Probate documents (that is Wills and Inventories) are hugely important sources for the study of early modern England. For Viae Regiae they are being used to build a picture of the networks of people moving goods across England.
Apart from their appeal to family historians, wills and inventories are potentially a very rich source of economic and occupational data. The deceased may have recorded in their wills an occupation or trade directly connected with transportation (carriers, wagoners, horsemen, or boatmen, for example, or indeed merchants), while their inventories may reveal geographic details of their credit and debt networks.
While the occupations of the deceased are often catalogued, and some of these catalogues are now available online, we are anxious not to overlook the uncatalogued details or the very many records which might appear only in paper or card indexes. Collating all of this information is an enormous undertaking that will only be possible through the generosity of a network of volunteers working in local archives.
- The Victoria County History of Hampshire volunteer group has been working on the transcription of 16th- and 17th-century wills, focused on Basingstoke and its surrounding rural area. You can read about their work here.
- For an example of a C17th merchant's probate inventory click here.
Draft Probate project charter
The ultimate aim of the probate team is to place people within the Viae Regiae transport framework, which is examining inland transportation networks in England and Wales, 1530-1680. Goods move with land and waterborne transport by people who manned that transport infrastructure. The eventual goal of this team is to collate all of the probate material relating to people who may have worked in this sphere in England and Wales in this period, from carters to innkeepers.
While the people we research delivered the crucial goods of life to the people of early modern England, our aim remains much more humble. In the first instance the location of all the people in probate record across England and Wales will be listed for their location, dates and trade. In the second instance a detailed project ought to elaborate on each document, the relationships and places within them to reconstruct part of the social world and economic networks. Longer-term the work done lends itself to members of this team or others to use the data collated to consider a range of research focuses including material culture and social networks.
Proposed project methodology
Our approach involves identifying wills and inventories before converting them using Transkribus to text form. With the Recogito software we can then record the places mentioned so that people, their occupations and places can be entered into the Viae Regiae database.
Probate will run throughout the Viae Regiae project and potentially beyond with wide implications for our understanding of the movement of goods and transport links. In the first year to two years we aim to provide a skeleton of findings from which further analysis can be conducted in the following years.
Required resources (people)
At the moment we have a core, dedicated team. The nature of probate means that many people have experience of it and could assist in the long run, especially once our processes are put in place during 'seed' project phase in the spring of 2021.
Required resources (technology)
The text-recognition system Transkribus is forming a key part of this project for the collation of probate transcriptions. Also required is the software Recogito. Much of the probate project can be carried out on personal computers. There are however elements of the work that will require physically attending archives, particularly for material held in local record offices.
Individuals and societies past and present made the act of dying a complex procedure, with inherent social and cultural considerations for all involved. In early modern England dying ‘had become a cultural ritual' [J. D. Alsop, 'Religious Preambles in Early Modern English Wills as Formulae', Journal of Ecclesiastical History 40.1 (1989), 19]. We should therefore use wills carefully as their simplicity often ‘cloaks a complex of laws and customs and a tenuous link between precept and practice' [Jeff and Nancy Cox, ‘Probate 1500-1800: a system in Transition' in When Death Do Us Part: Understanding and Interpreting the Probate Records of Early Modern England, 14].
Current project (Spring 2021)
Primary aim: Transcribing wills of all innkeepers in Prerogative Court of Canterbury prior to 1650 to shed more light on the growth of transport infrastructure. Initial work by Jo Sear has found connections along the Great North Road amongst individuals named in the first sampled will, which is an amazing start.
Secondary aim: Producing enough transcriptions of PCC wills from sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to train a Handwriting Recognition Model to assist with further transcriptions.
Step 1 - Produce full diplomatic transcriptions of the wills using Transkribus lite, following this guidance on transcription conventions: https://readcoop.eu/transkribus/howto/transkribus-transcription-conventions/
Step 2 - Load transcriptions into Recogito to tag named places and individuals.
We have settled on producing full diplomatic transcriptions, as per the guidance from Transkribus: https://readcoop.eu/transkribus/howto/transkribus-transcription-conventions/ This will help to train a Handwriting Recognition Model, variant spellings of place names for the gazetteer, as well as producing accurate transcriptions in general.
