Parish registers – tell you about people
By Ishbel Beatty
Scanning parish registers can be addictive. Baptisms, marriages, burials... so many dates, so many names. Often, there is no other detail than name and date. It was only after 1837, with the coming of standardised civil registration, that occupations and ages were regularly recorded. However, in earlier centuries, parish clerks or vicars would sometimes add to a name some item of interest, perhaps great age or status of the person concerned.
So, looking through East Hatley registers, some entries stand out:
Daniel Sturmy became Rector before 1709 and when he buried Steven Pilchard, coachman to Sir George Downing, on the first day of August 1709, he also wrote: Steven Pilchard was the first person buried after Daniel Sturmy was Rector of this parish.
Sir George Downing was the landowner of the parish, though he did not long live there. Of his 3 sons and 5 daughters, only the eldest daughter was married in the church:
John Cotton son of John Cotton of Stratton in Bedfordshire & Frances Downing daughter of Sir George Downing of East Hatley was married June the 1st 1675.
On a very different social level:
1696 A male child of a travelling man and his wife named (blank) Old (who sayd that their habitation is at Bedford Hoton) was born in a barn in this parish January 17th and carryd away about ten days after unbaptised.
1705 Mr Francis Say, Rector, buried 24th November aged 58 years. He was a peacemaker in his parish. This is a satisfying way to be remembered.
Were the parishioners very quarrelsome? Mr Say was Rector for 15 years and was followed by his son in 1722 who remained for nearly 30 years.
1716 John Micholl who was almost ninety years old was buried on the fifteenth day of July 1716. Mary Micholl widow was buried September the 1st. Mary's age is not given but she did not live long after her husband's death.
1778 Charles (surnamed Hatley) a Native of Poolo Neas near the West coast of Sumatra was baptised the 25th December being then about 16 years of age. What can have brought Charles to East Hatley? Perhaps he was a servant, in an age when it was fashionable to have black pages in moneyed households.
Then there was Mr Vievar, 17th century Rector. He and his wife must have been proud of their names, since they set them out in full each time their children were baptised. Were they French, recent Huguenot immigrants?
When Mr Vievar made his first entry in the Register, he styled himself Minister probably still under Puritan influence: Phyladelphy Vievar daughter of Mr Allexander Vievar Minister and of Mary Le Villain his wiffe was baptized December 21st 1676. (Philadelphia means brotherly love.) His son George was baptized on 12th July 1678. These two were given the same names as the grown-up son and daughter of Sir George Downing, the patron of the living at the time.
Then came Alexander and Mary Anna, baptised June 2nd 1681. Were they twins? The fact is not noted. We know that Marianna (with a change of spelling) sadly died the next year and was buried on November 10th aged one year six months and fourteen days. The parents' grief can be read in thatdetailing of her exact age.
Martialis (war-like) was baptized Jan 1st 1683 lrene (peace) – perhaps Mr Vievar had a sense of humour, or did his wife insist? Her entry is the fullest and gives Mr Vievar a new status:
Irene Vievar the Daughter of Mr Alexander Vievar Clark & Rector of East Hatley and
Marianna Le Villain his wife was born March the eleventh & Baptized the 19th of the
same month 1684.
The Lord shall plead my cause and grant me peace.
Was Mr Vievar, in choosing that text, hoping for peace from more squalling babes? We do not know, for he left the parish, perhaps for a living which paid a higher income, for his increasing number of children.
Two entries celebrating long years of service: colleagues who died in the same year:
1796 Rev Francis Say (a close relative of the earlier Rector of the same name), Rector of East Hatley and Vicar of Tadlow for upwards of 40 years, was buried on the south side of the chancel near the Altar 20th March and Thomas Abbott, Clerk of this parish for upwards of thirty years, aged seventy, was buried December 28th 1796.
Nineteenth-century registers became more standardised, which is helpful to the family historian, but less entertaining without the occasional colourful detail that we have just been reading.
Gamlingay Gazette, July/August 1994