Essex Archives Online digital images: Parish Registers – what will you find?

While the Essex Record Office might be closed to physical researchers it is still open for remote users via our Essex Archives Online (EAO) service that contains over three-quarters of a million digital images of parish registers, wills and some other records. This service has been up and running since 2011 and in that time researchers from across the globe have made use of the service. And it is a dynamic service as new images are added as and when relevant documents have been deposited and digitized.

In this Blog post EAO user Ian Beckwith has kindly shared some of his research that he has undertaken whilst using our parish register digital images. Ian is a seasoned user of the service and has been using it for several years but if you are new to research and are thinking of possibly taking out a subscription then it is worth considering the wonderful breadth of what is available. So, to begin with Archive Assistant Neil Wiffen discusses how to get started.

During the 20 years that I have worked at ERO I have been advising researchers on how to start making use of the digital images that are on EAO and here are some of my tips.

Firstly, I would strongly recommend that before you take out a subscription you familiarize yourself with the EAO catalogue. It is completely free to search the catalogue as much as you wish. There are several ‘User Guides’ which are located at the bottom of the home page (https://www.essexarchivesonline.co.uk/) so scroll down and have a read of these.

The cover of the Gt Burstead Parish Register – D/P 139/1/0

Secondly, have a go at searching the catalogue by trying out a simple search – try typing in the wide white text box (which contains ‘search the archive’) the name of the parish you are interested in and ‘church register’ and click ‘Search’. This will bring up instances of all sorts of registers, not just church, or parish, registers, for a certain place. Some of these won’t have digitized images associated with them so this is why it is essential to check that what you want to look at has digital images before taking out a subscription. It will, however, give you an idea of the range of documents that the ERO looks after. All the Church of England parish registers deposited in the ERO, except for a few of the most recent ones, have been digitized, so you should find that they all have the a picture frame icon at the end of their entry in the search results.

By clicking on the ‘Reference’ or ‘Description’ you will be taken to the full catalogue entry for a document which might well give you further information. You might find that it isn’t really what you’re looking for. But if it is, remember to check for the photo frame icon to find out whether there is a digital image associated with the document .

A quick way to search for parish registers in particular is to look at the ‘Parish Register’ section of EAO (top right-hand corner). Here you will be able to refine your search to the parish you are interested in. If what you are looking for isn’t there (or if it is there but doesn’t have ‘Digital images’ next to it) then don’t take out a subscription. It is worth remembering that not every parish will have records going back to 1538 so do check the catalogue before subscribing to avoid disappointment.

Every parish has its own unique number assigned to it. Great Burstead, for example, is D/P 139 and registers of baptisms, marriages and burials come under D/P 139/1. The first register, which covers 1559 to 1654, is then catalogued as D/P 139/1/0. Take time to familiarize yourself with the catalogue before taking out a subscription.

And do bear in mind that even if a parish register survives then early registers have baptisms, marriages and burial scattered throughout them so you will probably need to go hunting through the register for the entry that might be there – or might not . In the Tudor, Stuart and Georgian period it was very much down to the individual incumbent, or his deputy, as to how much effort was put into keeping the registers up to date. Not every vicar, rector or church clerk was as assiduous a record keeper as we might have liked him to have been. Fortunately, if you have a subscription to Ancestry, we have worked together with them to create a name index, which can take a lot of the leg work out your research. You can even buy digital images of what you find directly from Ancestry.

Handwriting can also be difficult to read, although some incumbents like Rev Thomas Cox in Broomfield and the famous Essex historian Rev Philip Morant, have beautifully clear handwriting. Sometimes the writing is faint or illegible and the register itself might be damaged. Remember these were working documents that have spent several centuries in damp and cold churches before being deposited at ERO.

One last thing, if you have identified that there are parish registers that you want to look though that have digital images associated with them, and you take out a subscription, then make sure that you take down the reference of what you have looked at and what you have found as you work your way through them. This will save time in the long-term and if you share your research with others you can tell others in what document you found the information.

I hope I haven’t put you off after all that but I do have one last warning: historical research can be addictive. You might start out looking for one thing but get distracted by something else. After 20 years of working at ERO I know there’s always another new topic of interest just lurking over the page!

Neil Wiffen – Archive Assistant.

If you require any assistance, having taken out a subscription, then you can contact the Duty Archivist at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk. While the Record Office is shut, emails are being monitored remotely during the present crisis. Please bear with us though.


Parish Registers – Researching Remotely

I, like many others of my age and with underlying health conditions, am in self-isolation.  But this doesn’t mean that I can’t get on with research.  Thanks to the digital age there’s so much available on-line for the local historian to work on, e.g. Essex parish registers, which, thanks to the wonders of the ERO, are at my finger-tips on my laptop.  There’s a subscription to pay, but once you’re registered., you can log-in, click on ‘Parish Registers’ in the top bar, scroll down the page until you find ‘Choose a letter’, then ‘Choose a parish’ and finally ‘Choose a church’.  Up will come a table, telling you when your chosen registers begin, click on ‘View’ in the right hand column, and the register will appear.  You need to know that in the case of the earliest registers, the baptism, marriage and burial entries were written up in one book, sometimes in different sections of the book, sometimes together as they occurred through the year.  Later registers record baptisms, marriages and burials in dedicated volumes.  When the image of your selected register appears, click on the rubric ‘To enhance this image… ’ and the image will expand to fill the screen.  Away you go!

D/P 139/1/0

In September 1538, King Henry VIII’s Vicar General, Thomas Cromwell, issued an injunction to every parish priest in England requiring him to keep a record of all baptisms, marriages, and burials in his parish.  In Essex at least seventy-five parishes have registers beginning in about 1538.  Most of these survivals are copies made in the reign of Elizabeth I, either by the incumbent or the parish clerk, from the old book, which was then apparently discarded.[i]   Many other registers begin in the reign of Elizabeth I.  Apart from the marriages, baptisms and burials that are the building blocks of family reconstitution, what else can we learn from scrutinising parish registers?

In rural Essex as elsewhere in the sixteenth century it was taken as a given that God existed.  No one’s head was bothered by whether the earth was the centre of the universe (it obviously was) or whether God was in his heaven up above while hell was down below (they undoubtedly were).[ii]  The only issue was whether God was Protestant or Catholic.  The wrong choice could cost you your life in this world and your salvation in the next.   When it came to making this choice, parishioners in England had been on something of a roller-coaster ride since 1538.   Four years before Cromwell issued his injunction introducing parish registers the Pope’s authority over the English Church had been abolished and the King had made himself Supreme Head of the Church in England.  Between 1536 and 1541 the Dissolution of the Monasteries had seen the closure of over 900 monastic foundations, the dispersal of the monks and nuns who occupied them, and the sale of their vast landed estates.  Yet the parish registers that survive from this period show that, while these upheavals were taking place, baptisms, marriages and burials carried on as normal.  The services of the Church continued to be said in Latin, in the form in which they had been since time immemorial.  It was not until 1549, two years after the death of Henry VIII, that the mass was first said in English.  Four years later the Protestant Edward VI was succeeded by his half-sister the Catholic Mary Tudor, Henry’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon, and during the next five years England returned to obedience to Rome, the services in the parish churches reverted to Latin, the traditional rites and ceremonies were restored, and images and treasures that had been hidden were brought out again, only for all this to be reversed in 1558 when Elizabeth I came to the throne: again the Pope’s authority over the English Church was abolished and the Queen was proclaimed Supreme Governor of the Church.[iii]   On May 8th 1559 the Act of Uniformity, authorising the use of the new Book of Common Prayer, received the Royal approval.  The new prayer book, which replaced all other service books, came into use on 24th June 1559.

