The public library at Springwood, 70km west of Sydney, is an attractive modern building on the main street. I was there in August, doing some local history and family history research. It was glorious winter in the Blue Mountains, with crisp cold air, blue skies and golden sunshine. We drove up from Sydney, stopped at the tourist information centre at Glenbrook to ask about local history, and were directed to Springwood Library, a few miles along the Great Western Highway.
Over the years local history research has taken me to many interesting places, often combined with serious study of landscape and architecture (and food). As a family historian (and not ashamed to say so) I like to visit the locations where forebears lived and loved and worked and died, not least because I have an exceptionally interesting family. I know everybody says that about their own family, but in my case it’s absolutely true.
And that’s why we were heading westwards into the Blue Mountains, for in the 1930s my grandfather (a lawyer, multiple bigamist and embezzler, who had done a runner from Canada to Australia via Seattle … I told you it was really interesting) had come to live there, under a false name, and his English family knew nothing more of him. Now, thanks to Australia’s enlightened policy of placing as much archival material as possible on the internet free of charge, we had at last been able to track him down in the historical record and find out what happened to him. We also discovered that by his third bigamous marriage he had a son, my father’s half-brother (unknown to any of us in England).
Having been up to the Queensland rain forest to meet my newfound uncle we were now back in New South Wales armed with the additional information that, because practising as a lawyer had been rather risky for obvious reasons, my grandfather had spent the 1930s growing prize-winning hyacinths and other blooms on a nursery garden in the mountains at Hazelbrook, in the interior of the beautiful national park. I wanted, for reasons of unashamedly sentimental curiosity, to see where it had been.
The librarian at Springwood could not have been more helpful, though she admitted to being a little surprised by someone from England coming to Australia to do family history and local history research: ‘It’s usually the other way round. We all go over to your side of the world ancestor hunting’. At first we got nowhere—street directories were useless, subject indexes equally fruitless. But local history is clearly flourishing in this part of New South Wales (the Blue Mountains Association of Cultural Heritage has almost forty member organisations, not bad for a population of 75,000) and there was a wealth of published material, including the excellentHazelbrook heritage: a social history of Hazelbrook and Woodford by Mary A. Campbell, published in 1989 by the very enlightened Hazelbrook Public School Parents &Citizens Association. There I found gold—a brief reference to the fact that in the 1930s Mr Spencer [my grandfather’s new name'>more... had his nursery garden at Horseshoe Farm. There was also a helpful map of the area in the 1930s, marking the spot.
So we went to see it, turning right off the dual carriageway along Oaklands Road (I wished that he had lived in neighbouring Kangaroo Street!) and along to Derain Crescent, where the farm had been three-quarters of a century ago. Now divided into suburban housing plots, but with the little valley with the dried up stream visible on old photographs still recognisable, and it was graced by magnificent eucalyptus trees which must have been young when my grandfather knew them—indeed, he might even have planted them. I spoke a few words to the shades of a grandfather I never knew and of whom I am, despite his manifold misdemeanours, rather proud. Thanks to Mrs Campbell’s scholarly and carefully-researched book, which draws heavily on oral history and contemporary newspaper reporting, another piece of the jigsaw of my own cultural heritage had been put in place.
In May 1938 one woman and four of her friends sat down in a small office in Tothill Street, London and between them created what would become the largest voluntary organisation in British history, the Women’s Voluntary Services (WVS).
The charismatic leader of this new organisation was Stella Reading, a woman whose fervour and ambition for both voluntary service and the role of women in society was unmatched in the twentieth century. Through sheer force of character, armed with her speeches, which were Churchillian in their character and a wicked sense of humour, she had toured the country in 1938-1939 speaking to rallies of thousands of women, and convincing them to join the WVS. She was so successful that by the outbreak of war in September 1939, the WVS had recruited over 300,000 women - far exceeding its original mandate and scope. It emerged as an organisation which could and did do anything, from evacuating children, to feeding troops, putting out incendiary bombs and collecting salvage. They had the unofficial motto of ‘we never say no!’ and by late 1941 WVS had over one million members. The Women in Green had become the army Hitler forgot.
It would be impossible in this short article to properly express the scope and impact of the work of what became the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service and is now simply called the WRVS. The WVS wove itself into the very fabric of British society during the Second World War and at its close transformed into a pioneer of social care and one of the most significant partners to local and central government in the development of the Welfare State. In 2013, its seventy fifth anniversary year, WRVS is still making a difference to the lives of older people, as an independent charity which relies on donations to carry out its work.
Stella Reading once said that ‘the strength of WRVS is not in its hands but in its heart, not in its head, but in its understanding, it is not something you can record on paper, it is intangible’. While the first half of this statement is as true today as when she said it in 1949, the last part is at least in part incorrect. WVS/WRVS was as scrupulous in its record keeping as it was in delivering on its promise to help the citizens of Great Britain in war and peace. The organisation left behind a trail, a treasure trove of records and documents which tell the stories, often in vivid detail, of their service to this nation. These records began to be properly collected and collated in 1958 in order that they could be used to celebrate the organisation’s 21st anniversary. The WRVS Archive was born.
Sadly, by 2006 it had been largely forgotten, a massive pile of boxes gathering dust warehouse. But with a new archivist and a small group of volunteers in 2008 a project was started to turn the pile of boxes once again into an Archive. Two years on and this project began to pay off and the true significance of the WRVS collection was fully realised. The WRVS Narrative Reports were awarded UK Memory of the World Status by UNESCO in 2010, recognising them as one of the most important documents in the country. They now enjoy the same status as documents such as the Domesday Book, the death warrant of King Charles I and first book ever written in English, the Cura Pastoralis.
The WVS/WRVS Narrative Reports are in essence a giant diary. Over 450,000 reports survive in the WRVS collection covering the period from 1938 through to 1996, written by WVS/WRVS centre organisers in over 2,000 offices, one in every major town in the country. They tell the stories of what millions of women were doing to help their communities, tracking changes in types of work, social attitudes and social change over 58 years.
The following Narrative Report extract, written by the Centre Organiser for Herne Bay in Kent in the aftermath of the 1953 east coast flood disaster, illustrates the colour and drama of such records.
“I had just lighted all our gas fires when they came in, and incidentally going to the basement put my foot into icy cold water and found to my surprise that our basement was well flooded with several feet of swirling horrible murky looking water, especially horrible flickering in the candlelight. ... The police wanted hot chocolate for flood rescue helpers and victims, we quickly filled our thermos flasks ... and after that anything and everything that could hold hot chocolate or teas was sent out.”
This is very short extract, from what is a five page report, gives an insight into the practical ways this community coped with a disaster on a massive scale. The Narrative Reports truly are an unparalleled tool for local and social history.
The archives of charities, businesses and other private organisations hold some of the most important archival heritage about everyday life and the development of British society, but are so often hidden away and inaccessible. While this is extremely frustrating to researchers, it must be remembered that these collections were created and kept for the use of their parent organisations, for the support of their brands, to help them make or raise money, or as a public relations tool. Granting access to external researchers is often a luxury these organisations cannot afford.
For WRVS as a charity whose purpose is to help older people through volunteering it is particularly difficult to justify the cost of opening its archive to the public. But as an organisation with so many volunteers and such a rich history, WRVS wants to share its story with the widest possible community.
On 14th January 2013 WRVS launched an online catalogue containing records for over 70,000 Narrative Reports, 4,500 photographs and 300 posters (1,200 of which have preview images available). It is searchable by town, county and country as well as keywords, such as ‘meals on wheels’ or ‘clothing exchange’ and in some cases by individual’s names. This catalogue, and the behind the scenes work needed to make it happen, has only been possible due to the dedication of the WRVS Archive volunteers (who over four years gave more than 4,000 hours of their time) and the gift of two legacies from former WRVS volunteers totalling £52,000. At the same time WRVS also launched a free remote enquiry service, staffed by volunteers, which is able to undertake research on behalf of enquirers. Both the catalogue and information about the enquiry service and how to take advantage of it are available from wrvs.org.uk/our-history.
If you live anywhere near Devizes in Wiltshire and would like to help WRVS continue to open up its collection please contact Matthew McMurray the Archivist at
firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01380 730211
Matthew McMurray – WRVS Archivist
‘Strength in numbers’
It should not really be surprising that an issue arising in someone’s professional career leads them into a whole new area of interest and expertise. Malcolm Bisby was an industrial chemist who moved, in 1960, from a research facility in Harrogate to a large industrial complex on Teesside. The adjoining steel works at that time were still using locally sourced ironstone for the blast furnaces, but it was relatively low grade and the viable mines were almost worked out. In 1964 all local mining ceased and the surface buildings were being rapidly demolished. An article in the works magazine introduced Malcolm to a pioneering group, then called Teesside Industrial Archaeology Society. He joined a colleague in researching the history of the local ironstone mining industry, also using his skill as a photographer to record the sites and illustrate their research reports.
Malcolm can trace his enthusiasm for history back to his early schooldays. In practical terms, in the late 1950s he and two friends – the village butcher and a wood and leather craftsman – undertook a detailed exploration of two local battle sites, just for their own personal interest. He still has a musket ball from the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. The trio were probably the earliest researchers to locate the mass burial site of some 10,000 of the 50,000 men who perished at the Battle of Towton on Palm Sunday 1461.
