The Constable is the oldest parochial officer originating as an officer of the manor appointed by the manorial court possibly from the 13th Century or earlier. The Constable was appointed annually with the approval of a local Justice of the Peace. His role was to maintain law and order in the parish until County Police Forces were established from 1839.
Their responsibilities could be numerous but their main ones included:
- Arresting anyone committing a crime and bringing them before the court;
- Bringing parishioners who persistently failed to attend church before the clergyman;
- Removal of vagrants and the poor (see settlement and removal below);
- Supervising alehouses;
- Collecting the appointment Militia men and taking them to the muster with the parish arms and armour and providing the amount stipulated for their maintenance at the muster;
- Collecting various rates, levies and fines;
- Administering whippings;
- Serving warrants
A Constable was obliged to keep accounts of his expenditure incurred in serving warrants, transporting offenders to court, attending court hearings, transporting those to be removed out of the parish, collecting and transporting the militia men and collecting the various rates, levies and fines. These accounts can be useful to the genealogist. They can be quite detailed, including details of who, what and where which can help in the overall ‘picture’ of an ancestors life and provide clues to other documents.
Constables records may also include warrants which will provide the person’s name and often their occupation along with the reason the warrant has been issued.
Militia Relief records
The parish had a responsibility to maintain the wives and families of those men called up for militia service, especially in the case of agricultural workers and similar low paid workers. Any surviving records will provide:
- Name of serviceman
- Names and ages of family members
These were usually established by a parishioner leaving a gift of money, shares or land in their Wills and typically to be used to assist the poor whereby a charitable fund would be set up and the income used to supply clothing, fuel or cash payments.
The funds were also to be used for the upkeep of the church, provide schools and almhouses, or pay Masters to take on Apprentices.
Until 1812 these charitable bequests were administered by overseers and/or churchwarden and therefore parish records may include the original deed or will setting up the charity and its aims. There may also be letters, accounts and lists of those who benefitted. They may also be detailed in Vestry Minutes.
These contain details of the land, parsonage house, tithes, offerings and any other privileges forming part of the clergyman’s benefice. Copies of original terriers may be found amongst parish records however they do not provide any value to the genealogists in terms of compiling a family tree unless an ancestor occupied or farmed an area of glebe land in which case they may be mentioned. They may however provide details of the social and economic situation in the parish and therefore a more general picture of an ancestor’s life.
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