Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Eve Beef & Bread at Croome

Christmas is a time for charitable giving, and previous years we've highlighted St Thomas day Charities and the Robin Breakfast as examples. The Coventry Family of Croome used to hand out beef and bread to their tenants each Christmas Eve, as shown in these photos from the Croome archive held here in The Hive.
Lord Coventry with his tenants (reference 705:73 BA14450/277/8)

George William, 9th Earl of Coventry was regarded as generous and took his responsibilities seriously. Catherine Gordon in her book 'The Coventry's of Croome' described the hand over as being 'an informal and enjoyable occasion which marked the start of Christmas festivities. The photo also shows the Earl's wife, Lady Blanche, Countess of Coventry.
Bread ready for distribution (reference 705:73 BA14450/277/8)

In 1915 a total of 270 large loaves, 100 small loaves and 2 'fat beasts' were handed out to 637 people (167 families).

Other estates had similar traditions, as landlords handed out gifts in some form to their tenants, which was a continuation from when the lord of the manor would entertain and feed people over the Christmas period.

The Croome Archive was accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to Worcestershire County Council, 2006.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Christmas with the Talbots 1915

Lavinia Talbot née Lyttelton kept a diary from her teenage years right through to her 70s.  The diaries, now housed at The Hive, provide a unique window on her daily life, thoughts and feelings and in particular her reflections on life during the First World War.  1915 had been a difficult year for the Talbots as their youngest son Gilbert had been killed on the Western Front aged just 23, so like so many other families of the time they were facing Christmas without a loved one.  Lavinia's other two sons, Edward and Neville, were also serving in the armed forces and would not be home for Christmas.  Lavinia decided not to spend Christmas in her own home, but with her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren at Harrow.  It sounded a sharp contrast to the Christmas of 1914 when she was at home at Farnham Castle with a party of 25, including her beloved Gilbert.

Trip out to London

Just as we might go out and about in the run up to Christmas Lavinia went up to London to take in a show, see some friends and do a bit of shopping.  She also went to hear her husband speak at St Margaret's, Westminster, to listen to John Buchan's lecture at the Eolian Hall and to hear Muriel Foster, a friend of Elgar's sing.  The show she went to was "Peg o' my heart" a popular musical comedy of the time.  It was also a show which her son Gilbert had particularly liked and she recorded in her diary that she could 'hear & see Gilbert's enjoyment of the wit and sparkle'.

Diary entries describing Lavinia's trip to London Dec 1915

Christmas Day

Lavinia travelled up to Harrow on 23rd December and spent Christmas Eve doing a bit of last minute shopping.  Christmas Day started with carols from her grandchildren and everyone going to the church service.  The present giving was after lunch.  She did not record what they ate other than 'our' plum pudding and mince pies.  The day was rounded off by a game which had been one of the presents.  Lavinia's verdict on the day was that 'somehow it felt less gaunt & different & yet different than I feared & we felt thankful.'

Lavinia's diary entries for Christmas 1915

A surprise visitor

Boxing Day brought particularly bad and windy weather, though Lavinia recorded that it didn't dampen the high spirits of the children.  The day did, however, bring a surprise guest when Lavinia's son Neville turned up on the doorstep on a week's leave, much to Lavinia's joy and delight.  She also noted the changes in him that the War had brought and in particular that 'the beloved reddish brown hair' was 'vanishing.'

Diary entry for Boxing Day 1915

Seeing family at Christmas was important then as now so the Talbots travelled on between Christmas and New Year to Falconhurst, the Talbot family home, where there was a full house.  Lavinia also took the opportunity to catch up with her sister Lucy, her cousin Mary Drew and her niece Mary Becher who were staying at nearby Penshurst.   

The War

The course of the war seemed never far from Lavinia's thoughts in her diary entries and she made several references to events during the course of December, such as events in Salonika, the replacement of Sir John French with Sir Douglas Haig and the withdrawal of troops from the Dardanelles which she described as 'a tragic heroic story ending in nearly complete failure'.

Some of Lavinia's comments on the War

New Year reflections

For Lavinia the last day of the old year had often been for her a time for reflection, just as many people do today, and 1915 was no exception.  She reviewed the campaigns and the roles of allies and enemies, but also looked ahead to issues such as conscription.  She noted that it was a year which they had 'all shared in beginning' but she was 'thankful to turn over into a new year, she surely can't be quite so sad & awful as this one.'

