The corporation of Hereford: Introduction

Pages 283-284

The Manuscripts of Rye and Hereford Corporations, Etc. Thirteenth Report, Appendix Part IV. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1892.

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The records of the city of Hereford are for the most part stored in sheepskin sacks, which have been the means of keeping them almost entirely free from damp and decay. There are upwards of a hundred of these sacks, of which some, however, are in a very tattered condition. Through a long series of years the charge for the sack annually appears in the city accounts, the price rising from 8d. in the time of Henry VIII. to about 3s. 6d. at last. But the contents of the sacks were found on examination to be in the utmost confusion, documents of the 14th and 15th centuries being mixed with papers of the 18th and 19th. They appear to have been partially inspected (as attested by occasional endorsements) by a Town Clerk in the early part of the present century; but were more generally overhauled by his successor, Mr. Richard Johnson, who copied many documents, which he published in 1868 in a book entitled The Ancient Customs of Hereford, of which a second edition appeared in 1882, after his death, but whose transcripts unfortunately can by no means be depended upon for accuracy. It would seem that, after he had examined the bags, their multifarious contents were stowed away promiscuously just as the bags and the papers came to hand, so that verification of any particular document was rendered impossible. But the records had met with worse treatment than this. A woman who had the charge of the old Town Hall before the year 1830, and who thus had access to these stores, sold many of the documents for waste paper, and amongst them the oldest existing Council Registers, although happily two volumes of these were recovered, as noted below. Whether it was through her thefts, or by some more definitely planned and intelligently carried out robbery, that all the papers of the Civil War period disappeared, cannot now be ascertained, but it is a most disappointing fact that the years from 1642 to 1650, which it was hoped would prove rich in notices illustrating the war and the Scottish siege, and the King's relief of his faithful city, present a total blank. Not a scrap of any kind belonging to that time appears to be preserved. A further destruction of papers took place at a much later period, but it is believed that these were all first carefully examined and found to be worthless. It is singular that the cases of the two corporations of Reading and Hereford with regard to preservation of their records are totally different. At Reading the Files for routine business and official papers, on which much was entered of interest and value, have all perished while the Registers are perfect; at Hereford, the Files are for the most part preserved with all the writs, warrants, bonds, petitions, &c., while only a portion of the Registers has escaped destruction. But now it is hoped that all danger of further destruction is over. The work of the agent of the Historical Commission was gladly welcomed, and he desires to acknowledge not merely the personal courtesy of the Town Clerk, Mr. Joseph Carless, but the warm interest that gentleman takes in the records under his charge. The city is also greatly indebted to another gentleman, Mr. R. Paterson, for unwearying labour in sorting, cleaning, smoothing, and arranging the vast mass of dirty and crumpled papers; a self-imposed labour of love which he has not relinquished until the years have been all duly arranged in their proper order, and the papers of each year rendered easily accessible. That these papers well deserved examination and care the ensuing notes will abundantly prove.