The Parish Chest

When you have exhausted the resources of civil registration, census, parish registers and wills it is worthwhile looking deeper into available parish sources to flesh out the bones of your ancestors lives.  The parish chest, the historical resting place for parochial documents, normally kept in either the church itself or the vestry room, contains the administrative papers of the parish.  These include vestry minute books, overseer’s records, churchwarden’s accounts and a variety of other records relating to the running of the parish and its inhabitants.

Vestry Minute Books

The detail included varies from parish to parish and are sometimes put aside by family historians.  However they can still be very fruitful in adding to your knowledge of the running of the parish and you may well find your ancestors involved in the many office holding positions of the parish. The Vestry dates back at least to Tudor times although local records are rare before the 1700s.  Prior to 19th Century changes in local government the Vestry was responsible for the church, church lands, property which may include cottages within the parish, charities, the highways, administration of the poor law including arrangements for pauper apprentices.  The meetings were usually chaired by the incumbent and included two churchwardens, overseers of the poor, surveyors of the highways and constables.  These positions were normally held for one year and all ratepayers were liable to be ballotted for the positions.

During the nineteenth century many of the responsibilities of parish management were removed from the Vestry.  Overseers were retained until the end of the Poor Law in 1929 but the Vestry no longer controlled the Workhouse.  This had become the responsibility of the Guardians of the Workhouse.  The position of Parish Constable disappeared with the formation of the West Riding Constabulary in 1856 and the Parish Surveyor of the Highways work was incorporated into the Local Boards in 1864.  These later formed the Urban & Rural District Councils from 1894.   The responsibility of the Vestry became largely about the running and maintainence of the church and church property     However many churches still retained some management and influence over the running of church schools and local charities so their records still have revelance to genealogists. 

Here are some examples:

Otley Vestry Minute Books:

At a meeting held in the Vestry at the Parish Church of Otley pursuant to notice given in order to make a list of the names of the persons liable to serve the office of Surveyors of the Highways for the ensuing year held the 4th day of October 1803 the following persons were thought proper:

Wm Hartley, Wm Thompson, Wm Mounsey, Thos Stephenson, Wm Dawson, Brian Holmes, Wm Garnett, Thos Hodgson, Geo Foster, John Fox, John Blenkin.

At a meeting……………..a list of names of persons  to serve the office of Overseer of the Poor for the ensuing year held 4th day of April 1804:

John Harrison, Wm Weir, John Dinsdale, Wm Maude, Wm Thompson, John Blenkin, Benj Birks, Wm Hartley, Wm Dawson, Wm Read, Wm Waddington.

Addingham Vestry Minute Book

At a meeting dated 23rd September 1793 the following names were put forward for the post of Surveyor of the Highways:


Wm Fieldhouse

John England

Joseph Smith

Wm Atkinson

Edward Brumfitt


John Atkinson

Joseph Batty

Thos Horner

James Pickard

Wm Skirray

Wm Fieldhouse appointed at a salary of 8 guineas

The Addingham records also threw up a few more interesting minutes:

At a vestry meeting 9th February 1815……Thomas Kidd agreed & undertook for the sum of 10 guineas annually to use his utmost skill to destroy the moles within the parish of Addingham for the term of 14 years.

18 June 1843 it was resolved that the following people should be excused from paying poor rate on account of poverty:

Ann Tyning

Wm Brayshaw

Hannah Bradley

Martin Pickard

Thomas Holme

John Batty

Henry Briggs

Thos Whitaker

Rachael Steele

Richd Metcalfe

Wm Swale

Joseph Sherwin

8 July1770

At a Vesty held on this day it was concluded that a lawyers opinion should be taken with regard to two paupers viz Stephen Jennings & Wm Whitaker by the overseers and they shall proceed in such measures as the law shall direct at the expense of the parish.

At the back of the book (somewhere I always look) is a list taken at a vestry meeting dated 12th March 180l of all persons liable to take apprentices:

Thos Beanlands

George Atkinson

George Witham

Edward Fortune

Wm Proctor

Thos Watkinson

John Harrison

John Beck

Thos Mason

Wm Whitham

James Pickard

Edward Lister

John Wall

Ann Bramley

James Bond

Wm Fieldhouse

John Hodgson

John Whithead

John Pearson

Ambrose Dean

Thos Lister jun

Wm Wall

Antony Fentiman

Joseph Smith

John Parkinson

Marmaduke Spencer

Thos Wall

Thos Gill

Thos Steele

Thos Lambert

Thos Laycock

John Pickard

John Swale

Peter Atkinson

Joseph Batty

Wm Lister

John Whitham

I have located the following Vestry Minute Books:

Addingham          1754-1849  Bradford Archives

Burley                  1865-1978 Bradford Archives

Burnsall               1704- 1947 NYRO

Giggleswick        1893-1914 NYRO

Hubberholme   1932-1954 NYRO

Ilkley              1800-1969 Bradford Archives

Otley              1797-1924 Leeds Archives

Settle             1818-1836 NYRO

Skipton            1830-1885 NYRO

Thornton in Craven 1885-1934 NYRO