The Burgess Books are a real jewel for anyone researching family history in Bridgnorth. They list all the people made burgesses (or Freemen) of the town of Bridgnorth from as early as the mid 1600’s right up to the times of the earliest censuses. This includes many people living outside Bridgnorth, outside Shropshire, or even occasionally outside Britain!
The people mentioned range from the gentry through to craftsmen and tradesmen right down to common labourers. Many prominent local and historical figures made it into its pages - including two future Kings and the father of the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln.
There were four basic ways in which a man (but not a woman, alas!) could claim the right to be made a burgess:
Once he had been admitted as a burgess, a man would have certain privileges, such as the right to vote or to trade in the town. The 1793-1798 British Universal Directory mentions a free school for the sons of the burgesses.
Almost all entries in the Bridgnorth Burgess Book list the name of the burgess and the date of his admission, but most records will list more than the basic information. They may also give one or more of the following:
Sometimes this information is explicitly stated, other times it is implied by reference to previous entries. Where the burgess is entered as "Son of...", it makes it far easier for genealogists to follow a family line back through the generations.
It is also possible to use the Bridgnorth Burgess Book to find other sons of the same father - brothers who survived to adulthood and enrolled as burgesses (not all of them did). It is far easier to identify baptism and marriage records on the I.G.I. (or elsewhere) if you know you are not merely looking for a Fred Bloggs with a son Joseph, but a Fred Bloggs with sons Joseph, Frederick, Reuben and Mungo. It also makes it easier to follow a family line forwards, even after they have moved away from Bridgnorth.
The burgess records for Bridgnorth come in many different forms, but the Bridgnorth Burgess Book which is transcribed on this website is an amalgam of those which list the burgesses alphabetically by surname. These records are explained below.
The earliest version of the Bridgnorth Burgess Book appears to have been kept in the back of the Bailiffs’ Memoranda Book, which, apart from a few legal items at the beginning, is mostly empty. On 23rd April 1714, the Bailiffs undertook to list all those enrolled as burgesses who were still living at that time. The introduction reads:
"Here follows an Account of all the Burgesses of the Corporation of Bridgnorth in the County of Salop that are liveing the 23d of Aprill Anno Domi 1714 and the time when they were severally sworne Burgesses."
"And there be alsoe entred the names of all the Burgesses that bee sworne since."
The earliest enrolments mentioned in this list are from the 1650’s, but it does not include anyone who died before 23rd April 1714. Over the decades which followed, new burgesses were entered in between the lines or on facing pages.
The Bailiffs’ Memoranda Book continues up to about 1780, by which time it was getting messy, cramped and unreadable, and hence fell out of use.
An updated, rewritten Bridgnorth Burgess Book incorporated the earlier information from the Bailiffs’ Memoranda Book and recorded all new admissions from about 1781. This book forms the core of the burgess list on this site, and the wording of the entries in the database is almost always taken from this second Bridgnorth Burgess Book. Where extra (or different) information is present in the Bailiffs’ Memoranda Book this is also included in square brackets or added to the record as a note or comment.
(Another copy of the Bailiffs’ Memoranda Book was also written out at about the same time, but unlike the SBB only recorded new admissions up to about 1785. This book ended up in the Apley Park Estate records at Shropshire Archives, and is referred to on this website as the "Apley Burgess Book".)
An advantage of cross-referencing against the Bailiffs’ Memoranda Book is that it is possible to spot mistranscriptions (whether by the SBB scribe or myself). It can also be easier to deduce what was intended from the layout of the Bailiffs’ Memoranda Book than from the layout of the second Burgess Book.
Sometimes, information is only given indirectly in the record itself. For example, an entry might say "Fred Bloggs Labourer his son." In cases like these, the entry is usually implying that Fred’s father is in the entry above. Where it is obvious who is being referred to, their name or record number has been inserted into the database entry in square brackets.
The second Burgess Book continues up to about 1825, at which point some of the surnames were running out of room.
Rather than writing the whole list out again, when the second Burgess Book fell out of use, the new book simply listed any new burgesses made in the years 1826 - 1835. This end date of 1835 coincides with the Municipal Reform Act.
The Burgess Book Extension is indexed alphabetically like an address book, and each surname has its own page - consequently, many pages have only one or two entries on them.
Around 1836, a new book was begun, copying out the second Burgess Book, adding the Burgess Book Extension, and leaving room at the end of each letter of the alphabet for any further names to be added. The information in this book has been separated into columns, although the data does not always fit this format (for example, it was not always obvious to the clerk where the occupation should be listed).
The book was microfilmed by the Church of Latter Day Saints in about 1950, and can be viewed on a film reader at Shropshire Archives or ordered at your local Family History Centre. The book itself, unlike all the other burgess books, is not at Shropshire Archives but is still in Bridgnorth, where it is known as the Freemen’s Book and can be viewed by appointment.
Burgess enrolment dwindled in the middle years of the nineteenth century, and became purely honorary. However, there are entries in this last Bridgnorth Burgess Book dating right up to the present day. It is still possible to be made a Burgess (or Freeman) of Bridgnorth by proof of descent in the male line.
The burgess records are not only found in the books already mentioned above. There are also the following:
For more details on these records, please click on the links above.
|Record Name||Reference Number|
|Shropshire Archives||Bridgnorth Lists||Family History Library|
|Bailiffs Memoranda Book||BB/C/2/2/1||BMB||---|
|Apley Burgess Book||5586/12/2||ABB||---|
|Second Burgess Book||BB/B/4/3/3||SBB||---|
|Burgess Book Extension||BB/B/4/3/7||BBE||---|
|Freemen’s Book||(at Bridgnorth)||FMB||( Film 1911880 / 1911881 )|
|Freemen’s Book (Film)||Microfilm 127||BBF||( Film 1911880 / 1911881 )|
Note: The film numbers I have listed for the Family History Library may not be correct, as I have not seen the films myself. They are taken from the online catalogue, and appear to be referring to the same sources that I have used.
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