The Parish Clerk Part 31

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"Many are the troubles of the Righteous But the Lord delivereth out of all."

Langdon used to keep the registers, and he began to record in them a series of notes on pa.s.sing events which add greatly to the interest of such volumes. Thus we find an account of a grievous fire at Tiverton in 1595, a violent storm at Barnstaple in 1606, and a great frost in the same year; another fire at Tiverton in 1612, and the of Latin which appear show that he was a man of some education.

Anthony Baker reigned from 1625 to 1646, who had also been ordained deacon prior to his appointment to Barnstaple, and belonged to an old yeoman family. He was popular with the people, who presented him with a new gown. He saw the suspension of his vicar by the Standing Committee, and probably died of the plague in 1646, when the town found itself without vicar, deacon, or clerk. The plague was raging, people dying, and no one to minister to them. No clergyman would come save the old vicar, Martyn Blake, who was at length allowed by the Puritan rulers to return, to the great joy of the inhabitants. He appointed Symon Sloby (1647-81), but could not get him ordained deacon, as bishops and ordination were abhorred and abolished by the Puritan rulers. Sloby was appointed "Register of Barnestapell" during the Commonwealth period. He saw his vicar ejected and carried off to Exeter by some of the Parliamentary troopers and subsequently restored to the living, and records with much joy and loyalty the restoration of the monarchy. He served three successive vicars, records many items of interest, including certain gifts to himself with a pious wish for others to go and do likewise, and died in a good old age.

Richard Sleeper succeeded him in 1682, and reigned till 1698. He conformed to the more modern style of clerk of an important parish, a dignified official who attended the vicar and performed his duties on Sunday, occupying the clerk's desk. Of his successors history records little save their names. William Bawden, a weaver, was clerk from 1708 to 1726, William Evans 1726 to 1741, John Taylor 1741 to 1760, John Comer 1760 to 1786, John Shapcote 1786 to 1795, Joseph Kimpland 1795 to 1798, who was a member of an old Barnstaple family and was succeeded by his son John (1798-1832), John Thorne (1832-1859), John Hartnoll (1859-1883), and William Youings 1883 to 1901.

This is a remarkable record, and it would be well if in all parishes a list of clerks, with as much information as the industrious inquirer can collect, could be so satisfactorily drawn up and recorded, as Mr.

Chanter has so successfully done for Barnstaple. The quaint notes in the registers written by the clerk give some sort of key to his character, and the recollections of the oldest inhabitants might be set down who can tell us something of the life and character of those who have lived in more modern times. We sometimes record in our churches the names of the bishops of the see, and of the inc.u.mbents of the parish; perhaps a list of the humbler but no less faithful servants of the Church, the parish clerks, might be added.

Often can we learn much from them of old-world manners, superst.i.tions, folk-lore, and the curious form of wors.h.i.+p practised in the days of our forefathers. My own clerk is a great authority on the lore of ancient days, of bygone hard winters, of weather-lore, of the Russian war time, and of the ways of the itinerant choir and orchestra, of which he was the noted leader. Strange and curious carols did he and his sons and friends sing for us on Christmas Eve, the words and music of which have been handed down from father to son for several generations, and have somewhat suffered in their course. His grandson still performs for us the Christmas Mumming Play. The clerk is seventy years of age, and succeeded his father some forty years ago. Save for "bad legs," the curse of the rustic, he is still hale and hearty, and in spite of an organ and surpliced choir, his powerful voice still sounds with a resonant "Amen." Never does he miss a Sunday service.

We owe much to our faithful clerks. Let us revere their memories. They are a most interesting race, and your "Amen clerk" is often more celebrated and better known than the rector, vicar, patron or squire.

The irreverence, of which we have given many alarming instances, was the irreverence of the times in which they lived, of the bad old days of pluralist rectors and itinerant clerics, when the Church was asleep and preparing to die with what dignity she could. We may not blame the humble servitor for the faults and failings of his masters and for the carelessness and depravity of his age. We cannot judge his homely ways by the higher standard of ceremonial and wors.h.i.+p to which we have become accustomed. Charity shall hide from us his defects, while we continue to admire the virtues, faithfulness and devotion to duty of the old parish clerk, who retains a warm place in our hearts and is tenderly and affectionately remembered by the elder generation of English Churchpeople.



The pa.s.sing of the parish clerk causes many reflections. For a thousand years he has held an important position in our churches. We have seen him robed in his ancient dignity, a zealous and honoured official, without whose aid the services of the Church could scarcely have been carried on. In post-Reformation times he continued his career without losing his rank or status, his dignity or usefulness. We have seen him the life and mainstay of the village music, the instructor of young clerics, the upholder of ancient customs and old-established usages. We have regretted the decay in his education, his irreverence and absurdities, and have amused ourselves with the stories of his quaint ways and strange eccentricities. His unseemly conduct was the fault of the dullness, deadness, and irreverence of the age in which he lived, rather than of his own personal defects. In spite of all that can be said against him, he was often a very faithful, loyal, pious, and worthy man.

His place knows him no more in many churches. We have a black-gowned verger in our towns; a humble temple-sweeper in our villages. The only civil right which he retains is that the prospectors of new railways are obliged to deposit their plans and maps with him, and well do I remember the indignation of my own parish clerk when the plans of a proposed railway, addressed to "the Parish Clerk," were delivered by the postman to the clerk of the Parish Council. It was a wrong that could scarcely be righted.

I would venture to suggest, in conclusion, that it might be worth while for the authorities of the Church to consider the possibility of a revival of the office. It would be a great advantage to the Church to restore the parish clerk to his former important position, and to endeavour to obtain more learned and able men for the discharge of the duties. The office might be made again a sphere of training for those who wish to take Holy Orders, wherein a young man might be thoroughly educated in the duties of the clerical profession. It would be an immense a.s.sistance to an inc.u.mbent to have an active and educated layman a.s.sociated with him in the work of the parish, in teaching, in reading and serving in church, and in visiting the sick. Like the clerk of old, he would be studying and preparing for ordination, and there could be no better school for training than actual parish work under the supervision of an earnest and wise rector.

The Church has witnessed vast changes and improvements during the last fifty years. The poor clerk has been left to look after himself. The revival of the office and an improvement in the position and education of the holders of it would, I fully believe, be of an immense advantage to the Church and a most valuable a.s.sistance to the clergy.

The Parish Clerk Part 31

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The Parish Clerk Part 31 summary

You're reading The Parish Clerk Part 31. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Peter Hampson Ditchfield already has 457 views.

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