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Baptisms, Marriages and Burials of Atherton Residents
at Leigh St Mary Parish Church in the 18th Century

Baptisms and Burials

In the 18th century, Atherton was a township in Leigh parish and anyone whose ancestry leads them to Atherton in those years will inevitably need to examine the registers of the parish church of St Mary the Virgin at Leigh. I have searched those registers and extracted all the baptism, marriage and burial records of Atherton residents I can find for the years 1701-1801, and presented them on this Atherton Parish site.

Atherton did not become a chapelry in Leigh parish till 1724. Before that time, Chowbent Chapel (built in 1645) was essentially nonconformist, and if any baptism and burial registers were kept, none have survived. The fact that burials did occur at Chowbent Chapel prior to 1724 is confirmed by a cryptic entry in the Leigh St Mary register on 15 Jan 1701/2, which says that the wife of Robert Hayes was “burried att Bent”. From 1724 the chapel was known as Atherton Chapel and dedicated to St John the Baptist; registers were kept and appended yearly to the Leigh parish church registers.

In the first half of the 18th century around 14-20% of baptisms at Leigh were from Atherton, while burials were in the 14-28% range. It is interesting to note that even well after 1724, Athertonians divided their loyalties almost equally between chapel and church. In the 1754-1776 period there were 523 and 525 Atherton-abode baptisms at Atherton Chapel and Leigh St Mary respectively. The two most likely explanations are family tradition, and local geography. Prior to boundary reorganisation in 1894, Atherton extended a long way to the south-west of the village of Chowbent, into what is now the modern town of Leigh. For the inhabitants of SW Atherton, the church of Leigh St Mary would have been a lot closer to home than Atherton Chapel.

I analysed the records for 1754-1776 to see if it was possible to recognise families who baptised their children at both places (for whatever reason). Unfortunately, the baptisms give only the father's name, and though there are quite a few names which appear at both Leigh and Atherton, they may of course be different fathers who shared the same name - a common enough occurrence at the time. One match I can be sure of is Robt. V.A. Gwillym Esq. Robert Vernon Atherton Gwillym was the lord of Atherton manor, and no doubt deliberately spread his favours between church and chapel. His residence was Atherton Hall in SW Atherton, much closer to Leigh St Mary than to Atherton St John.


From 1701 through 1723 it was the practice to record the residence of individuals from other parishes, and from chapelries within Leigh parish. Otherwise, people were identified only as being 'of ye parish', or similar. It is not known how rigorously this policy was carried out, and it seems likely that some Athertonians would have been married as unspecified parishioners. For some couples, the words 'both of Atherton' make their mutual residence clear, but in many cases the word Atherton appears only after the groom or bride's name. Possibly both of them came from Atherton, but in the marriage lists here, an Atherton residence is stated only for the person whose name it follows in the register.

In 1724 the style of register entry changed, and from then till 1754, no mention was made of the bride or groom's abode unless they were 'strays' from another parish. From 1724 through 1750, the records of weddings at Atherton were appended to the yearly registers of Leigh St Mary, under the heading 'Marriages at Atherton Chapel'. However, in the early 18th century, most Athertonians were married in Leigh, and there were only 26 weddings at Atherton Chapel from 1724 to 1750. Marriages at Leigh during this period probably include many people from Atherton whose place of abode was not recorded. No marriages were recorded at Atherton Chapel from 1751 to 1852.

In 1754 printed registers were introduced, and by May 1755 the residence of both marriage partners was being consistently recorded. The first printed register ran out on page 61 in August 1758 after entry 240, but was continued in another book in numerical sequence on hand-drawn pages until closed in early June 1759 after 294 marriages had been entered. A 2nd printed register from June 1759 through April 1762 was closed after 159 marriages had been entered.

The 3rd printed register continued from April 1762, closing in January 1773 after some 770 entries. Pages 10 & 11 are missing on the microfilm (8 marriages between 4 November 1762 and 2 January 1763). Residence was consistently recorded for only the first 407 entries through 6 March 1768. As in the 1724 to 1750 period, there must have been many people from Atherton whose place of abode was not recorded between 1768 and 1773. The 4th printed register from January 1773 to June 1777 contains 384 marriages with consistent recording of abode throughout. Succeeding registers recorded only the parish of residence.

In the 1754-1777 period, one or both partners in about 28% of the weddings at Leigh parish church were from Atherton.

Records of Atherton residents in Leigh St Mary marriages

1701 to1723 Consistently? recorded
1724 to 1754 Not recorded
Oct 1754 to Apr 1755 Not consistently recorded
May 1755 to Mar 1768 Consistently recorded
Mar 1768 to Jan 1773 Not consistently recorded
Jan 1773 to Jun 1777 Consistently recorded
From Jul 1777 Not recorded

Peter Wood
July 2006

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