Our Festive Board

The festive board has always been an interesting and popular part of the offering of the lodge. Some have called it a ‘singing lodge’, but rather it is one that likes to sing.

Over the years there have been many popular songs that have been sung in between the speeches at our dinner, but through the years there has been one particular ballad that has found a great deal of favour. The reason for choosing this particular song is shrouded in mystery, but no festive board is complete unless the ‘Vicar of Bray’ is sung, and if a Grand Officer is present, it is usual for him to be asked (indeed forced) to sing a solo verse.

The Vicar of Bray

1     In good King Charles’s golden days,
When loyalty no harm meant,
A zealous High Churchman was I,
And so I got preferment;
To teach my flock I never missed,
Kings were by God appointed,
And lost are they that dare resist,
Or touch the Lord’s anointed.

And this is law, that I’ll maintain,
Until my dying day, Sir,
That whatsoever King may reign
I’ll be the Vicar of Bray, Sir.

2     When royal James possessed the crown,
And Popery grew in fashion,
The penal laws I hooted down,
And read the Declaration;
The Church of Rome I found would fit
Full well my constitution,
And I had been a Jesuit,
But for the Revolution.

And this is law, &c.

3     When William was our King declared,
To ease the nation’s grievance,
With this new wind about I steered
And swore to him allegiance;
Old principles I did revoke,
Set conscience at a distance,
And passive obedience was a joke,
A jest was non-resistance.

And this is law, &c.

4     When gracious Anne became our Queen,
The Church of England’s glory,
Another face of things was seen,
And I became a Tory;
Occasional Conformists base,
I blamed their moderation,
And thought the Church in danger was
But such prevarication.

And this is law, &c.

5     When George in pudding-time came o’er,
And moderate men looked big, Sir,
I turned a cat-in-pan once more,
And so became a Whig, Sir,
And this preferment I procured,
From our new Faith’s defender,
And almost ev’ry day abjured
The Pope and the Pretender.

And this is law, &c.

6     The illustrious house of Hanover,
And Protestant succession,
To these I do allegiance swear,
While they can keep possession;
For in my faith and loyalty,
I never more will falter,
And George my lawful King shall be,
Until the times do alter.

And this is law, &c.

In the years 1992/1993, our Honorary Organist Walter Morris composed some additional verses, somewhat more appropriate to the Lodge and some of the members. Among these is the following:

The Brethren of this Lodge are fine
But are full of misbehaviours
They lark around too long past nine
Getting up to School-boy capers.
They all expect to go to heaven
They could be disappointed,
Although they sing the Vicar of Bray
They are not the Lord’s anointed.

Who was the Vicar of Bray?

Pears Cyclopedia has it that the Vicar mentioned in the Ballad was a Simon Alleyn, Vicar of Bray in Berkshire between 1540 and 1585 and that he was twice a Papist and twice a Protestant, serving under four Monarchs, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.

The book ‘Exploring the Thames Valley also has it that the famous Vicar was probably Simon Aleyn, and says that he was appointed Vicar in the time of Henry VIII. This book also tells another Vicar of Bray story about a later Vicar. This concerns Charles II who was returning from hunting in Windsor Forest and got separated from his entourage, lost his road and came to Bray. It was already dark when he called at the vicarage and asked for assistance. But as he had no money – Royalty even in those days didn’t carry cash – the Vicar called him an imposter and turned him out of his house with great rudeness. The Curate however, who was with the Vicar. said he pitied the traveller and lent him a little money. Whereupon the King revealed his identity and, upbraiding the Vicar for his inhumanity, said, ‘The Vicar of Bray shall be the Vicar of Bray still, but the Curate shall be the Canon of Windsor.’ The King kept his word.

Another small book, the Thames Path, has another variation of the story.

Bray is the village of the famous vicar, who to save his position (for the living was a fat one), changed the colour of his religion to suit the times. His tale, as told in the ballad, informs us that during the reign of ‘good King Charles’ (Charles II): ‘A furious High-Churchman I was, And so I got preferment….’. With the arrival of James II, the vicar veered to the Church of Rome, back to the Church of England, and finally: ‘The Illustrious House of Hanover , The Protestant Succession, to these I lustily will swear, Whilst they can keep possession….’.  But who was the Vicar? Apparently the historical person lived not in the reigns of Charles II, James II, William III, Anne or George I, but came from an earlier age of even greater religious upheaval, namely the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I, making him twice a Roman Catholic and twice a Protestant… This man’s name was Simon Symonds. So insensible was he of everything that bore the name of moral honesty, that instead of being the least affected by it, his constant answer was ‘I will live and die vicar of Bray’.

Maybe this is so, but in the Bray Church there is a monument to another vicar, Francis Carswell, who between 1667 and 1709, also performed several religious U-turns.

All this may be so, but there is a film, first shown in 1937, which was repeated on television in November 1994, called the Vicar of Bray, starring Stanley Holloway as the pragmatic priest, who changed his stance to suit the prevailing politics. This film places the location as Bray in Ireland and there is indeed a market town and seaport in the South about 12 miles from Dublin on the mouth of the River Bray. This film puts the period as during the reign of James I, followed by the Cromwell period and then the reign of James II.

The Hemming Toast

A sitting toast is proposed, after a recited colloquy between the Junior and Senior Wardens, to the “illustrious memory” of Samuel Hemming.