Most diocesan archives deal with personages, events and institutions within a particular diocese; the papers of the bishops, the history of individual parishes and schools; the documents of Catholic societies and the workings of diocesan administration. They can be particularly useful for local historians and genealogists. The archives at Westminster are no exception to this. We hold a great deal of material relating to finance, property and education in the diocese as well as records created by parishes, including some baptism and marriage registers.
However, our collections contain much that is not, strictly speaking, diocesan. The papers of the Archbishops of Westminster, from Wiseman to Hume, contain material concerning many national and international issues owing to their roles as Cardinals and leaders of the English and Welsh bishops (most recently as Presidents of the Bishops' Conference).
The archive is also an important resource for Catholic history prior to the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850. A handful of documnents date from the period before the Reformation. These include the reports of 15th century heresy trials from the Diocese of Norwich and a very early copy of the Charter of the Chapter of Wells Cathedral. The oldest document is known by its catalogue number H38. This is a Middle English miscellany of texts produced by a 15th century Carthusian, including advice for confessors, prayers and recipes. An even older 14th century document was used as part of the binding.
However the bulk of the earlier papers date from the period between the accession of Elizabeth I (1558) and the Restoration of the Hierarchy. The most important of these, covering the period 1501 to 1798 are bound in a series of 50 volumes known as the A Series. These contain letters of William, Cardinal Allen as well as the papers of the Vicars Apostolic of the London District, including Bonaventure Giffard (1703-34) and Richard Challoner (1758-81). In total, there are some 9,000 items relating to this period, making Westminster Diocesan Archives one of the richest sources for the Catholic history of the country in the early modern period. There are also papers relating to the Jacobites including letters written by 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'.
Our collections are also supplemented by various deposits of papers from Catholic institutions, organisations and societies. These include the 'Old Brotherhood' (originally the Chapter of Secular Clergy that governed the English Catholic Church between 1631 and 1685), St Edmund's College, Ware (a descendant of the English College in Douai) and more modern material such as the Catholic Evidence Guild, Catholic Association and Catholic Union. There is also a collection of rules, constitutions and papers from religious orders within the diocese.
The majority of these archives are catalogued although the format and level of detail of the finding aids varies. An online catalogue is available through Catholic Heritage which currently includes only diocesan and parish material. We are working on including other collections but, in the meantime, we are happy to provide copies of paper lists or answer enquiries where possible.