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THE PARISH 


CLERK 






Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2019 with funding from 
Kahle/Austin Foundation 


https://archive.org/details/parishclerkOOOOditc 



THE PARISH CLERK 

liY THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH, R. A. 




THE PARISH CLERK 


BY 

P. H. DITCH FIELD 

M.A., F.S.A. 


WITH THIRTY-ONE ILLUSTRATIONS 


NEW YORK 

E. P. DUTTON AND COMPANY 

31 West Twenty-third Street 

1907 





CONTENTS 


CHAPTER PAGE 

I. Old-time Choirs and Parsons .i 

II. The Antiquity and Continuity of the Office of 

Clerk.16 

III. The Mediaeval Clerk.31 

IV. His Duties of Reading and Singing .... 48 

V. The Clerk in Literature.63 

VI. Clerks too Clerical — Smuggling Days and 

Smuggling Ways.79 

VII. The Clerk in Epitaph.90 

VIII. The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks . . 104 

IX. The Clerks of London : tiieir Duties and Privileges i 15 

X. Clerkenwell and Clerks’ Plays .... 130 

XI. The Clerks and the Parish Registers . . . 140 

XII. The Clerk as a Poet.154 

XIII. The Clerk giving out Notices.169 

XIV. Sleepy Church and Sleepy Clerks .... 179 

XV. The Clerk in Art.195 

XVI. Women as Parish Clerks.201 

XVII. Some Yorkshire Clerks.206 

XVIII. An Old Cheshire Clerk and some other Worthies 225 

XIX. The Clerk and the Law.245 

XX. Recollections of Old Clerks and tiieir Ways . 255 

XXI Curious Stories.306 

XXII. Longevity and Heredity — The Deacon-Clerks of 

Barnstaple.318 

XXIII. Conclusion. 333 

Index. 335 


94303 





































































. 






- 








LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 


The Parish Clerk. By Thomas Gainsborough, r.a. . Frontispiece 

From the original in the National Gallery 

PAGE 

The Village Choir. By Thomas Webster.8 

From the original in the Victoria and A Ibert Museum 

The Medieval Clerk : The Clerk in Procession . . . 18 

Front old engravings 

The Clerk Bearing Holy Water and Asperging the Cook, 


AND OTHERS.2S 

From old engravings 

The Old Church-Houses at Hurst and Uffington, Berks . 42 

By permission of Messrs. G. J. Palmer and Sons 

The Clerk and Priest Visiting the Sick and Administering 

the Last Sacrament.46 

By permission of the S.P.C.K. 

Old Beckenham Church. By David Cox.60 

From the drawing at the Tate Gallery 

Old Scarlett.98 

Front “ The Book of Days ” 

By permission of Messrs. W. and R. Chambers, Ltd. 

Entrance to the Hall of the Company of Parish Clerks . 104 

The Master’s Chair at the Parish Clerks’ Hall . . . 106 


Portrait of William Roper, Son-in-law and Biographer of 

Sir Thomas More, Benefactor of the Clerks’ Company . no 

The Grant of Arms to the Company of Parish Clerks . in 

Stained Glass Window at the Hall of the Parish Clerks’ 
Company, showing Portraits of John Clarke and Stephen 
Penckhurst. 112 

A Page of the Bede Roll of the Parish Clerks’ Company . 114 

vii 





viii THE PARISH CLERK 

The Organ at the Parish Clerks’ Hall. 

A Page of an early Bill of Mortality preserved at the 
Hall of the Parish Clerks’ Company. 

Interior of the Hall of the Parish Clerks’ Company 

Portrait of John Clarke, Parish Clerk of the Church of 
St. Michael, Cornhill. 

Old Map of Clerkenwell. 

A Mystery Play at Chester. 

From a print after a painting by T. Umins 

The Descent into Hell. 

Frotn William Hone's "Ancient Mysteries" 

The Sleeping Congregation. By W. Hogarth .... 

From an engraving at the British Museum 

The Clerk Attending the Priest at Holy Baptism 

By permission of the S.P.C.K. 

The Duties of a Clerk at a Death and Funeral. 

By permission of the S.P.C.K. 

The Vicar of Wakefield. By W. P. Frith. 

From a photograph by Messrs. IV. A. Mansell and Co. 

Portrait of Richard IIust, the Restorer of the Clerks’ 
Almshouses . 

The Church of St. Margaret, Westminster . . . . 

After an engraving from a photograph by Messrs. IV. A. Mansell and Co. 

William Hinton, a Wiltshire Worthy. Drawn by the Rev. 
Julian Charles Young ......... 

By permission of Messrs. Macmillan and Co. 

Sunday Morning. By John Absolon. 

From a photograph by Messrs. IV. A. Mansell and Co. 

The Parish Clerk of Quedgeley ...... 

By permission of Miss Isabel Barnett 

James Carne, Parish Clerk of St. Columb Minor, Cornwall, 
the Oldest Living Clerk. 

From a photograph by Mr. R. P. Griffith , Newquay 


PAGE 

121 

122 

126 

128 

130 

132 

136 

l82 

196 

198 

199 

200 
210 

239 

270 

280 

320 





PREFACE 



HE race of parish clerks is gradually becoming 


_L extinct. Before the recollection of their quaint 
ways, their curious manners and customs, has quite 
passed away, it has been thought advisable to collect all 
that can be gathered together concerning them. Much 
light has in recent years been thrown upon the history 
of the office. The learned notes appended to Dr. 
Wickham Legg’s edition of The Parish Clerk's Book , 
published by the Henry Bradshaw Society, Dr. 
Atchley’s Parish Clerk and his Right to Read the 
Liturgical Epistle (Alcuin Club Tracts), and other 
works, give much information with regard to the anti¬ 
quity of the office, and to the duties of the clerk of 
mediaeval times ; and from these books I have derived 
much information. By the kindness of many friends 
and of many correspondents who are personally un¬ 
known to me, I have been enabled to collect a large 
number of anecdotes, recollections, facts, and bio¬ 
graphical sketches of many clerks in different parts of 
England, and I am greatly indebted to those who have 
so kindly supplied me with so much valuable informa¬ 
tion. Many of the writers are far advanced in years, 
when the labour of putting pen to paper is a sore 
burden. I am deeply grateful to them for the trouble 
which they kindly took in recording their recollections 


IX 


X 


THE PARISH CLERK 


of the scenes of their youth. I have been much amused 
by the humorous stories of old clerkly ways, by the 
facetiae which have been sent to me, and I have been 
much impressed by the records of faithful service and 
devotion to duty shown by many holders of the office 
who won the esteem and affectionate regard of both 
priest and people. It is impossible for me to publish 
the names of all those who have kindly written to me, 
but I wish especially to thank the Rev. Canon Venables, 
who first suggested the idea of this work, and to whom 
it owes its conception and initiation to the Rev. B. D. 
Blyn-Stoyle, to Mr. F. W. Hackwood, the Rev. 
W. V. Vickers, the Rev. W. Selwyn, the Rev. E. H. 
L. Reeve, the Rev. W. H. Langhorne, Mr. E. J. 
Lupson, Mr. Charles Wise, and many others, who 
have taken a kindly interest in the writing of this book. 
I have also to express my thanks to the editors of the 
Treasury and of Pearson's Magazine for permission to 
reproduce portions of some of the articles which I con¬ 
tributed to their periodicals, to the editor of Chambers's 
Journal for the use of an article on some north-country 
clerics and their clerks by a writer whose name is un¬ 
known to me, and to the Rev. J. Gaskell Exton for 
sending to me an account of a Yorkshire clerk which, 
by the kindness of the editor of the Yorkshire Weekly 
Post, I am enabled to reproduce. 


1 Since the above was written, and while this book has been passing 
through the press, the venerable clergyman, Canon Venables, has been 
called away from earth. A zealous parish priest, a voluminous writer, 
a true friend, he will be much missed by all who knew him. Some 
months ago he sent me some recollections of his early days, of the 
clerks he had known, and his reflections on his long ministry, and these 
have been recorded in this book, and will now have a pathetic interest 
for his many friends and for all who admired his noble, earnest, and 
strenuous life. 


THE PARISH CLERK 


CHAPTER I 

OLD-TIME CHOIRS AND PARSONS 
REMARKABLE feature in the conduct of our 



l \ modern ecclesiastical services is the disappear¬ 
ance and painless extinction of the old parish clerk 
who figured so prominently in the old-fashioned ritual 
dear to the hearts of our forefathers. The Oxford 
Movement has much to answer for ! People who have 
scarcely passed the rubicon of middle life can recall 
the curious scene which greeted their eyes each Sunday 
morning when life was young, and perhaps retain a 
tenderness for old abuses, and, like George Eliot, 
have a lingering liking for nasal clerks and top-booted 
clerics, and sigh for the departed shades of vulgar 


errors 


Then and now—the contrast is great. Then the 
hideous Georgian “three-decker” reared its monstrous 
form, blocking out the sight of the sanctuary; immense 
pews like cattle-pens filled the nave. The woodwork 
was high and panelled, sometimes richly carved, as at 
Whalley Church, Lancashire, where some pews have 
posts at the corners like an old-fashioned four-posted 
bed. Sometimes two feet above the top of the wood¬ 
work there were brass rods on which slender curtains 


B 


2 


THE PARISH CLERK 


ran, and were usually drawn during sermon time in 
order that the attention of the occupants of the pew 
might not be distracted from devout meditations on the 
preacher’s discourse—or was it to woo slumber? A 
Berkshire dame rather admired these old-fashioned 
pews, wherein, as she naively expressed it, “a body 
might sleep comfortable without all the parish knowin’ 
on it.” 

It was of such pews that Swift wrote in his Baucis 
and Philemon : 

“ A bedstead of the antique mode, 

Compact of timber many a load, 

Such as our ancestors did use 
Was metamorphosed into pews ; 

Which still their ancient nature keep 
By lodging folks disposed to sleep.” 

The squire’s pew was a wondrous structure, with its 
own special fire-place, the fire in which the old gentle¬ 
man used to poke vigorously when the parson was too 
long in preaching. It was amply furnished, this squire’s 
pew, with arm-chairs and comfortable seats and stools 
and books. Such a pew all furnished and adorned did 
a worthy clerk point out to the witty Bishop of Oxford, 
Bishop Wilberforce, with much pride and satisfaction. 
“ If there be ought your lordship can mention to mak’ 
it better, I’m sure Squire will no mind gettin’ on it.” 

The bishop, with a merry twinkle in his eye, turned 
round to the vicar, who was standing near, and mali¬ 
ciously whispered : 

“ A card table ! ” 

Such comfortable squires’ pews still exist in some 
churches, but “restoration” has paid scanty regard to 
old-fashioned notions and ideas, and the squire and 
his family usually sit nowadays on benches similar to 
those used by the rest of the congregation. 


OLD-TIME CHOIRS AND PARSONS 


3 


Then the choir sat in the west gallery and made 
strange noises and sang curious tunes, the echoes of 
which we shall try to catch. No organ then pealed 
forth its reverent tones and awaked the church with 
dulcet harmonies : a pitch-pipe often the sole instru¬ 
ment. And then—what terrible hymns were sung ! 
Well did Campbell say of Sternhold and Hopkins, the 
co-translators of the Psalms of David into English 
metre, “mistaking vulgarity for simplicity, they turned 
into bathos what they found sublime.” And Tate and 
Brady’s version, the “Dry Psalter” of “Samuel 
Oxon’s ” witticism, was little better. Think of the 
poetical beauties of the following lines, sung with 
vigour by a bald-headed clerk : 

“ My hairs are numerous, but few 
Compared to th’ enemies that me pursue.” 

It was of such a clerk and of such psalmody that 
John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, in the seventeenth 
century wrote his celebrated epigram : 

“Sternhold and Hopkins had great qualms 
When they translated David’s Psalms, 

To make the heart more glad ; 

But had it been poor David’s fate 
To hear thee sing and them translate, 

By Jove, 'twould have drove him mad.” 

When the time for singing the metrical Psalm arrived, 
the clerk gave out the number in stentorian tones, 
using the usual formula, “ Let us sing to the praise 
and glory of God the one hundred and fourth Psalm, 
first, second, seving (seven), and eleving verses with 
the Doxology.” Then, pulling out his pitch-pipe from 
the dusty cushions of his seat, he would strut pompously 
down the church, ascend the stairs leading to the west 
gallery, blow his pipe, and give the basses, tenors, and 


THE PARISH CLERK 


4 

soprano voices their notes, which they hung on to in a 
low tone until the clerk returned to his place in the 
lowest tier of the “three-decker” and started the choir- 
folk vigorously. Those Doxologies at the end ! What 
a trouble they were ! You could find them if you knew 
where to look for them at the end of the Prayer Book 
after Tate and Brady’s metrical renderings of the Psalms 
of David. There they were, but the right one was hard 
to find. Some had two syllables too much to suit the 
tune, and some had two syllables too little. But it did 
not matter very greatly, and we were accustomed to add 
a word here, or leave out one there; it was all in a day’s 
work, and we went home with the comfortable reflection 
that we had done our best. 

But a pitch-pipe was not usually the sole instrument. 
Many village churches had their band, composed of 
fiddles, flutes, clarionets, and sometimes bassoons 
and a drum. “ Let’s go and hear the baboons,” said a 
clerk mentioned by the Rev. John Eagles in his Essays. 
In order to preserve strict historical accuracy, I may 
add that this invitation was recorded in the year 1837, 
and therefore could have no reference to evolutionary 
theories and the Descent of Man. This clerk, who in¬ 
variably read “ Cheberims and Sepherims,” and was 
always “a lion to my mother’s children,” looking not 
unlike one with his shaggy hair and beard, was not in¬ 
viting a neighbour to a Sunday afternoon at the Zoo, 
but only to hear the bassoons. 

When the clerk gave out the hymn or Psalm, or on 
rare occasions the anthem, there was a strange sound 
of tuning up the instruments, and then the instruments 
wailed forth discordant melody. The clerk conducted 
the choir, composed of village lads and maidens, with 
a few stalwart basses and tenors. It was often a curious 


OLD-TIME CHOIRS AND PARSONS 5 

performance. Everybody sang- as loud as he could 
bawl; cheeks and elbows were at their utmost efforts, 
the bassoon vying with the clarionet, the goose-stop of 
the clarionet with the bassoon—it was Babel with the 
addition of the beasts. And they were all so proud of 
their performance. It was the only part of the service 
during which no one could sleep, said one of them with 
pride—and he was right. No one could sleep through 
the terrible din. They were the most important officials 
in the church, for did not the Psalms make it clear, 
“The singers go before, and the minstrels” (which they 
understood to mean ministers) “follow after”? And then 
—those anthems! They were terrible inflictions. Every 
bumpkin had his favourite solo, and oh ! the murder, 
the profanation! “Some put their trust in charrots 
and some in ’orses,” but they didn’t “quite pat off the 
stephany,” as one of the singers remarked, meaning 
symphony. It was all very strange and curious. 

Then followed the era of barrel-organs, the clerk’s 
duty being to turn the handle and start the singing. 
He was the only person who understood its mechanism 
and how to change the barrels. Sometimes accidents 
happened, as at Aston Church, Yorkshire, some time in 
the thirties. One Sunday morning during the singing 
of a hymn the music came to a sudden stop. There 
was a solemn pause, and then the clerk was seen to 
make his way to the front of the singing gallery, and 
was heard addressing the vicar in a loud tone, saying, 
“Please, sor, an-ell ’as coom off.” The handle had 
come off the instrument. At another church, in 
Huntingdonshire, the organ was hidden from view by 
drawn curtains, behind which the clerk used to retire 
when he had given out the Psalm. On one occasion, 
however, no sound of music issued from behind the 


6 


THE PARISH CLERK 


curtains; at last, after a solemn pause, the clerk’s 
quizzical face appeared, and his harsh voice shouted 
out, “Dang it, she ’on’t speak!” The “ grinstun 
organ,” as David Diggs, the hero of Hewett’s Parish 
Clerk calls it, was not always to be depended on. 
Every one knows the Lancashire dialect story of the 
“Barrel Organ” which refused to stop, and had to be 
carried out of church and sat upon, and yet still con¬ 
tinued to pour forth its dirge-like melody. 

David Diggs may not have been a strictly historical 
character, but the sketch of him was doubtless founded 
upon fact, and the account of the introduction of the 
barrel-organ into the church of “ Seatown ” on the 
coast of Sussex is evidently drawn from life. A vestry 
meeting was held to consider about having a quire in 
church, and buying a barrel-organ with half a dozen 
simple Psalm tunes upon it, which Davy was to turn 
while the parson put his gown on, and the children 
taught to sing to. The clerk was ordered to write to 
the squire and ask him for a liberal subscription. This 
was his letter : 


“ M r Squir, sur, 

“Me & Farmer Field & the rest of the genel- 

men In vestri sembled Thinks the parson want parish 

Relif in shape of A Grindstun orgin betwin Survisses 

—i am to grind him & the sundy skool kildren is to 

sing to him wile he Gos out of is sete. 

“We liv It to yuresef wart to giv as we dont wont to 

limit yur malevolens , , 

“ Your obedunt servunt 

“Davy Diggs.” 


Of course this worthy scribe taught the children in 
the school, though writing was happily considered a 


OLD-TIME CHOIRS AND PARSONS 


7 


superfluous accomplishment. He taught little beyond 
the Church Catechism and the Psalms, which he knew 
from frequent repetition, though he often wanted to 
imbue the infant minds entrusted to his charge with 
the Christening, Marriage, and Burial Services, and 
the Churching of Women, because he “ know’d um by 
heart himself.” 

The barrel-organ was scarcely a great improvement 
upon the “cornet, flute, sackbut, psaltery”—I mean the 
violins, ’cellos, clarionets, and bassoons which it sup¬ 
planted. The music of the village musicians in the 
west gallery was certainly not of the highest order. 
The instruments were often out of tune, and the fiddle- 
player and the flutist were often at logger-heads ; but 
it was a sad pity when their labours were brought to 
an end, and the mechanical organ took their place. 
The very fact that all these players took a keen in¬ 
terest in the conduct of Divine service was in itself an 
advantage. 

The barrel-organ killed the old musical life of the 
village. England was once the most musical nation in 
Europe. Puritanism tried to kill music. Organs were 
broken everywhere in the cathedrals and colleges, 
choirs dispersed and musical publications ceased. The 
professional players on violins, lutes, and flutes who 
had performed in the theatres or at Court wandered 
away into the villages, taught the rustics how to play 
on their beloved instruments in the taverns and ale¬ 
houses, and bequeathed their fiddles and clarionets to 
their rustic friends. Thus the rural orchestra had its 
birth, and right heartily did they perform not only in 
church, but at village feasts and harvest homes, wakes 
and weddings. The parish clerk was usually their 
leader, and was a welcome visitor in farm or cottage or 


8 


THE PARISH CLERK 


at the manor when he conducted his companions to 
sing the Christmas carols. 

The barrel-organ sealed the fate of the village 
orchestra. The old fiddles were wanted no more, and 
were hung up in the cottages as relics of the “good 
old times.” For a time the clerk preserved his dignity 
and continued to take his part in the music, turning 
the handle of the organ. 

Then the harmonium came, played by the school¬ 
mistress or some other village performer. No wonder 
the clerk was indignant. His musical autocracy had 
been overthrown. At one church—Swanscombe, Kent 
—when, in 1854, the change had taken place, and a 

kind lady, Miss F-, had consented to play the new 

harmonium, the clerk, village cobbler and leader of 
parish orchestra, gave out the hymn in his accustomed 
fashion, and then, with consummate scorn, bellowed 
out, “Now, then, Miss F-, strike up !” 

It would have been a far wiser policy to have re¬ 
formed the old village orchestra, to have taught the 
rustic musicians to play better, than to have silenced 
them for ever and substituted the “grinstun” instru¬ 
ment. 

Archbishop Tait once said that there is no one who 
does not look back with a kind of shame to the sort of 
sermons which were preached, the sort of clergymen 
who preached them, the sort of building in which they 
preached them, and the sort of psalmody with which 
the service was ushered in. The late Mr. Beresford 
Hope thus describes the kind of service that went on in 
the time of George IV in a market town of Surrey not 
far from London. It was a handsome Gothic church, the 
chancel being cut off from the nave by a solid partition 
covered with verses and strange paintings, among which 





THE VILLAGE CHOIR 



















OLD-TIME CHOIRS AND PARSONS 


9 


Moses and Aaron show in peculiar uncouthness. The 
aisles were filled with family pews or private boxes, raised 
aloft, and approached by private doors and staircases. 
These were owned by the magnates of the place, who 
were wont to bow their recognitions across the nave. 
There was a decrepit west gallery for the band, and 
the ground floor was crammed with cranky pews of 
every shape. A Carolean pulpit stood against a pillar, 
with reading-desk and clerk’s box underneath. The 
ante-Communion Service was read from the desk, 
separated from the liturgy and sermon by such ren¬ 
derings of Tate and Brady as the unruly gang of 
volunteers with fiddles and wind instruments in the 
gallery pleased to contribute. The clerk, a wizened old 
fellow in a brown wig, repeated the responses in a nasal 
twang, and with a substitution of w for v so constant 
as not even to spare the Beliefs ; while the local render¬ 
ing of briefs, citations, and excommunications included 
announcements by this worthy, after the Nicene Creed, 
of meetings at the town inn of the executors of a de¬ 
ceased duke. Two hopeful cubs of the clerk sprawled 
behind him in the desk, and the back-handers occasion¬ 
ally intended to reduce them to order were apt to re¬ 
sound against the impassive boards. During the 
sermon this zealous servant of the sanctuary would 
take up his broom and sweep out the middle alley, in 
order to save himself the fatigue of a week-day visit. 
Soon, however, the clerk and his broom followed Moses 
and Aaron, the fiddles and the bassoons into the land 
of shadows. 

No sketch of bygone times, in which the clerk 
flourished in all his glory, would be complete without 
some reference to the important person who occupied 
the second tier in the “three-decker,” and decked in gown 


io 


THE PARISH CLERK 


and bands delivered somnolent sermons from its upper 
storey. Curious stories are often told of the careless 
parsons of former days, of their irreverence, their love 
of sport, their neglect of their parishes, their quaint 
and irreverent manners ; but such characters, about 
whom these stories were told, were exceptional. By far 
the greater number lived well and did their duty and 
passed away, and left no memories behind except in 
the tender recollections of a few simple-minded folk. 
There were few local newspapers in those days to tell 
their virtues, to print their sermons or their speeches 
at the opening of bazaars or flower-shows. They 
did their duty and passed away and were forgotten ; 
while the parsons, like the wretch Chowne of the Maid 
of Sker, live on in anecdote, and grave folk shake 
their heads and think that the times must have been 
very bad, and the clergy a disgrace to their cloth. As 
with the clerk, so with his master; the evil that men do 
lives after them, the good is forgotten. There has been 
a vast amount of exaggeration in the accounts that 
have come down to us of the faithlessness, sluggish¬ 
ness, idleness, and base conduct of the clergy of the 
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and perhaps 
a little too much boasting about the progress which our 
age has witnessed. 

It would be an easy task to record the lives of 
many worthy country clergymen of the much-abused 
Hanoverian period, who were exemplary parish priests, 
pious, laborious, and beloved. In recording the ec¬ 
centricities and lack of reverence of many clerics and 
their faithful servitors, it is well to remember the 

many bright lights that shone like lamps in a dark 
place. 

It would be a difficult task to write a history of our 


OLD-TIME CHOIRS AND PARSONS 


11 

parish priesthood, for reasons which have already been 
stated, and such a labour is beyond our present pur¬ 
pose. But it may be well to record a few of the 
observations which contemporary writers have made 
upon the parsons of their day in order to show that 
they were by no means a set of careless, disreputable, 
and unworthy men. 

During the greater part of the eighteenth century 
there lived at Seathwaite, Lancashire, as curate, the 
famous Robert Walker, styled “ the Wonderful,” “a 
man singular for his temperance, industry, and in¬ 
tegrity,” as the parish register records, 

Wordsworth alludes to him in his eighteenth sonnet 
on Durdon as a worthy compeer of the country parson 
of Chaucer, and in the seventh book of the Excursion 
an abstract of his character is given : 

“A priest abides before whose lips such doubts 
Fall to the ground, as in those days 
When this low pile a gospel preacher knew 
Whose good works formed an endless retinue ; 

A pastor such as Chaucer’s verse portrays, 

Such as the heaven-taught skill of Herbert drew, 

And tender Goldsmith crown’d with deathless praise.” 

The poet also gives a short memoir of the Wonderful 
Walker. In this occurs the following extract from a 
letter dated 1775 : 

“ By his frugality and good management he keeps 
the wolf from the door, as we say ; and if he advances 
a little in the world it is owing more to his own care 
than to anything else he has to rely upon. I don’t find 
his inclination in running after further preferment. 
He is settled among the people that are happy among 
themselves, and lives in the greatest unanimity and 
friendship with them; and, I believe, the minister 


I 2 


THE PARISH CLERK 


and people are exceedingly satisfied with each other : 
and indeed, how should they be dissatisfied, when they 
have a person of so much worth and probity for their 
pastor? A man who for his candour and meekness, 
his sober, chaste, and virtuous conversation, his sound¬ 
ness in principle and practice, is an ornament to his 
profession and an honour to the country he is in ; and 
bear with me if I say, the plainness of his dress, the 
sanctity of his manners, the simplicity of his doctrine, 
and the vehemence of his expression, have a sort of 
resemblance to the pure practice of primitive Chris¬ 
tianity.” 

The income of his chapelry was the munificent sum 
of £17 10s. He reared and educated a numerous 
family of twelve children. Every Sunday he enter¬ 
tained those members of his congregation who came 
from a distance, taught the village school, acted as 
scrivener and lawyer for the district, farmed, and helped 
his neighbours in haymaking and sheep-shearing, 
spun cloth, studied natural history, and, in spite of 
all this, was throughout a devoted and earnest parish 
priest. He was certainly entitled to his epithet “the 
Wonderful.” 

Goldsmith has given us a charming picture of an 
old-world parson in his Vicar of Wakefield , and Field¬ 
ing sketches a no less worthy cleric in his portrait of 
the Rev. Abraham Adams in his Joseph Andrews. As 
a companion picture he drew the character of the pig¬ 
keeping Parson Trulliber, no scandalous cleric, though 
he cared more for his cows and pigs than he did for 
his parishioners. 

“ Hawks should not peck out hawks’ e’en,” and 
parsons should not scoff at their fellows ; yet Crabbe 


OLD-TIME CHOIRS AND PARSONS 


J 3 


was a little unkind in his description of country- 
parsons, though he could say little against the char¬ 
acter of his vicar. 

“ Our Priest was cheerful and in season gay ; 

His frequent visits seldom fail’d to please ; 

Easy himself, he sought his neighbour’s ease. 


Simple he was, and loved the simple truth, 

Yet had some useful cunning from his youth ; 
A cunning never to dishonour lent, 

And rather for defence than conquest meant; 
’Twas fear of power, with some desire to rise, 
But not enough to make him enemies ; 

He ever aim’d to please ; and to offend 
Was ever cautious ; for he sought a friend. 
Fiddling and fishing were his arts, at times 
He alter’d sermons, and he aimed at rhymes ; 
And his fair friends, not yet intent on cards, 
Oft he amused with riddles and charades. 

Mild were his doctrines, and not one discourse 
But gained in softness what it lost in force ; 
Kind his opinions ; he would not receive 
An ill report, nor evil act believe. 


Now rests our vicar. They who knew him best 
Proclaim his life t’ have been entirely—rest. 

The rich approved—of them in awe he stood ; 

The poor admired—they all believed him good ; 

The old and serious of his habits spoke ; 

The frank and youthful loved his pleasant joke ; 
Mothers approved a safe contented guest, 

And daughters one who backed each small request ; 
In him his flock found nothing to condemn ; 

Him sectaries liked—he never troubled them ; 

No trifles failed his yielding mind to please, 

And all his passions sunk in early ease ; 

Nor one so old has left this world of sin 
More like the being that he entered in.” 


A somewhat caustic and sarcastic sketch, and per¬ 
haps a little ill-natured, of a somewhat amiable cleric. 


THE PARISH CLERK 


i4 

Dr. Syntax is a good example of an old-world parson, 
whose biographer thus describes his laborious life : 

“ Of Church preferment he had none ; 

Nay, all his hope of that was gone ; 

He felt that he content must be 
With drudging in a curacy. 

Indeed, on ev'ry Sabbath-day, 

Through eight long miles he took his way, 

To preach, to grumble, and to pray ; 

To cheer the good, to warn the sinner, 

And if he got it,—eat a dinner : 

To bury these, to christen those, 

And marry such fond folks as chose 
To change the tenor of their life, 

And risk the matrimonial strife. 

Thus were his weekly journeys made, 

’Neath summer suns and wintry shade ; 

And all his gains, it did appear, 

Were only thirty pounds a-year.” 

And when the last event of his hard-working life 
was over— 

“ The village wept, the hamlets round 
Crowded the consecrated ground ; 

And waited there to see the end 
Of Pastor, Teacher, Father, Friend.” 

Who could write a better epitaph ? 

Doubtless the crying evil of what is called “the 
dead period” of the Church’s history was pluralism. 
It was no uncommon thing for a clergyman to hold 
half a dozen benefices, in one of which he would re¬ 
side, and appoint curates with slender stipends to the 
rest, only showing himself “when tithing time draws 
near.” 

When Bishop Stanley became Bishop of Norwich in 
1837 there were six hundred non-resident incumbents, 
a state of things which he did a vast amount of work 
to remedy. Mr. Clitherow tells me of a friend who was 
going to be married and who requested a neighbour to 


OLD-TIME CHOIRS AND PARSONS 15 

take his two services for him during his brief honey¬ 
moon. The neighbour at first hesitated, but at last 
consented, having six other services to take on the one 
Sunday. 

An old clergyman named Field lived at Cambridge 
and served three country parishes—Hauxton, Newton, 
and Barnington. On Sunday morning he used to 
ride to Hauxton, which he could see from the high 
road to Newton. If there was a congregation, the 
clerk used to waggle his hat on the top of a long pole 
kept in the church porch, and Field had to turn down 
the road and take the service. If there was no con¬ 
gregation he went on straight to Newton, where there 
was always a congregation, as two old ladies were 
always present. Field used to turn his pony loose in 
the churchyard, and as he entered the church began 
the Exhortation, so that by the time he was robed he 
had progressed well through the service. My informant, 
the Rev. M. J. Bacon, was curate at Newton, and re¬ 
members well the old surplice turned up and shortened 
at the bottom, where the old parson’s spurs had frayed it. 

It was this pluralism that led to much abuse, much 
neglect, and much carelessness. However, enough has 
been said about the shepherd, and we must return to 
his helper, the clerk, with whose biography and history 
we are mainly concerned. 


CHAPTER II 


THE ANTIQUITY AND CONTINUITY OF THE 
OFFICE OF CLERK 

HE office of parish clerk can claim considerable 



_L antiquity, and dates back to the times of Augus¬ 
tine and King Ethelbert. Pope Gregory the Great, in 
writing to St. Augustine of Canterbury with regard to 
the order and constitution of the Church in new lands 
and under new circumstances, laid down sundry regula¬ 
tions with regard to the clerk’s marriage and mode of 
life. King Ethelbert, by the advice of his Witenage- 
mote, introduced certain judicial decrees, which set down 
what satisfaction should be given by those who stole 
anything belonging to the church. The purloiner of 
a clerk’s property was ordered to restore threefold. 1 
The canons of King Edgar, which may be attributed 
to the wise counsel of St. Dunstan, ordered every 
clergyman to attend the synod yearly and to bring his 
clerk with him. 

Thus from early Saxon times the history of the office 
can be traced. 

His name is merely the English form of the Latin 
clericus , a word which signified any one who took part 
in the services of the Church, whether he was in major 
or minor orders. A clergyman is still a “clerk in 


' Bede’s Hist. Eccles., ii. v. 
16 


ANTIQUITY OF THE OFFICE 17 

Holy Orders,” and a parish clerk signified one who 
belonged to the rank of minor orders and assisted the 
parish priest in the services of the parish church. We 
find traces of him abroad in early days. In the seventh 
century, the canons of the Ninth Council of Toledo and 
of the Council of Merida tell of his services in the 
worship of the sanctuary, and in the ninth century he 
has risen to prominence in the Gallican Church, as we 
gather from the inquiries instituted by Archbishop 
Hincmar, of Rheims, who demanded of the rural deans 
whether each presbyter had a clerk who could keep 
school, or read the epistle, or was able to sing. 

In the decretals of Gregory IX there is a reference to 
the clerk’s office, and his duties obtain the sanction of 
canon law. Every incumbent is ordered to have a 
clerk who shall sing with him the service, read the 
epistle and lesson, teach in the school, and admonish 
the parishioners to send their children to the church to 
be instructed in the faith. It was thus in ancient days 
that the Church provided for the education of children, 
a duty which she has always endeavoured to perform. 
Her officers were the schoolmasters. The weird cry of 
the abolition of tests for teachers was then happily 
unknown. 

The strenuous Bishop Grosseteste (1235-53), for the 
better ordering of his diocese of Lincoln, laid down 
the injunction that “ in every church of sufficient means 
there shall be a deacon or sub-deacon ; but in the rest 
a fitting and honest clerk to serve the priest in a comely 
habit.” The clerk’s office was also discussed in the 
same century at a synod at Exeter in 1289, when it was 
decided that where there was a school within ten miles 
of any parish some scholar should be chosen for the 
office of parish clerk. This rule provided for poor 
c 


i8 


THE PARISH CLERK 


scholars who intended to proceed to the priesthood, 
and also secured suitable teachers for the children of 
the parishes. 

It appears that an attempt was made to enforce 
celibacy on the holders of minor orders, an experiment 
which was not crowned with success. William Lynde- 
woode, Official Principal of the Archbishop of Canter¬ 
bury in 1429, speaks thus of the married clerk :— 

“ He is a clerk, not therefore a layman ; but if twice 
married he must be counted among laymen, because 
such an one is deprived of all clerical privilege. If, 
however, he were married, albeit not twice, yet so long 
as he wears the clerical habit and tonsure he shall be 
held a clerk in two respects, to wit, that he may enjoy 
the clerical privilege in his person, and that he may not 
be brought before the secular judges. But in all other 
respects he shall be considered as a layman.” 

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the parish 
clerks became important officials. We shall see pre¬ 
sently how they were incorporated into fraternities or 
guilds, and how they played a prominent part in civic 
functions, in state funerals, and in ecclesiastical 
matters. The Reformation rather added to than 
diminished the importance of the office and the dignity 
of the holder of it. 

The continuity of the office is worthy of record. 
From the days of Augustine to the present time it has 
never ceased to exist. The clerk is the last representa¬ 
tive of the minor orders which the ecclesiastical changes 
wrought in the sixteenth century have left us. Prior to 
the Reformation there were sub-deacons who wore alb 
and maniple, acolytes, the tokens of whose office were 
a taper staff and small pitcher, ostiaries or doorkeepers 
corresponding to our verger or clerk, readers, exor- 



THE MEDIAEVAL CLERK 





































































ANTIQUITY OF THE OFFICE 19 

cists, rectores chori, etc. This full staff would, of 
course, be not available for every country church, and 
for such parishes a clerk and a boy acolyte doubtless 
sufficed, though in large churches there were represen¬ 
tatives of all these various officials. They disappeared 
in the Reformation ; only the clerk remained, in¬ 
corporating in his own person the offices of reader, 
acolyte, sub-deacon. 

Indeed, if in these enlightened days any proof were 
needed of the historical continuity of the English 
Church, it would be found in the permanence of the 
clerk’s office. Just as in many instances the same indi¬ 
vidual rector or vicar continued to hold his living during 
the whole period of the Reformation era, witnessing 
the spoliation of his church by the greedy Commis¬ 
sioners of Henry VIII and Edward VI, the introduction 
of the First Prayer Book of Edward VI, the revival 
of the “old religion” under Queen Mary, the triumph 
of Reformation principles under Queen Elizabeth ; so 
did the parish clerk continue to hold office also. The 
Reformation changed many of his functions and 
duties, but the office remained. The old church¬ 
wardens’ account books bear witness to this fact. 
Previous to the Reformation he received certain wages 
and many “perquisites” from the inhabitants of the 
parish for distributing the holy loaf and the holy 
water. At St. Giles’s, Reading, in the year 1518-19, 
appears the item : 

Expens. In p’mis paid for the dekays of the Clark’s 
wages vi”. 

In the following year we notice : 

Wage. Paid to Harry Water Clerk for his wage for a 
yere ended at thannacon of our lady a" xi° . . . xxvi 8 viii d . 


20 


THE PARISH CLERK 


In 1545-6, Whitborne, the clerk, received 12s. to¬ 
wards his wages, and he “to be bound to teche ij 
children free for the quere.” 

After the Reformation, in the same town we find the 
same clerk continuing in office. He no longer went 
round the parish bearing holy water, but the collecting 
of money for the holy loaf continued, the proceeds 
being devoted to the necessary expenses of the church. 
Thus in the Injunctions given by the King’s Majesty’s 
visitors to the clergy and laity resident in the Deanery 
of Doncaster in the second year of the reign of King 
Edward VI, appears the following : 

“Item. The churchwardens of every Parish-Church shall, 
some one Sunday, or other Festival day, every month, go 
about the Church, and make request to every of the Parish 
for their charitable Contribution to the Poor ; and the sum 
so collected shall be put in the Chest of Alms for that 
purpose provided. And for as much as the Parish-Clerk 
shall not hereafter go about the Parish with his Holy Water 
as hath been accustomed, he shall, instead of that labour, 
accompany the said Church-Wardens, and in a Book Register 
the name and Sum of every man that giveth any thing to the 
Poor, and the same shall intable ; and against the next day 
of Collection, shall hang up some-where in the Church in 
open place, to the intent the Poor having knowledg thereby, 
by whose Charity and Alms they be relieved, may pray for the 
increase and prosperity of the same.” 1 

This is only one instance out of many which might 
be quoted to prove that the clerk’s office by no means 
ceased to exist after the Reformation changes. I shall 
refer later on to the survival of the collection of money 
for the holy loaf and to its transference to other uses. 

1 The Clerk's Book of 1549, edited by J. Wickham Legg, Appendix IX, 
P- 95 - 


ANTIQUITY OF THE OFFICE 21 

The clerk, therefore, appears to have continued to 
hold his office shorn of some of his former duties. 
He witnessed all the changes of that changeful time, 
the spoliation of his church, the selling of numerous 
altar cloths, vestments, banners, plate, and other costly 
furniture, and, moreover, took his part in the destruc¬ 
tion of altars and the desecration of the sanctuary. 
In the accounts for the year 1559 of the Church of 
St. Lawrence, Reading, appear the items : 

“ Itm—for taking-downe the awlters and laying the 
stones, v 8 . 

“ To Loryman (the clerk) for carrying out the rubbish x d .” 1 

Indeed, the clerk can claim a more perfect continuity 
of office than the rector or vicar. There was a time 
when the incumbents were forced to leave their cure 
and give place to an intruding minister appointed by 
the Cromwellian Parliament. But the clerk remained 
on to chant his “Amen” to the long-winded prayers 
of some black-gowned Puritan. That is a very real¬ 
istic scene sketched by Sir Walter Besant when he 
describes the old clerk, an ancient man and rheu¬ 
matic, hobbling slowly through the village, key in 
hand, to the church door. It was towards the end 
of the Puritan regime. After ringing the bell and 
preparing the church for the service, he goes into 
the vestry, where stood an ancient black oak coffer, 
the sides curiously graven, and a great rusty key in 
the lock. The clerk (Sir Walter calls him the sexton, 
but it is evidently the clerk who is referred to) turns 
the key with difficulty, throws open the lid, and 
looks in. 

“Ay,” he says, chuckling, “the old surplice and the 

1 Rev. C. Kerry’s History of S. Lawrence's Church, Reading, p. 25. 


22 


THE PARISH CLERK 


old Book of Common Prayer. Ye have had a long 
rest; ’tis time for you both to come out again. When 
the surplice is out, the book will stay no longer locked 
up.” He draws forth an old and yellow roll. It was 
the surplice which had once been white. “ Here you 
be,” he says; “put you away for a matter of twelve 
year and more, and you bide your time ; you know 
you will come back again ; you are not in any hurry. 
Even the clerk dies ; but you die not, you bide your 
time. Everything comes again. The old woman shall 
give you a taste o’ the suds and the hot iron. Thus 
we go up and thus we go down.” Then he takes up 
the old book, musty and damp after twelve years’ im¬ 
prisonment. “Fie,” he says, “thy leather is parting 
from thy boards, and thy leaves they do stick together. 
Shalt have a pot of paste, and then lie in the sun 
before thou goest back to the desk. Whether ’tis Mass 
or Common Prayer, whether ’tis Independent or Pres¬ 
byterian, folk mun still die and be buried—ay, and 
married and born—whatever they do say. Parson 
goes and Preacher comes ; Preacher goes and Parson 
comes ; but Sexton stays.’ He chuckles again, puts 
back the surplice and the book, and locks the coffer. 1 

Like many of his brethren, he had seen the Church 
of England displaced by the Presbyterians, and the 
Presbyterians by the Independents, and the restoration 
of the Church. His father, who had been clerk before 
him, had seen the worship of the “old religion” in 
Queen Mary’s time, and all the time the village life 
had been going on, and the clerk’s work had con¬ 
tinued ; his office remained. In village churches the 
duties of clerk and sexton are usually performed by 
the same person. Not long ago a gentleman was visit- 

1 For Faith and Freedom , by Sir Walter Besant, chap. i. 


ANTIQUITY OF THE OFFICE 23 

ing a village church, and was much struck by the re¬ 
marks of an old man who seemed to know each stone 
and tomb and legend. The stranger asking him what 
his occupation was, he replied : 

“ I hardly know what I be. First vicar he called me 
clerk ; then another came, and he called me virgin ; 
the last vicar said I were the Christian, and now I be 
clerk again.” 

The “virgin” was naturally a slight confusion for 
verger, and the “Christian” was a corrupt form of 
sacristan or sexton. All the duties of these various 
callings were combined in the one individual. 

That story reminds one of another concerning the 

diligent clerk of R-, who, in addition to the ordinary 

duties of his office, kept the registers and acted as 
groom, gardener, and footman at the rectory. A 
rather pompous rector’s wife used to like to refer at 
intervals during a dinner-party to “our coachman 
says,” “our gardener always does this,” “our foot¬ 
man is . . .,” leaving the impression of a somewhat 
large establishment. The dear old rector used to dis¬ 
turb the vision of a large retinue by saying, “They are 
all one—old Corby, the clerk.” 

One of the chief characteristics of old parish clerks, 
whether in ancient or modern times, is their faithfulness 
to their church and to their clergyman. We notice 
this again and again in the biographies of many of 
these worthy men which it has been a privilege to 
study. The motto of the city of Exeter, Semper jidelis, 
might with truth have been recorded as the legend of 
their class. This fidelity must have been sorely tried 
in the sad days of the Commonwealth period, when the 
sufferings of the clergy began, and the poor clerk had 
to bid farewell to his beloved pastor and welcome and 



24 THE PARISH CLERK 

“ sit under ” some hard-visaged Presbyterian or Puritan 
preacher. 

Isaac Walton tells the pathetic story of the faithful 
clerk of the parish of Borne, near Canterbury, where 
the “Judicious” Hooker was incumbent. The vicar 
and clerk were on terms of great affection, and Hooker 
was of “so mild and humble a nature that his poor 
clerk and he did never talk but with both their hats 
on, or both off, at the same time.” 

This same clerk lived on in the quiet village until 
the third or fourth year of the Long Parliament. 
Hooker died and was buried at Borne, and many 
people used to visit his monument, and the clerk had 
many rewards for showing his grave-place, and often 
heard his praises sung by the visitors, and used to add 
his own recollections of his holiness and humility. 
But evil days came ; the parson of Borne was seques¬ 
tered, and a Genevan minister put into his good living. 
The old clerk, seeing so many clergymen driven from 
their homes and churches, used to say, “They have 
sequestered so many good men, that I doubt if my 
good Master Hooker had lived till now, they would 
have sequestered him too.” 

Walton then describes the conversion of the church 
into a Genevan conventicle. He wrote: “It was not 
long before this intruding minister had made a party 
in and about the said parish that was desirous to re¬ 
ceive the sacrament as at Geneva : to which end, the 
day was appointed for a select company, and forms and 
stools set about the altar or communion table for them 
to sit and eat and drink ; but when they went about 
this work, there was a want of some joint-stools which 
the minister sent the clerk to fetch, and then to fetch 
cushions. When the clerk saw them begin to sit 


ANTIQUITY OF THE OFFICE 25 

down, he began to wonder ; but the minister bade him 
cease wondering and lock the church door : to whom 
he replied, ‘ Pray take you the keys, and lock me out: 
I will never more come into this church ; for men will 
say my Master Hooker was a good man and a great 
scholar ; and I am sure it was not used to be thus in 
his days’: and report says this old man went presently 
home and died ; I do not say died immediately, but 
within a few days after. But let us leave this grateful 
clerk in his quiet grave.” 

Another faithful clerk was William Hobbes, who 
served in the church and parish of St. Andrew, 
Plymouth. Walker, in his Sufferings of the Clergy , 
records the sad story of his death. During the troubles 
of the Civil War period, when presumably there was 
no clergyman to perform the last rites of the Church 
on the body of a parishioner, the good clerk himself 
undertook the office, and buried a corpse, using the 
service for the Burial of the Dead contained in the Book 
of Common Prayer. The Puritans were enraged, and 
threatened to throw him into the same grave if he came 
there again with his “ Mass-book” to bury any body : 
which “worked so much upon his Spirits, that partly 
with Fear and partly with Grief, he Died soon after.” 
He died in 1643, and the accounts of the church show 
that the balance of his salary was paid to his widow. 

Many such faithful clerks have devoted their years 
of active life to the service of God in His sanctuary, 
both in ancient and modern times; and it will be our 
pleasurable duty to record some of the biographies 
of these earnest servants of the Church, whose services 
are too often disregarded. 

I have mentioned the continuity of the clerk’s office, 
unbroken by either Reformation changes or by the 
confusion of the Puritan regime. We will now en- 


26 


THE PARISH CLERK 


deavour to sketch the appearance of the mediaeval 
clerk, and the numerous duties which fell to his lot. 

Chaucer’s gallery of ancient portraits contains a very 
life-like presentment of a mediaeval clerk in the person 
of “Jolly Absolon,” a somewhat frivolous specimen of 
his class, who figures largely in The Aimer's Tale. 

“ Now was ther of that churche a parish clerk 
The which that was y-cleped 1 Absolon. 

Curl’d was his hair, and as the gold it shone, 

And strutted 2 as a fanne large and broad ; 

Full straight and even lay his folly shode. 3 
His rode 4 was red, his eyen grey as goose, 

With Paule’s windows carven on his shoes. 5 
In hosen red he went full febishly. 6 
Y-clad he was full small and properly, 

All in a kirtle of a light waget ; 7 
Full fair and thicke be the pointes set. 

And thereupon he had a gay surplice, 

As white as is the blossom on the rise. 8 
A merry child he was, so God me save ; 

Well could he letten blood, and clip, and shave, 

And make a charter of land and a quittance. 

In twenty manners could he trip and dance, 

After the school of Oxenforde tho’, 9 
And with his legges caste to and fro ; 

And playen songes or a small ribible ; 10 
Thereto he sung sometimes a loud quinible. 11 
And as well could he play on a gitern. 12 
In all the town was brewhouse nor tavern 
That he not visited with his solas, 13 
There as that any gaillard tapstere 11 was. 

This Absolon, that jolly was and gay 
Went with a censor on the holy day, 

Censing the wives of the parish fast : 

And many a lovely look he on them cast, 

• • ♦ • • 

Sometimes to show his lightness and mast’ry 
He playeth Herod on a scaffold high.” 

1 Called. 2 Stretched. 8 Head of hair. 4 Complexion. 

5 His shoes were decked with an ornament like a rose-window in old 
St. Paul’s. 6 Daintily. 7 A kind of cloth. 8 A bush. 

9 The Oxford school of dancing is satirised by the poet. 

10 A kind of fiddle. 11 Treble. 12 Guitar 

13 Sport, mirth. 14 Tavern-wench. 


ANTIQUITY OF THE OFFICE 27 

I fear me Master Absolon was a somewhat frivolous 
clerk, or his memory has been traduced by the poet’s 
pen, which lacked not satire and a caustic but good- 
humoured wit. Here was a parish clerk who could 
sing well, though he did not confine his melodies to 
“ Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” He wore 
a surplice ; he was an accomplished scrivener, and 
therefore a man of some education ; he could perform 
the offices of the barber-surgeon, and one of his duties 
was to cense the people in their houses. He was an 
actor of no mean repute, and took a leading part in the 
mysteries or miracle-plays, concerning which we shall 
have more to tell. He even could undertake the 
prominent part of Herod, which doubtless was an 
object of competition among the amateurs of the 
period. Such is the picture which Chaucer draws of 
the frivolous clerk, a sketch which is accurate enough 
as far as it goes, and one that we will endeavour to fill 
in with sundry details culled from mediaeval sources. 

Chaucer tells us that Jolly Absolon used to go to the 
houses of the parishioners on holy days with his censer. 
His more usual duty was to bear to them the holy 
water, and hence he acquired the title of aquccbajalus. 
This holy water consisted of water into which, after 
exorcism, blest salt had been placed, and then duly 
sanctified with the sign of the cross and sacerdotal 
benediction. We can see the clerk clad in his surplice 
setting out in the morning of Sunday on his rounds. 
He is carrying a holy-water vat, made of brass or 
wood, containing the blest water, and in his hand is 
an aspergillum or sprinkler. This consists of a round 
brush of horse-hair with a short handle. When the 
clerk arrives at the great house of the village he first 
enters the kitchen, and seeing the cook engaged on her 


28 


THE PARISH CLERK 


household duties, he dips the sprinkler into the holy- 
water vessel and shakes it towards her, as in the 
accompanying illustration. Then he visits the lord and 
lady of the manor, who are sitting at meat in their 
solar, and asperges them in like manner. For his 
pains he receives from every householder some gift, 
and goes on his way rejoicing. Bishop Alexander, of 
Coventry, however, in his constitutions drawn up in 
the year 1237, ordered that no clerk who serves in a 
church may live from the fees derived from this source, 
and the penalty of suspension was to be inflicted on 
any one who should transgress this rule. The consti¬ 
tutions of the parish clerks at Trinity Church, 
Coventry, made in 1462, are a most valuable source of 
information with regard to the clerk’s duties. 

The following items refer to the orders relating to 
the holy water : 

“ Item, the dekyn shall bring a woly water stoke with 
water for hys preste every Sonday for the preste to make 
woly water. 

“ Item, the said dekyn shall every Sonday beyr woly water 
of hys chyldern to euery howse in hys warde, and he to 
have hys duty off euery man affter hys degre quarterly.” 

At the church of St. Nicholas, Bristol, in 1481, it 
was ordered that the “ Clerke to ordeynn spryngals 1 for 
the church, and for him that visiteth the Sondays and 
dewly to bere his holy water to euery howse Aby- 
ding soo convenient a space that every man may re¬ 
ceive hys Holy water under payne of iiii J tociens 
quociens.” 

At Faversham a set of parish clerk’s duties of the 
years 1506, 1548, and 1593 is preserved. In the rules 

1 Bunches of twigs for sprinkling holy water. 



THE CLERK BEARING HOLY WATER AND ASPERGING 
THE COOK 



THE CLERK BEARING HOLY WATER AND ASPERGING 
THE LORD AND LADY 




































2 9 


ANTIQUITY OF THE OFFICE 

ordained for his guidance in the first-mentioned year 
he with his assistant clerk is ordered to bear holy water 
to every man’s house, as of old time hath been accus¬ 
tomed; in case of default he shall forfeit 8d.; but if he 
shall be very much occupied on account of a principal 
feast falling on a Sunday or with any pressing parochial 
business, he is to be excused. 

A mighty dissension disturbed the equanimity of the 
little parish of Morebath in the year 1531 and con¬ 
tinued for several years. The quarrel arose concern¬ 
ing the dues to be paid to the parish clerk, a small 
number of persons refusing to pay the just demands. 
After much disputing they finally came to an agree¬ 
ment, and one of the items was that the clerk should 
go about the parish with his holy water once a year, 
when men had shorn their sheep to gather some wool 
to make him a coat to go in the parish in his livery. 
There are many other items in the agreement to which 
we shall have occasion again to refer. Let us hope 
that the good people of Morebath settled down amicably 
after this great “ storm in a tea-cup” ; but this godly 
union and concord could not have lasted very long, as 
mighty changes were in progress, and much upsetting 
of old-established custom and practice. 

The clerk continued in many parishes to make his 
accustomed round of the houses, and collected money 
which was used for the defraying of the expenses of 
public worship ; but he left behind him his sprinkler 
and holy-water vat, which accorded not with the prin¬ 
ciples and tenets, the practice and ceremonies of the 
reformed Church of England. 

This was, however, one of the minor duties of the 
mediaeval clerk, and the custom of giving offerings to 
him seems to have started with a charitable intent. 


3° 


THE PARISH CLERK 


The constitutions of Archbishop Boniface of Canter¬ 
bury issued in 1260 state : 

“We have often heard from our elders that the 
benefices of holy water were originally instituted from 
a motive of charity, in order that one of their proper 
poor clerks might have exhibitions to the schools, and 
so advance in learning, that they might be fit for 
higher preferment.” 

He had many other and more important duties to 
perform, duties requiring a degree of education far 
superior to that which we are accustomed to associate 
with the holders of his office. We will endeavour to 
obtain a truer sketch of him than even that drawn by 
Chaucer, and to realise the multitudinous duties which 
fell to his lot, and the great services he rendered to 
God and to his Church. 


CHAPTER III 


THE MEDIEVAL CLERK 
' the present time loud complaints are frequently 



il heard of a lack of clergy. Rectors and vicars 
are sighing for assistant curates, the vast populations 
of our great cities require additional ministration, and 
the mission field is crying out for more labourers to 
reap the harvests of the world. It might be well in 
this emergency to inquire into the methods of the 
mediaeval Church, and observe how the clergy in those 
days faced the problem, and gained for themselves 
tried and trusty helpers. 

One method of great utility was to appoint poor 
scholars to the office of parish clerk, by a due discharge 
of the duties of which they were trained to serve in 
church and in the parish, and might ultimately hope 
to attain to the ministry. This is borne out by the 
evidence of wills wherein some good incumbent, grate¬ 
ful for the faithful services of his clerk, bequeaths 
either books or money to him, in order to enable him 
to prepare himself for higher preferment. Thus in 
1389 the rector of Marum, one Robert de Weston, 
bequeaths to “John Penne, my clerk, a missal of the 
New Use of Sarum, if he wishes to be a priest, other¬ 
wise I give him 20s.” In 1337 Giles de Gadlesmere 
leaves “to William Ockam, clerk, two shillings, unless 
he be promoted before my death.” Evidently it was 


3 1 


3 2 


THE PARISH CLERK 


no unusual practice in early times for the clerk to be 
raised to Holy Orders, his office being regarded as a 
stepping-stone to higher preferment. The status of 
the clerk was then of no servile character. 

A canon of Newburgh asked for Sir William Plump- 
ton’s influence that his brother might have a clerkship. 1 
Even the sons of kings and lords did not consider it 
beneath the dignity of their position to perform the 
duties of a clerk, and John of Athon considered the 
office of so much importance that he gave the following 
advice to any one who held it: 

“ Whoever you may be, although the son of king, 
do not blush to go up to the book in church, and read 
and sing ; but if you know nothing of yourself, follow 
those who do know.” 

It is recorded in the chronicle of Ralph de Cogges- 
hall that Richard I used to take great delight in divine 
service on the principal festivals; going hither and 
thither in the choir, encouraging the singers by voice 
and hand to sing louder. In the Life of Sir Thomas 
More, written by William Roper, we find an account of 
that charming incident in the career of the great and 
worthy Lord Chancellor, when he was discovered by 
the Duke of Norfolk, who had come to Chelsea to dine 
with him, singing in the choir and wearing a surplice 
during the service of the Mass. After the conclusion 
of the service host and guest walked arm in arm to the 
house of Sir Thomas More. 

“God’s body, my Lord Chancellor, what turned 
Parish Clerk? You dishonour the King and his office 
very much,” said the Duke. 

“Nay,” replied Sir Thomas, smiling, “your grace 

1 Plumpton Correspondence , Camden Society, 1839, p. 66, temp. 
Henry VII. 


THE MEDIAEVAL CLERK 


33 


may not think that the King, your master and mine, 
will be offended with me for serving his Master, or 
thereby account his service any way dishonoured.” 

We will endeavour to sketch the daily and Sunday 
duties of a parish clerk, follow in his footsteps, and 
observe his manners and customs, as they are set forth 
in mediaeval documents. 

He lived in a house near the church which was 
specially assigned to him, and often called the clerk’s 
house. He had a garden and glebe. In the church¬ 
wardens’ accounts of St. Giles’s Church, Reading, 
there is an item in 1542-3:—“Paid for a latice to 
the clerkes hous ii s x d .” There was a clerk’s house in 
St. Mary’s parish, in the same town, which is fre¬ 
quently mentioned in the accounts (a.d. 1558-9). 

“ Resolutes for the guyet Rent of the Clerkes Howse 
xii d 1559-60. 

“ Rentes to farme and at will. Of the tenement at Cornyshe 
Crosse called the clerkes howse by the yere vi 8 viii d .” 

It appears that the house was let, and the sum re¬ 
ceived for rent was part of the clerk’s stipend. 1 his is 
borne out by the following entry :— 

“ Md’ that yt ys aggreed that the clerke most have for the 
office of the sexten But xx*. That ys for Ringing of the Bell 
v 8 for the quarter and the clerkes wayges by the howse.” 1 

Doubtless there still remain many such houses 
attached to the clerkship, as in the Act of 7 & 8 Vic¬ 
toria, c. 59, sect. 6, it is expressly stated that any clerk 
dismissed from his office shall give up any house, 
building, land, or premises held or occupied by virtue 
or in respect of such office, and that if he fail to do 

1 Churchwardens' Accounts of St. Marys, Reading, by F. N. A. and 
A. G. Garry, p. 42. 

D 


THE PARISH CLERK 


34 

so the bishop can take steps for his ejection therefrom. 
Mr. Wickham Legg has collected several other in¬ 
stances of the existence of clerks’ houses. At St. 
Michael’s Worcester, there was one, as in 1590 a sum 
was paid for mending it. At St. Edmund’s, Salisbury, 
the clerk had a house and garden in 1653. At Barton 
Turf, Norfolk, three acres are known as “ dog-whip- 
per’s land,” the task of whipping dogs out of churches 
being part of the clerk’s duties, as we shall notice more 
particularly later on. The rent of this land was given 
to the clerk. At Saltwood, Kent, the clerk had a 
house and garden, which have recently been sold. 1 

Archbishop Sancroft, at Fressingfield, caused a com¬ 
fortable cottage to be built for the parish clerk, and 
also a kind of hostelry for the shelter and accom¬ 
modation of persons who came from a distant part 
of that large scattered parish to attend the church, so 
that they might bring their cold provisions there, and 
take their luncheon in the interval between the morn¬ 
ing and the afternoon service. 

There was a clerk’s house at Ringmer. In the 
account of the beating of the bounds of the parish in 
Rogation week, 1683, it is recorded that at the close of 
the third day the procession arrived at the Crab Tree, 
when the people sang a psalm, and “our minister read 
the epistle and gospel, to request and supplicate the 
blessing of God upon the fruits of the earth. Then 
did Mr. Richard Gunn invite all the company to the 
clerk's house , where he expended at his own charge a 
barrell of beer, besides a plentiful supply of provisions: 
and so ended our third and last day’s perambulation.” 3 

1 The Clerk’s Book of 1540, edited by J. Wickham Legg, lvi. 

2 Social Life as told by Parish Registers, by T. F. Thiselton-Dyer, 
p. 197. 


THE MEDIAEVAL CLERK 


35 

In his little house the clerk lived and tended his 
garden when he was not engaged upon his ecclesias¬ 
tical duties. He was often a married man, although 
those who were intending to proceed to the higher 
orders in the Church would naturally be celibate. 
Pope Gregory, in writing to St. Augustine of Canter¬ 
bury, offered no objections to the marriage of clerks. 
Lyndewoode shows a preference for the unmarried clerk, 
but if such could not be found, a married clerk might 
perform his duties. Numerous wills are in existence 
which show that very frequently the clerk was blest 
with a wife, inasmuch as he left his goods to her ; and 
in one instance, at Hull, John Huyk, in 1514, ex¬ 
presses his wish to be buried beside his wife in the 
wedding porch of the church. 1 

One courageous clerk’s wife did good service to her 
husband, who had dared to speak insultingly of the 
high and mighty John of Gaunt. He held office in 
the church of St. Peter-the-Less, in the City ot 
London, in 1378. His wife was so persevering in her 
behests and so constant in her appeals for justice, that 
she won her suit and obtained her husband’s release. 2 

We have the picture, then, of the mediaeval clerk in 
his little house nigh the church surrounded by his wife 
and children, or as a bachelor intent upon preferment 
poring over his Missal, if he did not sometimes 
emulate the frivolous feats of Chaucer’s “Jolly 
Absolon.” 

At early dawn he sallied forth to perform his earliest 
duty of opening the church doors and ringing the day- 
bell. The ringing of bells seems to have been a fairly 

1 Injuncton by John Bishop of Norwich (1561), B. i b., quoted by 
Mr. Leg'g' in The Parish Clerk's Book , p. xlii. 

2 Riley’s Memorials of London, 186S, p. 425. 


THE PARISH CLERK 


3 6 

constant employment of the clerk, though in some 
churches this duty was mainly performed by the sexton, 
but the aid of the clerk was demanded whenever it was 
needed. According to the constitution of the parish 
clerks at Trinity Church, Coventry, made in 1462, he 
was ordered every day to open the church doors at 
6 a.m., and deliver to the priest who sang the Trinity 
Mass a book and a chalice and vestment, and when 
Mass was finished to see that these goods of the church 
be deposited in safety in the vestry. He had to ring 
all the people in to Matins, together with his fellow- 
clerk, at every commemoration and feast of IX lessons, 
and see that the books were ready for the priest. 
Again for High Mass he rang and sang in the choir. 
At 3 p.m. he rang for Evensong, and sang the service 
in the south side of the choir, his assistant occupy¬ 
ing the north side. On week-days they sang the 
Psalms and responses antiphonally, and on Sundays 
and holy-days acted as rectores chori , each one begin¬ 
ning the verses of the Psalms for his own side. He 
had to be very careful that the books were all securely 
locked up in the vestry, and the church locked at a 
convenient hour, having searched the building to see 
lest any one was lying in any seat or corner. On 
Sundays and holidays he had to provide a clerk or 
“ dekyn ” to read the gospel at High Mass. The 
sweeping of the floor of the church, the cleaning of 
the leaden roofs, and sweeping away the snow from the 
gutters “ leste they be stoppyd,” also came under his 
care. The bells he also kept in order, examining the 
clappers and bawdricks and ropes, and reporting to 
the churchwardens if they required mending. His 
assistant had to grease the bells when necessary, and 
find the materials. He had to tend the lamp and to 


THE MEDIAEVAL CLERK 


37 

fetch oil and rychys (rushes), and fix banners on 
holidays, fold up the albs and vestments. On Saturdays 
and on the eve of saints’ days he had to ring the noon¬ 
tide bell, and to ring the sanctus bell every Sunday 
and holy-day, and during processions. 

Special seasons brought their special duties, and 
directions are minutely given with regard to every point 
to be observed. On Palm Sunday he was ordered to 
set a form at the priory door for the stations of the 
Cross, so that a crucifix or rood should be set there for 
the priest to sing Ave rex. He had to provide palms 
for that Sunday, watch the Easter sepulchre “till the 
resurrecion be don,” and then take down the “lenten 
clothys” about the altar and the rood. In Easter week, 
when a procession was made, he bore the chrismatory. 
At the beginning of Lent he was ordered to help the 
churchwardens to cover the altar and rood with “len- 
tyn clothys ” and to hang the vail in the choir. The 
pulley which worked this vail is still to be seen in some 
churches, as at Uffington, Berks. For this labour the 
churchwardens were to give money to the clerk for 
drink. The great bell had to be rung for compline 
every Saturday in Lent. At Easter and Whit-Sunday 
the clerk was required to hang a towel about the font, 
and see that three “copys” (copes) be brought down 
to the font for the priests to sing Rex sanctorum. 

It was evidently considered the duty of the church¬ 
wardens to deck the high altar for great festivals, but 
they were to have the assistance of the clerk at the 
third peal of the first Evensong “to aray the hye awter 
with clothys necessary for it.” Perhaps this duty of 
the churchwardens might with advantage be revived. 

Sheer Thursday or Maundy Thursday was a special 
day for cleansing the altars and font, which was done 


THE PARISH CLERK 


38 

by a priest; but the clerk was required to provide a 
birch broom and also a barrel in order that water 
might be placed in it for this purpose. On Easter 
Eve and the eve of Whit-Sunday the ceremony of 
cleaning the altar and font was repeated. Flagella¬ 
tion was not obsolete as a penance, and the clerk was 
expected to find three discipline rods. 

In mediaeval times it was a common practice for 
rich men to leave money or property to a church with 
the condition that Masses should be said for the repose 
of their souls on certain days. The first Latin word 
of a verse in the funeral psalm was dirige (“direct my 
steps,” etc.), and this verse was used as an antiphon 
to those psalms in the old English service for the dead. 
Hence the service was called a dirige , and we find 
mention of “Master Meynley’s dirige,” or as it is 
spelt often “derege,” the origin of the word “ dirge.” 
Those who attended were often regaled with refresh¬ 
ments—bread and ale—and the clerk’s duty was to 
serve them with these things. 

We have already referred to his obligations as re¬ 
gards his bearing of holy water to the parishioners, 
a duty which brought him into close relationship with 
them. Another custom which has long since passed 
away was that of blessing a loaf of bread by the 
priest, and distributing portions of it to the parishioners. 
Sometimes this distribution took place in church, as 
at Coventry, where one of the clerks, having seen the 
loaf duly cut, gave portions of it to the assembled 
worshippers in the south aisle, and the other clerk 
performed a like duty in the north aisle. The clerk 
received some small fee for this service, usually a 
halfpenny. Berkshire has several evidences of the 
existence of the holy loaf. 


THE MEDIEVAL CLERK 


39 


In the accounts of St. Lawrence’s Church, Reading, 
in 1551, occurs the following notice : 

“ At this day it was concluded and agreed that from 
henceforth every inhabitant of the parish shall bear 
and pay every Sunday in the year 5d. for every tene¬ 
ment as of old time the Holy Loaf was used to be 
paid and be received by the parish clerk weekly, the 
said clerk to have every Sunday for his pains id. And 
4d. residue to be paid and delivered every Sunday to 
the churchwardens to be employed for bread and wine 
for the communion. And if any overplus thereof shall 
be of such money so received, to be to the use of the 
church ; and if any shall lack, to be borne and paid 
by the said churchwardens : provided always, that all 
such persons as are poor and not able to pay the whole, 
be to have aid of such others as shall be thought good 
by the discretion of the churchwardens.” 

