For the majority of everyday historians, history students or even the general person of interest, there is often a small gut wrenching turn at the thought of pouring through pages and pages of numbers; after all, history is very much a creative discipline, in which words can offer exciting stories of the past, and numbers can be seen as impersonal or just plain dull, often leaving sources, such as financial records, to be forgotten.
The St. David’s Collection holds a wide assortment of financial documents including account books, day books and financial statements; all of which could offer a wealth of exciting new material for researchers. These documents have been utilised on few occasions, but have largely been put to the side. We would like to encourage the use of financial records and demonstrate the potential they hold for prospective researchers.
One of the main forms of financial document held at the archive is account books, with numerous copies offering an extensive date range from the late eighteen hundreds to the early nineteen-seventies. The books themselves are all in fantastic condition and offer a wonderful insight into the everyday goings on at St. David’s.
There are numerous small entries within the records which, unlike the assumption that financial records can be rather detached from the actual people, show a much more personal and at times a humorous or surprising account of life at St. David’s.
One of the most notable pieces of information discovered within these records was the relationship between St. David’s church and Swansea Jail. The Church continues to offer mass at Swansea Jail every sunday, but in the late nineteenth century they also offered rosary, night prayers and twice weekly visits by the chaplain. This information was found written within the front cover of an accounts book, demonstrating just how surprising financial records can be.
In 1897 a new Organ was purchased, with receipts totalling over £200. An organ was undoubtedly an investment for the church, especially during the Second World War – whereby ‘Bridley and Foster – Makers of perfect church organs’ informed the church in a letter that the price of organ maintenance had to be increased, due to wartime restraints on both materials and labour shortages.
This quirky small piece of information was found within a letter, loose in an accounts book. Financial records can therefore not only offer quantitative or statistical data, but also small gems of information which many would never expect to find within such a document.
As the image above shows, this ink blotter was found loose within an Accounts book and is an advertisement for J Chandler & Co. wine merchants. Upon discovering it loose within the pages, it was easy to assume it was simply just a blotter. However, through further investigation another loose piece of information was found within the same book – a letter from the managing director of J Chandler & Co. informing the Reverend of a price rise due to last years failed grape harvest. The letter also provided the Reverend with a wine list and noted how all the reverend would need was ‘a glance at the list’ to convince him of a purchase.
Other small snippets of amusing information, such as the expenses for a chicken, to be raffled at christmas time, as well as the records of organ maintenance, tea parties and even offertories may seem easy to rite off as insignificant. This is definitely not the case. Financial records can offer a fantastic account of the past which could interest every single type of historian or researcher, as well as opening the door to other areas of study which may have been previously unconsidered or underdeveloped.
Financial records can offer delightful surprises in the form of interesting snippets of information or stories. The sources are not only enjoyable to use, but offer such a great untapped wealth of potential for studying the past. The church is an institution in which a lot of money continuously changes hands. From expenses to fundraisers, to monthly collections and donations, money is an integral part of church life – highlighting the importance of finances and financial documents as a historical source.
Why not take a look at our advice on How to Read a Financial Document.
The financial records can be found in section D of the Catalogue, but other financial sources are present within other areas of the catalogue, notably: LAC/99/E4, LAC/99/H2, LAC/99/J8-J17, LAC/99/L1-L2. See the Richard Burton Archives Online Catalogue to search the collection, or Contact Us for more information about Financial documents held at the Richard Burton Archives.