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The parish of Selworthy in the county of Somerset, some notes on its history online

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His editor has preserved for us the Latin address
which the rector of Luccombe delivered in St. Mary's,
Oxford, on his taking his degree in 1612, and also a
Latin sermon, entitled " Osculum Pads," preached at
a visitation of Dr. Jos. Hall, bishop of Exeter, of
which cathedral Byam was a canon. Mr. Ward in-
cludes in the volume his own funeral sermon on Dr.
Byam, which is entitled " The Testimony given to the
Reverend Dr. Henry Byam at his Burial in the Parish
Church of Luckham in the County of Somerset." In
the quaint euphemistic language of the day, Ward
tells us that the dead man's life was :

" like a garden of spices replenisht with all the graces and
vertues that can adorn a Christian, 'whence' you may gather
yourselves such Posies of spiritual flowers as may serve to
perfume all your Actions as long as you live. During the time
of the late unhappy rebellion what could he do ? how could
he suffer more than he did ? at his own charge (as far as he
was able) raising both men and horse for the King, engaging
his five sons (all that he had) in that just quarrel ; exposing all
his estate to rapine and plunder, his children to distress and
danger, and himself to many grevious shifts and exigencies,
hunted up and down by his and the King's enemies as a
Partridge upon the mountains, forced to fly and hide himself
in by-places and corners of the Country ; and at last at that
great age to cross the Seas for the safety of his life. And all
this he did only that he may keep a good conscience not out
of any base or greedy desire of reward : for after his Majestie's
Return, when he might easily have obtained what he
would have askt, he contented himself with what His Majesty
was pleased freely to bestow upon him ; but had not his own
modesty stood in the way, 'tis well known his Majestie's
bounty towards him had not rested here, but he must have
died a Bishop."

Charles, in fact, neglected him after the Restoration,

80 History of Selworthy.

as he did so many of those who had suffered most for

Mr. Ward thus sketches Byam's character for us : —

" Come here now from the Court into the Country, where
we shall find him as much in the affections of the people as in
favour with His Prince (respected by the nobility and gentry,
honoured by the Commonalty, reverenced by the Clergy, and
generally beloved by all). And good reason there was, for
besides his excellent, good, sweet and obliging nature and dis-
position, which drew to him the affections of all that had the
happiness to converse with him, his free, hearty entertain-
ments and constant bounteous hospitality challenged a respect
from all, semper aliquis in Cydonis domo may truly be applied to
him : for his house was Bethlehem, a house of Bread, where
the rich were sure to find divertisement and the poor relief.
Yet was he far from a wasteful prodigality as from a bare
penuriousness. His Bounty allayed with that Vetus Parsimonia
so much heretofore esteemed and still exercised by all wise
and sober persons : after he had taken enough for himself, his
friends and his poor neighbours, he carefully laid up the re-
mainder wherewith he hath made a competency for his
Family, which being so honestly gotten, and so honourably
saved, will doubtless carry God's blessing along with it as it
had his."

Part of Dr. Byam's estate was a considerable amount
of land in Luccombe, Stoke Pero, and Porlock, prob-
ably purchased by him. A portion of this property
passed to his daughter, Mrs. Wood, whose husband
succeeded Dr. Byam in the two livings of Selworthy
and Luccombe, and, until quite recent years, their
descendants possessed property in Luccombe.

"Nor was his Religion towards God less than his Loyalty to
his Prince, or his charity to his neighbour ; it lay not so much
in the tongue as in the heart. He was a true Nathaniel in

Rectors. $ 1

whom there was no guile ; and have you heard of the patience
of Job ? why such was his. I can compare it to no other.
God was pleased to afflict them much alike: Job was cast
out of his own house, so was he ; Job was plundered of his
cattle by the Sabeans, and so was he of all that he had, worse
than the Sabeans, if possible, by the rebellious Sequestrators ;
Job lost his children, so did he, only in this his misery was
not so great, Job's children were taken away rioting in a
Banqueting House, but his died honourably in the service of
their Prince ; Job was afflicted in his wife too, and so was he,
but in a quite contrary manner, Job in having the worst of
wives, he in losing the best. But the manner of his losing her
could not but add much to his sorrow, for she was snacht out
of the world in a tempest and swallowed up quick by the merci-
less waves, having all the remainder of the treasure he had
about her to a very considerable value ; and a far greater
treasure in her arms than that, even his young and darling
daughter, who chose rather to embrace Death than leave the
embraces of her tender mother, and so both sunk together,
with a maid-servant that attended her, into the depth of the
sea. There are some, I think, at this time present, who were
then with her, who remain the monuments of God's mercy in
their deliverance, and faithful witnesses of the truth of what I

It seems strange that Mrs. Byam and her child and
her maid should alone have been drowned, whilst the
rest of the ship's company escaped without hurt.

