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Explore England's Past

The Parish

A map of the civil parish of Codford, Wiltshire

Parishes are found across much of western Europe. The majority of England’s medieval parishes were established by 1200 sometimes, but by no means always, sharing boundaries with a manor. By the post-Conquest period the whole country had been divided into parishes. In Midland and southern England these were relatively small, reflecting population pressure, but in the more sparsely populated north, parishes could be vast. Over time, as a result, in northern England the unit of local government became the township.

The parish was originally established for ecclesiastical purposes. Each parish usually had a church, and appointed churchwardens to oversee the fabric and when necessary to raise funds to pay for repairs and upkeep. Parishioners paid tithes for the upkeep of the clergyman. The system was not fundamentally altered as a result of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, but the decline in influence of the manor led Tudor governments to shift local government powers to the parish. This meant that the parish now appointed civil officials such as the overseers of the poor and the highways and the parish constable, and not surprisingly the role of the manor continued to decline. Civil powers were shifted from the manor court to the parish, and when the poor law was introduced the unit of administration was the parish not the manor. In northern England the administrative unit became the township from 1660. As such the parish (and township) exercised both ecclesiastical and civil powers through its different officers.

This combined role lasted until the nineteenth century when central government began to relieve the ecclesiastical parish of its civil powers. After 1834 the administration of poor relief was moved to the newly created unions with their Boards of Guardians, and roads became a county commitment. In 1888 the government abolished the old quarter sessions in favour of elected county councils, and in 1894 set up rural districts, which were responsible for administering larger areas. Meantime, during the Victorian period, some 3,000 new parishes were established, mainly in towns, all of which were granted ecclesiastical but not civil powers. Then modern division is between locally elected parish councils which exercise some civil powers, and Parochial Church Councils which, with the churchwardens, continue to run the church.

Theme Items

This stream, a tributary of the Devon Yeo and the boundary between Molland and Twitchen, may have been the ancient western boundary of the Angl

Both the church and village of St Germoe, are named after St Germoe, a 5th century Irish saint.

To most people today, 'Bolsover' means the small town in north eastern Derbyshire, about six miles east of Chesterfield.

An outline of attempts to provide an adequate water supply for Bolsover, which stands on high ground some distance from readily accessible sources

Parish Life and the Hardwick Estate

The medieval parish of Bishopwearmouth comprised the townships of Bishopwearmouth, Ford, Bishopwearmouth Panns, Ryhope, Silksworth, Tunstall and Bu

The ancient parish of Monkwearmouth comprised the townships of Monkwearmouth, Fulwell, Southwick and Hylton.

Until 1719, the area that was to become Sunderland was divided into two parishes which served administrative as well as religious purposes.