Tring has been inhabited since before Roman times as shown by the finds of Celtic coins of the Catevellauni and Trinovanti tribes in the area. A Roman coin, found  along the line of the old Akeman Street and identified as a London mint of the Emperor Constantine (d. 337 A.D.), dates from the time when the Christian religion won official recognition throughout the Empire. The parish church of Tring is dedicated to St Peter & St Paul which may be significant of an early foundation among a mix of the converted and unconverted Romano-British.

In 410AD the Roman Empire officially withdrew support for the province of Britannia and the Romano-British had to fend for themselves.  Some historians believe that the Chilterns were a haven from the invading Saxons and their allies; however, there is no lack of Saxon burials along the line of the Icknield Way running northeast-southwest from present-day Essex to Hampshire. Local settlements such as Pendley (Penda's Meadow), Dunsley (Dane's Meadow) and Wigginton (Wigga's people's village) are clearly not Celtic in origin, and recent archaeological excavations on Tring Hill have found Saxon settlements and pagan burials. Nevertheless, discussion as to the origin of the name Tring continue: some favour a Saxon "three-wooded place", some allude to a connection with the local Celtic tribe, the Trinovanti (perhaps a Saxon version of this romanisation of their original Celtic name). Whatever the true origin, there's no doubt of the continued occupation of such a strategically important site, sitting astride the junction of the ancient trackway of the Icknield Way and the Roman Akeman Street.

Whether re-conversion after the 'Dark Ages' was necessary,  it may be taken that upon the Norman conquest Tring had a priest, church and belfry, as recorded in the Doomsday Book. How soon a primitive church was destroyed by fire or replaced by stone is uncertain, but stonework of the Norman period (12th century) has been built back into the restored exterior of the church.

Earl Eustace held "Treunge" in the Domesday Book. His daughter Mathilda married King Stephen and in 1151 she gave the Manor, Rectory and Advowson (right to appoint the priest) to the monks of St. Saviour, Faversham, in Kent, who held them until 1340 when they were granted to the Archbishop of Canterbury in exchange for two other advowsons in Kent.

The names of early incumbents (from 1214) are entered on the Clergy roll.

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The Brotherhood

An altar in the south aisle was dedicated to the Brotherhood of the Blessed Trinity of Tring and a ‘piscina’ or basin for washing altar vessels set in the sidewall. Although unclear, it would appear that the Brotherhood were a group of local worthies providing relief for the Church and people. At this altar, masses were said or sung for the souls of the dead by a brotherhood priest. An “image“ of the Blessed Trinity, maybe on this altar, had a light kept burning before it with another before Our Lady of Pity. There were other “lights” in the chancel that needed maintaining, and a rood-light. Between the nave and chancel from the ‘rood-beam’ hung a figure of Our Lord: in the loft behind the figure, lights were kept burning in the panes. The Brotherhood or guild undertook to ‘gild’ these panes; and  members left provision to the “belles of Trynge” or to repair the church (either in money or, for example, a bushel of barley). Good deeds extended to the parish, where the brother wardens at discretion contributed to road repairs and homes for poor widows or persons in need.

Although not connected to the Brotherhood, FOTCH provides modern-day similar assistance to the repairs of the church. Nowadays money is preferred to bushels!

Dissent & upheaval

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries saw a growing dissatisfaction with the spiritual and political leaders of Britain that reached to all levels of society and all parts of the country. From the rebellion by the Lollards (1414), forerunners of the Protestant movement, through the Wars of the Roses (1455 - 1485), which started at the Battle of St Albans (12 miles away), to the Reformation of Henry VIII and the disputed accessions of Queens Mary (1553) and Elizabeth (1558).

In the parish church of Tring, the ‘Lollard’ rector of nearby Drayton Beauchamp appealed for “spiritual correction” in 1415; not many years after, Sir Robert Whittingham, having 'voided' a community of '13 ploughs' at Pendley, dispersed many craftsmen, condemning them to poverty.

The last brotherhood funded priest was Thomas ffrith (from 1538). The rectory & advowson  was briefly held by Sir Richard Lee but granted by Edward VI to his uncle, the colourful Thomas, Lord Seymour (brother of Jane Seymour), fourth husband of Catherine Parr, and erstwhile suitor of Elizabeth I.

In 1545 Tring had one hundred “hostlinge people” (communicants). The ex-brotherhood ‘gatherings’ (contributions) were 'taken' to Thomas Skipwith (a Dacorum tax commissioner), who happened to be living at the Rectory. 

 The church goods had been inventoried by Thomas Blaket in 1553 when there were 5 bells in the steeple (replaced in the 1600s) and a ‘sanctus’ bell; 6 linen altar-cloths; and vestments for a priest of crimson velvet and red satin, and for 3 clergy of blue velvet and blue damask. 

