Sometimes the clerk seems to have recorded in the register book some entries which scarcely relate to ecclesiastical usages or spiritual concerns. Agreements or bargains were inserted occasionally, and the fact that it was recorded in the church books testified to the binding nature of the transaction. Thus in the book of St. Mary Magdalene, Cambridge, in the year 1692, it is announced that Thomas Smith promises to supply John Wingate “with hatts for twenty shillings the yeare during life.” Mr. Thiselton-Dyer, who records this transaction in his book on Social Life as told by Parish Registers, conjectures with evident truth that the aforenamed men made this bargain at an ale-house, and the parish clerk, being present, undertook to register the agreement.
A most remarkable clerk lived at Grafton Underwood in the eighteenth century, one Thomas Carley, who was born in that village in 1755, having no hands and one deformed leg. Notwithstanding that nature seemed to have deprived him of all means of manual labour, he rose to the position of parish schoolmaster and parish clerk. He contrived a pair of leather rings, into which he thrust the stumps of his arms, which ended at the elbow, and with the aid of these he held a pen, ruler, knife and fork, etc. The register books of the parish show admirable specimens of his wonderful writing, and I have in my possession a tracing made by Mr. Wise, of Weekley, from the label fixed inside the cover of one of the large folio Prayer Books which used to be in the Duke of Buccleuch’s pew before the church was restored, and were then removed to Boughton House. These books contain many beautifully written papers, chiefly supplying lost ones from the Psalms. The writing is simply like copper-plate engraving. In the British Museum, amongst the “additional MSS.” is an interleaved edition of Bridge’s History of Northamptonshire, bound in five volumes. In the fourth volume, under the account of Grafton Underwood, some particulars have been inserted of the life of this extraordinary man, with a water-colour portrait of him taken by one of his pupils, E. Bradley. There is also a specimen of his writing, the Lord’s Prayer inscribed within a circle about the size of a shilling. There is also in existence “a mariner’s compass,” most accurately drawn by him. He died in 1823.
THE CLERK AS A POET
The parish clerk, skilled in psalmody, has sometimes shown evidences of true poetic feeling. The divine afflatus has occasionally inspired in him some fine thoughts and graceful fancies. His race has produced many writers of terrible doggerel of the monumental class of poetry; but far removed from these there have been some who have composed fine hymns and sweet verse.