Caryl Williams

The chapter below is taken from my own copy of the old book “Memorials of Old Lancashire” Vol II published in 1909

NB* I make no claims to the accuracy of any information found within this extract, please consult original parish registers at all times for further information, verification and research.
I have no further knowledge of or access to Lancashire parish registers. I'm just putting this chapter online as a helpful and interesting guide only

Notes on Lancashire Parish Registers By Henry Brierley

"It was once my lot to visit the vicarage of a Lancashire country parish to make an examination of it’s parish registers, which were fairly ancient While immersed in these, the old housekeeper of the old batchelor vicar came into the room, and pointing to me he said “See Martha this gentleman is interested in these things” and I instinctively felt that they exchanged pitying glances over one whom they regarded a little less than a harmless lunatic Ideas such as theirs are I believe largely prevalent, and my present object is to try to persuade the general public that in parish registers generally, and particularly in those in Lancashire, much is found which is of historic, philological, and social interest.

The general history of parish registers is a well worn subject, but as there are always some to whom the information may be new, it may well be to recapitulate shortly their commencement and history.

So far is as known, in pre-Reformation times there was no such thing as regularly kept records of baptisms, weddings and burials, and it was not until Thomas Cromwell issued his injunctions for the keeping of them: the order was conveyed as follows: “that every parson……..should keep a register wherein he should write the day and year of every wedding, christening and burial, and therein insert every person’s name so wedded, christened and buried”

Of Lancashire parishes which complied with the order, or whose registers for 1538 are still extant, there are only three, namely Whalley, Whittington, near Kirby Lonsdale, and Farnworth, near Widnes, though it is sad to contemplate that many of the date 1538 have been lost, as in the case in Lancaster, where as late as 1660, a portion of the 1538 register was extant, though now long ago since lost.

In 1597 it was ordered that a duplicate copy of the register should be deposited annually in the registry of the bishop of the diocese - an order too often disregarded.

All these earliest registers were paper ones, and as it was discovered after about sixty years that they were becoming dilapidated , an order was made in 1603 that they should all be copied on parchment “since the time that the law was first made in that behalf, so far as the ancient books thereof can be procured” and for the most the paper registers , unfortunately , seem to have been destroyed Only two of the original Lancashire paper registers have ever come under my observation, namely Rochdale and Great Harwood I have said “unfortunately”, because in the case of Great Harwood the parchment copy also exists, and a comparison of it with the original paper register proves that many important entries in the latter have not been transferred to the parchment copy.

In the troubles times of the contest between Charles I and his subjects the registers were kept in a very haphazard fashion, and it was not until the passing of the Act of August 24th 1653 that regular registration was once more restored

It was then ordered that each parish should elect an officer called a “Parish Register” whose duty it was to register marriages, births (not baptisms) and burials

Though many of these “parish registers” seem to have been illiterate people, their entries compare most favourably in regard to fullness of description with those of their predecessors. Another troublesome time for correct registration was the unsettled period immediately preceding the Restoration of Charles II. Indeed it was not until 1661 or 1662 that resumed accurate registration can generally be found.

In 1679, in order to protect the woolen industry in England, an act of Parliament was passed, commonly known as “Act for burying in woolen” which shortly provided that every corpse should be shrouded in no other material than wool, under a penalty of £5.

In 1694, 1758 and 1793 duties on registration were imposed, in the first instance for carrying on the war against France with vigour, and in the second instance to form a fund for the support of the foundling Hospital

The only other general information upon which it is necessary to dwell here is the alteration made in the keeping of the marriage registers. By Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act 1753, an attempt was made to put an end to irregular marriages, such as Fleet marriages which had become a scandal, for this act it was among other things enjoined that not only marriages but banns of marriages should be recorded in an official register supplied with columns and blanks into which all particulars required by the act should be inserted

It might be mentioned her that the very curious errors have been promulgated as a result of the copying of the registers onto parchment in 1603, it had been incorrectly assumed that the average tenure of incumbencies in those days was 70, 80, or even 90 years.

