Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Behind the scenes... Video tour of our strongroom

It's time for another instalment of our behind the scenes tour and this week we are taking you into one of our strongrooms for a peek. Have you ever wondered what we get up to when we leave to fetch a box for you? If so click on the link below to find out:


We'll be back soon with more behind the scenes tours.

Friday, 25 November 2011

A final farewell to our County Hall branch

On Monday 14th November, we held an open day event to give our users one last chance to view some of the treasured items from within our collections before we closed for the final time. The day was a big success and people thoroughly enjoyed seeing the documents out on display.

We had a lot of fun opening up the archives for our users to see some of the items that don't normally get issued, such as Shakespeare's marriage bond, a letter sent from the Titanic and letters sent during the Civil War written by Charles I and Oliver Cromwell.



It was very sad to close our doors for the final time and we will miss our many regular users, but we have a lot of work to keep us busy whilst we prepare to move premises.

We won't open at our new home until July 2012, but don't forget there are still plenty of research opportunities available at our History Centre branch, which will stay open until April 2012.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Top 10 Archives... No.6

Number six in our Top 10 most used archive collections are our Quarter Sessions papers.

The Worcestershire Quarter Sessions records date from 1591 and include papers relating to crimes such as adultery, prostitution, bastardy, theft, vagrancy and disorderly behaviour. They were held 4 times a year at Epiphany (January), Easter (March/April), Midsummer (July) and Michaelmas (September). However, the Court was not just about administering justice at a local level. Prior to the creation of the County Councils at the end of the 19th Century the Court dealt with the day-to-day administration of the County which covered business as diverse as the upkeep of roads, licensing alehouses, gaols and Houses of Correction, administering the Poor Law, raising of local militias and their armouries and depots, weights and measures, tax assessments and enclosure awards.

The Session Rolls (Ref: 110) are an assorted collection of papers relating to each case and include Indictments, Recognisances, Grand Jury Presentments, nominations for Constables, lists of Jurors, Poor Law Removal Orders, Examinations, Depositions, Petitions, Licences, Sacrament certificates and Calendars of prisoners (up to 1700).

The Order Books (Ref: 118) record the verdict of the court and provide details of any punishments or sentences passed and the names and ages of the offender with sometimes the nature of the offence. In addition to the judicial business of the court the Order Books also include the Courts administrative business for example the building of a treadmill in the County gaol. The earliest Order Book dates from 1693.

Quarter Session records are often overlooked which is a shame as they can be an illuminating source giving a real insight into people's everyday lives and the role that the Court played in them. For example Session Rolls often contain statements from prosecutors, defendants and witnesses, examinations of paupers and certificates of good behaviour. All these records can help tell a story with the colourful accounts of episodes in people's lives depicted in the witness statements which are recorded pretty much as they were spoken at the time. Such personal and often vivid statements contrast sharply with the rather dry official documents that they are often assumed to be.

The Quarter Session Records have been indexed from 1591-1849 bound volumes on shelves at both branches and there is an online index currently from 1850-1852.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Our last annual stocktaking session at the History Centre

The last ever stocktaking at the History Centre took place on the 7th and 8th November. This is an annual event which gives staff a chance to catch up on work which will help to improve the service we provide to the public. This year our main focus was to prepare our library stock for the move to the Hive and to work on our ongoing parish register microfilm project.

Staff at the Worcestershire History Centre during stocktaking

The local study library books at the History Centre had to be prepared with security tagging compatible with the system that will be in operation at the Hive (this system is known as RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) tagging). Working in teams the staff had to remove every book from the shelves, tag them, enter them on the computer system and then replace them back on the shelves.

Staff adding RFID tags to the History Centre book stock

The staff swapped around every few hours and worked on the parish register microfilm work. This work began last year and has involved the checking of 700 microfilms to make sure that all the labels give the correct details of what can be found on each film. During this stocktaking period old labels were removed and replaced with new labels; queries were sorted and broken boxes were replaced.

Staff working on the parish register microfilms

We've crammed a lot into our two days of stocktaking but some of the jobs will still be ongoing until we move to the Hive as there's a lot to do. We hope to have the books ready by January and the last 200 films will be ready when our new searchroom opens in July 2012.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Top 10 Archives... No.7

Number seven in our countdown of the Top 10 most accessed collections is the collection of Diocesan filing.

What is Diocesan Filing?

Here at Worcestershire Record Office, we have a large collection of mysterious records often referred to by staff only by their reference number—'the 728s'.  These are the records of Diocesan Filing, popularly known as 'parish boxes' or 'parochial boxes'.  These are not, as the name 'parish box' might seem to indicate, the records of the workings of the parish and its parishioners. Rather, they deal with the church building itself: its fabric and any alterations made to it; fixtures, fittings and furniture, such as pews, organs, memorial tablets, stained glass and bells; as well as the churchyard.

They are considered to be the working papers of the Diocesan Registrar, so anyone wishing to consult these records first requires his written permission.

What types of records are typically included?

The material in the Worcestershire parish boxes generally dates from no earlier than the 18th century, but continues right down to the present day.  Faculties are the most frequently encountered class of record.  In the Church of England, a Faculty is required before any alterations to a church's fabric may take place.  The parish submits a petition to the Diocesan Registrar; citations are issued, allowing other parties to voice any objections to the proposed work, and if no objections are raised, the Faculty is granted by the Diocesan Chancellor.  Other documents include certificates of work completed and correspondence regarding alterations, etc. 