New Year's Eve entry recording Lavinia's reflections on 1915 and the future

By Maggie Tohill

Friday, 18 December 2015

Forester's Forest - training of volunteers

We've been very excited to be part of the Foresters' Forest Landscape Partnership, a HLF project in the Forest of Dean. One of the many strands is the investigation of possible archaeological features, which we we are providing training for.

35 volunteers have now been trained during four training session led by some of our archaeologists Andy, Justin and Rob. These full day training sessions explained about the project, Lidar (aerial photography that removes the trees), what to look for and how to record features. We then went out for a couple of hours to put it into practice and have a go. The latest workshop was this week, and fortunately we had good weather, making the practical session an enjoyable walk in the woods. One of the previous ones though had to change plans for the afternoon when the heaven's opened!

The volunteers will now be going out and about across four target areas checking 1700 possible features out in the field. With most of these being in the Forest they are hard to pick up, and woodland archaeology is always difficult. Identifying potential features and then checking them out should help develop our understanding of the Forest's past. We'll provide updates on the blog as to how the project goes.

For more details about Lidar please see a previous blog here. You can find out more about the Foresters' Forest project at

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Worcester Christmas Fat Stock Show and Sale

"Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat..." It's not just geese which got fat, lots of animals would be fattened up ready for Christmas. Therefore in December Fat Stock Shows were held to sell animals, and also reward farmers by offering prizes for the best animals in a similar way to summer agricultural shows.
In the Worcester City Corporation records for 1931 there is a request by the Show for the usual 10 guinea contribution. This was seen as especially important as due to the farming depression the previous Show had made a big loss, but it was felt important to continue to support farmers. Whether or not the Corporation paid is not recorded.

Checking out the Berrow's Worcester Journal for December 1931 it reports on the Show and Sale, which was held just next to where The Hive is today. 54 cattle were entered for the show, 40 down from the previous year, there were 20 fewer sheep, but almost the same number of pigs. The different winners of the categories were listed. Despite it being said that the quality was high the prices people were paying for the animals were low.
There are still some Christmas Fat Stock Shows and sales today, although some are now called Prime Stock.
We hold the archives for Worcester City here in The Hive, and they were catalogued as part of a HLF project so can be searched through our online catalogue.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Investigating an archaeological find: Esther Townsend's School Attendance Medal

The school attendance medal discovered during a Worcester excavation

Archaeological objects are fascinating, linking you with someone who owned or used the item, but most time the person remains anonymous. One find which was passed to us recently though has a name which has allowed us to investigate.

A school attendance medal, with the name of Esther Townsend engraved, was found during a Worcester excavation and passed to one of our archaeologists, Graham Arnold,  to find out about it. Searching through the records here Graham found that there was an Esther Townsend born in 1897, making her 8 or 9 years old when she received the medal. She lived on Partridge Lane, Lower Broadheath, with her widowed mother, who was a laundress, and six siblings. Presumably she went to the school at Lower Broadheath but sadly we don't have the attendance registers for those years to confirm. The medal would reward 100% attendance, which was rare in schools considering the family pressures to help with jobs, earn money, help with the harvests or problems with the weather. Checking marriage records Esther then seems to have married Joseph Jackman in 1922.

If you think this might be an family member please contact us through or phone us on 01905 766352.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Conservation in action: repair of Powick parish minute book

Here at Worcestershire Archive Service we are committed to preserving and protecting the records that are deposited in our care. What happens though when items come to us in a less than desirable condition? Thanks to the very varied custodial histories of the collections that come to us, we can never be quite sure exactly what condition they may be in. If documents have been exposed to particularly damp conditions, have become damaged through rough handling, or have even come into contact with pests, we may need to carry out some repair work before we can make them available for researchers to access. As we have so many items that need treatment our Conservator, Rhonda Niven, works in conjunction with Archive staff to assess the demand for each item in order to prioritise her next project. In between her other responsibilities Rhonda then works to repair items that are currently deemed to be 'unfit for issue'. Here Rhonda tells us about one of the records now available once again thanks to her hard work.

