Local History News Number 114 Winter 2015

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1. Local history in Denmark Show more → Show less ↓

Alan Crosby makes some comparisons

Lokalhistorie: fortid, nutid og fremtid

Avid watchers of Scandi-noir TV drama will easily be able to translate that book title (for the rest, though, it’s Local history: past, present and future). I love the way our suffix ‘tide’ (as in ‘eventide’) is there with those recognisable prefixes (before, now and from). A book of this name was recently published in Denmark, containing (among others) a chapter written by me, entitled ‘Lokalhistorie på De britiske Øer’ (and that should really need no translation). Translated into Danish, my chapter appears to read tremendously well – I would hardly have known that I don’t speak a word of the language (or to be accurate, just under half a dozen words) – and any mistakes and errors are entirely invisible to me, its author. What readers in Denmark make of it I know not. There are also chapters on local history in Norway, Sweden and Germany, and twelve chapters which look at different aspects of local history, its organisation and its practice in Denmark itself.

The themes discussed are in many ways familiar, for they are universal ones shaped by the profound changes in modern society during the past fifty years. A chapter by Kim Furdal considers the trends in the publishing of yearbooks (the Danish equivalent of our annual ‘transactions’-type volume) and town histories in South Jutland, and membership of local history societies in the same province.

An interesting statistic—one I don’t recall seeing in a British context—is that in 2006 some 5.5% of the population were members of local history associations, but only 2.1% to 0.8% of sample individual societies. In other words, quite a lot of people were involved in national organisations (I guess our equivalents are English Heritage, the National Trust and so forth) but far fewer in purely local ones. But in Denmark, as in Britain, friends’ organisations have flourished, and local museums, for example, have been highly successful in attracting community support. The museums at Tønder have a friends’ organisation with 784 members, a remarkable 6.4% of the population of the administrative division.

Themes such as the experience of the various wars in which Denmark has been involved since the mid-nineteenth century (and especially its Second World War occupation), the emergence of a national educational system and its local dimensions, the tradition of historical culture and local identities, the architecture of public buildings, and even distinctive food traditions are all considered in the context of  the historical and academic trends prevalent in the whole of the Western world since 1945.

Another chapter, by Steen Busck, assesses changes since 1980 under the heading ‘organisation, professionalisation, and popular culture’, drawing attention to the importance of national organisations (equivalents to BALH), links with the universities and ‘den offentlige sektor trimmes’ (unfortunately all too familiar in its English translation, ‘cuts in the public sector’). Asbjørn Hellum has a chapter on the relationship between local history and the digitising of archives in Denmark, beginning with an evocative picture, taken some years ago, of the long queue outside the North Jutland archives just before 9 a.m., as local and family historians waited for the doors to open (I counted 38 people and that is certainly not the total). The caption notes that as soon as the majority of key archives had been digitised and put on line, visitor numbers fell by approximately 50%. That will not surprise anybody who has had occasion to make use of or collect record office user statistics in the UK. 

There’s much else in the book—chapters on the relationship between local history and archaeology (a subject generally skirted and avoided over here, I think); local history, building conservation and landscape heritage; urban history, local history and universities; the local history culture and practice in the city of Aarhus; local history and ‘når google-generationen’; history re-enactment and the use of historically authentic reconstruction (of, for example, costume worn by staff and volunteers in folk museums); the rationale for, and design of, on line local history resources; and local history ‘og digital formidling’ (which means ‘dissemination’: this chapter is about apps and the use of smartphones and I fear I wouldn’t understand even if was in English!).

It has been fascinating to be involved in this project, and to see both the differences and the similarities of local history and ‘how we do it’ in Britain and Denmark. Unfortunately the book is not going to be available in English, but I hope in coming months to be able to do some summaries of key chapters to include in future issues of Local History News.

2. Researching an exhibition Show more → Show less ↓

Remembering Scarborough 1914-2014 Scarborough Art Gallery

To mark the 100th anniversary of the German naval bombardment of Scarborough on 16th December 1914, Scarborough Museums Trust set out to create a temporary exhibition in Scarborough Art Gallery. However, although the bombardment was a significant event, with the ‘Remember Scarborough’ cry used to promote military recruitment, the Trust’s collections were largely archival, telling the story of the raid from a mainly British perspective.

The project team wanted the exhibition to consider not only the raid’s impact on Scarborough, but elsewhere too, including German perspectives. Why was Scarborough attacked? What was the German reaction to the raid? And, as the Scarborough bombardment resulted in the deaths of civilians, including children, how did Germany respond to criticisms that followed? In view of Winston Churchill’s description of the Germans as ‘the Babykillers of Scarborough’, understanding German motives and reasoning became an objective. The overall aim was to present the facts through evidence from British and German sides, and in a variety of ways to provide a depth of texture and to appeal to a range of tastes and ages.

In view of the relative paucity of three dimensional artefacts and the somewhat jingoistic content of much of the archival material available, it was clear from the outset that a much wider trawl of material was needed for use in the exhibition. A review of the collection material available was undertaken to establish its utility before any external approaches were made. This confirmed that, apart from ‘souvenir’ fragments of shell, there were very few relevant objects which could be used to tell the story effectively. Further, while much was recorded and published about events in Britain, little was available which told the German side of the story, at least not in English.

Other strategies were needed, and it was decided to look externally for both the material and the evidence required to create a meaningful exhibition. The first ‘stop’ was Scarborough’s public library, which yielded copies of local contemporary newspaper articles and other individual accounts from the time. Next, a visit to the volunteer-run local Maritime Heritage Centre helped detail German naval activity, particularly relating to mine-laying operations and their aftermath. Subsequently, the local sea diving Sub Aqua Club provided artefacts connected to the wrecks caused by these operations, and which were added to the exhibits on display. An account was set up with http://wrecksite.eu, a site dedicated to mapping and cataloguing wrecks with information and images.

But more specific details from a German perspective still eluded the team. A breakthrough came when contact was made with sources of information in Germany. The German equivalent of The National Archives is the Bundesarchiv, based in seven locations around Germany, and attention focussed on the Military Archive located in Freiburg. Following initial contact, a broad enquiry was made concerning the Scarborough bombardment. This produced a summary of the material available (ships’ logs, official reports, and personal accounts), albeit in German. But it also elicited the existence of researchers based in Freiburg who, for a fee, were able to extract copies of relevant documents and arrange for shipment to Britain.

With this material in hand, a mechanism was needed to interpret it for use in the exhibition. An approach to the German Embassy in London resulted in its Military Attaché responding with the name and contact details of a member of staff of the Deutscher Marinebund (DMB), the equivalent of the Royal Naval Association. This produced not only translations of the material gleaned from Freiburg, but also material from the DMB’s own archive, and three-dimensional material, including the ship’s bell from SMS Von der Tann, a battleship used in the bombardment. And provided access to recent German literature on the subject, leading to personal exchanges with a current author, through the medium of Xing, broadly the German equivalent of Linked In.

In parallel with this research effort, sources of more technical information, particularly concerning ships’ weapons used, were identified through joining internet forums focussed on specialist knowledge and expertise. The first of these was the Great War Forum (http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php) from which links were made to NAVWEAPS (www.navweaps.com), a largely American site listing technical details of naval weapons used on both sides in the Great War, and to the Inert Ordnance Collectors Forum (www.bocn.co.uk) which details ammunition used in them. The Liddle Collection at the University of Leeds provided copies of personal accounts of survivors, generated in support of the TV programme made to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the bombardment in 1989, a copy of which was also obtained.

Meanwhile, expanded searches closer to home elicited more personal accounts, mainly from descendants of those who witnessed the bombardment, following appeals to the local community. Archive film footage of the aftermath and other associated activity was sourced, courtesy of the Yorkshire Film Archive. A short film was created for the exhibition using this footage, the Trust’s archive material and audio clips from those interviewed for the project as voice-over narratives.

A source of contemporary editions of national newspapers was found in the British Library at Boston Spa, and collections in other museums provided further material. Other fruitful archive and library services included Lancashire Archives, and Orkney Library & Archives. These provided personal contemporary accounts of German reaction to news of the bombardment during the Christmas ‘ceasefire’ in 1914 and photographs of the wrecked warships at Scapa Flow respectively. A ship’s bell from the other warship involved, SMS Derfflinger, was located on the Isle of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides, and was also loaned for the exhibition.

Archives were loaned from Queen Margaret’s School near York, formerly based at Scarborough. One of its most famous pupils, the novelist Winifred Holtby, was at school on the day of the bombardment and her riveting account of that morning is included in the exhibition. Finally, through a serendipitous conversation with a friend of one of the team members, the original Churchill letter written to the Mayor of Scarborough and where the phrase ‘Babykillers of Scarborough’ was first used, came to the Trust on loan.

The exhibition was presented within the perimeters of the bombardment subject and while a number of interesting associated stories were also explored to a more limited degree, these were confined to the overall bombardment theme. The exhibition was intended to reflect this local story with international impact. To keep the exhibition dynamic, and to allow for ongoing research and contributions from the public, an approach was adopted that allowed elements to be altered, with features added as and when possible. The outcome has been an exhibition revealing the unique and vital part played by Scarborough in the Great War, highlighting the effects on the town and revealing the motives and agenda of the enemy. It is hoped that once again people will ‘Remember Scarborough’ and the part she played.

Esther Graham, Project Officer and Coordinator for Scarborough Museums Trust’s ‘Remember Scarborough’ project; a regional partnership funded by Arts Council England.

Robin McDermott, ex-military logistician and retired regional museum adviser who, as the military history curatorial consultant for the project, acted as military researcher and adviser to the exhibition, concentrating his efforts principally on the German side of the story.

3. Sister Kate Maxey MM RRC FNM Show more → Show less ↓

John Banham

An exhibition on Spennymoor’s Great War held at the Bob Abley Gallery at Spennymoor Town Hall  has revealed a long forgotten story of WW1.  Two nurses were included on Spennymoor UDC’s Roll of Honour published in 1922.  The story of one has been pieced together from family papers, War Office records, Royal College of Nursing records and a remarkable diary kept by a nursing colleague. Sister Kate Maxey never married or talked about her wartime experiences.  She did, however, leave a photo album and other papers which her great nieces made available to the exhibition organisers, one of whom was Dr John Banham, Vice Chair of the County Durham History & Heritage Forum.  Although the Spennymoor Exhibition only lasted for the month of August 2014, the Forum has been involved in promoting Durham County Record Office’s DURHAM AT WAR website launched in September.  Happily, Kate Maxey’s great nieces agreed to her story being published on this interactive website mapping the story of County Durham and its people in the First World War.


Kate Maxey was born on 17th December 1876 at 30 Clyde Terrace, Spennymoor, the youngest child a local shopkeeper and his second wife.  In the 1890’s Kate and her sister had moved to Leeds, lodging with their mother’s sister and her husband, a physician.  Later, from 1900 to 1903, Kate trained as a nurse at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI).

Kate Maxey qualified as a nurse in 1903 and, in January 1912, joined the staff of the Army’s 2nd Northern General Hospital, which was based at LGI.  She was called up into the Territorial Force Nursing Service on 30 September 1914 and went out to France on 9 October, being initially based at No.8 General Hospital in Rouen. She was then transferred to the West Riding Territorial Casualty Clearing Station near the Ypres Front.

In November 1915, after many months working in the casualty clearing station, Kate was transferred to the Army’s No 1 General Hospital at Etretat on the Channel coast.  Here she met Edith (Edie) Appleton, who kept a diary of her experiences during much of the war. This diary has recently been published as :

A Nurse at the Front : the Great War Diaries of Sister Edith Appleton

Kate and Edie became great friends and there are many references in the diary to Kate during 1916 when they were at Etretat.  Kate was given two weeks leave in England at the end of May 1916. On her return she was promoted to Sister and in November 1916 was mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig’s despatches for gallant and distinguished service in the field.

In 1917 both women were moved nearer to the front.  Kate went to 12th Stationary Hospital at St Pol in March 1917 and then, in September, returned to the West Riding Casualty Clearance Station (58th CCS) as Sister in Charge.  58th CCS was based at Lillers about 50 kilometres from Ypres. The town was used for billets and headquarter offices from the autumn of 1914 to April 1918 and was also a hospital centre, with the 6th, 9th, 18th, 32nd, 49th and 58th Casualty Clearing Stations being there at one time or another.

On the 21st March 1918 the German air force bombed Lillers railway station and a train loaded with ammunition exploded near the hospital. Kate Maxey sustained wounds to her right forehead, right side of neck, right forearm, right and left thighs and right foot, a fracture to the right forearm, a spinal injury causing pain and restricted movement of the shoulders and a perforated eardrum. These injuries meant returning to England for treatment and convalescence. There Newspaper headlines included her as one of “The Brave Nurses who carried on” in reporting the award of the Military Medal and Royal Red Cross Medal (1st Class). Her citation in the London Gazette on 4th June 1918 reads :

Miss Kate Maxey of Spennymoor is awarded the Military Medal and Royal Red Cross Medal (1st class) for gallantry and conspicuous devotion to duty during a recent hostile bombing raid on a Casualty Clearing Station. Although severely wounded herself, she went to the aid of another sister who was fatally wounded and did all she could for her. Later, although suffering severe pain, she showed an example of pluck and endurance which was inspiring to all. She was Mentioned in Dispatches some time ago and wears the Mons Ribbon.

At the end of August 1918, Kate, who had returned to Spennymoor to stay with her sister, was passed fit to resume duty.  However, she was ordered to report to the No.2 Northern General Hospital in Leeds rather than return to France as she had wished. Miss Sidney Browne, Matron in charge of the Territorial Force Nursing Service, wrote :

This Sister went out on 9.10.14 so I think she should remain at home now.

In June 1919 Kate was demobbed from the Territorial Force Nursing Service to go into partnership with a colleague, Assistant Matron Anne Simpson, in a nursing home in Halifax (Heathroyde). In June 1920 the British Journal of Nursing reported that Sister Maxey was one of the first recipients of the Florence Nightingale Medal awarded by the International Red Cross Committee at Geneva.  The Diploma from Geneva is among Kate Maxey’s papers (see illustration).

Kate Maxey remained part of the Territorial Force Nursing Service until she retired from running Heathroyde Nursing Home in 1931.  She then returned to Spennymoor but mainly  lived in London and Lymington in Hampshire thereafter.

 She died in Bishop Auckland in 1969.

4. Awards have their uses Show more → Show less ↓

Profile of Randle Knight

Randle Knight lives in Milwich, near Stafford, which has been the home of his ancestors for over 400 years. Following a degree in mathematics at Imperial College, London, he pursued a successful career in the computer industry.  In parallel he has developed an interest and involvement with local history which now takes two main routes, though that makes his personal commitment to the subject sound narrow – far from the case in practice.

As a young man Randle joined the North Staffordshire Field Club, later serving as chairman of its Local History & Archaeology Section, as librarian, and twice as President. For the latter role a presidential address is required, and on both occasions he presented his research on Milwich, first on the parish’s Vicars and Curates, and secondly on Milwich in the mid-Nineteenth Century.  He is currently the chairman of the Staffordshire Record Society.

For many, Randle Knight is synonymous with the Englesea Brook Chapel & Museum. He has been the curator for over 20 years, after being invited to join the committee on his very first visit in 1989.  The museum traces the history of Primitive Methodism and its contribution to nineteenth century life. Mr Knight’s dedication, skill and hard work has expanded the collections, and developed their accessibility as an academic and educational resource.  In particular, under his guidance, the Museum received accreditation, and more recently, recognition as one of only four nationally significant museums of the Methodist movement.

Randle Knight has been a regular reader at the William Salt Library since he was a teenager. His involvement over the last 45 years has included being a researcher, active volunteer, and trustee. He has undertaken several important cataloguing projects, with characteristic thoroughness, including one identifying the original collection of banker William Salt which formed the foundation of the library. This was essential ground work to a successful major Heritage Lottery Fund bid that financed ??? please add sentence here. Second hand bookshops – a source of much pleasure for Randle – have yielded numerous volumes which he has donated to the collection.

He has researched and published (2003) a biography of William Salt, at the suggestion of Beryl Daniels, who inspired him with her enthusiasm for the Library. Salt commissioned artists to draw local scenes of Staffordshire, including Thomas Peploe Wood, a local man who died at the early age of 28. Randle Knight has edited his diary, due for publication shortly.

BALH Awards do have their uses! After the local paper had mentioned the award and Randle Knight’s connection to Englesea Brook, he received an email ‘which led to the discovery of a portrait in oils of a female Primitive Methodist itinerant preacher. As most of these only served in the early 19th century, the only other known pictures are of elderly ladies who survived into the photographic era. This is a very exciting discovery’.

With thanks to Thea Randall, John Giffard, John Anderson and Randle Knight.

5. All Party Parliamentary Group on Archives and History Annual Lecture 25 November 2014 Show more → Show less ↓

Report from Margaret O'Sullivan

This was the fourth annual lecture to be organised by the APPG  group. Chaired jointly by Dr Hywel Thomas MP and Lord Clark of Windermere, it has nearly eighty members from both Houses of the UK Parliament and the lecture, held in the Grand Committee Room off Westminster Hall, was attended by about fifty people including many archivists and historians. The theme this year was topical: ’Politics and the Great War: A European and Global Perspective’ and the speaker was the distinguished historian, Professor Sir Richard Evans, Regius Professor of History at Cambridge. Best known for his three- volume history of the Third Reich, published between 2003 and 2008, Professor Evans recently crossed swords with the former Education Secretary, Michael Gove MP  about the content and style of history teaching and the way that the curriculum is structured , as well as a in a specific debate over the causes of the First World War. Gove accused Evans in particular of distorting history with regards to Britain's role in WWI.  Evans replied Gove was defaming academic historians and dismissed Gove’s suggestion that WW1 was a “just war” fought by men "committed to defending the western liberal order," pointing out that Britain's ally Tsar Nicholas II was far more despotic than the Kaiser and that at the time 40% of UK adult males were not even eligible to vote.

Professor Evans began by surveying the history of Germany from the time of Bismarck onwards in the context of the ‘Concert of Europe’ which influenced regional politics from 1815 to 1914. Before World War I armed conflict had in general been limited and short-lived.Consequences varied  greatly from reform in Russia after the Crimean war to regime change in Italy, for example. This pattern of relative continuity was broken in 1914. The Great War developed its own momentum and defied all attempts to limit it. Four empires collapsed in a way that was unprecedented. Factors leading to war identified by Professor Evans included Germany’s search for an empire and its naval arms race with Britain; Russia’s changed focus on Europe after its defeat by Japan; France’s sensitivity over its defeat by Prussia in 1871 and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine; and growing nationalism in the Balkans. Expansion and revenge  justified aggression. The weakness of the Ottoman empire led to what the speaker saw as decisive military actions in 1911 and 1912, the annexation by Italy of Libya and the Dodecanese islands. Violent and intensive conflicts followed in the Balkans in 1912-13, culminating in the Black Hand-sponsored assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire. At first there was no enthusiasm for war in Britain. Many members of the Liberal cabinet had pacifist sympathies and about three-quarters actively opposed involvement in European conflict. More pressing issues at home were suffragette unrest and civil war in Ireland. Opinion was so divided that ‘muddle and confusion reigned’ and military advice overcame political reservations, despite the absence of clear war aims.  Soon it became a global rather than European conflict; thousands of troops came from the British and French empires and safeguarding existing overseas possessions came to be seen as a significant objective. The one continent that was not involved until 1917 was America. Then the danger from unrestricted submarine warfare, the publicity over the Zimmerman telegram and the February 1917 revolution in Russia enabled President Woodrow Wilson to state that from April 1917 the USA was engaged in fighting for democracy.

This was at a time of stalemate on the western front ; leadership in England had passed from Asquith to Lloyd George and in France Clemenceau had become Prime Minister. The Bolsheviks in Russia knew the war could not be won and the German Spring Offensive soon ran out of steam. The conflict had become one of attrition, placing enormous strains on the participants and resulting in a situation in which whoever had the richest resources and was the best organised would succeed. In Germany General Ludendorff realised this and so sued for peace.

