SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: A document from the church archive, which dates back to the 16th Century, provides a vital insight into society 500 years ago, as DAVID MORGAN explains
Nearly 500 years ago, the curate at Croydon Parish Church, John Goodwyn, sat down to write out a list.
It was March 19, 1549, and Goodwyn was compiling an inventory of the goods inside the church. Goodwyn had to produce the list for the commissioners appointed by the king, Edward VI. What Goodwyn wrote down for them provides a vital snapshot for us of the church and life in Croydon in Tudor times.
A new Protestant era was beginning under Edward, the boy king, but most of the items on the list reflect back to a time of Catholic rites in the years before Edward’s father, Henry VIII split from Rome.
The Goodwyn inventory contained some interesting facts.
There were just two books in the church.
One was a copy of The Bible, of course, most likely the 1539 Great Bible of Henry VIII, in English.
The other was a copy of Erasmus’ Paraphrases, a set of Gospels, Acts and Epistles of the New Testament, also translated into English. The Erasmus book was a personal favourite of Archbishop Cranmer, so in 1547 Edward VI directed that all churches should have a copy of it, making it the first item to appear on the Croydon church inventory which reflected the new Protestantism.
The church would have needed a large storage box in which to keep all the altar cloths which they possessed in 1549. Several of these had been donated by benefactors. It is fascinating to discover the sort of material they were made from and who donated them.
“Two altar clothes for the high altar of damask and satin, the gift of the French Queen,” Goodwyn’s list states.
“A rich cloth for the high altar of the Passion of Christ set with pearls and with needlework, a gift of Mistress Morely.”
“Another rich cloth for the high altar, made of crimson velvet and cloth of tissue, a gift of Mistress Redinge.”
“Two altar clothes made of green sarsnet, embroidered with flowers, the gift of Elys Davey.”
Not many churches of the day could boast such gifts. All the materials used to make these altar cloths will have been of high quality. Sarsnet was a soft silk fabric, crimson velvet would have been pieces of velvet woven onto a damask base to create an intricate pattern, while cloth of tissue is threads of gold or silver woven together.
Nothing remains of these artefacts today, and there is no record to say how or when they were disposed of. Even after the cloth had become worn and thin, one might have hoped that even a small square of material might have been kept carefully to be passed down through later generations.
The benefactors who donated their gifts to the church were wealthy individuals. The French Queen was Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister, who was the third wife of King Louis XII of France, marrying him in October 1514. Louis was 30 years older than Mary and his poor health meant he died just three months after the wedding.
Against her brother’s wishes, Mary then married Charles Brandon, the first Duke of Suffolk. Mary died in 1533, aged 37. She would have had fond memories of Croydon from when she was a child, spending time in the Archbishop’s Palace.
That Elys Davey (known these days as Elis David) was among the donors on the list is interesting. It isn’t surprising that he had given such a gift to the church. He had, after all, opened the first Croydon Almshouses in 1447. He had, though, been dead for almost 100 years when Goodwyn compiled his list, so it raises the question of how long would such cloths be in use before they were deemed surplus to requirements. They must have been looked after well to last all that time.
Mistress Redinge and her late husband John were part of Henry VII’s household. She carried out many duties as a “gentlewoman”. Both she and her husband were buried in Croydon Church.
The list of vestments, the ceremonial garments worn by a priest, that Goodwyn counted, also included gifts from Mistress Redinge and “Elis Davy” – Goodwyn’s spelling was not entirely consistent.
“A whole suite of vestments priest, deacon and subdeacon, of satin, embroidered with letters of gold, with albs, a gift from Mistress Redinge.” Albs were full-length white tunics.
“A cope of the same given by Mistress Redinge, embroidered with gold.” A cope was a cloak.
“A whole suite of vestments with a cope, for priest, deacon and sub-deacon, a gift of Lord Moreton.”
“A suite of vestments with 3 copes of green velvet for priest, deacon and sub-deacon, the gift of Elis Davy.”
“Lord Moreton” was, most probably, Sir Robert Morton of Bensham or Whitehorse Manor. He was the nephew of Cardinal John Morton, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1486 to 1500. Robert was a squire to Henry VIII. He married Jane, eldest daughter of Nicholas Warham, the brother of Archbishop Warham and the niece of Hugh Warham, of Haling Manor.
Hugh Warham’s tomb can be still seen in the Nicholas Chapel in the church today, having survived the fire of 1867. Sir Robert Morton died in 1514 and was buried with his wife in the choir of the church.
The list of church plate – the chalices and vessels associated with the Eucharist – are equally revealing of church practices at the time, as well as identifying another benefactor.
“A cup of silver and gilt to bear the sacrament in, the gift of William Warr.”
“A chalice with the patten clean gilt with a hand graven upon the patten.”
“Another chalice parcel gilt with a cross in the foot and the pattern there has Saint Michael in the middle.”
Five chalices were listed in all. The most likely background of William Warr, who presented one of them to the church, was that he was the grandson of Sir Robert Morton.
Baptised William West, he eventually became Baron de la Warr, a somewhat colourful character. At the time of the inventory, William was being disinherited by Act of Parliament for trying to poison his uncle Lord de la Warr, who had adopted him as his heir in 1548. He was placed in the Tower of London to await trial.
The chalice would have been a recent gift, as William was only about 20 at this time.
Perhaps he thought the gift would bring a little divine help? Maybe it did, as Warr was released from the Tower and by the time of his uncle’s death in 1554, had been reinstated as his heir.
The description of the chalices and the elaborate nature of their designs reflected the Catholic traditions. None of these items has survived the long arm of history.
Included in the inventory were “5 bells and a little sanctus bell”. Croydon bellringers would have been needed back in 1549. The sanctus bell was rung by the priest at the consecration of the Eucharist.
Croydon Minster is known today for its musical excellence. BBC Radio 3 is returning to broadcast from the church early in 2024. Back in 1549, Goodwyn’s list informs us that the church had two organs. There is no indication of where either of them was positioned.
With the visits of Archbishops and with members of the Royal Court and their households attending Croydon Church, the music in the services would have been of very high quality.
There is one item on that Tudor list that is, remarkably, still in the church and used during services today. Described back then as “a deske of latten”, we use the term lectern.
The eagle-shaped lectern was made in the Meuse Valley region of Belgium, of brass or latte, the difference in description being purely linguistic. The fulcrum on the underside of the eagle’s tongue allowed parishioners to place a coin in the beak and the tongue would flip back taking the coin down into the body of the bird.
Long before the days of town councils, it was the church to whom people paid tax. The Hearth Tax, or “Peter’s Pence” as it was known, was often paid this way in Croydon.
But John Goodwyn’s list, having survived for nearly 500 years, has become a priceless source of evidence for historians.
- David Morgan, pictured right, is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers tours or illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups
If you would like a group tour of Croydon Minster or want to book a school visit, then ring the Minster Office on 020 8688 8104 or go to the website on www.croydonminster.org and use the contact page
Other recent articles by David Morgan:
- Victorians’ favourite artist for capturing lines of Classic winners
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- 80 years on the stage – taking Croydon from the Blitz to Narnia
- The chimney sweep to Queen Victoria and ancestor to a star
- The church fire that consumed a thousand years of history
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