Text-block prior to treatment

With 12 miles of Archives to work on, and only one Conservator, as you can imagine, there is plenty of work for me to do.  I am pleased to say I can now tick one more volume off the 'not for general issue' list, making it available for public consultation. 

The Powick Parish meeting minute book (reference b850 BA3802/4(i)), 1732-1798, had suffered from previous damp damage leaving the paper soft and crumbling, the sewing falling apart, boards detached and areas of the leather binding lost.  Because of this the volume was too fragile for consultation as any handling, however careful, would have resulted in further damage to the paper and binding materials.

Volume prior to treatment
Spine prior to treatment

To repair the volume, the text-block was carefully cleaned with a soft brush to remove surface dirt, and the remaining sewing threads were removed.  A detailed record of the sequence of the pages was made in order that the volume could be reconstructed in the correct order – an experienced Conservator never trusts the page numbers (this, the voice of bitter experience!) as these can be entered incorrectly.

The pages were then washed in cold water, followed by hot water to remove dirt and impurities that had been absorbed into the paper.  Then washed again in a solution of Sodium Hydroxide to provide an 'alkaline reserve' within the papers to protect them from future acidic damage.  Torn and damaged papers were repaired with thin Japanese tissue and paste and re-assembled into sections ready for re-sewing.

Pages during the washing process

A replacement spine was constructed from aero linen which had been toned to match the colour of the original leather.  Aero linen is a material popular with Conservators as it is quite thin, but incredibly strong, making it ideal for the moving parts of books such as spines and re-attaching boards.  It can also be toned easily using Acrylic paints to match original colours of cloth and leather.

Text-block spine following re-sewing
Volume following repair

The volume is now back in one piece and available for consultation in the original archive area during opening hours, just leaving the many others on the 'not for general issue' list to be repaired! 

By Rhonda Niven

Exploring WWII Worcestershire at Inkberrow

Recently we went out to Inkberrow First School to help them explore WWII in Worcestershire as part of their topic.

Within the archives we have lots of information about life locally 1939-45, as well as having details about the archaeology of the defences built here during those years. So we came out with a box of information to help them discover about Worcestershire at war, to give their topic a local focus. It also allows them to find out if the reality here was the same as what the text books tell them

We started with extracts from oral history interviews about evacuation, comparing the different experiences of two people who were children during the war and evacuated to the countryside. The children then split into four groups and looked at a different sources before swapping round
  • ·         Photos – photos of Worcester including women railway workers, queuing up to buy their rationed food and a gas bomb training exercise.
  • ·         River Severn Catchment Board – not the most exciting sounding organisation! However within their archive is a paper trail of memos all about the problems of acquiring rubber boots for their staff, which were hard to get hold of, but very important when you work by water.
  • ·         Newspapers – what was in the papers during the war? An interesting mix of war and non-war stories, with plenty of adverts for servants even though there was a war on, and a picture of Worcester's bombing raid (with no description!).
  • ·         Defence of Britain project – a plan of Pershore Bridge showing how the bridge was defended in case of invasion.

During the visit we met Inky the owl
It was a great visit, and the children were really engaged with the different sources and asked some good questions. They had been on a trip to Coventry Museum the week before so were able to compare what they'd seen there, for instance with air raid shelters and asking why the gas masks on the photos we brought were different from the ones they'd seen in Coventry.

For more information about the visit or about WWII sources please email or ring 01905 766352.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Cathedral Square - Exhibition Boards

Have you spotted the new hoardings by the Cathedral Square? Whilst the multi million pound redevelopment is going on at the Cathedral Plaza boards have been erected to protect the development site, and artwork has added.

Worcester City Council and the University of Worcester asked us to work with them to produce exhibition panels to go on the boards, highlighting relevant themes. We searched through our collection of over 100,000 photos to find ones which would be suitable for November-December. The area would be witnessing the Remembrance Day commemorations and the Victorian Christmas Fayre so we were asked to find images relating to WWI, Christmas and old photos of Worcester.

