Anti-social behaviour in the 17th Century church!

According to the Bingham Deanery Visitation records

By R B Parish

Nottinghamshire, particularly Nottingham, has had a bad press for antisocial behaviour, such as fighting when the clubs and pubs empty on a weekend, but examination of Archdeacon presentation records, in this case of the Bingham Deanery, suggest that in the 1600s such behaviour was common place in church as well!

Sometimes it was simply causing a minor disturbance as at Holme Pierrepont recorded at Michaelmas 1626 where:

  “Dorothey Leeson of Holme for behaving herself unquietly in time of divine service, divers Sundays.”

Sometimes the issue was gossip as recorded at Ruddington, at Michaelmas 1627, where:

“Ellyne Hallam, wife of Heughe Hallam, for a common scolder, curser and slanderer of divers of her neighbours, being a scandalous person and a stirrer up of debate between divers persons in our parish, and breeding much contention and debate among the people and parishioner, banning and cursing them.”

Some things never change! At Plumtree in 1623:

“a John Bealey and Thomas Hall were presented for fighting in the church and in particular John Bealey for making a blood in the steeple.”

In Tollerton, a Issabell Leeson was presented for misbehaviour in church at divine service,  which was hurling stones from one desk to another!  In Eastwood , Michaelmas 1623 churchwardens note: “Thomas Allred for fighting and ‘abusing his self’ in time of evening prayer.”

One wonders in what form ‘abusing his self’ consisted on in this case! Clearly, like today situations could escalate as recorded at St. Nicholas Nottingham Michaelmas 1623 an argument ensued regarding John Greaves for not paying his cessment, which was cessed by the minister and the rest of the parishioners for repairing the church and church walls. It is said that:

“the said John Greaves for abusing the churchwardens with most vile railing words when they demanded the said cessment of 12d from him.”

A longer dispute is recorded at Hickling, Michaelmas 1621 where a letter from the curate Edward Cooper regarding the lending of a book from the church chest:

“the bearer can testify in what manner he took the book out of the church chest; bearer will affirm that he did not lend the book, but that Gesson took it out of the chest when he was busy in providing for a communion; Cooper and the churchwardens are agreed that the word 'lend' can be altered in the former presentment; they presented less than the truth because at the time they did not know the whole truth; the bearer John Rawlinson can testify that he demanded the book from him for his own private reading, and that though Gesson had restored it, he did it in contempt. He does these things against Cooper undeservedly and is set on by others who also malice Cooper undeservedly; Ralinson can also testify how Gesson laughed aloud and molested Cooper in time of divine service on New Year's Day at evening prayer; asks that if the oaths of Cooper and Rawlinson will stand good, this fame of disorder and misdemeanour in the church be added into the presentment; neither Mr Bardsey nor Cooper want two separate presentments, but would like these things to aggravate the other presentment.”

To finish with in 1624, at Hickling, a real hotbed of 17th troublemakers it appears, a Richard Pilkington was presented for:

“wilfully striking, plucking, drawking and molesting John Rollinson, parish clerk, in the parish church on 26 December last; Henrie Langton for wilfully striking and scratching the said John Rollinson, so that he bled, in the churchyard on 29 March last; Francis Dafte, son of the said Thomas Dafte, for likewise striking and scratching John Rollinson at the same time, and also making him bleed; the aforesaid George Dafte for a fame of incontinency with Frances Hill, wife of William Hill.”

Such an account gives a real insight into behaviour of the 1600s and I am sure a similar police report exists for an incident in Nottingham town centre! Things do not appear to change much!

The author is researching customs and folklore in the county all information is gratefully received.

This page was added by R B Parish on 26/03/2013.

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