Those who research their family histories will be well aware of the importance of parish registers. Before 1837 these were the only 'official documents' to record the baptisms, marriages and burials which took place. In 1837 the Registration Act provided for the registration of births, marriages and deaths, with the records, until the second half of this century, being lodged at Somerset House in London. It was Thomas Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal of King Henry VIII, who by a Mandate of 1538 instructed every parish to purchase a ‘sure coffer'. The minister of the parish church was to record each marriage, baptism and burial at which he officiated. Each entry was to be made after the Sunday service with the churchwarden acting as witness. The keys to the 'sure coffer' in which the records were kept were held by the parson and the churchwarden.
The Hinckley Parish Registers of St. Mary's Church date from 1554. There are in fact only about 1500 parishes which have records dating back to 1538. In practice the first records were kept on sheets of paper and only later written up into a book. This was provided for in an instruction during the final years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1598. At this time many of the older records were written into the new book. At the beginning of Hinckley's first register is the inscription: "The Regester Booke, trewly taken out of the olde Regester accordinge to the Lawe made".
Transcripts of the records were sent to the bishop at regular intervals. In the case of Hinckley records this was the Bishop of Lincoln. The records of Hinckley were kept until removal to the Leicestershire Record Office, in a chest in the church. Inside St. Mary's today may be seen two seventeenth century chests. The oldest, 'Hinckley Towne Chest' near the church door is dated 1613 and has four hinges and once had four locks. The Vicar held one key, two churchwardens two other keys, and the final key was probably held by the annually elected Town Marshal. It was in this chest that valuable records, including the parish registers, were once held. There is also another ‘Towne Chest' given by Michael Messenger in 1641 to be seen in the north aisle of St. Mary's.
Today the Hinckley Parish Registers reside in the Leicestershire Record Office as has already been stated. Because of the fragile nature of parish registers, the documents were removed to record offices throughout the country to ensure their safekeeping in the correct environmental conditions. Locally, the records may be investigated on micro-fiche in Hinckley Library. Here are the burial registers from 1554 to 1905, baptisms until 1926 and marriages until 1942. In the inter-war years much research on the Hinckley registers was carried out by Mr. W. T. Hall who had attended Hinckley Grammar School. During his extensive researches Mr. Hall made a transcript of the registers from 1554-1786, and copies of this may be seen at St. Mary's Church, Hinckley Library and Hinckley Museum.
Mr. Hall's findings were published in various local newspapers. In December 1933 a detailed analysis of Hinckley families between 1554 and 1742 was presented by Mr. Hall and a summary of these follows.
Between 1554, the date of the first Hinckley Parish Register when Queen Mary was monarch and 1742 when Hanoverian George II was king, there were approximately 13,500 entries made in the register. Nearly one quarter of all the entries relate;' to twenty-one names. These people were clearly amongst the most numerous and certainly in many cases the most prominent residents in Hinckley. Mr. Hall gave a list of these names which follows:
|Name||Number of Entries||Date of first Entry|
Mr. Hall omitted those persons called Smith from his list claiming these entries were, "as sand on the seashore for multitude”. What is certain is that the families listed above have long local pedigrees. In 1604 the residents who purchased the Manor and the right to levy market tolls were named Thomas Sansome, Thomas Smithe, Ralph Robinson and Thomas Wightman. Two of those names feature in the list and the third is Smith. It is also interesting to note that the name Iliffe features from 1603, thirty-seven years before William Iliffe brought the first stocking frame to the town according to local tradition.
A second list compiled by Mr. Hall featured many other well-known Hinckley names but these were not nearly so prominent in the Hinckley Parish Register. A selection of these with the date when they first appeared in the parish register follows: Ball (1561), Dagley (1608), Dale (1608), Estlin (1563), Flavell (1607), Goadby (1652), Goode (1653), Payne (1566), Perkins (1561), Swift (1593), Venables (1570). There are between sixty and ninety references in the registers to each of these families in the nearly two centuries which Mr. Hall used as the basis for his survey.
The occupations of residents were not at first recorded in the Hinckley Parish Registers but by the early seventeenth century this information appears in the Bishop's Transcripts. When William Iliffe came to the town in 1640, the largest occupation group was concerned with agriculture. By that date there are references to well over twenty yeoman farmers. The name William Iliffe appears in reference to marriage in 1650. Mr. Hall notes that the first reference to "stockiner" occurs in 1721 and "framework knitter" in 1725. Weavers are frequently mentioned, the first in 1636.
Clearly the Hinckley Parish Registers are a most fruitful source of research and the work of transcription and analysis by Mr. Hall over sixty years ago was in itself a considerable contribution to Hinckley's local history.
Author: Hugh Beavin
Written for: Hinckley Historian Magazine