April 2008

“Wedyngs” and Other Thynges

Peter Jackson

I am a volunteer at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), and one of the current projects they are running involves scanning parish registers for any evidence of people of non-European origin. As part of this work I was passed a register for Twickenham. I opened it, and peering at the writing on the first page my first thought was ‘This is old, not all that easy to read’. The register started with ‘Wedyngs’, and underneath was the year written as mdxxxviij: yes, 1538. Rarely does one get to see, let alone handle, a register from that time. As readers will know, parish registers were initiated in 1538 by Thomas Cromwell, but in many parishes they survive only from the start of Elizabeth I’s reign, mainly as a result of the act of parliament in 1597 which required registers to be kept on parchment, and existing registers to be copied on to parchment. Here was a register that survived from the very start of the Cromwell’s law. The first entries of this register are in an early hand which I found quite challenging: it needs to be tackled by those with at least moderate skills in palaeography.

The first wedding recorded was between William Banks and Margery on 30th June 1538. (I could not make out Margery’s surname with sufficient confidence to offer it here.) The first entry that has more details than just the date and names of the couple occurs in 1548 and reads:

Clement Barforde of the parysshe of Elyng bachelor was maried to Isabell Colyn late wyffe of Roger colen of Whytton the vi daye of June. 

(Quotes from the register I have set in a different font: the spelling is what I read in the original, unmodernised.)

A few pages later there is a page headed Anno 1569 Weddings, but this does not seem to have been used for that purpose as immediately beneath it is the a note reading:

In ye yeare of our Lord god 1597 cometh in John Lane of Twickenham & Michell Bake of the same p[ar]ish in ye prsentes of the p[ar]ish & gave up there accounts & soe delivered up in to the new wardens handes the some of xli viijs vjd of good & lawfull money of England. 

This is clearly part of the churchwardens’ account, and what this isolated entry is doing in the register is a puzzle: the word parish is written using the swirl though the tail of the initial ‘p’, that was a common way of abbreviating words that start per- or par-.

Page 19 is headed xpcynyngs, where the scribe has used the chi-rho abbreviation, the first two letters of ‘Christ’ in Greek. The first entry is

Isabell Whyte xxiijti daye of October.

As in so many registers the earliest baptism entries simply give the name of the child and the date, with no indication of the parentage. Later there is an entry for Alice Whyte, baptised on 31st May 1541 (Isabell’s sister? without the parents we cannot know) and Robard Manyngham on 3rd March — remember that in England the year changed on 25th March right up to 1752, so 3rd March comes after John’s baptism on 1st April in the same year.

The writing gets easier in the later entries, some of which are quite fun. There are several references to the local landowner, with one quite long entry that gives details of the god-parents at baptism. I thought this entry in which one surname is spelt in two ways in a single baptism from 1561 was particularly good because of the spellings of ‘christened’, ‘January’ and ‘daughter’

The vj daye of Janewary was cryscenyd Katren Dysplen the dowghter of Robert Dysplyn.

In following entries the word ‘daughter’ also gets spelt ‘dawter’ and ‘dawtter’, showing that the modern pronunciation was in use in the 1560’s, although there was a period when the spelling ‘dafter’ occurred, showing that it was pronounced to rhyme with laughter. As you will see, we get no mother’s name, unless the child is listed as a bastard. This entry is in English. The following year we get an entry

Margareta Danyells nata fuit 28 Junij 1562 followed by William Comes filius Willam Comes baptizatus xxvii die Novembris

where not only have we switched to Latin, but the first entry claims to record the date of birth, not baptism.

There is a section for 2 years in the burials where the incumbent has recorded age at death (which you usually never see until 200 years later). In this we have 2 consecutive burials recorded:

Elyn Flodgate the dowghter to Clement Fludgate the xxix daye of November

whom he notes was aged 2 years, and

Jone Shorthose dowter to Wylliam Shorthose for forth daye of December

aged 3 years: these entries remind us that childhood mortality was a lot higher then than it is now. I also wonder what aspect of his dress got William’s ancestor the nickname ‘short hose’. The next entry is for Jone Colyn, widow of Roger Colyn, who died aged 80, so she had a good life. On 13th January 1558 the burial of three children aged 7, 2 years and 4days are recorded: they are from different families all recorded as ‘laborers’, so was there a sudden cold snap, disease, or a shortage of food?

A new vicar, James Noris, took over and records the fact in the register, writing (in all three sections, baptism, marriage and burial) that he started on St Peter’s day 1563: I am not sure when this is: the last entry by the previous incumbent was dated 2nd Feb, and the first by the new one 9th May. Cheney’s Handbook of Dates lists St Peter Mediolanus as 29th April, and the web site www.daughtersofstpaul.com/saintday/index.html gives St. Peter Chanel the previous day, so late April is my best guess. Immediately after this in the burials section is an entry that reads

Raffe Munday servant to quyn elsabeth was buried ye 22 of Julij … who was drowned by myschaunce at Rychmont fery plase & buryed at Twickenham

(the … represents 3 words that I cannot make out, nor could anyone else at the LMA give me a reasonable interpretation of them). The pronunciation spelling of Richmond Ferry Place makes me smile. I assume he was a servant at Richmond Palace, said to be where Queen Elizabeth died, but since demolished.

This is a register that a student of the area would find most interesting for all the leads and little items of information that it throws up, which could be used as the start point of further research.


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