Special Edition 11 June 2020 Staffordshire Archives & Heritage Update

Staffordshire Archives and Heritage

Welcome to this special edition of the Staffordshire Archives and Heritage newsletter.

This week we want to focus on the great work that our volunteers are doing.


Volunteering During Lockdown

It has been a while since we saw all the volunteers that work with us and support us on so many different projects. But we are trying hard to stay in touch and we currently have well over 40 volunteers still helping us each week on our various projects.

This week we want to bring as many of our volunteers and projects together through the newsletter and to share what they are doing and their experiences of working with the Archives and Heritage Service remotely during the lockdown. 

It is fair to say that some have had more to contend with personally than others. After a very tough 2 months for one of our volunteers contacted us to say "I have started to do a bit of inputting in the last few days, it is a welcome release to do something 'normal' again!!"

Bawdy Courts

Bawdy Court Volunteer Karen

Bawdy Courts Volunteer - Karen

Following the suspension of volunteer activities, we had to explore new ways in which the Tuesday Group Faculty Project could be continued during lockdown. We rethought the project completely and decided that Covid-19 had presented an opportunity to convert the old typed faculty index to digital format. This would put useful information into the catalogue and extend access to remote users via Gateway to the Past, our online catalogue. We catch up with some of the Bawdy Courts Project volunteers here.

Bawdy Courts Volunteer - Karen

Well, it has been challenging, although perhaps not in ways I expected. For a start, the glorious weather has meant that I have been focussed on my garden, enjoying the luxury of my garden space as well as the hard work maintaining it. And queuing at supermarkets, this has taken time, it has required more effort and even advance planning (I have been helping a friend and my neighbours with their grocery shopping). The consequence has been that I haven’t always felt in the right frame of mind to settle down for a few hours work deciphering 16th century handwriting! When I do it’s been a wonderful way to take the worries out of my mind and it’s allowed me to become totally absorbed in a task that couldn’t be further from world pandemics. However, I could not have achieved much with the Bawdy Courts transcriptions and preparing contributions for the blog without having the good fortune to be working with Patrick -  a fellow volunteer.   

Fortunately we had been working together on the Bawdy Court cases before the lockdown began and we’d established an effective way of working.  We've maintained contact, via email, and with the very supportive help from Archives Assistant Jennifer Lewis we've actually managed to complete 3 cases. To be honest, I start off the deciphering and transcription work all bright eyed and bushy tailed but I do lose steam quickly, and I find that the detective work to understand the context and research the social issues behind some of the cases actually interests me even more. I’m an amateur but with lots of encouragement I’m becoming more confident and slightly less daunted by handwriting that is over 400 years old. I never cease to be fascinated with the small details and and reported speech of our 16th century ancestors, the domestic minutiae and preoccupations that emerge in the Cause papers. In so many ways nothing changes, personal interactions and pressures playing out against the backdrop of national crisis.  

Bawdy Courts Volunteer - Saffron

During these difficult times it is a gross understatement to say that the global pandemic we are currently going through has affected our daily lives. With many of us currently bound inside, small tasks and the odd activity have become something we rely on to keep going, at least in my case. I started a work placement for the Bawdy Courts of Lichfield and had intended on working with the archives during my placement. Whilst this is no longer possible, there have been ways in which I am able to continue my placement from home.

Since the lockdown was set into place, I have slowly been working on what is called an ‘Insult Table’. This table looks at the many slanderous terms found in the Bawdy Court of Lichfield archives and documents them. The aim of this table is to gather information on the type of slanderous terms used from the period 1534 to 1612 and to try an translate them. This table has been especially interesting to work on as it requires further research to be done on what is meant by some of the terms. It is also very exciting developing knowledge of the way language was used during this period.

As we are adjusting to this new way of working, it is comforting to know that there are still ways in which we can continue despite not being able to get out. Working from home definitely has it challenges as there are many wonderful distractions! However, the small amount of progress made at home on tasks such as the ‘Insult Table’ is a positive accomplishment during these unusual times.

