Friday, 4 May 2018

Manorial documents project: Don't forget to fender your fender!

Lots of our collections include records of the manor courts dating from the 1300s right up to the early 1900s. They provide the earliest history we have of local administration with details of court proceedings, names, local rules and land transactions often in long runs of consecutive years. In addition to this, manorial records can also include maps and surveys, providing material for geographical research. The aim of this one year project is to establish a definitive list of Cheshire's manorial records, and share the stories they can tell us along the way.

On opening my first box of manorial documents at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, I was faced with a particularly interesting excerpt of Orders for Bidston, Moreton and Saughall Massie from the early 1800s. Not least because the first note of fines related to escaped pigs: ‘all persons suffering their pigs to wander or go abroad or astray within the said Manor’ were charged two shillings for the offence. More notable is the inclusion of the word ‘fender’ from the second paragraph onwards. It was a word which I hadn’t come across before in this context and as such, took me a small while to ensure that it wasn’t simply a long ‘s’ beginning the word.

According to Brownbill’s ‘History of the Old Parish of Bidston, Cheshire’ the act of ‘fending’ was to clear watercourses or fenders, suggesting that a fender was a sort of drainage channel. 

‘We present Ellen Wharton to fender her fender from
Arthur Godwin’s Car to James Pover Black Meadow or pay
to the Lord of the Manor 1s6d per rood for each rood not done by
the first of June next.’

Ms Wharton was not the only individual charged with fendering her fender; there is even a court order requiring people to place boundary stones along fender road to make clear which part they are liable to fix – the charge for not doing this was five shillings per offence. Other orders include instructions to ‘ditch a ditch’ and to build a bridge, the latter of which would face by far the largest fine of one pound and 19 shillings if not completed in the given time frame.

The document highlights the importance of maintaining manorial lands at this period, in this case with particular emphasis on the watercourses. This document refers largely to Bidston, which is situated in the Wirral Peninsula. Given that the land in Bidston is sandy, low-lying and mostly flat, this would account for the need for strict rules on maintaining fenders and may explain the emphasis in this document. In any case, it’s clear that the fines for not maintaining fenders and ditches could be particularly costly, especially for those with large areas of land.

What is interesting to note in this document is that each offence is charged the same regardless of the gender of the individual. The order for each offence simply mentions the individual charged and the amount that they will be liable to pay if the order is not completed. Considering that at this point in time, women were unable to vote and that the Married Women’s Property Act, which granted women the right to own land wasn’t passed until 1870, it is very interesting to note how ‘matter of fact’ the orders are when relating to women. It seems at least, in the obligations of local manor courts, men and women were treated equally. The sums are high for not abiding by the rules, which also suggests that women had access to decent sums of money if they were expected to meet these fines.

The list of Cheshire Manorial documents will be made available on the Manorial Documents Register at the end of this year, to find out more about the national project,
please follow this link.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Volunteer Stories: Wandering and wondering about Warrington

Kath and Joan didn't know each other when they began volunteering here, they are now a crack team and firm friends, having worked their way through 2,764 (and counting) Warrington Borough Council building plans - removing old acidic envelopes, repackaging, inspecting and cataloguing - making them searchable and accessible for the first time. Here they reflect on their experience ...

It usually seems that the rich and powerful leave the better preserved records and artefacts. This is not always the case in the drawings for planning permissions granted by Warrington Borough Council in the early 1880s. It is the less well-off doing their own drawings on rougher quality paper whose records are usually better preserved. The architects used tracing paper for the block plans, ground plans, elevations and sections for the better off clients. Unfortunately, as Angela, one of the conservators here explains ‘Transparent papers do not age well and are often found in poorer physical condition than non-transparent papers of the same age. They were exposed to acids, impregnated with oils or manufactured with over-beaten fibres to give them their transparent qualities. Oxidation and acid hydrolysis will cause discolouration and cause the paper to become brittle and prone to cracking.’ Fortunately, the main architects of Warrington, William Owen, Robert Curran, and Pierpoint & Adams, usually write an accompanying letter which contain the salient facts - where, what and for whom. A glimpse of social mobility is provided during this period when John Wright from his letterheads moves from being a builder to an architect in the town.

