THE HISTORY OF ST . MARY THE VIRGIN CHURCH,
EVERTON CUM TETWORTH
When the people of Everton first had a church is unknown. Maybe the owners of the six prehistoric hut circles by the springs close to the top of the Greensand Ridge had a place of worship. Maybe the residents of the Neolithic settlement by Burford Farm on Everton Heath went to some religious services in the area. Maybe it was on the top of the unusually symmetrical Warden Hill. There was a large Roman settlement on the ridge top between here and Sandy but, without excavation, it is impossible to say whether it had a temple. Similarly, it is unknown whether the settlement remained occupied after the Romans left.
St. Augustine of Canterbury brought Christianity to the British Isles by 597 but no documentation of the first Christian monks coming to this area of Bedfordshire has been found. During what are called the Dark Ages, waves of immigrants from Saxony and Jutland crossed the North Sea and sailed up the rivers in their search for loot and potential sites for agricultural development. When the Saxon Kings eventually took control of Southern and Eastern England it was common practice for the bishops to divide the diocese, the area they had authority over, into parishes of equal wealth. In areas of high land, they tended to be laid out in a rectangular pattern to include the hilltop, slopes and valley floor. This ensured the parishioners had access to a range of different soils and land uses.
Eastern Bedfordshire is dominated by low, wet, undulating clay land of the great Ouse and its tributary, the Ivel. Rising 200 feet (66 m.) above the clay is the Greensand Ridge which runs south-west to north-east. Most of the low land down to the River Ivel would still have been wooded. Occasional clearings near a stream or the river would have been made for homesteads and enclosures. The west facing sandy slopes had springs and pasture for grazing cattle, sheep and for catching rabbits. Pigs were kept, allowed to grub around in woods or penned in enclosures. The flatter land on the ridge top had well-drained, lighter sands and glacial gravels best suited to cereals and vegetables. The Saxon landlord allowed his peasant tenants to farm these lands in return for a proportion of their produce, occasional work and the duty of fighting for him in times of war. It was also the custom for the parishioners to give tithes, ten percent of their produce, to the church. This was sold and the proceeds divided between the Catholic Church in Rome, the Bishop, the poor and the parish priest. The remainder for most villagers would have been just enough to live on. Any surplus could be sold in the nearby market towns.
In this area the parishes were nearly two miles (3.2 km.) long and about a mile (1.6 km.) wide. When the parish boundary was set out, large stones were placed to mark the bounds. The Saxon bishop would have ordered that a simple wooden church be built. The foundations and lower wall would have been made with local Greensand, probably cut out of the hillside in Sandy. The rest would have been made with local timber. The Saxon church was built on the same site as St. Mary's. Maybe it was called St. Mary's even then? One can still see some of the Saxon stone work in the chancel. In the east wall, large, irregularly bonded stones can be seen which are thought to predate the Norman Conquest. (Victoria County History (VCH) (1972), 'Bedfordshire.' vol.ii, p.228) The site of the church is on the top of the sandy ridge with commanding views across the surrounding countryside. Anyone coming to the village from St. Neots to the north, the Royston Downs and Potton to the east, Biggleswade to the south or from Sandy and Bedford to the west would have had the wooden church tower to guide them. High above the trees it dominated the surrounding countryside.
Whether the Danes destroyed the village and the Saxon church when they took control of the Ivel and Ouse valleys at the end of the first millennia is not known. The war between Danes and Saxons in 1010 left many settlements burnt. They had a large military enclosure at Cannock's Castle, in Tempsford from which an ancient track led across through the woods up Church Hill to Everton. With a reputation for rape and pillage maybe they visited the village? Maybe they burnt down the church? Their stay was short-lived. The castle stronghold was taken over by the Norman invaders after 1066 who subsequently occupied it themselves. Whether the local Saxon landowners, Tosti and Ingewar, called the men of Everton to defend the village from the French invaders is unknown. The Domesday Book of 1086 refers to the Saxon church. It was written two decades after the Norman invasion to ensure that the new king William and his French Lords knew exactly who owned what land in the areas under their control. Commissioners were required to find how many hides there were in each manor. (A hide is an area of land that produced enough for one household.) They wanted to find out how many ploughs there were in each demesne, the land owned by the lord of the manor. They wanted to know how many cottars there were, (occupants of a cot or cottage who were liable to work for their rent) and how many boardars, serving men and free-tenants there were. They were also interested in how much wood, meadow and pasture there was as well as the number of mills and fishponds. It was a very comprehensive coverage of the country for tax purposes. The Saxon Chronicler of the time reported that "there was not a single hide, not one virgate (30 acres) of land, an ox, nor a cow, nor a swine, left that was not set down."
As the parish lay in both Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire there were two separate accounts in the Domesday Book. Both gave different spellings. The southern part of the parish, which was in Bedfordshire, was called "Euretone". The northern part, which was in Huntingdonshire, was called "Evretune". The boundary line between the two parishes was marked with a stone which, until St Mary's Walk was constructed in the 1990s, stood in the farm wall opposite the Village Hall. It ran to the south of Church End and then westwards down the hill towards Tempsford. This track is called Green Lane and an indication of its age is that it includes eight species of trees and shrubs including oak, crab apple, maple and dogwood. Eastwards it ran across Everton Heath towards Gamlingay.
There are many Evertons across Britain. It is accepted that the name derives from the Old English "eofor-tun", meaning "boar-farm". The church end of the village used to be known as "Oog Turd End" as every house had a pigsty and the people kept one or more pigs. Even in the Domesday Book, Everton is mentioned as a good place for hunting wild boar. "Oog" is the old Saxon word for "Hog". Tetworth, the settlement to the north, derives from the Old English "Tettan-wor", meaning "Tetta's enclosure or farm". (Godber, J. (1984), 'The History of Bedfordshire' p.3) Tetta probably lived in Tetworth Manor.
Prior to the Norman invasion the Bedfordshire part of the parish was part of Potton Manor. It belonged to Tosti, one of the Saxon earls. William the Conqueror "relieved" Tosti of it and gave it to his niece, Countess Judith. She was the widow of Earl Waltheof. According to the Domesday Book it was only a small settlement consisting of five hides.
"There is land for 5 ploughs. There are 2 ploughs and there could be 3 (more). There are 4 villeins and 5 boarders and measure (sufficient) for 1 plough team. It is worth 3 pounds; (was worth) when received 10,000 shillings, and as much TRE. This manor Earl Tosti Held, and it belonged to (jacunt in) Potone (Potton), the sum (proprio/demesne) manor of the countess."
(VCH 'Beds.' vol. ii, p.228)
This settlement was too small for a church. The northern part of the parish, which fell in Huntingdonshire, was slightly larger and more valuable. It was stated that it previously belonged to Ingewar and covered an area of
“7 hides (assessed) to the geld. (There is) land for 18 ploughs. There are now 2 ploughs on the demesne, and 19 villeins and 2 boardars who have 9 ploughs. There are a priest and a church and 15 acres of meadow, and 40 acres of under wood (silvae min). In King Edward's time it was worth 10 pounds now 7 pounds. Rannulf, brother of Ilger holds it of the king."
(VCH, (1926), 'Hunts.' vol.i.pp.210, 214, 259b, 266a)
Rannulf probably lived in a manor house in the village. Whether it was Ingewar’s or not is unknown. As they were two small agricultural settlements the new French bishop would have considered it best to have one church to serve the needs of the local population. It would have been at a central point in the parish on high land where all the parishioners could see it. In fact, it lay within only a few metres of the parish boundary.
The earliest settlers built their huts close to the spring line for their water supply and by the intersection of the trackways for trade. The old Roman Road ran along the valley floor but, being a wooded area, it is probable that it would not have been as safe as the more open tracks that ran along the ridge top. A trackway ran northeast from Sandy, across Sandy Heath to Potton. Another ran to the north-northeast through Everton towards Gamlingay, Waresley, St. Neots and further north. There were also trackways from the navigable river at Tempsford, up and over the top of the hill to Potton, Gamlingay and Cambridge. The highest available flat site close to this crossroads was where St. Mary's Church now stands. Whether it was called St. Mary's in Anglo-Saxon times is not known but East Anglia is said to have been dedicated to Mary, Jesus' mother. There are hundreds of churches across this area called St. Mary's, including those in Potton, Gamlingay and St. Neots.
Following the successful invasion by the Normans, King William rewarded his military leaders, members of the church hierarchy, other supporters and relatives with land. Surviving Saxon landlords were evicted and motte and bailey castles had to be built to house the Lord, his family and his soldiers. Their job was to protect the new manorial estates. It is thought that the Danish fort, Cannock's Castle, by the confluence of the Great Ouse and Ivel in Tempsford was taken over by the Normans until the area was under their control. The nearest motte and bailey castles are in Bedford, Cambridge and St. Neots, important defensive sites by river crossings.
By the 12th century there was no longer any military threat in the Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire area but there was disagreement over Church lands. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, successfully contended with King Henry II to secure the rights of the Church. During the reign of King Stephen there were numerous rebellions by nobles hoping to gain control of more land. One of these nobles was Gilbert, the Earl of Pembroke, and cousin of William the Conqueror. In 1140 he married a descendant of Rannulf and took over the Everton estate. He already owned land in Suffolk around Clare, hence his name, Gilbert de Clare. His other estates in East Anglia would have provided him with an additional source of income to those in Pembrokeshire. In line with the religious enthusiasm for church building at this time, Gilbert would have wanted to show his new Everton in-laws, his tenants and freeholders a sign of his goodwill.
In Rev. Hamlyn's history of St. Mary's Church he suggested that Gilbert de Clare hired the services of a skilful master builder to design and construct a larger and more elaborate church. Jobs would have been created in the demolition of the wooden Saxon structure and building a stone church. (Hamlyn, Rev. F.C. (1947), 'A History of the Parish Church of St. Mary Everton with Tetworth', Tomson & Lendrum Ltd. St. Neots) It probably took several decades to construct. Its builders would have followed the traditional pattern of construction in the shape of the cross on which Jesus died. It was laid out with the chancel facing east. An intricate carved stone window on the east side allowed the early morning sun to flood into the church and create a powerful atmosphere for the congregation. It would have looked like God's shining power bursting through the window, over the priest's head and into the nave of the church and onto the congregation.
These are the first few pages of Bernard O’Connor’s ‘History of St Mary’s Church, Everton-cum-Tetworth’. Copies are available in the church @£5.00. All proceeds from the sale of the book go towards the church’s upkeep.