In 1743, William Harper, Rector of Barwick-in-Elmet, sent his
replies to a series of questions posed by the Archbishop of York,
Thomas Herring. Almost two and half centuries later, the answers
remain an invaluable source of information about religious life in
Barwick and the diocese in the 1740's.
Dr Thomas Herring (1693-1757) was born in Walsoken, Norfolk,
and was educated at Wisbech Grammar School and Cambridge, before
being ordained priest in 1719. He was appointed Archbishop of
York on 6 April 1743. Almost immediately he ordered a procedure
of the Church known as 'a visitation'. All the clergy and
churchwardens in the diocese were requested to attend at some
specified centre with their letters of induction, licences and other
documents to be approved. Prior to this, he took the unusual step
of addressing a letter to all the clergy with 15 questions or
series of questions about the religious life of the parish.
The Diocese of York then contained most of Yorkshire, all of
Nottinghamshire and some parts of Northumberland. Returns were
made by 836 of the 903 parishes in the diocese. The replies are
commonly called 'Archbishop Herring's Visitation Returns'. They
were published in 1929, (Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record
Series, Volumes 71,72,75,77 and 79), with an introduction and
analysis by S L 01lard and P C Walker.
William Harper, who made the Barwick returns, was Rector from
1740 to 1749. He was born at Gateside (Gateshead?) near Newcastle.
Educated at Sedburgh School and St. John's College, Cambridge, he
took his B.A. in 1732. His answers are given below. The questions
have been omitted as his replies make them quite clear. His
spelling, punctuation, etc. have been retained.
Answer 1. 'According to my best Computation we have Two
hundred & forty Familes (sic) in this Parish. Of these there are
about Twenty Roman Catholics, Two Presbyterians & Two Quakers.'
The returns suggest that the total population of the parish at
that time was about 1020. There were no Independents, Baptists,
Moravians or Methodists living here in 1743. Methodism appeared
in Barwick in the 1750's.
Answer II. 'There is no Licenc'd or other Meeting House in ye
Parish but I am informed that Mass is performed every Sunday in
the House of ye Duke of Norfolk's at Roundhay in the Parish by a
The Man referred to was a young secular priest, the Rev Martin
Hounshill, trained at the English College in Lisbon, where he was
ordained priest in March 1742. He was imprisoned in York during
the Jacobite uprising of Bonny Prince Charlie in 1745. On his
release in late 1746, he went to Arundel and then returned to
Lisbon. He died in London in 1783, aged 65.
Answer III. 'We have no Charity School or other School endow'd
but one taught in ye English Tongue by ye Clark of ye Parish who
is carefull to instruct the children in ye Principles of ye
Christian Religion & brings them duly to Church as the Canon
This is a very early record of the Barwick school. The Rector
unfortunately fails to state the number of pupils at that time,
which he was requested to do. The Clerk and Schoolmaster was
Thomas Jackson, who succeeded his father, Timothy Jackson, in both
posts on the latter's death in 1736.
Answer IV. 'We have no Alms house or Hospital in ye Parish
but among other benefactions ten shillings left by Matthew Barnby
to be distributed yearly to ye poor of Scholes & Whinmoreside is
withheld for some years past by William Vevers of Scholes Gentn:
but it is now promis'd to be paid punctually for ye future.'
The establishment and the subsequent history of the John Riley
Charity were described in 'The Barwicker' No.4. There were several
other charities in Barwick, including the Barnby charity mentioned
above, and they are at present being researched.
Answer V. 'I do reside Personally upon my Cure & in ye
The returns show that in almost half the parishes in the
diocese, the incumbent did not reside there. It is difficult to see
how these clergymen could carry out satisfactorily their duties and
responsibilities within the parish. The principal reason for this
non-residence was pluralism, which meant that the priest had two
distinct offices to which he had been instituted and licensed,
often in different parishes. Almost half of the clergy surveyed
were pluralists, a sad reflection on the Church at that time.
Answer VI. 'I have no residing Curate but with God's help do
ye Duty of ye Church & parish my self.'
Many non-resident clergy installed a curate, often ill-paid and
ill-equipped, to carry out his parochial duties for him.