Occasionally, however, in the midst of the routine recording of rites of passage, the registers provide glimpses of the impact of these changes at parish level.  In July 1599 the Great Burstead register recorded that

Elizabeth Wattes Widdow sume tyme the wife of Thomas Wattes the blessed
marter of god who for his treuth suffered his merterdom in the fyre at
Chelmesford the xxij day of may in A[nn]o D[o]m[ini] 1555 in the Reigne of
queen mary was buryed the 10 day 1599 so she liued a widow after his death
xlviij yeres & fro[m] the 22 of may to the 10 july & made a good end like a
good Christian woman in gods name.[iv]

D/P 139/1/0

Thomas Watts was one of almost eighty Essex men and women who were burned at the stake in the reign of Mary Tudor for refusing to recant their Protestant beliefs.[v]  A full account of Thomas Watts’ martyrdom is provided in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, more correctly titled Acts and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, first published in 1563 and greatly expanded in 1570.[vi]    Described as a linen draper of Billericay, then part of the parish of Great Burstead, Thomas Watts had, according to Foxe ‘daily expected to be taken by God’s adversaries’.  Accordingly he had assigned his property to his wife and children and donated his stock of cloth to the poor.  He was arrested on April 26th 1555 and brought before Lord Rich at Chelmsford, accused of not attending church, i.e. hearing mass.   Interrogated by Sir Anthony Browne, who, with Rich, had been appointed to purge Essex of heretics, as to why he had embraced his heretical views, Watts replied that

You taught me and no one more than you.  For, in King Edward’s days
in open sessions you said the mass was abominable trumpery, earnestly
exhorting that none should believe therein, but that our belief should be
only in Christ.[vii]

It seems that Watts had also spoken treasonable words against the Queen’s husband, King Philip.[viii]  Unable to persuade Thomas Watts to recant, he was sent to Bishop Bonner, ‘the bloody bishop,  …’.[ix] Essex was then within the diocese of London and Edmund Bonner was its bishop, first under Henry VIII and again under Mary.  He remained staunchly Catholic during the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth.  Although usually depicted as sadistic and merciless, it is worth noting that even Foxe acknowledges that Bonner made several attempts to persuade Watts (and others) to recant, ‘gave him several hearings, and, as usual, many arguments with much entreaty, … but his preaching availed not, and he resorted to his last revenge – that of condemnation’.  ‘I am weary to live in such idolatry as you would have me live in’, Watts is alleged to have said, and signed the confession of heresy.  Faced by his refusal, Bishop Bonner had little choice but to consign Thomas Watts to the secular arm, the Church not being allowed to take life, to suffer the penalty prescribed by the Statute De Heretico Comburando (Concerning the Burning of Heretics) of 1401, originally intended to deal with Lollards.[x]

Returned from the Bishop of London’s prison to Chelmsford, Thomas Watts was lodged at ‘Mr Scott’s, an inn in Chelmsford where were Mr Haukes and the rest that came down to their burning, who all prayed together’.  Watts then withdrew to pray by himself, after which he met his wife and children for the last time, exhorting them to have no regrets but to glory in the sacrifice he was making for the sake of Jesus.  So powerful were his words that, it is said, two of his children offered to go to the stake with him.  At the stake, after he had kissed it, he called out to Lord Rich, who was supervising the execution: “beware, for you do against your own conscience herein, and without you repent, the Lord will revenge it”. ‘Thus did this good martyr offer his body to the fire, in defence of the true gospel of the Saviour’.[xi]

