Friday, 29 August 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~40~ A Court Roll from the Reign of Richard III

22 August 2014 is the 529th anniversary of the Battle Bosworth, where Richard III was killed.  It is also two years on from the discovery in Leicester of the remains later identified as those of the king, so we have decided to explore our collections to see what they could tell us about Worcestershire's experience during Richard III's reign.  Although the Archive Service holds nothing directly related to the king, we do have plenty of documents providing a glimpse into ordinary life in the late 15th century.

One example is a manor court roll from Kempsey, near Worcester, dating from 20th May, 1485, just a few months before Richard's death at Bosworth Field.

This is a typical medieval court roll, illustrating how the court could regulate life on the manor.  Courts Baron were held every three weeks, and dealt with land transactions, enforcement of the customs or rules which governed the manor, and disputes between tenants.  The functions of this court were combined with another type of court, the Court Leet or View of Frankpledge.  This was associated with a policing system in which groups of local men were responsible for overseeing the behaviour of group members and reporting infractions to the court.  This court also dealt with petty crime and those who fell foul of the regulations governing the price and quality of bread and ale. 

Below are a few examples of the proceedings of this court.

The roll tells us that a Thomas Forster took two 'wegges' (wedges or pegs) of iron from Thomas Herdman, and that Joan Forster took some rye and malt from the house of Thomas Pendesham.

Thomas Salter and Thomas Lee assaulted one another, and both were fined by the court.

We also hear that a Thomas Peres had recently died, and Joan his widow, after paying a heriot (tax payable to the lord of the manor on the death of a tenant), and paying fealty (swearing an oath of allegiance to the lord), was able to claim the property for the remainder of her life.  Interestingly, by the time of the court held on 13th July, Joan had found a new husband, one Richard Thomas, who paid ten shillings for a license to marry her—and share property she had recently claimed.

There seems to be little direct indication here of national conflict, discontent with Richard's rule or the encroaching threat of Henry Tudor, but manorial documents provide a wealth of information about the lives and deaths of people in Worcestershire.

Other sources for the history of late 15th-century Worcestershire held here include title deeds recording the transfer of land, bishop's registers and wills.

This document can be viewed in the Original Archive Area at The Hive by using reference b705:4/BA54B.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Summer Reading Challenge

Mythical creatures may not be the first things that come to mind when you think about historical archives or archaeology, but finding some in our collections was our challenge for this year's Summer Reading Challenge – Mythical Maze. In the end it wasn't too difficult, as well as the griffin on the medieval tile found during excavations at the Commandary a few years ago, we found several documents including one dating from the reign of Edward V1 which included a dragon. We also found unicorns on the embroidered purse which belonged to the parish of Salwarpe. This ornate late 13th or early 14th century bag is one of the more unusual items to be found in the Archives.


After showing children the artefacts and documents and telling them a little bit about what we do in the Archive and Archaeology Service we gave children the opportunity to create their own tiles depicting mythical beasts. Choices included mermaids, dragons, griffins, a centaur and the Loch Ness Monster. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~39~ Calendars of Prisoners

This week's Treasure has been chosen by Teresa Jones, Senior Archive Assistant, who has selected records providing an insight into crime and punishment in Worcester. Here, Teresa tells us more:

If you are researching someone who was tried for a crime at Worcester you may find further information in the Calendar of Prisoners.

Calendars of prisoners give details of those who were held at Worcester Gaol and include information such as the date of the trial, age, details of the charge, sentence and which parish the person was from. An index to our calendars of prisoners from 1839-1849 can be found with our online indexes and databases on ourwebsite.

This invaluable work has been compiled by one of our volunteers who is currently working on indexing the calendars from the 1850s and 1860s.

Calendar of Prisoners from 1864

This page includes the entry for Margaret Brown of Redditch, sentenced to seven years penal servitude for larceny at the sessions on 17/10/1864.

With the information contained in the calendar, it is possible to search local newspapers to see if there is any account of a trial.

Other sources can also be explored online. The Hive, along with all libraries in Worcestershire has a subscription to the website This website has a large amount of databases including parole records of women from 1853-1871, 1883-1887 and a criminal registers database from 1791-1892 Other subscription websites may also have further sources that may be of interest.

Margaret Brown (who had an alias of Shaw) was released on licence in 1869, after serving her time at Worcester, Millbank, Parkurst and Brixton. She is described as being 4'9" with grey hair and blue eyes. She states that her husband 'John Shaw' was serving four years penal servitude at the time. Previous to this conviction she had three summary convictions and three acquittals, including four years penal servitude in 1856 after a trial in Salop.

