Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Conservation of West Mercia Police records

Conservation work has begun on a series of volumes relating to Police records of Worcestershire.  Thanks to a grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, conservation work will be undertaken on approximately 70 volumes that are currently in a 'Poor' or 'Unusable' condition. 

The West Mercia Police Authority archive includes the administrative and operational records from Police Stations and Divisions around Worcestershire, from 1833 until 1996. Worcestershire Constabulary and Worcester City Police were formed in the 1830's and merged with Shropshire and Herefordshire Constabularies in 1967 into West Mercia Police Authority.
Running alongside a 12 month cataloguing grant awarded by the National Cataloguing Grants Scheme, administered by The National Archives, it was decided to focus conservation work on the Descriptive Registers, Charge Books and Petty Sessions Case Books.  In doing so, it was felt that these items give a good over-view of the history of policing within Worcestershire from both sides of the fence, referring to those individuals involved in crime and combating it.

Upper board prior to treatment – the spine was detached and sewing broken with the first and last five sections detached from the volume.

The volumes tend to be spring-back ledgers, used as 'working volumes' in which information was recorded on a daily basis.  As a result, many of the volumes have suffered from considerable damage over the years with wear to the bindings, and spines detaching.  Conservation work will involve re-sewing where necessary, re-attaching spines and supporting binding materials in order that the volumes can be made accessible within the original archive area of the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service.

Upper board following treatment –loose sections and the original spine were re-attached to the volume.

Check our website for more information on our Conservation Service.

Rhonda Niven

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Boot Prints Through the Records: Nurse Stocks’s WWI Scrapbook

This week's post is by Rosie Pugh, one of our volunteers, who used one of the autograph books in our collection to research Hartlebury Castle's role as a VAD hospital in The First World War and some of the soldiers who went there to convalesce.

When my interest in archives was piqued last summer and I decided to seek out some work experience in the sector, I inquired as to whether I could spend some time at the Hive as a volunteer. For the past two weeks I have been lucky enough to be on a 100-hour work placement with the Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service, and it has opened my eyes to the daily wonders of exploring the past. My work here has been varied and fascinating: from locating packages in the Hive’s subterranean strong rooms, to transcribing oral history interviews about a local school; from removing rusty staples and sewing the spines of unbound books, to making digital copies of photograph slides with the most up-to-date kit available. It has given me a wonderful insight into the daily workings of a local authority archive, where every day brings a new surprise.

This experience has also allowed me to hone some of my own research skills. One project I worked on was looking at Hartlebury Castle’s history as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital in World War One. This project is part of Worcestershire War 100, a programme of events and activities over the next four years which commemorate the centenary of the Great War and Worcestershire’s role in it.

The only surviving documentation from Hartlebury Castle VAD Hospital is a series of scrapbooks which record the names, regiments and personal circumstances of many of the soldiers convalescing at Hartlebury during the War. The autograph book I was working on was put together by Nurse Laura Stocks. This is not a strict visitor’s book: many of the entries are hand-drawn pictures or notes, photographs of croquet teams or convalescents in fancy dress. Many of the men’s faces or handwriting appear in Nurse Stocks’s book a number of times. However, there is one soldier whose presence is felt most strongly across the pages: Private G. H. Boot.

His name is recorded in Nurse Stocks’s hand as ‘Pte Boot’ alongside three photographs in the book, which show him to be a thickset man with a dark moustache.

Boot does not give much information about himself, unlike some of the other soldiers who write in the scrapbook. Private JJ Barsten, for example, writes his name, number and regiment – 3246, 2nd and 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers, City of London Regiment – along with the injuries he has sustained and the place he last served: invalided from Sulva [Suvla] Bay on the 2nd Feb 1915 with frozen feet.

Boot, on the other hand, does not directly record his rank, regiment, injuries or battles served. His presence in the scrapbook is notable because of the sketches he draws for Nurse Stocks, which he dates and signs ‘G. H. Boot’. The first, from 7th January 1916, is a simple pencil sketch of a scroll bearing the words ‘Forget-Me-Not’.