With the advent of Queen Mary the old custom was 
reverted to, as the following item for the year 1555 
plainly shows: 

“ Rec. of money gathered for the holy lofe ix" iiij d .” 

At St. Mary’s Church there is a constant allusion 
to this practice from the year 1566-7 to 1617-18, after 
which date the payment for the “holilofe” seems to 
have been merged in the charge for seats. In 1567-8 
the following resolution was passed : 

“It is agreed that the clerk shall hereafter gather 
the Holy Loaf money, or else to have nothing of that 
money, and to gather all, or else to inform the parish 
of them that will not pay.” 

There seems to have been some difficulty in collect¬ 
ing this money; so it was agreed in 1579-80 that 


THE PARISH CLERK 


40 

“John Marshall shall every month in the year during 
the time that he shall be clerk, gather the holy loaf 
and thereof yield an account to the churchwardens.” 

Subsequently we constantly meet with such records 
as the following : 

“ It’m for the holy Ioffe xiii s vi d .” 

Ultimately, however, this mode of collecting money 
for the providing of the sacred elements and defraying 
other expenses of the church was, as we have said, 
abandoned in favour of pew-rents. The clerk had 
long ceased to obtain any benefit from the custom of 
collecting this curious form of subscription to the 
parochial expenses. 

An interesting document exists in the parish of 
Stanford-in-the-Vale, Berkshire, relating to the holy 
loaf. It was evidently written during the reign of 
Queen Mary, and runs as follows :— 

“ Here following is the order of the giving of the 
loaves to make holy bread with videlicit of when it 
beginneth and endeth, what the whole value is, in 
what portions it is divided, and to whom the portions 
be due, and though it be written in the fifth part of 
the division of the book before in the beginning with 
these words (how money shall be paid towards the 
charges of the communion) ye shall understand that 
in the time of the Schism when this Realm was 
divided from the Catholic Church, the which was 
in the year of our Lord God in 1547, in the second 
year of King Edward the Sixth, all godly ceremonies 
and good uses were taken out of the church within this 
Realm, and then the money that was bestowed on the 
holy bread was turned to the use of finding bread and 
wine for the communion, and then the old order being 


THE MEDIEVAL CLERK 


4 1 

brought unto his [its] pristine state before this book 
was written causeth me to write with this term.” 1 

The order of the giving of the loaves is then set 
forth, beginning at a piece of ground called Ganders 
and continuing throughout the parish, together with 
names of the parishioners. The collecting of this 
sum must have been an arduous part of the clerk’s 
duty. “And thus I make an end of this matter,” as 
the worthy clergyman at Stanford-in-the-Vale wrote at 
the conclusion of his carefully drawn up document. 2 

In addition to his regular wages and to the dues 
received for delivering holy water and in connection 
with the holy loaf, the clerk enjoyed sundry other per¬ 
quisites. At Christmas he received a loaf from every 
house, a certain number of eggs at Easter, and some 
sheaves when the harvest was gathered in. Among 
the documents in the parish chest at Morebath there 
is a very curious manuscript relating to a prolonged 
quarrel with regard to the dues to be paid to the clerk. 
This took place in the year 1531 and lasted until 1536. 
This document throws much light on the customary 
fees and gifts paid to the holder of this office. After 
endless wrangling the parishioners decided that the 
clerk should have “a steche of clene corn ” from every 
household, if there should be any corn; if not, 

1 The spelling- of the words I have ventured to modernise. 

2 A relic of this custom existed in a small town in Dorset fifty years 
ago. At Easter the clerk used to leave at the house of each pew-holder 
a packet of Easter cakes—thin wafery biscuits, not unlike Jewish Pass- 
over cakes. The packet varied according to the size of the family and 
the depth of the master’s purse. When the fussy little clerk called for 
his Easter offering, at one house he found 5s. waiting for him, as a 
kind of payment for five cakes. The shillings were quickly transferred 
to the clerk’s pocket, who remarked, “ Five shillings is handsome for the 
clerk, sir ; but the vicar only takes gold.” 

The custom of the clerk carrying round the parish Easter cakes pre¬ 
vailed also at Milverton, Somerset, and at Langport in the same county. 


42 


THE PARISH CLERK 


a “ steche of wotis” (oats), or 3d. in lieu of corn. 
Also id. a quarter from every household; at every 
wedding and funeral 2d. ; at shearing time enough 
wool for a coat. Moreover, it was agreed that he 
should have a clerk’s ale in the church house. It is 
well known that church ales were very common in 
mediaeval times, when the churchwardens bought, and 
received presents of, a large quantity of malt which 
they brewed into beer. The village folk collected 
other provisions, and assembled in the church house, 
where there were spits and crocks and other utensils 
for dressing a feast. Old and young gathered to¬ 
gether ; the churchwardens’ ale was sold freely. The 
young folk danced, or played at bowls or practised 
archery, the old people looking gravely on and enjoy¬ 
ing the merry-making. Such were the old church ales, 
the proceeds of which were devoted to the maintenance 
of the poor or some other worthy object. An arbour 
of boughs was erected in the churchyard called Robin 
Hood’s Bower, where the maidens collected money 
for the “ales.” The clerk in some parishes, as at 
Morebath, had “an ale” at Easter, and it was agreed 
that “the parish should help to drink him a cost of 
ale in the church house,” which duty doubtless the 
village folk carried out with much willingness and 
regularity. 

Puritanism gradually killed these “ales.” Sabba¬ 
tarianism lifted up its voice against them. The gather¬ 
ings waxed merry, sometimes too merry, so the stern 
Puritan thought, and the ballad-singer sang profane 
songs, and the maidens danced with light-footed step, 
and it was all very wrong because they were breaking 
the Sabbath ; and the ale was strong, and sometimes 
people drank too much, so the critics said. But all 



THE OLD CHURCH-HOUSE AT HURST, BERKSHIRE 

NOW THE CASTLE INN 



THE OLD CHURCH-HOUSE AT UFFINGTON, BERKS 


NOW USED AS A SCHOOL 

















THE MEDIAEVAL CLERK 


43 


reasonable and sober-minded folk were not opposed 
to them, and in reply to some inquiries instituted by 
Archbishop Laud, the Bishop of Bath and Wells made 
the following report: 

“Touching clerke-ales (which are lesser church-ales) 
for the better maintenance of Parish-clerks they have 
been used (until of late) in divers places, and there was 
great reason for them ; for in poor country parishes, 
where the wages of the clerk is very small, the people 
thinking it unfit that the clerk should duly attend at 
church and lose by his office, were wont to send in 
Provisions, and then feast with him, and give him 
more liberality than their quarterly payments would 
amount unto in many years. And since these have 
been put down, some ministers have complained unto 
me, that they are afraid they shall have no parish 
clerks for want of maintenance for them.” 

Mr. Wickham Legg has investigated the subsequent 
history of this good Bishop Pierce, and shows how the 
Puritans when they were in power used this reply as 
a means of accusation against him, whereby they 
attempted to prove that “he profanely opposed the 
sanctification of the Lord’s Day by approving and 
allowing of profane wakes and revels on that day,” 
and was “a desperately profane, impious, and turbu¬ 
lent Pilate.” 

It is well known that the incomes of the clergy were 
severely taxed by the Pope, who demanded annates or 
first-fruits of one year’s value on all benefices and 
sundry other exactions. The poor clerk’s salary did 
not always escape from the rapacity of the Pope’s col¬ 
lectors, as the story told by Matthew Paris clearly 
sets forth : 


44 


THE PARISH CLERIC 


“ It happened that an agent of the Pope met a petty 
clerk carrying water in a little vessel, with a sprinkler 
and some bits of bread given him for having sprinkled 
some holy water, and to him the deceitful Roman thus 
addressed himself: 

“ ‘ How much does the profits yielded to you by this 
church amount to in a year?’ To which the clerk, 
ignorant of the Roman’s cunning, replied : 

“ ‘To twenty shillings, I think.’ 

“Whereupon the agent demanded the percentage 
the Pope had just demanded on all ecclesiastical bene¬ 
fices. And to pay that sum this poor man was 
compelled to hold school for many days, and by 
selling his books in the precincts, to drag on a half- 
starved life.” 

This story discloses another duty which fell to the lot 
of the mediaeval clerk. He was the parish school¬ 
master—at least in some cases. The decretals of 
Gregory IX require that he should have enough learn¬ 
ing in order to enable him to keep a school, and that 
the parishioners should send their children to him to 
be taught in the church. There is not much evidence 
of the carrying out of this rule, but here and there we 
find allusions to this part of a clerk’s duties. Inas¬ 
much as this may have been regarded as an occupation 
somewhat separate from his ordinary duties as regards 
the church, perhaps we should not expect to find con¬ 
stant allusion to it. However, Archbishop Peckham 
ordered, in 1280, that in the church of Bakewell and the 
chapels annexed to it there should be duos clericos 
scholasticos carefully chosen by the parishioners, from 
whose alms they would have to live, who should carry 
holy water round in the parish and chapels on Lord’s 


THE MEDIAEVAL CLERK 


45 


Days and festivals, and minister in divinis officiis, and 
on weekdays should keep school. 1 It is said that Alex¬ 
ander, Bishop of Coventry, in 1237, directed that there 
should be in country villages parish clerks who should 
be schoolmasters. 

It is certain—for the churchwarden accounts bear 
witness to the fact—that in several parishes the clerks 
performed this duty of teaching. Thus in the accounts 
of the church of St. Giles, Reading, occurs the fol¬ 
lowing : 

Pay d to Whitborne the clerk towards his wages and 
he to be bound to teach ij children for the choir . xij 8 

At Faversham, in 1506, it was ordered that “the 
clerks or one of them, as much as in them is, shall 
endeavour themselves to teach children to read and 
sing in the choir, and to do service in the church as of 
old time hath been accustomed, they taking for their 
teaching as belongeth thereto ” ; and at the church of 
St. Nicholas, Bristol, in 1481, this duty of teaching is 
implied in the order that the clerk ought not to take 
any book out of the choir for children to learn in 
without licence of the procurators. We may conclude, 
therefore, that the task of teaching the children of the 
parish not unusually devolved upon the clerk, and that 
some knowledge of Latin formed part of the instruc¬ 
tion given, which would be essential for those who 
took part in the services of the church. 

Nor were his labours yet finished. In John Myrc’s 
Instructions to Parish Priests , a poem written not later 
than 1450, a treatise containing good sound morality, 

1 If that is the correct translation of profestis diebus disciplims 
scolasticis indulgentes. Dr. Legg thinks that it may refer to their own 
education. 



THE PARISH CLERK 


46 

and a good sight of the ecclesiastical customs of the 
Middle Ages, we find the following lines : 

“ When thou shalt to seke 1 gon 
Hye thee fast and go a-non ; 

For if thou tarry thou dost amiss, 

Thou shalt guyte 2 that soul I wys. 

When thou shalt to seke gon, 

A clene surples caste thee on ; 

Take thy stole with thee ry’t, 3 
And put thy hod ouer thy sy’t 4 
Bere thyne ost s a-nout thy breste 
In a box that is honeste ; 

Make thy clerk before thee synge, 

To bere light and belle ringe.” 

It was customary, therefore, for the clerk to accom¬ 
pany the priest to the house of the sick person, when 
the clergyman went to administer the Last Sacrament or 
to visit the suffering. The clerk was required to carry 
a lighted candle and ring a bell, and an ancient MS. 
of the fourteenth century represents him marching be¬ 
fore the priest bearing his light and his bell. In some 
town parishes he was ordered always to be at hand 
ready to accompany the priest on his errands of mercy. 
It was a grievous offence for a clerk to be absent from 
this duty. In the parish of St. Stephen’s, Coleman 
Street, the clerks were not allowed “to go or ride out 
of the town without special licence had of the vicar 
and churchwardens, and at no time were they to be 
out of the way, but one of them had always to be 
ready to minister sacraments and sacramentals, and 
to wait upon the Curate and to give him warning.” 
This custom of the clerk accompanying the priest when 
visiting the sick was not abolished at the Reformation. 
The Parish Clerk’s Guide , published by the Worshipful 
Company of Parish Clerks in 1731, the history of 

1 Sick. 2 Quiet. 3 Right. 4 Sight. 


5 Host. 



THE CLERK ACCOMPANYING THE PRIEST 
WHEN VISITING THE SICK 



THE CLERK ATTENDING THE PRIEST, WHO IS 
ADMINISTERING THE LAST SACRAMENT 














THE MEDIEVAL CLERK 


47 


which it will be our privilege to investigate, states that 
the holders of the office “are always conversant in 
Holy Places and Holy Things, such as are the Holy 
Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; yea 
and in the most serious Things too, such as the 
Visitation of the Sick, when we do often attend, 
and at the Burial of the Dead.” 

Occupied with these numerous duties, engaged in a 
service which delighted him, his time could never have 
hung heavy on his hands. Faithful in his dutiful 
services to his rector, beloved by the parishioners, a 
welcome guest in cot and hall, and serving God with 
all his heart, according to his lights, he could doubtless 
exclaim with David, Lcetus sorte mea. 


CHAPTER IV 


THE DUTIES OF READING AND SINGING 
HE clerk’s highest privilege in pre-Reformation 



1 times was to take his part in the great services of 
the church. His functions were very important, and 
required considerable learning and skill. When the 
songs of praise echoed through the vaulted aisles of 
the great church, his voice was heard loud and clear 
leading the choirmen and chanting the opening words 
of the Psalm. As early as the time of St. Gregory 
this duty was required of him. In giving directions to 
St. Augustine of Canterbury the Pope ordered that 
clerks should be diligent in singing the Psalms. In 
the ninth century Pope Leo IV directed that the clerks 
should read the Psalms in divine service, and in 878 
Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims issued some articles 
of inquiry to his Rural Deans, asking, among other 
questions, “Whether the presbyter has a clerk who can 
keep school, or read the epistle, or is able to sing as 
far as may seem needful to him?” 

A canon of the Council of Nantes, embodied in the 
Decretals of Pope Gregory IX, settled definitely that 
every presbyter who has charge of a parish should 
have a clerk, who should sing with him and read the 
epistle and lesson, and who should be able to keep 
school and admonish the parishioners to send their 


DUTIES OF READING AND SINGING 49 

children to church to learn the faith. 1 This ordinance 
was binding upon the Church in this country as in 
other parts of Western Christendom, and William 
Lyndewoode, Official Principal of the Archbishop of 
Canterbury, when laying down the law with regard to 
the marriage of clerks, states that the clerk has “to 
wait on the priest at the altar, to sing with him, and 
to read the epistle.” A notable quarrel between two 
clerks, which is recorded by John of Athon writing in 
the years 1333-1348, gives much information upon 
various points of ecclesiastical usage and custom. The 
account says: 

“Lately, when two clerks were contending about 
the carrying of holy water, the clerk appointed by 
the parishioners against the command of the priest, 
wrenched the book from the hands of the clerk who 
had been appointed by the rector, and who had been 
ordered to read the epistle by the priest, and hurled 
him violently to the ground, drawing blood.” 2 

A very unseemly disturbance truly ! Two clerks 
fighting for the book in the midst of the sanctuary 
during the Eucharistic service! Still their quarrel 
teaches us something about the appointment and elec¬ 
tion of clerks in the Middle Ages, and of the duty 
of the parish clerk with regard to the reading of the 
epistle. 

In 1411 the vicar of Elmstead was enjoined by Clif¬ 
ford, Bishop of London, to find a clerk to help him at 
private Masses on weekdays, and on holy days to read 
the epistle. 

1 Deer. Greg. IX. Lib. III. tit. i. cap. iii., quoted by Dr. Cuthbert 
Atchley in Alcuin Club Tracts, IV. 

2 John of Athon, Constit. Dom. Othoboni, tit. De residentia archipreb. 
et episc.: cap. Pastor bonus : verb sanctce obediently. 

E 


5° 


THE PARISH CLERK 


In the rules laid down for the guidance of clerks at 
the various churches we find many references to the 
duties of reading and singing. At Coventry he is re¬ 
quired to sing in the choir at the Mass, and to sing 
Evensong on the south side of the choir; on feast 
days the first clerk was ordered to be rector cliori on 
the south side, while his fellow performed a like duty 
on the north side. On every Sunday and holy day the 
latter had to read the epistle. At Faversham the clerk 
was required to sing at every Mass by note the Grail at 
the upper desk in the body of the choir, and also the 
epistle, and to be diligent to sing all the office of the 
Mass by note, and at all other services. Very careful 
instructions were laid down for the proper musical 
arrangements in this church. The clerk was ordered 
“to set the choir not after his own brest ( = voice) but 
as every man being a singer may sing conveniently his 
part, and when plain song faileth one of the clerks 
shall leave faburdon 1 and keep plain song unto the 
time the choir be set again.” A fine of 2d. was levied 
on all clerks as well as priests at St. Michael’s, Corn- 
hill, who should be absent from the church, and not 
take their places in the choir in their surplices, singing 
there from the beginning of Matins, Mass and Even¬ 
song unto the end of the services. At St. Nicholas, 
Bristol, the clerk was ordered “to sing in reading the 
epistle daily under pain of ii d .” 

These various rules and regulations, drawn up with 
consummate care, together with the occasional glimpses 
of the mediaeval clerk and his duties, which old writers 
afford, enable us to picture to ourselves what kind of 

1 Faburdon — faux-bourdon, a simple kind of counterpoint to the 
church plain song-, much used in England in the fifteenth century. 
Grove’s Dictionary of Music. 


DUTIES OF READING AND SINGING 51 

person he was, and to see him engaged in his manifold 
occupations within the same walls which we know so 
well. When the daylight is dying, musing within the 
dim mysterious aisle, we can see him folding up the 
vestments, bearing the books into their place of safe 
keeping in the vestry, singing softly to himself: 

“Et introibo ad altare Dei; ad Deuvi qui Icetificat 
juventutem me am." 

The scene changes. The days of sweeping reform 
set in. The Church of England regained her ancient 
independence and was delivered from a foreign yoke. 
Her children obtained an open Bible, and a liturgy in 
their own mother-tongue. But she was distressed and 
despoiled by the rapacity of the commissioners of the 
Crown, by such wretches as Protector Somerset, Dudley 
and the rest, private peculation eclipsing the greediness 
of royal officials. Froude draws a sad picture of the halls 
of country houses hung with altar cloths, tables and 
beds quilted with copes, and knights and squires drink¬ 
ing their claret out of chalices and watering their horses 
in marble coffins. No wonder there was discontent 
among the people. No wonder they disliked the despoil¬ 
ing of their heritage for the enrichment of the Dudleys 
and the nouveaux riches who fattened on the spoils of 
the monasteries, and left the church bare of brass and 
ornament, chalice and vestment, the accumulation of 
years of the pious offerings of the faithful. No wonder 
there were risings and riots, quelled only by the stern 
and powerful hand of a Tudor despot. 

But in spite of all the changes that were wrought in 
that tumultuous time, the parish clerk remained, and 
continued to discharge many of the functions which 
had fallen to his lot before the Reformation had begun. 
As I have already stated, his duties with regard to 


THE PARISH CLERK 


52 

bearing holy water and the holy loaf were discontinued, 
although the collecting of money from the parishioners 
was conducted in much the same way as before, and 
the “holy loaf” corrupted into various forms—such as 
“holy looff,” “holie Ioffe,” “holy cake,” etc.—appears 
in churchwardens’ account books as late as the begin¬ 
ning of the seventeenth century. 

As regards his main duties of reading and singing 
we find that they were by no means discontinued. 
From a study of the First Prayer Book of Edward VI, 
it is evident that his voice was still to be heard reading 
in reverent tones the sacred words of Holy Scripture, 
and chanting the Psalms in his mother-tongue instead 
of in that of the Vulgate. The rubric in the com¬ 
munion service immediately before the epistle directs 
that “the collectes ended, the priest, or he that is 
appointed, shall read the epistle, in a place assigned 
for the purpose.” Who is the person signified by the 
phrase “he that is appointed”? That question is 
decided for us by The Clerk's Book recently edited by 
Dr. J. Wickham Legg, wherein it is stated that “the 
priest or clerk” shall read the epistle. The injunctions 
of 1547 interpret for us the meaning of “the place 
assigned for the purpose” as being “the pulpit or such 
convenient place as people may hear.” Ability to 
read the epistle was still therefore considered part 
of the functions of a parish clerk, and the whole 
lesson derived from a study of The Clerk's Book is the 
very important part which he took in the services. 
As the title of the book shows, it contains “All that 
appertein to the clerkes to say or syng at the Minis- 
tracion of the Communion, and when there is no 
Communion. At Confirmacion. At Matrimonie. The 
Visitacion of the Sicke. The Buriall of the Dedde. 


DUTIES OF READING AND SINGING 


53 

At the Purification of Women. And the first daie of 
Lent.” 

He began the service of Holy Communion by singing 
the Psalm appointed for the introit. In the book only 
the first words of the part taken by the priest are given, 
whereas all the clerk’s part is printed in full. He leads 
the responses in the Lesser Litany, the Gloria in ex- 
celsis , the Nicene Creed. He reads the offertory 
sentences and says the Ter Sanctus , sings or says the 
Agnus Dei , besides the responses. In the Marriage 
Service he said or sang the Psalm with the priest, and 
responded diligently. As in pre-Reformation times he 
accompanied the priest in the visitation of the sick, 
and besides making the responses sang the anthems, 
“Remember not, Lord, our iniquities,” etc., and “O 
Saviour of the world, save us, which by thy crosse and 
precious blood hast redeemed us, help us, we beseech 
thee, O God.” In the Communion of the Sick the 
epistle is written out in full, showing that it was the 
clerk’s privilege to read it. A great part of the service 
for the Burial of the Dead was ordered to be said or 
sung by the “ priest or clerk,” and “at the communion 
when there was a burial” he apparently sang the introit 
and read the epistle. In the Communion Service the 
clerk with the priest said the fifty-first Psalm and the 
anthem, “Turn thou us, O good Lord,” etc. In Matins 
and Evensong the clerk sang the Psalms and canticles 
and made responses, and from other sources we gather 
that he used to read either one or both of the lessons. 
In some churches he was called the dekyn or deacon, 
and at Ludlow, in 1551, he received 3s. 4d. for reading 
the first lesson. 

In the accounts of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, there 
is an item in the year 1553 f° r the re P a i r °f the pulpit 



THE PARISH CLERK 


54 

where, it is stated, “the curate and the dark did read 
the chapters at service time.” 

Archbishop Grindal, in 1571, laid down the follow¬ 
ing injunction for his province of York: “That no 
parish clerk be appointed against the goodwill or with¬ 
out the consent of the parson, vicar, or curate of any 
parish, and that he be obedient to the parson, vicar, 
and curate, specially in the time of celebration of 
divine service or of sacraments, or in any preparation 
thereunto ; and that he be able also to read the first 
lesson, the Epistle, and the Psalms, with answers to 
the suffrages as is used, and also that he endeavour 
himself to teach young children to read, if he be able 
so to do.” When this archbishop was translated to 
Canterbury he issued very similar injunctions in the 
southern province. Other bishops followed his ex¬ 
ample, and issued questions in their dioceses relating 
to clerkly duties, and these injunctions show that to 
read the first lesson and the epistle and to sing the 
Psalms constituted the principal functions of a parish 
clerk. 

Evidences of the continuance of this practice are 
not wanting. 1 Indeed, within the memory of living 
men at one church at least the custom was observed. 
At Keighley, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, some 
thirty or forty years ago the parish clerk wore a black 
gown and bands. He read the first lesson and the 
epistle. To read the latter he left his seat below the 
pulpit and went up to the altar and took down the 
book: after reading the epistle within the altar rails 
he replaced the book and returned to his place. 

1 cf. The Parish Clerk's Book, edited by Dr. J. Wickham Legg, f.s.a., 
and The Parish Clerk and his right to read the Liturgical Epistle, by 
Cuthbert Atchley, l.r.c.p., m.r.c.s. {Alenin Club Tracts, IV). 


DUTIES OF READING AND SINGING 


55 

At Wimborne Minster the clerk used to read the 
Lessons. 

Although it is evident that at the present time the 
clerk has a right to read the epistle and one of the 
lessons, as well as the Psalms and responses when 
they are not sung, it was perhaps necessary that his 
efforts in this direction should have been curtailed. 
When we remember the extraordinary blunders made 
by many holders of the office in the last century, their 
lack of education, and strange pronunciation, we 
should hardly care to hear the mutilation of Holy 
Scripture which must have followed the continuance 
of the practice. Would it not be possible to find men 
qualified to hold the office of parish clerk by education 
and powers of elocution who could revive the ancient 
practice with advantage to the church both to the 
clergyman and the people? 

Complaints about the eccentricities and defective 
reading and singing of clerks have come down to us 
from Jacobean times. There was one Thomas Mil- 
borne, clerk of Eastham, who was guilty of several 
enormities; amongst others, “for that he singeth the 
psalms in the church with such a jesticulous tone and 
altisonant voice, viz: squeaking like a gelded pig, 
which doth not only interrupt the other voices, but is 
altogether dissonant and disagreeing unto any musical 
harmony, and he hath been requested by the minister 
to leave it, but he doth obstinately persist and continue 
therein.” Verily Master Milborne must have been a 
sore trial to his vicar, almost as great as the clerk of 
Buxted, Sussex, was to his rector, who records in the 
parish register with a sigh of relief his death, “whose 
melody warbled forth as if he had been thumped on 
the back with a stone.” 


56 


THE PARISH CLERK 


The Puritan regime was not conducive to this im¬ 
provement of the status or education of the clerk or the 
cultivation of his musical abilities. The Protectorate 
was a period of musical darkness. The organs of the 
cathedrals and colleges were taken down ; the choirs were 
dispersed, musical publications ceased, and the gradual 
twilight of the art, which commenced with the accession 
of the Stuarts, faded into darkness. Many clerks, 
especially in the City of London, deserve the highest 
honour for having endeavoured to preserve the true 
taste for musical services in a dark age. Notable 
amongst these was John Playford, clerk of the Temple 
Church in 1652. Benjamin Payne, clerk of St. Anne’s, 
Blackfriars, in 1685, the author of The Parish Clerk’s 
Guide , wrote of Playford as “one to whose memory all 
parish clerks owe perpetual thanks for their further¬ 
ance in the knowledge of psalmody.” The History 
of Music , by Hawkins, describes him as “an honest and 
friendly man, a good judge of music, with some skill 
in composition. He contributed not a little to the art 
of printing music from letterpress types. He is 
looked upon as the father of modern psalmody, and it 
does not appear that the practice has much improved.” 
The account which Playford gives of the clerks of his 
day is not very satisfactory, and their sorry condition is 
attributed to “the late wars” and the confusion of the 
times. He says : 

“ In and about this great city, in above a hundred 
parishes there are but few parish clerks to be found that 
have either ear or understanding to set one of these tunes 
musically, as it ought to be, it having been a custom 
during the late wars, and since, to chuse men into 
such places more for their poverty than skill and 
ability, whereby that part of God’s service hath been so 


DUTIES OF READING AND SINGING 


57 


ridiculously performed in most places, that it is now 
brought into scorn and derision by many people.” 
He goes on to tell us that “the ancient practice of 
singing the psalms in church was for the clerk to 
repeat each line, probably because, at the first intro¬ 
duction of psalms into our service great numbers of 
the common people were unable to read.” The author 
of The Parish Clerk's Guide states that “since faction 
prevailed in the Church, and troubles in the State, 
Church music has laboured under inevitable prejudices, 
more especially by its being decried by some mis¬ 
guided and peevish sectaries as popery and anti-Christ, 
and so the minds of the common people are alienated 
from Church music, although performed by men of the 
greatest skill and judgment, under whom was wont to 
be trained up abundance of youth in the respective 
cathedrals, that did stock the whole kingdom at one 
time with good and able songsters.” The Company 
of Parish Clerks of London [to the history and 
records of which we shall have occasion frequently 
to refer] did good service in promoting the musical 
training of the members and in upholding the dignity 
of their important office. In the edition of The 
Parish Clerk's Guide for 1731, the writer laments over 
the diminished status of his order, and states that 
“the clerk is oftentimes chosen rather for his poverty, 
to prevent a charge to the parish, than either for his 
virtue or skill; or else for some by-end or purpose, 
more than for the immediate Honour and Service of 
Almighty God and His Church.” 

If that was the case in rich and populous London 
parishes, how much more was it true in poor village 
churches? Hence arose the race of country clerks who 
stumbled over and miscalled the hard words as they 


THE PARISH CLERK 


58 

occurred in the Psalms, who sang in a strange and 
weird fashion, and brought discredit on their office. 
Indeed, the clergy were not always above suspicion in 
the matter of reading, and even now they have their 
detractors, who assert that it is often impossible to hear 
what they say, that they read in a strained unnatural 
voice, and are generally unintelligible. At any rate, 
modern clergy are not so deficient in education as they 
were in the early years of Queen Elizabeth, when, as 
Fuller states in his Triple Reconciler , they were com¬ 
manded “to read the chapters over once or twice by 
themselves that so they might be the better enabled to 
read them distinctly to the congregation.” If the 
clergy were not infallible in the matter of the pronun¬ 
ciation of difficult words, it is not surprising that the 
clerk often puzzled or amused his hearers, and mangled 
or skipped the proper names, after the fashion of the 
mistress of a dame-school, who was wont to say when 
a small pupil paused at such a name as Nebuchad¬ 
nezzar, “That’s a bad word, child ! go on to the next 
verse.” 

Of the mistakes in the clerk’s reading of the Psalms 
there are many instances. David Diggs, the hero 
of J. Hewett’s Parish Clerk , was remonstrated with 
for reading the proper names in Psalm lxxxiii. 6, 
“ Odommities, Osmallities, and Mobbities,” and 
replied : “ Yes, no doubt, but that’s noigh enow. Sea- 
town folk understand oi very well.” 

He is also reported to have said, “Jeball, Amon, 
and Almanac, three Philistines with them that are 
tired.” The vicar endeavoured to teach him the correct 
mode of pronunciation of difficult words, and for some 
weeks he read well, and then returned to his former 
method of making a shot at the proper names. 


DUTIES OF READING AND SINGING 


59 


On being expostulated with he coolly replied : 

“ One on us must read better than t’other, or there 
wouldn’t be no difference ’twixt parson and clerk ; so I 
gives in to you. Besides, this sort of reading as you 
taught me would not do here. The p’rishioners told 
oi, if oi didn’t gi’ in and read in th’ old style loilce, as 
they wouldn’t come to hear oi, so oi dropped it ! ” 

An old clerk at Hartlepool, who had been a sailor, 
used to render Psalm civ. 26, as “There go the ships 
and there is that lieutenant whom Thou hast made to 
take his pastime therein.” 

“Leviathan” has been responsible for many errors. 
A shoemaker clerk used to call it “that great leather- 
thing.” From various sources comes to me the story, 
to which I have already referred, of the transformation 
of “ an alien to my mother’s children ” into “a lion to 
my mother’s children.” 

A clerk at Bletchley always called caterpillars sater- 
pillars , and in Psalm lxviii. never read Jah, but spelt 
it J-a-h. He used to summon the children from their 
places to stand in single file along the pews during 
three Sundays in Lent, and say, “Children, say your 
catechayse.” 

Catechising during the service seems to have been 
not uncommon. The clerk at Milverton used to sum¬ 
mon the children, calling out, “Children, catechise, 
pray draw near.” 

The clerk at Sidbury used to read, “Better than 
a bullock that has horns enough ”; his name was 
Timothy Karslake, commonly called “Tim,” and 
when he made a mistake in the responses some one in 
the church would call out, “You be wrong, Tim.” 

Sometimes a little emphasis on the wrong word was 
used to express the feelings engendered by private 


6o 


THE PARISH CLERK 


piques and quarrels. There were in one parish some 
differences between the parson and the clerk, who 
showed his independence and proud spirit when he 
read the verse of the Psalm, “If I be hungry, I will 
not tell thee,” casting a rather scornful glance at the 
parson. 

Another specimen of his class used to read “Ana¬ 
nias, Azarias, and Mizzle,” and one who was reading 
a lesson in church (Isaiah liv. 12), “And I will make 
thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles,” 
rendered the verse, “ Thy window of a gate, and thy 
gates of crab ancles.” 

Another clerk who was “not much of a scholard ” 
used to allow no difficulty to check his fluency. If the 
right word did not fall to his hand he made shift with 
another of somewhat similar sound, the result fre¬ 
quently taxing to the uttermost the self-control of the 
better educated among his hearers. He was ill-mated 
to a shrewish wife, and one was sensible of a thrill 
of sympathy when, without a thought of irreverence, 
and in all simplicity, he rolled out, instead of “Woe 
is me, that I am constrained to dwell with Mesech ! ” 
“Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell with 
Missis ! ” 

Old age at length puts an end to the power of the 
most stalwart clerks. That must have been a very 
pathetic scene in the church at East Barnet which few 
of those present could have witnessed without emotion. 
The clerk was a man of advanced age. He always 
conducted the singing, which must have been some¬ 
what monotonous, as the 95th and the 100th Psalm 
(Old Version) were invariably sung. On one occasion, 
after several vain attempts to begin the accustomed 
melody, the poor old man exclaimed, “Well, my 



OLD BECKENHAM CHURCH 

(AFTER A DRAWING BY DAVID COX) 










DUTIES OF READING AND SINGING 61 

friends, it’s no use. I’m too old. I can’t sing any¬ 
more.” 

It was a bitter day for the old clerks when har¬ 
moniums and organs came into fashion, and the old 
orchestras conducted by them were abandoned. De¬ 
throned monarchs could not feel more distressed. 

The period of the decline and fall of the status of 
the old parish clerks was that of the Commonwealth, 
from 1640 to 1660. During the spacious days of 
Elizabeth and the early Stuarts they were considered 
most important officials. In pre-Reformation times 
the incumbents used to receive assistance from the 
chantry priests who were required to help the parson 
when not engaged in their particular duties. After the 
suppression of the chantries they continued their good 
offices and acted as assistant curates. But the race 
soon died out. Then lecturers and special preachers 
were frequently appointed by corporations or rich 
private individuals. But these lecturers and preachers 
were a somewhat independent race who were not very 
loyal to the parsons and impatient of episcopal con¬ 
trol, and proved themselves rather a hindrance than 
a help. In North Devon 1 and doubtless in many 
other places the experiment was tried of making use 
of the parish clerks and raising them to the diaconate. 
Such a clerk so raised to major orders was Robert 
Langdon (1584-1625), of Barnstaple, to whose history 
I shall have occasion to refer again. His successor, 
Anthony Baker, was also a clerk-deacon. The parish 
clerk then attained the zenith of his power, dignity, 
and importance. 

After the disastrous period of the Commonwealth 

1 The Parish Clerks of Barnstaple, 1500-1900, by Rev. J. F. Chanter 
(Transactions of the Devonshire Association). 



62 


THE PARISH CLERK 


rule he emerges shorn of his learning, his rank, and 
status. His name remained ; his office was recognised 
by legal enactments and ecclesiastical usage ; but in 
most parishes he was chosen on account of his poverty 
rather than for his fitness for the post. So long as the 
church rates remained he received his salary, but when 
these were abolished it was found difficult in many 
parishes to provide the funds. Hence as the old race 
died out, the office was allowed to lapse, and the old 
clerk’s place knows him no more. Possibly it may be 
the delectable task of some future historian to record 
the complete revival of the office, which would prove 
under proper conditions an immense advantage to 
the Church and a valuable assistance to the parochial 
clergy. 


CHAPTER V 


THE CLERK IN LITERATURE 

T HE parish clerk is so notable a character in our 
ecclesiastical and social life, that he has not 
escaped the attention of many of our great writers and 
poets. Some of them have with gentle satire touched 
upon his idiosyncrasies and peculiarities ; others have 
recorded his many virtues, his zeal and faithfulness. 
Shakespeare alludes to him in his play of Richard II, 
in the fourth act, when he makes the monarch face his 
rebellious nobles, reproaching them for their faithless¬ 
ness, and saying : 

“ God save the King ! will no man say Amen ? 

Am I both priest and clerk? Well then, Amen. 

God save the King ! although I be not he ; 

And yet, Amen, if Heaven do think him me.” 

An old ballad, King Cophetua and the Beggar-Maid, 
contains an interesting allusion to the parish clerk, and 
shows the truth of that which has already been pointed 
out, viz. that the office of clerk was often considered to 
be a step to higher preferment in the Church. The 
lines of the old ballad run as follows : 

“ The proverb old is come to passe, 

The priest when he begins his masse 
Forgets that ever clarke he was ; 

He knoweth not his estate.” 

Christopher Harvey, the friend and imitator of 
George Herbert, has some homely lines on the duties 

63 


THE PARISH CLERK 


64 

of clerk and sexton in his poem The Synagogue. Of 
the clerk he wrote : 

“ The Churches Bible-clerk attends 
Her utensils, and ends 
Her prayers with Amen, 

Tunes Psalms, and to her Sacraments 
Brings in the Elements, 

And takes them out again ; 

Is humble minded and industrious handed, 

Doth nothing of himself, but as commanded.” 

Of the sexton he wrote : 

“ The Churches key-keeper opens the door, 

And shuts it, sweeps the floor, 

Rings bells, digs graves, and fills them up again ; 

All emblems unto men, 

Openly owning Christianity 

To mark and learn many good lessons by.” 

In that delightful sketch of old-time manners and 
quaint humour, Sir Roger de Coverley , the editor of The 
Spectator gave a life-like representation of the old- 
fashioned service. Nor is the clerk forgotten. They 
tell us that “ Sir Roger has likewise added five pounds 
a year to the clerk’s place ; and that he may encourage 
the young fellows to make themselves perfect in the 
Church services, has promised, upon the death of the 
present incumbent, who is very old, to bestow it ac¬ 
cording to merit.” The details of the exquisite picture 
of a rural Sunday were probably taken from the church 
of Milston on the Wiltshire downs where Addison’s 
father was incumbent, and where the author was born 
in 1672. Doubtless the recollections of his early home 
enabled Joseph Addison to draw such an accurate pic¬ 
ture of the ecclesiastical customs of his youth. The 
deference shown by the members of the congregation 
who did not presume to stir till Sir Roger had left 
the building was practised in much more recent 


THE CLERK IN LITERATURE 65 

times, and instances will be given of the observance 
of this custom within living memory. 

Two other references to parish clerks I find in The 
Spectator which are worthy of quotation : 

“Spectator , No. 372. 

“ In three or four taverns I have, at different times, 
taken notice of a precise set of people with grave coun¬ 
tenances, short wigs, black cloaths, or dark camblet 
trimmed black, with mourning gloves and hat-bands, 
who went on certain days at each tavern successively, 
and keep a sort of moving club. Having often met 
with their faces, and observed a certain shrinking way 
in their dropping in one after another, I had the unique 
curiosity to inquire into their characters, being the 
rather moved to it by their agreeing in the singularity 
of their dress ; and I find upon due examination they 
are a knot of parish clerks, who have taken a fancy 
to one another, and perhaps settle the bills of mortality 
over their half pints. I have so great a value and 
veneration for any who have but even an assenting 
Amen in the service of religion, that I am afraid but 
these persons should incur some scandal by this prac¬ 
tice ; and would therefore have them, without raillery, 
advise to send the florence and pullets home to their 
own homes, and not to pretend to live as well as the 
overseers of the poor. “Humphry Transfer. 

“ Spectator , No. 338. 

“A great many of our church-musicians being related 
to the theatre, have in imitation of their epilogues 
introduced in their favourite voluntaries a sort of 
music quite foreign to the design of church services, 
to the great prejudice of well-disposed people. These 

F 


66 


THE PARISH CLERK 


fingering gentlemen should be informed that they 
ought to suit their airs to the place and business ; and 
that the musician is obliged to keep to the text as much 
as the preacher. For want of this, I have found by 
experience a great deal of mischief; for when the 
preacher has often, with great piety and art enough, 
handled his subject, and the judicious clerk has with 
utmost diligence called out two staves proper to the 
discourse, and I have found in myself and in the rest 
of the pew good thoughts and dispositions, they have 
been all in a moment dissipated by a merry jig from 
the organ loft.” 

Dr. Johnson’s definition of a parish clerk in his 
Dictionary does not convey the whole truth about 
him and his historic office. He is defined as “the 
layman who reads the responses to the congregation 
in church, to direct the rest.” The great lexicographer 
had, however, a high estimation of this official. Bos¬ 
well tells us that on one occasion “the Rev. Mr. 
Palmer, Fellow of Queens’ College, Cambridge, dined 
with us. He expressed a wish that a better provision 
were made for parish clerks. Johnson : ‘Yes, sir, a 
parish clerk should be a man who is able to make a 
will or write a letter for anybody in the parish.’ ” I am 
afraid that a vast number of our good clerks would 
have been sore puzzled to perform the first task, and 
the caligraphy of the letter would in many cases have 
been curious. 

That careful delineator of rural manners as they 
existed at the end of the eighteenth century, George 
Crabbe, devotes a whole poem to the parish clerk in 
his nineteenth letter of The Borough. He tells of the 
fortunes of Jachin, the clerk, a grave and austere man, 
fully orthodox, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, and de- 


THE CLERK IN LITERATURE 


67 

teeter and opposer of the wiles of Satan. Here is his 
picture : 

“ With our late vicar, and his age the same, 

His clerk, bright Jachin, to his office came ; 

The like' slow speech was his, the like tall slender frame : 

But Jachin was the gravest man on ground, 

And heard his master’s jokes with look profound ; 

For worldly wealth this man of letters sigh’d, 

And had a sprinkling of the spirit’s pride : 

But he was sober, chaste, devout, and just, 

One whom his neighbours could believe and trust : 

Of none suspected, neither man nor maid 
By him were wronged, or were of him afraid. 

There was indeed a frown, a trick of state 
In Jachin : formal was his air and gait : 

But if he seemed more solemn and less kind 
Than some light man to light affairs confined, 

Still ’twas allow’d that he should so behave 
As in high seat, and be severely grave.” 

The arch-tempter tries in vain to seduce him from the 
right path. “The house where swings the tempting 
sign,” the smiles of damsels, have no power over him. 
He “shuns a flowing bowl and rosy lip,” but he is not 
invulnerable after all. Want and avarice take posses¬ 
sion of his soul. He begins to take by stealth the 
money collected in church, putting bran in his pockets 
so that the coin shall not jingle. He offends with 
terror, repeats his offence, grows familiar with crime, 
and is at last detected by a “stern stout churl, an 
angry overseer.” Disgrace, ruin, death soon follow ; 
shunned and despised by all, he “turns to the wall and 
silently expired.” A woeful story truly, the results of 
spiritual pride and greed of gain ! It is to be hoped 
that few clerks resembled poor lost Jachin. 

A companion picture to the disgraced clerk is that 
of “the noble peasant Isaac Ashford,” 1 who won from 

1 The Parish Register, Part III. 


68 


THE PARISH CLERK 


Crabbe’s pen a gracious panegyric. He says of 

him : “ Noble he was, contemning- all things mean, 

His truth unquestioned, and his soul serene. 

If pride were his, ’twas not their vulgar pride, 

Who, in their base contempt, the great deride : 

Nor pride in learning—though by Clerk agreed, 

If fate should call him, Ashford might succeed.” 

He paints yet another portrait, that of old Dibble, 1 
clerk and sexton : 

“ His eightieth year he reach’d still undecayed, 

And rectors five to one close vault conveyed. 

His masters lost, he’d oft in turn deplore, 

And kindly add,—‘ Heaven grant I lose no more ! ’ 

Yet while he spake, a sly and pleasant glance 
Appear’d at variance with his complaisance : 

For as he told their fate and varying worth, 

He archly looked—‘ I yet may bear thee forth.’ ” 

George Herbert, the saintly Christian poet, who 
sang on earth such hymns and anthems as the angels 
sing in heaven, was no friend of the old-fashioned 
duet between the minister and clerk in the conduct 
of divine service. He would have no “talking, or 
sleeping, or gazing, or leaning, or half-kneeling, or 
any undutiful behaviour in them.” Moreover, “every¬ 
one, man and child, should answer aloud both Amen 
and all other answers which are on the clerk’s and 
people’s part to answer, which answers also are to 
be done not in a huddling or slubbering fashion, 
gaping, or scratching the head, or spitting even in the 
midst of their answer, but gently and pausably, think¬ 
ing what they say, so that while they answer ‘ As it 
was in the beginning, etc.,’ they meditate as they speak, 
that God hath ever had his people that have glorified 

1 The Parish Register , Part III. 


THE CLERK IN LITERATURE 69 

Him as well as now, and that He shall have so for 
ever. And the like in other answers.” 

Cowper’s kindliness of heart is abundantly evinced 
by his treatment of a parish clerk, one John Cox, the 
official of the parish of All Saints, Northampton. The 
poet was living in the little Buckinghamshire village 
of Weston Underwood, having left Olney when 
mouldering walls and a tottering house warned him 
to depart. He was recovering from his dread malady, 
and beginning to feel the pleasures and inconveniences 
of authorship and fame. The most amusing proof of 
his celebrity and his good nature is thus related to 
Lady Hesketh : 

“On Monday morning last, Sam brought me word 
that there was a man in the kitchen who desired to 
speak with me. I ordered him in. A plain, decent, 
elderly figure made its appearance, and being desired 
to sit spoke as follows : ‘ Sir, I am clerk of the parish 
of All Saints in Northampton, brother of Mr. Cox 
the upholsterer. It is customary for the person in my 
office to annex to a bill of mortality, which he publishes 
at Christmas, a copy of verses. You will do me a 
great favour, sir, if you will furnish me with one.’ 
To this I replied : ‘ Mr. Cox, you have several men of 
genius in your town, why have you not applied to 
some of them? There is a namesake of yours in 
particular, Cox, the Statuary, who, everybody knows, 
is a first-rate maker of verses. He surely is the man 
of all the world for your purpose.’ ‘Alas, sir, I have 
heretofore borrowed help from him, but he is a gentle¬ 
man of so much reading that the people of our town 
cannot understand him.’ 

“ I confess to you, my dear, I felt all the force of the 
compliment implied in this speech, and was almost 


THE PARISH CLERK 


70 

ready to answer, Perhaps, my good friend, they may 
find me unintelligible too for the same reason. But on 
asking him whether he had walked over to Weston on 
purpose to implore the assistance of my muse, and on 
his replying in the affirmative, I felt my mortified 
vanity a little consoled, and pitying the poor man’s 
distress, which appeared to be considerable, promised 
to supply him. The waggon has accordingly gone this 
day to Northampton loaded in part with my effusions 
in the mortuary style. A fig for poets who write epi¬ 
taphs upon individuals ! I have written one that serves 
two hundred persons.” 

Seven successive years did Cowper, in his excellent 
good nature, supply John Cox, the clerk of All Saints 
in Northampton, with his mortuary verses 1 , and when 
Cox died, he bestowed a like kindness on his suc¬ 
cessor, Samuel Wright. 

These stanzas are published in the complete editions 
of Cowper’s poems, and need not be quoted here. 
They begin with a quotation from some Latin author— 
Horace, or Virgil, or Cicero—these quotations being 
obligingly translated for the benefit of the worthy 
townsfolk. The first of these stanzas begins with the 
well-known lines : 

“ While thirteen moons saw smoothly run 
The Nen's barge-laden wave, 

All these, life’s rambling journey done, 

Have found their home, the grave.” 

Another verse which has attained fame runs thus : 

“ Like crowded forest trees we stand, 

And some are mark’d to fall ; 

The axe will smite at God’s command, 

And soon will smite us all.” 


1 Southey’s Works of Cowper, ii. p. 2S3. 


THE CLERK IN LITERATURE 71 

And thus does Cowper, in his temporary role, point 
the moral: 

“ And O ! that humble as my lot, 

And scorned as is my strain, 

These truths, though known, too much forgot, 

I may not teach in vain. 

“ So prays your clerk with all his heart, 

And, ere he quits his pen, 

Begs you for once to take his part, 

And answer all—Amen.” 

Again, in another copy of verses he alludes to his 
honourable clerkship, and sings : 

“ So your verse-man I, and clerk, 

Yearly in my song proclaim 
Death at hand—yourselves his mark— 

And the foe’s unerring aim. 

“ Duly at my time I come, 

Publishing to all aloud 
Soon the grave must be our home, 

And your only suit a shroud.” 

On one occasion the clerk delayed to send a printed 
copy of the verses ; so we find the poet writing to his 
friend, William Bagot: 

“You would long since have received an answer to 
your last, had not the wicked clerk of Northampton 
delayed to send me the printed copy of my annual 
dirge, which I waited to enclose. Here it is at last, 
and much good may it do the readers ! ” 

Let us hope that at least the clerk was grateful. 

Yet again does the poet allude to the occupant of 
the lowest tier of the great “three-decker,” when he 
in the opening lines of The Sofa depicts the various 
seekers after sleep. After telling of the snoring nurse, 
the sleeping traveller in the coach, he continues : 

“Sweet sleep enjoys the curate in his desk, 

The tedious rector drawling o’er his head ; 

And sweet the clerk below—” 


72 


THE PARISH CLERK 


a pretty picture truly of a stirring and impressive 
service ! 

Cowper, if he were alive now, would have been no 
admirer of Who's Who , and poured scorn upon any 

“ Fond attempt to give a deathless lot 
To names ignoble, born to be forgot.’’ 

Beholding some “names of little note” in the Bio- 
grapliia Britannica, he proceeded to satirise the pub¬ 
lication, to laugh at the imaginary procession of 
worthies—the squire, his lady, the vicar, and other 
local celebrities, and chants in his anger : 

“ There goes the parson, oh ! illustrious spark ! 

And there, scarce less illustrious, goes the clerk.” 

The poet Gay is not unmindful of the 

“ Parish clerk who calls the hymns so clear” ; 

and Tennyson, in his sonnet to J. M. K., wrote : 

“ Our dusty velvets have much need of thee : 

Thou art no sabbath-drawler of old saws, 

Distill’d from some worm-canker'd homily ; 

But spurr’d at heart with fiercest energy 

To embattail and to wall about thy cause 

With iron-worded proof, hating to hark 

The humming of the drowsy pulpit-drone 

Half God’s good Sabbath, while the worn-out clerk 

Brow-beats his desk below.” 

In the gallery of Dickens’s characters stands out the 
immortal Solomon Daisy of Barnahy Rudge , with his 
“cricket-like chirrup” as he took his part in the social 
gossip round the Maypole fire. Readers of Dickens 
will remember the timid Solomon’s visit to the church 
at midnight when he went to toll the passing bell, and 
his account of the strange things that befell him there, 
and of the ringing of the mysterious bell that told the 
murder of Reuben Haredale. 


THE CLERK IN LITERATURE 


73 


In the British Museum I discovered a fragmentary 
collection of ballads and songs, made by Mr. Ballard, 
and amongst these is a song relating to a very un¬ 
worthy follower of St. Nicholas, whose memory is thus 
unhappily preserved : 

THE PARISH CLERK 

A NEW COMIC SONG 
Tune —The Vicar and Moses 

Here rests from his labours, by consent of his neighbours, 

A peevish, ill-natur’d old clerk ; 

Who never design’d any good to mankind, 

For of goodness he ne’er had a spark. 

Tol lol de rol lol de rol lol. 

But greedy as Death, until his last breath, 

His method he ne’er failed to use ; 

When interr'd a corpse lay, Amen he’d scarce say, 

Before he cry’d Who pays the dues ? 

Not a tear now he’s dead, by friend or foe shed ; 

The first they were few, if he’d any ; 

Of the last he had more, than tongue can count o'er, 

Who’d have hang’d the old churl for a penny. 

In Levi’s black train, the clerk did remain 
Twenty years, squalling o’er a dull stave ; 

Yet his mind was so evil, he’d swear like the devil, 

Nor repented on this side the grave. 

Fovvler, Printer , Salisbury. 

That extraordinary man Mr. William Hutton, who 
died in 1813, and whose life has been written and 
his works edited by Mr. Llewellyn Jewitt, f.s.a., 
amongst his other poems wrote a set of verses on The 
Way to Find Sunday ’without an Almanack. It tells the 
story of a Welsh clergyman who kept poultry, and 
how he told the days of the week and marked the 
Sundays by the regularity with which one of his hens 
laid her eggs. The seventh egg always became his 
Sunday letter, and thus he always remembered to sally 


74 THE PARISH CLERK 

forth “ with gown and cassock, book and band,’ and 
perform his accustomed duty. Unfortunately the clerk 
was treacherous, and one week stole an egg, with dire 
consequences to the congregation, which had to wait 
until the clergyman, who was engaged in the unclerical 
task of “soleing shoes,” could be fetched. The poem 
is a poor trifle, but it is perhaps worth mentioning on 
account of the personality of the writer. 

There is a charming sketch of an old clerk in the 
Essays and Tales of the late Lady Verney. The story 
tells of the old clerk’s affection for his great-grandchild, 
Benny. He is a delightfully drawn specimen of his 
race. We see him “creeping slowly about the shadows 
of the aisle, in his long blue Sunday coat with huge 
brass buttons, the tails of which reached almost to his 
heels, shorts and brown leggings, and a low-crowned 
hat in his hand. He was nearly eighty, but wiry still, 
rather blind and somewhat deaf; but the post of clerk 
is one considered to be quite independent and irremov¬ 
able, quam din se benegesserit, during good behaviour— 
on a level with Her Majesty’s judges for that matter. 
Having been raised to this great eminence some sixty 
years before, when he was the only man in the parish 
who could read, he would have stood out for his rights 
to remain there as long as he pleased against all the 
powers and principalities in the kingdom—if, indeed, 
he could have conceived the possibility of any one, in 
or out of the parish, being sufficiently irreligious and 
revolutionary to dispute his sovereignty. He was part 
of the church, and the church was part of him—his 
rights and hers were indissolubly connected in his 
mind. 

“The Psalms that day offered a fine field for his 



THE CLERK IN LITERATURE 


75 


Anglo-Saxon plurals and south-country terminations ; 
the ‘housen,’ ‘priestesses,’ ‘beasteses of the field,’ came 
rolling freely forth from his mouth, upon which no re¬ 
monstrances by the curate had had the smallest effect. 
Was he, Michael Major, who had fulfilled the im¬ 
portant office ‘ afore that young jackanapes was born, 
to be teached how ’twere to be done?’ he had observed 
more than once in rather a high tone, though in 
general he patronised the successive occupants of the 
pulpit with much kindness. ‘ And this ’un, as cannot 
spike English nayther,’ he added superciliously con¬ 
cerning the north-country accent of his pastor and 
master.” 

On weekdays he wore a smock-frock, which he 
called his surplice, with wonderful fancy stitches on 
the breast and back and sleeves. At length he had to 
resign his post and take to his bed, and was not afraid 
to die when his time came. It is a very tender and 
touching little story, a very faithful picture of an old 
clerk. 1 

Passing from grave to gay, we find Tom Hood 
sketching the clerk attending on his vicar, who is 
about to perform a wedding service and make two 
people for ever happy. He christens the two officials 
“the joiners, no rough mechanics, but a portly full¬ 
blown vicar with his clerk, both rubicund, a peony 
paged by a pink. It made me smile to observe the 
droll clerical turn of the clerk’s beaver, scrubbed into 
that fashion by his coat at the nape.” 

Few people know Alexander Pope’s Memoir of 
P.P., Clerk of this Parish, which was intended to 
ridicule Burnet’s History of His Own Time , a work 
characterised by a strong tincture of self-importance 

1 Essays and Tales, by Frances Parthenope Lady Verney, p. 67. 


THE PARISH CLERK 


76 

and egotism. These are abundantly exposed in the 
Memoir , which begins thus : 

“ In the name of the Lord, Amen. I, P.P., by the 
Grace of God, Clerk of this Parish, writeth this 
history. 

“ Ever since I arrived at the age of discretion I had 
a call to take upon me the Function of a Parish Clerk, 
and to this end it seemed unto me meet and profitable 
to associate myself with the parish clerks of this land, 
such I mean as were right worthy in their calling, 
men of a clear and sweet voice, and of becoming 
gravity.” 

He tells how on the day of his birth Squire Bret 
gave a bell to the ring of the parish. Hence that 
one and the same day did give to their own church 
two rare gifts, its great bell and its clerk. 

Leaving the account of P. P.’s youthful amours and 
bouts at quarter-staff, we next find that: 

“ No sooner was I elected into my office, but I layed 
aside the gallantries of my youth and became a new 
man. I considered myself as in somewise of ecclesiastical 
dignity, since by wearing of a band, which is no small 
part of the ornaments of our clergy, might not un¬ 
worthily be deemed, as it were, a shred of the linen 
vestments of Aaron. 

“Thou mayest conceive, O reader, with what con¬ 
cern I perceived the eyes of the congregation fixed 
upon me, when I first took my place at the feet of the 
Priest. When I raised the Psalm, how did my voice 
quiver with fear ! And when I arrayed the shoulders 
of the minister with the surplice, how did my joints 
tremble under me ! I said within myself, ‘ Remember, 
Paul, thou standest before men of high worship, the 



THE CLERK IN LITERATURE 


77 


wise Mr. Justice Freeman, the grave Mr. Justice 
Tonson, the good Lady Jones.’ Notwithstanding it 
was my good hap to acquit myself to the good 
liking of the whole congregation, but the Lord forbid 
I should glory therein.” 

He then proceeded to remove “the manifold corrup¬ 
tions and abuses.” 

1. “I was especially severe in whipping forth dogs 
from the Temple, all except the lap-dog of the good 
widow Howard, a sober dog which yelped not, nor 
was there offence in his mouth. 

2. “I did even proceed to moroseness, though sore 
against my heart, unto poor babes, in tearing from 
them the half-eaten apple, which they privily munched 
at church. But verily it pitied me, for I remembered 
the days of my youth. 

3. “With the sweat of my own hands I did make 
plain and smooth the dog’s ears throughout our Great 
Bible. 

4. “I swept the pews, not before swept in the third 
year. I darned the surplice and laid it in lavender.” 

The good clerk also made shoes, shaved and clipped 
hair, and practised chirurgery also in the worming of 
dogs. 

“ Now was the long expected time arrived when the 
Psalms of King David should be hymned unto the 
same tunes to which he played them upon his harp, so 
I was informed by my singing-master, a man right 
cunning in Psalmody. Now was our over-abundant 
quaver and trilling done away, and in lieu thereof was 
instituted the sol-fa in such guise as is sung in his 
Majesty’s Chapel. We had London singing-masters 
sent into every parish like unto excisemen.” 


78 


THE PARISH CLERK 


P. P. was accused by his enemies of humming 
through his nostrils as a sackbut, yet he would not 
forgo the harmony, it having been agreed by the 
worthy clerks of London still to preserve the same. 
He tutored the young men and maidens to tune their 
voices as it were a psaltery, and the church on Sunday 
was filled with new Hallelujahs. 

But the fame of the great is fleeting. Poor Paul 
Philips passed away, and was forgotten. When his 
biographer went to see him, his place knew him no 
more. No one could tell of his virtues, his career, his 
excellences. Nothing remained but his epitaph : 

“ O reader, if that thou canst read, 

Look down upon this stone ; 

Do all we can, Death is a man 
That never spareth none.” 


CHAPTER VI 


CLERKS TOO CLERICAL. SMUGGLING DAYS 
AND SMUGGLING WAYS 

I T is perhaps not altogether surprising that in times 
when ordained clergymen were scarce, and when 
much confusion reigned, the clerk should occasionally 
have taken upon himself to discharge duties which 
scarcely pertained to his office. Great diversity of 
opinion is evident as regards the right of the clerk to 
perform certain ecclesiastical services, such as his read¬ 
ing of the Burial Service, the Churching of Women, and 
the reading of the daily services in the absence of the 
incumbent. In the days of Queen Elizabeth, judging 
from the numerous inquiries issued by the bishops at 
their visitations, one would imagine that the parish clerk 
performed many services which pertained to the duties 
of the parish priest. It is not likely that such inquiries 
should have been made if some reports of clerks and 
readers exceeding their prescribed functions had not 
reached episcopal ears. They ask if readers presume 
to baptize or marry or celebrate Holy Communion. 
And the answers received in several cases support the 
surmise of the bishops. Thus we read that at Westbere, 
“When the parson is absent the parish clerk reads the 
service.” At Waltham the parish clerk served the 
parish for the most as the vicar seldom came there. At 

79 


8 o 


THE PARISH CLERK 


Tenterden the service was read by a layman, one John 
Hopton, and at Fairfield a reader served the church. 
This was the condition of those parishes in 1569, and 
doubtless many others were similarly situated. 

The Injunctions of Archbishop Grindal, issued in 
1571, are severe and outspoken with regard to lay 
ministration. He wrote as follows : 

“ We do enjoin and straitly command, that from 
henceforth no parish clerk, nor any other person not 
being ordered, at the least, for a deacon, shall presume 
to solemnize Matrimony, or to minister the Sacrament 
of Baptism, or to deliver the communicants the Lord’s 
cup at the celebration of the Holy Communion. And 
that no person, not being a minister, deacon, or at 
least, tolerated by the ordinary in writing, do attempt 
to supply the office of a minister in saying divine service 
openly in any church or chapel.” 

In the Lincoln diocese in 1588 the clerk was still 
allowed to read one lesson and the epistle, but he was 
forbidden from saying the service, ministering any 
sacraments or reading any homily. In some cases 
greater freedom was allowed. In the beautiful Lady 
Chapel of the Church of St. Mary Overy there is pre¬ 
served a curious record relating to this : 

“Touching the Parish Clerk and Sexton all is well ; 
only our clerk doth sometimes to ease the minister read 
prayers, church women, christen, bury and marry, 
being allowed so to do. 

“ December 9. 1634.” 

Bishop Joseph Hall of Exeter asked in 1638 in his 
visitation articles, “ Whether in the absence of the 
minister or at any other time the Parish Clerk, or any 
Other lay person, said Common Prayer openly in the 



CLERKS TOO CLERICAL 


81 


church or any part of the Divine Service which is 
proper to the Priest? ” 

Archdeacon Marsh, of Chichester, in 1640 inquires : 
“ Hath your Parish Clerk or Sexton taken upon him to 
meddle with anything above his office, as churching of 
women, burying of the dead, or such like?” 

During the troublous times of the Commonwealth 
period it is not surprising that the clerk often per¬ 
formed functions which were “ above his office,” when 
clergymen were banished from their livings. We have 
noticed already an example of the burial service being 
performed by the clerk when he was so rudely treated 
by angry Parliamentarians for using the Book of Com¬ 
mon Prayer. Here is an instance of the ceremony of 
marriage being performed by the parish clerk : 

“The marriages in the Parish of Dale Abbey were 
till a few years previous to the Marriage Act, solem¬ 
nized by the Clerk of the Parish, at one shilling each, 
there being no minister.” 

This Marriage Act was that passed by the Little 
Parliament of 1653, by which marriage was pro¬ 
nounced to be merely a civil contract. Banns were 
published in the market-place, and the marriages 
were performed by Cromwell’s Justices of the Peace 
whom, according to a Yorkshire vicar, “that impious 
and rebell appointed out of the basest Hypocrites 
and dissemblers with God and man.” The clerks’ 
marriage ceremony was no worse than that of the 
justices. 

Dr. Macray, of the Bodleian Library, has discovered 
the draft of a licence granted by Dr. John Mountain, 
Bishop of London, to Thomas Dickenson, parish clerk 
of Waltham Holy Cross, in the year 1621, permitting 

G 


82 


THE PARISH CLERK 


him to read prayers, church women, and bury the 
dead. This licence states that the parish of Waltham 
Holy Cross was very spacious, many houses being a 
long distance from the church, and that the curate was 
very much occupied with his various duties of visiting 
the sick, burying the dead, churching women, and 
other business belonging to his office; hence per¬ 
mission is granted to Thomas Dickenson to assist the 
curate in reading prayers in church, burying dead 
corpses, and to church women in the absence of the 
curate, or when the curate cannot conveniently perform 
the same duty in his own person. 

Doubtless this licence was no solitary exception, and 
it is fairly certain that other clerks enjoyed the same 
privileges which are here assigned to Master Thomas 
Dickenson. He must have been a worthy member of 
his class, a man of education, and of skill and ability 
in reading, or episcopal sanction would not have been 
given to him to perform these important duties. 

It is evident that parish clerks occasionally at least 
performed several important clerical functions with the 
consent of, or in the absence of the incumbents, and 
that in spite of the articles in the visitations of some 
bishops who were opposed to this practice, episcopal 
sanction was not altogether wanting. 

The affection with which the parishioners regarded 
the clerk is evidenced in many ways. He received 
from them many gifts in kind and money, such as eggs 
and cakes and sheaves of corn. Some of them were 
demanded in early times as a right that could not be 
evaded ; but the compulsory payment of such goods 
was abolished, and the parishioners willingly gave by 
courtesy that which had been deemed a right. 

Sometimes land has been left to the clerk in order 



SMUGGLING DAYS AND SMUGGLING WAYS 83 

that he may ring the curfew-bell, or a bell at night and 
early morning, so that travellers may be warned lest 
they should lose their way over wild moorland or bleak 
down, and, guided by the sound of the bell, may reach 
a place of safety. 

An old lady once lost her way on the Lincolnshire 
wolds, nigh Boston, but was guided to her home by 
the sound of the church bell tolling at night. So 
grateful was she that she bequeathed a piece of land to 
the parish clerk on condition that he should ring one 
of the bells from seven to eight o’clock each evening 
during the winter months. 

There is a piece of land called “Curfew Land” at 
St. Margaret’s-at-Cliffe, Kent, the rent of which was 
directed to be paid to the clerk or other person who 
should ring the curfew every evening in order to warn 
travellers lest they should fall over the cliff, as the 
unfortunate donor of the land did, for want of the due 
and constant ringing of the bell. 

In smuggling days, clerks, like many of their 
betters, were not immaculate. The venerable vicar of 
Worthing, the Rev. E. K. Elliott, records that the 
clerk of Broadwater was himself a smuggler, and in 
league with those who throve by the illicit trade. 
When a cargo was expected he would go up to the top 
of the spire, which afforded a splendid view of the sea, 
and when the coast was clear of preventive officers he 
would give the signal by hoisting a flag. Kegs of 
contraband spirits were frequently placed inside two 
huge tombs which have sliding tops, and which stand 
near the western porch of Worthing church. 

The last run of smuggled goods in that neighbour¬ 
hood was well within the recollection of the vicar, and 
took place in 1855. Some kegs were taken to Charman 


THE PARISH CLERK 


84 

Dean and buried in the ground, and although 
diligent search was made, the smugglers baffled their 
pursuers. 

At Soberton, Hants, there is an old vault near the 
chancel door. Now the flat stone is level with the 
ground; but in 1800 it rested on three feet of brick¬ 
work, and could be lifted off by two men. Here many 
kegs of spirit that paid no duty were deposited by an 
arrangement with the clerk, and the stone lifted on 
again. This secret hiding-place was never discovered, 
neither did the curate find out who requisitioned his 
horse when the nights favoured smugglers. 