It seems unlikely that Rich, a man whose name is a byword for cruelty, sadism, dishonesty, ruthlessness and treachery, possessed a conscience.  Born about 1496, Richard Rich was a lawyer who entered the service of Thomas 1st Baron Audley of Walden,, who assisted Rich to become MP for Colchester.[xii]  In 1533 Rich was knighted and became Solicitor General.  In this capacity, he used selective quotations from a private conversation with Thomas More in the Tower in evidence at More’s trial.  In 1536 he was appointed Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, charged with the disposal of former monastic estates, a position that he used to enrich himself.  In 1546 he personally tortured the Lincolnshire Protestant martyr, Ann Askew, in the Tower. During the reign of Edward VI, as Lord Chancellor, however, he presented himself as a reformer, taking part in the trials of Bishops Gardiner and Bonner. Yet in Mary’s reign he helped restore the old religion, actively persecuting those like Thomas Watts of Billericay who refused to conform. Under Elizabeth he sat on a Commission to enquire into grants made during the previous reign and was called upon to advise on the Queen’s marriage. Richard Rich died on 11th of June 1558 at Rochford and was buried at Felsted on the 8th of July.  The entry in the Felsted register gives only the bare facts. For those at Felstead who had dealings with him, Richard Rich, first baron Rich, must have been terrifying.[xiii]

In Elizabeth’s reign, others submitted to the Religious Settlement but made their resistance covertly, like the parson of Great Baddow who recorded the burial of Joan Smythe on May 1st 1572 ‘being the purificacion even of o[ur] lady St Mary’ (i.e. the evening preceding the feastday).

Ian Beckwith


[i] It is not necessarily clear by whom the registers were kept.  Although the entries for the preceding week were supposed to be read to the congregation at the principal service on Sunday, there are indications that some were written up at the year’s end (24th March), possibly from notes on slips of paper.  The penmanship of the entries remains generally of a very high standard until the last decade of the sixteenth century, when it often becomes slapdash and much less legible. 

[ii] The realisation that the world was not flat, as the circumnavigation of the globe by Magellan and Drake demonstrated, did not shake the belief in this three-decker image of the universe.  

[iii] The change from Supreme Head as Henry VIII was designated, to Supreme Governor, it has been claimed, reflects the opinion that a woman could not be ‘Head’ of the Church.  However, when Elizabeth was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, the title ‘Governor’ was retained and continued to be used by every subsequent monarch, male and female.     

[iv] ERO, D/P 139/1/0, Image 49. However, the length of her widowhood seems to have been miscalculated.

[v] J E Oxley, The Reformation in Essex to the Death of Mary, Manchester University Press, 1965, pp.210-237.  Coincidentally, my copy was withdrawn from Billericay Public Library in about 2013.

[vi] I have drawn upon an edition of 1860, published in Philadelphia.  The account of Thomas Watts’ martyrdom is on p.367. The Book of Martyrs has been blamed for inciting anti-Catholic sentiment in England.

[vii] Foxe, p.367

[viii] Mary had married Philip on 25th July 1554

[ix] Foxe, p.367

[x] Several Essex Lollards were burned at the stake in Henry VIII’s reign.  The purpose of burning was to act not just as a deterrent but also as a purgative, to rid the realm of disease.  See David Nicholls, The Theatre of Martyrdom in the French Reformation, Past & Present, Vol 121, Issue 1, November 1988, pp 49-73.

[xi] Foxe p.367. 

[xii] Thomas Audley (1488-1544), formerly MP for Colchester, a member of Cardinal Wolsey’s household, Speaker of the Commons during the Reformation Parliament and Lord Chancellor of England from 1533-1544

[xiii] Born about 1496, Richard Rich was a lawyer who entered the service of Thomas Audley, who assisted him to become MP for Colchester.  In 1533 Rich was knighted and became Solicitor General.  In this capacity, he used selective quotations from a private conversation with Thomas More in the Tower in evidence at More’s trial.  In 1536 he was appointed Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, charged with the disposal of former monastic estates, a position that he used to enrich himself.  In 1546 he personally tortured the Lincolnshire Protestant martyr, Ann Askew, in the Tower. During the reign of Edward VI, as Lord Chancellor, however, he appeared as a reformer, taking part in the trials of Bishops Gardiner and Bonner, yet in Mary’s reign he helped restore the old religion, actively persecuting those who refused to conform. Under Elizabeth he sat on a Commission to enquire into grants made during the previous reign and was called upon to advise on the Queen’s marriage.

