Adrian Schaell’s 1598 account of High Ham parish includes his consideration of a disagreement with certain people in Low Ham and his account of the end of the Midsummer celebrations at Bere.
Now remaineth for mee to speake somewhat of the chapple at Neitherham which certaine vaine old woman addicted to old men’s fables, do dreame to be more auncient than the churche of Higham, and foolishly babble to have bin in old tyme the cheife temple and receptacle of the whole parishe, for the unfoldinge of which doubt to him that desireth to knowe the trueth you must understande that the narrownes of that obscure place was not sufficient to receive the fourth part of the parishioners of Higham, amountinge to above the number of 800 persons with children and servaunts. Add also that the inhabitauntes of Beare and Hendley at two miles from the same chapple, wherns the churche of Higham beinge placed in the middest of the parishe is more fytt to bee come unto by all the
parishioners on everye syde, and there (the church beinge placed on the toppe of an hill) the cleare firmament (in chiefe time of the yeare) through the holesomeness of pure ayre and pleasant prospect on everye side, it doth merveylously delight the comers thereunto.
The rubble also or rubbish of the walls with the oken timber and other carpentrie worke of the parish house comonly called the Churchhouse sumtuously builded after the old fashion before the pullinge downe thereof and erecting of the new schole, do pretend great antiquity : yea, and also the Churchyard so large, compassed aboute with tall and goolly elms, doth prove some hundreth of yeares since the plantinge thereof.
The same churchyarde on the south side therof is repaired and maintained by none but the inhabitaunts of Neitherham. What shall [I speake of the goodly marble and stone sepulchres and monuments of the dead, as well to be seene in the church as churchyard of such as have bin buried there for almost an hundreth yeares agoe, especially of the Waltons, notwithstanding their dwellinge a longe time from ther first cominge hath been in the old house called Lowhame Court.
To be short, that all the infantes ar to be christened at Higham, the dead of the parish to be buried and matrimonie to be celebrated onely at higham and noe where else lawfully and accordinge to the forme of lawe, is confirmed by the comon consent of all, and the chapple of lowham beinge compassed with no churchyard, narrow obscure and renowned with no auncient monumentes, was in old time (accordinge to the manner of noble men) erected that the gent, called Bartlett in Bursi’s’ courte, sometime lyvinge at lowham might when they would, alone by themselves without the presence of the villagers, be present at masse, and also lest in the cold of winter foul wether and heate of sommer, their nicencs (through tendernes, lyinge in bedd) should take a journey so farr as unto the church of higham, or other wise that in the time of plague for feare of infection they might not come abroade, but might more safely be separate from others.
Hence came it perhaps that such as were of the same kindred and stocke were buried in the same chapple which thinge at this day in diverse places of this realme amongst the nobler sort is every where seene to be used.
Neither was there any perpetuall vicar or curate established there, seeinge the person at the death of one was not bound to appoint another, and if any foolish and beggerly preist or steward to the gent of Lowham Court did (as often they were wont) sacrifice or say praiers, hee was not hyred or susteined by any stipend from the neighbours but onely received lowly from the person fyve markes yearly ; and when there was no preist there (which thing hath oftentime come to passe in my time) the stipend hath ceased to be paid, neither is the person bound to pay it, the worke man ceasinge the wages also ceascth.
I have handled the matter of Neitherham chapple att large even to the wearinge of the reader to the intent that trueth might appeare and that (fables being confuted) yt might have his right.
Neither shall it be impertinent to say somewhat of a certaine obscure chapple at Beare, destroyed within these fifty yeares, which chapple as I thinke (being moved by this conjecture) was dedicated to Jhon Baptist, because, never but uppon the eveninge of the nativitye of Jhon, the parson of Pitney was wont to mumble over eveninge prayers, that on the night after they mighte play at wrestlinge in Sedgmoore, and the holy day followinge he was wont solemly to celebrate masse before many youthe at that time there assembled in great multitudes that after dynner they might try masteries in runninge for ramme appointed for the course, which whoso excellinge others by runninge could take, compted it his owne, as the reward and recompense of his obteined victory.
Neither did the parson of Pittney loose all these toyes, for every yeare unto this day (by what reason or sufferaunce it appearcth not) he receiveth certaine tithes to the valew of five poundes and damage of my parsonage, the old custome beinge now utterly abolished.
One William Balch, a gent (by whose appointment I know not) pulled downe the same chapple and with the rubble stones and timber thereof builded to himselfe a faire howse, wherein his sonne of the same name, William, dwelleth.
These things by the way thus written and rehearsed of mee, gentle reader, after a plainc manner, accept I pray thee favorably and in good parte, and correct what ix a misse, iff any thinge hereafter (worth the markinge) come to my knowledge, I promise thee assuredly that in an appendix I will committ them to writtinge.