By Richard Bryant
This article was published in the December 2018 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society
We continue the with the article based on a paper by the Lindfield History Project Group and we are grateful for their permission to print it. A reminder that because only a small part of the tithes were paid to the incumbent of the parish of Lindfield, Francis Sewell, was unable to afford to live there and in 1849, he accepted the position of Vicar at Cockerham, Lancashire, a living worth £700 per annum compared with £30 for Lindfield. He left a curate in place in Lindfield.
Purchase of Townlands Farm
In the early 1850s Rev Sewell purchased Townlands farmhouse, an imposing three storey house re-fronted in the Georgian style with black mathematical tiles in c1815, situated on Lindfield High Street directly opposite the parish church.
The reason for purchasing Townlands is unclear; he may have believed that in buying the property he was also buying entitlement to the tithes or perhaps he had plans to develop the farmyard and farmland?
Between 1854 and 1857, Townlands was occupied by a tenant, Robert Caudle.
After Sewell’s death, a decree of the High Court in Chancery in the case of Harrison v Trotter required the property to be put up for sale by auction in September 1863. In the advertisement for the auction, Townlands was described as ‘a comfortable residence containing seven bed chambers, dining, drawing and breakfast rooms and domestic offices, with grounds of 1a 1r 8p.’
The house was acquired by William Mosson Kearns, and his tenant was Rev F Mills, the incumbent appointed on 12 December 1862 as Sewell’s replacement.
Land in Lindfield
In addition to the Townlands, the Rectory House and St.John’s Parish School and master’s house (see photo), Sewell owned a small amount of agricultural land in the village.
Also arising from the case of Harrison v Trotter in Chancery following Sewell’s death, all his properties and land in Lindfield were advertised for sale by auction in September 1863. The fields being sold were :
‘Enclosure of Arable Land containing 3a 1r 13p’
‘Enclosure of Arable Land, in the rear, containing 5a 2r 11p’
‘Two Enclosures of Land containing 8a 0r 33p’
The above parcels of land totalling 17a 2r 17p were said to ‘have valuable and important frontages to public roads and are adapted for building purposes’.
The location of this land was not stated but would appear to have been down the south side of Hickmans Lane, from opposite The Welkin grounds. Recorded in the Tithe Survey (1848) as plots 594, 569 and 571, in the ownership of ‘Wilkinson and Pocock, Assignee Mr Nainsby, Occupied Gladman’; the previous owner was Francis Smith. Together with a further plot 570 which had been part of Finches Farm owned by Edward Duke, these enclosures totalled about 17.5 acres according to Ordnance Survey maps. Previous ownership mirrors The Welkin site and no other land totalling 17.5 acres with frontage to a public road existed in the vicinity.
For many decades following the sale the land remained as fields.
Introduction of Gas to Lindfield
When building his new Rectory House and St.John’s Parish School (see Section 4), Sewell incorporated gas lighting with the gas manufactured on site in his private plant. Subsequently a pipe was laid from his manufacturing plant under the High Street and into the church to provide gas lighting.
Early in May 1857 ‘a good sprinkle of the principal inhabitants’ assembled at St.John’s School to see the trial of Hansor’s recently discovered olefiant gas (ethylene) introduced by Sewell for the rectory, school and school cottage. ‘The exhibition afforded a brilliant display, reflecting the highest credit on the scientific abilities of the patentee, Mr Hansor, who was present’. It was further said ‘the simple means of preparing the gas which can be accomplished by an entire stranger to the science.’ Impressed by what they had seen the gathering adjourned to the Red Lion to discuss lighting the town throughout with the gas. It was agreed to canvass those who might be interested in buying shares at £5 per share and ascertain the number of burners they might order.
In June 1857 it was reported that ‘The Lindfield Gas Company have eventually decided on having the town lit with Hansor’s Patent Gas: a result due to the satisfactory trial of the gasometer which the Rev F H Sewell, our respected vicar, has had erected for the accommodation of his Rectory, the schools, the school cottage and eventually for the Church.’
Sewell’s Master Plan for Lindfield
When Sewell formulated his plan is not known, but it would appear to have been around 1854 and 1855 while living in Cockerham. There is little doubt he devised the plan to facilitate his return to Lindfield. It had three main objectives, the restitution of tithes, building a grand Rectory House and building a new school together with a master’s house.
