Trace your Herefordshire kin
Jonathan Scott visits the county of orchards to explore material preserved in its newly opened £8 million archive and records centre
Although Herefordshire was merged with neighbouring Worcestershire in 1974, forming the Hereford and Worcester administrative county, this arrangement was dissolved in 1998 and today it remains one of England’s 39 historic counties.
It is known primarily for agriculture, especially cider production, and for exporting the hardy Hereford breed of cattle to the world. Major settlements include Bromyard, Kington, Ledbury, Leominster, Ross-onWye, not forgetting, Hereford itself, the county’s only city, plus two officially designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Wye Valley and the Malvern Hills.
Planning permission for the new county record office in Hereford was granted in January 2013. A couple of years, and roughly £8.1 million later, the building was complete.
However, prior to the move some 17,500 boxes, 10,000 volumes and 5,000 maps had to be stockchecked, cleaned and packaged, helped by a team of about 50 volunteers who, it is calculated, gave up almost 15,800 hours of their time in 2014 alone.
The building was officially opened in October 2015 by HRH The Duke of Kent.
To find out how the first few weeks went, we caught up with senior archivist Rhys Griffith. “To say that the new Herefordshire Archive and Records Centre (HARC) is an improvement on our former home would be an enormous understatement,” he said. “First and foremost, the £8 million building provides ideal storage conditions, with expansion space for more than 25 years.
“There are vastly improved facilities for researchers and visiting groups with a well-lit facilities, height-adjustable research tables and a specially designed larger desk for consulting maps. Plus, thanks to the efforts of the same volunteers who helped prepare the archive for its move, there is now an online index to
years, the holdings are now pretty well complete.
“Archive collections are only as useful and important as the access to them will allow. To that end, the nearly 50,000 Hereford diocese will references now placed online ( bit.ly/1j9Eg1V) are among the most important of our sources for family historians.”
Meanwhile, the most heavily used collections held here are the thousands of sales particulars for properties, ranging from humble cottages to extensive estates. “These date from the mid-19th century and can provide a detailed insight into the homes and localities populated by our ancestors,” Rhys explains.
“Herefordshire remains a rural and essentially undiscovered county so records concerning the management of the countryside are particularly important. The great country estates, whose archives are the bedrock of our collections, were communities and institutions that seemed to exist with little reference to the outside world. Where their record keeping was particularly efficient and advanced, the evidence they left of lives from all extremes of the social spectrum can be intimate and poignant.
“The Garnons, Hampton Court and Moccas estate records include detailed wage accounts and day books that allow the reconstruction of labouring ancestors’ daily routines and duties. The human capital of the county families is most darkly expressed in the records of the La Taste estate in Grenada, a distant satellite of Moccas that depended on slave labour for its success.”
Some of the estate maps recently deposited with the service include a wonderful bound series of beautifully coloured surveys of the Hampton Court estate, dating fromfr 1690.
As mentioned earlier, the countyc is perhaps best known for th he production of cider and hops. RhysR says that the archive’s collectionsc are shot through with lo ocal references to these activities asa small-scale operations existed ono most farms.
Then, in the late 19th century, th he market was cornered by the BulmerB family, who went on to dominated the industry nationwide. HARCH looks after the property archivesa of the firm, as well as so ome family papers, while su urviving production and staff re ecords are held at the Cider Museum,M Hereford. The museum websitew includes an article describingd the recorded origins of ciderc making at cidermuseum. co.uk/index.php/thebeginning-of-orchards.
Another major Herefordshire industry that rose to national prominence was the encaustic tile manufacturer William Godwin and Son. Rhys says: “The company rode the wave of interest in Gothic revivalism in church architecture and became the leading tile firm for ecclesiastical improvement projects.”
Very little original archive material has survived, but a Heritage Lottery Fund grant enabled the archive service to ‘recreate’ the workforce records using census returns. A full catalogue of tile designs was also resurrected by photographing all extant varieties of tile designs.
Of course, there are other potential sources of information for the Herefordshire researcher. Records of the county regiment, for example, are held at the Herefordshire Light Infantry Museum in Hereford, while the National Library of Wales holds probate records for wills proved in the Archdeaconry of Brecon. Meanwhile, the very active Herefordshire FHS has produced a large number of transcriptions and finding aids not available anywhere else.
Now the physical care of Herefordshire’s heritage has been preserved, attention is turning to improving its online accessibility and digitisation.
Rhys reports that the HARC website will soon be separating from its parent council site, in the hope of improving accessibility and functionality. He says its large and active group of volunteers will also be called upon again to extend the current online index to wills, taking it back to the earliest examples, which date from the 1540s, as well as continuing to improve the general index to holdings.
“The volunteers will also work on the cleaning and cataloguing of several thousand architectural plans deposited with Hereford’s building control department from the 1920s.
“This will be a fantastic resource for building historians and homeowners in the city. We are also planning, with the help of our volunteers, to transcribe calendars of prisoners in Hereford County Gaol for the second half of the 19th century.”
Who Do You Think You Are?
A beautiful sunrise over Hereford Cathedral and the city's Wye Bridge
Cider apples being unloaded from railway wagons at the Bulmers factory in Hereford, 1957