Thame Prebendal

In Church Road was the Bishop’s Court House.  When the Church was made a Prebend of Lincoln in about 1140 a Prebendal House was probably Built and from this time, no doubt dates the Liberty of Priestend which lasted as a Unit of Local Government up to the 19thC.  Development Eastwards and the creation of New Thame probably took place in the 12thC, and in the 1st Quarter of the 13thC the Centre of the High Street itself, where Middle Row now is, began to be Built on. The early 13thC was undoubtedly a period of great Building activity: the Parish Church was newly Built on a large scale and so it seems was the Abbey Church & the Prebendal Chapel and one-time Hall. There was a community of Prebendal Monks at Thame, recorded 1st in the 13thC, which along with the Pebendary himself probably accounts for the name Priestend.


Part of the endowment of Land given to the Prebend by the Bishop of Lincoln is Manor of Priestend. The last Prebendary relinquished his Lands & Rights at Thame into secular hands in 1547, following the Reformation. No Longer belonging to Lincoln Cathedral, the Prebend lost of a lot of its Land but remained a valuable possession. It became known as the Rectory of Thame.

The lexicon of the early Church has many words which few outside the Church today know the exact meaning of, such as Prebend. A more familiar concept is a Benefice, being any form of Ecclesiastical Office that bestows an income on its Holder. There are many types of Benefice, and a Prebend is a particular type of Benefice connected with a Cathedral or any form of Collegiate Church, that is to say a Church administered by a ‘Chapter of Canons’. (The word Prebend , for those who are interested, comes from the Old Fench Prebende, which in turn derives from the late Latin word Praebenda, meaning a Salary or a Pension. The original Latin derivation is made up of prae- meaning ‘forth’, or ‘before’ in some cases & habere meaning ‘have’.)

In the Medieval Period every Parish Church had an Income, made up of Tithes and other income from Land, as well as Fees & donations made in return for performing Religious Ceremonies & Rites. This parochial income accrued in many cases to a Rector, a local Priest with responsibility for the Pastoral & Spiritual care of the Parishioners. The Office of Rectory is another form of Benefice, and one which proved lucrative to many a Country Priest over many Centuries. In certain designated Cases, the Income of the Parish was appropriated by the Bishop of the particular Diocese not to a Rectory but to a Prebend, and through the Prebend it was assigned to the Cathedral or Collegiate Church to which the Prebend belonged. The Bishop had a Duty to provide for the Spiritual needs of the Parishioners within his Diocese, but he also had a need to provide an Income for the Canons who administered his Cathedral and formed the Hierarchy of the Diocese, and also for those in Religious Training. The Benefice arising from a Prebend was given to individuals within the Cathedral or Collegiate Church, although there was usually a requirement for the Holder of the Prebend, known as the Prebendary, to be Resident within his Prebendal Parish, since it was he who had responsibility for the Spiritual needs of the local Parishioners. A Link with the Cathedral Church was often made through the allocation of a Stall within the Cathedral with the name of the Prebendal Parish on it. Such Stalls can still be seen in many Ancient Cathedrals. Prebendaries sit in particular Seats, usually at the back of the Choir Stalls, known as Prebendal Stalls. A Shield on the left generally represents the Office of the Dignitary or Prebendary who sits in that Stall, while the Shield on the right sometimes represents a Family associated with the Village or Parish that gives its name to the Prebend.

Whilst Rectories were often given on a Hereditary basis, Prebendaries were specific Lifetime appointments, and since Parish Churches with a significant Income were often chosen as Prebendal Churches, the Office of Prebendary could be a cherished prize, and in the early Centuries of the Medieval Period it was often used to reward loyal Service. Both the Bishops & the King Granted Prebends at different times, although as major Benefices they were required to be ratified by the Pope. The Ecclesiastical lexicon has more words for us. An Impropriation in the context of a Rectory or a Prebend is the right to the Income from the Parish. An Advowson in the same context is the right to bestow a Benefice upon a Parish Priest. The distinction between an Impropriation & an Advowson is important in some contexts, since although both were usually the constituent parts of a Prebend or indeed a Rectory, they sometimes became separated. Where a Prebendary or a Rector was unwilling or unable to carry out the necessary Ecclesiastical Duties within the Parish, a minor Benefice was created for someone who would carry out those Duties on his behalf. Such deputies were of course called Vicars and the Benefice was called a Vicarage.

