Probably the last place you would have expected to find a ‘lost’ churchwarden’s account from Gamlingay would be in Yale University’s Lewis Walpole Library in Farmington, Connecticut.
The Library catalogued it as ‘Churchwarden’s Accounts, Gamlingay, 1739 April – 1740 June’.
All fine and dandy, except the dates are wrong. Bear in mind we are still with the Julian Calendar here. The actual accounts are headed ‘The Disbursments of Christopher Parson Church Warden 1740’ and begin with two entries for 26 April: ‘Payd att Court 3s. 10d.’ and ‘for my Jorney to Cambridge 2s. 6d.’
This marks Parson’s swearing-in at the Archdeacon’s court in Cambridge.
Gamlingay’s churchwardens (there were usually two of them) were normally appointed at either Easter or Whitsun. Easter Day in 1740 fell on 6 April, and Whitsun on 25 May. Parsons must, therefore, have been elected at Easter 1740 and his year of office must have begun in April 1740. The following year’s Easter day fell on 29 March 1741, so presumably his year as churchwarden came to an end then.
The title should read ‘Churchwarden’s Accounts, Gamlingay, April 1740 to March 1741’.
The accounts themselves are much like any other churchwarden’s accounts of the period. There are payments for beer given to the bell-ringers, a shilling paid to the ‘Aparitor’ for paper, payments for repairs to the church plus a shilling for ‘Beer for Chr Fickiss men’, who put in a bill of 10s. 6d. for his work.
There are also two payments to ‘Sr Georges man’, one for ‘a Bagger’ and another for ’2 Baggers’. Parsons paid him a shilling each for those, and forked out a further sixpence for three ‘Hedg Hoggs’.
At the bottom of the accounts an anonymous hand has written some notes in blue ink. At a guess the handwriting is mid-twentieth century. In their own way these notes are more interesting than the accounts themselves because they demonstrate the dangers of writing about what you don’t know, and illustrate perfectly how to give blind guesswork the air of authority.
This is what the notes say:
‘There are three villages adjacent to Gamlingay known as East Hatley, Cockayne Hatley and Hatley St George. There is not much doubt but what the St Georges man referred to hailed from Hatley St George. Undoubtedly the “bagger” was meant to read badger – used to keep down vermin. Hedgehoggs would be turned loose in the old church to help keep down cockroaches & beetles – these old buildings were alive with such pests. Beer was fairly liberally used in those days. Who the ‘Aparitor’ was I don’t know.’
To be honest, the writer couldn’t have been more wronger. He or she has misread ‘S[i]r George’ as ‘St George’. Sir George Downing, the third and last Baronet of that name, had built a large mansion and park in Gamlingay around 1712 and lived there until his death in 1749. His ‘man’ was probably his gamekeeper, and payments to him for badgers were made by most of the churchwardens during this period.
For example, the succeeding churchwarden’s accounts for 1741/42 (Cambridgeshire Archives P75/5/72) has ‘Paid Sir Georges man for a bager’.
Rather than paying for badgers and hedgehogs to keep down vermin, it was the badgers and hedgehogs themselves that were considered vermin.
A Tudor Act of Parliament made churchwardens responsible for the control of ‘Noyfull Fowles and Vermyn’ and there are hundreds of payments in the Gamlingay accounts for moles, hedgehogs, sparrows, polecats, foxes and badgers. To claim the reward you were supposed to present the dead creature’s head to the churchwarden.
The writer is correct to say that beer was often used ‘in those days’, without specifying what it was used for. It was given by the churchwardens to the bellringers each year when they rang the bells on special occasions, such as the annual celebration of ‘Gunpowder Treason’ (or Guy Fawkes’ Night) on 5 November, and sometimes in part-payment for work done about the church. Finally, the writer admits to not knowing what an ‘Aparitor‘ was. An apparator was an official of the church court.
I pointed all this out in an email to the Lewis Walpole Library. They replied to say they would correct the catalogue entry, and that if I ever found myself in the vicinity of Farmington, Connecticut, I was welcome to come and see their Gamlingay churchwarden’s account.
Rest assured, the next time I’m in the vicinity of Farmington, Connecticut, I’ll take them up on their offer.