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Bristol Consistory Wills 1572-1792, with wills in the Great Orphan Books 1379-1674
British Record Society volume 17
Locating the original documents
Where are the originals held?
The original wills for the Bristol Consistory Court are held at Bristol Record Office. To obtain copies contact Bristol Record Office by letter, fax or e-mail, stating the document's reference number. A detailed quotation (of cost) and copyright form will be sent to you.
The original wills referred to in the Great Orphan Books were proved in a number of different courts.
The Wills in the first volume appear for the most part to have been proved at Bristol.
The letters PCC signify that the Will was Proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and in some instances the reference to the Register at Somerset House is given (eg, Crimes, 10). Other Wills were proved at Lambeth, Worcester or Wells, and, it is probable that with careful search at all these places the original Wills of many of those here calendared would be found.
The Bishopric of Bristol was founded in 1542, so that Wills proved previous to this date are likely to be in the Probate Court at Worcester, of which See the City of Bristol till then formed part.
What information from the document do I need to locate the original?
- Testator's name
- Year of will or admon
- Will reference (given for wills in the Great Orphan Books)
About the index
This is a Calendar of testamentary documents of the Consistory Court, relating to the City and ancient Deanery of Bristol and is taken from the original contemporary calendar (index) and thus no place of residence is included. But due to its quite limited jurisdiction most of the wills and administrations will be of Bristol people only.
The jurisdiction of the Bristol Consistory Court included the whole of the City and County of Bristol plus the Gloucestershire parishes of Almondsbury, Alveston, Clifton, Compton Greenfield, Elberton, Filton, Henbury, Horfield, St George Bristol, Littleton on Severn, Mangotsfield, Olveston, Stapleton, Stoke Gifford, Westbury on Trym, Winterborn St Michael and Abbots Leigh (Som), Bedminister (Som) from 1845.
The Great Orphan Books
These refer to three volumes of Wills, relating chiefly to those persons whose children were minors at the time of the testators' death, and that the Bristol city authorities acted in loco parentis till their coming of age. Although it is to be noted that these wills were proved in a number of different courts - and not just Bristol.
Understanding the index
Which court or courts are included?
This volume indexes the wills and administrations of the Bristol Consistory Court 1572-1792 with wills in the Great Orphan Books 1379-1674.
Note - wills proved between 1649 and 1660 will be found in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury since during the civil war the church courts were abolished and a single centralised probate system was established. Between this time all wills were proved and all grants of administration made, at one central Court of Probate in London. This was really just the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) under a different name and thus wills etc proved during this period will be found indexed within the PCC.
See PCC volumes BRS 54, BRS 61, and Matthews 1-9 for this period.
Which diocese is involved?
The consistory court of the Bishop of Bristol was in the Deanery of Bristol, which in turn was in the Diocese of Bristol.
What does the index include?
The Bristol Consistory Wills index includes names and year of probate as appears in the original calendar.
The wills in the Great Orphan Books includes
- Date will proved
- Court where will was proved
- Volume and page number reference of Great Orphan Book
Names are arranged alphabetically. This means some name variants may not appear clustered together. Names in the index are according to the spelling used in the documents, usually based on the signaturee of the testator.
Dates of pre 1752 wills are given in 'Old Style' or Julian Calendar.
Introduction to Original Volume
The Bishopric of Bristol was one of the six Sees founded about the year 1542 (the others being Chester, Gloucester, Oxford, Peterborough and Westminster) by Letters patent, authorised by Act of Parliament, 31 Henry VIII c 9, ad 1539-40. Until this date it had formed part, as did also Gloucester, of the Diocese of Worcester. From 1561 for a period of twenty-eight years it was held in commendam by the Bishops of Gloucester. From 1589 to 1836 the See was again a separate one, in the latter year, however, it was united with that of Gloucester, and remained so until this present year, 1897, when it has again a Bishop of its own.
The jurisdiction of the Consistory Court of the Bishop of Bristol at the formation of the See in 1542 was exercised over the City and Deanery of Bristol, and also over the whole of the County of Dorset, in which county there was also a court of the Archdeacon.
The Wills and Administrations in the Consistory and Archdeacon's Courts which relate to Dorset, are, and always have been, preserved at Blandford in that county, and the Calendars of those courts are now appearing in "The Index Library".
The present volume is a Calendar of such testamentary documents of the Consistory Court, relating to the City and ancient Deanery of Bristol, as are now preserved in the Probate Registry of that city.