Answer VII. 'I know of none who come to Church who are not
baptiz'd but have prepare'd what children are of competent Age "
Understanding for Confirmation.'
Neglect in this area of church life began at the top. In the
19 years of the episcopate of Herring's predecessor, Archbishop
Blackburn, opportunities for confirmation had been disgracefully
few. The new Archbishop soon took steps to repair the damage and
after his visitation, he wrote, 'I am confident I have confirmed
thirty thousand people'.
Answer VIII. 'The Publick Service is duly perform'd twice
every Lord's Day & once upon every Wednesday, Friday & Holiday
throughout ye Year unless prevented by sickness.'
The replies show how conscientious (or otherwise) the clergy
were in the field of public worship. Over half the churches in the
diocese failed to have both Matins and Evensong all the year round.
38 parishes had a Sunday service only once a month or less
frequently. In only 253 parishes was there some kind of week-day
service, more or less frequently. Only about 80 had services on
Wednesdays, Fridays and Holy Days. In Barwick, William Harper
appears to have served his flock much more conscientiously than
most of his contemporaries, providing his health did not fail him.
Answer IX. 'I catechise Children in ye Church at ye time of
Divine Evening Service every Sunday in Lent & thro' ye greatest
part of ye Summer Season & expound ye Church Catechism to them.'
The returns show that on the whole this part of the work of
the parish priests was done regularly.
Answer X. 'Ye Sacrament of ye Lord's Supper is duly
administered in ye Church every year on Christmas Day, Good
Friday, Easter Day & Whitsuntide, & on every first Sunday in every
Month throughout ye year when we have about 30 or 40 monthly
Communicants & about 140 last Good Friday & Easter Day.'
Most churches had communion only at the Great Festivals. Only
17 churches celebrated communion as frequently as monthly and at
the Great Festivals, and these included Barwick.
Answer XI. 'I give given (sic) open and timely warning in ye
Church of ye Sacrament every Sunday before it is administer'd. I
have refused the Sacrament to none.'
The incumbents were asked if the communicants sent in their
names before the service, but few did so. A few clergymen had
refused communion to some, usually for some lapse in behaviour.
In reply to four supplementary questions, Mr Harper replied:
'I have thoroughly examin'd ye aforesaid questions & have
discover'd no materiel Difficulties in ye discharge of my Duty or
particular Defects in ye present Canons or Discipline of ye Church
nor any other abuses but what I have suggested under ye 2nd. & 4th. question.'
The fourth supplementary question was: 'If you have any Advices to give, or Proposals to make, by
which the Glory of God, and the Honour and Interest of our
established Church may be promoted, or the Government of this
Diocese be better ordered.'
Few answers were received. Perhaps Mr Harper and the other
humble clergy of the diocese were so astounded that they had been
asked for their opinions that they were unable to reply.
The returns for Barwick were signed by the Rector on 22 June
1743. The Churchwardens were listed as: Old: Robert Dawson, Thomas
Dodgson, Richard Lunn, Thomas Taylor. New: Robert Dawson, Thomas
Dodgson, Richard Varley, George Watson.
Ollard expresses the opinion that,
'On the whole the strong
impression left by these Returns is that of a body of conscientious
and dutiful men, trying to do their work according to the standard
of their day'.
He is surely being over generous. There is evidence
of much neglect brought on by non-residence and pluralism; neglect
even in the provision of church services and communion. It was
this that provided fertile ground for the spectacular growth of the
infant Methodism at this time.
And what of Rector William Harper in Barwick? Colman in 'The
History of the Parish of Barwick-in-Elmet', published in 1908, says
little except the biographical details given above. He concludes,
'In 1749 he became M.A. and in the same year he died. It has been
noticed that when a master's degree is taken so late as in this
case, it is generally a preliminary to getting a disposition to
hold two livings.' Archbishop Herring's Visitation Returns were
not available to Colman at that time, otherwise he might have been
more confident of the man's loyalty to Barwick.
continously in the parish. He held no other office but rector. He
did not delegate any of his responsibilities to a curate. His
record in the provision of church services was one of the best in
the diocese He died in 1749 and was buried in Barwick Church,
amongst the people he served so well.