Professor Evans then considered the effects of the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference. Despite the fierce conditions imposed on Germany, these did not fatally weaken the country and subsequently helped enable the Nazis to exploit the effects of the depression of the 1930s.Both the British and the French gained possessions for their empires and these benefits appeared the most significant to the home populations. The rise of Fascism was seen as a threat only to Europe, not to colonies such as India and Australia. He concluded that although the Great War was a military victory for Britain, it was not a political victory.  Germany became determined to re-fight the 1914-18 conflict, crucial issues remained unresolved, and the many violent episodes of the interwar years and of World War II showed that this first global military engagement  had opened a Pandora’s Box, the consequences of which are still being felt today.

In this lecture the speaker focussed on exposition and narrative, rather than analysis. We all learnt a great deal about the course of events before and after World War I, but many in the audience would have welcomed a more challenging approach.  Since Professor Evans has previously demonstrated his willingness to engage in historical controversy, this was perhaps an opportunity missed.

6. Victoria County History Durham update Show more → Show less ↓

Anthony Pollard

The Durham VCH has reached a crossroad.  Volume 5 of the county history, Sunderland, is soon to go to press.  There are unlikely to be any more Big Red Books for many years.   Funding for full-time editorial staff no longer exists.  The Durham Trust is thus turning to volunteers, the publication of material in progress on line and the eventual publication of new style VCH Shorts. 

Currently we have three teams of volunteers at work, each under the guidance of a volunteer coordinator.  One team is engaged on a long-term project of transcribing wills and inventories, whose work has fed into volumes four and five of the county history.  The two other groups, more recently formed, are working on histories of parishes in the south-west of the county;  Gainford and Middleton in Teesdale. Research for the VCH was initially undertaken on these parishes a hundred years ago but was never published.  Page proofs for Middleton were produced; Gainford did not even reach that stage,

When work on the county project was halted in June 1915, with almost all of the parish histories in proof stage, some 65 pages of heavily edited manuscript pages on Gainford were abandoned. These have now been transcribed and a text as close to that intended produced.  It is roughly ordered into the histories of 19 ‘TOWNSHIPS and MANORS’, some more fully researched than others.  Five of these were neither then nor now in the modern parish.  Even the more complete township histories barely went beyond the seventeenth century and all focussed almost exclusively on manorial descents and landholding.  The history of the church remains only as a handful of notes.  We had hoped that we had a useful final draft; in effect we have but work in progress. The only material that is valuable for a modern history is the manorial descents.  As a case study in the early history of the VC itself this is of some interest, but for the modern researcher it is of not much use.

Our volunteers in Gainford are thus largely starting from scratch.  Fortunately they are members of a lively local history group, already familiar with much of their village history, though not experienced researchers or practised authors. The challenge is to develop their research skills and to channel their enthusiasm into the requirements of a modern parish history.

The small volunteer group working on Middleton in Teesdale, on the other hand, is comprised of experienced local historians who are well-versed in the history of the area. Moreover, their areas of research are complementary, encompassing the political, social, economic and religious history of the locality. The task of producing a parish history is, of course, also made easier by the fact that the group has access to the original proofs for Middleton in Teesdale. The situation as things stand at present is, therefore, fairly positive, with the process of writing up the research already underway. If all goes according to plan, we hope to see some early drafts appearing in the New Year.

Beyond these two projects we are looking to add a history of Barnard Castle, the other modern parish which was part of the much larger medieval parish of Gainford. At the moment the projects are overseen by individual Trustees. The next step will be to appoint a volunteer organiser, probably on a part-time basis, to coordinate the research on a regular basis and take on the compilation of the histories. For this the Trust will almost certainly need to seek fresh funding to supplement its annual income from its loyal subscribers.

Professor A J Pollard is Chairman of the Durham VCH Trust  

7. 'A rainy day above Dorking': topographical drawings for local history Show more → Show less ↓

Margaret O'Sullivan

This could be the title of a novel: a tale of dark deeds amongst the Surrey hills, perhaps. It is, in fact, the caption to a drawing by George Scharf (1788-1860), who specialised in topographical views depicting everyday life in London and the Home Counties. Some of his subjects are soldiers exercising at Woolwich Arsenal  in 1825;  construction work in progress in London (including the British Museum);  and working people hurrying home with food purchased from their local pub.  ‘Rainy Day’ is a distant view, dated 1823, of the town of Dorking in its valley from which a gentleman, possibly the artist himself, seems to be fleeing in a fierce rainstorm.

Topographical drawings of the 18th and 19th centuries are rich sources for local history. Many originated in the enthusiasm of past historians and antiquarians for documenting landscapes and buildings.  Such was the power of patronage that one artist, John Smith (1749-1831), is known by the title of his benefactor. He is ‘Warwick’ Smith after his patron, George, 2nd Earl of Warwick (1746-1816). When the Revd Sir Richard Kaye was Rector of Kirkby in Ashfield in Nottinghamshire he commissioned the Swiss émigré, Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (1733-94) to draw ‘anything curious’. An earlier patron of Grimm was Cornelius Heathcote Rodes (1754-1825) of Barlborough Hall in Derbyshire for whom the artist produced drawings both of the Hall and of places nearby. Hundreds of artworks by Grimm from several counties were the result of these commissions and most are now in the British Library. They show not only churches, houses and important buildings, but also how these were used. Some examples are: the rather bleak parlour of a house at King’s Weston near Bristol in 1773; a service in progress at Bath Abbey in 1788; children processing in a long crocodile to Kirkby in Ashfield parish church in 1786; woad making at Bristol in 1788; and even a gull trap found at Abbotsbury, drawn in 1790 but identical to pigeon traps in use in France today. The portrait of an Eton scholar as a ‘salt gatherer’ at Salt Hill near the College in 1793 is a subject well chosen to meet Kaye’s criterion.

The more important the location, the more likely it is that paintings and drawings will survive. The lively and detailed  views of Windsor by the brothers Thomas (1723-98) and Paul Sandby (1731-1809) are well known, and are complemented by the  much more sombre watercolours by John Piper (1903-92) commissioned in the 1940s by the late Queen Mother. Other prolific 19th century artists  in the mainstream  topographical tradition include Edward Blore (1787-1879), John Buckler (1770-1851) and his son John Chessell Buckler (1793-1894). Each drew many historic structures and monuments; examples of their output are to be found in collections such as those of the antiquarian William Salt in Stafford. Local museums may also have important series by lesser known practitioners who remain significant in their home area: Matthias Read (1669-1747) in Whitehaven in Cumbria and Thomas Peploe Wood (1817-45) in Staffordshire are instances.

Artistic merit is unlikely to be the main appeal of works such as these, but they can provide valuable insights into social and community history. The importance of topographical drawings as records is well understood, but they can be useful evidence for a wide range of research enquiries. The many 19th century paintings of former monastic buildings with cattle in the foreground do more than evoke  ‘bare ruined choirs’..A picture which may at first seem a romanticised image can convey information about perceptions of archaeology and architecture, re-use of sites for practical agricultural purposes, and changing attitudes to landownership at a time when pressures from railways and industrial development were increasingly impinging on ‘unspoilt’ vistas.

What lies behind the painting may well tell a story. What prompted the artist J.R. King  to depict a public event at Gravesend in Kent in 1843? The location is readily identifiable today, but are the dancers in the foreground really Scottish soldiers?  Another example is a painting of Buildwas Abbey in Shropshire in 1863. It shows a carpenter sawing planks, watched by children, hens and a dog.   The Abbey ruins,  owned by the Moseley family , were  occupied as a farm from  about  1830 until  Walter Mosley (1832-87) married Maria Katherine Anderson in September 1864. To provide a home for Walter’s widowed mother, the farm was rebuilt as a dower house and ’a considerable sum of money spent in altering, extending and improving the Abbey or rather the Abbot’s House’ (Notes on history of Buildwas by  H R Mosley, nephew of Walter Mosley, 1917:Shropshire Archives ref. 6001/4353 p.14).So this picture is not merely decorative but captures an important moment in the site’s history.

Online catalogues make it much easier now to find topographical drawings, in local as well as in national collections. Maurice Barley’s survey, published by the Council of British Archaeology in 1974, is limited but a handy starting point. For individual artists, the online Dictionary of National Biography and the BBC ‘Your Paintings’ website are indispensable research tools – although the latter currently only includes oil paintings, not watercolours, the medium of choice of many topographical artists.

A few useful websites:

British Library: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/topdrawings/


Victoria and Albert Museum: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/links/study-rooms/

Ashmolean Museum: http://www.ashmolean.org/ash/objects/?mu=730

DNB: www.oxforddnb.com/

BBC Your Paintings: www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/

Staffordshire Past Track: www.staffspasttrack.org.uk/

The British Library online bibliography  of topographical collections: www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelpsubject/.../topography/topographybib.pdf


M.W. Barley (with PDA Harvey &  Julia E Poole), A Guide to British Topographical Collections, Council for British Archaeology, 1974

Richard Hatchwell Art in Wiltshire, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, 2005

8. Keeping it all together Show more → Show less ↓

Steven Hobbs

I was at a meeting of archivists in the early 1980’s and conversation over tea inevitably got around to gossiping about our offices and the foibles and idiosyncrasies of the County Archivists under whom we worked. “Mrs Moore makes us keep the pins we remove from documents’ a colleague from Glamorgan threw into the pot. We all reeled; how eccentric and arcane, schooled as we were in the principles of the importance of the content of archives and their accessibility, such a practice seemed rather unnecessary and irrelevant. We were releasing documents from the obscurity and privations of private muniment rooms, church safes and solicitor’s attics into the modern world. Re-packaged with brass clips, broad tape and placed in acid free folders they were readily accessible to feed the inexorable rise of interest in local and family history. Maps were separated from wooden runners, occasionally riddled with woodworm, almost always attached by rusty nails, and repaired, as necessary, then rolled in cotton bags or mounted flat on archival card behind inert polyester fibre. Protected and accessible for the rigours of used in busy record offices, although financially devalued in the eyes of the commercial world of antiques and art where patina and original appearance are the yardsticks. In my experience this is something rarely discussed or considered with owners of archives.

I’m not sure just when I realised that Patricia Moore had been prescient; it was probably when I was removing a pin and the head slipped off the shank. Before mass-production of steel pins, which from my archival experience I would say occurred during the 1840’s, they were hand made by  wrapping a piece of metal around the end of the pin and squeezing it in position. Tedious and unrewarding work which must have taxed the eyesight and patience of the pinmaker. Every pin tells a story. By sweeping away these artefacts (and surely no other objects from the 17-18th cents have been so casually disposed of) we were losing something of the context and history of the document, which itself was of intrinsic interest other than just for the information it contained.

