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Help and advice for Norfolk: Church Records

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Norfolk: Church Records

Parish Accounts

This is a brief overview of the main Parish Accounts to be found covering the period 1597-1837. For more information see the reference section.

There are a number of parish records which (where they have survived) can help to show the social structure and administrative organisation of each parish. The records which are described here are those from 1597 which taxed the occupiers and then the money was generally spent in the parish. The following refer mostly to the period up to 1837 although some continued unaltered until well beyond this date.

Parishes elected officials including the posts of Churchwarden, Overseer, Constable and Surveyor who had the task of collecting, spending and then getting their accounts accepted. For information about the duties of these officials see the descriptions at the National Archives.

These records include :-

Churchwardens' accounts.

  • The earliest appear in the 1650s.
  • Income came from rents for church lands (if any) and rates levied on occupiers of property.
  • Disbursements (or payments) were generally spent on church maintenance. There are a lot of very common entries which appear many times. These include :- Bread, Wine, Broom, Candle and Oil purchases, Surplice washing and mending, payments Clerks and ringers etc.
  • From one to four people were appointed to this post depending on the size of the parish (see Notes). Two separate sets of accounts have occasionally been seen where 2 churchwardens have been appointed.
  • What information can one find in these records?
    • Some describe the property occupied eg. The Hall, Heath Farm, Public House, Lime Kiln and whether it was owned by the occupier.
    • Some describe trades eg. Blacksmith, Carpenter, Glazier, Mason, Plumber, Thatcher or Stone Mason and may name people.
    • Description and prices of materials and their source and transport.
    • Some also list the previous occupiers names.
    • List of the principal inhabitants who often signed the book when the churchwardens were picked.
    • Schooling for the local children.
  • Briefs (which were issued by royal mandate) to raise money for disasters and other events appear occasionally in the records. These were read out in church and a collection made in the church (and sometimes later in the parish) for the good cause. Some examples of these are Redemption of Turkish slaves for 1670, Loss by Fire at Great Massingham and Relief of Protestants in the Principality of Orange both in 1703.

Overseers' accounts.

These officials raised money to relieve the poor who were settled in the parish.

  • The earliest appear in 1597-8.
  • Income came mostly from rates levied on occupiers of property and sometimes from charities.
  • Disbursements (or payments) were spent on maintaining their poor who lived in (and outside via out relief) the parish.
  • Some other occasional rates were amalgamated with them in 1738-9.
  • From one to two people were appointed to this post depending on the size of the parish (see Notes).
  • What information can one find in these records?
    • Some describe the property occupied eg. Bury Hall, Lower Farm, Mill, Brick Kiln and whether it was owned by the occupier.
    • Some describe trades eg. Cloth Seller, Doctor, Shoemaker, Tailor.
    • Description of materials and their source and transport.
    • Bastardy, Examinations, Removal Orders and Settlement cases.
    • Military service substitutes.
    • Payments (including many weekly ones) to the needy. Help was given with things such as apprenticeship (eg. Poor children of Horstead being placed in trades), childbirth, clothing, fuel, illness and burial costs.
    • Work done on the local Town House.
    • Payments to Houses of Industry.
    • Subscriptions to Hospitals.

Surveyors' (also called Waywardens') accounts.

  • The earliest appear in the 1650s.
  • Income came from rates levied on occupiers of property and in some places from rents of clay, gravel, sand and water pits eg. Acle Surveyors Payments for 1828.
  • Disbursements (or payments) were spent on highway maintenance.
  • What information can one find in these records?
    • Some describe trades eg. Labourer, Painter, Publican.
    • Description of materials and their source and transport.
    • Dates when roads/bridges/signs were built/repaired and when drains were laid, cut or cleared.
    • Some describe the weather conditions eg. clearing the snow.
    • Payments for toll roads or turnpikes.

Constables' accounts.

  • The earliest appear in the 1660s.
  • Income came from rates levied on occupiers of property.
  • Disbursements (or payments) were spent on maintaining law and order.

Notes

  • The dates that often appear in the accounts are the Quarter Days. These days were traditionally used to divide the year for legal, financial (as in rents) and leases. They are :-
    Date Quarter Day
    25 March Lady Day
    24 June Midsummer Day
    29 September Michaelmas
    25 December Christmas Day
  • Easter (First Sunday after the calendar full moon falling on or next after 21 March) is seen very frequently as the time when parish officials are appointed and accounts ran from and to.
  • Rates were levied on occupiers who might live inside or outside (also known as Out Sitters/Out Setters/Outtownsmen or similar) the parish. Occasionally against some of the "Out Sitters" names is given their places of residence eg. Starston Overseers Rate for 1801.
    Another heading seen is Quartermen eg. in the Worstead churchwardens' accounts.
  • Owners are generally not shown in Norfolk accounts until some start in the 1800s Surveyors records. They can be found in the Land Tax assessments for parishes.
  • In some small parishes some of the above posts were combined.
  • Women occasionally held these posts.
  • A few "Valuation surveys" which show the rents on which the rates would be calculated survive. An example for 1761 of one of these surveys can be found in Starston.
  • Other events sometimes find their way into these accounts such as:-
  • Sometimes an official was appointed who could not write and the accounts were written up by someone else.

References

Cannan, Edwin.
History of Local rates in England
[1927]
Tate, W. E.
The Parish Chest
[ISBN:0 85033 507 8, Cambridge University Press, 3rd ed. 1983]

See also Church Records

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Copyright © Mike Bristow.
March 2009