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Old Parish Life: A guide for the curious


A detailed guide to parish life in England from medieval to Victorian times, based on a wide range of churchwardens’ accounts and other records and revealing the parish and church that our ancestors knew – a world of rood lofts and Easter sepulchres, of Maypoles and Midsummer bonfires, of foundlings and frankincense.

The book begins with a tour of the churchyard and church, with additional chapters on bells, paraphernalia, upkeep, and routine and people. There follow an outline of the old parish year and accounts of the rites of the individual life cycle, from baptism to burial. Further sections look at the parish’s response to those in need, from its own poor to pregnant women and travellers, and disorder of various kinds, from misbehaviour in church to bodysnatching. A final section charts the intrusion of history as the Reformation, civil war and outbreaks of plague disturb the parish’s normally quiet existence.

Contents include: bells rung to frighten away devils and to guide benighted travellers; boy bishops; foxheads fixed on church doors; funeral garlands hung above the seats of young women who have died; hogs rooting up graves; the holy ghost descending from the church roof; iconoclasts pulling down angels; plague victims carried to pest-houses in sedan chairs; and armed watchmen patrolling churchyards at night, waiting for the bodysnatchers to arrive.

With over 350 illustrations, and material from over 900 parishes across the country, the result is a revealing portrait of a vanished world.

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