St Mary Bourne Revisited

An insight into Parish life through extracts from parish registers


The basis of our present system of relieving the poor in England originated in the famous Act of Elizabeth 1601, the professed objects of which were “to set the poor to work, to relive the lame, impotent, old, and blind, and to put out their children as apprentices.”

It was required in carrying out these objects that a fund should be raised, in every parish in England, for the maintenance of its own poor. The application of this fund was placed in the hands of the parish officers, justices of the peace having control over it. Another object of the Act was the subjecting of able-bodied men to a “test”, in order to prove that indolence was not the cause of alleged want. Such persons were to receive relief only on condition that they should work for it.

About eight years after this, an Act was passed in the reign of James 1st, ordering houses of correction to be built, provided with mills, and other appurtenances, for the purpose of setting the vagrant able-bodied poor to work. Although these houses of correction might be looked on virtually as penal establishments, they may be considered as having originated the workhouse system of England. (Dr. Joseph Stevens)

The necessity of preserving extracts of this kind needs no advocacy, for it is to be regretted that parochial records too frequently find a depository in damp places in vestry rooms, in badly constructed ecclesiastical chests, and even in the church tower, and become the prey of mildew and spider.

Although many of the entries from the parish books of St. Mary Bourne will be found merely trivial and amusing, collectively they throw some light on past parochial history. From them we are enabled to learn what two hundred years have done in matters of education, as well as in the prices of some of the commodities of life. We find reference to diseases then rife, and how they were treated; with extracts bearing on the operations of past laws, such as the old poor laws. We also learn a little respecting some old families; and there are notices concerning church usages’ and repairs, together with references to curious old books which were formerly employed in the church for public reading. Also what was done at vestries, and who conducted them. The earliest entry refers to the year 1633; but my first extract will be from the year 1635-exactly 250 years since. Now this period forms a large slice in the history of our country. It is the period of most of England’s improvements, and should have to tell a good deal in the parochial history of any district. It takes us back to the disturbed times of Charles 1. Contrast that with the present one. It was a period of civil strife. Newspapers in the country were quite unknown. The first copy of the Reading Mercury, which was one of the earliest issues, lies before me in facsimile. It bears the date 1723, and consists of four leaves measuring 10 inches by 7 ½ inches, in double columns. The English Mercurie was nearly the only London paper in the time of Elizabeth; and the London Weekly News bears date 1622. The population of 1635 was about a fourth of what it is at the present day. (Dr. Joseph Stevens)



1635- For digging a grave 7d.

1659 Pd. Wm. Merry for going for ye bone setter 1s.

1661-17 Nov. Pd. Wm. Miles for digging a grave for a poor alien that died.6d.

1676-March 9 for a stone wall bound (the boundary wall)

1683-Pd Acct. of Robert Thorngate and Robert Holdway: paid for a horse to fetch the book of martyrs from Redding 3s.

1683-Pd Wm. Poare for binding ye book 16s.6d.

1686 Given to two impoverished by the sea. (About this time a good deal of money appears to have been paid yearly to maimed soldiers and sailors.)

1687- Payd farmer Serle for curing Mary Hollens lame leg and James Horn's boy 10s, 6d.

1719-Pd. Mr. Willis for to have Sarah Freemantle cured £5.

1721-Pd. old Charter curing Faune (Bourne?) children being bit with mad dogg.6d.

1729-Gave to a man at Wintoun (Winchester) that was burnd by litneng.

1731-Apl.21 Pd. Farmer Serle for curing the widow Goodalls legg 10s.

1739- Apl.25. Pd. For the marriage of Susan Hall and having her away.£4.15s.4d.

Susanah the wife of Stephen Burgis was delivered of 3 children, 2 sons and one daughter May 31-1756 and buried June 3rd 1756, all in one coffin.

1782- For a licence and ring for Charles Lewis £2.Minister and clerks fee's, also for four men for (a sisting) Charles Lewis. (He seems to have been a very refractory bridegroom.)

Afterwards 2s.6d. For a horse to have Charles Lewis to Kingsclere.

1786-Expenses of taking up and marrying George Admens and Wm. Swain, £9.11s. With other expenses for rings, Licences, etc, and marrying at Whitchurch.

1803 and 1814.Only three marriages are recorded in each year, probably on account of the younger men having gone as soldiers. (Dr. Joseph Stevens)

Some of those mentioned as " Bone setters and treating "bad legs" were commonly herbalists of some local repute, who practised healing by "simples" (dried herbs) before the passing of the apothecaries act in 1815, anyone could practice medicine, The last member of this fraternity wandered about the North Hampshire villages as late as 1865 dispensing gathered herbs in a dried state to the poor. He was an odd retiring kind of man, whose confidence it was difficult to obtain, but he once informed me that some of his simples were of but little service in healing unless they were "gathered at some particular phase of the moon". He sold a kind of soap stated to contain Solomon’s seal for removing discolorations and freckles from the skin. Other helpers at times of sickness were aged matrons, who did their best with homely remedies.

A Dr. Batter of Market Lavington in Wiltshire, was a happy specimen of such, and really possessed considerable practical skill. He was a poor man, and lived in a cottage by the road side, where his ancestors for a generation or two had lived before him, and practiced as a bone setter. It was his custom to take his chair and table out alongside of a hedge, and having seated his patients he proceeded to prescribe for them with herbs gathered near, and his extensive acquaintance with wild plants and there localities enabled him to direct his visitors where to find what they wanted in the neighbourhood of their own homes. (Dr. Joseph Stevens)

The reference to "a sisting" Charles Lewis might I think be more truthfully rendered by the substitution of the word "coercing". That these marriages were compulsory there can be no doubt, for in the next entry we find "expenses of taking up", etc. such transactions were wasteful of the poor rates, and demoralising to the people, they were nevertheless of frequent occurrence under the old bastardy law, which positively gave encouragement to female unchastity. An allowance of money was made for each illegitimate child, so that the means increasing with every spurious addition, a woman with several such became as well provided for as a mother with a similar number of lawful children. The same law, further, subjected the putative father to punishment often at the woman’s discretion, rendering him liable to the alternative of marriage or the prison. Of course he commonly chose the former as the least of the two present evils. All this was however small compared with the consequences of such influence on the female character. Where these measures largely prevailed chastity ceased to be valued as a virtue. In short, the woman as well as her husband and parents became in a great measure indifferent to it. (Dr. Joseph Stevens)

1683- Pd. for 2 foxxes heads 2s.

1686- for killing of ffoxes 9s.

1687- Payd to farmer Monday for killing rooks, 6s.

1705- Pd for one ould foxx, 2s. 6d. (This I suppose was old offender.)

1705- Sparrows bought in large quantities, as many as 70 dozen yearly.

1714- Pd. Goodman for a fox, 2s. 6d. Pd. for 4 foxes 6s. John Houldaway for 8 foxes.

1720- Forty to duzen sparos 7s. John Lamden

After this foxes were killed in increasing numbers, from twenty to thirty yearly. The Bourne authorities appear to have bought them from any other neighbourhood, mention being made of Andover, Litchfield, Vernham, "Don Husburn", "Up husburn", etc. It is evident that the destruction of poultry and game by foxes, stoats, polecats, etc, and even lambs by foxes, determined the churchwardens to exterminate them in every way possible. Two shillings each seems to have been about the regular price. The destruction of the animal began to wane at about the end of the eighteenth century. In 1735, twenty four foxes are mentioned; and in 1765, £1.12s. Was paid for "Fockes" If similar purchases were made in other parishes the slaughter must have been enormous. The heavy, slow, old fashioned harrier then occupied the place of the modern dashing foxhound; hare hunting formed the principal sport of the country squire. There was more woodland as shelter for foxes; and a good deal of the land now under cultivation was down, as shown by the names of Wadwick down, Eggbury down, Week down, the greater part of which, if not the whole, being now arable. (Dr. Joseph Stevens)

1635- Pd. for a pair of shoes for Maidde Smith 2s.2d.

