A National Archive
The National Archives came into being in 2003 as a result of the merger of the Public Record Office and Historical Manuscripts Commission In the year 2000 the National Archives at Kew opened up a new initiative in offering local repositories the opportunity to submit large sections of their documents to be recorded in a vast national store as Access to Archives (A2A on http://www.a2a.org.uk/ ) This invaluable repository accepted accessions from 400 repositories of all sorts. These include: CROs from Bedfordshire to Yorkshire, City libraries like Birmingham and Sheffield, Museums of all sorts – Photography, Georgian Theatre, National Railway Museum etc,- Universities from Cambridge to Leeds, Canterbury Cathedral Archives, Regimental Museums and Local History Societies. Search can be made of place, words and phrases (e.g. Tithes, Manor Courts) repository, dates and region. It may be that as County Record Offices have more recently begun a widespread installation of their own on-line catalogues a sense of duplication if not loss of control has been experienced. After three phases of development “the functionality of this new service has been improved following user feedback” and the original A2A website, short of software, will be withdrawn by the end of March 2009, having been superseded by a new service at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/ It is reassuring to find that the same method and breadth of search of the same 400 repositories is still available. To this basic activity is added a fourth phase, “A4A” – Archives for All, which intends to “make archives more appealing and more accessible through activities and projects.” We must wait and see.
A remarkable feature of the A2A’s Quick Search process is found by entering only the name of a chosen place like “Chaddesley Corbett.” with no entry in the “Repository” box but “records” as the obligatory “word or phrase”. Obviously, this extensive search is open to confusion if the chosen place-name is commonplace: e.g. “Weston”, Hutton or “Ashford”. These will produce sets of “twins” if not octuplets. It is advisable first to check your chosen place-name and its county in a national Gazetteer (on-line: http://www.gazetteer.co.uk/index.htm ) to discover duplicates in other counties. “Chaddesley” is unique, though it was necessary to omit “Corbett” in order to avoid families of that name in foreign places like Norfolk!
“Quick Search” for Chaddesley immediately raises hits on 949 sets of records in nine repositories. As well as Worcestershire’s predictable 453 collections we find Birmingham City Archives holding 75 sets including Chaddesley court rolls for 1653, 1657 and 1663. Shropshire has a collection of 5, including details of £910 worth of tithes of grain in 1544; Warwickshire’s 58 references are mostly concerned with the Throckmorton family’s estate papers, so that they include several references to Chaddesley including a well-known coloured plan of 1745-6 and a copy of the tithe map of 1838. Staffordshire reveals six Chaddesley deeds and contracts by smiths and glassworkers, with a tax assessment of 1662. English Heritage holds six undated photographs of interior and external views of St. Cassian’s Church and Lambeth Palace Library refers to tithes in Worcestershire and a chapel at Chaddesley. There are other references in the: Shakespeare Centre Library (12), Dudley Archives (4) and Shropshire Archives (13). (Useful tip: As each repository’s collection is listed, use “Find = Chaddesley” to seek out specific records.)
Each collection offers a third-stage opening to show exact details, dates and full text of each record, with translations from Latin Several weeks’ browsing will produce details of manor court rolls, deeds, lay subsidy payments, parish records, Quarter Sessions offences, probate inventories, tithe surveys, enclosure awards and plans, marriage settlements, relationships with neighbouring manors and local industries such as glassmaking and scythe smiths. The author confesses that from 1962 to 1997, writing new editions of “Village Records” without a computer he was unaware of some of these wider sources outside Worcestershire which cover his chosen village. Faced with such a profusion of possibly unfamiliar sources it is evident that the searcher will need a framework of documents, their sequence and content in order to compile a coherent narrative.