Vol. 91: Sussex Clergy Inventories 1660-1750


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Editor: Annabelle Hughes
Volume: Volume 91
Published 2009
ISBN: 978 0 85445 073 2

Probate inventories provide wonderful snapshots of contemporary life through material possessions; and in this volume you will find transcribed inventories for 181 parish clergy between 1600 and 1750, each with extracted details from the will or administration (where it survives) and brief biographical details. This is the first time the Society has published such a collection. Because these possessions are often listed room by room, they can also be used to extract information about contemporary buildings and the ways in which they were used. An analysis of the inventories on this basis is included to demonstrate how this can be done.

Clergy were chosen as a recognisable group, representative of county society across the time-frame. They were also selected because the majority of their inventories include valuations (and sometimes numbers) of books, items not found for many of the laity. Taken with information that sometimes appears in wills, these cast valuable light on the culture and literacy within this social group. The information is supplemented by an appendix which contains two clergy inventories outside the time-frame (1451 and 1791), which include important collections of books listed by title.

Until 1858, probate inventories, that is lists of ‘goods and chattels’ of a deceased person, were one of three documents (will or administration, inventory and accounts) that were required by the church courts for granting of probate. Although a will or administration has survived to accompany the inventory in most cases, the probate accounts, which provide valuable additional information, are much rarer. The six examples for our series have been included in an appendix.

Although the courts required certain specific details as a matter of course, and the appraisers (local men who are named in most cases) followed a general pattern of presentation, in practice this could vary wildly according to their level of competence. As far as possible the original appearance of the inventories has been kept, while an explanatory note describes any modifications to or divergences from the originals.

The documents that make up this volume have been brought together from the West and East Sussex Record Offices as well as the National Archives. Their background and their value for a range of research projects is discussed in the introduction, as well as the ways in which they may be used in conjunction with other records such as ecclesiastical surveys, faculty records, hearth tax and studies of buildings.

Annabelle Hughes has a doctorate based specifically on timber-framed houses (1300-1650). Since 1980, as a freelance consultant, she has been recording and reporting on the structures of historical buildings in Sussex, researching their documentary background, and teaching and lecturing on related subjects.

Cover illustration: View of Steyning vicarage and church by S. H. Grimm, 1781 (BL Add MS 5673, f 38); reproduced by permission of the British Library.