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Seating plan of St Leonard's Church, Deal, reveals community hierarchy based on family importance

By Gillian Chiverton

Deal was called by the local historian, C. W. Chalklin, ‘the only new town of any size in seventeenth century Kent.’

This new town developed around the Sea Valley, the Archbishop’s Waste, to accommodate the local fishermen and the military and naval personnel from the Royal Marine barracks and the three castles.

Parish registers offer a framework to build up a picture of life in the past and the registers of the parish church of Deal, St Leonard’s, are no exception.

St Leonard's Church, Deal, pre 1819
St Leonard's Church, Deal, pre 1819

In 1538, Thomas Cromwell ordered that registers of baptisms, marriages and burials were to be kept by parish priests.

The earliest parish register for St Leonard’s Church, Deal, is headed: “The names of them have been baptized in ye prche church of Deall beginninge in ye yeare of our Lord god a thousand five hundred fifty nine.” The rector at that time was Francis Dalton and the two churchwardens were William Cranbrook and Henry Woods.

The entries for the years 1559-1598 appear to have been copied by one person as a transcript from an earlier record. It appears Francis Dalton, rector (1592-9), was complying with the 1598 Provincial Constitution of Canterbury, which required that all previous parish register entries should be copied on parchment into new books with both churchwardens witnessing the transcript, and the option was given of starting from 1558.

Some families were more important than others, as shown in the seating plan of St Leonard's Church in 1618
Some families were more important than others, as shown in the seating plan of St Leonard's Church in 1618

Family reconstitution can be attempted from parish registers and a study, titled Aspects of Deal, by Gillian Chiverton, was made of core families using the list of surnames in the baptismal register during the first quinquennial.

Once the core families were established, the information about them was analysed and it was possible to attempt a family reconstitution of three of these families with the help of wills.

Reconstitution can only be done, however, if people can be identified with reasonable certainty.

St Leonard's Church now. Picture Alan Buckman
St Leonard's Church now. Picture Alan Buckman

Where there are large numbers of men and women with the same surname, and forename, it is difficult. This study will be available to view at the church.

The seating plan of St Leonard’s Church 1618 is a fascinating glimpse of the hierarchy of families at that time and the names shown are echoed in the names of families living in Deal and Walmer, and surrounding villages, to this present day.

This seating plan allocated seats for 277 men and women in St Leonard’s Church and gives an interesting picture of church attendance indicating the number of habitual churchgoers.

Another view of St Leonard's Church at Upper Deal
Another view of St Leonard's Church at Upper Deal

Parishioners would have had their places allocated to them by the churchwardens according to their rank and position, but no seats were allocated for children.

An exhibition will show details of some of the core families, such as Denne, Rand and Pittock, as well as other aspects of Deal during the sixteenth century.

The exhibition is to be held in The Landmark Centre on Saturday, from 9.30am until 2.30pm.

For further details of the Addelam History Research Group, contact Alan Buckman at alan@buckman-hardy.co.uk.

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