CORNWALL ONLINE PARISH CLERKS - helping bring the past alive

Resources - The Parishes of Cornwall (brief summary)

Parishes were the areas served by a local church, and were often (and still are, in many cases) synonymous with the village / small town in which the church was situated. Their functions were originally ecclesiastical. Administrative matters were usually under the control of the Lords of the Manors.

Over time, this changed because churches kept the records which monarchs (particularly Henry VIII) and parliament needed for raising taxes etc., so administrative or civil parishes developed, originally based on the ecclesiastical ones. Often functions were split between church and manor, the last example of the latter was not abolished in Cornwall until the 1920s.

For much of the rural population, and because of the nature of the Cornish countryside, the easiest church to reach wasn't necessarily that of their own parish. This was particularly true for burials when, in many cases the coffins had to be carried quite a distance by the family & friends. As a result, records for the same family can be found in different parishes.

As land was purchased, donated, and "appropriated" boundaries of both types of administrative area changed. This sometimes lead to 'split' parishes, with isolated portions surrounded by other parishes. Some of these anomalies have been corrected by 20th and 21st Century local government boundary changes.

Parishes varied enormously in size, from a few thousand acres, to the area covered by one convent. During the time when many mines were opened and the distribution of the population changed dramatically, many parishes were split into 2, 3 or more. At other times, some were amalgamated, because the population had fallen and the maintenance of 2 separate churches was no longer viable.

Parishes had Councils which were elected by their residents. The qualification rules for the electorate changed over time, from men of local influence only until they eventually included all adults, of both sexes.