Getting to Grips with Criminal Histories…

Me enjoying the Gaolers' journals

Me enjoying the Gaolers’ journals

Hi, I’m Jenny McGarvey and I’ve been here at York Explore doing a part-time placement for the past 10 weeks. I am currently studying an MA in Public History at the University of York, and have been lucky enough to do this placement as part of the course.

Today marks the end of my 10-week placement with York Explore and I can honestly say that I could not have asked for a more exciting, enjoyable and informative experience.

The aim of my placement was to research and get to grips with the court records held at York Explore, and produce outreach tools to encourage public interest. My final products will be used once the court records are available for public use- and believe me; once they are people should form an orderly line as there are some real gems to be discovered in the records, as I have quickly come to learn!

Books, books... and even more books!

Books, books… and even more books!

Originally knowing absolutely nothing about the history of crime and punishment, I arrived on my first day feeling a mixture of excited and daunted, unsure about where my journey would take me. But the welcome I received soon put my mind at rest and I eased into the task in front of me. For the first week of placement, I immersed myself in books, websites and anything I could find that would teach me about crime and punishment. It was a topic that I began to love.

Delving into the archive boxes...

Delving into the archive boxes…

I then set about trawling through the many (and I mean many!) boxes full of archive material relating to the court records. As I opened box after box, it became clear to me how fascinating the records are. Having initially become too immersed in the detail and stories covered by the records, I took a step back and focused on the task in hand; to create a resource discovery report to outline the contents of the records.

One of the documents I enjoyed reading

One of the documents I enjoyed reading

Another task was to create some form of ‘window’ on to the records as a way of introducing them to the public. After getting a glimpse at the wonderful collection of maps held here at the archives, I knew straight away that I wanted to use them in some way for my resource. I finally settled on the idea of creating a presentation based on old maps of York to tell personal stories of people I had come across in the court records.

One of the maps included in the presentation

One of the maps included in the presentation

I would use PowerPoint to create my presentation on “A Brief History of Crime and Punishment in the City of York”, and the finished product will be displayed on the screens that are dotted around York Explore and the local libraries.

Just some of the extraordinary maps help at York Explore

Me enjoying the extraordinary maps help at York Explore

Creating my presentation took me back to the archive boxes, excited to discover intriguing stories to include. I unearthed petty thefts, servant girls heading down dangerous paths, elaborate prisoner conspiracies to escape and even murderous crusades of revenge.

The Gaolers' Journals

The Gaolers’ Journals

My favourite part of my research process has to have been discovering the Gaoler’s journals (Y/ORD/1/2). These were absolutely captivating reads and were effectively diaries kept by the Gaolers of their everyday activities within York Castle Prison. They detailed many prison goings-on; from intakes of prisoners, executions, and prisoner punishments, to female prisoners giving birth (a surprisingly regular occurrence!), inmate rivalries and of course, the story that has come to be one of my favourites- that of a prisoner conspiracy to tie up the prison guards and escape in the dead of night. These fabulous reads have provided me with many a moment’s entertainment throughout my time here!

The finished resource is a 91-page interactive PowerPoint that both teachers and pupils can use.

The opening slide of the presentation that will be displayed on the screens around York Explore

The opening slide of the learning resource that will be used as an aid to the teaching of crime and punishment

Another outcome of my placement was the creation of a learning resource that could be used to aid the teaching of crime and punishment. I did this by adapting the original presentation designed for the screens at York Explore, with a view to it being used for Key Stages 2 and 3. This was a very thought-provoking process as I had to take into account lots of different factors, such as how to adapt my writing style to suit this new audience, and how to develop it so that it reflects the National Curriculum. I have thoroughly enjoyed the process involved in creating the resource, and it has certainly taught me a lot more than I ever thought it would.

From the initial opening up of archive boxes...

From the initial opening up of archive boxes…

Having begun my archive journey with no knowledge whatsoever about crime and punishment, and very little experience of archives besides a bit of research for essays, I have come out the other side of my placement with a passion for both criminal histories and archives.

The court records have had me hooked. I hope my resources show this passion, as they are the reason behind what will most likely be a lifelong interest in criminal histories. For anyone considering accessing the records once they become available, be warned: once you’ve started reading them you won’t be able to stop! reading about prisoner conspiracies!

…to becoming a criminal history enthusiast!

