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The churchwardens' accounts of England and Wales

[Please note that this site is still under construction]

Welcome to our website! Here you find information on (A) using the database, (B) the project and (C) the accounts.

A. How to use this database

I. For information on a particular location or ecclesiastical / regional organization: load up the parish list / county list / diocese list / archdeaconry list to see which towns and villages are covered in this project and which secular / Church units they belonged to (alternatively, type place names into the respective search boxes immediately to the right);


II. To find years covered by churchwardens' accounts in particular parishes go to the parish list from where you can click on any hyperlinked county to access its spreadsheet (NB: only the 'Bedfordshire' pilot is fully accessible at the moment). Once this has loaded, search for the desired location (via pressing CTRL+F on your keyboard). Highlight the respective row (by clicking on its number on the extreme left) and then use the scrolling facility on the right-hand half of the spreadsheet to identify the years with surviving accounts (marked by the symbol 'o' for original document).


III. To access further information for individual parishes (such as details on their church, total expenditure amounts for each surviving year, any editions or transcriptions of churchwardens' accounts) click on the respective tab at the bottom of the page. For parishes lower down the alphabet, turn to the small box with four horizontal lines in the bottom right-hand corner of each county spreadsheet. Clicking on it will call up a scrollable alphabetical list: simply select the appropriate place name to access the data. For each parish with surviving accounts, all original documents are listed with the document reference and location. Each year that an account survives is listed together with the total expenditure. Where the expenditure information has not been collected, for a variety of reasons (see below), an ‘O’ denotes that the original accounts survives. In some instances manuscript extracts and / or transcripts are available and the reference and location for these are given together with an ‘E’ (for extract) or ‘T’ (transcript) against the year. Likewise, the ‘E’ and ‘T’ are used for printed sources.

 

B. Project Information

We are creating a searchable national database of all surviving churchwardens’ accounts from the earliest known (c.1300) to c.1850. This resource, although incomplete as yet, will be updated regularly as we continue to collect data. The short url address is http://warwick.ac.uk/cwad.

The listings feature every known parish church together with any chapels of ease and private chapels, along with their dedication, diocese, archdeaconry and deanery of each. Wherever possible an indication of the population, will be given, taken from the Hearth Tax Returns and an early nineteenth century census. Further information will be added as it is gathered – this will include bibliographic information for each parish.

The surviving churchwardens’ accounts will be located, examined and each year of survival will be listed with, wherever possible, the total expenditure of each year. Documents too fragile to be examined will also be mentioned ready for when they are conserved and available to researchers.

We also plan to include information about the churchwardens’ accounts and their uses. A recently published collection of essays based on churchwardens’ accounts Views from the Parish: Churchwardens’ Accounts c.1500 – c.1800, ed. Valerie Hitchman and Andrew Foster, gives more information about this source. Another dealing with both its uses and problems is Andrew Foster’s ‘Churchwardens accounts of early modern England and Wales: some problems to note, but much to be gained’, in K. French, G., Gibbs and B. Kümin (eds), The Parish in English Life 1400-1600 (Manchester, 1997), pp 74-93. See also the links to specific sets and further discussions in My-Parish's digital resources and, for published accounts, the bibliography of printed primary sources (search for 'churchwarden' / 'accounts').

Although the main purpose of this website is to give details of original sources, a search has been made for both modern and antiquarian publications with transcripts and extracts from the churchwardens’ accounts. This information is all shown on the appropriate parish pages.

 

C. Churchwardens' Accounts

For anyone unfamiliar with churchwardens’ accounts, they provide a list of expenditure relating to the parish church and (often) the parishioners for each year and give an insight into parish administration. Among the many areas in which churchwardens’ accounts can be used by researchers are:

  • To monitor the repairs and rebuilding of churches,
  • To chart changes within the church geography and liturgy,
  • To provide information on frequency of Holy Communion.

Also they often record the cost of materials used for repairs or rebuilding along with the wages paid to both skilled and unskilled workmen, and occasionally give the names and trades of the individual workmen.

The dating within these documents can present problems. Up until 1752 the year changed on 25th March (24th March 1660 was by the current system 24th March 1661). Today, this is often shown by the double date 24th March 1660/61. After 1752 the year change occurred on 1st January but the accounts generally continued to run from Lady Day to Lady Day (25th March).

The Churchwardens often dated their accounts with the words ‘for the year of ….’. Was this the year past or the date when the accounts ended or the date when the account were presented to the parish? Examples of each can be found.

With the regular change of churchwardens, the method of dating could also change, so that what had been a year ending date suddenly became year beginning date. There were of course the very helpful churchwardens who gave both the beginning and the end date for their accounts but they are the exception rather than the rule. For these reasons where it is unclear which dating method has been used, the date given has been treated as the year beginning date. So please bear in mind that the date could be the year ending date.

The expenditure can also present problems and is shown here only as an indication of activity, rather than a reliable source for the churchwardens’ spending. In many parishes, especially the smaller parishes, the positions of Churchwarden and Overseer of the Poor went hand in hand and thus the accounts are sometimes combined. Accounts can be found in which not only the churchwardens and overseers expenditure is recorded but also that of both the Constable and the Surveyor of the Highways.

Where occasional years are marked ‘missing’, this could be for several reasons:

  • the page has been lost (many account books are made up of pages that have been bound together at a later date);
  • the accounts were never written up for an unknown reasons (blank pages are sometimes found in the account books where the missing year should appear) the account dating changes from year beginning to year ending;
  • the previous or following year’s account is for two years, without clear indication that this is the case.

Where it is obviously a 2-year account, this has been indicated. But the original does need to be examined closely to confirm this.

With some accounts, especially pre -1600 accounts, the expenditure is divided into separate accounts so that there are several totals – candles, bell ringing, sacrament, etc. In these instances, the letter ‘O’ has been placed against the date, showing that the original account survives but no clear total of expenditure can be easily found. The ‘O’ was used where data was collected before the decision to note the expenditure was made. Eventually these will be re-examined and the data collected. Where combined accounts consist of predominantly Overseers or charity payments the ‘O’ has also been used; this occurs frequently in the City of London accounts.

Occasionally the expenditure is listed in detail but no total entered. In these instances a ‘no total’ has been entered against the date. Where the document is damaged so that the total has been lost, this is also indicated against the date with either ‘lost’ or ‘total lost’. ‘Missing’ indicates that no account could be found for that year.

Where a document is badly damaged, a note is given to that effect on the appropriate parish page.

QUICK SEARCH:

PARISH LIST

COUNTY LIST
ARCHDEACONRY LIST

DIOCESE LIST

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Project Director

Dr Valerie Hitchman

(University of Kent)

 
My-Parish Contacts

Beat Kümin (co-ordinator)

Joe Chick (webmaster)

 

Acknowledgements

The project would like to thank the following individuals and groups for their support:

All archival helpers

David Beck

Nick Edwards

Ken Fincham

Andrew Foster

Dave Toulson

Warwick History Department