Weather in the archives

Anglican Parish Registers

Parish registerEarly parish registers dating from the 16th and 17th centuries can provide an unexpected source of information about the weather.

The principal purpose of parish registers was, and still is, to record the ceremonies of baptism, marriage and burial in Anglican parish churches. The injunction to keep such a record dates from 1538. In that year Thomas Cromwell, the Lord Privy Seal, ordered that the incumbent (vicar or curate) of every parish church should record in a book every baptism, marriage and burial in his parish, with the names of the parties. The entries were to be made each Sunday, in the presence of one of the churchwardens and to be kept safely under lock and key. In 1597 it was ordered that, from then on, the entries should be kept in parchment books, parchment being more a more durable medium than paper. Entries, which had been kept prior to this date, had to be copied up, although many parishes only copied them from the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558).

The parish register was therefore a core record of the parish church. Some clergy took the view that they also provided a means by which important local and national events could be recorded. Such events could include extreme weather conditions or freak weather events. There are a few very good examples of such registers in Staffordshire. The register for All Saints, Alrewas, from 1547 to 1747 is without doubt outstanding and even titles itself as Annals of Alrewas. Other good examples are the register for St Benedict Biscop, Wombourne, 1570-1704 and the late 17th and early 18th century registers for St Leonard’s Church, Bilston.

A further and unexpected ecclesiastical source of information about the weather is church service registers. This record, kept by the clergy from the later 19th century, is essentially a log of all services held in their church. The details include the actual date of the service as well as the date in the Church’s Calendar, the time, numbers of communicants and sometimes the text of the sermon. The remarks column is sometimes used to comment on the weather, especially if there was a poor turn out in the congregation. Much depends on the assiduity of the incumbent but the very many service registers held by the Archive Service will yield information about the weather.

Extracts from this archive source can be found alongside other source material in the Month by Month section, arranged chronologically to show the progression of weather through each month.