We hope you enjoy seeing them if you are down near the Elgar statue. We've already had people contact us saying they've had a good look at them. Over the coming weeks we'll feature a few of the images we've chosen on the blog and Instagram along with some background information about them.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Explore Your Archive: Finding the elusive Joseph Blackburn

For the final instalment of our Explore Your Archive feature we are looking at a very well known painter, Joseph Blackburn. Whilst Blackburn's artistic works are famous across the world, details of his personal life are less clear; to date there appears to have been no confirmation of the details of his later life and death, and he is often even mistakenly noted as being American. Now, thanks to research undertaken by staff in Worcestershire Archive Service, we are able to reveal new details of his life for the first time. 

Joseph Blackburn's burial recorded in the register of St Nicholas, 1787 (reference 850 Worcester, St. Nicholas BA3790/1b)

Joseph Blackburn was one of the most important painters working in colonial America during the 1750s and 1760s. Portraits by him hang in many American galleries as well as a number in Britain. The National Gallery of Art in Washington describes him as, '…particularly important in the history of American art…'. However, as The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states,

'[he]…is of obscure origin: nothing is known of his birth, parents, geographical area of origin or education…Nothing is known of Blackburn's death or burial'

Joseph Blackburn described himself as a 'limner': a term used for a painter, particularly a portrait painter and commonly used as such in colonial America. He first appears in Bermuda working as a limner in 1752 before moving on to Massachusetts, New England and New Hampshire. He is believed to have moved back to England in 1764 where he went on to produce portraits in the south-west of England and Ireland. The last known portrait by him was painted in 1777 in Newport, Monmouthshire. Around one hundred and fifty paintings have been attributed to him.

Now, thanks to evidence found within records held in our collections, we are able to confirm that Joseph Blackburn lived and died in the city of Worcester. He and his family lived in Broad Street in the parish of St. Nicholas. The exact date they moved there is unclear, but he is certainly a resident in 1768.  They also leased properties around St. Martins Gate in the city, including The White Horse pub. Joseph inherited the lease for the properties after his father, John Blackburn, gentleman, of Kinfare, (now Kinver), Staffordshire, and possibly his aunt, Henrietta Blackburn of Worcester died in 1759.

The 1759 will of Henrietta mentions Joseph's wife Mary and their two daughters, Henrietta and Elizabeth. His daughters both married local men:  Henrietta to William Hill and Elizabeth to George Squire, but both women appear to have died without children.

A possible reason for Blackburn's subsequent loss from the city's history could be that there were no direct descendants to promote his artistic legacy.  He is remembered in 'Biographical Illustrations of Worcestershire' (1820) by John Chambers:

' J. Blackburn,
'An historical painter, resided in this city, where he practised his art, first as an amateur, and afterwards as professor: he died in the year 1787, after accumulating a fortune abroad. There was a painting by him of Caractacus before Claudius, in the possession of Mrs. Hill of the Tything* and also a landscape, and some portraits, by the same artist:…   *deceased'

Mrs. Hill was Ann Hill, who died in 1819. We have as yet been unable to establish her exact relationship to Joseph Blackburn, but it is likely that she was related via his daughter Henrietta's marriage to William Hill.

Joseph Blackburn was an active member of the parish of St. Nicholas, as an Overseer of the Poor and also a fundraiser for the restoration of the church. He was buried at St Nicholas church, now the Slug and Lettuce, on 11th July 1787.

So how did we find the information?

The following entry in Biographical Illustrations of Worcestershire (Chambers.1820) gave us clues as to who he was:

Chambers, Biographical Illustrations of Worcestershire1820

An internet search revealed Joseph Blackburn was indeed a prolific portrait painter, firstly in Bermuda around 1752 and later around Massachusetts, New England and New Hampshire

The signature of John Blackburn

A search in our online catalogue for the surname Blackburn found a copy of a lease dated 1771, containing the names Joseph, Elizabeth and Henrietta Hill (nee Blackburn) within the Worcester City archives. On checking the document we found they had leased property around Silver Street in the parish of St. Martins

Leasebook (reference 496.5 BA9360 A21/2)

The Lease Book revealed Joseph inherited the lease for the property in Silver Street from his father, named on the document as John Blackburn, gentleman, of Kinfare, (now Kinver), Staffordshire. An earlier Lease Book showed John Blackburn had obtained the lease in 1745 and after his death in 1759, as the executrix of his will Henrietta Blackburn was herself dead, it passed to his son Joseph.

