The Mercers’ Company is patron, either on its own or jointly with others, of eight benefices in the Church of England. This means it has the right to appoint the vicar or rector – the right of presentation. Most of these benefices are located either in Northumberland or in Lincolnshire. This is the direct result of the will of a Mercer, Richard Fishborne, who in 1625 left money to purchase ‘livings’ in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire or elsewhere in the North.
In Northumberland Fishborne’s money was used to purchase tithes which were later commuted to support lectureships at Hexham Abbey and Berwick upon Tweed. In Lincolnshire the Company purchased the Rectory and Church of St Peter and St Paul at Reepham and also the Rectory and Church of All Saints at Canwick from Fishborne’s bequest.
The Company has also obtained Church Patronages by other means. For example the sister of Lady Mico (who founded the Almshouses named after her) made an arrangement for a minister to preach at St Mary the Virgin, Fairford, Gloucestershire every Sunday, while the Church (and Rectory) of St Peter and St Paul, Kirton–in–Holland, was given to the Company by the Mercer, and former Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas Bennett.
Through time, as congregations have changed, lectureships have become vested in clergy and parishes have been reorganised, the nature of the Company’s benefices has changed. Often the right of presentation has become shared with other bodies. As a result there are now 12 churches with which the Company is associated through its eight benefices, and they, and their links with the Company, are set out below and you can see the location of Mercers' Company Churches on this map.
Hexham Abbey, Northumberland
In 1628 the Company purchased tithes in Northumberland which were commuted in 1838 to support a Lectureship in Hexham. The Lecturer and Rector became vested in the same person, and in 1902 the Company was granted the alternate right of presentation with Lord Allendale. In 2004 this was changed to joint patronage.
St John’s Spittal
In 1631 the Company purchased tithes in Northumberland from money left by Richard Fishborne. These were commuted in 1837 to support a Lectureship at Berwick-upon-Tweed.
By 1907 the Vicar was treated as Lecturer, but certain difficulties were experienced, and in 1917 the Company was given the alternate rights of presentation to St John with an annual payment continuing to be applied to Berwick-upon-Tweed towards the stipend of a curate.
In 1988 a plurality was made with the neighbouring parish of Scremerston and the Company became joint patrons with the Bishop of Newcastle for the two parishes.
All Saints, Marsham, Norfolk
The patronage of All Saints, Marsham was at one time held by the Buxton family, and later by the Wathens. The patronage was passed over to the then Bishop of Norwich. In 2007 the benefice of Marsham with Burgh-next-Aylsham was united with the benefice of Buxton with Oxnead, Lammas and Brampton. Known as The Bure Valley Benefice, it comprises the parish of Marsham, the parish of Burgh-next-Aylsham, the parish of Buxton with Oxnead, the parish of Lammas with Little Hautbois, and the parish of Brampton. The right of presentation is exercised jointly by the Bishop of Norwich, the Mercers' Company, and Mr John Murray Roberts.
St. Peter and St Paul, Kirton-in-Holland, Lincolnshire
Sir Thomas Bennett, Mercer and Lord Mayor in 1603, gave the Company the Rectory and the Living in Kirton-in-Holland.
St. Peter and St. Paul, Reepham, Lincolnshire
From the Fishborne bequest the Company purchased the Rectory and Church at Reepham. The Company remained the sole patron until 1980 when Reepham formed a united benefice with the adjoining Parish of St Clement of Rome, Fiskerton, although both remained as separate parishes.
Under this arrangement the Company was the alternate patron with the Dean and Chapter of Peterborough (the previous patron of Fiskerton) but in 1988 the Company became the joint patron of the two parishes with the Dean and Chapter.
The United Benefice of Reepham and Fiskerton, together with Cherry Willingham with Greetwell is now known as The South Lawres Group.
The Dean and Chapter of Lincoln are also joint patrons of The South Lawres Group.
All Saints, Canwick, Lincolnshire
The patronage for Canwick comes through the Fishborne bequest and the Rectory and Church were purchased in 1628. In 1988 Canwick formed a united benefice with St John's in the neighbouring village of Washingborough, although both remain as separate parishes. The patronage is held jointly by the Lincoln Diocesan Board of Patronage and the Company.
St. Mary the Virgin, Fairford, Gloucestershire
Fairford Church, built in 1497 in the late perpendicular style, has a set of 28 stained glass medieval windows. There is an association between the Mercers and this church through Lady Mico's sister, the Honourable Elizabeth Fermor.
In her will of 1704 she made an arrangement for a minister to preach at Fairford every Sunday (this bequest was administered by the Company from 1890). In 1998 St Mary the Virgin, Kempsford, was united with the neighbouring parish of Fairford and in 1999 the Company became joint patrons with the Bishop of Gloucester and the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester of the united benefice.
St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, Queen Victoria Street, London EC4
In 1542 the Company purchased from Henry VIII the property of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon which included the advowson (like ‘patronage’, an ‘advowson’ is the right of presenting a vicar or rector to a parish) of St Mary Colechurch at the corner of Cheapside and Old Jewry. The Great Fire destroyed this church and the benefice was united with St Mildred Poultry.
In 1871 St Mildred's was pulled down and an exchange of rights was made between the Company and the Crown which gave the Company a share in the presentation of St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe.
Under a Deed signed in 1984 the Company became the joint Patrons with the Parochial Church Council of St Andrew and in 1986 a plurality was made between St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe and St. James Garlickhythe.