Fr Peter Cobb and the Walsingham Archives
As well as being a much-loved parish priest he was a church historian and had a wide sweep of research interests. Few will know, however, how much the Walsingham archives owe to him, both for the recent gift of all his Walsingham books and papers, and for his work on what had become a somewhat neglected archive collection in past decades.
When Fr Peter became a Guardian nearly twenty-five years ago, before the onset of universal genealogy, there was little public awareness of archives and their potential. But he was an archivist's historian: he knew the value of archives in his own historical research, he knew how to use them and he knew what was needed for Walsingham.
He invited Elizabeth Ralph, the then City Archivist of Bristol (also a Bristol church history colleague and a parishioner) to Walsingham several times to do preliminary sorting and to compile an outline catalogue. After that he kept a watching brief on the collection, adding and annotating. Later he was instrumental in arranging for me to take on the archive work, in an honorary capacity, but never gave up his own interest in and contributions to the collection.
Whilst I had agreed to concentrate first on the most important task of recapturing records of Fr Patten's time and of some of the archivally-lean years thereafter, he was keen that we should also set up schemes to preserve the current ephemera of the Shrine - the circulars, pamphlets and publicity literature that people forget to save. He was pleased that with the co-operation of many of the Shrine staff and volunteers this is safely underway.
In his own research over many years he had collected every reference he found to medieval Walsingham and to the earliest days of the restored Shrine. Many of these notes are thriftily written in half-used old exercise books, some notebooks dating as far back as his schooldays in Matlock - in the very building that is now the Derbyshire county record office - and to his Oxford days. Then there are the backs of old letters and envelopes, parish papers, scraps of all shapes and sizes, and even scribbles inside his own copies of Shrine services, when he must have seen or heard of some new Walsingham fact.
He wrote and spoke widely about the history of the Shrine: particularly important was his contribution to the National Shrine's Centenary Conference in 1998. In 1990 he had edited Walsingham, a compilation of articles and photographs taken from Our Lady's Mirror and the Walsingham Review: this was the first published look at the development of the Shrine through its own archives.
In his library was a fine personal collection of books on Walsingham and of memorabilia collected over the years. Contrary to approved practice, which didn't bother him, his own copies of books and pamphlets were heavily annotated, and how valuable these glosses are. During his last illness he had passed his collection over to the Shrine, and the pages of this website will gradually reflect this.
Within a record office former colleagues live on in their handwritten cards and notes which are still an important part of its memory bank, despite the advent of computers. In Walsingham our collection will for ever have the stamp of Fr Peter Cobb, whom we will recall with affection, respect and gratitude.