1950s: Diocesan Records

This week, as part of our #LeedsArchives80 birthday celebration we’re highlighting our activities through the 1950s.

In the decade that saw the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (1953) and Laika the dog journey into space aboard Sputnik (1957), Leeds City Archives was expanding significantly. The team grew in number as a second Archivist was appointed in 1955, paid for by the local committee of the National Register of Archives which was based in Leeds. And as the archive team grew, so did our collections.

Thanks to the outward looking and forward thinking National Register of Archives and Leeds Council, huge family and estate archives were deposited with, and purchased by, the archives in the ‘50s including the wonderful records of Fountains Abbey https://fountainsabbeyarchives.wordpress.com and the Gascoignes of Parlington and Lotherton Hall.

But, the collection which changed our geographical remit most significantly was the deposit of records from the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds (now the Diocese of Leeds) in 1952.   The collection dates from 1474 onwards and consists of records from the three main functions performed by the church: Judicial functions in the Consistory Court; Visitation and Correction Court; and Registry functions within which there are wills, marriage bonds, faculty books and Bishop’s transcripts to name just a few.  Hundreds of boxes started to make their way into the archives and there are now a whopping 991 boxes in the Diocese of Leeds collection.

Many of these records, rather confusingly, cover the Archdeaconry of Richmond, Eastern Deaneries, so the areas of Boroughbridge, Catterick, Richmond and part of Lonsdale and widened our geographical coverage considerably.  This map gives you an idea of the areas we cover:

My favourite records, and probably some of the most underused in the collection, are the Consistory Court (a type of ecclesiastical court) papers, a court which dealt with issues of morality and matrimony, non-payment of church rates and defamation of character among others. These fantastic documents can shed light on some of the relationships between villagers, and some of the causes of disputes. One such case, between Susan Murthwaite and Mistress Anne Taylor tells of how Susan’s reputation was threatened by an accusation by Anne.  According to Susan, she had been making “much holesome butter, cheese and curddes” selling the products to the parishioners and inhabitants of Richmond.  Anne, apparently unimpressed by Susan’s efforts is reported to have said that Susan made “dirtie cheese and stinkeinge butter” (with a few expletives thrown into the description for good measure!).  With Susan’s livelihood potentially at risk she brought the matter to the church courts in order to clear her name and reinstate her reputation.


A snapshot of the case between Susan Murthwaite and Anne Taylor, 17th century, Reference RD/AC/3/12

These types of court cases are a brilliant insight into the lives of people who would otherwise be forgotten and are a fantastic resource for family historians, local historians and anyone interested in how a 17th and 18th century village functioned.

For more information on this collection please contact the Leeds team at leeds@wyjs.org.uk or check out these resources online:

There are free guides to probate records, Bishop’s transcripts and parish registers available here and more detailed catalogues of the Archdeaconry of Richmond wills here.  Digital images of probate records can be viewed on the Ancestry.co.uk website.

A map showing the parish records deposited with the West Yorkshire Archive Service can be seen below: