Part 2 out of 6
small pupil paused at such a name as Nebuchadnezzar, "That's a bad word,
child! go on to the next verse."
Of the mistakes in the clerk's reading of the Psalms there are many
instances. David Diggs, the hero of J. Hewett's _Parish Clerk_, was
remonstrated with for reading the proper names in Psalm lxxxiii. 6,
"Odommities, Osmallities, and Mobbities," and replied: "Yes, no doubt,
but that's noigh enow. Seatown folk understand oi very well."
He is also reported to have said, "Jeball, Amon, and Almanac, three
Philistines with them that are tired." The vicar endeavoured to teach
him the correct mode of pronunciation of difficult words, and for some
weeks he read well, and then returned to his former method of making a
shot at the proper names.
On being expostulated with he coolly replied:
"One on us must read better than t'other, or there wouldn't be no
difference 'twixt parson and clerk; so I gives in to you. Besides, this
sort of reading as you taught me would not do here. The p'rishioners
told oi, if oi didn't gi' in and read in th' old style loike, as they
wouldn't come to hear oi, so oi dropped it!"
An old clerk at Hartlepool, who had been a sailor, used to render Psalm
civ. 26, as "There go the ships and there is that lieutenant whom Thou
hast made to take his pastime therein."
"Leviathan" has been responsible for many errors. A shoemaker clerk used
to call it "that great leather-thing." From various sources comes to me
the story, to which I have already referred, of the transformation of
"an alien to my mother's children" into "a lion to my mother's
A clerk at Bletchley always called caterpillars _saterpillars_, and in
Psalm lxviii. never read JAH, but spelt it J-A-H. He used to summon the
children from their places to stand in single file along the pews during
three Sundays in Lent, and say, "Children, say your catechayse."
Catechising during the service seems to have been not uncommon. The
clerk at Milverton used to summon the children, calling out, "Children,
catechise, pray draw near."
The clerk at Sidbury used to read, "Better than a bullock that has horns
_enough_"; his name was Timothy Karslake, commonly called "Tim," and
when he made a mistake in the responses some one in the church would
call out, "You be wrong, Tim."
Sometimes a little emphasis on the wrong word was used to express the
feelings engendered by private piques and quarrels. There were in one
parish some differences between the parson and the clerk, who showed his
independence and proud spirit when he read the verse of the Psalm, "If I
_be_ hungry, I will not tell _thee_," casting a rather scornful glance
at the parson.
Another specimen of his class used to read "Ananias, Azarias, and
Mizzle," and one who was reading a lesson in church (Isaiah liv. 12),
"And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles,"
rendered the verse, "Thy window of a gate, and thy gates of
Another clerk who was "not much of a scholard" used to allow no
difficulty to check his fluency. If the right word did not fall to his
hand he made shift with another of somewhat similar sound, the result
frequently taxing to the uttermost the self-control of the better
educated among his hearers. He was ill-mated to a shrewish wife, and one
was sensible of a thrill of sympathy when, without a thought of
irreverence, and in all simplicity, he rolled out, instead of "Woe is
me, that I am constrained to dwell with Mesech!" "Woe is me, that I am
constrained to dwell with _Missis_!"
Old age at length puts an end to the power of the most stalwart clerks.
That must have been a very pathetic scene in the church at East Barnet
which few of those present could have witnessed without emotion. The
clerk was a man of advanced age. He always conducted the singing, which
must have been somewhat monotonous, as the 95th and the 100th Psalm (Old
Version) were invariably sung. On one occasion, after several vain
attempts to begin the accustomed melody, the poor old man exclaimed,
"Well, my friends, it's no use. I'm too old. I can't sing any more."
[Illustration: OLD BECKENHAM CHURCH]
It was a bitter day for the old clerks when harmoniums and organs came
into fashion, and the old orchestras conducted by them were abandoned.
Dethroned monarchs could not feel more distressed.
The period of the decline and fall of the status of the old parish
clerks was that of the Commonwealth, from 1640 to 1660. During the
spacious days of Elizabeth and the early Stuarts they were considered
most important officials. In pre-Reformation times the incumbents used
to receive assistance from the chantry priests who were required to help
the parson when not engaged in their particular duties. After the
suppression of the chantries they continued their good offices and acted
as assistant curates. But the race soon died out. Then lecturers and
special preachers were frequently appointed by corporations or rich
private individuals. But these lecturers and preachers were a somewhat
independent race who were not very loyal to the parsons and impatient of
episcopal control, and proved themselves rather a hindrance than a help.
In North Devon and doubtless in many other places the experiment was
tried of making use of the parish clerks and raising them to the
diaconate. Such a clerk so raised to major orders was Robert Langdon
(1584-1625), of Barnstaple, to whose history I shall have occasion to
refer again. His successor, Anthony Baker, was also a clerk-deacon. The
parish clerk then attained the zenith of his power, dignity, and
[Footnote 39: _The Parish Clerks of Barnstaple_, 1500-1900, by Rev. J.F.
Chanter (Transactions of the Devonshire Association).]
After the disastrous period of the Commonwealth rule he emerges shorn
of his learning, his rank, and status. His name remained; his office was
recognised by legal enactments and ecclesiastical usage; but in most
parishes he was chosen on account of his poverty rather than for his
fitness for the post. So long as the church rates remained he received
his salary, but when these were abolished it was found difficult in many
parishes to provide the funds. Hence as the old race died out, the
office was allowed to lapse, and the old clerk's place knows him no
more. Possibly it may be the delectable task of some future historian to
record the complete revival of the office, which would prove under
proper conditions an immense advantage to the Church and a valuable
assistance to the parochial clergy.
THE CLERK IN LITERATURE
The parish clerk is so notable a character in our ecclesiastical and
social life, that he has not escaped the attention of many of our great
writers and poets. Some of them have with gentle satire touched upon his
idiosyncrasies and peculiarities; others have recorded his many virtues,
his zeal and faithfulness. Shakespeare alludes to him in his play of
_Richard II_, in the fourth act, when he makes the monarch face his
rebellious nobles, reproaching them for their faithlessness, and saying:
"God save the King! will no man say Amen?
Am I both priest and clerk? Well then, Amen.
God save the King! although I be not he;
And yet, Amen, if Heaven do think him me."
An old ballad, _King Cophetua and the Beggar-Maid_, contains an
interesting allusion to the parish clerk, and shows the truth of that
which has already been pointed out, viz. that the office of clerk was
often considered to be a step to higher preferment in the Church. The
lines of the old ballad run as follows:
"The proverb old is come to passe,
The priest when he begins his masse
Forgets that ever clarke he was;
He knoweth not his estate."
Christopher Harvey, the friend and imitator of George Herbert, has some
homely lines on the duties of clerk and sexton in his poem _The
Synagogue_. Of the clerk he wrote:
"The Churches Bible-clerk attends
Her utensils, and ends
Her prayers with Amen,
Tunes Psalms, and to her Sacraments
Brings in the Elements,
And takes them out again;
Is humble minded and industrious handed,
Doth nothing of himself, but as commanded."
Of the sexton he wrote:
"The Churches key-keeper opens the door,
And shuts it, sweeps the floor,
Rings bells, digs graves, and fills them up again;
All emblems unto men,
Openly owning Christianity
To mark and learn many good lessons by."
In that delightful sketch of old-time manners and quaint humour, _Sir
Roger de Coverley_, the editor of _The Spectator_ gave a life-like
representation of the old-fashioned service. Nor is the clerk forgotten.
They tell us that "Sir Roger has likewise added five pounds a year to
the clerk's place; and that he may encourage the young fellows to make
themselves perfect in the Church services, has promised, upon the death
of the present incumbent, who is very old, to bestow it according to
merit." The details of the exquisite picture of a rural Sunday were
probably taken from the church of Milston on the Wiltshire downs where
Addison's father was incumbent, and where the author was born in 1672.
Doubtless the recollections of his early home enabled Joseph Addison to
draw such an accurate picture of the ecclesiastical customs of his
youth. The deference shown by the members of the congregation who did
not presume to stir till Sir Roger had left the building was practised
in much more recent times, and instances will be given of the
observance of this custom within living memory.
Two other references to parish clerks I find in _The Spectator_ which
are worthy of quotation:
"_Spectator_, No. 372.
"In three or four taverns I have, at different times, taken
notice of a precise set of people with grave countenances,
short wigs, black cloaths, or dark camblet trimmed black,
with mourning gloves and hat-bands, who went on certain days
at each tavern successively, and keep a sort of moving club.
Having often met with their faces, and observed a certain
shrinking way in their dropping in one after another, I had
the unique curiosity to inquire into their characters, being
the rather moved to it by their agreeing in the singularity
of their dress; and I find upon due examination they are a
knot of parish clerks, who have taken a fancy to one another,
and perhaps settle the bills of mortality over their half
pints. I have so great a value and veneration for any who
have but even an assenting _Amen_ in the service of religion,
that I am afraid but these persons should incur some scandal
by this practice; and would therefore have them, without
raillery, advise to send the florence and pullets home to
their own homes, and not to pretend to live as well as the
overseers of the poor.
"_Spectator_, No. 338.
"A great many of our church-musicians being related to the
theatre, have in imitation of their epilogues introduced in
their favourite voluntaries a sort of music quite foreign to
the design of church services, to the great prejudice of
well-disposed people. These fingering gentlemen should be
informed that they ought to suit their airs to the place and
business; and that the musician is obliged to keep to the
text as much as the preacher. For want of this, I have found
by experience a great deal of mischief; for when the preacher
has often, with great piety and art enough, handled his
subject, and the judicious clerk has with utmost diligence
called out two staves proper to the discourse, and I have
found in myself and in the rest of the pew good thoughts and
dispositions, they have been all in a moment dissipated by a
merry jig from the organ loft."
Dr. Johnson's definition of a parish clerk in his Dictionary does not
convey the whole truth about him and his historic office. He is defined
as "the layman who reads the responses to the congregation in church, to
direct the rest." The great lexicographer had, however, a high
estimation of this official. Boswell tells us that on one occasion "the
Rev. Mr. Palmer, Fellow of Queens' College, Cambridge, dined with us. He
expressed a wish that a better provision were made for parish clerks.
Johnson: 'Yes, sir, a parish clerk should be a man who is able to make a
will or write a letter for anybody in the parish.'" I am afraid that a
vast number of our good clerks would have been sore puzzled to perform
the first task, and the caligraphy of the letter would in many cases
have been curious.
That careful delineator of rural manners as they existed at the end of
the eighteenth century, George Crabbe, devotes a whole poem to the
parish clerk in his nineteenth letter of _The Borough_. He tells of the
fortunes of Jachin, the clerk, a grave and austere man, fully orthodox,
a Pharisee of the Pharisees, and detecter and opposer of the wiles of
Satan. Here is his picture:
"With our late vicar, and his age the same,
His clerk, bright Jachin, to his office came;
The like slow speech was his, the like tall slender frame:
But Jachin was the gravest man on ground,
And heard his master's jokes with look profound;
For worldly wealth this man of letters sigh'd,
And had a sprinkling of the spirit's pride:
But he was sober, chaste, devout, and just,
One whom his neighbours could believe and trust:
Of none suspected, neither man nor maid
By him were wronged, or were of him afraid.
