Rate Books are rare survivors, since Archivists tend only to keep odd years because of the physical bulk and repetitive nature of the contents. But they can be a rich source of information, particularly in rural areas, where house numbers seldom existed and the addresses themselves were often only in the mind of the postman.
Sherborne is fortunate to have quite a number of surviving Rate Books, which list the ratepayer living in each house in every street in Sherborne. Some are held in Sherborne Museum, others in the Dorset History Centre.
The Somerset & Dorset Family History Society (the Society) is often asked for help in locating where people lived in the past, and has joined with Sherborne Museum in a project to transcribe the content of the Sherborne Rate Books held by the Museum, and to make this available to researchers.
First, the actual Rate Books are being photographed. Then the Society is transcribing the relevant parts of the content (i.e. assessment number, occupiers, landlords, property type and street/road) to create a searchable database - copies will be held in the Society’s Family History Centre and in the Museum, so that a rapid response can be given to future enquiries.
A rate is a levy for local purposes based on an assessment of the yearly value of property. The earliest rate assessments were written into churchwardens and overseers account books. They usually list the householder’s name and the amount payable for his property.
From about 1840, printed books were used, and these usually list the houses, street by street, the value of the property, the householder’s name and the amount assessed. A run of Rate Books can be very useful for researching house history. They can also be useful for family history to give an idea of when someone lived in a parish, or when family property changed hands.
Survival of Rate Books depends upon circumstance and chance. Many have been lost, as population growth (especially in urban areas) led to a huge increase in the number of rate books produced, and many authorities simply destroyed the records rather than find somewhere to store them.
The Society is looking for volunteers to help with the transcription of the Rate Books and with other projects. This means deciphering and transferring the written content from the page to a database. You don’t have to be an expert; all you need are reasonable computer keyboard skills; and you can do the work at home or at one of the Society’s computers in the Family History Centre.
For insurance, copyright and other reasons, you have to be a member of the Society if you wish to become a volunteer. You will not be thrown in at the deep end, you will receive training and guidance as you develop your skills.
Graham Bendell (Project Manager); transcribers - Audrey German, Brenda Hobbs, Vicki Holder, Michele Lancaster, Pamela Woodland; checkers - Angela McDonald; David Elsmore.