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I wanted to have a place on this website to hold various bits of information I have found useful or interesting in researching family history. They are included here in no particular order and, as suggested by the heading of this page, will require some rummaging around. But I have provided something of a list of contents to make searching a little less haphazard.

Records and Dates - History and Some Problems

Parish Records, Calendars, Hardwick Act, Roses Act, Litigation etc

Calculating Population Statistics

Hearth Tax, Gregory King's Table

Definition of "Farmer"

Degrees of Status

Licensed Alehouse Keepers

Boroughbridge 1777


West Riding 1803

Refer also to  Fretwell Orphans - Boroughbridge.







Records and Dates—History and Some Problems[i]

Parish Records

In 1538 Thomas Cromwell ordered each parish in England and Wales to keep a register of baptisms, marriages, and burials. At first these records were kept on loose sheets, many of which have been lost or destroyed. In 1597 it was ordered that from 1598 each parish should keep a bound register and that older records should be entered into that register, the accuracy of the transcript being attested at the foot of each page by the minister and two churchwardens. Only a minority of parishes have records going as far back as 1538; many parishes began their copies in 1558, the year that Elizabeth I came to the throne. The same Act of 1597 also ordered that in future a copy of all the events registered during the past year should be sent to the bishop’s office. These bishop’s transcripts, kept at diocesan record offices, sometimes cover gaps left by the destruction of original registers, but in general their survival rate is not as good. The surviving Cawthorne Parish Registers commence with the year 1653.

No standard form of entry was imposed until Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753 and Rose’s Act of 1812. The style of entry therefore varies from place to place and over time. Often, only the barest details are given. In early registers this information is often recorded in simple Latin. Sometimes the information is much fuller, with occupations and places of residence within the parish noted. Most registers have occasional gaps. The practice of some incumbents or clerks of not entering events immediately has led to their occasionally forgetting names, leaving blanks, and sometimes to their omitting events altogether.

Burials took place within a day or two of death, but the gap between birth and baptism was often much wider. In the early 16th century baptisms took place on the day of birth or the following day, but the later practice was to hold the baptism ceremony within two or three days of birth. It is reasonable, but not absolutely certain, in most cases, therefore, to assume that a baby’s birth date was close to the date of baptism. Indeed, an Act of 1653 ordered that the dates of birth, rather than baptism, be recorded, but this instruction was often ignored.

Further dating problems arise from the haphazard way baptisms took place in some families, and this problem might be compounded if the minister was more interested in his stipend than his flock and did not bother too much about gathering in the babies to be baptised. Sometimes a fire and brimstone preacher came round and preached hell and damnation for the non-baptised and everyone rushed in to get their family ‘done’ before catastrophe struck. Also there were ‘free’ baptism days so that all those who were too poor, mean, or uninterested could have their children baptised at no cost. The number of baptisms and marriages recorded around Christmas time was due to the fact that this coincided with a holiday—allowing time for the rites of passage. Immediately before the introduction of the Hardwick Act there was a rush to get family members baptised as it was thought that by so doing they would avoid the civil registration costs.


Until 1752 the custom was to begin a new year not at 1 January but at Lady Day (25th March). The entries for each year therefore continue beyond 31st December until the following Lady Day.

The normal practice was for family and local historians to note events that took place between 1st January and 25th March as, for example, 1677/8. This method of reckoning was abandoned in 1752 when Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar, and the new year began at 1st January.

Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act

During the later 17th and 18th centuries various attempts were made by central government or the bishops to improve the quality of registration. Lord Hardwicke’s 1753 Act imposed a standard form of entry to marriages, in an attempt to prevent clandestine marriages. From the beginning of 1754 the record of marriage had to be signed by both parties and witnesses in a bound volume of printed forms.

Rose’s Act

This Act insisted on standard entries in bound volumes for all events. Henceforth, a baptismal entry noted the name of the child, the date of baptism, the full names of the parents, their place of residence, and the occupation of the father. Marriage entries recorded the names of both partners, their parishes, the date of the ceremony, and the names of the witnesses. Burial entries noted the name and age of the deceased, his or her place of residence, and the date of the burial.

Sherwood Indexes

Sherwood’s Indexes are Genealogical data records of Lawsuits, Wills, Parish Registers, Pedigrees, and other accessible documents in England.[ii]


Medieval and early modern men thought in legal terms to a degree alien to ourselves. The law was the most usual type of education for those not destined to become clergy. There was never any problem securing either legal advice in the shires or counsel in London even in the 13th century.