Dr. Byam had reached the ripe age of eighty-nine
years, when he passed to his rest in the long old white
rectory house at Luccombe, which a few old folk
still remember, beneath the shadow of the tower of
the ancient church which he had loved so well and
served so faithfully. The quaint old house must have
had many a tale to tell of those stormy times : of the
sudden surprise when the house was surrounded by


82 History of Selworlhy.

noisy Parliamentarians sent to drag its master to
prison ; of Mrs. Byam getting quietly together such
goods as she could and slipping off with child and
maid, alas ! to her death ; of the pompous sequestra-
tors seizing and sealing up all the property of Dr.
Byam that they could find ; of the desecration of the
church by the dragoons of Waller ; of a long sad
time when the parish was without anyone to visit
their sick or bury their dead, and good Mr. Turberville,
J. P., of Gauldon in the parish of Tolland, married such
poor souls as sought his unsanctified assistance!

A handsome monument exists to Byam in Luc-
combe Church. Until the recent alterations it stood
above the vestry door now removed. It bears the
following coat : — Arg. three boars' heads erased vert.,
and the following inscription from the pen of prebend-
ary Ward :

" Non procul hinc sub marmore congenita, sepultum jacet
corpus Henrici Byam ex antiquissima Byamorum familia
oriendi : Sacro sancta3 theologiae doctoris insignissimi hujus
ecclesias et proximse Selworthianae rectoris, pastorisque vigil-
antissimi : ecclesias cathedralis Exoniensis canonici, ecclesise
que Wellensis prebendarii serenissimas Majestatis Caroli
secundi regis Capellani et concionatoris ordinarii, necnon
ejusdem (sasviente ilia tyrannide, et semper execranda fana-
ticorum rebellione) terra marique comitis exulisque simul.
Ex meliore luto ejus constructum corpus post annos tandem,
octoginta et novem anno salutis millesimo sexcentesimo sexa-
gesimo nono morti non triumphanti quam invitanti placide
cessit. Sed extat adhuc viri hujus optime celebrius multo hoc
et ornatius ornamentum, non marmore perituro, sed typis
exaratum perpetuis scripta: scilicet ejus plane divina: ubi
animi vires, et summum ejus ingenii acumen ; intueberis simul
et miraberis. Lugubrem hunc lapidem honoris et reverentise

Rectors. 83

indicem posuit filius ejus obsequentissimus Franciscus Byam :
Instauratum a Maria et Cecilia Wood, Anno Dom. 1713. In-
stauratum iterum a.d. 1862 ob honoris et Reverentiae causa a
quibusdam ejusdem nominis et perantiquge familiae oriundis
scilicet a fratre defuncti Edwardo de Litter et Castle Lyons
in Hibernia Rectore Ecclesiae Cathedralis Clonensis Cantore
et Prebendario de Lismore. Hie Edwardus Byam sepultus
erat apud Castle Lyons A.D. 1639."

The family of Byam is of Welsh extraction, and
claims royal descent. Laurence Byam may very
possibly have been a son of Thomas Byam, who was
expelled from his prebendal stall at St. Paul's on the
accession of Mary. Laurence Byam married in 1578
a daughter of Henry Ewens, of Capton in the parish
of Stogumber, by whom he had the three sons above
mentioned : (1) Henry, (2) John, rector of Clatworthy,
and a great sufferer in the civil wars; and (3) the
above-named Edward. And three daughters, from
one of whom (Mary) the Pierce family, late of Bratton
Court, are descended. Henry Byam, by his marriage
with Susan, daughter and co-heiress of Wm. Fleete,
in 161 5, had issue five sons and four daughters, viz. :
(1) William, (2) Henry, (3) Francis, (4) John, (5)
Laurence, (6) Mary, (7) Susan, (8) Cecily, and (9) the
young child drowned with her mother on their flight
from Luccombe.

Dr. Byanv's will is dated the 30th of April, 1669,
and was proved in the prerogative court of Canter-
bury. He names his sons William and Francis his
executors, and to them he bequeaths various lands
lying in Luccombe, Porlock, and Stoke Pero. Francis,
the third son, proved his father's will, and erected the
monument above-mentioned to his memory.

