Working at the History Centre a little bit like being a Timelord… with access to the archives you can be transported through time and space.
The strong-rooms are our very own Tardis (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) since despite their relatively small footprint they contain around eight miles of archives.
Over the last two months I have been joined in my “travels” by GCSE and A-level students who have been on work experience at the History Centre.
The first port of call for the youngsters as they ventured into the strong-rooms was 12th century Messina in Sicily. One of the earliest documents in the Wiltshire and Swindon Archive is a letter (with Great Seal attached) from Richard I – Richard the Lionheart – confirming a gift of land to Stanley Abbey (WSA 473/34PC).
It is dated 3rd April 1191 and was sent by Richard from Sicily just days before he set sail with a fleet of ships to the Holy Land. (He had set out in 1190 to join the Third Crusade.) The letter came at a busy time for Richard who was not only on crusade but was about to be married to Berengaria of Navarre who had made her own epic journey across Europe with Richard’s mother Eleanor of Aquitaine to be with her future husband.
The students’ introduction to the archives continued with a jump to the Tudor period via a grant of arms, followed by a brief stop in restoration England and a splendid portrait of Charles II on an illuminated document.
With each new group of students I set myself and the students the challenge of searching our collections for documents relevant to their particular GCSE and A-level courses. The two world wars, the Cold War, and the Tudors are well travelled historical paths but what of 19th century China and Japan or American history?
At A-level, students at the end of Year 12 are making decisions about coursework so a placement at the History Centre was an ideal opportunity to begin their research. We had students who were looking at the American civil rights movement, antisemitism in England during the 19th and 20th centuries, the opium wars in 19th century China and western influence on 19th century Japan and the demise of the Samurai tradition.
In our pursuit of the American civil rights movement we took a detour into the history of the fledgling United States of America. The archive has a number of collections that, through letters and other documents, connect Wiltshire with the English colonies in the Americas, the war of independence and the American civil war and trade with the USA.
We were all rather excited to be handling two particular documents signed by James Madison and John Quincy Adams who served as the 4th and 6th presidents of the USA. Both documents (WSA 1498/4) were passports for Thomas Shorthouse who became an American citizen in 1797. The Shorthouse family lived at Little Clarendon, Dinton and the passports, letters from Philadelphia and citizenship document for Thomas Shorthouse are part of the family papers (WSA 1498/1-6).
The citizenship document was drawn up in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County and instructs Thomas to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty whatever and particularly the allegiance to the King of Great Britain to whom he was heretofore a subject.”
The passports show that Thomas maintained his connections with his family in Britain. The first was signed by James Madison, as Secretary of State, in Washington on 27th September, 1805. Madison, one of the founding fathers of the USA, became President in 1809 and later became known as the ‘father of the constitution’.
In 1815, Thomas Shorthouse received a second passport, this time signed by John Quincy Adams who was then the United States Envoy in London. Adams went on to be the 6th President in 1825.
We could have spent all our time in North America reading letters and documents about rebellion in the colonies, American Independence, the civil war and abolition of slavery, but other countries beckoned.
Our search for documents relating to the Opium Wars yielded instant and fascinating results in the Public and State papers of Sidney Herbert (1810-1861), Baron Herbert of Lea, who from 1841 to 1860 was successively Secretary to the Admiralty, Secretary of War and then Secretary of State for War.
His papers are part of Wilton House and Estate archive and are a fascinating insight into 19th century British political and military history. The journey into this immense collection was brief but rewarding as we discovered a wonderful document that summarised the issues surrounding the opium trade (“Neglect of Government to take steps as to opium trade”, WSA 2057/F8/I/G/1), and several letters and despatches describing the taking of the Peiho Forts – a joint British and French military action in China in the 1860s (WSA 20157/F8/V/B/192ee).
From China in the 19th century we ventured into the 20th century and a world at war.
