1 - The Registers.
A page from Tring
Parish Registers, 1566 (HALS).
Prior to 1538 many English parishes kept an informal record of
important events concerning their parishioners. Henry VIII’s
break from Rome brought profound changes to the church in England
and in 1538 Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister, ordered
the parish clergy to keep a formal record of christenings, marriages
The registers for the parish church of Tring, St Peter & St Paul,
are now kept by the Hertfordshire County Archive [HALS] in Hertford.
They start in 1566 and, for the years up to 1714, consist of four
volumes. The first book, now called Book 1, runs from 1566 to
1634. Book 3 runs from 1634 to 1695 and the fourth book runs
from 1695 to 1714. Book 2 contains a copy of the entries in
Book 1 and Book 3 up to 1673 plus some earlier records not in the
In the mid 16th century all that was required to be recorded were
names and dates. It is likely that the initial record was made
on a separate sheet or even scraps of paper which were periodically
copied into the register book.
At the start of Tring’s first book, marriages and burials were
recorded in separate sections. Later, christenings were added
and the arrangement changed so that all three types of record were
recorded together for each year. The writing and layout are
neat and in a single hand in 1566, but in later years different
hands become evident and the entries become cramped and messy.
Between 1577 and 1587 there is a gap in the records. No
explanation is given for this omission, but resumption in recording
corresponds with a change of curate. Thomas Norfolk’s name
appears at the top of a page of burials for 1573 and the entries
continue until the beginning of 1575 when they stop abruptly.
Marriages continue into 1576 and baptisms do not start until 1598.
According to the Clergy of the Church of England Database, Norfolk
remained curate in Tring until 1585. Recording begins again in 1587
when Timothy Fisher, curate, signed the register. It is
possible that Norfolk was less rigorous about recording baptisms,
marriages and burials or, more likely, he recorded them in a
separate document which is now lost.
In 1597, in the reign of Elizabeth I, it was ordered that the pages
of the parish registers should be made of more durable parchment,
rather than paper, and a copy sent to the Bishop annually for added
security. At the time, Tring was in the Archdeaconry of
Huntingdonshire in the Diocese of Lincoln so copies were sent there.
These copies are now called the Bishop’s Transcripts and for Tring
they survive from 1604 onwards. In addition, the earlier,
paper, registers had to be copied into the new parchment books.
In accordance with this edict a parchment copy was made of the Tring
register entries up to 1598. However, parchment is expensive
and subsequent Tring registers reverted to the use of paper.
Tring Parish Registers
vol. 2: Peter Rylande’s inscription (HALS).
We know who made the parchment copy because his name is on the
fly-leaf of the book: Peter Rylande of St Albans. As a
professional scribe or scrivener Rylande would have been paid for
his work. He may be the Peter Rilande of St Albans who married
there in 1583 and had several children. He died and was buried
in St Albans in 1621. He may also have been the Peter
“Rylands” who appears in many documents associated with the St
Albans Archdeacon’s court between 1593 and 1612 (St Albans parish
registers and HALS online catalogue reference ASA7).
Rylande’s copy is not exactly the same as the original, for example,
it starts with baptisms from 1566 to 1597 (with the exception of the
missing years 1577 to 1586) which are missing from the original book
and includes burials from 1588 to 1597, also missing from the
original book. Which means there was at least one other book,
now lost. In addition, the records in the parchment copy are
organised differently from the original book, with christenings,
marriages and burials in separate sections instead of being together
for each year. The spelling of some names also differ from the
original. Before the early 19th century most ordinary people
could not read or write and so the writer would spell the name as it
As time went by the authorities made changes to what was required to
be recorded in the parish registers. The English Civil war in
particular brought upheaval to the lives of ordinary folk.
When Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power in 1653 they
threw out the old modes of worship and anything that could be
interpreted as excessive, extravagant or leaning towards
Catholicism. Sundays were to be strictly reserved for worship
and the traditional Christian calendar of holy days and saint’s days
was banned, including festivals like Christmas and Easter.
