ID: GWG_CBR / Elaine Barker

TitleChurch Briefs - Wigborough


A transcription in P.A.F. Stephenson's book "The Parish Registers of Great and Little Wigborough" 1905

In the register for St Stephen's Church, Great Wigborough, is bound a mutilated page for 1707 which outlines money raised by the congregation to help repair other churches.

It records four such collections within a month and these collections were authorised by the Lord Chancellor issuing what were called 'Church Briefs'.

In a collection of Church Briefs for the parish of Barham in Suffolk, it is recorded that Barham too collected for the same four churches, Shear Lane, North Marston, Towcester and Broseley. They also confirm that the reason for the collection for all but Broseley were because of fire damage.

Towcester's Brief on 4th May 1707, which raised 5 pence 3 farthings at Great Wigborough's collection was due to a fire at the beginning of 1707. The fire caused £1,057 of damage to St Lawrence and the church was subsequently re-roofed in 1714.

The collection at St Stephens for Shear Lane on 13th April totalled 6 pence halfpenny. Shear Lane seems to be Shire-Lane in Middlesex, part of West London. The collection for North Marston in Buckinghamshire, also damaged by fire, totalled 6 pence on 27th April; no further details have been found on these two fires.

Another legitimate request for a Church Brief was when a church needed renovation because of structural problems or being in need of enlargement to cater for its congregation. The re-building of St Leonard's, Broseley, seems to have begun around 1710 and was finished by 1716 [Victoria County History Vol 10 p 287]. The new, much larger church, retained the 'squat, two stage, crenelated and pinnacled stone tower' and built a new four-bayed nave and two-bayed chancel, a south porch and a west gallery. Great Wigborough contributed 6 pence farthing on 11th May 1707 to the re-building.

This church at Broseley no longer stands, it was completely demolished and rebuilt in 1845 and is now known as All Saints.

Briefs were also issued for losses at sea and repair of harbours also for calamities such as plague, flood, and cattle. Briefs could be sanctioned for individuals hit by some disaster, such as widows and orphans of men who died at sea, victims of robbery or fire or persecuted Protestants overseas. One of the more colourful briefs was for

Redemption of His Majesty's Subjects taken by Turkish Pyrats

In London there were so many briefs that Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on 30th June 1661

To church, where we observe the trade of briefs is come now up to so constant a course every Sunday, that we resolve to give no more to them Samuel Pepys' Diary

It would appear that Briefs had been read out in Pepys Church, St Olave's, for fourteen successive weeks!

The money collected would be given to an authorized travelling collector or handed over to the chancellor of the diocese at the Bishop's visitation, (usually an annual visit to all the parishes in his diocese.)

A typical example of a printed Church Brief exists for Little Waltham in Essex in 1815 [Norfolk records Office P D 236/34]. Headed by the Royal Coat of Arms, the form details the amount needed (in this case £413 5s) and where the money is to be collected.

... throughout England, the Town of Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Counties of Flint, Denbigh and Radnor in Wales and from House to House throughout the Counties of Essex, Kent, Surry and Sussix

In this case it is to assist a local family who had been reduced from comfortable Circumstances to great Difficulty and Distress by fire and the Brief lists their losses

... a Wheat and Barley Barn and divers Goods, Chattels and Effects.

The Brief records that the case, was heard by Justices of the Peace at the Quarter Sessions where witnesses as to the damage appeared and the money needed assessed.

In the Parish register for Little Wigborough there are three sections where the incumbent has recorded briefs heard in church. In the following entries from 1661 it is clear that many received no contributions at all.

The brief of the Towen of [faded- probably Bridgnorth]
north in the County of Salop nothen
Collected for the brief of the Town of
bolingbrooke in the County of Lincolnshire
nothen colected the brief of the parish
of Rippon in the County of Yorke
nothen Colltede the brief of St
Margarets westminster in the County of
Middlesex London nothen collected

Of the above briefs we do know that Bolinbroke was subject to a siege during the English Civil War and the church and castle were significantly damaged in 1643.

In the same year on the opposite page of the Little Wigborough register there is another entry

Wigburrow upon the Brief
of the town of *South would als [alias]
or Soulbay in the County of Suffolk
the some of one and Twentie pence
John Coe clarke Thomas Petscam
Churchwardens 1661 the brief of
John du Kraine Krainsky deputy
of the national Synod of the great
duke dome of Lithuania of ... [faded - likely to be the amount raised]


Southwold was subject to a major fire in 1659 which destroyed much of the borough and made 300 families homeless.

In the case of the Protestants of Lithuania who were being persecuted it would seem that as well as requiring relief, money was needed to complete translating the Bible into their own language.

Religious persecution is the theme in the third section of briefs and in this case individual donations are listed

April 18th 1686
Collected then in the Parish of little
wigborrow upon a Briefe for the reliefe
of the french Protestants as followeth
Imp[rimis]Humphrey Daniel Gentleman   0 - 5 - 00
Roger Turbridge Rector0 - 2 - 00
Will[ia]m Wiseman yeoman0 - 0 - 6
Phillip Castbut husbandman0 - 0 - 6
Henry Castbut husbandman0 - 0 - 4
      Roger Turbridge Rector
      Humphrey Daniell

To the Breif for the French protestants April 1688

L   s   d
Chr[istopher] Wragg Rect[o]r   0 - 2 - 6
[faded - Mr?] Daniel0 - 1 - 0
W[illia]m Wiseman0 - 0 - 6
The final entry is for October 1689
      L   s   d
1689 Co[l]l[e]cted to the Brief for the Irish Protestants[£1?] 10 . 6:
Octobe[r] 27 [&?] Collected10s 6d/ for Bungay
In Suffolk's Breif  
      0  4 . 10

The brief for the Irish Protestant refugees from Ulster was issued in April 1689. French Protestants were also fleeing religious persecution in their own country as we see in the 1686 and 1688 briefs above.
Bungay in Suffolk was almost destroyed by fire on 1st March 1688. It destroyed almost all the town, the church of St Mary's, even melting six fine bells. A free school and almshouses were destroyed and over 190 families lost their homes. The cost of the damage was estimated to be about £30,000 and the church brief was issued on 7th June.

The origin of Church Briefs dates to pre-Reformation times when briefs were issued by the Pope, raising money for the Crusades and rebuilding churches. After the Reformation it was the Sovereign who issued these mandates and, later, the Lord Chancellor who authorised the appeal in 'Letters Patent'. (These were open letters expressing the Sovereign's will on a variety of matters of public interest.) After 1625 briefs were often supported by certificates from the Justices at the Quarter Sessions who had examined the facts and interviewed witnesses. The appeal would be read out in churches within specified areas, not necessarily local.

It was even written into the Common Prayer Book exactly when in the service these appeals should be read out, after the Nicene Creed.

'I believe in one God, The Father the Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth and of all things visible and invisible...and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come Amen

Then the curate shall declare unto the people what Holy-days, or Fasting-days, are in the Week following to be observed. And then also (if occasion be) shall notice be given of the Communion, and Briefs, Citations and Excommunications read.'

The Churchwardens would then take the collection at the end of the service crying Please to remember the Brief

If authorised, house to house collections would also be made

Local Essex parishes contributed to the rebuilding of St Paul's following the Great Fire of London in 1666. A Royal Warrant was issued in 1673 and the Guildhall Library Manuscripts Collection contains the briefs for Great and Little Wigborough [MS 25565/9] and most local parishes including Peldon, Abberton, Layer de La Haye, Fingringhoe and Langenhoe. A brief was also issued for the restoration and partial re-building of Chelmsford Cathedral in 1801.

Insurance policies didn't exist at all until after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The earliest fire Office was opened in 1681. The Sun Insurance Company, which still exists today, started in 1706 so at the time of these Great Wigborough Briefs insurance was in its infancy.

In 1818 the Incorporated Church Building Society started in answer to a shortage of churches especially in London.

Briefs were abolished in 1828. The cost of the application ate into the funds raised to such an extent that the Home Secretary of the time, Robert Peel, in the House of Commons' debate on the subject, quoted a case where out of £549 collected only £124 went to the church in question.

By now, the existence of insurance offices dispensed with the need for briefs and it was proposed that the King authorise collections of voluntary contributions to the Society for the Rebuilding and Repairing of Churches and Chapels.

At the end of the debate leave was given to bring in the bill. [Hansard, 22nd May 1828]

It is likely that for all churches known to be rebuilt between 1650 and the early 1800s a Brief was issued and their rebuilding can be dated by the issue of the Church Brief. Original briefs are rarely found since they were supposed to be returned with a confirmation of the amount contributed. It was usual to list the amounts raised in parish records as we have seen from these Wigborough entries.

Elaine Barker

Thanks to Sue Howlett

Towcester and District Local History Society
Broseley Local History Society
Parish Registers of Great & Little Wigborough by Mrs P.A.F. Stephenson
- the book is not available online, but a number of pages have been transcribed.
Reverend Harold Smith: Church Briefs article by Reverend Harold Smith in The Churchman 1933
"The Parish Chest" by W.E. Tate
Houston Church Briefs in England and Wales from Elizabethan times to 1828
The Diary of Samuel Pepys

AuthorElaine Barker
SourceMersea Museum