Cosgrove Churchwardens’ Accounts
During the early 18th century Churchwardens acted in many more capacities than they do now. Their duties are revealed by reading the annual accounts and much information about this period in Cosgrove can be deduced from the Churchwardens’ Book, covering 1706 to 1759.
The Ringers and bells were clearly a highly regarded part of Cosgrove village life at this time. There were four official, national ringing days. King Charles II Restoration day was still being celebrated 150 years after the event. Gunpowder Treason Day, November 5th was still a national holiday and the bells were rung. The current monarch’s “Crownation” day was annually marked by ringing the bells and the actual Coronation day was marked by bells “by order”. A midnight peal on Christmas Eve was also rung during this period although change ringing had only just been introduced. Other ringing took place when there was a special event to be notified or celebrated “vicktorie” over the French in various skirmishes was an example. Weekly ringing on Sundays probably occurred but, as today, the Ringers were not paid for these.
Maintaining the bells was a constant headache for the Cosgrove Churchwardens and Ringers. Bells had to be “oyled” regularly and components of the bells and frames needed much renewal. The story of the making of the Great Bell is revealed in the account for 1707 when the founder’s estimate is sought, the old bell taken to be recast and the new bell finally hauled up to the belfry again. Metals were weighed and accounted for by the pound, as were bell “Roopes”. In the days before lorries and cranes, haulage and “drawing” on carts were a significant cost.
In the accounts, some terms are clearly specific to bells and their Ringers and not all are clear. What were “keys” and “ferrils”? Why were bell brasses “runed” or “rimmed”?
We get a good idea about who was doing the practical work of improving and maintaining Cosgrove Church through the accounts each workman is named and his trade is often identified. We can see how valuable each man’s work was by his daily rate. We can tell the value of wood and “Nayels” of various kinds, fabric, glass, stone, lime and metal at the time. Odd snippets tell us about the work of some of these tradesmen. In 1760 we discover why the “glazer” needed wood it was to burn to heat his irons for working the glass or lead for the windows. Possibly this was one reason for the arrangement for “four hundred of wood for the plumer” in 1765. This was a major job costing 10/6d “for three journeys to Stratford to Carry the old Lead and bring the new Lead home and seeing the Lead weighed”. An amount of this kind must surely have been lead for the roof.
Church security was a major concern gates, locks and bolts are frequently replaced, although it seems that replacements generally were needed more often, possibly due to the quality of materials. References to the “galerie” and other features give us clues to the changes going on in the Church structure itself during this period. From the 1760s onward the Rector of Cosgrove was Pulter Forester we know he was a radical “improver” of Cosgrove Church, and the resurgence of expenditure on building works is an indication of what was to follow in 1771, marked by the wooden board in the porch http://www.cosgrovehistory.co.uk/doc/church/tower/tower-entrance.html. Dr Forester’s building works were clearly a personal passion, as he donated a huge amount himself towards the cost of this enormous project.
Even though later improvements and restorations are less well documented it is fascinating to visit the Church today and see whether the work described in the 18th century records can possibly still be there.
The Churchwardens in Cosgrove seemed to be at the centre of the community and the Levies they raised were looked upon in a similar way to Council Tax in 1765 there is an entry “for victuals and drink the plumer had att the mill”. Was the mill regarded as a community amenity and therefore the parish Levy money used for this purpose? Or was it a private arrangement in return for an unrecorded favour by the the plumber to the Church? We shall never know.
Contracts were undoubtedly verbal, but included meals for workmen coming from a distance, and drinks, usually “beare”. The payments thus also show us who was running the alehouses in Cosgrove at the time, some of them women who brewed and cooked at home, like Mrs Archer. We know that despite there being around 18 wells in Cosgrove at some point in its history, during the 18th century water was regarded as being undrinkable in its natural state, so people drank “small beer” which was boiled in the malting process and had a low alcohol content. The accounts record that the beer bill for 16 young people going to their Confirmation was paid by the Church.
The journey to Northampton for the Visitations, court fees, meals, drinks and horse hire and fodder were all included in the “Exspences”. As “other Charges” are listed under the name of the Churchwarden, it is possible that they also received personal payment for their work. We know that they had other work as well as their onerous Church tasks. Nathan Franklin was a farmer with considerable strip holdings http://www.cosgrovehistory.co.uk/doc/mp/mp6.html. It is not unlikely that these men were allowed to charge for additional services to the Church and the village.
Not only the history of Cosgrove, but also national events, can be identified from these accounts. Between 1754 and 1755 the name “Cosgrave” changes to “Cosgrove”, but we don’t know why possibly it had become pronounced locally as “Cosgrove” many years before the written form was adjusted. The accounts of 1767 show us that the two forms were being used together for some years. We can tell, from those who countersign the accounts, which people in Cosgrove held the most power, principal amongst them in the first half of the century, being Mr Rigby, who owned the Manor (later the Priory) and the Hall.
The Preston Fight and the first inklings of the Seven Years war appear, along with other battles, coronations and royal births. National events are often reflected in the accounts through Letters of Request, which were payments to the poor and needy, paid by the Churchwardens. “Turkey Slaves” on the run from their captivity, some with their “tong cut out”, were given financial help, for instance, as were seamen returning home, perhaps from the press gang. The prices of imported goods often depended on events at the time Communion wine, for instance, seems to rise in price during periods when Cosgrove bells were telling news of battles with the French!
In 1761 the Churchwardens were paying for copies of “the kings procklemations”. As this is a period before newspaper archives, these accounts show us how current affairs were received by the ordinary people of Cosgrove at the time.
