Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 5, Bath and Wells Diocese. Originally published by Institute of Historical Research, London, 1979.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The Reformation brought changes of various kinds to Wells cathedral. With the dissolution of Bath abbey, Wells became the sole cathedral church of the diocese of Bath and Wells. (fn. 1) The Dissolution also resulted in the disappearance of the prebends attached to religious houses, namely Carhampton, Cleeve, Ilminster, Long Sutton and Pilton. In 1547, the prebend of Wedmore I was surrendered to the Crown with the deanery to which it was formerly annexed. (fn. 2) Thus the number of prebends was reduced from fifty-five to forty-nine.
The deanery was refounded after its surrender as a Crown donative, with a different prebend (North Curry) annexed to it. The archdeaconry of Wells was also surrendered to the Crown in 1546 and abolished in 1547, but was refounded by Queen Mary in 1556. (fn. 3) As a result, the deanery and archdeaconry were left with reduced revenues, and the bishopric suffered likewise a severe loss of possessions to the Crown. (fn. 4)
The legal position of the dean and chapter was in some doubt after the refoundation of the deanery in 1548, so to clarify the position Queen Elizabeth was asked by the dean and chapter to refound the cathedral, which she did by letters patent of 25 November 1591. (fn. 5) This lengthy document listed the prebends and the dignities, in order of precedence, confirmed the named holders and listed the endowments of each office. A new 'office and dignity', that of canon residentiary was established, and the number of residentiaries was limited to eight including the dean. The title of 'the dean and chapter of the cathedral church of Wells' was given to them, rather than to the body of all the prebendaries, as previously. They were constituted a corporation and charged with managing the cathedral's affairs. (fn. 6) This gave legal recognition to a situation which had gradually developed.
There were no further changes in the composition of the chapter until the Cathedrals Act of 1840. All prebends were then made honorary and their revenues were vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The residentiary canonries were reduced in number to four, in addition to the dean, and were to be in the bishop's gift, after the death or cession of all existing members of the chapter. (fn. 7) The boundaries of the diocese were not altered nor was there any change in the archdeaconries throughout the period under consideration.
Wells prebends were of moderate value, worth more than, for example, those of Exeter, Hereford and Chichester, but considerably less than those of Salisbury and York. The most valuable were Yatton and Wiveliscombe, valued at £42 and £38 per annum respectively, while the least valuable were Holcombe and North Curry at £1. The fifteen prebends of Combe were valued at about £5 each, and the four Wedmore prebends at £4. Of the forty-nine prebends, thirty-four were valued at less than £10. (fn. 8) For the purposes of comparison, in Salisbury cathedral the most valuable was valued at about £64, and the least at £2, with only six out of thirty-three prebends under £10. In Exeter, however, each of the twenty-four prebends was valued at £4. (fn. 9) The moderate value of Wells prebends meant that in general they were not particularly sought after by churchmen of national importance.
The present work is an entirely new compilation of Wells Fasti, although it takes account of its predecessors, the Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae of John Le Neve and T. D. Hardy's revision published in 1854. Le Neve's original edition gave lists of the dignitaries only, up to 1715. Hardy continued these lists to about 1851 and supplied rudimentary and incomplete lists of prebendaries from the Reformation, apparently based solely on the bishops' certificates in the Public Record Office.
The principal sources used in this work are the bishops' registers and the chapter act books. There are gaps of a few years between bishops' registers in the sixteenth century, with more serious losses in the early seventeenth century, but from 1632 the series is complete apart from the Interregnum. The chapter act books begin in 1571 and apart from a gap of twenty years from 1644 to 1664 form a continuous sequence. In both series, efficiency in entering business is not constant. The bishops' certificates to the Exchequer, beginning in 1576, and the registers of compositions for first-fruits from 1536 sometimes supply information which is missing in the principal sources. The survival of some bishops' commissions to institute, consignation books and records of resignations also supplement them. The deaths or burials of prebendaries and dignitaries are seldom in the episcopal or chapter records. Deaths of the more notable may be discovered in periodicals such as The Gentleman's Magazine, The Historical Register and The Annual Register, or newspapers such as The Times, especially in the nineteenth century. The deaths of those that do not figure here have to be sought in the records of the parish benefices which Wells men held, if these can be discovered. Although the majority are in Somerset and the adjacent counties, others are scattered throughout the country, and warm thanks must be recorded to the staff of many county record offices and to innumerable parish clergy who searched parish registers and supplied details. Monumental inscriptions and wills have also provided information.
Editorial conventions are the same as in earlier volumes of this series. Prebends are called by the names in current use in the cathedral, and dignitaries are listed in the order of precedence customary at Wells. (fn. 10)