There was indeed a frown, a trick of state
In Jachin: formal was his air and gait:
But if he seemed more solemn and less kind
Than some light man to light affairs confined,
Still 'twas allow'd that he should so behave
As in high seat, and be severely grave."
The arch-tempter tries in vain to seduce him from the right path. "The
house where swings the tempting sign," the smiles of damsels, have no
power over him. He "shuns a flowing bowl and rosy lip," but he is not
invulnerable after all. Want and avarice take possession of his soul. He
begins to take by stealth the money collected in church, putting bran in
his pockets so that the coin shall not jingle. He offends with terror,
repeats his offence, grows familiar with crime, and is at last detected
by a "stern stout churl, an angry overseer." Disgrace, ruin, death soon
follow; shunned and despised by all, he "turns to the wall and silently
expired." A woeful story truly, the results of spiritual pride and greed
of gain! It is to be hoped that few clerks resembled poor lost Jachin.
A companion picture to the disgraced clerk is that of "the noble peasant
Isaac Ashford," who won from Crabbe's pen a gracious panegyric. He
says of him:
"Noble he was, contemning all things mean,
His truth unquestioned, and his soul serene.
* * * * *
If pride were his, 'twas not their vulgar pride,
Who, in their base contempt, the great deride:
Nor pride in learning--though by Clerk agreed,
If fate should call him, Ashford might succeed."
[Footnote 40: _The Parish Register_, Part III.]
He paints yet another portrait, that of old Dibble, clerk and
"His eightieth year he reach'd still undecayed,
And rectors five to one close vault conveyed.
* * * * *
His masters lost, he'd oft in turn deplore,
And kindly add,--'Heaven grant I lose no more!'
Yet while he spake, a sly and pleasant glance
Appear'd at variance with his complaisance:
For as he told their fate and varying worth,
He archly looked--'I yet may bear thee forth.'"
[Footnote 41: _The Parish Register_, Part III.]
George Herbert, the saintly Christian poet, who sang on earth such hymns
and anthems as the angels sing in heaven, was no friend of the
old-fashioned duet between the minister and clerk in the conduct of
divine service. He would have no "talking, or sleeping, or gazing, or
leaning, or half-kneeling, or any undutiful behaviour in them."
Moreover, "everyone, man and child, should answer aloud both Amen and
all other answers which are on the clerk's and people's part to answer,
which answers also are to be done not in a huddling or slubbering
fashion, gaping, or scratching the head, or spitting even in the midst
of their answer, but gently and pausably, thinking what they say, so
that while they answer 'As it was in the beginning, etc.,' they meditate
as they speak, that God hath ever had his people that have glorified
Him as well as now, and that He shall have so for ever. And the like in
Cowper's kindliness of heart is abundantly evinced by his treatment of a
parish clerk, one John Cox, the official of the parish of All Saints,
Northampton. The poet was living in the little Buckinghamshire village
of Weston Underwood, having left Olney when mouldering walls and a
tottering house warned him to depart. He was recovering from his dread
malady, and beginning to feel the pleasures and inconveniences of
authorship and fame. The most amusing proof of his celebrity and his
good nature is thus related to Lady Hesketh:
"On Monday morning last, Sam brought me word that there was a man in the
kitchen who desired to speak with me. I ordered him in. A plain, decent,
elderly figure made its appearance, and being desired to sit spoke as
follows: 'Sir, I am clerk of the parish of All Saints in Northampton,
brother of Mr. Cox the upholsterer. It is customary for the person in my
office to annex to a bill of mortality, which he publishes at Christmas,
a copy of verses. You will do me a great favour, sir, if you will
furnish me with one.' To this I replied: 'Mr. Cox, you have several men
of genius in your town, why have you not applied to some of them? There
is a namesake of yours in particular, Cox, the Statuary, who, everybody
knows, is a first-rate maker of verses. He surely is the man of all the
world for your purpose.' 'Alas, sir, I have heretofore borrowed help
from him, but he is a gentleman of so much reading that the people of
our town cannot understand him.'
"I confess to you, my dear, I felt all the force of the compliment
implied in this speech, and was almost ready to answer, Perhaps, my
good friend, they may find me unintelligible too for the same reason.
But on asking him whether he had walked over to Weston on purpose to
implore the assistance of my muse, and on his replying in the
affirmative, I felt my mortified vanity a little consoled, and pitying
the poor man's distress, which appeared to be considerable, promised to
supply him. The waggon has accordingly gone this day to Northampton
loaded in part with my effusions in the mortuary style. A fig for poets
who write epitaphs upon individuals! I have written _one_ that serves
_two hundred_ persons."
Seven successive years did Cowper, in his excellent good nature, supply
John Cox, the clerk of All Saints in Northampton, with his mortuary
verses, and when Cox died, he bestowed a like kindness on his
successor, Samuel Wright.
[Footnote 42: Southey's _Works of Cowper_, ii. p. 283.]
These stanzas are published in the complete editions of Cowper's poems,
and need not be quoted here. They begin with a quotation from some Latin
author--Horace, or Virgil, or Cicero--these quotations being obligingly
translated for the benefit of the worthy townsfolk. The first of these
stanzas begins with the well-known lines:
"While thirteen moons saw smoothly run
The Nen's barge-laden wave,
All these, life's rambling journey done,
Have found their home, the grave."
Another verse which has attained fame runs thus:
"Like crowded forest trees we stand,
And some are mark'd to fall;
The axe will smite at God's command,
And soon will smite us all."
And thus does Cowper, in his temporary role, point the moral:
"And O! that humble as my lot,
And scorned as is my strain,
These truths, though known, too much forgot,
I may not teach in vain.
"So prays your clerk with all his heart,
And, ere he quits his pen,
Begs you for once to take his part,
And answer all--Amen."
Again, in another copy of verses he alludes to his honourable clerkship,
"So your verse-man I, and clerk,
Yearly in my song proclaim
Death at hand--yourselves his mark--
And the foe's unerring aim.
"Duly at my time I come,
Publishing to all aloud
Soon the grave must be our home,
And your only suit a shroud."
On one occasion the clerk delayed to send a printed copy of the verses;
so we find the poet writing to his friend, William Bagot:
"You would long since have received an answer to your last, had not the
wicked clerk of Northampton delayed to send me the printed copy of my
annual dirge, which I waited to enclose. Here it is at last, and much
good may it do the readers!"
Let us hope that at least the clerk was grateful.
Yet again does the poet allude to the occupant of the lowest tier of the
great "three-decker," when he in the opening lines of _The Sofa_ depicts
the various seekers after sleep. After telling of the snoring nurse, the
sleeping traveller in the coach, he continues:
"Sweet sleep enjoys the curate in his desk,
The tedious rector drawling o'er his head;
And sweet the clerk below--"
a pretty picture truly of a stirring and impressive service!
Cowper, if he were alive now, would have been no admirer of _Who's Who_,
and poured scorn upon any
"Fond attempt to give a deathless lot
To names ignoble, born to be forgot."
Beholding some "names of little note" in the _Biographia Britannica_, he
proceeded to satirise the publication, to laugh at the imaginary
procession of worthies--the squire, his lady, the vicar, and other local
celebrities, and chants in his anger:
"There goes the parson, oh! illustrious spark!
And there, scarce less illustrious, goes the clerk."
The poet Gay is not unmindful of the
"Parish clerk who calls the hymns so clear";
and Tennyson, in his sonnet to J.M.K., wrote:
"Our dusty velvets have much need of thee:
Thou art no sabbath-drawler of old saws,
Distill'd from some worm-canker'd homily;
But spurr'd at heart with fiercest energy
To embattail and to wall about thy cause
With iron-worded proof, hating to hark
The humming of the drowsy pulpit-drone
Half God's good Sabbath, while the worn-out clerk
Brow-beats his desk below."
In the gallery of Dickens's characters stands out the immortal Solomon
Daisy of _Barnaby Rudge_, with his "cricket-like chirrup" as he took his
part in the social gossip round the Maypole fire. Readers of Dickens
will remember the timid Solomon's visit to the church at midnight when
he went to toll the passing bell, and his account of the strange things
that befell him there, and of the ringing of the mysterious bell that
told the murder of Reuben Haredale.
In the British Museum I discovered a fragmentary collection of ballads
and songs, made by Mr. Ballard, and amongst these is a song relating to
a very unworthy follower of St. Nicholas, whose memory is thus unhappily
THE PARISH CLERK
A NEW COMIC SONG
_Tune_--THE VICAR AND MOSES
Here rests from his labours, by consent of his neighbours,
A peevish, ill-natur'd old clerk;
Who never design'd any good to mankind,
For of goodness he ne'er had a spark.
Tol lol de rol lol de rol lol.
But greedy as Death, until his last breath,
His method he ne'er failed to use;
When interr'd a corpse lay, Amen he'd scarce say,
Before he cry'd Who pays the dues?
Not a tear now he's dead, by friend or foe shed;
The first they were few, if he'd any;
Of the last he had more, than tongue can count o'er,
Who'd have hang'd the old churl for a penny.
In Levi's black train, the clerk did remain
Twenty years, squalling o'er a dull stave;
Yet his mind was so evil, he'd swear like the devil,
Nor repented on this side the grave.
_Fowler, Printer, Salisbury_.
That extraordinary man Mr. William Hutton, who died in 1813, and whose
life has been written and his works edited by Mr. Llewellyn Jewitt,
F.S.A., amongst his other poems wrote a set of verses on _The Way to
Find Sunday without an Almanack_. It tells the story of a Welsh
clergyman who kept poultry, and how he told the days of the week and
marked the Sundays by the regularity with which one of his hens laid her
eggs. The seventh egg always became his Sunday letter, and thus he
always remembered to sally forth "with gown and cassock, book and
band," and perform his accustomed duty. Unfortunately the clerk was
treacherous, and one week stole an egg, with dire consequences to the
congregation, which had to wait until the clergyman, who was engaged in
the unclerical task of "soleing shoes," could be fetched. The poem is a
poor trifle, but it is perhaps worth mentioning on account of the
personality of the writer.
There is a charming sketch of an old clerk in the _Essays and Tales_ of
the late Lady Verney. The story tells of the old clerk's affection for
his great-grandchild, Benny. He is a delightfully drawn specimen of his
race. We see him "creeping slowly about the shadows of the aisle, in his
long blue Sunday coat with huge brass buttons, the tails of which
reached almost to his heels, shorts and brown leggings, and a
low-crowned hat in his hand. He was nearly eighty, but wiry still,
rather blind and somewhat deaf; but the post of clerk is one considered
to be quite independent and irremovable, _quam diu se bene gesserit_,
during good behaviour--on a level with Her Majesty's judges for that
matter. Having been raised to this great eminence some sixty years
before, when he was the only man in the parish who could read, he would
have stood out for his rights to remain there as long as he pleased
against all the powers and principalities in the kingdom--if, indeed, he
could have conceived the possibility of any one, in or out of the
parish, being sufficiently irreligious and revolutionary to dispute his
sovereignty. He was part of the church, and the church was part of
him--his rights and hers were indissolubly connected in his mind.
