Mind your Erpinghams…!

First, let me apologise for my recent lack of blog updating. I hope to rectify this now my MSc work has finished for the summer – at some point I will also do a blog about the first year of the Strathclyde course I’ve been busy completing, in the hope that some readers will find it interesting. 

For today however I’m going to write about administration units.

Dull? Well, maybe.

But I tell you what, if you don’t know which ‘Erpingham’ you’re talking about then you could find you’re wasting an awful lot of time during your research, either because you’re not looking in the right places, or because you’re not including the entire area you should be reviewing. 

While my example here will be Norfolk based, the principle applies wherever you are across the Country, and the Erpingham Example is by no means the only one even in Norfolk (as you’ll see at the bottom of this post).

So, Erpingham.

Erpingham, Erpingham, Erpingham. 

For some reason it’s the one name that seems to trip up and confuse more people I speak to than any other. In fact, if I had a pound for every person that thought all births, marriages and deaths on the GRO and listed in Erpingham were registered in the parish, then I might have retired by now (I’m 27).  

Most locals will know that Erpingham is a small and very pretty village in North Norfolk. It had just over 540 residents in 2001 (according to the census of that year) and has a very well known pub. The church of St Mary is the religious centre of the ecclesiastical parish of the same name (in the benefice of Erpingham with Calthorpe etc), and the current area of the civil parish of Erpingham is a smidge over 10km squared. There is no registry office there. 

Erpingham is also the name of several other administrative units which are much, much, larger – in both area and population – than the parish itself. Here are the most common ones:

North Erpingham hundred: A historical administrative area you’ll come across frequently, mostly before 1834, when looking at things like land tax, or finding parishes in Blomefield or trade directories. North Erpingham hundred includes Aldborough, Antingham, Aylmerton, Barningham-Norwood, Barningham Town, Beeston Regis, Bessingham, Cromer, East Beckham…in fact over 30 parishes in the north of the County up to the coast. Not one of them is Erpingham parish!

South Erpingham hundred: As above, but including nearly 40 parishes immediately to the south of the other Erpingham hundred. This time, Erpingham is one of those parishes included in the unit. For Norfolk hundred maps, visit www.archives.norfolk.gov.uk and look for “e-Resources” on the left before choosing a map to view.

Erpingham Poor Law Union: The 49 parishes which came together in April 1836, with an elected Board of Guardians, to look after the needy of the area. This area is not the same as either of the hundreds described previously. Unfortunately, it didn’t even stay the same throughout its history – North Walsham parish moved from Erpingham Union to Smallburgh Union in 1884! 

Erpingham Registration district: As already mentioned, this seems to be the one that really throws people, and not surprisingly. When civil registration began in 1837, each birth, marriage and death was indexed with a ‘Registration District’. This is not a single parish where the event was registered, but a group of parishes. The event could have been registered in any one of the parishes included in the district. Erpingham parish is within Erpingham RD, but so are 52 other parishes for most of its existance (use a site such as www.ukbmd.org.uk to find out which parishes were in which district, when). So, when you see a birth, marriage or death index entry in ‘Erpingham’, it’s not telling you that everything happened in Erpingham village and you won’t find all the associated baptisms, banns and burials in the St Mary’s registers. The parishes covered are again not the same as any of the other units mentioned above.

These are the main offenders for beginners with Erpingham connections, but watch out, because Erpingham isn’t always included in a larger unit bearing it’s name either – from 1806 to 1836, Erpingham parish belonged to the Oulton Gilbert Union and sent it’s paupers to a workhouse at Oulton!

It’s important to make sure you know which Erpingham you are dealing with, but unfortunately web sources – and other sources – won’t always make it clear. But then it’s all part of the challenge and detective work of family history, and part of the reason that patience, referencing and attention to detail are such important qualities in a genealogist… 

Other Norfolk parishes which give their names to various units are as follows (not an exhaustive list; GU = Gilbert Union, PLU = Poor Law Union, RD = Registration District): 

Acle is a GU

Aldborough is a GU

Aylsham is a PLU and an RD

Bawdeswell is a GU

Blofield is a PLU, a hundred and an RD

Booton is a GU

Brinton is a GU (with Melton Constable)

Diss is a hundred

Docking is a PLU and an RD

Earsham is a hundred

East Dereham is an RD

Fakenham is an RD

Gimingham is a GU

Great Yarmouth is a PLU and an RD

Hackford is a GU NB there are two Hackford parishes, the GU is the one near Reepham

Holt is a hundred

Hoxne is an RD

King’s Lynn is a PLU, a coroners’ district and an RD

Loddon is a PLU and RD (with Clavering), by itself it’s a hundred

Melton Constable is a GU (with Brinton)

Mitford is a PLU and an RD (with Launditch), by itself it’s a hundred

Mutford is a hundred and an RD NB the parish is in Suffolk but some parishes in the hundred and RD were once in Norfolk

North Walsham is an RD

Norwich is a PLU, a hundred, a coroners’ district, an RD

Shropham is a hundred

Smallburgh is an RD

Swaffham is a PLU and an RD

Taverham is a hundred

Thetford is a PLU and an RD

Tunstead (with Happing) is a PLU and RD, by itself it’s a hundred

Walsingham is a PLU and an RD

Wisbech is an RD


And to finish, a few that people often think are parishes… but aren’t (just for starters):


Forehoe is a PLU and an RD but not a parish

Depwade is PLU and an RD but not a parish

Clavering (with Loddon) is a PLU and an RD, by itself it’s a hundred, but it’s not a parish

Happing (with Tunstead) is a PLY and an RD, by itself it’s a hundred, but it’s not a parish


If you’re looking for a more national resource, try www.visionofbritain.org.uk and www.genuki.org.uk – both are mines of information.

So there you have it. Don’t be fooled, have confidence in your units (not just the alcoholic kind), and mind your Erpinghams!

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