Following the split with Rome in 1534, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's Chief Minister, ordered in
1538 that each parish priest must keep a record of all baptisms, marriages and burials. These records were to be kept in a sure coffer1 with at least two locks (one key for the vicar, the others for the wardens). A fine of 3s 4d was to be levied for failure to comply. Many parishes ignored this order, believing it to be the forerunner of some new tax.

The order was repeated in 1547 with the stipulation that the fine was to go to the relief of the poor.

The records were often written on paper which often decayed. From 1858 the records were required to be kept on parchment for greater longevity. The previous paper records were supposed to be transcribed onto parchment but this often did not happen.

From 1598, records were to be kept in 'great decent books of parchment' and copies or 'Bishop's Transcripts' of new entries were to be sent each month to their diocese. The costs of these new books were to be met by charging for entries; this was opposed by many parishes and the act was not enforced until 1603. Finance was to be born by the Parish, and the books were to be kept in a chest with three locks.

The week's entries were to be read out each Sunday after evensong.

1A Prescot Parish Chest still exists and can be found within Prescot Parish Church.
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