Isleham: Churches

Pages 445-452

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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From the 13th century at latest to the early 19th Isleham parish was, with its neighbour, Freckenham (Suff.), a peculiar jurisdiction of the bishop of Rochester. That exemption, originally based on customary rights asserted by bishops over their demesne manors, was from the mid 13th century buttressed against challenges by the bishops of Norwich, under whom those parishes would otherwise have come by canon law, by an extensive series of forged and interpolated documents, probably prepared at Rochester by the 1250s. (fn. 1) In 1281, when Archbishop Pecham was visiting the area, the bishop of Norwich questioned the bishop of Rochester's claims to exercise episcopal authority at Isleham and Freckenham, and Pecham, having heard local evidence of recent practice and later viewed the (forged) Rochester documentation, gave, extrajudicially, a decision supporting Rochester's actual enjoyment of such jurisdiction there. (fn. 2) When Bishop Hamon Hethe of Rochester late in 1331 ordained clergy in person in Isleham parish church, Bishop William Ayreminne of Norwich at once challenged as diocesan his right to exercise there such powers, though their use was by then apparently well-established. The case was dropped before judgement when Ayreminne died in 1336. (fn. 3) Thereafter the bishops of Rochester exercised, without dispute and some times in person, episcopal powers in what was called by the 1320s Isleham deanery. (fn. 4) The incumbents of Isleham sometimes from the early 14th century served as its rural deans. (fn. 5) Their parishioners often in early modern times described themselves as belonging to Rochester diocese. (fn. 6) That peculiar was probably only finally abolished in 1852. (fn. 7) Thereafter Isleham parish belonged in practice, as in theory since the 13th century, to Fordham rural deanery and Sudbury archdeaconry, transferred since 1837 to Ely diocese. (fn. 8)

The patronage of Isleham church belonged by the 1250s to the bishop of Rochester, (fn. 9) with whom there remained, after its mid 13thcentury appropriation, that of the vicarage. The bishops regularly collated to the vicarage from the early 14th century (fn. 10) to the early 19th. (fn. 11) Thereafter the patronage was successively transferred by exchange in 1852 to the bishop of Peterborough and in 1874 to the Crown, (fn. 12) remaining in the Lord Chancellor's presentation into the late 20th century. (fn. 13)

Isleham was held by rectors, assisted by c. 1220 by vicars, until the mid 13th century. (fn. 14) The last known rector, a graduate king's clerk, later a bishop, apparently had his tenure forcibly challenged in 1252-3. (fn. 15) Bishop Lawrence of Rochester (1250-74), having by 1256 received papal permission to annex the rectorial income for his life, (fn. 16) in 1267 obtained leave under two subsequent bulls, the second of 1265, to appropriate Isleham rectory permanently to his bishopric. He took possession in 1268. (fn. 17) The bishop thus acquired, besides most of the great tithes, a glebe covering 42 a. in 1279, (fn. 18) out of which the third succeeding bishop in 1289 assigned 6 a. of open-field land to the perpetual vicar, by then established. (fn. 19) In 1291 the bishop's share of the church's income was 70 marks, the vicar's only 7½ marks. (fn. 20) By 1337 the rectory was leased with the bishop's Freckenham manor. (fn. 21) About 1340 barely over half, c. 48 marks, of the combined income came from tithe. (fn. 22)

After the Reformation the bishop retained until the 19th century the impropriate rectory, including all the tithe of corn, let on beneficial leases for three lives from the late 16th century. (fn. 23) About 1700 his leased rectorial glebe included c. 30 a. (fn. 24) At inclosure in 1854 only 17 a. were allotted for the rectorial open-field land. (fn. 25) By 1869 its freehold passed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, (fn. 26) who sold it in 1913 to the county council, the lessees since 1908. (fn. 27) After much of the fens had been newly drained in the 1760s and sown with corn, the vicar, who had already in practice taken the corn tithe of some higher fenland, disputed with the parsonage lessee the great tithes of the newly cultivated land and was allowed tithe there on crops other than corn. (fn. 28) In the 1840s the tithes of most of the open fields were in practice taken by composition at the rate of 5s. an acre, even when they were fallowed. (fn. 29) When in 1847 Isleham's tithes were commuted, simultaneously with the inclosure, 124 a. out of the 5,201 a. in the parish was found to be tithe free, including 2¾ a. owned by Freckenham vicarage; the bishop's lessee then received a rentcharge of £620 for his share of the tithes. (fn. 30)

About 1468, as later, the rectory homestead faced the parish church from the south side of Church street; (fn. 31) it occupied, as in the 1840s, a 1-a. close, including ¼ a., called the parsonage yard, where the tithe barn stood. (fn. 32) It had presumably been the site of the original rector's dwelling. That close was sold to the vicar in 1867 to enlarge his grounds. (fn. 33)

In the 13th century the rector, and later the bishop, did not receive all the great tithes. In the 12th century all those due from Great Isleham demesne were granted to the Breton abbey of St. Jacut de I'Isle (Côtes-du-Nord, France). In the 1210s a dispute arose between that abbey and its prior of Isleham, and the parson and vicar, who claimed tithes from that demesne, half the prior's holding, beside those from newly cultivated land and that of Alwin the priest. In 1219 the bishop of Rochester arranged a settlement by which the abbey and its Isleham priory should pay the rector a nominal 15d. yearly, and receive in return all the tithes of William fitz Alan's former demesne arable, even when granted away, including the land given c. 1160 to Shrewsbury abbey, with the small tithes of that demesne's livestock, besides all tithes great and small from the priory's own Isleham land. The priory thus tithed three carucates c. 1245. (fn. 34) Pembroke College, Cambridge, which received the priory land in 1440, (fn. 35) continued, as until 1847, to receive great tithes from King's College's 88 a. of fieldland, once Shrewsbury's, with those from the adjoining open-field strips northward and westward to the nearest baulk, headland, or fieldway. The 334 a. (local measure) involved roughly matched fitz Alan's original demesne. (fn. 36) In 1847 Pembroke College was assigned, for its corn tithes, still normally taken in kind, a rentcharge of £112 10s. for the tithe of the 226 a. still called the 'priory portion'. (fn. 37)

