What the History student should know about archive collection care

By Georgia Wood, History Masters student, Queen Mary University of London

As someone currently undertaking a History MA at Queen Mary University of London, I feel somewhat qualified to speak on how a history student thinks about archives. I perceive archives as treasure troves of knowledge awaiting discovery and analysis, but never considered how the pieces I request get into my hands.

Teaching about the archive mostly surrounds what considerations the history student and future historian need to make when considering the materials we can access. However, one problem that is brushed over during our course is the physical condition of documents that have often been carelessly discarded and then exhumed by archivists.

My workshop at Lambeth Palace Library was dominated by being taught how to clean and conserve manuscripts. An incredibly delicate process, cleaning manuscripts is necessary to ensure that not only the text is visible and legible, but also ensure the cleanliness and safety of the archive and its users. I had never considered the need to quarantine and observe a collection for possible infestations or active mould. Upon seeing Lambeth’s quarantine room where newly acquired items are held in wait before they can be examined by the archivists, I began to reconsider the role of the archive and how historians understand historical documents.

Rectangular piece of parchment with middle section a dark brown from ingrained dirt.
Court of Arches [Bbb/818] at start of surface cleaning

I was assigned to cleaning documents from the Court of Arches, Bbb series, created in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. I saw how a document can be given new life under the care of conservators. From being almost unintelligible due to the sheer amount of dust and grime on the items, the collection care team was able to get the documents to a condition they could be used by researchers in the reading room.

Three people sitting around a work bench cleaning archive items.
Georgia (middle), History MA student at Queen Mary University of London, cleaning Court of Arches collection items along with Lambeth Palace staff.

The tools a conservator uses is an area I felt I had some understanding of. As a history student a lot of my recommended online media is related to the subject and therefore I have watched quite a few painting restoration videos from large institutions. I assumed that any historical item being restored/conserved had specialist equipment developed to help ensure the best outcome. However, this is not the case. One of the primary tools I used to clean the documents, a smoke sponge, was initially developed to help remove fire soot from walls. The historian is acutely aware of the lack of investment in the humanities, but I had never considered how this would impact the archive. Material held in the archive is the centre piece of historical research and therefore the preservation of historical materials should be a topic in which the historian takes a keen interest.

Rectangular piece of parchment with middle section a dark brown from ingrained dirt.
Court of Arches [Bbb/818] at after of surface cleaning

Before my experience in the Collection Care studio at Lambeth Palace Library, I had never thought of documents of historical interest being outside the temperature controlled walls of accredited institutions. Perhaps this is because I am a modern political history student, or because I had rarely considered the life of the items I was analysing outside of their initial production, but whatever the case I had never thought documents could become so dirty. My day spent at Lambeth was incredibly enlightening. The next time I go to the archive I will definitely consider how the documents I have requested may have looked before they were left in the care of the archive and made accessible to researchers.

Archbishops’ Commissions on Church and State

Lambeth Palace Library holds the records of many of the commissions set up by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. These were groups which played a vital role in shaping the direction of church policy and organisation. In the case of the commissions on church and state they made suggestions which have shaped the relationship between the Church of England and Government and considered the role of the Church in English life.

The 1914 Archbishops’ Committee on Church and State was created after a resolution was passed at the July 1913 meeting of the Representative Church Council that the Archbishops should consider “what changes are advisable in order to secure in the relations of Church and State a fuller expression of the spiritual independence of the Church as well as of the national recognition of religion.” Their report (H5157.A7A7 1916) lead to the creation of the National Assembly, later Church Assembly. The library holds the full minutes of this committee showing the thinking behind their recommendations.

The Hon Ruth Buckley, a witness to the Second Commission ACCS2/MS/2

When the Church Assembly passed a motion it was then sent to parliament where a somewhat unofficial process would get it proposed and hopefully approved by both Houses. Parliament was supposed to give members of the laity a voice in the decisions of the church. However, parliament could not make amendments to motions so their power was limited to vetoing measures. This system was accepted until parliament blocked the 1928 revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

This apparent interference in the spiritual matters by a secular organisation sent shockwaves through the church. In an address to the Church Assembly, Archbishop Davidson said “it is a fundamental principle that the Church … must in the last resort … retain its inalienable right … to formulate its faith in Him and to arrange the expression of that Holy Faith in its form of worship.” The 1929 Archbishops’ Commission on Church and State was established to ascertain what changes would need to be made to ensure this principle. It went beyond this and opinions were sought from all across the church and from members of other protestant churches on topics of ensuring conformity, ecclesiastical courts and disestablishment.