And now to return to the main subject of this article – the Lancashire registers. Of those commencing before 1600, fifty nine are still extant, and in addition to the three already mentioned at the beginning in 1538, there are sixteen others which commence in or earlier than 1560

But it is to the registers printed up by the Lancashire Parish Register Society to which I must direct special attention through greater familiarity with them

Up to the present time the Society has issued thirty volumes of the earliest registers, comprising twenty-eight parishes. The complete list is Bury, Burnley, Whittington, Wigan. Walton-on-the-Hill, Croston, Whalley, Didsbury, Brindle, Middleton, Ormskirk, Chipping, Eccleston, Padiham, Colne, Poulton, Cockerham, Culcheth, Upholland, Eccles, Ribchester, St. Michael's-on-Wyre., Woodplumpton, Cartmel, Coniston, Aldingham, Urswick, and Pennington. In addition to these the Society, or individual members of it, have transcripts of the earliest registers of Bispham, Blackrod, Bolton-le-Moors, Bolton-le-Sands, Broughton (near Preston), Broughton-in¬Furness, Burtonwood, Churchkirk, Deane, Downham, Halton, Great Harwood, Heysham, Hindley, Horwich, Kirkham, Lancaster, Lytham, Manchester, Over Kellet, Pilling, Prescot, Preston, Radcliffe, Ringley, Stalmine, and Warton. Moreover, the earliest portions of Colton. Hawkshead, Leigh, Leyland, Liverpool, Oldham, Rochdale, Saddleworth, and Ulverston have been printed by private enterprise.
Therefore it may surprise the public to learn that out of the one hundred and seven Lancashire registers which commence prior to 1700 no fewer than sixty-four are either in print or read: for the press. But to return to the main intention of this article as before proposed, and in the first instance to take, as a leading feature of it, Lancashire surnames, as disclosed by the printed registers of the Lancashire Register Society.
The first thing that strikes one is the overwhelming prevalence of surnames which are also place-names, and of patronymics. In all the Society' published registers the leading surname is of one or other of these classes, except in the cases of Burnley¬, Walton, Cockerham, and Aldingham, where the chief surnames indicate trades or occupations, namely, SMITH, MERCER, and GARDINER (bis), Brindle, oddly enough taking its principal surname from a personal name "Gerard." The following table will give some idea of the principal surnames in use in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the Lancashire parishes named.

The surnames are arranged' in order of frequency:




St Michael’s on Wye




























































From the foregoing table it will be seen that out of eighty-two leading surnames mentioned, no fewer than fifty-eight are place-names, and of the remaining twenty four there are sixteen patronymics or personal names, leaving only eight names of occupation, of which GARDINER, in the northern part of Lancashire; constitutes nearly half. Wigan furnishes a striking instance of the prevalence of place.names used as surnames. out of twenty-three surnames of most frequent occurrence only five are not place-names, these taken for the most part from the name of the neighbouring townships.
In eighteen of the twenty-eight registers the surname representing the parish occurs, the exceptions being Aldingham, Chipping, Cockerham, Coniston, Eccles, Ormskirk, Padiham, Urswick, Woodplumpton, and, of course, St. Michael's-on-Wyre.

It has never been noticed how generally the surname HOUGHTON occurs in Lancashire; it will be found-in everyone of the Society's printed registers except Aldingham, Pennington, and Urswick: The most remarkable instances of the prevalence of a single Surname in a parish are the cases of Bury and Pennington, where the whole population seems constituted of KAY’s and FELL’s respectively. Lancashire Christian names, too, present many interesting features, and an analysis of the registers of Bury: Eccles, Poulton, Ribchester, and Walton affords the following interesting results.
In all of them John far surpasses all other boys names, while Elizabeth .ranks highest as.a girl's name. Probably our readers may be surprised to learn that Richard is the next prevailing boy's Christian name, closely followed by Thomas, which, in the case of Eccles, exceeds Richard and even John. Next in order come James, Robert, and William, while the girls leading Christian names are, in order after Elizabeth Mary, Ann, Alice, Margaret, and Jane. George, as to the prevalence of which in former times there has recently been controversy in Notes and Queries, is of fairly frequent occurrence in Poulton, Bury, and Eccles. Cuthbert is only found in Poulton and Walton, and Agnes hardly anywhere but in Poulton.
The Society's printed registers hardly furnish so many curious Christian names as other counties, but the following are somewhat unusual:- Blaze (padiham), Unica and Scolastia (Burnley), Plato (Urswick), Mercury (Cockerham) Hercules (Padiham), Cassandra (Eccleston), Parthania (Whittington), and Timore (Wigan). Christian name which were very common in the registers, but now almost obsolete, are lmin, Ottewell, Gawin, Alison, Grizell, Ethelred, and it is surprising to find Victoria as early as 1617 in the Walton register. What the modern equivalents of “Habernemus” and" Orgeyn" are (both. found in Padiham) we leave our readers to speculate

