In the mid 16th century the Coventry family first came to the South Worcestershire area; they acquired various properties through both marriage and purchase and with these arrangements came all the legal documents pertaining to the land; thus the collection was born.
When Thomas Coventry, 1st Baron Coventry of Allesborough and Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England, died in 1639, many of his legal documents, all being of national importance, were also added to the family archive.
As each generation passed so the archive grew and in 1697 the 5th Baron was created 1st Earl of Coventry, at a time when the Croome Estate was approaching 15,000 acres of Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. However, in 1719, with the death the 4th Earl, Gilbert, and because he had no male heir, the Title reverted to the descendants of a brother of the 1st Baron. Gilbert, though, had a daughter, Anne, who married into the Carew family of Antony in Cornwall, and she took with her to Antony some of the Croome archive. Thus, there is a small but important part of the Coventry papers, belonging to the Carew-Pole family, there in Cornwall. It was another Anne, (Anne Somerset, wife of the 2nd Earl) who, after her young son the 3rd Earl died, took papers home with her to Badminton, where they remain today in the possession of Duke of Beaufort.
The 6th Earl’s collection
In 1751, the new 6th Earl of Coventry took over the helm of the vast Croome Estate and it is to the good fortune of historians today that he seems to have been an obsessive keeper of financial records. His stewards were encouraged to keep meticulous records – there are still three copies of all the accounts covering most of the 18th century. All bills were kept and most seem to have gone through his hands. All this is a wonderful resource for understanding the Croome of today. Sadly, though, somewhere along the line, all his personal papers must have been destroyed.
The 19th Century
During the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries, in fact for around 150 years, the estate remained stable and well cared for under the stewardship of the 9th Earl and those before and after him. The main additional content in this period were the estate and farming records. Photography was invented and so the archive took on a new dimension.
1940 to the present
When war came in 1940, Croome Court, where this ever-growing archive had been stored, was requisitioned by the Ministry of Works so a new storage place was needed. Because at that time no-one knew what the effects or outcome of the hostilities would be, the whole collection was shipped to Birmingham Reference Library to be stored in their deep vaults for the duration.
When the war ended in 1945, it was decided that the Lord Keeper’s papers, being of national importance should stay in Birmingham to be stored and catalogued (some 40 boxes), whilst the rest was moved back to the Estate Office, to a specially prepared storage room. Then the head trustee, Col. Osbert Dudly-Smith, set about the mammoth task of cataloguing.
After his death things remained as he had left them until 1987, when an archivist was appointed to continue the cataloguing and update the storage. The collection was wrapped and boxed to archival standards, the cataloguing continued and an index was created to allow easy and speedy access to documents. For two days each week researchers were welcomed and advised on what might be useful and pertinent to their particular subject.
Prior to 2005 the archive was the property of the Coventry family trust or Croome Estate Trust, and managed from the estate office by the resident agents of the time. However, it was necessary to think ahead and the Croome Trustees concluded that the archive needed to have a long term assured future – it having already survived for nearly 1,000 years. The collection, up to 1921, was therefore offered to the nation in lieu of death duties; this offer was accepted in 2004 by the Museums and Libraries Association (MLA) and put out to tender. Of the three applicants, the then Worcestershire Record Office was successful and in 2005 the archive was passed into their care. The historic Croome archive collection, is now cared for by the Worcestershire archive and archaeological service (WAAS), and dates from the 12th century until 1921. It is now sited at The Hive, Worcester.
There is still a smaller archive collection from post 1921 to the present that is being archived and cared for by the Croome Heritage Trust archivist, which is mostly consists of personal family documents.