Worcestershire Record No. 18 April 2005 p. 27


John D Dodge

Following the note by Terry Knight of a 1685 record of hedgehogs (as ‘urchins’) at South Littleton (Worcestershire Record 17, page 7, November. 2004) I have searched an early Churchwardens’ Account Book for Beckford (1660-1711) and the rather later books for the adjacent parish of Ashton under Hill (1771-1815; 1816-1883).

The Beckford book proved the most interesting with numerous records for catching or killing Hedge Hogs. The first was in 1695 and up to the last date of 1711 a bounty of 4d per head was paid for a total of 168 animals. The worst year for the local population was 1705 when 24 were caught. Over the 16 years of these accounts there were also nine fox heads paid for at 1/- and, perhaps more interestingly, there are ten records for Fitchens (or fichens: spelling varies), the old name for the Polecat, four in 1705, two in 1709, one in 1710 and three in 1711. These were rewarded at 2d or 4d per head.

On the bird front the only vermin rewarded were Sparrows which fetched 2d per dozen. From 1703 to 1711 a total of 290.5 dozen were caught, a staggering number of 3480 birds. The worst year for the local population was 1707 when 79 dozen were caught.

At Ashton no mammals were brought to the churchwardens but between 1805 and 1844 a steady stream of Sparrows came for payment, totalling in excess of 450 dozen (>5400 birds). Apparently the Act of Parliament requiring churchwardens to encourage the destruction of vermin, which had originally been passed in 1532, was repealed in mid 19th century, so the absence of records after 1844 may not have been due to the small boys’ lack of enthusiasm for earning a few pence!

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