Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

UK Parish Chests

English parishes were ordered to keep registers of births, marriages and deaths separate from other parish records since the reign of Henry VIII in 1538. The king's vicar general, Thomas Cromwell, also mandated the records be kept in a 'secure coffer.' Many parishes already had a chest made of wood reinforced by iron bars and locks because in 1166, Henry II had mandated that each church have a chest to collect money for the crusades. There were may items to store in the chest, including:

          -Alms for the poor
          -Parish plate or silver (most often communion ware)
          -Robes and vestments
          -Vestry Council minutes
          -Churchwardens' accounts
          -Parish birth, death and marriage registers
          -Poor Law Records (Rate/account books, bastardy bonds, apprenticeships, settlement papers)

                                                       Old Church, Penallt, Photo courtesy of Roy Parkhouse

Oak was the most commonly used wood because of its strength. The oldest of the chest look like hollowed logs with a lid. Feet were added to later refined designs because they kept the chest from touching the damp, cold stone floor.

                                                   Parish Chest, Malpas

It was customary to have three locks. The vicar had one key and the two churchwardens had one each. All three people had to be present to open the chest. In bigger parishes, the number of locks grew to five or seven.  
                                                   Parish Chest, Debenham, Suffolk

                                                   Parish Chest, Prescot, Lancashire, with five locks

Photos for this post came from the websites of the various parishes. To see more examples, google "parish chests."

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