* * * * *
"The Psalms that day offered a fine field for his Anglo-Saxon plurals
and south-country terminations; the 'housen,' 'priestesses,' 'beasteses
of the field,' came rolling freely forth from his mouth, upon which no
remonstrances by the curate had had the smallest effect. Was he, Michael
Major, who had fulfilled the important office 'afore that young
jackanapes was born, to be teached how 'twere to be done?' he had
observed more than once in rather a high tone, though in general he
patronised the successive occupants of the pulpit with much kindness.
'And this 'un, as cannot spike English nayther,' he added superciliously
concerning the north-country accent of his pastor and master."
On weekdays he wore a smock-frock, which he called his surplice, with
wonderful fancy stitches on the breast and back and sleeves. At length
he had to resign his post and take to his bed, and was not afraid to die
when his time came. It is a very tender and touching little story, a
very faithful picture of an old clerk.
[Footnote 43: _Essays and Tales_, by Frances Parthenope Lady Verney, p.
Passing from grave to gay, we find Tom Hood sketching the clerk
attending on his vicar, who is about to perform a wedding service and
make two people for ever happy. He christens the two officials "the
joiners, no rough mechanics, but a portly full-blown vicar with his
clerk, both rubicund, a peony paged by a pink. It made me smile to
observe the droll clerical turn of the clerk's beaver, scrubbed into
that fashion by his coat at the nape."
Few people know Alexander Pope's _Memoir of P.P., Clerk of this Parish_,
which was intended to ridicule Burnet's _History of His Own Time_, a
work characterised by a strong tincture of self-importance and egotism.
These are abundantly exposed in the _Memoir_, which begins thus:
"In the name of the Lord, Amen. I, P.P., by the Grace of God, Clerk of
this Parish, writeth this history.
"Ever since I arrived at the age of discretion I had a call to take upon
me the Function of a Parish Clerk, and to this end it seemed unto me
meet and profitable to associate myself with the parish clerks of this
land, such I mean as were right worthy in their calling, men of a clear
and sweet voice, and of becoming gravity."
He tells how on the day of his birth Squire Bret gave a bell to the ring
of the parish. Hence that one and the same day did give to their own
church two rare gifts, its great bell and its clerk.
Leaving the account of P.P.'s youthful amours and bouts at
quarter-staff, we next find that:
"No sooner was I elected into my office, but I layed aside the
gallantries of my youth and became a new man. I considered myself as in
somewise of ecclesiastical dignity, since by wearing of a band, which is
no small part of the ornaments of our clergy, might not unworthily be
deemed, as it were, a shred of the linen vestments of Aaron.
"Thou mayest conceive, O reader, with what concern I perceived the eyes
of the congregation fixed upon me, when I first took my place at the
feet of the Priest. When I raised the Psalm, how did my voice quiver
with fear! And when I arrayed the shoulders of the minister with the
surplice, how did my joints tremble under me! I said within myself,
'Remember, Paul, thou standest before men of high worship, the wise Mr.
Justice Freeman, the grave Mr. Justice Tonson, the good Lady Jones.'
Notwithstanding it was my good hap to acquit myself to the good liking
of the whole congregation, but the Lord forbid I should glory therein."
He then proceeded to remove "the manifold corruptions and abuses."
1. "I was especially severe in whipping forth dogs from the Temple, all
except the lap-dog of the good widow Howard, a sober dog which yelped
not, nor was there offence in his mouth.
2. "I did even proceed to moroseness, though sore against my heart, unto
poor babes, in tearing from them the half-eaten apple, which they
privily munched at church. But verily it pitied me, for I remembered the
days of my youth.
3. "With the sweat of my own hands I did make plain and smooth the dog's
ears throughout our Great Bible.
4. "I swept the pews, not before swept in the third year. I darned the
surplice and laid it in lavender."
The good clerk also made shoes, shaved and clipped hair, and practised
chirurgery also in the worming of dogs.
"Now was the long expected time arrived when the Psalms of King David
should be hymned unto the same tunes to which he played them upon his
harp, so I was informed by my singing-master, a man right cunning in
Psalmody. Now was our over-abundant quaver and trilling done away, and
in lieu thereof was instituted the sol-fa in such guise as is sung in
his Majesty's Chapel. We had London singing-masters sent into every
parish like unto excisemen."
P.P. was accused by his enemies of humming through his nostrils as a
sackbut, yet he would not forgo the harmony, it having been agreed by
the worthy clerks of London still to preserve the same. He tutored the
young men and maidens to tune their voices as it were a psaltery, and
the church on Sunday was filled with new Hallelujahs.
But the fame of the great is fleeting. Poor Paul Philips passed away,
and was forgotten. When his biographer went to see him, his place knew
him no more. No one could tell of his virtues, his career, his
excellences. Nothing remained but his epitaph:
"O reader, if that thou canst read,
Look down upon this stone;
Do all we can, Death is a man
That never spareth none."
CLERKS TOO CLERICAL. SMUGGLING DAYS AND SMUGGLING WAYS
It is perhaps not altogether surprising that in times when ordained
clergymen were scarce, and when much confusion reigned, the clerk should
occasionally have taken upon himself to discharge duties which scarcely
pertained to his office. Great diversity of opinion is evident as
regards the right of the clerk to perform certain ecclesiastical
services, such as his reading of the Burial Service, the Churching of
Women, and the reading of the daily services in the absence of the
incumbent. In the days of Queen Elizabeth, judging from the numerous
inquiries issued by the bishops at their visitations, one would imagine
that the parish clerk performed many services which pertained to the
duties of the parish priest. It is not likely that such inquiries should
have been made if some reports of clerks and readers exceeding their
prescribed functions had not reached episcopal ears. They ask if readers
presume to baptize or marry or celebrate Holy Communion. And the answers
received in several cases support the surmise of the bishops. Thus we
read that at Westbere, "When the parson is absent the parish clerk reads
the service." At Waltham the parish clerk served the parish for the most
as the vicar seldom came there. At Tenterden the service was read by a
layman, one John Hopton, and at Fairfield a reader served the church.
This was the condition of those parishes in 1569, and doubtless many
others were similarly situated.
The Injunctions of Archbishop Grindal, issued in 1571, are severe and
outspoken with regard to lay ministration. He wrote as follows:
"We do enjoin and straitly command, that from henceforth no
parish clerk, nor any other person not being ordered, at the
least, for a deacon, shall presume to solemnize Matrimony, or
to minister the Sacrament of Baptism, or to deliver the
communicants the Lord's cup at the celebration of the Holy
Communion. And that no person, not being a minister, deacon,
or at least, tolerated by the ordinary in writing, do attempt
to supply the office of a minister in saying divine service
openly in any church or chapel."
In the Lincoln diocese in 1588 the clerk was still allowed to read one
lesson and the epistle, but he was forbidden from saying the service,
ministering any sacraments or reading any homily. In some cases greater
freedom was allowed. In the beautiful Lady Chapel of the Church of St.
Mary Overy there is preserved a curious record relating to this:
"Touching the Parish Clerk and Sexton all is well; only our
clerk doth sometimes to ease the minister read prayers,
church women, christen, bury and marry, being allowed so
"December 9. 1634."
Bishop Joseph Hall of Exeter asked in 1638 in his visitation articles,
"Whether in the absence of the minister or at any other time the Parish
Clerk, or any other lay person, said Common Prayer openly in the church
or any part of the Divine Service which is proper to the Priest?"
Archdeacon Marsh, of Chichester, in 1640 inquires: "Hath your Parish
Clerk or Sexton taken upon him to meddle with anything above his office,
as churching of women, burying of the dead, or such like?"
During the troublous times of the Commonwealth period it is not
surprising that the clerk often performed functions which were "above
his office," when clergymen were banished from their livings. We have
noticed already an example of the burial service being performed by the
clerk when he was so rudely treated by angry Parliamentarians for using
the Book of Common Prayer. Here is an instance of the ceremony of
marriage being performed by the parish clerk:
"The marriages in the Parish of Dale Abbey were till a few
years previous to the Marriage Act, solemnized by the Clerk
of the Parish, at one shilling each, there being no
This Marriage Act was that passed by the Little Parliament of 1653, by
which marriage was pronounced to be merely a civil contract. Banns were
published in the market-place, and the marriages were performed by
Cromwell's Justices of the Peace whom, according to a Yorkshire vicar,
"that impious and rebell appointed out of the basest Hypocrites and
dissemblers with God and man." The clerks' marriage ceremony was no
worse than that of the justices.
Dr. Macray, of the Bodleian Library, has discovered the draft of a
licence granted by Dr. John Mountain, Bishop of London, to Thomas
Dickenson, parish clerk of Waltham Holy Cross, in the year 1621,
permitting him to read prayers, church women, and bury the dead. This
licence states that the parish of Waltham Holy Cross was very spacious,
many houses being a long distance from the church, and that the curate
was very much occupied with his various duties of visiting the sick,
burying the dead, churching women, and other business belonging to his
office; hence permission is granted to Thomas Dickenson to assist the
curate in reading prayers in church, burying dead corpses, and to church
women in the absence of the curate, or when the curate cannot
conveniently perform the same duty in his own person.
Doubtless this licence was no solitary exception, and it is fairly
certain that other clerks enjoyed the same privileges which are here
assigned to Master Thomas Dickenson. He must have been a worthy member
of his class, a man of education, and of skill and ability in reading,
or episcopal sanction would not have been given to him to perform these
It is evident that parish clerks occasionally at least performed several
important clerical functions with the consent of, or in the absence of
the incumbents, and that in spite of the articles in the visitations of
some bishops who were opposed to this practice, episcopal sanction was
not altogether wanting.
The affection with which the parishioners regarded the clerk is
evidenced in many ways. He received from them many gifts in kind and
money, such as eggs and cakes and sheaves of corn. Some of them were
demanded in early times as a right that could not be evaded; but the
compulsory payment of such goods was abolished, and the parishioners
willingly gave by courtesy that which had been deemed a right.
Sometimes land has been left to the clerk in order that he may ring the
curfew-bell, or a bell at night and early morning, so that travellers
may be warned lest they should lose their way over wild moorland or
bleak down, and, guided by the sound of the bell, may reach a place
An old lady once lost her way on the Lincolnshire wolds, nigh Boston,
but was guided to her home by the sound of the church bell tolling at
night. So grateful was she that she bequeathed a piece of land to the
parish clerk on condition that he should ring one of the bells from
seven to eight o'clock each evening during the winter months.
There is a piece of land called "Curfew Land" at St.
