Of the Ingratitude of Luke, Vicar of Morden; a story from the Barnwell Memoranda Book.


 (from the Barnwell Memoranda Book)

by Dr Jack Smith

About the year 1296, one of the Canons of Barnwell Priory in Cambridge compiled a book of memoranda, or things-to-be-remembered. It is a wonderful miscellany of history, law, legal rights and precedents, rent-rolls and anecdotes – and under the title above, it tells the story of what happened when the vicar of Guilden Morden asked for an increase in what might now be termed his remuneration package.

The word ‘ vicar ’ comes from a Latin word meaning deputy or substitute. In the Church today,  the distinction between vicar and rector has been blurred. In the Middle Ages the church appointed the Rector who may or more likely may not have been resident in the parish. In any case his more tedious duties he off-loaded onto his Vicar who was paid by the Small Tithe, the Great Tithe going to the Rector.   So it was with Guilden Morden.  (There is a Rectory Farm in the village today, but that is an indication of the survival until recent times of rectorial glebeland formerly belonging to Barnwell.)

Barnwell Priory

The connection between Guilden Morden and Barnwell Priory began with Picot, the Norman Sheriff of Cambridge, who held most of the village at the time of Domesday Book.  Picot is, perhaps, best remembered today for the abuse heaped on him in the Ely Chronicle after he seized some of the Abbey’s land and refused to return it – “a roving wolf, a crafty fox” and so on.  In 1092, however, he founded a church and house for 6 Augustinian canons at St Giles, beside his castle in Cambridge, and Guilden Morden church formed part of the endowment.   Funnily enough, Picot is remembered much more kindly in the Barnwell Book. (Twenty years later, Picot’s son-in-law, Pain Peverel, moved the canons to a site across the river at Barnwell, then a little outside Cambridge, and greatly enlarged their establishment.)

The scribe prefaces his account of Barnwell’s altercation with Vicar Luke with copies of some formal documents on which the Prior’s case was based. Thus we know that the previous vicar, John, had resigned and in 1269 the Prior presented (i.e. appointed) one Luke of Abington.  The Bishop instructed the Archdeacon to make the necessary legal inquiries; the Archdeacon reported back, and the bishop issued formal letters of institution.  The latter spelt out the financial terms of the appointment and it does indeed look as though the canons were being pretty stingy.  Luke was not to have the tithes of hay (which would normally go to the vicar) nor the mill tithes, nor the `first legacy’ (probably burial dues); he was to pay 4/- a year in rent for his house, and to pay the Prior a `pension’ of one mark (13s 4d) annually. He was also to hold three services weekly at the chapel at Ruddery, near Odsey.

Luke asks for more

After a time, Luke asked for more. Then he withheld or failed to pay the one mark and four shillings for which he was liable.  The Prior sought a papal order against him, and this was granted with the Prior of Ipswich as judge.  Soon afterwards, the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Ely, so Luke appeared before him personally to ask for an increase in his portion. The Archbishop appointed assessors who found in Luke’s favour, and in fact awarded him a great deal more, including the tithes of all crofts in Guilden  Morden.

An appeal to the Pope

But the Prior appealed to the Pope, and again the matter was referred to the Prior of Ipswich who again found against Luke.  In the end, Luke accepted defeat, and the Prior released him from paying costs of 40 marks.  Round one to the Prior.

He tries again

But 7 years later, with a new Archbishop in office, Luke tried again, and the Barnwell scribe almost allows himself a purple passage: “What labours, anguish, expenses, and vexations the Prior and canons sustained after that it is not possible to explain in a few words”.   The pattern began as before: Luke threw himself before the Archbishop on a visit to Ely and the case was committed to the Archdeacon of Norwich.   The Prior appealed to the Prior of Ipswich as judge delegate, and he restrained the Archdeacon. But Archbishop Pecham, who was a match for King Edward I, certainly did not take kindly to interference from the Prior of Ipswich. The Prior of Barnwell was summoned to appear before the Archbishop wherever he was in his province, and real trouble followed.  Canons with their advocates were despatched in all directions: to follow the Archbishop’s court around, to Ipswich, to the king.  Probably the only winners were the lawyers. Eventually, the Archbishop angrily excommunicated the Prior.

And again

Meanwhile, Luke tried a more direct method, and with a band of young men he simply collected the tithes for himself.  The canons with letters of protection from the king  brought the Sheriff of Cambridge into action, putting the young men to flight.  This was countered, according to the scribe, by friends of Luke’s who obtained letters of protection for him also.  So the Sheriff  placed the confiscated tithes in neutral hands (possibly his own) and the matter was referred to the Exchequer court, with what result we are not told, but not for the first time the Prior was `grieving’.

