The virtues of many a parish clerk are recorded on numerous humble tombstones in village churchyards. The gratitude felt by both rector and people for many years of faithful service is thus set forth, sometimes couched in homely verse, and occasionally marred by the misplaced humour and jocular expressions and puns with which our forefathers thought fit to honour the dead. In this they were not original, and but followed the example of the Greeks and Romans, the Italians, Spaniards, and French. This objectionable fashion of punning on gravestones was formerly much in vogue in England, and such a prominent official as the clerk did not escape the attention of the punsters. Happily the quaint fancies and primitive humour, which delighted our grandsires in the production of rebuses and such-like pleasantries, no longer find themselves displayed upon the fabric of our churches, and the “merry jests” have ceased to appear upon the memorials of the dead. We will glance at the clerkly epitaphs of some of the worthies who have held the office of parish clerk who were deemed deserving of a memorial.
In the southern portion of the churchyard attached to St. Andrew’s Church, Rugby, is a plain upright stone containing the following inscription:
In memory of
33 years Clerk of
who died Feb’y 28th 1818
Aged 82 years
[Some lines of poetry follow, but these unfortunately are not now discernible.]
At the time Peter held office the incumbent was noted for his card-playing propensities, and the clerk was much addicted to cock-fighting. The following couplet relating to these worthies is still remembered:
No wonder the people of Rugby
are all in the dark,
With a card-playing parson and a cock-fighting clerk.
Peter’s father was clerk before him, and on a stone to his memory is recorded as follows:
John Collis Husband of
Eliz: Collis who liv’d in
Wedlock together 50 years
he served as Parish Clerk 41 years
And died June 19th 1781 aged 69 years
covered up the Dead
Is himself laid in the same bed
Time with his crooked scythe hath made
Him lay his mattock down and spade
May he and we all rise again
To everlasting life AMEN.
The name Collis occurs amongst those who held the office of parish clerk at West Haddon. The Rev. John T. Page, to whom I am indebted for the above information, has gleaned the following particulars from the parish registers and other sources. The clerk who reigned in 1903 was Thomas Adams, who filled the position for eighteen years. He succeeded his father-in-law, William Prestidge, who died 24 March, 1886, after holding the office fifty-three years. His predecessor was Thomas Collis, who died 30 January, 1833, after holding the office fifty-two years, and succeeded John Colledge, who, according to an old weather-beaten stone still standing in the churchyard, died 12 September, 1781. How long Colledge held office cannot now be ascertained. Here are some remarkable examples of long years of service, Collis and Prestidge having held the office for 105 years.