A commentary on the records employed for the Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540–1835 relating to the diocese of Sodor and Man

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Document Contents


The surviving records relating to the diocesan administration of the diocese of Sodor and Man are held in the Isle of Man’s main depository in Douglas.

Manx National Library and Archives, Manx National Heritage, Douglas, Isle of Man. IM1 3LY.
Eiraght Ashoonagh Vannin, Doolish, Ellan Vannin. IM1 3LY.
email: enquiries@mnh.gov.im
tel: 01624 648000

The peculiar nature of the diocese, perhaps especially its minute size – seventeen parishes – probably accounts for the peculiarities in its surviving records. What is does not explain is why no diocesan records survive for the years before the beginning of Bishop Wilson’s episcopate in 1698. (It may be possible to find out something about the clergy from the surviving parish records, but that is not an avenue that the CCEd team have as yet had opportunity to explore, and our publication of any records relating to this earlier period awaits such investigations.) It also does not explain the absence of any registers or act books – normally the core of any set of diocesan records – for the years after 1698. Given the nature of the other records, it is very difficult to believe that registers were not kept by the bishops, so it must be assumed that they have been lost, although it is just possible that the diocesan authorities felt none was necessary in view of the small number of transactions conducted in any one year. The CCEd consequently has had to work with what was available and supplement it where possible from one unique source for this diocese, the records of the annual convocation convened on the island right through the period during which convocations on the mainland were suspended, and which was attended by all clergy resident on the island.

Two striking consequences flow from this disposition of records. First, to a greater extent than elsewhere we have often only been able to record the prospect of an event ensuing than a certain record of the event itself: this has been most notably the case with ordinations. On the other hand, our dependence on documents such as letters testimonial and other stray ordination papers (there is rarely a ‘full set’), has enabled us in light of the small scale of the diocese to record more incidental information than has often been practical elsewhere: the names of referees in letters testimonial, or parental details from baptismal certificates, for example. These are especially valuable in light of the tightly-knit nature of the clerical community on the island.It is worth commenting briefly on the relationship between the data recovered for the database and the account of the Manx clergy from Wilson’s episcopate onwards offered by Canon J. D. Gelling in his extremely valuable History of the Manx Church 1698–1911 (Douglas: Manx Heritage Foundation, 1998). Gelling provides an invaluable prosopographical appendix in the back of his volume, information from which we have entered in the comment fields of the relevant CCEd person records. It will readily become apparent not only that the CCEd and Gelling on occasion offer conflicting dates for events, but that in some cases we have uncovered clergy not recorded by Gelling, while Gelling also records many events for which we have not recovered evidence. This seems to reflect at least in part the different sources employed for the two projects. Unfortunately but understandably, Gelling’s volume does not provide specific citations for sources for his information. In correspondence with the CCEd in 2001, however, Canon Gelling explained that his work drew on research in the Manx archives including local newspapers for the period after 1813; published lives of bishops; baptismal, marriage and burial registers in the Manx parishes and the diocesan archives then stored in the Diocesan Registry. He also made much use of relevant material in the publications of the Manx Society from 1878 onwards. (Personal Communication, 8 Oct. 2001, in CCEd archive). Although Gelling’s book was published in 1998, his researches were conducted some thirty years before those on which the CCEd draws. It is therefore of interest to note that Gelling too found no trace of an act book or register for the eighteenth or nineteenth century, and that having intended to commence his history in 1600, he found the sources available for the early period ‘sketchy and in some cases contradictory’, leading him to the decision to begin with Wilson’s accession.

Unless otherwise indicated, all the records discussed are held at the Manx National Library and Archives, Manx National Heritage, Douglas, Isle of Man.

  • From 1698 to 1756: the episcopate of Thomas Wilson.
  • From 1756 to 1835: from the accession of Bishop Hildesley to the end of the period covered by CCEd.

From 1698 to 1756: the episcopate of Thomas Wilson

Save for the absence of registers, the surviving records from the period following1698 are remarkably rich – or, at least, they become increasingly more so in the two decades following Wilson’s appointment. There are two crucial volumes of papers. One (part of Manx National Heritage Library, MS 09309) is labelled ‘Old book of clergy licences 1731–1792’. In fact, this volume is an assorted collection of papers relating to the clergy for the latter part of Wilson’s episcopate, from the 1730s to the 1750s. It includes letters testimonial, notices of intention to ordain, letters dimissory, certificates of baptism, presentations, resignations, and subscriptions, among others. There is a similar volume (MNHL, MS 810C), which contains documents from 1698 (with a couple of earlier strays) through to the end of the 1720s. While these documents rarely provide the direct evidence of institution or ordination that we usually have for English and Welsh dioceses, they enable us to recover many of the key events in the careers of the clergy for the years of Wilson’s episcopate.