84 History of Selworthy.

" Henry the second son was slain in the king's service
at sea ; and John the fourth son in the same service
in Ireland. No account remains to us of Laurence,
the fifth son. Susan Byam, the second daughter,
married William Dyke of Kings-Brompton, whose
estates descended ultimately to the Acland family." 1

Cecily Byam, the third daughter, married the Rev.
John Wood, her father's curate, who succeeded him in
the two benefices of Luccombe and Selworthy. Five
sons were the issue of this marriage, (i) John, (2)
Henry, (3) Charles, (4) Laurence, (5 ) Byam ; and two
daughters, Mary and Cecilia, who are mentioned as
having restored their grandfather's monument in 17 13.
A Byam Wood, a man of considerable property, was
living at Luccombe in 1741, in which year he had a
son baptised. He left his property to his widow, who
in turn bequeathed it to a maidservant, Mary Gillman. 2
Some members of the family seem to have lived at
Minehead, where, indeed, Wood is still not an un-
common name. A curious entry in the Selworthy
Registers tells us that in 1761, George Wood was
buried the 24th day of May, Jenny Maria Wood the
31st of May, Betsy Wood the 2nd of August, James
Wood the 13th December, all of Minehead. The
whole family seem to have been destroyed by some
mysterious ailment.

In 1692 John Gay lard was presented to the benefice
by John, lord Arundel of Trerise, and in 17 14 to the
benefice of Winsford by John Balderston. It is
curious that this John Gaylard should be described as
William Gaylard on the cover of the second book of

1, Hundred of Carhampton, p. 176. 2. lb. p. 177.

Rectors. 85

Registers {see Chapter VI). His son, John Gaylard,
obtained a fellowship at Emanuel College, Cambridge.
In 1728 he left Cambridge to become master of the
Cathedral School at Wells, and in 1733 he was made
headmaster of Sherborne School.

John Gaylard, senior, held the living of Selworthy
for thirty-three years, and died in March, 1723 ; and
on the 17th March in the following year his wife
Susanna followed him to the grave.

Richard Percivall, or Perceval, who succeeded to
the benefice on the death of John Gaylard, must have
been a member of the very ancient family of that
name who held the manor of Eastbury in Carhampton
from very early times, and with it the advowson of
Exford. The patronage of this living seems to have
been in their hands from a date prior to 1318 to the
time of the Commonwealth, and in 1318 we find a
certain Richard Perceval presented to the benefice by
his mother Domina Johanna Perceval.

Of William Willis, Nathaniel Blake Brice, and
David Williams, little is known beyond the fact, re-
corded in Chapter VI, that Mr. Brice was " curate " of
Selworthy from the year 1730 to the year 1775, and
that he died at his " paternal living of Aisholt in 1790,
May 31st, after being curate of Selworthy forty-five
years, and resident on his living fifteen years more.
He departed this life in the eighty-third year of his
age, after a lingering illness of three months." " He
was a stout man of a warm temperament ; soon angry
and soon pacified," is the testimony to him of his suc-
cessor, David Williams.

David Williams died in 1802, and was succeeded

86 History of Selworthy.

by one who is still held in affectionate remembrance
by many of the elder inhabitants of the parish, the
Rev. Joshua Stephenson. Mr. Stephenson had been Sir
Thomas Acland's tutor at Oxford, and was by him
appointed to the living. Still old folk in the parish love
to tell of the kindly old rector surrounded by groups
of children competing for the sweets and threepenny
pieces, of which they knew his pockets were never
empty. It is recorded of him that, rain or shine, he
always carried an umbrella of portentous size. When
asked why this article was his unfailing companion,
he confessed that his dread of cows was unconquer-
able, and that if, when walking alone, he met any of
these dangerous creatures, he opened his umbrella and
retired behind the shelter thus afforded until the peril
was overpassed. Mr. Stephenson held the living of
Selworthy for sixty-one years, and died unmarried at
the great age of ninety-two.

The author of A Tour in Quest of Genealogy, in
describing his visit to Holnicote in 1809, draws this
pleasing picture of Mr. Stephenson :

" And last, though not least in the estimation of such as
would relish benevolence without parade, and piety without
cant and austerity, we had likewise a clergyman of our party,
the rector of the parish, a scholar, a gentleman, and a Christian,
a rare union, but the benefit of which, owing to his meekness,
his modesty and retired habits, is not as widely diffused as

it could be wished The worthy rector of Selworthy

is unwearied in the discharge of his pastoral duties." And
again, " we passed a few truly Attic hours in his parsonage
house, that most happily unites elegance and comfort, giving
by a discussion of a variety of interesting subjects, zest to our


Selworthy Registers.



HE history of genealogical records
can be traced back to the earliest
times. The Patriarchs interested
themselves in writing them down,
perhaps on those tablets of terra
cotta, specimens of which still exist,
by means of which the ordinary business of life
was transacted in Abram's time with the greatest
exactness and decorum. The Egyptians were devoted
to exact statistical knowledge ; and the idea of an en-
rolment and registration of the people of Israel was
no new one to Moses, when God bade him take the
sum of the children of Israel at Sinai, a numbering
which was repeated some six months later, when the
people were enrolled under the three distinct heads of
(i) tribe, (2) family, and (3) their father's house. The
laws of Greece and of Rome, too, provided for the care-
ful registration of births.

But with the falling to pieces of the splendid organi-
sation of the Roman Empire, the system of registration
disappeared, and throughout the Middle Ages no re-
cords of this kind were kept, except by the religious
houses of the benefactors whose obits they were bound

88 History of Selworthy.

to observe. It was to that powerful ecclesiastic,
cardinal Ximenes, archbishop of Toledo, that we owe
the present system of registration. The law of the
church which disapproved of marriage between those
spiritually related, was at that time the cause of much
scandal, owing to the ease by which divorces could by
its help be obtained. The law took its rise from a
regulation laid down by Justinian, that no man might
marry a woman to whom he had stood godfather.
This regulation was extended by the council of Trullo
to the mother of the baptised infant, and rapidly grew
to an extravagant pitch. It was only necessary to
prove some degree of spiritual relationship, and release
from the marriage bond at once followed. The arch-
bishop, in order that these scandals might be put an
end to, in 1497 ordered the registration of births
through his diocese, and also decreed that the names
of the sponsors should be set down at the same time.

Mr. Chester Master, in his interesting book on Parish
Registers, tells us that the last divorce for spiritual
affinity in England was enforced in our own neigh-
bourhood. Thomas Luttrell, a cadet of the Luttrells
of Dunster Castle, had in the reign of Edward V been
contracted to Margaret Hadley, the infant heiress of
Withycombe Hadley, notwithstanding that she was
the goddaughter of T. Luttrell's mother, Mrs. Margaret
Luttrell. In the eye of the church this made the
young people spiritually related to each other as
brother and sister, and therefore canonically incapable
of marriage. A sentence of divorce and excommuni-
cation was decreed against them. Pope Paul IV was
appealed to for a dispensation, and by his command

Selworthy Registers. 89

the Grand Penitentiary the cardinal of St. Angelo, re-
leased the unhappy pair from their sentence in 1558,
on the understanding that they should be re-married.
The marriage, however, did not take place until the
Roman Catholic Bishop of Bath and Wells had been
deposed from his see for refusing to take the oath of
supremacy to Elizabeth, when the proceedings at
Rome appear to have been quietly ignored, and the
two young people were married at East Quantoxhead
on August 7th, 1560.

From Spain the system of registration crossed into
England. Thomas Cromwell, the astute minister of
Henry VIII, had had opportunities during a residence
abroad of observing its usefulness, and in 1538 he ob-
tained Henry's permission to establish registration in
England. At once a storm of indignation arose, as
the scheme was looked upon as an excuse for the im-
position of fresh taxes. Our own West Country fore-
fathers were particularly opposed to it, and it was made
one of the grievances which in April, 1559, lit up the
flames of a civil war which spread from the Land's End
to Honiton, and cost Courtenay, marquis of Exeter,
and the old countess of Salisbury their heads. Car-
dinal Pole ordered the addition of the names of
sponsors, an order which is still legal.

It took thirteen years for the advantage of the
system to be fully realised, but in 1597 the Convo-
cation of the clergy of the province of Canterbury
passed a resolution declaring the great importance of

The seventieth canon provides that " in every parish
church and chapel within this realm a parchment book

90 History of Selworthy.

shall be provided wherein shall be written the day
and year of every christening, wedding, and burial
which have been in the parish since the time the law
was first made in that behalf." This book was to be
kept in a " sure coffer " with three locks and keys, one
for the rector, and one for each churchwarden, and the
register was not to be taken out except in the presence
all three of these officials. On every Sunday the book
was to be written up and then returned to its coffer.
And within a month of Lady-day a transcript of the
entries for the year was to be transmitted to the bishop.
Of what priceless value would these transcripts be if
they had been properly taken care of and arranged !

