Building ‘West Country’ Wadham

13th January 2014

News, Student news, Alumni news

Historian Peter Hill investigates the Somerset stone masons responsible for the construction of Wadham College in 1610.

  • Wadham Image - img_3672_0

    Wadham College, 1675

  • Mason's marks

    Four stonemason's marks found at Wadham; located at the rear of the chapel, in the kitchen, on a column at the back of the chapel, and on the south side of the South range.

  • Wadham Image - img_3571_0

The story of Wadham College’s Foundation, and the remarkable woman who got it built, has been well described by Cliff Davies and Nancy Briggs. But it’s the men who built it that interest Peter Hill. It was from the first, as Nancy Briggs says, a ‘West Country College.’  It was Somerset money, a Somerset architect, a Somerset septuagenarian, and Somerset workers who ensured its construction. Not surprising then, that three of the first Fellows were from Somerset, and of the scholars, two were from Devon, five from Somerset and three from Dorset.

The crucial link was the friendship between the Wadhams at Ilton and the Phelippses at Montacute, near Yeovil. The Wadham family coat of arms is in the window of Montacute’s library. Sir Edward Phelipps, who became Speaker of the Commons, and was later retained by Dorothy Wadham as her counsel in the legal disputes after the death of her husband, was a rich lawyer who had employed a little-known local architect, William Arnold, to build him a magnificent ‘E’ shaped mansion to live in. Arnold, whose alternative surname was Goverson, was from the small village of Charlton Musgrove, near Wincanton, and appears to be a member of a considerable clan of stonecarvers and masons. He is recorded several times in parish records there as churchwarden, and married twice and had several children. His father may have worked on the restoration of Longleat. He certainly had a wonderful familiarity with Flemish pattern books, which came out in many of his designs or ‘plots’ for his  other clients.

The men who built Wadham

When Dorothy Wadham asked Sir Edward about building a college, he recommended Arnold, and another friend from Low Ham near Somerton, Sir Edward Hext, sang his praises. So Arnold got the job, and in the spring of 1610 he brought his travelling stonemasons to Oxford.

They walked all the way. 27 men in all were paid for their three-day journey (they mostly lived near the Ham stone quarries on Ham Hill, owned by Sir Edward Phelipps); at least 18 of them were masons or ‘layers’. We know this from the neat and well-preserved account books kept by Dorothy’s factotum, John Arnold, who reported regularly to her, as she resided by the sea in her widowhood at Edge Barton in Branscombe, Dorset.

William Arnold appears at the head of each monthly account, being paid one pound; this was later reduced to 10/-, and ended in June 1612. Among the masons named as receiving payment were Edmund and Thomas Arnold, probably close relatives of William, and it is worth recording the names of those who were paid as masons, mostly 8/- for a 6-day week: Gyles Taverner, Henry Baker, John Burges, Peter Balche, Guy Taverner, John Rapson, Richard Pitman, Hugh ffrench, Richard Leg, Richard Cornish, Henry Smedsmore, Edward Taverner, Robert Palmer and Hugh Hawkins. The number of masons declined as the building progressed: two further men named as ‘layers’ were John Loddon and Walter Payne. Many of these men and their families I have traced in the Somerset Parish Records.

Where the stonemasons came from

Most of Wadham’s stonemasons came from Stoke-sub-Hamdon, where the Ham stone quarries were, and still are, or from the surrounding parishes.

The records show that Giles Taverner (b.1575) was the eldest of three brothers, the other two being Guy (b.1581) and Edward (b.1584). They were the sons of Edward and Agnes (née Maunsell) Taverner. Edward* (jnr) married Agnes Thorne in 1605.

Henry Baker came from the same parish, and married Johanne Taverner from the fellow-stonemason family in 1605. There are Rapsons, Palmers and Balches to be found living at this period in Stoke, but a marriage between Peter Balche and Frances Ardin of West Chinnock is recorded in neighbouring Chiselborough in 1608. In this parish are to be found many families with the names Balche, ffrench, and Burges(s), with some called Hawkins and Templeman.
In the baptismal records for Chiselborough we find Hugh Ffrench, son of Hugh, bapt. 1562.  John Burges, son of Edward and Marie, was baptised in 1564. He later married Marjorie Hutchines in 1610.  Another Chiselborough baptism was that of John Templeman, son of Peter and Edith, in 1584.

Of the other names listed in the Wadham account books, there is a Richard Cornish who married Mary Collins at Crewkerne in 1577, and another (or perhaps the same man?) who married Alice Ansell at Bruton in 1585.

