Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Lavinia Talbot's diary 1916: Reflections on Jutland, Kitchener and the Somme

Lavinia Talbot kept a diary from her teenage years right through to old age.  The diaries provide a unique window on her daily life, thoughts and feelings from the mid 1860s through to the 1930s.  In particular Lavinia recorded her observations on the conduct of the First World War.  She had three sons serving in the forces and many of the children of her wider circle of family and friends were also serving, so she took a keen interest in what was happening.

Battle of Jutland

Lavinia's diary entries for the beginning of June 1916 were initially full of meetings and social activities such as the wedding of Pamela Maude and Capt Billy Congreve.  That quickly changed and much of her entry for 3 June was given over to the confrontation between the German High Seas Fleet and part of the British Grand Fleet opposite Jutland.  In particular Lavinia recorded the sinking of the Queen Mary, the Invincible and the Indefatigable. A family friend, Charles Fisher, was serving on the Invincible and she was concerned about his fateThis was likely to have been Lt Charles Dennis Fisher of the Royal Naval Reserve who was indeed killed in the battle as he is recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as having died on 31 May 1916.

Lavinia's diary entry recording the news of Jutland

The battle of Jutland continued to be very much on Lavinia's mind.  Her diary entry for 4 June mentioned an account of the battle by the Observer.  Her entry for 5 June focused on the missing and dead.  As well as Charles Fisher she also named other people she now knew had been killed – Spencer Portal boy, young de Carteret, Lucas, Marsden.  The 'Spencer Portal boy' was probably Raymond Spencer Portal aged 19 who also served on the Invincible.  Lavinia had been at a meeting with Mrs Spencer Portal just 2 days before.  'Young de Carteret' was probably Midshipman Philip Reginald Malet de Carteret aged 18 who served on the Queen Mary.  'Lucas' may have been Lieutenant Claude De Neuville Lucas aged 23 who served on the Indefatigable.  There was more than one person of the name Marsden who was killed in the battle so it is impossible to know to whom Lavinia was referring.

Lavinia's diary entries recording further details of the Battle of
Jutland and names of those she knew who had been killed.

Death of Lord Kitchener

Lord Kitchener (1850-1916) was a figure very much associated with the First World War.  Apart from appearing on the iconic 'Your country needs you!' poster and contributing a method of making an invisible seam in knitting (the Kitchener stitch), Kitchener served as Secretary of State for War in the early years of the conflict. On 5 June 1916 he set off on a diplomatic visit to Russia, but was killed when the ship in which he was travelling was sunk by a mine.

Lavinia Talbot was in London for a meeting on 6 June and she recorded in her diary the moment when she heard the news of Kitchener's death.  One of her fellow attendees told her that she had heard that Kitchener and all his staff had drowned.  Lavinia quickly got hold of a copy of the Evening Standard newspaper and saw the news for herself in the 'stop press'.  It's unclear whether she knew Kitchener personally, but her brother Sir Neville Lyttelton certainly did having served with him in the Sudan and South Africa.  The news of Kitchener's death seems to have affected Lavinia a great deal as she recorded that it was a day 'never to be forgotten', that she 'felt the ground giving way under me' and that people looked 'scared and moved'.

Lavinia's diary entry recording the death of Lord Kitchener

The Somme Offensive

Interestingly Lavinia's diary for the beginning of July 1916 is silent about the beginning of the battle of the Somme on 1 July, yet the papers must have been full of it in the days which followed.  It may be that because July marked the first anniversary of the death of her son Gilbert on the Western Front, the events unfolding in France and Flanders touched on such painful memories that she chose not to put down her feelings and observations on the event.  Instead her diary entries at the time were full of her visits to family and friends and cricket matches at Winchester and Harrow.  She did however comment in her diary entry for 9 July on the wounded soldiers arriving at Waterloo when she was up in London. She described it as an 'interminable procession of wounded on litters, beautifully brought out of trains, laid on platforms & wafted without a jar into countless ambulance cars – still figures, reverently & silently greeted by [the] crowd with much feeling.  Masses of young Tommies just going on watched it all without moving'. 

Lavinia's diary entry describing the wounded soldiers

Lavinia Talbot's diaries are part of the Lyttelton collection held here at The Hive. You can read further blog posts relating to this collection here.

For more information on events taking place across the county to mark the Somme anniversary check our Worcestershire World War 100 website. 

