A commentary on the records employed for the Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540–1835 relating to the Diocese of Bath and Wells

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The surviving records relating to the diocesan administration of the diocese of Bath and Wells are held in the diocesan record office:

The diocesan record office is

Somerset Heritage Centre, Brunel Way,Langford Mead, Norton Fitzwarren,Taunton TA2 6SF

Email: archives@somerset.gov.uk

website: [http://www.somerset.gov.uk/archives/
Tel: 01823 278805 (enquiries)
Tel: 01823 337600 (appointments)
Fax : 01823 325402

Records of the dean and chapter of Wells are preserved in:

Cathedral Archives, Cathedral Offices, Chain Gate, Cathedral Green, Wells BA5 2UE
email: archives@wellscathedral.uk.net
Tel: 01749 674483

Unless otherwise indicated, all the records discussed are held at the Somerset Heritage Centre (formerly the Somerset Record Office), Taunton.

  • 1540 to 1660 (Reformation to Restoration)
  • 1660 to 1761 (from the Restoration to the commencement of the episcopate of Edward Willes in 1761).
  • 1761 to 1835 (from the appointment of Edward Willes as bishop to the end of the period covered by the database).

1540 to 1660 (Reformation to Restoration)

While the survival rate of particular classes of diocesan records varies for this period, the wide range of extant sources allows many gaps to be filled from other records. Thus there is a fairly full run of episcopal registers and also licensing books (not all entered here, since some are in poor condition), and for the early seventeenth century a rich set of ‘consignation’ books or ‘exhibit books’, drawn up on visitation, which record details of ordination, institution and licensing. Consistory court books also contain information relating to the deprivation of clergy (1554), the appointment of rural deans (1551), and even a list of cathedral clergy (1574). These somewhat compensate for the fact that just one ordination book covering five years (1554–9), very few visitation books for the period 1540–1600, and a limited number of subscription books survive. The diocese contains a large number of peculiar jurisdictions exercised by the bishop, the dean or cathedral canons. The incumbencies of the clergy within these peculiar jurisdictions are recorded in the episcopal registers. However much has been lost: the only surviving volume relating to appointments for these peculiar jurisdictions is a subscription book for 1605–40, which contains licences to curates and schoolmasters which do not reappear in other records.

The registers as sources for appointments to benefices and cathedral offices

There is a good run of institutions and collations to livings and cathedral canonries, with a few gaps (1547–54, 1603–17, 1621–9). Some of these are covered by an incomplete and abbreviated register for 1584–1625 (D/D/B Reg. 31), by returns for the First Fruits Office in the Exchequer for 1603–1616 and 1621–9 (TNA, PRO, E 331/Bath&Wells 1–3) and by the information in the consignation books for 1606, 1620 and 1639 (D/D/Vc 73, 79, 40). Provincial registers at Lambeth and Canterbury supply institutions and collations during vacancies in the see or metropolitical visitations.

The episcopal registers for 1540–54 have been transcribed, not always accurately, in The Registers of Thomas Wolsey… John Clerke… William Knyght… and Gilbert Bourne, ed. H. Maxwell-Lyte (Somerset Record Society, 55, 1940).

Other appointments (curates, preachers and lecturers, schoolmasters etc).

Subsidy returns list curates for 1561–1605 (TNA, PRO, E179/4–5); curates and preachers appear Bishop Godwin’s register for 1586–90 and in consignation books for 1606, 1620 and 1639; while curates, readers, preachers and schoolmasters occur in licensing books for 1572–1608 and subscription books for 1571–83, 1605–40 (including BL, Add. MS 33973 for 1571–83).


While there is just one ordination book for 1554–9 (D/D/Vc 53), ordinations are recorded in registers for 1586–90 and 1629–69, in consignation books for 1606, 1620 and 1639, and in the subscription book for 1571–83 (BL, Add. MS 33973). Many entries in this volume contain valuable information on the birthplace, age and education of ordinands. The sequence of licensing books also include letters dimissory for ordination elsewhere.

Records of the dean and chapter of Wells cathedral

The records of the dean and chapter are held in the cathedral for the most part, and have not as yet been recovered for the Database. However, evidence has been extracted from the published calendar of the Dean and Chapter act books for 1540–1640, which relate to presentations to livings, appointments of chantry priests, vicars choral, sacrists, canons, canons residentiary, masters of the grammar school, precentors, treasurers, deans, subdeans and those exercising ecclesiastical jurisdiction, as well as the election and installation of bishops.

1660-1761 (from the Restoration to the commencement of the episcopate of Edward Willes in 1761).

In preparation.

Episcopal Registers, etc. as sources for institutions and collations

In preparation.

Other appointments (curates, preachers and lecturers, schoolmasters etc).

In preparation.


In preparation.

Visitation records and other clerical lists

In preparation.

Records of the dean and chapter of Wells cathedral

In preparation.

From 1761 to 1835 (from the appointment of Edward Willes as bishop to the end of the period covered by the database).

Bath and Wells exhibits good record survival for the modern period, but in unusual configurations.

Episcopal registers, etc. as sources for institutions and collations

There is a good run of registers, each one of a fairly manageable size. D/D/B.Reg. 28, misleadingly labelled Institution Book 20 May 1761 to 1774 (since it also contains ordinations in an inverted list at the back) records institutions and collations for the diocese under Bishop Willes; we then move on to D/D/B.Reg. 32, Continuation of Bishop Moss’ Register from 1774 to 1802 covering 10 June 1774 to 8 April 1802; then D/D/B.Reg. 33, covering Richard Beadon’s episcopate (1802–24) and appointments from 12 June 1802 to 14 April 1824, while D/D/B.Reg. 34, covering George Henry Law’s episcopate to its end in 1837, takes us from 29 June 1824 to 9 December 1835 on folio 185r. As if in revenge for D/D/B.Reg. 28, the volume catalogued as a subscription book BD/D/BS 11 and entitled Index of ordinands covering 1759–1776 contains many institutions, but none not in the registers, so these have not been extracted.

