Wills at Chelmsford (Essex and East Hertfordshire) Vol. I 1400-1619 & Vol II 1620-1720

Introduction to Original Volume

British Record Society Volume 78 & 79

Published 1958 & 1961

Index to the Wills proved in:

  • Archdeaconry Court of Essex from 1400
  • Archdeaconry Court of Colchester from 1500
  • Archdeaconry Court of Middlesex (Essex and Herts Jurisdiction) from 1554
  • Commissary Court of London (Essex and Herts Jurisdiction) from 1441
  • Peculiar of Writtle with Roxwell from 1607
  • Peculiar of Good Easter from 1613

For some years the British Record Society has stated its intention to issue one or more volumes of Essex wills proved in the courts of the Archdeaconries of Essex and Colchester, formerly in the Diocese of London.

Present-day conditions have modified that intention and there is now in progress a general transfer of the pre-1858 probate records, in the course of which most of the Essex wills (and unavoidably some East Hertfordshire wills) have been deposited in the Essex Record Office at Chelmsford. Full details of which are given in section II below.

Quoting the County Archivist in the Essex Review (January 1956): " In 1858 all the ancient Essex wills which were stored in the ecclesiastical registry in Chelmsford parish church (now the cathedral library) were removed to Somerset House because an Act of the previous year set up civil courts in place of the existing church courts for the probate and custody of wills.

After nine years' negotiations, these pre-1858 wills have come back to the county town. Their new home is only a stone's throw from their former repository; it is, in fact, on the opposite side of the street, in the basement strong-rooms of the County Hall. And as the Essex Record Office is also the Diocesan Record Office, duly designated by the Bishop of Chelmsford, the wills now have all the care which a modern archive repository can bestow as well as the companionship of countless other documents relating to the testators who made the wills. " (This includes the archidiaconal records from which the wills were removed in 1858).

The searcher for the wills of Essex testators may have to visit several other Record Repositories, because Essex wills were also proved in the following courts :

  • Prerogative Court of Canterbury (preserved at Somerset House)
  • Consistory Court of the Bishops of London (now housed in the London County Council Record Office at County Hall, Westminster Bridge).*
  • Commissary Court of the Bishop of London (London Division) (now in Guildhall Library, London.)**
  • Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's (now in Guildhall Library)***
  • Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster (now in L.C C Record Office).
  • Court of the Vicar-General of the Bishop of London (now in L C.C. Record Office).
  • Court of the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury (during the sede vacante periods of the Diocese of London; see full abstracts of about 40 wills, 1293-1559, by G. M. Benton, in Trans Essex Archl Soc, XXI, pp 234-269) (Chapter Library, Canterbury)

*Had concurrent jurisdiction with the Archdianconal Courts over the whole Diocese (except the Peculiars) as well as with both Divisions of the Commissary Court.

**Had jurisdiction over the following Essex parishes (in addition to many parishes in London and Middlesex) Chingford Epping, Leyton, Loughton, Nazeing, Waltham Holy Cross, Walthamstow and Woodford.

***Had jurisdiction over Barling, Belchamp St Paul's, Heybridge, Navestock, Tillingbam, and Wickham St Paul's in Essex, and Brent and Furneaux Pelhsm in Herts (as well as several parishes in London and Middlesex).

With the return of locally-proved Essex wills to Chelmsford after their century's alienation, the County Archivist at once started the preparation of a comprehensive index to the wills of all the courts in his custody.

The printing and publication of the volume is by collaboration between the Essex Record Office and this Society.

Part II

This volume brings together in the form of a single index all the extant wills prior to 1620 (an arbitrary date determined by the anticipated length of the book) in the following archive groups transferred in 1955 to the Essex Record Office, Chelmsford, as a result of four separate Orders of the President of the Probate, etc., Division of the High Court of Justice:

  • Court of the Archdeacon of Essex, from 1400 covered 140 parishes in SW S and SE Essex
  • Court of the Archdeacon of Colchester, from 1500 covered 107 parishes in NE and NW Essex
  • Court of the Archdeacon of Middlesex (Essex and Hertfordshire jurisdiction), from 15S4 covered 39 parishes in W and N Essex and 25 parishes in E Herts Court of the Bishop of London's Commissary (Essex and Hertfordshire juris¬≠diction), from 1483 extended in theory to 101 parishes in all parts of Essex and to six parishes in E Herts, but is practice the court was used for probate of wills in almost every Essex parish, not excepting the Peculiars.
  • Courts of the Peculiars of Writtle with Roxwell (New College, Oxford), from 1607, and of Good Easter, from 1613, which coincided with those parishes.

