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'Introduction', Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Dean & Chapter of Wells: volume 2 (1914), pp. V-XIII. URL: Date accessed: 18 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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The full account of the MSS. of the Dean and Chapter of Wells given by Mr. W. H. B. Bird in the Introduction to the first volume of this Calendar renders any general description of them unnecessary here. The present volume takes up the Calendar where Mr. Bird left off, and completes the Report.

As explained by Mr. Bird, the present Report is a much amplified reprint of the Report prepared for the Historical MSS. Commissioners by the late Rev. James Arthur Bennett, rector of South Cadbury, and issued in 1885. The arrangement of the documents in the present volume differs from that adopted by Mr. Bennett; an analysis of his volume is given by Mr. Bird (p. viii), from which it will be seen that the Account Rolls were placed after the extracts from the Act and Ledger Books, and that each set of accounts was treated separately.

It has now been considered that a strictly chronological arrangement is more useful to students, inasmuch as all the documents dealt with, though separate in form, are really parts of one whole and relate to one set of transactions, the records of the working of the Chapter. Thus, an entry in an account roll may be explained by an order of the Chapter, while documents referred to in the Act Books are often entered fully in the Ledger Books. Accordingly, all the documents (except the charters) will here be found in chronological order, the accounts being placed at the end of the year, when documents other than accounts also exist.

Obviously the charters do not fall in conveniently with this plan, and they have been placed together at the end of the volume, as before. A large number of these early deeds are undated. They were arranged, numbered and calendared a good many years ago by Mr. W. de Gray Birch, then of the British Museum. No attempt has been made to interfere with his arrangement or to disturb the numbering, even in cases where a document was clearly misplaced (e.g. No. 672).

The documents contained in this volume are as follows:—

(1) Accounts.

Communar's Accounts, 1327–28, pp. 1–5.
1343–44, 5–11.
1392–93, 22–26.
1394–95, 26–30.
1400–01, 34–37.
1407–08, 40–43.
1408–09, 43–47.
1414–15, 48–52.
1416–17, pp. 52–54.
1417–18, 54–56.
1418–19, 58–60.
1421–22, 60–62.
1428–29, 64–66.
1430–31, 66–67.
1437–38, 68–69.
1445–46, 72–74.
1446–47, 74–76.
1448–49, 76–77.
1449–50, 77–79.
1455–56, 81–82.
1461–62, 90–91.
1470–71, 93–94.
1473–74, 95–96.
1478–79, 97–98.
1490–91, 122–123.
1497–98, 152–153.
1504–05, 182–183.
1513–14, p. 237.
1534–35, pp. 244–245.
1537–38, 249–250.
1545, 260–261.
1547–48, 267–268.
1548–49, p. 269.
1551–52, pp. 274–275.
1552–53, 275–276.
1553–54, 277–278.
1557–58, 279–281.
1559–60, 283–287.
Escheator's Accounts, 1372–73, pp.11–15.
1380–81, 15–16.
1381–82, 16–17.
1391–92, 21–22.
1397–98, 31–32.
1399–1400 32–34.
1400–01, p. 38.
1402–03, 39.
1408–09, pp. 47–48.
1417–18, 56–58.
1423–24, 62–63.
1424–25, 63–64.
1433–34, 67–68.
1438–39, 69–71.
1439–40, 71–72.
1445–46, p. 74.
1454–55, pp. 79–81.
1455–56, 82–83.
1458–59, p. 90.
1461–62, pp. 91–92.
1469–70, 92–93.
1472–73, 94–95.
1473–74, p. 96.
1480–81, 98.
1490–91, pp. 123–124.
1494–95, 141–142.
1502–03, 172–173.
1505–06, p. 197.
1508–09, pp. 215–216.
1509–10, p. 224.
1511–12, 231.
1513–14, pp. 237–238.
1515–16, p. 239.
1518–19, 239.
1520–21, 240.
1524–25, 241.
1529–30, 243.
1543–44, pp. 258–259.
1559–60, 287–288.
1560–61, 289–290.
Fabric Accounts, 1390–91, pp. 17–20.
1457–58, 83–89.
1480–81, 98–101.
1492–93, 130–133.
1500–01, 163–165.
1505–06, 195–197.
1549–50, 270–272.

The Account Rolls mentioned above have been examined, extracted and translated by the Rev. W. E. Daniel, M.A., Prebendary of Timberscombe and Rector of Horsington. The later Account Rolls and Cash Books have all been examined down to 1750, and various items of interest extracted.

