Say hello to our fabulous community collections volunteers!

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to volunteer with the community collections team, then wonder no more! We have a lot to thank our community collections volunteers for here at York Explore. They come in every Thursday and help us catalogue some of our many collections, and we simply could not do it without them. The most recent collection that they have just finished working on is the York Cemetery Company collection, which contains a whopping 65 volumes!

Our volunteers hard at work!

Our volunteers hard at work

We thought we’d give our wonderful volunteers the chance to tell you just what it is they have been up to…

Phil working throughan archive box


Phil: “Cataloguing the records of the City of York Cemetery gave the volunteers an in-depth view of the workings of one of York’s most treasured genealogical archives, the memorial inscriptions, burial books and causes of death of its citizens. The catalogue now gives details of the day-to-day running of the cemetery and some of the legal issues which arose in administering and expanding the site. We can see, for example, names and payments for the team of stonemasons working on the memorials, the issues involved in re-opening up graves, and the upkeep of the chapel. Researchers can now see a much more rounded view of York Cemetery, and not just its citizens laid to rest.
I was looking at day-to-day running accounts, purchase of plants for the gardens, rotas of work for stonemasons, legal documents around reburials/opening of graves.”



Angi: “For many years I’ve been interested in both social and local history, which is why I jumped at the chance to become a volunteer on the Gateway to History Project. Our first task was to work on the York cemeteries archives. Delving through the numerous record books and other related documents in order to sort and catalogue proved more interesting than one might think.
In particular I found several indentures relating to the transfer of sections of the land which later became Fulford cemetery dating from the mid 17th century onwards. Unexpectedly, these documents revealed the land was owned by ordinary trades people e.g. tanners, booksellers and their wives. Also of interest was the fact the signatures off all parties mentioned in the documents shown were beautifully scripted. This was surprising since the impression since we are commonly led to believe that Is was only after the Victorian education acts that the working classes and women in particular we’re taught to read and write and that only the upper and middle classes.
I look forward to making further discoveries as the project continues.”




“I have working on the Cemetery Archives right from the forming of the group. I felt honoured to be accepted. I like old things. It is good to be able to handle the actual material and realise that these are real people’s real thoughts and feelings, some from hundreds of years ago. And those huge books, you can hold instead of just seeing them on Antiques programs. Then at the other extreme, you have scraps of paper that are barely legible.
We have a good team, that’s straight in and gets stuck in.”




Karen:“Death, as the proverb goes, is the great leveller. Working on the York Cemetery Trust records has been a reminder that history is not just the events that changed the world or the tales of the great and terrible. History, as witnessed by the huge volumes of the York burial registers, is a complex tapestry and each and every person is an individual thread within it. If anything Thursday mornings with my fellow volunteers has also taught me that an archive should never be the domain solely of academics. Anybody can experience, as we have in the past few months, the incredulity at the sheer physical weight of some of the books, or give themselves an impromptu eye-test trying to decipher century-old looping handwriting. You certainly do not need a beard, white gloves or a tweed jacket to access or enjoy the collections at York Explore.”

As you can see, our volunteers have been very busy over the last few months! A huge thank you goes out to all of our volunteers as the work they do is invaluable to us, the Community Collections team, here at Explore.

NEW art project launched at York Explore

Do you remember at the start of the year we ran ‘What Should York Remember?’ and the Archives Roadshow? We mentioned there could be an art project in the pipeline and that you should wait for details….well your wait is over!

I’m pleased to announce the results of the Roadshow and to launch ‘What York means to us’, a visual representation of York’s past, present and future through the voices of 600 York residents.

We gathered a total of 600 spoken, written and artistic responses from residents aged 3-90 across York. These responses were then presented to local artists who pitched their ideas for a piece of legacy artwork, to tell a very local story of York revealing how the City sees itself.

We chose Emily Harvey to scope, create and install the artwork as a legacy of the York: Gateway to History project. Emily has experience in community arts and one of her most recent projects was the collaborative creation of the banners that hung along the city walls during the Tour De France.

Emily is a printmaker who runs courses as well as leading community art projects

Emily is a printmaker who runs courses as well as leading community art projects

Emily is creating a coloured textured panel made from resin plaster, based on the City Walls with the stones illustrating aspects of York that local people shared with us during the project. The mortar will contain text to link the words and voices of today’s residents to the images in the stones. Emily shared her ideas, and inspiration with us as a taster of what’s to come:

“I am really excited to be starting work on the panel for York Explore Library and Archives. This project brings together a lot of things I am interested in especially community arts, design, architecture, history, and public art.

I started by reading through all the stories about York collected over the last few months, these have inspired a lot of images already which I have been sketching and researching.

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I got some funny looks when I was out taking close up photos of the walls – I must have looked like a very short sighted tourist! I particularly like the ones with accidental faces in them.

Faces in the City Walls discoverd by Emily as part of her research

Faces in the City Walls discoverd by Emily as part of her research

I also have a life size drawing on the wall of the studio to I can collect all the ideas together and get them into a coherent design. I am sure this will change and evolve over time.

The wall in Emily's studio is ready and waiting!

The wall in Emily’s studio is ready and waiting!

In order to get the technique and the measurements right I have done a few test pieces – I find that more ideas come while actually making things so the process is a mixture of planning, doing and thinking and eventually the final piece starts to take shape.”


Sample panels and sketches created by Emily as a taster of what’s to come!

Emily has created some mood boards showing how she has been inspired, not only by the responses but also by the City Walls and our archive collections. These are on display on the 1st floor landing at York Explore where the final piece will be installed.

Pop along to York Explore and discover what’s inspiring Emily and where the final art piece will be installed

What York means to us will be launched in November 2015 and be available to everyone to enjoy. If you or anyone you know contributed to this activity, pop along and see if anything you said is featured!

Watch out in The Press over the next couple of weeks for a feature revealing even more about this exciting project!