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:

Friday, 13 November 2015

Go Behind the Scenes

Would you like to go behind the scenes here in The Hive? Would you see some the archive 'treasures' and handle real archaeological objects. As part of Explore Your Archive we are offering another of our popular tours which take you past the 'staff only' doors.

  • Archive Strongroom – come and see where we store our archives, and have a look at some of the highlights from our collections, including the Clothier Charter from Elizabeth I, a letter from the Titanic, the beautiful 18thC Vernon map book and medieval royal seals.
  • Conservation Studio – see what our conservator does to care for the books and documents which need some extra care.
  • Archaeology – enter our finds room and handle some artefacts found in county  from the past 2,000 years.

The tours are 2:00-3:30pm on Wednesday 18th November and cost £5. You can book your place at

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

20 years of Oral History at Worcestershire Archive Service

Jean North interviewing Mrs Hewlett 

Getting Started

It's 20 years since the then Hereford and Worcester Record Office took its first tentative steps into the world of oral history.  The first project was quite an ambitious one – a five year project to record local people's reminiscences of World War II.  Valuable support came from the British Library and the Record Office's Friends organisation.  Members of the local community offered their services as volunteers to conduct or transcribe interviews and as interviewees.  People from many different walks of life with very different experiences came forward to take part.  Many personal stories were shared often for the very first time.  One interviewer commented afterwards 'The people I interviewed were modest, accommodating, friendly, engaged and by no means ordinary.  it felt like we were making a difference by recording these memories.'  Certainly we felt the timing of our oral history work was just right and we caught a particular mood at a particular time.  The recordings made stand as a wonderful testament to an incredible bunch of people and their support for our endeavours.

Volunteer Stephen Yeomans checking transcripts 

Local projects

From that small beginning the Record Office went on to record individual life story interviews and work with local schools and groups on a variety of projects.  Such work also offered the opportunity to offer advice and guidance to people new to oral history, share our experiences and take in oral history collections from local groups and individuals.  More recently Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service staff have been involved in projects to record reminiscences of life in Bromsgrove and Great and Little Witley, to investigate the industrial heritage of Redditch and to survey  our audio collections for the British Library's 'Save our Sounds' project.


As part of marking our 20 years of involvement in oral history staff have been using sound bites from oral history interviews in some of our blogs this year.  Many of the interviews from our very first project have tied in with recent commemorations of World War II events such as VE Day, VJ Day and the Dunkirk evacuations.  With the recent commemorations of the Battle of Britain fresh in the nation's memory it seems appropriate to choose a sound bite from that event for this blog.  World War II pilot Wing Commander Smith (1915-2013) was interviewed in 1990 by BBC Hereford and Worcester about his experiences and he donated his copy of the recording to our archives.

Click here to listen to Wing Commander Smith's recollections of being shot down during the Battle of Britain.

Oral History Society

In our 20th year of oral history work we are pleased to be hosting the Oral History Society's Regional Networkers Day this weekend.  The theme for the day is 'Being innovative with oral histories' with our very own Justin Hughes talking about some of the diverse work he has done with local groups.

Thomas Hopkins listening  to oral history recordings on the Hive jukebox 

Further Information

By Margaret Tohill

Wing Commander Smith's recording used with kind permission of BBC Hereford and Worcester.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Free event to celebrate Explore Your Archives 2015

Tea and Testimony:
Discovering the extraordinary lives of ordinary people

Worcestershire's historic past is made up of multiple layers of the lives of its residents - sometimes dramatic, sometimes tragic, sometimes unacknowledged and occasionally even forgotten. Many of these people, though ordinary, actually had an extraordinary impact upon the world.

Worcestershire Archive Service has a wealth of resources on hand to help uncover more about the lives of many Worcestershire people. To celebrate the Explore Your Archive 2015 event, staff have been busy uncovering the secrets of five of Worcestershire's extraordinary residents: Joseph Blackburn, celebrated painter; Ann Osborn, midwife; Arthur Horner, one of the early Artic explorers; Joseph Garrett, the first County Surveyor for Worcestershire and Harry Martin, talented Royal Worcester Porcelain painter killed in WWI.

To celebrate the unsung talent of these Worcestershire people we are inviting you come along for tea and the chance to learn more about their lives. We will also be delivering a family history taster session, in which we can help you get started with your own research or answer any questions you might have. There will also be a chance to learn more about the Worcestershire World War 100 project and the People's Exhibition. We will have documents and sources on display for you to browse, as well as an exhibition of items in our cabinets.

The event will take place on Thursday, 19th November, 10am to 1pm at The Hive, Level 2, Room 3. You can come along for the whole event or just pop in for one of the sessions:

10am: Discovering the extraordinary lives of 5 Worcestershire people
11am: Starting your family history taster session
12pm: Worcestershire's World War 100 and the People's Exhibition

The event is free and no booking is required – simply come along on the day to hear our recollections and even share recollections of your own extraordinary ancestors if you like. Free tea and biscuits will be available throughout.

We will be featuring the stories of each of the Worcestershire residents we have researched throughout the Explore Your Archive campaign, so keep an eye on this blog to find out more.