Of our many thousands of archive collections, one of the largest is that of the Diocese of Salisbury. It spans the 13th to the 21st centuries and is still growing as we continue to receive modern additions. Such is its scope that it includes material relating to parishes across much of the county and beyond and contains a wealth of information useful to local and family historians. This blogpost aims to give you a brief overview of this rich and varied collection, as well as highlighting some of the useful interpretative resources available. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s take a deep breath and dive in.
What is a Diocese?
A diocese is the geographic area under the jurisdiction of a given Church of England bishop. These ecclesiastical boundaries date from before the Reformation and do not match county boundaries. Nor have diocesan boundaries always remained the same. In 1542 much of Dorset previously part of the Salisbury Diocese was transferred to the Diocese of Bristol. Then in 1836 they moved back to Salisbury again. Also in 1836 Berkshire parishes moved to the Diocese of Oxford. Our collection therefore includes records relating to Dorset and Berkshire parishes but only during the time they were part of the Salisbury Diocese. In 1836 many north Wiltshire parishes (such as those around Chippenham, Swindon, Cricklade and Malmesbury) moved to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Bristol. Their records can be found at Bristol Records Office.
How is the collection arranged?
The collection brings together the archives of various officials and jurisdictions, starting with the highest-ranking – the sequential Bishops of Salisbury, whose records are denoted on our catalogue by the prefix D1. This extensive collection paints a comprehensive picture of successive bishops’ work. For example, the series of Bishops’ Registers (reference D1/2) record the inspection of parishes, ordination of clergy, issues of taxation, and the bishops’ interactions with religious houses. In addition, a specific series (D1/30) records the bishops’ relations with the City of Salisbury.
The diocese was also served by two archdeaconries, whose responsibilities included overseeing the upkeep of church buildings and the wellbeing of clergy. The jurisdiction of the Archdeaconry of Salisbury (series reference D2) includes much of the southern half of the diocese, while the Archdeaconry of Wiltshire (D3) encompassed much of the northern part. There are two exceptions to this rule, both in the City of Salisbury. Records in the D4 series pertain to the Sub-Dean of Salisbury who exercised jurisdiction over the three city parishes of St. Thomas, St. Edmund and St. Martin, plus the neighbouring parish of Stratford-sub-Castle. The other exception is for the Dean of Salisbury Cathedral (D5). The Dean’s jurisdiction includes seemingly random parishes from Ramsbury in the north east to Mere in the south west. It is also worth noting that the records of Salisbury Cathedral itself remain at the cathedral and can be accessed there, post lockdown.
Subsequent series relate to the various Prebends and Peculiars across the diocese. Each Prebend (series D6 to D20) gave its income not to a parish rectory but directly to the bishop for the upkeep of the cathedral or collegiate church. Examples include the Prebends of Bishopstone (North Wilts), Durnford and Netheravon (respectively D6, D9 and D12). Meanwhile the Peculiars (D21 to D27) are those areas classed as outside the jurisdiction of the bishop and archdeacon of the diocese in which they are situated. Examples include the Peculiar of the Lord Warden of Savernake Forest (D21), and the Peculiar of Trowbridge (D22). To assist you, we maintain a list of parishes and their relevant jurisdictions. The final series in the collection relates to jurisdictions outside Wiltshire. D28 concerns the papers of the Archdeaconry of Dorset formerly belonging to the Bishop of Bristol, while D29 and D30 pertain to the Archdeacons of Dorset and Sherborne respectively.
What do the documents tell us?
It’s not possible to discuss all the intricate and informative parts of the diocesan collection, but a few important sets of documents stand out as most pertinent to the local and family historian.
Visitation records provide evidence of the regular inspection of the incumbent clergy and their parish. The churchwarden’s presentment is a report made by the churchwarden on parish affairs and submitted to the bishop. These inspections took place every three years from 1662 onwards. The presentments (D1/54) usually include notes on the conditions of church buildings and their contents, as well as reports on the progress and conduct of the local clergy. Additionally, they also contain a wealth of material on the moral behaviour of the parishioners, such as non-attendance at church, bastardy issues, and details of non-conformists. Members of the wonderful Wiltshire Family History Society have transcribed the 1662 Churchwardens’ Presentments, which is a handy resource for interpreting this series. Many issues raised in the presentments led to appearances in the Church Courts. These records cover disputes over probate terms and tithe payments, plus non-attendance at church. Act Books are a brief record, but the Deposition Books are more informative and tell us much of everyday parish life. Another informative set of records are the visitation queries (D1/56, 1783 onwards). These were a printed set of questions to which the clergy added their responses. Our friends at the Wiltshire Record Society (WRS) have published the Wiltshire Returns to the Bishops’ Visitation Queries, 1783, (WRS vol 27). These and other volumes are held at the History Centre and are also available online at the WRS website.
Diocesan records also include several series pertaining to nonconformists. Bishops’ registers sometimes include details of certificates issued to dissenters’ meeting houses (typically between 1757 and 1807). Sometimes these were registered by the civil authority (see our quarter session records) but others were registered by the church. The WRS volume Wiltshire Dissenters’ Meeting House Certificates and Registrations, 1689–1852 may provide you with a useful starting point for these records. Additionally, series D1/9 contains papers relating to Catholics and Protestant Nonconformists, which include lists of dissenters and their meeting houses. Most date from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.
The diocesan collection also sheds light on parochial clergy, not just the procedures of the church but also the names of those ordained. Ordination papers often include testimonials from colleges and clergymen and occasionally copies of baptism certificates. Various pre-1836 records such as the bishop’s registers and subscription books have been used to create the Clergy of the Church of England Database searchable by parish, diocese and clergy. For later clergy try Crockfords Clerical Directory.
The collection also includes matrimonial records of couples who wished to acquire a marriage licence from the clergy. Licences were sought for various reasons. Often a couple did not wish to wait for the reading of the banns in their parish church. Also, as licences required the payment of a fee it was considered a sign of wealth and status. Additionally, before 1837 all couples (excepting those of the Jewish and Quaker faiths) had to be married by the Church of England, so many non-conformists would apply for a licence. The licencing process generated two types of documents. The first are marriage allegation books. The allegation was a formal statement by the applicant about the ages, marital status and places of residence of the parties to be married, and usually includes a statement of the groom's occupation. Secondly, marriage licence bonds, which are sworn testaments usually by the groom and either his father or a friend. This acted as a pledge to forfeit a sum of money if the information supplied in the allegation proves to be false. All marriage licence records have been indexed by the Family History Society and are available on Findmypast (paywall).
Faculties (D1/61) should prove useful to anyone interested in church renovation. A file was created for each proposed repair or addition to a church or churchyard. Each file outlines the requirements, costs, etc and includes plans. This would be submitted to the bishop who, if he approved, would grant a licence for the alterations. The series begins in the eighteenth century and is still regularly added to with 21st century modifications. Furthermore a series of mortgages for vicarages and rectories (D/11) also includes plans and specifications.
Glebe terriers (D1/24 and D5/10) list the land belonging to the parish church and the resulting payment of tithes due for the upkeep of the church. See also the WRS volume on Wiltshire Glebe Terriers (vol 56). Similarly the collection of tithe maps (D1/25) which date from the mid nineteenth century, are a useful and evocative plan of the parish. The accompanying schedule lists the owners and occupiers of each parcel of land, plus land use and field names. These series form an important source for topographical researchers, and local and family historians alike. These can also be accessed on Know Your Place website.
This is just a quick taster of a handful of significant series. There is much more to explore and enjoy in this immense collection. Details of this and all our collections can be found on Calmview, our online catalogue. Also visit the Archives pages on this wesbite for more research tools.
Richard I was not particularly interested in England, only spending a few months out of his 10 year reign in England, but he was interested in his crusades which needed to be financed. A new way of collecting tax was needed as the current system of “holding the pleas of the crown” in which the King’s itinerant Judges toured the country and held courts in villages to settle disputes and levy fines was inefficient at actually raising revenue for the crown. The problem was it took so long for the Judges to complete their circuit that the sheriffs were able to pocket the fines and not pass them onto the king.
In 1194 new reforms were set up, which included new county officers called the Coroner (or Crowner as they were originally called – Coronam is Latin for crown). They were tasked with “keeping the pleas of the crown” which meant they had to document cases before the justice court rolled into town. Their role was simple, to generate as much income for the King as possible. Sudden deaths were of particular interest to the new Coroner, because if the death was proved to be suicide (“self murder”) then the goods of the deceased would be forfeited to the crown. Buried treasure (treasure trove), goods washed up on shore and shipwrecks all belonged to the king. It was now the job of the Coroner to record these events and to make sure that any revenue due to the King went in to the royal coffers.
By 1194 the Saxons were still in a habit of killing Normans, if a dead person was found, the village in which it was found would be heavily fined, as it was presumed to be Norman unless it could be proved otherwise by a plea of Englishry. The fine was known as “Murdrum”, from which the word murder derives. Coroner’s inquests dealt with these cases and the revenue from the fines imposed went to the King.
Every County elected three Coroners with many boroughs having their own coroner. A clerk was employed to carry the pen, ink and “Coroner’s Rolls” and would have walked behind the horses. The clerk was later dropped in favour of a fourth Coroner. As “Keeper of the Crown Pleas” it was the Coroners job to record the pleas on parchment called the “Coroner’s Rolls” and present to the King’s judges when they rolled into town. These rolls mostly survive and are held at The National Archives. They record, amongst other things, details of sudden and unnatural deaths, giving information surrounding the circumstances of deaths.
A pre Norman practice that appears in the Coroner’s Rolls was the fine of a deodand, “Deo dandum” or “given to God”. The idea was that the object which caused the death of sinful and had to be given to the church to be expurgated. The Normans saw this as a nice little earner for the crown, as the Coroner would value the object and the crown plea judges would decide if the deodand was to be forfeited to the crown or given to the victim’s family as compensation for their loss.