Bawdy Courts Volunteer - Richard 

Before lockdown we worked on the original material, looking at the papers and preparing spreadsheets which could be used directly to add entries to the online catalogue. This approach is now impossible so we have changed tack and are now engaged in simply transferring the information in the NADFAS hand list (which is typed) to a Word template which can be used to put the information in the online catalogue. We work from scans of the hand list, using our own laptops and communicating with the coordinator of the project by email. At the outset we had clear and concise instructions and the coordinator is available to answer queries. The whole process is working well, we have an occupation to keep us busy for a few hours each week and the satisfaction of helping to materially improve access to these papers, which are essential reading and viewing for all church historians – you can hardly write church history without access to them.

Whilst the interaction with other members of the team is not there working at home, the projects give a great incentive to get up and start “work” in the morning. Together they have helped to keep me occupied and sane during these troubled times. I am looking forward to getting back to some form of normality when things start to open up again.

Bawdy Court & Asylums Project Volunteer - Pete

When the Record Office closed its doors at the beginning of lockdown, I had been volunteering two mornings a week for a few years. As a 70-year-old with pre-existing medical conditions, there were limited opportunities available to me, after all there is only so much decorating and housework you can do (and I’m not really into gardening, that’s my wife Sue’s job). So, when in April I was offered some work to do at home on the Faculty Project, I jumped at the chance. This has involved transcribing faculty cases from pre scanned images and researching architects. At the same time another project opened up”. It related to the Asylum admission records work I had been doing on a Thursday morning (and) involved researching inmates that had potentially interesting stories  to post on the project blog. The two projects together have given me many hours of work through April and May, and Sue joined in on the research side of things.

Museum Volunteers

The museum volunteers have been working on a variety of projects to support the museum collections. This includes researching and uploading new photographs to the Staffordshire Pasttrack website, transcribing recordings of interviews with Staffordshire people and researching the names and local connections associated with some of the objects in the collections to see if we can find out a little more about them.  

Museum Volunteer - Val 

I can’t say I have done a lot of volunteering while on lockdown, but I enjoyed transcribing one of your oral history recordings so much that I’ve got another one to do!  I think its interesting to transcribe the subject’s words exactly, even some of the 'ums' and 'ahs', as I think it helps to convey character as well as content. I did this work on my kitchen table too, and was amazed how quickly time went. I was totally absorbed!

I think during lockdown  it has been very difficult to totally loose yourself in anything for any length of time, and I definitely enjoyed the sense of purpose the task gave me. It also stopped me snacking for one afternoon!  The downside is not seeing people, and not having interesting discussions face to face.

Quarter Sessions Rolls Group

The Staffordshire Quarter Sessions were responsible for local government before the creation of the County Council. Sessions rolls were the documents generated by each sitting of the court and include records of court cases held at Stafford, 1581-1800, on a wide range of civil and criminal offences.

Quarter Sessions volunteers in the Tuesday Group have been working on Sessions rolls for many years, some since the project began about 10 years ago. Skilled in both palaeography and the interpretation of document-types such as oaths, indictments (written accusations), depositions (witness statements) and petitions, each volunteer works on their own roll, summarising information and entering it into a template. Once a roll has been completed, the work is checked by another volunteer and then by the volunteer coordinator, before it is imported to the online catalogue.

After volunteer activities were suspended, we were initially unable to copy any documents for projects, due to the government’s lockdown orders. As circumstances changed however, limited photocopying/scanning for volunteer projects became possible. Quarter Sessions volunteers were asked whether they would like to work from home. All accepted and copies of 15 pages of each roll, dating between 1636 and 1639, were posted out to the five volunteers towards the end of May. Three of these volunteers have been working on the project since it began.

Quarter Sessions Rolls Volunteer - Lesley 

Since lockdown, Tuesday has been just another day for me, nothing special to do, no trip to Archives in Stafford to work as a volunteer on various projects, but now some of us are working at home on the Quarter Sessions project. It is not the same as being in the back room with the other volunteers, all working together helping each other, puzzling over difficult handwriting, deciding what a particular document is all about and catching a glimpse of what life was like in Staffordshire in days gone by. We have been indexing these documents for 10 years, working back from 1800 we are now back to the 1630’s so we have followed the ups and downs of Staffordshire people living through often very difficult times. A highlight for me was coming across a document signed by Oliver Cromwell which concerned a soldier wounded in Ireland. Most of the items relate to more mundane issues including punch ups, drunk and disorderly behaviour, disputes between parishes over responsibility for maintaining roads and bridges in the county and, sadly, requests for poor relief.

