Rector imprisoned his parishioners

PUBLISHED: 09:19 10 April 2006 | UPDATED: 09:06 24 May 2010

Weston's then newly built Parish Church in 1824.

Weston's then newly built Parish Church in 1824.

There was a Rector of Weston as far back as 1226. Down the centuries there have been Rectors good and bad. One of the most unpopular must have been the Reverend Christopher Sadbury, appointed in 1632. He was a Royalist during the Civil War, and it was all

Glebe House, the former Rectory, is now borough owned and converted into flats.

There was a Rector of Weston as far back as 1226. Down the centuries there have been Rectors good and bad. One of the most unpopular must have been the Reverend Christopher Sadbury, appointed in 1632. He was a Royalist during the Civil War, and it was alleged he was a spy and smuggled information across the Bristol Channel to the King's forces. He was also said to have imprisoned some of his Parliamentarian parishioners at the Rectory, taken their goods, and exacted money from them.The Rev Christopher Sadbury was obviously not on very good terms with his Weston flock for it was stated that he was "the continual troubler of his honest and well-affected neighbours by vexatious suites at law".At the outbreak of the Civil War he revealed himself as an ardent Royalist, while the people of village Weston most appeared to favour the Parliamentary cause. There were then only 35 local families, the population being 160.There was so much friction between the Rector and his parishioners that they made a charge of High Delinquency against him to the County Commissioners. They claimed that in 1643 he went to Bridgwater, which was a garrison town held by the King's forces, and there preached a sermon in which he described the Parliamentarians as rebels.He was also accused of what today we should call espionage. It was said he corresponded with Lord Pawlett's servants and constantly sent intelligence to the King's party "by conveying packets into Wales". Presumably he was getting his secret information away by the ships that plied between Uphill and Wales, Uphill then being a busy little port.The most remarkable charge brought against him was the following: "That in ye yeare 1644 he caused the late King's Souldiers to take upp several of ye well affected of his parishioners and keepe them prisoners att his house, and seized other Goods and exacted several sums of money from them, and they could not be released until he gave orders for it."The house in which Sadbury imprisoned his parishioners was the old Rectory. Weston's present Rectory on the hill above the church is a comparatively modern building, built by Archdeacon Arthur Salmon, who was Rector in 1888. The old Rectory was Glebe House, just below the church opposite the tennis courts.Rector Sadbury was also accused of voluntarily supplying a horseman and arms to a troop of Royalists under Captain Keene, in 1644, and another horseman and more arms to, as it was put "the Troope of Captaine Watkines under Sir Francis Doddington, and gave the Ryder Five Shillings".It seems that Westonians felt so strongly about the Civil War that they were even prepared to fight for the Parliamentarian cause. The record states that "in the year 1645 Sir Thomas Austen with his Brigade came to plunder the well-affected of the said Parish (of Weston), but the parishioners, with the well-affected of Worle and Milton joined together and routed the Brigade."Unfortunately Sir Thomas and his men made another sally, and the report goes on: "but shortly after they rallied again an fell upon the Parishe, and the said Sadbury gave Sir Thomas a list of those that opposed him upon which the said Sir Thomas in the night, the said Sadbury going with him, plundered and imprisoned them and caused some of the horses soe plundered to be sent to Wales to the said Sir Thomas".From this one gets the deplorable picture of a Rector of Weston betraying his parishioners to the Royalists, and even going around Weston, Milton, and Worle with the raiding party at night, pointing out the houses and people who should be plundered. That this was so was sworn on oath by several witnesses. When the tide turned against the Royalists the people of Weston tried to be revenged on their Rector, and laid charges against him. It was nearly two years before a verdict was given that he was guilty and that all his goods in Weston and elsewhere should be taken from him.The Rector, however, was not to be caught. He appealed, and the matter dragged on so long that he was able to take advantage of the Act of Pardon that had been granted. He was not turned out, nor were his goods confiscated to recompense his parishioners for their losses. He stayed on as Rector until 1660, long enough to see the monarchy restored!In 1266 a Bishop took the living away from a Weston Rector because he did not attend the ordinary services. The early Rectors also seem to have