Probate Project

Where there’s a will there’s a way . . . and thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, via the Heritage Centre, a team of trained volunteers is transcribing local 17th century probate records.  Very few of the surviving wills have been studied before and they contain a wealth of information about Churchill and Sarsden families and their homes.  They reveal a valuable source of local history, the results of which are being made available at the Heritage Centre at weekends during the open season. 

An example of an old will written in ‘secretary hand’, and the transcript.

Old Will 1613

Will Transcript

 The Churchill and Sarsden Probate Project 2012- 2018

We are a group of 10 volunteers who, under the auspices of the Heritage Centre, are transcribing from Secretary Hand into Modern English
the Wills, Inventories and other Legal Documents of the residents of Churchill and Sarsden from 1530 – 1734

We had some lessons towards the end of 2012 in deciphering this form of writing and in learning some of the legal terminology, as well as the latin of the various documents. The transcribing began in earnest in 2013.

We work from photocopies or photographs of all the documents - the majority from the Oxford History Centre and some from the National Archives in Kew.

There are some 490 documents and we have transcribed almost 300 so they are now easy to read and understand. We hope to be finished sometime in 2018.

The group meets monthly in the village hall and we also work at home. After the initial transcribing, the documents are checked by another member of the group before they are finally transcribed onto the proforma and then, as they are ready, they are converted to Pdf files and uploaded onto the system in the Heritage Centre for access by the public.

The finished documents are also printed and together with copies of the original documents will eventually be available in the Village Hall for another means of access by members of the public.

We benefit greatly from the input of Jan Cliffe and Lynne Hayes who have been invaluable in their advice, guidance and support. Jan and Lynne, with others, formed The Chipping Norton Historical Research Group and transcribed wills and inventories for Chipping Norton, which are all now housed in the Oxford History Centre (OHC).

In addition to this work on transcribing wills, etc. we responded to the request from the Oxford University Natural History Museum to assist with the transcribing of four of the diaries of William Smith and of the Marriage Contract of his parents. One of our group, with assistance from Jan Cliffe, completed the work on the diaries before Christmas 2014. Another member of the group, again with Jan’s help, transcribed the Marriage Contract. The transcriptions were passed to the Museum and copies made for the Heritage Centre.

We are strongly supported by the Committee of the Heritage Centre – both by the funding of the resources we need - but also through the continuing interest of the Committee and attendance at our meetings.
A final public presentation of the transcribed documents and celebration of the project took place in April 2018.

After 1730 the handwriting of the wills is much easier to read so there will be less need for them to be transcribed but already the work we have done is generating interest in related areas such as family connections, where people lived and important events which took place, such as the fire in Churchill.

The project is ideal for family historians and for anyone who wants to find out more about the lives of past residents. It is clear that there are links to other villages in the area so there are possible extensions to the project.

Linda Devlin
Project Archivist
March 2018

From Our Guest Book

  • "A fascinating visit. William Smith was a wonderful man! "

  • "Fantastic, absolutely first class. Most interesting and informative."

  • "A fine chance discovery"

  • "Great building, well restored. Charming!"

  • "Beautiful restoration, very nicely done! Unexpected hive of information."

  • "Excellent to have this centre as a focus for Churchill's history - especially in relation to William Smith."

  • "Congratulations to all on this initiative.  So well-organised and user-friendly."

  • "Why haven't we been here earlier? We shall certainly return!"

  • "Beautiful setting, very peaceful & informative"

  • "Such a wonderful enterprise. The locality should be proud of it."

  • "A fascinating display in a very beautiful setting."

  • "Very good new interactive displays, very comprehensive."

  • "What a lovely treat to stumble upon. Thank you for preserving a part of our Heritage"

  • "Lovely spot, so grateful this part of the old church was saved."

  • "A little gem I didn't know existed."