Treasures of the Hertfordshire Archives - The Amy Coburn Lecture

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Report of the talk given to the Society by Diane Hodgson following the Society's AGM held on 25 April 2017

By Joyce Bunting

The Society has designated the talk to be given after an Annual General Meeting as the ‘Amy Coburn Lecture’ in memory of Amy Coburn, who died in May 2016. This report was first published in Newsletter 132, August 2017.

Diane Hodgson introduced the work of ‘Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies’ (HALS), the name of the joint service of the County Records Office and County Local Studies Library since 1997. Records come from bequests and donations from individuals, businesses and organisations. Occasional purchases are made at auction for something unique and irreplaceable.

Three million documents and five miles of shelving are in the care of HALS. Some County Records are stored in St. Albans, but very valuable materials are stored in a secret off-site strong room, temperature-controlled at 16-19 degrees centigrade, with stable humidity of 40/60%. Modern methods of archiving include digitising, but the original documents are always kept safely.

Some ancient documents

The oldest original document held by HALS is the Wheathampstead Charter of 1060, signed by Edward the Confessor (Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies; DE/LW/Z22). It is written in Latin and old Anglo-Saxon. It is yellowed with age and not easy to read.

Editor’s note: the charter records Edward I’s gift to Westminster Abbey of an existing estate in his possession. The land transferred equates to the modern parishes of Wheathampstead and Harpenden. As the land with attached manorial rights that became known as Rothamsted was acquired from Westminster Abbey at some time before 1212, this charter was evidence of the Abbey’s title and right to sell; hence the retention of a copy by the Manor of Rothamsted.

Photo:Henry VIII's Royal Charter 1537 Herts Archives and Local Studies Ref: DE/Lw/Z1

Henry VIII's Royal Charter 1537 Herts Archives and Local Studies Ref: DE/Lw/Z1

Herts Archives and Local Studies Ref: DE/Lw/Z1

A charter dated 1545, signed and sealed by Henry VIII, grants land to a faithful member of his inner circle. The Great Seal on this document showing the image of the King, has visible signs of repair. Diane explained the difference between conservation (visible and reversible repair) and restoration (disguising the damage).

Sir Henry Chauncy was a lawyer and Recorder of Hertfordshire. He published a book called The Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire in 1700. HALS has several copies.

Local historical records held by HALS


The archives include a staggering number of bound Quarter Sessions Rolls from Hertfordshire, 1588-1971.

Census Returns are held dating from 1821. They give numbers of people but no names. Building plans for Wheathampstead National School are archived, along with later photographs.

School Admissions Registers and Log Books compiled by local head masters make fascinating reading. However, though daily Log Books may contain a wealth of small detail, researchers do not always find what they expect. A researcher said the entry for a local school on Armistice Day 1918 mentioned some trivia about the school but not the important event at all.

Maps and plans:

Maps abound - not just Ordnance Survey, but tithe maps from 1836-1843, used for assessing taxes. The layout of Wheathampstead is still identifiable on an old tithe map.

Plans for building developments over the years may be seen, including the first swimming pool and cinemas in Harpenden, with later photographs.

There is a single copy of a newspaper from 1772 called ‘The Hartford Mercury’.


The Ware burial register of 1665 lists the extraordinary number of plague deaths in that year, marked with a ‘P’ in the margin.

Parish records for the diocese of St. Albans show baptisms, marriages, and burials, also payments for relief of the poor, for digging graves, general parish accounts and the cost of ‘putting out’ orphaned boys and girls to apprenticeships.


Sir John Wittewronge’s Weather Diary 1684-1689 is a daily record of winds, temperature and air pressure in Harpenden at a time when Europe was experiencing the Little Ice Age, including the winter of 1683/4, the coldest on record.

Among the treasures may be found Julian Grenfell’s World War I diary. It ends abruptly on 13th May 1915. He died of his wounds a few days later. His poem ‘Into Battle’ was written not long before his death.

Contact and visit the archives:

Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Register Office Block
County Hall
Hertfordshire, SG13 8EJ

This page was added by Rosemary Ross on 12/09/2017.

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