The next page reveals a beautiful painting by Boot, one of the most accomplished in the scrapbook, signed 14th January 1916. 

Although we do not get a sense of the soldier G. H. Boot, we do get a sense of him as an artist and as a man. He, along with many of the other convalescents, writes a thank you note to Nurse Stocks for her kindness during his stay.

The only civilians who write in the scrapbook other than Nurse Stocks are the mother and wife of Private Boot, who visit him on the 19th January 1916. On the far left and far right in the middle of this page you can see the autographs of ‘Mrs A Boot, Mother to Pte Boot’ and ‘Mrs Boot, Jan 19 1916, Wife to Pte Boot’. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find out anything else about them. All in all, the Boots have proved to be a bit of a mystery. 

Another of Boot’s drawings may give us more of a clue as to his background: he makes a sketch of the Sherwood Foresters cap badge in black pen, alongside a neatly written poem. There is a G. H. Boot recorded as a member of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire) in 1915, but not as a private – as a temporary lieutenant. The WW1 Service Medal and Award Rolls tell us that there was a Lieutenant G. H. Boot who entered the ‘theatre of war’ on 1st February 1916. This means that ‘Lieutenant G. H. Boot’ of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment went to war just a few weeks after ‘Private G. H. Boot’ of the same regiment wrote in the scrapbook at Hartlebury Castle.

Is it possible that they are the same person? Well, it would be unusual for the record of Lieutenant Boot not to mention that he had previously been a private, but not necessarily unheard of. The life expectancy of lieutenants in World War One was just six weeks – they led their troops from the front, and as a result of this they had to be replaced in quick succession. It is possible that Private Boot was promoted to ‘temporary lieutenant’ on his return to war after convalescing at Hartlebury.

However, there is a chance that these are two different people. Boots, the well-known high street chemist, was founded in Nottingham – even though ‘Boot’ is a somewhat unusual surname, if there was any place in the country where there is likely to be a proliferation of ‘Boot’s, it would most likely be in the Nottinghamshire regiment.
Although G. H. Boot becomes a difficult man to track outside of Nurse Stocks’s scrapbooks, within their pages he is a vibrant contributor. We see his face, his handwriting, his artwork and records of his family. Being able to recognise a recurring figure now, exactly 100 years on since January 1916, somehow helps to bring the past to light.

Rosie Pugh

If you have any more information about Private G. H. Boot or his family, please feel free to let us know!

An exhibition on the role of Hartlebury Castle in World War One will be on display from 12th March 2016 at Worcestershire County Museum. For more details visit their website.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Criminal Records of the Marches Project

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service staff are currently engaged in a 15 month joint project with Shropshire Archives to make available the archives of West Mercia Police deposited with them.  Some of the work involves sorting, assessing and listing material transferred from the Police Headquarters at Hindlip.  Other work involves retroconverting or enhancing lists and catalogues done in the past which are not online.  There is also some repackaging and conservation work to be done before the records can be made available.

Cataloguing the West Mercia Police archives

The cataloguing side of the project has been made possible by a grant from the National Cataloguing Grants programme.  The records cover the 19th and 20th centuries and include both information on the organisation of the police, their buildings and personnel and also their approaches to crime, its prevention and punishment. There are also records relating to individual police stations, individual officers and local crimes and criminals. 

Some of the West Mercia Police archives awaiting cataloguing

Conservation work

Some of the material in the West Mercia Police collections is in poor condition, so in parallel with cataloguing the records, we are also undertaking some conservation work thanks to a grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust.  Our conservator is concentrating on the police descriptive registers which give details on individual policemen such as age, weight, height, chest measurement and measurement for helmet.  As these volumes provide such detailed information about individual officers, they will be particularly useful to our family history customers.  It is also hoped that some work can be carried out on charge books and petty sessions case books, many of which are also in need of attention.

Some of the police records in need of conservation

Making the records available

Once the work is completed, the catalogues will be made available online and in the searchrooms of the two archive offices.  Some more modern records may be closed for a while because of the personal nature of the information contained within them. 

It is hoped that the project will enhance the records available in the two counties for research into police history and crime in general and that the police records will complement other records relating to law and order already held such as those of local courts and prisons.  The records will provide a valuable resource for research areas such as the nature of crime and the role of the police in the wider community, They will also provide a unique window on the daily lives of both those who were police officers and those who were members of the criminal fraternity.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

1642 Commission of Array for Worcester Acquired

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service have acquired the Commission of Array for Worcester City, 14 September 1642. The significant piece of local history was kindly bought for the county by the Victoria & Albert Museum, Friends of the National Libraries and Worcester City Council.

Dr Adrian Gregson with the Commission of Array 

The Commission of Array is a summon to arms from Charles I in September 1642 calling men to join the King's army, at a time when the two sides were trying to drum up support across the country. It is signed by the King, with his seal at the bottom, and lists the local commissioners.

Worcester has strong Civil War links and this document is especially significant because it was written at a crucial time when battle lines were being drawn. A few days later the first skirmish of the wars took place in the county at Powick Bridge.

The document survives because it was kept by Thomas Lyttelton, who was one of the commissioners listed, and became part of the Lyttelton Family Archive until its sale in the 1970s. It now joins the rest of the Lyttelton Archive, which was Accepted in Lieu of Inheritance Tax, and held on behalf of the nation in The Hive.

It will be held in state of the art strongrooms in The Hive for safekeeping and will be available for people to study. It will be stored along with 12 miles of the county's archives, including other letters by Charles I, documents relating to the siege of Worcester, and Henry Townshend's diary, describing life in Worcester during the wars.

Adrian Gregson, Archive Collections manager, said: "It is great to bring this document back into the public domain so people can see it and use it. It's also exciting for us to hold and make available a document relating to a significant moment in the country and county's history."

“This is an excellent piece of news, that shows that the City and County Councils are committed to preserving Worcester’s civil war heritage,” says Councillor Lucy Hodgson, Cabinet Member responsible for Heritage on both the City and County Councils.  “The City Council is setting up a Fund to help acquire other important historical assets in the future too.”

Thursday, 17 March 2016

St Patrick's Day at The Tower

Within the Lyttelton Archive we have Maud Lyttelton's diary of 1902/3. She kept a diary over several years, meeting many different society people, and she was not afraid to be honest with her options, making this a fascinating read.

Within her diary she describes St Patrick's Day in 1902, when she was in London with her family. On this day she was invited to see the Irish Guards at the Tower of London. Getting there was a 'life and death drive' as they sped along in their car almost clipping horses legs and cutting in front of buses. She says they were nearly the death of a father, mother and child, but how close and whether they were driving or it was a chauffeur or taxi driver it doesn't say.

The event at the Tower of London consisted of a series of sports events for the Irish Guards, consisting of running, long jump, obstacle course etc. She said all the men wore 'brogues and typical Irish faces'. When it got cold they went to the Guard Room for tea, and they obviously knew a number of the officers and were well looked after.

In the evening she and her mother were invited out for dinner. Her mother was seated by a man who was a grandson of Byron, who was described as being odd looking, although very pleasant.

The Lyttelton's of Hagley Archive has been catalogued over the past couple of years. The Lyttelton collection came into public ownership in 2010 as part of the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme whereby the nation accepts valuable assets such as archives against tax liabilities and in 2012 Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service became the collection's permanent home. It can be searched online at This diary can be viewed in our Original Archive Area at The Hive, at reference number 705:104 BA15492 /244 /1.