Planning permission provides a fascinating snapshot of the development of Warrington in the late 19th century. There are applications to build new streets of terraced houses which have to be built in accordance with the local bye-laws, brick built, slate roofed and with drainage to sewers as well as with closets in the yards. 'To be drained as shown with glazed socket drain tiles laid with proper fall and clay puddled joints into the present nine inch sewer in Porter Street' (1882, Mr William Hewitt). Bathrooms and indoor closets are the preserve of the rich in the borough. Yet James Parkinson wants to convert a kitchen and lumber room to a photographic studio complete with dressing room, preparing room and darkroom and an indoor closet in 1883. The names of the developers and landowners are a fascinating mix of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ men of Warrington: a map drawn up in 1882 of the land owned by the Honourable Leopold W H Powys shows numerous new streets with no names available for leasing to builders in Little Sankey. The names of the developers including John Appleton and William Porter keep on reoccurring.

Applications for planning permissions not only provide information about the architects, builders, and the landowners but also reveal how the borough was developing otherwise. Schools are being built or altered; some include a house for the teacher as well as the separate girls’ and boys’ entrances, classrooms and playgrounds. Is it a case of desperate measures in a very last-minute application to build two closets at Bank Street School before the “schools open again on Monday next.”?

Entertainment is also provided for: an application was received from Mr Harmston for a temporary erection of a circus tent in 1881 complete with side elevations and a ground plan showing the seating, an orchestra pit and stabling (above). In 1883 Mr Brinsley Sheridan applied to construct a new theatre on Scotland Road (below).

Commercial premises also reflect new standards, when in 1883 a new fish warehouse had to comply with the standards laid down by the Local Board of Health. Even the man who converted his front room and bedroom above to a temporary stable and hayloft had to make sure that there was no direct access to these new features from the rest of his house.

Talking of stables, there is no greater contrast between the rich Captain Sylvanus Reynolds’ substantial architect-designed brick built stable house with accommodation for the coach man and four horses and the distinctly less wealthy Mr W Owen wood shippon stable for four horses to be built on waste land off Ellesmere Street as shown on the rough sketch drawn by him which comprises his planning application.

There is also evidence of the growing wealth of women, who owned property and were active in its development or alteration at a time when married women’s possession (and they themselves) were the property of their husbands. Mrs Ann Jackson applies for permission to build a slaughter house and stable in Church Street, and Mrs Harriet Woods owns houses on Church Street and a druggist shop on the corner of Church Street and Orchard Street and more cottages on Orchard Street and wants to build a warehouse between the druggist and the cottages.

Finally, just to prove that there is nothing new in the current fashion for artisan coffee, Mr Geddes wants to build a new warehouse at the junction of Peter Street and Market Street for his coffee roasting room and shop.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Volunteer Stories: Connecting with a collection

In 2016, Sandbach High School student Zia Duncan first began examining our collection relating to the Knutsford Ordination Test School (collection reference D 3917). She had this very personal and emotional response to the material ...

It has been just over a century since the beginning of World War One in 1914, a war that lasted four years but took millions of lives away from families across the world. But for the ones that survived, they came back to a home that was very different. Boys who were pulled out of having an education at fifteen or sixteen came back as men who lacked the knowledge and training for future careers as the years that were supposed to be spent in school had been replaced by living in a trench. Their prospects seemed dim, especially for the poorer classes who could not afford the cost of re-learning all their missed years.

Using newspaper articles, photographs and written histories related to the school I was able to research the incredible story of the men who had had the courage and bravery to fight but now wanted to build a future for themselves. The building chosen to house this school was originally Knutsford Gaol, which had been occupied by German prisoners during the war. Due to the housing shortage it was one of the few remaining buildings left that could house the number of men, although it was grim, dirty and out-dated. After enduring the trenches, there were initially some doubts as to how the men would take the news, but fortunately they rose to the occasion. The students arrived at their new school on the 26th March 1919. The advance party, which was aided by a few local well-wishers, had worked very hard to get it ready in time (which meant cleaning up the mess of the German prisoners). Men would now enter their first term at Knutsford with “gallant and high-hearted happiness”.

