Blencowe Families’ Association Newsletter Vol. 18 No. 2 June 2003

Early Blencowe Documents

A few month’s ago Jill Dudbridge gave me her collection of photocopies of early Blencowe documents; we agreed that it would best be deposited at the Northamptonshire County Records Office, along with the transcriptions we had already lodged there. Jill had visited virtually all the Records Offices and libraries in Britain that were likely to hold Blencowe documents and had purchased photocopies of all of those she could locate. There are five or six hundred — some 30-40 lbs. of paper! The collection is uniquely valuable because, in the last decade, family history research has become so popular that archivists and librarians are reluctant to risk damaging documents by exposing them repeatedly to the brilliant light of the photocopier. If you want to study a document now you have to do it right there in the reading room, and few of us can spare so much time away from home.

For the photocopies to be useful to others they need to be catalogued, otherwise they cannot be linked to the individuals in the Blencowe database. It is a rather tedious job and I have been slow to make a start but have at last gone through the first hundred. Taking a new look at them I have come to realise the enormous task it had been to get them into an easily readable form.

When I first started to try and trace my family history I went to the Oxford County Records Office and found that there were a number of early Blencowe documents to be seen. However, they were written in ‘Secretary Hand’ and were more or less unintelligible. I obtained a photocopy of one, bought a booklet on early hand-writing and set about working my way through the puzzle. It was slow going, but not too difficult; indeed, if you look at the cover picture you could persuade yourself it was easy — James by the grace of God King of England Scotland  etc. — but this was a clear copy of a beautifully written document. The copy of the Deeds of Blencow Hall (above) — To all Xytian (Christian) people to whom this present writing shall come etc. — written in 1630 is not so clear but still readable. When I came upon a document in Latin I had to admit defeat; it was impossible to recognise a word by its ‘shape’ and going through it letter-by-letter didn’ t help, I had only just managed to scrape through High School Latin — in 1939!

At this point I got to meet with Jill, saw her collection of transcripts, and learnt that Mike Walton was transcribing (and translating) them for her. Mike, not a classicist but a research biochemist, had not only learnt to read Secretary Hand, he was tackling the Latin as well! It was a staggering task, many of the pages were faint, smudged, torn, worn, even scorched here and there — and spelling as well as hand-writing was pretty varied. The end result was a couple of thousand pages of typescript and provided the information for much of the ‘English’ section of the Blencowe book.

I undertook the more mundane task of typing the transcripts into a standard format and preparing an index; a complete set is now at the Northants Records Office. When I’ve finished the present job anyone going there should be able to read the transcript of a document and hopefully see what the original looked like.

updated: 6 February 2009