In the wild days of Cornish wreckers and wrecking, 
both priest and clerk are said to have taken part in the 
sharing of the tribute of the sea cast upon their rock- 
bound coast. The historian of Cornwall, Richard 
Polwhele, tells of a wreck happening one Sunday 
morning just before service. The clerk, eager to be 
at the fray, announced to the assembled parishioners 
that “ Measter would gee them a holiday.” 

I will not vouch for the truth of that other story told 
in the Encyclopedia of Wit (1801), which runs as 
follows : 

“A parson who lived on the coast of Cornwall, 
where one great business of the inhabitants is plun¬ 
dering from ships that are wrecked, being once preach¬ 
ing when the alarm was given, found that the sound 
of the wreck was so much more attractive than his 
sermon, that all his congregation were scampering out 
of church. To check their precipitation, he called out, 
‘ My brethren, let me entreat you to stay for five words 
more’; and marching out of the pulpit, till he had got 
pretty near the door of the church, slowly pronounced, 
‘ Let us all start fair,’ and ran off with the rest of them.” 



SMUGGLING DAYS AND SMUGGLING WAYS 85 

An old parishioner of the famous Rev. R. S. 
Hawker once told him of a very successful run of a 
cargo of kegs, which the obliging parish clerk allowed 
the smugglers to place underneath the benches and in 
the tower stairs of the church. The old man told the 
story thus : 

“We bribed Tom Hockaday, the sexton, and we 
had the goods safe in the seats by Saturday night. 
The parson did wonder at the large congregation, for 
divers of them were not regular churchgoers at other 
times ; and if he had known what was going on, he 
could not have preached a more suitable discourse, for 
it was, ‘ Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.’ 
It was one of his best sermons ; but, there, it did not 
touch us, you see ; for we never tasted anything but 
brandy and gin.” 

In such smuggling ways the clerk was no worse than 
his neighbours, who were all more or less involved in 
the illicit trade. 

The old Cornish clerks who used to help the 
smugglers were a curious race of beings, remarkable 
for their familiar ways with the parson. At St. 
Clements the clergyman one day was reading the 
verse, “I have seen the ungodly flourish like a green 
bay tree,” when the clerk looked up with an inquiring 
glance from the desk below, “How can that be, 
maister?” He was more familiar with the colour of a 
bay horse than the tints of a bay tree. 

At Kenwyn two dogs, one of which belonged to the 
parson, were fighting at the west end of the church ; 
the parson, who was then reading the second lesson, 
rushed out of the pew and went down and parted 
them. Returning to his pew, and doubtful where he 


86 


THE PARISH CLERK 


had left off, he asked the clerk, “ Roger, where was 
I?” “Why, down parting the dogs, maister,” replied 
Roger. 

Two rocks stand out on the South Devon coast near 
Dawlish, which are known as the Parson and Clerk. 
A wild, weird legend is told about these rocks—of a 
parson who desired the See of Exeter, and often rode 
with his clerk to Dawlish to hear the latest news of 
the bishop who was nigh unto death. The wanderers 
lost their way one dark night, and the parson exhibited 
most unclerical anger, telling his clerk that he would 
rather have the devil for a guide than him. Of course, 
the devil or one of his imps obliged, and conducted 
the wanderers to an old ruined house, where there was 
a large company of disguised demons. They all 
passed a merry night, singing and carousing. Then 
the news comes that the bishop is dead. The parson 
and clerk determine to set out at once. Their steeds 
are brought, but will not budge a step. The parson 
cuts savagely at his horse. The demons roar with un¬ 
earthly laughter. The ruined house and all the devils 
vanish. The waves are overwhelming the riders, and 
in the morning the wretches are found clinging to the 
rocks with the grasp of death, which ever afterwards 
record their villainy and their fate. 

Among tales of awe and weird mystery stands out 
the story of the adventures of Peter Priestly, clerk, 
sexton, and gravestone cutter, of Wakefield, who 
flourished at the end of the eighteenth century. He 
was an old and much respected inhabitant of the town, 
and not at all given to superstitious fears. One Satur¬ 
day evening he went to the church to finish the epitaph 
on a stone which was to be in readiness for removal 
before Sunday. Arrived at the church, where he had 


A CLERK OF ST. ALBANS 87 

his workshop, he set down his lantern and lighted his 
other candle, which was set in a primitive candlestick 
formed out of a potato. The church clock struck eleven, 
and still some letters remained unfinished, when he 
heard a strange sound, which seemed to say “ Hiss !” 
“Hush!” He resumes his work undaunted. Again 
that awful voice breaks in once more. He lights his 
lantern and searches for its cause. In vain his efforts. 
He resolves to leave the church, but again remembers 
his promise and returns to his work. The mystic hour 
of midnight strikes. He has nearly finished, and 
bends down to examine the letters on the stone. Again 
he hears a louder “ Hiss !” He now stands appalled. 
Terror seizes him. He has profaned the Sabbath, and 
the sentence of death has gone forth. With tottering 
steps Peter finds his way home and goes to bed. Sleep 
forsakes him. His wife ministers to him in vain. As 
morning dawns the good woman notices Peter’s wig 
suspended on the great chair. “ Oh, Peter,” she cries, 
“ what hast thou been doing to burn all t’ hair off one 
side of thy wig?” “Ah ! bless thee,” says the clerk, 
“thou hast cured me with that word.” The mysterious 
“hiss” and “hush” were sounds from the frizzling 
of Peter’s wig by the flame of the candle, which to his 
imperfect sense of hearing imported things horrible 
and awful. Such is the story which a writer in Hone’s 
Year Book tells, and which is said to have afforded 
Peter Priestly and the good people of merry Wakefield 
many a joke. 

The Year Book is always full of interest, and in 
the same volume I find an account of a most worthy 
representative of the profession, one John Kent, 
the parish clerk of St. Albans, who died in 1798, 
aged eighty years. He was a very venerable and 


88 


THE PARISH CLERK 


intelligent man, who did service in the old abbey 
church, long before the days when its beauties were 
desecrated by Grimthorpian restoration, or when it 
was exalted to cathedral rank. For fifty-two years 
Kent was the zealous clerk and custodian of the 
minster, and loved to describe its attractions. He was 
the friend of the learned Browne Willis. His name 
is mentioned in Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments of 
Great Britain , and his intelligence and knowledge 
noticed, and Newcombe, the historian of the abbey, 
expressed his gratitude to the good clerk for much in¬ 
formation imparted by him to the author. The monks 
could not have guarded the shrine of St. Alban with 
greater care than did Kent protect the relics of good 
Duke Humphrey. His veneration for all that the abbey 
contained was remarkable. A story is told of a gen¬ 
tleman who purloined a bone of the Duke. The clerk 
suspected the theft but could never prove it, though 
he sometimes taxed the gentleman with having re¬ 
moved the bone. At last, just before his death, the 
man restored it, saying to the clerk, “I could not 
depart easy with it in my possession.” 

Kent was a plumber and glazier by trade, in politics 
a staunch partisan of “the Blues,” and on account ot 
his sturdy independence was styled “Honest John.” 
He performed his duties in the minster with much zeal 
and ability, his knowledge of psalmody was unsur¬ 
passed, his voice was strong and melodious, and he 
was a complete master of church music. Unlike many 
of his confreres, he liked to hear the congregation 
sing ; but when country choirs came from neighbour¬ 
ing churches to perform in the abbey with instruments, 
contemptuously described by him as “a box of 
whistles,” the congregation being unable to join in the 



A CLERK OF ST. ALBANS 89 

melodies, he used to give out the anthem thus : “ Sing 
ye to the praise and glory of God. . . Five years 
before his death he had an attack of paralysis which 
slightly crippled his power of utterance, though this 
defect could scarcely be detected when he was engaged 
in the services of the church. Two days before his 
death he sang his “swan-song.” Some colours were 
presented to the volunteers of the town, and were con¬ 
secrated in the abbey. During the service he sang 
the 20th Psalm with all the strength and vivacity of 
youth. When his funeral sermon was preached the 
rector alluded to this dying effort, and said that on 
the day of the great service “ Nature seemed to have 
reassumed her throne ; and, as she knew it was to be 
his last effort, was determined it should be his best.” 
The body of the good clerk, John Kent, rests in the 
abbey church which he loved so well, in a spot marked 
by himself, and we hope that the “ restoration,” 
somewhat drastic and severe, which has fallen upon 
the grand old church, has not obscured his grave or 
destroyed the memorial of this worthy and excellent 
clerk. 


CHAPTER VII 


THE CLERK IN EPITAPH 
HE virtues of many a parish clerk are recorded on 



X numerous humble tombstones in village church¬ 
yards. The gratitude felt by both rector and people 
for many years of faithful service is thus set forth, 
sometimes couched in homely verse, and occasionally 
marred by the misplaced humour and jocular expres¬ 
sions and puns with which our forefathers thought fit 
to honour the dead. In this they were not original, and 
but followed the example of the Greeks and Romans, 
the Italians, Spaniards, and French. This objection¬ 
able fashion of punning on gravestones was formerly 
much in vogue in England, and such a prominent 
official as the clerk did not escape the attention of the 
punsters. Happily the quaint fancies and primitive 
humour, which delighted our grandsires in the produc¬ 
tion of rebuses and such-like pleasantries, no longer 
find themselves displayed upon the fabric of our 
churches, and the “merry jests” have ceased to ap¬ 
pear upon the memorials of the dead. We will glance 
at the clerkly epitaphs of some of the worthies who 
have held the office of parish clerk who were deemed 
deserving of a memorial. 

In the southern portion of the churchyard attached 


90 



THE CLERK IN EPITAPH 


9 1 


to St. Andrew’s Church, Rugby, is a plain upright 
stone containing the following inscription : 

In memory of 
Peter Collis 
33 years Clerk of 
this Parish 

who died Feb y 28 th 1818 
Aged 82 years 

[Some lines of poetry follow, but these unfortunately 
are not now discernible.] 

At the time Peter held office the incumbent was 
noted for his card-playing propensities, and the clerk 
was much addicted to cock-fighting. The following 
couplet relating to these worthies is still remembered : 

No wonder the people of Rugby are all in the dark, 

With a card-playing parson and a cock-fighting clerk. 

Peter’s father was clerk before him, and on a stone 
to his memory is recorded as follows : 

In memory of 
John Collis Husband of 
Eliz: Collis who liv’d in 
Wedlock together 50 years 
he served as Parish Clerk 41 years 
And died June 19 th 1781 aged 69 years 

Him who covered up the Dead 
Is himself laid in the same bed 
Time with his crooked scythe hath made 
Him lay his mattock down and spade 
May he and we all rise again 
To everlasting life Amen. 

The name Collis occurs amongst those who held 
the office of parish clerk at West Haddon. The 
Rev. John T. Page, to whom I am indebted for the 
above information, 1 has gleaned the following particu- 

1 cf. Notes and Queries , Tenth Series, ii., 10 September, 1904, p. 215. 


THE PARISH CLERK 


92 

lars from the parish registers and other sources. The 
clerk who reigned in 1903 was Thomas Adams, who 
filled the position for eighteen years. He succeeded 
his father-in-law, William Prestidge, who died 24 
March, 1886, after holding the office fifty-three years. 
His predecessor was Thomas Collis, who died 30 
January, 1833, after holding the office fifty-two years, 
and succeeded John Colledge, who, according to an 
old weather-beaten stone still standing in the church¬ 
yard, died 12 September, 1781. How long Colledge 
held office cannot now be ascertained. Here are some 
remarkable examples of long years of service, Collis 
and Prestidge having held the office for 105 years. 

In Shenley churchyard the following remarkable 
epitaph appears to the memory of Joseph Rogers, who 
was a bricklayer as well as parish clerk : 

Silent in dust lies mouldering here 
A Parish Clerk of voice most clear. 

None Joseph Rogers could excel 
In laying bricks or singing well ; 

Though snapp’d his line, laid by his rod, 

We build for him our hopes in God. 

A remarkable instance of longevity is recorded on a 
tombstone in Cromer churchyard. The inscription 
runs : 

Sacred to the memory of David Vial who departed 
this life the 26th of March, 1873, aged 94 years, 
for sixty years clerk of this parish. 

At the village church of Whittington, near Oswestry, 
there is a well-known epitaph, which is worth re¬ 
cording : 

March 13th 1766 died Thomas Evans, Parish Clerk, 
aged 72. 

Old Sternhold’s lines or “ Vicar of Bray ” 

Which he tuned best 'twas hard to say. 


THE CLERK IN EPITAPH 


93 


Another remarkable instance of longevity is that 
recorded on a tombstone in the cemetery of Eye, 
Suffolk, erected to the memory of a faithful clerk : 

Erected to the memory of 
George Herbert 

who was clerk of this parish for more 
than 71 years 

and who died on the 17th May 1873 
aged 81 years. 

This monument 

Is erected to his memory by his grateful 
Friend 

the Rev. W. Page Roberts 
Vicar of Eye. 

Herbert must have commenced his duties very early in 
life ; according to the inscription, at the age of ten 
years. 

At Scothorne, in Lincolnshire, there is a sexton- 
ringer-clerk epitaph on John Blackburn’s tombstone, 
dated 1739-40. It reads thus : 

Alas poor John 
Is dead and gone 
Who often toll’d the Bell 
And with a spade 
Dug many a grave 
And said Amen as well. 

The Roes were a great family of clerks at Bakewell, 
and the two members who occupied that office at the 
end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth 
century seem to have been endowed with good voices, 
and with a devoted attachment to the church and its 
monuments. Samuel Roe had the honour of being 
mentioned in the Gentleman’’s Magazine , and receives 
well-deserved praise for his care of the fabric of Bake- 


94 


THE PARISH CLERK 


well Church, and his epitaph is given, which runs as 

follows : rp 

To 

The memory of 
Samuel Roe 
Clerk 

of the Parish Church of Bakewell, 
which office 

he filled thirty-five years 
with credit to himself 
and satisfaction to the inhabitants. 

His natural powers of voice, 
in clearness, strength, and sweetness 
were altogether unequalled. 

He died October 31st, 1792 
Aged 70 years 

The correspondent of the Gentleman's Magazine 
wrote thus of this faithful clerk : 

“ Mr. Urban, 

“It was with much concern that I read the 
epitaph upon Mr. Roe in your last volume, page 1192. 
Upon a little tour which I made in Derbyshire in 17S9, 
I met with that worthy and very intelligent man at 
Bakewell, and in the course of my antiquarian re¬ 
searches there, derived no inconsiderable assistance 
from his zeal and civility. If he did not possess the 
learning of his namesake, your old and valuable 
correspondent, 1 I will venture to declare that he was 
not less influenced by a love and veneration for 
antiquity, many proofs of which he had given by his 
care and attention to the monuments of the church 
which were committed to his charge ; for he united the 
characters of sexton, clerk, singing-master, will-maker, 

1 T. Row stands for The Rector Of W hittington, the Rev. Samuel 
Pegge. cf. Curious Epitaphs, by W. Andrews, p. 124. 


THE CLERK IN EPITAPH 


95 


and schoolmaster. Finding that I was quite alone, he 
requested permission to wait upon me at the inn in 
the evening, urging as a reason for this request that 
he must be exceedingly gratified by the conversation 
of a gentleman who could read the characters upon 
the monument of Vernon, the founder of Haddon 
House, a treat he had not met with for many years. 
After a very pleasant gossip we parted, but not till my 
honest friend had, after some apparent struggle, 
begged of me to indulge him with my name.” 

To this worthy clerk’s care is due the preservation 
of the Vernon and other monuments in Bakewell 
Church. Mr. Andrews tells us that “ in some in¬ 
stances he placed a wooden framework to keep off the 
rough hands and rougher knives of the boys and 
young men of the congregation. He also watched 
with special care the Wenderley tomb, and even took 
careful rubbings of the inscriptions .” 1 

The inscription on the tomb of the son of this worthy 
clerk proves that he inherited his father’s talents as 
regards musical ability : 

Erected 

In remembrance of 
Philip Roe 

Who died 12th September, 1S15, 

Aged 52 years. 

The vocal Powers here let us mark 
Of Philip our late Parish Clerk, 

In church none ever heard a Layman 
With a clearer voice say ‘ Amen ’ ! 

Who now with Hallelujahs sound 
Like him can make this roof rebound? 

The Choir lament his Choral Tones 
The Town—so soon Llere lie his Rones. 

Sleep undisturb’d within thy peaceful shrine 
Till Angels wake thee with such notes as thine. 


1 W. Andrews, Curious Epitaphs, p. 124, 


9 6 


THE PARISH CLERK 


The last two lines are a sweet and tender tribute 
truly to the memory of this melodious clerk. 

A writer in All the Year Round? who has been iden¬ 
tified as Cuthbert Bede, the author of the immortal 
Verdant Green , tells of the Osbornes and Worrals, 
famous families of clerks, quoting instances of the 
hereditary nature of the office. He wrote as follows 
concerning them : 

“As a boy I often attended the service at Belbrough- 
ton Church, Worcestershire, when the clerk was Mr. 
Osborne, tailor. His family had been parish clerks 
and tailors since the time of Henry VIII, and were 
lineally descended from William Fitz-Osborne, who in 
the twelfth century had been deprived by Ralph Fitz- 
Herbert of his right to the manor of Bellam, in the 
parish of Bellroughton. Often have I stood in the 
picturesque churchyard of Wolverley, Worcestershire, 
by the grave of the old parish clerk, whom I well 
remember, old Thomas Worrall, the inscription on 
whose monument is as follows : 

Sacred to the memory of 
Thomas Worrall, 

parish clerk of Wolverley for a period of 
forty-seven years. 

Died A. d. 1854, February 23rd. 

He served with faithfulness in humble sphere 
As one who could his talents well employ, 

Hope that when Christ his Lord shall reappear, 

He may be bidden to his Master's joy. 

This tombstone was erected to the memory of the deceased 
by a few parishioners in testimony of his worth, April 1S55. 

Charles R. Somers Cocks, 

Vicar. 


1 No. 624, New Series, p. 83. 



THE CLERK IN EPITAPH 


97 


It may be noted of this worthy clerk that, with 
the exception of a week or two before his death, he 
was never absent from his Sunday and weekday 
duties in the forty-seven years during which he held 
office. 

He succeeded his father, James Worrall, who died 
in 1806, aged seventy-nine, after being parish clerk of 
Wolverley for thirty years. His tombstone, near to that 
of his son, was erected “to record his worth both in 
his public and private character, and as a mark of 
personal esteem—p. 1 . F. H. and W. C. p. c.” I am 
told that these initials stand for F. Hustle, and the 
Rev. William Callow, and that the latter was the 
author of the following lines inscribed on the monu¬ 
ment, which are well worth quoting : 

If courtly bards adorn each statesman’s bust 
And strew their laurels o’er each warrior’s dust, 

Alike immortalise, as good and great, 

Him who enslaved as him who saved the State, 

Surely the Muse (a rustic minstrel) may 
Drop one wild flower upon a poor man’s clay. 

This artless tribute to his mem’ry give 
Whose life was such as heroes seldom live. 

In worldly knowledge, poor indeed his store— 

He knew the village, and he scarce knew more. 

The worth of heavenly truth he justly knew— 

In faith a Christian, and in practice too. 

Yes, here lies one, excel him ye who can : 

Go! imitate the virtues of that man ! 

The famous “Amen” epitaph at Crayford, Kent, is 
well known, though the name of the clerk who is thus 
commemorated is sometimes forgotten. It is to the 
memory of one Peter Snell, who repeated his “ Amens” 
diligently for a period of thirty years, and runs as 
follows : 


H 


9 8 


THE PARISH CLERK 


Here lieth the body of 
Peter Snell, 

Thirty years clerk of this Parish. 

He lived respected as a pious and mirthful man, 
and died on his way to church to 
assist at a wedding, 
on the 31st of March, 1811, 

Aged seventy years. 

The inhabitants of Crayford have raised this stone 
to his cheerful memory, and as a tribute to his long 
and faithful services. 

The life of this clerk was just threescore and ten, 
Nearly half of which time he had sung out Amen. 

In his youth he had married like other young men, 

But his wife died one day—so he chanted Amen. 

A second he took—she departed—what then ? 

He married and buried a third with Amen. 

Thus his joys and his sorrows were treble, but then 
His voice was deep base, as he sung out Amen. 

On the horn he could blow as well as most men, 

So his horn was exalted to blowing Amen. 

But he lost all his wind after threescore and ten, 

And here with three wives he waits till again 
The trumpet shall rouse him to sing out Amen. 


The duties of sexton and parish clerk were usually 
performed by one person, as we have already fre¬ 
quently noticed, and therefore it is fitting that we 
should record the epitaph of Old Scarlett, most famous 
of grave-diggers, who buried two queens, both the 
victims of stern persecution, ill-usage, and Tudor 
tyranny—Catherine, the divorced wife of Henry VIII, 
and poor sinning Mary Queen of Scots. His famous 
picture in Peterborough Cathedral, on the wall of the 
western transept, usually attracts the chief attention of 
the tourist, and has preserved his name and fame. He 
is represented with a spade, pickaxe, keys, and a whip 
in his leathern girdle, and at his feet lies a skull. In 



OLD SCARLETT 










































































































THE CLERK IN EPITAPH 


99 

the upper left-hand corner appear the arms of the see 
of Peterborough, save that the cross-keys are con¬ 
verted into cross-swords. The whip at his girdle 
appears to show that Old Scarlett occupied the position 
of dog-whipper as well as sexton. There is a descrip¬ 
tion of this portrait in the Book of Days, wherein the 
writer says : 

“ What a lively effigy—short, stout, hardy, self-com¬ 
placent, perfectly satisfied, and perhaps even proud 
of his profession, and content to be exhibited with 
all its insignia about him ! Two queens had passed 
through his hands into that bed which gives a lasting 
rest to queens and to peasants alike. An officer of 
death, who had so long defied his principal, could not 
but have made some impression on the minds of 
bishop, dean, prebends, and other magnates of the 
cathedral, and hence, as we may suppose, the erection 
of this lively portraiture of the old man, which is 
believed to have been only once renewed since it was 
first put up. Dr. Dibdin, who last copied it, tells us 
that ‘old Scarlett’s jacket and trunkhose are of a 
brownish red, his stockings blue, his shoes black, tied 
with blue ribbons, and the soles of his feet red. The 
cap upon his head is red, and so also is the ground of 
the coat armour.’ ” Beneath the portrait are these lines: 

YOU SEE OLD SCARLETTS PICTURE STAND ON HIE 
BUT AT YOUR FEETE THERE DOTH HIS BODY LYE 
HIS GRAVESTONE DOTH HIS AGE AND DEATH TIME SHOW 
HIS OFFICE BY THEIS TOKENS YOU MAY KNOW 
SECOND TO NONE FOR STRENGTH AND STURDYE LIMM 
A SCARBABE MIGHTY VOICE WITH VISAGE GRIM 
HEE HAD INTER’D TWO QUEENES WITHIN THIS PLACE 
AND THIS TOWNES HOUSEHOLDERS IN HIS LIVES SPACE 
TWICE OVER : BUT AT LENGTH HIS OWN TURNE CAME 
WHAT HE FOR OTHERS DID FOR HIM THE SAME 
WAS DONE : NO DOUBT HIS SOUL DOTH LIVE FOR AYE 
IN HEAVEN : THOUGH HERE HIS BODY CLAD IN CLAY. 


IOO 


THE PARISH CLERK 


On the floor is a stone inscribed “Jvly 2 1594 R.S. 
astatis 98.” This painting is not a contemporary 
portrait of the old sexton, but a copy made in 1747. 

The sentiment expressed in the penult couplet is not 
uncommon, the idea of retributive justice, of others 
performing the last offices for the clerk who had so 
often done the like for his neighbours. The same 
notion is expressed in the epitaph of Frank Raw, clerk 
and monumental mason, of Selby, Yorkshire, which 
runs as follows : 

Here lies the body of poor Frank Raw 
Parish clerk and gravestone cutter, 

And this is writ to let you know 
What Frank for others used to do 
Is now for Frank done by another. 1 

The achievement of Old Scarlett with regard to his 
interring “the town’s householders in his life’s space 
twice over,” has doubtless been equalled by many of 
the long-lived clerks whose memoirs have been re¬ 
corded, but it is not always recorded on a tombstone. 
At Ratcliffe-on-Soar there is, however, the grave of an 
old clerk, one Robert Smith, who died in 1782, at the 
advanced age of eighty-two years, and his epitaph 
records the following facts : 

Fifty-five years it was, and something more, 

Clerk of this parish he the office bore, 

And in that space, ’tis awful to declare, 

Two generations buried by him were ! ! 

It is recorded on the tomb of Hezekiah Briggs, who 
died in 1844 in his eightieth year, the clerk and sexton 
of Bingley, Yorkshire, that “he buried seven thousand 
corpses.” 3 

1 Curious Epitaphs, by W. Andrews, p. 120. 2 Ibid. p. 121. 

2 Notes and Queries, Ninth Series, xii. 453. 


THE CLERK IN EPITAPH 


IOI 


The verses written in his honour are worth quoting : 

Here lies an old ringer beneath the cold clay 
Who has rung many peals both for serious and gay ; 

Through Grandsire and Trebles with ease he could range, 

Till death called Bob, which brought round the last change. 

For all the village came to him 
When they had need to call; 

His counsel free to all was given, 

For he was kind to all. 

Ring on, ring on, sweet Sabbath bell, 

Still kind to me thy matins swell, 

And when from earthly things I part, 

Sigh o’er my grave and lull my heart. 

These last four lines strike a sweet note, and are far 
superior to the usual class of monumental poetry. I 
will not guarantee the correct copying of the third and 
fourth lines. Various copyists have produced various 
versions. One version runs : 

Bob majors and trebles with ease he could bang, 

Till Death called a bob which brought the last clang. 

In Staple-next-Wingham, Kent, there is a stone to 
the memory of the parish clerk who died in 1820, 
aged eighty-six years, and thus inscribed : 

He was honest and just, in friendship sincere, 

And Clerk of this Parish for sixty-seven years. 

At Worth Church, Sussex, near the south entrance 
is a headstone, inscribed thus : 

In memory of John Alcorn, Clerk and Sexton of this 
parish, who died Dec. 13 : 1868 in the 81st year of his age. 

Thine honoured friend for fifty three full years, 

He saw each bridal’s joy, each Burial’s tears ; 

Within the walls, by Saxons reared of old, 

By the stone sculptured font of antique mould, 

Under the massive arches in the glow, 

Tinged by dyed sun-beams passing to and fro, 

A sentient portion of the sacred place, 

A worthy presence with a well-worn face. 


102 


THE PARISH CLERK 


The lich-gate’s shadow, o’er his pall at last 
Bids kind adieu as poor old John goes past. 

Unseen the path, the trees, the old oak door, 

No more his foot-falls touch the tomb-paved floor, 

His silvery head is hid, his service done 
Of all these Sabbaths absent only one. 

And now amidst the graves he delved around, 

He rests and sleeps, beneath the hallowed ground. 

Keep Innocency, and take heed urrto the thing - that is 
right, For that shall bring a man peace at the last. Psalm 
xxxvii. 38. 

There is an interesting memorial of an aged parish 
clerk in Cropthorne Church, Worcestershire, an edifice 
of considerable note. It consists of a small painted- 
glass window in the tower, containing a full-length 
portrait of the deceased official, duly apparelled in a 
cassock. 

There is in the King’s Norton parish churchyard an 
old gravestone the existence of which I dare say a 
good many people had forgotten until recently, owing 
to the inscription having become almost illegible. 
Within the past few weeks it has been renovated, and 
thus a record has been prevented from dropping out of 
public memory. The stone sets forth that it was 
erected to the memory of Isaac Ford, a shoemaker, 
who was for sixty-two years parish clerk of King’s 
Norton, and who died on 10 July, 1755, aged eighty- 
five years. Beneath is another interesting inscription 
to the effect that Henry Ford, son of Isaac, who died 
on 11 July, 1795, aged eighty-one, was also parish 
clerk for forty years. The two men thus held contin¬ 
uous office for one hundred and two years. This is a 
famous record of long service, though it has been sur¬ 
passed by a few others, our parish clerks being a long- 
lived race. 


THE CLERK IN EPITAPH 


103 


At Stoulton Church a clerk died in 1812, and it is 
recorded on his epitaph that “ He was clerk of this 
parish more 30 years and much envied.” It was 
not his office or his salary which was envied, but 
“a worn’t much liked by the t’others,” and yet followed 
the verse: 

A loving- husband, father dear, 

A faithful friend lies buried here. 

An epitaph without a “ werse ” was considered very 
degrading. 


CHAPTER VIII 


THE WORSHIPFUL COMPANY OF 
PARISH CLERKS 

HE story of the City companies of London has 



JL many attractions for the historian and antiquary. 
When we visit the ancient homes of these great 
societies we are impressed by their magnificence and 
interesting associations. Portraits of old City worthies 
and royal benefactors gaze at us from the walls, and 
link our time with theirs, when they, too, strove to 
uphold the honour of their guild and benefit their 
generation. Many a quaint old-time custom and 
ceremonial usage linger on within the old halls, and 
there too are enshrined cuirass and targe, helmet, 
sword and buckler, which tell the story of the past, and 
of the part the companies played in national defence 
or in the protection of civic rights. Turning down 
some dark alley and entering the portals of one of 
their halls, we are transported at once from the busy 
streets and din of modern London into a region of 
old-world memories which has a fascination that is 
all its own. 

This is not the place to discuss the origin of guilds 
and City companies, which can trace back their descent 
to Anglo-Saxon times and were usually of a religious 
type. They were the benefit societies of ancient days, 


IO4 



ENTRANCE TO THE HALL OF THE COMPANY OF PARISH CLERKS 



















































THE COMPANY OF PARISH CLERKS 105 

institutions of self-help, combining care for the needy 
with the practice of religion, justice, and morality. 
There were guilds exclusively religious, guilds of the 
calendars for the clergy, social guilds for the purpose 
of promoting good fellowship, benevolence, and thrift, 
merchant guilds for the regulation of trade, and frith 
guilds for the promotion of peace and the establish¬ 
ment of law and order. 

In this goodly company we find evidences at an early 
date of the existence of the Fraternity of Parish Clerks. 
Its long and important career, though it ranked not 
with the Livery Companies, and sent not its members 
to take part in the deliberations of the Common 
Council, is full of interest, and reflects the greatest 
credit on the worthy clerks who composed it. 

In other cities besides London the clerks seem to 
have formed their guilds. As early as the time of the 
Domesday Survey there was a clerks’ guild at Can¬ 
terbury, wherein it is stated “ In civitate Cantuaria 
habet achiepiscopus xii burgesses and xxxii mansuras 
which the clerks of the town, clerici de villa , hold within 
their gild and do yield xxxv shillings.” 

The first mention of the company carries us back 
to the early days of Henry III, when in the seven¬ 
teenth year of that monarch’s reign (a.d. 1233), ac¬ 
cording to Stow, they were incorporated and registered 
in the books of the Guildhall. The patron saint of 
the company was St. Nicholas, who also extended 
his patronage to robbers and mariners. Thieves are 
dubbed by Shakespeare as St. Nicholas’s clerks, 1 and 
Rowley calls highwaymen by the same title. Possibly 
this may be accounted for by the association of the 
light-fingered fraternity with Nicholas, or Old Nick, 

1 Henry IV, act ii. sc. 1. 


io6 


THE PARISH CLERK 


a cant name for the devil, or because The Golden 
Legend tells of the conversion of some thieves through 
the saint’s agency. At any rate, the good Bishop of 
Myra was the patron saint of scholars, and therefore 
was naturally selected as tutelary guardian of clerks. 

In 1442 Henry VI granted a charter to “ the Chief or 
Parish Clerks of the City of London for the honour 
and glory of Almighty God and of the undefiled and 
most glorious Virgin Mary, His Mother, and on account 
of that special devotion, which they especially bore to 
Christ’s glorious confessor, St. Nicholas, on whose day 
or festival we were first presented into this present 
world, at the hands of a mother of memory ever to be 
revered.” The charter states that they had maintained 
a poor brotherhood of themselves, as well as a certain 
divine service, and divine words of charity and piety, 
devised and exhibited by them year by year, for forty 
years or more by part; and it conferred on them the 
right of a perpetual corporate community, having two 
masters and two chaplains to celebrate divine offices 
every day, for the King’s welfare whether alive or dead, 
and for the souls of all faithful departed, for ever. 
By special royal grace they were allowed, on petitioning 
His Majesty, to have the charter without paying any 
fine or fee. 

Seven years later a second charter was granted, 
wherein it is stated that their services were held in 
the Chapel of Mary Magdalene by the Guildhall. 
“ Bretherne and Sisterne” were included in the fra¬ 
ternity. Bad times and the Wars of the Roses brought 
distress to the community, and they prayed Edward IV 
to refound their guild, allowing only the maintenance 
of one chaplain instead of two in the chapel nigh the 
Guildhall, together with the support of seven poor 




THE MASTER'S CHAIR AT THE PARISH CLERKS’ HALL 













































THE COMPANY OF PARISH CLERKS 107 

persons who daily offered up their prayers for the 
welfare of the King and the repose of the souls of the 
faithful. They provided “a prest, brede, wyne, wex, 
boke, vestments and chalise for their auter of S. 
Nicholas in the said chapel.” The King granted their 
request. 

The original home of the guild was in Bishopsgate. 
Brewers’ Hall was, in 1422, lent to them for their 
meetings. But the old deeds in the possession of the 
company show that as early as 1274 they acquired pro¬ 
perty “near the King’s highway in the parish of 
St. Ethelburga, extending from the west side of the 
garden of the Nuns of St. Helen’s to near the stone 
wall of Bishopsgate on the north, in breadth from the 
east side of William the Whit Tawyer’s to the King’s 
highway on the south.” These two highways are now 
known as Bishopsgate Street and Camomile Street. 
They had property also at Finsbury on the east side 
of Whitecross Street. Inasmuch as the guild did not 
in those early days possess a charter and was not in¬ 
corporated, it had no power to hold property ; hence 
the lands were transmitted to individual members of 
the fraternity. 1 After their incorporation in 1442 the 
trustees of the lands and possessions were all clerks. 
Another property belonged to them at Enfield. 

The chief possession of the clerks was the Bishops¬ 
gate property. It consisted of an inn called “The 
Wrestlers,” another inn which bore the sign of “The 
Angel,” and a fair entry or gate near the latter which 
still bears the name Clerks’ Place. Wrestlers’ Court 
still marks the site of the old inn—so conservative are 

1 The transmission of the property is carefully traced in Some Account 
of Parish Clerks, by Mr. James Christie, p. 78. He had access to the 
company’s muniments. 


108 THE PARISH CLERK 

the old names in the city of London. Passing 
through the entry we should have seen seven modest 
almshouses for the brethren and sisters of the guilds. 
Beyond these was the hall of the company. It con¬ 
sisted of a parlour (36 ft. by 14 ft.), with three chambers 
over it. The east side with fan glasses overlooked the 
garden, 72 ft. in length by 21 ft. wide. The west side 
was lined with wainscot. The actual hall adjoined, a 
fine room 30 ft. by 25 ft., with a gallery at the nether 
end, with a little parlour at the west end. A room for 
the Bedell, a kitchen with a vault under it, larder- 
rooms, buttery, and a little house called the Ewery, 
completed the buildings. It must have been a very 
delightful little home for the company, not so palatial 
as that of some of the greater guilds, but compact, 
charming, and altogether attractive. 

But evil days set in for the City companies of 
London. Spoliation, greed, destruction were in the 
air. Churches, monasteries, charities felt the rude 
hand of the spoiler, and it could scarcely be that the 
rich corporations of the City should fail to attract the 
covetous eyes of the rapacious courtiers. They were 
forced to surrender all their property which had been 
used for so-called “superstitious” purposes, and most 
of them bought this back with large sums of money, 
which went into the coffers of the King or his 
ministers. The Parish Clerks’ Company fared no 
better than the rest. Their hall was seized by 
the King, or rather by the infamous courtiers of 
Edward VI, and sold, together with the almshouses, 
to Sir Robert Chester in 1548. He at once took pos¬ 
session of the property, but the clerks protested that 
they had been wrongfully despoiled, and again seized 
their rightful possessions. In spite of the sympathy 





THE COMPANY OF PARISH CLERKS 109 

and support of the Lord Mayor, who “communed 
with the wardens of the Great Companies for their 
gentle aid to be granted to the parish clerks towards 
their charges in defence of their title to their Common 
Hall and lands,” the clerks lost their case, and were 
compelled to give up their home or submit to a heavy 
fine of 1000 marks besides imprisonment. The poor 
dispossessed clerks were defeated, but not dis¬ 
heartened. In the days of Queen Mary they renewed 
their suit, and “being likely to have prevailed, Sir 
Robert Chester pulled down the hall, sold the timber, 
stone and land, and thereupon the suit was ended ”— 
a very summary conclusion truly ! 

The Lord Mayor and his colleagues again showed 
sympathy and compassion for the dispossessed clerks, 
and offered them the church of the Hospital of St. Mary 
of Bethlehem in 1552 for their meetings. They did 
not lack friends. William Roper, whose picture still 
hangs in the hall of the company, the son-in-law of 
Sir Thomas More, was a great benefactor, who be¬ 
queathed to them some tenements in Southwark on 
condition that they should distribute £4 among the 
poor prisoners in Newgate and other jails. He was 
the biographer of Sir Thomas More, and died in 1577 - 

In 1610 the clerks applied for a new charter, and 
obtained it from James I, under the title of “The 
Parish Clerks of the Parishes and Parish Churches of 
the City of London, the liberties thereof and seven out 
of nine out-parishes adjoining.” They were required 
to make returns for the bills of mortality and of the 
deaths of freemen. The masters and wardens had 
power granted to them to examine clerks as to whether 
they could sing the Psalms of David according to the 
usual tunes used in the parish churches, and whether 


IIO 


THE PARISH CLERK 


they were sufficiently qualified to make their weekly 
returns. In 1636 a new charter was granted by 
Charles I, and again in 1640, this last charter being 
that by which the company is now governed. By this 
instrument their jurisdiction was extended so as to 
include Hackney and the other fifteen out-parishes, and 
they gained the right of collecting their own wages, 
and of suing for it in the ecclesiastical courts, and of 
printing the bills of mortality. 

Soon after the company lost their hall through the 
high-handed proceedings of Sir Robert Chester, they 
purchased or leased a new hall, which was situated at 
the north-east corner of Brode Lane, Vintry, where 
they lived from 1562, until the Great Fire in 1666 again 
made them homeless. The Sun Tavern in Leadenhall 
Street, the Green Dragon, Queenhythe, the Quest 
House, Cripplegate, the Gun, near Aldgate, and the 
Mitre in Fenchurch Street, afforded them temporary 
accommodation. In 1669 they began to arrange for 
a new hall to be built off Wood Street, which was 
completed in 1671, and has since been their home. 
Various sums of money have been voted at different 
times for its repair or embellishment. It has once 
been damaged by fire, and on another occasion severely 
threatened. In 1825 the entrance into Wood Street 
was blocked up and the entrance into Silver Street 
opened. The hall has been a favourite place of meet¬ 
ing for several other companies—the Fruiterers’ Com¬ 
pany, the Tinplate Workers’ Company, the Society 
of Porters, and other private companies have been 
their tenants. 

I had recently the privilege of visiting the Parish 
Clerks’ Hall, and was kindly conducted there by Mr. 
William John Smith, the “Father” of the company, 



PORTRAIT OF WILLIAM ROPER 

SON-IN-LAW AND BIOGRAPHER OF SIR THOMAS MORE, BENEFACTOR OF THE 
CLERKS’ COMPANY 



















THE GRANT OF ARMS TO THE COMPANY OF PARISH CLERKS 











THE COMPANY OF PARISH CLERKS hi 


and a liberal benefactor, whose portrait hangs in the 
hall. He has been three times master, and his father 
and grandfather were members of the fraternity. 

The premises consist of a ground floor with cellars, 
which are let for private purposes, and a first floor 
with two rooms of moderate size. The old courtyard 
is now covered with business offices. Over the court¬ 
room door stands a copy of the Clerks’ Arms, which 
are thus described: “The feyld azur, a flower de lice 
goulde on chieffe gules, a leopard’s head betwen two 
pricksonge bookes of the second, the laces that bind 
the books next, and to the creast upon the healme, on 
a wreathe gules and azur, an arm, from the elbow 
upwards, holding a pricking book, 30th March, 1582.” 
These are the arms “purged of superstition” by 
Robert Cook, Clarencieux Herald, on the aforemen¬ 
tioned date. The company’s motto is, Unitas Societatis 
Stabilitas. The arms over the court-room door have 
the motto Pange lingua gloriosa, which is accounted for 
by the fact that this copy of the clerks’ heraldic achieve¬ 
ment formerly stood over the organ in the hall. This 
organ is a small but pleasant instrument, and was 
purchased in 1737 in order to enable the members to 
practise psalmody. Several portraits of worthy clerks 
adorn the walls. Amongst them we notice that of 
William Roper, a benefactor of the company, whose 
name has been already mentioned. 

The portrait of John Clarke shows a firm, dignified 
old man, who was the parish clerk of St. Michael’s, 
Cornhill, in 1805, and wrote extracts from the minute- 
books of the company. The picture was presented to the 
company in 1827. There are other portraits of worthy 
clerks, of Richard Hust, who died in 1835, an< ^ was 
a great benefactor of the company and the restorer of 


I 12 


THE PARISH CLERK 


the almshouses ; of James Mayhew (1896), and of 
William John Smith (1903). 

In one of the windows is the portrait, in stained 
glass, of John Clarke, parish clerk of Bartholomew-the- 
Less, London, master of the company, a.d. 1675, 
cetatis suce 45. He is represented with a dark skull 
cap on his head, long hair, a moustache, and a large 
falling band or collar. 

There are also portraits in stained glass of Stephen 
Penckhurst, parish clerk of St. Mary Magdalene, Fish 
Street, London, master in 1685 ; of James Maddox, 
parish clerk of St. Olive’s, Jury, master in 1684 ; of 
Nicholas Hudles, parish clerk of St. Andrew’s, Under¬ 
shaft, twice master, in 1674 and 1682; of Thomas 
Williams, parish clerk of St. Mary Magdalene, Ber¬ 
mondsey, master in 1680; of Robert Seal, parish 
clerk of St. Gregory, master in 1681 ; of William Dis- 
brow, parish clerk of St. Vedast, Foster Lane, and of 
St. Michael Le Querne, master in 1674; and of William 
Hornbuck, parish clerk of St. James, Clerkenwell, 
master in 1679. 

One of the windows has a curious emblematical 
representation of music and its effects, showing King 
David surrounded by cherubs. The royal arms of the 
time of Charles II, the arms of the company, the arms 
of the Prince of Wales, and a portrait of Queen Anne 
also appear in the windows. 

The master’s chair was presented by Samuel Andrews, 
master in 1716, which date appears on the back together 
with the arms of the company, the crest being an arm 
raised bearing a scroll on which is inscribed the 
ninety-fourth Psalm. The seat of the chair is cane 
webbing. Psalm x. is inscribed on the front, and below 
is the fleur-de-lis. 




SHOWING PORTRAITS OF JOHN CLARKF. AND STEPHEN PENCKHURST 




































THE COMPANY OF PARISH CLERKS 


”3 

There is an interesting warden’s or clerk’s chair, made 
of mahogany, dating about the middle of the eighteenth 
century, and some walnut chairs fashioned in 1690. 

Amongst other treasures I noticed an old Dutch 
chest, an ancient clock, the gift of the master and 
wardens in 1786, a reprint of Visscher’s View of London 
in 1616, the grant of arms to the company, a panel 
painting of the Flight into Egypt, and the Orders and 
Rules of the company in 1709. 

A snuff-box made of the wood of the Victory , 
mounted in silver, is one of the clerks’ valued posses¬ 
sions, and they have a goodly store of plate, in spite 
of the fact that they, like many of their distinguished 
brethren, the Livery Companies of the City, have been 
obliged at various critical times in their history to dis¬ 
pose of their plate in order to meet the heavy demands 
upon their treasury. They still possess their pall, which 
is used on the occasion of the funeral of deceased mem¬ 
bers, and also “two garlands of crimson velvet em¬ 
broidered” bearing the date 1601, which were formerly 
used at the election of the two masters. The master 
now wears a silver badge, the gift of Richard Perkins 
in 1879, which bears the inscription : Hoc insigne in 
usum Magistri D.D. Richardus Perkins, SS. Augustini 
et Fidis Clericus , bis Magistri 1878, 1879. 

By far the most interesting document in the posses¬ 
sion of the company is the Bede Roll, which contains 
a list of the members of the fraternity from the time 
of Henry VI. The writing is magnificent, and the 
lettering varies in colours—red, blue, and black ink 
having been used. Amongst the distinguished names 
of the honorary members I noticed John Mowbray, 
Duke of Norfolk, and Richard Neville, Earl of Salis¬ 
bury. 


I 


114 the parish clerk 

The company, by the aid of generous benefactors, 
looks well after the poor widows of clerks and the 
decayed brethren, bestowing upon them adequate 
pensions for their support in their indigence and old 
age. These benefactions entrusted to the care of the 
company, and the gifts by its members of plate and 
other treasures, show the affectionate regard of the 
parish clerks for their ancient and interesting associa¬ 
tions, which has done much to preserve the dignity 
of the office, to keep inviolate its traditions, and to 
improve the status of its members. 








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A PAGE OF THE BEDE ROLL OF THE PARISH CLERKS’ COMPANY 









CHAPTER IX 

THE CLERKS OF LONDON: THEIR DUTIES 
AND PRIVILEGES 

BRIEF study of the history of the Parish Clerks’ 



l\. Company has already revealed the important 
part which its members played in the old City life of 
London. They were intimately connected with the 
Corporation. The clerks held their services in the 
Guildhall Chapel, and were required on Michaelmas 
Day to sing the Mass before the Lord Mayor, aider- 
men, and commoners before they went to the election 
of a new Lord Mayor. As early as the days of the 
famous Richard Whittington, on the occasion of his 
first election to the mayoralty, which as the popular 
rhyme says he held three times, we hear of their 
services being required for this great function. 

In the year 1406 it was ordered that “a Mass of the 
Holy Ghost should be celebrated with solemn music in 
the chapel annexed to the Guildhall, to the end that 
the same commonalty by the grace of the Holy Spirit 
might be able peacefully and amicably to nominate 
two able and proper persons to be mayor of the City 
for the ensuing year, the same Mass, by the ordinance 
of the Chamberlain for the time being, to be solemnly 
chanted by the finest singers, in the chapel aforesaid 
and upon that feast.” 


”5 


THE PARISH CLERK 


116 

And when the Mass was no longer sung in the 
chapel of the Guildhall, they still chanted the Psalms 
and anthems before and after divine service and 
sermon, sometimes with the help of “two singing men 
of Paul’s,” who received twelvepence apiece for their 
pains; and sometimes the singing was done by a con¬ 
venient number of the Clerks’ Company most skilful 
in singing, and deemed most fit by the master and 
wardens to perform that service. 

They were in great request at the great and stately 
funerals of the sixteenth century, going before the 
hearse and singing with their surplices hanging on 
their arms till they came to the church. The changes 
wrought by the Reformation strongly affected their 
use. In the early years of the century we can hear 
them chanting anthems, dirige, and Mass; later on 
they sing “the Te Deum in English new fashion, 
Geneva wise — men, women and all do sing and 
boys.” 

These splendid funerals were a fruitful source of 
income to the Clerks’ Company. We see Masters 
William Holland and John Aungell, clerks of the 
Brotherhood of St. Nicholas, with twenty-four persons 
and three children singing the Masses of Our Lady, 
the Trinity and Requiem at the interment of Sir 
Thomas Lovell, the sage and witty counsellor of King 
Henry VIII and Constable of the Tower, while sixty- 
four more clerks met the body on its way and con¬ 
ducted it to its last resting-place at Holywell, Shore¬ 
ditch. Perhaps it was not without some satisfaction 
that the clerks took a prominent part in the burial of 
the Duke of Somerset, the iniquitous spoiler of their 
goods. In the ordinances of the companies issued in 
1553> very minute regulations are laid down with 






THE CLERKS OF LONDON 117 

regard to the fees for funerals and the order in which 
each clerk should serve. At the burials of “noble 
honourable, worshipful men or women or citizens of 
the City of London,” the attendance of the clerks was 
limited to the number asked for by the friends of the 
deceased. No person was to receive more than eight- 
pence. The beadle might charge fourpence for the 
use of the hearse cloth. An extra charge of fourpence 
could be made if the clerks were wanted both in the 
afternoon and in the forenoon for the sermon or other 
service. The bearers might have twopence more than 
the usual wage. Each clerk was to have his turn in 
attending funerals, so that no one man might be taken 
for favour or left out for displeasure. 

The records of these gorgeous funerals, which are 
preserved in Machyn’s diary and other chronicles, reveal 
the changes wrought by the spread of Reformation prin¬ 
ciples and Puritan notions. In Mary’s reign they were 
very magnificent, “ priests and clerks chanting in 
Latin, the priest having a cope and the clerk the holy 
water sprinkle in his hand.” The accession of Eliza¬ 
beth seems at first to have wrought little change, and 
the services of the Clerks’ Company were in great 
request. On 21 October, 1559, “ the Countess of Rut¬ 
land was brought from Halewell to Shoreditch Church 
with thirty priests and clarkes singing,” and “Sir 
Thomas Pope was buried at Clerkenwell with two ser¬ 
vices of pryke song, 1 and two masses of requiem and 
all clerkes of London.” “ Poules Choir and the 
Clarkes of London ” united their services on some 
occasions. Funeral sermons began to be considered 
an important part of the function, and Machyn records 
the names of the preachers. Even though such keen 

1 The notes of the harmony were pricked on the lines of music. 


118 


THE PARISH CLERK 


Protestants as Coverdale, Bishop Pilkington, Robert 
Crowley, and Veron preached the sermons, twenty 
clerks of the company were usually present singing. 
Machyn much disliked the innovations made by the 
Puritan party, their singing “Geneva wise” or “the 
tune of Genevay,” men, women, and children all sing¬ 
ing together, without any clerk. Here is a description 
of such a funeral on 7 March, 1559: “And there was 
a great company of people two and two together, and 
neither priest nor clarke, the new preachers in their 
gowns like laymen, neither singing nor saying till they 
came to the grave, and afore she was put in the grave, 
a collect in English, and then put in the grave, 
and after, took some earth and cast it on the corse, and 
red a thyng . . . for the sam, and contenent cast the 
earth into the grave, and contenent read the Epistle of 
St. Paul to the Stesselonyans the . . . chapter, and 
after they sang Pater noster in English, bothe 
preachers and other, and ... of a new fashion, and 
after, one of them went into the pulpit and made a 
sermon.” Machyn especially disliked the preacher 
Veron, rector of St. Martin’s, Ludgate, a French 
Protestant, who had been ordained by Bishop Ridley, 
and was “a leader in the change from the old eccle¬ 
siastical music for the services to the Psalms in metre, 
versified by Sternhold and Hopkins.” 1 

The clerks indirectly caused the disgrace and suspen¬ 
sion of Robert Crowley, vicar of St. Giles, Cripplegate, 
and prebendary of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a keen Puritan 
and hater of clerkly ways. He loathed surplices as 
“ rags of Popery,” and could not bear to see the clerks 
marching in orderly procession singing and chanting. 
A funeral took place at his church on 1 April, 1566. 

1 Some Account of Parish Clerks, by J. Christie, p. 153. 





THE CLERKS OF LONDON 


119 

A few days before, the Archbishop of Canterbury had 
issued his Advertisements ordering the use of the sur¬ 
plice. The friends of the deceased had engaged the 
services of the parish clerks, who, believing that the 
order with regard to the use of surplices applied to 
them as well as to the clergy, appeared at the door of 
the church attired according to their ancient usage. A 
scene occurred. The angry Crowley met them at the 
door and bade them take off those “porter’s coats.” 
The deputy of the ward supported the vicar and 
threatened to lay them up by the feet if they dared to 
enter the church in such obnoxious robes. There was 
a mighty disturbance. “Those who took their part 
according to the queen’s prosedyngs were fain to give 
over and tarry without the church door.” The Lord 
Mayor’s attention was called to this disgraceful scene. 
He complained to the archbishop. The deputy of the 
ward was bound over to keep the peace, and Crowley 
was ordered to stay in his house, and for not wearing a 
surplice was deprived of his living, to which he was 
again appointed twelve years later. 1 The clerks 
triumphed, but their services at funerals soon ceased. 
Puritan opinions spread ; no longer did the clerks lead 
the singing and processions at funereal pageants, and a 
few boys from Christ’s Hospital or school children took 
their places in degenerate days. 

The Parish Clerks’ Company were not a whit behind 
other City companies in their love of processions and 
pageantry, and their annual feasts and elections were 
conducted with great ceremony and magnificence. The 
elections took place on Ascension Day, and the feast 
on the following Monday. The clerks in 1529 were 
ordered to come to the Guildhall College on the Sunday 

1 Some Account of Parish Clerks, by J. Christie, p. 154. 


120 THE PARISH CLERK 

before Whit-Sunday to Evensong clad in surplices, and 
on the following day to attend Mass, when each man 
offered one halfpenny. When Mass was over they 
marched in procession wearing copes from the Guildhall 
to Clerks’ Hall, where the feast was held. Fines were 
levied for absence or non-obedience to these obser¬ 
vances. Machyn describes the accustomed usages in 
Mary’s reign as follows : “ The sixth of May was a 
goodly evensong at Yeldhall College with singing 
and playing as you have heard. The morrow after was 
a great Mass at the same place by the same Fraternity, 
when every clerk offered a half-penny. The Mass was 
sung by divers of the Queen’s Chapel and children. 
And after Mass was done every clerk went their pro¬ 
cession, two and two together, each having a surplice, 
a rich cope and a garland. After them fourscore 
standards, streamers and banners, and every one that 
bare had an albe, or else a surplice, and two and two 
together. Then came the waits playing, and then 
between, thirty Clarkes again singing Salva festa dies. 
So there were four quires. Then came a canopy, 
borne by four of the masters of the Clarkes over the 
Sacrament with a twelve staff torches burning, up St. 
Lawrence Lane and so to the further end of Cheap, 
then back again by Cornhill, and so down to Bishops- 
gate, into St. Albrose Church, and there they did put 
off their copes, and so to dinner every man, and then 
everyone that bare a streamer had money, as they were 
of bigness then.” A very striking procession it must 
have been, and those who often traverse the familiar 
streets of the City to-day can picture to themselves the 
clerks’ pageant of former times, which wended its way 
along the same accustomed thoroughfares. 

But times were changing, and religious ceremonies 








1 HE ORGAN AT THE PARISH CLERKS' HALL 














































































THE CLERKS OF LONDON 


I 2 I 


changed too. Less pomp and pageantry characterise 
the celebrations of the clerks. There is the Evensong 
as usual, and a Communion on the following day, 
followed by a dinner and “ a goodly concert of children 
of Westminster, with viols and regals.” A little later 
we read that the clerks marched clad in their liveries, 
gowns, and hoods of white damask. Copes are no 
longer recognised as proper vestments. Standards, 
banners, and streamers remain locked up in the City’s 
treasure-house, and Puritan simplicity is duly observed. 
But the clerks lacked not feasting. Besides the election 
dinner, there were quarterly dinners, and dinners for 
the wardens and assistants. Time has wrought some 
changes in the mode of celebrating election day and 
other festive occasions. Sometimes “ plain living and 
high thinking” were the watchwords that guided the 
principles of the company. Processions and gown- 
wearing have long been discontinued, but in its essen¬ 
tial character the election day is still observed, though 
pomp and pageantry no longer form important features 
of its ceremonial. 

We have seen that the parish clerks of London were 
in great request on account of their musical abilities. 
In 1610 the masters and wardens were called upon to 
examine all those who wished to be admitted into the 
honourable company, as to whether they could read 
the Psalms of David according to the usual tunes used 
in the parish churches. The finest singers chanted 
Mass in pre-Reformation times in the Guildhall at 
the election of the Lord Mayor. In order to improve 
themselves in this part of their duties, the parish clerks 
soon after the Restoration of the monarchy, in 1660, 
provided themselves with an organ in order to perfect 
themselves in the art of chanting. The minute book 


122 


THE PARISH CLERK 


of the company tells that it was acquired “the better 
to enable them to perform a service incumbent upon 
them before the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City 
on Michaelmas Day, and also the better to enable them 
who already are, or hereafter shall be, parish clerks of 
the City in performing their duties in the several 
parishes to which they stand related.” Here the clerks 
used to meet on Tuesday afternoons for a regular 
weekly practice in music, and for many years an organist 
was appointed by the company to assist the brethren 
in their cultivation of psalmody. The selection of 
psalms specially suited for each Sunday in the year 
was made by the company and set forth in The Parish 
Clerks' Gziide, in order that the special teaching of the 
Sunday, as set forth in the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel, 
might be duly followed in the Psalms. 

Another important duty which the parish clerks of 
London, and also in some provincial towns, discharged 
was the publishing of the bills of mortality for the City. 
This duty is enjoined in their charter of 1610. The 
corporation required from them returns of the deaths of 
freemen in their respective parishes, and also returns 
of the number of deaths and christenings. The records 
of the City of London contain a copy of the agree¬ 
ment, made in 1545-6 between the Lord Mayor and the 
Parish Clerks’ Company, which provides that “They 
shall cause all clerks of the City to present to the 
common crier the name and surname of any freeman 
that shall die having any children under the age of 
21 years.” The Chamberlain was instructed to pay to 
the company 13s. 4d. yearly for their services. The 
custody of all orphans, with that of their lands and 
goods, had been entrusted to the City by the charter of 
Richard III, and this agreement was made in order to 






London 2 


From the 17 of December to the 5 of January. 


IJST- 


i Bur. 


S r A Lbin Woodftrect -]2 
l\Alhallows Barking [ 
Alhallow*. Breadftrect—' 

Alha'llows Great-I 

Alhallows Honvlanc- 
Alhallows Lefle- 


Vhg.\ 


Alhallows Lumbudftrcctl 

Alhallows Stayning-- 

Alhillows the Wall- 

S' Alphige- 

S' Andrew Hubbard- 

S' Andrew llndcrfhaft— 
S' Andrew Wardrobe — 

S' Ann Alderfgacc- 

S' Ann Blackfrycrs-- 

S' Antholins Parifti- — 

S' Auf*ins Pari'h- 

S' Bartholomew Eichangc 
S' Bennet Fynck 


S' Bennet Graccchurch- 
S c Bennet Paulfwharf-— 

S' Bennet Shcrehog-- 

S' Botolph Billingfgatc- 

Chrift Church —-- 

S' Chriftephers- 

S' Clement Eaftcheap-— 
S' Dionis Backchurcru— 
S' Dunftan Haft¬ 
s' Edmund Lumbardftu 
S' Ethclborough- 

S' Faith- 

S' Fofter 


S' George Botolphlinc~ 
S' Gregory by S' Pauls — 
S' Hcllcn. 


S' James Dukes place¬ 
s' James Garlic 
s' John Baptift- 


s' John Evangelift--* 

S' John Zachary 


S' Katharine Coleman—r 
S' Katharine Crcchurch- 

S' Lawrence Jewry- 

S' Lawrence Prunrncy- 
S' Leonard Eiftcheip— 
S' Leonard Foftcrlanc— 

S' Magnus Parifh- 

S' Margaret Lothbury- 

S' Margaret Mofes-- 

S' Margaret Ncwfifhftre 
S' Margaret Pattons- 


Mary Aldcrmary- 
— Mary lc Bew-— 
S' Mary Bothaw —■ 


Mary Hill-—- 

Msrv Meunthaw-i 


S' Mary Stayning— 
S' Mary Woolchtirc 
S' Marv Woolnoth • 


S' Gabriel Fcnchurch-—| 

Buried 1* tire 97 P*ri[kc< vMniln "dlls - 


S' Andrew Holborn-- 

.S' Bartholomew Great— 
S' Bartholomew Leffe— 
S' Bridget 


*7 I 

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6 


S l Botolph Aldgate— 

S' Botolph Biftioo'gate¬ 
s' Dunftan Weft--- 

S' George Sourhwark- 


Bridcwcl Precirxft-- 

S' Botolph Aldcrfgate — \6 

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S' Olive Southwark- 


but. 

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S' Martin Ludgate— 
S' Martin Orgars—-^. 

S' Martin O.itwitch- 

S' Martin Vintrey-- 

S' Matthew Frida? {Lcet- 
S' Maudlin Milkftrcet — 
S' Maudlin OLdfifhftrcet- 
S' Michael Baftifhaw-— 

S' Michael Cornhil- 

S' Michael Crookcdlane 
S' Michael Queenhithe- 

S' Michael Quern- 1 

S' Mi-chacl Royal-_ 

S' Michael Woodftreet- 
S' Mildred Breadftreet— 

S' Mildred Poultrcy_ 

S' Nicholas Aeons-_ 

S' Nicholas Coleabby— 

S' Nicholas Olaves- 

S' Oiavc Hartftrccc- 

S' Oiavc Jewry- 

S' Olave Silverftreer—— 
S' Pancras Sopcrlanc-— 
S' Potet Cheap -— 

S' Peter Cornhil— 

S' Peter Paulfwharf. 

S' Peter Poor- " — 

S' Steven Colcmanftreet 
S' Steven Walbroo- 
S' Swuhin 


Bur. 

2 


S* Thomas Arofllcs— 
Trinity Parifn—“ 

PtdlM- - O 


plj &' 


J 


Siviours Southwark— 

S Sepulchres PariiTi—-— 
Thomas Southwark- 
Trinity Minorics—— 
At the Pcfthoufc — 


l6 


Lambeth Parifh-14 

1 S : Mary Iflinrv.n-—I 

6 


S' Leonard Shoreliich — 15 


S' Mary Whitechappe- I 7 

9 


S' Magdalen BermondfeyU 


Rothorith Pirifli.- - 

1 


^ rwity iNcniihgiuj* - 1 / 

Stepney Pariih-"(3 3 


S l Giles in the fields- 1 

dackney Parifh- 

S l James Clerkenwe!- 

S' Kath. ntir the Power 

Eh rudintbe 12 eta Perches \* Middlcfei cd Surrey — 


ro: 


P/xgiif — O 


S' Clement Danes—— 
S' Paul Covent Garden. 


|I 2 l 

(S' Martin in the fields— 117 1 

! S' Margaret Wcftrninfter[ 1 4 1 

’I ' 

IS' Maiy Savoy-!i i 



45 


B 2 , 


A PAGE OF AN EARLY BILL OF MORTALITY 

^RESERVED AT THE HALL OF THE PARISH CLERKS* COMPANY 















































































THE CLERKS OF LONDON 


123 


enable the “City Fathers” to faithfully discharge their 
duties in looking after children of deceased freemen. 
In spite of many difficulties, especially after the Great 
Fire which rendered thousands homeless and scattered 
the population, the clerks continued to perform this 
duty, though not always to the satisfaction of their 
employers, until the beginning of the eighteenth 
century, when the custom seems to have lapsed. 

The earliest bills of mortality now in existence date 
back to the time of Henry VIII, when the clerks were 
required to furnish information with regard to the 
deaths caused by plague, as well as those resulting 
from other causes. The returns of the victims of 
plague are occasionally very large. In 1562, 20,372 
persons died, of which number 17,404 died from the 
plague. The burial grounds of the City became terribly 
overcrowded, and the parish clerks were ordered to 
report upon the space available in the City churchyards. 
They also were appointed to see to “the shutting up 
of infected houses and putting papers on the doors.” 

An early “Bill of Mortality” is preserved at the 
Hall. It tells of “the Number of those who dyed in 
the Citie of London and Liberties of the same from the 
28 th of December 1581 to the 17 th of December 1582, 
with the Christenings. And also the number of all 
those who have died of the plague in every parish 
particularly. Blessed are the Dead.” There is also 
preserved a number of the weekly bills of mortality. 
Referring to the year of the Great Plague, 1665, these 
documents show that at the beginning of the pestilence 
in April, during one week only fifty-seven persons died ; 
whereas in September the death-roll had reached the 
enormous number of 6544. 

The company seems to have been a useful agency for 


124 


THE PARISH CLERK 


carrying out all kinds of duties connected with gather¬ 
ing the statistics of mortality, nor do they seem to have 
been overpaid for their trouble. In the early years of 
the seventeenth century ^3. 6s. 8d. was all that they 
received. In 1607 the sum was increased to £ 8 , inas¬ 
much as they were ordered to furnish a bill to the 
Queen and the Lord Chancellor as well as to the King. 
Some clerks endeavoured to make illicit gains by 
supplying the public with “false and untrue bills,” or 
distributing some bills for each week before they had 
been sent to the Lord Mayor ; and any brother who 
“ by any cunning device gave away, dispersed, 
uttered, or declared, or by sinister device cast forth 
at any window, hole, or crevice of a wall any bills or 
notes ” before the due returns had been sent to the 
Lord Mayor, was ordered to pay a fine of 10s. and 
other divers penalties. 

The methods of making out these returns are very 
curious, and did not conduce to infallible accuracy. 
In each parish there were persons called searchers, 
ancient women who were informed by the sexton of a 
death, and whose duty it was to visit the deceased and 
state the cause of death. They had no medical know¬ 
ledge, and therefore their diagnosis could only have 
been very conjectural. This they reported to the 
parish clerk. The clerk made out his bill for the week, 
took it to the Hall of the company, and deposited it in 
a box on the staircase. All the returns were then 
tabulated, arranged, and printed, and when copies had 
been sent to the authorities, others were placed in the 
hands of the clerks for sale. 

The system was all very excellent and satisfactory, 
but its carrying out was defective. Negligent clerks did 
not send their returns in spite of admonition, caution, 


THE CLERKS OF LONDON 


I2 5 


fine, or brotherly persuasion. The searchers’ informa¬ 
tion was usually unreliable. Complications arose on 
account of the Act of the Commonwealth Parliament 
requiring the registration of births instead of baptisms, 
of civil marriages, and banns published in the market 
place ; also on account of the vast mortality caused by 
the Great Plague, the burials in the large common pits 
and public burial grounds, and the opposition of the 
Quakers to inspection and registration. All these 
causes contributed to the issuing of unreliable returns. 
The company did their best to grapple with all these 
difficulties. They did not escape censure, and were 
blamed on account of the faults of individual clerks. 
The contest went on for years, and was only finally 
settled in 1859, when the last bills of mortality were 
issued, and the Public Registration Act rendered the 
work of the clerks, which they had carried on for three 
centuries to the best of their skill and ability, unneces¬ 
sary. In the Guildhall Library are preserved a large 
number of the volumes of these bills which the industry 
of the clerks of London had issued with so much perse¬ 
verance and energy under difficult circumstances, and 
they form a valuable and interesting collection of docu¬ 
ments illustrative of the old life of the City. 

