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.
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
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
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 email@example.com