BROWSING THROUGH OUR PARISH RECORDS *
A talk given to the Civic Society on Thursday, 1 April 1999.
Mold’s parish records, that accumulation of books and papers that were no doubt once stored in those capacious wooden chests at St. Mary’s church can now be consulted by anyone who makes the appropriate arrangements at the Flintshire Record Office in Hawarden. The archives did not all come directly from the church in the late 1970s, some of them arrived earlier intermingled with the records of Keene & Kelly, solicitors of the town due to the long period served as churchwarden by Alfred Thomas Keene in the late nineteenth century. The remainder have been deposited there in subsequent years by the incumbents of the parish. We know that Mold parish as an ecclesiastical unit is very old. A list of the clergy who served it begins in 1254, and in 1291 it was taxed for a total of £70.15s.0d., being then described as ‘ecclesia de Monte Alto’. The parish archives themselves however, the subject of this article, survive only from the seventeenth century.
Archives are produced as a by-product of administration so I propose to deal with the records by looking at the administrators, in this case the parish officials, whose work created them.
The records which are most associated with the office of incumbent, here the vicar of Mold, are the parish registers which are records of baptisms, marriages and burials. They are sources which can be used for many kinds of historical research, by genealogists tracing their family histories, those interested in local place-names; industries and trades; population changes; and social conditions and developments. The registers were created as records of religious ceremonies in church (apart from very rare exceptions) and are not to be confused with the records of births, marriages and deaths which began to be kept according to legislation, by civil registrars from 1837 onwards. Our registers begin during the incumbency of Revd Edward Evans, records of marriages from 1604 and baptisms and burials from 1612. At first they combine all three types of entry until 1754 after which a law to prevent secret marriages dictated that such ceremonies had to be recorded in special registers. These unofficial marriages had occurred in our area too as in 1736 the vicar of Mold recorded that he had remarried those who had been ‘clandestinely married by John Berrey of Chester’ since 1731. Changes in clergy can be easily detected in the registers by the different styles of handwriting and style of recording. Informal early entries record the deaths of an un-named ‘poor lad’ and ‘a little wench’. Some show a wordly scepticism as in a baptism of 1644 when the town would have been hectic with the comings and goings of soldiers during the Civil War :
‘Abigail, daughter of Lieutenant Ivy and Ursula his wife (as he says) of Ireland’.
Another two soldiers, including another Irishman are mentioned that year.
Occupations arc given in the entries from the earliest registers, predominantly in English but sometimes in Welsh, for example in 1616 – ‘y glowr’ (the collier) and ‘cogrwr’ (the spinner or possibly turner). In 1612 a worker at the lead mill is mentioned; in 1622 a gardener from Gwysaney; in 1632 a fiddler; a plumber of 1665 and in the following year a tobacconer. In the late seventeenth century a schoolmaster appears in the register for the first time. Other town officials are mentioned including William Jones ‘baylife of Mold’ in 1659 when bailiff meant an officer equivalent to a mayor. Neither does the seemier side of life escape the register – on 21 March 1676 there is the baptism of John Thomas, son of Robert and Margaret (harlot), Mold; and the sad record of the burial of brothers Reinallt and Robert Jones of Bistre ‘drownd in a colepit’ in 1666. Mary Charles on 15 February 1666 ‘ poysoned herself and was buried somewhere according to law,’ probably outside the walls of the churchyard.
The Civil War affected the vicar’s work of recording entries in the registers due to the dangers to anyone charged with maintaining the old order of things. There are no entries for 1643. In 1645 there are only two entries which arc followed by the following statement from Revd George Roberts who had been incumbent since 1643 :
‘The forces came from Worall on Good Friday the 4th of Aprill and departed not until May, the 19th following, being Sunday, during which time no register, except Mr Ellis have it.’
George Roberts obviously thought that his curate Mr Ellis was in less danger from the incoming roundhead troops than himself! Then follows a further three entries and the vicar’s statement :
I baptised no more this yeare ’45 neither buried any being constrained to absent myselfe in regard of the violence us’d in these parts then. Yet, Mr Ellis stayd who (as I hope) hath a catalogue of the baptized and buried this year.’