The report produced in 1935 by this second commission made a number of recommendations. It suggested that a more democratic Church Assembly was needed to ensure that the whole church agreed on new doctrinal measures and once this was established parliament should pass control of such measure to the assembly. Further adding to the power of the Church they suggested that the church be given the power to refuse bishops proposed by the sovereign and full control over the conditions for people getting married in church.

Professor Norman Sykes, a witness to the Second Commission  ACCS2/MS/2

Most of these recommendations were not acted upon and the subjects considered by the Commission remained contentious. Multiple further commissions considered aspects of the relationship between Church and State. The Howick Commission or Archbishops’ Commission on Crown Appointments unanimously suggested that the Prime Minister should retain control of the appointment of Bishops. A position which was not well supported by the Church Assembly.

gave the Church temporary powers to approve forms of worship outside of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. This was seen as a trial period for increasing the control the Church had over forms of worship and would require the drafting of new measures for when the trial finished. These issues led to the formation of the third Archbishops’ Commission on Church and State.

As with the second commission the third sought the opinions of members of other Christian churches in England and Anglican clergy abroad. Additionally, they carried out social research to establish the general opinion of the English public on the importance of establishment.

Leslie Paul, witness to the third Commission, [CIO/PHO/NEG/369]

The final report avoided explicit questions of establishment due to the ”confusion” about its definition. Their solution would give more control to the church but parliament would retain the final say in the appointment of bishops and approval of measures. This solution was not accepted unanimously. There were dissenters. Valerie Pitt, Denis Coe and Peter Cornwell suggested that the recommendations did not go far enough, merely making it less public when the parliamentary veto was used to block changes. They believed that disestablishment was the only workable solution. Sit Timothy Hoare only dissented to the chapter about the church’s relationship to parliament. He worried that General Synod had been established too recently for the Commission to conclude whether it was adequately representing the laity and that “[i]t may not be right to jettison the whole of the old pattern before the new has established its effectiveness.”

The Commission was conscious of the privileged position that the Church of England was in compared to other religious organisations. To counteract this they suggested that bishops of other Christian denominations should be added to the House of Lords to sit alongside the Anglican Lords Spiritual.

The minutes of the first committee and the documents, minutes and correspondence of the second and third commissions are available for public research in our reading room as well as copies of their published reports. These and other records from the Archbishops Commissions show changes in the mindset of the church and how it worked to ensure that the positions it took were representative of the community that it served.

Postscript

The drawings above come from the transcripts of oral evidence given to the second Commission. Unfortunately, the name of the shorthand writer was not recorded so we do not know who drew them. Doodles of many of the witnesses were started although these are the most complete. Images of these can be found in our online image library Lambeth Palace Library or you can view the originals in our reading room. Their reference number is ACCS2/MS/1-5.

The Nikaean Club Collection

The Nikaean Club archive has recently been catalogued and made available for viewing at Lambeth Palace Library. The papers, which date from the Club’s foundation in 1926 until 2008, largely consist of event organisation, alongside AGM and committee minutes.

In 1925, a service was held at Westminster Abbey to commemorate the 1600th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, followed by a banquet attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, various members of the Orthodox churches, including the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Jerusalem, and the Reverend John Douglas.

Group photograph from the original Nikaean service at Westminster Abbey in 1925, including Archbishop Davidson, John Douglas, visiting clergy and Westminster choirboys
Group photograph from the original Nikaean service at Westminster Abbey in 1925, including Archbishop Davidson, John Douglas, visiting clergy and Westminster choirboys [NC/5]

John Douglas was a major figure in ecumenical relations with the Orthodox churches, and it was through him that the Nikaean Club was founded. The Club’s purpose was to provide entertainment to foreign guests of the Archbishop in the form of a banquet or reception.

Originally, Club membership was by invitation only, and, although the Club had a President and a Committee, it was very much run by Douglas, the Entertainment Officer. It operated separately to the Council on Foreign Relations, which was founded in 1933, even though Douglas was Secretary for the CFR. For Douglas, the fact that the Club was separated from the official organisation of the Archbishop of Canterbury was its strength. It was a social club. He also cofounded the Society of the Faith alongside his brother, Charles Douglas, which was used to help fund the Nikaean Club events.

The Nikaean Club endured throughout the Second World War with the Club still managing to hold sandwich lunches for guests despite rationing. One file of documents reveals how hard Canon Douglas fought for the Club to be exempt from rationing but, unfortunately for him, the Ministry of Food disagreed with his argument that the Nikaean Club was more than a social club, and vital to relations between churches.