Despite the obstacles that the residents of the Test School had to face, many of them completed their education in the subjects of History, Natural Science, English Literature and Greek (or Latin) to Test Examination standard and set themselves on the road for higher ambitions. For example, by the end of the Summer term in 1920, 155 men left for further education, 111 for universities and 44 for theological colleges. Through the dedication of the local people and the well-wishers who helped transform the dirty Gaol into a school, the former soldiers of a dreadful world war had managed to set themselves up for a bright, well-deserved future.

Volunteer Katherine Treacher has continued working on the collection as we anticipate there may well be interest in this remarkable institution in its centenary year in 2019. The collection has inspired her to visit sites connected with the School, including St John's in Knutsford where the men went to church. She continues the story ...

The primary aim of the Knutsford Ordination Test School was to educate young men from all backgrounds returning from the First World War having missed out on higher education, with a view to them following their vocation to become priests. The school spent two years equipping the men with an education that would give them access to theological college or university to progress on to ordination. The ‘test’ part of the school’s ethos referred to the testing of each student’s commitment and suitability for clerical life. One well-known figure involved in the teaching at the School was the Reverend Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton of the Toc H movement.

By 1922 the Church of England had stopped funding the school and it became a voluntary organisation. With this came the necessity for the School to raise all its own funds and provide student bursaries with limited outside support. From then on the School’s existence seems to have been dogged by struggles to raise enough money to stay open.

The archive contains many interesting documents including Annual Reports that chart the progress of the School from its early beginnings until the early 1940s when funding became extremely challenging. They record the progress of the school from Knutsford Gaol, now the site of Booths supermarket, to the Hawarden Old Rectory, now the Flintshire Record Office. The School had moved briefly in the early 1920s to a large house near Knutsford Common but struggled to operate in cramped conditions. In 1925, the Gladstone family gifted the Old Rectory at Hawarden (new) Castle and £3000 for building works to enable the creation of a new, spacious school in grounds of nearly eight acres.

The Annual Reports also record the wide variety of activities, giving an impression of a lively and vibrant community involving sporting events, fĂȘtes, festivals, musical concerts, plays, lectures, lantern shows and Quiet Days led by local bishops and other religious visitors. As the number of ordained old boys from the school grew, so subscriptions and donations from their parishes grew, helping to make the heyday of the school the late 1920s. The archive also includes copies of the School magazine Ducdame and magazines of the Knutsford Fellowship dating until the early 1970s.

There is also a card index which contains what appear to be the records of all the students who attended the School and notes about their nature, attendance and later careers. Comments such as ‘fond of girls…sacked!’ and ‘chief interest cars and films,’ are amongst the more colourful. This information might be of particular interest to researchers interested in tracing an ancestor who attended the School. Amongst other items that might be of interest are playbills, copies of exams, minutes, letters, Knutsford Fellowship directories and numerous photographs of the men. A number of photographs have names on the back or are early, signed studio portraits, but many more of these are not named. However, the spirit of School is apparent in the numerous group shots which emit happiness and pride.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Volunteer stories: Record Office staff get cooking

For our popular 'Cooking the Books' event staff at the Record Office volunteered their time and culinary skills to recreate recipes from the archives ... here is a modern take on the 18th century cook and businesswoman Elizabeth Raffald's herb pie!

Just nine lines of recipe but how to translate into a modern pie? I began with groats … any grain with the husk still on. Thought about going a bit Yotam with freekeh which I think would work nicely with the other flavours but settled on pot barley to remain authentic local.

I decided early on that I wouldn’t be adding a pound of butter at the end but would cook with butter throughout – I wondered if the reasoning behind boiling all the ingredients and then adding such a large quantity of butter was to do with how tricky it may have been to control the heat on domestic fires and ranges so risk burning it, but how vital it would have been for flavour and calories during Lent? The fact that Elizabeth mentions the option of a raised crust made me opt for hot water crust pastry.