Quarter Sessions Rolls Volunteer - Ceris

After weeks of self-isolation, the chance to work on Q/SR was both an interesting and challenging diversion. The minor negatives are a lack of comparing notes and getting  second opinions. The pluses are having the photocopies on a table and being able to work when and as one likes and for as long (or short) a time as one is inclined - it's also possible to do a first reading in an armchair! The photocopies are far easier to handle and move around which has helped with some deciphering. It was an excellent idea to involve us.

Quarter Sessions Rolls Volunteer -  Ray

It is a pleasure to have something to do which I enjoy. I am reading old court papers to enter case details on the work sheet. My document is dated Easter 1639 and it includes topics like requests for relief from the parish for the poor and for widows with young children. I feel that I need to keep reading the old type of handwriting and spelling to keep my eye in, but this is a hobby which I enjoy and when I have written it all out, word for word, I get a sense of going back in time.

Small Bills Poor Law Project

Poor Law Top Trumps

The volunteers on the Small Bills Poor-Law project are planning a get-together via Zoom in the near future.  Also the project has developed a Top Trumps game, featuring the people we have found connected to parish relief, from clergymen to child paupers.  Characters are drawn from all three project counties, so Cumbria and East Sussex as well as Staffordshire. Just when you thought there was nothing new to do in lockdown....!

Stoke on Trent City Archives

Although Stoke-on-Trent City Archives aren’t able to work with the majority of our volunteers at the current time, we are keeping in touch and doing what we can. We were lucky that the Lancer Group were already working remotely prior to the Coronavirus Crisis. They had completed their direct work with the collection (16th/5th The Queen's Royal Lancers Archive Collection (The Royal Lancers Trust)) and are now occupied working at home on the name index for their collection, which will eventually be added to the Staffordshire Name Index. Also Archive Assistant Mandy Pover has been using her time working from home to prepare the indexing work undertaken by volunteer Margaret Beard, of the Stoke-upon-Trent Poor Law Union Board of Guardians Minute Books, her current work covering the period 1894-1896. Mandy has been preparing this part of the index ready to be added to the Staffordshire Name Index at some point, she has currently inputted nearly 400 pages of this handwritten index. The long process of indexing these fascinating and informative volumes has been ongoing for many years and has involved the work of several volunteers, for which we are most grateful.    

VCH Volunteers

VCH Work

Andrew Sargent is continuing to work on the Victoria County History despite the lockdown preventing the volunteers from studying their current documents, but it has provided the opportunity for them to take part in online projects instead. Several are currently working through early nineteenth-century editions of the Staffordshire Advertiser, picking out interesting notices and articles on Uttoxeter. These range from notices for auctions and local sales, through job adverts (for matrons and gamekeepers, for example), accounts of the local assizes and murder trials, to advance notice of the annual cheese fair and Uttoxeter races.

Volunteers stay in touch with each other and with Andrew via email, which doesn't have the directness of face-to-face contact, but enables flexible participation time, and has served to resolve various issues, such as focusing on the kinds of articles of most interest to the project. Andrew is planning to launch a second project soon, an analysis of the census entries for Uttoxeter, which some volunteers may wish to take up to introduce some more variety to their work.

Bradford Volunteers

The Bradford volunteers assist with cataloguing the vast collection of the Earls of Bradford of Weston Park. Each volunteer has their own project which have included describing title deeds; cataloguing household vouchers and inventories; precising family diaries and letters; and listing photographs. As lockdown approached one volunteer commented, our world is shrinking fast all round us!’

We were uncertain how we might continue but scanned a few documents as a start. Since then Julie was able to scan more and now Ben is assisting with that task. The volunteers were pleased to be able to continue with their work, ‘I can't say properly how much I appreciate your offering to do this for me, happiness will reign supreme if I can continue in this way, but I do worry that I am putting extra pressure on Julie - please give her my grateful thanks’.

Another plus is being able to get absorbed in something else, ‘I found 3 items about rats being caught, the going rate was 2d each, and the total claimed for was 149! Did they have to show the body to claim the money?’ Although we have had to refocus the work slightly, the project has been able to continue and keeping in touch by email has worked well, from the practicalities to the opportunity for personal reflection.

Coton Hill Asylum

The Asylum Volunteers

The volunteers on the asylum cataloguing project are still working at home on case histories of individual patients from the hospitals, using family history websites and other resources. As the project team cannot access the documents at present, they are using completed spreadsheets, which contain details from the documents, in order to identify interesting cases. The county asylums often received patients transferred from prison, or who had other criminal connections, and the volunteers have been concentrating on researching these stories during May. So far, the team of 8 volunteers have managed to produce life stories for around 20 patients, and the most interesting ones are being added to the patients page of our blog https://staffordshireasylumrecords.wordpress.com/

Upcoming stories include Pete Gurney’s investigation of John Frederick Trotter, an army man who suffered from a fever in Africa and later became well-known to the police as a swindler, and Susan Large’s story of Arthur Mayou, an Oxford graduate who became a cleric and, along with one of his siblings, encountered mental health problems.

Andrew George working on the Wills Index

Andrew George working on the Wills Indexing Project

Wills Indexing Project

Over 15 years ago volunteers at Lichfield began indexing the vast diocesan wills collection. Each week they would open up the tightly folded wills and record name (and aliases), place, occupations and types of document, along with any unusual features (plague has cropped up a couple of times). Andrew George led the work but little did he expect that he would be volunteering on the project in the midst of a pandemic from a happy retirement in Yorkshire.

FindMyPast generously allowed our volunteers access to the original wills images so Andrew and fellow volunteer, Ann Fisher, have been making great progress from their own homes, in fact their productivity levels have shot up! Their latest index section, 1600-1610 has just been published on the Staffordshire Name Indexes website so it now covers 1600-1780. There have been challenges though, ‘FMP is as frustrating as ever (wills appearing in the wrong years, names spelt wrongly) but I'm getting the hang of tracking things down when they're not where they should be’. A very useful by-product of this new way of working is that we can see which wills have been missed off Find My Past or mis-indexed. The wills index has been the most popular of the Name Indexes during lockdown and it has been used by researchers carrying out occupation searches, including a study of Derbyshire miners, and by our own Victoria Councy History (VCH) volunteers.

At the start of lockdown many could echo the thought, ‘if you can think of something I can do at home I'd be delighted. The thought of the next few weeks/months is terrifying’, but it’s fair to say that the project has settled into a rhythm and has been a positive focus for all involved. ‘Access to FMP makes it a comforting (if irritating at times) way to keep my hand in’. It’s a pleasure to receive all their index updates and to get messages like, ‘I’ve finished down to K1793’ (over a 1000 wills indexed!) and ‘I have finished the 1590-1599 wills!'

Another wills’ project continuing during lockdown relates to wills proved after 1858. From this date, the Civil Court of Probate proved wills and granted administrations in England and Wales in the probate registry in London and in local offices around the country. 159 volumes of registered copy wills proved at Lichfield, 1858-1928, were deposited at Lichfield Record Office (and later transferred to Staffordshire Record Office, 2018).

About twenty years ago, a group of Lichfield volunteers completed a personal name card index covering all wills copied into these volumes. More recently, volunteers began converting the card index into digital format, to preserve this work in a more usable form. Volunteers have worked remotely on this project from the start. 

Wills Indexing Volunteer - Christine 

I so enjoy working on the Copy Wills Project. I have done it for a few years now through Anita. I work from the index cards but have had to restrict the number I do during lockdown to enable them to last as long as possible. As I was a school secretary for 30 years, it is so lovely to work on the index cards and computer, particularly during the lockdown as it has kept me sane.

Keele Student Volunteer Group

The Keele student volunteer group was due to run to the end of the summer term. The students prepared documents for cataloguing, were learning palaeography and had begun writing catalogue descriptions for case papers and were getting on well with that when the University closed in mid-March. In January they were joined by two work placement students who listed faculties and started to explore blog-writing for the project. The advent of lockdown was hard, this last week has been quite stressful with all the developments with the coronavirus and having to emergency travel home’ but they managed to stay positive I will definitely carry on when I have free time, but I would just like to say thank you for the opportunity you have given us to work with you on the Bawdy courts project. It has been really fun and I have learnt so much about palaeography, history and cataloguing.’ They were soon reporting on a new stress, trying to continue with University work from home,  ‘things are very hectic’ and ‘I’m swimming in assessments’. Nevertheless in the first weeks after lockdown the work placement students managed to complete tasks and three students have contributed to the blog. We wish them all success in these challenging times.

