24th April 2019
At the Society's AGM earlier this month, Dr Craig Horner of Manchester Metropolitan University delivered an engaging and insightful lecture on his recent research into the pre-WW1 Cheshire motor vehicle registration records, which he is currently preparing for publication for the Record Society. The Cheshire records – which are quite a rare survival – commence in 1904, after an act of Parliament required owners to register their vehicles, and shed much light on the social history of early motoring. Dr Horner discussed what this documentation can tell us about the relative popularity of different models of car and motorbike in North-West England in the years preceding the First World War; the sale, purchase and movement of second-hand vehicles; the social and occupational profile of early car owners; women’s involvement in early motoring; and the (mixed) reputation of motorists and chauffeurs. There were a wide range of questions from an appreciative audience, which were fielded with humour and expertise. The Record Society would like to thank Dr Horner for a fascinating lecture, and we await his forthcoming volume with much anticipation.
15th January 2019
Volume 155 publishes the fascinating diary of William Lloyd Holden. In the history of cartography, William Lloyd Holden is not a familiar name; however, the chance survival of his diaries provides unique evidence of the actual processes involved in producing the county maps published by private surveyors and publishers in the period between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the rise of the Ordnance Survey. Holden worked for William Andrewes Bryant in Cheshire – where he covered most of the northern part of the County from the Wirral to the Longdendale panhandle - and in the West Riding, particularly in the Holmfirth area and the Dales. He also spent the winter of 1829-30 in London, where he did odd pieces of work for Bryant as well as spending time with his family. The dairies show that the ‘actual’ surveys of Bryant, the Greenwoods and their contemporaries were primarily exercises in compilation and synthesis from existing large-scale local mapping, rather than new surveys. The diaries also provide a fascinating picture of the social life and activities, entertainments, flirtations and interests of an insatiably curious young bachelor, and incidentally of the communities in which he spent time.
30th May 2018
Residents of the Nantwich area, civil-war re-enactors, and many people interested in the history of the English civil wars of the mid seventeenth century will be familiar with the annual re-enactment of the battle of Nantwich held in that town at the end of January. Over the last weekend of that month members of the Sealed Knot gather in Nantwich, lay a wreath at the town war memorial in memory of the fallen, and re-enact the battle fought on 25 January 1644. A Royalist army led by Lord Byron from Chester had been besieging the town for six weeks but had to raise the siege to face an advancing Parliamentarian army from Manchester under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax (later famous as the commander of the New Model Army and victor of the battle of Naseby). The two armies met at Acton, just to the west of the town. The Royalists were defeated and forced to abandon their siege; the Parliament remained in control of Nantwich for the remainder of the war.
By far the most detailed picture we have of the siege comes from the civil-war diaries of two Nantwich Parliamentarians, Thomas Malbon, a local lawyer, and Edward Burghall, vicar of the neighbouring parish of Acton. Both were published by the Society in 1889, edited by the Nantwich local historian Joseph Hall as Memorials of the Civil War in Cheshire and the Adjacent Counties (Vol. 19). Malbon provided a vivid eyewitness account of living through the desperate siege, from its beginnings as Royalist forces advanced towards the town in the week before Christmas 1643. He wrote of the infamous massacre at near-by Barthomley, where 12 locals were killed by the Royalists after they had been smoked out of the church and surrendered. He described conditions in the town, noting that since the men were guarding the town defences, it was left to the women to quench the fires started by the Royalist cannonade. He even kept a score of the number of cannonballs shot at the town (96 on one day, 16 January 1644).
A year after the battle Malbon recorded that the town commemorated the anniversary of its deliverance in ‘a solemn day of thanksgiving’. Those who mark the battle in modern times (a re-enactment has been held since 1972) are thus perpetuating a tradition (much interrupted) that can be traced back to 1645 and volume 19 of the Society’s publications.
