Tag Archives: St Martin in the Fields

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.

[Cecilia]

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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?

[Hilary]

Blessed by a visit from Brian

If you’ve just watched the latest ‘Who Do You Think you Are?’ featuring Brian Blessed, did you spot your friendly local archivist Alison, helping him to uncover his humble roots?

Brian Blessed at Westminster City Archives for Who Do You Think You Are? August 2014. L-R: Alison Kenney, Brian Blessed, Stephen Miller

Alison Kenney, Brian Blessed and Stephen Miller at Westminster City Archives for Who Do You Think You Are?

City of Westminster Archives Centre was pleased to help with piecing together the part of the tale that took place in London, and very much enjoyed Brian’s company as we delved into the story of his great-great-grandfather Jabez.

Incidentally, there’s some discussion about whether this name should be pronounced Jaybeez, Jabberz or a range of other variations that were used throughout the programme – if any historical name experts have a view on this, we’d love to hear from you!

We take up the story as the four orphaned Blessed children are ‘removed’ from Portsmouth just days after the death of their father (their mother having died a few months before). They arrive at the St Martin in the Fields parish workhouse on 11 November 1822. The eldest, Martha (14), is described as ‘an idiot’ in the terminology of the day, so Charles, aged 8, was perhaps the senior child. With them they brought Jabez, aged 6, and Elizabeth, just 22 months.

The Blessed family admission record at St Martin in the Fields Workhouse, 1822

Workhouse life was harsh and one can only imagine what state they were in when they arrived and what befell them next, as Martha was dead within eight days and Elizabeth within the month. Jabez was sent off to an ‘Infant Poorhouse’ north of London, returning to St Martin in 1825 after Charles had already been apprenticed to a shoemaker in Vauxhall. Jabez, perhaps wisely, ran away in 1827… and the story goes on from there, up and down the country from Northumberland to Brixton via Lincolnshire.

Brian was shown a map of the St Martin’s workhouse in Castle Street, on the current site of the National Portrait Gallery. He was particularly interested in the location as he has done literature readings and other performances at St Martin in the Fields Church opposite, never knowing of course that his close relative had lived so nearby.

It is thanks to the sterling work of the Archives Centre volunteers that this vital piece of information was so straightforward to find, as they have created an index of the workhouse admissions books. The Poor Law records for the St Martin in the Fields parish are some of the best sets of records in the country, and will soon be available via the Westminster Collection on Find My Past.

Brian Blessed had stated that he was looking for “humanity” and humble backgrounds, and he certainly found them in the streets of Victorian Westminster.

[Alison and Ali]