We have previously hailed Thomas Cromwell, father of the English parish register, and the 18th century priest and antiquary, William Dade (1741-1790), who strove to make the register a more detailed genealogical record. Contemporary with Dade, and more widely known, was a fellow priest of a very different order, Bishop Shute Barrington of Durham.
Shute Barrington was born in 1734, son of John Shute Barrington (1678–1734), barrister, MP and ardent Protestant, educated at the University of Utrecht and a friend of John Locke. He was instrumental in reconciling the Scottish Presbyterian church to the union of Scotland and England: Jonathan Swift wrote in 1708 that he was ‘reckoned the shrewdest head in England’. He was elevated to the peerage in 1720 as Baron Barrington of Newcastle, Co Limerick, and Viscount Barrington of Ardglass, Co Down.
Lord Barrington was born a Shute, but changed the family surname to Barrington when he inherited an estate in Essex from the husband of a cousin. His wife was Anne Daines, whose father, Sir William Daines, was MP for Bristol and a prominent local Whig.
Shute Barrington was thus born into the Whig intelligentsia as well as the aristocracy; but he was the sixth of six sons (and three daughters). He was six months old when his father was flung from a carriage and died and so his eldest brother, William Wildman Barrington, 2nd Viscount, assumed a parental role. Educated at Eton and Merton College, Oxford, he followed the traditional path of younger sons and was ordained in 1756. He gained the favour of George III and became his chaplain soon after ordination and thence began a rapid climb up the ecclesiastical career ladder, becoming Bishop of Llandaff at the age of 35.
A man known for his sincere piety, Barrington was no passive acceptor of the privilege and wealth that fell in his path. He caused a stir in 1772 in the debate surrounding the 39 Articles in which he went against his father’s principles and opposed the abolitionists. After losing his first wife in childbirth at a young age, he followed the inclinations of his second wife, the heiress Jane Guise, by standing down from a lucrative post at St Paul’s because Jane disliked living in the residence there. After becoming Bishop of Salisbury in 1782, he was renowned for his generosity and concern to be ‘the general friend of all’, while retaining friends in the highest places: the story goes that ‘gentleman from Berkshire’ inspected the Bishop’s ambitious restoration works at the Cathedral, paid for by public subscription, and added a contribution of £1,000 to the fund – the anonymous gentleman being George III. Barrington was an important patron of William Wilberforce and supported the abolition of slavery.
In 1791 Barrington became Prince Bishop of Durham and here he continued energetically in charitable and educational projects, supported by his wife, who once presented every villager in a Durham village with a hive of bees. He was an influential church reformer, with fingers in many ecclesiastical pies, across a wide political and theological spectrum, from the evangelicals to the Catholic French exiles who settled near Durham during the French Revolution.
For the genealogist, demographer and historian, however, the memorable gift of Bishop Shute Barrington was his introduction of a detailed format for parish registers, along the lines of the pioneer work of William Dade in the neighbouring diocese of York, but in a more manageable format. From 1798 until the national introduction of printed register books in 1812, baptism registers in the diocese of Durham were required to include the child’s date of birth, the mother’s maiden name and the parishes in which both parents were born as well, as the number of the child in the family. Details of fathers of illegitimate children were recorded with similar zeal. Imagine the genealogist’s joy to discover a ‘stray’ entry such as this from the Bishop’s Transcripts of St Nicholas, Durham City:
Sarah Parkin, born 28 March 1812, baptised 12 May, daughter of William Parkin, Private Soldier in the 1 Regt of Lancashire Militia & Sarah his wife late Weeks of Surrey
Bishop Shute Barrington lived into his nineties, finally suffering a fatal stroke in 1826. Wilberforce had described him in his prime as ‘a very sun, the centre of an entire system’. That system has long since fallen away; what remains, for those of us who care, is the legacy of those meticulous and generous records of the very humblest members of his flock.
Principal Source: E. A. Varley, ‘Barrington, Shute (1734–1826)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2009.
 Swift, Works, 1824, 15.318, cited in Arthur H. Grant, ‘Barrington, John Shute, first Viscount Barrington (1678–1734)’, rev. Philip Carter,Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.