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The following text is from Vicars of the Parish Church of St Lawrence, Hungerford, by Norman Hidden. It formed part of "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford", published by the HHA in 2009:

John Clarke (Presbyterian put in by Cromwellian party) (1641-1642):

Wirrall's successor was John Clarke (or Clerke), vicar from 1640/1 to 1662. This was a particularly difficult period, which spanned both the Civil War and the subsequent Commonwealth. Strong and often bitter opinions divided parishioners; their loyalties were pulled this way and that. Clarke belonged to the Puritan side of the religious divide, and events probably hardened him in his views, particularly after his ejection under the Act of uniformity in 1662. A note in the Acts Books of the Dean and Chapter of Windsor for 1640 records 'a vicarage given to Mr. John Clark by Dr. Some in his nomination right, the Dean and Canons consenting[75]'.

Clarke's antecedents are uncertain. One possibility is that he was the second son of Edward Clarke of Reading, born circa 1611/12, matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, 1624/5, B.A. 1626/7, and then was admitted to Lincoln's Inn[76]. The possibility of this identification, however, requires verification, particularly as we have no knowledge of his life between 1626/7 and 1640/41. Whatever the facts, the Bishop of Salisbury's Subscriptions book records his admission and institution as vicar perpetual of Hungerford 18 Feb. 1640/1. He subscribed to the 39 articles; his Oath was written in his own handwriting and signed. Both in the Oath and in his signature to the articles he spells his name 'Clarke[77]'.

His name is spelt so in all the Hungerford parish register entries which refer to him. In 1645 a John Clarke married Sara Jenkins at Hungerford. The register does not describe him as vicar, although no other John Clarke is known in the parish at that time. In 1646 Sara, wife of John Clarke, vicar, was buried. The problem that arises, however, is that the Baptisms register has an entry relating to a child of the vicar (wife 's name not given) in July 1641, and other children are baptised in 1643 and 1644. It would seem, therefore, that he may have been married before he came to Hungerford. Moreover, from his will we know that he had a daughter, Elizabeth, not baptised in Hungerford, who was married to one Smith[78]. This marriage is recorded in the Hungerford parish register July 1654. Clarke's will names also two further children not baptised in Hungerford, viz. Sarah and John. It must be assumed that Elizabeth certainly and Sarah and John most probably were born before Clarke took up his post in Hungerford.

Following the death of Sara, Clarke had a later wife, Anne (Agnes), by whom he had 5 children, all baptised in Hungerford, the latest in 1650. Anne died in 1677 and was buried in the parish church where her husband had served as minister. Clarke's second wife Sara Jenkins belonged to a family linked or about to become linked with Quaker non-conformity. It is thought that his third wife Anne had connections with the Goddard family, local gentry inclined to religious dissent.. His daughter Sarah married another dissenting minister, Daniel Reyner.

During the Commonwealth Clarke was thought of well enough by Parliament to be appointed as assistant to commissions for both Wiltshire and Berkshire in 1657.

Following the Restoration of Charles II and the passage of the Act of Uniformity in 1662, Clarke was ejected from his living as a dissenter. He seems to have had some property both in Shalborne and in the town of Hungerford[79], and upon his ejection took himself to his farm at Shalborne. From there he continued to be active as a nonconformist. We hear of him preaching at Ramsbury in 1669, and following the Declaration of Indulgence he was licensed to preach in 1672[80].

He was highly regarded by those of his own denomination. Calamy quotes part of a letter from Cheeseman which reads ' Mr. John Clark. A grave, serious, and zealous preacher; of a solid understanding, peaceable spirit, and blameless life; a sworn enemy both to error and profaneness; dearly beloved among his people. His loss was bitterly lamented, and floods of tears were shed at his farewell sermon: so that if all the lawn sleeves of all the bishops in England were cut into handkerchiefs, they would scarce have been sufficient to wipe away the tears that were she d at his farewell sermon[81]'. He died at Anvilles, and was buried in Hungerford parish church on April 30, 1678.

