Records of the Old Archdeaconry of St. Alban's

The west end of St Albans Abbey

In 1908, the Society published a calendar of records of the former Archdeaconry of St Albans for the period 1572 to 1637, prepared by the then Librarian of the Society, Mr H. R. Wilton Hall. A transcription is set out below; a copy of the original can be found in Early SAHAAS Publications. The transcription is unedited, save for the addition of some sub-headings to aid navigation.

Amongst the Documents forming the Records of the Old Archdeaconry of St Alban’s, there are some 400 loose papers, consisting of Orders, Letters, Presentments, Drafts of Returns and Memoranda ranging from the year 1572 to the year 1637. Most of these documents have at one time been filed, but the thongs securing them have long since been cut or broken, and in the course of years they had been very considerably and perplexingly mixed. These have been sorted, each document examined, and the whole series arranged as nearly as possible in chronological order.

This series forms but a small portion of the Records, which embrace Informations, Proceedings, Certificates of Penances, Marriage Bonds, Probate of Wills, Register Transcripts, Terriers, and Mandates for Inductions, all of them being valuable sources of information. Mr. William Brigg and Mr. A. E. Gibbs, in the Herts Genealogist, have printed much most valuable matter relating to the Marriage Licenses granted in the Archdeaconry from 1583 to 1718, Transcripts of Parish Registers of St. Stephen’s, St. Michael’s, Northaw, and Chipping Barnet, and some of the Church Terriers, with a list of the Arms and Armour furnished by the Clergy of the Archdeaconry for the year 1590. (Herts Genealogist, Vol. I., p. 113).

The parishes of the Elizabethan Archdeaconry

The Archdeaconry consisted in Elizabethan days of the Parishes originally subject to the Abbot of St. Alban’s, and at the period covered by this Calendar consisted of Bushey, Codicot, East Barnet, Chipping Barnet, Elstree, Hexton, Langley  Abbots, Northaw, Norton, Redborne, Rickmansworth, Ridge, St Alban’s, St. Michael’s, St. Paul’s Walden, St. Peter’s, St. Stephen’s, Sandridge, Sarratt, Shephall, and Watford, with Aston Abbots, Granborough, Little Horwood and Winslow in the County of Buckingham.

Although only a small archdeaconry, it covered a wide stretch of country – from Hexton to Elstree – and the Apparator, who is usually described as being old and poor, had many miles of hard journeying up and down the archdeaconry to exhibit to the Clergy and Churchwardens missives from the Privy Council, the Archbishop of the Province, the Bishop of the Diocese, and the Archdeacon’s official, to cite [sic] the Clergy to Visitations, which seem to have been held, or were supposed to be held, four times a year; to say nothing of special journeys which had to be taken in connection with the varied matters which came before the Archdeaconry Court. Usually, the Visitations were held in the Parish Church of St. Alban’s; but Chipping Barnet was sometimes used for the purpose and the Buckinghamshire parishes were frequently visited at one or other of the Bucks Churches. The difficulty of cross-country travelling in the spacious times of Queen Elizabeth were many and formidable; yet, from the memoranda made at such of the Visitations as have come down to us, only a very small minority of the Clergy were absent on such occasions.

Categorisation of documents

The documents can be classified under the following headings :

I. Letters, Orders, and Presentments specially relating· to the

II. Copies of Letters and Orders from the Privy Council, the Archbishop of the Province, Letters from the Bishop of the Diocese to the Archdeacon, Mandates to the Apparator to cite the Clergy to Visitations, and so forth;

III. Papers relating to the elections of Proctors for the Clergy in Convocation;

IV. Presentments and Answers to Articles by the Churchwardens;

V. Letters and Answers concerning the Re-building of St. Paul”s Cathedral in

VI. Letters and Returns relating to the provision of Arms and Armour by the Clergy for the defence of the country.

I. Letters, Orders and Presentments relating to the Clergy

This is an interesting group, the documents in it bearing date 1582, 1585, 1586, 1581, 1592, 1595, 1603, 1621, and 1622. The earliest document dealing with the learning of the Clergy is dated 30th April, 1382. Every minister “being no Preacher or Mr. of Artes” is to give monthly, under his own hand, an exposition of one Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, beginning with Chapter one. This exercise is to be shown by the Minister to the nearest brother Minister who is a Licensed Preacher; and each quarter these exercises arc to be delivered to the Judge of the Archdeaconry Court that it may be seen how they have profited in their studies. The Ministers qualified to look over the exercises of their less learned brethren must be Bachelors of Divinity, Masters of Arts, or properly Licensed Preachers.

