Wedmore Genealogy Pages

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All Marriages 1561 to 1839:



Original Introduction To The Wedmore Parish Registers.

Marriages 1561-1839

by Sydenham Henry Augustus Hervey.
Vicar of Wedmore 1876-1898.


Not long ago I asked some boys at school when the Apostles lived. One boy said, A thousand years ago; another said, A million. I believe that if people were asked when their Parish Registers begin, the answers would be just as uncertain. Most people scarcely know whether their Registers go back a hundred years, or a thousand, or a million.

One reason for printing Parish Registers is that their contents may be thrown open instead of being locked up in iron chests; that people may become better acquainted with that which so nearly concerns them, and may be able to tell their fathers, and their fathers' fathers, as far back as possible.

Another reason is that these records, or at least their contents, may be made safe for evermore. As long as there is only one single copy, and that in writing, they are not safe. Time must be gradually eating them away; and sometimes fire gets impatient and does in a moment what time would do in a century. So all Parish Registers ought to be straightway printed. Every parish ought to be compelled by law to print its Registers immediately. The expense should come out of the local rates. And when all the Parish Registers had been printed from 1538 to 1800 or later, then there should be made one gigantic Index for the whole country. The expenses of that Index should come out of the imperial taxes. Each county should have its Index as well, made at its expense. So the three degrees of comparison would be represented by the three Indexes, Parish, County, Country.

I. In his history of Parish Registers, Mr. Burn tells us that they were ordered to be kept in Spain in 1497; and in England not till 1538. There are about 800 parishes in England whose Registers begin in 1538. Fresh orders about the keeping of Registers came from the Government of the day in 1563, 1597, and 1603. So many Registers date from those years. Many parishes lost their early Registers during the Civil War, and have none earlier than 1660.

II. The Wedmore Registers begin in 1561, and are as near as possible perfect from that day to this. The longest gap is from December, 1636, to April, 1659, and that in Marriages only. The first volume runs from March 26, 1561, to September 18, 1611. Marriages, Baptisms, and Burials are all mixed up together, put down in the order that they took place. I thought that there was no advantage in following the original arrangement, and so have printed the Marriages by themselves, and shall print the Baptisms and Burials by themselves. This volume is beautifully written, very well bound, and very well preserved. I had a great deal less trouble in reading it than I had in reading the entries made by Mr. Cattle 70 years ago. After nearly 300 years these entries are as plain to read as on the day when they were written. In 300 years time Mr. Cattle's entries will be simply clean gone, like snow that melts away. The entries are all in Latin. From 1561 to 1602 they are all in one handwriting, and done at one time evidently a copy from an older Register. With this agrees a note made July, 1585: "Sixe moneths rent out of the olde Booke"; and then passes on to February. In 1602 the writing changes.

The second volume runs from September, 1611, to April, 1663. Here also Marriages, Baptisms, and Burials are mixed up together; and the entries are in Latin, except for a few sensible years during the Commonwealth. This volume is well bound, and fairly well preserved; but some of the writing is villainous. Owing to a binder's error the last few leaves are placed in their wrong order.

The third volume runs from April, 1663, to June, 1727. The Marriages, Baptisms, and Burials are still mixed up, and entered in Latin till 1719, when common sense prevails and English comes in. The use of Latin was a relic of pre-Reformation days and ways. The use of English instead of Latin was just as much a result of the Reformation as the putting away of Romish doctrines and ceremonies. But it was slow to come. This volume is well bound, well preserved, and plainly written.

The fourth volume runs from July, 1727, to the end of 1812. Marriages, Baptisms, and Burials are mixed up in it till 1754; after which it contains only Baptisms and Burials. I am now only concerned with Marriages.

In the middle of 1754 begins the first separate volume for Marriages, and runs to 1787; the second separate volume runs from 1787 to 1812; the third from 1813 to 1837 the fourth from 1837 to 1878; the fifth is still running.

In printing the Marriages I have aimed to copy the spelling of the names exactly, because the great variety of ways in which names are spelled is instructive. But I have not copied the full entry excepting during the Commonwealth (1653-1656). It would have been a needless waste of time and space. Whilst the entries are in Latin, 1561 to 1719, the form always used is "duxit in uxorem." For that, as well as for the English form which succeeded it, I have simply printed an ampersand (&).