Document of the Month, October 2018: Marriage of Captain James Cook and Elizabeth Batts, 1762

Lawrence Barker, Archivist

250 years ago, on 25 August 1768, Captain James Cook of the Endeavour embarked from Plymouth on his first voyage of discovery to the South Pacific to observe the transit of Venus. In so doing, he left behind Elizabeth his wife of nearly 6 years and their first 3 children. It has been calculated that the couple spent a total of just four years together out of 17 years of marriage.

Record of the marriage of Captain James Cook to Elizabeth Batts in 1762 in the Barking parish register (D/P 81/1/10). Both have signed their names; the fact that Elizabeth was literate enough to do so is an interesting detail.

This month’s document, a marriage register (D/P 81/1/10), records their marriage at St Margaret’s church, Barking on 21 December 1762. James Cook lived further up river at Shadwell and Elizabeth (née Batts) was the daughter of the inn-keeper of The Bell at Wapping. Cook was fourteen years older than Elizabeth who was aged just twenty. As neither of them belonged to the parish of Barking, they were married by licence of the Archbishop of Canterbury by George Downing, the vicar of Little Wakering in Essex (it is thought that Elizabeth Batts knew Downing who was also chaplain of Ilford Hospital).

The front cover of the register

Altogether, they had 6 children, three of whom died in infancy. Of the others, two went to sea like their father. Nathaniel was lost aged sixteen in 1780 in the Thunderer, which foundered with all hands in a hurricane in the West Indies, and their eldest James (a commander and the longest lived) was drowned in 1794 whilst trying to board his sloop in a storm. Meanwhile, their youngest, Hugh, died of scarlet fever in 1793 aged seventeen whilst he was a student at Cambridge. James Cook, of course, was murdered by enraged natives in Hawaii whilst on his third and last voyage in 1779.  Consequently, there are no direct descendants of James Cook.

So, Elizabeth Cook was not only a widow but had lost her whole family by 1794. And she was to outlive them by another 40 years as she died aged ninety three in 1835 and was buried alongside her sons, James and Hugh, in the church of St Andrew the Great in Cambridge which contains a monument to the whole family.

The register will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout October 2018.

If you are interested in finding out more about Captain Cook and Elizabeth Batts, you might want to take a look at another document in our collection – an essay by Derek Simmans entitled ‘The mystery of the marriage of Captain James Cook to Elizabeth Betts [Batts] on 21st December, 1762’ which is catalogued as T/G 437/3, and which you can search for on Essex Archives Online.

1920s glamour at Hylands House

With the sounds of last weekend’s V Festival fading away, peace is returning to Hylands House in Widford, on the south-western edge of Chelmsford.

Today Hylands is also a popular wedding venue, and a reminder of just what a stunning location it is for such a celebration can be found in these photographs from nearly 100 years ago.

The wedding they show took place on 3rd August 1920, celebrating the marriage of Phyllis Gooch and Frank Parrish. Phyllis was the eldest daughter of Sir Daniel and Lady Gooch, who owned Hylands at the time. Taking place shortly after the end of the First World War this spectacular wedding, on what looks like a bright and sunny summer day, must have been a breath of fresh air as the country emerged from the privations of total war. Hylands itself had been used as a military hospital during the war, with the Gooch family assisting in its running.

The marriage ceremony took place at St Mary’s Church, Widford, which sits on the edge of the Hylands estate, so the bride would not have had far to travel. Phyllis was aged 20, and in the announcement of her engagement on 4 June 1920 in the Essex Chronicle as having ‘a charming vivacity, and during the war, with her parents, devoted a good deal of time for the benefit of those serving in the Forces.’

