Gloucester’s Bishops Court records unlocked, Or All human life is there…, by Judy Kimber

On the 5th December 1628 George Beard made his way to Gloucester from his home in Whaddon. A dispute had arisen concerning the will of his friend John Copp and he was going to give his testimony at the Bishop’s Court. There he was asked how old he was and he told them that he was 90.  Yes, 90! Just think about that for a minute. He had lived through the reigns of six monarchs from Henry VIII to Charles 1. He was alive when the Spanish Armada threatened England. He was in his sixties when Guy Fawkes and his gang had tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. And now he was mentally and physically fit enough to give evidence in court. So much for the notion that no-one lived past sixty in “olden times”.

An example of a Bishop’s Court case book (GDR/168)

The witness “depositions” (sworn evidence) for cases heard at the Bishop’s Consistory Court are full of such illuminating nuggets of information. In the same year in Frampton Cotterell the talk was all of the cost of recasting and rehanging of the church bells and the tax the parishioners would have to pay. Nicholas Shereman, William Keymes and Thomas Browne had flatly refused to pay their share, claiming the work could have been done more cheaply. Sounds familiar? Paying taxes was no more welcome in 1628 than it is today.

And that’s what makes these records so fascinating to me, the realisation that people’s concerns, attitudes and actions are in many ways much the same now as they were in past centuries.

Judy Kimber hard at work on the documents

The original documents are difficult to read so I am extracting the key details from each case and putting them into the online catalogue.  

If you would like to read more depositions online:

  • go to the online catalogue 
  • put GDR/1 into the Search box.  
  • your hitlist will include a section level entry for the GDR volumes GDR/1. 
  • click on the red GDR/1 reference on the right hand to see a list of them all. 
  • volumes marked with a + have had their catalogue entry greatly enhanced (by me!) to include details of cases.

Give it a try!

Judy Kimber, Gloucestershire Archives volunteer 

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