Berrick Religious History

St Helens Berrick Salome

Chapel Origins & Parochial Organisation
Berrick Chapel existed by the late 11th or early 12thC, having probably been founded fairly recently by a Lord of the 4-Hide Estate recorded in Domesday Book.  A Chaplain was mentioned in the early 13thC, and the Building itself in 1258.  At 1st it was possibly subject to Benson Church, but by the 13thC, following Berrick’s absorption into Chalgrove Manor, it had become a dependency of Chalgrove, whose Incumbents served it directly or through Hired Priests.  In 2015 the 2 still formed a Joint Benefice in the Gift of Christ Church, Oxford.  The Chapel’s dedication to St Helen is not recorded before the 19thC,  and was presumably copied from that of Benson. In 1554 the Dedication was to St Peter. Berrick’s Tithes passed 1st to the Rector of Chalgrove and in 1319, with Chalgrove’s Rectory Estate, to Thame Abbey. Inhabitants’ Offerings were apportioned to the newly-appointed Vicar of Chalgrove, and from 1392 or 1471 his successors received the Berrick Tithes as well,  explaining their later Title of Vicar of Chalgrove & Rector of Berrick.  An annual ‘Berrick Pension paid by the Vicar to Thame Abbey (and after the Dissolution to Christ Church) was probably in recompense for the Tithes, and in the 1520s–40s totalled 36s–40s. In 1837 the Vicar owed £10-19s as an accumulated sum, and the Pension remained due in the 1890s after Christ Church refused to waive it.  Berrick’s Tithes themselves were collected in Cash by the 1830s, and were formally commuted to a £200 rent charge in 1839.
Berrick Salome Tithe Map 1843

Small Parcels of Glebe in Berrick belonged to Chalgrove Rectory by the 1270s, and like the Tithes were transferred to the Vicar probably in the later Middle Ages. In 1787 they were reckoned at 12 a., and in 1839 at 6 a. including a Garden & 2-Closes.  One of the Latter, near Lower Berrick Farm, contained a Barn, succeeding a ‘Parsonage House‘ (possibly only Farm Buildings) mentioned 1579.  Some of that Glebe may have formed part of Berrick Chapel’s original Endowment, although in the 16thC some Open-field Land was thought to represent more recent Gifts by an unnamed Lord.  The Vicar retained the Berrick Glebe (7½ a. after Inclosure) in 1939.

The Chapel probably had Baptismal Rights from its Foundation, and from 1609 (when Berrick’s Registers begin) Baptisms, Marriages & Burials were systematically recorded.  Whether Burial at Berrick was yet fully Established is unclear, however: no surviving 16th or 17thC Wills requested Burial there, several Testators specifying Chalgrove and (occasionally) other local Churches,  while some at least of the Burials noted in the earliest Berrick Registers were apparently actually at Chalgrove.  A Bier dated 1637 nevertheless survives in Berrick Chapel, and Tomb Chests from the late 17th or early-18thC, while in 1717 a Parishioner expressly requested Burial at Berrick.  By 1424 the Chapel also had its own Wardens, and although its subservient status was never in doubt it was occasionally called a Church.

A Small Estate for the Chapel’s Upkeep (comprising a Cottage & 6¾ a. in the Open-fields) was Vested in Feoffees in 1618, having presumably been given by one or more Benefactors at an unknown date. Income was paid to Berrick’s Churchwardens, its application Overseen by the Berrick Vestry Meeting and the Vicar of Chalgrove.  In 1884 the Estate (c.10 a. after Inclosure) was Vested in the Official Trustee of Charitable Lands and in the 1970s part of the accumulated Income (£143 in 1975) was put towards Repairs, Building inspections & PCC costs.  The Cottage had gone by 1823, leaving only a Garden.

Berrick Vestry & St Helen Church North Side

Pastoral Care & Religious Life
Little is known of how Berrick was served during the Middle Ages. Ralph the Chaplain of Berrick Witnessed a Chalgrove Land Grant c.1210–20, and some other Clerks or Chaplains mentioned in local Transactions may have assisted, amongst them (c.1375) the future Vicar of Chalgrove, John Bonere.  From 1319 Chalgrove’s Vicars were legally required to provide a Chaplain & probably Books for Berrick, their later receipt of Berrick’s Tithes perhaps reinforcing the obligation.  Medieval remodelling of the Chapel (including addition of a Timber-framed Tower c.1429) suggests Lay & probably Communal Investment,  and by the Reformation its Possessions (besides the Chapel Estate) included a Silver Chalice and an acre given to maintain a Light.  A Curate mentioned in 1526, though not necessarily Resident, received a Stipend of 53s-4d, and in 1534 the leading Berrick Yeoman John Smith left £5-6s-8d. for a Priest to celebrate Mass in Berrick 3 times a week for a year (including Sundays & Holidays), and once a week at Chalgrove.

The Reformation seems (as at Chalgrove) to have been outwardly accepted, and in the later 16thC a few Inhabitants made modest Bequests to the Chapel.  Vicars & other Clergy occasionally Witnessed Berrick Wills, those named including Henry Parsons (1580) & Arthur Laurence (1584), probably both Curates & the Chalgrove Vicar William Huske (1558).  A Curate Serving Berrick & Benson in 1586 was reportedly ‘of mean ability’,  but a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, was Licensed as Curate in 1633, and in 1651, during the Interregnum, James Cowes of Christ Church was briefly appointed ‘Minister’ of Berrick.  Substantial refitting of the Chapel during the 17thC points to large-scale Investment by Parishioners, and following the Restoration the Vicar Francis Markham’s Widow Alice (d.1679) donated a Silver Paten, and remembered Berrick’s Poor in her Will. A surviving Silver Chalice is Hallmarked 1657.

West Gallery & Church Warden Inscription dated 1676

Despite such Developments small-scale Protestant Dissent emerged from the 1660s, perhaps encouraged by the absence of resident Clergy, the Parish’s scattered Settlement, and the Church’s relative remoteness.  Eight Nonconformists (compared with 80 Anglicans) were reported in 1676,  and in 1682 the Vicar listed a Quaker, an Independent & a Baptist Sabbatarian. The Quaker was probably associated with the Warborough Meeting, which enjoyed particular support at Roke, while the Independent (John Low), also of Roke, was associated with another Warborough Group. The Sabbatarian (the Farmer Joseph Wise) was a Member of Edward Stennett’s Conventicle in Wallingford, and in 1700 his House at Berrick was Licensed for Worship.  Adherents from neighbouring Parishes still met there in the 1730s, but thereafter no Nonconformity was reported in the Chapelry before the 19thC, despite Establishment of a Baptist Chapel in the Benson part of Roke in 1739.

By 1738 the Anglican Chapel had only an afternoon Sunday Service conducted by the Vicar’s Curate, who lived in Chalgrove. A similar pattern continued into the early 19thC, with Services (incorporating a Sermon) held in the afternoon or morning, and Communion administered 4 times a year as at Chalgrove. Up to 40 Berrick Communicants were noted in 1802, but only 8 in 1811 and 10–20 in 1817, when a few Parishioners were habitually absent from ‘Ignorance’, ‘Want of Religion’, or unknown motives. Catechising took place at Berrick in the 1730s-50s, but sometimes no children attended and by 1802 it had ceased.  Conflict erupted in the 1750s following a Vicar’s Intervention over Parish Charities, although relations seem to have recovered.

During the 1830s–50s Chalgrove’s long-serving Vicar Robert French Laurence (1832–85) introduced monthly Communion at Berrick, but proved unable to sustain a 2nd Sunday Service.  Thereafter he campaigned for several decades for Berrick to be made a separate Parish, to incorporate Berrick Prior (whose inhabitants habitually attended Berrick Chapel), Roke & Rokemarsh. Christ Church refused to cooperate, and although a resident Curate for Roke & Berrick Salome was briefly appointed c.1861–64, funded Jointly by the Vicar (£20), the Incumbent of Benson (£20) and the Diocesan Spiritual Help Society (£40), earlier arrangements largely continued. In 1869 attendance at Berrick’s Sunday Service averaged 40–60 out of a Population of c.145, a higher proportion than at Chalgrove ‘as the [Berrick] Farmers set a better example and are more attached to the Church’.  A small West-Gallery Band (including a Fiddle-Player) accompanied Services and regular Communicants, including Outsiders presumably from Berrick Prior, numbered 5–9.  Even so Laurence feared that lack of a Resident Minister encouraged Dissent,  and in 1878 surmised that perhaps a quarter of inhabitants (probably chiefly in Roke) attended nearby Nonconformist Chapels.  In 1855 Berrick was one of several Parishes whose candidates for Confirmation were considered ill-prepared by the Bishop.

Robert French Laurence

Born in 1807, Laurence was educated at Christ Church and Vicar of St Mary, Chalgrove & St Helen, Berrick Salome for 53-yrs until his death in 1885. He opened a School for the Villagers and taught there himself, but he is best remembered for Fighting for better Cottage Accommodation for Agricultural Labourers and the small Thatched Cottages he built remain to this day. His campaigning on behalf of the Poor Farm Workers brought him into conflict with the Landowners (including some of the Oxford Colleges) and he was Secretary of the local Agricultural Labourers’ Trade Union. He is mentioned in Bishop Anthony Russell’s The Clerical Profession. He died in 1885.

A Curate briefly drafted in after Laurence’s departure won the Inhabitants’ warm approbation for instating 2 Berrick Services, but under George Blamire Brown (Vicar 1885–1902) the earlier pattern resumed. Brown restored the Chapel (in ‘tolerable’ repair under Laurence),  and in 1909 the Berrick Mothers’ Union, Guild of Church Workers, and Sunday School (run by a Parishioner) each had 20-odd Members, with 32 Communicants out of a Population of 87. A Surpliced Choir established before 1890 (when the Chapel acquired a Harmonium) continued until WW1.  Otherwise there was little change until 1938–49, when the Rector of Newington served as Priest-in-charge of both Berrick & Chalgrove.  In 2013 (when Berrick was again served from Chalgrove) there was a weekly Sunday Service, a monthly Family Service, regular Communion, and a popular candlelit Christmas Eve Service, while varied Fundraising Events helped maintain the Church as a Community Focus even for non-Churchgoers.  Ecclesiastical Boundaries were adjusted in 1985, bringing them in line with the Civil Boundaries.