Information for the General Public

Essential information for first-time visitors to the CCEd site


Document Contents




Why should I be interested in the clergy of the Church of England? Well, the fact that you are reading this indicates that something in which you are already interested has led you to this site! And whatever that is, it is probably not unconnected with the fact that for many centuries, including those covered in this resource from 1540 to 1835, the clergy were probably the most important profession in England and Wales. Doctors and lawyers there were, but far from evenly distributed. In contrast, there were clergy associated with the all the churches in the parishes which in theory at least provided for the whole population, not to mention those who in the cathedrals provided a significant element in the elite population of urban centres. As far as there was a teaching profession, it was often clergymen who constituted it (and in our period, even those who were not clergy still had to obtain a licence to practice from the bishop, which means that many of those who were not clergy are nevertheless to be found in our database, including some women).

How many clergy were there in total at any one time? Well, in truth no one quite knows, and one hope of the directors of the database is that at some point they will be able the use the database to offer a more accurate estimate than has hitherto been possible. Our suspicion is that the number is probably rather smaller than sometimes thought, at least for the later periods covered by the resource. It was nevertheless a significant number of several thousand (between ten and fifteen thousand?) in whose ranks could be found not only important religious figures, but also many of the key individuals in a whole range of fields of activity: authors (such as Laurence Sterne, John Henry Newman), philosophers (Bishop Berkeley, William Paley), scientists (Adam Sedgwick, William Buckland), poets (John Donne, George Herbert, George Crabbe), educationalists (Thomas Arnold) and political scientists (Thomas Malthus, J. B. Sumner), to mention just a few. Just as interesting, however, are all the innumerable less famous clergy who were often figures of considerable local importance as philanthropists, squires, educators, counselors, historians, antiquarians, and even just ‘characters’. Wherever you live in England and Wales, the clergy of the parish are likely to have left an enduring mark; at the very least, their memorials and gravestones are likely to be a prominent feature of the east end of the parish church (unless later clergy ‘restored’ them away!). You may therefore come to the database in pursuit of a particular, possibly very well-known clergyman; or you may simply be interested to discover which clergymen have been associated with a place where you live or in which you have an interest of a different kind. You may even be in pursuit of a clerical ancestor (in which case, you should also read our introduction for genealogists.) Whichever of these descriptions applies to you – you have come to the right place!

The CCEd is probably the most useful resource there is for anyone interested in people who were (or might have been) clergymen in the period covered by the database (1540-1835). Through the database you will be able to discover those places where they may have served, as well as the names of the patrons who may have helped advance their career, and of the bishop(s) who ordained them. The records may also reveal details of their educational career, their date and place of birth and/or baptism, and we may also have some indication of the date of death and in a few cases a record of burial. If you are unfamiliar with the pattern of a clerical career, help is at hand in our glossary, which offers helpful definitions of key terms through hyperlinks.

There are a few basic points to be aware of concerning the information in the database before you begin searching (and we would always recommend that users consult the guidance provided in ‘How to use the database’ before beginning their researches).

  • The Database only covers clergymen of the Church of England: those of other denominations will not be present. So if your interest is Roman Catholic clergy, or those associated with the wide variety of protestant denominations which separated themselves from the national church after the Reformation (too many to name, but including Baptists, Congregationalists, Independents, Methodists, Presbyterians and Unitarians) you will need to look elsewhere.
  • As long as some part of the career of a clergyman falls within the date range covered in the Database, he will be present: but those records relating to events outside the range will not be present.
  • The Database is a record of clerical career events, and does not set out to include vital dates or other information unless it is easily recovered from the records relating to these events.
  • Therefore the date range associated with a name in CCEd is not intended as a lifespan, but records the years for which we have records associated with that person.
  • It is quite possible that records associated with an individual may be divided between several CCEd persons whom we cannot as yet confidently pronounce to be one and the same person; they may also have been incorrectly attached to the wrong person who shares your person’s name.

Looking for an individual

There are two main ways of looking for information on the clerical career of a specific individual. You can either enter the name in the Search Engine, or you can browse through names of clergymen identified in the database using ‘Browse Persons’. The latter approach will of course present you with a vast number of similar names (especially if you are unfortunate enough to be looking for someone called something like John Smith!), but will make it easier to get of sense of where you might look if you don’t initially succeed (for example, depending on how they were recorded at the time, when spelling and other practices were much less standardized than they are today – and handwriting often terrifyingly difficult to read!) records associated with John Smith may appear under ‘J. Smith’, or John Smith/Smyth/Smithe/Smythe etc.) Using the search engine is most useful where you have some other information which may help you identify the relevant set of records, such as a place with which they were associated, or a date at which they were appointed or died. We have given details of how to use the search engine for these purposes and some things to watch out for both in searching and interpreting results in our advice to genealogists, which you can find here: ‘Information for Genealogists’; see also  ‘How to use the database’.

Looking for information on clergy associated with a particular place or post.

There are several thousand parishes in England and Wales. Each will have a parish church, but many historically also had chapels linked to the parish church and served by the same clergy, or with designated curates responsible for them. Over time parishes have merged, split, generated daughter parishes and been reassigned from the oversight of one bishop to another; their names have changed (or in some cases they may have had more than one name at the same time!), and in some cases more than one parish shares the same name. And clergy are not just associated with parish churches and chapels: they sometimes have posts associated with gaols, schools, workhouses, hospitals, ships and overseas postings. There are cathedrals, and there were collegiate churches, with sometimes large clerical communities associated with them. And some clerical posts are attached to people rather than places, such as the domestic chaplains of the nobility and bishops, or royal chaplains.