Friday, 11 March 2016

City Charter Visit

The Mayor of Worcester, Cllr Roger Knight, and Cllr Lucy Hodgson, County Cabinet member with responsibility for Localism & Communities, visited the Archive and Archaeology Service today to look at Worcester's City Charters. The charters, previously held at the Guildhall, were moved to The Hive for us to look after, joining the rest of the Worcester City Archives. The Charters start in 1189 when Richard I bestowed rights upon the city. Subsequent monarchs reissued Charters over the years, adding new rights for Worcester. For instance James I in his charter of 1621 allows Worcester to appoint a Mayor for the first time, with Edward Hurdman being the first take this role.

Dr Adrian Gregson, Collections Manager, shows Cllr Lucy Hodgson and Mayor Roger Knight one the City Charters
    The charters are kept in state of the art strongrooms in The Hive, with temperature and humidity control to help ensure that these important parts of Worcester's history are kept for many more years. They have also been digitised to allow people to study them without handling the originals. Stored in the special cabinets which were brought from the Guidhall, the charters are now on display as part of  our Behind the Scenes tours.

Worcester's first charter is commemorated throughout the city on benches and bins with these badges

The Worcester City archives were catalogued over a four year period as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project. They provide a fascinating insight into the city's history over the past 700 years. You can find out more about the project here.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Monthly Mystery: the Infirmary Bones

During building work at Worcester's Royal Infirmary between 2007 and 2010, as it was undergoing the transformation from former hospital to the University of Worcester's City Campus, our archaeologists were brought in to investigate the history of the site.

An excavation was carried out in the southern part of the grounds of the Infirmary, which revealed the remains of several Roman buildings, quarry pits and rubbish dumps. The area was agricultural land in the Roman period, with evidence for buildings including a crop-processing barn.

Excavating Roman remains to the south of the Infirmary building ©WAAS

The rubbish dumps contained lots of domestic rubbish, including pottery, animal bone, textile equipment, jewellery and glass, a fascinating insight into the lives of the occupants of Roman Worcester. The report on the excavations is available here.

But the old Infirmary complex had a few more recent secrets to give up, too…
In 2009 work was in full swing on the north half of the site, around the Infirmary itself. Although the building of the original Infirmary, which opened in 1771, probably disturbed a lot of the earlier archaeology, there was a chance that some might remain, so our archaeologists were on hand to keep an eye on the building works.

As the construction workers began to dig trenches for drainage pipes and services, they discovered some bones. When archaeologists Tim and Tegan Cornah began to carefully expose them it soon became clear that there was something very peculiar about them…

Three pits containing human bone were discovered, along with another group in ground probably disturbed by 20th century construction activity. None were individual burials, and they had some strange features: some had evidently been neatly sawn through, others had visible cutmarks; metal fixings and copper/iron staining were visible on others. In total, 1828 pieces of human bone were recovered. Associated artefacts such as pottery and medical instruments (illustrated below) tell us that the remains were probably buried sometime between the late 18th and mid-19th centuries.

Medical instruments discovered with the bones. L: stricture dilators for unblocking of the urethra. R: 'Simpson type' bladder or uterine sound (probe)

The remains themselves were analysed by osteoarchaeologists Gaynor Western and Tania Kausmally of Ossafreelance. Their fantastic report is available here (contains images of human remains). The remains include surgical waste from amputations as well as many examples showing signs of dissection and use in anatomical studies, providing a unique insight into medical treatment and Worcester's role as an important centre for surgical teaching during the early years of the Infirmary.

However, there's a bit of a mystery attached to them. Why were they buried in the grounds of the hospital? The Infirmary had no designated burial ground, unlike many other contemporary hospitals of its type. The history and ethics of obtaining human bodies for anatomical study is mired in tensions.

On the one hand the drive for scientific understanding, professionalization and empirical experimentation in medicine, of enormous benefit to the living, required a steady stream of study material. Worcester was at the forefront of medical innovation in the early 19th century: local man Charles Hastings founded the forerunner of the British Medical Association at the Infirmary in 1832. In the same year, the Anatomy Act expanded the legal sources of remains for study to include unclaimed bodies of paupers from prisons and local workhouses.