All sudden deaths were investigated by the coroner, whether murder, manslaughter, accidental, natural or suicide. It was the coroner’s job to record as much information about the death as possible, witnesses, time, date, where and of course the primary interest was property and chattels were written down ready for the Justices court. There were strict rules for when a body was discovered and heavy fines imposed if they were not followed. The finder of a body had to raise the alarm and was liable to be fined for inaction. Many bodies might be ignored or hidden, or even moved to another village or tithing in an attempt to avoid responsibility.
To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the archive service we are putting together an online exhibition of 70 favourite documents from the archive chosen by staff and volunteers. One of the items chosen was only recently deposited and is a remarkably detailed record of its type; Thomas Pinniger's farming diary for Little Bedwyn and Beckhampton farm, Avebury 1828-1832 (ref 4381/1/5).
Entries of note include the purchase of Beckhampton farm and Beckhampton Inn from Anthony Guy of Chippenham, 27 Feb and 18 Jun 1828; a note about Guy's subsequent bankruptcy, Nov 1829-Jan 1830; Work on the new house began 25 Sep 1828, completed Oct 1830; difficulties in digging chalk for the roads led to an accident in the chalk pit, 29 Jan 1830; note about the 'Swing Riots', Nov 1830 (pictured above); efforts to clear snow from the main road (A4) , 21 Jan 1830; fruit trees planted in garden, 8 Mar 1830; fire at Mr Neat's farm at Monkton, 5 Jun 1831; trees planted in the yard, 10 Dec 1831; notes of the deaths of relatives and friends, including son Thomas (Large), 31 Jul 1828; verse by rev William Lisle Bowles on the death of Richard Sadler Smith at Bremhill, 31 Mar 1832; and references to thrashing machine, 6 Mar and 23 Jul 1832.
Unsurprisingly diaries can be one of the most engaging sources in the archives because they enable us to hear such a clear and individual voice from the past.
We have some interesting examples in our collections, including an almost complete series of diaries belonging to writer Edith Maud Olivier (ref 982/32-78). The entries are daily and written in detail covering 1894-1948 including this entry relating to a visit of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in February 1944.
The Wiltshire Record Society has also published volumes of transcripts of diaries and notebooks including:
‘Cherished memories and Associations,’ a manuscript memoir by William Small 1881 (Volume 64; original document reference 2713/2)
William Small, a painter and glazier of 1 New Street, Salisbury, of his life in Salisbury, with biographical details of his family and Salisbury people, tradesmen, apprentices and inhabitants of the Close. There are also details of the history of several houses, particularly in East Harnham where Small was born in 1820. The text is interspersed with poetry and items of local and national interest such as the funeral of Benjamin Disraeli in 1881, the Shrewton flood 1841 and an account of the history of Salisbury probably based on the work of Robert Benson and Henry Hatcher. There are also notes of various events in the Salisbury area 1737-1739 (probably taken from the Salisbury Journal).
These entries provide an insight into his trade, historic Salisbury, particular buildings, and into the detail of everyday life that would otherwise be lost to history. Plants and animals often feature as well as the agricultural area surrounding the city.
Through his description of The Close of 50 years previous, we gain an insight into how the area changed:
“The Close was quite different then from what it is now, Wild thorn and elder hedges in a wild state, a great many large trees about… the Grass was laid up for Hay and Farmer Drake of Netherhampton, used to bring his Waggons in, & cart it away. In 1836 or 1837 there was a very high wind in January I think, & blow down all the stately Elm trees on one side of the walk (called lovers walk) but one, prostrate across the field, then the same year the present young ones were planted” (volume one, page 161-2)
In 2014 a new project called ‘Now in Then’, funded by the Arts Council England, has been launched, which includes a series of Saturday workshops involving creative writers using archives here at WSHC. I have been involved from the outset in helping to choose the themes for the workshops, alongside the tutor Angela Street, and I have had free rein to choose the archives to help demonstrate those themes. Not being a creative person myself, I am greatly enjoying working with others who are, who can help me see the archives in a new light.
The theme for this term is ‘Lives in the Landscape’ and the first session (on 1 March) looked at the ownership of land. Most of the records I chose for this came from manor courts. The history of manors is worthy of a detailed blog in its own right but in the meantime if anyone is particularly interested they can read up on it on the University of Nottingham website (link at end of this article).
Put simply, a manor is a landed estate with the right to hold its own manor court, which, prior to the Tudor introduction of Quarter and Petty Sessions, was the main local court of law for minor offences. The concept of manors dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, and central to the operation of the manor court is its monitoring of communal behaviour, known as the ‘View of Frankpledge.’ This basically was a system of mutual responsibility meaning that a tithing (a group of about 10 households) agreed to work together to keep law and order within their grouping.