In and Out of the Archive

This paper was read by Arthur Burns at the Franco-British Conference, ‘Du papier a l’archive, du privé au public: France et Iles britanniques, deux mémoires’, held at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, on 1 October 2004.

It was later published in a revised version as A Burns, K Fincham and S Taylor, ‘In and out of the Archives: Reflections on the diocesan records of the Church of England since the Reformation’,  in J.P. Genet & F.-J. Ruggiu (eds.),  Du papier à l’archive, du privé au public: France et iles Britanniques, deux memoires  (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2011), pp. 83 – 97. Please refer to that version if citing it.

No doubt in what follows I will at some point be drawn into a remark along the lines of the diocesan records of the Church of England as preserved in the archives exhibiting a rather ramshackle and random character. Should I do so, no doubt some of you will experience an inclination to point out that the much the same could be said of the paper to which you are listening. I fear such a verdict would only be a judicious one, and so I want to begin not only for apologising for this, but also offering some word of explanation.

I am here today in my capacity as one of three directors of a project known as the Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540–1835, which was established in 1999 with generous funding of half a million pounds from the Arts and Humanities Research Board to run for five years, subsequently extended until the spring of 2005. The aim of the project is to produce a relational database containing evidence records relating to the careers of all Anglican clergy in post between the Henrician Reformation and the major ecclesiastical reforms of the 1830s, which also sit conveniently close to the date at which directories listing incumbent clergy began to be published for England and Wales on a regular basis. The database when complete, and indeed while it is being completed, will be gradually made available free of charge on the internet, where users will be able to execute a wide variety of searches.

The database will be a remarkable research tool for a wide range of both academic and non-academic research on the single most important employer of educated males in England and Wales in the early modern period. In one sense the initiative is of course a response to the possibilities for quantitative historical research using information technology which have emerged in recent decades, a point which hardly needs reiterating to an audience partly drawn from the French historical community. But it is not the previous absence of relevant technology (and in the British case until the AHRB came along, much chance of securing relevant funding) alone that explains why no such attempt to map the national contours of the clerical profession over a long historical period has ever been successfully attempted before (there was an abortive hard-copy initiative in the early nineteenth century). The Church of England possessed an institutional presence that surpassed that of the state, but it was essentially a local presence, encapsulated in the aim of placing a clergyman in every one of the 10,000 or so parishes that covered England and Wales. Partly in consequence, the relevant archives are both geographically dispersed and of a disparate nature. The records of the dioceses of the Church, the most relevant administrative level, are held in 28 different repositories. ((In most cases the diocesan records are held together in a single repository. The exceptions are London (where the records are divided between the Guildhall Library and London Metropolitan Archives), Canterbury (Lambeth Palace Library and Canterbury Cathedral Archives), and Chester (Cheshire Record Office, Lancashire Record Office, and the West Yorkshire Archives Service, Leeds). The records of all four Welsh dioceses – Bangor, Llandaff, St Asaph and St Davids – are held at the National Library of Wales.))) This presents a problem in fact not only for national studies, but also for the local researcher, genealogist or biographer, trying to trace an individual career. The difficulties caused by the dispersal of the archives are indicated clearly by the fact that one incentive for the directors to undertake the project was the frequency with which colleagues asked us as “experts” to tell them how many clergy there were at any one time in, say, the eighteenth century? The honest answer is that we simply don’t know: contemporary estimates varied from 10,000 to 20,000, and modern estimates reflect only intelligent surmise and deduction. The strategy adopted by the database to make an answer to such questions possible was in one sense a simple one: to gather together in one electronic space as many as possible of the records of individual career events preserved by the diocesan authorities of the post-Reformation Church. To do this a team of some seventy volunteer researchers have been active over the past five years entering more than a million and a half records from the diocesan archives into collection databases installed on laptop computers, sending them back to base for uploading into a master database where they are linked to both locations and persons (no mean task this for the three project directors to undertake in the evenings left after they finish their day jobs, and with its own particular challenges, which we have written about elsewhere). With only half a million pounds to play with, of course, not every document in the archives could be extracted, and moreover one of our strategies to minimize error in data entry has been to tailor the collection databases individually for each document to be entered in each archive to reflect its precise contents, also discussed in an detailed schedule issued to the researcher doing the inputting.

