Since July I have been busy cataloguing and rehousing the Choir Collection. It contains documents relating to the Choristers and the Vicars Choral, these being the two groups of musicians which formed the Choir.
The Vicars Choral were the adult members of the Choir. As part of their income, the corporate body of the Vicars Choral acquired and maintained lands, and there are a large number of leases, surveys, and other related material surviving in the Archive.
I recently came across some papers relating to a house let by the Vicars Choral. As they were labelled ‘miscellaneous papers re leases,’ I didn’t expect to find anything particularly out of the ordinary, but they turned out to be a lot more interesting than their title gave them credit for.
In early 1673 the Vicars Choral decided to lease part of a property occupied by George Lowe, who was a lay vicar at Salisbury Cathedral (lay vicars were employed to assist the Vicars Choral), to Mrs Dulcebella Paine. According to an account by a Sergeant Maynard, Dulcebella and her husband had previously lived in the house and had erected another building next to it. When her husband died, Dulcebella went to the Vicars Choral to ask that in consideration of great expenditure on the property they might grant a new lease for 40 years. However, the Bishop and Dean and Chapter ordained that the new part could be only leased for 14 years, after which it must return to being a lay vicar’s house.
The Vicars Choral decided to ignore this and granted a new lease to Dulcebella for 40 years. George Lowe was, perhaps understandably, not very happy about the state of affairs, and applied to the Dean and Chapter for redress of the ‘injury’ caused to him by the behaviour of the Vicars Choral. The Vicars Choral denied any wrongdoing and felt that it would be a 'a greate Blott and Scandall upon their reputations’ to cancel the lease (the image at the top of this page is their statement to the Dean and Chapter). The Dean and Chapter summoned the Vicars Choral to a hearing and ordered them to rescind the lease. At first the Vicars refused, but after several more meetings they agreed to return the money they had received from the lease if Dulcebella would return it. Dulcebella initially refused to surrender her lease, but was later persuaded by the Bishop and Dean.
As demonstrated in the records, the upshot of all this was that the Vicars Choral were in future to be more closely monitored by the Dean and Chapter. A document dated June 1673 from Seth Bishop of Sarum and the Dean and Chapter states (transcribed in modern spelling with expanded abbreviations):
'We have found by late experience that the vicars of this Church by a pretended power given to them by their Charter, have leased out several parcels of their estate; upon such term as have not only been injurious to some of their own brethren, but are of great reproach to the Church, and may be of much great prejudice and disadvantage to their successors. And besides this also, how contrary to the Laws of this Land, and the laudable Customs of this Church, demised several of their options within the Close for 40 years, and one, in particular, against the express prohibition of the Dean and Chapter...'
It goes on to say that the Bishop and Dean and Chapter reflected upon 'these miscarriages' and decided that the Vicars Choral would no longer be given the right to grant new leases or renew existing ones without the knowledge of the Dean and Chapter, and every lease was to be pre-approved and sealed in the presence of a canon.
Unfortunately I haven’t yet found out what became of Dulcebella!