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.
Here at the History Centre, we’re no stranger to Morris Dancers. We’ve had dancers on the staff, while each May Bank Holiday Chippenham hosts its popular Folk Festival. It’s great fun watching the street theatrics, but there was once a darker side to Morris Dancing that led to the following stories being recorded by the Wiltshire Magistrates (and now appear in Records of Wiltshire).
What happened at Woodborough in May 1652 caused official concern, but how was it that Morris Dancing threatened the pillars of the state?
Capers against the Commonwealth On the evening of Sunday, May 16th 1652, Edward Smyth and Edward Hawking left their homes in Woodborough and went to All Cannings, where they met and conspired with about a dozen people. That same Sunday, Robert Golfe went from Woodborough into Marlborough “to get a drummer”, while Thomas Beasant went to Ram Alley in Easton and “there invited and procured a fiddler”.
The following day, their plans were revealed when a crowd gathered from the surrounding countryside; according to the records, “three hundred persons, or thereabouts … gathered together in a Riotous, Routous, Warlike and very disorderly manner’.” If anyone thought about stopping them, they were armed “with muskets, pistols, bills, swords drawn and other unlawful weapons”.
The musicians led the crowd from Woodborough to Pewsey where they “very disorderly, danced the Morris Dance”, and committed other misdemeanours, including “drinking and tippling in the inn and Alehouse”. While the prevalence of weapons may, happily, be less, it’s reassuring to see that the drinking still continues in and around Morris circles to this day (and sometimes, people still disapprove).
Public nuisance, party, or Sedition? In 1652, England was a republic, following the execution of Charles I. The Commonwealth kept a close eye on signs of dissent, looking for evidence of Royalist insurgency: traditional sports and pastimes were suspect. Ales, Morris and other customs had been the target of religious reformers since before the Civil War. The opposition from these authorities meant that Morris and other customs now symbolised the old order prior to the Civil War, when license and liberty were, supposedly, more freely allowed; as such, Morris dancing and the open drinking of ale was as much an open challenge to the authorities as the bearing of arms. Although the weapons offered a challenge to the authorities, the Morris spoke of tradition, culture, custom and a perceived stability before the upheavals of the 1640s. The new rulers of England were right to view the emotional power of such demonstrations with suspicion.
While the Morris at Pewsey may not be as famous as folksinger Pete Seeger, who was blacklisted by McCarthy in Cold War America, or Victor Jara, the Chilean musician executed during the 1973 coup, the Wiltshire boys used their folk art and their rootedness in the traditions of their place to show dissent toward the Authorities. Were the ringleaders seeking to incite rebellion, or just standing up for traditional fun? No doubt motives were mixed and shifting, including a mass of local and national grievances, as well as people being there for the fun, the beer and the free entertainment. What also seems remarkably modern was the casting of The Commonwealth as an alien, faceless Authority that stopped fun and meddled in the lives of “ordinary folk” (“Bonkers Conkers” anyone?).
However, as our next story shows, the dancers in Pewsey were evoking an idealised past in an “imagined village” …1
The unfortunate sudden death of widow , Ruth Pierce of Potterne, in Devizes Market Place on 26th January 1753.
This is the original inquisition document as carried out by John Clare, coroner in Devizes on 26th January 1753. It details the circumstances leading to Ruth Pierces’ death and his conclusion to the cause.
‘..a Great Quarrel arose between four women in the Market place in the Bourrough of Devizes. Aforsaid whose names was Elizabeth Slade, Sarah Slade, Mary Parker and the aforesaid Ruth Pierce who joined together and bought one sack of wheat of one ffarmer Nathanial Alexander of the price of seventeen shillings......
After the collection of the money by one of the women gathered, it was noted that Ruth Pierce had not handed over her share of the payment which was four shillings. She was openly accused of withholding the money and the following account of what happened was documented in the inquisition, Ruth Pierce then;
‘called upon the Almighty for witness and wished she might drop down dead that minute if she had not paid it the Rash wish was repeated a second time and immediately from the Visitation of the Great and Almighty God was struck down upon the lane and as no marks of Violence appeared upon View of the Body the aforesaid jurors do propose that the aforesaid Ruth Peirce died asforsaid and not otherwise...’
‘Taken at the Burrough of Devizes on Fryday the 26th day of January Upon View of the Body of Ruth Peirce late of potterne Verdict from the Visitation of the Great and Almighty God in a Great Quarrell was struck dead with a lye in her mouth’
Here at the History Centre we continue to acquire new collections to add to our archives. In this way we ensure our collections reflect as many aspects of Wiltshire life as possible, which helps us to engage with a wide diversity of research interests. So with this in mind, here is an introduction to some of the new collections we’ve received since the start of the year.