One happy result of the duty laid upon the clerks of 
issuing bills of mortality in the City of London was 
that they were allowed to set up a printing press in the 
Hall of their company. The licence for this press was 
obtained in 1625, and in the following year it was duly 
established with the consent of the authorities. It was 
no easy task in the early Stuart times to obtain leave to 
have a printing press, and severe were the restrictions 
laid down, and the penalties for any violation of any of 
them. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop 



126 


THE PARISH CLERK 


of London had mighty powers over the Press, and the 
clerks could not choose their printer save with the 
approval of these ecclesiastical dignitaries. 

Very strict regulations were laid down by the com¬ 
pany in order to prevent any improper use being made 
of the productions of their press. The door of the 
chamber containing their printing machine was pro¬ 
vided with three locks ; the key of the upper lock was 
placed in the charge of the upper master, that of the 
middle lock was in the custody of the upper warden, 
while the key of the lower lock was kept by the under 
warden. They appointed one Richard Hodgkinson as 
their printer in 1630, with whom they had much dis¬ 
puting. Six years later one of their own company, 
Thomas Cotes, parish clerk of Cripplegate Without, 
was chosen to succeed him. Richard Cotes followed in 
1641, and then a female printer carried on the work, 
Mrs. Ellinor Cotes, probably the widow of Richard. 

The Great Fire caused the destruction of the clerks’ 
press ; but a few years later a prominent member of 
the company, whose portrait we see in the Hall, 
Mr. John Clarke, procured for them another press 
with type, and Andrew Clarke was appointed printer. 
He was succeeded by Benjamin Motte, whose widow 
carried on the work after his death. An intruding 
printer, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury 
and the Bishop of London without the consent of 
the company, one Humphreys, made his appearance, 
much to the displeasure of the clerks, who objected 
to be dictated to with regard to the choice of their own 
official. Litigation ensued, but in the end Humphreys 
was appointed. He was not a satisfactory printer, 
and was careless and neglectful. The clerks repri¬ 
manded him and he promised amendment, but his 



INTERIOR OF THE HALL OF THE PARISH CLERKS’ COMPANY 




















THE CLERKS OF LONDON 


127 


errors continued, and after a petition was presented 
to the Archbishop and the Bishop of London by the 
company, he was compelled to resign. 

The increase of newspapers and the publication of 
the bills of mortality in their sheets taken from the 
records of the clerks materially affected the sale of the 
company’s issue of the same, and efforts were made 
in Parliament to obtain a monopoly for the com¬ 
pany. This action was costly, and no benefit was 
derived. After the removal of the unsatisfactory 
Humphreys the printing of the company passed into the 
hands of the Rivingtons, a name honoured amongst 
printers and publishers for many generations. Mr. 
Charles Rivington was printer for the clerks in 1787, 
his brother being a bookseller in St. Paul’s Church¬ 
yard, to whose son’s widow, Mrs. Anne Rivington, 
the office passed in 1790. The printing of the bills of 
mortality was carried on by the company until 1850, 
having been conducted by the Rivington family for 
over sixty years. 1 

In addition to their statistical returns, the Company 
of Parish Clerks are responsible for some other and 
more important works which reflect great credit upon 
them. Foremost among them is a book entitled : 

“A r <?zu Remarks of London ; or, a Survey of the 
Cities of London and Westminster, of Southwark and 
part of Middlesex and Surrey within the circumference 
of the Bills of Mortality.” It contains “an account 
of the situation, antiquity, and rebuilding of each 
church, the value of the Rectory or Vicarage, in 
whose gifts they are, and the names of the present in¬ 
cumbents or lecturers. Of the several vestries, Hours 

1 I am indebted for this list of printers to Mr. James Christie s Some 
Account of Parish Clerks . 


128 


THE PARISH CLERK 


of Prayer, Parish and Ward Officers, Charity and 
other schools, the number of Charity Children, how 
maintained, educated and placed out apprentices, or 
put to service. Of the Almshouses, Workhouses and 
Hospitals. The remarkable Places and Things in 
each Parish, with the limits or Bounds, Streets, Lanes, 
Courts, and numbers of Houses. An alphabetical 
table of all the Streets, Courts, Lanes, Alleys, Yards, 
Rows, Rents, Squares, etc. within the Bills of Mor¬ 
tality, shewing in which Liberty or Freedom they 
are, and an easy method of finding them. Of the 
several Inns of Court, and Inns of Chancery, with 
their several Buildings, Courts, Lanes, etc. 

“Collected by the Company of Parish-Clerks to 
which is added the Places to which Penny Post Letters 
are sent, with proper Directions therein. The Wharfs, 
Keys, Docks, etc. near the River Thames, of water- 
carriage to several Cities, Towns, etc. The Rates of 
Watermen, Porters of all kinds and Carmen. To 
what Inns Stage Coaches, Flying Coaches, Waggons 
and Carriers come, and the days they go out. The 
whole being very useful for Ladies, Gentlemen, Clergy¬ 
men, Merchants, Tradesmen, Coachmen, Chair-men, 
Car-men, Porters, Bailiffs and others. 

“ London, Printed for E. Midwinter at the 

Looking Glass and three Crowns in S* Paul’s 

Churchyard MDCCXXXII.” 

This is a wonderfully interesting little book. Each 
clerk compiled the information for his own parish and 
appended his name. Most carefully is the information 
contained in the book arranged, and the volume is a 
most creditable production of the worshipful company. 


PORTRAIT OF JOHN CLARKE, PARISH CLERK OF THE CHURCH 
OF ST. MICHAEL, CORNHILL 





THE CLERKS OF LONDON 


129 


Amongst the books preserved in the Hall is another 
volume, entitled “London Parishes; containing an 
account of the Rise, Corruption, and Reformation of 
the Church of England.” This was published by the 
parish clerks in 1824. 


K 


CHAPTER X 


CLERKENWELL AND CLERKS’ PLAYS 

P ARISH clerks are immortalised by having given 
their name to an important part of London. 
Clerkenwell is the fans clericorum of the old chronicler, 
Fitz-Stephen. It is the Clerks’ Well, the syllable en 
being the form of the old Saxon plural. Fitz-Stephen 
wrote in the time of King Stephen : “ There are also 
round London on the northern side, in the suburbs, 
excellent springs, the water of which is sweet, clear, 
salubrious, ’mid glistening pebbles gliding playfully ; 
amongst which Holywell, Clerkenwell, (fans cleri¬ 
corum ), and St. Clement’s Well are of most note, and 
most frequently visited, as well by the scholars from 
the schools as by the youth of the City when they go 
out to take air in the summer evenings.” 

It was then, and for centuries later, a rural spot, not 
far from the City, just beyond Smithfield, a place of 
green sward and gently sloping ground, watered by 
a pleasant stream, far different from the crowded streets 
of the modern Clerkenwell. It was a spot famous for 
athletic contests, for wrestling bouts and archery, and 
hither came the Lord Mayor, sheriffs, and aldermen at 
Bartholomew Fair time to witness the sports, and 
especially the wrestling. 

But that which gave to the place its name and chief 

130 



OLD MAP OF CLERKENWELL 














































CLERKENWELL AND CLERKS’ PLAYS 131 

glory was the fact that once a year at least the parish 
clerks of London came here to perform their mystery 
plays and moralities. “Their profession,” wrote 
Warton, 1 “employment and character, naturally dic¬ 
tated to this spiritual brotherhood the representation 
of plays, especially those of the scriptural kind, and 
their constant practice in shows, processions, and vocal 
music easily accounts for their address in detaining the 
best company which England afforded in the four¬ 
teenth century at a religious farce for more than a 
week.” These plays were no ordinary performances, 
no afternoon or evening entertainment, but a pro¬ 
tracted drama lasting from three to eight days. In 
the reign of Richard II, a.d. 1391, the clerks were 
acting before the King, his Queen, and many nobles. 
The performances continued for three days, and the 
representations were the “ Passion of Our Lord and 
the Creation of the World,” which so well pleased the 
King that he commanded ii’io, a very considerable sum 
of money in those days, to be paid to the clerks of the 
parish churches and to divers other clerks of the City 
of London. Here is the record of his gift: 

“Issue Roll , Easter, 14 Ric. II. 

“ n July. To the clerks of the parish churches and to 
divers other clerks of the city of London. In money paid 
to them in discharge of ^10 which the Lord the King com¬ 
manded to be paid to them of his gift on account of the 
play of the ‘ Passion of Our Lord and the Creation of the 
World ’ by them performed at Skynnerwell after the feast of 
St. Bartholomew last past. By writ of Privy Seal amongst 
the mandates of this term—^10.” 

Skinners’ Well was close to the Clerks’ Well, and it 
was so called, so Stow informs us, “for that the 

1 English Poetry, vol. ii. p. 397. 


THE PARISH CLERK 


132 

Skinners of London held there certain plays yearly of 
Holy Scripture.” 

A few years later, in the succeeding reign, 10 Henry 
IV, a.D. 1409, the fraternity of clerks were again 
performing at the same place. Stow says: “In the 
year 1409 was a great play at Skynners’ Welle, neere 
unto Clarkenwell, besides London, which lasted eight 
daies, and was of matter from the creation of the 
world ; there were to see the same the most part of 
the nobles and gentles in England ”—a mighty 
audience truly, which not even Sir Henry Irving could 
command in his farewell performances at Drury Lane. 

These religious plays or mysteries were a powerful 
means for instructing the people ; and if we had lived 
in mediaeval times, we should not have needed to fly to 
Ober-Ammergau in order to witness a Passion Play. 
In the streets of Coventry or Chester, York, or Tewkes¬ 
bury, Witney, or Reading, or on the Green at 
Clerkenwell, we could have seen the appealing spec¬ 
tacle ; and though sometimes the actors lapsed into 
buffoonery, and the red demons carrying souls to hell’s 
mouth created merriment rather than terror, and though 
realism was carried to such a pitch that Adam and Eve 
appeared in a state of nature, yet many of the spec¬ 
tators would carry away with them pious thoughts and 
some grasp of the facts of Scripture history, and of 
the mysteries of the faith. Originally the plays were 
performed in churches, but owing to the gradually 
increased size of the stage and the more elaborate 
stage effects, the sacred buildings were abandoned as 
the scenes of mediaeval drama. Then the churchyard 
was utilised for the purpose. The clergy no longer 
took part in the pageants, and in the fourteenth and 
fifteenth centuries the people liked to act their plays in 



A MYSTERY PLAY AT CHESTER 
(from a print after a painting by t. uwins) 












CLERKENWELL AND CLERKS’ PLAYS 


x 33 


the highways and public places as at Clerkenwell. 
The guilds and fraternities in many places provided 
the chief actors, and in towns where there were many 
guilds and companies, each company performed part 
of the great drama, the movable stage being drawn 
about from street to street. Thus at York the story 
of the Creation and the Redemption was divided into 
forty-eight parts, each part being acted by a guild, 
or group of companies. The Tanners represented God 
the Father creating the heavens, angels and arch¬ 
angels, and the fall of Lucifer and the disobedient 
angels. Then the Plasterers showed the Creation of the 
Earth, and the work of the first five days. The Card- 
makers exhibited the Creation of Adam of the clay of the 
earth, and the making of Eve of Adam’s rib, thus inspir¬ 
ing them with the breath of life. The Fall, the story of 
Cain and Abel, of Noah and the Flood, of Moses, the 
Annunciation and all Gospel history, ending with the 
Coronation of the Virgin and the Final Judgment. 

The stage upon which the clerks performed their 
plays, according to Strutt, consisted of three platforms, 
one above another. On the uppermost sat God the 
Father surrounded by His angels. He was repre¬ 
sented in a white robe, and until it was discovered how 
injurious the process was, the actor who played the part 
used to have his face gilded. On the second platform 
were the glorified saints, and on the lowest men who 
had not yet passed from life. On one side of the 
lowest platform was hell’s mouth, a dark pitchy 
cavern, whence issued the appearance of fire and 
flames, and sometimes hideous yellings and noises in 
imitation of the howlings and cries of wretched 
souls tormented by relentless demons. From this 
yawning cave the devils constantly ascended to delight 


134 


THE PARISH CLERK 


the spectators and afford comic relief to the more 
serious drama. The three stages were not always 
used. Archdeacon Rogers, who died in 1595, left an 
account of the Chester play which he himself saw, and 
he wrote that the stage was a high scaffold with two 
rooms, a higher and a lower, upon four wheels. In 
the lower the actors apparelled themselves, and in the 
higher they played. But this was a movable stage on 
wheels. The clerks’ stage would, doubtless, be a 
fixed structure, and of a more elaborate construction. 

The dresses used by the actors were very gorgeous 
and splendid, though little care was bestowed upon the 
appropriateness of the costumes. The words of the 
play of the Creation differ in the various versions 
which have come down to us. Strutt thinks that the 
clerks’ play, acted before “the most part of the nobles 
and gentles in England,” was very similar to the 
Coventry play, which cannot compare in grandeur and 
vigour with the York play discovered in the library of 
Lord Ashburnham, and edited by Miss Toulmin 
Smith. 1 But as the north-country dialect of the York 
version would have been difficult for the learned clerks 
of London to pronounce, their version would doubtless 
resemble more that of Coventry than that of York. 
The first act represents the Deity seated upon His 
throne and speaking as follows : 

“ Ego sum Alpha et Omega , principium et finis. 

My name is knowyn, God and Kynge ; 

My work to make now wyl I wende ; 

In myselfe resteth my reynenge, 

It hath no gynnyng, ne no ende, 

And all that evyr shall have beynge 
Is closed in my mende ; 2 
When it is made at my lykynge 
I may it save, I may it shende 3 
After my plesawns.” 4 

1 Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1885. A portion of this is published in 
Mr. A. W. Pollard's English Miracle Plays. 

2 Mind. 3 Destroy. 4 Pleasure. 


CLERKENWELL AND CLERKS’ PLAYS 135 

At the close of this oration, which consists of forty 
lines, the angels enter upon the upper stage, surround 
the throne of the Deity, and sing from the Te Deuvi: 

Te Deuvi laudamus, te dominum confitemur. 

The Father bestows much honour and brightness on 
Lucifer, who is full of pride. He demands of the 
good angels in whose honour they are singing their 
songs of praise. Are they worshipping God or rever¬ 
encing him? They reply that they are worshipping 
God, the mighty and most strong, who made them 
and Lucifer. Then Lucifer daringly usurps the seat 
of the Almighty, and receives the homage of the 
rebellious angels. Then the Father orders them and 
their leader to fall from heaven to hell, and in His 
bliss never more to dwell. Then does Lucifer reply : 

“ At thy byddyng y wyl I werke, 

And pass from joy to peyne and smerte. 

Now I am a devyl full derke, 

That was an angel bryght. 

Now to Helle the way I take, 

In endless peyn y to be put; 

For fere of fyr apart I quake 
In Helle dongeon my dene is dyth.” 

Then the Devil and his angels sink into the cavern 
of hell’s mouth. 

We cannot follow all the scenes in this strange 
drama. The final representation included the Descent 
into Hell, or the Harrowing of Hell, as it was called, 
when the soul of Christ goes down into the infernal 
regions and rescues Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, 
and the saints of old. The Anima Chnsti says : 

“ Come forth, Adam and Eve, with the, 

And all my fryends that herein be ; 

In Paradyse come forth with me, 

In blysse for to dwell. 

The fende of hell that is your foe, 

He shall be wrappyd and woundyn in woo ; 

Fro wo to welth now shall ye go, 

With myrth ever mo to melle.” 


THE PARISH CLERK 


136 

Adam replies : 

“ I thank the Lord of thy grete grace, 

That now is forgiven my great trespase ; 

No shall we dwell in blyssful place.” 

The accompanying print of the Descent into Hell 
was engraved by Michael Burghers from an ancient 
drawing for our Berkshire antiquary, Thomas Herne. 

Modern buildings have obliterated the scene of this 
ancient drama acted by the clerks of London, but 
some traces of the association of the fraternity with 
the neighbourhood can still be found. The two famous 
conventual houses, for which Clerkenwell was famous, 
the nunnery of St. Mary and the priory of St. John 
of Jerusalem, founded in 1100, have long since dis¬ 
appeared. Clerks’ Close is mentioned in numerous 
documents, and formed part of the estate belonging 
to the Skinners’ Company, where Skinner Street now 
runs. Clerks’ Well was close to the modern church of 
St. James’s, Clerkenwell, which occupies the site of 
the church and nunnery of St. Mary de fonte clericormn , 
which once possessed one of the six water-pots in 
which Jesus turned the water into wine. Vine Street 
formerly delighted in the name Mutton Lane, which is 
said to be a corruption of meeting or moteing lane, 
referring to the clerks’ mote or meeting place by the 
well. When Mr. Pink wrote his history of Clerken¬ 
well forty years ago, there was at the east side of Ray 
Street a broken iron pump let into the front wall of a 
dilapidated house which showed the site of Clerks’ 
Well. In 1673 the spring and plot of ground were 
given by the Earl of Northampton to the poor of the 
parish, but the vestry leased the spring to a brewer. 
Strype, writing in 1720, states that “the old well at 
Clerkenwell, whence the parish had its name, is still 



THE DESCENT INTO HELL 





















































































































































































CLERKENWELL AND CLERKS’ PLAYS 


137 

known among the inhabitants. It is on the right hand 
of a lane that leads from Clerkenwell to ITockley-in- 
the-Hole, in a bottom. One Mr. Crosse, a brewer, 
hath this well enclosed ; but the water runs from him, 
by means of a watercourse above-mentioned, into the 
said place. It is enclosed with a high wall, which was 
formerly built to bound in Clerkenwell Close ; the 
present well (the conduit head) being also enclosed by 
another lower wall from the street. The way to it 
is through a little house, which was the watch-house. 
You go down a good many steps to it. The well had 
formerly ironwork and brass cocks, which are now cut 
off; the water spins through the old wall. I was 
there and tasted the water, and found it excellently 
clear, sweet, and well tasted.” 

In 1800 a pump was erected on the east side of Ray 
Street to celebrate the parish clerks’ ancient perform¬ 
ances, which were immortalised in raised letters of 
iron with this inscription : 

A.D. 1800. William Bound, Joseph Bird, Church¬ 
wardens. For the better accommodation of the neighbour¬ 
hood, this pump was removed to the spot where it now 
stands. The spring by which it is supplied is situated four 
feet eastward, and round it, as history informs us, the Parish 
Clerks of London in remote ages commonly performed sacred 
plays. That custom caused it to be denominated Clerks’- 
Well, and from which this parish derived its name. The 
water was greatly esteemed by the Prior and Brethren of 
the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and the Benedictine Nuns 
in the neighbourhood. 

Hone, in his Ancient Mysteries, describes this pump, 
which in his day, a.d. 1832, stood between an earthen¬ 
ware shop and the abode of a bird-seller, and states 
that the monument denoting the histrionic fame of the 


THE PARISH CLERK 


138 

place, and alluding to the miraculous powers of the 
water for healing incurable diseases, remains unob¬ 
served beneath its living attractions. “The present 
simplicity of the scene powerfully contrasts with the 
recollection of its former splendour. The choral chant 
of the Benedictine Nuns, accompanying the peal of the 
deep-toned organ through their cloisters, and the 
frankincense curling its perfume from priestly censers 
at the altar, are succeeded by the stunning sounds of 
numerous quickly plied hammers, and the smith’s 
bellows flashing the fires of Mr. Bound’s ironfoundry, 
erected upon the unrecognised site of the convent. 
The religious house stood about half-way down the 
declivity of the hill, which commencing near the 
church on Clerkenwell Green, terminates at the River 
Fleet. The prospect then was uninterrupted by houses, 
and the people upon the rising ground could have had 
an uninterrupted view of the performances at the well.” 

In the parish there is a vineyard walk, which marks 
the site of the old vineyard attached to the priory of 
St. John. The cultivation of the vine was carried on in 
many monasteries. In 1859, in front of the old Vine¬ 
yard Inn, a signboard was set up which stated that 
“ This house is celebrated from old associations con¬ 
nected with the City of London. After the City clerks 
partook of the water of Clerks’ Well, from which the 
parish derives its name, they repaired hither to partake 
of the fruit of the finest English grapes.” This was an 
ingenious contrivance on the part of the landlord to 
solicit custom. It need hardly be stated that the infor¬ 
mation given on this signboard was incorrect. Before 
the Reformation there were few inns, and the old 
Vineyard Inn can scarcely claim such a remote 
ancestry. 


CLERKENWELL AND CLERKS’ PLAYS 


x 39 


When miracle plays ceased to be performed the 
clerks did not desert their old quarters. It is, indeed, 
stated that the ancient society of parish clerks became 
divided ; some turned their attention to wrestling and 
mimicry at Bartholomew Fair, whilst others, for their 
better administration, formed themselves into the 
Society of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Recorder of 
Stroud Green, assembling in the Old Crown at Isling¬ 
ton ; but still “saving their right to exhibit at the Old 
London Spaw, formerly Clerks’ Well, when they might 
happen to have learned sheriffs and other officers to get 
up their sacred pieces as usual.” Even so late as 1774 
the members of this ancient society were accustomed to 
meet annually in the summer time at Stroud Green, 
and to regale themselves in the open air, the number 
of persons assembling on some occasions producing a 
scene similar to that of a country wake or fair. These 
assemblies had no connection with the Worshipful 
Company of Parish Clerks. 


CHAPTER XI 


THE CLERKS AND THE PARISH REGISTERS 
STUDY of an old parish register reveals a 



remarkable variation in the style and character 
of the handwriting. We see in the old parchment 
pages numerous entries recorded in a careless scribble, 
and others evidently written by the hand of a learned 
and careful scholar. The rector or vicar ever since the 
days of Henry VIII, when in 1536 Vicar-General 
Thomas Cromwell ordered the keeping of registers, 
was usually supposed to have recorded the entries in 
the register. Cromwell derived the notion of ordering 
the keeping of the registers from his observation of 
the records kept by the Spanish priests in the Low 
Countries where he resided in his youth. Archbishop 
Ximenes of Toledo instituted a system of registration 
in Spain in 1497, and this was carried on by the 
Spanish priests in the Netherlands, and thus laid the 
foundation of that system which Thomas Cromwell 
introduced to this country and which has continued 
ever since. 

But not all these entries were made by the in¬ 
cumbents. There is good evidence that the parish 
clerks not infrequently kept the registers, especially 
in later times, and from the beginning they were 
responsible for the facts recorded. The entries do not 


140 


THE CLERKS AND PARISH REGISTERS 141 

seem to have been made when the baptism, marriage, 
or burial took place. Cromwell’s edict required that 
the records of each week should be entered in the 
register on the following Sunday, in the presence of 
the churchwardens. It seems to have been the custom 
for the clerk or vicar to write down particulars of the 
baptism, marriage, or burial in a private memorandum 
book or on loose sheets of paper at the time of the 
ceremony. Afterwards these rough notes were copied 
into the register book. Sometimes this was done each 
week ; but human nature is fallible ; the clerk or his 
master forgot sometimes to make the required entries 
in the book. Days and weeks slipped by ; note-books 
and scraps of paper were mislaid and lost; the spelling 
of the clerk was not always his strongest point; hence 
mistakes, omissions, inaccuracies were not infrequent. 
Sometimes the vicar did not make up his books until 
a whole year had elapsed. This was the case with the 
poor parson of Carshalton, who was terribly distressed 
because his clerk would not furnish him with the 
necessary notes, and mightily afraid lest he should 
incur the censure of his parishioners. Hence we find 
the following note in his register, dated 10 March, 
1651 : 

“ Good reader, tread gently : 

“ For though these vacant years may seem to make me 
guilty of thy censure, neither will I excuse myself from all 
blemishe ; yet if thou doe but cast thine eye upon the former 
pages and see with what care I have kept the Annalls of 
mine owne time, and rectifyed sundry errors of former 
times, thou wilt begin to think ther is some reason why 
he that began to build so well should not be able to make 
an ende. 

“The truth is that besyde the miserys and distractions of 


142 


THE PARISH CLERK 


these ptermitted years which it may be God in his owne 
wisdom would not suffer to be kept uppon record, the 
special ground of that permission ought to be imputed to 
Richard Finch, the p’rishe Clarke, whose office it was by 
long pscrition to gather the ephemeris or dyary by the dayly 
passages, and to exhibit them once a year to be transcribed 
into this registry ; and though I have often called upon him 
agayne and agayne to remember his chadge, and he always 
told me that he had the accompts lying by him, yet at last 
p’ceaving his excuses, and revolving upon suspicion of his 
words to put him home to a full tryall I found to my great 
griefe that all his accompts were written in sand, and his 
words committed to the empty winds. God is witness to the 
truth of this apologie, and that I made it knowne at some 
parish meetings before his own face, who could not deny it, 
neither do I write it to blemishe him, but to cleere my own 
integritie as far as I may, and to give accompt of this mis- 
carryage to after ages by the subscription of my hand .” 1 

We may hope that all clerks were not so neglectful 
as poor Richard Finch, whose name is thus handed 
down as an “awful example” to all careless clerks. 
The same practice of the parish clerks recording the 
particulars of weddings, christenings, and burials 
seems to have prevailed at St. Stephen’s, Coleman 
Street, London, in 1542, as the following order shows : 

“They shall every week certify to the curate and the church¬ 
wardens all the names and sir-names of them that be wedded, 
christened, and buried in the same parish that week sub 
pena of a id. to be paid to the churche.” 

In this case the curate doubtless entered the items 
in the register as they were delivered to him. 

At St. Margaret’s, Lothbury, the clerk seems to have 
kept the register himself. Amongst the ordinances 

1 Social Life as fold by Parish Registers, by T. F. Thiselton-Dyer 

P- 57- 


THE CLERKS AND PARISH REGISTERS 143 

made by “the hole consent of the parrishiners ” in 
1571, appears the following : 

“ Item the Clarcke shall kepe the register of cristeninge 
weddinge and burynge perfectlye, and shall present the 
same everie Sondaie to the churche wardens to be perused 
by them, and shall have for his paines in this behaufe yearelye 

o. 03. 4.” 

It is evident that in some cases in the sixteenth cen¬ 
tury the clerk kept the register. But in far the larger 
number of parishes the records were inserted by the 
vicar or rector, and in many books the records are made 
in Latin. The “clerk’s notes ” from which the entries 
were made are still preserved in some parishes. 

In times of laxity and confusion wrought by the 
Civil War and Puritan persecution, the clerk would 
doubtless be the only person capable of keeping the 
registers. In my own parish the earliest book begins 
in the year 1538, and is kept with great accuracy, the 
entries being written in a neat scholarly hand. As 
time goes on the writing is still very good, but it does 
not seem to be that of the rector, who signs his name at 
the foot of the page. If it be that of the clerk, he is a 
very clerkly clerk. The writing gradually gets worse, 
especially during the Commonwealth period ; but it is 
no careless scribble. The clerk evidently took pains 
and fashioned his letters after the model of the old 
court-hand. An entry appears which tells of the 
appointment of a Parish Registrar, or “ Register” as 
he was called. This is the announcement: 

“Whereas Robt. Williams of the p ish of Barkham in the 
County of Berks was elected and chosen by the Inhabitants 
of the same P ish to be their p ish Register, he therefore y e 
sd Ro : W m8 was approved and sworne this sixteenth day of 
Novemb .. 1653 S nd R. Bigg.” 


i 4 4 


THE PARISH CLERK 


Judging from the similarity of the writing immedi¬ 
ately above and below this entry, I imagine that Robert 
Williams must have been the old clerk who was so 
beloved by the inhabitants that in an era of change, 
when the rector was banished from his parish, they 
elected him “ Parish Register,” and thus preserved in 
some measure the traditions of the place. The children 
are now entered as “borne” and not baptised as 
formerly. 

The writing gradually gets more illiterate and care¬ 
less, until the Restoration takes place. A little space 
is left, and then the entries are recorded in a scholarly 
handwriting, evidently the work of the new rector. 
Subsequently the register appears to have been usually 
kept by the rector, though occasionally there are lapses 
and indifferent writing appears. Sometimes the clerk 
has evidently supplied the deficiencies of his master, 
recording a burial or a wedding which the rector had 
omitted. In later times, when pluralism was general, 
and this living was held in conjunction with three or 
four other parishes, the rector must have been very 
dependent upon the clerk for information concern¬ 
ing the functions to be recorded. Moreover, when a 
former rector who was a noted sportsman and one of 
the best riders and keenest hunters in the county, 
sometimes took a wedding on his way to the meet, he 
would doubtless be so eager for the chase that he had 
little leisure to record the exact details of the names of 
the “happy pair,” and must have trusted much to the 
clerk. 

Some of the private registers kept by clerks are still 
preserved. There is one at Pattishall which contains 
entries of births, marriages, and burials, and was 
probably commenced in 1774, that date being on the 


THE CLERKS AND PARISH REGISTERS 145 

front page together with the inscription: “John Clark’s 
Register Book.” The writing is of a good round-hand 
character, and far superior to the caligraphy of many 
present-day clerks. The book is bound in vellum. 1 
The following entry, taken from the end of the volume, 
is worth recording : 

“London, March 31 th 

“Yesterday the Rev d Mr Hetherington . . . transferred . 
20,000^. South-Sea Annuities into the Names of S r Henry 
Banks Kn*. Thos Burfoot, Joseph Eyre, Thos Coventry, 
and Samuel Salt . Esqu re in Trust to pay always to 50 Blind 
people, Objects of, Charity, not being Beggars, nor re¬ 
ceiving, Alms from the Parish, io£. each for their lives, it 
may be said with great propriety of this truly benevolent 
Gentleman that ‘ he hath displeased abroad, and given to 
the poor and is Righteousness remaineth for ever ; his Horn 
shall exalted with Honour.’” 

Amongst the register books of Wednesbury there 
is a volume bound in parchment bearing this in¬ 
scription : 

“This Book seems to be the private register of Alexander 
Bunn, Parish Clerk, because it corresponds with another 
bearing the same dates ; the private accounts written in this 
book by the said A. Bunn seem to corroborate my opinion. 

“A. B. Haden 

“ Vicar of Wednesbury 

“August 7th 1782.” 

These accounts appear to be of items incurred by the 
parish clerk in his official capacity, and which were 
due to him in repayment from the churchwardens. 
The accompanying remarks of this old Wednesbury 
parish clerk are often quaint and interesting. 

1 By the information of the Rev. B. W. Blyn-Stoyle, who has most 
kindly assisted me in many ways in discovering quaint records of old 
clerks. 

L 


THE PARISH CLERK 


146 

The following extracts will show the nature of the 
book and of the systematic record the good clerk kept 
of his expenditure. The only item about which there 
is some uncertainty is the amount “ spent at Freeman s 
Coming from Visitation.” Is it possible that he was 
so much excited or intoxicated that he could not 
remember? 

“ 1737. Land tax to hon. Adenbrook 0.0. 11 Acount 
What Mary Tunks as ad. Redy money 4/-, for a 
hapern 2/-, for caps 1/6 and for shoes 2/6, and for 
ye werk 6d. Stokins and sues mendering 6d, and 
for string 2d, and for a Gound 3/-, and for ale for 
Hur father 2d, for mending Gound 8d, for stokens 
lod, for more Shuse strong 2/6, Shift mending 
and maken 5d, for Hur mother 1/6, for a Shift 
2/7.” 

To this day old Wednesbury natives say “hapern” 
for apron, and “ sues ” for shoes. 

“Sep. the 10th, 1745, then reed of Alex. Bunn the sum of 
six pounds for one year’s rent due at Midsmar. 
Last past Ellin Moris. Wm. Selvester and his 
man the first wick 14/- Mr. Butler and Gilbut 
Wrigh, church wardens for the year 1741, due to 
Alex Bunn as under. Ringing for the Visitation 
2/-, spent at Roshall, going to the visitation 1/6-, 
spent at Henery Rutoll 1/-, paid at Litchfield to 
the Horsbox (?) 6d, Wm. Aston Had Ale at my 
House 6d, for Micklmas Supeles washing and 
lining 1/8, for Ringing for the nth of October 
5/-, for Ringing for the 30th of October 5/-, for 
half year’s wages Due June ye 24 £1 12s. 6. 
Ringing for the 5th November, for washing the 
Supelis and Lining and Bread at Chrsmus 1/3, 
for Easter Supelis washing and Lining and Bread 
1/8, for Joyle for the Clock and Bells 2/6, for 


THE CLERKS AND PARISH REGISTERS 147 

Leader for the 4th Bell Clapper 5d, Ringing for 
the 23rd of April 5/-, for making the Levy 2/-, 
for a hors to Lichfield 11/6, pd John Stack 
going to Dudley 2 times for the Clockman 1 /-. 
For a monthly (?) meeting to Ralph Momford 
Sep. the 15th 2/-, Spent at freeman’s Coming from 
the Visitation-” x 

But we have grievous things to record with regard 
to the clerks and the registers, not that they were to 
blame so much as the proper custodians, who neglected 
their duties and left these precious books in the hands 
of ignorant clerks to be preserved in poor overcrowded 
cottages. But the parish clerks sinned grievously. 
One Phillips, clerk of Lambeth parish, ran away with 
the register book, so Francis Sadler tells us in his 
curious book, The Exaction and Imposition of Parish 
Fees Discovered , published in 1738, “whereby the 
parish became great sufferers; and in such a case 
no person that is fifty years old, and born in the 
parish, can have a transcript of the Register to prove 
themselves heir to an estate.” Moreover, Master 
Sadler, who was very severe on parish clerks, tells of 
the iniquities of the Battersea clerk who used to 
register boys for girls and girls for boys, and not one- 
half of the register book, in his time, was correct and 
authentic, as it ought to be. 

What shall be said of the carelessness of an incum¬ 
bent who allowed the register to be kept by the clerk 
in his poor cottage? When a gentleman called to 
obtain an extract from the book, the clerk produced 
the valuable tome from a drawer in an old table, where 
it was reposing with a mass of rubbish. Another old 

1 Olden Wednesbury, by F. W. Hackwood, who kindly sent me this 
information. 



THE PARISH CLERK 


148 

parchment register was discovered in a cottage in a 
Northamptonshire parish, some of the pages of which 
were tacked together as a covering for the tester of 
a bedstead. The clerk in another parish followed the 
calling of a tailor, and found the old register book useful 
for the purpose of providing himself with measures. 
With this object he cut out sixteen leaves of the old 
book, which he regarded in the light of waste paper. 

A gentleman on one occasion visited a church in 
order to examine the registers of an Essex parish. He 
found the record for which he was searching, and 
asked the clerk to make the extract for him. Un¬ 
fortunately this official had no ink or paper at hand 
with which to copy out the entry, and casually ob¬ 
served : 

“Oh, you may as well have the leaf as it is,” and 
without any hesitation took out his pocket-knife, cut 
out the leaf and gave the gentleman the two entire 
pages. 1 

Another scandalous case was that of the clerk who 
combined his ecclesiastical duties with those of the 
village grocer. The pages of the parish register he 
found most useful for wrapping up his goods for his 
customers. He was, however, no worse than the 
curate’s wife, who ought to have known better, and 
who used the leaves of the registers for making her 
husband’s kettle-holders. 

What shall be said for the guardians of the church 
documents of Blythburgh, Suffolk ? The parish chest 
preserved in the church was at one time full of valuable 
documents in addition to very complete registers. So 
Suckling, the historian of Suffolk, reported. Alas ! 

1 History of Parish Registers, by Burn ; Social Life as told by Parish 
Registers, by T. F. Thiselton-Dyer, p. 2. 


THE CLERKS AND PARISH REGISTERS 149 

these have nearly all disappeared. Scarcely anything 
remains of the earliest volume of the register which 
concludes with the end of the seventeenth century, and 
the old deeds have gone also. How could this terrible 
loss have occurred? It appears that a parish clerk, “in 
showing this fine old church to visitors, presented those 
curious in old papers and autographs with a leaf from 
the register, or some other document, as a memento 
of their visit.” 1 

Another clerk was extremely popular with the old 
ladies of the village, and used to cut out the parchment 
leaves of the registers and present them to his old 
lady friends for wrapping their knitting pins. He was 
also the village schoolmaster, as many of his pre¬ 
decessors had been, but this wretch used to cover 
the backs of his pupil’s lesson-books with leaves of 
parchment taken from the parish chest. Another clerk 
found the leaves of the registers very useful for “singe¬ 
ing a goose.” 

The value of old registers for proving titles to estates 
and other property is of course inestimable. Some¬ 
times incomes of thousands of pounds depend upon a 
little entry in one of these old books, and it is terrible 
to think of the jeopardy in which they stand when 
they rest in the custody of a careless clerk or apathetic 
vicar. 

The present writer owes much to the faithful care 
of a good clerk, who guarded well the registers of 
a defunct City church of London. My father was 
endeavouring to prove his title to an estate in the 
north country, and had to obtain the certificates of the 
births, deaths, and marriages of the family during 
about a century. One wedding could not be proved. 

1 Social Life as told by Parish Registers ; also Standard, 8 Jan., 1880. 


THE PARISH CLERK 


i 5 ° 

Report stated that it had been a runaway marriage, 
and that the bride and bridegroom had fled to London 
to be married in a City church. My father casually 
heard of the name of some church where it was 
thought that the wedding might have taken place. He 
wrote to the authorities of that church. It had, how¬ 
ever, ceased to exist. The church had disappeared, 
but the old clerk was alive and knew where the books 
were. He searched, and found the missing register, 
and the chain of evidence was complete and the title 
to the property fully established, which was confirmed 
after much troublesome litigation by the Court of 
Chancery. 

Sometimes litigants have sought to remove trouble¬ 
some entries in those invaluable books which record 
with equal impartiality the entrance into the world and 
the departure from it of peer or peasant. And in such 
dramas the clerk frequently appears. The old man 
has to be bribed or cajoled to allow the books to be 
tampered with. A stranger arrives one evening at 
Rochester, and demands of the clerk to be shown the 
registers. The stranger finds the entry upon which 
much depends. In its present form it does not support 
his case. It must be altered in order to meet his 
requirements. The clerk hovers about the vestry, 
alert, vigilant. He must be got rid of. The stranger 
proposes various inducements; the temptation of a 
comfortable seat in a cosy corner of the nearest inn, a 
stimulating glass, but all in vain. There is something 
suspicious about the stranger’s looks and manners ; so 
the clerk thinks. He sticks to his elbow like a leech, 
and nothing can shake him off. At length the stranger 
offers the poor clerk a goodly bribe if only he will help 
him to alter a few words in that all-important register. 


THE CLERKS AND PARISH REGISTERS 151 

I am not sure whether the clerk yielded to the temp¬ 
tation. 

There was a still more dramatic scene in the old 
vestry of Lainston Church, where a few years previously 
a Miss Chudleigh had been married to Lieutenant 
Hervey. This young lady, who was not remarkable 
for her virtue, arrived one day at the church accom¬ 
panied by a fascinating friend who, while Mrs. Hervey 
examined the register, exercised her blandishments on 
the clerk. She expressed much interest in the church, 
and asked him endless questions about its architecture, 
the state of his health, his family, his duties; and while 
this little by-play was proceeding Mrs. Hervey was 
carefully and noiselessly cutting out the page in the 
register which contained the entry of her marriage. 
Having removed the tell-tale page she hastily closed 
the book, summoned her fascinating friend, and 
hastened back to London. The clerk, still thinking of 
the beautiful lady who had been so friendly and given 
him such a handsome present, locked the safe, and 
never discovered the theft. But time brought its 
revenge. Lieutenant Hervey succeeded unexpectedly 
to the title of the earldom of Bristol. His wife was 
overcome with remorse. By her foolish scheme she 
had sacrificed a coronet. That missing paper must be 
restored ; and so the lady pays another visit to Lainston 
Church, on this occasion in the company of a lawyer. 
The old clerk unlocks again the parish chest. The 
books are again produced ; confession is made of the 
former theft ; the lawyer looks threateningly at the 
clerk, and tells him that if it should ever be discovered 
he will suffer as an accomplice ; and then, with the 
promise of a substantial bribe, the clerk consents to give 
his aid. The missing paper is produced and deftly in- 


THE PARISH CLERK 


| 5 2 

serted in its former place in the book, and Miss Chud- 
leigh becomes the Countess of Bristol. It is a curious 
story, but it has the merit of being true. Many strange 
romances are bound up within the stained and battered 
parchment covers of an old register. 

Sometimes the clerk seems to have recorded in the 
register book some entries which scarcely relate to 
ecclesiastical usages or spiritual concerns. Agree¬ 
ments or bargains were inserted occasionally, and the 
fact that it was recorded in the church books testified to 
the binding nature of the transaction. Thus in the 
book of St. Mary Magdalene, Cambridge, in the year 
1692, it is announced that Thomas Smith promises to 
supply John Wingate “with hatts for twenty shillings 
the yeare during life.” Mr. Thiselton-Dyer, who 
records this transaction in his book on Social Life as 
told by Parish Registers, conjectures with evident truth 
that the aforenamed men made this bargain at an ale¬ 
house, and the parish clerk, being present, undertook 
to register the agreement. 

A most remarkable clerk lived at Grafton Underwood 
in the eighteenth century, one Thomas Carley, who was 
born in that village in 1755, having no hands and one 
deformed leg. Notwithstanding that nature seemed to 
have deprived him of all means of manual labour, he 
rose to the position of parish schoolmaster and parish 
clerk. He contrived a pair of leather rings, into which 
he thrust the stumps of his arms, which ended at the 
elbow, and with the aid of these he held a pen, ruler, 
knife and fork, etc. The register books of the parish 
show admirable specimens of his wonderful writing, 
and I have in my possession a tracing made by Mr. 
Wise, of Weekley, from the label fixed inside the cover 
of one of the large folio Prayer Books which used to 


THE CLERKS AND PARISH REGISTERS 153 

be in the Duke of Buccleuch’s pew before the church 
was restored, and were then removed to Boughton 
House. These books contain many beautifully written 
papers, chiefly supplying lost ones from the Psalms. 
The writing is simply like copper-plate engraving. In 
the British Museum, amongst the “additional MSS.” 
is an interleaved edition of Bridge’s History of North¬ 
amptonshire , bound in five volumes. In the fourth 
volume, under the account of Grafton Underwood, some 
particulars have been inserted of the life of this extra¬ 
ordinary man, with a water-colour portrait of him taken 
by one of his pupils, E. Bradley. There is also a speci¬ 
men of his writing, the Lord’s Prayer inscribed within 
a circle about the size of a shilling. There is also in 
existence “a mariner’s compass,” most accurately 
drawn by him. He died in 1823. 


CHAPTER XII 


THE CLERK AS A POET 
HE parish clerk, skilled in psalmody, has some- 



1 times shown evidences of true poetic feeling. 
The divine afflatus has occasionally inspired in him 
some fine thoughts and graceful fancies. His race has 
produced many writers of terrible doggerel of the 
monumental class of poetry; but far removed from 
these there have been some who have composed fine 
hymns and sweet verse. 

An obscure hymn-writer, whose verses have been 
sung in all parts of the world, was Thomas Bilby, 
parish clerk of St. Mary’s Church, Islington, between 
the years 1842 and 1872. He was the parish school¬ 
master also, and thus maintained the traditions of his 
office handed down from mediaeval times. Before the 
days of School Boards it was not unusual for the clerk 
to teach the children of the working classes the three 
R’s and religious knowledge, charging a fee of two¬ 
pence per week for each child. Mrs. Mary Strathern 
has kindly sent me the following account of the church 
wherein Thomas Bilby served as clerk, and of the 
famous hymn which he wrote. 

The church of St. Mary’s, Islington, was not inter¬ 
nally a thing of beauty. It was square ; it had no 
chancel; the walls were covered with monuments and 


THE CLERK AS A POET 


x 55 


tablets to the praise and glory of departed parish¬ 
ioners. On three sides it had a wide gallery, the west 
end of which contained the organ, with the Royal 
Arms as large as life in front. On either side below 
the galleries were double rows of high pews, and down 
the centre passage a row of open benches for the poor. 
Between these benches and the altar, completely 
hiding the altar from the congregation, stood a huge 
“three-decker.” The pulpit, on a level with the 
galleries, was reached by a staircase at the back ; below 
that was “the reading desk,” from which the curate 
said the prayers; and below that again, a smaller 
desk, where, Sunday after Sunday, for thirty years, 
T. Bilby, parish clerk and schoolmaster, gave out 
the hymns, read the notices, and published the banns 
of marriage. He was short and stout; his hair was 
white ; he wore a black gown with deep velvet collar, 
ornamented with many tassels and fringes; and he 
carried a staff of office. 

It was a great missionary parish. The vicar, Daniel 
Wilson, was a son of that well-known Daniel Wilson, 
sometime vicar of Islington, and afterwards Bishop of 
Calcutta. The Church Missionary College, where many 
young missionaries sent out by the Church Missionary 
Society are trained, stood in our midst; and it was 
within St. Mary’s Church the writer saw the venerable 
Bishop Crowther, of the Niger, ordain his own son 
deacon. Mr. Bilby had at one time been a catechist 
and schoolmaster in Sierra Leone, and was full of 
interesting stories of the mission work amongst the 
freed slaves in that settlement. He had a magic 
lantern, with many views of Africa, and of the churches 
and schools in the mission fields, and often gave 
missionary lectures to the school children. It was on 


i 5 6 THE PARISH CLERK 

one of these occasions, when he had been telling us 
about his work abroad, and how he soon got to know 
when a black boy had a dirty face, that he said: 
“While I was in Africa, I composed a hymn, and 
taught the black children to sing it; and now there is 
not a Christian school in any part of the world where 
my hymn is not known and sung. I will begin it now, 
and you will all sing it with me.” Then the old man 
began : 

“ Here we suffer grief and pain." 

Immediately every child in the room took it up, and 
sang with might and main : 

“ Here we meet to part again ; 

In heaven we part no more.” 

We had always thought the familiar words were as old 
as the Bible itself, and could scarcely believe they had 
been written by our own old friend. 

Soon after that memorable night, the old man began 
to get feeble ; his place in the church and schools was 
frequently filled by “Young Bilby,” as he was fami¬ 
liarly called ; and in 1872, aged seventy-eight, the old 
parish clerk was gathered to his fathers, and his son 
reigned in his stead. 

The other day a copy of a Presbyterian hymn-book 
found its way into my house, and there I found “ Here 
we suffer grief and pain.” I turned up the index 
which gives the names of authors, wondering if the 
compilers knew anything of the source from whence it 
came, and found the name “ Bilby ” ; but who “ Bilby ” 
was, and where he lived, is known to very few outside 
the parish, where the name is a household word, for 
Mr. Bilby’s son is still the parish clerk of St. Mary, 
Islington, and through him we learn that his father 


THE CLERK AS A POET 


*57 

composed the tune as well as the words of “ Here we 
suffer grief and pain.” 

As the hymn is not included in Hymns Ancient and 
Modern or some other well-known collection, perhaps 
it will be well to print the first two verses. It is pub¬ 
lished in John Curwen’s The Child's Own Hymn Book : 

“ Here we suffer grief and pain ; 

Here we meet to part again : 

In heaven we part no more. 

O ! that will be joyful, 

Joyful, joyful, joyful, 

O ! that will be joyful! 

When we meet to part no more ! 

“ All who love the Lord below, 

When they die to heaven will go, 

And sing with saints above. 

O ! that,” etc. 

A poet of a different school was Robert Story, 
schoolmaster and parish clerk of Gargrave, Yorkshire. 
He was born at Wark, Northumberland, in 1795, but 
migrated to Gargrave in 1820, where he remained 
twenty years. Then he obtained the situation of a 
clerk in the Audit Office, Somerset House, at a salary 
of £90 a year, which he held till his death in i860. 
His volume of poems, entitled Songs a?id Lyrical 
Poems , contains some charming verse. He wrote a 
pathetic poem on the death of the son of a gentleman 
at Malham, killed while bird-nesting on the rocks of 
Cam Scar. Another poem, The Da?iish Camp, tells of 
the visit of King Alfred to the stronghold of his foes, 
and has some pretty lines. “ O, love has a favourite 
scene for roaming,” is a tender little poem. The 
following example of his verse is of a humorous 
and festive type. It is taken from a volume of his 


158 THE PARISH CLERK 

productions, entitled The Magic Fountain , and Other 
Poems , published in 1829 : 

“ Learn next that I am parish clerk : 

A noble office, by St. Mark ! 

It brings me in six guineas clear, 

Besides et cceteras every year. 

I waive my Sunday duty, when 
I give the solemn deep Amen ; 

Exalted then to breathe aloud 
The heart-devotion of the crowd. 

But oh, the fun ! when Christmas chimes 
Have ushered in the festal times, 

And sent the clerk and sexton round 
To pledge their friends in draughts profound, 

And keep on foot the good old plan, 

As only clerk and sexton can ! 

Nor less the sport, when Easter sees 
The daisy spring to deck her leas ; 

Then, claim’d as dues by Mother Church, 

I pluck the cackler from the perch ; 

Or, in its place, the shilling clasp 

From grumbling dame’s slow opening grasp. 

But, Visitation Day ! ’tis thine 
Best to deserve my native line. 

Great day ! the purest, brightest gem 
That decks the fair year’s diadem. 

Grand day ! that sees me costless dine 
And costless quaff the rosy wine, 

Till seven churchwardens doubled seem, 

And doubled every taper’s gleam ; 

And I triumphant over time, 

And over tune, and over rhyme, 

Call’d by the gay convivial throng, 

Lead, in full glee, the choral song ! ” 

The writers of doggerel verses have been numerous. 
The following is a somewhat famous composition 
which has been kindly sent to me by various corre¬ 
spondents. My father used to tell us the rhymes when 
we were children, and they have evidently become 
notorious. The clerk who composed them lived in 


THE CLERK AS A POET 


*59 


Somersetshire, 1 and when the Lord Bishop of the 
Diocese came to visit his church, he thought that such 
an occasion ought not to be passed over without a 
fitting tribute to the distinguished prelate. He there¬ 
fore composed a new and revised version of Tate and 
Brady’s metrical rendering of Psalm lxvii., and an¬ 
nounced his production after this manner : 

“ Let us zing to the Praze an’ Glory of God part of 
the zixty-zeventh Zalm ; zspeshul varshun zspesh’ly 
’dapted vur t’cazshun. 

“ W’y ’op ye zo ye little 'ills ? 

And what var du ’ee zskip ? 

Is it a’cause ter prach too we 
Is cum’d me Lord Biship? 

“ W’y zskip ye zo ye little ’ills? 

An’ whot var du ’ee ’op ? 

Is it a'cause to prach too we 
Is cum’d me Lord Bishop? 

“Then let us awl arize an’ zing, 

An’ let us awl stric up, 

An’ zing a glawrious zong uv praze; 

An’ bless me Lord Bishup.” 

A somewhat similar effusion was composed by Eldad 
Holland, parish clerk of Christ Church, Kilbrogan 
parish, Bandon, County Cork, in Ireland. This church 
was built in 1610, and has the reputation of being the 
first edifice erected in Ireland for the use of the Church 
of Ireland after the Reformation. Bandon was origin¬ 
ally colonised by English settlers in the reign of Queen 
Elizabeth, and for a long time was a noted stronghold 
of Protestantism. This fact may throw light upon the 
opinions and sentiments of Master Holland, an original 

1 Another correspondent states that the incident occurred at Brad- 
ford-on-Avon in 1806. Mr. Francis Bevan remembers hearing a similar 
version at Dover about sixty years ago. Can it be that these various 
clerks were plagiarists ? 


i6o 


THE PARISH CLERK 


character, whose tombstone records that “he departed 
this life ye 29th day of 7ber 1722.” When the news of 
the victory of William III reached Bandon there were 
great rejoicings, and Eldad paraphrased a portion of 
the morning service in honour of the occasion. After 
the first lesson he gave out the following notice : 

“Let us sing to the praise and glory of William, a 
psalm of my own composing : 

“ William is come home come home, 

William home is come, 

And now let us in his praise 
Sing- a Te Deum.” 

He then continued: “We praise thee, O William! 
we acknowledge thee to be our king ! ” adding with 
an impressive shake of the head, “And faith, a good 
right we have, for it was he who saved us from brass 
money, wooden shoes and Popery.” He then resumed 
the old version, and reverently continued it to the end. 1 

In a parish in North Devon 2 there was a poetical 
clerk who had great reverence for Bishop Henry 
Phillpotts, and on giving out the hymn he proclaimed 
his regard in this form : “ Let us sing to the glory of 
God, and of the Lord Bishop of Exeter.” On one 
occasion his lordship held a confirmation in the 

1 This information was kindly sent to me by Mr. Robert Clarke, of 
Castle Eden, Durham, who states that he derived the information from 
The History of Bandon, by George Bennett (1869). My father used to 
repeat the following version : 

“ King William is come home, 

Come home King William is come ; 

So let us then together sing 

A hymn that’s called Te D'um." 

1 am not sure which version is the better poetry ! The latter corre¬ 
sponds with the version composed by Wesley's clerk at Epworth, old 
John ; so Clarke in his memoirs of the Wesley family records. 

2 My kind correspondent, the Rev. J. B. Hughes, abstains from men¬ 
tioning the name of the parish, 


THE CLERK AS A POET 


161 


church on 5 November, when it is said the clerk gave 
out the Psalm in the usual way, adding, “ in a stave of 
my own composing ” : 

“ This is the day that was the night 
When the Papists did conspire 
To blow up the King- and Parliament House 
With Gundy-powdy-ire.” 

My informant cannot vouch for the truth of this 
story, but he can for the fact that when Bishop Phill- 
potts on another occasion visited the church his lordship 
was surprised to hear the clerk give out at the end of 
the service, “Let us sing in honour of his lordship, 
‘God save the King.’” The bishop rose somewhat 
hastily, saying to his chaplain, “Come along, Barnes; 
we shall have ‘ Rule, Britannia ! ’ next.” 

Cuthbert Bede tells the story of a poetical clerk who 
was much aggrieved because some disagreeable and 
naughty folk had maliciously damaged his garden 
fence. On the next Sunday he gave out “a stave of 
his own composing ” : 

“ Oh, Lord, how doth the wicked man ; 

They increases more and more ; 

They break the posts, likewise the rails 
Around this poor clerk’s door.” 

He almost deserved his fate for barbarously mutilating 
a metrical Psalm, and was evidently a proper victim 
of poetical justice. 

A Devonshire clerk wrote the following noble effort:— 

“ Mount Edgcumbe is a pleasant place 
Right o’er agenst the Ham-o-aze, 

Where ships do ride at anchor, 

To guard us agin our foes. Amen.” 

Besides writing “hymns of his own composing,” 
the parish clerk often used to give vent to his poetical 
talents in the production of epitaphs. The occupation 


M 


l6 2 


THE PARISH CLERK 


of writing epitaphs must have been a lucrative one, 
and the effusions recording the numerous virtues of 
the deceased are quaint and curious. Well might a 
modern English child ask her mother after hearing 
these records read to her, “Where were all the bad 
people buried? ” Learned scholars and abbots applied 
their talents to the production of the Latin verses in¬ 
scribed on old brass memorials of the dead, and clever 
ladies like Dame Elizabeth Hobby sometimes wrote 
them and appended their names to their compositions. 
In later times this task seems to have been often under¬ 
taken by the parish clerk with not altogether satis¬ 
factory results, though incumbents and great poets, 
among whom may be enumerated Pope and Byron, 
sometimes wrote memorials of their friends. But the 
clerk was usually responsible for these inscriptions. 
Master John Hopkins, clerk at one of the churches at 
Salisbury at the end of the eighteenth century, issued 
an advertisement of his various accomplishments which 
ran thus : 

“John Hopkins, parish clerk and undertaker, sells 
epitaphs of all sorts and prices. Shaves neat, and 
plays the bassoon. Teeth drawn, and the Salisbury 
Journal read gratis every Sunday morning at eight. 
A school for psalmody every Thursday evening, when 
my son, born blind, will play the fiddle. Specimen 
epitaph on my wife : 

My wife ten years, not much to my ease, 

But now she is dead, in caslo quies. 

Great variety to be seen within. Your humble servant, 
John Hopkins.” 

Poor David Diggs, the hero of Hewett’s story of The 
Parish Clerk , used to write epitaphs in strange and 


THE CLERK AS A POET 


163 

curious English. Just before his death he put a small 
piece of paper into the hands of the clergyman of the 
parish, and whispered a request that its contents might 
be attended to. When the clergyman afterwards read 
the paper he found the following epitaph, which was 
duly inscribed on the clerk’s grave : 

“ Reader Don’t stop nor shed no tears 
For I was parish clerk For 60 years ; 

If I lived on I could not now as Then 
Say to the Parson's Prases A loud Amen.” 

A very worthy poetical clerk was John Bennet, shoe¬ 
maker, of Woodstock. A long account of him appears 
in the Lives of Illustrious Shoemakers , written by W. E. 
Winks. He inherited the office of parish clerk from 
his father, and with it some degree of musical taste. 
In the preface to his poems he wrote: “Witness my 
early acquaintance with the pious strains of Sternhold 
and Hopkins, under that melodious psalmodist my 
honoured Father, and your approved Parish Clerk.” 
This is addressed to the Rev. Thomas Warton, Pro¬ 
fessor of Poetry at Oxford, and sometime curate of 
Woodstock, to whose patronage and ready aid John 
Bennet was greatly indebted. Southey, who succeeded 
Warton in the Professorship, wrote that “This Wood- 
stock shoemaker was chiefly indebted for the patronage 
which he received to Thomas Warton’s good nature ; 
for my predecessor was the best-hearted man that ever 
wore a great wig.” Certainly the list of subscribers 
printed at the beginning of his early work is amazingly 
long. Noblemen, squires, parsons, great ladies, all 
rushed to secure the cobbler-clerk’s poems, which were 
published in 1774. The poems consist mainly of simple 
rhymes or rustic themes, and are not without merit 
or humour. He is very modest and humble about 


THE PARISH CLERK 


164 

his poetical powers, and tells that his reason for 
publishing his verses was “to enable the author to rear 
an infant offspring and to drive away all anxious solici¬ 
tude from the breast of a most amiable wife.” His 
humour is shown in the conclusion of his Dedication, 
where he wrote : 

“I had proceeded thus far when I was called to 
measure a gentleman of a certain college for a pair of 
fashionable boots, and the gentleman having insisted 
on a perusal of what I was writing, told me that a 
dedication should be as laconic as the boots he had 
employed me to make ; and then, taking up my pen, 
added this scrap of Latin for a Heel-piece, as he called 
it, to my Dedication : 

“ Jam satis est; ne me Crispini scrinia lippi 
Covipilasse putes, vertum non amplius.” 

The cobbler poet concludes his verses with the 
humorous lines : 

“ So may our cobler rise by friendly aid, 

Be happy and successful in his trade ; 

His awl and pen with readiness be found, 

To make or keep our understandings sound.” 

Later in life John Bennet published another volume, 
entitled Redeviptioji. It was dedicated to Dr. Mavor, 
rector of Woodstock. It is a noble poem, far exceed¬ 
ing in merit his first essay, and it is a remarkable and 
wonderful composition for a self-taught village shoe¬ 
maker. The author-clerk died and was buried at 
Woodstock in 1803. 

A fine character and graceful poet was Richard 
Furness, 1 parish clerk of Dore, five miles from Shal- 
field, a secluded hamlet. He was then styled “The 
Poet of the Peak,” of sonorous voice and clear of 

1 Biographical Sketches of Remarkable People, by Spencer T. Hall. 


THE CLERK AS A POET 


165 

speech, the author of many poems, and factotum 
supreme of the village and neighbourhood. Two 
volumes of his poems have been published. He com¬ 
bined, like many of his order, the office of parish 
clerk with that of schoolmaster, his schoolroom being 
under the same roof as his house. Thither crowds 
flocked. He was an immense favourite. The teacher 
of children, healer of all the lame and sick folk, the 
consoler and adviser of the troubled, he played an 
important part in the village life. His accomplish¬ 
ments were numerous. He could make a will, survey 
or convey an estate, reduce a dislocation, perform the 
functions of a parish clerk, lead a choir, and write an 
ode. This remarkable man was born at Eyam in 1791, 
the village so famous for the story of its plague, in an 
old house long held by his family. Over the door is 

CarVed 1 R. .615. F 


When a boy he was very fond of reading, and 
studied mathematics and poetry. Don Quixote was his 
favourite romance. His father would not allow him to 
read at night, but the student could not be prevented 
from studying his beloved books. In order to prevent 
the light in his bedroom from being seen in other 
parts of the house, he placed a candle in a large box, 
knelt by its side, and with the lid half closed few rays 
of the glimmering taper could reach the window or 
door. When he grew to be a man he migrated to 
Dore, and there set up a school, and began that 
active life of which an admirable account is given by 
Dr. G. Calvert Holland in the introduction of The 
Poetical Works of Richard Furness, published in 1858. 
In addition to other duties he sometimes discharged 
clerical functions. The vicar of the parish of Dore, 


THE PARISH CLERK 


166 

Mr. Parker, was somewhat old and infirm, and some¬ 
times found it difficult to tramp over the high moors in 
winter to privately baptize a sick child. So he often sent 
his clerk to perform the duty. On dark and stormy 
nights Richard Furness used to tramp over moor and 
fell, through snow and rain to some lonely farm or 
moorland cottage in order to baptize some suffering 
infant. On one occasion he omitted to ascertain before 
commencing the service whether the child was a boy or 
a girl. Turning to the father in the midst of a prayer, 
when the question whether he ought to use his or her 
had to be decided, he inquired, “What sex?” The 
father, an ignorant labourer, did not understand the 
meaning of the question. “Male or female?” asked 
the clerk. Still the father did not comprehend. At 
last the meaning of the query dawned upon his rustic 
intelligence, and he whispered, “ It’s a mon childt.” 

Thus does Richard Furness in his poems describe 
his many duties : 

“ I Richard Furness, schoolmaster, Dore, 

Keep parish books and pay the poor; 

Draw plans for building's and indite 
Letters for those who cannot write ; 

Make wills and recommend a proctor; 

Cure wounds, let blood with any doctor ; 

Draw teeth, sing psalms, the hautboy play 
At chapel on each holy day ; 

Paint sign-boards, cast names at command, 

Survey and plot estates of land : 

Collect at Easter, one in ten, 

And on the Sunday say Amen.” 

He wrote a poem entitled Medicus Magus , or the 
Astrologer , a droll story brimming over with quiet 
humour, folk-lore, philology and archaic lore. Also 
The Ragbag , which is dedicated to “ John Bull, Esq.” 
The style of his poetry was Johnsonian, or after the 


THE CLERK AS A POET 


167 

manner of Erasmus Darwin, a bard whom the present 
generation has forgotten, but whose Botanic Garden , 
published in 1825, is full of quaint plant-lore and 
classical allusions, if it does not reach the highest form 
of poetic talent. Here is a poem by our clerkly poet 
on the Old Year’s funeral: 

“The clock in oblivion’s mouldering- tower 
By the raven’s nest struck the midnight hour, 

And the ghosts of the seasons wept over the bier 
Of Old Time’s last son—the departing year. 

“Spring showered her daisies and dews on his bed, 

Summer covered with roses his shelterless head, 

And as Autumn embalmed his bodiless form, 

Winter wove his snow shroud in his Jacquard of storm ; 

For his coffin-plate, charged with a common device, 

Frost figured his arms on a tablet of ice, 

While a ray from the sun in the interim came, 

And daguerreotyped neatly his age, death, and name. 

Then the shadowing months at call 
Stood up to bear the pall, 

And three hundred and sixty-five days in gloom 
Formed a vista that reached from his birth to his tomb. 

And oh, what a progeny followed in tears— 

Hours, minutes, and moments—the children of years ! 

Death marshall’d th’ array, 

Slowly leading the way, 

With his darts newly fashioned for New Year’s Day.” 

Richard Furness died in 1857, and was buried with 
his ancestors at Eyam. He thus sang his own requiem 
shortly before he passed away : 

“ To joys and griefs, to hopes and fears, 

To all pride would, and power could do, 

To sorrow’s cup, to pity’s tears, 

To mortal life, to death adieu.” 

I will conclude this chapter on poetical clerks with a 
sweet carol for Advent, written by Mr. Daniel Robin¬ 
son, ex-parish clerk of Flore, Weedon, which is worthy 
of preservation : 


THE PARISH CLERK 


A CAROL FOR ADVENT 

1 Behold, thy King- cometh unto thee.”—M atthew xxi. 5. 

Behold, thy King- is coming 
Upon this earth to reign, 

To take away oppression 

And break the captive’s chain ; 

Then trim your lamps, ye virgins, 

Your oil of love prepare, 

To meet the coming Bridegroom 
Triumphant in the air. 

Behold, thy King is coming, 

Hark ! ’tis the midnight cry, 

The herald’s voice proclaimeth 
The hour is drawing nigh ; 

Then go ye forth to meet Him, 

With lamps all burning bright, 

Let sweet hosannahs greet Him, 

And welcome Him aright. 

Go decorate y r our churches 
With evergreens and flowers, 

And let the bells’ sweet music 
Resound from all your towers ; 

And sing your sweetest anthems, 

For lo, your King is nigh, 

While songs of praise are soaring 
O’er vale and mountain high. 

Let sounds of heavenly music 
From sweet-voiced organs peal, 

While old and young assembling 
Before God’s “ Altar ” kneel; 

In humble adoration 

Let each one praise and pray, 

And give the King a welcome 
This coming Christmas Day. 


CHAPTER XIII 


THE CLERK GIVING OUT NOTICES 
'TER the Nicene Creed in the Book of Common 



JT\. Prayer occurs a rubric with regard to the giving 
out of notices, the observance of Holy-days or Feast- 
ing-days, the publication of Briefs, Citations and Ex- 
communications, which ends with the following words : 

“And nothing shall be proclaimed or published in 
the Church, during the time of Divine Service, but by 
the Minister ; nor by him any thing but what is pre¬ 
scribed in the Rules of this Book, or enjoined by the 
King or by the Ordinary of the place.” 

This rubric was added to the Prayer Book in the 
revision of 1662, and doubtless was intended to correct, 
the undesirable practice of publishing all kinds of 
secular notices during the time of divine service. 
Dr. Wickham Legg has unearthed an inquiry made 
in an archidiaconal visitation in 1630, relating to the 
proclamation of lay businesses made in church, when 
the following question was asked : 

“Whether hath your Parish Clerk, or any other in 
Prayers time, or before Prayers or Sermon ended, be¬ 
fore the people departed, made proclamation in your 
church touching any goods strayed away or wanting, 
or of any Leet court to be held, or of common-dayes- 


169 


THE PARISH CLERK 


170 

works to be made, or touching any other thing which 
is not merely ecclesiasticall, or a Church-businesse ?” 

In times of Puritan laxity it was natural that notices 
sacred and profane should be indiscriminately mingled, 
and the rubric mentioned above would be sorely needed 
when church order and a reverent service were revived. 
But in spite of this direction the practice survived of 
not very strictly confining the notices to the concerns 
of the Church. 

An aged lady, Mrs. Gill, who is now eighty-four 
years of age, remembers that between the years 1825 
and 1835, i n a parish church near Welbeck Abbey, the 
clerk used to announce the date of the Duke of Rut¬ 
land’s rent-day. Another correspondent states that after 
service the clerk used to take his stand on one of the 
high flat tombstones and announce sales by auction, 
the straying of cattle, etc., and Sir Walter Scott wrote 
that at Hexham cattle-dealers used to carry their busi¬ 
ness letters to the church, “when after service the 
clerk was accustomed to read them aloud and answer 
them according to circumstances.” 