Margaret's-at-Cliffe, Kent, the rent of which was directed to be paid to
the clerk or other person who should ring the curfew every evening in
order to warn travellers lest they should fall over the cliff, as the
unfortunate donor of the land did, for want of the due and constant
ringing of the bell.
In smuggling days, clerks, like many of their betters, were not
immaculate. The venerable vicar of Worthing, the Rev. E. K. Elliott,
records that the clerk of Broadwater was himself a smuggler, and in
league with those who throve by the illicit trade. When a cargo was
expected he would go up to the top of the spire, which afforded a
splendid view of the sea, and when the coast was clear of preventive
officers he would give the signal by hoisting a flag. Kegs of contraband
spirits were frequently placed inside two huge tombs which have sliding
tops, and which stand near the western porch of Worthing church.
The last run of smuggled goods in that neighbourhood was well within the
recollection of the vicar, and took place in 1855. Some kegs were taken
to Charman Dean and buried in the ground, and although diligent search
was made, the smugglers baffled their pursuers.
At Soberton, Hants, there is an old vault near the chancel door. Now the
flat stone is level with the ground; but in 1800 it rested on three feet
of brickwork, and could be lifted off by two men. Here many kegs of
spirit that paid no duty were deposited by an arrangement with the
clerk, and the stone lifted on again. This secret hiding-place was never
discovered, neither did the curate find out who requisitioned his horse
when the nights favoured smugglers.
In the wild days of Cornish wreckers and wrecking, both priest and clerk
are said to have taken part in the sharing of the tribute of the sea
cast upon their rockbound coast. The historian of Cornwall, Richard
Polwhele, tells of a wreck happening one Sunday morning just before
service. The clerk, eager to be at the fray, announced to the assembled
parishioners that "Measter would gee them a holiday."
I will not vouch for the truth of that other story told in the
_Encyclopaedia of Wit_ (1801), which runs as follows:
"A parson who lived on the coast of Cornwall, where one great business
of the inhabitants is plundering from ships that are wrecked, being once
preaching when the alarm was given, found that the sound of the wreck
was so much more attractive than his sermon, that all his congregation
were scampering out of church. To check their precipitation, he called
out, 'My brethren, let me entreat you to stay for five words more'; and
marching out of the pulpit, till he had got pretty near the door of the
church, slowly pronounced, 'Let us all start fair,' and ran off with the
rest of them."
An old parishioner of the famous Rev. R. S. Hawker once told him of a
very successful run of a cargo of kegs, which the obliging parish clerk
allowed the smugglers to place underneath the benches and in the tower
stairs of the church. The old man told the story thus:
"We bribed Tom Hockaday, the sexton, and we had the goods
safe in the seats by Saturday night. The parson did wonder at
the large congregation, for divers of them were not regular
churchgoers at other times; and if he had known what was
going on, he could not have preached a more suitable
discourse, for it was, 'Be not drunk with wine, wherein is
excess.' It was one of his best sermons; but, there, it did
not touch us, you see; for we never tasted anything but
brandy and gin."
In such smuggling ways the clerk was no worse than his neighbours, who
were all more or less involved in the illicit trade.
The old Cornish clerks who used to help the smugglers were a curious
race of beings, remarkable for their familiar ways with the parson. At
St. Clements the clergyman one day was reading the verse, "I have seen
the ungodly flourish like a _green bay_ tree," when the clerk looked up
with an inquiring glance from the desk below, "How can that be,
maister?" He was more familiar with the colour of a bay horse than the
tints of a bay tree.
At Kenwyn two dogs, one of which belonged to the parson, were fighting
at the west end of the church; the parson, who was then reading the
second lesson, rushed out of the pew and went down and parted them.
Returning to his pew, and doubtful where he had left off, he asked the
clerk, "Roger, where was I?" "Why, down parting the dogs, maister,"
Two rocks stand out on the South Devon coast near Dawlish, which are
known as the Parson and Clerk. A wild, weird legend is told about these
rocks--of a parson who desired the See of Exeter, and often rode with
his clerk to Dawlish to hear the latest news of the bishop who was nigh
unto death. The wanderers lost their way one dark night, and the parson
exhibited most unclerical anger, telling his clerk that he would rather
have the devil for a guide than him. Of course, the devil or one of his
imps obliged, and conducted the wanderers to an old ruined house, where
there was a large company of disguised demons. They all passed a merry
night, singing and carousing. Then the news comes that the bishop is
dead. The parson and clerk determine to set out at once. Their steeds
are brought, but will not budge a step. The parson cuts savagely at his
horse. The demons roar with unearthly laughter. The ruined house and all
the devils vanish. The waves are overwhelming the riders, and in the
morning the wretches are found clinging to the rocks with the grasp of
death, which ever afterwards record their villainy and their fate.
Among tales of awe and weird mystery stands out the story of the
adventures of Peter Priestly, clerk, sexton, and gravestone cutter, of
Wakefield, who flourished at the end of the eighteenth century. He was
an old and much respected inhabitant of the town, and not at all given
to superstitious fears. One Saturday evening he went to the church to
finish the epitaph on a stone which was to be in readiness for removal
before Sunday. Arrived at the church, where he had his workshop, he set
down his lantern and lighted his other candle, which was set in a
primitive candlestick formed out of a potato. The church clock struck
eleven, and still some letters remained unfinished, when he heard a
strange sound, which seemed to say "Hiss!" "Hush!" He resumes his work
undaunted. Again that awful voice breaks in once more. He lights his
lantern and searches for its cause. In vain his efforts. He resolves to
leave the church, but again remembers his promise and returns to his
work. The mystic hour of midnight strikes. He has nearly finished, and
bends down to examine the letters on the stone. Again he hears a louder
"Hiss!" He now stands appalled. Terror seizes him. He has profaned the
Sabbath, and the sentence of death has gone forth. With tottering steps
Peter finds his way home and goes to bed. Sleep forsakes him. His wife
ministers to him in vain. As morning dawns the good woman notices
Peter's wig suspended on the great chair. "Oh, Peter," she cries, "what
hast thou been doing to burn all t' hair off one side of thy wig?" "Ah!
bless thee," says the clerk, "thou hast cured me with that word." The
mysterious "hiss" and "hush" were sounds from the frizzling of Peter's
wig by the flame of the candle, which to his imperfect sense of hearing
imported things horrible and awful. Such is the story which a writer in
Hone's _Year Book_ tells, and which is said to have afforded Peter
Priestly and the good people of merry Wakefield many a joke.
The _Year Book_ is always full of interest, and in the same volume I
find an account of a most worthy representative of the profession, one
John Kent, the parish clerk of St. Albans, who died in 1798, aged eighty
years. He was a very venerable and intelligent man, who did service in
the old abbey church, long before the days when its beauties were
desecrated by Grimthorpian restoration, or when it was exalted to
cathedral rank. For fifty-two years Kent was the zealous clerk and
custodian of the minster, and loved to describe its attractions. He was
the friend of the learned Browne Willis. His name is mentioned in
Cough's _Sepulchral Monuments of Great Britain_, and his intelligence
and knowledge noticed, and Newcombe, the historian of the abbey,
expressed his gratitude to the good clerk for much information imparted
by him to the author. The monks could not have guarded the shrine of St.
Alban with greater care than did Kent protect the relics of good Duke
Humphrey. His veneration for all that the abbey contained was
remarkable. A story is told of a gentleman who purloined a bone of the
Duke. The clerk suspected the theft but could never prove it, though he
sometimes taxed the gentleman with having removed the bone. At last,
just before his death, the man restored it, saying to the clerk, "I
could not depart easy with it in my possession."
Kent was a plumber and glazier by trade, in politics a staunch partisan
of "the Blues," and on account of his sturdy independence was styled
"Honest John." He performed his duties in the minster with much zeal and
ability, his knowledge of psalmody was unsurpassed, his voice was strong
and melodious, and he was a complete master of church music. Unlike many
of his confreres, he liked to hear the congregation sing; but when
country choirs came from neighbouring churches to perform in the abbey
with instruments, contemptuously described by him as "a box of
whistles," the congregation being unable to join in the melodies, he
used to give out the anthem thus: "Sing _ye_ to the praise and glory of
God...." Five years before his death he had an attack of paralysis which
slightly crippled his power of utterance, though this defect could
scarcely be detected when he was engaged in the services of the church.
Two days before his death he sang his "swan-song." Some colours were
presented to the volunteers of the town, and were consecrated in the
abbey. During the service he sang the 20th Psalm with all the strength
and vivacity of youth. When his funeral sermon was preached the rector
alluded to this dying effort, and said that on the day of the great
service "Nature seemed to have reassumed her throne; and, as she knew it
was to be his last effort, was determined it should be his best." The
body of the good clerk, John Kent, rests in the abbey church which he
loved so well, in a spot marked by himself, and we hope that the
"restoration," somewhat drastic and severe, which has fallen upon the
grand old church, has not obscured his grave or destroyed the memorial
of this worthy and excellent clerk.
THE CLERK IN EPITAPH
The virtues of many a parish clerk are recorded on numerous humble
tombstones in village churchyards. The gratitude felt by both rector and
people for many years of faithful service is thus set forth, sometimes
couched in homely verse, and occasionally marred by the misplaced humour
and jocular expressions and puns with which our forefathers thought fit
to honour the dead. In this they were not original, and but followed the
example of the Greeks and Romans, the Italians, Spaniards, and French.
This objectionable fashion of punning on gravestones was formerly much
in vogue in England, and such a prominent official as the clerk did not
escape the attention of the punsters. Happily the quaint fancies and
primitive humour, which delighted our grandsires in the production of
rebuses and such-like pleasantries, no longer find themselves displayed
upon the fabric of our churches, and the "merry jests" have ceased to
appear upon the memorials of the dead. We will glance at the clerkly
epitaphs of some of the worthies who have held the office of parish
clerk who were deemed deserving of a memorial.
In the southern portion of the churchyard attached to St. Andrew's
Church, Rugby, is a plain upright stone containing the following
In memory of
33 years Clerk of
who died Feb'y 28th 1818
Aged 82 years
[Some lines of poetry follow, but these unfortunately are not now
At the time Peter held office the incumbent was noted for his
card-playing propensities, and the clerk was much addicted to
cock-fighting. The following couplet relating to these worthies is still
No wonder the people of Rugby are all in the dark,
With a card-playing parson and a cock-fighting clerk.
Peter's father was clerk before him, and on a stone to his memory is
recorded as follows:
In memory of
John Collis Husband of
Eliz: Collis who liv'd in
Wedlock together 50 years
he served as Parish Clerk 41 years
And died June 19th 1781 aged 69 years
Him who covered up the Dead
Is himself laid in the same bed
Time with his crooked scythe hath made
Him lay his mattock down and spade
May he and we all rise again
To everlasting life AMEN.