1645 was the year Cromwell’s New Model Army was formed and in the November six hundred horse and foot soldiers marched from Hawarden Castle to Mold and then on to Holywell and Flint, attacking Gwysaney on their way and at Rhual stripping poor Joan Edwards, wife of Evan Edwards, a Royalist out of her clothes and stealing her jewellery. In 1646 there are entries in Mold’s register but preceded by the note :
‘This year I lived at Plas Onn and Mr Ellis baptized and buried all at Mold these only excepted ……’ [seven baptism entries follow]
The following year the vicar was probably still at Plas Onn, a house in Nercwys, as a note states :
‘Besides all those which Mr Ellis baptized and buried at Mold this yeare I baptised and buried these…..’
The violence of the times is reflected in the following burial records :- 18 October 1644 – Ithel son of Thomas Griffith Vaughan of Nercwys, cruelly killed by night; 10 February 1645 – Arthur Thomas, soldier, died of his wounds; 4 March 1645 – Thomas Johnson, a soldier killed at Leeswood.
Violent deaths are rare in the intervening two hundred and fifty years until the record of the burials of Margaret Younghusband and Margaret Jones, two of the four killed by the soldiers at the Mold riot of 2 June 1869. Accidents, however, are not as rare and thirty years before the burials of the father and two brothers of the novelist Daniel Owen, then seven months old, who died in the Argoed pit disaster are entered during May 1837 as their bodies were discovered in the receding flood waters.
The registers are records of Anglican sacraments only. The exception being one Catholic marriage on 25 September 1662 of Edward Williams and Jane verch [daughter of] Edward ‘by seminar priest and not by a minister of the parish’. There was also a marriage recorded which took place not at the church but at Trimley Hall, in the parish of Hope, the home of the Eyton family who later inter-married with the Wynnes of Leeswood and are ancestors of the Wynne-Eytons who still live in the area.
Registers are evidence also for the changing fashions in personal names as in the 1712 baptism of Penitent Tattum, son of John and Anne of [the township of Gwysaney]. Not all had names however :
‘ 14 April 1645 – A certain poor man died at John ap Ellis his house in Leeswood [was] buried at Mold and none of the company that brought him thither could tell his name nor from whence he came.’
Place-names in the registers are unfortunately usually no more specific than the names of the parish’s old townships. Nercwys and Treuddyn were chapelries of the ancient parish [which once consisted of 18,062 acres] before they became parishes in their own right. Townships listed, sometimes inconsistently include :- Broncoed; Rhual; Llwynegrin; Argoed; Gwysaney; Leeswood; Bistre; Hartsheath; Arddunvvent; Hendrebiffa; Gwemaffield and Pontblyddyn. Some exceptions where place-names are more specific are in 1658 – Whylfa’r tindwn in Argoed township, surviving today in ‘the Wylfa Hill ‘ ; 1691 – Maes Tref Derwen, a piece of ancient common field surviving to our times only in name of the Derwen public house in Wrexham Street; and in 1732, Bedlam. Bedlam is now in common usage as a chaotic and turbulent place and has been handed down locally as the name for the area of Milford Street in the town. In the nineteenth century the census records reveal it as an area where there were many small courts and terraces where cheap lodging houses for itinerant workers were common. The registers show, however, that it had an earlier association. ‘Bedlam’ meaning madhouse derives from the Hospital of St.Mary in Bethlehem in London and was this usage was common by 1663. By 1701, however, it could also mean a place where unfortunates who were allowed to beg for their own support could live. Was this the area of Mold where officials housed the poorest parishioners?
The personal lives of the incumbents feature very little in the parish records, although some, such as Hugh Lloyd, the brother-in-law of Sir George Wynne, builder of Leeswood Hall and the White Gates, left elsewhere a permanent memorial in the form of a diary now at the National Library of Wales. The archives do contain licences from the early nineteenth century which the Revd Hope Wynne Eyton, a descendant of Sir George had to obtain to live outside Mold town in Leeswood Hall. In the Leeswood Hall archives at Hawarden Record Office is a letter written to the vicar from a Mr Bolton of Colne, Lancashire which is worth quoting :
’11 July 1793
Knowing no person at Mould or in the neighbourhood, I take the liberty of addressing you respecting one Samuel Colley, who was servant to a gentleman in the neighbourhood about five years ago. He then said he was born at Mold, [and] that his father died when he was about two years old. He afterwards lived with his mother’s sister at Kinnerton who was allowed a weekly sum by the officers of Mould for keeping him [and] that since that time he has lived as a servant in various places. The widow, a wife if he be living, of this man being in some trouble about him, is the occasion of my writing to you at present, to request to know whether such a man is remembered at Mould and whether he has any relations left there, and particularly whether it can be ascertained whether he is living or dead. The poor woman has heard nothing since she had a letter from him about four years ago dated at Manchester wherein he told her that he was dying. As I understand, he might now have been about thirty-five or forty years old.
I hope you will excuse this liberty and that you will favour me with an early answer.
No evidence remains of the Revd Wynne-Eyton’s reply but the family name of Samuel Colley, the subject of the letter, lives on in one of the parish’s place-names. Rhydygolau is not derived from the elements Rhyd + golau (Ford+light) as might be imagined but from Rhyd+Colley, meaning ‘[Mr] Colley’s Ford’ ( or, as in an account of the treasurer of the lordship of Mold dated 1477 at the Hawarden Record Office, Colleyford. ) . Mr Colley’s ancestors have therefore left their mark on the town.
Another document associated with the incumbent is the glebe terrier, a survey or list of church property. One surviving example, dated 1732, describes the vicarage as :
‘one mansion house, well slated consisting of four bays of building, one of which containing a brewhouse, a parlour, lodging room and garret and was built by the present vicar as was also a little buttery and closet and carthouse in the year 1719. The furniture left by Mrs Davies of Gwysaney (who built the vicarage house in the year 1685) are as follows:- two bedsteads; one oval table; two little square tables; six wainscot chairs; one settle; a grate in the kitchen; a grate in the parlour; a grate in the parlour chamber; a grate in the kitchen chamber; a stillage in the cellar; a dresser and three shelves in the kitchen.’
This property, later called Trefriw, stood on the site of the new churchyard.
The terrier also describes the tithe payments due to the vicar and the tithe barn in which the payment in kind was stored. The church itself is also described :
‘The church of Mold is in good repair consisting of three aisles; all leaded over and the floors flagged even; there is a convenient reading seat, a new English Bible of the last edition; a Welsh and English common prayer… a velvet table cloth and two stools covered with velvet cloth and silver fringe given by George Wynne of Leeswood esq in the year 1739; pewter and silver plate…; a set of communion plate; a shagreen case for the use of the sick; a font of stone; two biers and a horse beare;… a large table of benefactions and legacies set over the door on the south side. The seats in the south aisle are neither regular or uniform.’
The table of benefactors is of course still to be seen in St.Mary’s.
Next to the vicar perhaps the best known parish official is the churchwarden, an office still in existence today. Churchwardens were appointed at an annual vestry meeting and although expenses were paid they received no wages. They were obviously capable men ( yes, in the early records they were all male ) but as they were largely honorary posts and personnel changed regularly they were not able to build up enough experience often to make their affairs run smoothly. A good indication of their duties, mostly to do with the fabric of the church and other parish buildings can be seen from the accounts they had to keep in the course of their activities. Their accounts survive from 1654 beginning in a volume which was repaired at the British Museum in 1898 at the expense of Philip Bryan Davies Cooke of Gwysaney.
The budget at their disposal was raised by a church tax and amongst the first payments are sums for mending the church wall and stiles and for the poor’s seats ( other pews would have been the property of their more wealthy owners). New bells were installed in the church’s original fifteenth century steeple ( a payment to a mason for viewing the arch of the steeple show a commendable caution ). In 1654 two churchwardens received expenses for a five-day visit to the bellfounders at Wigan to see the bells cast and where drink and tobacco was given to the workmen. The bells were a cause of great expense and it had taken twelve horse-loads of lime to plaster the steeple in preparation. More routine entries also appear as in the 6s.8d. paid to Hugh ap John the cryer for his wages and ‘keeping the dogs out’. 2s.6d. was paid for ‘3 quires of paper and for parchment to make this book’.
The parish register and chest were also renewed :
‘paid for a register book for the church 8s.
for twelve foot of board and for nails, lock, hinges and making of it into a box to keep the church books and other things 2s. 1 d.
for three new keys and mending the poor’s box ls.6d.’
At the end of their accounts the churchwardens:- David Lloyd; Robert Wynne; Richard Price and William Jones submitted their accounts on oath to two of the county’s Justices of the Peace :- John Peck and Thomas Bennct who acted as auditors. £107.16s.3d. had been collected in tax and £94.18s.2d. had been spent. 8d. was paid as expenses to the churchwardens themselves and the remainder was awarded to their creditors.
These orderliness of the accounts, together with their new book, indicate that these officers intended to put things on a proper business-like footing. There is an inventory of ‘old things’ including ‘two old registers and one new one [all still in existence]; a greene cloth carpet (purchased by Robert Davies of Gwysaney) from the communion table [note that as the accounts date from the Commonwealth period it was not called an altar]; a holland table cloth and napkin. From the £3.16s.0d. that Robert Davies paid to rent land bequeathed for the use of the poor of the parish thirty-five and a half yards of grey cloth was purchased, enough to make twelve gowns suitable for either sex.
At first it does not seem to specify if churchwardens had been elected on any territorial basis but by the nineteenth century each of the four represented an area : Mold; Bistre; Gwernaffield and Leeswood and separate accounts were kept. In 1768 the vestry decided to pay them 5s.0d. each and by 1833 an assistant churchwarden was appointed showing that the work had become more onerous.
As the successors of the new brooms proceed with their routine tasks their records give a real insight into the social life of the area through the centuries. In those first disbursements appears the entry ‘to Richard Parry for foxes heads – 3s.’ and later, in 1663 ‘a bitch fox’s head – 2s.’ Legislation from Tudor times gave churchwardens the responsibility for keeping down the number of ‘noisesome fowles and vermin’. Unfortunately hedgehogs were considered in that category and in the same year 2s.4d. was paid ‘for killing seven hedgehogs’ (fourpence each). This going rate continued for many years and we see in 1813 Joseph Roden being paid a shilling ‘for killing three urchens’. Urchens is another word meaning hedgehog and is not to be confused with ‘urchin’, the disposal of whom would certainly not have received such a reward!
As can be expected, the life of the church is prominent in the churchwardens’ accounts, for example in 1761 £l3.8s.9d. is paid to Mr Richardson, silversmith for ‘a flagon for the use of the parish’. The provision of music occasions payments to the singing master; the cost of repairing the basoon (in the late eighteenth century); the construction of a singing gallery in 1751; and for paying the treble [choir] boys at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The first time the organ is mentioned is in 1805, and in 1811-12 15s.6d. is paid to a blind boy for playing it. The repair of the church is a constant responsibility and tradesmen are often mentioned, for example, bellfounders in Gloucester and Derbyshire; and Nat Wright ‘plumber’ for re-leading the roof. In the 1770s the churchwardens were raising capital to build the present tower which replaced the original steeple, work completed by the end of the decade by Joseph Turner the architect, then living in Hawarden. In 1799 new seats were constructed to replace the old ones and the vestry instructed the officials to ‘dispose of same for the best prices’. The plans for alterations made in 1883-5 by the architect George Gilbert Scott are also amongst the churchwardens’ records as is an agreement with the builders to make, for a consideration of £467 the :-
‘….new apse or chancel, east parapet and pinnacles around the north aisle of the church, to be completed by Easter Sunday 1855 or forfeit £5 per week for every week late.’
Present also are plans of the ‘new’ church (St John’s, the present St Mary’s church hall) by John Douglas of Chester in 1875.
Properties were assessed for the amount of church rate payable by the owners and many of these lists of rates due on property have been preserved in the parish archives. Addresses, however, are rare and therefore it is difficult to identify individual houses. Usually only the township and property owner are listed but there are exceptions. The following are taken from the assessments of 1748 :
John Wynne for Pentremills 5s. 6d.
Edward Lloyd for Lord’s Meadow l.0s.0d
John Jones maesgarmon 4s.6d.
Robert Jones for Erwr Bailey 6d.
Madam Griffith for Ridgolly Mills 5s.6d.
The Revd Mr Lloyd for Pont Erwyl 9d.
Sir George Wynne for Lower Houses ls.6d.
Hugh Jones for Pennant’s Farm 5s.9d.
Joseph Whitmore for Led Mill 5s.6d.
William Davis miller for two crofts 3d.
Mr Adamson, officer £4.0s.0d.