Her new husband Frank was aged 23. He was described as being ‘late 60th Rifles’, and his best man, Captain Alan Goodson, was also a military man. In the engagement announcement, Frank was described as:

The bridegroom-elect is a typical example of the young English manhood that sprang to the call to arms. Educated privately, he left school at the early age of 17 and joined the Inns of Court O.T.C. [Officer Training Corps] He quickly gained his commission and entered Sir Herbert Raphael’s battalion of the K.R.R.C. [King’s Royal Rifle Corps – Raphael’s battalion was set up at Gidea Park and was known as the Artists’ Rifles] On receiving his second star in 1916 he went to France, and in a daring raid on some German trenches he was taken prisoner. For nearly three years he was a prisoner of war, and was then among the fortunate ones who were kept in Holland, instead of being interned in Germany.

The photographs below were taken by our favourite local photographer, Fred Spalding. Not only are these photographs fascinating windows to the past, they are an extremely rare example of candid photography. Wedding photographs at this time, where they were taken, usually consist of perhaps one or two images, of the bride and goom leaving the church and a posed family portrait. The cameras of the time were cumbersome and heavy, and used glass plates covered in light-reactive chemicals to capture an image. They would usually have been used with a tripod, and required a long exposure to capture enough light to produce an image.

This is what makes the images below so unusual – candid, unposed photographs of wedding guests mingling, chatting, drinking champagne and eating wedding cake. These kind of shots would have been extremely challenging to take successfully, and Spalding must have pulled out all the stops to produce them. (There are a few exposures which went wrong, but we’ll forgive him for that.)

We think that Spalding may have used a camera such as a Graflex, which had a large. These kind of photographs would still have been challenging to take, but possible. Graflex manufactured the Speed Graphic camera, which was the press camera of choice for journalists in the first half of the 20th century.

Using the Chelmsford Chronicle description of the wedding from 6 August 1920 we can add some extra details to these stylish images:

The church had been beautifully decorated with graceful palms, lovely ferns, remarkably fine white hydrangeas, lilies etc., by Mr W. Heath, head gardener at hylands. There was a crowded congregation, which included friends of the family, the tenants of the estate, and village folk.

D-F-269-1-2528

A flag-bedecked and carpeted awning stretched from the roadway to the church door. The arrival of the guests was witnessed by a large concourse, and the whole village appeared to have donned their best for the occasion, the bride and her parents being very popular in the village.

 

The bride, who entered the church holding the arm of her father, looked radiant and very pretty. She was charmingly attired in white charmeuse with Brussels lace train, and carried a choice bouquet of orchids, carnations, and lily of the valley. Her train-bearer was her young sister, Daphne Gooch, who presented a delightful picture, dressed in pink georgette over maize colour, with tulle cap daintily wreathed with small roses.

D-F-269-1-2534

At the close of the service the organised played Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” and as the happy couple left the church the ringers rang a merry peal on the sweet-toned bells of the church.

 

D-F-269-1-2537

The bridesmaids were miss Cecile Eykyn and Miss margery Madge, who wore very becoming costume sof blue crepe-de-chine and picturesque gold mesh turbans; they also carried beautiful bouquets of pink carnations.

D-F-269-1-2520

‘Following the ceremony a reception was held at Hylands by Sir Daniel and Lady Gooch.’ – Phyllis greets her guests

D-F-269-1-2527

Guests on a lawn at Hylands, attended by a uniformed butler. Note the uniform wearing of coats despite the fact it was 3rd August.

D-F-269-1-2521

The bride and groom and guests, with elaborate wedding cake and staff serving drinks.

D-F-269-1-2519

The groom playfully places his top hat on one of the bridesmaid’s heads while the rest of the wedding party look on. The bestman, Captain Alan Goodson, had seved with the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War.

D-F-269-1-2524

‘Later Mr and Mrs Frank W. Parrish left for the honeymoon amid the hearty good wishes of the assembled guests.’ The couple left in a cream Crossley tourer, which was a wedding gift from the groom’s parents.

The wedding may well have had a bitterweet feel to it. Five years before their daughter’s wedding at St Mary’s Church, the Gooch family had buried their eldest son, Lancelot, there. He had died of influenza in Malta while serving with the Navy. Having lost his heir, Sir Daniel put the Hylands estate up for sale only a month after the wedding.

