Page 3 Parish vestries

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The two Vestries of Kensington and Chelsea developed separately with Chelsea initially being the busier. Between the 15th and 17th centuries Chelsea became a riverside resort for courtiers and wealthy Londoners. The higher land of Kensington was favoured because of its pleasant healthy surroundings. Although both parishes were primarily rural, supplying London with hay and produce, the population grew steadily. Where the great and the good reside others will surely follow.

As the authority of the manorial courts declined, the local church vestries increasingly took charge of civilian matters. In part this was voluntary but also because new legislation required them to. Vestries were so called after the room in the church where business was conducted under the chairmanship of the vicar. Traditionally their main concerns were church affairs and charitable bequests. From the early 17th century vestry meetings usually took place once a year. Male ratepayers were entitled to attend, examine the accounts and select officers. These were unpaid posts allocated by rota and to be avoided at all costs. The only paid official was the Vestry Clerk who was appointed for life. The Vestry also administered justice and appointed a constable, called the Beadle, to enforce rulings. A lock-up and stocks were situated outside both parish churches.

As more responsibilities were transferred to the parish, the Vestry slowly evolved as the recognised local government authority.


Drawing of Petyt House

Petyt House, Old Church Street where the Vestry met, drawing by WW Burgess
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Coloured drawing of street scene with horse cart and soldiers

St Mary Abbot's Church and lock up
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Virtual Museum – The History of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
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