Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Lord of the Rings inspiration in the archives

Amongst our archives we hold a sales catalogue for a Tudor property known as Bag End, in the parish of Dormston. The sales catalogue dates from 1931.

Paul Hudson, Learning and Outreach Manager says: "I came across this sales catalogue a few years ago, shortly after seeing the final film in the Lord of the Rings series. The name immediately jumped out at me, and as I knew Tolkien had links with Birmingham and the West Midlands, I wondered if this is what gave the home of Bilbo Baggins its name.

A book has been written about Bag End exploring the links between this farm and Lord of the Rings. The author, Andrew Morton, used this catalogue as one of his sources and reproduced it in full. He discovered that the farm was owned by Tolkien's aunt in the 1920s and was visited by the author on at least a couple of occasions. The name is probably all that was used, as the farm bears little resemblance otherwise to the Hobbit dwelling of the books.

Any sales catalogue can be a useful document, as it will give lots of information about a property. In some instances, where it is a larger property, it can include a map and photographs, as it does in this case. The descriptions can bring the house to life, as you can start reconstructing them room by room in your mind. Some of these are of use mainly to those who have a connection with the house, either as a family home or their current residence. However some have greater significance, and the sales catalogue for Witley Court has been used by historians as a key source for their research into the house and its former occupants."

This item can be viewed in our Original Archives Area at The Hive and can be located at reference 705:358 BA5240/4a/299.

The book about Bag End can be found amongst our Local Studies library collection on Level 2 at The Hive under Andrew H Morton – Tolkien's Bag End (2009), Brewin Books. – reference L728.80942.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Friends of Worcestershire Archives - new website now live

The Friends of Worcestershire Archives have been supporting the work of our service since its establishment in the 1970s. To find out more about their work, how you can get involved and about their programme of upcoming events visit their newly launched website at:

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

An insight into the life of Russian aristocracy during the Napoleonic era

As quite often happens when you are looking through the catalogues for particular archives, other entries tend to catch your eye! This happened recently when we spotted a journal written by Elizabeth Milbank in 1812 and deposited with us in 2000.
At the time Elizabeth was staying with the Countess Heiyden at her house in the city of Mitau, then part of the Russian empire and now in Latvia.

An extract from the journal of Elizabeth Milbank

The journal gives an insight into the life of the aristocracy when Russia was on the brink of being invaded by Napoleon's forces.
Describing how French soldiers were nearing the town, having already burned down the school, she wrote: 'I fell with fright against the window and the countess, quite pale, said 'Then there is nothing left for us but to leave the town.''

 Elizabeth and the Countess, together with an entourage of servants, dogs and even a cockatoo, left  the city for the port town of Riga, abandoning the house and all its contents to the mercy of the French army.
They did return, temporarily, to Mitau where they dug a deep hole in the woodhouse and buried the 24 piece dinner service which had been packed in boxes, they then covered it with earth and trampled it down. The also crammed the chandeliers, carpets, best tables, chairs and tables under the roof of the unfurnished wing of the house.
They returned to Riga but found life was becoming too dangerous there too, and once again they took flight.
We don't know who Elizabeth Milbank was or what happened to her, but it seems that she was a friend or relative of the countess rather than a servant.

The journal is held in our archives ref 899:1358 BA 12996

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Another chance to explore with us

We are about the rerun our popular series of Ancestry website workshops. The workshops have enabled many people to start using this website and have allowed those already familiar with the site to really get the most out of it.

This website, an important resource for anyone looking to trace their family tree, is available free to access in The Hive, along with any other Worcestershire Library. Have you ever wondered what sources are available on Ancestry, which out of the thousands of sources are most useful; what does the information mean; why can't you find someone who should be there, and how can you get the best out of using the website? Then these workshops may be just what you are looking for!

The workshops we have available are as follows:

Starting Ancestry: The census           
Thu 23 May at 10am-12pm
This is an introduction the website focusing on a popular feature on there; the Census. Now available for England 1841-1911 it is one of the most useful sources available.

Further Ancestry: Beyond The Census  
Thu 30 May at 10am-12pm
Introducing you to other important sources, such as birth, marriage and death indexes; military records; parish registers and criminal records these are the other main sources you need to know about.

What's New on Ancestry                           
Thu 6 June at 10am-12pm
There are always new sources added and it can be hard keeping track. For those who have already been using the website, this covers sources added over the last couple of years.

Workshops cost £5 each and should be booked at the 'Explore the Past' desk on level 2 at The Hive. Alternatively phone us on 01905 766352, or e-mail 

Please note: as the aim of the workshops is to show you how to get the most out of the website, attendees should have basic computing skills.

Our new Archive and Archaeology website is now live

Since Worcestershire Record Office and Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service combined to become Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service we have been working to create a website which reflects the joint nature of our service. The website is now live and available for you visit at:

We'd love to hear your feedback on the new site. Leave us a comment here on the blog or email us at 

Monday, 6 May 2013

May Celebrations

It is now May, and with two bank holidays and half term holidays at the end of the month it's a time for fun. May has always been a special time with celebrations going back centuries, and these can be found reflected in the archives.

Maypole dancing in Hallow, 1950              © Berrow's Worcester Journal

In Hallow they had the tradition of the Maypole on 1st May, and it is referred to in the school logbooks as follows:

30th April        The elder girls remained in school to make arrangements for May Day and to sing through their different songs.

1st May           School closed. The elder girls went round the village with their May Queen and arrived at the school at 3 O'clock where they were met by all the other scholars after which they all went to the cricket field where they were supplied with tea and buns and engaged in various sports.

30th April        No needlework today, the afternoon devoted to singing preparatory for May-day.

1st May           Holiday – May Day.