Before inclosure the vicar had, besides the small tithes, an arable glebe, traditionally, as reported in 1650, of 6 a., but by statute measure 3½ a. (fn. 38) In 1847, when he was allotted an equal area, he had also the 1/2-a. site of his house, which stood, as c. 1468, south of Church street at its east end, just east of the rectory. (fn. 39) By 1848 the vicar had exchanged his 3½ a. for a 3-a. close intended as the site for a school. (fn. 40) In 1847 he received a rentcharge of £496 8s. for his tithes. (fn. 41) His income, £12 2s. 6d. in 1535, (fn. 42) and c. £33 in 1650, (fn. 43) had by 1830 reached £450, of which a third was paid to a curate. (fn. 44) It stood c. 1850-85 at c. £500 gross (£300 net), (fn. 45) before falling sharply by a third or more. (fn. 46)

The vicarage house, which had 7 hearths in 1666, was presumably rebuilt after a fire in 1687. (fn. 47) Though considered 'very comfortable' c. 1830 (fn. 48) and occupied by a recently appointed vicar who died in 1831, (fn. 49) it was rebuilt soon after, probably c. 1850, (fn. 50) a little further north. The new double-pile, three-storeyed house, of grey brick, slate-roofed, has three bays including a central doorway in a round-headed recess in its main west front. (fn. 51) Thought by the 1890s with its eight bedrooms over-large and expensive to inhabit, (fn. 52) it remained the vicar's residence, being enlarged and improved in the 1930s, until 1976. (fn. 53) It was sold in 1982. (fn. 54)

Vicars were regularly recorded at Isleham from the early 14th century, some moving to or from adjacent benefices in Freckenham. There were frequent changes of vicar c. 1390-1405. (fn. 55) Some vicars, such as John Mortimer, 1451-4, were from local families. His successor William Ward, 1454-64, actively served the Bernards and Peytons. (fn. 56) No vicars before 1500 are known to have been graduates. In the early 16th century they occasionally witnessed their parishioners' wills. (fn. 57) One dying in 1529 was commemorated with a surviving brass with a chalice and paten. (fn. 58)

In 1331 Sir Robert Walkefare was licensed to give 60 a. at Isleham to endow a chaplain celebrating mass there for himself and his wife Margaret, (fn. 59) presumably in the church's north chapel, which he had rebuilt in honour of Our Lady. (fn. 60) That benefaction may not have been effected. The opposite south transept, after 1500 the Peytons' burial place, was regularly called St. Katherine's chapel in the early 16th century. (fn. 61) Christopher Peyton, buried there in 1507, left to the church an antiphoner to be illuminated with his arms and gave his purchased Isleham lands, from his wife's death, to maintain an annual obit, remembering his name weekly in the parish bederoll. (fn. 62) Two small endowments, one for an obit, were confiscated c. 1570. (fn. 63)

Before 1550 the parish church was not Isleham's only place of worship. In the 12th century the Breton monks of the priory were using the simple chapel surviving north of the green at the west end of Church street. By 1163 it was dedicated to St. Margaret, (fn. 64) at whose feast they were entitled from 1219 to receive the villagers' offerings, besides others at any time from the lords of Great Isleham. (fn. 65) The chapel, whose dedication to St. Margaret was regularly reported in leases of the priory estate from the 15th century, (fn. 66) was probably erected soon after 1100. Comprising a nave, chancel, and rounded apse, it is built of clunch set in herringbone patterns, on a plinth of Barnack stone. Its surviving original windows, one in the apse, one in the west wall, have deeply splayed single roundheaded lights; they were largely renewed in Barnack stone in the 13th century, when two wider pointed ones were inserted in the apse, along with north and south doorways. Inside, the double-stepped, round-headed arch to the chancel rises from responds with two demicolumns, which have shafts on their western faces. To the east rectangular pilasters survive from a similar arch, apparently removed with the apse vaulting c. 1800, (fn. 67) to the sanctuary in the apse. Probably from the 16th century a wider side entrance was made in the south nave wall to permit use as a tithe barn into the 1810s. (fn. 68) The roof was heightened over the original thicker walling, and flint buttresses dressed in red brick were put up at the west end. Still used as a barn in the 1910s, the chapel was c. 1952 restored and entrusted to public custody. Thereafter occasional services were held in it on St. Margaret's day. (fn. 69)

Isleham Chapel in 1791

By 1279 the lords of Little Isleham had founded a chapel there, endowing it with 30 a. held in free alms by its chaplain. (fn. 70) In the 1450s the endowment included 26 a. with a fishery on the stream dividing Little Isleham from Fordham, presumably near the 'priest's dam' close to its site. (fn. 71) To that chapel, named c. 1370- 1540, for St. Nicholas, (fn. 72) and sometimes described as a chantry, a succession of chaplains was apparently presented between the 1320s and the 1440s (fn. 73) by the owners of the Little Isleham estate, with which its advowson was conveyed c. 1295-1380; (fn. 74) among them, 1320-49, was Martin Bernard. (fn. 75) In the 16th century Little Isleham manor's rights over the chapel apparently passed through the Bernes family and succeeding lords to John Bowles. By 1546, however, sales of that manor excluded both the pightle on which St. Nicholas's chapel still stood in 1549 and the 4-a. toft once occupied by the chaplain's house. (fn. 76) In 1556 Bowles's grandson Thomas sold the property, including a cottage called Little Isleham chapel with a 20-a. close nearby long occupied with it, to its tenant. (fn. 77)

