Lancaster University

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Unlocking local history

12/16/2004 15:27:05

Delving into the day-to-day lives of Cumbrian ancestors is set to become much easier thanks to a partnership project led by Lancaster University.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has awarded £46,000 to a project which will help the public to access underused historical records known as manorial records.

The joint initiative between Lancaster University, The National Archives and Cumbria County Council Archive Service, will see a new easy-access on-line database set up, coupled with a series of events in Cumbria designed to encourage more people to use the records.

Hundreds of years ago manorial courts acted as local parliaments, small claims courts and a land registry. Records from these courts contain a wealth of information about the region’s past from family history to land use.

But until now the records have been difficult to access as they are scattered between national and local record offices, in libraries and in private hands.

Currently the only comprehensive register to these manorial documents for Cumbria is a card index in The National Archives at Kew.

Head of Lancaster University History Department Dr Angus Winchester, who is leading the partnership, said: “Manorial Court records shed light on the lives of ordinary men and women, particularly in the 15th to 18th centuries. They can be a vital source of evidence including family history, the history of individual properties, and the history of land use, common rights and rights of way.

“The survival of substantial areas of common land in Cumbria lends a particular importance to manorial records, since manor courts continued to oversee the management of common land in the comparatively recent past. The fruits of the project will enable a wide range of people with interests in local and family history to conveniently locate manorial records and to understand and interpret them.”

Commenting on the award, HLF’s regional manager Tony Jones said: “There is often the misconception that heritage is just about old buildings and museums. In reality the majority of our grants are under £50,000 and we have a very broad view of heritage. Family histories, cultures and traditions are just as important to us as museums and buildings.”

Sarah Tyacke, Chief Executive of The National Archives, said: "Having an online database will make it so much easier for people around the world, and particularly those living in Cumbria to find out what records they might want to see about Cumbria. Manorial documents contain wonderful insights into local life in the past and I am delighted that The National Archives is working in partnership with Lancaster University and Cumbria Archives Service on this project that will have such an impact locally.”

The project will involve:

● A new website explaining how manorial records can be used – particularly those written in Cumbria.

● The construction of an on-line, searchable Manorial Documents Register for the historic counties of Cumberland and Westmorland. This will replace the card index at The National Archives, Kew, updating it and making it widely available.

● A series of events in Cumbria designed to encourage people to use the records. This will include displays and study days. Workshop sessions at CCC Archives Service and elsewhere across the county.