Originally St Lawrence was a chapel, without a vicar, administered by Chertsey Abbey. Monks would have travelled from the Abbey to Chobham where they would have conducted a service in the chapel.
The Church has had its own vicars since the thirteenth century.
Vicars, curates and chaplains were expected to be distinguishable from the peasantry. Up until the Reformation the church required them to be tonsured and to wear sombre outer clothes of a simple cut: but many refused.2 p158 Poorer clerics lived and worked amongst the villagers and adopted their garb. Affluent vicars and rectors had large houses, many servants, horses and carriages and had aspirations to emulate the gentry.
From early times, and especially from the 11th century onwards, priests were also expected to separate themselves from normal human relationships by remaining chaste and unmarried. But not all priests were willing to comply; and when the rule was vigorously applied from the 13th century until the Reformation many had wives in all but name.2 p158
Before the Reformation, few parish priests were born in the parish in which they preached; but most had a parish within the same diocese in which they were ordained. So during medieval times our vicars were probably not from the parish: but were local to the Winchester diocese.
The Surrey Heath area was always a backward and poor part of the County and hence the income to local vicars would have been little. However, a vicar could increase his income by serving several, often widely separated, parishes - and many Chobham vicars did just this. Alternatively, a vicar of a distant affluent parish might agree to add Chobham to his responsibilities - providing he did not have to live here and attend too frequently! For instance, vicar Thomas of Chobham was also sub-dean of Salisbury Cathedral and almost certainly lived in one of the grand houses of the Cathedral Close; a small vicarage on waterlogged ground in a backwater of NW Surrey may not have been too attractive a proposition.
The onset of old age could be a problem. Chobham was a 'perpetual vicarage' which meant that the incumbent had the job for life. Most ageing priests probably remained in post, discharging their duties with ever-diminishing efficiency, until they died. If things got too bad then the Bishop might encourage them to resign on a pension: many simply got themselves a curate to help. The problem was that these solutions, and possibly the cost of a replacement vicar, needed to be financed out of the parish income. Many a new vicar must have found himself appointed on a reduced salary because some of the income was set aside for the pension of the old vicar; and often expected to allow the old vicar to continue living in part of the vicarage.
circa 1206 - 1217
The earliest document we have recording a Chobham vicar mentions Silvester, a clergyman of King John, having the King's letters of presentation to 'the perpetual vicarage of Chabbeham' on 23rd March 1207.4 vol2 p xxxii Unfortunately, this is all we know about Silvester. It is unusual for the King to presents a candidate: all following Chobham vicars were presented either by the Abbot of Chertsey or the Bishop of Winchester. Some abbots of Chertsey strove to improve their status by reporting direct to the King rather than to the Bishop of Winchester. It appears that the King, in return, believed he had a say in the running of the abbey whenever the abbacy was vacant. Abbot Martin died sometime between January and April 1206 and there was not another abbot appointed until Abbot Adam in 1210. The King seems to have taken advantage of this vacancy by making two presentations to abbey livings 4 vol 2, p x .
It is believed that at this time St Lawrence was a chapel and would not need a vicar - so the King appears to be creating a position and income for one of his own. It is very unlikely that Silvester visited Chobham very often.
Thomas of Chobham
In the Chertsey Abbey Cartulary there is a record of a 'rector Thomas of Chobham' successfully arguing in the diocesan court for the chapel of St Lawrence's being granted burial rights 4, Vol 1 74
Thomas studied in Paris, probably under Peter the Chanter. He returned to England c. 1190/2. He became part of the curia of Richard Fitz Nigel of London and after 1198 joined the administration of Herbert Poore, bishop of Salisbury. Thomas was subdeacon of Salisbury from 1208. From 1222 until 1228 he returned to Paris as a master in theology. He returned once again to Salisbury in 1228 and died there before 1236. Amongst his many works was a manual for vicars, the Summa Confessorum 5.
Thomas almost certainly lived in one of the grand houses of Salisbury Cathedral Close; a small vicarage on waterlogged ground in a backwater of NW Surrey may not have been too attractive a proposition.
There is something curious happening at Chobham during this period. Prior to this period the spiritual welfare of Chobham is hardly mentioned in the Chertsey Abbey's records. Then suddenly we have:
Could it be that there was some sort of small religious establishment at Chobham serving the western side of the Abbey's lands?
circa 1274 - (1324 latest)
At a Chobham Manor court circa 1274/7, one of the witnesses listed is 'Peter de Ecclesia of Chabeham'. The item describes a transaction involving land bordering the land of the vicar. 4 1958 806 Since the vicar has land we can assume that Vicar Peter was resident in Chobham?
It is possible that Peter was succeeded by his son, Walter, who appears in the Chertsey Cartulary as 'Walter, son of Peter de Chabeham'. 4 vol XII 467
William Dagelynworth is the first vicar recorded on the panel in St Lawrence's.
Dagelynworth was given six acres of wood and 50 acres of arable land and probably received a portion of the tithes. It also suggests that, although it was likely that he came from the upper echelons of the peasantry, he did not initially have a farm of his own. Like many clerics, he may well have been a younger son who had little prospect of inheriting.
Before the Reformation, few parish priests were born in the parish in which they preached and this seems likely true of Dagelynworth - certainly it is not a local name. There is however a Daglingworth in Gloucestershire.
So we can build a picture of Dagelynworth that probably applied to most of our pre-Reformation vicars. Mostly younger sons of well-to-do yeoman farmer families but with little prospect of inheriting the farm. They decide to join the church and obtain the basic clerical education that allows them the rudiments of reading and writing in Latin. Eventually ordained by the Bishop of Winchester and posted to Chobham. They are given a house with some land and continue their farming tradition; whilst putting some time into the spiritual needs of the parish.
The Cartulary describes his house as being "in which same mansion all the vicars of the said church have been accustomed to live" which sounds a bit apologetic and also rather confirms that William was not our first resident vicar.
Robert de Nywenham before 1343, to 1349
In the Chertsey Cartulary, "I Robert called de Nywenham and vicar of Chobham" and his wife Alice are recording as giving up an enclosure on the waste which they made with the Abbots permission in previous years. 4 790 It appears that they enclosed the waste sometime in the first half of the reign of Edward I (circa 1290).4 lxxvi
Vicars were expected to visit the sick and in times of plague the occupation was somewhat hazardous. Robert was replaced, probably died, during the Black Death epidemic.
Robbie Schueller gives a very good description of later vicars in his book "A History of Chobham".
Vicars, unlike rectors who received the great tithes, were rarely rich men. Analysis of possessions listed in wills (usually little more than their clothing a few household goods), shows they had about the same affluence as yeoman farmers . In 1535, according to the Valor, more than half of English livings were below £10, while a craftsman or labourer in full employment might have received between £5 and £8. 1 p226 The Hearth Tax lists are useful in giving an indication of relative wealth. Evidence of our earliest vicars (see below) seems to indicate that they were primarily yeoman farmer stock, doing a bit of 'vicaring' on the side. Not until after the Reformation did parish priests generally come from a higher social background, or would be thought of as 'gentlemen'. However, medieval vicars must have had some education that marked them out as different from the peasantry because they were expected to be able to read and write and be able to get through the standard religious texts in Latin.
Gradually the income of vicars was increased (augmented); usually due to pressure from the Bishop of Winchester and sometimes from the law of the land. The Chertsey Cartulary tells us that William Dagelyngworth is entitled to:
At the end of the 14th C, the income of the vicar of Chertsey was augmented and it is likely that most vicars within Chertsey Abbey's area received similar. Prior to the augmentation, the Cartulary records him as receiving oblations at the Masses and confessions at the parish church and the occasional bequests from wills. He had a rent-free mansion with its curtilage. The augmentation consisted principally of the small tithes - "all and every sort of personal tithes arising from working Artificers and Merchandises of the Parishioners of the Church, .... and the tithe of milk, cream, cheese, butter, eggs, pigeons, and the moiety of the tithe (part of the great tithe of the harvest?) of geese, honey, flax ,hemp, apples, pears, herbs, onions, garlic and of all other things tithable" 2 p131 The Abbot seems to have given his parish vicars all those tithes difficult to collect.
No evidence has yet been found to show that any of the vicars or rectors lived near the church. It would seem that they have always had their houses near to what is now known as Bagshot Road but used to be called Vicars Lane; nevertheless they did not always occupy the official residence but lived in several others.
The Mill Mead site lies within the Mill Bourne floodplain and old maps show a raised moated site in this meadow. Could this have been the first vicarage? Does this less-than-ideal site indicate that good land near the village was already in short supply by the 1300s? The Cartulary describes William Dagelynworth's house as being "in which same mansion all the vicars of the said church have been accustomed to live" which sounds a bit apologetic.
It remained the official vicarage until about 1800 when the vicar, Mr. Jerram, who was then running a school for young gentlemen in Old Chobham House, declared the old vicarage to be "bad" and was allowed to build a new one. This he did on the opposite side of the road and it is now called the Old Vicarage. The present vicarage was built at the end of the twentieth century, but a short distance from the other two.
Italicised text is extracted from Joy Mason's book "CEABBA'S HAM; THE STORY OF CHOBHAM".
1 A Thousand Years of the English Parish, Anthea Jones. The Windrush Press, 2000
2 A History of the English Parish. N.J.G. Pounds. Cambridge Univ Press 2000
3 Chertsey Abbey: An Existence of the Past. Lucy Wheeler. Pub: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. 1905
4 Surrey Record Society, Chertsey Cartulary
5 Thomas of Chobham in his Summa Confessorum, tells clerics in minor orders not to worry too much if they happened to be married -- just make sure not to tell the bishop about it, because then the poor chap would have to do something about it.