In 1538, during the reign of Henry VIII, the King’s vice-gerent (deputy) in spiritual affairs Thomas Cromwell, directed the clergy in England to record every baptism, wedding and funeral that took place within each and every parish. This was almost certainly the first real form of ‘registration’ of births, marriages and deaths. A registrar was appointed for every diocese from 1597 and it was their job to collate the records. From 1653 until 1660 civil registrars undertook these duties, but when the monarchy was restored in 1660 the responsibility was returned to the clergy. However, surviving copies of these early church or parish records are very scarce indeed.
In 1833 a government Select Committee Inquiry examined the parochial registration system and recommended a civil registration service be put in place. This came into effect on 1 July 1837, and remains the fundamental basis of the system of registration still in use today. The General Register Office was created at this time, along with the post of Registrar General – a civil servant whose job it was to oversee the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales. The majority of the work undertaken by the modern register office is still to provide the facilities that enable people to register and record all births, marriages and deaths that occur within England and Wales. Other information is also gathered at the point of registration, for use by the Government, when making provision for services such as health and education.
The first register office for the Kingston upon Hull district following the 1837 Act, was at No.10 Parliament Street, noted in the Hull Packet newspaper:
‘Notice is hereby given, that the Registrar General has been pleased to approve of Three Rooms in the House, No.10, Parliament-Street, Hull, as the Superintendant Registrar’s Office for BIRTHS, DEATHS, and MARRIAGES, in the Kingston upon Hull District; and that attendance will be given there EVERY DAY, (Sundays excepted) from the hour of Ten o’Clock in the Forenoon to Four o’Clock in the Afternoon, for the purpose of receiving NOTICES of MARRIAGE, and granting LICENSES and CERTIFICATES of MARRIAGE; and also for the purpose of REGISTERING BUILDINGS for SOLEMNIZING MARRIAGES, and transacting all other business belonging to the duties of the said office. Dated 10 October 1837. John Thorney. Superintendent Registrar.’
The ‘Bill’ to establish a national General Register Office was reported in the London Morning Chronicle of 27 May 1834. Further notices appeared in Hull and the national press:
‘Mr BROUGHAM’S BILL TO ESTABLISH A GENERAL REGISTER OF BIRTHS, DEATHS AND MARRIAGES, has been printed, and we are consequently enabled to lay an outline of its contents before the reader. The 52d Geo. III., relating to the registration of marriages, is first repealed. The Lords of the Treasury are then authorised to provide a General Registry Office in London or Westminster, the control, care, and management of which is to be placed under the Commissioners of Stamps. A Registrar-General and Inspectors and Clerks, with salaries, are to be appointed by the authority of the Lords of the Treasury, and to hold office at their pleasure. THE commissioners of Stamps are authorised to appoint as many of the collectors of assessed taxes to be registrars, and to appoint the surveyors of the taxes superintendents. In all cases the name and the residence of the registrar is to be put up on the doors of churches, chapels etc.
For the guidance of these officers, books for registration are to be provided, which are to be of durable materials, containing on each side of every leaf the printed forms, according to certain schedules annexed to the Bill.
In these books the district registrars are to register births and deaths, in duplicates, one copy to be delivered to the superintendent, the other to be deposited in the parish chest. Returns of the matters registered are to be made to the superintendents quarterly. Persons who occupy houses in which births and deaths take place, and those who find infants or dead bodies, are to give notice of those events to the Registrars; and if any person refuse or neglect, without reasonable cause, to give notice of any such birth, or the finding of any such body, within three days, he will be liable to a penalty of ten pounds.
The parent or next of kin are required to give notice to the Registrars, within fourteen days, of births and deaths in their families, and any false statement will subject the party to be prosecuted for a misdemeanour.
Births are not to be registered after a lapse of fourteen days, under a penalty of 50/-. Registrars are to give a certificate of the registration of a death to the undertaker - or other, and no funeral service is to be performed over.’
Hull remained divided into three registration sub-districts, under the old Hull Incorporation of the Poor – Myton, Humber and St Mary’s – whilst another 18 parishes were united in 1837 to form the Sculcoates Union registration district under the Sculcoates Board of Guardians. Sculcoates had eight sub-districts – West Sculcoates, East Sculcoates, Drypool, Hessle, Southcoates, Cottingham, Sutton and Newland. The Sculcoates district covered a huge area that included Hull’s suburbs to the north and east, as well as an area stretching from Hedon across to Welton in the west, and north to the boundary of the Beverley Union. One family initially dominated registration in Hull.
The first Superintendent Registrar for Hull was John Thorney (shown above right), who was well suited for the job of Superintendent Registrar as he was already a solicitor, and in 1836 had been appointed the coroner for the borough of Kingston upon Hull. Born in Hull in 1804, John Thorney was the first in a long family dynasty of Hull coroners that lasted until 1925, and was also an officer of the Kingston upon Hull Poor Law Institution, for which he was being paid £100 per annum in 1842 – probably his salary for the position of superintendent registrar. John died in 1853 and was succeeded as coroner for Hull by his son John Joseph (1828-1897), who was in turn succeeded by his son Alfred, later Colonel, Thorney VD (1860-1925). John, John Joseph, and later Alfred all held the position of Superintendent Registrar for the Hull district throughout the period from 1837 until 1925. A memorial to all three is located in the south aisle of the Holy Trinity Church (see below right).
The following is the quarterly return of the Registrar General from 8 November 1850, and gives an idea of the number of transactions that passed through some of the Hull offices – the results for Hull are surprisingly positive:
‘The return of the Registrar General of the marriages, births, and deaths registered to England for the last quarter ending the 30 September, has recently been issued. The general result of the return is favourable in a high degree; the marriages in the spring quarter are more numerous than in any corresponding quarter of the last twelve years; so also are the births in the summer quarter; and the deaths are 86,044 instead of 135,358, which they were in the quarter ending September, 1849 when cholera ravaged the chief towns of the kingdom.
The marriages in all England in the quarter ending June 30 1850, were 39,018. The number in the spring quarter declined rapidly from 1846 to 1848, and rose still more rapidly up to 1850; thus following and portraying the state of the country. 140,870 births were registered in the quarter, which ended in September.
The excess of births registered over deaths in the quarter was 60,926; which if all the births were registered would be the natural increase of the population.
The mortality is much below the average; and the public health has never been so good since 1845, as in the present quarter. The rate of mortality is 1.901 per cent, per annum. At this rate one in 211 persons living died in three months. The chances of living through this quarter were 210 to one; the average chances of living through three summer months (1838 - 50), for persons of all ages, being 192 to one. Cholera was fatal in a few towns in different parts of the country, but was nowhere epidemic. The mortality in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull was below the average. The following is the number of births and deaths for the quarter according to the returns of the registrars for Hull and Sculcoates, with notes accompanying each return: -
HULL – MYTON, - Births 257; deaths 219. The deaths are fewer than those of the corresponding quarter of 1848, and 650 less than in the same quarter of 1849. There have been 3 fatal cases of Asiatic, and 2 of English cholera, 28 of diarrhoea, of which 21 were amongst children under one year, and 10 fatal cases of smallpox, of which 13 occurred under three years of age. The district, upon the whole, may be considered healthy.
SCULCOATES – DRYPOOL, - Births 35; deaths 36. The deaths have been about average: 9 from diarrhoea and dysentery, 2 from cholera, and 4 from typhus.
SCULCOATES – EAST SCULCOATES, - births 93; deaths 54. Deaths less than in any quarter since 1845. 25 children have died under one year. There are 12 from diarrhoea, 1 from dysentery, 4 from small-pox (not vaccinated), 2 from cholera (31 and 20 hours duration).’
The Thorneys offices survive at the south-east side of Parliament Street, and are still used by solicitors in 2010. The three quiet and modest rooms once used by the Superintendent Registrar, take up the whole of the first floor and many original features survive, including huge ornate cast iron safes that bear initials and dates from the late 1790s; one appears to have the initials E T and is dated 1796 could this have belonged to an earlier member of the Thorney dynasty?
Parliament Street was numbered consecutively south from Quay Street to Whitefriargate, although the junction of the two streets was later intersected by the construction of Alfred Gelder Street from c.1902. Almost all of the surviving Georgian houses in Parliament Street, including No.10, were given Listed Building status in the early 1950s due to their architectural importance.
