The A47 east of Leicester is a fine road, running along the top of long and surprisingly prominent ridges with distant views across rolling countryside and wide valleys. It is an enclosure landscape of large square or rectangular fields, copses and solid square farmhouses. We turned off beyond Duddington and headed south, winding through the sleepy golden villages of Kings Cliffe, Apethorpe and Woodnewton. The great lantern tower of Fotheringhay church rose in the distance across the flattening fields. Simon Jenkins memorably describes it as ‘a galleon of Perpendicular on a sea of corn’, and it is indeed a majestic and impressive sight.
We parked near the entrance gate, with its splendid set of gilded rails and avenue of trees leading up to the north porch. It was Easter Sunday and a service was still in progress, so we walked the short distance down the quiet road to visit the remains of the castle. There, two events of momentous importance to our history took place. The first must have seemed at the time to be of little real significance. On 2 October 1452 the youngest child of Richard, Duke of York, and his wife Cecily Neville, was born at Fotheringhay. The baby had three healthy older brothers, and nobody could have predicted the twists and contortions of fate and destiny which in June 1483 brought him the Crown, as Richard III.
In absolute and dramatic contrast, nobody at the time was under any illusions about the momentous importance of the second event, the execution in the Great Hall of Fotheringhay of Richard’s great-great-great niece, Mary Queen of Scots, on 8 February 1587 ... though of course at her birth in Linlithgow Palace in 1542 the extraordinary turns of her own sensational story were equally unimagined.
The setting for both events has vanished. Fotheringhay is no dark and glowering fortress, no gaunt and craggy pile of rough grey stone, no romantic ruin. Everything has gone, apart from the earthworks of the early medieval motte, which rises in characteristic upturned pudding basin shape beside the River Nene, and the remains of the deep encircling moat. The bailey has humps and bumps of ground which mark the place where the royal lodgings, the chapel, the great hall and kitchen once stood. Grass waved in the fresh breeze on the site of Richard’s birth and Mary’s death.
On the bank of the river there is a shapeless lump of masonry, which was moved there a century ago from the top of the motte and surrounded by iron railings decorated with the thistle of Scotland and now further embellished with plaques and offerings of white roses and ribbons, for of course this is a place of pilgrimage and reverence for two quite different sets of loyal supporters and devotees of memory.
It’s a beautiful place, with the river curving lazily alongside, the medieval bridge just upstream, and the towering lantern of the church soaring above the rooftops of the village. Had any buildings survived – dark chambers, narrow stairs, gloomy passages, tall towers, even the great hall itself – any visitor would experience a frisson of emotion-charged atmosphere, a sense of place which matched the great events. We would feel the prickle of the past, and mentally reconstruct the scaffold and the block (or, more likely, see the CGI in the visitor centre which there would surely be). But it is without buildings, just an empty grassy space. Fotheringhay, despite its haunted name and immortality, and the accretion of legend and drama, is a remarkably peaceful and tranquil place. I felt no ghostly presence.
Twentieth century world wars led to many refugees seeking sanctuary from violence and persecution in other countries. Yet our knowledge and interest in these population displacements is far from consistent. Belgian refugees fleeing the violence of the German invasion in 1914 have been relatively forgotten compared to attention granted the Armenian refugee, or Spanish, Jewish, Czech and Polish refugees fleeing later conflicts. Recently however this gap has narrowed with interest in Belgian refugees by media outlets, and historians in Britain and Belgium. In recovering the history of Belgian refugees we can better address the question of ‘forgetting’ but we can also, through a focus on local history, establish what legacies and personal memories persisted.
Pierre Purseigle has examined memorialisation and victimisation in wartime communities which privileged the combatant, and his mourners, over others such as refugees or prisoners of war. Indeed, the presence of almost a quarter of a million Belgian refugees in Britain received no official memorial in Belgium or Britain, and this has been reflected in their omission from national histories of the war. And yet, alongside memorials to the local war dead in villages and towns, there exist (or existed) commemorative plaques, church tablets, statues, and illuminated addresses presented by Belgian refugees to their hosts in recognition of their hospitality. Of course, we should not assume their words of gratitude meant that the Belgians’ stay in Britain was characterised by unsullied fraternal feeling. But they do challenge us to consider more fully the nature of their reception and subsequent residency in Britain.
Interest in recapturing this history has arisen from two quarters. On the one hand, those in Britain and Belgium attempting to fill gaps in family histories where a relative was a Belgian refugee. On the other, historians of local communities who wish to illuminate social and political ramifications of the Belgians’ accommodation in Britain. For both the family historian and the historian of a local community, the local press can provide an invaluable resource, though it should not be used uncritically. Press reports of the arrival of Belgians were often extensive and record that the Belgians were given a hero’s welcome. It is not unusual to find interviews with Belgian refugees or accounts of their flight from the German army, but it is also worth remembering the propaganda value of this interest in welcoming the victims of German atrocities. The tone of these early reports should not blind us to the very varied nature of local responses across the four years of war, which often depended on whether a community had prior experience of accommodating refugees (as in the east end of London), food shortages, labour relations etc. Family historians can supplement these reports with information from the national register of wartime refugees at The National Archives in London (though beware the alternative spellings of Flemish and French names used by the statisticians, and that refugees moved around the country), as well as the registers of refugees that the local police were required to keep, and which are available in county archives where these survive.
Some Belgians, particularly those with sufficient personal resources, came independently to Britain in the first few days of war, but the majority came as part of organised evacuations from Ostend to Folkestone, then on to London where they were received by the newly-founded War Refugees Committee based at Aldwych. Peter Cahalan provides a detailed history of this body and its relationship with various government departments. But accommodation in each locality around the country varied (some Belgians were housed and kept by the municipal authorities as in Glasgow, others by purely voluntary agencies, and the vast majority by Belgian refugee relief committees founded by local councils at the behest of the Local Government Board). To recapture this diversity requires detailed investigation by local historians. Press reports will usually provide information on the constitution of such committees, and local archives will sometimes house their papers. The Imperial War Museum in London also holds many archive copies of these records. Unfortunately not all such records have been preserved and a catalogue search for ‘Belgian refugees’ in the local archives can often prove frustrating. In this case digging is required to trace the arrangements made for Belgians through the surviving papers of local government, local Trades Councils, political parties and voluntary associations, and Church records, particularly of Catholic dioceses. Mention may also be made of Belgian refugees in the personal diaries and letters of those involved in their reception (usually after their names have been identified in the local press).
Local history, and the history of individuals and their families, allows us to recapture the range of different arrangements made for Belgian refugees in Britain which depended on the history of a place and its people. These fill gaps in family histories and help make sense of memories passed down the generations; but they also point to other often overlooked continuities and legacies. Many of those involved in assisting Belgian refugees in Britain did so as part of wider political and civic commitments that informed their post-war work in local government, political parties and voluntary associations. Understanding their approach to Belgian relief and employment tells us something of the range of attitudes that existed to charity, welfare, labour, international obligations, and political action – attitudes which shaped responses to the war in Britain and beyond.
Dr Rebecca Gill lectures in modern history at the University of Huddersfield.
 Though they have not been ignored completely by historians: Belgian refugees are the subject of a chapter in Tony Kushner and Katherine Knox’s compendium of refugee policy in twentieth-century Britain, Refugees in an Age of Genocide (London, 1999); and Kevin Myers has undertaken a case-study of educational provision for Belgian refugees, ‘The Hidden History of refugee schooling in Britain: the case of the Belgians, 1914 – 1918’, History of Education, 30/2 (2001).
 See the BBC’s coverage (ww.bbc.co.uk/guides/zcn3b9q project); and a forthcoming special edition of Immigrants and Minorities edited by Jacqueline Jenkinson.
 Pierre Purseigle, ‘The Reception of Belgian Refugees in Europe: A Litmus Test of Wartime Social Mobilisation’, in John Crawford and Ian McGibbon (eds), New Zealand’s Great War: New Zealand, the Allies and the First World War (Auckland, 2007).
 For example, in the West Riding I have come across such memorials in Marsden, Halifax, Otley and Keighley.
 Peter Cahalan, Belgian Refugee Relief in England during the Great War (London, 1982).
 For example Katherine Storr has traced connections between those involved in Belgian refugee relief and their subsequent work for international charities after the war, Excluded from the record. Women, refugees and relief, 1914 – 1929 (Oxford, 2009).
Brian Boulter was born in Leicester, and – see the influence of local history here – he describes his Wigston forebears as some of Hoskins’ Midland Peasants.
As I am drafting this, the television series Victorian Bakers is being transmitted to the obvious enjoyment of viewers. I wonder if Brian is watching? By profession a food scientist, Brian worked mainly in the milling and baking industries, often visiting firms with long histories, but then facing challenging new technologies. This stimulated his interest along one of the routes he subsequently followed – industrial archaeology. A long-standing member (and committee member) of the Berkshire Industrial Archaeology Group, he has researched subjects such as brewing and transport, and contributed articles to local journals, and to An Historical Atlas of Berkshire (1998 and 2012). He was part of the major project to record the site of Temple Mills in Marlow in 1973 ahead of demolition. The main mill was built by Samuel Wyatt for Thomas Williams "The Copper King" in 1790. Welsh copper ingots were shipped from Swansea up the Bristol Channel, then along the Thames & Severn Canal. At Temple they were rolled into sheets which were then sent down the Thames to the dockyards where they were used to sheath the ships of Nelson's navy.
Brian studied the new extramural certificate course in English Local History run jointly by Oxford and Reading universities in 1982. A dissertation based on original sources was one of the requirements; and for this Brian researched Maidenhead from its incorporation in 1582 to 1640. After retirement he became an active local history tutor, especially for the WEA, so has guided many people to share his enthusiasm for local history.
In 1963 Brian had moved to Maidenhead, and began to discover the history of the town. He was Chairman of the Maidenhead Archaeological & Historical Society at the time of the foundation of the Berkshire Local History Association. He held the chair during a difficult period when other officers were hard to find, but the Society benefitted from Brian’s very ‘hands on’ approach, and came through to flourish as an important part of the community. He served on the committee of the Berkshire LHA, and is now one of its vice-presidents.
For twenty years since 1995 Brian was Hon Curator of the Maidenhead Heritage Centre. From small beginnings he oversaw the management of the Maidenhead Heritage Trust's collection, including the successful application for Accredited Museum status. He was responsible for the introduction of the Modes cataloguing system and the transfer of all his meticulous paper records to the digitized format. Volunteers are vital to the Heritage Centre, and Brian has trained numerous volunteers to assist with catalogue and digitisation work, always insisting on best practice. He was always heavily involved in the many and varied activities at the Centre, being in particular demand for the popular programme of school visits. Every year he also gives talks to the Friends of Maidenhead Heritage Centre, as well as any other local organisations.
There can’t be many places where the timeline runs from a Roman villa to ‘the best restaurant in the world’, and the collections include a permanent exhibition honouring the achievements of the Air Transport Auxiliary, where you can ride in a Spitfire simulator.
Brian’s skills, enthusiasm and commitment serve the community through the Heritage Centre and the other organisations where he is much appreciated.
With thanks to Brian Boulter, Joan Dils, David Cliffe, Richard Poad and Fran Edwards.
Just because I live in Cheltenham doesn’t mean that current Victoria County History work on the town (a future Vol 15 in the Glos Red Book series) takes absolute priority over any other part of the county – but in truth, it does mean there are plenty of people taking a close interest in progress, and one feels a certain pressure to help solve challenges as they come along. The Gloucestershire County History Trust had engaged Dr Beth Hartland to research medieval Cheltenham, and Beth was making great progress through the previously unexamined manorial material at TNA and elsewhere – but one big problem loomed: the very earliest surviving court rolls (mainly 4 Edw I, 1275-6), which promised to shed valuable light on the earliest years of the ancient borough, were ‘unfit for production’, and likely to remain so. They were held in the Duchy of Cornwall archives: the manor of Cheltenham was once held by James I’s eldest son Henry as Prince of Wales, and a number of rolls managed to remain in Duchy hands even after it was sold off in 1628.
Sensing our keenness to get at the content of the rolls, the Duchy’s archivist, Dr Elizabeth Lomas, very kindly agreed to see what conservation would cost. It was soon clear that it was an exceptionally tricky project, costing rather more than I had anticipated (a small grant had already been secured from a local arts charity), but suffice to say that Elizabeth found a way of bumping ‘our’ roll up the conservation queue, and engaging the very experienced Mariluz Beltran de Guevara, conservation team leader at the British Library, for the task.
The challenge was a tight roll of 13 split sheepskin folios, dirty, discoloured, and what was worse, in parts disintegrating when touched. Fortunately, with time, skill and the right equipment, miracles are possible. After a careful period of ‘relaxation’ under controlled humidity, it was eventually possible to unfurl the roll, remove the ties, and then set about the delicate job of cleaning and repairing each folio. The results have been quite breathtaking – the twin effects of the cleaning and the flattening mean that where the text survives (and there have of course been a few losses), it is just blissfully easy to read, compared with the usual struggle to make sense of faded and grubby areas at the end of lines or in the creases at the top of a folio. The sensible decision has been made to keep the conserved folios separate, and flat, which minimises the risk of any future mechanical damage.
So was it all worth it? Definitely yes. The revealed rolls amount to a complete run of courts for one year, plus some strays, and provide ‘first’ dates for several aspects of the early medieval town, as well as fresh evidence for place and tithing names, and personal names. They reveal a long-running land dispute just over the border in Leckhampton, which will feed into the coverage of that parish in due course; the full ‘terms and conditions’ of appointment for a new chantry priest; and because there is a year’s-worth of data in there, fresh conclusions can be drawn as to the likely size of population in the century before the Black Death. It was fun to spot a tiny scrap of pre-Chaucerian English in one entry, where one tithingman’s report is not the usual ‘omnia bene’ (all well), but noȝt bote god – nought but good! This certainly summed up our feelings about the exercise. It would have been very frustrating to offer a new history of Cheltenham knowing that this very early piece of evidence was missing, but thanks to the Duchy’s sustained support and interest, the problem has been solved. Besides the VCH draft (online before too long, it is hoped), other articles are planned, including one on the more technical aspects of the conservation. A full transcript of the roll will be made available in due course.
