Following, in the Advent 2017 series, from a piece on Aunt Daisy, it seems appropriate to have something further about the church.  Here Irene Cranwell explores the early church registers.  These are currently being transcribed and it is hoped will be available to view in the Archive from Spring 2018.


Parish Registers

The first mandate for keeping Parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials was made in the time of Henry VIII, by Thomas Cromwell, then Vicar-General. It was ordained that the parson of every Church in England should “kepe one boke or register” for this purpose, the said entries to be made on Sundays in the presence of the Churchwardens. But the Registers of Chrishall do not begin until 1662 – one wonders what happened to the previous records?

The first entry reads “This Church Booke of the Parish of Chrishall begins from the Feast of St Michael, Anno Dom 1662”.

The chief attraction of the Registers for old Chrishall families, and for others who have a liking for Chrishall and Chrishall folk, is the discovery that a number of people living in the village today are directly or collaterally descended from the parish worthies whose christenings, weddings and funerals are here recorded.

There were Rogers (sometimes spelt with a ‘d’ – Rodgers) and Lovedays. Clarkes – with or without the ‘e’ – were here in the 1700’s. The Flacks came from Ireland in 1805, the Cranwells did not put in an appearance before 1812 and the first mention of a Drury is not until several decades later.

A brief scrutiny of the Christian names of Chrishall people shows that the mothers were content with very plain names for their children. Amongst the boys James was a great favourite, closely followed by John, Richard, Thomas, Stephen and Philip. An occasional Nehemiah and Elkanah breaks the flow, and the Flacks brought with them the rather unusual Christmas and Enfield. Later, with the coming of the Hanoverians came an outbreak of Georges and Williams and later on several Butlers (was this a tribute or compliment to a rather popular Vicar at the time – one Rev. Butler Berry?).

The girls were Sarah, a most popular name, with Elizabeth close second. Mary too, but we also find Amey, a Phenix, Kezia, Decima, Abigail, Joanna, many Anns, Rebecca, Susan, Susannah and even a Moulton.

In the marriage register we find that the swains of Chrishall were well content, literally, with their neighbours’ daughters although the maidens of Chishill, Barkway and Elmdon seem to have captivated several in the 1700’s. One Sarah Jude cast her spell farther afield, and was wooed and won by a “furriner”, Abraham Nash, all the way from Bishops Stortford in December 1759.

One telling extract is dated 1782. “Matthew, ye baseborn son of Thomas – and Elizabeth – baptized Oct ye 3rd. NB. They were married ye next Sunday”.

As very few people could write, the marriage register is adorned with many marks” in lieu of signatures. These took various forms, apart from a rather shaky cross, and it needs little fancy or imagination to picture the hands that held the unfamiliar pen on that great occasion, which were probably far more used to grasping a hedge tool or a plough snath.

In one respect the registers are a little disappointing, in that they do not directly report any great national event. But in the register of burials we find a few observations that are of interest, although most of it is “reading between the line”.

Two entries some fifty years apart in time, reflect the impact from the outside world. In the 1670’s a law was made to benefit the wool trade. It was ordered that “no corpse shall be buried but in woollon … and not in any shirt, sheet, shift or shroud – (and try saying that when you are tired!) – or anything whatsoever made of or mingled with flax, hemp, haingold(?) or silver or any stuff or thing other than what is made of sheep’s wool” – and a certificate had to be produced to that effect at the time of burial. This Act was ordered to be read in Church on the first Sunday after St Bartholomew’s Day. This law was not repealed until 1814.

We find that in 1678 John Woodcock was “buried in woollon”. The relatives of John were very law-abiding, and there follows a rather smug record “buried in woollon according to the Act”. However, some fifty years later the burial of “Margaret Clarke, widow” took place. This seems to have caused the Vicar some misgiving for he finds it necessary to add to the record “No affidavit is brought to me concerning this woman being buried in woollon.”  We shall, alas, never know what happened about poor Margaret’s lapse, but I am glad she got away with it.

During the incumbency of the Rev. Godfrey Eventh, 1839-1858, that obliging gentleman lightly penciled in a brief word giving the cause of death. Thus – “John Brooks, aged 13 fell from a cart” – and we learn that “John Kemp was killed by a machine” (?) at the age of 70.

Scarlet fever, dropsy, mortification of the feet, typhus fever, apoplexy, paralysis, and, in one case, even diarrhea are given as causes of death. It is notable too, what a large number have the word “consumption” or “decline” inscribed in the record. During the “hungry Forties” the infant mortality makes very depressing reading. In 1840 we find the melancholy record of three children in one family dying in less than a week. Two, John Ward, aged six, and Lydia Ward, aged four, were buried on April 11th and on the 15th three year old James followed his brother and sister – and their mother a week later.

A brief word, added by the Vicar, sometimes sets the thoughts racing and conjuring up what ‘might have been’. Just “Salwina Horne, Stranger, buried Feb 18 1749”. How came Salwina to such an isolated village, as Chrishall must have been? James Dyer, a boy killed by accident in Henry Andrews’ corn mill, buried May 28th 1753 – and “Widow Cross” achieved distinction by being “above 100 years old” when she died in 1737.

Irene Cranwell