On 24th August 1653 an act was passed in Parliament transferring the
responsibility for recording from the Church to the civil
authorities. In some parishes ministers destroyed or hid their
registers rather than surrender them to the new authorities.
Thankfully this did not happen in Tring and the register continued
The aptly named Benjamin Parish (or Parrish) was made responsible
for recording all births, marriages and burials in the Tring
register. Benjamin would have been familiar with the registers
as he was the son of William Parish who had been parish clerk in the
1630s. Three months later John Bates, also a local man, was
appointed “Legester” or registrar and took over this responsibility.
Thereafter only dates of birth, as opposed to baptism, were recorded
with the occasional exception, including two of John Dagnall of the
Grove’s children. These baptismal entries were most likely
added later, probably after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660,
which would suggest that the Dagnalls, and perhaps a few other Tring
families, baptised their children privately, and possibly in secret,
during the Interregnum.
The recording of marriages also changed after the act came into
force. Actual marriages, with some exceptions, were no longer
recorded in the parish register and no longer took place in church.
However, the publication of the intention to marry, was recorded in
the register. The marriage ceremony itself became a civil
affair carried out by a magistrate. Two such marriages are
recorded in the Tring register: John Leash of Long Marston married
Susanna Brigginshaw, a widow of Tring, in January 1654 and Walter
Church, a gentleman, married Anne Price in March the same year.
That these two marriages were recorded in the register is unusual
and it may be that both couples had connections with influential
people especially as they were married by Sir William Rowe, a
Justice of the Peace and an associate of Oliver Cromwell.
Rowe’s brother Thomas, a Doctor of Divinity was buried in Tring
fifteen years earlier in 1639 and his burial entry includes an
intriguing note that says he was buried at night. There is
nothing sinister about this: as a member of the nobility, Thomas
Rowe was entitled to a traditional College of Arms funeral which
would have been an expensive and onerous imposition on his family.
In his will Thomas says that he is to be buried according to the
wishes of his executors and it seems they were keen to avoid an
extravagant funeral either for financial reasons or because of the
association of elaborate ceremony with Catholicism. Burial at
night was a way of avoiding a College of Arms ceremony as the
College stipulated that funerals should be carried out during
daylight hours (Brady, p78).
The monarchy was restored in May 1660 and baptisms in Tring resumed
immediately. For the rest of that year only one or two
children’s births were recorded without baptism.
After the Restoration Tring’s registers did not revert to orderly
recording. Instead baptisms were sometimes grouped by family
rather than in strict date order and odd entries appear in odd
places. Recording was messy and erratic with different hands
evident. Part of this chaos was the result of attempts to fill
in the gaps in the register caused by the events surrounding the
Civil War, but also Tring had five changes of Rector from 1660 to
1684 which may account for the different handwriting (see
During the reign of Charles II a series of acts were brought in
affecting burials. The Burying in Woollen acts between 1666
and 1680 were designed to stimulate the English woollen industry.
A friend or relative of the deceased person was required to swear an
oath in front of a Justice of the Peace to confirm that the person
had been buried in a woollen shroud as opposed to a shroud made from
foreign textiles or other material, usually linen, which was much
cheaper than wool. Exceptions were made for plague victims and
the very poor.
It is worth noting that at the time the poor may not have been
buried in a coffin but simply wrapped in a shroud and buried in the
earth. The majority of people would not have had a headstone (Mytum,
At the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th the
entries in Tring’s parish registers become more detailed: for
example, occupations start to be recorded frequently rather than
Over the whole period from 1566 to 1714 approximately 3740 baptisms
and births, 3218 burials and 663 marriages were recorded in Tring
Parish Registers. As noted above, recording was not always
consistent, nor are the pages of the registers always easy to read,
hence these figures are approximate.