By Lyn and Jenny
Historically, the clergy did not have a ‘general right to require fees for the performance of ecclesiastical duties’, such as weddings and funerals, and so the payment of parochial fees began on a voluntary basis which evolved into a local custom. If an incumbent of a parish needed to establish his right to receive a fee, such as in the case we’re looking at today where a parishioner refused to pay the fee, he had to prove that such a custom existed for ‘time immemorial’.
On December 27th 1737 Joseph Richards the younger and Mary Hunt, both from Birmingham, were married at the chapel of St John the Baptist without the Barrs in Lichfield.
This was unusual in itself as although the chapel was open as a public place of worship it was not a parish church and so marriages were not normally performed there. Joseph had obtained a license for the marriage on the same day that it took place and whilst it was not uncommon for couples from across the diocese to get married in Lichfield after they had obtained a license at the Cathedral, they were usually married at the Cathedral itself. However, 16 licenses for marriages at St Johns were issued in 1737 and 1738 (with more licenses giving St Johns as a possible venue) and during this period (which coincides with the ‘prolonged visitation of the Cathedral’ by Bishop Smalbroke) an unusually low number of marriages took place in the Cathedral. Therefore, it appears that St Johns might have been used as an alternative to the Cathedral for numerous marriages during this brief period.
Parish register for Lichfield The Close (Lichfield Cathedral) showing a large number of marriages in 1736 (left) and a much smaller number in 1737 and 1738 (right). SRO D102/1
The place of the marriage, however, is not the central concern of the case but rather the place of residence of the marriage parties. Joseph Richards lived in the parish of St Martin in Birmingham and 7 years after the wedding the rector of St Martins, Richard Dovey, brought a case against him claiming that he had failed to pay Dovey 5s for a customary marriage fee. Dovey claimed that there was a custom in the parish of St Martins which required every man who lived in the parish, who got married by license (whether they married in the parish or elsewhere), to pay to the rector a fee of 5s.
Joseph doesn’t deny that he’s a resident of the parish but rather that no such custom exists and even if it did it would be ‘repugnant to the law’:
To prove Dovey’s case, witnesses were called to attest to the fact that they had paid the rector of St Martins in Birmingham a marriage fee according to established custom when they had married by license in another church. These witnesses were: William Collett, a Birmingham resident since 1696 who married in the parish of Arrow, Warwickshire in 1705; Zachary Gisbourn, a Birmingham resident who married at Lichfield Cathedral in 1726; and Samuel Birch, a Birmingham resident for 51 years who married in the parish of Edgbaston in 1699.
William W(h)orton, who had been the Parish Clerk of St Martins for 26 years, is also called as a witness to support the case. In his interrogatory it is revealed that Joseph isn’t the only resident of St Martins who has refused to pay the marriage fee. Whilst some ‘poor people’ have been unable to pay the fees, Mr Shepherd and Mr Hawkesford had refused to pay and had not yet been sued for the fees.
Unfortunately for Joseph, and Messrs Shepherd and Hawkesford, his case was unsuccessful. With the help of the numerous witnesses supporting the existence of an established custom as well as evidence provided from the glebe terriers, Dovey was able to prove that he was entitled to receive a marriage fee of 5s.
Lyn is a volunteer with the Bawdy Courts of Lichfield project and is part of the volunteer group that meets on Tuesday afternoons at the Lichfield History Access Point. If you are interested in volunteering please get in touch: Jennifer.email@example.com