There I was, opening another marriage register, ready to transcribe, when I spotted something, which took my mind far from the nuptials of the people of Essex, and off into the realms of literature.
Not that this is an unusual occurrence – some people have remarked to me that “we’re all related to each other anyway” and “it’s just a list of lots of names”, but what always fascinates me are the stories you can find in parish registers. There is so much material for authors of historical novels in them – strange deaths, attempted bigamy, bizarre choices for children’s names, I could go on…..
Sometimes, I come across things in registers which remind me of novels I have read. I studied English Literature at university, which is probably to blame. For instance, all those soldiers posted at Weeley from 1803, who married the local girls, reminded me straight away of the militia being billeted near the Bennets’ home in Pride and Prejudice. And my various wanderings in old churchyards bring to mind Wuthering Heights and (as mentioned when I went round St. Peter’s, Harborne) the ghost stories of M. R. James.
But on this particular occasion, where I paused in my transcribing, my thoughts derailed, it was because I had noticed a particular surname. It wasn’t the first time I had, but this time my thoughts coalesced adequately for me to to think… “Hang on! I wonder if…?”
Jane Eyre is one of my favourite novels. It has been since we read an abridged version of it when I was 11 at primary school; then, when I was 13 at senior school we read the full edition and were allowed to watch the 1983 adaptation with Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester. It is a novel at once so ordinary and yet so strange; humdrum life wrapped about with the uncanny, that I cannot prize it from my mind. So little wonder then, that, as I looked at the marriage register and for some reason I don’t know, looked at the instructions for vicars on how to fill out the entries, rather than the entries themselves, that I noticed, once again, that the name of the publisher was George Eyre:
George Eyre’s name appearing in a marriage register. His name also appears in baptism and burial registers from 1813 onwards. After 1831, the “King’s printers” became known as Eyre & Spottiswoode. The 1812 Act specifically states that the registers are to be “of good and durable Paper, to be provided by His Majesty’s Printer as Occasion may require”, which means that every baptism, marriages and burial register in the country was printed by Eyre & Strahan. A sample of 1813 registers that I have looked at are all printed by “His Majesty’s Printer”, but later registers, from the 1840s, are produced by a range of other companies.
George Eyre’s name appearing at the front of a baptism register. The Act to use pre-printed registers was passed in 1812, to come into force at the beginning of 1813. Old-style, pre-printed registers were in use for marriages from 1754-1812 (although not published by Eyre & Strahan), and some parishes used pre-printed registers for baptisms and burials to keep track of the taxes to fund the war with France.