A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 10, Westbury and Whitstone Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1972.
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Newnham had a church by the 12th century: fragments of a church of that date were reused in the later building on a new site, (fn. 1) and a priest of Newnham is recorded from 1166. (fn. 2) In origin the church was evidently a chapel of Westbury church: it was a large building in the earlier 13th century, (fn. 3) but in 1261 an inquisition determined that Newnham was a chapelry belonging to the Rector of Westbury in right of his church. (fn. 4) The Crown's presentation to the so-called rectory of Newnham in 1261 (fn. 5) may indicate a desire to make Newnham parochially independent, but later in the same year the bishop was ordered not to allow the rights of the Rector of Westbury in the chapel of Newnham to be infringed. (fn. 6) The outcome of another royal presentation to Newnham church, in 1269, (fn. 7) is not known; in 1291 Newnham was still named as a chapel of Westbury. (fn. 8) In 1309, however, the king again presented a clerk to Newnham church (fn. 9) and in a suit against the patron of Westbury established that Newnham was a mother church and not a chapel of Westbury. (fn. 10) In 1311 the bishop instituted the king's presentee, (fn. 11) whose successors were similarly presented and instituted as rectors, (fn. 12) though the claim of the patron of Westbury was not finally abandoned until 1344. (fn. 13)
After 1327 the advowson passed with Newnham manor to the Earl of Norfolk, (fn. 14) whose successor, the Earl of Northampton, granted it to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, Gloucester, in 1343 so that the hospital might appropriate the rectory. (fn. 15) The bishop sanctioned the appropriation the same year; he reserved the right to ordain a vicarage (fn. 16) but did not exercise it. The parish was served in the later Middle Ages by parochial chaplains or curates, (fn. 17) presumably appointed by St. Bartholomew's. Littledean, which was appropriated in the 14th century to St. Bartholomew's, was declared in 1413 to be a chapelry of Newnham, (fn. 18) and until the 19th century there was a single parish priest for the two parishes. (fn. 19) In Newnham there was a chantry which provided for an extra priest. The chapel of St. Mary Magdalen recorded in 1247 (fn. 20) may have been the chapel in the castle (fn. 21) or a chantry-chapel. In 1457 St. Mary's chantry had an endowment of various rent charges and lands, (fn. 22) which were used partly to pay a chaplain until shortly before 1548. (fn. 23) No evidence has been found to support the statement that Ruddle once had a chapel. (fn. 24)
In the 16th century the curates presumably continued to be appointed by St. Bartholomew's Hospital, which retained the rectory. By 1603 the curate held the rectory at farm from the governors of the hospital, (fn. 25) a practice which continued until 1844, (fn. 26) and the curates came to be regarded as perpetual curates. The rectory, assessed at £10 a year before the appropriation (fn. 27) and in 1535, (fn. 28) and at £40 in the 17th century, (fn. 29) appears to have comprised only tithes and buildings. In 1348 there was a rectory-house, which an armed band set on fire, stealing goods and assaulting a brother of St. Bartholomew's, (fn. 30) possibly in manifestation of hostility to the recent appropriation. The house stood not far from the church in 1457. (fn. 31) In 1547 it was said that the rectory-house and barn had both fallen down and that neither timber nor tiles remained. (fn. 32) In 1689 the curate had a house of two bays, (fn. 33) which may have been the parsonage-house that was much out of repair in 1739 (fn. 34) and was mentioned in 1768. (fn. 35) The house of 1768 was evidently on the same site, and may have been the same building, as the 18th-century rendered house on the west side of High Street, near its upper end, that was in possession of the perpetual curate in 1839 (fn. 36) and after 1889 came to be called the Old Vicarage. It was presumably the 'vicarage house' on which the perpetual curate was rated in 1804 and 1812. (fn. 37)
In 1839 the tithes belonging to the patrons were commuted for a rent charge of £201. (fn. 38) Evidently as a result, a Chancery Decree of 1844 ruled that St. Bartholomew's Hospital should receive the whole rent charge and pay the perpetual curate, who had held a lease of the tithes at £8 a year, a stipend of £80. In 1866 M. F. Carter bought both the advowson and the tithe rent charge, evidently to enable him to augment the living: in 1874 he and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were augmenting it by £90 a year. In 1883 Carter endowed the living with a rent charge of £43 and sold the advowson to Mrs. C. S. Jones, who gave it to the Bishop of Gloucester. (fn. 39) The bishop remained patron in 1968.
