Where to find out about Somerset's history in manuscript



Original materials will be found at the Somerset Heritage Centre, Taunton. National materials are to be found in the National Archives at Kew and the British Library in London. There are also important manuscript collections for local history in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the University Library, Cambridge, the John Rylands Library, Manchester, and Lambeth Palace Library, London. English Heritage’s National Monuments Record Centre is in Swindon.

Somerset is rich in oral archive material much of which is stored in the Somerset Heritage Centre (SHC) in Taunton. Notes and transcripts can be found on the SHC website.

Catalogues to many collections at those archives and libraries can be found on line on their own individual websites or on the TNA site. The last is invaluable for finding ‘strays’ in unlikely locations. It also has listings of some private and commercial archives. Several University libraries, notably the Somerset’s Heritage Environment Record, giving details of archaeological sites from prehistory to the Cold War, and listed buildings, is also available on line.

The Victoria County History of Somerset has a substantial collection of unpublished material, notes, and other sources for the history of Somerset.

A few of the more important collections with Somerset material are listed below with catalogue information.

British Library, London
There are catalogues of maps and the main manuscript collections and an amalgamated place index in the Manuscripts Reading Room. Most of the important collections are also on the British Library’s on-line catalogue.

Charity Commission
The charities register is now on line and can be searched by county, district or parish.

Lambeth Palace Library, London
Interregnum Parliamentary Surveys, estate documents and church plans for Somerset parishes. There is a printed catalogue of the estate documents edited by J. E. Sayers and the catalogue of church plans is available on-line.

The National Archives
Most index volumes are in the Map and Large Document room arranged alphabetically by class letter in low bookstacks. Modern Class Lists are shelved along walls, also alphabetically, in Map room and Research Enquiries Room, and many are also on line. Some of the most useful collections for Somerset early local history are the Ancient deeds (C 146, E 40—3, E 210—11, E 326, E 328—9)
Subsidy Rolls (E 179),
16th-century inventories of church goods (E 117)
Chantry certificates and leases of former monastic property (E 301, E 303, E 309—10, E 315, E 318)
Rentals, Court Rolls and Accounts of manors including former religious houses ( SC 2, 6, 11—12)

For modern history some of the more important collections are the MAF agricultural returns, Inland Revenue farm surveys, RAIL records, and records of bodies such as the Church commissioners, Crown and Duchy estates, Forestry Commission, Ministry of Heath and War Office.

Somerset Heritage Centre
The searchroom has place and name indexes either on cards, in printed leaflets or on-line. They have public computers that can be used to access on-line catalogues of other archives and libraries as well as useful on-line materials such as the Victoria County History, Explore England’s Past, British History on Line, British Official Publications and others. They have good collections of maps and guides. The following are some of the more important classes of records.


These include not only the court rolls and the criminal and administrative order books but also records relating to Bridges, Diseases of Animals, Police, Inclosure, Gamekeepers, Alehousekeepers, Corn dealers, Hemp and flax, Recusants, Meeting houses, Savings Banks, Charities, Friendly Societies, Freemasons, Company accounts, Plans of undertakings including railways and canals, Land tax assessments.


These include Bishops’ Registers, Parish register transcripts, Visitation records and acts, Benefice papers and mortgages, Glebe exchanges and terriers, Presentation deeds, Ordination papers, Clergy subscription books, also includes schoolmasters and doctors, Court Act and Deposition books, Faculty papers, Orders in Council relating to benefices, Records of Peculiar jurisdictions, Parish Inventories, Meeting House licences, Rural Deans’ inspections, Valuations of livings.

Most of Somerset’s probate records were destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War. There is a good collection of surviving inventories for the Taunton archdeaconry, which includes the whole of west and part of south and central Somerset. Some administration papers and a few wills survive. They are all fully indexed on cards in the searchroom.

These may, depending on survival, include the registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials, churchwardens and overseers records, local highway accounts, vestry minutes, poor-law, bastardy and apprenticeship records, and documents relating to the fabric of the church and its furnishings.

These include not only minutes, accounts and correspondence of the council but also Smallholdings deeds, Education records, Architects and Surveyors plans.

These will comprise minutes and planning records, especially building control plans and area development plans. Sometimes charity records, older civil parish records, and records of rural sanitary authorities and local boards of health, burial boards and early highway authorities have passed to district and parish councils.

There are many large private collections of the archives of landed families in Somerset that can be found in the record office. They comprise a wide range of records including estate management, title deeds, maps and surveys, and accounts as well as personal papers, diaries, wills, and pedigrees.

The office holds the census schedules up to and including 1901 on microfilm and the Ecclesiastical Census of 1851.

Records of the poor-law unions and boards of Guardians, workhouse registers, dietaries, records of poor relief.

Records of new roads, maintenance, tolls and tollhouses.


Tithe and Inclosure maps and awards, estate maps, old county maps, and early editions of Ordnance and Geological Survey Maps. Copies of some of these and other maps will be found in the British Library and the National Archives. Both have printed and on-line map catalogues.


There are several collections of these, including a number of old postcards. However many early photographs are in cold storage and you will need to give 24 hours notice to see them. The Somerset Archaeological Society has a vast collection of drawings, plates, photographs and negatives relating to Somerset, which are also stored at the Somerset Heritage Centre.