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Archives 75 – Worcestershire’s First County Archivist

  • 6th April 2022

Worcestershire Record Office 75th Anniversary Logo

2022 sees the 75th anniversary of the creation of Worcestershire Record Office, which merged with Archaeology in 2012 and is part of Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service. Three years ago we ran a series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the appointment of the first County Archaeologist and we thought we’d do something similar for the archives over the coming weeks.

 

Harry Sargeant looking at a book in a searchroom

Harry Sargeant in Muniment Room at Shire Hall, looking at early County Council minutes. 1963

E.H.Sargeant FLA was appointed as Worcestershire’s first County Archivist in 1947. Previously he had worked at Birmingham Reference Library but in Worcestershire he developed and moulded the County’s archives leaving a legacy that we still work with today. In 1950 he gave this talk outlining the Record Office’s early days:

 

Picture of Alderman Palfrey

Alderman Palfrey, key instigator of Worcestershire Record Office, and keen collector of books on Worcestershire’s history

“In 1946, on the motion of one of our members, Alderman H E Palfrey JP FSA, the Worcestershire County Council decided to appoint an archivist.

The records of the Clerk of the Peace, the Quarter Sessions, had been stored in a cupboard in the Shirehall since 1837. The Local Government Act 1888 laid down that the County Council was to provide storage for the Quarter Sessions records, and the County Council decided to make a list of them. The work of listing was so great that it was postponed, while the provision of a strong room was not made until 1898. In the meantime, a Records Committee had been formed in 1891, the leading member of which was Mr J W Willis Bund.

Through the efforts of Mr Bund Worcestershire can claim to be one of the first counties to make its records accessible. In 1926 the Master of the Rolls issued the Manorial Documents Rules, and throughout the country established a series of ‘Approved Repositories’. The Shirehall became the approved repository and an additional strongroom was provided.

I started work at the Shirehall on the 1st April 1947, and since then have been working to a programme which I drew up tentatively in February 1947. After three years I have not deviated from it.

Brian Smith searching through a large pile of packages

Brian Smith, Assistant County Archivist, with records which had been transferred from the Diocesan Registry at St Michael’s, 1956. As the Diocesan Record Office the records of the Diocese then came to us. St Michael’s was demolished a few years later.

The first phase – the Inventory of the contents of the muniment rooms – is now finished, and the bulk of its contents now known and can be easily found.

The approximate number of documents examined in bulk is 450,000, which represents the extent of three muniment rooms on the 31st March 1951. The inventory is being added to all the time since new accessions have to be dealt with when they arrive.

Only the final arrangement of the archives on the shelves remains.

Detailed cataloguing is now in progress, and the first collection selected for treatment is the Berington Collection of family archives dating from 1289. This is one of the most valuable collections in the Record Office, and consists of some 10,000 items: work on these will occupy staff for some years.”

Group Picture of the record office staff

Record Office staff

Seventy-five years on and staff are still cataloguing that collection! – No, sorry, that’s a joke! But staff are still cataloguing collections – we get over 100 new deposits of records every year – and making them available for research in the public searchroom, now based in The Hive.

 

 Dr. Adrian Gregson, County and Diocesan Archivist

 

We will continue the story of Worcestershire Record Office over the coming weeks, hearing from previous County Archivists (or equivalents), and looking at key moments and some of the star items in the collections. You can also reread the articles from our Archaeology 50 series.

Picture of Shire Hall

Shire Hall, our first home

Picture of Harry Sargeant at a desk

E.H.Sargeant Worcestershire’s first County Archivist

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