Although the perpetual curate lost the lease of the rectory in 1844 he retained the parsonage-house as though it were part of his living. (fn. 40) A new vicaragehouse was built in 1889 near the north end of the Green, (fn. 41) and the Old Vicarage was sold to help to defray the cost. (fn. 42) The parish was endowed with three sermon charities under the wills of James Jocham, dated 1764, Samuel Hawkins (d. 1805), and John Matthews, dated 1808, (fn. 43) which together yield a total of £18 to the vicar, clerk, sexton, and singers. (fn. 44)
In 1563 the churchwardens presented that Thomas Vaughan, the curate, was an unlawful gamer who failed in other ways in his duties. (fn. 45) He had been replaced by 1566 by Philip Jones, who was excommunicated for not paying a subsidy. (fn. 46) Jones's successor, Edward Erlingham or Fryer, was a former monk of Flaxley and had been sexton of Kingswood Abbey. (fn. 47) Lawrence Cook, curate in 1593, was described as a sufficient scholar but no preacher. (fn. 48) Samuel Hieron, who conformed as curate of Newnham in 1662, had been a Presbyterian in 1648. (fn. 49) From 1800 to 1847 James Parsons, editor of the Oxford Septuagint, was perpetual curate; (fn. 50) he lived at Littledean and employed stipendiary curates to serve Newnham. (fn. 51) One of the curates, known there in 1812 as Thomas White, gained great favour, but was later found not to be in holy orders and to have defrauded various inhabitants of money, and was imprisoned on a charge of forgery. (fn. 52) Parsons's successor, E. C. Brice, remained vicar until his death at Newnham in 1881. (fn. 53) In 1875 he opened at Bullo a mission room, with a Sunday school, (fn. 54) which remained in use until the 1920s. (fn. 55) In 1880 he introduced a surpliced choir to the parish church for the first time. (fn. 56)
The church of ST. PETER, so called in 1310, (fn. 57) originally stood on the Nab by the river's edge. In the 14th century it was replaced, on a new site at the top of the town, by a church that was largely rebuilt in 1875; the new building was mostly destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1881.
The church on the earlier site, described c. 1230 as the great church of Newnham standing near the little way going down to the pill, (fn. 58) was built or rebuilt in the 12th century, as is clear from features that were moved to the new church and survived in 1968: the font described below, a mutilated tympanum, (fn. 59) a small round-headed doorway reset above the south doorway to the building of 1881, and other fragments. In addition, a late-12th- or early-13th-century chancel arch (fn. 60) survived until the rebuilding of 1875. Two early-18th-century accounts of the church recall how the ancient spire church standing by the Nab's end was taken down for fear that it should fall because the earth around its foundations was being washed away; one account says that the old materials were used to build the little church at the south end of the town. (fn. 61) Each account describes the move as though it were relatively recent, although it was in fact 350 years earlier. Reference in 1833 to a close above the Nab as the old profane churchyard (fn. 62) confirms the position of the old church; the close became the site and garden of the house called Riverdale, afterwards Brightlands School, where in 1884 a large number of human bones were found. (fn. 63)
The site of the new church was said to have been given by Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, (fn. 64) who succeeded to that title in 1361 and died in 1373. (fn. 65) It was presumably as the result of the rebuilding on the new site that Bishop Charlton in 1366 dedicated Newnham church, which was then said to be at the end of the town, situated by the High Street. In addition to the high altar, which he dedicated in honour of St. Peter and St. Paul and two of his predecessors, the bishop dedicated an altar on the north side to the Virgin, St. Mary Magdalen, and St. Catherine and one on the south side to the Holy Cross, and also dedicated the churchyard. (fn. 66)
Up to 1875 the church comprised nave, chancel, south aisle, small south transept, north porch, and west tower. The doorway within the porch was of the 12th century (fn. 67) and may have been surmounted by the tympanum mentioned above; the east wall of the porch retains a blocked ogee-headed light of the 14th century. By 1710 the upper part of the spire was replaced, in order to lessen the weight on the walls, by a low wooden spire, (fn. 68) but the tower was rebuilt as a pinnacled and embattled structure of three stages (fn. 69) after a faculty had been granted in 1832. (fn. 70) The church was too small for the population, and in 1821, when there were already two galleries, two more were authorized. (fn. 71) It was perhaps to light them that the nave windows were remodelled; they may earlier have been similar to the two-light 14thcentury window in the tower that survived c. 1860. (fn. 72) By 1875 the lychgate at the north-west corner of the churchyard had been built. (fn. 73)
In 1875, to the designs of Waller & Son, the chancel and south aisle were rebuilt on a larger scale, the upper stage of the tower was rebuilt with a short spire, and north and south vestries were added. (fn. 74) The fire of 1881 destroyed most of the fabric except the tower, (fn. 75) but the rebuilding that followed was intended to restore exactly what had been there before. (fn. 76)
No ancient memorial monument survives in the church. The 12th-century font, archaeologically the most interesting feature, (fn. 77) has an arcaded bowl with somewhat rudely carved figures of the twelve apostles standing in the niches. (fn. 78) The church bells were recast in 1603, (fn. 79) and again in 1696, when there were four. (fn. 80) John Rudhall recast the bells and added a fifth in 1810. Another bell, by Llewellyn and James, was added in 1868, (fn. 81) and two more in 1889. (fn. 82) A new ring of eight bells by Mears and Stainbank was dedicated in 1894. (fn. 83) A church clock was recorded in 1686; the churchwardens bought a new clock with a bell in 1743, (fn. 84) but clock and chime both had to be repaired in 1752. (fn. 85) In 1895 the bequest of John Hill (d. 1893) provided for a new clock and carillon. (fn. 86) The church had a barrel-organ in the 1860s; (fn. 87) a new organ by Forster and Andrews of Hull was provided after 1881 and rebuilt in 1955. (fn. 88)
The church plate in 1548 still included two chalices, though 26 oz. of plate had been sold. (fn. 89) In 1968 the church retained a paten of 1714, but none of the other plate was older than the 19th century. (fn. 90) The registers begin in 1547, and have a gap for the period 1640-51.