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Births: A General Picture And A Particular Problem
The Burials Registers, 1560 - 1653

Chapter IV

The Parish Registers and Social Patterns


A whole school of very technical historical research has built up around parish registers - what is known as "historical demography". In the mid-1960s archivists, academics and amateur historians began collating entries from parish registers and other local listings onto enormously detailed forms supplied by the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure (CAMPOP). A collection of information on the most massive scale was envisaged, which would eventually provide an understanding of population trends at a national, and even international, level.(1)

This is probably the most ambitious historical research project ever to have been embarked upon. It is difficult to imagine that it could ever be complete: countless parishes remain where the registers have escaped the scrutiny of the historical demographer. But more than enough research has already been done to provide local historians everywhere with a good idea of what is possible, given a well-kept set of parish registers; and to give some indication of the kind of patterns which are likely to emerge from the evidence.

In 1966 Peter Laslett - one of the leading lights of CAMPOP - described some of the new kinds of information which were being made available through this research.

"Expectation of life at birth; the chances of a woman being pregnant at the time of her marriage; the rate of illegitimacy; the size of families; the lesser (or greater) liability of gentlemen to die than craftsmen and peasants; movement of individuals from place to place about the country; perhaps, ultimately, their movement from position to position on the scale of social differences in England, the best graduated of societies: all these and more are on the way to demonstration." (2)

The aim of this chapter is to show how the Norton registers can throw a great deal of local light on questions like these; but first, it is worth taking a more general look at what the registers have to tell us about population growth in Elizabethan and early Stuart Norton. The following graphs are based on a simple count of baptisms, marriages and burials in Norton between 1560 and 1649. The parish registers provide the only source of information available to give us an idea of how big Norton was, and the way it was growing, during this period; but as we shall see, there are times when the statistics emerging from them need to be treated with a great deal of caution.

The first graph plots baptisms, marriages and burials year-by-year for the 90-year period between 1560 and 1649, and it suggests quite clearly that Norton's population growth during this period was far from being a sure and steady process. Like every other community in Elizabethan and early Stuart England, Norton was extremely vulnerable to famine, plague, and other kinds of sickness. But there is a very fundamental problem over interpreting the sharp upturns and downswings which can be seen in the graph: it is always possible that there were periods when a register might under-record vital events for one reason or another. It seems that in some places there might be periods when parishioners refused to use a particular church for either baptisms or burials; and if, for instance, records were copied from loose sheets of paper into the surviving registers at a slightly later date, it would be an easy matter for some to have been lost. Perhaps, too, the keeping of the registers was sometimes affected by the vicar himself, or the parish clerk, being sick. As far as the Norton registers are concerned, I am particularly suspicious about the burial figures during the 1560s and 1570s, especially the late 1570s: there seems to be a distinctly peculiar relationship between baptism and burial levels during this period. (The last section of this chapter looks at this a little more closely in relation to levels of child mortality.)

GRAPH 1: Baptism, marriage and burials yearly totals from registers

GRAPH 2: !0-year totals of baptisms, marriages and burials from register

GRAPH 3: 10-year baptism totals less 10-year burial totals

GRAPH 4: 5-year moving averages

The registers of a single parish need to be put in a wider context before it is possible to interpret upturns and downswings with any confidence: the statistics to be gleaned from Norton would be a great deal more useful if they were looked at together with those from the registers of neighbouring parishes. Some of the fluctuations in the Norton figures very clearly do reflect larger-scale patterns: for instance the sharp drop in baptisms, followed by a peak in burials, in the famine years of 1586-7. There was another great harvest failure in 1596-7; and once again the Norton registers show a drop in baptisms followed by a peak in burials for these years. Similarly in 1623 the Norton pattern reflects a national crisis of famine and epidemic disease.

The second graph plots 10-year totals of baptisms, marriages and burials in Norton between 1560 and 1650: this makes the underlying growth pattern a good deal clearer, and shows the extent to which it fits in with what was happening at a national level. "Demographic boom" during the late sixteenth century was followed by a "levelling off" period in the first two decades of the seventeenth century; and then there was a definite closing of the gap between baptisms and burials in the 1620s and 30s. But the increasing surplus of baptisms over burials in Norton during the 1640s does not seem to fit in with national trends: and a closer look at this period would be needed to offer any explanations.

The third graph is included to show more exactly what was going on in terms of the surplus of recorded baptisms over burials: in particular it helps to point out just how odd the register figures are for the 1570s.

Graph 4 plots baptisms, burials and marriages as 5-year "moving averages"(3). This makes it a good deal easier to provide an overall impression of what was happening than can be obtained from the ups and downs of yearly totals, but at the same time it gives a much more accurate picture than Graph 2, which was plotted using only the nine ten-year totals for the decades between 1560 and 1650.

Using just the baptism registers, it is possible to get some idea of the relative growth amongst different occupational groupings during this period. Table 6 sets out this information: each father has been entered once only at the date of the first baptism where he appeared in the registers, under the first occupational description which he was given.

Table 6: Patterns in occupational growth as shown by Norton baptism registers: "new fathers" 1560-1619

  1560-9 1570-9 1580-9 1590-9 1600-9 1610-19 Total
Gentleman 3 1 4 4 4 4 20
Yeoman 10 4 7 8 10 12 51
Scythesmith 5 4 4 10 8 8 39
Scy. striker , 3 0 2 6 4 4 19
Cutler 0 1 4 2 3 10 20
Other metal 1 4 7 5 1 4 22
Non-met craft , 9 5 14 20 11 10 69
Husbandman 10 11 4 0 1 3 29
Labourer 7 7 8 10 8 15 55
Misc 1 1 2 6 1 3 14
Total 49 38 56 71 51 73 338

This pinpoints the 1590s as the period of most rapid growth in the scythemaking industry, and also in the non-metalworking crafts. (A growth in these could be expected to accompany a general growth in population.) It also suggests a downturn in fortunes for the metalworking and craft trades during the first decade of the seventeenth century. The most striking feature, however, is the decline in the number of husbandmen from the 1580s onwards.(4) (It would probably require a study in itelf to provide a satisfactory interpretation of this.)

An oddity of parish registers as a source for reconstructing populations is that they have a lot to tell us about growth and change, and about patterns of social behaviour; and yet when it comes to the basic question of how many people would have lived in a particular place at a particular time, it is very hard to be sure of the answers. This becomes even more of a problem from the late seventeenth century, when nonconformity drew large sections of many communities away from the parish church until censuses began in 1801.

Guesswork though it may be, it is worth trying to get some idea from the parish registers of how many people lived in Elizabethan Norton. (There is no general listing before the Hearth Tax of 1672 which could be used to throw any light on this.) If we take the decade between 1595 and 1605, the average number of yearly baptisms was around 25, with burials fluctuating a good deal more sharply than baptisms but averaging out at around 15 over the period. As a general rule it appears that in pre-industrial England crude death rates never fell below 15 per thousand in rural areas, while the birth rate was rarely less than 30 per thousand.(5) On the assumption that Norton was relatively normal in this respect, it seems reasonable to make a guess that the total population of the parish at the end of the Elizabethan period was somewhere between 800 and 1000. This probably means that Greenhill, the largest settlement cluster, would have been a community of around 150 at this time, with perhaps 100 living at Norton village, 70 at Norton Lees, and 80 at Woodseats. Sorting the combined registers "by address" provides the evidence for this estimate: it also shows that there were other sizeable groupings of population within the parish, as well as small hamlets and scattered areas of settlement - like Herdings or Smithy Wood - which consisted of just a few households, and whose total populations in 1600 would often have been no more than a dozen or so. The communities which made up Norton parish are discussed a little further in Chapter V.

In the rest of this chapter, I look more closely at some aspects of life in Elizabethan Norton which emerge from the baptism, the marriage and the burial registers. As far as patterns of social behaviour are concerned, I have concentrated my attention mainly on three issues: illegitimacy, bridal pregnancy, and remarriage of widows and widowers.

Births: A General Picture And A Particular Problem

What was the average family size in Elizabethan and early Stuart Norton? Did family size vary between one occupational grouping and another? What was the average gap between one child and the next? There are various problems about answering these questions with any certainty from the registers. It is not necessarily the case that all births were recorded; as the last section of this chapter shows, there are a considerable number of entries in the burials register recording the death of infants who never appeared in the baptisms registers. Fathers in some occupational groups may have been more likely than others to move in or out of the parish in the course of raising their family. (Of 58 fathers described as yeomen in the baptism registers, the burial was recorded in Norton for 36 (62%). Of 63 described as labourers in the baptism registers, the burial was recorded for 30 (48%): a difference large enough to be significant, and one which could well suggest a greater level of movement on the part of the labourers.)

