Articles tagged with: parish register

Social History Before The Census

on Thursday, 27 June 2019. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People

The census records from 1841-1911 are one of the first sources we turn to in the quest to find out more about our ancestors and where they lived. The censuses are a wonderful source, presenting us with a complete family, their ages, relationships, occupation and place of birth. But what happens when you want to go further back in time? What sources are there, and will they survive for your parish? In fact, there are lots of documents you can try. Some will only provide a small piece in a very large jigsaw, but they will all help to build up a bigger picture of your family, town or village. Here are ten sources you can try….

Wills and Inventories. These are fascinating, particularly if you are researching a parish. They may mention relatives, the name of the property occupied by the deceased and their occupation. The opening phrases of the will may suggest which religious denomination they followed. Inventories often describe each room in a house and the goods found in them. The History Centre’s collection of wills proved in Salisbury dates back to 1530 and is available on Ancestry.

Overseers of the Poor. Before 1834 people who fell on hard times were supported in their own parish by the ratepayers. Account books will give details of the payments made and to whom. The overseers would only pay for people they believed to be legally settled in the parish. Any family who had recently arrived and were unable to find regular employment would be sent back to their home parish. Surviving poor law documents may include removal orders, settlement certificates and settlement examinations. These will indicate a family’s movements, or, in terms of a whole parish, will give an idea as to the number of families moving in or out and the economic conditions. These documents have been transcribed and indexed by the Wiltshire Family History Society and are available at the History Centre.

Tax Lists. The first official census was taken in 1801, but 1841 was the first census where every individual was named. There are a few surviving earlier censuses produced privately which are available at the History Centre. Tax records will give an indication as to the number of people in a parish and their names, but bear in mind that the poor did not always pay tax. Taxes paid in 1334 and 1377 are recorded in volume 4 of the Victoria County History of Wiltshire. The Wiltshire Record Society has published lists for 1332, 1545 and 1576. Land Tax records survive from approximately 1780-1830 for most parishes in Wiltshire. 

Churchwardens’ Accounts. The churchwardens were usually leading members of the community and were named in the accounts. Some accounts name the rate payers and the amount each person paid. The payments made will show the maintenance work carried out on the church and the name of the man who was paid. Payment for wine will indicate how many times a year communion services were held. There may be a mention of bells, both for maintenance and the special occasions for which the ringers were paid to ring.

Churchwardens’ Presentments. It was the duty of the churchwardens to make annual ‘presentments’ which were documents sent to the Bishop or Dean of the Diocese. They were expected to report on the fabric of the church, the conduct of the minister, the morals and religious inclinations of the inhabitants. The collection for the Salisbury Diocese goes back to 1720 (with just a few surviving 17th century examples) and can be consulted at the History Centre. The early presentments are the most detailed and interesting; by the mid 18th century the wardens often contented themselves with reporting ‘omnia bene’ – all well. They are, however, worth searching, as they might mention a serious repair needed to the church, a rector who neglected to preach sufficient sermons, fathers of illegitimate children who were ‘named and shamed’, parishioners who did not follow the Church of England, schoolmasters teaching without a licence.

Looking Back To Our First Day

on Tuesday, 31 October 2017. Posted in Archives, History Centre

Thursday 31st October 2007 we opened the doors to the new Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

Six months had passed since we closed the doors for the last time at the Record Office in Trowbridge. In that time we had moved 30,000 boxes of archives making 91 lorry loads from Trowbridge to Chippenham and safely installing Wiltshire’s archives into the new purpose built facility.


It was a real mixed bag of documents that went out, with members of the Wiltshire Family History Society coming in to look at Parish Registers and Bishop’s Transcripts. Officers from the Rights Of Way Department based at County Hall were here first thing to look at the County Council’s files for rights of way. Naturally there was interest in the local area with several maps of Chippenham being produced.

We produced 85 records (5 Wills, 3 Parish Registers, 2 Bishop’s Transcripts 66 documents and 9 maps) and welcomed 230 visitors to the new office on that first day. 

In the subsequent 10 years we have retrieved and returned quarter of a million documents, engaged 210,000 visitors and issued 14,900 new readers cards.

Here’s to the next 10 years.

Ian Hicks, Community History Advisor

A Village Reunion

on Saturday, 22 July 2017. Posted in Wiltshire People, Wiltshire Places

Have you ever thought about investigating the history of your community but aren’t sure where to start? Why not organise a Reunion! This is something I first started in Horningsham in 1995 and 23 years later we are still going strong! It first began in 1994 when I wanted to mark the 150th anniversary of the rebuilding of our church. We held a special service with refreshments afterwards and it was a great success. Someone then had the idea of tracing as many people as we could find who had been baptised in the church, to invite them to a Reunion. Everyone who came enjoyed it so much that they asked if we could do it again the following year, when we chose marriage as our theme………

There are some key factors that will guarantee success. Food and drink is always a good ice breaker, so try and offer some nice treats to your guests. If they are travelling a long way it is good to offer lunch if you can. My experience is that once people sit down with friends over lunch, they are very happy to just sit and chat.

Old photographs are always popular and are a good way of stimulating conversation and memories. This will also encourage people to search through their own collections and find you something for next year. My best find was the year that I was given a photograph of the Royal School at Bath, who were evacuated to Longleat House during WWII. I couldn’t believe my luck and knew immediately that I had my theme for the next year (2008). Many villagers were on the picture as staff who helped look after the girls and I was put in touch with some former pupils who were still living locally and who offered to share their memories with me. This proved to be one of our most successful events.

You will be surprised by how quickly your invitation list grows. Many times I was asked ‘have you contacted my cousin/auntie/school friend….’ and for many years the number of people attending was over 60. Every year I think of a theme and put up a display of photographs in the church, for people to look at before the service. If you tell people what the theme will be in their invitation, someone is sure to offer you some photographs. Photos with people or houses are the most popular; everyone likes to see a wedding photo or the house they grew up in. The friends who come to the Horningsham reunion have been so generous over the years that in 2000 I had enough material to publish a book for the millennium.

Beating the Bounds: A Parish Tradition

on Tuesday, 21 February 2017. Posted in Archives, Traditions and Folklore, Wiltshire Places

The annual tradition of ‘Beating the Bounds’ or ‘perambulations’ has been carried out for many centuries in our parishes in England, Scotland and Wales. In Scotland, the tradition was known as ‘Riding the Marshes’; a method of reaffirming the parish boundaries from way before the introduction of maps. In some parishes, this annual ritual is still very much part of village or town life. It is believed that this religious practice was first introduced in Vienne, France, around AD 470 by the Holy bishop Mamertus. There were many reasons for the ceremony but the parishioners believed that it would ‘avert great calamaties’. It would affirm their devotion to God; ask him for forgiveness from sins and for protection from evil and to bless the congregation and the fruits of their labour.

Beating the Bounds, Hungerford 1913; an example of the ritual of ‘bumping’ heads upon boundary markers. With kind permission of Hungerford Virtual Museum

Other phrases were used for this ancient custom; ‘Rogation Week’ (from the Latin word ‘rogare’ meaning to ask or to pray), the ‘Common Walk’, ‘Gangdays’ and ‘going a- ganging’. Rogation Week is also known as Rogantide, the week in which Ascension Day falls in May, beginning with Rogation Sunday, the Sunday before Ascension Day.  Religious ceremonies would take place over a period of three days of this week; Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, involving the parish priest, churchwardens and other officiates of the church. Old parishioners mixed with the young to pass on the knowledge of the boundaries. The youngsters of the parish, usually boys, would be armed with long birch or willow twigs to beat the specific landmarks such as an old tree or stones. In some cases, the boys themselves were beaten with the sticks, so they should never forget the crucial information passed on to them by their elders. Usually, the boys would have their heads bumped against the boundary marker whilst prayers were read from the Litany of Saints. The girls and women would wear and carry garlands of flowers and foliage. The Milkwort flower (Polygala vulgaris) is also dubbed the Rogation flower and was often used in the garlands.

Notes at the front of the Parish Register Leigh Delamere PR/1620/48

This printed account inside a parish register held in our archives at the History Centre, give details of the 12-14 mile route taken during the ceremony along the parish boundary of Leigh Delamere. The start of the route begins with; ‘from the old ditch on the Streta Fosseway. Here there is a cottage and a junction of a road to Littleton drew. The cottagers came out and joined in the short service, the sign of the Cross was made on the ancient roadway and the long walk began along the old Roman road...’

Easter in the Parish Registers

on Saturday, 04 April 2015. Posted in Archives

In 2013 my colleague used the blog to explore the pagan roots of Easter and the customs associated with it in Wiltshire, but I thought this year I would focus on our churches’ customs and traditions for this season, since Easter is also an important Christian festival, celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some of these customs have fallen into disuse but recall a time when the parish church was at the centre of village or town life in Wiltshire, and church customs and traditions formed an important part of everyday life. I am indebted to my colleague Steve Hobbs’s book: ‘Gleanings from Wiltshire Parish Registers’, Wiltshire Record Society Volume 63, for the examples in this blog.

Most of us will be familiar with the tradition of giving up treats (such as chocolate or alcohol) for Lent. However, I wonder how many people know that it used to be necessary to have a licence to eat meat during Lent? The Roman Catholic Church had a long tradition of abstaining from meat during Lent and on Fridays, but after the Reformation this practice was zealously promoted, in an attempt to boost the fishing industry. In 1562/3 an Act of Parliament (5 Elizabeth 1 c.5) ruled that meat could not be eaten during Lent, and on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Ember Days. Anyone caught eating meat was subject to a penalty of £3 or three months’ imprisonment, but it was possible to obtain a licence or dispensation from the Bishop or local clergy.

Wiltshire’s parish registers contain numerous references to licences granted by the clergy, to parishioners who were deemed to need meat as well as fish, usually because of age or poor health. For example, one of Alderbury’s parish registers (1966/1) states: “1 Mar 1619 licence granted to Mr Richard Goulstone and Mrs Jane Tooker to eat flesh during Lent, because of their… great age.” The Salisbury St Edmund register for 1559-1653 is more eloquent: “William Fawconer the elder … and Katherine his wife are now both sick and diseased, upon their instance and request for the better preservation of their strength and recovery of their health, [I, Peter Thacher] do … license them to eat such kind of flesh as the laws of this realm do allow, during the time of their sickness and no longer…” (1901/1 - 1633)

The Dark Deeds of the Man from Cue

on Friday, 15 November 2013. Posted in Architecture

In our documentary researches, we sometimes come across violent dramas that the long-gone occupants were involved in. These events are usually pretty sparse when looking at the history of a farmhouse. We were intrigued to find a rape case in the quiet and rural village of Bishopstone, near Swindon. Cue’s Farmhouse is a pretty thatched 17th century building constructed of the local chalkstone.  It was named after the Cue family who first to Bishopstone around 1780. The name of John Cue first appeared in a Bishopstone court book in 1775, when he was listed as a ‘leaze looker’. In 1780, the first available Land Tax return shows him occupying three pieces of land in the parish. In April 1797, John Cue died. With his wife Ann, according to the Parish Registers, he had four children, although it is possible earlier children might have been born elsewhere.

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