Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Upcoming Exploring Archives workshops – Duck thieves and naughty pupils

Duck thieves, secreted needles, stressed teachers and missing pupils are among the stories we'll be bringing to light in the next two workshops in our Exploring Archives series on Quarter Sessions and School Records.

Quarter Sessions - Wed 14th May 10am-12pm
Quarter Sessions were a court and a forerunner of the County Council. As a court is stood between the Petty sessions, for the minor crimes, and the Assizes, for the most serious. They also dealt with all sorts of other matters, including removal orders, road maintenance, application to build railways and the running of the county. A wealth of stories are contained here, including Thomas Hemmings, duck thief, and two ladies convicted for stealing acorns. Despite their value and containing thousands of names, they are an underused resource, so we'll be explaining how to use the indexes and make the most of these in your research as well as uncovering some fascinating stories.

School Records – Wed 18th June 10am-12pm
Schools have kept a wide range of records over the years to assist them in their running, and many people come to us to have a look for family history, investigating the history of their town/village or to help with other research. In this workshop we'll explain the main types of sources, including logbooks, punishments books, photos, newspapers, plans and correspondence, and how to locate them.

Places cost £6 each, and to book your please ring us on 01905 766352, email explorethepast@worcestershire.gov.uk or call in at the Explore the Past desk on level 2.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~20~ Conservation of Croome accounting records

This week's Treasure is brought to you by Rhonda Niven, Conservator. Rhonda has chosen a selection of account and rent books from the Croome collection, the archives of the Earls of Coventry. These records were previously unavailable to the public owing to their very poor physical state but thanks to the work of Rhonda, made possible through the grant awarded by the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, they are now available once again. Here, Rhonda tells us more:

As the Book and Paper Conservator for the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, I occasionally have the privilege of being able to see, and every now and then carefully handle, treasures within the archive that are too fragile or in such poor condition that general handling by searchers or staff would result in further damage, and potential loss to the item.  

Within in this category fall a number of the account and rent books relating to the history of Croome Court.  These paper-based records date from 1719 to 1915 and detail the general and household accounts, and allotment rental accounts, providing an insight into the running of the estate detailing costs and names of local suppliers and tenants.

Before conservation treatment
Many of the items have suffered from inappropriate storage conditions throughout their history, resulting at best in a layer of surface dirt, at worst, damp damage and subsequent mould damage on papers and bindings.  Although the items are now dry and the mould is no longer active, it has left the paper very soft and powdery.  A number of bindings have broken down, with broken sewing and spine folds, combined with disintegrating paper to such an extent that any handling, however careful, causes the items to crumble and suffer further damage.
In keeping with the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service's commitment to ensure the proper management of Worcestershire's heritage for current and future generations, a grant application was made to, and gratefully received from, the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, with the title of 'Accounting for Croome'.   
After conservation treatment

As a result of this grant, I have begun working on the General Estate Accounts, which will soon be available for public consultation.  Treatment involves immersing the documents in water to wash away dirt and impurities.  Tears and areas of loss are repaired using fine Japanese tissue attached with wheat starch paste, before the documents are sewn into covers of acid-free card. This leaves the documents in a more robust condition, able to withstand future handling.  For those that are particularly damaged and crumbly, I have attached fine tissue to both sides of the document, which means the documents can now be read and handled safely. 

Detail of text following conservation treatment
The future longevity of the documents is enhanced by the fact they were initially made from high quality handmade paper.  This paper responds well to washing and repair and now that they are stored in stable environmental conditions, they will go on to tell the story of Croome Court for many years to come.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Opening a sealed WWI letter for the first time

Working with the county's archives we are used to reading and handling fascinating and unique documents, but we still get a thrill from something a little unusual with a story behind it. One such moment was a couple of weeks ago, when we opened an envelope which had been sealed for almost 100 years, when a letter was popped inside and it was posted out to a soldier serving in Egypt. The chance to open a sealed envelope this old is not something that comes along very often.

The archives contain a number of amazing collections of letters from soldiers from WWI, and with the centenary of the outbreak approaching and interest rising we have had a number of volunteers going through these letters to summarise them to help individuals, academics, local groups and other interested people know the type of things the letters contains so they can be used for exhibitions, education packs or books. One such collection is the Preece collection, containing hundreds of letters sent to Mrs Preece. Most are from her son, Jack, who joined up in September 1914 and the letters tell the story from his training in Norfolk, before travelling to Alexandria and then to the front line and back. Details of the front are given, as well as the times when they are resting and he talks about their food, health and soldiers being stung by Scorpions. Other family friends letters are also included.

