Since Pope Innocent III Parishes have kept a Parish Chest, coffer ark or hutch in which to secure Parish Registers along with any other important church records and documents.For the genealogist of today, these can provide a really useful insight into characters in the Parish along with clues as to what ancestors were up to.
Each Parish had to raise rates to pay for the repair and upkeep of the church, highways and byways plus charitable support for the poor and education.How much was due by each parishioner was generally determined by the value of their property. Rate books or lists of ratepayers generally contained a list of the householders or house owners, an assessment of the value of the property and the rate that was therefore due. This could not only place certain ancestors in a Parish at a given time but also give an indication of their relative wealth within the community.
From the 16th century the Parish supported the poor, funded by charitable donations and the rates. Any records that survive can show who contributed to the poor fund (indicating they were comfortably off) and those in receipt of it.
Settlement and removal
Settlement and removal records dealt with the poor who had not originated from the parish. From 1662-1834 the parish Justices of the Peace would interrogate the poor who entered the parish within 40 days and had no means of supporting themselves to determine their last place of settlement with a view to returning them to that parish (or a neighbouring parish to pass on the responsibility to another parish closer to their home parish) and thereby only providing poor relief to those who really belonged in the parish. This does not necessarily mean that people could not move from their parish of birth, they could gain a settlement certificate under various circumstances such as a woman marrying a man in that parish. The parish records contain the ‘examination’ of the person, removal or settlement details and other supporting evidence which is useful for genealogists.
From the late 19th century Parishes were encouraged to build a workhouse within each union of the Parish. A number of records survive in the Parish chest such as admission and discharge registers.
With many women finding themselves pregnant out of wedlock and the potential burden this could make on the parish coffers great efforts were made to determine who the father was and ensure that they paid towards the raising of the child. The woman would undergo a bastardy examination which could be quite detailed and explicit as the justices of the peace tried to identify the father. A commitment to pay was laid out in a bond. Failure to pay by the identified father would be taken very seriously and they could find themselves in gaol.
Apprenticeships were originally maintained by the guilds for all skilled trades but by 1562 the statue of apprentices was enforced to ensure that a uniform 7 years should be served as a condition of the right to practice any manual trade. This was rigidly enforced well into the 18 century. Registers were kept which included the apprentice’s name, the father’s name (and sometimes their occupation and residence), the name of the master or mistress, the parish they were from, trades and birthdate.
By contrast pauper children were put into apprenticeships in different circumstances: they were forcibly apprenticed against the will of the child and the family and got paid less and it often lasted longer than the 7 years. Some children were apprenticed from the age of 7 as agricultural labour or domestic servants to parishioners by the overseer of the poor. These indentures were recorded and usually kept in the parish chests.
Records of the above, plus some other information such as general admin records, can be found in the Parish Chest. Today any surviving records of this type are generally held by the local County Record Office or Diocesan archive. Well worth a visit to see what you can find!