Tag Archives: parish registers

Snippets of life in Langham, part 2

Another blog based on the notes in Langham‘s parish register.

A certaine person

When Nathaniel Hinds got married in 1702, rather than just state that his wife was Martha Harris, the vicar instead phrased it as “Nathaniell Hinds & a Certaine person called Martha Harris.” When their child was baptised the following year, again, the usual format wasn’t used. The entry doesn’t say “Martha of Nathaniell and Martha Hinds” but “Martha of Nathaniell Hinds whose wife is called by ye name of Martha.”

It sounds to me like the vicar is deliberately throwing shade Martha’s way. There were several couples called Harris living in Langham at the time, with children being baptised from 1645 onwards. But no Martha. Perhaps her family weren’t living there then or perhaps Martha hadn’t been baptised, hence the vicar’s recourse to calling her “a certaine person” and going round the houses to say her name is Martha. Was she a Quaker? I’ve checked the Quaker records and can’t find a suitable candidate, but it’s a possibility. But it wasn’t uncommon for people to not be baptised – the rules of the Commonwealth in the mid-1600s were that baptisms were no longer to be carried out and only births recorded, and Anabaptism had its adherents – people who don’t baptise infants as they believe that the person being baptised needs to be old enough to confess their faith and agree to their baptism.

Martha may well come from a Langham family who objected to infant baptism.

There’s a baptism in 1701 in Langham for “Anna of James Went & his wife called Ann who was afterwards Baptized herself.” It’s possible that the vicar didn’t see people as “named” until they had been baptised. Ann Went was baptised along with two other “adult persons” – Dorothy Cave and Mary Harris. Mary was about 24-years old, the daughter of William Harris. I wonder if Mary was Martha’s sister?

It wasn’t until July 1718 that Martha was baptised, on the same day as her son Jonathan. The register tells us that she was “about ye age of 40,” which would mean she was born in about 1678. And that would make her the same age as Mary Harris, and therefore likely they were sisters. They might even be twins, as female sets were sometimes called “Mary and Martha”, after the Biblical sisters.


That same year, three adult members of the Talbot family were baptised: Grace, aged 60, William aged 40 and Grace junior aged 30. Three years earlier, six members of the Appleby family were baptised – 47-year-old Mary, then Elizabeth, Edmund, Daniel, Sary [Sarah], and Mary junior, as well as 33-year-old Susan Harris – perhaps a sister of Martha.

Adult baptisms are not uncommon in the late 1600s and early 1700s. They can present problems as they often don’t have the parents’ names, but sometimes you might be lucky and other documents like wills, Poor Law records, property records etc might throw some light on who their parents were so that you can take your family another generation back.

Snippets of life in Langham, part 1

A photograph of St Mary's, Langham.

Photo © Peter Stack (cc-by-sa/2.0)

There’s some very interesting notes in Langham‘s parish registers, which revive moments in the lives of Langham’s long-dead inhabitants. This is the first in a series of blogs based on some of these finds.

Two weddings and a baptism

In November 1697, Ambrose, son of Splanden Rand and his wife Sarah was baptised at the age of 20. Aside from his father having a somewhat unusual first name (possibly a family surname), there’s nothing that unusual about adult baptisms, especially around this period for people who were babies at the time of great upheaval around the time of the Civil War and Commonwealth. Although Ambrose would have been born in the 1670s, ten years after the Restoration, his parents might still have expressed issues with for the form of baptism.

But in November 1697, Ambrose was baptised – possibly at home, as the register tells us that he “was Baptized being about 20 yeares of age & very sick.” His father had died by this time, and the register helpfully tells us that his mother had remarried and was now the wife of Joseph Downes. A useful additional piece of information for anyone researching this family, who might have had trouble tracing what became of Splanden’s widow.

I expected to see Ambrose Rand’s burial not long after his emergency adult baptism, but it seems he recovered from being “very sick” – he is likely to be the Ambrose Rand, single man of Langham, who in October 1699 married Susannah Shearman, a spinster from the neighbouring parish of Dedham.

A very old man… and his comparatively young wife

On 31 October 1699, Robert Wenlock was buried in Langham. We’re told he was “aged about” one hundred. A remarkable age to reach at this period. And the very next entry, on 6 March 1699/1700 is the burial of Jane, his widow – aged 55!

