Friday, 25 July 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~35~ Quarter Sessions & The Acorn Thieves

This week our Learning and Outreach Manager, Paul Hudson, has chosen one of our more popular archive sources - the Quarter Sessions records - as his treasure. Here he tells us more about a particular story that caught his attention:

In April 1802 Ann Williams, Mary Priddy and Ann Collins were brought before the Worcestershire Quarter Sessions accused of a heinous crime – stealing acorns. John Wainwright, servant of Sir John Pakington of Westwood Park, brought it to court, and all three women admitted it, although since they were illiterate they had to sign with a cross their confessions.

Quarter Sessions provide a wealth of fascinating stories, and I regularly use them when giving talks or needing interesting stories about people or places for events or displays.

What were the Quarter Sessions?

They were a combination of a court, and a forerunner of the County Council, dealing with administrative and planning matters for the county. The crimes they tried were middling ones, with minor ones heard by petty sessions and those carrying the death penalty heard by the Assizes, but that still left a large number for them to administer. Their role in helping to administer the county saw them oversee road and bridge repairs, disputes over poor law responsibilities, licensing of gamekeepers & ale houses, looking at proposed new roads/canals/railways, and management of the local gaols. They met four times a year (hence the name) and were presided over by the Justices of the Peace with the help of juries.

A Quarter Session Order Book (reference: 118 BA6/7)

We have the official paperwork, including session rolls which contain the statements given, and the order books which say what happened. In addition there are lists of licenses granted, calendars or prisoners, removal orders for poor, and maps/plans of proposed railways or canals.

Why are they a Worcestershire Treasure?

Thousands of stories are in there, such as crime, poor law and daily events, and tens of thousands of people are mentioned in the records - the accused, the witnesses, the victims, the JPs, surveyors, poor law applicants, churchwardens, gamekeepers and many other people. There is a wealth of information to look through, and can be used in all sorts of ways. And the great thing is that volunteers over the years have indexed many of them, so you can look specific people up, find out what happened for a particular town or village, or a subject such as theft of acorns. This makes this information accessible. It was going through these indexes that I saw the theft of acorns mentioned and was so intrigued that I had to go and look to see if it was true. I've used them many times in talks and other activities, finding relevant examples, and the stories revealed always attract interest.

 Ann Williams' statement (reference 110 BA1/566/57)

Using Quarter Sessions records

The documents are kept in the archives and available during our original archives opening hours. The indexes are available in books and can be searched whenever The Hive is open. Some are also available online on the Access to Archives website

What happened to the acorn thieves?

Despite them all pleading guilty and admitting taking acorns (half a peck and half a bushel) the order book records that all three were found not guilty. Was there a get out clause for them due to the amount of acorns taken, did the jurors and other JPs think it was all ridiculous and threw it out, or was it for some other reason? It doesn't say, and neither Berrow's Worcester Journal nor Worcester Herald mentioned it, but it is a story that I find amusing, and one reason why I think Quarter Sessions papers are a Treasure.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Treasures of Worcestershire's Past: ~34~ Bayton Colliery

This week's Treasure has been chosen by Tom Rogers, Archaeological Project Manager. Here he explains more about Bayton Colliery and its history

In the corner of a pasture field near the pretty village of Bayton, four low, concrete pillars stand, overgrown by hawthorn and used by cows for shelter. It would be easy to walk past without a glance or assume it was the base of a disused agricultural building, but this small construction is a clue to the area’s fascinating industrial history. Next to the field is a wood; from the outside like any other wood of mature ash and oak, but within it lie surface remains of Bayton No. 1 pit, one of a series of collieries dating from a time when this corner of the county was dominated by industry.

Bayton lies on the western edge of Worcestershire on the southern edge of the Wyre Forest Coalfield.  The coalfield covers an area of around fifty square miles, on the borders of Shropshire and Worcestershire, centred on the Wyre Forest, although there is virtually no workable coal beneath the forest itself. The coal beneath Bayton is the sulphur coal which as its name suggests, has a high sulphur content and produces an acrid, unpleasant smoke when burnt. This made it unsuitable for metal working and domestic use but it was good for brick making and much prized for drying the hops grown in the locality and in particular from the Teme Valley to the south, as the sulphurous fumes gave the hops a distinctive flavour when used to make beer.

The first mines in the north part of the parish of Bayton were operated from the Shakenhurst estate, centred on Shakenhurst Hall to the west of the village, owned for centuries by the Meysey family. The lease was sold in 1895 to William Lawton Viggars who was a partner in the Highley Mining Company which had brought deep modern sinking methods to the northern part of the coalfield. The company, however, folded within a year and Viggars gave the mine up in 1903, having been slightly burnt in an underground explosion the year before.

In 1904 the Shakenhurst mining lease was taken over by James Smallshaw, of Arscott Colliery near Shrewsbury and by 1907 the Bayton Colliery was profitable enough for him to consider a railway link to the Great Western Railway at Cleobury Mortimer. Bayton lies on high ground remote from the railway either at Cleobury Mortimer to the north or the Teme Valley to the south and transporting the coal was problematic. In the event the railway link was not built and Smallshaw left in 1910. Francis Whitworth Wright, a mining engineer from Halifax, then purchased the colliery in August 1911 and together with backers from Lancashire, formed the Bayton Colliery Company, registered in December 1914 with £8,000 capital, expanding the workforce to about seventy. The solution to the problem of transporting the coal came finally with the construction of an aerial ropeway constructed by R. White & Son in 1912, run by steam engine run from the company’s own coal. The ropeway was 2,443 yards long and ran from the colliery to the sidings at Cleobury Mortimer station to be loaded into trucks.  In order to avoid crossing the Cleobury to Clows Top road where it lay in Shropshire, an angle station was constructed which allowed the ropeway to cross the road in Worcestershire. This caused a lot of spillage from the baskets and the recovered coal was sold here by the company.

The reserves of coal at Bayton No. 1 were exhausted in 1923, or shortly afterwards and replaced with workings at Winwrick's Wood, by the banks of the Dumbleton Brook. A tramway was laid from the mines to the main road and the company started its own haulage business, selling direct to the customers using a fleet of twelve one-ton Ford trucks and a seven-ton Clayton and Shuttleworth steam lorry. The aerial ropeway from Bayton No.1 was eventually dismantled in the late 1920s. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Treasures of Worcestershire's Past: ~33~ Letter revealing details of a Prison Hulk shipwreck

This week's Treasure is a letter which forms part of the archives of the Bomford family of Atch Lench [Church Lench]. The Bomfords are a well-established land-owning family in Worcestershire. They are perhaps most well known for their part in the development of farming technology through Bomford & Evershed ltd.

This letter illustrates another side to the family's business and personal interests. It was written by a Mr Hopkins on the 19th of January, 1830, and addressed to Joseph Bomford. After exchanging pleasantries, Mr Hopkins reveals that several months earlier he had visited the Chatham Docks in Kent and boarded the prison hulk, the Dolphin, 'containing 700 convicts' awaiting transportation to Australia. Hopkins provides a fascinating account of his observations the prisoners

'…truly it was a...pleasing sight to see what great attention was paid to Devine [sic] Service throughout the Ship the Convicts were standing in rows of about twenty each, a prayer Book seemed to be allowed between two of them, it is a great pity that such well informed men as many of them are should be so shut out from the world as many of them are well versed in the Languages, whilst others are very clever artists...'

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that Hopkins' visit took place a mere fortnight before the hulk was 'wrecked' in an incident causing the loss of three lives. Hopkins describes the captain's futile attempts to save the ship by ordering '500 of the Men to be unlocked from their Hammocks + come on Deck to...balance her...'.

Hopkins attributes the wreck to the ship being 'top heavy' owing to 'kitchens...built…for the convenience of the convicts...' The incident was widely reported in newspapers all over Britain, with most of the articles (e.g. one found in the Caledonian Mercury, 22 October, 1829) corresponding with and expanding upon Hopkins' account. Newspaper reports on the results of the inquests into the three deaths mentioned above may also be found.

The letter is a good example of the gems that can turn up in boxes of seemingly dry farm accounts, tradesmen's bills, and rent books. It also demonstrates how valuable family correspondence can be for researching not only local and family history, but events of wider national (and even international) significance.

This document can be viewed in the Original Archive Area at The Hive by using reference 705:47 BA 2592/2.

Further research

There is a book about the Bomford partnership with the Evershed family available at the County Hall branch. This is The Bomford Story: A Century of Service to Agriculture, by Theo Sherwen (Evesham: Bomford & Evershed, 1979; Shelfmark .Local Ref 629.225).

If you are interested in finding out more about the convicts in the prison hulks, including the Dolphin, see and The National Archives website.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Exciting events for Festival of British Archaeology

July sees the annual Festival of British archaeology, and we are putting on two special events as part of this:

Behind the Scenes Tour - Wed 16 July, 2:30-4:00pm

We have another opportunity to take you behind the scenes to see places you don't normally get to see here in The Hive and find out what we get up to. We'll take you into our archaeology store, where you can handle some of the archaeological finds we've found; you can watch our conservator in action as she helps to look after our fragile books and documents, and we will go into the archive strongrooms, where you can see some of our amazing documents including Shakespeare's marriage bond and a letter sent from the Titanic.

The tour is £5 and needs to be booked in advance. Although we will have some chairs in each room and there is a lift between floors there will be some moving around the building during the 90 minutes. We will also ask you to put bags into lockers before we begin as we will be going into the secure strongrooms.

Meet The Archaeologist - Thu 24 July, 7-8pm                      

What does an Archaeologist do? Is it like the programmes you've seen on TV? Our Community Archaeologist Rob Hedge will be talking about the life and role of an archaeologist, from day-to-day digging to investigating some amazing sites as a digger for Channel 4's Time Team. He will explore the behind-the-scenes work that helps to tell the story, from how we can tell so much from tiny pieces of pottery, to what happens to the sites and the finds once the digging is completed. In addition to his work for Time Team, he will also discuss his current work for Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service. This is a repeat of his talk last year which was fully booked, so there is another chance to hear all about the world of archaeology.

The talk is free but needs to be reserved as places are limited.

 Community Archaeologist Rob Hedge with a medieval shoe

To book a place on both or either of these please email or phone 01905 766352.

To find out what other exciting events are happening this month please visit where you can search for all events which are taking part.

Notice of upcoming strike action

Due to strike action it will not be possible for customers to access original documents on Thursday, 10th July 2014.  However all other services at The Hive are open as usual, from 8.30 am to 10.00 pm, including  all archive self-service resources. If you were planning a visit on the 10th  and are not familiar with our service please contact us at to ensure you have a successful visit.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~32~ A horse-and-rider roof finial from Droitwich

This week's Treasure is a roof finial which has been selected by Laura Griffin, Senior Finds Archaeologist. The item is a rare example of decoration that would have been found on high status houses hundreds of years ago. Here, Laura tells us more: 

These two ceramic heads were originally from a single object called a 'roof finial' and would have stood on the gable end of a very well-to-do building in the late 13th–14th century. They were found dumped in the remains of a medieval cesspit during the excavation of a site on Worcester Road, Droitwich.

The clay from which the finial was made, indicates that it was produced in Worcester and, although on first appearance it looks roughly formed, on closer examination a fair degree of skill would have been needed to make this object. The horse appears to have been made in several parts with impressions on the inside of the neck indicating that it was wheel-thrown separately to the solid head and attached prior to firing. The resulting join appears to have been deliberately disguised by the addition of thick reins. The mane was also formed separately and attached in two pieces above and below the reins. It stands vertically away from the head and neck in the style of a ‘hogged mane'.

The human head is masculine in appearance and has what appears to be a crown attached to it. So was this finial intended to be a representation of the reigning monarch and if so, what does that tell us about the owner of the building on which it once stood?

Illustration by Carolyn Hunt, Worcestershire County Council

The roofs of higher status houses and buildings in the medieval period were often decorated with crested ridge tiles, and sometimes the entire roof was covered in dark green glazed tiles. Roof finials were purely decorative items and scarcity of examples in the archaeological record leads us to believe that they were a status symbol of their time with only the wealthiest in society being able to afford them.

This 'Horse and Rider' finial is the only example of its type in the County and, although up-close it appears to be crudely modelled and decorated with an uneven and blistered green-coloured glaze, when viewed from street level it would have looked impressive.