Category Archives: Baptisms

Triplets and Two Sets of Twins – Combining Newspapers and Parish Registers

In 1834 Susan Gibson (née Rylah) made the news across England. The Leeds Times of 20 October 1834 typified reporting when it wrote:

RARE NEWS FOR MALTHUS!! – A woman named Susan Gibson, of Earlsheaton, was brought to bed of three children on Wednesday last, who with mother are all doing well – she has born twins twice before.

The children, Joseph, Rachel and Leah, arrived in the world on 17 September 1834. Their father was clothier Thomas Gibson. Soothill was the family abode given in the parish register, though Susan (sometimes referred to as Susy or Susannah) was born in Earlsheaton and the family did eventually move there.

The infant newsmakers were baptised at All Saints Dewsbury Parish Church on 12 October 1834, along with December 1831-born sister, Elizabeth. This was the same church in which their parents married on 22 July 1821.

‘Triplets, shown in the uterus: illustration showing the position of the foetuses in a plural position. Colour lithograph, 1850/1910?’ . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

The headline’s Malthus referred to the influential, but controversial, English economist Thomas Malthus. His population growth theories centred round the argument that increases in population would diminish the ability of the world to feed itself and there would be insufficient land for crops. Citing Malthus was a recurring theme in reporting unusual birth stories during this period.

Interestingly, at the same time as the press reported the birth of the Gibson trio, they were also reporting the birth of Bridlington’s Thompson triplets. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were the sons of Bridlington Quay stone mason Robert Thompson and his wife Ann. They were described as being ‘all well and likely to live’. The Bridlington St Mary (Priory) parish register recorded the baptism of Robert Thompson’s ‘thrine sons‘ on 22 September 1834, all under the same entry (No 649) in the baptism register, rather than under their own individual entries.

Neither set of triplets added to the population pressure though. Despite the hopeful press outlook at the time of their birth they all failed to thrive. The Thompson trio lingered longest. Jacob was buried on 16 November 1834; Abraham 22 January 1835; and finally Isaac on 17 March 1835.

The demise of the Gibson babies was far swifter. Less than three weeks after their baptism all were dead. A 12-day period in late October/early November 1834 saw a series of Gibson funerals at the parish church. Rachael (as her name was recorded in the burial register) was buried first, on 26 October. Before the month was out Leah died too, her burial taking place on 31 October. The final triplet, Joseph, was interred on 6 November.

As it is pre-July 1837, there is no civil registration. We’re relying on parish registers, and it is not possible from these entries to identify the earlier sets of twins born to Susan. Birth dates are an exception in the baptism register. It’s usually just a baptism date which is given. And, as indicated when the triplets were baptised alongside their almost three-year-old sister, the family were not always prompt in initiating their offspring into the church. It appears some of the Gibson children died before baptism. But burials are inconclusive too. These give father’s name – but there are three clothiers named Thomas Gibson in the Soothill area to muddy the burial entries. And some of the entries simply indicate S.B.C. (abbreviation for stillborn child) or an unbaptized [sic] child with the name of a parent (father, unless illegitimate). So without the newspaper reports we may never have known about Susan’s tendency towards multiple births.

The census provides no clues. In 1841 the family lived at Town Green, Soothill and in addition to Thomas and Susan the household includes Sarah (20), Martha (15), Elizabeth (9), Jane (5), William (3) and Ann (1) – but bear in mind the age of those over 15 was supposed to be rounded down to the nearest multiple of five, and relationship details are absent in this census. However it is clear there are no common ages.

Similarly the 1851 census has no indication of multiple births either. In terms of the couple’s children, Jane (15), William (incorrectly entered as 18 – he was born in 1837) and Ellen (9) are recorded. However, it appears from the GRO Birth Indexes that Ellen was a twin too. Her birth is registered in the same quarter at Dewsbury as an Eliza Gibson, mother’s maiden name Rylah.

Eliza Gibson’s burial is recorded on 21 February 1842 at Dewsbury All Saints, father Thomas.

And Susan Gibson comes nowhere near earning the accolade of most prolific mother ever. That dubious honour goes to the wife of a Russian peasant, as detailed by Guinness World Records:

The greatest officially recorded number of children born to one mother is 69, to the wife of Feodor Vassilyev (b. 1707–c.1782), a peasant from Shuya, Russia. In 27 confinements she gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets

Sources:

  • Leeds Times. 20 October 1834 via FindMyPast
  • John Bull. 13 October 1834 via FindMyPast
  • Dewsbury All Saints Baptism Register. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP9/11, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Dewsbury All Saints Burial Register. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP9/50, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Ibid, Reference WDP9/51
  • Dewsbury All Saints Marriage Register. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP9/21, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Bridlington St Mary (Priory), Parish Register of Baptisms 1830-1847. East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service, Reference PE153/11
  • Bridlington St Mary (Priory), Parish Register of Baptisms 1813-1838. East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service, Reference PE153/38
  • 1841 Census. TNA, Reference HO107/1268/14/7/7, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • 1851 Census. TNA. Reference HO107/2325/133/11, via Ancestry.co.uk
  • GRO Birth Indexes, William Gibson. December Quarter 1837, Dewsbury, Vol 22, Page 52 via the General Register Office website, https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/
  • GRO Birth Indexes, Ellen and Eliza Gibson. March Quarter 1842, Dewsbury, Vol 22, Page 55 via the General Register Office Website, https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/
  • Most Prolific Mother Ever. Guinness World Records. http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/most-prolific-mother-ever

All websites accessed 26 September 2018

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Churching, Mortuaries and Baptism Fees: A Woodkirk Terrier

A series of five terriers dating between July 1770 and 1825 for the Parish of Woodkirk in West Ardsley provided a fascinating peek into the the the fees charged for various parish services. Terriers were a form of inventory drawn up for Bishop’s visitations. They provide detail about the funding of the benefice ranging from church-owned lands, fabric and furnishings (in Woodkirk’s case invariably described as handsome) to tithes, fees and customary payments. I was particularly interested in the latter two as I wanted to know what my Woodkirk parish ancestors paid to get married, baptised and buried.

