Research paper: Vicar versus Vestry:  legal contention and parish life in Clodock, Herefordshire 1798-1814


Late  1700s – early 1800s


Two curious stone tablets in Clodock church are an intriguing relic of a court case involving the vicar and parishioners in Clodock.  The tablets set out the values of farm produce and their cash equivalents for tithe payments levied on parishioners. The article below traces the strenuous resistance to tithes and its impact on the local community over some 16 years of controversy.


The article below was published in The Local Historian and is reproduced with the editor’s kind permission. 

Reference:  The Local Historian  Vol 50 No 2 April 2020, published by the British Association for Local History

Ewyas Lacy Study Group

Vicar versus vestry: legal contention and parish life
in Clodock, Herefordshire 1798-1814

Nina Wedell


Clodock is a rural parish in Herefordshire, along the Welsh border on the eastern side of the Black Mountains. During the early nineteenth century the parish, although in England, was within the sprawling Welsh diocese of St David’s. In a dark corner under the gallery of its ancient church are two large slate tablets, mounted on the wall, on which a lengthy text reports a court judgment in 1805 concerning the payment of tithes to the vicar. Though the significance of the memorial has long been forgotten in the local community, enough documentary evidence survives to reconstruct the cause and outcome of the litigation, which gave parishioners the right to pay tithes in cash (a ‘modus’) rather than in produce (‘in kind’). Transfers to moduses were taking place nationally at varying rates between regions. Significantly, the cash equivalents were fixed values and thus unaffected by inflation over time. The modus tablets set out the equivalent cash values to be substituted for farm produce.

This paper looks at the tithe dispute as a local tipping point in the authority of the Established Church in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Among the issues addressed is that here, as elsewhere, the institutional role of the Church was challenged by the compulsory payment of tithes and by the growth of religious dissent. Local evidence for these two factors is considered. Personality issues played a part, with the vicar keeping aloof from social relationships, and eventually handing over parochial business to the curate. The favourable outcome of litigation for parishioners gave the vestry a new sense of empowerment in its managerial role.

1a (above)  Ancient parishes on the borders of Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and Breconshire ~


Ab  Abergavenny
BL Blakemere
Ew Ewyas Harold
Ff Ffwdoogg

Ke  Kenderchurch
Ll  Llangua
Ol Oldcastke
Pr Preston on Wye

Tu  Turnastone
Ty Tyberton
Wo Wombridge


1b County boundaries in 1800


1c Ecclesiastical jurisdictions in 1800


The background to tithing in Clodock

Tithes had evolved over the centuries into two broad classes. ‘Small’ or ‘vicarial’ tithes traditionally consisted of garden produce, livestock and wool; and ‘great’ tithes of more valuable produce, notably corn, hay and wood. These were the customary classes at Clodock, except that here hay—or at least some hay—was included in the vicarial tithe. Rights to the great tithes, held by Llanthony Priory until the Dissolution, were sold to ‘impropriators’, nearly all being landed gentry. Nationally lay impropriators owned some 30 per cent of great tithes acquired at the Dissolution, [1]  but in Clodock parish the proportion was around 60 per cent, eventually owned by Sir Velters Cornewall of Moccas Court, Herefordshire. [2]

Clodock church, a pre-Norman foundation dedicated to St Clydawg, was the ‘mother church’ with three dependent chapelries at Longtown, Craswall and Llanveynoe. These chapelries were within traditionally identified lands which became attached to the parish of Clodock during centuries of settlement history. They were also known as ‘townships’ for various functions of local governance as their secular role increased. A fourth township, called Newton, appears to have been a later addition, as waste land being developed from the late seventeenth century was added to Clodock parish. Newton had no church in Sparkes’ day and its pastoral care was served by Clodock church. [3] Traditional tithing was a formidable task in this area, with its many scattered hill farms and only one significant nucleated settlement, the village of Longtown. The area was notable for ‘its remote distance from any market town and almost impassable state of the roads, and above all the difficulty amounting to almost an impossibility of collecting the Tithes’. [4]


2  The ecclesiastical parish of Clodock showing places referred to in this paper


The Clodock dispute

An entry in the Hereford Journal for 21 August 1805 carried an account of the Summer Circuit held in the city from 13 to 17 August. Nothing is reported of the Clodock case, unless through an oblique reference: ‘At the Nisi Prius there was a great deal of business, and two causes of some importance, which we regret the want of room prevents us from giving’. An entry in the minute book for the Oxford Summer Circuit in 1805 is extremely brief: ‘Jones & Church, Jos Harris / George, Sparkes’; followed by a few marginal notes in shorthand, not decipherable. [5] The Hereford Journal carried no article on the judgment in 1808, three years after the case was heard; such a delay was not unusual, given the great variety of local customs in tithing.