However, it was after the War that difficulties began to arise. At this time, the Committee started minuting their meetings, adding an air of officiality to proceedings. The costs of running the receptions so regularly had become too high, and a subscribed membership was introduced. There was also a call for a more structured approach to the running of the Club, so that officers were better in control of finances. However, Douglas, as a Club’s founder and Entertainment Officer, still had a large amount of influence in the group. He argued that the casual nature of the Club was why it worked. Other members of the Committee argued that the Club needed more structure, otherwise financially it would not be able to continue operating.

In 1948, at the age of 80, Douglas finally decided to resign from his position in the Committee. This did not appear to happen on good terms, as a book that was given to him as a retirement gift was quickly donated to Lambeth Palace Library. Fortunately, his relationship with the Club grew more cordial again before he died in 1956.

Most of the Nikaean Club’s archive relates to the many dinners and receptions they enjoyed over the years. As well as an annual dinner, they held an annual lecture and Eucharist, whilst also holding special receptions for guests of the Archbishop. Whilst most of the events took place in London, there was also an annual dinner in York to coincide with the beginning of the General Synod. The Nikaean Club also holds a commemorative dinner for the enthronement and retirement of each Archbishop of Canterbury.

Archbishop Ramsey’s retirement dinner [NC5]
Archbishop Ramsey’s retirement dinner [NC5]

The collection demonstrates the relationships between the Church of England and other churches around the world and how international politics affected those relationships. The collections also includes correspondence by John Douglas and other prominent members of the Club.

Further Reading

Huelin, Gordon, The Nikaean Club 1926-1986 : a history of these years, given by the Reverend Dr. Gordon Huelin at the Annual General Meeting of the Club held at Lambeth Palace, 10 March 1986 (1986)

Hough, Brenda, Times past : Notes towards a history of the Nikaean Club (London : Church House Publishing for the Nikaean Club, 2001)

19th Century Religious Magazines

Religious serials proliferated in the nineteenth-century, but were not collected widely by Lambeth Palace Library at the time; even the British Library does not have complete runs of many of them. Various volumes have from time to time been acquired by Lambeth, mainly by gift, but there are very large gaps in the holdings.

The church at Whitchurch Canonicorum from The Church of England Magazine, 1858

An example is the Religious Tract Society’s Tract Magazine and Christian Miscellany a series of which ran from 1848 to 1869 and a New Series from 1870 to 1891. A donor gave the Library 10 volumes from towards the end of its life, and we have added another dozen recently.

You would have thought that a serial called The Church of England Magazine would feature in the Library, but until recently it only held sixteen of the 79 annual volumes. Lambeth Palace Library now has 53.

St Peters, Leeds from The Church of England Magazine, 1858

Many more examples could be given; efforts will continue to amplify the Library’s collections in this area.

Cliff Webb, library donor

Court of Arches : Act books 1666-1671

During 2021 the project focused on the act books from 1666 to 1671, containing almost 9,000 acts of court. Each of these has been recorded and dated for the first time, with identifications of people and places, cross-references between cases, and pointers to related material elsewhere.  The online catalogue now includes some 10,000 references to related documents, mainly in the National Archives. These have assisted the identification of the protagonists in cases before the Court as well as providing further information concerning them. The project to catalogue these act books has been generously supported by the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library.

First session of Trinity Term, 22 May 1665. Arches A 4, f.115v

 The diverse business of the Court included suits concerning the dilapidation of parsonage houses, bishops’ palaces and deaneries. The Bishops of Ely, Oxford, Salisbury, Winchester and Worcester all brought cases between 1666 and 1671. There were also suits from the northern  province.  Richard Sterne, Archbishop of York, netted £100 for dilapidations at Bishopsthorpe and other palaces from the executor of his predecessor Accepted Frewen, as well as costs of £70 for the suit, which was fought in the Court of Arches from 1665 to 1668. William Sancroft, a future Archbishop of Canterbury, was also pursued for dilapidations arising from his brief tenure of the deanery of York in 1664. The act book preserves remarkable documentation of his expenditure at this time.

