About the Project

The ‘Bawdy’ Courts of Lichfield project will widen access to the history of people and places in the Midlands as revealed in the vastly underexploited church court case papers of the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry held by Staffordshire Archives and Heritage.

The ‘Bawdy’ Courts of Lichfield project will widen access to the history of people and places in the Midlands as revealed in the vastly underexploited church court case papers of the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry held by Staffordshire Archives and Heritage.

In this blog we will share the interesting, quirky, scandalous, ‘bawdy’ and run of the mill stories that emerge from the case papers as we catalogue the collection, shedding light on everyday community life, activities and relationships. Take the earliest surviving papers which concern a case brought against Alice Gledynhurst of Alton in 1534 by two men, Anthony Robyns of Alton and Richard Nedham of Croxden. Apparently Alice had contracted to marry them both and the court had to decide between her suitors!

The court records cover over 350 years of cases from the diocese, which historically included Staffordshire, Derbyshire, north Shropshire and north-east Warwickshire. They include cases of immorality, cases about the conduct of clergy, and disputes relating to slander, marriage, probate and tithes. The court also authorised alterations to church buildings through faculty cases.

Over the next 2 years we are going to catalogue cases from 1534 to the early 20th century, listing:

  • the names of the parties and witnesses
  • where they’re from
  • the nature of the case/dispute
  • the types of documents included in each case

As cause papers are such a rich source of information, not only about the parties in the case but also the wider community, this enhanced catalogue will enable more researchers to access the records. Local historians will be able to build pictures of life in a particular village and family historians will be able to discover in-depth stories about their ancestors (whether they were the accusers, the accused, witnesses or local officials) taking them far beyond just birth, marriages and deaths.

For instance a case from 1585 tells us about the characters and lives of some troublesome inhabitants of Castle Bromwich and their recusant lord of the manor, whose father Edward Arden had just been executed for treason. In 1552 the intimacy of life in a gentry household is revealed by John Burgon of Bonsall employed by Elizabeth Sachaverell at Darley Abbey to mow hay at harvest. He reported:

‘when they drewe the bedd curtaynes sawe this Edward & Elizabeth in bedd to gether’

This information will be made available through our online catalogue, Gateway to the Past, and through indexes on the Staffordshire Names Indexes website. It will provide people with a wide variety of ways in which to search for records, whether by name, place, type of dispute or any combination. It will also help researchers overcome the obstacle of the records being written in Latin before 1733, which has previously prevented people from ascertaining the potential or even the existence of relevant papers.

In the 1990s an academic project funded by the Leverhulme Trust resulted in detailed listing of probate inventories and a sample of all case papers between 1739-1766 by Dr Anne Tarver. This revealed the extent of the work required to catalogue the entire collection and the value of doing so. Now, thanks to funding from Archives Revealed, we can finish the long journey to complete the cataloguing work.

Create your website at WordPress.com
Get started