Top 10 Archives… No.7

  • 15th November 2011

Number seven in our countdown of the Top 10 most accessed collections is the collection of Diocesan filing.

What is Diocesan Filing?

Here at Worcestershire Record Office, we have a large collection of mysterious records often referred to by staff only by their reference number—’the 728s’.  These are the records of Diocesan Filing, popularly known as ‘parish boxes’ or ‘parochial boxes’.  These are not, as the name ‘parish box’ might seem to indicate, the records of the workings of the parish and its parishioners. Rather, they deal with the church building itself: its fabric and any alterations made to it; fixtures, fittings and furniture, such as pews, organs, memorial tablets, stained glass and bells; as well as the churchyard.

They are considered to be the working papers of the Diocesan Registrar, so anyone wishing to consult these records first requires his written permission.

What types of records are typically included?

The material in the Worcestershire parish boxes generally dates from no earlier than the 18th century, but continues right down to the present day.  Faculties are the most frequently encountered class of record.  In the Church of England, a Faculty is required before any alterations to a church’s fabric may take place.  The parish submits a petition to the Diocesan Registrar; citations are issued, allowing other parties to voice any objections to the proposed work, and if no objections are raised, the Faculty is granted by the Diocesan Chancellor.  Other documents include certificates of work completed and correspondence regarding alterations, etc. 

How can they be used?

  • Chancel repair liability.  Many Anglican churches have the right to have repairs to the chancel paid for by another party, known as a lay rector. A recent change in legislation dictates that parishes must register this right with the Land Registry before October 2013, or else it will lapse. Records in the parochial boxes may be used in conjunction with other types of records, including Enclosure awards and plans, to determine who has been responsible for paying for repairs to the chancel of a parish church.  We anticipate increasing demand on these collections prior to closing in November, given the impending 2013 deadline.
  • Faculties and associated records can be used to chart changing fashions in church architecture, furniture, fixtures and fittings.  They can also give insight into the impact of changing laws, and provide information about what has happened to features such as memorial tablets
  • Mr Robert Alexander, Assistant to the Registrar for Faculties and one of our regular users, has been examining effects of Ecclesiastical Exemption from listed building controls on churches’ exterior, interior, bells, etc.  He notes that what is absent from the parish boxes can often be more telling than what is there.  He has also provided an example of the interesting material that may be found: records of a dispute between the parish of Abberley and the Ministry of Defence, resulting from Abberley’s tall steeple interfering with flight paths near Pershore airfield.    
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