The one detail about Tickenham church which was impressed upon us as schoolchildren as being Very Important, and which we were taken in a party to examine, was the “Norman arch”. The chancel is considered to be the oldest part of the existing building and the arch leading from the nave into the chancel is dated to around the year 1100 AD; which, it will not pass unremarked, was not very long after the Conquest of 1066.
At the time of the Conquest, Tickenham consisted of two separate manors. The Domesday Book records that in 1066 the lords of the larger manor (the land around Tickenham Court) were Saewulf and Theodulf. More precisely, they had been lords Tempore Regis Edwardi – in the time of Edward the Confessor. For the Normans, Edward was the last English king, Harold having been no more than an opportunist usurper, and so expunged from the records. By 1086, William, Count of Eu, is tenant-in-chief, that is, he held the manor directly from King William I.
So what is known about William II of Eu? He held about 78 manors in 1086, mainly scattered around Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset as well as a number in what is now Hertfordshire. His personal association with Tickenham was therefore unlikely to have been a close one. King William I died in 1087 to be succeeded by his son, William II, Rufus. The following year, Count William of Eu was one of a group of rebels plotting against the new king and later, in 1097, he was again part of a conspiracy, this time to murder the king and set his cousin, Stephen, Count of Aumale, on the throne.
It failed. The Normans had particularly harsh judicial punishments, and when William of Eu was defeated in a trial by combat for treason, he was sentenced to blinding and castration. One might presume that in those circumstances the tenant-in-chief and lord of the manor of Tickenham was rather too occupied to be closely involved with the building of a new church at around the turn of that century – or anything else relating to a scattered West Country village, other than receiving revenues.
The following details are mainly from Collections for a Parochial History of Tickenham, by a former rector of the parish, Joseph Byrchmore. This was published in 1895, with a note from the author that begs indulgence for ‘this, his first attempt at making collections for a Parochial History’. The text is not always very explicit and not all details have references:
In the intervening 20 years from 1066, when the manor was held by Saewulf and Teodulf, and 1086 when William of Eu was tenant-in chief, it appears that it passed to a thane or ‘teignus regis Edwardi’ called ‘Alestan, sometimes called Boscumbe’. There are 51 places in Domesday associated with this name (‘Alstan of Boscombe’), none closer to Tickenham than Frampton Cotterell and Hinton Blewett and it isn’t at all clear in what circumstances Alestan held the manor of Tickenham. It must have been for a very brief period since he was ‘supplanted’ by Ralph de Limesi senior, the first Norman occupant. Perhaps the distinction is between the tenant-in-chief, the lord, or a mere occupant. It is not made clear what ‘being in possession’ actually means in this context.
And Ralph de Limesi? In Domesday, the name is associated with 44 places in 1086, seven in Somerset as tenant-in-chief, nine as lord, but none of those north of the river Parrett. William of Eu was his heir, so Ralph had in any case relinquished the manor by 1086, when William is recorded as tenant-in-chief. Byrchmore gives no evidence for this and of the father and son both bearing the name of Ralph de Limesi, the senior died after 1093. Not only was William of Eu already in possession of the manor of Tickenham before Ralph senior died, but Ralph II (died c. 1129) seems a more obvious candidate to be his ‘heir’. So far, the Revd Byrchmore’s information seems at best unsubstantiated. It’s not apparent how Ralph’s name, senior or junior, came to be associated with Tickenham. But all this gets mixed up with modern family history where over-eager claims often cloud the truth.
Up to this point, there is no period that fixes the attention as being one of stability for the manor, when church-building might have begun. But what sort of people took the initiative to start building a church in a particular locality? And when did Tickenham gain the importance to have its own church?