Uncategorized, Volunteering

Trying to avoid some wedding costs: Parochial fees and a marriage at St John’s in Lichfield

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’.[1]

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.

WSL SV-V.250b (45/8907)
St Johns Chapel Lichfield c.1762-1798

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[2]) 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’:

B/C/5/1745/18 Personal answers of Joseph Richards the younger
To the eighth pretended article of the said pretended libel the respondent answers he denies that by custom usage and prescription held and observed within the parish of St Martin in Birmingham for and during all or any of the time in the seventh article of the said libel set forth every man being a parishioner inhabitant or resident of or within the parish of St Martin in Birmingham aforesaid that hath  married or taken to wife or marrieth or taketh to wife a woman either residing or inhabiting within the said parish of St Martin or within any other parish and procureth and hath the said marriage solemnised between him and her the said woman by virtue of a lycence in any church chapel or place and not within the said church of St Martin hath for all or any of the time aforesaid constantly paid or ought to pay to the rector of the said Parish the sum of five shillings or any other sum for and in regard of the said marriage as if the same had been actually had and solemnised in the said Parish Church of St Martin. And the respondent further answers that if there really had been any such custom as is pretended yet the respondent believes the same is null and void as being altogether unreasonable and repugnant to law to which he refers himself and denies the said pretended article to be true in any part thereof

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.

B/C/5/1745/20 Deposition of William Collett
To the Eighth article of the said Libel the Deponent saith that on the twelfth Day of Sep in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and five the Deponent then being an inhabitant and parishioner of the said Parish of St Martin in Birmingham was married to Elizabeth Pittar of the parish of Alcester in the County of Warwick at a Parish Church called Arrow in the said County of Warwick by virtue of a licence granted him by Dr Eades of the town of Warwick and that he then paid the sum of five shillings to the Minister as marriage fees due to him and his Parish Clerk and also the sum of ten shillings to the Minister of Alcester aforesaid  as marriage fees due to him and his parish clerk from the said Elizabeth Pittar his wife and also the further  sum of seven shillings and sixpence to wit five shillings to the Rev Mr Daggett upon the said Mr Daggetts demanding the same from the Deponent as a Parishioner of the said Parish of St Martin in Birmingham and further he knowns not depose

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.

B/C/5/1745/23 Interrogatory of William Worton
To the first interrogatory the respondent answers that he cannot say that every man being a parishioner with in the third Parish of St Martin or an inhabitants there off that have been married by virtue of a license in any other church or chapel and not in the church of St Martin aforesaid has paid the sum of five shillings to the Rector as a marriage be due to him but that for the general part the sum have been so paid and with out any all refusal. The respondent remembers that Mr Hawkesford and the deponent and Mr Shepherd who have been married in other churches and not in the church of St Martin aforesaid have not paid to the Rector of St Martin aforesaid the said some of five shilling or any other fee for their fees due to him add that he believes the said Mr Hawkesford and Mr Shepherd have not been sued for the said sums yet and further he cannot answer

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.

[1] https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2018-10/gs1703- parochial%20fees%3A%20supplementary%20report%20from%20dracs.pdf

[2] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/pp166-199

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.lewis@staffordshire.gov.uk

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