The Bells' Court Case

The 1784 Presentment and Ecclesiastical Court Case

The following article by RW Standing amends some conclusions, and adds considerably, to two articles on the church already
published elsewhere on this website, namely, The Bells of St Margaret's Church and The Church Clock.

It has already been related how William Kinleside, the musical minister, must have been the inspiration for acquiring the peal of six bells that grace the church tower.  It now seems likely that Angmering must have been in ferment for several years, over the issues raised by their purchase. First we must look back at the village and parish of that period, late in the 18th century, together with the personalities closely involved in the events. The Bells as they are today

Beyond a few improved farming methods, and widening markets, it would be a generation and more before the scientific and industrial revolution had any marked effect.  Farming seasons rolled past in their immemorial way, with sowing, harvest and the price of corn, the main subjects of concern and conversation.

The parish population had been increasing since the 17th century, with its recurrent epidemics and dearth. From under five hundred inhabitants it would rise to over seven hundred by 1801, still making Angmering the chief market village in the locality, east of Arundel.  Those engaged in farming had probably not increased in numbers, but with twice as many now in trade, it may be suspected many were eking out a living on the margins.

Reverend Kinleside had been at the Rectory in the High Street only since 1776.  He was as yet unmarried, but on close terms with his future father-in-law, William Gratwicke of Ham Manor.  This last of the true Gratwicke lineage appears to have been the nominal farmer of his inherited estate, presumably through a farm bailiff, unlike his nephew who later let out most of the land to tenants, while playing the gentleman with a racing stud to boot.

Those particular parishioners at the centre of this story, were varied in type although few in number, and represented the middle strata in Angmering society, the working farmer and tradesmen. 

The Opponents

John Olliver, yeoman, a member of that extensive local clan that could hold its own with Gratwicke as to overall property. Kingston would shortly be in their sole ownership, like a minor kingdom. John, as a junior member of the family, had to seek his own fortune, and found it in a long tenancy of Chalk's Farm at Angmering, as well as in ownership of other property in the village, from 1756 until his decease in 1788.  Perhaps by 1784 he no longer needed to be circumspect in his dealings.

Thomas Wood, farmer, a near neighbour in the High Street.  He called himself a butcher or farmer according to the company he kept.  In truth he only occupied a small pasture in West Angmering brooks, owned by the Vicar of Rustington, unless he had a well hidden sub-tenancy of land not showing in parish rate and other accounts. For him insolvency beckoned, and every penny expended brought that nearer.  He could not compete against such a personage as John Edmunds and Cortis as a butcher and landowner.

On the other hand Thomas Luck, farmer, was one of those farmers in the predicament of occupying land in another parish than his own, and paying its rates.  He lived at Clapham, no doubt at Lee Farm, and occupied nearby Coombe Log above Barpham. Had his house been there, on the top of the downs, his interest in Angmering church would have been minimal.

The Proponents

John Foreman, was the tenant at Ecclesden Manor, a large farm that extended south of the present Worthing Road to the Kingston boundary at the Lakes of Ecclesden. In the common way he had taken over Ecclesden from his father. 

James Penfold occupied the adjoining property at Avenals.  In the same fashion a dynasty had securely ruled here with his father and others of the family into the dim past. Secure and well to do, these were the people who ran the parish, and were capable of paying their way.

George Miles at Upper Ecclesden, with his father, were almost newcomers in comparison. But they had arrived at the right time, when the old copyholds of Ecclesden were being allowed to fall in, and by the end of the 18th century a community of smallholders had gone their way. George Miles opened his arms to all, and now occupied the whole.

Finally, George Markwick represented that ancient breed of minor freeholder and copyholder.  Pigeon House may well have been a wealthy merchant’s house, but it had subsided into subsistence farming.  The freehold reduced to some fifteen acres, together with any other land that luck would bring Markwick's way. He also had ownership of some village houses, which may have made his living much more adequate than the acreage of his lands would suggest.

