RETIRED Worcester teacher Barbara Jenkins loves a bit of detective work. And when a friend and fellow heritage enthusiast gave her a tip off about a very interesting and unusual Victorian woman laid to rest in Grimley churchyard, she got straight on the case.

Barbara’s investigations revealed that the woman in question was Florence Barbara Maria von Sass (later to become Lady Baker) - born in Transylvania in 1841 - who caught the eye of Samuel Baker, the son of a wealthy Worcestershire sugar merchant, banker and ship owner.

They met when she was on sale in a slave market at the now Bulgarian town of Vidin. The explorer, big game hunter, engineer, author and officer was on a hunting trip in the Ottoman Empire.

Samuel was outbid at the slave sale but the story goes that he bribed the girl’s attendants and the two escaped. The 14-year-old eventually became his lover and wife – accompanying him everywhere he journeyed.

And his travels took them both deep into Africa in search of the source of the White Nile. They found Lake Albert during their five-year expedition, which Florence helped save by acting as peace-maker when there was a dispute between Samuel and his staff.

After the adventure, the couple went to live in England before returning to Africa at the request of the Turkish Viceroy of Egypt to help eliminate the slave trade in South Sudan.

When the couple returned to England, they settled in Devon where Samuel died in 1893 and Florence in 1916. They are both buried in the Baker family vault at Grimley’s St Bartholomew churchyard.

Barbara is a member of the Friends of Worcestershire Archives and loves a good story. The discoveries she made demonstrates the fascinating information that can be accessed through Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service, based at The Hive, and as well as other research.

Another of her projects involved researching a Victorian agricultural engineer called John Larkworthy who lived in Barbourne, Worcester, and set up a business in Lowesmoor. Barbara explained that this enterprising fellow created what is believed to be the first flat-pack plough, which was able to be sent all over the world.

“The county archives have the best detective stories you could have,” said Barbara, a long-standing member of the friends.

The organisation is a group of individuals, all with an interest in local history, and each have their particular pet projects.

Retired farmer Peter Walker, from Knightwick, said: “I have been working in the archives since 2002 when I gave up farming. For a while it was almost full-time. I have always interested in history. I love maps and I started working with the Tithe Maps.”

Peter is now working with a map (originally owned by the Croome Estate) of Pirton, near Worcester, from 1623 and has made other maps from that showing the way the land ownership and use has evolved.

The original map is quite different from modern maps as it is fairly decorative with discreet drawings of animals and other features showing how the land was used. “These archives are a treasure trove,” he said.

Jacqui Hartwright, from Worcester, said: “I started off doing my family history. I got back to the 1600s. I am also in the Hallow History Group. I decided to look into the illustrations in the archives.”

While David Everett, a retired civil servant, is currently concentrating on a research project about Thomas White – a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren – who was the original architect of the Guildhall in Worcester.

Author of around 30 books Anne Bradford, from Redditch, is a regular visitor to the archives where she researches stories she has been told and then includes the material in her books. She has written a number of books on local ghosts. “I come down here at the moment because I am researching secret Redditch. It is for another book,” she said.

Roger Leake, chairman of the Friends of Worcestershire Archives, from Little Comberton, said: “I have been interested in archives and history and using the archives service for a long time. I have been chairman for 13 years and am one of the original members.

“I have done a number of different things like researching watermills in the parish of Stoke Prior. I was teaching and I wanted to do history lessons with the children. I have also done all the general land ownership in Stoke Prior.”

Another member Pat Hughes is well known in local history circles for her illustrations. “When I came to Worcester in 1968, I wanted to know a bit about the city. I have an art college background and I taught art for a bit.

“The Cathedral wanted a picture of the Battle of Worcester towards Powick from the Cathedral Tower which I did and I wanted a view from the Cathedral Tower of the city in the time when Queen Elizabeth I came in 1575.

“I am working on one for the Commandery at the moment. If I did not do this, I would be bored to tears.”

All of the friends help to publicise and support the work of the archives service and the historical collections held there.

There are in the region of 80,000 to 90,000 boxes containing around 300 documents each at Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service.

Ann Porter, from Birmingham, said: “There is a little bit for everyone. You can do serious research or dip in and out and you have fun. Anyone can find out about the wills that are here. They date from 1452-1860. We have about 50,000 wills on the database. Some of them are so old and fragile, we cannot look at the originals.”

Some of the friends publish their findings, some give talks to publicise the service and most are members of local history groups where they promote the archives service. They also raise money which can be used to help the service buy important documents.

For more information about the friends visit

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service manager Victoria Bryant said: “The friends are invaluable. They have a reserve of money and they help us to buy things that are important for the collection.

“There are auctions of documents. We do not buy a lot because we do not want to encourage the trade in documents. But if there is something important we will buy it. The friends value the archives.”

She added that the service does not have staff doing research projects so the friends’ research is a welcome addition to the collections. They also promote the value of the service to local politicians.

Victoria added: “I cannot say how fantastic they are. If we did not have the friends, we would not have a vehicle for that advocacy.

“The money they provide goes into making the collection accessible to the public because that is what it is there for. We do activities for children and we make it available for people. We also do workshops on family history.”

Anyone unable to attend the Hive can get help researching their Worcestershire family history by using the Explore the Past guide produced by the service. Staff at the service can access information and send it out to someone, who may be living on the other side of the world, in as little as two days. To find out more visit

Victoria added: “We are putting out a big appeal throughout the county for money to help us. To donate visit”

The Worcestershire service is being recognised for its work nationally. Last year it reached the finals of the Archives and Records Association (ARA) annual awards and won the Record-keeping Service of the Year Award.

The ARA said: “In a very strong field of four exceptional short-listed archives and records candidates, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service – part of Worcestershire County Council – emerged as winners this year.

John Chambers, ARA’s chief executive officer, said: “It is not alone, of course, in having committed, professional staff in the local government sector that are determined to maintain a quality service to the wider community in the county despite acute financial pressures.

“But its range and depth of activities and success in placing itself at the heart of the culture life of Worcestershire are just two reasons that make the service special.”