Family Lessons 67: Placeman of Clapham

On 4th August 1662, my 10x great-grandfather, Christopher Foster, left this world for the next. Five months later, my 10x great-grandmother, his wife Agnes, followed him. They lived at a queer little place called Newby Cote near Clapham, and so they were buried at the parish church there by the vicar, the Rev Christopher Place, whose name is included on a church information board. Much of that building has been renovated, but the tower looks fifteenth or early sixteenth-century, so this the Fosters, and the parson who buried them, would have known.

Rev Christopher Place was appointed in 1646, the closing year of the first civil war. Parliament was in the ascendancy, and its puritan Presbyterianism was looking triumphant. Doubtless, Rev Place was a similarly minded man to have been appointed at that time. During the 1650s, Cromwell’s government was investigating and monitoring the quality of parish ministry; their ‘triers and ejectors’ would have thrown Place out had he not been sufficiently sound and zealous in his preaching and example. Yet in August 1662, the new royal government decreed that all clergy must exclusively use the revised Common Prayer Book, something near 2000 sincere puritans refused to do, which consequently saw them turned out of their homes while losing their employment. The Rev Christopher Place was not one of those men. He conformed, repeating the lines of the Prayer Book until his death or retirement in 1679.

Inbetween burying Grandfather Foster on 4th August and Granny Agnes some months later, his decision had to be made. If he read the state prayers by St Bartholomew's Day on 24th August, he kept his job, his income and his authority. Some conformed because they didn’t think the Prayer Book too bad; others thought they could do more good in the state church than without it. Still others calculated the losses and sacrificed their principles accordingly. Which one was Rev Christopher Place? Perhaps the fee he gained from my grandfather’s funeral persuaded him that a good income was better than a good conscience. All three of the people mentioned in this post were summoned before the great God to give account of the lives they lived and the choices they made. Them to whom much was given, much will be expected.

So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Romans 14:12