Clarke was vicar at a time when diocesan records were virtually nonexistent. Consequently we know little concerning him. His Puritanism, however, is well attested, and not merely because of his ejection and the purple passaged account of his farewell sermon. Puritan practice required prayer to be from the heart rather than through the repetition of set forms, and Puritan preachers disdained the garb and vestment of Anglican priests. Hence when Clarke left, the churchwardens' presented in August 1662 that the church 'wanted [= lacked] both a Common Prayer Book and a surplice[82]'.

It has been written that Clarke was a Presbyterian, but when he became one is not clear. This was a period when membership of dissenting denominations was very fluid, and denominational boundaries not always clear. Clarke would have coincided during he latter years of his life with Bulstrode Whitelocke 's residence at Chilton Lodge, from which the latter attempted to build a broad front of ecumenical dissent. It seems likely that this was Clarke 's position also, in which he had the sympathy and support of many leading Hungerford townsmen.

William Hinwood (1662-1670):

Into the vacancy created by Clarke's ejection stepped William Hinwood. The Hungerford parish register usually writes his name as Henwood. However, he signs his Admission Oath as Hinwood and in his administration bond the name is also written Hinwood[83]. He was admitted vicar 14 January 1662/3. He may have been a Berkshire man, for William Hinwood M.A., curate of Chieveley, was bondman in a marriage licence granted 15 April 1635. In the Protestation Oath 1641/2 the list for Chieveley is signed by 'William Hinwood, clericus', his name appearing immediately beneath that of the vicar there[84].

An entry in the Chapter Acts Book of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, illustrates the complexity involved in the presentation to the vicarage of Hungerford: '10 Oct. 1662. The churchwardens of Hungerford made request (their Vicarage being now void by the non-conformity of Mr. Clarke) that Mr. Henwood might be presented to it. The answer was that Dr. Fulham having the right of presentation, hac vice [nevertheless] he was willing to depart from his right, and concurring with the Chapter to present Mr. Henwood, providing that my lord of Sarum should recommend him to that place as a fit man, the place being a market town[85]'.

The Windsor Chapter Acts of 10 Oct 1662 records that "The Churchwardens of Hungerford made request that (their Vicaridge being now void by the nonconformity of mr Clerke) that mr Henwood might be presented to it. The answere was the Dr Fulham haveing the right of presentation, hac vice he was willing to depart from his right, and concurring with the Chapter to present mr Henwood, Provided that my Lord of Sarum should recomend him to that place, as a fitt man, the place being a markett Towne; Dr Fulham reserving to himselfe the next option."

The churchwardens in 1662/3 were John Coxhead and Richard Bell. They were substantial parishioners and according to a later report in 1669 Bell was a leading non-conformist[86]. Coxhead (who was Constable of the town in 1659) may also have been of similar or sympathetic views. What these townsmen hoped for, clearly, was the choice of an Anglican who would be tolerant and understanding of sincerely held dissent. Dr. Fulham is presumably the person holding the right of patronage. Fortunately he concurs with the Chapter of St. George´s Chapel who are in favour of Hinwood. This then leaves the final hurdle of securing the Bishop of Salisbury's approval.

The request made by the churchwardens was probably unusual; I know of no other instance in Hungerford parish history where this has been recorded. One side-effect of such complexity - (one must remember that the parish was a Dean's peculiar) -may have been the lack of a series of consecutive entries of institutions in the bishop's registers. Certainly the Chapter Act Books of St. George's Chapel 1523 - 1672 provide no details of the appointment of Hungerford vicars other than in relation to Hinwood.

Taking up his post after John Clarke's ejection can have been no easy task. There existed a strong dissenting group in Hungerford; and at Chilton Lodge, just two miles away, the former Commonwealth ambassador and non-conformist lawyer Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke gave practical and moral help to dissenters. Whitelocke kept a diary and from it we are able to obtain some intimate details about Hinwood. Whitelocke's acquaintance with Hinwood began when he first came to Chilton Lodge in June 1663 with a view to purchasing it, and he took the precaution of getting to know the new vicar of Hungerford, inviting him to supper. In his diary Whitelocke refers to himself in the third person. At supper 'Whitelocke's wife carved him flesh, which he refused, then she carved him fish which he also refused, and said he never ate flesh nor fish, but only herbs and roots and cheese etc., but both flesh and fish made him sick if he ate it. Yet', Whitelocke adds mischievously, 'he would drink sack plentifully[87]'.