This item can be found at Ref: b117, BA 772, Parcel 5, (the entry for Margaret Brown can be found on page 97).

You will need to view the calendar of prisoners in our Original Archive Area during staffed hours. Please see our website for our opening times.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~38~ Music fragment on a manorial court roll

This week Bethany Hamblen, Archivist, shares a document encountered during the course of the Manorial Documents Register project she is currently working on. A seemingly ordinary court roll becomes a Treasure thanks to an unusual addition on the reverse. Here, Bethany tells us more:  

This fragment of a musical score was found on the dorse (back) of a court roll dating to 3rd July 1420, during the reign of Henry V.  The court was held for the manor of Kempsey, just to the south of Worcester.  The manor was part of the extensive estates of the Bishops of Worcester, who had a palace there.  The bishop at the time was Philip Morgan, but he was in France accompanying the king on his military campaigns, in a diplomatic capacity.  In fact, that very summer he was involved in negotiations for the release of Arthur, Duke of Brittany, who had been captured at Agincourt.

The contents of the court roll itself are pretty typical.  For example, after the death of a tenant, Nicholas Rok, his brother Robert was admitted into a customary landholding after handing over the heriot or best beast to the lord of the manor, paying an entry fine and performing fealty.  Some inhabitants were involved in pleas, or private litigation, against each other, such as Geoffrey Carpenter, who paid a fine for a license to agree outside of court with John Hurst in a plea of detinue (unlawful detention of goods).  Several people were amerced, or fined for infractions, such as failing to repair ruinous buildings, and others had their goods distrained, or confiscated until they appeared at the next court. 

Amongst those who had been distrained was the chaplain of the chantry at Kempsey.  The chantry, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, had been founded nearly a century earlier, in 1316, so perhaps the music was sung there.      

The score is written in black mensural notation.  The text consists of 'alleluya….yma summis', which means something like, 'alleluia…the lowest with the highest'.  This is a fragment of liturgical choral music known as a motet and would have been sung in four parts.  This type of chant may be referred to simply as an 'Alleluia', and may have been sung in honour of the Virgin Mary, possibly as part of the Marian antiphon Alleluia Virga Jesse.

This document can be viewed in the Original Archive area at The Hive by using reference b705:4/BA 54A.       

If you are interested, you can read more about Kempsey's history and recent archaeological investigations.    

Thanks are due to Sue Pope of Museums Worcestershire, and to David Jarratt-Knock for sharing his knowledge of medieval music and for pointing me in the direction of the existing entry for this document in the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music, which provides further information and a bibliography.        

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Celebrating 10 years of Who Do You Think You Are?

Can it really be 10 years since Who Do You Think You Are? hit the screens? Family history has been popular for many years, and TV has tried to use this to create a popular programme for a while, but previous efforts had failed. Partly it is because family history is usually very personal. We get excited because it is our great-grandfather, or because it about somewhere we know, and it is all about that personal connection and helping us to make sense of who we are. Also, there is a lot of searching and looking which doesn't make great TV!

Who do you think you are?, according to the makers, is actually a social history programme, which happens to use celebrities and their family histories to tell those stories. So their focus is on the stories, and they try to get a cross sections of subjects, occupations and locations for each series, and try to repeat specific subjects.

What has been its impact? The name is something that everyone recognises, and many people have seen it. Whenever we talk about family history many people say they have seen it, which can be useful. When we give talks and workshops we sometimes use TV examples, which people sometimes remember, which is handy. Although it is very popular and people have seen it, very few people have ever come in and said they were inspired by the programme though, or directly refer to it. We did notice a slight upsurge in new people coinciding with the first few series, and also people restarting their research after a pause, so we think they were prompted by it. Sometimes we worry that people will come the next day and ask for specific obscure records after they were seen on TV, but that has rarely happens. Many of our staff do their own family history so we regularly watch, although we can get frustrated when they make out how easy it is to find the information out!

The very first episode was about Bill Oddie, and we were involved in the research for it. His mother had been in Barnsley Hall Asylum in the 1950s/60s, and some of those records are held here. After getting permission from the NHS to look for her records we found out that hers hadn't survived. We did a lot of liaising with the TV company and provided quite a bit of background information, but this was reduced to a brief shot of a letter and took a few seconds. It was a little disappointing watching it after the initial excitement, but it was a  very interesting experience though. We have been approached a couple of other times for initial enquires about records, but they have never progressed further. One was a will for someone called Wateley, presumably an ancestor of Kevin Whateley, but they never came back so must have decided not to follow up that line.

