Salthouse Churchwardens' Accounts
1742 - 1813
           by Derek Schofield

The 'parliament box' which was rediscovered in the vestry of the church

The 'Parliament Box' which was discovered to hold many forgotten parish records


The rediscovery of these old accounts (together with a number of other documents) in the Autumn of 2000 caused excitement in the parish and interest in the County Record Office, where the collection is now lodged. The accounts probably reveal nothing to surprise expert historians, but for local people they provide a fascinating insight into the differences—and similarities—in the life of the church two centuries ago, as compared with current practice.

The major difference between the period covered by the accounts and the modern responsibilities of churchwardens is the source of funding for the life of the church. Whereas now the day-to-day expenditure—and a very great deal of repair costs—can come only from voluntary donations or various fund raising efforts, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the Churchwardens enjoyed a 'church rate'. The Rector, as parish priest, had the benefit of the tithe—an entitlement to a tenth of the produce of the land—but this was to provide for his own support. The 'church rate' covered expenditure on maintaining services, the upkeep of the building and other necessary expenses—including some which to modern eyes seem strange.

One of the old record books

The 'church rate' was a tax levied on the owners or tenants of land and on householders within the parish. It was calculated on the notional annual value of the land or other property, and then the rate was set at so much in the pound. For example, if the annual value of a property was £50 and the rate was set at 3d, then the owner or tenant would have to pay 50 x 3d (or 12s. 6d in old money - to see the equivalent in present day, click on 'coinage' left). The actual rate fluctuated, but for much of the period covered by these accounts it was only 3d in the pound, and occasionally fell to 2d.

The number of properties rated varied from time to time, as empty property was not charged, but the underlying annual value of each property remained unchanged until a complete revaluation in 1782. The village valuation then rose from approximately £221 to £573 and the number of rated properties from 30 (in 1780) to 66.

The Churchwardens themselves often set the rate but usually after consultation, as can be seen from the first entry in the account book:

Salthouse April 19th, 1742 — a Rate made by the Churchwardens and with the Consent of
the Chief Inhabitants for and towards the Repairs of the Church at Six Pence in the Pound.

to compare the pre 1971 coinage with that of today
click here:  




There were then 39 rateable properties in Salthouse plus 3 'Outlayers' also liable. The total proceeds of the 1742 rate were £5 10s. 6d and the two largest individual payments were £1 2s. 3d and £1 4s. 6d, getting on for half the total receipts. The lowest payment was 4½d. The form of words for setting the rate varied from time to time and sometimes the Church wardens seem to have acted alone. For example, in April 1773 the entry reads merely:

A Rate made by the Churchwardens of the Parish of
Salthouse for the Repairs of the Church at 3d in the pound.

At other times entries, such as the following, refer to a grant:

A rate granted to Thos Purdy Churchwarden
from Michaelmas 1797 to Michaelmas 1798.

Whatever the formalities, Churchwardens in the 18th century had a more assured income than their modern counterparts, but they also had civil as well as ecclesiastical responsibilities, as will be clear later.

It is in the expenditure entries that the greater interest lies. The maintenance of the church services figured no more predominantly in the accounts than it does today—for the simple reason that the Rector's income was and is covered from other sources. The purchase of bread and wine for communion cost 11s. 5d in 1742-3 and this item of expenditure occurs annually. A new cloth for the communion table cost £1 8s.10½d in October 1789. Other costs connected with services included such matters as:

26 Oct 1795 to a prayer for the King ................................ 1s. 0d
29 Sept 179
6 to a prayer for Thanksgiving....................... 1s. 0d

These special prayers, purchased from parish funds, presumably reflected national concern at King George III's illness and thanksgiving for his recovery. Housekeeping costs figure regularly. Washing the Rector's 'surplis' cost 2s. 6d in 1742—an amount which, with very few exceptions, continued unchanged for 70 years. In March 1743 three brooms were purchased for 6d but one month later another three cost only 4½d—a lower quality or just a harder bargain?

In May 1744 a payment was made for 'cutting the Weeds in the Churchyard' but it was not just the churchyard which had to be attended to; Church Lane also had to be kept clear and clean (possibly from horse droppings). For example, an entry in 1786 reads:

Pd Cranfield for Cleaning Church Lane .......................... 1s. 0d


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Val Fiddian 2005