In the ecclesiastical courts the struggle continued. Luke was excommunicated by the Prior of Ipswich.  Then the parties appeared before the Prior of St Albans, the apostolic authority, until after many days and many disputations the case was referred to the Roman Curia. So one of the canons was sent to Rome, and he stayed there for three years. It would certainly have been cheaper to have granted Luke the odd mark or two from the beginning.

The matter was eventually settled by Higher Authority, and the scribe was in no doubt whose side He was on!   “But God Almighty wishing to impose an end to the quarrel, of a sudden made punislunent of the vicar, a grave adversary of St Giles.  For the Lord struck him with a certain incurable infirmity, id est ydropisi, of which he died.”  But the canons, knowing him to have died, did not permit his body to enter the church nor mass to be celebrated for him, asserting him excommunicate.  What more? His executors finally made peace with the canons, and then, at last, one canon from the hostile church absolved his body and, Mass having been celebrated, buried him in the churchyard.  Then certain executors gave the Prior 100 sheep and his palfrey worth 5 marks, and 5 marks in silver more.  Afterwards, Guy of Croydon, who was previously vicar of Tadlow, succeeded the same Luke to the vicarage of Morden.

Divine intervention

Actually, it is by no means clear that the Divine intervention was entirely one-sided, for while the canons were singing complain on February 3rd 1287, which must have been about the same time, their church was struck by lightning.  "What damage we then sustained", wails the scribe, "in cracked stonework, the clock, leads, windows, bells, damage in the Neighbourhood, and the cost of repairing it all God Almighty knows (deus omnipotens novit)".   And this is to say nothing of the fact that a slight difference of opinion at the re-consecration of the church caused the Bishop to excommunicate everybody and ride off in a huff. But that is another story.

Barnwell Abbey has almost disappeared.  A single room and what was probably part of the boundary wall remain.  The Book, of course, survives, as a single manuscript copy written over a century before the invention of printing and now in the British Library.  The text was printed in 1907.  Picot’s church of St Giles was rebuilt and enlarged in the l9th century when the Norman style was out of favour, but the 11th century chancel arch was re-erected at the east end of the south aisle and some other Norman fragments were re-used.  Luke presumably still rests in Guilden Morden churchyard, but we do not know where.  There have been, perhaps, ten thousand burials since, using the ground several times over and raising the level appreciably; there is no inscription, and probably no marked grave, earlier than the l8th century.  Guilden Morden church has also been rebuilt and enlarged .  Its earliest dateable feature – the three eastern arches of the south arcade – could almost be of Luke’s time.  The font, in which (when not excommunicated) he would have baptised the children of the village, is undoubtedly earlier and is our only definite link with him.

J.W.Clark:  "Liber Memorandorum Ecclesie de Bernewelle",  Cambridge,



Law and Disorder in the 14th Century

by Dr J Smith


A Court Roll of 1327

The medieval system of keeping the peace was known as frankpledge, under which all males over 12 were allotted to groups of about 10 known as tithings who were collectively responsible for the good behaviour of one another. Each such group had a chief, the ‘tithing-man’, and periodically the tithing-men were summoned to the court leet of whichever feudal lord held ‘View of Frankpledge’ for his tenants.
In the case of Guilden Morden by the early 14th century this was the Duke of Gloucester in respect of his Honour of Clare, which was feudally superior to the manorial lordships. The court met once a year at Litlington under the Duke’s steward. A number of its rolls have survived and are now in the Public Record Office. They are written in an abbreviated Latin, and the following from 1327* is a fair example, more legible than some. It names about sixty people in all, and although that includes some absentee landlords, it is perhaps a fifth of the adult population.

