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Last updated 5 July 2012

The following has been transcribed from a document in the archives which we think was written around 1948 by “J.B.N.” whom we believe to be James Bell Nicoll.  

Turkish Pyrates 

Novem. ye 8th anno. Dom.1671. 

“Collected by the churchwardens of Wonersh Parish for and toward the redemption of English captives taken by Turkish Pyrates.”  

The above is an extract from the Parish Register under that date.  Remarkable words to come across in the dry and dusty tomes of the church ledgers.

“For the redemption of English captives taken by Turkish Pyrates.” The word “Pyrates” conjures up visions of sailors with highly coloured handkerchiefs around their heads, of earrings in their ears, the Jolly Roger at the mast head, and blood on the poop. But “Turkish Pyrates” – horror upon horrors – it suggests dungeons, harems, lean faces with hooked noses, a pitiless sun, and all the refinements of cruelty – at least that is what it obviously stood for to the good men of Wonersh in the year 1671.

Great Tangley, in the person of Lady Duncombe, heads the list with one pound. Doubtless Sir Francis would have done so too had he not died almost exactly one year previously.  It was also represented by Miss Margaret Carryll, a relative of Lady Duncombe, who gave five shillings.  The vicar the Rev. Thomas Quincie, comes third on the list with the same amount – a very substantial sum for a parson in those days.  Then followed ten shillings from Henry Chennell, gent.  Below them are a hundred and nine names with sums varying from half a crown to one penny.

One strange thing stands out from a study of the names of that list.  Twenty one people were women but only one man and his wife gave their collection jointly.  His name was Richard Chennel, but we know of a certainty that he was the miller and lived at the Mill House, where Chennels had succeeded Tickners in the year 1576.  All the others, like Bathsheeba Ested, were either widows or spinsters.  All hail therefore to Richard Chennel of the Mill, who was first to raise his wife to the dignity of modern equality.

One thing I am unable to understand and that is how the congregation got packed into Wonersh Church.  It is to be remembered – that in spite of infantile mortality – families frequently reached double figures and that their wives - who would certainly be there on that occasion – had also to be accommodated.  The seating capacity of the present nave is, I think, about 150, so that the total number of human beings then in the church must have been very considerable.

It is the nearest approach to the early church that Wonersh got.  Remember that a man’s wages amounted to a copper or two a day and a long day at that.  Richard Doleing of The Street, Wonersh, gave twice the rent of his house for a year.  It was only six-pence, but it was two years rent to Richard*.

Little did Thomas Tickner, the weaver, who lived in Wonersh Street** who was 62 years old and who could not even sign his name***  think, as he clutched his six-pence tightly in the pocket of his smock, that 277 years afterwards, people would read of him being in the congregation; little did he think that that same six-pence, which something within him urged was his duty as a Christian and as an Englishman to give, would be written about two and three quarters centuries hence.

And the Rev. Thomas Quincie – was he pleased with the collection when he handed over £6.7.10 to Archdeacon John Holland of Guildford**** on the 8th December . As his horse jogged along Chinthurst Lane towards Shalford did he pat the ransom money in his wide pockets and realise that he was setting out on the strangest journey that a vicar of Wonersh had ever undertaken?  Did he realise that the other end of his journey led through tall Arab doors into a room with little furniture but many carpets where the Bey of Tunis sat smoking a Hookah?

Did Mrs. Chennel from the Mill House, as she was accompanied by her husband and her five grown up children, Richard, Robert and John, Elizabeth and Mary, talk of the horrors of a Turkish prison as her family made their way toward the church, down what was known as “West Lane”, and past the house occupied by Mr. Hurren nearly three centuries later?

“Captives of Turkish Pyrates” – the words were whispered among the women, and Thomas Tickner thought about them as he sat at his loom.  The children grew roundeyed and frightened when they heard their parents talking in hushed voices, and for many months afterwards a Wonersh child would lie awake at night conjuring up the horrors conveyed by the words “Turkish Pyrates”.

And the captives themselves?  Investigation tells us that they were taken either into Algiers or Tunis.  English sailors thrust into some fetid dungeon till death or their ransom money released them. Where was their ransom money to come from?  What rich friends had they in the slums of Wapping or Portsmouth?  Little did they know that Thomas Tickner of The Street, Wonersh, Surrey sat holding six-pence in his weaver’s fist and that he had been toiling hour by hour to earn the money that would set them free.

Two things have come down to us from that dim, forgotten past.  First, the record of the whole thing, locked away for centuries in the register of the parish, and second, the spirit of Thomas Tickner, weaver and gentleman, who, because he was a Christian and an Englishman, counted not the cost but gave of his mite that his brothers might be free men. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    J.B.N. 

* Richard Doleing’s rent is known from the rent roll of Great Tangley, which is in my possession.

** Thomas Tickner was really a weaver, and really lived in Wonersh Street.

*** At a meeting of the Parishers to elect a church warden, he is noted as being present and made his mark in the register.

**** The receipt to Archdeacon John Holland is noted in the register. 

The above article appeared in Wonersh History Society Bulletin Number 40.

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