The Court was also concerned with marriage, divorce and morality. In these years Sir Thomas Ivie, a former Governor of Madras, continued to be harassed by his unscrupulous wife Theodosia, who had emptied his pockets long before.  Benjamin Overton, who was to make his name as a politician and pamphleteer, was brought to court for carrying off Anne Darcey, a vulnerable heiress aged 17 who was deaf and dumb from birth. The anatomist Thomas Wharton led a commission of eight physicians and surgeons appointed to test the virility of Samuel Sadler, of St. Sepulchre, London, in a case of nullity of marriage.  Martha Atkyns, widow of Sir Patrick Acheson, who had inherited a patent for printing law books, brought a case for divorce, on grounds of cruelty, against her husband, Richard Atkyns, a writer on printing who had started a hare running by claiming (on the basis of an alleged manuscript at Lambeth Palace) that printing had begun in England prior to Caxton.  The court also pursued errant clergymen such as Theophilus Hart, Rector of Wappenham,  a celebrated adulterer who was subsequently murdered.  Lay men and women were also prosecuted for immorality, and, surprisingly, a number of men came to court to confess their own adulteries, sometimes asking to pay a fine rather than endure public penance in church. Penances were also imposed on women convicted of defamation. The act books often preserve their colourful words of abuse as well as the formula of penance to be spoken by them in church.

Testamentary cases were also to the fore. Amongst the plaintiffs identified by the project was the religious thinker Lodowicke Muggleton. He appears in the case as the beneficiary of the will of Thomas Hudson, an innholder of St. Botolph Aldersgate, London. The will records Muggleton as a ‘dear and most beloved friend’ and provides valuable evidence on Muggletonianism by naming others who were ‘members with me in the true faith of our Lord Jesus’. 

The project has also added to the catalogue sixty appointments of guardians to act in court on behalf of minors.  These records were once held to be of little importance, but, like so many records of the Court of Arches, they are a goldmine for genealogists.

During 2021 the project focused on the act books from 1666 to 1671, containing almost 9,000 acts of court. Each of these has been recorded and dated for the first time, with identifications of people and places, cross-references between cases, and pointers to related material elsewhere.  The online catalogue now includes some 10,000 references to related documents, mainly in the National Archives. These have assisted the identification of the protagonists in cases before the Court as well as providing further information concerning them. The project to catalogue these act books has been generously supported by the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library.

 The diverse business of the Court included suits concerning the dilapidation of parsonage houses, bishops’ palaces and deaneries. The Bishops of Ely, Oxford, Salisbury, Winchester and Worcester all brought cases between 1666 and 1671. There were also suits from the northern  province.  Richard Sterne, Archbishop of York, netted £100 for dilapidations at Bishopsthorpe and other palaces from the executor of his predecessor Accepted Frewen, as well as costs of £70 for the suit, which was fought in the Court of Arches from 1665 to 1668. William Sancroft, a future Archbishop of Canterbury, was also pursued for dilapidations arising from his brief tenure of the deanery of York in 1664. The act book preserves remarkable documentation of his expenditure at this time.

The Court was also concerned with marriage, divorce and morality. In these years Sir Thomas Ivie, a former Governor of Madras, continued to be harassed by his unscrupulous wife Theodosia, who had emptied his pockets long before.  Benjamin Overton, who was to make his name as a politician and pamphleteer, was brought to court for carrying off Anne Darcey, a vulnerable heiress aged 17 who was deaf and dumb from birth. The anatomist Thomas Wharton led a commission of eight physicians and surgeons appointed to test the virility of Samuel Sadler, of St. Sepulchre, London, in a case of nullity of marriage.  Martha Atkyns, widow of Sir Patrick Acheson, who had inherited a patent for printing law books, brought a case for divorce, on grounds of cruelty, against her husband, Richard Atkyns, a writer on printing who had started a hare running by claiming (on the basis of an alleged manuscript at Lambeth Palace) that printing had begun in England prior to Caxton.  The court also pursued errant clergymen such as Theophilus Hart, Rector of Wappenham,  a celebrated adulterer who was subsequently murdered.  Lay men and women were also prosecuted for immorality, and, surprisingly, a number of men came to court to confess their own adulteries, sometimes asking to pay a fine rather than endure public penance in church. Penances were also imposed on women convicted of defamation. The act books often preserve their colourful words of abuse as well as the formula of penance to be spoken by them in church.

Testamentary cases were also to the fore. Amongst the plaintiffs identified by the project was the religious thinker Lodowicke Muggleton. He appears in the case as the beneficiary of the will of Thomas Hudson, an innholder of St. Botolph Aldersgate, London. The will records Muggleton as a ‘dear and most beloved friend’ and provides valuable evidence on Muggletonianism by naming others who were ‘members with me in the true faith of our Lord Jesus’. 

The project has also added to the catalogue sixty appointments of guardians to act in court on behalf of minors.  These records were once held to be of little importance, but, like so many records of the Court of Arches, they are a goldmine for genealogists.

Dr Richard Palmer