The money to pay the “Disbustments” recorded was raised through Levies on landowners or leaseholders, http://www.cosgrovehistory.co.uk/doc/buildings/levies.html by the Churchwardens at the discretion of the owner of the Manor.
It appears that the Churchwardens themselves paid “out of purss” the various disbursements and were then recompensed by the Levy money, sometime over a year later. This was obviously a great burden financially and presumably made it difficult for an ordinary working man to take on the Churchwarden’s role. Whether a “float” system existed is not clear. There is no mention of service collections in addition to the Levy, so presumably poorer people, who did not own land, paid little to go to Church.
There are four columns for money in the accounts - £ (pounds), s (shillings), d (pence) and a final column q for quarters of a penny, or farthings, which was rarely used. The calculation system was pre-decimal and the totals are the Cosgrove Churchwardens own!
Family historians gain much from scanning the accounts and levies. Names are not always spelled in the modern way, but whole groups like property owners (levies) poor people (overseer’s lists), workmen, village boys, alehouse keepers and churchgoers appear by name and can add to the interest of family trees. The very rich and influential vetted the accounts and are recorded as “breaking the church ground” at their burials, or paying in the Levy by virtue of their land holdings. Women appear very rarely, mostly when providing meals, beer or laundry services, but did charge amply for these, very much in line with men’s wages. Items like “washing the Surpliss” revert to being paid for to the “Clark” although it was probably actually performed by his wife! As we read through the book, names become linked with the varying styles of its pages, so that people in Cosgrove begin to pop out as real characters through their recurring activities.
One feature of the time was the paying out of vermin bounties, decreed by Henry VIII in the Preservation of Grain Act, set up in response to an increasing population and several very poor harvests during years of bad weather.
Churchwardens were instructed to pay the people for physical evidence of killing creatures which were supposed to threaten food supplies in some way, although the list of “vermin” included creatures which were actually not harmful at all. Hedgehogs, for instance, were thought to drink from cows’ udders at night when they slept. Others, like the polecat, although they did take poultry, were few in numbers but suffered greatly from the persecution of these bounties.
In Cosgrove, bounties are recorded for hedgehogs, polecats, foxes and “Sparos”, these last being caught mainly by groups of boys in the village for pocket money. Adults, mostly men, brought in the first three, earning around 4d per kill. In those days an average day’s work in Cosgrove paid around 1/4d.
Records show that Cosgrove had an abundance of sparrows and polecats compared to other place in Britain. People did not seem overly concerned by any environmental factors, although the Northamptonshire poet John Clare, at the end of the 18th century, wrote a sonnet about the plight of the hedgehog.
They say they milk the cows and when they lye
Nibble their fleshy teats and make them dry,
But they whove seen the small head like a hog,
Rolled up to meet the savage of a dog
With mouth scarce big enough to hold a straw
Will neer believe what no-one ever saw.
But still they hunt the hedges all about
And shepherd dogs are trained to hunt them out.
They hurl with savage force the stick and stone
And no-one cares and still the strife goes on.
It was thought that the practice of rewarding vermin killings ceased around the mid eighteenth century, but in the last accounts in the Cosgrove books some bounties were still being recorded in 1835.
An excellent study of the vermin bounties is found in “Silent Fields” by Roger Lovegrove (2007 OUP), from which these facts are taken.
The very early visitations were heraldic - a tour of inspection by a herald (or other officer-of-arms) to regulate and register coats of arms, and to record pedigrees. In the Church Accounts at secular or Church visitations the Cosgrove Churchwardens were called, usually to Northampton, to give an account of the village, its population and its activities to a special Court. Confirmations took place at the Bishop’s visitation and wrongdoers were charged at others. This might have been quite an undertaking for Churchwardens as Cosgrove people often never travelled beyond Stony Stratford as a rule at the time.
Visitations usually took place mainly at Michaelmas, 29th September, and at Easter, which falls on different dates each year, with occasional Bishop’s visitations. Strangely the actual dates of transactions were not recorded, so the pattern of visitations can only be identified by reading through the year chronologically.
The original Churchwardens’ Book from 1706 is lodged in the Records office at Northampton and can be accessed. Glimpses of the scripts in the website give examples of the better handwriting in the book. Each Churchwarden either wrote his own accounts and “cast” them, or paid somebody else to do that. We can often tell which of the two Wardens did this work as, rather endearingly, they write “my horse to Northampton” and so on, in the first person.
We can see from the prices of a prayer book that the written word was very expensive as a recording method, and parchments and “Artikls” that were needed as part of a Churchwarden’s statutory responsibilities to the people of Cosgrove were costly.
The method of recording and the items listed in the accounts vary depending on the Warden responsible, and this reveals much about their education and understanding of their task. Some entries, especially in the early years, are incredibly detailed, listing items as small as “half a dussen Sparowes” and the names of each boy who caught them. Later items like “paid for worck a bill” are far less accurate.
Crossings out were rare and suggest that some accounts were copied from personal notes. The use of the dipping pen means that some pages are faded and others include blots! Spelling was not regulated and there was no easy way to check a spelling until 1755 when Johnson’s Dictionary was published. It is possible to detect fewer flamboyant spellings in the accounts from around this date.
Lettering conventions varied greatly “i” and “j” were often interchangeable as were “u” and “v”. The symbol ʃ was often still used for “s”. Capitals for nouns were liberally sprinkled throughout sentences. Punctuation was rare, but abbreviations like “pd” for “paid”, “Rec’d” for “received” and “Wm” for “William” were used frequently, to save effort and paper.