The name Collis occurs amongst those who held the office of parish clerk
at West Haddon. The Rev. John T. Page, to whom I am indebted for the
above information, has gleaned the following particulars from the
parish registers and other sources. The clerk who reigned in 1903 was
Thomas Adams, who filled the position for eighteen years. He succeeded
his father-in-law, William Prestidge, who died 24 March, 1886, after
holding the office fifty-three years. His predecessor was Thomas Collis,
who died 30 January, 1833, after holding the office fifty-two years, and
succeeded John Colledge, who, according to an old weather-beaten stone
still standing in the churchyard, died 12 September, 1781. How long
Colledge held office cannot now be ascertained. Here are some remarkable
examples of long years of service, Collis and Prestidge having held the
office for 105 years.
[Footnote 44: cf. _Notes and Queries_, Tenth Series, ii., 10 September,
1904, p. 215.]
In Shenley churchyard the following remarkable epitaph appears to the
memory of Joseph Rogers, who was a bricklayer as well as parish clerk:
Silent in dust lies mouldering here
A Parish Clerk of voice most clear.
None Joseph Rogers could excel
In laying bricks or singing well;
Though snapp'd his line, laid by his rod,
We build for him our hopes in God.
A remarkable instance of longevity is recorded on a tombstone in Cromer
churchyard. The inscription runs:
Sacred to the memory of David Vial who departed this life the
26th of March, 1873, aged 94 years, for sixty years clerk of
At the village church of Whittington, near Oswestry, there is a
well-known epitaph, which is worth recording:
March 13th 1766 died Thomas Evans, Parish Clerk, aged 72.
Old Sternhold's lines or "Vicar of Bray"
Which he tuned best 'twas hard to say.
Another remarkable instance of longevity is that recorded on a
tombstone in the cemetery of Eye, Suffolk, erected to the memory of a
Erected to the memory of
who was clerk of this parish for more
than 71 years
and who died on the 17th May 1873
aged 81 years.
Is erected to his memory by his grateful
the Rev. W. Page Roberts
Vicar of Eye.
Herbert must have commenced his duties very early in life; according to
the inscription, at the age of ten years.
At Scothorne, in Lincolnshire, there is a sexton-ringer-clerk epitaph on
John Blackburn's tombstone, dated 1739-40. It reads thus:
Alas poor John
Is dead and gone
Who often toll'd the Bell
And with a spade
Dug many a grave
And said Amen as well.
The Roes were a great family of clerks at Bakewell, and the two members
who occupied that office at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of
the nineteenth century seem to have been endowed with good voices, and
with a devoted attachment to the church and its monuments. Samuel Roe
had the honour of being mentioned in the _Gentleman's Magazine_, and
receives well-deserved praise for his care of the fabric of Bakewell
Church, and his epitaph is given, which runs as follows:
The memory of
of the Parish Church of Bakewell,
he filled thirty-five years
with credit to himself
and satisfaction to the inhabitants.
His natural powers of voice,
in clearness, strength, and sweetness
were altogether unequalled.
He died October 31st, 1792
Aged 70 years
The correspondent of the _Gentleman's Magazine_ wrote thus of this
"It was with much concern that I read the epitaph upon Mr.
Roe in your last volume, page 1192. Upon a little tour which
I made in Derbyshire in 1789, I met with that worthy and very
intelligent man at Bakewell, and in the course of my
antiquarian researches there, derived no inconsiderable
assistance from his zeal and civility. If he did not possess
the learning of his namesake, your old and valuable
correspondent, I will venture to declare that he was not
less influenced by a love and veneration for antiquity, many
proofs of which he had given by his care and attention to the
monuments of the church which were committed to his charge;
for he united the characters of sexton, clerk,
singing-master, will-maker, and schoolmaster. Finding that I
was quite alone, he requested permission to wait upon me at
the inn in the evening, urging as a reason for this request
that he must be exceedingly gratified by the conversation of
a gentleman who could read the characters upon the monument
of Vernon, the founder of Haddon House, a treat he had not
met with for many years. After a very pleasant gossip we
parted, but not till my honest friend had, after some
apparent struggle, begged of me to indulge him with my name."
[Footnote 45: T. Row stands for T_he_ R_ector_ O_f_ W_hittington_, the
Rev. Samuel Pegge. cf. _Curious Epitaphs_, by W. Andrews, p. 124.]
To this worthy clerk's care is due the preservation of the Vernon and
other monuments in Bakewell Church. Mr. Andrews tells us that "in some
instances he placed a wooden framework to keep off the rough hands and
rougher knives of the boys and young men of the congregation. He also
watched with special care the Wenderley tomb, and even took careful
rubbings of the inscriptions."
[Footnote 46: W. Andrews, _Curious Epitaphs_, p. 124.]
The inscription on the tomb of the son of this worthy clerk proves that
he inherited his father's talents as regards musical ability:
In remembrance of
Who died 12th September, 1815,
Aged 52 years.
The vocal Powers here let us mark
Of Philip our late Parish Clerk,
In church none ever heard a Layman
With a clearer voice say 'Amen'!
Who now with Hallelujahs sound
Like him can make this roof rebound?
The Choir lament his Choral Tones
The Town--so soon Here lie his Bones.
Sleep undisturb'd within thy peaceful shrine
Till Angels wake thee with such notes as thine.
The last two lines are a sweet and tender tribute truly to the memory
of this melodious clerk.
A writer in _All the Year Round_, who has been identified as
Cuthbert Bede, the author of the immortal _Verdant Green_, tells of the
Osbornes and Worrals, famous families of clerks, quoting instances of
the hereditary nature of the office. He wrote as follows
[Footnote 47: No. 624, New Series, p. 83.]
"As a boy I often attended the service at Belbroughton Church,
Worcestershire, when the clerk was Mr. Osborne, tailor. His family had
been parish clerks and tailors since the time of Henry VIII, and were
lineally descended from William Fitz-Osborne, who in the twelfth century
had been deprived by Ralph Fitz-Herbert of his right to the manor of
Bellam, in the parish of Bellroughton. Often have I stood in the
picturesque churchyard of Wolverley, Worcestershire, by the grave of the
old parish clerk, whom I well remember, old Thomas Worrall, the
inscription on whose monument is as follows:
Sacred to the memory of
parish clerk of Wolverley for a period of
Died A.D. 1854, February 23rd.
He served with faithfulness in humble sphere
As one who could his talents well employ,
Hope that when Christ his Lord shall reappear,
He may be bidden to his Master's joy.
This tombstone was erected to the memory of the deceased
by a few parishioners in testimony of his worth, April 1855.
Charles R. Somers Cocks,
It may be noted of this worthy clerk that, with the exception of a week
or two before his death, he was never absent from his Sunday and weekday
duties in the forty-seven years during which he held office.
He succeeded his father, James Worrall, who died in 1806, aged
seventy-nine, after being parish clerk of Wolverley for thirty years.
His tombstone, near to that of his son, was erected "to record his worth
both in his public and private character, and as a mark of personal
esteem--p. 1. F.H. and W.C. p.c." I am told that these initials stand
for F. Hustle, and the Rev. William Callow, and that the latter was the
author of the following lines inscribed on the monument, which are well
If courtly bards adorn each statesman's bust
And strew their laurels o'er each warrior's dust,
Alike immortalise, as good and great,
Him who enslaved as him who saved the State,
Surely the Muse (a rustic minstrel) may
Drop one wild flower upon a poor man's clay.
This artless tribute to his mem'ry give
Whose life was such as heroes seldom live.
In worldly knowledge, poor indeed his store--
He knew the village, and he scarce knew more.
The worth of heavenly truth he justly knew--
In faith a Christian, and in practice too.
Yes, here lies one, excel him ye who can:
Go! imitate the virtues of that man!
The famous "Amen" epitaph at Crayford, Kent, is well known, though the
name of the clerk who is thus commemorated is sometimes forgotten. It is
to the memory of one Peter Snell, who repeated his "Amens" diligently
for a period of thirty years, and runs as follows:
Here lieth the body of
Thirty years clerk of this Parish.
He lived respected as a pious and mirthful man,
and died on his way to church to
assist at a wedding,
on the 31st of March, 1811,
Aged seventy years.
The inhabitants of Crayford have raised this stone to his
cheerful memory, and as a tribute to his long and faithful
The life of this clerk was just threescore and ten,
Nearly half of which time he had sung out Amen.
In his youth he had married like other young men,
But his wife died one day--so he chanted Amen.
A second he took--she departed--what then?
He married and buried a third with Amen.
Thus his joys and his sorrows were treble, but then
His voice was deep base, as he sung out Amen.
On the horn he could blow as well as most men,
So his horn was exalted to blowing Amen.
But he lost all his wind after threescore and ten,
And here with three wives he waits till again
The trumpet shall rouse him to sing out Amen.
[Illustration: OLD SCARLETT]
The duties of sexton and parish clerk were usually performed by one
person, as we have already frequently noticed, and therefore it is
fitting that we should record the epitaph of Old Scarlett, most famous
of grave-diggers, who buried two queens, both the victims of stern
persecution, ill-usage, and Tudor tyranny--Catherine, the divorced wife
of Henry VIII, and poor sinning Mary Queen of Scots. His famous picture
in Peterborough Cathedral, on the wall of the western transept, usually
attracts the chief attention of the tourist, and has preserved his name
and fame. He is represented with a spade, pickaxe, keys, and a whip in
his leathern girdle, and at his feet lies a skull. In the upper
left-hand corner appear the arms of the see of Peterborough, save that
the cross-keys are converted into cross-swords. The whip at his girdle
appears to show that Old Scarlett occupied the position of dog-whipper
as well as sexton. There is a description of this portrait in the _Book
of Days_, wherein the writer says:
"What a lively effigy--short, stout, hardy, self-complacent,
perfectly satisfied, and perhaps even proud of his
profession, and content to be exhibited with all its insignia
about him! Two queens had passed through his hands into that
bed which gives a lasting rest to queens and to peasants
alike. An officer of death, who had so long defied his
principal, could not but have made some impression on the
minds of bishop, dean, prebends, and other magnates of the
cathedral, and hence, as we may suppose, the erection of this
lively portraiture of the old man, which is believed to have
been only once renewed since it was first put up. Dr. Dibdin,
who last copied it, tells us that 'old Scarlett's jacket and
trunkhose are of a brownish red, his stockings blue, his
shoes black, tied with blue ribbons, and the soles of his
feet red. The cap upon his head is red, and so also is the
ground of the coat armour.'" Beneath the portrait are these
YOU SEE OLD SCARLETTS PICTURE STAND ON HIE
BUT AT YOUR FEETE THERE DOTH HIS BODY LYE
HIS GRAVESTONE DOTH HIS AGE AND DEATH TIME SHOW
HIS OFFICE BY THEIS TOKENS YOU MAY KNOW
SECOND TO NONE FOR STRENGTH AND STURDYE LIMM
A SCARBABE MIGHTY VOICE WITH VISAGE GRIM
HEE HAD INTER'D TWO QUEENES WITHIN THIS PLACE
AND THIS TOWNES HOUSEHOLDERS IN HIS LIVES SPACE
TWICE OVER: BUT AT LENGTH HIS OWN TURNE CAME
WHAT HE FOR OTHERS DID FOR HIM THE SAME
WAS DONE: NO DOUBT HIS SOUL DOTH LIVE FOR AYE
IN HEAVEN: THOUGH HERE HIS BODY CLAD IN CLAY.