About 1468 the chapel apparently stood west of the 'chapel lane' running south and east of Little Isleham closes, of which it owned c. 1468 one empty messuage. (fn. 78) The last recorded active 'master or warden' of Little Isleham chapel, Christopher Green, was buried in 1523 in the parish church's south aisle, where his gravestone survives. (fn. 79) Two of the last recorded presentations, in 1470 and 1544, were of Peyton kinsmen. The last, named by Sir Robert Peyton claiming to be rightful patron, was pensioned off c. 1547. (fn. 80) In that year the Crown sold to a Londoner the 'chantry chapel', its roof unleaded, in which services had ceased c. 1535. That sale included its endowment, two meadows (1/2 a.) in Peyton's hands, and 29 a. of leased arable. (fn. 81) The purchaser sold it in 1548 to Sir Robert, whose son Robert Peyton sold the former 'chantry land' in 1581 to his mother Dame Frances to help endow her Isleham almshouse. (fn. 82)

During the 16th century the Peytons moved, probably leading the parish, from a strong if conventional Catholicism, involving elaborate funerals attended by priests and choir children and the celebration of month's and year's days as late as 1550, to a fervent Protestantism. Dame Elizabeth Peyton still desired in 1545 a year's masses in Isleham church, to which she left her funeral torches for use at high feasts. But she, and her son Sir Robert in 1550, also asked for 'godly' sermons by learned men to edify the people. By 1600 their son's and grandson's devout wills were expressing almost Calvinistic sentiments. (fn. 83) Other Isleham wills of the 1540s still called on the Blessed Virgin (1541) and the Company of Heaven (1549), (fn. 84) but several late 16th- and early 17th-century testators used Protestant phraseology. (fn. 85)

Cambridge graduates began to be named as vicars in the 1580s. One, who had served thirty years, (fn. 86) was expelled in 1645, having been reported by the godly as a drunken alehouse haunter. (fn. 87) Subsequently the parishioners successfully opposed the appointment of a successor chosen by a parliamentary committee, importuning them to leave in office their 'godly and orthodox' minister Roger Peachey. (fn. 88) In 1646 he was given a £30 augmentation out of the rectory, in 1655 £20 perhaps additionally. (fn. 89) Peachey remained at Isleham, also practising physic, until his death in 1684. (fn. 90) A successor, accused in 1724 of public drunkenness, profanity, and neglecting his duty, was shortly afterwards removed. (fn. 91)

Later in the 18th century the vicars, not usually pluralists, mostly served for some twenty years each, though four left between 1743 and 1757. (fn. 92) Some, however, were absentees (fn. 93) and by the 1770s employed curates, one of whom became vicar in 1800 after eight years' ministry. (fn. 94) The next vicar but one, beneficed in Essex and Leicestershire, still had a curate to serve Isleham in the 1830s. (fn. 95) In 1851, when the church could seat 379, including 238 free sittings, the curate, who held two Sunday services, claimed 190 adults attending in the afternoon, besides c. 120 Sunday-school children. (fn. 96) In 1853 the next curate was organizing help for the poor during a cholera epidemic. (fn. 97)

Late 19th-century vicars, from the late 1850s normally resident, (fn. 98) were faced with an increasingly nonconformist population. When the vestry established a cemetery in 1856, to replace the overcrowded churchyard, on ½ a. south of the Causeway, over a third of its area was reserved for dissenting burials, so eliminating disputes over services. (fn. 99) Two thirds of the ½a. extension laid out eastward across a lane in 1895-6 was similarly reserved. (fn. 100) In 1873 300 church-people and 314 dissenters were reported. By 1885 400 adults went to church, but 500 to chapel; 700 others, however, worshipped seldom if ever, then as in 1897, when there were only 350 churchgoers compared with 650 dissenters, (fn. 101) even though the village's leading family, the Robinses, being strongly Anglican, virtually compelled their many employees to attend church. (fn. 102)

S. W. Merry, vicar 1872-89, strove hard to revive Anglicanism, starting harvest festivals (fn. 103) and by 1875 a church temperance society with 51 members. (fn. 104) By 1873 he had introduced a third Sunday service, preaching at all three, and held communions monthly and by 1885 fortnightly. Of c. 60-70 communicants, 40-45 usually attended. Merry's ordinary congregations, initially often 150-250, declined in the late 1870s to 100 or fewer before recovering to c. 150. To serve the distant fenlanders, previously monopolized by dissent, (fn. 105) he built in 1878-9, by the fen bank three miles north of the village, a small mission church, also housing a church school. (fn. 106) From the 1880s H. R. Quinn, who served as lay reader and schoolmaster until the 1910s, provided two Sunday services there. (fn. 107) Worship at the mission church probably continued until the school closed in 1946. (fn. 108)

Merry's successor, H. W. Robinson, vicar until his death in 1923, (fn. 109) claimed 125 communicants at apparently weekly communions in 1887, but found that occasional visiting missions did not increase regular church attendance. (fn. 110) About 1910 he started, on the upper floor of a stable built by Merry c. 1880 west of the vicarage, a men's club and church reading room called St. Andrew's Institute. It had 40 members initially and 25 c. 1915. (fn. 111) The building, retained when the vicarage was sold, served in the 1990s as the church social centre. (fn. 112) Isleham continued to have resident vicars until the 1970s. (fn. 113) The parish was conservative in its piety: women were still churched after childbirth in that decade. The last resident vicar, 1950-76, a high churchman, initially dismayed his relatively small but regular low-church congregation by introducing 'pomp', including plainsong and cross-bearers in the choir, into the services. (fn. 114) After he retired, presentation was suspended, and the parish was served into the 1990s from Chippenham. (fn. 115) From the 1970s joint services were occasionally held with the village's free churches. (fn. 116) In 1992 a quarter of the inhabitants were thought to be churchgoers. (fn. 117)

Richard Thomas Robins by will proved 1934 left the income from £500 of stock to be divided equally between heating the church, treats and prizes for church Sunday-school pupils, and the church choir. Each objective accordingly was entitled to £4-6 in the mid 20th century, when an earlier £50 bequest from George Fletcher, perhaps a former hereditary church clerk, fl. 1851, provided income, then c. £3 each, for churchyard maintenance, bellringing, and the poor. (fn. 118)