And this explains what I am doing here. In order to both select and compile detailed descriptions of each document, the directors have visited each of the diocesan archives across both England and Wales, as well as many other repositories with stray or additional sources, spending up to a week working together through the documents to determine an inputting strategy. Almost inadvertently, therefore, we have conducted the most comprehensive survey of the condition, content and structure of the central documents of the diocesan records of the post-Reformation Church since the national but in some ways more superficial study conducted by the Pilgrim Trust in the 1930s. This experience has been an extraordinarily rewarding one for the directors, not least because each of the three of us has a different period specialism, and we have therefore found ourselves with an unusually wide collective perspective on what is to be expected or to be found surprising in the archives we have surveyed. And it is on this experience that I want to reflect here. Regrettably, pressures of time prevented us following up almost any of the various matters which struck us at various points during our surveying work, and this explains both the rather random aspect to the reflections which follow, and the lack of detailed evidential support that can be offered. But many aspects of our survey illuminated or indeed obscured for us in unexpected ways both the compilation and the history of the preservation of these documents, and in ways moreover with some bearing on the themes of public v. private and public accessibility which are highlighted for this colloquium.

My reflections can roughly be divided into three categories: those relating to the nature of the documents which constitute the core of the diocesan archives of England and Wales; those relating to the history of their preservation and interpretation/dissemination, and those concerned with the current status of this core record of a national institution still umbilically linked to the state in England if not in Wales.

First some observations on some curiosities in the archival deposits laid down by the dioceses of the Church of England. Inevitably, it is sometimes difficult to judge how the patterns of record keeping are reflected in patterns of record survival, but having surveyed the records on such a grand scale both temporally and geographically, we have become convinced that many of the patterns do indeed owe much to the way they were deployed by the officials that worked with them.

Part of the optimism with which we embarked on the Database project was attributable to a naïve belief that despite the complexity of the jurisdictional map of the pre-reform church, riddled as it was with peculiar jurisdictions and illogical but time-honoured arrangements, patterns of record keeping in the dioceses of the Church of England were common to all jurisdictions, as least as far as the central records were concerned. The Project exploits an enormous variety of records, but it relies very heavily on a core of four types of record maintained by diocesan and archidiaconal officers: registers, subscription books, licensing books ((By the early nineteenth century, partly in response to parliamentary legislation, the licensing books that were typical of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had been superseded by printed curates’ licences, which were often bound together in volumes. These volumes become a standard feature of diocesan records from 1813)) and libri cleri or call books. Registers record the ordination of clergy, the point at which they ‘became’ clergymen, and the appointment of beneficed clergy to their livings. They and licensing books also record the appointment, or licensing, of unbeneficed clergy or curates and preachers, appointments of schoolmasters, resignations, and other similar events. At the time of their ordination and appointment, clergy were also required to subscribe to various oaths – these events are recorded in subscription books, which thus provide another source for many events recorded in registers, but which are particularly valuable for their often much more complete records of appointments of curates and preachers. Libri cleri are essentially lists of the clergy of a diocese or archdeaconry, drawn up for use at visitations. They are invaluable for periods when registers and subscription books have not survived and for identifying further curates. We expected to find traces of all four of these record series in each diocese. But instead, one of the most unexpected problems for the project has been the sheer variety of ecclesiastical records. Remarkably little attention has been given to the post-Reformation records of the Church of England, many of which were deposited in local record offices at the point at which the historical profession began to lose interest in the kind of institutional history that underpinned the great cataloguing and printing of state records from the mid-nineteenth century. All three Project Directors had used these records in their earlier researches and thought that they knew about them; all were familiar with Dorothy Owen’s invaluable Records of the Established Church. ((Dorothy Owen, The records of the established church in England excluding parochial records, London 1970)) But, as we moved from record office to record office surveying the records we came to realise that her account was based essentially on the records of the dioceses of Ely and Lincoln and did not necessarily reflect administrative forms and practices elsewhere. What we found by contrast was a remarkable variety of local and regional practices, with different kinds of records and different forms being used from diocese to diocese. To take one example: during the Project Directors’ visit to Norwich, the tenth diocese to be surveyed, we found a new type of appointment record, unique to the diocese and which was for the purposes of the project designated as the ‘Norwich union’ – a temporary but formal union of two benefices for the incumbency of an individual cleric on the authority of the diocesan bishop. No such form can be encountered elsewhere in the Church of England. The fact that the ‘Norwich union’ was found to be illegal by a court case in the nineteenth century was of little comfort, as its use throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries forced the Project team to think again about how to record institutions and collations in the diocese. In other dioceses, peculiarities are even more striking. In some dioceses we have found no trace of any surviving Episcopal registers. At first we thought this another instance of careless record keeping, but eventually concluded that in fact no such register had been maintained, the subscription books instead standing proxy for the register: the customary laconic records associated with these documents here being replaced with fuller entries. Yet, the decision to rely on such documents seems puzzling, for, as our researches into ordination documents elsewhere indicated, the fact that a subscription had taken place is no guarantee that the associated appointment or ordination followed immediately or even at a remote date. We know from our data linkage that there might be up to a year between a subscription and the associated event; and even when the supposed interval between the two was supposedly less than twenty-four hours, something might intervene. In several ordinations, for example, it is clear that the subscription was followed by what amounted to a stag night for the intended clergy; that the bishop got wind of it; and the ceremony was called off. It is also clear that the status of subscription books was much less certain in terms of the diocesan archive than the register.