Mr. Beresford Hope recollected that in a Surrey town 
church the notices given out by the clerk included the 
announcement of the meetings at the principal inn of 
the town of the executors of a deceased duke. 

In the days of that extraordinary free-and-easy go-as- 
you-please style of service which prevailed at the end 
of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth 
century, the most extraordinary announcements were 
frequently made by the clerk, and very numerous 
stories are told of the laxity of the times and the 
quaintness of the remarks of the clerk. 

An old Shropshire clerk gave out on Easter Day the 
following extraordinary notice : 


THE CLERK GIVING OUT NOTICES 


171 

“ Last Friday was Good Friday, but we’ve forgotten 
un ; so next Friday will be.” 

Another clerk gave out a strange notice on Quinqua- 
gesima Sunday with regard to the due observance of 
Ash Wednesday. He said : “There will be no service 
on Wednesday—’coss why? Mester be going hunt¬ 
ing, and so beeze I !” with triumphant emphasis. He 
is not the only sporting clerk of whom history speaks, 
and in the biographies of some worthies of the pro¬ 
fession we hope to mention the achievements of a 
clerkly tailor who denied himself every luxury of life 
in order to save enough money to buy and keep a 
horse in order that he might follow the hounds “ like 
a gentleman.” 

Sporting parsons have furnished quite a crop of 
stories with regard to strange notices given out by 
their clerks. Some of them are well known and have 
often been repeated ; but perhaps it is well that they 
should not be omitted here. 

About the year 1850 a clerk gave out in his rector’s 
hearing this notice: “There’ll be no service next 
Sunday, as the rector’s going out grouse-shooting.” 

A Devonshire hunting parson went to help a neigh¬ 
bouring clergyman in the old days when all kinds of 
music made up the village choir. Unfortunately some 
difficulty arose in the tuning of the instruments. The 
fiddles and bass-viol would not accord, and the parson 
grew impatient. At last, leaning over the reading-desk 
and throwing up his arms, he shouted out, “ Hark 
away, Jack ! Hark away, Jack ! Tally-ho ! Tally- 
ho l” 1 

Another clerk caused amusement and consternation 
in a south-country parish and roused the rector’s wrath. 

1 Mumpits and Crumpits, by Sarah Hewitt, p. 175. 


THE PARISH CLERK 


172 

The young rector, who was of a sporting turn of mind, 
told him that he wanted to get to Worthing on a 
Sunday afternoon in time for the races which began on 
the following day, and that therefore there would be no 
service. This was explained to the clerk in confidence. 
The rector’s horror may be imagined when he heard 
him give out in loud sonorous tones : “ This is to give 
notice, no suvviss here this arternoon, becos measter 
meyans to get to Worthing to-night to be in good 
toime for reayces to-morrow mornin’.” 

Old Moody, of Redbourn, Herts, was a typical parish 
clerk, and his vicar, Lord Frederick Beauclerk, and the 
curate, the Rev. W. S. Wade, were both hunting 
parsons of the old school. One Sunday morning 
Moody announced, just before giving out the hymn, that 
“the vicar was going on Friday to the throwing off of 
the Leicestershire hounds, and could not return home 
until Monday next week ; therefore next Sunday there 
would not be any service in the church on that day.” 
Moody was quite one of the leading characters of the 
place, whose words and opinions were law. 

No one in those days thought of disputing the right 
or questioning the conduct of a rector closing the 
church, and abandoning the accustomed services on a 
Sunday, in order to keep a sporting engagement. 

That other notice about the fishing parson is well 
known. The clerk announced: “This is to gi notus, 
there won’t be no surviss here this arternoon becos 
parson’s going fishing in the next parish.” When he 
was remonstrated with after service for giving out such 
a strange notice, he replied : 

“ Parson told I so ’fore church.” 

“Surely he said officiating—not fishing?” said his 
monitor. “The bishop would not be pleased to hear 


THE CLERK GIVING OUT NOTICES 


J 73 

of one of his clergy going fishing on a Sunday after¬ 
noon.” 

The clerk was not convinced, and made a clever 
defence, grounded on the employment of some of the 
Apostles. The reader’s imagination will supply the 
gist of the argument. 

Another rector, who had lost his favourite setter, told 
his clerk to make inquiries about it, but was much 
astonished to hear him give it out as a notice in church, 
coupled with the offer of a reward of three pounds if 
the dog should be restored to his owner. 

The clerk of the sporting parson was often quite as 
keen as his master in following the chase. It was not 
unusual for rectors to take “occasional services,” 
weddings or funerals, on the way to a meet, wearing 
“pink” under their surplices. A wedding was pro¬ 
ceeding in a Devonshire church, and when the happy 
pair were united and the Psalm was just about to be 
said, the clerk called out, “ Please to make ’aste, sir, or 
he’ll be gone afore you have done.” The parson 
nodded and looked inquiringly at the clerk, who said, 
“ He’s turned into the vuzz bushes down in ten acres. 
Do look sharp, sir.” 1 

The story is told of a rector who, when walking to 
church across the squire’s park during a severe winter, 
found a partridge apparently frozen to death. He 
placed the poor bird in the voluminous pocket of his 
coat. During the service the warmth of the rector’s 
pocket revived the bird and thawed it back to life ; 
and when during the sermon the rector pulled out his 

1 This story is told by Mrs. Hewett in her Peasant Speech of Devon , 
but I have ventured to anglicise the broad Devonshire a little, and to 
suggest that the scene could scarcely have taken place on a Sunday 
morning, as Mrs. Hewett suggests in her admirable book. 


THE PARISH CLERK 


*74 

handkerchief, the revived bird flew vigorously away 
towards the west end of the church. The clerk, who sat 
in his seat below, was not unaccustomed to the task of 
beating for the squire’s shooting parties, called out 
lustily : 

“It be all right, sir; I’ve marked him down in the 
belfry.” 

The fame of the Rev. John Russell, the sporting 
parson of Swymbridge, is widespread, and his parish 
clerk, William Chappie, is also entitled to a small 
niche beneath the statue of the great man. The 
curate had left, and Mr. Russell inserted the following 
advertisement : 

“Wanted, a curate for Swymbridge; must be a 
gentleman of moderate and orthodox views.” 

The word orthodox rather puzzled the inhabitants of 
Swymbridge, who asked Chappie what it meant. The 
clerk did not know, but was unwilling to confess such 
ignorance, and knowing his master’s predilections, 
replied, “I ’spects it be a chap as can ride well to 
hounds.” 

The strangest notice ever given out in church that I 
ever have heard of, related to a set of false teeth. The 
story has been told by many. Perhaps Cuthbert Bede’s 
version is the best. An old rector of a small country 
parish had been compelled to send to a dentist his set 
of false teeth, in order that some repairs might be 
made. The dentist had faithfully promised to send them 
back “by Saturday,” but the Saturday’s post did not 
bring the box containing the rector’s teeth. There was 
no Sunday post, and the village was nine miles from 
the post town. The dentist, it afterwards appeared, 
had posted the teeth on the Saturday afternoon with 
the full conviction that their owner would receive them 


THE CLERK GIVING OUT NOTICES 


*75 


on Sunday morning in time for service. The old 
rector bravely tried to do that duty which England 
expects every man to do, more especially if he is a 
parson and if it be Sunday morning ; but after he had 
mumbled through the prayers with equal difficulty and 
incoherency, he decided that it would be advisable to 
abandon any further attempts to address his congrega¬ 
tion on that day. While the hymn was being sung 
he summoned his clerk to the vestry, and then said to 
him, “ It is quite useless for me to attempt to go on. 
The fact is, that my dentist has not sent me back my 
artificial teeth : and as it is impossible for me to make 
myself understood, you must tell the congregation 
that the service is ended for this morning, and that 
there will be no service this afternoon.” The old clerk 
went back to his desk ; the singing of the hymn was 
brought to an end ; and the rector, from his retreat in 
the vestry, heard the clerk address the congregation as 
follows : 

“This is to give notice! as there won’t be no 
sarmon, nor no more service this mornin’, so you’d 
better all go whum (home); and there won’t be no 
sarvice this afternoon, as the rector ain’t got his artful 
teeth back from the dentist! ” 

This story so amused George Cruikshank that he 
wanted to make an illustration of it. But the journal 
in which it ought to have appeared was very short¬ 
lived. Hence Cruikshank’s drawing was lost to the 
world. 

The clerk is a firm upholder of established custom. 
“We will now sing the evening hymn,” said the rector 
of an East Anglian church in the sixties. “No, sir, 
it’s doxology to-night.” The preacher again said, 
“We’ll sing the evening hymn.” The clerk, how- 


THE PARISH CLERK 


176 

ever, persisted, “It’s doxology to-night”; and doxology 
it was, in spite of the parson’s protests. 

In the days when parish notices with reference to the 
lost, stolen, or strayed animals were read out in church 
at the commencement of the service, the clerk of a 
church [my informant has forgotten the name of the 
parish] rose in his place and said : 

“This is to give notice that my Lady-has lost 

her little dog ; he comes to the name of Shock ; he is 
all white except two patches of black on his sides 
and he has got—eh?—what?—yes—no—upon my soul 
he has got four eyes ! ” It should have been sore eyes, 
but the long .r had misled the clerk. 

The clerk does not always shine as an orator, but 
a correspondent who writes from the Charterhouse can 
vouch for the following effort of one who lived in a 
village not a hundred miles from Harrow about thirty 
years ago. 

There was a tea for the school children, at which the 
clerk, a farm labourer, spoke thus: “You know, my 
friends, that if we wants to get a good crop of anything 
we dungs the ground. Now what I say is, if we wants 
our youngsters to crop properly, we must see that they 
are properly dunged—put the laming into them like 
dung, and they’ll do all right.” 

The subject of the Disestablishment of the Church 
was scarcely contemplated by a clerk in the diocese 
of Peterborough, who, after the amalgamation of two 
parishes, stated that he was desired by the vicar to 
announce that the services in each parish would be 
morning and evening to all eternity. It is thought 
that he meant to say alternately . 

I have often referred to the ancient clerkly method 
of giving out the hymns. It was a terrible blow to the 



THE CLERK GIVING OUT NOTICES 


177 


clerk when the parsons began to interfere with his 
prerogative and give out the hymns themselves. All 
clerks did not revenge themselves on the usurpers of 
their ancient right as did one of their number, who 
was very indignant when a strange clergyman insisted 
on giving out the hymns himself. In due course he 
gave out “the fifty-third hymn,” when out popped the 
old clerk’s head from under the red curtains which 
hung round the gallery, and which gave him the ap¬ 
pearance of wearing a nightcap, and he shouted, 
“That a baint! A be the varty-zeventh.” 

The following account of a notice, which was 
scarcely authorised, shows the homely manners of 
former days. It was at Sapiston Church, a small 
village on the Duke of Grafton’s estate. The grand¬ 
father of the present Duke was returning from a shoot¬ 
ing expedition, and was passing the church on Sunday 
afternoon while service was going on. The Duke 
quietly entered the vestry, and signed to the clerk to 
come to him. The Duke gave the man a hare, and 
told him to put it into the parson’s trap, and give a 
complimentary message about it at the end of the 
service. But the clerk, knowing his master would be 
pleased at the little attention, could not refrain from 
delivering both hare and message at once before the 
whole congregation. At the close of the hymn before 
the sermon he marched into a prominent position hold¬ 
ing up the gift, and shouted out, “ His Grace’s com¬ 
pliments, and, please sir, he’s sent ye a hare.” 

In giving out the hymns or Psalms many difficulties 
of pronunciation would often arise. One clerk had 
many struggles over the line, “ Awed by Thy gracious 
word.” He could not manage that tiresome first word, 
and always called it “a wed.” The old metrical version 
N 


THE PARISH CLERK 


178 

of the Psalm, “Like as the hart desireth the water- 
brooks,” etc. is still with us, and a beautiful hymn 
it is : 

“As pants the hart for cooling; streams 
When heated in the chase.” 

A Northumbrian clerk used to give out the words 
thus : 

“As pants the ’art for coolin’ streams 
When 'eated in the chaise,” 

which seems to foreshadow the triumph of modern 
civilisation, the carted deer, a mode of stag-hunting 
that was scarcely contemplated by Tate and Brady. 


CHAPTER XIV 


SLEEPY CHURCH AND SLEEPY CLERKS 
HERE was a time when the Church of England 



X seemed to be asleep. Perhaps it may have been 
that “tired nature’s sweet restorer, balmy sleep,” was 
only preparing her exhausted energies for the un¬ 
wonted activities of the last half-century ; or was it the 
sleep that presaged death? Her enemies told her so in 
plain and unvarnished language. Her friends, too, 
said that she was folding her robes to die with what 
dignity she could. Lethargy, sloth, sleep—a dead, dull, 
dreary sleep—fell like a leaden pall upon her spiritual 
life, darkening the light that shone but vaguely 
through the storied panes of her mediaeval windows, 
while a paralysing numbness crippled her limbs and 
quenched her activity. 

Such scenes as Archbishop Benson describes as 
his early recollection of Upton, near Droitwich, were 
not uncommon. The church was aisleless, and the 
middle passage, with high pews on each side, led up 
to the chancel-arch, in which was a “three-decker,” 
fifteen feet high. The clerk wore a wig and immense 
horn spectacles. He was a shoemaker, dressed in 
black, with a white tie. In the gallery sat “the 
music”—a clarionet, flute, violin, and ’cello. The 
clerk gave out the “Twentieth Psalm of David,” and 


180 THE PARISH CLERK 

the fiddlers tuned for a moment and then played at 
once. Then they struck up, and the clerk, absolutely 
alone, in a majestic voice which swayed up and down 
without regard to time or tune, sang it through like 
the braying of an ass ; not a soul else joined in ; the 
farmers amused and smiling at each other. Such 
scenes were quite usual. 

In Cornwall affairs were worse. In one church the 
curate-in-charge had to be chained to the altar rails 
while he read the service, as he had a harmless mania, 
which made him suddenly flee from the church if his 
own activities were for an instant suspended, as, for 
example, by a response. The churchwarden, a farmer, 
kept the padlock-key in his pocket till the service was 
safely over, and then released the imprisoned cleric. 
At another Cornish church the vicar’s sister used to 
read the lessons in a deep bass voice. 

Congregations were often very sparse. Few people 
attended, and perhaps none on weekdays, unless the 
clerk was in his place. On such occasions the parson 
was tempted to emulate the humour of Dean Swift, 
who at the first weekday service that he held after his 
appointment to the living of Laracor, in the diocese of 
Meath, after waiting for some time in vain for a con¬ 
gregation, began the service, addressing his clerk, 
“Dearly beloved Roger, the scripture moveth you 
and me in sundry places,” etc. 

When the Psalms were read, you heard the first 
verse read in a mellifluous and cultured voice. Per¬ 
haps it was the evening of the twenty-eighth day of 
the month, and you listened to the sacred words of 
Psalm cxxxvii., “ By the waters of Babylon we sat 
down and wept, when we remembered thee, O Sion.” 
Then followed a bellow from a raucous throat: “ Has 


SLEEPY CHURCH AND SLEEPY CLERKS 181 

fur ur ’arp, we ’anged ’em hup hupon the trees that 
hare thurin.” And then at the end of the Lord’s 
Prayer, after every one had finished, the same voice 
came drowsily cantering in: “For hever and hever, 
Haymen.” Sometimes we heard, “ Let us sing to the 
praise and glory of God the ’undred and sixtieth 
Psalm—’ Ymn ’ ooever .” The numbers of the hymns 
or Psalms were scored on the two sides of a slate. 
Sometimes the functionary in the gallery forgot to 
turn the slate after the first hymn. “ Let us sing,” 

began the clerk—(pause)-“Turn the slate, will 

you, if you please, Master Scroomes?”he continued, 
addressing the neglectful person. 

The singing was no mechanical affair of official rou¬ 
tine—it was a drama. “As the moment of psalmody 
approached a slate appeared in front of the gallery, 
advertising in bold characters the Psalm about to be 
sung. The clerk gave out the Psalm, and then 
migrated to the gallery, where in company with a 
bassoon and two key-bugles, a carpenter understood 
to have an amazing power of singing ‘ counter,’and 
two lesser musical stars, formed the choir. Hymns 
were not known. The New Version was regarded 
with melancholy tolerance. ‘ Sternhold and Hopkins’ 
formed the main source of musical tastes. On great 
occasions the choir sang an anthem, in which the key- 
bugles always ran away at a great pace, while the 
bassoon every now and then boomed a flying shot 
after them.” It was all very curious, very quaint, 
very primitive. The Church was asleep, and cared 
not to disturb the relics of old crumbling inefficiency. 
The Church was asleep, the congregation slept, and 
the clerk often slept too. 

Hogarth’s engraving of The Sleeping Congregation 



THE PARISH CLERK 


182 

is a parable of the state of the Church of Eng¬ 
land in his day. It is a striking picture truly. The 
parson is delivering a long and drowsy discourse on 
the text: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour, and 
I will give you rest.” The congregation is certainly 
resting, and the pulpit bears the appropriate verse : 
“I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you 
labour in vain.” The clerk is attired in his cassock 
and bands, contrives to keep one eye awake during 
the sermon, and this wakeful eye rests upon a comely 
fat matron, who is fast asleep, and has evidently been 
meditating “on matrimony,” as her open book de¬ 
clares. A sleepy church, sleepy congregation, sleepy 
times ! 

Many stories are told of dull and sleepy clerks. 

A canon of a northern cathedral tells me of one 
such clerk, whose duty it was, when the rector finished 
his sermon, to say “Amen.” On a summer afternoon, 
this aged official was overtaken with drowsiness, and 
as soon as the clergyman had given out his text, slept 
the sleep of the just. Sermons in former years were 
remarkable for their length and many divisions. 

After the “firstly” was concluded, the preacher 
paused. The clerk, suddenly awaking, thought that 
the discourse was concluded, and pronounced his 
usual “Arummen.” The congregation rose, and the 
service came to a close. As the gathering dispersed, 
the squire slipped half a crown into the clerk’s hand, 
and whispered : “ Thomas, you managed that very 
well, and deserve a little present. I will give you the 
same next time.” 

At Eccleshall, near Sheffield, the clerk, named 
Thompson, had been, in the days of his youth, a good 
cricketer, and always acted as umpire for the village 



BY HOGARTH 









































































SLEEPY CHURCH AND SLEEPY CLERKS 183 

team. One hot Sunday morning, the sermon being 
very long, old Thompson fell asleep. His dream was 
of his favourite game ; for when the parson finished 
his discourse and waited for the clerk’s “Amen,” old 
Thompson awoke, and, to the amazement of the con¬ 
gregation, shouted out “Over!” After all, he was 
no worse than the cricketing curate who, after reading 
the first lesson, announced: “Here endeth the first 
innings.” 

Every one has heard of that Irish clerk who used 
to snore so loudly during the sermon that he drowned 
the parson’s voice. The old vicar, being of a good- 
natured as well as a somewhat humorous turn of mind, 
devised a plan for arousing his lethargic clerk. He 
provided himself with a box of hard peas, and when 
the well-known snore echoed through the church, he 
quietly dropped one of the peas on the head of the 
offender, who was at once aroused to the sense of his 
duties, and uttered a loud “Amen.” 

This plan acted admirably for a time, but unfortun¬ 
ately the parson was one day carried away by his 
eloquence, gesticulated wildly, and dropped the whole 
box of peas on the head of the unfortunate clerk. 
The result was such a strenuous chorus of “Amens,” 
that the laughter of the congregation could not be 
restrained, and the peas were abolished and consigned 
to the limbo of impractical inventions. Possibly the 
story may be an invention too. 

One of the causes which tended to the unpopularity 
of the Church was the accession of George IV to the 
throne of England. “Church and King” were so 
closely connected in the mind of the people that the 
sins of the monarch were visited on the former, and 
deemed to have brought some discredit on it. More- 


THE PARISH CLERK 


184 

over, the King by his first act placed the loyal members 
of the Church in some difficulty, and that was the order 
to expunge the name of the ill-used, if erring, Queen 
Caroline from the Prayers for the Royal Family in the 
Book of Common Prayer. 

One good clergyman, Dr. Parr, vicar of Hatton, 
placed an interesting record in his Prayer Book after 
the required erasure : “ It is my duty as a subject and 
as an ecclesiastic to read what is prescribed by my 
Sovereign as head of the Church, but it is not my 
duty to express my approbation.” The sympathy of 
the people was with the injured Queen, and they knew' 
not how much the clergy agreed with them. During 
the trial popular excitement ran high. In a Berkshire 
village the parish clerk “improved the occasion” by 
giving out in church “the first, fourth, eleventh, and 
twelfth verses of the thirty-fifth Psalm ” in Tate and 
Brady’s New Version : 

“ False witnesses with forged complaints 
Against my truth combined, 

And to my charge such things they laid 
As I had ne’er designed.” 

These words he sang most lustily. 

Cowper mentions a similar application of psalmody 
to political affairs in his Task: 

“ So in the chapel of old Ely House 
When wandering Charles who meant to be the third, 

Had fled from William, and the news was fresh, 

The simple clerk, but loyal, did announce, 

And eke did rear right merrily, two staves 
Sung to the praise and glory of King George." 

It was not an unusual thing for a parish clerk to 
select a psalm suited to the occasion when any special 
excitement gave him an opportunity. Branston, the 
satirist, in his Art of Politicks published in 1729, 


SLEEPY CHURCH AND SLEEPY CLERKS 185 

alluded to this misapplication of psalmody occasionally 
made by parish clerks in the lines : 

“ Not long- since parish clerks with saucy airs 
Apply'd King David’s psalms to State affairs.” 

In order to avoid this unfortunate habit, a country 
rector in Devonshire compiled in 1725 “Twenty-six 
Psalms of Thanksgiving, Praise, Love, and Glory, for 
the use of a parish church, with the omission of all the 
imprecatory psalms, lest a parish clerk or any other 
should be whetting his spleen, or obliging his spite, 
when he should be entertaining his devotion.” 

Sometimes the clerks ventured to apply the verses of 
the Psalms to their own private needs and require¬ 
ments, so as to convey gentle hints and suggestions 
to the ears of those who could supply their needs. 
Canon Ridgeway tells of the old clerk of the Church 
of King Charles the Martyr at Tunbridge Wells. His 
name was Jenner. He was a well-known character; 
he used to have a pipe and pitch the tune, and also 
select the hymns. It was commonly said that the con¬ 
gregation always knew when the lodgings in his house 
on Mount Sion were unlet; for when this was the case 
he was wont to give out the Psalm : 

“ Mount Sion is a pleasant place to dwell.” 

At Great Yarmouth, until about the year 1850, the 
parish clerk was always invited to the banquets or 
“feasts” given by the corporation of the borough; 
and he was honoured annually with a card of invita¬ 
tion to the “mayor’s feast” on Michaelmas Day. On 
one occasion the mayor-elect had omitted to send a 
card to the clerk, Mr. David Absolon, who was clerk 
from 1811 to 1831, and had been a member of the 
corporation and common councillor previous to his 


i86 THE PARISH CLERK 

appointment to his ecclesiastical office. On the follow¬ 
ing Sunday, Master David Absolon reminded his 
worship of his remissness by giving out the following 
verse, directing his voice at the same time to the 

mayor-elect . ((e ^ David his accustomed place 

In thy remembrance find.” 

The words in Tate and Brady’s metrical version of 
Psalm cxxxii. run thus : 

“ Let David, Lord, a constant place 
In Thy remembrance find.” 1 

In the same town great excitement used to attend the 
election of the mayor on 29 August in each year. 
Before the election the corporation attended service in 
the parish church, and the clerk on these occasions 
gave out for singing “ the first two staves of the fifteenth 

Psalm . u L or d ( who’s the happy man,” etc. 

The passing of the Municipal Act changed the 
manner and time of the election, but it did not take 
away the interest felt in the event. As long as Tate 
and Brady’s version of the Psalms was used in the 
church, that is until the year 1840, these “two staves” 
were annually sung on the Sunday preceding the 
election. 2 

In these days of reverent worship it seems hardly 
possible that the beautiful expressions in the psalms of 
praise to Almighty God should ever have been prosti¬ 
tuted to the baser purposes of private gain or muni¬ 
cipal elections. 

Sleepy times and sleepy clerks—and yet these were 
not always sleepy ; in fact, far too lively, riotous, and 
unruly. At least, so the poor rector of Hayes found 

1 History of St. Nicholas’ Church, Great Yarmouth, by the present 
Clerk, Mr. Edward J. Lupson, p. 24. 2 Ibid., p. 23. 


SLEEPY CHURCH AND SLEEPY CLERKS 187 

them in the middle of the eighteenth century. Such 
conduct in church is scarcely credible as that which 
was witnessed in this not very remote parish church in 
not very remote times. The registers of the parish of 
Hayes tell the story in plain language. On 18 March, 
1749, “the clerk gave out the 100 th Psalm, and the 
singers immediately opposed him, and sung the 15 th , 
and bred a disturbance. The clerk then ceased.” Poor 
man, what else could he have done, with a company of 
brawling, bawling singers shouting at him from the 
gallery ! On another occasion affairs were worse, the 
ringers and others disturbing the service, from the 
beginning of the service to the end of the sermon, by 
ringing the bells and going into the gallery to spit 
below. On another occasion a fellow came into 
church with a pot of beer and a pipe, and remained 
smoking in his pew until the end of the sermon. 1 O 
temporal O mores! as some disconsolate clergymen 
wrote in their registers when the depravity of the times 
was worse than usual. The slumbering congregation 
of Hogarth’s picture would have been a comfort to the 
distracted parson. 

To prevent people from sleeping during the long 
sermons a special officer was appointed, in order to 
banish slumber when the parson was long in preach¬ 
ing. This official was called a sluggard-waker, and 
was usually our old friend the parish clerk with a new 
title. Several persons, perhaps reflecting in their last 
moments on all the good advice which they had missed 
through slumbering during sermon time, have be¬ 
queathed money for the support of an officer who 
should perambulate the church, and call to attention 

1 Antiquary , vol. xviii, p. 65. Quoted in Social Life as told by Parish 
Registers, p. 54. 


THE PARISH CLERK 


188 

any one who, through sleep, was missing the preacher’s 
timely admonition. Richard Dovey, of Farmcote, in 
1659 left property at Claverley, Shropshire, with the 
condition that eight shillings should be paid to, and a 
room provided for, a poor man, who should undertake 
to awaken sleepers, and to whip out dogs from the 
church of Claverley during divine service. 1 

John Rudge, of Trysull, Staffordshire, left a like 
bequest to a poor man to go about the parish church 
of Trysull during sermon to keep people awake, and 
to keep dogs out of church. 2 Ten shillings a year is 
paid by a tenant of Sir John Bridges, at Chislett, Kent, 
as a charge on lands called Dog-whipper’s Marsh, to a 
person for keeping order in the church during service, 3 
and from time immemorial an acre of land at Peter- 
church, Herefordshire, was appropriated to the use of 
a person for keeping dogs out of church, such person 
being appointed by the minister and churchwardens. 

Mr. W. Andrews, Librarian of the Hull Institute, 
has collected in his Curiosities of the Church much infor¬ 
mation concerning sluggard-wakers and dog-whippers. 
The clerk in one church used a long staff, at one end of 
which was a fox’s brush for gently arousing a somno¬ 
lent female, while at the other end was a knob for a 
more forcible awakening of a male sleeper. The Dun- 
church sluggard-waker used a stout wand with a fork 
at the end of it. During the sermon he stepped 
stealthily up and down the nave and aisles and into the 
gallery marking down his prey. And no one resented 
his forcible awakenings. 

The sluggard-waker and dog-whipper appear in 
many old churchwardens’ account-books. Thus in the 

1 Old English Customs and Curious Bequests, S. H. Edwards (1842), 
P- 220. 2 Ibid., p. 221. 3 Ibid., p. 222. 


SLEEPY CHURCH AND SLEEPY CLERKS 189 

accounts of Barton-on-Humber there is an entry for the 
year 1740: “Paid Brocklebank for waking sleepers 
2s. o.” At Castleton the officer in 1722 received 
10s. o. 1 The clerk in his capacity of dog-whipper had 
often arduous duties to perform in the old dale churches 
of Yorkshire when farmers and shepherds frequently 
brought their dogs to church. The animals usually lay 
very quietly beneath their masters’ seat, but occasionally 
there would be a scrimmage and fight, and the clerk’s 
staff was called into play to beat the dogs and produce 
order. 

Why dogs should have been ruthlessly and relent¬ 
lessly whipped out of churches I can scarcely tell. The 
Highland shepherd’s dog usually lies contentedly under 
his master’s seat during a long service, and even an 
archbishop’s collie, named Watch, used to be very still 
and well-behaved during the daily service, only once 
being roused to attention and a stately progress to the 
lectern by the sound of his master’s voice reading the 
verse “ I say unto all, Watch.” But our ancestors made 
war against dogs entering churches. In mediaeval and 
Elizabethan times such does not seem to have been the 
case, as one of the duties of the clerks in those days 
was to make the church clean from the “shomeryng of 
dogs.” The nave of the church was often used for 
secular purposes, and dogs followed their masters. 
Mastiffs were sometimes let loose in the church to 
guard the treasures, and I believe that I am right in 
stating that chancel rails owe their origin to the 
presence of dogs in churches, and were erected to 
prevent them from entering the sanctuary. Old Scarlett 
bears a dog-whip as a badge of his office, and the 

1 The reader will find numerous entries relating to this subject in the 
work of Mr, W. Andrews to which I have referred. 



THE PARISH CLERK 


190 

numerous bequests to dog-whippers show the import¬ 
ance of the office. 

Nor were dogs the only creatures who were accus¬ 
tomed to receive chastisement in church. The clerk 
was usually armed with a cane or rod, and woe betide 
the luckless child who talked or misbehaved himself 
during service. Frequently during the course of a long 
sermon the sound of a cane (the Tottenham clerk had a 
split cane which made no little noise when used vigor¬ 
ously) striking a boy’s back was heard and startled a 
sleepy congregation. It was all quite usual. No one 
objected, or thought anything about it, and the sermon 
proceeded as if nothing had happened. Paul Wootton, 
clerk at Bromham, Wilts, seventy years ago performed 
various duties during the service, taking his part in the 
gallery among the performers as bass, flute serpent, an 
instrument unknown now, etc., pronouncing his Amen 
ore rotundo and during the sermon armed with a long 
stick sitting among the children to preserve order. If 
any one of the small creatures felt that opere in longo 
fas est obrepere somnurn , the long stick fell with un¬ 
erring whack upon the urchin’s head. When Mr. 
Stracey Clitherow went to his first curacy at Skeyton, 
Norfolk, in 1845, he found the clerk sweeping the 
whole chancel clear of snow which had fallen through 
the roof. The font was of wood painted orange and 
red. The singers sat within the altar rails with a desk 
for their books inside the rails. There was a famous 
old clerk, named Bird, who died only a year or two ago, 
aged ninety, and, as Mr. Clitherow informed Bishop 
Stanley, was the best man in the parish, and was well 
worthy of that character. 

Even in London churches unfortunate events hap¬ 
pened, and somnolent clerks were not confined to the 


SLEEPY CHURCH AND SLEEPY CLERKS 191 

country. A correspondent remembers that in i860, 
when St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields was closed for the 
purpose of redecorating, his family migrated to 
St. Matthew’s Chapel, Spring Gardens (recently demol¬ 
ished), where one hot Sunday evening one of the curates 
of St. Martin’s was preaching, and in the course of his 
sermon said that it was the duty of the laity to pray that 
God would “endue His ministers with righteousness.” 
The clerk was at the moment sound asleep, but suddenly 
aroused by the familiar words, which acted like a bugle 
call to a slumbering soldier, he at once slid down on 
the hassock at his feet and uttered the response “And 
make Thy chosen people joyful.” My informant 
remarks that the “ chosen people” who were present 
became “joyful” to an unseemly degree, in spite of 
strenuous efforts to restrain their feelings. 

Sometimes the clerk was not the only sleeper. A 
tenor soloist of Wednesbury Old Church eighty years 
ago used to tell the story of the vicar of Wednesbury, 
who one very sultry afternoon retired into the vestry, 
which was under the western tower, to don his black 
gown while a hymn was being sung by the expectant 
congregation. The hymn having been sung through, 
and the preacher not having returned to ascend the 
pulpit, the clerk gave out the last verse again. Still 
no parson. Then he started the hymn, directing it to 
be sung all through again ; but still the vicar returned 
not. At last in desperation he gave out that they 
“would now sing,” etc. etc., the 119th Psalm. Merci¬ 
fully before they had all sunk back into their seats 
exhausted the long-lost parson made his hurried re¬ 
appearance. The poor old gentleman had dropped 
into an arm-chair in the vestry, and overcome by the 
heat had fallen soundly asleep. As to the clerk, he 


ig2 


THE PARISH CLERK 


could not leave his seat to go in search of him ; there 
was no precedent for both vicar and clerk to be away 
from the three-decker before the service was brought 
to a close. 

The old clerk is usually intensely loyal to the Church 
and to his clergyman, but there have been some excep¬ 
tions. An example of a disloyal clerk comes from the 
neighbourhood of Barnstaple. 

A parish clerk, apparently religious and venerable, 
held his position in a village church in that district for 
thirty years. He carried out his duties with regularity 
and thoroughness equalled only by the parish priest. 
This old clerk would frequently make remarks—not 
altogether pleasing—about Nonconformists, whom he 
summed up as a lot of “ mithudy nuzenses ” (methodist 
nuisances). 

A new rector came and brought with him new ideas. 
The parish clerk would not be required for the future. 
As soon as the old clerk heard this he attached himself 
to a local dissenting body and joined with them to 
worship in their small chapel. This, after thirty years’ 
service in the Church and a bitter feeling against 
Nonconformists, is rather remarkable. 

In the forties there was a sleepy clerk at Hampstead, 
a very portly man, who did ample justice to his bright 
red waistcoat and brass buttons. The church had 
a model old-time three-decker. The lower deck was 
occupied by the clerk, the upper deck by the reader, 
and the quarter-deck by the preacher. The clerk, 
during the sermon, would often fall asleep and make 
known his state by a snore. Then the reader would 
tap his bald head with a hymn-book, whereupon he 
would wake up and startle the congregation by a loud 
and prolonged “Ah—men,” 


SLEEPY CHURCH AND SLEEPY CLERKS 193 

We are accustomed now to have our churches beauti¬ 
fully decorated with flowers and fruits and holly and 
evergreens at the great festivals and harvest thanks¬ 
giving services. Sometimes on the latter occasions 
our decorations are perhaps a little too elaborate, and 
remind one of a horticultural show. No such charge 
could be brought against the old-fashioned method 
of church decoration. Christmas was the only season 
when it was attempted, and sprigs of holly stuck at 
the corners of the old square pews in little holes made 
for the purpose were always deemed sufficient. This was 
always the duty of the clerk. Later on, when a country 
church was found to be elaborately decorated for Christ¬ 
mas and the clerk was questioned on the subject, he 
replied, shaking his head, “Ah ! we’re getting a little 
High Church now.” At Langport, Somerset, the pews 
were similarly adorned on Palm Sunday with sprigs of 
the catkins from willow trees to represent palms. 

I have already mentioned some instances of clerks 
who were sometimes elated by the dignity of the office 
and full of conceit. Wesley enjoyed the experience 
of having a conceited clerk at Epworth, who not only 
was proud of his singing and other accomplishments, 
but also of his personal appearance. He delighted 
to wear Wesley’s old clerical clothes and especially 
his wig, which was much too big for the insignificant 
clerk’s head. John Wesley must have had a sense 
of humour, though perhaps it might have been ex¬ 
hibited in a more appropriate place. However, he 
was determined to humble his conceited clerk, and said 
to him one Sunday morning, “John, I shall preach on 
a particular subject this morning, and shall choose my 
own psalm, of which I will give out the first line, and 
you will proceed and repeat the next as usual.” When 
0 


THE PARISH CLERK 


194 

the time for psalmody arrived Wesley gave out, “Like 
to an owl in ivy bush,” and the clerk immediately 
responded, “That rueful thing am I.” The members 
of the congregation looked up and saw his small head 
half-buried in his large wig, and could not restrain 
their smiles. The clerk was mortified and the rector 
gratified that he should have been taught a lesson and 
learned to be less vain. 

Old-fashioned ways die hard. Only seven years ago 
the incumbent of a small Somerset parish found when 
in the pulpit that he had left his spectacles at home. 
Casting a shrewd glance around, he perceived just 
below him, well within reach, one of his parishioners 
who was wearing a large pair of what in rustic circles 
are termed “ barnacles” tied behind his head. Stretch¬ 
ing down, the parson plucked them from the astonished 
owner’s brow, and, fitting them on his clerical nose, 
proceeded to deliver his discourse. Thenceforward 
the clerk, doubtless fearing for his own glasses, never 
failed to carry to church a second pair wherewith to 
supply, if need be, his coadjutor’s shortcomings. 

Another and final story of sleepy manners comes to 
us from the north country. A short-sighted clergy¬ 
man of what is known as the “old school ” was preach¬ 
ing one winter afternoon to a slumberous congregation. 
Dusk was falling, the church was badly lighted, and 
his manuscript difficult to decipher. He managed to 
stumble along until he reached a passage which he 
rendered as follows : “ Enthusiasm, my brethren, 

enthusiasm in a good cause is an excellent—excellent 
quality, but unless it is tempered with judgment, it is 

apt to lead us—apt to lead us- Here, Thomas,” 

handing the sermon to the clerk, “go to the window 
and see what it is apt to lead us into.” 



CHAPTER XV 


THE CLERK IN ART 



HE finest portrait ever painted of a parish clerk is 


X that of Orpin, clerk of Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts, 
whose interesting old house still stands near the grand 
parish church and the beautiful little Saxon ecclesias¬ 
tical structure. This picture is the work of Thomas 
Gainsborough, r.a., and is now happily preserved in 
the National Gallery. Orpin has a fine and noble face 
upon which the sunlight is shining through a window 
as he turns from the Divine Book to see the glories of 
the blue sky. 


“ Some word of life e’en now has met 
His calm benignant eye ; 

Some ancient promise breathing yet 
Of immortality. 

Some heart’s deep language which the glow 
Of faith unwavering gives ; 

And every feature says ‘ I know 
That my Redeemer lives.’ ” 


The size of this canvas is four feet by three feet two 
inches. Orpin is wearing a blue coat, black vest, white 
neck-cloth, and dark breeches. His hair is grey and 
curly, and falls upon his shoulders. He sits on a gilt- 
nailed chair at a round wooden table, on which is a 
reading-easel, supporting a large volume bound in 
dark green, and labelled “ Bible, Vol. I.” The back¬ 
ground is warm brown. 


i95 


THE PARISH CLERK 


196 

Of this picture a critic states: “The very noble 
character of the worthy old clerk’s head was probably 
an additional inducement to Gainsborough to paint 
the picture, Seldom does so fine a subject present 
itself to the portrait painter, and Gainsborough 
evidently sought to do justice to his venerable model 
by unusual and striking effect of lighting, and by 
more than ordinary care in execution. It might almost 
seem like impertinence to eulogise such painting, as 
this canvas contains painting which, unlike the works 
of Reynolds, seems fresh and pure as the day it left the 
easel; and it would be still more futile to attempt to 
define the master’s method.” 

The history of the portrait is interesting. It was 
painted at Shockerwick, near Bradford, where Wilt¬ 
shire, the Bath carrier, lived, who loved art so much 
that he conveyed to London Gainsborough’s pictures 
from the year 1761 to 1774 entirely free of charge. The 
artist rewarded him by presenting him with some of 
his paintings, The Return from Harvest, The Gipsies’ 
Repast, and probably this portrait of Orpin was one 
of his gifts. It was sold at Christie’s in 1868 by a 
descendant of the art-loving carrier, and purchased 
for the nation by Mr. Boxall for the low sum of £325. 

The mediaeval clerk appears in many ancient manu¬ 
scripts and illuminations, which show us, better than 
words can describe, the actual duties which he was called 
upon to perform. The British Museum possesses a 
number of pontificals and other illustrated manuscripts 
containing artistic representations of clerks. We see 
him accompanying the priest who is taking the last 
sacrament to the sick. He is carrying a taper and a 
bell, which he is evidently ringing as he goes, its 
tones asking for the prayers of the faithful for the sick 



THE CLERK ATTENDING THE PRIEST 
AT HOLY BAPTISM 



THE CLERK ATTENDING THE PRIEST 
AT HOLY BAPTISM 









THE CLERK IN ART 


197 


man’s soul. This picture occurs in a fourteenth-cen¬ 
tury MS. [6 E. VI, f. 427], and in the same MS. we see 
another illustration of the priest administering the last 
sacrament attended by the clerk [6 E. VII, f. 70]. 

Another illustration shows the priest baptizing an 
infant which the male sponsor holds over the font, 
while the priest pours water over its head from a shal¬ 
low vessel. The faithful parish clerk stands by the 
priest. This appears in the fifteenth-century MS. 
Egerton, 2019, f. 135. 

In the MS. of Froissart’s Chronicle there is an illus¬ 
tration of the coronation procession of Charles V of 
France. The clerk goes before the cross-bearer and 
the bishop bearing his holy-water vessel and his 
sprinkler for the purpose of aspersing the spectators. 
We have already given two illustrations taken from 
a fourteenth-century MS. in the British Museum, 
which depict the clerk, as the aqucebajalus , entering 
the lord’s house and going first into the kitchen to 
sprinkle the cook with holy water, and then into the 
hall to perform a like duty to the lord and lady as they 
sit at dinner. 

There is a fine picture in a French pontifical of the 
fifteenth century, which is in the British Museum 
(Tiberius, B. VIII, f. 43), of the anointing and corona¬ 
tion of a king of France. An ecclesiastical procession 
is represented meeting the king and his courtiers at 
the door of the cathedral of Rheims, and amongst 
the dignitaries we see the clerk bearing the holy- 
water vessel, the cross-bearer, and the thurifer swing¬ 
ing his censer. The clerk wears a surplice over a red 
tunic. 

One other of these mediaeval representations of the 
clerk’s duties may be mentioned. It is a fifteenth- 


THE PARISH CLERK 


198 

century French MS. in the British Museum (Egerton, 
2019, f. 142), and represents the last scenes of this 
mortal life. The absolution of the penitent, the ad¬ 
ministration of the last sacrament, the woman mourning 
for her husband and arranging the grave-clothes, the 
singing of the dirige, the burial, and the reception of 
the soul of the departed by our Lord in glory. The 
clerk appears in several of these scenes. He is kneel¬ 
ing behind the priest in the administration of the 
last sacrament. Robed in surplice and cope he is 
chanting the Psalms for the departed, and at the burial 
he is holding the holy-water vessel for the asperging of 
the corpse. 

There are several paintings by English artists which 
represent the old-fashioned clerk in all his glory in 
his throne in the lowest seat of the “three-decker.” 
Perhaps the most striking is the satirical sketch of 
the pompous eighteenth-century clerk as shown in 
Hogarth’s engraving of The Sleeping Congregation, 
to which I have already referred. As a contrast 
to Hogarth’s Sleeping Congregation we may place 
Webster’s famous painting of a village choir, which 
is thoroughly life-like and inspiring. The old clerk 
with enrapt countenance is singing lustily. The 
musicians are performing on the ’cello, clarionet, 
and hautboy, and the singers are chanting very ear¬ 
nestly and very vigorously the strains of some familiar 
melody. The picture is a very exact presentment of an 
old village choir of the better sort. 

It was perhaps such a choir as this that an aged 
friend remembers in a remote Cornish village. It was 
a mixed choir, led by a ’cello, flute, and clarionet. 
Tate and Brady’s version of the Psalms was used alter¬ 
nately with a favourite anthem arranged by some of 





Illaatu • £ 

Ucrtniiomnm v 
onuDicrtomt «»■ 
im$:itarmo 


THE DUTIES OF A CLERK AT A DEATH AND FUNERAL 




























THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD 

BY W. i*. FRITH 







THE CLERK IN ART 


T 99 


the members. “We’ll wash our hands,” the basses 
led off in stentorian tones. Then the tenors followed. 
Then the trebles in shrill voices—“washed hands.” 
Finally, after a pause, the whole choir shouted trium¬ 
phantly, “in innocence”; and the congregation bore 
it, my friend naively remarks. The orchestra on one 
occasion struck work. Only the clerk, who played his 
’cello, remained faithful. To prove his loyalty he 
appeared as usual, gave out a hymn of many verses, 
and sang it through in his clear bass voice, to the 
accompaniment of his instrument. 

It was not an unusual thing for the clerk to be the 
only chorister in a village church, and then sometimes 
strange things happened. There was a favourite tune 
which required the first half of one of the lines to be 
repeated thrice. This led to such curious utterances 
as “My own sal,” called out lustily three times, 
and then finished with “My own salvation’s rock to 
praise.” The thrice-repeated “ My poor poll ” was no 
less striking, but it was only a prelude to “My poor 
polluted heart.” A chorus of women and girls in the 
west gallery sang lustily, “Oh for a man,” bis , bis —a 
pause—“ A mansion in the skies.” Another clerk sang 
“ And in the pie ” three times, supplementing it with 
“And in the pious He delights.” Another bade his 
hearers “ Stir up this stew,” but he was only referring 
to “This stupid heart of mine.” Yet another sang 
lustily “Take Thy pill,” but when the line was com¬ 
pleted it was heard to be “Take Thy pilgrim home.” 

Returning to the artistic presentment of clerks, there 
is a fine sketch of one in Frith’s famous painting 
of the Vicar of Wakefield, whose gentle manners 
and loving character as conceived by Goldsmith are 
admirably depicted by the artist. Near the vicar stands 


200 


THE PARISH CLERK 


the faithful clerk, a dear old man, who is scarcely less 
reverend than his vicar. 

There is an old print of a portion of the church of 
St. Margaret, Westminster, which shows the Carolian 
“three-decker,” a very elaborate structure, crowned by 
a huge sounding-board. The clergyman is officiating 
in the reading desk, and a very nice-looking old clerk, 
clad in his black gown with bands, sits below. There 
is a pompous beadle with his flowing wig and a mace 
in an adjoining pew, and some members of the con¬ 
gregation appear at the foot of the “three-decker,” 
and in the gallery. It is a very correct representation 
of the better sort of old-fashioned service. 

The hall of the Parish Clerks’ Company possesses 
several portraits of distinguished members of the pro¬ 
fession, which have already been mentioned in the 
chapter relating to the history of the fraternity. By 
the courtesy of the company we are enabled to re¬ 
produce some of the paintings, and to record some of 
the treasures of art which the fraternity possesses. 


PORTRAIT OF RICHARD MUST 

THE RESTORER OF THE CLERKS’ ALMSHOUSES 














CHAPTER XVI 


WOMEN AS PARISH CLERKS 
WOMAN cannot legally be elected to the office of 



il parish clerk, though she may be a sexton. There 
was the famous case of Olive v. Ingram (12 George I) 
which determined this. One Sarah Bly was elected 
sexton of the parish of St. Botolph without Aldersgate 
by 169 indisputable votes and 40 which were given by 
women who were householders and paid to the church 
and poor, against 174 indisputable votes and 20 given 
by women for her male rival. Sarah Bly was declared 
elected, and the Court upheld the appointment and 
decreed that women could vote on such elections. 

Cuthbert Bede states that in 1857 there were at 
least three female sextons, or “ sextonesses,” in the 
City of London, viz. : Mrs. Crook at St. Mary the 
Virgin, Aldermanbury ; Mrs. E. Worley at St. Laur¬ 
ence, Jewry, King Street; and Mrs. Stapleton at 
St. Michael’s, Wood Street. In 1867 Mrs. Noble was 
sextoness of St. John the Baptist, Peterborough. The 
Annual Register for 1759 mentions an extraordinary 
centenarian sextoness : 

Died, April 30th, Mary Hall, sexton of Bishop Hill, 
York City, aged one hundred and five ; she walked about 
and retained her senses till within three days of her death. 

Evidently the duties of her office had not worn out 
the stalwart old dame. 


201 


202 


THE PARISH CLERK 


Although legally a woman may not perform the 
duties of a parish clerk, there have been numerous 
instances of female holders of the office. In the census 
returns it is not quite unusual to see the names of 
women returned as parish clerks, and we have many 
who discharge the duties of churchwarden, overseer, 
rate-collector, and other parochial offices. 

One Ann Hopps was parish clerk of Linton about 
the year 1770, but nothing is known of her by her 
descendants except her name. Madame D’Arblay 
speaks in her diary of that “poor, wretched, ragged 
woman, a female clerk” who showed her the church of 
Collumpton, Devon. This good woman inherited her 
office from her deceased husband and received the 
salary, but she did not take the clerk’s place in the 
services on Sunday, but paid a man to perform that 
part of her functions. 

The parish register of Totteridge tells of the fame of 
Elizabeth King, who was clerk of that place for forty- 
six years. The following extract tells its own story : 

March 2nd, 1802, buried Elizabeth King, widow, for 46 
years clerk of this parish, in the 91st year of her age, who 
died at Whetstone in the Parish of Finchley, Feb. 24th. 

N.B.—This old woman, as long as she was able to 
attend, did constantly, and read on the prayer-days, with 
great strength and pleasure to the hearers, though not in 
the clerk’s place ; the desk being filled on the Sunday by her 
son-in-law, Benjamin Withall, who did his best. 1 

Under the shade of the episcopal palace at Cuddes- 
don, at Wheatley, near Oxford, about sixty-five years 
ago, a female clerk, Mrs. Sheddon, performed the duties 
of the office which had been previously discharged by 
her husband. At Avington, near Hungerford, Berks, 

1 Burn’s History of Parish Registers, p. 129. 


WOMEN AS PARISH CLERKS 


203 


Mrs. Poffley was parish clerk for a period of twenty- 
five years at the beginning of the last century. About 
the same time Mary Mountford was parish clerk of 
Misterton, near Crewkerne, Somersetshire, for up¬ 
wards of thirty years. A female clerk was acting at 
Igburgh, Norfolk, in 1853; and at Sudbrook, near 
Lincoln, in 1830, a woman also officiated and died in 
the service of the Church. Nor was the office confined 
to rural women of the working class. Mr. Ellacombe 
remembered to have seen “a gentle-woman acting as 
parish clerk of some church in London.” 

There are doubtless many other instances of women 
serving as parish clerks, and one of my correspondents 
remembers a very remarkable example. 

In the village of Willoughton, Lincolnshire, more 
than seventy years ago, there lived an old dame 
named Betty Wells, who officiated as parish clerk. 
For many years Betty sat in the lowest compartment 
of the three-decker pulpit, reading the lessons and 
leading the responses, and, with the exception of ring¬ 
ing the church bell, fulfilling all the duties of clerk. 

But Betty was also looked upon as a witch, and 
several stories are told of how she made things very 
unpleasant for those who offended her. 

One day there had been a christening at which 
Betty had done her share ; but by some unfortunate 
oversight she was not invited to the feast which took 
place afterwards. No sooner had the guests seated 
themselves at the table than a great cloud of soot fell 
down the chimney smothering all the good things, so 
that nothing could be eaten. Then, too late, they re¬ 
membered that Betty Wells had not been invited, and 
perfectly confident were they that she had had her 
revenge by spoiling the feast. 


THE PARISH CLERK 


204 

One of the farmers let Betty have straw for bedding 
her pig in return for manure. When one of his men 
came to fetch the manure away, she thought he had 
taken too much. So she warned him that he would not 
go far—neither did he, for the cart tipped right over. 
And that was Betty again ! 

We know Betty had a husband, for we hear that 
one evening when he came home from his work his 
wife had ever so many tailors sitting on the table all 
busily stitching. When John came in they vanished. 

A few people still remember Betty Wells, and they 
shake their heads as they say, “Well, you see, the 
old woman had a very queer-looking eye,” giving you 
to understand that it was with that particular eye she 
worked all these wonders. 

The story of Betty Wells has been gleaned from 
scraps supplied by various old people and collected 
by Miss Frances A. Hill, of Willoughton. The un¬ 
fortunate christening feast took place after the baptism 
of her father, and the story was told to her by an old 
aunt, now dead, who was grown up at the time (1830) 
and could remember it all distinctly. The people who 
told Miss Hill about Betty and her weird witch-like 
ways fully believed in her supernatural powers. 

Another Betty, whose surname was Finch, was em¬ 
ployed at the beginning of the last century at Holy 
Trinity Church, Warrington, as a “bobber,” or slug- 
gard-waker. 1 She was the wife of the clerk, and was 
well fitted on account of her masculine form to perform 
this duty which usually fell to the lot of the parish 
clerk. She used to perambulate the church armed 
with a long rod, like a fishing-rod, which had a “ bob” 
fastened to the end of it. With this instrument she 

1 W. Andrews, Curiosities of the Church, p. 176. 


WOMEN AS PARISH CLERKS 


205 


effectually disturbed the peaceful slumbers of any one 
who was overcome with drowsiness. The whole family 
of Betty was ecclesiastically employed, as her son used 
to sing : 

“ My father’s a clerk, 

My sister’s a singer, 

My mother’s a bobber, 

And I am a ringer.” 

One of my correspondents tells of another female 
clerk who officiated in a dilapidated old church with a 
defective roof, and who held an umbrella over the 
unfortunate clergyman when he was reading the 
service, in order to protect him from the drops of 
rain that poured down upon him. 

Doubtless in country places there are many other 
churches where female clerks have discharged the 
duties of the office, but history has not, as far as I am 
aware, recorded their names or their services. Per¬ 
haps in an age in which women have taken upon 
themselves to perform all kinds of work and pro¬ 
fessional duties formerly confined to men alone, we 
may expect an increase in the number of female parish 
clerks, in spite of legal enactments and other absurd 
restrictions. Since women can be churchwardens, and 
have been so long ago as 1672, sextons, overseers and 
registrars of births, and much else, and even at one 
time were parish constables, it seems that the pleasant 
duties of a parish clerk might not be uncongenial to 
them, though they be debarred by law from receiving 
the title and rank of the office. 



CHAPTER XVII 


SOME YORKSHIRE CLERKS 

D URING many years of the time that the Rev. 

John Torre occupied the rectory of Catwick, 
Thomas Dixon 1 was associated with him as parish clerk. 
He is described as a little man, old-looking for his age, 
and in the later years of his life able to walk only 
with difficulty. These peculiarities, however, did not 
prevent his winning a young woman for his wife. 
Possibly she saw the sterling character of the man, 
and admired and loved him for it. 

Dixon was strongly attached to the rector, so much 
so, that to him neither the rector nor the things 
belonging to the rector, whether animate or inanimate, 
could do wrong. He had a watch, and even though it 
might not be one of the best, a watch was no small 
acquisition to a working man of his time. He did not 
live in the days of the three-and-sixpenny marvel, or 
of the half-crown wonder, now to be found in the 
pocket of almost every schoolboy. Dixon’s watch 
was of the kind worn by the well-known Captain 
Cuttle, which Dickens describes as being “a silver 
watch, which was so big and so tight in the pocket that 
it came out like a bung” when its owner drew it from 
the depths to see the time. It must, consequently, 

1 This account of the clerks Dixon and Fewson was sent by the Rev. 
J. Gaskell Exton, and is published by the permission of the editor of the 
Yorkshire Weekly Post. 


206 


SOME YORKSHIRE CLERKS 


207 

have cost many half-crowns, but yet as timekeeper it 
was somewhat of a failure. In this, too, it resembled 
that of the famous captain of which its proud possessor, 
as everybody knows, used to say, “ Put you back half- 
an-hour every morning, and about another quarter 
towards the afternoon, and you’ve a watch that can be 
equalled by a few and excelled by none.” Dixon, 
therefore, when asked the time of day, was usually 
obliged to go through an arithmetical calculation 
before he could reply. 

On Sunday, however, all was different; he then had 
no hesitation whatever in at once declaring the correct 
time. For every Sunday morning he put his watch by 
the rector’s clock, and it mattered not how far the 
rector’s clock might be fast or slow, what that clock 
said was the true time for Dixon. And though the 
remonstrances of the parishioners might be loud and 
long, they were all in vain, for according to the rector’s 
clock he rang the church bells, and so the services 
commenced. He loved the rector, therefore the rector’s 
clock could not be wrong. Evidently Dixon was capable 
of strong affection, a quality of no mean moral order. 

Before the enclosure of parishes was common, and 
their various fields separated by hedges or other 
fences ; before, too, the ordnance survey with its many 
calculations was an accomplished fact, much more 
measuring of land in connection with work done each 
year was required than at present. It was a necessity, 
therefore, that each village should have in or near it 
a man skilled in the science of calculation. Con¬ 
sequently, the acquirement of figures was fostered, and 
so in the earlier part of the nineteenth century almost 
every parish could produce a man supposed to be, and 
who probably was, great in arithmetic. Catwick’s 


208 


THE PARISH CLERK 


calculator was Dixon, and he was generally thought 
by his co-villagers to be as learned a one as any other, 
if not more so. 

He had, however, a great rival at Long Riston. 
This was one Richard Fewson, who, like Dixon, was 
clerk of his parish ; but while Dixon was a shopkeeper 
Fewson kept the village school. 

Fewson’s modes of punishing refractory scholars 
were somewhat peculiar. Either a culprit was hoisted 
on the back of another scholar, or made to stoop till 
his nose entered a hole in the desk, and when in one 
or other of these positions was made to feel the singular 
sensation caused by a sound caning on that particular 
part of his anatomy which it is said “nature intends 
for correction.” Sometimes, too, an offender was made 
to sit in a small basket, to the cross handle of which 
a rope had been tied, and by this means he was 
hoisted to a beam near the roof of the school. Here he 
was compelled to stay for a longer or shorter period, 
according to the offence, knowing that, if he moved to 
ease his crippled position, the basket would tilt and he 
would fall to the floor. 

On one occasion, with an exceptionally refractory 
pupil, his mode of punishment was even more peculiar 
still. Having told all the girls to turn their faces to 
the wall—and not one of them, so my informant, one 
of the boys, said, would dare to disobey the order—he 
chalked the shape of a grave on the floor of the school¬ 
room. He then made the boy, an incorrigible truant, 
strip off all his clothes, and when he stood covered only 
in nature’s dress, told him in solemn tones that he was 
going to bury him alive and under the floor. One 
scholar was then sent for a pick, and when this was 
fetched, another was sent for a shovel. By the time 


SOME YORKSHIRE CLERKS 


209 

they were both brought, the truant was in a panic of 
fear, the end hoped for. The master then sternly asked 
the boy if he would play truant again, to which the boy 
quickly answered no. On this, he was allowed to 
dress, being assured as he did so that if ever again he 
stopped from school without leave he should certainly 
be buried alive, and so great was the dread produced, 
the boy from that time was regularly found at school. 

If parents objected to these punishments, they were 
simply told to take their children from school, which, 
as Fewson was the only master for miles around, he 
knew they would be loath to do. Fewson taught nearly 
all the children of the district whose parents felt it 
necessary that they should have any education. He is 
said to have turned out good scholars in the three R’s, 
his curriculum being limited to these subjects, with, for 
an extra fee, mensuration added. 

But Fewson, if he did not teach it, felt himself to be 
well up in astronomy. One summer, an old boy of his 
told me, he got the children—my informant amongst 
the number—to collect from their parents and others 
for a trip to Hornsea. When the money was all in he 
complained that the amount was insufficient for a trip, 
and suggested that a telescope he had seen advertised 
should be bought with the money. If this were done, 
he promised that those who had subscribed should 
have the telescope in turn to look through from Satur¬ 
day to Monday. The telescope was purchased, and 
each subscriber had it once, and then it was no more 
seen. From that time it became the entire property of 
the master. The children never again collected for 
a trip, and small wonder. 

Fewson was a good singer and musician gener¬ 
ally, so in addition to his office as clerk he held the 
p 


210 


THE PARISH CLERK 


position of choirmaster. At church on Sunday he sat 
at the west end, the boys of the village sitting behind 
him, and it was part of his duty to see that they 
behaved themselves decorously. Should a boy make 
any disturbance Fewson’s hand fell heavily on the 
offender’s ears, and so sharply that the sound of the 
blows could be heard throughout the church. Such in¬ 
cidents as this were by no means uncommon in churches 
in the days when Fewson and Dixon flourished, and 
they were looked upon as nothing extraordinary, for 
small compunction was felt in the punishment of unruly 
urchins. 

I have been told of another clerk, for instance, who 
dealt such severe blows on the heads of boys, who 
behaved in the least badly, with a by no means small 
stick, that, like Fewson’s, they, too, resounded all over 
the church. This clerk was known as “Old Crack 
Skull,” and there were many others who might as 
appropriately have borne the name. 

As parish clerk, Fewson attended the Archdeacon’s 
visitation with the churchwardens, whose custom it 
was on each such occasion to spend about £3 in 
eating and drinking. On the appointment of a new 
and reforming churchwarden this expenditure was 
stopped, and for the first time Fewson returned to 
Riston sober. Here he looked at the churchwarden 
and sorrowfully said, “ For thirty years I have been to 
the visitation and always got home drunk ; Sally will 
think I haven’t been.” He then turned into the public- 
house, and afterwards reached home in the condition 
Sally, his wife, would expect. 

Insobriety was the normal condition of Fewson after 
school hours. It was his invariable custom to visit 
the public-house each evening, where he always found 



THE CHURCH OF ST. MARGARET, WESTMINSTER 























































SOME YORKSHIRE CLERKS 


21 I 


a clean pipe and an ounce of tobacco ready for him. 
Here he acted as president of those who forgathered, 
being by virtue of his wisdom readily conceded this 
position. His favourite drink was gin, and of this he 
imbibed freely ; leaving for home about ten o’clock, 
which he found usually only after many a stumble and 
sometimes a fall. He, however, managed to save 
money, with which he built himself a house at Arnold, 
adorning it, as still to be seen, with the carved heads 
of saints and others, begged from the owners of the 
various ancient ecclesiastical piles of the neighbour¬ 
hood. He died about seventy years ago, and was buried 
at Riston. 

Between Dixon and Fewson there was much friendly 
strife with regard to the solving of hard arithmetical 
problems. This contest was no mere private matter. 
It was entered into with great zest by the men of 
both the villages concerned; the Catwickians and 
the Ristonians each backing their man to win. “A 
straw shows which way the wind blows,” we say, and 
herein we may feel a breathing of the Holderness 
man’s love of his clan, an affection which has done 
much to develop and to strengthen his character. 

Dixon was employed by the harvesters and others 
to measure the land which they had reaped, or on 
which they had otherwise worked. When the different 
measurements had been taken, he, of course, had to 
find the result. For this, he needed no pen, ink, or 
paper, nor yet a slate and pencil. He made his calcu¬ 
lations by a much more economic method than these 
would supply. Fie sat down in the field he had 
measured, took off his beaver hat, and, using it as 
a kind of blackboard, with a piece of chalk worked 
out the result of his measurements on its crown. 


212 


THE PARISH CLERK 


Dixon must have been a man of resources, as are 
most Holderness men where the saving of money is 
concerned. I have heard it said that the spirit of 
economy has so permeated their character that it has 
influenced even their speech. “So saving are they,” 
say some, “ that the definite article, the, is never used 
by them in their talk.” But this is a libel ; another 
and a truer reason may be found for the omission in 
their Scandinavian origin. 

Another parish clerk who held office at a church 
about five miles from Catwick, by trade a tailor, was 
a noted character and remarkable for his parsimonious 
habits. He is described as having been a very little 
man and of an extremely attenuated appearance. The 
story of his economy during his honeymoon, when the 
happy pair stayed in some cheap town lodgings, is not 
pleasing. 

His great effort in saving, however, resulted from 
his sporting proclivities. Tailor though he was, he 
conceived a great desire to be a mighty hunter. So 
strong did this passion burn within him that he made 
up his mind, sooner or later, to hunt, and with the 
best, in a red coat, too. He therefore began to save 
with this object in view. Denying himself every 
luxury and most other things which are usually 
counted necessaries, for long he lived, it is said, on 
half a salt herring a day with a little bread or a few 
vegetables in addition. By doing so, he Avas able to 
put almost all he earned to the furtherance of the pur¬ 
pose of his heart. This went on till he had saved £200. 
Then he felt his day was come. He bought a horse, 
made himself the scarlet coat, and went to the hunt as 
he thought a gentleman should. His hunting lasted 
for two seasons, when, the money he had saved being 


SOME YORKSHIRE CLERKS 


213 


spent, he went back to his trade, at which he worked 
as energetically as ever. 

At the west end of the nave of Catwick Church 
formerly was erected a gallery. In this loft, as it was 
commonly called, the musicians of the parish sang 
or played. Various instruments, bassoon, trombone, 
violoncello, cornet, cornopean, and clarionet, flute, 
fiddle, and flageolet, or some of their number, were 
employed, calling to mind the band of Nebuchad¬ 
nezzar of old. The noise made in the tuning of the 
instruments to the proper pitch may be readily im¬ 
agined. Now, the church possesses an organ, and the 
choirmen and boys have their places in the chancel, 
while the musicians of the parish occupy the front 
seats of the nave. This arrangement is eminently 
suitable for effectually leading the praises of the 
people, but not perhaps more so, its noise notwith¬ 
standing, than the former style ; indeed, I am some¬ 
what doubtful if the new equals the old. The old 
certainly had the merit of engaging most, if not all, 
the musicians of the village in the worship of the 
church. 

At the east end of the nave, in the days of the loft, 
stood a kind of triple pulpit, commonly called a three- 
decker. It was composed of three compartments, the 
second above and behind the first, and the third 
similarly placed with regard to the second. The 
lowest, resting on the floor, was the place for the 
clerk, the middle was for the parson when reading 
the prayers and Scriptures, and the highest for the 
parson when preaching. Such pulpits are now almost 
as completely things of the past as the old warships 
from which, in derision, they got their name. Once 
only have I read the service and preached from a three- 


214 


THE PARISH CLERK 


decker, and then the clerk did not occupy the position 
assigned to him. Dixon, however, always used the 
little desk at the foot of the Catwick pulpit, and from 
it took his share of the service. 

It was part of his duty, as clerk, to choose and to 
give out the number of the hymns. Now Dixon, like 
Fewson, was a singer, and felt that the choir could not 
get on without the help of his voice in the gallery 
when the hymns were sung. Consequently, he then 
left his box and went to the singing loft; but, to save 
time, as he marched down the aisle from east to west, 
and as he mounted the steps of the gallery, he slowly 
and solemnly announced the number of the hymn and 
read the lines of the first verse. When the hymn was 
sung, our bird-like clerk came down again from the 
heights of the loft and returned to his perch at the base 
of the pulpit. 

Nowadays, we should consider such proceedings 
very unseemly, but it would have been thought nothing 
of in the days of Dixon. Scenes, according to our 
ideas, much more grotesque were then of frequent 
occurrence. We have already looked on at least one ; 
here is another which took place in the neighbouring 
church of Skipsea one Sunday afternoon some sixty 
years ago, and in connection with singing. The 
account was given to me by a parishioner of about 
eighty years of age, who was one of the choirmen on 
the occasion. 

