For many local government purposes in the North of England it was, historically, the township rather than the parish which was the important unit. A township was originally a manorial unit of administration. It was the area for which constables were appointed annually in the court leet of the manor.
In northern England, townships were more convenient units because some parishes, especially in sparsely-populated Pennine uplands, could be very large indeed. Bolton in Lancashire, and Halifax and Leeds in the West Riding were some of the largest parishes in the entire country.
Townships could be small, isolated communities, often provided with their own chapels-of-ease and, so remote were they from the parish church, it was easier for them to organise their own affairs rather than to travel to meetings at some distant parish centre. The Poor Law Act of 1662 explicitly authorised northern townships to look after their own poor law business, which they had in fact been doing for many years before that.
In the Doncaster area, only Hatfield, Thorne and Doncaster itself, were unusually large parishes. Many parishes consisted of one township, but several contained two, three, four or occasionally five or six. But all the townships took responsibility for their own poor relief and other local government affairs. Thus, in this part of the country, what are usually called 'parish records' are actually township records. In some cases, the records kept by parish officers such as the overseers of the poor, the constables and the highway surveyors, were inherited by the civil parish councils first set up in 1894, and subsequently the civil parish council has deposited its own records and the older records it inherited, with Doncaster Archives.
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