Since their introduction by Thomas Cromwell in 1538, parish registers have been used to record baptisms, marriages and burials across the country. They also provide a window on the past. In the case of this parish register, from the village of Eyam, it’s a window looking in on the outbreak of plague which killed 260 people in the village in the mid 1660s (D2602/A/PI/1/1). In this image, you can see how the names of the plague victims have been identified by a pointing finger.
Did you know that the “pointing finger” device for highlighting key information is the earliest form of index? In fact, that’s why the index in the back of a book is named after the forefinger. It’s also the root of the word “indicate”. Isn’t etymology wonderful?
This register is unusual for another reason – the earliest entries were copied into it from an original register, by Rev Joseph Hunt, Rector at Eyam between 1683 and 1709. What happened to the original? We may never know.
A published edition of the parish register from 1630 to 1700, edited by John G. Clifford and Francine Clifford, is available from the Derbyshire Record Society.
Has 2012 been a Good Year? There are still 39 days of it left, of course, but whatever happens between now and January, I doubt the news reaching Derbyshire can be quite as depressing as during 1665 and 1666. I spotted these entries in the general register for Pleasley parish recently:
It’s an entry from early 1665, and it reads like this: “A blazeing starr hath here appeared continueing its flames for abouts eight weekes past eastward inclining to the north; it did rise in the east and sett in the west…” What I like about this is the little doodle that accompanies the entry. It looks like an inkblot in the left-hand margin, but it isn’t: it’s the minister’s attempt at an illustration of a comet.
In common with many of his contemporaries, the cleric looks back on the arrival of the comet as a portent, in two subsequent notes. The first is from late 1665:
“In this yeare after the blazeing starr is the warr at sea with the Hollander and the greate Plague at London and many other places in this nation. In London in this yeare there dyed of the Plague above ninety thousands”
The second is from September 1666:
“Now is that famouse cyty of London destroyed by the great judgement fire; the warr with the Hollande continueth still”
I say “the cleric”, because the identity of the commentator is unclear – to me, at least. If you happen to be using the register (still available on microfilm at Local Studies) and spot a name or signature, let us know using the comment box at the bottom of this post. The Clergy of the Church of England Database (www.theclergydatabase.org.uk – ridiculously useful if you need that sort of thing) tells us that a John Legat was rector at Pleasley from 1662 to 1665 and that John Lilliman was appointed rector in 1667. The handwriting doesn’t change, before or after the 1666 interregnum, so I suppose a curate must have been maintaining the register.