Berkeley Castle Archives: an interview with David Smith part 1.

David Smith is the archivist of Berkeley Castle, keeper of over 20,000 documents relating to the upkeep and lives of those connected to the Castle.
Mr. Smith began his career as a trainee archivist working in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, under Dr. Richard Hunt after which he spent 35 years as a local authority archivist in Ipswich, Coventry, Lancashire and Gloucestershire. While working as a county archivist in Gloucestershire Mr. Smith aided the current Mr Berkeley by cataloguing the vast archives of the Castle and has since taken a position exclusively working with the Berkeley Castle archives. The Castle archives house a collection of historic documents and books from the Berkeley estates spanning the entire history of the castle from the twelfth to the twentieth century. 

The Muniment room, which currently houses the archive, was established by the 8th Earl of Berkeley in 1925 and contains a number of historically significant documents. The earliest document in the entire archive was created shortly before Easter in 1154 and there is a large collection of medieval rolls which date from 1300 up to the early 15th century while the oldest printed book in the Berkeley Castle archives was published in 1519. Older documents are stored in a strong room, where temperature and humidity are monitored to conserve and protect them from damage. Some of the most astonishing discoveries include an unpublished Ben Jonson poem, a Vivaldi manuscript, a 1st edition Oxford English Dictionary, and a complete record of the employees of Edward IV’s household in 1474. Mr Smith has spent a considerable amount of time identifying, documenting and recording these documents into both a digital and hard copy catalogue. The archives have now been catalogued for the whole of the medieval period and Mr Smith is currently working through the Tudor documents. Students Tatchiana and Hattie interviewed David Smith about the archives and his role in their preservation.
Archival storage boxes in the Muniment room.

What makes the Berkeley Castle archives unique?

What makes it unique is that the castle, the documents and the family all originated at the same time - the family, actually, is older. A lot of families claim rightly or wrongly that their ancestors came over with William the Conqueror but Mr Berkeley’s ancestor was here first. He can trace his descent directly and certainly, not speculatively, from a Saxon noble called Eadnoth the Staller who gained William the Conqueror’s confidence. Are the archives classed as private or nationally owned? The archive is privately owned. It is entirely at the discretion of the family whether people can come and see them, but they are very generous about this, and they encourage publication from the documents here. Half a dozen or so books have been published purely as editions of documents here or as monographs discussing the development of the estate by people who have come in here to look at things. All the archives that the Berkeley family own are now here – some were on loan to record offices but they have all been brought back. What do you consider to be the most historically significant document in the archives? One that most people connected with the castle remember is the Vivaldi manuscript; that was quite unusual. There was a pile of rather dusty manuscripts up on a top shelf and I knew there was a book of manuscript music in there, but I hadn’t done anything about it. When we came to reorganise the library, I wrote to the Department of Western Music at the British Library who put me on to a lady at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music called Faun Tanenbaum Tiedge. I sent her an email explaining that this book existed here and asking if she could tell me something about it, and I got [a copy] couriered over to San Francisco. Her supervisor was Professor Michael Talbot of Liverpool Hope University. Between the two of them they found out that it was written in the autumn of 1717 and includes eleven tunes by Vivaldi, of which six are unique to that manuscript. With Vivaldi that’s not surprising, because he was a very prolific composer and when his music went out of fashion it did so quite suddenly, after which a lot of it was just scrapped, so Vivaldi’s stuff is scattered all over the place. I got the book out for the professor and he put his head down and he didn’t look up for two hours. He looked up at me after about two hours and he said;
“In any antiquarian music shop in Northwest Europe, you could see a volume that looks like this from the outside, but you’ll never find one that when you open it it’s got this in.”
So that was quite something. He wrote it all up and in 2004, I think it was, we got the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment to come down here and play some of the tunes, with Italian sopranos, and I was invited along to display the manuscript during the interval. It’s not the kind of thing you expect to find here, so that was special. 

What is the most recent item in the archive?
In this room, we have a file of the 8th Earl’s correspondence with his agent where he was scouring architectural recycling firms all over Europe to put appropriate pieces into the castle where bits of the original castle needed changing. For example, the clock tower that’s here now was brought over stone by stone and re-erected by him. So we have the whole of his correspondence showing how much he spent, where he got things from including all the furniture, the tapestries, everything, and that goes up to 1931. Oh, and we have some sales particulars for 1944 as well, but most of the really modern things are in a different store elsewhere in the castle.
Keep an eye out for part two of the interview, where Mr Smith answers our questions on conservation issues and research carried out through use of the archives!