It was in a different style of battle that Malcolm Bisby was to engage as a result of his research into ironstone mining. On one expedition to the Rosedale valley in North Yorkshire he came across the remains of the Rosedale mineral railway branch line. Many years later he was able to undertake the considerable work necessary to explore this railway thoroughly, and realised the necessity to fight for the preservation and recognition of this remarkable industrial landscape and its engineering heritage. From 2004 the campaign began in earnest. Malcolm gave illustrated talks to packed audiences in order to bring the hitherto neglected story to local prominence, and to press for more action. His first attempts to persuade the National Park Authority that this was something they should be interested in as a potential tourist attraction met with some initial encouragement but this soon faded. Meanwhile he had been successful in getting the Beck Isle Museum at Pickering, North Yorkshire to establish a permanent exhibition on the subject, largely supplied by him. Eight years later it continues to attract visitors.
One of the societies receiving Malcolm’s talks was Kirby, Great Broughton and Ingleby Greehow Local History Group (KGBIG). Their chairman approached him with a suggestion that was to come to fruition a few years later. A project team was established from members of KGBIG and an enthusiast from Rosedale History Society, and its success proved, as Malcolm puts it, ‘a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts’. The diverse skills of the project group resulted in a very special heritage trail map telling the detailed story of the Rosedale railway and ironstone mines, emphasising both the technical aspects of railway and mining history, and the lives of the people who lived and worked there. 2011 marked the 150th anniversary of the first running of the railway and this celebration was the project focus. The group was able to access external funding, and the Rosedale Railway is now recognised by the North York Moors National Park.
Malcolm’s personal collection of photographs, maps and other material forms a central part of the digitised archive that is now available on the project website at www.rosedalerailway.org.uk. The development of the website is part of the continuing work of the project team, emphasising the importance of communicating and sharing that began with Malcolm’s talks in village halls.
Further achievements should be noted that reinforce Malcolm’s hard work, commitment to local history, and another particular interest of his - aviation. In the Second World War the area was vulnerable to bombing because of the shipyards, and steel and chemical works, and the North York moors were used as a D-Day training ground. During his research, Malcolm was fortunate to meet a local resident who recalled those days clearly. As well as producing a publication, Malcolm organised a memorial on Warren Moor above Kildale to commemorate the crew of a Hudson bomber that came down in January 1941 returning from a North Sea patrol. The crew survived the crash but because the area was so remote they were not found for two days, by which time they had died of exposure. A ceremony was held in January 2013 to dedicate the stone that tells their story.
There is indeed ‘strength in numbers’ but detailed knowledge and passionate enthusiasm to underpin a group effort often comes from one person such as Malcolm Bisby.
With thanks to Malcolm Bisby, Wayne Barnacal, Linda Chambers, Geoff Taylor, David Thompson
‘Hoping you are in the Pink as it leaves me’: Soldiers’ letters and the First World War
In Fear: A Cultural History, Joanna Bourke explores the difficulty that soldiers faced in converting their war experiences into words; as one First World War ranker wrote ‘the sights cannot be explained in writing. Writing is not my line.’(1) The archives indicate that actually writingwas the line of thousands of men whether it was in letters home, diaries kept while on service or memoirs reflecting upon army life from a distance of anything from a month to sixty years.(2) The men’s personal accounts are a rich resource for historians, but as with any source an appreciation of the conditions under which they were composed is key. (3)
Even for an officer, Wilfred Owen was atypical in writing to his mother after one dreadful incident ‘I have not seen any dead. I have done worse. In the dank air I have perceived it, and in the darkness, felt… No Man’s Land under snow is like the face of the moon, chaotic, crater-ridden, uninhabitable, awful, the abode of madness.’(4) Owen had great imaginative powers and his rank meant he had the advantage of being trusted to ensure that his letters were suitably sanitized for a home audience – something his distress clearly overrode on occasion. Rankers were subject to the censorship of their officers, a role that may well have distorted the latter’s notions of their popularity with the soldiers. Lieutenant Wilbert Spencer wrote to his father ‘I am getting to know my new men and I think they like me. Anyhow it appeared so in one of their letters which I had to censor.’ (5) Spencer’s views were echoed by many who did not appear to make a connection between their role as censor and the favourable comments in the correspondence that they read. The ‘green envelopes’ men sometimes received guaranteed a ranker’s own officer would not read his letter, but it could be checked by anonymous censors at home: privacy was not part of military service.
In addition to outside controls, the men censored themselves to protect their families from the fear and worry that knowledge of the danger and deprivations would bring. InThe Secret Battle, Michael Roper has explored the tensions that arose between the desire for self-censorship and the emotional impetus that drove men to convey the intimate details of their lives to those that loved them. In particular, it was difficult for sons to compose letters suitable to be sent to their mothers and Roper notes that clues to their true feelings could be found in ‘omissions, abrupt changes of topic, things alluded to but ultimately left out and contradictory comments about their spirits’. (6)
Describing the emotional states that war induced was difficult for the majority of soldiers who lacked the literary skills of an Owen or a Sassoon. Although of course it is the officers’ world of the conflict that has became the foremost evocation of the First World War; the poetry and memoirs of a small, gifted, literary elite captured the public’s imagination.(7) Paul Fussell has written on what he sees as the unparalleled literariness of all ranks that fought in the Great War. (8) He argues that improved levels of education and the ‘civilian’ nature of the army, with its incorporation of rankers who would never have contemplated a military career in normal circumstances, resulted in soldiers whose standards of literacy were vastly superior to those that had previously served. There is much truth in his argument, but mainly because of the very poor quality of the pre-1914 army. For many First World War rankers, education had been limited and despite the aggregate improvements in literacy during this period writing remained a struggle.(9)
The basics of literacy may have been in place, but the ability to use these tools to express personal experience in an intimate and individual fashion was notably absent. Some officers were quick to poke fun at the limitations of their men’s letter writing and one even went so far as to construct a mock ranker’s letter for a friend’s amusement, packed with clichés and misspellings and ending with the oft-repeated phrase that forms part of the title of this article. (10) Such criticism also ignores the fact that for many men their subject matter was limited not only by censorship and skill, but by the mundane nature of much of their lives. As George Stopher complained to his mother in a letter of 20 May 1916, ‘I do not like writing here nothing to talk about and nobody to see only fresh green fields.’ (11) The rankers’ lives were heavily circumscribed and their leisure time limited by drill and other duties. A combination of factors meant that, as Ilana Bet-El stated, letter writing was reduced to bland descriptions of army life: ‘a vague existence of eating in various climactic conditions.’ (12)
However, even if there had been time and ability, writing about feelings and emotions is a late twentieth-century preoccupation and one alien to most of the soldiers of the war. Historians have identified the often unbridgeable divide between words and emotions in the working-class society from which the bulk of the rankers came, where grief, for example, was commonly expressed in a non-verbal fashion.(13) Civilian existence had not prepared the rankers for the discussion of feelings through either literary education or domestic life. The correspondence of William Hate, held at the IWM, provides a touching example of the limitations of letter writing. The eighty letters to his mother are all remarkably similar: each opens with a virtually identical sentence – ‘Dear Mother, just a line to let you know that I am still alright…’ - and the remainder is divided between listing the post he has received and specifying further food or personal items that he requires. Yet on 21 February 1915 his inarticulacy achieved a poignancy that matches anything the literary elite produced when in response to his mother’s repeated urgings to tell her what she can send him he wrote ‘there is nothing else I want unless it is to go home.’(14) The letters of the rank-and-file may not have the linguistic polish of their officers, but their simplicity and directness can evoke the despair of a soldier’s experience in an equally powerful fashion.
1. Joanna Bourke, Fear: A Cultural History (London, 2005), p. 199.
2. The Imperial War Museum (IWM) holds a vast collection of soldiers’ writings, catalogued with descriptions and searchable by name or keyword online; the Liddle Collection at the University of Leeds also has an excellent online catalogue. Although most of the National Army Museum’s material is pre-1914 it does hold some interesting First World War papers, with an online catalogue. Local Record Offices and Regimental Museums are another valuable source. While some of these collections are catalogued online it is often more useful to speak to staff personally in order to discover what materials are available.
3. Examples of recent use that historians have made of soldiers’ personal accounts include: Rachel Duffett, The Stomach for Fighting (Manchester, 2012); Michael Roper, The Secret Battle: Emotional Survival in the Great War (Manchester, 2009); Jessica Meyer Men of War: Masculinity and the First World War in Britain(Basingstoke, 2009); and Keith Grieves, 'There are times when we would all prefer the factory life': letters from the trenches to the Shippam works in Chichester during the First World War, in Family and Community History, vol. 6 (1), May 2003.
4. John Bell (ed.), Wilfred Owen. Selected Letters(Oxford, 1998), letter dated 19 January 1917.
5. Lieutenant Wilbert Spencer, IWM, 87/56/1, letter dated 24.12.1914.
6. Roper, The Secret Battle, p. 64.
7. Ironically, Owen’s poetry that for so many symbolises First World War experience was rejected for inclusion in the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, by its editor W.B. Yeats because ‘passive suffering is not a theme for poetry’: Samuel Hynes, A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture (London, 1992), p. 215.
8. Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory(Oxford, 2000), p. 156.
9. See Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (London, 2001) for a discussion of the advances and limitations of literacy.
