The early parish registers of Farnborough, Kent.

In 1996 my son Matthew and I made a new, complete transcript of the "paper register" of Farnborough, which was subsequently included in the extensive series of parish register transcripts published by the North West Kent Family History Society. At that time the only photographic images of the original register were those on the microfilms made for the Mormons' Family History Library many years ago (later indexed and included in the IGI, now on Recently, however, again on the initiative of the NWKFHS and with the co-operation of Philip Lane, photographs of a very high quality have been taken of this register, and of the parish registers of the mother church of St. Martin, Chelsfield, where the Farnborough register is still kept.

Our transcript was made before we had the advantage of a computer and ideally I would like to retype all of it. I am still hoping that this may be possible, but meanwhile I have had some further thoughts about the troubled history of the original document, which has seen yet another strange twist. I have accordingly written this slightly extended introduction.

1 - the history of the "paper register".

In the Diocese of Rochester only twelve of the 117 ancient parishes have registers commencing before 1558. Farnborough, which was a chapelry of Chelsfield until 1876, is one such, and it has the rare distinction of retaining both "paper" and "parchment" registers, duplicating the years 1558-1624, with the "paper" register alone having entries covering both earlier and later periods.

To explain the terms "paper" and "parchment" registers I will quote from the Rev. W. E. Buckland's excellent introduction to "Parish Registers and Records in the Diocese of Rochester" (Kent Archaeological Society record series, 1912). After outlining the origins of parish registers in the Injunctions of Thomas Cromwell in 1538, he writes that -

"The original registers were paper books, deemed perishable and unsuitable for permanent records, and in some cases it is probable that the entries were made on loose sheets of paper. So in 1597 a Constitution was made by the Convocation of Canterbury ordering parchment registers to be provided, the old paper registers to be transcribed therein, and duplicates to be sent to the Bishops' registries. This Constitution was embodied in the Canon 70 of 1603, thus: In every Parish Church and Chapel within this realm, shall be provided one parchment book at the charge of the parish, wherein shall be written the day and year of every Christening, Wedding and Burial, which have been in that parish since the time that the law was first made in that behalf, so far as the ancient books thereof can be procured, but especially since the beginning of the reign of the late Queen."

It appears that skilled writing clerks were employed in the larger parishes to transcribe the paper books into books of parchment, and that in the smaller parishes the transcription was done by the clergy, who often recorded the fact in the transcript…. As a rule the transcripts were well written, but the transcribers generally welcomed the limit of the first year of Elizabeth as a maximum instead of a minimum, and omitted all entries prior to 1558, ignored all entries except baptisms, marriages and burials and then destroyed the original paper books. The continuance of one handwriting for many years at the beginning of a parchment register is evidence of transcription from an earlier paper book, and in many cases the transcripts were evidently made long after 1603."

In the informative introduction to his transcript of the registers of Chelsfield from 1558 to 1812, Sir Thomas Colyer-Fergusson comments " the first part is in one hand (1558-1600) and is excellently written…" A comparison of the parchment register of Farnborough with that of Chelsfield shows, I believe, that at that period they are in the same clear hand. The most likely person to have copied the paper registers of both parishes onto parchment is the Rev. George Smith, Rector of Chelsfield and Farnborough from 1576 until his death in 1626.

When Farnborough became a separate ecclesiastical parish in 1876, its paper register was retained in the parish chest at Chelsfield, and understandably so since it has a note on the cover reading -
Chelsfield Register 1539 (sic)
in K Henry the 8th. time
to: 1751 ) 213
1538 ) years
an account of marriages
Christenings and buryalls to the
year 1646
1538 about 128 (sic) years

These scribblings bear a distinct resemblance to notes endorsed on the original will of George Petty, dated 1635, in a bundle of Petty family papers at the Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone (reference U36/T598-604) which read -

26 December 1749
1625 124 since the date of this will to 1749

The Rev. Michael Petty who had been Rector of Chelsfield and Farnborough since 1692, was buried at Chelsfield on 28 June 1751, aged 84. I feel it is very likely that the notes written on the cover of the paper register were made by the same member of the Petty family, in the latter case perhaps when tidying Michael Petty's study after his long and somewhat somnolent incumbency. The scribbler may well have been John Petty of Chelsfield, Michael's brother, who was one of his Executors and had I believe lived with him in the Rectory; but further than that one cannot speculate. Whoever the scribbler may have been, he had a considerable effect, because his apparently authoritative statement written on the paper register has been the cause of confusion about the document, and even some reluctance to accept that it does refer to Farnborough and not to Chelsfield.

Only since considering reissuing our transcript in a new form has it occurred to me that the original cause of this confusion lies in the fact that in taking his information from the heading to the paper register, the scribbler failed to notice the vital reference to Farnborough. The heading in the original register reads:
"Matrimonia, Baptismata, et Sepulturae in Farbro Tempore Regis Henrici. 8 incoat 30 Ao. Eis Regni & Ao. Dni. 1538 " - that is "Marriages, baptisms and burials in Farnborough in the time of King Henry VIII beginning in the 30th. Year of his reign A.D.1538." If only the scribbler had noticed the reference to Farnborough none of the subsequent confusion need have arisen.

Another, more bizarre twist in the story has arisen in the current official Guide and History of Farnborough church, which also appears on their website. The author correctly quotes the Latin heading to the register and then, in a reference to the introduction of parish registers, writes - "The second line states that it was the 80th. Order issued in the 30th. Year of the reign of King Henry the VIII in the year of Our Lord 1538." Comment on this extraordinary travesty would be superfluous.

The Rev. Canon F.H. Murray, Rector of Chislehurst and Rural Dean of West Dartford, reported after a visit to Chelsfield in July 1891 that "Parish Registers start in 1558 - one belonging to Farnborough, with which Chelsfield was combined, date 1538 - The authorities of Farnborough should apply for the restoration of this" (see reference VC/ID/IC/15 in Canterbury Cathedral Library). The Rev. W.E. Buckland, in the work already quoted, wrote that "there seems no reason why Farnborough should not recover its missing Registers from Chelsfield or any other Church in the neighbourhood that has anything" - but nothing happened as a result of either of these comments. Again, in 1951 I proposed to the then Rector and PCC of St. Martin's, Chelsfield, that it would be a suitable gesture to mark the Festival of Britain to return the paper register to its proper parish. This offer is recorded in Farnborough PCC minutes but, again, nothing came of it.

The paper register remains at Chelsfield and continues to be the innocent cause of confusion to local and family historians. This has been greatly compounded in more recent years because, when Chelsfield registers were filmed by the Mormons, the Farnborough paper register was filmed at the same time, and promptly listed as relating to Chelsfield too.

Even worse perhaps is the fact that the current edition of the IGI, to be found on the Mormon Family Search site, lists all the entries from the paper register as relating to Chelsfield. A spot check has shown that identical or nearly identical entries appear side by side in the IGI, one (evidently taken from the printed transcript, which had been included in an earlier version of the IGI) being correctly shown as from Farnborough, the other being attributed to Chelsfield.

To sum up, it must be stressed that item 5 on microfilm reel number 1042458 is a film of the registers of Farnborough, not Chelsfield. All of the entries on the current IGI before 1558 in fact come from Farnborough; all entries from 1558 to 1652 which are attributed to Chelsfield should be viewed with suspicion, since many in fact come from Farnborough.

When preparing this transcript in 1994 I drew these errors to the attention of the Mormon body responsible for regulating the IGI, in the hope that they would be corrected. Unfortunately I had no response at all, which is frustrating, but I propose to try again once this new edition with photographed images of the original has been published, and I can only hope that I shall have more success. I know it can be difficult to correct mistakes once they have crept into the system and have been given an apparent stamp of approval, but this is a major error and is extremely misleading.

2. The reason for the new transcript.

In 1903 Lt. Col. Henry Wilson of Farnborough Lodge transcribed for publication those parish registers of Farnborough which were in the Vestry there, up 1o 1812. In the preface to his book he describes the three volumes he had initially transcribed, the earliest of which contained entries from 1558 to 1747, with a gap from 1624 to 1660, and lacking burials from 1678. He adds "after the above were printed and indexed, I found at the mother Church of Chelsfield the Farnborough registers from 1538 to 1557, and much of the interval between 1624 and 1660, though the latter part was imperfect" - a somewhat misleading statement since it implies that there is nothing in the paper register between 1558 and 1623. The 1986 NADFAS report on Farnborough church unfortunately assumed that this was the case. Despite the paper register having been seen by one of their Recorders, the report gave further currency to the idea that it covers only 1538 to 1557 and 1624 to 1652.

I can sympathise with Col. Wilson's feelings at having discovered the paper register so late in the day. In the event he decided to transcribe the entries from 1538 to 1557, and from 1624 onwards, printing these as an appendix, which was not a very satisfactory compromise, but one prompted by the urgency of the situation.

Wilson's book is a very rare volume; the Society of Genealogists have a photocopy (which they kindly allowed me in turn to photocopy) and it is also at the Bromley Local Studies Library and the Kent History and Library Centre. The transcript, which is a literal one, has some errors in the period in question, particularly in the supplementary appendix which no doubt had to be transcribed rather quickly. However, I intend no criticism of Col. Wilson, for whom indeed I have great respect. He was among the pioneers in this difficult field, and anyone who has tried his or her hand at such work will very soon realise just how hard it is to be accurate and consistent.

In the paper register, baptisms are recorded from 1546 to 1645, with one entry in 1652; marriages from 1540 to 1645: burials from 1538 to 1646, with one entry in 1652. The register in general is well kept until about 1630, after which it becomes scrappy and untidy, with no entries at all being recorded for some years. There is a gap between September 1605 and February 1607 where a page is missing.