How can they be used?

  • Chancel repair liability.  Many Anglican churches have the right to have repairs to the chancel paid for by another party, known as a lay rector. A recent change in legislation dictates that parishes must register this right with the Land Registry before October 2013, or else it will lapse. Records in the parochial boxes may be used in conjunction with other types of records, including Enclosure awards and plans, to determine who has been responsible for paying for repairs to the chancel of a parish church.  We anticipate increasing demand on these collections prior to closing in November, given the impending 2013 deadline.
  • Faculties and associated records can be used to chart changing fashions in church architecture, furniture, fixtures and fittings.  They can also give insight into the impact of changing laws, and provide information about what has happened to features such as memorial tablets
  • Mr Robert Alexander, Assistant to the Registrar for Faculties and one of our regular users, has been examining effects of Ecclesiastical Exemption from listed building controls on churches' exterior, interior, bells, etc.  He notes that what is absent from the parish boxes can often be more telling than what is there.  He has also provided an example of the interesting material that may be found: records of a dispute between the parish of Abberley and the Ministry of Defence, resulting from Abberley's tall steeple interfering with flight paths near Pershore airfield.    

Behind the Scenes... the Dark Room

This week our behind the scenes tour takes us into our Dark Room - the home of our Digitisation and Microfilming team, made up of John and Jonathan.

Our Digitisation and Microfilming team, John (back) and Jonathan (front)

What is digitisation?
Digitisation is the process of creating a digital copy of an item - whether that means taking a digital image of an old document, or capturing analogue audio in digital form

The work that takes place here is vital to the Record Office for a number of reasons:

By creating high quality copies of documents we are able to reduce the need to access the original items. This is particularly important with frequently accessed items as over time a lot of damage can be done by handling them repeatedly; meaning the are unlikely to survive for future generations.

Increasing access to collections
By taking digital images of documents we are able to massively increase access to the information held in our collections, whether that is by making images available online, or by supplying users with images on CD Rom. Many of our users are from overseas and are unable to make the journey over to do research in person. Our digitisation service allows copies of our documents to be viewed in the United States, Canada, Australia and beyond!

Generating income
Our Digitisation Team are hugely important to us as they help to generate income to support the work of the Record Office. Along with orders received from our customers they also do work for external bodies. Recent big projects include digitising the parish registers held by Shropshire Archives and the digitisation of Kays Catalogues dating back to 1920, images of which can now be viewed online here.

Visit our website to find out more about our Digitisation service and how to order copies.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Top 10 Archives... No.8

Number eight in our countdown of the Top 10 most accessed collections are our Electoral Registers:

A perennially popular family and house history resource.  The earliest Worcester City electoral registers held by the Worcestershire Record Office are dated 1837 and the most recent is from 2005.  For the rest of the county we hold electoral registers from 1843 up to 1987.  Universal suffrage was only achieved in the United Kingdom in 1928 so this is something to bear in mind when searching through the registers, just because you can't find a person doesn't mean they weren't living there; they just may not have been eligible to vote.

A sample of a page from an Electoral Register

Electoral Registers are lists of persons eligible to vote in general elections.  The registers are often arranged by street rather than by the name of voter.  This can make searching for individuals on the electoral register time consuming if you do not know their address.  If you do know where someone was living the electoral registers may give some indication as to when a person arrived at a particular location and also when they left.  Therefore electoral registers can be used for tracing previous occupiers of a household.

Lesley, Archives Assistant, collecting Electoral Registers for use in our searchroom

Friday, 4 November 2011

Invite to the 'Last Day' event at our County Hall branch

The County Hall branch of the Record Office closes for the final time to researchers on Saturday 12th November. To mark the occassion of our move and to bid farewell to the branch, we are holding an open day event on Monday 14th November. During the day, there will be the chance to see some of the most prized items in the Record Office collection, such as Shakespeare's marriage bond and a letter sent from the Titanic. The oldest document held at the Record Office will also be on display along with other items which provide a glimpse into the history of the county.

There will be displays giving more information on The Hive and the History Centre branch of the Record Office in Trinity Street, Worcester – which remains open until April 2012, along with a nostalgic look back over the life of the Record Office so far.

There will also be the chance to speak to staff about the archives, the County Hall branch closure and the move to the Hive.

The doors open at 11am and close, for good, at 4pm. You are most welcome to drop in at any time during the day and there is no need to book or reserve a place.

We hope to see you there!

Top 10 Archives... No.9

It's time for the next installment of our Top 10 most used archive collections feature. This week we have the Vernon Family Archives:

The Vernon family are a very old Worcestershire family and have had links with Hanbury, Shrawley and the surrounding area since the early 13th century. Their family seat was at Hanbury Hall, which is now in the care of the National Trust.

The family and estate papers date from the early 13th to 20th centuries and amongst the many thousands of documents are wills, letters, diaries, manor court rolls, property deeds, building and repair reports and accounts, land and property surveys and valuations, catalogues and inventories of household furniture and farm and estate labour accounts.

The collections are used by family historians whose ancestors were estate workers or rented land and properties on the estate. Students search the records for information on land use, landscape gardening, buildings and architecture and the inventories, catalogues and accounts can be used to find out what life was like in a country manor.

We hope you have enjoyed this installment, come back soon for number 8!