His plans were published in an anonymous booklet ‘A Brief Statement of Local Claims and Charities’ with the sub-title ‘Which it is hoped will be favoured with the patronage and support of the Inhabitants, Residents and Visitors of the Parish of Lindfield’. Although anonymous it was clearly written by Sewell or someone under his direction. In the text words such as Purchaser and Proprietor are used in place of Sewell’s name. Although the Brief Statement is dated June 1856, his plan predates this as he wrote a letter to the Brighton Gazette published on 2 August 1855 regarding the restitution of the tithes and provision of a rectory house.
The catalyst for his plan could have been his purchase of Townlands, which provided the land together with Kearn’s offer to sell the tithes. Although Kearn was suggesting in April 1855 that no change to ownership of the tithes was likely – see the Comber Charity case above. Sewell was firm in his belief that he had an agreement to purchase the tithes, in fact it was reported he had purchased the tithes.
Three bank accounts in Brighton and London were established to receive contributions for his appeals with the trustees being the Earl of Chichester, the Bishop of Chichester, Rev Edward Auriol of St.Dunstan’s in the West, Robert Trotter (an in-law relative) and Francis Sewell.
There is nothing in the Brief Statement to suggest Sewell consulted with or had received support from the principal residents of the parish prior to announcing his plan and printing the document. Between August 1855 and June 1856, apart from his own contributions and those of the Bishop and reverend gentlemen, other contributions to the Tithe Fund and Rectory House Fund amounted to £75 16s 0d and £12 6s 0d respectively. The school fund was similarly poorly supported. Few, if any, of these contributors appeared to be local residents. Sewell appears to have acted in an autocratic manner while living away from the parish and no doubt this was not well regarded by local residents. Perhaps it was thought his plan centred on his own interests and status.
In addition to the three main objectives of his master plan, the Brief Statement also announced an Organist’s Fund, a Young Men’s Reading-Room and Instruction Society, a Clothing Club, Shoe Club and Coal Club together with detailed rules.
Restitution of the Tithes
As mentioned previously the tithes had long been owned by a lay impropriator, who retained most of the £600 per annum tithes, with only £30 a year going to the living. At the time of Sewell’s arrival the tithes were owned by John Henry Nainsby junior, but this had been the subject of dispute by his sister, Mrs Maria Williamson, since the 1830s.
Sewell missed no opportunity to denounce the long standing iniquitous position with regard to the tithes and the derisory amount provided to the parish by the lay impropriator. This required Sewell to support himself and the parish church from his own funds.
In September 1854, John Henry Nainsby junior, died and under his Will the tithes passed to William Mosson Kearns, his solicitor. Mr Kearns offered to sell the tithes to Sewell for £12,000.
The Brighton Gazette, 2 August 1855, published a letter from Sewell asking for contributions to the Tithe Restoration Fund, saying he had entered into an agreement to purchase the Tithes, not ‘…to retain it as private property’ but ‘simply and solely with the view of soliciting the aid of the well-disposed members of the Church of England, in order to raise the amount necessary for the purchase; and to hand over the amount of tithes so purchased to the use for ever hereafter of the resident and officiating Rector of the parish. When the amount necessary for the purchase is raised, I hold myself responsible to add to the endowment a house and 14 acres of land on which a convenient rectory-house may be built’. It closed with a request for contributions to be sent by postal order to Rev Sewell or placed in the church alms box.
The 1856 Brief Statement similarly advised an agreement had been made to purchase tithes saying ‘the Purchaser offers to re-sell them at a loss to himself, in order that they may be the sooner bought for the support of the Ministers of Lindfield for all time to come. To assist in accomplishing this very desirable object, he will give back to the Church £100 per annum of the Tithe for (that is in addition to) every £150 per annum that is purchased by subscribers; the price being in proportion to that given by the original purchaser; that is, at the rate of £12,000 for £500 yearly’.
At the time the Brief Statement was printed in May 1856, Sewell had contributed £4,800 to the fund, which then totalled £5397 18s 0d, but very little money had come from residents.
In June 1857, the Chichester Diocesan Association voted ‘a grant of £200 towards the restitution of tithe to the Incumbency of Lindfield, a parish of 1,900 inhabitants’. They noted the ‘tithes had recently been purchased by the Rev. F H Sewell with the intention of eventually annexing them again to the living, and were offered on terms which involved a large sacrifice on Mr Sewell’s part.’
However, Sewell’s ownership of the tithes remained outstanding at the time of his death; presumably the necessary contributions had not been received from residents to pay the seller. The tithes remained in the lay ownership.