Fatter bundles, caused by wordier documents on thicker paper, meant that by the 19th century the simple pin was frequently inadequate. Brass split pins (I have come across examples with heads just 1.2cm long stamped Parry & Co London) and brass screws with flat heads and backstop threaded on to the depth of the files became commonplace. The economics of office stationery led to their gradual placement by the cheaper treasury tag (its name a clue to its bureaucratic origins) or, the dreaded rubber band, which loses its elasticity over time and adheres to the papers it holds together like a .

The flattening of letters dating from before the introduction of separate envelopes in the early 19th century, an appropriate preservation technique to prevent the wear and tear of repetitive use, means that we are in danger of losing the neat method they were originally folded and enveloped. It would be a shame if such a technique was lost, its telltale folds expunged by the weight of a press, if only that it would add authenticity to costume dramas on large and small screens.

Apart from the ubiquitous and eponymous red tape, the most common method of keeping large bundles together, ordinary hemp string was frequently used for parcels of deeds, often wrapped in thick brown paper, all of which is removed, the paper kept only for any details of the content it contains, and the string replaced by archival white cotton tape. However, occasionally finely woven tape was used, of multi coloured threads, both attractive attractive and robust, and far too significant to be cast into the waste bin.

Seals, are generally were not given any protection, but were left to hang like stones from their deeds, an exception being the large seals of the crown or courts of justice or administration. These were kept in metal skippets, often difficult to open. At the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, like several other repositories, a colleague in our Conservation team makes protective sleeves of foam covered in cotton cloth, that slip over the seals. However, a few examples of original methods of protection, such as skippers or boxes, lined in printed paper and covered in leather, have been kept.

I am not arguing for the wholesale preservation the of any of these materials; but I believe that examples should be preserved, not with the documents to which they were attached, but as objects in a separate collection such as we have at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, that can stand alongside the archives as a means of informing and illustrating the history of their creation and preservation over time.

9. Gateways to the First World War Show more → Show less ↓

Mark Connelly

The Gateways to the First World War Engagement Centre aims to encourage and support public interest in the centenary of the First World War through a range of events and activities. Based at the University of Kent, the Centre is led by Professor Mark Connelly and supported by six established academics specialising in the history of the First World War: Dr Brad Beaven (Portsmouth), Dr Helen Brooks (Kent), Professor Alison Fell (Leeds), Dr Emma Hanna (Greenwich), Dr Lucy Noakes (Brighton) and Dr Dan Todman (Queen Mary London). The team is working on a wide range of community activities commemorating the centenary across the UK and is particularly interested in exploring the following themes:

Memorials, commemoration and memory
Life on the Home and Fighting Fronts
The medical history of the First World War
Wartime propaganda and popular culture
Maritime and naval history
Operational and military history

Gateways aims to encourage academics and the wider public to work together to discover connections between the local and the global during the First World War, and to highlight the importance of revisiting accepted and established approaches to the history of conflict.

Since its launch in May 2014, Gateways has been focusing on building a dialogue between academic and public historical research, led by newly-appointed Community Heritage Researcher, Dr Sam Carroll. The Centre is assisting communities by supporting projects connected with the centenary, and working with national and international partners in the heritage sector through a range of activities. Gateways has worked with the British Council and the National Children’s Football Alliance on educational resources and events relating to the history of 1914-18, and has supported local schools in developing projects engaging with the First World War centenary. This autumn, the Centre has been involved with a joint seminar programme with the In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres, in which members of the museum staff will give a series of public lectures about the nature of the museum's holdings and research materials. Gateways supported the 'Healing War Through Art' exhibition held at the University of Brighton in April-May 2014, and ran a Family History Day with Brighton Museums and Pavilion in September. In Hampshire, the Gateways team has been helping the people of Portsmouth research and uncover the stories of those who took part in the First World War at the front and at home as part of the ‘Lest We Forget’ exhibition that runs until January 2015. The Centre has also recently supported Step Short, a Kent-based community group, in creating a self-guided app tour of First World War Folkestone and an exhibition on the impact of the conflict on the local area.

On Sunday 28th September, Gateways held a public open day at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich at which we were very pleased to have the support of the BALH. Bringing together organisations from across the south east, the event allowed members of the public to access advice and expertise on First World War research and the development of centenary projects. Local organisations such as Chatham Historic Dockyard and Greenwich Heritage Centre provided tasters of their First World War research and exhibitions and Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) projects supported by the Gateways team, such as Superact’s ‘The Last Post’ and the National Children’s Football Alliance, showcased their work. Representatives from the BALH, along with the HLF, the War Memorials Trust, the Western Front Association and many others, gave advice on getting involved in centenary projects and events. In addition a programme of free tours and lectures gave visitors insight into the First World War at sea, one of Gateway’s key research themes.

Gateways has a busy schedule of public events planned for 2015, designed to help people broaden their knowledge of the First World War, develop practical research skills and learn about access to funding opportunities. Events will include:

A series of study days at the University of Kent, involving talks and advice on research into military ancestors, the German and Austrian experience of the war, non-combatants, and the home front
A ‘Researchathon’ in collaboration with Portsmouth City Museum, bringing together people from across the community to undertake First World War research
‘Indian Soldiers and the Brighton Military Hospitals’: a two day event in association with Brighton Pavilion and Museums featuring talks and workshops, commemorative events and tours
A networking event in association with the Imperial War Museum North and the other AHRC engagement centres for postgraduate students, early career researchers, heritage organisations and community groups
Events across the country aimed at initiating, developing and showcasing HLF projects

We would be delighted to hear about BALH projects and members who are keen to attend, and possibly participate, in our events. More information about these and many more events can be found on our website at www.gatewaysfww.org.uk. For further information contact us at gateways@kent.ac.uk or follow us on Twitter @GatewaysFWW.

10. Protests against the Hearth Tax: were there any in your locality? Show more → Show less ↓

Heather Falvey

On 10 February 1668 Anthony Thorold reported that ‘The collectors of the hearth money at Bridport were followed about the town by men, women, and children, who threw stones at them; there was little appearance of the magistrates to quell the tumult.  One Mr. Knight was hit on the head twice, and has since died of his wound.  The plot is said to have been arranged beforehand’.[1]

The Hearth Tax (1662-89) was essentially property tax: the more hearths there were in a house, the more the householder could presumably afford to contribute.  Sir William Petty, writing in 1662, observed that ‘a Harth-money must be but small, or else ‘twill be intollerable; it being more easie for a Gentleman of a thousand pound per annum to pay for an hundred Chimneys (few of their Mansion-Houses having more), then for Labourers to pay for two’.[2]  The tax, introduced to try to ease Charles II’s financial difficulties, aimed to levy 2s per year on every hearth, to be collected in two instalments, one due at Lady Day (25 March) and the other at Michaelmas (29 September), although some exemptions were to be permitted.  Due to the different ways in which the Hearth Tax was administered, documents were not returned to the Exchequer every time the tax was collected.  Exchequer returns survive from Michaelmas 1662 to Lady Day 1666, and from Michaelmas 1669 to Lady Day 1674.[3]  These records of the Hearth Tax fall into various categories, according to the point within the taxation process at which they were generated, such as initial assessments of hearths, lists of payments received, lists of arrears and lists of exemptions. Consequently some of the records are more detailed than others and they do not follow a set format.  By their very nature, documents relating to the tax are an invaluable source for the population of early modern communities, although they are sometimes difficult to understand and must be interpreted with care.[4]

As an early modern social historian my main research interest is unrest, principally local objections to the enclosure of former commons.  Whilst researching two particularly restive communities I used Hearth Tax returns to reconstruct tentatively their population size and wealth structure.[5]  Looking at numerous published Hearth Tax returns and at discussions of the administration of the tax, it becomes clear that householders did not necessarily meekly hand over the tax due for their hearths.[6]  Some evaded the tax, for example, by walling up hearths or by sub-letting parts of their houses to secure exemptions.  Others tried to avoid paying by refusing entry to the ‘chimney men’ who drew up the initial assessments, by physically resisting collection or by delaying payment. Some examples are fairly easy to track down, such as those reported to the Treasury, which can be found either in the State Papers or in the Treasury Books.[7]  Furthermore, some officials recorded in their returns various problems that they encountered, such as John Renskall, collector for Lady Day 1666 in St Botolph Aldgate and the precinct of St Katherine by the Tower (London), who noted 240 and 66 properties respectively where the householder ‘Shutte the Dore’.[8] But what about those assailants who were, or at least ought to have been, dealt with by the local justices of the peace?  Reports of their activities are harder to find.  For example, sometime before August 1664 a Norfolk woman was indicted for the assault and battery of a constable while he was trying to collect ‘a little chimney money’; but we only know of this because the local JP later identified this incident as being a pernicious attack on the king’s authority.[9]

I have drawn together a number of similar examples, mostly from published sources, but am very keen to hear of others.  Do you know of any examples of protest against the Hearth Tax in your locality, especially in unpublished sources? I think that the latter would mostly comprise the records of quarter sessions and borough courts, and the correspondence of individual justices of the peace. If you have found any reports of Hearth Tax protest, I would be very pleased to receive details of them.  Eventually I hope to put them together in an article, where due acknowledgment will, of course, be given.

In the meantime, Sue Flood, former County Archivist of Hertfordshire, and I have been asked to compile and write the Introduction to the Hertfordshire volume in the series published by the British Record Society for the British Academy Hearth Tax Project, based at the University of Roehampton.   Unlike Warwickshire, for which no fewer than eight virtually complete returns of the Hearth Tax survive,[10] not one complete set survives for Hertfordshire and for some of the communities there is not a single extant return.  Why is the survival rate of Hearth Tax records so poor from a county so close to London, whither the documents should have been sent?  Did the locals strive, and succeed, in preventing their return?  If they did, I have yet to find any official complaints regarding such activities.

Heather Falvey can be contacted by email at hfalvey1@btinternet.com


[1] M. A. E. Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1667-8 (1893), p.224.

[2] W. Petty, The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, together with The Observations upon Bills of Mortality, more probably by Captain John Graunt, ed. C.H. Hull (Cambridge, 1899), 2 vols., chapter 15, ‘Of Excize’, observation 11.  See http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/1677/30587, accessed on 26 January 2013.

[3] E. Parkinson, ‘Understanding the Hearth Tax returns: historical and interpretive problems’, in P. S. Barnwell and M. Airs (eds.), Houses and the Hearth Tax: the later Stuart house and society (York, 2006), pp.7-17, p.7.

[4] For cautionary advice on using Hearth Tax returns, see, in particular, the work of Tom Arkell. For example, T. Arkell, ‘A student’s guide to the Hearth Tax: some truths, half-truths and untruths’, in N. Alldridge (ed.), The Hearth Tax: problems and possibilities (Hull, 1984), pp. 23-38; T. Arkell, ‘Identifying regional variations from the Hearth Tax’, Local Historian, 33 (2003), pp. 148-74; T. Arkell, ‘Printed instructions for administering the Hearth Tax’, in K. Schürer and T. Arkell (eds.), Surveying the People: the Interpretation and Use of Document Sources for the Study of Population in the Later Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 1992), pp. 38-64. See also, E. Parkinson, The Establishment of the Hearth Tax 1662-66 (List and Index Society, special series, 43; Kew, 2008).

[5] H. Falvey, ‘Searching for the population in an early-modern forest’, Local Population Studies, 81 (2008), pp.37-57; H. Falvey, ‘Assessing an early modern Fenland population: Whittlesey (Cambridgeshire), Local Population Studies, 92 (2014), pp.7-23

[6] See, for example, M. J. Braddick, Parliamentary Taxation in Seventeenth Century England: Local Administration and Response (Woodbridge, 1994), pp.252-270; L. M. Marshall, ‘The levying of the hearth tax, 1662-1668’, English Historical Review, 51 (1936), pp.628-646.

[7] These are calendared in Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II and W. Shaw (ed.), Calendar of Treasury Books, vols 1-8 (1904-23). Both available via the (relatively cheap) premium service at British History Online.

[8] A. Wareham, ‘The Hearth Tax and empty properties in London on the ever of the Great Fire’, Local Historian, 41 (2011), pp.278-292, p.288.  These returns have now been published in Matthew Davies et al., London and Middlesex Hearth Tax (British Record Society Hearth Tax series, vol. 9, parts I and II; 2014), pp.995-1060.

[9] J. M. Rosenheim (ed.), The Notebook of Robert Doughty, 1662-1665 (Norfolk Record Society, vol. LIV, 1989), p.117.

[10] T. Arkell and N. Alcock (eds.), Warwickshire Hearth Tax Returns: Michaelmas 1670 with Coventry Lady Day 1666 (Dugdale Society, vol. 43; British Record Society Hearth Tax series, vol. 7; 2010), p.25.

11. The local history of common land. BALH Annual Lecture 2015 Show more → Show less ↓

Angus Winchester

The history of common land is fascinating and complex.  In a world dominated by private property, commons are places where shared interests and joint use bring us face-to-face with a central conundrum: how to strike a balance between the private interest of individuals and the common good.  Commons were and remain places on the edge – open land on the fringes of settlement, beyond the limits of appropriation, stretching out into the distance – and also ‘edgy’ places – long associated with people on the margins of society: the poor, gypsies, tramps and others.  Commons are often thought of as something from the past, swept away by enclosure, but over 500,000 hectares of common land survive today in England and Wales, most of it in the hills where it continues to play a central role in hill farming.  To many people today, commons promise freedom: the right to roam (now encapsulated in law), to gather food for free (if only by custom and only brambles and mushrooms), to be out of sight of those in power and authority (if only briefly).

Surviving commons are only a vestige of the swathes of common land which existed in, say, 1700, before the process of enclosure privatised so many of the commons of England and Wales.  In medieval and early modern times (indeed, in some places, up until the Second World War) the resources of common land were a mainstay of the local economy, providing a host of benefits: grazing for livestock of all kinds, fuel for the fire (sticks for kindling and gorse for bread ovens, or sled loads of peat), food (particularly fish) and raw materials: heather and bracken for thatch, stone, sand and gravel, clay for bricks, rushes for the floor. 

Many aspects of the picture sketched above apply as much to commons in continental Europe as they do to those in Britain.  But in one important respect common land in England and Wales differed: this was in legal framework of property rights which governed its use.  Since the Statute of Merton in 1235, the waste (under which category most common land fell) has been the private property of the lord of the manor but subject to the common use rights of others, mainly those holding land in the manor.  English commons were generally neither crown land (unless the crown was lord of the manor) nor land which belonged to the community as a whole – the two categories under which many European commons fell.  In this year’s BALH annual lecture, I’ll be looking at how local communities used and managed their commons in the context of the particular English legal framework and asking how this compared with the exploitation of commons elsewhere in Europe, where the legal context was so different.  Who could use common land?  How was that use regulated?  And how did surviving commons fare across the turbulent 20th century?  In exploring these questions, we’ll need to touch on such esoteric English legal concepts as ‘levancy and couchancy’, ‘turbary’, ‘estovers’ and ‘amercement’ – but the focus will be on commons at the local level, both here and on the continent.  I look forward to seeing you in Birmingham on 6th June.

12. New transatlantic links for BALH Show more → Show less ↓

Kate Tiller

BALH is delighted to have established a formal link with the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH). Local history on both sides of the Atlantic has long had much in common, as well as demonstrating some instructive contrasts. The aim is to build on existing enthusiasm and experience by sharing interests and information, and identifying possible joint activities - discussions, exchanges and projects.

AASLH’s is as a membership organisation serving those actively involved in ‘preserving, researching and interpreting traces of the American past to connect people, thoughts and events of yesterday with the creative memories and abiding concerns of people, communities and our nation today’. It publishes book series, a journal, newsletters and website, runs prizes and awards, organises educational programmes and conferences, and supports other activities ‘to help members work more effectively.’ The scope of local history in north America has recently been encapsulated by AASLH in a major publication.

Carol Kammen and Amy H. Wilson have edited the Encyclopaedia of Local History (second edition, published by AASLH and Alta Mira Press in 2013). In 655 varied and vigorous pages it provides information and ideas illustrating many interpretations of local history, but rooted in a basic definition; ‘local history is the study of past events, or of people or groups, in a given geographic area’. It is a study based on a variety of evidence and a comparative context that should be both regional and national, and using methods of inquiry that bring open-mindedness, honesty, accountability and accuracy. As Kammen writes, ‘This definition legitimizes all sorts of research projects’ and the encyclopaedia is a rich reflection of this.

There are essays on the development and current practice of local history in each American state and Canadian province, from Alabama to the Yukon Territory, together with sketches of local history in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, prompting thought-provoking comparisons between them. Were the 1970s a high-watermark of local historical activity everywhere, but for different reasons? What has now changed? The role of public history appears particularly strong in America and Australia. Is Britain now ‘catching up’ as its local history is increasingly funded and mediated through a public history alliance of archive and museum professionals, broadcasters, heritage tourism providers and the public? Another prominent American theme, is identity, belonging and migration, with practical and powerful essays on evidence and debates, published and potential local studies of African American, Asian American, Scandinavian, Russian, Jewish and many more groups.

Other approaches are succinctly surveyed, for example agricultural, urban and labour history, alongside less expected perspectives, like local history and children’s history, travel literature and historical fiction. An essay on ‘Failure and local history’ reminds us that periods of difficulty are as much part of good local history as selected episodes of prosperity and ‘progress’. Family, environmental and cultural history all feature, reflecting new currents in local history since the 1970s. The impact of the internet and social media, changing access to sources, and the need to conserve evidence loom large, just one of the shared transatlantic issues for local historians. It is startling to read that ‘The 2010 census asked fewer questions than the 1810 census and so will have very diminished utility for historians when it is opened to the public in 2082’.

The American scene, captured in the encyclopaedia, offers fresh information, ideas, references, links and parallels for the British reader. This is an early example of using the new Anglo-American link to exchange news and publications, initially through a corresponding member on each side, currently myself for BALH. We hope that, with your support,  discussions, exchanges and projects, involving members from AASLH and BALH, will develop. If you have contacts with American local history or ideas for shared activities which you feel might be part of this joint relationship please e-mail mail@balh.co.uk with the message title American Links.

13. Pauper Prisons ... Pauper Palaces (Midlands)  Show more → Show less ↓

Conference at Keele University 22 November 2014

Over fifty delegates attended this conference, the third to be organised to showcase the results of the project, sponsored by the British Association for Local History and the Friends of the National Archives and financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to catalogue correspondence with the Poor Law Board from records held at The National Archives.  Thanks to Nigel Tringham, this meeting took place in a venue which was both well-appointed and historically interesting , the Sustainability Hub, formerly the Home Farm, at Keele. With views over Keele parkland and sympathetically restored buiidlings, this was an especially congenial environment.

After an introduction to the structural implications of the New Poor Law by Paul Carter, director of the project, the day began with a case study of ‘Immorality in Newcastle- under-Lyme: the case of Ambrose Taylor and a respectable townswoman’ by local historian Julie Bagnall. This focussed on the consequences of the death  from puerperal fever  of an unmarried workhouse schoolmistress, shortly after giving birth to triplets, none of whom survived.The schoolmistress’s brother petitioned for the dismissal of the putative father, Ambrose Taylor, baker and porter at Newcastle workhouse.This was unsuccessful and Taylor eventually returned to his native Nantwich in Cheshire. An unanswered question was why the schoolmistress had refused to marry Taylor. She was from a well-established local family and social pressures must have been considerable. One possibility might have been her awareness of Taylor’s ambition to become workhouse master and her reluctance to take on the burdens associated with the role of the master’s wife. The next paper also shed much light on the roles of women in workhouse management and administration. David Finlow spoke on ‘Staffing issues in a closed institution: the Bromsgrove Union case in 1863’. When a new matron was appointed to the workhouse, friction soon developed with the schoolmistress who herself had been acting matron during the vacancy. Each accused the other of aggressive and disruptive behaviour and seized every opportunity to criticise and undermine the other’s authority. Correspondence between the Board of Guardians and the Poor Law Board demonstrated delays in communication and decision-making which can only have exacerbated the situation . The Guardians’ hands were tied and when the Board eventually required the resignation of both the matron and the schoolmistress, this in itself had the potential to cause further management problems. So incidents which might appear petty and personal  jeopardised  the smooth running of  a crowded workhouse and the day-to-day lives of all the people in it, inmates as well as officers.

