Parish registers were first introduced by Thomas Cromwell in 1538. From that date, every parish church was required to acquire a sure coffer (i.e. parish chest) within which their records could be securely stored.
The chest maintained by the parish was in ancient times a hollow trunk, fastened with three keys, the latter to be kept severally by the bishop, the priest, and a religious layman. By the mid-1500's, the parishioners in every parish were directed by law to provide a strong chest with a hole in the upper part thereof, and having three keys, for holding the alms for the poor. The chest was also a place in which the parish registers and other parish documents were kept. A single chest could have been used for both purposes (alms and documents) or two or more chests were kept by the parish.
Although the chest was a requirement, what was kept therein and the condition of the box itself varied from parish to parish. The papers and documents stored inside, although maybe untidy, were preserved reasonably well. Their survival, however, depended not only upon the local mouse and insect population, but also the housekeeping enthusiasm of various people keen to clear away old rubbish.
If you are interested in helping to make accessible and preserve the Essex parish records, please consider joining our OPC community.
Click on the menu items on the left to browse the records stored in our sure Coffer.
Functionality and design based on Sussex OPC© Mark Collins 2006