Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section

Indexes to parish returns towards the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral, ca.1678:


Introductory note


In all around 3300 returns from parishes, townships, hamlets and other areas in England and Wales have survived amongst the records of St Paul's Cathedral, which are now held by the Manuscripts Section of Guildhall Library. The returns list the sums of money collected in each area and most record the names of those individuals who contributed, and in a number of instances those who did not contribute. There are also indications on a number of the returns of the status of the contributors, i.e. widow or servant, but there are relatively few lists giving occupational details. Most of the returns are on single or double sheets of paper, although a number of parishes re-used the printed brief (see below), while others replied in small account books.

The sums of money collected within each parish, and presumably the accompanying lists of contributors, were presented to the Chamber of London on behalf of St Paul's Cathedral by individual dioceses. From the survival of returns held at Guildhall Library it appears that the records were originally ordered by deanery or archdeaconry within each diocese. In the nineteenth century, however, the order of the surviving briefs at St Paul's Cathedral was confused and the returns were, inaccurately and incompletely, arranged in alphabetical order by parish. Following a generous grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Fund to Guildhall Library in 1992/3 and 1993/4, the returns have been repaired and bound into guarded files, and resorted into order by ancient county and then alphabetically by parish.

While evidence suggests that returns to the briefs were made from every diocese, there are a number of significant omissions in the surviving returns. There are very few returns for the Dioceses of Bath and Wells, Carlisle, Chichester, Durham, Norwich, Winchester and York and therefore the coverage of the counties of Somerset, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Sussex, Durham, Northumberland, Norfolk, Suffolk, Hampshire, Surrey and Yorkshire is necessarily limited. In addition the returns of the Diocese of Exeter entirely omit the Archdeaconry of Cornwall and the other peculiar parishes in the County of Cornwall; the Archdeaconry of Nottingham (and any other returns for Nottinghamshire) are lacking and the returns of the Diocese of Bristol for the County of Dorset are very limited. The surviving returns for Wales are mainly from the Diocese of St Asaph and there are very few returns for the dioceses of Bangor, Llandaff and St David's.

Arrangement of Records at Guildhall Library:

The majority of the returns for parishes and other areas in England are in the series Ms 25565/1-26 (usually 1 volume per county), while those for Wales are arranged by county within one single volume, Ms 25565/27. A number of returns for unidentified parishes are bound together in Ms 25565/28 (around 50 returns in all). The Manuscripts Section also has custody of a contemporary transcript of a number of returns from parishes in peculiars in Berkshire, Dorset, and Wiltshire (Ms 25568). In addition the Section also holds a volume of original printed briefs (Ms 25747), which were sent to individual parishes and returned as all, or part, of parish submissions. This volume was bound in the late nineteenth century.

References to parishes for which a printed brief has survived in Ms 25747 are included in the accompanying index compiled by Guildhall Library staff between 1994 and 1995, along with all the returns in Ms 25565/1-28 and Ms 25568. The briefs in Ms 25747 in some cases constitute the main returns of parishes, but were often used as wrappers for the main lists of subscribers. The index produced by Guildhall Library indicate where the wrapper and an original return have both survived for the same parish. In general, however, no attempt has been made to indicate the numbers of subscribers on each return, although in some cases no names other than those of the incumbent or churchwardens are listed.

The parish returns [Ms 25565/1-28, 25568 and 25747] are available on microfilm in the Manuscripts Section Reading Room. A self-service reader/printer is available to take copies from films.

Notes on the Compilation of the Index of Parishes:

  1. By modern place name. Place names including descriptions such as south. east, west, much, little, magna and parva etc. have been inverted (i.e. Benfleet, South)
  2. The place-name given on the brief where it or its spelling differs from the modern name, is shown in round brackets but is not incorporated into the alphabetical sequence. Round brackets have also been used to indicate the instances where an area has been wrongly designated on the return, as say a township, when it was in fact a chapelry.
  3. The contemporary status, e.g. hamlet, township &c of a place which formed part of a larger parish has been given where possible; these hamlets, townships &c have been incorporated into the index with a reference to the primary parish. Many of them now exist as parishes in their own right, others no longer appear in gazetteers etc. and have presumably, been absorbed into the primary parish.
  4. Two or more parishes occasionally appear on one return but it has not always been possible to establish the relationship between them. Each parish has been indexed and the names as written on the brief are given in brackets.

The following published sources were consulted when compiling this index:-

A Genealogical Gazetteer of England, compiled by Frank Smith (Baltimore, 1968)
The Survey Gazetteer of the British Isles
, (Bartholomew, Edinburgh, 1914 and later editions)
Topographical Dictionary of England
, (1831, 4v), ed Samuel Lewis

Relevant volumes of the Victoria County Histories
Relevant volumes of the English Place Name Society
Miscellaneous gazetteers, county histories etc. too numerous to list.
Alumni Oxonienses 1500-1714
, ed Joseph Foster (Liechtenstein, 1968)
Alumni Cantabrigienses 1216-1731
, compiled John and J.A. Venn (C.U.P. 1922-7)

In addition around twenty county record offices were consulted over the accepted forms of modern parish names where there were a number of variants in the sources listed above, and the Manuscripts Section would like to acknowledge the generous help it has received.

Arrangement of Ms 25565/1-28 (with indexes to surviving returns for each county)

File 1 Bedfordshire File 16 Lincolnshire
File 2 Berkshire File 17 Middlesex and Westminster
File 3 Buckinghamshire File 18 City of London
File 4 Cambridgeshire File 19 Northamptonshire
File 5 Cheshire Files 20-21 Oxfordshire
File 6 Derbyshire/Devon (Devon returns have been transcribed and are available here) File 22 Rutland, Shropshire
File 7 Devon/Dorset (Devon returns have been transcribed and are available here)   Somerset and Surrey
Files 8-9 Essex File 23 Staffordshire and Warwickshire
File 10 Gloucestershire and Bristol    
File 11 Hampshire and Herefordshire Files 24-25 Wiltshire
File 12 Hertfordshire and Huntingdonshire Files 26 Worcestershire and Yorkshire
File 13 Kent    
File 14 Lancashire File 27 Wales
File 15 Leicestershire File 28 Unidentified Parishes

NB Although access to the accompanying indexes is provided free of charge and the indexes will be available through a number of Internet sites, the information must not be stored or hosted on other internet sites, or otherwise distributed without the permission of the Keeper of Manuscripts, Guildhall Library.


Last updated November 2007

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