The social range of the individuals launching litigation is impressively wide. Our ancestors were far readier to turn to law than we are. Their willingness to commence litigation was tempered by a readiness to discontinue a suit if it had satisfied its purpose without coming to trial. Only a small proportion of suits commenced reached a verdict. Many of those which apparently petered out ended in arbitration or private settlement. Nonetheless, litigants were confronted by confusing plethora of courts, local and central, royal and ecclesiastical. While it was appreciated that each court could offer specific remedies, a single grievance could be fought through a number of courts at the same time, either to wear down an opponent or to gain some advantage. An extreme instance of ‘working the system’ was a Welsh vicar who took revenge on a parishioner by launching 26 suits in six years. This is exceptional only in the number of courts used. But it was quite normal in the 16th and early 17th centuries for a defendant in a suit in one court to commence a suit in another to inhibit, by injunction, the litigation commenced against him in the first.

The wide range of courts available to litigants has deep historical origins. It arises from the conservatism of individual courts and their unwillingness to extend new remedies to litigants by modifying their procedures. The pattern was, therefore, for litigants to find that the proceedings or rules of the existing courts offered them no remedy for their individual grievances. They therefore petitioned the king, his Council, or one of his senior Councillors (often the Chancellor), asking that justice should be done them. Over a period of years, essentially informal means of dealing with petitioners were elaborated into courts with their own staff and rules—and the institutionalisation of procedure again left some petitioners without redress as their needs altered. The courts officers lived on the fees which litigants paid for process. The profitability of legal office was related to the volume of business passing through the court. There was therefore, an obvious incentive to meet the needs of both litigants and staff through the evolution of procedure.

By the 14th century common law had become the ordinary law of the land administered through courts independent of the crown, staffed by professional lawyers. Yet the king retained the power to administer justice outside the regular system if an aggrieved party could not obtain justice from common law. Petitions were presented to the king in Council setting out the details of the case and asking for relief. Such petitions would be presented to the royal Council for consideration. However, by the end of the 14th century, petitions began to be addressed to the Chancellor direct and by the end of the 15th century he was sitting alone hearing petitions and issuing decrees in his own name.

[i] See David Hey, (ed), The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History, OUP, 1998, pp341-2.

[ii] According to Sherwoods (in 1929) not one per cent of the documents available for family and personal history were indexed.

Calculating Population Statistics

Reliable population statistics of England and of the classes into which it was divided cannot be obtained before the first official population census of 1801, and even this data is not totally reliable. However, with reference to the Hearth Tax and other available data at the time of the Revolution (1688), one Gregory King, made some attempt to map the society of the day.

The Hearth Tax

The Hearth Tax is a valuable source of information for the study of local history. The structure of a community can be established by analysing the number of hearths each individual had, how many large houses were in the district, the size of the population, and the family names in the area. The numbers of hearths are generally proportional to the size of the house. Not every room had a hearth, and not all houses of the same size had exactly the same number of hearths, so they are not an exact measure of house size.

The restoration of the monarch in 1660 brought Charles II to the throne of England. The King’s debts, amassed whilst he was in exile, together with the State’s debts, amounted to £3,000,000, which was equivalent to about three years’ ordinary revenue. Additional sources of revenue had to be found by the State. The Hearth Tax was introduced in 1662, it being easy to tell the number of hearths, “which remove not as heads or polls do”.

This tax was levied upon every occupier of premises rated at 20 shillings per annum and over. Householders were required to pay a charge of two shillings per annum for each hearth, with half the payment due on the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, 20th September and the other half at  on the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin St. Mary, the 25th March, or Lady Day. A revision of the Act in 1664 made the tax payable by all who had more than two chimneys. The returns were lodged with the Clerk of the Peace between 1662 and 1688.

Exemptions to the tax were granted to those in receipt of poor relief, those whose houses were worth less than 20 shillings a year and those who paid neither church nor poor rates. Also exempt were charitable institutions such as schools and almshouses, and industrial hearths with the exception of smiths' forges and bakers' ovens.

The Hearth Tax was very unpopular and resulted in passive non-payment, a good deal of evasion, and false returns. Different methods of collection were tried with varying degrees of success. In 1664 and 1669, for example, collection was put out to contract Collectors proved to be unreliable and only a fraction of the estimated amount was received by the State. Eventually attempts at collection were abandoned and in 1689 the tax was abolished by William III and it was also abolished in Scotland in 1690.

