Church patronage

The History of Patronage, Advowson and Impropriation in Wonersh

Very many letters and documents are summarised and published online in the Surrey History Centre Archives, in particular collections 892 ,G24, G60, G1275 and WON Part 1  & WON Part 2.  Document may be found by paging down manually in a relevant collection or else from the ADVANCED SEARCH page.
Many records are also held at the Hampshire Records Office Archive Centre relating to the Diocese of Winchester

Historically the Rector is the person who has the responsibility to act as priest in a parish and he was entitled to receive the income from tithes and glebe lands in the rectory (also sometimes known as the parsonage or benefice) (note that the house where he lives is also called the rectory). Some rectories provided a rich living and these were keenly sought after; Wonersh however provided only a modest income. Rectors did not necessarily live locally and when absent they appointed (and paid) a Vicar to act on their behalf. Vicars sometimes held more than one post (called plurality) and would appoint Curates to act for them. Impropriation is the term used after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII when the great tithes were seen as a property to be obtained by a lay person not necessarily connected with the parish; the impropriator was the person who owned the great (rectorial) tithes. This meant that the revenues of the benefice (with the exception of the small tithes assigned to the Vicar) were now secularised. Similarly the advowson, or entitlement in law to present a nominee for the cure of souls (the Vicar) in the parish, and this was a separate property from the rectory. The person who has the right is called the Patron. In Wonersh these two properties passed from the Crown for over three centuries (until 1902) through two distinct but largely parallel lines of succession. 

Christianity arrived in Britain in Roman times and St Augustine arrived in Kent in 595, establishing himself in his base at Canterbury. Parish boundaries were largely established in Saxon times and there was a chapel in Wonersh in 1050 (perhaps even earlier) which, until 13th century, was probably part of the parish of Shalford. Before the Norman Conquest 1066, this Manor belonged to Alnod Cild, a Saxon landholder with many estates in this and neighbouring counties. 

A new order was created with the Norman Conquest. All land was owned by the King and it was in his gift to grant rights of Lordship to manors in return for loyalty, revenue and military support. These manors were then sub-divided in a number of delegations in a hierarchy of aristocratic peerage in rights and responsibilities. The names of the Lord of the Manor are traced to some extent in Local History. The legal system of aristocratic and ecclesiastical courts and tribunals evolved over time formalising the rights of barons in law and government.

Wonersh was not mentioned in the Domesday Book, but most of it would have been included in the vast Manor of Bramley (Brunlei) which covered the inhabited parts of Surrey from Shalford to the Sussex border. All the Manors were formed out of it. The Lord of the Manor would have been a remote figure who would have had local representatives and tenants living in property locally. He would have benefited from the income from the manor and had the power, known as advowson, to nominate and present the local priest. The first recorded church was a Norman Chapel of the Hamlet of Wonersh or Wogheners, when it formed part of the parish of Shalford (or Scandeford) under the authority of the Church of England in the ancient Diocese of Winchester. It became a parish in its own right sometime between 1224 when it is spoken of in the Patent Rolls of Henry III as a chapelry, and 1295 when it is referred to as an ecclesia or parish church. Nothing is known about the early Rectors, except the name of the last one, Richard de Rollying 1306. The advowson had been granted to John of Hereford, one of King Henry III’s Chaplains, and in 1304–5 Edward I granted the advowson and Rectory to the Hospital of St. Mary without Bishopsgate, calling it a church in his charter.

The Prior of the Convent of St Mary was the Rector for the benefice or rectory of Wonersh for some 250 years. He appointed a Vicar to conduct the business of the parish, and was also responsible for the maintenance of the church chancel and other buildings. In return he received an endowment from the income (known as the Great Tithes) from corn and hay with rents and services of the tenants of the rectory (parish). The Vicar was remunerated from the small Tithes, derived from mortuaries, obventions, oblations and minor parish activities. The income from the Great Tithes was used to support work of the asylum (a place for people who are distraught in wits (see Stowe’s Survey of London 1598)) and to provide a pension for the Rector.

The Prior of St. Mary held the Rectory and advowson till the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1536/7, when it came into the hands of the Crown. Patronage rested for a time with the Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, Sir John Baldwin. The greater tithes belonging to the benefice, which had previously been used to aid the pious work of maintaining a lunatic asylum, were now secularised, becoming the property of the King which he could bestow on any person he wished to enrich. The income became a property which could be bought and sold like any other, something like a perpetual annuity, with no further responsibility than maintaining (or otherwise) the chancel. This Impropriation (placing of the benefice in the hands of a layperson) created the role of Lay Rector whereby a non-church person, who did not require any association with a parish nor even to be resident, would have one of the most important influences on a parish. 