We knew the leased houses were not occupied by the Blackburns, as tenants were named, so we set out to establish where in the city they had lived. As he was buried in St. Nicholas, we searched the Poor Rate Books for that parish and found him as a resident of Broad Street from 1768.

Rate Book (reference 850 Worcester, St. Nicholas BA3696/5)

Further searches within the parish records revealed he was an active member of the church; his name appears as an Overseer of the Poor and as a fundraiser for the restoration of the church.

Due to his wealth, his will was not proved locally, but by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) and we found a copy of it on the website of The National Archives. His beneficiaries were his daughters Elizabeth Blackburn and Henrietta Hill.

While we were checking the Worcestershire Will Index, held here at the Hive, we found the will of Henrietta Blackburn, dated 10 December 1759,   the possible aunt of Joseph. In it she leaves her personal effects to Elizabeth and Henrietta, the daughters of Joseph and Mary (who she refers to as her niece). In a codicil to the will she leaves to Mary, 'four large paintings, now in my parlour'. John Blackburn was a witness to the will.

Henrietta, the daughter of Joseph, married William Hill at Worcester, St. Clements on 1st Jan 1776 and his other daughter, Elizabeth, married George Squire at Worcester, St. Clements on 12th February, 1791.

As far as we have been able to establish, both women died without children.
Chambers 'Biographical Illustrations of Worcestershire' had said that a Mrs Hill of The Tything (Worcester) had a number of his paintings. We have as yet been unable to establish her exact relationship to Joseph Blackburn, but it is likely that she was related via his daughter Henrietta's marriage to William Hill. As the book was published in 1820 and it appears from the asterixed 'deceased' that the death of Mrs Hill had occurred after the book was written, we checked for a will in the name Hill around that date and found the will of an Ann Hill from the area, who had died in 1819. In Ann Hill's will, four paintings are described:The Captivity of Caractacus, The View of Bristol Hotwells, The view of Ledbury and The Sleeping Venus

The paintings were left to Ann's son Thomas William, but what has happened to them since? Much of his surviving work is held by galleries in the United States, although some can be found in Britain.

Signature of Joseph Blackburn

We feel we have only scratched the surface of all there is to find out about this remarkable man and his life. Can you add to the story? If you can, please get in touch. We would love to know more.



  • Microfilm copy of Berrow’s Worcester Journal available on the Explore the Past floor at the Hive.
  • Lease 1745: 496.5 BA9360 CAB13/3
  • Lease 1771: 496.5 BA9360 CAB13/5
  • Leasebook: 496.5 BA9360 A21/2
  • Rate Book: 850 Worcester, St. Nicholas BA3696/5
  • Worcester, St. Nicholas Burial Register: 850 Worcester, St. Nicholas BA3790/1b
  • Biographical Illustrations of Worcestershire (Chambers. 1820) Local Studies ref. 920.04244
  • The will of Joseph Blackburn: TNA PROB11/1156
  • The will of Henrietta Blackburn: 008.7 BA3585/526
  • The will of Ann Hill: TNA PROB11/1669
  • Worcester, St. Clements Marriage Registers. 850 Worcester, St Clement BA2368/1b/1c.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Explore Your Archive: Harry Martin, Talented Worcester Porcelain Artist

Today we are looking at the extraordinary life of a Worcestershire resident who we actually featured a part of last year's Explore Your Archive campaign too. As part of our feature on Dandy Row in 2014, we looked briefly at the life of Henry Martin. As a result of this initial work we were lucky enough to have contact from one of Henry's relatives, who has been able to tell us so much more about his life. We are always thrilled when our readers are able to add more to the stories we share. 

As part of the Explore Your Archive Campaign last year we discovered Henry William Martin, who lived in Dandy Row. He was born in 1887, was baptised at St Peter's Church in Worcester and also attended St Peter's School.

We found that Henry Martin died, aged 30, on 15th September 1917 after being gassed the day before. He is buried at Mendinghem Military Cemetery, Belgium, Grave VII. G. 15. He is mentioned on both the St Peter's war memorial (now at St Martin's church, London Road) and on the memorial at the Guildhall. This information has been found and transcribed, with permission, from the website 'Remember the Fallen' which is 'dedicated to all the men and women who sacrificed their lives so that we may live and enjoy our freedom today. A searchable database of those commemorated primarily on war memorials and rolls of honour in Worcestershire (with a small number from Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and Shropshire) can be found on the website.