However, the substance of the controversy survives in diocesan records. In 1799 the Clodock churchwardens noted that ‘The Vicar and Parishioners are in Law concerning the Tithes and there is a Suit now depending in the Court of Exchequer and the Vicar claims now Customs (Viz) the priory Tithes in kind and the Parishioners pleads a Modus’. [6] .This explanation goes to the nub of widespread tithe disputes, when high inflation and high food prices, resulting from the French wars (1793-1815), were causing havoc in the economy. Typically the clergy benefited more from tithes in kind, and parishioners from fixed, inflation-proof cash payments. [7]

3 The Clodock modus tablets


Summer Assizes in the year 1805
in a cause then tried before
Lord Ellenborough (Chief Justice
of the Court of Kings Bench)
Arnold George, James Jenkins
James Watkins and Benjamin Lewis
were Plaintiffs
Edward Sparkes, Clerk, Vicar
of this Parish of Clodock
was Defendant
The following Moduses were established
within the said parish

(Upon Issues directed by the Court of Exchepuer [sic] in a Cause intituled SPARKES against George and others)

1st Sixpence for every House and Garden
in lieu of the Tithe in Kind of
Fruit and Herbs and other
Titheable Produce of such Garden


2ndly Twopence for every days Math
of hay
in lieu of all Tithe Hay

3rdly Twopence halfpenny for each
Milch Cow
in lieu of the Tithe of Milk
4thly Twopence for every Barren Cow
for the preceeding year
5thly Fourpence for every Colt
6thly Twopence in lieu of the Tithe
of eggs
from every Farm house



For the Plaintiffs Samuel George Esq of Brecon
Messrs Arnold George
and others                

And on the 19th of May 1808 – the Verdict
establishing the above Moduses
was confirmed by a decree
by the Court of Exchequer

4 Text of the Clodock modus tablets


Two other records are from the Reverend Edward Sparkes. In 1799 he noted that the glebe terrier was missing: this crucial document accounted for the property and financial affairs of local clergy. To a query in the bishop’s questionnaire—‘Have you any Terrier of your Glebe Lands, Buildings, Tithes, etc and other Ecclesiastical dues’—Sparkes replied ‘Have not to the best of my knowledge’. [8]  In 1804 he wrote to the bishop in response to a complaint from the curate that he was not being paid. His excuse was that ‘Could I bring the dispute with my Parishioners which have now been six years in agitation to a conclusion during which time I have not received above one third of my income from the Tythes Mr Rogers would find me as punctual in my payments as usual’. [9]  By not having the glebe terrier, as well as his own admission of default in collecting the tithes, Sparkes perhaps undermined his case considerably.

Contemporary dissent in the local setting

In Clodock parish, religious dissent was strongest in the Olchon valley of Llanveynoe. Sparkes acknowledged dissent in somewhat opaque responses to diocesan questionnaires. [10]  In 1799 he reported ‘But few Dissenters and fewer Papists’; in 1804 ‘Some few Dissenters number but few’, and additionally to a question ‘How many Places of publick Worship not belonging to the established Church are there in your parish and to what Sects do they belong?’, his reply was ‘Only one they call themselves Independents’. In 1807 he noted that he ‘repeatedly’ took pains to remove ‘the errors of Schism and Enthusiasm’. As for attendance at Clodock church, in 1804 he reported that communicants at four yearly church festivals numbered about twenty. [11]

Sparkes may have underestimated the local impact of nonconformity (and was probably motivated to do so). Given the dispersed farming population, gatherings would typically have been in private households visited by itinerant preachers, and effectively out of sight. [12] The Olchon valley was the focus of congregations of Baptists from around 1650 to 1790: Beili Bach was a property linked with Baptist meetings there and at Capel y Ffin in the adjacent Llanthony valley, as well as with a key hub of Baptists at Hay on Wye. [13] Purpose-built dissenting chapels, permitted since the Toleration Act of 1689, existed in neighbouring areas of Wales: Congregationalist at Talgarth (from 1700), Abergavenny (from 1711) and Glasbury (from 1760); Calvinistic Methodist at Talgarth (from 1801); and Baptist at Capel y Ffin (records from 1738) and Abergavenny (1773). [14]

Chapel buildings in Clodock parish appeared later, and were mostly associated with the Methodists who were making headway in Herefordshire in the nineteenth century. [15] There were Methodist chapels in Longtown, Lower Maescoed and Craswall. [16] The Methodists did not formally split from the Church of England until 1797, towards the latter part of Sparkes’s incumbency. By 1826 (if not earlier) they had established a circuit of meetings, publicised in a printed leaflet and held at properties in or near Clodock parish including Cwm, Clodock, Maescoed, Longtown, Coed Robin and Birches. [17]  In sum, the evidence shows that in Sparkes’ day nonconformism was flourishing in an enclave at Llanveynoe and probably gaining ground more generally, giving a new sense of independence from the Established Church.

