EWELME - A ROMANTIC VILLAGE ITS PAST AND PRESENT. ITS PEOPLE AND ITS HISTORY.
FROM THE RESTORATION TO THE PRESENT DAY.
After the connection of Ewelme with the Earls of Berkshire ceased, the history of the village fades into obscurity till comparatively modern times, and we know little or nothing of the succeeding owners of the Manor, or of the Rectors or Masters of the Almshouses until well on into the nineteenth century but we do know that sometime towards the end of the seventeenth or early in the eighteenth century Ewelme Manor was converted into “ poor men's dwellings ”, and the old royal palace became a mere rectangular building with no outside ornament remaining except the two original buttresses at the west end. The front was then plain, dotted with many small windows and various unpretentious doors, opening on to the “ poor men's dwellings ” into which it was now divided. There appears to be some step-gabling visible on the eastern end of the wall, and within the grounds are portrayed what looks like a field with hop-poles (or could it be a vineyard such as were found fairly frequently in earlier centuries in England). 1
The lease of the Manor is at present in the hands of the Ewelme Trustees, and latterly it has fortunately been rented by tenants who value the ancient site and its many historical associations. It is still further reduced in size today.
The Master's rooms in the Almshouses are still intact and contain the de la Pole title-deeds, with their original seals and ribbons showing Henry VI enthroned.
Meanwhile the village industry for which Ewelme was famous developed, namely that of water-cress growing and “ Ewelme cress ” was one of the distinctive cries of Covent Garden Market till comparatively recent times. The water-cress industry 2 is not as flourishing as it was, but you can still see the cress being cultivated in the bed of Ewelme brook as it flows through the village.
Ewelme emerged once more into the limelight on a limited scale at the time of the so-called “ Ewelme Scandal ”; this name was given to the dispute over the appointment of a Rector to Ewelme by Mr Gladstone, which at that time raised quite a “storm in a tea-cup ”. What happened was this: by statute and custom for some centuries the Rector of Ewelme was appointed by the Crown, and had to be a graduate of Oxford University. Now Mr Gladstone had a friend to whom he much wished to give the living, but unfortunately the Rev. William Harvey happened to be a graduate of Cambridge University and not Oxford.... However, to Mr Gladstone's nimble mind, this small difficulty could easily be overcome, and the Rev. William Harvey D.D. was forthwith given an honorary Oxford degree by arrangement and so was installed in the living.
In spite of the devious method of his appointment, Dr Harvey proved to be a zealous and devoted pastor, popular in the parish and a benefactor to the Church, in which he carried out some necessary repairs, and also, some regrettable vandalisms, such as eliminating the old oak seats, and replacing then with pitchpine pews, painted an aggressive yellow. This yellow paint was also applied to the rood-screen, so concealing the original medieval designs in colour on the hand-wrought iron bars and wooden panels.
This yellow paint was only removed during my father Canon C. T. Cruttwell's incumbency, in the year 1907, after Mr Aymer Vallance, the screen expert, had discovered the original designs beneath.
Bishop Hampden, a descendant of the historic Hampden family, was for a time Rector and is commemorated in the north wall of the nave.
My father was offered the Crown living by the then Mr and later Lord Balfour, then Prime Minister, in 1901, and remained at Ewelme until his death to 1911. He was also a Canon Residentiary, Residentiary of Peterborough Cathedral, and as former Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, fulfilled the necessary qualifications of scholarship.
He was succeeded by the Rev. Arthur Dodd, another Oxford scholar and a Biblical critic.
After the Rev. Arthur Dodd, the Rev. A.T. Humphreys, the Rev. K.T. Jenkins, the Rev. Arthur Bolton, and the Rev. K. St Clair Thomas have been successively Rectors of Ewelme. 3
The Masters of the Almshouses, alter the first Master, Sir John Saynesbury (appointed by William and Alice de la Pole) continued to be Clerks in Holy Orders till after the Reformation, when James I began the custom of the Mastership going ex officio to the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford, as I have already mentioned.
In my father's time, Canadian-born Sir William Osler was the Master, and he took his charge seriously. I shall always remember the impression he made on me as a girl of being a " man of power "; his dark searching eyes seemed to penetrate one's inner being. Deceit would be impossible with such a man.
To the old Almsmen he was kindness itself, and he and his American wife, Lady Osler, visited the old men in their homes and entertained them regally once or twice yearly, and altogether concerned themselves with their welfare. The Oslers suffered a cruel blow in the loss of their only child in the First World War, but they lived up to Sir William's chosen motto engraved on the family memorial tablet in Ewelme Church; "AEquanimitas".
During King Edward VII's reign, Ewelme just missed being honoured by another royal visitor, for while staying with the late Sir William Harcourt at Nuneham, the King had planned to visit the Church and Cloisters, and was only prevented from carrying out his intention by a very wet day.
It is of interest, too, to note that Mr Asquith, when Prime Minister, while staying at Ewelme Down, often used to attend the Sunday morning service at Ewelme Church and he would join vigorously in singing any hymn he approved of, especially the “ Old Hundredth ”.
A celebrity living at Ewelme in our day was the late Jerome K. Jerome, the comic author of “ Three Men in a Boat ”. He was a very quiet man in society, but one felt that his little twinkling blue eyes missed nothing, and that he was storing up incidents for his next hook. He kindly gave us tickets for a performance in London of his play “ The Passing of the Third Floor Back ”, written in quite a different and new religious vein, and in his later years he became very serious. He is buried with his wife and his sister and stepdaughter in Ewelme church-yard.
Ewelme village has remained singularly unspoiled and little marred by modern life; one can still picture the model fifteenth century village built by William and Alice de la Pole, when standing in a quiet corner in the church-yard or gazing entranced at the rosy brick quadrangle of the cloisters - still such a peaceful retreat.
The only disturbance reaching Ewelme is the noise of the passing planes from the all-too-near aerodrome at Benson, barely two miles away.
Ewelme has been fortunate in one respect - it has been able, unlike many other villages, to preserve its Common from enclosure; part of it was used as a golf-course in my father's time and the commoners still used their right of cattle-grazing, which now seems to have lapsed. 4 The common was also noted for its rare flowers, including a species of gentian, and the bee-orchid.
But, alas, since the last war, the common has been ploughed up and cultivated, and the springy turf and rare flowers are no more.
1 The old print (probably eighteenth century) from which this description is taken is entitled: “ Ewelme Palace in Oxfordshire ”. It can be seen near the church door.
2 At the present time (1975) the cress beds are well kept and productive.
3 The Rev. Thomas was succeeded by the Rev. E.W.L. May who retired in January 1975.
4 The recreation end of the common is a combined football and cricket ground in an idyllic setting. The remainder is now fenced and let out as grazing, thus providing a useful addition to Parish funds.