Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~23~ The Archaeology of Redditch New Town

For this week's Treasure Emma Hancox, Historic Environment Policy and Advisory Manager, has chosen to highlight how the Historic Environment Record demonstrates the archaeology evident across Redditch New Town. Whilst Redditch is not often considered to be rich in archaeological sites, Emma shows how our records prove that the town was designed with the history of the area very much in mind:

April 2014 is the 50th Anniversary of the Designation of Redditch New Town, so it seemed an appropriate time to share my fascination with the place and the way in which it has incorporated the past landscape into the present. 

When I started working for the council in 2005 one of my first tasks was to tidy up our Historic Environment Record (HER) database.  The HER was created back in the late 1960s as a record of all the important archaeological sites in the county.  Its purpose was to inform planning and decision making with respect to the historic environment.  It included Scheduled Ancient Monuments and other notable unscheduled earthworks, such as moats and mill sites.  Originally it was paper records and maps, with about 2000 sites, but the HER is now a sophisticated Geographical Information System (GIS) linked to a SQL database and containing around 30,000 records of historic buildings, sites, monuments, landscapes and environmentally important deposits in Worcestershire.  The record includes diverse sites from WWII air raid shelters to prehistoric flint scatters. 
Image: Moon's Moat being excavated in 1968. This is the remains of a small moated farmstead that existed from around 1300. The buildings have now gone, but the moat, with its square platform survives.
While many new records had been added over the years since 1969, no one had ever gone back and systematically checked earlier records.  Now that we have digital historic maps, geological data, character studies, Lidar (see our previous Treasures from Worcestershire's Past post for more information on the use of LiDAR), thematic surveys, theses and many other easily accessible sources, earlier records can be validated and enhanced.  This was my first task in 2005.

I started in Redditch as this was the smallest district and contained the least records.  It was a generally held belief that not much survives within the town archaeologically, due to the creation of the New Town.  I was delighted to discover that this isn't true.  Archaeological features survive in abundance in the open spaces around Redditch and are easy to spot if you know what you are looking for.  What is even more fascinating to discover, is that often the open spaces in Redditch are where they are, because of the archaeology.
Image: Church Hill Middle School. Notice that the school is the same shape as the medieval fishpond shown on the historic map. This was done to preserve the 3 metre high dam of the pond, which is at least 700 years old.
Between 1968 and 1970 the area designated for the New Town was surveyed by a team of professional and amateur archaeologists, historians, ecologists and landscape specialists.  Earthworks were surveyed, important sites were excavated and the town was planned around the existing historic landscape.  Professor Mick Aston of Time Team fame carried out much of the survey work along with an army of local volunteers.

Image: LiDAR image of Southcrest Wood.  The scheduled monument can be seen as a large circular ditched enclosure along with marl pits, a quarry and ancient ridge and furrow.  This demonstrates that the woodland was once farmland.

More information on the archaeology within Redditch and elsewhere in the county can be obtained from the Historic Environment Record.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~22~ School log books

This week's Treasure is brought to you by Dr Lisa Snook, User Services Manager. Lisa has chosen school log books and here she tells us more about the wealth of information that can be found within these volumes:

School log books appear to be very unassuming, but upon reading a wealth of information can be discovered about life in the past. They reveal information about school life, the condition of the schools and equipment, the health of the pupils and teachers and even the weather! 

Each week the Head Teacher was obliged to write a report on the school, which included any appointments, absence levels and visitors to the school.   Some Heads stuck religiously to this list, but others were more prolific in their entries and so much information can be gained.

What clearly leaps out was the level of absence by the pupils, and the reasons given are both fascinating to read and reveal much about local circumstances and wellbeing at the time.    These range from sickness to other events/activities taking place that are preferable or more important than school.

Illnesses regularly noted in the log books include generic colds, 'sickness' and fever, to more specific scarlet fever, scabies, mumps, bronchitis and, on one occasion, ringworm.  The Headteacher at Guarlford reported in December 1910 that only 37 of the 110 pupils were present owing to an outbreak of measles.  Later that week the school was closed by order of the Medical Officer of Health.

The weather conditions were also commonly noted as affecting the attendance of the school, ranging from excessive heat, to rain, to 'wet' conditions, stormy weather and heavy snow. In January 1887 the Headteacher at Bayton recorded low attendance as the roads were impassable due to snow.  He had to dig a path through 2 feet of snow to get to the school. A great effort, particularly as the school was closed shortly after.   On the other extreme 'Drill' lessons in Guarlford were cancelled in July 1911 because the temperature had reached 80˚ in the school, and 112˚ in the playground.  Temperatures seem a particular interest of this Head, who regularly noted the temperature in the porch and the classroom. 

