Chesham (Buckinghamshire).

A transcript of the first volume, 1538-1636, of the parish register of Chesham, in the county of Buckingham; online

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Online LibraryChesham (Buckinghamshire)A transcript of the first volume, 1538-1636, of the parish register of Chesham, in the county of Buckingham; → online text (page 1 of 31)
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3 1833 00724 2578

Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2010 with funding from

Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center



First Volume, 1538-1636,

of THE


in the county of Buckingham ;



J. W. Garrett-Pegge.
Honfcan :

ELLIOT STOCK, 62, Paternoster Row.





r Introductory Notes iii — xvi

y- 1 Transcript of the Register :

A_ Prefaces i

,- Baptisms 3

Marriages 17!

Burials 233

^Appendices :

I. Copy of a Deed and a Memorandum relating to

Cheney's Charity - - - 33^

II. Vicars from 1538 to 1636 - 344

III. Churchwardens- ...... ^44

IV. Place-Names 345

V. Occupations 347

VI. Surviving Surnames - - - 3^5

VII. Christian-Names 349

VIII. Entries in which Surnames are not stated - 351

lNDEX 353


Chesham Parish Register



It is remarkable that a practice so obviously useful, both
politically and socially, as public registration of births,
deaths and marriages, should ever have been suffered to die
out in any organized community in which it had once been
established. Yet, though such registration was more or less
observed in some form by most of the civilized nations of
antiquity, nothing of the kind seems to have existed in
Europe during the middle ages. The monastic records,
which have sometimes been spoken of as analogous, were of
a private rather than a public character, and related mostly
to members of the respective orders, to their benefactors,
tenants and servants, and to matters connected with their

Modern systems of registration date only from 1497. In
that year, Ximenes, Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of
Spain, introduced baptismal registers in his diocese in order
to remedy a social evil which was then prevalent. A child
and its godparents being all regarded as spiritually related to
one another within the prohibited degrees, a custom had
arisen among married couples of easy morals of alleging the
discovery of a previously unsuspected relationship of this
kind as an excuse for separating, and contracting new ties.
The want of records made it very difficult to disprove these
allegations, and divorces had become scandalously frequent.
The Archbishop, therefore, issued an ordinance requiring a
register to be kept in every parish of the names of the infants
there baptized and of their sponsors. The ecclesiastical
influence of Ximenes was second to that of the Pope only ;
and the example set in the diocese of Toledo was speeaily
followed elsewhere, so that baptismal registration soon became
common on the continent.

Thomas Cromwell, Vicar-General to King Henry VIII.,
appears to have noticed, while residing in the Low Countries
in early life, the registers that had been introduced there by
the Spanish priests. When he came into office as the King's
chief minister, and deputy-head of the English Church, he
saw how useful similar registers would be in this country,
though for purposes other than that which had mainly actuated
Ximenes. Cromwell saw, too, that records of births alone
would be incomplete, and that any scheme of national regis-
tration ought to include also marriages and burials. The
result was that on September 5th, 1538, he issued an edict
imposing upon the parochial clergy, under penalty of a fine
for neglect, the duty of keeping parish registers in a form
which remained without much alteration for three hundred

Less than 800 of our extant registers begin in the year 1538.
Here and there is to be found one that dates back somewhat
earlier, perhaps through anticipation of Cromwell's injunction,

Introduction o f
registration in
modern Europe.

Its introduction
in England.

Less than 800
extant registers
begin in 1538.

Chesham Parish Register

Very few are com-
plete, or contain
original entries
prior to 1597.
when transcripts
were ordered to
be made on parch-

A copy of each
year's entries was
to be sent to the
bishop of the

Other noteworthy
enactments as to
registers before

Parish 01 Chesham
has been large and
populous from
early times.

or, possibly, through entries in family or local records having
been copied into the register. Very few, however, of the old
registers are complete. And very few contain original
entries prior to the year 1597; for Convocation then made
an ordinance, confirmed in 1603, and on each occasion ratified
under the great seal, requiring every parish to provide itself
with a parchment book, into which the entries in the old
paper books were to be fairly and legibly transcribed, authen-
ticated on each page by the signatures of the minister and
churchwardens. Almost all the records of years earlier than
1597 are, therefore, transcripts made at that time, or in 1603,
and this fact is notified in many of the registers.

The ordinance required a copy of the entries of each year
to be sent to the bishop of the diocese, for preservation in
the diocesan registry. An order to the same effect appears,
however, to have been issued previously, for transcripts of
much earlier date than 1597 are found in some of the
registries. Such transcripts have the advantage over the
copied registers of being contemporary records. Unfortu-
nately, this important provision against loss or falsification of
the registers was somewhat negligently observed ; and, what
with default in making the returns, lack of suitable accom-
modation at the registries, and carelessness of custodians,
few, if any, complete bishop's transcripts now exist in a
readable condition.

Other noteworthy enactments made as to the keeping of
registers between 1538 and 1812, when the first of the Regis-
tration Acts now in force was passed, were the following,
most of them being of a temporary character : — (1) From 1555
to 1558, the names of sponsors were required to be stated in
the baptismal entries ; a provision which was of course an
essential feature in Spanish registration, but which in
England was only partially insisted upon, even during the
short time it was obligatory by law. (2) As the result of an
ordinance of 1644, the date of birth was for some years stated,
as well as that of baptism. (3) During the Protectorate,
laymen were appointed in place of the clergy as registrars, —
or " registers," as they were then called ; and marriages were
solemnized before Justices of the Peace. (4) In 1678, an
act was passed requiring ministers to notify in the register
the receipt within eight days of each burial of an affidavit
certifying that the corpse had been wrapped in sheep's wool,
in accordance with a law to that effect passed in 1666 for the
encouragement of the woollen manufactures of the country.
(5) A tax was imposed in 1694, and again in 1783, upon
marriages, births and burials, as entered in the registers. (6)
I n 1 753> an act was passed making it felony to destroy or
tamper with any register of marriage.

The parish of Chesham, or Great Chesham, so called to
distinguish it from the adjoining parish of Chesham Bois, was,
until lately divided, one of the largest in England ; and, as far
back as its records go, it seems to have been more populous
than would be inferred from its secluded situation. But the
manufacture of leather, leather goods, cloth, woodenware and
lace, and the mills for which the river Chess has supplied
motive-power since the time of the Domesday Survey, have
from an early period drawn labour to the town, and made it
more or less a centre of local business.

Chesham Parish Register


The parish Register of baptisms and burials affords almost e q s ^* n tes of
■the only means we have of estimating the population of the popu a
place in the sixteenth century, and an estimate formed on
this basis must necessarily be a very general one. Even if
the lists are approximately correct, the baptisms cannot be
taken to represent all the births, and the rate of mortality at
the time can only be conjectured. So that the most that can
be said with any confidence is that the population from 1538
to 1552 was probably about 1000 : that in the ten years ended
1600 it appears to have been 1400 or 1500 : and that by 1636
it had risen to something like 2000. But these last-mentioned
figures are inconsistent with a return made at a bishop's
visitation in 1605 by the then vicar, that there were 1000
communicants in the parish.

As bearing upon the population at the date last mentioned,
it may be remarked that in an interesting contemporary MS.
preserved in the church at Chesham, and further adverted to
on page xi., 347 parishioners are named as sufficiently sub-
stantial to be specially rated to meet the cost of certain
repairs and alterations in the church in the year 1606.

Anyhow, though the known facts are not sufficient to enable
us to form any definite estimates of the population, it has
evidently been large, for a mere market-town, from very early
times ; and the lists of the local baptisms, marriages and
burials, for the period beginning 1538 and ending 1812, fill as
many as eleven folio volumes, some of which are closely

Registration was begun at Chesham on October 10th, 1538";
and the first volume of the Register contains the records
down to the end of the year 1636, with one baptismal entry
dated 1641.

The book is in a very good state of preservation, but it has
been rebound. It contains 136 parchment leaves, size
uf by 7I in., closely written on both sides. The number of
baptisms recorded is 4415; that of marriages, 1100; that of
burials, 3013 : total number of entries, 8528. The first part
of the book contains the baptisms to the end of 1633 ; then
come the marriages, and, after them, the burials ; followed by
the baptisms for the last three years of the period, 1634-1636,
for which room in their proper place, before the marriages,
seems not to have been left when the space was at first
apportioned among the three classes of entries. Chronological
order obtains throughout. The arrangement is in contrast
with that of many registers, in which the baptisms, marriages
and burials, sometimes of periods far apart, are mixed up
together in a way that is very perplexing to a searcher.

The earliest registers were commonly kept in Latin, but in
the book under notice that language is used only in a prefatory
note and in a few words here and there.

The records from 1538 to 1598 were copied from the
original Register, in accordance with the enactment of 1597,
already mentioned, which required transcripts to be made on
parchment. The transcription seems for the most part to
have been carefully done.

The handwriting in this part of the book, and of the
subsequent entries to the end of 1604, is that of William
Saunders, vicar from 1572 to 1607. The style is particularly
clear, neat and scholarly, — so much so that on many pages it
might serve as a good model of what we may suppose

Chesham d a
from 1538.

Descript ion of
first volume of

Entries to
not original.


Writers and



Chesham Parish Register

Mode of posting
up registers.


Elizabethan copy-book smallhand to have been. From 1605
to 1622, excepting two or three short intervals, the entries
appear to have been made by the next vicar, Richard Wood-
cock ; and it is probable that his successors wrote most, if
not all, of the remainder. The identity of the writers can
only be inferred, however, from incidental references, and
from the handwriting; and it is possible that the entries of
some of the later years were made by the parish clerks, who,
if so, were less erratic in their spelling than was usual with
their class. Some of the writing quite at the end of the
period is irregular and cramped, but the book as a whole may
be said to have been exceedingly well posted up, and, excepting
a word here and there, it is easily legible throughout by any
one who is familiar with the handwriting of the time.

None of the entries appears to have been made when the
baptism, marriage or burial took place. The early registers
were generally made up periodically. Cromwell's edict
required that the records of each week should be entered in
the register on the following Sunday, in the presence of one
of the churchwardens. The custom was for the minister or
the clerk to put down the particulars of the ceremony at the
time in an ordinary day-book or on loose slips of paper, and
for the rough draft so made to be copied into the register, at
first weekly, and afterwards at longer and irregular intervals.
Many mistakes and omissions occurred, no doubt, through
this practice, the names of persons being not infrequently
misspelt by the clerk, and the notes being sometimes lost or
forgotten, and often not fully or accurately copied.

The requirement that a copy of the entries of each year
should be sent to the bishop of the diocese to be preserved in
the diocesan registry was complied with at Chesham — in part,
at least ; for a note of registration occurs yearly in the margin
of the Register from 1573 or 1574 to about 1606, and tran-
scripts of the years 1575 (October)— 1576 (September), i6oo<
(in part), 1605 (in part), 1609-1613, 1617, 1620, 1625-1628, 1634
and 1636 are preserved in the Registry of the Archdeaconry
of Buckingham at Aylesbury. Those of the intervening
years are missing. The transcripts are written on long strips-
of parchment or paper, and they are mostly in fairly good
condition. The writing is the same as that of the correspond-
ing year in the Register, and the correctness of the record is
generally attested by the signatures of the vicar and church-
wardens for the time being. Some of the transcripts, however,,
show considerable variation from the Register. Several of
the entries in the latter do not appear in the former, and
vice versa. Occasionally, too, the names are not the same in
both. These differences are in some years so numerous as to
point either to such carelessness on the part of the tran-
scriber as seems in the circumstances unlikely, or to his
having had before him to copy, not the Register, but the day-
book or notes from which, as has been mentioned, the
Register itself was made up. It would seem, therefore, that
there is generally little reason to prefer the reading of one of
the two records to that of the other : but it should be observed
that the earliest of the transcripts, for the year 1575-1576, is
contemporary, having been written at the end of the year to
which it relates, whereas the entries of that year as they
appear in the Register itself were copied from the original
Register in 1598, twenty-two years later ; so that in this case

C/iesham Parish Register


there is a presumption in favour of the transcript. I have
carefully collated all the readings, and the noteworthy
discrepancies are indicated where they occur.

The ordinance of 1597 required each page of the new Entries not
registers to be authenticated by the signatures of the minister attested,
and churchwardens, but this has not been done anywhere in
the book under notice.

There are a few gaps here and there in the early years, but Omissions,
the only great omission is that of the records during the reign
of Queen Mary. This omission is mentioned in the last pre-
fatory note, and again where the break occurs in the baptisms,
and a reason for it is suggested in both places ; but it is not
unlikely that the change in the national religion at the time
had more to do with the discontinuity than anything else.
It will be noticed that in the list of burials the year 1557
occurs in the margin, with at least one entry ascribed to that
year: other entries follow with no other year stated, but it
seems probable that they belong to 1558 or 1559, and were
subsequent to Queen Mary's death.

The dates of the marriages and burials are denoted by the Dates,
years of the reigning sovereign up to the end of Edward VI.
I have entered the annus Domini in brackets for convenience
of reference.

In some places the year seems to have been wrongly stated,
perhaps by mistake of the copyist. I have entered in
brackets what may be assumed to be the right figures, after
those that appear to be erroneous.

In regard to the dates, it must be borne in mind that the
old style, under which the legal year began on March 25th,
obtained throughout the period. The usage was not invariable,
however, and the transcriber of 1598 treated the years 1560-
1572, among the marriages, and 1561 and 1562, among the
burials, as beginning on January 1st. For the sake of uni-
formity, I have indicated the beginning of these years according
to the old style by figures in brackets.

In several entries it is stated that the baptism, marriage or Persons belonging
burial took place in another parish. The words " by leave" to other parishes,
or "by my consent" are added in some of these cases; and
two children are said to have been baptized at Berkhamsted
" without my consent." The ceremonies to which such
entries relate were in ordinary course recorded in the registers
of the parishes in which they were performed, as well as in
that ot Chesham. In like manner, baptisms, marriages and
burials at Chesham of persons belonging to other parishes
are frequently found recorded in the registers of those

Among the persons buried, a considerable number of Nurse-children,
''nurse-children" from London are mentioned. This illus-
trates a curious difference in the family relations of the time
from those which now prevail. Children received little
attention at home, and were generally sent away as soon as
possible to spend their early years elsewhere. Londoners who
could afford it put them out at nurse with people in the
country, ostensibly for the sake of the benefit supposed to be
derivable from country air. But that so many of these children
should die away from their parents and be buried unnamed,
affords ground for conjecture as to the real motives which
prompted the sending of them to a place so far from London
and so out of the way as Chesham was ; and it does not require


Chesham Parish Register


Inference as to
general health.

Description of
persons named.

a very imaginative mind to read an occasional tragedy
between the lines of these simple entries.

In some years the burials are noticeably much more
numerous than in others. In a few instances, several
members of the same family seem to have died within a very
short time of one another, which suggests the prevalence of
some epidemic disease, probably the plague or, towards the
end of the period, the small-pox, but there is no mention of
this or of any other cause of exceptional mortality ; nor do
the years when the greatest number of deaths occurred at
Chesham coincide with those in which the plague is known to
have been especially fatal in London.

That Chesham was generally a very healthy place during
the century covered by this volume of the Register may be
assumed from the large excess of baptisms over burials. This
on the whole period was 46 per cent., and in many years it
was at the rate of more than 100 per cent. In 1580. 1581,
and 1604 the burials numbered less than one-third of the
baptisms. Towards the end of the period, the proportion of
baptisms to burials shows some decline.

