The joys of orthography

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January 29, 2016 by auntkatefirmin

If you look at the definition of orthography you’ll see that most of the meanings (outside map-making) relate to spelling more than to the letter symbols as such. The researcher using 16th and 17th century documents must work with both unusual spellings and unfamiliar letterforms. The story of Dorothy Pickcott being a case in point.

At the moment, I’ve been focusing on the detail work of verifying information about baptisms, marriages, and burials for the Horsell family in the earliest Wootton Bassett records as found on microfilm. While time-consuming, and with regard to technology sometimes frustrating, reviewing the records provides a sense of satisfaction and completion. Barring a few ink smears, these records have been quite legible: the contrast is generally good, the letters haven’t bled through from the other side of the sheet, the penmanship is generally stately, and the choice of letterforms preserved legibility.

Note the lovely scroll at the change of the year.

A sample from the early Wootton Bassett parish registers showing the clear “italic” handwriting.

Coming through the pages is the pleasure of the scribe in recording these bits of homeliness. At the head of each new year, there is a charming ornament that sometimes incorporates the initials, TF, for Thomas Floyd the vicar. I haven’t sorted out all the details of who might have done the writing, which would be an interesting post on its own. I did consult Duncan & Mandy Ball’s very handy website to check the dates of the rectors & vicars of the church of St Bartholomew & All Saints, Wootton Bassett. From 1620 to 1670 the Floyds, Thomas senior and junior, were the vicars – with a nine year interruption from 1644 to 1653 when the Puritans were in power. While there are variations in the handwriting, they don’t seem to correspond to tenure of the vicars so I have not yet drawn any conclusions about who actually recorded the entries.

Returning to Dorothy Pickcott, she has been (and to a large degree remains) a mystery. The bits of evidence are that she married Bartholomew Horsell in Wootton Bassett on July 6, 1637 and was presumably the mother of all his children as the death of the widow Dorothy Horsell was recorded in 1684, and there is no evidence of other wives. While I’ve been very happy with the accuracy of the indexes I’ve used, the fact remains that there are a number of ideas on the internet about Dorothy’s surname. I only know of the one register – if her name also appears on a Bishop’s Transcript I’ve yet to see it. That means that while looking at a single document, there have been several different readings of the same eight letters. Either that or later researchers decided something was wrong and “fixed” Dorothy’s name and we no longer have access to their notes.

Here I must admit I, too, am guilty of “fixing” names. I changed Dorathy to Dorothy for my own convenience as it’s easier for me to remember. I have standardized all my entries as Horsell, mainly so they will alphabetize well and I don’t have to recall who is Horsal, Horsell or some strange anomaly like “Horsewell.” I leave the details of the original spellings to my notes. After all, in the absence of an original signature the spelling often changes with the writer.

Or is it Bartholemew?

July 6, Bartholomew Horsell & Dorathy Pickcott.

I was eager to see the original record and form my own opinions as to Dorothy’s surname – was she a Pirrott, a Pirkot, or something else?  As you might guess, I have come down clearly with “Pickcott.” You can’t mistake that “k.” True, I’ve never heard of anyone by the name of Pickcott, but if you say it out loud you would most likely be heard as saying “Pickett.” While I have not found a Dorothy Pickett, the name Pickett is found in that area in that era  – the similar name, Piggot, doesn’t show up in the area in the 17th century.

Up to that point in the marriage portion of the register, the handwriting has been quite clear in a style where the letters are formed in an almost identical way to our printed italics: July 6 Bartholomew Horsell & Dorathy Pickcott. Note the shape of the “a” in particular compared to a “Roman” “a.” In June 1637, a different writer took over; Bartholomew & Dorothy’s entry is the second by this writer in the marriage register. This person has minor variations in the letter forms, including “c” and “d.” In the line for July 30th, you can see that the “c” in Butcher is the same letter as the “c” in Pickcott.

I can’t account for the quirks of this calligrapher. It’s not a standard way of forming a “c,” but the writer is consistent as Nicholas, Richard, and other names are written in the same fashion. He also makes an “d” with a stem curving above the letter that would normally be found in the older “secretary hand” or “batarde” style of lettering. Actually, it’s interesting how “modern” the letter forms are in this register, compared to the wills and other period documents. I’m tempted to detour and do a longer post on lettering …

While I haven’t come much closer to finding out Dorothy’s birthplace or family, at least that doubt about her name is resolved. And, as usual, I have more questions:

-Who did write the entries? Are there other church records from this period?
-What was it like in Wootton Bassett while the Puritans were in charge in the church?
-Is there evidence in the registers of major events like the plague (in 1645 and 1666) and the English Civil War?









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