Aisle 4 contains some of our older civic records. Let me introduce you to Lucky Dip #4 – Chamberlains’ account books 1666-1679 [CB 26].The Chamberlains kept the official City accounts, and the post goes back at least as far as 1290 in York. We have two major series of their records, known as the Chamberlains’ books and Chamberlains’ rolls.
The rolls (1398-1835, with gaps) are the “official” audited accounts, and were signed off once a year, whereas the books (1446-1835, with gaps) were everyday records and contain more detail and bits and pieces such as receipts and bills.
Lucky Dip #4 records money in, money out, savings, investments and charity accounts of the City of York during part of the reign of Charles II. It’s so information-rich that any page is fascinating, but here are a couple to show a range of transactions.
In order to spend money, the City had to first receive money. Listed on this page are some of the “casual receipts” for miscellaneous income in 1668. These include interest on bonds, and one resident’s payment to become a freeman.
If the City chose you to be an officer, like Sheriff, you either had to accept the appointment or pay hefty fine to avoid it. As being an officer was not only a faff but could cost a lot of your own money (which you may or may not manage to claim back), many people paid the fine to avoid it. This was a substantial amount of income for the City, who sometimes took advantage of it by targeting their nominations to those they knew would prefer (and could afford!) to pay up.
In March 1668 they managed to get an impressive total of £60 off two candidates in the space of a week! That was a lot of money, and such fines for exoneration from office were a substantial portion of city income for centuries.
So what did they spend it on? Like today, part of the money was spent on setting up young people in apprenticeships, another portion paid the people who kept the public administration running, such as the mayor, common clerk, cook, baker and caretaker:
Daily expenses were varied, seen below for the month of January 1668/69. Payments went to a messenger delivering a letter, a lawyer for drawing up a petition, a porter for carrying coal to the council chamber, and slightly worryingly, “To the tipstaves [sherrif’s officials] for whipping people openly and privately” – presumably to do with the corporation’s responsibility for crime and punishment.
But not all the money could be spent on local matters. York had national responsibilities to send money up to the king. Lucky Dip #4 has several examples of these taxes, particularly for wars, via the expenses claimed by the sheriffs for collecting it.
So that’s the content of the record, but what happened after it was no longer in current use? All physical objects have a history of their own, and a significant point for these accounts was the flood of 1892 when the records came to the attention of William Giles. As well as writing his catalogue he also sorted and arranged the records (just like I am doing 100 years later, albeit differently) and sent some to be conserved and rebound at the Public Record Office in London.
The codex we are looking at would not have been familiar to its original authors as it has been altered in the 19th and 20th centuries. The volume is actually made up from a number of smaller volumes, which have been bound together with a new PRO binding and titlepages.
You can easily see where books of different sizes have been put together. We are lucky they didn’t cut them down to fit and look neater which sometimes happens!
We see Giles as a bit of a hero, but his actions were not purely beneficial. Whilst he arranged for the records to be professionally conserved by experts of the day, some of their methods of conservation proved damaging in the long run.
We can see it here where some of the pages have been discoloured to a dark yellow. This page isn’t too bad as the text is dark but for some pages in our older records it is almost impossible to read what’s written.
Modern conservators now follow a principle that all work should be reversible. Parts of Lucky Dip #4 were conserved again, to modern standards, using high quality acid free paper to stabilise the pages and make it clear which bits are original and which are additions. It was attached with starch-based glue so it can be removed with water if required.
I’m really fascinated by the journey of physical items, on top of the informational value they contain. It really is like archaeology; you search for clues and look at different layers to put a story together. Nowadays we help out our successors by keeping records about our records, recording exactly what we have done to an item “on our watch”.
As I re-catalogue the archives I will give them new reference numbers, but the older ones will still be recorded on the catalogue entry. This means old and new references will still match up and this chapter is only one of many in the 350 year old chain of custody (all within the City of York Council) from the clerks who wrote them, via Giles and his contemporaries to us in the early 21st century and beyond.