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Parish Clerks and Sextons.

Parish Clerks  

Over time the role played by the Parish Clerk has changed today the Clerk acts as secretary to the PCC but at the foundation of  The London Guild of Parish Clerks in 1232, he was next in line to the incumbent. The duties were, reading the lessons and epistles, singing in the choir, giving out the hymns, leading the responses, serving at the altar and other like duties, opening of the church, ringing the bell, digging graves if there be no sexton. The clerks often wrote up the parish registers although this was illegal most all kept their own paper copy (some of these copies still remain and can prove helpful). They were often called on to witnessed marriages. The post was salaried and held for long periods often handed down through generations of the same family. As with the Charlett family in Yarnton, Oxfordshire with four generations and the BUSBY’s of North Aston with three generations identified as Parish Clerks.

Occasionally the payment took the form of accommodation. This can be seen in this quote from White’s Devonshire Directory of 1878 for Beaford.“The parish clerk has the free use of a house and six acres of land”. Beaford is the main Devon village where our DYMENT line originate.

This was not the case in North Aston, the Book “North Aston A Millennium” (p158) explains that Thomas Busby was a Gardener at the Hall and when he was 70 was given the responsibility for a large swing gate for which duty he was able to live rent free. Earlier (on page 149) in the same book, Thomas was said to be in charge of a hydraulic Ram used for pumping water to the estate. Thomas was the Parish Clerk until he was 75.

In 1603 Canon 91 stated concerning the appointment of Parish Clerk

"They should be at least 20 years old. Known to the parson as a man of honest conversation and sufficient for his reading, writing and competent skill in singing"  (from 1672 women were able to hold the post but as yet we have not found any within our family).

Parish Clerks were also often involved in the education of the children of the Parish. See Yarnton Parish Clerks and Kidlington Parish Clerks.

In St Giles in the Wood in Devon Rachel COCK nee LAKE [16178], wife of the parish Clerk Theophilus COCK, had been the mistress of a charity school founded by the Lord of the manor. There is a school house at the entrance to the Church yard but this was built in 1861 while Rachel was said to be mistress for 35 years when she died in 1831. Their weathered MI which can be seen on William Cooke’s site reads:

is interred the body of
wife of Theophilus Cock
35 years mistress of the Charity School
Establish in this Parish by the late
Denys Rolle Esq of Stevenstone

she was ______________ on the 19th
July ___________________ Years
In __________________________
_______________________ Christ
_____________________ disciple

Also the above
Clerk of this Parish 20 years who died
18th April 1835 Aged 64 Years.

The word of the clerk was often held with respect In Oxfordshire for example the testimony of  George COGGINS was used to settle a question of property ownership in his village

“I George COGGINS of Middleton Stoney in the County of Oxford Mason and Parish Clerk aged fifty five years or thereabouts do solemnly and sincerely declare that I have resided in the above named Parish of Middleton Stoney for fifty five years last past or thereabout.

That I well Know the property contracted to be sold by Mr W...” the declaration dated 21 Oct 1850  is held at the Oxford Record Office

Family Parish Clerks

Joseph ELLARD [992] in Hampton Poyle, Oxfordshire.  See Hampton Poyle Parish Clerks.

Jeremiah EDMONDS [6598] in Hampton Poyle, Oxfordshire.  See Hampton Poyle Parish Clerks.

John GILES [1044] Hampton Poyle, Oxfordshire.  See Hampton Poyle Parish Clerks.

William ELLARD [5136] in Willoughby, Warwickshire.  See Willoughby Parish Clerks.

Thomas CHARLETT [8712] in Yarnton, Oxfordshire. See Yarnton Parish Clerks.

Gabriel CHARLETT [6618] in Yarnton, Oxfordshire. See Yarnton Parish Clerks.

James CHARLETT [6617] in Yarnton, Oxfordshire. See Yarnton Parish Clerks.

George CHARLETT [8722] in Yarnton, Oxfordshire. See Yarnton Parish Clerks.

John RAND [16632] Kidlington, Oxfordshire See Kidlington Parish Clerks.

Charles PRATT [5252] in St Nicholas, Warwick, Warwickshire See Warwick Parish Clerks.

Thomas MORBY [9784] in St Mary Broughton, Oxfordshire 1837-1879
His burial record reads “May 9 1879 MORBY Thomas Parish Clerk since 1837  77 years” which implies he was still in office when he died and served for 42 years . He is described on the 1871 census as a 69 year old widower a road surveyor and Church clerk.

George COGGINS [11877] in Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire stated in a declaration dated 1850 that he was the parish clerk. On baptisms of his children and censuses he is recorded as a mason or stonemason.