But it was not just illness and weather that kept the children from school, at particular times of the year they were needed for other activities, including hay making, apple and hop picking or simply helping at home. In January 1911 the headteacher suspected that over half the pupils in Class I and II were working as 'beaters' on the local estate rather than attending school.  Finally, there were more enjoyable activities that affected school attendance, with Sunday School treats and outings, a show at Madresfield, a Coronation Tea and a circus at Redditch all being mentioned in local log books.  

Upon reading the books, you start to wonder when conditions were right for pupils to attend, and just how much schooling some of the children received!  But they do provide a fascinating insight into day to day life in the school, the trials and tribulations of the pupils and teachers and a taste of a very different type of schooling to the one children receive today.

If you're interested in researching these books you can find out what school records we hold by searching our Schools Database online. Please note that log books are closed for 100 years to protect any sensitive information that may be contained within them.  If you would like to view books that are less than 100 years old please contact us at and we can advise further on how you may be able to access them.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Treasures of Worcestershire's Past: ~21~ An Eccentric Clergyman's Will

Newspapers can reveal all matter of interesting things and an article with the above title proved to be no exception.

On searching for a trail that featured in the Berrow's Worcester Journal, Saturday, November 24, 1888 nestled to the right hand side was a short article with the heading 'An Eccentric Clergyman's Will' which caught my eye. All manner of questions were raised by such a heading, not least what were the details behind this particular story that led to such an interesting heading and more especially what specifically made this particular Clergyman eccentric?

On reading the article needless to say it was not exactly what I was expecting, but then often articles in the newspapers that I come across rarely are. Reports on criminal trials from this period and earlier can often provide illuminating physical descriptions of the accused which on occasion have been so specific right down to the lengths of man's whiskers. This was a report concerning the legality of a will which, the newspaper report heading would suggest to the reader, was being contested on the grounds of sanity.

The case of the will of Rev. William Wight was heard at the Worcester City Assizes by a Mr Justice Chitty in November 1888. From the first few sentences of the article it is unclear exactly why exception was being taken to his wishes to 'found a college for ladies – to train ladies for the important duties of wives, mistresses and mothers.' The reasons behind his request however do provide an illuminating insight into his views that women 'should be something more useful and more noble than a pretty doll, a butterfly, or a plaything for her husband'. His instructions include 'early rising' and 'cold morning baths for the ladies'. From the money that he bequeaths in his will, he makes special mention that a certain proportion of these funds be spent on 'quarterly conversations, and directs that two-thirds of the invitations shall be sent to single gentlemen.' In addition to the these requests Rev. Wight's will also states that he desires to be buried in his garden near the grave of 'his noble Labrador dog "Friend"'.

The Judge's decision was that Rev. William Wright's bequests were illegal and instead his property should be distributed amongst his next of kin. It is unclear from the article whether it is the requests for founding a ladies college, or his desire to be buried by his dog that results in the Judge's ruling. Whatever the reason, it makes an interesting read.

The Newspaper article can be found on the Microfilm 169 for Berrow's Worcester Journal, which is available to view on the Explore the Past floor in the self-service area of The Hive on level 2.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Upcoming Exploring Archives workshops – Duck thieves and naughty pupils

Duck thieves, secreted needles, stressed teachers and missing pupils are among the stories we'll be bringing to light in the next two workshops in our Exploring Archives series on Quarter Sessions and School Records.

Quarter Sessions - Wed 14th May 10am-12pm
Quarter Sessions were a court and a forerunner of the County Council. As a court is stood between the Petty sessions, for the minor crimes, and the Assizes, for the most serious. They also dealt with all sorts of other matters, including removal orders, road maintenance, application to build railways and the running of the county. A wealth of stories are contained here, including Thomas Hemmings, duck thief, and two ladies convicted for stealing acorns. Despite their value and containing thousands of names, they are an underused resource, so we'll be explaining how to use the indexes and make the most of these in your research as well as uncovering some fascinating stories.

School Records – Wed 18th June 10am-12pm
Schools have kept a wide range of records over the years to assist them in their running, and many people come to us to have a look for family history, investigating the history of their town/village or to help with other research. In this workshop we'll explain the main types of sources, including logbooks, punishments books, photos, newspapers, plans and correspondence, and how to locate them.

Places cost £6 each, and to book your please ring us on 01905 766352, email or call in at the Explore the Past desk on level 2.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~20~ Conservation of Croome accounting records

This week's Treasure is brought to you by Rhonda Niven, Conservator. Rhonda has chosen a selection of account and rent books from the Croome collection, the archives of the Earls of Coventry. These records were previously unavailable to the public owing to their very poor physical state but thanks to the work of Rhonda, made possible through the grant awarded by the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, they are now available once again. Here, Rhonda tells us more:

As the Book and Paper Conservator for the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, I occasionally have the privilege of being able to see, and every now and then carefully handle, treasures within the archive that are too fragile or in such poor condition that general handling by searchers or staff would result in further damage, and potential loss to the item.  

Within in this category fall a number of the account and rent books relating to the history of Croome Court.  These paper-based records date from 1719 to 1915 and detail the general and household accounts, and allotment rental accounts, providing an insight into the running of the estate detailing costs and names of local suppliers and tenants.

Before conservation treatment

Many of the items have suffered from inappropriate storage conditions throughout their history, resulting at best in a layer of surface dirt, at worst, damp damage and subsequent mould damage on papers and bindings.  Although the items are now dry and the mould is no longer active, it has left the paper very soft and powdery.  A number of bindings have broken down, with broken sewing and spine folds, combined with disintegrating paper to such an extent that any handling, however careful, causes the items to crumble and suffer further damage.
In keeping with the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service's commitment to ensure the proper management of Worcestershire's heritage for current and future generations, a grant application was made to, and gratefully received from, the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, with the title of 'Accounting for Croome'.   
After conservation treatment

As a result of this grant, I have begun working on the General Estate Accounts, which will soon be available for public consultation.  Treatment involves immersing the documents in water to wash away dirt and impurities.  Tears and areas of loss are repaired using fine Japanese tissue attached with wheat starch paste, before the documents are sewn into covers of acid-free card. This leaves the documents in a more robust condition, able to withstand future handling.  For those that are particularly damaged and crumbly, I have attached fine tissue to both sides of the document, which means the documents can now be read and handled safely. 

Detail of text following conservation treatment

The future longevity of the documents is enhanced by the fact they were initially made from high quality handmade paper.  This paper responds well to washing and repair and now that they are stored in stable environmental conditions, they will go on to tell the story of Croome Court for many years to come.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Opening a sealed WWI letter for the first time

Working with the county's archives we are used to reading and handling fascinating and unique documents, but we still get a thrill from something a little unusual with a story behind it. One such moment was a couple of weeks ago, when we opened an envelope which had been sealed for almost 100 years, when a letter was popped inside and it was posted out to a soldier serving in Egypt. The chance to open a sealed envelope this old is not something that comes along very often.

The archives contain a number of amazing collections of letters from soldiers from WWI, and with the centenary of the outbreak approaching and interest rising we have had a number of volunteers going through these letters to summarise them to help individuals, academics, local groups and other interested people know the type of things the letters contains so they can be used for exhibitions, education packs or books. One such collection is the Preece collection, containing hundreds of letters sent to Mrs Preece. Most are from her son, Jack, who joined up in September 1914 and the letters tell the story from his training in Norfolk, before travelling to Alexandria and then to the front line and back. Details of the front are given, as well as the times when they are resting and he talks about their food, health and soldiers being stung by Scorpions. Other family friends letters are also included.

In amongst the letters was an envelope which hadn't been opened.  It was the only letter we had which was sent by Mrs Preece, and from the information the letter was sent out to Hal King, in Egypt, and was sent back to her. A few of Hal's letters have survived, and we knew he referred to her as 'my other mother', due to the close nature of their families. With the help of Rhonda, our conservator, we unstuck the envelope and took the letter out to read it for the first time since it was written in 1915.
It was quite a moving moment, and the honour of opening the envelope fell to Julie, the volunteer who has been going through the Preece letters. Through the last few months she says she's felt she has got to know him through his writings, and by extension his mother and Hal. Other people who had only been following the tale from a distance also felt moved, and it gave a real connection to people from a time gone by. It was indeed a letter from Mrs Preece to Hal, telling him she had been given a vase as a birthday present by Hal's mother, informing him of a number of events here at home, before wishing him a happy birthday for later that month. Unfortunately he never received it, and when we checked the dates it would have arrived after he had died. Jack's letters imply he died of illness, although on the envelope is says he was killed in action, so we are unsure which is right.

The information may have been ordinary, but they are an example of millions of letters which were sent during the war, giving brief insights in people's live in Britain or abroad and would no doubt have brought much comfort.

The Preece letters are just one example of the collections we have. Other collections include the Sladden letters, sent by three brothers to their parents, including Cyril who fought at Gallipoli and in the Middle East; Captain Philip Leicester, son of a Mayor of Worcester; a Major General; and a Gunner in the Royal Artillery.  We hope to be able to use these stories over the next few years as part of the Worcestershire World War One Hundred project, as they tell some fascinating stories, humorous and tragic, exceptional and ordinary, which bring to life what life was like for those Worcestershire men who joined up and fought in the war. More details about the HLF project can be found here

Finally, a big thank you to our volunteers who have been coming in to go through the letters and summarise them, without whom we would not have been able to do this.

