Clerical activities

Our county and country have been for many centuries influenced by activities and eccentricities of religious persons in many ways.

We will start with the famous religious leaders who have influenced not only our county but also the country. A nun believed to be of the royal family of Northumbria founded a nunnery sometime in the seventh century on the banks of the River Sherbourne, this was the biggest building in the area at the time and gradually around it developed the City of Coventry. Some believe that the name Coventry developed from St. Osburg's Convent Tre or Convent Town.

At Polesworth we had another Saint Edith who was the Abbess there. St. Edith, a Saxon was the daughter of King Egbert.

Another important Saint, Wulstan was born at Long Itchington in 1008, so there will be a great celebration there next year. St. Wulstan was the only Saxon Bishop to be retained in office after the Norman conquest. As Bishop of Worcester he was responsible for building the crypt of the existing cathedral. Wulstan travelled extensively, often to Bristol where he endeavoured to stop the slave trade which unfortunately did not happen until many years later.

The only church in Warwickshire where the incumbent became a saint was Aston Cantlow. St Thomas Catelupe's family held land around that area and it was also the church where Shakespeare's parents were married. Like St Wulstan St.Thomas was known for hit good pastoral care, both travelled extensively around visiting their people.

Other clerics who have influenced our county have become bishops. One, John Vesey, born at Sutton Coldfield in 1452 became Bishop of Exeter. Bishop Vesey accompanied Henry VIII to France when he met the King of that state at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. John Vesey was also tutor to the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor afterwards returning to Sutton Coldfield and founding Bishop Vesey's Grammar School there, where he died at the age of 103.

The south of our county has link with another bishop, William Juxon. Bishop of London, Jason was friend to Charles 1 and with him at that monarchs execution. The Bishop then retired to little Compton, where he is depicted in the church window.

Here in Southam we have had several notable Rectors, one Augustine Bernher, a Swiss sudent at Oxford was incumbent from 1560 1566. During the period of the Marian persecutions of Protestants he travelled our county supporting secret groups of worshippers including the Mancetter Martyrs Robert Glover and Joyce lewis. The name Augustine first appeared in our Baptismal Registers during Bernher's time in Southam.

Francis Holyoake was born at Nether Whitacre in 1567 and was our Rector during the Civil War. He was a fervent Royalist although most of his parishioner were Parliamentarians, and refused to ring bells when Charles 1 visited the town. During his time in Southam he published a dictionary in 1606 150 years before Samuel Johnson's. The Rector was quite a character and called himself the 'holy oak'.

A third Rector of Southam was notorious for another reason, his mounting debts led to his suicide. Samuel Sandys shot himself with pistol in the stomach and head. A memorial plaque in the vestry states that 'near this place were deposition the 23rd April 1815 the remains of SS,. 38 years Rector of this parish.'.

Various churches in our county have been built by members of the aristocracy. One lovely Gothic church built by a clerical relation of the Lucy family Charlecote, they also demolished the old church at Hampton Lucy and built the existing one in 1823.

A vicar of Birdingbury, Henry Homer was noted as a transport historian, he wrote about roads, rivers and canals. This cleric also provided most of his congregation, fathering 17 children. Fashion also played a part in clerical modes the Rev. John Morgan of Burton Dassett was recorded as the only person there to pay the Flour Tax for powdering his hair in the early nineteenth century.

The Reverend James Harvey Bloom the Vicar of Whitchurch near Stratford was another notable Warwickshire cleric. Harvey Bloom was a noted historian, geneaologist and had an interest in natural history, listing every flower mentioned by Shakespeare. His daughter was the novelist Ursula Bloom. He led a good pastoral life in his small parish but had quite an eye for the ladies. A contretemps with Marie Corelli about her incorrect history of Stratford published during the period when she was cruising along the Avon in her gondola was the talk of the town in 1803 . Harvey published a booklet in answer to Marie's claims.

There had also been a disagreement with Harvey about Ursula before this. After retiring from his incumbancy at Whitchurch Harvey died in 1944.

Another interesting cleric was Archdeacon Colley of Stockton he had an interesting method of attracting a congregation. This cleric distributed sweets to his youthful congregation after haranging them on religious matters. Bribery and corruption is not only the work of the devil

These are but a few clerics who have influenced our county and country in historical times, doubtless many others did in pre history.


This article has been kindly written by Mary Rock

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