10. John Laffin, Letters from the Front 1914-1918 (London, 1973), pp 48-9.
11. Stopher Letter Collection, Ipswich Records Office, HD825/2/128.
12. Ilana Bet-El, Conscripts: Forgotten Men of the Great War (Stroud, 2003), p. 135.
13. See for example Ellen Ross, Love and Toil. Motherhood in Outcast London 1870-1918 (London, 1993) and Julie-Marie Strange, Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain 1870-1914 (Cambridge, 2005).
14. W.T. Hate, IWM, 86/51/1.
Dr Rachel Duffett teaches in the history department at University of Essex .
John Beckett helps to stake the fields, and listens to the arguments at the annual meeting of the Court Leet, taking part in activities which were once common in pre-enclosure Europe.
Local historians near and far (including Australia!) have heard of the Nottinghamshire village of Laxton, which still has its open fields and where the farmers work the three course rotation which we associate with pre-enclosure northern Europe. What is perhaps most distinctive about Laxton, but is least known to the wider public, is the Court Leet, which retains its legal powers having been specifically exempted from the 1920s legislation abolishing copyhold. In 2012 I was privileged to accompany the farmers round the fields on jury day, and to attend the annual meeting of the Court Leet.
Jury Day is the last Thursday in November (29th in 2012). The thirteen men – twelve jurors and a foreman – assemble in The Dovecote Inn at 10.30 to drink coffee and swap news and information. Then the field foreman gives them instructions. In 2012 it is Roy Hennell of Corner Farm. Roy is a Laxton man, born and bred. He farms where his father farmed before him, and his son will, in due course, farm in the future. The field being inspected is the Mill Field. Roy details a couple of the men off to check the ditches and drains around the field. The rest, including myself, climb into Stuart Rose’s tractor/trailer for the journey to Mill Field. We sit on straw bales and under our feet are the wooden stakes, which have been prepared by Robert Haigh, the bailiff of the manor, who farms at Ivy House farm.
Once in the field, we stop off at various points to check the width of roadways and to hammer in wooden stakes. It is a beautiful day with blue sky and low sun, but that also means it is chilly in the open landscape so no one hangs around much. All decisions about ‘shovelling in’ or ‘ploughed too far’, are taken collectively by the jurors, and all measurements are by eye and rely on tradition – no one carries a tape measure. At different points we leave the trailer altogether and walk, carrying the stakes and the odd sledge hammer, until, about two hours after we set out, the job is done. The most difficult issue, on which all the jurymen are consulted, is a dyke which appears to have been ‘ploughed out’ by the farmer. He is not on the jury this year and so cannot defend himself.
The jurymen return to the pub, where the traditional lunch (soup, roast beef, apple pie or Christmas pudding) is served up by the landlord. Every plate is cleared. Farmers do not leave food! Then Robert Haigh calls order. He brings out the 2012 Presentment Paper and it is passed round the table for each of the jurymen to sign. A discussion then ensues about the activities of the morning, and who is going to be ‘presented’ to the court a week later for an offence, with what recommendation. Stuart Rose, who also holds one of the traditional positions in the village as clerk of the gaits and commons, is fined, just to show that no one is exempt, and Nick Gent – the farmer who had ploughed out a dyke – is threatened with one of the largest fines the court has ever proposed, £50. As the winter sun sets and the evening gloom begins to descend, the farmers disperse to their homesteads.
A week later on 6 December we are back in the Dovecote Inn. Again it is 10.30 and coffee is served, but this is a more formal occasion. Robert Haigh is even wearing a tie, and the meeting of the court leet is presided over by the steward of the manor, Alastair Miller, a Newark solicitor appointed by the landlord, the Crown Estate. Haigh calls the court to order, the steward swears in the jury that will operate in 2013, the ‘suit roll’ is called over (in other words the names of everyone entitled to be present is called out and those present answer to their names), and then the presentments are read out and the farmers have an opportunity to object. Stuart Rose half objects, but everyone knows he will pay. Nick Gent has been briefed in advance of his misdemeanour, and does not object, but Mike Jackson of Crosshill Farm suggests that £50 is too much in ‘these difficult times’, and the fine is reduced to £25. Gent does not object!
Haigh calls over the court again, and it is finished for another year. He sits down and the farmers begin a long and complex discussion, which includes presentations and interventions from representatives of Natural England, the Crown Estate and their land agents Carter Jonas, about subsidies and other financial matters. These are about the modern business of farming: in the past the farmers would simply have discussed the general conditions of agriculture and gone home, but Single Farm Payments and special allowances of one sort or another (CSS and HLS are among the acronyms bandied around) make this part of the proceedings all the more important. But by lunchtime it is all over. A few farmers stay in the pub for a drink. The rest return home, or in some cases to the other activities which they pursue to make a living. The steward returns to his office in Newark, taking with him the presentment paper. Presentment papers survive all the way back to 1650 and there must have been many prior to that date. For two Thursday mornings I was witness to a piece of history, proceedings which disappeared in every other manor centuries ago. Will it continue? Local historians everywhere, and farmers from near and far (there were 8 German farmers lunching in the Dovecote on 6 December) must hope so, but the key players are the Crown Estate. Let us hope that Alison Nimmo, who took over as CEO at the beginning of 2012 sees it that way, despite lacking experience of rural issues.
Professor John Beckett is Professor of English Regional History at the University of Nottingham and author ofLaxton: England’s Last Open Field Village. He was Director of the VCH 2005-10.
Title deeds: Those two words can cause trepidation to some local historians who balk at tackling this plentiful but seemingly impenetrable source. Notwithstanding the efforts of Nat Alcock and others to demystify them they remain a source considerably underused in relation to the vast numbers that have survived and their distribution in archive repositories around the country. They are a source of unique information, which can be of crucial importance in writing the history of a community or family. With some palaeographical skill and the practical ability to follow consecutive lines of closely written meticulous calligraphy across a large document, nuggets of detail can be panned from the dross of legal verbiage in which they are shrouded.
However, having just listed a collection which includes the bulkiest set of deeds for one estate that I have ever had to contend with in my career, I do feel some sympathy with deed-shy researchers. In 1815 the duke of Somerset purchased the manors of Witham Friary and Trudoxhill in Somerset from William Beckford, the writer and art collector. He had encumbered the estate with mortgages and I can appreciate his relief at offloading it, together with the 40 kilos of deeds, to his aristocratic neighbour. Hilary Mantel’s description of Thomas Cromwell’s attitude to his acquisition of estates, in her novel Bring Up the Bodies, could be applied easily to Beckford 250 years later: ‘parchment domains, leases freeholds limited by inky clauses, not by ancient hedges or boundary stones. His acres are notional acres, sources of income’
Those deeds, dating from 1760, include several monsters of 30 membranes of parchment, although the pertinacious would be rewarded with a detailed schedule of properties in the 1815 conveyance. At a rough estimate the series consists of about 400 membranes, with each measuring about 60 cm x 70 cm. Parchment was produced from sheep skin (vellum from calf or goat skin was used for exceptional documents and covers), and so a sizable flock of comparable number of sheep provided the record of title to this relatively small estate. As the wealth of the nation was built on the backs of working men, women and children, so its history, in part, was written on the backs of sheep.
Parchment, trimmed and cut to size, was used for other legal records emanating from the courts, of Quarter Sessions, diocesan jurisdictions and manors; in short, for documents regarded as too important to be committed to less durable medium of paper. The original appearance of the parchment is largely eroded by these finishing processes which make a map of Stockton, a manor in the Wylye valley in south Wiltshire, particularly fascinating. It was drawn in the mid 17th century on a skin which retains the shape of the sheep’s back, together with a puncture by a skin-boring insect which, as a result of its preparation for use, has stretched to a gaping 4cm x 2cm hole. This sheep probably spent its life in Stockton nibbling the downland grass and manuring its soil, and the map preserves a close and wonderfully tangible connection with the land it describes.
In fact if retrievable DNA has survived the treatment the skins underwent to prepare them, which included soaking in lime, to remove hair and flesh, then soaking in water to make them workable, before they were placed on stretching frames, there exists in archives all over England and Wales, a vast historical database for the national flock over the last 800 years, something unequalled for any other animal anywhere in the world. Animal geneticists might start beating a track to Record Offices, although requests not for copies, but slivers, of documents, could lead to tense stand-offs in search rooms across the country. Perhaps counterparts could really then come into play.
The sheer bulk of the Beckford deeds caused me to consider the skill of their creators, the unnamed scriveners, who are deserving of our appreciation of their talents of penmanship, using and preparing a quill, and presentation (it is rare to find a deed that does not finish at the bottom of a sheet, give or take a few lines). The ability to undertake concentrated repetitive work producing multiple copies, always at least with one counterpart, often in poor light, following the lines made by string threaded across the skin, all demand respect. The scratching of quill on skin, or in scientific terms, keratin on collagen, must have been the common background sound in solicitors’ offices. After they had been engrossed the deeds would then be folded into manageable parcels, presumably in a press that could make the permanent folds modern users struggle with when perusing them, their hands dusted with pounce (pulverised power used to prepare parchment for writing) that remains stubbornly in the creases. The artistic spirit of some scriveners, was not crushed by the monotony and drudgery of their work, and found expression in elaborate illuminated letters of the initial lines, a skill that flourished particularly in the mid 17th century. This so impressed one researcher who was investigating the history of a friend’s house in Bradford on Avon that he incorporated their curlicues into a design for a stained glass window for that property. I was greatly impressed with this most original by-product of his research.
