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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 ($).



A selection of other documents is presented here, but be prepared for almost anything!

Annual Perambulations

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: Jansonsand 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).

Churching Books

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)

Churchwarden’ Petitions

For example in Tonbridge, Kent in 1640 against John and James Goodscall for refusing to pay charity.

Customary Fees

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

1 Jan 1793 Staplehurst, Kent
Rectorial Fees £ s d
Breaking ground for anyone in the church 2 0 0
Breaking Ground for one dying out of the
Parish in the Church Yard 0 7 0
Tomb in the Church Yard 1 1 0
Headstone 0 1 6
Rail 0 1 6
Stone or Monument in the Church 2 2 0
Burial in the Church 0 1 6

Surplice Fees £ s d
Burial 0 3 0
Marriage by Licence 0

0 5 0
Marriage by Banns
Baptisms (on a weekday 2/6d) 0 3 0
Churching 0 1 0
Publication of Banns 0 1 0
Certificate of Banns 0 2 6
Extract from the Register Books 0 2 6
Parish Burial (from the Work House) 0 3 0
Funeral Sermon 2 2 0
Funeral with appointment of text 2 2 0

Customary Fees at Shorwell, Isle of Wight, Hampshire 1830

1830 Shorwell, Isle of Wight, Hampshire
Fees to be taken by the Clerk and Sexton of this Church Shorwell
2nd May 1830
For an ordinary funeral in the afternoon
For every funeral in the forenoon
For every brick grave

For every new vault
For opening a vault in the Church Yard
For opening a vault in the Church
For a single monumental tablet in the Church
For a large tablet in the Church

For a single head stone in the Church Yard

For a double head stone in the Church Yard

Double the two last fees for any person that did not die in the parish
Publication of Banns
For every Marriage by Banns
For every Marriage by Licence
For every Marriage by Licence
Thanksgivings not on a Sunday or Holy Day
Christenings not on a Sunday or Holy Day
Sexton £ s d
For an ordinary funeral in the afternoon
Ditto for an infant
For every funeral in the forenoon

£ s d
0 1 0
1 5 0
0 15 0
3 0 0
1 0 0
2 0 0
5 0 0
10 0 0
0 10 0
0 16 0

0 1 0
0 7 6
0 15 0
0 1 0
0 1 0

0 5 0
0 2 6
0 7 6
6/8d to be added to any of the above fees if the corpse be brought from another parish.
For every brick grave 0 7 6
For every new vault 1 0 0
For a monumental tablet 1 0 0
For opening a vault in the Church Yard 0 10 0
For opening vault in the Church 1 0 0
For every Marriage by Banns 0 1 0
For every Marriage by Licence 0 2 6

Easter Dues
Easter Dues were the two pence customarily paid by communicants to the incumbent at Easter, and records of these may be found in Easter 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.

Ecclesiastical Visitations
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

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.