EIGHT happy days were spent by the
Archivist in Saint John's church,
Cardiff, through the kindness of
the then Vicar, the Rev. Canon
Thompson, D.D. The result was
an ample set of extracts from the
various Parish Books, which are
preserved in an iron safe in the
thickness of the vestry wall.
The earliest date at which the
registers of any parish might be
expected to commence is 1535, but
comparatively few churches are so
fortunate as to possess registers of such antiquity. The Parish
Registers of Saint John Baptist (Cardiff) begin only in 1669, and
those of Roath not until 1731. All earlier volumes have long since
been lost. Saint John's Churchwardens' Accounts commence in
1711, but until 1725 they are mixed up with the Overseers' and
Corporation Accounts. All these records, in fact, are entered in a
confused, irregular manner; which, nevertheless, it has seemed best
to follow, as any attempt to re-arrange the entries in chronological
order would have been met by insuperable difficulties.
In making these selections I have aimed, as in the case of other
records, at extracting everything which possessed some definite value
or interest of its own, whether historical, antiquarian, genealogical or
simply curious. Among the subjects selected are county families,
members of the Corporation, curious baptismal names, remarkable
events, important parochial business, obsolete trades, "bits of old
Cardiff," the fabric of the church and the churchyard. The points
of interest occurring in these parochial records are so numerous,
that many of them must be dealt with in footnotes; to which,
accordingly, the reader is referred for explanation and comment on
those points. Chronological lists of clergymen, churchwardens,
sidesmen, parish clerks, sextons, &c., made from the parish books,
will be found in our last volume.
Most of the entries in the Parish Registers are in the handwriting of successive Parish Clerks, but some have been made by
Vicar or Curate. The portions written by the Clerks towards the
close of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century are remarkable
for the uncouthness of their orthography and the originality of their
As stated in immediate connection with the text, the Churchwardens' Accounts from 1711 to 1725 are entered in the earliest
Town Book, or Vol. I. of Minutes of Council (which will be printed
at a later stage of this work), mixed up with the accounts and other
papers of the Corporation. It must be understood that at that time
the parish business was largely managed by the Town Council. The
Churchwardens' Accounts are peculiarly rich in curious local lore.
A ceaseless war of extermination was officially carried on against
such small wild animals as still contrived to live in the parish. With
the relentlessness of ignorance, the stoat, weasel, badger, and even
the harmless hedgehog, were outlawed and pursued to the death,
each with a price upon his devoted head.
The Sacrament was administered four times a year, at Christmas,
Easter, Whitsuntide and Michaelmas (see the Account of 1726), for
which occasions the surplice was washed by the sexton's wife.
The fire-engine was an institution of which the parish was very
proud; and the entries referring to it range from the year 1739 to
1818. It was kept in the church tower.
The tower of Saint John's is a magnificent specimen of the
Perpendicular towers which are especially numerous in the West of
England, but rare in Wales. It was largely repaired in 1810 (Vestry
Book), and it is in the highest degree interesting to note how great a
regard was shewn by the restorers for the architectural traditions of
their parish church. At that date (when "gothick lumber" was held
in universal contempt) the Cardiff churchwardens actually resolved
that the "ornamental part of the tower," being ruinous, should be
replaced "after the same order of architecture that it is now in." It
detracts but little from the praiseworthiness of these local dilettanti
that they replaced the decayed stone joists of the great west window
by timber ones. The mere fact that in such a period of artistic
darkness and degradation there should have been found in a Welsh
county town men (and churchwardens!) capable of admiring the ancient
ecclesiastical style, is both pleasing and surprising.
The Parish Registers and Vestry Books contain frequent and
mysterious references (1673–1756) to a part of the church called
"the Spikes," "Spicks," "Speeks," "Picks" or "Pikes." The fee
for a burial "above the Spikes" was 6s. 8d., "below the Spikes"
3s. 4d. It is certain that the division between nave and chancel is
meant, but why that division should have been called "the Spikes"
is not apparent. The same word, pronounced "Speeks," was used,
by old inhabitants, down to the middle of the 19th century.
