Thame Local History
The History of Thame Rectory and Advowson

On 16th November 1547 George Henneage, canon of Lincoln Cathedral and the last prebendary of Thame, sold the prebend of Thame.

What is a Prebend, a Prebendal Church and a Rectory?

Taking possession were Robert Keilway, one of the Crown's leading lawyers, and Sir John Thynne, steward to the Lord Protector of the Realm, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset.

Three months earlier the Bishop of Lincoln, Henry Holbeach, had sold his manorial lordships at Thame directly to the Duke of Somerset.

For the Bishop of Lincoln and the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral of Lincoln, nearly five hundred years of authority, income and land ownership at Thame and its surrounding villages had come to an end.

A new pattern of authority and ownership was now being formed. On the ground locally, living at Rycote Palace and already possessed of Thame Park, was Sir John Williams. He was well positioned to take advantage of the fluidity of the situation arising from what was in effect a mass confiscation of assets from the Church by the State.

Sir John Williams had been Treasurer of the Court of Augmentations, the body charged with receiving confiscated Church lands, since 1544 and that put him in a very good position to increase his holdings at Thame.

Somerset's time as Lord Protector of the Realm made him many enemies, and in 1552 he was beheaded. His only surviving son, Sir Edward Seymour, managed to retain his father's possessions at Thame and was able to complete a series of transactions, begun by his father, with Sir John Williams, and also with Keilway and Thynne, who had acted more or less as surrogates for his father in acquiring the prebend of Thame.

These various dealings were more or less settled by the year 1553, which is the year in which Sir Edward Seymour bought Berry Pomeroy Castle in Devon and made it his home, retaining no connections with Thame.

(The Seymour family remained at Berry Pomeroy until the turn of the seventeenth century, when they moved to Maiden Bradley in Wiltshire.)

Keilway and Thynne swapped the prebend of Thame for land in Devon and Somerset, handing it to Sir Edward Seymour, who in turn passed the great majority of the land owned by the prebend to Sir John Williams, who had acquired the manorial lordships of Thame and its villages in 1548.

The ecclesiastical benefices at the heart of the ancient prebend, based around the entitlement to the church tithes, remained with Seymour, with the exception of the entitlement to the tithes from the hamlet of North Weston, adjacent to Rycote Park, which were given to Sir John Williams.

Also retained by Seymour was the 'advowson' of Thame, that is the right to bestow an ecclesiastical living on the vicars of Thame.

Finally, Seymour retained the Prebendal House itself, and the few acres of land that surround it.

All of these residual rights and possessions, the tithes, the right to appoint a vicar of choice and a substantial residence are of course the characteristic rights and possessions of a typical country rectory.

It was as if the overall plan had been to refashion the ecclesiastical scene at Thame as something more typical of the surrounding parishes, and to remove all trace of the ancient prebend of Lincoln Cathedral.

The residual prebend began to be called the Rectory of Thame, as legally that was now what it was.

The final act in the round of deals that reformed the local pattern of power and possession was the sale by Sir Edward Seymour, by then busy on his new home at Berry Pomeroy, of the Rectory of Thame, not as perhaps one would have predicted to Sir John Williams, but to Sir John Thynne of Longleat.

Sir John Thynne had bought land and a ruined priory at Longleat in 1541. In 1566 he mortgaged the rectory of Thame to Sir Henry Nevell, Sir Giles Poole and others, in order to raise money, although he and his male heirs kept the use of it. Two years later he began building Longleat House.

He was the very same Sir John Thynne who had been steward to the Duke of Somerset in 1547 and had originally acquired the prebend of Thame from the Church.

Thynne had no plans for Thame's Prebendal House, and in fact let it out as farm buildings. He died in 1580, and the rectory of Thame descended within his family, as did the name John Thynne.

The rectory of Thame was a valuable one. A measure of its worth emerges through the fact that the grandson of Sir John Thynne of Longleat inherited the Rectory of Thame and used it to satisfy an obligation he had towards his younger brother, for an annual pension of 100.

The Rectory became a financial instrument for the Thynnes at this time, since by 1606 they had leased it to two prominent Thame families, the Hesters and the Stribblehills.

The Stribblehills in fact leased the Rectory throughout the seventeenth century. The home of one branch of the Stribblehill family, of course, at the north west end of Thame High Street, adjoined the land of the Prebendal House.

The advowson of Thame was embodied within the rectory, but the church records at Thame do not record that any of the vicars appointed before 1631 were presented by the owner of the rectory.

The tithe income due to the rector, known as the greater tithe, and the money for the living of the vicar, known as the lesser tithe, were channelled through the lord of the manor, who was Sir John Williams from 1548 until his death in 1559.