Students like a word search, a little bit of light relief from the rigours of normal lessons, and teachers like them as a sneaky way to revise subject specific vocabulary. We decided on a word search with a difference to introduce secondary school students to archives and working with primary sources. It was part of a new schools’ session developed by Salisbury Cathedral in partnership with the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre. While the History Centre is open to the public, and has extensive experience using its archives in educational settings, the Salisbury Cathedral archive has not been so accessible. This is changing thanks to the hard work of Cathedral archivist Emily Naish and her band of volunteers, and the willingness of the Dean and Chapter to open up this amazing resource. Members of the public have already enjoyed behind-the-scenes tours of the library, located above the cloisters, and now it is the turn of school children to work with documents from the archive and enjoy the benefits of this cultural education.
Archivist Emily joined forces with the Cathedral’s teaching & community officer Sally Stewart-Davis and the History Centre to develop the school session which we ran in the cathedral on 27 February.
The 13th century Papal Bull that gave permission for the building of a new cathedral on the water meadows by the River Avon, so moving the settlement of Old Sarum to New Sarum. Students from Stanchester Academy near Yeovil are shown the original cartulary, or register, which contains the 1219 Papal Bull from Pope Honorious III.
Emily chose a document in abbreviated Medieval Latin to introduce the difficulties that can arise when working with primary sources. Written in 1219, the document is an official copy of the Papal Bull from Pope Honorious III giving permission for the church authorities to build a new Salisbury Cathedral on the water meadows by the River Avon. As a starter activity we asked the students – aged 11-14 – to identify a list of words that they might find familiar, even though they were in Latin. Among the words they were looking for were Sarum, benedictionem, aquam, castellani and hominum (Salisbury, benediction, water, castle and men/people).
It was a challenge, but a challenge that was well met. The students realised that even when faced with a document in a foreign language, with abbreviations and in a difficult script, there was information they could extract.
While a Papal Bull in Medieval Latin does not immediately spring to mind as the most accessible archive for school children or adults, the youngsters from Bishop Wordsworth School in Salisbury and Stanchester Academy, near Yeovil, really engaged with the document and the activity. This was real and relevant – and they were working in the building that ultimately resulted from this Papal document.
The second document the students worked on was a 1599 letter from Elizabeth I to the dean and chapter at Salisbury Cathedral and relates to Sir Walter Raleigh’s request that he be given the estate of Sherborne Castle which had belonged to the Church. Although in English, the students still faced the challenge of deciphering the handwriting and getting to grips with Elizabethan grammar and spellings. This they did with amazing success.
The day that I found out I had been selected for the Skills for the Future ‘Transforming Archives’ traineeship was a strange one. Partly because it was only the day before that I’d attended interview for the role – this was the quickest I’d ever heard back! Admittedly, another aspect of the strangeness was due to my still being ‘spaced out’ with tiredness, following several nights of too little sleep; the build-up to the big day had been so incredibly intense. Combine all this with the mixed rush of excitement at hearing that I’d been successful, and the utter shock at having been chosen for one of only 12 traineeship positions nationwide which over 700 people had applied for – and you’ll have some idea just what was going on for me that day. It was strange. Once the shock had settled and I’d finally got some sleep, the reality of how incredibly fortunate I was set in. The world of archives, history and heritage has always drawn me, but due to my career background consisting largely of military and police service – I wasn’t exactly the type actively recruited into the sector. Unless Archivists are now being trained in close-quarters combat drills, (I mused), in an attempt to curtail the growing and ever-present threat of angry genealogists, waving their pencils frantically and uprising en-masse to bring down the current system (of cataloguing documents). Unlikely. This is why I felt sheer delight at seeing the advert for the traineeship online:
‘Through the Transforming Archives programme we are hoping to diversify the archives workforce, address skills gaps in the archives workforce and provide new routes into working in the sector.’ The National Archives were actively looking for new skills, fresh energy and people from unique, untypical backgrounds. My hopes of beginning a fresh new career in the archives and heritage sector had been rekindled… My posting was to be at Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, and my first day there was inspirational. Everyone was so warm, welcoming and personable – I immediately felt right at home. (Helped, no doubt, by all the delicious and colourful cake on offer in the break room!). I was given a tour of the building and facilities by Claire, the Principal Archivist, and introduced to a whole range of smiling staff members. I got a tangible sense of the wide scope of work that went on at WSHC: Under one roof we had Archivists, Archaeologists, Conservators, the County Arts Lead and Conservation and Museums Manager, an Education Officer, the Wiltshire Buildings Recorder, county Registrars, World Heritage Site officers, Community History Advisors… many of whom were overseen by Terry, the Heritage Services Manager. Such an incredible wealth of resources and information available in one place! Once more, I felt that tingling sense of deep gratitude welling up inside me; how fortunate I was to have been chosen for this role.
Over the following week I undertook various inductions, training and ‘orientation’ a WSHC, before being whisked off to Manchester for the enigmatically named ‘DCDC16 Conference’. My meticulous and painstaking research later uncovered that this stood for ‘Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities’. (Clearly I had what it took to be an excellent Archivist!).
To be honest, I’d been so busy I hadn’t had time to think or get excited about going to the conference. It was only after the restful 3 hour train ride and short walk to my hotel, which overlooked Old Trafford football stadium, that the excitement really began to kick-in. So much learning, networking and FUN to be had over the coming few days! A quick shower and cup of tea, and I donned my suit in preparation for the pre-conference reception.
When I rocked up to The Lowry at Manchester’s Salford Quays, it felt like I’d stepped onto a Hollywood plaza. The bright glowing lights of the ITV building, the BBC, the ‘Coronation Street’ set and the futuresque architecture of the Imperial War Museum North, all set upon the harbour’s edge; an array of colourful signage being reflected into the rippling, dark water below. Absolutely magical. The spell continued as I headed up to the reception room at the top of The Lowry, to catch a beautiful display of precision-timed fireworks popping and frazzling in the sky directly outside. How wonderful, I thought - I’ve never been welcomed to a conference in such style! (It later transpired that the fireworks had nothing to do with DCDC16, we were just fortunate be overlooking the water directly opposite Media City, in all its opulent extravagance).
I don’t think that I’m alone with my interest in historical crime and punishment. I was interested in seeing if I could piece together a criminal history of someone picked completely at random. With this in mind, I looked through one our archives from the Wiltshire Constabulary, a ‘Divisional Criminal Photographic Album, with particulars of crime and personal details. 1900-1916’. the date range I chose ensured that I didn’t breach the 100 year closed file rule; this allows anonymity which in this case is quite a sensitive subject.
I decided to choose a female prisoner, Mary Jane Oland, born on the 1st May 1870 in Kempsford, Gloucestershire- just over the county border. Mary was the daughter of a shepherd and his wife, Thomas and Harriet Oland. It appears that she was of average education; as well as can be expected for a labourers’ child, she would have definitely attended the local village school.
It is unclear why, Mary, turned to the life of crime, but it appears to have stemmed from a mental health issue. A taboo subject, especially during this period. Marys’ first conviction was on the 28th June 1883 at the age of 14, shockingly, she was bound over by Swindon Magistrates for an attempted suicide. To investigate this devastating start to Mary’s downward spiral, I looked at the Swindon Advertiser- newspaper reports often give a lot more detail than a criminal register or calendar of prisoners. On Saturday 30th June 1883, it was reported that Mary had cut her own throat in an attempt to avoid returning to service near Bath. She had stated that she had been cruelly treated by her employer Mr C Williams, a farmer. Prior to the incident, Mary had appeared to have gone AWOL with another young employee, a boy, whom she had taken to Bristol and Box over a period of about four days. Was this just an attempt to run away? There was no criminal intent by poor Mary; it was so obvious that she was unhappy.