The parochial muniments comprise many records of the assignment of pews or sittings in the church to various parishioners. It is
an interesting point that, in some cases at least, the right to a certain
pew went along with the ownership of a particular dwellinghouse in
the parish. In 1813, shortly after the union of the two Cardiff
parishes, a new gallery was erected for the accommodation of the
inhabitants of Saint Mary's parish, and each of the new seats was
allotted to a parishioner as owner of the freehold of a particular
dwellinghouse. Indeed in three cases a seat was given to an iron
company. It was, moreover, expressly declared that all the seats
should remain attached to those premises to which they had been
In 1787 it was ordered that the Assistants' (i.e., Councillors')
pew and the Churchwardens' pew should be fitted with locks and
keys, to keep out intruders. In the following year, Lord Cardiff
having signified his intention of making a new pew for the Churchwardens, it was resolved that the old one be given up to him.
It will be convenient at this stage to give the history of the Lord
of Cardiff Castle's relations with Saint John's church. It would seem
that, on the suppression of the chantries, the chapel at the east end of
the north aisle came to be regarded as an appanage of the Herbert
family. Certainly there is evidence that from the year 1609 down to
1732, the Herberts and their relatives were interred in its vaults.
This can be seen on reference to our extracts from the Parish Registers. It will also be seen, from the Churchwardens' Accounts, that in
the latter half of the 18th century Lord Cardiff was among those who
paid an annual rent for seats in the church. We now learn from the
Vestry Book that in 1788 the Churchwardens' seat was given up to
Lord Cardiff for his private use. Indeed, during the first half of the
present century he was in the occupation of what had been the special
seats, not only of the Churchwardens, but also of the Bailiffs and the
Aldermen—namely of the entire eastern moiety of the south aisle, by
the present Vestry door (except the Vicar's pew at the east end).
That portion of the south aisle had some time previously been
enclosed within a screen of oak, taken from the ancient rood-screen.
Some sixty years ago the two windows of this part of the church
were enriched with stained glass of the Crichton Stuart armorial
bearings, which still remains there. Lord Bute paid five guineas a
year to the Corporation for these sittings. In the meantime the
Herbert Chapel had come into the possession of Sir Robert LynchBlosse of Gabalfa. Some years after the Aldermen's Aisle had been
converted into a Stuart Aisle, namely in 1852, the representatives of
the second Marquess of Bute purchased for £100, from the Dean of
Llandaff, son of Sir Robert Lynch-Blosse, the freehold of the Herbert
Chapel, and relinquished "Aldermen's Aisle" to the Corporation.
The heraldic insignia of the Crichton Stuarts were then emblazoned
on the windows of the Herbert Chapel, and the parclose screen was
transferred to its present position. Lord Bute keeps one key of the
Herbert Chapel, and the Sexton another. The chapel is supposed to
remain locked upon all days save Sundays. Some years ago the
Vicar, Canon Thompson, thoroughly investigated the question of the
Herbert Chapel, with a view to ascertain the respective claims of the
parish and the Marquess of Bute thereto.
For information as to the Herbert Chapel the reader is referred
to the short monograph which I have prefixed to Chapter XI. of the
With reference to the "curfew" or evening bell, as to which there
are several entries in the Vestry Books, it may be well to note that
the "eight o'clock bell" is still rung for a quarter of an hour every
evening. The 7th bell is the one now rung. When it stops, the day
of the month is tolled on the 4th bell. The "passing bell" is also
still rung, when notice of a death is given to the Sexton. The tenor
bell is the one employed for this purpose. The knell is tolled in
triple sounds for a man, double sounds for a woman. (fn. 1) At the same
time a mourning card, affixed near the west door of the tower, shews
the name and late residence of the deceased person for whom the
knell is tolling.