The record begins with the ‘common fine’, which was just a sort of communal rent and was paid for centuries.  We do not know when it ceased, but Meldreth were still paying 10 shillings annually until they finally agreed to compound for it in 1960.

fine 10s
Alan Cyn and all the chief pledges give as the common fine

The court then went on to deal with minor breaches of the peace and so on. Surnames were just coming into use at the time, and it is often not clear whether the names used were family names as they would be understood today, or just descriptive. In the first example it looks as though Benedict le Shephirde was indeed a shepherd; in the third we see the stage before ‘son of John’ turned into Johnson. The individual fines shown in brackets {} are interlined in the manuscript.

fine 18d (ie Total)
The same present that Benedict le Shephirde {12d}and Henry Dente {6d} illegally recovered by force of arms certain sheep which William le Kok wanted to have impounded for damage done to the Abbot of Warden his lord. Therefore they are in mercy. Pledges William Heyward William Mayner.

fine 6d
Also they present that Richard le Taillour unjustly raised hue and cry against Isabel le Caus. Therefore he is in mercy. Pledge Richard Hunnyng.

fine 6d
Also they present that Roger Frost raised hue and cry unjustly against Roger son of John son of Stephen. Therefore he is in mercy. Pledge Ball.

fine 7d
Also they present that Alice wife of Ralph Lucas unjustly accused Agnes daughter of Robert Rolfe. Therefore she is in mercy. Pledge [illegible].

fine 3d
Also they present that Robert Rolph unjustly raised hue and cry against Alice wife of Ralph Lucas. Therefore he is in mercy. Pledge Henry the Lord.

This last does not actually mean that Henry was lord of a manor. It could be a nickname – perhaps he had been God in a miracle play. The next entry is obscure, but it looks as though the steward fined the chief pledges for getting things wrong; there would be about ten of them, so perhaps it was 5d each.

fine 4s2d
And by all the chief pledges because they have adjudged a certain hue and cry justly raised which was unjustly. Therefore they are in mercy. As appears in the record of the leet.

fine 12d
Also they present that Alexander Quarant feloniously struck Matilda wife of Robert Hulot. Therefore he is in mercy. Pledges Henry the Lord Walter Knot.

Next the court proceeded to assert its authority.

fine 14s 2d
Also they present that the abbot of Warden {?} the prior of Barnwell{?}

Henry de Toft {6d}
William Lovel {?}
William Pychard[deleted?]
William Soke {12d}
John Kok {12d}
Letitia de Buckworth {7d)
the master of Shingay Hospital {40d} are free tenants under view (of frankpledge) and have not come. Therefore they are in mercy.

fine 6d
And William Pychard for default in coming to the view.

In the next item Peter of Ashwell was heavily fined for his anti-social behaviour. Or perhaps because he was an outsider.

fine 6s 8d
Also they present that Peter of Ashwell {5s}
and Richard Gandwynne {1s 8d} unjustly stopped up the stream of a certain water at Morden fen by force of arms with others unknown. Therefore they are in mercy.  And an order is made to put it right. Pledge Ball.

Finally the court turned to offences under the consumer protection or fair trading laws of the time. These take up quite a lot of the roll and were clearly very important; whether they were effective is another matter. For centuries before this kings of England had with varying degrees of success attempted to standardize measures and coinage. The ‘assize of bread’ limited the price of bread, depending on the price of wheat.  Ale was similarly controlled, and subject to test by the ale tasters; besides tasting it they would sit on the ale, and if their leathern breeches stuck to the bench that meant the sugar was not fully converted to alcohol and the ale unsatisfactory.
(Since neither the chemistry of this, nor the antiseptic properties of alcohol were understood at the time, it represents an interesting empirical discovery.) Fining the ale tasters for dereliction of duty after their year of free booze seems to have been a sort of traditional joke.

fine 10s 9d
Also they present that
Margaret the wife of John Gilberd {12d}
Matilda wife of John Godfrey {6d)
Matilda wife of William Wawehn (3d}
Agnes Faber {6d}
Christian wife of Roger Froste {3d}
Isabella le Caus {12d}
Roesia Edwynne {3d}
Matilda wife of William Halshide {12d}
Matilda Deynes {3d}
Margaret wife of William Edewynne {12d}
Alice wife of Richard Edewynne (6d}
Agnes wife of John Froste {6d}
Isabelle daughter of Robert Wyl_on {3d}
Matilda le Portch {3d} Pelicia Torold {3d}
Joan wife of William Mayner {6d}
Matilda wife of William Attechurche {6d}
Cecilia wife of Walter Madour {6d}
Alice Primerole {3d}
Agatha wife of Richard Ball {6d}
Agnes de __ {3d}
Robais [daughter?] of Geoffrey {3d} brewed and sold against the assize.
Therefore they are in mercy. And because they did not carry measures.

fine 12d
Also they present that Robert Ernald {6d}
and John South {6d} ale tasters did not perform their office. Therefore they are in mercy.

fine 2d 
Also they present that Alice Godhew regrated and sold {ale} against the assize. Therefore she is in mercy.

