Friday, 29 August 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~40~ A Court Roll from the Reign of Richard III

22 August 2014 is the 529th anniversary of the Battle Bosworth, where Richard III was killed.  It is also two years on from the discovery in Leicester of the remains later identified as those of the king, so we have decided to explore our collections to see what they could tell us about Worcestershire's experience during Richard III's reign.  Although the Archive Service holds nothing directly related to the king, we do have plenty of documents providing a glimpse into ordinary life in the late 15th century.

One example is a manor court roll from Kempsey, near Worcester, dating from 20th May, 1485, just a few months before Richard's death at Bosworth Field.

This is a typical medieval court roll, illustrating how the court could regulate life on the manor.  Courts Baron were held every three weeks, and dealt with land transactions, enforcement of the customs or rules which governed the manor, and disputes between tenants.  The functions of this court were combined with another type of court, the Court Leet or View of Frankpledge.  This was associated with a policing system in which groups of local men were responsible for overseeing the behaviour of group members and reporting infractions to the court.  This court also dealt with petty crime and those who fell foul of the regulations governing the price and quality of bread and ale. 

Below are a few examples of the proceedings of this court.

The roll tells us that a Thomas Forster took two 'wegges' (wedges or pegs) of iron from Thomas Herdman, and that Joan Forster took some rye and malt from the house of Thomas Pendesham.

Thomas Salter and Thomas Lee assaulted one another, and both were fined by the court.

We also hear that a Thomas Peres had recently died, and Joan his widow, after paying a heriot (tax payable to the lord of the manor on the death of a tenant), and paying fealty (swearing an oath of allegiance to the lord), was able to claim the property for the remainder of her life.  Interestingly, by the time of the court held on 13th July, Joan had found a new husband, one Richard Thomas, who paid ten shillings for a license to marry her—and share property she had recently claimed.

There seems to be little direct indication here of national conflict, discontent with Richard's rule or the encroaching threat of Henry Tudor, but manorial documents provide a wealth of information about the lives and deaths of people in Worcestershire.

Other sources for the history of late 15th-century Worcestershire held here include title deeds recording the transfer of land, bishop's registers and wills.

This document can be viewed in the Original Archive Area at The Hive by using reference b705:4/BA54B.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Summer Reading Challenge

Mythical creatures may not be the first things that come to mind when you think about historical archives or archaeology, but finding some in our collections was our challenge for this year's Summer Reading Challenge – Mythical Maze. In the end it wasn't too difficult, as well as the griffin on the medieval tile found during excavations at the Commandary a few years ago, we found several documents including one dating from the reign of Edward V1 which included a dragon. We also found unicorns on the embroidered purse which belonged to the parish of Salwarpe. This ornate late 13th or early 14th century bag is one of the more unusual items to be found in the Archives.


After showing children the artefacts and documents and telling them a little bit about what we do in the Archive and Archaeology Service we gave children the opportunity to create their own tiles depicting mythical beasts. Choices included mermaids, dragons, griffins, a centaur and the Loch Ness Monster. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~39~ Calendars of Prisoners

This week's Treasure has been chosen by Teresa Jones, Senior Archive Assistant, who has selected records providing an insight into crime and punishment in Worcester. Here, Teresa tells us more:

If you are researching someone who was tried for a crime at Worcester you may find further information in the Calendar of Prisoners.

Calendars of prisoners give details of those who were held at Worcester Gaol and include information such as the date of the trial, age, details of the charge, sentence and which parish the person was from. An index to our calendars of prisoners from 1839-1849 can be found with our online indexes and databases on ourwebsite.

This invaluable work has been compiled by one of our volunteers who is currently working on indexing the calendars from the 1850s and 1860s.

Calendar of Prisoners from 1864

This page includes the entry for Margaret Brown of Redditch, sentenced to seven years penal servitude for larceny at the sessions on 17/10/1864.

With the information contained in the calendar, it is possible to search local newspapers to see if there is any account of a trial.

Other sources can also be explored online. The Hive, along with all libraries in Worcestershire has a subscription to the website This website has a large amount of databases including parole records of women from 1853-1871, 1883-1887 and a criminal registers database from 1791-1892 Other subscription websites may also have further sources that may be of interest.

Margaret Brown (who had an alias of Shaw) was released on licence in 1869, after serving her time at Worcester, Millbank, Parkurst and Brixton. She is described as being 4'9" with grey hair and blue eyes. She states that her husband 'John Shaw' was serving four years penal servitude at the time. Previous to this conviction she had three summary convictions and three acquittals, including four years penal servitude in 1856 after a trial in Salop.

This item can be found at Ref: b117, BA 772, Parcel 5, (the entry for Margaret Brown can be found on page 97).