Each parish priest had on institution to sign a de-
claration that he would keep the registers carefully,
and the system worked smoothly till the civil wars
disorganised the church and country. During that
troubled time some parish registers were not kept at
all, or but in the most irregular fashion. " 1643 bellum,
1644 bellum, 1646 bellum. Interruption, Persecution,"
is the compendious entry which in one parish register
stands in place of three whole years' record.

Cromwell did what he could to restore order. He
appointed lay officers called " Registers," who kept the
books carefully as far as they could, but they could
not often get the people to come and pay the fee
which they were entitled to charge for each entry ; and
on the return of the clergy these books in many cases
were carried off by the " Registers," and in more than
one instance destroyed by the clergy themselves.
One of these fates perhaps befell the Selworthy
register for the Commonwealth period.

Sehvorthy Registers. 91

Registers differ very much in interest and value.
In some fortunate parishes these records are found
going back to the very year in which they were first
ordered to be commenced by Cromwell ; in others only
the records of comparatively recent times are to be seen.
Very frequently no doubt at the end of the Civil War
the victorious Parliamentarians made as short shrift with
the parish papers as they did with all that was beauti-
ful and easily destroyed in many parish churches. It
was a sad time for the nation at large ! Even libraries
did not escape the contempt which those in power
held for all culture and refinement, for the precious
contents of the Bodleian at Oxford were shipped out
of the country, and its shelves sold for firewood.

Registers, too, differ much in condition : some have
always been well preserved, and gladden the eye of
the antiquary by their perfection : others are found
torn, dirty, dog's-eared, and clipped — sad testimonies to
generations of careless custodians. These records
sometimes contain much interesting matter beyond
their priceless material for parochial history in the
entries required by law. In a parish known to the
writer, where the present incumbent is the ninth of his
name who has held the living, the volume which con-
tains the registers for some 200 years appears to have
been used as a kind of family note-book. Inscriptions
in Hebrew, Greek and Latin verses, pious aspirations,
and notes on local matters are thickly sprinkled over
its vellum pages. " House robbed last night, self and
servant bound," observes one old gentleman laconically,
about the beginning of the eighteenth century ; another
worthy relates the ceremonial of the laying of the

92 History of Selworthy.

foundation stone of a new rectory-house by his
youngest son ; another the number and height of the
trees he had planted around his churchyard ; while
yet another considers the previously unheard-of failure
of the rectory well, a fact worthy of record in the parish

The carelessness with which until late years these
priceless books have been kept is inconceivable. The
early registers, for instance, of an important parish in
a neighbouring county were lately found by an anti-
quarian archdeacon in the deed chest of another parish.
We hear of registers turning up for sale in booksellers'
shops (as in the case of the Cwm registers, which were
recently advertised for sale in a bookseller's catalogue),
and of their being swept out from the church with the
litter from a heap of refuse. " Will it be believed that,
according to a catalogue of the effects of a Sir Peter
Thompson, who died in 1815, 'The parish registers of
St. Mary, Woolchurch Haw, were sold for £2 12s. 6d.'
(about the same price as that at which those of Cwm
were valued the other day) ; that at the end of the last
century, the rector and churchwardens of a place in
Kent, one day after dinner committed the registers up
to date to the flames ; that at another place the registers
were sold at a bazaar ; and that those of Christchurch,
Hants, were cut up for kettle-holders by the curate's
wife ? This shameful list might, we conceive, be ex-
tended very considerably. So lightly in times past
have records been held, which are now recognised as
stores of valuable data for the genealogist, for the
statistician, for the student of the life of the people." 1

1. Church Times, January 24, 1890.

Selworthy Registers. 93

And in some parishes these interesting records are
still mouldering away unheeded in damp iron chests,
and thus memorials and materials for local history,
which cannot be replaced, are gradually disappearing.

Hands not always of the tenderest or most careful
kind have made some havoc with the registers of the
parish of Selworthy. The registers are contained in
ten books, the oldest of which is sadly mutilated.
With the exception of a recently discovered fragment
belonging to the Elizabethan period, the registers

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Online LibraryFrederick HancockThe parish of Selworthy in the county of Somerset, some notes on its history → online text (page 6 of 21)