Following our article we were lucky to receive some lovely communication from one of his relatives and we now know that Henry Martin was known as Harry. Before the First World War Harry was an extremely talented painter for Worcester Porcelain and there are materials, including his medals, held within the Worcester Royal Porcelain Museum collection. We have also been lucky enough to have been given permission to show you an example of his work.

An example piece of Royal Worcester Porcelain painted by Henry 'Harry' Martin.
Plate supplied for digitisation by kind permission of members of the Martin family. 

An example piece of Royal Worcester Porcelain painted by Henry 'Harry' Martin.
Plate supplied for digitisation by kind permission of members of the Martin family. 

Research can be extremely rewarding, but sometimes by viewing the paper records held here at Worcestershire Archive Service alone, we miss some of the details of the real person behind the records. Thanks to the input from a member of Harry's family, who is also one of the readers of this Blog, we have been able to better understand and remember the man that Harry was. Because of this help, we have also been able to see what Harry looked like.

Henry 'Harry' Martin.
Image supplied for digitisation by kind permission of members of the Martin family.

We feel that Harry is an unsung hero of Worcestershire, whose life was so much more than our records could show. This success story shows how information from other institutions and individuals can really help to contribute to our understanding of our records and expand on what we already know.

An exhibition of items relating to Harry Martin, loaned to us by members of his family, is now available to view on Level 2 at The Hive

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Explore Your Archive: Worcestershire's First County Surveyor

Today we mark Explore Your Archive 2015 by looking at the life of a man who worked as the first County Surveyor for Worcestershire. 

Joseph Garrett was born in Gloucestershire. He worked as a road surveyor and, according to his obituary in the Worcester Journal he became head surveyor in Kidderminster in 1877. He became the first County Surveyor for Worcestershire in 1889.

    Extract from Worcestershire County Council minute book, 1889 - 1893 (Reference 200.1 BA 22/1a)

The 1891 census states that he moved from a small terraced house in Kidderminster to Kendale House on Rainbow Hill, Worcester. According to the 1901 census he was living with his 3 daughters in a house called the Oaklands; a very grand house on Lansdowne Crescent in Worcester.

The 1901 census also hints that Joseph Garrett's home life may not have been a happy one. His wife is missing from his household, but Joseph is not listed as a widower. A further search of the 1901 census showed his wife living elsewhere with companions. We can only speculate as to what happened, but as marriage records tell us that they were married in a Catholic Church, divorce would be out of the question.

From the time of his appointment, Joseph worked tirelessly to improve the County's roads, which included trying to introduce to a very sceptical group of councillors the benefits of having their own steam locomotives to haul equipment instead of hiring one for each road repair. The committee's response to his request was swift. The minutes of 21st May 1892 state:

'…this meeting is of the opinion that it is inexpedient to purchase Steam Rollers for the County Main Roads…'

However, Joseph Garrett did not give up and by 1896 the first steam roller was delivered. By his death Worcestershire had a fleet of steam rollers which helped to turn simple cart tracks that became quagmires in the winter to hard wearing roads that could withstand the onslaught of 20th century traffic.

Joseph also created a schedule of all the bridges in Worcestershire that carried main roads. The volume was published in 1902 and is available to view here at Worcestershire Archives (ref. L624.2 in the Local Studies Reference Library). The schedule lists each bridge by borough giving their names, description and other details. 

Mr Garrett died suddenly on the 19th March 1911 at the age of 63, still County Road Surveyor. His death is recorded in the Berrows Worcester Journal on the 25th March 1911.

Image of Joseph Garrett, taken from Berrows Worcester Supplement for 1911

Whilst Joseph Garrett's role may have been somewhat forgotten over time, his work for the County Council is marked down in history thanks to it being recorded within the official minutes. This is just another example of records Worcestershire Archive Service has available to research for information on people throughout Worcestershire's history.

Are you an ancestor of Joseph Garrett? Did you know about the role he played for the county? Do you have any ancestors that worked for the County Council? We would love to hear from you, so drop us a comment here on the blog, on our Twitter page or email us:

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Explore Your Archive: Kidderminster Surgeon turns Arctic Explorer

Today we mark Explore Your Archive 2015 by looking at the extraordinary life of a man who worked for a short while as House Surgeon at Kidderminster Infirmary and went on to take part in one of the early Arctic Expeditions. 

