Oliver Piggin


Oliver Piggin shows up in two early documents as a priest of Lichfield diocese in England. We can only speculate as to how he was trained. At the end of the 15th century, priestly formation was sometimes conducted by the universities, but was mainly done in schools set up by bishops or monasteries. It would be plausible to suppose that Oliver attended school at Lichfield, and at least conceivable that he might have obtained a place there and subsequently at Heanor church through his family's influence with or contributions to the monks of Dale Abbey.


trainee for priesthood

18 September 1490 Lichfield cathedral:
Ordines sacri & generales celebrat' An' ecclia' Cath lich' die sabb'ti iiijor tempu' viz xviijo die mens septembr' Anno d'ni Mill'imo cccclxxxximo p venerabilem p'rem d'nm Robertu' dei gr'a Achaden' Ep'm auct'e Reurend' in xp'o p'ris et d'ni domini Joh'is dei gr'a Couentren' & lich' Ep'i
Accoliti seculares
Oliuru' pyggyn

[Orders sacred and general celebrated before the cathedral church of Lichfield, Saturday, Ember Day, to wit, September 18, the year of the Lord 1490, by the venerable father Lord Robert, by the grace of God bishop of Achonry, by authority of the reverend father and lord in Christ, Lord John, by the grace of God bishop of Coventry and Lichfield.
Acolytes Secular:
Oliver Pyggyn]

Source: Lichfield Joint Record Office: B/A/1/12 f.230v
Title: Register of Bishop John Hales of Coventry & Lichfield

Further documentation about Oliver is the mention of his name in the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535-1536. This was a report to King Henry VIII on church assets, the first step in the break with Rome that ushered in the English Reformation. The report shows Oliver Pyggen as vicar of "Henor".

Dale Abbey in Derbyshire had, in 1473, received from Henry, Lord Grey of Codnor, the economically valuable right to "present" the vicar of Heanor, that is to say, to impose their own candidate on the bishop of Lichfield. Dale Abbey also had at this time a grange, or food-producing enterprise, at Loscoe in the parish of Heanor. The fact that Oliver obtained his appointment from the abbot of Dale strongly suggests his family were associated with that abbey. The Piggin family of Ockbrook were neighbours of the abbey, who later took over abbey lands at the Reformation, and it is plausible to suppose Oliver belonged to that family.

The date of Oliver's institute as vicar of Heanor is unknown. It is likely that the Piggin family would have had to pay Dale Abbey a certain sum of money in order to obtain the vicarage of Heanor for Oliver. An anonymous article on Heanor in White's 1857 directory states that the vicar of Heanor received a mansion and a croft "of the value of 10 shillings", but not the tithes (which went to the abbey instead). The vicar would have had to work the farm (the croft) or let it out to survive.

Clergy lists for this period are rare, as J. Charles Cox notes in his book English Church Furniture. One of the rare lists is too late to include Oliver, but gives some idea of the large size of the diocese as an enterprise: "A full clergy list for the diocese of Lichfield, drawn up in the last year of Elizabeth, is among the Lichfield capitular muniments. The total of benefices was 461, and the total of the clergy 433. Out of the clergy total, less than a tenth, viz. 42, were licensed to preach."

The St Lawrence parish website suggests that Oliver married and died later, but this is not plausible. It would be highly unlikely that a pre-Reformation clergyman would have married, and there was no compulsion to retire, nor any financial provision to do so. The reason for the expiry of Oliver's tenure as vicar was, without any doubt, his death. J. Charles Cox at volume IV, page 235 of Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire quotes a manuscript source at Lichfield as stating that the next vicar in 1547 was Richard Arnolds, "patron Robert Cooke de Little Hallam, for this turn by virtue of an arrangement between Nicholas Powtrell and John Malyii and the lately dissolved abbey of Dale. On the death of O. P." (Derby, Bemrose and Sons, 1879).

Howard Montagu Colvin, in an antiquarian article, The Dissolution of Dale Abbey in The Journal of the Derbyshire Archaeological and Natural History Society (17 (1944 for 1943), 1-25, at page 6), quotes Cox and comments: "There is no means of telling how far the abbot had been anticipating the suppression of his monastery by hurriedly disposing of its lands and property ... but he succeeded in selling the next presentation to the vicarage of Heanor to Nicholas Powtrell and John Malyn, and on the death of the vicar, one Oliver Pyggen, in 1547, a presentation was duly made on their behalf."

© Jean-Baptiste Piggin 2000-2009
Creative Commons License
This page is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.