The following year, Mary was accused of stealing items of clothing in both Swindon and Marlborough, these offences were swiftly followed by two offences of burglary.
By the age of 16, Mary was breaking into dwelling houses and stealing jewellery. Her previous convictions of theft had seen her do hard labour, in those days this would have meant supervised physical work outside the prison walls. This new conviction gave her a custodial sentence with which hard labour was included. Mary was incarcerated in Devizes Bridewell Prison, where there was a large, multi-person treadmill installed. This treadmill was driven by the prisoners for long sessions and the wardens could tighten the screws to make the treadmill harder to turn. Hence prison wardens being dubbed ‘screws’.
Every year the History Centre hosts work experience students from Year 10 to Higher Education. Alex, a year 10 student from Malmesbury School describes what he got up to during his week:
Recently I have had work experience at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham. On my first day I got shown around the strongrooms which they have lots of original documents, records and certificate etc. I actually saw King Henry VIII’s marriage deed with Jane Seymour. After that I saw Archives Conservation and got told how they restore letters, papers and maps, I also saw a small piece of Napoleon’s hair, and a really nice photo album. I also had a look at a newspaper by Swindon Advertiser in 1918 and 1919 which was really interesting to look at all the different stories they had at that moment in time.
On the second day for the morning I was copying and pasting wills onto a disc for a researcher. Then I got an original document from the strongroom and I had to find the names and occupations of people, where they lived and the year, but it was sometimes really hard to find some people because the writing was really hard to read and some documents did not give names. After lunch I went into the object conservation lab and saw a sole from a roman shoe in the wet room with a freeze dryer, also I went into an x-ray room. After that I saw a very old ceramic pot that had been damaged by a badger when it was digging, the people in the lab were trying to put it back together. After that I did community history and I had an introduction to the Wiltshire Community History website and was able to look at all the different parishes that they have written information about.
As part of my year-long ‘Transforming Archives’ traineeship I have a training (and separate travel) budget from The National Archives (with funding from HLF). This budget gives me the chance to not only scout out learning and development opportunities that I wouldn’t normally have access to, but also lets me attend them for free – which is absolutely brilliant really. Obviously there are limitations, we can’t go jetting off around the world for a lecture, or get them to pay for a Masters course. I have however been to quite a few places around the UK; I’m off to Glasgow for the Copyright and Cultural Memory Conference next month, for example.
Anyhow, on 18th March 2016, a perfect training event popped up for me to attend for a mere £35 of my training budget (plus my travel and a hotel for a night). The Eastern and London Regions of the Archives and Records Association (ARA) held some core training in, ‘Audience Engagement: Strategies and Practices’, at the central library, Cambridge. After a warm welcome from the ARA Training Officers Diane Hodgson and Anne Jensen, it was straight into six different talks from people with a wide range of experience in the field.
First up was ARA’s Head of Public Affairs, Jon Elliot, talking about the Explore Your Archive Campaign and how it can be used to project the archive profession and the value of what archives hold and do. Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign between the National Archives and ARA that encourages archives across the UK to host events and projects that highlight their service. Using marketing materials to create a cohesive campaign, the focus is on a week-long celebration of archives in November (though events can also be held throughout the year). Jon believes the campaign has been a success so far, but that improvements do need to be made, which they are aiming to implement over the next 3 year phase.
Next was a thorough and very informative talk from National Archives Outreach Officer, Sandra Shakespeare. Sandra pointed out the importance of actually evaluating your evaluations. There’s no point collecting lots of data on visitors if you don’t actually review that data and make use of it to shape your engagement plans. Sandra explained the many benefits of creative approaches to audience engagement, including working in partnerships to deliver projects, which can give you an opportunity to navigate around boundaries and take risks. One point that really stuck with me was that you need to empower people, start conversations and really build relationships, and then people will respond if they feel that they are valued and their opinions matter.