GEMS FROM THE ARCHIVE: Discord in Pinchbeck
The archives of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society (SGS) are full of legal documents dating back over the last few centuries. Most relate to land transactions, the grant of mortgages or the recovery of debt, although, of course, these can still be useful for family history research. Occasionally, however, one surfaces which deals with rather more unusual matters. On November 7, 1794, it appears, Pinchbeck was not a harmonious community.
The document shown here contains the signature under seal of well over 100 parishioners, the great majority of whom were literate enough to sign for themselves. Some of the family names, such as Wimberley, Shepperson and Plowright, are long-standing (and ongoing) Pinchbeck names. The document is written on parchment, normal for legal agreements at that time and, having been folded for over two centuries, is now almost impossible to open flat. It is intriguingly headed ‘Agreement between the proprietors of land in Pinchbeck in the County of Lincoln and their tenants for providing money to defend the suits commenced or to be commenced by the Vicar of that Parish against his parishioners for tythes [sic] not heretofore paid.’
The custom of tithing, donating a tenth of annual profit for the upkeep of a religious establishment or the support of the poor, is an ancient one found across many parts of the world and many religions. The requirement to pay tithes to the Church in this country dates back at least to Anglo-Saxon times, and was largely ended with the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 which changed most tithes into other forms of payment, such as rents or one-off commutation fees. The last relics of the tithing system, however, were not abolished until 1977.
In 1794, the year of this agreement, it appears that certain Pinchbeck parishioners, named as William Healey, Thomas Wilson, Ann Hurd, William Shepperson, William Gosling, Ralph Clarke and John Shelton, all significant land holders, were withholding tithes claimed by the then vicar, one Thomas Heardson Wayett, who in turn was threatening them with legal action.
Sadly, the text of the document, despite rambling interminably for over 2500 words (presumably the lawyer was being paid by the word!), is not entirely clear about the origin of the dispute, being mostly concerned with the detailed financial arrangements for ensuring that all the signatories contributed to the associated legal costs.
These arrangements were to be implemented under the watchful, and doubtless profitable, eye of Messrs Ashley and Hoster, Solicitors of Spalding. The document hints enigmatically at ‘divers disputes and controversies’, and goes on to say that the defendants are ‘satisfied that the value of their several estates […] will be greatly lessened if all of the claims of the said Thomas Heardson Wayett are allowed’. Reading between the lines, it may be that the relatively new Vicar (he was appointed in 1792) was trying to claim the right to tithes on lands where by custom they had not previously been payable. In our imagination it could be the plot of an Anthony Trollope novel.
It may be that some reconciliation eventually took place, as it is recorded that Thomas Heardson Wayett died on June 2, 1821 at the age of 67, apparently still Vicar of the Parish. Indeed, the position seems to have become a dynastic one: the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1841 records the death on July 12 that year, at the age of 74, of ‘the Rev John Wayett, formerly Vicar of Pinchbeck […] On his resignation in 1834 he presented the Rev West Wayett, the present Vicar.’ Subsequent members of the family are recorded as holding the post right up to 1924.
The SGS archives are a potential treasure trove for local family history researchers. Members have access, by arrangement, to the Society’s extensive records for their own research. Training on how to handle fragile documents is given. Membership, which is open to anyone aged 18 or over, costs just £60 per year (plus a one-off £10 registration charge). Visitors can enjoy free entry to the museum on open days, the next being this Sunday, May 19 from 2-4pm. Details of all our open days can be found on our website sgsoc.org , our Facebook page and in the pages of the Free Press and Spalding Guardian, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.