- Choose a will from the list below and edit the list to indicate you're working on it
- Login to Transkribus Lite https://transkribus.eu/lite/ (ask Justin to given access to our collection, if you haven't before)
- Open the "ViaeRegaeInnkeepers" collection, and find your will using the Filter tool (most have the testator's name as part of their title, but you might need to use some or all of the PROB11 reference to find the later ones in the list)
- Open your will and click the pen icon (top right) to enter edit mode
- Click a line on the image, it will highlight in blue, and you can then transcribe that line in the corresponding blue line below
- Lines must correspond between transcription and image - ensure you're transcribing the line that is highlighted on the image
- There might be some spurious or blank lines - just ignore them for now
- Transcriptions should be literal - spellings and contractions should be repeated verbatim, capital letters should reflect the original (even if it doesn't make sense!), and line breaks should be respected
- Punctuation should generally be ignored
- “et” abbreviations should be transcribed as & (ampersand)
- “es” flourishes at the end of words should be transcribed as “es”
- Superscript text, for example representing an abbreviation, should be transcribed and tagged by selecting the text and pressing the x2 button (the resulting superscript shows up in the Edit mode, but not the Preview or Side by Side views)
- Lines indicating contractions should be ignored
- Uncertain words should be transcribed as literally as you can, but then tagged by selecting the text and pressing the "?Uncertain?" button
- Transcribe only the actual will we are interested in - ignore the beginning or end of other wills, and the Latin probate statements
- Remember to save your work using the button in the bottom right
- When you are finished, click "In Progress", above "Save Changes" in the bottom right, and change the document status to "Ready for Checking"
- Remember to update this Wiki page with your progress!
UKDA index to PCC contains 69 records for "innkeeper", "hostler", or "ostler" between 1528 and 1649 (the index is not perfect but is a start).
In the following table rows with a PROB11 reference have been downloaded by JC.
|forename||surname||occupation||parish_place||county_country||date||TNA Reference||Status||Uploaded to Transkribus|
|William||Cole or Cool||Innkeeper||Sudbury||Suffolk||15 May 1528||PROB 11/22/487||Jo done. Joe checked||YES|
|Thomas||Harryes or Harres||Innkeeper||Bury Saint Edmunds||Suffolk||21 January 1546||PROB 11/31/25||Jo done. Joe- can't load, has it saved?||YES|
|Christopher||Hickes||Innkeeper||Boston||Lincolnshire||04 February 1567||PROB 11/49/41||Jo done. Joe- checked one issue, agree with Jo's assesment but have left as is tricky||YES|
|James||Holte or Holt||Ostler||Stroud||Gloucestershire||08 October 1575||PROB 11/57/434||Jo done. Note first three pages of PDF are another person's will. Joe- nothing to check||YES|
|William||Melsell||Ostler||Bristol||Gloucestershire||29 February 1576||PROB 11/58/31||Colin Greenstreet first draft completed. Note first five pages of PDF are another person's will. Joe agree with most suggestions apart from Collen which I think should be Cowen. Have left the Latin||YES|
|Thomas||Henesworth||Innkeeper||All Saints Stamford||Lincolnshire||28 January 1577||PROB 11/59/243||Colin Greenstreet first draft started||YES|
|John||Humberstone||Innkeeper||Ware||Hertfordshire||04 November 1579||PROB 11/61/499||Jo done. Joe- can't load, has it saved?||YES|
|Launcelot||Thompson||Hostler||Abington||Berkshire||14 December 1582||PROB 11/64/559||Jo done. Note this is a Memorandum on p.2 of PDF. Joe checked||YES|