The Churchwardens

John Holmwood, occupied Church Farm, that area of West Angmering formerly common field adjoining the brooks south of Old Place.  This was yet another dynasty, John having taken over from his father in 1764. Although having had previous experience as churchwarden, as the parish elected representative he exchanged this role with several other farmers and tradesmen.

On the other hand John Edmunds had been the Rector's churchwarden ever since Mr Kinleside came to the parish, and was presumably his man on most occasions. Although an extensive landowner, he and his father were described as butchers in their wills. They had a choice of where to live, either the Rosery farm south of the Red Lion Inn, or Church House north of the school. 

The Parish

In all but size, the village and parish of today is a pale shadow of the community that existed for a millennium and more.  Economically, socially, religiously and politically, it was the basic unit of local government. From cradle to workhouse and grave, parish officers were in charge. Religious tolerance meant nothing more than that, and everyone had to support the parish church, if in no other way, at least through the church rate. 

In form the vestry was a democracy with all householders able to attend and vote on resolutions, although at a later date the £5 ratepayer only could attend. In reality of course, even in the 1780s, it was a small minority of gentry and farmers who controlled events.  The cottagers in local parishes did not usually pay rates and, at some time in their lives, were more likely to be recipients of relief. Indeed rate books for Angmering listed only the principal houses.

In fact the only rate books that survive are for the Overseer's poor rate.  Angmering is entirely deficient in church rate books, which contained details of levies on parishioners for building maintenance and other costs.  Income for the Rector was of no concern to the churchwardens, consisting of glebe rents and income from tithes. At present the only church rate known about is that for 1784, in relation to the bells controversy. The sum raised of rather over £270 is small beer to modern eyes, but if we add two noughts and think of it as £27,000 its value is more approximately understood.  But that was barely as much as the annual parish land tax running at well over £290, while the poor rate was already in the order of £500, and doubled in the next decade or two of the Napoleonic Wars - compensated for by higher corn prices. Heavy bills that recur year by year, provoke less reaction than the occasional excess, and it was the in the nature of church maintenance that in one year little more than communion wine was needed, while next year the neglect of ages might need great expense on reparation.

But there is an added complication.  Church rates or land scots were as old as the churches themselves, and the product of tradition or custom, which was three parts of the law. Angmering parish was an amalgamation of East and West Angmering parishes, dating from 1573.  West Angmering was itself a combination of the original parish together with that of Barpham with Ham. This meant that customs in one part of Angmering might conflict with those in another.

From a century before, in 1626, a court case involving the church rate of Ham had been resolved in a judgement agreeing with custom. [HC 1009] The relevant extract reads: "That the Village of Ham aforesaide shall paie to the Churchwardens of West Angmering upon all taxes made by them for and concerning the parish Churche of Angmering the reparacions and ornaments and other necessaries thereof for Eleaven yard land onlie." Any idea that the yardland was a quarter of a 120 acre hide, may be dispelled, with 20 acres a common local yardland but in Ham perhaps only 18 acres. At most Ham had to pay rates on 220 acres, half its extent.  It is pure conjecture that in origin the villagers lands were rateable but not the manor farm.

By good fortune it is possible to compare the rate valuation of 1784 with other types of land valuation, in order to indicate the eccentricity of church rates.  The land tax schedules for the same period were perhaps more soundly based, but the main difference was that lands belonging to the Rector were not rated for church maintenance but were subject to the poor rate and land tax. 

The Table has tenants as named in the church rate schedule, with farms as named or deduced
2nd col. Land tax for 1785
3rd col  Those known to be for against church bells scheme
4th col  1784 church rate for bells etc
5th col  1784 poor rate assessment not passed by JPs
6th col  1784 poor rate assessment passed by JPs