It was mentioned near the beginning of this article that the registers often furnish clues to the meanings of place names. Perhaps one of the most striking instances of this is furnished in the place name Abram, the scene of the terrible colliery disaster in 1908. In the Wigan register the township is referred to as “Aburgham”, and the place-name, instead of having any reference to the patriarch of Scripture, simply means that is was the “ham” or home of “Adburgh”, or, in it’s oldest form “Eadburgh”, a common female personal name in Saxon times.

The Bury registers also furnish the clue to the meaning of the modern name "Heady Hill," which in the earliest volume of'Bury is founa, as "Heathy Hill." And Rainshore is spelt “Ravenshore." Many glimpses,of the trades practised in.the various parishes are furnished by the registers; in Wigan we find "panner" and "pewterer," in Walton "spurrier," in Liverpool “ dish-thrower", in Ormskirk "glassman." (no doubt the occupation of the Frenchman working at Bycarstaff), in Eccleston. "'dryster," in Poulton and Cockerham "saltweller," in Croston "salter," "spooner," "buttoner," and" glover," in Upholland "glover," "potter," in Eccles" ymbroderer," In St. ,Michael's "goldsmith," in Ribchester " boatman," "glover," and" siever," in Cartmel "hammerman," "paperman" and "woodcutter" and in Coniston “hammerman".

Of these trades, it is feared that all but the occupations of "boatman" for the ferry at Ribchester, and the" woodcutters" of the Cartmel district, who still supply the wood for the charcoal burning, have disappeared. The registers are wonderfully rich in trade-names which have become obsolete or obsolescent; such are “crateman," "jersey¬comber," "courser" (a jobber, especially a horse-jobber), "dauber" (plasterer), "mugman," "badger" (corn dealer), "bouker" (a bleacher), "joint-maker" (hingeman), "shearman" (a branch of the woollen industry), "hamber¬maker" (=hammer-maker, or more probably collar-maker for horses), "corviser" (a shoemaker), "fletcher" (=arrow¬maker), "pedder" (the true form of "pedler"), ""thrower" (twister), "blowmer" (a worker in iron smelting by charcoal), "carter" (the guide over the Morecambe sands), "herd" (=shepherd), and" fusterer " (=saddletree maker). Lancashire, too, seems to have been famous of old for its musical tendencies, for not only do we find a "piper" mentioned in almost every register-in Poulton described as a " droner " but Chipping, in addition, boasted a "trumpeter," Eccleston a "blind harper," Middleton a "drummer," Croston, Cockerham, and Cartmel a "fiddler," Culcheth a "bagpipe player," and Woodplumpton a "musicus." Many good old English words, too, which are now either obsolete or only dialectic, or used in a different sense, are found; to the former class belong " mouldwarp" (the modern mole), the coins “noble" and "angel," "tabled" (meaning" lodged "), "serous" (mean¬ing "of ripe years "), "steele" (for "stile"), "heble" (signifying the wooden handrail to a plank bridge), "spicer" (=a "grocer"), "twindles" (=twins), "peece" (used for a gun),. “breethed" (signifying" birth "), and "gree" (meaning the chancel step, occurring very frequently in the Cartmel register); to the latter class belong the words" famous" (signifying "infamous "), "painful" (in the phrase "painful preacher," meaning" painstaking "), . "spild" (meaning" killed," used in the deaths of suicides), "computed" and “imputed," both signifying "reputed." Many tragedies are revealed by the registers, the most striking perhaps being the one mentioned in Cartmel, where, in 1576, the execution of a murderer is recorded in the following terms:

"Richard Taylor was buried whoe suffered the same daye at Blacragge Bridge end for murthering wilfullye Richard Kilner of Witherslaeke".