James Hodsdon, Chair, Gloucestershire County History Trust
We launched today a new, free resource, providing access to over 20,000 high-quality images of Registers produced by Archbishops of York from 1225-1650, with a growing searchable index of names, subjects, places and organisations.
The York Registers, handwritten on over 10,000 individual parchment folios, are one of the earliest, largest and longest locally-produced series of archives from the medieval and early modern periods. Starting fifty years before corresponding examples for the Archbishops of Canterbury, they are unparalleled in Europe.
The Registers record activity across the whole of the North of England, providing unique insights into ecclesiastical, political and cultural history over a period that witnessed the Black Death, the Wars of the Roses, the Reformation and the English Civil War.
Funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, the digitisation project took 15 months, with specialist conservation and imaging work undertaken at the Borthwick Institute for Archives, technical development work - including the creation of a specialist metadata/indexing tool – was carried out by the University of York Digital Library.
The Registers can be found at http://archbishopsregisters.york.ac.uk. You can find more information about the project via http://www.york.ac.uk/borthwick/projects/archbishops-registers
This community history project is uncovering the impact of the Great War on the adult education classroom, the experience of tutors and students, and the changing nature of courses and curricula. During the Great War, adult education establishments addressed the needs of several ‘lost generations’ – including disabled veterans and children who had worked in industry during the war – and helped to frame the discussion about the role of education in a post-war age. Yet little agreement existed between the Workers’ Educational Association [WEA], regional Technical Colleges, and the Labour Colleges, on what ought to be taught, to whom, and why.
To investigate these issues we are hosting a number of ‘lives in the archives’ workshops aimed at enabling WEA students and interested members of the public to gain the skills necessary to sift through local records. The aim is to advance the skills of existing and new adult learners in archival and local/ community research and to build up a local knowledge of the experience of their student forebears. This will result in a history of the impacts of the war on adult education that is embedded in the locality and the community with an initial focus on provision in urban centres, particularly Huddersfield, Leeds and South Yorkshire. We are eventually hoping to extend this focus to cover the Yorkshire Dales. The project is being run by archivists and academics from the Universities of Huddersfield and Leeds in collaboration with the WEA and will result in a set of resources to allow future learners to explore this hidden history (the intention is for a new WEA course on this topic).
For further information on the workshops and the project please contact Dr Rebecca Gill at the University of Huddersfield R.email@example.com (Tel: 01484 847682)
This project is funded by the Gateways to the First World War Centre, University of Kent.
WNPHC was created in 1984 to collect and maintain an archive of images illustrating the heritage and history of west Newcastle upon Tyne. Staffed entirely by volunteers the collection now contains over 19,000 hard copy images and documents and several thousand more digital images.
A Flickr account is in the early stages of development.
Are any other photographic archives members of BALH and, if so, can we establish contact please to exchange experiences and ideas?
Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. uk and I can be contacted on 07432 137990.
Ian Farrier, Secretary
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) officially launched its Living Memory Project in April with the help of its new ambassador, actor Hugh Dennis, to encourage the British public to re-connect with the war dead buried in their communities.
With ever more increasing numbers of British people visiting CWGC sites on the Western Front, more than 300,000 CWGC graves and memorials in the UK are virtually ignored. The CWGC want more people to go out over the next few months and find graves and memorials in their local area of men who died during the 141 days of the Somme and find their stories.
Within three miles of most people’s front doors, there is at least one war grave.
With thanks to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for their funding support, the project was piloted in the Autumn of 2015 across a selection of UK locations including, Reading, Manchester, Bristol, London, Seaford, Perth & Belfast.
A range of community groups, including schools, libraries, sports clubs, history groups, youth organisations, veterans and community associations, took part.
At the start of the pilot, only 47 percent of participants were aware of CWGC sites in the UK, but by the end of the project 100 percent could name a local site.
We now move to the centenary of the 141 days of the Somme with strong stories to tell here in Britain and the CWGC want people to explore and discover their own stories and then organise 141 events all over the UK to commemorate the centenary.
CWGC want the public to visit these sites, take a personal interest in one or two of those buried there: lay flowers and look up their details on the CWGC website. From there, we want people to champion these sites: tell their friends, tell other local community groups. They must not be forgotten.
Hugh Dennis, ambassador for the CWGC, said: “I have a very personal connection with the First World War as both my grandfathers fought at the Western Front. My great uncles also fought and all returned home apart from my great uncle Frank who is buried at Gallipoli, Turkey.
“I really want people to connect with this initiative and get out there and discover those who gave their lives for us. I hope that many people will join me on this journey as we reclaim this significant First World War heritage here in the UK.”
Ford Park Cemetery Trust discovered the story of Corporal William Lanning Rowe, known as Lanny.
William was born in Plymouth on February 1, 1892. In 1913, he moved to Australia to study and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) 14th/1st Battalion in October 1915. His records show he was ‘5’ 7 ½” with a fresh complexion, brown hair and eyes’.
After initial training in Australia, William was promoted to Corporal and embarked on RMS Osterley in January 1916 for Serapeum Alexandria, Egypt.
The Battle of the Somme began on July 1, 1916 and the AIF joined the battle in the fourth week.
Corporal William Lanning Rowe suffered a severe wound to his left buttock when shrapnel from a bomb exploded on July 26, 1916 and a few days later, he was transferred to England. He later died of his wounds at 1/5th Northern General Hospital at Leicester, England on August 8, 1916.
He is buried at Ford Park Cemetery in a family grave which is maintained by the CWGC.
The CWGC are urging enthusiastic community groups to get together and think about organizing an event during the 141 days anniversary.
Funding and a creative resource pack are available for community groups across the UK wishing to participate in this initiative. For more information, please email email@example.com.
In April 1916 Major Peter Nissen, of the 29th Co Royal Engineers, began thinking about how to make a standardised building that could be erected quickly in different conditions, and used for a wide range of (initially military) purposes. In August 1916 Nissen huts went into production, and some 100,000 were manufactured during the First World War. Even larger numbers were produced in the Second World War. These prefabricated buildings made from curved iron sheets were put to many uses around the world; many still exist. The infant school I attended was housed in Nissen huts. One of the most striking you can visit is the Italian chapel on the island of Lamb Holm in the Orkneys, converted and decorated by prisoners of war.
