This article is from "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford" by Norman Hidden, 2009.
The Hungerford Parish Register commences in 1559 and this is a great help in determining the names of all incumbents from this date onwards. The first page of the register, headed Christenings, commences with an entry dated 22 August 1559 and is captioned ‘in tempore Johannis Clemente’. Burials, also captioned ‘in the time of John Clemente’, commence on 10 August 1559. This date corresponds with the Bishop’s Register record of his institution on 12 April 1559, the vacancy arising from the death of the last incumbent (who is unnamed). Unfortunately the Bishop’s Register gives the new vicar’s name as William Clements . We have seen on previous occasions some discrepancies regarding names in the Bishop’s Register and it may be that the local parish register entry John Clements is in this case correct. Emden has a John Clement
who matriculated at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, where he was a sizar, in 1544, and one of this name was rector of Bradeston in Norfolk, 1554-56. Apart from the similarity of name, however, there is nothing known to connect him with the Hungerford vicar.
Clements’ sucessor was admitted 11 April 1562, the vacancy arising from ‘the death of the last incumbent’. But if Clements died whilst in office, as it seems almost certain, there is no record in the parish register of his burial. His last christening was performed in September 1561 and his last burial on 21 December 1561. There are no marriage entries extant during the period of his incumbency, and there is a significant gap in the burial entries from 25 December 1561 until 12 May 1562. It is likely that Clements’ death occurred during this gap before the new vicar was instituted on 11 April 1562.
This new vicar was Edward Brouker. His surname was mistranscribed by W.H.Summers as Bronker . In the Bishop’s Register he is listed as Brucker. Other variants of his name were Broker, Brooker, Browker. Deponent in a lawsuit in 1573 , he then gives his age as 53, indicating a birth date of 1520. In another lawsuit [Wilts R.O: D/A2/C153] he states that he was born at Winton [Winchester] Hants, and is aged 46 years; he has been resident in Hungerford for about 7 years. The date of this deposition is 1569. He was ordained in the diocese of Winchester in 1560, a late ordinand, and the incumbency at Hungerford is likely to have been his first and only permanent post . We owe an especial debt to him (and later to his son William) for contributing to the early parish register much fascinating additional information which transforms the register from a catalogue of names into a series of illuminating pictures of contemporary life. Something of the nature of the man may be discerned in these entries, an aspect of his work which I have been able to refer to in more detail in my introduction to ‘Hungerford Parish Register 1559- 1619 ’.
Edward Brouker (or Browker) remained as the parish priest for nearly thirty years, until his death in 1591. As vicar, he was one of those who closely identified himself with his flock, their fortunes and misfortunes. Nevertheless the task of any incumbent, either then or now, has never been easy and his period of incumbency was not without its occasional troubles. One problem seems to have been financial. He had the usual difficulty in obtaining payment of tithes by some of his wealthier parishioners , and he in turn was often behind with his obligations to keep the vicarage house in good repair. In 1571 it was said to have needed £6.13.4 spending on it, a sum which represented the better part of a year’s stipend . Five years later the churchwardens reported that ‘the vicar hath not bestowed the fifth part of the fruits this year towards the repairing
thereof, but he intendeth to repair the same this summer ’. The Dean’s official recorded (in Latin) that this was to be done on pain of a fine of 20 shillings. In 1582 the cost of further repairs to the vicarage was estimated at 40 shillings. In 1589, two years before Brouker‘s death, the vicar entered a plea that because of poverty he was unable to repair the vicarage63. Many clergy down the centuries, unless they had additional independent incomes, may have experienced the same problems. With five children, four of them daughters, Brouker probably had to struggle financially throughout the thirty years of his service.
In 1589 he was involved in a case in which the daughter of one of his parishioners was married privately in her home without licence, having promised him that there would be a public wedding in the parish church on the following Sunday. This apparently did not occur. The ecclesiastical authorities investigated the offence and the parishioner was ordered to make a public repentance of her fault before the congregation in church. No action was taken against Brouker .
The case in the ecclesiastical court which must have given Brouker most concern, however, was that in 1575 when his teenage daughter Thomasin brought a suit against Richard Baylie, clerk, of Bedwyn, for breach of promise of marriage. The depositions of the case give us an intimate picture of Elizabethan courtship and an interesting
picture of the Brouker family in their domestic role .
