Friday, 27 May 2016

West Mercia Police archives: Descriptive registers of the Worcestershire Constabulary

What are Descriptive registers?

Descriptive registers give information on a police officer's period of service.  The registers can include information on previous public service such as time with another police force or in the armed services, together with pay rates and the stations in which they worked.  Details of promotions, transfers and reasons for leaving the force such as retirement, transfer or resignation are also recorded. 

Personal detail

What is much more interesting, particularly for those researching a police ancestor, is that the registers give a physical description of the officer including eye and hair colour, weight and height.  Sometimes this includes brief reference to a birthmark, mole or operation scar, but it can be quite detailed such as 'lost end of middle finger of right hand'.  Tattoos may be described quite vividly such as 'tattooed both arms, crossed hands and heart' or 'tattooed star and crescent and Salome left forearm'.  There are also details of any sickness, injuries or accidents which may have befallen them while on duty.  You can almost picture the person being described in your mind's eye.

Place of birth, religion, trade and education are often included.  For married officers, details of their spouse and children are also noted.  Many of the officers were local to Worcestershire or to the Midlands, but some did come from much further afield such as Wales, Norfolk, Essex, Devon and Northumberland to serve in the Worcestershire Constabulary.   One even gave his birthplace as Australia.  The original trades of the officers can make for interesting reading too.  Alongside railway workers, miners, gardeners, gamekeepers and those from the armed services, a silversmith, canal boat owner, musician, cinema operator and golf professional all decided that a policeman's lot was for them.

Example pages from an early descriptive register showing an entry from 1856.
Image used with thanks to West Mercia Police.

Commendations and awards are also recorded.  This may relate to good work in helping to arrest someone or solve a crime, but may also include bravery in stopping a runaway horse and carriage or saving someone from drowning.  On the flip side the registers can also include reports of misconduct of officers such as falling asleep while on duty, persistent drunkenness, failing to turn up at point or arriving late for work.  Persistent misbehaviour resulted in docking of pay, demotion and in some cases dismissal.

What do we hold?

We hold a series of descriptive registers for Worcestershire Constabulary from 1839 to 1953.  Please note that the more recent registers will not be open to public inspection, in accordance with the 75 year closure period that West Mercia Police apply to their archives. 

Conservation work

Some of the descriptive registers have become damaged over the years, perhaps because of over-handling, poor storage conditions or a mixture of the two.  In some cases the spines have come away from the bindings and the sewing threads have broken so the pages are loose.  In other cases the binding has started to peel or is ripped and scuffed.  All this makes it difficult for the volumes to be handled without causing further damage.

Some of the descriptive registers before conservation treatment

The work to conserve the volumes has been very time consuming as there are several different processes involved.  Each volume has been cleaned with a soft brush or sponge to remove the surface dirt.  Then any damaged pages have been repaired using tissue paper.  Torn or loose binding material has been re-glued into place where possible.  Where the original binding material had been lost, suitable linen or leather has been used and dyed to match the colours of the original item.  Those volumes which had broken sewing or lost spines have been re-sewn and re-bound.  Our conservation volunteers have then made bespoke boxes to protect the newly conserved volumes.

Some of the descriptive registers after conservation

Our conservator Rhonda Niven said of the task 'I enjoy working on these large volumes, even though they can be difficult and heavy to move around. Although they were designed to be functional and robust every day volumes, I like to think of the importance that they had in recording the details of so many lives.  I am pleased they have now been repaired and can continue to be handled, revealing the details of the life they have had, both as beautiful objects and for the information they contain.'

For other information about the History of Worcestershire Constabulary and individual policemen see Bob Pooler's book From Fruit Trees to Furnaces a History of the Worcestershire Constabulary (2002) and the Worcestershire Police History website.

By Maggie Tohill

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Monthly Mystery: Witches, Horses and The Devil

A building survey of a fairly ordinary 19th century brick stable block in the west of Worcestershire uncovered a peculiar set of objects. Nailed above the lintel to the entrance way was a pair of mammalian skeletal feet above an iron horseshoe.

