A recent television programme reminded us sharply that the march of technology is fast reducing the need for handwriting.

Local historians, however, will continue to grapple with the changing handwriting styles over the ages.

In the town’s archives the oldest records are the Obedientiars Accounts of Abingdon Abbey, dating from the 14th and 15th centuries and written on rolls of vellum.

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In 1907 Sir Edmund Verney generously gifted these accounts, the so-called Monks Map and the ‘Verney Deeds’, which had all passed to the Verneys when Mary, daughter and heiress of John Blacknall, married Ralph Verney in 1629.

The accounts document the revenues and outgoings of the principal abbey officials and are written in Latin using Roman numerals.

An extract from the Kitchener’s Account (pre 1377) records bushels of corn and malt received from the miller at Ock mill and paid out as stipends.

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Kitchener’s Account. Abingdon Town Archives

Roger Amyce’s survey of Abingdon from 1554, written in 16th century secretary hand, shows an example of the long ‘s’ and short ‘s’ in ‘slaughterhouse’.

The first entry is for the White Hart, also rented by Johanna Wykes, one of many buildings granted to Abingdon in the 1556 charter.

These properties were leased out for 21 years and were the major source of income from which the borough financed its outgoings.

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Amyce’s survey of Abingdon

A comparison of two leases of the George Inn in Stert Street, later the George and Dragon, shows the change in writing style which developed between the 17th and 19th centuries.

In the 18th century Edward Lloyd, the author of ‘The Young Merchant’s Assistant’ advertised the curriculum available at his boarding school in the Vineyard which differed from the more classical education at Roysse’s School.

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Lloyd's Academy

Lloyd’s pupils were prepared for the world of business, studying arithmetic, fractions, decimals and ‘Computation of Foreign Exchanges’.

Lloyd also taught the art of penmanship.

In 1756 he invited ‘All Lovers of Penmanship’ to visit a print shop opposite Oxford town hall to view demonstrations of handwriting where, one of his pupils, James Steward, showed specimens of nine different hands.

Italy and Holland were major influencers of handwriting styles.

Lloyd opportunely noted this in the second edition of his publication ‘The Young Merchant’s Assistant’ in 1757 which included specimens of the ‘round hand’ embellished with ‘Italian and Dutch Striking’.

This more flowing cursive style which introduced loops to certain letters had the advantage of greater legibility while speeding up the whole process of writing with a quill.

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Example of business hand

Henry Bright, headmaster of Roysse’s School, also engaged a writing master at this time, James Almond, who gave instruction to the Bennett Boys.

In 1766 an advertisement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal promoted a boarding school at Appleford where E Bowles gave instruction in ‘the use of the Flying Pen’.

Writing was also taught as an extra, at the many academies springing up for ‘young ladies’.

Nineteenth century invoices for goods and services present evidence of handwriting styles of the period.

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A bill for repairs was issued to the Abingdon Volunteer Fire Brigade by T B Kendall’s tannery, ironically the scene of a huge fire in 1879 when one of the valuables retrieved was Mr Kendall’s talking parrot.

Over the centuries there have been several major styles of handwriting and from the medieval period to the 18th century will generally go from medieval Anglicana to bastard Secretary in the 15th century to Secretary (16th-17th century) and italic (overlapping with Secretary) to mixed hands (late 17th century to 19th century).

From 19th century onwards we’ve seen the rise of personal handwriting which doesn’t conform to a set, taught style.

Ironically handwriting today, depending on the writer, can be as difficult to interpret as that of our Tudor forbears.

Good handwriting is a diminishing skill.