In this blog I’d like to turn the spotlight onto a series of 28 volumes compiled between 1608 and 1927 collectively known as 'Contracts' Registers'. For a long time these volumes were described in the archive's paper catalogue as ‘lease books’ but actually they are much more than that. In addition, the paper catalogue only recorded the dates of each volume - nothing about the documents they contained.
Between 1608 and 1927 whenever the Cathedral authorities had a new legal agreement drawn up they copied it into the Contracts' Register. In many cases the original document hasn't survived so we're lucky that our predecessors made a copy in these sturdy and well bound volumes: you can think of them maybe as the precursor of the computer hard drive. This practice of making a back up copy for extra security dates back to at least the medieval period when such volumes are called cartularies. We are fortunate that the Cathedral archive contains two 13th century cartularies: The Register of St Osmund and Liber Evidentiarium C.
Closer study of the Contracts Registers reveals that although the majority of documents are concerned with property owned and leased by the Cathedral authorities, actually their scope is much wider than that.
One volume covering the period 1863-1877, is particularly rich in contracts relating to work on the Cathedral fabric. It was during this period that the famous architect Sir Gilbert Scott advised on a programme of restoration. This volume includes, among many others, contracts for drainage, and the restoration of the West Front, together with a ‘report of the decoration of the roof and spandrels of the choir.’ Contracts on more miscellaneous topics include; a grant of rights to carry telegraph wires over the surface of the land above the Salisbury Railway tunnel and a conveyance of fishing and boating rights on the Avon and Nadder rivers at East Harnham.
A plan of the Cathedral in the 1863-1877 Register.
A contract with Mr White for the restoration of the West Front including a 'Schedule of Prices.'
The majority of contracts in the Registers relate to the ownership of property. Some contracts also include beautifully drawn plans such as this one relating to the parishes of Malborough, West Alvington and South Huish.
In 2019 a small group of archive volunteers started compiling content lists for each volume. They are recording the title of each contract, what it is for, who is involved and its date. As each contents list is completed, a hard copy is kept with the volume itself and the details are added to the Register's catalogue entry in the archive and library online database. You can access the database here.
It is going to take a while to finish all 28 volumes not least because the handwriting is often hard to decipher and, in some cases, the ink has faded with age. The volunteers started with the later volumes, where the handwriting is the clearest, and are working backwards chronologically in the hope that as the handwriting becomes harder they will already have some familiarity with it!