Up to 1837, St. Bartholomew's Arborfield was part of the Diocese of Salisbury, after which it and other Berkshire parishes were transferred to the Diocese of Oxford. A second copy of the Parish Registers was always lodged with the Diocesan Bishop, and it must have been a complex business getting these Transcripts to the Bishop before the days of stage-coaches, let alone trains.
Bishop's Transcripts prior to 1700 have been available since the 1980's in printed form at the Berkshire Record Office. One set is in chronological order, while the other has been separated into Baptisms, Marriages and Burials. However, until now the Transcripts between the early 1700's and 1837 have only been available in their original form. They are held at the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office.
Arborfield Local History Society has now made a careful comparison of the Baptism, Marriage and Burial Registers between 1700 and 1837 against the Bishop's Transcripts, and the combined result is now obtainable on their Data CD.
It's amazing how many entries appeared on the Transcripts but were not on the main Registers. Also there was often additional information on the Transcripts, usually the place of residence. This is important for Arborfield Parish, because so many of those who attended church were from the Liberty of Newland, which was part of the parish of Hurst.
The Transcripts originally consisted of a single sheet of parchment, listing the Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, sometimes on both sides of the sheet. It appears that the Transcripts tended to be assembled first, and then the entries were placed in the main Registers afterwards, because in some cases the entries on the back of the Transcript sheet never made it to the registers.
This photo, shown with the permission of the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office, shows a pile of Bishop's Transcripts for Arborfield for the 1700's.
Some of the Transcripts give us an idea of how they were passed to the Bishop. The Dean of the Cathedral would make a 'Visitation' to the local area for a couple of days. In Arborfield's case, all the Parish clergy and Churchwardens would travel to Sonning to meet the Dean, as revealed in these page headings:
"A copy of the Register of the Parish of Arborfield in the County of Berks for the year 1713 delivered in at the Visitation Court held at Sunning, Apr: 24 1714 by the Revd. Dean of Sarum."
"A copy of the Arborfield Register for the year 1714 delivered in at the Visitation Court held at Sunning, Berks, May 2nd 1715."
"A copy of the Register of Arborfield in the County of Berks from Lady Day 1723 to Lady Day 1724".
Sometimes, there wouldn't be a Visitation in a given year, and so the Transcripts covered two years (1777/8 and 1795/6), and sometimes even three (1766/68). Some, such as that for 1741, stated 'No Marriages', so at least we have confirmation that there were no missing entries for that year.
By 1813, the Registers were in pre-printed books; however, the Transcripts were simply written on the pre-printed pages, which were detached or even cut out, and taken in a bundle to the Dean. If there were two Marriages, one would be written on one side and the other on the reverse.
Here's a summary of the missing or variant data on the Bishop's Transcripts over this period:
The Transcripts fill in our knowledge about the Churchwardens (several Allwrights and Simonds were listed) and in some cases we learn about the Curates, such as Rev. Dr. William Romaine in 1813, and Rev. George Hulme in 1818. The full list of signatories appears on the data CD. Here's an example of the signatures; this example is at the bottom of the Transcript for 1718:
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