The exercise of political influence in North Staffordshire during the introduction of the New Poor Law was the theme of a presentation by Paul Anderton of the Guild of North Staffordshire Historians. The ancient parish of Stoke on Trent seemed to set a precedent when in 1836 it became a single Poor Law Union.  Thomas Stevens, the young  Assistant Commissioner acting for the Poor Law Commission  (later the Poor Law Board), then  proceeded to establish multi-parish unions in Cheadle, Leek and Stone. His next task was to consider how to organise administration in two remaining Potteries parishes, Burslem and Wolstanton, and in a group of mostly rural areas to the north-west of Stoke including Newcastle-under-Lyme,  Audley, Madeley, Betley and Keele. Initially Stevens favoured one large union comprising all these parishes, but in a letter to the Commission he stated that he had changed his mind following discussions with influential people in the Betley area. Consequently, two unions were set up: one for Wolstanton and Burslem and one for Newcastle and eight nearby parishes. Paul Anderton considered whether this decision was the result of lobbying by two important local landowners, George Tollet of Betley  (whose daughter Thomas Stevens subsequently married) and Ralph Sneyd of Keele. Neither would have been likely to welcome the parish rates associated with industrial settlements in the Potteries and separation into two unions might well have facilitated political dominance of Newcastle-under-Lyme. Stevens seems to have been offered the post of stipendiary magistrate of the Potteries, but a condition of his marriage was that he should take holy orders and, having done so, in 1839 he became perpetual curate of Keele. The political impact of qualifications to vote in elections to the Board of Guardians in Stoke was also examined. Stevens recommended that qualification should be ownership of property worth £20 a year – this shortly after the Parliamentary franchise had been extended to those owning property worth merely £10 a year. The effect was to deny membership of the Board of Guardians to working class representatives  and to ensure that control of the Stoke  Select Vestry remained in the hands of medium-sized local pottery manufacturers.  It was in in their interests to prevent the National Union of Operative Potters from using poor law relief to subsidise strike pay.

Kidderminster in Worcestershire was the location for the next paper, a case study of the experience of Lucy Webb, a soldier’s widow who wanted to emigrate to Canada with her five children. Section 62 of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act allowed parishes to defray the expenses of intending emigrants if they had a settlement in the parish concerned and also provided powers to recoup monies if emigration did not take place or if emigrants returned.  In 1833, a year before the Act, the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners were set up to manage the programme of emigration to Britain's colonies such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Some emigrants could qualify for a free passage if they were under forty, capable of labour, of good character, had been vaccinated against smallpox, and were from occupations such as agricultural labourers, shepherds, or female domestic and farm servants. Young married couples, preferably without children, were  regarded as the most desirable candidates. Assisted passages with less stringent restrictions were also available to healthy able-bodied labourers with testimonials of good moral character. Places in the United States or in ‘the Tropics’ were explicitly excluded as destinations, reportedly because of difficulties of supervision. Workhouse inmates or people in regular receipt of parish relief were not eligible. Lucy Webb’s husband had been discharged from the army because of mental health problems and had died in Droitwich Asylum. Her fifth child was born in 1843 and at the time of her application the children ranged in age from one to eight and a half. She had friends in Canada whom she felt would be able to support her and her family. The Board of Guardians for a particular union could approve up to £50 in expenses for an individual to emigrate from a parish within the union, subject to approval from the Poor Law Commission/Board.  Unfortunately for Lucy, the Poor Law Commissioners would not permit these resources to be made available to the wives and children of soldiers. For this purpose,  military men were categorised with the dependents of transported convicts or of men who had deserted their families and themselves travelled overseas.  So Lucy was an unintended victim of increasing bureaucratisation of the system. Not surprisingly, take up of funded emigration opportunities was very patchy, especially in its early years, and strongly related to agricultural depression and peaks in unemployment .

Family history was the starting point for the investigation by David Cooper-Smith of Wyre Forest  Historical Research Group of an ancestor who was both Superintendent of Police in Kidderminster and relieving officer for Kidderminster Union from 1836 to 1856. Double occupations of this kind were not unusual. Well-managed Boards of Guardians advertised positions and took up applicants’ references in order to reduce the risk of unsatisfactory appointments. Relieving officers often handled large amounts of money and temptations to fraud and embezzlement were ever present. Moreover, relieving officers often covered large areas,  as did medical officers,  and many instances were quoted of paupers being unable to find officials at home and having to go from place to place in search of them.

The next two papers examined the careers of individuals who might in public opinion be characterised as either heroes or villains. Sarah Bradley of Belbroughton History Society looked at  that of Thomas Swindell Fletcher, medical officer for Bromsgrove Poor Law Union.  Born in Chesterfield in Derbyshire, he qualified as a apothecary and later as a surgeon and practised at least until 1871. During the period 1842 to 1867 he was the subject of five complaints from Bromsgrove concerning his competency . The outcomes varied: on occasions Fletcher was reprimanded or the case was dismissed because of conflicting evidence or he was severely admonished and told he was at risk of dismissal. Such complaints were not uncommon and Fletcher was not unique in this respect. In the most serious case, one in which a child died, Sarah Bradley demonstrated that  Fletcher had used established methods to treat the patient for scabies which was rife in the workhouse at the time. Six months later Bromsgrove workhouse was free from the disease and this was testimony to his effectiveness  as a medical practitioner. Other grievances concerning Fletcher related to delays in attending to patients, at least partly the result of a heavy workload. Positive evidence in his favour was his sustained interest how workhouse inmates were fed and the nutritional value of their diet. Fletcher had himself tried to live on the standard diet for a week and found himself devastated by pangs of hunger. The monotony of workhouse food was also problematic, as were quantities – sometimes 10% less than that allowed to convicts.  He introduced four new dietaries which were more suitable for the sick, aged and infirm and recommended changes such as split rather than whole peas and the introduction of rice pudding. Most striking of all was the testimonial in favour of Fletcher signed by fifty ratepayers at the time of the 1843 complaint. If he were so popular amongst local people, might criticism of him have been motivated by  internal politics?  Next Linda Hanson from Basford described the career of another Poor Law official, Henry Lievers, relieving officer for Bulwell Poor Law Union in Nottinghamshire. He was a local man with many connections in the area and these may have influenced his behaviour. For example complaints were made against him about purchase of bread for the workhouse because he paid prices higher than those charged for supplies to the general public. Leivers strongly resisted the implication of corruption and this was accepted. Further allegations concerned misappropriation of money. Leivers admitted he himself was in debt, but said these were personal difficulties, unrelated to official funds. Despite discrepancies,  this explanation was accepted, though a subsequent investigation again revealed a shortfall in poor law monies. This time Leivers accepted responsibility, but remained in post.

The last of the eight main speakers was Alun Davies, author of a study of the North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary, whose talk was on ‘The death of a vagrant: starving to death in the workhouse, Newcastle-under Lyme, 1841’. A man who turned up at the Newcastle workhouse already in a starved condition was allowed to warm himself , but was not fed and was then let out again to fend for himself (not being a resident in the Union). He soon returned in a worse condition, was given tea and toast ,and put into a bed where he died after a few hours; no doctor was summoned because he was expected to visit the workhouse the next on his routine rounds. Was this a case of failure of due care on the part of the workhouse authorities? Can any blame be apportioned? There  appear to be no easy answers to these questions, not least because medical knowledge at the time did not fully understand how starvation should be treated. In his summing up Paul Carter highlighted the great variety of subject matter within MH 12 and also commented on the 'synergy' between records in TNA and local archives.

Although all these case studies varied, there was a common theme in the rich evidence of individual lives and careers, whether of people associated with the national Poor Law Commission/Board  or with local Boards of Guardians, to be found in official correspondence in series MH 12 in the National Archives. Mention was made several times of the value of annotations on the back of letters, not only in terms of their content but also as indications of the seriousness of the issues  and of how far up the Poor Law Board  hierarchy they had progressed. Because letters and draft replies have been preserved, it is possible to track the course of events, to evaluate reasons for delay or inaction, to analyse the influence of political and personal networks and to see the diversity of experience that lies behind what superficially might seem documentation of dull administrative processes.

Another feature of the conference was the enthusiasm of the speakers for local history and their willingness to explore original sources in depth. New lines of investigation and possible new topics were adumbrated and it was clear that involvement in this project had enhanced understanding of the local as well as the national context . Questions from the audience showed an eagerness to compare data from different viewpoints and from different parts of the Midlands. We left the conference impressed by the research skills of the participants and convinced there is much more to explore in the great range of related material in local archive services as well as in series in The National Archives. An end of project book featuring some of the papers presented at the conferences is expected to be published by the University of Hertfordshire Press.

14. BALH Trustees Report 2014 Show more → Show less ↓

The Association is an unincorporated charity governed by an elected Council.  Its purpose is to encourage and assist the study of local history throughout Great Britain as an academic discipline and as a rewarding leisure pursuit for both individuals and groups.  The elected members of Council are the trustees of the Charity.  Trustees are listed elsewhere in this report with Officers of the Association and members of the advisory committees.  Council met in London in March and October and there were also meetings of other Committees in London during the year.  

The year was one of considerable achievement culminating in a new website which was launched in November with an open accessible part and a closed section for members only.  The Association  carried out a survey into the views of societies and societies.  There was a good response which provided clear evidence of satisfaction with the services of BALH particularly the journals, events and insurance scheme. 

Membership remained stable at approximately 2000 with particular improvements in the number of societies joining.  Renewal rates are approximately 90%.   Individual subscriptions remain a priority for the Association.   The Management Committee has put in place steps to better monitor the financial health of BALH but the Trustees are satisfied and reassured with the current situation.

The 2013 development plan resulted in achievements in 2014 in all the identified priorities with particular improvements in the methods of communicating with members and the wider community, the tightening of some administrative procedures and clarification of the roles and responsibilities of colleagues on paid contracts, the use of experts to aid particular projects especially the website and the growing number of formal and informal partnerships.     Many of these are ongoing with further developments anticipated in the 2014 plan including strategies to increase membership through subscription offers, increased sales through commercial outlets, developing closer links with societies and enhancing the new website.

The advisory committees have had a busy year with the Publishing Committee heavily involved in the journals, the e-newsletter, the website and other publications such as a new directory of internet sites and the sale of the highly regarded war memorials booklet.  The Education Committee has been active with developing educational resources and monitoring curriculum developments affecting local history.  The Events Committee has organized a range of visits especially in London and has worked on a number of jointly-badged visits with other societies as a way of increasing take-up.    The Conference Committee has also achieved considerable success participating in some key conferences such as the First World War Conference with the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, the Society for One-Place Studies, the County Societies Symposium and the Anglo-American Conference.  The last of these has resulted in the first formal link with a local history society in the USA.  

The Management Committee has also met regularly to co-ordinate and monitor the health of the Association as well as organizing representation on bodies and working groups such as the TNA, Waterloo 200 and Magna Carta 800.   It has also kept a watching brief on developments affecting aspects of local history such as archives, heritage and education responding as appropriate to consultations.

The Local Historian, the Association’s flagship journal, appeared four times in 2014 (Vol 44). Local History News with a variety of short articles and news items also appeared quarterly in 2014 (Nos 110-113).    The Pauper Prisons, Pauper Palaces (Midlands) project led by Paul Carter and Natalie Whistance, being managed under the auspices of BALH has largely completed its work and its success augurs well for the planned extension to the north east.

A very successful Local History Day was held on 7 June 2014 at the Charity Centre in London.   This was followed by the Annual General Meeting of the Association.  The day began with a presentation on the York Cause Papers by Chris Webbs.  The keynote lecture was delivered by John Minnis on the social history of the motor car. 

Presentations to winners under the Awards Scheme, both for publications and for personal achievement in the field of local history, were made by the President, Dr David Hey, as part of Local History Day.  Award winners were:

In recognition of personal achievement:

Cheryl Butler, Hampshire

Ron Dale, Hertfordshire

Alan Griffin, Warwickshire

Randle Knight, Staffordshire


For research and publication:

Rebecca Probert, ‘Co-habitation and marriage among the Victorian poor in Notorious Neithorp’

Peter W Robinson, ‘Ale, beer and public house closures in the Halifax area 1635-2010’

Rachel Swallow, ‘Landscape of power: Alford Castle’

John Torrance, ‘Branscombe 1280-1340: an East Devon Manor before the Black Death’


Short article:

Graham M Clark, ‘Black Isle School Log Books 1875-1919: a statistical approach’

Celia Cotton, ‘Beating the Bounds in Brentford’

Hilary Marlow, ‘The Caravan Mission to Village Children in Suffolk: the first Caravan Journey in 1893’


A society newsletter:

Keyworth and District Local History Society


Overall the Trustees believe that the Association continues to run effectively and are grateful to all those on paid contracts and the many on committees and other volunteers for their commitment, knowledge, dedication and enthusiasm.

15. Book reviews Show more → Show less ↓

SALFORD Through Time

Paul Hindle (Amberley 2014 ISBN 978 1 4456 361 5) £14.99, 96 pages


Paul Hurley (Amberley 2014 ISBN 978 1 4456 3670 2) £14.99, 96 pages

The changing face of Britain’s towns and cities have been revealed in great detail by Amberley’s ‘best selling’ Through Time local history series, in which collections of full colour photographs take you on a historical tour. Among the most recent in this series is Salford Though Time. The city, so often overshadowed by is larger neighbour across the River Irwell, experienced significant growth from the late eighteenth century thanks to improvements in various modes of transport. This volume, which focuses on Salford’s city centre, Broughton and Kersal, has been helpfully divided into three sections, each of which are based on a route that can be explored on foot, bicycle, or by car. The juxtaposition of historical and contemporary images underscores the immense changes that have taken place in Salford’s urban landscape since the late nineteenth century, especially after the redevelopment of the 1960s. Yet there is also continuity, most notably in the town centre where a variety of nineteenth-century structures remain, even if their purpose has changed and their surroundings have become near unrecognisable. The third section of the book is devoted entirely to part of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal, taking you through its operational heyday, dereliction, and restoration. The author is well qualified to comment on this aspect of Salford’s history, being the Chairman of the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal Society. Canal enthusiasts may also wish to look at the companion volume devoted to the canal in the Through Time series.

Stepping over the boarder into Cheshire, Northwich, Winsford & Middlewich Through Time focuses on three neighbouring towns that once owed their prosperity to salt production. This industry left an indelible mark on Northwich, in particular, as the extraction of brine during the nineteenth century caused subsidence, leading to the loss of many buildings. Yet, from this devastation, the town was redeveloped in such a way as to give it a unique architectural character. Buildings were subsequently constructed with timber frames that could be jacked up, while their black and white painted exteriors give a picturesque look. One such building featured in this book was moved some 185 feet on rollers to replace an inn that had collapsed in 1913. The changes revealed in the images of Winsford were due to socio-economic factors rather than subsidence, but they tell an even more dramatic story, as whole swathes of shops, housing, and even railway stations have disappeared. By contrast, the chocolate-box pretty villages lining the route between these towns have altered remarkably little.

Middlewich itself appears only fleetingly at the very end of this book, which may leave some people disappointed. But, as Paul Hurley explains, he has already published two books of photographs on Middlewich, as well as separate books of photographs on Northwich and Winsford. In fact, he has produced twelve books on Cheshire towns and villages in this series alone. That the author has been able to amass so much previously unpublished material is no mean feat, although what turns out to be a second or even third book of images may have less appeal than the first. As someone unfamiliar with these three towns, the lack of a map also resulted in a rather disorientating ‘tour’ when compared with planned routes given in the Salford volume. It is this move towards a guide-book style that helps to increase the value of the Salford book beyond that of an attractive coffee table publication. However, either book can always accompany you on a virtual tour of these places via Google Earth – an option that perhaps has more appeal than setting out on foot on a bleak winter’s day.

Sarah Rose


‘Come into the factories’: women factory workers in the Weybridge, Surrey, area during the Second World War. An oral history.

Robert M Ruegg

Angela Blaydon Publishing Ltd, 2012 ISBN 978 0 9539821 5 8  Price £6.99

Although this booklet relates to a very specific place, both the nature of its subject matter and the careful explanation of the methodology used give it much wider relevance. The vital roles played by women in the workplace in both world wars are well known, but details such as contained here make a welcome addition to our knowledge.

Robert Ruegg undertook a series of interviews for an Open University course  ‘Oral History Project: Experiences and Consequences of the Second World War’.  The booklet retains the format required for that project which enforces a somewhat rigid structure, but also supplies meticulous referencing, careful placing of the interviews in their historical context, and brief thoughtful comments on the use of interviews for this type of topic.

The women interviewed gave detailed descriptions of the work they undertook which throw light on particular tasks involved in, for example, aircraft construction:

[building Sunderland flying boats at Saunders Roe] ‘..we had the jigs and we had to put the pieces in this jig and then we had to tap them down with nails and then we had to rub them down fine with ...sandpaper. If anything came undone we would have to stick that together and sandpaper and the tops of our fingers were red raw with this glue because it was so strong’.

Subsequent sections examine conditions of work, hours, health and safety, and amenities.  At a factory sewing Bren gun cases ‘one girl took the guard off her machine and her finger goes under the machine and the needle goes right through her finger’.

Sadly the author died before the book was published, but his family have honoured his wish that the experiences uncovered by his research should be made available to a wider audience.

Jane Howells

16. What happened to Francis Drake? Show more → Show less ↓

Alan Crosby has been to Spain

In late October we stayed in Cadiz—a delightful city, less overrun with tourists than Seville, fifty miles away. We, of course, were not there as tourists but as visitors, a more serious concept, with gravitas and the justified connotation of scholarly investigation of architecture and antiquities (much of our investigation actually focused on wine and seafood, but that’s another story). We wandered through the warren of narrow streets, densely built up and punctuated with little squares and churches and interrupted by right angled bends that pricked the curiosity of a townscape historian. What was the reason for that change of direction? Patterns of property ownership? A pre-existing structure? The closure and building-over of an erstwhile lane? There seemed to be no books about the townscape, and my Spanish is so poor that I wouldn’t have understood anyway.

The covered market was fabulous—a nineteenth-century structure, extended in the 1930s, and thronged with shoppers, choosing from the glorious displays of sparklingly-fresh fish and shellfish (some so fresh that it was trying to escape, creeping and crawling and wriggling). And there was a veritable local history display of cheeses, hams, sausages and chorizos, herbs, spices and piles of vegetables in brilliant splendour. Virtually nothing on sale came from anywhere but south-west Spain—the agricultural economy of Andalusia was set out before us.

We visited the cathedral, a dramatic white Baroque cliff rising above an irregular square and towering above the crashing waves of the Atlantic. Inside, it is vast and dusty, with huge nets draped to catch bits of plaster and small pieces of masonry that regularly fall (restoration work is ‘in progress’). Spanish Baroque churches don’t usually have the monstrous black, gold and silver altarpieces and other monumental clutter which so overwhelms those of central Europe, and the cathedral is light, airy and open. But its amazing crypt is quite the opposite—steamily damp, claustrophobic and with weird acoustics (resounding echoes in some places, so every footstep reverberates crashingly, and almost suffocating suppression of sounds in others).

But in all our explorations it became apparent that Something Was Missing. To almost any English person of a certain age and interested in history, the Cadiz region has two claims to fame, nothing to do with shellfish or cathedrals. First, Cape Trafalgar is 30 miles to the south, and the place which that occupies in European history needs no recitation. Second, and more specifically gaditanan (good word, eh?), it was in the vast harbour, a tremendous oval bay with a narrow mouth commanded by the headland on which the ancient city stands, that in April 1587 Sir Francis Drake singed the King of Spain’s beard. The English fleet raided Cadiz, and there and elsewhere along the same coast destroyed over a hundred Spanish vessels, some of them being in readiness for the seaborne invasion of England.

How very strange, therefore, given this celebrated and daring English victory, and the no less sensational and dramatic British triumph at the naval battle off Trafalgar 218 years later, that Spanish historians seem blithely unaware of those events. My history textbook in primary school made much of Drake’s raid, illustrating it highly imaginative and brightly coloured pictures, but nowhere in the tourist literature, the excellent signboards on the heritage trails, or the information presented at the camera obscura in the Torre Tavira, the city’s best viewpoint with a perfect vista across the great bay, do the words ‘Nelson’ or ‘Drake’ appear. Surely these stirring tales should be in all Spanish history books? Don’t they realise how honoured they are that two of our greatest naval commanders chose the Cadiz area for ‘making history’? Does misguided and foolish patriotism force them to conceal stories of glory? Wouldn’t happen in Britain, I thought ... and then I remembered that in 1667 the Dutch fleet had raided the Medway and destroyed most of the Royal Navy, at anchor off Chatham. Didn’t appear in my history book, that one. But perhaps in Dutch primary school textbooks ‘singeing Charles II’s wig’ occupies a prominent place!

17. Trustee profile Show more → Show less ↓

Ruth Paley

A long-serving member of BALH Council, Ruth Paley has held the office of Honorary Treasurer for the Association since 2005. She oversees financial decisions, and co-ordinates advice to Management Committee and Trustees. 

Ruth went to university as a mature student and subsequently studied for a PhD.  She was employed at The National Archives for several years and currently works at the History of Parliament where she is responsible for a project on the history of the House of Lords in the late 17th and 18th centuries. 

The research has uncovered significant information about members of the House whose parliamentary careers have hitherto been virtually unknown.  Some were politically important at a national level, like the earl of Bath who was a close friend of Charles II and a significant figure at court.  Bath was also a local and regional magnate, who regarded the West Country as something of a personal fiefdom.  Others sought to use parliament to their own advantage, seeking local acts for projects ranging from river navigation, the exploitation of mineral resources or simply breaking otherwise legally binding agreements like entails and marriage settlements. The impoverished Lord Morley used his aristocratic privileges to create what was in effect a personal debtors' sanctuary round his home at Hornby Castle.

When unfettered by the need to earn a living, her subject of choice is the study of the criminal justice system in 18th century London. She is author of Using Criminal Records, and (with Simon Fowler) of Family Skeletons: exploring the lives of our disreputable ancestors. She is currently preparing a book, in collaboration with Elaine A Reynolds, on the policing of London in the long eighteenth century.         

18. Notes News Issues Show more → Show less ↓

Jane Howells


First, I would like to apologise to Alan Griffin for my carelessness on page 10 of the last issue of Local History News. The caption should of course read ‘Alan Griffin with Professor David Hey’.  There was also an error on page 26 where the web address for Teaching History with 100 objects should be www.teachinghistory100.org/


Please send material for the next issue of the e-newsletter to Jacquie Fillmore as soon as possible to  -news@balh.org.uk

Open Forum

The next Open Forum will be on Saturday 7 March 2015 1.30-2.30 pm at Senate House, University of London.  Keith McClelland from University College, London, will speak about the value of the Legacies of Slavery Project database for local history. Any member interested in joining us would be very welcome, but it is helpful if you could contact us in advance.

Societies Insurance Scheme

Documents about the insurance scheme will always updated on our website


Societies are advised to check well in advance that their activities are covered, and if necessary confirm this with the broker.  In the next issue of Local History News we will publish an additional paper supplement with current details.

Back issues of TLH

We get a steady stream of requests for back issues of our publications, especially since the production of the index and abstracts in Unlocking the Past. One of our objectives with the new website is to make these even more easily available, but that will take time. First there will be downloadable pdfs of issues back to 2000, those are the ones that already exist in electronic form. They will be in the Members’ Only area until they are 3 years old. A major project will then be to scan the others, from the beginning of The Amateur Historian in 1952. Meanwhile there are paper copies available of many back issues of TLH (at £5 each) and LHN (at £3 each), and if necessary photocopies of specific articles can be supplied at cost. Please enquire.

19. News from Archives Show more → Show less ↓

‘Treasures from the Archives’ in the December 2014 issue of Magna from the Friends of The National Archives features the colourful artwork produced between the 1950s and 1970s for advertising the extent of the Post Office network, under the slogan ‘wherever you go, you are never far from a Post Office’. www.friendsofthenationalarchives.org.uk

Recently made available online are over 22,000 images and over 37,000 records from the archive of the Canal & River Trust. The collection, housed at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port, is the largest relating to the history of Britain’s inland waterways. The digital archive can be searched by key word, and by theme or collection. The latter includes canal and railway companies, other firms and individuals. Meet characters such as Sister Mary Ward who ran a free dispensary for boat people from her own home at Stoke Bruerne. www.canalrivertrust.org.uk/archive

The History of Telford New Town is the subject of a project to create an online catalogue for the large Telford Development Corporation held at Shropshire Archives, and to digitise selected items from the collection. As well as being part of the online catalogue the images will be available on table sized screens at the new Southwater Library in Telford Town Centre. www.shropshirearchives.org.uk

The Jerome Gatehouse Collection exists to preserve the heritage of military and police bands, and maintains an archive of articles, artefacts, music and information. Their latest newsletter focuses on the bandsmen of who also acted as stretcher bearers during the First World War. www.jeromegatehousecollection.org.uk

Chester Voluntary Action was formed in 1914 as the Council for Social Welfare to co-ordinate vital assistance on the home front. Chester Community History and Heritage are holding an exhibition (until 27 March) to mark their centenary, and reveal the significant contribution made by local charities to support families whose main breadwinner was in the services, killed or wounded, and those affected by unemployment arising from disruption of trade. Email chh@cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk


This year’s cataloguing grants, administered by The National Archives, will improve access to material from a broad range of institutions. Awards include three business archives, two archives from wider Government, a film archive, a photographic archive, a theatre archive, a family/estate archive and an Egyptology collection.  An equitable geographical distribution is always a feature; for 2014 there are two projects from Yorkshire and the South-West, and one each from West Midlands, East Anglia, South-East, London, North-West and Wales. The total value of grants is £342,000, divided amongst ten projects.

The National Archives commented: ’A number of the projects offer significant strategic benefits. The Worcestershire/Shropshire project will support the greater transparency and openness of police records post-Hillsborough and may prove a model for future collaborative cataloguing projects should police records become public records. The Bristol project recognises the valuable role the City Archives played in unwinding the collections of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, and will help them to manage their share of the legacy. The Norwich, National Gallery and Cumbria projects are aligned with our ‘Archiving the Arts’ initiative and will unlock hitherto inaccessible collections .. ..The projects offer collections that will appeal to different audiences: some, like the Oxford Egyptology collection or the National Gallery Agnew’s Archive, will have a core academic appeal; others, like the West Yorkshire coal mining records or the Rosehill Theatre collection will have broader appeal for family and community histories.’

The successful applications are:

National Railway Museum, York: Anatomy of a Traction Merger -  the records of GEC Traction (£43,125)
West Yorkshire Archives Service:  West Yorkshire coal mining records, 17th-20th centuries (£37,351)
Dorset History Centre: Granted by Longespee – the Poole Borough records (£34,867)
Worcestershire Archives & Archaeology Service (with Shropshire Archives): A Criminal Record – the West Mercia Police Authority records (£42,726)
East Anglian Film Archive, UEA, Norwich: Women Film Makers from the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers’ Collection (£8,250)
Bristol Record Office: Exploring Empire: photographic collections from the former British Empire and Commonwealth Museum (£45,000)
Griffith Institute, University of Oxford: Tutankhamen’s Botanist: The Professor Percy Edward Newberry Collection (£33,721)
National Gallery, London: The Agnew’s Archive (£34,995)
Cumbria Archive Service, Whitehaven: Opening the Jewel Box – the archives of the Rosehill Theatre, Whitehaven (£15,627)
Bangor University: Sugar and slate – The Penrhyn Castle Further Additional Papers (£46,487).

20. News from Museums Show more → Show less ↓

Museums at Night 2015 organised by Culture 24 will take place on 14-16 May. Check local details for opportunities to see places from a very different perspective.  www.weareculture24.org.uk/project.museums-at-night/


At Weald & Downland Open Air Museum a new painted cloth has been commissioned for Bayleaf Farmhouse.  Documentary evidence suggests that they were a very common form of interior decoration in the 16th century, even in relatively poor households, but very few survive. There is a film about the painted cloth project, funded by the University of Kent, that explores how textiles worked in the early modern interior. View it online at http://vimeo.com/105563516. www.wealddown.co.uk


The Mobile Museum is a 2001 Ford Iveco mobile library van, converted into a mobile archive for the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. It will create a new museum collection for the Borough, and offer new insights into the contemporary area and its place in Thames Gateway. Chadwell Heath Historical Society chadwellheathhs@hotmail.com  www.themobilemuseum.co.uk

At St Mary’s Community Heritage Centre in Pembridge, Herefordshire there will be a Festival of Flowers and Music next May to celebrate the completion of the Pembridge Tapestries. For the last four years a group of dedicated people have been working on  a series of tapestries to record the interesting history of the village, the result of collaboration between local historians, local artists and local stitchers. Fundraising and visiting other similar projects have been part of their experience. Diocese of Hereford news www.Hereford.anglican.org

The Museum of Oxford is celebrating forty years since it opened in part of Oxford Town Hall’s Old Library rooms in 1975. A programme of  activities and events will run throughout the year, culminating in an exhibition ’40 Years, 40 Objects’ which will feature things that represent Oxford’s people and its past. They want to hear from anyone with stories or objects that could appear – photographs, paintings music, ‘or anything else’. Contact museum@oxford.gov.uk

The Association of Independent Museums publishes case studies of museums that have received funding from their grant schemes, in order that others may benefit from their ideas. A recent example is the Sir Henry Jones Museum in rural Conwy, North Wales.  Sir Henry Jones was an education reformer and philosopher who, from humble origins as a shoe-maker’s son, became Dean of Philosophy at Glasgow University. The tiny size of the museum (first opened in 1934) is a challenge to diversification, but the introduction of an audio-tour app on handheld iPods has greatly enhanced the visitor experience. www.sirhenryjonesmuseum.co.uk

Haslemere Educational Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in central southern England. It also has a growing local history collection. Conservation has recently taken place of a white altar frontal made for the consecration in 1902 of neighbouring All Saints’ Church, Grayswood, Surrey. www.haslemeremuseum.co.uk. www.aim-museums.co.uk

Museum of English Rural Life at Reading in undergoing major redevelopment and the museum galleries and garden are closed until early 2016. The library and archives reading room, and the gift shop, remain open. ‘Our Country Lives’ is a HLF financed project which will transform the galleries and the way the next generation engages with rural heritage. There is a new MERL blog to follow progress: blogs.reading.ac.uk/merl/the-our-country-lives-project/