The church of ST. ANDREW, so named by 1279, perhaps after Rochester cathedral's patron saint, (fn. 119) stands, as was recorded in the 1460s, (fn. 120) north of the central part of Church street. It is built of fieldstones, the dressings renewed externally in Barnack stone; the carved masonry inside is of clunch. The church comprises a three-bayed chancel with north vestry, an aisled and clerestoried nave of five bays with north and south transeptal chapels and south porch, and a west tower with a small vestry to its south. Although there are traces of an older church in the masonry at the junction of the chancel and north chapel and a possibly 13th-century shafted lancet survives in the vestry west wall, the fabric is mainly of the early 14th and late 15th centuries. (fn. 121) The chancel, consecrated in 1331 by Bishop Hethe who had just rebuilt it, (fn. 122) has, under a high-pitched, tiled roof, uniform side windows of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil over. There is a priest's door in the south wall. In the (restored) five-light east window the upper parts, with two tracery patterns intersecting, were possibly modified to a more Perpendicular design in the 15th century. In the chancel's south-east corner is a 14th-century piscina; the contemporary sedilia have been mutilated, losing their dividing shafts. A painting of the Virgin and Child was reported on the north wall between 1850 and 1880. (fn. 123) The chancel arch, with a window above it, and the nave arcades, which have similar moulded arches, rising from piers with four rounded shafts, were also rebuilt in the early 14th century. (fn. 124) The contemporary aisles have windows of three cusped lights, more elaborately traceried on the south side. The north chapel, recased in harder stone in 1898, was probably erected for Sir Robert Walkefare (d. 1334). The northernmost of its three windows, their (restored) Y-tracery lightly cusped on the east, still contained c. 1580 glass depicting, and seeking prayers for, Walkefare and his wife Margaret. In the north wall below survives, under a crocketed arch, his battered knightly effigy in a flowing surcoat, still c. 1580 painted with his lion rampant. (fn. 125) Also 14thcentury is the lower walling of the matching south chapel; in its south wall, under a crock eted, ogee-tipped arch lies another worn effigy in late 14th-century plate armour. (fn. 126) The porch outside the 14th-century nave south doorway has a buttressed south front, once of ashlar clunch, renewed with its sundial in sandstone in 1898. (fn. 127) Inside it has two bays of arcading on shafts resembling those in the nave and on its own entrance arch; deep splays inside open into cusped two-light windows, largely restored when reopened in 1898; they were then filled with fragments of old stained glass from the clerestory. Traces remain of a matching porch outside the nave north door, placed below quoins from a wide earlier round arch. (fn. 128) The former west tower, which fell in 1862, was of three stages, buttressed and embattled, with a south-western stair turret. (fn. 129)

Perhaps continuing work contracted for by his father Thomas Peyton with a mason c. 1478, (fn. 130) Christopher Peyton, while lord after 1484, undertook extensive and ornate alterations, probably completed in 1495, (fn. 131) to designs ascribed to John Wastell, architect of King's College chapel. (fn. 132) The nave, probably heightened and given a lower-pitched roof, received a new clerestory of three-light windows with trefoiled tracery. (fn. 133) Christopher had the arcade spandrels, below the embattled cornice, recut or renewed in clunch, each with three multi-cusped quatrefoils: the two uppermost ones were given foliated centres, the longer middle ones carved with the arms of Peyton, Bernard, and Hyde. Above, Peyton's new roof rests on queenposts whose moulded tiebeams are supported by wallposts rising from small angels bearing similar heraldry. The intermediate beams carry ten larger angels bearing emblems of the Passion. Outside, both the nave and the south aisle, whose south wall was apparently heightened, were embattled to the south, as was the buttressed south chapel, which Christopher Peyton probably also rebuilt from its string course upward: the tracery in its windows, two of three lights, resembles that of the nave clerestory. Its east window has cusping with the same heraldry along the sill, and below it, inside, flowing vine carving. Christopher and his wife Elizabeth Hyde are commemorated by a brass in its west wall. (fn. 134) That chapel, the arch to which from the aisle was then remodelled with more elaborate mouldings than the corresponding one to the north chapel, has, like the aisles, roofs resembling those of the nave, with moulded beams on wooden shield-bearing angel corbels. The cruder north chapel roof may be the older. The chancel roof is concealed by a plaster ceiling. (fn. 135)

Work on the church continued in the early 16th century: 10 marks was left for the north aisle in 1505 and £8 6s. 8d. by Sir Robert Peyton in 1518 for the master joiner making its roof. (fn. 136) Some chancel windows contained c. 1580 glass with the arms of Bishop FitzJames of Rochester (1497-1503). Other windows then preserved the arms and figures of Sir Robert Peyton and of his wife Elizabeth Clere, both heraldically robed. Their massive tombchest, ornately panelled with much-cusped quatrefoils centred on shields, has lost the brasses, extant c. 1580, of themselves, their thirteen sons, and two daughters. In the 1960s it was resited where Sir Robert had directed, below a 'rood', a carved panel beneath an ogeed arch, once depicting the Deposition of Christ in brass figures, set in the south chapel east wall. A piscina beside it was reinstated after being found in 1963 amidst rubble inside that tombchest. (fn. 137)

The 15th-century font is octagonal on a carved stem. Also from shortly before 1500 there survives in the chancel north wall a panelled arch, whose foliated spandrels bear the arms of Thomas Peyton (d. 1484). Brasses resting on the plain tombchest placed below it represent, under a crocketed and pinnacled triple arcade, Peyton himself, in spiky armour, between his two wives. At the chancel west end stand eight stalls with misericords, possibly late 14th-century, bearing heads including those of king, queen, and bishop. Further east, modern seating is fronted by a late medieval poppy-headed stallfront, faced with cusped, ogeed arcading. Other 15thcentury bench ends, carved with beasts, one with the arms of Peyton impaling Bernard, (fn. 138) remain in the north aisle. The elaborately moulded 15th-century brass eagle lectern, in place at Isleham in 1850, was found, according to local tradition, hidden in the fen during draining, allegedly in 1831; a lectern of 'latten' was reported in 1552. (fn. 139)