1669- June 5th. Given to a Marchant's wife for relief to redeme her husband out of slavery 1s. Also 1739 Gave to a man out of Turkey 1s.(This entry refers most likely to slavery in Turkey, as similar entries occur in church records, notably an entry quoted by Lieut...Col. C. King, in his History of Berks, of " two merchant’s wives whose husbands were taken slaves in Turkey": taken from the Windsor Register.)

1708- Arrangement of ye Tithe at Easter that for time to come if there be any reporations done to ye church that the workmen shall be "A Lowed noe strong bear att a parish charge."

1709- Jan.21st. Buried a man stranger that came out of new found land.

1715- March ye 19th.-Jane Beckley daughter of Richard and Jane Beckley born but not baptiz'd being an antabaptist.

1729- Paid ye dial £1.15s. (Sundial)

1733- Received of Mr. John Munday for a seat in ye church £3.3s.

1738- Nov.5th. Rachel Hegar, a traveller, was buried.

1740- Feb. ye 8th.-Mary Stanley a traveller, daughter of Richard and Millie Stanley, travellers, baptiz'd. (Evidently gipsies; the name is still well known in the district).

1746- March a young child, stranger, was buried.

Occasionally there are familiar entries, Christian names being omitted, as-1747, March ye 24th widow Bunny was buried.1749 Oct.9th.Joseph Portsmouth wife was buried. (Rebecca is spelled "Bekkah").

1750- Bourght at Weyhill, stockings, shoes, and shirt, 15s.6d.

1751- Agreed at vestry to pay £3 towards paying Thos. Piper's debts (Debts being £10)

(The Piper here referred to lived at Butler’s farm, which belonged to him at one time. He did not get on very well and ultimately sold the property.)

1759- Sept. 16th.-Mary Rudder was burried in a meadow plot at Eggbury-3 graves in a meadow plot.

1764- The name Hooper first appears.

1766- The name Rudder appears again. (He was a singular man, according to report, and one of the fraternity of Quakers. He lived at the house lately occupied by the last of the name of Munday in St. Mary Bourne parish, and it is stated that his bones repose in a meadow at Eggbury, known as "the Roman burial ground", where his wife also lies, and a dog that had been a faithful companion.)

1759- April 11th.for setting ye yew tree 6s 6d. This tree was planted on top of Paul Holdways grave a bushel of oats being put into the grave so reports say, to prevent the remains from being disturbed." The practice of planting a yew tree in a church yard was usually when the burial ground was to be extended and consecrated often the ceremony was carried out by the bishop.

There is a notice dated Wednesday, Oct. 25th, 1848, that a new piece of land to enlarge the churchyard was consecrated. The bishop was to plant a yew tree, which was to be called "The Bishop's yew". (This was done on the day of consecration.) The land here alluded to enlarge the graveyard on the east; and was presented to the parish by the late Mr. Thomas Longman of Diplands, and the late Mr. John Longman of Warwick.

Among the papers is one executed on May 20th.1884, by which Ann Elizabeth Longman of Wadwick, in the parish of St. Mary Bourne grants and conveys to the person or persons in whom the churchyard of the parish is now vested, and his successors, a piece of land of 27 perches, on the north side of the churchyard, as an addition to the churchyard for burial purposes. (Dr. Joseph Stevens)

1720- Rate book. pd. Lambden for laying out Bendel and for Quiden (providing ?) ye woath and woob 3s.9d; Paid ye clark for ye grave and nell, 2s.4d.Providing the "Woath and woob", refers to the "winding sheet" to encase the dead and making it, which was done by means of the spinning wheel. Spinning was an important method of administering relief to the poor, who according to the act 43rd.of Elizabeth were to be "set to work" when able bodied. Linen wheels were sometimes provided by the overseers for the use of the females, the cost being about 3s.each in the time of Elizabeth; but they were to be seen as ordinary articles of furniture in the kitchen of the yeomanry, and their agreeable hum was a familiar sound when the wheel was in full operation. Some of the clean albeit coarse sheets made at that period are still preserved by old families. The last implement of the kind was in St. Mary Bourne was used by Priscilla Goodyear of Stoke in spinning mops, but "granny" Bright and others spun silk, most likely in connection with the silk mills at Whitchurch.