1785 land tax


1784 bell
ch rate

1784 null
poor rate

1784 passed poor rate

Rev Kinleside   Parsonage

£83 value in land tax


Not rated



William Gratwicke   Ham Farm

£216 land tax  





John Edmunds   Rosery Farm

£30 in land tax  main farm





John Olliver   Chalks of Chants

£40 land tax valuation





Thomas Luck   part of Lee Farm

£60 land tax





George Markwick   Pigeonhouse

£6 10s small farm





George Miles   Upper Ecclesden

£95 land tax value





Thomas Wood   brooks meadow

£3 15s land tax





John Foreman Ecclesden Manor

£125 land tax value





James Penfold   Avenals Farm

£61 land tax value





John Holmwood    Church Farm

£90 land tax value





Robert French   Upper Barpham

£53 land tax





Thomas Amoore   Old Place

£100 land tax valuation





What this comparison shows is that Ham Farm [Ham Manor] church rates were low that the 1626 judgement, making only half the area liable for rates, must still have been in force.  Other farms with wide differentials cannot readily be explained.  The Easter 1784 poor rate assessment evidently had to be recalculated before the JPs would pass it, but whether this was connected with the coming court case is uncertain since the Presentment giving rise to the court case had yet to be served. If the church rate was also revised in this way, it probably did nothing to increase the Ham Manor payments by William Gratwicke and his nephew who later rebuilt the church.

John Edmunds and John Holmwood were churchwardens in 1783 to 1784, but in Easter 1784 the parish elected Robert French to replace Holmwood. It is the Edmunds and Holmwood names that have been cast into the six bells in the church, together with the year 1783 (see photo - right) The bells therefore existed some months before the churchwardens made the rate to pay for them. It was, and still is, the correct process for a faculty to be obtained from the bishop for any such substantial work in a church, and about that period many faculties were taken out for new bells, and for selling bells such as those which belonged to East Preston. No such faculty has been found for Angmering, and this omission was one of the complaints in the Allegations against the churchwardens in 1785, which went further by claiming that no authorisation was given by the parish for the work. "Did of their own Accord and without any Licence or Faculty for that Purpose and without any Order or Authority of any Vestry or Meeting of the Parishioners..."  The assumption is that the Rector and wardens, with one or two others of influence in the village, decided matters for the parish in the time honoured way.

New or Old Bells?

The question then arises whether the five old bells were recast into six, or were six entirely new bells obtained from the foundry in London. The Allegations were quite clear. "Did ...sell the Bells of the said Church which were only five in number and buy six new ones much larger than the said five And this was and is true publick and notorious and so much the said John Edmunds and John Holmwood do know in their Consciences and have confessed to be true..."  Nothing was recorded of such a confession, and the final Sentence spoke of the bells as being recast.  At best it can only be imagined that the old bells were sent to London and were recast, but when they came back as six bells of totally new appearance, as indeed they effectively were, it caused some villagers to believe the obvious.

It was not until June 1784 that the retiring churchwardens, and others, took thought to raise funds so as to pay the substantial bill.  Quite possibly the bells had not yet been delivered, and indeed the statements made in court almost suggest the recasting had not yet taken place.  The vestry meeting to agree the parish rate was advertised as usual, by a notice on the church door, but in such a way that villagers did not seem to realise it was for anything more than the poor rate and a normal church rate.  In the event a vast sum of £272 was assessed, mainly for the bells but also other work in the church.  

"The Bells Clock Ornaments and other Appurtenances thereunto belonging were ruinous broken and decayed And that there was a necessity of and for the mending recasting and repairing the same And for the raising Money for Communion Wine and other necessaries for the use of the said Church to be collected and disbursed by the said John Edmunds and John Holmwood the Guardians or Churchwardens of the said Parish And also that the Ruins Dilapidations and decays of the said Parish Church of Angmering and of recasting the Bells repairing the Clock and other Appurtenances thereunto belonging And for other Necessaries for the said Parish Church..."

It is particularly interesting that minor repairs to the church clock should be mentioned.  This establishes quite clearly that the tower clock was not installed with the bells in 1783, but they must already have been of some antiquity in order to need repair.  It seems it will never be known when Angmering first acquired this public timepiece.

The small group of parishioners at the meeting who signed the assessment, included the Rector.  The others whose names appear were William Gratwicke, John Foreman, James Penfold, George Miles, and George Markwicke - interestingly the only one who signed with a mark.

