This article is from "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford" by Norman Hidden, 2009.
In its early days, the parish church of Hungerford had a special relationship with the Abbey of Bec since the tithes of the parish were appropriated to the Abbey. The abbey being located in Normandy, its possessions in England were administered by the prior of the Abbey’s cell at Ogbourne in Wilts, only a short distance from Hungerford. As the Abbey’s proctor-general, the prior of Ogbourne became the de facto rector of Hungerford. The incumbency itself was held by a vicar, who was presented by the abbey through its proctor or prior and instituted by the bishop of Salisbury. This arrangement lasted more or less until the spiritualities of the abbey were transferred to the Dean and Canons of the chapel of St. George in Windsor in 1421 .
The earliest known references to a vicar of Hungerford are to be found in the collection of documents known as the Cartulary of St. Frideswide. In a document c.1148 the abbreviation R. is used for the name of the vicar. This ‘R’ is likely to be Ralph ‘the priest of Hungerford’ who was involved in a dispute concerning the tithes of Hidden c.1150- 1160. The same Cartulary has references to one Simeon as vicar of Hungerford in c.1190 and (his name abbreviated to S.) in 1191 .
Medieval documents usually give only the vicar’s Christian name; so in another cartulary we have a reference to Radulf, priest of Hungerford c.1220 . Nothing further is known about him. [The prior of Ogbourne about this time was one Ranulf . Might it be possible that he acted also as vicar of Hungerford?] A little later, in the time of Henry III (1220 - 1238), Richard is vicar .
Although there is a big gap from 1238 to 1301 when the next incumbent whose name we know occurs, we do have some very vivid detail concerning this man. He was Walter Job of Marlborough and we know of him through official letters which appear in the Register of Bishop Simon de Gandavo, bishop of Salisbury from 1297 - 1315 .
Simon de Gandavo (or Simon of Ghent as he is also known) was an energetic reformer in the church and a man of great learning. He had been Chancellor of the University of Oxford 1291-3 and he joined the barons in their revolt against Edward II’s adviser Piers Gaveston.
In September 1301 he wrote to the Dean of Salisbury forcefully drawing his attention to the serious state of affairs in the church at Hungerford. Hungerford was the Dean’s ‘peculiar’, that is, it was under the Dean’s administration and not the Bishop’s. So Bishop Simon, unable to act himself, directed a strong note to his Dean. ‘Looking upon the flock entrusted to us’, he writes (and I give my own rather free translation of his Latin), ‘we cannot avoid seeing that the neighbouring prebendal church of Hungerford, which although it surpasses many prebends of our church of Salisbury in possessions and wealth, yet it is poorer than others in decency’.
The cause of this was the behaviour of vicar Walter Job. For he, the prebend of this church, was ‘forever active outside the area which he was appointed to administer. He never sees the church itself or looks after his flock, although he was appointed for this purpose; he is vicar there in name only. Although forbidden by a stricter law to engage in demonstrations, disputes, debates, and such secular matters, he never ceases to enjoy the city squares instead of study, altercations instead of lectures, market days instead of churches, brawling instead of preaching, and scurrility instead of decency’.
Beneath all this we may perhaps see some form of ‘radical’ theology at work, rejecting the traditional emphasis on the parish church and seeking instead to go out and preach (controversially) wherever the crowds might be found. This may or may not be so, for we know the story only as it flows from the bishop’s forceful pen. He goes on to
assert that Hungerford parishioners ‘never finding him [=Job] at confession or divine service are seriously taking action’, no doubt such action including reporting these circumstances to the bishop.
The bishop next turns to Job’s own personal morals. ‘He has an open and uncontrollable intimacy with loose women and others .... with whom it is proved that he spends days of wickedness and nights of infamy .... there are people living here who declare that he is their father [genuit]. .... between him and the parishioners the covenant of peace has been broken by litigation, quarrels, and the scandal arising from them and, as we are sad to relate, by heretical depravity spreading in all directions.’
The letter goes on to point out that the bishop has interviewed him concerning these matters on previous occasions and rebuked him ‘discreetly’, but to no effect. The Dean’s responsibility in the matter is then firmly underlined, since this pa rish is under his peculiar jurisdiction. This letter, like the next one, was dated from the
Bishop’s palace, which in those days was at Ramsbury, a mere 4 miles or so distance from Hungerford.
On 7 January 1301/2 the bishop mandated his official to cite the vicar of Hungerford. In this mandate he lays emphasis on Job’s ‘licentious’ way of life in general, and he quotes a particular instance of the priest committing ‘notorious’ adultery with Alice, wife of Peter le Forester. ‘He remains incorrigible,’ the mandate warns, ‘and the
more he is reproved the more he scorns the reproof with an everhardening resolve.’
The third and final entry in Simon’s Register is dated 20 November 1302. In it Walter Job is described as ‘magister’. This implies that he was a University graduate. He is described as ‘of Marlborough’ [his place of origin], and as vicar for life [perpetuus vicarius] of Hungerford.
The letter is addressed by the bishop to the Dean’s official, and events seem now to have taken an unexpected twist, one which reflects the overlap of episcopal and decanal jurisdiction. Apparently the dean, stung no doubt by the bishop’s earlier insistency, had summoned the vicar to appear in the Dean’s court. The vicar complained to the bishop that he had already been summoned to the episcopal court, where the matter (owing, the bishop alleges, to the decanal official’s ‘negligence’ [= non-attendance?]) remained undecided. The dean’s office had refused to accept Walter Job’s plea and had deprived him of his office ‘giving the patron of the benefice [= the representative of the Abbot of Bec] the charge that he should present [the benefice] to another person’.
The bishop ordered the dean’s office to forbid the patron to attempt anything prejudicial to the vicar’s case while the vicar’s appeal to the bishop was pending. And the official was summoned to appear at the appeal to the episcopal court ‘to abide by the charges you have made’ and ‘to do and receive whatever justice will recommend’.
Nothing could more effectively illustrate the uneasy relationship between the bishop’s office and that of the dean. Amid all this turmoil whatever happened to Walter Job we do not know. Nor do we ever hear of him again.
In 1341 a Ms. mentions William as vicar . In 1355 and again in 1361 Thomas is said to be vicar . It is possible that this is Thomas de Hungerford who may have been holding the post as a sinecure. Thomas de Hungerford was a highly trusted administrative officer of Bishop Edington of Salisbury (1346 -66). From 1365 onwards he
was responsible among other things for the temporal affairs of the bishop’s lands and was one of the executors of the bishop’s will .
At some date following 1361 the vicar was William Lovedore. On 18 January 1367/8 he exchanged his vicarage at Hungerford for that of Ham in Wiltshire, with the agreement of the bishops of Sarum and Winchester .
This exchange brought Ralph de Baston, vicar of Ham since 1361, to Hungerford . He remained in Hungerford for some 13 years or so, exchanging the vicarage of Hungerford for the rectory of Millbrook, Hants, in 1381 . Apart from the records concerning Walter Job, these occasional references are but the slightest gleanings and tell us nothing of the men themselves or of their activities within the parish. They do, however, demonstrate the continued existence of the church and the parish in those otherwise ‘dark’ ages.
From 1381 onwards a more or less consistent record of institutions is recorded in the Registers of successive Bishops of Salisbury. These Registers are a record of the Bishop’s institutions and collations to benefices and of other important activities. That Hungerford institutions do not appear in the Register until 1381 is because of the special position already mentioned which had been enjoyed by the Abbey of Bec through its prebend in the cathedral church. However, throughout the French wars of the 14th. century, the alien Abbey’s position had clearly become weaker and weaker, until when the last proctor was appointed in 1364, his powers may have been more nominal than real.
SUMMARY LIST OF VICARS to 1381
1148 to c.1160 Ralph
1220 to 1238 Richard
1301 to 1302+ Walter Job
1355 to 1361+ Thomas de Hungerford, to 1368 William Lovedore
1368 - 1381 Ralph de Baston Vicar”