A week in the Archives…starting with a Full English

on Tuesday, 27 May 2014. Posted in Archives

When I am asked to write a blog I try to find an interesting or curious subject to write about and as I was thinking about this I started to reflect on the variety of activities that happen within the Archives & Local Studies Service. So I thought I would share this with our blog readers.

Though strictly at the end of last week, my week began on Saturday with an event held by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) at the History Centre to promote the Full English project, which has seen the digitisation of 19 archive collections or 80,000 pages of manuscript, involving volunteers around the world, and including the Alfred Williams collection of folk songs held at the History Centre. The Full English was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund with a £585,400 grant, but as the EFDSS Library Director, Malcolm Taylor OBE, told the audience, the original project was conceived in a pub! It makes the digitised archives available to the whole world and has even inspired the formation of a folk-super group of the same name who won at the BBC 2 Folk Awards.

The event kicked off with three songs by the West-Wiltshire based Building Bridges Choir, who are currently recording traditional songs within the living memory of people from our diverse communities in West Wiltshire. The singing was beautiful and it is great to connect projects that are essentially about people and a sense of place; and it is a project we have been involved with through our provision of oral history training. This was followed by a brief talk by Steve Roud, a national expert on folk-lore and the creator of the Roud Folk-song Index, and provided the context for the work of Alfred Williams. He commented on the importance of Williams, and why he was better than many other collectors of folk-songs and traditions of the late Victorian – Edwardian period; he was interested in the social aspect of the songs and also collected the popular songs from the fields, fairgrounds and taverns. The final speaker was Chris Wildridge, who has transcribed and catalogued the Alfred Williams collection, available on our community history website at the end of this article. Chris treated us to some songs and a biography of Alfred Williams. Apparently, between1914 – 16 Williams cycled over 7,000 miles to collect songs, though some were undoubtedly collected from fellow GWR workers who had moved from elsewhere to Swindon for employment in the engineering works.

So it was kind of back to normal on Monday, which included, for myself, meeting enquirers and giving a talk in Swindon Central Library on the curious goings-on that were the eighteenth and nineteenth century Wiltshire parliamentary elections; and collecting an archive my colleague Claire Skinner had successfully bid for at auction on our behalf (part funded by the Friends of the National Libraries). This was the family archive relating to the Goff family, in particular Moyra Goff, of The Courts in Holt; yet another archive we have been able to save for future generations in Wiltshire and Swindon. We haven’t finished sorting it yet, so do hold fire on your questions, but it does include a first-hand witness account of the poet Siegfried Sassoon in Craiglockhart hospital during the First World War, as well as material relating to The Courts, a  property owned by the National trust. More of this in a future blog, no doubt. If that were not enough, we also received a collection of records from the Broughton Gifford WI spanning 70 years since their foundation in 1938 and a deposit of medieval records collected in Salisbury.

The WI archive includes annual reports during the Second World War, noting that  in 1942 their working party had made or knitted  119 garments and 35 parcels that included 1000 cigarettes for the H.M.S. Goatfell, 40 camouflaged nets for the army, 265 “Ship Halfpennies” and two and a half sacks of books collected for Ships Libraries and 52 pounds of hips taken to the Depot at Trowbridge (for a vitamin C syrup (for use when orange juice ran short) I am reliably informed by Julie Davis our WW2 expert!). The medieval records include some of the earliest manorial court records we have seen…more from our Archivists in due course. This highlights the range of archives we receive in any given week. There have also been some new deposits to our Historic Photograph and Print Collection, run by the Local Studies team. They include some early 20th century photographs of the tin hut camp at Perham Down on Salisbury Plain, donated alongside some extensive research on the topic, and a collection of photographs of members of the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry in Palestine during WWII.

Added to this is our continued work to digitally record the stories of our remaining Arctic Convoy veterans in Wiltshire and Swindon; the industriousness of our volunteers for the Lacock Unlocked project to open up access to the Lacock Archive (now including e-volunteers in Shropshire working on transcribing records of the Davenport family within the Lacock Archive); and the work of our Heritage Education service, which is fully engaged with Primary Schools and their WW1 projects this summer term. Nor should I forget our team who welcome many visitors to the History Centre and respond to thousands of online enquiries…phew!  The variety of what we do never ceases to amaze me and I am always so proud of the work undertaken by our staff and volunteers. I wonder what we have got on next week?...

Terry Bracher
Archive and Local Studies Manager

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