Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Now booking: Behind the Scenes tours at Explore the Past



The annual Festival of British Archaeology is about to start, and as part of this we are offering another of our Behind the Scenes tours here at Explore the Past, where you will be able to go into our Finds Room and handle a selection of artefacts discovered in the county. Our Treasure Box might not contain gold or silver but does contain real examples of pottery, tiles and other objects found locally which help tell the story of the county.





You will also go into our Conservation Studio to find out how our Conservator cares for and repairs precious documents and books in the collections, and see some of the highlights of the archives in one of the strongrooms. These will include Shakespeare's marriage bond, medieval royal seals and a letter from the Titanic.

The tours take place here at The Hive at 2pm on Tuesday 14th July and cost £5. Book your place online now!


Severn Valley Ware jar


You can also find out about other archaeology events in Worcestershire and around the country at www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk

If you would be interested in booking a tour for your own group or society please email explorethepast@worcestershire.gov.uk

Friday, 3 July 2015

Stray gnashers in the archives

Today we bring you another post inspired by the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. A story which has been picked up elsewhere is the somewhat grisly one about 'Waterloo teeth', which serves as a stark reminder of just how far we have come with dental practices today. The story goes that in response to a growing need for replacement teeth, thanks in large to an increase in sugar consumption; scavengers descending on the site of the battle of Waterloo took not only money and jewellery from the dead, but also extracted their teeth so that they could sell them on. 

For many years there has been suspicion that a set of false teeth we hold in our archive collections are actually Waterloo teeth, but we have never been certain.

One of the dentures we hold in our collections - not your usual find in an archive!

The dentures came to us many years ago when one of our archivists went over to Tenbury to see a solicitor who had just bought a new practice. He had two rooms full of records and said we could take what we wanted, having no real idea himself of what was there. After having a quick look we said he could keep the one room, full of records which fell outside of our Acquisitions and Collections Policy, but that we would take the other. We arranged for those boxes to come back to Worcester, and two students helped us to go through the boxes, and it was they who came across the teeth! We also found a pistol, but as well as not coming under our collection policy we were not licensed to keep firearms, so we had to pass that on to the Museum.  

The teeth are currently housed in a display cabinet in one of strongrooms and can be seen by visiting tour groups


It was suggested at the time of discovery that the teeth could be Waterloo teeth, due to the documents they were found with dating from the same period; however, there was never anything to prove this. At the time we knew little about the appearance of Waterloo teeth. With the recent anniversary we did a bit of investigating, and have been able to compare our own to a number of sets online and in books. Upon further inspection ours do not appear to match, and look to date from a later period. Although we now know they are nothing to do with Waterloo, we still do not know why a pair of dentures were ever stored with the archives!

Have you ever come across an old pair of dentures like this before? Can you tell us when these may date from? 

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Henry Martin and the Battle of Waterloo

Following on from our previous post about the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo we have come across a letter at the Hive from a soldier who was at the battle.

Local man Henry Martin was an officer with the 2nd Battalion 44th Regiment of Foot (East Essex) and seems to have served in both the Peninsula and Waterloo campaigns.  Henry was keen to let his family know he was in good shape after the Battle of Waterloo and put them in the picture as to his role in events, so he penned a quick letter to his father dated 29th June 1815.  His father in turn copied the letter out for Henry's brothers at Oxford to see his account in his own words.  It is the contemporary copy that we have, not the original. 


First page of Henry Martin's letter 


In his letter Henry explained his Division had been bought up to support the Prussians on the 16th June.  'We were fighting from about 4 o Clock till dark, during which time we were repeatedly charged by french Quirassiers, but who were repeatedly repulsed with great loss.'  This might be a description of the battle of Quatre Bras as the 2nd Btn of the 44th were badly knocked about at that encounter with the French on the 16th.

As for the Battle of Waterloo itself on the 18th Henry summarised events very succinctly saying 'the french attack'd us at ten o Clock.  The fight continued the whole day & about 7 at night were gaining a little ground on the right, the Prussians (who were expected before) made their appearance, which decided the day.  The French ran in great confusion, & our cavalry & the Prussians made terrible havock among them.'