This conference at Portcullis House, Westminster, attracted a large audience from all over the country. Aimed at independent local and regional historians, it was organised by the Vote 100 Parliamentary project as part of a four year programme of activities which began in 2015 and will end with a major public exhibition in 2018 in Westminster Hall. One really valuable aspect of the conference was the focus on less familiar sources for the history of campaigns for votes for women. Together with an overview of current projects from well-known suffrage historians, specialist professionals, and researchers with primarily local interests, this resulted in a meeting which offered something for everyone. Formal presentations were complemented by a poster session, a Question & Answer round table and a display of recent publications.
The first speaker was Jill Liddington, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, whose interest was sparked by the BBC’s ground-breaking series ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’, broadcast in 1974. This led to forty years of suffrage research and publication, mostly recently exemplified by her study Vanishing for the Vote of those women who on principle evaded or resisted provision of information for the 1911 census. With her extensive knowledge of sources relating to the North West, especially Manchester and the Lancashire cotton towns, Jill showed how activism could be stimulated by a wide variety of local circumstances, including the fact that some mill women, accustomed to rates of pay similar to those of their male colleagues, saw access to the vote as a right, not a privilege. Analysis of the pattern of non-compliance with the 1911 census is still in progress, notably with regard to regional variations.
The material legacy of the Suffragettes was the subject of a talk by Beverley Cook, Curator of Social and Working History at the Museum of London. Memorabilia collected by the Suffragette Fellowship now forms part of the Museum’s collections and includes, as well as badges, medals, banners and postcards, such objects as toffee hammers (easily concealed and ‘the weapon of choice’ for suffragette window-breakers) and loaves of bread, of symbolic significance to prisoners released from Holloway, but the meaning of which is still not entirely clear. Other unusual items preserved for historical reasons were metal washers pushed into letterboxes to maximise the damage when contents were set on fire.
Another speaker whose contribution to suffrage history is long established was Elizabeth Crawford, author of The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866 to 1928. Recently Elizabeth has been using online genealogical data to recover information about the lives of suffragettes, especially those whose involvement included making financial contributions – donations which were recorded regularly in Votes for Women, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) weekly newspaper. Her title ‘Hidden from History?’ drew attention to the ways in which it is now much easier to trace the life stories of women who hitherto were simply names on a list and, by doing so, learn of the complex backgrounds of members of the women’s suffrage movements and the often substantial extent of their commitment as demonstrated by significant monetary gifts. Sources such as census returns and wills can now be searched more easily online and another recently available resource is the digitised version of the 1939 household register, the original of which is in The National Archives (TNA).
Two speakers from Birmingham, Richard Allbutt and Nicola Gauld, focused on ‘Fight for the Right: the Birmingham Suffragettes’, a Heritage Lottery-funded project under the ‘Young Roots’ programme which offered the opportunity for young women (aged 12 to 15) from two schools, Kings Norton Girls’ School and Waverley School, to explore the activities of both militant and non-militant suffrage campaigners in the city in the early 1900s. Primarily a local history project, it also addressed wider issues of social and cultural change from a non-London perspective and explored contemporary perceptions of voting and political participation. One outcome was a historical re-enactment film of Birmingham events with actors of diverse ethnic backgrounds and including Muslim girls in leading roles.
‘Discovering Suffrage at The National Archives’ was the theme of the presentation by Victorial Iglikowski, TNA’s Diverse History Records Specialist. Victoria was concerned to point out that, although TNA’s collections are national in origin, their content can be of local interest, too. Home Office archives, for example, include petitions from suffragettes and suffragists such as that relating to William Ball, force fed while in prison, whose cause was supported by the WSPU. Surveillance by the Metropolitan Police of suffrage activists produced many photographs of individuals and TNA is also useful for archives of specialist groups who contacted government in pursuit of their aims such as the Actresses’ Franchise League and the Women’s Freedom League (WFL), one of whose objectives was to ensure that women would be treated better in police stations and in court, particularly in trials for sexual offences such as rape. Of especial interest and recently digitised is the Home Office index of suffragette prisoners, 1906 to 1914, written up in 1922, and containing 1,333 names, of which 109 are men. Treasury Department records include much on the Tax Resistance League, another important group campaigning for greater rights for women who objected to paying income tax (and other taxes) while they had no vote and no way of influencing government policy.
The final speaker was Jane Robinson, author of such works as Bluestockings: The Remarkable Story of the First Women to Fight for an Education, who is now researching the Great Suffragist Pilgrimage of 1913 with the intention of publication in 2018. In her talk she referred to her own experiences of trying to publish her research. The Great Suffragist Pilgrimage was organised by fifteen volunteers on behalf of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and 50,000 suffragists marched for five weeks along eight routes throughout England and Wales to a rally in Hyde Park on 26 July 1913. Scottish suffragists had undertaken a similar pilgrimage the year before. In Jane’s words ‘The Pilgrimage was a rite of passage, not just for the participants, but for those of us who have been following them to the polling booths ever since.’
All the speakers at this conference offered new insights into suffrage campaigns of the early twentieth century, their participants – male as well as female- and their local and regional affiliations. It was also an excellent chance to meet members of Parliament’s outreach and education teams and to learn about available resources and engagement opportunities. Practical advice on how to access resources, whether online or original archives, was very helpful for both beginners and more experienced researchers. Greater accessibility will stimulate many more strands of enquiry and much is already under way: the poster session featured a proposed exhibition on the women’s suffrage movement and its presence in Camden; a publication on suffrage sources in Leicestershire produced by the Record Office for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland; a forthcoming lecture at the Wilson Museum, Cheltenham, by Dr Sue Jones on Cheltenham women and the suffrage movement; and an invitation to contribute to the activities of the well-named group ‘Disgusted Women of Tunbridge Wells’.
For further information on Vote 100, the project to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, please see Vote100@parliament.uk or www.parliament.uk/vote 100. There is also a blog at: http://ukvote100.org.
In Local History News 117, Ed Harris of Twickenham Local History Society raised the question of social media and its relevance or potential in the world of local history. To me, and I will explain why in this article, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’, social media is very relevant today and all societies should look to use these powerful facilities for promoting their work to a much wider audience.
Social media has increasingly become a part of our daily consciousness, not least through an awareness of ‘hashtags’ (more later) at the end of television programmes, the number of times Facebook has been cited in divorce cases, or the fact that many breaking news stories now appear on social media before the major news outlets. But what is social media or social networking? It is simply the term given to a range of Internet websites that enable users to share content easily within a network of interested followers, via their computer, smartphone or tablet. While there’s a large number of such websites, the major ones people have usually at least heard of are Facebook, Twitter and perhaps Google+.
Each social media website differs in what it offers, how it behaves and most importantly the type of audience it attracts. I regularly advise small businesses or associations on their social media strategy and the first point to consider when targeting an audience is where are those people to be found? The total number of people using social media is eye watering; a popular fact often touted is if Facebook were a country it would be more populous than China with around 1.5 billion active users. Twitter is more the scale of the USA, with over 300 million active users regularly posting or ‘tweeting’.
