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Call for research on English and Welsh parish registers, 1640-1662

Readers may recall that I appealed for help with a project on parish registers during the Interregnum at the 14th Symposium held in May 2016, and again at a conference held in Portsmouth in July to discuss the 1650s. The idea is that we might use our humble parish registers as strong indicators of the degree of disruption caused by the Civil Wars and Cromwellian regime – a simple idea – but one which requires a lot of work hence the appeal to local historians across the country. We all know that the Church of England technically ceased to exist between 1646 and 1660, and it has long been assumed that all remained well at the level of our parishes – but did it?

How did different regions fare regarding the creation and retention of parish registers? May we discern patterns and significant breaks in recording? What dates emerge as critical across the country and how smooth and quick was recovery after 1660? We have growing evidence of some turmoil with regard to the provision (and ejection) of clergy during this period; there may even have been a crisis of supply by 1653 when the Commission for Triers and Ejectors was established. It was in that year that the nature of parish registers was also ordered to be changed, with the appointment of confusingly named ‘registers’ (for which perhaps read Registrars), and details of births requested rather than the more controversial baptisms. In many ways we gain better quality evidence from parish registers in the 1650s, with details of both parents, while marriages were transferred to civil jurisdiction. But is all this data reliable?

We are asking for your thoughts on what happened to registers during this period in your area so that we can compile a simple listing of parish registers, noting all gaps that may not have been picked up in general cataloguing, which usually stresses the point from which registers commence. And of course, we have no Bishops’ Transcripts for this period to fall back upon. We think that this research will offer valuable clues in relation to an host of questions regarding provision of clergy, changing attitudes towards them, data for population studies where some have argued for a demographic crisis at this time (which may be an optical illusion pertaining to survival of records), and valuable data on the role of churchwardens during this period. In collecting data we would ask you to use your local knowledge to comment on patterns you might discern relating to geography, patronage, and wealth in the survival of registers (and we are always looking for more churchwardens’ accounts!).

We would welcome lists of parishes – by deaneries, archdeaconries and better still dioceses/counties – but even full details with comments on one loved parish would be helpful! This project will take time, is highly suitable for ‘crowd-sourcing’, and is very worthwhile, so please give it your kind consideration…. We will report back regularly and hopefully results may be mounted on this Warwick platform. With best wishes, Andrew