The leading singer, he said, there being no instru¬ 
ment, started a tune for the hymn. It would not fit 
the words, and he soon came to a full stop, and choir 
and congregation with him. At this, one of the con¬ 
gregation, in a voice that could be heard the whole 
church over, called out, “Give it up, George! Give 


SOME YORKSHIRE CLERKS 


215 

it up !” “No, no,” said the vicar in answer, leaning 
over his desk, “No, no, George, try again! try 
again!” George tried again, and again failed. But 
the vicar still encouraged him with “ Have another 
try, George! Have another try ! You may get it yet!” 
George tried the third time, and now hit upon a right 
tune ; and to the general delight the hymn was sung 
through. 

Without doubt, in the days of our forefathers the 
services of the Church were conducted with the greatest 
freedom. But we may not judge those who preceded 
us by our own standard, nor yet apart from the time in 
which they lived. 

When two young people of Catwick or its neigh¬ 
bourhood feel they can live no longer without each 
other, they in local phrase “put in the banns.” 
They then, of course, expect to have them published, 
or again in local idiom “thrown over the pulpit.” On 
all such occasions, according to a very old custom, 
after the rector had read out the names, with the usual 
injunction following, from the middle compartment of 
the three-decker, Dixon would rise from his seat below, 
and slowly and clearly cry out, “ God speed ’em weel ” 
(God speed them well). By this pious wish he prayed 
for a blessing on those about to be wed, and in this 
the congregation joined, for they responded with 
Amen. 

Dixon was the last of the Catwick clerks to keep this 
custom. Much more recently, however, than the time 
he held office, members of the congregation, usually 
those seated in the loft, on the publication of the 
banns of some well-known people, have called out the 
time-honoured phrase. But it is now heard no more. 
The custom has gone into a like oblivion to that of the 



2i6 


THE PARISH CLERK 


parish clerk himself, once so important a person, in his 
own estimation if in that of no other, both in church 
and parish. “The old order changeth.” 

Thomas Dixon died at Catwick when sixty-seven 
years of age. He was buried in the churchyard on 
January 2, 1833, and by the Rev. John Torre, the 
rector he served so faithfully. 

When Sydney Smith went to see the out-of-the-way 
Yorkshire village of Foston -1 e-Clay, to which benefice 
he had been presented, his arrival occasioned great 
excitement. The parish clerk came forward to welcome 
him, a man eighty years of age, with long grey hair, 
thread-bare coat, deep wrinkles, stooping gait, and a 
crutch stick. He looked at the new parson for some 
time from under his grey shaggy eyebrows, and talked, 
and showed that age had not quenched the natural 
shrewdness of the Yorkshireman. 

At last, after a pause, he said, striking his crutch 
stick on the ground : 

“ Master Smith, it often stroikes moy moind that 
folks as come frae London be such fools. But you,” 
he added, giving Sydney Smith a nudge with his stick, 
“ I see you be no fool.” The new vicar was gratified. 

Yorkshiremen are keen songsters, and fortissimo 
is their favourite note of expression. “ Straack up a 
bit, Jock! straack up a bit,” a Yorkshire parson used 
to shout to his clerk, when he wanted the Old Hun¬ 
dredth to be sung. Well do I remember a delightful 
old clerk in the Craven district, who used to give out 
the hymn in the accustomed form with charming 
manner. He liked not itinerant choirs, which were 
not uncommon forty or fifty years ago, and used to 
migrate from church to church, and sometimes to 
chapel, in the district where the members lived. One 


SOME YORKSHIRE CLERKS 217 

of these choirs visited the church where the Rev. — 
Morris was rector, and he was directed to give out the 
anthem which the itinerant strangers were prepared 
to sing. He neither knew nor cared what an anthem 
was ; and he gave the following somewhat confused 
notice : 

“ Let us sing to the praise and glory of God the 
fiftieth Psalm, while you folks sing th’ anthem ,” casting 
a scornful glance at the wandering musicians in the 
opposite gallery. 

Missionary meetings and sermons were somewhat 
rare in those days, but the special preacher for 
missions, commonly called the deputation, who per¬ 
forms for lazy clerics the task of instructing the people 
about work in the mission field—a duty which could 
well be performed by the vicar himself—had already 
begun his itinerant course. The congregation were 
waiting in the churchyard for his arrival, when the old 
Yorkshire vicar, mentioned above, said to his clerk, 
“Jock, ye maunt let ’em into th’ church ; the dippita- 
tion a’n’t coom.” Presently two clergymen arrived, 
when the clerk called out, “Ye maunt gang hoame ; 
t’ deppitation’s coom.” The old vicar made an excel¬ 
lent chairman, his introductory remarks being models 
of brevity: “ T’ furst deppitation will speak!” “ T’ 
second deppitation will speak ! ” after which the clerk 
lighted some candles in the singing gallery, and gave 
out for an appropriate hymn, “ Vital spark of heavenly 
flame.” 

A writer in Chambers’s Journal tells of a curious 
class of clergymen who existed forty years ago, and 
were known as “Northern Lights,” the light from a 
spiritual point of view being somewhat dim and 
flickering. The writer, who was the vicar for twenty- 


2l8 


THE PARISH CLERK 

five years of a moorland parish, tells of several clerks 
who were associated with these clerics, and who were 
as quaint and curious in their ways as their masters. 1 
The village was a hamlet on the edge of the Yorkshire 
moors, near the confines of Derbyshire. Beside the 
church was a public-house kept by the parish clerk, 
Jerry, a dapper little man, who on Sundays and funeral 
days always wore a wig, an old-fashioned tailed coat, 
black stockings, and shoes with buckles. His house was 
known as “Heaven’s Gate,” where the farmers from 
the neighbouring farms used to drink and stay a week 
at a time. Jerry used to direct the funerals, make the 
clerkly responses, and then provide the funeral party 
with good cheer at his inn. His invitation was al¬ 
ways given at the graveside in a high-pitched falsetto 
voice, and the formula ran in these words, and was 
never varied : 

“Friends of the corpse is respectfully requested to 
call at my house, and partake then and there of such 
refreshments as is provided for them.” 

Much intemperance and disorder often followed these 
funeral feastings. An old song long preserved in the 
district depicts one of these funerals, which was by 
no means a one-day affair, but sometimes lasted 
several days, during which the drinking went on. 
The inn was perhaps a necessity in this out-of-the- 
world place, but it was unfortunately a great tempta¬ 
tion to the inhabitants, and to the old Northern Light 
parson who preceded the vicar whose reminiscences we 
are recording. Here in the inn the old parson sat 
between morning and afternoon service with a long 
clay pipe in his mouth and a glass of whisky by his 

1 By the kindness of the editor of Chambers s Journal I am permitted 
to retell some of the stories of the manners of these clerks and parsons. 


SOME YORKSHIRE CLERKS 


219 

side. When the bells began to settle and the time of 
service approached, he would send Jerry to the church 
to see if many people had arrived. When Jerry 
replied : 

“There’s not many corned yet, Mr. Nowton,” the 
parson would say : 

“Then tell them to ring another peal, Jerry, and 
just fill up my glass again.” 

The communion plate was kept at the inn under 
Jerry’s charge. Three times a year it was used, and 
the circumstances were disgraceful. Four bottles of 
port wine were deemed the proper allowance on com¬ 
munion days, and after a fractional quantity had been 
consumed in the church, the rest was finished by the 
churchwardens at the inn. One of these church¬ 
wardens drank himself to death after the communion 
service. He was a big man with a red face, and was 
always present when a bear was baited at the top of 
the hill above the village. One day the bear escaped 
and ran on to the moor ; everybody scattered in all 
directions, and several dogs were killed before the 
bear was caught. 

The successor of Jerry as clerk, but not as publican, 
was a rough, honest individual who was called Dick. 
When excited he had two oaths, “ By’r Lady!” and 
“ By the mass ! ” but as he always pronounced this last 
word mess, it was evident he did not understand the 
nature of the oath he used. He had a rough-and- 
ready way of doing things, and when handing out 
hymn-books during service he used to throw a book up 
to an applicant in the gallery to save the trouble of 
walking up the stairs in proper fashion. He talked 
the broadest Yorkshire dialect, and it was not always 
easy to understand him. This was particularly the 



220 


THE PARISH CLERK 


case when, in his capacity as clerk, he repeated the 
responses at the funeral service. 

A tremendous snowfall happened one winter, and 
the roads were all blocked. It was impossible for any 
one to go to church on the Sunday morning following 
the fall, as the snow had not been cleared away. It 
was necessary for the vicar, however, to get there, as 
he had to read out the banns of marriage which were 
being published ; so, putting on fishing-waders to pro¬ 
tect himself from the wet snow, he succeeded with 
some difficulty in getting through the drifts. In the 
churchyard, standing before the church clock, he found 
Dick intently gazing at it, so he asked him if it was 
going. His reply was laconic: “ Noa ; shoo’s froz.” 
He and the vicar then went into the church, and the 
necessary publication of banns was read in the pre¬ 
sence of the clerk alone. 

In those days it was necessary that the wedding 
service should be all over by twelve o’clock, and it was 
most important that due notice should be given of the 
date of the wedding, a matter about which Dick was 
sometimes rather careless. 

The vicar had gone into Derbyshire for a few days to 
fish the River Derwent. He was fishing a long distance 
up the stream when he heard his name called, and saw 
his servant running towards him, who said that a wed¬ 
ding was waiting for him at the church. Dick had 
forgotten to give due notice of this event. The 
vicarage trap was in readiness, but the road over the 
Derbyshire Peak was rough and steep, the pony small, 
the distance ten miles, and the vicar encumbered with 
wet clothes. The chance of getting to the church 
before twelve o’clock seemed remote. But the vicar 
and pony did their best; it was, however, half an hour 


SOME YORKSHIRE CLERKS 


221 


after the appointed time when they reached the church. 
Glancing at the clock in the tower, the vicar, to his 
astonishment, found the hands pointing to half-past 
eleven. The situation was saved, and the service was 
concluded within the prescribed time. The vicar 
turned to the clerk for an explanation. “I seed yer 
coming over the hill,” he said, “and I just stopped the 
clock a bit.” Dick was an ingenious man. 

There was another character in the parish quite as 
peculiar as Dick, and he was one of the principal 
singers, who sat in the west gallery. He had formerly 
played the clarionet, before an organ was put into the 
church. During service he always kept a red cotton 
handkerchief over his bald head, which gave him a 
decidedly comic appearance. 

On one occasion the clergyman gave out a hymn in 
the old-fashioned way : “ Let us sing to the praise and 
glory of God the twenty-first hymn, second version.” 
Up jumped the old singer and shouted, “ You’re wrang, 
maister ; it’s first version.” The clergyman corrected 
himself, when the singer again rose: “You’re wrang 
agearn ; it’s twenty-second hymn.” Without any re¬ 
mark the clergyman corrected the number, and the 
man again jumped up: “That’s reet, mon, that’s 
reet.” When the old singer died his widow was very 
anxious there should be some record on his tombstone 
of his having played the clarionet in church ; so above 
his name a trumpet-shaped instrument was carved on 
the stone, and some doggerel lines were to be added 
below. The vicar had great difficulty in persuading 
the family to abandon the lines for the text, “The 
trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised.” 

A neighbouring vicar was on one occasion taking the 
duty of an old man with failing eyesight, and Dick re- 


222 


THE PARISH CLERK 


minded him before the afternoon service that there was 
a funeral at four o’clock. “You must come into the 
church and tell me when it arrives,” he told the clerk, 
“and I will stop my sermon.” It was the habit of the 
old clergyman to relapse into a strong Yorkshire 
dialect when speaking familiarly, and this will account 
for the brief dialogue which passed between him and 
Dick as he stood at the lectern. In due course the 
funeral arrived at the church gates, and the first in¬ 
timation the congregation inside the church had of this 
fact was the appearance of Dick, who noisily threw 
open the big doors of the south porch. He then stood 
and beckoned to the clergyman, but his poor blind eyes 
could not see so far. Dick then came nearer and 
waved his hat before him. This again met with no 
response. Then he got near enough to pluck him by 
the arm, which he did rather vigorously, shouting at 
the same time, “ Shoo’s coomed.” “ Wha’s coomed?” 
replied the clergyman, relapsing into his Yorkshire 
speech. “ Funeral’s coomed,” retorted Dick. “Then 
tell her to wait a bit while I finish my sermon ” ; and 
the old man went quietly on with his discourse. 

Another instance of Dick’s failing to give proper 
notice of a service was as follows ; but on this occasion 
it was not really his fault. Some large reservoirs were 
being made in the parish, and nearly a thousand navvies 
were employed on the works. These men were con¬ 
stantly coming and going, and very often they brought 
some infectious disorder which spread among the huts 
where they lived. One day a navvy arrived who 
broke out in smallpox of a very severe kind, and in a 
couple of days the man died, and the doctor ordered 
the body to be buried the moment a coffin could be got. 
It was winter-time, and the vicar had ridden over to see 


SOME YORKSHIRE CLERKS 


223 


some friends about ten miles away. As the afternoon 
advanced it began to rain very heavily, and he decided 
not to ride back home, but to sleep at his friend’s house. 
About five o’clock a messenger arrived to say a funeral 
was waiting in the church, and he was to come at once. 
He started in drenching rain, which turned to sleet and 
snow as he approached the moor edges. It was pitch- 
dark when he got off his horse at the church gates, and 
with some difficulty he found his way into the vestry 
and put a surplice over his wet garments. He could see 
nothing in the church, but he asked when he got into 
the reading-desk if any one was there. A deep voice 
answered, “Yes, sir ; we are here ” ; and he began the 
service, which long practice had taught him to repeat 
by heart. When about half-way through the lesson he 
saw a glimmer of light, and Dick entered the church 
with a lantern, which he placed on the top of the coffin. 
It was a gruesome scene which the lantern brought 
into view. There was the coffin, and before it, in a 
seat, four figures of the navvy-bearers, and Dick him¬ 
self covered with snow and as white as if he wore a 
surplice. They filed out into the churchyard, but the 
wind had blown the snow into the grave, and this had 
to be got out before they could lower the body into it. 
The navvies, who were kind-hearted fellows, explained 
that they could give no notice of the funeral beforehand, 
and they quite understood the delay was no fault of the 
vicar’s or Dick’s. 

Dick was, in spite of his faults, an honest and kind- 
hearted man, and his death, caused by a fall from a 
ladder, was much regretted by his good vicar. On his 
death-bed the old clerk sent for his favourite grandson, 
who succeeded him in his office, and made this pathetic 
request: “ Thou’lt dig my grave, jont, lad.” 


224 


THE PARISH CLERK 


With Dick the last of the “Northern Lights” 
flickered out. Nothing now remains in the village 
recalling those old times. The village inn has been 
suppressed, and the drinking bouts are over. The old 
church has been entirely restored, and there is order 
and decency in the services. The strange thing is that 
it should have been possible that only forty years ago 
matters were in such a state of chaos and disorder, and 
in such need of drastic reformation. 

Another Yorkshire clerk flourished in the thirties at 
Bolton-on-Dearne named Thomas Rollin, commonly 
called Tommy. He used to render Psalm cii. 6: 
“I am become a pee-li-can in the wilderness, and an 
owl in the dee-sert .” Tommy was a tailor by trade, 
and made use of a ready-reckoner to assist him in 
making up his accounts, and his familiarity with that 
useful book was shown when reading the second verse 
of the forty-fifth Psalm, which Tommy invariably read: 
“ My tongue is the pen of a ready-reckoner ,” to the 
immense delight of the youthful members of the con¬ 
gregation. 


CHAPTER XVIII 


AN OLD CHESHIRE CLERK AND SOME 
OTHER WORTHIES 

I T is nearly fifty years since I used to attend the 
quaint old parish church at Lawton, Cheshire, 
situate half-way between Congleton and Crewe. It is 
a lonely spot, “ miles from anywhere,” having not the 
vestige of a village, and the congregation was formed 
of well-to-do farmers, who came from the scattered 
farmsteads. How well I remember the old parish 
clerk and the numerous duties which fell to his lot ! 
He united in his person the offices of clerk, sexton, 
beadle, church-keeper, organist, and ringer. The 
organ was of the barrel kind, and no one knew how 
to manipulate the instrument or to change the barrels, 
except the clerk. He had also to place ten decent 
loaves in a row on the communion table every Sunday 
morning, which were provided by a charitable bequest 
for the benefit of the poor widows of the parish. 
If the widows did not attend service to curtsy for 
them, the loaves were given to any one who liked to 
take them. Old Clerk Briscall baked them himself. 
He kept a small village shop about two miles from the 
church. He was also the village shoemaker. A curious 
system prevailed. As you entered the church, near 
the large stove you would see a long bench, and under 
Q 22 5 


226 


THE PARISH CLERK 


this bench a row of boots and shoes. If any one 
wanted his boots to be mended, he would take them 
to church with him and put them under the bench. 
These were collected by the cobbler-clerk, carried 
home in a sack, and brought back on the following 
Sunday neatly and carefully soled and heeled. It 
would seem strange now if on entering a church our 
eyes should light upon a row of farmers’ dirty old boots 
and the freshly-mended evidences of the clerk’s skill. 
All this took place in the fifties. In the sixties a new 
vicar came. The old organ wheezed its last phlegmatic 
tune ; it was replaced by a modern instrument with six 
stops, and a player who did his best, but occasioned 
not a little laughter on account of his numerous break¬ 
downs. The old high pews have disappeared, nice 
open benches erected, the floor relaid, a good choir 
enlisted, and everything changed for the better. 

The poor old clerk must have been almost over¬ 
whelmed by his numerous duties, and was often much 
embarrassed and exasperated by the old squire, 
Mr. C. B. Lawton, who was somewhat whimsical in 
his ways. This gentleman used to enter the church 
by his own private door, and go to his large, square, 
high-panelled family pew, and when the vicar gave out 
the hymn, he used often to shout out, “ Here, hold on ! 
I don’t like that one ; let’s have hymn Number 25,” 
or some such effort of psalmody. This request, or 
command, used to upset the organ arrangement, and 
the poor old clerk had to rummage among his barrels 
to get a suitable tune, and the operation, even if suc¬ 
cessful, took at least ten minutes, during which time 
a large amount of squeaking and the sounds of the 
writhing of woodwork and snapping of sundry catches 
were heard in the church. But the congregation was 


SOME OTHER WORTHIES 


227 


accustomed to the performance and thought little of 
it. (John Smallwood, 2 Mount Pleasant, Strangeways, 
Manchester.) 

Caistor Church, Lincolnshire, famous for the curious 
old ceremony of the gad-whip, was also celebrated for 
its clerk, old Joshua Foster, who was officiating there 
in 1884 at the time of the advent of a new vicar. 
Trinity Sunday was the first Sunday of the new clergy¬ 
man, who sorely puzzled the clerk by reading the 
Athanasian Creed. The old man peered down into 
the vicar’s family pew from his desk, casting a despair¬ 
ing glance at the wife of the vicar, who handed him a 
Prayer Book with the place found, so that he could 
make the responses. He was very economical in the 
use of handkerchiefs, and used the small pieces of 
paper on which the numbers of the metrical psalm were 
written. In vain did the wife of the vicar present him 
with red-and-white-spotted handkerchiefs, which were 
used as comforters. The church was lighted with 
tallow candles—“dips” they were called—and at in¬ 
tervals during the service Joshua would go round and 
snuff them. The snuffers soon became full, and it 
was a matter of deep interest to the congregation to 
see on whose head the snuff would fall, and to dodge 
it if it came their way. 

The Psalms of Tate and Brady’s version were sung 
and were given out with the usual preface, “ Let us sing 
to the praise and glory of God the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 8th, 

and 20th verses of the-Psalm with the Doxology.” 

How that Doxology bothered the congregation ! The 
Doxologies were all at the end of the Prayer Book, and 
it was not always easy to hit the right metre ; but that 
was of little consequence. A word added if the line 



228 


THE PARISH CLERK 


was too short, or omitted if too long, required skill, 
and made all feel that they had done their best when 
it was successfully over. After the old clerk’s death, 
he was succeeded by his son Joshua, or Jos-a-way, as 
the name was pronounced, whose son, also named 
Joshua the third, became clerk, and still holds the 
office. 

The predecessor of the vicar was a pluralist, who 
held Caistor with its two chapelries of Holton and 
Clixby and the living of Rothwell. He was non¬ 
resident, and the numerous churches were served by 
a curate. This man was a great smoker, and used to 
retire to the vestry to don the black gown and smoke 
a pipe before the sermon, the congregation singing a 
Psalm meanwhile. One Sunday he had an extra pipe, 
and Joshua told him that the people were getting im¬ 
patient. 

“ Let them sing another Psalm,” said the curate. 

“ They have, sir,” replied the clerk. 

“Then let them sing the 119th,” replied the curate. 

At last he finished his pipe, and began to put on 
the black gown, but its folds were troublesome, and 
he could not get it on. 

“I think the devil’s in the gown,” muttered the 
curate. 

“ I think he be,” dryly replied old Joshua. 

That the clerk was often a person of dignity and 
importance is shown by the recollections of an old 
parishioner of the rector of Fornham All Saints, 
near Bury St. Edmunds. “Mr. Baker, the clerk,” of 
Westley, who flourished seventy years ago, used to 
hear the children their catechism in church on Sunday 
afternoons. “Ah, sir, I often think of what he told 
us, that the world would not come to an end till people 


SOME OTHER WORTHIES 


229 


were killed ivholesale , and now think how often that 
happens! ” She was probably not alluding to the 
South African or the Japanese war, but to railway acci¬ 
dents, as she at once told her favourite story of her 
solitary journey to Newmarket, when on her return 
she remarked, “ If I live to set foot on firm ground, 
never no more for me.” 

The old clerk used to escort the boys and girls to 
their confirmation at Bury, and superintended their 
meal of bread, beer, and cheese after the rite. There 
was no music at Westley, except when Mr. Humm, the 
clerk of Fornham, “brought up his fiddle and some 
of the Fornham girls.” Nowadays, adds the rector, 
the Rev. C. L. Feltoe, the clerks are much more 
illiterate than their predecessors, and, unlike them, non¬ 
communicants. 

Another East Anglian clerk was a quaint character, 
who had a great respect for all the old familiar residents 

in his town of S-, and a corresponding contempt 

for all new-comers. The family of my informant had 
resided there for nearly a century, and had, therefore, 
the approval of the clerk. On one occasion some of 
the family found their seat occupied by some new 
people who had recently settled in the town. The 
clerk rushed up, and in a loud voice, audible all over the 
church, exclaimed : 

“ Never you mind that air muck in your pew. I’ll 
soon turn ’em out. The imperent muck, takin’ your 
seats ! ” 

The family insisted upon “the muck” being left in 
peace, and forbade the eviction. 

The old clerk used vigorously a long stick to keep 
the school children in order. He was much respected, 
and his death universally regretted. 




230 


THE PARISH CLERK 


Fifty years ago there was a dear, good old clerk, 
named Bamford, at Mangotsfield Church, who used 
to give out the hymns, verse by verse. The vicar 
always impressed upon him to read out the words in a 
loud voice, and at the last word in each verse to pitch 
his voice. The hymn, “This world’s a dream,” was 
rendered in this fashion : 

“This world's a drarne , an empty shoe, 

But this bright world to which I goo 
Hath jaays substantial an’ sincere, 

When shall I wack and find me theer?” 

William Smart, the parish clerk of Windermere in 
the sixties, was a rare specimen. By trade an auctioneer 
and purveyor of Westmorland hams, he was known 
all round the countryside. He was very patronising 
to the assistant curates, and a favourite expression of 
his was “me and my curate.” When one of his 
curates first took a wedding he was commanded by the 
clerk, “When you get to ‘hold his peace,’ do you 
stop, for I have something to say.” The curate was 
obedient, and stopped at the end of his prescribed 
words, when William shouted out, “God speed them 
well ! ” 

This unauthorised but excellent clerkly custom was 
not confined to Windermere, but was common in 
several Norfolk churches, and at Flope Church, Derby¬ 
shire, the clerk used to express the good wish after the 
publication of the banns. 

The old-fashioned clerk was usually much impressed 
by the importance of his office. Crowhurst, the old 
clerk at Allington, Kent, in 1852, just before a wedding 
took place, marched up to the rector, the Rev. E. B. 
Heawood, and said : 

“ If you please, sir, the ceremony can’t proceed.” 


SOME OTHER WORTHIES 


231 


“Why not? What do you mean?” asked the sur¬ 
prised rector. 

“The marriage can’t take place, sir,” he answered 
solemnly, “ ’cos I’ve lost my specs.” 

Fortunately a pupil of the rector’s came forward and 
confessed that he had hidden the old man’s spectacles 
in a hole in the wall, and the ceremony was no longer 
delayed. 

At Bromley College the same clergyman had a 
curious experience, when the clerk was called to assist 
at a service for the Churching of Women. As it was 
very unusually performed there, he was totally at a loss 
what service to find, and asked in great perturbation : 

“ Please, sir, be I to read the responses in the services 
for the Queen’s Accession?” 

The same service sadly puzzled the clerk at Hadding¬ 
ton, who was in the employment of the then Earl of 

W-. One Sunday Lady W-came to be churched, 

when in response to the clergyman’s prayer, “ O Lord, 
save this woman, Thy servant,” the clerk said, “Who 
putteth her ladyship’s trust in Thee.” 

The Rev. W. H. Langhorne tells me some amusing 
anecdotes of old clerks. Once he was preaching in a 
village church for home missions, and just as he was 
reaching the pulpit he observed that the clerk was 
preparing to take round the plate. He whispered to 
him to wait till he had finished his sermon. “ It won’t 
make a ha’porth o’ difference,” was the encouraging 
reply. But at the close of the sermon there was another 
invitation to give additional offerings, which were not 
withheld. 

In the old days when Bell's Life was the chief sport¬ 
ing paper, a hunting parson was taking the service one 
Sunday morning and gave out the day of the month 




THE PARISH CLERK 


232 

and the Psalm. The clerk corrected him, but the rector 
again gave out the same day and was again corrected. 
The rector, in order to decide the controversy, produced 
a copy of Bell’s Life and handed it to the clerk, who 
then submitted. It is not often, I imagine, that a sport¬ 
ing paper has been appealed to for the purpose of 
deciding what Psalms should be read in church. 

One very wet Sunday Mr. Langhorne was summoned 
to take an afternoon service several miles distant from his 
residence. The congregation consisted of only half a 
dozen people. After service he said to the clerk that it 
was hardly worth while coming so far. “We might 
have done with a worse ’un,” was his reply. 

That reminds me of another clerk who apologised to 
a church dignitary who had been summoned to take a 
service at a small country church. The form of the 
apology was not quite happily expressed. He said, 
“ I am sorry, sir, to have brought such a gentleman as 
you to this poor place. A worse would have done, if 
we had only known where to find him ! ” 

The new vicar of D-was calling upon an old 

parishioner, who said to him : “Ah ! I’ve seen mony 

changes. I’ve seen four vicars of D-. First there 

was Canon G-, then there was Mr. T-, who’s 

now a bishop, and then Mr. F- came, and now 

you’ve coom, and we’ve wossened (worsened) every 
toime.” 

A clerk named Turner, who officiated at Alnwick, 
was a great character, and in spite of his odd ways was 
esteemed for his genuine worth and fidelity to the three 
vicars under whom he served. He looked upon the 
church and parish as his own, and used to say that he 
had trained many “ kewrats ” in their duties. His 
responses in the Psalms were often startling. Instead 




SOME OTHER WORTHIES 


233 


of “The Lord setteth up the meek,” he would say, 
“The Lord sitteth upon the meek.” “The great 
leviathan” he rendered “the great live thing.” 
“Caterpillars innumerable” he pronounced “ cater- 
pilliars innumerabble.” When a funeral was late he 
scolded the bearers at the churchyard gate. 

At Wimborne Minster, Dorset, there used to be 
three priest vicars, and each of them had a clerk. It 
was the custom for each of the priest vicars to take the 
services for a week in rotation, and the first lesson was 
always read by “the clerk of the week,” as he was 
called. On Sundays, when there was a celebration of 
the Holy Communion, the “clerk of the week” ad¬ 
vanced to the lectern after the sermon was finished, and 
said, “All who wish to receive the Holy Communion, 
draw near.” These words, in the case of one worthy, 
named David Butler, were always spoken in a high- 
pitched, drawling voice, and finished off with a kick 
to the rearwards of the right leg. 

The old clerk at Woodmancote, near Henfield, 
Sussex, was a very important person. There was 
never any committee meeting but he attended. So 
much so, that one day in church leading the singing 
and music with voice and flute, when it came to the 
“ Gloria ” he sang loudly, “ As it was in the committee 
meeting, is now, and ever shall be . . .” 

An acquaintance remarked to him afterwards that 
the last meeting he attended must have been a rather 
long one ! 

A story is told of the clerk at West Dean, near 
Alfriston, Sussex. Starting the first line of the Psalm 
or hymn, he found that he could not see owing to the 
failing light on a dark wintry afternoon. So he said, 
“My eyes are dim, I canna see,” at which the con- 



THE PARISH CLERK 


2 34 

gregation, composed of ignorant labourers, sang after 
him the same words. The clerk was wroth, and cried 
out, “Tarnation fools you all must be.” Here again 
the congregation sang the same words after the clerk. 

Strange times, strange manners ! 

A writer in the Spectator tells of a clerk who, like 
many of his fellows, used to convert “ leviathan” into 
“that girt livin’ thing,” thus letting loose before his 
hearers’ imagination a whole travelling menagerie, 
from which each could select the beast which most 
struck his fancy. This clerk was a picturesque person¬ 
ality, although, unlike his predecessor, he had dis¬ 
carded top-boots and cords for Sunday wear in favour 
of black broadcloth. When not engaged in marrying 
or burying one of his flock, he fetched and carried 
for the neighbours from the adjacent country town, or 
sold herrings and oranges (what mysterious affinity 
is there between these two dissimilar edibles that they 
are invariably hawked in company?) from door to 
door. During harvest he rang the morning “ leazing 
bell ” to start the gleaners to the fields, and every 
night he tolled the curfew, by which the villagers set 
their clocks. He it was who, when the sermon was 
ended, strode with dignity from his box on the “ lower 
deck” down the aisle to the belfry, and pulled the 
“dishing-up bell ” to let home-keeping mothers know 
that hungry husbands and sons were set free. Folks 
in those days were less easily fatigued than they are 
now. Services were longer, the preacher’s “leanings 
to mercy” were less marked, and congregations counted 
themselves ill-used if they broke up under the two 
hours. The boys stood in wholesome awe of the clerk, 
as well they might, for his eye was keen and his stick 
far-reaching. Moreover, no fear of man prevented 


SOME OTHER WORTHIES 


2 35 


him from applying the latter with effect to the heads 
of slumberers during divine service. By way of re¬ 
taliation the youths, when opportunity occurred, would 
tie the cord of the “tinkler” to the weathercock, and 
the parish on a stormy night would be startled by the 
sound of ghostly, fitful ting-tangs. To Sunday blows 
the clerk, who was afflicted with rheumatism, added 
weekday anathemas as he climbed the steep ascent to 
the bell-chamber and the yet steeper ladder that gave 
access to the leads of the tower. The perpetual hostility 
that reigned between discipliner and disciplined bred 
no ill will on either side. “Boys must be boys” and 
“He’s paid for lookin’ arter things” were the argu¬ 
ments whereby the antagonists testified their mutual 
respect, in both of which the parents concurred ; and 
his severity did not cost the old man a penny when he 
made his Easter rounds to collect the “sweepings.” 
It may, perhaps, be well to explain that the “sweep¬ 
ings” consisted of an annual sum of threepence which 
every householder contributed towards the cleaning 
of the church, and which represented a large part of 
the clerk’s salary. 1 

The Rev. C. C. Prichard recollects a curious old 
character at Churchdown, near Gloucester, commonly 
pronounced “ Chosen ” in those days. 

This old clerk was only absent one Sunday from 
“ Chosen ” Church, and then he was lent to the neigh¬ 
bouring church of Leckhampton. Instead of the re¬ 
sponse “ And make Thy chosen people joyful,” mindful 
of his change of locality he gave out with a strong nasal 
twang, “And make Thy Leck’ampton people joyful.” 
The Psalms were somewhat a trouble to him, and to the 
congregation too. One verse he rendered “Like a 

1 Spectator, 14 October, 1905. 


THE PARISH CLERK 


236 

paycock in a wild-dook’s nest, and a howl in the dess ert, 
even so be I.” He was a thoroughly good old man, 
and brought up a large family very respectably. 

I remember the old clerk, James Ingham, of Whalley 
Church, Lancashire. It is a grand old church, full of 
old dark oak square pews, and the clerk was in keep¬ 
ing with his surroundings. He was a humorous 
character, and had a splendid deep bass voice. He 
used to show people over the ruined abbey, and his 
imagination supplied the place of accurate historical 
information. Some American visitors asked him what 
a certain path was used for. “Well, marm,” said 
James, “ it’s onsartin : but they do say the monks and 
nuns used to walk up and down this ’ere path, arm-in¬ 
arm, of a summer arternoon.” 

It is recorded of one Thomas Atkins, clerk of 
Chillenden Church, Kent, that he used to leave his 
reading-desk at the commencement of the General 
Thanksgiving and proceed to the west gallery, where 
he gave out the hymn and sang a duet with the village 
cobbler, in which the congregation joined as best they 
could. He walked very slowly down the church, and 
said the Amen at the end of the Thanksgiving wherever 
he happened to be, and that was generally half-way up 
the gallery stairs, whence his feeble voice, with a good 
tremolo, used to sound like the distant baaing of a 
sheep. It was a strange and curious performance. 

Miss Rawnsley, of Raithby Hall, Spilsby, gives some 
delightful reminiscences of a most original specimen 
of the race of clerks, old Haw, who officiated at Halton 
Holgate, Lincolnshire. He was a curious mixture of 
worldly wisdom and strong religious feeling. The 
former was exemplified by his greeting to a cousin of 
my correspondent, just returned from his ordination. 


SOME OTHER WORTHIES 


237 

He said, “ Now, Mr. Hardwick, remember thou must 
creep an’ crawl along the ’edge bottoms, and then tha’ill 
make thee a bishop.” 

He was a strong advocate of Fasting Communion. 
No one ever knew whence he derived his strong- views 
on the subject. The rector never taught it. Probably 
his ideas were derived from some long lingering 
tradition. When over seventy years of age he set out 
fasting to walk six miles to attend a late celebration at 
a distant church on the occasion of its consecration. 
Nothing would ever induce him to break his fast before 
communicating ; and on this occasion he was picked 
up in a dead faint, his journey being only half com¬ 
pleted. 

On Wednesdays and Fridays he always went into 
the church at eleven o’clock and said the Litany aloud. 
When asked his reason, he said, “ I’ve gotten an un¬ 
godly wife and two ungodly bairns to pray for, sir.” 
He once asked one of the rector’s daughters to help 
him in the Parody of the Psalms he was making ; and 
on another occasion requested to have the old altar- 
cloth, which had just been replaced by a new one, “to 
make a slop to dig the graves in, and no sacrilege 
neither.” 

At Sutton Maddock, Shropshire, there was a clerk 
who used to read “ Pe-X\-can in the wilderness,” and 
the usual “ Hoivl in the Ztesart,” and “Teach the 
.Senators wisdom,” and when the Litany was said on 
Wednesdays and Fridays declared that it was not in 
his Prayer Book though he took part in it every 
Sunday. When a kind lady, Miss Barnfield, expressed 
a wish that his wife would get better, he replied, “I 
hope her will or summat.” 

At Claverley, in the same county, on one Sunday, the 


THE PARISH CLERK 


238 

rector told the clerk to give notice that there would be 
no service that afternoon, adding sotto voce , “ I am 
going to dine at the Paper Mill.” He was rather 
disgusted when the clerk announced, “There will be no 
Diving Service this arternoon, the Parson is going to 
dine at the Peaper Mill.” The clerk was no respecter 
of persons, and once marched up to the rector’s wife 
in church and told her to keep her eyes from beholding 
vanity. 

The Rev. F. A. Davis tells me of a story of an 
illiterate clerk who served in a Wiltshire church, where 
a cousin of my informant was vicar. A London clergy¬ 
man, who had never preached or been in a country 
church before, came to take the duty. He was anxious 
to find out if the people listened or understood sermons. 
His Sunday morning discourse was based on the text 
St. Mark v. 1—17, containing the account of the heal¬ 
ing of the demoniacally possessed persons at Gadara, 
and the destruction of the herd of swine. On the 
Monday he asked the clerk if he understood the 
sermon. The clerk replied somewhat doubtfully, 
“Yes.” “But is there anything you do not quite 
understand?” said the clergyman; “I shall be only 
too glad to explain anything I can, so as to help you.” 
After a good deal of scratching the back of his head 
and much hesitating, the clerk replied, “Who paid 
for them pigs?” 

Many examples I have given of the dry humour of 
old clerks, which is sometimes rather disconcerting. 
A stranger was taking the duty in a church, and after 
service made a few remarks about the weather, assert¬ 
ing that it promised to be a fine day for the haymaking 
to-morrow. “Ah, sir,” replied the clerk, “ they do say 
that the hypocrites can discern the face of the sky.” 








WILLIAM HINTON, A WILTSHIRE WORTHY 

PRAWN BY THE REV. JULIAN CHARLES YOUNG 













SOME OTHER WORTHIES 


2 39 


The Rev. Julian Charles Young, rector of Ilmington, 
in his Memoir of Charles Mayne Young , Tragedian , 
published in 1871, speaks of the race of parish clerks 
who flourished in Wiltshire in the first half of the last 
century. Instead of a nice discrimination being exer¬ 
cised in the choice of a clerk, it seems to have been the 
rule to select the sorriest driveller that could be found 
—some “lean and slippered pantaloon, with spectacles 
on nose and pouch at side,” 

“triumphant over time, 

And over tune, and over rhyme ”— 

who by his snivelling enunciation of the responses and 
his nasal drawlings of the A—mens, was sure to pro¬ 
voke the risibility of his hearers. Mr. Young’s own 
clerk was, however, a very worthy man, of such lofty 
aspirations and of such blameless purity of life, that 
in making him Nature made the very ideal of a village 
clerk and schoolmaster, and then “broke the mould.” 
His grave yet kindly countenance, his well-propor¬ 
tioned limbs encased in breeches and gaiters of corded 
kerseymere, and the natural dignity of his carriage, 
combined “to give the world assurance of” a bishop 
rather than a clerk. It needed familiarity with his 
inner life to know how much simpleness of purpose 
and simplicity of mind and contentment and piety lay 
hid under a pompous exterior and a phraseology some¬ 
what stilted. 

His name was William Hinton, and he dwelt in a 
small whitewashed cottage which, by virtue of his 
situation as schoolmaster, he enjoyed rent free. It 
stood in the heart of a small but well-stocked kitchen 
garden. His salary was £40 per annum, and on this, 
with perhaps £5 a year more derived from church fees, 
he brought up five children in the greatest respect- 




THE PARISH CLERK 


240 

ability, all of whom did well in life. They regarded 
their father with absolute veneration. By the side of 
the labourer who only knew what he had taught him, 
or of the farmer who knew less, he was a giant among 
pygmies—a Triton among minnows. 

When Mr. Young went to the village, with the ex¬ 
ception of a Bible, a Prayer Book, a random tract or 
two, and a Moore's Almanac , there was scarcely a book 
to be found in it. The rector kindly allowed his clerk 
the run of his well-stocked library. Hinton devoured 
the books greedily. So receptive and imitative was 
his intellect that his conversation, his deportment, 
even his spirit, became imbued with the individuality 
of the author whose writings he had been studying. 
After reading Dr. Johnson’s works his conversation 
became sententious and dogmatic. Lord Chesterfield's 
Letters produced an airiness and jauntiness that were 
quite foreign to his nature. His favourite authors 
were Jeremy Taylor, Bacon, and Milton. After many 
months reverential communion with these Goliaths of 
literature he became pensive and contemplative, and 
his manner more chastened and severe. The secluded 
village in which he dwelt had been his birthplace, and 
there he remained to the day of his death. He knew 
nothing of the outer world, and the rector found his 
intercourse with a man so original, fresh, and untainted 
a i;eal pleasure. He was physically timid, and the 
account of a voyage across the Channel or a journey 
by coach filled him with dread. One day he said to 
Mr. Young, “Am I, reverend sir, to understand that 
you voluntarily trust your perishable body to the out¬ 
side of a vehicle, of the soundness of which you know 
nothing, and suffer yourself to be drawn to and fro by 
four strange animals, of whose temper you are ignorant, 


SOME OTHER WORTHIES 


241 


and are willing to be driven by a coachman of whose 
capacity and sobriety you are uninformed?” On being 
assured that such was the case, he concluded that “the 
love of risk and adventure must be a very widely- 
spread instinct, seeing that so many people are ready 
to expose themselves to such fearful casualties.” He 
was grateful to think that he had never been exposed 
to such terrific hazards. What the worthy clerk would 
have said concerning the risks of motoring somewhat 
baffles imagination. 

When just before the opening of the Great Western 
Railway line the Company ran a coach through the 
village from Bath to Swindon, the clerk witnessed with 
his own eyes the dangers of travelling. The school 
children were marshalled in line to welcome the coach, 
bouquets of laurestina and chrysanthema were ready 
to be bestowed on the passengers, the church bells 
rang gaily, when after long waiting the cheery notes 
of the key-bugle sounded the familiar strains of 
“ Sodger Laddie,” and the steaming steeds hove in 
sight, an accident occurred. At a sharp turn just 
opposite the clerk’s house the swaying coach over¬ 
turned, and the outside passengers were thrown into 
the midst of his much-prized ash-leaf kidneys. The 
clerk fled precipitately to the extreme borders of his 
domain, and afterwards said to the rector, “Ah, sir, 
was I right in saying I would never enter such a 
dangerous carriage as a four-horse coach? I assure 
you I was not the least surprised. It was just what I 
expected.” 

When the first railway train passed through the 
village he was overwhelmed with emotion at the sight. 
He fell prostrate on the bank as if struck by a thunder¬ 
bolt. When he stood up his brain reeled, he was 
R 


242 


THE PARISH CLERK 


speechless, and stood aghast, unutterable amazement 
stamped upon his face. In the tone of a Jeremiah he 
at length gasped out, “ Well, sir, what a sight to have 
seen : but one I never care to see again ! How awful ! 
I tremble to think of it! I don’t know what to com¬ 
pare it to, unless it be to a messenger despatched from 
the infernal regions with a commission to spread desola¬ 
tion and destruction over the fair land. How much 
longer shall knowledge be allowed to go on increas¬ 
ing?” 

The rector taught the clerk how to play chess, to 
which game he took eagerly, and taught it to the 
village youths. They played it on half-holidays in 
winter and became engrossed in it, manufacturing 
chess-boards out of old book-covers and carving very 
creditable chessmen out of bits of wood. When he 
was playing with his rector one evening he lost his 
queen and at once resigned, saying, “I consider, 
reverend sir, that chess without a queen is like life 
without a female.” 

Hinton knew not a word of Latin, but he had a 
pedantic pleasure in introducing it whenever he could. 
Genders were ever a mystery to him, though with the 
help of a dictionary he would often substitute a Latin 
for an English word. Thus he used the signatures 
“ Gulielmus Hintoniensis, Rusticus Sacrista,” and 
when writing to Mrs. Young he always addressed her 
as “ Charus Domina.” On this lady’s return after a 
long absence, the clerk wrote in large letters, “Gratus, 
gratus, optatus,” and dated his greeting, “ Martius 
quinta, 1842.” A funeral notice was usually sent in 
doggerel. 

The following letter was sent to the rector’s un¬ 
married sister : 


SOME OTHER WORTHIES 


243 


“ Charus Domina, “Januarius Prima , 1840. 

“That the humble Sacrista should be still re¬ 
tained on the tablets of your memory is an unexpected 
pleasure. Your gift, as a criterion of your esteem, 
will be often looked at with delight, and be carefully 
preserved, as a memorial of your friendship ; and for 
which I beg to return my sincere thanks. May the 
meridian sunshine of happiness brighten your days 
through the voyage of life ; and may your soul be 
borne on the wings of seraphic angels to the realms of 
bliss eternal in the world to come is the sincere wish 
and fervent prayer of Charus Domina, your most 
obedient, most respectful, most obliged servant, 

“Gulielmus Hintoniensis, 

“Rusticus Sacrista. 

“GRATITUDE 

“A gift from the virtuous, the fair, and the good, 

From the affluent to the humble and low, 

Is a favour so great, so obliging and kind, 

To acknowledge I scarcely know how. 

I fain would express the sensations I feel, 

B}' imploring the blessing of Heaven 
May be showered on the lovely, the amiable maid, 

Who this gift to Sacrista has given. 

May the choicest of husbands, the best of his kind, 

Be hers by the appointment of Heaven 1 
And may sweet smiling infants as pledges of love 
To crown her connubium be given.” 

The following is a characteristic note of this worthy 
clerk, which differs somewhat from the notices usually 
sent to vicars as reminders of approaching weddings: 

“ Rev. Sir, 

“I hope it has not escaped your memory that 
the young couple at Clack are hoping to offer incense 
at the shrine of Venus this morning at the hour of ten. 

I anticipate the bridegrooms’s anxiety. 

“Rusticus Sacrista.” 


THE PARISH CLERK 


244 

He was somewhat curious on the subject of fashion¬ 
able ladies’ dresses, and once asked the rector “in what 
guise feminine respectability usually appeared at an 
evening party?” When a low dress was described to 
him, he blushed and shivered and exclaimed, “Then 
methinks, sir, there must be revelations of much which 
modesty would gladly veil.” He was terribly over¬ 
come on one occasion when he met in the rector’s 
drawing-room one evening some ladies who were 
attired, as any other gentlewomen would be, in low 
gowns. 

William Hinton was, in spite of his air of import¬ 
ance and his inflated phraseology, a simple, single- 
minded, humble soul. When the rector visited him on 
his death-bed, he greeted Mr. Young with as much 
serenity of manner as if he had been only going on a 
journey to a far country for which he had long been 
preparing. “Well, reverend and dear sir. Here we 
are, you see! come to the nightcap scene at last! 
Doubtless you can discern that I am dying. I am 
not afraid to die. I wish your prayers. ... I say 
I am not afraid to die, and you know why. Because 
I know in whom I have believed ; and I am persuaded 
that He is able to keep that which I have committed 
unto Him against that day.” A little later he said, 
“Thanks, reverend sir! Thanks for much goodwill! 
Thanks for much happy intercourse ! For nearly seven 
years we have been friends here. I trust we shall 
be still better friends hereafter. I shall not see you 
again on this side Jordan. I fear not to cross over. 
Good-bye. My Joshua beckons me. The Promised 
Land is in sight.” 

This worthy and much-mourned clerk was buried on 
5 July, 1843. 


CHAPTER XIX 


THE CLERK AND THE LAW 
HE parish clerk is so important a person that 



JL divers laws have been framed relating to his 
office. His appointment, his rights, his dismissal are 
so closely regulated by law that incumbents and church¬ 
wardens have to be very careful lest they in any way 
transgress the legal enactments and judgments of the 
courts. It is not an easy matter to dismiss an un¬ 
desirable clerk : it is almost as difficult as to disturb 
the parson’s freehold ; and unless the clerk be found 
guilty of grievous faults, he may laugh to scorn the 
malice of his enemies and retain his office while life 


lasts. 


It may be useful, therefore, to devote a chapter to the 
laws relating to parish clerks—a chapter which some 
of my readers who have no liking for legal techni¬ 
calities can well afford to skip. 

As regards his qualifications the clerk must be at 
least twenty years of age, and known to the parson 
as a man of honest conversation, and sufficient for his 
reading, writing, and for his competent skill in sing¬ 
ing, “if it may be.” 1 The visitation articles of the 
seventeenth century frequently inquire whether the 
clerk be of the age of twenty years at least. 


1 Canon 91 ( 1603 ). 
245 



THE PARISH CLERK 


246 

The method of his appointment has caused much 
disputing. With whom does the appointment rest? 
In former times the parish clerk was always nominated 
by the incumbent both by common law and the custom 
of the realm. This is borne out by the constitution 
of Archbishop Boniface and the gist Canon, which 
states that “No parish clerk upon any vacation shall 
be chosen within the city of London or elsewhere, but 
by the parson or vicar : or where there is no parson or 
vicar, by the minister of that place for the time being ; 
which choice shall be signified by the said minister, 
vicar or parson, to the parishioners the next Sunday 
following, in the time of Divine Service.” 

But this arrangement has often been the subject of 
dispute between the parson and his flock as to the right 
of the former to appoint the clerk. In pre-Reformation 
times there was a diversity of practice, some parish¬ 
ioners claiming the right to elect the clerk, as they 
provided the offerings by which he lived. A terrible 
scene occurred in the fourteenth century at one church. 
The parishioners appointed a clerk, and the rector 
selected another. The rector was celebrating Mass, 
assisted by his clerk, when the people’s candidate 
approached the altar and nearly murdered his rival, so 
that blood was shed in the sanctuary. 

Custom in many churches sanctioned the right of the 
parishioners, who sometimes neglected to exercise it, 
and the choice of clerk was left to the vicar. The 
visitations in the time of Elizabeth show that the people 
were expected to appoint to the office, but the episcopal 
inquiries also demonstrate that the parson or vicar 
could exercise a veto, and that no one could be chosen 
without his goodwill and consent. 

The canon of 1603 was an attempt to change this 


THE CLERK AND THE LAW 


247 

variety of usage, but such is the force of custom that 
many decisions of the spiritual courts have been 
against the canon and in favour of accustomed usage 
when such could be proved. It was so in the case of 
Cundict v. Plomer (8 Jac. I), 1 and in Jermyn's Case 
(21 Jac. I). 

At the present time such disputes with regard to the 
appointment of clerks are unlikely to arise. They are 
usually elected to their office by the vestry, and the 
person recommended by the vicar is generally ap¬ 
pointed. Indeed, by the Act 7 & 8 Victoria, c. 49, “ for 
better regulating the office of Lecturers and Parish 
Clerks,” it is provided that when the appointment is by 
others than the parson, it is to be subject to the ap¬ 
proval of the parson. Owing to the difficulty of 
dismissing a clerk, to which I shall presently refer, it 
is not unusual to appoint a gentleman or farmer to the 
office, and to nominate a deputy to discharge the actual 
duties. If we may look forward to a revival of the 
office and to a restoration of its ancient dignity and 
importance, it might be possible for the more highly 
educated man to perform the chief functions, the read¬ 
ing the lessons and epistle, serving at the altar, and 
other like duties, while his deputy could perform the 
more menial functions, opening the church, ringing 
the bell, digging graves, if there be no sexton, and 
the like. 

It is not absolutely necessary that the clerk, after 
having been chosen and appointed, should be licensed 
by the ordinary, but this is not unusual ; and when 
licensed he is sworn to obey the incumbent of the 
parish. 2 

We have recorded some of the perquisites, fees and 

1 Ecclesiastical Law, Sir R. Phillimore, p. 1901. 2 Ibid., 1902. 



THE PARISH CLERK 


248 

wages, which the clerk of ancient times was accus¬ 
tomed to receive when he had been duly appointed. 
No longer does he receive accustomed alms by reason 
of his office of ciqucebajalus. No longer does he derive 
profit from bearing the holy loaf; and the cakes and 
eggs at Easter, and certain sheaves at harvest-tide, are 
perquisites of the past. 

The following were the accustomed wages of the 
clerk at Rempstone in the year 1629: 1 

“22nd November, 1629. 

“The wages of the Clarke of the Parish Church of Remp¬ 
stone. At Easter yearely he is to have of every Husbandman 
one pennie for every yard land he hath in occupation. And 
of every Cottager two pence. 

“ Furthermore he is to have for every yard land one peche 
of Barley of the Husbandman yearely. 

“ Egges at Easter by Courtesie. 

“ For every marriage two pence. And at the churching of 
a woman his dinner. 

“ The said Barley is to be payed between Christmasse and 
the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” 

Clerk’s Ales have vanished, too, together with the 
cakes and eggs, but his fees remain, and marriage 
bells and funeral knells, christenings and churchings 
bring to him the accustomed dues and offerings. Tables 
of Fees hang in most churches. It is important to have 
them in order that no dispute may arise. The follow¬ 
ing table appears in the parish books of Salehurst, 
Sussex, and is curious and interesting : 

“April 18, 1597. 

“Memorandum that the duties for Churchinge of women 
in the parishe of Salehurst is unto the minister ix d ob. and 
unto the Clarke ijd. 

1 The Clerks Book, Dr. Wickham Legg, lv. 


THE CLERK AND THE LAW 


249 

“ Item the due unto the minister for a marriadge is xxjd. 
And unto the Clarke ijd. the Banes, and iiijd. the marriadge. 
“ Item due for burialls as followeth 


To the Minister in the Chancell 

xiiis. 

iiijd. 

To the Clarke in the Chancell 

vis. 

viiijd. 

To the Parish in the Church 

vis. 

viiid. 

To the Clarke in the Church . 

vs. 

od. 

To the Clarke in the churchyard for great 



coffins ....... 

iis. 

vid. 

For great Corses uncoffined 

iis. 

od. 

For Chrisomers and such like coffined 

is. 

iiiid. 

And uncoffined ..... 


xijd. 

For tolling the passing bell and houre 

is. 

For ringing the sermon bell an houre 

is. 

od. 

To the Clarke for carrying the beere 


iiijd. 

If it be fetched ..... 


ijd. 

jm for funerals the Minister is to have the 

mourning 


pullpit Cloth and the Clarke the herst Cloth. 

“ Item the Minister hathe ever chosen the parishe Clarke 
and one of the Churchwardens and bothe the Sydemen. 

“ Item if they bring a beere or poles with the corps the 
Clarke is to have them. 

“ If any Corps goe out of the parish they are to pay double 
dutyes and to have leave. 

“ If any Corps come out of another parish to be buryed 
here, they are to pay double dutyes besides breakinge the 
ground ; which is xiijs. 4d. in the church, and vis. viiid. in 
the churchyard. 

“ For marryage by licence double fees both to the Minister 
and Clarke.” 1 

In addition to the fees to which the clerk is entitled 
by long-established custom, he receives wages, which 
he can recover by law if he be unjustly deprived of 
them. Churchwardens who in the old days neglected 
to levy a church rate in order to pay the expenses of 

1 Sussex Archceological Collections , 1873, vol. xxv. p. 154. 




THE PARISH CLERK 


250 

the parish and the salary of the clerk, have been com¬ 
pelled by law to do so, in order to satisfy the clerk’s 
claims. 

The wages which he received varied considerably. 
The churchwardens’ accounts reveal the amounts paid 
the holders of the office at different periods. At St. 
Mary’s, Reading, there are the items in 1557 : 

“ Imprimis the Rent of the Clerke’s 

howse.vis. viiid.” 

“ Paid to Marshall (the clerk) for parcell of 
his wages that he was unpaide . . vs.” 

In 1561 the clerk’s wages were 40s., in 1586 only 20s. 
At St. Giles’s, Reading, in 1520, he received 26s. 8d., 
as the following entry shows : 

“ Paid to Harry Water Clerk for his 
wage for a yere ended at thannacon 
(the Annunciation) of Our Lady . xxvis. viii.” 

The clerk at St. Lawrence, Reading, received 20s. 
for his services in 1547. Owing to the decrease in the 
value of money the wages gradually rose in town 
churches, but in the eighteenth century in many 
country places 10s. was deemed sufficient. The sum of 
£10 is not an unusual wage at the present time for a 
village clerk. 

The dismissal of a parish clerk was a somewhat diffi¬ 
cult and dangerous task. In the eyes of the law he is 
no menial servant—no labourer who can be discharged 
if he fail to please his master. The law regards him 
as an officer for life, and one who has a freehold in his 
place. Sixty years ago no ecclesiastical court could 
deprive him of his office, but he could be censured 
for his faults and misdemeanours, though not dis¬ 
charged. Several cases have appeared in the law 


THE CLERK AND THE LAW 


courts which have decided that as long as a clerk be¬ 
haves himself well, he has a good right and title to 
continue in his office. Thus in Rex v. Erasmus 
Warren (16 Geo. Ill) it was shown that the clerk be¬ 
came bankrupt, had been guilty of many omissions in 
his office, was actually in prison at the time of his 
amoval, and had appointed a deputy who was totally 
unfit for the office. Against which it was insisted that 
the office of parish clerk was a temporal office during 
life, that the parson could not remove him, and that he 
had a right to appoint a deputy. One of the judges 
stated that though the minister might have power of 
removing the clerk on a good and sufficient cause, he 
could never be the sole judge and remove him at 
pleasure, without being subject to the control of the 
court. No misbehaviour of consequence was proved 
against him, and the clerk was restored to his office. 

In a more recent case the clerk had conducted him¬ 
self on several occasions by designedly irreverent and 
ridiculous behaviour in his performance of his duty. 
He had appeared in church drunk, and had indecently 
disturbed the congregation during the administration 
of Holy Communion. He had been repeatedly re¬ 
proved by the vicar, and finally removed from his 
office. But the court decided that because the clerk 
had not been summoned to answer for his conduct 
before his removal, a mandamus should be issued for 
his restoration to his office. 1 

No deputy clerk when removed can claim to be 
restored. It will be gathered, therefore, that an incum¬ 
bent is compelled by law to restore a clerk removed by 
him without just cause, that the justice of the cause 
is not determined in the law courts by an ex-parte state- 

1 Ecclesiastical Law, Sir R. Phillimore, p. 1907. 


THE PARISH CLERK 


252 

ment of the incumbent, and that an accused clerk must 
have an opportunity of answering the charges made 
against him. If a man performs the duties of the 
office for one year he gains a settlement, and cannot 
afterwards be removed without just cause. 

An important Act was passed in 1844, to which I 
have already referred, for the better regulating the office 
of lecturers and parish clerks. Sections 5 and 6 of 
this Act bear directly on the method of removal of a 
clerk who may be guilty of neglect or misbehaviour. 
I will endeavour to divest the wording of the Act from 
legal technicalities, and write it in “plain English.” 

If a complaint is made to the archdeacon, or other 
ordinary, with regard to the misconduct of a clerk, 
stating that he is an unfit and improper person to 
hold that office, the archdeacon may summon the clerk 
and call witnesses who shall be able to give evidence 
or information with regard to the charges made. He 
can examine these witnesses upon oath, and hear and 
determine the truth of the accusations which have 
been made against the clerk. If he should find these 
charges proved he may suspend or remove the 
offender from his office, and give a certificate under his 
hand and seal to the incumbent, declaring the office 
vacant, which certificate should be affixed to the door 
of the church. Then another person may be elected or 
appointed to the vacant office: “Provided always, 
that the exercise of such office by a sufficient deputy 
who shall duly and faithfully perform the duties thereof, 
and in all respects well and properly demean himself, 
shall not be deemed a wilful neglect of his office on the 
part of such church clerk, chapel clerk, or parish clerk, 
so as to render him liable, for such cause alone, to 
be suspended or removed therefrom.” 


THE CLERK AND THE LAW 


2 53 


A special section of the Act deals with such posses¬ 
sions as clerks’ houses, buildings, lands or premises, 
held by a clerk by virtue of his office. If, when 
deprived of his office, he should refuse to give up such 
buildings or possessions, the matter must be brought 
before the bishop of the diocese, who shall summon the 
clerk to appear before him. If he fail to appear, or 
if the bishop should decide against him, the bishop 
shall grant a certificate of the facts to the person or 
persons entitled to the possession of the land or 
premises, who may thereupon go before a justice of the 
peace. The magistrate shall then issue his warrant to 
the constables to expel the clerk from the premises, 
and to hand them over to the rightful owners, the cost 
of executing the warrant being levied upon the goods 
and chattels of the expelled clerk. If this cost should 
be disputed, it shall be determined by the magistrate. 
Happily few cases arise, but perhaps it is well to know 
the procedure which the law lays down for the carrying 
out of such troublesome matters. 

The law also takes cognizance of the humbler office 
of sexton, the duties of which are usually combined in 
country places with those of the parish clerk. The 
sexton is, of course, the sacristan, the keeper of the 
holy things relating to divine worship, and seems to 
correspond with the ostarius in the Roman Church. 
His duties consist in the care of the church, the vest¬ 
ments and vessels, in keeping the church clean, in 
ringing the bells, in opening and closing the doors for 
divine service, and to these the task of digging graves 
and the care of the churchyard are also added. He is 
appointed by the churchwardens if his duties be con¬ 
fined to the church, but if he is employed in the 
churchyard the appointment is vested in the rector. If 



THE PARISH CLERK 


254 

his duties embrace the care of both church and church¬ 
yard, he should be appointed by the churchwardens 
and incumbent jointly. 1 

Many cases have come before the law courts relating 
to sextons and their election and appointment. He 
does not usually hold the same fixity of tenure as the 
parish clerk, he being a servant of the parish rather 
than an officer or one that has a freehold in his place ; 
but in some cases a sexton has determined his right to 
hold the office for life, and gained a mandamus from 
the court to be restored to his position after having 
been removed by the churchwardens. 

The law has also decided that women may be ap¬ 
pointed sextons. 

1 Ecclesiastical Law, p. 1914. 


CHAPTER XX 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS AND 
THEIR WAYS 

P ERSONAL recollections of the manners and 
curious ways of old village clerks are valuable, 
and several writers have kindly favoured me with the 
descriptions of these quaint personages, who were 
well known to them in the days of their youth. 

The clerk of a Midland village was an old man who 
combined with his sacred functions the secular calling 
of the keeper of the village inn. He was very deaf, 
and consequently spoke in a loud, harsh voice, and 
scraps of conversation which were heard in the squire’s 
high square box pew occasioned much amusement 
among the squire’s sons. The Rev. W. V. Vickers 
records the following incidents : 

It was “Sacrament Sunday,” and part of the clerk’s 
duty was to prepare the Elements in the vestry, which 
was under the western tower. Apparently the wine 
was not forthcoming when wanted, and we heard the 
following stage-aside in broad Staffordshire: “Weir’s 
the bottle? Oh ! ’ere it is, under the teeble (table) all 
the whoile.” 

Another part of his duty was to sing in the choir, 
for which purpose he used to leave the lower deck of 
the three-decker and hobble with his heavy oak stick to 

255 


256 THE PARISH CLERK 

the chancel for the canticles and hymns, and having 
swelled the volume of praise, hobble back again, a 
pause being made for his journey both to and fro. Not 
only did he sing in the choir but he gave out the 
hymns. This he did in a peculiar sing-song voice 
with up-and-down cadences : “ Let us sing (low) to 
the praise (high) and glory (low) of God (high) the 
hundredth (low) psalm (high).” Very much the same 
intonation accompanied his reading of the alternate 
verses of the Psalms. 

On one occasion a locum tenens, who officiated for a 
few weeks, was stone deaf. Hence a difficulty arose 
in his knowing when our worthy, and the congrega¬ 
tion, had finished each response or verse. This the 
clerk got over by keeping one hand well forward upon 
his book and raising the fingers as he came to the 
close. This was the signal to the deaf man above him 
that it was his turn ! The old man, by half sitting 
upon a table in the belfry, could chime the four bells. 
It was his habit, instead of going by his watch, to look 
out for the first appearance of my father’s carriage (an 
old-fashioned “britska,” I believe it was called, with 
yellow body and wheels and large black hood, and so 
very conspicuous) at a certain part of the road, and 
then, and not till then, commence chiming. It was 
a compliment to my father’s punctuality; but what 
happened when, by chance, he failed to attend church 
I know not—but such occasions were rare . 1 

1 In olden days it seems to have been the usual practice in many 
churches to delay service until the advent of the squire. Every one 
knows the old story of how, through some inadvertence, the minister had 
not looked out to see that the great man was in his accustomed pew. 

He began, “When the wicked man-” The parish clerk tugged him 

by his coat, saying, “ Please, sir, he hasn’t come yet! ” As to whether 
the clergyman took the hint and waited for “the wicked man ” history 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


2 57 

Our parish church we seldom attended, for the simple 
reason that the aged vicar was scarcely audible ; but 
there the clerk, after robing the vicar, mounted to the 
gallery above the vestry, where, taking a front seat, he 
watched for the exit of the vicar (whose habit it was to 
wait for the young men, who also waited in the church 
porch for him to begin the service !), and then, taking 
his seat at the organ, commenced the voluntary. It was 
his duty also to give out the hymns. I have known 
him play an eight-line tune to a four-line verse (or 
psalm—we used Tate and Brady), repeating the words 
of each verse twice ! 

The organ produced the most curious sounds. In 
course of time the mice got into it, and the church¬ 
wardens, of whom the clerk was one, approached the 
vicar with the information, at the same time venturing 
a hint that the organ was quite worn out and that a 
harmonium would be more acceptable to the congrega¬ 
tion than the present music. His reply was that a 
harmonium was not a sufficiently sacred instrument, 
and added, “ Let a mouse-trap be set at once.” 

Robert Dicker, quondam cabinet-maker in the town 
of Crediton, Devon, reigned for many years as parish 
clerk to the, at one time, collegiate church of the same 
town. He appears to have fulfilled his office satisfac¬ 
torily up to about 1870, when his mind became some- 


sayeth not. Another clerk told a young deacon, who was impatient to 
begin the service, “You must wait a bit, sir, we ain't ready.” He then 
clambered on the Communion table, and peered through the east 
window, which commanded a view of the door in the wall of the squire’s 
garden. “Come down!” shouted the curate. “ I can see best where I 
be,” replied the imperturbable clerk ; “ I’m watching the garden door. 
Here she be, and the squire.” Whereupon he clambered down again, 
and without much further delay the service proceeded, 

S 


THE PARISH CLERK 


258 

what feeble. Nevertheless, no desire was apparent to 
shorten the days of his office, as he was regular in his 
attendance and musically inclined ; but when he began 
to play pranks upon the vicar it became necessary to 
consider the advisability of finding a substitute who 
should do the work and receive half the pay. One of 
his escapades was to stand up in the middle of service 
and call the vicar a liar ; at another time he announced 
that a wedding was to take place on a certain day. 
The vicar, therefore, attended and waited for an hour, 
when the clerk affirmed that he must have dreamed 
it! Dicker was given to the study of astronomy, and 
it is related that he once gave a lecture on this sub¬ 
ject in the Public Rooms. There is close to the town 
a small park in memory of one of the Buller family. 
A man one night was much alarmed when walking 
therein to discover a bright light in one of the trees, 
and, later, to hear the voice of the worthy clerk, who 
addressed him in these words : “ Fear not, my friend, 
and do not be affrighted. I am Robert Dicker, clerk 
of the parish. I am examining the stars.” Another 
account alleges that he affirmed himself to be “count¬ 
ing the stars.” Whichever account is the true one, it 
will be gathered that he was already “far gone.” 

