Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Don't You Touch His Reverence!

The November speaker at the monthly Monday lunch time talk at Swindon Central Library was archivist Robert Jago from the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.

Robert’s subject was Churchwardens’ Accounts and he described the many and varied tasks performed by the churchwarden, charting a role dating back to medieval times. The oldest surviving churchwardens’ accounts are those of St. Michael’s in Bath which date from 1349.

The main duty of the churchwarden was to keep the fabric of the church in good repair and to attend to the fixtures and fittings, although he also had to sort out any unruly sexual behaviour in the parish especially when it involved the vicar!

Pest control also took up a fair bit of the churchwardens’ time and account books list payments for song birds found to be depleting the local crops. Foxes presented a big problem as well and the accounts for Brinkworth reveal regular payment for foxes heads, a wily solution to parish enterprise where the same sorry fox was repeatedly presented until the smell betrayed this entrepreneurial activity.

Churchwardens’ accounts are useful for both family and local historians as Robert explained. For those researching the history of their house, churchwardens’ rates can sometimes provide a list of landholders and their properties.

Bell ringing appears to have been a nice little earner. The Churchwardens’ Accounts of Mere 1556-1617 reveal the ringers received 6s ‘for ringing for our Queene’ on Crownation Day November 17, the anniversary of Elizabeth I’s accession to the throne while Brinkworth churchwardens paid ringers 3s for their services on Thanks Giving Day in 1708. Craftsmen and labourers frequently appear in the churchwardens’ accounts and the Mere records reveal that John Bruar the Plumer received £3 10s for ‘his worke and stuffe.’

Even local reaction to cataclysmic national events such as the Reformation can be deduced from the churchwardens’ accounts, for example candles were no longer purchased at Candlemas in Edward VI’s reign to the replacement of rood screens in Mary’s.

Robert brought with him a selection of books including the comprehensive Churchwardens’ Accounts by J.C. Cox published in 1913 and now available on line on

Check the Swindon Borough Council website on for details of forthcoming events at Central Library.

medieval wall paintings in St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze, courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball. Visit their website on

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