You can find out more about the techniques of early photography at our Heritage Open Day on Saturday 10 September 2016 – a celebration of creativity in the archives. Find out more here.

Married by Licence

Whether you are tracing your ancestors or researching social or demographic trends, marriage records can provide valuable information. A project we are currently undertaking at ERO is making some of these records easier to find than ever before.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, couples could be married either by Banns or by Licence. Most couples married by Banns. As today, the Banns would be read on three consecutive Sundays in the parish in which the couple intend to marry, and in both of their home parishes if these were different. When the Banns were read, members of these communities were invited to reveal any impediment which would prevent the couple from legally marrying.

In certain cases, however, couples did not qualify to be married by Banns and had to apply for a marriage licence from the local Archdeacon instead. This would be the case if either party was under 21 years of age, if the marriage needed to be formalised quickly, or where the couple was marrying away from their home parish(es).

There are several thousand of these records surviving in ERO’s collections. They are grouped by which Archdeaconry they were issued by, and then by year. A typical catalogue entry at the moment looks like this one for licences issued by the Archdeaconry of Colchester in 1800, a bundle of 54 licences:

Seax screenshot

There is a paper index to these records in the ERO Searchroom, but we are currently working on a project to make all of these records searchable by name on our online catalogue, Seax. This will make them much easier for researchers to find.

The records comprise three different kinds of documents – Allegations, Bonds, and the licence itself:

  • Allegations – the couple, or just the groom, would have to swear that there was no just cause or impediment to them marrying
  • Bonds – a bond for a sum of money would accompany the Allegation. The money would be payable if it turned out that the marriage was contrary to church law
  • The Bond and Allegation were retained by the Archdeacon who issued the actual licence to the groom. The groom would then present it at the church where the couple was to be married

The licences themselves do not often survive, but the Bonds and Allegations mostly do.

D/ACL 1807/28 - All marriage license bonds and allegations are individually wrapped so that you can quickly access the pair that you need.

All marriage licence bonds and allegations are individually wrapped and labelled with the name of the couple they relate to (D/ACL 1807/28)

To show how marriage licence records can help to tell someone’s story, we have been looking into one of the more interesting characters who appears in them, Captain Samuel McDouall. He and his fiancée, Elizabeth Ann Tregent, were granted a licence to marry on 27 April 1807. The couple needed a licence because Elizabeth was only 19, and needed the consent of her father to marry.

D/ACL 1807/28 - The marriage allegation of Captain Samuel McDouall and Elizabeth Ann Tredger.

The marriage allegation of Captain Samuel McDouall and Elizabeth Ann Tregent. The allegation states that there is nothing to stop the couple legally marrying (D/ACL 1807/28)

D/ACL 1807/28 - The marriage bond is for £100.00

The bond which accompanies the allegation, pledging £100 if any just cause was later found which would prevent a later marriage. It is signed by Samuel McDouall and the bride’s father, Abraham James Tregent, and by William Whirfield, who was present at the couple’s wedding (D/ACL 1807/28)

The marriage took place at All Saints church in Dovercourt the very next day after the issue of the licence.

Record of Samuel and Elizabeth's marriage at All Saints church in Dovercourt (D/P 174/1/3)

Record of Samuel and Elizabeth’s marriage at All Saints church in Dovercourt (D/P 174/1/3)

The 1807 date places the marriage in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars. McDouall’s profession is recorded as a Captain in the 79th Regiment of Foot, otherwise known as Cameron’s Highlanders. The first Battalion of the regiment was at this point stationed at Weeley, Elizabeth’s home parish. McDouall is said to be living at Dovercourt, probably the site of the officers’ billets. Elizabeth’s father was a military man himself – he is described as a Deputy Barrack Master, and a former Royal Marine.

The information in these records gives us several interesting avenues to pursue to find out more. The regiment’s military history tells us that McDouall served with the camerons during a turbulent period. His age is not given in their marriage record but he must have been some years older than her.