Unlearned clergy

Three years later, under date 30th April, 1585, a more stringent Order was issued by the Archbishop, concerning the Unlearned Clergy. Public Daily Prayer is enjoined that “they (i.e. the unlearned Clerks) maie be better acquainted with the phrase and histories of the Scriptures.” The Ordinary is to appoint one chapter at least to be diligently studied each week. The Minister is to make notes of the principal contents in Latin. Once a quarter a Common Place in Divinity is to be set, and an exercise thereon written in Latin. Those ignorant of Latin were allowed to do their exercises in English, and once a quarter the Ordinary was to call them to account.

On 3th August, 1586, some sixteen months later, the Archdeacon was directed to examine the “inferior sort of Ministers” on the 4th October following. Out of the Incumbents then in the whole of the Archdeaconry, no fewer than eleven must be classed as ” inferior sort of Ministers,” for a list is given of those who arc to he examined on the date just mentioned, viz. : John Grawnte, curate of Bushey; Henry Atkyns, vicar of Little Horwood; Edward Warren, vicar of Hexton; Thomas Longley, vicar of Norton; William Mote, vicar of Newenham; Thomas Wetherhead, vicar of St. Michael’s; Richard Lightfoote, vicar of St. Stephen’s; John Butler, vicar of Sarratt; Robert Dawncey, vicar of Winslow; William Haylocke, vicar of St. Paul’s Walden; and Henry Edmonds,  vicar of Watford.

On the 4th October, 1586, several of these “inferior Ministers” appeared at St. Alban’s, and were duly examined, Edward Spendlowe M.A., vicar of Redbourn, gives a certificate that he has examined Henry Edmonds, Vicar of Watford, in the principal points of religion and concerning justification, wherein he showed
himself to be well grounded.” William White, minister of Northaw, certified that he had examined Richard Lightfoote, vicar of St. Stephen’s, John Butler, vicar of Sarratt, and Edward Warren, vicar of Hexton. He finds Mr. Lightfoote sufficiently furnished; John Butler able in some measure to teach sound doctrine; but the vicar of Hexton was not able to answer anything in Latin, and he has only some mean knowledge in the principal points of religion, not sufficient for him to discharge the office of a Minister. John Grawnte, of Bushey, Henry Atkins, or Horwood, and William Mote, of ‘Newenham, are returned as not competent, and Thomas Wetherhead, the vicar of St. Michael’s, is entered as “decesset
continuanter. ”

Homework for inferior preachers

About the same date more stringent Orders were issued to secure the increase of learning amongst these inferior Ministers. Every Minister holding a cure and being under the degree of M.A. and Bachelor of Law, or being not licensed to preach, is to provide himself “with a Bible, Bullinger’s Decades in Latin or English, and a Prayer Book. Every day he is to read a chapter of Scripture, and enter the heads in his note-book; and once a week a sermon from the Decades, noting the chief points in his book. Once a quarter he is to show his exercises to a Licensed Preacher near his abode. Learned Preachers were to be appointed by the Ordinary to privately examine the notes, and no inferior Minister was to be
obliged to travel more than seven miles to have his exercises examined by a Preacher. The Preachers were to report regularly to the Archdeacon upon the exercises. The Archdeacon under these Orders is to see that all serving cures instruct the youth or their parishes in the Catechism so soon as they shall he found of reasonable ability, and they may he permitted to expound “standing in the stalls only” until they are licensed to preach.

Unlicensed preachers

The M.A.s and Bachelors of Laws who have no Licenses to preach must obtain them within six months from the Archbishop, the Bishop, or their several Universities, or they too must be ” tyed to the exercise.” Every Licensed Preacher was bound to preach twelve sermons annually in every diocese in which he held a benefice. Further, six or more Preachers were to be appointed Public Preachers, who are bound to preach every Sunday in convenient places, so that the Parishes served by Incumbents who are unlicensed may have a sermon once a quarter. The Parish where the sermon is preached is to provide the Preacher with a dinner and horsemeat, and to supply someone to take his duties in his own Parish Church on that day.

