Melmoth Skynner became a parish priest quite late in his life, having previously served with the Royal Navy as a ship’s chaplain. He was Vicar of Cocking for nearly 25 years, from early 1798 to his death in November 1822. Shortly before his death, he made a gift to the church of a silver alms dish, which is still used in Sunday services today.
He was born (probably in London) on 27 July 1733, the seventh of ten children of John Skynner (c.1694 – c.1744) and Mary nėe Melmoth (1701 – c.1762). John Skynner was a solicitor, the son of Lancelot Skynner (c.1660 – c.1724), a cloth-worker who became an alderman of the City of London. Mary was the daughter of William Melmoth, a lawyer and religious scholar. Her brother was William Melmoth (the younger), also a “man of letters“.
Melmoth Skynner was baptised at St. Mildred’s Church, Poultry in the City of London on 17 August 1733.
In 1741, he was admitted to Merchant Taylors’ School, in St Laurence Pountney in the City of London, when the school register described his father as “Solicitor, of St. John’s Cambridge“. From Merchant Taylors’, Skynner was admitted to Charterhouse School in Smithfield in April 1748. At Charterhouse, he was Orator in 1752 and Exhibitioner in July 1753. He returned to Charterhouse in 1786, as the Founders’ Day speaker.
He matriculated in June 1753, before attending University College, Oxford, graduating as Bachelor of Arts in 1757.
On 21 May 1758, Skynner was ordained as a Deacon by Bishop Zachary of Rochester at the Bishop’s Palace, London, following which, in August 1758, he joined the Royal Navy as a Chaplain, initially on-board H.M.S. Alcide.
On 15 November 1767, he was ordained as a priest by Bishop William of Chichester.
On 11 March 1771, Melmoth Skynner married Esther Thomas. from Horsham at St Peter’s Church, Cowfold. There appear to have been no children from this marriage; Esther died in 1797, and was buried at Tangmere on 14 December 1797.
Skynner’s first recorded parish ministry was as a curate in 1772, when he signed the parish register for St Nicholas church at Charlwood, near Reigate in Surrey. He remained curate at Charlwood until about 1792. From 1784 to 1794, Skynner was also the vicar at St Agatha’s, Woldingham, near Caterham, about 16 miles north-east of Charlwood.
In late 1794, he left Surrey and was installed as rector at St Andrew’s Church, Tangmere on 28 April 1795. His sponsor was Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond. Skynner only held the tenancy at Tangmere for three years until 1798, when he transferred to Cocking.
Skynner was inducted as vicar of Cocking on 5 June 1798 by the Bishop of Chichester, John Buckner, and in July 1798 he first signed the baptism register as “Melmoth Skynner, Rector”. At around the same time, he was installed as vicar at Eartham, about 5 miles north-east of Chichester.
In 1821, Skynner donated to Cocking church a silver alms dish (or salver), on which is inscribed “The Gift of the Revd. Melmoth Skynner. Vicar of Cocking. A.D. 1821“.
The dish is hall-marked for the year 1714 and bears the maker’s mark for Richard Greene. Little is known about Greene (or Green) other than that he was apprenticed to George Moore in 1691, becoming free in 1703. He had workshops in Foster Lane and in 1713 was Churchwarden of St John Zachary (now the site of Goldsmiths’ Garden) in Gresham Street, in the City of London. Greene’s work frequently comes up for auction, when he is usually described as a “fine silversmith“.
Skynner retained both livings at Eartham and Cocking until his death. On 10 November 1822, in his 90th year, he was suddenly taken ill at midday with a pain in his heart, and died at about 7 o’clock that evening.
His funeral was held on 15 November when he was buried in the chancel at Cocking church. During the church renovations in 1896, his gravestone was placed on the south wall of the chancel, bearing the inscription:
TO THE MEMORY OF THE REVEREND
UPWARDS OF 24 YEARS VICAR OF THIS PARISH
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE
ON THE 10TH DAY OF NOVEMBER
AGED 90 YEARS.
Other family members
Melmoth Skynner’s brother, Lancelot (born c.1730) was captain of the frigate HMS Bideford, and was killed in the Bay of Biscay in a battle with the French frigate Malicieuse, on 4 April 1760.
Another brother, John (1725–1805) was the rector at Easton-on-the-Hill, near Stamford in Northamptonshire. His son, Lancelot (born c.1766) was also a captain in the Royal Navy. He was in command of the frigate HMS Lutine which was lost in a violent storm off the coast of the Netherlands on 9 October 1799. The ship’s bell was subsequently salvaged and for many years the Lutine Bell was rung at the Underwriting Room at Lloyd’s of London whenever a ship was overdue.
England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538–1975
England, Select Marriages, 1538–1973
England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384–1858
London, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538–1812
Oxford University Alumni, 1500–1886
Surrey, England, Land Tax Records, 1780–1832
U.K. Directories, 1680–1830
Challen, W.H. The Parish Register of Cocking, Sussex (1558–1837) pp. 69–78, 96–99, 115–122
The Clergy Database: 65832. Skynner, Melmoth (1758-1822)
Cocking History Group (2005). A Short History of Cocking. p.30
Find-a-Grave: Melmoth Skynner
The Gentleman’s Magazine: December 1822. Clergy recently deceased
The Investigator: December 1822. Sussex deaths
The London Magazine: August 1758. Ecclesiastical Preferments
The National Archives:
Add Mss 2626. Copies (1826) of affidavits sworn by … Melmoth Skynner of Charlwood, Co. Surrey … regarding the admission of Freemen of Chichester and/or their right to vote in a parliamentary election.
Robinson, Charles John: 1882. A register of the scholars admitted into Merchant Taylors’ School from A. D. 1562 to 1874
Sewill, Ruth & Lane, Elisabeth: 1979. The Free Men of Charlwood p,182
Sussex Archaeological Society: 1911. Sussex archaeological collections relating to the history and antiquities of the county
West Sussex Records Office, Chichester:
1900 Clergy List
Diocese Parochial records for Cocking
Sources (re Lancelot Skynner)
Dawlish Chronicle: HMS Flamborough and HMS Bideford
Lloyds.com: HMS Lutine
morethannelson.com: Lancelot Skynner 1766-1799
North Devon Maritime Museum: Previous HMS Bidefords
threedecks.org: Lancelot Skynner (d.1760)