Plate 1 Horseshoe and paws nailed above a stable doorway (©WCC 2015)

A horseshoe above a stable entrance may not seem so odd, but its origins as a protective symbol stem from the early medieval period and is said to come from the story of St. Dunstan, who was asked to re-shoe the Devil’s horse, but instead nailed a shoe to the Devil himself. It caused the Devil great pain, but Dunstan only agreed to remove it if the Devil promised not to enter any place where a horseshoe was above an entrance way (St Dunstan’s - who was St. Dunstan, undated).

The tale proved so popular that John Aubrey, writing in the late 17th century, noted that:

"It is a thing very common to nail horse-shoes on the thresholds of doors: which is to hinder the power of witches that enter into the house. Most houses of the West end of London, have the horse-shoe on the threshold. It should be a horse-shoe that one finds." (Aubrey 1696)

Doorways and entrances were routinely singled out for protection in historic houses, with protection symbols located around fireplaces and doorways. You can see examples of this tradition being maintained to this day at The Fleece Inn, Bretforton. In the 17th century, an overtly Christian symbol became common with "VV" being carved into timbers and stonework. This is believed to stand for Virgo Virgimnum (Virgin of Virgins) and invokes the protection of Mary.

Plate 2 Protection marks, including 'witch circles' in the fireplace, The Fleece Inn, Bretforton (©National Trust, undated)

It is not only the household that people sought to protect against witches: horses were also protected using either flint or metal, usually lead, tokens (Davis, Easton 2015, 223). These were either hung on the horse or somewhere in its stall to prevent evil spirits known as 'mares' riding them through the night:

"To hinder the night mare, they hang in a string, a flint with a hole in it (naturally) by the manger; but best of all they say, hung about their necks, and a flint will do it that hath not a hole in it. It is to prevent the nightmare, viz. the hag, from riding their horses, who will sometimes sweat all night. The flint thus hung does hinder it." (Aubrey 1696)

'Mares' were also thought to ride on the chests of people while they slept, bringing on bad dreams, hence the modern use of the term 'nightmare'.

The more peculiar object that is also nailed above the lintel is the skeletal feet, which were initially thought to be those of a cat. However, the size and context of the bones points more towards them being fox paws. There are many traditions within fox hunting which trace their origins to the 16th century. The head (mask), tail (brush) and feet (pads) are given away to certain members of the hunting party as hunting trophies (Johnson 2016). Placed within the context of the stables and with the iron horseshoe it could be interpreted that perhaps the skeletal remains of the fox feet were to bring about a successful next hunt.

By Tegan Cornah


Friday, 22 April 2016

Archive letters tell personal story of WW1 defeat at Qatia

Trooper Hal Wardale King, 2577, was the son of Mr. And Mrs. J. Wardale King, of Oldswinford House, Stourbridge, Worcs. He was killed in action  on 23rd April 1916, aged 21.
Hal and his friend John (Jack) Preece joined Queen's Own Worcestershire Hussars (Worcester Yeomanry) in September 1914.
During his service with the Yeomanry Jack wrote home to his parents as often as he could telling them about the training, life in the camp, the food, the journeys and the people he had met. The collection of letters also includes letters from Hal to Jack's family and particularly Mrs Preece who he called 'My Dear Other Ma'
Hal King Back Row 2nd from left
In December 1915 Jack wrote about how they had spent Christmas and describes the visit that he and Hal made to the Pryamids and Sphinx which he says 'are well worth a visit'. Hal sent a photo postcard showing him and Jack and another soldier on horses in front of the pyramids.
On 4th April 1916 Mrs Preece wrote to Hal thanking him for her birthday gift and telling him about life at home, the family and how many eggs they were collecting on the farm. The letter was returned to Mrs Preece unopened. 