The jurisdiction of the court was exercised over the following parishes:
Three parishes in Somersetshire which anciently, before 1542, were in the Archdeaconry of Bath in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, (originally Chapelries of Bedminster):
St Mary Redcliff, including the Chapelry of St Thomas
Temple, otherwise St Cross
Fifteen parishes in the City of Bristol, anciently in the Archdeaconry of Gloucester in the Diocese of Worcester, but now contained in the Deanery of Bnstol:
St Augustine the Less
Christchurch, otherwise St Trinity, united in 1788 with St Ewen's, otherwise St Owan's
St John Baptist, including St Lawrence, united about 1580
St Leonard, united in 1766 with St Nicholas
St Mark, otherwise Gaunt's
St Philip and St Jacob
Seventeen outlying parishes, all in Gloucestershire, forming anciently the Deanery of Bristol, but now (except Clifton, which still remains in the Deanery of Bristol) forming the Deanery of Stapleton:
Alveston, a Chapelry of Olveston
Elberton, annexed to Olveston in 1767
Aust (Chapelry of Henbury)
Northwick (Chapelry of Henbury)
Littleton on Severn
Westbury on Trym
Winterborn St Michael
As before stated, previous to 1542 the City of Bristol and the whole County of Gloucester were contained in the Diocese of Worcester, so that Wills and Administrations of people dying therein before 1542 ought to be found at the Probate Registry at Worcester, while those dying in the parishes of Abbot's Leigh, St Mary Redcliff, including St Thomas and Temple before 1542 ought similarly to be found at the Court of Probate at Wells.
The jurisdiction of the present Probate Registry includes the whole of the City and County of the City of Bristol, the City of Bath, also twenty-seven places in Gloucestershire and those places in Somersetshire which are comprised within the Bristol and Bath County Court District.
The earliest Wills now extant at the Probate Court of Bristol appear to have been proved in 1572, but how it is that earlier ones (that is to say, between 1542 and 1572) do not exist at this court has never, it is believed, been satisfactorily explained, though by some it is alleged that the riots of 1831 are responsible for the loss.
It may partly have occurred through the vacancy in the succession of Bishops between 1558 and 1562, and also through the See being, as already stated, held tit commmdam by the Bishops of Gloucester, though there are no Wills (or, at the most, four or five) at Gloucester relating to this Diocese between 1542 and 1572.
There are some transcripts of Bristol Wills in Vol I of the "Great Orphan Books" which covers the period 1379 to 1612, so that reference to the Calendar of this book is desirable.
The Administrations preserved at the Court of Probate at Bristol commence only at the year 1770, but it is more than probable that the earlier ones are amongst a mass of uncalendared documents in the Consistory Court in the Cathedral, which, it is hoped, will soon be placed in proper order, and a Calendar made which may perhaps be eventually printed as a supplement to the present volume.
It will be observed that in the Calendar now printed there are no names of places or parishes given. It certainly would have been more satisfactory to have had them stated, but as it would have entailed the opening of every document, for the official manuscript Calendar does not state the residence, it was thought better not to delay publication on this account. It must be remembered that the Consistory Court has always had a limited area of jurisdiction, and the great bulk of Wills and Administrations will therefore be of Bristol people only.
The Wills are all original ones, since the system of registering them was not in vogue at this court previous to 23rd October, 1767. There are no peculiar courts.
The Wills are endorsed and tied up in bundles of years, and, generally speaking, are in a state of good preservation and easily accessible by the clerk in attendance.
The requisite permission to print this Calendar was given by Sir Francis Jeune, President of the Probate Division, to whom the thanks of the Editor and subscribers are due, as well as to Mr William Hurle Clarke, the District Registrar, who has on several occasions rendered assistance during the process of transcription and printing
Introduction to the Great Orphan Books
The following Calendar forms a complete index to the contents of three ponderous volumes, now preserved in the Council House at Bristol, known as " The Great, Orphan Book and Two Books of Wills."
In 1886 the late Rev S P Wadley, a well-known Gloucestershire antiquary, made very full abstracts of the Wills (some 449 in number) contained in the first of these volumes, which appeared in book form under the auspices of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. In the Preface thereto Mr Wadley explains that these Wills were chiefly those of persons whose children were minors at the time of the testators' death, and that the city authorities acted in loco parentis till their coming of age.
The dates comprised in each of the three volumes are as follows:
Vol I From 1379 to 1612, No of Wills 449
Vol II From 1633 to 1674, No of Wills 112
Vol III From 1612 to 1633, No of Wills 289
so that it will be seen that in chronological order Volume III precedes Volume II.
In the Calendar now printed the names of the testators in all three books have been thrown in one list, which will facilitate reference. To those in Volume I the page in Mr Wadley's book has been added, and succeeds the folio of the original volume.
The Wills in the first volume appear for the most part to have been proved at Bristol, first by the ecclesiastical authorities and afterwards before the mayor and sheriffs.
The letters PCC signify that the Will was Proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and in some instances the reference to the Register at Somerset House is given (eg, Crimes, 10). Other Wills were proved at Lambeth, Worcester or Wells, and, it is probable that with careful search at all these places the original Wills of many of those here calendared would be found„
It will be well to note that the Bishopric of Bristol was founded in 1542, so that Wills proved previous to this date are likely to be in the Probate Court at Worcester, of which See the City of Bristol till then formed part.