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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There was apparently a church at Eastington by 1092 when Winebaud de Ballon granted tithes there to Bermondsey Priory, (fn. 1) although no record of it has been found before 1291. (fn. 2) It was presumably founded by Winebaud or another lord of the manor. In 1305 the church was a rectory, (fn. 3) which it has remained. The benefice was united with the vicarage of Frocester in 1953. (fn. 4)
The advowson belonged to the lord of Eastington manor in 1305, (fn. 5) and successive lords presented, with an exception in 1387 when the Crown presented, although the feoffees of Hugh, Earl of Stafford, had made a successful presentation the previous year. (fn. 6) Thomas Heneage, lord of the manor, presented in 1532, (fn. 7) but in the mid 16th century there was confusion over the ownership of the advowson. In 1550 the Crown granted it to Sir William Herbert, (fn. 8) and the Duke of Northumberland was later said to have been patron in 1553. (fn. 9) In 1555, however, Henry, Lord Stafford, leased the advowson to Richard Stafford, later lessee of the manor, and in 1567 William Whitton presented under a grant from Richard Stafford. (fn. 10) In 1566 Richard Stafford sub-let the advowson to Richard Stephens, who with others bought it from Ursula Stafford and her sons in 1569. (fn. 11) Three of the purchasers presented in 1571, (fn. 12) but then or later they were disputing it with other claimants, and in 1575 they bought it from Henry Herbert, Earl of Pembroke; (fn. 13) Richard Stephens alone was said to be seised of the advowson at his death in 1577. (fn. 14) It then descended with the manor in the Stephens family until 1812 when Henry Stephens (formerly Willis) sold it to William Veel who sold it in the same year to the Revd. Richard Huntley of Boxwell Court. (fn. 15) Huntley apparently sold it c. 1823 to John Laing. (fn. 16) In 1831 Abraham Hatherell presented and in 1837 Ralph Peters. (fn. 17) In 1856 the advowson belonged to the incumbent Thomas Peters (d. 1890), (fn. 18) from whom it passed to T. E. Peters, whose trustees held it in 1906 and 1931. In 1935 the advowson was held by J. T. Chapple; (fn. 19) it was acquired c. 1939 by the Diocesan Board of Patronage (fn. 20) which in 1968 shared the advowson of the united benefice with Lady Cooper of Frocester.
The church was worth £10 13s. 4d. and Bermondsey Priory's portion £1 in 1291; (fn. 21) the portion was not recorded later. A portion of the tithes of Alkerton owed to the Vicar of Frocester was being disputed by the rector in 1367, (fn. 22) and in 1377 was commuted for a rent of 20s.; (fn. 23) the payment to Frocester was recorded until the late 18th century. (fn. 24) In 1674 a composition was being paid to the rector for milk, but other produce and animals including calves were tithable in kind. (fn. 25) From 1818 the tithe-payers paid cash compositions to the rector. (fn. 26) The tithes were commuted for a corn-rent of £525 in 1839. (fn. 27) The rector had some glebe in 1341; (fn. 28) there were 45 a. in the early 17th century, (fn. 29) and 64 a. c. 1820. (fn. 30) In 1680 a house at Nupend belonged to the rectory. (fn. 31) The rectory was valued at £32 14s. 9d. in 1535, (fn. 32) £57 in the early 17th century, (fn. 33) £160 in 1650, (fn. 34) £130 in 1750, (fn. 35) and £552 in 1856. (fn. 36)
The rectory house, which was mentioned from 1572 when it was said to be in decay, (fn. 37) stood east of the church on the site later occupied by the school. (fn. 38) It had 7 hearths in 1672, (fn. 39) and in 1680 the house and out-buildings comprised 28 bays. (fn. 40) It was a low, gabled block with timber-framed out-buildings. (fn. 41) One window contained coloured glass depicting soldiers performing military exercises, thought to be late-16th-century Flemish work. (fn. 42) In 1833 the building of a new rectory was begun on another site north of the road to Stonehouse. (fn. 43) The new house, later called Oldbury, ceased to be the rectory c. 1900, and shortly afterwards Eastington Lodge was acquired as a rectory. (fn. 44)
By 1291 Eastington church had a chapel of ease at Alkerton, (fn. 45) later described as standing at about a crossbow-shot from the church; (fn. 46) it was dedicated to St. Kenelm. (fn. 47) In 1340 services at the chapel had been suspended for default by Alkerton parishioners, some of whom refused to attend the parish church instead and were ordered to be barred from neighbouring churches. (fn. 48) In 1400 the Rector of Eastington was exempted from celebrating mass and other offices in the chapel, which was then ruinous, (fn. 49) and no later record of the chapel has been found.
In 1338 the Rector of Eastington was given leave to be absent in the service of the Earl of Gloucester. (fn. 50) John Wells, rector in 1397, was given dispensation to hold an additional benefice; (fn. 51) he was farming the demesne of the manor in 1402 (fn. 52) and 1409. (fn. 53) In 1457 and 1468 the rector, John Sudbury, was one of the lessees of the manorial warren and fishery. (fn. 54) In 1475 dispensation to hold an additional benefice was granted to William Blamyre (fn. 55) (d. 1501). (fn. 56) William Dickinson, rector from 1532, (fn. 57) was apparently non-resident in 1551 when the church was being served by a curate whose doctrinal knowledge was found unsatisfactory. (fn. 58) Dickinson was temporarily suspended in 1553 for brawling with a parishioner in the church; (fn. 59) he was said to be resident in 1563, (fn. 60) but in the same year the churchwardens complained that they had only an old curate who could not read distinctly. In 1570 the curate serving the parish was indicted for not wearing a surplice, failing to read the royal injunctions, and using common white bread for the sacrament. (fn. 61) Richard Syrell, the rector, was absent in 1572, (fn. 62) and had another benefice in 1576. (fn. 63) In 1579 Thomas Barker was instituted on the presentation of Edward Stephens, but Syrell claimed that Stephens had ousted him from the living by means of a forged document, obliging him to resign when required, because he refused to lease the rectory to Stephens at a small rent; Stephens said that Richard Stephens had secured the obligation when he presented Syrell because he was anxious to recoup some of the money he had recently spent in litigation over the advowson. (fn. 64) Robert Ball (1581-1613) (fn. 65) was a preacher and a graduate. (fn. 66)
From 1613 the living was held by Richard Capel, a noted Puritan divine; in 1619 he was presented for not wearing a surplice, not making the sign of the cross in baptism, and for other omissions, (fn. 67) and in 1633 he refused to read the Book of Sports in church and resigned the living. (fn. 68) William Pemble, another Puritan divine, died at Eastington in 1623 while visiting Capel his former tutor. (fn. 69) Both Capel and his successor, William Mew, were evidently presented because their opinions coincided with those of the patron, Nathaniel Stephens. (fn. 70) In 1640 Mew was said to have been a lecturer in London and to stand 'affected as most lecturers do'; (fn. 71) he preached before the House of Commons in 1643, and was a member of the assembly of divines. (fn. 72) In 1650 he was described as a constant preacher. (fn. 73) After a last-minute change of mind he subscribed to the Act of Uniformity in 1662, (fn. 74) and apparently held the living until 1669 when Samuel Mew was instituted. (fn. 75) Robert Stephens, instituted in 1760, was also Rector of Shellingford (Berks.), and later became lord of the manor. (fn. 76) His successor, William Davies (1776-1817), resided, (fn. 77) but Wadham Huntley (1817-31), (fn. 78) the brother of the patron, resided on his benefice at Aston Blank. (fn. 79) Huntley's successor, James Hatherell, who rebuilt the rectory, had leave of absence for reasons of health in 1836; he was succeeded in the next year by Thomas Peters, (fn. 80) who gained a high reputation during his 45 years' incumbency. (fn. 81) In the 1760s a parishioner was paid a small salary 'for preserving good order in the church during divine service'. (fn. 82) A rent-charge of 15s. was given to the rector for a sermon on Ascension Day by Richard Clutterbuck of Nupend (d. 1735), (fn. 83) and the rector still preached the sermon in the late 1960s, although the bequest and 5s. given at the same time for the parish clerk then went towards general church purposes. (fn. 84)
A chantry, endowed with two houses and 58 a. of land, was founded in Eastington church in 1336 by the lady of the manor, Iseult de Audley, (fn. 85) and priests were instituted to it in 1338 and 1386. (fn. 86) The chantry priest was presented for hunting with greyhounds in the lord's warren in 1377. (fn. 87) The chantry perhaps lapsed in the early 15th century, as the rents from its lands were paid to the manor in 1439 and later, and in 1457 a house and yardland, formerly held by the chantry priest, were leased by the lord of the manor to a tenant. (fn. 88) No later reference to the chantry has been found, unless the chaplain recorded in the parish in 1498 served it. (fn. 89)
The parish had a church house by 1468 when the tenants of Eastington manor petitioned the Duchess of Buckingham for a piece of land for its enlargement, (fn. 90) and the manor was receiving a nominal rent for the site of the church house within the outer court of the manor in 1491. (fn. 91) A new church house was under construction in 1524, (fn. 92) and a building called the Church House was sold with the advowson by the Staffords in 1569. (fn. 93)
The church of ST. MICHAEL, formerly St. Mary, (fn. 94) comprises nave, chancel, south aisle, west tower, north porch, and north vestry and organchamber. No part of the fabric is obviously earlier than the 14th century, but the Norman font, which has a plain bowl and a pedestal encircled by a broad shelf scalloped on the underside, (fn. 95) presumably survives from the earlier church. (fn. 96) The dedication of the church in 1340 (fn. 97) may have marked the completion of a 14th-century rebuilding. The tower is probably wholly of that period; it is of three stages with battlements and gargoyles and a square staircase-turret on the north, and has 14th-century windows at each stage. Windows of the same period survive in the north wall of the nave, in the side walls of the chancel, and in the south wall of the aisle, the latter apparently reset. In the later 15th or early 16th century the nave was largely rebuilt and a south aisle added or rebuilt. The nave was made higher and three tall arched windows divided into two stages by a thick transom (fn. 98) were made in the eastern part of the north wall, and a smaller one was inserted above the 14th-century window at the west; three clerestory windows were made above the new arcade on the south side. The aisle was given an east window with a hood-mould enriched with angel-stops and carvings of dogs and a knight holding a shield, and a west window with internally a cusped ogee hood on foliated stops; three square-headed windows and a doorway were made in the south wall. The doorway has a square dripmould, crowned head-stops, and decorated spandrels bearing the initials SB for one of the Staffords, Dukes of Buckingham, who perhaps paid for the rebuilding. (fn. 99) Nave and aisle were given low-pitched panelled ceilings ornamented with bosses. At the rebuilding or later a doorway with a dripmould was made in the north wall of the chancel. (fn. 100)
The chancel was said to be ruinous in 1570. (fn. 101) In 1652 a gabled north porch with a round-headed entrance was built (fn. 102) replacing a slightly higher one. A gallery for the Clutterbucks of Millend and Nastend was built under the tower in 1760. (fn. 103) In 1832 a vestry was built on the south side of the chancel, (fn. 104) and in 1851 when a restoration was financed by Charles Hooper the nave was lengthened towards the east by building a new chancel arch, a new ceiling was made over the east part of the nave, and a gallery was removed from the east end of the aisle and the arcade there renewed. (fn. 105) Later the windows were restored, (fn. 106) and in 1885 further restoration included the addition of an organchamber west of the vestry replacing one bay of the aisle, the removal of the west gallery, the insertion of a low screen to separate nave and chancel in the position of the former chancel arch, the replacement of pews, pulpit and reading-desk, and the addition of choir-stalls. (fn. 107)
Several windows retain fragments of medieval painted glass, including a figure of St. Matthew in a north window, the only survivor of a set of apostles holding creed scrolls; (fn. 108) other glass with the cypher of the Duke of Buckingham in the window west of the organ-chamber was moved from the nave window destroyed in 1885. (fn. 109) A brass to Elizabeth Knevet (d. 1518) (fn. 110) is set in the east wall of the organchamber. Against the west wall of the aisle is a tomb with the recumbent effigies of Edward Stephens and his wife Joan (both d. 1587); it was in the chancel until 1850 and under the tower until 1954. (fn. 111) The plate includes a chalice given in 1684 by the rector, Samuel Mew; another dated 1622 has disappeared since 1906. (fn. 112) The church had one bell from the early 17th century; (fn. 113) tradition records the removal of a full peal. (fn. 114) The bell was recast at Frocester by James Whitmore in 1652, (fn. 115) again in 1699 by Abraham Rudhall, (fn. 116) and again by John Rudhall in 1826. (fn. 117) In 1953 the peal of six bells from St. Peter's church at Frocester was acquired; four were cast by William Whitmore in 1639, one by Abraham Rudhall in 1743, and another by John Rudhall in 1794; two were recast in 1892. (fn. 118) The registers are complete from 1558. (fn. 119)