Thomas Tench

Thomas Tench was the first known of several curates who served the needs of Cocking’s parishioners during the 25 years from 1683 when Josiah Pleydell held the living.

Tench was born in Nantwich, Cheshire in about 1655, the son of Thomas (described as a “gentleman”). Thomas was baptised at St Mary’s Church, Nantwich on 27 June 1655. Unfortunately, the parish registers do not include the mother’s name on the baptism records.

Tench matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford in May 1673, and graduated as Bachelor of Arts in 1678, obtaining his Master of Arts from Oxford University three years later.

Tench was ordained as a deacon on 25 September 1681, and on Christmas Eve the following year as a priest; both ordinations took place at Christ Church Cathedral by the Bishop of Oxford, John Fell.

His first appointment as a parish priest came on 8 November 1682, when he was appointed rector at Selham, near Graffham. The advowson (right to appoint a priest) had been left to Brasenose College in 1613 in the will of Richard Taylor, a fellow of the college. Tench remained as rector at Selham until his death in 1716.

It is not clear when Tench first acted as curate at Cocking – his name first appears in the parish register when he signed the page headed “1685”. At this time, the parish register was poorly maintained and as the previous entries were for 1679/80 and the next page was for 1689/90, and nor do the dates follow in sequence, it would appear that the page signed by Tench covered eight or nine years. The next entry for Tench was in the 1690 register after which there was another gap of four years, until William Sadler replaced him in November 1694.

It seems that Tench was not a great record keeper and, as a result there must have been several baptisms, burials and weddings not registered. One entry that was made was in respect of the baptism of his son John on 8 February (probably 1687); Thomas’s wife is recorded as Alice.Note 1

Since 1660, the incumbents at Cocking had lived in a house known as “Stephens” in what is now Church Lane. In April 1687, the lease of the property, described as a “messuage with malthouse, stable, barn, garden and orchard” was assigned from the executors of Gilbert Hannam to Lawrence Alcock.Note 2

By 1693, Tench was acting as curate at South Harting, where he was installed as rector by Bishop Robert Grove on 28 October 1695; his patron was the staunchly Catholic Jacobite, John Caryll, Baron of Durford. Until as recently as 1950, the rector at Harting was a sinecure and the church of St Mary had a vicar who served the needs of the parishioners. In his “History of Harting”, written in 1877, Revd. Henry Doddridge Gordon refers to the Rectory as being “the key” of the Vicarage at Harting.

On 3 July 1695, Tench officiated at the wedding of Lady Mary Grey, daughter of Ford Grey, 1st Earl of Tankerville to Charles Bennet, 2nd Baron Ossulston. At the end of the service, the bridegroom dipped his hand into his pocket and produced 40 guineas of which he gave 4 to the bellringers and the remainder to Tench. After the happy couple had left the church, Tench proclaimed: “Plague upon his little hand! If it were as big as some folk’s hands, it might have brought up as many again!”

On 28 September 1696, Tench’s second son, Thomas, was baptised at St Mary’s Church, Harting.

The vicar at this time was Francis Salisbury, who was executed at Tyburn on 3 November 1697 for the offence of “coining”. At his trial at the Old Bailey on 15 October 1697, he was found guilty of forging a sixpenny stamp to stamp vellum and parchment and “did stamp five hundred sheets of paper with the said stamp, and did utter and sell a hundred sheets of the said paper, knowing it to be false and counterfeit”.

With indecent haste, Tench was appointed vicar at Harting on 20 December 1697, barely six weeks after his predecessor’s execution. His service of institution at St Mary’s Church was conducted by the Bishop of Chichester, John Williams. The appointment as vicar was in the gift of the Archdeacon of Chichester, who at this time was Josiah Pleydell. Shortly after the execution of Francis Salisbury, Tench was so anxious to secure the vicarage that he wrote to the Archdeacon that he

“had placed so much confidence in him as to convey to him his right of presenting to the vicarage when it should be next void, which it will be soon by the deserved punishment of the present vicar, who suffered death for coining, assuring himself that the Archdeacon would use that right for his (Tench’s) advantage only.”

Parson Tench seemed to be always in financial difficulties. In 1706, he resisted the renewal of the lease of the tithes at Harting held by the Caryll family; the resultant law suit was found in Tench’s favour and the squire was ordered to pay him 1,450 florins and Tench’s legal expenses.

The following year, he received £120 consideration for granting a ten year lease, at an annual rent of £40 for the tythes at Selham, including “the rectory and 22 acres glebe land, but reserving the parsonage house, barn, garden and croft of land adjoining”.

In January 1711, Tench attempted to sell the post as vicar to the son of a Captain Hudson who “was lately entered into orders and wanted a benefice”. Hudson sought the advice of John Caryll who advised him he “should not in prudence be acquainted with” the proposed transaction.

Later that year, Tench offered his resignation to the Bishop of Chichester, Thomas Manningham. The Bishop replied that “ye paying of debts is not the use that spiritual benefices were designed for”.

It seems that Tench did eventually find a willing purchaser for on 1 June 1716, he resigned as vicar at Harting, in favour of Robert Sully. Sadly, Tench didn’t live long to enjoy the proceeds for he died later that year, with John Newlin being instituted as rector on 4 December.

Alice Tench died in 1741 and is buried at West Stoke near Funtington.  Their eldest son, John Tench, described as a “watchmaker”, married Elizabeth Luffe, a widow, at Rogate on 20 October 1715.


Note 1. I have been unable to find Alice’s maiden name nor to locate details of the marriage.

Note 2. “Stephens” is now “Stephens Cottage” in Church Lane. Gilbert Hannam (died 1677) was the founder of Midhurst Grammar School. Lawrence Alcock was a legal clerk; his son, also Lawrence, was MP for Midhurst from 1701 to 1713.