Stories from the Parish Registers: Black residents of West Sussex

By Alice Millard, Research Assistant

As part of West Sussex Record Office’s Transatlantic Ties project, and ongoing work surrounding intersectionality in the archive, a survey of the county’s parish registers for individuals of African, Asian, and Caribbean heritage is underway. London Metropolitan Archives undertook a similar project which began in 2000, the results of which are now available as a dataset.

The writing of British history has often been unbalanced by a focus on the experiences of the White populace. This focus has distracted from important research into the lives of African, Asian, and Caribbean people who lived and worked here. In this blog, we will look at two individuals who spent time in West Sussex; Ann Glanville and Charles Douglass Herring. In both cases, their names appear in the West Sussex parish registers.

Please note that some of the language used in the original parish records includes offensive and insensitive terminology. The inclusion of these terms is not an endorsement of such language, but are there to authentically represent the original document.

Ann Glanville

We discover Ann in the parish register of Northchapel. She was baptised “Ann” on 14 August 1726, and the vicar noted that Ann was “a Negro belonging to Mr. GLANVILE of St. John’s Town in Antigua”. The terminology here reflected Ann’s dark skin tone, rather than her ethnicity. Whilst no surname is given for Ann in the register it was common for enslaved people to take (or be given) the name/s of their enslavers so it is possible that she became Ann Glanville. Another common belief at this time was that baptism bestowed freedom from enslavement, yet it was made clear by the English legal system that this was not the case, as seen in the Yorke-Talbot opinion in 1729. Nevertheless, baptism required a demonstrable commitment to God and the Church of England, which usually meant that adult baptisms came after a period of church attendance. It is probable Ann had to recite passages from texts like the Bible and the Common Book of Prayer. The congregation may have viewed Ann’s baptism as a ‘civilisation’ of her (perceived) primitive heritage, reflecting the thinking of the time. We can never know what Ann thought about her baptism – whether it was a welcome, or perhaps an unwanted, sign of assimilation into the local community.

We also cannot know for certain why Ann, who was then in service to Mr. Glanville, was baptised in Northchapel. However, by uncovering more about who her enslaver was, we can discover a little more about how she came to West Sussex. As the parish register entry tells us Mr. Glanville was from St. John’s town in Antigua, it is possible to trace him.

William J. Glanville was the second owner of Glanville’s plantation, taking over the role from his father William Glanville, a merchant, who died in 1713. There are reports as early as 1667 connecting a Richard Glanfield to the land. By the early 1700s, the main crop grown on Glanville’s was sugar cane; which was harvested by enslaved African workers and milled to a refined end-product.

Cutting the sugar cane, Antigua, by William Clark, 1823, British Library

According to the Legacies of British Slavery database, the Glanville estate had upwards of 100 enslaved people at any one time. It is possible that Ann was brought to England by the Glanville family from the plantation, but records which would reveal this information do not survive. However, we can be fairly certain that Ann was of African descent. The Transatlantic trade in slaves saw ships leave European ports, travel along the West coast of Africa where they bought people, then embark on a 6-8 week trip to the coast of North America where Africans were sold into labour.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to locate any further records, such as a burial entry, for Ann Glanville.

Charles Douglass Herring

Charles appears in the parish register of Rumboldswhyke, a parish just outside of Chichester. Charles was baptised “Charles Douglass Herring” on 28 October 1798; it’s unclear where his surname originates. The vicar noted that Charles was “A Negro Servant of J.S.DOUGLASS Esq.”. As with Ann Glanville, very little exists in the way of recorded information about Charles. This means we look to discovering who J. S. Douglass was in order to understand why Charles appears in the Rumboldswhyke parish register.

James Sholto Douglass was the owner of The Grange estate and plantation in Hanover, Jamaica. He lived for some time in Tangiers where he was the consul-general of Morocco, but prior to this he spent several years living in Funtington and Chichester in the 1790s.

James Douglass held the role of city alderman and was elected Mayor of Chichester in 1810, which gives us a good idea of his social and political standing in the area.

ChiCity C/3 Common Council minute book, 1783 – 1826

According to the baptism entry of James’s daughter Charlotte in Rumboldswhyke, 1799, the Douglass family lived in the Blackfriars area of Chichester; so named due to the Black Friars monastery that once stood on the land. Charlotte’s burial entry, made just four years after her baptism, notes that the Douglass family had moved away from Blackfriars. However, they must have stayed close to the area given James’s role as alderman. It seems likely that Charles Douglass Herring fulfilled a traditional role of many male domestic servants, and worked as a footman, valet, or groom. James probably would have given a livery – a type of household uniform – to Charles and expected him to wear it whilst he was on duty.

PM 3 Black Friars, Chichester, 1769

The Chichester that Charles would have known differs considerably from today. As you can see from the above map, the area to the East of Blackfriars consisted of open fields and wooded areas and would have given way to agricultural land outside of the city walls. If Charles was indeed a male domestic servant, he is likely to have been sent on errands on behalf of James and would have walked through streets bustling with markets, horses, carts and carriages. It is clear that whilst Charles spent several years living in Chichester, he did not die in the parish as no burial entry has been located.

The notable absence of Ann and Charles in the archival record is dismaying, but it nevertheless shows how these very gaps and silences can be revealing in itself. Yet, Ann and Charles are just two names found in the parish registers of West Sussex. The Record Office continues to survey these registers for individuals of Black, Asian and Caribbean heritage, with the hope that further blogs will be published on their lives.

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