From the Thorley Archives

Thorley's Parish Records

Earlier in the year our parish office secretary Sarah Davies and myself assembled a comprehensive listing of the registers relating to St James the Great, Thorley. We were prompted to do this when we were unable to track down the whereabouts of the appropriate register in response to a phone call enquiry relating to a baptism that took place at St. James some 40 years ago. During the summer I spent several days researching my own family history in the Local Studies Library in Norwich and then in the Family Record Centre in London. I now have a greater appreciation of the significance and scope of parish records in general and the value of our own parish records in particular.

Our current church registers include separate registers for Marriages, Banns of Marriage, Baptisms, Burials, Confirmations and Church Services. These are all in the safe keeping of the church and when a register is full it is passed on to the appropriate authority as a secure record. In the case of the Marriage Registers one is sent to the District Registrar on a regular basis when full and the second duplicate copy is kept in the church safe for a set number of years before being passed on to the Record Office in Hertford.

From the sixteenth century to 1837 church and parish registers provided records only of baptisms, marriages and burials. In 1837 civil registration required records, with certificates, for births, marriages and deaths. Thorley's parish registers date from 1539 and may be viewed at Hertford Record Office under Ref. DP/108. The civil registration details for Thorley families from 1837 are easily accessible at the Family Record Centre in London. Current registers can be inspected at the parish office by arrangement.

Parish records consist of much more than details of names in registers. In my capacity as the church archivist, I have accumulated many documents describing social occasions that add colour to local personalities and village events. Geoffrey Harris has supplied me with evidence of his relation who was transported to Australia for eight years for setting fire to a haystack in Thorley in giving 1863. Wally Wright and I recently 'discovered' Thorley's Tithe Map giving ownership and occupancy of all property in Thorley in 1845. This gives a graphic mid 19th century snapshot of the shape of the village just when the land had been bought for the Eastern Counties railway to pass through the eastern side of the parish. In an age when mobility of families was restricted, the faniliar village names regularly appear in many other 'official' records such as Thorley militia lists (1758 - 1801), Thorley's Land Tax, (1713 - 1831) as well as County Court Quarter Sessions papers dating from 1658.

Personal parish records have also been entrusted to the church archive collection. Colin Sampford has recently passed to me his father's postcard collection that traces George's World War One service together with early 20th century views of Thorley. Patrick Streeter has presented the collection with the framed details of the transfer of land where Thorley Place was to be built in 1890 /1900s. Last year Geoffrey Harris sent me a CD with 28 Harris Family photographs dating back to 1891.

The compilation of parish records is an on going process. Our recently compiled database of the churchyard memorials has enabled us to answer enquiries from as far afield as South Africa and California. The forthcoming book 'Chronicles of Thorley' will also provide an invaluable record of personal insights into the parish of Thorley in the 20th century with its many recollections and illustrations.

Bill Hardy
October 2003


From the Archives