Wills & Administrations at Canterbury 1396-1558 and 1640-50, Introduction to Original Volume

When I went down to Canterbury to compile this Index, in the spring of 1914, I little thought that within six months this country would be involved in the most destructive war in the history of the world. Yet such proved to be the case, and its effect upon this work was immediate. In order to lessen expense it was decided to make the accession of Elizabeth the stopping point; but this was the least of the evils that the War brought in its train. Printing became a slow and costly matter. Meanwhile I had been compelled to leave Canterbury for other fields of work, and proof-reading and correction had to be done without any opportunity of referring to the registers and act books, except by correspondence. It also had to be done when and how it could, often after a long day's work, when brain and eyes were both weary. Chief amongst the "casualties" of that time was the omission of a bundle of slips under the letter H, which did not turn up until the whole of that letter had been printed off. When or where this happened it is idle to speculate: the slips when they turned up had to be relegated to the Addenda; and to crown all, the Introduction for the volume, originally written in Canterbury from notes made in the course of the work, is "missing", and I am now called upon to write another with the printer waiting, so to speak, on the doorstep.

Yet after all, considering the troublous years through which the work has passed, its final completion is a subject for very sincere congratulation all round. Everyone connected with the work did his "bit". Mutual help was the order of the day, and in this spirit I am knocking up another Introduction without any of my original notes to help me, and in this spirit I am quite sure it will be received.

First of all I must point out that the covering dates, 1396-1558, are slightly misleading, as the will of John Reade, of Deal, was proved in 1365 [C.1.1.], but to all intents and purposes the period covered by the bulk of the wills is the one adopted.

The question has often been asked how it comes about that the wills proved at Canterbury so greatly exceed those in any other registry; but no satisfactory answer is forthcoming, nor is there any explanation of the circumstance of wills relating to the same place being sometimes proved in the Archdeaconry and sometimes in the Consistory Court.

Two interesting discoveries were made in the course of the work. The first was that the register known as "Wingham" was wrongly placed in the Manuscript Calendar at the Probate Office, after those of 1570, whereas it contained a number of fifteenth century wills. Wingham was one of the peculiars of the Archbishop, and the register in question covers the parishes of Goodneston, Ash next Sandwich, and Nonnington, as well as the place from which it derives its name.

The second "find" was that of a number of Office copies of wills, tied up in bundles, in a corner of the strong room. In some cases these had not been entered in the registers, while in others they differed in the wording from the copy in the register, although there is little doubt that the procedure usually followed was to enter the will in the register from the Office copy, as it was customary to hand the original will back to the executors. These Office copies were arranged and numbered and have been included amongst the references in this volume.

In going through the Act Books many unfinished entries relating to wills were noticed. They appeared to be in the nature of memoranda, and generally consisted of the name of the testator and of the executor or executors. Possibly the wills were never proved or for some reason were not admitted, hence the unfinished entry; but I thought it right that they should go into the Index, as the information they give might furnish the genealogist with a long-wanted clue.

A Calendar of the Wills and Administrations at Canterbury, 1640-1650, hitherto unindexed, even in MS., having also been compiled, it was decided to print it at the end of the present volume, (as its bulk scarcely justified its occupation of a volume to itself, and many years are likely to elapse ere that period is reached were it reserved for printing in its proper chronological position. An Introduction to that portion will be found to preface it.

Many other points of interest in the Index deserve notice, such as the variation in the names of persons and places; but the printer waits and I must pass on to my final duty, which is to return thanks to a host of friends and helpers.

The thanks of the subscribers are due to Mr. Mapleton Chapman for giving facilities for the work to be carried to completion. To the staff of the Probate Registry my warmest thanks are accorded for their unvarying consideration; particularly to Mr. E. W. Carver, who took great interest in the work, and who assisted in the sorting and numeration of the Office copies and also in the sorting of the slips of the Calendar; to Mr. Arthur Hussey for valuable suggestions and help in the progress of the work. Especial thanks are also due from the subscribers to Mrs. Bartlett (nee French), of Boston, U.S.A., who during a visit to Canterbury discovered a missing Act Book of the Archdeaconry Court, shown in the Index as A. Act, 5a, and covering the period from 1524 to 1530, and to Mr. Fielding, the Archbishop's Registrary, for handing it over to the Probate Registry. Last, but by no means least, the thanks of all connected with the work are due to Mr. T. M. Blagg, who, while serving his country, found time to see this bulky volume through the press, and whose forbearance towards myself, in the matter of proof-correcting, is here gratefully acknowledged.

Before laying down my pen I should like to make an earnest appeal to the Kent Archaeological and the British Record Societies to see what can be done for the repair of the records kept in the strong room at the Probate Office in Canterbury. That they are kept dry and fireproof is much to be thankful for; but they did not always have so secure a resting-place, and time has been merciless in his treatment of them. Many of the early registers are in a deplorable condition, their covers either gone entirely or going; their sections loose, their leaves dogs-eared, and in the case of some of the paper ones so fragile that they have to be handled with the utmost care. The longer they are left unattended to the worse they will become, and we owe it to those who come after us to see that they are kept in good condition.

October 8, 1920.

Preface to Original Volume - Calendar of the Wills and Administrations at Canterbury, 1640-1650

Several years ago a number of Wills, covering the period from 1640 to 1650, which had never been registered, were discovered in the strong room of the Probate Registry at Canterbury. The only person, outside the officials of the Registry, who knew of their existence was the late Mr. Lothrop Withington, the well-known American genealogist, who happened to be working there at the time. He decided to make a Calendar of them. This he had begun, but, as the documents show, had not dealt with more than half of them at the time of his tragic death, while returning from a visit to America onboard the Lusitania.

Upon the news of his death, Mr. Eustace W. Carver, one of the clerks at the Probate Registry, who had been accustomed to help Mr. Withington in the examination of the Wills after office hours, mentioned the matter to me, and suggested that together we should carry out the object which Mr. Withington had in view. Mr. Carver believes that Mr. Withington was in the habit of carrying the notes he had made about with him and that they are now at the bottom of the Atlantic; at any rate, they were beyond our reach and it was necessary to make a fresh start.

Our task is now completed, the whole of the work having been done after official hours. Every Will has been examined and given a special number, those of the Archdeaconry being preceded by the letter A and those of the Consistory by the letter C. Where it was found that a Will had been registered, the reference to the register has been added in brackets; thus A 1380 (70-145) shows that the Will is registered in the Archdeaconry Register 70, folio 145.

With the Wills were frequently found other documents such as attestations, sentences, and inventories, and these have been duly noted in the Calendar.

Finally, in order to bring this Calendar into line with that for the period 1396-1558, now printed, the Administrations have been added for the same period.

About 3,300 Wills and Administrations are included in this Calendar, which, with those included in "Abstracts of Probate Acts in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury", edited by J. and G. F. Matthews, forms a complete record of the Wills of East Kent folk for the period 1640-50.

Our warmest thanks are due to Mr. H. Mapleton Chapman for facilities given in doing this work, which through the generosity of Mr. Leland L. Duncan has been made available for printing.

Henry R. Plomer.