Friday, 28 February 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~14~ The Devil's Spadeful

While checking our local history references books I came across a bound poem, written in Bewdley in 1839 by George Griffith its title 'The Devil's Spadeful' rang a bell.

Between Kidderminster and Bewdley is a large area of heath and woodland called the Rifle Range, which is used by scouts, horse riders and walkers and was a place where I would play as a child. We would climb to the top of one particular hillock, which I later learned was called 'the Devil's Spadeful'.

In the poem the devil is going to block the River Severn at Bewdley, but his plan is thwarted by a cunning local cobbler who plies the devil with drink. The poem contains copies of wood engravings showing Bewdley Bridge and The Mug House, a local public house which is still there today. They are mentioned along with other places in Bewdley in the poem.


The moral written at the end of the poem states:

'So now all ye that love brown ale,
Pray take a warning from this tale;
Whene'er ye go to drink your mugs
Don’t stop to finish up with jugs'...

At the back of the poem is a note about the author written after his death in 1883 it states that 'in his old age his morals were not proof against the vice of intemperance and he was for some  years in an asylum..'. He obviously didn’t heed his own advice.

This is just one of many unusual pamphlets held within the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service's reference library, which is available to view on Level 2 at The Hive.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Manorial Documents Register Project Update February 2014

Today we bring you an update post from Bethany Hamblen, Manorial Documents Register Project Archivist:

This month, it's back to basics as we begin to look at what a manor actually was, what it did, and how historians believe the manor changed over time.  Future posts will go into greater detail about the manor's physical makeup and its economic, social, administrative and judicial roles.  Most will also include a brief glossary and suggestions for further reading.

Professor P.D.A. Harvey, one of the most respected authorities on manorial records, established a useful definition of the manor.  He pointed out that when manerium, the Latin word for manor, appeared in Domesday Book, it could mean both the residence of a landholder (what we would later come to think of as the manor house) and a 'single administrative unit of a landed estate'—whether with or without a manor house. 

This is a pretty broad definition, and covered manors of all sizes and arrangements: anything from a manor whose boundaries coincided with those of the village or parish, to a settlement divided between two or more small manors, to a large manor comprising several settlements and parishes.  Here, it's important to note that even when the borders of a village, parish and manor were the same, these were actually different units of administration.  Basically, parishes fell under ecclesiastical or Church control, whilst the vill was a unit of civil administration, and the manor was managed as part of a private jurisdiction.  I'll explain more about how these elements worked together in a future post.

All land in the country was ultimately considered to be owned by the Crown, so that all landholders, even lords of the manor, would have been tenants of some sort.  Just as manors varied in size and value, their lords differed in rank, from the Crown, to a member of the nobility holding land throughout the country, a monastic house, or someone a bit lower down the social scale, like a member of the local gentry (such as a knight).  In Worcestershire, major landholders included the Bishop of Worcester, the abbeys of Pershore and Evesham, and the Beauchamp Earls of Warwick, while smaller parcels of land were held by local families such as the Stauntons, lords of the manor of Staunton—whose overlords were the Abbots of Westminster. 

This corresponds with Denis Stuart's definition of a manor, ' a territorial unit originally held by feudal tenure—held by a landlord, not necessarily titled, who himself was a tenant of the Crown or of a mesne lord who held land directly of the Crown.'

The lord might have land within the manor which he controlled himself and which normally supplied his household, called demesne land.  Apart from the land itself, the manor comprised a package of legal and customary rights over resources such as hunting, minerals and markets.  The lord was owed a variety of payments and other obligations by his tenants, who in turn enjoyed certain rights.  By about the 15th century, holding a court was the most significant manorial entitlement—and the mechanism through which the lord enforced the other rights.  The definition of the manor had evolved to: 'a piece of landed property with tenants over whom the lord exercised rights of jurisdiction in a private court'.

We'll look more at the courts, and the obligations and rights of lord and tenant in future weeks.


  • Demesne.  Land controlled or farmed directly on behalf of the lord of the manor.  Sometimes referred to as the 'home farm' and normally reserved for the use of the lord and his household, and often containing a capital messuage (a plot of land containing a high status dwelling, such as the manor house itself).

  • Feudal tenure.  The concepts of 'feudalism' or the 'feudal system' are highly complex subjects which have generated a great deal of debate amongst historians.  A very simplified definition of feudal tenure is the condition of holding land in return for homage (acknowledgement) and service to a superior lord.

  • Gentry.  Another complex term with different meanings depending on context of time and place.  In general included the lesser nobility or ranks below the nobility, such as knights and esquires

  • Mesne lord.  An intermediate lord who held land from someone other than the Crown (a person who held land directly of the Crown was known as a tenant in chief).

Further reading

  • M. Bailey.  The English Manor c.1200-c.1500 (Manchester, 2002). Includes a very useful glossary.

  • P. D. A. Harvey, Manorial Records, British Records Association Archives and the User no. 5 (Gloucester, 1984).

  • D. Stuart, Manorial Records (Chichester, 1992).

Friday, 21 February 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~13~ Inspired by 'Worcester in a Day'

This week our Treasure is brought to you by Teresa Jones, Senior Archive Assistant, who has chosen a book from our Local Studies Collection of reference books, which are held on Level 2 of The Hive. Here Teresa tells us more about how the book she has chosen inspired her to document her own piece of the history of Worcester:

'Worcester in a Day' by Michael Dowty can be found in our local studies reference library and is also available to loan from the local lending selection in The Hive. It contains photographs of Worcester taken on Saturday 3rd August 1968. To those of familiar with Worcester the photographs are fascinating as although the city is still recognisable there are also a huge amount of changes. In 1968, the Lichgate shopping centre was just beginning to open, both the Blackfriars development and the high rise flats in St John's were under construction and City Walls Road was yet to exist.

To identify exactly where some of the 1968 photographs were taken I consulted a 1968 Goad map, which gives details of the shops in the city centre. These cannot be photocopied, but are available to view in our original archive area during staffed hours.  I also used the 1965-1966 street directory for Worcester, which is available for reference in the local studies library.

Suitably inspired, on Saturday 2nd August 2008 I recreated 'Worcester In a Day'. Just like the original, photographs were taken from 06:15-21:00. It was a long day!

A Deserted Worcester Bridge at 06:15, Saturday 2 August 2008

The photographs are now nearly 6 years old and there have been many changes in this relatively small space of time. In 2008 The Hive had not been built and work on flood defences was being carried out along Hylton Road.
The site of The Hive

Hylton Road

In 2008 Woolworths was in its short lived home after swapping stores with an expanding Marks and Spencer.

Woolworths, High Street Worcester, 2 August 2008

Dowty, Michael Worcester in a Day Saturday 3 August 1968 in Old Photographs, Alan Sutton, Gloucester, 1988.
Goad map, Worcester 1968, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, ref: x899:749, BA 15430, location 61f/18/30
Please see our website for our original archive opening times:
Worcester Directory 1965-1966

Monday, 17 February 2014

What can we learn from pollen grains? Introducing the work of a Palynologist

A little over a month ago I started working in the Finds and Environment team for Worcestershire Archaeology, so I thought is was about time that I came on here and introduced myself properly!

My name is Suzi Richer and I am a palynologist. Unfortunately, that's one of those obscure titles that can often cause people to say, 'Huh? What's that?'

Suzi coring for samples

Basically, I examine pollen grains that have been preserved in waterlogged deposits, like ditches, ponds, peat, moats, wells or palaeochannels. From the pollen grains I can tell which trees and plants were growing at a specific point in the past, this then allows me to provide an environmental context for archaeological sites.

Depending on the site and the types of pollen that I come across, I can also get an idea of what types of activity were occurring in the area too. This is especially useful if the activity didn't leave much in the way of structural or material remains. For example, I can tell:

·         if a landscape was deforested (I see a decline in tree pollen),

·         if the site was in an agricultural area (I see cereal pollen grains),

·         if an activity like hemp or flax retting was occurring (I see lots of pollen grains from hemp/flax, usually from a site where there was a body of water, such as a pond or a stream. See Liz Pearson's work with the Young Archaeologists Club for more information about retting flax.

I can be contacted on if you have any pollen-related questions. For instance, if you are part of a local archaeology group, community group or if you would just like to know a little more about what pollen can tell you, I'd love to hear from you.

