Thursday, 8 December 2011

Tales from the Parish Clerks’ Memoranda No.13: The Final Tale

For this the thirteenth and final Tale from the Parish Clerks’ Memoranda for the ReScript blog, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the processes of record-keeping, stretching from the painstakingly hand-written Memorandum Book entries of the 16th century, to the painstakingly key-tagged digital renditions of the same for the very modern ReScript editing interface, that have combined to help bring the parishioners of St Botolphs without Aldgate vividly to life for 21st century historians.

Because the memorandum books were written freehand, with no standardised spelling, and without a terribly strict format, the amount of automated key-tagging that we were able to do was very limited. This meant that I had to check every single entry to try to ensure that everything a historian might feasibly want to search for using ReScript could be easily found. I confess that sometimes, especially in the early stages of the work, this could feel quite tedious.

But an interesting thing happened as the work progressed: as I ploughed through innumerable notices of births, engagements, weddings, and funerals, I started to get a sense of the rhythm of life in the parish. I found myself picturing dancing and celebration at the weddings, and feeling fearful for the fate of infants who were in such poor health that they had to be baptised at home instead of at the church. I grew to recognise some of the parishioners and church officials who appeared in the records again and again, like the wonderfully named Balthazar Piggin. And I felt a sense of dread as the first mentions of plague began to appear in the records.

I also began to feel a strange synchronicity with the parish clerks. They and I both tended to stumble and make errors when we had to undertake particularly long and repetitive entries of events (their errors remain visible for all time while mine, mercifully, could be corrected out of existence). And I could practically hear their heavy sighs of resignation when yet another funeral service had to be marked “unpaid”. The role of the church in marking every milestone of the lives of the parishioners – and of many non-parishioners – of their little area of London meant that the ministers and parish clerks probably knew more about the goings-on of the neighbourhood than anyone else.

Having key-tagged countless instances of Mr Hayes the minister flawlessly fulfilling his duties, I found that the following entry rendered him endearingly more human:
14 Iune Ano 1589
Judith Hall the dawghter of Edmund Hall a Surngionn Dwellinge in mother Figgis Alye beinge in the High Streete was cristned the xiiijth Day of June anno 1589 By the minester of Creechurche mr Cowse For that mr Hayse was not well or a Slepe
P69/BOT2/A/019/MS09234/001 fol. 68r
It was the “…or asleep” that tickled me. To conclude this series, I leave you with Mr Hayse’s heroic attempt five years earlier at forcibly establishing brotherly love amongst the parishioners:
24 Maye 1584
Coone clarke was put by the communion
Memerandumm that mr Hayze wt the consent of Bothe the church wardens ded putt Coone clarke and his Wyfe From Receyvinge the comunion the xxiiijth Daye of maye in ano 1584 For that theye Weare not in love and charetie with their neyghbores Hentell Suche tyme as theie Do reconsyle them selves
P69/BOT2/A/019/MS09234/001 fol. 55r
Thank you to everyone who has been following Tales from the Parish Clerks’ Memoranda. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing it, and hope that you will keep checking in to the blog to chart the progress of ReScript as Bruce Tate and the team continue their excellent and innovative work. And be sure to stay in love and charity with your neighbours. It’s what Mr Hayes would have wanted.

Many thanks to St Botolph without Aldgate and London Metropolitan Archives for permission to reprint extracts from the Parish Clerks' Memoranda.

The Parish Clerks' Memoranda transcripts were prepared by the Centre for Metropolitan History team as part of their Economic and Social Research Council-funded Life in the Suburbs project (Grant Reference: RES-062-23-1260;

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