When Edward Brouker died in June 1591 he was succeeded by his only surviving son, William, whose institution to the vacancy took place less than a month later. Such a succession is unusual and must show the esteem in which the father had been held.
William Brouker was married in Hungerford in 1577/8 to a local girl Joan Wirge. His birth therefore must have pre-dated his father’s institution as vicar in 1562. William and Joan had three children baptised in Hungerford: Dorothy (1578), Edward (1580), and William (1581/2). William, however, died in 1597 aged 15 and the burial entry is in his father’s hand.
William’s period of incumbency seems to have been stormier than his father’s. There are clear signs that in the last decade of the century religious dissent was increasing. The churchwardens’ presentments to the Dean of Sarum for the years 1591 - 1602 throw an interesting light on the relations between the vicar and some of his parishioners at a time of great strains and stresses within the church.
The churchwardens’ presentment exhibited 7 October 1591 refers to an immorality case in which the principals ‘had their penance enjoined unto them by Mr. Erasmus Webbe, yet notwithstanding, the said John Curre doth live in house together, contrary to the order of Mr. Webbe, with his said servant66’. Erasmus Webbe was a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford, and rector of Ham. He seems to have had some special authority or responsibility for the affairs of the parish of Hungerford. Although not a resident, he took a practical interest in the affairs of the town of Hungerford, and at some time between 1591 and 1607 had been responsible for providing a much needed
public building. As a town survey of the time reported: ‘There hath been builded at the charges of Erasmus Webb of Ham and by him freely given to the town one arkethouse for butter, cheese and other like things ’.
The churchwardens in 1591-2 also complain that ‘our register book is not perfect according to the order set down but we desire [aid?] for the same ’. This complaint may be taken in conjunction with an entry in another set of depositions in which two parishioners are named as refusing to pay the clerk his wages ‘being but 4d. apiece yearly ’. This jibbing at the burden of the clerk’s wages was a fairly regular occurrence, however, even before William’s time. Indeed church taxation of all kinds was as unpopular then as is secular taxation today.
Although Church taxation, whether for the clerk’s wages or for relief of the poor or for restoration of the church buildings, was inevitably unpopular, it did not necessarily imply discontent with the vicar himself. When these objections, however, were re-inforced by doctrinal differences, a nucleus of awkward opposition might be formed. On the one hand political pressures led to an increased pressure to expose and isolate Roman Catholic recusants; on the other new ‘non-conformist’ teachings made their own demands. The following document illustrates the vicar’s problems. Although the ms. is worm-eaten in places the sense of most of the gaps is obvious and I have supplied it within square brackets .
‘These are to certify unto your worhsip that upon the 2nd day of this instant month the wife of James Frinde [Friend] of our town of Hungerford shoemaker was delivered of a child; who, as it seemed, was very desirous to have his child christened but not willing that the vicar of the parish should christen it, but would have some other to christen his child according to his mind, which was contrary to the book of Common Prayer and the uniform order of our Church Established. So upon the 18th. day of this instant month the said James Frinde got one Mr. Fenton a wandering minister (as I suppose) into his house and there did minister the sacrament of baptism privately that ought to have been done publicly, without the consent of the minister of the said [parish]. Which Frinde had gotten into his house birds of [a] feather to be as he called them witnesses and [sureties to] his child what it had vowed and promised by them [one of whose] name is Richard Feelde dwelling in our town. [Other] names are Martha Lankester, the wife of Henry [Lankester] dwelling at Denford in the parish of Kintbury, [and] another godmother was the wife of Thomas Car[penter] town dyer. Besides there was present at the said con[venticle] a midwife called Elizabeth Wheatley widow, Jone [the] wife of Richard Maie, Ellen wife of William [Norcraft] of our town currier and Elizabeth Greene a soj[ourner at the] house of one called by the name of Thomas Didimon, Clemence Browne’s children of Denford aforesaid. [All] those were present at this conventikill as I [with] divers others will avow and testfify upon our oaths. [I/we] beseech your good worships to consider of the [--] them feel the due course of the law for them[selves and that] others may be warned to avoid [--] that thereby our God may be worthily glo[rified]. August 1599 per me William Brouker [vicar]’.
