Reading the details of the life and the will of John Dyer, who was Rector of High Ham at the end of the Fifteenth Century, there seemed nothing remarkable in the details.
Dyer graduated from Oxford University with a Bachelor of Arts degree on 29th November, 1456 and he was instituted as rector of the parish on 12th June, 1459, an incumbency where he was to spend forty years.
Dyer died on 20th September 1499, He had written his will on 16th September, four days prior to his death. The will was proved on 16th September 1499.
The will gives the following instructions:
To be buried in the Chancel of the Church of High Ham.
Every son, of my sons, John and Richard. John Dyer, Vicar of Long Sutton. Richard Dyer, son of John Dyer, my brother, all my lands and tenements in the town of Wincanton.
Residue to John Dyer, my brother, and Richard Dyer, his son — they to be executors.
Supervisor, Thomas Weston.
Witnesses, John Dyer, Vicar of Long Sutton, William Badcock, Chaplain, my Curate, Thomas Walton, and others.
The chronicler notes that, ‘In the floor of the Chancel of High Ham is a brass to the memory of the Reverend John Dyer, Rector, who died 20 September, 1499. He rebuilt at his own expense the Chancel of the Church of High Ham in 1479’.
At High Ham Primary School, we would have learned those dates, being told that the rood screen between the chancel and the nave dated from 1476. I remember a sense of pride that a carved wooden screen in our very ordinary church dated from before the time that Columbus sailed to the New World.
Too often now, I fail to connect the dots and it was only last week, when I read that Henry VIII had quoted from a pamphlet written by Dyer that argued that clergy should be permitted to marry, that the thought occurred. Dyer was rector of High Ham and was married with sons to whom he bequeathed part of his estate. Not only was John Dyer married, but his brother, who bore the same name, who was vicar of Long Sutton, was also married.
It was the Fifteenth Century, but clearly the ideas that were to take hold across much of Europe during the time of Martin Luther, were already established in our part of Somerset. Perhaps the custom was widespread, perhaps there were married clergy in many parts of the country, but to a small schoolboy in the 1960s, it would have been exciting to have thought that the Reverend John Dyer was a pioneer.