As many of you may know, part of our job here in the archives is listing collections. This involves making a record of every item (or group of items) within a collection and making these records easily accessible. Often during this process surprising items appear. Whether it be a transcript of a 14th century confirmation of a writ from the 13th century, or a register that gives an insight into the lives of Birmingham people of the 18th century, there is always something interesting to discover.
I have been working on cataloguing Ecclesiastical parish records from the parishes around Birmingham, and whilst cataloguing the parish records of St Giles, Sheldon I came across an incredible document which is, I think, quite illuminating.
An Act more effectually to prevent profane cursing and swearing (1745). Reprinted 1795.
It is a wonderful, unassuming booklet. It is a copy of the ‘Act more effectually to prevent profane Cursing and Swearing’ and is dated to the Parliament held between 1st December 1741 and 17th October 1745.
Title page of the Act.
The document records that swearing is an ‘execrable vice’ and calls it ‘highly displeasing to God and loathsome to Christians’. It states that incidences are becoming more frequent and that unless effectively punished the vice and those indulging in it may ‘…justly provoke the Divine Vengeance to increase the many calamities these Nations now labour under.’
The Act states that from the 1st June 1746 those caught uttering profanities will be punished. If a person got caught a second time the fine would be doubled, if a third time trebled and so on. If you were caught swearing by a Justice of the Peace or a Bailiff or other such authority figure, however, you could be facing time in the stocks. The document goes into a lot of detail about how offenders should be reprimanded and held until such time as they can be brought before the relevant authority. It stressed the importance of the Oaths of at least one witness to the swearing event. There is even an example of the form to be used if someone has been convicted (notice the use of the regnal year of the King rather than the AD year).
Blank record of conviction for cursing.
This little booklet is interesting in itself, aside from the contents. The fact that the document was printed using the moveable type technique of individual moveable components (letters). The ink was applied to the letters and the ink transferred to the paper using the press. These letters, due to them being embossed, would leave shallow recesses in the paper. The letters appear in relief on the other side of the page. Which can be seen below:
Embossed relief of letters on the reverse.
What is also fascinating about this document is the year the act was passed, 1745. During this year the Jacobite rebellion was gaining ground, and in December of that year Jacobite forces reached Derby which caused alarm in London, and presumably the rest of the country too. So why in a year of rebellion and chaos did the British Government feel the need to pass an Act curbing language? Had the use of profanities reached an all-time high? Or with the chaos going on around them did the British government merely focus on things it could control?
These documents are interesting on their own, but together they highlight a changing world, with new technologies making information more easily accessible. But there is also a continuity – even in times of stress and ‘conquest’ or rebellion things carry on as normal, deeds need to be drawn up and acts need to be passed. These are amazing discoveries within a parish collection! If you would like to view these documents (or others) please email us on email@example.com to make an appointment. Enjoy!
Senior Archives & Collections Assistant