Friday, 22 April 2016

Archive letters tell personal story of WW1 defeat at Qatia

Trooper Hal Wardale King, 2577, was the son of Mr. And Mrs. J. Wardale King, of Oldswinford House, Stourbridge, Worcs. He was killed in action  on 23rd April 1916, aged 21.
Hal and his friend John (Jack) Preece joined Queen's Own Worcestershire Hussars (Worcester Yeomanry) in September 1914.
During his service with the Yeomanry Jack wrote home to his parents as often as he could telling them about the training, life in the camp, the food, the journeys and the people he had met. The collection of letters also includes letters from Hal to Jack's family and particularly Mrs Preece who he called 'My Dear Other Ma'
Hal King Back Row 2nd from left
In December 1915 Jack wrote about how they had spent Christmas and describes the visit that he and Hal made to the Pryamids and Sphinx which he says 'are well worth a visit'. Hal sent a photo postcard showing him and Jack and another soldier on horses in front of the pyramids.
On 4th April 1916 Mrs Preece wrote to Hal thanking him for her birthday gift and telling him about life at home, the family and how many eggs they were collecting on the farm. The letter was returned to Mrs Preece unopened. 

The unopened letter returned to Mrs Preece

At dawn on 23rd April 1916, the isolated Yeomanry garrison at Oghratina, which had been ordered to protect a party of Royal Engineers on a well-digging exercise, was attacked by over 3000 Turkish troops. The defending troops were forced back and the Turks advanced to reinforce a second attack at Qatia which fell with the loss of three and a half squadrons of yeomanry.

After the attack, Hal's family wrote to say that they are making enquiries in Port Said to find out more information and they are not giving up hope that Hal was still alive. However, on 10th May, they sent a brief letter to the Preece's to say that Hal had been killed in action on April 23rd 1916.
In the meantime Jack wrote home to tell his family that 'the camp was attacked on Easter Sunday'. He tells them 'that Hal and H. Hodges have been killed, Ted Harrison and H. R. Reading captured'. He reports that a 'wounded Turkish officer who had been taken prisoner said they (the Turks) 'were 750 strong and there were only 100 in the regiment holding them back'. Jack wrote that they lost 6 out of 11 horses but his horse (which had been with him since 1914) was not touched. Jack adds that he has written to the 4 families and and hopes that his letters are worded correctly. He tells his Mother not to worry as he is quite well.

Hal King is remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial.

The letters sent by Jack and Hal are part of the archive collection deposited by John Preece and kept in the Archive and Archaeology Service at the Hive in Worcester.
The 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Qatia will be commemorated on 23rd April 2016 with a service at Worcester Cathedral and the unveiling of a Poppy Mosiac Sculpture in Cripplegate Park. For more details visit 
The unopened letter was discovered by one of the volunteers who was summarising the contents of the letters and was opened by our conservator.


the Yeomanry Regiment


Friday, 15 April 2016

New Archive Art Project - Strong Rooms

Guided tour of archive strong rooms, which gave the project its title, and areas usually off limits

We are working with Archives West Midlands and Arts Connect to deliver a revolutionary new project which fuses archives and installation art.

The project is called Strong Rooms, and the contribution of WAAS has been instrumental from the start. As well as staff being involved in carrying out community work for the project, Worcester will be one of only four venues to host the final installation.

Working with globally renowned street artist Mohammed Ali, Archives West Midlands inspires young people to use archives for the first time to consider their locality and record their discoveries creatively.

Mohammed envisages creating an immersive sensory experience, allowing young people to explore the archives and form their own thoughts about accessing the stories of the past.

Mohammed said: “telling stories in exciting and innovative ways that resonate with new people is what excites me: throwing light onto our past and making it relevant to our future.”

This journey will create Strong Rooms: a vivid and interactive installation delivering high quality artistic engagement to local communities, challenging conventional perceptions of archives and helping the sector to engage with young people in new ways.

Strong Rooms will tour the Midlands, stopping at Rugby, Coventry, Dudley as well at here in Worcester.
Art workshop inspired by calligraphy and lettering from documents in the archives

The Strong Rooms project lead is our Community Project Officer Justin Hughes, who added: “the opportunity to take archives out to the very heart of communities in new and dynamic ways is hugely exciting. We have a wealth of archive resources in the 12 miles of shelving. We've enjoyed helping people discover the stories within them over the years, and we're really looking forward to working with artists and local people to see how the stories will inspire them".

We'll keep you updates via the blog, Facebook and Twitter about how it is going and what we get up to, as well as when you can come and see the installation in Worcester.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Palaeolithic Life and Environment in Worcestershire

Lost Landscapes; Palaeolithic Life and Environment in Worcestershire.  Herds of Mammoths walking across the M5 at Strensham, Lions stalking through the Bredon Hills, the ice  and tundra spreading across the landscape…..which part of our Ice Age past are you most interested in? 

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service and Museums Worcestershire are currently running a short questionnaire to find out about the public's interest in our Palaeolithic past to help us shape an exciting new exhibition and event based on this period. 

We would really appreciate anyone who can take a few minutes to fill the survey out, available at: . Paper copies are also available from the Historic Environment Record at The Hive.

Monday, 4 April 2016

'Find Your Past' Website Now Available in The Hive

Popular family history website, Find my Past, is now available for free at the Hive.

Find my Past contains four billion names including parish registers, military records, school records, census and directories, all of which are useful sources of information for tracing your family history.
For the first time, researchers will be able to use the records created when their ancestors were admitted to school, at infants, primary and secondary level, to find out more about their families and to help further their research.   
Over the past 10 years we have been providing access to the Ancestry website, and are now pleased to be able to offer free access to Find My Past too.

The databases are both available to access now.  You will need to register for a library card if you don't already have one.  

The free access is due to the partnership between WAAS and Find My Past, which has seen 141 pre 1915 school registers digitised and made available on the website.  This is part of a large national project and our digitisation team were responsible for creating the digital images of the registers for Worcestershire, as well as other services in the West Midlands, with their state of the art cameras.

Dr Lisa Snook, User Services Manager, added: "We are pleased to be able to offer this extra service to our customers which will help with family and local history research. It is also great that the school registers from our archives are now accessible easier and more widely available."

To help customers use Find My Past we are running workshops, similar to the Ancestry ones we run, on Thu 14 April 10am-12pm, and Thu 21 April 7-9pm. These cost £6 and can be booked at  

Friday, 1 April 2016

Monthly Mystery: Porridge please – oats and medieval agriculture from Shrewsbury to Wales

Charred oat grains

If you were to imagine the medieval farming landscape along the western borders of England and Wales, you would probably not think of fields of oats. Wheat is more likely to spring to mind, and probably sheep too. However, recently Worcestershire Archaeology has excavated an archaeological site at Mytton Oak on the west side of Shropshire, where samples of soil have revealed burnt oats across large areas of a medieval settlement. This is not the normal pattern for the West Midlands, and it’s prompted me to ask some questions about what we have found.

Sunken stone building and corn drier (top, centre)

At Mytton Oak we uncovered a sunken stone building next to a kiln, and it seems that the building and kiln were joined. We found thick burnt deposits in the kiln and the building and so brought samples of this back to the office, along with similar samples from pits and ditches from across the medieval settlement.

Remains of oven with layer of burnt cereal crop waste in left section between red marl and stonework

We found large quantities of burnt cereal crop waste in the kiln and the deposits relating to the construction of the building. Radiocarbon dating of oat grains showed that the building was constructed in the 11th to 13th centuries and that the last firing of the kiln also fell within this time period. About 95% of the charred crop waste was made up of oat grain, with only occasional wheat grains and crop weed seeds, showing that these remains were residues of mainly oat crops, which had been cleaned and processed. The kiln would have been used to parch or dry the cleaned grain, but judging by the frequency with which we find burnt crop residues in kilns and corn driers, obviously accidents sometimes happened, and it’s clear that the crop burnt rather than parched. Someone obviously didn’t burn the cakes this time – just the grain before it was milled into flour.

We found similar oat-rich burnt waste in pits and ditches too, even where iron working seemed to be the main activity. It was the main cereal in use, so for what purpose was it grown? We often associate oats with animal fodder, particularly with horses, so perhaps it was grown for fodder. However, given the abundance of oats here, unless there were large herds of livestock to provide for, it seems more likely that it was the main food crop. Oatmeal would have been used for oatcakes and the grain in porridges and pottages, for instance.

Whilst we find oats on medieval sites (particularly Saxon or early medieval sites) across England, they are only rarely the dominant crop. Wheat was always the grain of choice for food as it made fine, well-risen bread. Sometimes we find barley-rich material, and in these cases, it may be the residues of malting to produce beer. In areas where soils are mostly sandy, rye can predominate as it grows better on poor soils than wheat.

Since working on this material, I have found that two other sites, excavated several years ago in Shrewsbury, are similarly very ‘oaty’. These sites were at Riggs Hall, adjacent to the remains of Shrewsbury Castle, and the former Owen Owen store in the town centre. Looking further afield, it appears that from the Dark Ages and through the medieval period in Wales, oats were the most important crop. Why so many oats?

Certainly, for Wales the answer may be that oats deal better with high rainfall, cooler, shorter growing seasons and the poor, impoverished soils of the uplands than wheat. Growing wheat successfully in these environments can be more of a hit and miss affair, depending on the weather. For Shrewsbury, the answer may be less clear. The soils are poor (slightly acidic) but the town lies on lower land, so how much could climate and poor soils have affected the crops that people were growing? Could the oat-dominated agriculture be a cultural phenomenon – one more influenced here by Welsh tradition than English? After all, Shrewsbury is only 9 miles from the Welsh border today. These are just a couple of questions that we could ask.

Liz Pearson