Anthemis arvensis pollen grain. Image courtesy of the Society for the Promotion of Palynological Research in Austria,

Alternatively, our interactive Touch History table on Level 2 in The Hive lets you discover for yourself how pollen grains and other types of environmental evidence, like animal bones, seeds and shells can help us to unravel past environments – come and have a play!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~12~ Love at first sight that lasted a lifetime

This week's Treasure is brought to you by Charlene Taylor, Archivist on the User Services Team. The items described are a series of love letters that have been found within the Lyttelton collection of family and estate records. Here, Charlene tells us why she chose these documents:

Hidden away in our secure strongrooms The Hive are the family and estate archives of the Lyttelton family, which came into public ownership in 2010 as part of the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme. Thanks to the award of a National Cataloguing Grant a twelve month project entitled 'The Lytteltons of Hagley: history makers and empire builders' is now well underway to catalogue and make available to the public this fascinating collection, which documents the lives of a significant landowning North Worcestershire family.

When this collection first came to the Archive Service I spent some time listing the uncatalogued boxes so that we could gain an overview of the documents contained within. Amongst the papers I uncovered a set of love letters, which I found deeply touching with their heartfelt words. Written by John Cavendish Lyttelton, who later became 9th Viscount Cobham, to Violet Leonard; the first letter dates back to 29th January 1908 and is the beginning of a series of letters that document the first flourishes of love between the young couple. The letters are sent from the R.M.S. Saxon as Jack sails away to England, whilst Violet remains behind in Capetown, South Africa.

Having met only weeks before on December 26th at the Johannesburg racecourse it is clear that the young John, who fondly signs his letters as 'Jack', is completely smitten with Violet and he quite openly declares his love for her:

 "For sure the pain of parting from you has already merged into the vision of the glorious golden future and I am radiantly happy in my love for my Violet".

The letters continue to convey his passion for Violet, although there is evidence some days later that doubt begins to cross Jack's mind as to whether she feels the same way and to whether she is even thinking of him at all. Although now we are accustomed to being able to instantly communicate with loved ones no matter where they are in the world, whilst on-board the ship Jack was writing his letters to Violet knowing that she would not receive them for some weeks and without hope of receiving a reply for the same. This lack of contact with each other so soon after meeting must have introduced a feeling of insecurity between the young couple, but at the same time must have made their longing for one another even stronger.

"And I knew my Violet, I knew all the time that you were just the one and only girl in the whole wide world."

As one reads further through the letters it transpires that, although the couple have only recently met, they have actually already made a huge commitment to one another. On 5th February Jack talks of writing to his 'future father and mother-in-law', indicating that he has actually already proposed. He is completely swept away safe in the comforting thoughts of their future lives together and describes how he…

"…drift[s] away into speculation of the glorious future which is before us – wonderful dreams like a tireless kaleidoscope."

Jack was quite right to dream of their future together as the happy couple went on to marry on 30th June 1908, only six months after first meeting. Although this may seem like somewhat of a whirlwind marriage by modern standards it was far more commonplace to have short engagements during this period. The speed with which the couple married did nothing to hinder the success of their partnership; they went on to have five children and spent the rest of their lives together. What is even more endearing to see when reading through the rest of the letter bundles is that the quite charming Jack never lost his sense of romance throughout the years of their marriage to one another, as later letters he sent still show the strong affection he has for his wife…

"You and only you are just all the world to me"

In this modern age I think one might risk sounding a little contrived, or even cheesy, using the language found in these letters, which is a shame as when reading through them it is impossible to not be moved by the emotion and sincerity that comes across. I also consider these documents a real 'treasure' as we are so much less likely to receive and retain handwritten notes such as this for future generations to look back on. Somehow a text message just doesn't have quite the same impact!