I wonder if the name in the burial register is wrong and it should actually be Richard Wenlock. He and his wife Jane appear multiple times in the baptism register between 1668 and 1686. There is a Richard Wenlock of Langham who wrote his will in 1693 and it wasn’t proved until 1701. The will left everything to his wife Jane “for her natural life” and it might be that if she died very soon after him, before his will could be probated, it caused a further delay in the will being proved.

If Robert and Jane should in fact be Richard and Jane, then it means that Jane was born in about 1644 and was about 24 at the time of the baptism of her first child by Richard. And he was 69.

A deed at the Essex Record Office from 1655 admits Jane Wenlock, under the will of her previous husband William Starling, to an 8-acre property called Pilburrow and Moores which was copyhold of the Manor of Langham. Could she be Richard Wenlock’s wife? But the deed gives no information on who Jane’s husband is, and in 1693, Jane wife of Ralph Wenlock was buried in Langham – aged 75. Looking at the baptisms again, we can see Ralph and Jane Wenlock baptising their children in 1657 and 1659, which suggests that William Starling’s widow, Jane, may have married Ralph. And if Richard’s widow really was 55 in early 1700, then she would only have been 11 at the time that the deed was written – extremely unlikely therefore to be her.

Did Jane Austen fake a marriage?

Ahhh, see, I told you that notes left in parish registers are endlessly fascinating!

Not only is it possible (at least I think so) that Charlotte Brontë got the surname of her heroine from the printer who manufactured parish registers, but Jane Austen, another vicar’s daughter, was actually writing in the marriage register.

The BBC has reported this as “‘Mischievous’ Jane Austen faked Steventon marriage records” which makes her sound like Sir Percival Glyde in The Woman in White. And there’s more: “Novelist Jane Austen created fake entries in a marriage register linking herself with two separate men, it has emerged.” Blimey! The strumpet! She’s committed both bigamy and fraud!

Well… no. Had she filled out a form in the parish register like so:

Layer-de-la-Haye marriage register 1754-1812. ERO ref: D/P 255/1/2. Image reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office.

She would have been in rather a lot of trouble. From 1754 and the Hardwicke Act, marriages were far more regulated than they had been. At least one of the couple had to be resident in the parish they were marrying in, and the marriage had to be by banns or by licence. Banns were called on three consecutive Sundays in church, or a licence had to be paid for and would involve a fine if it turned out the marriage was illegal. If you were so rich that you owned half the British Isles, you could of course get a special licence and marry wherever the heck you liked. You’d also need two witnesses and a clergyman to perform the marriage, and then the spouses either signed or marked the register. The example above (the marriage of my 6 x gt-grandparents) shows that they got married by licence (Elizabeth was pregnant at the time, so the licence sped things up without having to wait for banns to be called), and they both marked – although note that Elizabeth signed with an E, which suggests she wasn’t quite as illiterate as it might at first appear.1)Not long after writing this blog I found out, ironically enough, that Elizabeth Cardinall is in fact a distant relative of Jane Austen’s – by marriage, via the Burr family and the 1st Duke of Chandos.

If you look at the BBC article, you can see one of Jane’s works.

Hampshire Archives, from the BBC website.

She’s written the groom’s name as “Henry Frederic Howard Fitzwilliam” where it says “AB” and added “London” as his abode, and then her own name where it says “CD”, and her home parish as her abode. Would Mr Fitzwilliam, bearer of such a grand name, want to marry by banns, though, one wonders?

Look at that example from 1767, and you’ll notice they’re different forms. On the page that Jane Austen graffitied, you can see the other side of the leaf – the title page of the register – showing through. What she “edited” was the example which was printed at the front of every marriage register, so that clergymen would understand how to follow the new layout. And it’s showing how to lay out the publication of the banns – it’s not a marriage entry.

Perhaps she didn’t expect her father to see it, or perhaps he spotted it and laughed.

It’s certainly a fun thing to find – but it was found, in fact, some time ago (“it has emerged” is rather misleading. This “emerged” years back). It is quite the hyperbolic headline – she falsified a marriage record! Well… she did, but not in quite the way you’d assume from the breaking-news tone.

