Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Spotlight on the Retreat archive: An unexpected find

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts celebrating the Retreat archive and our digitisation project as it nears completion. The Retreat is one of the most important institutions in the care and treatment of mental health patients. Over the last two and half years, staff at the Borthwick have been working through the archive, preparing the documents for digitisation, carrying out conservation treatments where appropriate and photographing each item page by page.

This has been a huge task. Over 650,000 images have been created in total and the focus has been on handling each item with care and capturing a high quality image efficiently and effectively. Of course there have been many items that have caught our eye along the way. In this series of blog posts project staff pick out some of the interesting items that they have encountered.

Here Tracy Wilcockson, Conservator for the project discusses an image of York sculptor G.W. Milburn and links with other archives in our holdings.


I have had the pleasure of seeing many interesting documents pass through the studio as part of the Retreat Digitisation project and as a conservator it is not often that my interest in the image or text overshadows that of the physical makeup or condition of an item. But during my work on part of the Retreat archive, I was intrigued and excited to come across this.

Reference: RET/1/8/6/7/8

In the modestly sized silver based print on a paper support, I recognised a familiar face. Not of the York sculptor G.W. Milburn, as this was the first photograph I had seen of the famous sculptor, or of the patient Frederick Pryor Balkwill, whose records I had yet to assess and conserve. It was the statue of Queen Victoria that first caught my attention, having passed by this actual statue many times while walking in West Bank Park, Acomb, York, and knowing its sculptor to be G. W. Milburn.

The image shows the eminent sculptor working on the Queen Victoria commission in his studio, whilst his friend Frederick Pryor Balkwill looks on. The work was originally commissioned and sited in the Guildhall, but was moved to a number of locations before its final installation in West Bank Park.

I had a keen and personal interest in Milburn as prior to seeing this photograph, I had been fortunate to view Milburn’s Day book in a private collection, which documented many commissions for carvings in buildings throughout Yorkshire of architectural or ecclesiastical significance. Within this intriguing and fragile volume I had observed many of Milburn’s commissions but was delighted to recognise both concept drawings and photographs of final pieces from plans in the Atkinson Brierley Architectural Archive held at the Borthwick and recently conserved by our conservation volunteers, linking Milburn to another of our holdings. These carvings from Sherburn Church (possibly -in-Elmet), are just one occasion that we have speculated that Milburn’s work appears.

Reference: ATKB/6/98

Reference: ATKB/6/98

There is also evidence of his York firm in the 1930 additions and alterations to Harewood House (correspondence file ATKB/8/155) and estimates from his firm for the Canon Guy Memorial Stone in Fulford (correspondence file ATKB/8/156/7).

This is just a short example of where a single item within the Retreat Archive can provide unexpected avenues of personal interest and connection beyond the expected parameters of a mental health archive. The Retreat archive might not have been the first place (or even the tenth place) a researcher might look for an elusive picture of Milburn, but it displays quite eloquently the breadth of material now available and searchable for free online thanks to the Wellcome Trust funded project and how further research leading from the Retreat archive is supported by the wider holdings of the Borthwick.

More information about the Wellcome Library funded project to digitise the Retreat archive can be found on the project pages of our website. Digital surrogates from the Retreat archive project are available via the Wellcome Library.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Saying goodbye to Project Genesis

Two years ago I embarked on Project Genesis.  It was my first professional job after qualifying as an archivist and I knew then how fortunate I was to find such a varied and interesting post when I was just starting out.  Over two years, my job would be to create collection level descriptions and authority records for as many of the Borthwick’s archives as I could, making these available on our new online catalogue.  Alongside this work I was expected to blog, tweet and facebook about my progress and the intriguing, exciting, or just plain unusual records I found along the way.

Two years on, our catalogue Borthcat is very much up and running.  It boasts 563 collection level descriptions, 914 authority records, 304 subject terms and 305 place names.  

You can find records of individuals and families, of great estates, large and small businesses, churches (of multiple denominations), societies, manors, hospitals and political and cultural groups and associations.  The scope of the full collection stretches out from right here at the University of York to North and South America, Australia and Japan, via continental Europe, South Africa, India, and Russia.  

Programme from a German POW camp in World War II (Alfred Peacock Archive)

As Project Archivist I have had access to all of the Borthwick’s fascinating archives, a dream come true for anyone with a love of history.  It was clear from the very beginning of the project that this was not straightforward retroconversion, a case of simply putting existing finding aids online.  To make sure the catalogue was as up to date, as complete and as user friendly as possible, I would need to become very familiar with the strongrooms!  I have counted thousands of boxes and rolls, checked hundreds of finding aids against existing holdings and delved into countless archives to find out more about their contents, check dates and even box list where necessary.  I’ve held the 17th century deeds to Clifford’s Tower in York, read a first hand account of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the 1854 Battle of Balaclava, and even unpacked a 19th century Quaker bonnet.

The deeds to Clifford's Tower, York (Munby & Scott Archive)

In turn writing the authority records (short histories of individuals, families and corporate bodies who are the creators or subjects of the records) has introduced me to a vast interconnected cast of people and organisations and uncovered more than a few surprising links.  From the Hickleton Paper’s Earl of Derby who donated the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup to the unexpected appearance of Sarah Harriet Burney, sister of novelist Fanny Burney, as governess to Lady Houghton of the Milnes Coates Archive, my research has taken many unexpected turns.  Closer to home, writing the histories of parish churches, Methodist chapels and various businesses in York has helped me to see the city in a new light and I’ve become a dab hand at spotting the signs of the chapel-turned-restaurant and the remnants of long lost shops and factories.

I’ve also learned a great deal about AtoM, the archives management system developed by Artefactual which forms the basis of the catalogue.  I had no experience of AtoM when I started the project in 2015 and the first few months were something of a crash course as I learned how to create basic descriptions and authority records, how to input hierarchical descriptions and how to link descriptions and authority records to draw out connections between creators, subjects and the records themselves.  

Records of the Earls of Derby in the Hickleton Papers

AtoM is an open source system that can be shaped by the needs of its users and, as the catalogue developed, we were able to put our own stamp on Borthcat.  With the help and expertise of colleagues at the Borthwick, the Digital Library and IT, we’ve inserted parish record finding aids into their collection level descriptions, introduced an option in the ‘free search’ box to direct users to information about our probate records, simplified the user interface and made the entire catalogue searchable via the university library’s main ‘Yorsearch’ database.  I’ve had the opportunity to share my knowledge and experiences of AtoM with colleagues both at home and abroad, delivering papers at the Archives and Records Association Conference in London and the International Council on Archives Congress in Seoul, South Korea.

Alongside all of this, I have enthusiastically blogged, tweeted and facebooked, sharing photographs and stories from the archives on a regular basis and using my growing knowledge of our holdings to contribute to our Christmas social media campaigns.

A favourite find tweeted for Christmas 2016 (Sessions of York Archive)

I hope that the catalogue is a resource all our staff and visitors can use and enjoy and that you find its contents as informative, interesting and surprising as I have.  Project Genesis, as the name suggests, is really only the beginning for the Borthwick’s catalogue and while I will miss my role enormously I cannot wait to see where Borthcat goes next.

Sally-Anne Shearn

Friday, 28 April 2017

Spotlight on the Retreat archive: a satirical sketch of the Retreat in the early twentieth century

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts celebrating the Retreat archive and our digitisation project as it nears completion. The Retreat is one of the most important institutions in the care and treatment of mental health patients. Over the last two and half years, staff at the Borthwick have been working through the archive, preparing the documents for digitisation, carrying out conservation treatments where appropriate and photographing each item page by page.

This has been a huge task. Over 600,000 images have been created so far and the focus has been on handling each item with care and capturing a high quality image efficiently and effectively. Of course there have been many items that have caught our eye along the way. In this series of blog posts project staff pick out some of the interesting items that they have encountered.

Here Kath Webb, our resident expert on the Retreat archive introduces ‘Dr. Selfopinion’, ‘Dr. We’llsee’ and the ‘Paying Guest’

One of the delights of sorting and cataloguing any archive is that you never know what you are going to find. One gem, which I discovered just a couple of years ago, consists of a small but perfectly formed satirical sketch of the Retreat, written in June-July 1922 (RET/6/19/1/79).

‘A Mock Trial between a patient and the Medical Officers at one of the best and largest mental institutions in the country’, written by ‘Paying Guest’, is an 11 page typescript. The scene is a London law court, midsummer 1922, and the characters include a judge (‘Mr Justice Longhead’), a counsel for plaintiff (‘Miss Cocksure, KC’), two defendants (‘Dr. Selfopinion’ and ‘Dr. We’llsee’) and the plaintiff (‘Paying Guest’ himself).

RH characters.jpg
List of Characters in ‘A Mock Trial’
It opens thus:

Mock Trial 1.jpg

The sketch focuses on Miss Cocksure’s examination of ‘Dr. Self Opinion’ and then ‘Dr. We’llsee’, who justify their treatment of Paying Guest’, their patient. After their interrogations are complete, the judge declares:

Mock Trial 33.jpg

And he delivers his sentence:

I pronounce sentence on each of them, namely – To be imprisoned with hard labour, for life. They must also pay all the claims made upon them by the Plaintiff, so far as their bankers will allow them still to overdraw their accounts with them.

The sketch ends with the court being cleared ‘with much fighting amongst the blackguards’ and orders relating to visiting of the ‘gaolbirds’ and their special prison clothes.