Charles Hastings, founder of the BMA, photographed in 1864

On the other hand, public attitudes towards medical use of newly-deceased corpses were frequently at odds with those of the medical profession. Prior to the Anatomy Act, the only legal source of bodies was the corpses of executed murderers. For some time, however, demand had outstripped supply, leading to a thriving trade in illegal grave-robbing which sparked public revulsion. The complicity of the medical profession in this practice did not go unmarked: a riot in Aberdeen caused by the dumping of human remains in the yard of an anatomy school was just one of many. For its part, the profession campaigned long and hard for the Act, whilst sympathising with those caught going to desperate lengths to obtain specimens: in 1827, the Worcester Medical and Surgical Society, moved by the plight of a fined colleague, voted:

"a sum of 10 guineas to this surgeon in testimony of the deep feelings of sorrow… that so severe a sentence should have been inflicted upon him for having exhumed a body for the purpose of teaching the anatomical art" .

Ossafreelance's report considers the legality of the remains discovered at the Infirmary. Some of the amputated elements are clearly hospital waste, and others (especially the parts exhibiting signs of metal fixings) were probably from skeletons wired up as teaching models: the 1832 Anatomy Act didn't specify how existing remains held by hospitals should be treated. However, the analysis indicates that others show clear signs of having been dissected in the course of anatomical investigations, and the Act did specify that following investigations, bodies should be given a Christian burial.

Do any of the body parts discovered post-date the Act? Well, there is one smoking gun that gives us a hint that at least some of the waste from amputations was acquired after 1832: a small fragment of the distal (bottom) portion of a femur (thigh bone) is characteristic of a revolutionary new transcondylar 'single-flap' amputation technique developed by Worcester surgeon Henry Carden, and first adopted at the Infirmary in 1846 (an illustration and discussion of Carden's technique can be found in this paper).

The remains from Worcester are the largest such assemblage ever discovered in association with a provincial hospital of this date. The individuals represented exhibit high levels of inflammation, infection and trauma; they evidently led tough lives, many cut short by gallows, prison or workhouse. These were men, women and children on the margins of society:  the poor, the disenfranchised, and the criminal. Scattered, fragmented and unceremoniously deposited in shallow pits, their treatment in death sadly mirrored their status in life.

The discovery raises difficult questions about the balance between the advancement of medical science and ethical and moral considerations regarding the treatment of the human body, at a time in which, not unlike today, the rapid pace of scientific progress left governments and regulators struggling to keep up. Charles Hastings was a tireless campaigner for the rights of the poor and for rigorous medical ethics: he would doubtless have strongly contested the popular view among the public that dispersal and disposal of body parts was a transgressive act. Indeed, he arguably did more than any other to improve the lives of the poor in Worcester, investing his own money in improving workers' housing in order to combat the scourge of cholera.

A little bit of mystery remains. Who buried them? Was it a clandestine act, concealing illegal activity? Or simply a routine disposal of material that had served its scientific or educational purpose?

We'll probably never know who they were, or how they came to be under the surgeons' or students' knives. But there's some consolation in the knowledge that they played their role in the advancement of medical science for the benefit of those to come, and that the accident of their discovery has opened an extraordinary window into the lives and deaths of the poor in 18th and 19th century Worcester.

Rob Hedge.

The project was funded by the University of Worcester, and managed by Cathy Patrick of CgMs Consulting. James Dinn, Worcester City Council's Archaeological Officer, was instrumental in making this work a condition of planning permission. The archaeological site work was carried out by Tim and Tegan Cornah of Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service's Archaeological Field Section, and the analysis of human remains conducted by Ossafreelance.

For more information on the people, hospital and techniques mentioned, do visit the wonderful Infirmary Museum on the University's City Campus, and its sister museum, the George Marshall Medical Museum on the site of the Worcestershire Royal Hospital.

For more information on the historical context of the remains, see this poster by osteoarchaeologist Gaynor Western.