Monday 28 February 2022

Old Days of Eton Parish - CHAPTER IV - The 200 years Before The College was founded


IT appears that in the reigns of Henry III. and Edward I. (1216-1307) the Abbey of Reading held property in both Windsor and Eton, but there is no evidence of the monks being employed in Eton.

 A solitary relic of their presence is the Abbot's pile,' a wooden pile at the head of an eyot near Tangier Mill. This still forms the boundary-mark of the right of fishery belonging to the borough of Windsor.

Sometime before 1239, the close connection with the Priory of Merton came to an end; and the patronage passed into private hands. In that year Thomas de Lacel resigned the living and Hugo de Hoddeg, a sub-deacon, was presented for the vacant post by Hugo de Hoddeg, a soldier. After some delay owing to the defect in his qualifications, he was instituted1 and is designated Rector as holding all the tithes.

The next recorded Rector was Thomas Holte, presented to the living by the family of Huntercombe in 1299 and holding it till his death.

 A list of the Rectors who succeeded him, until the foundation of the College, will be found in Appendix I.

There were no less than seventeen during this period. From the frequent mention of exchange or resignation, it was evidently not considered a very eligible piece of preferment.2

In 1288, the tenth of all ecclesiastical Benefices in England was granted to King Edward I. towards his expensive wars and expeditions. In order to carry out this taxation, a general assessment was made. The living of Eton, then, and until 1847, in the Diocese of Lincoln,3 is mentioned as taxed at £10 13s. 4d. in the money of the time. In the same return Clifware or Clewer was assessed at £10, Upton at £13 6s. 8d., Stoke at £10, and Dorney at £6 13s. 4d.

Probably in the same reign, stables for the King's horses were built in Eton. Hence the name King's Stable Street, where, as a map in the Woods and Forests Office shows, the Crown had house property, till the middle of the eighteenth century, known as the King's Stables. In 1319 King Edward II. granted to Oliver de Bourdeaux, the keeper of the castle and forest, his lands in Eton. Soon after he also gave him all hereditaments in Windsor and Eton which had belonged to John of London and Roger de Mowbray, on condition of his finding a man with a lance and a dart to attend the King's army.

In the fifteenth year of King Edward IIl. (1341) (just I00 years before the College was founded), a ninth part of the corn, wood, lambs' fleeces, and other profits was granted by Parliament to the King to meet the expenses of a war with France. In the assessment then made, the duties for Eton Parish were set down at fourteen marks; those for Old and New Windsor together amounted to twenty marks. The return for Eton is supposed to have been less than the full amount, as thirty acres of arable land and six acres of pasture were exempted from the tax as being Church property. In 1360, William of Wykeham, afterwards founder of Winchester College, was engaged on works at Windsor Castle, and his name appears in a commission appointed by the King to dispose of certain tenements and lands Belonging to the Crown, including unnecessary houses in Windsor, Eton and Upton.

Among the private owners of lands, mention is made of one Thomas atte Wyk de Etone (Thomas of Eton Wick) who held one virgate4 of land at Ditton, on behalf of the Abbess and Convent of Burnham.

The Brocas family was well known in the reigns of Edward II. and III. They fought on the Lancastrian side in the War of the Roses. For centuries they were hereditary masters of the Royal Buckhounds. Sir John de Brocas was chief forester of Windsor Forest and Warden of Windsor Hospital in 1351 and was entrusted with the work of enlarging the Castle. He acquired land in Windsor, Clewer and Eton.

A descendant of his, son of Sir Bernard Brocas who was beheaded in the beginning of Henry IV.'s reign, served the two following Kings, and received, among other rewards, what is known as Brocas Meadow. According to a local tradition this meadow was given to the town of Eton by a Lady Brocas, but for more than a century past the College has claimed the right of grazing cattle there.

In 1391 an incident occurred which brings Eton into notice, and doubtless caused some little stir in the town.

The citizens of London had caused the displeasure of the King by refusing to lend him a thousand pounds and also by ill-treating and nearly killing a Lombard who was willing to advance it. In consequence of this, the Mayor of London, the Sheriffs, and the best citizens were arrested and imprisoned. After a time, the Chronicler tells us, "the King was somewhat pacified and by little and little abated the rigour of his purpose, and determined to deal more mildly with them," and so sent orders that they should come to Windsor, " there to shew their privileges, liberties, and laws."

Whether it was that the town of Windsor was still so small, or that it was ill provided with a suitable place of meeting, must remain uncertain; but the inquiry took place at Eton, on the feast of St. Mary Magdalen, before Edmund Duke of York, Thomas Duke of Gloucester, and others. The commission decided that the City of London should be governed in future by a Warden, two Sheriffs and twenty-four Aldermen.

This decision was communicated to the offending parties by the King at a Council held in the Castle, and new officers were appointed.

This is the last incident recorded before the foundation of the College, which, so far as it affected the town and the parishioners generally, must now engage our attention.

For further particulars about the College, our readers must consult the many interesting books already published on the subject.5

1 Lincoln Episcopal Register—Bishop Grey.

2 It is possible that the Priory of Merton in parting with the advowson had kept its grip on most of the Church property.

3 The Diocese of Dorchester was now known as the Diocese of Lincoln, the Bishop having again settled in the latter city; as many ten counties were at this date under his care.

4 A virgate is a measure of land varying from 15 to 40 acres.

5 Especially Sir H. Maxwell-Lyte's Eton College and Willis and Clark's Architectural History of Cambridge, from which the present writer has drawn most of the information about the Chapel.

OLD DAYS OF ETON PARISH by The Rev. John Shephard, M.A. was published in 1908 by Spottiswoode and Co Ltd. The text is has been copied from the original book that is now out of copyright.

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