|John||Yonge||Innkeeper||Burington||Somerset||17 August 1586||PROB 11/69/451||Colin Greenstreet first draft completed; English checked Tamsin, no queries remaining (except Latin)||YES|
|Edward||ap John alias Kinge||Ostler||Saint Mary Magdalene||Surrey||31 July 1587||PROB 11/71/79||Colin Greenstreet first draft completed||YES|
|Thomas||Russell||Innkeeper||Chipping Barnet||Hertfordshire||12 December 1588||PROB 11/73/162||Jo done. Joe- can't load, has it saved?||YES|
|William||Thomas||Innkeeper||Shaston||Dorset||24 November 1589||PROB 11/74/472||Colin Greenstreet first draft started||YES|
|John||Salwey||Innkeeper||Almondsbury||Gloucestershire||29 November 1597||PROB 11/90/568||Colin Greenstreet first draft completed. Joe- agree with suggestions. have left Latin||YES|
|Morrice||Gauntlett||Innkeeper||Salisbury||Wiltshire||06 May 1598||PROB 11/91/352||Joe done. Jo checked - one issue remaining, agree with Joe's transcription but not sure what is intended||YES|
|Henry||Bennett||Hostler||Saint Thomas Bristol||Gloucestershire||07 May 1599||PROB 11/93/314||1st draft done Stephen Gadd (talk) 17:20, 30 March 2021 (UTC)||YES|
|Richard||Hogson||Innkeeper||Saint Botolph without Aldersgate||City of London||10 September 1603||PROB 11/102/159||JC Done- Joe one issue left. Think it is 'fath' but with only first part of the 'h' not sure how we transcribe||YES|
|Robert||Nedle alias Nele||Innkeeper||Saint Johns Street||Middlesex||02 December 1603||PROB 11/102/656||Colin Greenstreet first draft started||YES|
|Edward||Wetherton||Innkeeper||Marlborough||Wiltshire||24 April 1604||PROB 11/103/437||Joe done. Jo checked - one issue remaining, agree with Joe's transcription but not sure what is intended||YES|
|Hugh||Evans||Head Ostler||All Hallows Lombard Street||City of London||18 May 1604||PROB 11/104/108||Joe done. Jo checked.||YES|
|John||Kynge||Innkeeper||Wells||Somerset||19 August 1608||PROB 11/112/206||Colin Greenstreet first draft started||YES|
|William||Dixon or Dixson||Innkeeper||Southwark||Surrey||24 January 1610||PROB 11/115/56||Colin Greenstreet reserved||YES|
|William||Keynes||Innkeeper||Chipping Sodbury||Gloucestershire||25 April 1610||PROB 11/115/365||Jo done. Joe- one issue remaining||YES|
|John||Hodge||Innkeeper||Bampton||Devon||06 July 1610||PROB 11/116/165||Colin Greenstreet first draft started||YES|
|William||Sherwood||Innkeeper||Royston||Hertfordshire||15 November 1613||PROB 11/122/475||Jo done. Joe- one issue remaining, agree with Jo but would like confirmation||YES|
|Richard||Lea||Innkeeper||Evesham||Worcestershire||21 January 1614||PROB 11/123/36||Jo done. Joe- one issue remaining||YES|
|Reginald||Cliston||Innkeeper||New Windsor||Berkshire||11 January 1614||PROB 11/123/13||JC done. Joe checked||YES|
|Mathew||Browne||Innkeeper||Colchester||Essex||10 May 1615||PROB 11/125/412||Colin Greenstreet first draft started||YES|
|Roger||James||Innkeeper||Hereford||Herefordshire||12 January 1616||PROB 11/127/24||Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe- one issue left, agree with transcription but never heard of it. Jo - agree with 'hurthen', they're 'harden' sheets, made from hemp, have seen this spelling before||YES|
|John||Atkinson||Innkeeper||Islington||Middlesex||10 April 1618||PROB 11/131/368||Jo done; Tamsin checked, no queries||YES|
|Richard||Barker||Innkeeper||Saint Giles in the Fields||Middlesex||22 June 1618||PROB 11/131/753||Jo done. Joe- one issue left, 'Turmin' or 'Tarmin' perhaps?||YES|
|John||Hewes alias Edwardes||Ostler||Stourbridge||Worcestershire||11 May 1619||PROB 11/133/556||Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe- one issue remaining||YES|
|George||Iszarde||Innkeeper||Ware||Hertfordshire||07 June 1621||PROB 11/137/506||Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked||YES|
