Monday, 24 September 2012

A source of scandal ...

Bothamsall Church from Southwell & Nottingham Churches
Adultery, bastardy and incest - it sounds like the latest episode of Eastenders! But it is in fact the goings on in Bothamsall, a small north Nottinghamshire village, in the 17th Century and all revealed in the Presentment Bills that Church Wardens submitted twice yearly to their Archdeacons.

Church Wardens were required to report in the Presentment Bills on both the morality and religious practices of the people of the parish plus the behaviour of the clergy.  Hence, the Bills provide insight not only into the social mores of the time and place but also religious dissent in a century riven by the English Civil War and migration to America.

Bothamsall never appears to have had more than a few hundred residents but at first glance certainly seems to have had its fair share of sexual scandal with in just 30 years from 1608, 7 reports of fornication, 2 of adultery, 3 of bastardy, 3 of drinking on Sundays and 1 of general sexual immorality, whatever that might be:
Adultery: Richard Nicholson, Isabel Trundle
Bastardy: Elizabeth Baker, Katherine Reckingham, John Greenswood
Fornication: Margaret [no surname], Jane Wakeland, Margaret Staniland, Elizabeth Tomlinson, Francis Tomlinson, 
Drinking on Sundays: George Marriot, Christopher Warriner, Athren Whitehead
Sexual Immorality: Robert Sharpe

Although, the sexual affairs of Bothamsall in the 17th Century seem lively enough, they were in fact very restrained compared with the goings on in some other Nottinghamshire villages where there are multiple accusations of fornication at every Presentment.  And accusation seems to be the key word here as in some cases the level of "misbehaviour" seems quite incredible and one has to suspect that at least some of it is sheer gossip mongering and point scoring between neighbours.

Bothamsall Church from Southwell and Nottingham Churches
The Presentments ceased during the English Civil War, (1642-1651), and then resumed after the Restoration of the Stuarts in 1660, but they are perhaps at their most interesting in the period up to the Civil War when they provide a record of the simmering cauldron of religious dissent in villages across the country.  Bothamsall itself was very close to the Scrooby Congregation of dissenting Protestants who migrated to Leiden in Holland and founded the community from which the Mayflower Pilgrims would set sail for America.  The presence of dissenting Protestants in Bothamsall can be seen in the Presentment Bills for 1608-1610 with 10 parishioners being accused of either "Not attending church - lay non-conformity" or "Not receiving holy communion".  These specific  accusations stop after 1610 and it would be interesting to know if any of the accused did migrate to the Leiden community which was founded at this time:

Not attending church, lay non-conformity: Robert Carlisle, Mrs Carlisle, Anne Dobson, Joyce Lanfield, Stephen Lanfield
Not receiving holy communion: Barnaby Williamson, Mrs Williamson, Francis Marriot

There is another burst of religious dispute within the village in 1625 and 1626 when 4 villagers - George and Anne Booth, Elizabeth Cos and William Robson - are repeatedly accused of Recusancy, that is Roman Catholic worship and rejection of the Anglican settlement.  Again this flurry of accusations dies down and again it is not clear whether this is because the accused changed their behaviour or left Bothamsall or whether  more tolerant church wardens were in place.  Whatever the case, it is clear that contrary to the intentions of Queen Elizabeth 1, prayer and how people prayed was very much treated as a window on people's heart and a source of scandal and dispute within even the smallest of English villages.

The Nottinghamshire Presentment Bills are available in the excellent Nottingham University archive.  To search the Bills, Click on the Search Archdeaconry link on the right and in the new search page enter the village in the Name field and select Presentee from the role list.  Most of the offences which fabulously include - playing unlawful games, abuse of church wardens, clandestine marriage, working on Sundays, and harbouring a fornicator - are fully listed in the search results but you can click on the hit links on the right and then the view link by the presentee to see if any more detail is given.

I haven't yet explored the Presentment Bills outside Nottinghamshire but will update the blog with details of their availability when I do.

If you have any great posts on using Presentment Bills please do add links with the linky below ...

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Google of its day ...

The Historical Directories website is one of my family history favourites.  The 19th century directories from Wrights, Pigots, Whites and Glovers, really were the Google of their day covering everything from local businesses and every small trades person you could imagine to post delivery times, stations, pubs, theatres, church services, fire brigades, police stations, military regiments, charities, horticultural societies and, in Nottingham at least, the Antedulivian order of buffaloes!

They are fascinating just to browse through - I found an advert for some gorgeous lace curtains that I rather fancy! - but are really the best starting place if you want to discover more about where your family came from.

I am going to use the  Historical Directories website for a lot of my posts so I thought it was worth starting with a few tips on how to use the website as although it is really worth the effort it is not the friendliest in the world.  On the home page you are offered three search options as below - I think the easiest thing to do is search by location, i.e. the County of the parish or town that you want to find out about:

Once you've selected your county on either the map or a drop down list, you'll get a list of all the directories available for that county and you need to select one by clicking Directory on the right.  I found it easier to start with earlier directories as there's less information and later ones can be a bit overwhelming in the amount of information available:

When the directory opens you can chose between Search and Browse modes.  Initially, I would chose Browse which allows you to step through the images to the directory's main index.  The directory defaults to Search mode, so click Browse Directory on top right:

Once you've found the main index you can enter the page number of the place you're looking for or any sub-index you need to use in the Go To Image field.  All sounds easy enough so far but unfortunately the page numbers in the index don't directly relate to the image numbers you can enter so you will need to use the next and previous image buttons to go about 20 pages forward or back.

Hmmm, definitely starting to sound a bit complicated but the benefits are that if you're looking for a small parish or village you'll get a fabulous little summary snapshot which covers the life of the place in which your ancestors lived.  As this one below, for the village of Gedling in Nottinghamshire - in which my mother's family lived for time immemorial - which shows for example, that in the 1850s Gedling had: a couple of big houses, (one occupied by a "new money" industrialist); a pub - the Chesterfield Arms; a school with a separate class for infants; it's own local bobby - Angus Slater; a shop; a good number of farmers; a couple of competing black-smiths one of whom also made machines and was probably servicing the local framework knitters; a delivery service twice a week into Nottingham; and finally, a few very small-scale tradespeople including a framework knitter, a corn miller, 2 brick layers and my 3x great grandfather David Palethorpe who had just inherited his father's market garden following an acrimonious court case - but more of that in another blog!

If you've written a great post about trade directories please do add a link below: