Hampshire Record Keepers – 1. Winchester College


The records of Hampshire and beyond have been kept, organised, catalogued and made available by a legion of archivists. This is the first a series on the major holdings in the county

When Winchester College opened in 1394, a good many documents already existed – foundation documents, deeds of title to property purchased by the founder for the College, court rolls and accounts for these manors, and then soon followed by the statutes, annual accounts, registers of scholars and fellows, inventories of goods, registers of leases, etc, all in keeping with orders laid down in the Founder’s Statutes in September 1400.

The Winchester College archives have always been housed in a room originally known as the Treasury and later the Muniment Room, a vaulted room above the chapel vestry attached to the east end of Chapel. Since the early 20th century, storage has expanded to other medieval rooms – the Upper Muniment Room; Audit, Exchequer and Cheese Rooms in a tower at the west end of College Hall; and to Wiccamica Room, located above Fromond’s Chantry, a 15th-century chantry chapel built in the cloister garth.

Under the Founder’s Statutes, responsibility for record keeping was placed upon the Warden and Fellows, particularly those who served each year as sub-warden and bursars. The first catalogue was created in 1840 by one of the College chaplains, Revd William Henry Gunner, but this was lost and Thomas Kirby, the college’s first professional bursar, created a new one during his term of office, 1877-1910.

Kirby’s successor as bursar, Herbert Chitty, took a particular interest in the archives and researched all aspects of the College’s history. On his retirement in 1927, Chitty was appointed Keeper of the College Archives. He arranged for documents to be repaired at the Public Record Office and boxed and labelled most of the ancient documents. Under Chitty’s care, the Winchester College archives became better known as an important historical source. Chitty wrote and published widely and encourage others to do the same.

In 1937, a deputy keeper was appointed, Austin Smyth. He undertook the task of making a more detailed list of all the title deeds and managed to work on 17 out of the 60 estates before his death in 1949. At the same time, Chitty planned a comprehensive catalogue, set out along lines already followed by Kirby and Gunner in their catalogues, divided into two main groupings – College and Estates. It was this arrangement which was used when the cataloguing work was finally carried out by Sheila Himsworth (née Elliott) in the late 1950s, under the direction of the then Keeper of Archives, John H Harvey.

The archives or muniments were numbered in a single series, arranged in sections in the order assigned by Kirby, covering each estate and including artificial groups of documents of general administration, named as Domus I and Domus II. Further classes of documents were then included as Domus III and Domus IV, and this brought the total number of documents catalogued up to over 25,000. Another tranche of cataloguing work was carried out by Mrs Himsworth in the mid-1960s and this covered all the leasehold property.

The catalogue was originally written onto index cards, one card per document. These were then copied into a series of foolscap volumes by the National Register of Archives – copies of these volumes are held at various repositories, including The National Archives, Hampshire Record Office and at Winchester College. From this list and from the cards, a summary catalogue, Winchester College Muniments, was prepared. This was published in three volumes, Volume I in 1976, and Volumes II and III in 1984.

The care of the archives passed from John Harvey (also the College’s consultant architect) to Peter Gwyn in 1964, and then from Peter to Roger Custance in 1976. Both Peter and Roger were history teachers at the college.

In the late 1990s, there were growing concerns about the care of the collection. Winchester College sought advice from outside, notably from Hampshire Archives Trust, and started an appeal for funds. This led to the appointment of Suzanne Foster as Deputy College Archivist in 1999, thanks to the suggestion from Rosemary Dunhill, then County Archivist, that one of HRO’s archivists would be a good choice. She was duly ‘loaned’ for two days a week, assisted by Janet Rooms, an archive assistant at HRO. Their task was to improve the physical care of the collection – everything was repackaged and cleaned – and to make the collection more widely available to researchers. At the same time, new storage cupboards were installed, along with fire detection systems, heating and lighting.

Since 1999, much has been achieved and Suzanne moved to work full-time as College Archivist in 2007. The majority of the more modern records relating to the school have now been catalogued and are also open year-round to researchers. Some parts of the collection have been digitised and are available online. More items are added to this site each year.

Military history is important in a boys’ school and in 2014, the Winchester College at War website was launched. This contained biographies and photographs of each boy who died in service during WW1 and WW2. The site has now been re-designed and expanded to include biographies of all the Wykehamists who died or were killed in conflicts from the 18th century through to the 1980s.

Winchester College is an unusual and curious place to work. There are very few archivists who care for archives housed in medieval muniment rooms and Winchester’s archives are unique. The work is very diverse and unlike many archives, the collection includes artefacts as well as documents. From the 1950s, the artefacts have been gathered together in a separate collection known as ‘Wiccamica’, to form a growing collection of eclectic school- and pupil-related memorabilia.

Some archives are still kept in the boarding houses, but copies of admission registers and house photographs are now held centrally, making the College archives much more comprehensive than they were 20 years ago.

Contributed by Suzanne Foster

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