On 1Oth November, 1588 the same Orders respecting the Exercises for the Unlearned Clergy are repeated, and the Archdeacon is directed to report to the Bishop how’ the Orders have been carried out during the previous two years. He reports that all the unlearned had done the specified exercises regularly, except two, who had been suspended for their default. The Preachers who had been appointed to examine the exercises of their unlearned brethren were Roger Williams. B. D., the Parson of St. Alban’s; Mr. Sterne, B. D., whilst he was vicar of Rickmansworth, and after his departure, Mr. Watson, M.A., vicar of Watford; and Mr. Wood, vicar of Shephall. The Clergy who had failed to perform their exercises were Tobye Chalfounte, vicar of Rickmansworth; and John Pratt, vicar of Norton. The Report goes on to say that some have profited to a certain extent, ” although not yet fit to preach.” Others had received Licenses from the Bishop on the report of the Preachers who examined them, and were now preaching ” painfully and diligently in their own Parishes.” These were Mr. Lightfoote, of St. Stephen’s; Mr. Jhones [sic], Vicar of ldelshaye; Mr. Butler, of Sarratt; Mr. Atkyns, of Little Horwood; and Mr. Smith whilst he was Vicar of Ridge. There is a Return made from the several Parishes, most of them dated 28th February. 1579, giving the names of the persons who preach in the Parish Churches, and by whom they were licensed to preach. This is, of course, a very important Return, as it accounts for eighteen out of the twenty-six Parishes. There is a draft list of the Clergy of the Archdeaconry, dated 26th September, 1584.

A Return made 20th December, 1588, gives details concerning the Clergy of twenty-six Parishes. This is a most interesting document. The Parson of the Abbey Parish was preaching weekly; the Vicar of St. Peter’s, William Mores, ”intendeth shortly to practize preachinge as he saith.” The vicar of St. Michael’s, Thomas Wetherhead, was eighty years of age, and Mr. Dyke, a deacon, preached there. Mr. Edward Warren, of Hexton, is returned as “an olde sickly man and no preacher.” Redbourn and Ridge were vacant at that date.

On 19th January, 1592, the Clergy were cited to appear on the 3lst of the month in the Abbey Church, St. Alban’s, and to bring with them their Licences and Letters of Orders, and the Return made on that day is one of the most important documents in the whole series. It gives particulars of twenty-three of the clergy,
the dates when they were ordained Deacon, Priest, and where and by whom ordained, and the dates of their Licences to Preach, the date of induction to their present cures, and many interesting particulars are recorded. Of John Prat, vicar of Norton, it is reported that “his learning is not greate but yet indifferent.” John Butler, vicar of Sarratt, is reported to be a “very simple scholler.” William More, vicar of St. Peter’s, is reported as being no preacher, “neither hath he used any great diligence in preaching”; he had been detected of evil life, and had lawfully purged himself thereof. ” He had also been detected for his slackness in catechizing, and for his slackness in performing” the exercises; and, for his neglect at the time the report was made, he was under suspension.

John Amery, Vicar of Codicote, was a link between the old and the new order. He was priested at Aylesbury 6th March, 1537, and instituted to Codicote 27th August, 1546, ” and hath served the cure in his own person ever since,” no preacher, ” his learning is but simple, but he is nere Ixxxxij yeares of age and his living is very small,” of honest life and conversation. Thomas Wetherhead, of St. Michael’s, and Thomas Blanchard, of Aston Abbots, are also links connecting the old order with the new.

Under date 17th May, 1603, there is another full list of the Clergy of the Archdeaconry, giving particulars of twenty-five of the beneficed Clergy. Matters had improved, for in eighteen of the Parishes the Parish Priest is reported to preach diligently. The vicar of Hexton, John Noke, ” hath been detected by the parishioners for absence and non-residence, for both which he hath been lately ordered by the Court.” He seems to have been frequently trotting off to Sarratt, for John Butler, the Vicar there, says: ” He hath had preached in his Parish xxiij sermons since Christmas by Mr. Noke, his son-in-law,” vicar of Hexton. Of clerical disorder, a few cases are recorded. Under date, 30th September, 1586, the Archdeacon reports to the Bishop that “there was brought into Sandridge … by Richard Woodwarde, theVicar there, one William Peagrym, a Minister, to serve the cure there, who being Inhibited by myne Official to serve there unless he would procure himselfe a licence thereunto departed from thence immediately.” But for some reason or other, Richard Woodwarde and William Peagrym fell out, for the'” were presented to the Archdeacon for ” usinge chidinge brawlinge, and quarrellinge in the Church of Sandridge”; and again at Michaelmas, 1584, for brawling in the churchyard, and William Peagryrn publicly acknowledged his fault. Thomas Wetherhead, Vicar of St. Michael’s, was presented for railing in church at the time of Divine Service, 6th October, 1584, but the case against him was dismissed. John Butler, Vicar of Sarratt, being present in the Archdeacon’s Court on 16th December, 1584, got into trouble for misdemeanour and contempt of the Archdeacon’s jurisdiction; but later on he was discharged. Under date 2nd September, 1595, the Bishop complains to the Archdeacon that sundry of the Clergy have come to visitations ” attyred very undecently as in coloured clokes and other unseemly fashions unfit for men of their calling,” and the Archdeacon is directed to enjoin them to come to Visitation either in ” gownsor in comely black clokes.”

The oldest Document in this section, curiously enough, does not properly belong to this Archdeaconry at all. It is a licence issued by the Archdeaconry of Huntingdon to John Norryes, dated 7th October, 1572, permitting him to say the Divine Office, to read Homilies, bury the dead, church women, and teach the Catechism in the Parish of Aldenham. Under date 9th February, 1580, Dr. Giles Laurence, the Archdeacon, grants a licence to Gilbert Hale, the Parish Clerk of Bushey, to say the Common Prayer and Litany, to read Homilies, to church women, to teach the Catechism, and to bury the dead in the Parish of Bushey, the parson, Mr. Stringer, “being a very olde man, and fayleth in strength of body, sight, speech, and utterance.”

II. Copies of Letters from the Privy Council to the Archbishop of the Province; Letters from the Bishop to the Archdeacon; Drafts of Letters from the Archdeacon or his official to the Bishop; Mandates to the Apparator to cite [sic] the clergy to Visitations, &c.

This forms a very large group, containing Documents relating to thirty years :-1572, 1580, 1581, 1582, 1583, 1584, 1585, 1586, 1587, 1588, 1589, 1590, 1592, 1593, 1594, 1596, 1597, 1600, I60I, 1603, 1604, 1605, 1607, 1608, 1611, 1614, 1615, 1616, 1630, and 1637. It is obvious that the copies of the Letters from the Privy Council and of the Archbishop of the Province should be found in the Records of Archdeaconries in other Dioceses. The Letters of the Bishop of London to the Archdeacon were sent in a similar form to the other
Archdeacons of the Diocese. But, they must be taken into account and their contents duly noted, if we are to follow the history of the Archdeaconry as unfolded by its Records.

Under date 3lst March, 1581, the Bishop complains to the Archdeacon that there are divers Ministers in the Diocese who endeavour to alienate her Majesty’s subjects ” to the likinge and followinge of sondrie Phantasticall Iamentions of their 0wne “; and .. there hath not byne anie three parishes togither that have observed the order of the Book of Common Praier and the apparrell appointed.” On 7th November, 1580, the Bishop directs the Archdeacon to exact from the Pastor, Minister and Churchwardens of every Parish a list of those who refuse to conform in matters of religion; and on 28th May, 1581, complaint is made that certain persons evade the order to attend
their Parish Church by repairing to the city of London and the Liberties adjoining apparently thereby hoping to be lost in the crowd. So the Parish Officers are enjoined to make diligent search for such persons. In another letter of the same date, the Bishop is required by the Privy Council to find out Recusants, and in conference with some learned and godly disposed persons, admonish them, and by instruction and persuasion induce them to conform.
Issued with this Letter were certain Orders respecting lists of Recusants. Every Parson “with two or three witnesses every month was to call upon all known Recusants in the Parish and require them to attend their Parish Church, and once a quarter to send certificates of his having done so to the .Archdeacon. There is a curious letter, dated 9th September, 1593, urging a Collection on
behalf of the support of Priests who have come from over the seas to pervert, but who have themselves been converted, so that provision may be made for their subsequent support. The Archdeaconry, however, was not deeply stirred, and a note says that 12s. was the sum collected for this object.

An important list gives Particulars of all persons who had been detected in the Archdeaconry Court for Bigamy, etc., between June, 1598, and July, 1600, and there is another similar list dated 10th February, 1600. It is impossible here to do more than indicate other matters treated of in this section of the papers :-We have, amongst others, Briefs for the relief of the Protestants in Geneva; a Brief for the Grammar School of Kingston-on-Thames in 1583 ; and the Insufficiency of the Bibles in the Parish Churches calls forth a Letter in the same year. Then there are various calls to Prayer and Fasting in 1386-l:i88, and for Thanksgiving in 1586,1588, 1593, and 1605. Daily Public Prayer in Parish Churches is enjoined in lii.~8-1580. A certain book sprinkled with Poperie is suppressed in 1594, and there are Inquiries concerning the procedure of the Ecclesiastical Courts covering several years in 1594-1601.

An Order is made in 1603 for a return of the number of Communicants in each Parish and for the use of the Prayer Book of 1601. There are also papers relating to the supply of Bishop Jewell’s works, and copies of Fox’s Book of Martyrs to the several Parishes. There are Presentments and Informations relating to an act of Prophanation of Holy Baptism at Watford Church in 1615-16, and a Taxation of the Clergy for the Planting of Virginia in 1616.

III. Election of Proctors for the Clergy in Convocation

There are three returns giving the names of the Clergy of the Archdeaconry and the Clerks for whom they gave votes.  The years are 1603, 1620, and 1625.

IV The original presentments

The original presentments from the several Parishes for the years 1579, 1580, 1582, 1583, and 1603, are amongst these papers. One cannot but regret that the list is such a short one. In the Home Counties’ Magazine for several years past interesting details from a similar set of Archdeaconry Records have been given relating to Parishes in East Kent, but the series extends over a larger number of years, and the answers are more fully set out than any in such Documents existing here.

The Presentments for 1579 in the St. Alban ‘s Archdeaconry number seventeen, and are made in response to an order to each Parish to return the names of those who preached in their several Parishes, whether they used the Book of Common Prayer, and so forth. Whether from ignorance or by design, the Churchwardens returned very meagre information. Old Mr. Amery, of Codicote, used the Common Prayer.  At Northaw none preached but those who were lawfully licensed by the High Commissioners or the Bishop of London; there were no Private Conventicles in the Parish; Holy Communion was administered according to the Book of Common Prayer; and there was no Schoolmaster in the Parish but the Minister. At St. Paul’s Walden, none preached but Mr. Mullins of St. Paul’s, Dr. Walker, Mr. Horne, and Mr. Watts, and the Minister “doth according to the Book of Prayer.” The Redbourn Churchwardens say that according to the appointment of the Archbishop, Mr. Raxter is to depart, and Mr. Spendlove is to be in possession of the Vicarage, and he is to pay to Mr. Baxter a certain sum of money. The Sarratt Churchwardens say that no Preachers or Readers preach in private houses. The Watford Churchwardens say that no stipends are given to any Preachers in their Parish, but that divers honest Preachers belonging to Charles Moryson, esquire, and others, who, when they come to preach help to minister the Sacrament if they are present when there is Communion. The Hexton Churchwardens say that they know none such ” disorderable Ministers.” ” Mr. Bates, the Parson of Pottesgrove, doth preach owre own quarter Sarmondes, and hath done these eight or nine yeares who is an ancient father and a discreet man.” All the remaining Parishes made return that their Minister is their only Preacher; but they do not in all cases make it clear whether he used the Book of Common Prayer or not.

Although the questions asked in 1580 were of a more searching character, there is only one Presentment existing, viz., one from Ridge, from which we learn that the Preachers there were Mr. Kelie, of Trinity Church, in London, Mr. Pechane, of North Mymms, and Mr. Anwinne, of Edmonton; and that they came out of good will to the Minister, “for we have no quarter sermons.” The Official makes return that each of twenty-five Parishes exhibited a bill, but he gives no details.