Another of his achievements was the conversion 
of a barrel organ, purchased from a neighbouring 
church, into a manual, obtaining the wind therefor 
by a pedal arrangement which worked a large wheel 
attached to a crank working the bellows. On all great 
festivals and especially on Christmas Day he was wont 
to rouse the neighbourhood as early as three and four 
o’clock, remarking of the ungrateful, complaining 
neighbours that they had no heart for music or re¬ 
ligion. 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


259 


The wheel mentioned above was part of one of his 
tricycle schemes. His first attempt in cycle-making 
resulted in the construction of a bicycle the wheels of 
which resembled the top of a round deal table ; this 
soon came to grief. His second endeavour was more 
successful and became a tricycle, the wheels of which 
were made of wrought iron and the base of a triangular 
shape. Upon the large end he placed an arm-chair, 
averring that it would be useful to rest in whenever 
he should grow weary! Then, making another at¬ 
tempt, he succeeded in turning out (being aided by 
another person) a very respectable and useful tricycle 
upon which he made many journeys to Barnstaple and 
elsewhere. 

However, just as an end comes to everything that is 
mortal, so did an end come to our friend the clerk ; for, 
as so many stories finish, he died in a good old age, 
and his substitute reigned in his stead. 

The following reminiscences of a parish clerk were 
sent by the Rev. Augustus G. Legge, who has since 
died. 

It is reported of an enthusiastic archseologian that 
he blessed the day of the Commonwealth because, he 
said, if Cromwell and all his destructive followers had 
never lived, there would have been no ruins in the 
country to repay the antiquary’s researches. And the 
converse of this is true of a race of men who before 
long will be “improved” off the face of the earth, if 
the restoration of our parish churches is to go on at the 
present rate. I allude to the old parish clerks of our boy¬ 
hood days. Who does not remember their quaint figures 
and quainter, though somewhat irreverent, manner of 
leading the responses of the congregation ? It is well 


260 


THE PARISH CLERK 


indeed that our churches, sadly given over to the laxity 
and carelessness of a bygone age, should be renovated 
and beautified, the tone of the services raised, and the 
“bray” of the old clerks, unsuited to the devotional 
feelings of a more enlightened day, silenced, but still 
a shade of regret will be mingled with their dismissal, 
if only for the sake of the large stock of amusing anec¬ 
dotes which their names recall. 

My earliest recollections are connected with old 
Russell, 1 my father’s clerk. He was a little man but 
possessed of a consequential manner sufficient for a 
giant. A shoemaker by trade, his real element was 
in the church. His conversation was embellished by 
high-flown grandiloquence, and he invariably walked 
upon the heels of his boots. This latter peculiarity, 
as may well be imagined, was the cause of a most 
comical effect whenever he had occasion to leave his 
seat and clatter down the aisle of the church. How 
often when a boy did I make my old nurse’s sides shake 
with laughter by imitating old Russell’s walk ! His 
manner of reading the responses in the service can only 
be compared to a kind of bellow—as my father used to 
say, “he bellowed like a calf”—and his rendering of 
parts of it was calculated to raise a smile upon the lips 
of the most devout. The following are a few instances 
of his perversions of the text. “Leviathan” under 
his quaint manipulation became “leather thing,” his 
trade of shoemaker helping him, no doubt, to his inter¬ 
pretation. Whether he had ever attended a fish-dinner 
at Greenwich and his mind had thus become impressed 
with the number and variety of the inhabitants of the 
deep, history does not record, but, be that as it may, 

1 Old Russell, for many years clerk of the parish of East Lavant in 
the county of Sussex. 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 261 

“Bring hither the tabret ” was invariably read as 
“ Bring hither the turbot.” “Shadrach, Meshach, and 
Abednego ” did service for “Ananias, Azarias, and 
Misael ” in the “ Benedicite,” and “ Destructions are 
come to a perpetual end ” was transmogrified into 
“parental e nd” in the ninth Psalm. My father once took 
the trouble to point out and try to correct some of his 
inaccuracies, but he never attempted it again. Old 
Russell listened attentively and respectfully, but when 
the lecture was over he dismissed the subject with a 
superior shake of the head and the disdainful remark, 
“Well, sir, I have heerd tell of people who think 
with you.” Never a bit though did he make any 
change in his own peculiar rendering of the Bible and 
Book of Common Prayer. 

There was one occasion on which he especially dis¬ 
tinguished himself, and I shall never forget it. A 
farmyard of six outbuildings abutted upon the church 
burial ground, and it was but natural that all the fowls 
should stray into it to feed and enjoy themselves in 
the grass. Amongst these was a goodly flock of 
guinea-fowls, which oftentimes no little disturbed the 
congregation by their peculiar cry of “Come back! 
come back ! come back ! ” One Sunday the climax 
of annoyance was reached when the whole flock 
gathered around the west door just as my father was 
beginning to read the first lesson. His voice, never 
at any time very strong, was completely drowned. 
Whereupon old Russell hastily left his seat, book in 
hand, and clattering as usual on his heels down the 
aisle disappeared through the door on vengeance bent. 
The discomfiture of the offending fowls was instantly 
apparent by the change in their cry to one more pierc¬ 
ing still as they fled away in terror. Then all was still, 


262 


THE PARISH CLERK 


and back comes old Russell, a gleam of triumph on his 
face and somewhat out of breath, but nevertheless able 
without much difficulty to take up the responses in the 
canticle which followed the lesson. Scarcely, however, 
had the congregation resumed their seats for the read¬ 
ing of the second lesson when the offending flock 
again gathered round the west door, and again, as if 
in defiant derision of Russell, raised their mocking 
cry of “Come back! come back! come back!” And 
back accordingly he went clatter, clatter down the 
aisle, a stern resolution flashing from his eye, and 
causing the little boys as he passed to quail before him. 
Now it so happened that the lesson was a short one, 
and, moreover, Russell took more time, making a 
farther excursion into the churchyard than before, in 
order if possible to be rid entirely of the noisy in¬ 
truders. Just as he returned to the church door, this 
time completely breathless, the first verse of the 
canticle which followed was being read, but Russell 
was equal to the occasion. All breathless as he was, 
without a moment’s hesitation, he opened his book at 
the place and bellowed forth the responses as he pro¬ 
ceeded up the church to his seat. The scene may be 
imagined, but scarcely described: Russell’s quaint 
little figure, the broad-rimmed spectacles on his nose, 
the ponderous book in his hands, the clatter of his 
heels, the choking gasps with which he bellowed out 
the words as he laboured for breath, and finally the 
sudden disappearance of the congregation beneath the 
shelter of their high pews with a view to giving vent 
to their feelings unobserved—all this requires to have 
been witnessed to be fully appreciated. 

It chanced one Sunday that a parishioner coming 
into church after the service had begun omitted to 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 263 

close the door, causing thereby an unseemly draught. 
My father directed Russell to shut it. Accordingly, 
book in hand and with a thumb between the leaves 
to keep the place, he sallied forth. But, alas! in 
shutting the door the thumb fell out and the place was 
lost, and after floundering about awhile to find, if 
possible, the proper response, he at length made 
known to the congregation the misfortune which had 
befallen him by exclaiming aloud, “ I’ve lost my place 
or summut .” 

A very amusing incident once took place at a baptism. 
The service proceeded with due decorum and regularity 
till my father demanded of the godfather the child’s 
name. The answer was so indistinctly given that he 
had to repeat the question more than once, and even 
then the name remained a mystery. All he could make 
out was something which sounded like “Harmun,” 
the godfather indignantly asserting the while that it 
was a “Scriptur” name. In his perplexity my father 
turned to Russell with the query: “Clerk, do you 
know what the name is?” “No, sir. I’m sure I don’t 
know, unless it be he at the end of the prayer,” mean¬ 
ing “Amen.” The result was that the child was 
otherwise christened, and after the ceremony was over 
my father, placing a Bible in the godfather’s hands, 
requested him to find the “Scriptur” name, as he 
called it, when, having turned over the leaves for some 
time, he drew his attention to wicked Hainan. The 
child’s escape, therefore, was most fortunate. Old 
Russell has now slept with his fathers for many years, 
and the few stories which I have related about him 
do not by any means exhaust the list of his oddities. 
Many of the parishioners to this day, no doubt, will 
call to mind the quaint way in which, if he thought any 


THE PARISH CLERK 


264 

one was misbehaving himself in church, he would rise 
slowly from his seat with such majesty as his diminu¬ 
tive stature could command, and shading his spectacles 
with his hand, gaze sternly in the offending quarter ; 
how on a certain Communion Sunday he forgot the 
wine to be used in the sacred office, and when my father 
directed his attention to the omission, after sundry dives 
under the altar-cloth he at last produced a common 
rush basket, and from it a black bottle; how on another 
Sunday, being desirous to free the church from smoke 
which had escaped from a refractory stove, he deliber¬ 
ately mounted upon the altar and remained standing 
there while he opened a small lattice in the east window. 
All these circumstances will, no doubt, be recalled by 
some one or other in the parish. But, gentle reader, 
be not overharsh in passing judgment upon him. 
I verily believe that he had no more desire to be 
irreverent than you or I have. The fault lay rather in 
the religious coldness and carelessness of those days 
than in him. He was liked and respected by every one 
as a harmless, inoffensive, good-hearted old fellow, and 
I cannot better close this brief account of some of his 
peculiarities than by saying—as I do with all my heart 
—Peace to his ashes ! 

Mr. Legge’s baptismal story reminds me of a friend 
who was christening the child of a gipsy, when the 
name given was “Neptin.” This puzzled him sorely, 
but suddenly recollecting that he had baptized another 
gipsy child “ Britannia,” without any hesitation he at 
once named the infant “Neptune.” Mr. Eagles was 
once puzzled when the sponsor gave the name “Acts.” 
“‘Acts!’ said I. ‘What do you mean?’ Thinks 
I to myself, I will ax the clerk to spell it. He did : 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 265 

A-C-T-S. So Acts was the babe, and will be while in 
this life, and will be doubly, trebly so registered if ever 
he marries or dies. Afterwards, in the vestry, I asked 
the good woman what made her choose such a name. 
Her answer verbatim: ‘ Why, sir, we be religious 
people ; we’ve got vour on ’em already, and they be 
caal’d Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and so my 
husband thought we’d compliment the apostles a bit.’ ” 

Mr. Legge adds the following stories : 

My first curacy was in Norfolk in the year 1858, a 
period when the old style of parish clerk had not dis¬ 
appeared. On one occasion I was asked by a friend in 
a neighbouring parish to take a funeral service for him. 
On arriving at the church I was received by a very 
eccentric clerk. It seemed as if his legs were hung 
upon wires, and before the service began he danced 
about the church in a most peculiar and laughable 
manner, and in addition to this he had a hideous 
squint, one eye looking north and the other south. 
The service proceeded with due decorum until we 
arrived at the grave, when those who were preparing 
to lower the coffin in it discovered that it had not been 
dug large enough to receive it. This of course created 
a very awkward pause while it was made larger, and 
the chief mourner utilised it by gently remonstrating 
with the clerk for his carelessness. In reply he gave a 
solemn shake of his head, cast one eye into the grave 
and the other at the chief mourner, and merely re¬ 
marked, “Putty (pretty) nigh though,” meaning that 
the offence after all was not so very great, as he 
had almost accomplished his task. Obliged to keep 
my countenance, I had, as may be imagined, some 
difficulty. 

A very amusing incident once took place when I had 


266 


THE PARISH CLERK 


a couple before me to be married. All went well until 
I asked the question, “ Who giveth this woman to be 
married to this man?” when an individual stepped 
forward, and snatching the ring out of the bride¬ 
groom’s hand, began placing it on a finger of the 
bride. As all was confusion I signed to the old clerk 
to put matters straight. Attired in a brown coat and 
leather gaiters, with spectacles on his nose, and a large 
Prayer Book in his hands, he came shuffling forward 
from the background, exclaiming out loud, “Bless 
me, bless me ! never knew such a thing happen afore 
in all my life ! ” The service was completed without 
any further interruption, but again I had a sore diffi¬ 
culty in keeping my countenance. 

Many years ago ecclesiastical matters in Norfolk were 
in a very slack state—rectors and vicars lived away 
from their parishes, subscribing amongst them to pay 
the salary of a curate to undertake the church services. 
As his duties were consequently manifold some parishes 
were without his presence on Sunday for a month and 
sometimes longer. The parish clerk would stand out¬ 
side the church and watch for the coming parson, 
and if he saw him in the distance would immediately 
begin to toll the bell ; if not, the parish was without a 
service on that day. 

It happened on one of these monthly occasions that 
on the arrival of the parson at the church he was met 
by the clerk at the door, who, pulling his forelock, 
addressed him as follows: “Sir, do yew mind a 
prachin in the readin’ desk to-day?” “Yes,” was the 
reply; “ the pulpit is the proper place.” “Well, sir, 
you see we fare to have an old guse a-sittin’ in the 
pulpit. She’ll be arf her eggs to-morrow ; ’twould be 
a shame to take her arf to-day.” 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 267 

The pulpit was considered as convenient a place as 
any for the “old guse ” to hatch her young in. 

Canon Venables contributes the following : 

The first parish clerk I can in the least degree 
remember was certainly entitled to be regarded as a 
“character,” albeit not in all moral respects what 
would be called a moral character. Shrewd, clever, and 
better informed than the inhabitants of his little village 
of some eighty folk, he was not “looked up to,” but 
was regarded with suspicion, and, in short, was not 
popular, while treated with a certain amount of defer¬ 
ence, being a man of some knowledge and ability. 
The clergyman was a man of excellent character, 
learned, a fluent ex-tempore preacher, and one who 
liked the services to be nicely conducted. He came 
over every Sunday and ministered two services. In 
those days the only organ was a good long pitch-pipe 
constructed principally of wood and, I imagine, about 
twelve inches in length. But upon the parish clerk 
devolved the onerous (and it may be added in this 
case sonorous) duty of starting the hymn and the 
singing. In those days few could read, and the method 
was adopted (and I know successfully adopted a few 
years later) of announcing two lines of the verse to be 
sung, and sometimes the whole verse. But Mr. W. M. 
was unpopular, and people did not always manifest a 
willingness to sing with him. 

At last a crisis came. The hymn and psalm were 
announced. The pitch-pipe rightly adjusted gave the 
proper keynote, and the clerk essayed to sing. But from 
some cause matters were not harmonious and none 
attempted to help the clerk. 

With a scowl not worthy of a saint, the offended 
official turned round upon the congregation and closed 



268 


THE PARISH CLERK 


all further attempts at psalm-singing by stating clearly 
and distinctly, “I shan’t sing if nobody don’t foller.” 
This man was deposed ere long, and deservedly, if 
village suspicions were truthful. 

After which, I think, he usually came just inside the 
church once every Sunday, but never to get further 
than to take a seat close to the door. He died at a great 
age. Two or three of his successors were worthy men. 
One of them would carefully recite the Psalms for 
the coming Sunday within church or elsewhere during 
the week, and he read with proper feeling and good 
sense. 

Another of the same little parish, well up in his 
Bible, once helped the very excellent clergyman at a 
baptism in a critical moment. “Name this child.” 
“Zulphur.” This was not a correct name. Another 
effort, “Sulphur.” The clergyman was in difficulty. 
The clerk was equal to the occasion, for the parson 
was well up in his Bible too. 

“ Leah’s handmaid,” suggested the clerk. “ Zilpah, 
I baptize thee,” said the priest, and all was well. 

In that church the few farmers who met to levy a 
poor-rate and do other parochial work insisted on doing 
so within the chancel rails, using the holy table as the 
writing-desk, and the assigned reason for so doing 
was that, being apt to quarrel and dispute over parish 
matters, there would be no danger at such a place as 
this of using profane language. All in the diocese of 
Oxford. 

It was in the twenties that I must have seen old P. W. 
(the parish clerk) and two other men in the desk singing 
to “Hanover,” with a certain apparent self-complacency 
in nice smock-frocks, “My soul, praise the Lord, speak 
good of His Name,” etc. The little congregation 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 269 

listened with seeming contentment, and it is worth 
recording that the parson always preached in the sur¬ 
plice. I suppose Pusey was a boy at that time, but 
the custom in this church was not a novelty, whether 
right or wrong. 

It was not the clerk’s fault that the hour of service 
was hastened by some seventy minutes one afternoon, 
so that one or two invariably late worshippers were 
astounded to be driven backwards from the church by 
the congregation returning from service. But so it 
was. The really well-meaning kind-hearted parson 
was withal a keen sportsman and a worthy gentleman, 
and with his “long dogs” and man was on his horse 
and away for Illsley Downs race course to come off next 
day, and his dogs (they won) must not be fatigued. 
Old P. W., the clerk, reached a good age, an in¬ 
offensive man. 

I was rather interested when residing in my parish 
in grand old Yorkshire to observe two steady-looking 
and rather elderly men, each aided by a strong walking- 
stick, coming to church with praiseworthy regularity 
and reverence. I found, on making their acquaintance, 
that they were brothers who had recently come into 
the parish, natives of “the Peak,” or of the locality 
near the Peak, which was not many miles distant from 
my parish. 

Since I heard from their lips the story which I am 
about to relate, I have heard it told, viutatis mutandis, 
as happening in sundry other parishes, until one rather 
doubts the genuineness of the record at all. But as 
they recounted it it ran as follows, and I am sure they 
believed what they told me. 

Some malicious person or persons unknown entered 
the church, and having seized the rather large typed 


THE PARISH CLERK 


270 

Prayer Book used by the clerk, who was somewhat 
advanced in years, they observed that the words “the 
righteous shall flourish like ” were the last words at the 
bottom of the page, whereupon they altered the next 
words on the top of the following page, and which were 
“the palm tree,” into “a green bay horse”; and, the 
change being carefully made, the result on the Sunday 
following was that the well-meaning clerk, studiously 
uttering each word of his Prayer Book, found himself 
declaring very erroneous doctrine. “Hulloa,” cried 
he; “I must hearken back. This’ll never do.” Now 
I cannot call to mind the name of the parish. It 
was not Chapel-in-the-Frith. Was it Mottram-in- 
Longdendale? I really cannot remember. But these 
two old men asserted that thenceforward it became a 
saying, “ I must hearken back, like the clerk of-.” 

I recollect preaching one weekday night (and people 
would crowd the churches on weekday evenings fifty 
years ago far more readily than they do now) at some 
wild place in Lancashire or Yorkshire, I think Lanca¬ 
shire. I was taken to see and stand upon a stepping 
stone outside the church, and close against the south 
wall of the sacred edifice, upon which almost every 
Sunday the clerk, as the people were leaving church, 
ascended and in a loud voice announced any matters 
concerning the parish which it appeared desirable to 
proclaim. In this way any intended sales were made 
known, the loss of sheep or cattle on the moors was 
announced, and almost anything appertaining to the 
secular welfare of the parishioners was made public. I 
do not state this to criticise it. It was in some degree 
a recognition of the charity which ought to realise the 
sympathy in each other’s welfare which we ought all to 
display. It was in those primitive times and localities 




SUNDAY MORNING 





















































RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


271 

a specimen of the simplicity and well-meant interest in 
the welfare of the neighbour as well as of oneself, 
although perhaps the secular sometimes did much to 
extinguish the spiritual. 

Few people now realise what a business it was to 
light up a church, say, eighty years ago. But the 
worthy old clerk, in a wig bestowed on him by the 
pious and aged patron, is hastening to illuminate his 
church with old-fashioned candles, in which he is aided 
not a little by his faithful wife, who, like Abraham’s 
wife, regarded her husband as her lord and responded 
to the name of Sarah. The good old man—and he 
was a good old man—was perhaps a little bit “flustered 
and flurried,” for the folk were gathering within the 
sacred temple, and W. L. was anxious to complete his 
task of lighting the loft, or gallery. “I say, Sally, 
hand us up a little taste of candle,” cried her lord, and 
Sarah obeyed, and the illumination was soon com¬ 
plete. 

But, really, few men “gave out” or announced a 
hymn with truer and more touching and devout feeling 
than did that old clerk. I am one of those who do not 
think that all the changes in the ministration of Church 
services are, after experience had, desirable. I think 
that in many instances the lay clerk ought to have been 
instructed in the performance of his duties, to the profit 
of all concerned. And I deem that this proceeding 
would have been a far wiser proceeding than any sub¬ 
stitution of the man or his function. There is ancient 
authority for a clerk or clerks. It is wise to secure work 
to be attended to in the functions of divine service for 
as many laymen as possible, consistent with principle 
and propriety. W. L. was an old man when I saw 
him, but I can hear him now as with a pathos quite 


THE PARISH CLERK 


272 

touching and teaching, because done so simply and 
naturally, he announced, singing : 

“ Salvation, what a glorious theme, 

How suited to our need. 

The grace that rescues fallen man 
Is wonderful indeed.” 

And though he pronounced the last word but one as 
if spelt “ woonderful,” I venture to say that the 
“ giving out” of that verse by that aged clerk with 
his venerable wig and with a voice trembling a little by 
age, but more by natural emotion, was preferable to 
many modern modes of announcing a hymn. 

It was common to say “ Let us sing, to the praise 
and glory of God.” It is common to be shocked, now¬ 
adays, by such an invitation. Are we as reverent now 
as then? Do we sing praises with understanding 
better ? I think it is not so. 

I knew a very respectable man, W. K., a tailor by 
trade, a well-conducted man, but who felt the import¬ 
ance of his office to an extent that made him nervous, 
or (what is as bad) made him fancy he was nervous. 
The church was capacious, and the population over two 
thousand. 

A large three-decker, though the pulpit was at a 
right angle with the huge prayer-desk and the clerk’s 
citadel below, well stained and varnished, formed an im¬ 
portant portion of the furniture of the church, the whole 
structure, as we were reminded by large letters above the 
chancel arch, having been “Adorn’d and beautified 1814,” 
the names of the churchwardens being also recorded. 
This clerk was observed frequently, during the service, 
to stoop down within his little “pew” as if to imbibe 
something. He was inquired of as to his strange pro- 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


273 

ceeding, when he frankly stated that he felt the trials of 
his duties to be so great, that he always fortified himself 
with a little bottle containing some gin and some water, 
to which bottle he made frequent appeals during the 
often rather lengthy services. He had to proclaim the 
notices of vestry meetings of all kinds, as well as to give 
out the hymns; but what astonishes me is that he 
baptized many infants at their homes instead of the 
most excellent vicar, when circumstances made it diffi¬ 
cult for the really good vicar to attend. 

I saw him, one first Sunday in Lent, stand up on the 
edge of his square box or pew, and conduct a rather 
long consultation with the vicar, a very spiritually 
minded, excellent man, upon which we were put through 
the whole Commination Service which, though ap¬ 
pointed for Ash Wednesday, was wholly neglected until 
it lengthened out the Sunday morning of the first in 
but not of Lent, and having nothing to do with the 
forty days of Lent. 

The well-conducted man lived to a good age, and after 
his death a rather costly stained glass window was 
erected to his memory under the active influence of a 
new vicar. When privately engaged in church he wore 
his usual silk hat, though not approving of any one so 
behaving. 

I recollect, in a large church in a large town, the 
clerk, arrayed (properly, I think) in a suitable black 
gown, giving out the hymn, in a tone to be regretted, 
but where the obvious remedy was not to dethrone the 
clerk, but rather to have just suggested the propriety of 
reading the entire verse, as well as of avoiding a tone 
lugubrious on the occasion. 

It was Easter Day, and the hymn quite appropriate, 
T 


274 THE PARISH CLERK 

but not so rendered as the clerk heavily and drearily 
announced: 

“ The Lord is risen indeed, 

And are the tidings true ? ” 

as if there might exist a doubt about this glorious fact. 

Pity that he did not enter into the spirit of the 
verse and add : 

“ Yes ! we beheld the Saviour bleed, 

And saw Him rising too.” 

Within about ten miles nearer to Windsor Castle 
the clerk of a church in which not a few nobility usually 
worshipped, was altogether at fault in his “ H’s,” as 
he exhorted the people to sing, “ The Heaster Im with 
the Allelujer, he t the /zend of Aevery line.” Other 
clerks may have done the same. He did it, I know 
well. 

Throughout the whole of my very imperfect ministry 
I have sought to practise catechising in church every 
Sunday afternoon, and very strongly desire to urge the 
practice of it in every church every Sunday. 

It is one of the most difficult parts of the glorious 
ministry since the time of St. Luke that can engage 
the attention of the ordained ministers of Christ’s 
Church. It needs to be done well. It ought not to be a 
very nice, simple sermonette. This, though very beauti¬ 
ful, is not catechising. Perhaps, if at once followed by 
questions upon the sermonette, it might thus become 
very useful. But a catechesis in which the catechist 
simply tells a simple story or gives an amusing anec¬ 
dote, or when questioning, so puts his inquiries that 
“ yes ” and “ no ” are the listless replies that are drawn 
forth from the lads and girls, is not interesting or profit¬ 
able. Whenever I have the opportunity I go to an 
afternoon catechetical service. Some failed by being 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


2 75 


made into the time of a small preachment; some because 
in a few minutes the catechist easily asked questions 
and then answered them himself. Others were really 
magnificent, securing the attention and drawing forth 
answers admirably. Was it the great bishop Samuel 
Wilberforce who said, “ A boy may preach, but it takes 
a man to catechise ” ? 

I cannot boast of being a good catechist; but I 
know that catechising costs me more mental exhaustion 
(alas ! with sad depression under a sense of trial of 
temper and failure) than any sermon. But I will say 
to any clergyman, My dear brother , catechise; try , 
persevere , keep on. It will not be in vain. But secure 
an answer. If need be, become a cross-examining 
advocate for Christ, and don’t give up until you have 
made the catechumens, by dint of a variety of ways of 
putting the question, give the answer you desired. 
You have made them think and call memory into play, 
and made them feel that they “ knew it all the time,” 
if only they had reflected. And you have given them 
a “power of good.” 

But what has all this to do with a clerk? Well, I 
want to tell what made me try to be a good catechist, 
and what makes me, over eighty-three years of age, 
still wish to become such, though the incident must 
have happened some seventy years ago, for I recollect 
that on the very Sunday we crossed the Greta my father 
whispered to me as we were on the bridge that it was 
the poet Southey who was close to us, as he as well as 
our little family and a goodly congregation were return¬ 
ing from Crosthwaite Church in the afternoon. For 
“oncers” were unknown in those times, neither by 
poets and historians like Southey, nor by travellers 
such as we were. We had attended morning service. 



THE PARISH CLERK 


276 

A stranger officiated. His name was Bush, and this is 
important. A family “riddle” impressed the name 
upon me. “Why were we all like Moses to-day?” 
“ We had heard the word out of a Bush,” was the reply. 
But at the afternoon service I was deeply impressed. 
The Rev. M. Bush having read the lessons, came out 
of the prayer-desk, and to my amazement and great 
interest catechised the children and others. 

I thought to myself that the practice was excellent, 
and felt that if ever I became a clergyman (of which 
honour there was very small probability), I would obey 
the Prayer Book and catechise. Since then I have 
catechised ten, twenty, fifty young people, and not 
infrequently five hundred to one thousand, and rarely 
two to three thousand on a Sunday afternoon, often, 
however, much exhausted (having to preach in the 
evening) and dreadfully caat down at my own failure 
in not catechising better. 

Decades rolled on. A lovely effigy of Southey 
occupied his place in Crosthwaite Church, and I found 
myself again amidst the enchanting views of and about 
Derwentwater. The morning was wet, but I resolved 
to go as soon as it cleared up in order to find “ th’ ould 
clerk,” and inquire of him touching the catechising of 
perhaps forty years ago. I was told that he had re¬ 
signed, that he lived still at no very great distance. I 
think he was succeeded by his son as clerk. After 
some trouble I found my aged friend, and told him 
that very many years ago I was at the church when 
Southey, the poet, was there, and I wanted to know if 
the catechising was continued. “There never has 
been any catechising here,” said the worthy old sac¬ 
ristan. “Forgive me, I heard it myself.” “I tell 
thee there never was no catechising here. I lived 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


277 


here all these years, and was clerk for nearly all the 
time.” “ I cannot help that,” I said; “ I am sure there 
was catechising in your church on a Sunday when I, a 
boy, was here.” The old Churchman became testy, 
and my pertinacity made him irate, as he thundered 
out that “never had there been catechising in that 
church in all his day.” I rose to leave him, telling 
him that I was very disappointed, but that I was con¬ 
fident that I did not invent this story, and, I added, 
the name of the parson was Bush. “Bush, Bush, 
Bush! Well, there was a clergyman of that name 
come here four Sundays, many a year ago, when the 
vicar was from home ; and now I come to think of it, 
he did catechise on the Sunday afternoon. But he is 
the only man that ever did so here. There’s been no 
catechising in this church, except then.” We parted 
good friends after what I felt to be a most singular 
interview, far more interesting, I fear, to me than to 
any who may read this unadorned tale, and especially 
the many folks who probably but for this I should 
never have catechised. 

But I hope the old clerk of Crosthwaite’s declaration 
will not long be true of any church of the Anglican 
Communion, “There’s been no catechising here.” 
My success as a preacher, or catechist, or parish priest 
has not been great, but this does not greatly surprise 
me, while sorrowing that so it has been. But I think it 
likely that the incident at Crosthwaite Church was a 
chief cause of my trying to be a catechist, and I con¬ 
clude by saying to any one in holy orders, or pre¬ 
paring to receive them, Make catechising an important 
effort in your ministry. 

It was a small parish. The vicar was a learned man, 
and an authority as an antiquary, and a man of high 



THE PARISH CLERK 


278 

character. On a certain Sunday morning I was detailed 
to perform all the “duties” of Morning Prayer. Doubt¬ 
less I was too energetic in my efforts at preaching, for 
my “action” proved, almost to an alarming extent, that 
the huge pulpit cushion had not been “dusted” for a 
lengthy period. But it was at the very commencement 
of divine service that the clerk demonstrated his origin¬ 
ality in the proper discharge of his duties. “ I stands 
up in yonder corner to ring the bells, and as soon as 
you be ready you gives me a kind of nod like, and 
then I leaves off ringing and comes to my place as 
clerk.” Nothing could work better, and the clerk of 

B-d and I parted at the close of divine service on 

very amicable terms. 

Mr. F. S. Gill, aged 86, has many recollections of 
old clerks and their ways. In a parish in Nottingham¬ 
shire there was an old clerk who was nearly blind. 
There were two services on Sunday in summer, and 
only morning service in winter. The clerk knew 
the morning Psalms quite well by heart, but not so 
the evening Psalms. On one occasion when his 
verse should have been read, he was unable to 
recollect it. After a pause the clergyman began to 
read it, when the clerk, who occupied the box below 
that of the vicar, looked up, saying, “ Nay, nay, master, 
I’ve got it now.” 

Another time, when an absent-minded curate omitted 
the ante-Communion service and appeared in his black 
gown in the pulpit, the clerk was indignant, and went 
up to remonstrate. Knocking at the pulpit door and 
no notice being taken of him, he proceeded to pull the 
black gown, and made the curate come down, change 
his robes, and complete the service in the orthodox 
fashion. 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


279 

In another Notts church, during service, there was 
an encounter between two clerks. The regular clerk 
having been taken ill was unequal to his duties 
for some weeks, and appointed a man to carry them 
out for him. On the restoration to health of the real 
clerk he came into church to resume his duties, but 
found the man he had appointed occupying the box— 
the so-called desk. Whereupon they had a scuffle in 
the aisle. 

The Rev. William Selwyn recollects the following 
incidents in the parish of F-, near Cambridge : 

Here up to the end of the sixties and well into the 
seventies a most quaint service was in fashion. The 
morning service began with a metrical Psalm—-Tate 
and Brady—led by the clerk (of these more hereafter). 
This being ended, the vicar commenced the service 
always with the sentence “O Lord, correct me”—never 
any other. Then all things went on in the regular 
course till the end of the Litany, when the clerk would 
be heard stamping down the church and ascending the 
gallery in order to be ready for the second metrical 
Psalm. That ended, the vicar would commence with 
the ante-Communion service from the reading-desk. 
This went on in due course till the end of the Nicene 
Creed, when without sermon, prayers, or blessing, the 
morning service came to an abrupt termination. The 
afternoon service was identical, save that it ended with 
a sermon and the blessing. 

But the chief peculiarity was the clerk and the sing¬ 
ing. The metrical Psalm chosen was invariably one 
for the day of the month whatever it might be. The 
clerk would give it out, “ Let’s sing to the praise and 
glory of God,” and then would read the first two lines. 





28 o 


THE PARISH CLERK 


The usual village band—fiddle, trombone, etc. etc.— 
would accompany him, which thing done, the next two 
lines would follow, and so on. Usually the number of 
verses was four, but sometimes the clerk would go 
on to six, or even seven. Once, I remember, this 
led to a somewhat ludicrous result. It was the 
seventh day of the month, consequently the thirty-fifth 
was the metrical Psalm to be sung. I think my late 
revered relative, Canon Selwyn, learnt then with 
astonishment, as I did myself, of the existence of the 
following lines within the folds of the Prayer Book : 

“ And when through dark and slippery ways 
They strive His rage to shun, 

His vengeful ministers of wrath 
Shall goad them as they run.” 

It is hard to think that such a service could have 
been possible within seven miles of a University town, 
and I need hardly say it was very trying to the younger 
ones. 

In the afternoon the band migrated to the dissenting 
chapel. On one occasion the band failed to appear, 
and the clerk was left alone. However, he made the 
best of it, with scant support from the congregation, 
so turning to them at the end, said in a loud voice, 
“ Thank you for your help ! ” 

THE PARISH OF BROMFIELD, SALOP. 

From these ludicrous scenes it is refreshing to turn 
to a service which, though primitive, was conducted 
with the utmost reverence and decency. When I was 
instituted in 1866 all the singing was conducted, and 
most reverently conducted, under the auspices of the 
clerk. He was a handsome man, with a flowing beard, 
magnificent bass voice, and a wooden leg. With two 



THE PARISH CLERK OF QUEDGELEY 







RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


281 


or three sons, daughters, and others in the village he 
carried on the choir, and though there were only hymns, 
nothing could be better. Of its kind I have seldom 
heard anything better. They had to yield to the 
inexorable march of time, but I parted from them with 
regret. Though we now have a surpliced choir of 
men and boys, with a trained organist and choir¬ 
master, I always look back to my good old friend with 
his daughters and their companions, who were the 
leaders of the singing in the early days of my 
incumbency. 

The Rev. Canon Hemmans tell his reminiscences of 
Thomas Evison, parish clerk of Wragby, Lincolnshire, 
who died in 1865, aged eighty-two years. He speaks 
of him as “a dear old friend, for whom I had a pro¬ 
found regard, and to whom I was grateful for much 
help during my noviciate at my first and only curacy.” 

Thomas Evison was a shoemaker, and in his early 
years a great pot-house orator. Settled on his well- 
known corner seat in the “ Red Lion,” he would be seen 
each evening smoking his pipe and laying down the 
law in the character of the village oracle. He must 
have had some determination and force of character, as 
one evening he laid down his pipe on the hob and said, 
“I’ll smoke no more.” He also retired from his corner 
seat at the inn, but he was true to his political opinions, 
and remained an ardent Radical to the last. This 
action showed some courage, as almost all the parish 
belonged to the squire, who was a strong Tory of the 
old school. Canon Hemmans was curate of Wragby 
with the Rev. G. B. Yard from 1851 to i860, succeeding 
the present Dean of St. Paul’s. Mr. Yard was a High 
Churchman, a personal friend of Manning, the Wilber- 



282 


THE PARISH CLERK 


forces, R. Sibthorpe, and Keble, and when expound¬ 
ing then unaccustomed and forgotten truths, he found 
the clerk a most intelligent and attentive hearer. 
Evison used to attend the daily services, except the 
Wednesday and Friday Litany, which service was too 
short for him. During the vicar’s absence Canon 
Hemmans, who was then a deacon, found the clerk a 
most reliable adviser and instructor in Lincolnshire 
customs and words and ways of thought. When he 
was baptizing a child privately, the name Thirza was 
given to the child, which he did not recognise as a 
Bible name. He consulted Evison, who said, “Oh, 
yes, it is so ; it’s the name of Abel’s wife.” On the 
next day Evison bought a book, Gesner’s Death of 
Abel , a translation of some Swedish or German work, 
in which the tragedy of the early chapters of Genesis 
is woven into a story with pious reflections. This is 
not an uncommon book, and the clerk said these people 
believed it was as true as the Bible, because it claimed 
to be about Bible characters. 

Evison was a diligent reader of newspapers, which 
were much fewer in his day, and studied diligently 
the sermons reported in the local Press. He was much 
puzzled by the reference to “ the leg end ” of the story 
of the raising of Lazarus in a sermon preached by the 
Bishop of London, afterwards Archbishop Tait. A 
reference to Bailey’s Dictionary and the finding of the 
word legend made matters clear. Of course he mis¬ 
called words. During the Russian War he told Mr. 
Hemmans that we were not fighting for “ territororial 
possessions,” and he always read “Moabites and 
Hungarians” in his rendering of the sixth verse of the 
83rd Psalm. 

After the resignation of Mr. Yard in 1859 a Low 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 2S3 

Churchman was appointed, who restored the use of the 
black gown. Mr. Hemmans had to preach in the even¬ 
ing of the first Sunday, and was undecided as to 
whether he ought to continue to use the surplice. He 
consulted Evison, whose brave advice was, “Stick to 
your colours.” 

The clerk stuck stoutly to his Radical principles, 
and one day went to Lincoln to take part in a contested 
election. On the following Sunday the vicar spoke of 
“the filthy stream of politics.” The old man was 
rather moved by this, and said afterwards, “Well, I 
am not too old to learn.” Though staunch to his own 
principles, he was evidently considerate towards the 
opinions of others. He used to keep a pony and gig, 
and his foreman, one Solomon Bingham, was a local 
preacher. When there came a rough Sunday morning 
the kind old clerk would say : “ Well, Solomon, where 
are you going to seminate your schism to-day ? You 
may have my trap.” Canon Hemmans retains a very 
affectionate regard for the memory of the old clerk. 

Mrs. Ellen M. Burrows sends me a charming de¬ 
scription of an old-fashioned service, and some clerkly 
manners which are worth recording. 

From twenty-five to thirty years ago the small Bed¬ 
fordshire village of Tingrith had quaint customs and 
ceremonies which to-day exist only in the memory of 
the few. 

The lady of the manor was perhaps best described 
by a neighbouring squire as a “potentate in petti¬ 
coats.” 

Being sole owner of the village, she found employ¬ 
ment for all the men, enforced cleanliness on all the 
women, greatly encouraged the industry of lace-making 


THE PARISH CLERK 


284 

and hat-sewing, paid for the schooling of the children, 
and looked after the morals of everybody generally. 

Legend has it that one ancient schoolmaster whom 
this good lady appointed was not overgood at spelling, 
and would allow a pupil to laboriously spell out a word 
and wait for him to explain. If the master could not 
do this he would pretend to be preoccupied, and advise 
the pupil to “ say ‘ wheelbarrow ’ and go on.” 

On a Sunday each and every cottager was expected at 
church. The women sat on one side of the centre aisle 
and the men on the other, the former attired in clean 
cotton gowns and the latter in their Sunday smocks. 

The three bells were clanged inharmoniously until 
a boy who was stationed at a point of vantage told the 
ringer “ she’s a-comin’.” Then one bell only was rung 
to announce the near arrival of the lady of the manor. 

The rector would take his place at the desk, and the 
occupants of the centre aisle would rise respectfully 
to their feet in anticipation. 

A white-haired butler and a younger footman—with 
many brass buttons on their coat-tails—would fling 
wide the double doors and stand one on either side until 
the old lady swept in ; then one door was closed and 
the other only left open for less-important worshippers 
to enter. As she passed between the men and women 
to the big pew joining the chancel screen, they all 
touched their forelocks or dropped curtsies before re¬ 
suming their seats. Before this aristocratic person¬ 
age began her devotions she would face round and 
with the aid of a large monocle, which hung round her 
neck on a broad black ribbon, would make a silent 
call over, and for the tardy, or non-arrivals, there was 
a lecture in store. The servants of her household had 
the whole of one side aisle allotted to their use. The 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 285 

farmers had the other. There were two “strangers’ 
pews,” two “christening pews,” and the rest were for 
the children. When a hymn was given out the school¬ 
master would vigorously apply a tuning-fork to his 
knee, and having thus got the key would start the 
tune, which was taken up lustily by the children round 
him. This was all the singing they had in the service. 
The clerk said all the amens except when he was 
asleep. The rector was never known to preach more 
than ten minutes at a time, and this was always so 
simple an exposition of the Scripture that the most 
illiterate could understand. 

But no pen can pay tribute enough to the sweet 
earnestness of those little sermons, or, having heard 
them, ever go away unimpressed. 

At the end of the service no one of the congregation 
moved until the lady of the manor sailed out of the 
great square pew. Then the men and women rose as 
before and bowed and bobbed as she passed down the 
aisle. The two menservants again flung wide the 
double doors and stood stiffly on either side as she 
passed out; then sedately walked home behind her at 
a respectful distance. 

On each Good Friday the male community of the 
villagers were given a holiday from their work, and a 
shilling was the reward for every man who made his 
appearance at the eleven o’clock service ; needless to 
say, it was well attended. 

Another church (Newport Pagnell, Bucks) in an 
adjoining county—probably some years previous to 
this date—was lighted by tallow candles stuck in tin 
sconces on the walls, and twice during the service the 
clerk went round with a pair of long-handled snuffers 



286 THE PARISH CLERK 

to “smitch,” as he called it, the wicks of these evil¬ 
smelling lights. 

For his own better accommodation he had a candle 
all to himself stuck in a bottle, which he lighted when 
about to sing a hymn, and with candle in one hand and 
book in the other, and both held at arm’s length, he 
would bellow most lustily and with reason, for he was 
supposed to lead the singing. This finished he would 
blow out his candle with most audible vigour, and 
every one in his neighbourhood would have their 
handkerchiefs ready to drop their noses into. 

This same clerk also took up his stand by the 
chancel steps with a black rod in his hand, and with 
tremendous importance marched in front of the rector 
down the aisle to the vestry under the belfry, and 
waited outside while the clergyman changed his sur¬ 
plice for a black cassock, then escorted him again to 
the pulpit stairs. 

The Rev. E. H. L. Reeve, rector of Stondon Massey, 
Essex, contributes the follow! ig excellent stories of old- 
time services. 

The Rev. Thomas Wallace was rector of Liston, in 
Essex, from 1783, the date of his father’s death, on¬ 
ward. The following story is well authenticated in 
the annals of the family, and must belong to the latter 
part of the eighteenth century or the commencement of 
the nineteenth century. 

It was, of course, a well-established custom in those 
old times for the church clerk to give out the number 
of the hymn to be sung, which he did with much 
unction and long preamble. The moments thus em¬ 
ployed would be turned to account in the afternoon by 
the officiating clergyman, who would take the oppor- 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 287 

tunity of retiring to the vestry to exchange his surplice 
for his academic gown wherein to preach. 

On one occasion Mr. Wallace left his sermon, 
through inadvertence, at home ; and, finding himself 
in the vestry, considered, perhaps, that the chance of 
escape was too good to be lost. At any rate, he let 
himself out into the churchyard, and returned no more! 
He may possibly have been unable to find a discourse, 
but these are details with which we are not concerned. 
The clerk and congregation with becoming loyalty 
lengthened out the already dreary hymn by sundry 
additions and doxologies to give their pastor time to 
don his robes, and it was long ere they perceived the 
true cause of his delay. They were somewhat nettled, 
as one may suppose, at being thus befooled, and here 
lies the gist of our story. Next Sunday the clerk did 
not give out the second hymn at the usual time, but 
waited in solemn silence till Mr. Wallace had returned 
in his black gown from the vestry and ascended the 
pulpit stairs. Then, and not till then, he closed the 
pulpit door with a slam ; and, keeping his back against 
it , called out significantly, and with a tone of exultation 
in his voice, “We’ve got him, my boys; now let us 
sing to the praise and glory of God,” etc. 

William Wren held the office of church clerk at 
Stondon Massey in Essex for thirty-six years, from 
1853 to 1889. He was a rough, uneducated man, but 
with a certain amount of native talent which raised him 
above the level of the majority of his class. I can see 
him now in his place Sunday after Sunday, rigged out 
in a suit of my father’s cast-off clerical garments—a 
kind of “set-off” to him at the lower end of the church. 
In his earlier days Wren had played a flute in the 
village instrumental choir, and to the last he might be 


288 


THE PARISH CLERK 


heard whiling away spare moments on a Sunday in the 
church (for he brought his dinner early in the morning 
and bivouacked there all day !) recalling to himself the 
departed glories of ancient time. He turned the handle 
of the barrel organ in the west gallery from the time of 
its purchase in 1850 to that of its disappearance in 
1S73, but I do not think that he ever appreciated this 
rude substitution of mechanical art for cornet, dulcimer, 
and pipe. 

He led the hymns and read the Psalms, and repeated 
the responses with much fervour ; perpetuating (long 
after it had ceased to be correct) the idea that he alone 
could be relied upon. Should the preacher inadver¬ 
tently close his discourse with the sacred name either as 
part of a text or otherwise, a fervent “ Amun ” was 
certain to resound through the building, either because 
long custom had led him to regard the appendage as 
indispensable to it, or because like an old soldier 
suddenly roused to “attention,” he awoke from a 
stolen slumber to jerk himself into the mental attitude 
most familiar to him. This last supposition, however, 
is a libel upon his fair character. I cannot believe that 
Wren ever slept on duty. He kept near to him a long 
hazel stick, wherewith to overawe any of the younger 
members of the congregation who were inclined either 
to speak or titter. On Wednesdays and Fridays in 
Lent, when the school attended morning service, and, 
in the absence of older people, occupied the principal 
seats instead of their Sunday places in the gallery, 
Wren’s rod was frequently called into active play, and 
I have heard the stick resound on the luckless head of 
many an offending culprit. 

Let me give one closing story of him on one of 
those weekday mornings. 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 289 

It was St. John the Evangelist’s Day, and a few of 
us met at church for matins. It was thought well to 
introduce a hymn for the festival (our hymn book in 
those days was Mercer’s Church Psalter and Hymn 
Book) and Wren was to take charge, as usual, of the 
barrel-organ. My father gave out hymn 292 at the 
appointed place, but only silence followed. Again 
“292,” and then came a voice from the west gallery, 
“The 283rd !” My father did not take the hint, and 
again, rather unfortunately, hazarded “Hymn 292.” 
This was too much for our organist, who called in still 
louder tones, “ ’Tis the 283rd I tell you !” Fortunately, 
we were a small company, but matters would have 
been the same, I dare say, on a Sunday. 

In the vestry subsequently Wren explained to my 
father, “You know there are two Johns; the 292nd 
hymn belongs to John the Baptist’s Day ; this is John 
the Evangelist's." 

The confusion once over my father was much amused 
with the incident, and frequently entertained friends 
with it afterwards, when I am bound to say it did not 
lose its richness of detail. “ Don’t I keep a-telling on 
you?” was the fully developed question, as I last 
remember hearing the story told. The above, how¬ 
ever, I can vouch for as strictly correct, being one of 
the select party privileged to witness the occurrence. 

Mr. Frederick W. Hackwood, the historian of Wed- 
nesbury, has kindly sent the following description of 
the famous clerks of that place : 

The office of parish clerk in Wednesbury has been 
held by at least two remarkable characters. “ Old 
George Court,” as he was called—and by some who 
are still alive—held the post in succession to his grand- 
V 


THE PARISH CLERK 


290 

father for a great number of years. His grandfather 
was George Watkins, in his time one of the principal 
tradesmen in the town. His hospitable house was the 
place of entertainment for a long succession of curates- 
in-charge and other officiating ministers for all the long 
years that the vicar (Rev. A. Bunn Haden) was a non¬ 
resident pluralist. But the position created by this state 
of things was remarkable. Watkins and the small coterie 
who acted with him became the absolute and dominant 
authority in all parochial matters. One curate com¬ 
plained of him and his nominee wardens (in 1806) that 
“these men had been so long in office, and had 
become so cruel and oppressive,” that some of the 
parishioners resolved at last to dismiss them. The 
little oligarchy, however, w T as too strong to be ousted at 
any vestry that ever was called. As to the elected 
officials, the same curate records in a pamphlet which 
he published in his indignation, that “on Christmas 
Day, during divine service, the churchwardens entered 
the workhouse with constables and bailiffs, and a mul¬ 
titude of men equally pious with themselves, and turned 
the governor and his wife into the snow-covered 
streets.” Another measure of iniquity laid to their 
charge was their “cruelty to Mr. Foster,” the master 
of the charity school held in the old Market Cross, “a 
man of amiable disposition, and a teacher of consider¬ 
able merit.” These aggressive wardens grazed the 
churchyard for profit, looked coldly upon a proposal to 
put up Tables of Benefactions in the church, and alto¬ 
gether acted in a manner so high-handed as to call 
forth this historic protest. Although the fabric of the 
church was in so ruinous a condition that the rain 
streamed through the roof upon the head of our clerical 
pamphleteer as he was preaching, all these complaints 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


291 


were to no purpose. When the absentee vicar was 
appealed to he declared his helplessness, and one 
sentence in his reply is significant; it was thus : “It 
is as much as my life is worth to come among them ! ” 
Allowance must be made for party rancour. It is 
probable that Watkins was but the official figure-head 
of this dominant party, and he is said to have been a 
man of real piety ; and after holding the office of parish 
clerk for sixty years, he at last died in the vestry of the 
church he loved so much. 

As a certified clerk George Court held the office as 
long as his grandfather before him. He was a man 
of the bluff and hearty sort, thoroughly typical of old 
Wednesbury, of Dutch build, yet commanding 
presence, in language more forcible than polite, and 
not restrained in the use of his strong language 
even by the presence of an austere and iron-willed 
vicar. The tales told of him are numerous enough, 
but are scarcely of the kind that look well in cold print. 
Although fond of the good things of this world him¬ 
self, he could occasionally be very severe on the high 

feeding and deep drinking proclivities of “You - 

singers and ringers ” ! He was never known to fail in 
scolding any funeral procession that had kept him 
waiting at the church gates too long, and that in lan¬ 
guage as loud as it was vigorous. He, like his pre¬ 
decessor, was the autocrat of the parish. 

The last of the long line of parish clerks who 
occupied the bottom desk of the fine old Jacobean 
three-decker was Thomas Parkes. He died in 1884. 
The peculiar resonant nasal twang with which he sang 
out the “ Amens” gave rise to a sharp newspaper 
correspondence in the Wednesbury Observer of 1857. 
Another controversy provoked by him was at the open- 



292 


THE PARISH CLERK 


ing of the cemetery in 1868, when as vestry clerk he 
claimed a fee of gd. on every interment. The resistance 
of the Nonconformists led to an amicable compromise. 

Mr. Wise, of Weekley, the author of several works 
on Kettering and the neighbourhood, tells me of an 
extraordinary incident which happened in a Sussex 
parish church when he was a boy about seventy years 
ago. The clerk was a decayed farmer who had a fine 
voice, but who was noted for his intemperate habits. 
He went up as usual to the singers’ gallery just before 
the sermon and gave out the metrical Psalm. The 
Psalm was sung, the sermon commenced, when 
suddenly from the gallery rose the words of a popular 
song, given by a splendid tenor voice : 

“ Oh, give my back my Arab steed, 

My Prince defends his right, 

And I will ...” 

“Some one, please, remove that drunken man from 
the gallery,” the clergyman quietly said. It was 
afterwards found that some mischievous persons had 
promised the clerk a gallon of ale if he would sing 
a song during the sermon. 

Miss Elton, of Bath, tells me of the clerk of Bierton, 
near Aylesbury, of which her father had sole charge 
for a time at the end of the forties. His predecessor 
had been a Mr. Stephens. The place had been 
neglected, and church matters were at a low ebb. 
Mr. Elton instituted a service on Saints’ Days, which 
was quite an innovation at that time, and the first of 
these was held on St. Stephen’s Day. The old clerk 
came into the vestry after the service and said, “I be 
sorry, sir, to hear the unkid (= awful) tale of poor 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


293 


Mussar (Mister) Stephens. He be come to a sad end 
surely.” He had evidently confounded the first martyr, 
St. Stephen, with the late curate of the parish, having 
apparently never heard of the former. 

A new vicar had been appointed to a parish about 
eight miles from Oxford, who had been for many years 
a Fellow of his college, and in consequence knew 
little of village folk or parochial matters. Dr. A. was 
much disturbed to find that so few of the villagers 
attended church, and consulted the clerk on the subject, 
who suggested that it might encourage the people to 
attend if Dr. A. was to offer to give sixpence a Sunday 
to all who came to church. The plan was tried and 
found to succeed ; the congregations improved rapidly, 
and the church was well filled, to Dr. A.’s satisfaction. 
But after a while the numbers fell off, and to Dr. A.’s 
chagrin people left off attending church. He again 
called the clerk into his counsels, and asked what could 
be the reason of the falling off of the congregation, 
as he had always given sixpence every Sunday, as he 
promised, to all who came to the service. “ Well, sir,” 
said the clerk, “it is like this: they tells me as how 
they finds they can’t do it for the money.” 

The following reminiscences are supplied by the Rev. 
W. Frederick Green, and are worthy of record : 

I well remember the parish clerk of Woburn, in Bed¬ 
fordshire, more than sixty years ago. His name was 
Joe Brewer—a bald-headed, short, stumpy man, who 
wore black knee-breeches, grey stockings, and shoes. 
He was also the town crier. He always gave out 
the hymns from the front of the west gallery. “Let 
us sing to the praise and glory of God, hymn —” 
Once I heard him call out instead, “ O yes ! O yes ! O 


THE PARISH CLERK 


294 

yes ! This is to give notice,” and then, recollecting he 
was in church, with a loud “O crikey!” he began 
“ Let us sing,” etc. 

Collections in church were made by him in a china 
soup plate from each pew. Ours was a large square 
family pew. One Sunday my brother put into the plate 
a new coin (I think a florin), which Brewer had never 
seen before, and which he thought was a token or 
medal, and thinking my brother was playing a trick 
upon him, said in a loud voice, “ Now, Master Charles, 
none of them larks here.” 

I have also seen him at afternoon service (there was 
no evening service in those days), when it unex¬ 
pectedly came on too dark for the clergyman to see his 
MS. in the pulpit, go to the altar—an ordinary table 
with drawers—throw up the cloth, open a drawer, take 
out two candles and a box of matches, go up the pulpit 
stairs, fix them in the candlesticks, and light them. 

During the winter months part of his duty was to 
tend the fire during service in the Duke of Bedford’s 
large curtained, carpeted pew in the chancel. 

When I was a boy I was staying in Northampton¬ 
shire, and went one Sunday morning into a village 
church for service (I think it was Fotheringhay). There 
was a three-decker, and the clerk from his desk led the 
singing of the congregation, which he faced. There 
was no musical instrument of any kind. The hymn, 
which of course was from Tate and Brady, was the 
metrical version of Psalm xlii. The clerk gave out 
the Psalm, then read the first line to the congregation, 
then sang it solo, and then the congregation sang it 
altogether; and so on line after line for the whole 
eleven verses. 

More attention must have been paid in those days to 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


295 

the requirement of the ninety-first Canon, that the clerk 
should be known, if may be, “for his competent skill 
in singing.” 

In 1873 I was curate-in-charge of an out-of-the-way 
Norfolk village. On my first Sunday I had an early 
celebration at 8 a.m. I arrived in church about 7.45, 
and to my amazement saw five old men sitting round 
the stove in the nave with their hats on, smoking their 
pipes. I expostulated with them quite gently, but they 
left the church before service and never came again. 
I discovered afterwards that they had been regular 
communicants, and that my predecessor always dis¬ 
tributed the offertory to the poor present immediately 
after the service. When these men in the course of my 
remonstrance found that I was not going to continue 
the custom, they no longer cared to be communicants. 

In 1870, in Norfolk, I went round with the rural dean 
visiting the churches. At one church the only person 
to receive the rural dean was the parish clerk, who was 
ready with the funeral pall to put over the rural dean’s 
horse whilst waiting outside the church. 

It was this same church which, in preparation for the 
rural dean’s visit, had been recently and completely 
whitewashed throughout. Not only the walls and 
pillars, but also the pews, the school forms, the pulpit, 
and also the altar itself, a very small four-legged deal 
table without any covering. I suppose this was done 
by the churchwardens to conceal the dilapidated condi¬ 
tion of everything ; but they had omitted to remove 
the grass which was growing in the crevices of the 
floor paving. 

Mr. Moxon (deceased), formerly rector of Hethersett, 
in Norfolk, told me that he had once preached for a 
friend in a Norfolk village church with the woman 




THE PARISH CLERK 


296 

clerk holding an umbrella over his head in the pulpit 
throughout the sermon, because of the “dreep.” 

Miss E. Lloyd, of Woodburn, Crowborough, writes : 

About the year 1833 a gentleman bought an estate 
in North Yorkshire, seven miles from any town, and 
built a house there. The parish was small, having a 
population of about a hundred souls, the church old 
and tumbledown, reeking with damp ; the rain came 
through the roof; the seats were worm-eaten, and 
centipedes, with other like vermin, roamed about them 
near the wall. The vicar was non-resident, and an 
elderly curate-in-charge ministered to this parish and 
another in the neighbourhood. The customs of the 
church were much the same as those described by 
Canon Atkinson in his Forty Years in a Moorland 
Parish as existing on his arrival at Danby. There was 
no vestry. The surplice (washed twice a year) was hung 
over the altar rails, within which the curate robed, his 
hat or any parcel he happened to have in his hand 
being put down for the time on the Holy Table. The 
men sat for the most part together, the farmers and 
young men in the singing-loft, the labourers below, 
and the women in front. The wife of the chief yeoman 
farmer—an excellent and superior woman—still kept up 
the habit of “making a reverence” to the altar before 
she entered her pew. The surplice, which hung in the 
church all through the week, was apt to get very damp. 
On one occasion, when a strange clergyman staying at 
the Hall took the service, he declined to wear it, as it 
was so wet. 

“He wadn’t pit it on,” said the old clerk Christopher 
(commonly called “Kitty”) Hill. “I reckon he was 
afeard o’ t’ smittle ” (infection). 

The same clergyman, when he went up to the altar 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 297 

for the Communion Service, knelt down, as his habit 
was, at the north end for private prayer whilst the 
congregation were singing a metrical Psalm (Old or 
New Version). On looking up he saw that Kitty Hill 
had followed him within the rails and was kneeling 
at the opposite end of the Holy Table staring at him 
with round eyes full of amazement at this unusual act 
of devotion. Both the curate and the clerk spoke the 
broadest Yorkshire. Psalm xxxii. 4 was thus rendered 
by Kitty: “ Ma-maasture is like t’ doong i’ summer.” 
He was an old man and quite bald, and used to sit 
in his desk with a blue-spotted pocket-handkerchief 
spread over his head, occasionally drawing down a 
corner of it for use, and then pulling it straight again. 
If the squire happened to come late to church—a thing 
which did not often happen—the curate would pause in 

his reading and apologise : “Good morning, Mr. -. 

I am sorry, sir, that I began the service. I thought 
you were not coming this morning.” One sentence 
of the sermon preached on the death of King 
William IV long remained in the memory of some 
of his young hearers: “Behold the King in all his 
pomp and glory, soodenly toombled from his high 
elevation, and mingled wi’ the doost! ” 

In 1845 a new church was built on the old site, 
a new curate came, Kitty Hill died, and was suc¬ 
ceeded in his office by his widow, who did all that she 
could do of the clerk’s work, and showed remarkable 
taste in decorating the church at Christmas. No clerk 
was needed for the responses, as the congregation 
joined heartily in the service, and there was a much 
better attendance than there is now. She died in the 
early fifties. 

Amongst other varied readings of the Psalms that 




THE PARISH CLERK 


298 

of an old parish clerk at Hartlepool may be given. 
He had been a sailor, and used to render Psalm civ. 26 
as “There go the ships, and there is that lieutenant 
whom Thou hast made to take his pastime therein.” 

The late Dr. Gatty, in his record of A Life at One 
Living , mentions that at Ecclesfield, as in many other 
places, the office of parish clerk was hereditary. The 
last holder of the office, who used to sit in his desk 
clad in a black bombazine gown, was a publican by 
trade, a decent, honest man, who during the fifty-one 
years he was clerk was only twice absent from service. 
He died in 1868, and the offices of clerk and sexton 
were then united and held by one person. 

The register books of Weybridge, Surrey, were kept 
for a great part of the eighteenth century by the parish 
clerks, the son succeeding his father in office for three 
or four generations. 

Now probably the clerks are no more clerks but 
vergers; and as a Yorkshireman remarked, “ Verging 
is a very honourable profession.” 

The portrait of John Gray, sometime clerk in Eton 
College Chapel, taken in his gown as he stood in his 
desk, has been engraved, and is well known to old 
Etonians. 

Few people possess the gift of humour in the same 
degree as the late Bishop Walsham How, and his 
stories of the race of parish clerks and vergers must 
not be omitted, and are here published by permission 
of his son, Mr. F. D. How, editor of Lighter Moments. 

When I was a deacon, and naturally shy, I was 
visiting my aunts at Workington, where my grand¬ 
father had been rector, and was asked to preach on 
Sunday evening in St. John’s, a wretched modern 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


2 99 


church—a plain oblong with galleries, and a pulpit 
like a very tall wineglass, with a very narrow little 
straight staircase leading up to it, in the middle of the 
east part of the church. When the hymn before the 
sermon was given out I went as usual to the vestry to 
put on the black gown. Not knowing that the clergy¬ 
man generally stayed there till the end of the hymn, I 
emerged as soon as I had vested myself and walked to 
the pulpit and ascended the stairs. When nearly at 
the summit, to my horror I discovered a very fat beadle 
in the pulpit lighting the candles. We could not 
possibly pass on the stairs, and the eyes of the whole 
congregation were upon me. It would be ignominious 
to retreat. So after a few minutes’ reflection I saw my 
way out of the difficulty, which I overcame by a very 
simple mechanical contrivance. I entered the pulpit, 
which exactly fitted the beadle and myself, and then 
face to face we executed a rotary movement to the 
extent of a semicircle, when the beadle finding himself 
next the door of the pulpit was enabled to descend, and 
I remained master of the situation. 

At Uffington, near Shrewsbury, during the incum¬ 
bency of the Rev. J. Hopkins, the choir and organist, 
having been dissatisfied with some arrangement, deter¬ 
mined not to take part in the service. So when the 
clerk, according to the usual custom of those days, 
gave out the hymn, there was a dead silence. This 
lasted a little while, and then the clerk, unable to bear 
it, rose up and appealed to the congregation, saying 
most imploringly, “Them as can sing do ye sing: it’s 
misery to be a this’n” (Shropshire for “ in this way ”). 

At Wolstanton, in the Potteries, there was a some¬ 
what fussy verger called Oakes. On one occasion, 




3 oo THE PARISH CLERK 

just at the time of the year when it was doubtful 
whether lights would be wanted or no, and when they 
had not yet been lighted for evening service, a 
stranger, who was a very smart young clergyman, was 
reading the lessons and had some difficulty in seeing. 
He had on a pair of delicate lavender kid gloves. The 
verger, perceiving his difficulty, went to the vestry, got 
two candles, lighted them, and walked to the lectern, 
before which he stood solemnly holding the candles 
(without candlesticks) in his hands. This was suffi¬ 
ciently trying to the congregation, but suddenly some 
one rattled the latch of the west door, when Oakes, 
feeling that it was absolutely necessary to go and see 
what was the matter, thrust the two candles into the 
poor young clergyman’s delicately gloved hands, and 
left him ! 

At the church of Stratfieldsaye, where the Duke of 
Wellington was a regular attendant, a stranger was 
preaching, and the verger when he ended came up the 
stairs, opened the pulpit door a little way, slammed it 
to, and then opened it wide for the preacher to go out. 
He asked in the vestry why he had shut the door again 
while opening it, and the verger said, “We always do 
that, sir, to wake the duke.” 

A former young curate of Stoke being very anxious 
to do things rubrically, insisted on the ring being put 
on the “fourth finger” at a wedding he took. The 
woman resisted and said, “ I would sooner die than be 
married on my little finger.” The curate said, “ But 
the rubric says so,” whereupon the dens ex machina 
appeared in the shape of the parish clerk, who stepped 
forward and said, “In these cases, sir, the thoomb 
counts as a digit.” 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


3 GI 


A gentleman going to see a ritualistic church in 
London was walking into the chancel when an official 
stepped forward and said, “You mustn’t go in there.” 
“Why not?” said the gentleman. “I’m put here to 
stop you,” said the man. “ Oh ! I see,” said the 
gentleman; “you’re what they call the rude screen, 
aren’t you?” 

A clergyman in the diocese of Wakefield told me 
that when first he came to the parish he found things 
in a very neglected state, and among other changes he 
introduced an early celebration of the Holy Com¬ 
munion. An old clerk collected the offertory, and 
when he brought it up to the clergyman he said, 
“ There’s eight on ’em, but two ’asn’t paid.” 

A verger was showing a lady over a church when 
she asked him if the vicar was a married man. “ No, 
ma’am,” he answered, “he’s a chalybeate.” 

A verger showing a large church to a stranger, 
pointed out another man and said, “That is the other 
verger.” The gentleman said, “ I did not know there 
were two of you,” and the verger replied, “Oh, yes, 
sir, he werges up one side of the church and I werges 
up the other.” 

On my first visit to Almondbury to preach, the 
verger came to me in the vestry and said, “ A’ve put a 
platform in t’ pulpit for ye ; you’ll excuse me, but a 
little man looks as if he was in a toob.” (N.B. To 
prevent undue inferences I am five feet nine inches in 
height.) 

One of the speakers at the meeting of the Catholic 
Truth Society at Bristol (Sept., 1895) told a story 
of a pious Catholic visiting Westminster Abbey, and 



THE PARISH CLERK 


302 

kneeling in a quiet corner for private devotion, when 
he was summoned in stentorian tones to come and view 
the royal tombs and chapels. “ But I have seen them,” 
said the stranger, “and I only wish to say my 
prayers.” “ Prayers is over,” said the verger. “ Still, 
I suppose,” said the stranger, “there can be no objec¬ 
tion to my saying my prayers quietly here?” “No 
objection, sir!” said the irate verger. “Why, it 
would be an insult to the Dean and Chapter.” 

The Rev. M. E. Jenkins writes his remembrances of 
several old clerks. 

There was dear old Robert Livesay, of Blackburn 
parish church, whom every one knew, his large rubi¬ 
cund face beaming with good nature and humour—a 
very kindly old soul. In 1870 I was appointed to an 
old-world Dale’s parish, which had one of the real old 
Yorkshire clerks, Frank Hutchinson. He was lame 
and blind in one eye, and well do I recall his sonorous 
and tremulous response, his love for the Psalms (Tate 
and Brady’s) ; he “ reckoned nought o’ Hymns 
Ancient and Modern .” I used generally to find him 
with a long pipe in the vestry on my return from after¬ 
noon service. He was a great authority on the ancient 
history of the parish, and was formerly schoolmaster. 
He had brought up most respectably a large family of 
sons and daughters on the smallest means, many 
of whom still survive. I had a great respect for the 
old man, and so he had for me. He was very great at 
leading that peculiarly dirge-like wail at the huge 
Yorkshire funerals. I never could quite make out any 
words, but as a singularly effective and musical cadence 
in a minor key, it was no doubt a survival, as I once 
heard Canon Atkinson say, the famous vicar of Danby, 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


303 


my immediate neighbour on the moors. At last I 
attended Frank Hutchinson daily in his prolonged 
decay, and received his solemn blessing and com¬ 
mendation on my work ; and he received at my hand 
a few hours before his death his last communion, sur¬ 
rounded by all his children and grandchildren, in his 
small bedroom, by the light of a single candle. I can 
still see his thin face uplifted. It is thirty-five years 
ago, and I can still hear the striking of his lucifer 
match in the midst of the afternoon service, and see 
him holding up close to his own eye the candle and 
the book, and can hear his tremulous “Amen,” quite 
independent of the choral one sung by a small choir in 
the chancel. He was great in epitaphs. A favourite 
one, which he would recite ore rotundo, was : 

“ Let this record, what few vain marbles can, 

Here lies an honest man.” 