Identifying people in the court case and its aftermath

The social dynamics of parishioners and clergy are suggested from a range of records. The four plaintiffs can be identified with reasonable confidence: all were members of the farming community:

Arnold George of Pontymoody Farm in Llanveynoe (1738-1824) was 67 at the time of the court case. He and his wife Mary (1745-1829) are buried in Clodock churchyard. [18] The vestry minutes show his attendance on various occasions, but this did not necessarily reflect personal allegiance since the Church then dealt with secular business, including the administration of the Poor Law. [19] His will of 1824 gives an intriguing glimpse of his character. To his son James he left two shillings and to his grandson, also named Arnold, ‘all my Freehold Estate or Estates Lands and Premises which I have bought and purchased in my own right to give and dispose of to whom I think fit on paying the Mortgage due thereon. And the love and affection which the said Arnold George have [sic] shown to me and my wife induces me to give … all that I am possessed of’. [20]

Pontymoody, his farm of some 81 acres, was half inherited land and half freehold fields which he had added. [21] The evidence shows him as an ambitious individual who had doubled the size of his farm; a man with some interest in church affairs; and, judging from his will, a person who could challenge conventional loyalties. The grandson was himself an impropriate tithe owner of the freehold portion of Pontymoody Farm in the 1840s. [22] As tithe rights could be bought, sold or exchanged for land, it is possible that Arnold George the plaintiff acquired the tithe rights for himself, or that his grandson did so after inheriting the property. The amount saved by ownership was £3 10s per year. Might this asset have been acquired to sidestep a refusal to pay?

The will of James Jenkins ‘of Trewern, gent’ was dated 1805 and proved in 1807. [23] In 1800 he attended a vestry meeting but not after that date. Described as a ‘gentleman’, James married Elizabeth Prosser in 1764; [24] he owned the farms of Trewern, Pen y Lan and Lower Pen y Lan in Longtown, and Elizabeth had inherited other, unnamed, property in Llanveynoe in 1781. There is insufficient detail to identify the size of their landholding but taken together the several properties suggest a fairly substantial estate. Some of their land abutted that of Arnold George. [25]

James Watkins was probably James Watkins ‘of Ponthenry’ [Ponthendre] who was buried at Clodock in 1820, aged 73. [26] A James Watkins attended vestry meetings in 1800—the same meeting attended by James Jenkins—and in 1803. Of three properties in Clodock with the name Ponthendre, the largest in 1840 was Lower Ponthendre at 70 acres. [27]

Benjamin Lewis was probably the Benjamin Lewis ‘of Newton’ buried in Clodock churchyard in 1814, aged 72. [28] The name does not appear in the attendance list of vestry meetings. A Benjamin Lewis was married to Ann Lewis in 1778. [29] Probate documents refer to ‘Benjamin Lewis, yeoman’ who owned a freehold property in Newton known as Great House; [30] and the inventory shows that he lent money, with debts of some £500 owing to him, as well as holding £137 cash in hand.

If these identities are correct, all four plaintiffs were elderly in 1805. Though of varying wealth and with somewhat differing social status, they would have known each other for many years in the close-knit community of Clodock. However, records of the vicar and curate, show different social backgrounds and aspirations which affected the parishioners’ attitudes to them:

Edward Sparkes BA (1747-1813) was vicar of Clodock for 39 years from 1774 until his death in November 1813. A later vicar, the Reverend F.G. Llewellin, in his history of the church, mistakenly assumed that Sparkes won the court case. He notes that ‘there must have been a lusty fight between Vicar Sparkes of Clodock and some of his parishioners, 1805-08 AD. A fourteen-guinea tablet still celebrates the event; but who could expect to win against a vicar with so pugilistic a name!’ [31] Elsewhere Llewellin remarks on ‘the vigorous and courageous vicar, Edward Sparkes’. [32] Local memory had erased the facts of the court case when Llewellin was writing, although the same misconception may have been held by John Duncumb, who in 1812 wrote that ‘The rights of the vicars are recorded on a tablet in the church’. [33]

In contrast to these dynamic perceptions, [34] Edward Sparkes comes across in the parish records as a reticent and shadowy figure. Although living in the vicarage in Longtown, [35] he was rarely present at vestry meetings, except for the appointment of churchwardens at Easter each year. Born in 1747, probably in Gloucestershire, he gained a BA from Merton College, Oxford in 1770 and as a newly-ordained curate went to Frampton on Severn in Gloucestershire. There, in March 1772, he married Anne Winchcombe, a widow 18 years his senior whose first husband, Nathaniel Winchcombe of Frampton, died 1766. Anne brought three children to the marriage (Elizabeth, Charlotte and Henry Winchcombe) and a daughter Mary Ann was born to her and Edward and baptised at Frampton in June 1773.

The social setting in which Sparkes found himself during his curacy was centred on Frampton Court, a prestigious manor house and estate. [36] Anne’s first husband was described as a ‘wealthy mercer’, and he had a son by a previous marriage, Nathaniel Winchcombe II (1757-1817). Through an extended family network of inheritance the house and estate eventually passed to Nathaniel some twenty years after Sparkes’ marriage with his stepmother Anne. [37] Whether she maintained contact with her stepson is unknown, but her previous marriage and familiarity with the family connection with Frampton suggests that she would have identified with a similar social status. To marry a much younger curate might arguably have been something of a climb down. However, Sparkes’s own family background suggests a well-connected status. His father, also Edward Sparkes (died 1785), [38] was educated at Eton and Cambridge before a varied career in and around Gloucester, as schoolmaster at Gloucester College, commissary to the bishop of Gloucester (for diocesan judicial oversight), vicar in three parishes (two being held in plurality), rural dean of the Forest of Dean and domestic chaplain to the dowager Countess of Deloraine.

