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900 YEARS OF ST ANDREWS CHURCH

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This year we are celebrating 900 years since the gift of the living at St. Andrew’s Church was given to the Abbot of St. Peter in Gloucester in the year 1112 AD

He was the first recorded Rector. This was before Magna Carta in 1215 and before the foundation of Ankerwycke Benedictine Priory in 1154 AD during the reign of Henry II.

The beginnings of the actual church building were of course already here. The conquering Normans had already begun to build a substantial structure in stone, some of which still stands today.

However there is some evidence that this Church location on the highest ground in the village has been a Holy place for perhaps as long as 1300 years. The site of a Saxon village stood only a stone’s throw over the fence from our Churchyard. We know from archeological and ecclesiastical records that Christianity was introduced to this area of the Thames Valley to the resident Saxons about the year 634 AD.

An evangelist and apostle called Birinus, a Lombard by birth was sent here to Britain by Pope Honorius I to continue the conversion to Christianity already started by others. His original plan had been to penetrate into the Midlands where no Christian preacher had converted before. However he found the West Saxons to be so pagan that he decided to stay among them. This was in 635 AD.

For all this fascinating information I am indebted to Beryl Walters and her Oxford Book of Saints. Birinus converted to Christianity the Wessex King Cynegils and his family. The King’s daughter was then able to marry the Christian King of Northumbria, Oswald. The grateful King Cynegils appointed Birinus as first Bishop of Dorchester.

He began to found several churches in Wessex but later moved into the Thames Valley into what was to become our own Diocese of Oxford. More churches were founded here. None of the surviving churches can positively be identified from the Birinus period except that in Wing, North Bucks. However we may well speculate that Birinus inspired the foundation of our own St. Andrew’s about this time, albeit if only a wooden structure with a thatched roof.

There are no illustrations of this church 900 years ago and the earliest map of this area is from about 1604. King Henry I was on the throne of England in 1112 and he was a Norman. It was only 46 years after the Norman conquest and only 26 years after the Domesday Book was compiled. In this Norman inventory of our village the population is indicated as about forty. This does not include those unable to work, the very old, the very young, some women and possibly a few resident Norman invaders. We were after all under Norman occupation. So perhaps in total there were about 80 to 100 persons including Robert Gernon, our Norman overlord, his family and household.

These Church Rector appointments were usually of a political nature. They too were Norman occupiers and were often powerful men with great influence and close to the King. For the next 200 years Wraysbury’s Rectors would have Norman French names. 

The invasion and occupation by the Norman hoards had brought with it severe hardship and persecution over all Britain and its Saxon people. The Normans took their land and farms also their livestock and crops. They had taken away the means of supporting themselves. They had become slaves and were sometimes reduced to eating grass. The year 1112 we are celebrating was not a happy one for the residents of Wraysbury.

The Abbot of St. Peter in Gloucester was not probably here in residence very often, but delegated his church duties to a minor priest or friar. The administration of the church in the village was to become far more than about things spiritual. The church was to become the only source of local government for the next 800 years when the Vestry administration of St. Andrew’s Parish was taken over by the Parish Council in 1894.

The Church was to become by the nineteenth century responsible for all local services. They appointed a Parish Constable and his deputies. A surveyor managed roads, flooding and village gravel pit. They were responsible for the poor, a workhouse and poor relief. Tithes or money in lieu of tithes was collected to pay for services and occasionally a poll tax in time of war to support the military.

St. Andrew’s Church and the village of Wraysbury although relatively small were in an important location politically. The whole of this area had become royal hunting grounds. Poachers beware of punishment by the King. Historically we were two miles from Staines. Or Ad Pontes as the Romans called it. For them it became an important military town and fortress on a Thames river crossing. Old Windsor was the site of the Royal Palace and Court of the Saxon Kings. Only two years before Henry I had moved from Old Windsor to a newly built Windsor Castle. 

The Parish of Wraysbury and Ankerwycke was later to become administered as a Royal Manor given to successive Queens of England in Dower. In the future several St Andrew’s Rectors were to be men of influence, friends and advisors to the King of the day.

1112 AD was also during the period of the Crusades. Christian Kings and armies fought the Infidels who occupied Jerusalem and the Holy Land. In 1100 AD Jerusalem was retaken by the Crusaders.

From this distance in time all these events from St. Andrew’s early history may seem so remote and of no possible relevance today. However maybe some comfort may be found in evidence of a continuous line of worship here for perhaps as much as 1300 years.

Dennis Pitt    briarlea123@btinternet.com

 

 

 

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