God’s Town – Liverpool & her Parish since 1207


Canon Dr Crispin Pailing was the star turn at the Annual General Meeting of the Society on Friday 8th October, speaking on “Liverpool: a study in theocracy.” Which was almost the title of his 2019 book on the same subject. He told, with a genial and humorous personality, part of the story of Liverpool and its parish, of which he is Rector, as well as honorary Canon of Liverpool Cathedral. It seems likely that he is happier than some of his predecessors, who were both difficult and badly-treated by the parish. An example was Hugh Janion, dated to 1590, whose regular visits to Chester were not approved of, and who was fined for keeping horses in the churchyard and leaving their dung in situ! In some cases the problem of disciplining the clergy was not unrelated to the inability of the parish to pay them. The custom of annual appointment and re-appointment must also have given them a sense of insecurity. Canon Pailing has made great use of the records of the church and the town, most of them in the Record Office, now in the Liverpool’s Central Library.

Anyone compiling questions for a quiz on the history of Liverpool should keep in mind the diocese in which Liverpool sat in 1361. You’ve guessed it? No, it was Lichfield and Coventry!

As eminent and remote a dignitary as the Pope could be involved in Liverpool’s church life: in 1456 the Pope issued a papal bull granting an indulgence and remission of sins to those who visited or prayed in the Chapel of St Mary – or contributed to the building or maintenance of the priests. (Don’t forget that in those days people looked forward to going to heaven, but feared relegation to the other place, so a generous donation towards the funds would be seen as an investment, with a view to remission of sins)

The book tells us a lot about the treatment of the poor from Elizabethan times. Under Elizabeth I a distinction was made between the deserving and undeserving poor, stigmatising the poor, as if starving and other features of poverty weren’t enough to put up with. In 1656 the job of finding who were the poor was a job of the churchwardens (suggesting a concern for them), and from 1666 the previous year’s churchwardens became the overseers of the poor. By 1732 the parish decided to build a workhouse and that no rent or relief (the term for financial help to the poor) should be given to the poor outside the workhouse. In 1769 the vestry, a parish body, and the corporation decided to build a new and larger workhouse, at Brownlow Hill. One interesting fact is that from 1758 the poor had to wear a badge in red cloth with LP (for Liverpool Poor): this must have been seen as degrading; by 1823 the vestry decided to petition against clauses of a Parliamentary bill to make the poor wear badges.

So this beautifully produced book is full of interesting things, and will keep you happy for hours – and lead on, perhaps, to further curiosity, some of which may be satisfied by a visit to the Record Office, following the excellent example of the Canon. It’s important to let the very helpful staff know you’re coming, and what you would like to see. Here’s a link to help you plan your visit:- https://liverpool.gov.uk/archives

For a copy of Dr Pailing’s revealing book, you could try Amazon, who are offering very reasonable prices, depending on whether you need a new or a used copy, or hardback or paperback versions.

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