The archives of St Edward’s Church

The Archives of St Edward’s Church date back to the mid 17th century when Queen Elizabeth ordered every parish church to keep records of the baptisms, marriages and burials which took place in the church. St. Edwards’ earliest  registers are now kept in  the County Record Office, Shire Hall, Cambridge. A few years ago I had reason to consult them when  the church received a  request  from a descendant of Edward Lively., one of the scholars who   worked on  the King James Bible. The enquirer knew that Edward Lively was buried in St Edward’s and wondered if we had any information about his wife and family. We had. In the earliest  Baptisms Register I found Baptism dates for his eleven surviving children. The spelling was different but the names of eleven children were recorded between 1579 to 1592. I particularly liked the  name of  “Larkinge Lyvly“  baptised in 1590. In the Burials Register I found Edward himself, buried in 1605 and his wife Alice (spelt Livelie) in 1620.

Among the other items deposited at the Shire Hall are a run of Churchwardens’ Accounts for the 17th and 18th centuries. These accounts were meticulously kept by the Churchwardens and contained such items as money to a launderess  for the chaplain’s surplice, regular beer money to the Bell Ringers and 6d for a chamberpot for the use of the chaplain (only)!

In the past only formal documents  were kept for the archives but I have  collected more informal items. These would include programmes from weddings and funerals held in the church;  the signatures of those St Edward’s  ringers who in 2009 rung the church bells  simultaneously with other churches in the town to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Cambridge University ; and – a recent deposit this – the Times obituary of the distinguished crime novelist P. D. James, who died earlier this year . With the obituary I included a note explaining that P. D. James had both worshipped and preached in St. Edwards Church.

The archives also include photographs – mostly of the church building itself at various periods.  These came  in useful when we received  a request about  a Reredos erected in  the church in the 1860s. The researcher was interested in the career of a minor Pre-Raphaelite painter, George Howard, later 9th Earl of Carlisle. While still a student at Cambridge, Howard had written to his father  and I quote

I am in a great state of excitement about something I am going to do which is a very ambitious undertaking and will surprise you.  I am going to paint in a church here St Edwards on a reredos of Scotts

(George Gilbert Scott was a well-known architect who designed the Victorian renovation of the church).  A search through the old photographs in the archive  produced a rather faded picture with the caption  “View of the unrestored St Edward’s before 1932 with Victorian reredos”. Later I realised that one of the pictures hanging on the  Vestry wall was actually an enlarged photograph of the Reredos but this time by Thomas Bidwell Hunt, a well-known local professional photographer. The Reredos had five panels with figures in relief. The central one depicts Christ on the Cross.

The archives are  presently very inadequately housed in the steel cabinets by the safe. Perhaps sometime in the future they may be found a better home.

Elizabeth Edwards

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