If you have ever done any family history research, you will undoubtedly have discovered one or two juicy facts about your ancestors. You may also have noticed that in days when everything was less regimented than today, the way information was recorded made much more interesting reading.

In 1894 the Rev W L Smith, Rector of Dorsington, who was the son of Dr Henry Lilley Smith and had spent his childhood in Southam, published two small volumes entitled “Historical Notices and Recollections relating to The Parish of Southam”. We have copies of these volumes in the Collection.  They include extracts from “The Parochial Registers from AD 1539 and Church Wardens’ Accounts from AD 1580”. The extracts may not be complete but nevertheless make fascinating reading.  They give insights into life in Southam from 1539 onwards, when Henry VIII decreed that parishes should keep formal records.

In 1540 we find the baptism of “John Clarke and Elizabethe” on Dec 21st with them being described as “born together at a birth” which presumably means they were twins. Only sometimes is the father named and the mother is not named at all until after 1557. In 1599 we see the baptismal record of “John a Base son to one Joan Bartlet & to an unknown Father”. ‘Base’ in this context means that Joan Bartlet was unmarried. On average there were about 15 – 20 baptisms (and presumably births in Southam) each year up to 1600. 

The recording of burials gives rise to some different expressions. For instance, in 1543 there was “Wm Fisher Servaunte to Anthonie Burges”, and in 1544 we have “Wm Raysonn, a poore man” – a beggar perhaps. No burial records are shown from 1548-50 but in 1553 we read about “Bothe John Waltons, Sonnes of Thos Walton”.  Children were often baptised with the same name, and then given nicknames, so these could have been twin boys, or brothers of different ages who died of the same childhood disease.   

In 1559 we read about “William Hickes an olde man of Stockton” and can only speculate how old he had to be to qualify for that description. “Wm Worral out of Henrie Edmondes house” in 1576 may refer to a servant, although these are usually explicitly named as servants. In 1580 we see “Mathewe Oxen Drowned, a poore boy to George Worrall” which begs many questions, and in 1581 we have the burial of “a poor Travelling Man”. In 1584 we have “a certain Travaler” whilst sadly in 1588 there is “Thos Worralls. Child, posthumous. Not Baptized”. Around 10 burials are recorded each year during this period although the numbers vary enormously between none and twenty.

The recording of marriages makes for far less interesting reading with at most only the bride and groom mentioned (no witnesses, parents, occupations etc). Up to the year 1600 it is rare to see more than four marriages recorded in a year. In 1539 only the groom was mentioned in the three marriages that year.  One however was described as “John Chatwine, alias Ostler”, an Ostler being a man employed by an Inn to look after the horses. In 1541 four marriages were recorded with only one mentioning both bride and groom, and one mentioning only the bride. Given that records were written only on a Sunday after the Church service, is it possible the minister had forgotten their names?  Very rarely are the original towns or villages of the couples mentioned, but in 1573 we see “Bawden Ebrell of Balsoll & Alice Oldams of Southam”. Presumably this is a reference to Balsall near Kenilworth – some distance away.  It might have been a long-distance courtship, or even an arranged marriage, or he may have worked in Southam and the reference was to his place of birth.


The photograph shows the cover of Reverend W L Smith’s book.  If you are interested in getting involved with your local history group, or volunteering at Southam Heritage Collection, please get in touch.  Contact: 01926 613503 or email southamheritage@hotmail.com  For more information about Southam and its history, please visit our website www.southamheritage.org and find us on Facebook: Southam Heritage Collection.  The museum in Tithe Place will re-open as soon as the Covid-19 pandemic guidelines permit.