New home for Record Office treasures

PUBLISHED: 01:16 23 October 2011 | UPDATED: 21:39 20 February 2013

New home for Record Office treasures

New home for Record Office treasures

The treasures of Worcestershire's Record Office are being packed up and the marathon task has unearthed some wonderful secrets, as Sharon Chilcott discovered

As the nation prepares for the 2012 Olympics, staff at Worcestershire Record Office are already going for gold and unearthing treasures along the way.

They have their sights set on the finishing line for a mammoth project which was conceived even before London won its Olympic bid in 2005. By the time our athletes, sportsmen and women parade at the Olympic opening ceremony next July, they will be celebrating an opening of their own.

It has been years in the planning, but this month, on November 14, the County Hall branch of the Record Office will close, to re-open again on July 2, 2012 at its new home, The Hive. This is a state-of-the-art, purpose-built library and history centre in the centre of Worcester, alongside the River Severn. A partnership between University of Worcester and Worcestershire County Council, it will bring together the public and university library, the Record Office, the Historic Environment and Archaeology Service and the Worcestershire Hub Customer Service Centre and create a space for meeting, working, researching and learning. Its a landmark building and its striking, shimmering gold roof has changed the skyline.

Worcestershire Record Offices move has been meticulously planned after all some of the documents in its care, such as Shakespeares marriage bond, are priceless and of international significance. Anyone who has moved house recently will quake at the thought if all the boxes in which the collections are stored were laid end to end, they would stretch for 12 miles loading all those into removal vans defies imagination.

The feat is being masterminded by Records and Information Services manager Elaine Cooper and by Lisa Snook, who is the Record Offices project officer for The Hive.

Elaine says: We have known this was going to happen for a long time, but it has really picked up pace over the last 18 months to two years and it has taken a lot of planning and preparation all on top of the day job.

Its a major logistical task. The move involves bringing together archive collections currently held in four separate locations, including those at County Hall and the History Centre in Trinity Street, Worcester.

It has meant sorting through the boxes in storage, some of which have been unopened since 1947 when the Record Office was first established, and as a result, staff have unearthed some hidden gems. Says Lisa: A lot of us were not familiar with what we actually hold. Its been like opening Pandoras Box you are not really quite sure exactly what you will find. We have uncovered some delightful things, like an unusual, large hanging seal and a dance card with a pencil, and its really interesting to discover the family and social history in diaries, letters and photos. You come across things all the time. All of us, as staff, have different interests, so we will pick on different things.

Some of the highlights of the archives held by the Worcestershire Record Office include the marriage bond, dated 28 November 1582, between William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, and the Entry of Licence, dated the previous day which somewhat strangely gives the brides name as Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton a mystery which has never been solved. Theres also a rare letter sent by a passenger on the Titanic. Says Lisa: It was sent by someone on board the Titanic, from Cherbourg to a family in Worcestershire. The person who wrote the letter did not survive and by the time it was received the Titanic had gone down. Its incredibly descriptive of what it was like to be on board the Titanic a real bit of social history.

The diaries, wills, maps, photographs, registers and other documents held in the archives provide a fascinating insight into life in Worcestershire over the years, with the oldest archive dating back to the 12th century.

Says Elaine: We have been encouraging staff to identify their favourite finds. A lot of us really enjoy social history, and one of the current favourites is a book on 19th century ladies etiquette. Seemingly ordinary documents can hold real surprises. There was an ordinary looking church minute book which a colleague got out and in it found a beautiful watercolour of a bridge, which was quite unexpected.

Examples of some of the favourite finds have been put online and include the diary of a Victorian lady, a photograph of a queue for ration books and household accounts which give a fascinating insight into the running of a 19th century home. These feature alongside other online exhibitions, such as a collection of items which belonged to the Worcester-born music hall star Vesta Tilley who lived from 1864 to 1952.

Meanwhile, explains Lisa, identification of the contents of the boxes enabled them to be labelled up ready for the move. At the moment we store all the boxes according to a reference number, which means some of them could be very heavy and we wouldnt know. Thats not good for manual handling and we have to be careful about crushing boxes, so we are weighing them and giving them a colour code so when we get to the new building we know where each box has to go and the heavy ones can be at waist height.

Along the way, archivists have been repackaging delicate items to ensure their safekeeping. Says Lisa: We are repackaging al the maps into bleach-free calico map bags which is better for the documents and will help identify them.

The preparations for the grand decamp have involved making it easier for members of the public to find out exactly what records are held in the archives. Says Lisa: We have been working on making the collections more accessible and we have launched an online catalogue giving information about the records that we hold. Weve been working on this for five years, as well as a more detailed index which is also going online. We will be increasing and adding to that as time goes on.

The collections will start to be moved in February and when the new Record Office opens in July, Elaine intends to celebrate with a six-month exhibition called Memory which will focus on the Worcester City Collection, which includes historic records of the city, such as a Medieval Deed dated 1298.

To mark the start of the mammoth move, there is an open day on November 14 at The Record Office, County Hall, Spetchley Road, where some of the interesting items from the archives will be on display and staff will be on hand to explain the service and talk about the move. For details, telephone 01905 766351.

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