Weeke local History - Parish Registers


Parish Registers

Parish registers were started in England in 1538 when Thomas Cromwell, Vicar General to Henry VIII, ordered that clergy should keep written records of all baptisms, marriages, and burials. Up to that date some clergy had recorded events relating to nobility and the wealthy. Cromwell’s order required that they keep records for all the people (Hey, 1996 p341). The Clergy were not happy with this request since they were not paid to keep these records. As a result many either did not comply with Cromwell’s order or only sporadically recorded such events.

In 1598 The Provisional Constitution of Canterbury required that all parish registers should be recorded on parchment. This meant that all earlier recorded events had to be copied into the new registers. (previous events had often been written on scraps of paper or in paper registers). Many of the earlier entries that had been recorded on paper were unreadable due to dampness, poor storage or general decay. In many parishes the earlier registers either have not survived in any form or were not transcribed at the time into the registers made of parchment. In some parishes the clergy decided to ignore the earlier records and start at the beginning of Elizabeth I reign. She was on the throne in 1598 and her reign had started in 1558. In Weeke the surviving registers start in 1573.

As well as the parchment requirement from 1598 each parish was also required to send annual returns to the Bishop responsible for the parish. These returns had to be a complete copy of the previous year’s parish register entries. These copies are normally referred to as the ‘Bishop Transcripts’. A few parishes were already submitting copies to their Bishop. As with any ‘copy’ the accuracy of the transcript can be variable. It can be seen that this was an attempt to make sure the records were being kept and that a ‘safe’ copy was available if the originals were lost or destroyed. Sometimes Bishop Transcripts can fill in gaps where the parish register entries are missing (Hey, 1996 p341).

In 1649 following the execution of Charles I an English republic was established. This period from 1649 to 1653 is normally referred to as the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth proper ended in 1653 when Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate was established. Normally there are large gaps in the parish records during this period and weeke was no exception to this. Oliver Cromwell intended to remedy the poor record keeping in parish registers by placing responsibility for the records in the hands of appointed officers called “Parish Registers”. The records they collected were referred to as Civil Registers but many do not survive including those for Weeke(Hey, 1996 p342).

After Charles II was returned to the throne in 1660 the “Parish Registers” were dismissed (some of them became parish clerks). Restored clergy in some areas confiscated the Civil Registers and destroyed them. Other clergy simply went round the parish writing down the events by asking the parishioners to remember what had happened in previous years. In the case of Weeke the “gap” in records is larger and there are no surviving records between 1648 and 1674.

Marriages during the period before restoration of Charles II were not allowed to be in church. A plan to marry could be announced at the Market Cross or the couple could go to a Justice of the Peace to be legally married. Many couples did not like this arrangement and secretly went to church to be married if the clergy managed to stay in office.

After the Restoration marriages recorded in front of a Justice of the Peace were just retrospectively legalised. Some clergy simply refused such blasphemy and either forced a second marriage in church or branded the children as illegitimate. This can often explain the rise in the number of aliases appearing in some registers. The clergy simply recorded both the father’s and mother’s name.

In 1667 and 1668 legislation was passed by Parliament that all burials should be in woollen shrouds. The purpose of this Act was to help the wool trade in England. An affidavit had to be made (usually in front of a Justice of the Peace) by someone of standing in the community that the burial had been made in wool. This explains why the burial records for Weeke include some reference to an affidavit from 1680. Gradually the Act was ignored, in Weeke the last entry including an Affidavit is 1726. The Act was not finally repealed until 1814 (URL10).

In 1694 a tax was introduced on every birth, marriage and burial. This required, for example, that all births should be notified to the clergy within 5 days and the clergy were to receive a fee for recording the birth. This tax resulted in some entries not being recorded in the parish records either because the parents could not afford the tax or to avoid it. Occasionally entries would record the family were paupers and could not pay the tax. As can be expected this tax was short lived.

In 1711 an Act was passed which stated that the register books should have lines on each page to record each entry and numbered pages. This had been found to be necessary because the clergy would cram entries in often in very small writing that was almost unreadable, the Weeke registers are examples of this problem. Although this Act was adhered to in some parishes most ignored the requirement, probably on the basis they were not going to waste empty pages in their existing registers. Weeke continued to use the existing book for entries until 1756 for marriages and 1813 for baptisms and burials.

In 1732 a change was demanded that entries should no longer be in Latin with Latin versions of names etc. Generally this had been abandoned in most parishes any way. Only the earliest entries in the registers for Weeke were in Latin.

