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Recusants (from the Latin recusare = to refuse or make an objection) was the term applied to those who refused to attend Anglican services.
Following the Reformation and the establishment of the Church of England, the term was first used in a 1593 statute describing those who remained within the Roman Catholic Church and did not attend services of the Church of England as "Popish recusants". In the "Act for restraining Popish recusants", they were defined as those "convicted for not repairing to some Church, Chapel, or usual place of Common Prayer to hear Divine Service there, but forbearing the same contrary to the tenor of the laws and statutes heretofore made and provided in that behalf."
The "Recusancy Acts", having begun during the reign of Elizabeth I, were repealed in 1650, and during this period a number of punishments were imposed on recusants, including fines, property confiscation, and imprisonment. Despite their repeal, restrictions against Roman Catholics were still in place until full Catholic Emancipation in 1829. In some cases those adhering to Catholicism faced capital punishment, and a number of English and Welsh Catholics executed in the 16th and 17th centuries have been canonised by the Catholic Church as Christian martyrs.
Early recusants included Protestant dissenters, whose confessions derived from the Calvinistic Reformers or Radical Reformers. With the growth of these latter groups after the Restoration of Charles II, they were distinguished from Catholic recusants by the use of the terms "nonconformist" or "dissenter".
During this period it became common for many of the larger Catholic castles and country houses to develop secret chambers or "priest holes" where priests could hide if in the event of a surprise raid by pursuivants (priest-hunters). Sometimes small chapels were concealed in roof-spaces or in secluded parts of the house where Mass could be celebrated in the utmost provacy and safety. Nearby priest holes allowed priests to hide in an emergency, and also allowed for the concealment of the vestments, sacred vessels and altar furniture to be stored.
The Curr Family:
One such local recusant family was the Curr family, who held land in Sanden Fee (Sanham), Charnham Street, Kintbury and Shalbourne. The following is an extract from Norman Hidden's book "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford":
The Curr family and its branches were established in the town and parish of Hungerford in times preceding the parish register (1558), William Curr for example holding land at Sandon in the c. l470 Hungerford rental. They held land in Kintbury and Shalborne, also in Charnham Street, and their standing became that of yeoman/minor gentry. Three main branches appeared - the country Currs, one branch in Sanham Green, another in Stubwood and Helmes, and the town Currs. All went well with the Currs until the Reformation, when the country Currs remained Catholic and the town Currs became Anglican.
During this period it becomes difficult to distinguish references to individual Currs, not only because of the number of their off-spring but also because they tended (in all three main branches) to use the same Christian names so regularly - John, Thomas, Richard and occasionally Edward, in particular. The Hungerford parish register, as well as local rent rolls and other documents tend to distinguish the three branches respectively by some such phrase as 'of Helmes', 'of Sandon', or 'of the town'.
On 16 Sep 1603 Marie, wife of John Curre and Dorothy her daughter were reported in the Hungerford Churchwardens' Vestry Book as excommunicated, 'and John Curr of Sanham is also a recusant and receiveth not the sacrament'. From 1604/5 onwards Currs who were Roman Catholics are listed in the Hungerford Churchwardens' Presentments. These presentments continued with renewals every few years, often when a previously presented Curr died and his or her successor became head of the family. Thus, when John Curr of Sanham died in the winter of 1606/7 a new presentment was addressed to his widow as head of the family, and her son Thomas who was not yet of full age was included in the presentment.
The following is a full list of Currs who were Roman Catholics as listed in the Hungerford Churchwardens' Presentments.
1604/5 John Curr of Sandon Fee, his wife Mary, his daughter Dorothy
1607 Mary Curr widow, John Curr her son, Dorothy her daughter
1610/11 Thomas Curr, Mary Curr widow of John Curr of Sandon Fee, Ann Curr her daughter
1613/14 Mary Curr widow, Thomas Curr and John Curr her sons
1616/17 Mary Curr, Thomas Curr, John Curr, Ann Curr
1619 Mrs Mary Curr widow, John Curr her son and Ann her daughter
1622 Thomas Curr and his wife; John Curr
1625 Thomas Curr and Katherine his wife
1628 Thomas Curr of Sanham and Katherine his wife, also Ann Curr wife of John Curr of Stubwood
1631 Thomas Curr, Katherine his wife; Ann Curr wife of John
1634 Thomas Curr, Katherine his wife; Ann Curr wife of John Curr
1635 Thomas Curr and Katherine his wife; Ann Curr wife of John Curr
1638 Thomas Curr of Sanham and Katherine his wife; Ann wife of John Curr of Stubwood
1641 Thomas Curr and Katherine his wife; Ann Curr of Stubwood widow
1662 Mr Thomas Curr; widow Curr
1668 Thomas Curr gent, William Curr gent, Francis Curr gent
1679 Thomas Curr of Sanham, his son Thomas, his daughter Mary And the widow Curr of Stubwood
1682 Ann Curr widow
The list makes it clear that there are two families of Currs involved and these separate identities are indicated by a reference to their respective residence viz: either Sandon Fee (often written as Sanham) or Stubwood, both of which places lay within the parish of Hungerford.
In 1638 a document exists among the Parliamentary Rolls (14 Charles I) which throws a vivid light on the hardship incurred by recusants. It refers to places within the parish and generally known as Helme farm (not Holme farm) and Sanham farm (not Stanton):
The King to All etc Greeting. Whereas Thomas Curr of Holme Place co. Berks was formerly convicted for that he did not come to any church, chapel or other place of Common Prayer, against the statute. And whereas he made default of payment of 20 a month to the Exchequer for his recusancy so that We are entitled to two parts of lands and all of his goods And whereas by Inquisition taken at Reading, Berks on 19 Oct 11 Car.I  before Humphrey Dolman Esq. then Sheriff of the said Co. And other commissioners it appears that the said Thomas Curr was then seised in fee tail general of a capital messuage called Helme Place als Holme Farm 3 cottages there called Stanton Farme and one toft, one garden, one orchard, 70 acres of land arrable, 10 acres of meadow, 200 acres of pasture, 60 acres of wood and 200 acres of furze and heath in the parish of Hungerford, Berkshire worth yearly 100s. whence but two parts thereof are worth 3. 6s. 8d. Know ye that We in consideration of annual rent hereinafter reserved We have pardoned the said Thomas Curr and do demise to him the said two parts of his lands from the Annunciation of the B.V.M. 1637 for 21 years at the rent of 13. 6. 8d. The said Thomas Curr and his wife to be free from all processes for recusancy during the said term. Dated at Westminster 30 April 1638.
The Curr family nevertheless continued to be included in the Recusancy Rolls. These rolls include other Hungerford residents such as Charles Cannon, whose daughter Sarah married Thomas Curr in 1635.
In 1668 the Churchwardens' Presentments divide into two categories: (a) Popish recusant (b) all persons not frequenting divine service. This latter list includes known non- conformists such as Quaker families.
Presentments continued until 1685. Thereafter toleration prevailed.