St Mary’s Church – Vicars 1602-1798

Read about Vicars before 1602

John Sprint (or Sprynt) Vicar of Thornbury 1602-1624.  John was the son of another John Sprint who was amongst other things Vicar of Berkeley and in his later years Treasurer of Sarum (otherwise Salisbury) Cathedral.  The Dictionary of National Biography says that the younger John was probably born near Bristol.  However a court case of 29th March 1609/10 between Thomas Hill and Elizabeth and John Pearce says that by 1609/10 the deponent John Sprint, vicar of Thornbury had lived there seven years, having been born in Winchester Hants.  In 1610 he was 35 years old.

This would mean that Rev Sprint of Thornbury would have been born in Winchester some time about 1574/75.  We note that there was the baptism of a child called “John Sprinte” at Saint Swithun Over Kingsgate in Winchester on 4th December 1573.

John Sprint was a student of Christ Church and graduated with a B.A. in 1595-6.  He was awarded his M.A. in 1599.

The archives of Christ Church College Oxford (which holds the living of Thornbury) include a letter dated 18th May 1613 from a Thomas Tyndale to Dr Thornton.  The letter was written in very strong terms and began with “yr colege hath been wronged.”  It explains that Tyndale had compelled William Gwatkin, the then tenant of the Rectory to give up some “writings.”  The subject of the writings is never made clear but although Gwatkins can apparently be excused from having such papers he cannot be excused from holding on to them.  Tyndale seems to feel that this could be in contempt of the Chancellor.  The letter refers to Gwatkins’s “malice and shifting” and to his “trifling shiftings” that “will bring more damage and danger than he hath yet forseen.”  The matter is obviously very serious indeed and we can only infer the subject of these writings from his reminder that Christ Church College has put the care “of Thornburies soules upon the shoulders of Mr Sprinte” and they should “carefully provide that nothing bee taught in doctrine or acted in discipline contrarie to the Lawes of thice realm.”

This letter is interesting because The Dictionary of National Biography says that John Sprinte had attached himself to the puritan party and was a critic of the ceremonies of the Anglican Church.  It seems that he was called to account for this by John Howson the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and he was imprisoned.  The same source says that John Sprinte continued to hold these views but was persuaded to conform by Samuel Burton Archdeacon of Gloucester.

This may be the reason why he published “Cassander Anglicanus: shewing the necessity of conformitie to the prescribed Ceremonies of our Church in Case of Deprivation” in 1618.  The title does not seem to suggest that Sprint had become entirely reconciled to the Anglican rites.  It was later published together with two other articles on the subject, we understand that these argue that the rites were non-essential but no minister of the church is justified in abandoning his ministry simply because he is obliged to perform them.

Presumably John was married about the time he came to Thornbury, although we have found no record of his marriage at present.  He was certainly married by about 1603 as the records of St Mary’s Church in Thornbury show that on 7th April 1604 a child called John Sprint who was the son of John Sprint Vicar of Thornbury was buried.  Another son of that name was baptised on 22nd January 1605.  We have the record relating to Elizabeth Sprint who died in 1607.  This may have been the daughter of John Sprint but we have no confirmation of that.  There is also the baptism of Constance Sprint on 27th March 1608.  Constance and another daughter Sara were mentioned in the will of John Sprint.  Other children mentioned in his will were Zachary, Samuel and someone who may have been called Mark.

In 1609 and 1618 the Rev John Sprint was involved in a legal case concerning tithes payable in Thornbury by William Bower and John Leister respectively.  We know that he was one of the trustees of the Sir John Stafford alms houses in St Mary Street, Thornbury in 1620.

He died about 1623/4.  His will that was proved on 16th July 1624 appointed his wife Elizabeth the executor and allowed her the lease of a property in Rockhampton for her life time.  However the disputes about the tithes payable to him seemed to continue after his death.  Gloucester Records Office has three records of Elizabeth Sprint being involving in legal disputes over the payment of tithes in Thornbury and these are dated between 1623 and 1626.

One of John and Elizabeth’s sons, also called John, was a student of Pembroke College and also became a clergyman.  He had a more difficult time later in his career in the church.  He was a Dissenter and having been ejected in 1662 from Hampstead in Middlesex where he had served 29 years and from Tewkesbury, he was pastor to a dissenting congregation in Andover until his death.

Another son Samuel had a stormy career as an Anglican Vicar and was ejected from the living of South Tidworth in Hampshire.

William Maxey (or Maxie) was Vicar of Thornbury 1624 – 1657.  We also note that the Clergy of the Church of England Database calls him “Gulielmus Mavey.”

We understand that he was born in Surrey about 1580.  He matriculated to Christ Church Oxford in February 1599-1600 aged 19.  He graduated at BA in December 1603.  He was awarded MA in 1606 and BD in 1617.  He became Rector of Frome St Quintin in Dorset in 1617 and of Blyborough the same year.

By 1630 he was mentioned as Vicar of Thornbury in the will of Richard Attwell and was one of the people to be given a pair of black gloves worth three shillings and fourpence a pair for his (Attwells) funeral.  We note that the Clergy of the Church of England Database says that he was noted as being “absent, reserved to next feast of St Bartholomew” in 1635.

William Maxie (sic) was involved in a legal case concerning the payment of tithes payable by John Oliffe in 1637.  In 1648 the will of William Edwards appointed the Rev Maxey one of his trustees in the charitable trust for Thornbury Grammar School.

We have his will dated 1657 in which he makes bequests to his sisters and their families and leaves 40 shillings to the poor of Thornbury to be distributed on the day of his burial.  The will was proved in London on 2nd October 1657.  We assume that he died in office in Thornbury.

Guy Lawrence was Vicar of Thornbury from 1657 -1701.  The Alumni Oxonienses has little information about Guy Lawrence. It seems he was the son of a gentleman and matriculated to Oxford in November 1651.  He graduated with BA in February 1654-5 and was awarded MA in 1657.  We also know from the Clergy of the Church of England Database that Guy was also a Curate of Oldbury on Severn.  The same database also says that by 1697 Samuel Lawrence was a curate at Oldbury on Severn.  We believe that this was a son of Guy (see below).

The archives of Christ Church College Oxford have a series of letters from Guy Lawrence to the College concerning the Rectory of Thornbury which Christ Church College leased to tenants at that time.  The tone of these letters is very striking today.  Even compared to the other letters of that time in the same file those of Guy Lawrence show unusual respect to the College and the representatives of the College.  The first letter begins

I have often esteemed it my duty out of that grate respect I owe and bear to that college where I received my Education and from which I had my presentation”.

The second letter is in a similar vein and was written “out of respect to that society wherein I received my education and from which I received the vicararidge of Thornbury”.

This theme is repeated again and again.  It is not clear whether Guy Lawrence is especially polite or whether there is another motive.  The letters are mainly about the “ruinous state” of the Rectory of Thornbury during that period.  The first letter on the subject from him seems to be 1685 and so some 28 years after he became vicar.  Mr Lawrence might be being ingratiating because he felt he had been remiss in not mentioning the problems before the College’s Steward John Cox had visited Thornbury to inspect the Rectory in person.  It is also possible that Guy Lawrence felt insecure in his post of vicar because he had been appointed whilst Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector and by the 1680s the political and religious climate had changed.  It could simply be that as it was implied later (see below) that Guy Lawrence wanted to please everyone.

Later correspondence from the tenant of the rectory, John Morse and John Brooks of Christ Church Oxford concerns the Modus that was drawn up of the parish of Thornbury during the time that Guy Lawrence was vicar.  This Modus led to many disputes about the tithes to be paid.  These disputes were settled in a case undertaken by Mr Jenkins acting for the Rev Willis by the legal opinion of the Lord Chief Justice.  A document in the case says that Guy Lawrence was presented to the living during the “usurpation of Oliver Cromwell” and he had the good luck to remain as vicar until his death in 1701.  The document was dated 17th July 1731 and so reflects the orthodox Anglican attitudes of that time.  It claimed that as Guy Lawrence was a Nonconformist he had little regard for the rights of the church and being a “weak easy man” made the terrier of 1696 with about 40 of his parishioners.  In this terrier (or so this document claims) those who were friends of the vicar were favoured and small sums of money were set down for them to be paid.  These low valuations were said to be the custom “time out of mind” in the modus whereas this was not actually the case.  The Rev William Forbes was even more forthright in his complaint of 9th November 1749 about the weakness of Guy Lawrence.  This says that the terrier of 1696 should be waived as it as it had been made by Guy Lawrence “who obtruded himself into the vicarage during the usurpation of Oliver Cromwell without presentation, was content with what the parishioners gave him, was related to many of them and was an old man at the time it was made.  The Dean and Chapter defended the late Guy Lawrence, who had after all been a student of Christ Church and was presented by the College to the parish of Thornbury.

Letters dated 1687 in the archives of Christ Church College Oxford make references to the fact that Guy is trying to bring his two sons up to the College where he himself was a student.  Something seems to be hindering this journey, perhaps Guy is too busy with parish affairs.  However he must have taken them there the following year.  Alumni Oxonienses says it seems likely that Guy was the father of two students at Oxford who were known to be brothers.  The older of these was Guy who was born in Thornbury and baptised there on 13th September 1670 and matriculated to Christ Church on 14th July 1688, being awarded MA in 1693.  Guy died 12th March 1700/1 and was buried on March 20th.  He is mentioned on the memorial to his father.  The other was Samuel born about 1672 who also matriculated to Christ Church in July 1688, graduated in 1692 and was awarded MA in 1698.  Samuel eventually became Vicar of Stonehouse in 1723.

The memorial to Guy Lawrence in St Mary’s Church in Thornbury says “here lieth the body of the Rev Mr Guy Lawrence A.M. who was some time student of Christ Church Oxon and Vicar of the parish 42 years. Obiit May 20th 1701.”  His wife Mary who also died in Thornbury was buried on 26th July 1706.

Of his children we know that ;

  • Hester was baptised in Thornbury on 16th September 1663,
  • Ellian was baptised in Thornbury on 9th November 1664,
  • Margrett on 13th March 1665,
  • William was baptised in Thornbury on 18th December 1667
  • Mary was baptised 10th November 1672.
  • Guy and Samuel.  Alumni Oxoniensis also indicates that two of Guy’s sons Guy and Samuel probably matriculated to Oxford in July 1688.  Samuel was the curate of Oldbury on Severn.  He was aducted deacon October 16th 1697 and priest on October 15th 1698.
    He became Rector of Lassington in Gloucestershire in 1709 and vicar of Stonehouse in 1723.

Ralph Grove Vicar of Thornbury 1701-1728.  He was born December 1673 in St Clement Dane in Middlesex.  He was the son of William Grove of London.  We are indebted to the Alumni Oxonienses website for further details of his education.  It seems that Ralph may have attended Merchant Taylors’ School in 1686.  He was a student of Christ Church College Oxford from 28th June 1693.  He was awarded his B.A. in 1697 and his M.A. in 1700.  He became Vicar of Thornbury in 1701.  He married Mary Glover at Hill on 2nd March 1704.  Mary was the daughter of Joseph Glover who was an apothecary in Thornbury.  Read about the Glover family

Their first child was William Grove who was baptised on 5th April 1706.  A daughter Mary was baptised on 8th May 1707 but sadly she died less than a year later on 25th April 1708.  She was buried at St Mary’s Church.  A second daughter called Mary (baptised on 19th January 1709) seems to have survived.  Joseph Grove, named presumably after his apothecary grandfather was baptised in July 1710 but was buried the next month on 31st August.  Martha Grove was not born until 11th October 1717, over seven years later.  Two Anns were born; the first baptised 16th January 1720.  We do not know when the second Ann was born but both appear to have died as the memorial to Ralph Grove in St Mary’s Church mentions two daughters called Ann, both of whom died young.

We have evidence in the documents held by Christ Church College that Ralph Grove experienced some difficulties in collecting the tithes that appear to be due from certain parishioners.  A copy of the Bill of Complaint made by him in 1705 shows that as vicar he claimed all tithe hay in the parish or a composition in lieu.  It seems that he had not received tithes to the value of £30 to £40 per annum from Mary Jennings, widow, Nathaniel Adams, Thomas Collins, Charles Morgan als Williams and Edward Bartlett.  These persons claimed that their land was formerly park and so exempt, from tithes, and though now “disparked” and worth £6O0 or £7OO a year it was for ever exempt, having once been so.  Ralph Grove requested evidence of exemption be produced and details of produce.  Sadly at this time we do not know the outcome of this dispute.

Ralph died on September 29th 1728 aged 54 years.  Mary died September 19th 1733 aged 50 years.  Their son William became an apothecary and died January 3rd 1749 aged 41 years and was buried with the rest of the family.  Read about William Grove and his family

Thomas Willis was Vicar of Thornbury 1728-1748.  He was grandson to William Beaw, Lord Bishop of Llandaff.  He married Ann Walker the granddaughter of Thomas Lushington of Sittingbourne in Kent and the daughter of George Walker and his wife Ann (nee Lushington).  Thomas and Ann Willis had three sons.  Sadly they all died young.  We know of the burials of two of them.  Thomas Willis junior was buried 13th May 1730.  A second son called Thomas Willis was buried 25th January 1736.  A memorial stone inside the church was recorded by Bigland and it is still visible today.

The Rev Thomas Willis died 26th June 1748 aged 50 and was buried on 28th June at Thornbury.  His will was proved on 4th August 1748.  It is held at Kew reference PROB 11/764/52. Ann, his widow was buried on 4th March 1755 aged 52 years.

William Forbes was Vicar of Thornbury 1748 – 1761.  We are grateful to “The Scottish Nation – Or The Historical And Genealogical Account of All Scottish Families And Surnames” by James McVeigh for the information that William was the elder son of William Forbes (the heir to the Forbes family of Tolquhoun) and his wife Anne, the daughter and heiress of John Leith of Whitehaugh.  His parents William (who died 1728) and Ann Forbes (who died 1738) are buried in the North Transept of Westminster Abbey.

William appears to have entered Christ Church College Oxford in June 1730 aged 19 and also known as “Williamson”.  He graduated with a B.A. in 1734 and became M.A. in 1737.

William Forbes became vicar of Thornbury on 21st October 1748 and by 15th May 1749 he was already writing complaints to the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church about the non payment of tithes.  He named certain landowners who were refusing to pay.  He also said that that the lessee of the parsonage had been getting the tithes of peas and hay from most of the parish except the small amount that Ralph Grove had been able to claim back.

The Bulletin of the Society of Thornbury Folk dated June 1953 says that the Rev Forbes may have had problems with his clerk.  It says that the registers says “1751 Nov 22nd I appointed Thomas Lucas to serve the Office of Clerk to this Parish in room of Richard Champneys removed by William Forbes, vicar. ”  The next entry reads “1754 March 27.  I appointed Andrew Whitfield to serve the Office of Clerk to this Parish in room of Thomas Lucas removed by me for ill behaviour.”

The Rev William Forbes died in September 1761 without issue and was succeeded to the family estate by his younger brother who, as the heir of his mother (the granddaughter of 11th Lord Forbes) took the additional surname of Leith.  Sadly we have no further information or indeed confirmation of this account.  However we do know that there was a legal dispute in the Court of Chancery concerning the tithes to be paid while William Forbes was the vicar of Thornbury.

William Holwell was Vicar of Thornbury 1762-1798.  He was the son of William Holwell of Exeter and his wife Anne the second daughter of Offspring Blackall Bishop of Exeter.  He was baptised on 11th May 1726 at Exeter Cathedral.  The Dictionary of National Biography says that his mother was born Ann Blackall daughter of Offspring Blackall.

William matriculated at Christ Church Oxford in 1741 aged 15.  He graduated in 1745 and M.A. in 1748.  He became a Bachelor of Divinity in 1760.  He was a tutor to Lord Beauchamp (later the second Marquis of Hertford).

He was a prebendary of Exeter and some records indicate that he was at one time a chaplain to King George III.  According to Wikipedia, a prebendary is a post connected to an Anglican or Catholic cathedral or collegiate church and is a type of canon.  Prebendaries have a role in the administration of the cathedral.  A prebend is a type of benefice which was usually drawn from specific sources in the income from the cathedral estates.  When attending cathedral services, prebendaries sit in particular seats, usually at the back of the choir stalls.

William was appointed on 11th January 1762.  According to the Society of Thornbury Folk (June 1953) on 30th April 1763 Holwell wrote “I am just now in one of the pleasantest spots in the Kingdom with ye worst Parsonage House.  My curate lives in it and I board.  If therefore you come this way, you shall meet indeed with a most hearty welcome but I will not promise for the entertainment.”

His wife was Martha Thurston whom he married at St Mary Redcliffe on 3rd June 1771.  Martha was the daughter of Hugh Thurston.  William and Martha’s daughter Charlotte Eleanora Holwell was born at 3.40pm on 30th June 1772 and baptised in Thornbury.  Their second child and first son was born 12th March 1774 and named Edward Offspring Holwell.

William Holwell appears to have been an historian and academic.  He published his translations of extracts from the Iliad as well as a dictionary (” A Mythological Etymological and Historical Dictionary”) that was “extracted from the analysis of ancient mythology.”