Published lists are available of many returns and the original documents are in the Public Record Office. The most informative returns, many of which have been published, occur between 1662-1666 and 1669-1674.

Gregory King's Population Table

Gregory King's famous table of 'Ranks, Degrees, Titles and Qualifications', shows how much the social order had changed by 1695.  King's table, dividing society into those increasing and those decreasing the national wealth, reflects a new mercantile division of society.  Although he makes obeisance to old forms of rank, by placing for example, the lesser clergymen earning £50 a year above freeholders worth £60 a year, wealth was regarded as important as breeding in the status hierarchy. But even while it smoothed the path to social advancement, wealth did not automatically guarantee a rise in status.

Click here for a PDF version of the Table.

Definition of "Farmer"

At the time that Gregory King published up his famous table (1668),  it is almost certain that the livelihood of the Fretwells of Cawthorne of this time was linked to the land, and in this they would fall into Gregory King’s categories of farmers. But that is a broad descriptor, and there were ‘degrees’ of farmers. These could be ranked in order, gentry, yeoman, husbandman and farm labourer.


Although the word ‘gentil’ originally meant ‘noble’, by the 15th century a gentleman was one who was superior to a yeoman but inferior in status to a baron. By the mid-1660s the term gentleman was applied loosely to one who did not work with his hands.


In the 13th-15th centuries the term ‘yeoman’ was principally applied to a knight’s servant or retainer. Under the Tudors the use of the term was widened to include the prosperous working farmers below the rank of gentry. They worked their own land, but did not necessarily have to be freeholders. Yeomen increasingly held their land by a variety of tenures. The term had no legal precision but was used to distinguish a farmer who was more prosperous than the average husbandman.


The husbandman, ranked below the yeoman, and regarded as an average farmer in his locality, usually held his land by copyhold or leasehold tenure. Copyhold was a feature of the old manorial system whereby the terms of the tenure was entered into the manorial rolls. By the 16th century the obligation of the copyhold tenant to perform services for his lord was converted into money payments. During this same century copyhold increasingly gave way to leasehold tenure, with leases negotiated on a lifetime basis or for a stated period of time. It was also a legal device to ensure the working of a demesnes that a landowner did not wish to farm himself, but which he could recover at the expiry of the lease.

Farm Labourer:

A farm labourer was usually a married man who lived elsewhere, often in a tied cottage, and who was paid a daily or weekly wage for the work he performed. During the medieval and early modern period farm service was the normal career expectation of boys from the age of 14 and farm workers included yet a further category—farm servant. This would be an adolescent boy, or an unmarried man, be hired for a year on an agreed wage, which included board and lodging as he would live on the farm.

Licensed Alehouse

While a licensing system for alehouses was instituted in 1495, most licences were issued after the passing of another Act in 1552, A further Act of 1753 required all clerks of the peace to keep registers of licensed victuallers. Amongst the records of Quarter Sessions are those of special sittings known as brewster sessions, when each constable had to present a list of the names of licensed innkeepers and alehouse keepers in his township. These records can be a useful source of information for family historians.

Boroughbridge - 1777

  I have a list of of Alehouse Keepers and Tipplers in the township of Boroughbridge for the year 1777. Apart from John Fretwell, the  Keepers listed includes:

John Rushton Christopher Slater William Fletcher George Stephenson
John Middleton John Lowcock Andrew Gill Thomas Slater
Ann Earle Francis Wilks Joseph Carass Mary Carass

 and the document was signed off by Francis William, Constable. Click here to view the transcript.

West Riding - 1803

I have also found an extract (sourced by WEF from the Yorkshire County Records Office in 1975) from a listing by township of West Riding licensed publicans and their sureties as presented to the Knaresborough Assizes on 2nd September 1803. As this was obtained in relation to the Crown Inn, operated by the Fretwell family of Boroughbridge, the listing stops at the second page. However, I have transcribed the two pages and the townships covered are :

Aldfield (1) Asquith (2) Aldborough (5) Arkendale (6) Allerton & Flaxby (2)
Azerley (4) Beamsley (2) Burton Leonard (1) Brearton (2) Bilton with Harogate [sic] (14)
Boroughbridge (14) Birstwith (1) Cattall (2) Cowthorpe (1)  

The numbers in brackets refer to the number of Alehousekeepers listed for each town.

By this time Richard Fretwell had taken over the running of the Crown Hotel, following the death of his father, and there are other families listed in the 1803 return who were included in the 1777 Boroughbridge list. Click here to view the transcript.[






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This page was last updated on 08 April, 2011