Mar 042017

In 1676, Henry Compton, the Bishop of London, commissioned a survey of religious belief in England and Wales. Each parish was required to return the number of ‘conformists’ (i.e. adherents of the Church of England), non-conformists and papists (Catholics). The questions that were asked of all incumbents under the jurisdiction of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York were as follows: First, What number of persons or at least families are by common account and estimation inhabiting within each parish subject under them? Secondly, what number of Popish recusants, or such as are suspected of recusancy, are there among such inhabitants at present? Thirdly, what number of other Dissenters are resident in such parishes, which either obstinately refuse, or wholly absent themselves from, the Communion of the Church of England at such time as by law they are required?

Copies of the Compton ‘Census’ can be found at The Bodleian Library, Oxford and The William Salt Library, Stafford

The records that survive are predominantly those for parishes in the Midlands and the south of England and Wales (but not Somerset and Dorset) and are numerical returns only. The total populations are estimated, as are the numbers of dissenters. There are just nineteen parishes where more detail has survived, including the names of individuals. The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure have published a map showing the areas for which the returns survive

A full transcription has been published by Annie Whiteman The Compton Census of 1676: a critical edition (Oxford University Press 1986). The Society for One-Place Studies has purchased a copy and is offering look-ups for members. In fairness to the transcriber and to our volunteer, please limit your enquiry to your registered places, or for members with, as yet, no place registered, no more than two parishes. Please do not expect an immediate response as we anticipate a flurry of enquiries following this announcement. For look-ups please email

Janet Few

Jan 292017

I thought that I had better lead by example and submit my results for the first of our shared endeavour tasks. I have chosen one of my places, the rural parish of Buckland Brewer in North Devon, for this project and I am going to investigate the time span 1100-2017. I have discovered some interesting pre-Reformation facts about the place and would like to include those and also want to take a brief look at the early history of what is now the Anglican church.

There have been six public places of worship in the parish: The Anglican Church of St Mary and St Benedict, one Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, three Bible Christian (a Methodist off-shoot) Chapels and one Baptist Chapel. I am also aware of two private chapels that were in larger houses in the area. What are now two neighbouring, separate, Anglican parishes, Bulkworthy and East Putford, were once chapelries of Buckland Brewer, so I shall also include those, especially as Bulkworthy is another of my one-place studies. Bulkworthy had its own Bible Christian Chapel, so I shall be looking at that as well. This gives me, in total, eleven places of worship to study. This is for an area that, in 1851, had a population of 1350, 977 of whom were in Buckland Brewer, the remainder being in East Putford or Bulkworthy. I am aware that there were almost certainly other private chapels whose existence has been forgotten but I think I am unlikely to find more evidence of these and the two that I do know of were probably not in use much after the Reformation.

I have taken recent photographs of the nine places of worship and also have historic photographs of some of them. As the private chapels are on private land and one is a room within a dwelling, rather than a separate building, that is more difficult but I do have modern pictures of the exteriors.

In addition to taking part in the Society’s Faith shared endeavour, I am also participating in the ‘Communities of Dissent’ project, run by the Community and Family History Research Group. This has a more limited focus, concentrating on non-conformity from 1850 onwards.

The Anglican Church of St Michael and St. Benedict in the village of Buckland Brewer, formerly a Catholic place of worship

Pre-reformation this was of course, a Catholic church, as were all churches in England. The Anglican Church of St. Mary and St. Benedict, stands on one of the highest points of the parish. The top of the tower is more than 600 feet above sea level and can been seen from several miles away. The church is believed to have been Norman in origin. After several disasters and renovations, only the south door remains from this period. The church was struck by lightning in 1399 and reputedly reduced to ashes. It was struck again in 1769, causing considerable damage. Lack of funds meant that the eighteenth century rebuild was of poor quality. Most of the current church dates from the extensive renovations of 1877, which were commissioned after yet another storm rendered the tower unsafe. The church bells were cast by local bell founder, John Taylor. The neighbouring parishes of Bulkworthy and East Putford were once chapelries of Buckland Brewer. The first known vicar was Sir Walter de Denetone, who was inducted in 1279. Today, the church is part of the Hartland Coast Mission Community.

The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel

Methodism arrived in Buckland Brewer in 1808, when Mr Sleep preached in the Club Room of the Bell Inn, owned by Mr Daniels. Initially, Wesleyan Methodist services were held in the home of Robert and Alice Curtis. In 1827, a Mr and Mrs Curtis gave a cottage on their farm for use as a Methodist Chapel and Sunday School. Robert died in 1818 so this may have been one of his sons. By 1842, it was necessary to extend this chapel. The building later became the Village Shop (now closed).

The Bible Christian Chapels

The Bible Christian ‘Salem’ Chapel opened at Thornhillhead in 1830, complete with Sunday School and graveyard. The building is still open as a United Methodist Church. This served the south of the parish but although Anglicans and Wesleyans were catered for, there was still no Bible Christian place of worship in the centre of the village. In 1832, a licence was granted for Bible Christians to preach in the home of John Hancock, a labourer. This house is likely to have been in a row of cottages known as New Buildings or Smale’s Cottages. In 1842, another Bible Christian Chapel was opened, at Cannapark, Twitchen. This building closed in 1966 and is now derelict. Finally, the village got its own Bible Christian Chapel when a local stable, next to the Wesleyan Chapel, was converted in 1854. Three years later the Bible Christians purchased Ash House, which adjoined their existing former stable, from Ann Clarke and John Eddy. This became the Providence Bible Christian Chapel. The building fell into disrepair in 1900 and was rebuilt on the same site. Reverend Thomas Braund preached at the opening ceremony in 1903. The Bible Christians became part of the United Methodists in 1907.

I have prepared a longer narrative about the Baptist Chapel but this is a work in progress so I still have the Anglican chapleries, Bulkworthy Bible Christian Chapel and the private chapels to do.

Janet Few

Dec 192016

Today's guest post is from Morag who is from Unst, Shetland, and doing a one-place study of the island.

Halligarth, Unst - home to Dr. Laurence Edmondston

Halligarth, Unst - home to Dr. Laurence Edmondston

In my childhood, my walk from where the school bus dropped me off, to my grandparents' house in Baltasound, where we would go each day after school, took me past a house called Halligarth, which was occupied by two old siblings, Lorna and Stephen Saxby. My mum tells a story of me as an inquisitive toddler in that old house:

I remember taking Morag along (pre school age). Morag went round Lorna's kitchen asking "what's this?" She looked at the wooden barrel type washing machine and laughed disbelievingly when Lorna told her what it was. Wooden paddles in the bottom a bit like the twin tub washers used to have. That kitchen was amazing, could have become a museum just as it stood.

The house was on its last legs by then, but it had once been home to the island's doctor, Dr. Laurence Edmondston, Stephen Saxby's Great-grandfather. He was in fact not the only doctor on the island of Unst. At one stage there were several, quite belying the small size of the island. It was remarked upon at the time in the Shetland Times (26 Jan 1874) with an amusing column.


WE are of late pleased to see that, notwithstanding the instability of things generally in Shetland, the Agricultual Society of Unst stands secure. We admire our Unst neighbours for their enterprise in many things, ... not the less for their sagacity and foresight, and are desirous to borrow a lesson from them; and with this view, may we ask what is the reason for their very large importation of medical doctors of late? Three worthy and respected gentlemen of that profession were resident in the island, and we now hear of two further added to the number, thus making five M.Ds. to a population equal to Lerwick, while we content ourselves, in the meantime, with two of the profession. Under the circumstance we do, however feel somewhat uneasy, as from the sagacity and foresight of those northerns, there is surely some impending outbreak expected, and may be on its way from some remote region, and we shall consider it a boon conferred on the obscure portion of Shetland if any one or more of those high-spirited and patriotic men will inform us if we also should take precautions and be on our guard with a powerful staff of those skilled in the healing art.

From what I know about Unst in my One Place Study of the island, the doctors in question were as follows. This information can be gleaned from the occupations listed in census returns, occupations shown on birth records (including Old Parish Baptism Records where Doctors appear to get treated unusually and are listed as 'Doctor' which is very handy!), and by looking at statutory death records from 1855 onwards, where many of the deaths are certified by a Medical Attendant, allowing you to see the names of the doctors who are practicing on the island.

  • Laurence Edmonston M.D.
    • born 9 Feb 1795, Lerwick; died 7 Mar 1879, Unst
    • Stephen Saxby's Great-grandFather
    • Qualification: M.D. Univ. Edin. 1830
    • Practicing in Unst from around 1832 onward. Seen certifying death records until 1877, although had officially retired before then.
  • Henry Linckmeyer Saxby M.D.
    • born 19 Apr 1836, London; died 4 Aug 1873 Inverary
    • Stephen Saxby's GrandFather
    • Qualification: M.D. Univ. St. And. 1862
    • Practicing in Unst from 1863 until 1871, left Unst thereafter due to ill health.
  • James Smith M.D.
    • born 10 Dec 1806, Fetlar; died 17 Oct 1890, Unst
    • Qualification: M.D. Univ. Edin. 1831; Lic. R. Coll. Surg. Edin. 1829
    • Practicing in Unst from around 1835 onward. Seen certifying death records until 1889.
  • David John Rutherford M.D.
    • born about 1838
    • Qualification: L.M. Qu. Univ. Irel. 1857; M.D. Univ. Edin. 1859; Lic. R. Coll. Surg. Edin. 1860
    • Came to Unst after practicing in Ireland. Practicing in Unst from 1871 onwards. Seen certifying death records from 1871 - 1886. Emmigrated to Canada by 1891.
  • Daniel Ferguson M.D.
    • Don't know anything about this gent.
    • Practicing in Unst for a short period in the 1870s. Seen certifying death records from 1874 - 1877

This glut of doctors in the island was clearly a temporary blip, a changing of the guard if you like. Dr. Laurence Edmonston was getting old, he was 79 in 1874 and still practicing. Dr. Henry L. Saxby had actually died not long before the article was written, but I suspect, as a long term Unst M.D. he was included in the count of five. Dr. James Smith was 68 in 1874, but continued practicing for at least another decade after the article was written. Dr. David John Rutherford and Dr. Daniel Ferguson were more recent additions to the medical practitioners on the island, the latter of which wasn't seen on Unst for very long in fact.

While interesting in the context of an amusing newspaper column, there is another good reason with being familiar with the main well known figures in your one-place study. It was very often the case that children were named after the doctor or minister in the area. I've written about children named after a minister before. If you have an unusual middle name for a child, your first thought may be to look for the branch of the family tree that this name was plucked from, but when you can't find it, it is also worth considering the alternatives.

If I look through my Unst data, there are around three dozen children with the middle name Edmondston, from the long-standing Dr. Laurence Edmondston who served the island for so many years, and possibly from a few other well-known members of his family too I suspect; a few named after Dr. David John Rutherford - not a common surname anywhere in Shetland!; and two named after Dr. Henry L. Saxby. Dr. Daniel Ferguson didn't appear to stay around long enough to ingratiate himself into the naming conventions of the island it would seem, and it's hard to know how many were named after Dr. James Smith, it being such a common surname!

As someone doing a one-place study, you can make information such as this more available for others searching their branches of their own family history. I have already passed on the knowledge of Edmondston as a middle name for a child likely being named after the doctor to one person who contacted me. They were unaware of the name belonging to the doctor.

Morag Hughson

Read more about Morag's progress on her Unst one-place study on her blog, and follow her on Twitter.

Dec 162016

Following out recent Hangout-on Air introducing our next shared endeavour, a number of members are already begun their investigations. Here are Janet Barrie's initial comments. Janet will be leading the next Hangout-on-air on the topic 'Non-conformity in your Place' on 13 January 2017.

As we begin to get into our 2017 shared endeavour of 'Faith in our place', we will all relate to this topic in different ways. Some of us may have Saxon or Norman churches with a rich history and architecture with gargoyles and green men. Others may have a large number of members of a particular denomination. Still others may have had many Catholic recusants with priest holes and hidden chapels.

Some of us have small places. Springhill itself is only 12 houses. How can I study 'faith' in 12 houses?

Firstly we have Captain Charles Patrick, who married into the family which owned Springhill House. His obituary describes him as 'a staunch churchman' who nevertheless gave regular donations to places of worship of other denominations. What did he do in the church, and how did he help these places?  He was also a Freemason and endowed a church, the foundation stone of which was laid with 'full masonic ritual'. What was the relationship between Anglicanism and Freemasonry in the second half of the 19th century.

Secondly Springhill House was once occupied by the Rev Thomas Jenkins, a Unitarian. How did Unitarianism become established locally? Incidentally Rev Thomas Jenkins is not to be confused with the Rev Jenkyn Thomas, the other Unitarian minister active in the area at that time.

Thirdly Polefield Cottage was once the manse of the Baptist Church just outside Springhill. Renovations after its purchase led to speculation that the manse may have been once used as the chapel. How likely is this and is there any evidence? The speculation is based on a large 'upper room' running the length of this and adjacent cottages. A meeting room or a weaving loft?

A resident of Sunset View was a Methodist local preacher for 50 years. What changes have there been in Methodism in that time? How have local events reflected national trends?

So. 12 houses. Lots of ideas. I'm looking forward to getting stuck in.

Janet Barrie

Dec 082016
St Aiden's Thockrington

St Aiden's Thockrington

Our Shared Endeavour for 2017 will be introduced at a Hangout-on-Air on Tuesday 13 December at 8.00pm GMT. During the year, we will be joining together to study the places of worship (in the widest possible sense), the leaders, events and records associated with them and the wider context surrounding the religious history of our places. The Hangout will provide a brief overview of what the year will have in store, together with suggestions of ways in which participants might contribute.

If you have not taken part in one of our shared endeavours before, this is an opportunity to find out how these work and learn what a boost they can give to your one-place study. Sometimes our research can be a solitary activity but this is a way of working together and sharing methodology, successes, findings and failures. You might decide to join in with all of the activities, or just those that are most relevant to you. The link for you to join in is here.