The letters described above are available to view at Worcestershire Archive Service, although as the Lyttelton collection is currently in the process of being catalogued we require advanced notice of any visits to view the material. Please email us at for more information.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

'Below Stairs' - the documented lives of people working at Northwick Park

Our latest display in the exhibition cabinets on level two at The Hive looks at the lives of the people working 'below stairs' at Northwick Park, nr Blockley.
Northwick Park near Blockley was home to Lord Northwick, his family and his household. The original house was built in the early 17th Century for William Childe. In 1681 the estate was purchased by Sir James Rushout who set about remodelling the house. Rushout was created 1st Baron Northwick in 1797.
The 3rd Lord Northwick, who had inherited the title in 1859, had no surviving children and the peerage became extinct following his death in 1887. When Northwick's wife, Augusta, died in 1912 the estate passed to her grandson Captain George Spencer Churchill who lived there until his death in 1964.

Many of the records relating to the House and the Estate were deposited with Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service following the death of Capt Spencer-Churchill (BA 4221).
Unusually the collection contains a number of records relating to the domestic servants employed at Northwick Park including wage books, applications for the position of butler, rules for the servants and details of the livery worn by the servants.

 Rules for Servants
The book sets out the rules for the servants employed at Northwick Park including the housekeeper, cook, footman, laundry maid, kitchen maid, groom and even the hall boy. (Ref 705:66 BA 4221/23)

Livery Order 1870 (Ref 705:66 BA 4221/35)

Record of wages paid to Sarah Harris, Scullery maid, 1880 (Ref 705:66 BA 4221/35)

Details of the collection can be found here on the A2A website

For further reading see:  “Incessant Labour Conquers Everything”: The House Stewards of Lord Northwick of Northwick Park, Worcestershire (1769-1859) Midland History, 29(1), pp. 139–148.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

National Libraries Day - Our Local Studies & Archaeology Library

On Level 2 in The Hive, on the Explore the Past floor, is the Local Studies & Archaeology Library. Over 12,000 books are here covering Worcestershire, subjects connected to the county, and archaeology. All out books are on the catalogue  so you can check to see what we have, and they are all reference only so are will be available when you come in.


As well as the traditional published books, as you'd expect from any library, the local studies library has a far wider coverage. We have books written 300 years ago, booklets which had print runs of a few dozen on a photocopier and never went anywhere near a bookshop, academic tomes and brief guides. There are specific books on the county or particular towns or villages, as well as general books which refer in passing to the county, and books on local and family history topics to help researchers. We also have unique items which have been compiled from other sources, such as 'Stroller', three volumes of newspaper cuttings from the 1920s and 1930s from Worcester newspapers, featuring articles of villages around the county. We work closely with libraries across the county, and the last copies in the county usually get passed on to us.


The archaeology library contains a wide range of books, not only about local history and archaeology, but also about the subject in general. Originally for the archaeology staff, it was available during office opening hours before the move to The Hive, but is now available 7 days a week for anyone to use within the building. This is well used by archaeology students studying at the university.


There is also a special collection within the archives, some of which can be seen in the glass cases. The Palfrey Collection was created by Alderman Palfrey, one of the instigators behind the creation of Worcestershire Record Office in 1947. He was a keen local historian and a collector of books on various subjects including Worcestershire. On his death he bequeathed the collection to the Record Office.


So come along and have a browse and see what interests you. It is accessible whenever The Hive is open, seven days a week 8:30am-10pm.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~11~ Exotic food stuffs from post-medieval cess pits at Newport Street, Worcester

Walk south from the Hive towards the river, and you will come across an island surrounded by a busy one-way road system, the modern Point Severn apartments at its centre. If you were to go back in time to the late 16th and early 17th centuries, though, the scene would look very different. Houses and other buildings lined Newport Street and Dolday. The frontages were shops and residential houses, while the backyards teamed with all manner of industrial life. There were workshops, stables, malthouses, bakehouses, cornlofts, a hemp house, domestic kitchens: humble abodes and more high status houses jostling for space; cobblers, brewers, clothiers, weavers, distillers, living cheek by jowl with wealthier cloth merchants.
We know this from the hoard of documents and drawings which exist in our archives at the Hive. Nevertheless, our ‘Treasures from the Past’ for today, grains of paradise and black pepper, add some important detail to the scene described above. They are two closely linked items of exotic food remains recovered from cess pits excavated on the site in 2005. They both look fairly similar (one could be mistaken for the other if in poor condition) but they also both provide a link from the busy life in the backyards of Newport Street, down the River Severn, through Bristol and out into larger world.
Cess pits (or privies), despite their unpleasant connotations of the more unsavoury side of life can be an archaeologist’s gold mine. All sorts of waste can end up here: food waste from faecal remains, kitchen waste, broken crockery, pests and parasites. Two cess pits (one stone-lined) looked promising on site, but they more than produced the goods in this case.

