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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Poor Law and Parish Chest Records by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Other Ecclesiastical Records
A selection of other documents is presented here, but be prepared for almost anything!
Walking round or ganging the bounds of the parish, otherwise known as beating the bounds, took place typically at Rogationtide, (the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day, or on the Thursday itself) and this time was also termed gang day and gang week. The vicar and local worthies would lead the males or schoolchildren of the parish on a tour of the boundaries of their parish, in order to preserve the information in a non-literate population.
Readings from the gospel would be made at certain places, for instance at notable trees called gospel oaks, and small boys ceremonially beaten over boundary stones to impress the information on their memories. Records are often found in the parish chest, and may include lists of parishioners who took part.
Perambulation of Send and Ripley, Surrey in 1672
| 16 Mar 1672 Send and Ripley, Surrey|
The Perambulation of Bounds and Limits of ye Parish of Send in ye County of Surrey was performed and walked for ye inhabitants of ye aforesadde Parish on ye 16 Day of May being Ascension Day commonle called Holy Thursday in the yeare of our Lord 1672.
Perambulation of Speldhurst, Kent in 1708 and 1709
| Speldhurst, Kent|
1708 The Bounds of Speldhurst gone ag[ains]t Risborough P[ambulated] on Ascension Day 1708 by Mr Kearsley, Robt Sennersen and Robt Rose, Mr Bownd Ministerof Bidborough and 5 or 6 men or boys of that Parish accompanying.
1709 The Bounds of Speldhurst ag[ains]t Tunbridge gone May 30th 1709 being Monday in Rogation Week beginning at ye Wells Chapel and ending at ye Birchet. Note that ye Bounds betwixt ye House late
Sr Tho: Jansons and a 6 or 7 Acre Field of John Basset [?] now Sow’d with wheat goe almost in a streight line.
| For Speldhurs
|| For Tunbridge|
| Mr Kearsley
|| Mr Tristram |
| Francix Cambridge
|| Mr Weller Senr|
| Wm Coyfe Senr
|| and others|
| Rich’d Fry
|| Matt Calverley|
| Wm Burrows
|| Phil Seale|
|| Mr Latter|
|| JnO Basset|
Bederolls or bead-rolls
This was the list of benefactors of the church read out from the pulpit on special occasions and specially prayed for. Reference to a bedesman, or beadsman, indicates a person paid to pray for the souls of others, whether in a church or elsewhere such as in an almshouse.
Church Briefs or King’s Briefs were authorized collections for charity and disaster relief, which the parson read out at the end of the service and to which parishioners contributed voluntarily as they left the church, the parish clerk keeping track of the amounts given. He then handed it on to the official travelling collector after entering the sum raised in his churchwarden accounts or in a separate paper or book. Typical causes included assistance to families or towns suffering from fire and flood, relief for Christian captives, and appeals to repair churches that had suffered some calamity. Wood (1991) and Royall have interesting discussions on briefs, the latter recounting the story of the parishioner who made of habit of timing his departure for just before the service ended!
Briefs Collected at Topsham, Devon 1685-1686
| Topsham, Devon|
11 Oct 1685 Collected towards the Inhabitants of Beaminster who suffered by fire.
13 Dec 1685 Collected towards the Inhabitants of Bulford in Wilts who suffered by fire.
20 Dec 1685 Collected towards the Inhabitants of Alfriston who suffered by fire.
10 May 1686 Collected from howse to howse in our towne and p’ish of Topsham towards the relieffe of French protestants
There follows an itemized list of what each parishioner contributed, the amounts ranging from £1.1.6d from Henry Ward, gentleman to ½d from widow Winter.
In the above example one can see the effect of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 affecting French Huguenots. Briefs which list all the donors are, in effect, almost a census of the heads of households that week and their relative affluence within the parish.
A similar item is the nationwide list of Contributors to the relief of Protestant refugees from Ireland 1642 which has been indexed by Cliff Webb on fiche 6342900(2).
At St. Philip, Bristol, Gloucestershire there is a Churching Book begun in 1794. This lists the dates and names of recently delivered mothers who had attended this purification ceremony, some with addresses, and what appears to be the minister’s name, and the fees, which varied tenfold - perhaps by their ability to pay.
Extracts from Churching Book St. Philip, Bristol, Gloucestershire
| Jan 11
|| Hester Duffin, Church Lane (Stagg)
| Feb 19
|| Mrs Whipperman
| Mar 28
|| Hester Brown (W. Bourne)
| Apr 2
|| Mrs Flook
| Apr 5
|| Mrs Wilkins, Old Market (Stagg)
| Apr 5
|| Mrs Howson, Broad Street (Stagg)
| Apr 7
|| Mrs Baker, West Street grocer (Stagg)
| Apr 13
|| Mrs James, Burton Hill
| May 21
|| Mrs Williams, West Street (W. Bourne)
|| 10/6 |
For example in Tonbridge, Kent in 1640 against John and James Goodscall for refusing to pay charity.
The authorized fees chargeable at different times for the various ceremonies and services were quite often spelled out at the front of the register book, or on a loose sheet, as follows:
Customary Fees at Staplehurst, Kent 1793
Customary Fees at Shorwell, Isle of Wight, Hampshire 1830
Easter Dues were the two pence customarily paid by communicants to the incumbent at Easter, and records of these may be found inEaster Books either as amounts due or actual sums paid. Since the personal tithes ( were due at the same time the list may include them as well.
These were the visits by bishops (triennially) and archdeacons (annually) to oversee parochial business. The churchwardens presentments, and the glebe terriers were given to these superiors at this time. Hilton gives a description of an archdeacon’s visitation.
Licenses to Eat Meat During Lent
These were given to very elderly persons.
Lists of Ecclesiastics
Names of vicars or other incumbents dating back well before the start of parish registers may be found in many parish registers. These may have been copied from earlier parchment or paper records, or from similar lists which often occur painted on boards inside the church. Sometimes one sees a page describing the induction of a new clergyman into the parish, with date and which senior official performed the ceremony.
Other lists include those of preachers for special occasions, for example the List of Strange Preachers for 1806-1879 St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, Gloucestershire on film 1749498. To us the title is odd but in those days a stranger meant someone from outside the parish, so this is a list of visiting preachers. In Marystow, Devon there is a list of Deans Rural from 1725-1811, the first part of which is transcribed below.
List of Deans Ruran in Marystow, Devon Parish Chest
| A List of Dean Rurals for ye Deanery of Tavistock from the Year 1725 [and their parish?; meaning of letter P unknown] |
1725 Mr Hedges Kelly P
1726 Mr Orchard Coriton
1727 Mr Law Brentorr
1728 No Election
1729 Mr Burnaford Lidford
1730 Mr beard Tavistock
1731 Mr Guard Virginstow
1722 Mr Gotham Brentorr P
1733 Mr Brown Tavistock
1734 Mr Harris Lifton
1735 Mr Burnaford Bridestow
1736 Mr Haviland Lew Trenchard
1737 Mr Tindal Brentorr
1738 Mr Guard Broadwoodwiger
[and so forth until 1811]
List of Excommunicated and Absolved
Really keen parsons sometimes listed the names and dates of those excommunicated and the reasons for their banishment. Absolutions may also be recorded. This entry is delightful:
| 28 Jan 1711 Old Sodbury, Gloucestershire burials list:|
Joseph Mills, the last churchwarden, was excommunicated for pawning the church plate.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Poor Law and Parish Chest Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
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