Community Collections Spotlight: the Goodricke and Pigott astronomical archive

Forecasts for this Friday’s partial solar eclipse may be disappointingly cloudy, but did you know that you can still get your astronomy fix in the archives at York Explore?

As you may have seen in a recent article by the York Press our Goodricke & Pigott astronomy collection (collection code: GPP; 1760-1815) is now available. It is full of  measurements, drawings and descriptions of astronomical phenomena inclduing wonderfully detailed observations of solar (and lunar) eclipses seen from the UK and Europe. So even if you don’t get the chance to see the partial eclipse on Friday, this collection might just make up for it!

The collection contains of the journals of York astronomers, and neighbours, John Goodricke (1764-1786) and Nathaniel Pigott (1725–1804) who together famously observed the strange flickering of a star named Algol. It was Goodricke who later became the first astronomer to describe what may have been going on – that Algol was being eclipsed by ‘a large body’. He wasn’t far off – we now know that Algol is in fact made up of three stars orbiting around each other. This creates an effect of regular brightening and dimming that happens each time one passes in front of the other.

Pigott wrote about how the clouds often hindered his observations of eclipses

His discovery was so important that it was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and he was also awarded their Copley Medal. We not only have some of those original letters sent to the Society here in our collection but we also have the very journal where he first wrote down his observations of Algol.

Goodricke’s contribution to astronomy is an extraordinary feat considering he made many of his observations from a modest telescope at his family home in Treasurer’s House, York. It becomes even more impressive when you discover that he did all this before his death from pneumonia at the age of 21 and that from a young age he lived with being profoundly deaf. The John Goodricke collection is an important one. Pigott himself described Goodricke’s death as “a loss to astronomy” and it is not hard to imagine just what else he might have gone on to discover had he lived longer.

York Explore is home to the original letters written by John Goodricke and Nathaniel Pigott to the Royal Society

As well as containing the astronomical papers of Nathaniel Pigott, the collection also includes those of his son Edward (1753 – 1825), both of whom studied the night sky from their purpose-built garden observatory in Bootham. In his early life, Nathaniel moved around Europe with his wife and children before returning to England and at one point became settled in Caen, France, where he made many of his observations.

Nathaniel was especially noted for his observations of the transits of Venus and Mercury, as well as that of eclipses and comets. The latter of which also interested his son Edward who discovered a comet in 1793 and was subsequently named after him. Interestingly, Edward even wrote in his journals about seeing the northern lights (from London!).

As you can see from some more highlights of their collections below, the archive is as much a work of art as it is a record of their scientific achievements.

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Search our online catalogue to discover more from the collection or pop in and see it for yourself at York Explore Library during our usual archive service opening hours.

Opening up the Gateway to History!

It’s been a while since I blogged, but finally the fun part of the York: Gateway to History project has begun! Me and Sarah have been busy delivering the outreach projects we spent much of last year preparing for and it’s been fantastic to meet lots of lovely people from community groups across York, as well as hear your wonderful memories of the city on our Archives Roadshow.

The Roadshow has been a great way of publicising the new archive service at York Explore and showing off our wonderful community collections – which are now searchable on our online catalogue for the first time. We’ve also been asking you ‘What should York remember?’ to know what people, things or events you think we should be remembering about York for future generations. This will help us think about what kind of archive we create for the future and your responses will form part of an exciting art project coming up later this year. Have a look at some of the fantastic responses we have gathered so far below…

What do you think York should remember? Pop into the Archives Roadshow when it hits a library near you!

Haxby Library – 11th March

Huntington Library – 17th March

Dringhouses Library – 31st March

Fulford Library – 7th April

New Earswick Library – 14th April

You may also know about our Gateway to Your Archives Workshops that we have been hosting at York Explore, aimed at giving local community groups the skills they need to create, manage and use their own archive collections. With two workshops already delivered, we have had some really interesting conversations with members of various community groups across York about how they can preserve the archives and history of their local area.

The aim of the workshops is to give people a fun and interactive introduction to archive storage, looking after digital records, cataloguing and promoting your collection through projects (there is even the chance to have a behind the scenes tour of our brand new archive at York Explore!). Places are still available so if you are interested email for more information.

**NEW WORKSHOP DATE – Gateway to Your Archives: Social Media and the Digital Environment Workshop – 19th March 9:30-12:00 email for more info**

Have a sneak peek at our workshops in the gallery below…

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