William Holloway.

The history and antiquities of the ancient town and port of Rye, in the county of Sussex. With incidental notices of the Cinque Ports online

. (page 52 of 66)
Online LibraryWilliam HollowayThe history and antiquities of the ancient town and port of Rye, in the county of Sussex. With incidental notices of the Cinque Ports → online text (page 52 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

in the second bay from the west end, and this is placed in the
third. It is a handsome structure having an arched doorway
at the south of stonework, having over it a small niche
seemingly for the supporting an image ; two small windows,
one on the east and one on the west, light it. The porch of
a church, in early times, was used for several religious cere-
monies. It was also the place where the parishioners assembled
for civil purposes. And we have seen an old deed of conveyance
of some property in the neighbourhood of Rye, in which it was
covenanted that the payment of rent reserved should be made
at stated times in the south porch of the church of Rye. The
roof is an arched one, but, in 1520, is an entry "for laying
on lead at the south porch/' implying it must have then been
a flat, as is the case at this day with the roof of what we have
before thought to be the south porch, though now it is covered
with bricks and not with lead. With one remark from Barr we
will close our surmises about the porches ; he says, speaking
of churches erected in the fifteenth century, and of a few so late
as the reign of Henry VIII, " The Avails of many of these
edifices consist of a mixture of squared flints, inserted amidst
a sort of framework of freestone, producing a firm and durable
fabric with the help of good cement.'* Now the north front of
the north porch is partly composed of square flints, showing
the time of its repair though not perhaps of its original

If we may judge from the old town seal the windows of the
nave, as well as of the chancel, were originally rather of a
Gothic shape ; those of the latter we have seen were replaced,


on the restoration of the church, with lancet-shaped ones,
while the latter never seem to have been restored, as regards
their windows, to anything like its pristine beauty. The outer
walls have a huge and unsightly appearance, offering no means
of showing what the windows really were on their restoration
previously to 1547, which, as regards the south aisle, took place
in 1539; for in this year we see this entry, "charge when
the south aisle was taken down." And in 1543 is a charge of
67. for timber work for the roof of the north aisle. On this
side is a decorated window indicative of the fourteenth century.
We read of a charnel house with which all churches seem,
in former ages, to have been furnished for the purpose of
depositing the bones of the dead in, that.is, after the bodies of the
deceased had laid sufficiently long in their graves for the decay of
all parts except the bones, these latter were taken hence and
placed in the charnel house ; and it is supposed that it was to
guard against this desecration of his remains that Shakspeare
had the following lines engraven over them :

" Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
To dig the dust inclosed here !
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones."

In 1 547 a hole was dug in the churchyard to receive all the
bones that lay in the charnel house, but where the latter was
situated we cannot tell.

There was at this time a tower and steeple, the latter of
which, in 1524, was laid with shingles, while, in 1528, it was
rough-cast, and the battlements of the former were repaired,
marking their then existence. The tower had four handsome
windows, one on each side, and, in 1518, there was a cloth of
hair set to the eastern one, but for what purpose does not
appear. In the latter year the watch bells on the church were
made. These are supposed to have been hung in the tower
at the north-west corner of the church, up which there is still
a flight of steps, though now closed.

In 1547 there is a charge for one load of tiles to lay on
St. Peter's aisle ; but where was this aisle? It is rather curious
that we never have met with the word transept up to this time.
To this w r ord, in the ' Encyclopaedia Londinensis,' we find this
explanation, " a cross aisle." Now, was this called St. Peter's
aisle ? Bloxam, in his work on ' Gothic Architecture/ says,
" towrre in the cross ile ;" a tower in the transept. From these
interpretations it would appear as though transept was not in
use at the earlier period of church history.


Of the bells and clock we have before spoken, but hitherto
we have only heard of four of the former.

After this very minute and perhaps somewhat tedious exami-
nation of the church as a building, let us now proceed to a
view of the interior embellishments as indicative of the catholic
form of worship which, up to this date, prevailed in this sacred

In making this inspection we will proceed from the nave to
the high chancel, the floor of which is elevated about four
inches above that of the former, and here, at our very entrance,
on passing through the screen, we shall see immediately over
our heads the rood-loft, or gallery, and, from the under part of
the beam, supporting which was suspended the cross, bearing
the image of our Saviour, with the Virgin on one side and
St. John on the other. At the east end of the high chancel,
elevated on three steps, stood the high altar inclosed by a
reredos or screen. On the altar stood the silver candlesticks,
holding the large angel tapers, formed of wax ; here also stood
the silver gilt chalices, of which there were eight in number.
Here too was exhibited, on the occasion of administering the
sacrament, the golden pix or box containing the sacred wafer.
Over this altar hung a silk canopy, and beside it was an image
of our Lady.

In this choir hung a lamp which was kept continually burning,
and here was an organ which was called the small organ.

In 1514 we read of our Lady Chapel, which, according to Barr,
was erected towards the east end of the choir, and in this
chapel was an organ, then called the old organ.

Assuming the north chancel to be the one dedicated to Saint
Nicholas we will pass into it, and there we shall find an altar
reared to his honour, which seems very natural in a seaport
town as he was the patron of sailors. In 1517 two chests were
standing here for the purpose probably of containing the priest's
vestments. Of any altar or other sacred thing in St. Clare's
chancel the books are provokingly silent.

Let us next examine the other parts of the sacred edifice,
where we shall find there were two altars, one dedicated to
St. John, at which were put up two crosses; a second to
St. George, near which must have been an organ, for we read
of St. George's organs. Where these altars stood or the fol-
lowing images we are unable to indicate, viz. our Lady of Pity,
before which was a glass window within which the image was
enshrined, while before her stood an iron candlestick. Saint
Catherine of whom we know nothing, but that there was a
tabernacle bearing her name in 15 1 7 , and that her image
required soldering in 1523: the tabernacle was the shrine in


which the figure stood. An image of St. Anne was given by
John Bewley in his will of 1517.

Independently of the organs standing respectively in the
choir, the chapel of our Lady, and near St. George's altar, there
was another called the great organ.

According to Barr, organs were of two kinds, large and small,
the latter (called regals) were moveable and of very small
dimensions, while the former were fixed, being frequently placed
on the north side of the choir and often in the transept, where
probably we may be justified in placing the great organs, while
the smaller ones in the choir might have been upon the rood-loft,
a usual situation, as the same author informs us.

We hear of several crosses besides that suspended from the
rood-loft and the two of St. John's, as one standing upon the
hearse on which was laid a cloth of yellow silk, another which
was borne about every day in visiting the sick, a third called
the copcross, and a fourth the latten.

At this time the laity were not permitted to partake of the
cup at the eucharist, but still the consumption of wine was
very considerable, as the following entries show : One gallon
of wine on Palm Sunday ; a pottle of malmsey at Christ's Day ;
a pottle of malmsey at Ascension ; a pottle of malmsey and
claret wine at Whitsuntide ; a pottle of bastard on Christmas
Day ; all choice wines and all drunk by the priests.

In the body of the church hung a lamp. Among the treasures
were many jewels ; for, in 1 543, a great basket was made to
carry them in.

The church being thus furnished, all the Roman Catholic
ceremonies were celebrated therein. It has always been cus-
tomary in this church to watch the sepulchre of our Saviour
from Good Friday, the day of the Crucifixion, to Easter Sunday,
that of the Resurrection ; and accordingly we annually see an
entry in the churchwardens' account of money paid to and of
bread and drink found for those who watched the sepulchre
at Easter. In the very earliest ages of the church it was
customary to perform religious plays or interludes, the subjects
of which were taken from the Scriptures, and, in 1522, we find
that the play of the Resurrection was acted at Rye, as appears
from the following entry : " Paid for a coate made, when the
Resurrection was played at Easter, for him that, in playing,
represented the part of Almighty God, one shilling; do. for
making the stage for the Resurrection at Easter three shillings
and fourpence."

This profane custom, for profane we must consider it to be
to presume to represent, under a human form, that great
invisible Being, whose dwelling is spread over all space, in


whom we live and move and have our existence, and who, being
a spirit, must be worshipped in spirit and in truth, existed at
that time ; but, enlightened as the present age is, when com-
pared to those long since gone by, it is melancholy to reflect
that this same profane mummery is still played off; for it is
only a very few years ago that we ourselves saw, at the fair at
Boulogne, an announcement that the play either of the Cruci-
fixion or of the Resurrection was to be performed by a set of
itinerant players; and scarcely a year has elapsed since thousands
of poor deluded creatures flocked to behold the holy coat of
Treves, in the full belief that the sight or touch of the sacred
garment would heal all their maladies. If thus, in the nine-
teenth century, the coat of Treves is held sacred, how can we
wonder that no repugnance was felt in the sixteenth at beholding
the coat which was worn by the man who played the part of Al-
mighty God? But let us hope that, as John Ronge has written and
preached against the holy coat of Treves, and has laid the foun-
dation of another reformation, in the institution of the German
Catholic, in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church, he
may have the gratification of seeing all these degrading delu-
sions swept away. As Syria has been the cradle of three
religions, so may Germany be the cradle of many reformations :
and may John Ronge prove a worthy successor of Martin
Luther. In the wall near the altar there was generally a recess
with a door, and in this was placed the sepulchre, and here it
was that the watchers took their station. Near the column of
the easternmost arch, on the north side of the present chancel,
formerly was a door, but whether this was the entrance to the
sepulchre is mere matter of conjecture.

On certain days in the year, especially on holy Thursday,
processions were made through different parts of the parish,
\vhen it was usual to stop at the crosses which were erected by
the road side in many instances, but here in Rye they most
probably stopped at the cross which formerly stood in the
churchyard, and where, in ancient times, the Barons met yearly,
on the Sunday next after the Feast of St. Bartholomew, to elect
their mayor, as appears in the old Customal of the town.

But the same year, 1547, which witnessed the death of
Henry VIII, put an end, for a short time, to all these ceremo-
nials ; for on the accession of Edward VI a change came over
the scene, as will appear from the following items in the church-
wardens' accounts, one of the first of which is this, viz. :

s. d.
Expended for cleansing the cburch from popery 113 4

This cleansing was shown in removing the various altars; for
we read that four shillings were paid for four bushels of lime,


" to make up the places where the altars were." The rood- loft
was also taken down, and a communion table placed where the
high altar stood ; the church was white-limed all over, a great
deal of rubbish was carried away, mats were bought for commu-
nicants to kneel upon at the communion table.

The following relates to the removal of the images :

s. d.

Paid for taking down the irons hanging on Saint George - 06

Mending and white-liming divers places where the images stood 4 10

The following we do not quite understand :

Paid for Inking down of Jesus Chapel - - 34

For where Jesus Chapel was we are at a loss to say, as we
have not met with it before.

The communion table was covered with a cloth of velvet,
two shillings being charged for mending it. At this time the
sacrament was celebrated very frequently, probably in conse-
quence of the laity now being allowed to partake of the wine, as
well as of the bread. The following are the days on which it
was administered, viz. : November 6th, 13th, 20th, and 27th ;
December 4th, llth, 18th, and 25th; January 8th and 19th;
February 5th, 12th, 19th, and 26th; March 5th, 12th, 19th,
and 26th ; April 16th, 23d, and 30th ; May 7th, 14th, 21st, and
28th ; June 4th, 1 1th, 18th, and 25th ; July 2d, 16th, and 30th ;
August 6th, 20th, and 27th ; September 3d ; October 10th and
1 7th. Besides all these days there were the following : Saint
Stephen's Day, New Year's Day, Twelfth Day, Candlemas Day,
Lady Day, Maun day Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Even,
Easter Day, Easter Monday and Tuesday, Sunday after Easter.

Thus it would seem that this holy ceremony took place as a ge-
neral rule on every Sunday, besides on all the above-named holi-
days, which, when they did not fall some of them on a Sunday,
added considerably to the number. This account is taken from
Nov. ith, 1552, to Oct. 17th, 1553. In July, August, and Sep-
tember, we see some intermissions, which may be accounted for by
the fact that, in the days of Catholic predominancy, it was cus-
tomary to work on Sundays, as well as on other days, in getting in
the hay and the corn at their proper seasons ; and although Pro-
testantism had now been for a time introduced, it is most likely
the people did not at first entirely forego their former habits, more
particularly as these were considered contributory to their
worldly interests.

In opposition to this Catholic remnant, we have to record
the pleasing fact that now, for the first time, was introduced
into our church an English version of the Bible, that founda-
tion and bulwark of the Protestant religion ; the free reading


of which eventually emancipated men's minds from that long,
dark night of ignorance in which, for so many ages, they had
been involved. It broke down that worst of all tyrannies, ec-
clesiastical tyranny, which, as the late Lord Eldon so justly ob-
served, is always accompanied by political tyranny ; the former
enchaining the minds, the latter the bodies of men.

It was in 1540 that Miles Coverdale completed his English
version of the Bible ; which has ever since been held in great
esteem. On the accession of Edward VI, Coverdale was made
bishop of Exeter, and a copy of the Bible was introduced into
the different churches of the kingdom. In conformity with
which custom the church of Rye was furnished, as under :

1548, Dec. 20. Paid to Alexander Wells, jurat, for two Bibles ^ *' d '
for the church - - 168

So precious was the Bible considered in those days that it
was chained up ; so that any person might go into the church
and read it there, but was not allowed to take it away.

*. rf.

1549, June 6th. Paid for two chains, one for the Bible, the
other for the paraphrase - 10

In 1550. Paid for a Bible for the church book at London 012
Carriage of the same 004

12 4

In 1552. Paid for a Bible for the quire, of the great volume 1 13 4
Carriage of the same from London 010

1 14 6

Setting up the Bible at the west end of the church 006

Besides the Bibles above mentioned, the following books were

provided for the church :

*. d.

Divers books for the church - 1
Paid Mr. Wright of the King's chapel for songs that he

bought for the chnrch - 100
Mr. Angel, for the Paraphrase of Erasmus, half of it the

same day - - 056
Mr. Wells, for one Psalter book, four Pax books for songs,

one book for the communion - 12 4

Paid, for a Homily book 014
Do. do. -014

Do. for a book of the New Service - 040

Do. for do., bought of a stationer at the Strand gate 038

It was in the sixth year of the reign of Edward VI, A.D. 1552,
that the present Book of Common Prayer was published ; and
this is the book mentioned as that of the New Service.

Barr tells us that " seats and pews in our ancient churches are
rarely to be met with of an earlier date than the fifteenth century;
but of this period we possess many beautiful examples."


" Pews, in the modern sense of the word, were not intro-
duced until after the great Rebellion, and appear to have been
far from common before the middle of the eighteenth century."
Whether Rye church had seats in the fifteenth century we
cannot say, as we have no records of that date, but in the six-
teenth we know it had ; for so early as 1547 we have this
entry :

s. (I.
Four mats to kneel on for the two seats that the mayor and

his brethren do sit in - - 034

1550. Paid for the lengthening of the forms in the choir 8
For 2 mats that lie in the long seat by the pulpit, that Mr.

Mayor and his brethren sit in - - 020

One hundred fourpenny nails, to mend the seats in the church 004
Two doors to the seat before the pulpit - 038

Making a door in Mr. Mayor's seat in Saint Nicholas chappel 020

On Oct. 1 1, 1548, is this entry :

Paid for 2 days and a half working on the chappel that Father
Goston dwelleth in -

Where was this chapel? Was it the building still standing
on the south side of the churchyard ? Is this the same as the
chantry before mentioned ?

In this same year the middle aisle, or nave, underwent con-
siderable repairs, which cost nearly 30/., arising out of the pur-
chase of timber and lead, and the workmanship of carpenters
and plumbers in preparing the same.

The church must now have had chorister boys ; for there is
a charge of two shillings for making of four children's surplices.

The subjoined entry shows the wings of the choir to have been
designated chancels :

s. d.

Paid to a man of Goudhurst, for white liming of the two chancels,

by the choir, in the church 118

The Ten Commandments, the Belief, and the Lord's Prayer,
were now set up in the chancel, and divers scriptural sentences
written on the walls of the church, as these extracts prove :

Paid for writing two tables in our Lady's Chancel, and for mending the Ten
Commandments, and for divers other places in the Scripture in the church.

Mention is made, at this time, of our Lady Chancel vaults ;
but where these were does not appear. The cross aisle is also
mentioned, evidently meaning the transept.

Now we read again of Saint Clere's Chancel, the glazier
being paid 13s. 4d. for repairing the windows for a year, as

This seems a fitting place to show the different methods of
managing the affairs of the church in those early days, as com-
pared to that of the present time. It does not appear that


either the vicar or the parishioners had anything to do with
the appointment of the churchwardens, or with the auditing of
the accounts.

The mayor and corporation seem to have had the appoint-
ment of the churchwardens and the auditing of the accounts.
The appointment is not exactly mentioned, but the auditing is,
as appears from the following entry :

" Dec. 26th, Io48. It was then agreed by the mayor, with
those jurats and commons that were appointed for the hearing
and finishing of these accounts that then were to make and
finish, that were of long time the accounts of Mr. Barnes and
Roger Ockman, hath hanged in suspence, and the town upon
the same was in surplusage unto the said Robert Barnes, for
his part ; therefore, the said Robert Barnes shall have of the
church 3/. 13s. 4d., to be paid before Candlemas next. And so
this their account to stand perfect, and they to be clearly ac-
quitted and discharged."

The election of a warden is mentioned ; but by whom the
election was made it does not appear. The name of the mayor
is pretty generally put at the head of the accounts for the re-
spective years ; and, moreover, the books were in the custody
of the corporation, as the one from which these extracts are
taken still is all tending to confirm the opinion that this officer
had the chief management of the ecclesiastical accounts.

The first book in the reign of Edward VI has something very
singular in its heading: "The Receipts of Alexander Welles
and George Raynold, Barons to the Parliament for the town of
Rye, anno 2 and 3 E. 6."

Among their receipts are these :

s. (l.

Money for the cross - 52 15

For 53 oz. gilt plate, at 5*. per oz. 1350

41 oz. part gilt do., at 4*. 10 \d. per oz. 91910

other articles - - 23 15

99 14 10

These articles were used under the Catholic domination, and
were sold for the purpose of cleansing the church of popery.
But the curious part is, the placing the church accounts under
the management of the representatives of the town in Parlia-
ment ; in consequence of which there is a strange medley of
temporal and spiritual matters blended together, as thus :

*. d.

Expended for Parliament wages, the first and second year 10 16

The book of fines in the Parliament house 168

For drawing, copying, and engrossing do. - 13 4

Drawing other proviso for the subsidy 068

Divers copies thereof - 034


*. d.

The king's attorney, for his good will - 100
Drawing and making u supplication to the Lord Protector

for the subsidy - - 5

John Hales, for his favour - 100

His clerk, for his pains - 5

The clerk of the house, for his good will - 050

Parliament wages, 108 weeks - 22

38 1

Besides these payments, there are others for various books, a
communion table and plate ; from which we conclude that, as
a change in the established religion now was effected, it was
necessary for the representatives of the town to be present in
Parliament, to assist in passing the laws to bring this about,
and to them was then intrusted the task of doing all other
things which became necessary in consequence of this change.
To this conclusion we are further induced to come, from not
finding any similar arrangement in the church books, either
before or after l!his period ; and this only occupies one single
page, and on the other side again appears the name of the
churchwarden for the time being.

Edward being only nine years of age on the death of his
father, the Duke of Somerset was created Protector ; and it is
to him that allusion is made in the foregoing extracts. He paid
a visit to the town in 1447.

With the short reign of Edward, which only lasted from Jan.
28th, 1547, to July 6th, 1553, faded the transient glory of the
Protestant religion. Queen Mary succeeded her brother, and
she and Catholicism reigned triumphant together.

The church of Rye soon felt the influence of her Majesty's
religious predilections, as the books will show in the subjoined

*. d.

Paid for pulleys to hang up the cloths on the altar 2
Making up the sepulchre - 3

Nails to hang up cloths on do. - 02

We read of frankincense, and of censers to burn it in, a cross,
and other things.

*. d.

Paid Gryffyn, the carver, for carving the altar steps 020

Working upon the altar and steps 050

A mass-book - 020

A grayll - - 0100

A legend - 1

Two antyssoners - 400

A holy- water stoop - 19

Two candlesticks - - 4 O

The hearse-cloth, of velvet and gold - 10 5

A book for the church, called a " Manual" 030
A home-bush, to set candles on at Christmas

morning in the church - 6




s. (I.

Six pound candles, to set in do. 016

Staves for the canopy - 008

Bringing the rood from London to the Strand,

Online LibraryWilliam HollowayThe history and antiquities of the ancient town and port of Rye, in the county of Sussex. With incidental notices of the Cinque Ports → online text (page 52 of 66)