John Jones, skinner 3d.
John Richard, weaver 4s. 5d.
John the glazier 3d.
Thomas Williams, fidler 7s.3d.
Amongst the payments ten years later are to be found Sir George Wynne assessed for Bedlam and Mrs Owen for Clay Lane.
As has already been mentioned, the parishoners met at vestry meetings to discuss parish matters and appoint officers. The minutes of these meetings are an important source for the history of the parish. They survive for the period 1714-1869 and the discussions recorded are the predecessors of those that took place in the later parish, community and town councils as well as those on exclusively church matters in the Parochial Church Council. To indicate the importance given to the vestry meeting its clerk, who took the minutes, was given a salary of £1 per annum. Decisions which were made at the vestry concerned, for example in 1752, the practice of burial within the church and also the practice of ringing the church bell at curfew:
‘….the greatest bell to be rung every night on holidays, Saturdays and Sundays and 8 every other night for half an hour from Michaelmas to Ladyday’
The sexton was to be paid 20s.Od. for this duty.
The vestry regulated the work of the parish officials, for example :
‘At a Vestry held in the parish church of Mold on the 6th day of April 1810 to consider the state of the churchwardens’ accounts and on other matters relating to the church. Ordered that the late churchwardens who have not passed their accounts shall have notice to produce the same on Sunday… in order that they may be examined and this vestry be adjourned for that purpose….
Ordered that, as it would tend much to the convenience and satisfaction of the churchwardens and parishoners to have the accounts in plainer manner, the present churchwardens procure forthwith a proper box with five locks and keys, one for the vicar and one for each of the churchwardens in which shall be kept a book with the current accounts of the year.
That the churchwardens of the respective districts shall collect the church rates within two months after each assessment be made and place the money so collected in the treasury box.
That this money shall form one parish fund for the use of the church from which all disbursements shall be paid and entered into the current account book in the presence of those who have the charge of the church money.
That the Rev’d Mr Eyton be authorized to employ Mr Harrison of Chester or other eminent architect to view the church and give his opinion and plan for any future alterations or improvements.’
The vestry concerned itself also with church furniture, monuments and later services such as heating and lighting.
Overseer of the poor
The other principal parish official who has not yet been mentioned is the overseer of the poor. The overseer’s responsibilities were purely concerned with the civil (that is non-ecclesiastical) aspects of parish business, and they were quite varied and onerous but principally to do with the area’s more unfortunate folk. Accounts begin in 1709 and include assessments for the poor rate which was payable in addition to the church rate mentioned earlier. At the beginning of the period, there were two officers but from the 1790s four were appointed. By the end of the eighteenth century they had their own clerk. The vestry minutes record that Joseph Rippon, schoolmaster, was appointed for a fee of 20s.0d. a year. By the beginning of the nineteenth century a full-time general overseer was employed at £90 per annum and a clerk at £21. Housing the poor was an important aspect of the office. Mold does not seem to have had a parish poor house as did more populous parishes such as Holywell, Hawarden and Wrexham but many seem to have been sent to a house ‘near Mont Alt’, and paupers’ rents were certainly paid out of the poor rate. However, vestry instructed :
‘ ….thet the overseers pay no allowance to any poor but such are badged and that always wear a badge.’
a reference to the wearing of pieces of coloured cloth sewn on clothing to indicate a person’s dependence on the parish.
From the late eighteenth century the accounts, both assessments and disbursements, are well organised. There are lists of weekly paupers, occasional paupers, house rents paid (with names of both paupers and landlords), funerals paid; journeys undertaken for official purposes; necessary clothing and shoes purchased and for whom; and lists of ‘incidents’ which consisted of miscellaneous payments such as for the poor children’s schooling, weddings, food, coal, necessary furniture (mostly beds) and other fees. The following is taken from the account book of 1820:
Mr Jones Star’s house bill on Easter Monday £1.1 Is. lOd.
Robert Hoskins for going to Kilken respecting Robert Griffith late of the White Horse’s children 2s. Od.
Mr Jones for wine for John Lewis’s wife (lying in) 3s. Od.
Mr Peter Parry surgeon’s bill £11.13s. Od.
Edward Lewis Bedlam to get coals 5s. 6d.
Widow Morris Gwernaffield to get eye ointment 3s. Od.