It does go to show though, what you’ll find in parish registers. Poisonings, death by a bell falling out of a steeple, children born in barns, locals trashing a pulpit, extreme weather, and maybe the graffiti of a vicar’s imaginative teenager daughter.

You’ll be able to see this on display in Winchester from May.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Not long after writing this blog I found out, ironically enough, that Elizabeth Cardinall is in fact a distant relative of Jane Austen’s – by marriage, via the Burr family and the 1st Duke of Chandos.

More unfortunate ways to die in parish registers

All Saints church Great Oakley, by Helen Barrell

All Saints church Great Oakley, by Helen Barrell

A while ago I compiled all the unfortunate causes of death to be found in the parish registers for Beaumont-cum-Moze – perhaps the most unfortunate was William Taylor, who was killed by the bell falling out of the belfry. Burial registers aren’t really supposed to include cause of death, so they appear infrequently. But when they do, they give us a view into the lives lived (and the deaths died) in the past. Drowning and burning seems to have been more common than it is now, with people relying on well-water (and with all those rivers and creeks along the coast) and open fires. Of course, these are the deaths which have been described in the register – so they might be unusual, hence why they warrant a mention. And many causes of death not recorded may have been stranger still – it entirely depends on the whim of the minister or clerk entering the burials in the register. “Shall I mention that this poor chap was struck by lightning while harvesting turnips? Hmmm… nope.” It’s worth searching for your ancestors in newspaper databases in case they did have an unfortunate death which required an inquest.

Here’s some more, this time from Brightlingsea and Elmstead. The date is the burial date.

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Mistley and the Witchfinder


I knew I would come across the burial of Matthew Hopkins, “witchfinder general”, when I came to transcribe Mistley‘s earliest parish register. It was still a strange feeling, to add his name to the database along with all the other residents. But along with Matthew, there was one other Hopkins in the register, and his burial seems to explain just what Hopkins was doing in Mistley in the first place, and perhaps how his campaign took hold.

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Georgian “Cluedo” in Manningtree’s parish register


Image courtesy of the Essex Record Office

Well this is a very odd thing… a plan for the ground floor of a house, from Manningtree‘s register covering 1695-1775. It looks bizarrely like a board from the game “Cluedo”, not least because it even includes a billiard room. From the top, there’s the drawing room, something-or-other room, Ante? room, breakfast room and dining room. Some hastily added stairs, and bay windows.

But who sketched this? A vicar dreaming of his perfect house? Is there a house somewhere in Manningtree which was built to this plan?

Double women in Weeley

Source: Pinterest

Source: Pinterest

Along with the notes in Weeley’s register showing that people having civil marriages during the Commonwealth were sometimes backing it up with a church wedding afterwards, there’s something else intriguing about the register at that period.

We’re used to seeing marital statuses for women such as single woman, spinster, widow or maiden (How sure they were of that…? Ahem), but Weeley’s earliest register throws a new one into the mix: the double woman.

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Black History Month – Harwich and Boreham


Portrait of a late 18th century sailor (from Wikipedia Commons)

It’s time for some parish register finds which show black people living in Essex hundreds of years ago. Last year, it was coincidentally in October that I spotted William Essex, “a black native of Madagascar” in Wivenhoe’s baptism register – so these are the people I’ve found since, in Harwich and Boreham.

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Was your ancestor married by a witchfinder?

"The Puritan Wedding Interrupted" by George Henry Boughton. Yale University Art Gallery.

“The Puritan Wedding Interrupted” by George Henry Boughton. Yale University Art Gallery.

Well… sort of….

During the Commonwealth, from the time of the 1653 Marriage Act to the Restoration in 1660, marriages weren’t performed by clergy but by the local Justice of the Peace.1)See Rebecca Probert’s Marriage Law for Genealogists for more information. In the Tendring Hundred, these Justices – amongst them Harbottle Grimstone (who sounds like a Dickens character) and Sir Thomas Bowes (a relative of mine – sorry everyone) would have performed the marriages. And these were the very same men who aided Matthew Hopkins in his crusade against “witches” – they were responsible for committing the women (and sometimes men) for trial.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. See Rebecca Probert’s Marriage Law for Genealogists for more information.