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William Hide - Turbulent Priest

The church from the south August 2007
The church from the south August 2007

William Hide or Hyde was Rector of Eversholt from 1699 to 1721. Judging by the tantalising clues we have about him he seems to have been a difficult man, very much at odds with his parish, or a significant section of it. He seems to have encountered difficulties within his first three years or so as, in the parish register [P42/1/1] he has made the following unusual entry after the list of baptisms for 1702, note the original spelling: “The following Years till one thousand seven hundred and nine I was in trouble and maliciously persecuted by most wicked and unreasonable men who took away all my household goods wch were considerably valuable, Seizd upon my Benefice and made mee pay the land tax viz twenty pounds per annum and to the poor and all other payments while they took all the profits, and all this for neither debt nor any reall damage but to gratifie the malice of A Dutch Diocesan A Pharisee of the New reformation and an Irish Evidence Such a President as can never be found but in hell or in Eversall so that as to Christnings the following years were tempus obscurum to the Incumbent. Witness my hand William Hyde, Rect”. He wen ton: “And Therefore whatever Christnings or Marriages may be enterd or written in this Book or any other Register belonging to this Parish dureing the time whether two years or more the Interlopers usurped this parish from me I  pronounce them Suspitious and uncertain”.

This seems to imply that he fell out either with the archdeacon or the bishop. Until his death in 1704 the archdeacon was John Skelton and from 1704 to 1731 it was Thomas Frank. Bishop of Lincoln until 1705 was James Gardiner, described as a low churchman (hence perhaps “Dutch Diocesan” and “Pharisee of the New reformation”).

Hide’s main problem, however, seems to have been the parochial charity known as the Poor’s Charity. It may be telling that in the records of this charity deposited at Bedfordshire Archive and Record Service nothing from Hide’s time or before survives. Its purpose was to support elementary education, benefit the poor and help to maintain the body of the church. It would seem that he was forced into making payments which the charity would have made, either because he was, indeed, the victim of unscrupulous trustees, or because he was thought to have pocketed the money himself, without more evidence we will never know, though the fact that the business was cleared up in 1709 with Hide remaining as Rector for another twelve years until his death suggests that he may have been victorious though his replies to questionnaires at episcopal visitations make it clear that he believed that corruption persisted in administering the charity [see below]. This episode seems to have poisoned his relationship with some, many or all his parishioners as his comments about them become increasingly antagonistic with time. He did, however, take his responsibilities seriously as Rector, we know that in the year of his death, 1721, he spent £40/0/6 to have the chancel of the church wainscotted, railed and paved, it being his duty, as rector, to keep the chancel in repair [P41/1/1].

We know that he was a widower and we also know that in 1710 he took on thirteen year old Elizabeth Been as an apprentice to learn housewifery until she married or reached the age of 21 [P72/14/54]. His comments about the parish at episcopal visitation show his worsening relationship with it:

  • 1709: Land which they call the Poor Land, to the value of £60 or £70 a year, of which £20 a year is said to have been given towards the repair of the Church. Abuses of this charity to be enquired into
  • 1712:  I give Open and timely Notice, but the Parishioners send not in their Names. I have refusd [sic] though we have A most Wicked Parish God Knows. Penance there has been no publick Penances Notwithstanding here is A Sorry Fellow that has married a Gentleman’s wife whose first husband is now Alive in London and I have Correspondency with him, Yet they are sufferd to live in Public Adultery and fornication. If you have met with any particular Difficulties in the Discharge of your Duty: Onely the rudeness and impudence of one fellow or two … If you have discover’d any Abuses or Corruptions in any Ecclesiastical Officers, or others concern’d in the Execution of the same: Corruptions remain … I desire you freely to communicate your Thoughts to me; and be assur’d that a proper Use shall be made of your Suggestions, in order to the Attainment of the Ends proposed by them: If I had that Freedom, I should think my self happy and things would not be, I verily think, as they are with Your Lordship’s most Obdeient Son and Servant”.
  • 1717: nonconformists “About ten are dissenters, But of What sort they hardly know themselves, and we can onely guess, but by their Deluders who are Carpenters Coblers Smiths Tanners or any sort of Booby that can but Rattle Nonsencically for two or three hours” Meeting House “One Licens’d Meeting House furnished with very Common Ignorant and Scoundrel People. They assemble as often as the Toy takes them in their Head”. Schools “We have no charity School nor School for Charity in this Heathenish and Sacrilegious Parish where the most laborious Ministry and best Example is but Washing the Blackamoor white, till it can be rectified”. Charities “There are Several houses and lands under the Pretext of belonging to the Poor to the Value of About Sixty Pounds a year; twenty Pounds of Which is assigned to the maintenance of the Poor, as much to Charitable uses, and so much to the repairs of the Church. But that is Neglected and all Swallowed up as some who call themselvesTrustees or Feoffees pleases. Fraudes and Abuses have many years been Executed upon it.
  • 1720: Services Not twice every Lords Day Because sometimes I officiate for my Neighbouring Bretheren, and troubles in Law have Occasion’d my Absence, but they are all almost Conquerd and Over “I Reside personally in my Parsonage house. I have no Curate. Services Not twice every Lords Day Because sometimes I officiate for my Neighbouring Bretheren, and troubles in Law have Occasion’d my Absence, but they are all almost Conquerd and Over. Sacrament Three times a year. The Number sometimes near thirty. Last Easter about seventeen and too many Never Receive at all notwithstanding they are or seem near the Grave … We too seldome have the happiness of Publick Penances. Our Covetousness or necessity Conquer all commutation for we are either too Rich or too Poor for the Arch Deacon. I have no Difficulty in the Discharge of my duty, but some few Fopps whom Satan tickles to Laughter at what they Know not, for they are blinded with and stink of the smoke of their Chimney. But I have pounded them in the Exchequer and humbly Petition your Lordships Assistance by which the Glory of God and the Honour and Interest of this Church may be Recoverd and Promoted”.
Even at the end of his life he was embroiled in legal difficulties. In 1721 he was forced to appear at Quarter Sessions charged with “taking away a lace pinner from Mrs Elizabeth Medley” [QSR1721/5] and with “refusing to pay the wages of Ann Hopcraft, Mary Osbourne and William Gilcock … and assaulting and beating them [QSR1721/6]. It may be fanciful but one wonders if, by this time, he was descending into some sort of paranoia or dementia. He was buried at Eversholt in November 1721, fittingly the original entry is damaged with both his Christian name and the exact date of burial missing.