The existence over several hundred years of the Inn’s Chaplains, known as the Chapel Readers after the Reformation, has been rather overlooked, in contrast to the attention given to the Preachers.
Douthwaite did not record the Chapel Readers after the office of Preacher was established. Cowper noted their existence until the end of the post in 1928, but gave no list. Although Fletcher, himself one of the last of the Chapel Readers, duly noted the sparse references to them in his edition of the Pension orders up to 1800, he too did not compile a list as he did for the Preachers.
In fact the names of most of them, from 1569 to 1928, are recorded in the surviving records of Pension. The Preachers were appointed to deliver showpiece sermons precisely because they were high-profile, but the Chapel Readers were lower down the social scale and as ordinary clergy are correspondingly more difficult to track outside the Inn. Nevertheless some information can be discovered, and further research would uncover more.
- View list of the names of Chapel Readers, Afternoon Preachers and Assistant Clergymen from 1569 (PDF)
Middle Ages to the Restoration
Summary of the Gray’s Inn Chaplain assault case 1400 (Vulgate Year Books)
In 1315 John de Grey made a gift of property to St Bartholomew’s Priory in Smithfield in exchange for the provision of a Chaplain to say mass daily in the chapel of his manor of Portpoole for his soul, those of his ancestors and all the faithful departed. The Chaplain and chapel remained after the change of use of the manor house to an inn of court, although at some point the priory stopped providing a Chaplain itself and instead paid the Inn £7/13/4d per annum to fund one. The priory was dissolved in 1539, but the Crown, which took over its revenues, continued the annual payment for the Chaplain of Gray’s Inn, although the Inn also levied a charge on the membership towards the cost of both the Chapel Reader (“Reader of Prayer and Divine Service in the Chappell”) and the Preacher. The payment from the Crown ceased in 1651 under the Commonwealth, and the Inn had from then on to bear the whole cost.
This was thus a far older post than that of the Preachers, the first of whom, William Cherke, was appointed in 1574/75, at about the same time as the first Preachers of the other Inns.
No names of the pre-Reformation Chaplains have been discovered (not even of the one involved in a case of assault in 1400), except for Sir John Westley, “Prist of Gray’s In”, named in Foster’s “Pension Book of Gray’s Inn”, vol. 1, page xxi, as a benefactor of St Andrew’s, Holborn, of the mid-15th century. (“Sir” was the usual courtesy title for a priest at this period and for another century or so). The next to be named was Jeffrey Evans, “the old preist” (referred to, similarly to Westley, as Sir Jeffrey Evans), who was already in post by 1569 when he was first mentioned by name, Both Douthwaite and Fletcher speculated that he may have been there from before the Reformation, but there is no proof of that one way or the other. (If so, he had adapted well to the reformed church, as he left a son). He was awarded a pension in 1574, when Mr Paul Bushe, “the newe Minister”, was appointed, and died in 1583 or 1584.
Bushe died in 1603, and was replaced by Henry Bradley, concerning whom it was noted at Pension in 1619: “Mr Bradley the Reador in Chappell to reade prayers on the Sabbath Day at nine in the forenone and foure in the afternone before the sermons (or to show reason why he should not be displaced)”. Since he remained in post until 1623 he apparently performed from then on as expected.
On 1 Nov 1623 Isaac Renoulds or Reynolds was appointed, who remained in post until his death in 1670. Fletcher commented that in the light of the huge changes in the religious landscape of the country during this long period it was noteworthy that no sermon of Renoulds has survived, nor any indication of any kind of what his precise religious views were, nor of how he adapted to the extreme religious changes of the time; and this reticence may have accounted for his long tenure.
An obscure period of over thirty years followed the death of Renoulds. In May 1670 Lionel Gatford was appointed Chapel Reader, but is heard of no more. External sources show that he had accepted the living of Laceby in Lincolnshire instead, clearly a better option. It is recorded in June 1670 that a Mr Colborne was to be paid £12 for reading in Chapel, which sounds like an arrangement for temporary cover. The next reference to the Chapel Reader is in November 1672, when it was ordered that “Mr Spranger to have the Reader’s pension until Michaelmas last; Mr Spranger to have the roll for this term and be continued the Chappell Reader upon the ancient pension and roll he refusing to preach in the afternoons for £20 p a.”. Apparently the Preacher was only delivering the morning sermons and leaving the less prestigious evening sermons, on top of all other duties, to the Chapel Reader. It is further recorded on 30 April 1673 that the allowances to the Preacher and the Reader were to continue, and that “Dr Cradocke the Preacher [is] to provide a Reader who shall preach on Sunday afternoons”, although it is unclear whether this ever happened, or whether the Chapel Reader ended up preaching the afternoon sermons after all.
