Centuries-old mystery 'filofax' returned to New Forest church
A clergyman's notebook, thought to date back to the 16th Century, has been mysteriously returned to a New Forest church.
It was handed to the current vicar of Minstead by a woman who said she had bought it from a US hitchhiker and wanted it "back where it belongs".
The 150 pages of notes on births, deaths and marriages appear to have been written by curates in the parish.
The Reverend David Potterton described it as a "kind of filofax".
He said the woman from Southampton had approached him with the book after Sunday's morning service.
The woman, who wished to remain anonymous and left without leaving any details, said she and her husband had picked up an America hitchhiker sometime in the past year, and saw he was carrying an antiquarian book.
Noticing the reference to Minstead on the cover, they offered to buy it off him.
Following her husband's death, she was "determined" to return it to the church.
She did not say how much she paid for it, or how the backpacker came to have the book.
The book has the year 1532 on the vellum cover, but contains references to births, deaths and marriages in Minstead and Lyndhurst throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, along with other notes.
Mr Potterton said the book was a "real treasure" and looked to have been used by successive curates - junior members of the clergy - in the parish.
"I suspect this is a curate's tool - a kind of filofax - the notes that would have helped him in his daily ministry," he said.
"The pages inside would have been replaced and certainly there is evidence of stitching and blank pages in the back.
"It's enormously helpful and valuable and we're really grateful for it."
The church is working with county's record office in Winchester on the best means of conserving the documents and putting them on public display.