On the floor is a stone inscribed "JULY 2 1594 R.S. aetatis 98." This
painting is not a contemporary portrait of the old sexton, but a copy
made in 1747.
The sentiment expressed in the penult couplet is not uncommon, the idea
of retributive justice, of others performing the last offices for the
clerk who had so often done the like for his neighbours. The same notion
is expressed in the epitaph of Frank Raw, clerk and monumental mason, of
Selby, Yorkshire, which runs as follows:
Here lies the body of poor FRANK RAW
Parish clerk and gravestone cutter,
And this is writ to let you know
What Frank for others used to do
Is now for Frank done by another.
[Footnote 48: _Curious Epitaphs_, by W. Andrews, p. 120.]
The achievement of Old Scarlett with regard to his interring "the town's
householders in his life's space twice over," has doubtless been
equalled by many of the long-lived clerks whose memoirs have been
recorded, but it is not always recorded on a tombstone. At
Ratcliffe-on-Soar there is, however, the grave of an old clerk, one
Robert Smith, who died in 1782, at the advanced age of eighty-two years,
and his epitaph records the following facts:
Fifty-five years it was, and something more,
Clerk of this parish he the office bore,
And in that space, 'tis awful to declare,
Two generations buried by him were!
[Footnote 49: _Ibid_. p. 121.]
It is recorded on the tomb of Hezekiah Briggs, who died in 1844 in his
eightieth year, the clerk and sexton of Bingley, Yorkshire, that "he
buried seven thousand corpses."
[Footnote 50: _Notes and Queries_, Ninth Series, xii. 453.]
The verses written in his honour are worth quoting:
Here lies an old ringer beneath the cold clay
Who has rung many peals both for serious and gay;
Through Grandsire and Trebles with ease he could range,
Till death called Bob, which brought round the last change.
For all the village came to him
When they had need to call;
His counsel free to all was given,
For he was kind to all.
Ring on, ring' on, sweet Sabbath bell,
Still kind to me thy matins swell,
And when from earthly things I part,
Sigh o'er my grave and lull my heart.
These last four lines strike a sweet note, and are far superior to the
usual class of monumental poetry. I will not guarantee the correct
copying of the third and fourth lines. Various copyists have produced
various versions. One version runs:
Bob majors and trebles with ease he could bang,
Till Death called a bob which brought the last clang.
In Staple-next-Wingham, Kent, there is a stone to the memory of the
parish clerk who died in 1820, aged eighty-six years, and thus
He was honest and just, in friendship sincere,
And Clerk of this Parish for sixty-seven years.
At Worth Church, Sussex, near the south entrance is a headstone,
In memory of John Alcorn, Clerk and Sexton of this parish,
who died Dec. 13: 1868 in the 81st year of his age.
Thine honoured friend for fifty three full years,
He saw each bridal's joy, each Burial's tears;
Within the walls, by Saxons reared of old,
By the stone sculptured font of antique mould,
Under the massive arches in the glow,
Tinged by dyed sun-beams passing to and fro,
A sentient portion of the sacred place,
A worthy presence with a well-worn face.
The lich-gate's shadow, o'er his pall at last
Bids kind adieu as poor old John goes past.
Unseen the path, the trees, the old oak door,
No more his foot-falls touch the tomb-paved floor,
His silvery head is hid, his service done
Of all these Sabbaths absent only one.
And now amidst the graves he delved around,
He rests and sleeps, beneath the hallowed ground.
Keep Innocency, and take heed unto the thing that is right,
For that shall bring a man peace at the last. Psalm XXXVII.
There is an interesting memorial of an aged parish clerk in Cropthorne
Church, Worcestershire, an edifice of considerable note. It consists of
a small painted-glass window in the tower, containing a full-length
portrait of the deceased official, duly apparelled in a cassock.
There is in the King's Norton parish churchyard an old gravestone the
existence of which I dare say a good many people had forgotten until
recently, owing to the inscription having become almost illegible.
Within the past few weeks it has been renovated, and thus a record has
been prevented from dropping out of public memory. The stone sets forth
that it was erected to the memory of Isaac Ford, a shoemaker, who was
for sixty-two years parish clerk of King's Norton, and who died on 10
July, 1755, aged eighty-five years. Beneath is another interesting
inscription to the effect that Henry Ford, son of Isaac, who died on 11
July, 1795, aged eighty-one, was also parish clerk for forty years. The
two men thus held continuous office for one hundred and two years. This
is a famous record of long service, though it has been surpassed by a
few others, our parish clerks being a long-lived race.
At Stoulton Church a clerk died in 1812, and it is recorded on his
epitaph that "He was clerk of this parish more 30 years and much
envied." It was not his office or his salary which was envied, but "a
worn't much liked by the t'others," and yet followed the verse:
A loving' husband, father dear,
A faithful friend lies buried here.
An epitaph without a "werse" was considered very degrading.
THE WORSHIPFUL COMPANY OF PARISH CLERKS
The story of the City companies of London has many attractions for the
historian and antiquary. When we visit the ancient homes of these great
societies we are impressed by their magnificence and interesting
associations. Portraits of old City worthies and royal benefactors gaze
at us from the walls, and link our time with theirs, when they, too,
strove to uphold the honour of their guild and benefit their generation.
Many a quaint old-time custom and ceremonial usage linger on within the
old halls, and there too are enshrined cuirass and targe, helmet, sword
and buckler, which tell the story of the past, and of the part the
companies played in national defence or in the protection of civic
rights. Turning down some dark alley and entering the portals of one of
their halls, we are transported at once from the busy streets and din of
modern London into a region of old-world memories which has a
fascination that is all its own.
This is not the place to discuss the origin of guilds and City
companies, which can trace back their descent to Anglo-Saxon times and
were usually of a religious type. They were the benefit societies of
ancient days, institutions of self-help, combining care for the needy
with the practice of religion, justice, and morality. There were guilds
exclusively religious, guilds of the calendars for the clergy, social
guilds for the purpose of promoting good fellowship, benevolence, and
thrift, merchant guilds for the regulation of trade, and frith guilds
for the promotion of peace and the establishment of law and order.
In this goodly company we find evidences at an early date of the
existence of the Fraternity of Parish Clerks. Its long and important
career, though it ranked not with the Livery Companies, and sent not its
members to take part in the deliberations of the Common Council, is full
of interest, and reflects the greatest credit on the worthy clerks who
In other cities besides London the clerks seem to have formed their
guilds. As early as the time of the _Domesday Survey_ there was a
clerks' guild at Canterbury, wherein it is stated "_In civitate
Cantuaria habet achiepiscopus_ xii burgesses and xxxii mansuras which
the clerks of the town, _clerici de villa_, hold within their gild and
do yield xxxv shillings."
The first mention of the company carries us back to the early days of
Henry III, when in the seventeenth year of that monarch's reign (A.D.
1233), according to Stow, they were incorporated and registered in the
books of the Guildhall. The patron saint of the company was St.
Nicholas, who also extended his patronage to robbers and mariners.
Thieves are dubbed by Shakespeare as St. Nicholas's clerks, and
Rowley calls highwaymen by the same title. Possibly this may be
accounted for by the association of the light-fingered fraternity with
Nicholas, or Old Nick, a cant name for the devil, or because _The
Golden Legend_ tells of the conversion of some thieves through the
saint's agency. At any rate, the good Bishop of Myra was the patron
saint of scholars, and therefore was naturally selected as tutelary
guardian of clerks.
[Footnote 51: _Henry IV_, act ii. sc. 1.]
In 1442 Henry VI granted a charter to "the Chief or Parish Clerks of the
City of London for the honour and glory of Almighty God and of the
undefiled and most glorious Virgin Mary, His Mother, and on account of
that special devotion, which they especially bore to Christ's glorious
confessor, St. Nicholas, on whose day or festival we were first
presented into this present world, at the hands of a mother of memory
ever to be revered." The charter states that they had maintained a poor
brotherhood of themselves, as well as a certain divine service, and
divine words of charity and piety, devised and exhibited by them year by
year, for forty years or more by part; and it conferred on them the
right of a perpetual corporate community, having two roasters and two
chaplains to celebrate divine offices every day, for the King's welfare
whether alive or dead, and for the souls of all faithful departed, for
ever. By special royal grace they were allowed, on petitioning His
Majesty, to have the charter without paying any fine or fee.
Seven years later a second charter was granted, wherein it is stated
that their services were held in the Chapel of Mary Magdalene by the
Guildhall. "Bretherne and Sisterne" were included in the fraternity. Bad
times and the Wars of the Roses brought distress to the community, and
they prayed Edward IV to refound their guild, allowing only the
maintenance of one chaplain instead of two in the chapel nigh the
Guildhall, together with the support of seven poor persons who daily
offered up their prayers for the welfare of the King and the repose of
the souls of the faithful. They provided "a prest, brede, wyne, wex,
boke, vestments and chalise for their auter of S. Nicholas in the said
chapel." The King granted their request.
[Illustration: THE MASTER'S CHAIR AT THE PARISH CLERKS HALL.]
The original home of the guild was in Bishopsgate. Brewers' Hall was, in
1422, lent to them for their meetings. But the old deeds in the
possession of the company show that as early as 1274 they acquired
property "near the King's highway in the parish of St. Ethelburga,
extending from the west side of the garden of the Nuns of St. Helen's to
near the stone wall of Bishopsgate on the north, in breadth from the
east side of William the Whit Tawyer's to the King's highway on the
south." These two highways are now known as Bishopsgate Street and
Camomile Street. They had property also at Finsbury on the east side of
Whitecross Street. Inasmuch as the guild did not in those early days
possess a charter and was not incorporated, it had no power to hold
property; hence the lands were transmitted to individual members of the
fraternity. After their incorporation in 1442 the trustees of the
lands and possessions were all clerks. Another property belonged to them
[Footnote 52: The transmission of the property is carefully traced in
_Some Account of Parish Clerks_, by Mr. James Christie, p. 78. He had
access to the company's muniments.]
The chief possession of the clerks was the Bishopsgate property. It
consisted of an inn called "The Wrestlers," another inn which bore the
sign of "The Angel," and a fair entry or gate near the latter which
still bears the name Clerks' Place. Wrestlers' Court still marks the
site of the old inn--so conservative are the old names in the city of
London. Passing through the entry we should have seen seven modest
almshouses for the brethren and sisters of the guilds. Beyond these was
the hall of the company. It consisted of a parlour (36 ft. by 14 ft.),
with three chambers over it. The east side with fan glasses overlooked
the garden, 72 ft. in length by 21 ft. wide. The west side was lined
with wainscot. The actual hall adjoined, a fine room 30 ft. by 25 ft.,
with a gallery at the nether end, with a little parlour at the west end.