Richard Jones Gwsaney, a spade 5s. 6d.
Overseers also arranged for the apprenticeship of poor children as in :
‘Churchwardens and overseers expenses in binding
John Beavan an apprentice at Northop 9s. 4d.
It was not uncommon to farm children, especially boys, outside the parish. An example taken from the surviving apprentices’ indentures records that in 1766 churchwardens George Leach of Pentrehobin and Evan Edwards of Hendrebiffa and overseers John Jones of Rhydgoley, Edward Williams of Leeswood, and Peter Hughes of Hartsheath placed Ogden Thomas, a poor boy aged fifteen as an apprentice for three years with David Hughes of Saint Asaph, tailor. The officials paid the tailor £2 and as well as instructing Ogden ‘ in the craft, mistry and occupation of a tailor’ he was to give the boy ‘sufficient meat, drink, lodging and other things necessary and fit for an apprentice… that he be not any way a charge to the said parish.’ Another document from the following year placed Anne Bellis aged eleven until she ‘shall accomplish her full age of twenty years or day of marriage’ to work for John Cook of Pentre Mills, Mold, miller.
Much of the overseer’s work was involved in the system of settlement and removal. To simplify this system to its basis, it concerned the protection of the poor rate, a locally collected, locally spent resource from what was conceived as abuse. The system ensured that only those entitled to the parish relief received it, that is, only those who were or had been legally ‘settled’ in the relevent parish. This sometimes entailed the recording of ‘examinations’, really interviews between the overseers and claimants as to their place of last legal settlement. Parishes frequently passed individuals from one parish to another sometimes entering into lengthy disputes. Examinations are at their best brief biographies of ordinary people which would be unavailable from any other source. I quote extensively from a good example in the parish records compiled by two of Denbighshire’s justice of the peace who acted as arbiters in such inter-parish disagreements.
‘The examination of Elizabeth Roberts now residing in Bersham, widow…, this 5th day of Decr. 1774 touching the place of her last settlement This examinant saith that she is widow of Humphrey Roberts…, smelter now deceased and that her said late husband before his marriage with her was hired servant to Acquila Wykes of [Llwynegrin Hall in] the parish of Mold…. for one whole year and continued in the said service one year and half more, which is about forty-three years ago. Saith the 5th day of March last this examinant and her late husband applied for relief to the parishoners of the parish of Mold who settled a weekly allowance of two shillings a week to be paid… saith that she never gained any other settlement by any ways or means whatsoever save that of her late husband’s at the parish of Mold.’
Another document dated 4 April 1795 in the Keene and Kelly MSS is addressed to the Mold overseers from their counterparts in Ruthin stating:
‘We… certify that Thomas Jones, saddler who is now confined in Ruthin Gaol for a month has not been troublesome in this parish hitherto. His wife now applies to your parish, as his place of settlement for relief during his confinement for herself and five children, the eldest but twelve years of age.’
Overseers were also very wary of the drain on the parish purse illegitimate children might be and whenever possible secured the parish’s freedom from such responsibility with documents known, rather bluntly as bastardy bonds. There are many in the archives dating between 1669and 1802, all designed to discharge the parish from
‘all manner of costs, charges, trouble and incumbrance whatsoever for or by reason of the birth, education, maintenance, nourishing and bringing up’ of such children by making the reputed father pay a large fine if he failed to do so.
Lastly, and briefly, payments to the parish constable sometimes occur in the lists of ‘incidents’. For example, in 1820 :
‘Paid John Williams for assisting Constable to take Ellis Clarke – 2s.6d.’
We are lucky that the Mold constable’s account for 1822 survives in the Flintshire Quarter Sessions records. Edward Evans was paid 2s.6d. by the magistrates for, on 12 February, going to all the lodging and public houses in Mold the night before the fair searching for vagrants. He also made the following claims for expenses:
‘ Feb 13th Attending Mold fair all day and took up one man, put him in the roundhouse. Sent him out of town together with a great many of the same description.’ 14th Attending in Mold the greatest part of this day and going through the lodging houses at night and sent several idle persons out of town.’
I hope that these brief comments on the administrative history of the parish of Mold have succeeded in suggesting the wealth of fascinating information available in the parish archives. They are the essence of our town’s history and will repay anyone’s interest many times over
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