had trouble in raising the 100 lbs of wax they were required annually to supply to Wells Cathedral, and some got behind with instalments.Historian Ernest Baker wrote: "The collection of so large an amount of wax must, of necessity, have been very difficult, and it is somewhat of a mystery how wax from nearly a hundred hives was procured; one would justifiably imagine that Weston must have been a perfect land of Canaan, flowing with milk and honey."In 1349 one of Weston's rectors, John Horn was threatened with suspension and excommunication if he did not provide the 50 lbs of wax he was in arrears. In 1348 the great plague, the Black Death, reached Somerset, and the rector of Weston, in common with other clergy in the diocese, received a mandate from the Bishop. Plagues in those days were regarded a visitation from God on a sinning people, and the Bishop in his mandate ordered his priests to hold processions and stations of the Cross so that parishioners might be stirred and repent.The Bishop urged these measures on the clergy with the words "that you may induce the people that humbly turning from their sins before the eyes of the Divine Compassions may be deeply stirred and repent, and by devout obedience neglect not forthwith to Atone for their sins, in order that the mercies of God may speedily prevent us and turn aside from His people this pestilence and the rigour of the other scourges which have been sent forth, and that in His pity He may in His good pleasure grant to the Catholic kingdoms among other blessings that of peace an health-giving air; and let them repeat this expression of the Psalmist: 'Remember not our iniquities, but let Thy mercies speedily prevent us.'"At this period in history there were a great many changes in the clergy in parishes all over the country because they, too, fell victims to the plague. Some parishes were left without priests at all, and because of this the bishop of Bath and Wells in 1349 issued a further mandate laying down that in the absence of a priest people, might confess to a layman, and even if necessary, to a woman.Some of Weston's Rectors were rather zealous in collecting tithes. The Quakers, a much persecuted sect, refused to pay tithes, and here is a record that Weston Rector Samuel Willam in 1675 had Edward Silcocks and Edmund Chappell of Weston imprisoned for failure to pay tithes. After several years Chappell was released, but the Rector promptly had him clapped in gaol again on the same count. Several monumental slabs lie beneath the present tiled floor of the Parish Church. The most interesting is an incised slab that has been described as "an ordinary fifteenth century cross with floriated arms of the lily pattern and an ornamental centre. On one side is a chalice and on the other a book probably a representation of the Textus or Gospels, usual on the slabs of deacons".Also under the floor are three slabs of the 17th century to the memory of the Day family, one to Peter Day, yeoman, 1680, and two to the memory of the family of Rector Samuel Willam, who imprisoned the Quakers. Incidentally, Weston's surviving parish registers do not date back beyond 1668, and the eight earliest entries dating from 1668 to 1679 are notes of the baptism of seven of the children of this Samuel Willam, and the burial of one of them.Apart from this there appears to have been no one born, named, or buried, but one suspects that Rector Willam only considered that entries relating to his own family were important for posterity.The Parish Church has a peal of eight bells. Four are dated 1842, another 1834, and two were added in 1916.Yet another bell is a very old one. It is inscribed "Maria", and has a curious bell founder's stamp representing a wagon wheel. This and bells with similar markings are considered to have been cast at a Bristol foundry about 1350.Collinson in his History of Somerset (1791) said the church then had at the west end a tower in which were three bells. One of the earliest written descriptions of Weston is one dated 1815, which refers to these three bells. It was written by George Cumberland, and called Betty and Johnny, or The Prudent Wife. A Weston Tale.As a tale there is not much to it. The author said it was founded on fact and gave a picture of Weston long before it was a fashionable watering place, when Wadham Pigott was both Squire and curate. He was a man of dry humour and told Cumberland the story. The opening lines of the prologue are:Where the Channel of WalesBestudded with sailsRolls against the coast of Glamorgan,Near Nitestone forlorn, rude and tempest tornStands a Church without an organ.This crazy old Church,in length a few perch,Half buried in sedge long and hairyPeers over the sea,and one, two, three,Jangles weekly at Super Mare.This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on September 30, 1966Copyright: John Bailey

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