Secretary Hand Script

The Tool of Record Keepers for Centuries

SECRETARY HAND: “Basic advice for reading secretary hand: 1. Paleography is NOT an exact science. 2. Forget what modern letters look like. 3. Ignore modern spelling rules.”

Secretary Hand Script

Challenging letters include:

Letter ‘s’ can easily get lost in the word and, also, looks like ‘f’.

Letter ‘h’ shows great variety.

This is the symbol for letter ‘x’ and number 10.

This is not a letter but a symbol used to show abbreviations such as Octob* instead of ‘er’. Often used with M to show ‘Master’.

The Parish Record of Baptism, Marriage, and Burial from the Parish Church of Ash, Surrey provides the following examples of Secretary Hand Script.

  • We need to take into consideration the following:
  • Use of ‘y’ for ‘i’, for example Rychard for Richard, or Frymley for Frimley;
  • Use of ‘ie’ for ‘y’ such as Januarie for January;
  • Use of of ‘i’ for ‘j’ as the letter ‘j’ was a new addition to the alphabet, such as Iohn for John;
  • Use of doubled consonants such as Aprill for April;
  • The addition of a silent ‘e’ at the end of many words, such as Ashe for Ash or Marche for March;
  • Use of the Old English ‘th’ letter, called a thorn, which looks like a ‘y’ or ‘ye’ and represents ‘The’. Note that this is pronounced exactly like ‘the’ in modern speech.
  • Minims – single downstrokes of the pen; ‘i’ is one minim, an ‘n’ or ‘u’ two minims, and a ‘m’ three and they can be very hard to tell apart;
  • Lower case ‘c’ looks like ‘r’;
  • Lower case ‘r’ looks like ‘w’;
  • Lower case short ‘s’ looks like ‘d’;
  • Letters U and V were not fixed in the alphabet; V tended to be used at the start of a word such as ‘Vunderwood’ for ‘Underwood’;
  • Punctuation is almost non-existent in the parish records with the exception of end punctuation which appears as a dot somewhere after the record. Commas were not used and the record will say ‘John Loveland the Son of John Loveland was baptised’;
  • Common nouns such as ‘Day’ and ‘Daughter’ were often capitalized.

Sample Records from the Ash Parish Register written in Secretary Hand 1545 to 1651

In this baptism record for Philip Munger, son of John Munger of Ash, from 1591, we have a lot to contend with:

  • The sepia tone of the parchment page and the scratchy writing of the quill pen;
  • The down strokes from the line above;
  • Phylipe with the challenging ‘h’, ‘y’ for ‘i’, and a silent ‘e’ at the end;
  • Munger with the capital M looking like N plus e, followed by the minims of ‘u’ and ‘m’, and then the last letter ‘r’ looking like ‘w’;
  • the with ‘h’ in the middle not looking like the ‘h’ in Philip;
  • Sonn beginning with ‘s’ that looks like ‘b’, and with double ‘n’;
  • of with ‘f’ curling over the line below;
  • John with a silent ‘e’;
  • Munger now spelled Monger and written in a different style to the first Munger;
  • was ending in ‘s’ that looks like ‘d’;
  • Christened capitalized with a curly ‘C’ followed by the challenging ‘h’;
  • same with the long ‘s’ looking like ‘f’;
  • Day capitalized;
  • No punctuation.

Mary Jonson daughter of William Johnson of Ashwas baptized the 10 of November. Superscript mark after daughte* instead of ‘r’ and Willm instead of William. Ye for ‘the’ and 10th written using secretarial handwriting letter for ‘x’. Robert Draper son of Thomas Draper of Ash baptized the 6 of November. Drap missing last 2 letters. Soon for son, and Thoms for Thomas. Ye for ‘the’, VIth for 6th, and superscript mark after Octob* instead of ‘er’. Thomas Remnant son of Thomas Remnant of Ash baptized the 1 of January. Soon for son. Thoms for Thomas. Ye for ‘the’. Fyrst for First.

Alice Dawe the daughter of William Dawe of Ash was christened the 13 of January. Ales for Alice. The written in full and Christened rather than baptized. 13 written as a number and Januarye for January. Joanne Gunner the daughter of Richard Gunner of Ash was christened the 18 of April. Johan for Joanne and the written in full. Gunner with its minims. Richarde for Richard. Christened rather than baptized. 18 written as a number and Aprill for April.
Katherine Harting the daughter of Emeris Harting of Ash was christened the 15 of May. Hartynge for Harting; the written in full and christened rather than baptized. 15 written as a number and Maye for May.

Here is Emeris Harting’s marriage record: Emeris Harting and Margaret Cocker were married the 10 of April. Emeris with an unrecognizable capital ‘E’, a squiggle for ‘r’, and the final ‘s’ looking like a ‘d’. Margret for Margaret; wer for were. Kocker for Cocker. 10 written as a number. Aprill for April.

John Stonell the son of John Stonnell Jun. of Ash was baptized the 15th of March. Ye for ‘the’, Sonne for son, and Jun for Junior. 15th written using old letters (vx) and Marche for March.
Dafforne Copper the daughter of Thomas Copper of Ash was baptized the 4th day of April. First name is problematic as it doesn’t correspond to a modern girl’s first name (possibly Daphne); dotter for daughter, and the written in full. iiijth for 4th (common to write 4 as iii with a j). Daye for day and Aprill for April. * Copper looks like Ropper due to ‘C’ in Secretary Hand.

Thomas Ead and Joan Mansfield of Ash were married the 20th of May. Thoms for Thomas and Johan for Joanna. Ead looks like Gad; marryed for married. Ye for ‘the’, and XXth for 20th and Maye for May.
Thomas Cook and Jane Munger of Ash were married the 4th of February. Thoms for Thomas and Coock is ambiguous. Marryd for married. Ye for ‘the’. Foworth for Fourth. John Bailey and Magdalen Grover of Ash were married the 10th of February. Bayly for Bailey and Grover for Grover. Maryed for married. Ye for ‘the’ and Xth for 10th. February hard to read due to Secretary hand ‘r’.

Records Written in Poor Handwriting in 1629
Jane Gunner the wife of Thomas Gunner of Ash was buried the 6th day of July. Jayne for Jane and Wyfe for wife. Buryed for buried. Daye for day.
John Jewer of Ash was buried the 19th day of September. Buryed for buried. Bethany Purse of Ash was buried the 10th of November daughter of Robert. Buryed for buried and Xth for 10th.
Jane Bartholomew of Ash the wife of (blank) was buried the 2th of November. Jayne for Jane and Bartlemew for Bartholomew. Husband’s name not entered; wife not wyfe and Buryed for buried.

Ash Parish Register was written in English Fortunately, the records were not written in Latin. A few Latin notations were made, such as anno incepto (New Year begins), anno præcurrente (the previous year), and ut supra­ (as above). Here is Steven Juer, the son of William Juer of Ash, christened the 2 of April ut supra­:

Here is a baptism record for Annes Lee, daughter of Henry Lee of Pirbright, 29 January 1575 at Pirbright, Surrey – the next-door parish to Ash – written in Latin.

Pirbright Parish Register

Select Sources

  • The National Archives: Paleography
  • University of Nottingham: Secretary Script
  • Folger Shakespeare Library: Secretary Hand
  • Elizabethan Secretary Hand
  • Surrey History Centre; Woking, Surrey, England; Surrey Church of England Parish Registers; Reference: AS/1/1