The grave cloth of the period of the entry must have been of wool, the employment of wool at that time compulsory. During the middle ages it was customary to wrap the dead in the sheet or shroud usually without a coffin; and the practise often led to the placing of the body in a grave with the face downwards.

In the act 30th of Charles 2nd entitled "An act for the lessening the importation of linen from beyond the seas, and the encouragement of the woollen and paper manufactures of the Kingdom", the use of wool was insisted on to encourage the consumption and increase the trade of the clothiers and wool growers. The Act was repealed by George 3rd. in 1814.The curate of every parish was required to keep a register of all the burials in woollen. There was a fine for evading the act, which was willingly paid by some who were desirous to decorate the dead with lace, and even kid gloves, as in the case of Mrs. Oldfield who died in 1731.Even the ligatures of the feet and the coffin dressing were required to be of wool. The practice then in vogue has its survival in the present woollen shroud. (Dr. Joseph Stevens)

April- 1730. Charges of the woman that was deliverd in Paul Holdways cart house.

Feb the year 1781-A high wind that blowed all the sheets of lead except two from the tower of the chancel in the middle ILe.

1782-Apl 3rd. pd. for an act against swearing 6d.

1784 - April- Thomas Hopgoods bill for repairing the great bridge and planks and piles under the church wall £ 6.18s.1d.

1787- David Cox Pd. For repairing the great bridge 19s.9d.

Feb 14th. 1796 Amy daughter of Mary Phillips was born baptised Mar 25th, 1796 baseborn.

1804- Apl.4th.-Puling in the pigg dying in the church yard 1s.

1808- March 13th. The Rev. W. Hodge vicar preached the first time at Husband and Bourne, very March day and cold.

1808- A snowstorm, lasting the 19th, 20th, and 21st April, afterwards very cold.

1808 Apl.23rd.The shandelear was put up, gave by Mrs. Hannah Longman.

1809- Oct.18th. Robert Moore of East Woodhay fell from his horse in Hurstbourne Tarrant and not spoke afterwards.

1813- 1814 only three marriages in each year probably on account of the younger men having gone as soldiers.

1813 -March 19th. Gave the Ringers on account of peace £1 (Bell ringers)

1826 St. Mary Bourne church clock was donated by Richard Poore of St. Mary Bourne.

(It seems the clock needed regular repair and maintenance as there is constant reference to it in the parish book.) (Kevin Holdway)

1849. First mention of Church Insurance £1.2s.6d.per year

(Dr. Joseph Stevens)

Important functions in the life of the parish continued to be performed by the parish vestry meetings till 1894. After which the Parish council took over in accordance with the local government act of the same year. It made assessments for rates, fixed the poor rate, and each year appointed overseers, Guardians and Way wardens. At the Easter Monday Vestry, the Churchwardens were appointed for the ensuing year. The Churchwardens accounts, pew assessments, etc, were presented to a parish Vestry Meeting. Between 1884 and 1894 rates varied from 10d. To 1/6d. In the £1.

The last meeting of the parish vestry was held on October 11th, 1894. Mr. Selfe was chairman. The rate was fixed at 1/6d in the £. Assessments were apportioned on some property of Mr. James Neale, who was present, and “this concluded the business of the parish vestry”.

One of the biggest parish vestry meetings recorded was held on August 12th.1882,”for the purpose of enabling the rate-payers to determine if it be necessary or not to erect a bridge over the river leading to Warwick”.

John Berry and William Day were the churchwardens present, and Alfred Charles Medhurst and James Eyles the Overseers.

Twenty three rate payers assembled, including two – Charles Davis and William Longman – who arrived after the decision that the bridge was desirable had been carried unanimously, and added their assent; and thirteen voted by proxy including six women, (none being present). S. Lockheart, vicar, was chairman.

A foot bridge was erected and is useful for pedestrians when the Bourne flows at the foot of Baptist hill. Other “traffic” still splashes through the water. (Kathleen Innes 1946)