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A printed version of this paper is available for little cost in the Mere Information Centre in the library. Proceeds of the sales go to the Friends of St Michaels Church


THE DEAN'S FARM

by M.F.Tighe

 

A study of the various properties in the town at one time owned by the Dean of Salisbury

 

For over nearly 800 years the Dean of Salisbury in his official capacity was the owner of a compact estate in Mere.  This paper traces that estate from the early days up to its disposal, and where possible identifies the present day properties which once comprised it.

 

Before the foundation of the Diocese of Salisbury in 1091, half the revenue of the Church of Mere had been granted by the Crown to the earlier Diocese of Ramsbury, and then was transferred to the new Diocese; in the early XIIc Henry I granted the other half to the Cathedral, and as a result the whole revenue of the Church in Mere, in common with a number of other parishes in the Diocese, was vested in the Dean of Salisbury. It is not clear whether this was in his official capacity to support the operations of the Cathedral for which he was responsible - at that time at Old Sarum, but later on its present site - or whether it was intended to give the holder of the office financial independence, in a similar fashion to the grant of the Manor of Mere to the Sovereign's eldest son.  Parishes so assigned were designated "peculiars" of the Dean and there may be some significance in the fact that in the Diocesan archives all the papers relating to this Peculiar and one other refer solely to "the Dean", whereas in other instances "the Dean and Chapter" are named, making it clear that those properties belong to the institution, not the person.    

 

In his Peculiars the Dean became the Rector of the Parish, receiving the "Greater" Tithes - those of corn, grain, hay and wood - from the whole of the parish.   He also became possessed of the various properties which had been granted to the Church [it has to be remembered that until comparatively recently property was the only medium for investment, and grants of property, which could produce an income, were the standard method of endowing any institution such as a church].   As Rector, the Dean was responsible for the maintenance of the chancel of the church, the parishioners having the maintenance responsibility for the rest of the building.  He also was [and in theory still is] responsible for "presenting", or appointing, a Vicar to exercise the cure of souls in the parish; this Vicar received the "Lesser" Tithes - those on cattle, eggs, poultry, orchards and gardens - and had the use of the Vicarage house.    

 

The lands we are about to consider were, in fact, more than just an estate; they were part and parcel of a collection of lands which under the feudal system constituted a Manor, smaller but in all other ways the equivalent of the much larger Manor of Mere, granted by the Crown to the Earls [later Dukes] of Cornwall, from the lands of which the Parsonage Manor had been carved.  Right up to the mid XIXc "the Manor of the Parsonage of Mere" remained a legal entity and a number of properties in the town derived their title from being copyhold of that Manor.  The lands discussed in the present paper were mainly those regarded in manorial terms as being "the demesne" - i.e. those owned by the Lord of the Manor and employed by him for his own enjoyment or exploitation.   In the same way as in Mere Manor a considerable part of the land was cultivated by, or under the direction of, the Duke or his bailiff, so this demesne land was in theory cultivated by the Dean or his bailiff, though as we shall see in fact from quite early times it was "farmed" - i.e. let out to an exploiter.  The demesne consisted of a farm and its buildings where we are able to trace a considerable part of its story, at least after the Reformation, up to the present day.    In addition there were other properties making up the Manor, providing homes and working land for the villeins who made up the population of the community and provided the labour force for the Lord's demesne.

 

Not a lot of information is available to us from the pre-Reformation days, but the Diocesan records include the Register maintained by Dean Chandler for the years 1404/1417, in which were recorded the proceedings of the various visitations which he made periodically to his peculiars.  These have been translated and published by the Wiltshire Record Society [1] and provide us with fascinating insights into the life of the town.

 

These Manorial lands were referred to as the Glebe - the land provided for the support of the incumbent, and generally cultivated by him.   Thanks to the fact that in Mere the Dean of Salisbury was the Rector, it was he who had the benefit of the Glebe and other properties.  The incumbent who was responsible for the cure of souls was in fact a Vicar, appointed -  and paid - by the Rector.    We learn that in 1405 the Glebe consisted of a carucate of land - ie what a single plough with 8 oxen could be expected to cultivate; this was generally in the region of 120 acres, according to the difficulty of the land.  350 years later the agricultural estate was around 100 acres, so the pattern of the holding had already been established by the XVc.   This land was the arable, and would have been in scattered strips around the parish; in 1771 we have a detailed terrier of the strips, and in addition there was an acre of woodland and 5 acres of meadow - vital components of the rural economy at the time.  There is no mention of other pasture, but in later manorial records we learn that the tenants of the Parsonage Manor claimed the right "to feed on the Common Fields of Mere with his Highness the Prince of Wales' Tenants" - confirmation of the view that the Parsonage Manor had been carved out of the Manor of Mere.     An interesting observation at this visitation was that "the Rectory farmers had destroyed its trees and hedges".  The word "farmer" had the specialised meaning of the man who took a lease of an estate for a fixed term at a specified rent, to manage and exploit it, usually by sub-letting; it did not acquire its present agricultural connotation till centuries later - the agriculturalist was referred to as a husbandman or as a yeoman.   We see, therefore, that the Dean was "farming" out the responsibility for his estate to some entrepreneur - a practice that was to continue unbroken till 1861.    Moreover, it seems that the farmer was guilty of serious malpractice - timber and brushwood were valuable commodities which would undoubtedly have been landlord's property.

 

In addition to the demesne land the Manor had 26 tenants, 4 of whom had smallholdings in addition to their houses, whilst the others were cottagers.  These tenants were copyholders of "The Manor of the Parsonage of Mere " and were so referred to till the late XIXc.     As the story unfolds, we can hope to be able to identify many of the sites and lands in their modern context.       Much of the copyhold property and its cottages was sited in a compact block on either side of what is now Church Street, and a further paper will study this part of the estate and attempt to relate the properties to present buildings.

 

The Dean as Rector had certain responsibilities towards the tenants, including the duty to keep 20 oxen and a bull for their use.  He was reported to be withholding the Sunday breakfasts he had to provide for all his tenants from August to March, and a daily breakfast for the bailiff and reeve and their households.   By 1412 his responsibilities seem to have been sadly neglected - through his fault not only was the chancel roof defective, but also the Town Cross, where we are told "many offerings for the Dean are made" - ie tithes &c collected - was ruinous through his fault; moreover, he was failing to provide the parish bull and boar.    We are reminded that the feudal system, autocratic and despotic as popular historians have depicted it, did in fact embody a contract between master, tenant and worker;  the Lord had duties as well as rights, and the machinery existed through manorial courts, and occasions such as the Dean's Visitation, for grievances to be aired.   Certainly communal life was ordered and structured - often to the detriment of good agricultural practice.

