A Few Bills?

A cathedral is easily recognisable as a place of worship and you would therefore expect its archives to contain many religious texts, musical manuscripts and items associated with the ritual of worship. However, it is perhaps easy to forget that our cathedrals require an enormous amount of day to day administration and upkeep, all of which produce large volumes of unique ledgers, accounts and receipts.

At Worcester, these secular documents can be found in the Library, quietly residing alongside religious material, telling an altogether different story of the Cathedral’s history. For example, there are many receipts for payment of bills for bread deliveries from across the eighteenth century. One particular example, D.1370.iii, notes bread deliveries made by Joyce Richards for the period November 1757 to October 1758, with an itemised invoice detailing four loaves delivered three times a month during this period.


D.1370.iii. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


Complete with a recognisable invoice format and often additional internal signatures as the relevant staff approved payment, these documents are a reminder of the business side of the Cathedral. In the example of D.1370.iii, Robert Richards has receipted this invoice and dated the receipt January 10 1759. Another, D.1370(vi), is a bill for £1.12.3. to cover, amongst other items, ‘1/4 of 100 pens and a pint of ink’ supplied by Mr Lewis, a stationer.


D.1370.iv. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


This bill is addressed to ‘The Rev’d The Dean of Chapter of Worcester Cathedral’. An internal note to ‘pay this bill’ has been added as authorisation, presumably as a timely reminder to the clerk responsible! These notes appear on numerous bills within the archive and are often initialled ‘J.W.’ . We have not yet been able to discover who ‘J.W.’ was. The example of a stationery invoice provides a wonderful insight into the day to day operational requirements of the Cathedral. Item number D.1370(ix) is another example of this. Mrs Eleanor Taylor has supplied a highly detailed bill to the Dean and Chapter for upholstery work to chairs, totalling £13.4.3.

Bills needed to be paid, invoices were processed, and a number of people were employed to handle such administration, alongside the mechanisms of worship. This is an excellent parallel with the life of the Cathedral today, which sees a whole team of staff and volunteers working operationally behind the scenes to ensure the smooth running of every aspect of the Cathedral. We tend to think of this operational side to cathedrals as a modern phenomenon, however, the survival of bills and invoices – often with accompanying notes from the payee – demonstrate that cathedrals have always been administrative hubs as well as fulfilling a religious function. In addition, the signatures and named payees included in these documents give a rare insight into the people who were part of the community of Worcester Cathedral at this time, and are often forgotten in favour of more public facing roles such as Lay Clerks, Canons, and the Dean. A bill from 1758, D.1372 (xxii), is a good example of this as it lists the cost of lighting the lamps in the cloisters and the lighting of the lamps on the Green by one John Hill, who is charging £1.11.10 for his services.


D.1372.xxii. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


We can also see this in D.1375(i), which has been included in an audit in the late eighteenth century, undertaken by a ‘J. Chew’, who has added a note to say he has ‘accounted for and examined’ this particular bill as part of the audit.

These seemingly day-to-day documents also provide an unintentional glimpse into wider society in the eighteenth century. For example, two documents, D.1375 (i) and D.1387 (xxxxvii), make reference to the ‘mark of Ann Dance’ with an uneven attempt at the letter ‘A’.


D.1387. xxxxvii. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


This is an example of someone who supplied the Cathedral with sand and gravel for general maintenance and who could not write her own name. This evidence suggests that someone else has written out the invoice for the Cathedral on Ann’s behalf. Another bill, D.1387 (xxxxviii), from Joseph Yarnold, plumber and glazier, is particularly lengthy and details the repair and upkeep of lead windows in the Cathedral, albeit on a smaller scale than restoration work recently completed on the West Window!


D.1387.xxxxviii. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)


These ongoing regular maintenance bills are an excellent example of the Cathedral’s working life that operated alongside its religious function.

As such, these seemingly mundane items that pale into insignificance as just a few bills against more anticipated treasures held within the archive such as King John’s will, tell us much about both the Cathedral, its suppliers, and the people who handled the administration, and are often a hidden facet of a cathedral’s history. These unexpected items also give a sense of the Cathedral in modern terms with an administrative team working in harmony with the religious to support day to day activity.


Kathryn Gilmour





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