Our volunteers research Warwick’s past and in particular how it relates to the Court House, for talks in the ballroom, for the Court House Tours for visitors, for dramatic reconstructions and for posting online as Warwick Stories.
If you would like to help with particular social history topics, please contact us.
The County Record Office
A History Research Sub-Group of Unlocking Warwick has been examining the archives at the County Records Office in Priory Park.
There is a wealth of material there, carefully managed by the Heritage and Culture Warwickshire team, who can help visitors find documents in the Search Room or advise on your family genealogy.
A particularly useful resource is the archive of the Warwick Advertiser (now the Courier) which gave extensive accounts of hearings in the Court House. We have found some interesting reports from the mid-19th century, which reveal the social conditions of the time.
Marking the centenary year of the end of the First World War, Unlocking Warwick launched a major project to to find the background stories of the 358 Warwick men and one woman who died in WWI and whose names are on the war memorial in Church Street. The fascinating results are on our special website: www.warwickwarmemorial.org.uk
In future we hope to research other social history themes, such as the reconstruction of the town after the devastating ‘Great Fire of Warwick’ in 1694, where the street names come from, the tradespeople and shops, the Hill Close Gardens and the other old gardens of Warwick, the history of health and sanitation, and early schools and education. The information can be used for talks or displays in the Court House.
We are particularly interested in researching crime and punishment, and the evidence of grim social conditions which emerges from some of the Petty Sessions hearings in former centuries. When we find illuminating cases which came before the magistrates in the Court House, we re-enact them with an ad-hoc group of volunteers and local actors, calling our group ‘The Court House Players
Cases from 1851 have been enacted 6 times in the Ballroom for appreciative audiences who were encouraged to join-in with heckling and loud reactions to the sentences handed down from the bench. And in 2019, ‘The Trial of Abraham Thornton for the Murder of Mary Ashford’, a controversial case heard in Warwick 200 years ago, was re-enacted in the ballroom for the Warwick Words History Festival.
Unlocking Warwick has worked with the University of Warwick Law School to help students research former court cases, and to re-enact them – to bring alive their studies of the history of British justice. After a re-enactment in the Court House, we were invited to perform the drama in a lecture theatre on the university campus, with students and staff from the Law School joining the Court House Players to play the parts from real cases in the mid-19th century.
In the future we hope law students law students will be able to research the Warwickshire county records themselves, then write and stage their own reconstructions of British justice in the past.
We are keen to hear from you if you have interesting material about life in Warwick in the past. So send us your memories, your pictures, or your family stories. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you think you have something of interest to others.