What Is A Churchwarden
Provided by Steve Everitt
Around 1700 the churchwarden was the nearest thing to a tax man.
There were usually five wardens to a parish, elected annually,
who were men of substance and respect. Each year they collected
a levy from the town and surrounding villages, and distributed
it again as church maintenance, benefits and charity. They had
to keep careful written accounts of everything. These were the
In 1700 the Pound was worth 100 times today's Pound, so an old
Pound was about $160, and a penny about 70 cents. Annual levies
varied, but the average for Wirksworth Parish was 100 Pounds, or
$16,000 today. This was distributed among a population of 5,000
or 800 heads of families, a few of whom were rich but many were
grindingly poor. This was the Churchwardens responsibility.
The churchwardens had to keep the church bells and the clock in
good repair, and pay for oyl and grease for the bells, ale for
the bell ringers, lime nayles bricks spades hair and sand for
mending the church fabric, beesoms for sweeping, tallow for
lighting, Pigs of lead and solder for repairing windows and
roofs, wine (in huge quantities) and bread for church festivals,
and horses for moving anything heavy or transporting the wardens
on church business.
Churchwardens also were responsible for the curious and gruesome
job of paying anyone who brought a hedgehog (called an urchin)
or a raven to the church 4 pence ($3) or 1 shilling ($10) for a
foxes tail. This early form of pest control had been allowed by
Parliament around 1550, but must have been a great nuisance to
the church. Some years more than 400 urchins had to be disposed
of, as well as all the ravens and tails.
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