30th April 2018
When the Lord Mayor of Chester, Councillor Razia Daniels, admitted 21 people to the Freedom of the City of Chester last week, she was following an ancient tradition. The rolls of Freemen up to 1805 have been published as Volumes 51 and 55 of the Society's publications. The earliest named people being made Free were from 1392, when John Tayte, Hugh de Prestcote and William de Laghok were admitted to the Freedom by the Mayor, Gilbert Trussell. Laghok was from Speke in Merseyside and Prestcote was a fletcher or arrow-maker. There is no record of what ceremony they enjoyed, but the current crop of Freemen swore that they would "be not assenting nor abetting to any confederacy nor conspiracy against the city nor my neighbours". The editor of Volume 51, which was published in 1906, believed: "This has probably been the form for a long time".
21st March 2018
The will making process is supposed to prepare the will maker and that testator’s family for the family’s passage from one generation to another. The biblical episode (II Kings 20, v1) of good King Hezekiah who fearing death put his house in order (made his will) and was then spared by the Lord, was an incentive, and a tale retold frequently in Stockport between 1620 and 1650 (see Volume 131), and widely in early-modern England in wills. As historians know to their cost, not everyone followed Hezekiah! And when they did, not every will was a success. Here is an example from the collection of Stockport probate records 1578-1619 which the Society published in 1984 (as volume 124, with me as a joint editor with the late J. H. Smith, to which page references are given).
When in June 1618 the wealthy widow Jane Robinson made her will she allowed her sister Margerie Hardman for Margerie’s life the right to sleep on a chaffe bed, “whereupon she usually lyeth”, and she gave her sister 20s which Jane’s executors were to pay her for her relief as they thought fit (p. 117).
When Margerie’s first husband, James Tellier (or Taylor) died in 1606 he was a man of modest substance, with land to lease and to work, some gold and silver pieces and money to lend, and a good stock in trade as a cutler. His estate was worth overall £122 (pp. 44-7). How was his widow reduced to begging a bed from her sister a dozen years later?
James left his estate to his wife and son James, and appointed his brother in law John Robinson as his executor, and John proved the will. If Margerie and James died, then the estate was to go to the children of John Robinson. Margerie remarried a Robert Hardman (or Haldman), and her new husband and his wife sued Robinson over his administration of the estate (p. 47). John Robinson died in 1617 and when he made his will he claimed that James Tellier’s estate was wasted in lawsuits brought by the Hardmans against him (p. 103). Is this litigation why, a year later, Margerie was camped out with her sister? Margerie was not described as a widow in 1618, and there was a Robert Hardman living in Stockport in 1619, so had her second husband thrown her out?
There is lots to follow up from this tale (perhaps already done by historians of these families), including some missing genealogy. Presumably John Robinson won his case in the church courts, so the Hardmans went to common law (p.117). John Robinson offered no clue as to which court: one of the Palatinate of Chester courts, or a national law court perhaps? What details might await the enquirer there?
The family is generally regarded by historians as a pillar of society, but here is a corrective to that generalisation, the breakdown of a relationship leading to costly and ultimately exhausting litigation.
C. B. Phillips
19th February 2018
Given the current debate about the country's relations with other parts of Europe, it is interesting to reflect on the participation of a couple of prominent Europeans in the civil war in the North West over 370 years ago. Some of the earliest items of correspondence published in R. N. Dore’s edition of the Letter Books of Sir William Brereton (volumes 123 and 128) reveal the impact of the arrival in Cheshire in February 1645 of the 24 year-old Maurice, prince palatine of the Rhine, son of Charles I’s sister, Elizabeth, and his elder and better-known brother, Rupert, the following month. Having already served in the Dutch and Swedish forces, Maurice had fought at Edgehill and in the West Country before setting up his command at Worcester early in 1645; he marched on Chester while the parliamentarian siege of the city was underway. On 8 February the Committee of Both Kingdoms informed Brereton, commander-in-chief of parliament’s forces in Cheshire, that it was diverting forces from surrounding counties to try to prevent Maurice from reaching Chester. The failure of those forces to arrive in sufficient numbers led to Brereton’s response a fortnight later that the prince had entered the city, frustrating – temporarily – his efforts to blockade it completely.
The following month, Brereton was warned of Rupert’s march towards Chester, bringing with him additional forces: in the words of one of Sir William’s supporters, ‘The Prince draws nigh and our armies lie yet in a chaos’.