Steve Hobbs is archivist at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre
From Fragments to Historical Studies
The BALH, Heritage Lottery Funded Pauper Prisons…Pauper Palaces (Midlands) project is well underway, with the various researchers now working on the Bromsgrove, Kidderminster, Wolstanton and Burslem, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Basford and Mansfield, poor law unions, unearthing some fantastic material.
The Poor Law Union Correspondence that the groups are cataloguing and researching naturally tells us a lot about the lives of the poor in these areas and I gave a few examples of these in a previous update. (1) However, as we can see below it is also a great source for information about those who were employed by the union such as workhouse masters, matrons, schoolmasters and schoolmistresses or as relieving officers or collectors.
Many union officers worked to ensure the orders of the central authorities in London were carried out in their locality, others may have differed in their outlook as to how much administration was (shall we say) too much, while others may have thought to use the new poor law to their advantage. Peter, Shelia, Ann and Helen, four of the researchers based in the Kidderminster area came across the following case based on the correspondence they have (separately) been working on; this concerned John Davis, Poor Rate Collector for Bewdley in the Kidderminster Union. (2) As early as November 1850 Thomas Simkiss, District Auditor, wrote to the Poor Law Board, complaining that Davis had been lax in carrying out his duties even though he had been warned on several occasions. Moreover, Simkiss thought the accounts were poorly protected because of the loose way in which the Bewdley officials conducted their affairs. He made further complaints in May 1851 that Davies still neglected to keep his accounts and neglected to pay over his rate collections weekly. (3) A couple of years later at an audit in early 1853 Simpkiss claimed that Davis had made false returns on his monthly statements. Yet in the face of this we also find the Bewdley overseers very were supportive of Davis. They sent extracts from their minutes in which the matter was discussed by the local guardians and said that Simkiss should exercise more vigilance before making serious charges against an officer of the union. However, in September 1853 we find a letter from the union to the Poor Law Board informing them that one of the sureties of Davis wished to withdraw his ‘suretyship’ and the following month there was another letter from the union asking for advice as Davis had now absconded with some of the union’s money.(4) All in all Davis seems to have stolen a little over £63 (around £3,500 today).
In terms of the archive it is a case that builds slowly over several years; and earlier and later correspondence volumes will add to the overall story. We can see how the first couple of letters may appear as a dry and not very interesting story of bureaucratic administration. The next couple of letters appear more a case of administrative ineptitude. The next set of letters appears to provide a context of fraud and criminal intent. Similar case studies (and we can see these in some of the other unions) show that fraud and misapplication of local government funds became a real problem in a new poor law system in which large amounts of money was raised. It is also a clear example which shows us the value of collective research/cataloguing projects as the case study builds from the archival fragments pulled together (so far) by four researchers.
1. See Local History News, 104, Summer 2012, p 15.
2. The case is based on Kidderminster: The National Archives (TNA): MH 12/14020, folios 121, 180, 438-439, 445-446, 448-450, 454, 482, 494-495, 514, 528-529, 560.
3. These were the local rates he was expected to collect. Collectors were not allowed to keep collections made over several weeks or months as this could lead to local officials building up significant amounts before making off with the rate monies.
4. A surety, in finance, is a promise by one party to assume responsibility for the money owed by another if that ‘other’ defaults on their payments.
Nearly three years on from the setting up of a charitable trust to carry forward the work of the VCH in the county after the end of public funding, it’s a good moment to reflect on Gloucestershire progress. While Gloucestershire can claim to have been among the early VCH starters (1907) it wasn’t until county council backing in the 1960s that serious work began; between 1965 and 2010 nine Big Red Books were issued. When recession hit, public funders withdrew, leading to the loss of both our then editors in late 2010. A draft volume lay unfinished, with 5½ parishes still to go. As the map shows, about half the county had been covered, with several important towns and all of what is now South Gloucestershire still “to do”.
Seeing the dark clouds gathering, a small group set up a support trust (1) in spring 2010. There was no long-term strategy at this stage; ‘completing Volume 13’ was the obvious objective, and the trust was fortunate in attracting not only donations from many individuals, but also the backing of the county society (the venerable Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society), who between them came up with enough to allow us to engage a part-time freelance editor – John Chandler - to finish the research and writing.(2) Drafts for the next volume should thus be ready by October 2013.
This approach, conditioned largely by the money available, has proved sound in many respects: most importantly, the work has kept going, and this continuity has sustained our vital relationship with the VCH central staff. The ease of posting draft material online means ready evidence for potential funders that we are in business, and visibly productive. The trust has learned more about the practicalities of fundraising, of appointing and managing freelances, and of channelling volunteer input into the VCH process.
So in early spring 2013, when South Gloucestershire Council found some money to commission a VCH treatment of Yate, we had sufficient experience and confidence to accept the task, and a further contract was let, to Rose Wallis. This work also should complete in late 2013, and it’s particularly significant in partnership terms, being the first VCH foothold in a part of the historic county detached since the 1974 reorganisation, and long an empty space on the VCH county map.
Compared with mid-2010, we’re now in a much better place, but it has sometimes felt slightly hand-to-mouth, with little chance to plan what should the trust tackle next, and how? We’re keen to maintain momentum and move smoothly to new work in late 2013, but the tactics are now driven much more by the availability of funds than anything else. This means getting the money donated or pledged very soon, so that editor(s) can be recruited by the summer and have knees under desks soon after. As it has turned out, with a mix of pragmatism and good fortune, the trust now anticipates starting two volumes in 2013, one centred on Cheltenham, the other on Cirencester. (3) Prospects for the latter have been transformed by the generosity of a local charity, the Winstone Trust.
We’re clear that the time spent talking to very many local contacts and possible partners has been well spent, not only generating funding leads, but also helping frame the best arguments for VCH work on a particular area. Most historians are already receptive to the VCH proposition, but for the other 99% of the population, one really does have to be able to explain convincingly why ‘yet another book’ is desirable, when ‘so much has been written already’ and ‘isn’t it all online now anyway?’ And of course we have to deal appropriately with ‘times are hard, if I had money to spare I’d rather give to XYZ’.
And so, nearly at its three-year point, the Gloucestershire County History Trust is moving to a new phase. Though the workplan may be evolving more by accident than by grand design, there are certainly reasons to be cheerful. There is the potential to match, perhaps even surpass, the previous pace of production: if we can successfully fund and manage two VCH volumes in parallel, the model could in theory be followed for the remainder of the county. It’s taken 105 years to do slightly more than half of Gloucestershire; with luck, we’ll finish the set before I’m 105 too.
James Hodsdon is Hon. Treasurer, Gloucestershire County History Trust
2. See John Chandler’s article LHN No 101 Autumn 2011 p 10
3. Hear more about both of these at the BALH conference in Cheltenham on 26-28 April – book now!
The bicentenary of John Snow’s birth in 1813 will be commemorated with an exhibition and a series of conferences and other events this Spring.
Famously known for his removal of the Broad (then Broadwick) Street pump handle in September 1854 he is considered one of the founders of epidemiology and a pioneer in the field of anaesthetics.
Despite a relatively humble background John Snow became an apprentice to a surgeon apothecary in Newcastle upon Tyne where he encountered cholera, in the first British epidemic of 1831-2, treating the sick miners at Killingworth colliery. Moving to London in 1836 he qualified and became a practising physician advancing up the hierarchy to become a member of the Royal College of Physicians by 1850. He was closely involved in early experiments with anaesthetics for surgical operations, adopting both ether and later chloroform, personally administering the latter successfully during the births of two of Queen Victoria’s children.
Victorian society, outwardly so confident, was paranoid about cholera, a spectacular and dreaded disease, which was no respecter of class and could strike with alarming rapidity. In the mid 19th century most doctors believed in the miasmatic theory, that contagious diseases were spread by poisonous gases in the air. Snow questioned some aspects of this theory and began to suggest that the national cholera outbreak of 1848-9 was spread through polluted water. He published his ideas in a 39 page essay, On the Mode of Communication of Cholera in 1849 but this was received with scepticism by most medical authorities. Interestingly, in the same year Dr Andrew Middleton in Salisbury was drawing similar conclusions, associating the open water channels with the high incidence of the disease in the city.
Between 1849 and 1853, while England was largely free of cholera, Snow continued to collect data linking the disease with specific water supplies. Following a violent outbreak of cholera in Soho in 1854, he was able, famously, to put his ideas into practice. Between the 31 August and 10 September Snow mapped the location of the 500 deaths from cholera in the Broad Street district and traced the outbreak to a single source of polluted water, identifying the Broad Street pump as the epicentre of the epidemic. He persuaded the Board of Guardians experimentally to remove the handle and the spread of cholera dramatically appeared to stop. As with many great stories the truth is not as simple as it first appears. The pump handle was symbolic, the epidemic had largely run its course and it is unlikely that Snow, in this instance, saved thousands of lives. But his work was groundbreaking in its use of statistical analysis, his evidence forcing local government action with a cholera inquiry confirming his findings. 2013 should provide the occasion rightly to celebrate his achievements.
This year’s Local History Day will include a presentation on a major new research project being undertaken by researchers from the University of York, examining immigration into England during the late-medieval and early modern periods. This project, funded by the AHRC, is investigating the subject of immigration during the often-neglected period before the arrival of the Huguenots, and is examining the origins, occupations and social status of people moving to England, both from overseas and elsewhere within the British Isles, looking at where they settled, the attitudes and reactions of the native population, and the responses of the local and national authorities to their arrival and presence.
