St. Michael’s, Lichfield in the 19th century. Part 2

St. Michael’s, Lichfield

Part 1 of this blog post can be found here.


The baptismal and burial registers allow the residence of the parents of the baptized child and those who have died to be identified, at least in broad terms. Neither measure can be regarded as an accurate measure of population, as the same couple may well figure more than once in the baptismal registers, and those who have died may not be long term residents of the parish. To investigate how this population is dispersed across the parish, we define the following districts.

Within the parish throughout the study period

  • Greenhill – the dense urban area close to St Michael’s church that extended up Burton Old Road and Trent Valley Road as the century progressed, together with its rural hinterland, broadly covering the area of the current Boley Park Estate.
  • St. Johns – based on the urban area around St. Johns Street (including, and south of St John’s Hospital) and the Birmingham Road, stretching south to the canal, with its rural hinterland in the Borrowcop and Berry Hill area. Note that the St. John’s and Greenhill as defined here did not have a direct road connection between their major centres for much of the study period, with journeys between them requiring a passage through St. Mary’s parish. 
  • The Workhouse on Trent Valley Road (the later St. Michael’s hospital).
  • The hamlet of Streethay to the north of the parish, including the development in the second half of the century of much railway activity around Trent Valley Station.
  • The rural hamlets of Freeford and Fulfen to the east of the parish. 

The out of parish townships

  • Burntwood, together with Edial and Woodhouses, which became a separate parish in 1820 with the opening of Christchurch, Burntwood.
  • Wall, which became a separate parish in 1845 following the opening of St. John’s Church in 1843.
  • Leamonsley to the west of the city which, with Pipe Hill, became the parish of Christchurch, Lichfield in 1848.

Out of parish districts

  • The parish of St. Mary Lichfield, including the extra-parochial areas of The Close and The Friary.
  • The parish of St. Chad, Lichfield
  • Any other out of parish location outside Lichfield.

Figures 6 below shows the baptisms (on the left hand side) and burials (on the right hand side) for each of these three categories. These graphs show actual baptism numbers in (nominally) 20 year periods, rather than the number of baptisms per year. Note again that the first and last periods are somewhat shorter than 20 years.

Consider first the baptisms and burials in the different areas of the parish itself. For the former, the largest contributing area is Greenhill, with St. John’s the second largest. The situation is reversed for burials, perhaps indicating a rather younger population in the Greenhill area. The Workhouse baptisms and burials begin in the 1831 to 1850 period, as the Workhouse opened in 1840. In general the number of baptisms decrease with time, while the number of burials increase markedly, until in the period from 1891 to 1905 they are the single biggest number of burials. Both baptisms and burials increase over the century in Streethay, reflecting the growth of railway based activities there, whilst the figures fro the rural area of Freeford / Fulfen remain small and constant. 

The township baptisms and burials show a major fall after the chapels in the respective area are opened – 1820 for Burntwood, 1845 for Wall and 1848 for Leamonsley.  The baptism figures fall more dramatically than the funeral figures, suggesting that a number of township residents wished to be buried in family graves at St. Michael’s.

The out of parish baptisms and burials are interesting. There can be seen to be significant cross boundary baptisms of parishioners from St. Mary’s and St. Chad’s parish, presumably because of family or other historical connections. The number of burials for St. Mary’s parish was however very large, due to the fact that there was no graveyard there.  This imposed a considerable load on the clergy at St Michael’s (as will be seen below), In 1886 the Vicar of St. Mary’s agreed to conduct the funerals of his parishioners in St. Michael’s churchyard, but he stressed that by ancient custom it was the duty of St. Michael’s clergy to do this. A somewhat grudging agreement it would seem. From 1888 an annual collection was taken at St. Mary’s for the upkeep of the churchyard. Both these developments probably reflect a grievance extending over several decades that St. Michael’s clergy were providing unpaid services to St. Mary’s parish. The out of Lichfield category includes baptisms for families from the towns and villages surrounding the city, but also significant number from further afield – in particular from Birmingham and London – probably because of historic or family connections.

Figure 6. Baptism and burial statistics by areas of residence

Finally the registers reveal the existence of some interesting groups of people in the population for whom a more in-depth study might be appropriate – the soldiers from the Militia Barracks in the Sandford Street area; the canal workers and boatmen on the Lichfield and Hathersage Canal and the wharfs in the St. John’s area; a huge community of coachmakers, coachmen, horsemen etc. connected with the coach routes through the city, and, in the second half of the century the railway workers on the London North Western Railway through Trent Valley and the South Staffordshire Railway through Lichfield City. 

Analysis of Christian names

Both the baptismal and burial registers can be used to study how the Christian names of those in the parish varied over time. Whilst this might seem a somewhat trivial analysis, it does reveal something of changing attitudes and perceptions over time. From the baptismal registers, the information is directly available on a year-by-year basis. Extracting dated information from the burial registers is a little more tricky and requires the birth year to be calculated from the death year and the age at death. Even if the names are all related to the birth year, one might expect some differences – the baptismal registers will, in general, refer to those who were born in the Lichfield area, the burial registers will contain entries relating to those who were born elsewhere. Similarly the latter are more likely to indicate the preferred name of the deceased – be it first name, middle name or by-name. These points being made, details of the names over a period of around 180 years are given in table 1 for men and table 2 for women. Each table shows the following information, for the usual nominal twenty-year periods.

  • The most popular ten names in that period and the percentage of the total number of register entries for each of these.
  • The percentage of the total number of register entries that are accounted for by these top ten names. 
  • The number of different names used in the period.

For both male and female names the following broad conclusions can be drawn.

  • The most popular names remain pretty much the same over most of the period studied.
  • For the earlier periods in the 18th century the top 10 names account for 80 to 90 % of all names. This figure falls throughout the 19thcentury to around 60% for male names and 35% for female names.
  • Over the same period the number of different names increases by a factor of four.
  • Female names were always more variable than male names. 

The most popular male names (William, John and Thomas) each account for about 20% of all entries in the early periods, falling to around 6 to 12% in the late 19thcentury. Similarly the most popular female names (Elizabeth, Mary and Sarah) account for around 15 to 20% of all entries in the earlier periods, falling to around just 3% in the late 19thcentury. 

Two points arise from this study. The first is that the increasing number of names in use possibly reflects the movement from a very conservative society (at least in terms of names) to one with a wider outlook. Indeed, some of the minor names not shown in the table are quite outlandish and unconventional, particularly for the female names – for example Rosetta, Vanda and Pretoria. Secondly, in their conservatism the most popular names are very similar to those outlined in two other studies that I have carried out for the western region of the Black Country – for the parish of Kingswinfordin 1822 and 1840, and for the members of the Shut End Chapel in Pensnett from 1840 to 1890. The general population for these two studies was again composed of unskilled and skilled manual workers, and were thus similar o the population make up of St. Michael’s parish in the 19thcentury.

Table 1. Analysis of male Christian names

Table 2. Analysis of female Christian names

Ministers and Church

Table 3 below shows the Perpetual Curates (Rectors from 1868) at St. Michael’s, their curates or assistants, and the chaplains of the Workhouse in the period we are considering, together with the absolute numbers of baptisms, marriages and funerals they carried out. The longevity of the ministers in charge is notable, with only three perpetual curates / rectors from 1813 to 1886.  The first of these, Edward Remington, was actually the brother of an earlier Perpetual Curate at St Michael’s and the son of another, the dynasty extending back to 1757. His early career included Perpetual Curacies at St Chad’s Lichfield and Pipe Ridware, before coming to St Michael’s in 1805. In 1820, he was, in addition to St. Michael’s, instituted as Curate at Burntwood, when Burntwood itself achieved parochial status. As Perpetual Curate of St. Michael’s he would already have had oversight of Burntwood, but it seems he was formally designated its first incumbent, at least for a short period until 1828. From 1829 to 1831 he was also Vicar at Wirksworth in Derbyshire. How he managed these two rather far-flung parishes is not clear, but doubtless he utilized the services of his curates. 

One of these curates was Thomas Gnossall Parr, who held that post at St. Michael’s from 1828 to Remington’s death in 1831. He was then appointed Perpetual Curate, a post he held for 37 years before becoming the first Rector in 1868, one year before his death. He was born in 1800, the son of another Thomas Gnossall Parr, a Lichfield solicitor, and remained umarried.  In 1861 he was living at the Parsonage House on Mount Pleasant with his sister Anne, and a single servant. The number of baptisms, marriages and funerals conducted by Remington and Gnossall Parr was eye-watering – the largest number in the table being the 3168 funerals conducted by the latter. Whist they were assisted by a string of curates, they still seems to have carried most of the load themselves. 

The first clergyman to be appointed Rector, James Sergeantson, was from Liverpool and educated at Trinity College in Cambridge. He was a rowing blue and part of the crew that lost the boat race in 1857 by 11 lengths. There have only been six larger losing margins in the 190 year history of the race, so I doubt it was an experience he relished. He served a curacy at Stoke before coming to St Michael’s. He was married to Elizabeth, a clergyman’s daughter and they had at least 5 children. In 1881 they lived at the Rectory, with a housekeeper, cook and two servants. He is recorded on a memorial in the church as being part of the team that rang a complete peal of Gransire Minor in 1876. He died in 1886. A memorial plaque in the chancel at St. Michael’s reads

To the glory of God and in loving memory of James Jordan Sergeantson M.A. for 17 years rector of this parish….. He fell asleep January 1st1886 aged 50 years. 