The register is in English from its commencement until the end of 1545, then in Latin from 1546 to the end of 1558. From 1559 to 10 April 1608 entries are in English, then until 8 May 1631 in Latin, thereafter in English… It has a cover made from a reused 17th. century parchment deed, which appears to be the lease of a messuage, barn and orchard from William Wakelen to Thomas Wakelen. This is folded on itself and so is partly unreadable, but it would be imprudent to try to unfold it.

The parchment register is in English from the first entry (6 May 1558) to the end of 1616, then in Latin until the last entry, dated 25 April 1624.

Comparison between the paper and parchment registers shows that the former often contains additional information, most apparent in the baptisms where the names of the Sureties (Godparents) are given in both from 1575. In the parchment register, this practice ceases in 1606, but it continues in the paper register until 1631. Thus from 1607 to the entry dated 9 April 1624 this valuable information is missing from the printed transcript; some 260 names of Sureties, previously unrecorded, now appear in transcribed form for the first time. Other details which have been recovered include ages in some of the burial entries, and interlined entries referring to other parishes.

Initially, I had intended to transcribe only the paper register, but I soon concluded that it would be a pity not to incorporate in one transcript every scrap of information to be found in both registers. Accordingly, after the paper register transcript had been finished, I compared it to the parchment register in the years where they overlap, using the latter to fill in the gap in 1605 /7 and noting a few entries which appeared in the parchment and not in the paper register, as well as any significant variants and additional information.

Fortunately, the microfilm copies of both registers are of reasonable quality, and my son Matthew and I worked on printouts of these. My wife Brenda, also an experienced record searcher, joined us in visiting Chelsfield vestry to check difficult entries in the original paper register. Generally we found that those entries which are faint or illegible in the microfilm are no better in the original, although we did recover some passages.

3. Method of transcription.

As noted above, Col. Wilson's transcript is a literal one. He was working at a time when all of the small number of people who were interested in local and family history would be familiar with Latin. In making what is designed as a transcript for today's vastly wider audience I have felt that it is necessary to translate as well as to transcribe. I realise very well that this can pose problems, but great care has been taken, and I have been fortunate in having been able to draw on expert advice. To avoid errors, the original Latin is given in any doubtful cases. Illogically, I fear, I have retained the expressive phrase "ut putatur" (meaning "as it is supposed") where it appears.

Some seventy years' experience of using parish registers has left its mark, and I hold firm views on the format of transcripts. Baptisms, marriages and burials have been separated, and there are sections for interlined entries, and for details of the names of clergy and parish officers given in both registers.

Many surnames are given in contracted form in the originals and these have been expanded, for example:
Coop' - Cooper: Wakele' - Wakelen: Willms - Williams.
In the originals, surnames are repeated in many baptismal entries, and sometimes in such cases the spelling varies between them. Where this occurs, I have put the variant in round brackets.

Christian names also are often contracted in the originals, and here again I have expanded them, and if necessary translated the Latinised version into the English form, for example:
Em' - Emma: Guliemus - William: Johes - John.
Minor variants in the spelling of Christian names between the two registers have not been noted (for example, Katherine/Catherine).

Additional or varying information found in the parchment and not the paper register is shown in square brackets, for example: Thomas Miller [son of Davy Miller], Plague.

Baptisms, Sureties' names, marriages and burials are indexed separately under surname and Christian name. In passing, nothing will persuade me to use the now modish expressions "forename" or "given name" in place of the traditional English "Christian name" - these are, after all, the records of a Christian community.

4. Acknowledgements.

The photograph of the picture of Farnborough church, drawn by H. A. Petrie FSA in c1800, is the copyright of the Kent Archaeological Society. I am grateful to the Society for giving me permission to reproduce it.

I have to record my grateful thanks to the late Canon Leslie Virgo, Rector of Chelsfield when we were working on the transcript, for his kind permission to examine the paper register, and to Mrs. Ann Blatcher, Archivist at Chelsfield church, for her co-operation in making it available. Miss Elizabeth Silverthorne, then the Archivist at Bromley Local Studies Library, was as always very helpful on my visits there.

My wife Brenda assisted a great deal, not least in the tiresome process of checking. Our son Matthew spent much time in going through my initial work, and the final form owes as much to him as to me.

Last but by no means least, Miss Anne Oakley, then Senior Research Assistant at Christ Church Cathedral Library, Canterbury, but now retired, very kindly elucidated a number of Latin entries which had puzzled us. She also read through the transcript and offered helpful advice.

I make no apology for the length of this introduction, in which I have tried to clarify a very confusing situation. Any mistakes in the transcript remain entirely my own responsibility.

Geoffrey Copus
17 Oakdale Road
Tunbridge Wells
Kent TN4 8DS

Foreword originally written in June 1996, revised in August 2015.