Sterneana | Sterne in Coxwold

This entry was posted on 5th April 2012

Letter – 25 September 1761

The whereabouts of the original of the letter below is uncertain – this transcription has been made from a rather faded photocopy.

My Lord                                                                                                               Newborough 25th Septr: 1761


Inclosed is a new Plan for the Pews in Coxwold Church which is a new Scheem of Mr Sternes, and he desired it might be Sent for your Lordships Opinion, and an ansr. from your Lordship as Soon as Convenient will be very agreable, as the whole work is stopt till they hear from you, it will be Something in the form of a Cathedral it will give a better Sound a better Light, and will all face the Parson alike, and the other way half the Church will be with their Backs to the Pulpit, which will make a Dispute for their Seats, and this Plan will go Crossways on the Old Seats, so that no one will know their own Place, the Pulpit is finished, the four Pews opposite your Ldships, two of e’m is Intended for your upper and under Servants, the other two for my Bror. and Scott, if your LdShip will please to let your under Servants Pew be the front Seat and the Corner of your Pew, the other three will be made Square and the Same hight with your Ld Ships, the Pews longway of the Church will be with their Backs to the Wall and face the Isle, and will be nigh afoot above each other –

I am Extreamly obliged to your LdShip for the Coronation News, and am glad your LdShip got Excused from attending which might have been of bad Consequence; I Imagine it will be agreable for your LdShip to know the Coronation Newse at Coxwold, in the first place a very fine ox with his Hornes gild was laid down whole before the fire in the middle of the Town Street about 9 oClock in the Morning, at half Hour past roasting The Bells put in for Church, where an Excelent Sermon was Preached Extempory on the Occation by Mr Sterne, and gave great Content to every Hearer, the Church was quite full, both quire and Isle to the very Door, the Text &c you will See both in the London and York Papers about 3 oClock the Ox was cut up and Distributed Amongst at least 3000 People, after which two Barrils of Ale was Distributed amongst those who could get nearest to e’m, Ringing of Bells Squibs and Crackers Tarr-Barrills and Bonefires &c and a Ball in the Evening concluded the Joyfull Day, I am

My Lord

P.S Yesterday the Ston’d Horse was Cut                                                                Your Lordships Most Obedt.

and is as well this Morning as can                                                                              Hble Serv:t

be Expected —————————

Rich: Chapman



Scheem of Mr Sternes: unfortunately the ‘Inclosed’ plan appears to be no longer extant. The description Chapman gives here is somewhat confusing. Whether ‘the other way’ refers to the original plan or an alternative scheme is not at all clear. Had there been box-pews, then half the congregation might well have had their backs to the preacher; the reference to Sterne’s idea being ‘in the form of a Cathedral’ suggests a chancel and nave arrangement, which is what is found in St Michael’s.

my Bror. and Scott: neither Chapman’s brother nor Mr Scott has been identified. They were not liable to land tax in the Sutton area.

Coronation News: George III was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 22 September 1761.

bad Consequence: it is not clear why attending the coronation might have had bad consequences. Fauconberg’s letters to Chapman, which may have cast light on this, have not been preserved. Perhaps Fauconberg was unwell at the time.

Hornes gild: the practice of gilding the horns by way of celebration is recorded Virgil, see see Aeneid Ix, 627: auratâ fronte.

Extempory: another reference to Sterne’s manner of composition of sermons. Though the delivery may have appeared to have been extemporary, there was a written version of this sermon (see next note). Whether this means that Sterne wrote out this sermon and then memorised it for more dramatic delivery, or that he wrote it out after having extemporised on the topic, is a matter for conjecture.

London and York Papers: The York Courant reported: ‘At the Village of Coxwould that Day was celebrated in the following manner: A large Ox was roasted whole, with his Head on and Horns gilt, and all the Parishioners invited to Dinner after Divine Service, which was perform’d by the Rev. Mr. Sterne; who on that Occasion, preach’d a sermon from 2 Chron. XV. 14,15. And they sware unto the Lord with a loud Voice, and with Shouting, and with Trumpets, and with Cornets. And all Judah rejoiced at the Oath.’ (Tuesday, 29 September 1761, p. [3].). This sermon was published after Sterne’s death as ‘Asa: a Thanksgiving Sermon’ (number XIII in Sermons by the late Rev. Mr. Sterne).

at least 3000 People: the Archbishop’s Visitation Return for 1743 recorded that there were ‘about 170 Families’ in the village: In the Return for 1764, Sterne wrote, ‘There are 158 Families in this parish.’ 3000 is a remarkable number to have gathered in a village of such size, whether drawn by free beef, free ale, or a sermon from the famous author.

Tarr-Barrills: setting fire to barrels which contained, of had contained, tar, appears to have been a tradition. OED records a similar celebration: J. Barmby Churchwardens’ Accts. Pittington ‘Item paid for a tarbarrell at cronation day, vj d.’

Ston’d Horse: a stallion was castrated – to make him more manageable. The subsequent laconic ‘as well this Morning as can be expected’ is reminiscent of the response of Susannah in Tristram Shandy when asked how Mrs Shandy is during the labour which produces Tristram: ‘As well, said Susannah, tripping by, as can be expected’ (IV. 12).