The Serjeantson Memorial

Sergeantson was followed by Cyril Hubberd, an old Etonian who graduated from St. John’s College Cambridge, and served in parishes in the south of England before coming to St. Michael’s. In 1891 he lived at the Rectory with his wife Agnes, their two children, a cook, a nursemaid and two housemaids. In 1886 he secured an arrangement, albeit somewhat grudging, with the Vicar of Mary’s who agreed to conduct the St. Mary’s funerals, although more often than not, this resulted in the St. Mary’s curates carrying out the duty on his behalf. When Hubbard left St Michael’s in 1893, he moved to the south of England and out of parish ministry. Perhaps St. Michael’s was too much for him. He is however recorded as a Chaplain in various European cities in the 1900s.

The last of the 19thcentury rectors was Otho Steele. He was born in the 1839, educated at Trinity College Dublin, and served in parishes in the east of England, Guernsey and Stoke before coming to St Michael’s in 1893. He remained there till 1913, and died in 1922. Again there is a memorial plaque in the chancel that reads as follows. 

To the glory of God and in pious memory of Otho William Steel, M.A. Rector of this parish from 1893 to 1913 who dies 25thMay 1922 aged 83 years. 

The Steele Memorial

The situation with regard to the Workhouse was interesting. The chaplains of the Workhouse conducted baptisms there, but these were recorded in the St. Michael’s register. However, up to the 1880s, all the funerals were conducted by St. Michael’s clergy. After that there seems to have been some overlap at that time with some of the curates at St. Michaels also acting as Workhouse Chaplains. 

Closing comments

The registers also indicate that a not-insignificant number of services were conducted by either visiting clergy (presumably at the family request) or by other clergy in the locality, to cover absence and holidays no doubt. The funerals of the residents at St. John’s hospital were usually conducted by the Master of the Hospital. In the early part of the century, the burials were actually in the grounds of St. John’s, with the burials registered in the St. Michael’s register, but later internments were in St. Michael’s graveyard. 

Table 3. Rectors, curates and chaplains

This post has presented what at first sight is a rather detailed technical examination of manuscripts. However it does reveal some quite fascinating details of the development of St. Michael’s parish over the 19thcentury. It was basically the parish of the lower and middle classes of the area, with very few of those at the top of Lichfield society. We see clearly a significant decrease in childhood mortality in this group over that period, and the huge risk of childbirth to women is all too clearly seen. The rise of basic literacy can also be seen from the signatures in the marriage registers. The development of the different areas of the parish can be traced in terms of a growing population and a widening of residential areas, with the increasing numbers of those within the Workhouse a reminder that such growth does not benefit all level of society. The analysis of Christian names sees an essentially conservative use of a small sub-set of names develop into a much wider use of a wide range of names, perhaps reflecting the growing horizons of the population. In ecclesiastical terms, the effect of the outlying townships becoming parishes in their own right is apparent, and the interactions between the city centre parishes is very clear – as are the reasons for the disagreement over funerals and burials between St. Michael’s and St. Mary’s.

But there is much more that could be said of course about some of the many individuals who feature in the registers – for example Rev John Louis Petit, the curate from 1825 to 1828 and a noted landscape painter, James Law, the Chancellor of the diocese, whose Mausoleum still dominates the front of the churchyard (see below), John Brown, who sounded the trumpet at the charge of the Light Brigade, and many others from long term Lichfield families.

There is of course further work that could be done of this type. Perhaps the most obvious extension would be to do the same sort of analysis for the registers of St. Mary’s and St. Chad’s as the three churches obviously have significant interaction.  This would be quite possible as for the period covered in this blog the registers are again available in .rtf format that can be manipulated in spreadsheets. Maybe one day in the near future I will summon up the energy to do this. 

The second extension, that would require more work, would be the integration of the current work with other datasets – and in particular the census returns and the St Michael’s Monumental Inscriptions. Whilst the data is available, the actual task of correlation and assessment would be very significant. Maybe in a year or so. 

Finally the work could be extended to look at earlier time periods – but here the registers are not in the same convenient format, and to make them so, at least from the publically available databases would be a huge task. Maybe in another life.

3 thoughts on “St. Michael’s, Lichfield in the 19th century. Part 2

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s