The definition of 'parish' as used in this book is based on that used by Frederic A. Youngs in his 'Guides to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol I, Southern England 1979 and Vol II, Northern England 1991', published by the Royal Historical Society. For a more detailed reading see the 'Definition of Terms' section in that book.

The definition is sub-divided into ancient, civil and ecclesiastical parishes.

Ancient Parish

An ancient parish is defined as one which existed at first for ecclesiastical purposes, as an area under the jurisdiction of a clergyman with cure of souls, but which gained secular functions in later periods. The first secular function was the relief of the poor, under successive statutory authorities beginning with the Elizabethan poor law of 1597. Therefore 'ancient parish' is used for a parish which existed before 1597 and which thereafter served both secular and ecclesiastical roles.

Civil Parish

These units served only civil roles. It was common to define parishes in this sense as areas 'for which a separate poor rate is or can he assessed', a definition of no use after 1930. The existence, alteration or abolition of these units made no effect on the ecclesiastical arrangements of the identical geographic area.

Many civil parishes were in effect areas at first subordinate to a mother parish, which came in time to enjoy independence. These units were variously called hamlets (small settlements), tithings , or townships (generally subdivisions for poor law purposes), chapelries, areas with a clergyman dependent upon the incumbent of the mother parish, liberties, or lordships (areas with an early dependence upon a secular or ecclesiastical lord), or were called by a variety of other names with local importance. If a separate poor law rate was levied in the subordinate unit, it was then called by its own 'rank' such as 'township' and/or as 'parish'. To avoid this confusion the Poor Law Amendment Act, 1866 (29 & 30 Vict. c 113) stipulated that these areas should thereafter he called 'parishes'. Many 'extra-parochial' areas not within the parochial framework also became civil parishes, particularly in 1858.

Ecclesiastical Parishes

These units came into existence after 1597 to serve only ecclesiastical roles. The number of these was much greater than for civil parishes, particularly as efforts were made to build new churches in increasingly populated urban areas. Many ecclesiastically subordinate areas within parishes such as chapelries were raised to parochial rank, and many formed with no earlier status.

The Commissioners of Queen Anne's Bounty provided financial assistance to clergymen of cures with inadequate financial resources, after which the benefice was styled a perpetual curacy. This had no effect on the independence of previously separate parishes, but augmentation of revenues for hitherto subordinate units gave them new independent status ( I Geo 1. c 10). and many ecclesiastical parishes therefore date from that augmentation.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a number of statutory provisions allowed the creation of many different types of ecclesiastical parishes, alike only in the newly independent status. It was thus not unusual for a parish to be 'refounded' to gain privileges and rights according to newer statutes which it had not earlier enjoyed as a perpetual curacy. [25]


Areas outside the jurisdiction of an ecclesiastic or civil parish. They were exempt church and poor rates. Tithes were supposed to go to the Crown but were not always collected. In 1894 they were incorporated into parishes or made civil parishes.

Chapel of Ease

A building used for religious worship created (a) for the ease of inhabitants living some distance from the parish church or (b) to ease pressure on increasing numbers in the parish church.


A manor or group of manors, or other area, lying outside a sheriff's jurisdiction.


Certain parishes, manors and liberties were exempt from the jurisdiction of the bishop and archdeacon in whose diocese and archdeaconry they were situated. They were subject to the probate jurisdiction of others, such as an archbishop, another bishop, dean and chapter of a cathedral or lord of the manor. Most peculiar jurisdictions were abolished in the late 1840s and now come under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop. In most cases the probate records of peculiars are to be found in county record offices.

Donative parish

A parish or benefice which in earlier times a parson could be appointed, by the founder or patron, without presentation to a bishop.


A tithing was an ancient administrative unit. Originally it consisted of a group of men, ten in number, who were held responsible for its members good behaviour. Its activities were overseen by a manor court. Alternatively it has been defined as a land division, originally considered to be one-tenth of a HUNDRED. In time the term came to mean a subdivision of a parish.


A civil division of a parish, previously called a "vill", responsible for the administration of matters such as poor relief and highways.

Last Updated: 06/07/2012