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.
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.
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.
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
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.