Anyone interested in local history (and who isn’t, especially as one gets older), is fascinated to find interesting old documents they never knew existed, and discover even relatively mundane facts about life in times past.
An opportunity arose to do this last Autumn when St James’ Church Office decided to take a long hard look at what they were storing, to see if they could release some much-needed space. John Tresidder and his colleagues set to work to go through their store and see what items could be relocated. Some went to the Diocesan Office, some to the County Records Office and some they gave to Southam Heritage Collection.
Obviously, most of the items we received relate to St James Church. However, we were fascinated to find at least two handwritten copies of the story of the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus. The Sisters came to Southam from Germany in the late 1800’s and established the Convent, the orphanage and the school, and also built the current Our Lady and St Wulstan’s Catholic Church. Definitely not something we would have expected to find in the St James Church Office.
Another item we were surprised to find was an extremely detailed map, measuring about 6 feet square, of the original St James Church graveyard drawn in 1917. It details every grave including those which were removed when the wall along Warwick Street (then called Church Street) was lowered in the mid 1900’s.
In addition, there was a 66 page book from 1981, listing the inscriptions on all gravestones in the Churchyard including quite a number from the mid to late 1600’s. Some of the Christian names are very unusual: Sturch, Bethell, Thermuthes and Dorcas to name but a few. Also interesting is how long some people lived at that time – one couple died at the ages of 91 and 95 in 1747 and 1749 respectively.
The 1709 Parish Surveyors of the Highways Accounts show that Surveyors were paid for “The putting of stones into the quicksand on Church Hill”. Presumably there was no bridge, and the “ford” had become extremely wet and soggy. (The main route into Southam at that time was almost certainly via Wattons Lane.)
There are also many fine drawings of the Church at various times including the one included with this article. This shows the Church with sheep in the graveyard (no mechanical mowers then), and pre-dates the steps being built from Market Hill. Notice also the path, or road, along the eastern edge of the Church behind the buildings on Market Hill. The full A3 size picture is available for viewing at Southam Heritage Collection.
Southam Heritage Collection is located opposite the Library entrance in Tithe Place. We are open on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings from 10am to 12 noon. Please visit our website www.southamheritage.org telephone 01926 613503 or email email@example.com for more details. You can also follow us on Facebook.