Cartmel also furnishes a lamentable death-roll of drowning on the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay, which not even the care of the “carter" (i.e., the guide over the sands ) -also referred to in the same register could obviate. Middleton gives an instance of death from foul gas in a pump pit; Eccles of a death in a "canell pitt," and of death from fire-arms, expressed as "killed with a peece," while Whalley reminds us of the times when the Lancashire bowmen were famous, in its entry of a man" killed by an arrow."

The ravages of plague are also only too apparent, as in Whittington in 1616, where occurs this entry;
"From 19th December, 1616, unto 4th November, 1617, it pleased God to visit Whittington with a contagious sickness, within which time there was sicke in this parish about two hundred, in which time there deseased" [here follow thirty names, the average mortality for a year being under ten]
while in 1623, in Middleton, the number of burials was four times as many as the average.

Many curious customs of the Church, and now obsolete, are referred to in the registers. In Whittington we read of the most barefaced bidding for pews; Wigan and other registers record the burial of “Chrisom” children, i.e., children who died. within one month of their baptism and were buried in their christening robe; Bury and other registers mention the payment of “mortuaries” customary gift formerly claimed by the Incumbent of the parish from the estate of a deceased parishioner (NB.D.)

In Walton, Ormskirk, and elsewhere we read of "recusants"; in Walton it is expressly stated that the recusant was buried at "noonday," and not in the contemptuous manner usually adopted,; while in Ormskirk a marginal note opposite, the burial entry of Cathereyne Jumpe says, "Note yf shee was a Recusant and buried without consent of ye vicar."

Whalley supplies the only instance of the endowment of a bride in church; in Eccleston (1684 and 1685), we find instances of touching children for the King's evil, and in Bury about I680 is given in a form of certificate that an applicant for the royal touch had not previously been touched.

From the Cockeiham register we learn, the exact date when the Directory superseded there the Book of Common Prayer. In St. Michael's register are carefully set out the names of those who made affidavit as to the burial of corpses in woollen.

Woodplumpton speaks of a "hired churchwarden," and Eccleston of the" whipper" (no doubt a dog-whipper).

Burnley, Whalley, and Ormskirk carry us back to 'Pre-Reformation times in their references to "chantry priest" and "frater loci" and prior of Burscough Ofttimes also the registers are made the vehicle for recording the personal predilections of the writer.

In Bury Mr. William Rawstron is described as "a wrong priest," Padiham speaks of a churchwarden as a “rascal from Pendle," and Ribchester has the following quaint paragraph to prove that human gratitude is at times misplaced: "I George Ogden vicar of Ribchester in 1682 built ye vicarage house there at my own charge except Three pounds odd shillings were contributed towards the same by some .well affected persons upon this account Mr. Abraham Townley of Dutton gave twenty shillings But since I have writ thus far I have found it out for a certain truth yt ye said Inhabitants of Dutton have for several years together both to, ye King and poor overrated me in many pounds before I discovered it I have therefore no reason to thank them for ye above kindness Aug ye 2 1701"

The Bury registrar contemptuously joins a couple in his marriage register with the added "maried I know not, wheare."
On the other hand, we find a favourable criticism in Whalley, where the vicar is described in Latin as an "egregious predicator,” or, as we should say, “a preacher out of the common."

Not only does Didsbury testify to the presence of a "gypsy" or "the Egiptian" in those far-off days, but an entry in its registers (1665) will appeal to many thousands of Lancashiree football enthusiasts “killed with a fall at footbawle"

Lunacy too, was unhappily prevalent, as no fewer than six of the registers have allusions to “northerin," the old word for lunatic folk, or “distracted women” or "Bedlamers."