In 1554 the Rectory and Advowson of Tring, which had passed to the Crown on the Dissolution of the Monasteries, were granted by Queen Mary to Christ Church, Oxford. The College provided a Curate to officiate in Tring, which then included Long Marston and Wilstone, until 1883 when the Rectory lands and advowson passed on an exchange to J. G. Williams of Pendley Manor.

The parish registers for baptisms, marriages and burials begin in 1566 (on deposit, at the County record office, Hertford); the vestry accounts (also at Hertford) and minutes date from 1664 & 1682 respectively.

Amphillis Washington, widow of Lawrence, was buried here in 1655; her son, also Lawrence, was baptised here; in 1657 her elder son, John Washington, emigrated to America and it was his grandson, George, who was to lead the Independence of the USA.

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The vestry

“Public vestry” meetings, which parishioners had notice to attend, appointed the churchwardens and the overseers (2 of each) for the year, also the surveyors of the highways and the stone-wardens. The churchwardens’ accounts were vetted: for the bread & wine, and the bell-ringers; for the church servants, the clerk, sexton and beadle; and for cleaning the church and clearing the yard. There were outgoings to consider: a new bell or clock, and chimes; fire-buckets; and fire engine(s), any of which might want repair (like the parish hearse). When the old penny-in-the-pound rate brought in £4 (1705), the constables needed about £20 p.a., which was voted like the other rates by the vestry. The overseers administered the charities, with investment income from bequests; according to the instance, they paid rent/allowances, placed in work, bound boys apprentice, treated the sick poor to a doctor (surgery, bone-setting, physic & midwifery) and the deranged to Bedlam (let alone interring the dead).

 Meanwhile, the church fabric was crying for attention. What is on record earlier as a matter for private donation and later for payment out of the church rates, came to require a combination of resources; Wills show the former, while the vestry minutes list the work of local craftsmen - the mason, the smith, the carpenter, the glazier and the plumber. When the lord of the manor - besides installing the monument to his parents in the chancel, providing plate and box-pews - also provided Italian workmen to paint the pillars blue in imitation marble, the vestry levied a rate to repair the aisles (1715); again, the south aisle (1724-5); then the church and steeple, to rough-cast them (1767). But a survey (1816) revealed “the top part being likely to fall in”, and the work was tendered for by ‘tradesfolk of Tring’.

The poor rate was running at 8p in the £ when the churchwardens' rate was 1.5p (1709). The former Rectory or Parsonage house became a House of Maintenance (1718), to lodge, feed, clothe and maintain any parishioner applying for relief and set to work - the women in the House (pillow-lace & straw-plait) and the men outside it. The work-house master started at £25 p.a., raised to £300 p.a. (1744), and £525 (1774). But “distress among the labouring classes” led to bread-and-bacon doles (1795); 300 loaves at a time were distributed, agreed from a list. By 1815, the care of the poor and the workhouse exceeded £2,000 p.a. A report to the vestry in the late 1820s observes that whereas 180 persons were paying their poor-rates, 2,386 were either on relief or unable to pay. Labourers were now ‘sent the rounds’ or even allotted per landholder, until it was to no avail and in the upper hamlets, farms were abandoned. So the vestry paid passages to America and the Silk Mill provided jobs, while (under the Berkhamsted union) the poor went to Nugent House at Berkhamsted (where the House of correction had been). Eventually, to meet the continual increase in municipal legislation, a Local board was devised (1860) instead of the vestry.

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The churchwardens, joined by the overseers of the poor, bear an increasing burden in respect of the parish rates (to 1868) as between the care of the church and 'community services'. Of these, the constables’ charges were conventional, likewise the service of repairing parish roads & bridges. But above all, the funding of the poor so drained resources in the 1700s that massive restoration of the church was needed in the 1800s.

A new clergy-house behind the church (1825) was given a gateway of the minister, Mr Lacy's, design and at his expense; though the vestry reimbursed him (1836) for whitewashing the interior of the church (covering the earlier imitation marble). Successive ministers (Mr Harvey & Mr Pope) contributed, as did the Reverend Mr Williams who was living at Tring Park (and his son, of Pendley Manor).

Burials were stopped within the church (in the chancel, against the pillars or walls) or beneath it; and the restoration was begun (1861). The preservation of features in the chancel has already been remarked; the process was repeated throughout the church. It was not until after the exterior had been attended to, and a vestry added (1874) that - in restoring the clerestory - the pillars themselves were deemed to need replacement. The re-opening of the church (31 March-l April 1882) - with a new clock, and 2 bells to complete the octave - was duly described in The Tring Telegraph. The Lady Chapel was re-dedicated in1900.

The Williams family held the advowson until 1967 when it was transferred to the Bishop of St. Albans. The parish of Tring was, until 1845, in the Diocese of Lincoln. It was then transferred to Rochester, in which See it remained until the formation of the new Bishopric of St. Albans in 1877. Tring became a Vicarage in 1875.

Quite a story! The church has always played a central role in Tring and continues to be a focus for the town itself. Nowadays, of course, there are different pressures on the town, not the least pressure to develop the town centre economically. Although the mini shopping centre of Dolphin Square was added in the 1960s, development has been at a minimum of disturbance to the fabric of the town centre.

Tring church provides a green heart for Tring, a living part of a constantly changing environment that FOTCH would like to see continue for future generations to enjoy.

There are many tales from Tring's past that involve the church and it's people. Did you know about the 'witches' who sought sanctuary there in 1751, or what happened to Lord Gore's finger? If you know any stories tell them to us and we'll post it on the website. Here's a few!

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The Gore Memorial

…did you know that…

Sir William Gore was probably bald. His wig would have been made of human hair, most likely from a corpse. In 1665, during the Plague, Samuel Pepys was too scared to wear his new wig, because he thought the hair might have come from someone who had died of the disease and, when the fashion for wigs was at its height, there were even rumours that people were murdered especially to get their hair!

Wigs also had to be sent to be cleaned because they got nits, although important people would have more than one wig. Someone like Sir William Gore was officially a ‘big wig’ because he is wearing a large wig made from lots of hair, showing everyone who saw him that he was very wealthy.

For women like Lady Gore, small waists were considered a sign of beauty and the lady of fashion was supposed to be able to span her waist with her hands. Lady Gore probably also has a piece of wood, called a busk, pushed into a pocket at the front of her corset so that her chest looks flat.

The Rood-Loft

If you walk up the side of the church towards the front you will see a small door next to the pulpit (it’s locked!), and then if you look up to the top of the arch, another little door set high up into the wall. There are steps inside the pillar leading from the door at the bottom to the one at the top and several hundred years ago the staircase led to the Rood-loft, which was a sort of platform from which the priest could make important announcements or read from the Bible.

The Rood itself was a large cross which was fixed so everyone in the church could see it – we have a painted version on the wall still. Below the rood-loft was the rood-screen, which divided the most holy bits of the church (the chancel) from the bit where ordinary people were allowed (the nave).

The area of the church around the altar is sometimes called the sanctuary and until 1623 criminals had the right to be protected from arrest for 40 days if they could just get into a church. Furthermore, the people who lived near the church had to provide food for the crooks until the 40 days were over! In 1751 an elderly Tring couple, John and Ruth Osborne, were accused of witchcraft and tried to take sanctuary in the church, but after a mob had taken the Governor prisoner and threatened to burn down the whole town, they were dragged out to be ducked at the pond in Wilstone.

Monkey Business

Stand in the middle of the church and look up. You will see lots of strange looking animals crawling down the wall. These are called corbels and date from the medieval period. Try to spot the monkey which is dressed to look like a medieval priest or monk and is carrying what looks like a bottle. In the 21st century we think of priests as being very holy people, but in the Middle Ages monks were often shown as being fat and greedy (think of Friar Tuck and Robin Hood).

Monks were supposed to give up their money and live a simple life. They could not get married, had to wear simple robes of coarse cloth and spend lots of their time praying. However, when Chaucer wrote ‘The Canterbury Tales’ about a group of pilgrims travelling to Canterbury and the stories they told each other to pass the time, he described his monk as riding a horse, like a wealthy man. Chaucer’s monk also wears a rich robe trimmed with fur and he has a gold pin from his girlfriend! The Tring monkey is probably another example of medieval people making fun of hypocritical monks and priests.

And finally

Going back to the Gore family: in about 1715 William Gore, the son of Sir William ‘Big Wig’ Gore decided to do a ‘Changing Rooms’ makeover on the church and had all of the church pillars painted to look like blue marble by Italian workmen. The pillars were blue for over 100 years until the vicar, Charles Lacey, decided he couldn’t stand the fake marble effect any more and paid somebody to paint them white.

And remember the Tumultuous Tringons, who threatened to burn everything down in 1751: the people of Tring in Charles Lacey’s day also got upset that they had lost their blue pillars. An angry mob gathered outside the church and did not leave until they were told it wouldn’t cost them anything as he was paying, although we presume they actually liked the change when they saw it as there is no record of any further grumbling.

What would you like to see on the website? How do you think of our heritage and the part played by the church - as a building or as the heart of Tring? What would you like FOTCH to be doing for you?

Whatever your thoughts - let us know!

Further reading:

Arthur Mee's Hertfordshire, The King's England Press 1991

That Tring Air, Arthur MacDonald, Antony Rowe Ltd 1992

A History of Tring, Sheila Richards, Tring Urban District Council 1974