A considerable number of the persons named are described
by mention of their places of residence or their occupations.
This was probably done in most cases only for the purpose of
distinguishing the persons referred to from others of the same
name, and the descriptions are therefore very incomplete.
But even partial information as to local nomenclature, and as
to the industries of the town at the time may be presumed to
have some interest, and I give in Appendices IV. and V. com-
plete lists of all the place-names and all the occupations that
are mentioned. In the latter case, I have added the number
of persons to whom each occupation seems to be ascribed, but
the numbers may not be strictly accurate, because it is some-
times difficult to distinguish between persons of the same
name — as father and son, for instance — engaged in the same
occupation at or about the same time. And it must be borne
in mind that, as the great majority of persons are not described
at all, these numbers afford a merely conjectural basis on
which to estimate the comparative prevalence of the several
callings to which they relate.

Setting aside servants and labourers, who together con-
stitute probably the majority of all the persons described,
shoemakers seem to have been then, as now, the most
numerous class of the community. They doubtless obtained
their leather from the local tanners and curriers. Large
quantities of material from the same source were probably
consumed also by the glovers, who in those times used leather
for making not only gloves, but also many other articles of
dress or personal utility, such as shirts, breeches and
leggings, bags, purses and the like. There were in Chesham
300 years ago many of this trade, but it has long been
extinct in the district. Next to the shoemakers, in
numerical order, come the weavers and the tailors. Cloth
was one of the most important manufactures of Chesham at
the time, and the tailors no doubt found it advantageous to
settle where they could procure and make up on the spot the
materials required for the supply of the London market.
No cloth is made in the neighbourhood now, and the only
tailors are those who meet the purely local wants. The
wheelers, or wheelwrights, are frequently mentioned. Their

Local industries
& occupations.

Chesham Parish Register


Local surnames

trade was needed for the large traffic that was carried on in
manufactured goods, as well as for some of the simple
agricultural operations of the period. The tanners are
numerous; and so are the workers in woodenware, described
as " turners," " shovelmakers," and " trenchermakers." The
woodenware industry is still one of the most important in the
town, but the last of the tanneries was done away with about
fifty years ago. The millers, the maltmen or maltsters, and
the tile-makers and potters represent occupations still carried
on in or near Chesham ; the dyers, the curriers and the
cutlers have passed away. The number of smiths, and car-
penters or joiners, seems to point to a considerable demand
for craftsmen of these trades. It is somewhat remarkable
that only two persons are described as " husbandman," for
this class must have been a very large one. Those members
of it, however, who needed to be distinguished from other
persons of the same name were probably described as of
Ashley Green, Chartridge, Latimer, etc., which would
sufficiently identify them. The term " yoman," which is
applied to three persons, has not been included in the list,
because it probably implied social position rather than
manner of livelihood. The occupations of pinner and saver
may be noticed as unfamiliar to us now. The pinner was the
poundmaster, "pounder" or " pinder," — the officer charged
with the duty of impounding stray cattle on behalf of the
lord of the manor. The sayer seems to have been the market-
assayer, "sayman " or " saymaster," whose business was to
prevent unwholesome food from being sold in the market.

More than goo distinct family names are found in the volume.
The following are those which most frequently occur: — Byrch,
Weedon, Cocke, Ga(a)te, Dell, Gardner, Grover, Harding, and
Ware. Of these, Byrch is much the most common, having —
counting all the instances of every Christian name — 786
entries ; and the others range in number of occurrences from
668 for Weedon to 343 for Ware. That these names should
be so widely spread affords some indication of the prevalence
of local inter-marriage, which has always been characteristic
of the neighbourhood.

For the purpose of comparing the family names existent in
the district from 1538 to 1636 with those found there at the
present time, I append (Appendix VI.) a list of the names
which occur both in this volume and in the Registers for the
year 1900 of the parochial electors of the parishes of Chesham,
Chartridge, Latimer, Ashley Green and Chesham Bois. The

Online LibraryChesham (Buckinghamshire)A transcript of the first volume, 1538-1636, of the parish register of Chesham, in the county of Buckingham; → online text (page 1 of 31)