Henry's account of Quatre Bras and Waterloo


Henry was one of the few officers in his regiment to survive both battles unscathed.  He apologised for his writing explaining he was writing the letter on top of his cap and that 'there are four or five officers waiting around me for the Pen, w[hic]h bad as it is, I believe is the only one amongst us.' 

Readers of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels will recall that some of the South Essex Regiment's exploits in his books are in part based on the 2/44th's actions around this time. 

For further information about the 44th East Essex and the Battle of Waterloo generally see:


You can also check Ancestry's database for details of those who received the Waterloo Medal, which included Henry Martin. The original list is at the National Archives. 

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Battle of Waterloo 200th Anniversary

Today is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and we've been looking for documents and sources relating to the famous battle within our collections here at Worcestershire Archives.

Here is the story as it was told in the Worcester Herald of 24 June 1815. In the days before TV and radio this was how people discovered the news, and local newspapers often had more national news than local news. They also printed the letter which Wellington sent back.


Worcester Herald 24 June 1815

Included within the army were Worcestershire men. One of these was Isaac Webb, who served in a Guards Regiment. He lived for a number of year in Dandy Row, Worcester, and was the subject of one of our blog posts on the street.  He lived out his last few years in Nash's Almshouses, on the site The Hive. This is the announcement of his death in the Worcester Herald of 12th May 1866.


Worcester Herald 12 May 1866 

Within the Croome Collection there are a couple of interesting related documents. One is a letter from A.C. Crauford who talks about how he might have to pay his brother's debts after he was killed in Waterloo. There are also some interesting letters from Sir Willoughby Cotton, who was related to the Coventry family through marriage and served in the army in the Peninsular War. One letter from 1807 described Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington, who he was posted to serve with. He describes Wellesley as being "a most enterprising and capital officer". Cotton was in London when the Battle of Waterloo took place, but was sent out immediately after to join Wellington's staff due to the number of officers who had been killed.


Item 705:73 BA14450/290//5 (2) 

Do any of our readers have ancestors who fought in this famous battle? Has anyone discovered other Waterloo documents within our collections? We would love to hear from you; pop a comment below or tweet us @ExploreThePast


Monday, 15 June 2015

Seeking Liberty and Justice in Medieval Worcestershire: the Magna Carta Connection

To commemorate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, and the 750th anniversary of the Simon de Montfort parliament, we have put together a display of original 13th-century documents on level 2 of The Hive.  This complements the Magna Carta and Parliament exhibition on our Touch Table, which features images from the Parliamentary Archives. For those of you unable to pop along and view the documents, we have reproduced them here.

When we imagine Worcestershire's experience during the struggles of the 13th century, our thoughts are dominated by King John’s burial in Worcester Cathedral and Simon de Montfort’s defeat at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. Such famous events are only one aspect of 13th-century Worcestershire. Powerful people who participated in the dramatic events of the day—including the framing of Magna Carta and the civil wars which followed—had surprisingly local connections. But as national events played out, the county’s wider population experienced significant change.


(1a) Impression of an ancient Common Seal of the Citizens of Worcester. C.12-13th Century.  The seal, which features a church surrounded by a wall with battlements, would have been used in the execution of deeds and official documents.  Ref. 899:1775/BA 15663

 Our documents explore two themes: the changing status of the City of Worcester, and the rights granted by kings to local religious houses; and how the systems of justice and taxation affected ordinary people. They show that despite the fundamental democratic milestones represented by Magna Carta and the advent of Parliament, certain groups continued to face challenges in their struggles for liberties and justice.


Part 1: Cities and Monasteries: Rights, Liberties and Patronage


King John is famous for one charter, Magna Carta, but issued thousands of others during his reign. To those who received them, they were valuable documents granting lands, titles or liberties that increased power and profit. To John and other kings they were a vital source of income, and a tool to reward loyalty.


(1) Worcester City Charter of Richard I.  12 November 1189.  Reproduced by permission of Worcester City Council


Charters 1 and 2 were issued by King John's older brother, Richard I, and John's son, Henry III, to the citizens of Worcester. Towns improved their economic and legal status through such grants, and signified their corporate identity by adopting a common seal (1a). Towns hoped to protect their liberties through Magna Carta, and some, like Worcester, even sided with the barons in the fight against John in 1216.


(2) Worcester City Charter of Henry III.  17 March 1227.  Reproduced by permission of Worcester City Council


John taxed Worcester heavily throughout his reign and Magna Carta did not, in the end, protect towns from high taxation or rent. Nonetheless, Worcester, like other towns, became increasingly independent and assertive during the 13th century, especially after Henry III granted its citizens a guild merchant (monopoly over trade) and freedom from the sheriff's interference in legal pleas. This led to towns' growing participation in the political process, culminating in Simon de Montfort’s parliament of 1265. 

Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester and the king's brother-in-law, was the leader of the rebellion against Henry III's rule. He defeated Henry and his son, Lord Edward, at the Battle of Lewes in May 1264, taking Edward captive. Montfort summoned a parliament to discuss Edward's release, as well as peace and general government reforms. He knew that his military coup and seizure of government was risky. Montfort ruled without the king's consent, and was not supported by all the barons. He therefore built up a broad base of support by including county knights and representatives from the towns in the discussions. This is considered a landmark in the development of Parliament, because it was the first time knights and townsmen had been invited to treat on general issues of importance to the realm, rather than merely to agree to the king's request to raise funds through taxation.


 (3) File of copies of four charters concerning gifts and grants to Pershore Abbey.  Ref. 705:962/BA 8965/4 (v) 


Charters 3 and 4 are copies of grants and confirmations of land and privileges from King John to two Worcestershire abbeys, Pershore and Halesowen. By the time of Magna Carta, the Church had gained vast lands and liberties worth defending from royal abuse of power. King John spent much of his reign quarrelling with the Church, interfering in its governance and taxing it heavily. Following the Papal Interdict of 1208, which forbade sacraments throughout England, and John's own excommunication the following year, the king retaliated by confiscating Church property, including that of religious houses. John's treatment of the Church inspired more than one Magna Carta clause.  However, John continued to issue charters to religious houses, particularly those loyal to him. The Halesowen charters (4) include the gift of the manor of Hales to Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, allowing him to found a religious house. Roches was a loyalist who supported John during the Interdict and later during the First Barons' War which followed John's failure to abide by Magna Carta. Roches' appointment as Chief Justiciar of England (king's chief minister) was unpopular with the barons, who considered him to be one of John's "evil counsellors".


(4) 13th-century copies of three charters relating to Halesowen Abbey [now West Midlands].  Ref. 705:962/BA 8965/4 (vi)



Part 2: Taxation, Law and Order, Women, Peasants and the Jews


King John has become notorious, not least through the Robin Hood legends, for his arbitrary taxation and seizure of property. One of the cornerstones of Magna Carta addressed this, insisting that no taxation be granted without the general "consent of the realm", paving the way for the future Parliamentary system.

An exception to the requirement for consent was the Jews. They were important to kings because unlike Christians, Jews could practice usury (lend money at interest), and were therefore a source of credit. Anti-Semitism combined with resentment towards those who provided money lending services meant that Jews were frequent targets of violence. They enjoyed protection as wards of the Crown, but in return, kings could exact whatever taxes they liked from them, at any time.[1] Since the king profited from Jewish loans and taxes, John's baronial opponents came to mistrust Jews as royal agents. Thus Magna Carta did not protect Jews from taxation and seizure of property. Instead, since many barons were heavily in debt to Jews, the Charter limited the liability of debtors.