30th April        Lessons as usual in the morning. Afternoon devoted by elder girls to making their wreaths and garlands.

1st May           Saturday. Customary May Day festivities.

Maypole dancing continued in the 20th century in Hallow, and we have a number of photos in the archives of the May Queens and their processions in the 1950s and 1960s.

                          May Queen (Pat Gwillam)  1954               © Berrow's Worcester Journal

It wasn't just May Day itself. Each village usually had their own wakes or feasts, which often fell in May & June, and these could incorporate the maypole, as well as Ascension day holidays and Church or Sunday School outings. Wakes were originally church vigils, but turned over time into fetes and fairs. Climbing a greasy pole and gurning, races, music including brass bands, food. Farmers and other employers withdrew support over time, and some churches tried to bring back Christian elements. Some were raucous, others more sedate. Club Feasts were similar, although had later origins. Villages often had clubs and friendly societies which people would subscribe to, in the days before the welfare state, and would then receive help when they were in need. Each year they'd have a walk or a feast, in which they would have a tea and refreshments for members, along with games and entertainment.

Unsurprisingly these celebrations often resulted in poor attendances at school. From reading the logbooks it sounds like children used to go to the neighbouring Feasts or Wakes in addition to their own, and teachers complained about low attendances for those periods.

At Offenham they celebrated May Day at the end of the month 29th May, Oak Apply Day. This was also their village wake. Originally a church service and vigil it became a village fair, complete with a band. Included maypole dancing. Each village had theirs on a different day and it looks like some children went round the villages instead of coming to school. They also got very excited!

Hallow May Queen Jean Sampson being crowned 1955      © Berrow's Worcester Journal

Offenham School Logbooks

29th May        It being the Annual Village Wake, the children had a holiday this afternoon and were regaled with a Tea Drinking in Myatt's Barn winding up with diversions on the Vicarage Lawn.

31st May         Very small attendance this afternoon in consequence of a Tea Drinking at the Bethel Chapel.

7th June          Broke up for the usual week's holiday at Whitsuntide.

18th May         A week's holiday was given for Whitsuntide, and an urgent appeal made to the children not to let the wakes interfere with the following week's attendance

23rd May         The attendance today was very poor and the children were too excited to do any earnest work.

29th May         Holiday for the wake

29th May          School closed for the Wake. At 3:30 tea was served to the school children and those who have recently left, to the number of 140, and to the band. The tea is provided by the subscriptions of the parents mainly, some of the managers contributing milk etc.

30th May          Only 16 infants present this morning, and 60 older children. At play time Mr H Cresswell came and distributed sufficient remaining cake to allow each child at much as it wished for lunch.

31st May          Being Littleton Wake there was rather a small attendance this afternoon, the children from Bennetts Hill, Newtown and some from the Cross going there.

1st June            As usual with Wake Week the attendance has been very irregular, ranging from 76 to 107. The children have been excited and restless, and the heavy thundery weather seems to have affected them.

8th June            The attendance has varied to a remarkable extent during the week, from 61, the lowest I have recorded, to 111, almost the highest. The weather, and local 'wakes' have been the chief causes of the variation. Work has been somewhat interfered with, but has been satisfactory.

23rd May            Miss Taylor asked permission to have holiday for tomorrow afternoon to enable her to attend an outing in connection with the Church choir. This was granted so that Tuesday afternoon's lessons will be taken this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon's lessons today.

24th May            Miss Taylor absent today to attend a Choir outing. This outing accounts for the absence of six children this afternoon.

26th May            The school closes today for the Wake held tomorrow and the Whitsuntide holidays next week

3rd June             School reopened this morning after the Whitsuntide holiday. All except the savages and two who are ill, were present. The Maypole Dance given on Wednesday last was much appreciated and several have asked that it may be repeated.

What are your memories of celebrating in May? We'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Historic Wyre Forest: interactive Lidar website

The ancient Forest of Wyre conceals a landscape that has had a very long, rich and diverse history. Over 8,000 years ago temporary settlements sprang up overlooking the Severn Valley. These seasonal camps supported small extended families that gathered wild harvest, fished the river and hunted. 300 years ago, Wyre was entering a period of exploitation as a major industrial landscape: coal mining, charcoal burning, milling and many other activities defined Wyre as an area of craft specialisation with products distributed to markets near and far via the gateway towns of Bewdley and Cleobury Mortimer. In the millennia between these two periods Wyre's landscape was settled, altered and exploited; each period leaving its mark on the land.

Two Lidar images of Wassall Wood near Trimpley illustrating how the tree cover can be removed to reveal the woodland landscape

In 2007 the Forestry Commission funded a Lidar survey of Wyre and its surrounding landscape as part of a major Heritage Lottery Fund project: Grow With Wyre. Lidar is the acronym for an aerial laser survey method: Light Detection and Ranging. The technique uses a low intensity laser scanner fitted to a light aircraft that records the land surface in high detail. This is impressive enough, however, using specialist software it was possible to filter the survey data to remove all records of the forest tree canopy thereby revealing the previously hidden forest floor. Over 2000 surface features of archaeological potential have been mapped across an area of 72 square kilometres providing a significant insight into the historic evolution of Wyre. Since 2010, a team of volunteers has been actively checking the results on the ground and adding valuable extra information into the County Historic Environment Record.

Now you can access the Lidar images and mapping via the Historic Wyre Forest website and interactive map browser. Navigate around Wyre and select individual features to read more about the main archaeological features types that have been identified.  Archaeological research in Wyre has entered a new phase as part of the Wyre Forest Landscape Partnership. During the next three years the website will be developed to provide more detailed information about individual features and the landscape archaeology of Wyre.

For more information about the work of the Wyre Forest Landscape Partnership and volunteering opportunities please contact Adam Mindykowski 01905 765972