A Pembridge Poem

The following poem was sent into us by Huw Parsons for us to share with you.

Half – Timbered Sonnets

Oh, these half-timbered sonnets,
Cleverly constructed
Have through time and weather
Warped upon a twisted tilt.

And hidden deep within their walls
Who knows what?
A child’s single shoe,
A miser’s lost hoard,
And somewhere I am certain,
Double-edged I’m certain,
A ploughshare beaten sword…..

Oh, picture generations
Who’ve thronged these habitations
Now in the churchyard, lost…..

An ale-wife pulls her husband’s hair
While Lucifer looks on,
They fight beside the open hearth –
They tip the black cauldron.

So rolling on the earthen floor
They swing the chain hung kettle,
‘Til wattle-daub shakes dust
On their newly polished settle.

And mad old ‘Sailor Tompkyn,’
Who never past a shoreline went,
Tells tales of salty mermaids
With hearts brim full of bad intent.

He tells it to the bacon sides
And asks them what they wish
‘Til his precious leather tankard
Swirls about with strange sea fish.

And to those Gwatkin children
Who rode their nightmares to the west
I say don’t fear you little dears
Go back and take your rest.

For though six-hundred years have passed
I see your awful dragon dreams
So given them a mention in
These Pembridge rhyming schemes……

Three farthings for posterity,
A single spur for luck,
Such meagre things for evermore
Still hidden in the cruck!

Weekly Pay Book

Since the Old Poor law was enacted in 1601,  an act which became basis of all local poor-law administration for the next two centuries,  it established the centre of administration of poor relief as the parish, overseen by the Overseers of the Poor. This system of Poor Relief was found in Pembridge from the 17th century.

One aim of the system was providing money to those in need, the so called ‘deserving poor’. The system was based on a locally raised rate called the Poor Rate which was then distributed as decided by the Overseers of the Poor.  A key part of the Old Poor Law was that it gave everyone the right to help from their parish.

However by the early 19th century the existing poor laws were beginning to be questioned.  There is evidence from the time suggesting that the general perception was, from the side of those that paid for the poor law, that these were not working. John Meadows White, writing in 1829, stated that, “the poor laws are generally, and it is feared with much truth, considered an evil, almost beyond remedy” The reforms in 1834 which lead to the New Poor Law act saw a change in emphasis in how the poor were treated, rather than supporting people in their home, there was a drive for the poor to receive relief in a prison-like workhouse.

In Pembridge there is evidence to show that there were regular payments made to the poor as part of the system of parish relief.  The Weekly Pay book contains records of payments made to the poor during the 1820s, and having transcribed some of the figures from October 1828 to April 1829, it provides a great deal of information about Pembridge in this period.

When analysing the information from the Weekly Pay book, which lists those in regular receipt of relief from the parish, the first thing to note is that there were not that many of them in comparison to the population of the village. Those in receipt of weekly relief were only a small proportion of the village population. In village with a population of 1293, in 1831, only 56 households were recorded as receiving poor relief during the period October 1828 – April 1829 which would be a small percentage of the total population.

One distinguishing feature of the poor of Pembridge is that they did not always reside in Pembridge, which shows that the settlement acts and poor law were not insurmountable barriers in the movement of poor people. Although the parish did provide support for a number of people who lived in Pembridge, the weekly pay book showed that a number of the people supported lived outside the parish boundaries.

The weekly pay book gave a location of all of the people in receipt of relief, and 28 out of the 56 names listed in the 1828 records were for locations outside of Pembridge. This suggests that the poor were mobile and not tied to their parish or even county. Indeed, judging by this small sample of records it was better to live outside the parish as, on average, those living outside the parish of Pembridge received more in weekly relief than those in Pembridge, 11p a week rather than 9p.  This shows that people were able to access poor relief, even when they were not living in the parish. However living outside the parish led to other issues, such as the timeliness of  payments.

Those living outside Pembridge were more likely to receive occasionally lump sums, rather than a weekly payment and when these did not arrive when expected could cause some distress as shown in a number of letters surviving from James Edwards, one of the names recorded as receiving poor relief from  Pembridge. One of the surviving letters suggests that the overseers did not always pay as regularly as the poor would like,  It was address to Mr Howell, the Overseer of the Poor at this time:

January 16 1827, Worcester

mr howell you forgot me acordin to your promis the time is past last sunday of this month i am in great distress att present the last letter you sent me cost one shilling you must send me something down to pay the christmas rent

i am your humble servant

James Edwards

Overall £153.15 was paid out to the poor over the period between 4th October 1828 and 4th April 1829, recorded in the weekly pay book, with an average payment made of 10p a week. The minimum payment made was 0, suggesting that the record was written at the start of the period and included people that were likely to receive payments as well as those who actually received payment. Inclusion in the book wasn’t a guarantee of payment. The majority of names are written in rough alphabetical order of surname, apart from the last six, suggests that these were later additions.

This shows that the list of the poor was planned in advance, based on the local knowledge of who was likely to need help, but was flexible and added to throughout. Names could also be removed; two records have annotations to show that payments were stopped due to the death of the recipient. The weekly poor relief also shows that household received differing amounts, suggesting that it was tailored to the requirements of each households.

The amounts also occasionally varied, for example one payment to Susan Noakes, was increase from 1 shilling to 1 shilling 6p, with the annotation that she has fallen ill. The variation in the amounts recorded show that there wasn’t a one size fits all approach to provision of support for the poor. Instead it was tailored to what the overseers felt was necessary in the individual’s circumstances, although it doesn’t show if it was sufficient to what the poor thought they needed. As the letter from James Edwards indicated the poor were not always in agreement with what they were given.

Nicholas Gour – Serjeant-at-law

When walking around churches you many have noticed that most tombs are of knights in armour or members of the clergy –  to find one of an civilian is more unexpected, but that it what we have here in the chancel of Pembridge church. That they were an important family is clear – the very fact that they had tombs shows their status and wealth.  The freestone effigies are believed to date from 1360-80. The two men shown are known to be father and son – Nicholas and John Gour, with the two women assumed to be their wives. Nicholas and his wife can be seen in the photo above. He was a Serjeant-at-law, but what was the role of a Serjeant-at-law?

For six centuries starting in the 1300s, the serjeants at law ranked above all other lawyers in England. This was the highest legal office of the day and the Serjeant would have pleaded cases in front of the King.  Throughout those six centuries only twelve hundred men were ever promoted to the dignity of serjeant, the last dying in 1921.  Their role probably started with the thirteenth-century legal practitioners known as countors, a term from the French meaning storytellers. Countors helped formulate the plaintiff’s counts, or causes of action, and the preparatory work called counting. In the fourteenth century their role evolved and became a profession which developed into serjeants at law.

The Serjeants had for many centuries exclusive jurisdiction over the Court of Common Pleas, being the only lawyers allowed to argue a case there. At the same time they had rights of audience in the other central common law courts (the Court of King’s Bench and Exchequer of Pleas) and precedence over all other lawyers. They were also known as the Order of the Coif, after the white silk hat they wore; the Serjeants were the only people allowed to keep their hat on in the presence of the King. The coif can still be seen on Nicolas’s tomb.

To create a Serjeant the king would issue a writ commanding the person to prepare themselves to take the degree of Serjeant. An early form of this is below, translated from the original French, collected by Thomas Hoccleve, a poet. It dates from between 1371 – 1424.

The king etc. to our good friend, A. de B., apprentice of the law, greeting! Forasmuch as we have ordered, by the advice of our consul, that you amongst others should give gold and at (such a time) next coming should before our justices of the Common Bench take the estate of serjeant, in order to plead before our said justices in the said Bench and in all our other courts whatsoever for all who wish to plead therein: We firmly charge and command you to prepare yourself and make ready to give the gold and take the estate of serjeant, as above, at the aforesaid time. And this in no wise omit, upon the faith and allegiance that you owe to us and upon pain of 100s, which we shall cause to be levied to our use from you lands and goods if you should do contrary to this our command. Given etc.

(Taken from The Order of Serjeants at Law by J H Baker, 1984)

There are a couple of things to note about the writ – firstly there was a strong motivation for the estate of serjeant at law to be taken up, otherwise they would be fined 100 shillings  – this, and the language used (‘firmly charge and command’) suggest that there could be some reluctance to take up the estate of serjeant.  In a writ of 1382 the fine had gone up to £100.

The second thing to note is that in taking up their estate they were ordered to ‘give the gold’. This meant that when they were appointed they “gave gold”, usually in the form of rings, to their peers and the aristocracy. Typically this involved about ten pounds weight of gold which, at today’s price would be about £150,000, although there is an instance of one individual giving five times that amount. That was just the raw material. Then it was made into rings and a motto engraved around it, presumably also at great costs. They also hosted, at their expense, a feast. Which could go on for up to seven days although, due to the crippling expense, in 1550 the serjeants persuaded the King to limit it to one grand dinner. Still, at on grand dinner in 1555 they consumed:

25 deer, 44 swans, 36 herons, 132 rabbits, 132 woodcocks, 540 larks, 276 jellies eked out with sturgeon, pheasant, turkey, crane, brawn, quince pies, marchpanes and custards, all washed down with over 175 gallons of claret wine.

All paid for by the incoming Sergeant. However there is no evidence as to what Nicholas Gour gave in the form of gold or provided in the way of a feast when he became a sergeant at law in 1354.

Nicholas died between 1360-70 and his tomb in Pembridge Church shows him in the dress of serjaent. A project is taking place at the minute to recreate the costumes of the effigies, the progress of which can be seen below.


Recreation of Mediaeval Costumes

Charity in Pembridge

Charity has always been a part of life in Pembridge as an old wooden board in the church shows. In the back of the church, on the north wall, behind the main entrance there is an old board. Dated 1794, and created by the Rector and Churchwarden at the time, it lists all the donations and funds that had been donated to the village to support the poor. From money for sermons and bread for those attending to wood or coal, to bell ropes for the church, the board details all the land that was left to support the village.

Although the board was produced over 200 hundred years ago some of the charitable works listed still exist – the subject of an earlier blog posts the charitable status of the Alms Houses still exists today. The board shows that even then, Bishop Duppa was getting credit for building the alms houses, even though they were built earlier than his endowment.

Full details of the information on the board is below.



BISHOP DUPPA, built the UPPER ALM’S HOUSE and endowed it with the Rent of certain Lands in BROXWOOD called the COLLIERS

Dr TRAFFORD and ALICE his Widow built the LOWER ALM’S HOUSE and endowed it with a Messuage and Lands in the Parish of Lionshall purchased by the said Dr Trafford, of one Barnaby Traunter and now in the occupation of John Carwardine – and with a Rentcharge of five Pounds ann. From a House and Premises in KINGTON, late in possession of Antony Arundel – and also with a yearly chart of ten Shillings payable from a parcel of Land called the WELLBURIES in this Parish.

Mrs ALICE TRAFFORD gave the yearly sum of one pound and five shillings, payable from the said parcel of Land called WELLBURIES, to be disposed of by the Rector and Churchwardens in bread on good Friday.

Mrs DAVENANT METCALFE gave the rent of a parcel of Land called KINGS-CLOSE, in this Parish and five shillings yearly payable from the said Land called WELLBUREIS, to be disposed of as above in bread on Christmas Eve.

WILLIAM CARPENTER Esq gave his Lands and Tenements situate in the Borough and in the Parish of Weobley part whereof is now rented by the Marquis of Bath, other part thereof is Lett on Lease to John Peplos Birch Esq, and the remainder thereof to Mr John Insole for the following Purposes Viz.

For two Sermons to be preach’d on the 4th March and the 29th September Annually 13 shillings and 4 pence

To each of the Churchwardens present at each Sermon 1 shilling

To the Clerk present at each Sermon 1 shilling

To the Sexton or Bell-Ringer present at each Sermon 4 pence

To such of the Poor of the Town of Pembridge as shall be present at each, to be disposed of in Bread on each of the above days £2 10s

And the Surplis of the Rents and profits of the said Lands and Tenements, to be disposed of Annually, at the discretion of the Rector and Churchwardens for the time being.

Mr RICHARD GOODMAN gave five Pounds yearly Payable from the YEW-TREE Estate in Marston, to be disposed of in Wood, or Coal on the 1st day of May.

Mr JOHN STEAD gave six Pounds yearly to six poor Bachelors, or Widowers, to be nominated by the Rector and Churchwardens, on Easter-Monday payable from an Estate at AYLEY, in the Parish of Kinersley, now in the possession of Thomas Clutton Esq.

A Piece of Land near the Bridge called BELL-CLOSE, now in possession of John Wilding is charged with providing Ropes for the Bells whenever they are wanted.



Pembridge Charity Board

Blanche Mortimer

Continuing with the Mortimer family for another week, the next person of interest is Blanche Mortimer. The daughter of Roger and Joan, she was probably born around 1316 in Wigmore Castle and died in 1347. Her tomb is found in St Bartholomew’s Church at Much Marcle, Herefordshire, a beautiful memorial, decorated with both her husband’s and her own family crests. It is even more remarkable for the fact that her body was found to lie within it when the tomb was restored a few years ago.

But what is her connection with Pembridge?

We know that Blanche Mortimer was married in 1330 to Sir Peter Grandison, and the Grandison crest is certainly visible on her memorial, as can be seen in the photo above, interspersed with that of the Mortimer family, but this is not the only church where the two crests could once be seen together.

In the mid 17th century, the antiquary Silas Taylor paid a visit to Pembridge church and, luckily for us, left a description of the stained glass in the windows of the west aisle of the church. Although the stained glass has not survived until the present day, Taylor’s description of it has, showing that the windows held the crests of three families: Mortimer, Geneville and Grandison.

Mortimer and Geneville were linked in the marriage of Roger and Joan, Blanche’s parents but the only event that linked the Grandison family was the marriage of Blanche, suggesting that this took place in the newly built church at Pembridge. It cannot have been an easy start to the marriage; within a few months Roger, Blanche’s father had been executed for treason. Despite this she has continued to be known by her father’s name, going down in history as Blanche Mortimer, but her tomb is called the Grandison tomb and is well worth a visit.

Joan de Geneville, 2nd Baroness de Geneville

Last time we talked about Roger Mortimer, who is famous for ruling England, alongside Queen Isabella in the 14th century, however his wife is just as fascinating a character who spent the latter part of her life in Pembridge. Joan was one of the wealthiest heiresses of the Welsh Marches in the 14th century, inheriting Ludlow castle and lands as well as estates in Ireland.

Joan was born at Ludlow Castle 2nd February 1286, daughter of Sir Piers Geneville and Jeanne of Luigsan. Joan was the eldest of three sisters, all of whom were due to inherit their grandfather, Sir Geoffrey de Geneville’s estates in Ludlow and Ireland. In order not to split up the estate the younger two sisters became nuns and Joan inherited it all.

As a wealthy heiress Joan was subject to an arranged marriage. She was betrothed to Roger Mortimer, possible in 1200 or 1300 according to Ian Mortimer, who suggested that this was as a result of financial arrangement between their families. Roger’s father Edmund Mortimer received a loan from Geoffrey de Geneville in 1300 and the marriage may have been a statement of affiliation between the families. Roger and Joan were married in Pembridge, on the eve of the feast of St Matthew the Apostle, 20th September 1301. Joan brought prestige and lands to the marriage and it proved a fruitful one, with twelve children.

The first part of their marriage was relatively quiet, with visits to their estates in Ireland and in 1321 Roger rebelled against King Edward. Roger was captured and sent to the Tower of London; he subsequently escaped and fled to France. Joan was not as lucky. She was taken into custody by the King, and ended up in a cell at Skipton castle until 1326. During this period Roger was in France, where he became the lover of Queen Isabella. Their experiences over this period must have been remarkably different. It is not known when they first met after Roger returned to England and overthrew King Edward, but Roger is known to have been in Pembridge in November 1326. It could have been at the church in Pembridge that they were reunited, which was just about to be rebuilt, and where they celebrated the marriage of their daughter in June 1330. A few months later Roger was executed for treason and Joan was imprisoned again. She did not get her lands back until 1336 when she received a full pardon for her husband’s crimes.

In 1341 Pembridge became the dower residence of Joan de Geneville, probably in the castle behind the church, until her death in 1356 at the age of seventy. She was buried in Wigmore Abbey beside her husband. Her tomb no longer exists as the abbey was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries. Joan’s numerous direct descendants include the current British Royal Family, Sir Winston Churchill, and the 1st American President George Washington.

Roger Mortimer, First Earl of March

Roger Mortimer was born on the 25th April 1287, and it probably one of the most well known of all his family to bear the name Roger Mortimer. He became one of the most powerful Marcher lords, becoming first Earl of March. He rose in power until he took up arms against Edward II, at which point he was captured and sentenced to the Tower of London. Escaping the Tower he fled to France, met Isabella, Edward’s wife – together they deposed Edward and ruled England until Edward III came of age. Edward III did what his father hadn’t managed and had Mortimer executed for treason.

But what is Roger Mortimer’s connection with Pembridge?

When he was he was born Pembridge was one of the many estates and lands held by the Mortimer family, however it was an important residence for the family. Roger married Joan de Geneville at Pembridge on the eve of the feast of St Matthew (20th September) 1301. At the time he was 14 and his bride was 15. In the first three years of marriage they had two children.

The church as we know it to day wasn’t built at this time and it would have been the previous Norman church which would have been visible from the castle that was the Mortimer residence. It is likely that the church was built during his lifetime. (See the blog post on dating the church). It is known that Roger visited Pembridge in November 1326, potentially to see work starting on the church? We can only prove that Roger visited Pembridge twice, this covered a major event in his life – his marriage.  The size of the church shows that importance of the village at the time and it possibly Roger we have to thank for this.

The Mortimers and Pembridge

The image of the top of the page shows the Mortimer Crest. The Mortimer were lords of Pembridge for 160 years.

Previously I’ve written about the de Braose family, overlords of Pembridge until 1230, when William de Braose was accused of having an affair with Joan, wife of Prince Llewellyn, and both were executed. Pembridge at the time was owned by the de Pembridge family and as a result of William’s execution,  de Pembridge family would have a new overlord, the mighty Mortimer of Wigmore. Roger Mortimer III would go on to marry Maud, (sometimes Matilda) the daughter of William de Braose.

Henry de Pembridge grew up and prospered initially, becoming Sheriff of Hereford in 1255, however in 1265/6 Henry was disinherited and his lands forfeited to the crown following the defeat of Simon de Montfort (who he supported) at the battle of Evesham.

He was handed over to Roger Mortimer and, together with his family, was imprisoned at Wigmore Castle. Roger Mortimer had been a key supporter of the crown at the battle of Evesham and was awarded de Montfort’s severed  head following the battle. Roger sent it to Wigmore Castle as a present for his wife, Maud de Braose.

Henry de Pembridge made peace with King Henry on November 16th and had all his forfeited lands returned – except Pembridge, which remained in Roger de Mortimer’s hands.

Mortimer prized the manor of Pembridge and forced Henry to appear before the County Court at Hereford and formally convey the Manor of Pembridge to him, and as insurance for this, he held de Pembridge’s sons hostage until Pembridge became his legally.

Pembridge was never again held by a member of the de Pembridge family who moved to Welsh Newton where Pembridge Castle can be found to this day.

The Mortimer family held Pembridge until 1425, and the village became the residence of a number of different members of the Mortimer family throughout the 160 years that they held it.

The first Mortimer to hold Pembridge, Roger, died on the 22nd October 1282 reputedly of a bad cold, while staying at Eardisland. Following his death, his widow Maud, lived in the castle at Pembridge.