Serves 4-6

For the filling
75g unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
200g pot barley
1 large leek, sliced
beetroot tops or chard
baby leaf spinach
2 apples, sliced

For the pastry
300g plain flour
75g butter
75g lard
135 ml hot water
1 egg

Take a large saucepan. Gently cook the onion in 25g of the butter, stir in the barley to coat and add enough boiling water to cover. Leave to simmer for around 40 minutes, topping up with boiling water as necessary. Test the barley can be bitten, turn off the heat and leave to cool with the lid on, any remaining liquid should be absorbed.

Make the hot water crust pastry. Rub the butter into the flour until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. In a small pan on a gentle heat melt the lard in the hot water, then pour onto the flour mixture. Mix with a knife and bring it together into a ball. Leave to cool until room temperature and finish making the filling.

Take a deep frying pan and gently fry the leeks in the remaining butter. Roughly chop enough lettuce, parsley and beetroot tops or chard to match the quantity of leeks and add them to the frying pan with the same quantity of baby spinach leaves. (If using chard add the chopped thicker stalks at the same time as the leeks). Cook until the leaves have collapsed and stir in the sliced apple and groats. Season well with salt and pepper to taste.

Roll out two thirds of the pastry and line a ten inch square baking tin. Add the filling and top with a lid rolled from the remaining pastry. Press the edges together and beat the egg with a pinch of salt and brush onto the pie.

Place in the middle of the oven preheated to 180 degrees centigrade and bake for about an hour, the pastry will be golden brown.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Volunteer Stories: Records of the Ridge

A ‘stray item from the archives of Merriman, Porter and Long, solicitors of Marlborough’ arrived on the archivist’s desk, transferred to Cheshire Archives from the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. The same archivist who, a few months earlier, had run a training session for volunteers embarking on a project to research and locate documentary and physical evidence of quarrying on Cheshire’s Sandstone Ridge. There were quarries marked on this map of Manley – the archivist alerted the group to the new arrival … David Joyce, volunteer with the Ridge, Rocks and Springs project completes the story …

“A tin case containing some old plans of lands seemingly of no use” reads the faded, discoloured, remnant of the original wrapper inside Cheshire Record Office folder D8835. How wrong this was.

The staff at the Record Office had kindly directed us to this treasure and it provides a fascinating insight into the Manor of Manley. The accession contains four maps of Manley. The separate sections are marked north, south, east and west quarters and include instructions how to overlap them to make the complete manor. The heading of the maps is “A Plan of the Manor of Manley belonging to Jocelyn Deane Esq 1777 taken from an original plan for Robert Davies Esq 1722.”

We have been researching Manley as part of the Sandstone Ridge Trust ‘The Ridge Rocks and Springs’ project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project is looking at quarries, ancient water supplies and historic graffiti along Cheshire’s sandstone ridge.

Previous research suggests that Manley quarry has been in use since Roman times but there are two main quarries in the parish and it is often difficult to distinguish between them when reference is being made to ‘the quarry’. One is usually known as Manley Quarry, and the other one is on Simmonds Hill. These maps clearly show Manley quarry but at that date, the quarry on Simmonds Hill was not marked. There is a sketch of Simon’s Hill (now Simmonds Hill) but no quarry is shown and the area is simply labelled ‘Commons’. In contrast, Manley Quarry is sketched showing the workings and buildings.

But - what was the windmill used for shown next to ‘Croft by the house – tenant Alice Frodsham’? The ‘Moss’ has clear sketch markings but which are hard to interpret –possibly peat cutting? The spelling of many places varies, such as Molesworth Common (now Moldsworth) and the Forest of Dalamere (not Delamere). Lords Well is documented but not Swans Well which was an important landmark on a map of Delamere Forest dated 1813.

As usual with historical research the documents throw up as many questions as answers!

The project has now published its findings online and in a booklet.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Medieval Deeds Project

Searching the word ‘deed’ on our online catalogue brings up over 1500 results. Each of these results could relate to a single item or to an entire collection of numerous boxes.