You will need to view the calendar of prisoners in our Original Archive Area during staffed hours. Please see our website for our opening times.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~38~ Music fragment on a manorial court roll

This week Bethany Hamblen, Archivist, shares a document encountered during the course of the Manorial Documents Register project she is currently working on. A seemingly ordinary court roll becomes a Treasure thanks to an unusual addition on the reverse. Here, Bethany tells us more:  

This fragment of a musical score was found on the dorse (back) of a court roll dating to 3rd July 1420, during the reign of Henry V.  The court was held for the manor of Kempsey, just to the south of Worcester.  The manor was part of the extensive estates of the Bishops of Worcester, who had a palace there.  The bishop at the time was Philip Morgan, but he was in France accompanying the king on his military campaigns, in a diplomatic capacity.  In fact, that very summer he was involved in negotiations for the release of Arthur, Duke of Brittany, who had been captured at Agincourt.

The contents of the court roll itself are pretty typical.  For example, after the death of a tenant, Nicholas Rok, his brother Robert was admitted into a customary landholding after handing over the heriot or best beast to the lord of the manor, paying an entry fine and performing fealty.  Some inhabitants were involved in pleas, or private litigation, against each other, such as Geoffrey Carpenter, who paid a fine for a license to agree outside of court with John Hurst in a plea of detinue (unlawful detention of goods).  Several people were amerced, or fined for infractions, such as failing to repair ruinous buildings, and others had their goods distrained, or confiscated until they appeared at the next court. 

Amongst those who had been distrained was the chaplain of the chantry at Kempsey.  The chantry, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, had been founded nearly a century earlier, in 1316, so perhaps the music was sung there.      

The score is written in black mensural notation.  The text consists of 'alleluya….yma summis', which means something like, 'alleluia…the lowest with the highest'.  This is a fragment of liturgical choral music known as a motet and would have been sung in four parts.  This type of chant may be referred to simply as an 'Alleluia', and may have been sung in honour of the Virgin Mary, possibly as part of the Marian antiphon Alleluia Virga Jesse.

This document can be viewed in the Original Archive area at The Hive by using reference b705:4/BA 54A.       

If you are interested, you can read more about Kempsey's history and recent archaeological investigations.    

Thanks are due to Sue Pope of Museums Worcestershire, and to David Jarratt-Knock for sharing his knowledge of medieval music and for pointing me in the direction of the existing entry for this document in the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music, which provides further information and a bibliography.        

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Celebrating 10 years of Who Do You Think You Are?

Can it really be 10 years since Who Do You Think You Are? hit the screens? Family history has been popular for many years, and TV has tried to use this to create a popular programme for a while, but previous efforts had failed. Partly it is because family history is usually very personal. We get excited because it is our great-grandfather, or because it about somewhere we know, and it is all about that personal connection and helping us to make sense of who we are. Also, there is a lot of searching and looking which doesn't make great TV!

Who do you think you are?, according to the makers, is actually a social history programme, which happens to use celebrities and their family histories to tell those stories. So their focus is on the stories, and they try to get a cross sections of subjects, occupations and locations for each series, and try to repeat specific subjects.

What has been its impact? The name is something that everyone recognises, and many people have seen it. Whenever we talk about family history many people say they have seen it, which can be useful. When we give talks and workshops we sometimes use TV examples, which people sometimes remember, which is handy. Although it is very popular and people have seen it, very few people have ever come in and said they were inspired by the programme though, or directly refer to it. We did notice a slight upsurge in new people coinciding with the first few series, and also people restarting their research after a pause, so we think they were prompted by it. Sometimes we worry that people will come the next day and ask for specific obscure records after they were seen on TV, but that has rarely happens. Many of our staff do their own family history so we regularly watch, although we can get frustrated when they make out how easy it is to find the information out!

The very first episode was about Bill Oddie, and we were involved in the research for it. His mother had been in Barnsley Hall Asylum in the 1950s/60s, and some of those records are held here. After getting permission from the NHS to look for her records we found out that hers hadn't survived. We did a lot of liaising with the TV company and provided quite a bit of background information, but this was reduced to a brief shot of a letter and took a few seconds. It was a little disappointing watching it after the initial excitement, but it was a  very interesting experience though. We have been approached a couple of other times for initial enquires about records, but they have never progressed further. One was a will for someone called Wateley, presumably an ancestor of Kevin Whateley, but they never came back so must have decided not to follow up that line.

The first couple of series were accompanied by events supported by the BBC, and we worked with BBC Hereford & Worcester on these. Our first one was in Kidderminster, and for the second we arranged a family history fair in Evesham, attended by almost 600 people, as well as attending an event over the border in Hereford. The BBC provided goodie bags and posters for these. We also helped BBCH&W presenter Katie Johnson delve into her past and went on air to do a family history phone in which was a little scary but in the end great fund. By series three they had moved on to other things so no further events were held.

The 100th episode will be aired in this series. It still seems to be going strong so maybe there will be another Worcestershire person to research and they'll revisit us.