The Coleorton Parish book contained the accounts of successive Parish Clerk’s for the Parish of Coleorton. Some copies of entries from the 18th and 19th Centuries were donated to the Coleorton Heritage Group from the estate of the late Mr. Bill Platts. These documents shine a fascinating light on some aspects of a bygone age.
Today hedgehogs are a welcome visitor to the garden helping to control pests, but in the 18th C they were regarded very differently. It was widely believed that hedgehogs were responsible for drinking milk from the udders of sleeping cows at night and could be blamed for any unexpected decline in milk production. Consequently, hedgehogs had a price on their head! In 1786 Mr. Joseph Sharp, Church Warden, was paying 4d per head for hedgehogs bought to him by villagers. Nor were these the only bounties to be had, sparrows suffered the same fate, but at the lower price of 2d per dozen. The trade in sparrows appears to have been particularly brisk with children as well as adults being paid for their catch. At a time when a labourer would do well to earn 2s a day these sums would have been much appreciated. Amongst other items of expenditure were Mr. Sharp's expenses for going on twice yearly "visitations" these involved the warden being sworn in by the Bishop and being asked to report on the morality of the clergy and the parishioners. No doubt you would do well to keep on good terms with the Church Warden!
In 1798 the campaign against hedgehogs and sparrows was still in full swing, under the new Church Warden William Sharpe, but other creatures were now also a problem. On July 4th Ben Whirledge was paid 2s for "stopping" pigeons out of the church and on October 5th James Roby was paid 3s 4d for killing 10 ratts (sic) in the church. However, the problem persisted and he was called back again on the 10th to kill 14 ratts for 4s 8d and yet again on December 6th to kill 6 ratts for 2s.
On January 9th 1806 the church bells of St Mary's were rung to mark the funeral of Admiral Horatio Nelson, as part of the national outpouring of grief. Of course bell ringing was thirsty work, and the accounts also contain regular sums for "ringing ale". Some idea of wages can be obtained from these 1806 accounts. A team of men digging foundations for the churchyard wall were paid 2s 3d/day each, while another team wheeling away stone and soil received 2s/day each. In addition the men also received ale. Mr John Platts (presumably a craftsman) was paid 3s/day and "his lad" 1s/day for unspecified work.
In 1821 under Church Warden Thomas Ayre the church was faced with major expenditure for the rebuilding of the church spire. Amongst the costs mentioned were Mr. Thomas Wright who was paid a total of £29 2s 11 and 1/2 d for unbearing and getting stone, Mr. Cartwright £213 2s 4 for rebuilding the spire and repairing the tower, Mr. Bedford 18s 6d for a new copper weather vane, Mr. Gadsby £15 19s 1/2d for woodwork, Mr. potter £2 14s 6 and 1/2d for ironwork and Mr. William Preston (blacksmith) £10 15s also for iron work, these together with many more items for carriage of materials, lime, surveyors fees etc. bought the whole bill to £352 5s 6 and ½ d, equivalent to a sum £29,437 today!
Compiled by: Terry Ward, member of the Coleorton Heritage Group