It is hoped that the project will contribute significantly to the longer-term history of immigration into England, as well as providing historical and cultural context to wider contemporary debates over ethnicity, multiculturalism and national identity. The project will examine the role and contribution of immigrants to the economic and social life of the country, the extent to which aliens were integrated into local communities, and how ideas of ethnicity and nationality were informed by attitudes towards, and interactions with, resident aliens. Unlike most existing work on this subject, this project is also looking across the entire social spectrum, examining not just wealthy and well-connected migrants, but also the tradesmen, labourers and domestic servants who constituted the majority of England’s immigrant population. It will also look well beyond just the great towns and cities, examining the existence and impact of immigrant populations in rural communities across the country.
The study also aims to open up a series of new records for local and family historians, providing major new sources for people interested in the history and development of surnames, the spread of cultural ideas from the continent, and the development and character of towns and villages across England. A major part of the project will involve the creation of a database of people known to have migrated to England during the period 1330-1550. This information will be taken from a number of sources, such as letters of denization, wills and local administrative records, but the majority will come from contemporary taxation returns, most significantly those produced for the series of taxes levied specifically upon England’s alien population between 1440 and 1487. This database will be made available to the general public at the end of the project in early-2015, and will include a sophisticated search facility and mapping capabilities. A prototype should be available for demonstration at the LHD.
Brief summaries of some of the project’s initial findings, together with short studies of notable individuals encountered so far, can be found atwww.englandsimmigrants.com, and the project can also be followed on Twitter at @EngImm13301550.
It is very much easier than it was, a few years ago, to trace documents held in regional as well as national archives. Sometimes, and increasingly often, they can be accessed on line, thus making it possible for a researcher to read them at home. This has the advantage of saving much unnecessary travel and much unnecessary handling of the documents – although there is loss, for the researcher, of some of the pleasure of the chase and the special pleasure of holding the original document.
There are also many specialist internet archives, e.g. local history sites and sites concerning the history of a particular game or activity. The researcher can often find those relevant to his or her interest through a Google search but much depends on the site design and effective use of keywords. There is certainly room for extension of the National Register of Archives, through the National Archives site, so as to provide links to such archives.
However, there are myriads of documents in private collections, many of which are of potential interest to researchers but the location of which are usually unregistered. I am thinking here, for instance and perhaps especially, of collections of letters, war diaries, and autobiographical reflections written down for children and grandchildren.
And yet, from a technological point of view, it is no longer difficult for these to be made both findable and available to the public. I have made a few attempts to put this right on behalf of some documents I am lucky enough to have inherited and I give my experiences below, in the form of case studies, in the hope of inspiring others to a more systematic and successful attack on this problem of access.
Case study 1. The diary (1733-6) of Samuel Medley, butler to Lord Kinnoull, ambassador to Constantinople.
This diary came down to me through my family, Medley being an ancestor of mine. My wife and I researched the embassy of Lord Kinnoull and wrote a book about it, The Earl and his butler in Constantinople, using the diary as a major source. We published this book ourselves (for the first edition – a second edition has since been published by I.B.Tauris) and included on our website,www.leginipress.co.uk, a freely-downloadable pdf of photographs of the actual pages of the whole diary, as well as a full transcription.
There is an organisation called the National Register of Archives. After a correspondence which lasted some months, the Information Systems and Resource Discovery Manager and Liaison officer for London national and specialist repositories (Wow!) agreed to add an entry for Samuel Medley to the National Register of Archives, with a link to our website listed under the ‘Historical information’ tab of the entry, subject to compliance with NRA procedures.
Thus, our website and hence the diary can be found by using the link http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra/default.asp, to reach the National Register of Archives, and by then entering either Samuel Medley (who researchers are unlikely to have heard of) or Lord Kinnoull, with appropriate dates. However, a simple search of the National Archives website will now also find it.
Also, I applied, successfully, to have our website archived athttp://www.webarchive.org.uk/. As far as I can see, however, no-one researching Constantinople in the 1730s would be likely to find their way to it by that route.
One way and another, I am satisfied that researchers likely to be interested in Medley’s diary will find their way to it – just so long as I keep our website live. But it would be much better (and cheaper for me) if access did not depend on this.
Case Study 2. Geoffrey Webb’s recollections of the Battle of Jutland, in which he was a midshipman, and of his war service in the second World War on minesweepers off Dover. These were in typescript form which I scanned in, using optical character recognition, and then edited (minimally), inserting scans of sketches he had made. The Imperial War Museum acknowledged, with enthusiasm, receipt of a CD containing the above. So far, however, a website search appears not to find it.
Case Study 3. The cricket journal of Geoffrey Webb. This covers the period 1908-1939 but with particular emphasis on his time as playing secretary of Leicestershire County Cricket Club. Of interest to cricket historians, it consists, mainly, of a collection of press cuttings but includes a lot of material, especially for the early years, no longer easily available elsewhere and sometimes probably unique.
I photographed this document, page by page (and some pages included fold-outs of complete sheets of newsprint), and, with some technical help, assembled them as a pdf which was sufficiently compressed to allow reasonably quick loading.
With the perseverant help of the Hon. Archivist of Leicestershire CCC, and after a delay of nearly 18 months whilst suitable software was obtained, this was made available on www.cricketarchive.com . It can be reached via the linkhttp://cricketarchive.com/Archive/PrintMaterial/Geoffrey_Webb_Journal/index.htmland is also easy to find via a simple search of the website for Geoffrey Webb.
Ideally, perhaps, there would be a website, linked to the National Register of Archives, where personal archives of the type illustrated above could be archived easily, subject to certain conditions, for instance:
They should be provided in digital form: advice would be supplied by the website manager as to how to do this most easily and in a form which would make life as easy as possible for the website manager and for the researcher.
Those submitting archives should have to accept the decision of the website manager, or some other appropriate referee(s), as regards acceptance or non-acceptance and possible editing.
Those submitting archives would be asked to identify keywords for inclusion in a catalogue description but the website manager should have the final say.
Who is going to provide such a website? An example has been set, of course, by the originator of www.archive.org, which currently offers free access to a remarkable digital collection of out-of-copyright printed material (amongst other things). Some of the many very grateful users of www.archive.orgdoubtless have reservations about some aspects of the organisation of this website, particularly the insufficient control over the style of descriptions, and there is much pointless duplication. However, it is certainly a wonderful resource for the researcher.
In the November 1996 issue of The Local Historian I wrote an article about the Association of Northumberland Local History Societies’ project on recording war memorials. A few years later, a similar scheme was set up in Co. Durham with myself as co-ordinator. The two projects were combined in 2004 to become the North East War Memorials Project. A Heritage Lottery Fund grant allowed us to establish a website in 2007 which has been declared the best of its kind by Who do you think you are? and has been archived by the British Library.
The website includes information on 4,450 war memorials, and the number is still rising! Our small team of volunteers is continually investigating sources such as archive collections, newspapers and published books. The result is a remarkable list ranging from hospitals to houses, books of remembrance to birdbaths, statues to school prizes. The website has between 700-1000 unique hits per week. University students who are studying some aspect of war are using our site or contacting us for guidance.
We include an extensive bibliography, a guide on how to research a memorial, a Key Stage 1 education pack, sources of quotations used on memorials - we throw nothing away! Included on our website is a Parish page for each place where we can put items which have a relevance but are not memorials themselves. There is also an “In Memoriam” page where we record family headstones bearing details of casualties buried elsewhere. Members of the public can send in personal details of individual relatives or their loved one. We have identified nine reasons why a person may not be named on any memorial, and those who are trying to remedy this can now put the name on our website, especially if all else fails.
The two world wars now have their own charisma, and combined with the growth in genealogy, and the availability of records, this means that many people are researching the stories behind the names on memorials. We invite them to place their information on our site under their own name, or, if they have their own website, we arrange for a hyperlink.
We are populating another page for each place, which will be launched in 2014, showing photos of newspaper articles. These contain much interesting social comment which we have no time to transcribe.
In the run-up to 2014, meetings across the two north-east counties have been called to enable those preparing an event to make intelligent use of partnerships, funding appeals and publicity. We were asked to make a presentation as the kind of project which is global and uses the public for information.
We hope that eventually our website will be linked to the War Memorials Archive (formerly the UK National Inventory of War Memorials).
Our whole aim is to create a massive tribute to those who have suffered through war, either because they fought, or were left to pick up the pieces.
Janet Brown is Chair of the North East War Memorials Project.
In 2012 Salisbury Local History Group celebrated its 35th birthday with two special events – an anniversary evening when light refreshments preceded a talk by Tristan de Vere Cole on Augustus John, and a review of our history, accompanied by a display of Group memorabilia.
Our founder was John Norris, a Salisbury resident with a great interest in promoting the history of Salisbury and who was responsible for setting up the city’s first Tourist Information Bureau. Feeling that like-minded people would enjoy exploring Salisbury’s heritage he decided to set up a group, and so in January 1977 one of the three new workshops at Salisbury Arts Centre (along with tap dancing for adults and inventing!) was Local History – Tuesday evenings, 7-9pm.
The Arts Centre (located in the recently redundant St Edmund’s Church) was very much a work in progress at that time, and a cold and uncomfortable place to meet. The Group therefore gratefully accepted the invitation of the city’s Librarian to move to the Library in 1978, which remained its home until the end of 2001. 1978 also saw a new group leader. John Norris moved away from Salisbury and Bill Garrett, a retired engineer living in Alderbury, but with a wealth of knowledge about Salisbury, look over.
