April 24, 2014, by Lucy

Getting into the Archive – The Hingham Town Book (part 1)

A trip to Norfolk Record Office

A few weeks ago I began exploring the collections of Norfolk Record Office (NRO), looking for information on extreme weather events experienced in the East Anglia region, another of our case study areas. I went equipped with a list of material of interest, generated with the help of searches of the excellent online catalogue (NROCAT) and national A2A database, and set to work on looking through the individual items.

It was definitely a productive visit, the items I looked at included; a rainfall register for Boyland Hall (1868-1889); farming diaries from Wymondham (1794-1799), Raveningham (1895-1955) and Letheringsett (1897-1901); a collection of letters (1797-1821) from S.M. Farington (wife of Joseph Farington of the Royal Academy), and another relating to the management of the Earsham Hall estate (1791-1840); a weather diary from Brundall (1945-1956); a record of church services and the weather at West Tofts, Thetford (1854-1860), and memorandum books of the Rev William Joseph Parkes of Hilgay (1833-1872); and papers relating to the Aylsham Hail Storm Committee, set up to provide relief for those who had suffered from the Hail Storm of Wednesday 9th August 1843.

Online catalogue searches thus provide us with a helpful way into the collections. However, for many record offices and archives much of the material they hold has not yet been entered onto the online versions of their catalogues and card and paper catalogue searches at the individual repositories are therefore equally important. Whatever type of catalogue we’re using we’re also obviously reliant on the archivist having made a note of the weather information contained within any single source during the cataloguing process – fortunately early indications suggest that in the vast majority of cases they do! Almost all of the NRO collections are available to search on NROCAT but during my visit, James alerted me to one source that isn’t:

A ‘tip-off’ from James and the British Agricultural History Society

At the British Agricultural History Society’s recent conference, James spoke to Mark Overton (University of Exeter) who alerted him to a potential source of interest for our project, ‘The Hingham Town Book’, which is held at the NRO and which is featured in Mark’s paper ‘Weather and agricultural change in England, 1660-1739’, Agricultural History 63:2, 77-88. I couldn’t find the item on the online catalogue but did locate a reference to it in the paper catalogue and, with the help of the archivist, located  a copy of it on microfilm.

The Hingham Town Book

Hingham town sign

Hingham town sign

Hingham is a market town in the heart of rural Norfolk, around 15 miles west of Norwich. The Town Book mainly contains the accounts of Churchwardens, Constables and Overseers but also a small number of informative entries relating to weather:

1681 – This year began a drought about the middle of March & continued till the beginning of July by reason of which we had little or no hay for that it was found for great prices before the rains. But in July it pleased god to send […] as we had in this town a good cropp of all grains & beyond hope or […] for when we feared a famine we had a greate plenty; & a want of hay was supplied by farming of turnips.

1682 – This year in April fell so much raine which continued till about the middle of May; that no could not sow Barly so that men in this town did not make any end of sowing till 28th May, notwithstanding the crop was indifferent good.

1683 – Upon the 27th Sept it was so greate a […] as would […] did now by the space of 6 or 7 hours very fast in the afternoon for as it was never known by any of us […] and in beginning of December it began to […] and continued till the middle of February with little intermission.

1684 – This year was a great drought which began about the middle of April and continued till the middle of August […] was very little raine for that there was a very small crop of hay and some corne. Upon the 24th of October at night was a great tempest of thunder and lightning with much snow and rains which lashed about an hour. Hay was sould this winter at 3d a hundred.

1685 – This year was a great drought in summer but a mild winter god as hay was not above […] 2d-6d.

1740 – Memorandum. That on Sunday the fourth of May 1740 about six in the evening it began to snow and continued all night & until Monday noon & then the sun got out and between three and four in the afternoon we had several large cracks of thunder preceeded by a violent storm of hail and a great flight of snow till near sunset and that night such a sharp frost as no man then liveing remembered the like and the same year on Aprill the 21 a very deep snow.

1750 – That on Sunday the third of March 1750 in the afternoon we had a violent & shocking tempest which continued several hours with little or no intermission of thundering & lighting such as was never known at this season of the year by the oldest man […]

I hope you have enjoyed reading the accounts from Hingham, I certainly enjoyed deciphering them (although still a few missing words to work on!). James will be following up this post with some thoughts on the role of extreme weather events in triggering agricultural change in ‘part 2’ in a couple of weeks, in the meantime please post your thoughts and comments below.

Posted in Archive visitsEventsProject themesWeather extremes