St Mary’s Church, Woodkirk – by Jane Roberts

Surplice fees payable to the incumbent for various services and ceremonies performed were as follows:

  • A Marriage by Publication: Two shillings;
  • A Marriage by Licence: Ten shillings;
  • A Certificate of Publication of Banns: Six pence if the man lives in the Parish, but if the woman lives in the Parish two shillings and six pence;
  • A Churching: Eight pence;
  • A Funeral: Eight pence;
  • A Certificate from the Register: One shilling; and
  • A Mortuary: Ten shillings when a person is worth 40 pounds, when a person is worth 30 pounds six shillings and Eight pence, when a person dies worth 10 pounds three shillings and four pence

These fees were constant throughout. The only change was an increase from six pence to one shilling in the 22 June 1825 terrier for certificate of publication of banns if the man lived in the parish.

Fees payable to the Parish Clerk were:

  • Easter: Each house two pence, each plough four pence;
  • A Marriage by Publication: one shilling;
  • A Marriage by Licence: Five shillings;
  • A Churching: Four pence;
  • A Publication by Banns: One shilling;
  • A Funeral: Eight pence;
  • Searching the Register: Four pence; and
  • The Churchwardens for the time being annually pay one pound to the Parish Clerk.

Mortuaries were a hang-over from feudal times. The Lord of the Manor had the right to chose the best beast of a deceased tenant. This payment was known as a heriot. The vicar was able to choose the second best beast (or comparable possession) to compensate for any personal tithes the deceased failed to pay when alive. This payment was called a mortuary. Payment of mortuaries were very unpopular and in 1529 a Statute restricted their use with the value fixed, based on the wealth of the deceased, as set out in the Woodkirk terriers. Parishes which did not have this custom could not introduce the fee. It all had the effect of reducing opposition to them because the poor were exempt and, with the passage of time, the set value of them meant their real terms worth declined.

No fee for baptism is mentioned in the Woodkirk terrier. However other parishes did seem to have them. But such fees were a controversial issue. Although slightly later than the Woodkirk terrier, an 1841 extract from The British Magazine and Monthly Register of Religious and Ecclesiastical Information Vol 19 discussing baptisms in London illustrates the concerns:

…..Of it’s illegality there can be no doubt. No fee, it is well understood, is payable for the administration of a sacrament, and the flimsy pretext that it is due for registering the baptism, is at once destroyed by the words of an act of parliament, which do not leave the clergyman who administers the sacrament of baptism an option in the matter, as he is bound to register the names of all whom he baptises.

I would therefore most respectfully call the attention of the incumbents of London parishes, and of those in the immediate neighbourhood, to the fact they are, by demanding a fee for baptism, guilty of an illegal act, and an act highly injurious to the spiritual welfare of their parishioners…….

Your correspondent, “A Curate,” states the fee to be 1s. 6d. In many city parishes it is 2s. 6d., and I have even heard, still more.

And it is clear the controversial charges applied beyond London. As the Leeds Times of 5 October 1844 reported:

THE BAPTISMAL FEE – The Bishop of Ripon, in his charge to the clergy of his dioceses a few days since, declared that demanding of a fee on baptism was illegal. His lordship added, “The practice, perhaps, originated in the performance of the office for Churching of the woman at the period of the admission of the child into the Church of Christ; and the fee lawfully due for the former. And at first clearly miscalled the baptismal fee, has afterwards been demanded where the parent did not present herself to return thanks for her safe delivery.”

Ripon Diocese, formed in 1836, from Yorkshire part of Archdeaconry of Richmond (formerly Diocese of Chester) and part of Diocese of York, covered Woodkirk. Churching, which did appear in the earlier Woodkirk terriers, was a purification ritual for a women after childbirth, giving thanks for her recovery, cleansing her from the stain of childbirth and marking her re-entry to the church. Although a distinct ceremony it is easy to see how it could be conflated with a baptism fee.

Baptisms did at one point incur a state charge though, and the period covered by the Woodkirk terriers coincided with it. This was the highly unpopular Stamp Duty Act of 1783 which remained in force until 1794. Paupers were exempt, but for all others a duty of 3d was levied on each baptism, marriage and burial recorded in the parish register. I have not undertaken a comparative check on the Woodkirk register, but countrywide the number of pauper entries in registers increased and, in the case of baptisms, some parents waited until the tax ended before having children baptised. There was also an earlier Marriage Duty Act of 1695, repealed in 1706, which similarly imposed a sliding scale tax on on births (using parish register baptisms as a proxy), marriages and burials.

But as for church imposed fees, the controversy of baptisms continued to rumble in the 19th century until the Baptismal Fees Abolition Act of 1872. This Act made it unlawful to demand any

Fee or Reward for the Celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, or the Registry thereof.

It stated:

That from and after the passing of this Act, it shall not be lawful for the minister, clerk in orders, parish clerk, vestry clerk, warden, or any other person to demand any fee or reward for the celebration of the sacrament of baptism, or for the registry thereof: Provided always, that this Act shall not apply to the present holder of any office who may at the present time be entitled by any Act of Parliament to demand such fees.