A room for the Bedell, a kitchen with a vault under it, larder-rooms,
buttery, and a little house called the Ewery, completed the buildings.
It must have been a very delightful little home for the company, not so
palatial as that of some of the greater guilds, but compact, charming,
and altogether attractive.
But evil days set in for the City companies of London. Spoliation,
greed, destruction were in the air. Churches, monasteries, charities
felt the rude hand of the spoiler, and it could scarcely be that the
rich corporations of the City should fail to attract the covetous eyes
of the rapacious courtiers. They were forced to surrender all their
property which had been used for so-called "superstitious" purposes, and
most of them bought this back with large sums of money, which went into
the coffers of the King or his ministers. The Parish Clerks' Company
fared no better than the rest. Their hall was seized by the King, or
rather by the infamous courtiers of Edward VI, and sold, together with
the almshouses, to Sir Robert Chester in 1548. He at once took
possession of the property, but the clerks protested that they had been
wrongfully despoiled, and again seized their rightful possessions. In
spite of the sympathy and support of the Lord Mayor, who "communed with
the wardens of the Great Companies for their gentle aid to be granted to
the parish clerks towards their charges in defence of their title to
their Common Hall and lands," the clerks lost their case, and were
compelled to give up their home or submit to a heavy fine of 1000 marks
besides imprisonment. The poor dispossessed clerks were defeated, but
not disheartened. In the days of Queen Mary they renewed their suit, and
"being likely to have prevailed, Sir Robert Chester pulled down the
hall, sold the timber, stone and land, and thereupon the suit was
ended"--very summary conclusion truly!
The Lord Mayor and his colleagues again showed sympathy and compassion
for the dispossessed clerks, and offered them the church of the Hospital
of St. Mary of Bethlehem in 1552 for their meetings. They did not lack
friends. William Roper, whose picture still hangs in the hall of the
company, the son-in-law of Sir Thomas More, was a great benefactor, who
bequeathed to them some tenements in Southwark on condition that they
should distribute L4 among the poor prisoners in Newgate and other
jails. He was the biographer of Sir Thomas More, and died in 1577.
In 1610 the clerks applied for a new charter, and obtained it from James
I, under the title of "The Parish Clerks of the Parishes and Parish
Churches of the City of London, the liberties thereof and seven out of
nine out-parishes adjoining." They were required to make returns for the
bills of mortality and of the deaths of freemen. The masters and wardens
had power granted to them to examine clerks as to whether they could
sing the Psalms of David according to the usual tunes used in the parish
churches, and whether they were sufficiently qualified to make their
weekly returns. In 1636 a new charter was granted by Charles I, and
again in 1640, this last charter being that by which the company is now
governed. By this instrument their jurisdiction was extended so as to
include Hackney and the other fifteen out-parishes, and they gained the
right of collecting their own wages, and of suing for it in the
ecclesiastical courts, and of printing the bills of mortality.
Soon after the company lost their hall through the high-handed
proceedings of Sir Robert Chester, they purchased or leased a new hall,
which was situated at the north-east corner of Brode Lane, Vintry, where
they lived from 1562, until the Great Fire in 1666 again made them
homeless. The Sun Tavern in Leadenhall Street, the Green Dragon,
Queenhythe, the Quest House, Cripplegate, the Gun, near Aldgate, and the
Mitre in Fenchurch Street, afforded them temporary accommodation. In
1669 they began to arrange for a new hall to be built off Wood Street,
which was completed in 1671, and has since been their home. Various sums
of money have been voted at different times for its repair or
embellishment. It has once been damaged by fire, and on another occasion
severely threatened. In 1825 the entrance into Wood Street was blocked
up and the entrance into Silver Street opened. The hall has been a
favourite place of meeting for several other companies--the Fruiterers'
Company, the Tinplate Workers' Company, the Society of Porters, and
other private companies have been their tenants.
[Illustration: PORTRAIT OF WILLIAM ROPER SON-IN-LAW AND BIOGRAPHER OF
SIR THOMAS MORE, BENEFACTOR OF THE CLERKS' COMPANY]
[Illustration: THE GRANT OF ARMS TO THE COMPANY OF PARISH CLERKS.]
I had recently the privilege of visiting the Parish Clerks' Hall, and
was kindly conducted there by Mr. William John Smith, the "Father" of
the company, and a liberal benefactor, whose portrait hangs in the
hall. He has been three times master, and his father and grandfather
were members of the fraternity.
The premises consist of a ground floor with cellars, which are let for
private purposes, and a first floor with two rooms of moderate size. The
old courtyard is now covered with business offices. Over the court-room
door stands a copy of the Clerks' Arms, which are thus described: "The
feyld azur, a flower de lice goulde on chieffe gules, a leopard's head
betwen two pricksonge bookes of the second, the laces that bind the
books next, and to the creast upon the healme, on a wreathe gules and
azur, an arm, from the elbow upwards, holding a pricking book, 30th
March, 1582." These are the arms "purged of superstition" by Robert
Cook, Clarencieux Herald, on the aforementioned date. The company's
motto is, _Unitas Societatis Stabilitas_. The arms over the court-room
door have the motto _Pange lingua gloriosa_, which is accounted for by
the fact that this copy of the clerks' heraldic achievement formerly
stood over the organ in the hall. This organ is a small but pleasant
instrument, and was purchased in 1737 in order to enable the members to
practise psalmody. Several portraits of worthy clerks adorn the walls.
Amongst them we notice that of William Roper, a benefactor of the
company, whose name has been already mentioned.
The portrait of John Clarke shows a firm, dignified old man, who was the
parish clerk of St. Michael's, Cornhill, in 1805, and wrote extracts
from the minute-books of the company. The picture was presented to the
company in 1827. There are other portraits of worthy clerks, of Richard
Hust, who died in 1835, and was a great benefactor of the company and
the restorer of the almshouses; of James Mayhew (1896), and of William
John Smith (1903).
In one of the windows is the portrait, in stained glass, of John Clarke,
parish clerk of Bartholomew-the-Less, London, master of the company,
A.D. 1675, _aetatis suae_ 45. He is represented with a dark skull cap on
his head, long hair, a moustache, and a large falling band or collar.
There are also portraits in stained glass of Stephen Penckhurst, parish
clerk of St. Mary Magdalene, Fish Street, London, master in 1685; of
James Maddox, parish clerk of St. Olive's, Jury, master in 1684; of
Nicholas Hudles, parish clerk of St. Andrew's, Undershaft, twice master,
in 1674 and 1682; of Thomas Williams, parish clerk of St. Mary
Magdalene, Bermondsey, master in 1680; of Robert Seal, parish clerk of
St. Gregory, master in 1681; of William Disbrow, parish clerk of St.
Vedast, Foster Lane, and of St. Michael Le Querne, master in 1674; and
of William Hornbuck, parish clerk of St. James, Clerkenwell, master
One of the windows has a curious emblematical representation of music
and its effects, showing King David surrounded by cherubs. The royal
arms of the time of Charles II, the arms of the company, the arms of the
Prince of Wales, and a portrait of Queen Anne also appear in
The master's chair was presented by Samuel Andrews, master in 1716,
which date appears on the back together with the arms of the company,
the crest being an arm raised bearing a scroll on which is inscribed the
ninety-fourth Psalm. The seat of the chair is cane webbing. Psalm x. is
inscribed on the front, and below is the fleur-de-lis.
[Illustration: STAINED GLASS WINDOW AT THE HALL OF THE PARISH CLERKS'
There is an interesting warden's or clerk's chair, made of mahogany,
dating about the middle of the eighteenth century, and some walnut
chairs fashioned in 1690.
Amongst other treasures I noticed an old Dutch chest, an ancient clock,
the gift of the master and wardens in 1786, a reprint of Visscher's View
of London in 1616, the grant of arms to the company, a panel painting of
the Flight into Egypt, and the Orders and Rules of the company in 1709.
A snuff-box made of the wood of the _Victory_, mounted in silver, is one
of the clerks' valued possessions, and they have a goodly store of
plate, in spite of the fact that they, like many of their distinguished
brethren, the Livery Companies of the City, have been obliged at various
critical times in their history to dispose of their plate in order to
meet the heavy demands upon their treasury. They still possess their
pall, which is used on the occasion of the funeral of deceased members,
and also "two garlands of crimson velvet embroidered" bearing the date
1601, which were formerly used at the election of the two masters. The
master now wears a silver badge, the gift of Richard Perkins in 1879,
which bears the inscription: _Hoc insigne in usum Magistri D.D.
Richardus Perkins, SS. Augustini et Fidis Clericus, his Magistri
By far the most interesting document in the possession of the company is
the Bede Roll, which contains a list of the members of the fraternity
from the time of Henry VI. The writing is magnificent, and the lettering
varies in colours--red, blue, and black ink having been used. Amongst
the distinguished names of the honorary members I noticed John Mowbray,
Duke of Norfolk, and Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury.
The company, by the aid of generous benefactors, looks well after the
poor widows of clerks and the decayed brethren, bestowing upon them
adequate pensions for their support in their indigence and old age.
These benefactions entrusted to the care of the company, and the gifts
by its members of plate and other treasures, show the affectionate
regard of the parish clerks for their ancient and interesting
associations, which has done much to preserve the dignity of the office,
to keep inviolate its traditions, and to improve the status of
[Illustration: A PAGE OF THE BEDE ROLL OF THE PARISH CLERKS' COMPANY]
THE CLERKS OF LONDON: THEIR DUTIES AND PRIVILEGES
A brief study of the history of the Parish Clerks' Company has already
revealed the important part which its members played in the old City
life of London. They were intimately connected with the Corporation. The
clerks held their services in the Guildhall Chapel, and were required on
Michaelmas Day to sing the Mass before the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and
commoners before they went to the election of a new Lord Mayor. As early
as the days of the famous Richard Whittington, on the occasion of his
first election to the mayoralty, which as the popular rhyme says he held
three times, we hear of their services being required for this
In the year 1406 it was ordered that "a Mass of the Holy Ghost should be
celebrated with solemn music in the chapel annexed to the Guildhall, to
the end that the same commonalty by the grace of the Holy Spirit might
be able peacefully and amicably to nominate two able and proper persons
to be mayor of the City for the ensuing year, the same Mass, by the
ordinance of the Chamberlain for the time being, to be solemnly chanted
by the finest singers, in the chapel aforesaid and upon that feast."
And when the Mass was no longer sung in the chapel of the Guildhall,
they still chanted the Psalms and anthems before and after divine
service and sermon, sometimes with the help of "two singing men of
Paul's," who received twelvepence apiece for their pains; and sometimes
the singing was done by a convenient number of the Clerks' Company most
skilful in singing, and deemed most fit by the master and wardens to
perform that service.
They were in great request at the great and stately funerals of the
sixteenth century, going before the hearse and singing with their
surplices hanging on their arms till they came to the church. The
changes wrought by the Reformation strongly affected their use. In the
early years of the century we can hear them chanting anthems, dirige,
and Mass; later on they sing "the Te Deum in English new fashion, Geneva
wise--men, women and all do sing and boys."
These splendid funerals were a fruitful source of income to the Clerks'
Company. We see Masters William Holland and John Aungell, clerks of the
Brotherhood of St. Nicholas, with twenty-four persons and three children
singing the Masses of Our Lady, the Trinity and Requiem at the interment
of Sir Thomas Lovell, the sage and witty counsellor of King Henry VIII
and Constable of the Tower, while sixty-four more clerks met the body on
its way and conducted it to its last resting-place at Holywell,
Shoreditch. Perhaps it was not without some satisfaction that the clerks
took a prominent part in the burial of the Duke of Somerset, the
iniquitous spoiler of their goods. In the ordinances of the companies
issued in 1553, very minute regulations are laid down with regard to
the fees for funerals and the order in which each clerk should serve. At
the burials of "noble honourable, worshipful men or women or citizens of
the City of London," the attendance of the clerks was limited to the
number asked for by the friends of the deceased. No person was to
receive more than eight-pence. The beadle might charge fourpence for the
use of the hearse cloth. An extra charge of fourpence could be made if
the clerks were wanted both in the afternoon and in the forenoon for the
sermon or other service. The bearers might have twopence more than the
usual wage. Each clerk was to have his turn in attending funerals, so
that no one man might be taken for favour or left out for displeasure.
The records of these gorgeous funerals, which are preserved in Machyn's
diary and other chronicles, reveal the changes wrought by the spread of
Reformation principles and Puritan notions. In Mary's reign they were
very magnificent, "priests and clerks chanting in Latin, the priest
having a cope and the clerk the holy water sprinkle in his hand." The
accession of Elizabeth seems at first to have wrought little change, and
the services of the Clerks' Company were in great request. On 21
October, 1559, "the Countess of Rutland was brought from Halewell to
Shoreditch Church with thirty priests and clarkes singing," and "Sir
Thomas Pope was buried at Clerkenwell with two services of pryke
song, and two masses of requiem and all clerkes of London." "Poules
Choir and the Clarkes of London" united their services on some
occasions. Funeral sermons began to be considered an important part of
the function, and Machyn records the names of the preachers. Even though
such keen Protestants as Coverdale, Bishop Pilkington, Robert Crowley,
and Veron preached the sermons, twenty clerks of the company were
usually present singing. Machyn much disliked the innovations made by
the Puritan party, their singing "Geneva wise" or "the tune of Genevay,"
men, women, and children all singing together, without any clerk. Here
is a description of such a funeral on 7 March, 1559: "And there was a
great company of people two and two together, and neither priest nor
clarke, the new preachers in their gowns like laymen, neither singing
nor saying till they came to the grave, and afore she was put in the
grave, a collect in English, and then put in the grave, and after, took
some earth and cast it on the corse, and red a thyng ... for the sam,
and contenent cast the earth into the grave, and contenent read the
Epistle of St. Paul to the Stesselonyans the ... chapter, and after they
sang _Pater noster_ in English, bothe preachers and other, and ... of a
new fashion, and after, one of them went into the pulpit and made a
sermon." Machyn especially disliked the preacher Veron, rector of St.
Martin's, Ludgate, a French Protestant, who had been ordained by Bishop
Ridley, and was "a leader in the change from the old ecclesiastical
music for the services to the Psalms in metre, versified by Sternhold
[Footnote 53: The notes of the harmony were pricked on the lines of
[Footnote 54: _Some Account of Parish Clerks_, by J. Christie, p. 153.]
The clerks indirectly caused the disgrace and suspension of Robert
Crowley, vicar of St. Giles, Cripplegate, and prebendary of St. Paul's
Cathedral, a keen Puritan and hater of clerkly ways. He loathed
surplices as "rags of Popery," and could not bear to see the clerks
marching in orderly procession singing and chanting. A funeral took
place at his church on 1 April, 1566. A few days before, the Archbishop
of Canterbury had issued his Advertisements ordering the use of the
surplice. The friends of the deceased had engaged the services of the
parish clerks, who, believing that the order with regard to the use of
surplices applied to them as well as to the clergy, appeared at the door
of the church attired according to their ancient usage. A scene
occurred. The angry Crowley met them at the door and bade them take off
those "porter's coats." The deputy of the ward supported the vicar and
threatened to lay them up by the feet if they dared to enter the church
in such obnoxious robes. There was a mighty disturbance. "Those who took
their part according to the queen's prosedyngs were fain to give over
and tarry without the church door." The Lord Mayor's attention was
called to this disgraceful scene. He complained to the archbishop. The
deputy of the ward was bound over to keep the peace, and Crowley was
ordered to stay in his house, and for not wearing a surplice was
deprived of his living, to which he was again appointed twelve years
later. The clerks triumphed, but their services at funerals soon
ceased. Puritan opinions spread; no longer did the clerks lead the
singing and processions at funereal pageants, and a few boys from
Christ's Hospital or school children took their places in
[Footnote 55: _Some Account of Parish Clerks_, by J. Christie, p. 154.]
The Parish Clerks' Company were not a whit behind other City companies
in their love of processions and pageantry, and their annual feasts and
elections were conducted with great ceremony and magnificence. The
elections took place on Ascension Day, and the feast on the following
Monday. The clerks in 1529 were ordered to come to the Guildhall College
on the Sunday before Whit-Sunday to Evensong clad in surplices, and on
the following day to attend Mass, when each man offered one halfpenny.
When Mass was over they marched in procession wearing copes from the
Guildhall to Clerks' Hall, where the feast was held. Fines were levied
for absence or non-obedience to these observances. Machyn describes the
accustomed usages in Mary's reign as follows: "The sixth of May was a
goodly evensong at Yeldhall College with singing and playing as you have
heard. The morrow after was a great Mass at the same place by the same
Fraternity, when every clerk offered a halfpenny. The Mass was sung by
divers of the Queen's Chapel and children. And after Mass was done every
clerk went their procession, two and two together, each having a
surplice, a rich cope and a garland. After them fourscore standards,
streamers and banners, and every one that bare had an albe, or else a
surplice, and two and two together. Then came the waits playing, and
then between, thirty Clarkes again singing _Salva festa dies_. So there
were four quires. Then came a canopy, borne by four of the masters of
the Clarkes over the Sacrament with a twelve staff torches burning, up
St. Lawrence Lane and so to the further end of Cheap, then back again by
Cornhill, and so down to Bishopsgate, into St. Albrose Church, and there
they did put off their copes, and so to dinner every man, and then
everyone that bare a streamer had money, as they were of bigness then."
A very striking procession it must have been, and those who often
traverse the familiar streets of the City to-day can picture to
themselves the clerks' pageant of former times, which wended its way
along the same accustomed thoroughfares.
[Illustration: THE ORGAN AT THE PARISH CLERKS HALL]
But times were changing, and religious ceremonies changed too. Less
pomp and pageantry characterise the celebrations of the clerks. There is
the Evensong as usual, and a Communion on the following day, followed by
a dinner and "a goodly concert of children of Westminster, with viols
and regals." A little later we read that the clerks marched clad in
their liveries, gowns, and hoods of white damask. Copes are no longer
recognised as proper vestments. Standards, banners, and streamers remain
locked up in the City's treasure-house, and Puritan simplicity is duly
observed. But the clerks lacked not feasting. Besides the election
dinner, there were quarterly dinners, and dinners for the wardens and
assistants. Time has wrought some changes in the mode of celebrating
election day and other festive occasions. Sometimes "plain living and
high thinking" were the watchwords that guided the principles of the
company. Processions and gown-wearing have long been discontinued, but
in its essential character the election day is still observed, though
pomp and pageantry no longer form important features of its ceremonial.
We have seen that the parish clerks of London were in great request on
account of their musical abilities. In 1610 the masters and wardens were
called upon to examine all those who wished to be admitted into the
honourable company, as to whether they could read the Psalms of David
according to the usual tunes used in the parish churches. The finest
singers chanted Mass in pre-Reformation times in the Guildhall at the
election of the Lord Mayor. In order to improve themselves in this part
of their duties, the parish clerks soon after the Restoration of the
monarchy, in 1660, provided themselves with an organ in order to perfect
themselves in the art of chanting. The minute book of the company tells
that it was acquired "the better to enable them to perform a service
incumbent upon them before the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City on
Michaelmas Day, and also the better to enable them who already are, or
hereafter shall be, parish clerks of the City in performing their duties
in the several parishes to which they stand related." Here the clerks
used to meet on Tuesday afternoons for a regular weekly practice in
music, and for many years an organist was appointed by the company to
assist the brethren in their cultivation of psalmody. The selection of
psalms specially suited for each Sunday in the year was made by the
company and set forth in _The Parish Clerks' Guide_, in order that the
special teaching of the Sunday, as set forth in the Collect, Epistle,
and Gospel, might be duly followed in the Psalms.
Another important duty which the parish clerks of London, and also in
some provincial towns, discharged was the publishing of the bills of
mortality for the City. This duty is enjoined in their charter of 1610.
The corporation required from them returns of the deaths of freemen in
their respective parishes, and also returns of the number of deaths and
christenings. The records of the City of London contain a copy of the
agreement, made in 1545-6 between the Lord Mayor and the Parish Clerks'
Company, which provides that "They shall cause all clerks of the City to
present to the common crier the name and surname of any freeman that
shall die having any children under the age of 21 years." The
Chamberlain was instructed to pay to the company 13 s. 4 d. yearly for
their services. The custody of all orphans, with that of their lands and
goods, had been entrusted to the City by the charter of Richard III, and
this agreement was made in order to enable the "City Fathers" to
faithfully discharge their duties in looking after children of deceased
freemen. In spite of many difficulties, especially after the Great Fire
which rendered thousands homeless and scattered the population, the
clerks continued to perform this duty, though not always to the
satisfaction of their employers, until the beginning of the eighteenth
century, when the custom seems to have lapsed.
[Illustration: A PAGE OF AN EARLY BILL OF MORTALITY PRESERVED AT THE
HALL OF THE PARISH CLERKS COMPANY]
The earliest bills of mortality now in existence date back to the time
of Henry VIII, when the clerks were required to furnish information with
regard to the deaths caused by plague, as well as those resulting from
other causes. The returns of the victims of plague are occasionally very
large. In 1562, 20,372 persons died, of which number 17,404 died from
the plague. The burial grounds of the City became terribly overcrowded,
and the parish clerks were ordered to report upon the space available in
the City churchyards. They also were appointed to see to "the shutting
up of infected houses and putting papers on the doors."
An early "Bill of Mortality" is preserved at the Hall. It tells of "the
Number of those who dyed in the Citie of London and Liberties of the
same from the 28th of December 1581 to the 17th of December 1582, with