The Women’s Institute of Little Somerford have donated a significant collection of committee minute books, attendance registers and programmes dating back as far as 1941 (collection reference number 2587A). The minutes alone tell us much about the activities undertaken and the groups’ decision-making processes. In addition, the programmes show the diversity of lectures, demonstrations and competitions the group has undertaken. The collection joins over 200 other WI groups who have deposited material with us. This year marks the centenary of the foundation of Wiltshire’s Women’s Institutes with events planned all over the county.
We have also received a welcome addition to our considerable collection of tithe maps. This 1838 map covers the tithing of Widhill, part of the parish of Cricklade St Sampson, where much of the land is owned either by the Earl of Radnor or by Lord Redesdale. The accompanying apportionment document details both the occupiers and the use for each parcel of land, as well as the value of produce sent as tithe. These maps continue to prove a popular source of local, family and social history.
From the Wiltshire Scout Council comes a collection of logbooks kept by Peggy Shore Baily, the former Akela of the Westbury Leigh Cub Scouts. The collection (reference 4450) spans the years 1932 to 2007, and includes logbooks and scrapbooks, plus several of her personal photograph albums. Also, accompanying scrapbooks compiled by the First Aldbourne (Dabchick) Cub Pack and Winterslow Scout Group from 2007. This is just one of many scout and guide collections we house at the History Centre.
Another of our new personal collections is an addition to the papers of the Mackay and Tucker families of Holt and Trowbridge (reference 3840). This new accrual concerns Lucy Tucker Mackay, and includes a collection of her beautiful sketchbooks. Lucy was a gifted watercolourist who sketched studies of flora and fauna, as well as hundreds of views both of Wiltshire and from her extensive travels across Europe and further afield. Similarly, her photograph albums detail her many travels, most notably visits to her son Edward who was stationed in India with the British Army between the late 1920s and the late 1940s. This was a key time in the relationship between Britain and India, and the albums document the British Army and their families in their leisure time.
We have recently received several very different farming collections. From Box we have a set of haulage account books from Ashley Farm (reference 2324A), covering 1909 to 1964. These detail the transportation of livestock and other goods to and from market, and includes the details of the names and addresses of farmers across Wiltshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire. The volumes are packed with details of goods and charges, and are an aid to the identification of farming families across Wiltshire and beyond.
We have also acquired sale particulars for numerous farms located at Braydon, Brinkworth, Cricklade, Potterns and Pinkney. This collection (reference 831J) dates from 1962 and 1963. Each sale particular describes the homestead, farming buildings and any standing features, plus use and acreage for the agricultural land, as well as any locally given names for parcels of land.
From Donhead St Mary we have the papers of the Bridge Farm Trust (reference 3833A), a communal farming enterprise established in 1975. The farm’s ethos combined environmental awareness with sensitive commercial dairy farming. The project also purchased a nearby farmhouse which served as a guest house and centre for the Community. Also of a farming nature, we have received a certificate presented by the Chippenham Agricultural Association to a Charles Sully, marking 29 years’ service to the Case family at Cleverton Manor Farm (reference 831H). The certificate was originally accompanied by a reward of £2, a considerable windfall at the time. This leaves us wondering whether similar certificates for agricultural long-service are out there somewhere.
Henry Goddard, a pluralist clergyman, was imprisoned in the debtors’ prison of King’s Bench in 1817 (he was admitted 7 March).
At the time he was rector of Castle Eaton (from 1797), vicar of Longbridge Deverill with Monkton Deverill (from 1805) and curate of Maiden Bradley (from 1797), livings which he held until his death in 1829. His petition to the Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors is filed in the diocesan archives together with the various sequestration bonds and writs, which allowed for the income of the benefices to be diverted in for the benefit of the creditors of the incumbent.
