DescriptionThe parish is one of the oldest administrative units of local government in the country, although over the centuries, its role and scope has changed considerably, so that today it is generally associated, and solely responsible, for ecclesiastical affairs.

The origin of the parish is uncertain, although it emerged somewhere between the tenth and eleventh centuries out of the manorial system, when the lord of the manor would erect a church for himself and his tenants. Until the early nineteenth century, when many new parishes were created, there were approximately 11,000 in England and Wales.

In the Middle Ages, the parish landowners paid tithes to the incumbent for his support and to help with the upkeep of the parish church and, in turn, he farmed the glebe land to add to this income. The parish was administered by a council known as the Vestry and officials such as the churchwarden.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the parish also became responsible for overseeing the care of the poor and the repair of highways, although these secular duties subsequently became the responsibility of local government in the nineteenth century.

Parishes were not required to keep any records until 1538 and it is from this date that one can gain a greater understanding of the scope of the role that the parish had in the community. However, for various reasons, the extent of survival for these records can vary considerably from parish to parish.
LocationKent History and Library Centre
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