayer Edward Croft. He got Mr. Thornton, the parson from Knebworth, to transcribe all this in the register, and had it 'sertified by Tho Rooks, the vicar of Coddicott'.
In John Rudd's will were several bequests to his cousins the Norths, who farmed Half Hyde, including his library of books. He names other cousins Richard and John Walter and he leaves ₤300 to provide yearly gifts to the poor of Durham. Among his numerous entries in the registers is the following:
Isabell had either visited her uncle or kept house for him when she met and married William North the younger.
When John Rudd died he left instruction for a monument to be put up on the chancel wall. It is now on the east wall of the north aisle. Unfortunately it has been badly restored; the painting should represent him as a shepherd holding a crook with a lamb across his shoulders. Did he choose his own epitaph?
John Rudd's memorial, representing that faithful pastor
with a sheep across his shoulders. Oldfield
Unlike John Rudd with his long incumbency, the Revd. John Jones was vicar here for only three years from 1767. He is recorded in the Dictionary of National Biography as a controversialist, also as
and also (unlike John Rudd)
Twenty years before coming to Shephall he had published a controversial collection of writings, and his caution had made him choose to do this anonymously. Entitled 'Free and Candid Disquisitions relating to the Church of England and the means of advancing Religion therein', it expressed the opinions of eminent Anglican divines, advocating the necessity and expediency of revising the liturgy.
Other publications followed and several literary gentlemen of that time were among John Jones' friends and acquaintances. After his death many of his writings and other papers were deposited in Dr. Williams' Library in London; among these is Jones' own account of his life. This was written after the death of his Rector, Dr. Edward Young of Welwyn, himself a great literary figure of the time; John had been commended to him by S. Richardson, the author and printer. Jones had been Dr. Young's curate for several years and on his death would have to find himself a new living; and he was then in his 66th year.
He settled in Shephall, jotting down notes about its history and getting catechism classes started. At this time the churchwardens reported eight communicants on Fair Feast days, no papacy or nearly, no dissenters in the parish. John Jones noted that singing in church had been abandoned many years, and he set about reviving the singing of the 5th, 24th, 74th, 100th and 104th psalms, being contented with those few being plain and proper tunes and the words suitable. He complained of 'a bad custom of long standing, young people (servants and children) being allowed to gambol on the green on Sunday afternoons without check'. In 1767 he wrote in the current ratebook:
In 1768 he started a school. Poor children of the parish were to be called by the bell for lessons in reading, writing and the catechism on weekdays. He lists the names of eight girls, three of whom were confirmed two years later. The boys would be in the fields. He records the deaths of two village worthies:
W.H. 'An ancient and venerable man, meek and humble, a small farmer or labourer, read good books, visited the parishioners and assisted poor children to read. Gave aid.'
-but W.H. does not seem to be recorded in the burial register; perhaps he visited from another village.
T.T. 'well esteemed, great long illness, assisted neighbours and extolled them to good works.'
-must have been Thomas Threader, a farmer.
With the papers in Dr. Williams' Library is a note from Mrs. Nodes sending her thanks for a book loaned, and there is also an invitation to take tea. John Jones records that Mrs. Nodes asked help with the Athanasian creed, which the previous vicar, John Barnwell, did not read.
In 1769 John Jones again wrote a memorandum in the rate book; the date was November 5th:
Was this a preventive measure, or had some calamity occurred? How long did the ban last? because, as everybody knows, there has always been a bonfire on Shephall Green, hasn't there?
In 1770 the Revd. Mr. Jones went off to visit friends in Huntingdon and borrowed from one of them a very important manuscript on the life of Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, a subject of great interest to him. Shortly afterwards the author friend heard of the sudden death of Mr. Jones after falling from his horse. He made all possible enquiries about the document in the neighbourhood of Shephall, without success. The manuscript was never found; although fortunately there was a copy.
The entry in the parish book controlling the
lighting of Guy Fawkes bonfires
A memorial to this worthy priest is let into the outer wall of St. Mary's by the east window.