Tag Archives: parish registers

Parish Registers for Westminster

This is a little guide to the parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials held at City of Westminster Archives Centre.  On our website under “Researching your family history at the Archives Centre” you can find a list of our Information Sheets and other useful information.

Information Sheet 1 lists the registers we have for Anglican Churches in Westminster. Most of these are available to view on microfilm (for reasons of conservation) in our Searchroom, but they have also been digitised and are available to search and view online on the Findmypast website.
Registers for the Anglican churches in Marylebone and Paddington are available to view on microfilm copies here and on the Ancestry website because the original registers for these are at the London Metropolitan Archives.

Both Findmypast and Ancestry are available on the public computers in all Westminster libraries and on Wifi to users in libraries with laptops.  More detailed indexes to our holdings can be found in the Archives Searchroom.

The earliest registers date back to Henry VIII and the establishing of the Church of England. Thomas Cromwell issued an order to every parson, vicar or curate to register every wedding, christening and burial within their parish in 1538.

Title page of our earliest register for St Clement Danes 1558. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Title page of our earliest register for St Clement Danes 1558, volume 1. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The oldest registers for Westminster are for St Margaret, Westminster starting from 1539 followed by St Martin in the Fields 1551 and St Clement Danes and St Mary le Strand in 1558.

Baptism entry for Robert Cicil (Robert Cecil, Statesman), 6 June 1563. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Baptism entry for Robert Cicil (Robert Cecil, Statesman), 6 June 1563. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

In 1597 paper registers were found to be deteriorating.  An order was issued for them to be on parchment or vellum.  Old register were to be copied from at least 1558. There was also an order for a second copy to be made and sent to diocese and these are known as the Bishop’s Transcripts.  This was to prevent the temptation of later tampering of the registers.  You can find these copies for Westminster registers on the Ancestry website taken from the copies sent to the Bishop of London.

Burial entry for Elinor Gwin (Nell Gwyn), 17 November 1687. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Burial entry for Elinor Gwin (Nell Gwyn), St Martin in the Fields, 17 November 1687, volume 17. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The years 1642 – 1653 are sometimes known as the civil war gaps due to the upheaval of the monarchy. From 1653 a civil register was introduced which reverted back to the clergy when the monarchy was reintroduced in 1660. Another important date to point out is 1752 when the calendar changed. Before this date the year started on Lady’s Day, 25 March.

Marriage entry for Percy Busshe Shelly, 24 March 1814. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Marriage entry for Percy Busshe Shelly, 24 March 1814, from St George, Hanover Square, volume 23, showing an example of a marriage entry before introduction of civil registration. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The Hardwicke Act for marriages was introduced from 1754. Marriages had to be registered in a separate register to baptisms and burials, before this one register could contain all three. It was also expected to eliminate clandestine and irregular ceremonies; only Jews and Quakers were exempt.  All others including Catholic were supposed to take place in licenced Anglican churches and printed paper registers were introduced. You could marry by Banns or Licence and needed the marks or signatures of two witnesses.

An example of a baptism entry page from St James, Piccadilly, showing the printed paper registers used after 1813. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

An example of a baptism entry page from St James, Piccadilly, showing the printed paper registers used after 1813. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Rose’s Act was passed in 1812 and introduced printed standardised registers for baptisms and burials.

An example of a burial entry page after Rose’s act of 1813 from St Martin in the Fields. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

An example of a burial entry page after Rose’s act of 1813 from St Martin in the Fields. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

From 1 July 1837 the civil registration for births, marriages and death starts in England and Wales.

Marriage entry for Theodore Roosevelt, 2 December 1886. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Marriage entry for Theodore Roosevelt, 2 December 1886, St George, Hanover Square, volume 85 (after civil registration). Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Parish registers still continues. The marriage entry in the parish register does correspond to the same format as the General Register Office certificate, but the parish register will have the original signatures of the groom, bride and witnesses, if they could write their own names.



Widow Fling, Mr Gusheroons and friends

Bundle of St. Margaret’s Parish records (E3339/1801) waiting to be cleaned. Particularly vulnerable items are enclosed in archival rag paper for protection.One of the delights of my job has been collating the various indexing projects carried out by our team of Archives volunteers, involving the collections of parish registers and records, and in particular the Poor Law Settlement Examinations.  These provide a wealth of detail about people’s names and families, occupations and places of origin – all extremely valuable to family historians.

But along the way, I have noted down some of the weird and wonderful names that appear in the records.

Noah Flood

Noah Flood

Most people used a very limited number of conventional names – Anne, Mary/Maria, Jane, Elizabeth and Sarah for women, and John, William, Thomas, Henry and George, for men, with spikes in usage in line with royal names.

