Illustrated Dictionary of British Churches - Parish Chest Definition

History and Architecture

Parish Chest

A wooden chest used for storing parish records, such as records of births and deaths, property deeds, and legal documents. Parish chests were used particularly from the medieval to the Jacobean period. Chests were often bound with iron straps and locked with state-of-the-art (for the era) secure locks. In an era when written documents were rare and very valuable, chests were often used to store important papers for local inhabitants, not just church records. Though most medieval chests were extemely simple - some were even carved from a single tree trunk by hollowing it out - some are richly carved on the front face. Many, particularly Jacobean and Elizabethan chests, bear the date of construction carved on the front or top.

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