References to the unhappy war between Charles 1 and his subjects are furnished in Bury where, in I 644, "seven strange soldiers were buried in one week in May, and two strange soldiers, both cavaliers, in the month after", and Cockerham, where "because- of the armie," there, were no entries in the register in August, 1649 and in Eccleston we read, " there is many that is unregistered by reason of Prince Rupert coming; into Lancashire and this booke being hid for fear of the enemie taking it"

And there are references to the 1745 rebellion in Didsbury, "when ye rebels past." The scandalous way in which burials were permitted in the Church is most apparent in Ormskirk, where there were two thousand four hundred and forty-two intramural burials in Sixty-nine years, and the absence of care of the churchyard is shown by the admission in the Burnley register that swine were rooting up the corpses.

Many quaint and interesting entries, too, having no reference to the main purpose for which the registers exist, are found. We note there was a clock at Whittington church in 1654; the burial of a Brindle rector is spoken of in a Latin phrase which may be freely translated, "he flitted from this light into the Church."

From the following entry in Chipping register we note that bad weather prevailed in 1600:
"between Pendle and Pirelock two knowne hills there was not three fare dayes in all in sixe weeks last before the sixt of Octobr above said and sixe weeks before to the great losse of muche come; being great showe [of corn] on the ground"

Middleton furnishes perhaps the most complete list of collections of briefs of any register in the country, no fewer than,six hundred and ninety-six being recorded. The clerk of Urswick grimly records in Latin that "the Parish Clerk claps his hands on hearing of deaths," doubtless with an eye to his fees. In the same register a more human reference is to the care of the beacon and its tar barrel.

Coniston gives the rota of those serving the office of constable, and it may here be remarked that the register shows how many foreigners were resident in Coniston parish, no doubt as miners, such names as Balthazar, Puthparker, and Cilizzin being found therein.

Some of the registers abound in nicknames, and especially Burnley and Poulton. Many of these refer to . physical peculiarities, as "Black Widow," "Longhead" (Burnley), " Bar,ehead," "Ducklegs," "Pad foot " (Chipping), " Greatleg," " Shortarm," "Sweetlipps" (Cockerham), "Bluecap" (Upholland), "Blewhood" (Poulton), "Blind Dick" and "Halt Ric" (Cartmel). Epithets implying the presence or absence of some mental or intellectual or ethical quality are" Blockhead" and '”Dandy" (Cockerham), “Teltruth” (Poulton)" Trueheart" (Croston), "Dunce" and" False" (Cockerham), "Luck" (Bury), "Waystrell" (Woodplumpton) ; while" Buttermilk," " Potball" (Burnley), "Pie John," "Pieman," "Pitcher" (Poulton), "Crust" (Cockerham), and" Jugge" (Bury), seem to imply some gastronomic tendencies. But “Twopence" (Burnley), " Cockedillie" (Cockerham), "Spavin" and “Tattles" (Bury) are somewhat cryptic, though “Doll Drinkwater" may have been a member of the 'Blue Ribbon Army of the period.

The registers, too, abound in puzzling entries which furnish ample food for speculation as to their meaning, such as "Castell man" in Eccleston, "Martyrus'" in Co1ne, "Ancient Britoner" in Culcheth, and, par excellence, the amazing lines found on page 62 of the printed copy of Urswick register.

It would take too much space to enumerate all the vagaries of spelling found in the registers, and few would recognize the surname of the learned president of the Lancashire Parish Register Society under the form "Physic," nor would any but Lancashire men detect under the spelling “Boe" the well-known name" BALL" The variant spellings of surnames are numerous, and it frequently happens that the same surname is spelled in two different ways in the same entry. A striking example of variety of spelling is found in the Bury surname GREENHALGH, which occurs in forty-five different forms.

I trust that this trifling article may convince the reader that parish registers are no mere dry lists of names, but form an important link in supplying materials for "the history of Lancashire".

© Old Liverpool Newspapers online Caryl Williams 2005 .1; ,.