Lucky Dip #5 – Chamberlains’ vouchers 1799-1801

Archive boxes on shelves with temporary labels
It’s snowing outside, not that you can tell.

Time to kick off the new year with a brand new lucky dip. Aisle 5 now, which consists of documents packaged in archive boxes, rather than loose on the shelves (hurrah)!

Here’s the one I picked, with a mysterious temporary label that says “CV – Vouchers 1799-1801.”

Lucky Dip #5
Lucky Dip #5
It's like Christmas in January...
It’s like Christmas in January…

Opening it up, we see bundles of paper receipts, in years from 1799 to 1801. They are in neither original nor modern preservation grade packaging, but bear the distinctive labels of material processed in Giles’ era (c.1900). These bundles are listed (by year, not in detail) in the Giles catalogue under C class.

So what have we got here? Let’s dive in and see! I picked the bundle already opened so as not to wrestle with century-old string.

Note the non-archival quality brown paper wrapping. This will have to be repackaged.
Note the acidic brown paper wrapping. This will have to be repackaged.

Inside we find small pieces of creamy18th-century rag paper, consisting of receipts and invoices. Whilst the accounts in Lucky Dip #4 record transactions in a formal way, these are the actual bills and invoices written by those providing goods and services to the council, often in their own hand, with additional notes by the Chamberlains that payment was made, and sometimes even with receipts of payment glued onto them.

They are in date order, let’s have a look what was happening in the winter of that year.

Invoice for banquet with printed decoration
Banquet invoice from Thomas Walker
The reverse of the invoice, with authorisation on one end, and Chamberlain's note on the other.
The reverse of the invoice, with authorisation on one end, and Chamberlain’s note on the other.

One that caught my eye was this printed bill, which is for catering some kind of event – drinks, food and servants. Turning it over, a note is written that it is for the Sessions dinner and it has been authorised by three members of the Corporation including the mayor, just like we would expect modern expenses claims to be authorised.

Other items are less visually impressive but reveal insight into city history. I noticed a few mentioning New Walk, which was the riverside walk opened up as part of an attempt to beautify the city and encourage visitors in the 1730s. You can read about it in the VCH here.

Three invoices for labour on New Walk
Three invoices for labour on New Walk

It clearly took upkeep to maintain as in this bundle there are regular invoices for labourers’ wages working on New Walk – a chilly job at this time of year! The invoices are all written by one hand, a foreman representing or employing several labourers. It doesn’t say what work specifically they were doing but lists their names and the days they worked.

Opened out invoice with itemised charges for labourers
Opened out invoice with itemised charges for labourers

To find out more, I kept looking to see what other supplies might be required and  lo and behold we have an invoice for the purchase of elm trees in December from a man of Telford. I wonder if these were to replace trees which had died or been damaged since the 1730s, or for an extension.

Bill for elm trees
Bill for elm trees – like the others, this bill was folded and labelled by the chamberlains.
Bill for elm trees supplied or two dates. I wonder how large is "large" and how they transported them here.
Bill for elm trees supplied on two dates. I wonder how large is “large” and how they transported them here.

These records of business transaction on the micro level, are authentic unique sources of the little actions that go into maintaining and developing a city like York over the centuries. I could happily sit for hours and read through this box, and the great thing is that so could anyone. They are written in English, the handwriting is cursive but generally straightforward and there is no reason at all why you couldn’t order up a box and browse through for leisure, or to look for specific information on certain types of expenditure.

Pink tape – an archive weed!

A postscript: You see the pale pink tape that ties this bundle? Pink  legal tape was used to tie up bundles of records and makes archivists shudder because the dye is unstable and runs if it gets wet. I havn’t seen it quite so faded before though, perhaps this was caused by flooding? Paper and ink from this period could survive a wetting, but maybe the pink dye leaked out in one of the flooding incidents in the 19th century. This is pure speculation, but another reminder of the avenues of exploration you can find yourself in by looking at physical records!

2 thoughts on “Lucky Dip #5 – Chamberlains’ vouchers 1799-1801

  1. These blogs are a wonderful introduction to the range of CYC archives. They capture the excitement of using primary sources, and even signpost potential research projects. Coping with grubby, knotted pink tape is a small price to pay!

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