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Wedmore Parish Records: Baptisms 1561-1812

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Original Introduction To The Wedmore Parish Registers.

Baptisms 1561-1812

by Sydenham Henry Augustus Hervey.

Vicar of Wedmore 1876-1898.

The Registers of Baptisms in Wedmore Church may be looked upon as nearly perfect from 1561 till now, there not being a single year which has not over 20 entries. One month has been cut out from 1561; six months were long ago rent from 1585 as a note in what is now the original volume tells us; and probably the carlessness of parson or clerk has caused a certain number of entries to be omitted from time to time. But with these exceptions the Register is perfect.

Here in this printed volume are 11,873 entries of Baptisms, spread over exactly 252 years, and giving an average of over 47 to a year. During the same 252 years there were 3,162 marriages, and 10,547 burials.

The following table shows how long it took to complete each thousand of Baptisms, and in what year that thousand was reached.
Column A gives the thousand; column B gives the year in which that thousand was completed; column C gives the number of years that it took to complete it.

Time Taken to complete the records
First Thousand 158221
Second "160423
Third "162419.5
Fourth "164218
Fifth "166321
Sixth "168825
Seventh "171324.5
Eighth "174027
Ninth "176323
Tenth "178319
Eleventh "179916.5
Twelfth "181415
Thirteenth "18239.5

The above table shows an increase of population taking place at the beginning of this century. That was the result of the enclosure of the moors that had been going on during the last 20 years of the 18th century.

The sixth thousand completed in 1688 was longer about than any of its predecessors. I fancy that that must have been owing to the new Baptist movement. There was a Baptist congregation here as early as 1656. (See Hunt's "Hist, of the Diocese," p. 216).

The hand of four different sorts of men may be seen in these Registers. (1) There is the professional scribe, who writes plain as print. To him is due the first volume, 1561 to 1611. (2) There are 17th and 18th century Vicars, whose hands vary with their age and character. (3) Occasionally in between them is seen the hand of the Parish Clerk. (4) Towards the end of the 18th century, when the Vicars were non-resident, one sees the hand of the Curates.

I have left off at 1812, because with that year the old blank page Register, wherein you could put down as much or as little as you liked, comes to an end, and a new volume begins, with ruled spaces, wherein you must put down just what you are told.

A certain number of aliases will be found in these Registers, especially in the earlier part. The Editor of the "Register of the University of Oxford" brings together all the instances of an alias that he had noticed in that Register, and says that no adequate explanation of the usage has yet been given. It seems to me that they may be easily accounted for. (1) In some cases obvious circumstances may cause a man to be called by his mother's maiden name as often as by his father's name. That may account for some. (2) But others may be otherwise accounted for. In the earlier days of surnames, when their roots were not so deep as they are now, when they had scarcely lost their original descriptive character, and were still in the process of gradual formation, it is easy to imagine a man being called by two surnames. One would fit him for one reason, the other would fit him for another reason. So some would call him by the one, and some would call him by the other. And so he would have an alias. If a 14th or 15th century John were the son of Tom and likewise a baker by trade, some might call him Tomson and some might call him Baker, and so he would be Tomson alias Baker. One seems to see an instance of that in the case of Martin alias Smith. Several entries of that alias will be found between 1570 and 1610; whilst the following entry of burial shows that some of the Martins were smiths by trade:-

1571. June 22. Thomas Hitchings, apprenticius Richardi Martyn fabri ferrarii.

With regard to Index No. 1, the spelling is so various that it is difficult to say when two names should be considered the same and when they should be considered different. And sometimes it may happen that names which were certainly counted as the same in the earlier years were as certainly counted different in the later years. So that you can't be right whichever you do. If you treat them as the same and bracket them together, you will be wrong so far as the later entries are concerned. If you treat them as different, and enter them separately, you will be wrong so far as the earlier entries are concerned. You can't please both the 17th and 19th centuries. I have generally aimed at pleasing the earlier century, thinking it better that two different names should come sometimes under one heading than that one and the same name should be divided under two headings. But I will repeat the advice given in the Preface to the Marriages, viz., when searching for any particular name let the eye roam about freely, and not merely seek out one particular form of that name.

Into Index No. 2 I have put all those entries where there is a Christian name only and no surname; and also a few miscellaneous entries, such as the appointment of a Registrar: a license to fast; a miler ignotus, who is the only token of the civil war then going on; the mention of Roman Tutton to whose name I have alluded in the Preface to the Burials, etc.

Appendix No. 1 contains all the Christian names of those baptized, excepting only such Christian names as were merely surnames used as Christian names. Abel and Israel in the earlier years are used as both masculine and feminine names, which seems to show an imperfect acquaintance with the then newly-translated Scriptures. Antoinette in 1796, and Patrick in 1800, seem to show what was the chimney corner or street corner talk at the time, and with whom sympathy was felt. Familiar names like Betty, Betsy, Fanny, Jenny, Nancy, seem hardly ever to have been given at Baptism till the second half of the 18th century. Towards the close of it they grew very common.

S. H. A. H.
Wedmore Vicarage,
September, 1890.