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BOOKER family – Wickhamford Estate Tenant’s Daughters who both Married Vicars, c1600

Parish Registers were kept from about 1536, by order of Queen Elizabeth.  In two entries in the Wickhamford Marriage Register, in 1597 and 1603, the groom’s names included the abbreviation ‘Domus’, short for ‘Dominus’.  This meant that the two gentlemen had Bachelor of Arts degrees and such men were often Vicars.

On 5th May 1597, John Jones (spelled as ‘Joanes’) married Catherine Booker and on 24th January 1603, Giles Smithe married Margaret Bowker.  The different spelling of the two bride’s surnames was a common occurrence in this family at the time, as most people were illiterate.  There are no surviving records of who was the Vicar of Wickhamford at the time when these entries were made.  It is possible that both of these men attended University in Oxford and were known to each other at the time of their ordinations.

Booker/Bowker Family Background

The brides’ family name was possibly pronounced ‘Boowker’, which could have led to different spellings occurring.  In fact, the father of the brides was married in Badsey in 1562 and his name appears in that Register as William ‘Bocar’.  He married Alice Harwood on 20th October that year.  In the 1500s and 1600s, Booker/Bowker was the commonest surname appearing in the Wickhamford Parish Registers.

William and Alice Booker had two sons and nine daughters, all baptised in Wickhamford, between 1564 and 1586.  The two brides mentioned above were baptised in 1574 and 1583.  ‘Katherine Booker’, as it appears in the Register on 10th September 1574 and ‘Margaret Bowker’ on 22nd March 1583.  In both cases, William was recorded as the father.

There is no record of where in the village the Booker family lived, but William and Alice’s elder son, Thomas, born in 1571, appears in the Manorial Court records (which have survived from 1631 to 1716). These records reveal the names of many of the more prominent tenants in the village, as they were called upon to act as a sort of jury in cases brought before the Court Baron and Steward.  They formed what was called the Homage and there were usually about eight village tenants represented.  In the records for 1631 to 1639, Thomas Bowker’s name was top of the list of Homage tenants, so it is likely that he was tenant of a significant property in Wickhamford.  Apart from the Manor, where Lord Sandys’ family lived, the next most significant property was what is now called Elm Farm, in Manor Road.

In the Court Manorial Book, dates 14th October 1631, there is the following entry:

Ann Booker, spinster, granted land called ‘Gowldings’, late in occupation of John Jones, clerk, in the right of Catherine, his wife. Ann Booker to hold the land for her natural life with a yearly rental of 3s and the heriot of 2s when it falls due. She also gave £36 for a fine and was admitted tenant and did her fealty.

How would two daughters of a tenant on the Wickhamford Estate have become the brides of two Vicars?

Catherine and Margaret’s father, William Booker died in 1595, before his daughter’s marriages, so their brother, Thomas, would have been head of the family.  William had had sufficient funds to warrant his leaving a Will.  

John Jones became Vicar of Wickhamford before 1616.  Catherine died in 1630.  John Jones married for a second time as his will refers to his wife, Mary, but the details of this marriage have not been found.  They had three children, all baptised at Wickhamford:  Mary (1632), Hester (1636-1638) and John (1639).  

John Jones was buried in the parish on 5th December 1648 and in his will, he requested that he be buried in the Chancel, next to his wife, ‘Katherine’, who had died in 1630.  He made various bequests to members of the Booker family.

At the time of these events, there was a Vicarage in Wickhamford, opposite Elm Farm in Manor Road.  John Jones would have occupied this building – which later fell into disrepair and was rebuilt in 1801 by Rev’d George Drummond when it was described as a mud hovel, let to a weaver.  It is now called ‘The Old Vicarage’.  When Rev’d John Jones lived there in the 1600s, the Booker family would have lived on the other side of the road and his future wife, Catherine, may even have originally been employed by him as a servant. An area of land next to the Vicarage was a glebe, owned by the church for use of the Vicar to supplement his income.

Giles Smithe of Sedgeberrow

Not far away, Giles Smithe was, at one period of his life, the Vicar of Sedgeberrow.  According to The Clergy of the Church of England Database he held that position at least from 1600 until 1627.  When Giles Smithe married Margaret Booker in January 1603, she was aged just twenty.  They had four children – Ann (1609), Giles (1610), Margaret (1613) and another Giles (1617).  There is a Wickhamford Burial Register entry appearing to concern this topic.  This is the burial on 6th June 1611 of Giles ‘Smythe’, son of Giles ‘Smythe’.  As Giles and Margaret had lost a young son, it appears that they wished him to be interred close to her family in Wickhamford.  

There is a Probate record for a Giles Smithe of Sedgeberrow, dated 14th November 1627.  The transcription of this document gives his occupation as ‘Clerk’, but it actually means a cleric or vicar. (See mentioned above, in the Court records, that John Jones was referred to as ‘Clerk’).  The times and locations of Giles and Margaret Smithe’s burials have not yet been located, but a Margaret ‘Smythe’ married Thomas Widdows in Sedgeberrow in May 1639.  She was probably the widow of Giles, but this has not been confirmed.  A boy called Giles Widdows was baptised in Blockley in 1643, but had been born in Aston Magna; his parents were Thomas and Margaret Widdows. (‘Giles’ seems to have been a favorite family but the 'Margaret' who was this one's mother could not have been the Margaret who married Giles Smithe as she would have been ca 57 years of age by 1643).  It could be unconnected, but in John Jones’ Will of 1648, one of the beneficiaries was a William Widdows.   This might have been a relative of Giles Smithe’s widow’s second husband?


The fact that the two Vicars married sisters would indicate that they were close associates from their university or ordination days.  It is possible that John James was Vicar of Wickhamford at the time of his marriage to Catherine Booker in 1597 and that Giles Smithe conducted the ceremony.  At that time, he would have met Catherine’s sister, Margaret, and this led to his own marriage six years later.

Tom Locke – July 2024


Many thanks are due to Judith Curthoys, Archivist at Christ Church College, Oxford, and her colleagues. They tackled the difficult task of deciphering the Latin entries in the Wickhamford Marriage Register, concerning the two marriages described in this article.