The formation of a Prebend at Thame had important consequences for the Parish. A Prebendal House was built near the Church and from there the Prebendary’s large Estate was administered in his absence. When in Residence the Prebendary assisted at the Services in the Parish Church: his Seat in the Chancel was opposite the Vicar’s Seat.  The richness of the Prebend made it much coveted & twice in the 13thC its Disposal led to violent conflicts. On the 1st occasion, in 1241, the King’s Clerk John Maunsel, a well-known Pluralist, was provided to the Prebend by the Pope at the instance of Henry III, while Bishop Grosseteste collated Master Simon de London. In order to get possession Maunsel was said to have seized and held the Church by force, but eventually he resigned it and was given another Benefice.  After a vacancy in 1292, the Prebend was the subject of a violent dispute between Master Thomas de Sutton, nephew of Bishop Sutton, and the Papal Provisee, Edward de St John, which led to the disturbances of 1293-94 and the Desecration of the Church.  Eventually after Legal Proceedings Sutton obtained the Prebend. 

In the 13thC a Vicarage was endowed and the Prebendaries presented to it, except during the 2nd half of the 14thC, when the Prebend was held by Foreign Cardinals and Presentations were made by their English Agents; and in 1537 when the Prebendary Granted to Bishop Longland his Right of Presentation. The Prebend was one of the richest of 58 in Lincoln Cathedral, being valued at £35 in 1254, at £112 in 1291, and at £82-12s-d. net in 1535.  The Prebendary received the greater part of the Ecclesiastical Income from the Parish, the Great Tithes and the Tithes of Wool & Hay from Thame, Sydenham, Tetsworth & Towersey.  He also held a large Estate: 4-Carucates of Land in Thame which had been Granted to the Church in Free Alms by Bishop Alexander and which owed Service neither to the Bishop nor to the King,  and-Fee in Tetsworth. From the late 11th to the 13thC part of the Church’s Revenue had gone to Eynsham Abbey, for Bishop Robert Bloet c.1095 Granted the Abbey the Demesne Tithes of some of his Manors, including Thame & Great Milton.  These tithes, and a bordar with 2 acres, were confirmed to the abbey in 1109 and in the 13thC the Cellarer of Eynsham was receiving the Tithes, then valued at 5 Marks.  In about 1267, in return for the appropriation of Brize Norton Church, the Abbey gave up its Thame Tithes, which became merged with those belonging to the Prebend.


In 1547 the Prebend was lost to the Cathedral when the last Prebendary, George Heneage (d.1549), who had been a Resident Canon of Lincoln, sold the Prebend to Sir John Thynne & Edward Kelway.  In 1549 the Sale was confirmed by the Bishop and by the Dean & Chapter on condition that the Chapter continued to receive an Annual Pension of £7 from Thame.  

The History of Thame Rectory & Advowson
Taking possession were Robert Keilway, one of the Crown’s leading Lawyers, and Sir John Thynne, Steward to the Lord Protector of the Realm, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. Three months earlier the Bishop of Lincoln, Henry Holbeach, had sold his Manorial Lordships at Thame directly to the Duke of Somerset. For the Bishop of Lincoln and the Dean & Chapter of the Cathedral of Lincoln, nearly 500 years of Authority, Income & Land Ownership at Thame and its surrounding Villages had come to an end.

A new pattern of Authority & Ownership was now being formed. On the ground locally, living at Rycote Palace and already possessed of Thame Park, was Sir John Williams. He was well positioned to take advantage of the fluidity of the situation arising from what was in effect a mass confiscation of Assets from the Church by the State. Sir John Williams had been Treasurer of the Court of Augmentations, the Body charged with receiving confiscated Church Lands, since 1544 and that put him in a very good position to increase his Holdings at Thame.

Somerset’s time as Lord Protector of the Realm made him many enemies, and in 1552 he was beheaded. His only surviving son, Sir Edward Seymour, managed to retain his father’s possessions at Thame and was able to complete a series of transactions, begun by his father, with Sir John Williams, and also with Keilway and Thynne, who had acted more or less as surrogates for his father in acquiring the Prebend of Thame. These various dealings were more or less settled by the year 1553, which is the year in which Sir Edward Seymour bought Berry Pomeroy Castle in Devon and made it his home, retaining no connections with Thame. (The Seymour family remained at Berry Pomeroy until the turn of the 17thC, when they moved to Maiden Bradley in Wiltshire.)