He was appointed as a lieutenant in 1795 before the regiment was posted to Martinique on garrison duty. The posting was to prove disastrous for them; fever swept through the 79th and only a skeleton of the regiment returned in Britain in 1797. The regiment was swiftly made up to strength and Captain McDouall would go on to serve in Holland in 1799, during which year he was made Captain, and in Egypt in 1801, where he was injured in fighting at Rhamanieh. He would later receive a Gold Medal from Sultan Selim III for his part in this action. One of the witnesses to McDouall’s marriage to Elizabeth was William Imlach, who was also a Captain in the 79th Regiment, and who received the same gold medal as Captain McDouall.

The regiment and Captain McDouall spent some considerable time stationed in Ireland on garrison duty before marching for London in 1806 to form part of the procession for Admiral Lord Nelson’s funeral. They were then posted to Colchester and then to Weeley where Captain McDouall would meet Elizabeth. Shortly after their marriage, in April 1807, another tragedy struck the regiment when a boat carrying several men of the 79th from Landguard Fort in Felixstowe to Harwich sunk. More than 70 of their men were lost as several women and children, as described in the Chelmsford Chronicle:

Chelmsford Chronicle 1807 crop

I/Mb 170/1/32 - Prattent Sculptor, published. March 1st 1788 by G. Robinson & Co Paternoster Row, extracted from Ladies Magazine.

Prattent Sculptor, published. March 1st 1788 by G. Robinson & Co Paternoster Row, extracted from Ladies Magazine (I/Mb 170/1/32)

In July 1807 the regiment embarked for Denmark and be engaged in the Battle of Copenhagen during which the French were deprived of the valuable prize of the Danish fleet. The regiment would go on to be involved in the Peninsular War in Portugal and Spain, being part of Sir John Moore’s disastrous retreat to Corunna during which many of the regiment were struck down by fever both during the campaign and on their return to England in 1809. Many of the regiment who were left behind during the retreat went on to form part of a regiment of detachments which was engaged at the battle of Talavera at which the first of the French Eagles was captured. However, it is likely that Captain McDouall was part of the contingent which had returned to England, as he retired his commission in July 1809. He is believed to have died in 1812 in the West Indies.

What we do not know is what happened to Elizabeth. It is likely that as a wife of an officer she would have been able to travel to Europe with the regiment, but we do not know whether she did so.

There is a story behind every single one of our marriage licences – including stories that might be part of your family history. The licences are currently searchable on a paper index in the ERO Searchroom, and as we continue to add more names to Seax they will become even easier to find. What stories might they help you discover?

Registration certificates at the ERO

A big change has happened here this week – from today you will be able to order duplicate birth, marriage and death certificates from Essex from the ERO.

Birth certificate

As part of a wider change in Registration Services the historic birth, marriage and death registers from the following Register Offices have been brought together at ERO:

  • Braintree
  • Brentwood
  • Castle Point & Rochford
  • Chelmsford
  • Colchester
  • Epping / Loughton
  • Harlow
  • Uttlesford

To request a duplicate certificate, you can:

We have already put the new system to good use; our very first customer needed a copy of her daughter’s birth certificate to be able to fly to South Africa today. After a 9am phone call from her we checked that we had the relevant register, ordered it up and prepared the certificate and she collected it from us, all in less than 30 minutes!  She was extremely pleased to get this vital document for her holiday as the rest of her family were already at Heathrow Airport.

Copies of historical birth, marriages and death certificates cost £10. They will be produced and posted within five working days.

If you require a certificate more quickly, you can get one the next working day for £25, or within 2 working days for £18.

These prices do not include postage and packing.

Please note: We do not hold the Registration Service birth, marriage and death registers for the parts of the historical county of Essex now administered by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, Thurrock Council and the London Boroughs of Havering, Barking and Dagenham, Waltham Forest, Newham and Redbridge.

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.