A chance discussion with a researcher in our Original Archive Area led to the discovery of a fascinating entry within a Kidderminster Infirmary minute book, dating from 1874-75. Nestled in amongst the reports is an entry which details how Arthur Horner, House Surgeon,  was tendering his resignation... 'stating that he was about proceeding to the Arctic regions'.                                        

Kidderminster Infirmary minutes, 1874-5 (Reference 489:16 BA8481/13/ii)


Arthur Horner was appointed House Surgeon at Kidderminster Infirmary on the 7th August 1874. After only 6 months of employment at Kidderminster he was appointed Surgeon and Naturalist for the British North West Passage Expedition to the Arctic aboard the S.S.Pandora.

Unfortunately, the Pandora was not able to reach its target of the magnetic pole due to heavy ice flows. Horner returned to the Canadian Arctic the following year on the Pandora as part of the British Relief Expedition, taking official messages to Vice Admiral Sir George Strong Nares who was leading the British Arctic Expedition searching for the North Pole.

On his return, Horner published his experiences in 'Notes on Arctic Natural History'. He died in August 1893 at Tonbridge.

Arthur's diaries are held at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of CambridgeThe University of Cambridge also holds correspondence between Arthur and Charles Darwin in 1881 relating to entomology.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Explore Your Archive 2015: Celebrating the extraordinary lives of Worcestershire's people

Worcestershire's historic past is made up of multiple layers of lives: sometimes dramatic, sometimes tragic, sometimes unacknowledged and occasionally forgotten. Staff at Worcestershire Archive Service discover hints of these people every day when helping researchers to explore the archives, however, we rarely get to find out more about them. To mark the Explore Your Archive 2015 campaign, staff have selected five of Worcestershire's ordinary citizens and have been busy searching our extensive collections in order to tell you more about their extraordinary lives. 

On each of the next five days we will be featuring one of these little known, overlooked or perhaps even forgotten people who played an important role in Worcestershire's past. For some of them we have been able to find very little and for others we have found plenty, which goes some way to highlight the nature of archive collections and research - you can never tell what you might find! We don't want the stories of these people to end here though; please get in touch if you know more about any of our extraordinary Worcestershire residents and help us bring their stories to life. 

Ann Osborn of Clent

The first story to be featured is that of Ann Osborn, a widow who volunteered to act as a midwife in the parish of Clent during the early 18th Century. 

We knew nothing about Ann until we found this unassuming document that told us what an important role she played in her village.

The document mentioning Ann Osborn, which can be found at reference:744.1 BA 2072 (ii)

The transcription of the document reads as follows:

  To the Worshipful The Chancellor of Worcester

We the Minister and Churchwardens & other the inhabitants of the Parish of Clent do humbly certify that Ann Osborn is a poor honest helpful neighbour but does not profess Midwifery [although] sometimes she in the absence of midwives which live three or four miles distant from us, has done that office for poor women gratis which otherwise might have been lost for want of speedy assistance not being able to pay fees or money for a horse to fetch a midwife.
And we do hereby humbly beg [that] this poor wid[ow] may be discharged.


Although the document is not dated, we have been able to narrow down the timeframe by looking for the dates when the vicar, who has signed the document, the Reverend Edward Sheward, was in office, which was from approximately 1719 to 1735.

The document was found amongst the Midwife Licences. It tells us that Ann lived in Clent and was a widow. We do not know whether she had children or was an elderly widow, either way her day to day life would have been quite hard. But she still gave up her time free of charge to help her neighbours who had no money to employ a midwife. The fact that her village recognised her work enough for the vicar and churchwarden's to petition the Chancellor of Worcester for Ann to be granted a licence to practise her skills shows how vital her work was.

Ann's contribution to the lives of women in her village was huge, and without her help many women and their babies may have died during childbirth. Perhaps without the discovery of this document Ann's life and her valuable work would have gone unacknowledged.

Did your ancestors live in Clent during this time?  Do you have any information about Ann Osborn? We would love to hear from you if you have more information to add to Ann's story. Drop us a comment here on the blog, on our Twitter page or email us: