Worcester St Swithin, Worcestershire Family History Guide

Status: Ancient Parish

Parish church: St. Swithin

Parish registers begin:

  • Parish registers: 1538
  • Bishop’s Transcripts:

Nonconformists include:

Parishes adjacent to Worcester St Swithin

  • Worcester St Andrew
  • Worcester St Nicholas
  • Worcester St Helen
  • Worcester St Martin
  • Worcester All Saints

Historical Descriptions

St. Swithin’s, Worcestershire Notes and Queries 1856

St Swithin's Church from the East
St Swithin’s Church from the East. One of Worcester’s eight ancient parish churches, but completely rebuilt in the 1730s. It is first mentioned in a written record in 1126. Taken from the junction of The Shambles, St. Swithin’s Street, Mealcheapen Street, and Trinity Street. The copyright on this image is owned by Bob Embleton and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

This register commences with the year 1538, but it is obvious from the fact of the items for three quarters of a century being in the same handwriting and the same ink, that it was copied from an older one, for the same reason as in the case of St. Michael’s register, before-mentioned. During the Civil Wars there are fewer entries of marriages than usual, but no other feature of interest presents itself.

The churchwardens’ account book begins in 1673, and contains much that is noteworthy. In those days the church wardens seem to have been the regular factotums of the parish. They received from the Mayor, at Midsummer and Christmas, the benefaction known as Lord Coventry’s money, and distributed to nine poor persons, whose names are entered in the book, at the rate of 3s. 4d. each; and there is a longer list of those who received charity on St. Thomas’s Day. Irish vagrants greatly infested the city, and drew largely on the parochial funds; maimed and disabled soldiers and sailors, and numbers of distressed persons who had seen better days, or who had been “ruinated by fire,” constantly appealed to the popular benevolence.

“To a distressed gentlewoman and her company, 14 in all, 2s.”

“To 16 Englishmen that were taken by the Dutch and got on land ageine, 2s.”

The regular poor seem to have been treated pretty liberally. Pauper children were taught to read:

“For hornbook and primmer for Jenkins’ girle to learn to read, 6d.”

“To a woman for curing a foundling boy of a broken belly, 10s.”

Midwives and “gossips” were paid by the churchwardens, and at the christening the parson received 1s., the clerk 6d., and registration 4d. Minute details of expenses incurred for individual paupers are amusing enough:

“Paid Goodman Dooding for dressing of Mary Leonard’s legg, and to buy salve by consent of the parish, 5s.”

“Paid Mr. Hill for cloth and thred for two shirts for old Panting, he being full of vermin, 5s. 9½d.; and for making, 8d.”

Indications are apparent of the great severity of the smallpox at the close of the seventeenth century, and the physicking for this and other diseases was considerable: a mixture was charged 1s. 6d., a bolus 10d., a “vomitt” and a bottle of syrup 8d., a “cordiall draught” 14d., “a mass of pils” 3s., a glass of tincture 1s., and a “Hipnott (?) mixture” 1s.

“Paid Ald. Tyas’ bill for medicines to Mr. Blackwell and Joan Harris’ legg wch was cutt off 11th Nov. (1698), broke by Mrs. Hammons’ cart, for subsistence in her distress for 20 weeks and her mother-in-law to keep her, £1. 10s.”

“Paid Mr. Blackwell and Mr. Sambach for cutting off the leg and curing it, £4.”

“For wooden leg for Joan Harris, 3s. 10d.”

A charge of 2s. is made on several occasions for “a Spanish bag” for pauper women.

One “Jones of St. John’s” is commemorated as the recipient of various supplies of “strong waters,” but what the following entries mean is not very clear:

“Given to Jones of St. John’s to buy her husband 2 galls of strong waters and send him abroad that he may not be too chargeable, 6s.”

“For a gall, of strong waters to send Jones of St. John’s away to save him from arrest, 3s. 4d.”

Nor were the poor forgotten in their deaths: charges were regularly made for “rosemary and bayes” to put on corpses, and in one instance the churchwardens paid for the deceased pauper “an alehouse scoare for her 4d., for a plaster for her 2d., and for the old woman that layd her out 4d.” In the year 1697 a charge of 8d. was made “for an act of Parliament for badging the poor,” which was a copy of a statute for distinguishing paupers by fixing a badge on their clothes. Probably mendicancy was becoming a serious charge, and the legislators of the day thought to reduce it by rendering the recipients of charity as conspicuous as possible. The act of Parliament which directed that every pauper should wear a badge was the statute 8th and 9th of William III, chap. 30, sec. 2; it was passed in the year 1697. It was not at all observed for many years previous to its repeal, which was in the year 1810, by the statute 50th of George III, chap. 52. The badge contained a large Roman “P” (for poor) and the initial letter of the parish to which the pauper belonged. Great exertions were made by the parochial authorities to shift off the burden of pauperism from their own shoulders to other parishes, especially in cases of illegitimate offspring. It is said that whenever the plague prevails in the East, the afflicted sons of Islam beseech Heaven to relieve their locality and send the scourge to the next town. Our own parish registers prove that Christians share the same feelings in common. Here are instances:

“Given to Ann Hector, she being ready to cry out for a midwife, and to lodge her in St. Martin’s parish, 2s.”

“Paid Fabian Lancett’s wife and another woman for watching a woman a night and a day for fear the woman should lye in our parish, 2s. 6d.”

“Paid for a lycence to marry Mary Paine (she being big with child) to Sam. Sarles, to prevent more charge to the parish, £1.1s.4d.”

“Paid for licence for ye marriage of Widow Holmes, £1. 1s. 4d.
“Ale when the match was made, 1s. 6d.
“Gave them to buy necessaries, 2s.”
Money was likewise paid to women, as a bribe, to divulge where their illegitimate offspring were born; and one William Pennell seems to have had the task assigned to him of hunting up this class of ladies and escorting them out of the parochial bounds, while Ann Williams enjoyed the not more enviable vocation of “begging clouts” for the unfortunate youngsters. A fellow named Hackluitt, in the year 1680, transgressed the rules of chastity with “ye maid at ye White Heart,” and the result was the birth of a boy; but the father had then fled, and the churchwardens were in great consternation at the probability of this illegitimate burden. A considerable number of items are entered in the books of sums spent upon the inquiry after the vagrant sinner and for maintaining his child. At length he was discovered, and negotiation was then resorted to, the putative father, apparently under the influence of drink, acceding to the “points” proposed as the basis.

“Spent at White Heart when he agreed to take away his child, 4d.”

But in 1682 this heartless Don Juan had again abandoned his offspring, and another personage appears on the scene:

“Spent in discoursing with old Hackluitt about his Sonne’s child left in this parish, 2s. 4d.”

A considerable expenditure followed, for “whittles and other necessaries” for the child; but as Hackluitt senior does not seem to have seconded the proposition that he should pay for his son’s delinquencies, the churchwardens apparently became tired of the onus, and at last —

“Paid to a poor woman for carrying him out of town, 1s.”

How the wretched brat was really disposed of does not appear in this rather mysterious record. There was probably a poor-house or lying-in hospital at the Cross, as various memoranda are made of women being “delivered at the Cross.” Was this at the old workhouse at the site of the present Hop Market ? There is also one instance of

“Paid to a woman and her husband that lay in at the widow Winn’s, 1s.”

The love of feasting at the public expense is as apparent in this churchwardens’ book, though on a small scale, as in the old corporation archives, which I have already published. A dinner was always provided to commemorate the election of the churchwardens. When Mr. Thomas Shewring and Mr. Thomas Elcox were appointed, in 1673, the following provision was made:

“A crop of beefe, wtt, 471b., att 2½d., &c„ 10s. 3d.

“Two quarters veale, 9s. 10d.

“A dozen piggeons, 18d.

“Butter, flour, making, and baking, altogether, 4s. 9½d.

“9 lb. baccon of the ribbs at 5d., 3s. 9d.

“Mr. Ferryman for tobacco, 3d.

“Mr. Thomas Vicaris for bread, beare, pipes, tobacco, and all other materials, and to cleane the house, and for dressing the dinner, £1.”

A quarter of lamb was 1s. 10d.; 5 lb. of candles for ye parish lanthorn, 9d.; two fat pigs, 5s.; a leg of mutton, 1s. 8d.; capers, 4d.; orange and lemon, 4d.; and a soft cheese (probably cream cheese) is charged 1s. in 1691; 21b. “candles to burn by ye church side winter nights,” 8d.; and “four tunnes and a halfe of coles att 6s. 4d. pr tunn,” £1. 8s. 6d. Dinners or drinking bouts, or both, were given on procession days, visitation days, and at “the assessing the rolls” — that is, when the poor-rate (if so it might be called) was assessed on the parishioners. The “processions” probably were the same as the perambulations, or “beating the bounds,” the churchwardens apparently taking a personal survey of the parish boundaries once a year, in the month of May, and immense preparations were made for that purpose, including (in 1674) half a gross of pipes, 6d.; half a pound tobacco, 10d.; and “paid for ale before our own was tapped,” 4d. Each parish in those days kept its own “church ales.” Charges are made for dozens of “white poyntes for the boyes” in these perambulation accounts. Were these wands, or what else? The perambulating party generally wound up the day at the Globe, where they dined.

Rentals accruing to the parish in 1695 amounted to £74. 18s. 7d., which included £2. 3s. a year for the “oatmeal market” (Mealcheapen Street), also the rents of the Pheasant, the “baccon market,” and some meadows at Hindlip. In 1705 the rents were under £60. Charges were made “for work done at the oatmeale bench,” probably a bench fixed outside the east end of the church for the use of the dealers in meal; likewise “for laths and nails for mending ye church penthouse.” This penthouse was perhaps the “purpresture” — a name then given to booths or stalls placed in the streets for the exhibition or sale of goods, and for which encroachment on the highway a pecuniary acknowledgment was paid to the corporation.

