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Just what is the Berkshire Record Society?

Posted in Articles on 03 Jul 2023

Ever heard of the Berkshire Record Society? Whether the answer is yes or no, or if you've ever wondered what the Society is and what they do, read on and find out.

What do you know about Berkshire Record Society?

Well, for a start, it’s not part of Berkshire Record Office! But it is a very valuable organisation with which we have some connections, not least that one of its founders (back in 1993) was Dr Peter Durrant, MBE, and former County Archivist of the BRO.

Berkshire Record Society was founded in October 1993 to print scholarly editions of important documents on the history of Berkshire. It is backed by the History Department of the University of Reading and by the BRO with individual and institutional members from around the world.

What does the Society do?

The purpose of the Record Society is to research and publish scholarly editions of historical documents relating to the county, with an aim of producing one volume per year. Many of these original documents, but not all, are held here at BRO. The editions mostly take the form of a full transcript (with a translation in the case of Latin texts), with an expert introduction and full index. A few are calendars or surveys of records are also published.

Drawing of a church ref. D/EX27/Z19/11

How can you join and how do you benefit?

Anyone can join the BRS for the annual subscription fee of £14.50 for individual UK members, and £17.75 if overseas. You can join online today by visiting the BRS website but done delay as prices will increase from January 2024! In return you get a copy of that year’s new publication and members can also able purchase back copies of publications at member rates (subject to availability and only via the BRS website). Although non-members of the BRS can purchase publications at full price at the BRO, it is best to purchase them online directly from the BRS. You can find more details on this in the publications section of the BRS website.

The Society prides itself on the appearance and production standards of its publications and after a few years of membership your bookshelf will be graced by a fine sequence of volumes, forming a valuable reference source for anyone with an interest in the history of Berkshire. Only vol. 1, a ground breaking edition of correspondence relating to the nursing in Berkshire of fostered foundlings, 1757-1768, is out of print, and this one may be downloaded digitally from the BRS website.

Members also have the opportunity to attend a lecture every year at the AGM, usually by the editor of the latest or a forthcoming edition. Most recently, members enjoyed a fascinating talk at BRO on churchwardens’ accounts, with a display of original documents curated by BRO staff.

Publications to date

The 29th edition will be published this year (2023), and is a fine edition of the churchwardens’ accounts of the parish of Stanford in the Vale, edited by celebrated local historian Joan Dils. It will serve as a companion piece to her earlier work in Vols. 19-20, a two-volume edition of the churchwardens’ accounts of Reading St Laurence, 1498-1570. The two show the contrasting experiences of the Reformation in rural and urban parishes.

The well known popular historian Ian Mortimer, produced two of the very early publications: one of the glebe terriers of Berkshire, 1634, which record the property belonging to the incumbents of parishes (vol. 2); and a selection of the most interesting probate accounts from the Berkshire Archdeaconry Court, 1583-1712 (vol. 4).

From the Middle Ages to 19th century churches

Medieval volumes have included the important accounts of the Reading merchant gild (precursor of Reading Borough Council), 1357-1516 (in two volumes, vols. 6-7); a miscellany of records relating to Reading Abbey (vol. 25); and the feet of fines for the county, 1333-1507 (vols. 23-24) record major property transactions which were formalised by the fictitious lawsuit known as a final concord.

A man stands at a bench table with parchment documents along it

The diocese books of Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford 1845-1869, were published jointly with Oxfordshire Record Society (vol. 13). The church inspection notebook of Archdeacon James Randall (vol, 21) shows us the state of the county’s Anglican churches, 1855-1873; and the Religious Census of 1851 (vol. 14) reveals the availability of church worship across denominations. A comprehensive edition of the surviving records of the registration of nonconformist places of worship, 1689-1852 (vols. 9-10) brings together records from church and secular courts, held here and elsewhere.

Collaboration with BRO and volunteers

The Society’s publication programme supports BRO's objective of making important source material accessible for research. Editors of volumes have included BRO staff members as well as both professional and amateur historians. Some volumes have benefited from the work of groups of researchers; the first of these was vol. 3, which was a calendar of the records of the overseers of the poor of seven West Berkshire parishes, 1654-1834. This volume was based on the Overseers’ Project of the Berkshire Family History Society, which has produced similar transcripts for the rest of the county, available for consultation in the BRO reference library.

More recently, vol. 26 was a survey of schools in Berkshire, 1600-1833, where the team discovered far more evidence of education than had been suspected; and a follow up project on school buildings 1870-1914 is in the works. A survey of the records of enclosure for Berkshire, 1485-1885 (vol. 5) helped us with our own project to digitise the parliamentary enclosure maps and awards shortly thereafter. You can see our New Landscapes website on the latter.

Book cover entitled Archdeaconry Probate Records 1480-1652 Index Part 1: Personal Names

Vols.15-17 comprised a comprehensive index of the probate records of Berkshire Archdeaconry Court, 1480-1652 (one volume each for names, places and occupations), and this work, which replaced a very faulty 19th century index, helped with the preparation of our own online probate index.

BRO holds a complete set of the Record Society publications as part of our extensive collection of secondary material which is available in our reference library.

Books on a shelf

Other subjects illuminated

Transport is represented by editions of the minutes of the Thames Navigation Commission, 1771-1790 (vols. 11-12); and records of the Newbury and Chilton Pond turnpike road, 1766-1791 (vol. 22).

Book cover entitled Diaries and Correspondence of Robert Lee of Binfield 1736-1744

Others include the accounts of a workhouse set up in Newbury to provide work for unemployed cloth workers, 1627-1641 (vol 8); the diaries and correspondence of landowner and magistrate Robert Lee of Binfield, 1736-1744 (vol. 18); the detailed and fascinating accounts of the overseers of the poor of Hungerford, 1655-1834 (vol. 27); and accounts of Windsor borough in the 16th century (vol. 28).

More exciting volumes will be produced in future years and the General Editor, Professor Anne Curry, would be happy to receive any proposals for future editions so why not get in touch if you have any?

The Atlas

Front cover of book entitled An Historical Atlas of Berkshire

Outside its main programme, the Society has also produced a "Historical Atlas of Berkshire", initially in 1998, with a new improved version in 2012. Both volumes contained maps of the county with a series of essays on various topics; the first is out of print, and only a few copies remain available of the second. It is a very useful resource for the overall history of Berkshire and currently costs £20 plus postage and packing. The BRO has a few copies for resale to onsite visitors, so it is best to contact the BRS directly to obtain a copy, even though it does not appear on their website.

All other enquiries for the Berkshire Record Society can also be made via their website. And if reading this has made you want to join, then don't delay and become a member today!