William COGGINS [11903] in Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire the son of George was listed in a directory.
Dutton, Allen & Co’s directory & gazetteer of the counties of Oxon, Bucks... for 1863 for Middleton Stoney “COGGINS William stone mason and parish clerk”. (His brother James [11907] was the overseer of the poor in 1851)

Robert MORTIMER [11946] in Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire is listed in a directory:
Dutton, Allen & Co’s directory & gazetteer of the counties of Oxon, Bucks... for 1863 for Cuddesdon with Dento and Chippinghurst “MORTIMORE Robt parish clerk & sub- postmaster”

Charles MORTIMER [12040] in Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire, the son of Robert [11946] was a grocer and parish clerk.

Thomas SAYWELL [11958] in Great Milton, Oxfordshire is listed in a directory:
Dutton, Allen & Co’s directory & gazetteer of the counties of Oxon, Bucks... for 1863 for Great Milton, “Saywell Thomas, parish clerk and sexton

John HANCOCK [12949] in Dolton, Devon. He his listed in White’s directories for 1850 and 1878 as parish Clerk, In 1861 the census returns record him as parish clerk and ag. lab.

James COCK [16238] in St Giles in the Wood, Devon was a parish clerk from the memorial inscription of his death in 1760.

HERE Lieth ye
Body of James Cock
Clerk of this Parish who
Died March ye 14th 1760
Aged 63.

Theophilus COCK [16177] in St Giles in the Wood, Devon. He was the grandson of James COCK [16238] and husband of the School mistress of the Charity school. He was Parish Clerk for 20 years.

William COCK is listed in White’s Directory 1850 under St Giles in the Wood: COCK Wm School Mr. & Parish Clerk. Matthew COCK [16175] was schoolmaster on the 1851 census so should this entry be for Matthew rather than William? Matthew was the son of Theophilus COCK.

James BUSBY [17326] shown as Parish clerk of North Aston Oxfordshire on the 1851 and 1871 census returns.
An extract from the book “North Aston A Millennium” reads:

“Clerk James Busby sworn in for 50 years, missed only one Sunday (the one preceding his death). Squire Foster-Meliar had a memorial stone put up in his memory. There were two memorial stones... One brought by the family... At his memorial service the Church was packed, and Rev. Clifton (Vicar of North Aston) ended his sermon with the words ‘He will never cease my memory, and I shall e’re  regret his loss’. The book tells that on one occasion  he was snuffing out the candles with Tom Busby the vicar and the Squire’s wife were talking in the central aisle. Tom hesitated but James called out ”Put they lights out bowy, service is over”.

After James died in 1882 the next Clerk held office for ten years and he was followed by Thomas Busby. The book says this was James’s nephew but the most likely Thomas found was his grandson.

Thomas BUSBY [17336] was the illegitimate son of Mary Busby daughter of James and bought up by his Grandparents.
Thomas BUSBY served as Clerk for twenty years giving up when at 75 (1825) poor health prevented him continuing. He is also mentioned as Parish Clerk in the book “North Aston A Millenium”

James BUSBY [17743] son of Thomas also mentioned in the above book.

“North Aston A Millennium” A thousand Years of Rural life Edited by Marcus Potts and John Harvey


Before 1907 the Sexton was the Assistant to the parish clerk. He was  the keeper of the things required for divine service he looked after the vestments and the vessels, he also rang the calling bell, kept the church clean and was responsible for opening and closing the doors He had to take care of the  churchyard and dig the graves.  This position was often appointed by the church wardens it carried a salary as a fixed sum for each burial. Often the same person occupied the position as verger. We have not found any female family Sextons but an article in magazine “The Mirror” dated Saturday January 10 1846 clearly mentions one in Claines, Worcestershire.

“...I entered and introduced myself to the female sexton...”

 (Edward Marshall was born in Claines in 1850)

Family Sextons

Charles PRATT [5252] in St Nicholas, Warwick, Warwickshire. He was also the parish clerk. See Warwick Parish Clerks.

George Guy STANDLEY [5442] in St Nicholas, Warwick, Warwickshire. See Warwick Parish Clerks.

Thomas LOWE [8944] in St Barnabas, Worcester, Worcestershire, married Rosa Ann COLLEY née NORCOTT. He was a sexton and gardener in 1901.

Thomas SAYWELL [11958] in Great Milton, Oxfordshire. He was also the parish clerk and married Ann MORTIMER, the sister of Robert MORTIMER [11946] .

James SAYWELL [11959] in Great Milton, Oxfordshire. The son of Thomas.

Robert MORTIMER [11956] in Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire. The son of the parish clerk, Robert MORTIMER [11946], and brother of the parish clerk Charles MORTIMER [12035] .

Jeremiah SPERRIN [12688] in Hampton Poyle. See Hampton Poyle Parish Clerks.

George WATTS [2816] in Paulton, Somerset. In 1881 he was a labourer and sexton, previously he had been a coalminer.

See also

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