Berkshire Collection


Records of Early English Drama became a research and publication project early in 1976 with a personal grant from the Canada Council to me for the preparation for publication of our first collection – the records of York, which I had edited with my friend and colleague, Margaret Dorrell Rogerson. Later that year, while the Council still funded academic research, REED became one of the first recipients of the new Major Editorial Grants from the Council that continued for many years under the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, founded by an act of the Canadian parliament in 1977. By 1978 REED York was ready for publication, and three other civic records collections begun before the founding of REED (Chester, Coventry, and Norwich) were well on their way to publication. Our next task was to assign new research areas including what were to become county collections. It was that year that I began my first exploration of the records of Berkshire. This collection, then, has been underway for forty years. Much has happened over those forty years. Two of the major national record depositories, the Public Record Office in London and the library of the British Museum, have moved and computerized their operations. The PRO has moved to Kew and become The National Archives and the library of the British Museum has become the very handsome and functional British Library on Euston Road. The Wiltshire Record Office, where the records of the diocese of Salisbury are stored, has moved from Trowbridge to Chippenham and become the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, part of the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. The Berkshire Record Office, the major source for the records in this collection, has retained its name but has moved twice since I began my work. I remember working in the basement of a building in the Forbury in Reading (once the courtyard of Reading Abbey, which is of major importance to the records of Reading) from 1978 to 1981 when it moved to the Shire Hall on the M4 motorway until 2000 when it moved to its present location on Coley Street in Reading. Five other depositories have provided records for this collection – the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford; Exeter College Archives, Oxford; the Oxfordshire History Centre, Oxford; the Record Office of Leicestershire, Leicester, and Rutland in Leicester; and St George’s Chapel Archives and Chapter Library in Windsor. I wish to thank all of these repositories for their permission to publish excerpts from their manuscripts in this collection.

Over the years the Berkshire project has been supported through the generous grants to REED from first the Canada Council, then SSHRC, the American National Endowment for the Humanities (since 1979), and the Jackman Foundation of Toronto (since 1989) through our great friend Father Edward Jackman, the University of Toronto and Victoria University. SSHRC has also supported aspects of the work on this collection through three personal grants (1991–2000) jointly to myself and my friend and colleague, Sally-Beth MacLean, and a travel grant to me in 1992. I received five travel grants from the University of Toronto (1988–97) and fourteen research and travel grants from Victoria University in the University of Toronto (1983–2016). My heartfelt thanks go to all of these funders. These records could not have been completed without their help.

Many archivists have provided help and advice over the decades. I cannot now remember all their names but I remember the cheerful helpfulness many provided to a neophyte researcher in this kind of material in the early years. I particularly want to thank Peter Durrant of the Berkshire Record Office and Steven Hobbs of the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives who have helped in recent years. Juliet Chadwick, the sub-librarian of Exeter College, was particularly helpful in providing the early record of parish drama in West Wittenham (now Long Wittenham). A minor crisis near the end of the process came about when no one could find the original documents of the parish of St Laurence in Appleton for checking. The combined efforts of Roger Mitty, churchwarden, and Fiona Davis, archivist, of the parish with the help of Jeremy Taylor and Ellie Thorne of the BRO staff established that the documents had, indeed, been deposited in the Record Office after I read them in the parish in 1979.

During the years of my research I have been grateful for the help and support of my colleagues in history who have shown me the way through the complexities of sixteenth-century English religious and political history and how it affected Berkshire. I am particularly grateful to Professor John Craig of Simon Fraser University and Professor Robert Tittler of Concordia University.

I have not kept this research to myself. Between 1979 and 2009 I have published fourteen articles and book chapters (including an article co-authored by Sally-Beth MacLean), as well as given many papers using this material, especially the rich records of St Laurence, Reading. It is good to finally have all the Berkshire records together for others to use.

There have been many people in the REED office over the years who have had a hand in the collection and editing of these records. In the very early days the bibliographic work of my colleague Ian Lancashire provided the starting point for the search. Over the early decades Mary Blackstone, Miriam Skey, and Theodore De Welles added more resources to the list and Cameron Louis did the early paleographical checking and taught me about the many disagreements about the shape of a capital ‘a.’ Abigail Ann Young helped me with many of the translations from Latin, especially those used in my articles and book chapters.

The complex final assembling of the material for online publication has been organized by Carolyn Black, REED’s project manager, who has also done some proof-reading and copy-editing with the help of Tanya Hagen who has also done the content checking and, most importantly, the final bibliographical check, assisted by Alexandra Atiya. Tanya's check discovered the second important fourteenth-century reference to parish playing in the register of of John Waltham, bishop of Salisbury (1388–95), that was not deposited in the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives until well after I began my research and was not made public until 1994. Patrick Gregory, Latinist and paleographer, is the author of the Latin glossary and co-author of the translations with Cai Henderson who also assisted him with much of the final paleographical checking. Janine Harper is the author of the English glossary. Kathy Chung has done the complex job of ‘entity tagging’ the edition to enable users to search these records, while website programmer and developer Jamie Norrish offered valuable advice and expertise. Jonah Shallit, an undergraduate volunteer, has done the research for the map with the guidance of Byron Moldofsky, REED’s mapping expert. The majority of the on-site checking in England has been done by Stephanie Hovland although both Alan H. Nelson and Sally-Beth MacLean have been able to fit small checks around their own research.

No one is more ultimately responsible for this collection and, indeed, the whole REED project than Sally-Beth MacLean. My first grant from the Canada Council for the publication of the York records allowed me to engage Sally-Beth as part of the project in 1976. We have worked together all these decades and, since I also have had a full-time teaching and administrative career at the University of Toronto, it is Sally-Beth who has managed the project since 1981 when I became principal of Victoria College. She has worked with each of the editors from their initial research to the publication of their collections with firmness and respect. My experience as an editor working with her has been exemplary. Everyone in the field in English theatre history has Sally-Beth to thank for her dedication to the scope and accuracy of the editions, and her imagination in creating websites using REED material and in taking the lead in our transition to online publication. She is a born collaborator.

Finally, on a completely personal note, I want to thank my cousin, Elizabeth Chalmers, and her husband, David, with whom I stayed near Reading for most of the winter of 1978–9 and many times since and, more recently, in their new home in Gloucestershire, for their hospitality and patience.