Brereton’s letters provide a fascinating insight into his efforts to monitor, and respond to, the princes’ activities in Cheshire. They also reveal the importance he placed on the timely appearance in the county of Scottish forces, convinced that this was essential to prevent the king's nephews from heading north to recruit troops in Lancashire and endanger parliamentarian control of much of the north of England. By the end of March, however, Brereton could report the sudden departure of Maurice and Rupert and their removal of some of the garrison, and what he understood to be the ‘desperate and forlorn condition’ of the city.
The intervention of the palatine princes – a source of great concern to the parliamentarian command in Cheshire in February and March 1645 – had ultimately weakened royalist control of both the city and the county.
29th January 2018
Most of the Society’s publications publish texts recording events ranging from the later middle ages to the twentieth century, but Volume 14 includes historical events from much earlier. Called the Annales Cestriensis - Annals of Chester - the document it transcribes and translates was probably written in the late fifteenth century, but it was copying out entries from an older chronicle. The editor, Richard Copley Christie, went to great trouble to try and work out what he could about that old book, and came to the conclusion it was probably kept at Chester Abbey and was possibly a book that was destroyed by a fire in the 1730s.
Much of what the document records is well-known from other sources – it starts with the birth of Jesus and ends with a journey by Edward I in 1297. But some of its material is unique, especially in relation to local characters – it appears to be the only known source for the date of birth of Hugh Cyfeiliog, who was Earl of Chester in the late twelfth century and who, according the Annales Cestriensis, was born in 1147. And because information is very scarce about Cheshire in the period between the Romans leaving Britain in 410 and the Normans arriving in 1066, anything the manuscript call tell us for those centuries is valuable. It describes the founding of St John’s Church in Chester as long ago as the year 689 and the moving of St Werburgh’s remains from Staffordshire to Chester in 875.
Many English chronicles have unpleasant things to say about the Vikings, whose raids began at the very end of the eighth century. The Chester Annals have an interesting way of expressing their impact. Under the year 789, they record “The first arrival in England of the Danes, who taught the English to drink too much”.
11th January 2018
The following review recent appeared in the newsletter of Lancaster University's Regional Heritage Centre:
NEW LIGHT ON LIFE IN MEDIEVAL LANCASHIRE
One night, at a date somewhere between 1272 and 1292, Richard the lorimer (i.e. maker of metalwork for horse bridles) of Lancaster discovered his wife and her lover ‘sitting and dallying’ in a malt-kiln near the town – a warm and secluded place for a lovers’ tryst. A fight ensued and each man wounded the other fatally. The case came before the justices at the Lancashire eyre in 1292. Even though both men were dead, the Crown expected to exact a financial penalty for homicide from their assets, and Richard the lorimer had been a comparatively wealthy man, possessing chattels and a burgage property in Lancaster, from which the sheriff was answerable for sums totalling over 60 shillings.
Such detailed cameos of the lives of ordinary folk in thirteenth-century Lancashire are provided by a rich new publication, a full scholarly edition of the Crown pleas before justices at the Lancashire eyre of 1292, prepared by Margaret Lynch with members of the Ranulf Higden Society and published by the Record Society of Lancashire & Cheshire. The eyre swept up cases of crime (killings, theft, rape), sudden death (suicide and death by misadventure), misconduct of local peace-keepers, and threats to the Crown interest which had occurred in the twenty years since the previous eyre in 1272. The text is at one level a sombre account of death and malpractice but it is the incidental details of everyday life that make it such a vivid window into medieval times. This is a high quality edition, with the Latin of the original on left-hand side of each page, opposite an English translation on the right. It is fully indexed by Carrie Smith and comes with a pithy, scholarly introduction by Henry Summerson. All are to be congratulated on making this rich source accessible to all who are interested in Lancashire’s past.