The Learning Room Blog

The Learning Room

Prior to the lockdown being implemented we had suspended all our volunteering projects.  The Service has in excess of 100 volunteers working with us and the challenge was to stay in touch with our volunteers and to support them where we could. Initially we had hoped to begin a programme of sending out scans and photocopies of documents for our volunteers to work on, but by 24th March we had to close the Service and the buildings to staff as well. 

We were fortunate in that we do have most volunteers email addresses, and many have signed up to our e-newsletter. However, we wanted a place where we could bring in people from beyond this restricted group and initially we came up with the idea of setting up a Facebook page for volunteers to share ideas with us and for us to join in and respond to the conversations that took place. We did set this up and it has had some success, but several volunteers wrote to us and said they did not use Facebook and didn’t intend to do so. Therefore we decided to set up a new blog for volunteers, a place where we could continue to engage volunteers with our collections and with ideas that might rise out of them.

To this end we set us a new blog for our volunteers called The Learning Room. We set this up with partners and support from across the county council. The aim was that it would be a space that volunteers could spend some time looking at ideas around areas they may have been working on whilst volunteering with us, or that they might wish to explore whist at home. Firstly we set up a Palaeography class with Jim Sutton, a lecturer at the Keele Latin Summer school. Jim sends us examples for people to work on and provides individual feedback on their transcripts. Prof. Alannah Tomkins from Keele University who leads one of our volunteer groups has been contributing each week with blog posts about the social history of medicine between 1628 and 1886. We have added blog pieces ourselves on how to use our sites such as Staffordshire Pasttrack, guides to maps online, recent accessions and features by local libraries and the County Archaeologist  in the Guide to Research section. We also have a section that supports the work of one of our volunteer groups researching English Place-names with the Institute for Name-Studies at Nottingham University.

On the blog so far we have added over 20 posts since it was launched April 14th, with over 500 individuals accessing the blog. In addition we have been regularly emailing our volunteers with news updates about what the staff have been up to and news of free access to resources such as FindmyPast and Ancestry. Some volunteer groups, such as those working with the Victoria County History and the Bawdy Courts of Lichfield projects, have been able to continue their research remotely and sufficient copies of documents were made to keep others busy during this difficult time. We owe our volunteers a great debt as over the years they have committed thousands upon thousands of hours to supporting our service. Staying in touch and offering, admittedly quite small moments of interest or distraction, has been we feel, the very least we could try and do.  

Gothard Diaries

Ray Wilson and David Bennion are engaged in transcribing the First World War diaries of Sir Clifford Gothard. Born at Burton in 1893, Clifford Gothard was the elder son of a successful brewer. These diaries, which he was meticulous in keeping, record the life and times of a very ordinary young man at a significant time in history. They contain much that is familiar to the modern person, and some items which show he lived in a quite different way to us.The transcription has currently reached his account of his Army training in London in 1916. In the light of the current situation, it is interesting that Gothard mentions the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 only twice in the diaries for that year.

Ray says that when he and David were told that after Tuesday, 25th March, they would no longer be able to work on their project at the Record Office, due to suspension of all volunteer work, his first thought was “how can I finish the final 6 months of 1915 of the dairy, to complete the task I started in July 2014”. Nothing daunted, they initiated their own remote project, requesting photocopies of diary entries for the outstanding period and left the Record Office at mid-day, with a bundle of photocopies, to take the bus home. Ray continues “I started work on the photocopies, because our life was now confined to my home address, and the weather was still cold.

In between painting the garage roof and helping in the garden, I spent my evenings working on the Gothard diary. I completed my final entry for Dec 1915 on 25th May 2020. David can now finish proof-reading 1915 and I have 44 pages of text to hand over to Anita on our return. This lockdown work took me 66 hours and has given me a chance to work on something which I look upon as a hobby, while keeping our household safe. It has been a pleasure to have something to do which I enjoy. Without the Records Office working from home, I would be out of my mind”.

Brainteaser Solutions

Brainteaser image

Solution to the Friends of the William Salt Library Wordsearch.

WSL Wordsearch Solution

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