« PreviousContinue »
Art. II. Lysons's Magna Britannia.
(Concluded from p. 211.) A Large part of this volume is necessarily, occupied on
subjects of little interest to general readers; but the various nature of the plan which we have abstracted, promises no inconsiderable portion of entertaining matter. Messrs. L.'s account of the parish, in which that zealous antiquary, Browne Willis, residėd, will afford a somewhat amusing specimen of the manner in which the Parochial Topography is written.
“ BLECHLEY, or BLETCHLEY, in the Hundred and Deanery of Newport, lies about a mile and a half to the south-west of Fenny Stratford. Walter Giffard, Earl of Buckingham, possessed by grant, from William Rufus, the whole landed property of this parish, which was inherited by Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford, who married his grandaughter Roesia. Helena, daughter of the Earl of Hertford, brought it in marriage to John de Grey, whose great grandson, Reginald, bequeathed the Manor of Over, or Church-Bletchley, with those of Water-Eaton, and Water Hall, both in this parish, to his eldest son, John Lord Grey, of Wilton, and the manor of West or Old Bletchley to his younger son Roger, who became Lord Grey of Ruthin. The manor of Water-Eaton was held by the service of keeping a falcon for flight, for the king's use ; and for the charges of keeping it, the lord was entitled, on the day that he carried it to court, to a horse with its equipage; the king's table, with the eressels and table-cloth, all the vessels with which the king was served on that day, and a cask of wine, as soon as the king had tasted it. The manor of Water Hall was held by the service of finding a man on a horse without a saddle, a bow without a string, and an arrow without an head. The descendants of Lord Grey, of Wilton, continued to possess these manors, and that of Church-Bletchley, above 400 years, until the attainder of Thomas Lord Grey in 1603. King James granted them in 1606, to George Villiers, afterwards Duke of Buckingham. In Oliver Cromwell's time, they were sold, as confiscated lands, to Sir Philip Skippon. George Villiers, the younger, Duke of Buckingham, recovered them at the Re toration, and in 1674, sold them to Dr. Thomas Willis, a very eminent physician, grandfather of Mr. Browne Willis, the celebrated antiquary. The other manor (West Bletchley) was purchased of Henry Grey, Earl of Kent, by Catherine, Duchess Dowager of Buckingham, whose son the second duke, having sold it to Dr. Willis, all the manors became united.
“ The Lords Grey, of Wilton, had in ancient times, a seat at WaterEaton, and another at Water-Hall
, both long ago destroyed. Browne Willis, in 1711, built a house for his own residence at Water Hall, which has been lately pulled down by its present owner, Mr. Harrison. Browne Willis’s grandson, the late John Willis Fleming, Esq. sold the
Blount's Tenures, • He was the son of his eldest son, Thomas Willis, Esq. of Water-Hall, and took the name of Fleping.
Manors of Bletchley, Water-Eaton, and Fenny Stratford, (which is also in this parish,) to the Rev. Philip Barton, of Great Brickhill, and they are now the property of his devisee, Ph. Duncombe Pauncefort, Esq.
“ The parish church, a handsome Gothic structure, was repaired and orpamented at the expence of Mr. Browne Willis, who added the pinnacles to the tower, re-cast, the bells, and gave a new font. The internal decorations, on which he expended a large sum, but ill accord with the style of the building ; the altar-piece, and the screen between the nave and the chancel are Græcian, and the pillars painted to resemble veined marble. It appears by a book of memorandums, bequeathed by Mr. Willis to the Rectors of Bletchley, that he expended in the whole, 13161. on the repairs and ornaments of the church, to which he was induced, he says, by the circumstance of his father and mother having been there interred, esteem. ing it a greater act of piety, and as great a respect to their memory, as if he had erected a costly monument over their remains. Mr. Willis made it his solemn request to the future Rectors of Bletchley, that they would, out of remembrance to his many benefactions to the parish, either preach an annual sermon themselves, or cause it to be preached by their curates, on the 8th of September, being the anniversary of the dedication of the church, ex. horting the parishioners in what manner they ought to celebrate the wake or feast, as had been done by his cousin, Mr. Archdeacon Benson, then Rector, (afterwards Bishop of Gloucester,) and his predecessor Dr. Wells.
• In the chancel at "Bletchley is a remarkable tablet, in memory of Dr. Sparke, rector of the parish, who died in 1616, with his portrait very neatly engraved on copper, and extremely well-preserved, being inclosed within a wooden case. It seems by the style to have been the work of Dr. Haydock, the same artist who engraved the portrait of Erasmus Williams, (a contemporary of Dr. Sparke's,) in Tingewick church. There is a remark. able monument also, in memory of Mr. Edward Taylor, and his wife Faith, with their portraits (full faces) sketched in white, on black marble, and arpamented with various devices. The inscription is very quaint, with anagrams, &c. There are memorials on flat-stones, for Mr. Browne Willis's father and mother, and others of his family. In the north aisle is a monument for his wife, a bad imitation of an ancient altar-tomb: it appears by the inscription, that both Mrs. Willis and himself were descended from the ancient lords of the manor of Bletchley, whose arms are placed round the aisle, painted on wooden tablets : in this aisle also is the tomb of Richard Lord Grey, who died in 1442, at Water Hall; the effigies of the deceased was repaired, and re-cut by Weston, the statuary, at Mr. Willis's expence.
William Cole, the Cambridge antiquary, was rector of bletchley from 1753 to 1767: the rectory is in the patronage of John Willis, Esq. to whom the advowson was bequeathed, with other property, by his cousin, the late John Willis Fleming, Esq.
Fenny Stratford, a small decayed market-town, situated on the road to Liverpool, (the ancient Watling-street) 45 miles from London, stands partly in the parish of Bletchley, and partly in that of Simpson. The chapel, which is in Bletchley, having been dilapidated ever since the reign of Queen Elizabeth, was rebuilt by subscriptions, procured by the exertions of Mr. Browne Willis. The first stone was laid by Mr. Willis, in 1724, on St. Martin's day; and the chapel was dedicated by him to that saint, for a reason which strongly indicates that whimsical disposition for which he was remarkable, because his grandfather died on St. Martin's day, in St. Mar, tin's Lane.
« The ceiling of Fenny-Stratford chapel is adorned with numerous coats of arms, being those of the nobility and gentry who subscribed towards the building. Within the rails of the communion table lie the remains of the celebrated antiquary, who may justly be considered as the founder. On his tomb is the following inscription : Hic situs est Browne Willis, antiguarius, cujus cl. avi æternæ memorie Tho. Willis archiatri totius Europe celeberrimi, defuncti die Sancti Martini A. D. 1675, hæc capella exiguum monumendum est : Obiit 5° die Feb. A. D. 1760, Ætatis suæ 78. O Christe, soter, et Judex, huic peccatorum primo, misericors et propitius esto,
• Mr. Willis's corpse was attended to the place of interment, at his own request, by the corporation of Buckingham, to which town he had ever borne a singular affection. By his will, he bequeaths a benefaction for a sermon in this chapel on St. Martin's day, and he requests that the Rector of Bletchley may never have the cure of Fenny Stratford ; but he directs, that if the reco tor will contribute 61. per annum towards his salary, he shall have the appointment of the curate; and he requests his heirs to augment the curacy: it does not appear that this has ever been done ; nor has the rector acquired the patronage of the chapel, which still belongs to Mr. Willis's family. To the manuscript collections, as well as to the printed work of Mr. Willis, we have been much indebted in our brief notices of this county: His printed work contains only the history of the town and hundred of Buckingham; but he had made large collections towards a history of the whole county, now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. These collections have been found extremely useful, particularly in tracing the history of landed property, a department of topography in which he evinces much industry and skill. His church notes are chiefly valuable as recording many monu. mental inscriptions, which have since his time been either removed or obli. terated. In tiste he was certainly deficient, for he passes over without mention, the most beautiful specimens of ancient architecture, while he dwells with minuteness on the dimensions of the buildings, the number of bells, their inscriptions, &c.
• Fenny Stratford had from time immemorial a market on Mondays, which was confirmed by charter in 1609: during the civil war it was discontinued, but revived after the restoration. In 1665, this small town was much depopulated by the plague, of which 139 persons died; the inns were shut
and the road turned for a while into another direction : this mis. fortune proved also fatal to the market, which has never flourished since, and has now been many years wholly discontinued. John de Grey, in 1269, procured a grant of a fair to last seven days, at the festival of the nativity of the Virgin Mary; the charter of 1609, grants a fair to be held on the 7th, 8th, and 9th of April, and another on Michaelmas day : there are now four annual fairs, April 19th, July 18th, Octr. 11, and Novr. 28: the fair on the 19th April is chiefly for barren cows; that of Octr. 11, chiefly for hiring servants.
• There was anciently a gild or fraternity at Fenny-Stratford, dedicated 20 St. Margaret and St. Catherine, which was founded in 1494, by Roger and John Hebbes. It consisted of an alderman, two wardens, and an indefinite number of brethren and sisters ; the brotherhood house is now the Full-Inn : the Swan at this town was an ino bearing the same name in 1474.
* The hamlet of Fenny-Stratford was inclosed by an Act of Parliament, passed in 1790: the lands were not exonerated from tithes.' pp. 511-515.
An ambiguity toward the close of this extract may render it useful to remark, that the fraternity mentioned does not now meet at the Bulí Inn, but formerly met at that house. To avoid additions to so copious an extract, we omit a note consisting of a rhyming epitaph on Dr. Thomas Willis, by his grandson ; and a speech addressed by the same to the bishop of the diocese, at the consecration of the Chapel at Fenny Stratford. Both of these are somewhat curious; but neither does much credit to Mr. Willis's literary talents. They betray, like the more durable monuments of his zeal, a considerable portion of vanity: but it would be well for many hamlets, and many parishes, if they had enjoyed benefactors equal in liberality and energy to this well known antiquary. We are glad to observe, from the close of his own epitaph, that he does not appear
to have regarded his patriotic exertions as an atonement for sin; much less, as a title to heaven. There have been villages in England, nay very near to our chief seminaries of learning, in which, through the ruinous state of the parish churehes, the inhabitants have remained so long without public worslup, as to become estranged to the very form and notion of Christianity. If it be true, that
“ The proper study of mankind is man," it is surely a desideratum in topography, to indicate the comparative moral and religious state of the various divisions of our island. It would indeed, be an arduous task, to describe this with due impartiality and accuracy : yet where populous parishes are called to solemnise public worship only once in three or four weeks, the censure of a topographer would be unquestionably just, and might perhaps be useful. It is certain, that a great part of the country described in this volume, abounds with places registered for dissenting worship, more than most other districts of England : a circumstance, which commonly, though not invariably, is attendant on remissness in the parochial clergy. It is, however, only in the county towns, that we have observed any notice to be taken by Messrs. L. of the existence of Dissenters; and even this is incorrect. It is said (p. 530) that “ the presbyterians, unitarians, quakers, and methodists, have chapels, or meeting-houses at Buckingham.” We know that there are not, and we believe ere never were, congregations of either of the first two denominations, at that place. Both the dissenting meeting houses there, are ocupied by Trinitárian Independents.
Among mistakes of other kinds, may be instanced, that, in the account of Finchampsted, in Berkshire, it is said, ley is a hamlet in this parish,” p. 281. Eversley is an adjoining parish of Hampshire, and a more considerable rectory than Finchampsted. Among the omissions, it may be observed, that, in the account of Newport Pagnel, in Buckinghamshire, which is the centre and mart of the thread lace trade, no intimation is given of any connexion between that place and the manufacture which chiefy supports its population. In the preceding extracts also, it ought to have been mentioned, that WaterEaton forms a considerable hamlet in the parish of Bletchley : as well as that the proximity of the Grand-Junction Canal to Fenny-Stratford, has already become of considerable advantage to that ancient but greatly decayed town.
We would strongly recommend to our provincial and paro. chial historians the investigation of ancient customs, that characterize the manners, and might assist in tracing the respective origins, of the inhabitants; as also a careful attention to the idioms and dialects which distinguish their common conversation. The latter would be of essential use in tracing the progress of the English language, and ascertaining the sources of its copia verborum ; a study, which as yet is in its infancy. A considerable difference, in both these respects, would probably appear in the three ancient divisions of England, Danelage, Merchenlage, and West-Saxonlage, or the Danish, Mercian, and West-Saxon jurisdictions, as they subsisted shortly before the Norman conquest. The former of these, according to Camden, (who supposed each to have been governed by different laws) comprehended the fifteen counties of York, Derby, Nottingham, Lincoln, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Leicester, Northampion, Bedford, Bucks, Herts, Essex, and Middlesex : the Merchenlage, eight; Stafford, Chester, Salop, Warwick, Worcester, Hereford, Gloucester, and Oxford: the West-Saxonlage, nine south of the Thames. Rutland, which is omitted in this enumeration, must have been included in the Danelage; Cornwall then remained chiefly British; five northern counties were subject or tributary to Scotland ; and Monmouth (which was formed into a county, by Henry VIII. at the same time with Brecknock, Radnor, Montgomery and Denbigh) was included in Wales, till the reign of Charles 2. See Int. p. xvii.
As the whole of England northward of the Thames, (the small kingdom of Essex excepted) was conquered by the Angles, the principal distinctions that appear between the counties comprised respectively within the Danelage and Merchenlage, may reasonably be imputed to the temporary