“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.
As you might have noticed, notes in parish registers fascinate me. One I came across the other day seemed to pack quite a story into just one sentence.
In the earliest register for Little Bromley in Essex, there’s a baptism on 8th April 1593 for a child called Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Myller “of Bryghtwell in Suffolk, mattmaker, borne in Staceys? grounds as his wyf travayld from Manytry towards Wevenho.”
An interesting note from 1745 in West Bergholt‘s parish register shows us that the vicar got muddled up with some of his parishioners’ surnames. Understanding the accent of your ancestor’s region can be really helpful if you want to trace them back further. In this video I talk about certain features of the accent(s) found in the north of Essex and the south of Suffolk, delivered in my authentic north-east Essex twang.
Image reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office.
I’m currently transcribing the earliest register for Ramsey St. Michael in Essex. Although the very early register is lost, entries survive from 1645 onwards. I was intrigued to see if Ramsey was as affected by the plague of 1665 as had neighbouring Great Oakley. There certainly appear to have been an increase in burials that year, particularly in August, September and October – this is the same period as plague deaths were noted in Great Oakley’s register.1)At this point, there’s about twelve burials a year in the Ramsey register. In just those three months of August, September and October, there were ten burials, and those three months are also the same period for plague deaths appearing in Great Oakley. But there’s no notes in the Ramsey register, so we can’t say for sure what those people died of.
But moving into 1666, something unusual appears. From 5th August to 26th August, the Ramsey parish register records the burials of nine sailors. By why?
At this point, there’s about twelve burials a year in the Ramsey register. In just those three months of August, September and October, there were ten burials, and those three months are also the same period for plague deaths appearing in Great Oakley.
One of the pleasures of transcribing parish registers are the intriguing marginalia that turn up in them sometimes. I’m yet to find a pre-1813 parchment register that hasn’t had at least something of interest turning up in it – be it a weather report, a murder, or a runaway single mother. West Bergholt’s has some fantastic notes which slip in and give us a tantalising view of the otherwise vanished past.
Everyone knows about Guy Fawkes, the Catholic Yorkshire man 1)Some might claim, Somerset man, but that is Robert Parsons, who came from outside Bridgwater, allegedly one of the main instigators. who was put to death with his co-conspirators for plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament.
But did you know that the village of Lawshall in Suffolk has a connection with The Gunpowder Plot?
The Drury family & Good? Queen Bess
In amongst Lawshall’s 16th century marriages, there is a note that says:
Memor: It is to be remembered that the Queens highnesse Elizabeth, in hir progresse riding from Melford to Bury 5. Aug. Regina 20. an. Dni. 1578 prd. dined at Lawshall Hall, to the great rejoicing of ye said parish & Country thereabouts.
Elizabeth I’s progresses around the country are well-known, where she dropped in on local dignitaries and graced them with her presence for the duration of a meal, or to stay the night – it is a cliché when country houses say “And this is the room that Elizabeth I slept in.” The people of Lawshall may have felt rather lucky to have the most important person in England come for a visit – she and her entourage were given lunch by Henry Drury, who lived at Lawshall Hall.
I wondered if the locals would have commemorated this visit by naming their daughters Elizabeth. From September 1578 to 24th March 1579/80, there are twenty-seven baptisms in the Lawshall register, and almost half of them are for girls: thirteen. And how many of these girls were named Elizabeth? Most of them, you’re thinking, right?
From Wivenhoe’s baptism register, 1767. ERO ref: D/P 277/1/3
Growing up in Wivenhoe, I probably saw a greater mix of people from around the world than had I lived in a town of the same size that wasn’t anywhere near a university. When I was five years old, there were some boys in my class at Broomgrove Infants who were from Peru! Their fathers were visiting academics at the University of Essex, you see. And international students from Africa and Asia and everywhere else in between made Wivenhoe their home.
But in transcribing the parish register for Wivenhoe, it seems that the town had been the home of people from afar before. With uncanny coincidence, while transcribing the 1751-1812 baptisms and burials register during October – Black History Month – I found references to Wivenhoe residents of the past who were black.
If you’ve ever read The Woman in White, then you’ll know that all the mystery and obfuscation, the swapping of people drugged on laudanum and signing of parchment documents, revolves about Sir Percival Glyde’s attempt to marry a wealthy woman to cover his debts, and to hide his illegitimacy. Had his mother not been married to another man, preventing his parents’ marriage, had divorce been easier to obtain, then there would have been no need for him to go to the great lengths he does to hide his secret, and neither would he die horribly in a conflagration in a church vestry. But without being a lawful (ie. legitimate) heir, and as his father did not leave a will, Sir Percival Glyde is a fraud. He could not have inherited his title and property from his father by default.
Far back in the past, before Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie decide it would be amazing to have an art tutor (especially a handsome one…), Percival manipulated Mrs. Catherick to help him gain access to the church vestry. And why would he want to do this? Because he wanted to fraudulently edit the marriage register. Continue reading →
Dying is rather unfortunate anyway, but in Beaumont-cum-Moze, the causes of death are given far more often than they are in other burial registers that I’ve seen. So here, then, are unfortunate ways to die in Beaumont-cum-Moze.1)Before 1678, Beaumont and Moze were two separate parishes.