Village Officials

Parish Clerks

Generally speaking an official is one who is employed in a public capacity, but some village officials are unpaid volunteers, and occasionally an organisation is a combination of each category. One such ‘joint’ group is our Parish Council, for while all the members of the council are volunteers, the Parish Clerk is a salaried employee.

Fovant has had Parish Council, and therefore a Parish Clerk since 1896, yet we have records of Fovant Parish Clerks from well before that date. After some puzzlement we realised that there are two types of Parish Clerk, namely the secular and the religious.

The duties of the secular Parish Clerk, a salaried individual, are manifold. These include arranging the meetings, circulating the agenda, keeping the minutes of the matters discussed, dealing with correspondence, advising on rules, and responsibility for the presentation of the financial accounts.

Like his secular counterpart, the religious Parish Clerk was also received payment for his work. Arthur Royal in ‘Past Master of the Parish Clerks Company, 1991’ , writes that

‘Originally the Parish Clerk was in minor orders, he was primarily concerned with the worship in the parish church and sometimes with the education of its children. The role of the Parish Clerk changed after the Reformation and he became more obviously a layman. During Divine Service it was his duty to lead the singing and responses of the congregation’.

A detailed description of the church layman Parish Clerk’s duties states in ‘A Few Words to Parish Clerks and Sextons of Country Parishes’ by John Mason Neale. 1846,

  • ‘What a Clerk’s business is.
  • The necessity of doing all little things in the best way.
  • And much more when they concern the church.
  • The church to be kept clean: rubbish carried from the churchyard: nettles to be cut down
  • Brooms not to be left about: torn leaves burnt.
  • Pews and open seats and stalls to be kept clean and decent.
  • Whitewash – organise the scraping of pillars
  • Matting and hassocks. Dryness of the Church.
  • Deal with rubbish brought in by the birds.
  • Morning’s business before service. General reverence in church.
  • The Singers. The font, how to be filled. Funerals.
  • Churchyard – birds not to be shot there.
  • Dressing the church at Christmas with holly.
  • Church key. Visitors to the church. Visitors not to be allowed to take anything away.’

We, no longer have a church Parish Clerk. Whether we have ever had a Verger, who would also have been responsible for the routine care of the church is unknown to us at the moment. These duties are now undertaken by the Churchwardens and a rota of volunteers. Elsewhere in this section is a small list of Parish Clerks – were they religious or secular? Their dates give a clue, but that is not proof – more research is needed.

February 2004