The first couple of series were accompanied by events supported by the BBC, and we worked with BBC Hereford & Worcester on these. Our first one was in Kidderminster, and for the second we arranged a family history fair in Evesham, attended by almost 600 people, as well as attending an event over the border in Hereford. The BBC provided goodie bags and posters for these. We also helped BBCH&W presenter Katie Johnson delve into her past and went on air to do a family history phone in which was a little scary but in the end great fund. By series three they had moved on to other things so no further events were held.

The 100th episode will be aired in this series. It still seems to be going strong so maybe there will be another Worcestershire person to research and they'll revisit us.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~37~ Plan of St Helen's Church, 1636

For this week's Treasure Faye Sturgess, Archive Assistant, has chosen a plan of St Helen's Church, Worcester dating from 1636 which was brought to our attention by a customer using our service. This item highlights how our users can bring collections to life for staff by giving us insights into their hidden gems. Here, Faye tells us more:

Treasures come in all shapes and sizes and this one example is no exception. Holding over 12 miles of archives it is impossible for staff to know what is held in each box, roll or file. Often it is when customers are viewing items in the Original Archive Area that we get the best opportunity to discover more about a deposit. It was on one such occasion that the following item was brought to my attention by a customer and we immediately thought it would be nice to share it on our treasures post.

1636 Plan of St Helen's Church

 A description of St. Helen's can be found in the following publication:
Valentine Green, A Survey of the City of Worcester, (1764, p.224) which is available to view as part of the Local Reference section on Level 2 at L942.448WORC. Although of a later date than the plan, this written description ties in with the visual plan being 'divided into three isles, by two rows of light well-built pillars'. The plan clearly depicts the pews and it is similarly easy to identify the pillars, the font and the altar.

St Helen's has not always been used as a place of worship and part of its history saw the building being the former site of Worcestershire Record Office until 2001. 

This item is available to view in the Original Archive Area at The Hive and can be found at: Ref: f850 Worcester St Andrew; BA: 4426; Parcel: 20

Thursday, 7 August 2014

First Few Days of the First World War: Maud Wyndham’s View from South Africa

Maud, the eldest daughter of Charles Lyttelton 8th Viscount Cobham and her husband Hugh Wyndham were living in South Africa at the time of the outbreak of the First World War and remained based in South Africa for much of the duration of the War.  Maud was a keen letter writer, corresponding regularly with family and friends back in Britain.  In particular Maud wrote regularly to her mother for the whole period of the First World War and those letters have been preserved amongst the Lyttelton family archives now at the Hive.  The letters reveal Maud's views and opinions on what was happening in South Africa, in Europe and the world at large.

Maud’s first ‘wartime;’ letter began on 2 August 1914.  Her previous letter to her mother of 30 July was full of social chatter and family news and scarcely mentions the ‘July Crisis’.  Maud added to her letter of 2 August over several days as more information on the war became available to her.  The letter eventually ran to eighteen pages.  Her commentary was also interspersed with social and family chit chat.  

Sunday 2 August 1914

Maud’s opened her letter with ‘How awful this war is suddenly sprung upon us.’  She then remarked upon the escalation of events as the various members of the various alliances declared war and mobilised.  ‘This time last week was the first sign of it between Austria and Servia & now this morning France & Germany & Russia all have joined in & I suppose England will to day?’

Maud's comments on the outbreak of War

Maud then left off the subject of the War to talk about a dance and party she had been hosting with 80 guests and a string band.  She then returned to it, reflecting on the immediate affects war might bring to South Africa as the cyanide and zinc used in the mines was imported from Germany and Austria and how ‘22,000 white miners might be thrown out of work.’ She also speculated whether there might be a revolt amongst the local people.  She continued in a more upbeat tone that ‘all the troops are in readiness to go & cd move off at 36 hours' notice.’

Monday 3 August 1914

Maud returned to her letter the next day noting that ‘a rumour went round “the ring” at the races today that war had been declared by England but now is denied.’  She speculated that is only a matter of hours before that happened.  She then started to tell her mother about ‘Johnnie’ who was staying with the Wyndhams and who had ‘made a fool of himself’ and wanted to start afresh.  She then thought better of it and noted in the margin that she had self-censored the details in case the letter never reached her mother, but ended up into German hands.  Depending on the reasons why he had 'made a fool of himself', perhaps she was thinking of the embarrassment factor or use for propaganda, rather than any 'State' secret. 'Johnnie' might be her cousin on her mother's side, John Charles Compton Cavendish, as he was 20 in 1914 which would fit with other information on him in the letter.

Maud's comments on 'Johnnie' showing censorship

Tuesday 4 August 1914

Maud picked up her letter again on 4th August saying they were not getting much news and certainly not the whole picture as they had heard ‘this morning that Belgium has refused the ultimatum and is going to war – we’ve heard nothing of the ultimatum.’

The patriotic fervour which greeted the declaration of war in Britain was also in evidence in South Africa as Maud remarked that she went to see a play the previous night and afterwards ‘God save the King' and 'Rule Britannia' was sung lustily & at the Empire there were great scenes of patriotism’.  Her observation on the troops there was that they ‘are all longing for war of course - Johnny very keen and longing for a chance to distinguish himself'.  She also commented on her own personal circumstances – that they may have to reduce down the household and may not now be able to sail in September, presumably to visit 'home.'

Maud's comments on Belgium and the show of patriotism in Johannesburg

Wednesday 5 August 1914

Maud reported on ‘The thrilling acct of the French aeroplane man in today’s paper & Sir E Grey’s fine speech & now Wright [their butler] has come in to say war is declared & a big naval battle is going on we don’t know where.  It’s too thrilling.  That Frenchman is a hero – How he will inspire the rest & the Germans now must keep their fat old Zeppelins in their sheds.’  Maud did not give any additional information about these events further on in her letter.  It's not clear what the action in the air is.  It may be something along the French border or even perhaps something in French speaking Belgium as Zeppelin Z VI was damaged over Liege around the 5 August.  The 'battle' may be the sinking of the German minesweeper Königen Luise by three British battleships on 5 August.  It depends on when the news of such events reached the South African newspapers.  Grey's speech is doubtless the one he delivered on 3 August in the House of Commons.[1]

Maud's account of the actions of the War reported in South Africa

Maud's comment towards the end of this section that ‘It is horrible to think of the slaughter & the myriads of superfluous women left' is almost prophetic.

Thursday 6 August 1914

Maud began her daily addition to the letter with stories of various people she knew who were about to sail to Britain, but who were now unable to do so and lamented it would knock their entertaining and having visitors on the head.  She also lambasted the local papers for 'announcing “unconfirmed rumours” such as the assassination of the German Emperor & such like lies.  That is the value of having the censor – it is maddening being kept in ignorance but worse to have strings of lies put in'.  She then talked about the economic affect the war was having on local business with the newspapers lowering their prices from 3d to 1d, but the price of whisky going up, Cape wines profiting from lack of imports, but ostrich farmers likely to be badly affected.  She then returned to family matters to wind up the letter giving reasons why she thought a 'combined family cheque' for 'Margaret' would be a better present than buying a 'head ornament.'

Maud's comments on the South African economy and Margaret's present

At the end of the letter she again returned to the possibility of it falling into German hands saying that she has scratched out the names and bits about John.

This is just the first of Maud's many wartime letters which provide a vivid and unique view of the First World War.  Maud revisited the '1914 letters' in August 1917 when two of her brothers were in the thick of fighting on the Western Front and commented on those events of 1914 that it was 'v. thrilling & reading between the lines by the light of later knowledge one can realise how bad it [was]'.

Maud's later comments looking back at 1914

[1]See  for details of Sir Edward Grey’s speech on 3 August  1914.  See for information on the sinking of the Königen Luise.

Uniquely Unicorns craft activity - 12th August at The Hive

Dragons, Wyverns, Unicorns and Mermen are some of the strange mythical creatures we have in our collections, on documents, inside books, and on tiles we've discovered.

Salwarpe purse (13th/14th century) - featured in Worcestershire Treasures

Mythical creatures are at the centre of this year's Summer Reading Challenge in libraries, which is entitled Mythical maze. As part of this we are working with the library in The Hive to offer a free craft workshop on Tuesday 12 August at 10am. We will show the children some of the strange creatures we have discovered, as well as showing a medieval tile we dug up at The Commandery, which is now cared for by Museums Worcestershire. Children will then be able to design and create their own tile with whatever creature they would like.

