John Pelham (c.1584 – 1665) was curate at Cocking from 1616 until 1631, during the period when William Mattock was vicar at Cocking (the latter spending all his time at Westbourne). Pelham left Cocking when John Napper was appointed as vicar, moving to Fernhurst where he served as “vicar” until his death in 1665.
Pelham was born in about 1584 at Bucksteep, near Warbleton in East Sussex, the youngest child of Herbert Pelham (1545–1620) and his wife Catherine née Thatcher (1550–1593). Herbert Pelham was a wealthy landowner with property in Sussex, Dorset, Kent, Lincolnshire, Northumberland, Surrey and Yorkshire. He served as High Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex in 1576 and again in 1589, and as M.P. for Winchelsea from 1584 to 1586 and for Reigate from 1604 to 1614.
John Pelham matriculated at St. Alban Hall, Oxford in October 1600 and graduated as a Bachelor of Arts from Magdalen College on 25 January 1609, receiving his Master of Arts degree three years later. Pelham was ordained as a deacon at Chichester Cathedral on 28 February 1613 by Bishop Samuel Harsnett. His ordination as a priest was also at Chichester on 3 May 1613. He was licenced as a curate at Cocking on 23 September 1616.
The Pelham family had previous connections with Cocking as the church register records the baptism of Anne in December 1611 and William in September 1613, the children of Peregrine Pelham, described as “Gentleman”. Peregrine Pelham was the son of Sir William Pelham (c.1530–1587), who was the Lord Justice of Ireland from 1579 to 1582 and was a cousin of Herbert Pelham.
John Pelham was married to Susannah Luffe from Fernhurst and their first child, Mary was baptised at Cocking on 22 September 1628. After leaving Cocking, the couple had three further children, John, George and Elizabeth. George and Elizabeth died as young children at Fernhurst in 1638 and 1640 respectively.
Pelham served as curate at Cocking until 1631, shortly after the appointment of John Napper as vicar. In October 1631, he was appointed as curate of Fernhurst. (Until it was separated in 1773, the church of St Margaret of Antioch at Fernhurst was in the parish of Linch and had no vicar of its own.)
In her 1969 history of “Fernhurst: The Story of a Sussex Village”, Alice M. Tudor devotes seven pages to John Pelham and his time at Fernhurst, which she describes as “a period crowded with stirring public events – events which can have left few villages in England unaffected”. Although Parliament sought to abolish the Church of England and establish Presbyterianism in 1643, and banned the use of the Book of Common Prayer in 1645, John Pelham continued to minister to his parishioners until about 1654, by when Oliver Cromwell had been appointed Lord Protector and had set about the complete suppression of the Church.
Pelham’s position as minister to Fernhurst was taken by a puritan, Thomas Abercrombie from 1656 until the restoration of the Church in 1660, when Pelham was reinstated until his death in 1665.
During the Commonwealth period, marriage was declared to be a civil contract only, which had to be celebrated by a Justice of the Peace, without a religious service, although banns were still recorded in the parish registers. In December 1653, John Pelham’s son, John, married Jane Taylor from Cocking. The entry in the Cocking parish register, implies that the marriage was performed in the prescribed manner before a Justice of the Peace. The entry reads:
John Pelham of ffarnhurst and Jane Taylor of Cockinge were published in the Church without any opposission on the 20 of November and 27 day and the 4 of December in the year 1653.
The civil contract was enacted at Cocking on 14 December. The couple then travelled the eight miles north to Fernhurst where John Pelham appears to have conducted a marriage service on the same day in accordance with the rites and practices of the Church of England.
John Pelham died at Fernhurst where he was buried on 18 August 1665. In his will, dated 13 July 1665, he left his son John 5 shillings, and the rest of his estate to his widow Susannah.
Susannah remained in Fernhurst until her death in 1675. In her will, she left to her grandchild Mary Luffe, 20 s. and one pair of sheets; to Richard Luffe, her great-grandchild, one brass pot, one bell posnet, and one little gold ring.