Lucky cows and chamber pots: items handed down in Yorkshire wills through the ages

They provide an intriguing insight into the political, ecclesiastical and family history throughout the Reformation period, showing the quirks and concerns in Yorkshire's society during the 16th and 17th centuries.

061216 Gary Brannan Access Archivist for the Borthwick Institute and Catherine Dann a Conservator with two books of Wills dating from 1576 that are being digitised by the University of York at The Borthwick Institute within the University of York Llibrary.

And hundreds of wills which document bequeathed property from a “lucky” cow to a bizarre gift of a chamber pot have been opened up to a global audience.

More than 700 wills and other documents dating from 1576 to 1650 across the Archdiocese of York and the wider Northern Province have been digitised, indexed and made freely available online by a specialist team at the University of York.

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The documents are the latest to be made available online as part of the Archbishops’ Registers Revealed project.

061216 The Borthwick Institute within the University of York Llibrary in York.

They are already attracting interest from as far away as Romania and Indonesia and since March there has been a 4000 per cent jump in people from outside the university accessing the newly digitised records.

Gary Brannan, an archivist at the university’s Borthwick Institute for Archives, said the project. including 487 wills and 231 administrations, had thrown up some quirky stories such as

•A rector who left his friend’s son a chamber pot in his will

•A son written out of his father’s will for stealing a horse, silver and money from him

061216 One of the books of Wills dating from 1576 that are being digitised by the University of York at The Borthwick Institute within the University of York Llibrary , this page includes the 1597 will of Anthony Tophan the Rector of Marton in Craven who left a chamber pot to his Godson

•A “hoard” of £100 left under the floorboards of a vicarage in 1623

•A will made by a bishop who was worried he may be “wounded to death or slain by a gun”

•One brown cow called “Lucky” left by clothier Richard Ellis

He told the Yorkshire Post: “The reason we picked this period of time is two fold. Not many people have looked at it for various reasons, mainly that they wrote it off as not being of interest, but we knew there was a lot of really interesting and unexplained information with regards to individual people.”

061216 The Borthwick Institute within the University of York Llibrary in York.

For example, the money stashed under the floorboards will have been worth in the region of £300,00 in today’s terms and the tale about the then Bishop of Carlisle, John May, he says, gave an unthinkable insight into religion at the time.

Mr Brannan added: “There are a lot of statistics - anything from what people owned and were giving away and what they thought to give away, which is where the chamber pot comes in. We might find it insulting but at the time it was a useful item to be given.

“The Bishop of Carlisle was a Catholic priest and thought he was going to be slain by a gun and made a will in anticipation. But he wasn’t and lived a little longer.

“He died from the plague in the end and didn’t get time to re-write his will. But it gives a real insight into religion as well. An archbishop going somewhere he might get shot is pretty inconceivable.”

061216 One of the books of Wills dating from 1576 that are being digitised by the University of York at The Borthwick Institute within the University of York Llibrary , this page includes the 1597 will of Anthony Tophan the Rector of Marton in Craven who left a chamber pot to his Godson

The Marc Fitch fund, an educational charity, has made it possible for the university to undertake this particular section of the York’s Archbishops Registers Revealed project, which provides free access to over 20,000 images of Registers

Mr Brannan added: “We knew we were probably going to get a lot of objects listed but what really surprised us was the level of detail, like what people called their animals.

“You don’t normally get to see that kind of level of detail and when it turns up, it is fun.

“It has been a great project to have been involved in and there has been a lot of enjoyment in it and that gives validation that we have done the right thing