A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 10, Cheveley, Flendish, Staine and Staploe Hundreds (North-Eastern Cambridgeshire). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.
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CHURCHES. (fn. 1)
In the Middle Ages Ashley and Silverley each had a parish church, and from the 13th century there was also a private chapel at the Knights Hospitallers' manor house. After the benefices of Ashley and Silverley were united in the 16th century, both parish churches were abandoned, and the chapel served in their place until a new parish church was opened in 1845.
The advowson of Ashley belonged in the 13th century to the intermediate lords of the manor, (fn. 2) including Thomas of Lavenham and Florence de Beauchamp in 1229, (fn. 3) Thomas of Lavenham (a half share) in 1274, (fn. 4) and William of Lavenham and John de Beauchamp in 1279. (fn. 5) It reverted to the earls of Oxford soon after 1300 (fn. 6) and remained with them until 1544. Presentations were made between 1373 and 1388 by the Crown as guardian and during forfeiture; in 1421-2 by the mother and guardian of Earl Richard; in 1483 by the bishop by lapse; and in 1518 again by a guardian. (fn. 7) In 1544 Earl John sold the advowson to Sir Edward North, (fn. 8) under whom it was united with Silverley. (fn. 9)
Silverley advowson belonged during the early years of Henry III to the second Geoffrey Arsic, lord of the manor. In 1278 his grandson and namesake gave it to Hatfield Regis priory (Essex), (fn. 10) The prior appropriated the rectory in 1329 under a licence of 1320. (fn. 11) The clergy whom it presented were styled vicars but no formal endowment of a vicarage has been found. (fn. 12) The Crown sold the advowson to Sir John Williams and Sir Edward North in 1543; (fn. 13) soon afterwards North acquired sole rights.
The advowson of the united benefice descended with the Kirtling estate in the North family, (fn. 14) though it was not always held or exercised by the head of the family. In 1731, during the exile of the Jacobite and Roman Catholic William North, Lord North and Grey, a presentation was made by George Stuteville, and on Lord North's death in 1734 the advowson did not pass with the estate to his widow but went to his heir male and successor in the main peerage title, his cousin Francis North, Lord Guilford (later earl of Guilford, d. 1790), who presented in 1750. (fn. 15)
After the death of Frederick North, earl of Guilford, in 1827, the patronage was twice exercised (in 1831 and 1835) by his elder daughter Maria and her husband John Crichton-Stuart, marquess of Bute, evidently under some arrangement between Maria and her sister Susan. (fn. 16)
W. H. J. North's conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1867 legally disabled him from making presentations, which fell instead to Cambridge University, though the law also allowed him to grant the right of presentation to others. (fn. 17) The university thus presented in 1869, (fn. 18) Anna Maria Shepheard in 1875, and Edmond Casey in 1887. The last had bought a turn and presented himself to the living. (fn. 19) His successor in 1904 was named by J. H. D. Ryder, earl of Harrowby (d. 1956), a distant cousin of the Norths, evidently under some grant from them. (fn. 20) On the death of the last Lord North in 1941 the advowson passed to one of his sisters, Dorothy Anne Graham (later Bowlby), who surrendered her rights to the Ely Diocesan Board of Patronage under the Patronage (Benefices) Measure, 1986. (fn. 21) In the meantime Cambridge University had presented in 1947, 1949, and 1954, the archbishop of Canterbury by lapse in 1959, and the university again in 1967. (fn. 22)
When the living next fell vacant, in 1973, the incumbent of Cheveley and Kirtling was made priest-in-charge. From 1984 those three benefices and Woodditton with Saxon Street were held in plurality, and in 1987 the four were united as a single benefice. (fn. 23)
In 1279 Ashley had 40 a. of glebe and Silverley 30 a. (fn. 24) The low value of the tithes made both livings poor. The assessments were: in 1254 Silverley £5 6s. 8d., Ashley £1; (fn. 25) in 1291 Silverley £10 13s. 4d., Ashley £4 6s. 8d.; (fn. 26) and in 1535 Silverley £7 17s. 2d., Ashley £8. (fn. 27) Silverley's value in 1535 was little more than the stipend of £6 13s. 4d. payable by the lessees of the rectory estate. (fn. 28) The united living was worth £70 a year in 1650 and 1777 (fn. 29) and £400 in 1875. (fn. 30) The income before inclosure arose from a glebe of 98 a., tithes in kind, and a small modus from the two windmills. (fn. 31) The tithes were commuted under the inclosure award of 1814, after which the rector had 274 a. mainly in two pieces in the north-east of the parish. (fn. 32) At the inclosure of Dalham in 1818, 2 a. were added for tithes there. (fn. 33) The entire glebe, apart from the two disused medieval churchyards, was sold in 1929. (fn. 34)
In 1329 the newly appointed vicar of Silverley was required to build a house with hall, chamber, and kitchen within six years. (fn. 35) The house for the united living stood at the east end of the village. It had five hearths in the 1660s (fn. 36) and in 1801 was a small timber-framed and thatched house. (fn. 37) It was rebuilt in brick and flint in 1835, (fn. 38) burned down and was rebuilt in 1893, (fn. 39) and was sold in 1982. (fn. 40)
