Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The 1817 duties of a Bromley Sexton

As I trancribed a volume of the funeral accounts of Dunns for the years 1816-1826 at Bromley Archives I discovered a single sheet of paper which contained the duties of a sexton.
Edward Dunn compiled the funeral accounts in this period and had carried out the funeral business  since at least 1803 when one Folio opens (Folio 1). Dunn was an upholder and I have previously blogged about the business of the upholder. From the earliest records of Dunn it is apparent that he was organising large funerals and elaborate burials often spending up to 3 days carrying a body to Hertfordshire or Sussex. This suggests a familiarity with all aspects of funeral business not a fledgling enterprise to accompany the trade since at least 1710 in premises in Market Square of his forebears in business in Bromley as drapers furnishers cabinet makers and in his era all of these skills combined in providing a complete funeral service.
The document identies several duties

  • to keep the church and pews cleanly swept and aired
  • to make graves and open vaults for the burial of the dead
  • under direction of the churchwardens to provide candles for the church and bread and wine for the communion and water for baptisms
  • to attend church during divine service in order to open pews and prevent disturbances 
The sextons salary was paid by the churchwardens and sextons fees were determined by vestry meetings. The sexton in Bromley "it has been held that if he be removed without sufficient cause a mandamus will lie for his restitution".
The presence of this loose sheet of duties within Edward Dunn's funeral accounts appeared at first curious. Fees paid to sextons for opening the catacombs of Bromley church or opening vaults within the church or digging graves outside are detailed and named individuals appear throughout the years covered.
The reason this document survives to this day is part of the turmoil in the parish in the last years of Reverend Henry Smith's life as Minister of Bromley.Smith served as rector of Hedley Hampshire and for 42 years as Minister of Bromley. He had a reputation as a heavy drinker without apparent signs of intoxication. He also loved to ride to hounds. Horsburgh in his history of Bromley records the occasion when Bishop Horsley of Rochester (resident at his palace at Bromley) witnessed him leap hishorse (and pack) into the highway and the Bishop forbade him hunting as unsuited to his duties as Minister.
Smith had for many years had John Dunn as Parish Clerk in Bromley but John became ill in 1814 and until his death his duties were faithfully carried out by Edward Dunn.In February 1817 a special vestry was summoned to appoint a parish Clerk in place of the deceased John Dunn. The meeting was told of the work of Edward Dunn for over two years and he was proposed as parish clerk. 62 parishioners were present including John Dunkin the Bromley Historian. Edward Dunn was unanimously elected and it was resolved by the Vestry that "the right of appointing a Parish Clerk is vested in the inhabitants of the Parish in Vestry assembled".There was only one dissenting vote.
Doctor Henry Smith asserted his exclusive right to make that appointment and he protested and also instituted proceedings in Doctors Commons. This in turn was referred to the High Court. The matter was heard before Baron Graham at Maidstone Assizes in March 1818 who found against the parishioners and in favour of Henry Smith who appointed William Bateley as Parish Clerk. The reaction of parishioners to the removal of Edward Dunn was on one hand personal and on the other to appoint Edward Dunn as sexton.
Smith was questioned in vestry about how many trees he had felled and benefited from personally but claimed he was too ill to attend to further parish business and when he died on 22 July 1818 aged 68 years matters were resolved.
As the surviving funeral accounts show Dunn kept the duties of a sexton record for later generations to see but two other persons are named as sextons in the funeral accounts as opening catacombs and vaults in the church and digging graves in the churchyard whilst Edward conducted the majority of funerals at Bromley both for poor house interments at the request and payment of churchwardens and for the town's inhabitants and the local landowners and gentry in the district.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The cost of a gravedigger in Bromley Kent 1818

As I transcribe the Dunn funeral accounts book for 1818 I came across a useful table of charges for Mr Harris to dig graves.
Harris arrange for digging graves
4 feet                               one shilling and sixpence
5 feet                               two shillings
6 feet                               two shillings and sixpence
7 feet                               three shillings and sixpence
8 feet                               four shillings and sixpence
and filling in sixpence
9 feet                               six shillings
10 feet                             eight shillings and sixpence
12 feet                             fifteen shillings
additonal depths are noted at 13 feet 6inches and fifteen feet which are not priced and from funeral accounts are negotiable according to the supply of timber shoring by Edward Dunn who itemises this where relevant. There are also references in the accounts to occasions where grave digging involves disturbance and returfing an adjacent burial.
Harris was also quoted as
Opening vaults                 four shillings and sixpence
filling in vaults                 sixpence
digging a single vault        two shillings and tenpence
digging a double vault       3 shillings
and an addional entry
charge Carpenter 9 feet grave and turfing for 12 shillings.
Dunn records a number of vault burials inside the church with details of charges. Dunn used timber framing  for differing size arches to have a bricklayer form a brick vault. There could be no standard size arch as a lead coffin with an outside coffin could vary in size and each vault would therefore differ. In several accounts the person filling the grave was expected to be dressed in funeral attire during the service and is supplied with an appropriate colour co-ordinated hat band gloves cloak and favour.
In this folio there is also an undated page recording the duties of the sexton at Bromley responsible for cleaning  after opening and filling a vault in the church.
The earth at Bromley after turf and topsoil removal is heavy clay and involves heavy manual labour to dig to depth; depending on the height of the water table standing water may also be a problem. It appears that the floor of the parish church was partly flag stone but some references suggest that part may have been bare earth.
The choice of a lead coffin for the more affluent would suggest that some attempt to protect against water entry into the coffin.The lead coffin would be formed by plumbers laying lead over a wooden shell to which the lead would be nailed. I remain to be convinced that a lead coffin soldered after wards would in fact be water tight but in both Georgian and Regency tastes lead coffins were sought as the emerging transcript will record.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Doctor Thomas Ilott live births for Penge Common 1809-1815

I am grateful to London Metropolitan Archive for assistance in my efforts to try to match the records contained in the Folio C account of Thomas Ilott held at Bromley Archives reference 617/1 with possible parish entries.
Ilott records live births at Penge Common,Elmsend (now called Elmers End) and Monks Orchard. Each of these was situated in the area which formed a detached part of the Ancient Parish of Battersea Saint Mary. There is evidence in Battersea parish records of baptisms giving the abode of "the hamlet of Penge" but not for any of the entries in Ilott. Sydenham births are included in the Lewisham Saint Mary Bishops Trancripts and one birth at Sydenham was located in this way.
There was agreement that the nearest parish church for Penge Common was Beckenham and this is where most children were indeed baptised. However church fire at Beckenham and the fragile state of the fire and water damaged original poses a challenge for the researcher. I am currently working on a transcript using the Ilott dates of birth and surnames to fill in material now lost in the original to arrive at a transcript which matches chidren to parents.
Ilott records 10 children born at Elmsend of these the Beckenham parish register records baptism of six of these children.
There are 3 children of the same family at Monks Orchard recorded by Ilott one of whom is baptised at Beckenham.
There are 6 chidren baptised at Beckenham and only two who cannot be identified as baptised; a further child recorded by Ilott cannot be identified in the year of birth in the fire and water damaged Beckenham register for 1809 or subsequently.

Doctor Thomas Ilott live births in Lewisham parish 1809-1814

I am grateful to London Metropolitan Archives (and Lewisham Archives) for their assistance in identifying those of the Ilott live births contained in the surviving Lewisham Saint Mary Bishop's transcripts. For those seeking Lewisham baptisms  in the period from 1799-1821 the original parish registers were lost in the church fire of 1831 and the surviving Bishops Transcripts were the ony record to search for the years 1809-1814.
Fortunately the Ilott Folio C held at Bromley Archives reference 617/1 has now been transcribed for publication at Kent Online Parish clerks and I hope that my transcript will not only provide a record source for those baptised in Lewisham Ancient Parish but those children born at Southend and Rushey Green who were not baptised in either Bromley or Lewisham parishes.
Fortunately for those who are unable to visit London Metropolitan Archives readily to examine the Bishop's Transcripts LMA have published images of the two series online in partnership with Ancestry. Ancestry images can be viewed in different browsers and some parts of images may not be clear. I have found that by adjusting zoom I can generally overcome problems but it is also possible to run a basic viewer to reveal the whole image.
Ilott records a total of 28 children delivered to families at Southend and Rushey Green. Of that total 16 children are not recorded in the Bishops Transcripts of the parish. The dozen recorded baptisms have 5 children recorded at Rushey green the remainder at Southend.
The availability of an accurate date of birth and surname of a child in the medical ledger may assist those facing no apparent record of the child of identified parents.
The transcripts of the ledger is available in three parts due to the size of the ledger. The transcripts of the ledger are under other records on the Bromley parish page Kent Online Parish Clerks Household Accounts part 1 Kent Online Parish Clerks household accounts part 2 Kent Online Parish Clerks Household Accounts part 3 and are organised alphabetically.
© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2015

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Item:for bell tolling at Bromley 5 shillings

As I have transcribed the Dunn's funeral accounts from 1803 onwards the fee for tolling at the parish church remains consistent even when the burial is in another parish.
The Dunn family had two considerable advantages in conducting funerals as their business premises on the North side of Market square were large enough to stable hoarses and accommodate a hearse. When building work to the Dunn premises was carried out in the early years of the twentieth century a stone marked for John Dunn was dated 1710 and therefore the surviving funeral accounts from 1803 are those of a well established business in the town which had provided drapery and furniture for townsfolk and the large households of the district. As upholders the Dunns therefore had a clientele who were established customers and since William Dunn's appointment as Vestry Clerk in 1721 one of the family had served as parish clerk or churchwarden continuously. William died in 1801 as did John Dunn 1735-1801.John Dunn 1765-1817 and Edward Dunn 1774-1830  were engaged in the business covered in the early funeral account years. I will blog in future about the funeral customs observed at Bromley.
The tolling of bells at time of burial had been restored and if the 5 shilling fee seems considerable reflect on what was involved at Bromley.
The peal of 8 bells dated from 1773 when the Parish Vestry records paying Thomas Janaway to recast the 5 bells dated from the 16th century to form 8. For a funeral or burial the bell was not rung in the traditional way by pulling the rope and revolving the bell but the "teller" would involve leaving the bell stationary and moving to hit the required number of times.
To begin the bell would be tolled to indicate whether a child (three) woman (six) or man (nine) after a pause, then the age would be tolled often abbreviated into ten pause and number of years so that 69 years would be 6 pause then 9.
The fee charged would be shared between parish and lead ringer who would also be offered refreshments. Since the clergy at Bromley and clerk and sexton were attired for the funeral the ringers would occupy the tower.
The evidence of Dunn funeral accounts is that their services would be required on certain days more than once.
The Bromley tower was used regularly for celebratory peals as well as at many weddings. Presumably a similar fee would be expected.