The receipts of the churchwardens in 1680 amounted to £53. 1s. 3d; disbursements, £57. 13s. 5d. In 1683, receipts, £117; disbursements, only £48. In 1684, receipts, £144; expenditure, £62. In 1705, receipts, £131; expenses, £154. Pentecostals (a sum raised at a farthing per head from the householders in a chapelry or dependent church, and paid to the mother church at Whitsuntide — hence called “Whitsun farthings”) were paid to the Dean and Chapter, St. Swithin’s being a rectory in the gift of that body. Dr. Burn in his “Ecclesiastical Law,” vol. iii, p. 110, says — “Pentecostals, otherwise called Whitsun farthings, took their name from the usual time of payment at the feast of Pentecost. These are spoken of in a remarkable grant of King Henry VIII [dated January 25, 1541] to the Dean and Chapter of Worcester, in which he makes over to them all those oblations and obventions, or spiritual profits, commonly called Whitsun farthings, yearly collected or received of divers towns within the archdeaconry of Worcester, and offered at the time of Pentecost. From hence it appears that Pentecostals were oblations.” “These oblations grew by degrees into fixed and certain payments from every parish and every house in it, as appears not only from the aforementioned grant of King Henry VIII, but also from a passage in the Articles of the Clergy in the Convocation in the year 1399, where the sixth article is an humble request to the archbishops and bishops that it may be declared whether Peter’s Pence, the Holy Loaf, and Pentecostals, were to be paid by the occupiers of the lands though the tenements were fallen or not inhabited, according to the ancient custom when every parish paid a certain quota. These are still paid in certain dioceses, being now only a charge upon particular churches, where by custom they have been paid; and if they be denied where they are due, they are recoverable in the spiritual court.” A table of the Whitsun farthings payable in every parish in the diocese of Worcester is given by Dr. Nash in his “History of Worcestershire,” vol. i. The clerk’s wages in 1690 amounted to £2. 4s. 8d.; the sexton’s, 18s.; and the ringers seemed to have had a perpetual license to make as much noise as they liked, and on all occasions, however contradictory: for instance —

“1688.— May 29. Wringing for the birth of the Prince of Wales, 10s.

“Paid for the discharging of the bishopps, 10s.

“July. — Wringing on the day of the late king’s nativity, 5s.

“Wringing for proclaiming the King and Queen, £1.

“At ye news from Ireland, 2s.”

Mr. W. Riley, in 1736, presented an organ to St. Swithin’s church, and up to the present century it was the only church in the city that could boast of either organ or chimes. I find that at least half a century before Mr. Riley’s presentation was made, there was an organ here; for in 1692 Mr. Birch charges £3 for mending it; and the organist, Mr. Browne, receives £5 a year salary. Wine for the communion for the whole year (1672) cost £1. 16s.; bread for ditto, 1s.5d. The offerings at the sacrament varied from 9d. to 12s., but there is the following entry for 8th June, 1673, when the Test and Corporation Act first required all officers, civil and military, to receive the sacrament according to the Church of England:

“Received at the great communion, when Mr. Mayor and the greatest part of the Chamber received the Lord’s Supper according to an act of Parliament to that purpose, £1. 7s.”

St. Swithin’s was probably the then parish church of the mayor. I suppose the mayor did not attend the Cathedral officially on public occasions before 1 Edward IV, as on the 20th of January in that year the Prior of Worcester granted the corporation a permission to attend divine service at the Cathedral, attended by their officers. — See “Nash’s Worcestershire,” vol. ii, p. 309.

Entries frequently occur of “chimney money” paid for poor widows and others during the reign of James II. Was this a national or local tax? Returns were ordered by parish constables, in the latter half of the seventeenth century, of all fire hearths and stoves in every house rateable to church and poor, and this was probably in reference to the “chimney money” above alluded to — being a tax which poor widows and others, not being absolutely paupers, were unable to pay. The ministers who preached here — probably on special occasions only — had each a bottle of wine given them; and means were taken to prevent any “backing out” on the part of the juveniles when the sermon was commenced; vide:

“Paid Henry Richards for timber, boards, and works, for mending gallery stayers and stoping the boyes ffrom creeping down, and making Mr. Panting’s stayers to his reading pue, 12s. 7d.”

Among the noticeable miscellaneous entries are the following:

(1680.) “Paid Mr. Evans for common prayer book for the church, 14s. 6d.”

(1681.) “Paid for engrossing Mr. Mayor’s warrant for burying in woollen. 1s.” [I believe an act was passed about this time for the encouragement of the woollen trade by compelling burials in woollen.]

(1682.) “Paid 1s. for charcoal to dry the writings in the treasury” (chest).

“Rosemary and bayes at Christmas, 2s. 6d.”

“2 lbs. hogg’s liquor (Query, lard?) for the chimes, 7d.”

“Paid Ginks to carry the bones to the scullhouse, 3s.”

The present rector of St. Swithin’s is the Rev. R. Sarjeant; churchwardens, Mr. R. West and Mr. F. Inchle. Population in 1851, 906.

Source: Worcestershire Notes and Queries; John Noake; 1856

Administration

County: Worcestershire
Civil Registration District: Worcester
Probate Court: Court of the Bishop of Worcester (Episcopal Consistory)
Diocese: Worcester
Rural Deanery: Worcester
Poor Law Union: Worcester
Hundred: Worcester Borough
Province: Canterbury

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