THE VILLAGE OF PIRTON
“All ye who take part in the building of a Church, know that you have been admitted to the truest symbol of God’s eternity. You have built what may be destined to have no end but in Christ’s coming John Henry Newman
An effort is being made to raise funds for the restoration of the ancient church of this parish; we are therefore glad to avail ourselves of the opportunity to say a few words about the past history and present condition of this interesting structure.
The vill, village, or township of Pirton, otherwise Periton, which derives its name from an ancient Saxon possessor, one Peri, was given by William the Conqueror to Ralph de Limesy, “a great man in those days”, says Channey, as “is apparent by the possessions which he had in divers counties of England, set forth in Domesdei Book, among which it is recorded under this title of Terra Radulfi Limesie.”
This Ralph de Limesy founded a church here, to which he gave two parts of his tithes issuing out of one of his chief seats, called Wolverlie, situated on the north part of Solihull parish in Warwickshire, from which place he derived the title of his barony. But afterwards this Ralph, having a great respect to the Abbey of S. Albans, gave the tithes of this church of Pirton, and the church of Hertford, which he also built and endowed with divers lands and tithes, to that monastery.
He was succeeded by his son, Alan, who imitated his father in his liberality to the church, for he gave to the Monks at Hertford the church of Ichentone, in the county of Warwick. Alan’s son, Gerrard, also, who married Hornelade de Bidun, by whom he had issue, John, and Basilia who married Hugh de Odingsels, grandson to Hugh de Odingsels, a Fleming, and Alianore who married David de Linsey, a Scot; he gave to the monks at Hertford, half a yard land in Pirton, and a croft called Grasscroft, in Ichentone and two yardlands in Hickleford, to pray for the health of his soul, and the souls of Amy his wife, and John his son. John leaving no male issue, the Manor and Barony of Limsey, came to Basilia and Alianore, sisters and co-heirs of John de Limsey, by reason hereof they were in the 12th year of King John divided between the said Basilia and Alianore, and hence the separate manors of Pirton and Pirton Doddingsells. We gain some knowledge of the wealth and position of this family from the fact that Alexander, King of Scotland, gave £200, a sum equivalent to some thousands of our money, for the wardship and marriage of the heirs of David de Linsey, and for all the lands of their inheritance, which were the lands of John de Limesy, his kinsman, and lay in the counties of Essex, Hertford, Oxford, Warwick, Leicester, Norfolk and Suffolk.
There can be little doubt that a baronial residence of some pretensions, if not entitled to the appellation of a castle, was built here by some member of the de Limesy family, for besides the eminence near the church known as Toot Hill, and popularly regarded as the site of the keep, the field adjoining the churchyard on the south is known as the “berry” (query barrow?) field, whose undulating character is caused by the presence of numerous ancient foundations. The probable course of the moat may also be traced which enclosed the church as well as the domestic buildings, if we are right in our conjecture then the existing moat at the base of Toot Hill was continued to the north of the church and thence to the blacksmith’s pond, and round the berry field to the south side of Toot Hill. These remains, though few and insignifi-cant in themselves, yet seem to point to the former existence of extensive buildings and the abode of power and wealth.
The descendants of the old Norman Baron continued in possession of these manors for many generations, but at the commencement of the 17th century we find one moiety of the manor passing into the hands of one Samuel Marow, of Berkswel, in the county of Warwick, whose son Edward married a daughter of Richard Fines, Lord Say and Seal, and who sold this manor of Pirton to Thomas Docwra of Putteridge, who built two considerable residences in the parish, the one at Highdown, the other nearer the church, the remains of which is known as the Old Hall. The other moiety of the manor, known as Pirton Dodingsells, was conveyed to the Provost of Eton, who let the same by several leases for years to the Hammonds, one of whom bequeathed to the parish, the only permanent charities which it possesses, namely one hundred pounds since invested in six acres of land for the apprenticing of poor boys and two cottages. There is but one mural monument within the church, and that is of the date of 1645, to the memory of Jane, relict of the above named Thomas Docwra.
The manor of the rectory of Pirton was devised by Ralph de Limesy to the Priory of Hertford, as the tithes of the parish had been to the Abbey of St Albans, but of course at the Reformation, when the cupidity of Henry VIII decreed the dissolution of the monasteries, these properties were lost to the church and passed into the hands of laymen where they still remain. A modest income, however was left to the vicar, for we find that this vicarage, with the rectory of Ickleford, Anno 26th, Henry VIII, was rated in the King’s books at the yearly value of eight pounds, whereof William Deane is patron.
Of the church built by the old Norman Baron, but few traces remain. Time and the ignorance and barbarism of past generations have well-nigh done their worst to efface the comeliness of God’s house. It is very probable that the original plan was cruciform, like the parish church of Meppershall, though somewhat larger, as the tower is situated at the intersection of the arms of the cross. The Norman arches on the east and west sides still remain but are reduced to half their size by the introduc-tion of brickwork, which, with the addition of two brick buttresses inside and one out-side, would seem to have been used for the support of the tower on the removal of the south transept. The consequence of this is that the area of the tower is rendered almost useless for the congregation, while the voice of the officiant at the altar services is almost inaudible to a large number of the worshippers. The removal of these obstacles to a decent and reverent service, while the most necessary, would, we think, be also the most costly, as they would iinvolve a heavy outlay for the mere austentation of the tower. But if the proposed plan could be carried out, of re-building a south transept with an adjoining vestry, no doubt much additional support for the tower could be thence obtained. We are informed that not long ago folding doors were to be seen in these arches, which divided the church into three parts, the nave, where divine service was held; the tower area, used as a belfry; and the chancel, as a Sunday school, the latter having been used for the celebration of the Holy Communion about three times a year. It is doubtless owing to the eye having become accustomed to the beauty and fitness for purpose of worship of the many new and restored churches which the last few years have produced, that we experience something like a shock when we are suddenly confronted with one which bears so many traces of the effects of time, and the barbarous hand of man. And where we see doors, windows, fittings and appliances made use of in God’s House, which no man of ordinary respectability would think good enough for his own, it is time something were done to remedy these grievous defects and restore in some degree that beauty of holiness which is not only due to Him who commanded a house most magnifical to be builded for Himself, but is also a great help to the implanting of holy and reverent thoughts.
We are glad that an effort is to be made to restore this interesting old church, interesting as so intimately connected with the history of the neighbourhood; and trust that sufficient funds may be forthcoming to enable the vicar and churchwardens to complete the work in a thorough and efficient manner