As well as its spiritual duties, the Church had secular interests, too. Our area was in the Diocese of Worcester, which had spiritual oversight over every parish church and monastic house Some church organisations, particularly the great abbeys, were lords of several local manors and thereby received much of their income from them. These bodies included the Abbeys of Evesham and Winchcombe, the Priory of Kenilworth and the College of St.Mary, Warwick. It would have been a common sight to see church officials visiting the local clergy or local manor courts. Some of these officials may not have been clergy but Episcopal administrators: e.g. in 1410 one, William Hayles, a commissioner of the Bishop, came to Haselor because the vicarage there had been subject to 'a horrible fire', due to ignited straw (presumably the thatch). Hayles came 'cum familia sua', which could mean almost anything; but the local manor court apparently paid their expenses, larger than they would want if Hayles' 'family'l was a large one.
In the same year the Dean came with the steward of the manor to Haselor to hold the court. The court was that of the Collegiate Church of St. Mary, Warwick, who held the lordship (V.Dugdale Society volumes 26 & 31, the Accounts of St. Mary's)
As well as such events above, the Bishop of the Diocese occasionally made visitations to parish churches and monasteries for various reasons confirmations, dedications, ordinations ( these were not always in the Cathedral). The Archdeacon would be a more frequent visitor. There are records of the Bishop of Worcester coming to Alcester presumably with an entourage: in 1331 Bishop Orleton dedicated the high altar of Alcester church, celebrated mass in pontificals and preached to the people in the mother tongue. In 1339 the Bishop visited both Alcester church and the surrounding ones, spending the night with the priest at Weethley In 1433 the Prior of Worcester came to Alcester Abbey and then to the parish church and 'dines at the inn there' (an early version of the 'Angel'?). Such are the comings and goings we know of: many were those of which we know nothing.
The Reformation of the 16th century caused ecclesiastical visits to monasteries to cease: the Commonwealth of the 17th brought to an end episcopal and archdiaconal visits across the diocese. Religious comings and goings did not, of course, cease: there were now sterner faced men, spreading their puritan teachings and visiting the new protestant sects in Alcester, people in the 17th century would have become used to Presbyterian preachers, Baptist ministers and Quaker divines. Following the Reformation, too, the local parish clergy would have continued to do their visiting on horseback a common sight until the present century; and not only parish visiting: e.g. the Rector of Kinwarton, Richard Seymour, occupied himself in the 19th century with many causes, regularly riding into Alcester and other places to chair meetings and, as Rural Dean, travelling over a wide area to preach and attend important events in the lives of other parishes.
From early times to our own century the clergy of all types were conspicuous on the roads: today, of course, they are anonymous in their cars.
The Middle Ages saw the rise of the preaching friars; the Franciscans and the Dominicans They did not always preach in church but in the open air wherever people would gather: one has heard of 'preaching crosses', many of which no longer exist. In Alcester, the 'High Cross' stood where the Town Hall now is; did travelling friars use this for their sermons? According to Chaucer, the friar also 'knew the taverns well in every town', so like the Wesleyan preachers in the 18th century they were known wherever men gathered.
The highways were democratic places, mixing up minstrels and clergy and more besides: next time, some more travellers. From these people news of national and local events spread through the land not as quickly as today, but spread it did, being added to as it was told and often forming the basis of many of history's legends.
Autumn 1990 Index
© Alcester & District Local History Society 1990