Da-da! Functional map finally revealed

Functional map on wall

The map looming a little ominously on the wall – each of the clusters you can see is a subfonds.

I finished the functional map back in early September and moved on to my next major task (building authority files) but I’ve just got round to having it printed out on the massive CYC printer so I have a real physical copy to stick on the wall and share with you. I’m sorry I didn’t get round to doing this sooner, and whilst I’m sure no one was waiting on tenterhooks, I shouldn’t have left it hanging – that’s bad blogging! For some reason the print unit put it on a black background which doesn’t photograph very well close up  (but looks funkily retro on the wall) so I’ll use screen shots from my computer to show detail.

Close up of functional map

So, here are my 13 main categories which form my “sub-fonds” level in the CALM catalogue:

  • FIN Finance
  • ADM Administration
  • LEG Legal
  • COU Council, Committees and Freemen
  • ORD Public Order and Justice
  • SOC Social Assistance
  • UTL Utilities
  • DEF Civil and Military Defence
  • PPT Planning, Property and Transport
  • CUL Culture, Recreation and Tourism
  • ENV Environment and Trade regulation
  • EDU Education and Training
  • HEA Health

Each section is then broken down into 3-5 subsections, again based on function.  Legal, for example,  is split into 5 sections:

  • Property
  • Disputes
  • Civil registration and ceremonies
  • Legislation
  • Boundaries and jurisdictions 

Everything below these two levels is just an indication of what kind of records will fall into each sub-section, not actually how the catalogue will look, because the lower levels must be constructed “bottom-up” by identifying the real-life series of documents (on schedule to start in January). This is to make sure we respect provenance and original order. 

Looks pretty simple right? That’s kind of the idea, that a lot of thinking and testing goes into making a robust end structure that I can fit everything into and is easy to navigate. It means that I shouldn’t have to think too much about each series as I physically catalogue it, just put it in its allocated place, like sorting post into pigeonholes.

The software I’ve used is called bubbl.us and was just the first one I came across online after a quick search. My first stage was to brainstorm all the different information I came across in my research in a big higgledy-piggledy mess. 

Brainstorming using bubbl.us

Once I had captured everything in one workspace, then I started a new sheet and built a more ordered hierarchical structure by grouping the functions that emerged. When I changed my mind, I could delete bits, add bits or just drag the bubbles into a new section.

Archivists often arrange collections by writing notes on slips of paper and then moving them about on the desk until happy with it. This is just a digital method for the same process which I recommend to anyone, and is much less likely to blow away if someone leaves the window open!

Of course, the final catalogue will be a slightly different shape depending on how many records survive from each function, and hopefully I’ll have time to make another visual representation of the actual catalogue when I’m finished.

It could even be a visual interface into the collection, a big poster that a user can go to and locate their area of interest (and corresponding catalogue reference), or one day maybe even an interactive app that you could click on a bubble and it takes you to the online catalogue entry. How cool would that be on a large touch screen or electronic whiteboard?

 Do you think you’d use a visual “browse” type interface instead of, or alongside, a text-based “search” interface? I think it would be great for users who don’t have a fixed interest to begin with, but just want to explore what we have, or when you are looking for something specific but don’t know exactly what to type in the search box. Having a strong browseable interface of some kind is necessary for this project because I’m only cataloguing to series level,  so there won’t be the quantity of searchable text  as you would find in a traditional item-level catalogue.

So that’s my structure as it stands. I’m now constructing the parallel and complementary web of authority files, the nitty gritty factual detail of which departments carried out which functions and when. This provides provenance and another access route into the collection.

There will be two posts on the blog this week – so come back on Friday to hear about the wonderful story of a York resident accidentally finding herself in the archives recently – in a photo from 1927!

Local democracy (week) in York

This week is Local Democracy Week, so I thought I’d post a little bit of background about how local democracy has developed in York. Democracy has various facets, including voting, standing for office, knowing what decisions are made and the reasons behind them, monitoring spending and influencing the decision making process.

Wealth, occupation, personal connections, religious views, gender, “free” status, property ownership and age have all enabled or prevented York residents from engaging with some or more of these facets of local democracy in their city over the centuries, and the raw material of that story is to be found in the civic archives.

There are many milestones, but here are just a couple of the (positive and negative) ones that stand out for me.

1212 – You’ll know from all the York800 events that 1212 was when York bought the right to govern itself from the King. This meant that instead of a noble appointed by the crown running the city (the Sheriff of Yorkshire), people from the city itself did so – as long as they collected and paid a certain amount of tax, known as the fee farm each year.

1396 – York becomes a county in its own right, and not part of the ridings:  “the county of the city of York”. It was allowed to have its own sheriffs, independent markets and courts and account directly to the King’s exchequer.

1633 – A charter refers to the common council of 72 being appointed by wards. Before this, different crafts and trades were allocated so many members each. This switch to geographical divisions, i.e splitting the city up into wards, is what we still have today.  

1660-1670s  – Various national Acts of Parliament introduced religious oaths and tests to deliberately stop non-Anglicans from holding office. Protestant dissenters were usually exempted through annual exemption acts, but Jews, Catholics and Atheists were systematically excluded for nearly 200 years.