In May 1683 the place of Mr Spranger, deceased, whose forename is never given, was taken by John Wogan, to whom there is no further reference, nor any note of a further appointment to replace him. There is however an entry in the Admissions Register that on 6 Feb 1701 Maurice Colbron, “third son of John Colbron the Chaplain” was admitted to the Inn“without fine”. Mr Colbron left his post abruptly in May the following year, giving a single day’s notice. The Chapel registers survive from 1695 onwards, and are in the same handwriting from the beginning until May 1702, and it seems plausible that this is Colbron’s handwriting, even though there is no record of his appointment as Chapel Reader. It also seems quite possible that this is the same clergyman as the Mr Colborne who was recorded in 1670, and that during at least some if not all of the interim period, whoever the nominal Reader (particularly from 1683, if Wogan were an absentee) Colborne/Colbron was carrying out the duties. Further research may yet throw more light on him.
(It may also be worth mentioning that the Preacher at this time, Dr Robert Moss, was notorious for amassing offices, and for years paid another cleric to preach at Gray’s Inn in his place. Wogan may possibly have been doing something similar, at a humbler level).
Order restored: Buddle, Jones, Davenport
On 12 June 1702 Adam Buddle, also Rector of North Fambridge in Essex, was appointed to the vacancy, bringing to an end the period of obscurity. Buddle has a distinction entirely unconnected with Gray’s Inn: he was a famed botanist, and Linnaeus named the buddleia after him.
After his death in 1715 Anthony Jones filled the post, to be followed in February 1722 by the Revd Mr William Davenport. The Pension minutes note tartly on 6 Feb 1724 that Nathaniel Booth was authorised to “inform Mr Davenport that he was Reader of the Society.” He seems to have remembered it long enough to be given the additional post of library keeper on 10 February 1725. In March 1729 the pluralist Preacher, Robert Moss, died, and when considering his replacement Pension took the opportunity to address other issues as well. On 13 May 1729 the Revd Dr William Norton was appointed Morning Preacher; the Revd Mr Edmund Banyer or Bannyer was appointed Afternoon Preacher, or Lecturer; while Mr Davenport was summoned to attend the following Pension meeting regarding neglect of service in both Chapel and library. On 14 June 1729 it was clear that Davenport had failed to convince: the post of Chapel Reader was given to the Revd Mr William Noble, and that of library keeper to William Holmes.
Noble: posts united
Bannyer, who was also Rector of Royston in Hertfordshire, remained as Afternoon Preacher for some twenty years, but on 9 May 1749 the entry occurs that “Mr Adams is to acquaint Dr Bannyer that the answer he has given to the Bench is not satisfactory and the Bench desire the sd Dr to give a more explicit answer by the first day of next term as to his attendance for the future.” This was clearly not satisfactory either, for the next Pension notes the resignation of Bannyer and the amalgamation of his duties with those of the Chapel Reader in the person of William Noble, who until his death in December 1764 was both Reader and Afternoon Preacher.
Garden and Chatfield
The post of Chapel Reader was then given to the Revd Mr Edmund Garden on 18 Feb 1765, but in a retrograde step that of Afternoon Preacher was again separated, to be held by the Revd Mr George Chatfield (nephew of George Sturt, Bencher, as the minutes take pains to mention). Garden’s salary was £70 per annum, Chatfield’s £50, which given the likely difference in the amount of work involved seems disproportionate. Garden’s views are not recorded. He accepted however the living of Kington St Michael in Wiltshire in 1779, which he held for the rest of his life but seems to have run as an absentee for the whole of that time through a succession of curates.
Chatfield continued as Afternoon Preacher until 1802. In 1803 the duties – and salary – were at last reunited once more with those of the Chapel Reader. In June 1814 Garden petitioned the Inn to appoint a substitute (while keeping him on full pay) in the light of his age and long service, which in November Pension agreed to do. Garden’s death was reported in June 1824, when the Revd Edward Chaplin, previously the librarian, was appointed to the post on a salary of £150 per annum.
In November 1849 the Preacher, the Revd George Shepherd, died, and a deputation of three barristers petitioned Pension to make Chaplin up to the Preachership. Pension did not agree: on 23 Jan 1850 it noted its thanks to Chaplin for filling in as Preacher (until the appointment of the Ven Augustus Hessey) and its gift to him of 40 guineas for doing so. Chaplin shortly afterwards negotiated his retirement on full pay and commons, to which Pension agreed on 23 June 1850, together with the appointment of an Assistant Clergyman to take over his duties for £25 a quarter.
Assistant Clergymen: Greene and Watson; Hart
The first Assistant Clergyman was the Revd Thomas Huntley Greene of Balliol, who after 6 years took up the offer of a living elsewhere, and was replaced by the appointment on 30 April 1856 of the Revd William Grey Watson of Caius College, previously Vice-Principal and Chaplain of Putney College (for civil engineers). On 17 Nov 1858 the death of Garden was reported, and Watson was made full Afternoon Preacher and Chapel Reader. He proceeded energetically, introducing to the Chapel a choir and an organist (there had been an organ since 1831). On 17 Nov 1860 however Pension recorded his death on 31 August of that year while in the Tyrol; Venn’s “Alumni Cantabrigienses” adds that he died as the result of a fall on the Windacher Glacier in the Ötzthal, aged 39.
Only a week later, on 14 Nov, his successor was appointed, the Revd William Henry Hart, Demy of Magdalen College, Oxford, on a salary of £37/10/- a quarter. Most unfortunately, on 6 Nov 1861 his death too, at the age of 31, was reported to Pension.
Last Readers: Taylor, S Phillips, Fletcher, WIlliams; J L Phillips
The rest of the 19th century was covered by three Readers. The Revd Alexander Taylor, Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford, was appointed on 20 Nov 1861. He died on Good Friday 1884, and was succeeded by the Revd Stephen Phillips, late Precentor of Peterborough Cathedral, who was replaced in 1894 by the Revd Reginald James Fletcher, appointed 19 July.
On 9 Aug 1904 Pension accepted the resignation of the Revd Charles James Thompson as Preacher and on 17 Nov promoted Fletcher to the post. On 7 March 1905 the Revd Maurice Henry Llewellyn Williams was appointed to the vacant post of Reader, which he held until 17 May 1911, when he tendered his resignation in order to take up a living in Wales. He was replaced on 22 Nov 1911 by the Revd John Leoline Phillips, Classical Master and Chaplain of St Paul’s School.
On 25 July 1919 Fletcher resigned as Preacher, in order to accept a canonry in Bristol. It was noted in a special committee report that the Preachership should be kept vacant for the time being, as the expenses of the Chapel were unacceptably high and the duties were not, in the Committee’s opinion, enough to warrant two posts. Phillips the Reader was prepared to take on the necessary additional duties on his existing salary of £150 a year, and as a concession Pension assured him that he need not consider it an obligation always to dine in Hall. Phillips resigned on 30 Oct 1920, with effect from 20 Dec 1920, and the Inn found it necessary once more to re-think the Chapel duties.
The conclusion was that only one post was necessary, as all that was required was a clergyman to conduct the “simple services” and preach “not more than 30 sermons per annum”, with attendance in Hall compulsory only on Grand Nights. The salary was to be £200 per annum, and the title of the new amalgamated post was to be “Chaplain”, as that of “Reader” was historically linked to the junior clergy post attached to the Chapel. The man appointed, on 24 Nov 1920, was the Revd Dr Walter Robert Matthews, Professor of the Philosophy of Religion and Dean of King’s College. On 21 Feb 1923 it was announced to Pension that he had been appointed Chaplain to the King. In 1926 he was appointed Special Preacher for the Hilary Term and his stipend was raised from £200 per annum to 300 guineas (with the comment that that was what the Inn had spent on the pre-war Preacher, besides another 100 guineas per annnum paid to the Reader). No reason was recorded for this decision of Pension, which coincided with the election of HRH the Duke of Connaught as a Royal Bencher: the supporting report was given to Pension in verbal form only.
Preacher: new style
Finally, on 20 June 1928 it was ordered that Dr Matthews should be appointed Preacher, with the duties as worked out for the Chaplain’s post, and given dining rights at the Bench Table as if he were an Honorary Bencher.