When Sparkes came to Clodock in 1774, the community was a world away from this background: still embedded in a Welsh farming culture, where spoken Welsh was still common. [39] Socially the family appear to have maintained close links over many years with their relatives in and around Gloucester. Edward’s stepdaughter Charlotte married Henry Hicks, a mill owner in Gloucestershire whose home at Eastington Park was a splendid manor house; [40] in 1804 his daughter Mary Ann married John Elton esquire ‘of the city of Gloucester’ when she was age 31, [41] and she later lived at Hucclecote on the outskirts; [42] and his wife Anne was buried at Frampton in 1791. Sparkes himself was buried in the city of Gloucester at St Mary de Crypt in 1813. [43] However, the connection is less clear for the other two stepchildren. [44] Elizabeth married the Reverend Henry Beavan in 1785 and lived in Radnorshire, where her husband was rector of Whitton, among other livings, and where she died in 1792. The record of Henry Winchcombe is sketchy but he might have been living in Llanbadoc, Monmouthshire in 1790 when a son was born.

At the time of Mary Ann’s marriage Sparkes had been a widower for fifteen years. This implies that whatever the domestic arrangements had been before her marriage, he was without family living locally for at least the last 9 years of his life. He was perhaps unwell during his last four years, since Rogers took on the role of officiating priest for baptisms, marriages and burials at Clodock from November 1809. [45] A longstanding illness may also explain a letter to the bishop, after Sparkes’ death, from an applicant for the vacancy who wrote ‘The Parsonage and Building upon the Glebe have been left by Mr Sparkes in a most dilapidated state and I almost fear from the circumstances in which he died that we have but little to expect from his executors’. [46]

The vicar’s income can only be surmised. The main sources were tithes from the parish and income from locally-held church property. It has been estimated that the poverty line for clergy in the early nineteenth century was £150 per annum. [47] Sparkes’s outgoings included paying a curate £40-£50 per year, [48] and as a remote rural parish Clodock was not a wealthy living. Sparkes reported to the bishop that no bursary from Queen Anne’s Bounty, a scheme set up to supplement clergy income, had been received during his incumbency. [49] He received rental income from a church-owned farm at Lower House in Clodock and other unnamed lands in Longtown and Llanveynoe, [50] but his tithe receipts were far below his entitlement.

The curate (later vicar) John Rogers contrasts strongly with Edward Sparkes. He was part of a family network whose property holdings apparently put them in the upper echelons of local society and gave them acquaintance with the landholding gentry of Herefordshire, while still being close to the yeoman class. He had day to day contact with people he had known since childhood, and had been actively involved in their world. In 1797 he took up the post of curate at Clodock and became vicar after Sparkes’ death, holding the living from 1814 until 1833. [51] Llewellin says that ‘The Rev John Rogers received the praise of the Methodists of his time for Evangelistic and educational effort. He caused the west end of Longtown Church to be used as a day school’. [52] Parish records show him to have been a conscientious attender and driving force at vestry meetings.

Rogers was born in 1757 and first appears in local records as curate at Walterstone, the parish adjacent to Clodock, from 1788 to 1797. [53] 53 In 1792 he married Jane Gilbert (1770-1847). They had five children born between 1796 and 1805, all baptised at St Mary’s church in Walterstone. One daughter apparently had an illegitimate son, for whom he made provision in his will. [54] He leased Alltyrynys at Walterstone, an ancient house and farm, locally famous as the home of a junior branch of the Cecil family at the time of William Cecil, Lord Burghley. By the late eighteenth century its status and condition had declined. In 1804 the farm was leased to Aaron Rogers, a local landholder of some substance, who subleased it to his brother John Rogers, reportedly already the occupier. [55]

From these circumstances it seems that John Rogers straddled a wide spectrum of social identity and was comfortably well off—and so was able to subsist without pay from Sparkes around 1802. How long he continued to live at Walterstone is not known, but when he was the incumbent he lived at the vicarage in Longtown, [56] and was sufficiently prosperous to acquire other local property: Ty Newydd, a ‘newly erected messuage’ in Longtown was leased in 1814 and bought in 1819. Other undated purchases were a house in Longtown called Ruthland and property in Clodock called Button’s Lands, all of which were inherited by family members. Rogers and his wife Jane are buried in Clodock churchyard and are commemorated in a memorial plaque in the church.