21st July 2017
James Buckley's cash book from 1729 to 1733 has been published as Volume 154 of the Society's texts. Buckley was a land agent and surveyor and a trustee of Cranage Forge near Knutsford and the records which are published are his detailed accounts of all the money he received and expended throughout the four years. They include matters concerning the business of the forge and also Buckley's private affairs and those of his associates and family. The cash book sheds light on the development of the iron industry in the area, and also on the everyday lives of the local population Edited by Jim Sutton, the volume gives a fascinating look at the lives of an upwardly mobile man of business and his circle.
The volume will be of particular interest to people interested in he following families, whose names are mentioned repeatedly in the cash book: Askham, Booth, Cotton, Hall, Kenerley, Leadbeater, Okell and Vawdry.
13th March 2017
Members and friends of the Record Society met last month in Liverpool to launch volume 152, The Letters of William Blundell the Cavalier, edited by Geoff Baker with Nick Martin-Smith. Dr Baker holds a visiting fellowship at Liverpool Hope University where he began his historical studies; the University was delighted to welcome him back to celebrate the publication of his volume.
Mr Mark Blundell, representing the Blundell family, opened proceedings with some fascinating observations about the remarkable life of his seventeenth-century predecessor who managed to travel widely at home and abroad while living under the supposed restraints of the penal laws. Dr Baker responded by explaining how his interest in the career of William Blundell developed following a thought-provoking lecture on the ‘Popish Plot’ during his undergraduate studies and the advice he later received to focus his doctoral work on the later seventeenth-century Catholic community. Dr Baker also drew attention to the large body of William Blundell’s correspondence and other papers still awaiting a modern critical edition.
The Record Society’s President, Dr Colin Phillips, drew attention to the connections between volume 152 and the Society’s other titles focusing on Lancashire and recusant history, and the importance of early modern work in our back catalogue. He thanked the previous speakers, emphasising the importance to record societies of interesting historical evidence and willing volume editors. Before formally launching the volume, Dr Phillips also thanked the Record Society’s general editor, Dr Martin Heale, for his work in overseeing recent publications.
Those present were invited to visit the university’s Special Collections to see some of the books on deposit from the Archdiocese of Liverpool’s Gradwell Collection and the Diocese of Lancaster’s recently-deposited Talbot Collection. Thanks are due to Liverpool Hope University for the refreshments and warm welcome and to Karen Backhouse for inviting us to visit the Special Collections.
The photograph shows Mr Mark Blundell (right) of Crosby Hall congratulating the volume editor, Dr Geoff Baker.
8th January 2017
The Record Society and Liverpool Hope University jointly extend a warm welcome to members to an event to launch Volume 152 of the Record Society's publications, from 5pm to 7pm on 15 February 2017. The event will be held in the Senior Common Room in the Hilda Constance Allen building of Liverpool Hope University, L169JD.
The Letter of William Blundell the Cavalier, edited by Geoff Baker with Nick Martin-Smith is a fascinating collection of letters relting to a Catholic gentleman, covering the second half of the seventeenth century. It details the ways in which Blundell survived the Civil Wars and how he navigated the penal laws and developed Catholic connections throughout England and continental Europe. Dr Geoff Baker, who edited the volume, is Principal of Cromer Academy and holds visiting fellowships at both the University of East Anglia and Liverpool Hope University.
Refreshments will be served, and in addition to celebrating the volume, there will be an opportunity to tour the Sheppard-Worlock Library's Special Collections vault to see the Archdiocese of Liverpool's Gradwell Collection and the Diocese of Lancaster's recently-deposited Talbot Collection.
RSVP to Dr Fiona Pogson at email@example.com 0151 291 3115
19th December 2016
A new project created a finding aid to some of the most difficult to use Elizabeth records relating to Lancashire and Cheshire. The Elizabethan Star Chamber Project, hosted by AALT at the University of Houston, is putting county names to cases in the National Archives class to Records of the Court of Star Chamber (Class STAC5). You can access the new lists and indexes here.