(5) Writ of King Henry [III] to the Bailiffs of the Jews of Worcester and Hereford.  C. 1216-1272. Ref. 705:962/BA 8965/5 (xvii) 


As the reign of John's son, Henry III, progressed, extravagant spending on his court, patronage and wars resulted in increasingly aggressive taxation and confiscation of Jewish property.[2] Our document is an undated writ (5) from Henry's reign dealing with taxation of Jews in Worcestershire and Herefordshire. Worcester was one of about 25 locations of archae, record chests where evidence of Jewish transactions was stored.[3] The writ orders the inspection of these charters for evidence of goods, lands and rents belonging to Jews, and specifies Jews who were to be taxed. Once again, Jews were viewed as allies of the unpopular king and resented by baronial debtors. So strong was the barons' antipathy that in 1263, Worcester's Jews were attacked by Simon de Montfort's men during the Baronial Wars against Henry III. We must remember that this father of British democracy was very much a man of his time. Modern conceptions of human rights were still very far in the future.

As we have seen, the Simon de Montfort parliament of 1265 was a democratic milestone because it included the commons—representatives from the shires and towns. Edward I, King John's grandson, continued this tradition, accepting the principle of Parliamentary consent to taxes to fund warfare in Wales, France and Scotland. At Edward's first parliament of 1275, he faced demands for relief from debts owed to Jews. After a century of punitive taxation and legislation, the Jews could no longer provide Edward with the revenue he required. In return for Parliamentary consent to a tax, he agreed to ban Jews from lending money at interest, effectively preventing them from earning a living, and paving the way for their expulsion from England in 1290.[4]


(6) Taxation roll for Worcestershire.  C. 1275-1282.  Ref. x705:134/BA 1531/48 (iii)


Our taxation roll (6) is probably an example of the tax granted to Edward in return for the ban on usury in 1275.[5] Despite the unfair circumstances under which it came about, it provides a snapshot of Worcestershire, hinting at the size and wealth of settlements and types of trades practiced within them. It also shows that many women owned property and were taxed alongside men. Magna Carta protected the inheritance rights of noble heiresses and widows, and ensured that kings could no longer force widows to remarry. Although Magna Carta was not intended to increase the rights of ordinary women, it set a precedent for the protection of women's property and marriage rights.

Although medieval kings governed and taxed England through sheriffs and other officials at the county level, the smallest unit of government was a private administrative unit with its own private court: the manor. Magna Carta does not have much to say about the majority of people who lived on manors, the unfree or villein class, those who were tied to the land and laboured for the lord of the manor. Magna Carta protected them from the interference of royal officials and from unreasonable fines, but not from being exploited by their own lords. Denied access the king's justice in the common law courts, they were required to use the manor court of their lord.[6] Manorial records are thus an important source for the lives of people who faced an uphill battle in their desire for liberty.


(7) Court roll of Tardebigge manor, showing entry for 1281.  Ref. b705:128/BA 1188/12/1

Our final document is a court roll from the manor of Tardebigge, showing an entry from 1281 (7). Tenants took disputes before the court, and the jury imposed fines on those who violated local bylaws and national assizes regulating the measure and quality of bread and ale.[7] It shows women active in the local brewing industry and men and women alike being punished for offences like harbouring strangers at night! The roll dates from a time when rising population and economic conditions meant that manorial tenants were trying to gain more freedom. Lords, while still asserting control over peasants, began to commute labour dues to cash payments. Despite the democratic advances of Magna Carta and Parliament, it would take the Black Death and other upheavals of later centuries before most inhabitants of manors—including women—would gain significant advances in their status.

By Dr Bethany Hamblen




[1] Jews paid a large proportion of Richard I's ransom when he was captured on his way home from Crusade, for example.
[2] Worcester was the scene of one of the most infamous exactions.  Jews from all over England were summoned there to a "Parliament of the Jews" in 1241, only to find that Henry intended to levy a tax of about a third of their property.
[3] This system had been implemented as a result of mob violence which had destroyed Jewish records during Richard I's reign.
[4] 1275 was a bad year for Jews for another reason: at the request of Edward's mother, Eleanor of Provence, who held Worcester and other towns as part of her dower lands, Worcester's Jews were deported to Hereford. 
[5] It is an early example of a subsidy (tax on income moveable goods).
[6] Unfree peasants were thus essentially excluded from the famous Magna Carta clause 40, "To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice".
[7] This is in line with Magna Carta clauses and later statutes stipulating that fines should be assessed by local men, and standardising weights and measures.