But why is this relevant to local history and for local history societies? I have no doubt that if I surveyed our local history society members across the country, few if any would say they have enough people attending their events, participating in meetings or purchasing their publications. I believe this tends to be less to do with a lack of interest and more about a lack of awareness and engagement. That’s what social media offers, a shop window to promote what we do and to engage with others sharing those same interests on a frequent basis.
The best thing is these social media networks are free to join, a free resource enabling us to promote our events to essentially a global audience. That puts into perspective the spiralling costs of print advertising and the relatively miniscule readership figures available. The ‘cost’ of social media is time, time to engage with these networks and time to update content. But that needn’t be a big task; it just needs to be managed regularly. In terms of relevance, for those societies wishing to dip their toe in the social media water, Facebook and Twitter are excellent starting points, with many users interested in local history actively using both networks.
Social media is best used in conjunction with a society website. You may feel you have done enough to set up a website and add a list of meetings and events to it. Indeed that is an excellent start and I would suggest that all societies should be in that position in 2016. But who is going to look at that website and how often? Now if you were adding details of those same events to the large social media networks, with a link back to your website for ‘more information’, then it all starts to look rather more joined up. That’s the key – use the large audiences of social media to make your voice heard. Twitter (and Google’s own offering Google+) are fully indexed by Google, meaning if someone makes a search using Google, content from those social media websites appears highly in the results. Look at it as a way to add content about your local history to some of the biggest websites in the world, for free!
I am aware that some local history societies are already engaged in social media with great success. One society located in my part of the world has over 10,000 followers of their Facebook page. They achieved this by regularly posting photographs of the local area through the ages. This content generates excellent conversation and sharing between those who remember what the town used to look like or visited the long forgotten shops or hold memories of childhood holidays spent there. 10,000 people who have said they wish to be made aware of everything that society posts, any day of the week. Food for thought isn’t it?
You may think that social media is only for the younger generation and while it’s true that a higher number of younger people use social media than those of more senior years, surely that is a good thing for societies across the country facing the problem of an increasingly ageing membership. Facebook however is used by over 60% of Internet users aged 50-64, a number only dropping to 50% for the over 65s.
The genealogy world, a particular interest of mine, has been going from strength to strength in its collective use of social media for some years now. Certainly it’s the best place to turn if you’re seeking up to the minute information on latest record set releases or archive availability, weeks or months before those details appear in traditional magazine form. Family history societies are starting to follow this lead, using social media to publish and share relevant articles and build an audience. The major family history show, Who Do You Think You Are? Live, has been playing host to ‘tweetups’ (a gathering of people arranged via Twitter, often meeting in person for the first time) for the past number of years. #AncestryHour is a scheduled regular event where people can meet virtually to discuss relevant genealogical news from wherever they are in the world.
That brings me back to hashtags. A hashtag is defined as ‘A word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used on social media websites and applications, especially Twitter, to identify messages on a specific topic’. So by adding a hashtag, such as #localhistory to a Twitter tweet, it enables anyone interested in local history to find that content and start following the originator’s posts. That’s how social media networks develop and grow. If you question whether this is a passing phase then think again. Last year, following research of the words used in over 120,000 short stories written by children aged between five and thirteen, the Oxford University Press declared ‘hashtag’ the “children’s word of the year”, in recognition of how frequently a hashtag was being used at the end of a sentence. #Fact!
BALH is a relative newcomer to social media but we are committed to its use and are starting to promote our own events more via this medium. Now if all the local history societies in the country did the same, and we shared content among ourselves, wouldn’t #localhistory be a worthwhile hashtag to follow?
Paul A. Carter is the BALH Web Manager and a professional web designer. He is often tweeting @ThePaulCarter.
BALH regularly tweet news and event content at @BALHNews and also have a Facebook and Google+ page. Links to all these social media networks can be found at the foot of each page of the BALH website www.balh.org.uk.
The DORSET RECORD SOCIETY, which was set up in the 1960s, and became a committee of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society in 1980, has been re-established in January 2016 as a separate entity and a charity in its own right. Its series of publications, beginning in 1964, appeared somewhat sporadically until volume 14, an edition of 17th-century Dorset quarter sessions records, was published in 2006. Four more volumes have been produced subsequently, most recently an edition of Tudor surveys edited by June Palmer; and records of Georgian Corfe Castle, edited by Martin Ayres, will be published soon. The society has also reprinted two volumes from the 1990s and plans to reformat others. The DRS, although now independent, maintains friendly relations with its former parent society, the DNHAS, and details of all its publications are at present to be found on the DNHAS website (http://research.dorsetcountymuseum.org/drspubs.html). The society’s secretary is Ann Smith and its editor is Mark Forrest (contact via Dorset History Centre).
Two days out organised by the Scottish Local History Forum will take place on 12 May in Inverness and 9 June in Edinburgh. These ‘Walk and Talk’ events explore firstly ‘Old Inverness’, and then ‘The Edinburgh Print Trail’ will examine the development of printing throughout Scotland in the ‘talks’ part, and the walk will visit printing and publishing related sites in Edinburgh’s Old Town. Booking is essential. https://www.slhf.org./events
In 2012 a collection of 34 silver and silver plate cups were discovered in an attic when the house owner was moving out of Solihull. They belonged to the Solihull Society of Arts and had been awarded as trophies for prize winners of the Solihull Competitive Music Festival, which started in 1952. When this stopped in 1974 they were used by the Solihull MBC Arts Festival until 1981. SSA decided to give them to various local organisations. The Local History Circle received one of the larger silver cups, the Jennens Trophy. Hallmarked Sheffield 1940 and inscribed simply SOLIHULL SOCIETY OF ARTS and underneath THE JENNENS CUP, it had been awarded for the best contralto solo. The names of recipients were on a band round the base. The Committee decided it would be given to ‘the member who has done the most for the Local History Circle’. The definition is widely drawn: it includes developing the Circle’s image through publicity and increasing membership, contributing to running its affairs (whether by serving on its Committee or otherwise), and - of course - for original research of Solihull’s local history. Solihull Local History Circle http://www.solihullarts.co.uk/local-history/
New light has been shed on a little-known aspect of the 400-year Roman occupation of Kent by Dr Elizabeth Blanning of West Malling, whose research has won her a coveted £3,000 prize awarded by the Kent Archaeological Society (KAS).
Elizabeth decided to make everyday life in the countryside during this era the subject of her PhD research at the University of Kent, following several years occupied in raising her family and occasionally finding time to take part in archaeological ‘digs’ in Kent and further afield.
The prize awarded every two years for best doctoral thesis that advances knowledge of the archaeology or history of Kent (including the London Boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich and Lewisham, which were once part of the county) was established in 2007 to mark the society’s 150th anniversary and is named in honour of the celebrated 18th century Kent historian Edward Hasted.
The judges agreed that Elizabeth’s 100,000-word thesis was ‘an important and pioneering piece of research which provides a clearer picture of the pattern of rural settlement throughout the county over the several hundred years of the Roman presence.’ *
The next Hasted Prize, for theses completed in the calendar years 2015-2016, must be submitted by 30 May 2017 Further details are on the Society’s website, http://www.kentarchaeology.org.uk.
Edmonton Hundred Historical Society has reviewed the Mary Larrett Award which has been made for an essay since 2010. The aim is to broaden the appeal to members and non-members alike, while maintaining the memory of Mary Larrett whose bequest enabled the award to be made. The Essay Prize will be open to anyone with an interest in the history of the Edmonton Hundred submitting an essay based on their own research on any aspect of the history of the area, at any period.. Pupils studying local history at school are also encouraged to take part. The closing date is 30 November 2016. For full details email EHHS at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cumbria Local History Federation publish a revised edition of the A to Z of Speakers every three years, the 8th has recently been distributed. It is sent to society or group members of the Federation and serves a valuable purpose for local society programme secretaries. In return they keep the Federation up to date with information about speakers who have retired or new ones they have discovered. www.clhf.org.uk
Keyworth Local History Society are compiling an updated ‘Directory of Members’ Interests’ to help the committee when planning activities and selecting speakers. They want to encourage more members to contribute to the society’s role of exploring local history. Those with experience offer to encourage and support others wishing to undertake some research – however small – for the first time. www.keyworth-history.org.uk
The Project Purley Journal has reached its 100th edition, and in January 2016 they celebrated with a bumper issue that included some specially commissioned articles looking at changes that have taken place in Purley on Thames, Berkshire, since they began. There is also a reminder of the origin of their name from the merger of three groups developing in the early 1980s – focusing on natural history, a family history and archaeology. They are concerned with the present and future, as well as the past. www.project-purley.eu
Hatfield Local History Society is marking the centenary of Cub Scouts, in the 100th issue of their Newsletter. Hatfield had one of the earliest Scout groups, formed in 1908. This was soon followed by groups for younger boys. email@example.com
Readers who have seen the film Suffragette will remember the opening scenes set in a laundry. Such establishments employed large numbers of people, especially women, under often appalling conditions. In a recent issue of The Balckcountryman from the Black Country Society there is an article about the Wolverhampton Steam Laundry which was typical of many such large firms in towns throughout the country. www.blackcountrysociety.co.uk
In Suffolk Local History Council Newsletter for Spring 2016 there is an invitation to join in building a ‘digitised heritage resource’ about foundries. The proposal is to collect all available information about foundries, the artefacts they made, the firms and the people involved, before they all disappear. The website is www.foundrydata.org. At present there is some test data but the shape and intended scope of the project can be seen. Contributors will need a password. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology will be holding their Local History Day on 21 May at Grantham Museum. The subject is ‘Law and Order. Their recent Bulletin includes a request for information about woad growing for a project at Moulton Windmill. www.slha.org www.thebluemillproject.co.uk
Cornish Buildings Group maintains their own Buildings at Risk register for the county. At present it includes such diverse buildings as Saltash Railway Station, Redruth old Fire Station, Loggans Mill, Hayle, King Edward Mine, Troon, St Columb Rectory, and the Church of St Peter at Mithians. Details and updates can be found on their website https://sites.google.com/site/cornishbuildingsgroup
Avon Local History & Archaeology has been operating a Facebook page for nearly a year now in tandem with newsletters and the website. This has enabled them to increase awareness of the organisation. Several local societies have reported increased attendance at meetings as a result of the publicity shared. Visitors have been able to post comments and suggestions, and ‘hot off the press’ information has been included, such as Knowle & Totterdown Local History Society winning the city council’s competition to name a new bridge. www.alha.org.uk www.facebook.com/AvonLocalHistoryandArchaeology
Christchurch History Society has been awarded a grant of £9,400 from HLF under their ‘Shared Heritage Scheme’. This will allow them to produce an online catalogue of their archive which is currently held in The Porch Room at Christchurch Priory, and will also pay for work to make the society’s website more user-friendly. Volunteers will be trained to develop skills in cataloguing and archiving, and society members will give talks to schools and other groups about the project. www.historychristchurch.org
Romsey Local History Society’s group working on their Anglo-Saxon project have visited the National Archives, and Mottisfont Abbey in connection with their research. A major conference is being held in April to put their work into context. It is of particular interest as much work on Anglo-Saxons in southern England has concentrated on chalkland settlements so their study of the lower Test Valley will make a distinctive contribution. www/ltvas.org.uk
See p 12 for request from West Newcastle Picture History Collection, and see p 18 for developments at Dorset Record Society report.
Glos archives project
Funding has been secured for the Gloucestershire Heritage Hub, due to open in 2017. This ‘For the Records’ project will provide a central network for Local and Family History in Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire. Partners with Gloucestershire Archives include Gloucestershire Family History Society, Gloucestershire Constabulary, the Diocese of Gloucester, the Friends of Gloucestershire Archives, South Gloucestershire Council, Messier Bugatti Dowty and many community groups throughout Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire. The project will create new spaces and better services for people using the Archives; help local people to gather, keep and share their personal and community archives; create additional specialist storage for collections; and provide better access to documents that are ‘born digital’.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineer’s free online Virtual Archive makes it possible for anyone, anywhere in the world to gain access to key engineering documents and artefacts. Curated from the Institution’s archives, the Virtual Archive showcases models, items, drawings, notebooks, photographs and documents about the history of engineering and the Institution.
3D interactive versions of artefacts are available, many of which have never been seen in public before. Themes cover automobiles, engines, industry, Institutional history and railways.
The Institution’s membership records are accessible via Ancestry, but their online archive has other resources, such as applications for membership which outline an engineer’s training and career to date. http://archives.imeche.org/
Lancashire Record office hold a series of monthly Wednesday lunchtime talks: 11 May is Dr Robert Poole on The Preston Lock Out, 8 June Mike Clark will talk about the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and on 13 July Westfield: A story of First World War survival’ is the subject of Martin Purdy’s talk. There are also free ‘getting to Know’ sessions on the afternoons of second Friday of alternate months starting on 8 April. Details and booking email@example.com 01772 533039
Staffordshire History Day, organised by Staffordshire & Stoke on Trent Archive Service, Keele University, and the University of Birmingham will take place on 7 May 2016 at the Riverway Centre, Stafford. The title is ‘New Developments in Staffordshire History’. firstname.lastname@example.org
Friends of Shropshire Archives are holding Wem History Day on 26 June, to celebrate the history of Wem, in association with the Victoria County History. www.victoriacountyhistory.ac.uk/counties/shropshire
The Friends’ newsletter, Salopian Recorder, contains an article about a collection in Shropshire Archives (SA 1987/56/2-32) relating to three generations of doctors who practised in Coalbrookdale for a century from the 1770s. Their story traces the development of medical practice alongside the area’s pioneering contribution to the industrial Revolution. The Coalbrookdale Doctors: a family practice in Shropshire’ by Richard Moore is published by YouCaxton. email@example.com
Two summer exhibitons at Chester History & heritage (5 April to 8 July 2016) are ‘Day Tripper – the story of George Taylor’ and ‘That’s Life: working days at Western Command’. Coach operator George Taylor aimed to make Chester the hub of a nationwide service. A large collection of photographs and other information about the business has been donated by his great-nephew. firstname.lastname@example.org
ARCHIVE SERVICE ACCREDITATION
Eight more services have been added to the list of accredited archives, bringing the total to forty. New accreditations include the first examples of a business archive in Scotland andof a performing arts archive in the UK. The eight are:
* Cheshire Archives and Local Studies
* Oxfordshire History Centre
* Peterborough Local Studies and Archives
* Pembrokeshire Archives and Local Studies
* Rambert Archive
* RBS Archives
* Sheffield City Archives
* Wolverhampton City Archives
A project, called Cornish Memory, has received £225,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create a website and digitise a collection of more than 30,000 photographs, some dating back to 1850, donated by professional and amateur photographers .Organisers plan to add thousands more images over the coming months.
Bangor University has received a grant for conservation work on historic maps documenting the Penrhyn estate in North Wales. The vital preservation work on fragile 18th to 20th century plans is to go ahead thanks to a partnership between the Welsh Government and the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust (NMCT). This follows a previous grant for cataloguing of the archive.
HAVERHILL FAMILY HISTORY GROUP, SUFFOLK
Future generations will have access to a digital archive of interviews about their local 20th century workplaces thanks to the efforts of the Haverhill Family History Group who launched their "Haverhill at Work" project earlier this year. Since then members have been busy filming interviews about working life in the town over the last 65 years. They are hoping to put on an exhibition about Haverhill employers in September 2016 and possibly create a documentary from the interview footage.
The recent unveiling of Cromford Mills Gateway and Cromford Creative Business Centre is the culmination of many years of development, with funding from HLF and others. Cromford Mills, owned and managed by the Arkwright Society, now forms the starting point for the entire Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. CGI technology allows Sir Richard Arkwright himself to welcome visitors. www.cromfordmills.org.uk
The medieval house at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum (originally from the hamlet of Sole Street in the parish of Crundale some 10 miles from Canterbury) is being moved to a new site. It has already been dismantled, and re-erection will begin with a ‘Raising the Frame; event over the weekend of 18/19 June. When complete, it will house an exhibition exploring the history and development of medieval houses. www.wealddown.co.uk
The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, was put to practical use during the First World War, initially as an Indian Military Hospital 1914-1916. This has been marked in a series of panels in the relevant rooms of the Pavilion, which explained the scrupulous attention to detail that was given to factors such as religious and caste distinctions over food and sanitation. Such facilities were moved when the Indian Army went to Egypt and Mesopotamia in December 1915. The Pavilion was then used a Hospital for Limbless Soldiers until 1919. Over 6,000 patients received treatment, rehabilitation and training there, recorded in the current displays. Brightonmuseums.org.uk
Wirksworth Heritage Centre, Derbyshire, was set up nearly 30 years ago to tell the story of Wirksworth and its people, set in a former silk mill. They now have the opportunity to move to a more central and accessible site in the historic town centre. Meanwhile an AIM grant has enabled them to work with volunteers to sort, catalogue and archive their collection of photographs which has grown somewhat haphazardly over the years. Amongst those involved have been members of the Year 7 camera club from their local secondary school. www.storyofworksworth.co.uk www.aim-museums.co.uk
Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard is a special exhibition at the Royal Armouries in Leeds which will display around 100 pieces from the remarkable Staffordshire Hoard collection. It is the first time UK visitors will have the opportunity to view such a large number of items outside the West Midlands where it was discovered. Some of the objects have never been on show before. 27 May – 2 October 2016. http://warrior-treasures.uk
‘Remembering 1916’ will be at the Whitgift Exhibition Centre, South Croydon from 12 March to 31 August 216. www.remembering1916.co.uk
Burton Local History Saturdays were originally launched 14 years ago by the WEA, but have latterly been taken over by the Mid-Trent Branch of the Historical Association.
Each year six Saturday mornings at Burton-upon-Trent Public Library see a themed set of presentations led by Richard Stone and Trevor James. This year they have been exploring, at the local level, ‘What do politicians do for us?’ Currently Trevor is examining the contribution made by the Strutt, Peel and Chamberlain families in the local region. Details for next year will appear in the HA resources section of www.history.org.uk
Information about this years’ Latin and Palaeography Summer School at Keele University can be found at http://www.keele.ac.uk/history/adults/latinandpalaeographysummerschool/
This runs from 23 to 28 July 2016, and provides expert tuition in small groups for amateur and professional historians, genealogists, archive students and others who wish to acquire or improve their skills in reading and transcribing medieval and early modern documents. Two of the groups will be at an introductory level, including one for Latin beginners. Many people return year after year as they develop their skills!
Development funding from HLF has been awarded for a new interactive online resource tracing London’s history from the Roman period to the present day. The centre for Metropolitan History at the Institute of Historical Research, with the Victorian County History, is leading the development. A major part of the project will be to engage the public at borough level and city-wide though crowd-sourcing, volunteers, schools and internship programmes. Layers of London project
The Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution (CHORD) workshop on Retailing, Distribution and the Family: Historical Approaches will take place at the University of Wolverhampton, UK on 24 May 2016. The programme, together with abstracts, registration details and further information, can be found at:
Wolf Hall and Poldark from the inspiration for Two Day Schools in Canterbury being run by BALH Development Officer, Dr Gill Draper: ‘The Forme of Cury’: Cooking, eating, drinking and healing in the medieval and early modern periods, Saturday 14 May 2016, and
Pirates, Pilchards and Poldark: an introduction to the history of Cornwall, Saturday 11 June 2016
These day schools will take place between 10:30-16:30 pm at Canterbury Christ Church University.
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A history of the church and churchyard of St Mary Hornsey, Middlesex
Hornsey Historical Society, The Old School House, 136 Tottenham Lane, London N8 7EL
ISBN 978-0-905794-53-2 2015 £19.50 133p
As is only to be expected from its author, this book is a superb example of combined local and architectural history. Bridget Cherry has examined in meticulous detail what can be uncovered about the original medieval church, and the more plentiful information on its successors. The history of the site and its buildings is set against both the development of the community within which it is based and the broader changes in national history which were so influential.
A particularly effective theme is the use of topographical drawings and paintings as evidence. Until the second half of the 19th century Hornsey was a village on the outskirts of the developing capital city, so an attractive destination for those seeking rural relaxation. As John Hassell wrote in 1817 in Picturesque Rides and Walks with Excursions by Water 30 miles around the British Metropolis ‘The footpath to the village of Hornsey is one of the sweetest walks out of the metropolis’.
Of course this did not last. Two re-buildings took place amidst much debate, and against the background of changing ideas about church design and the demands of the quickly growing population of the area.
Neither survive today, but the medieval tower remains as the centrepiece of the churchyard which is now an important focus for the community. In the 1980s the tower was placed on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk Register. ‘Friends of Hornsey Church Tower’ were formed to fundraise for its protection, renovation and re-use. They also turned their attention to the surrounding area, where the churchyard faced sometimes conflicting priorities of encouraging wild life, preserving a green space in a built-up area, welcoming visitors and providing information, and maintaining the monuments. As a charitable group, FOHCT have achieved much, and their methods – as well as this book- can provide a valuable case study for others to follow.
The gently rolling landscape of the valley of the river Eure, in the north-west corner of the district of the Loire, does not attract visitors in the numbers who go to see the chateaux further south. Below the medieval cité (really a large village) of Saint-Suzanne there is an extensive network of well-marked footpaths, cycle tracks and bridleways. Even tiny paths and lanes, many very muddy in March, are labelled – Chemin des Dames, Ancienne Voie Pavée, Chemin de la Croix Rouge, and the routes are evocatively named to describe what you will see – Circuit des Moulins, Circuit de la Vierge de Bois.
Many buildings are described on small plaques - the washhouse, the mill, the forge and so on, often illustrated with old postcards of the place in times past. But in addition exceptional information boards add greatly to the walkers’ enjoyment and knowledge. Tucked into a corner in a tiny ‘hameau’ is a detailed description of the local papermaking industry, first documented in 1544. From the ramparts of the cité looking east we learn about the layout of property boundaries traced back to ancient landholders, and the resulting curious field shapes to be seen today. A short distance from our gite is another board headed La Toponymie (‘une science particulière’). The author explained the distinction between ‘les macro-toponymes’ and ‘les micro-toponymes’, and traced some local names to very old Indo-European roots while others have more recent origins. Places on the footpath routes have names associated with their natural environment, with local families, with agricultural practice; some are metaphorical, and even humorous. None of these large boards have pictures, if you are interested you are expected to read the comprehensive text. No dumbing-down of the heritage industry here.
‘Well’, I said to Mrs Crosby, ‘you couldn’t make it up’. A lifelong Guardian reader, every now and then I trawl the internet looking at what’s reported in the inferior papers. And on 7 September last year I was not disappointed. The Daily Telegraph reported the decade’s most unexpected local history story, under the headline ‘Poland treasure hunters “expelled from local history society”’. Adam Day, the paper’s fearless Warsaw-based sleuth, announced that ‘Two men who claim to have found lost Nazi train filled with gold have been expelled from their local history society because the group was ‘outraged’ the men had claimed the train for themselves’. The Lower Silesian Study Group, he wrote, took action against its vice-president, Piotr Koper, and Andreas Richter ‘amid a welter of debate and rumour surrounding the two men’s claim to have found a legendary Nazi train that disappeared in May 1945’.
In a statement the LSSG (described as ‘One of the leading history societies in south-west Poland’) said that ‘We are outraged that all the rights to the find have been claimed by these two men’. In response, Koper and Richter issued a statement expressing their ‘regret’ that they had not been informed about the meeting on their expulsion and claimed that ‘personal interests had got in the way of common sense’.
It all sounds a wee bit dodgy. Apparently the study group and its members ‘have been at the forefront of research into the area’s wartime past and archaeology’, which sets the alarm bells ringing. Recently the British archaeology press has, entirely correctly, been angered by the screening of programmes purporting to show ‘archaeologists’ in the Baltic States doing scientific research on Second World War sites but really, it seems, plundering for loot and profit, sensationalism and greed. Of course, a local history society in Lower Silesia should certainly record the hideous experience of the area in 1939-1945 and afterwards, but this is hardly an unknown or under-researched subject. Oswiecim/Auschwitz is just over the administrative boundary, the Second World War and Holocaust are (to say the very least) covered extensively by historians of all persuasions, and Breslau/Wroclaw, capital of the region, is the subject of a monumental biography by Norman Davis.
But think on it. Many of us have been in local history societies where bitter feuds have raged, vendettas have been pursued, groups talk sotto voce in corners and dark looks are directed at rival clusters of conspirators. We all know what is involved. Personalities clash, harsh words are uttered in haste and repented at leisure, questions are asked about the propriety or accuracy or relevance of this or that or the other. Accusations are flung, about those who are happy to criticise but never lift a finger when help is needed, or who eat the cake and drink the tea but never help with the washing up. That quid or so that can’t be tracked down in the accounts, the unwise invitation to that ghastly speaker who happened to be Derek’s friend, the failure of Audrey to get the agenda for the AGM out in time, the inability of Susan to make use of email when absolutely everybody else in the western hemisphere is conversant with it ... these are the stuff of our quarrels.
We grumble, we roll our eyes heavenwards when Janice launches into another monologue or Julia calls out ‘But through you, chair, can I just say that ...’. We express no enthusiasm at all when Kevin proposes for the umpteenth time that we have the annual visit to the steam railway which we’ve all been to before. We suddenly see an interesting stain on the table top or ceiling when Geoffrey asks for volunteers to be the next treasurer, and we smile enthusiastically when Elizabeth grudgingly agrees to carry on for another year. If only we had something really BIG to think about, like a mythical train stuffed with mythical gold. At least our quarrels would be something to write home about ...or at least, to write to the Daily Telegraph.
We were very sad to learn of the death of our President Professor David Hey in February 2016. There is a full appreciation of his work by Professor John Beckett in The Local Historian in this mailing. A great supporter of BALH, Professor Hey took his role as President with both seriousness and good humour. He always came to Local History Day, and always had an appreciative word for our award winners. He tolerated having his photograph taken many times, afterwards saying he dreaded opening each issue of Local History News to find himself grinning out of the profile page. David Hey will be very much missed, and hard to replace.
Local History Day
We are looking forward to seeing many of you on 4 June at St Andrew Holborn. Booking details are in the centre supplement of this issue of LHN. There is still space available if your society would like to have a table or stand at the event; please contact Gill Draper for this by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
BALH mailing address
Please would societies check they have updated our address on their mailing lists, see below for the new one. And if any societies do not yet send us copies of their newsletters and journals, we would be delighted to receive them for sharing ‘news’ around the local history world.
Growing Local History
The recent conference in Ipswich, organised by BALH in association with University Campus Suffolk, was a great success. The full programme stimulated lively discussion and provided much food for thought. See back cover for pictures. There will be a detailed report and analysis in the next issue.
Who Do You Think You Are? Live at the NEC was hard work but most enjoyable. Gill Draper, Paul A Carter, and Jane Howells looked after our stand throughout the three days of the show, and greatly appreciated the help from local volunteers Linda Cousins, Sandra Cooper and George Gascoyne. Thanks to everyone who came to our stall and introduced themselves, and welcome to all the new members who joined at the show. Talks in the ‘Education Zone’by GD and JH were enthusiastically received, and GD solved problems and gave advice on ‘Ask the Experts’. It was a valuable opportunity to meet family history colleagues and discuss the common ground. As our table banner says: ‘local history hand-in-hand with family history’.