The poverty of the benefices, separately or together, made them unattractive. Medieval rectors of Ashley, known by name from 1313, (fn. 41) were probably for the most part chaplains of the earls of Oxford, (fn. 42) or pluralists, (fn. 43) or resigned as soon as better opportunities arose, like the succession of four presented by the Crown 1373-80. (fn. 44) Silverley's 13th- and 14th-century rectors included clerks of the Arsics (fn. 45) and of the priors of Hatfield, (fn. 46) and a chaplain of the bishop of Norwich. (fn. 47) William Dowale, a local man, was vicar from 1375 (fn. 48) until 1417 or later, (fn. 49) but it is unclear how the church was served after his time, since no 15th-century presentations were recorded in the bishops' registers, (fn. 50) and the only other reference to a vicar before 1499 (fn. 51) is to a priest instituted by the archbishop in 1425 during a vacancy at Norwich. (fn. 52)
The Knights Hospitallers had a chapel in Ashley by 1277, when William Randolf endowed it with 50 a. arable and the reversion of 15¾ a. pasture. (fn. 53) The chaplain was paid 5 marks a year in 1338 (fn. 54) and his successor in 1528 was left an additional income of 4 marks. (fn. 55) In 1533 the chaplain appointed by the Hospital's lessees was supposed to say mass three days a week. (fn. 56) The chapel and 20 a. fell into the hands of the North family with the manor in 1541. (fn. 57)
The rector of Ashley from 1539, Geoffrey Jones, (fn. 58) was presented to Silverley in 1554 and was licensed to hold the two together in 1555. (fn. 59) At about that time the benefices were united, (fn. 60) services at the two parish churches were discontinued, (fn. 61) and the chapel was used for all services except burial, though it was never formally made a parish church. In 1587 the parishioners were said not to attend as they ought. (fn. 62)
Ministers in the 17th and early 18th century were mostly long-serving and resident, notably Ezekiel Catchpole, rector 1639-82, who weathered the Interregnum through the friendship of the Norths and by conforming to prevailing opinion. (fn. 63) Ashley was held in plurality with Kirtling (which had the same patron) from 1731 to 1831. (fn. 64) For much of the 19th century nonresidence was normal, and Ashley was served by curates for most of 1805-31 and 1858-75. (fn. 65) After 1973 it did not have its own incumbent. (fn. 66)
Ashley old church, near the Dalham road, was dedicated to ST. MARY by the 13th century. (fn. 67) It was built of flint rubble (fn. 68) and had a rood loft in 1528 (fn. 69) and a tower with three bells in 1552. (fn. 70) Money was left for its repair in 1559 and 1562, (fn. 71) but it was afterwards abandoned. Burial in the church was requested in 1602 and 1604. (fn. 72) It was in ruins by 1705, (fn. 73) and in the 20th century the only remains were low stretches of walling. The churchyard became densely overgrown after 1930 (fn. 74) and was impenetrable in 1991.
The remains of Silverley church stand at a road junction 1½ km. south of the village. The church was dedicated to ALL SAINTS by 1447. (fn. 75) The tower, which is all that survives, was being built in 1517 (fn. 76) and roofed in 1528, when there were also stalls and a rood loft. (fn. 77) Money was left for repairs in 1562 and burial was requested in the churchyard in 1564. (fn. 78) The largest farmer in the parish was renting the former church and churchyard in 1574-5, (fn. 79) and the church served as a barn in 1627. (fn. 80) Everything apart from the tower and some fragmentary walling had gone by 1752 (fn. 81) and probably by 1705. (fn. 82) The village tradition is that it was destroyed by Cromwell's soldiers. (fn. 83) In 1827 there was enough left to suggest former north and south porches. (fn. 84) The tower is built of flint rubble with limestone dressings and has a west window. (fn. 85) The upper stage was hurriedly demolished in 1971, when prompt local action saved the remainder. (fn. 86)
The Hospitaller chapel in the grounds of what was later Ashley Hall at the south-east corner of the village green was apparently dedicated to ST. JOHN. (fn. 87) After the Dissolution it became the private property of the Norths, who kept it in hand in 1627, for example, when leasing Ashley Hall farm. (fn. 88) As rebuilt in the earlier 15th century the chapel was a timber-framed building of three bays, accommodating chancel and nave, with a stone west porch presumably added later. (fn. 89) In the mid 16th century the bell hung from an oak tree. (fn. 90) A low tower, rendered presumably over timber framing, was added over the porch 'a few years' before 1705. (fn. 91) William Cole described it in 1752 as 'one of the meanest & poorest built churches in the whole county'. (fn. 92) In 1835 it held only 160 worshippers. (fn. 93) After the new church was opened in 1845 it was used first as a school (fn. 94) and later for storage; it was demolished c. 1956. (fn. 95)
The new church of ST. MARY was built in 1844-5 on a site provided by the marquess of Bute. It comprised a single cell with a bellcot and a vestry, built in flint rubble and limestone dressings in neo-Norman style. It was dedicated to Holy Trinity until 1872, when a chancel with apsidal sanctuary, north and south transepts, a larger vestry, and an organ chamber were added. The new work was in similar style and materials to the old. (fn. 96)
Burials took place in the churchyard of old St. Mary's until 1845, (fn. 97) then at the new church. An additional burial ground on the other side of Church Street was acquired in 1955 and consecrated in 1968. (fn. 98)