St Helen’s Church Parish Registers


The parish registers are now stored in the Derbyshire Records Office but there is a handy précis of them in the booklet Historical Notes, St. Helen’s Darley compiled by A W Smith in 1953 and now kept by the churchwardens.

The list of contents is given below:

Chapter 1, The Lincoln Charters
Chapter 2, Notes on Tablets and Monuments
Chapter 3, Extracts from papers in Parish Safe: Briefs, Heriots, Terriers, Registers
Chapter 4, Wall Paintings
Chapter 5, Right of sanctuary
Chapter 6, List of Rectors, Curates and Readers
Chapter 7, Bells
Chapter 8, Churchwarden’s Accounts

Space does not allow for more than brief canters through one or two of the chapters. From chapter 1 we give first a brief account of the early history of the parish and  from chapter 3 we try to find out what life was like for the ordinary parishioners as indicated in the papers of the parish.

Early history

There is sound evidence that there was a church building on the site in the 10th century and in the Domesday book (1086) there is a record of a church and a priest. The church was obviously an important one and growing, for within a further 100 years, there were 3 clergy to serve the people, Henry the priest with Thorald and Robert as clerks. The present building dates from the 13th century and was built in cruciform style. It was enlarged in the 15th century with the addition of side aisles to the north and south of the nave. The parish had strong associations with local nobility and their names are associated with the chapels in the north and south transepts.
The patronage of the Rectory of Darley was in the hands of the Dean of Lincoln cathedral , where there are charters featuring different stages in the church’s early history. One of these refers to the King’s Church of Darley so St Helens may be of Royal Foundation. Which king was involved is unknown but local circumstances point to Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great. It is also interesting to note that very early in the church’s history the Rectory had been divided into three portions, called medieties, each one one having its own Rector! This pattern of  administration lasted from 1161 to 1391 when the three medieties were amalgamated into two. This arrangement continued until 1691 when the two were merged into one. A further point of interest from one of the earlier charters, relating to the payment of tithes, shows that Winster was in the Darley parish. Subsequently, however, Winster was taken away from Darley and added to Youlgreave. Now in the 21st century Winster returns to the mother church of the area.

Aspects of Parish Life

A “Brief” or King’s (or Queen’s) letter was a mandate from the Sovereign authorising a collection through the kingdom for some charitable purpose, such as repair of churches, relief of sufferers after war or persecution. An example is given …”For ye relief of distressed Protestants, collected May 9th,1686, ye sum of £2 13s. 3d.” This refers to the escape of over half a million Huguenots from France when the Edict of Nantes was revoked by King Louis.. There are other similar cases but the entries which are continuous from 1684 to 1693 tend to become spasmodic until 1730 when they cease. Reading “Briefs” was abolished by George IV in 1828.

A Heriot is “. A due belonging to the lord of the manor at the death of his tenant, consisting of the best beast, either horse, ox or cow, which he had at the time of his death”. As Mr Smith rather dryly remarks it appears the custom also prevailed between the Rector and his tenants;  cases cited show   transactions between  Rector and  widows which do not show the former in a particularly good light. For example “…..received Harriot of widow Moss on the decease of her husband Elias…viz. a Stirk, which I sould back to her for £1 1s…..”

A Terrier is a list or schedule of the Glebe Lands and other church property belonging to the Parish. There are Terriers for particular years in the 17th and 18th centuries; one of them dated 1698 gives information on how the Rector’s tithes were collected. For example  ” ……tenth part of all sorts of corn or grain,dry in stock or set up”  is paid in kind throughout the Parish. Also hemp and flax and even lead ore. Detailed instructions are given for the tithing of fleece of wool. Tithes were also paid on geese and pigs. It appears that every person sixteen years or upwards paid one penny as an Easter oblation. A man for himself and wife paid 4d, a widow or widower 2d. Certain church services then as now had to be paid for…a churching 6d. , a burial (not coffined) 8d., a burial (coffined) 1s. 4d.

It would seem that the church had a dominant place in the lives of ordinary people and it is difficult to believe that the burdens placed on them were always accepted with a good grace.

The Registers give details of Baptisms,Marriages and Burials with the last being much the longest. Here one of the earliest entries shows that in 1551 nine persons died of “ye sweating sickness”. One of these victims was a Clemens Wall who according to Mr Smith had a descendant living in the parish and who died in 1949.  The plague and smallpox also claimed victims from time to time; one of the last recorded in 1881 is marked “Small Pox, buried at 1.15am”.  Many parishioners died from drowning in the Derwent , some unhappily by suicide.

Life for the humble parishioner was not easy. It is very much to be hoped that despite the duties laid on parishioners by the church some of the promises of the Kingdom  were not totally blotted out.

The Present and The Future

The congregation at St Helen’s is in good heart. The fabric and general care of the building and churchyard is in good hands and we believe that successive generations of worshippers will understand and appreciate the maintenance work that goes on now. However the church universal  does not consist of buildings  it is made up of people who try to witness to God and  serve the community. This is what the congregation at St Helen’s is trying to do and to show the essential characteristics of an authentic church. Following Alison Morgan * we shall firstly have responded to the call to follow Jesus: people who are learning to do the things he did, using the tools which he makes available, and in the process becoming more like him Secondly a church is a group of people who have committed themselves to doing that together; church is not just about individual apprenticeship to Jesus but about apprenticeship in community. Thirdly,a church is a group of people who are outwardly focussed, who have a purpose bigger than themselves – for Jesus does not just call disciples, he also sends them. And fourthly, a church is a community living in daily dependence  upon the Holy Spirit, discerning the needs of its context and allowing its mission and ministry to be shaped accordingly.

* The Word on the Wind.  Alison Morgan. Monarch Books. 2011. ISBN 9780857210159