The rectory, including advowson, was granted in 1537 on a 99 year lease to John Hynde, Agnes (Alice)(note that at this time it was pronounced with a silent g , making it A-nes), Thomas (possibly Attorney to Henry VIII in 1540) and Henry Polsted. In 1549 Henry Polsted acquired the Manor of Albury. Alice Polsted (Polstead), widow, (now of the Manor of Tyting, St Martha’s), exercises the role of patron by introducing vicars of Wonersh in 1557 (with Henry Weston acting on her behalf) and again in 1565. Their son, Richard Polsted, married Elizabeth More of Loseley. Following Richard’s death, Elizabeth Polsted married John Wolley (Wooley) of PyrfordElizabeth had evidently inherited the rectory and in 1585 her husband introduced the vicar on her behalf. Elizabeth was a favourite Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth I and in 1590 (SHC Collections Catalogue ref G1/42/11) the Queen granted glebe, tithes and advowson of Shalford and Wonersh rectories to her secretary for the Latin tongue, now Sir John Wolley d1596. As Patron he introduced a vicar in 1595. Following his death in 1595/6 his son Sir Francis Wolley (d1609) inherited the rectory and advowson, probably bequeathing it to his illegitimate daughter Mary Wolley. There is a suggestion that Wonersh may have been of interest to the Puritan faction which prevailed at this time, and the vicar introduced in 1629, Stephen Geree, was puritan by conviction.

Information about how or when the rectory and advowson came to George Duncombe of Weston is not known. It appears that it may be this George who was Steward of Great Tangley Manor (SHC 892/5) and married Judith Carill circa 1603, so would have exercised considerable influence in the Manor. He purchased the Manor at Weston sometime before 1611 (SHC Ref 1322), so the timescale appears correct. 

Sometime before 1650, possibly earlier than 1629, it became part of the estate of George Duncombe of Weston near Albury, a conveyanceor whose family name arises in many accounts of the time. He introduced the new vicar in 1629. His son(?) George, was dealing with the advowson in 1650, then Roger Duncomb in 1677, George Duncomb in 1693?, Henry Duncomb of Albury in 1684 & 1718, and then his nephew John Duncomb of Wribbenhall Kidderminster. He died leaving another George Duncomb, attorney of Kidderminster, as his son & heir.

Ownership of the tithes was a property, and consequently could be leased or mortgaged. This may explain why it was recorded by Aubrey in 1708 ”Impropriator is Mr George Duncomb of Albury, who has leased it to Mr Richard Webb of this Parish, who pays the vicar..”. The rectory appears to have been heavily mortgaged and there are many papers concerning settlement from 1725. Advowson seems to have passed independently of the rectory tithes to another George Duncomb (d1718) and patronage was handed down to his daughter Ann and her husband Nathaniel Sturt (d1735) Barrister at Law (SHC ref:1322) who lived at Haldersh. Their son George Sturt (d1766) exercised patronage in 1756 introducing the new vicar.

The Great Tithes were apparently on the market in 1759 and the register records that expenses were paid for some of the Wonersh parishioners to investigate purchasing them, presumably to return them to their proper purpose. This was unsuccessful and the rectory was evidently leased to Mr Thomas Harris (SHC Ref Collection 5225/1 Letter). Harris accompanied Duncombe to Wonersh 'to take a view of the farmers all together in order to form some judgement of their humors' [to assess the likely difficulty in extracting tithes].

 Fletcher Norton purchased the great (rectorial) tithes from George Duncomb in 1765 ( SHC Collections Catalogue ref G60/75 collection 1229) to become, having married a Wonersh lady and now living in Wonersh, the first resident Lay-Rector. George Sturt died in 1766 and his two sisters Francis Chatfield and Dorothy Sturt sold the advowson to Fletcher Norton. It took 4 years for transfer of titles to be released in 1770 (SHC G60/87). Whilst becoming Lord of the Manor in 1759 he was not elevated to the Peerage until 1782, becoming the 1st Lord Grantley. He presented his first vicar, James Hill, in 1779; however it is not clear if it was he or Fletcher Norton who was the driving force for the extensive works that took place to the church in 1793. The 2nd Lord Grantley introduced two vicars in 1803 and 1806. In 1852 the new vicar was presented by David Stow, Merchant in the City of Glasgow pro hac vice (on behalf of) the 3rd Lord Grantley. The titles of lay-rector, patron and Lord of the Manor of Wonersh eventually passed down to the 5th Lord Grantley.

The rector (or lay-rector) was responsible for the upkeep of the chancel, however the upkeep of the remainder was a local responsibility. The nave was often the largest public space in a village and was available to them for festival events. Wonersh was fortunate that from sometime before 1715 the Bridgham Trust provided a modest income for the church to maintain the fabric of the building. The 13th C south chapel and 15th C south aisle were built and owned by the Lord of the Manor. This brought with it the privileges of use (including the right of burial of family members) but the responsibilities of maintenance were not always discharged. The only person with the right by law to a pew in the chancel was the rector. Lord Grantley clearly saw this as an important measure of social standing and once he became Lay-rector he ensured that a suitably grand pew was constructed in the chancel for his own use. This extended into the nave and with a fireplace was the only heated area of the church. 

George Cubitt, who later became Lord Ashcombe, in 1895 acquired from the Grantley estate rights to the land, tithes and patronage, following an order of court in 1883. He was appointed a member of the Council of Selwyn College Cambridge in 1887 and subsequently presented patronage to them in 1902. He retained Patronage of Shamley Green. The tithes were given back to the parishes of Wonersh & Shamley Green for the purpose of payment of the vicars, the parish of Shamley Green having been formed out of part of Wonersh in 1885 (Blackheath was still part of Wonersh at this time). The title of Vicar continued to be used in both parishes even though the tithes were returned to the rectory (parish) as the tithe was split between the two parishes. 

From 1927 Wonersh became part of the newly formed Diocese of Guildford


The Registers and Vicars

See the page on Vicars of the Parish for details on the incumbents. 

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