Further reading

By Maggie Tohill

Monday, 13 June 2016

Strong Rooms project: Inspiring new artistic developments through archives

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service is taking part in a very exciting regional project called Strong Rooms, linking archives with arts. Inspired by the name of the rooms in which archives are stored, Strong Rooms is a collaboration in which artists, youth groups and archivists work together to produce art which will be taken on tour to Rugby, Coventry, Dudley and Worcester. The name is also appropriate as a shipping container will be used as part of the final installation.

The Strong Rooms project is led by Archives West Midlands and is made up of partners from the archive services of Warwickshire County Council, Worcestershire County Council, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and Culture Coventry together with a team of artists, led by artist Mohammed Ali.

Exploring their local area through maps in the archives

Strong Rooms will inspire new artistic directions rooted in identity, sense of place and local citizenship and explore the following question. ‘Can collaboration with archives inspire new developments in the arts?’

Our aims are to:
  • engage new audiences (especially young people)
  • advocate for archive services, which are relatively unknown and used directly by a small number of people,
  • leave a strong and lasting impression in our communities of what archives are, how they are used and why they are relevant
  • create a legacy
The Strong Room installation will be used after the project for outreach and festival use.
Exploring the local area and what the archives can tell us about what they see

We have already started work in Worcester with young people, using archives with different groups as a basis to inspire them, and then guided by professional artists to help them produce art in response and learn new skills. A film will also explain what archives are and it will focus on engaging young people.

Many people don't know what archives are and how they are relevant, and even if they do know they often can be seen as something for just certain people. We aim to challenge that and show that they are full of amazing stories.
Inspired by the different letter styles on documents the children had a go at creating their own

The project is funded by Arts Council England, enabling artists to work with the young people. The insights from the artists, many of whom have never used archives, have been great in providing outside voices to bring a new perspective and see fresh connections and stories.

The art will be used in an installation around the regions, using a shipping container. It will be in Worcester from 8th to 15th August and we will be sharing details closer to the event. You can find out more about the project at

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Explore Archives - Quarter Sessions

People stealing acorns, roads needing repairs and families being removed from one parish to another are among the many stories contained within Quarter Sessions.

The Quarter Sessions were both a court and a forerunner of the county council. Middling crimes which didn't carry the death penalty were heard before it, and various county issues such as disputes between parishes, roads and permissions for new railways came before it. There are a host of stories contained within the boxes of papers, such as Thomas Hemmings who was charged with stealing 21 ducks, with his shoe print being used as evidence.

Thousands of people were involved across the county as victims, constables, witnesses, surveyors, and the accused. These records can be invaluable for family and local historians, potentially containing information about an ancestor or local community. However they are rarely used as many people either don't know about them or don't know how to access them. Our wonderful volunteers have helped index 200 years worth of records making them easier to search.

The next Explore Archives workshop will be looking at Quarter Sessions and will include lots of stories. It takes place on Wednesday, 22nd June from 2 to 4pm in The Hive. Tickets cost £6 and you can book your place online here.  

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Monthly Mystery: Droitwich Buried Room

The hammer pounded down once again bringing about a satisfying crack as more of the debris collapsed into the hole. “Stand back” someone called over the crowd, maybe with fear for their safety or just a hope for a better view. With a last final hit a large piece of the floor fell away leaving a hole big enough for two to fit through side by side. The group of men slowly crept forward, precariously testing their footing as they strained to peer in. At first the darkness in the hole defeated their purpose, but slowly the light from outside crept in casting an eerie gloom into the space, the air thick with dust. The light began to pick out the edges of a large room, rather than an endless void, a room forgotten by time and the depths of history. And as the floor of the room slowly revealed itself, fantastic colours and shapes melded together into the pattern of beautiful mosaics...

An opening page from a novel this might seem, yet this is something like what the scene must have been like when, at some time during the second half of the twentieth century, workers discovered a buried room beneath W. A. Lloyds (Alloys) factory which later became Wilco and then Baxenden Chemicals of Union Lane, Droitwich.

It had started as a routine installation of new machinery required by the factory for their production of ladders, but when workers broke the ground to install the new machinery they discovered a void which revealed itself as a room with mosaic tiled floors and painted walls. The factory was faced with a dilemma; if they shared this wonderful discovery with the town or alerted the archaeologists to its existence, it would be likely that the installation of the new machinery would be delayed which could severely impact on their ability to operate. And so with some regret the decision was taken to fill the room with sand and cap it with concrete slabs. Factory workers were sworn to secrecy and the room was lost to history....almost.

Over the years since, rumours of the secret room have slowly sifted through to the archaeologists and the Historic Environment Record, and on one recent occasion, one of those few present at the discovery broke their silence in the worry that the secret may soon be lost forever.

But what could the buried room with tiled mosaic floor actually be? The first possible answer that has been suggested is that the factory workers were lucky enough to have discovered a room dating to the Romano-British period, buried beneath the factory. If you are familiar with Droitwich’s past you will know this is not a far stretch of the imagination. The town of Droitwich first began to develop during the Iron Age period when its rich salt springs were first exploited on an industrial scale. Large clay lined tanks dating to this period have been discovered in Droitwich (WSM31603), and it is known that salt extraction went on in this manner (through the draining of Brine to produce salt crystals) at places like the Old Bowling Green, up until at least the 2nd Century CE (Woodiwiss, 1992). Evidence for Roman industrial activity continues throughout Droitwich well into the 4th Century CE and the Historic Environment Record contains numerous records for this period including roads (WSM30583), settlement (WSM45211), an inhumation cemetery north of Vines Lane (WSM38247), and the spectacular Villa complex at Bays Meadow (WSM00678).

Bays Meadow Villa lies less than 1km to the north of the buried room site on Union Lane. The villa was first discovered in 1849 and excavated in the 1920s, 50s and 60s. The complex has several buildings as well as a ditched rampart and associated field systems.  During the 2nd century BC the main buildings consisted of two winged corridor style buildings, one of which had 18 rooms, a hypocaust system, a possible bath house and evidence for a number of high status imported pieces of furniture and jewellery. One of the spectacular finds at the villa was the remains of two fine tesserea mosaics, now held by Worcester Museum and Art Gallery. One of the mosaics was discovered by Jabez Allies in 1847 during railway construction and was made of white, red and blue tesserae with a knot at its centre. The second mosaic was expected to have filled a room 3 meters by 3 meters and consisted of a sixteen-pointed star in 6 colours. (Fox, 2011) This impressive feat of craftsmanship alongside the other recorded archaeological deposits demonstrated to archaeologists that the villa at Bays Meadow was a high status Roman building; its occupants probably made wealthy by the local salt trade.  (Hurst, 2006)



(Left; Section of Bays Meadow Villa Mosaic discovered in 1920 by Hodgkinson. Photography Copyright. Worcester Museum and Art Gallery. Right: Reconstruction of the same mosaic from Hurst, 2006).

Could the workers at W. A. Lloyds (Alloys) have discovered another Roman Mosaic still intact in its original room, protected over centuries by a cap of earth?

Could we have a second villa site in Droitwich prospering from the salt trade, or another high status building or even a buried temple hidden beneath the ground like the secret temple of Mithraeum found 45 feet below the Circus Maximus in Rome? (Ruggeri, 2011)

Just the possibility of this is fascinating; however the closest excavation to the site (just to the north of Union Lane) performed in 2001 only recorded Roman pottery sherds as residual finds in later deposits so there is currently little evidence to support strong Roman activity on this site. Nevertheless this is not evidence of absence and we must not yet discount the theory.

However, a buried Roman room is not the only possibility for the site.  The 1839 Tithe Map of the Parish of St Nicholas shows that the field to the north of Union Lane was known as The Friars.

(1839 – Transcription of tithe map for the parish of St Nicholas in Droitwich by David Guyatt © D. Guyatt. Parcel 119 is named “The Friars”, Union Lane runs through the centre of the map.)

The Augustinian Priory of Droitwich  (WSM00683) was founded in 1331 by Thomas Alleyn of Wyche with a grant of three hundred square feet, followed by numerous further grants to extend this land and further develop the buildings. No extant building survives but we know that in the 1530s the Bishop of Dover visited the site and wrote to Cromwell expressing the state of the holdings suggesting they were of poor condition but listing farm and buildings, orchard, three tenements with gardens and more than 6 acres of closes and meadow currently rented out to tenant farmers. The friary building is known to have been located in what is now Vines Park.  (Willis-Bund,1971)

Could a second priory building have been located on the union lane site  containing a mosaic tile floor like that found in a number of Augustinian Priory’s across the country (for example Norton Priory in Cheshire; Greene, 1989)?

Again we are faced with little archaeological evidence to support the possibility. To the north of Union Lane the same excavation performed in 2001 discovered fishponds that were thought to belong to the priory but we have little else to go on and documentary evidence is not known to mention any established priory buildings on the site.

So where does that leave us? The 1839 Tithe Map for the parish also shows us a large building on the site of the modern day chemical works; the Droitwich Workhouse (WSM10573). In 1836 an elected Board of Guardians formed the Droitwich Poor Union and created a working party whose ultimate goal was reached by the building of a new Workhouse on the road which became Union Lane. In was built by 1838 costing £4,000 and constructed to the design of the Workhouse architect Sampson Kempthorne. (Higginbotham, 2016)

Kempthorne’s “300 Pauper Model” which was simplified for rural areas. (Great Britain. Poor Law Commissioners, 1835)

The “200 Pauper Model” was a cut down version of Kempthorne’s large Square model used in urban areas with high numbers of poor, in rural Droitwich this consisted of a cruciform shape with the masters room and kitchens at it’s centre, flanked to the east and west by gender separated accommodation wings, a dining hall to the south wing and entrance block to the north with porters room and guardians board room. Work and utility blocks made up the sides of the square. An infirmary was added to the east, a vagrant’s ward positioned to the west at a later date, and a chapel was installed on the end of the south-east wing. (Higginbotham, 2016) (Droitwich DC, 1935-36).

Few photographs of the Droitwich Workhouse remain but Martley (above) was also built to the same 200 plan model and gives an idea of what it looked like. (Martley CC, Unknown Date).

But did it have a basement? Unfortunately we do not have any detailed plan of the workhouse to tell us this. A plan accompanying sales documents from the 1930s available in the archives shows the extent of the building but provides no evidence for underground rooms (Droitwich DC, 1935-36). The 200 pauper model gives us a good idea about how the structure would have been built, but variations can be found throughout even the Workhouses built to the same plan in Worcestershire (Upton, Pershore, Martley). However, other plans produced by Kempthorne like the 300 pauper model are found to contain a basement store, usually below the Kitchen, suggesting such a room may have been built within the Droitwich workhouse. And when we overlay a map produced in the 1990s by Baxenden Chemicals on the supposed location of the buried room, onto the 2nd edition OS map dated to 1903, we can see that the buried room would have been located underneath the eastern buildings of the workhouse, just north of the chapel.

Approx site of buried room on 2nd Edition OS Map. Landmark digital mapping based on Ordnance Survey  2nd Edition, 1903 (Landmark reference number 39so8963. Original scale:25" (1:2500)) © Crown copyright and database rights Ordnance Survey 100024230.

Could the secret room have been a basement in the Victorian workhouse or even a buried part of the chapel?
Would such a room in a workhouse have contained a mosaic floor?

By the 1860s geometric and patterned tile floors were becoming popular in public buildings and churches and by 1890 they were present in most terrace houses (Thompson, 2004).  It is unlikely that the workhouse would have been built with tile flooring but as buildings like the chapel were added at later date a patterned tile floor may have been introduced and was certainly present in other workhouse buildings across the country. Further pursuance of the documentary evidence held within our original archive material may help to establish this fact, but this is probably the best evidence currently available for an actual structure on the site of the discovered buried room.

Overall, the evidence points strongly to the possibility that what was discovered on that momentous day was a well preserved basement belonging to the Workhouse with decorative tiled floor. But we cannot discount the Roman room theory, and if it is Roman that would be a fantastic discovery for Droitwich, the County and even the Country as intact tile mosaics from that period are rare. Of course, we may be discounting a whole host of other origins for the buried room and one way to discount the workhouse theory would be a full and proper investigation of the ledgers and minute books written by the Droitwich Board of Guardians during the time they caused the workhouse to be built. These documents are held by Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service and such an investigation may be the topic of a future blog post.

But the story might not end there. In 2013 Baxenden Chemicals announced the closure of its Union Lane plant and as of 2015 the whole site has been demolished down to slab level to prepare for future redevelopment.

Baxenden Chemical Works mid-demolition  (Copyright Chris Whippet 2015)

Currently the secret room, as far as we are aware, continues to survive packed full of sand below the concrete cap placed to protect it by the workers at the alloy factory. If any future redevelopment poses a threat to this buried archaeology it will finally be brought into the light of day through excavation. But if it isn’t threatened it will go on keeping its secrets for future generations, the story of the secret buried villa fading with time to become a myth only whispered about in the back of The Old Cock Inn ....and personally I think that will be just as interesting.

By Andie Webley, 
Historic Environment Record Assistant

Note: The WSM numbers contained within this blog refer to records within the Worcestershire Historic Environment Record, if you would like to know more about these or any of the records we hold you can visit us at The Hive weekdays 1pm to 4pm.


Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The 1926 General Strike evidenced through archives

List of important locations in Worcester and how many people to protect them

It is 90 years since Britain's only General Strike, an event referred to in a number of archive collections held here at Worcestershire Archive Service and in the local newspapers. The strike began with the coal miners before spreading to other sectors, but only lasted nine days.

Within the West Mercia Police archive (BA13870), currently being catalogued as part of the National Cataloguing Grants programme, there are two boxes relating the General Strike, full of memos and reports. It is obvious that preparations were made well in advance since a year earlier there are memos from the Home Office asking for key locations to be identified with how many men it would take to defend them, and working out where soldiers could be billeted. Worcestershire Constabulary provided the relevant answers so we know they had already started planning.

For the strike itself there are folders of daily reports from different areas. Most of these say it was quiet in their area with nothing of note, although that may be what they wanted to report. An exception was Oldbury and the coal seams where there were more problems. It is recorded that extra officers had to be drafted in to enable the few workers to get in, and to handle the Staffordshire miners who had come to picket. At Oldbury a barge had been sunk on the canal to block it, and police had to provide assistance whilst it was raised. A barge was also sunk on the canal in Worcester.

Daily report from each Police division

Police report on situation at Homer Hill Colliery, Stourbridge

Report on the raising of a sunk barge

It all reads as if it was mostly amicable. At Shrub Hill it was quiet with only the occasional train. There were few issues, and the workers even asked if it was ok to have a meeting. The Police report says that when they were advised it might not be a good idea the railwaymen accepted this and decided not to have the public meeting.

An interesting note was that the Worcestershire Association of Boy Scouts had volunteered their services to help, and had instructed Scoutmasters to contact their local police station. They also said they'd supply the police with names and details of boys who were reliable. The police memo noted that if there was serious trouble the Scouts could be of great value!
Another archive mentioning the strike is the Amalgamated Engineering Union's local branch archives (BA9644/4). In their minute book for May 1916 they resolved that those still working pay 2/6d towards strike fund. Future meetings discuss arrangements for collecting so it may be they were having problems with people paying up.  They discussed a GWR foreman who reported doing work other than his own, against instructions, and 'assisting black legs'. This was passed higher up so we don't know what the outcome of this was. After the strike ended they were helping Heenan and Froude employees who'd been on strike and were now let go by the company, with the reason given shortage of work. However the Employment Exchange were refusing to pay up as they said it was strike related so the union stepped in to support them.

Minute Book of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, Worcester Branch, reporting on the levy for the strike fund

The Local Labour Club (BA12395/1) only briefly mentions the strike, within a resolution saying that they wouldn't be charging for the period of the strike, presumably reflecting the fact that many members wouldn't have been paid for that period.

Worcester Labour Club's resolution over rents during the strike week

Local Government was heavily involved in local planning and arrangements, checking what was happening locally and moving to action to ensure food and coal were distributed. Both Kidderminster & Redditch Urban District Councils archives contain memos on what was happening locally, and listing people who could help with distributions. They also include memos and instructions sent from the Home Office.

Map issued by the Home Office indicating the key distribution routes for in case of strike

Unsurprisingly local newspapers reported on the strike. They themselves were affected as they could print fewer pages. They reported what was happening locally, which wasn't much. They said 600 people came forward to volunteer to drive lorries and assist in other ways to keep people and good moving. Local people were informed of arrangements to preserve stocks, with coal purchases restricted and illuminated displays banned.

Report in Worcester Herald 8 May 1926

After nine days the TUC called off the strike, although the miners continued for several months. The Unions campaign then concentrated on the political process.

Please note that the West Mercia Police archive is still in the process of being catalogued and has limited availability. You can find out more about the project to catalogue and conserve these records here, here, and here. If you wish to view any of the records please contact us