From an "accidental building" to the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives

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In January 1858 civil registries became responsible for probate matters. The Salisbury Diocesan wills were sent from Salisbury to the new Principal Probate Registry at Doctors' Commons in London.

Conditions at the Doctors' Commons were far from ideal, as Charles Dickens described in David Copperfield:

I replied ... that perhaps it was a little nonsensical that the Registry of the Court, containing the original wills of all persons leaving effects within the immense province of Canterbury, for three whole centuries, should be an accidental building, never designed for the purpose, leased by the registrars for their own private emolument, unsafe, not even ascertained to be fire-proof, choked with the important documents it held, and positively, from the roof to the basement, a mercenary speculation of the registrars, who took great fees from the public, and crammed the public's wills away anyhow and anywhere, having no other object than to get rid of them cheaply.

In 1874 the wills were moved to Somerset House, former home of the General Register Office.

Somerset House was not able to cope with the volume of documents it received. Undertaking research was a challenge: the search room was below ground level and had no artificial light. It closed for 6 weeks in the summer and for a further six weeks it was only open between 11am and 2.30pm.  And you were not allowed to visit on more than two days in the same week!

After the Second World War, new county record offices opened throughout the country and they provided a sensible alternative place of deposit for the wills. The Salisbury Diocesan wills were transferred to the record office at Trowbridge.  With the closure of the record office in 2007, the wills were moved to the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives in Chippenham, where they are now indexed and stored in climate controlled strongrooms. The Wiltshire and Swindon Archives is now the official repository for all the records of the Diocese of Salisbury.

Cataloging work on the wills