|Owen||Conowaye or Conway||Innkeeper||Hadleigh||Suffolk||10 September 1621||PROB 11/138/155||Joe done. Jo checked||YES|
|John||Butcher alias Powle||Innkeeper||Norwich||Norfolk||01 December 1621||PROB 11/138/501||Jo done. Joe checked https://viaeregiae.slack.com/files/U01MT9E9HV1/F01S0QU10CT/red_lion_and_white_horse__norwich.pdf||YES|
|Robert||Saxton||Innkeeper||Aylesbury||Buckinghamshire||02 July 1622||PROB 11/140/18||Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked||YES|
|John||Tennante or Tennant||Innkeeper||London||31 August 1625||PROB 11/146/364||Joe done. Jo checked||YES|
|Tobias||Littlepage||Innkeeper||Little Horwood||Buckinghamshire||04 December 1626||PROB 11/150/490||Tamsin done; ready to check (2nd page only, 1st page is Charles Butler). Joe checked||YES|
|Charles||Glover||Innkeeper||Somerton||Somerset||24 June 1628||PROB 11/153/727||Jo done. Joe checked||YES|
|John||Hellier||Innkeeper||Taunton||Somerset||04 October 1630||PROB 11/158/246||Joe done. Jo checked - one issue remaining, agree with Joe's transcription but not sure what is intended||YES|
|Stephen||Pitway||Innkeeper||Bengeworth||Worcestershire||19 March 1631||PROB 11/159/373||Joe done. Jo checked||YES|
|Henry||Birch||Innkeeper||Worcester||Worcestershire||24 August 1632||PROB 11/162/282||Joe done. Jo checked - one issue remaining. Middle page duplicated||YES|
|John||Davy||Ostler||Wells||Somerset||09 May 1632||PROB 11/161/577||Joe done. Jo checked||YES|
|John||Ratcliffe||Innkeeper||Farningham||Kent||23 September 1633||PROB 11/164/381||Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked||YES|
|Richard||Windever||Innkeeper||Saint George in Southwark||Surrey||06 December 1634||PROB 11/166/608||Jo done. Joe checked||YES|
|George||Baldwyn or Baldwin||Innkeeper||Saint Saviour Southwark||Surrey||26 January 1635||PROB 11/167/68||Jo done. Joe checked||YES|
|Edward||Bishopp||Innkeeper||Bucknell||Oxfordshire||02 December 1635||PROB 11/169/425||Joe done, to check||YES|
|George||Berry||Innkeeper||Wellington||Somerset||11 March 1636||PROB 11/170/298||Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe- one issue||YES|
|Henry||Blundell||Innkeeper||Saint Saviour Southwark||Surrey||23 January 1637||PROB 11/173/82||JC done; checked Tamsin, one query remains||YES|
|John||Evans||Innkeeper||Saint Mary Le Strand||Middlesex||19 May 1637||PROB 11/174/179||Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked||YES|
|Richard||Irwin or Irwyn||Innkeeper||Royston||Cambridgeshire||27 October 1638||PROB 11/178/206||Jo done. Joe one issue||YES|
|Edward||Buxton||Innkeeper||Ashbourne||Derbyshire||12 October 1639||PROB 11/181/236||Joe S done, to check||YES|
|John||Wicking or Wickinge||Innkeeper||Cowden||Kent||28 April 1640||PROB 11/182/558||Jo done. Joe checked||YES|
|John||Warner||Innkeeper||Isleworth||Middlesex||12 April 1641||PROB 11/185/490||Joe done, to check||YES|
|Samuell||Cottie or Cotye||Innkeeper||Rye||Sussex||15 March 1642||PROB 11/188/345||JC working||YES|
|William||Tompson||Ostler||Dent||Yorkshire||27 May 1642||PROB 11/189/304||David Cant ready to check. Joe checked||YES|
|Henry||Wills||Innkeeper||Lambeth||Surrey||28 March 1644||PROB 11/192/2||Colin Greenstreet reserved||YES|
|William||Darwent||Innkeeper||Saint Clement Danes||Middlesex||11 January 1645||PROB 11/192/220||Michael Bennett reserved||YES|
|James||Hunt||Innkeeper||Saint Martin in the Fields||Middlesex||24 October 1646||PROB 11/197/590||Michael Bennett reserved||YES|
|William||Heynes||Innkeeper||Banbury||Oxfordshire||15 June 1646||PROB 11/196/377||Tamsin begun||YES|
|Henry||Potter||Innkeeper||Claverley||Shropshire||15 June 1646||PROB 11/196/387||Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked||YES|
|Thomas||Homes||Innkeeper||Hereford||Herefordshire||02 June 1646||PROB 11/196/267||Colin Greenstreet reserved||YES|