The suits in this series include cases alleging perversion of justice, abuse of legal procedure, frivolous litigation, false imprisonment, or crimes unpunished, often because of corruption. Such cases might involve corrupt jury verdicts, perjury, improper procedure, and falsification of records either by officials of the court or by the interested parties, including forgery of bonds, wills, and deeds. Other criminal causes included allegations of murder, abduction, assault, and riot
There is now a sufficient number of cases identified to make the website interesting to local historians, and there is a large number of suits from Lancashire and Cheshire. All of the original documents are in English, but most of the cases are completely unknown to historians, largely because of the impenetrable way the records were originally filed, and then catalogued at the National Archives (cases may have up to twenty different references). This is the first time most of them have had a usable finding aid.
Some of the cases in STAC5 relate directly to material found in Record Society Volumes. For example, the Cheshire case of Sir Robert Remington and Elinor his wife versus Thomas Starkey and others is clearly about the same issue as the Exchequer Deposition relating to the same parties, which is calendared in Volume 11 from 1885. This gives details of the Remingtons’ dispute with Starkey and his associates, relating to lands in Frodsham.
26th October 2016
Volume 153 - A Londoner in Lancashire - is an exciting new volume from the Society that reproduces major selections of a the wartime diary of Annie Beatrice Holness, who was evacuated from Barnet in North London to Morecambe in Lancashire. Annie Holness was a middle-aged civil servant who began a diary for Mass Observation, a social research project that had begun in 1937. Her thoughtful and observant diary records everyday life in all its detailed diversity - her billet, her enjoyable country walks, her sometimes dreary job, her usually gratifying leisure activities (night classes, music, theatre, her allotment), the congestion and the sights and sounds of wartime Lancashire. She often lamented feeling like an 'exile' in Morecambe and returned to London after the war ended, but she could not stay away and two years later came back to settle permanently in Lancashire. This volume will be fascinating to many people interested not just in Lancashire history but in the reality of life in wartime Britain.
15th January 2016
In the best historical tradition, I came upon this document by chance while looking for something completely different. I knew immediately that it was of outstanding importance, and also of extraordinary interest – the uniquely detailed autobiography of a mill mechanic who lived during the turbulent and transformational period of the early phases of the industrial revolution, from 1772 to 1841. He not only describes his own life, but gives biographies of no fewer than thirty of his family, making this an account of an ordinary working class family which has no parallel in Britain. The text covers almost every aspect of working class life, from wages and working conditions, via courtship and marriage, serial illegitimacy and domestic discord, to sickness, infant mortality and early death. Its geographical scope is also wide: the author was born in Dentdale, the most remote of the Yorkshire Dales; he worked for some years at Dolphinholme near Lancaster, the first water-powered textile mill in England; and spent most of his adult life in the teeming, smoky industrial town of Preston. That journey is itself almost a metaphor for the lives of tens of thousands of migrants during this period, when the industrialisation of North West England was reshaping the world. Now recognised as one of the seminal published texts for late eighteenth and early nineteenth century working class life, Benjamin Shaw’s Family Records is for me, its editor, also an intensely moving and endlessly fascinating document. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to produce this edition.
Alan Crosby, Editor, Volume 130
20th September 2015
The latest volume from the Record Society shows what life was like for people living on the Wirrall in the fourteenth century. Subject to 'forest law,' which restricted their activities so as to preserve hunting rights for royalty, the area was perodically visited by judges to check that the inhabitants were not digging ditches that might trap the king's deer, enclosing land or taking wood or other commodities that they were not legally entitled to.
This is a fascinating insight into a system that has long since been forgotten but which was a very real presence in the late 1350s, when these records were created.
28th July 2015
The two latest Record Society publications bring the total list of volumes to 150, and they give a wonderful insight into the lives of thirteenth century Lancaster. The Crown Pleas of the 1292 Eyre of Lancashire constitute a detailed record of crime and disorder, official misconduct, threats to the king's rights and much else that had happened during the previous two decades. Roger of Bare prosecuted William Haverhill of Staynall for assault. Mabel Smith wanted to prosecute Geoffrey Pleasington but he had died. Richard son of Henry had drowned and his father had found his body; as the first finder of a corpse, he was automatically suspected of foul play, but the two men who were supposed to have arrested him could not produce him, so it was they who were in trouble.