You can read a BBC article about the postal service in WWI here:

Friday, 4 April 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~19~ The lives, loves and travels of the Moules of Sneads Green

This week's Treasure has been chosen by Margaret Tohill, Archivist. Here she tells us more about what stories can be gleaned from the family papers of the Moules of Sneads Green:

The papers of the Moule family of Sneads Green contain a mix of property deeds, financial records and personal letters and photographs covering a 350 year period and are quite typical of a small family collection.  What I particularly love about the collection is the tantalising glimpses the documents give you into the lives of the family, but you never quite get the whole story.

A curious marriage proposal

One of the first documents in the collection I catalogued was a letter from an unidentified young man from London to Francis Moule dated 12 July 1820, which seems to have been written in response to the man's desire to marry one of Francis's daughters. Francis initially expresses his surprise, but then almost reproaches the man with the phrase 'how could you be so infatuated as to form an attachment so hasty, so uncongenial, so imprudent and even preposterous'  and states that the man has not had enough time to get to know her.

  Francis Moule letter 1820 p1

Reasonable enough but, when you turn the page you cannot help but raise an eyebrow at Francis declaring that his daughter 'must be very unfit for the companion of an enlightened citizen of London, being totally unaccomplished, her education slender and even illiterate'.  He also raises her limited financial prospects and hopes that the young man is not trifling with his daughter's affections.  One's eye cannot help but be drawn to the line 'for God's sake reflect candidly and deliberately upon the subject'. 

Francis Moule letter 1820 p2

Francis does end his letter that if the incongruities can be sorted out and his daughter is in favour he would then favour the match.  It is unclear which of Francis Moule's four daughters was the subject of the letter and who the man was.  Frustratingly there are no other documents in the collection relating to the matter.  Of the daughters only one, Mary, married and she did marry a man from London. 

A London wedding

Francis Moule's granddaughter Caroline was born and seems to have lived much of her youth in London, as Francis's son John Watkins Moule traded as a silk draper in London and then retired to Kent.  Caroline met and married a chemist from London called Frederick Stocks in the summer of 1874.  There are several letters from Frederick's friends and family offering congratulations and some accounts which may relate to purchases for the wedding or their home.

Accounts of glassware, drink and drapery brought 1874

Visit to Italy

In late 1893 Frederick travelled to Paris, Genoa and Italy.  It's unclear why he went, maybe it was on business, but he sent letters and sketches back to his wife and children describing the experience, including a visit to Pompeii.  As he walked around 'the City of the Dead', he almost expected the fountains to flow again with water and the town to spring back into life at any moment.  He also visited a dig in progress and mused that as only half the city was uncovered, it would take them 60 years to complete the work.

Visit to Pompeii and surrounding area 1893

Frederick mentions taking photos, but they do not appear in the collection, so if they survived, they were perhaps inherited by another branch of the family.

Visit to South Africa and the outbreak of the First World War

Frederick and Caroline's daughter Loll (Laura Ellen) seemed to also be bitten by the travel bug.  1914 sees her writing back home to her mother (her father had died in 1909) while on board the SS Umzumbi and then from South Africa and Natal.  The letters give no immediate clue as to why she decided to go to South Africa and there is no immediately discoverable family connection.  The letters include accounts of a fancy dress party on board the boat and visits to various sights of interest, battlefields and cemeteries associated with recent wars, the grave of Cecil Rhodes and one of the things she was most looking forward to – a visit to the Victoria Falls.  There are also descriptions a plenty of the various people she stays with and meets along the way.  She asks her mother to keep her letters so that she may read them herself upon her return.   The whole series do seem to have survived, so it is possible to follow Loll's adventures and see the Africa of 1914 through her eyes.  

Description of the fancy dress party on board the SS Umzumbi

Loll's final letters make reference to the 'European War' which has broken out while she was away in Africa and her anxiety and desire to get home as soon as she can comes out clearly in the letters.  She says that everyone is speaking of little else, the newspapers are bringing out 'specials'.  The South African troops are 'all on the qui vive' and there are lots of 'khaki clad men about'.  She finally arrives back in England in October 1914 on The Saxon.  Interestingly enough she seems to have returned to South Africa again at some point as the Ancestry database has a record of her returning to England  just ahead of the outbreak of the Second World War, but there are no records in the collection about that trip.

One of Loll's letters about the outbreak of the First World War 4 August 1914

These are just a few of the many fascinating papers the Moule family of Sneads Green have left behind to provide a window on their lives and times, their thoughts and opinions.  Other sources which were not available when I catalogued the collection twenty years ago, such as genealogical information from Ancestry, now provide the collection with much more of a framework to set the records in context.  I still see something new each time I revisit the collection and maybe as more and more collections appear on line, somewhere out there in another record office there may be other papers of the Moule family, just waiting to be discovered to complement our collection.