The document provides a detailed record of his parlous financial position. The schedule of debts, amounted to almost £8000 (including £4000 due to rev Christopher Rigby Collins, Salisbury, for an annuity granted in 1811 who had sequestered Goddard’s livings in 1816 for arrears). In the list of 79 creditors are members of the local gentry, as well as Collins, who had loaned him money. These included JD Ashley (recte Astley) of Bury cottage, Warminster (£150), the executrix of William Hinton of Bishopstrow (£230), and Richard Long MP, Rood Ashton (£20). The vast majority of creditors were tradesmen for goods and services supplied. The latter are mainly from Warminster and its vicinity and illustrate the range of trades in this town (William King coach maker, William Cox cabinet maker, William Manley perfumer and toyman (seller of toys, fancy goods), Sampson Payne Glassman, a fruiterer, pastry cook, druggist, surgeon, hairdresser, tailor, pork dealer, milliner, seedsman, wine merchant and stationer). Several of these appear in the 1830 trade Directory of the town which gives addresses. Beyond the town the trail of debt reached millers, maltsters and innkeepers, as well as John Dwall (Doel), Horningsham, butcher, and Thomas Morsfield, Longbridge D, blacksmith, John Tucker Brixton Deverill, carpenter and John Heall, Hill Deverill, miler. It also reached to Bath and London and even touched Mr Sims, landlord of The Old Down Inn, outside Wells in Somerset. A former servant also appears: Ann Churchill, now at Capt Jennings at Chitterne, owed £10 for wages to 1816.
Evidence of his son’s education can also be gleaned through debts to: rev Rowlandson, Warminster in 1815 (£30 owed); rev John Cutler, Free Grammar SEast Woodhaychool Sherborne to Midsummer 1817 (£25), and then to Winchester College in 1817 (£6.18s). Tragically the boy, Henry William, whose was baptised in 1807, died, aged 13, and was buried at Winchester college in 1818 (both events recorded in the Longbridge Deverill parish registers).
Loans of money dated as far back as 1802; goods and services as back as far as 1812, which indicate the potential difficulties of cash flow that small independent traders faced.
Richard I was not particularly interested in England, only spending a few months out of his 10 year reign in England, but he was interested in his crusades which needed to be financed. A new way of collecting tax was needed as the current system of “holding the pleas of the crown” in which the King’s itinerant Judges toured the country and held courts in villages to settle disputes and levy fines was inefficient at actually raising revenue for the crown. The problem was it took so long for the Judges to complete their circuit that the sheriffs were able to pocket the fines and not pass them onto the king.
In 1194 new reforms were set up, which included new county officers called the Coroner (or Crowner as they were originally called – Coronam is Latin for crown). They were tasked with “keeping the pleas of the crown” which meant they had to document cases before the justice court rolled into town. Their role was simple, to generate as much income for the King as possible. Sudden deaths were of particular interest to the new Coroner, because if the death was proved to be suicide (“self murder”) then the goods of the deceased would be forfeited to the crown. Buried treasure (treasure trove), goods washed up on shore and shipwrecks all belonged to the king. It was now the job of the Coroner to record these events and to make sure that any revenue due to the King went in to the royal coffers.
By 1194 the Saxons were still in a habit of killing Normans, if a dead person was found, the village in which it was found would be heavily fined, as it was presumed to be Norman unless it could be proved otherwise by a plea of Englishry. The fine was known as “Murdrum”, from which the word murder derives. Coroner’s inquests dealt with these cases and the revenue from the fines imposed went to the King.
Every County elected three Coroners with many boroughs having their own coroner. A clerk was employed to carry the pen, ink and “Coroner’s Rolls” and would have walked behind the horses. The clerk was later dropped in favour of a fourth Coroner. As “Keeper of the Crown Pleas” it was the Coroners job to record the pleas on parchment called the “Coroner’s Rolls” and present to the King’s judges when they rolled into town. These rolls mostly survive and are held at The National Archives. They record, amongst other things, details of sudden and unnatural deaths, giving information surrounding the circumstances of deaths.
A pre Norman practice that appears in the Coroner’s Rolls was the fine of a deodand, “Deo dandum” or “given to God”. The idea was that the object which caused the death of sinful and had to be given to the church to be expurgated. The Normans saw this as a nice little earner for the crown, as the Coroner would value the object and the crown plea judges would decide if the deodand was to be forfeited to the crown or given to the victim’s family as compensation for their loss.
All sudden deaths were investigated by the coroner, whether murder, manslaughter, accidental, natural or suicide. It was the coroner’s job to record as much information about the death as possible, witnesses, time, date, where and of course the primary interest was property and chattels were written down ready for the Justices court. There were strict rules for when a body was discovered and heavy fines imposed if they were not followed. The finder of a body had to raise the alarm and was liable to be fined for inaction. Many bodies might be ignored or hidden, or even moved to another village or tithing in an attempt to avoid responsibility.