Regrating was buying and selling at the same market. It was illegal under a law intended to prevent monopolies or cornering of markets.

fine 3d
Also they present that Warin le Flesshewer sold meat against [damaged]..(Therefore he) is in mercy.

fine 6d
Also they present that John Eleyne {3d}
Matthew the Millward {3d} unjustly took…to be milled..

Were the fines paid? Since the scribe usually totals them up at the end of the court (illegibly in this instance) it is likely that the steward would have to account to his lord’s treasurer for the total sum, so perhaps the chief pledges had to pay up on the spot and recover their money as best they could.


* By 1327 in fact the duke had died; the right to hold view of frankpledge descended at first equally to his daughters as coheirs, and was then assigned to his daughter Elizabeth.



1381: Revolting Peasants


by Dr J Smith

In the Cambridge area the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was a very brief episode affecting only scattered places, but our corner of the county was one of them. The causes no doubt ran considerably deeper than the poll tax, though the latter was highly unpopular, and the assistant poll tax collector was on the Cambridge rioters’ wanted list; fortunately for him they did not find him. In Cambridge the revolt was one of the high spots in the "700 years war" between town and gown; one of the main points at issue was whether the university or the town court should have jurisdiction (and the right to keep the fines) over offences between members of the two communities. In fact the execution of the university bedell was one of the rioters’ demands, but he too managed to be not at home.

The Morden Hall riot

Most of the trouble occurred in a single weekend from Saturday 15th to Monday 17th of June. Much of it took the form of seizing and burning the charters, court rolls, and other documents which underpinned the landowning classes’ rights to exact boonworks, fines and taxes from the peasantry. There was plenty of violence against property, with looting and threats against individuals.  Strangely the local ringleaders were landed gentlemen. Chief amongst them was John Hanchach* of Shudy Camps. Historians have not divined his motives, and he was given little opportunity to explain them before his execution.

Shingay preceptory

Having seen the revolt well and  truly started in Cambridge a party rode to the Mordens on the 15th to attack Thomas Haselden’s manors. Amongst them were John Giboun* junior, burgess of Cambridge and owner of property in Yorkshire, who we are told carried a lance with a pennant, John Peper of Linton, and Geoffrey Cobbe of   -. Haselden was controller of the household to the highly unpopular John of Gaunt, and Steward of his manor of Bassingbourn; it is not clear whether he was otherwise personally unpopular, but it was probably as well for him that he too was away on his master’s business in Scotland when the mob called. His barns were plundered of crops, including 155 quarters of barley, and his house was pulled down, and presumably looted as well.  From Morden Hall the rioters went on to the plunder the Hospitallers’ preceptory of Shingay; the Hospitallers were especially out of favour because the Grand Prior of the order in England was Sir Robert Hales, Richard II’s Lord Treasurer and the man mainly responsible for the poll tax.

Put down by Henry Despenser

The speedy end to the revolt in Cambridgeshire was due largely to one man, Henry Despenser, Bishop of Norwich, described by Sir Charles Oman as clearly the best fighting man in the whole house of peers. He was outside his diocese near Stamford on the 14th, when he heard that Peterborough Abbey was under threat. He had with him his bodyguard, six lances and some archers, but he gathered reinforcements from the local gentry and stormed into action.

One  man beheaded…

By the 20th Hanchach had been beheaded in the market place, Cobbe was a prisoner, and the bishop was setting out for his own territory, having restored order in Peterborough, Ramsey, and Cambridge. The king’s justice of assize followed, and sat from August 1st.

…one hanged

John Giboun denied any offence, though he admitted being in the fields of Morden, but John Giboun senior gave evidence against him and he was hanged. Cobbe’s case was put back for five years (in effect keeping him in prison). Peper had succeeded in making himself scarce; the sheriff was ordered to arrest him but said he was not in the county and had already been outlawed.
There were very few cases of execution or outlawry however. A general pardon (not applicable to offences in Cambridge) followed in November, and Cobbe and Peper were pardoned.

Morden Hall rebuilt

Morden Hall was rebuilt probably quite soon afterwards by the Haseldens. It is said to contain some features which appear to have been part of the earlier house, but it is not open to the public.

* The  names of the two executed were sometimes rendered Hauchach and Gibonn respectively. The lower case letters u and n are generally indistinguishable in the script of the period, and this is a case where even professional historians have found difficulty.


© The Copyright for the articles on this page belongs to the author, Dr Jack Smith.