The unopened letter returned to Mrs Preece

At dawn on 23rd April 1916, the isolated Yeomanry garrison at Oghratina, which had been ordered to protect a party of Royal Engineers on a well-digging exercise, was attacked by over 3000 Turkish troops. The defending troops were forced back and the Turks advanced to reinforce a second attack at Qatia which fell with the loss of three and a half squadrons of yeomanry.

After the attack, Hal's family wrote to say that they are making enquiries in Port Said to find out more information and they are not giving up hope that Hal was still alive. However, on 10th May, they sent a brief letter to the Preece's to say that Hal had been killed in action on April 23rd 1916.
In the meantime Jack wrote home to tell his family that 'the camp was attacked on Easter Sunday'. He tells them 'that Hal and H. Hodges have been killed, Ted Harrison and H. R. Reading captured'. He reports that a 'wounded Turkish officer who had been taken prisoner said they (the Turks) 'were 750 strong and there were only 100 in the regiment holding them back'. Jack wrote that they lost 6 out of 11 horses but his horse (which had been with him since 1914) was not touched. Jack adds that he has written to the 4 families and and hopes that his letters are worded correctly. He tells his Mother not to worry as he is quite well.

Hal King is remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial.

The letters sent by Jack and Hal are part of the archive collection deposited by John Preece and kept in the Archive and Archaeology Service at the Hive in Worcester.
The 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Qatia will be commemorated on 23rd April 2016 with a service at Worcester Cathedral and the unveiling of a Poppy Mosiac Sculpture in Cripplegate Park. For more details visit 
The unopened letter was discovered by one of the volunteers who was summarising the contents of the letters and was opened by our conservator.


the Yeomanry Regiment


Friday, 15 April 2016

New Archive Art Project - Strong Rooms

Guided tour of archive strong rooms, which gave the project its title, and areas usually off limits

We are working with Archives West Midlands and Arts Connect to deliver a revolutionary new project which fuses archives and installation art.

The project is called Strong Rooms, and the contribution of WAAS has been instrumental from the start. As well as staff being involved in carrying out community work for the project, Worcester will be one of only four venues to host the final installation.

Working with globally renowned street artist Mohammed Ali, Archives West Midlands inspires young people to use archives for the first time to consider their locality and record their discoveries creatively.

Mohammed envisages creating an immersive sensory experience, allowing young people to explore the archives and form their own thoughts about accessing the stories of the past.

Mohammed said: “telling stories in exciting and innovative ways that resonate with new people is what excites me: throwing light onto our past and making it relevant to our future.”

This journey will create Strong Rooms: a vivid and interactive installation delivering high quality artistic engagement to local communities, challenging conventional perceptions of archives and helping the sector to engage with young people in new ways.

Strong Rooms will tour the Midlands, stopping at Rugby, Coventry, Dudley as well at here in Worcester.
Art workshop inspired by calligraphy and lettering from documents in the archives

The Strong Rooms project lead is our Community Project Officer Justin Hughes, who added: “the opportunity to take archives out to the very heart of communities in new and dynamic ways is hugely exciting. We have a wealth of archive resources in the 12 miles of shelving. We've enjoyed helping people discover the stories within them over the years, and we're really looking forward to working with artists and local people to see how the stories will inspire them".

We'll keep you updates via the blog, Facebook and Twitter about how it is going and what we get up to, as well as when you can come and see the installation in Worcester.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Palaeolithic Life and Environment in Worcestershire

Lost Landscapes; Palaeolithic Life and Environment in Worcestershire.  Herds of Mammoths walking across the M5 at Strensham, Lions stalking through the Bredon Hills, the ice  and tundra spreading across the landscape…..which part of our Ice Age past are you most interested in? 

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service and Museums Worcestershire are currently running a short questionnaire to find out about the public's interest in our Palaeolithic past to help us shape an exciting new exhibition and event based on this period. 

We would really appreciate anyone who can take a few minutes to fill the survey out, available at: . Paper copies are also available from the Historic Environment Record at The Hive.