William Quekett on baptisms in June 1837

from My Sayings and Doings (Kegan, Paul & Trench 1888) pages 170-172

In June, 1837, an absurd rumour got abroad through the passage of the new Registration Acts that all baptisms which were not administered and registered before the end of the month would be charged at the rate of seven and sixpence, because of the attendance of the Registrar and Superintendent.

On June 28th - Wednesday - after Morning Prayers, the church began to fill with a number of people, and we were preparing to take the usual baptisms. But, the rush and hubbub grew every moment, and Verrall, the clerk, said to the sexton,  "Just go out and see what this uproar is." The cause was soon ascertained. People were flocking in crowds to have their children baptized; and the noise and confusion were appalling. At a quarter before twelve the baptisms commenced. We could only take forty at a time, as this was the largest number the baptistery would hold. Usually the Parish Clerk stood on one side, and made an entry into what was called the "Rough Book", as the baptisms proceeded. The relays continued coming, until at last all were baptized. The clerk and I then adjourned to the vestry for the registration of the names in the Parish Register. There we forbade the entrance of all but one person connected with each baptism, who could give the necessary particulars. But though this reduced the number very greatly, the bad behaviour and insubordination were such that we found it necessary to send for police. In due time we registered that day 153 baptisms.

On Friday, June 30, the same scene occurred again, only with much larger numbers. We were, however, in a better position to deal with them, as we had made better plans and arrangements. As each forty baptisms were concluded, one of each party was sent at once to the vestry for the registration, and the rest were dismissed; so that instead of the increase of disorder and confusion there was a gradual clearance of the church. On this day 224 baptisms were actually registered. Thus in the two days, 377 baptisms were registered, each party paying a fee of one shilling. The real number of baptisms was, however, greatly in excess of this, for when the "Rough Book" was added up it was found that there were from fifty to sixty baptisms of which the sponsors did not put in an appearance for registration. It may, therefore, be concluded that from four to five hundred children were baptized in the two days.

Wishing to obtain a correct statement of these baptisms, I wrote to the present Rector of St. George's-in-the-East, and received from him the following letter:-

Rectory, St. George's-in-the-East, E.
January 29, 1876.

My Dear Sir,
I have found not only the regular entries, but the "Rough Book". On June 28, 1837, there were baptized 153, And on June 30 224. Total 377.
But I have not laid hands on the book which contains memoranda. There were two or three cupboards or drawers in the vestry which the sexton said he had never known to be open. Having no keys, and failing to get the locks picked, they were forced yesterday, but we got nothing beyond heaps of old bread, &c., tickets and marriage licenses. If I come across the memorandum book you refer to I will let you know.
I hope you will visit us when you come to London, and preach at the Parish Church. Your memory is very sweet here, I can assure you.
Yours very faithfully

.S. - Please do not fix on the morning of April the 30th, or June 18th, on which days to preach here. But I sincerely hope that your old friends and those who have learned to respect your name and work will see you in our pulpit, and Mrs. Jones and myself may have the pleasure of welcoming you at the Rectory.

Back to History