 Medieval tile we found during excavations at The Commandery, now cared for by Museums Worcestershire

The activity is free and begins at 10am in the Children's Library in The Hive.

The Summer Reading Challenge runs across all Worcestershire's Libraries, including The Hive, and runs until the 20 September.

Dragon on a document of Edward VI

Friday, 1 August 2014

Exhibition at The Hive Marks 100th Anniversary of First World War

An exhibition from Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service is being held at The Hive to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.
The exhibition begins on Monday 4 August to mark the 100th anniversary of the date Great Britain entered the war.

The displays will include photographs and documents based on three main themes – Gender and Home Front, Childhood, and Cities at War – commemorating how the war touched and changed the lives of people across Worcestershire.

The Hive ‘Worcestershire Great War Exhibition’ is part of the Worcestershire World War One Hundred programme. The programme is one of the largest across England  and will commemorate the First World War from 2014 to 2018 with exhibitions, parades, concerts, church services and remembrance events, involving cultural and heritage organisations County-wide.

The exhibition at The Hive has been part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Voices of War and Peace, First World War Engagement centre and is free of charge.   

The Hive will also be hosting a debate on ‘Have we forgotten the horrors of war?’ in November, as part of the Worcestershire World War 100 programme, with the Royal Society of Arts.

For information on the full Worcestershire World War One Hundred programme visit: or follow @WW1Worcs on Twitter. 

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~36~ Berrows Worcester Journal

For this week's Treasure Julia Pincott, Archive Assistant, has chosen one of our most popular resources used by customers in our Self Service Area at The Hive - our microfilmed newspaper archive. Here, Julia tells us more about a particular feature in Berrows, which focused on the effects of the First World War on the people of Worcestershire:

At Worcestershire Archives we are fortunate to have a collection of local newspaper archives dating back to 1712.

A newspaper archive allows us to look back at major national and international events and see how they affected our local communities. Never more so than the effect the First World War had on the people of Worcestershire. When the vicar of St. Paul's, Worcester, Rev. Geoffrey Anketell Studdert-Kennedy ( 'Woodbine Willie'), spoke during the dedication of their war memorial he gave a brief but hugely powerful address. The following is the report of the event taken from Berrows Worcester Journal of April 1921:

'In a brief address, the Vicar said that he hoped that for ever and for ever the memorial would have a message for the people of St. Paul's and for their children. They would find that there had been written on the stone:-
"To the memory of the men who gave their lives"
-not for their country. He had not written that, he had written-
"who gave their lives for us."

 He had not said that they died for their country, because to say that would have been to say at once too much and too little. It was something much larger than their country for which they died and at the same time it was something very much more intimate and much smaller. He had often asked men at the front what they were fighting for and generally they would take out from their pocket a photograph of two or three children and say,
 "That is what I am fighting for"
– and that was the little intimate, dear and tender thing for which these men fought and died. Rightly or wrongly they believed, rightly or wrongly they were led to believe, that it was the call of God and they gave their lives to defend their wives and little ones. It was for these little causes that they died and so he had written on the stone "for us". It would be too small a thing to say that they died for their country because when one said that they died for us one did not only mean that they died for their wives and their children and their country, but that they died as he believed they did, for the whole wide world.
They died, the best of them, in the best moments of their lives, believing that by their death they were bringing nearer the days when wars should cease and peace would reign. So far, it seemed that their sacrifice had not borne much fruit, but whether it bore fruit or not, took not away from the nobility of that sacrifice.

With regard to the figure on the Cross, he said that that was itself a message to them all. It was not the same as the figure on some crucifixes. The Christ had His head held erect. He was not beaten, broken or defeated. They took His body and broke it and hung it between the earth and the sky, but His spirit was unbroken and so the spirit of their own brothers and fathers who had died was unbroken and unbeaten and so for their success must we live pledged to fight against the common enemies of mankind and die to the end unbroken and unbeaten. Let them tell their children that the Crucifix meant the victory of good over evil. He could not bring himself to have a Calvary made where Christ looked broken and dead. In depicting Him as he had done, he thought that the artist had preached to them an everlasting sermon in wood. So he prayed that it might stand with its message, warning them that they must never forget. People were forgetting the war, and he could not blame them altogether, but we must not forget the lessons we ought to have learned from it. Let them take that message home and let them remember to keep the memory of it ever green.'

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service are currently undertaking an HLF funded project to mark the centenary of the First World War in Worcestershire. For more information on the project and how you can get involved visit the project website: