Taunton Archdeaconry Wills 1537-1799

British Record Society Volume 45

Published 1912

Introduction to Original Volume

The official Registers and Calendars of Wills and Administrations recorded in the Court of the Archdeacon of Taunton and now preserved at the Probate Registry at Taunton may be classed in three Parts as follows:

Part I

Contains nine volumes of Registered Wills ranging from 1537 to 1593 (amongst which are a few Administrations). For want of proper covers they had become much frayed and illegible, and pages both at the beginning and end of several of the volumes have been lost. The attention of the Registrar having been called to their neglected state, new covers have been recently supplied, and it is hoped that further damage has been arrested.

There were no means of ascertaining what these Registers contained until the British Record Society undertook to page the volumes and calendar them, and the First Part of the Calendar now printed in this volume will now enable their, contents to be utilised.

The dates comprised in each volume are given below, and show that many years are missing either at the beginning or end of several of them. Many of the wills having no date of probate, the year the will was made is taken instead. These wills are referred to by the volume and the page.

  • Vol. I comprises 1537-1550.
  • Vol. II comprises 1557-1558.
  • Vol. III comprises 1559-1560.
  • Vol. IV comprises 1561-1562. 54 pages have evidently been lost from the beginning of this volume, containing wills proved in 1561. It has been repaged as it now exists.
  • Vol. V comprises 1572-1580. The first 60 pages have disappeared, and their loss may perhaps account for the entire gap of 10 years between vols. 4 and 5. On page 492 is a small portion of a will, but with no name visible. 4 pages between pages 58 and 59, 8 pages between pages 80 and 81, 8 pages between pages 399 and 400, and 24 pages between pages 492 and 493 as now numbered are missing.
  • Vol. VI comprises 1581-1586. Between pages 94 and 95 as now numbered, a leaf has been torn out. Pages 130 and 131 and 676 to 682 are blank.
  • Vol. VII comprises 1587-1588. This volume now ends at page 192, the latter half of a will written thereon being missing, together probably with wills for the years 1588-1591.
  • Vol. VIII comprises 1592. Pages 220-228 are blank.
  • Vol. IX comprises 1593. What remains of page 101 (on apparently the last leaf of the book) has at the top what may have been, from the few words visible, the remainder of the will of Richard Plarris on page 78. If so, pages now numbered 79-100 should have come earlier, but as they contain no incomplete wills it makes little difference. Wills for 1594 and 1595 are unaccounted for.

Part II

With Vol. IX the transcripts of wills end, and we are without any further wills till the year 1610. The old calendars, however, begin in 1596. Evidently the wills and administrations and inventories were originally kept on 10 files (as some of the wills now in existence are still), for the calendar states "Fila prima," "Fila secunda," up to "Fila decima."

  • File 1 contained Wills and Administrations for the years 1603, 1604.
  • File 2 contained Wills and Administrations for the years 1597, 1598, 1600, 1601.
  • File 3 contained Wills and Administrations for the years 1600-1602.
  • File 4 contained Wills and Administrations for the years 1605.
  • File 5 contained Wills and Administrations for the years 1604 for the most part.
  • File 6 contained Wills and Administrations for the years 1600-1604.
  • File 7 contained Wills and Administrations for the years 1598, 1599-
  • File 8, contained Wills and Administrations for the year 1597.
  • File 9 contained Wills and Administrations for the years 1600, 1601.
  • File 10 contained Wills and Administrations for the year 1596.

The wills were all numbered, but the administrations were not. They are identified in Part II of this printed Calendar by I, 2, 3, to 10, and the number on the file. Some remarks as to the Administrations on these files will be found in Part III.

A calendar for a regular series of wills from 1607 to 1646, both inclusive, now commences, which are identified in Part II by the year and their numbers in that year. It is not, however, till 1610 that any original will is to be found; all previous to this year are therefore starred (*), which indicates that the document is not in existence.

Then there is a list of wills originally kept on a file for the years 1619, 1621, r622, 1623, 1626, 1640, 1641, 1642, 1643, 1644, 1645. They are identified in Part II by the figure II and a number, but as no document of this file now exists they are all starred (*).

