Parochial Records: Introduction

Pages 405-409

Cardiff Records: Volume 3. Originally published by Cardiff Records Committee, Cardiff, 1901.

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Parochial Records.

EIGHT happy days were spent by the Archivist in Saint John's church, Cardiff, through the kindness of the then Vicar, the Rev. Canon Thompson, D.D. The result was an ample set of extracts from the various Parish Books, which are preserved in an iron safe in the thickness of the vestry wall.

The earliest date at which the registers of any parish might be expected to commence is 1535, but comparatively few churches are so fortunate as to possess registers of such antiquity. The Parish Registers of Saint John Baptist (Cardiff) begin only in 1669, and those of Roath not until 1731. All earlier volumes have long since been lost. Saint John's Churchwardens' Accounts commence in 1711, but until 1725 they are mixed up with the Overseers' and Corporation Accounts. All these records, in fact, are entered in a confused, irregular manner; which, nevertheless, it has seemed best to follow, as any attempt to re-arrange the entries in chronological order would have been met by insuperable difficulties.

In making these selections I have aimed, as in the case of other records, at extracting everything which possessed some definite value or interest of its own, whether historical, antiquarian, genealogical or simply curious. Among the subjects selected are county families, members of the Corporation, curious baptismal names, remarkable events, important parochial business, obsolete trades, "bits of old Cardiff," the fabric of the church and the churchyard. The points of interest occurring in these parochial records are so numerous, that many of them must be dealt with in footnotes; to which, accordingly, the reader is referred for explanation and comment on those points. Chronological lists of clergymen, churchwardens, sidesmen, parish clerks, sextons, &c., made from the parish books, will be found in our last volume.

Most of the entries in the Parish Registers are in the handwriting of successive Parish Clerks, but some have been made by Vicar or Curate. The portions written by the Clerks towards the close of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century are remarkable for the uncouthness of their orthography and the originality of their spelling.

As stated in immediate connection with the text, the Churchwardens' Accounts from 1711 to 1725 are entered in the earliest Town Book, or Vol. I. of Minutes of Council (which will be printed at a later stage of this work), mixed up with the accounts and other papers of the Corporation. It must be understood that at that time the parish business was largely managed by the Town Council. The Churchwardens' Accounts are peculiarly rich in curious local lore.

A ceaseless war of extermination was officially carried on against such small wild animals as still contrived to live in the parish. With the relentlessness of ignorance, the stoat, weasel, badger, and even the harmless hedgehog, were outlawed and pursued to the death, each with a price upon his devoted head.

The Sacrament was administered four times a year, at Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide and Michaelmas (see the Account of 1726), for which occasions the surplice was washed by the sexton's wife.

The fire-engine was an institution of which the parish was very proud; and the entries referring to it range from the year 1739 to 1818. It was kept in the church tower.

The tower of Saint John's is a magnificent specimen of the Perpendicular towers which are especially numerous in the West of England, but rare in Wales. It was largely repaired in 1810 (Vestry Book), and it is in the highest degree interesting to note how great a regard was shewn by the restorers for the architectural traditions of their parish church. At that date (when "gothick lumber" was held in universal contempt) the Cardiff churchwardens actually resolved that the "ornamental part of the tower," being ruinous, should be replaced "after the same order of architecture that it is now in." It detracts but little from the praiseworthiness of these local dilettanti that they replaced the decayed stone joists of the great west window by timber ones. The mere fact that in such a period of artistic darkness and degradation there should have been found in a Welsh county town men (and churchwardens!) capable of admiring the ancient ecclesiastical style, is both pleasing and surprising.

The Parish Registers and Vestry Books contain frequent and mysterious references (1673–1756) to a part of the church called "the Spikes," "Spicks," "Speeks," "Picks" or "Pikes." The fee for a burial "above the Spikes" was 6s. 8d., "below the Spikes" 3s. 4d. It is certain that the division between nave and chancel is meant, but why that division should have been called "the Spikes" is not apparent. The same word, pronounced "Speeks," was used, by old inhabitants, down to the middle of the 19th century.

The parochial muniments comprise many records of the assignment of pews or sittings in the church to various parishioners. It is an interesting point that, in some cases at least, the right to a certain pew went along with the ownership of a particular dwellinghouse in the parish. In 1813, shortly after the union of the two Cardiff parishes, a new gallery was erected for the accommodation of the inhabitants of Saint Mary's parish, and each of the new seats was allotted to a parishioner as owner of the freehold of a particular dwellinghouse. Indeed in three cases a seat was given to an iron company. It was, moreover, expressly declared that all the seats should remain attached to those premises to which they had been assigned.

In 1787 it was ordered that the Assistants' (i.e., Councillors') pew and the Churchwardens' pew should be fitted with locks and keys, to keep out intruders. In the following year, Lord Cardiff having signified his intention of making a new pew for the Churchwardens, it was resolved that the old one be given up to him.

It will be convenient at this stage to give the history of the Lord of Cardiff Castle's relations with Saint John's church. It would seem that, on the suppression of the chantries, the chapel at the east end of the north aisle came to be regarded as an appanage of the Herbert family. Certainly there is evidence that from the year 1609 down to 1732, the Herberts and their relatives were interred in its vaults. This can be seen on reference to our extracts from the Parish Registers. It will also be seen, from the Churchwardens' Accounts, that in the latter half of the 18th century Lord Cardiff was among those who paid an annual rent for seats in the church. We now learn from the Vestry Book that in 1788 the Churchwardens' seat was given up to Lord Cardiff for his private use. Indeed, during the first half of the present century he was in the occupation of what had been the special seats, not only of the Churchwardens, but also of the Bailiffs and the Aldermen—namely of the entire eastern moiety of the south aisle, by the present Vestry door (except the Vicar's pew at the east end). That portion of the south aisle had some time previously been enclosed within a screen of oak, taken from the ancient rood-screen. Some sixty years ago the two windows of this part of the church were enriched with stained glass of the Crichton Stuart armorial bearings, which still remains there. Lord Bute paid five guineas a year to the Corporation for these sittings. In the meantime the Herbert Chapel had come into the possession of Sir Robert LynchBlosse of Gabalfa. Some years after the Aldermen's Aisle had been converted into a Stuart Aisle, namely in 1852, the representatives of the second Marquess of Bute purchased for £100, from the Dean of Llandaff, son of Sir Robert Lynch-Blosse, the freehold of the Herbert Chapel, and relinquished "Aldermen's Aisle" to the Corporation. The heraldic insignia of the Crichton Stuarts were then emblazoned on the windows of the Herbert Chapel, and the parclose screen was transferred to its present position. Lord Bute keeps one key of the Herbert Chapel, and the Sexton another. The chapel is supposed to remain locked upon all days save Sundays. Some years ago the Vicar, Canon Thompson, thoroughly investigated the question of the Herbert Chapel, with a view to ascertain the respective claims of the parish and the Marquess of Bute thereto.

For information as to the Herbert Chapel the reader is referred to the short monograph which I have prefixed to Chapter XI. of the present Volume.

With reference to the "curfew" or evening bell, as to which there are several entries in the Vestry Books, it may be well to note that the "eight o'clock bell" is still rung for a quarter of an hour every evening. The 7th bell is the one now rung. When it stops, the day of the month is tolled on the 4th bell. The "passing bell" is also still rung, when notice of a death is given to the Sexton. The tenor bell is the one employed for this purpose. The knell is tolled in triple sounds for a man, double sounds for a woman. (fn. 1) At the same time a mourning card, affixed near the west door of the tower, shews the name and late residence of the deceased person for whom the knell is tolling.


  • 1. From information supplied to the Archivist by Mr. Cook, the late Sexton, in 1895.