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Wills uncover life in Tudor and Stuart times
Berkshire wills

The BBC's Ben Moore speaks to Berkshire County archivist Dr Peter Durrant

A new publication of Tudor and Stuart wills has revealed some curious insights into Berkshire life.

The book covers the period from 1488 to 1652.

Included are inventories detailing items featured in each room of a property, down to numbers of teaspoons and fire irons.

Derek Trinder, chair of the Berkshire Family History Society said: "All of a sudden you have this tremendous picture of how these people lived".

This is the first time the thousands of wills, testaments and inventories have been indexed, and is the result of two years' research.

Mr Trinder said: "This is literally an insight literally into the lives of people in Tudor and Stuart times.

"You've got the wills of gentlemen, of merchants, of yeoman farmers and of husbandmen."

Poignant stories

A few poignant stories have sprung to life from the words of these old documents.

A will left by one Robert Chamberlain of Reading reveals that he wanted to marry his maid Ellen, but he knew he would not live long enough.

Mr Trinder said: "He was mute and so he conveyed his wishes by squeezing the hand of one of the people witnessing the will.

"He willed that his house should go to Ellen his maid so that she should be properly provided for."

The will of Edward Cox the younger from Newbury reveals he was dying of the plague.

"Of course nobody wanted to go into his house," said Mr Trinder, "so he shouted his will out of the window to witnesses who were waiting in the street outside."

The inventories list in minute detail the possessions owned by Berkshire people in the Tudor and Stuart period.

One inventory is 14ft long, sewn together on little pieces of velum and lists possessions according to their second-hand value.

Mr Trinder said: "You could almost go round their houses room by room."

The information has been indexed in three separate volumes: name, place or occupation.

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