Due to the vast amount of deeds we have, we decided to make them more readily accessible to researchers. The plan was to digitise the deeds and improve the description of them, with the resulting output then added to our catalogue. Catalogue searches would be more effective and show up more detailed results. The catalogue could direct users to exactly the right deed and also provide a digital image of it- perfect for people who can’t make it into the search room. Having the deeds digitised also reduces the need to produce the original, and reduces the handling of these items when in a number of cases a digital surrogate is enough.

The plan was to digitise the deeds and improve the description of them.

The decision was taken to start the process with our Medieval Deeds. These are mostly written in Latin, so extracting key pieces of information from them would be of most benefit to the average user with little to no knowledge of the language. 

DCH_J75_2 one of our first completed deeds.

Due to the specialist knowledge needed to read and understand Latin and the writing style (palaeography) we decided to seek out people with this skill. To enable as broad an array of people as possible to help us with this, we decided to use a digital platform, from which we created a digital collaboration project. A fully digital project allows people to volunteer from their own home and in their own time.

After some research, we chose Trello to build our project on. Trello is a free online tool designed to assist collaborative working; assigning members of the team different tasks which can be seen by all. It allows multiple people to log in simultaneously from wherever they are. The layout is similar to a Kanban board, where you move items to the right as they progress through the workflow (far left is items pending, far right is items completed). This fit in well with our plan for the project.

Current screenshot from the project.

If you want to see this platform in action please watch our YouTube video. We are still relatively early on in this process and looking for more volunteers to help to push it forward.

The particular deeds in this project are characterised by the fact that they are made of parchment (stretched and scraped animal skins) and display a variety of seals and seal attaching techniques. They are primarily written in iron gall ink. The longevity of parchment documents means that they survive today in remarkable condition however extra care needs to be taken with the sometimes brittle and fragmented wax seals.

Close-up of one of the seals from the DCH Collection.

The Medieval Deeds digitised for this project are taken from our DCH collection, “Title deeds and leases, Cheshire and elsewhere, 12th century - c1900”, specifically DCH/J- Deeds relating to various Townships. 

Before digitising, any folded deeds were flattened and restored where necessary by our in-house conservation department. We have now digitised around 500 of the Medieval Deeds in our collection.

Currently, all these deed images are uploaded to Trello and our volunteers can choose from them and allocate one to themselves. The volunteer then translates the key sections of the deed and moves it onto the next stage. We don’t ask for a full transcription- just for essential information to be extracted and translated into English. This mainly consists of names, dates and locations but also costs involved and relationships between named people.

At this point, a different volunteer takes over and quality checks the description and adds their comments if required. The information is then checked a further time before being passed over to our in-house Latin specialist for final verification. When a batch of deeds has been completed, we will upload the images and results of the project onto our catalogue. This will be done intermittently until all deeds are finalised.

If you have a thorough understanding of Latin and feel that you could help us, please get in touch for more information at

All you require is an email address; computer and internet access to get started. Some of our volunteers even visit their local library to get internet access and assist us! All work is undertaken at a time and place convenient to you. There is no minimum number of hours required to help out.

In time, this will make the whole of DCH/J easier to search and increase the value and knowledge which can be gained from these manuscripts.

Want to know more about this project? See more:

On our blog:
Deeds Indeed

Via our newsletter:

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Cheshire’s Only Island

Did anyone see a lovely little piece on Springwatch earlier this year where documentary cameraman James Bayliss-Smith took off to Hilbre Island as a homage to his grandfather who took many bird photographs there, especially of wading birds stopping off on their way to their breeding grounds?  It got me wondering what we might hold here in the Archives relating to “Cheshire’s only Island”.  A quick search of the catalogue ( actually reveals 155 items listed under “Hilbre”.