Taking all the baptisms between 1560 and 1619 to a father whose occupation is known, together with the infant burials of children who had not been baptised(6), the picture can be summarised as follows:

  Yeomen & gentry Others
Total families with children 79 (23%) 265 (77%)
Total children 345 (28%) 897 (72%)

This is useful to know for the purposes of establishing the general proportions of "richer" to "poorer" families, but any calculations based on these overall figures would seriously underestimate family sizes: analysing the registers between fixed dates makes it inevitable that incomplete families will be included at the beginning and the end of the period under examination. To get as accurate an impression of average births per family as possible, the following table includes only those families with the first child entered in the registers between 1580 and 1599, and incorporates children who were buried but not baptised.

Table 7: Number of children per family: families with first child entered in baptism registers between 1580 and 1599.

Children in burials but not baptism registers included.

Father's occupation 1-2 3-4 5-6 7-8 9-10 11-12 12+ No. fams No. children Av. children
GENTLEMAN 3 1 1 1 0 0 0 6 21 3.5
YEOMAN 6 0 8 1 1 1 1 18 96 5.3
HUSBANDMAN 5 1 2 1 1 1 0 11 50 4.5
METALWORKER 16 12 4 6 4 0 0 42 171 4.1
NON-METAL CRAFTS 17 6 5 3 0 1 0 32 108 3.4
LABOURER 11 3 5 1 1 0 0 21 72 3.4
OTHER 3 0 0 2 0 0 0 5 20 4.0
Total 61 23 25 15 7 3 1 135 538 4.0

Despite the fact that some of the labourers' families in this sample are perhaps more likely than the yeomen's to be incomplete, differences in family size between occupational groupings are large enough to suggest that they are real and not imagined; and studies of family size in other sixteenth- and seventeenth century communities also suggest that yeomen's families, in particular, were significantly larger than labourers'.(7) Leaving aside the gentlemen (who, as we suggested in the previous chapter, were perhaps more likely to have had their children baptised at private chapels), it seems that the more secure a family's livelihood, the more children they would tend to have.

Not surprisingly, some of the largest families were those which included the children of two marriages. Richard Atkin, weaver and then yeoman, had six children in eight years of marriage with his first wife, Alice Bate: she died in October 1605, four months after the birth of the sixth. He married his second wife, Elizabeth Parker, in July 1607: she was already six months pregnant with the first of her eight children, born over a period of 13 years. (Four of Richard Atkin's 14 children, incidentally, died before they reached adulthood.) John Barten, nailer of Woodseats, had 11 children from two marriages: in his case it was only four months between the death of his first wife and his marriage to another, but there was a 30-year age gap between the oldest child of his first marriage and the youngest child of the second.

John Barten was a craftsman, but in total out of the 11 occasions between 1560 and 1620 when one man was recorded as having 10 or more children, six were yeomen. As we saw above, 23% of Norton's families were yeomen's or gentlemen's: so it is quite clear that the yeomen were responsible for a disproportionate number of the very large families. By no means all of these large families were the result of two marriages. Edward Owtrem, yeoman of Bradway, and his wife Elizabeth Edmundson, had 11 children between 1600 and 1618 (5 of whom died before reaching adulthood.) In 1569 James Bate, yeoman of Jordanthorpe, married Dorothy Harrison: over the next 16 years she had 13 children: an average of 15 months between births. But this rapid succession of children was not the normal pattern, as table three shows. Here, all the families in the register with five or more children from one marriage were analysed to establish whether or not there were differences in average birth intervals between the various occupational groupings.

Table 8: Families with five or more children from one marriage and average birth intervals: Norton baptism registers 1560 - 1619

Number of families with average birth interval in months:

Occupation* Total
with > 5 children 13-15 16-18 19-21 22-24 25-27 28-30 31-33 34-36 Over 36
GENTLEMEN (9%) 4 (4%)   1 1 1 1        
YEOMEN (17%) 27 (28%) 2 2 3 2 9 2 2 3 2
HUSBANDMEN (8%) 8 (8%)     1   2   4   1
METALWORKERS (25%) 26 (27%)     2 5 5 6 2 3 3
NON-METAL CFT (20%) 16 (17%)     1 3 6 1   1 4
LABOURERS (14%) 12 (12%)     1 1 3 1 1 1 4
OTHER (7%) 4 (4%)         2 2      
Total 97 (100%) 2 3 9 12 28 12 9 8 14

* Group as percentage of adult men with known occupations from Chapter II, Table 2. (Note: there are variations between relative sizes of occupational groupings as established from "last entry in the registers", as here; and breakdowns based only on the baptism registers, where problems of shifting occupational descriptions etc. make a "definitive" occupational breakdown impossible.)

This table goes a little further towards demonstrating that yeomen had more than their share of the larger families resulting from one marriage: whilst yeomen made up 17% of the men with known occupations, they accounted for 28% of the fathers with more than 5 children. The table also indicates amongst the larger families an average interval between births of 31 months for labourers, compared with 25 months for yeomen. The number of gentlemen included in this group is not large enough to provide a satisfactory sample, but the four who appear in it have the shortest average interval of all, at just 22 months. (This is not as informative as it might be, since the average birth interval in a family hides a great level of variation: most particularly, the tendency for women to have their first children at closer intervals than later ones: nonetheless it provides a worthwhile indicator.)

It has been suggested that birth intervals during this period were generally shorter amongst the rich as a result of their use of wet-nurses: breast-feeding is known to have a contraceptive effect, so if it is not taking place conceptions are likely to follow one another more rapidly(8). However conception could be expected to take place more quickly than usual not just where wet-nurses were employed, but also in those cases where an infant had died and breast-feeding had therefore ceased. An analysis was made of the occasions in Norton when birth intervals were 15 months or less to see if any light could be thrown on which of these factors were at work. A "family reconstruction", combining information from the baptism and burials register, was used: children appearing only in the burials register were included when they were specifically described as "infants".

Table 9: Norton registers 1560 - 1619: Baptism intervals of 15 months or less

  Yeomen & gentry Other
Birth within 15 months of baptism of previous baby whose burial recorded 7 33
Birth within 15 months of previous baby for whom no evidence of death 23 7

It is clear from these figures that the death of a baby was a major factor in shortening intervals between birth. (Table 8, which listed only the average birth intervals in large families, provided no means of demonstrating variations such as this.) On the occasions where a short birth interval can be linked to the previous baby's death, 23% involve yeomen or gentry, and 77% do not. These figures are proportionate to the relative number of families in these two categories: this is as one might expect, since in general, infant burials were spread more or less evenly "across the board". (Out of a total 179 burials of infants under three between 1560 and 1619, 54 (30%) were the children of yeomen or gentry, and 125 (70%) were not.)

On the occasions when a short birth interval cannot be linked to evidence of the previous baby's death, the situation is exactly reversed: 77% of all instances relate to yeomen or gentry families. This does suggest factors at work amongst the yeomanry and gentry which were not present for the rest of the population, and wet-nursing seems the most reasonable explanation. James Bate, yeoman of Jordanthorpe and his wife Dorothy are by far the most convincing example: of their 13 children, nine were born after an interval of 15 months or less. Only one of these rapid conceptions took place after the recorded burial of the previous baby. Also without the burial of a previous infant to account for the short intervals, Dionysius Berisforde, gentleman of Beauchief, and his wife Bridget Strelley had two of their five children born 12 and 13 months respectively after their last baby; Richard Atkin, the weaver-yeoman, had two children from his first marriage and two from his second born after gaps of under 15 months; Edward Urton, yeoman of Himsworth, had two similar short birth intervals in his family. It is interesting that Richard Atkin's first wife was Alice Bate, and Edward Urton's wife was Katherine Bate: they were the right age to be two daughters of James and Dorothy Bate, and perhaps this could suggest a family who were particularly strong believers in wet-nursing.

