Written by Dr Jack Binns
Thomas Herring was installed as the new archbishop of York in 1743. He was to hold the office until 1747 when he was promoted to the see at Canterbury. Fortunately for local historians, Herring was a big improvement on his predecessor at York, archbishop Blackburn. In the previous five and a half years, Blackburn had not even taken the trouble to enter his archdiocese and had won a deserved notoriety for immorality as well as slothful neglect of his pastoral duties. In contrast, within a matter of weeks, Herring started a personal and thorough investigation of every parish in his care. He travelled hundreds of miles and gathered a mass of information which is now of unique historical value.
One of archbishop Herring’s visits was to Bridlington on August 16, 1743. Here, in the former priory now the parish church, he heard from Scarborough’s vicar, Theophilus Garencieres, the answers to the 11 questions he asked of every one of his clergymen.
At that time, he was told that there were 1,500 families in the parish of Scarborough. Of these, 27 were Presbyterian, 29 for the most part, Quakers, and three were “Papists”. In the town there were two licensed assemblies, the Presbyterians, who met twice on Sundays and once every two months and numbered 120, and the Quakers, who also numbered 120 and gathered in their Meeting House every Lord’s day and once a week. Both had their own teachers, William Whittaker, the Presbyterian, and Isaac Sollitt, the Quaker, but neither held licences.
Scarborough, he said, had “a public Grammer (sic) school and a private Charity school”. There were no more than 22 boys in the former and 26 boys and 14 girls in the latter which was “for blew Coat Boys and Girls”.
At this point, Garencieres failed to explain that the public grammar school was held inside his parish church of St Mary and that the charity school belonged to the Amicable Society, which fed and clothed poor Anglican children and instructed them in the four Rs – reading, writing, arithmetic and religion “according to the doctrine of the Church of England”.
As vicar of the parish, Garencieres had a “vicarage-house” (in Longwestgate), but he complained that it was “a very mean one”, so that he used only one of its “best rooms” as a study.
He and his “numerous” family lived, slept and ate “in an hired House in the body of the town not 400 yards from the church”.
However, the vicar had an ordained curate whose allowance as such was £20 a year, but he supplemented this by acting as Garencieres’s usher or deputy in the grammar school and giving a Wednesday lecture which earned him an extra £40 annually.
Scarborough’s vicar knew of none of his churchgoers who had not been baptized, though many of them had not been confirmed. He led public services at St Mary’s twice every Sunday, three mornings a week and all Holy Days.
He also expounded the Anglican catechism to children and servants two days every week, but parents were “negligent” in sending them up to St Mary’s.
Garencieres said that he administered the sacraments every month and at “all of the great Festivals”.
Last Easter there were 220 communications at St Mary’s, but usually only 120 received the sacraments out of a total number of a thousand Anglicans in the parish. Though few parishioners sent in their names as required, the vicar had refused the sacraments to only a few who, he suspected, were present “more for the sake of getting a part of the money” than out of devout duty.
Such, in summary, were the findings of archbishop Herring’s visitation in 1743. Though the vicar’s numbers are rounded, only approximate and expressed partly in families not individuals, in the absence of any other contemporary census they are much the best we have.
If, as he suggested, Scarborough had a population of between five and six thousand, but only a thousand were Anglicans and 250 Protestant Dissenters, this means that the remainder of at least 3,750 had no religious affiliation at all. In other words, in a so-called Christian era, up to 80 per cent of Scarborians attended neither church, nor chapel.
Secondly, practising Anglicans, who regularly received the sacraments, were outnumbered by active Presbyterians and Quakers combined. Protestant Nonconformists might still be the victims of all kinds of legal and social discrimination, yet clearly, even with all its privileges and state protection, the Church of England no longer enjoyed a religious monopoly in Scarborough.
The resident population of the parish had increased steadily during the century since the Civil Wars, but there had been no equivalent rise in St Mary’s seating capacity. The only response to the need for more pews was to build upper lofts and galleries reached by flights of wooden steps. A north gallery dated from 1694, a south-west loft from 1710, and a west gallery from 1719. However, the west gallery was occupied by the boys and girls of the Amicable school and the south-west loft had only seven pews, each costing four or five pounds. The truth was that St Mary’s was for the richer few not the poorer majority.
Yet even some of the most affluent visitors to Scarborough worshipped elsewhere than St Mary’s. In 1733, for instance, an observer recorded that “one Sunday afternoon several stars and garters [aristocrats]” were seen “at the Friends’ meeting-house [in Low Conduit Street or Cook’s Row] which is easy of access”.
Several suggestions had been made to build a new “chapel of ease” in the lower town to spare Anglicans the steep climb up to St Mary’s, but nothing had yet come of them.
By comparison with many vicars of his time, Theophilus Garencieres was a model of conscientious industry and propriety. In far too many other Yorkshire parishes, clerical absenteeism, idleness and pluralism were common. “I do not reside personally upon this cure” were words that began many answers to archbishop Herring. John Wesley was soon to challenge and shake this Anglican complacency.