THE RESOURCES TO USE AND ARCHIVES TO VISIT
At Northamptonshire’s county record office there are various projects afoot, all seeking to improve access to historical sources. At the time of our last visit to the region in 2010, the record office’s digital catalogues were only available through The National Archives’ old Access to Archives site, but the past 12 months has seen the launch of a new dedicated online catalogue at nro.adlibhosting.com/search/simple.
Archivist Daniel Williams says: “Customers are now able to search more than 660 collections (over 100,220 items) held here at Northamptonshire Archives, and it is something we add to every day. In fact, since September 2014, the Collections Team has added more than 4,690 items to Adlib, and 160 new collections.”
There’s plenty more to do, but Daniel says they have an ongoing target to add all new accessions to the catalogue within 10 working days of receiving them. Just to give a taste of the kind of new material you might expect to fifind, accessions that arrived in 2014 included Northamptonshire County Cricket Club minute books (back to 1882); Middleton Cheney Primary Academy admissions registers (from 1862); an oral history collection compiled by the Northamptonshire Black History Association; Blakesley CE Primary School admission registers (1877-1912); plus records of Haynes and Cann, a Northampton-based boot company that specialised in producing boots for the military.
The county is particularly associated with the boot and shoe trade, which became the dominant business in Northampton in the early 19th century and then spread to towns in the east such as Kettering, Wellingborough and Rushden. The record office holds material from more than 50 boot and shoe firms, including documents relating to personnel and customers. There is also an important footwear collection preserved at the Central Museum in Northampton, alongside the National Shoemakers Index.
The museum also holds the regimental archive of the Northamptonshire Regiment, and Daniel says that the county’s researchers are especially fortunate in terms of the quantity of military service records that have survived. “This ranges from Elizabethan musters to one of the fullest sets of 18th-century militia ballot lists in the country,” he says. “The militia papers in particular are approximate to a census of the male population in the second half of the 18th century.”
The record office also looks after comprehensive lists of Victorian rifle volunteers, plus an exceptionally rare and extensive collection of First World War Military Exemption Tribunal
The record office holds material from more than 50 boot and shoe firms
papers, which they are in the process of indexing.
Rare WW1 documents
“These are rare survivors that reveal an important aspect of life during the First World War, which has limited archival evidence nationally,” Daniel says. “1916 saw the introduction of conscription into this county for the first time and the papers relate to those making appeals against being conscripted. Far from being conscientious objectors, these were ordinary men who worried about not being able to support their families while away, small businesses appealing to have the workforce kept or else they would go bust, or boot and shoe companies trying to meet the
orders demanded from the Army, at the same time as the Army was taking away their workforces. It’s a real insight into how war reached into every aspect of everyone’s lives, which is why they are such a good source for family history. We are working to finish off this project and hopefully we will be making some announcements in the new year.”
Exciting times ahead
The record office has material from nearly 380 parishes stretching back, in some cases, to the 1530s. Most excitingly, the registers themselves have been digitised and are now being indexed by Ancestry, with an expected launch date of January 2016. Findmypast.co.uk has also finished scanning school admission registers and log books from Northamptonshire, and these are awaiting launch, too.
In the meantime, the record office, again working with volunteers, is seeking to open up lesser-known parish collections. “Parishes have been involved in many different aspects of Northamptonshire life, and offer some fascinating insights into everyday activities and occurrences here. Particularly name-rich sources include settlement papers, removal orders and bastardy bonds,” says Daniel. “However, many of the lists for these parishes can only be viewed in our Index Room. The aim of the project is to scan the existing lists and send them out to volunteers to type up in their own time – either at home, in the archives or both. They then return this information back to us to add to our new online catalogue, which can be viewed anywhere in the world.”
Northamptonshire is landlocked surrounded by eight other counties, and the boundary with Lincolnshire is England’s shortest – just 19 metres long! Nobility and gentry established themselves in the county after the Reformation, because of its rich farming and hunting land, together with its central location.
Its reputation as the land of ‘ Squires and Spires’ is reflected ini the vast estate and family collectionsc that survive. Daniel sayss that many of these records, suchs as the Finch Hatton and WestmorlandW of Apethorpe collections,c are of national importance,i but as well as relating tot major historical figures and events,e they include records of peoplep who lived and worked ono the estates.
Other sources of information thatt can be invaluable, particularly forf tracing individuals between thet census years or post-1911, relater to tax and property, Daniel says. “So, for example, we have a Union Valuation List for Higham Ferrers from 1906 and a Sale Book for land and property here in 1914. The valuation list gives the names of people living at particular addresses in 1906, and researchers can then crossreference this with the sale book to find photographs of particular properties and get a real sense of where their ancestors lived.”
Many of the ongoing volunteer projects are manned by members of the Northamptonshire FHS (NFHS), who also continue to transcribe and publish memorial inscriptions from across the county. Around 170 have been published as MI booklets, while others are awaiting verification and checking prior to publication.
Chairman Brian Gubbins says: “The work of recording the memorial inscriptions is invaluable as the surface of many stones in churchyards are deteriorating rapidly.”
The society also has a searchable Personal Names Database, which boasts some 1.3 million names. Brian says: “Besides christenings, marriages and burials, it contains other useful data such as militia lists, hospital records and Poor Law entries.” The society also provides a search service through its marriage, burial and probate indexes for Northamptonshire and Rutland. Some of the transcribed data, including the NFHS contribution to the National Burial Index, is available via Findmypast. The society’s website is full of useful information about research in the area (click ‘About the County’), plus details of how to join, current projects and publications, and its regular branch meetings. Brian says: “Our society website is due to be updated. We’re moving from an old technology format into an interactive version.”
Meanwhile, the NFHS library can be accessed at the Society Room in Wellingborough Museum every Wednesday and the second Saturday of the month.
Its reputation as the land of 'Squires and Spires' is reflected in the vast estate and family collections that survive
Salvin's flag tower and Tudor architecture at Rockingham
Shoemakers at work in the hand-sewing room at Sticklands, Northampton, c1950
Agricultural workers pose next
to a loaded hay wagon in Hellidon, Northamptonshire