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Parish boundaries: St John-the-Baptist Church


St John-the-Baptist was a parish church that doubled up as a chapel for Merton College (with a door on Merton Street that parishioners used for their services, and another inside the college that the undergraduates used for theirs). The seventeenth-century diarist and antiquary Anthony Wood, who had been an undergraduate at Merton College and lived at Postmasters' Hall for most of his life, makes several references to the beating of the bounds by St John the Baptist Church. The first, an altercation between that church and St Peter-in-the-East, shows how seriously the demarcation of parishes was regarded.

Wednesday 24 May 1682:

Notwithstanding our prohibition, the parishioners of S. Peter's in the East came yearely to make their cross in the place before mentioned. At length upon my often sollicitations the fellows of Merton College were resolved to prohibit them again on Holy Thursday, 25 May, 1682. In order to it they desired me to be in the way, and acquainted Dr. Thomas Bouchier the principall of St. Alban's Hall, and Mr. Knight the vice-principall, with the matter. Who forthwith commanded two or three scholars to stand within the public gate and to shut it when any appearance of the procession came.

At ten of the clock in the morning, therefore, Mr. John Conant, Mr. John Edwards (fellows of Merton College), my selfe, Mr. Knight before-mentioned, and Mr. Thomas Cary of St. Marie Hall (formerly of St. Alban's), walked before S. Alban's Hall gate to expect them.

A little after 10 of the clock came Mr. Nathaniel Wright, the vicar [of St Peter-in-the-East], fellow of Mert. Coll; Combes, barber; William Noble, cook, the churchwardens, of whom Trapp a hatter was one; and a rout of boyes, who drew near to St. Alban's hall gate to make their entrance through it into the quadrangle (which was fast shut against them by the scholars before mentioned). Mr. Conant stept out, and in the name of the Society of Merton College prohibited them from going any further, telling them moreover what incommodities they would bring to the College and little or nothing to themselves.

Whereupon Dr. Thomas Bouchier, the king's public professor of law [Regius Professor of Law at Oxford,, 1712–1736], hearing the conference out of his window, came downe and asked the said parishioners severall questions in order to the drawing up of a public instrument, if need should be; and then retired. Afterwards, wee discoursing with them more about the matters wee brought them to say and to promise faithfully for the future that they would make their cross elsewhere; and so departed without touching or seeing their cross. In witness of all these passages I have here set mine hand– Ant. a Wood, historiographer of the University of Oxon.

Monday 5 June 1682 (Whit Monday)

Whit-Monday, June 5, anno 1682, having been appointed and set apart for a procession-day, some of the fellowes and some of the parishioners went on procession to take the limits of the parish of St. John Baptist, viz., in this manner. —

Wee went out of Merton college back gate and so the south-east corner of the city wall which includes the College mount and garden. Returning thence wee went through Corpus Christi College back-gate to the President's lodgings beyond and on the west side of that College. Which lodgings wee leaving on the right hand, wee went towards the house of easment and made a cross under C.C.C. summerhouse and on the wall against it.—

Thence returning wee went by the said lodgings, went out of his dore by Ch. Ch., gate, where wee made a cross.

Thence to Oriel College common gate; where we should have made a + on the south side of it, for the south half or more of Oriel College is in St. John Baptist parish. Thence wee left Oriel College corner on the left and their chappell on the left, and went up Grope Lane where on the wall of Oriel College ball court wee made another cross and then going over the gutter wee made another on the farthest extent northward of the tenement called the Magpie (now the Talbot).—

Thence wee returned and went up that street antiently called Kibald's Street where the Universitie carrier's stables are, and so into the back-side of Mr. Robert à Wood where in the house of easement that stands cross Kybald street we made another + close by that + which the parishioners of St. Marie's make.

Thence going through the house on the north side of the tenis court and through the alley that leads into S. John Baptist street [Merton Street], we went into Logic lane, where in the middle (where an elboe or a turning is) wee made another + upon the farthest extent northwards of a garden ground belonging to Mert. Coll. in the tenure of the said Robert à Wood.—

Thence going to the east end of St. John Baptist street, we made another + upon Merton College garden wall.— Bread and drink to the parish.

This procession was performed by John Conant,, fellow, and John Duncombe, chaplayne, of Mert. Coll., Anthony à Wood, M.A., Robert and Edward à Wood (both, the sons of Robert à Wood), Arthur Fowler (under-cook of Merton College), John Badcock, porter, etc.

It appears that Merton College supplied refreshments to those who beat the bounds of St John-the-Baptist parish, in the same way that right up to the present day Lincoln College provides refreshments to the parish beaters of St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church, and All Souls College to those of St Mary-the-Virgin Church.

Thursday 17 May 1683

17 May, Holy Thursday, 1683, wee went in procession againe; and Mr Knight, vice-principal of St Alban's hall, shut the hall gate against the parishioners of S. Peter in the East. Bread and drink.

Stephanie Jenkins