History of registration
A brief history of registration services within the British
Isles, leading up to the present day service.
When did registration begin?
The need to record the important
events in someone's life can be traced back to the reign of Henry
In 1538 a local system of registration
based on christenings, marriages and burials was introduced by
Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's lord chancellor.
The clergy of each parish were ordered
to keep a book which recorded all baptisms, marriages and
In 1597 special registers were bought
by each parish and for the first time annual returns were to be
sent to a Diocesan Registrar.
An Act of 1666 complicated the job of
registering burials in that all corpses had to be buried "in a
woollen shroud" (for the sake of the duty on wool). After each
burial an oath was made which confirmed this.
Then in 1753 an act was passed which
made it illegal for marriages to take place unless
banns (summons) had been read or a licence issued in the
parish where the bride or groom lived.
This meant that runaway marriages in
England became almost impossible, however, it did lead to the rise
in fame of Gretna Green, as it was just over the border
Except for a brief time during the
commonwealth (1653 - 1660), registration was carried out by the
Why did it change?
Only the registers of the established church were accepted as a
legal record and, as the number of non-conformist churches began to
grow, the parish registers became more and more incomplete.
In the early nineteenth century a House of Commons committee
recommended that the local system should be replaced by a national
system of registration and that a civil marriage ceremony should be
On 1 July 1837, in the first year of Queen Victoria's reign, the
new modern registration service began.
On that day 2193 newly appointed Registrars of Births and Deaths
and 619 Superintendent Registrars took up their pens throughout
England and Wales and commenced entry number 1 in their first civil
In the first full year of the service, 11,826 births and 7,871
deaths were registered in Kent.
During 1987, the 150th anniversary year, that number had grown
to 20,885 births and 17,773 deaths.
From 1837 until 1929 the local service was run by the Poor Law
Board of Guardians.
How did the modern service develop?
In 1929 the service was transferred to local government and in
Kent today it is run by the county council.
The Medway towns area is run by Medway Council.
Kent has a range of Kent and Bexley
Approved Premises for the celebration of civil marriages.
These are usually register
offices. Kent libraries offer facilities for
the registration of
births and deaths and a number of
options are available.
In 1995 the county council was allowed to licence other venues
for civil marriage ceremonies.
Couples now have the choice of taking their marriage vows in
castles, stately homes, hotels, animal parks, gazebos and many
other unique and interesting places.
In the early years of the service very few marriages took place
in Register Offices, but now over 60% of all marriages celebrated
in Kent take place in licensed venues and Register Offices.
Whilst the service still retains many of its Victorian roots,
computers have now replaced pen and ink as the best way to record
these important personal events.