Other families who possibly used wet-nurses included the two James Bullockes, father and son, who were yeoman then gentleman at Grennell; and John Fretcheville, gentleman of Haslebarrow. There were other yeomen who provided one or two cases which would fit into the model; but there are also the seven cases from families lower down the social scale where short birth intervals occur, with no evidence that the previous baby had died. Breast-feeding does not provide certain protection against conception, so scattered examples of short birth intervals will of course occur amongst all social ranks without a previous baby's burial to explain them. The evidence does however suggest that some yeoman and gentleman families in Norton could well have used wet-nurses; but not that it was by any means a universal practice amongst these classes.

Illegitimate births

Of the 1274 baptisms entered in the Norton registers between 1560 and 1619, 70 (- including two sets of twins -) were of illegitimate children. This amounts to approximately one in 20 of all baptisms, but they were not spread evenly throughout the period, as Table 10 shows:

Table 10: Illegitimate baptisms as % of all baptisms, 1560-1619

Decade Total baptisms Total illegit Illegit as % of total
1560-9 126 7 5.5
1570-9 180 10 5.6
1580-9 201 17 8.5
1590-9 246 19 7.8
1600-9 257 13 5.2
1610-19 264 4 1.5
Total 1274 70 5.5

There were particular years when the proportion of illegitimate baptisms was unusually high: in 1581, four out of 29 baptisms were of illegitimate children, in 1595, five out of 31, and in 1597, four out of 23. Overall in the decade from 1595 to 1604, out of a total 258 baptisms, 24 - nearly 10% - were of illegitimate children. Added to those appearing in the baptism registers, a further eight illegitimate children appear only at their burials. Five of these eight were recorded in the decade 1600-9, and modify the impression given by the baptism registers of a sudden falling-off in illegitimacy which appears to have taken place, dated from 1605-6 onwards. Of the 13 illegitimate births entered in the baptism registers between 1600 and 1609, 12 were recorded between 1600 and 1605; but four of the five entered only in the burial registers during this decade, were dated between 1606 and 1609. However, no additional illegitimate children are to be found in the burials register between 1610 and 1619 to contradict the impression that a dramatic change had indeed taken place by this time, which might be interpreted as a result of the strengthening hold of a Puritan morality.

It seems clear enough from the registers that the church had viewed the increasing illegitimacy rate in Norton during the last decades of the sixteenth century with considerable disapproval. "Richard, the putative, unlawfully begotton son Richard Frithe of Gledleys, nayler, by Agnes Rose, of Norton, who was afterwards married to Christopher Bennett", as one entry read in 1581: evidently the child was not to be allowed to forget his origins, even though his mother had found another man to marry her. Ten years later "Elizabeth, spurious twig" was "unlawfully engendered between Francis Hynscliff, of Whooleley, otherwise the village carrier, and Alice Mydgelay, who was delivered at the house of Christopher Chapman".

Our ancestors did not live in a moral utopia: prostitution, rape, and incest were by no means absent from the social landscape(9); men "took advantage" of women, women entertained inappropriate fantasies of romantic love, and so on. One must imagine the tremendous variety of life-stories and experiences which would have accounted for the illegitimate births in Elizabethan Norton: but to some extent the parents do fall into groups with common features.

In the first place, strangers, passers-through, and individuals without family roots in the parish, figured strongly amongst the parents of illegitimate children born here. There were in all 76 pregnancies to single mothers recorded (having taken into account those appearing only in the burial registers, and allowing for multiple births): in 13 cases, the father's name was apparently unknown to the mother, or at any rate to the parish authorities. Particularly strangely, in 1577 there were three occasions within five months when the baptism entry read "father uncertain"; and the same thing happened again between October 1582 and March 1583. Amongst those parents of illegitimate children whose names we do know, a considerable proportion were also "outsiders". Out of the 63 unmarried fathers who were named in the registers, only 18 had surnames from Norton's "Top 50"(10); and 38 of them appeared in the registers only on the occasion of the illegitimate child's baptism or burial. The mothers, too, were mostly not from well-established Norton families: out of the 74 who were named, just 26 had surnames from the "Top 50". Taking all the parents of illegitimate children whose names we know, 26 of the 63 men and 21 of the 74 women appear once only in the registers and have surnames which were not shared by anyone else in Norton.

The outsiders or travellers who fathered illegitimate children defy classification. Godfrey Bowne "of the lately dissolved Monastery of Fountanes, co. York", was father of a son born to Beatrice Wilson in 1595. Henry Arthur was a "wiseman" of Laughton, whose reputed son was born to one Elizabeth Chesshire in 1586. William Shackersley, "gent, soldier serving in Ireland" was the father of a child born to Susan Ermitage in 1598; other reputed fathers from outside the parish included Godfrey Ashe of Newbould (1581), John Bell of Budby in Nottinghamshire, and George Wilkinson of Halifax. Alice Frith - presumably the daughter of Thomas Frith, nailer of Woodseats - appears to have had a sexual relationship with more than one outsider. Her child Jane, baptised and buried in 1597, was the "reputed daughter of Richard Stevenson of Brampton or William Swifte of Barley".

In addition to those who had no apparent connections with Norton families, a number of those appearing in the registers only at the baptism of their illegitimate child did share their surname with other people in the parish. Sometimes this can give a clue to their likely social rank. Thomas Raworth, for instance, was probably related to Christopher Raworth, a labourer; the only other Hancock apart from Robert - who fathered an illegitimate child in 1573 - was Thomas, a blacksmith at Grennell in the 1570s and 80s. There were five Willyes in the registers, one of whom - Thomas - fathered an illegitimate child. The two Willyes whose occupations are known were both labourers. Similarly with William Cooke, whose illegitimate son was buried in 1567: eight Cookes appear in the registers, and the only two whose occupation we know were labourers. Christopher Birley was another case in point: there were three other Birleys in the registers, and the only one with a known occupation was a labourer. Amongst the women were Elizabeth Charlewourth - the only other Charlewourth in the registers was William, a miller at Heeley; and Ellen Johnson - the only other Johnson was a labourer. Emmota Clayton had a child by an unknown father in 1583; the other Claytons in the registers were two dish-turners, a husbandman, and a striker. Matilda Hunter of Grennell was the mother of Anthony Mawer's illegitimate son; the other Hunters in Grennell were charcoal-burners. Jane Foxe also mothered an illegitimate child; she shared her surname with another charcoal-burning family.

A few unmarried parents can be followed through the registers from their own baptisms, and as with those who can be only tentatively placed in a family context, the majority came from the lower social ranks. They also give an idea of the age-range amongst Norton's unmarried mothers. Elizabeth Tayler was the daughter of Robert, a cutler of Heeley Bridge who appears to have descended into the ranks of the labourers by the time of his death: she was 23 when her illegitimate son was born. Agnes Rose of Norton - who became mother of "Richard, the putative" when she was 21 - was the daughter of Thomas Rose, striker. We have met Alice Frith, whose father was almost certainly Thomas, nailer of Woodseats: she would have been 32 when she gave birth. There are seven unmarried mothers whose age can be established, the youngest of whom was 21 and the oldest 32: of teenage romance the illegitimate births recorded provide no more evidence than do the marriage registers.

Amongst the parents of illegitimate children who appear to have had roots in the parish, there were members of some of the largest family networks in Norton. The women included five Parkers, two Bullockes, and two Allens; amongst the men were two Bartens, two Greens, two Norths, a Parker, and an Urton. In most of these cases it is impossible to pin down which particular branch of a family the "offender" came from, but where unmarried parents came from smaller local families, we can often establish their identities with a greater degree of certainty. Amongst these were a disproportionate number of local gentlemen. Twins fathered by James Cockeram, gentleman of Norton, were born in January 1581 (just a month after his wife Margaret was buried); the twins were buried just three days after their baptism, but their mother, Elizabeth Capper als Phillips, lived on until 1611 when she was buried, unmarried, at Norton church. Godfrey Fanshawe of Fanshawe Gate, in Holmesfield, fathered the child of Anna Wootton, spinster, in 1600: she is one of the "outsiders" about whom we know nothing. Godfrey Foljambe, gentleman of Morewood Hall, fathered the child of one Jane Warde in 1583: the other Wardes in the register were a yeoman at Dore and a gentleman's servant at Haslebarrow. In 1618 an illegitimate child was born to Jane Poynton and Rowland Morewood; the only other Morewoods in the registers were gentlemen at Himsworth. Perhaps Jane had genuine hopes of a prestigious marriage: she was probably the same Jane who Eliseus Poynton, yeoman of Grennell, had brought to be baptised in 1594.