1835 – The hugely significant Municipal Corporations Act changed the way corporations were run. It  challenged centuries of precedence and privilege, and aimed to reform municipal corporations as agents of efficient local government for the benefit of, and with input from, the wider community (not just freeman). Appointments became fixed term, in York the press was allowed access to meetings and could report on what was said and any male ratepayer could vote in local elections.

1886 – The last religious test (having to be a Christian) was removed.

1894 – Some women could vote (but only ratepayers, and not if they were married and their husband was registered for the property already), become poor law guardians (they had once before, but this had been taken away) and be on school boards.

1945 – All men and women over 21 could vote.

1969 – Age limit reduced to 18 for voting (but 18-20 year olds not allowed to stand for office until 2006)

1974 – Another nation-wide local government shake-up with a major impact on Yorkshire. York stopped being an independent county borough and became  a non-metropolitan district council within North Yorkshire County Council. This is where my project ends because it is a major shift in the records, just like in 1835, but the records will be added into the functional catalogue structure later on.

1996 – York becomes a unitary authority once more, as the City of York Council.

There are many more steps and complications along the way but this is a long enough post and I’m not an expert! If you’d like to find out more about democracy in York today and in the past, the Local Democracy Week website has details of free events tomorrow including tours of the mansion house and a public lecture by University of York historian Dr Sarah Rees-Jones on called York 800 Years Ago: the King, the Charter and the City which I would highly recommend.

Lucky Dip #3 – Emergency Feeding Committee 1941-1946

Welcome back to the blog and part three of my lucky dip experiment, thanks for your feedback – I’m glad they’re proving a hit. Onto aisle three, this time my eye was caught by a scruffy, hand-inked red spine labelled “Emergency Feeding”. This sounds suitably bizarre, so here we go.

Minute books on shelves

The slim red volume in the middle stands out as different to it’s neighbours, we’ll have to find out why…

It is another minute book, (we are still in that section of the strongroom,) this time for the Emergency Feeding Committee, November 1941-October 1946 [BC 76]. Those dates provide a clue to the purpose of the committee, which was set up to provide off-the-ration canteens, called “British restaurants” to feed people displaced by air raids, and also the wider workforce, during WW2.

BC 76 – a not very exciting front cover

At the start of this minute book, the committee were running several canteens in York, in buildings requisitioned for war purposes. Food during wartime is a fascinating topic, that usually centres around ration books and home life – but here we see a different side, mass catering for hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of people a day, and the logistics that went into making that happen.

It’s a great source for the disruption to every day life experienced on the home front in York. However, it also has familiar glimpses of normality in the complex relationship and tensions between committees, the council, the government and residents.

One of my favourite entries is near the beginning. The committee has asked the council if one of the staff, Mrs Sachs, could live rent-free in the property next to the canteen she supervises. The answer comes back, no, she must pay a rent of 5s a week.

Extract from document

However, they seem to have got round it without disobeying the council: they decide to rent one room of the house  back off Mrs Sachs as an office, which just so happens to be for the sum of 5s!

Extract from document

Whilst you didn’t have to spend rations to eat at a canteen, the food available obviously reflected wartime shortages. In the summer of 1942, LNER workers refused to pay full price for their meals saying that they were not good enough.

“They specially complained of the continuous serving of peas and beans, that the beans were rarely cooked sufficiently; that the rice pudding tasted mouldy and the fish cakes were ‘high’.”

So, the committee investigated one of these LNER canteens, and the report is amusing, especially the observation by one canny workmen that the committee must have given advance warning of their visit because the food was notably better than normal!

Typescript report on LNER canteen inspection

You can click on this, or any other image, to get a better view where you can zoom in and read the text more easily.

The realities of war were never far away: just two pages later the committee is seeking new premises for one of its canteens “owing to the Leeman Rd emergency feeding centre being damaged beyond repair by enemy action.”

When the war ended, the British Restaurants were closed down and properties given back to their owners, but councils were encouraged to setup their own “municipal restaurants” instead. We now know of course that food troubles continued for years after the end of the war, with some rationing continuing until 1954. The York committee were very keen on building their own restaurant and went ahead even before enabling legislation had been enacted.

They had some trouble trying to find a location.  Suggestions included the art gallery, 35 Fossgate and the Merchant Taylor’s hall. The art gallery was put forward as the best option, having ground floor access and a large hall. The committee wasn’t too impressed with this as a permanent option (and I imagine neither were the art gallery!) so instead they bought a prefabricated hut from the Ministry of Food which they erected (after some argument with the Markets Committee) in Gill Garth.

Neatly written report on various options for restaurant premises

Here you can see the analysis of the different options available – they make interesting reading!

I’ll finish on some little details of the new civic restaurant, which was officially opened in May 1946. The committee were very concerned that it should be a success. They wanted to make it look nice, and asked the Parks department for flowers for the tables. They also tipped one Mr Pilmoor the painter £5, “who had so successfully executed mural paintings in the restaurant”.

The make do and mend ethic was still strong: after rejecting samples of hessian for curtain material they decided to try bleaching blackout material to a different colour instead. They did acquire the fabric but the bleaching may not have gone to plan as they authorised “coloured braid [to be] sewn on the curtains for decoration” instead – a lovely image!

Extract about curtains

That’s it for lucky Dip #3, I’ve run out of space before I ran out of material! Minute books are not the dry tones I always assumed that would be, and have something to offer even a casual peruser. Which has been the most interesting so far, do you think?