There are over 1000 entries in the volumes, with the original Latin text published side by side with an English translation. The work of Margaret Lynch and other members of the Ranulf Higden Society, these two volumes gives a remarkable picture of life over 700 years ago.
17th April 2015
THE SHIRE HALL, LANCASTER CASTLE,
CASTLE HILL, LANCASTER, LA1 1YS
31 July 2015, at 6-30pm
Margaret E. Lynch. who has edited volumes 148, 149, and 150 of the Society’s publications, invites all members of the Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire (RSLC) to a book launch of the 3 volume edition of Crown Pleas of the Lancashire Eyre, 1292, translated and transcribed with members of our Society and the Ranulf Higden Society. RSLC published the first volume of the trilogy as its volume 148, in December 2104. Volumes 2 and 3 of the trilogy will be RSLC vols 149 and 150, due out in the summer this year.
Speakers expected are:
Professor Paul Brand (University of Oxford)
Dr Alan Crosby
Dr Simon Harris (Chairman of The Ranulf Higden Society)
(all introduced by Dr Colin Phillips, President, RSLC).
Attendance is free, but for security reasons you must book in advance and only those who have booked will be admitted.
To book a place email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bookings will be taken on a first-come-first-served basis because numbers are limited. Bookings will be acknowledged, and rejections because of the numbers limit notified.
This is a major publication, and your support at Lancaster will be much appreciated. The Eyre was held in Lancaster Castle, an appropriate place, therefore, to launch this edition.
The RSLC membership secretary is Jim Sutton: email@example.com
25th March 2015
In a fascinating Special Lecture following the Society's AGM, Professor Dan Szechi told the story of the Battle of Preston in November 1715. The political context, the international dimension, novice Jacobite commander and the Government's strategy of keeping its best troops close to London all contributed to a situation in which two sets of soliders, neither of whom was especially well trained, fought a disorganised series of confrontations within the town of Preston.
When large numbers of Government troops were killed and retreated out of the town, everyone thought the Jacobites had won, but their commander Thomas Forster unexpectedly offered to surrender, seemingly horrified by the sight of dead and wounded men in the marketplace. The Jacobite cause in England was lost for good, and Lancashire acquired the distinction of hosting the last significant battle ever fought on English soil.
A fascinating story expertly told brought to life the people and events of the Northwest three hundred years ago this year.
13th March 2015
The Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire has mounted hundreds of names of ancestors from the North West online to mark the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Preston. Local and family historians will be able to search for ancestors who were forced to prove they were not Roman Catholics, after the Catholic supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie were crushed by the government army at Preston in 1715. More details are here
At a public lecture in Liverpool on Weds 25th March, Prof Daniel Szechi of Manchester University will ask why the Jacobites failed to recover after their defeat at the Battle of Preston in 1715, often described as the last full scale battle fought on English soil. At the same time, the Society is publishing the first tranche of 1,000 names taken (by Dr Peter Cotgreave) from documents called Sacrament Certificates, which were needed to prove that anyone in a position of authority – clergymen, tax collectors, mayors and so on – were practising members of the Church of England. The Certificates had to be signed by witnesses, so the names also include many more ordinary members of local parishes.
The President of the Society, Dr Collin Philips said: “For over 130 years, the Record Society has been making historical documents of the area available to professional and amateur historians and this year we will bring out our 150th printed volume. This new venture for the Society of publishing material online will allow us to expand the range of historical records that are readily available to genealogists, people interested in local history and professional history researchers. The Society is open to anyone interested in the history of Lancashire and Cheshire.”
Dan Szechi’s lecture Preston 1715 and the Failure of English Jacobitism will be at 2.15pm on Wednesday 25th March in the Department of History of the University of Liverpool, Abercromby Square, L69 7WZ. Admission is free. More details of the Society, the lecture are available here.