We have a somewhat unfavourable account of the Rev Holwell and his vicarage in the Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford.

“I saw a paltry house that I took for the sexton’s, at the corner of the close, and bade my servant ring, and ask who could show me the Castle.  A voice in a passion flew, from a casement, and issued from a divine.  “What! was it his business to show the Castle? — Go look for somebody else!  What did the fellow ring for as if the house was on fire?”  The poor Swiss came back in a fright, and said, the doctor had sworn at him.  Well—­we scrambled over a stone stile, saw a room or two glazed near the gate, and rung at it. A damsel came forth and satisfied our curiosity.  When we had done seeing, I said, “Child, we don’t know our Way, and want to be directed into the London road; I see the Duke’s steward yonder at the window, pray desire him to come to me, that I may consult him.”  She went—­he stood staring at us at the window, and sent his footman.  I do not think courtesy is a resident at Thornbury.  As I returned through the close, the divine came running, out of breath, and without his beaver or band, and calls out, “Sir, I am come to justify myself: your servant says I swore at him: I am no swearer—­Lord bless me!  (dropping his voice) it is Mr. Walpole!”  “Yes, Sir, and I think you was Lord Beauchamp’s tutor at Oxford, but I have forgot your name.”  “Holwell, Sir.”  “Oh! yes.” and then I comforted him, and laid the ill-breeding on my footman’s being a foreigner; but could not help saying, I really had taken his house for the sexton’s. “ Yes, Sir, it is not very good without, won’t you please to walk in!” I did, and found the inside ten times worse, and He was making an Index to Homer, a lean wife, suckling a child.  He is going to publish the chief beauties, and I believe had just been reading some of the delicate civilities that pass between Agamemnon and Achilles, and that what my servant took for oaths, were only Greek compliments.”

On June 26th 1767 Rev Holwell wrote to the Duke of Norfolk with a complaint.

My Lord Duke, I am extremely sorry that I find myself obliged to bother your Grace by letter upon the most disagreeable of subjects that of complaint.  I proposed, had I found your Grace in Town in September, my month of waiting upon the King, to have paid my respects to your Grace, and acquainted you in person with things, as (I apprehend) of importance to your Grace to know.

The delicate matter William Holwell was introducing was the problem of sewage and its disposal

There is directly before the Parochial Church, and close adjoining to my dwelling house, a most insufferable nuisance which has been long a real subject of complaints and which is daily increasing by unusual, and, as I apprehend, illegal encroachment.  Your Grace’s Steward, Mr James Vaughan, who seems by his conduct to set every thing and person at defiance, has made the Church Way, and the King’s Highway, and part of the Green before the Church, the Common Receptacle of all the Filth of the Town.  Ancient water courses (contrary to express laws) have been stopped up, which used either to receive part of the washings, or decently to carry off the remainder into one of your Grace’s grounds, called the Pitties. Thus the King’s Highway is destroyed, and the Church insulted; my house is become offensive and the whole Parish scandalized by an instance not to be paralleled in this Kingdom. The Filth thus collected, and after some months offensive continuance, dug out, and laid in heaps by the Church and before my windows, is disposed of to cover the grounds rented by your Grace’s Steward.

We are unable to say whether the matter was resolved to the relief of all concerned but a proper sewage system was not installed in Thornbury until the mid 1930s.

William Holwell died on 13th February 1798 aged 72 and was buried in Thornbury on 17th February 1798.  The will of Rev William Holwell Bachelor of Divinity, Prebendary of Exeter and Vicar of Thornbury was proved on 26th July 1798.

Charlotte Eleanor the daughter of William and Anne Holwell married a widower Lawrence Short from Ashover in Derbyshire on 30th April 1801.  Their son Edward Offspring Holwell followed his father’s profession and he became Rector of Plymtree.  There are monuments to his wife Isabella and two of their daughters in Exeter Cathedral.

It is possible that there was an “interregnum” at this period.  According to a bulletin of the Society of Thornbury Folk in June 1953, William Llewellyn the curate may have conducted services from 1798 until 1803.  We cannot comment on this but the parish records clearly show that Richard Slade was appointed as Rector on 28th July 1798 but we have noted that the births in the parish register were recorded by Mr Llewellyn until at least 1803.  In these registers Llewellyn was described as ‘the curate’.

Read about Vicars 1798-1899