In 2002, the Atherstone Civic Society obtained a grant of £25,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to survey and research the buildings in the historic core of the town, which had previously had very little study. A project group, the History of Atherstone Research Team (HART) was formed, supported by a partnership of public bodies including Warwickshire Museum, voluntary organisations and community groups.
Debates on the form the study should take, coincided with a television series, The House Detectives, in which a team of experts brought different skills to discover the history of a particular house. It was decided to give the whole town centre, some 180 burgage plots, the House Detectives treatment and notable academics were recruited to head up the various strands of study.
HART was launched with public meetings, lectures and exhibitions. Sixty volunteers came forward and joined the study group which reflected their particular interest. Dr Nat Alcock, led the historical research group which worked mainly at the Warwickshire County Record Office on deeds and court rolls, whilst another group worked on transcribing wills and inventories. Bob Meeson, a historic buildings surveyor, headed a group which measured and recorded buildings and wrote up descriptions of them. For Dr Terry Slater, a historical geographer, a team was assembled to help him measure up the burgage plots and shop frontages.
The buildings survey began on a freezing January day in 2003. Entering the Angel Inn, a nondescript unlisted building in the market square, Bob immediately identified a carved beam dating from 1500. It was a good start and just one of a number of exciting discoveries. Meanwhile a good run of manor court rolls at the record office enabled the reconstruction of the history of all 180 burgage plots (as shown on the plan of 1786), which forms the backbone of the present evidence. Wills, inventories, deeds, rent rolls and other documents enabled the team to build up this picture.
Besides being of interest to property owners and family historians, the project provided valuable information to the planners and county archaeologist. North Warwickshire Borough Council’s then conservation officer, Richard Preston, used some of the building surveys in re-appraising the Atherstone Conservation Area.
HART also produced two publications, Once Upon a Time in Atherstone1, a series of fictional reconstructions of life in the town from Roman until Victorian times and Atherstone: A Pleasantly Placed Town2, a series of papers and a gazetteer which focussed on the buildings. Added to this was a revised Town Trail.
The project ended with a series of mini-dramas based on the history (written by June Maidens and performed by members of the Atherstone Amateur Dramatic Society). They were staged around the Market Square, and this celebration of the achievements of the project was funded by a grant of £5,000 from Nationwide.
Over the last few years more work has been done on the House Histories and Atherstone Civic Society is delighted that they are now available on this website.
1 Written by Margaret Hughes
2 Edited by Nat Alcock and Margaret Hughes