Other gentlemen fathering illegitimate children did not live locally: we have already mentioned William Shackersley, the gentleman soldier; and another who certainly took advantage of a servant was Godfrey Reresby, who in 1604 fathered twins of Alice Wildsmith, "servant to Ralph Reresby of Ickles, gent". The connection with Norton was presumably that Alice came from a local family - the other adult Wildsmith in the registers was Robert, a cutler from Woodseats. As with the great majority of Norton's twins, the babies were buried within days of their baptism; and nothing more is heard of Alice Wildsmith.

There were also two mothers of illegitimate children whose family names were shared locally only by gentlemen, although their direct relationship cannot be proved. Walter Whalley, gentleman of Beauchief, died in 1587. In 1589 Beatrice Whalley had a child by John Foxe: the John Foxe of the registers was a charcoal-burner, first of Beauchief and then of Lees, who was married with four children at the time. Beauchief's leading gentleman family was that of the Strelleys, and in 1590 Mariam Strelley had an illegitimate child: the father was Thomas Somerstone of Beauchief, whose occupation was unrecorded and who does not appear again in the registers.

Members of yeoman families appear amongst those having illegitimate children, but to nothing like the same extent as either gentleman families, or the "lower classes". We saw that Jane Poynton was probably a yeoman's daughter; and in 1603 "Katherine, d. Leonard Norrys, of Himsworth, yeo", had a child by one Robert Launce - whose name suggests no local connections, either good or bad. (We have already come across Leonard Norris, who emerges from the various records as a rather puzzling character.(11)) Margaret Allen had an illegitimate child with Roger North, husbandman of Bradway, in 1587: they married two months later and went on to raise a family of 11 children. She was almost certainly the Margaret Allen born to John, yeoman and scytheseller of Woodseats, in 1564: in the previous chapter I suggested that the Allens may have numbered amongst the more impoverished yeoman families, and it could be, for instance, that dispute over a dowry had delayed the marriage arrangements.

The three yeomen who appear amongst the unmarried fathers were also not amongst the most substantial of their class. Anthony Barten had an illegitimate son in 1608, three years before he married: over the following years he was described as a sheather and then a husbandman before he was known as a yeoman. Anthony Mawer of Little Norton appeared as the father of an illegitimate child 11 years before the first of his legitimate children was brought for baptism: he was then described as a miller and a husbandman as well as a yeoman. Robert Eyre, yeoman of Smithies, was almost certainly the same Robert Eyre who fathered the child of Marjory Parker in 1606 (there are no other Robert Eyres in the registers as possible contenders); and by 1616 he was no longer described as a yeoman, but a husbandman.

In marrying the father of her illegitimate child, Margaret Allen was one of only two who did this: the other was Elizabeth Tayler of Heeley. Four unmarried mothers seem to have found other men to marry. Agnes Rose was four months pregnant again when she and Christopher Bennett wed, two years after "Richard, the putative" had been baptised. Joyce Camme married John Belfield, slater and waller, three years after her son Thomas had been born out of wedlock to an unnamed father: they went on to have four children, and she died in 1630. Dorothy Green married Thomas Hall, labourer of Beauchief, in 1585 - she had fallen pregnant to Godfrey Ashe of Newbould four years earlier. Finally - and more tentatively because of a lack of Norton family connections - Anna Roger had a child buried in 1608, whose "reputed father" was John Roger of Hanley (one wonders how closely related they were); in 1611 William Bore, striker, married an Anna Roger of Staveley.

At least three unmarried mothers were buried, still spinsters, at Norton church: Elizabeth Capper als Philips and Grace Frith lived on for 30 and 40 years respectively, but Ellen Stringfellow died in 1572 - just two weeks after the baptism of her child by Richard Blande, a local man who had been left a widower less than three years after he had married. Two mothers of illegitimate children were described as widows, and at least one other almost certainly was. We can be fairly sure that one of them - "Otaway, w.", as she appears in the registers - was the bereaved wife of Thomas, a labourer who had died two years earlier in 1577, leaving her with a two-year old child; another, Isabella Barnes, was likely to have been the widow of Thomas, a labourer from Beauchief.

It is not, of course, strictly accurate to describe all the fathers of illegitimate children under the blanket term of "unmarried fathers" - a good few of them were local married men who had been unfaithful to their wives. Thomas Bullocke, scythe-seller of Grennell, made his servant Margaret Newton pregnant: if his wife had died between November 1595, when the last legitimate baptism in the family was recorded, and the summer of 1596 when Margaret must have conceived, the event did not appear in the burials. And the registers suggest that only one Thomas North - a weaver of Bradway - was alive and not an old man in 1613; if so it was his illegitimate daughter who was baptised just one month after he had married another woman. There were at least seven John Bartens living in Norton between 1560 and 1619; the John Barten who in 1595 was responsible for Grace Frith's baby could well have been John the nailer (Grace's father Thomas had been a nailer until his death two years earlier). If not, the other contemporary John Bartens who could have been responsible were also married men. Other illegitimate births likely to have been the product of marital infidelity were those where Hugh Green, scythesmith, Robert Eyre, yeoman, and John Greaves, labourer, appear to have been the culprits. In at least three other cases, it seems as if local men had "sown their wild oats" in their youth and then married somebody else.

Amongst the parents to illegitimate children who came from families with local roots, it is puzzling that there should have been as many as six Parkers. In 1603 the baptism entry for Susan Parker's illegitimate child included the information that Susan was the daughter of Jerome Parker - a husbandman from the Okes branch of the family. This branch, as we have seen (page 16), might be appropriately thought of as the "poor relations" of the family. Susan may not have been the only one of Jerome Parker's children to fly in the face of the prevailing morality: his son Francis seems to be the only possible candidate from the registers for the fatherhood of "William, reputed son Francis Parker and Maria Parker junior, his relation", born in 1602. Was this the same Maria Parker who had borne the illegitimate child of John Green in 1594? - baptism records do not help us to unravel this, and nor do they give us any clues as to which branch of the family Jane Parker, another unmarried mother, came from. Finally, it was a Jerome Parker of Lees who offered hospitality to one Margaret Ellycocke when she gave birth to a child with an unknown father in 1600. (The christian name of Jerome was not a common one, but if there was only one of them, he had moved in his lifetime from being a husbandman at Okes between 1576 and 1585, to a surgeon at Grennell in 1587, before arriving at Norton Lees.)

Amongst the families with less common surnames one could hope to find oneself on firmer ground: the chances that two people should have shared the same name are obviously a great deal less. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of bastardy in Norton is the evidence which points to the existence of what could be described as a "subculture" - a collection of local families and individuals who apparently had little regard for any stigma attached to illegitimacy. Between 1560 and 1619, there were two women, Marjory Nyckesonne and Jane Bowre, who each had two illegitimate children, with a nine- and ten-year gap respectively between them: in both cases one of the children had a father who was unnamed or "uncertain", and the other was fathered by a man with a local name. Richard Chapman, labourer and then smith at Beauchief, was the father of Jane Bowre's first child, born in 1567; Chapman was not one of Norton's "Top 50" commonest names, and I feel fairly convinced that the Richard Chapman, cutler of Heeley, who fathered the illegitimate child of Frances Smythe in 1580 must have been the same person. Then in 1595 Alice Chapman, specifically entered in the registers as "daughter of Richard Chapman", gave birth to Dionysius, the illegitimate son of one Anthony Hancksworth. One wonders whether family ties might explain why it was that Christopher Chapman appears to have been particularly hospitable to unmarried mothers. Chapman was one of Norton's less wealthy yeomen who, it may be remembered, was "aged about 100" when he died in 1611; when Isabella Newton, "stranger, unknown traveller in that place" gave birth to a child in 1582, it was under his roof, and so too was the birth in 1596 of George, son of Thomas Tempest of Brestwell and Katherine Keye of Batley. We have already met the unfortunate "Elizabeth, spurious twig" who, in 1591, was also delivered at his house.

The Friths were a local family who provided far more than their share of illegitimate children in relation to their numbers. Of 10 adult Friths directly or indirectly recorded, three were the parents of illegitimate children. The four Friths whose occupations we know were labourers, nailers, and a pauper; and in general it is the humblest of the labouring classes - those whom it is tempting to describe as a "lumpenproletariat" - from whom the families which figured most strongly as parents of illegitimate children were drawn. Apart from the Friths, there are a number of other families amongst whom two or more had "illegitimate connections". Most of them had surnames from outside the "Top 50" and had no more than four or five men and women in total appearing with that surname in the registers; and they came largely from the lowest ranks. Anna Barbour had an illegitimate child in 1596 with John Bell; Richard Barbour (miller) had one with Elizabeth Tayler in 1595; and Elizabeth Barbour - the only other adult Barbour in the registers - married the illegitimate John Gryme als Allen (striker) in 1591. Margaret Jackson had a bastard child in 1577, father unknown; Stephen Jackson in 1595 with Isabel Hall als Knight, and Anna Jackson in 1618 with Edward Wilson. (The only Jackson whose occupation is given was a cutler; the only Wilson was a labourer.) Both the Halls and the Wilsons lead us into other branches of the network. It was Beatrice Wilson who in 1595 gave birth to the child of Robert Bowne of Fountains Abbey; Thomas Hall, labourer of Himsworth, had married Dorothy Green, the mother of an illegitimate child, in 1585. After her death, he was married again, to a Katherine Lane, and then himself had an illegitimate child with Elizabeth Lane (his wife's sister?) in 1604, just a year after the entry of his last legitimate baptism. The Otuwells/Otaways (the only adult male Otaway in the registers was a labourer), the Dysons (there were only three in the registers, and the only one with a known occupation was a female servant), and the much more strongly-established Foxes also had two parents of bastard children amongst their ranks.

I have not attempted to follow through the fortunes of Norton's illegitimate children; two of them, however, capture the attention. One was Sampson Foljambe, the unmistakeably-named bastard son of Godfrey Foljambe, gentleman. One wonders how proudly he carried his identity in the Norton community, where he was still living at his marriage in 1609 to Alice Lawe (also entered as Lane), six months pregnant at the time; and at the baptism of his second child in 1612. He worked as a cutler: had his father helped to set him up in the trade? (Retrospectively, I would have looked at Norton wills a little more carefully if I had recognised the possibility that illegitimate children might have to be provided for.) The other was John Gryme als Allen: he is a very clear example of the "als" referring to his illegitimate parenthood. His father was Leonard Gryme, and his mother Katherine Allen. John worked as a scythe striker in Norton and died here, at the age of 55, in 1646. He had married Elizabeth Barbour, who, as we have seen, came from a family with other illegitimate connections; four of his seven children died before they had passed the age of five, including twins who, as almost always, were dead within a month.


251 marriages were recorded at Norton between 1560 and 1620. 68 of these - a quarter - were of couples who did not appear again in the registers, and we will look at them first. In most of these cases it is likely that the couple settled outside the parish, at the husband's home. In 29 of the 68 "marriage only appearances" addresses were given for the husband: only three were from within Norton parish, and the other 26 were from elsewhere. These 26 include 18 where we also know either the husband's occupation, or that of the wife's father. This gives us some idea of what kind of women were most likely to marry an "outsider"; and not surprisingly, the evidence shows that in a large proportion of the cases where the husband came from outside the parish, he was of yeoman status or above.

Nicholas and Thomas Kirke of Anston both married members of the Urton family, yeomen of Lightwood; Thomas Bewys of Tickhill married a daughter of John Parker, yeoman of Little Norton; Thomas Holmes, yeoman of Silkstone, married a daughter of James Bate, yeoman of Jordanthorpe. William Saundersonne, yeoman of Blythe, married Anna, daughter of Edward Gill, yeoman of Norton. In all, there were 8 occasions where Norton yeoman's daughters married men from outside the parish: apart from those mentioned, the others came from Hope, "Mosber" (sic - Mosborough or Moscar?), and just over the parish boundary at Holt House. In addition to these yeoman marriages, George Eyre, Vicar of Mackworth, married into the gentleman Strelley family; and Richard Tayler of Chesterfield married a daughter of George More, gentleman of Grennell.

Another 12 of the 26 "outsider" husbands about whom we know anything, came from neighbouring parishes. There were 6 from Sheffield, including a husbandman and a sheather; 2 from Eckington, including a labourer; a husbandman from Dore, a tailor from Hackenthorpe; and two dish-turners from Gleadless. These last were James and Roger Clayton, presumably brothers, who married Norton women in 1613 and 1614. There was also a weaver from Chesterfield, and other husbands with unknown occupations from Higham, Horsleygate, and Baslow.

Occasionally, a marriage took place in Norton where the wife came from outside the parish. Four of these involved women from just over the parish borders, but William Bullocke, waller, married Anna Martial of Bradford; Edward Malam, husbandman, married Elizabeth Salte of Butterton, Staffordshire; and William Bore, striker, married Anna Roger of Staveley. Dorothy Turner and Mary Turner, both of Troway and presumably sisters, were married at Norton within three weeks of each other in 1602: one to Francis Littlewood, scythe grinder, and the other to John Melleriz, scythesmith of Cliffield Wheel.

There were also a few occasions when the registers show that men from outside the parish settled with their wives in Norton after their marriage. But all of these were very small moves. In the case of Richard Hodgson, shearsmith of Sheffield, it was just a matter of hopping over the parish border to set up home at Heeley Bridgehouses; and George Jessop, labourer, only had to move from Beighton to join his new wife, the recently-widowed Maria North, at Himsworth. Lyon Spencer, husbandman of Sheffield, followed a similar pattern when he moved in at Mackerhay with Anna Bate, widow of a small-time yeoman.

This is the sum total of known occasions when Norton marriages involved the movement of one partner or another over the parish boundaries. It seems clear as a general rule that yeomen and gentlemen were the only groupings who regularly formed marriage alliances over any distance, and even then the partner would come from within at most a 20-mile radius. But the vast majority of marriages involved partners who lived within a mile or two of each other, and who usually both came from within the parish boundaries.

If close proximity was a major deciding factor in choosing a marriage partner, so too was "appropriateness" in terms of social status. Table 11 analyses those marriages where the husband's occupation is known, and so too is either a) occupation of wife's father or b) "occupational standing" of the kinship group which shared the wife's maiden name. The extent to which choice of partner was dictated by rigid social considerations is quite apparent. Gentlemen married only women from gentleman's families; most yeomen married yeomen's daughters and none married into labouring families. There were only two occasions which gave any indication that a man had married "outside his station". In 1585 Ralph Bullocke, striker of Grennell, married Dionisia Townend , daughter of Thomas, yeoman of Grennell; and in 1589 Francis Bate, striker, married Agnes Townend - also the daughter of Thomas. At his first appearance in the registers Thomas Townend had been described merely as a husbandman, and the lowly marriages of two daughters suggests that his yeoman status must have been precarious indeed.

Table 11: Norton marriages 1560-1619: occupational matches

  a b a b a b a b a b a b a b Total
GENTLEMAN 5 4                         9
YEOMAN 1 1 11 2 2 1   3 1   1       23
HUSBANDMAN     2 4 3 1                 10
METAL SKILLED     2 2 3 2 4 6 1   3 1 3 3 30
METAL S/SKILLED     2     2 1 2 3 2 1 1 1 1 16
NON-MET CFT     2 2 3 4 3 4   2 4 1 2 4 31
LABOURER         1   1 2 2 2 4 1 4 4 21
OTHER 1                     1   2 4
Total 7 5 19 10 12 10 9 17 7 6 14 4 12 12 144

Note: 0ccupational information from family reconstruction database, not just from marriage register.

a = wife's father's occupation; b = commonest occupation of wife's family network

It is of some interest that two yeomen "married above themselves", to women from gentleman families; but no gentleman married "below himself" into a yeoman family. It seems apparent, too, that husbandmen used marriage as a means of consolidating their holdings of land and livestock. Women from the families of husbandmen would appear to have made considerably more free- ranging choices over their marriage partner than the men who were themselves husbandmen: husbandmen appear to have married entirely into the families of yeomen and other husbandmen, while women from husbandman's families were just as likely to marry metalworkers or craftsmen.

What can be discovered about the usual age at marriage reinforces this picture of an institution based on caution and convention, rather than passion. Age at first marriage can be established beyond reasonable doubt for 62 women, but only for 34 men. (The difference is mainly because marriages normally took place in the wife's parish of origin, but there are also greater problems of "nominal record linkage" with the men. The tremendous popularity of John as a Christian name creates particular difficulties, especially over disentangling the 7 John Bartens, 6 John Norths, and 10 John Parkers who reached adulthood during the period.)

As far as the women are concerned, the overall average age at first marriage was 25, and an analysis by occupation reflects the national tendency for women from labourers' families to marry later than those from the yeomanry and gentry. The average for the former was 28, and 24 for the latter. Women from the families of skilled metalworkers and craftsmen married notably earlier than labourers, with an average age at marriage of 25. Just 10 of the 62 women were under the age of 21 when they first married, and the records only indicate one marriage where the woman was aged under 17: assuming that the Elizabeth Frith who married Robert Barnes in 1584 was the same Elizabeth Frith for whom a baptism entry appears (and no entries for this name appear anywhere else), she was 14 at the time.

The average age at first marriage for the 34 men for whom this can be established was only slightly older than for women - 26 compared with 25. The sample was too small for a useful breakdown of age by occupation to be made. The youngest husband appears to have been William Bullocke, waller, who was 17 when he married; second youngest was John Barnes, scythegrinder, who married at the age of 19. It is worth noting that his early marriage can be directly connected to the death of his father Robert the previous year, and his inheritance of Cliffield Wheel.

Bridal Pregnancies

The 251 marriages recorded include 151 couples who can be followed through to the baptism of a child. On 51 of these 151 occasions, the mother was pregnant when she married; there were also the two couples whom we met amongst the parents of illegitimate children, who were married shortly after the baptism of their child. This remarkably high level of bridal pregnancy was not peculiar to Norton. At Colyton, Devon, between 1550 and 1599, 31 out of 79 baptisms to a couple whose marriage was also recorded took place less than 9 months after the wedding, and an average calculated over 7 parishes suggested a bridal pregnancy rate of nearly one-third between 1550 and 1599, and one-fifth from 1600-49.(12)

It seems fairly clear that at this period, the marriage contract was a "two-stage" affair, with betrothal preceding the wedding ceremony by some months, and being taken very seriously as a binding commitment. However, the Norton records strongly indicate that if this was the normal procedure, it was not regarded equally by all ranks of society as giving licence for premarital sex. An analysis of bridal pregnancies in Norton by occupation of husband gives the results shown in Table 12.

A study of the Church Court records for Elizabethan Essex has shown that a very large number of couples were sentenced to perform penance for bridal pregnancy. There is "only slight evidence of their being inflicted with the penitential white garb or the more humiliating forms of punishment reserved for those found guilty of fornication, adultery, bastardy, incest or rape", but an offence it nonetheless was. It appears that "betrothal sometimes resulted from conception, rather than vice versa"; in these cases the court always commanded offenders to marry as quickly as possible so that the baby would be born in wedlock. There were, too, numerous occasions when a couple was brought to court if their child had been born too soon after marriage.(13)

Table 12: Bridal Pregnancies in Norton 1560 - 1619, analysed by occupation

Occupatio Total marriages followed through to baptism .. of which total bridal pregnancies (% in brackets)
Labourer 22 11 (50%)
Striker/Nailer 14 5 (35%)
Cutler 10 4 (40%)
Scythesmith 19 6 (31%)
Slater 5 2 (40%)
Misc. craftsmen 28 8 (29%)
Husbandman 11 4 (36%)
Yeoman 17 2 (12%)
Gent 2 1
Other/ occ unknown 23 8 (35%)

I have not established whether any ecclesiastical records are available more locally which might throw light on attitudes to bridal pregnancy in the dioceses of Lichfield or York; but the registers certainly suggest a number of occasions when the wedding would appear to have been a "shotgun" affair. Henry Milner was "a soldier to be sent to Ireland"; he married Katherine Hallam on 28th February 1595, and on 14th April 1595 their son John was baptised. Other marriages were still more of a "race against time". Robert Genne of Sheffield married Grace Mychell on 15th September 1600, and their son Robert was baptised on 25th September 1600. (Baby Robert was buried the following day, and the family does not appear again in the registers. I cannot resist speculating to myself on Robert Genne's frame of mind.) Thomas Bullocke, scythesmith, married in October 1582; a son was baptised in November. Richard Levicke, striker, married Frances Barker on 1st December 1599; their daughter Anna was baptised on 30th December. John Rose, woodman of Woodseats Dale, married Ellen Barker, his servant, on 3rd May 1601; their daughter was baptised on June 26th. These were by no means the only women in Elizabethan Norton who were heavily pregnant when they walked down the aisle, as Table 13 shows:

Table 13: Bridal pregnancy in Elizabethan Norton: Number of months pregnant

One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight & over Total
6 8 5 4 8 9 5 6 51

Note: wives only included when child born within 8.5 months of marriage.

This is a pattern which suggests a considerable proportion of cases where betrothal was more likely to have followed than to be followed by, conception. And judging by the occupational analysis (Table 12), it was a behaviour pattern which was frowned upon by the "respectable" yeomanry - the social ranks amongst whom puritanism was rapidly gaining ground during this period, most especially in the early Stuart era. Table 14 shows that the incidence of bridal pregnancy followed a chronological pattern which clearly resembles that of illegitimate births (see page 57): a peak in the decade 1590-99, and a rapid falling-off in the decade 1610-19.

Table 14: Bridal pregnancies - date analysis

1560-9 1570-9 1580-9 1590-9 1600-9 1610-19 Total
5 6 10 14 11 5 51

It seems as if there may have been something of a "moral backlash" involved in the increasing sway of puritan values; but it is unfortunately beyond the scope of this study to consider the question any further, or to put the Norton evidence more fully into the context of other research into this thought-provoking issue.


General estimates suggest that somewhere between one-third and a half of all seventeenth-century children would lose their father before they reached adulthood; presumably an equally large number would have lost their mother.(14) A little more is said in the last section of this chapter about the untimely death of so many adults; hand-in-hand with this went a high level of remarriage, and through combining evidence from all the registers something can be seen of what this meant in human terms.

I have not attempted to quantify the level of remarriage in Elizabethan and early Stuart Norton in terms of percentages or proportions: the problems of following women through changes in surname defeated me. But the figure which I arrived at with a "hand count" was 63 traceable remarriages, 29 of which took place less than two years after bereavement. Out of these 29, 15 were within a year of bereavement. Discussing "the typical English household" in the Tudor, Stuart and Hanoverian era David Hey has stated that "the prime consideration in choosing a wedding partner was undoubtedly mutual love."(15) But it is difficult to make sense of the idea of remarriage within mere months of a partner's death, if we hold onto this notion too firmly: in Elizabethan and early Stuart Norton, the evidence of the registers suggests that on a good many occasions, the prime consideration was sheer economic necessity. A family living at subsistence level depended for its survival not on one man's enterprise, but on the unceasing combined toil of both husband and wife: the loss of either partner meant the total destruction of the economic unit. Neither husband nor wife alone could hope to provide a sufficiency of food and clothing; earn enough cash to pay the rent and buy goods which could not be produced at home; run the household; and care for young children. When a partner died, it was imperative that he or she should be replaced, often with a haste which would seem indecent by modern standards.

Thomas Lawe was a labourer dwelling at Woodseats. In June 1597, his wife Jane died: a daughter, Dorothy, had been born just four months earlier. In November 1597, Thomas married Anna Askew, widow of John, a labourer of Lees, where Thomas moved to live with his new wife. In June 1598, Anna Lawe herself died, and it was just three months later that Thomas married once again, this time to Elizabeth Rose, the 31-year old daughter of John, a woodman. When Thomas died in 1609, Elizabeth was left with four children under 10 (and, if she was still alive, stepdaughter Dorothy as well); another baby was baptised 7 months after Thomas's death. (Elizabeth Lawe did not remarry: her burial was recorded in 1637. Quite probably, she was one of the poor widows who depended upon the charity of the parish.)

William Bore, striker of Himsworth, lost his wife Jana in April 1611; they had five children under the age of 16, and another had been buried just 5 days before Jana. Even though it was only seven months before he was married again, this time to Anna Roger, it is difficult to imagine how the household would have managed to keep itself together over these months. Dorothy Barten was buried in April 1603: her youngest child was two years old. In August 1603 her husband John, a nailer of Woodseats, married again, to Anna Bullocke, the daughter of a slater. In April 1606 Thomas Townend, a labourer of Grennell was buried: less than a year later, in March 1607, "Townend wid. Thomas" was entered as the wife of Francis North, weaver of Grennell, when their baby was baptised.

