Lancashire family history: Chief archivist Jacquie Crosby prepares to say farewell to the Lancashire Archives

For archivist Jacquie Crosby March 31 really will be the end of an era.

By Fiona Finch
Wednesday, 16th March 2022, 12:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th March 2022, 2:31 pm

She is bowing out after more than three decades at Lancashire’s County Archives.

For the Oxford classics graduate who came to Preston in 1985 as an Assistant Archivist and became Archives Services Manager in 2011 it will, she acknowledges, be quite a wrench.

After nearly five years as an assistant archivist at Norfolk County Council she and husband Alan made Preston their home and they have been here ever since.

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Extract from Humphry Repton's Red book for Lathom Hall, dated 1793

The wealth of information she has had at her fingertips for so many years means she has had the joy of discovery, the thrill of the chase and the enduring pleasure of a unique range of documents, even if, as she points out, very little time to actually read them.

She said: “One thing I’ve realised is that human nature does not change. You can get the same sort of things happen in the 16th century as happens today. You’ve got things like fights at football matches in the 17th century, awful details of abuse and cruelty and thefts, of poverty and the ill treatment or disregard of people in poverty. The way people were treated in asylums was meant to be caring but it wasn’t always.”

It was through Alan, a renowned local historian, that she first discovered the joy of trawling through archives and decided to make a career of it. Alan visited her in her home town of Sheffield and decided to take the opportunity to research some of his family’s history in the archives there and Jacquie went along too.

Jacquie Crosby pictured in front of a painting of Reginald Sharp France,who was the county's archivist from 1940 -1976. Photo:Neil Cross

She said: “I thought that looks an interesting job. In the summer I got a work experience placement at the Sheffield archives. That was absolutely wonderful – they were really kind to me.”

After graduation a diploma in archive studies followed.

Jacquie, 65, said: “While Alan and I both loved living in Norfolk I was keen to pursue my career. We were very happy to move north. The Lancashire Record Office had a very good reputation.”

Prior to local government reorganisation in 1974 the Archives’ collections drew from across the region ranging from Piel Island in Cumbria through to Warrington and the Mersey and over to the far side of Manchester. Its reach went even further with records of Lancashire’s landed families, whose estates extended to other counties.

One of Jacquie's favourite items from the archives - a map of the manor of Burtonhead c 1580

From ancient maps and shipping registers of craft arriving in the county, to church and other records, including Horrockses’ fabric samples and a Drink Map of Preston 1896 detailing all town pubs, to Preston Guild Rolls, there is a treasure trove of material in the archives dating back centuries.

All have to be cared for and, because the county’s collections now exceed the space at Bow Lane, some documents are stored in Cheshire’s redundant salt mines. Jacquie said: “It’s got perfect conditions - dry caverns with really good environmental conditions for storing museum artefacts.”

In recent years the service has looked to fill gaps in their collection. She said “We do more proactive collecting to fill in the gaps of our archive collection. Ten years or more ago we started collecting LGBT+ archives and we have a pink archive. We have a number of archives that relate to black Caribbean history. “

She says there is a need to make sure the experiences of those from the Indian subcontinent who came over to work in the county’s textile mills are recorded in more than official records.

Part of the oldest document in the Lancashire Archives – a charter of Henry I dating from 1115

For the future too she is aware that digital archives present a new challenge in terms of conservation, both ensuring that data does not get corrupted and the sheer cost of storage. There is also a concern that this is a generation, reliant on texts and emails, which has not recorded its life in the way past generations did.

Conservation techniques have not changed much but the emphasis has switched from repairing documents (although much of that continues), to preventative conservation, ensuring documents are cleaned and properly packaged.

When asked to pick out a memorable purchase and her favourite piece from the archive she hesitates only briefly.

The memorable purchase came at auction after she set the ball rolling, long before she was in charge of the service, to persuade the council to bid, with the help of external funding, for landscape designer Humphry Repton’s Red Book for the gardens at Lathom House , near Ormskirk.

She said: “It was being sold at auction in New York … Repton used to go round estates and do a sort of mock up of what the estate could look like if they took on board his plans.”

Repton, who was born in 1752, produced fold-up painted pictures which showed the before and after plans. The “beautiful” book came home to Lancashire for £50,000. Jacquie said: “Something that surprised me is the price some documents go for at sale.”

A job she loves - Jacquie Crosby exploring records at the Lancashire Archives Photo: Neil Cross

Another treasure which delights her still is a 16th century drawn and coloured map of Burtonhead, near Warrington. Dated 1580, it details churches, different crops, sites of open cast coal mines and Warrington.

Another memorable achievement was leading the campaign in 2014/15 to raise £95,000 for the purchase of the Hulton family archive.

When she leaves it will be a matter of pride that she has outstripped the record of the previous most long serving archivist in Lancashire – Reginald Sharpe France who was the very first head of service. She said: “I’ve done a few weeks more than him. I’m quite proud of that!”

The mother of two added: “I do love it. I’m going to miss it because I’m passionate and enthusiastic about archives. It’s been such a privilege to look after 900 years of history.”

Jacquie Crosby pictured outside the Lancashire Archives on Bow Lane, Preston Photo:Neil Cross
Jacquie Crosby is calling time on her years at the Lancashire Archives Photo: Neil Cross