Registers, at least as they are now bound, confidently stride through the years as one bishop succeeds another in the diocese. But subscription books often do not, terminating abruptly and half empty on the termination of an Episcopal or other tenure. This hints at a phenomenon confirmed by other evidence, that they teetered on a precarious boundary between the public documentary archive of the diocese and the private property of the ordinary or diocesan official. Almost all registers can be found in the “right” archival depository: the relevant diocesan record office. But subscription books wander, and it is clear that sometimes they wandered with the bishop. Thus the Borthwick Institute, diocesan record office for York contains a subscription book of its archbishop Richard Neile. But this book contains records relating to no fewer than five other bishoprics over the period 1608-40, all of which Neile presided over: Rochester, Coventry and Lichfield, Lincoln, Durham and Winchester. In Lambeth Palace Library we find a subscription book which belonged to Bishop Matthew Wren, at his death in 1662 bishop of Ely. But this also contains subscriptions taken while Wren was bishop of Norwich and Hereford, and in fact also contains subscriptions taken by another bishop, Augustine Lindsell, whom Wren succeeded at Hereford, but who had also taken them down while bishop of Peterborough in 1633-4. Even within dioceses similar confusions arise. In the archives of the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry is a Hanoverian subscription book labelled for the royal peculiar of Wolverhampton, which by the eighteenth century was effectively governed from chapel royal at Windsor. But maybe one explanation for its resting place in Lichfield is that the official of the peculiar also served as official to the dean and chapter of Lichfield cathedral: and once one opens it is is apparent that on many occasions he found it necessary or more convenient to record subscriptions relating to the chapter’s jurisdiction in this book than in those designated for the purpose.

Such complexities have left the project team with a conundrum which they feel has not received adequate consideration hitherto, but to which they cannot begin to offer a solution: how did the pre-bureaucratic official mind engage with such a working archive? Not only are there the problems of misleading labelling of the kind just discussed to contend with: at times we have simply been unable to come up with any remotely plausible account of how the contents of certain documents were determined. For example in the diocese of Gloucester there are a series of overlapping subscription books which do not duplicate each other but which are never identical, all covering the same period. The problems this creates are moreover merely an amplification of already existing complications caused by the existence of pockets of peculiar jurisdiction compromising the geographical integrity of the interior jurisdictional divisions of the diocese. We do not know how an official in search of a specific record to answer a query knew where to look: but the fact that they did is readily apparent from annotations in the front of such documents recording the date on which such a consultation had taken place as part of legal proceedings. It is not the case simply that the person who compiled the documents in a way which suited there personal needs knew what to do, for these investigations often date from periods long after the documents were compiled, and the compiler probably long dead. There can be absolutely no question that these diocesan archives were functional and effective: but in many cases we had to conclude that we could not understand how this could have been the case. Was there a now lost public logic to the arrangement? Or was it an esoteric knowledge handed down from one generation of the diocesan administrative cadre to the next? It would be good to know.

I now want to move on to consider the way in which the diocesan records were transformed from being part of the working institutional archives of the diocese into a subject of historical enquiry considered more appropriately part of the holdings of a diocesan record office. Here I must confess that I am largely ignorant of the historical of archival depositing for other major institutions. But it is nevertheless the case that on our tour of the archives a similar pattern emerged in several cases that suggested to us that diocesan records have a distinctive archival history.

For example, diocesan records have benefited from neither the custody of the state nor the emotional investment in the family patrimony that has assisted the survival of rich deposits of personal papers. Along with the archives of local government, as already indicated they were not beneficiaries of the first significant official initiatives in both the regulated preservation of archives and in making them accessible to a historical public through the labours of the Public Record Office and the initial efforts of the Historical Manuscripts Commission. ((See levi1986, ch. 5 passim.)) Throughout the nineteenth century they remained as they had previously been in the custody of diocesan registries and cathedral chapters, where they might occasionally be consulted in order to resolve arcane legal disputes over patronage, but in general were left quietly to decay, often in conditions which made such decay inevitable and accelerated. There seclusion ensured that save for the occasional foray by one of Roey Sweets Antiquarians, almost always a cleric, they were in effect treated as a private patrimony. Efforts to gain access in the course of a legal or other dispute turning on their contents were never easy, especially in the anticlerical moment in British politics which occurred in the early nineteenth century. When in 1812 Maria Hackett, the nineteen-year-old champion of choirboys’ rights, sought to investigate whether St Paul’s cathedral was in breach of the terms of the bequests given to further their education, the chapter had to be bullied through the threat of legal action into opening up a muniment room the contents of which they nevertheless confessed to be a mystery to them. ((See Guildhall Library, London, MS. 10189, fo. 28 ff.)) As a result of such official neglect in some dioceses, such as Chester or Rochester, crucial documents from as late as the mid-nineteenth century are perhaps best described as missing in inaction. ((In Chester, for example, most of the act books and subscription books for the period from the Restoration to 1752 are missing. In Rochester there is no surviving act book for the years after 1824))

Elsewhere, however, survival rates are very good. But often this owed less to careful stewardship by those responsible than to the nigh heroic efforts of amateur scholars who recognised the significance of the holdings.

It is clear that by the mid-nineteenth century, with the more aggressive era of radical anticlericalism past and the work of the Charity Commission making investigation more commonplace with regard to at least some records that church authorities were becoming less defensive about their records and beginning in some instances to anticipate dividends from a proper investigation of their holdings. This change is apparent at St Paul’s, for example, where within thirty years of Hackett’s assault Canon Hale and William Sparrow Simpson began to catalogue, arrange and publish materials from the St Paul’s archive. But while Hale and Simpson were members of the cathedral body, in many other institutions and dioceses it was individuals with no such official relation to the records that saved them for posterity and began to make them accessible to a historical and antiquarian public.

Take the case of the diocese of Gloucester. Here the survival of the muniments can be attributed to the efforts of Frank Step Hockaday, a local secretary of the Gloucester and Bristol Archaeological Society, who became interested in the consistory court records of the diocese at the age of 54 in 1908. ((On Hockaday, see the obituary by Roland Austin in Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society Transactions, 46 (1924), 379–83; kirb1968.)) He eventually located them mouldering away in an upper room of the Gloucester District Probate Registry, and persuaded the bishop and registrar to permit their removal to a specially constructed fireproof building near his home. Here he proceeded to clean the documents before smothering them in blue pencil as he numbered, arranged and transcribed them. Hockaday’s original ambition of founding a record society to publish the records was frustrated by the First World War, but for the remainder of his life his repository, suitably equipped with a range of secondary sources and reference works and endorsed by an audit by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, became a Mecca for Gloucester researchers. Hockaday soon established himself as the recognized authority on the ecclesiastical history of the county, being sent the proofs of Venn’s list of Cambridge graduates for checking. On his death in 1924 the records were transferred to Gloucester Public Library along with nearly five hundred indexes and files, themselves filled with hundreds of transcriptions. The ‘Hockaday abstracts’ remain in the library to this day, with a well-deserved reputation for accuracy, while his somewhat illogical arrangement of the manuscripts nevertheless formed the basis for the later catalogue published under the auspices of the Marc Fitch fund in 1968 for the Gloucester Record Office. ((kirb1968a))

Hockaday’s interest in the ecclesiastical manuscripts of the diocese was entirely characteristic of the amateur research community of the day. If his rescue work was on a unique scale, the attention paid to the records by other scholars certainly established the status of the records of the modern diocese as a historical record at a date when many were inclined to set the boundary between the historical past and present at some distance. Parochial lists of incumbents were meat and drink to the contributors to the transactions of local history societies of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and more ambitious prosopographical reference works dealing with in particular the medieval or early modern clergy often featured in their record series.