On occasion, members of the yeoman ranks remarried with equal speed: Sarah Brassington's husband Anthony, yeoman of Jordanthorpe, died in February 1604; in August 1604 she married John Taylor, yeoman of Holt House. Edward Urton, yeoman of Himsworth, was widowed in January 1616: perhaps his wife Katherine had never recovered from the birth of twins the preceding year. In March 1617 he brought another child to be baptised: his new wife was Diana Greaves. But in all, 13 of the 15 remarriages within a year were amongst the lower ranks of society - they included four labourers or labourer's widows, two nailers, a striker, a slater's and a smelter's widow, a wheelwright, a husbandman's widow, a cutler and a scythesmith's widow.

The Burials Registers, 1560 - 1653

A major purpose of parish registers was to establish who did and who did not 'belong' to the parish, and to clarify any disputes that arose over inheritance of property. So it was important to provide sufficient information, in the burial records most particularly, to make clear "who was who" in terms of family relationships. All this information was incorporated into the burials database. I hope that Norton family historians will ask me for a copy on disk if they think it could provide a useful tool for investigating their roots.

In many ways burials proved a better starting-point than the baptism registers for a detailed reconstruction of a community or of a specific family. Some of the major problems over using baptism registers are to do with having to decide when there are and are not two fathers sharing the same name: the worst nightmares arise with large family networks firmly rooted in one locality. There were in Norton, for instance, ten different adult John Parkers living between 1560 and 1620, and seven different John Bartens. It is extremely difficult to disentangle their families one from another on the basis of father's names in baptism entries; but whilst it is possible to have numerous children, you can only die once. Not all of the John Parkers and John Bartens appear in the Norton burial registers, but we do know immediately from this source that there were indeed at least eight adult John Parkers to contend with, and five adult John Bartens.

The burials database incorporates entries from 1560 - 1653: it was taken over a longer period than the baptisms and marriages databases in order to provide the means of following through a greater number of individual lives. Browsing through the burials register, one's attention is most immediately caught by the clerk's comments and asides which now and then accompany an entry. These include occasional observations on the character of the deceased: Anna Blythe, widow of Jerome, gentleman of Grennell, was "a modest, pious and beneficent matron". Thomas Browne, mason, was "a man of proved honesty and piety" and William Brownell, Bachelor of Arts of Rawmarsh, was "zealous, pious, learned and remarkable for his great humanity." Emmina Gill, wife of Edward, yeoman, was "Pious, zealous, homely, and modest, the delight of those nearest to her (her neighbours)". John Hudson of Sickhouse, son and heir apparent of Thomas, yeoman, was, it may be remembered, "A youth of zeal, goodness, and humanity, and one who was possessed of no common talent for writing beautifully." This is the sum total of character-sketches made in the registers during this 90-year period. The extent to which the vicars regarded noteworthy goodness as a preserve of the upper ranks of society is very clear, with only one of these five entries referring to somebody below yeoman status.

At the other end of the social scale, it becomes possible to see a little of the people least likely of all to feature in any records: the homeless and rootless, the vagrants and travellers. It is clear from the burial registers that they were a distinct presence in Norton, particularly in the last decade of the sixteenth century. In 1589 Ellen, an old woman whose surname was unknown, died "at the home of John Parker of Lees, gent"; in 1592 Robert Stanniforth, a stranger and a young man, died at the home of Thomas Bright, yeoman of Bradway. In 1594 a pauper, "name and place of abode unknown, died at the home of James Bate, where he had been hospitably received." (As we saw in Chapter II, James Bate of Jordanthorpe was one of Norton's wealthiest yeomen.) Thomas Clarkson - alias James Clarkson - "pauper, stranger, lately inhabitant of Birstoll, Yorks", died at the home of Eliseus Poynton, yeoman of Grennell in 1597; and in 1599 the burial was recorded of John Mylner, "a young man, stranger, sick and dying at the home of William Blithe, of Lees".

Blithe was another yeoman. Register entries relating to vagrants clearly suggest that a spirit of charity towards the less fortunate held sway amongst at least some of the local yeomanry and gentry, and that church officials made a point of acknowledging this. But if humbler folk than yeomen also offered hospitality to the sick and homeless, their kindness was never acknowledged in the registers. Did anybody give comfort in her last moments to Elizabeth Brygges, buried in 1607 and allegedly the daughter of a gentleman, "wife John Brygges, lately of Sutton above Lowne, Notts, daughter of John Bradell, lately of Whally, co. Lancs, arm. (as it is affirmed), a poor wandering woman who met her death at Jordanthorpe"?; evidently somebody had offered her a listening ear while she was alive. And what of John West, "lately of Wombwell, sick and dying at Lowage- lane, lately inhabitant of Little Norton, and brought here to be buried" in 1598; or a Haslam whose Christian name was not known, "stranger, pauper, old man, dying at Himsworth" in 1597?

The clustering of these burials of "strangers" in Norton parish suggests that the 1590s were a period of especially great social dislocation: of 15 such burials recorded between 1560 and 1653, seven took place between 1589 and 1599. To these we must add three patients of Richard Barten of Grennell, surgeon. Elizabeth Mosse, buried in 1596, was a "diseased stranger"; John Keye, buried in 1592, came from Silkstone; and since Frances Ashfield, buried in 1594, has a surname which appears nowhere else in the Norton registers during this period, it is quite possible that she, too, was a stranger. (Richard Barten himself died in 1597; other surgeons appear later in the registers, but for none of them are sick patients recorded as dying at their homes.)

Vagrants were widely assumed to be criminals; but whether they played a part in any of the untimely deaths which were recorded in the Norton registers between 1560 and 1653 is not at all clear. These tended to be noted with a lack of detail which adds to their fascination. Francis Bray, a gentleman from Eyam, was "killed at Bradway" in 1611; Robert Fell of Dronfield was "killed at Lees" the following year. Francis Hill, son of Henry, a husbandman of Lees, was "killed at Chesterfield" in 1578; and it was at Lees, too, that in 1604 Robert Waddye, "lately servant to Mr Cardinal of Egmanton, Notts" was drowned. If you had to be on your guard at Lees, so too did you in the extensive woodlands of Norton parish. John Allen, woodman at Mackerhay, was "poisoned on July 28, buried after an inquest" in 1594; and John North of Bradway was "a youth who met with sudden death in a wood at Grennell" in 1599.

On three occasions the burial registers during this period note deaths caused by accidents at work. In 1596, Andrew Barker, "labourer in the mine of John Parker, senior, gent", was "killed by a fall of coal which he was working". In 1590 John Holland "son and heir Richard, late of Ecclesall, deceased" was "killed by the fall of a mass of lead, being then the apprentice of Christopher Chapman, Grennell, yeoman"; and in 1608 Robert North, labourer of Himsworth, was "killed by a fall from a tree at Wodbent".

In a sense Andrew Barker's family was fortunate - four of his five children were grown up by the time that he was killed, and the youngest was already 12. When Robert North fell out of the tree, his widow Mary was left with three children under the age of eight to bring up: and comparison between the baptism and burial registers shows just how common it was for a breadwinner to die while his children were still young. There are 194 occasions when, by combining the information in the baptism registers between 1560 and 1620 with the burial registers between 1560 and 1653, we can follow through adult men from marriage or the baptism of their children to their own burials. On 82 of these 194 occasions, the father died before his youngest child had reached the age of 12. When these 82 occasions are analysed by father's occupation, the picture shown in Table 15 emerges.

If death was "no respecter of persons", if families from all walks of life were equally at risk from loss of a breadwinner, then we might expect that columns (2) and (3) would be equal to each other. It is impossible for a table like this to be accurate beyond any shadow of a doubt, and the differences are mostly not earth-shattering; but it does seem fairly clear all the same that a labourer's family stood a significantly greater risk of losing its breadwinner than a yeoman's family; that husbandmen were relatively "safer" than metalworkers; and that leadworkers and smelters were working in particularly unhealthy or dangerous conditions.

Real though these differences may have been, the extent to which untimely death was a general threat to all sections of the community can hardly be overstated. The 82 burials of a father before his youngest child was 12 comprise over 40% of all the fathers who can be followed through from raising a family to death. This proportion appears to be particularly high, even in comparison with what historians have concluded from research into other sixteenth- and seventeenth- century communities: estimates have tended to suggest figures generally more like 30%(16) .

Table 15: Occupations of fathers dying before youngest child aged 12

  Number % Occ gp as %
of total workforce
Labourer 19 23 14
Scythesmith/finisher/grinder 11 13 9
Yeoman/yeoman-craftsman 10 12 17
Husbandman 7 9 8
Striker 6 7 4
Carpenter 5 6 3
Miller 5 6 3
Leadworker/smelter 4 5 1
Gentleman 4 5 9
Charcoal burner 2 2 3
Tailor 2 2 1
Other ((blacksmith 1, poynter 1,shoemaker 1,
clerk 1, cutler 1, occ not known 2))
7 9  
Total 82 99

There are two possible reasons why adult men's life expectancy might have been particularly low in Norton. Firstly, metalworking and related trades are and as a general rule always have been, less healthy than agricultural work. Secondly, Norton's expanding economy would inevitably have gone hand in hand with an above-average level of population movement: in a society where infectious disease was a major cause of death this was likely to make for a "high-risk" community.

But it is difficult to be sure exactly how much weight to attach to statistics like this, drawn from the parish registers. Around 410 men had children baptised between 1560 and 1620(17); so the total whose lives can be followed through from a child's baptism to their own burial is well under half of all Norton's fathers during this period. A possibility that has to be taken into account, is that the registers themselves are somehow "skewed" as a source. The question is, what became of all those fathers who were not buried at Norton church? Some will appear in the burial records of neighbouring parishes; some families may have moved further afield; and it is possible that some burials went unrecorded. As we have seen, the population increase in Norton had begun to level off by the end of the sixteenth century; this may be a symptom of slowing-down in the rate of industrial growth, or perhaps even of actual decline. Perhaps the "incomers" who had been attracted to Norton by plentiful employment were no longer able to find enough work to support their families, and moved away to seek ways of scratching their living elsewhere.

A major factor about which we know very little, is the practical workings of the Poor Laws during this period, and most particularly how "incomers" to a parish were treated if or when they became unable to support themselves. We do know that the Act of Settlement of 1662 - which laid down that any strangers in a parish could be immediately 'removed' if they were unable to provide for themselves - was confirming an existing principle rather than introducing something new. Earlier in this chapter we met John West who had been living at Wombwell, but was "lately inhabitant of Little Norton, and brought here to be buried". Very probably it was the Overseers of the Poor at Wombwell who had brought this dying man back to his native parish of Norton in order to avoid the expense of his burial; and it is equally likely that the Norton overseers transported sick and dying incomers back to their parish of origin to keep the cost of poor relief down. It is possible, albeit a rather miserable thought, that this could explain why so many fathers apparently "disappeared" from Norton before they were buried.(18)

Armed with the "top 50" Norton surnames (see Chapter II), I compared the 194 cases where fathers could be followed through the registers to their death, with the 241 men who were entered as parents in the baptism records but whose burials do not appear.

Table 16:
Fathers whose burials not recorded

"Top 22" names 47 19%
Top 50 - other 45 19%
Surname not in Top 50 149 62%
Total 241 100%

Fathers whose burials are recorded

"Top 22" names 86 44%
Top 50 - other 42 22%
Surname not in Top 50 66 34%
Total 94 100%

This clearly fits in with the suggestion that a substantial proportion of Norton's "incomers" during this period did not settle here - or were not permitted by the authorities to settle here - on a permanent basis. The same likelihood emerges when one looks at the adult men who can be followed through the registers with a reasonable degree of certainty right through from their own baptisms to their burials. This can only be done for 80 men; 68 of these (85%) had surnames in the "Top 50" (50 of these from the "Top 22"), and 12 (15%) had other surnames. If incomers' children who had been born here between the 1560s and 1590s had generally tended to live on here, one would certainly expect more of them to have been buried here by 1653.

Of course a large number of these children had died before reaching adulthood: a breakdown of the burial registers into men, women and children yields the following results:

Table 17: Norton Burial Registers 1560 - 1653: Men, women and children

Men 404
Women 390
Children 525
Total 1319

The registers themselves do not classify entries quite so neatly, and as a result these figures need to be treated with a little caution. Where the term "infant" is used, things are clear enough. And as a general rule, entries where the deceased was described as "son of ..." or "daughter of ..." refer to children, but this was not invariably the case. There were occasions where the burial registers identified young adults (aged 18 or over) by naming a parent or parents: this was especially common where the deceased was unmarried, and where it appears that the death may have been of significance for inheritance reasons. Linking the baptism and the burials database pinpointed 28 entries where this was the case; these have been included amongst the adults in the table above. However I have included amongst the children 75 entries where the deceased was described as "son of ..." or "daughter of ...", but where no baptism is recorded, and where they cannot be placed within a family context which could give any clues as to their likely age. A few of these may therefore have been young adults. But there are not enough of these to affect the overall picture: a picture of a community where nearly 40% of all burials were of individuals who never reached adulthood. Mostly, these were children who died before they were 5: the figures are shown in Table 18.

Twins, incidentally, were especially likely to die. Of 25 infants born at multiple births between 1560 and 1619 (11 pairs of twins and one set of triplets: some were recorded only in the burial registers), 16 died soon after birth.

Table 18: Ages of children buried in Norton, 1560 - 1653

5 and under 395
6 - 12 45
13 - 17 10
Age can't be established 75
Total 525

These statistics seem grim enough; but the reality may have been still grimmer. It seems almost certain that the registers are "skewed" as a source for ascertaining the level of child mortality: a close examination of the burial registers in relation to the baptism records gives rise to a definite suspicion that by no means all burials of children were recorded, particularly during the 1570s. The following table demonstrates this.

Table 19: Baptisms and children's Burials, 1560 - 1649

Decade Total
Children's Burials as % total Total Baptisms Total baptised children buried Burials of
baptised children as as % baptisms
1560-9 64 24 37 126 12 10
1570-9 59 16 27 180 10 6
1580-9 110 43 39 201 29 14
1590-9 143 56 39 246 36 15
1600-9 171 87 51 257 57 22
1610-19 163 62 38 264 48 18
1620-29 144 55 38 223 (not calculated)  
1630-39 191 82 43 249    
1640-49 205 81 40 276    
Totals 1250 506   2022    

Between 1560 and 1619, the burial registers record the deaths of 98 children who had not appeared in the baptism registers: the majority of these were entered as unnamed "infants" who had presumably died at or soon after birth. A total of 298 children were buried during these 60 years, so this amounts to a significant proportion: one-third of all child burials. As a result, a "straight" comparison of total child burials with total baptisms cannot provide an accurate picture of the proportion of children who died before reaching adulthood. But if we take only the burials of children entered in the baptism registers and compare them with total baptisms, the implied child mortality rate is extremely puzzling.

It is usually accepted that during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries somewhere between a quarter and a third of all children would die before reaching adulthood(19): but the figures for Norton between 1560 and 1619 which we arrive at by the process described above are vastly lower than this. Even for the decade 1600 - 1609, a period of especially high mortality and a time when over half the total burials were of children, burials of baptised children as a percentage of total baptisms only amounted to 22%. And the figures for the decade 1570-9 do not seem to make any sense at all, either in a local or national context. There is no evidence of missing or torn pages at this point in the burial registers which could provide an easy explanation for either the unusually low proportion of burials which were child burials, or for a mere 6% as the proportion of burials of baptised children to total baptisms.

It seems unlikely that the explanation of this could lie in Norton being a remarkably healthy place to live: perhaps a stronger possibility is that a significant number of children's burials went unrecorded. It appears that in some parts of the country it was fairly usual until well into the nineteenth century for infants not to be given a separate burial, but simply to be included at the next adult interment; there may well have been some administrative confusion over whether such infant burials should be recorded. Perhaps, too, in a large parish like Norton, one might question whether parents would invariably go to the lengths of taking their child to the church to be buried, when woodland and moorland lay close at hand: this may at any rate have been a possibility at times when famine or disease ravaged a community.(20) The surprisingly low level of recorded infant burials deserves more thought over possible explanations; but a wider range of evidence would be required to draw upon. Registers of neighbouring parishes, in particular, would need to be compared with the Norton records before any firm conclusions could be drawn over this question.

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