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.