The experience of death and burial in Hatfield Broad Oak, 1827-1832

By archivist Lawrence Barker

Whenever we give talks to people about parish records and their use in family history research, we make the point that some burial registers can give extra information about the deceased in addition to the bare details of name, date and age, and sometimes record background historical information.

A case in point is the burial register for Hatfield Broad Oak, 1813-1859 (D/P 4/1/26), which was deposited with us in November 2011.  Most of the register confines itself to recording the bare minimum details of name, abode, when buried, age and by whom the ceremony was performed, as stipulated under the terms of ‘Rose’s Act’ of 1812, which stated that “amending the Manner and Form of keeping and of preserving Registers of Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials of His Majesty’s Subjects in the several Parishes and Places in England, will greatly facilitate the Proof of Pedigrees of Persons claiming to be entitled to Real or Personal Estates, and otherwise of great public Benefit and Advantage”.

Nevertheless, even though the information is basic, we can still build up a picture of the demography of death in Hatfield Broad Oak which tells us something about what life might have been like then.

Chart - deaths in Hatfield Broad Oak

Pie chart showing age at death in Hatfield Broad Oak, 1827-1832, taken from the parish register. A total of 200 deaths are recorded during this period, and over 80 of them were children under 10 years old.

For example, looking at the ages of those buried (above), one forgets just how high the infant mortality rate used to be before improvements were brought about by modern hygiene and medical practice, and how likely it was having survived birth you might not have survived much beyond early childhood.  The register shows that, out of the 200 or so burials which took place between 1827 and 1832 in Hatfield Broad Oak, 80 of them (40%) were of children aged 10 or under.  At the other end of the scale, it shows also that only 20% of those buried reached what we would now consider as old age, i.e. over 60.

A lot depended upon the individual incumbent as to whether he was disposed to record additional information.  From May 1827, the new curate at Hatfield Broad Oak, John Robert Hopper, took it upon himself to start recording in the margin the cause of death of those he was burying and other information besides.  So, we find that a serious epidemic of typhoid carried off 25 children between September 1828 and June 1829, reaching a peak in January and February 1829 (below).

D-P 4-1-26 a

In 1830, it was measles that took 6 children in March and April and in 1831, 4 children died of whooping cough.  Throughout the period, 4 infants died of convulsions.

Typhoid, an indicator of impoverished and unhygienic living conditions, seems to have been a major cause of death during the period, with 37 cases, followed by a condition described rather vaguely as ‘decline’ which accounted for 23 deaths.  A few died of consumption or of ‘inflammation of the bowels’ or of dropsy.  One 52 year old died of cancer in 1832.  Two were simply found dead in their beds and one woman aged 27 was found dead in a field on Sunday 30th March 1831 – the verdict that she died of apoplexy.

Occasionally, a fatal accident is recorded as the cause of death.  In November 1828, a 64 year old Edward Bird ‘fell thro’ 2 floors of Mr P Sullivan’s malting, Heath and died a day or 2 after’.  Another died in July 1832 of ‘old age arrested by a fall down stairs’.  In May 1830, one Patterson Parker ‘accidentally shot himself’.

Later that same year in July, a Royal Naval Lieutenant, George Berkley Love, visiting from Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, was working in the Park of Barrington Hall when he ‘accidentally cut himself thro’ the lower third of the thigh with a scythe’ and bled to death in 5 minutes.  J. R. Hopper records that an oak tree was planted soon afterwards to mark the spot where the accident occurred.

Earlier that year in February, poor little 5 year old Betsy Rogers burnt to death, and two extraordinary marginal notes on that page give a clue as to how (below):

Feb.y 7.  A frost of 7 weeks broke up today.  Temperature 12° below freezing point! Many persons frozen to death. One at Gt Canfield, one at Sawbridgeworth.

The seat of Lord Rendlesham (Rendlesham Hall, Suffolk) burnt to the ground, damage = 100,000£; The seat of Lord Sandwich (Hinchinbroke, Huntingdonshire) also destroyed by fire with title deeds, fine pictures, etc.; The Argyle Rooms, Regent St, London also destroyed by fire. Lyceam also…All in Jan.y in Feb.y arising from the unusual heating of flues etc. in consequence of the uncommon severity of the season.

D-P 4-1-26 b crop

If you would like to find out more about parish registers and how they can help you with your research, come along to our next Discover: Parish Registers workshop on Thursday 12 March 2015, 2.30pm-4.30pmTickets are £10.00, please book in advance on 033301 32500. Full details can be found on our events page.

If you are interested in booking a talk with one of our Archivists, on parish registers or another subject, please get in touch with us on ero.enquiry[@]essex.gov.uk

Black History Month: our earliest Black history record

This week on social media we asked you when you thought our earliest record of a Black individual in Essex would date from.

And the answer is… 1580! How close did you get?

The earliest mention we have found of a Black individual in our collections is the burial record of Thomas Parker, ‘a certayne darke mane’ in Rayleigh in 1579/80 (D/P 332/1/3). Thomas was buried on 12 February in the year that we would call 1580; at the time, however, New Year was marked on 25 March rather than 1 January, so contemporaries would have thought of it as still being 1579.

As with so many records this little snippet raises more questions than answers, as we know nothing else of Thomas Parker. Do let us know if you are able to shed any more light on his life.

Thomas Parker burial D-P 332-1-3 editDo you have a story to tell about the past or present of a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) community in Essex? If so we want to hear from you.

We are inviting people from BAME communities to tell their stories, either by writing them down or making a sound or video recording, to be kept in the archive for current and future generations to share.

