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

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Document Contents


The bulk of the surviving records relating to the diocesan administration of the diocese of Bristol and of the dean and chapter of Bristol cathedral are held in the Bristol Record Office:

Contact details:

Bristol Record Office, ‘B’ Bond Warehouse, Smeaton Road, Bristol BS1 6XN
Email: bro@bristol.gov.uk
Website: [http://www.bristol.gov.uk/ccm/navigation/leisure-and-culture/records-and-archives/
Online catalogue: [http://archives.bristol-city.gov.uk/
Tel: 0117 922 4224
Fax: 0117 922 4236

Unless otherwise indicated, all the records discussed are held at the Bristol Record Office.

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

1540 to 1660 (Reformation to Restoration)

In preparation.

1660-1761 (from the Restoration to the commencement of the episcopate of Thomas Newton).

In preparation.

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

Bristol was a small but awkward diocese, whose archival history has not been entirely happy. The first act book discussed below, for example, is the first such document to survive for the diocese! However, this is probably as much an outcome of changing administrative practice as of record survival.

Episcopal registers, etc. as sources for institutions and collations

The episcopal act books record institutions and collations with good detail, although the fact that many acts were carried out on commissions complicates the records themselves. They also record resignations.

Ep/A/1/1, Bristol Act Book from 1762 to 1782, covers events from 16 January 1762 to 5 February 1782, in effect the period of Newton’s episcopate. It covers presentations to episcopal livings as well as institutions and collations. Ep/A/1/2, Bristol Act Book from 1782 to 1810, covers the game of episcopal musical chairs that saw the episcopates of Lewis Bagot, Christopher Wilson, Spencer Madan, Henry Reginald Courtenay, Folliot Herbert Walker Cornewall, George Pelham, John Luxmoore and William Lort Mansel, including appointments from 12 April 1782 to 17 April 1810. Ep/A/1/3, Bristol Act Book from 1810 to Aug. 1836, takes the story down to the end of the separate existence of the diocese through the episcopates of Mansel, John Kaye, Robert Gray and Joseph Allen. A novel feature in this volume is records of the appointment of rural deans; in other respects it mirrors the others.

Subscription books also survive for this period: Ep/A/10/1/10–11. But they have little to add to the record of the act books for institutions or collations. A solitary subscription relating to an institution was extracted from Ep/A/10/1/10, Subscriptions, Cautions 1767–1802, fo. 255 for Holy Trinity Dorchester.

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

Licences to perpetual curacies are recorded in the act books, Ep/A/1/1–3, and often clearly identified. Other curates too appear in the act books, but initially under Newton in very small numbers (averaging well below five per annum), and they cease to be recorded from the arrival of Bishop Kaye, who made alternative arrangements (see below). Some of the records give details of ordination, and alongside there are licences to foreign chapels; occasionally only a salary rather than a location of a curacy is recorded.

From 1823 appears a bound volume of copies of curates’ licences of the type commonly found in the diocesan archive of this date, but ten years later than is the case in many other dioceses: Ep/A/13/2/1, Bristol curates licences commencing 8 September 1823, which covers the years to 1836. This contains just over 250 records relevant to the period covered by the database in its first eighty-six folios, thus averaging over twenty a year, a figure which can be compared usefully with that mentioned above for the act books at the outset of the modern section. The copies of licences it contains often comment on both residence and stipend.

Schoolmasters are represented by a single appointment from 1781 right at the end in Ep/A/1/1; Ep/A/1/2 records only five more in a period of eighteen years. Clearly the act books are a poor source for these individuals in the Bristol diocese. A minor addition comes from a subscription book, Ep/A/10/1/7, Subscriptions 1689–1885, which has had three schoolmaster subscriptions on fos 56–8 extracted, as have been the subscriptions recorded in Ep/A/10/1/11.

The subscription books have something to add here. Ep/A/10/1/10 furnishes subscriptions relating to ordinations and licensings which provide some of the detail missing from records of the same events in the act books such as colleges of ordinands, and cures and salaries of curates. All records relating to ordinations and licensings have therefore been extracted. The same has been done with Ep/A/10/1/11.

Clergy lists

No clergy lists have been entered for this period in the history of the diocese of Bristol.


The act books again, Ep/A/1/1–3, are a rich source here. The first volume and parts of the second and third give titles and salaries, and note when performed on letters dimissory, as well as recording outgoing letters dimissory (in large numbers at points: more than 100 under Newton alone, who by contrast ordained personally only 18 deacons and 15 priests). All relevant records have been extracted. However, Ep/A/1/3, sees the number of ordinations being recorded in the act book decline before Kaye’s appointment sees a fuller record resumed. Again the subscription books come to the rescue. Ep/A/10/1/10 furnishes subscriptions which provide some of the detail missing from records of the same events in the act books such as colleges/origins of ordinands. All records relating to ordinations have been extracted. The same has been done with Ep/A/10/1/11, which effectively becomes an ordination register after 1812 for a time, covering the years poorly recorded in the act book.

Records of the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln

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