Staffordshire Archives & Heritage Update 28 January 2021

Staffordshire Archives and Heritage
Toy theatre made of paper and wood

Like players on a stage? Visit our Bawdy Courts blog for a glimpse of the dramatic

Welcome to this edition of the Archives and Heritage Service Newsletter. 

Once again we are delving into the collections with the help of our volunteers to discover some of the wonderful stories that make up our County's history.  From the strange candle auction of the cargo from a French ship called La Pierre to the assumption that a witness is unreliable because they play the fiddle . . . read on.


Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day Foundation Stone project

Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on 27 January. We took part in the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation's virtual Foundation Stones workshop on 22nd January in remembrance of the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered in the Holocaust and all other victims of Nazi persecution including the victims of subsequent genocides around the world. We listened to stories of Jewish people from museums around the UK.

We then took part in painting a stone which will be added to the new UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in London with messages of hope and peace, learning from the past and committing to a better future together.

Here is our Staffordshire Archives and Heritage stone, indicating hope. It's a sunrise over a field or moor of heather; which is Staffordshire's county flower and symbolises good luck and protection. The bottom image is from a Victorian scrapbook in the County Museum collection, a piece of heather collected from Flashbrook Common in 1881. Find out more about the project here:

Bawdy Courts Project

Bawdy Courts Project header

An Unreliable Witness?

The Bawdy Courts of Lichfield project looks at the papers of the Consistory Courts, these were regulated by the Church and moral cases were brought before the court. The papers deal with the everyday lives of people, gossip, scandal, and above all, reputation in society.

Our volunteers on this project are incredibly dedicated. They meet once a month (via Zoom at the moment) for a discussion and some palaeography training, as the papers span over 350 years and are often challenging to decipher. They also conduct research for blog posts.

Our last meeting in early January looked at how witnesses for cases are undermined so that their evidence looks unreliable. We saw that someone who played a fiddle was seen as a disreputable witness. One of our volunteers, Patrick, researched the etymology of the word and discovered that there was no straightforward answer for this with regards to the instrument, however after further digging he writes… “the dextrous finger movements of playing a violin, came to describe mindless, frivolous manual manipulation. This then became metaphorical and was also used to describe manipulation for nefarious purposes. The first recorded use of the word to mean cheat or swindle came in 1630 in Thomas Dekker's play, 'The Honest Whore.’ It is possible that these negative associations were put on our violin playing witness".

The Bawdy Courts of Lichfield blog is updated every Friday. You can read our latest post by volunteer Liz, here where she looks at the information we can gather when only a tiny fragment of a case remains.

It remains to be seen what how 'disreputable a witness' this object from the museum collection would make - a paper decoration of a cat playing a fiddle dating from the 1940s. 

Paper decoration of cartoon cat playing a fiddle

From the Collections

Auctions by Candle

Readers familiar with the smuggling story Moonfleet may recall an episode that featured an auction determined ‘by the candle’. A pin was stuck partway down a wax or tallow candle, which was then lit. Bidding continued until the candle burnt down and the flame melted the wax around the pin, causing it to drop out – the last bid before the pin dropped being the winner. The idea was that nobody knew exactly when the pin would fall, so there was less chance of ‘last moment bidders’ and bids would generally be higher. This wasn’t just a dramatic literary device – candle auctions were a popular form of bidding in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially when it came to selling ships and their cargos as our poster here shows.

Poster for Candle Auction

D1798 HM Drakeford - 11 Candle Auction 1744

Forming part of the Drakeford papers in the archive’s Hand-Morgan collection, the poster dates from September 1744 and relates to the selling of the cargo from a French ship called La Pierre. The ship had been captured by a British rival, the Kinsale, in the Caribbean and its exotic cargo – sugar, coffee, cocoa, indigo and cotton – was sold off ‘by the candle’ in Gosport, near Portsmouth. Although candle auctions faded out of popularity in the early 19th century, a computerized version exists today for online auctions where bidding is ended randomly rather than at a given time – a digital candle, if you like!

The Learning Room Header image - desks in a library setting

The Learning Room

Join us in The Learning Room to discover a range of articles based on research and collections across the Archives and Heritage Service. You can sign up here  

Our aim is to keep you updated with the latest developments and events. If you do not wish to receive this newsletter please use the 'unsubscribe' button at the bottom of this page. 

Staffordshire Archives News


Staffordshire Archives News


Staffordshire Archives News


Manage your subscription tothis newsletter or unsubscribe here