Other monuments of the Bernards and Peytons (fn. 140) remain in Christopher's south chapel, usually chosen by his nephew Sir Robert and his descendants as their burial place until the 1610s; (fn. 141) a brick-walled family vault below contains velvet-covered Peyton coffins. (fn. 142) A stone effigy on the chapel floor, of a man in late 14thcentury plate armour, his garlanded head resting on his helm, may commemorate Gilbert Bernard (d. c. 1370). (fn. 143) To the south a low slab supports the brasses within niches of Sir John Bernard (d. 1452) in armour and his first wife Ellen Malory (d. 1440). Sir Robert Peyton (d. 1550) has only the gravestone which he ordered. (fn. 144) The angles of the chapel's south end are occupied by the canopied six-poster monuments (fn. 145) of Robert Peyton (d. 1590), erected in his lifetime, (fn. 146) and his son Sir John, each supporting large heraldic achievements amidst strapwork. The men are in armour, their wives beruffed and farthingaled. Robert's monument has two tiers of balustershaped columns, with heraldry on the cornice recording his children's marriages; Sir John's has Corinthian columns. A palimpsest Flemish brass in the floor records Robert's third brother, Richard Peyton (d. 1574) of Gray's Inn and his wife Mary Hyde. (fn. 147) On the north chapel's east wall, a wall monument with a reclining child under a Corinthian canopy is for Barbara Themilthorpe (d. 1619), stepdaughter of Sir Edward Peyton through his second marriage. (fn. 148) A new rood screen, allegedly in Elizabethan style, may have been removed shortly before 1850. (fn. 149) A Jacobean communion rail, with alternating balusters in stalactite form and pyramidal finials above its main pilasters, has been preserved since its 17th-century installation at the chancel east end. (fn. 150)

The decaying west tower, struck by lightning c. 1856 and found unsafe by 1860, fell in July 1862, just after a local builder started repairs. A new tower, to a design with a low cap by G. E. Street, was completed in 1868. The nave was also then reseated and its roof was restored. The chancel east window, whose tracery was renewed in 1870, following the then existing design, by the lay rector, (fn. 151) was from the 1880s gradually filled by the Robins family with increasingly Art Nouveau memorial glass. (fn. 152) About 1898 the external tracery was renewed in harder stone, while the chancel was repaired in 1906-7. New choir seating in oak replaced deal benches there in 1909. (fn. 153) In the late 20th century further work was undertaken, partly to remedy vibration caused by bombers flying from Mildenhall airfield. (fn. 154) The tombs in the south chapel, cleaned c. 1890 for an American general from the Peyton family, were reordered and repainted, 1962-5, by other American Peyton descendants. They also presented new screens, one in Jacobean style, for both chapels c. 1976 and continued thereafter to help maintain the south chapel. (fn. 155) An organ, repaired in 1841, then replaced, 1855 × 1860, by a harmonium under the tower, stood by 1900 on the chancel north side. It was succeeded in 1907 by one bought from All Saints, Newmarket, later removed from the north chapel to a loft under the tower arch. (fn. 156)

In 1552 the church had, besides five velvet and silk vestments, three silver gilt chalices with a censer and a nef of silver. (fn. 157) The existing plate includes a silver gilt cup with two patens and two similar flagons, all given in 1685-6 by Dame Katherine Maynard and her daughter Dame Mary Adams, besides the former fen church's cup, paten, and flagon of 1879. (fn. 158) Of the five older bells the most ancient is a passing bell called Gabriel, given in 1471 by Thomas Peyton for the souls of his Bernard parents-in-law. There are two others of 1516, one of 1698, and one of 1819. (fn. 159) Passing and gleaning bells were still rung in the 1910s. (fn. 160) The Peyton kin gave a sixth bell in 1967, when a new steel bell frame was installed. (fn. 161) A Scheme of 1907 for the Dunstall charity continued a customary payment of £3 a year to maintain the church clock. (fn. 162)

About 1355 births were being recorded in the church's frequently consulted 'kalendar and portifer'. (fn. 163) The parish registers, beginning in 1566, have gaps for 1571-80, 1585-9, 1666-82, and 1718-24. (fn. 164) The churchyard, apparently closed by 1873, (fn. 165) has a 15th-century lychgate, partitioned off to the west to accommodate the village stocks still in use c. 1840. (fn. 166)


  • 1. Forged privileges by abps. of Canterbury from Lanfranc to Theobald, with interpolated charter of Wm. I, printed, Registrum Roffense, ed. J. Thorpe (1769), 441-4; analysed and their forgery argued, M. Brett, in Mon. Germ. Hist., Schriften, 33, Bd. iv, 397-412. Forged doc. of Abp. Hubert Walter (supposedly 1197-8), also printed, and discussed, Eng. Episc. Acta, iii, Canterbury, 1193-1205, pp. 243-7.
  • 2. Reg. Roffense, ed. Thorpe, 447-8.
  • 3. Ibid. 440-1, 448-9; cf. Reg. Hamonis de Hethe (Cant. & York Soc.), i. 314,
  • 4. e.g. Reg. Hamon Hethe, i. 139, 316, 326, 456-7; ii. 698, 791, 899; Cal. Inq. p.m. xiii, pp. 373-4.
  • 5. e.g. Reg. Hamon Hethe, i. 381.
  • 6. e.g. P.R.O., PROB 11/14, f. 251v.; PROB 11/15, f. 92v.; PROB 11/73, f. 310v.; PROB 11/128, f. 400; PROB 11/229, f. 227v.
  • 7. Lond. Gaz. 20 Apr. 1852, pp. 1117-8 (not specifying Isleham); cf. ibid. 4 June 1852, p. 1584.
  • 8. Ibid. 30 May 1837, pp. 1369-70; cf. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 121; Cal. Pat. 1334-8, 126; 1358-61, 315-16.
  • 9. e.g. Reg. Roffense, ed. Thorpe, 66.
  • 10. e.g. Reg. Hamon Hethe, ii. 675, 683, 730, 881.
  • 11. e.g. C.H. Fielding, Rec. of Rochester (1910), 153-4; P.R.O., IND 17014, f. 237; IND 17015, f. 322; cf. Ecton, Thesaurus (1763), 388; Clergy Guide (1922), 89.
  • 12. Lond. Gaz. 4 June 1852, pp. 1583-4; 10 July 1874, p. 3438.
  • 13. e.g. Crockford (1896 and later edns. to 1980-2).
  • 14. Reg. Roffense, ed. Thorpe, 437; cf. B.L. Cott. MS. Nero C. ix, f. 139.
  • 15. Close R. 1251-3, 216, 277; Cal. Pat. 1247-58, 205; cf. D.N.B. iv. 264-5.
  • 16. Reg. Roffense, 66-7.
  • 17. Ibid. 68; Reg. Hamon Hethe, i. 51; cf. Reg. Roffense, 445-6.
  • 18. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 504.
  • 19. Reg. Roffense, 439.
  • 20. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 121.
  • 21. Reg. Hamon Hethe, i. 311
  • 22. Inq. Non. (Rec. Com.), 214.
  • 23. Above, manors (rectory lease); cf. P.R.O., C 1/1288, no. 12.
  • 24. P.R.O., C 178/1731, pt. 1.
  • 25. C.U.L., E.D.R., G, tithe award 1847, p. 38; C.R.O., Q/RDc 76, m. 26.
  • 26. Church Com. file 40975, survey 1869.
  • 27. Ibid. 83406, corr. and sale 1908-13; cf. ibid. 28935, corr. 1938.
  • 28. Pemb. Coll. Mun., Isleham, A 16.
  • 29. P.R.O., IR 18/13595, corr. 1844.
  • 30. C.U.L., E.D.R., G, tithe award 1847, ff. 1-3; p. 38.
  • 31. C.R.O., 311/M 1, f. 66.
  • 32. C.U.L., E.D.R., G, tithe award 1847 (p. 38) and map (nos. 1981, 1998); Church Com. file 40975, survey 1869.
  • 33. Church Com. files, deeds, nos. 503102, 503109.
  • 34. Reg. Roffense, ed. Thorpe, 437, 449-50.
  • 35. Cf. above, manors (Linton priory).
  • 36. Pemb. Coll. Mun., Isleham, A 6, A 11; cf. ibid. Survey Bk. L, ff. 9-10.
  • 37. C.U.L., E.D.R., G, tithe award 1847, ff. 2-3; cf. P.R.O., IR 13595, corr. 1844.
  • 38. Lamb. Pal. MS. COMM. XIIa/3, f. 276; C.R.O., P 98/2/1.
  • 39. C.U.L., E.D.R., G, tithe award 1847 (p. 38) and map (no. 1980); cf. C.R.O., 311/M 1, f. 66.
  • 40. C.R.O., P 98/2/3; cf. below, educ.
  • 41. C.U.L., E.D.R., G, tithe award 1847, f. 3.
  • 42. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 504.
  • 43. Lamb. Pal. MS. COMM. XIIa/3, f. 276.
  • 44. Rep. Com. Eccl. Revenues, 816-17.
  • 45. P.R.O., HO 129/189, f. 42; C.U.L., E.D,R,, C 3/24; C 3/31.
  • 46. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/38; Church Com. files NB 14/146, return 1887; 57525.
  • 47. P.R.O., E 179/244/22, ff. 130v.-131; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1687-8, p. 151.
  • 48. Church Com. file NB 14/146, return 1832.
  • 49. Camb. Chron. 12 Aug. 1831, p. 2.
  • 50. Cf. C.R.O., P 98/2/4.
  • 51. D.o.E. list, no. 14/3; C.U.L., E.D.R., G, tithe map 1847; Church Com. file 9286, plan 1933.
  • 52. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/38; Church Com. file NB 14/146, return 1921; cf. ibid. 57525, corr. 1878.
  • 53. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1883 and later edns. to 1937); Crockford (1896 and later edns. to 1973-4); Church Com. file 57525, corr. 1933-40.
  • 54. Inf. from Church Com.; cf. Ely Standard, 5 Nov., 24 Dec. 1981.
  • 55. Listed, Fielding, Rec. of Rochester, 153-4, with biog. notes; cf. Reg. Hamon Hethe (Cant. & York Soc.), i, 381, 458; ii. 675, 683, 881; B.L. Harl. Ch. 54 C.41; Reg. Chichele (Cant. & York Soc.), i. 336.
  • 56. e.g. C.R.O., 311/M 1, ff. 2, 64v., 66; and abutments, ibid. ff. 16-43; cf. Fielding, Rec. of Rochester, 484, 564; P.R.O., C 110/45 (1), nos. 36, 165-6.
  • 57. e.g. P.R.O., PROB 11/17, f. 233v.
  • 58. H.W. Robinson, [vicar] 'Hist. Isleham Par. and Ch.' (typesript, c. 1918), 34: copy kindly supplied by Maj. D.C.W. Peyton, deposited (from 2000) in Cambs. Colln.
  • 59. Cal. Pat. 1330-4, 222. Possibly not effected.
  • 60. B.L. Add. MS. 1301, f. 129; cf. below, ch. (bldg.).
  • 61. e.g. P.R.O., PROB 11/19, f. 53v.; PROB 11/31, f. 48v.; ibid. C 110/44 (2), no. 26;
  • 62. P.R.O., PROB 11/15, f. 200v.; cf. below, char.
  • 63. Cal. Pat. 1569-72, pp. 345, 402.
  • 64. V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 314.
  • 65. Reg. Roffense, ed. Thorpe, 437.
  • 66. e.g. Pemb. Coll. Mun., Isleham, B 2-20.
  • 67. Mentioned, Eccl. Top. Eng. vi, no. 100; cf. Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 24-6. For its exterior, fig. 8.
  • 68. D.o.E. list, no. 14/10; cf. Eccl. Top. Eng. vi, no 100; B.L. Add. MS. 5813, f. 41; Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 24.
  • 69. Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 12-13, 21; Bury Free Press, 25 July 1952; Camb. Ind. Press, 5 Jan. 1962; 27 July 1972; Ely Standard, 1 Aug. 1968; cf. Houghton, Memories of Isleham, 53.
  • 70. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 505.
  • 71. C.R.O., 311/M 1, ff. 3v., 56, 82-83v.
  • 72. Ibid. f. 3v.; P.R.O., C 110/45 (1), no. 162.
  • 73. Listed, Fielding, Rec. of Rochester, 153-4, with biog. notes.
  • 74. e.g. P.R.O., CP 25/1/26/46, no. 16; ibid. C 110/45 (2), no. 133; cf. C.R.O., 311/M 1, f. 3v.
  • 75. Reg. Hamon Hethe, i. 70, 104, 391, 440, 475, 582; ii. 682, 879; cf. above, manors (Bernard estate).
  • 76. P.R.O., C 110/44 (1), no. 38; C 110/45 (1), nos. 143, 151, 161,
  • 77. Ibid. CP 25/2/68/559, no. 34.
  • 78. C.R.O., 311/M 1, f. 58 and v.
  • 79. Mon. Inscr. Cambs. 87; cf. P.R.O., C 1/439, no. 29; ibid. PROB 11/15, f. 20v; PROB 11/17, f. 233v.; PROB 11/19, f. 55.
  • 80. Fielding, Rec. of Rochester, 154; P.R.O., C 110/45 (1), no. 162; Proc. C.A.S. i. 213.
  • 81. P.R.O., E 310/37/2020, mm. 2-3; ibid. E 315/67, f. 417v.; Cal. Pat. 1547-8, 293; but cf. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 504.
  • 82. P.R.O., C 110/45 (1), nos. 155-6; cf. C.R.O., P 98/25/2, and below, char.
  • 83. P.R.O., PROB 11/19, ff. 53v.-54; PROB 11/31, ff. 48v.-49; PROB 11/129, f. 370; ibid. C 110/44 (2), nos. 18, 26.
  • 84. Ibid. PROB 11/29, f. 15; PROB 11/37, f. 302.
  • 85. e.g. ibid. PROB 11/73, f. 310v.; PROB 11/111, f. 409; PROB 11/128, f. 440; PROB 11/137, f. 476.
  • 86. e.g. Alum. Cantab. to 1751, 1. 97, 308; iv. 395.
  • 87. B.L. Add. MS. 15669, f. 168; cf. Walker Revised, ed. A.G. Matthews, 88.
  • 88. V.C.H. Cambs. ii. 183-4.
  • 89. B.L. Add. MS. 5497, f. 151; W.A. Shaw, Hist. Eng. Ch. 1640-60, ii. 497.
  • 90. P.R.O., PROB 11/378, f. 92; Alum. Cantab. to 1751, iii. 326; epitaph in ch.; but cf. C.R.O., par reg. transcript, baptisms, ministers' signatures 1659-83.
  • 91. Presentment 1724, copied in C.R.O., Isleham par. reg. transcript.
  • 92. P.R.O., IND 17014, f. 237; cf. Alum. Cantab. to 1751, i. 64; iii. 107; iv. 77, 154, 190, 327.
  • 93. Cf. Cambs. Poll Bk. (1780), p. 67.
  • 94. Alum. Cantab. 1752-1900, iii. 529; cf. below, educ. 1752-1900, v. 448.
  • 95. Rep. Com. Eccl. Revenues, 842-3; cf. Alum. Cantab. 1752-1900, v. 448.
  • 96. P.R.O., HO 129/189, f. 42; cf. Camb. Chron. 14 Jan. 1854, p. 4.
  • 97. Camb. Chron. 24 Dec. 1853, p. 4; 24 June 1854, p. 4.
  • 98. e.g. P.R.O., RG 9/1035, f. 70; RG 11/1680, f. 63; Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1858 and later edns.).
  • 99. C.R.O., P 98/8/2, s.a. 1855, 1857; P 98/8/3, papers 1855-6; Church Com. file 12142, corr. 1856-7; cf. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/24.
  • 100. C.R.O., P 98/AM 1, pp. 10, 18, 22, 27; cf. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1912); Ely Standard, 14 Sept. 1972.
  • 101. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/24; C 3/31; C 3/38.
  • 102. M. Chamberlain, Fenwomen. 116, 148. For the Robins fam., above, manors; econ. hist.
  • 103. Alum. Cantab. 1752-1900, iv. 396; Camb. Chron. 26 Oct. 1872, p. 8; 26 Sept. 1874, p. 8.
  • 104. Camb. Chron. 30 Oct. 1875, p. 8.
  • 105. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/24; C 3/31; C.R.O., P 98/1/17 (reg. of services 1872-92); Camb. Chron. 17 May 1873, p. 4; 16 Jan. 1875, p. 4; 28 Dec. 1883, p. 5; E.D.R. (1889), 224, 252.
  • 106. King's Coll. Mun., ISL 30, Appeal 1872 and corr. 1873-9; Church Com. file 57525, corr. 1878, 1980; Camb. Chron. 13 Apr. 1878, p. 4; 27 July 1878, p. 4; cf. below, educ.
  • 107. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1879-1912); E.D.R. (1888), 182; Camb. Chron. 11 Feb. 1881, p. 4; C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/38.
  • 108. Below, educ.
  • 109. Crockford (1896 and later edns.); cf. Church Com. file 57525, corr. 1924.
  • 110. C.U.L. E.D.R,, C 3/38; cf. Camb. Chron. 18 Dec. 1896, p. 8.
  • 111. Church Com. files K 2466, corr. 1878-9; 28935, corr. 1911; 45844, corr. 1913; cf. C.R.O., P 98/1/34.
  • 112. Camb. Ind. Press, 8 Aug. 1973; cf. Houghton, Memories of Isleham, 54.
  • 113. Ctockford (1926 and later edns. to 1973-4).
  • 114. Chamberlain, Fenwomen, 117-21, 161; inf. from Maj. D.C.W. Peyton.
  • 115. Ely Standard, 12 Aug. 1976; 17 Jan. 1980; Newmarket Jnl. 19 Feb., 23 Sept. 1976; 28 Apr. 1994.
  • 116. e.g. Camb. Ind. Press, 16 June 1977; 26 June 1978.
  • 117. Camb. Evening News, 4 Mar. 1992.
  • 118. Char. Com. file 202242; cf. P.R.O., HO 107/1763, f. 98v.; ibid. RG 9/1035, f. 71; RG 10/1600, f. 71.
  • 119. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 504; cf. P.R.O., CP 25/1/27/42, no. 5; ibid. PROB 11/2B, f. 148v.; PROB 11/15, f. 92v. In 1457 called, app. in error, St. Mary's: ibid. PROB 11/4, f. 80.
  • 120. C.R.O., 311/M 1, f. 65; cf. P.R.O., JUST 2/17, rot. 3.
  • 121. Copy of 18th-cent. picture of ch. in S. aisle. Bldg. described, 1806: Lysons, Cambs. 56; c. 1850: Eccl. Top. Eng. vi, no. 190; also Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1883 and later edns.); W. Robinson, 'Hist. Isleham Ch.' (1918) (typescript cited above); Short Hist. St. And.'s Ch. (edns. of 1960s and later); D.o.E. list, no. 14/8.
  • 122. B.L. Cott. MS. Faust. B. iv, f. 57.
  • 123. Eccl. Top. Eng. vi, no. 190; Hist. St. And.'s Ch. 6.
  • 124. See plate 10.
  • 125. B.L. Add. MS. 1301, f. 129; Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 32; for its misascription to the fictitious 'Sir Godfrey Bernard, fl. 13th cent.', ibid. 39.
  • 126. Its heraldry defaced by c. 1580: B.L. Add. MS. 1301, f. 128.
  • 127. Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 28.
  • 128. Ibid. 29, 32.
  • 129. Picture in ch.; cf. below.
  • 130. Note by Wm. Cole, cited, Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 54.
  • 131. Inscr. on roof; printed, e.g. Mon. Inscr. Cambs. 88.
  • 132. J. Harvey, Eng. Med. Architects (rev. edn., 1984), 325-6.
  • 133. Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 32. See plate 10.
  • 134. Cf. P.R.O., PROB 11/15, f. 200v.
  • 135. Church Com. file 28935, report 1906.
  • 136. P.R.O., PROB 11/14, f. 251v.; PROB 11/19, f. 53v.
  • 137. B.L. Add. MS. 1301, ff. 129, 130; corr. 1962-4, in possession of Maj. D.C.W. Peyton.
  • 138. Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 44.
  • 139. First mentioned, Eccl. Top. Eng. vi, no. 190; cf. Cambs. Ch. Goods, temp. Edw. VI. 26; Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 60-5.
  • 140. Mon. and glass as extant in late 16th-cent. (in lifetime of Rob. Peyton, d. 1590): B.L. Add. MS. 1301, ff. 128-129v.; as 1746 X 1790: Mon. Inscr. Cambs. 87-90; 1773: B.L. Add. MS. 19199, ff. 19-31.
  • 141. e.g. P.R.O., PROB 11/31, f. 48v.; PROB 11/129, f. 370.
  • 142. Corr. 1962-5, in possession of Maj. D.C.W. Peyton.
  • 143. See plate 15 (right side). Arms on it reported c. 1580 not identified. Drawn, 1833: C.A.S., Relhan drawings, ii, no. 230.
  • 144. P.R.O., C 110/44 (2), no. 26.
  • 145. See plate 15.
  • 146. Cf. P.R.O., C 110/44 (2), no. 18.
  • 147. Cf. Trans. Mon. Brass. Soc. vi (1972), 290-9.
  • 148. Cf. P.R.O., C 110/45 (2), no. 13.
  • 149. Camb. Camden Soc. xiii. 63; cf. Proc. C.A.S. xiii. 32, 63; Fielding, Rec. of Rochester, 152.
  • 150. Cf. Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 37.
  • 151. King's Coll. Mun., ISL 22 (photog. of damaged ch.); ISL 26, Appeals and corr. 1862-6; Camb. Chron. 26 July 1862, p. 5; 2 Aug. 1862, p. 8; 14 Nov. 1868, p. 1; Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 30-1, 38.
  • 152. Kelly's Dir. Cambs. (1888-92).
  • 153. Ibid. (1908-12); C.R.O., P 98/5/5; Church Com. file 28935, surveys and corr. 1906-11; King's Coll. Mun., ISL 57, Appeal and corr. 1908.
  • 154. Church Com. file 28935, corr. 1949 sqq.; Camb. Daily News, 3 Mar. 1933; Camb. Ind. Press, 5 Jan. 1962; Camb. News, 28 Aug. 1964; Ely Standard, 23 Apr. 1981.
  • 155. Hist. St. And.'s Ch. 6; Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 50-1, 57; Ely Standard, 1 May 1969; corr. 1962-5, 1975-6, and later, kindly shown by Maj. D.C.W. Peyton.
  • 156. Camb. Chron. 1 Jan. 1842, p. 2; Church Com. file 28935, corr. 1907-10; Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 48.
  • 157. Cambs. Ch. Goods, temp. Edw. VI, 26.
  • 158. MS. list of ch. plate, in possession of V.C.H.
  • 159. Cal. Bodl. Charters and Rolls, ed. Turner & Cox, p. 139; Cambs. Bells (C.A.S. 8vo ser. xviii), 153; Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 31.
  • 160. Houghton, Memories of Isleham, 6, 18.
  • 161. Ely Standard, 15 Aug. 1968; Ringing World, 20 Aug. 1976.
  • 162. Char. Com. file 202427, Scheme 1907; corr. 1905 sqq.; accts. 1964 and later.
  • 163. Cal. Inq. p.m. xiii, pp. 373-4; cf. Reg. Hamon Hethe (Cant. & York Soc.), ii. 795.
  • 164. C.R.O., P 98/1/1-15.
  • 165. C.U.L., E.D.R., C 3/24.
  • 166. East Anglian, N.S. vii. 240; Robinson, 'Isleham Ch.', 28; Houghton, Memories of Isleham, 58.