18th December 2014
The Society's latest volume (Volume 148) is noe published, and discusses murders, bribery, theft and violence. The first of three volumes dealing with the Crown Pleas of the Lancashire Eyre of 1292 is a fascinating introduction by Henry Summerson. It places into context a whole range of legal cases that today would be called criminal actions and public order offences. Land and property, wealth and poverty, lords and criminals are all discussed, and placed into the fascinating context of a county far from the central government in London during the reign of Edward I. In 2015, two further volumes will publish the text of the rolls in the original Latin and in English translation. Volume 148 can be purchased by non members for £25. Details of how to buy copies of the Society's volumes can be found here.
27th June 2014
It is with great sadness that the Society records the death on 24 June 2014, at the age of 69, of Dr Peter McNiven, our general editor from 1984 to 1994 and from 2002 until 2012.
Peter was born in Doncaster, Yorkshire, on 22 September 1944. By 1947, when Peter’s sister Tina was born, the family was living in St Helens in Lancashire. Peter was educated at Prescot Grammar School and Manchester University. He gained a First in History in 1965, and was awarded an MA in 1967 for a thesis entitled, ‘Rebellion and Disaffection in the North of England, 1403-08’. His PhD, supervised by Professor John Roskell and awarded in 1977, was on ‘Political Development in the Second Half of the Reign of Henry IV, 1405-13’.
Peter joined the University of Manchester Library in 1969. Although he spent most of his career working in the University Library on Oxford Road (holding a number of posts, including History Cataloguer and Librarian, Guardian Archivist and University Archivist), he will be best remembered for his outstanding work as Head of Special Collections (1988–2000), based in the John Rylands Library, Deansgate. He played a pivotal role in revitalizing the department through the first John Rylands Research Institute, and the ‘Visitor Initiative’ which saw the appointment of the Library’s first Exhibitions Officer and the refurbishment of what is now known as the Rylands Gallery (then the only space open to the public on the ground floor), and the rewiring of the building in 1994. He also coordinated the Library’s successful bid to HEFCE for a major retro-conversion and cataloguing project in the mid-90s. Another of his lasting achievements was the special issue of the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library in 2000, which contained his articles on the history of the Library since 1972 and a catalogue of the ‘Scholar’s Paradise’ centenary exhibition, which remains an invaluable reference tool.
Peter was a highly respected medieval historian who, despite holding an important and demanding role in the University Library, was able to write a substantial monograph (Heresy and Politics in the Reign of Henry IV: The Burning of John Badby, 1987) and many academic articles. He was a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. In Manchester, he played an active role in many historical societies, including the Manchester Medieval Society, the Chetham Society and the Record Society.
It was Peter’s work as general editor of the Record Society from which he derived particular pleasure, especially after his retirement from the University. He always said that if he could have afforded to be a full-time editor and writer, he would have been very happy. Until serious ill-health dictated otherwise, he did work on behalf of this Society in a near full-time capacity from 2002. His work always extended well beyond the vital oversight of layout, or of printing and binding – the bread and butter tasks of a general editor. The late Professor RHC Davis credited Peter with ‘great scholarly skill’ for his arrangement of the documents in our volume 126, published in 1988, The Charters of the Anglo-Norman Earls of Chester, c.1071-1237, edited by Professor Geoffrey Barraclough who had died in 1984. Peter certainly went well beyond a general editor’s role to help with the transcription of the texts of the second and third volumes of Henry Prescott’s Diary, work recognised by naming him as joint editor on their title pages. In all, he supervised the publication of some eighteen volumes. Though three lay in his own specialist academic area of later medieval England, most post-dated medieval times: ‘his’ volumes ranged from the eleventh century to 1929! He achieved an almost equal spread of subject matter between the two palatine counties.
When colleagues and friends reminisce about Peter, the most common description of him is that of a ‘true gentleman’. This is not to say that he was quaintly old-fashioned; he was not. He disliked being a ‘boss’, although ironically he was good at it. He was a fair man and an exceptionally kind and compassionate person who commanded great respect from all who knew him. His interests were wide. Beside historical pursuits, he was an accomplished amateur ornithologist, artist, budding novelist and a great political and sports pundit. He will be sorely missed by all of us who were privileged to know him.