Some oddities might be transcription errors – spelling wasn’t fixed and the parish clerks may have just written down what they heard, eg Fidusha for Fiducia, Pellaja for Pellagia or Easter for Esther. But is Mordecia Jones an error for Mordecai, or an early appearance of Morticia?

Humility Meeks

Humility Meeks

There are some common abbreviations: Wm, Danl, Jno, Chas, Thos, and the less usual Xpfer and Xian for Christopher and Christian – the X and P are the Greek letters Chi Rho, but there are less usual abbreviations that can be mistaken for weird names in their own right, eg  Cors – Cornelius, Fras – Francis/Frances, Sush – Susannah, Hart – Harriet if for a girl, Hanh – Hannah etc.

Why do people choose particular names for their children?  We are used to celebrities doing this (Zowie Bowie, Nolan Bolan, North West etc), but it is amusing to know that throughout history ordinary people have also done so.  Sometimes the names are inherited through the family, but why would any parent call their child Stamp Brooksbank? Or Freelove Picket? Or Wharton Pigg Nind? Believe me, they really did.

Amorous, child of John Hess(e)

Amorous, child of John Hess(e)

Foundlings – babies abandoned on church steps or in the street – were named by parish officers, and were usually given a biblical or religious name, often taking the name of the church or street as their surname.  For instance a baby girl picked up on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields might be called Mary Martin, or a boy found up in Curzon Street might be called John Curzon.

There is also the tradition of giving the eldest son his mother’s maiden name or a significant family name as a Christian name: Brereton Poynton Mitchell, Hindmass Sowerby, Gatley Jenkerson’, Urquhart Hay and Musgrave Hopwood.

Many Non-conformist families chose biblical or religious names, virtues, or aspirations: Hepzibah Woolston, Jochabet Hart Crafer, Jehu Dunn, Shadrack Spurritt, Deodatus Collis, Constant Heart Barberson, Silence Sparrow, Virtue Cave, Paradise Smith, Record Lyons and Modesty Stannard, Although you wonder what was going on when the parents of Satisfaction Lewis, Repent Scarth, and Repentance Smith made their choice!

Senacharib Sacris Stone (mother Elizabeth Stone, father Peter Sacris)

Senacharib Sacris Stone (mother Elizabeth Stone, father Peter Sacris)

Some people chose classical names: Iphiginia Morse; Julius Caesar Smith, Hercules Hill, Senacherib Sacris Stone. Sometimes you find fitting combinations: Humility Meeks, Comfort Lack, Makepeace Goodman, Rise Price, Noah Flood, Damsel Quiver.

Amusing, unfortunate or just plain weird: Harmonious Budding, Amorous Hesse, Mrs Titt and Widow Fling, Peter Breast and Thomas Manhood, Tempus Hazard or Tempesthazard Carey, Canker Boswell, Dorkes Sharpe (perhaps this should be Dorcas?), Err May, Brogden Poplet and Mr Gusheroons.

Damsel Quiver

Damsel Quiver

All the examples and illustrations above are from the 18th and 19th Centuries, and from the parishes of St Martin-in-the-Fields, St James, Piccadilly and St Clement Danes. What interesting names do you have in your family’s past?


Portrait of an archivist

Alison Kenney, Archivist at the City of Westminster Archives CentreProfile of Alison Kenney, Archivist

How long have you been an archivist?
I’ve worked for Westminster City Archives for 31 years – after doing a history degree, a year’s work experience and an archive diploma/MA.
You may think 31 years is a long time, but I’ll never beat my father’s record of 51 years in the same office!

What do you like best about it?
The variety – there’s never a dull moment! We acquire, sort, list and conserve archives so that we can use them for enquiries, exhibitions, talks and tours. I really enjoy using my knowledge of the collections to find information for local residents with problems. I remember once helping a very nice old gent with a flooded basement  in Pimlico, who was then able to prove to Thames Water that the River Tyburn did indeed flow under his house, using the Geological Survey maps I found for him.

Liberty ‘Dress and Decoration’ catalogue, 1905, page 27. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Liberty ‘Dress and Decoration’ catalogue, 1905. Image property of Westminster City Archives

What are your favourite items in the collection?
I really love the catalogues of Arts and Crafts costume, furniture and metalwork from Liberty’s, the famous West End store – they are so beautiful!
I also like the lovely 19th century watercolours of Westminster scenes by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd – he always includes a little family group and dog in the foreground for interest.
And as a life-long architecture fanatic, I love the late Victorian photographs by Bedford Lemere of the grand mansions in Mayfair, many of which are long since gone.

