The Poor Law legislation of 1552 required every parish to have a strong chest, with three keys, in which to keep the alms for the poor. Earlier in the 16th century, it was mandatory that every parish had a locked parish chest for the safe keeping of the Parish Registers and other parish documents. These usually include the Churchwarden’s Accounts, Vestry Minutes, Poor Law Administration Records and other ecclesiastical and miscellaneous records.
These ‘parish chest’ documents can provide an insight into the day to day lives of the people who once lived in the parish.
Parish Chest in Great Ellingham Church. Note the three locks!
Great Ellingham Parish Chest
Great Ellingham’s parish chest would have once housed the ‘Town Book’. This is a record of the accounts of the churchwardens, the overseers, surveyors and constables, as well as the rates and the assignments of poor children.
Vestry Minute Book
The Chest would also have contained the Vestry Minutes Book. This was a record of the minutes of meetings held by the Vestry (.e. the churchwardens and the inhabitants conducting parish affairs). The minutes include the election of the churchwardens (and other parish officers) and the authorisation for the payment of bills.
I found the following extract in the Vestry Minutes:
The Churchwardens of Great Ellingham to John Roberts for Repairing the leads and windows at the Church
|1831, May 3rd||5lb of solder for mending breaches on south side||5:0|
|Half days work do||1:6|
|1832, June 16th||Repearing leads to the wind[ow]s||1:0|
|26 new quareys [quarries] of glass||5:5|
|1832, Aug 8th||7lb of solder for the roof of the Church||7:0|
|Half day of 2||3:0|
|1833, Febr 26||7 feet of glass new leaded||3:6|
|32 new quareys [quarries] of glass 6:8||6:8|
Although the details of John Robert’s account tells us that the repairs to the windows and to the roof of St James were carried out between 1831 and 1833, we do not know which windows were repaired. However, it is clear that soldering repair was carried out on the south side of the church.
Photograph showing the south side of St James’s Church, Great Ellingham
Theft of Lead from the Roof of St James
Unfortunately three years after John Roberts carried out the repairs, some 26 lbs of lead was stolen from the roof of St James. Samuel Spencer was given a term of six months’ imprisonment for the crime.
I believe the John Roberts who carried out the repair work to St James’s Church between 1831 and 1833 was plumber, glazier and painter, John Roberts of Hingham.
John Roberts died the year after he completed the work at St James. He was buried in the churchyard at the Parish Church of Hingham on the 28th April, 1834 aged 60.
He was survived by his wife, Mary (née Collins), sons William and Thomas, and his daughter Mary, the wife of John Oldfield.
More than one John Robert, Plumber Glazier & Painter?
Several signatures in and around St James’s Church reveal the identities of the various craftsmen who once worked on (or carried out repairs to) the church.
Although I am confident as to the identity of the ‘John Roberts’ who carried out the work to the windows and the roof of St James’s between 1831 and 1833, the signatures inscribed on panes of glass throws up a conundrum.
|Inscription of John Roberts Jnr Glazier||J Roberts Glazier & Painter of Hingham 1779||J Roberts Plumber Glazier & Painter of Hingham 1779|
Photographs courtesy of Steve Moore-Vale
‘J Roberts’, plumber, glazier and painter of Hingham, left his signature on at least two panes of glass in 1779. Unfortunately, ‘John Roberts’, glazier, did not put a date with his signature – or, it is there but hidden!
The ‘J Roberts’ who completed the work in 1779 cannot be the same person as ‘John Roberts’ plumber, glazier and painter of Hingham, undertook the work to St James’s Church in 1831-1833, as the latter was born c.1774.
However, I wonder whether the inscription left by ‘John Roberts’ (the left hand photograph) includes the abbreviation ‘Jnr’? If so, this would indicate that there was an older member of his family also named ‘John Roberts’? Unfortunately without a date, we do not know when the ‘John Roberts’, glazier, carried out his work.
Nevertheless, I hope that after leaving his signature on the panes of glass nearly 250 years ago, that ‘J Roberts’ would be delighted to know that his identity is being discussed!
Hingham Parish Registers. Norfolk Record Office. PD 575. Also available via https://www.familysearch.org
1834 Will. Roberts, John of Hingham. Norfolk Record Office. ANF will register 1831-1834 fo.634 (1834 no.40). Viewed via Norfolk Sources website. http://www.norfolksources.norfolk.gov.uk Accessed 13th October 2021
Great Ellingham Vestry Minutes, 1822-1839. Norfolk Record Office. PD 609/39. Also available via https://www.familysearch.org
Few, Janet. 2014. The Family Historian’s Enquire Within. Sixth Edition. The Family History Partnership, 57 Bury New Road, Ramsbotton, Bury, Lancs. BL0 0BZ. Pages 206 & 207
Pigot’s Directory of Norfolk 1830. Hingham. Viewed via Genuki website. https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/NFK/Hingham/Pigot1830 Accessed 13th October 2021
Many thanks to Steve Moore-Vale