(No pre-1620 wills proved in the courts of the following Essex Peculiars have survived, but the parishes are listed below in order to explain why they are represented by so few entries in this volume (Wills at Chelmsford, Vol 2 will include the later wills of these Peculiars).

  • Peculiar of the Deanery of Bocking (Archbishop of Canterbury) covered Bocking, Borley, Little Coggeshall, Latchingdon, Southchurch and Stusted in Essex, and Hadleigh, Monks Eleigh and Moulton in Suffolk.
  • Peculiar of the Liberty of the Sokens covered Kirby-le-Soken, Thorpe-le-Soken, and Walton-le-Soken. (The wills for the Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's will not be included see section I above.)

Since Volume II covers wills proved in six separate jurisdictions it has been necessary to adopt the following means of identification:

  • B: Court of the Bishop of London's Commissary (Essex and Herts ).
  • C: Court of the Archdeacon of Colchester.
  • E : Court of the Archdeacon of Essex
  • GE : Peculiar Jurisdiction of Good Easter
  • M : Court of the Aichdeacon of Middlesex (Essex and Herts ).
  • W : Peculiar Jurisdiction of Writtle with Roxwell.

Abbreviations and additional notes

  • The reference 'R' denotes a registered will, and 'W' the original will or a copy dating is in the 'New Style' (i.e. no double dating is given for 1st January to 24th March). In certain cases where reference is made in this volume to the registered copy of a will, the date of probate is given in spite of this date not appearing in the register. In such cases it has been taken either from the original will or from the relevant act book, both of which can be examined on application.
  • An asterisk (*) placed against the date signifies that no date of probate is noted in either place, and the date is therefore that of the making of the will.
  • When the reference notes ' Admon', ' Inventory *, etc, no will exists unless specifically mentioned. ' Will and testament' (or ' codicil') is sometimes noted in the reference to inform the searcher that in the case of registered copies the second part is completely separate and appears on the following page. The fate of the wills prior to those indexed will probably never be known, but an original Calendar in MS of the Commissary wills (D/ABX 2) for 1441-1619 exists and contains entries of wills and registers no longer in existence.
  • Only names and years of probate are given but no particulars of parishes. These wills are not in the volume. All the parishes named are in Essex unless otherwise stated. Where no place of abode or of burial is given, mention may be made of property in one or more parishes, or of bequests to the poor in certain places.
  • The inclusion of parish names revealed in this way is indicated by round brackets.
  • All entries in square brackets refer to information taken from the Probate Act Books.

A note on Essex parishes may be useful.

Kelvedon may be either Kelvedon (alias Easterford) near Colchester, or Kelvedon Hatch near Brentwood if the will is within the Commissary's court. If in the Arch­deaconry of Colchester it is the former.

Kelvedon Hatch is in the Archdeaconry of Essex (wills in Essex register No 8 may refer to either of these two parishes).

Wickham is usually Wickham Bishops, Wiekham St Paul's being outside the jurisdiction covered in this volume.

Little alias Bardfield Sailing is for convenience referred to throughout as Little Sailing.

Note on facilities provided by the Essex Record Office

The Essex Record Office houses a very large number of archives, some of which may be useful in supplementing the biographical, genealogical, parochial, topographical, or other historical facts obtained from the wills.

Reference may be made to the Guide to the Essex Record Office (1946-48), Catalogue of Maps (1947, 1952), Essex Parish Records (1950), and Farm & Cottage Inventories of Mid-Essex (1950), copies of which can be seen in most of the larger Public Libraries.

Part II of the Guide (pp 112-13) also gives brief particulars of the MS. indexes of personal names which have been completed and now (1958) contain about 700,000 references. Extensive parish and subject indexes have also been prepared.

The wills listed in this volume may be consulted in the Essex Record Office, County Hall. Chelmsford Searchers should give notice of an intended visit, if possible quoting the references of the wills to be consulted.

Brief postal enquiries will be answered free of charge, but it is regretted that the County Archivist cannot undertake long searches or the making of abstracts; contact reproductions of wills can, however, be supplied in suitable cases at cost price. These conditions apply also to the post-1619 Essex wills.