Will With Pins

  • 11th December 2018

Our collection of over 1000 boxes of Wills, Inventories, letters of Administration and other papers relating to probates granted in the Consistory Court of the Bishop of Worcester and the Worcester Probate Registry provide a fascinating insight into the lives of Worcestershire residents.

Dating from 1493 to 1857, the collection was deposited at the Worcester Record Office in 1958, but not before some of the items had suffered from prolonged poor storage. Many of the documents have suffered from water staining and creasing, and many have evidence of insect and/or rodent damage. This leaves the documents susceptible to further damage when handling and makes them difficult to read. Attempts to remove creases during use by researchers may result in further loss and damage to the documents and prolonged damp damage has left many items in a powdery/flakey condition, likely to fall apart no matter how carefully they are handled.

Some conservation work has previously been carried out on the earlier items dating from 1493-1611, but not since 1998 at the latest, leaving at least 116 boxes marked as ‘Fragile’ dating from 1611 to 1676 and as such, unable to be consulted by researchers.


Thanks to the generosity of a private donor and the Friends of Worcestershire Archives, a pilot project to conserve 10 boxes is being carried out in order to assess time and cost implications for extending the project to the entire collection. In addition, three boxes have been digitised to identify any issues that may arise in a larger project.


To date, I have cleaned and repaired 5 boxes following on directly from the point where previous conservation work had concluded and have so far treated more than 650 documents. Digitisation has been carried out on three boxes dating from 1565, 1682 and 1735 and has generated 770 archival-quality images.


I recently came across an interesting parchment document dating from 1612. The main parchment ‘sheet’ had a hole in it, which is not uncommon for parchment – often a skin had a scar or small tear in it but would still be used to produce a sheet of parchment.  Text would be written around the hole, indicating that the hole was present when the document was prepared.  In the document I recently found, a small extra piece of parchment had been pinned behind the hole, allowing the text to continue in lines as if the hole was not there.

008:7 BA3585/161(105) Parchment document prior to treatment

Although we will never know for sure, I suspect this additional piece was written at the same time as the main document, as the text is written to match the shape of the hole in the main sheet. Why the scribe chose to add a ‘patch’ rather than just ignoring the hole as other scribes usually did may remain a mystery but it does add even more interest to the collection.  And in case you’re wondering, this time around I will keep the pins that were used to attach the patch!

008:7 BA3585/161(105) Parchment ‘patch’ with text shaped to match hole in main parchment sheet

Work is continuing on the initial 10 box pilot project and in addition a funding bid is being prepared with the aim of extending Conservation work to ensure the entire collection becomes accessible for many years to come.

008:7 BA3585/161(105) Parchment ‘patch’ showing shaping of text

Rhonda Niven, Conservator. If you would like to discuss using our Conservation Service you can get in touch via our website.

One response to “Will With Pins”

  1. Roger Leake says:

    A lot of hard work, Rhonda and digitisation team!
    Very interesting about the patch.
    I hope that your funding bid is successful for such important conservation work. Wills can be so useful in research.

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