William Brouker‘s request for the due course of the law to be applied smacks of a certain desperation; but the support shown for Friend by those attending this ‘conventicle’ represents a solid cross-section of the community: local gentry, successful men of business, independent artisans, the town midwife, and even the wife of one of
the churchwardens in that very year. On the other hand those attending seem to have had no objection to their own children being baptised in presumably regular ceremonial in church either by Brouker or by his successor.
During the year 1600 - 1601 worse was to follow, for the churchwardens that year make the following presentment : ‘First we present that our minister is no preacher and whether he hath taken any degree of scroll we know not. We present that we have not monthly sermons in our parish’.
This urge for sermons and being preached at was a feature of the later Puritan movement, and it is interesting to find it expressed so early in the century. The presentment then names Mary Curre, wife of John Curre, ‘for not receiving the communion this year or two’.
The Curre family in fact were Roman Catholic recusants. However, the churchwardens go on to ‘present James Friend for an excommunicated person. It seems therefore that the strong action requested by Brouker had been taken. Nevertheless, although the balance, typical of the Elizabethan church settlement, might seem to have been observed by the reporting of the recusant Curre’s on the one hand and the excommunication of Frinde on the other, the minister himself is being dragged more and more into the firing line by his own churchwardens. It is clear that powerful local influences are getting at him. Perhaps he had leaned too far to the conformity of his father’s days in seeking firm action against Frinde.
In the next year the churchwardens on two separate occasions bring forward lists of those who are refusing to pay their taxes. A letter to Richard Wilde, apparitor to the Dean of Salisbury, reveals Brouker‘s increasing anxiety : ‘Friend Wilde, we have sent unto you in these presents the names of all, such as refuse to pay their taxes as they were taxed, therefore we pray you to, prepare process for them that they may be cited to appear and show what is the cause why they do not pay’. [Then follows a list of names.] ‘These are therefore to request you to send us word when you will come, for at your next coming you must stay two or three days, thus expecting your coming with all commendable speed’ signed by the vicar, who has taken the precaution of having the letter countersigned by the two churchwardens also.
Beneath the signatures of the two churchwardens Brouker has added a postscript: ‘I pray bring process with you for now we have more that do refuse to pay and to [come?] over to us as soon as you may, and if you may send when you will come over and will not be [.....]’ The letter was addressed to Goodman Wylde at his house in New Sarum ‘at the sign of the Chopping Knife.’
It seems, however, that it was Brouker who got the chop, for after this letter (dated 20 January 1601/2) we hear no more of him. His last entry in the parish register is 5 April 1602; on April 25 occurs the first entry of the new incumbent. We do not know what became of Brouker. He and his family vanish from the area. There is no record of his having obtained another benefice within the Dean of Salisbury’s peculiars. It is, of course, possible that he may have obtained another Dean and Canons of Windsor living outside the diocese of Salisbury, but I have been unable to discover it.
Whatever his fortune, or misfortune, we owe him a real debt for his painstaking transcription of the earlier parish register.
The minister who took Brouker‘s place was John Wirrall, a northerner whose name was sometimes rendered as Worrall. Wirrall came from Lancashire and had matriculated as a commoner at Oxford University, obtaining a B.A. in 1590 and an M.A. in 1593/4. In 1595 he was instituted to the vicarage of Lambourn, Berks, to which he had been presented by Dean Nowell of St. Paul’s . While at Lambourn he married Bridget, daughter of George Hidden of Hungerford, a man who had been an M.P. for a short time earlier in the century.
It will be seen from this that Wirrall possessed at least three important qualifications to enable him to either ride out or calm the storm which had broken over the hapless Brouker. In the first place he had a ‘scroll’ or University degree, lack of which had been hinted against Brouker. Secondly he had had previous practical experience in holding a ministry. Thirdly, through his marriage he had useful local connections, without the possible disadvantage of having lived his childhood and youth in the parish.
Like William Brouker he may have saved the wages of a clerk by keeping the parish register in his own distinctive, though rathercrabbed hand. He remained in Hungerford until his death, aged 69, in 1640 . He seems to have married a second time, but neither the date of this marriage nor that of the death of his first wife is known.