|John||Hopkinson||Innkeeper||Wantage||Berkshire||08 September 1647||PROB 11/201/581||Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe- one issue||YES|
|Robert||Roads||Innkeeper||Wiveliscombe||Somerset||19 May 1647||PROB 11/200/362||Tamsin mostly done but gave up on the addendum, cannot make head nor tail of it!||YES|
|Christopher||Bremer or Breamer||Innkeeper||Saint Martin in the Fields||Middlesex||15 March 1647||PROB 11/199/676||Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe- one issue||YES|
|William||Browne||Innkeeper||Bedford||Bedfordshire||27 January 1648||PROB 11/203/155||Tamsin first draft done, ready to check. The Rose||YES|
|Robert||Alwarke||Innkeeper||Westfield||Sussex||22 June 1648||PROB 11/204/559||Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked||YES|
|William||Shorland||Innkeeper||Dunster||Somerset||04 May 1649||PROB 11/208/51||Tamsin 1st draft done, ready to check||YES|
|William||Brundreth||Innkeeper||Stretford||Lancashire||04 July 1649||PROB 11/208/658||Tamsin 1st draft done, ready to check||YES|
|Robert||Jenkinson||Innkeeper||Saint Peter in the East Oxford||Oxfordshire||13 November 1649||PROB 11/210/120||Tamsin done; ready to check. Joe checked||YES|
Executors (the team)
The probate team are always on the lookout for interested new members! We'd be excited to hear from anyone with experience working with early modern wills and inventories. Our team so far includes academic lecturers, PhD students, family and local historians.
Probate secondary reading
For those of you interested in learning more about probate material and its uses for historical study find below a short bibliogrpahy of some secondary reading.
Patrick Wallis, Justin Colson, and David Chilosi, ‘Structural Change and Economic Growth in the British Economy before the Industrial Revolution, 1500-1800’, Journal of Economic History, 78.3 (2018), 862–903 <https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022050718000396>;
Sebastian A. J. Keibek, ‘Using Probate Data for Estimating Historical Male Occupational Structures’, Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure Working Paper, 27, 2016 <http://www.campop.geog.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/occupations/abstracts/paper27.pdf>;
When Death Do Us Part: Understanding and Interpreting the Probate Records of Early Modern England, ed. by Tom Arkell, Nesta Evans, and Nigel Goose, Supplement / University of Hertfordshire, Department of Humanities, Local Population Studies (Oxford: Leopard’s Head Press, 2000);
Christopher Kitching, ‘Probate During the Civil War and Interregnum. Part 1’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 5.5 (1976), 283–93;
Joanne Sear and Ken Sneath, The Origins of the Consumer Revolution: from brass pots to clocks (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020). <https://www.routledge.com/The-Origins-of-the-Consumer-Revolution-in-England-From-Brass-Pots-to-Clocks/Sear-Sneath/p/book/9780367341114>;
J. D. Alsop, 'Religious Preambles in Early Modern English Wills as Formulae' Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 40.1 (1989), 19-27;
Moira Goff, ‘The testament and last will of Jerome Francis Gahory’, Early Music, 38.4, (2010), 537-542;
Stephen Bernard, ‘Establishing a Publishing Dynasty: The Last Wills and Testaments of Jacob Tonson the Elder and Jacob Tonson the Younger’, The Library, 17.2 (2016), 157-166;
Julia Fernández Cuesta, ‘The Voice of the Dead: Analyzing Sociolinguistic Variation in Early Modern English Wills and Testaments’, Journal of English Linguistics, 42.4 (2014), 330-358;
Leslie Moscow McGranahan, ‘Charity and the Bequest Motive: Evidence from Seventeenth-Century Wills’, Journal of Political Economy, 108.6 (2000), 1270-1291.