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Open Access Few Deaths before Baptism: Clerical Policy, Private Baptism and the Registration of Births in Georgian Westminster: a Paradox Resolved

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The evident lengthening of the interval between birth and baptism over the eighteenth century has often been assumed to have increased the risk that young infants died before baptism. Using burial records that include burials of unbaptised infants and give age at death we demonstrate that very few infants who survived the first few days of life escaped baptism in the parish of St. Martin in the Fields, despite a very profound lengthening of the delay between birth and baptism over the second half of the eighteenth century. Examination of baptism fee books indicates that perhaps a third of all infants were baptized privately in the parish and a pamphlet dispute between the vicar and one of his clerks provides extraordinary evidence of the extent to which baptism was a process rather than a single event. Our analysis suggests that it was the registration of baptism that was delayed, with no affect on the risk of death before baptism.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2015

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  • Local Population Studies was first published in 1968, and since then it has focused on presenting cutting-edge research in local, population and social history. It is published twice a year online and in print by the Local Population Studies Society, with the support of the University of Oxford. For information about how to become a member of the LPSS, and for freely available back issues from 1968 to 2010, please visit
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