In 2002 Peter and his wife moved to Carmarthen when Betty became a vicar in the Church in Wales. Together they coped with several personal and family tragedies which would have broken most people, including the death of their eldest son, John, at the age of 27. They have supported Joanne and their four grandchildren in a quite remarkable way. Peter was an unassuming man with a self-deprecating wit, but he was fearlessly supportive of his friends and family. He was immensely proud of Betty’s position as a pioneering ‘female priest’, skilled tailor and craftswoman; and of his younger son’s academic achievements in a field (Physics) about which he was, on his own admission, sadly ignorant.
There will be a family funeral for Peter in South Wales on 7 July. A memorial service will be held at St Wilfrid's in Northenden on Thursday, 28 August, at 11am.
If anyone would like to write to Betty McNiven, please email Dorothy Clayton for contact details firstname.lastname@example.org
27 June 2014
23rd March 2014
On 24 March 1697, Henry Prescott ate dinner with a Mr Leftwich and then went for a walk around the fields near Chester. He then met with two booksellers called Minshall and Hodgson to discuss the possiblity of forming a lottery. Since he never mentioned the project again in his diary, it presumably came to nothing. Prescott was an official of the local ecclesiastical court and his diary is packed with the names of local people whom he met and interacted with. The month of March 1697 includes references to Mr Thane, Mr Boucher, the Chancellor of the Consistory Court, Henry Sachaveril, Dr Foulk, Mr Fogg and Sir William Meredith. It also contains fascinating details of ordinary life - a couple of days before he dined with Leftwich, Prescott had eaten oysters and ale with Mr Thane and Mr Hulton. There are details of the weather - earlier in the month "a storm falls about Broxton", and endless references to medicines. But it is not clear whether Prescott was sleeping well towards the end of the month because of "a larger dose of Elixir" or more probably because he abstained from ale!
The details of life in Chester can be found in The Diary of Henry Prescott LLB, which wa published in three parts, as volumes 127, 132 and 133, edited by John Addy, John Harrop and Peter McNiven (1987, 1995, 1997). Details of how to buy copies are available here.
14th February 2014
On 14 February 1636, the will of Gilbert Woollam of Wrenbury Frith was proved at Chester Probate Court. The references of his wife hardly sound like those of a loving Valentine. She is described simply as "Margery Woollam my wife," where his neighbour Thomas Gray referred to his "loving wife Ellen". But Woollam did better than Robert Wade, also of Wrenbury Frith, whose will simply mentions "my wife" without even saying what her name was. Gilbert Woollam's real concern was clearly for his son Robert and especially his daughter Alice, who was to receive £110. He provided for his wife, but he expected her to work for it. As soon as Gilbert was dead, she was to go "with what convenient speed she may" to their landlord, William Massey, and renew the lease on their property. He may not have described her in loving terms, but Gilbert Woollam clearly trusted Margery; he made her the executor of his will.
This and many other fascinating family stories can be found in Volume 144 of the Society's publications Wrenbury Wills and Inventories 1542-1661, Edited by Paul B Pixton (2009). Details of how to purchase a copy are available here.
20th January 2014
Details of how to purchase a copy of Church Lawton Manor Court Rolls are available here.
1st January 2014
On 1st January 1729, Clement Taylor of Finsthwaite in the Lake District credited Sarah Fell with £3/2/2 for peeling bark from 18 quarters and 5 bushels of wood, which he would turn into charcoal. It was one way in which Widow Fell paid her rent, her husband having died a few months earlier. One James Dixon paid the rest of the rent, and over the next few days Jane Woodburn, Edward Danson, William Book, Miles Harrison and Christopher Coulton appear in Taylor’s accounts. Clement Taylor’s account books tell a fascinating story of a farmer and businessman living on land that had belonged to his family for over a century and a half. His direct descendents would live at Finsthwaite until 1821, when his great nephew died and left the estate to someone he described as “a relation,” Roger Taylor. Such was the power of family ties that the “relation” must have been a very distant cousin indeed - so distant that the nature of the supposed relationship cannot now be established.
The Finsthwaite accounts are published in Volume 135 of the Society’s publications, The Account Book of Clement Taylor of Finsthwaite 1712-1753, edited by Janet D Martin (1997).