(2) Act Books.

Liber Ruber, section II, 1486–1514, pp. 101–237.
Lettered H., 1571–1599, 292–338.
Not lettered 1591–1607, 328–354.
1608–1622, 354–379.
1622–1635, 379–414.
1635–1645, 414–430.
1664–1666, 433–440.
1683–1705, 446–484.
1705–1725, 485–513.
1726–1744, 513–541.

The loss of the Act Books prior to 1486 is much to be deplored. The two gaps, 1514–1571 and 1666–1683, are also most unfortunate; the earlier hiatus leaves us in the dark as to the troublous times of Henry VIII and Mary and the early years of Elizabeth, while the 1666–1683 period, especially the early part of it, would have shown us the Chapter once more settling down to regular routine after the enforced absence from 1645 to 1660. We must be thankful for two years of this period, 1664–1666, but it is clear that much remained to be done, both with regard to the staff and also the fabric and furniture.

The Act Books later than 1744 have not been examined.

(3) Ledger Books.

Lettered D, 1533–1545, pp. 243–261.
E, 1546–1565, 261–291.

These two volumes have been dealt with fully because there are no Act Books for the period covered by them; they show very clearly the extraordinary and scandalous traffic that went on in connection with both episcopal and chapter property.

The later Ledger Books have been examined down to 1813, and various items of interest extracted.

The object of examining these books to so late a date was to clear up some topographical uncertainties with regard to the Canons' Barn, Montroy College and certain canonical houses, to which my attention was called by Canon Church. It seems quite clear that the College of Annuellars stood on the site of the large eighteenth century house at the corner of the North Liberty and Montroy or College Lane; the extracts dated 1695, April 15 (p. 474), 1704–5, March 17 (p. 485), 1722, August 25 (p. 507), 1724, October 31 (p. 512), 1729, January 19 (p. 519), 1733, October 2 (p. 524), 1779, June 14 (p. 545), and 1791, May 2 (p. 545), leave no doubt on the point. It has been suggested, as I understand, that the College stood further north, and away from the two roads.

(4) Charters.
Nos. 1–922, pp. 546–724.

A full translation of Queen Elizabeth's charter to the Chapter was printed in 1881 by Mr. H. E. Reynolds (Wells Cathedral, pp. 243–278); it has therefore not been thought necessary to reprint this very lengthy document here. In the same work will be found (facing p. 240) a table of collations to priories and chantries in the cathedral for the years 1487 to 1513, extracted from Liber Ruber II; the lists for 1487 and 1488 only are here printed (pp. 106, 112).

Anything like a general commentary on the documents here printed would be outside the scope of the Historical MSS. Commission, which is to provide material only. I venture, however, to make a few remarks about the Communar, Escheator and Master of the Fabric, and their accounts; the functions of the two former are by no means obvious at first sight, and there seems to have been a certain amount of overlapping.

The accounts of the three spending officers are, as will be seen from the list, very incomplete, particularly those of the Master, Keeper or Clerk of the Fabric. The earlier documents of each set are extracted nearly in full, but in the later ones constantly recurring items are omitted, while after 1560 only items of special interest are extracted.

The nature of the Fabric Rolls is sufficiently explained by their title. The income of the Master of the Fabric was made up of rents of various properties and some pensions from churches, oblations in the various pixes in the cathedral, other gifts and legacies, collections made by the Brotherhood of St. Andrew throughout the diocese, the income payable by prebendaries to their vicars when there were no vicars serving those particular stalls, fees for burials, and receipts by the sale of superfluous building material, stone, timber, lead, glass, etc., and of gifts and legacies in kind. His expenditure included everything connected with the maintenance of the fabric and furniture, except such items as were paid by the Communar out of the receipts from Biddisham and Barlynch.

The Communar was, as his name implies, the administrator of the communa or common fund of the canons residentiary. This fund, the main source of the income of the establishment as a whole, was derived from the receipts from the Chapter's manors while they were in hand, paid by the respective reeves, and the rent of such manors when they were let to farm, paid by the respective farmers, the profits of the markets of Lydeard and Stogumber, paid by the serjeants, pensions from impropriated churches (vicarages) in respect of the rectorial rights of the Chapter, payments from the bailiff of the Hundred of North Curry, rents of shops and houses at Wells, the income of vacant churches, fines and heriots, fees of the seal (i.e. fees for affixing the Chapter seal to deeds of various kinds), sales of corn, stone, wood, etc.