 

The later visitations of Dean Davyson in the 1480's do not give us any such information about the lands, though they report a sad lack of maintenance of both chancel and nave.  They are, however, enlivened, as were those of Dean Chandler, by long lists of sexual transgressors - both lay and clerical!      There is a poignant reminder that the Black Death was still a terrible memory in the injunction to the Vicar and chaplains that they should go to the houses of the sick and to where corpses were to be buried without fear.[2]

 

An Indenture of 18th March 1541/2 [3]  - the 33rd year of the reign of Henry VIII, whom it describes as supreme head of the Church - is the first post-Reformation farm of the parsonage, by Dean Peter Barnes to Sir Thomas Arundell, to whom the Dean assigned all the farm and parsonage, tithes, rents and indeed every conceivable asset of the living apart from the advowson of the vicarage and certain fees and charges for a term of 50 years at a yearly rent of 46, "payable at the Fonte stone in Pauls Church in London".   This Sir Thomas Arundell was of the well known family of Wardour, and a member of Wolsey's household.  Despite his Catholic sympathies, he was prominent in the suppression of the monasteries and acquired much monastic property, including Shaftesbury Abbey.  He was executed in 1552 under Edward VI and his estates forfeited, though they were later returned to his son.  

 

The 1542 farm recites details of many properties which can be identified with those comprised in a Terrier 230 years later which we will be examining in detail.  In particular it lists 21 acres of arable in Lytton and Bramley Furlong, 30 acres in Wydenham and South of the Castle, 6 at Venscombe and 3 between Mere and Burton, as well as a number of holdings of pasture and meadow but very few houses;  indeed the latter were probably nearly all copyhold and as such the farm merely covered the feudal incidents payable on renewals and so on.

 

In May 1550, under Edward VI, Letters Patent[4] recited the grant in 1536 to Thomas Chafyn of Mere of the demesne lands & whole Barton of the Manor of Mere parsonage parcel of the Duchy, with all houses thereon and a certain barton covered with straw & all arable lands, meadows, fishing &c for 21 years at a rent of 31. This grant was there surrendered and replaced by a new one for a further 21 years at the same rent, reserving the great timber. A Church Survey[5] of Jan 1649 - just at the time of the execution of Charles I - whilst not in this reference listing the church properties, refers to a demise of the whole of the parsonage lands and possessions by Dean Clarke in 1568 to Thomas Chafin the elder of Zeales; this was stated to be on the forfetiture of an earlier lease in the time of Henry VIII., but was apparently a further renewal of the 1551 lease.    From all this it can be deduced that on Arundell's fall, the Chafins, who had been at Zeals since 1452 and steadily expanded their holdings locally,  became the farmers of the parsonage, a position they maintained unbroken for three centuries. The survey referred for the first time to what can be seen as parsonage buildings; the lessor [Chafin] covenanted to repair the Mansion Place &c in timber. stone and tile, apart from the Hall of the said Mansion House called the Deanes Hall.

 

A copy of the 1649 survey has now been traced at WSRO[6], and in its detail reflects the bureaucratic competence of the Interregnum. It is worth quoting in toto, as we will discuss three particular farm buildings later, they are identified henceforward as "X", "Y" & "Z":-

 

1. Capital messuage or parsonage House, hall parlour, Sellar, buttery & 4 chambers, much decayed, with garden & backside.       X

2. 25 acres land in Bramley Furlong; 23 in Wet Land & Deans Hill; 6 in Westcombe; 9 in Southbrook; 5 between Mere & Burton; 5 at Widman.

3. 7 acres meadow in Lords Mead alias Westmead; 3 in Hurdles Hearne.

4. cottage & 2 acres in Rook St. tenure Jonathan Bowles.

5. cottage in Church St & 8 acres meadow & pasture, Rook St, tenure Woolston Foster.

6. Cottage in Castle St & plot of meadow, Widow Burt.

7.Cottage in Church St & 4 acres in common fields, Wm. Crompe.

8. a cottage & 15 acres at Blackhouse.

9. a tenement garden & little plot of ground called Shitbrooke adjoining Deans Orchard, with 1/2 acre in common fields, tenure Christopher Phillips, innholder, known as The George, valued at 20.

10. parcel meadow near Deans Orchard also called Shitbrooke, Woolston Illinge.

11. Close of pasture called Deans Orchard, 3 acres, tenure Wm George.

              (Total acreage 119; value 760)

A further 16 cottages & gardens, tenants named, with another acre of ground  on which certain poor cottages are built which pay no rent yet are worth 3 pa.

 

     12. The Tythe of all corn and grain in parish worth 90; the tythe of haye of all the Common Meades in lieu whereof is allotted 7 acres of meadow in    Lordsmead; other tythe haye in Mere Mead, Southboook & Whatley.  Tythe growing wood due xxs pa.

 

This is the first time at which we have such a detailed description of the glebe holdings, and confirmation of the existence of a parsonage house; there are significant similarities in the detailed description of this house to what can be established concerning the house described 240 years later as having been demolished.  Even in 1649 it is described as much decayed!

 

The Restoration led to a further survey of the properties.  So far the original has not been traced, but at WSRO[7] is what seems to be a draft of it, undated apart from the year 1663, and with blank spaces for the valuations.   The description of the buildings has changed radically.   There is now "a fayre tyled house situate in a street called Castle Street with a large backside adjoining where was formerly a barne & divers outhouses, [?X?]and there is also one other backsyde with a Barne thereon adjoyning the churchyard [Z] [annotated - certain outhouses are demolished & mansion house much ruined]".        The farmhouse had appeared for the first time in the 1649 document, but already ruinous, so presumably of respectable age, and obviously no maintenance had been carried out during the Interregnum; however, it is now clearly stated to be in Castle Street, and the importance of this will be seen later.    The picture now, however, is clouded by the appearance for the first time of another plot with a barn on it, this time "adjoining the churchyard"  [Z].   This can only be the building which will be described later as being in Church Street, on the East of the churchyard, now the site of the parking area and garden of No 1 Church Street.      The document lists the glebe lands in a clear fashion, still around 100 acres.

 

Throughout the period of the XVII/MidXIX centuries this entire estate remained in the farm of the Chafin, now Chafin Grove family.   The terms are interesting - a rent of 46 pa was paid for the whole - the same as agreed with Sir Thomas Arundell in 1541 - and remained unchanged until the 1860's.    However, the lease had to be renewed at intervals - every 7 years for much of the term - and also had to be renegotiated on the death of a lessee.   On such renewals a fine was levied, calculated on the formula  of the rent roll, less the 46, multiplied by one and a quarter; in  1771 this was 380, but by 1799 Thomas Grove had to pay 660 for his renewal - a reflection of the increased agricultural rents payable during the prosperous period of the Napoleonic Wars.

 

At the time of the 1771 renegotiation, William Chafin Grove prepared for Dean Green a new Terrier[8],which was far more detailed than anything earlier and gives a full picture of the entire Mere estate.   It starts by describing the farmhouse and buildings thus:-

1. All that messuage called the Parsonage House, much out of Repair, and not inhabited for a great Number of Years , with a Backside adjoining to it situate in Castle Street.    [X]

 

2. All that large new* tiled house, called Dewdney's, with a Backside, very small Garden, Stable, Cart House and Barn adjoining, situate in Church Street & opposite to the Churchyard          [Y]

* The calligraphy of the document is very clear, but unfortunately "e" and "o" cannot always be differentiated, so there is the possibility that rather than describing a new building, the replacement of thatch with tile on an older one may be referred to*

 

3. One other Backside with a Barn in it adjoining to the Churchyard on the East side.         [Z]

 

The Terrier then goes on to list and identify "Several parcels of arable lands lying dispersedly in the Common Fields".  Where it has been possible to identify individual strips, this description proves to be only too true.  36 discrete strips amounting to some 77 acres are distributed over 8 different districts.  Some of these districts can be identified:-

9 strips, totalling 11 acres, were in Widdenham  and Westcombe Fields, an area right on the NW edge of the parish, beyond Wood Farm at the far end of Manor Road.  Some are described as "shooting up to Catherine Hedge which divides Stourton Parish from Mere", and others shoot up to the Down called Old Castle - ie Whitesheet.

3 strips, 6 acres, are described as being on the N side of Castle Hill, probably at the foot of the Hill, where the ground levels out.

5 strips, some 6 acres, "In Wetland Gutter".   This cannot be identified at present, but from the fact that some strips  have "great lynches" on their side, could well be in Great Bottom.

4 strips, 5acres, are on "Deans Hill".  They adjoin "The Holloway from Mere to Maiden Bradley";  was Deans Hill another name for Long Hill?

South of Castle Hill there was one parcel of 25 acres of arable in one convenient piece, Bramley Furlong and 7 acres adjoining.

5 strips, each of an acre, were distributed through the field near Holwell and Ivy Mead.

7 separate strips, 10 acres in all, were scattered round Southbrook Field.

 

With rare exceptions, the strips were each of one acre, and about a furlong in length, intermixed with the strips of the Duchy tenants.   The Terrier goes so far as to name their neighbours, as well as indicating their orientation.    The problems of cultivating such scattered holdings, without hedges or fences, must have been formidable.

 

In addition to the arable, there were 11 acres of meadow scattered around Lords Mead and Mere Mead, which will have been cropped and then pastured in Common.   More conveniently were 12 acres of meadow in Woodlands and Rook Street  described as "closes".  Reference to the Enclosure Map identifies these as being old enclosures, so that they would have been surrounded by hedges and far easier to deal with.   The Terrier makes no mention of any grazing or common rights enjoyed, but it could be that such were taken for granted, and did not affect the landlord/tenant arrangement.   We do have a good picture of the make-up of a pre-Enclosure holding, and when the description is compared with that in the 1649 document they are virtually identical;  Indeed, the probability has to be that if we were to have a delineation of the carucate, meadow &c of 1405 they would have been recognisably similar.

 

The three lots of buildings, and all the arable and meadow described, are recorded as "now let to Farmer Joseph Maidment".  For the first time we are told the tenant of the holding.    The Maidment family had been yeomen farmers for many generations and had farmed various holdings, but there is always the likelihood that there may have been family continuity in the farming of the Parsonage Farm.  

 

The next major event to affect the farm came some 40 years later, with the Mere Enclosure Award, which is the subject of No.9 in these Papers.   The Church Street properties, and the 12 acres of enclosed pasture were not, of course, affected by Enclosure, but the remainder of the farm was completely re-organised.  Whatever other people may have felt about the process, the Dean, and Chafin Grove as his assignee, emerged with a far more manageable holding, mainly on good quality land, far more conveniently situated in relation to the farm buildings, in many cases actually incorporating some of the original holding, and with only minimal hedging responsibility - a great burden in many cases.

 

The main parcel allocated to the Dean was a single rectangular area of 54 acres of arable land which included most of Long Hill, and ran North from it to the end of Manor Road, in the area known as "The Sands".  This plot can be identified to-day, and is amongst some of the best corn land of the parish;  strangely, it marches on its Western boundary with a 150 acre parcel of similar land allocated to Chafin Groves!  Lands allocated North of Castle Street did not have to be enclosed with hedges in the way that those to the South were, and even to-day these 54 acres are bounded only by a single wire, if that, for much of the way.   This compact holding was in substitution for the scattered strips of arable previously held.  Significantly, the arable land at Bramley Furlong and nearby, and the meadows in Mere Mead and Lords Mead were all allocated to the Dean virtually as they were held before.   Only one tiny piece of the old common lands came into his hands - 2 perches by the roadside at Rook Street, which conveniently gave access to the old closes of pasture, which previously were only accessible from the commons.

 

It is still not clear as to just when the actual transfer of the Enclosed lands took place, as there was an unexplained delay of many years before the publication of the Award, and it was obvious that de facto enclosure took place  around 1810/11.   We know from T.H.Baker's notes[9] that in 1812 the Parsonage Farm had been occupied by Thomas Maidment, but that he gave up the farm in that year.  On April 3rd an auction was held of all his live and dead stock, comprising 50 ewes and lambs, 50 wether sheep, 80 further sheep, 4 dairy cows in calf, a sow & 6 pigs, 4 cart horses 3 waggons, 2 dung putts, a considerable amount of plow tackle &c, sheep cribs, hurdles and 2 stacks of hay. The point was made that the sheep were a Wiltshire/South Down cross.  One has to wonder whether Maidment felt that the time had come to give up rather than to have to deal with the disruption of the new system.   Whatever the background, he was followed by his son William, but before long he gave up and the farm was taken by John Cross, and then by John Burfitt, who was succeeded in 1829 by Barnaby Rumsey.  The day of the small farm was passing, and by the time of the Tithe Award in 1847 the holding was rented by Christopher Rose, who was also farming another 500 acres, largely rented from the Chafin Grove estate.  In 1857 the farm was taken by E.P.Mitchell, who also was farming on a far wider scale than just Parsonage Farm;  he let the farm house, and lived at Manor Farm.  When E.P. Mitchell died in 1885, the Chafin Groves estate and the Duchy carried out an exchange of lands in a further rationalisation.

 

In 1861 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had taken over the management of Church estates from the diocesan authorities.   Whether they were more far seeing than their successors turned out to be a century later or whether there were other factors we do not know, but they took the decision to dispose of the Mere holding, at a time when agricultural land prices were still high, before the slump of the later part of the century.

 

On 8th August 1861 the Commissioners conveyed to Eleanor Grove, widow of William Chafin Grove, for a consideration of 11,235 all the various properties which the Grove's had been leasing for at least three centuries, including the Parsonage Farm, and the Dean's temporal properties in Mere were finally disposed of.   The sale included a number of properties apart from the Farm which we have been studying, including much of the rest of Church Street and the George Inn,  and these are dealt with elsewhere in this paper.

 

After the exchange of lands with the Duchy in 1885, Miss Julia Chafin Grove bought from the Lander family the small Prospect Farm of 15 acres whose lands marched with the 54 acres of the reformed Parsonage Farm for which the Prospect Farm buildings were a convenient base and were made the farmhouse and homestead for the combined holding, which was then let, with other lands, to Arthur White.  We can say that this was the end of the story of the Parsonage Farm as an agricultural unit.

 

However, in 1886, presumably as a result of the combination of the lands of the two farms and the accompanying fencing, local feathers were badly ruffled.   In April a public meeting was called "to consider what steps should be taken with regard to the fence erected at Long Hill by Miss Grove, without regard to the rights and feelings of the inhabitants and their long enjoyment of the hill for recreational purposes".    John Farley Rutter moved a resolution reciting that generations of Mere people had used the Hill for recreation, and that the fence interfered with that enjoyment and was an infringement of their rights and privileges, and inviting Miss Grove to leave the access open; he was seconded by Charles Lander.   It must be admitted that Rutter's interpretation of the effects of the 1821 Enclosure Award was highly emotional and, looked at dispassionately, almost certainly incorrect - surprisingly so for a solicitor.  Miss Grove's  agent, Mr. Squarey made the point very strongly that he considered she had full unrestricted ownership of the property and had every right to fence it off, an action for which he accepted full responsibility.   She recognised that the inhabitants had for a long time been accustomed to walk the hill, and wished to accomodate them as far as she could.  She had therefore provided stiles, but these were not regarded as suitable for ladies.    Moreover, the point was made that some ladies on reaching the stile had been faced with a congregation of black steers and had been afraid to proceed.

 

It is, of course, this last point which was at the root of the matter.  The whole point of the fencing was to enable the hill to be grazed, as it had been for centuries, and to allow this fences had to go up to prevent the cattle straying.   Significantly, all contemporary photographs show the whole length of Long Hill and Castle Hill as being completely bare of all trees and undergrowth as a result of this practice.   We do not know the final outcome for certain, but a postcard in the early days of the XXc still shows both hills quite bare, and the wire fence which was objected to [not the one through the Bull Ring, but some 250 yards to the West, on the line of the Enclosure Award] is firmly in position - with a five barred stile in it.   To-day scrub has grown up around it, but the stile has been replaced with a wicket gate across what is now a Public Footpath. 

 

Not long after this disagreement, as a Jubilee Memorial, the Duchy of Cornwall gave the town a lease of the whole of Castle Hill at a peppercorn rent, and the public's right to it was fully established; though this did not affect Long Hill public access to it continued.  In both cases, though, public access and agriculture were uneasy bedfellows, and eventually the grazing of the Hills was abandoned.   Nature abhors a vacuum, and in very little time the clean line of the bare hills disappeared under a covering of scrub which rapidly swamped the short cropped vegetation with its wide variety of wild flowers.   In recent years great efforts have been made by local conservationists to bring the hills back to their timeless state, but unfortunately it has not so far been possible to combine this with a grazing programme.   Indeed, there has been ill-informed criticism of the whole operation by those with no knowledge or experience of rural tradition.

 

There remained the block between Castle Street and Church Street containing the original farm buildings and at an auction at the Talbot on 31 March 1887 were offered "a valuable plot of Building Land, with a substantial stone barn thereon," [X] two further plots of building land fronting Castle St. and "the family residence known as the Old Parsonage Farmhouse, 2 sitting rooms & 4 bedrooms, complete with  coach house, stable &c, yard, walled garden and further garden ground.   Gas laid on, and plentiful water from pump in the lobby" [Y]. One of the building plots contained the machinery of the Mere Weighbridge Company, who had been given notice, and it was from this time that the Weighbridge was installed at the Cross House.

 

The old barn site was bought by John Barber, a builder, for 125.  The remaining  lots were all bought by Edward Austin Card, the retired bank manager and son of Charles Card, founder of the Walton business, for a total of 510.   Card was at this time investing heavily in properties in the town.  

 

Having traced the fate of the Dean's farmlands over the centuries, we can now return to a study of the buildings which were at the heart of the farm until the move to Prospect Farm, and we now encounter, at "the old barn site" [property X], a demolition a century ago which passed almost unnoticed  but which to-day would have been regarded as utter vandalism.  

 

T.H.Baker in 1890[10] reported the demolition of

"an old building probably the residence of the Dean as rector.  There stood on the South side of Castle St in the premises of the Parsonage Farm a building which from time out of mind had been used as a barn.   At the Eastern end was a doorway to an underground cellar which was under the whole of that end of the structure.  The interior showed signs of it having been divided into two storeys.  It was no doubt originally an ecclesiastical residence, probably of the Dean.   On the level of the ground floor was a handsome stone fireplace, on which were sculptured two shields one containing an emblem of the Trinity similar to that on the balcony in Mere church, the other plain, but probably the arms of the founder had been erased.   These were placed between the monograms IHS & XRC.   In each corner and in the centre was a quatrefoil.    Shortly before the demolition of the building this fireplace was removed and presented by Miss Julia Chafin Grove to the Church House in Salisbury, together with a smaller one, less ornate and devoid of shields but of similar construction, which stood on the storey above and was connected with the same chimney stack.   The frame of a window on the N. side of the same storey, the holes in which had been inserted the ends of the joists, and the above mentioned fireplace were the only indications of there having been an upper story.   In the centre of the building was the barn floor with the usual barn porch.  On the South side the width had been extended by the addition of a porch.  Over this central space, probably the Hall, was an elaborate oak roof of XVc work; West of this were no signs of a second storey, but at the extreme end, holes for receiving the supports of some erection remained in the wall [probably a minstrels' gallery] extending throughout the whole width from N to S.    In the North wall near the East  end, looking into Castle Street, an unusually long oak framed eight mullioned window with tracery of the same date as the structure itself [which was coeval with the grand restoration of the church in 1460] remained in good preservation.  There is no tradition as to the time of its conversion from dwelling house to barn".

 

Baker's account is factual, and as that of an eye-witness is most important.  However, certain of his interpretations are suspect, and we are fortunate that Mere Museum has a photograph taken from the Church Tower shortly before the demolition, almost certainly by the Rev. A.L.Lloyd, then vicar of Mere, which supplements Baker's account. Mr. Owen Rees' sketch accompanying this paper is based on this very detailed photograph.   In spite of the references to dilapidation over the years, the building looks to be in a fair state; certainly the thatch of the roof is in a far better condition than is to be noted in some contemporary photographs of cottages in the town - for a farm building it must be regarded as in good repair.  It can be seen that the quoins on the SE corner at least are in the large dressed green stone blocks typical of structures built in Mere in the centuries after the abandonment of the Castle.

 

The first thing that strikes the viewer to-day is that, while the domestic style windows referred to by Baker appear in the Eastern portion of the building, the portion to the West of the porch is lit by two rows of

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE "PARSONAGE" BARN, AS DEPICTED ON A PHOTOGRAPH OF 1890; DRAWING BY OWEN REES

 

 

narrow slit lights, three to each storey, absolutely typical of the lighting of major mediaeval - and later - barns.  It is apparent that what we are looking at is a combined domestic and agricultural building - house to the East, barn to the West, the two parts separated externally by the massive central porch on the South side.    The 1887 auction particulars are accompanied by a very detailed site plan, which confirms the absence of any such porch on the North side.  This is not surprising as the building fronted right on to Castle Street, which might well not even have had a pedestrian pavement in 1887. However the photograph suggests light entering from the North, so there was probably a barn door on that frontage.  Indeed, a later note by Baker specifically refers to a door on the street side.

 

The photograph suggests that the barn portion west of the porch was wider than the domestic part.  The site plan confirms this, giving approximate widths of a 14' access to the East, 20' width to the domestic frontage, 14' to the porch and 24' to the barn frontage.   Logically, of course, the area aligned to the porch will have been barn, not house, so that the house would probably have only occupied about  a third of the site.

 

It is very strange that Baker, who after all was himself a farmer, did not remark upon the different fenestration, of a style with which he must have been familiar, and jumped to the conclusion that the whole building was originally domestic.   He might also have been expected to see from the absence of joist holes in the Western portion that there was no upper floor in that portion; he seems to have fallen into wishful thinking by deciding the holes at the West end were for a musicians' gallery.  The farmer in him should have recognised the likelihood of a hayloft!

 

Baker's suggestion that the building was a residence for the Dean is difficult to accept without challenge. Opinions differ on the interpretation of the rather slender information we have about the original shape and use of the building. One view, accepting that the evidence points to a XVc origin, suggests that, although it is most unusual for houses of that time to have two storeys throughout, the whole building was a very high status house, of the kind which the Dean's social position would have demanded, as suggested by Baker, and that at a later date the Western end was converted to barn use.  However the Dean's visits would have been so infrequent that it is difficult to imagine him building so lavishly in Mere, and providing a lesser official with rather palatial living quarters.  Moreover had the building been entirely domestic the windows at the West end would have been larger and presumably mullioned as those at the East; the photograph shows no evidence of the earlier existence of such windows - though one has to admit that the lack of such indication is far from conclusive - and if there had been a change of use it would seem to have involved a complete rebuilding of the East end with slit windows. This part of the building is thought to be too tall for a mediaeval barn, which one would have expected to have buttresses to the roof truss positions also.

 

Another theory, not necessarily accepted by the experts, but rather attractive to the layman, is that from the start the building had a dual purpose.  It is certainly the barn part of the building which provided the main reason for its existence; the Dean was entitled to the Great Tithes - of corn and grain - and what we see in the photograph is suggested to be the Decanal Tithe Barn, with attached to it a house with hall, four chambers and usual offices, probably for the use of the person acting as his bailiff and steward who is likely originally to have also been the farmer of the glebe land.  The building would seem to be ideally suited for this dual function, but it must be stressed that this idea is no more than the conjecture of an amateur.   Today a neighbouring house, which does not seem to have been part of the Dean's property, but which is of good age, bears the name "Tithings", but this is very much a XXc fantasy.

 

John Barber, the builder who bought the building in 1887 seems to have been a newcomer to the town, at least as a builder, as he did not figure in the trade directories in 1880, appearing in 1899 as a builder in Castle Street, where it looks as though he took over the business of the Wadlows. He was still there in 1923, but had retired in 1931, living at Woodbine Cottage.  He was followed by his son Sydney Tom Barber, of "Glendon".   He lost no time in starting work on his purchase, and a second photograph, also in the Museum, from the church tower shows a large heap of rubble at the rear of where the barn had stood, and on its site a row of scaffold poles surround the emerging new building.   Window frames are set, with the walls of what are to become a terrace of three houses rising to half their height, but the door frames are not yet in position.   Examination of these solidly built houses a century later show that although they were obviously built to a higher standard than mere cottages, the main building had neither water nor sanitation; such amenities were housed in outshoots at the back.     On the 1910 Inland Revenue "Domesday" the three houses are returned as still being in the ownership of Barber, but occupied [from E to W] by Sydney Barber, F.W.Honeybun, and Frank Edmunds.

 

The 1649 survey had referred to a "Sellar".   The 1890 photograph shows, below the ground floor window of the domestic end, an arched doorway set partially below ground - the ground falls away fairly steeply at this point - which must have been the entrance to this cellar, described by Baker as being under the whole of the East end.  Barber utilised this cellar, and the central and Eastern houses, but not the Western,   have cellars which on examination are obviously the original stone walled cellar of the old building, with a later brick wall separating the cellars of the individual houses.   Access now, however, is from within and not from the gardens at the rear!  So in this small respect one of Mere's oldest domestic buidings lives on.

 

There is one aspect of this site which may be purely co-incidental, but is worthy of remark.   The building is set some 15 feet in from the Eastern boundary of the site, allowing access from Castle Street to the yards behind.    On the other side of Castle Street this access is aligned on the narrow walled pathway running through to Castle Hill Lane, whose alignment is continued by a path up to the terraces of the Hill.  In the opposite direction, this alignment is direcly on to the Parish Church.   Is it just coincidence, or are we looking at an ancient pathway for the convenience of the clergy and their farming tenants?

 

The two large plots to the East, both bought by Card, and originally presumably just part of the farmyard, have remained virtually undeveloped to this day.  By 1910, still in the ownership of E.A.Card, they were let to the Rural District Council, and remained in its hands, as the Council maintenance yard, until the demise of the RDC under the 1970's local government reorganisation, when they became a much needed car park.

 

The other lot in the 1887 auction was the family residence known as the Old Parsonage Farmhouse, and its outbuildings.   This can be reliably identified as property [Y], which made its first appearance in 1771 as a new, or newly tiled, house called Dewdneys in Church St opposite the Churchyard.    It seems quite logical that, with the old Deans Hall in poor condition at a time when rebuilding was general throughout Mere, a modern farmhouse should have been built in the mid XVIIIc, when agriculture was becoming more prosperous.  At first sight the name of Dewdneys presents a puzzle, as we have so far no written record of any person of that name having been a tenant;  however, neither do we have records of any other tenants at that period!   At a time when house and property names were by no means universal it was common practice to name a farm or building by the surname of its owner or occupier, particularly where the property was new or substantially altered; a number of old surnames, now vanished, are still recalled by place names in Mere.

 

The name of Dewdney first appears in the Parish Registers in 1730 on the baptism of John, son of Andrew; followed by his brother Aaron in 1735; eight more of the family were baptised over the next 60 years, but none afterwards.  Andrew was a Churchwarden in 1734 & 1739, and Aaron was a warden in 1773 and his son Aaron in 1805.  By the mid XIXc the name had disappeared from the town.  We shall come across the family again in connection with the property on the opposite side of Church Street. 

 

It is apparent that sometime around 1730 a Dewdney with his family came to Mere - we do not know from where, though it is possible that he could have come from Dorset - and took over the tenancy of the Parsonage Farm, building or re-building a home for himself there, but that by 1771 they had given up the farm and the house in favour of the Maidment family.  So far as is known, the house and buildings were occupied by the various tenants of the farm previously listed, but certainly by 1851 when Christopher Rose had taken over the tenancy of the farm and was farming it together with his Zeals farm, 760 acres in all,  he did not live there but in Zeals.    According to T.H.Baker[9]  when Edward Mitchell took over the farm from Stephen Welch he was living at Manor Farm and did not need the house, which he let to a Quaker, Thomas Short, who was followed by the Rev Henry Kidgell, minister of the Congregational chapel at East Knoyle.  When he left, Ernest Baker, brother of T.H. lived there for a while, and at the time of the sale by the Groves to E.A.Card it had reverted to a farming use, being rented as a dairy house by Edwin Sims, dairyman of the Manor Farm.   After the purchase by E.A.Card there were various tenants, and in 1904 Edward Angrave bought it and ran a preparatory school for boys there; in 1927 he sold it to Mr. F.A.Coward, one of the founders of the Hill Brush Company, who had been living nearby at the "Little House",  Church Street and since then has been known as "Glebe House".  It is now the home of Mr. Coward's grandson, and once more part of the property has become a preparatory school..

 

Finally we come to the property "Z" which appears in the 1771 Terrier as "one other backside with a Barn adjoining to the Churchyard on the East side". This can be identified as having occupied the long narrow site to the East of the Churchyard, now forming the car park area and part of the garden of No 1 Church Street.    It is strange that it does not appear as part of the Deanery Farm properties until then; the answer may be that previously it had had more of a parochial use, which had lapsed so that it came to have an agricultural use.

 

Various early references point to there having been some building in this area for the use of the Church.  Against the Eastern wall of the churchyard historically was another building almost certainly of great antiquity on this site.  When in about 1280 Deans Orchard [see later in this paper] was granted to the Dean it was described as "adjoining the house of the Dean on the South side", and when in 1626 there was a dispute about the Dean's title the Orchard was described as bounded on the West by the Chantry House and on the North by the Parsonage Barn, "by common report heretofore a dwelling house where there remaineth in the inside a sign of a chimney in the East end thereof".  The implication of this is that there was a clergy house in this position, which fell out of use when the first vicarage was built. However this was the evidence of an octogenerian and may be suspect and one cannot help wondering whether he was confusing this property with the other Parsonage House! 

 

Though we have no other record of building "Z" over the centuries, there is no other which could have been used for lay purposes by the church, and we know that it was always church property. We also know that the neighbouring property, now nos 1 & 2 Church Street, had been for a long time in the ownership of Aaron Dewdney, of the family referred to earlier, and that they operated as maltsters there, and it seems likely that they may have used the old building.  In 1861 the site, now described just as a plot, was acquired, with the other properties by the Chafyn Grove estate, and sold on to E.P.Mitchell, the farmer, who had already bought the Dewdney's site to the East.  Later it was bought by the then vicar, Rev. E.G.Wyld with the idea of building a boys school there, opposite the already existing National School.   However, in 1891 Miss Julia Chafyn Grove had bought the site opposite for a school extension, so he gave the land to her to combine with it as the school playground.  The site was described as having on it a building, once a house but then used as a stable, ruinous and since demolished, which abutted to the churchyard midway between Church Street and the Deans Orchard footpath. 

 

T.H.Baker described the building as bearing traces of antiquity, and probably the old Church House.  It contained a doorway & a window, pointed but plain without tracery.   It is significant that the churchwardens' accounts between 1568 and 1580 contain a number of references to the receipt of small amounts of money towards the building of a Church House, but nowhere do we read of its actual erection and maybe the old house was refurbished for that use.

 

On the demolition the door and window were removed and later restored to the old churchyard wall, but much farther to the South than originally, to form the entrance to a newly built storehouse for the sexton.   Half a century later Pevsner, in his "Buildings of England" fell into the trap and solemnly described the sexton's store as an original charnel house, an error which has recently been perpetuated in other learned works - an awful warning to the historian.   To compound the confusion, when the D.O.E. came to list the important buildings of Mere for preservation their inspector happily included the so-called charnel house in his list!  At the time of the demolition old local people described how there had been a pond on the site, which had been filled in with the rubble when Barton Lane was opened up as a carriage way rather than a flight of steps, and also how at one time the Dean's proctor had used the yard for storage of tithes collected in kind.   This latter can only have been a folk memory by this time, and must be treated with some reserve.  However, it would accord with the site having been included with the Dean's holdings on the other side of the Street; if the original Parsonage Barn had become part of the let farm buildings, its "tithe" usage could well have been transferred across the road.  

 

With the further expansion of the National School the site continued as a playground, with toilets and cycle sheds at the South end until the final closure of the School in 1966 when it was acquired by the owners of No 1 Church Street.

 

All these properties so far described formed the "demesne" of the original Manor of the Parsonage.   The original estate, as described briefly by Dean Chandler, also included 26 individual properties which formed the community of the Manor.  Their occupants would have provided the work force for the demesne farm, the provision of labour initially having been the consideration for their possesion of the properties, which varied in size from small farm holdings to small cottages, though even these would have had gardens to allow some measure of self sufficiency.   These various properties were held as "copyhold", known as such because title to them was evidenced by entry in the Court Books of the Manor, with the copyholder having a certified copy of the relevant entry, a system which remained unchanged until the late XIXc when the properties were enfranchised into freeholds.     The practice was for the property to be held, on a nominal rental,  during the lives of three named people, reverting to the lord of the manor on the death of the last of them or, if they all survived, at the expiry of a fixed  term.   As the "lives" fell in it was open to the copyholder to surrender his estate and to accept a new copy with different lives, on payment of a fine to the lord; it was these fines, rather than the rents, which provided the lord's income.  The system came to provide the copyholder with assured tenure, subject to the payment of the fines, the amount of which became, as a matter of custom, one years purchase of the rental value, and he was thus able to dispose of his property by sale or will; the purchaser having to pay the appropriate fine to the lord as well as the consideration to the seller.  Originally, of course, the lord would have had the right to reject any proposed purchaser who would have been unable to perform the labour or other duties attached to the property.   The customs of the manor stated that no stranger could purchase without the consent both of the Lord and of the other tenants of the Manor.  The enforcement of this restriction, and the general policing of the manorial estates was in the hands of the Manorial Court made up of all the copyholders - or so many as wished to come! - meeting in the Cross House [though immediately adjourning to the George Inn when the Cross House was ruinous - possibly a good excuse!].

 

By the time of the 1771 Terrier we have fairly precise details of these various properties and can identify those which were in fact small agricultural holdings.  The Dewdney family held a messuage and cottage in Church Street, almost certainly the site of what are now nos 1 & 2,  together with 211/2 acres of arable in the common fields; on Enclosure the Dewdneys were allotted a corresponding plot near Deverill Longwood.   Such an acreage is around what in mediaeval times formed a virgate - a quarter-hide holding suitable for a smallholding; we may therefore have here a direct descendant of an early feudal holding.  By the 1848 Tithe Award the land and the Church Street property, house and malthouse, were in the hands of Elizabeth Candy and let to Robert Dowding..  Though a holding of this size would be regarded as insignificant to-day, it would originally have been quite a viable small farm.  Another house in Church Street, on the site of what is now "Warwick House", was held by the Maidment family, separately from the Parsonage Farm, together with another tenement called "Pitteridge", with a barn and a small piece of land between Petteridge Lane and the Lynch, which later came into the hands of the Still family.   

 

As well as the copyholds, there were a number of properties which by 1771 were let on what we would regard as more conventional tenancies.  These included 9 acres of grassland called Blackhouse, let to Christopher Dowding, a cottage with 2 acres in Rook Street, and a further 16 acres of common field at Deverill Longwood - another "virgate"?.  The Blackhouse land, once close to a virgate,  has shrunk by 6 acres since 1649, so there may well have been some rearrangement of tenancies.  The most important item in this category, however, and a prime property, was "one house or tenement known by the name of the George Inn with a brewhouse, stable and small garden now the tenure of Wm Hallett, with a cottage next to it".     It is interesting that, like so many other commercial properties, the George had attached to it a 2 acre paddock of ground, in this case lying on the other side of Deans Orchard.

 

In addition to these were some 28 cottages let to various tenants; these were nearly all in or adjacent to Church Street, in the compact area South of Castle Street referred to earlier and which it is hoped will be the subject of an in depth study of the Church Street area.  There are however certain other buildings of interest with parochial connections close by the Church which, whilst not themselves part of the Deanery holding and manor, should be studied in the present context.

 

DEANS ORCHARD

 

There is one property vested in the Dean which for some reason seems nearly always to have been regarded as completely distinct from the preceding glebe properties.  It appears in none of the Terriers, though the 1541 farm to Sir Thomas Arundell includes "one close called Deans Orchard", from which it can be assumed that at that time there was no building there.     This was the last occasion on which this property was farmed out; all subsequent dealings in it are by way of direct lease to tenants, the freehold remaining with the Church until its final sale in 1969.

 

T.H.Baker[11] quotes an early XIIIc deed then in the Muniment Room at Salisbury whose present whereabouts is unknown.  By this Edmund Duke of Cornwall granted to the Dean and Chapter in perpetuity "one garden and small croft with their belongings, and also a mill for grinding corn in the ville of Mere for which Gilbert the Vintner and Gilbert the Baker were accustomed to pay 23 shillings annually, which said garden and croft lie adjacent to the house of the said Dean on the South side." No other mill besides that for grinding corn was to be erected there.  In consideration the Dean and Chapter were to observe Edmund's anniversary annually in the Cathedral, and to cause to be sung the story of St. Edmund the Confessor.  As previously discussed, the Dean's house referred to must have been the demolished property East of the church.

 

The inclusion of a mill is rather intriguing.  The gardens of Chantry House abut that of Deans Orchard; when the latter was sold in 1969 a portion of the Deans Orchard land was sold to the then owners of Chantry House,  and included a large pond fed by a spring and an amount of undateable masonry and it could well be that this was the mill site.  On the face of it the water supply seems barely adequate to run a mill, but we must remember that water tables may well have been higher in mediaeval times,  and the primitive small horizontal wheel often used then needed less water.   Moreover, not all the early mills were water-powered, and it is quite possible that a small mill could have been horse operated.

 

In 1626 doubts arose over the Dean's title to Dean's Orchard, and the then Dean was taken to court by the Chapter. It was recorded by local witnesses that the land had only stumps of decayed apple trees on it, with a brook or rill separating it from the Chantry lands.  Steven Barnes, an 88 year old inhabitant, referred to the site being bounded  to the south by farmland, to the North by the town "and the Parsonage Barn" [see above] to the West by the Chantry House and on the East by a lane leading to the same farmland.

 

In 1708 an elegant house was built on the site; Doulting stone was used, with some of the ubiquitous stone from the Castle as quoining.  A beam carrying the initials "EA",  and the date 1751, records an enlargement which included a gracious withdrawing room with high ceiling and wide fireplace; at some time a corridor running the length of the house was built on to the North side.  It seems that this may have involved an encroachment onto the churchyard, as bones have been found below the floor [12].

 

The initials on the beam pose a question.   They would suggest a connection with the Andrews family of Woodlands, some of whom shared the vault in the Church with the Still family of Deans Orchard.  However, from Sept 1750 onwards we have a continuous record of the lessees of the house from the Dean, and there is no mention of the Andrews name.[13].    In 1754 the house was leased to Thomas Tatum, apothecary, on the lives of the sons of  Nathaniel Still of Salisbury, his daughter's husband; the lease quotes an earlier one of 1750, so the probability is that Tatum, who shared his practice with two brothers, had been there for some time.  Thomas Tatum died in 1767, his brothers having predeceased him, and his executor negotiated for the benefit of Sarah Still a new lease of the house "adjoining the churchyard with garden and a close of pasture, 31/2 acres and two little cottages recently erected".  A note was made on this lease "Since 1754 the house has been greatly augmented and improved but I took no advantage on the first renewal; the cottages are only sheds and not inhabited"; as these two cottages appear in subsequent leases as still "newly erected" it sounds as though they were a result of slavish copying by a conveyancer, and may have been in decay long before!   Deans Orchard remained in the hands of members of the Still family as lessees till at least the early XIXc, but eventually the lease was not renewed.  Various tenants occupied it over the years - the Midlane family, commemorated by a large window in the church, during the 1830's, John Jupe the linen merchant in 1841, followed by Coleman a butcher and Alfred Horrington, a cattle dealer.  Eventually the Ecclesiastical Commissioners took the matter in hand, and by 1910 the house was occupied by a curate.   Finally in 1969 The Ecclesiastical Commissioners sold it to Mr. John Robert Flanagan, a retired surveyor, a founder of Mere Historical Society and curator of Mere Museum for three years.  The wheel was to come full circle by its acquisition in 1983 by Dr. Michael Plaxton who had retired from his practice in Bourton.

 

The original 31/2 acres were supplemented in the 1821 Enclosure Award by the award of a further 3 acres immediately to the South in lieu of various lands in the open fields owned by the Dean and leased to the Still family, though strangely these lands are not referred to in the Deans Orchard leases.  The lands were occupied in 1848 by James Ayles, a farmer, and in 1910 by Tom Norris.

 

THE VICARAGE

 

Immediately across the road to the West of the church stands, in a large garden, a house, XVIIIc or earlier,  bearing the name  "The Old Rectory".  In part at least this is a misnomer, as the Dean was never resident as rector, and it would be more fitting for it to be called "The Old Vicarage", as this was its function.    There is no indication of when it was built, but it was obviously well after the Reformation.  It could well be that it replaced an earlier, and almost certainly far simpler, building on the same site; certainly from the earliest days provision would have been necessary for a priest's house for the incumbent.    From the will of the Revd Edward Garrard, the incumbent who died in 1695 we learn that the house then had "a lodging chamber, a Little chamber, a study, a parlour with another chamber above it, kitchen, buttery and scullery," though the original hall had become disused and held merely a still and a malt mill.

 

The Rev Thomas Staples held the living from 1744 till his death thirty years later; either just before or just after his death the vicarage was burnt out, and his widow was compelled to rebuild it; we know, therefore, that the house as we see it do-day was built at that time.   Two rooms remain which appear to be survivors of the original house - one probably the kitchen and the one adjoining, which could have been service quarters, with the original open fireplace and windows.  A number of minor alterations have been made over the years, culminating in 1964 in the conversion of the coach house and stables into a doctor's surgery, superseded in 1990 by the Mere Surgery in Dark Lane, and the splitting into two residences in 1997.   However basically the structure is the same as it was two centuries before.    During the period when some vicars were non-resident the vicarage was occupied by the curates they had appointed, but it was also at some times let; tenants included Francis Seymour and Mrs. Ann Grove.

 

In 1865 it would appear that the Rev C.H.Townsend, vicar 1861/81, felt that the old vicarage was inadequate for the times, and a typical large Victorian vicarage - later used as offices by the R.D.C and now the core of Bramley House Nursing Home - was built on the South side of Castle Hill.   The original vicarage was then sold to Mr. William Mitchell,  a cheese dealer from the old Mere farming family and became a private house.  On his death in 1889 it was sold, under the name "Layfield House",  at auction to William Wiltshire for 550;  on his death in 1893 his widow,  Augusta, married a Mr. Hartgill of Bridport, whom she again survived; on her death in 1909 the property was again sold at auction.  Eventually it was bought in 1964 by Dr. David Longbourne, who established his surgery there, and who still lives in part of the house.

 

After WWII it was apparent that the Victorian vicarage was quite unsuitable for a modern incumbent and his family, and the present house was built on part of the Deans Orchard site whose earlier history is recounted above.   Whilst lacking in architectural distinction - its counterpart is to be seen in large numbers on midXXc housing estates all over the country - it is far more manageable than either of its predecessors.

 

THE CHANTRIES

 

It was the practice in the pre-Reformation Church for wealthy benefactors to endow a chantry in their parish church, with a priest to say masses for their souls.  The two chapels on either side of the chancel of St. Michael's were built as chantry chapels in the XIVc and served by priests supported from the endowment of their founders.   At Dean Chandler's visitation in July 1405[1] as well as the vicar five priests and two clerks [ie  lower orders of clergy] were named, so a fair sized clerical establishment required to be housed and supported.   In addition to their chantry duties in the main church, these clergy would have been available to serve the chapels which existed at Charnage, Woodlands and Zeals.   The establishment of a chantry involved the founder or his family in providing an adequate endowment to house and support the chantry priests , as well as maintaining the chapel buildings.

 

In 1424 King Henry VI gave leave to the Dean to assign to the chaplains of the Chantry of the BVM in Mere a piece of the garden, on the South side of the church, about an acre in extent, held by them of the Duchy, to build a house thereon.   This house still stands to-day, sharing with its contemporary, Woodlands Manor, the distinction of being the oldest domestic buildings in the town.  With its hall, once open to the roof, a two story solar at the W. end, screens passage and six bay service quarters, it has changed comparatively little over the centuries.  This land provided by the Dean was a portion, not of the Parsonage land, but of the separate Deans Orchard estate, and we do not know whether the Dean and Chapter were giving the land freely or whether some consideration passed from the founder of the chantry.  

 

The supporting endowment of the chantries will have taken the form of a holding of land  - no other form of investment was available in those days.  We have only fragmentary evidence of what lands were involved but they seem to have been extensive, including Clapton Farm, North of Cucklington, and lands in Knoyle, Corton and Motcombe, in addition to some 30 acres of land in Mere itself, with a few cottages there.

 

One of the first acts of Edward VI - or rather of the Duke of Somerset as Lord Protector during his minority - was to order in 1547 the abolition and suppression of all chantries, with their possessions and lands being sequestered by the Crown. Those at Mere came under this axe, and the three aged priests of the Berkeley chantry were awarded small pensions, in spite of the protestations of the parishioners that their presence was still required to provide services.  The priest of the Forward chantry, one Richard Chaffyn, although aged only 20, also received a pension[12].

 

 

Sir John Thynne, ancestor of the Marquesses of Bath, was a favourite of Somerset, whose steward he was, and was also Receiver for the Crown, handling the sequestered properties; it was during the Reformation that the religious house at Longleat came into his hands.   He, occasionally in company with Lawrence Hyde, now appears as the vendor of the chantry properties of Mere. What is not clear is whether he was acting for himself or merely in a fiduciary capacity; we do know, however, that it was at this period that Longleat was being built in such a splendid form.   In 1563 Thynne sold the chantry to Thomas Chafin, who appears to have bought the various chantry goods. Some of the lands were also acquired by Chafyn, but others were obtained by Henry Andrews of Woodlands, from whom they descended to the Meyrick-Banks family.  Chafyn thus owned what is now known as the Bettesthorne Chapel, which remained the property of the family until released to the Church in the late XIXc.[14] 

 

In 1552 Thomas Chafyn had been granted, by Thynne and Lawrence Hyde, "one tenement or mansion house, Barkleys Chantrye" - i.e.the present Chantry House.  For a long time this house was probably used as a number of cottages, but remained in the hands of the Chafyn-Groves family.  In 1826 a Miss Nancy Grove died there, and this cleared the way for it to become the home of its most noted tenant.   William Barnes had come to Mere three years earlier and had set up his school in the Cross House. He now took the Chantry at a rent of 21 pa. and shortly after married Julia Miles and moved his school there. Their nine years here were some of the happiest of his life and saw the writing of some of his best known poems.   On his return to Dorchester in 1835 the house was let to a succession of curates, until 1860, when a series of doctors practised there for thirty years[15]. In 1910 it was in lease to the Misses McLaughlin, who ran a girls boarding school  for Quaker families there.  More recently it has reverted to private occupation and is now the home of Mr Philip Coward, whose father,  Mr. David Coward, son of one of the founders of the Hill Brush Company, lives in the former coach house.

 

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     REFERENCES

1. The Register of Dean John Chandler; Wilts Record Society vol 39, 1984.  The writer thanks Dr. John Chandler for drawing his attention to the work of his namesake!

2. WSRO, Sarum Cath MS 189

3. WSRO CC/DEANERY/13/1

4. WSRO 865/14; quotation is from an anonymous translation attached to original

5. Lambeth Parl Surveys XV 319, quoted WAM xli 105/7.

6. WSRO 865/173.

7. WSRO 865/174

8.WSRO D5/15/5

9. Baker's MS notes 2/528.

10.     do    do          3/455

11. T.H.Baker, WAM XXIX, p265

12. "Mere: aWiltshire Country Town", p26; note made by J.R.Flanagan, then owner of Deans Orchard. 

13. WSRO D5/15

14. Much information on this estate is to be found amongst the Troyte Bullock papers at WSRO  865/313-20

15. see Mere Papers no.6 p 107]

 

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     ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This paper could never have been produced without prolonged study at Wiltshire & Swindon Record Office, and the willing help of all the staff there.  My thanks also to the Wiltshire Buildings Record, to the present owners and occupiers of many of the properties involved and finally to Owen Rees for his "reconstruction" of the Parsonage House.