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What's in a date?

Walking around Sileby you are confronted with dates at nearly every turn. Monuments, buildings, bridges, plaques and gravestones all have visible dates commemorating construction dates, important events and personal milestones. The reader may not give these dates a second thought. In fact, it's easy to think that our current system of dates is a long established method used for a thousand years or more. In reality, this is not the case. Our current dating sytem is based on the Gregorian calendar and was only initiated as recently as 1752. To cloud the picture even more, other different dating systems were also in use and whose evidence is still found in the village and old documents.

The Introduction of the Gregorian calendar

Up until the 1st January 1752 Great Britain, and more specifically, England, had used the Julian calendar. This chronology had been used for hundreds of years but it had one major flaw, it was at odds with the solar year. A solar year is around 365.25 days long but due to a leap year miscalculation the Julian calendar had accumulated time. By the mid 18th century the calendar was eleven days ahead of the earth's actual position. This created a number of serious timing issues for Britain's government. One of the most pressing was its effect upon business and commerce with their overseas trading partners and also in dealings with its expanding empire. 

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Examples of Dates and Inscriptions in the village

Parliament resolved the issue with the Calendar (New Style) Act of 1750. Through this legislation a number of radical responses were put in place to create a more logical system of dates and to rectify the eleven day variation by realigning the calendar to the solar year.


Firstly, Britain and its empire disposed with the Julian calendar and adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII had initiated changes to the Julian calendar to prevent the dating deviation experienced by its users. However, as these changes were decreed by a Catholic power this new calendar was not adopted by many Protestant nations (including England), some of which resisted conversion until the 20th century.

Up until 1752, the start of the year in England was the 25th March, Lady Day. It was also the start of the government's traditional legal and tax accounting new year. The Act changed the New Year to the more popular 1st of January, starting on the 1st January 1752.

The most drastic measure was the 'cancellation' of eleven days so that the calendar could realign itself. It was achieved by losing eleven days in September 1752 : Wednesday the 2nd of September was followed by Thursday the 14th September. Of all the government's actions over the calendar problem, this was by far the most divisive. There was a sense of personal loss with contemporary political propaganda demanding that the government should give back the eleven days that they had taken away from the people. Nevertheless, rather than lose eleven days of valuable tax income for the missing days, the government extended the tax year by eleven days to the 6th April! Over 250 years later the UK tax year still starts on this day.

Locally, according to Rev. Ray Hunting, Sileby's Wakes became detached from the religious patronal festival, as one continued with the old style date and the other with the new.

Old Style, New Style

Dates before the change of the calendar on the 1st January 1752 should be referred to as Old Style (or O.S.) and therefore to be following the Julian calendar. Those dates after the conversion should be noted as New Style (or N.S.) and following the Gregorian calendar. However, most historians take it for granted that the reader will know this!

In New Style, a year starts on the 1st January and ends on 31st December. Under the old system the year commenced on the 25th March and ended on the 24th March. One difficulty faced with using Old Style was how to record events that occurred between the 1st January and the 24th March. Were they from the old year or the new year? To overcome this, clerks used a double dating system. So, an Old Style date of 4th January 1750 could be shown in contemporary documents as 4th January 1750/51, indicating that the date occurred between (March 25th) 1750 and (March 24th) 1751. In New Style, historians would give the date as the 4th January 1751.

Double dating was sometimes used in official documents. However, the vicar and clerks writing Sileby's parish registers did not adopt it and just noted everything between 25th March and 24th March under the same year. Even so, other Sileby examples exist. The inscription on the gravestone of Mary Gibson is a case in point. Her death was on the 13th February 1717/18 : (see below)

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Part of the gravestone inscription of Mary Gibson in Sileby churchyard,

an example of double dating.

​"Who Departed this

Life February ye 13n in ye

65ft Year of hear Age



Quaker Dates

When Sileby's Quaker community was established in the mid 17th century, it not only brought a distinctive style of religious devotion but also a unique way of exhibiting dates. Early Quakers opposed using the names of the days of the week and months as they were derived from non-Christian sources and were therefore considered heathen. Instead, they used numbers to replace months, so for example in 1753, the year started in month one (January) and ended in month twelve (December).

In this way they differed from the calendar and dating methods used in the rest of the country. The Quakers followed the Julian calendar up to its replacement by the Gregorian calendar and all that it entailed. As mentioned previously, the year started on 25th March before 1752 and the Quaker year started at that point too. So, before 1752 month one was actually in March, and month twelve was February. To add more confusion, some clerks used double dating!


A few examples from the pages of the Quaker registers should suffice :

1) The wedding of Thomas Marshall and Elizabeth Timmings was held at Sileby Meeting House on the 3rd day of the 5th month 1695

    This date translates as 3rd July 1695 O.S. (Extract from TNA RG6 1441 p.29)

2) John, son of Elizabeth Sherwin, widow, was buried at 'Silbee' on the 27th day of the 12th month 1703/4.

    This translates as 27th February 1703/4 O.S.  (Extract from TNA RG6 1397 p.8)

3) Edward Baker of Sileby died aged 66 on the 17 of 4 Mo. 1821 and buried 20 of 4 Mo. 1821, at Leicester.

    Translates as died 17th April 1821 N.S. and buried 20th April 1821 N.S. (Extract from TNA RG6 729 p.3)

Anno Mundi - Dudley's Bridge

In the centre of Sileby lies one of the Rev. John Dudley's gifts to the village, Dudley's bridge. A plaque on the bridge proudly boasts of his and his wife Eleanor's generous offering to the poplace. However, it's the latin numeral date that often causes debate as to when it was gifted and built.

The main clue to deduce the date is the 'A M' on the line above the numerals. This refers to an antiquated dating system called 'Anno Mundi', literally 'in the year of the world', or more concisely, 'since the world was created'. This is a calendar based on the biblical Old Testament accounts of the creation of the world and its subsequent history. By studying these texts scholars worked out the dates of important events in the biblical tradition including Christ's nativity and ultimately the date and time of creation itself. This was obviously subjective and separate timeframes evolved in the Byzantine and Hebrew traditions. These were different to the BC/AD era that was later adopted by the western christian tradition.

Dudley was adhering to chronologies researched and published in the writings of James Ussher, the early 17th century Anglican Archbishop of Armagh. Ussher used biblical and historical texts to work out an exact time for the moment of creation : near nightfall on the 22nd October 4004 BC. In other words, all of history since creation had occured in only a few thousand years. This became the start date in the 'Anno Mundi' chronology.    

Rev. John Dudley (1762-1856) was a conservative churchman, the son and grandson of vicars, and was steeped in the traditions of the eighteenth century. He was an academic writer of some esteem, a traditionalist who wrote on church custom and architecture. In his 84th year he published his book 'Naology' (1846) on the origin and symbolism of sacred structures. Dudley was a firm advocate of creationism like many of his contemporaries and congregation.


By the start of the 19th century Ussher's dates were being questioned, especially by geologists who could see that rock formation processes were much older than could be accommodated in Ussher's chronology. Nevertheless, Dudley was steadfast in his beliefs and used 'A M' for dating his important gift to the people of Sileby.


The plaque on Dudley's Bridge

Working out the Anno Mundi date

lƆƆ (5000) D (500) CCC (300) XXXVIII (38)

makes the date A M 5838

Conversion to an Anno Domini date

(using Ussher's 4004 BC date for creation,

and year 1 as 4004 BC)

-4004 + 5838 = 1834

(taking into account that there is no year zero

in the AD chronology)

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