Stondon Massey Registers
An extract from 'Stondon Massey', written by Revd. E.H.L. Reeve (1900)
Time and careless custodians have dealt
hardly with us. In 1683 the Archdeacon at his visit ordered “2 lockes for ye
chest, and ye Register Book to be kept in’t”; but even the very chest has
utterly disappeared! Our earliest extant book dates from 1708, and for a
century after this the entries are far from being complete or satisfactory. I
am glad to say that by careful search among the ancient wills at Somerset House
and other sources I have been able in some measure to repair the deficiency as
regards burials at least, and have succeeded in recovering about 70 names, a
few of them dating from the 15th century.
Rector, Thomas Smith cannot, I fear, be acquitted of the charge of culpable
carelessness. We find entries in his handwriting inserted here and there
apparently just where space seemed to offer itself, quite regardless of dates;
and, while he gives us abundant information in some cases, he makes a note of
others with a brevity which is, to say at least, timesome and perplexing.
There are, however, on or two points on which a few words may be said.
And first I should like to call attention to the singular state of the early
marriage register. Out of 121 marriages between 1708 and 1754 entered in the
book only 17 show one of the parties to have belonged to Stondon. In every
other case both bride and bridegroom belonged to outside parishes. And this is
the more strange seeing that in the succeeding 37 years after 1754 no fewer
than 68 marriages are entered showing either a Stondon bride or bridegroom.
Sometimes, again, a wedding is entered when a ceremony took place elsewhere. Mr
Thomas Smith united the Curacy of Blackmore in 1756 to his other cures, but it
is embarrassing to find the following in the Stondon books in 1744:
July 18th. “Married at Blackmore John Baker Batchelor and
Martha Belcher Spinster, Both of the Parish of Danbury in this County”.
One wonders whether other Rectors were as much in request for tying the
nuptial knot as Mr Smith, and whether, in cases where the entries were merely
records of their work done in other parishes, the parishes interested were
favoured with a copy for their own books. Otherwise the work of hunting up
materials for a pedigree must be felt to be a harder one than has been realized
It is, I fear, extremely probable that our
Rector was known to be a man who would ask no awkward questions. Previous to
1754 any marriage performed by a priest was accounted valid, though it might not be legal;
and, although the officiating clergyman was liable to heavy penalties in such a
case, the law was not often put in force, if the parson could be found ready to
run the risk. The increase in so-called “Stondon” marriages after 1754 points
some way, and tends to show that somehow Mr Smith still contrived to remain a
An amusing incident appears in 1789,
attended no doubt with distress and inconvenience at the time. In the Church
Marriage Book the marriage of the same couple is entered both on Feb. 7th
and on May 1st. The Clerk’s informal book notes the double ceremony
also, but in the second instance, I think, somewhat naively adds “at in
the morning”. The inference, I think, therefore is obvious, that on the first
occasion time and the fates were against the young people, and mid-day sounded
before the ring could be safely placed on the bride’s finger.
Our oldest inhabitant known to the Registers is Mr William Smith, “late
Farmer in the Parish, who was buried Nov. 10th,
1749 in the
hundredth year of his age”.