Other Subscription books (BD/D/BS 12–17) have been checked to see if they yield additional records for these events, but they do not appear to, and so no subscriptions relating to institutions have been extracted. The only exceptions are the Chancellors’ Subscription Books, BD/D/BS 44 and BD/D/BS 45, covering 1727 to 31 May 1765 and November 1764 to 1811 respectively. None of the events relating to institutions etc before 1775 (after which the volume concentrates on the appointment of surrogates) appear in the main subscription book sequence, so researchers were instructed to recover subscriptions relating to institutions from 1 September 1759 to 1 January 1776.

Other appointments (curates, preachers and lecturers, schoolmasters etc).

As the label Institution book on Willes’ register, D/D/B.Reg. 28, might indicate, the registers at Bath and Wells are weak on non-beneficed clergy. This has no curates of any type; D/D/B.Reg. 32 deigns to notice perpetual curates (though not always their nominators), the licensing of public preachers and a solitary schoolmaster, but no more. D/D/B.Reg. 33 shows another minor improvement, with more schoolmasters and lecturers, but assistant curates remain absent, the same being true of D/D/B.Reg. 34. The most obvious explanation is the fact that the ordinations with which such licensings are generally associated are also being recorded elsewhere. It is therefore not surprising that BD/D/BS 11, the Index of Ordinands covering 2 September 1759 to 15 March 1776, contains licences to curacies, preacherships and a few schoolmasters, and these have been extracted.

The subscription books of the diocese are the key source here thereafter. BD/D/BS 12, covering 23 March 1776 to 18 November 1788 follows on from BS 11 in recording appointments to curacies of all types (though after 1788 perpetual curates can be found in the registers) and a solitary schoolmaster; BD/D/BS 13 covers 17 January 1789 to 8 April 1802 in the same way; BD/D/BS 14 12 June 1802 to 1814 sees the first mention of curates’ stipends. All the licensings recorded in these volumes have been extracted. We have done the same for the Chancellors’ Subscription Books, BD/D/BS 44 and BD/D/BS 45, covering 1727 to 31 May 1765 and November 1764 to 1811 respectively, for the period 1 September 1759 to 1 January 1776, after which they cease to record relevant data.

From 28 August 1813, we are able to recover appointments to curacies from a series of registers of curates licences kept in accord with 53 Geo III, c. 149 and 57 Geo III, c. 99. D/D/Bc 1 covers 28 August 1813 to 2 July 1817; D/D/Bc 2 3 January 1822 to 31 December 1828; and D/D/Bc3 25 January 1829 to 1837, the last relevant entry being extracted from fo. 293 for 11 December 1835. These give us over 850 appointments, but there is a big gap in the sequence between 1817 and 1822. All the contents of these volumes have been extracted.

Given this gap, it was decided to extract all the licensings recorded in subscription book BD/D/BS 15, covering 25 February 1814 to 29 December 1820, despite the overlap; and again those recorded in BD/D/BS 16, which covers 3 January 1821 to 28 November 1828. He we are also able to recover gaol chaplains and a few schoolmasters. As a precaution, we also recovered all the licensings recorded in BD/D/BS 17, covering 5 December 1828 to 15 June 1835, and the twenty-odd relevant licences recorded in BD/D/BS 18, stretching to 1842, the last relevant item being from 11 December 1835.

Clergy lists

In view of the good record survival for the diocese, it was decided that entering clergy lists for this period was not a high priority. However, our coverage of curates in the dean’s peculiar parishes, not recorded in the main sequence, will be enhanced by the uploading of a selection of lists from D/D/Pd 25, the visitation books of the dean’s peculiar. But this has not yet been done.


Bath and Wells offers a distinctive and unusual approach to its recording of ordinations in the modern period. As already indicated, D/D/B.Reg. 28, Willes’ so-called institution book, offers records of some 170 ordinations between 1 June 1760 and 6 June 1773 often giving educational information but omitting titles in a list entered upside down in the back of the volume. The remaining registers discussed above, D/D/B.Reg. 32–4, however, omit ordinations entirely.

What we do have, is an Index of Ordinands, catalogued as BD/D/BD 11, a subscription book. This covers ordinations from 2 September 1759 to 15 March 1776, thus covering the contents of D/D/B.Reg. 28, and in the common instances here the ordained ministers are given their titles as well as their educational credentials. But here too the label is misleading, for it also contains licences and institutions. As will already be apparent, it in fact forms the first of a sequence of ‘enhanced’ subscription books which form the main record of both ordinations and licensings in Bath and Wells (and may well always have done so). Records of ordinations have therefore been extracted from all the subscription books BD/D/BS 12–17 the date coverage of which is described in ‘Other appointments (curates, preachers and lecturers, schoolmasters etc)’ above. The records give the titles on which candidates were ordained and their university details. BD/D/BS 15, covering 1814–20, has a very small number, which needs some further investigation – it may reflect increased use of letters dimissory, not recorded in the these books.

Records of the Dean and Chapter of Wells

These have not yet been incorporated into the Database for this period. This chiefly affects out coverage of minor cathedral offices and peculiars. More significant cathedral posts are covered by the bishops’ act books.