In 1550 Thynne & Kelway exchanged the Prebend for Lands in Devon & Somerset with Sir Edward Seymour, 2nd son of the Duke of Somerset, who in turn passed the great majority of the Land owned by the Prebend to Sir John Williams, who had acquired the Manorial Lordships of Thame and its Villages in 1548. The Ecclesiastical Benefices at the heart of the Ancient Prebend, based around the entitlement to the Church Tithes, remained with Seymour, with the exception of the entitlement to the Tithes from the Hamlet of North Weston, adjacent to Rycote Park, which were given to Sir John Williams. Also retained by Seymour was the ‘Advowson‘ of Thame, that is the right to Bestow an Ecclesiastical Living on the Vicars of Thame. Finally, Seymour retained the Prebendal House itself, and the few acres of Land that surround it. All of these residual Rights & Possessions, the Tithes, the Right to appoint a Vicar of choice & a substantial Residence are of course the characteristic rights and possessions of a typical Country Rectory.

It was as if the overall Plan had been to refashion the Ecclesiastical Scene at Thame as something more typical of the surrounding Parishes, and to remove all trace of the ancient Prebend of Lincoln Cathedral. The residual Prebend began to be called the Rectory of Thame, as Legally that was now what it was. The final act in the round of deals that reformed the local pattern of Power & Possession was the Sale by Sir Edward Seymour, by then busy on his new Home at Berry Pomeroy, of the Rectory of Thame, not as perhaps one would have predicted to Sir John Williams, but to Sir John Thynne of Longleat. Sir John Thynne had bought Land & a ruined Priory at Longleat in 1541. In 1566 he Mortgaged the Rectory of Thame to Sir Henry Nevell, Sir Giles Poole & Others, in order to raise money, although he and his male heirs kept the use of it. Two years later he began Building Longleat House. He was the very same Sir John Thynne who had been Steward to the Duke of Somerset in 1547 and had originally acquired the Prebend of Thame from the Church. Thynne had no plans for Thame’s Prebendal House, and in fact let it out as Farm Buildings. He died in 1580, and the Rectory of Thame descended within his Family, as did the name John Thynne. The Rectory of Thame was a valuable one. A measure of its worth emerges through the fact that the grandson of Sir John Thynne of Longleat inherited the Rectory of Thame and used it to satisfy an obligation he had towards his younger brother, for an annual Pension of £100. The Rectory became a Financial instrument for the Thynnes at this time, since by 1606 they had leased it to 2 Prominent Thame Families, the Hesters & the Stribblehills.

Stribblehills, Thame

The Stribblehills in fact Leased the Rectory throughout the 17thC. The Home of one branch of the Stribblehill Family, of course, at the North West End of Thame High Street, adjoined the Land of the Prebendal House. The Advowson of Thame was embodied within the Rectory, but the Church Records at Thame do not record that any of the Vicars appointed before 1631 were Presented by the Owner of the Rectory. The Tithe Income due to the Rector, known as the Greater Tithe, and the money for the Living of the Vicar, known as the Lesser Tithe, were channelled through the Lord of the Manor, who was Sir John Williams from 1548 until his death in 1559. He would have been able to ensure that the Vicars were paid, but the Vicarage is said to have been a well paid one before the Reformation and a poorly paid one after it.


In 1589 John Trinder became Vicar of Thame, and remained for 40 years, spanning the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I & Charles I. There does not seem to have been any significant improvement in the state of the Church during this time, apart from essential repairs. When John Trinder died in 1629 the Churchwardens Accounts show that the next Vicar was presented by a ‘Sir John Thynne’, possibly of Egham in Surrey. Thomas Hennant, the new Vicar, was a Graduate of Oxford University, and from now on the Vicars recorded as being through the Presentation of the Thynnes had a strong Academic background. In 1698 Sir John Thynne of Egham died, leaving his wife Jane burdened with debt. In 1704 Jane Thynne Leased the Rectory to John Rose, of New Thame, and leased ‘Priestend & Moreton Parsonage’ to a Mr Leaver for 7 years at an annual cost of £100. This was the end of the involvement of the Egham branch of the Thynne Family with the Rectory and it returned to the main branch, based at Longleat. Despite the apparent care taken by the Egham Thynnes to provide Spiritually for the Church of Thame, they had no care, or no means to care, for the state of the Church. In 1707 a report was delivered to the Bishop of Lincoln concerning Thame Church, and it made shocking reading. Earth was piled up against the outside walls, making the inside of the Choir and the Transepts ‘Green with fungi’. Windows were out, so that Pigeons nested in the Rafters. Thomas, 1st Viscount Weymouth, descendant of the original Sir John Thynne of Longleat, stepped in to repair the Church, as he was the Owner of the Rectory of Thame. Sir William Clerke had been Vicar of Thame since 1675, and it seems he was able to make contact with Viscount Weymouth and Solicit the necessary Financial assistance to renovate the Church.

There then followed a Series of Transactions, through which ‘all that the Parsonage, Rectory or Prebend of Thame’ was Sold, initially to Lord Carteret, who appointed Samuel Thornbury as Vicar of Thame in 1722. In 1776 Henry Frederick Thynne Mortgaged the ‘Prebend or Rectory’ of Thame to a Widow in Hatton Garden, London, Elizabeth Raynalds, for £4,000, with a Mr Oliver Farrar acting as ‘Manager, Receiver, Attorney & Agent’. This Mortgage lists the Scope of the Rectory as ‘Thame otherwise Tame, Tetsworth, Sydenham, Priestend otherwise Preston, Moreton, Towersey‘ (the Tithes of North Weston had been split from the Rectory in 1553).

Prebendal Entrance

Priestend, a separate part of Thame, had its own Field System, and there presumably lay the property of the Prebendaries during the Middle Ages. In the mid-16thC other Property there passed to William, Lord Windsor, who held Courts for Priestend Manor, as it was then called. The Manor was still held in 1573 by his son Edward, Lord Windsor, who had succeeded in 1558,  but it appears to have been held by the Norreys Family by about 1600.  It descended to them and their Heirs, the Earls of Abingdon, with the Main Manor of Thame, but remained a separate Manor with its own Courts & Tenants.  In 1844 the Earl of Abingdon sold his Priestend Manor, with over 700 acres of Land, to William Keppel, Viscount Barrington and Joseph Henley of Waterperry.  No later record has been found of the Manor, but by the 1880s the Earl of Abingdon was again the Chief Landowner in Priestend.  From at least 1577 the Wenmans also held an Estate in Priestend which is listed among their Lands as a Manor until the late 17thC.  After this it disappears.

2 Priestend, Thame

2 Priestend, South East Side
House. Probably early 17thC, with aid 17thC cross-Wing forming Train House to Left. Render, probably on Stone rubble to Right; painted rendered Plinth to cross-Wing to Left; large Timber-framing with rendered infill to Left; Thatch Roof to Right; old plain-Tile half-hipped Roof to cross-Wing; Brick Ridge Stack & internal Stack to Cross-Wing. Single-Storey, 3-window Range with 2-Storey, 2-window cross-Wing. Plank Door to Centre. 20thC Casements to Right. Probable former Bread-oven projects to Right of Door. Irregular fenestration of Casements to cross-Wing. 2-Storey angled Oriel Bay window to end of cross-Wing with wood Mullion & Transom window to Ground-floor & Mullion window to 1st-Floor. False Gable to top.
Interior: not inspected but reputed to have cut Balustrade to Staircase.

In 1786 Elizabeth Raynalds transferred the Rectory to John Blackall, of Great Haseley, who was Lord of Great Milton, and who in 1796 appointed Timothy Tripp Lee to the Vicarage of Thame. John Blackall’s son split the Rectory and the Advowson, and the Advowson was eventually bought by Dr Richard Barry Slater of High Wycombe. At the death of Richard Barry Slater his brother vested the Advowson of Thame in a local Committee of Trustees, named after one of their number, Rev Alfred Peache. The Peache Trustees then continued to appoint the Vicar of Thame well into the 20thC. The Rectory, now minus the Advowson, was sold to Sophia Elizabeth Wykeham, later Baroness Wenman, in 1825, and in the Thame & Sydenham Enclosure Award the Perpetual Tithes which she received, the source of the Income which had made the Rectory such a Traded Commodity, were commuted to 693 acres of Land. With the Advowson split off, and the Tithes commuted to Land, the only Ecclesiastical vestige remaining was the responsibility for the Chancel of Thame Church. In 1836 Sophia Elizabeth Wykeham, by then Baroness Wenman, sold the Prebendal House and its Estate of 14 and a half acres, to Charles Stone of Thame. The remaining Rectory Land was merged with Thame Park and after Baroness Wenman Descended to the Wykeham-Musgraves of Thame Park. In 1889 a major programme of restoration at Thame’s St Mary’s Church was begun, and the cost of repairing the Chancel was born by W A Wykeham-Musgrave, who was through inheritance Lay Rector of Thame. In 1937-38 there was further work done on the Stonework of the Church, and the cost of restoring the Stonework of the Chancel was born by Mr Frank Bowden, then Owner of Thame Park and through acquisition Lay Rector of Thame.

Over the last 1,000 years, the Tithes of Thame have contributed financially, in one form or another, to:-
The Anglo Saxon Cathedral at Dorchester; the Dean & Chapter of the Cathedral of Lincoln; possibly the maintenance of the Avignon Papacy; the rebuilding of Berry Pomeroy Castle for the Seymours; the building of Longleat House; the livelihood of the Thynne Family of Egham; Viscount Weymouth; Lord Carteret; John Blackall, Lord of Great Milton; Baroness Wenman of Thame Park. Almost to go full circle, Thame Park, the Owner of which became Lay Rector of Thame, was once a Deer park belonging to the Bishop of Lincoln and almost certainly once belonged to the Anglo Saxon Bishop of Dorchester.


The Prebendal House remained in ruins until 1836. when a wealthy local man, Charles Stone, bought it and began to renovate it, making it his own residence. In the 1841 census the inhabitants of the Prebendal House are listed as Mr Charles Stone, aged 45 and Ann Parker, aged 20, presumably his Servant. In 1845 the Prebendal House was sold to Mr John Stone, reputedly for £2,400. Mr John Stone, a Magistrate, is listed at the Prebendal House in Trade Directories until the year 1854, whilst the 1861 census records that by that year a Mr James Bancks, his Family and their Servants were living at the Prebendal House. It is possible that Mr Bancks built the Prebendal Lodge which hides the House from view today. By 1882 the Prebendal House was the home of William Lightfoot, and the 1891 Census reveals a Widow Lightfoot at the Prebendal, with her 2 sons William T Lightfoot, a Surgeon & Edward Lynch Lightfoot, a Solicitor, who became part of a Firm of Solicitors known as Lightfoot & Lowndes, very prominent in Thame in the 20thC.

Auction Notice

Kelly’s Directory in 1915 & 1920 reports that the Resident at the Prebendal was Lt-Colonel Harman J Grisewood. In 1912 & 1913 Colonel Grisewood organised public Roman Catholic Services within the Ancient Chapel within the Grounds of the Prebendal House, where the Roman Catholic Mass had presumably not been heard since 1547, a gap of 365 years. There was at this time a resident Roman Catholic Priest, Father Randolph Traill, who lived in the Prebendal Lodge in 1920. In 1922 Thame’s Roman Catholic Community opened St Joseph’s Church in Brook Lane. Colonel Grisewood had a son, Harman Joseph Gerard Grisewood CBE, who had a long & distinguished career in the BBC. His Obituary appeared in the Guardian on 11th January 1997, written by Fiona MacCarthy. It contains an astonishing reference to Thame.
Harman had inherited his father’s infectious charm. He was a wonderful raconteur and even better listener, fascinated by the detail of people’s daily lives. In his Autobiography, One Thing at a Time (1968), he gives a good account of his Catholic Childhood in a rambling 13thC Oxfordshire House at Thame, much of it in ruin. It had its own Chapel & Resident Priest, Father TraillGrisewood used to tell a terrifying story of the day he and his brother, on an outing with their Nanny & a Nursemaid, were Stoned in their Prams by Villagers as they approached the Anglican Church. He was a tiny man with a considerable presence. As a child he had voiced an ambition to be Pope.”
This astonishing event, if it is related correctly would have taken place in 1907 or 1908. The Grisewoods had left the Prebendal by 1924, and there were a number of other Owners, before the present Owners, who are rightly proud of their Historical Home.

Tracking the History of the Prebendal House back through the Centuries, now a prestigious Private Residence, formerly the scene of a Roman Catholic revival, a Victorian rescue of a ruined ancient House & Chapel, nearly 2 Centuries of neglect, the home of the Prebendaries of Thame for 4 Centuries and before that, who knows. The Site of the Prebendal House is very close to the original heart of the Anglo Saxon Settlement at Thame, and it is almost certain that some sort of Building or Enclosure would have existed on this Site before the 12thC. The grounds of the Prebendal House were originally surrounded on 3-sides by a man-made Moat, and on the 4th side by the River Thame. The Moat could well have been a part of the original Anglo Saxon Defences or an Enclosure Boundary.

This is the earliest Map showing Thame, taken from a Survey of Oxfordshire made by Christopher Saxton in 1574. Note that Rycote Park and Thame Park are shown, although Thame Park is not named. There are no Roads shown on this Map, although 3 Bridges are shown. One over the River Thame towards Long Crendon, one over Cuttle Brook in the direction of Rycote, and one over the 2nd major Tributary of the River Thame, towards Haddenham.


Standing today on the Crendon Bridge, with the River Thame snaking away to either side, the Prebendal Grounds lying along the River Bank and St Mary’s Church rising up in the background, you are at the Ancient Heart of Thame. The Prebendal at Thame features in one of several local Myths about Underground Tunnels, believed to have been constructed by Medieval Clerics. In this Case the supposed Tunnel runs from the Prebendal House to Notley Abbey, a former Augustian Abbey on the Banks of the River Thame just East of Long Crendon. Needless to say, if such a Tunnel were found to have really existed, it would be an Archaeological find, and an Engineering Feat, of great proportions.

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