The church rate was an ancient tax required of all ratepayers, regardless of denomination, for the upkeep of parish churches. This meant that dissenters and other non-Anglicans paid for the support of the established church. Inevitably, there was strong resistance in towns where there was a high proportion of dissenters (49% of church goers of Berkhamsted) and there were seizures of property in lieu of church rates. Berkhamsted was one of the last, if not the last town, to reject church rates, so it was fitting that the history of this painful process was recorded in The Church Rates Controversy for the Chronicle volume XII (2015).
Following threads of family history among the gravestones, wouldn’t it be thrilling to find Ghosts? Yet not a single grave can be found with that name inscribed, not even for the local gravedigger. Ghosts of the past reveal themselves in other ways, whilst highlighting the state of local prison facilities, the justice system and the benevolence of the gentry. (Chronicle, XVI, Mar 2019).
The parish chest of St Peter’s church in Berkhamsted once held churchwardens’ accounts, vestry minutes and the details of births, marriages and deaths. Amongst these old documents, there was a constables’ accounts book with entries from 1748 to 1819. For some reason, by 1885 it had come into the possession of William Philbey, the boot-making son of a local laundress. The book now resides in the museum store and I had the pleasure of transcribing the names and activities of the people of Berkhamsted, including the notorious highwayman Snooks. The resulting article Parish Constables of Berkhamsted was published in the local history society Chronicle volume III (2006).