Shown right is the Thorney's former office in Parliament Street as we see it today - a pleasant and well-kept building in a handsome street.
The first register office for the Sculcoates district was located at no.28 George Street, the offices of solicitor John Anderson, who was the first superintendent registrar, and clerk to the guardians of the union. Sadly no image of the original building is known to have survived, as this prime location was used as the site for a new bank that was constructed in the late 1870s. This was rebuilt in the 1960s, and is currently a branch of Lloyds TSB, at the corner of present-day Bond Street.
Generally, it was eminent men, such as solicitors and surgeons that held the position of Superintendent Registrar, whilst their deputies often held more humble positions; ones I have found varied from a book keeper, to a joiner, a builder and an undertaker. However in 1838 Mr Charles Turner West was listed as registrar for Sculcoates east, and John Martinson Fullam as registrar for Sculcoates west – both were surgeons, an occupation that may have complimented their role as registrars.
The link below will open a small pdf file that shows the location of some of the old town registration offices that were used during the late 19th Century
The Thorneys private residences were at various locations, and mostly well-to-do, befitting their status in the society of the time. Alfred, the last of the three noted registrar generals in the Thorney family, was living at no.7 Salisbury Street (shown right in 2009) in the Avenues, prior to his death in 1925, a property designed by the architect Gilbert Scott. The office of the Hull Superintendent Registrar remained in Parliament Street until 1926, as the position had remained in the Thorney family throughout. The offices of his deputies also remained within the Old Town, and generally in the area around Bowlalley Lane, Bishop Lane and Whitefriargate, the home of many of Hull’s solicitors – several of who were registrars. Separate registrars were later established for ‘births & deaths’, and another for ‘marriages’, both presumably responsible to the Superintendent. However, the offices of the Sculcoates Superintendent Registrar moved from one address to another as the position changed from person to person. During the 19th Century and the early years of the 20th Century, the offices remained within the city, but the east and west Sculcoates districts were split, and separate offices were established in most of the individual districts.
Hull was a much smaller place in 1837 than the huge sprawling city that it is now, and the small offices in the Old Town were all that was required to service the population. In the ten years following the 1837 Act of Parliament the population of the municipal borough of Hull grew from approximately 40,000 to over 60,000. This huge increase was probably the main reason for the opening of the many new sub-district offices. Stephenson’s Hull directory of 1848 recorded the locations, and main occupations of the various registrars of births, marriages and deaths at that date as follows:
Kingston upon Hull district:
• Superintendent’s office, 10 Parliament Street – John Thorney, Solicitor and Coroner for the Borough. Home, 5 Carlton Terrace, Spring Bank.
• Deputy Superintendent’s office, 2 Bowlalley Lane – William Ritson Dryden, Solicitor. Home, Elm Tree House, Anlaby Road.
• Registrars of Births & Deaths, Kingston upon Hull offices – Humber district – 4 Whitefriargate, Edward Wallis, surgeon. St Mary’s district – 25 Bishop Lane, Henry Lee, surgeon. Myton district – 12 Parliament Street, Edward Sidebottom, solicitor & clerk to the Commissioners of Property & Income Tax; home 21 Belle Vue Terrace.
• Registrars deputy – Humber district – 18 Parliament Street, George Henry Hill, wine & spirit merchant. St Mary’s district – 17 Lowgate, John Rayner, book seller, binder, letter-press printer & dealer in stamps. Myton district – 113 Porter Street, Walter James Reed, solicitor’s clerk.
• Registrars of marriages – 7 Parliament Street, John & Joseph Hickson, solicitors.
• Superintendent’s office – 1 Savile Street, William Chatham, solicitor, clerk to the Guardians of the Sculcoates Union
• Deputy Superintendent’s office – 39 George Street, John Brodrick, merchant.
• Registrars of Births & Deaths, Sculcoates offices – East Sculcoates – 8 North Street, Bridge Street, Charles Turner West, surgeon. West district – 7 Savile Street, John Martinson Fullam, surgeon to the East Sculcoates District of the Sculcoates Union. Sutton & Drypool – 2 East Parade, Holderness Road, Thomas Witty, Joiner builder & undertaker (works: 3 Trippett Street).
