Incumbent’s register of parishioners, c.1850 (Par 174/7/1)

50 Par 174-7-1 f20

Chosen by Tim Hudson, former Victoria County History Editor

Tim Hudson

Incumbents of Anglican parishes must often keep lists of their parishioners with details about them; but most probably destroy them when they move on, as being too private and personal.

PH 26118-40
Photograph of Singleton village where Reverend F A Bowles was Rector, 1911 (PH 26118/40)

The West Sussex Record Office has two such lists, compiled by the same man first as curate of Graffham, then rector of Singleton (respectively Par 93/7/2, ff 1-100 and Par 174/7/1, ff 14-27). This was the Revd F A Bowles. Henry Manning (who was later to become a Roman Catholic Cardinal) was his parish priest at Graffham, and it seems that the idea came from him.


Bowles’s opinions are nothing if not direct, whether positive (‘steady’, ‘hard working and industrious’, ‘a good old woman’, ‘very respectable’) or negative (‘weak in intellect’, ‘not so steady as he might be’, ‘a very bad character indeed’). One resident of Graffham, it’s distressing to read, ‘has worked on a railroad and has not thereby improved his moral character’.

When he needed to be really critical Bowles would switch into Latin, confident that should his lists be seen by lay people in the parish there was a good chance they wouldn’t know the language.

Par 174-7-1 ff 15
Entry concerning two sisters with positive comments about one sister in English, and negative remarks about the other sister in Latin (Par 174/7/1 ff 15)

Some such comments are general: ‘given to the worst practices’ (‘artibus pessimis deditus’); ‘a family devoted to evil and idleness’ (‘familia malo et ignaviae addicta’); or – most damning, again of an individual – ‘quam pessimus’ (‘as bad as could be’). Others relate specifically to drunkenness (‘inebrius’ or ‘inebrietati addictus’), or, inevitably, to sexual sins: ‘impudica ante nuptias’ (ie pregnant before marriage); ‘incastus’ (unchaste), this time a young man. Two in the same family in Singleton were a sheep stealer (‘ovis praedator’) and ‘given to illegal hunting’ (‘venationi illicitae deditus’), presumably meaning a poacher.

Bowles also naturally monitored his parishioners’ church-going. ‘Not very religious’ (‘paululum religionis’) seems rueful, but ‘an enemy to the church and religion’ (‘Hostis Ecclesiae et Religioni’) is more all-embracing. In the Graffham list he even verges into Greek, labelling seven of his flock ‘Σχισματικος’ or ‘Σχισματικη’ (‘schismatic’; two of them are even treated to the superlative of the adjective, ‘very’ or ‘most schismatic’). The implication is most likely that they were Protestant Nonconformists.

Par 93-7-2 ff 24
Entry from Graffam register showing use of Greek (Par 93/7/2 ff 24)

More mundanely, and in English, occupations and sometimes dates and circumstances of decease are recorded. Very sad is the reference to one infant in Singleton ‘scalded to death in a vat of beer’.

[A former member of the Record Office staff, Dorothy Howell-Thomas, did much research into Mr Bowles’s career; her unpublished TS biography can be found at MP 4416.]

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