Family Lessons 97: Mayor v Rector

Huzo or Hugh Del Crosse was my 19th x great-grandfather and was four times appointed mayor of Wigan between 1379 and 1386. Wigan would have been a smaller place then than now, and much less democratically administered, with the burgesses and merchants tightly controlling their influence and privileges. Medieval mayors will have spent considerably less of their time opening new supermarkets, visiting old folk’s homes and kissing babies as their scarlet robed and gold-chained modern counterparts. Sadly, for Grandpop Huzo, the burgesses of Wigan seemed always to be bickering with the rector of the parish church, who was the lord of the manor, and whose own rights were jealously guarded. William Farrer and J Brownbills’ 1911 History of the County of Lancaster (Volume 4: Townships: Wigan) details the various disputes and arbitrations between the two, with the rector and his officials claiming dues and charges from the markets, and the burgesses and mayor defending their liberties and chartered privileges. Hugh was likely to pit his wits against the local church and its clergy on many occasions.

The details of these perennial disputes seem petty and incomprehensible to the modern reader, yet there is often a conflict between church and municipal government. At Salem Chapel, we are subject to the decrees of the planning department, on account of our building’s listed status. For serving food, the local authority has been consulted on matters of certification. For replacing our old roof, we had to cross Natural England’s palm with silver. I recently spoke with the minister at Chinley Chapel, Derbyshire, whose local council forbids him to build a disabled ramp while central government insists on his building’s accessibility to wheelchair users. As local government officials increasingly imbibe from the fountain of Woke, more of them will sniff about our chapels and churches seeking to meddle. In one respect, and as Grandpa Huzo would testify, it is business as usual. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas faced the ire of local government in the form of the Philippian magistrates. Although they effectively received an apology for the poor treatment, we should not expect provincial mandarins to be any more sympathetic than their bigger brothers down in the capital. 

Human government, including parish and district councils, is appointed by God and is to be honoured and obeyed. The inefficiency and discourtesy of some branches of local government can be off-putting, but their work is important, and we should pray for them as much as we do His Majesty's.

Top: a back door to Wigan parish church ; above: 'The Face of Wigan', by Rick Kirby, outside Wigan's Council Officers. Perhaps this was my forbear's expression when receiving another complaint from the Rector.

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour. 1Timothy 2:1-3, New King James Version