Rogers ’ route to ordination is a blank. In contrast to Sparkes, he did not have a degree, and there is no known record of his training or ordination as curate at Walterstone. The earliest record of his ecclesiastical career relates to his ordination in the diocese of St David’s in 1797, as curate at Craswall and Llanveynoe, followed in 1804 by a curacy at Llanveynoe and Longtown and in 1814, after Sparkes death, institution as vicar at Clodock. [57] In the 1780s and 1790s most recruits in St David’s diocese were non-graduates. [58] Acceptable training included attendance on an authorised course at a grammar school, such as that at Brecon for St David’s ordinands. [59] The course held at Abergavenny, 8 miles from Walterstone, seems most likely—it was under the governance of Llandaff diocese, and although some bishops resisted accepting trainees from outside their diocese, the record of Llandaff clergy names John Rogers, even though  he was ordained in St David’s. [60] If this was a special case, it was perhaps on the grounds of the convenience of travelling to Abergavenny.


Local issues of concern at vestry meetings

The Clodock vestry minutes, recording administrative matters, give valuable information about church life, even though this is largely by inference from brief entries of dates and attendees, and scant notes of the business. [61] The minutes from 1798 (the earliest surviving record) to 1811 cover a period relevant to the modus court case and its aftermath. During these 13 years, some 44 meetings were held, with attendance ranging from two to eighteen people and typically six to eight. Both churchwardens were normally present, though rarely the vicar. Although John Rogers had been curate at chapels in Craswall, Llanveynoe and Longtown since 1797, the vestry minutes suggest a gradual handover by Sparkes at Clodock, where he was not officially a curate. Items of business appearing from around 1808 imply new priorities as Rogers regularly signed documents. This development, coming after judgment in the legal challenge, suggests that the parishioners were finding a new direction in church affairs. Despite such a sparse record, underlying issues can be pieced together from the minute book and supporting evidence from diocesan records.

In 1808 a commission to William Jacques, ‘bell hanger from Gloucester’, for a new bell and the refitting of four existing bells, was ratified at a meeting attended only by Sparkes and the two churchwardens. [62] Payment came from the church rates, which were normally sixpence in the pound, but on two occasions the minutes specify expenses for the bells, one being an increase to ninepence ‘towards hanging the bells’ as well as defraying ‘the usual expenses’. [63] Thereafter the vestry stipulated that church rates should be held at sixpence, matching the poor rate. [64] There were difficulties in collecting rates—an entry in March 1810 notes that ‘we the Inhabitants and landholders of the Parish of Clodock do order Mr Henry Williams and Mr William Jones [the churchwardens] to apply to the Ecclesiastical Court of the Diocese for an Order against those of the Landholders of the Parish of Clodock who have neglected or refused to pay their assessments made for repairing the Church of Clodock and the Chapel thereto belonging. The expenses if not paid by the defolters [sic] to be paid by the Parish at Large’. [65]

Considerable disarray in record-keeping is evident from 1803 until 1810. Despite admonishments, including a threat of litigation, both churchwardens failed to present their accounts. In 1806 increasing urgency is suggested by a vestry attendance of eighteen, including two women (the only recorded presence of women) at the meeting for appointing churchwardens. A year later William Jones, the people’s warden, presented his accounts for four years; James Jones, the vicar’s warden, delayed a further three years before presenting accounts for seven years, his excuse being that he had not collected the rates.

By April 1811, two recently appointed new churchwardens were charged with clearing up outstanding financial and record-keeping lapses. John Gilbert and Henry Harris were ordered ‘to apply to the Court [the consistory court at Brecon] for to oblige the late wardens to bring their account to Court and pass them there. We likewise order the said church wardens to apply to the Court for an order to oblige Daniel Morgan and others to pay their assessments’ and ‘to get all Books, Bounds and papers of all descriptions belonging to the said Parish and lodge them in the coffer in the church and bring an action at law against any person who may detain them in their possession’. [66]

In October 1810, the vestry and the three chapels in the parish commissioned the modus tablets. An unusually large attendance of sixteen at this meeting, and the absence of the vicar, suggest that, unsurprisingly, the initiative for putting up a memorial to the court case lay with the parishioners. The entry reads:


October the 5th 1810
At a parish meeting called on Sunday the 30th day of September 1810 at the parish church and at the Chapels of Craswell and Llanveyno and held at Longtown according to appointment it was then ordered and unanimously agreed that the Churchwardens should pay Edward Prichard the Sum of fourteen Guineas for the Stone and workmanship for setting up a table of the Modus in the parish Church of Clodock being a Decree established by the Court of Exchecher [sic] and half a Guinea for hauling of the Stone down to the church


The churchwardens’ accounts for 1810-1811 note the completion of the work and payment: ‘Pd Edward Prichard, £14-14-0’.

An endowment for a charity school in Longtown was provided in 1716 by the will of Oliver Madocks, [68]  but the school’s survival in Sparkes’s day is uncertain. It apparently functioned in 1754, when the teacher William Bowen had ‘kept school at Longtown for 14 years’, [69]  ut in 1804 Sparkes replied ambiguously to the bishop’s question ‘Is there any Free School in your Parish? Is it an endowed school?’. His answer was that there was ‘a free school endowment for four pounds a year’ but he did not confirm that it was in operation; and in 1807 noted that ‘there is not a school kept in the church’. [70] Whether the school had lapsed or used other premises is not known. In May 1810, however, the vestry enthusiastically endorsed plans for a schoolroom at the west end of St Peter’s in Longtown, probably in response to increasingly strong encouragement from the Church authorities to set up schools for improving literacy and assisting with Christian education. [71] In August 1810 the vestry met, ‘in the absence of the vicar’, to name ten poor children for an immediate start under the terms of the Madocks charity. At the following meeting in September building work was approved ‘without a dissenting voice ... to make partitions between the chapel and school room a chimney door and windows and what is necessary for the fitting up a decent schoolroom in the best manner and at the least expence ... for the parish’. [72] The refurbishment was paid for by donations totalling £66 2s, mainly from vestry members, as commemorated by a stone tablet listing their names erected at St Peter’s. [73]

5  Commemoration tablet for the school at St Peters in Longtown



Soon after the death of Edward Sparkes, Walter Wilkins, nephew of the patron Walter Wilkins of Maeslough Castle in Radnorshire, wrote to the bishop seeking confirmation for his appointment. [74] He noted that ‘My uncle  ... has in the kindest manner given me the presentation to it’. Wilkins was an Oxford graduate whose first appointment was in 1809, as vicar of Llanigon, Breconshire, just across the border from Clodock. [75] He might have had in mind a second adjacent living, but was unsuccessful and instead became perpetual curate at Llanveynoe and Longtown in July 1814. From this position he resigned two years later after securing the livings at Bronllys and Broughrood near his uncle’s seat at Maeslough. In August 1814 John Rogers was appointed vicar of Clodock, perhaps preferred because of his roots in the local community and his strong support for the schooling of poor children. It was an appointment made on merit, despite his lack of a university education, and Rogers remained vicar for 22 years until his death in 1836. 

The modus tablets at Clodock, the starting point for this enquiry, are now a reminder of a feud long forgotten in local memory. However, sufficient records exist to trace likely causes: some relate to personalities, some to the character of the local community and some to the institutional role of the Church of England. In the glimpses we have of Edward Sparkes he seems a reticent and even reclusive man, largely uninterested in parish business, and with longstanding difficulties in collecting tithes. Personal questions remain unanswered: with his Oxford degree and well connected clerical background in Gloucester, why did he choose to come to a rural outpost in the poor diocese of St David’s? By contrast, John Rogers was a member of the local community whose style of leadership resonated with the vestry. Significant changes happened, particularly bringing order to the gross lapses in financial record-keeping, and setting up a schoolroom. These initiatives took place during the last few years of Sparkes’ life, when Rogers had sole charge of vestry business. The two men seem to have had a distant but superficially cordial relationship. 

In Clodock the higher levels of social status were represented by relatively small farmers. There was no resident lord of the manor or significant professional class. Few attributions of ‘esquire’ and ‘gentleman’ occur in records: ‘yeoman’ was usual even for prosperous farmers. Sparkes would have recognised, perhaps keenly, a contrast with Frampton society and perhaps identified a loss of status he felt owed to him from his father’s career in Gloucester diocese, and locally, his university education would have been unusual. Such social distance in the Church of England is recognised as being commonplace at that time, especially in rural parishes, and is widely thought to have contributed to the rise of nonconformity. An added factor in Clodock was long-enduring links with Wales and the diocese of St David’s although it was in Herefordshire. Welsh was still spoken by older people, although church services were conducted only in English.

All these circumstances were the background to resistance to tithe payments. Sparkes was a victim of an inequitable system, which was being dealt with by piecemeal litigation. While the role of nonconformism is not clearly visible in vestry records, its impact must have reached Clodock from neighbouring communities. The nonconformist emphasis on bible study was a major force in promoting literacy nationally, coupled with parallel efforts by the Established Church. Did the new bell and fittings at Clodock church have a symbolic meaning as a call to shared community, initiated by Edward Sparkes and remaining as his legacy?



I am indebted to Bob Burson for permission to use the photographs in this study. The maps were drawn by Alan Crosby.


NINA WEDELL is a founder member and co-editor of a local history website, The History of Ewyas Lacy (http://www.ewyaslacy.org.uk/) which since 2006 has built up an online resource relating to parishes in south-west Herefordshire. Its extensive archival material and commentaries provide an invaluable resource for local history research. These have contributed to the author’s studies of the area in different contexts of time and locality, including the present focus on Clodock parish.



[1]   Eric J. Evans, The Contentious Tithe: the tithe problem and English agriculture 1750-1850 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976) 8

[2] Tithes owned by Cornewall were 53 per cent in Craswall, 62 per cent in Llanveynoe and 69 per cent in Longtown:  History of Ewyas Lacy http://www.ewyaslacy.org.uk/-/Research-paper-Tithe-owners-in-Ewyas-Lacy/1800s/nw_ewy_3007

[3] For more about Clodock church see http://www.ewyaslacy.org.uk/doc.php?d=nw_ewy_9001. St John’s church in Newton was founded in 1844: see http://www.ewyaslacy.org.uk/Newton/Foundation-of-St-John-s-Church-Newton/1911-1984/gc_nwt_3050. For settlement history in Newton see http://www.ewyaslacy.org.uk/Newton/Land-tax-in-Newton-amp-Ewyas-Lacy/1700-s-1800-s/gc_nwt_2001

[4] The National Archives [TNA] IR18/3003 tithe files Craswall 1842-1844; IR/18/3096 tithe files Llanveynoe 1843

[5] The National Archives [TNA] IR18/3003 tithe files Craswall 1842-1844; IR/18/3096 tithe files Llanveynoe 1843

[6] National Library of Wales [NLW] SD/QA/182 Visitation Queries and Answers 1799 question 25

[7] See William Gibson, Church, State and Society, 1760-1850 (St Martin’s Press, 1994) 28-32 for a summary of issues relating to the impact of inflation on clergy income.

[8] NLW SD/QA/253 Visitation Queries and Answers 1799 question 7; F.G. Llewellin, The History of St Clodock: British King and Martyr (Manchester, 1919) 165 notes ‘It is said that in September 1772, the vicar and churchwardens published a Terrier. This has unfortunately been lost’

[9] NLW SD/LET/1210 A reply by Edward Sparkes, vicar of Clodock, to a complaint concerning non-payment of his curate’s salary 1802

[10] NLW SD/LET/1210 A reply by Edward Sparkes, vicar of Clodock, to a complaint concerning non-payment of his curate’s salary 1802

[11] NLW SD/QA/253 1799 question 3; SD/QA/184 1804 question 12. The four festivals were Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and All Saints. The number of communicants may have been smaller than the number of attenders, since communion was often not taken without prior devotional preparation: see J. Walsh and S. Taylor, ‘Introduction: the Church and Anglicanism in the ‘long’ eighteenth century’, in J. Walsh, C. Haydon and S. Taylor (eds), The Church of England c1680-c1833 (Cambridge, UP 1993) 22-29 regarding eighteenth century devotional practices among the Anglican laity.

[12] For an account of congregational worship in the Olchon valley see History of Ewyas Lacy http://www.ewyaslacy.org.uk/Olchon-Llanthony-Longtown-Llanveynoe/Travels-of-a-Preacher-in-Ewyas-Lacy/1841/gc_ewy_3064

[13] Joshua Thomas, History of Olchon Baptist Church (1790: photocopy at Leominster Baptist Church, Herefordshire)

[14] Dafydd Ifans (ed), Nonconformist Registers of Wales (National Library of Wales, 1994)

[15] For an overview of Methodism in Herefordshire see https://htt.herefordshire.gov.uk/herefordshires-past/the-post-medieval-period/institutions/chapels/guest-author-essay-methodism-in-herefordshire-1800-1860/

[16] See the gazetteer of post-medieval chapels in Herefordshire: https://htt.herefordshire.gov.uk/herefordshires-past/the-post-medieval-period/institutions/chapels/gazetteer-of-herefordshire-chapels/ [Ebenezer chapel in Longtown village was Primitive Methodist, not Baptist]

[17] For a schedule of the Cwm circuit in 1826 see http://www.ewyaslacy.org.uk/Ewyas-Lacy/Cwm-Circuit-Primitive-Methodist-Preachers-Plan/1826/tg_ewy_0031

[18] Herefordshire Archive and Records Centre [HARC] AH46/12 Clodock register of burials 1817-1824

[19] The principle of optional support for the Established Church was not explicitly recognised until the payment of church rates (for upkeep of the church building) became voluntary through the Compulsory Church Rates Abolition Act of 1868

[20] NLW BR/1824/5 will of Arnold George 1824

[21] NLW BR/1824/5 will of Arnold George 1824

[22] NLW BR/1824/5 will of Arnold George 1824

[23] NLW BR/1807/9 will of James Jenkins 1807-1809

[24] HARC AH46/6 Clodock register of marriages 1764-1770

[25] Gwent Archives D1583.208 Survey of Ewyas Lacy c.1800 map 14

[26] HARC AH46/12 Clodock register of burials 1813-1864

[27] HARC L519 Longtown tithe apportionment 1844

[28] HARC AH46/12 Clodock register of burials 1813-1864

[29] HARC AH46/12 Clodock register of burials 1813-1864

[30] NLW BR/1814/19 will of Benjamin Lewis 1814-1819

[31] Llewellin, St Clodock, 157

[32] ibid., 171

[33] John Duncumb, Collections towards the History and Antiquities of the County of Hereford, vol.2 pt.1 Parish of Clodock (John Allen, 1812) 279

[34] The biographical details in this paragraph were kindly supplied in personal communication from David Robins

[35] NLW SD/QA/253 Visitation Queries and Answers (1799) question 9; SD/QA/184 1804 questions 2; SD/QA/187 1807 question 3; HARC CL43/1 Documents concerning Longtown vicarage 1959-1974. The old vicarage was demolished and replaced by a new house in the 1960s

[36] For a description of Frampton Court see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frampton_Court; for genealogical notes http://www.angelfire.com/folk/cotswoldclothiers/winchcombe_family_of_glos.htm

[37] Nathaniel Winchcombe II changed his surname to Clifford after acquiring Frampton Court.

[38] http://db.theclergydatabase.org.uk/jsp/search/index.jsp Person ID 159377 Reverend Edward Sparkes (senior died 1785)

[39] The survival of Welsh as the vernacular in Clodock and vicinity is not clearly dated. Welsh field names reported by local landholders in the 1840s tithe survey suggest a lingering influence. Clodock church services were conducted only in English during Sparkes’ incumbency (NLW SD/LET 1239 ‘A request for instatement as vicar of Clodock’; bibles; and prayer books were only in English at Clodock church and chapels: SD/QA/182 Visitation Queries and Answers 1802, question 3).

[40] /  For background on Henry Hicks and Eastington Park see ‘The Rise and Fall of Henry Hicks, clothier of Eastington’ https://www.gsia.org.uk/reprints/2002/gi200219.pdf; and https://www.eastingtonpark.co.uk/history

[41] HARC AH46/8 Clodock register of marriages 1792-1812

[42] TNA IR/27/23 Gloucestershire death duty register shows payment made for Sparkes by Mary Ann Elton of Hucclecote

[43] Gloucestershire Archives P154/11/IN/1/13 St Mary de Crypt burials 1813-1988; Sparkes was buried on 3 December 1813

[44] See note 34

[45] HARC AH/46 Clodock registers of baptisms, marriages and burials

[46] NLW SD/LET 1239 A request to be instituted to Clodock by commission 1814

[47] Evans, Contentious tithe, 3

[48] Llewellin, St Clodock, 187 notes that ‘the curates of Clodock, from 1790 to 1833, received £40 or £50 per annum plus surplice fees’

[49] NLW SD/QA/187 Visitation Queries and Answers 1807 question 32

[50] HARC Q/Rel/2/7/1-35 Longtown land tax records 1783-1838 show successive vicars as owners of a property in Longtown which is identified as Lower House in the Longtown tithe survey for two adjacent parcels of 83 and 69 acres. HARC Q/Rel/2/6 land tax Longtown and Q/Rel/2/7 Llanveynoe show payments made by successive vicars for church-owned lands

[51] http://db.theclergydatabase.org.uk/jsp/search/index.jsp Person ID 132983 John Rogers

[52] Llewellin, St Clodock, 187 

[53] HARC AD80/1 Walterstone baptism and burial register 1761-1812; AD80/2 marriage register 1777-1812

[55] Gwent Archives D1583/45/1-2 Case notes for opinion, Alltyrynys Farm 1762-1819

[56] NLW SD/PC/11 Report on the Clergy in Ewyas Lacy 1827

[57] http://db.theclergydatabase.org.uk/jsp/search/index.jsp Person ID 132983 John Rogers

[58] See Sarah Slinn, The education of the Anglican clergy 1780-1839 (Boydell, 2017) 59 and 220. From 1780-1800 the percentages of non-graduates in St David’s diocese ranged between 86.2% and 92.8%. A theological seminary was founded by the diocese of St David’s at Lampeter in 1828

[59] ibid., 90-98 and 129-135 gives details of ordination routes via ‘Divinity Schools’ attached to grammar schools in the dioceses of Llandaff and St David’s.

[60] http://db.theclergydatabase.org.uk/jsp/search/index.jsp Person ID 132983 John Rogers

[61] HARC G71/1 Minutes of parish and vestry meetings (Clodock)

[62] HARC G71/1 6 June 1808. An undated guide to Clodock church states: ‘in the bell chamber are six bells. Five of them were recast in 1953 by John Taylor of Loughborough, where the sixth bell was cast at the same

time’. Date inscriptions are 1663, 1806 [sic], King WL10 [1699], 1715, 1649 and 1953.

[63] HARC G71/1 10 April 1807 and 6 March 1809

[64] ibid., 10 May 1810

[65] ibid., 30 March 1810

[66] ibid., 13 April 1811

[67] ibid., 5 October 1810

[68] HARC Report of the Commissioner of Charities and Education of the Poor (1815-1839) 261-262

[69] NLW SD/SM/2 Papers regarding William Bowen 1754 (which reports inter alia that Bowen was ‘without fingers which were burnt in the fire when he was a child’); http://db.theclergydatabase.org.uk/jsp/search/index.jsp Person ID 122378 William Bowen

[70] NLW SD/QA/183 Visitation queries and answers 1804 question 16; SD/QA/187 ibid 1807 question 9

[71] The founding of Longtown school was in line with contemporary aspirations which led in the following year (1811) to the inauguration of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church in England and Wales.

[72] HARC G71/1 6 August and 27 September 1810

[73] St Peters was sold as a private residence c.1980 when the commemoration tablet was removed and re-erected in on the front wall of 3 Castle Cottages in Longtown. This building was a subsequent school founded c.1870, now converted into private homes and replaced by yet another school in 1957, the existing Longtown Community Primary School.

[74] 74   NLW SD/LET 1239 A request to be instituted to Clodock by commission 1814

[75] http://db.theclergydatabase.org.uk/jsp/search/index.jsp Person ID 21962 Walter Wilkins

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