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Why so many private baptisms in 1798?

04 September 2020

Email if you have any answers to the questions, below


The parish register of St Nicholas’s, Great Yarmouth, in Norfolk, records 530 baptisms in 1798. Of these, 515 were private, 15 public, and one is unclear. Why would so many baptisms have been conducted privately? They were all conducted by Samuel Edwards, Curate.


Your answers: Our attention has been drawn to an article, “Few Deaths before Baptism: Clerical policy, private baptism and the registration of births in Georgian Westminster: a paradox resolved” by Jeremy Boulton and Romola Davenport at www.geog.cam.ac.uk. It cites several pieces of research that found private baptisms being conducted increasingly during the 18th century for social as well as emergency reasons, so that they became “widespread”. “Complaint literature and a few diaries suggested to David Cressy that there was a ‘rise of private baptism’ in London after the Restoration, driven less by fear for the child’s life than by the imperatives of social status and a desire for privacy amongst the better off. Such privacy also allowed dissenters to evade elements of the Anglican liturgy that they objected to. By 1682 it was alleged by one hostile cleric that: ‘Public baptism is now very much grown out of fashion; most people look upon it as a very needless and troublesome ceremony, to carry their children to the public congregation, there to be solemnly admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s church. They think it may be as well done in a private chamber, as soon as the child is born, with little company and with little noise.’ London it was claimed in 1754 was the original site of the ‘infection’ of private baptism that was spreading out into the surrounding country.” Editor

The questioner is surprised that St Nicholas’, Great Yarmouth, recorded 515 private baptisms in 1798. Having served in a parish with roughly 100 baptisms per annum, I am not surprised at all.

(The Revd) David Billin


Your questions: 

Andrew Brown reports on the lack of BAME presence among the senior leadership of the Holy Trinity, Brompton, and New Wine networks (Press, 12 June). Are Evangelical/Charismatic BAME Christians more likely to attend black-led independent churches?

A. C.


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J. W.


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