In this blog update I am going to briefly describe my recent visit to the Records Office at Chichester in West Sussex. I will explore some of the pros and cons of this visit as well as answer why the record offices are so useful to historians studying their local areas/regions.
To begin with it is worth mentioning why I travelled to this records office in particular considering the shorter distance that the records office at Winchester is for me. For my university assignment I needed to explore the reasons behind the increase in crime levels in the counties of Hampshire and Sussex in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I had previously visited the Winchester records office for this purpose and decided to go further a field for more primary source information. After about 45 minutes on the train I reached Chichester and about 20 minutes later I had walked the record office (thanks to Google maps, though it was not that difficult to find). Similar to the Winchester Records office I show my readers ticket and was given access to the store of records that Chichester held. This I felt was convenient because it meant that I did not need to sign for a new ticket, just use the one from Hampshire. I had a rough idea of what I was looking for, mainly cases of smuggling and reports of incidents relating to the Swing Riots of 1830. As I looked through the records that I had requested, a very speedy process just to mention, I began reading through the sources. In the end I found that not all of the sources that I ordered were entirely of use but that’s to say they were not of interest. Some of the Swing Riot accounts were very useful as well as the sources relating to the national population and crime convictions.
By far the best aspect of the visit was the helpfulness and friendliness of the records office staff. They helped me find the sources that I required and even offered to send me photocopies of sources that they held at a separate building in Chichester. They also showed me sources that I did not think were held there such as the A full and Genuine History of the Inhuman and unparalleled murder of Mr William, A Custom Officer and Mr Daniel Chater A Shoemaker, By Fourteen notorious smugglers with the trials and execution of seven of the bloody criminal at Chichester (1749). There were some cons to the visit but they were only minor. Problems such as unreadable texts within letters and reports and not being able to find the sources that would tell me what I wanted to find were foreseeable. There was also the problem that some of the sources that I required were elsewhere but the information that I found more than made up for that. Overall it was a very useful visit that provided more primary sources for research as well as bolstering the evidence that I already had from Winchester.
With the increase in research for local studies and history, record offices are treasure troves to any seeking to uncover their family histories and local history. They too often have many sources that have never been investigated and offer another perspective on the historical past. Whilst they may not be the most enjoyable places to spend your time, they are both quiet and comfortable places to do research in. To summarise, the visit to the records office at Chichester was both productive and helpful in expanding my knowledge of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.