In amongst the letters was an envelope which hadn't been opened.  It was the only letter we had which was sent by Mrs Preece, and from the information the letter was sent out to Hal King, in Egypt, and was sent back to her. A few of Hal's letters have survived, and we knew he referred to her as 'my other mother', due to the close nature of their families. With the help of Rhonda, our conservator, we unstuck the envelope and took the letter out to read it for the first time since it was written in 1915.
It was quite a moving moment, and the honour of opening the envelope fell to Julie, the volunteer who has been going through the Preece letters. Through the last few months she says she's felt she has got to know him through his writings, and by extension his mother and Hal. Other people who had only been following the tale from a distance also felt moved, and it gave a real connection to people from a time gone by. It was indeed a letter from Mrs Preece to Hal, telling him she had been given a vase as a birthday present by Hal's mother, informing him of a number of events here at home, before wishing him a happy birthday for later that month. Unfortunately he never received it, and when we checked the dates it would have arrived after he had died. Jack's letters imply he died of illness, although on the envelope is says he was killed in action, so we are unsure which is right.

The information may have been ordinary, but they are an example of millions of letters which were sent during the war, giving brief insights in people's live in Britain or abroad and would no doubt have brought much comfort.

The Preece letters are just one example of the collections we have. Other collections include the Sladden letters, sent by three brothers to their parents, including Cyril who fought at Gallipoli and in the Middle East; Captain Philip Leicester, son of a Mayor of Worcester; a Major General; and a Gunner in the Royal Artillery.  We hope to be able to use these stories over the next few years as part of the Worcestershire World War One Hundred project, as they tell some fascinating stories, humorous and tragic, exceptional and ordinary, which bring to life what life was like for those Worcestershire men who joined up and fought in the war. More details about the HLF project can be found here www.ww1worcestershire.co.uk.

Finally, a big thank you to our volunteers who have been coming in to go through the letters and summarise them, without whom we would not have been able to do this.

You can read a BBC article about the postal service in WWI here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25934407

Friday, 4 April 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~19~ The lives, loves and travels of the Moules of Sneads Green

This week's Treasure has been chosen by Margaret Tohill, Archivist. Here she tells us more about what stories can be gleaned from the family papers of the Moules of Sneads Green:

The papers of the Moule family of Sneads Green contain a mix of property deeds, financial records and personal letters and photographs covering a 350 year period and are quite typical of a small family collection.  What I particularly love about the collection is the tantalising glimpses the documents give you into the lives of the family, but you never quite get the whole story.

A curious marriage proposal

One of the first documents in the collection I catalogued was a letter from an unidentified young man from London to Francis Moule dated 12 July 1820, which seems to have been written in response to the man's desire to marry one of Francis's daughters. Francis initially expresses his surprise, but then almost reproaches the man with the phrase 'how could you be so infatuated as to form an attachment so hasty, so uncongenial, so imprudent and even preposterous'  and states that the man has not had enough time to get to know her.

  Francis Moule letter 1820 p1

Reasonable enough but, when you turn the page you cannot help but raise an eyebrow at Francis declaring that his daughter 'must be very unfit for the companion of an enlightened citizen of London, being totally unaccomplished, her education slender and even illiterate'.  He also raises her limited financial prospects and hopes that the young man is not trifling with his daughter's affections.  One's eye cannot help but be drawn to the line 'for God's sake reflect candidly and deliberately upon the subject'. 

Francis Moule letter 1820 p2

Francis does end his letter that if the incongruities can be sorted out and his daughter is in favour he would then favour the match.  It is unclear which of Francis Moule's four daughters was the subject of the letter and who the man was.  Frustratingly there are no other documents in the collection relating to the matter.  Of the daughters only one, Mary, married and she did marry a man from London. 

A London wedding

Francis Moule's granddaughter Caroline was born and seems to have lived much of her youth in London, as Francis's son John Watkins Moule traded as a silk draper in London and then retired to Kent.  Caroline met and married a chemist from London called Frederick Stocks in the summer of 1874.  There are several letters from Frederick's friends and family offering congratulations and some accounts which may relate to purchases for the wedding or their home.

Accounts of glassware, drink and drapery brought 1874

Visit to Italy

In late 1893 Frederick travelled to Paris, Genoa and Italy.  It's unclear why he went, maybe it was on business, but he sent letters and sketches back to his wife and children describing the experience, including a visit to Pompeii.  As he walked around 'the City of the Dead', he almost expected the fountains to flow again with water and the town to spring back into life at any moment.  He also visited a dig in progress and mused that as only half the city was uncovered, it would take them 60 years to complete the work.

Visit to Pompeii and surrounding area 1893


Frederick mentions taking photos, but they do not appear in the collection, so if they survived, they were perhaps inherited by another branch of the family.

Visit to South Africa and the outbreak of the First World War

Frederick and Caroline's daughter Loll (Laura Ellen) seemed to also be bitten by the travel bug.  1914 sees her writing back home to her mother (her father had died in 1909) while on board the SS Umzumbi and then from South Africa and Natal.  The letters give no immediate clue as to why she decided to go to South Africa and there is no immediately discoverable family connection.  The letters include accounts of a fancy dress party on board the boat and visits to various sights of interest, battlefields and cemeteries associated with recent wars, the grave of Cecil Rhodes and one of the things she was most looking forward to – a visit to the Victoria Falls.  There are also descriptions a plenty of the various people she stays with and meets along the way.  She asks her mother to keep her letters so that she may read them herself upon her return.   The whole series do seem to have survived, so it is possible to follow Loll's adventures and see the Africa of 1914 through her eyes.  

Description of the fancy dress party on board the SS Umzumbi


Loll's final letters make reference to the 'European War' which has broken out while she was away in Africa and her anxiety and desire to get home as soon as she can comes out clearly in the letters.  She says that everyone is speaking of little else, the newspapers are bringing out 'specials'.  The South African troops are 'all on the qui vive' and there are lots of 'khaki clad men about'.  She finally arrives back in England in October 1914 on The Saxon.  Interestingly enough she seems to have returned to South Africa again at some point as the Ancestry database has a record of her returning to England  just ahead of the outbreak of the Second World War, but there are no records in the collection about that trip.

One of Loll's letters about the outbreak of the First World War 4 August 1914


These are just a few of the many fascinating papers the Moule family of Sneads Green have left behind to provide a window on their lives and times, their thoughts and opinions.  Other sources which were not available when I catalogued the collection twenty years ago, such as genealogical information from Ancestry, now provide the collection with much more of a framework to set the records in context.  I still see something new each time I revisit the collection and maybe as more and more collections appear on line, somewhere out there in another record office there may be other papers of the Moule family, just waiting to be discovered to complement our collection.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~18~ Salwarpe Purse

This week's Treasure is an embroidered purse chosen by Julia Pincott, Archives Assistant. Here Julia explains more about this unusual item, which has been found amongst one of the parish collections held within the Archive Service at The Hive:

One of the more unusual items to be found in the Worcestershire Archives is a highly ornate late 13th or early 14th century embroidered purse belonging to the parish of Salwarpe, Worcestershire.

It is a rare example of 'Opus Anglicanum' (English Work), the name given to the highly skilled and ornate embroidery produced in England in the Middle Ages. Workshops of highly skilled embroiderers, based predominantly in London, would undertake commissions for the Church, wealthy individuals and royalty throughout Europe. The work mainly consisted of silk, gold or silver-gilt threads worked in couching (laying the thread onto the fabric and attaching it with small over-stitches) and split stitches (the thread is brought back through the previous stitch to split it). It was worked on linen or velvet and occasionally included precious stones and pearls

When the Salwarpe Purse was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1963 the catalogue described it as, 'embroidered in silver gilt thread and coloured silks, with a lion, dogs, unicorns and foliage with a lattice formed of eight point stars and crosses'.

Unicorns and lions frequently feature in medieval religious art as they were seen as symbols for both Christ and the Virgin Mary.

It is believed that the bag was constructed from an earlier piece of work. According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, it was embroidered in the late 13th or early 14th century and was made up into a bag in the 14th or 15th century.

Before it came to the Worcestershire Archives, the purse had been used to store one of the parish of Salwarpe's most treasured documents. In his book, 'Salwarpe', published in 1918, the then Rector of the parish, Rev. Edmund Sinker, describes the contents of the Parish Chest (an oak chest,  more than eight feet long and with three iron locks used to store the important papers and valuable items of the parish). He notes that, 'the most interesting of the papers is the order signed by Charles II, it is kept in a separate bag of tapestry, with lions and unicorns worked in...'

The order he refers to was sent by the King on 24th August 1651, requiring that thirty able men of the parish be sent to work on the fortifications of the City in preparation for the Battle of Worcester. This is also part of the Salwarpe parish collection kept at Worcestershire Archives.

Nearly all the surviving pieces of Opus Anglicanum were commissioned by or donated to the Church, however, very few examples have survived due to the numbers that were destroyed post-Reformation, when it no longer appealed to the more sober tastes of the new church. Many were also destroyed in order to extract the precious metals contained in the thread.

This item can be viewed in the Original Archive Area at The Hive at reference 850 Salwarpe BA8650/18.

Useful links:

The Evelyn Thomas Database of Medieval English Embroidery

 Victoria and Albert Museum: