Pear Tree Church - Southampton

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Mediaeval Times

From mediaeval times there was an old house and chapel at Bitterne Manor belonging to the see of Winchester, built on the site of the former Roman settlement of Clausentum

Towards the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the occupant of the old house, Francis Mylles, former secretary to Sir Francis Walsingham and later Member of Parliament for Winchester, applied to the Bishop of Winchester for permission to cart stone from Bitterne Manor to a part of Ridgeway Heath called Pear Tree Green for the purpose of building a new house. It was common practice in those days to avail oneself of building materials lying to hand.

Francis Mylles called his house Pear Tree House. Around 1617 it was occupied by Captain Richard Smith, a former Governor of Calshot Castle, who became a connection by marriage of Francis Mylles when John Packer, the brother of Captain Smith's first wife, married Philippa, the daughter of Francis Mylles, in 1613.

The people of the area into which Captain Smith had moved were mainly farming, labouring and fishing folk, ferrying surplus produce across the Itchen to help feed the townspeople of Southampton. They were nominally in the parish of St Mary's Church which stood on the opposite side of the river, outside the old walls of Southampton. Apart from St Mary's, the nearest churches for these people were at South Stoneham, Botley and Hound, so attendance at services, christenings, marriages or burials involved a long walk, or a jolting ride over rough roads, or the crossing by open boat of a broad and often turbulent river. Apart from the ferry boat, the only other way to reach St Mary's was by crossing the river at Mansbridge.

Captain Smith was a pious, God-fearing man Having experienced at first hand the difficulties involved in attending divine services he resolved to build, at his own expense, the church that he and his neighbours so sorely needed An application made to Dr. James Montagu, Bishop of Winchester, for a licence to build a chapel of ease on Ridgeway Heath was granted in February, 1617. Tradition says that more stone was brought up from Bitterne Manor. This may well be true since the stone in the oldest part of the church, the west wall near the porch, came originally from quarries at Quarr in the Isle of Wight, exhausted centuries before the church was built.

The original church building was fairly small and probably did not take long to build. Inside the church today, over the small arch near the font is a small shield, its coat of arms erased by 200 years of weathering, since it was originally on the outside of the building. The date 1618, still boldly incised just below the shield indicates that the building was completed in that year, yet the church was not dedicated till September, 1620 What caused the delay? Bishop Montagu's death in July, 1618, no doubt accounted for some of it, since his successor, Bishop Andrewes, did not arrive from Ely to replace him till January, 1619 Further delay probably arose from the lengthy negotiations in which Captain Smith, the Bishop and the Rector of St. Mary's were involved to safeguard the rights and emoluments of the mother church. St Mary's church was in a partly ruinous state at that time - only the chancel being used for services - and the Rector could ill afford any loss in revenue. Consequently, stringent stipulations were made to safeguard previous tithes and offerings and to ensure that marriage and burial fees should still go to the Rector of St Mary's, regardless of whether the ceremony was performed in the new church or the mother church. It was agreed that the upkeep and repair of the new church would devolve on its own parishioners, yet contributions towards the upkeep of St. Mary's would still be required of them. Stipulations were also made regarding attendance at the new church. People on the west side of the river could not attend the new church without the permission of the Rector, but Captain Smith and his neighbours must undertake to attend Holy Communion at St Mary's at Easter or Whitsun unless they had a dispensation from the Bishop. This clause was designed to maintain a state of subjection. Further negotiations centred round the appointment of a curate in charge, and Captain Smith was required to guarantee a stipend of 20 marks per annum (£13 6s 8d) and to provide a small house for his use.

Captain Smith's relations rallied round him handsomely. Frances, Countess of Exeter, whose first husband had been Sir Thomas Smith, gave £50 in her lifetime, and Mrs Catherine Palmer, thought to have been Captain Smith's mother in law by his second marriage, bequeathed a similar sum. These monies were invested to produce income to be put towards the curate's stipend.