He would have been able to ensure that the vicars were paid, but the vicarage is said to have been a well paid one before the Reformation and a poorly paid one after it.

In 1589 John Trinder became vicar of Thame, and remained for forty years, spanning the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I. There does not seem to have been any significant improvement in the state of the church during this time, apart from essential repairs.

When John Trinder died in 1629 the churchwardens accounts show that the next vicar was presented by a 'Sir John Thynne', possibly of Egham in Surrey.

Thomas Hennant, the new vicar, was a graduate of Oxford University, and from now on the vicars recorded as being through the presentation of the Thynnes had a strong academic background.

In 1698 Sir John Thynne of Egham died, leaving his wife Jane burdened with debt. In 1704 Jane Thynne leased the rectory to John Rose, of New Thame, and leased 'Priestend and Moreton parsonage' to a Mr Leaver for seven years at an annual cost of 100.

This was the end of the involvement of the Egham branch of the Thynne family with the rectory and it returned to the main branch, based at Longleat.

Despite the apparent care taken by the Egham Thynnes to provide spiritually for the church of Thame, they had no care, or no means to care, for the state of the church. In 1707 a report was delivered to the Bishop of Lincoln concerning Thame church, and it made shocking reading.

Earth was piled up against the outside walls, making the inside of the choir and the transepts 'green with fungi'. Windows were out, so that pigeons nested in the rafters.

Thomas, first Viscount Weymouth, descendant of the original Sir John Thynne of Longleat, stepped in to repair the church, as he was the owner of the rectory of Thame.

Sir William Clerke had been vicar of Thame since 1675, and it seems he was able to make contact with Viscount Weymouth and solicit the necessary financial assistance to renovate the church.

There then followed a series of transactions, through which 'all that the parsonage, rectory or prebend of Thame' was sold, initially to Lord Carteret, who appointed Samuel Thornbury as vicar of Thame in 1722.

In 1776 Henry Frederick Thynne mortgaged the 'prebend or rectory' of Thame to a widow in Hatton Garden, London, Elizabeth Raynalds, for 4,000, with a Mr Oliver Farrar acting as 'manager, receiver, attorney and agent'. This mortgage lists the scope of the rectory as 'Thame otherwise Tame, Tetsworth, Sydenham, Priestend otherwise Preston, Moreton, Towersey' (the tithes of North Weston had been split from the rectory in 1553).

In 1786 Elizabeth Raynalds transferred the rectory to John Blackall, of Great Haseley, who was Lord of Great Milton, and who in 1796 appointed Timothy Tripp Lee to the vicarage of Thame. John Blackall's son split the rectory and the advowson, and the advowson was eventually bought by Dr Richard Barry Slater of High Wycombe.

At the death of Richard Barry Slater his brother vested the advowson of Thame in a local committee of trustees, named after one of their number, Rev. Alfred Peache. The Peache trustees then continued to appoint the vicar of Thame well into the twentieth century.

The rectory, now minus the advowson, was sold to Sophia Elizabeth Wykeham, later Baroness Wenman, in 1825, and in the Thame and Sydenham Enclosure Award the perpetual tithes which she received, the source of the income which had made the rectory such a traded commodity, were commuted to 693 acres of land.

With the advowson split off, and the tithes commuted to land, the only ecclesiastical vestige remaining was the responsibility for the chancel of Thame church.

In 1836 Sophia Elizabeth Wykeham, by then Baroness Wenman, sold the Prebendal House and its estate of 14 and a half acres, to Charles Stone of Thame.

The remaining rectory land was merged with Thame Park and after Baroness Wenman descended to the Wykeham-Musgraves of Thame Park. In 1889 a major programme of restoration at Thame's St Mary's Church was begun, and the cost of repairing the chancel was born by W. A. Wykeham-Musgrave, who was through inheritance lay rector of Thame.

In 1937-8 there was further work done on the stonework of the church, and the cost of restoring the stonework of the chancel was born by Mr Frank Bowden, then owner of Thame Park and through acquisition lay rector of Thame.

Over the last thousand years, the tithes of Thame have contributed financially, in one form or another, to :-

the Anglo Saxon Cathedral at Dorchester; the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral of Lincoln; possibly the maintenance of the Avignon Papacy; the rebuilding of Berry Pomeroy Castle for the Seymours; the building of Longleat House; the livelihood of the Thynne family of Egham; Viscount Weymouth; Lord Carteret; John Blackall, Lord of Great Milton; Baroness Wenman of Thame Park;

Almost to go full circle, Thame Park, the owner of which became lay rector of Thame, was once a deer park belonging to the Bishop of Lincoln and almost certainly once belonged to the Anglo Saxon Bishop of Dorchester.





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