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Beyond this, the parish, as a corporate body, generally, if not invariably, possessed property in land and houses, which was administered by the people's wardens for the public good. The annual proceeds lightened the common burdens, as indeed it was intended that they should. A further source of occasional income was found in the parish plays which were managed for the common profit. Very frequently the production was entrusted to some local guild, and the expenses of mounting were advanced by the parochial authorities, who not infrequently had amongst the church treasures the dress and other stage properties necessary for the proper productions. At Tintinhull, in Somerset, for instance, in 1451, five parishioners got up a Christmas play for the benefit of the fund required for the erection of the new rood loft. At Morebath there was an Easter play representing the Resurrection of our Lord, to defray the expenses incurred by the parish on some extensive repairs.1
With this general notion of the working of pre-Reformation parochial accounts, we are now in a position to turn by way of a particular example to those of Leverton. The village is situated about six miles from Boston. The church, until the neglect of the past three hundred years had disfigured it, must have been very beautiful when decked with the furniture and ornaments which the loving care of the people of the neighbourhood had collected within its walls. When first the accounts open in 1492, the parish was beginning to be interested, as indeed, by the way, so many parishes were at this period, in the setting up of a new peal of bells. The people had evidently made a great effort to get these, and they contributed most generously. The rector promised ten shillings and sixpence—which sum, by the way, some one paid for him— but the whole arrangement for the purchase and hanging of the bells was in the hands of the churchwardens. The bell chamber was mended and timber was bought to
1 Ibid., p. xii.
strengthen the framework. When this was ready, the great bell was brought over from the neighbouring town, and money is disbursed for the carriage and the team of horses, not forgetting a penny for the toll in crossing a bridge. One William Wright of Benington came over professionally to superintend the hanging and " trossyng" of this great service bell. We may judge, however, that it was not altogether satisfactory, for in 1498 the two wardens made a " move" to "the gathering of the township of Leverton in the kirk," in which they collected £4 13s. od., and they forthwith commenced again the building of a steeple for another set of bells. The stone was given to them, but they had to see to the work of quarrying it, and to all the business of collecting material and of building. Trees in a neighbouring wood were bought, were cut and carried, and sawn into beams and boards, and poles were selected for scaffolding. Lime was burnt and sand was dug for the mortar, and tubs were purchased to mix it in, whilst Wreth, the carpenter, was retained to look after the building in general, and the timberwork of the new belfry in particular.
This seems to have exhausted the parish exchequer for a year or two, but in 1503 the two wardens attended at Boston to see their bell "shot," and to provide for its transport to Leverton. Here Richard Messur, the local blacksmith, had prepared the necessary bolts and locks to fasten it to the swinging beam, and he was in attendance professionally to see the bell hung, with John Red, the bellmaker of Boston, who, moreover, remained for a time to teach the parish men how to ring a peal upon their new bells.
As the sixteenth century progressed, a great deal of building and repairs was undertaken by the parish authorities. In 1503, a new font was ordered, and a deputation went to Frieston, about three miles from Leverton, to inspect and pass the work. The lead for the lining was procured, and it was cast on the spot. In 1517, repairs on the north side of the church were undertaken, and these must have been extensive, judging from the cost of the timber employed to shore up the walls during the progress of the work. Two years later, on the completion of these extensive building operations, which had been going on for some time, the church and churchyard were consecrated at a cost to the public purse of £$. In 1526, the rood loft was decorated, and the niches intended for images of the saints, but which had hitherto been vacant, were filled. One of the parishioners, William Frankish, in that year left a legacy of 46s. 8d. for the purpose. The wardens hired a man, called sometimes "the alabaster man," and sometimes " Robert Brook the carver," and in earnest for the seventeen images of alabaster of the rood loft they gave him a shilling. At the same time a collection was made for the support of the artist during his stay; some of the parishioners gave money, but most of them apparently contributed " cheese" for his use.
So much with regard to the serious building operations which were continued up to the very eve of the Reformation. They by no means occupied all the energies of the parish officials. If the books required binding, a travelling workman was engaged on the job, and leather, thread, wax, and other necessary materials were purchased for the work; the binder's wife was paid extra for stitching, and he was apparently lodged by one of the townspeople as a contribution to the common work. Then there were vestments to be procured, and surplices and other church linen to be made, washed, and marked; the very marks, by the way, being given in the accounts. So entirely was the whole regarded as the work of the people, that just as we have seen how the parish paid for the consecration of their parish church and graveyard, so did they pay a fee to their own vicar for blessing the altar linen and the new vestments, and entering the names of benefactors on the parish bede-roll.1
1 Archaologia, vol. xli., p. 333 seqq.
Details such as these, which might be multiplied to any extent, make it abundantly clear that the church was the centre and soul of village life in pre-Reformation times, and that up to the very eve of the religious revolution it had not lost its place in the hearts of the people. In this connection it is useful to bear in mind, though somewhat difficult to realise, inasmuch as it is now too foreign to our modern experience, that in the period about which we are concerned the "parish" meant the whole community of a well-defined area "organised for church purposes and subject to church authority." In such a district, writes Bishop Hobhouse, "every resident was a parishioner, and, as such, owed his duty of confession and submission to the official guidance of a stated pastor. There was no choice allowed. The community was completely organised with a constitution which recognised the rights of the whole and of every adult member to a voice of self-government when assembled for consultation under" their parish priest.1 In this way the church was the centre of all parish life, in a way now almost inconceivable. "From the font to the grave," says an authority on village life at this time, "the greater number of the people lived within the sound of its bells. It provided them with all the consolations of religion, and linked itself with such amusements as it did not directly supply."'
The writer of the above words was specially interested in the accounts of the parish of St. Dunstan in the city of Canterbury, and some few notes on those accounts founded upon his preface may usefully be added to what has already been said. The parochial authorities evidently were possessed of considerable power either by custom or consent over the inhabitants. In St. Dunstan's, for example, somewhere about 1485, there was some disagreement between a man named Baker and the parish, and an item of 2^d. appears in the accounts as spent on the arbitration that settled it. Later on, two families fell out, and the vicar and a jury of four parishioners met in council to put an end to what was considered a scandal. A parish so managed had necessarily some place in which the inhabitants of the district could meet, and this in St. Dunstan's is called the church house, and sometimes the parish house. It is frequently mentioned in the matters of repairs, &c, and two dozen trenchers and spoons, the property of the parish, were placed there for use at the common feasts, and for preparation of food distributed to the poor. The annual dinner is named in the accounts, and there is no doubt the young people too had dancing, bowling, and other games, while "the ancients sat gravely by."
1 Somerset Record Soc, preface, p. xi.
* J. W. Cowper, Accounts of the Churchwardens of St. Dunstan's, Canterbury (Arc/uzologia Can/tana, 1885).
The money needed for the repairs of the fabric and for parish work generally was here collected by the various brotherhoods connected with the church. Some wore "scutchons," or badges to show that they were authorised to beg. These brotherhoods were possessed of more than money; malt, wheat, barley, besides parish sheep and parish cows let out to the highest bidder, are mentioned in the accounts as belonging to them. One Nicholas Reugge, for example, left four cows to the people of the parish to free them for ever from the cost of supplying the "paschal," or great Easter candle. These four cows were valued by the churchwardens at 1os. apiece, and were each let at a rent of 2s. a year. In 1521, one John Richardson rented five-and-twenty of the parish sheep, and the wardens received rent of lambs, wool, &c The chief of the brotherhoods connected with St. Dunstan's was that named the "Schaft," and it had the principal voice in the ultimate management of parochial affairs. Besides this, however, there were many other associations, such as that of St. Anne for women and that