Churchwardens' Accounts

Ref. NYCRO PR/AYG 4 (MICs 1851 & 4634)

Churchwardens and the Parish

Churchwarden is a temporal post of considerable antiquity. Alternative names for churchwardens included churchman, churchmaster, church reeve and kirkmaster.
Originally churchwardens were responsible for presenting offenders against ecclesiastical law, encouraging church attendance and ensuring that infants were baptised. They were obliged to attend to attend the Archdeacon's Court and present offences within the cognizance of the church courts such as adultery, drunkenness or incest. The Archdeacon was the bishop's deputy with a duty to regularly visit each parish to inspect the fabric of the church and any other church property and to assess the general running of the affairs of the parish.
The churchwardens duties included management of church property and finances, the upkeep of the fabric of the church and provision of facilities for worship, which included allocation of pews. They also had charge of one of the three locks of the parish chest. In earlier times they were responsible for the maintenance of parish arms and payment of the militia.
The churchwardens were also obliged to pay a bounty for ' vermin' killed within the parish, the money coming from the church rate. The legislation governing this duty had been enacted in Henry V111's reign during a period of bad harvests. Locally the most common vermin killed were 'foulmarts' or polecats, but otters and foxes were also paid for. Many innocent small mammals and birds suffered under this legislation and the practice continued until well into the 19C.
Traditionally churchwardens were chosen on Easter Tuesday by the joint consent of the incumbent, those on the Church Electoral Roll and residents of the parish who were entitled to be local government electors. In large parishes there were often three or four churchwardens appointed to represent different townships. ( These townships were administrative divisions of a parish which levied a separate poor rate and appointed their own constables)
Later, as their role broadened, they represented the views of the parishioners as a body and as individuals. In collaboration wit the overseer's of the poor they supervised the education and relief of the poor. The office of 'Overseer of the Poor' was established in 1572 and an elected parish official supervised all charitable funds. The parish clerk was a temporal post normally appointed by the incumbent and his duties included arrangement of baptisms, communions, ringing the church bell and sometimes would lead the responses at service. The sexton was a paid official appointed by the incumbent and he would be responsible for digging graves, bellringing and odd jobs in the church. The maintenance of the churchyard was the responsibility of the parochial church council and was paid for out of the civil parish rates.
Successive Acts of Parliament in the 16C and17C encouraged the development of secular parochial authority administered through vestries. Parishes levied a church rate and subsequent legislation enabled them to levy rates for relief of the poor and the maintenance of highways. The Poor Law Act of 1601 established an administrative pattern of relief and churchwardens of the parish and two or more substantial landowners acted as 'Overseer's of the Poor'
At 'open vestries; any male ratepayer could attend and vote but in parishes with large populations this was unmanageable and 'select vestries' were established which were undemocratic, self-perpetuating oligarchies. The vestry was responsible for appointing church, sexton,'Oversees's of the Poor', Surveyor of the Highways and constable. It also had a duty to oversee the annual perambulation of the parish boundary. The civil and ecclesiastical duties of vestral authority were separated in towns 1835 and in rural districts in 1894 which established civil parish councils.

References The Sutton Companion to Local History: Stephen Friar
Dr. R P Hastings: WEA Lectures.

The Great Ayton Churchwardens Accounts are held at the North Yorkshire County Records Office, Northallerton.
(Transcribed by Dennis & Barbara Tyerman)

Churchwardens' Accounts 1734-1844
Churchwardens' Accounts 1745-55
Churchwardens' Accounts 1755-65
Churchwardens' Accounts 1766-75
Churchwardens' Accounts 1776-85
Churchwardens' Accounts 1786-95
Churchwardens' Accounts 1796-1844

Analysis of the Churchwardens' Accounts

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