Welcome to the first of my lucky dip posts. The aim is to pick an item off the shelves and find out what it has to offer, to show that civic archives are always interesting – even when you might not expect it!
So here we are with Strongroom 1, Aisle 1, which mainly consists of committee minutes. Now, these types of records have a reputation for being dry, but I find them fascinating as they deal with detail – the nuts and bolts of administering city life.
I picked this shelf of volumes, which are a small series of minute books covering about 150 years. I chose the slim beige volume from the left as it looks like one of the oldest. Taking it down, it has “Proceedings of the market committee” handwritten on the front cover in ink. From my background research I know that the Corporation has historically had much control over trade in the City, laying down regulations for who can sell what, when and where.
However, opening it up and having a look – I find that it is more specific than I expected, relating solely to establishment of the modern cattle market built next to Fishergate in 1827. I’ll have a quick dig in the Victoria County History to find out some background info, but let’s see what more this original document has to offer.
OK, so the first meeting takes place on 23rd January 1827. The land has already been purchased and nine committee members are meeting in the Guildhall. This first meeting is very practical, resolving to put the existing trees and hedges on the land up for auction (presumably the buyer would then extract them? If so, a cost-effective way to clear the site!) and levelling the surface with a incline running into dykes, a necessary measure as improved sanitation was a major reason for investing in the new facilities in the first place.
The rest of the meeting gives more insight into the relationship between this committee and the wider Corporation. Quite a strong tone is taken:
Resolved: “that the Corporation be informed that the committee … find it absolutely necessary that the road through Fishergate Bar communicating with Walmgate be opened”
and that “the committee will want a considerable sum of money for the completion of the cattle market and beg the direction of the corporation how they will have it raised.”
The first meeting ends with the decision to buy a new book in which to record their resolutions, which is most likely to be the one we are looking at now.
Skipping forward, the meetings follow how the market takes shape from a piece of land into a working facility. There are records of site visits to check on progress, and in June we find fact-finding notes on the Wakefield market for comparison.
The first fair was held on 4th October 1827, and the accounts are entered in the volume. They took in £18 10s 10d, most of which was raised from sheep, rather than cattle.
Checking in the VCH again, we can find out that a new inn was added in 1828. However, if you look at the original documents instead, not only can you read the discussions leading up to why that decision was made, but even see a pasted in clipping of the invitation to tender that went out in the paper.
The new market hosted 32 fairs in its first year. The receipts for each one are duly recorded. You can also see from this that many of the fairs still took place on traditional religious feasts such as All Souls’ Day, on which a cattle fair had been held (previously in Walmgate) since at least 1736.
So there we go, one small volume with a not very exciting title, but unique information on how a major improvement in York, that had been called for decades, was put into action step by step.
It is far from the only source on the subject, and like all archives is best combined with others such as plans and newspapers. However, minutes have the potential to take you back into a room with a named group of people in a certain time and place, who were working out how to make something happen. That’s their value and charm, and you can’t help but learn something new.