Following this is a list of wills for the years 1647, 1648, and 1649; nearly all these are in existence, and are identified in Part II by a figure 12 and a number.

There is now a chasm (as is usual in all the provincial Probate Courts) from about 1652 to 1660, during which period all local wills were proved in London. The next calendar has no cover, and commences at one end with wills from 1660 to 1730. The other end has administrations from 1690 to 1728, which are contained in Part III.

It should be remarked that the year 1660 contains many documents dated previous to that year (see dates within brackets), and it is conjectured that during the unsettled period of the Commonwealth these documents were not dealt with in any way, and only formally proved when things had settled down to a more normal condition in 1660.

Another calendar without cover contains at one end a list of wills from 1731 to 1770, all numbered, with administrations from 1729 to 1770 at the other.

Another calendar, with a cover, contains a list of wills from 1771 to 1814, all numbered, and at the other end administrations from 1771 to 1815. The calendar as here printed stops at 1799.

From this point there are calendars till the present day.

There are several bundles of miscellaneous wills and administrations. One, identified as No. 13, contained at one time as many as 284 wills, ranging from 1611 to 1765, but it was found on closer examination that nearly all of them belonged to the general series, and they have therefore been replaced in their respective years. A few unidentified documents, however, still remain.

Another bundle of wills, inventories, acts of court, etc., called No. 14, contains 336 documents, but many are fragmentary, and as the time necessary to ascertain to which will or administration the inventories belong (for there is scarcely anything but the date to serve as a guide) would have been enormous, we have been compelled to leave them still unplaced.

A calendar of wills beginning with 1610 and ending 1649 has been made in recent years of wills in existence, but it is now superseded by this printed one.

Part III

Part III consists of administrations. The earliest are to be found scattered about in the 9 volumes of Registered Wills, between the years 1537 and 1593, and are calendared in Part I. The next occur in the lists of the 10 files and at the ends of the calendars of the regular series of wills as stated in Part II, but though the names appear in these calendars the documents themselves commence only at 1700 (except for the years 1643-1644), so that all previous to 1700 are starred (*), which signifies that they are not now in existence.

The Peculiar of Ilminster.

The only Peculiar in the Archdeaconry of Taunton whose documents are preserved here is that of Ilminster. The earliest document is dated 1690, and they continue till the ist January, 1858, when an Act of the previous year entitled "An Act to amend the law relating to Probates and Letters of Administration in England" (20-21 (1S57) Victoria, cap. 77) came into force and abolished Peculiars and Manorial Courts. A list of Wills in this Peculiar is printed in this volume.

The Peculiar of Wivilescombe.

There were at one time at Taunton a number of Wills and Administrations relating to the Peculiar of Wivilescombe. At some period or other, probably in 1858, they were transferred to the Registry at Wells, but apparently some were overlooked, and it is under consideration whether the few remaining here had not better be sent to Wells where the bulk of them now is.

The plan adopted in making the lexicographical Calendar of Unregistered Wills and Administrations in Parts II and III was first of all to copy the original calendars, which begin at 1596, right away to 1799. When this was done the files and bundles were examined and ticked off on the newly made calendar.

In course of this examination it was found that many documents had got misplaced in their respective bundles, many were altogether missing, whilst others were found which had not been calendared at all.

To those missing an asterisk (*) has been put in the calendar, and since no original will is in existence previous to 1610, and no original administration previous to 1700 (except for the years 1643 and 1644), the large number of those so marked with an asterisk is accounted for. It is evidence of a negative kind that persons died about the year indicated, and may very likely be useful on this account.

When this heavy work of identification was completed the manuscript calendar was cut up, sorted, and finally pasted on sheets ready for the printer.

Institutions to benefices and marriage licences were numbered and left in the bundles in which they were found, and by means of the separate lists at the end these documents can now be readily referred to.

The original numbering of the wills was discontinued after 1730, and of the administrations after 1728, but now every document is numbered.

At the end of the bundle of administrations for 1720 is a copy of the Parish Register of Brushford for the year 1690, containing christenings, marriages, and burials.

Edw. Alex. Fry.