When the separate volume for Marriages begins in 1754, then we first begin to have the signature of the minister, and the signatures or criscrosses of the bride and bridegroom, and two witnesses. Till then we had merely been told the bare fact that A.B. married C.D. It would have been doing the thing more thoroughly if I had printed their names as well. With the third separate volume which begins in 1837 the information begins to be fuller still. We have the age, profession, and residence of the bride and bridegroom, and their parents' name, and profession. I had not at first meant to have touched the third volume, but to have left off at the end of the second. But as that one left off in the middle of 1837, and as that seemed an awkward date for this printed volume to stop at, I have gone on till I saw the dawn of 1840.

The total number of Marriages here printed is 3732. These are spread over 279 years, viz., from 1561 to 1839. The yearly average is thus about 14. The first thousand occupied 69 years, and was reached in 1629: the second thousand occupied 83 years, and was reached in 1713: the third thousand occupied 89 years, and was reached in 1802. If one merely went by those figures, one would infer that the population of the parish has been steadily decreasing the whole time; not merely relatively, but absolutely, decreasing. But that is impossible. I expect that several causes help to make the number of Marriages in proportion to the population greater formerly than now. Formerly Allerton helped a little, and Mark helped a great deal, to fill the Wedmore Registers. There were not so many young people going off to towns to get a livelihood; America was scarcely known, Australia not at all; there was no "bank at Axbridge" to get married at. And other causes there are besides those.

During this century the Wedmore Registers have been considerably relieved. The first Marriage in Theale District Chapel was in November, 1844: the first in Blackford District Chapel was in March 1845: the first in the Wedmore Wesleyan Chapel was in 1842. The Wedmore Baptist Chapel was licensed for Marriages in August, 1869. No Registers are kept by these two last!

III. Years ago the Parish Registers were made a sort of Chronicle of what happened. Battles, plagues, earthquakes, storms, comets, royal visits, and such like, were entered in them. But now that sort of thing is impossible. Formerly there were blank pages wherein you were free to put down as much or as little as you liked. But now you are told exactly what to put, and lines are ruled so that you, cannot exceed your orders. For certain, my predecessor, Rev. John Kempthorne, did go up into the belfry one fine Sunday morning, about 25 years ago, and found an 18 gallon cask of cider there, standing where it ought not; and he did straightway take out the Register of Baptisms and put down therein what he had found. But it is not easy to do so in these days of ruled lines and rigid instructions. You have barely space enough to put down what you are told to, and so you can add nothing. And there are advantages as well as disadvantages in that. On the one hand you thereby keep every Register up to a certain mark, on the other hand you prevent any Register from going above it. You get a dull uniformity; no Register can he altogether neglected, while none can be made more interesting than the rest. I cannot find that the Wedmore Registers have ever been used to notify events. I was in hope of finding some note about the Civil War, or the Battle of Sedgemoor, or Judge Jeffery's visit. But no, not a word: only the finding of that cask of cider in the belfry, at 9.30 on Sunday morning, September 27, 1863. The only notes in the earlier volumes beyond bare entries, are three in number. They are all in vol. 2. They are these:-

1. "March 1, 1632. Whearas upon my own certaine knowledge my wife lying now in childbed is very weake and sick, and by eating of fish she may very much if not altogither endanger her life: I Mathew Law being Vicar of the said parish of Wedmore doe as in me lyeth lycence and authorise her to eate flesh according to the forme and effect of the Statute in that case provided. In witness whearof I have hear but set my hand the day and year above written. Mathew Law Vicar ibidem." "This lycenee was copyed out and . . . . March anno predicto in the presence of us, Mathew Law Vicar, Robert Cole Churchwarden, and John Petheram."

For the very little that I have been able to find out about Mathew Law see Wedmore Chronicle, vol. I., 245-249.

2. "Jan. 31, 1653. Whereas it appeareth by a certificate to mee entered under the hands off diverse parishioners and inhabitants living within the parish of Wedmore within this County of Somerset that John Petherham is there chosen their parish Register and hath according to the Act of Parliament desired my approbation, these are to signify that I do accordingly approve of him and that he is by mee sworne. John Gutch."

One word to explain this note. In 1653, Cromwell having been appointed Protector, and the Episcopal Church having been disestablished for a season, Parliament ordered Registrars, or Registers as they were called, to be appointed by every Parish, and to be sworn by a Justice of the Peace. The Registrar was appointed for 3 years. He was to enter the Births and Burials in a book, and have charge of the book. He was also to publish the names of those intending to get married on three Lord's Days following in Church, "at the close of the morning exercize"; or (if the parties desired it) in the Market-place next to the Church on three weekly market days following, between thee hours of 11 and 2. The Marriage service, such as it was, was performed by a Justice of the Peace. This did not last long. In 1660 the King was brought back, the Episcopal Church re-established, and Parish Registrars and Justices' Marriages became things of the past. The above note shows that John Petherham was the man chosen by this parish to act as their Registrar. Having got his book before me, I am able to say that he wrote a good hand, and kept the book well. The gap in the entry of Marriages begins in 1656, when his three years of office would have ended. I have printed the entries during the Commonwealth full, merely throwing the entry of the publication and the entry of Marriage into one, and avoiding vain repetition of words. William Smith and John Gutch were the Justices who performed most of the ceremonies. Now and then the publishing is mentioned as having taken place at the market towns of Glaston and Axbridge. I have heard that Wedmore once had a market. But that looks as if Wedmore at this time had no market, or at any rate not a weekly one. Where no place of publishing is mentioned, we may assume that it took place in the Church; and when the parties wished it to be done at the market, they had to have it done at Axbridge or Glastonbury. There they were called over amidst the lowing of cattle, the bleating of sheep, and the shouting of drovers.

3. On May 22, 1658, were buried John Langcastle and Christian his wife, of Blackford: and under the entry are these lines

"In love they lived together, in love together died;
And lovingly they buried lie together side by side."

With the exception of these three notes, the early Wedmore Registers only contain plain statements of Baptism, Death, and Marriage.

It must he remembered that till 1752 the year is reckoned to begin on March 25 so that February, 1600, in these Registers, would be February, 1601, according to our style of reckoning.

IV. One word as to the Indexes and Appendix. Index No. 1 is an index to the names of all the brides and bridegrooms, in number 7464. Their Christian names are put in English. Every Surname has on an average about 15 different ways in which it is spelt. I have not cumbered the Index with all those different ways, but have picked out one or two under which to give the references. Sometimes the two are bracketed together, but not always. So that possibly the same family, and even the same individual, may sometimes be found under two different headings, apart from each other. It is necessary to remember this when looking out any name in particular, and to look a little wider than otherwise one would do.

E.G. Champion and Champeny are the same name and are bracketed together; so all the references will be found under one heading. Harvey and Harford are also the same name, but are not bracketed together; so the references will be found under two different headings (For the identity of Champion and Champeny, Harford and Harvey, see Wedmore Chronicle, vol. II., pp. 22-30.). Greepe and Gripe, Kill and Keele, and some other pairs, might safely have been bracketed together, but have not been. I pat down a few of the changes in spelling that I have noticed in copying these Registers, and give an example or two of each.

(a.) The change of r and l, as in Glace and Grace, Glimster and Grimster (for Grimstead). With that agrees Glanvile and Granvile which one sometimes hears.

(b.) The adding of a consonant at the end, or dropping it, as in Garman and Garment, Goole and Gould, Field and Yeale. That same change turns a Sermon into a Sarmint, as though it were a herb of the mint tribe.

(c.) The putting s at the end, or dropping it, as in Cole and Coles, Gile and Giles, Cock and Cox, Davy and Davies, Hayne and Haynes, and many others. These and such as these I have always bracketed together, and put the references under one heading. I had some doubt at first about bracketing Cock and Cox, as they have got to be such different names now. But looking to the fact that the earlier bearers of the name were called by the one as much as by the other, I decided to do so. Neither way as satisfactory. If I bracketed them I bracketed two modern bearers of different names. If I separated them I separated two ancient bearers of the same name. So I could not be altogether right whichever I did.

(d.) There is the tumble whereby such names as Thurston, Lundon and Priston become Thursson, Lunnon and Prisson. So it is that we never think of saying Weston or Shepton, but Wes'n and Shep'n. We speak the first syllable, and then tumble headlong into the second one.

(e.) There is the lopping off a whole syllable, just as one may lop off a useless branch of a tree. In 1644 will be seen the marriage of one Abraham Hambrooke. But when the children are baptized, they are entered as the children of Abraham Brooke. Ham is not wanted, so they cut it off. If he had not had a rather uncommon Christian name, I might not have noticed that. So in the same way the surname Ivyleafe, which flourished here for 200 years and more, is often written Ivie in the ratebooks; and Nutticombe has often become Nuttie; and I expect that Puddy is from Puddicombe or Podimore, and Pople from Poplestone, and Cord from Cordwainer.

(f.) The putting on and off w, as in Whorten and Horten, Oram and Woram. With that agrees what one sometimes hears, viz., Woaks for Oaks, and Whuts for Oats. But it is curious that the same people who would say Woaks and Whuts, would probably say Ooman and Ookey. They put "w" in in the one case, and leave it out in the other. If we all wrote like copy-books, and spelt like spelling-books, and spake like grammars and dictionaries, it would be a very dull world. There is need of sonic to do the one, and of other some to do the other.

Besides these changes in the consonants, there are the changes in vowels: as in Michell and Muchill, Hichens and Huchens: Card and Cord, Hart and Hort, Badford and Rodford. One short name rings the changes on nearly all the vowels, viz., Haggs, Heggs, Higgs. All three may be found in the Registers, and all three may be heard today.

These changes are only a few out of many that might be named; but they will be enough to show the necessity of letting the eye roam about freely when searching for a name in the Index.

Index No. 2 is an Index to the names extracted from the banns-books, being the names of those who were asked in Wedmore Church but married elsewhere. The banns-books begin in 1754, but many years are missing.

Index No. 3 is an index to all the places mentioned in the Marriage Registers. Hamlets and parts of Wedmore itself I have excluded. Places mentioned only in the extracts from the banns-book are also excluded.

The Appendix giving a list of all the Christian names borne by the brides and bridegrooms, and the number of times that each one occurred in each of the four centuries that are touched, is worth looking at. If such a list was made out everywhere, we should see what were the different influences at work in different parts of the country. It would be better for the list to be taken from the Baptisms. This Appendix shows clearly the gradual rise of some names, the gradual fall of others. In many cases one can see the reason for that rise or fall. The influence of Romish ways and feelings was not yet dead, and can be seen in the first two columns: the influence of Protestant ways and feelings had come in, and can be seen in the last two. Names of saints like Antony and Christopher belonged originally to Romish ways, and so may be seen to be waning as one's eye passes from column to column; Old Testament names like Jeremiah and Samuel belong to Protestant ways, and so may be seen to be waxing.

It is worth noting the extraordinary number of Johns, especially in the fragment of the 16th century, when they are not far from being one half of the whole. But in each succeeding column they get relatively fewer: and if that shall continue so, one may soon begin to tremble for the existence of John Bull. The extremely sudden rise of Ann, and the extremely sudden fall of Agnes, is also worth noting. The Latin form for Agnes was Agnis, or sometimes Annis; and possibly there has been some confusion by the writer of the Registers, and some of the Anna may be really Agnes. This Appendix suggests many other observations but this is not the place to make them in.

I only notice two foreign surnames; viz., Keisar and Ozan. Keisar is the same as Caesar. The English family of Caesar were, I believe, originally Italian. The present Lord Mayor of London, whose name is De Keyser, is a Belgian by birth.

The reading of the name Ozan puzzled me at first. By a curious accident just after I had made it out and printed it, I went into Normandy. I saw it there twice: once over a shop door in the old town of Caen, where William the Conqueror lies buried in a very magnificent church: and once on a tombstone in a cemetery which commanded a fine view of the city of Rouen. I have also noticed the name in a Paris directory.

I can scarcely hope to have avoided all errors in the work of copying and recopying such a mass of names and figures. But thanks to the help I have received from the Rev. J. S. F. Singleton, Vicar of Theale, in comparing my copy with the original, and thanks also to the very accurate printing of Mr. Jackson, I hope that those errors will be few.


S. H. A. H.

Wedmore Vicarage,