• Registrars deputy – East Sculcoates – 13 Caroline Place, Caroline Street, John Dalton, stock & share broker of Bowlby & Dalton & Co. West Sculcoates – 4 John Street, Samuel Fulstow, bookkeeper. Sutton – (unknown), 8 Somerstown, Holderness Road,
• Registrars of marriages – Colbeck & Thompson, 12 Parliament Street, solicitors.
The number of register offices that were spread around Hull and its suburbs, continued to increase throughout the 19th Century. Within Hull, the offices remained mostly within the Old Town, in Parliament Street and Bowlalley Lane (later established at ‘Lincolns Inn Buildings’). In 1872 registrars were listed at nos.10, 12, 16, 19 and 25 Parliament Street, as well as other offices in Savile Street, Bourne Street, Holderness Road and Bishop Lane. The Jewish community had their own registrar.
From c.1900 the Superintendent Registrar for Sculcoates was resident at a register office in Harley Street, off Beverley Road, whilst other registrars continued to operate from various addresses around the city. This situation continued until the late 1920s, when from c.1926 the Sculcoates Union ‘District Register Office for Births, Deaths and Marriages’ was established at no.41 Bond Street, possibly moving from Bishop Lane following the death of the last of the Thorney dynasty. Mr Harry Carlin was the superintendent registrar at that time, and the registrar for marriages was Mr W E Anderson. The offices of the Hull Incorporation for the Poor were listed at no.198 Anlaby Road during this period. From c.1936 superintendent registrars were Harry Carlin, still at no.41 Bond Street, and Mr F Pickering – based at no.61 Carr Lane.
The Sculcoates Union was abolished in 1937, and at that point many of the city offices became centralised. In 1939 the registrars of births and deaths in the various sub-districts were mostly located in ‘Shell House’, at the north end of Ferensway, with the exception of the Albert sub-district, who’s registrar was located at no.238 Boulevard. Four of the registrars of marriages in 1939 were at addresses across the city, in Bond Street, Anlaby Park Road, and in the village of Sutton, as well as those at Shell House.
Prior to 1937 the two main districts had sub-districts as follows:
Hull (from 1837-1937) had three sub-districts, Saint Mary, Myton and Humber.
Sculcoates (from 1837-1937) had eight sub-districts, West Sculcoates, East Sculcoates, Drypool, Hessle, Southcoates, Cottingham, Sutton and Newland.
These changed in 1937, when some of the districts were discontinued, some remained unchanged and several new ones were created. The main Hull Register Office was re-located to the ‘Municipal Offices’ at nos.181-191 George Street around 1942.
The Municipal Offices were also home to City Treasurers department, the local taxation offices, the Coroners Court (childrens’ department) and the Welfare Services department. The building that housed the new offices had previously been the main premises of drapers Maw, Till, Kirke & Co, who had vacated the large ornate buildings in 1938. The distinctive copper-domed corner towers were a well-known landmark, until their removal in a 1965 make-over (see later). It is these premises that remain the location of Hull’s Register Office to this day.
The building is shown on the right, at three dates in its history - top right shows the building as Maw Till & Kirke during the 1930s when Charlotte Street was at its best; the second shows the building in the 1957, and below right is as we see it today.
A hectic time in the history of the Hull Register Office was recorded in a typical 1960s article in the Hull Daily Mail, in December 1965:
After a year in High Street, some of Hull’s most precious records have returned to their rightful home, the Register Office which has been remodelled as part of a £42,000 scheme at the Municipal Offices, George Street. While the staff of the Register Office occupied a temporary place at Oriental buildings, High Street, the whole of the ground floor of the Municipal Offices was pulled apart and modernised.
The staff and the 5,000 registers which tell the story of Hull’s births, deaths and marriages since 1837, returned last Sunday, ready for business as usual on Monday. A new and dignified marriage-room was constructed during their absence. It is essentially a place where the solemnity of a Register Office wedding can mean something.
An average of 900 civil weddings a year are conducted at the Register Office and according to Mr H L Sleight, the Superintendent Registrar, this average can be expected to increase as children born in 1947 reach marriageable age. In addition to this, more than 6,000 births and about 3,500 deaths are registered each year.
Behind the bald record of names, addresses and relationships there must be many concealed stories of the joy and grief. Stories of families from the cradle to the grave, of wartime marriages, civilian air-raid victims or epidemics. Those 5,000 volumes however, are just books full of names to the outsider, and records and statistics to the officials. Each and every day fresh names are added.
With the start of World War II the Hull Register Office and its records began a varied existence, moving from time to time in a vulnerable area. The records were kept underground at the Old Sculcoates Register Office in Bond Street, the office of the superintendent registrar. The building was completely destroyed by a bomb in 1941. Happily the records had a miraculous escape and were rescued from the debris intact. Some were soaking wet, but they were dried out without ill effect.
For a time the whole department was housed at the overcrowded Guildhall, where civil marriages were conducted in one of the rooms. Then the registrar of births and deaths were found space in the former drapery and departmental store in George Street, near North Bridge. This building was already patched up from bomb damage, but in 1946 it was possible to find room for the superintendent registrar and the whole department became one unit. Working space was congested, the Coroners Court was separated only by thin partitions and as the acoustics were bad the patience of officials and visitors was sorely tested at times. The room used for conducting civil marriages was unsatisfactory and so close to the street that traffic noises could be heard above the ceremony.
The Corporation Welfare Department and the Motor Licensing Department were also housed in the building and eventually the Corporation decided on a plan of modernisation. The cost of the structural alterations was estimated at more than £42,000, which meant tearing out the whole of the ground floor and moving the Register Office to the Oriental Buildings.
Mr Arthur Lazenby, a Hull architect, was commissioned by the Corporation to re-design the former departmental store as modern offices. Mr Lazenby’s brief for the ground floor was to provide accommodation for the superintendent registrar and his staff and a suite of rooms in which to conduct civil marriages – a challenging undertaking because of the structural limitations and other difficulties. The new marriage-room has a separate entrance into a spacious foyer, and the room itself is centrally placed. A simple table for the participants in the ceremony, and chairs covered in light blue material for friends and guests. There are always fresh flowers in a dignified wall stand.
“Civil marriages in this country tend to be looked on as second-class affairs to be tolerated rather than encouraged, and I felt it was essential that the new accommodation should be as attractive as possible, but at the same time to have a proper dignity suitable for the occasion,” said Mr Lazenby.
Externally, the Municipal Offices have been given a new look. The two copper domes, which gave the building an oriental appearance, have been removed. Last Saturday, Mr Sleight conducted the last marriage ceremonies at the Oriental Buildings. There were 20 up to noon, and then the preparations were made for closing the office and the return to the brand new offices in George Street. On Sunday, the operation started and was completed in about six hours. The valuable records, however, were the responsibility of Mr Sleight and his five registrars, who transferred them in their cars.
Finally, when all the registers were again in proper order in the strong room, Mr Sleight turned the key with some relief that the operation had gone without a hitch. The fresh new offices were ready for business at opening time on Monday morning. There had to be no delay with the registration of the city’s new lives and those who had passed on. Within minutes, an excited young man arrived to register the birth of his first child and almost on his heels a middle aged man came to register a death’ (the article also featured photographs of the move).
Hull was fortunate to have the first woman to be a registrar of marriages in England. Florence Hall died at her home ‘Hillbra’, in Salthouse Road, Sutton in 1939, aged 54 years. She had been the registrar of births and deaths for the Albert subdivision of Hull, and had been in registration since the age of 19. She was a native of Hull, having been born Florence Loades in 1902. She married Donald G Hall in 1927, at St James Church Sutton, and in a 1930 trade directory, was listed as Florence Hall of no.225 Summergangs Road, when she was a registrar for the Sculcoates Union.
© Paul Gibson 2008 (revised for the web July 2010)
Pat Nendick – transcribing Hull Daily Mail newspaper article, Florence Hall notes and asking me to compile this history in the first place
Portrait of Mr John Thorney courtesy of the Hull Guildhall
1850s Ordnance Survey pdf file courtesy of the Ordnance Survey
Copeman Markham Solicitors for kind access to their offices