The Bathford Society

History - St Swithuns

Early History of the Church in Bathford

There is evidence of the existence of a church at Bathford before the Norman conquest but the earliest known documentary evidence of its existence is a reference in 1140 by Archbishop Theobald to 'the church at Forde'. At a date between 1173 and 1191 Reginald Fitz-Jocelin, bishop of Bath, set apart the revenues of the church at Forde for the maintenance of the priory at Bath. The church is believed to have been dedicated to St Swithun in 1323.

St Swithun - Bishop of Winchester

Saint Swithun (800 to 862) was noted for his wisdom, piety and care of the poor but he became one of the most powerful Bishops in Saxon England. He was spiritual adviser to King Egbert and tutor to his son, Ethelwulf, who succeeded him. St. Swithun was made bishop of Winchester in 852. On his death in 862, at his wish, he was buried outside the old cathedral so that the rain and the feet of parishioners would fall on him. Ten years later his remains were moved inside the cathedral. When the new Norman cathedral was built his remains were moved there in 1093.

Rectory of St Swithun

From 1391 the monastery holding the rectorial rights was responsible for care of the poor until the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII (1536-9). Thereafter responsibility lay with the parish, and Overseers of the Poor were appointed by the vestry. Responsibility passed from the Overseers to the Guardians of the Poor in the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. Responsibility for maintaining the church fabric was divided. The rector or monastery was responsible for the upkeep of the chancel, the rectory and provision of vestments and service books. The parishioners were responsible for the rest of the building and church yard. Where monastery lands transferred to lay people after the Dissolution of the Monasteries the new owner became the lay rector and thus acquired responsibility for upkeep of the chancel.

When a parish such as St Swithuns had been appropriated by a monastery, the "great" tithes, which were one tenth of the crops of grain, hay and timber etc. were paid to the head of the monastic order ie. its Rector and the parish was a "Rectory". The monastery assigned a vicar to provide pastoral care on its behalf and the vicar was due a "lesser" tithe which was one tenth of other produce from the land such as non-cereal crops, fruit and livestock from the area for which he was resposible, which was the "Vicarage".

Vicarage of St Swithun

It is not known when Bathford first became a Vicarage. The earliest reference so far discovered of a Vicarage at Forde is in the Bath Chartulary among manuscripts preserved at Lincoln's Inn. This records the presentation of William, the chaplain, to the vicarage of Forde, which John the chaplain had resigned in c. 1200. When Pope Nicholas IV gave Edward I powers to make an assessment of the wealth of the Church, the survey, started in 1288 and completed in 1291, showed that of 11 benefices in the deanery of Bath, only Bathford was recorded as a vicarage. Bathampton, Bathwick and Corston were confirmed as vicarages some 30 years later.

During the Black Death, which raged through the winter and early summer of 1348 and 1349, the parishes of Bathford, Batheaston and Bathampton all lost their vicars and the man appointed to Batheaston died within four weeks. In the mid-17th century at the end of the Civil War, the livings of Bathford and Bathampton were deemed insufficient to support two vicars, and from 1663 until 1854, except for short periods around 1765, one vicar served both parishes. Click on the Vicars of St Swithuns for names and dates.

Source: Bathford Past and Present

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