A Week in the Life of a Manorial Documents Register Project Officer

Recently, I was asked by a member of the public about the work I actually do. Hopefully, I was able to explain it enough satisfactorily enough to him! It did occur to me that it might actually be worthwhile to let more people know, so I thought I would just give a flavour of what happened last week.

On Monday I travelled by bus to Sheffield to visit the archives there. Most people would think that the records of places in their own county are all stored somewhere within it. The fact is that all record repositories have some material outside their catchment area. This generally happens when there is a large organisation which has many interests extending beyond the locality, such as a large firm which has owns several premises in different places. This is particularly the case with manorial records, as manors were owned by lords, some of whom were great magnates possessing estates all over the country. In the case of Sheffield, for example, the Dukes of Norfolk owned extensive properties there and the records of Sheffield manor and other northern estates were deposited with Sheffield Archives among the Arundel Castle Manuscripts held there. (The documents were originally held at the Dukes’ seat of Arundel castle in West Sussex.) These include a number of items which relate to Derbyshire, including documents for Glossop and Hartington.

At Sheffield, I checked some of their catalogues and finding aids and looked at the original documents which I had ordered up in advance of my visit. I had been able to do a lot of preparatory work, looking at catalogues online. This is one area where great strides have been made in the last decade in the world of archives. The work I am doing now would have been much more complicated and time-consuming had I been doing it 10 years earlier. Most record repositories have online catalogues these days, and there are also the invaluable A2A pages on The National Archives website, where lists of records of many large collections were made available online as part of a nationwide project.

Most of the information I am searching for is generally available in catalogues, I don’t, therefore, spend too much time actually looking at original documents. When I do, it tends to be to check various details which may be unclear, such as a document’s date or  something which doesn’t quite look right with its description. If there is only a general catalogue entry, such as ‘manorial papers, or ‘court papers’, I need to look at the items in more detail to establish exactly what is there and what needs to be recorded on the Manorial Documents Register (MDR). Occasionally, I also need to look at records to see whether they are actually manorial. At Sheffield, I looked at a 17th century rental containing entries for Mosborough and Westwell Hall, neither of which were known to have a manor, and by looking at the rental I was able to confirm that it was, indeed, not manorial.

On the Tuesday morning, I was back in the Derbyshire Record Office, assessing what I had done the day before and entering the appropriate information onto the database which will eventually be incorporated into the MDR available online. This will, hopefully, be viewable towards the end of this year or the start of next. The sort of information I am putting into the database is quite concise, with the fields set up as follows: a very short description of what there is (rarely more than a line), the repository where it is held, its date or dates, its collection details, its collection reference number(s), its document reference number(s), its record type and any other details (such as any known transcriptions). The names of each manor are entered in the database under their own unique reference code, so whenever we choose to put something, we also have to put in the appropriate code for the manor. There are 42 types of records we have to choose from when we try to classify items, such as court book, court roll, rental, survey and minutes, as well as the more esoteric ones for essoin (excuses for non-attendance at court), artefacts (such as a steward’s rod or baton) and wrecks (lords of the manor were entitled to items washed up on shore  – not much for Derbyshire yet!).

On Tuesday afternoon I had a meeting with assistant conservator Clare and archivist Karen about the small exhibition being set up inside the Derbyshire Record Office. Over the last few months I have been looking at items which might go on display to show the wide range of manorial records we have here, choosing what should go in and preparing captions. This meeting was basically to check to see where we were with regard to generla progress and some of the details, mainly about the accompanying captions and scans.

On the Wednesday I went to the archives at Chatsworth House to carry on my survey of the manorial records there. It did mean a small diversion getting there, as part of the normal visitor drive was being tarmacked and I did have to avoid a collision with a reversing coach at one stage. It was busy, not because of the numbers of visitors, but because of the filming taking place (something to do with the Queen’s wartime experiences, I gather). Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see anything of it, as the action was not taking place in the archives or anywhere near it. There is a fair amount of manorial documents at Chatsworth, most of which is absent from the current MDR. The two archivists employed there, James Towe and Aidan Haley have been very helpful in providing access to various catalogues and lists which are not widely available. They had brought up quite a lot of documents which I had requested to see, including a fine series of court books for the manor of Ashford from the 17th to 20th centuries, as well a folder of court rolls for the same place dating from the time of King Edward III (c.1335-1369). There was also a court book for Staveley, 1595-1786 (with gaps), which also included entries for the separate manor of Staveley Woodthorpe. We had not known whether there was really such a manor for Staveley Woodthorpe, so it was nice to get the most definite confirmation that it did exist. This sort of thing is childishly pleasing to me!

On the Thursday morning I did much the same sort of thing I had done on Tuesday, processing the information I had found and putting it on the database. I was also able to check one or two things with Stuart Band, who used to work as a volunteer at Chatsworth in the archives, suggesting the possible location for more records of Hartington manor, something I was able to confirm with Aidan by email. During the afternoon, we had another meeting about the exhibition, this time setting up a mock-up of it on tables in one of the meeting rooms and including the senior conservator Lien, who will be the one who physically sets it up. There was another exhibition (50 Treasures of the DRO) still in the actual display area, so we were just checking the possible lay-out of items before they actually went in. This was really our last chance to make sure that everything would be OK and to tidy up a few details. One caption was found to have a mistake in it (mea culpa), and we were missing a few scans of historical portraits of a number of lords, which I would later get from Nick in Picture the Past. There are many images of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire people and places, which are well worth a look at by going to http://www.picturethepast.org.uk/. Generally, everything looked to be OK, and, indeed, the exhibiton can now be seen by visitors to the Derbyshire Record Office in the entrance area.

On Friday, I spent some of the day continuing to process more of the information from my visits to both Sheffield and Chatsworth. I also checked into a problem about a rent accounts book for Dronfield manor, 1660-1714, which had been sent from Sheffield Archives a few months to be re-accessioned at Derbyshire Record Office. I had not been able to find it when I looked for it earlier, but I was able to locate it this time, so Iwas able to add the information on that to the database. I also wrote a few emails, including one to one of our volunteers, Celia, who is researching into the histories of manors for us, particulalry those in the north east of the county. She is helping to prepare reasonably short, concise pieces on individual manors, which will also end up on the MDR website, providing historical context to its users. In the afternoon I also prepare a couple of drafts of these manor histories myself, for which I use many of the resources of the Local Studies Library here. It is very helpful to have all these so close at hand.

I end up working on Saturday morning by returning to Sheffield Archives, where I clear up all the queries I had over from the previous Monday. I’m glad to say everything seems to work out OK, so I consider it a good morning’s work. It had been something of a late decision to go, based around the fact that my football team, Coventry City, was playing Sheffield United in the afternoon at Bramall Lane 10 minutes walk away from the Archives. Killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. We lost (naturally), but at least the morning meant it hadn’t been a totally wasted trip.

I hope that has given you some sort of idea of what I do.


PS In response to a previous query, I did do the Warwickshire MDR project as well

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