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From the Archives

Parish Registers

Did you know that John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton all lived in Fairford?

In September 2007 Alison and I responded to an appeal from the Gloucestershire Record Office for volunteers to help transcribe parish registers as part of a wider project to make all English parish registers available over the Internet

The Record Office provided microfilm copies of the registers which were then printed out. The Record Office also provided several templates of Excel spreadsheets together with some very helpful notes as to how the information should be entered to achieve a common standard. This is necessary to ensure that the information is retrievable by a search engine via the Internet.

English parish registers date from a 1538 edict of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s Vicar General. The idea was that each parish priest or curate would maintain a register of baptisms, marriages and burials and at the end of each year a copy would be sent to the appropriate bishop. Unfortunately, many people suspected that this was just a ruse to collect names for taxation purposes and therefore few registers were actually commenced as early as 1538. Later edicts in 1558 and 1597 encouraged the compilation of parish records with fines for those parishes that did not maintain a register.

It is not known when the Fairford parish register was first started but the existing books kept at the Record Office commence in 1617 when Christopher Nicholson was the Vicar. The registers could well have been started earlier than 1617 but may have been since lost, which, if so, is a great shame.

The registers are all hand written, even up to the 1970s, and the standard of handwriting and clarity varies immensely, although some of the earlier registers are much more legible than many of the later ones!

At the end of each year the register is signed by the vicar (or sometimes his curate) and one or two church wardens, a few of whom were only able to mark their name with an ‘X’.

Unfortunately for the local or family historian the Fairford registers do not often provide much detail other than names and dates. More fortunately, the Fairford registers continue throughout the turbulent years of the English Civil War, unlike many other parish registers, although marriages are very sparse during this period, possibly because people were being married elsewhere or the marriages were not being recorded.

Occasionally, brief notes have been added to the basic entries and some of these are noted below

  • 21 Sep 1655 “A strange woman kild with the wagon who lived at Henly” (presumably it was the woman who lived at Henley!)
  • 9 Sep 1690 William Robinson “killed by timber”
  • 7 Dec 1697 “A stranger drownd near Mr Barkers house”
  • 5 May 1734 Henry Fletcher “killed by a bell”
  • 9 Oct 1737 Thomas Brown “kill’d by a fall from an apple tree”
  • 9 Oct 1884 David Ormrod Archer “drowned whilst bathing at Freshwater, Isle of Wight Sep 27

The parish registers also record many instances where a significant number of people died over a short space of time as well as many instances where several members of the same family died within days or weeks of each other. These events probably indicate an epidemic of some kind; common diseases in the post-medieval era being plague, typhus, smallpox, cholera and consumption (tuberculosis). An example of this is the family of George Browne who lost his wife, two sons and a daughter in the space of a single week in 1621. Sadly, there are many other examples where an unusually large number of people, often from the same family, died over a short space of time.

And yes, a John Wayne really did live in Fairford! He was baptised here on 22 November 1620. An Elizabeth Taylor was baptised on 24 November 1644 and a Richard Burton was baptised on 5 July 1674. As far as we can tell, he did not marry Elizabeth Taylor!


In addition to copies of the Fairford wills that were mentioned in the last edition of the Fairford Flyer, we have now bought a small number of inventories from the Gloucestershire Record Office. The Record Office has 61 inventories of Fairford residents dating from 1648 to 1790. The inventories were usually drawn up by one or more of the executors of the deceased and recorded, in varying amounts of detail, the household goods and possessions together with an estimation of their value. For example the 1675 inventory of Nicholas Hedges lists just 11 items amounting to a total of £62 and 18 shillings whereas the 1711 inventory of Edward Shipman, Vicar of Fairford, lists 42 groups of items amounting to a total value of £357 1 shilling and 6 pence. More of this anon!


An often overlooked resource for local and family history research are old telephone directories. Fortunately, British Telecom has kept copies of many of the older local and regional directories and these are now accessible through the Ancestry.co.uk subscription service.

It seems that the telephone first made its appearance in Fairford under the Cirencester exchange in either 1907 or 1908. The Cirencester exchange started up in 1906 and had just 7 numbers listed in that year. Fairford numbers first appear in the 1908 telephone directory with a total of 17 numbers in this edition. The numbers are listed below and include local public services, the doctor, some commercial enterprises and a small number of private citizens.

The Fairford numbers listed in 1908 were as follows:

  1. Post Office. High Street, Mrs E Caldicott
  2. Edmonds, E N. Miller & dealer, Whelford Mills
  3. Arkell, Cobbett. Coal Merchant, The Close
  4. Hobbs, J T. Auctioneer, Manor House, Maisey Hampton
  5. Cole, R. Coal merchant, farmer, Milton Farm
  6. Milbourne, C K. Milton House
  7. Iles, A J Hitcham. Solicitor, Magistrates’ Clerk, London Street
  8. Perry, Arthur. Purveyor, London Street
  9. King-Turner, A C, Dr (Private Asylum), The Retreat
  10. Lees, Alfred. Engineer, London Road
  11. Yells Bros. Builders, contractors, Horcott
  12. Zachary, Arthur, & Co. Wine merchants, Montague House
  13. Police Station
  14. Great Western Railway
  15. Perrin, J. Park Street
  16. Bulley, F P, JP. Marston Hill
  17. Bull Hotel, F R Busby

Chris Hobson