William Potenger, a 15th century Chaplain
Until the Reformation, the Augustinian Priory at Ixworth supplied curates for Walsham church. The names of several chaplains can be found in the 14/15th century manor rolls but two, in particular, stand out from the rest; John Rampley and William Potenger. One who was not mentioned in the court proceedings was William Peye from Market Weston who left a will dated 1396 stating that he was chaplain of the parish church of Walsham and asking to be buried there. His only possessions were 40s which he left to the church of Weston, a book, 2 beds, a pair of sheets and some wheat. Both John Rampley and William Potenger appear to have lived in the village and served the parish over a long period. The Rampleys were a local family and John first appeared as a chaplain in 1361. He held property from Walsham manor and was required to attend court and make fealty to the lord of the manor but he often used the court to regain money owed to him. It is possible that the church served as a bank and lent money through the chaplain. John died c. 1409 but no will survives.
The Potengers or Potagers were not a local family, William was the first to arrive in Walsham and later in the century others, probably relatives, settled here. There is scant information about William, only a will and entries in the manor court proceedings and accounts survive but from these it is possible to build some sort of a picture of him. His place of birth and parents are unknown but he must have been a young man when he became Walsham’s chaplain. His brother John was also a chaplain, at Sudbury, and there was another brother named Robert. Clerics were amongst the very few literate people in any community and were, therefore, in demand as witnesses to legal documents and land transactions. He probably lived at a house where the Priory now stands which belonged to Church House manor at Ixworth and where it held its courts. A cellarer’s account of Ixworth Priory dated 1454 records that he paid rent for one room in Walsham. William’s first appearance in Walsham archivers was at a manor court held in 1433 in connection with the surrender of a house and land. In the same year he paid 2s 6d for underwood in Northawe, the wood north of the manor house where Ten Acre Wood is now situated. Underwood would have included all the coppiced hazel, ash etc. together with other growth; everything except the standard trees. It is unlikely he needed that amount of wood for firewood; perhaps he was repairing his house or building a barn. In 1439 he paid 2s 8d for an oak tree.
From 1434 onwards William paid 9p pa. to lease 1½ acres at New Close, a large pasture along Summer Road opposite the present sports field, so he certainly kept animals. In 1448/9 he acquired over an acre of meadow in the Great Meadow at West Street providing him with hay for the winter. In 1453 he acquired 16 acres of land at West Street from Thomas Christmas who was the parson of Wattisfield church. It is unlikely that William worked the land himself; he would have employed local men. In 1460 he and his brother John were surrendered a house called Kembalds with an adjoining close of land and pasture containing 4 acres and later passed it on to their brother Robert and his wife Margaret on condition they carried out all the necessary repairs ie: thatching, carpentry and plastering. Kembalds was in Palmer Street where Four Ashes House now stands.
William was an Augustinian canon but, in some respects, his life in Walsham was similar to that of the tenants. In holding villein land from the lord of the manor he had responsibilities as well as rights and when, in 1475, John, Duke of Suffolk became lord of the manor William’s name was amongst the customary tenants making fealty to the lord at his first court. From 1458 onwards, together with the bailiff and other officers, William received expenses for his part in the proceedings.
The last three entries in the court rolls in 1480/1 just before his death were a fine of 2p and orders to scour his ditch at Staple Way. He was probably housebound if not bed-ridden by then because in 1482 he disposed of his land and meadow and was said to be on his deathbed. He was chaplain of Walsham for fifty years.
Will of William Potenger, chaplain dated 3rd March 1481/2 at Walsham, Suffolk
(Details from Norfolk Record Office, Norwich Ref: 114A Caston translated from the Latin by Peter Northeast)
- ….to be buried in Walsham church before the altar of St. Katherine, virgin and martyr
- ….my debts to be paid
- ….to the high altar of the said church
- ….to the parish clerk of the same 6d
- ….I wish to have a suitable priest to celebrate after my decease in the same church, before the altar of St. Katherine, for a whole year, for my soul and the souls of my benefactors
- I wish to have a suitable Friar of Babwell to celebrate for my soul for a quarter of a year
- I wish to have a Friar of Newehows of Thetford simarly
- I wish to have a Friar of Odehous of the same town simarly
- ….my executors, after my decease, to dispose among the young Friars called novices of the said houses of the same town, viz: of Oldehows and Newhous 26s 8d
- ….to the emendation of the church of St. John the Baptist of Stanton [my] best vestment
- ….to the church of Langham another vestment
- ….to the Gild of St. Katherine of Walsham 3s 4d
- ….to the Gild of St. John the Baptist of the same town 3s 4d
- ….to Robert Potager of Walsham, my brother, a close with the pightle in Walsham abutting on the highway and 1½ acre of meadow lying in the Great Meadow of Walsham, one head abutting on land of John Robhood
- ….to Robert Fletcher and Margaret his wife 2 acres of free land and 1 acre of bond land in Walsham, to them and their heirs
- ….my executors to sell to Thomas Robhood the younger 3 roods of meadow lying between the meadow of John Shepherd on the north
- ….all my other lands and tenements to be sold by my executors and disposed for my soul and all my benefactors in masses etc.
- Executors: Richard Barge of Westhorpe, Thomas Smyth of Walsham and Robert Fletcher of the same. The said John Potager, my brother, to be supervisor
- ….all of my feoffees to deliver sufficient estate of and in all those lands and tenements to my executors to fulfil my will
- ….the residue of all my goods to the disposition of my executors etc.
- Witnesses: Richard Barge of Westhorpe, John Qwynt of Watlysfeld, Thomas Potager, Richard Rampoly of Walsham, Nicholas Fuller, Robert Potager of the same and others….
Proved at Norwich 12th April 1482
- Walsham Manor Court Rolls-Suffolk Record Office (Bury) HA 504/1/12-15
- Walsham Manor Account Rolls-Suffolk Record Office (Bury) HA 504/3/9-12
- Ixworth Priory Cellarers Account-Suffolk Record Office (Bury) 553/1112
James Neale, a 17th century Sexton
It is most unusual to learn anything about the lives of ordinary people who lived 300 years ago. My information concerning James Neale has been taken from a book that has survived, for Walsham, called the Town Wardens Book. It is a yearly record of the way the money from the Town Lands was spent. Two men were elected each year to collect the rents from the above lands and then they record, in detail, how the money was spent. Some of the way the money was used was as follows-repairing the church, paying the sexton, repairing the bridges over the common brook, charity to the poor, giving yearly sums of money for the upkeep of the Marshalsea Prison in Bury etc. etc.. The Town Wardens Book covers a period from 1646-1711, obviously there were earlier books but they haven’t survived.
James Neale was the sexton and, from the beginning, his name appears regularly, for his quarterly wages and payments for the numerous odd jobs that he did. It is not known when he started to work in Walsham and although I have done a lot of detective work, I have not been able to find out where he was born or where he married. During the period between 1625-1633, the births of his three daughters were entered in the parish register, so he was living here at least by 1625 and, perhaps, already started to work as sexton. It can also be assumed that he was born around 1600. In 1635 there was a census taken of all the able-bodied men between the ages of sixteen and sixty in Suffolk but he was not found in that list so he may have been handicapped in some way. Some of his duties as sexton recurred each year, such as fetching the communion wine from Botesdale, getting bread for the same service, scouring the pewter flagons used at communion, washing the curate’s surplice and the altar cloth and mending the bell ropes. He was also paid a quarterly wage for keeping the church clock in good order. The latter seemed to need constant attention, if one can judge by the frequency of the entries listing the expenses for its repair. One of his other tasks was the digging of graves. We only know about this when he has to dig a pauper’s grave and the payment given by the town wardens for that task. His quarterly wages were augmented by payments for many varied jobs, such as caring for the church books, helping various tradesmen when they were doing works in and outside the church, buying 5½ yards of cloth for a winding sheet for a pauper’s burial, buying a ladder for the town and fetching it and putting a new lock on the stocks etc. He was probably helped by his wife in washing the church linen and cleaning the church. She was called Goody Neale (short for Goodwife).
James Neale went on performing his duties as sexton of Walsham until 1678. His wife died in 1676 and in the last two years of his life the entries recording his work are fewer although he was still digging graves until the end. He lived through four reigns, and he may even have been a baby when Elizabeth I died. During the reigns of James I, Charles I and the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, the church went through very troublesome times, but it could hardly affect his day to day tasks. He died during the reign eg Charles II and one can almost see his ancient stooping figure walking through Walsham to the church to see if the clock was working properly. He must have been such a familiar figure, and yet in the parish register there is only one line – James Neale was buried 14th October 1678. In the Town Wardens Book the only information of his death is this entry – H. Page ½ years wages to Lady Day. A new man had taken over.
The Town Wardens Book can be found in the Record Office at Bury St. Edmunds. Ref: FL 646/5/1
This article first appeared in the Observer many years ago.
What the Papers Said
Bury Free Press !st February 1900
‘After a lengthy separation William Fenton and his wife came together this week and applied for admission to the workhouse. At one time they had a fortune of £20,000 and lived in style in Walsham le Willows. [The 1891 census shows William (63) and Jane (53) Fenton living at Folly Hall as farmers.] However the man’s habits dissipated the money and domestic unhappiness resulted in separation. A court had set the wife’s allowance at £2 a week but as the man’s means disappeared they both faced destitution. They were admitted to the Stowmarket workhouse.’
Bury Post 19th July 1900
‘Distant thunder was heard in the south and as it approached the wind became exceedingly high blowing dust in all directions. The sky was deep blue causing semi darkness and for three hours the thunder was loud and continuos whilst the lightning was wonderfully vivid. There was hardly any rain. The farm of Mr. Noble was struck by lightning. The electric fluid stripped off part of the roof and passed down the chimney, into the room where Mr. And Mrs. Garrod were having their tea, across the room and out of the back door, tearing up part of the threshold, and killing several ducks in the yard.’
Bury Free Press 11th August 1900
‘A gloom was cast over the village when it became known that Mr. William Davey (45), a farmer of Walsham le Willows, had been killed in a marl pit at Hinderclay. He had been carting the marl [a natural clay and lime mix often used as a ferilizer] to Wattisfield and Walsham in company with his nephew John Davey and Samuel Pallent. Whilst filling their tumbrels a slip of marl completely buried Mr. Davey. It took half an hour to dig him out and it was found that life was extinguished. The slip was attributed to recent heavy rain which had loosened the marl.’
Bury Post 14th November 1903
‘Miss Hales of The Grove, Walsham le Willows, was being driven from Elmswell station when meeting a motorised car. One of the horses in excitement and nervousness crossed its legs when turning and threw itself down. Although it was exceedingly dark the coachman, Mr. G. Grainger, managed unassisted to detach the fallen mare. Although frightened Miss Hales was unhurt’
[The Hales had moved into The Grove after the Goldings left in the 1870’s. The 1901 Census shows Mrs. Hales, then aged 91 and blind, living there with two daughters one of whom was described as being lunatic.]
Bury Post 24th November 1903
‘At the Ixworth Petty Sessions the landlord of the Cherry Tree Inn in Walsham charged a lady customer named Beatrice of being drunk and disorderly on his premises. The defendant, a tall and formidable looking woman with Romany features appeared with a long scotch plaid shawl over her shoulders. She had arrived drunk and the landlord Henry Brewington had refused to serve her. She then became very troublesome, refused to leave and used such disgusting language as he had never heard from a woman. ” Was it English or Romany,” asked the court clerk. “Very much English Sir, I hope she never comes into my premises again.’
When she was fined 1s 2d with 8s 10d costs she retorted,”Thank you kindly Sir, much obliged to you. Will a sovereign pay you?”
- Bills and Receipts of the Parish Constables of Walsham le Willows 1708-1821 £2,50
- Malting, Brewing, Ale and Beer in Walsham le Willows £1
Available from Ann Daniels, Bridge House, The Street, Walsham le Willows.