The CCEd also makes use of MNHL, MS 802C, the record of proceedings in convocation, which includes four lists of clergy attending the convocation. Finally, we have exploited the collection catalogued as MNHL, MD 335. This is a collection, in three boxes, of similar material to that found in MS 09309 and MS 810C, arranged by clergyman, including some material from the first half of the century. In this instance the CCE team decided to extract records only of those events which were not recorded separately in the other collections.

Sources for institutions and collations

In the absence of an act book for this period, we have drawn primarily upon the documents in MNHL, MS 810C and MNHL, MS 09309 for information about the appointment of beneficed clergy. These sources do not contain direct evidence of institutions and collations, but rather documents such asa letters testimonial, presentations, subscriptions and resignations. Some further material of a similar nature has been extracted from MNHL, MD 335. We have also drawn on the exhibition of orders conducted in 1757 at the first Convocation convened by Bishop Hildesley, recorded in MNHL, MS 09756, and the evidence of clergy being in post provided by MNHL, MS 802C, which contains a number of lists of those attending convocation.

Other appointments (curates, schoolmasters etc).

Some subscriptions and nominations relating to such appointments in this period is found in MNHL, MSS 09309, MS 802C, and MD335.

Clergy lists

MNHL, MS 802C, the record of proceedings in convocation between 1703 and 1739, includes four lists of clergy attending the convocation.


Again, the absence of an act book means that we rarely have the direct evidence of ordinations that we possess in most other dioceses. However, a considerable amount of evidence of these events does exist in the form of letters testimonial, notices of intention to ordain, letters dimissory, subscriptions and certificates of baptism in MNHL, MS 810C, MNHL, MS 09309, and MNHL, MD 335.

From 1756 to 1835: from the accession of Bishop Hildesley to the end of the period covered by CCEd.

The pattern of record survival and entry for the last period of the CCEd echoes that for the period of Wilson’s episcopate. As already noted, there is no act book, and so we often have to depend on subscriptions for evidence of events.

One important source catalogued under MNHL, MS 09756, was a collection entitled ‘Articles, Subscriptions and Oaths 1761’, in fact containing subscriptions from 1761 to 1783. We also selected a collection catalogued under MHNL, MS 09309, a seriously decayed volume entitled ‘Clergy Presentations, Testimonials and Subscriptions 1756–1821’. In the first section of this volume, however, the reasons for subscriptions are rarely recorded, so for the moment only those which can be associated with specific events have been extracted. As evidence is accumulated, this list may be added to; but until we can be sure that the subscriptions were made by clergy many must remain unextracted. Later on, it becomes a subscription book for the period 1759–60, and these subscriptions are followed by a varied collection including certificates of ordination, letters testimonial on both ordinations and appointments, notices of ordination, letters dimissory and other ordination papers, presentations and nominations, institutions, and resignations. Two useful if misleadingly labelled folders are also located at the same accession number. ‘Testimonials for orders, etc. commencing 1850’ includes several relating to the period of the database. At MNHL, MS 9309 (GT) R4c is a red folder labelled ‘Letters testimonial for Clergy orders etc. 1828 to 1859’: the first ten items include institutions, resignations and licences from the period 1816 to 1835. A similar sort of mix is found in the collection indexed in the card boxes as MNHL, MD335.

We have also made considerable use of Convocation records, not only on the basis of our own inspection of the documents but of the edition being prepared for publication by Professor Gerald Bray, which when it appears will be a remarkable resource for the ecclesiastical and social history of the diocese and island. We supplemented our own transcription of an exhibit book in 1757 and some of the lists of clergy attending Convocation in MNHL, MS 09756, ‘Convocation Papers 1756–1772 ’, with the lists of clergy attending other Convocations Bray recovered from these and other documents. Bray has omitted the offices and livings associated with the names in most cases, but these nevertheless provide valuable evidence of the presence of the clergy whose offices are known from other records.

Sources for institutions and collations

In the absence of an act book, we have relied on the records of these events recorded in the exhibitions of orders conducted at Convocation in 1757 and 1772 (MNHL, MS 09756), and 1848 (MNHL MS 804C), the last providing valuable and definitive evidence of appointments in the latter years of the CCEd despite its origins beyond the closing date. Other than this, we have drawn on subscriptions recorded in MNHL, MSS 09309 and 09756, and the records of institutions, presentations and collations recorded in the former.

Other appointments (curates, schoolmasters etc).

We were able to recover subscriptions and nominations relating to such appointments from MNHL, MSS 09309, 09756, and MD335. Some licences are recorded in the exhibitions of orders in the Convocation records: MNHL, 09756, MS 804C.

Clergy lists

These have been drawn from the records of the annual convocations, which substituted for episcopal visitations on the island. As well as our own transcriptions from MNHL MS 09756 for 1756, 1761, 1766 and 1771, we have transcribed all available for this period in Bray’s edition of Convocation records. These give roughly annual lists until 1798, and then there is no further survival save for 1822 and 1834.


Often we have relied on subscriptions, testimonials and other ordination papers contained in the various component parts of MNHL, MS 09309, and also on those in MNHL, MS 09756 and MD335. The exhibit books referred to above have also been useful.