The sketch is beautifully written and it is very funny but its humour is biting – it is a black comedy.  It isn’t hard to spot that the two doctor defendants are - only thinly disguised - Dr. Bedford Pierce, Medical Superintendent of the Retreat (he is ‘Dr. Selfopinion’) and Dr. Henry J. Mackenzie,  the Retreat’s Assistant Medical Officer (caricatured as ‘Dr. We’llsee’). The plaintiff and author – the ‘Paying Guest’ – is Ralph H., who was a patient at the Retreat in 1922. The sketch focuses on the relationship between the doctors and their patient and it is really intended as an indictment by a patient of his two doctors – a patient’s revenge, if you like. This makes it not only a funny sketch but also a particularly interesting document – reflecting the mind and thoughts of a patient and shining a light into the life and people at the Retreat at that time.

Ralph H. - the ‘Paying Guest’

Who was Ralph H.? His case notes are in RET6/5/1/24A and there are also files of correspondence in RET/6/20/1/8.

He was a patient at the Retreat no less than six times between 1919 and 1930 – dying during his last stay.  He first arrived as a voluntary boarder aged 54 in 1919, suffering from depression. After returning home he made a suicide attempt in 1920, and was sent to Ashwood House, a private hospital in Kingswinford near Dudley, under the care of its doctor, Dr. Pietersen. Whilst there, he became manic and unmanageable, and in September 1921 he was transferred to the Retreat, where he stayed until October 1922. He came to the Retreat, as a voluntary boarder, on three further occasions: January – June 1923, August – December 1923 and March – May 1925. For most of this time he was suffering from depression. In August 1929 he was admitted to the Retreat under an Urgency Order. He was then suffering from cancer of the larynx and he had been in London, being prepared for an operation, when he began to suffer once again with an attack of “elation and general over-activity” which made his behaviour difficult to control; in the circumstances the operation was postponed and he returned to the Retreat for his mental recovery. However he died there, of cancer, before the operation could take place.

What was wrong with Ralph? Nearly all the doctors who saw him were agreed that this was a manic depressive psychosis – we would say today that Ralph suffered from bipolar disorder. He had periods of clinical depression alternating with periods of manic behaviour. During his manic phases he was excited, difficult and troublesome. He had a persecution complex, which was manifested primarily against his carers. At Ashwood House in 1920 he had been “writing reams of libellous screeds, novels, diaries etc” against Dr. Pietersen and his staff. After his transfer to the Retreat, Dr. Bedford Pierce noted in October 1921, “He says exactly the same in speaking of me and Dr. Mackenzie as he has done of Dr. Pietersen”.  

Mock Trial 34.jpg
Letter from Ralph H, filed in his case notes,
accusing Dr Mackenzie of defamation of character, dishonesty and theft

He was noisy, abusive, swearing at the doctors and nursing staff. He was frenetically busy in devising nonsensical inventions and trying to send out letters to people who might promote them.  He also sent amorous letters to ladies. In return for his freedom to walk into the city of York, the Retreat made him promise not to post letters or make purchases, but these were issues hotly contested between Ralph and his doctors, because he believed (wrongly) that his letters were censored, or stopped, that there was a plot against him and that all doctors were dishonest. On one occasion he walked out of the Retreat and went to Tadcaster to see a solicitor friend. The Retreat was soon contacted and two attendants were sent to escort him back. His liberty was reduced and he was placed for the next three days in a more secure ward, away from his usual room in the Gentlemen’s Lodge which had an ‘open door’ policy.

Once you know this context, you can understand more of the details of “A Mock Trial”. The sketch, for examples, alludes to the issue of letters being opened:

COUNSEL: Now tell me this, doctor. Did my client write a letter to his Solicitor, about the 17th December last, and did he post it?

Dr. WE’LLSEE: He did, I believe, and he posted it in the hall box kept for the purpose, so that the spelling and expressions of delight at being there, should be verified by me.

COUNSEL:  Was the letter sealed by my client, with his crest on?

Dr. WE’LLSEE: It was, but as I had an impression of the seal taken in sulphur I opened the letters to check the contents….

The story of Ralph’s escape to Tadcaster follows:

COUNSEL: What happened next?
Mock Trial 32 jpg.jpg
Dr.WE’LLSEE: Yes I did. I thought it my duty to his wife. Further, I and my colleague, decided we would put him in the “drying chamber” on arrival, commonly called the “Egg Pit”… it took us three days to get him thoroughly dry…

As one can see from this extract, the ‘allegations’ in the court scene are amusing, and yet have a serious side: they make more sense set alongside the narrative in the case notes and correspondence, and also in Ralph’s letters to the doctors, where the same complaints and topics are aired. “A Mock Trial” is very much the product and the story of Ralph H.’s illness.