This makes looking for information on places complicated enough, but matters are made worse by the fact that before the mid-nineteenth century the organization of the Church of England can look pretty irrational: rather than the neat map of regional dioceses we are used to today, jurisdiction was often parceled out in small pockets which were scattered across what were in any case pretty illogical arrangements. Thus, for example, the diocese of Bristol consisted of the city and the county of Dorset, which was separated from the see city by the diocese of Salisbury; a map of the diocese of Lichfield and Coventry looks as if someone has sneezed all over it, so pockmarked is it with little bits of jurisdiction belonging to the crown, other ecclesiastical authorities and exempt from the oversight of the bishop on at least some matters (see the map here).

So, how do you know where to look for information on a particular parish? You can just look in our cumulative lists of locations, available here. Probably the easiest way is if you know the county in which the parish was historically situated (that is, the pre-1974 counties of England and Wales). We have listed all the locations in the database under the counties in which they were situated here. Makes allowances for variations in spelling or consider whether the parish might formerly have been a chapelry in another parish (in which case it may appear under the name of another parish (A browser ‘search within’ facility may help you find such an instance; we also have a list of chapelries here). Alternatively, you may know which diocese the parish was in, in which case you can use the diocesan lists here; these are organized to contain all the parishes that fall within the overall boundaries of the diocese, regardless of who actually had authority over them; by clicking on the ‘jurisdiction lists’ here you get lists containing only parishes under the authority of the bishop (and which may thus include some parishes outside the main boundaries, as well as excluding some within them). In each case, clicking on the name of the parish will bring up a list giving not only the name of the parish and any alternative names of which we are aware, but also its jurisdictional setting and the list of all the clerical records we have gathered and linked associated with that location.

From here you can click through to the records, or the career profiles (‘career narratives’) associated with the clergy who are recorded in association with the parish or chapel. One great advantage of the CCEd over parish noticeboards of vicars or rectors is that we also link in schoolmasters and curates – you may well discover someone quite famous linked with a church who is not visible on such lists. You will also discover who was responsible for appointing the clergy – and it was not always the ‘official’ patron, since special circumstances might mean that on a particular occasion someone else made the nomination.

There are other ways of getting to this information from within the Database, and for more advice we strongly recommend consulting How to use the database before you start extensive searching. This will also advise you on how to look for clergy associated with gaols, schools and other such institutions (those these are also listed in the lists described above) using the Locations Index.


Exploring the Database

Of course, you may come to the database not in search of specific information, but simply to find out more about the clergy of the Church of England at some point in the past. The database has the capacity to shed light on a wide range of questions about the clergy, such as the pattern of career paths, educational background, incomes, the nature of the patronage from which clergy benefited, migration and familial networks. The best way to explore such questions is to take advantage of the Advanced Search Engine, which allows you to formulate structured queries, described here. Let us know if you find anything interesting or unexpected – these are the kind of questions the Project team themselves are keenly interested in, and it could become the basis of a blog, a contribution to CCEd Notes and Queries, or even a full article in the CCEd journal!

It is also worth exploring the Reference and other sections of the website, which contain a wealth of useful information for anyone interested in the History of the Church of England, not always easily available elsewhere, and which is being added to regularly. The Journal contains a number of interesting articles on key aspects of the material in the Database, and the team also intends to post on the blog when suitable ideas occur to them! And why not come and hear a member of the team talk at a venue near you? Such occasions are advertised in our Events section, and we are also open to invitations to deliver talks.


Questions and Answers

L. P. Hartley famously wrote in his novel The Go-Between that ‘The Past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’. As churchgoing declines, and the churches themselves change their practices, structure and geography, this is nowhere more true than of the clergy of the Church of England. Hardly surprisingly, visitors to this site can often feel at sea as they try to make sense of the records the Database reveals. Don’t worry: help is at hand! We hope in the future to add significant new material to the Database website to help people make sense of their findings. In the meantime, however, as well as much useful guidance in our How to use the database, Reference and About the Database sections of the website, you can also consult Peter Towey’s My Ancestor was an Anglican Clergyman (London: Society of Genealogists Enterprises Ltd, 2006).  Many users, however, contact the Database team for advice on particular issues or problems, and wherever possible we try to respond to such enquiries. In the new version of the website, our blogging facility means for the first time that we will be able to post our responses in a form where they will be accessible to other users with similar questions. So it will be worth checking the blog as it gradually expands; and of course, it may be that the question that is bothering you is one that would be ideally suited to an airing there! See the project’s contact details on how to get in touch.


Can you tell us something we need to know?

As already indicated, the team is always keen to hear from users of the Database. Sometimes they contact us to correct mistakes, to confirm identifications or suggest mergers where they know two sets of records belong to one person (or a split where they know the opposite). Sometimes they know interesting additional information about individual clerics which we can add to notes about them; sometimes they would like additional information or have some more general observations about the Database. The new blogging facilities mean that in some cases such a communication could become the basis of a blog entry rather than simply being entered in the database. The CCEd is a continuously evolving resource partly as a result of such information, so we rely on you! See the project’s contact details on how to get in touch.