This will be an ongoing project, but in order for potential contributors to see where their stories will be stored, we are holding a launch event with an opportunity to see behind-in-scenes at the archive, and to enjoy food, music, and a display of documents. Come and join in with Essex History Needs You on Saturday 11 October 2014, 11.00am-2.00pm. Free entry, just drop in.

Secrets from the Asylum

Tonight on ITV the inimitable pub landlord, Al Murray, amongst others, will be discovering the secrets of their ancestors’ lives. One of Murray’s ancestors was committed to an asylum and the show will follow his discovery of what that meant for her and the other asylum “inmates”.

1st Edn OS Map 25" showing the County Lunatic Asylum in 1975

1st Edn OS Map 25″ showing the County Lunatic Asylum in 1875

After The Asylum Act of 1845 it became a requirement for each county to have its own asylum. The Justices of the Peace in Essex opened their County Asylum at Warley near Brentwood in 1853 at a building cost of some £66,000. It was then designed to hold 450 inmates. The institution finally closed its doors in 2001 and much of the site has now been re-developed into luxury flats. To get a flavour of what the asylum was like at the end of its life this website has a number of very good pictures.

A/H 10/2/5/18 - A page from one of the female case books. The words used to describe her illnes are somewhat different to how we would describe them today. "Acute melancholia, morbidly despondant..."

A/H 10/2/5/18 – A page from one of the female case books. The words used to describe her illness are somewhat different to how we would describe them today. “Acute melancholia, morbidly despondent…”

Those documents which had survived the passing of time and the closing of Warley Hospital have now been passed to us at the Essex Record Office. These include Managers’ Minutes, Reception Orders, Case Books and Patient Indexes. We also have a range of Burial Registers which were kept by the Justices of the Peace. The majority of these documents fall under our A/H 10 reference and many of these can be searched in the Record Office, though it is worth bearing in mind that most records less than 100 years old are closed to the public and will have to be searched by one of our archivists (the exception to that being the Burial Registers which are held under references Q/ALc 12/1 to Q/ALc 12/5 and these are currently available to view on our catalogue Seax).

Q/ALc 12/1 - This is the first of 5 burial registers for the graveyard at Warley Hospital. They run from 1856 to 1935. Some burials of patients from Warley are also recorded in the parish graveyard of St Peters, South Weald.

Q/ALc 12/1 – This is the first of 5 burial registers kept by the Justices of the Peace for the graveyard at Warley Hospital. They run from 1856 to 1935. Some burials of patients from Warley are also recorded in the parish graveyard of St Peter’s, South Weald

Q/ALc 12/1

Extract from Q/ALc 12/1

If you are interested in what you discover with Al Murray tonight and want to find out more about life in the asylum or if you think you may have a relative who may have been in the County Asylum, please feel free to visit us or get in touch to discover the secrets that our records might hold.

Parish register stories

Parish registers are some of our most frequently used documents, and as well as providing useful information on baptisms, marriages and burials, sometimes an individual’s story is recorded in more detail. This is more common in the earlier centuries of the keeping of parish registers before standardisation, when record keepers could write as much or as little as they liked. Inevitably, however, such entries nearly always raise more questions than they answer.

The register for Little Clacton contains a very sad and somewhat mysterious story dating from 1592, when a bride, Prudence Lambert, hanged herself the morning after her wedding to Clement Fenn:

Clement Fenn singleman, and Prudence the late wife of Nycholas Lambert, wch dwelt in Little Clacton Lodge; were maryed uppon Teusdaye [six], the xvth day of August; but the (most accursed creature), did the verye next morning, desperatelie hang her selfe, to the intolerable grieffe of her new maryed husband, and the dreadfull horror and astonishment of all the countrye. 

Extract from Little Clacton parish register, 1592 (D/P 80/1/1 image 45)    

Prudence’s burial is recorded two days later in the same register:

Prudence Fen, now the wife of Clem[e]nt Fen, and late the wife of the above named Nicholas Lambert; was buried out of the compass of Christian burial; in ye furthest syde of the churchyard northward; uppon the xviith daye of August; for that shee most accursedlie hanged her selfe.

Extract from Little Clacton parish register, 1592 (D/P 80/1/1 image 61)

 

Another unusual case was found in the pages of the register for Great Hallingbury in 1708:

Anne the daughter of John Hastler and Sarah the Relict of his Father Edward Hastler (by an Incestuous cohabitation for which she did publick penance in the Parish Church of this Parish of Sunday the 11 of March last past and Sunday the twenty eighth following; the first time in the Parish Church of this Parish and the second in the parish Church of Bishop Stortford the father having absconded himself) was baptised privately on the 25th day of 8ber 1707 and her baptism publicly certified in the Church on Easter Sunday April the 4th

Extract from parish register for Great Hallingbury, 1708 (D/P 27/1/4 image 29)

 

A story which hopefully had a happier ending is found amongst the baptisms in the parish register of Ugley in 1759:

Anne daughter of John Grimshaw, a Sailor in the Dreadnought Man of War, & Jane his wife found in Labour in the Road, & taken care of by the Parish, was born June 27th & baptized July 7th

Extract from Ugley parish register, 1759 (D/P 373/1/2 image 17)

 

If you want to explore parish registers for yourself, you can do so using Essex Ancestors, which is available online for a subscription, or for free in the ERO Searchroom.  You can also look out for our Discover: Parish Registers sessions to really find out how to get to grips with these amazing documents.