Oliver Cromwell who first suggested making a register of Births, Marriages
and Deaths in the 1650s. Nothing happened for nearly two centuries but on
1 Jul 1837 a new law was passed, setting up the system of Civil
Registration we have today.
It caused a storm of protest. The Church of England said it
threatened the Parish Register system, free thinkers said it was a plot to
remove an Englishman's right to keep himself to himself, non-conformists
said its aim was to identify them prior to removing their right to be
different and almost everyone said it was part of a scheme to
identify potential tax payers.
In an effort to placate the critics, the element of compulsion was
removed, and thus many early births went unrecorded because individuals
were not required to inform the Registrar - it was up to him to discover
and record the facts. At regular intervals throughout the year, each local
Registrar set out, travelling around his "patch" collecting data
where and how he could from rectors, midwives, neighbours and those
parents who were willing to pass on information.
From the start, most deaths were registered because people wanted
burial of adults to take place in a churchyard and this could not happen without a certificate.
However, the deaths of many
young children went unrecorded.
With the exception of Quakers and Jews, all marriages before 1837 had
to take place in a Church of England church. After 1837, non-conformists could marry in their own churches and for anyone who
wished it (and this was a popular choice) a civil ceremony in a Registry
Office before a Superintendent Registrar was available.
Not until 1874 was the element of compulsion finally introduced. From
then on, parents had a legal duty to inform the Registrar of the birth of a
child within 42 days,
marriage was not recognised without separate certification from the
Superintendent Registrar, and
burials could not take place without production of an
official Death Certificate. Tough penalties were introduced to ensure that
registration took place and that there were no more "secret"