What interesting stories have you unearthed in the archives?
There are plenty of fascinating stories about people’s lives in the 18th century settlement examination books of St Martin-in-the-Fields Parish.  They contain interviews with poor people applying for financial help. Some of them even include heart-rending notes pinned to the clothing of babies abandoned by their mothers before the Foundling Hospital was established. One of our volunteers discovered the amazing story of a soldier’s wife who brought back six orphaned children from the Seven Years’ War in Europe to be looked after in London in 1760.

What’s the most curious item you’ve ever found?
It has to be the bizarre print of the Java sparrows who performed in a show in New Bond Street in the 1820s. Their owners claimed they were proficient in seven languages and could do card tricks!

Advert for Java sparrows on New Bond Street, 1820s. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Advert for Java sparrows on New Bond Street, 1820s. Image property of Westminster City Archives

What’s been your most surprising discovery?
Seeing the great seal of Elizabeth I on a deed in the Grosvenor Estate archives. It shows the queen in a spectacular dress with a lace ruff at the neck just like the ones in the famous portraits.

What’s the oldest document in the archives?
It’s a grant from Henry III to Westminster Abbey of rights to hold a market in Tothill Fields, Westminster, in 1256. It’s written in ink on parchment (sheepskin) and has most of its original green wax seal showing the king on the throne holding a sword.

Exterior view of the Archives Centre

Westminster Archives Centre

What are your concerns for the future of archives?
The fact that the 1256 document survives in the correct environment in the Archives Centre makes me wonder if any of the records we are producing now will last as long, especially as so many have been created on computers. I think the 19th century will be the best recorded century in London’s history because minutes of meetings were carefully written in bound volumes, not like the files of loose papers we get today.

What qualities do you think the archivist can bring to society?
Perspective! – we view everything that happens now against a backdrop of centuries of history. But we’re also always thinking of the future and the legacy we’re leaving to future generations. I think archivists can bring a fair degree of impartiality to the decisions about which records to keep and which to destroy. Basically, good record keeping is essential for a democratic society. You’ve only to think of the despotic regimes throughout the world, which destroy government records to deny citizens their rights, or else invade their privacy by recording every minute detail of their lives, to see just how important an issue this is.Explore Your Archive 2013

From Downton Abbey to Burghley House

Calling all Downton fans! ITV1 tonight will feature the first programme of Great Houses with Julian Fellowes and we’ll be watching with quiet pride…

Our Archivist, Alison, helped Julian on his quest to discover the real life story behind the household of Burghley House near Stamford in Lincolnshire.  He came to the Archives Centre in the autumn to investigate the dramatic story of Thomas Brinknell, Lord Burghley’s cook, who was accidentally killed by the Earl of Oxford.  Alison pointed out to him the references to the burial in the beautifully illuminated churchwardens’ accounts of the parish of St Margaret Westminster.

Alison the Archivist and Julian Fellowes

Here is Julian with Alison standing behind the large bound volume.

It’s a fascinating – and heartbreaking – story, and one we’re glad to have been able to help uncover. Great Houses starts tonight (22 January) at 9.00 pm.

Upstairs, Downstairs

Do you know what your Victorian ancestors did for a living? Given that there were over one million servants working in Britain by the 1850s (making ‘service’ the secord largest occupational group) there’s a very good chance that Victorian servants feature in your family tree.

Young grooms working for households in Dorset Square, Marylebone. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Mews were built behind the homes of well-off residents of London in order to provide stabling for their horses and carriages, and homes for the servants. The young grooms in this picture would have been working for households in Dorset Square, Marylebone. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The lives and working conditions of Victorian domestic servants varied widely, as did the range of people who employed them (from aristocrats like the sixth Duke of Bedford, who kept a staff of three hundred, to the thousands of middle -class families who employed a single ‘maid of all work’).

The Victorian Domestic Servant, by Trevor MayThe Archives Centre’s Book of the Month, Trevor May’s The Victorian Domestic Servant covers a wide range of domestic service experiences in the Nineteenth Century, describing the work and conditions of servants and giving an insight into the strict social hierarchy, which was as strong ‘below stairs’ as above.

If you’d like to learn more about where and how your ancestors lived and worked, the Archives Centre has a wealth of specialist family history resources available (and friendly, helpful staff to get you started). We have free access to online family history sites, census material and historic parish registers as well as maps, photographs and reference books to help you get a feel for how your family lived. Were they ‘upstairs’ or ‘downstairs’? Find out at the Archives Centre!