In November 1665 Hinwood's wife Mary died and Whitelocke attended the funeral, another sign of amicable relationship between Anglicans and dissenters in the parish.

It is a truism that a vicar needs a wife perhaps more than most men, and Hinwood re-married the following year. The marriage took place at Burbage 9 July 1666:

'William Hinwood gent, minister of Hungerford, Berkshire, and Ann Legg, of Netheravon, gentlewoman'. The marriage ceremony was performed by Dr. Munday.

The relatively relaxed atmosphere as regards dissenters in Hungerford may be further illustrated by the fact that when the Conventicle Act of 1664 was beginning to bear upon dissenters and was followed by a second Conventicle Act in 1670 which was even harsher, various dissenters, somewhat in a panic, visited Bulstrode Whitelocke for legal advice; they are known to have come from Pusey and Ramsbury, but none from Hungerford. That there was pressure, however, is attested by the Churchwardens' presentment of 1668 (which contains the longest list in any year of 'Popish recusants' (13 names) on the one hand and those others (dissenters in the main) who also did not attend divine service (7 names). Even this presentment was produced for triennial Decanal Visitation that year and clearly in response to diocesan pressure[88].

It is possible that the health of the vegetarian vicar was delicate; at any rate he was buried in the parish church on 9 August 1670. He died intestate, leaving a widow Ann. An inventory of his goods was taken[89].

George Farewell (1671-1673):

On Sunday August 21, 1670 Bulstrode Whitelocke notes in his diary that 'there was neither sermon nor prayers at Chilton, the curate being gone to London to get to be vicar of Hungerford in Mr. Hinwood's place who was dead[90]'. This curate at Chilton Foliat was George Farewell. I have been unable to find notice of his institution in the diocesan register. There is a note concerning the vacancy in the Chapter Act Book of St. George's Chapel. Dated 30 Sept. 1670 it says: 'the presenting any one to the vicarage of Hungerford deferred a fortnight longer that so in that time if Mr. Deane doth not take it for his option the seniors in course may then have the said option offered to them[91]'.

Despite Farewell's efforts (his speed and determination are worthy of a character out of Trollope!) the ecclesiatical mills took some little time to grind, and it was not until 17 April 1671 that the watchful diarist of Chilton Lodge was able to state: 'Mr. Farewell the late curate of Chilton being removed to Hungerford where he was made vicar, chiefly by the means of Mrs. Goddard of Standen who did it without Whitelocke's knowledge or consent, and not kindly.

Whitelocke desired to have a moderate and good man to be curate at Chilton, as Mr. Farewell was'. Mrs. Goddard was Sarah Goddard, widow of Francis Goddard (d.1652) and mother of Edward Goddard (d.1684) who inherited the manor of Standen Hussey. With the Goddards at Standen lived Sarah's brother, Henry Hungerford (d. 1673). They were all close friends of Whitelocke. What may have annoyed him about Mrs. Goddard's push on behalf of Farewell was not her support for him, but her leaving Chilton with the possibility of acquiring someone less 'moderate' in place of Farewell. Bulstrode was already having some trouble with the rector of Chilton, Grindal Sheafe, whom Whitelocke felt sent spies to see what was being preached at conventicles held in Whitelocke's house.

Farewell's institution as vicar preceded by a matter of 4-5 weeks yet another triennial Visitation. He signs the churchwardens' presentment, which once again contains a list of hard core Papists and a handful of non-conforming dissenters, all or nearly all of whom were Quakers. Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists seem to have been more 'acceptable', and Farewell showed no signs of wishing to root them out[92].

In 1673 his wife was pregnant, and a child was born 6 June. But Farewell was already dead by then, being buried 3 April. What the cause of his death may have been we do not know, but his illness was so severe that rumours of his death were noted by Whitelocke on 15 March: 'Mr. Farewell, Whitelocke's good friend, reported to be dead, but he died not'. He records on 6 April (three days after Farewell's funeral) that there was on that Sunday 'no sermon at Chilton nor at Hungerford'. The plight of a minister's widow can often be precarious, and Whitelocke used his influence with the Bishop of Winchester on Mrs. Farewell's behalf. The Bishop, he records, 'sent a kind letter to Whitelocke .... and for Whitelocke 's sake gave Mrs. Farewell £10 and £5 a year during the Bishop's life'.

Robert Abbot (1673-1678):

Robert Abbot was admitted and instituted vicar of Hungerford 21 July 1673. His oath has his signature[93]. He was buried in the parish church 28 March 1678. An inventory of his goods at the time of his death was undertaken on behalf of the Dean and Canons of Windsor in 1678 represented by Elizabeth Abbot, his widow, Robert Carey of Hungerford clerk, and Thomas Foster of Hungerford, clerk. The inventory, taken room by room, gives some idea of the vicar's house: a study containing table and chair, books and shelves; and a parlour chamber, hall chamber, kitchen and on the first floor, chambers over the brewhouse, parlour, hall, kitchen chamber and pantry. There was also a cellar and in the back garden, a pump.

We know little of this minister. Bulstrode Whitelocke, the conscience and the legal mastermind of the local dissenting groups, who got on well with Abbot's two predecessors, does not mention him in his diary. It seems likely that Abbot may have been more orthodox in his views than his predecessors. At the Decanal Visitation in October 1673 the churchwardens presented that 'about threequarters of a year since, the parish church was broken up and those ornaments belonging to the church, viz. the surplice, the carpet for the Communion table, the table cloth and napkin belonging to the same, with the linen bag that held the same, were then taken and carried away, besides some money that was locked up in the poor box, all which ornaments have since been renewed[94]'.

In 1676 the churchwardens' presentment turns on non-conformist dissenters with a force not exercised during the previous incumbencies, but only one 'Popish recusant' is named instead of the usual several[95]. Whether this was the influence of the vicar or the result of a national mood we do not know. It was probably the result of both factors combined.

Thomas Bennett (1678-1679):

Thomas Bennett was admitted and instituted vicar of Hungerford 10 October 1678. The entry in the Subscription Book is in his own handwriting with his signature, and thus the spelling of his name which he himself used is confirmed[96].

Entries of baptisms in the parish register beginning 1 April 1678 commence with Bennett's name captioned as vicar, and before the first local entry on 1 April there is this curious entry concerning the birth of Bennett's child in Oxford a couple of years previously:

'Memorandum: that John, son of Thomas and Ann Bennett, was born in the parish of Holywell in the City of Oxford on Friday morning, about half an hour after five of the clock, being the 17th day of March anno domini 1675/6, and was baptised on Saturday ye 1st of April'.

This attention to detail of time and place was equally observed in an entry of 28 May 1678:

'Memorandum: that Anna Maria ye daughter of Thomas and Anne Bennett was born at Barnes in the County of Surrey on Wednesday about 1 of ye clock in the morning being ye anniversary of K. Charles 2nd's birth and return, and was baptised the same day'.

And again on 15 September 1680: 'Bridgett, daughter of Mr. Thomas and Ann Bennit, was born on Sunday 29 August about ½ an hour after 3 in ye afternoon and was baptised Wed. 15 Sept'. This baptism occurred in Hungerford. All three parish register entries with their precise details of time and place of birth suggest a man with an interest in astrology.

According to J.Foster, Thomas Bennett was the son of Henry Bennett of Binfield, Berks[97]. The Dictionary of National Biography states that he was born at Windsor 'about 1645' and that his parentage is unknown. Both (mistakenly as it would seem from his own signature in the Subscription Book referred to previously) spell his name Bennet. Binfield is a neighbouring parish to Windsor, so any discrepancy in his place of origin is not great. The D.N.B. states that he was a pupil at Westminster School, whence he proceeded to Christ Church College, Oxford, where he was entered in 1663, took his B.A. in 1666 and his M.A. in 1669. Foster, however, has him matriculating 19 June 1662, aged 18, and elected to a studentship that same year.

Thereafter the two accounts of Bennett's life coincide, though the D.N.B. is of course much fuller. Both accounts state that he was vicar of Hungerford and died in August 1681, but neither give a date for his appointment to the benefice.

As a student at Christ Church Bennett became a protégé of the famous Dean of that College, Dr. Fell ('The reason why I cannot tell/ I do not love thee Dr. Fell'). Dr. Fell was a man of much influence, high ambition, and wielder of a good deal of power and patronage. As the well-known rhyme suggests, he also made enemies. Once Bennett was adopted as Fell's protégé, his success depended on that of his master. It was in the course of a fierce struggle between Fell and his opponents that Bennett came to the haven of a country vicarage at Hungerford.

Within a few months of Bennett obtaining his M.A. degree Fell had nominated him as candidate for the vacant post of architypographer. According to Anthony Wood[98] Bennett, thinking the appointment secure because of Fell's support, failed to go round individually to the College Masters, as was the custom, humbly seeking their vote. The Masters took their revenge by electing another to the post. Two years later in 1671 Bennett applied again, and again Fell's nominee was turned down.

This second rebuff resulted in Bennett re -directing his life. He now decided to take Holy Orders and as a result obtained the living of Steventon, Berks, which was in the gift of Christ Church College. He also completed his magnum opus, a critique of Lilly's Grammar, up to that time accepted as the standard work in English linguistics. Bennett's work was published in Oxford in 1673. This work, from its birthplace, became known as the Oxford Grammar and its author was referred to as the Oxford Grammarian.

Meanwhile Bennett had become married and, with the birth of his child Thomas in Oxford in 1675/6, he must have felt the need for a more secure livelihood and, perhaps, to remove himself from the internal disputes and dissensions of University life. His stay both in Steventon and Hungerford, however, was short. We do not know the cause of his death at such an early age, but it may have been sudden as he left no will. He was buried in Hungerford 13 August 1681.

His widow Anne together with Margaret Lichfield spinster were granted administration of his estate. An inventory taken of his goods in the old vicarage gives some idea of his style of life. Among other items were 11 gold rings, 2 pewter chamber pots, one mortgage, 3 bonds, a library of books and shelves for books, a great map in the parlour, a cane chair and a table in his study. One wonders if the 'great map' was a geographical chart of the world or whether (in view of Bennett's possible interest in astrology) it might have been an astrological map of the heavens[99].

References:

75 Shelagh Bond, 'The Chapter & Act Books of the Dean and Canons of Windsor,1523-1672' p.204, Windsor, 1966.
76 J.Foster 'Alumni Oxonienses'
77 Wilts R.O : Bishop's Subscription Book
78 P.R.O: PCC will John Clarke 1678, PROB11/358
79 P.R.O: CP25/2/624/15 Chas.II/Easter
80 Wilts R.O: D1/17
81 B.L. Add. Ms 28,674 f.73
82 Wilts R.O: D5/28/40
83 Wilts R.O: Dean & Canons of Windsor Admons Bond, Wm Hinwood, 1670
84 Berks R.O: Protestation Oath (Chieveley)
85 Shelagh Bond op.cit
86 Lambeth Palace, Tennison Ms 639
87 ed. Ruth Spalding 'The Diary of Bulstrode Whitelocke', Clarendon Press, 1990
88 Wilts R.O. D5/28 Bundle 46 f.79
89 Wilts R.O: Dean & Canons of Windsor Inventory, Wm.Hinwood 1670
90 Spalding op.cit. For all references to and extracts from Whitelocke's Diary I am indebted to Miss Spalding.
91 Shelagh Bond. op. cit.
92 Wilts R.O: D5/28 Bundle 50 f.19
93 Wilts R.O: D5/9
94 Wilts R.O: D5/28 Bundle 51 f.3
95 Wilts R.O: D5/28 Bundle 54 f.6
96 Wilts R.O: D5/9
97 J.Foster op.cit
98 Anthony Wood 'Ath. Oxonienses' vol.3, 883
99 Wilts R.O: Dean & Canons of Windsor Inventory, Wm Hinwood, 1670

See also:

- Vicars of St Lawrence, Hungerford 1559-1640