Another, which, by the way, is in Egton churchyard, 
ran as follows : 

“ Life is but a winter’s day; 

Some breakfast and away, 

Others to dinner stop and are full fed, 

The oldest man but sups and goes to bed.” 

He was a genuine old Dalesman of a type passed 
away. His spirits really never survived the abolition 
of the stringed instruments in the western gallery with 
its galaxy of village musicians. “ I hugged bass 
fiddle for many a year,” he once told me. Peace be to 
his memory. 

Canon Atkinson tells of his good and harmless but 
“feckless” parish clerk and schoolmaster at Danby, 
whom, when about to take a funeral, he discovered 
sitting in the sunny embrasure of the west window, with 
his hat on, of course, and comfortably smoking his 




3°4 


THE PARISH CLERK 


pipe. The clerk was a brother of the old vicar of 
Danby, and they seem to have been a curious and 
irreverent pair. The historian of Danby, in his Forty 
Years in a Moorland Parish , fully describes his first 
visit to the clerk’s school, and the strange custom of 
weird singing at funerals to which Mr. Jenkins alludes. 

Another north-country clerk-schoolmaster was obliged 
to relinquish his scholastic duties and make way for a 
certified teacher. One day he heard the new master tell 
his pupils : “ ‘ A ’ is an indefinite article. ‘ A ’ is one, 
and can only be applied to one thing. You cannot say 
a cats or a dogs ; but only a cat, a dog.” The clerk at 
once reported the matter to his rector. “ Here’s a 
pretty fellow you’ve got to keep school ! He says that 
you can only apply the article ‘ a ’ to nouns of the 
singular number ; and here have I been singing 
‘ A —men ’ all my life, and your reverence has never 
once corrected me.” 

Communicated by Mrs. Williamson, Lydgate Vicar¬ 
age : 

The old parish clerk of Radcliffe was secretary of the 
races committee, and would hurry out of church to 
attend these meetings. Mr. Foxley, the rector, was told 
of this weakness of his clerk, so one Wednesday even¬ 
ing, when the rector knew there was a meeting, he got 
into the pulpit (a three-decker was then in the church), 
and began his sermon. Half an hour went by, then the 
clerk began to be restless. Another half-hour passed ; 
the clerk looked up from his seat under the pulpit, but 
still the rector went on preaching. It was too late then 
for the race-course meeting. So when the sermon was 
at length finished, the clerk got up and gave out “ the 


RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD CLERKS 


3°5 

’undred and nineteenth Psalm from yend to yend. 
He’s preached all day, and we’ll sing all neet” (night). 

At Westhoughton Church, Lancashire, there was a 
clerk of the old school, one Platt, who just before the 
sermon would stretch his long arm and offer his snuff¬ 
box to his old friend Betty, and to other cronies who 
happened to be in his immediate neighbourhood. 

The clerk at Stratfieldsaye, who was a character, 
once astonished a strange clergyman who was taking 
the duty. The choir sat in the gallery, and the numbers 
were few on that Sunday. “Mon I ’elp them chaps? 
they be terrible few,” said the clerk. The clergyman 
quite agreed that he should render them his valuable 
assistance, and sit in the gallery. Presently a man 
came in late, and was kneeling down to say his private 
prayer, when the clergyman was horrified to see the 
clerk deliberately rise in the gallery and throw a book 
at the man’s head. When remonstrated with after 
service the clerk replied carelessly, “Oh, it were only 
my way o’ telling him to sing up, as we were terrible 
short this marning.” 


X 



CHAPTER XXI 


CURIOUS STORIES 


HE old clerk of Clapham, Bedford, Mr. Thomas 



1 Maddams, always used to read his own version 
of Psalm xxxix. 12 : “ Like as it were a moth fretting 
in a garment.” Apparently his idea was of a moth 
annoyed at being in a garment from which it could not 


escape. 


A parish clerk (who prided himself upon being well 
read) occupied his seat below the old “three-decker” 
pulpit, and whenever a quotation or an extract from 
the classics was introduced into the sermon he, in an 
undertone, muttered its source, much to the annoyance 
of the preacher and amusement of the congregation. 
Despite all protests in private, the thing continued, 
until one day, the vicar’s patience being exhausted, he 
leant over the pulpit side and immediately exclaimed, 
“Drat you; shut up!” Immediately, in the clerk’s 
usual sententious tone, came the reply, “His own.” 
(William Haggard, Liverpool Daily Post.) 

N.B. I have heard this story before, and in a 
different key : 

The preacher was a young, bumptious fellow, fond 
of quoting the classics, etc. One day a learned classic 
scholar attended his service, and was heard to say, 
after each quotation, “That’s Horace,” “That’s Plato,” 


CURIOUS STORIES 


307 


and such-like, until the preacher was at his “wits’ 
ends” how to quiet the man. At last, leaning over the 
pulpit, he looked the man in the face, and is reported 
to have said, “Who the devil are you?” “That’s his 
own ! ” was the prompt response. 

In one of the village churches near Honiton, in 
1864, the usual duet between the parson and clerk had 
been the custom, when the vicar appealed to the con¬ 
gregation to take their part. In a little while they took 
courage, and did so. This annoyed the clerk, and he 
could not make the responses, and made so many mis¬ 
takes that the vicar drew his attention to the matter. 
He replied, with much irritation, “How can / do the 
service with a lot of men and women a-buzzing and 
a-fizzing about me?” 

A somewhat similar story is told of another church : 

An old gentleman, now in his eightieth year, re¬ 
members attending Romford Church when a youth, 
and says that at that time (1840) the parish clerk was a 
person who greatly magnified his office. On one occa¬ 
sion he checked the young man for audibly respond¬ 
ing, on the ground that he, the clerk, was the person 
to respond audibly, and that other people were to re¬ 
spond inaudibly. 

Communicated by Miss Emily J. Heaton, of Sitting- 
bourne : 

My father lived and worked as the clergyman of a 
parish until he was eighty-nine years of age. He 
remembered a clerk in a Yorkshire parish in the time 
of one of the Georges. The clergyman said the ver- 
sicle, “O Lord, save the King,” and the clerk made 
no reply. The prayer was repeated, but still no 


THE PARISH CLERK 


308 

answer. He then touched the clerk, who sat in the 
desk below, and who replied : 

“ A we’ant! He won’t tak tax off ’bacca ! ” 

Communicated by Mr. Frederick Sherlock: 

I remember as a lad attending a church which owned 
a magnificent specimen of the parish clerk. He used to 
wear a dress-coat, and it was his practice to follow the 
clergy from the vestry, and while the vicar and curate 
were saying their private prayers in the reading-desk 
in which they both sat together, the venerable clerk 
with measured tread passed down the centre of the 
church affably smiling and bowing right and left to such 
of the parishioners as were in his favour. In due 
course he arrived in the singers’ gallery, where he had 
the place of honour under the organ : the good old 
man was leading soloist, which we well knew when 
Jackson’s Te Deum was sung on the greater festivals, 
for there was always a solemn pause before the vener¬ 
able worthy quavered forth his solo. 

It was a pew-rented church, and once a quarter 
strangers were startled, when the vicar from his place 
in the reading-desk had announced the various engage¬ 
ments of the week, to hear the clerk’s majestic voice 
from his place in the gallery add, “ And / beg to 
announce ” (with a marked emphasis on the I) “that 
the churchwardens will attend in the vestry on Monday, 
Tuesday, and Wednesday next, at eight o’clock, for 
the purpose of receiving pew rents and letting seats for 
the ensuing quarter.” 

As torching parish clerks, it is of interest to recall 
that William Maybrick was clerk of St. Peter’s, Liver¬ 
pool, from 1813-48. He had two sons, William, who 


CURIOUS STORIES 


309 


became clerk, and Michael, who was organist at St. 
Peter’s for many years. William Maybrick, junior, 
had also two sons, James, whose name was so much 
before the public owing to the circumstances surround¬ 
ing his death, and Michael, better known as “Stephen 
Adams,” the famous composer and singer. 

The following is a curious letter from a parish clerk 
to his vicar after giving notice to quit the latter’s service. 
He was clerk of the parish of Maldon, Essex. 

Dear and Rev. Sir, 

I avail myself of the opportunity of troubling 
your honour with these lines, which I hope you will 
excuse, which is the very sentiments of your humble 
servant’s heart. Ignorantly, rashly, but reluctantly, 
I gave you warning to leave your highly respected 
office and most amiable duty, as being your servant, 
and clerk of this your most well wished parish, and 
place of my succour and support. 

But, dear Sir, I well know it was no fault of yours 
nor from any of my most worthy parishioners. It 
were because I thought I were not sufficiently paid for 
the interments of the silent dead. But will I be a 
Judas and leave the house of my God, the place where 
His Honour dwelleth for a few pieces of money? No. 
Will I be a Peter and deny myself of an office in His 
Sanctuary and cause me to weep bitterly? No. Can 
I be so unreasonable as to deny, if I like and am well, 
to ring that solemn bell that speaks the departure of 
a soul? No. Can I leave digging the tombs of my 
neighbours and acquaintances which have many a 
time made me shudder and think of my mortality, 
when I have dug up the mortal remains of some per- 




THE PARISH CLERK 


3 IQ 

haps as I well knew? No. And can I so abruptly 
forsake the service of my beloved Church of which 
I have not failed to attend every Sunday for these 
seven and a half years? No. Can I leave waiting 
upon you a minister of that Being that sitteth between 
the Cherubim and flieth upon the wings of the wind? 
No. Can I leave the place where our most holy 
services nobly calls forth and says, “Those whom God 
have joined together ” (and being as I am a married 
man) “let no man put asunder”? No. And can I 
leave that ordinance where you say then and there “ I 
baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son 
and of the Holy Ghost,” and he becomes regenerate 
and is grafted into the body of Christ’s Church? No. 
And can I think of leaving off cleaning at Easter the 
House of God in which I take such delight, in look¬ 
ing down her aisles and beholding her sanctuaries 
and the table of the Lord? No. And can I forsake 
taking part in the service of Thanksgiving of women 
after childbirth when mine own wife has been delivered 
ten times? No. And can I leave off waiting on the 
congregation of the Lord which you well know, Sir, 
is my delight? No. And can I forsake the Table of 
the Lord at which I have feasted I suppose some thirty 
times? No. And, dear Sir, can I ever forsake you 
who have been so kind to me? No. And I well 
know you will not entreat me to leave, neither to 
return from following after you, for where you pray 
there will I pray, where you worship there will I 
worship. Your Church shall be my Church, your 
people shall be my people and your God my God. By 
the waters of Babylon am I to sit down and weep and 
leave thee, O my Church ! and hang my harp upon the 
trees that grow therein? No. One thing have I desired 


CURIOUS STORIES 


3 ** 

of the Lord that I will require even that I may dwell 
in the House of the Lord and to visit His temple. 
More to be desired of me, O my Church, than gold, 
yea than fine gold, sweeter to me than honey and the 
honeycomb. 

Now, kind Sir, the very desire of my heart is still 
to wait upon you. Please tell the Churchwardens all 
is reconciled, and if not, I will get me away into the 
wilderness, and hide me in the desert, in the cleft of 
the rock. But I hope still to be your Gehazi and 
when I meet my Shunamite to say “All, all is well.” 
And I will conclude my blunders with my oft-repeated 
prayer, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and 
to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is 
now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” 

P.S. Now, Sir, I shall go on with my fees the same 
as I found them, and will make no more trouble about 
them, but I will not, I cannot leave you, nor your 
delightful duties. 

Your most obedient servant, 

George G-g. 

The Rev. E. G -, Vicar of Maldon. 

Communicated by the Rev. D. C. Moore : 

In the parish of Belton, Suffolk, there died in 1837 
a man named Noah Pole. He had been clerk for sixty 
years. He wore a smock-frock ; gave out all notices— 
a strayed horse, a found sheep, etc. He was known 
by the nickname of “ Never , never shall be,” for in 
this way he had for sixty years perverted the last part 
of the “ Gloria,” “ now and ever shall be.” 

In the parish of Lowestoft, Suffolk, in the forties 
the parish clerk’s name was Newson (would-be wits 
called him “ Nuisance ”). He was arrayed in a velvet- 






THE PARISH CLERK 


312 

trimmed robe and bore himself bravely. The way in 
which he mouthed “Let us sing to the glory of 
God” was wonderful. But the chief amusement he 
afforded was the habit of hiding his face in his hands 
during each prayer, then towards the ending his head 
would rise till it rested on his thumbs, and then came 
out sonorously, “ Awl-men.” 

At St. Mary’s, Southtown (near Great Yarmouth), 
in the late thirties, etc., a man named Nolloth was 
clerk. He was celebrated for the uncertainty of 
his “ H’s.” For example : “ Let us sing to the praise 
and glory of God the Heighty-heighth ymn.” 

At Gorleston (the mother church of St. Mary’s, 
named above) a tailor named Bristow was clerk. He 
was a very small man, and he had a son he wished to 
succeed him. The clerk’s desk was pretty wide and 
they sat together. I can see them (sixty years after), 
one leaning on his right arm, the other on his left; 
and when the time came, the duet was Ah -men from 
the elder and A-men from the younger, one in “tenor” 
the other “ treble.” We schoolboys used to say “ Big 
pig, little pig.” 

Nicholson, the clerk of St. Bees, if any student was 
called away in term, invariably gave out Psalm cvii., 
fourth part, “They that in ships with courage bold.” 
In those days there were no trains and no hymns. 

At Barkham there is an old clerk who succeeded his 
father half a century ago. 

During the rebuilding of the church his sire, whose 
name was Elijah, once visited a neighbouring parish 
church, and arrived rather late, just when the rector 
was giving out the text: “What doest thou here, 


CURIOUS STORIES 


3*3 


Elijah?” Elijah gave a respectful salute, and replied : 
“ Please, sur, Barkham Church is undergoing repair, 
so I be cumed ’ere ! ” 

Canon Rawnsley tells a pathetic little story of an 
old clerk who begged him not to read the service so 
fast: “For you moost gie me toime, Mr. Rawnsley, 
you moost i’deed. You moost gie me toime, for I’ve 
a graaceless wife an’ two godless soons to praay for.” 

Hawker tells a story of the parish clerk at Morwen- 
stow whose wife used to wash the parson’s surplices. 
He came home one night from a prolonged visit at the 
village inn, the “Bush,” and finding his wife’s scolding 
not to his mind and depressing, he said, “ Look yere, 
my dear, if you doan’t stop, I’ll go straight back 
again.” She did not stop, so he left the house ; but 
the wife donned one of the surplices and, making a 
short cut, stood in front of her approaching husband. 
He was terrified ; but at last he remembered his official 
position, and the thought gave him courage. 

“ Avide, Satan ! ” he said in a thick, slow voice. 

The figure made no answer. 

“Avide, Satan!” he shouted again. “Doan’t ’e 
knaw I be clerk of the parish, bass-viol player, and 
taicher of the singers?” 

When the apparition failed to be impressed the clerk 
turned tail and fled. The ghost returned by a short 
cut, and the clerk found his wife calmly ironing the 
parson’s surplice. He did not return to the “Bush” 
that night. 

The old parish clerk of Dagenham had a habit when 
stating the names to be entered into the register of 
saying, Plain Robert or John, etc., meaning that 
Robert, etc., was the only Christian name. On one 



314 THE PARISH CLERR 

occasion a strange clergyman baptized a child there, 
and being unable to hear the name as given by the 
parents, looked inquiringly at the clerk. “ Plain Jane, 
sir,” he called out in a stentorian voice. “ What a pity 
to label the child thus,” the clergyman rejoined ; “she 
might grow up to be a beautiful girl.” “Jane only , I 
mean,” explained the clerk. 

All clergymen know the difficulty of changing the 
names of the sovereign and the Royal Family at the 
commencement of the reign of a new monarch. 

In a certain parish in the south of England (the name 
of which I do not know, or have forgotten), at the time 
of the accession of Her late Majesty Queen Victoria, 
the rector charged his clerk to make the necessary 
alterations in the Book of Common Prayer required by 
the sex of the new sovereign. The clerk made all the 
needed alterations with the greatest care as regards 
both titles and pronouns ; but not only this, he carried 
on the changes throughout the Psalter. Consequently, 
on the morning of the fourth day of the month, for 
instance, the rector found Psalm xxi. rendered thus : 
“The Queen shall rejoice in Thy strength, O Lord: 
exceeding glad shall She be of Thy salvation,” and 
so on throughout the course of the Psalms and the 
whole of the Psalter. Also in the prayer for the 
Church Militant, when prayer is made for all Christian 
kings, princes, etc., the distracted vicar found the 
words changed into “Queen, Princesses, etc.” After 
all, the clerk showed his thoroughness, but nothing 
short of a new Prayer Book could satisfy the needs of 
the vicar. 1 

1 From the information of Miss Marion Stirling, who heard the story 
from Prebendary Thornton. 


CURIOUS STORIES 


3 J S 


Canon Gregory Smith tells the following story of a 
clerk in Herefordshire, who flourished half a century 
ago : 

In the west-end gallery of the old-fashioned little 
church were musicians with fifes, etc. etc. Sometimes, 
if they started badly in a hymn, the clerk would say 
to the congregation, ‘‘Beg pardon, gents; we’ll try 
again.” 

As I left home one day, the clerk ran after me. 
“But, sir, who’ll take the duty on St. Swithin’s 
Day?” 

Once or twice, being somnolent, on a hot afternoon 
he woke up suddenly with a loud “Amen” in the 
middle of the sermon. 

When I said good-bye to him, having resigned the 
benefice, he said, very gravely, “God will give us 
another comforter.” 

An old country clerk in showing visitors round the 
churchyard used to stop at a certain tombstone and 
say : 

“This ’ere is the tomb of Thomas ’Ooper and ’is 
eleven wives.” 

One day a lady remarked: “Eleven? Dear me, 
that’s rather a lot, isn’t it?” 

The old man looked at her gravely and replied: 
“ Well, mum, yer see it wus an’ ’obby of ’is’n.” 

The Rev. W. D. Parish, in his Dictionary of the 
Sussex Dialect , tells of a friend of his who had been 
remonstrating with one of his parishioners for abusing 
the parish clerk beyond the bounds of neighbourly 
expression, and who received the following answer: 
“ You be quite right, sir ; you be quite right. I’d no 
ought to have said what I did ; but I doant mind tell- 




THE PARISH CLERK 


316 

ing you to your head what I’ve said so many times 
behind your back. We’ve got a good shepherd, I 
says, an excellent shepherd, but he’s got an unaccount¬ 
able bad dog.” 

Some seventy or eighty years ago at Thame Church, 
Buckinghamshire, the old-fashioned clerk had a much- 
worn Prayer Book, and the parson and he made a duet 
of the responses, the congregation not considering it 
necessary or even proper to interfere. When the 
clerk happened to come to a verse of the Psalms with 
words missing he said “riven out” (pronounced oot), 
and the parson finished the verse ; this was taken quite 
as a matter of course by the congregation. 

In a Lancashire church, when the rector was about 
to publish the banns of marriage, the book was not in 
its usual place. However, he began : “I publish the 
banns of marriage ... I publish . . . the banns ” 
—when the clerk looked up from the lowest box of the 
“three-decker,” and said in a tone not sotto voce, 
“ ’Twixt th’ cushion and th’ desk, sur.” 

Prayer Book words are sometimes a puzzle to illite¬ 
rate clerks. At the present time in a Berkshire church 
the clerk always speaks of “ Athanasian’s Creed,” and 
of “the Anthony-Communion hymn.” 

His views of art are occasionally curious. An odd 
specimen of his race was showing to some strangers a 
stained-glass window recently erected in memory of a 
gentleman and lady who had just died. It was a two- 
light window with figures of Moses and Aaron. “ There 
they be, sir, but they don’t much feature the old 
couple,” said the clerk, who regarded them as like¬ 
nesses of the deceased. 


CURIOUS STORIES 


3*7 


A clergyman on one occasion had some trouble with 
his dog. This dog emulated the achievements of 
Newton’s “Fido,” and tore and devoured some leaves of 
the parson’s sermon. The parson was taking the duty 
of a neighbour, and feared lest his mutilated discourse 
would be too short for the edification of the congre¬ 
gation. So after the service he consulted the clerk. 
“Was my sermon too long to-day?” “No,” replied 
the clerk. “ Then was it too short ? ” “Nay, you was 
jist about right.” Much relieved, the parson then told 
the clerk the story of the dog’s misdemeanours, and of 
his fear lest the sermon should prove too short. The 
old clerk scratched his head and then exclaimed, with a 

very solemn face, “ Ah ! maister-, our parson be a 

grade sight too long to plaise us. Would you just give 
him a pup ? ” 

A writer in Notes and Queries tells a story of an old- 
fashioned service, and with this we will conclude our 
collection of curious tales. 

A lady friend of the writer still living, and the 
daughter of a clergyman, assured him that in a country 
parish, where the church service was conducted in a 
very free-and-easy, go-as-you-please sort of way, the 
clerk, looking up at the parson, asked, “What shall 
we do next, zurr ? ” 




CHAPTER XXII 


LONGEVITY AND HEREDITY—THE DEACON- 
CLERKS OF BARNSTAPLE 

HERE are numerous instances of the hereditary 



1 nature of the clerk’s office, which has frequently 
been passed on from father to son through several 
generations. I have already mentioned the Osbornes 
of Belbroughton, Worcestershire, who were parish 
clerks and tailors in the village from the time of 
Henry VIII, and the Worralls of Wolverley in the 
same county, whose reign extended over a century. 

David Clarkson, the parish clerk of Feckenham, died 
in 1854, and his ancestors occupied the same office for 
two centuries. King’s Norton had a famous race of 
clerks, of the name of Ford, who also served for the 
same period. The Fords were a long-lived family, as 
two of them held the office for 102 years. Cuthbert 
Bede mentions also the following remarkable instances 
of heredity : 

The Roses were parish clerks at Bromsgrove from 
“time out of mind.” The Bonds were parish clerks 
at St. Michael’s, Worcester, for a century. John 
Tustin had in 1856 been clerk of Broadway for fifty-two 
years, his father and grandfather having previously 
held the office. Charles Orford died at Oldswinford 
December 28th, 1855, aged seventy-three years, having 


LONGEVITY AND HEREDITY 


3'9 


been parish clerk from his youth, and having suc¬ 
ceeded his father in that capacity : he was succeeded 
by his son Thomas Orford, who was again succeeded 
by his own son William, one of the present vergers 
in this church, aged seventy years. All these examples 
are taken from parishes in Worcestershire. An extra¬ 
ordinary instance of longevity and heredity occurs in 
the annals of the parish of Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derby¬ 
shire. Peter Bramwell, clerk of the parish, died in 
1854, after having held the office for forty-three years. 
His father Peter Bramwell was clerk for fifty years, his 
grandfather George Bramwell for thirty-eight years, 
his great-great-grandfather George Bramwell for forty 
years, and his great-great-great-grandfather Peter 
Bramwell for fifty-two years. The total number of 
years during which the parish was served by this 
family of clerks was 223, and by only five members 
of it, giving an average of forty-four years and nine 
months for each—a wonderful record truly ! 

Nor are these instances of the hereditary nature of 
the office, and of the fact that the duties of the position 
seem to contribute to the lengthened days of the 
holders of it, entirely passed away. The riverside town 
of Marlow, Buckinghamshire, furnishes an example of 
this. Mr. H. W. Badger has occupied the position of 
parish clerk for half a century, and a few months ago 
was presented by the townspeople with an illuminated 
address, together with a purse of fifty-five sovereigns, 
in recognition of his long term of service and of the 
esteem in which he is held. He was appointed in 1855 
in succession to his father, Henry Badger, appointed 
in 1832, who succeeded his grandfather, Wildsmith 
Badger, who became parish clerk in 1789. 

The oldest parish clerk living is James Carne, who 



3 2 ° 


THE PARISH CLERK 


serves in the parish of St. Columb Minor, Cornwall, 
and has held the office for fifty-eight years. He is 
now in his hundred and first year, and still is unre¬ 
mitting in attention to duty, and regularly attends 
church. He followed in the wake of his father and 
grandfather, who filled the same position for fifty-four 
years and fifty years respectively. 

Mr. Edward J. Lupson is the much-respected parish 
clerk of Great Yarmouth, who is a great authority on 
the history of the important church in which he 
officiates, and is the author of several books. He has 
written an excellent guide to the church of St. Nicholas, 
and a volume entitled Cupid's Pupils, compiled from the 
personal “recollections of a parish clerk who assisted 
at ten thousand four hundred marriages and gave away 
eleven hundred and thirty brides”—a wonderful record, 
which, as the book was published seven years ago, 
has now been largely exceeded. The book is brightly 
written, and abounds in the records of amusing in¬ 
stances of nervous and forgetful brides and bride¬ 
grooms, of extraordinary blunders, of the failings of 
inexperienced clergy, and is a full and complete guide 
to those who contemplate matrimony. His guide to 
the church he loves so well is admirable. It appears 
there is a clerks’ book at Great Yarmouth, which 
contains a number of interesting notes and memor¬ 
anda. The clerks of this church were men of import¬ 
ance and position in the town. In 1760 John Marsh, 
who succeeded Sampson Winn, was a town councillor. 
He was succeeded in 1785 by Mr. Richard Pitt, the 
son of a former mayor, and he and his wife and 
sixteen children were interred in the north chancel 
aisle, where a mural monument records their memories. 
The clerks at this period, until 1831, were appointed by 



JAMES CARNE, PARISH CLERK OF ST. COLUMB-MINOR, CORNWALL 


THE OLDEST LIVING CLERK 













LONGEVITY AND HEREDITY 


3 21 


the corporation and paid by the borough. In 1800 
Mr. Richard Miller resigned his aldermanic gown to 
accept the office. Mr. David Absolon (1811-31) was a 
member of the corporation before receiving the appoint¬ 
ment. Mr. John Seaman reigned from 1831 to 1841, 
and was followed by Mr. James Burman, who was 
the last clerk who took part in that curious duet with 
the vicar, to which we have often referred. He was 
an accomplished campanologist and composed several 
peals. In 1863 Mr. Lupson was appointed, who has 
so much honoured his office and earned the respect of 
all who know him. The old fashion of the clerk 
wearing gown and bands is continued at Great 
Yarmouth. 

Mr. Lupson tells of his strange experiences when 
conducting visitors round the church, and explaining 
to them the varied objects of interest. What our 
clerks have to put up with may be news to many. I 
will give it in his own words : 

Although a congenial and profitable engagement, 
it was often felt to be weary work, talking about the 
same things many times each day week after week: and 
anything but easy to exhibit the freshness and retain 
the vivacity that was desirable. Fortunately the 
monotony of the recital found considerable relief from 
the varied receptions it met with. Among the many 
thousand individuals, of all grades and classes, from 
the highest to the lowest, thus come in contact with, 
a diversified and wide range of characters was inevit¬ 
able. The vast majority happily consisted of persons 
with whom it was pleasant to spend half an hour 
within the sacred walls, so gratified were they with 
what they saw and heard : some proving so enthusi¬ 
astic, and showing such absorbing interest, that at 

Y 


3 22 


THE PARISH CLERK 


every convenient halting-place they would take a seat, 
and comfortably adjust themselves as if preparing to 
hear an address from a favourite preacher. Occasion¬ 
ally, however, we had to endure the presence of persons 
who appeared to be suffering from disordered livers, 
or had nettles in their boots, so restless and dissatisfied 
were they. Scarcely anything pleased them. Unde¬ 
sirable individuals would sometimes be discovered in 
the midst of otherwise pleasant parties. Of such may be 
mentioned those who knew of much finer churches they 
could really admire. Whenever we heard the preface 
—“There’s one thing strikes me in this church”— 
we were prepared to hear a depreciatory remark of 
some kind. Some would take pleasure in breaking the 
sequence of the story by anticipating matters not then 
reached, and causing divers interruptions. Others 
would annoy by preferring persistent speaking to 
listening. It was trying work going round with, and 
explaining to, persons from whom nothing but mono¬ 
syllables could be drawn, either through nervousness, 
or from realising their exalted status to be miles above 
the person who was supposing himself able to interest 
them. Anything but desirable persons were they who, 
after going round the church, returned with other 
friends, and then posed as men whose knowledge of the 
building was equal, if not a shade superior, to that 
of the guide. Some parties would waste the time, and 
try one’s patience by having amongst them laggards, 
to whom explanations already given had to be repeated. 
But we must pass by others, and proceed. The mind 
would sometimes find diversion by observing the 
idiosyncrasies, and detecting the pretensions of in¬ 
dividuals. Gradually gaining acquaintance as we 
proceeded, we occasionally discovered some were aping 


LONGEVITY AND HEREDITY 


3 2 3 


gentility: some assuming positions that knew them 
not, and some claiming talents they did not possess. 
We will unmask a specimen of the latter class. A 
man, who was unaccompanied by friends, wished to 
see the church he had heard so much of. He seemed 
about thirty years of age ; was a made-up exquisite, 
looking very imposing, peering as he did through 
gold-rimmed spectacles. His talents were of such an 
order he could not think of hiding them. He had 
learned Hebrew, not from printed books, as ordinary 
scholars are wont to do, but from MSS., and found it 
so easy a matter, it “ only took two hours,” and it was 
simply “out of curiosity” that he undertook it. Before 
mentally placing this paragon among the classics, we 
showed him our MS. Roll (exquisitely written, as 
many visitors are aware, in unpointed Hebrew), and 
asked him to read a few words. This was indeed 
pricking the bubble. Tell it not in Gath, but pub¬ 
lish we will, the discovery we instantly made. Our 
Hebrew scholar had forgotten that Hebrew ran from 
right to left 1 and worse still, he even shook his intel¬ 
lectual head, and gravely confessed that he “wasn’t 
quite sure but that the Roll was written in Greek.” 

Other sources of relief to the mind jaded with con¬ 
stant repetition arose from the peculiar remarks that 
were made, and the strange questions that were often 
asked. 

The organ has been a source of wonderment to 
multitudes who had never seen or heard of a divided 
organ. Wonderful stories had reached the ears of 
some respecting it. 

“Is this the organ that was wrecked?” “Is this 
the organ that was dug out of the sea?” “ Is this the 
organ that was taken out of the Spanish galleon?” 



3 2 4 


THE PARISH CLERK 


“Wasn’t this organ smuggled out of some ship?” 
“ Didn’t it belong to Handel?” “Wasn’t this organ 
made for St. Peter’s at Rome?” With confidence says 
one, “This organ really belongs to the continent; it 
was confiscated in some war.” Whilst another as con¬ 
fidently asserts that “it was built in Holland for one 
of the English cathedrals, and the vessel that con¬ 
veyed it was caught in a storm and wrecked upon 
Yarmouth beach; it was then taken possession of by 
the inhabitants and erected in this church.” Others, 
wishing to show their intimate knowledge of this 
instrument, have told their friends that the trumpet, 
which is a solid piece of wood, held by the angel at 
the summit of the northern organ-case, is only blown 
at the death of a royal person. And a lady, instead of 
informing her friend that it was a vox Humana stop, 
called it a vox popnli. 

We were asked by one, “ Did this organ break the 
windows? I was told a festival service was going on, 
the organist blew the trumpet stop, and broke the 
windows.” Another inquiry was, “Who invented 
the pedals of this organ? We were told that quite 
a youth believed that pedals would improve it. He 
added them, and to the day of his death, whenever 
he was within a few miles of Yarmouth, he would 
come and hear them.” In our hearing one man 
informed another that “this organ has miles of 
piping running somewhere about the town under¬ 
ground.” The queries we have had to answer have 
been exceedingly numerous. Looking at the en¬ 
closure containing the console of the organ, a visitor 
wished to know whether the organist sat inside there. 
Another asked whether it was the vestry. One who 
saw great possibilities in such an organ inquired, 


LONGEVITY AND HEREDITY 


3 2 5 


“Can he play this organ in any other place beside 
the key-board?” The pulpit being of so unique a 
character has had a full share of attention, and no lack 
of admirers. Gazing at it with eyes filled with wonder¬ 
ment, a woman said to her daughter, “Maria, you’re 
not to touch not even the pews.” Everything within 
sight of such a structure she held sacred. Astonished 
at its internal capacity, another asked, “Do all the 
clergy sit in it?” Not realising its true character and 
intent, a lady wished to know, “By whom was this 
monument erected?” As we had long since ascer¬ 
tained how impossible it was to please everybody, we 
were not surprised to find dissatisfied critics presenting 
themselves. One of this class said, “It looks like 
a tomb, and smells like a coffin.” Another, with 
sarcastic wit, said, “Moses looks like some church¬ 
warden who would have to be careful how he ate his 
soup.” We append a few more questions we have 
had to answer : 

“ Was this church built by St. Nicholas? ” 

“ Does this church stand in four parishes?” 

“How many miles is it round the walls of this 
church ? ” 

“ How many does this hold? We were told it holds 
12,000.” 

A clergyman asked, “Where are the bells? Are 
they in the tower ? ” 

“ Haven’t you a Bible 3000 years old?” 

“Haven’t you a Bible that turns over its own 
leaves ? ” 

“Who had the missing leaves of this (Cranmer’s) 
Bible?” 

“Is this the Bible that was chained in Brentwood 
Church?” 



THE PARISH CLERK 


326 

A lady pointing to the font asked, “ Is that the 
Communion Table ? ” 

An elderly lady at the brass lectern inquired, “Is 
this the clerk’s seat? ” 

A man standing looking over the Communion rails 
wished to know, “ What part of the church do you call 
this?” 

“Was one of the giants buried in the churchyard?” 

“Where is the gravestone where a man, his wife, 
and twenty-five children were buried? I saw it when I 
was here some years ago, and forget on which side of 
the church it is.” 

A young man gazing at the top of the lofty flagstaff 
just inside the churchyard gates, asked, “Was that 
erected to the memory of a shipwrecked crew ? ” 

With such extraordinary exhibitions of blatant 
ignorance can a worthy clerk regale himself, but they 
must be very trying at times. 

Mr. Lupson has also written The Friendly Guide to the 
Parish Church and other places of interest in the neigh¬ 
bourhood, The Rows of Great Yarmouth; why so 
constructed , and some devotional works. 

He is also the author of the following additional 
verse to the National Anthem, sung on the occasion 
of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria : 

“ Long- life our Queen has seen : 

Glorious her reign has been : 

Secure her throne ! 

Her subjects’ joy and pride, 

God’s Word be still her guide : 

Long may she yet abide 
Empress and Queen ! ” 

The sons of parish clerks have sometimes attained 
to high dignity in the Church. The clerk of Totnes, 
Devonshire, had a son who was born in 1718, and 


THE DEACON-CLERKS OF BARNSTAPLE 327 

who became the distinguished author and theologian, 
Dr. Kennicott. On one occasion he went to preach at 
the church in his native village, where his father was 
still acting as clerk. The old man insisted upon per¬ 
forming his accustomed duties, placing the surplice or 
black gown on his son’s shoulders, and sitting below 
him in the clerk’s lowly desk. The mother of the 
scholar was so overcome with joy at hearing him 
preach, that she fainted and was carried out of the 
church insensible. Cuthbert Bede records that he was 
acquainted with two eminent clergymen who were the 
sons of parish clerks. One of them was a learned 
professor of a college and an author of repute, and the 
other was attended by his father in the same manner as 
Dr. Kennicott was by his. 

Sometimes our failures are the stepping-stones to 
success in life. The celebrated Dr. Prideaux, Regius 
Professor of Divinity at Oxford and Bishop ot 
Worcester in 1641, was the son of poor parents at 
Harford, near Totnes. He applied for the post of 
parish clerk at Ugborough, but failed to obtain the 
appointment. He was much disappointed, and in 
despair wandered to Oxford, where he became a servitor 
at Exeter College, and ultimately attained to the position 
of rector or head of his college. When he became 
bishop, he was accustomed to say, “ If I could have 
been clerk of Ugborough, I had never been bishop of 
Worcester.” 

The history of the clerks of Barnstaple (1500-1900) 
has been traced by the Rev. J. F. Chanter, 1 and the 
record is remarkable as showing their important status, 
and how some were raised to the diaconate, and in 

1 Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Adva 7 icement of 
Science, Literature, arid Art, 1904, xxxvi. pp. 390-414. 




THE PARISH CLERK 


328 

difficult times rendered good service to the Church and 
the incumbents. The first clerk of whom any trace 
can be found was Thomas Hunt (1540-68). He 
appears in the register books as clericus de hoc opido, 
and in the churchwardens’ accounts for 1564 there is 
an entry, “Item to Hunt the clerke paid for lights 
2s. 8d.” He was succeeded by his son, John Hunt 
(1564-84). Robert Langdon flourished as clerk from 
1584 to 1625, when spiritual matters were at a low ebb 
in the parish. The vicar was excommunicated in 1589. 
His successor quickly resigned, and the next vicar was 
soon involved in feuds with some of his puritanically 
inclined parishioners. The quarrel was increased by 
the unworthy conduct of Robert Smyth, a preacher 
and lecturer who was appointed and paid by the 
corporation, and cared little for vicar or bishop. He 
was an extreme Puritan, and had a considerable follow¬ 
ing in the parish. His refusal to wear a surplice, 
though ordered to do so by the bishop, brought the 
dispute to a head. He was inhibited, but his followers 
retorted by accusing the vicar of being a companion of 
tipplers and fooling away his time with pipe and tabor, 
and finally bringing an accusation against him, on 
account of which the poor man was cited before the 
High Commission Court. The charge came to nothing, 
and Smyth for a time conformed and wore his surplice. 
Then some of the Puritan faction refused to accept the 
vicar’s ministrations, and two of them were tried at 
the assizes and sent to gaol. “If they would rather 
go to gaol than church,” said the town clerk, “ much 
good may it do them. I am not of their mind.” 
Passive resisters were not encouraged in those days. 
But the relations between vicar and lecturer continued 
strained, and the former bethought him of his faithful 




THE DEACON-CLERKS OF BARNSTAPLE 329 

clerk, Robert Langdon, as a helper in the ministry. 
He applied to the bishop to raise him to the diaconate, 
and this was done, Langdon being ordained deacon on 
21 September, 1606, by William Cotton, Bishop of 
Exeter. The record of this notable event, the ordina¬ 
tion of a parish clerk, thus appears in the ordination 
register of the diocese : 

“ In festo Matthasi Apostoli Dominus Episcopus in ecclesia 
parochiali de Silfertone xxi mo die Septembris 1606 ordines 
sacros celebrando ordinavit, sequuntur Diaconi tunc et 
ibidinem ordinati videlicet Robertus Langdon de Barne- 
stapli.” 

Langdon remained parish clerk and deacon nineteen 
years, and the register contained the record of his 
burial, “Robert Langdon deacon 5th July 1625.” He 
seems to have brought peace to the troubled mind of 
his vicar, whose tombstone declares : 

“ Many are the troubles of the Righteous 
But the Lord delivereth out of all.” 

Langdon used to keep the registers, and he began 
to record in them a series of notes on passing events 
which add greatly to the interest of such volumes. 
Thus we find an account of a grievous fire at Tiverton 
in 1595, a violent storm at Barnstaple in 1606, and a 
great frost in the same year ; another fire at Tiverton in 
1612, and the scraps of Latin which appear show that 
he was a man of some education. 

Anthony Baker reigned from 1625 to 1646, who had 
also been ordained deacon prior to his appointment to 
Barnstaple, and belonged to an old yeoman family. 
He was popular with the people, who presented him 
with a new gown. He saw the suspension of his vicar 
by the Standing Committee, and probably died of the 


THE PARISH CLERK 


33° 

plague in 1646, when the town found itself without 
vicar, deacon, or clerk. The plague was raging, 
people dying, and no one to minister to them. No 
clergyman would come save the old vicar, Martyn 
Blake, who was at length allowed by the Puritan rulers 
to return, to the great joy of the inhabitants. He 
appointed Symon Sloby (1647-81), but could not get 
him ordained deacon, as bishops and ordination were 
abhorred and abolished by the Puritan rulers. Sloby 
was appointed “ Register of Barnestapell ” during the 
Commonwealth period. He saw his vicar ejected and 
carried off to Exeter by some of the Parliamentary 
troopers and subsequently restored to the living, and 
records with much joy and loyalty the restoration of 
the monarchy. He served three successive vicars, 
records many items of interest, including certain gifts 
to himself with a pious wish for others to go and do 
likewise, and died in a good old age. 

Richard Sleeper succeeded him in 1682, and reigned 
till 1698. He conformed to the more modern style of 
clerk of an important parish, a dignified official who 
attended the vicar and performed his duties on Sunday, 
occupying the clerk’s desk. Of his successors history 
records little save their names. William Bawden, a 
weaver, was clerk from 1708 to 1726, William Evans 
1726 to 1741, John Taylor 1741 to 1760, John Comer 
1760 to 1786, John Shapcote 1786 to 1795, Joseph Kirnp- 
land 1795 to 1798, who was a member of an old Barn¬ 
staple family and was succeeded by his son John 
(1798-1832), John Thorne (1832-1859), John Hartnoll 
(1859-1883), and William Youings 1883 to 1901. 

This is a remarkable record, and it would be well if 
in all parishes a list of clerks, with as much information 
as the industrious inquirer can collect, could be so 


THE DEACON-CLERKS OF BARNSTAPLE 331 

satisfactorily drawn up and recorded, as Mr. Chanter 
has so successfully done for Barnstaple. The quaint 
notes in the registers written by the clerk give some 
sort of key to his character, and the recollections of the 
oldest inhabitants might be set down who can tell us 
something of the life and character of those who have 
lived in more modern times. We sometimes record in 
our churches the names of the bishops of the see, and 
of the incumbents of the parish ; perhaps a list of the 
humbler but no less faithful servants of the Church, the 
parish clerks, might be added. 

Often can we learn much from them of old-world 
manners, superstitions, folk-lore, and the curious form 
of worship practised in the days of our forefathers. 
My own clerk is a great authority on the lore of ancient 
days, of bygone hard winters, of weather-lore, of the 
Russian war time, and of the ways of the itinerant 
choir and orchestra, of which he was the noted leader. 
Strange and curious carols did he and his sons and 
friends sing for us on Christmas Eve, the words and 
music of which have been handed down from father to 
son for several generations, and have somewhat suffered 
in their course. His grandson still performs for us the 
Christmas Mumming Play. The clerk is seventy years 
of age, and succeeded his father some forty years ago. 
Save for “ bad legs,” the curse of the rustic, he is still 
hale and hearty, and in spite of an organ and sur- 
pliced choir, his powerful voice still sounds with a 
resonant “Amen.” Never does he miss a Sunday 
service. 

We owe much to our faithful clerks. Let us revere 
their memories. They are a most interesting race, and 
your “Amen clerk” is often more celebrated and better 
known than the rector, vicar, patron or squire. The 



33 2 


THE PARISH CLERK 


irreverence, of which we have given many alarming in¬ 
stances, was the irreverence of the times in which they 
lived, of the bad old days of pluralist rectors and itiner¬ 
ant clerics, when the Church was asleep and preparing 
to die with what dignity she could. We may not blame 
the humble servitor for the faults and failings of his 
masters and for the carelessness and depravity of his 
age. We cannot judge his homely ways by the higher 
standard of ceremonial and worship to which we have 
become accustomed. Charity shall hide from us his 
defects, while we continue to admire the virtues, faith¬ 
fulness and devotion to duty of the old parish clerk, who 
retains a warm place in our hearts and is tenderly and 
affectionately remembered by the elder generation of 
English Churchpeople. 


CHAPTER XXIII 


CONCLUSION 



HE passing of the parish clerk causes many re- 


X flections. For a thousand years he has held an 
important position in our churches. We have seen 
him robed in his ancient dignity, a zealous and 
honoured official, without whose aid the services of the 
Church could scarcely have been carried on. In post- 
Reformation times he continued his career without 
losing his rank or status, his dignity or usefulness. 
We have seen him the life and mainstay of the village 
music, the instructor of young clerics, the upholder of 
ancient customs and old-established usages. We have 
regretted the decay in his education, his irreverence 
and absurdities, and have amused ourselves with the 
stories of his quaint ways and strange eccentricities. 
His unseemly conduct was the fault of the dullness, 
deadness, and irreverence of the age in which he lived, 
rather than of his own personal defects. In spite of 
all that can be said against him, he was often a very 
faithful, loyal, pious, and worthy man. 

His place knows him no more in many churches. 
We have a black-gowned verger in our towns; a 
humble temple-sweeper in our villages. The only 
civil right which he retains is that the prospectors 
of new railways are obliged to deposit their plans and 


333 


334 


THE PARISH CLERK 


maps with him, and well do I remember the indignation 
of my own parish clerk when the plans of a proposed 
railway, addressed to “the Parish Clerk,” were delivered 
by the postman to the clerk of the Parish Council. It 
was a wrong that could scarcely be righted. 

I would venture to suggest, in conclusion, that it 
might be worth while for the authorities of the Church 
to consider the possibility of a revival of the office. It 
would be a great advantage to the Church to restore 
the parish clerk to his former important position, and 
to endeavour to obtain more learned and able men for 
the discharge of the duties. The office might be made 
again a sphere of training for those who wish to take 
Holy Orders, wherein a young man might be thoroughly 
educated in the duties of the clerical profession. It 
would be an immense assistance to an incumbent to 
have an active and educated layman associated with 
him in the work of the parish, in teaching, in reading 
and serving in church, and in visiting the sick. Like 
the clerk of old, he would be studying and preparing 
for ordination, and there could be no better school for 
training than actual parish work under the supervision 
of an earnest and wise rector. 

The Church has witnessed vast changes and im¬ 
provements during the last fifty years. The poor clerk 
has been left to look after himself. The revival of the 
office and an improvement in the position and education 
of the holders of it would, I fully believe, be of an 
immense advantage to the Church and a most valuable 
assistance to the clergy. 


INDEX 


Absolon, Chaucer’s portrait of, 26 
,, David, clerk of Great Yar¬ 
mouth, 185 

“Acts,” a Christian name, 264 
Addison, on clerks, 64 
Advent, a carol for, 168 
“ Ales,” clerk’s, 42 
Allington, Kent, 230 
Alnwick, Turner, clerk of, 232 
“Amen” epitaph, 97 
Ancient Mysteries , 137 
Andrews, W., Curious Epitaphs, 100 
,, ,, Curiosities of the 

Church, 188 

Antiquity of clerk’s office, 16, etc. 
Apostles, complimenting the, 265 
Appointment, the right of, 246 
Aquccbajalus , 27 

Arms of the Company of Clerks, III 
Art of Politicks, 184 
Art, the clerk in, 195, etc. 

Ashford, Isaac, the story of, 68 
Aston, Yorks, 5 
Astronomical clerks, 209, 258 
Atchley, Dr. Cuthbert, 49 
Atkinson, Rev. Canon, 302, 303 
Atkins, Thomas of Chillenden, 236 
Augustine of Canterbury, St., 16, 35 
Avington, female clerk at, 202 

Badger, H. W., of Marlow, 319 
Baker, Anthony, deacon-clerk, 329 
Bakewell, the Roe family of, 93 
Barkham, 143, 312, 331 
Barnet, East, clerk of, 60 
Barnstaple, clerks of, 61, 327 
Barrel-organs, 5 

Barton Turf, Norfolk, dog-whipper’s 
land at, 34 

Beating the bounds at Ringmer, 34 
Bede Roll of the Company, 113 


Bede, Cuthbert, 91, 161, 201, 317, 327 
Bells to warn travellers, 83 
Belbroughton, 96 
Bell’s Life, in the pulpit, 231 
Belton, Suffolk, Noah Pole, clerk of, 
3 11 

Bennet, John, of Woodstock, 163 
Beresford Hope on old services, 8, 
170 

Besant, Sir W., description of old 
clerk, 21 

Bilby, Thomas, author of hymn, 154 
Bills of Mortality, 123 
Bingley, Hezekiah Briggs, of, 100 
Bletchley, clerk of, 59 
Bly, Sarah, sexton, 201 
“Bobber,” or sluggard-waker, 204 
Bond family of Worcester, 318 
Boniface, Archbishop, constitutions 
of, 30 

Borne, Hooker’s parish, 24 
Borough, The , by G. Crabbe, 66 
Bradford-on-Avon, 158, 194 
Bramwells of Chapel-en-le-Frith, 319 
Bristol, St. Nicholas, 28, 50 
Broadway, the Tustins of, 318 
Bromfield, Salop, 280 
Bromham, the clerk of, 190 
Bromsgrove, Rose family of, 318 
Burrows, Mrs., recollections of, 283 
Buxted, clerk of, 55 

Caistor, Lincolnshire, 227 
Calculating clerk, a, 211 
Cambridgeshire curate, a, 15 
Canes in churches, 190 
Canterbury, Guild of Clerks at, 105 
Carley, Thomas, of Grafton Under¬ 
wood, 152 

Came, James, oldest living parish 
clerk, 319 


335 




THE PARISH CLERK 


33 6 

Carshalton, register of, 141 
Catechising, 228 

Catechising in church by the clerk, 
59 , 274 

Catwick, Thomas Dixon, of, 206 
Celibacy of clerks, 18 
Chanter, Rev. J. F., on clerks of 
Barnstaple, 327 
Chapel-en-le-Frith, 319 
Chappie, William, of Swymbridge, 
174 

Charman Dean, smuggling at, 84 
Charters of Company of Clerks, 106, 
109 

Chaucer’s portrait of frivolous clerk, 

26 

Cheshire clerk, an old, 225 
Chess in a village, 242 
Chester, plays at, 134 

,, Sir Robert, spoliator of 
Clerks’ Company, 108 
Chillenden, Kent, 236 
Choirs, old-time, 1, 3, 4, 198, 213 
“ Chosen people,” 235 
Church, description of an old, I 
Churching of women, 231 
Churchwardens’ Account books, 19 
Clark, John, the register book of, 
145 

Clarke, John, ill 

Clarkson, David, of Feckenham, 318 
Claverley, Shropshire, 188 
Clergy, defective readers, 5S 
Clerk’s ale, 42 
,, house, 33 
Clerk's Book , 7 he , 52, 248 
Clerks, too clerical, 79, etc. 

Clerk’s Latin, 242 

Clerkenwell and clerks’ plays, 130, 
etc. 

Clerkship, stepping-stone to higher 
preferment, 32 
Coaching days, 241 
Collis family of clerks, 91 
Collumpton, female clerk at, 202 
Company of parish clerks, 104, etc. 
Cornish parsons, 180 
Cornish wreckers, 84 
Coronation changes in the Prayer 
Book, 314 

Council of Merida, 17 
,, Toledo, 17 

Court, George, of Wednesbury, 289 
Coventry, Trinity Church, 28, 36, 50 ' 


Coventry, plays at, 134 
Cowper’s mortuary verses, 69 
,, The Sofa, 71 

,, The Task, 184 

Crabbe’s sketch of old clerics, 13 

„ „ „ ,, clerks, 66 

Crayford, Kent, “Amen” epitaph 
at, 97 

Cromer, David Vial of, 92 
Cropthorne, Worcestershire, 102 
Crosthwaite and catechising, 277 
Curious stories, 307, etc. 

Dagenham and its clerk, 313 
Dean, West, Sussex, 233 
Decline of clerks, 61 
Decorating the church, 193 
Deputations, 217 
Descent into Hell, 136 
Dickenson, Thomas, licensed to 
officiate, 81 

Dicker, Robert, of Crediton, 257 
Diggs, David, 6, 58, 162 
Dismissing a clerk, 247, 250 
Dixon, Thomas, a curious character, 
206 

Dog, an archbishop’s, 189 
Dogs fighting in church, 85 
Dog-whippers, 34, 18S 
Dogs lost, notices of, 176 
,, in churches, 189 
Duke’s present of game, a, 177 
Dunstable, 20 
Dunstan, St., 16 

Easter cakes, 41 
Eastham, clerk of, 55 
Ecclesfield, clerks at, 298 
Eccleshall’s cricketing clerk, 1S2 
Ecclesiastical Law, by Sir R. Philli- 
more, 247 

Edgar, King, canons of, 16 
Elliott, Rev. E. K., recollections of, 

83 

Elmstead, 49 

Elton, Miss, recollections of, 292 
Epitaphs of clerks, 90, etc. 

Epworth and John Wesley, 193 
Ethelbert, King, 16 
Evison, Thomas, of Wragsby, 2S1 
Exeter, Synod of, 17 

Faithfulness of clerks, 23 
Fairfield, So 



INDEX 


Fasting Communion, a tradition, 237 
Faversham, 28, 45, 50 
Feckenham, 318 
Feudal customs, 284 
Fewson, Richard, a curious clerk, 
208 

Fielding’s clerics, 11 
Fighting in church, 49, 279 
Finch, Betty, “bobber,” 204 
Flore, carol by the clerk of, 167 
Ford family of King’s Norton, 102, 
3 l8 

Foster, Joshua, of Caistor, 227 
Foston-le-Clay and Sydney Smith, 
216 

Fressingfield, clerk’s house at, 34 
Frith’s Vicar of Wakefield, 199 
Funerals, London clerks at, 116 
,, old time, 218, 222 
Furness, Richard, clerk of Dore, 164 

Gadara, swine of, 238 
Gainsborough’s portrait of Orpin, 195 
Gargrave, York, 157 
Gay’s allusion to clerks, 72 
George IV and Queen Caroline, 183 
Ghost story, 313 

Gill, Mrs., recollections of, 170, 
278 

“ God speed ’em well,” 215, 230 
Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, 12 
Goose in the pulpit, 266 
Grafton Underwood, 152 
Gray, John, clerk at Eton College, 
Green, Rev. W. F., recollections of, 
293 

Gregory IX, decretals of, 17 
Gregory Smith, Rev. Canon, recol¬ 
lections of, 315 

Grindal, Archbishop, injunctions of, 
54 , 80 

Grosseteste, Bishop, 17 
Guild of Clerks, 18, 104, etc. 
Guinea-fowls, disturbing congrega¬ 
tion, 261 

Gunpowder Piot, 161 
Haddon, West, 91 

Halls of the Clerks’ Company, 107, 
no, etc. 

“ Ilarmun,” a Christian name, 263 
Hartlepool, clerk of, 59 
Harvey, Christopher, 63 
Haw of Halton Holgate, 236 


337 

Hawker, Rev. R. S., recollections of, 
8 S. 3 J 3 

Hayes, disgraceful scenes at, 187 
Hebrew scholar, a, 323 
Hemmans, Rev. Canon, recollections 
of, 281 

Herbert, George, on responding, 68 
,, „ clerk of Eye, 93 

Pleredity of the clerk’s office, 318 
Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, 17 
Hinton, William, a Wilts clerk, 239 
Hobbes, William, clerk at Plymouth, 
25 

Hobby, a matrimonial, 315 
Hogarth’s Sleeping Congregation, 131 
Holy loaf, 38, etc. 

,, water, 27 

Hone’s Year Book and Book of Days, 

8 7i 99 

Hooker, the Judicious, 24 
Hopkins, John, clerk at Salisbury, 
162 

Houses for clerks, 33 
How, Bishop Walsham, recollections 
of, 298 

Hust, Richard, portrait of, in 
Hutchinson, F., a Yorkshire clerk, 
302 

Hutton, William, verses by, 73 

Huyk, John, of Hull, 35 

Hymn in praise of William III, 160 

Illuminated MSS., 197 
Ingenious clerk, an, 259 
Ingham, James, of Whalley, 236 

Jachin, the story of, 66 
Jenkins, Rev. M. E., recollections 
of, 302 

Jenner’s “Mount Sion,” 185 
Jerry and the “ Northern Lights,” 
218 

John of Althon, 32, 49 
Johnson’s definition and opinion of 
clerks, 66 

Kennicott, Dr., a clerk’s son, 326 
Kent, John, clerk of St. Albans, 87 
Kenwyn, dogs fighting in church, 85 
Kilbrogan, Ireland, 159 
King’s Norton, the Fords of, 102, 318 

Lainston, romance of parish register 
of, 151 




THE PARISH CLERK 


338 

Langdon, Robert, deacon-clerk, 329 
Langhorne, Rev. W. H., recollec¬ 
tions of, 231 
Langport, Somerset, 41 
Laracor, Meath, 180 
Latin, a clerk’s, 242 
Lavant, East, Russell of, 260 
Law and the clerk, the, 245, etc. 
Lawton, Cheshire, 225 
Leckhampton, 235 
“ Leg end, the.” 282 
Legg, Dr. J. Wickham, 52, 169, 248 
Legge, Rev. A. G., recollections of, 
259, 265 

Lessons, right of reading, 53 
Licence granted to clerk to officiate, 
81 

Liston, Essex, 286 
Literature, the clerk in, 63, etc. 
London, St. Peter-the-Less, 35 
,, St. Stephen, Coleman Street, 

46, 142 

,, St. Michael, Cornhill, 50, 

in 

,, St. Margaret, Westminster, 

S 3 , 200 

,, the clerks of, 115, etc. 

,, Guildhall chapel, 115 

,, St. Margaret, Lothbury, 142 

,, Lambeth parish, 147 

,, Battersea, 147 

,, St. Mary’s, Islington, 154 

,, St. Matthew’s Chapel, 

Spring Gardens, 191 
,, parishes, 129 

Longevity of clerks, 318 
Lowestoft, Suffolk, Newson of, 311 
Lupson, E. J., of Great Yarmouth, 

320 

Lyndewoode, William, on married 
clerks, 18, 35, 49 

Machyn’s Diary, 117 
Maldon, Essex, a curious letter, 309 
Mangotsfield, Bamford, clerk of, 230 
Marlow, Bucks, 319 
Marriage Act of 1653, 81 
Marriages by clerks, 81 
Matthew Paris, 43 
Maundy Thursday, 37 
Maybrick, William, and his sons, 
308 

Mediaeval clerk, 31, etc. 

Milston, clerk at, 64 


Milverton, Somerset, 41, 59 
Moody, clerk at Redbourn, 172 
More, Sir Thomas, 32, 109 
Morebath, dispute at, 29 
Mortality, Bills of, 123 
Morwenstow and its ghost story, 313 
Myrc, John, instructions to parish 
priests, 45 

New Remarks of London , 127 
Newport Pagnell, Bucks, 285 
Northampton, All Saints, 69 
“Northern Lights,” 217 
Notices, the clerk giving out, 169, etc. 
,, curious, 270 

Oldswinford, the Orfords of, 318 
Orchestra, village, 4, 213 
Orpin, portrait by Gainsborough, 195 
Osbornes of Belbroughton, 96 
Overy, St. Mary, 80 

Pageantry of clerks, 119 

Pall used as horsecloth, 295 

The Parish Clerk, a new comic song, 

73 

Parish Clerk’s Guide, The, 46, 57 
Parish Clerk, by Hewett, 6, 58, 162 
Parish Clerks, Some Account of, by 
J. Christie, 107 

Parish Register, The, by Crabbe, 67 
Parish registers and the clerks, 140 
etc. 

Parish Registers, History of, 148 
Parsons, old-time, 1, 10-15 
Parson and Clerk, rocks so named, 
86 

Pattishall, clerk’s register of, 145 
Perquisites of clerks, 41 
Pews, old-fashioned, 2 
Pierce, Bishop of Bath and Wells 
43 

Plague in London, 125 
Playford, John, 56 
Plays performed by clerks, 131, etc. 
Pluralism, evil effects of, 14 
Plymouth, St. Andrew, 25 
Poet, the clerk as a, 154, etc. 

Poor rates levied on the altar, 268 
Pope, Alexander, Memoir of P. P., 
75 

Portraits in the hall of the Company, 
112 

Prideaux, Dr., 327 



INDEX 


339 


Priestly, Peter, clerk of Wakefield, 

86 

Printing press, the clerks’, 125 
Pup wanted, a, 317 
Puritanism, effects of, 7 

Radclifife, Lancashire, 304 
Radcliffe-on-Sour, 100 
Railways, the advent of, 242 
Raw, Frank, of Selby, epitaph of, 
100 

Rawsley, Miss, recollections of, 236 

,, Canon, story told by, 313 

Reading, duty of, 48, etc. 

Reading, St. Giles, 19, 33, 45 
,, St. Lawrence, 21, 39 

„ St. Mary, 33, 39 

Rectores chori, 36 

Recollections of old clerks, 255, etc. 
Redbourn, Herts, 172 
Reeve, Rev. E. H. L., recollections 
of, 286 

Reformation changes, 51 
Rempstone, wages of clerk at, 248 
“ Responding inaudibly,” 307 
Revival of office of clerk, 334 
Rex v. Erasmus Warren, 251 
Richard I as rector chori , 32 
Ringmer, 34 

Rival clerks, 49, 211, 279 
Rivington family, 127 
Robinson, Daniel, of Flore, 167 
Rochester and its parish register, 150 
Rochester, Earl of, epigram by, 3 
Roe family at Bakewell, 93 
Romford, 307 

Roper, William, of Clerks’ Com¬ 
pany, 109 

Rose family of Bromsgrove, 318 
Rugby, St. Andrew, 91 
Russell, Rev. J., of Swymbridge, 174 
,, clerk of East Lavant, 260 

St. Albans, clerk of, 87 
St. Columb Minor, Cornwall, 320 
St. Nicholas, patron saint of clerks, 
105 

Salehurst, wages of clerk, 249 
Salisbury, St. Edmund, clerk’s house 
at, 34 

,, John Hopkins of, 162 
Saltwood, Kent, clerk’s house at, 34 
Sapiston and the Duke’s hare, 177 
Scarlett, Old, of Peterborough, 98 


Schoolmaster, clerk as, 44 
Scothorne, Blackburn’s epitaph, 103 
Selwyn, Rev. W., recollections of, 
279 

Sermon forgotten, 287 
Sexton and clerk, 22, 64, 253 
Shakespeare’s allusion to clerks, 63 
Shenley, Rogers of, 92 
Sherlock, F., recollections of, 30S 
Shoes in church, 226 
Sidbury, clerk of, 59 
Singing, duty of, 48, etc. 

,, efforts to improve, 121 
Skinners’ Well, 131 
Sleeping Congregation , by Hogarth 
181 

Sleepy church and sleepy clerks, 179, 
etc. 

Sluggard-waker, 187 
Smuggling days and smuggling ways, 
79 , 83, etc. 

Smoking in church, 228, 295, 303 
Snell, Peter, of Crayford, 97 
Soberton, Hants, smuggling at, 84 
Social Life as told by Parish Registers , 

142, 148 

Solomon Daisy of Barnaby Rudge, 
72 

Song during the sermon, a, 292 
Spectator, The , 64, 65 
Spoliation of Clerks’ Company, 108 
Sporting parsons, 171, 269 
,, clerks, 211 
Squire’s pew, the, 2 
Stanford-in-the-Vale, Berks, 40 
Staple-next-Wingham, 101 
Sternhold and Hopkins’s Psalter, 3 
Stoke, 300 

Story, Robert, poet, 157 
Stoulton, epitaph at, 103 
Stratfieldsaye, 300, 305 
Surplices objected to, 118 
Swanscombe, Kent, 8 
Swift on old pews, 2 
,, and his clerk Roger, 180 
Syntax, Dr., 14 

Tait, Archbishop, on old services, 8 
Teeth, story of “artful,” 174 
Tennyson’s allusion to clerks, 7 2 
Tenterden, John Hopton of, 80 
Thame, curious banns at, 316 
Thirza, a Christian name, 282 
Tingrith and its potentate, 283 




34o 


THE PARISH CLERK 


Totnes, Devon, 326 
Tourists’ queries, 321 
Town crier as clerk, 293 
Tunbridge Wells, Tenner’s “ Mount 
Sion,” 185 

Uffington, Salop, 299 
Upton, near Droitwich, 179 

Venables, Rev. Canon, recollections 
of, 267 

Verney, Lady, Essays and Tales , 74 
Vickers, Rev. W. V., recollections of, 
2 55 

Visitation of the sick, 46 

Wages of clerks, 248 
Wakefield, 87 

Walker, Rev. Robert, the “Wonder¬ 
ful,” 11 
Waltham, 79 

,, Holy Cross, 81 
Walton, Isaac, story of faithful clerk, 
24 

Warrington and its “bobber,” 204 
Way to find Sunday without an 
Almanack, The, 73 
Webster’s Village Choir, 198 
Wednesbury, 145, 191, 289 
Wesley and his clerk, 193 
Westbere, 79 
Westhoughton, 305 
Westley, 228 
Whalley, clerk at, 236 
Wheatley, female clerk at, 202 
Whitewashed church, a, 295 
Whittingdon, Thomas Evans of, 92 
“ Wicked man, the,” 256 
Wilberforce, Bishop, on squire’s pew, 2 


Willoughton, Betty Wells of, 203 
Wills containing bequests to clerks, 
3i 

Wimborne Minster, 55, 233 
Windermere, clerk of, 230 
Wise, Mr., of Weekley, recollections 
of, 292 

Witch as parish clerk, 203 
Woburn, J. Brewer of, 293 
Wolstanton, 299 
Wolverley, Worcestershire, 96 
Women as parish clerks, 200, etc. 

,, as sextons, 254 
Woodmancote, old clerk at, 233 
Woodstock, J. Bennet, clerk of, 163 
Wootton, Paul, clerk at Bromham, 
190 

Worcester, St. Michael, clerk’s house 
at, 34 

Worcester, St. Michael, the Bond 
family of, 318 

Wordsworth, on the “ Wonderful 
Walker,” n 

Workington and its beadle, 299 
Worrall family of Wolverley, 96 
Worthing, smuggling at, 83 
Worth, John Alcorn of, 101 
Wragby, clerk of, 281 
Wren, William, of Stondon Massey, 
287 

Yarmouth, Great, the clerk of, 320 
York, mystery plays at, 133 
Yorkshire clerks, 206, etc., 302 
Young, Rev. J. C., recollections of, 
239 

“Zulphur,” a Christian name, 258 



PLYMOUTH 

W. BRENDON AND SON, LIMITED, PRINTERS 







Date Due 



-m- 































































ffr-e CAT. NO. 23 233 PRINTED IN U.S.A. 
























010101 000 


BX 5179 .D5 1907 

Ditchfield, Peter Hampson 
The parish clerk. 


63 


81502 7 


TRENT UNIVERSITY 


. D5 1907 

l » Pel 
The parish cler 


Ditc&Ilia ; 1 Peter Hampson 
Lerh.