If you don’t know of Hilbre, it (and its two smaller companions Middle Eye – sometimes, confusingly, Little Hilbre - and Little Eye) is “an archipelago consisting of three islands at the mouth of the estuary of the River Dee, the border between England and Wales at this point.  The islands are administratively part of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral." At low tide the islands can be reached on foot from West Kirby. An image from the Ordnance Survey 1st Edition 25 inch (Sheet XII-6) from 1871 shows Hilbre Island Telegraph Station and the ‘Submarine telegraph’ line to the mainland
1871 OS map

One of the earliest documents we hold that mentions Hilbre is  a copy (but an early one) of a seventeenth century Indenture (ref: EDD 13/5/1) 
EDD 13/5/1
There are also many Local Studies items.  These include a large range of articles in Cheshire Life, a full run of which is housed on open access in the searchroom.  Many of these are by Norman Ellison, who wrote A Naturalist’s Notebook in the magazine and was clearly a huge fan of Hilbre.  One of his pieces from Cheshire Life in April 1970 is an interesting article entitled “Storm over Hilbre” with an excellent and rather emotive image included.  Another book that interested me when I found it is Atgofion Ynyswr (roughly “Memoirs of an Islander”) by Lewis Jones, Hilbre gynt (formerly of Hilbre) published in Liverpool in Welsh, although there are some specific related pieces included in English (ref: 228560).  Mr Jones was the Telegraph Station Keeper on Hilbre (at the location on the map above) from 1888 until his retirement (back to Wales hence, I’m guessing, the language of the book) in 1923.  The book looks absolutely fascinating, but is rather lost on me due to its language of publication.  Thankfully I can see online that a Hugh Begley undertook a translation in 2003, although this has not, unfortunately, been published.  It is, however, available to consult at West Kirby Library.
Things then took a slightly unexpected turn when I found a fantastic book called Hilbre, The Cheshire Island: its history and natural history (ref: 016561) published in 1982.  This lovely 306pp volume is notable for a number of reasons.  Firstly, its cover and several internal illustrations were undertaken by a Guernsey born prize winning artist, Laurel Tucker who won many prizes and huge acclaim for her work, particularly with regard to her bird illustrations.  Very sadly she died in 1986, aged only 35.

In the same book, I then spotted a 17 page chapter entitled “A year on hilbre” which is written by an Ann Cleeves about her and her husband Tim’s first year on Hilbre (1977-78) where he was employed as the resident Warden.  In the list of Contributors printed on the dust jacket it states: “A. CLEEVES, wife of the Warden lived on Hilbre from 1977 to 1981, and holds a Certificate of Qualification in Social Work, University of Liverpool.”  This raised my eyebrows a little, and some judicious googling later revealed that this was indeed the well-known crime writer, best known for her Vera Stanhope and Shetland Island series of titles.  In several interviews Ann has alluded to this period, and indeed on her own biography she writes “Soon after they married, Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents, there was no mains electricity or water and access to the mainland was at low tide across the shore. If a person's not heavily into birds - and Ann isn't - there's not much to do on Hilbre and that was when she started writing.”  However, to the best of my knowledge, Ann has not actively publicised this early work before.  As this actually appears to be her very first published work, it remains to be seen whether this now leads to a rush of collectors suddenly vying for what must be a somewhat limited number of copies.  Time will tell!

As always there appears to be something for everyone here at Cheshire Archives – from seventeenth century Indentures to the first tentative steps towards literary stardom.  All that is left (apart from the other 150-odd related items on the catalogue) is to actually visit the Islands themselves, something that a combination of the tide and the weather forecast has so far combined to stop me undertaking .  I shall have to remedy that.  Which brings me to my final, and very important, point to note if you are going to visit Hilbre – you really do need to plan your visit very carefully around the tide timetables.  An excellent guide with very precise instructions on when you can and cannot go, and on what route to take across the sands, can be found here The tide timetables themselves can be found in many places including on the BBC website

(Addendum:  Since I wrote this, I’ve been doing some work on the population of Hilbre at census time which shows some fascinating glimpses into the history of the island in the second half of the nineteenth and first years of the twentieth centuries.  At times, it was home to a surprising number of people.  You’ll have to await a future blog to read about this in full.)