When Ralph was not in his manic phase, he appreciated the care at the Retreat. He was keen to come back to the Retreat in 1921 of which he “retained a kindly recollection”: the doctor at the Retreat, he said was “an honourable, straightforward gentleman”.  The Retreat had the sports and facilities he liked: he could garden, play croquet, bowls and tennis. Ralph was a wealthy man: a Birmingham businessman, who occupied a room in the Gentlemen’s Lodge which cost between 7 and 10 guineas per week. The standard of accommodation was that of a comfortable, high class hotel.

Gents Lodge.jpg
Dining room at The Gentlemen’s Lodge

Ralph was a typical well-to-do patient: he enjoyed golf and fishing (there was correspondence over whether he was well enough to have his fishing tackle). He was naturally articulate and demanding, whether he was well or ill. His family too, as evidenced by the letters, were caring, but also assiduous and exacting. Part of the fascination of the correspondence is in how it reveals that the psychiatrist in a middle class asylum always had to act in concert with the patient’s friends and family, who could (especially if the patient was there on a voluntary basis) simply remove the patient elsewhere. The Retreat depended on the sizeable fees of the wealthy, and also on its reputation. The evidence shows that Dr. Pierce dealt with patients and family alike in a courteous and unflappable manner. This was not, however, the attitude of the Harley Street consultant who, at Mrs H.’s request, and with the consent of the Retreat, examined Ralph in July 1922. He afterwards wrote a confidential ‘doctor-to-doctor’ letter to Dr. Yellowlees (who had just succeeded Dr Bedford Pierce as Retreat Superintendent), saying, rather naughtily: “All I have to say in conclusion is that if you could persuade Mr H. that on dismissal [from the Retreat] he would have to live with his wife, you might find him quite ready to remain on indefinitely”.  The Harley Street doctor plainly thought Mrs H. interfering. But a much fairer conclusion would be that life for Mrs H. must have been very difficult and she worked admirably and relentlessly to see that her husband was cared for, with everything possible done to alleviate his condition.

Dr. Bedford Pierce - ‘Dr. Selfopinion’

Above all, “A Mock Trial” is one of my favourite items in the Retreat archive because it paints a perfect little picture – which may be satirical but is also rather touching – of two men: ‘Dr. Selfopinion’ and ‘Dr. We’llsee’ or in other words, Dr. Bedford Pierce and Dr. Henry Mackenzie.  At the time this sketch was written, they had worked together at the Retreat for nearly thirty years. Dr. Pierce was a young man of 30 when he arrived to head the Retreat in 1892. Dr. Mackenzie joined him just one year later. 1922 would be a year of significant change, because it was the year Dr. Pierce retired: by the time Ralph finished his sketch Dr. Yellowlees was already in charge. Dr. Mackenzie stayed on for a while, and retired in 1924. This sketch presents a picture of two doctors at the end of a long, successful and satisfying professional partnership.  The text even alludes to the closeness of this partnership:

COUNSEL: I think on his [the Plaintiff’s] arrival, you and your bosom chum, Dr. We’llsee, who has lived in your house for a great number of years (probably fifty) met my client with open arms.

Doctors Pierce and Mackenzie.jpg
Dr. Bedford Pierce, centre and Dr. Henry J. Mackenzie on the left, c.1900

Dr. Bedford Pierce was one of the great figures in the history of the Retreat. A remarkable man, he was handpicked to lead the Retreat at the ages of thirty, despite having no previous experience of psychiatry. The confidence vested in him was not misplaced: under his guidance the Retreat entered a ‘golden age’. Not only did he oversee the expansion and enhancement of the interior but he saw the extensive reconstruction and opening up of the grounds and gardens, and the introduction of more varied and interesting programmes of activities, entertainments and sports for patients and for staff. He encouraged greater parole for patients so they could venture beyond the Retreat grounds for walks. A talented artist himself, he promoted art and tasteful decoration which brightened the hospital.  He began a pioneering course of mental nurse training at the Retreat, he opened the home nursing department, through which the Retreat sent nurses into people’s homes, and he started the Retreat pension scheme. He was a notable psychiatrist: President of the Medico-Psychological Association in 1919, he was also the first Retreat doctor to be allowed to open his own consulting rooms for his own private patients. He was clever, charismatic and authoritative, and yet also reassuring, approachable, and immensely well loved.

Ralph H.’s portrayal of Dr. Pierce was at once fantastical and yet in some respects based on reality. (This parallels the way Ralph treats his own story in the sketch). His portrayal of ‘Dr. Selfopinion’ is embellished with outlandish detail which plays ‘topsy-turvy’ with the actual Dr. Pierce, but sometimes the real man peeps out. Here is ‘Dr. Selfopinion’ being described physically:

DEFENDANT Dr. Selfopinion: (A tall, thin, shifty-eyed looking man, dressed in a black frock coat, looking very shiny with wear)

The black frock coat was realistic, and Bedford Pierce was tall and thin – the phrase ‘shifty-eyed’ is Ralph’s embellishment. As is the following:

Mock Trial 18.jpg
Mock Trial 19.jpg

The topsy-turvydom here lies in the fact that Bedford Pierce was a Quaker – racing, card playing and financial fraud were opposite to the figure of the real man.  And yet, ‘Dr. Selfopinion’ is presented as the figure of authority that he was. There is also a long speech in the sketch where ‘Dr. Selfopinion’ describes how he is acting in accordance with the plaintiff’s wife’s instructions (‘I was to keep him in cotton wool’), which as the correspondence file shows was based on truth. And ‘Dr. Selfopinion’ is described as ‘playing a strenuous game at billiards’ and being in the hockey field, which also reflects Dr. Pierce’s participation in sports – both he and Dr. Mackenzie played in the Retreat men’s hockey team.

Hockey team.jpg
Retreat men’s hockey team, 1902:
Dr. Mackenzie, centre back row and Dr. Pierce, front left (with dog) - RET/1/8/4/15/1

‘Dr. Selfopinion’ also says:

At the end of March I was obliged, owing to a temporary attack of senile decay to retire from my activities, but the Government Department who keep an eye on my house, asked me just to look in once a week, to see that the garden vegetables were getting on all right, so I consented.

This must refer to Dr. Pierce’s retirement in summer 1922, after which he became a Lord Chancellor’s Visitor to asylums (he was later a Commissioner of the Board of Control).

Dr. Henry Mackenzie - ‘Dr. We’llsee’

Ralph H.’s portrait of Dr. Henry Mackenzie is also composed of the same mixture of fantastical and real. Dr. Mackenzie was Bedford Pierce’s right-hand man – reliable, loyal and efficient. Dr. Marjorie Garrod, the daughter of Dr. Pierce, who grew up at the Retreat, describes Dr. Mackenzie in her short but valuable reminiscence, ‘The Retreat was my Home’ (RET/1/9/2/1).
In this, she describes him as ‘a dour, solemn Scot’. In his overflowing study, he would ‘solemnly stand and talk to us cracking each of his finger joints in turn and blowing through his moustache ’. In ‘A Mock Trial’ Ralph adds to ‘Dr. We’llsee’ a touch of incongruous, fantastical frivolity:

COUNSEL: I should like your colleague, Dr. What’s his name? Oh, I remember now – Dr. We’llsee, to step forward.
Mock Trial 30.jpg

However, Ralph mocks Dr. Mackenzie’s Scottish accent, presenting it in an exaggerated way, and with an additional dark undertone:

COUNSEL: Well! My client came to stay in the house in which you live part of the day, but sleep outside, on the front door mat.
Mock Trial 31.jpg

Dr. Mackenzie was the doctor whom Ralph saw most of, on a day to day basis, and the doctor who wrote up Ralph’s case notes. For this reason, the examination of ‘Dr. We’llsee’ in the witness box concentrates much more on Ralph’s detailed grievances, and perhaps he is treated less sympathetically. One wonders if the phrase ‘we’ll see’ was one that Dr. Mackenzie frequently used to mollify Ralph’s more outlandish or abusive claims. But in other respects, Ralph also captures the real man: ‘Dr. We’llsee’ is said to be ‘always busy in looking for eclipses of the sun, catching mosquitos, etc’. In reality, Dr. Mackenzie kept accurate statistics of meteorology through his rain gauges and thermometers and had, according to Marjorie Garrod ‘an unending fund of knowledge about scientific and mechanical things’.

...and finally

My last thought about ‘A Mock Trial’ is a question: why does it exist in a typed version? Who typed it up and why? Ralph’s original would certainly have been in manuscript. When he came to the Retreat in September 1921 he was busy writing a book, apparently about asylums. This seems to have been sparked by his experience at Ashwood House, whose doctor and staff first bore the brunt of his persecution mania. Dr. Mackenzie noted that he ‘spends much of his time here in writing a book to expose the iniquities of Ashwood House’; though there was also an indication that it would contain ‘no names’. Dr. Pierce told Mrs H. in September 1921 that Ralph was demanding a typist to make a fair copy of his book, but Dr. Pierce thought it looked ‘feeble, disconnected and uninteresting’, and so he had told Ralph that no publisher would want it. Clearly ‘A Mock Trial’ is not that book. Written during the following summer, one wonders if its form was actually inspired by Ralph’s experiences at the Retreat, whose stage entertainments and shows, as Harold Hunt describes in A Retired Habitation, often included ‘topical jokes’, sketches and allusions to staff. Ralph’s writing had also improved – ‘A Mock Trial’ is tightly written and to the point. One must conclude that the Retreat sanctioned its being typed up. No doubt the doctors would have found it valuable as a record of Ralph’s mind. But one also hopes that, accustomed to those jokes in Retreat shows, they also laughed and appreciated its humour.

More information about the Wellcome Library funded project to digitise the Retreat archive can be found on the project pages of our website. Digital surrogates from the Retreat archive project are available via the Wellcome Library.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Strike in the Chapter House: Archbishop Neville and the Canons of Beverley

The Registers of the Archbishops of York contain a great many interesting stories - but few more dramatic than the story of what has been described as the ‘most notorious clerical strike in medieval English history’ - Archbishop Neville’s feud with the Chapter of Beverley Minster in 1381 from Register 13, f 77r -92v. 

Here, Gary Brannan, our Access Archivist, takes us through this fascinating period - a dispute that eventually resulted in deep divisions between clergy, church and state.

For stories from this (and other) Archbishops’ Registers, see

It is the 2nd March, 1381.

A messenger arrives at the heavy doors of the Chapter House of Beverley Minster. He has come the short distance from the Archbishop's Manor in Beverley to bring the news that the Archbishop of York - Alexander Neville (c.1332-1392) - intended to visit the Chapter House of Beverley to undertake a Visitation of the Chapter, sometime around Lady Day (25th March). The Canons - and other clergy - were ordered to appear in person. The Archbishop had been busy in this regard, and had already appointed Roger de Pickering as his judicial assessor, and John Stane of Beverley - now at the door with the order - as his official runner and messenger.

The Chapter House, Beverley Minster
To say that this, relatively normal, procedure caused outrage amongst the Chapter understates things greatly. By the 20th of March, an official appeal had been sent to his Holiness Pope Urban VI appealing this jurisdiction. In the appeal, the Chapter set out their many rights and privileges that they said existed over the Archbishop. For 60 years or more, they argued, they had run and governed themselves, and had managed their own issues of discipline and correction and that, anyway, they were all good natured and peaceful men, undertaking their duties lawfully, and that the Archbishop knew this, too. They feared, they said, the Archbishop's’ use of his power, and that the Archbishop's’ argument that he had a seat in the Chapter may be true, but that he had no official power such as a vote there. 

The Chapter threw themselves on the mercy of the Papal Court, desperate not to be subject to the Archbishop. The Archbishop was, as one could expect, having precisely none of this, and the footnotes and annotations by the Archbishop give a very rare insight into the fury of a prelate scorned. In a section describing the past use of rights in the church, the Archbishop writes ‘Careful! This story is false!’. 

'Careful, this story is false!'
Just on the opposite side of the page, next to a section explaining that the Archbishop had usually been absent from Beverley and never laid claim to a Canonry there, the Archbishop furiously responds “And wrongly - consequently, this Archbishop will purge the negligence of his predecessors’.

'And wrongly, consequently, this Archbishop will purge the negligence of his predecessors'
In an appeal from Richard Ravenser, Archdeacon of Lincoln and Canon of Beverley, he notes a sarcastic ‘Show your authority’. Later, when explaining how the Archbishop was a mortal enemy of his, the Archbishop writes ‘ Yet your messenger came to the Archbishop with this writing and the archbishop asked him to dinner as he would have invited you if you had come’. Others complained of the many occasions the Archbishop had exceeded his authority - going to the place behind the altar, once citing the executors of Richard Kylling to appear; the same with the executors of Robert of Beverley; and wickedly made Margery, wife of Adam Cook of Beverley purge herself for her wicked crimes.

'Yet your messenger came to the Archbishop with this writing and
the Archbishop asked him to dinner as he would have invited you if you had come'
The notices of visitation were affixed to the seat of the Chapter House on the 26th March (the day after Lady Day). The names of 47 priests were cited to be present- but only 3 appeared. When asked where the rest were, he was told they were outsude, but were scared to appear because of the Canons of the Minster, and so they left. The Archbishop angrily demanded their return. The day after, only another four appeared. Now furious, the Archbishop demanded to know why they should not all be excommunicated. 

By now, it was the 5th April, and only another four vicars had appeared, the rest having left. They were summarily excommunicated. But now, who could undertake services? The Archbishop went to Matins - the evening service - on the 8th April, and was so saddened at the fact that the lack of priests meant there could basically be no adequate service, he called for priests trained in serving and chanting to be urgently sent from York to take services in place of the excommunicated priests.

Register 13, showing the Beverley visitation
And at this point - it got serious.

On the 21st April, letters were received from the King, Richard II. In these, he delicately explained that, actually, Beverley’s independence came from the time of his ancestor, King Athelstan. Under pressure to appeal to Rome but worried that this would ‘take more money out of the Kingdom’, the Archbishop was commanded to appear before the King before St George's day to settle the matter. The matter was settled on the 11th May - with a slight whimper as it was found the Archbishops’ Counsel did not have the full authority to represent him, the visitation was therefore ordered to be formally suspended.

The Archbishop was outraged - he notes in the margin that 'It is not the business of the temporal to interfere with the spiritual court' and that 'the request is not just and is therefore not granted'.

'the request is not just and is therefore not granted'
In this, the Canons of Beverley had won a significant battle with York over their independence. Beverley was not visited again as a result, though the Archbishop kept a Manor close by, just in case, and was able to visit the other churches in Beverley - all while the Canons no doubt kept a close eye on his comings and goings.

For Neville, the feud with Beverley was a marker of his obsession with local clerical issues, and also a sign of how his strategic decision making with marr his future. Neville became closely involved with the inner retinue of Richard II. Caught in the maelstrom of Richard's downfall, Neville found himself charged with treason in 1388 after being caught off Tynemouth while attempting a clandestine crossing of the North Sea. Spared execution, he finished his days in Leuven in the Netherlands as a lowly parish priest in 1392.

BIA, YDA/Abp Reg 13, available via <>, accessed 29/03/17

‘Memorials of Beverley Minster: The Chapter Act Book of the Collegiate Church of St. John of Beverley’, A F Leach, Surtees Society Vol 108 (1903)

‘Alexander Neville’, Dictionary of National Biography <>, accessed 29/03/17

Image: ‘Beverley Minster’ Steve Cadman, CC-BY-NC-SA, <>, accessed 29/03/17

Friday, 24 March 2017

5 Things: The St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York

Recently I added the archive of the Unitarian Chapel on St Saviourgate, York, to our online catalogue Borthcat. I knew next to nothing about the chapel or the archive when I began, not even that it was the oldest surviving non-conformist place of worship in the city, dating to 1693! I expected to find administrative and financial records, perhaps some publications and ephemera collected over the chapel's long history, but instead I found a wonderfully rich archive that reveals as much about the private lives of its congregation as it does the working life of the chapel.

The following are five items (out of hundreds) that I have selected to demonstrate the wealth of interesting and unusual items that can be found in the archives of local institutions.

1. Pardon of Christopher Brooke of Lincoln’s Inn, 1626.

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One of the earliest items in the archive is this grant of pardon made by King Charles I to Christopher Brooke of Lincoln’s Inn, one of the London Inns of Court.  It is a grant of general pardon, covering everything from murder and insurrection to theft, and it has a large Royal Seal attached displaying the enthroned King on one side and the King on horseback on the other.  

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 It’s not clear from the document itself why Brooke should need such a blanket exemption, or indeed who exactly Brooke is.  Speculation in the office that he was a seventeenth century spy sadly proved unfounded.  A more likely bet is that he was the son of Robert Brooke, a merchant and alderman of York in the late sixteenth century.  Christopher was his eldest son and was educated at Cambridge before becoming a bencher of Lincoln’s Inn in 1610.  In 1626 he returned to York to take up the post of Justice of the Council of the North and it is probable that he was granted the pardon to ensure his clean criminal record before taking public office, and not for any nefarious reasons.

2. An Account of Mr Driffield’s Household Furniture, 1791

This small book is from a cache of papers in the archive labelled ‘Driffield and Bielby’, and named for two local Unitarian mercantile families who entered into a business partnership in the late eighteenth century. Again it is unclear how their papers, which include business accounts, property papers and plans, came to be in the archive but this particular item offers a fascinating glimpse into the layout and contents of what must have been a comfortably situated eighteenth century house and shop.  Compiled by a Thomas Hardisty of Castlegate, York, the account most closely resembles the inventory often found with probate documents.  However a search of the probate indexes here at the Borthwick has found no Driffield wills registered around 1791 and certainly the Driffield most closely connected to St Saviourgate Chapel, merchant Robert Driffield of Mount House who has a handsome memorial on the chapel wall, did not die until 1816.


The account shows us that Mr Driffield had 14 rooms in his house, including his ‘shop’.  The rooms included six bedrooms, all with feather beds, hangings, dressing tables and looking glasses.  Some had additional chests of drawers, desks and washstands in mahogany and oak.  One had a ‘glass Fearne and glass’, another a ‘picture.’  Downstairs he had a dining room with ‘Scotch carpits’, a ‘Mahogany Tea Table’ and six chairs.  The room adjoining contained his ‘oak dining table’ and all his tableware.  The account lists cups, saucers, coffee mugs, three tea pots, ‘blue China plates’, decanters and glasses.  He had both a large and small kitchen filled with pots, pans, kettles and ‘toasting prickers’. Finally his parlour with its mahogany table, oak desk, chairs, stool, ‘Hair seat’ and tea chest, as well as a bird cage, ‘4 Pictures’ and ‘carpits.’  The total value came to £110, with a further £23 and 4 shillings added from the value of fixtures and fittings in his shop.


3. Laws of a Book Society established at York, 1795.

The archive includes another small cache of books and papers, this time belonging to the Wellbeloved family.  Their connection to the St Saviourgate Chapel is an obvious one, Charles Wellbeloved had come to York in 1792 as assistant to the chapel’s minister Newcome Cappe.  He succeeded to the ministry at Cappe’s death in 1800 and was a prominent York figure, active in reformist and antiquarian circles for the rest of his life.  

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Just one of the many clubs and societies he played a part in was the York Book Society, established in 1794 as a circulating subscription library.   The society initially met at Reverend Wellbeloved’s home.  It was later reconstituted as the Subscription Library Society and from 1812 it had its own premises on the corner of Lendal and St Helen’s Square.   The early ‘Laws’ of the society kept by Wellbeloved show that subscription was one guinea a year, with an additional sixpence charged for missing the monthly society meeting.  Books were to be borrowed first by the member who suggested it, and then passed on to other members in order of seniority.  

The library at that time comprised 35 titles, although this had risen to 140 by 1799 and included such titles as the ‘Life of the Empress of Russia’, ‘Miss Williams’ Tour in Switzerland’ and ‘Bishop Watson’s Apology for the Bible.’

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4. Journal of travels on the continent, 1819

Whilst these family papers showcase the involvement of Charles Wellbeloved in York civic life, the majority of items in this small cache are actually by his son, John, including lecture notes, poems and a journal detailing his all too short trip to Europe in the summer of 1819, when he was 21 years old.    

John Wellbeloved was the second son and the one expected to follow his father into the ministry.  He had studied divinity at Manchester College, winning the prize for Greek composition, and the poems he wrote there are a reminder that student life has not changed as much as we may think.  In his poem ‘In Praise of Coffee’ he writes of long hours studying and the reviving effects of his favourite drink,

When late at night we weary trudge,
In learning’s thorny way.
Our strength and spirits will revive,
And all our pains allay.

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His father wished for him to become more fluent in German and so in July 1819 he left for the continent with a friend of his father’s, Dr John Kenrick.  In spite of the ‘villanous coffee’ he had to drink in Germany, his journal gives a lively account of the trip, describing the beauty of the countryside and addressing remarks to his family at home who would read it upon his return.  On one evening,

‘Being encouraged by the ladies I ventured to make an attempt at a Waltz with Miss Acherbach.  And now Anne [his younger sister], you must not think a Waltz in Germany the horrible thing which it is thought to be in England.  The ladies here stand up as naturally to a Waltz as they do in England to a country dance & nothing more is thought of it.’

John and Kenrick had planned to spend the winter in Göttingen but tragically it was not to be.  At the end of September, the pair were at Homburg, near Frankfurt, when John became ill with typhus.  He died within the fortnight and was buried in the cemetery of the Reformed Church there.  A college friend described him as ‘gifted by nature with superior talents’ whilst possessing ‘a thoroughly warm, benevolent and guileless heart.’  Years later, Kenrick wrote that his parents never recovered from his loss.

5.  'Reflections on the Public Ministry of Christ deduced from the Records of the Four Evangelists' by Catharine Cappe, 1821

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This is the only book in the archive authored by Catharine Cappe alone, yet Catharine looms large in the history of St Saviourgate Chapel and indeed in the cause of Unitarianism and York life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  The daughter of Jeremiah Harrison, the incumbent of Long Preston and Skipton, and later of Catterick, Catharine converted to Unitarianism as an adult.  In the eighteenth century Unitarianism was considered as a radical form of dissent from Anglican orthodoxy.  Catharine argued that philanthropy was a way of countering negative views of the movement and encouraged women to take an active role in public life, as she herself did following her move to York in 1782.  She set up a spinning school for girls with her friend, Mrs Gray, that same year, and went on to reorganise the city’s Grey Coat School for Girls from 1785.  In 1788 she set up a female Friendly Society to provide financial support to women in times of hardship.  

In 1788 she also became the second wife of Newcome Cappe, the minister of St Saviourgate between 1755 and 1800.   During their marriage Catharine assisted her husband with his ministry, transcribing his earlier religious writings and taking dictation of his new sermons.  After his death in 1800 she edited her husband’s work into a number of publications, including ‘Discourses chiefly on Devotional Subjects’ in 1805 and ‘Discourses Chiefly on Practical Subjects’ in 1815.  She was also an important benefactor to the Yorkshire Romantic poet Charlotte Richardson, arranging for her first book of verse to be published by subscription in 1806.
On her own account, Catharine published at least three books.  Her ‘Account of Two Charity Schools for the Education of Girls’ was printed in 1800, and her autobiography ‘Memoirs of the Life of Mrs Catherine Cappe’ and ‘Reflections on the Public Ministry of Christ deduced from the Records of the Four Evangelists’ were both published after her death in July 1821.


If you would like to read more about the St Saviourgate Chapel Archive, you can read the entry on our online catalogue HERE, or why not visit the chapel's own website.