A Richard Pitman, son of Thomas, was christened at North Cadbury on 12 Mar 1578; (another Richard Pitman, son of John Pitman, was christened on 15 Jan 1581, also at North Cadbury, but was buried four days later). So the Richard Pitman who married at North Cadbury in Sept. 1599 was probably the son of Thomas, and was 32 when Wadham College was being built. So it is likely he is the mason in the list.

Charlton Musgrove

William Arnold himself is something of a mystery. He is believed (according to the Dictionary of Architects) to be the son of one Arnold Goverson, who worked on the rebuilding of Longleat House, and in the records at Charlton Musgrove the surname Goverson alternates often with Arnold. He was probably born about 1560, and he definitely died and was buried in his home village near Wincanton in 1637. He had two wives, fathering one Jator(?) in 1595, and later Josias (1623) and Anne (1634) by his second wife Johon. His brother Godfrey was a sculptor in stone, who married Margaret Hemyard in Oct. 1582, and is responsible for the painted statue of Edward VI in Sherborne School.  Godfrey had at least four children, including Edward and Richard; and a John Goverson, who married three times between Nov. 1580 and Dec. 1600, may be a brother of William.  By his various wives John had at least seven children, including Edmund, William and Richard.  Edmund, born in June 1594, is referred to in the Wadham account books together with Thomas Arnold.

William Arnold’s travelling stonemasons

William Arnold, or Goverson, was head of an itinerant band of professional Somerset stonemasons who worked on many houses, of which Montacute and Wadham College are the most outstanding.

Most of the men came from families who lived close to the Ham stone quarries at Stoke-sub-Hamdon.  All those whose births or marriages have been traced would have been of working age in the early 1600s  to carry out what was hard physical work; and though they came from a fairly limited area of South Somerset, it is not possible to tie their names in with the discovered stone marks. William Arnold was clearly an outstanding master-mason and designer, well-travelled, familiar with Flemish pattern books, and at ease with some of the most influential men and women in the land, such as Sir Edward Phelips, Dorothy Wadham and the Earl of Salisbury. He had his favourite masons, and the evidence of the marks shows that many of them travelled with him to execute commissions.

Peter Hill has found over 210 masons’ marks at Montacute, and found matching marks at Wayford Manor and at Cranborne Manor where Arnold worked for the Earl of Salisbury. Although they cannot be matched to names, the marks indicate that Arnold had some favourite masons who travelled around with him. It is a pity that there are no matching marks visible either at Wadham College or Dunster Castle, partly due to Victorian alterations and the placing of woodwork over the stone window surrounds. Peter discovered only four marks at Wadham; located at the rear of the chapel, in the kitchen, on a column at the back of the chapel, and on the south side of the South range.
So at Montacute we have the masons’ marks and at Wadham we have the masons’ names; but because of the lack of contemporary registers, it is impossible to match them up. But it is a reasonable assumption that some of the masons named at Wadham had worked elsewhere for Arnold, possibly at Montacute, Wayford Manor and Cranborne. And one might even speculate that some of the many Montacute marks belong to some of the Wadham masons.

Part of this article by Peter Hill appeared originally in the Wadham Gazette 2013.

* A correspondent, Penny Gay, has pointed out that one of the three Taverner brothers, Edward Taverner, (who was married to Agnes Thorne) is recorded as having died in 1608,  and on the baptismal record of their son, also called Edward, (who was born three months after his father was buried), Agnes is recorded as a widow. So this Edward could not have gone as a mason with his brothers to Wadham in 1610. He is described at burial as ‘Edward Taverner the Younger’, implying there was in the village of Stoke-sub-Hamdon still living an Edward Taverner the Elder. And Edward was the name of his father, so it must be him. This Edward would have been born, before parish records begin, in the mid-1550s (his eldest child was born in 1573), so in 1610 he would have been around 55 years old.

Curiously, Edward Taverner is not on the list of those masons paid to travel to Oxford, dated 9th April 1610.

But in the record of payments to masons for May 28th to June 2nd it states “paid Edward for four days, five shillings and fourpence”. There is no surname.  But none of the other masons was called Edward. So we must assume that this Edward was Edward Taverner Senior, the father of the Edward Taverner who died in 1608, and that he had joined his sons Guy and Giles to work on the construction of Wadham College in Oxford.

About Peter Hill

Peter Hill is a volunteer steward at Montacute House who has made a study of the marks there, and at related buildings where the architect William Arnold is believed to have worked. Peter , who studied classics at Cambridge and became a Russian interpreter in the Royal Navy, was a political correspondent at Westminster for BBC radio and TV News, a commentator and presenter of programmes such as "Yesterday in Parliament". He is now a writer and lecturer.

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