Such published work is often merely the surface manifestation of a remarkable body of unpublished work in the collation of records from both national and local repositories undertaken both by individuals and local communities of historians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The project directors have frequently encountered such work during the archival surveys they undertake before record collection commences in a diocese, the surveys having now subsided back into the archives to form a constituent part of the records from which they first emerged, although in many cases they contribute to the present arrangement of the records and remain the basis for much subsequent interpretation, forming a palimpset archive through which those less skilled in palaeography consult the deposit. Thus in Dorchester one can call up Canon C. H. Mayo’s volumes of unpublished notes on Dorset clergy. ((Dorset Record Office, Dorchester, DI/LL 282.)) When in the diocese of Chichester the archives of the cathedral were moved from the cupboards of the chapter in 1950 to the West Sussex Record Office, they were accompanied by W. D. Peckham, a former diplomat who since his early retirement from the consular service at the age of 35 in 1918 had devoted himself to the diocesan archives. Before his death at the age of 96 in 1979 not only had he become a living legend in the Record Office, dressed only in shorts and sandals and his hearing-aid battery taped to his bare chest, but his sixty years of research had generated among many other fruits an unpublished list of all appointments to Sussex livings between 1279 and 1857. ((For Peckham, see West Sussex Archives Society Newsletter, 1 May 1979; , 202. We are grateful to Peter Wilkinson of the West Sussex Record Office, Chichester, and Andrew Foster of University College, Chichester, for references to Peckham and E. H. W. Dunkin.)) Earlier, another antiquary of private means, Edward Hadlow Wise Dunkin, ((For Dunkin, see huds1994; salz1946; malo1984.)) had planned to publish a biographical compendium of Sussex clergy and a ‘parochial history’ of the county. To this end he gutted all potentially relevant archives not only in Chichester, but also in the PRO. By his death in 1915, again no publication had resulted; his extremely accurate transcriptions and accompanying notes, however, were equally divided between the British Library (which took some 220 volumes) and the Sussex Archaeological Society library in Lewes. In 1931, the Sussex Archaeological Society announced to its members the intention of building on this work through the creation of a card index of references to Sussex clergy, into which Dunkin’s work would be incorporated, but to which they were also invited to contribute any references they encountered. This remarkable collective project is still active, the record cards being housed in Lewes alongside the Dunkin collection. ((See anon1931.))

It may not be coincidental that it is often in those dioceses where no such large-scale antiquarian project was commenced that transfer to the county record office or other depository came late and in some cases too late to preserve the records. Thus in Durham, whose ecclesiastical heritage might have seemed ideally calculated to guarantee effective preservation, not least given the close relationship between its university and cathedral and bishop, there have been remarkable and distressing losses of key documents from the diocesan archive that had been observed as late as the 1950s in the bishop’s palace at Bishop’s Auckland; and at Rochester no episcopal act book survives from after the first few years of the nineteenth century, the more recent ones having been lost since the early twentieth century (happily in this case we know this because C. H. Fielding extracted at least some of their contents for his Records of Rochester of 1910.

I want to end this paper with a few reflections on the current state of post-Reformation archives in England and Wales. Again it must be emphasised just how important the Church of England was as both a national and local institution well into the last century, and that even today it retains an ability to punch above its congregational weight which means its archives represent an important source for insights into contemporary Britain: to cite only one but perhaps not altogether obvious instance, the records of the Church Commissioners representing one of the most important sources for a major property landlord and for the economic resourcing of a profession on a national scale. Its records ought to remain central to the archivists’ concerns. On the face of it, things can surely have never looked so good in terms of rendering these records of what after all was essentially a public body publicly accessible. Not only are almost all of the archives now held by county record offices as diocesan record depositories, but these institutions themselves have in many cases benefited from significant inputs of new public money for development from the heritage lottery fund and other sources. But on closer inspection, things are perhaps not as rosy as they might at first seem.

For example, how records are to be rendered public inevitably reflects archivists’ instincts as to the nature of the public which is to be served. Inevitably, given that many of them provide vital records of the careers and occupations of a large professional group, one of the chief publics to which they are of interest is the genealogical public, closely followed by the local amateur historians. Comparatively small numbers will have any interest in them as documentary records of institutional life or clerical careers; moreover, the very institutions to which they relate may seem irrelevant to many in the light of the considerable changes in diocesan geography since the mid-nineteenth century. Consider, for example, the case of the diocese of Chester. In the period of the database, this stretched from Cheshire through Lancashire as far north as Cumberland, and embraced the archdeaconry of Richmond in Yorkshire. In contrast, today it covers “the city of Chester, plus Wirral, Runcorn, Stockport, a part of Warrington, a tiny part of Wales – and all the towns and villages of historic Cheshire”. The Chester diocesan record office is situated in the cathedral city. But anyone seeking to consult eighteenth-century visitation books for the diocese there is in for a rude shock. Only records covering Cheshire are now held there: those relating to Lancashire have been sent to Preston; those for Yorkshire are now in Leeds. In effect a single document has been cut into three. The record office is not embarrassed at what some might regard as an act of archival vandalism. Instead it will tell you with pride how these documents have been repatriated to their proper locality, where the local public can consult them more easily than they can in Chester. Not even a microfilm copy has been retained. Here is a case in which one person’s public access is another person’s denial of access.

It is possible that such developments may become more common as a result of developments in the archival profession itself. Even before the future is taken into account, it seems reasonable to suggest that the post-Reformation diocesan records are increasingly peripheral to the vision of many archivists when they contemplate their collections. The 1960s saw a series of major cataloguing and descriptive projects connected to the diocesan archives held in several record offices. It is hard to imagine a similar set of initiatives taking place now. And in almost cases where the records have only been deposited in the last thirty years catalogues are far from complete, rather alarmingly frequently mistaken, and once past the Restoration tend to the perfunctory. It is not unusual, for example, to find a description of the core documents of the diocesan archives, the bishops’ registers, which after full and detailed descriptions on almost a folio by folio basis before the mid-eighteenth century, will then sign off with a laconic remark informing the user that ‘there then follow some sixteen similar volumes’. In neither Peterborough nor Rochester have early 19th century registers yet been catalogued. In Hereford, they have not even been added to the archive: indeed, when the project first sought out the bishop’s register from the late eighteenth century, still in the possession of the diocesan registrar, they were curtly informed that it could not be made available as it was still in regular use! After some gentle persuasion, the registrar was finally persuaded that perhaps all records from before 1850 might now be safely consigned to an archival repository. But it was extraordinary to discover that no serious attempt had been made to acquire the document for the diocesan record office prior to our enquiries. Why had it not been a higher priority?

It is hard to avoid the impression that although they may be on their last legs in history departments, the cruder versions of the secularisation thesis as applied to post-Hanoverian Britain are alive and well in the archives. Archivists who are clearly closely acquainted with the documents of the medieval church in their possession are often much less familiar with those relating to its successor. And this is a situation which is likely only to become more pronounced; indeed the medieval church may ultimately be no more immune. At the Royal Historical Society’s recent conference on historians and archives, a number of the representatives of the archives profession connected with training institutions commented on the changing dynamics of the profession. To be an archivist no longer necessarily carries overtones of antiquarianism. Many of the plum career opportunities for those setting out on the profession now lie in the curation of the records of private companies rather than a historically oriented and underfunded public institution such as a record office. To respond to such developments, courses in archive management no longer necessarily have compulsory palaeographic elements, and it is not impossible that in the future archivists with the skills necessary to give informed guidance to users of ecclesiastical records may be in short supply. Given that in the wider culture, Latin is in decline as a school subject and classics is being replaced by classical civilization at university; people no longer confront the daily challenge of reading difficult hands, and the institutions of the church become an esoteric subject of which few have active experience let alone knowledge of such technical distinctions as that between a vicar and a curate, there may at the same time be a virtual extinction of the kind of non-professional expertise which underpinned the antiquarian initiatives which laid the foundations on which modern students of these records frequently depends.

Paradoxically thus just at the moment when the institutional context means that these records are becoming more readily available to the public than ever before, the interpretative knowledge and expertise necessary to render them accessible is being lost. Perhaps the Clergy of the Church of England Database has arrived just in time!