RepositoryArchives
Ref NoL/CCS
LevelFonds
TitleRecords of the Parish of Christ Church, Spitalfields (formerly the Hamlet of Spitalfields)
Date1627-1875
DescriptionCivil parish local authority records relating to the maintenance of the parish and its people. The records include town and vestry minute books (1627-1875) and a rate book (1700). Also boundary plans (1870), financial papers, a poor law settlement paper and certificates.

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Extent23 volumes, 6 files
AdminHistoryOrigins and extent
Significant population growth on the outskirts of London in the latter part of the seventeenth century prompted official interest in founding new churches to serve these areas. The new parishes were not, however, intended to be solely ecclesiastical districts: their functions were to include a significant element of civil administration, although any new parish had to come to an agreement with its mother parish before levying a church rate, poor rate or highway rate.

Partition of the geographically large parish of Stepney followed the famous 'Act for the building of Fifty New Churches in the Cities of London and Westminster or the Suburbs thereof' which was passed in 1711. The construction work was to be paid for by a tax levied on coal entering the City of London, but only 12 of these churches were built, one of which was Christ Church Spitalfields, designed by the famous architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. The church was constructed between 1715 and 1729. Prior to this, many of the inhabitants had presumably attended church at St Dunstan's in Stepney.

The new parish of Christ Church Spitalfields, some 53 acres in extent, was originally responsible for:
- the physical care and maintenance of the parish and its people. This former local government function is a predecessor of the current London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
- religious care and related ecclesiastical concerns of the Church of England. Parish clergy carried out religious functions, including ceremonies for baptisms, marriages and burials, alongside
dealing with secular matters.

Purpose
Before 1855 the parish vestry met to discharge the business of both ecclesiastical and secular local government. The vestries were committees of prominent householders and church officials. The name came from the way meetings took place in the church vestry or sacristy; this is the room where the priest prepares for a service and where vestments and articles of worship are stored. Christ Church Vestry followed the plan of many City parishes, comprising all parishioners who had served (or paid a fine to exempt themselves) as churchwardens or overseers.

This early form of local government across the country was a fusion of ecclesiastical and civil functions. It evolved to meet the needs of the inhabitants as they arose. A generalised system of planned local government, separate to ecclesiastical concerns, slowly took shape. It was the 1855 Metropolis Management Act which saw a major break from the old tradition of local administration. Under the terms of the 1855 Act, the parish vestry of Christ Church joined with the following to become part of the newly created Whitechapel District Board of Works.
- Parish of St Mary Whitechapel
- Parish of St Botolph Without Aldgate
- Parish of Holy Trinity, Minories
- The Precinct of St Katherine
- The Hamlet of Mile End New Town
- The Liberty of Norton Folgate
- The Old Artillery Ground
- The District of Tower

The Whitechapel District Board of Works was a separate unit of local government which oversaw public health and sanitary conditions (see ref: L/WBW). Some residual responsibilities remained with the parish after 1855.

Activities
The two main secular functions of the parish of Christ Church were:
(i) the care of the poor and the administration of parochial charities.
(ii) the maintenance of roads and bridges.
There was also some management of petty law and order.

In addition to these original functions, vestries also acquired some additional powers under national legislation passed in the mid nineteenth century:
- the Public Baths and Wash-Houses Acts of 1846 and 1847 enabled parishes to construct public facilities, the expense being met out of the Poor Rate.
- an Act passed in 1850 authorised local authorities to provide public lending and reference libraries.

However, for a long time these powers were more theoretical than real, and many of the relevant authorities did not make use of them until the 1890s, if at all.

Key officials in Christ Church responsible for 'local authority' parish functions were:
1. Overseer of the Poor: an unpaid office created in 1572. Officials were initially responsible for supervising endowments and charitable funds. Following the 1601 Poor Law Act, the churchwardens of the parish together with two or more substantial local landowners were to act as Overseers. Their role was to collect the poor rate and supervise the relief of the poor, including managing workhouses and arranging the apprenticeship of poor orphans. The 1662 Law of Settlement Act empowered Overseers to remove 'strangers' from the parish. Sometimes referred to as 'aliens' these were people who did not have rights to settle, because, for example, they were born outside the parish. Overseers were chosen at Vestry meetings to administer the Poor Law for the ensuing year. Under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, Boards of Guardians replaced the Overseers and administration of poor relief left the parish's powers.

2. Surveyor of the Highways: an unpaid position created in 1555. The parish Surveyor's role was to inspect roads and bridges three times a year and to organise repairs. The Surveyor could also raise rates.
- The Surveyors and Overseers kept accounts and were answerable to the Justices of the Peace. A new system was introduced in 1835, whereby JPs appointed paid surveyors to groups of
parishes.

3. Constable: although the office was manorial in origin, vestries gradually acquired responsibilities for appointing constables. The position was filled by rotation and was unpaid. Constables' roles included dealing with petty issues of law and order, the collection of rates and taxes, maintenance of the forms of punishment (stocks and pillories - a wooden framework with holes for the head and hands, in which offenders were formerly imprisoned and exposed to public abuse), inspection of taverns, supervision of jury service, apprehending escaped prisoners and convening parish meetings.

In the middle of the eighteenth century there was, in addition to the Parish Clerk, a total of 39 parochial officers for Christ Church, as follows:
- Churchwardens: 2
- Overseers of the Poor: 4
- Constables/Headboroughs: 10
- Scavengers: 4
- Surveyors: -
- Beadles: 2
- Watchmen: 17

Most of these officers ultimately derived their historical origins and authority from a variety of sources: the Churchwardens had always been elected by the parishioners; the Overseers were appointed by the County Justices of the Peace; the Constables, Headboroughs and Scavengers were all originally manorial officers appointed by the Court Leet; the Surveyors were appointed by the JPs from a list submitted by the parish. The Parish Clerk, the Beadle and probably the Watchmen were the only officials who derived their authority solely from the vestry. As time went on these arcane distinctions of origin, jurisdiction and responsibility became increasingly blurred.

Key developments and dates:
1682: founding of Spitalfields Market, under Charter granted by Charles II

1685: revocation of the Edict of Nantes prompts thousands of Protestants to flee France. The arrival of large numbers of refugee Huguenot silk weavers transforms the area. By the early eighteenth century there are 11 French churches in the district, among them:
- 'La Patente' in Brown's Lane (the first)
- Crispin Street French Church (erected 1689)
- Artillery Lane French Church (erected 1691; later used as a Synagogue)
- Petticoat Lane French Church
- Perle (later Pearl) Street French Church
- Bell Lane French Church
- Wheeler Street French Church
- 'L'Eglise de l'Hopital' in Church Street (erected 1742; later used as a Wesleyan Chapel)

The French Huguenot refugees in Spitalfields come to dominate silk weaving, but many also work in the pottery, hat- and shoe-making, leather and glass-making industries. Among
their other achievements was the foundation of one of the first floricultural societies in England and the creation of ox-tail soup. They also became heavily involved in the caged bird
trade, capturing and supplying London with vast numbers of Linnets, Woodlarks, Goldfinches and Greenfinches.

1690: an 'engine house' (i.e. a fire station) constructed for the Hamlet of Spitalfields

1693: local landowner Sir George Wheler constructs a wooden chapel in Spital Square for use by his tenants; in a much decayed state, the chapel was taken down in 1756, replaced by St Mary's Church

1708: a local Charity School founded in the vicinity of Brick Lane

1715-29: construction of Christ Church

1727: using converted premises, a parish workhouse is established in Bell Lane; it is replaced in the mid 1750s by a workhouse in Coverley's Fields in Mile End New Town

1728-29: hitherto a Hamlet of Stepney, Spitalfields is constituted a separate parish under special Act of Parliament and named Christ Church, Middlesex; the first Rector was Herbert Pritchard, appointed 10 July 1729

27 January 1751: John Wesley preaches at Christ Church; he preaches there again in 1785 and for a final time in October 1790 - a few months before his death in March 1791

1765: Spitalfields silk weavers march on Westminster to petition Parliament against the import of French silks - the procession turns violent and the Guards are called out and the Riot Act read

1832: it is estimated that there are 50,000 silk weavers and 14,000-17,000 looms working in Spitalfields

1845: opening of the Whitechapel Road-Christ Church section of Commercial Street - the remaining section north to Shoreditch High Street opened in 1858

Sources
- Steven Friar, The Local History Companion (Stroud: Sutton Publishing Ltd, 2001)
- David Hey (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History (Oxford: OUP, 2010)
- Sir Hubert Llewellyn Smith, The History of East London (London: Macmillan, 1939)
- J. H. Scott, A Short History of Spitalfields (n.d.)
CustodHistAdditional records were deposited in 1981 by the Rector of Christ Church, Spitalfields. A further volume was purchased. These additions helped complete gaps in the series.
Related MaterialThe parochial place of worship parish records including parish registers recording baptisms, marriages and burials are held by London Metropolitan Archives (collection reference: P93/CTC1).

Digital copies of the parish registers are available to search on Ancestry.co.uk, the online database of family history records.

Printed material such as parish histories, reports, maps and plans are in the Local History Library. For maps and plans of the parish boundaries in the Local History Library search reference code 'LCM' [add * to search across these formats].

The body which inherited many of the functions (often modified) of Christ Church Vestry was the Whitechapel District Board of Works; the Board's records are held at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives under the reference L/WBW.
Subject(s)Spitalfields
Access StatusOpen
RequestNO - This does not represent a physical document. Please click on the reference number and view list of records to find material available to order at file or item level.
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