 Excavating a 17th century cess pit

Typical of cess pits was the abundance of fruit seeds, pips and stones, the occasional herb seeds used for flavouring, all mixed in with an abundance of crushed eggshell. Several of the fruits were rarer finds, but the grains of paradise and black pepper take us into another world.

Grains of paradise

Both are rare and are evidence of the long-distance trade in exotic spices that became increasingly common from the late medieval period onwards. Grains of paradise have been found in Worcester, from a barrel latrine excavated at Sidbury in the 1970s and I have also found them from a site at Mary-le-Port in Bristol. It is from here that they were most likely to have been brought to Worcester on the many trows (cargo boats) which brought goods up the River Severn. Grains of paradise were imported from West Africa, and as Bristol was one of the key ports involved in the slave trade with Africa, they are likely to have come into the country through this route. The seeds, which were used as a pepper for flavouring drinks, as a black pepper substitute and as a cattle medicine, are known historically in Britain from the 13th century onwards. Grains of paradise (Aframomum granum-paradisi) are related to cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), and ginger (Zingiber officinale), all members of the ginger family.
Black peppercorns (Piper nigrum) are slightly more common than grains of paradise as archaeological finds, but are still rare. It seems likely that the two spices would have been transported together on the trows to Worcester, from Bristol. During the post-medieval period, Bristol was likely to have been importing peppercorn from India and was particularly known for its trade contacts with the East India Company.  The peppercorn found at Newport Street is likely to have been imported via this route.
Both the peppercorn and grains of paradise were probably offloaded onto the quayside which stood at the bottom of Newport Street and by the former main bridge at Worcester over the river. The inhabitants of Newport Street and Dolday, therefore, had easy access to a wealth of goods close by, but the Newport Street residents are more likely to have bought the exotic spices. Research by historian Pat Hughes shows that although poor and rich lived very close by, the wealthier house owners were generally on Newport Street and the poorer households on Dolday. The grains of paradise were found in a cess pit behind number 26 to 28 Newport Street. It is possible that these deposits built up while the Parker family lived here. When Parker the weaver lived here in the mid-16th century they were clearly a family of some wealth, although whether this wealth remained into the later 16th to early 17th century (the period to which these remains date) is unclear. These two items, though, hint at our connections to far flung places via the River Severn and the port at Bristol. The vision of stores of grain of paradise in the holds of boats carrying slaves may be an uncomfortable one, but a reality of the times.
For more information on Archaeological excavations at Newport Street, Worcester, read our press release. A joint Worcestershire Archaeology and Cotswold Archaeology publication on the excavations (in Cotwold Archaeology Monograph Series) is also being prepared. For more information on the history of Worcester, read Pat Hughes and Annette Leech’s The story of Worcester.
Liz Pearson

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Love and Death in the Archives: a workshop on parish records

Parish Records are one of the most heavily used sources within the archives we hold, especially the parish registers which detail the baptisms, marriages and burials of millions of Worcestershire's residents over the past 450 years.

A page from a Tenbury parish register, dated 1843

On 18th February we are running a two hour workshop looking at the parish records, to help you get the most out of them. We'll be looking at how they were compiled, how they developed over time, what information they give and what to be aware of when using them.

Parish records cover more than just the registers, and we'll also explain about some of the other information which they contain, as well as some of the different ways you can access them and indexes which are available.
The baptism record of Henry Jetto, dated 1596

The workshop runs from 2-4pm, cost £6, and places need to be booked in advance. You can do this at the Explore the Past desk on level 2 in The Hive, by emailing or by phoning 01905 766352. As we will be looking at original documents we will ask you put bags away in lockers before we start. This is the first of a number of monthly workshops to help you explore different types of archives we hold here.

This event forms part of the Love Worcester festival that in taking place across the city. More information about other events can be found at