At first it was a small group, perhaps a dozen people researching a topic then presenting their findings to each other. Early meetings included visits to sources of information such as the Reference Library and Salisbury Museum. As the Group grew the need for a Secretary became apparent, and in 1981 Audrey Martingell took on that responsibility, a post she held until her death. For many years Bill and Audrey, with help from Mike Charlton (programme organiser) and Jackie Beele (treasurer) effectively ran the group, though there were and are always many behind the scenes helpers with no formal posts.
The increase in membership also led to a change of format, with most meetings having an outside speaker, though some Group members continue to present their research findings. In 1984 Mike Charlton took over as Chairman, with Bill Garrett becoming the Group’s first President. This arrangement continued for the next decade.
The 1980s also saw a number of new ventures – in 1983 and 1985 the Group led tower tours during the St Thomas’s Church Festivals, which took place to raise funds for restoration work. Tower tours also featured in the list of activities available on 7 June 1986, when the great Salisbury Local History event, a joint enterprise with other local heritage groups and sponsored by the British Association for Local History, took place. Our only other venture of this kind was in 1993 when we joined the Hatcher Society and Civic Society to raise funds for a replacement Salisbury Giant, to deputise for the venerable original, now retired to Salisbury Museum, at civic occasions. The event, attended by giants from Dorchester, raised over £400 towards the cost of the new giant, who subsequently appeared at events such as the St George’s Day festival in 1995.
Following an approach to the Group by the Trustees of the Salisbury City Almshouse and Welfare Charities a number of Group members undertook to produce a history of the Charities. In the end 17 members contributed, each choosing one or two charities to research in depth, the whole project taking about three years and being overseen by Mary Wrightson (Editor), Barbara Humber (Assistant Editor) and Nora Langdon (Co-ordinator). With text complemented by pictures of Salisbury's past provided by artist and illustrator Michael Charlton, the Group’s Chairman, the first edition was published in 1987, with a second edition in 2000. The work had an unexpected bonus when it won 2nd prize in the second Wiltshire History competition to write the history of some aspect of a Wiltshire town, sponsored by Lloyds Bank, and organised by Wiltshire County Council's Library and Museum Service.
In 1996 the Group faced a leadership crisis with the sudden death of Audrey Martingell, our Secretary, and the imminent move out of Salisbury of our Chairman, Mike Charlton, both coming shortly after the death of our President, Bill Garrett. Eventually Bobbie Chettleburgh, a local councillor, offered to become Chairman, Mike was promoted to President and a proper committee was elected. When Bobbie became Mayor and civic responsibilities took priority over local history, Kathy Quinn succeeded her as Chairman, a post she held until 2012 when she became our third President.
As well as weekly talks the Group has enjoyed many day trips, as well as longer holidays to explore history and heritage both in the UK and abroad. Following the move from the Library the Group met in the lecture theatre at Salisbury Museum for the next 10 years, before moving to the Salvation Army Hall in 2012. With a brief diversion to Friday evenings, we have continued to meet most Tuesdays for a large part of the year. Over more than three decades years our speakers have brought us a wide range of topics, including archaeology, early military aviation, civic events and royal jubilees, electoral reform, local benefactors and traders, lunatic asylums, hospitals and public heath, art, music, literature, churches, Salisbury Cathedral and historic buildings, to name just a few major categories.
No exact count of meetings and outings has been kept, but after 35 years of weekly meetings in term time these must have now reached about 1000. This impressive tally is a true vindication of the feeling of John Norris all those years ago, that like him, people really were interested in local history. Since most other local history societies meet monthly we believe that this must be a unique record – unless of course readers of this publication know otherwise!
Salisbury Local History Group meets at The Salvation Army Hall, Salt Lane, Salisbury, SP1 1EE, 7.30pm, on most Tuesday evenings during term times. For further information contact Kathy Quinn on 01722 320349 or see our website.
A new trend in sales of archives and manuscripts at auction is causing concern both to archivists and to researchers. There has always been a market for single items such as autograph letters and these, though of historical interest, are usually of relatively limited archival value. At the opposite end of the spectrum, when extensive family or estate archives are offered, this is normally through major dealers and auction houses whose lead-in time before the sale date allows opportunities to raise money through grants and public appeals. After the sale, the Export Licence Review process also affords chances to object to transfer abroad of ‘pre-eminent’ original material, especially if it has strong local connections.
Difficulties can arise with manuscripts and archives which fall outside traditional interests of collectors. More and more of these ‘middle range’ papers of local importance are appearing at provincial auctions. These are tracked by the very efficient Sales Monitoring Team at The National Archives who notify potentially interested parties such as county record offices and also advise grant-awarding bodies. Where money is available, local record offices usually try to bid, but they can be disadvantaged both by the unpredictability of when items crop up and the unrealistic estimates placed on them by auctioneers who may be inexperienced in dealing with manuscript material. The auctioneer may also be unaware of the restrictions on sale of certain types of official documents such as manorial records. He or she is most unlikely to consider archival integrity significant. The result can be that archives services which would generally be regarded as the natural home for some material lose out in the auction.
One recent example is that of the business archive of Cubitt Estates Ltd. This consisted of 573 volumes recording the activities of this major company over many years. It was offered at auction by Chorley’s of Cheltenham in October 2012 with a guide price of £8,000 to £12,000. The estimate is important because grant-awarding bodies take it in to account when making an offer of financial support. London Metropolitan Archives bid for this series because they already hold ten related volumes; the contents of the volumes for sale complemented these and also related to their collecting area. The hammer price was £17,000 and LMA was outbid.
Another instance was a small booklet of accounts for the Coach and Horses inn in Conduit Street, London, detailing food purchased from 1756 to 1758 for re-sale which appeared at Hansons of Etwall’s auction in August 2012 when the estimate was £50. Westminster Archives were outbid and the booklet sold for £70. In December 2012 a dealer listed these accounts in his catalogue at £1,500! (http://www.samuelgedge.com/SAMUELGEDGECAT14WEB.pdf).
Of course, sometimes local archives are successful. Staffordshire Archives acquired a manor court book for Cannock and Rugeley , 1876-1885, which came up at auction at Cuttlestones of Wolverhampton in September 2012. This may have been a steward’s draft or a copy, but it complements other volumes in the series already in the office’s collections. At the same auction, other lots included case notes from a Birmingham hospital, 1898-1904, which sold for £140 to an unknown purchaser.
The National Archives has commented that these sales ‘illustrate both the fragmented nature of the current manuscripts market and the hazards of auction, which tend to frustrate attempts to establish public access and long-term preservation of significant archival material’.
What can be done? Keeping an eye on what local manuscript material appears in catalogues from non-specialist auctioneers is one practical action. If you come across something of interest, check that your local archive service has been notified by Sales Monitoring Team. Incidentally, they also monitor Ebay auctions.What it is not usually advisable to do is bid on your own initiative – even if you intend to donate the item to an archive office. The more bidders, the more likely it is that the final price will be higher than the estimate, and you could end up bidding against the very service you wish to support.
Free Parks for the People: A History of Birmingham’s Municipal Parks 1844-1974, Carl Chinn, Brewin Books, 2012, 160p, paperback. ISBN 978-1-85858-495-9. £14-95.
Even people who have strong affinity with Birmingham will find what Carl Chinn reveals in his ‘Free Parks for the People’ to be an extraordinary story. That Birmingham is blessed with such a large extent of parkland and recreation grounds finds its origins in the mid-19thCentury in the minds of people of various kinds who sought to provide open spaces for leisure and exercise for the ever-burgeoning metropolitan population. Philanthropic individuals, thoughtful and progressive clergy and businessmen together with working class people, who had higher aspirations for their collective lifestyle, combined to bring the first parks into public use, at various stages with some obstruction from some local politicians who were concerned about public expenditure levels. In some senses it all seems so familiar.
The earliest parkland provided was just outside the Birmingham local government boundaries, including Adderley Park [1856'>more..., Calthorpe Park [1857'>more... and Aston Park [1858'>more.... The last of these was opened by Queen Victoria, who then maintained an interest in what was happening there, with its financial difficulties. These latter led to fund-raising endeavours, during one of which a female tight-rope walker fell to her death, thus prompting the Queen to intervene, and this intervention ultimately led to the Aston Park funding crisis being resolved.
One of the themes which Carl Chinn rightly emphasises is the extraordinary alliance between socially-concerned Tories, philanthropists, progressive clergy, radical politicians, thoughtful businessmen and skilled workers which led to the formation of the Public Recreation Society in 1855; and various combinations of this alliance were to be seen at work at various instances in the years that followed. Quite evidently in the provision of public parks and recreation grounds in the mid-19thCentury, public opinion was well ahead of local government decision-making.
Anyone who has enjoyed public parks and recreation grounds will find this book a useful template against which to compare the emerging Birmingham provision with their own experience. Young people enjoy parks and open spaces, as I did, without thinking about the planning and political manoeuvring which led to this provision. This is very helpful in compensating for our youthful ignorance and in creating a context for our various experiences.
Pubs of Wandsworth
Wandsworth Historical Society, Wandsworth Paper 23 2012, £4 ISBN 978 0 905121 30 7 www.wandsworthhistory.org.uk
Public houses, as this booklet points out, ‘have strong links with the past, and often have a much longer history that their present buildings suggest’. Here is an annotated and illustrated list of Wandsworth’s pubs, existing and vanished, covering the ancient parish of Wandsworth including Earlsfield and Southfields. Inevitably some entries are very brief, but for others it has proved possible to trace their continuous presence from the sixteenth century. The introduction sets out clearly the complex changes of licensing regulation that controlled the supply of alcoholic drinks, and the way this influenced premises for their consumption.
Pubs are a popular topic for local society research and publications, and this is an excellent example of one particular approach. Most of the sources used would be available for other areas, and the comprehensive list of references might form a useful guide.
Yr ail ryfel byd yn Eryi: Amser i’w Gofio
The War Years in Snowdonia: A time to remember
Friends of St Julitta’s Church, Capel Curig 2011 www.stjulittas.org £3.50 past free
For the ‘smallest church in Snowdonia’ St Julitta’s has big ideas. The Friends have established a tradition of annual summer exhibitions that aim at bringing to light previously unknown or neglected aspects of local culture, history and the environment. Research for the exhibition is undertaken as a communal activity, which has helped increase awareness of the rich local environment. The exhibitions are bilingual. This book was published to accompany the 2011 exhibition on the impact of the Second World War in the area.
Conscription of workers, requisitioning of buildings, the arrival of evacuees and prisoners of war, and changes in demand for the output of long-established industries all affected the lives of the local people. Agriculture in the area – never easy – had to adjust to operating under wartime regulation. Pillboxes and tank traps were constructed in response to the fear of invasion. The mountainous landscape posed a hazard to newly trained aircrew from seven military airfields in the area, and stimulated the development of the Mountain Rescue Service in the RAF; there are over a hundred crash sites within the Snowdonia National Park, the vast majority from wartime incidents. A particularly fascinating chapter covers the dispersal of the National Gallery art collection to North Wales. Initially the plan had been to use large country houses, but control of environmental conditions proved difficult, and when the accommodation was also used for billets, an alternative was sought. At Manod Quarry above Blaenau Ffestiniog six air conditioned brick buildings were built within the worked-out slate galleries, and by the summer of 1941 all the paintings, plus some from the Royal collection, were safely there with their curators.
A map, a time line and a generous bibliography all contribute to the value of this small book.
The brainchild of Alan Littleford from Hyde, Gtr Manchester (though now living in California)
www.treflix.com is a new, free web site for the creation and exploration of local and micro histories. It’s easy to use features permit single or organized groups of users to create searchable histories of people, places, and things around the world. Theses histories can consist of images, stories, events timelines and comments which are all automatically linked by the site allowing visitors to explore histories by place or by time. Images can be tied to their geographical location and the site provides automated visual overlays of ‘as it was and as it is’ views.
The goal of www.treflix.com is simply to capture the history of the world as it happens.
Have you tried all the online resources available through your local public library? Many are accessible from home using your card number and pin for login, for others you have to go to the library and use a computer there. The list will vary from place to place, according to specific library policy, but most if not all will have the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford Reference Online, the Times Digital Archive, Who Was Who? and Who’s Who? Others might provide 19th Century British Library Newspapers, Burney 18th Century Newspapers, John Johnson Collection of Ephemera, or Early English Books. Ancestry and FindmyPast will be in library only (or a personal subscription at home). And don’t forget British History Online and Historical Directories, freely available for everyone.
Research by Diana Dixon at the request of the BALH Publications Committee.
We were sad to learn of the death of Joan Tucker in January. Before ill-health had forced her retirement from the BALH Events Committee, she had been an enthusiastic and hard-working contributor to this subcommittee and had organised and attended numerous special guided visits over some 12 years.
A trained teacher with a particular interest in, and gift for children’s reading, Joan, with her husband Alan, ran a bookshop in Stroud, Gloucestershire, for many years.
For thirty years Joan was archivist to the Trustees of the Stroudwater Navigation. In 2003 she published The Stroudwater Navigation: a social history (Tempus). She continued with this interest and her Ferries of Gloucestershire (The History Press) was awarded the Road Transport Book of the Year 2010 by the Railway and Canal Historical Society at their meeting in Hull. Her most recent book was Ferries of the Upper Thames (Amberley Press) which was published in March 2012 and was equally well received.
Our first E-Newsletter was very well received, particularly for its regional focus, variety of news, and accessibility of layout. It will run in parallel with Local History News, as an additional facility for members. Jacquie Fillmore is editing it and would be delighted to hear from members who would like to contribute from their region. The first issue was posted in January, but it's not too late to receive a copy: Email email@example.com. The next issue will be at the end of March.
But do not fear if that is not your preferred method of communication, Local History News will continue to be published on paper as usual. I too am always delighted to receive contributions from members about their interests and activities. Send a query or a suggestion. Are you stuck on some research, have you got an idea you’d like to follow up with someone else, have you found a particularly fascinating (or difficult) document? Is there a topic you would like one of our regular writers to cover?
New book from BALH
Our latest publication is Remembrance & community: war memorials and local history by Kate Tiller, a most timely production when increasing attention is turning to the anniversaries associated with the First World War. For full details see the flier enclosed in this mailing.
Spring in Cheltenham
The booking form for our Regional Conference during the weekend of 26-28 April will be found in the supplement of this issue. Cheltenham is a most attractive, interesting and accessible venue, and the conference programme (see page 19) contains something for everyone in a wide-ranging and stimulating collection of papers. Book now to take advantage of the Early Bird offer on the conference fees – there are flexible options so come for the whole weekend or for the day on Saturday. Then be sure to follow the conference blog for updates: www.changingcomunities.wordpress.com
Local History Day
We look forward to seeing a large number of members at Local History Day on 8 June. Jonathan Mackman who will make the presentation in the morning has written about the English Immigrants project on p XX here. Go to their website to see how the work is developing, and see if your area has been reported. New material is loaded regularly.
Thank you to everyone who has enrolled for access to the Bibliography of British and Irish History for 2013, especially to those who enthused about how valuable they found it, and described the use they had made of it. However, if we are to consider doing this again in 2014 there will need to be a significantly larger number of members signing up, so please spread the word amongst colleagues and friends, perhaps demonstrating it to your local society to persuade more people to become individual members of BALH and therefore able to gain access to this important resource.
Members’ Unique Reference Number
As we develop our services for members it will be necessary to ask for your URN (as we did for the add-on subscription to BBIH). This number is to be found on your annual renewal letter, and on the label that brings your quarterly mailing. It has five digits and begins with 1. Please make a note of yours and have it to hand if asked.
The Teesdale Mercury Archive Project has digitally recorded every available page of the newspaper from its first edition in 1855 to the mid-1950s. Published weekly in Barnard Castle, the paper has been reporting on everyday life in Teesdale for 150 years; now its first hundred years are accessible online on a free text-searchable website. Case studies and teaching materials are being developed to encourage the use of this fascinating resource by the maximum number of people. A travelling exhibition and visiting speakers are available to groups, and the project has an educational history consultant working with local schools.www.teesdalemercuryarchive.org.uk
Gloucestershire Archives Local and Family History Librarian is leading a proposed project to index local newspapers, depending on a successful HLF bid. Taking a themed approach that would research key moments in history, local history groups would be needed to use their local library newspaper collections to contribute to an online resource, accessible to everyone. Writing skills would be developed by exploiting opportunities to contribute articles about the information and photographs discovered. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Forest of Dean Local History Society www.forestofdeanhistory.org.uk
Volunteers and Local Studies staff have catalogued the important collection of English Civil War pamphlets atCheshire Archives and Local Studies. Over 70 items demonstrating the role of Cheshire towns, families, and soldiers in the bloody conflict have now been listed and can be found (many with thumbnails) in CALS new Calmview online catalogue.www.archives.cheshire.gov.uk/calmview/
You will have seen in the last issue of The Local Historianthat Bedfordshire Record Office, now Bedfordshire and Luton Archives Service is celebrating its centenary. There is a splendid programme of events, including a series of talks, some special lectures, and two major exhibitions: ‘One for the Record’ 22 March – 23 June will showcase the collections and tell the Record Office’s own story. ‘For the Record Too’ 12 October – 5 January will do much the same focussing on the northerm half of the county. www.bedford.gov.uk/archiveevents
Twinning brings all sorts of different advantages to the participating cities, towns and villages. Sheffield and Bochum in Germany have been twinned since 1950. Jennifer Lehnig from Ruhr-Universität completed a six-week internship with Sheffield Archives, learning all aspects of the job from archive management to paper and seal repair. www.sheffield.gov.uk/archives
An uncommon memorial: A long-serving archivist at Essex Record Office, Nancy Edwards née Briggs is commemorated in a new street name where she lived in Chelmsford. ‘Nancy Edwards Place’ is a permanent memorial to her. Nancy retired in 1987 and was killed in a car accident in January 2009. She was in charge of the Search Room ay Chelmsford for many years and was distinguished by her willingness to arrange a personal discussion on sources with a researcher at the start of his or her project.
The City of York will receive up to £100,000 of central government funding for business planning and legal advice to enable it to establish the first mutual library and archive service in the country. City of York Council runs fifteen libraries and a historic archive service, including the flagship Explore Centre, in the heart of the city. These employ nearly one hundred people who, under the plans, will form a new social enterprise to give the staff greater scope to work with the local community and more say in how services are delivered. The service will continue to receive funding from the council but will also have the flexibility to earn income, such as through the existing successful cafes or by creating new services. The mutual business model also allows for companies to bid to take over other services in other parts of the country.http://mutuals.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/first-staff-led-mutual-library-receives-%C2%A3100000-backing
Reading Central Library is hoping to receive a HLF grant to digitise their Reading and Berkshire First World War material in anticipation of greatly increased interest, and therefore use, as 2014 approaches. This would include newspapers – the Reading Standard and the Berkshire Chronicle from 1901-1925, street directories for Reading over the same period, Reading Standard ‘Berkshire in the War’ volumes about soldiers and casualties, and personal accounts, photographs, case studies, etc. The results will all be on the library website and freely available to everyone. Volunteers will be needed.Email email@example.comBerkshire Local History Association www.blha.org.uk
The Rev John Skinner (1772-1839) Rector of Camerton in Somerset was a keen historian and archaeologist who during this lifetime produced some 13,000 paintings and drawings on his tours of Britain and Europe. Over 11,000 have survived and are held in 120 notebooks in the British Library. These have now been indexed in a major volunteer project by the community archaeology group, the Charterhouse Environs Research Team. CHERT had the full cooperation of the BL, and grant funding from the Council for British Archaeology South West and the Gray Fund of Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Society. The index is freely available on the CHERT website. www.chert.org.uk
Recently opened is the Museum of Carpets in Kidderminster. The town was the woven carpet capital of the world, and the museum tells the story of the development and decline of the industry from the 19thcentury to the present day. Housed in the Grade 2 listed Stour Vale Mill, the collections include not only machinery and artefacts but also photographs and documents of the numerous firms involved. There is a magnificent archive of some 3,000 carpet designs. www.carpetmuseum.co.uk AIM www.aim-museums.co.uk
The Cinema Museum was founded in 1986 in Brixton, London. It is now housed in the Old Lambeth Workhouse, in Dugard Way, Kennington. The organisation is dependent on donations and volunteer labour, and this year received an Outstanding Achievement Award for supporting and encouraging volunteers. Here you will find everything connected with the experience of cinema-going: from seats to signs, stills to posters, projectors to promotions, usherette uniforms and art deco fittings; and an extensive library and many unique films. The museum collaborates with the BFI National Archive. There are regular open days, film shows and tours.www.cinemamuseum.org.uk Southwark & Lambeth Archaeological Society Newsletter 12
In 2013 the Yorkshire Museum of Farming will open a new exhibition for their HLF project ‘Feeding the Nation – A Celebration of the Women’s Land Army’. In addition there will be special activities and events running through the year. Email firstname.lastname@example.org www.yorkshiremuseumoffarming.co.uk
Port Sunlight Museum reopened in mid-February after refurbishment which is the 2nd phase of a 5- year development plan. Improvements include a new special exhibitions gallery, multimedia tours, new-look gift shop, and some additions to the permanent displays. The work has been funded by Port Sunlight Village Trust and Biffa Award, which awards grants to community and environmental projects across the UK. Port Sunlight Museum is open daily, 10am - 5pm. The first exhibition in the new gallery is devoted to Lady Lever, wife of the Village founder, to mark the centenary of her death. The Village was built in 1888 for the Sunlight soap factory workers. www.portsunlightvillage.com
The Friends of Chertsey Museum are one of the first groups to receive a Heritage Lottery Fund All Our Stories grant. They have been given £8,000 to fund a project exploring the history of the local shops and buildings in the area. It will increase public engagement with the museum collections through a mobile APP and an exhibition. Concentrating on the historic core of Chertsey in Guildford Street, London Street and Windsor Street, posters detailing the history of the premises will be offered to the current occupants for display. www.chertseymuseum.org.uk
The ‘All Our Stories’ small grants programme was launched in 2012 to support community groups involve people in exploring and celebrating their local heritage. www.hlf.org.uk/AllOurStories
Amesbury Museum & Heritage Trust has received funding of £13,139 from the Armed Forces Covenant Grant Scheme which will enable them to take custodianship of Melor Hall and its grounds, to provide a permanent museum for the town and its wider community. Grants are awarded to schemes that strengthen the links and mutual understanding between the armed forces and civilian communities. The application was fully supported by the Wiltshire Community Covenant which is a partnership between the county council, 43 Wessex Brigade, and local businesses and organisations.www.wiltshire.gov.uk/militarycivilianintegrationpartnership
The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons opened its doors on 18 May 1813. Their exhibition celebrating the bicentenary runs from 14 May to 9 November not only looks at their renowned collections but also asks who took care of them, where and how they were displayed who visited them, and what role does the Museum play in surgical education today. In addition there is a programme of lectures, family activities and other special events through the year.www.hunterianmuseum.org
One of the ten Ironbridge Gorge Museums is Broseley Pipe Museum. This 3 storey factory and bottle kiln was in use from 1880 to 1957, and has been preserved as a time-capsule since the last workers departed, having produced millions of clay pipes. The town of Broseley is synonymous with that product, the first pipe-maker is recorded in 1590. Hendon & District Archaeological Society went to the museum on their 2012 excursion to Shropshire, and published a very enthusiastic report of their visit. www.ironbridge.org.uk/our-attractions/brosely-pipeworks/, www.broseleypipes.co.uk, www.hadas.org.uk
17-18th May 2013 is the date for the annual Museums at Night events. Look out for local programmes near you, or check on www.culture24.org.uk
‘Kids in Museums’ has been running for ten years. Their 10th Anniversary Kids in Museums Manifesto has been launched, and builds on all the successful achievements so far. Spreading good practice is their key objective, to ensure that children are as welcome as any other visitor to all museums. As a result of their efforts, many organisations are now pioneers in including young people in the cultural experience they offer.www.kidsinmuseums.org.uk
In view of recent discoveries in the East Midlands, we feel that local historians would welcome a summary of some other major archaeological work in progress. Inevitably, this is only a selective list but these projects may well help to reshape our perceptions of the past. We begin at Clacton on Sea in Essex, where recent tidal scour on the foreshore (between high and low water marks) has revealed—remarkably preserved in the post-Pliocene stratification of estuarial silts—the remains of a large chair, apparently facing out to sea. The chair seems to have had ornate decoration with some fragmentary evidence of applied gold leaf, and the archaeologist in charge of the emergency excavation, Professor Ken Newton, has stated that some royal association cannot be ruled out. Preliminary results from laboratory analysis suggest a date from the late Anglo-Scandinavian period, 1025 +/-10 years, and it is postulated that this may have been associated with some form of elaborate ceremonial akin to those in Venice where the Doge symbolically wedded the city to the sea by tossing a gold ring into the Adriatic.
Meanwhile, a series of redevelopment schemes in central Plymouth are under way. The upgrading of the city’s iconic Hoe is among the most important, and a systematic programme of archaeological work has been under way for two years in advance of the main civil engineering stage. Excavators have been mystified by the discovery of a perfectly level square platform overlooking the English Channel. Palaeobotanical evidence shows that it was once covered with fine closely-cropped turf but the most puzzling feature of the site is a collection of spherical objects, which seem to have been hastily rolled to one side of the platform and then simply abandoned. Professor Francesca Anitra of the Department of Post-Medieval Archaeology at the University of Tavistock told us that casual finds associated with the spheres indicate a date in the last decades of the sixteenth century, and that the disposition of the objects suggests that there was perhaps some game in progress which was hastily concluded. Questioned whether historians had made any comment, she replied that nobody had asked them.
News from Southwark tells of an intriguing find which has left archaeologists speculating. During streetworks associated with the Thameslink rail project the opportunity was taken to trial an innovative technique involving carefully scraping off the successive layers (or ‘strata’) of the surface using a pointed trowel. This meticulous and painstaking work means that archaeologists can ‘peel back’ time and as they go further down they reach older layers. It’s revolutionary and, unlike time-honoured resistivity and airborne laser scanning methods, it means that fragile and ephemeral evidence can more readily be identified. At the site in Maiden Lane the ‘trowel’ method was used to work down from the modern street surface, via nineteenth and eighteenth century levels, to a cobbled surface marked by pronounced depressions, in some of which mud had accumulated. Because these places had evidently been water-filled at some point they have been named as ‘temporary aqueous collection foci’ [TACF'>more..., although their precise purpose remains unclear. In one such TACF excavators found the well-preserved remains of a large piece of silk fabric, elaborately decorated with gold-thread embroidery and pearls forming the letters ‘WR’, seemingly spread out across the former extent of the TACF. Most unexpectedly, the centre of the piece of fabric bore the unmistakeable imprint of a woman’s shoe. Archaeologists from the Metropolitan University of North Southwark have postulated that the assemblage must have had ritual significance.
And finally, flood prevention work between Taunton and Glastonbury has prompted a comprehensive archaeological survey of that part of the Somerset Levels. Near Athelney a hitherto unknown settlement site of the Middle Saxon period was among the features identified. Excavation of one of the grubenhauser which constituted the main housing type in the community has revealed evidence of a cooking hearth, close to which were the broken remains of a dish and a number of heavily-blackened and carbonised farinaceous objects provisionally identified as ‘cakes’. Radiocarbon dating confirms that these objects can be ascribed to the 9thcentury. But the most remarkable find in the site of the Saxon house was an exquisite jewelled pendant, inscribed in enamel Aelfred mec gebarn (‘Alfred burned me’). Archaeologists are baffled.