The first charge on the fund was the payment to the bishop, canons, vicars and other officers, of money for their sustenance, their commons, often called "cotidians" or "quotidians" (fn. 1) ; these had at one time been provided in kind to some extent, but the whole was converted to a cash payment by Bishop Jocelin in 1242 [Vol. I, p. 60; Church, Early History, etc., pp. 235, 236].

After payment of the money for commons, the Communar sets down a very miscellaneous collection of items of expenditure, including stipends of minor officers, outside fees to advocates, attorneys and such-like, procurations, clerical subsidies to the King, pensions to retired dignitaries, payments to chantry-priests in respect of obits, for oil, wine and bread used in the cathedral services, for repairing buildings belonging to the Chapter other than the cathedral, and for the general working expenses of the Chapter. The balance of the common fund was divided yearly among the canons residentiary.

The income from the Biddisham property had been assigned to the Communar for the repairs of the cathedral and the purchase of ornaments [Vol. I, p. 33; Church, op. cit., pp. 16, 353]. The accounts for this fund are entered separately from the general fund; they show that the original purpose was not very strictly adhered to, since payments were made to the master of the schools, the sacrist, the keeper of the organs, and so on.

A third fund received by the Communar, and also entered separately, was the pension paid by the prior of Barlynch. Its primary purpose seems to have been to provide for certain obits, but payments were also made for wax candles and other purposes in connection with the services.

The name and functions of the Escheator are less obvious. The name may perhaps be derived from the fact that the income of prebends vacant by death was payable to him for the first year after the occurrence of the vacancy; the primary meaning of "escheat" [ex-cadere] is anything falling in to a person, not necessarily by forfeiture or failure of heirs, as in its narrower meaning. The royal escheator dealt not only with property falling to the Crown by failure of heirs or forfeiture, but also with the Crown rights in the case of minority of the heir, and with the King's "year and a day" where the forfeiture fell to a mesne lord, both of which present some analogies to the income of vacant prebends at Wells.

These sums from vacant prebends formed the principal source of the Escheator's income. They were paid by a custom already described as "ancient" in 1320 [Vol. I, p. 191], and which was initiated by Bishop Robert and confirmed by Bishop Jocelin in 1213 [Church, op. cit., pp. 19, 185]; two-thirds of the income belonged to the canons; one-third, "the deceased's portion," appearing so often in the Escheator's accounts, belonged to the representatives of the deceased for the payment of debts and obits [Vol. I, p. 255; Church, loc. cit.].

Other sums received by the Escheator were the rents of certain land and houses at Wells, moneys or other endowments given for the celebration of obits and anniversaries, oblations, burial fees, and moneys derived from the sale of mortuaries.

His expenditure was almost entirely in connection with obits and anniversaries, payments to vicars, chaplains, choristers and others for conducting such services, and for bread distributed to the poor on these occasions.

Many curious words occur in the accounts and elsewhere, a list of which will be found in the index under "Words." Some of these I have not been able to trace in any dictionary or glossary. Among these is "cawet," "cawete" or "chawet," which occurs about fifteen times.

There were eight or nine of these "cawetes" at Wells; the Communar, the Escheator and the Clerk of Blessed Mary each had one; there was one at St. John's altar, one at St. Stephen's altar, one in the Treasury, two in the choir, behind the high-altar, and another behind the high-altar, to keep graduals and books in. The two behind the high-altar were probably wooden cupboards, presses or ambries for the keeping of relics, plate, etc., and were very probably similar to the beautiful specimens of 15th century woodwork destroyed in the disastrous fire at Selby Abbey Church in 1906. (fn. 2) Those at the other two altars, the Clerk of St. Mary's, the one in the Treasury (fn. 3) and the one to keep books in, were no doubt of a similar nature.

But it seems clear that the Communar's and Escheator's cawetes were something different; they could not have been mere ambries. Thus, the Communar's cawete was large enough to hold a muniment chest and a till or "exchequer," a money chest (p. 30), and he apparently sat within it to receive payments (p. 9); the Escheator's cawete had a window in it (p. 21). These details suggest something in the nature of inclosures forming small rooms, used for offices as well as for storage. They were probably timber-framed inclosures, parcloses, having doors and windows; the door of the Communar's cawete opened in two sections, an upper and a lower (p. 94), a convenient arrangement if he received and paid money there. There is no indication where the Communar's and Escheator's cawetes were situated, but any vacant wall space (and there must have been plenty) would suffice.

The word itself presents great difficulties. The form "chewet" suggests some connection with the French word chevet (a diminutive from chef), which is thus defined in the Oxford Dictionary: "The French name of the apsidal termination (semicircular or semipolygonal) of the east end of a church; particularly applied to French Gothic churches, where it is sometimes surrounded by apsidal chapels." The earliest quotation of its use by any English writer is in 1809. (fn. 4) If chevet was ever used to denote the individual apsidal chapels, rather than the whole group, it might easily be applied to any small chamber or inclosure within a church; but I can find no instance of such use.

With great diffidence I hazard a suggestion that cawete may come from the Italian cavata or cavetto, a hollow place (a diminutive from cava). Such a word might well be applied originally to ambries hollowed out of the wall, (fn. 5) as we still commonly find them in parish churches, being afterwards transferred to structures made and used for similar purposes, though not "hollows." It is singular that the word cannot be traced elsewhere, and I venture to remind the reader (again with great diffidence) that the Dean of Wells from 1241 to 1253 was an Italian, John Saracenus. (fn. 6)

A final word as to the index. The section under "Wells," in its various aspects, is so large and diversified that it was found practically impossible to put it all under one alphabet; large sub-divisions, such as Dean and Chapter, canons, dignitaries, etc., were unavoidable. It has therefore been split up into numerous independent sections, which will, it is hoped, make it easier of reference. An analytical list of these sections precedes this part of the index, which will make the arrangement quite clear. The Bishops, whether of Bath, Bath and Glastonbury, or Bath and Wells, and the Archdeacons of Bath and Taunton have also been included in the Wells section, an arrangement for which a good deal might be said, both for and against. On the whole it was felt that the balance of convenience was in favour of giving all these references under Wells, the result being that the whole of the entries relating to Bishop, bishopric and the two Archdeacons referred to will be found together, instead of having to be sought by means of cross-references.

The Dean has called my attention to an item in the first Communar's account which was omitted in the transcript because it is cancelled. After "obit of Mr. Richard Forde" (p. 4, l. 37) occurs "Obit of Mr. Robert Baldok, 43 weeks, 1l. 5s. 1d." The Dean writes as follows: "A line is rudely drawn through this, and a curious story lies behind it. For Master Robert Baldok was the Lord Chancellor of England who ruined Edward II. He was prebendary of Yatton. When he was captured with Edward II in November, 1326, Bishop Drokensford at once filled up his prebend, putting in his nephew, Richard de Drokensford, whom he collated afresh when Robert Baldok's death was known in May, 1327. Thus the entry is of interest, and its cancelling of more interest still, the auditor refusing to allow it to stand in the Communar's account."

Thanks are due to the Dean and Chapter of Wells for placing their records at the disposal of the Commission, and for allowing some of the books to be sent to the Public Record Office for the convenience of preparing this Calendar.

My personal thanks are especially due to Canon Church, the Subdean, for much kindness shown to me at Wells, and for his ever-ready assistance in dealing with matters in which he is so well versed. The present Dean, Dr. J. Armitage Robinson, has very kindly helped with some of the early charters and rolls.


1 Quotidianus, daily, a daily portion.
2 See a paper by W. H. St. John Hope, M.A., Archœologia, N.S., Vol. X, pp. 411–422, where some account of cognate structures in other churches will be found.
3 The recess in the thickness of the wall, mentioned by Canon Church (Early History, p. 285), may have been the cawete in the Treasury.
4 Mr. Francis Bond, writing of the Lady Chapel at Wells, says, "There is certainly no such lovely chevet in England"; The Cathedrals of England and Wales, 4th ed., 1912, p. 379.
5 See note above.
6 Some analogus structures are mentioned in the Account Rolls of Westminster Abbey, under the name of cavagium, cawagium or kawagium; see The Abbot's House at Westminster, by J. Armitage Robinson, D.D., Dean of Wells (1911), p. 26. Extracts are there given showing that the treasurer and cellarer had each a cavagium, and that there was another in the bakehouse. One of these had a door, as shown by the purchase of a lock and key, and was used for the storing of the cellarer's tallies; it also had a window, and its wall (paries) was daubed and plastered. The treasurer's cavagium was large enough for an entertainment to the king's servants. Dr. Robinson suggests that cavagium may be an early form of the French caige, cage, which is also said to be derived from the Latin cavus or cavea; no such form, however, is given by Littré or Godefroy.