The parish church used to have a role in local administration before town and parish councils were established. The annual Vestry meeting at one time appointed the Overseer of the Poor, Surveyor of Highways and Constables as well as the Churchwardens.
Winterton has a record of Churchwardens from 1559 and, from 1717, of the officers appointed to each of these parish roles. A brief description of each of these unpaid roles is listed below, based on data from various web pages.
There is also a list of Churchwardens, Overseers of the Poor, Surveyors of the Highway and Constables for Winterton, North Lincolnshire in tables based on 'A Record of the Parish Officers extracted from the Vestry Minutes commencing 1717' compiled by A. Ecclestone M.A. 1979. The Record has been split from 1717-1799, 1800-1859, 1860-1911 and 1912 to 2009, the latter being the 1979 record with updates. There is also a list of Churchwardens from 1559 to 1674 compiled by Arthur Ecclestone.
To view these records please click on these links which lead to a pdf file for each list.
The governing body of the parish was known as the vestry. Originally a parish was a unit of church administration, usually centred on a settlement, with its own church and vicar, to whom the parishioners paid tithes and other dues. Various laws passed during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries encouraged the evolution of the parish into an administrative unit controlled by townspeople rather than the Church. Most parish vestries were open, in that any male ratepayer could attend the meetings and vote on important issues. For many years the vestry appointed churchwardens, overseer of the poor, surveyor of highways and constables.
The office of churchwarden evolved during the medieval period and continues to the present day. In most cases each parish had two churchwardens, one appointed by the clergyman, the other elected by the vestry. Their primary function at that time seems to have been taking care of the Church building and its contents, including the responsibility of providing for the repairs of the nave and of furnishing the utensils for divine service. The Churchwardens had custody or guardianship of the fabric and furniture of the church and, even today, they are the legal guardians of the church's moveable goods, such as furniture, plates and ornaments. They are required to keep an accurate, up-to-date inventory of these items.
The Overseer administered the poor laws within the parish. The 1597-8 Act for the Relief of the Poor required each parish to appoint one or more overseers of the poor. The overseer of the poor was responsible for maintaining or finding employment for paupers and was involved in apprenticing poor children and collecting maintenance for illegitimate offspring. Many of the powers of the office were taken over by the Board of Guardians following the establishment of Union Workhouses during the 1830s.
The office of parish constable dates back to at least the medieval period and continued until the mid-late 19th century, when the introduction of professional police forces rendered the post obsolete. The duties of the parish constable included organising the watch in the parish; apprehending ‘suspicious persons', rogues and vagabonds; organising a hue and cry for offenders, arresting criminals and bringing them before Justices of the Peace; enforcing orders of JPs; dealing with breaches in licensing regulations; looking after the parish armour, managing the parish contribution to the militia and collecting the county rate. They may also be involved with the administration of the poor law by, for example, giving relief to maimed or sick soldiers or sailors and removing vagrants.
The Surveyor was obliged to inspect the highways three times a year and organise for any necessary repairs to be made. In an attempt to deal with increasingly unsafe roads, an Act of Parliament in 1555 required every parishioner to work on the roads or provide a labourer to work on his behalf for a certain number of days each year. The office of surveyor of the highways was created to oversee this ‘Statute Work' on the parish roads and continued until the 19th century. From the 1830s onwards able-bodied paupers were often employed on the roads.
Data extracted from