Unsurprisingly there was a strong reaction from villagers when the churchwardens provided their rate bills. Those three that refused to pay were no doubt the tip of a disgruntled iceberg. The three who were soon afterwards presented or accused, on the 22nd July, were Thomas Luck of Clapham, John Olliver and Thomas Wood.

The Court Hearing

A year later when the hearings began, no doubt at Chichester cathedral, the various parties had proctors to represent them before the judge, a deputy of the chancellor, who was not impeded by use of a jury.  Each of the three gave statements or responses with exactly the same wording recorded.  They denied that the, "Bells Clock Ornaments and other Appurtenances thereunto belonging were ruinous broken and decayed otherwise than that the said Bells might want new hanging but not recasting and the other Articles some few trivial Reparations for which purpose and also for Communion Wine and other Necessaries for the use of the said Church to be collected and disbursed by the Guardians or Churchwardens of the said Parish he this Respondent doth verily in his Conscience believe the Sum of Eighty pounds would have been more than sufficient."  Other they made complaints have already been mentioned.

The reply to this was as assertive.  The bells and clock were, "Thoroughly and exactly viewed purused and considered by expert and able Carpenters and other Skillfull Workmen And by a Great part of the Parishioners and Inhabitants of the said Parish And that they did report and Judge that the recasting the Bells Hanging the Same repairing the Clock and other Requisites belonging thereto and other Ornaments Repairs and Appurtenances could not be done and effected for a less Sum than Two Hundred and Seventy One Pounds Seventeen Shillings and Three Pence."   A remarkably exact figure that was in fact altered to be the same as the amount of rates raised.

The court was thorough in form, calling a number of witnesses of all classes and conditions and not only ratepayers.  These included, William Clear a labourer, George Olliver carpenter, James Penfold mercer, George Markwicke, one of those who had signed the rates assessment, Hugh Foster of Goring, Riding Officer, and Thomas Ragless the parish clerk and master at Older's school.  All that is lacking is their evidence.

The case rumbled on, adjourned from month to month, with or without progress. It may be suspected that the court had little interest in the customs of Angmering, with its unfair rates system, or whether the bells were recast or sold.  As long as the normal procedures were carried out, with properly elected churchwardens making the rate, and the vestry agreeing the business in hand, the outcome was predictable.

The Court's Decision

On the 26th April 1786, the court pronounced:

"In the Name of God Amen We Richard Fireman Clerk Master if Arts Surrogate ..."  After a vast and pompous preamble, "concerning your Souls Health and the Reformation of your Manners and Excesses And more especially for your not contributing to and towards the Repairs of the Parish  Church of Angmering aforesaid Its Bells Clock and the Ornaments..."  And finally, "we do condemn the said John Olliver" - and the others in the same words, requiring them to pay the rate demands, "And also in the lawfull Expences" although we are left to imagine what those expenses would be.

Despite an appeal to the Arches Court of Canterbury, the southern equivalent of Chancery, the three rebels were held contumacious, and presumably paid their bills and fines.  It is evident from John Olliver's will, he died in 1788, that he was as wealthy a person as might be expected with a member of that family. Thomas Luck and family carried on securely at Lee Farm.  Only the small shopkeeper Thomas Wood eventually gave in to insolvency, assisted some little by his protracted fight against the establishment.

One final note - Why did the court not demand accounts for the various works carried out, to settle what had been done with the old bells, if that was a matter of any concern? In fact the rates assessment indicates that the undefined bills came to under £268 and not £272.  And then, what need was there to argue about recasting as against selling the old bells and buying a new peal, which the churchwardens were said to have confessed. Perhaps both assertions were largely true.  The old bells were sent to London so that a new set could be cast.  In the event the foundry found it profitable to sell them, and cast the new peal using metal at hand. 

RW Standing
October 2007

WSRO EpI/15/1                        Miscellaneous Court Papers:  Angmering Church Rates 1784-87
WSRO Par/6/30/1 {MF1722]  Overseers Rates
SRS 82                                      Land Tax 1785

(Page first uploaded: 1 October 2007)