Freke Prayer Book

Elizabeth Freke’s Book of Common Prayer

In 1710 Elizabeth Freke gave a Book of Common Prayer to West Bilney church. It’s the oldest book St. Cecilia’s has, and the most expensively produced. The cover, now ripped and mouldy, is of beautifully tooled black leather, and on the front and the back on a dark red rectangle are the words: “The gift of Elizabeth Freke to her church of West Bilney”. (Note the use of ‘HER’).

Indeed, Elizabeth did consider the church to belong to her, in the same way as her house and land. She had an ongoing quarrel with the Bishop about the fact that she wasn’t paying the tithe (the church tax), and she wouldn’t do it because she said she herself was paying the curate and for the upkeep of the church. Ultimately, in 1713, the Bishop banned her from ‘her own’ church. “Excommunicated!” she wailed in her diary. She died the following year.

Not only is the cover deluxe: the frontispiece is the engraving of a circular domed classical temple with statues of saints round the foot of the dome. Above the pillared portal are the Latin words “Domus Orationis”, or House of Prayer, and above the dome flies a banner saying (in English) “The Book of Common Prayer”. A queue of people of mixed social class, though the gentry are first, are moving into the building from the right, but no-one seems to be paying any attention to the beggar on the left!

Each new section of the book is decorated with a pictorial square around the first capital letter, and though there is some repetition of design in the introduction, in the service book itself all the decorated squares are different.

Like all printed books of its time, the ‘long ‘s’, (∫) is used at the beginning or middle of a word. Only the final s is written as we know it. And like other church books of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, when the monarch changed, the original name was scribbled out and the new monarch’s name, and the names of the royal family were written above. So in this book, Queen Anne has been replaced by King George.

The book is relatively slim, because it doesn’t incorporate the metrical psalms, and that might have contributed to its survival; the bulkier books tended to come apart along the spine.

The book was repaired in 1964 “through the generosity of the Rev’d J. F. Williams F. S. A. Olim Rectoris Ecclesiae de Beechamwell” What on earth made him spout Latin suddenly? It only means ‘Once the rector of the church of Beechamwell’.

Note:- The ∫ largely fell out of use in typescript, in England, between about 1790 & 1810. It survives however in elongated form, and with an italic-style curled descender, as the ‘integral’ symbol, ∫, used in calculus.