The Articles of 1582 were more searching, but the Churchwardens slide over them in a very easy manner. The Churchwardens of Chipping Barnet say that Mr. Murfete, ” our Scollmaster,” “doth Expound the cathe cisone upon the Saboth dayes at the morninge prayer.” . “And allso that one Harreye Sannsam our clarke,” “dothe saye the dayly serves for the daye but not admenester the sacramentes, ” at such times as ” our parson Edward Undren is absent from home.” The Hexton Churchwardens say that the Vicar uses the ordered vestment usually, and they have all things needed. At Idelstree, the Churchwardens say that the Minister conforms to the orders and wears the surplice, he administers the Communion himself, and reads the Homilies when there is no “preachment” ; there are no Conyenticles; there are no Preachers; the Minister churches the women; he uses the cross at Baptism; in private services the Minister Catechises ; he followethe the Book of Common Prayer in the Desk; he useth the Ring in Matrimony; he hathe a convenient Surplice.” The Northaw wardens say that their Minister ” doth stay the Letany for becawse he preacheth in the fornoon and in the afternune the which Doth Edifi the peopell very much. He doth not use the surplice. They present Elizabeth Lason (?) for not coming to church.” The Norton wardens say their Minister buries the dead orderly; that he wears the surplice. The Paul’s Walden return says that the Minister does all things orderly so far as the Churchwardens know; he wears the surplice usually; and that he does his duty very well. The Queen’s Langley Minister ” doth not cross the child at baptism.” The Redbourn Wardens present that their Bible is not sufficient, “but we have taken order shortly to provide a better.” At Rickmansworth the surplice was worn usually, and they have all things in order. The Churchwardens of Ridge say their Vicar does not wear the surplice, though often enjoined to do the same; that he omits the cross in Baptism, and that he dothe not at any time use the Book of Common Prayer. The Sandridge Wardens give very exact answers. None of the service is abridged nor left out; they bury the dead; they do not preach against the State; the surplice is worn ; they have no disorderly Preachers ; women are churched; the cross is used in Baptism; there is no bason, nor is the font removed ; all come to church ; the Catechism is taught; the Book of Common Prayer is used; the ring is used, and the name of JESUS is reverenced ; there is a surplice convenient, a Bible, Homilies, and a Book of Common Prayer. At Shephall, they say that all is done orderly, and besides their Vicar they have one George Aelmer, a Minister who serves in the Minister’s absence. The Vicar of Little Horwood sometimes wore the surplice and sometimes not; and he catechised the youth of his Parish. Most of the Churchwardens content themselves with writing down the number of the Articles and putting against each, ” we know of none,” or declaring that” all is well.”

For the year 1583 there are twenty-three Presentments made in reply to Articles propounded to the Churchwardens, and they are more fully and carefully set out than in the previous years. These will be found to be of even greater interest than those already indicated.

The next group of Presentments is twenty years later, namely, 1603, and the queries were issued 29th July, 1603. These require information, amongst other matters, concerning the number of Communicants, the number of Recusants, both men and women, and the number of those who do not communicate; whether the Parson hold more than one benefice. Unfortunately, the Presentments relating to these matters have not been preserved. There are seventeen Certificates bearing various dates in the month of June, 1603, from the Churchwardens, etc., concerning the way in which the Parsons discharge their duties only.

V. Letters and answers concerning the contributions made towards the re-building of St. Paul’s Cathedral, dated 1584

The Official’s Report to the Bishop gives the details of what haa been done in fourteen of the parishes, and there are also twenty-six original returns relating to the same matter from the Parsons and Churchwardens. They form a very interesting and unusually full series of Documents.

VI. Letters and returns relating to the provision of arms and armour made by the clergy of the Archdeaconry for the defence of the country.

These relate to thirteen years, viz., 1588, 1589, 1590, 1595, 1608, 1612, 1615, 1618, 1620, 1621, 1623, 1624, and 1626. Amongst them there are a good many original letters from the Parsons concerned, some making excuses for doing less than they would like to do, and giving reasons, disclosing incidentally their
troubles and difficulties, and showing in some small degree how secluded parishes were affected by the rumours which reached them of the ” great happenings ” in Elizabethan and early Stuart days.