1752 was a very important date for the people of England and the recording of dates in Parish Registers. Before 1752 the year began on March 25th (usually referred to as Lady Day) and this was described as the Julian Calendar. Any event in the Parish Registers recorded before 1752 would not change the year number for entries until March 25th. The change to a January 1st start for the year had been widely introduced in mainland Europe but England had clung onto the Julian calendar. Some clerks had for some years started to record dates in the first three months of the year using the two years eg 1751/2. An Act of Parliament in 1752, known as Lord Chesterfield’s Act abandoned the Julian Calendar for the modern Gregorian calendar which starts a year on January 1st. When the Act was introduced it meant that 1752 was only 9 months long since 1753 started on January 1st rather than the following March 25th. In addition the 2nd September 1752 was followed by 14th September. This was to make an adjustment to the seasons due to a basic inaccuracy in the Julian calendar that had been in use from Roman times. There was general unhappiness amongst the people at the time who though they were having their lives stolen from them by this action. When considering dates in the registers normally they are recorded in a special way to avoid confusion. For example February 14th 1743 is recorded as 1743/4. The Transcription of the Weeke Registers has remained true to the original Records. Most of the records follow the Julian calendar before 1752 and the Georgian after 1752. A few entries show the double year (eg 1725/6) which suggests that for some time before the change the idea was gaining support in use (Hey, 1996 p342).

In 1754 Hardwicke’s Marriage Act came into force on March 25th 1754. This stated that marriages could only be solemnised in a parish church or chapel after the publication of banns or by a licence issued by the Bishop of the diocese. Bann books and marriage registers were required to be separate from the books containing baptisms and burials. With the exception of Jews and Quakers, marriages were required to be performed by a clergy of the Church of England. Marriage partners under the age of 21 (minors) were required to obtain consent from their parents or guardians to marry. Catholics and other non conformists married in the Church of England and their own chapel/church just to be sure the marriage was recognized as legal. There seems to be a small gap from 1753 to 1756 in the Weeke marriage register. Perhaps there was a delay in obtaining the required format sheets on which to record entries. The clergy may have recorded any marriages on scraps of paper then failed to record them in the new register when it finally was available. All entries from 1756 were in the new format. Where the entries show the bride and groom were of Weeke parish (shown as Of This Parish OTP) this does not always mean the party had resided in the Parish for any length of time. Three weeks was the legal requirement for the clergy to record the party as OTP. Many conscientious clergy recorded a temporary resident as a 'soujourner' although this does not seem to have happened in Weeke. It was also accepted practice for a marriage to take place in the bride’s parish. Hardwicke’s Act had far reaching effects and the arrangement to record banns was a new procedure which required banns to have been called on 3 consecutive weeks in both the bride’s and the groom’s parishes. The new register had four printed boxes per page in which was recorded names and parish of residence of the bride and groom. It also had the date of the marriage, the groom’s occupation, the marital status of both parties and whether it was by banns or licence. For the first time signatures were required from both parties and the clergy.

In 1783 a stamp Act was passed which required a duty to be paid for every entry made into the registers. This Act was repealed after 10 years. The effect can be seen in the Weeke births where a note is made that the duty was paid.

In 1813 the George Rose Act (The Parochial Registers Act) required the use of specially printed registers, with separate books for baptisms, marriages and burials. Baptismal entries now required the names, address and occupation or status of the parents. The address in urban areas often recorded the actual street address. In country parishes the address might simply be the village, hamlet or a farm. The Weeke register has all these for address demonstrating how this small parish included urban as well as country areas (URL11).

1837 was the start of civil registration of all events. The marriage register kept by the parish church was laid out to look much like the actual civil registration certificates which started that year. It was now possible to marry in a Register Office where all events were recorded.

The Weeke registers start with a single volume that recorded baptisms, marriages and burials for the period 1573 to 1648. The second register was used from 1674 (after the Restoration) to 1769. The third register was donated by the then Rector Charles Blackstone. This was replaced by the standard stationery. Unfortunately there are various gaps in the registers for each type of event.

Baptisms have the following gaps :-
1607 – 1616 (9 years)
1620 – 1625 (4 years)
1648 – 1675 (27 years)

Marriages have the following gaps :-
1588 – 1596 (10 years)
1619 – 1633 (14 years)
1634 – 1645 (11 years)
1646 – 1674 (32 years)

Burials have the following gaps :-
1607 – 1618 (11 years)
1619 – 1634 (15 years)
1639 – 1645 (6 years)
1645 – 1675 (30 years)

The transcripts of the parish records are included as pdf files:-


St Matthews Baptisms 1573-1877


St Matthews Marriages 1573-1870


St Matthews Burials 1573-1871


Release 1.0 last update 11/12/07

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