Update: Explore’s Art Project!

Back in August, Sarah published a blog post telling you all about our exciting art installation that will soon be in place on the archives landing here at Explore. We thought it was about time we posted an update on this project that’s got all of us here at Explore on the edges of our seats!

Just to refresh your memories, the art installation is based on over 600 responses we have collected from you- the public- to the question ‘what should York remember?’. It will take the form of a panorama of York, titled ‘What York Means to us’. Inspired by the iconic city walls, the piece will be made up of individual bricks that each tell a story about life in York.

Emily's mock-up of the art installation, inspired by individual memories and the city walls.

Artist Emily Harvey’s mock-up of the art installation, inspired by individual memories and the city walls.

We thought we’d keep you posted on our progress and asked artist Emily Harvey to tell us how it’s going…

Emily busy creating the panels in her studio!

Emily busy creating the panels in her studio!

“The whole panel is sketched out in more detail now – I will keep adding and removing things as it progresses though! Once particular blocks are designed they start to take on a life of their own, and I know that some characters will pop up again in different scenes.

Here are pictures of some sketches and maquettes testing out the ideas:

Polo swimmers – lots of people talked about swimming and this block shows children having fun in the outdoor pool (sadly no longer there) with polo ‘lifesavers’ .

Learning to read – this image comes from a stained glass panel in All Saints Church in North St – a little girl is being taught to read 500 years ago, this picture will be combined with contemporary children and university students in York.

The white horse – you can see the white horse from high points in York and it is included in the panorama to show the landscape beyond the walls.

carriageworks plaster

The carriageworks – lot of people have memories of working here, this image is made from old spanners, bolts and other tools and other tools used in engineering.”

The final artwork will be installed at the end of November, so we’ll be keeping you updated until then. I’ve just updated the display boards on the landing here at Explore, so pop in and take a look! Don’t forget to keep your eyes and ears peeled for future updates!

Our newly-updated display boards on the landing where the art installation will be.

Our newly-updated display boards on the landing where the art installation will be- pop in and take a look!

Ware and tear – The challenges of cataloguing a large solicitors archive

This week I wanted to share the journey of one of our archive cataloguing projects and how we made a 78 box collection accessible to the public for the first time.

Our volunteers work incredibly hard and you’ve heard from and about them in our earlier blog posts and on social media. They dedicate their time to us every Thursday in the Archives Reading Room at York Explore.

One of the largest community collections to have been brought back on-site was Ware & Co Solicitors. It’s a complex legal collection with documents relating to a wide range of Yorkshire families, properties and businesses.

The challenge was how to organise such a large collection with so many different parts. The records themselves were also quite challenging as they date back to 1554 so can be difficult to read and interpret without specialist skills.

Volunteers enjoying historical legal documents, complete with wax seal!

Initially we thought that it might prove to be an easy collection, despite it’s size, as there was an old printed list and most of the boxes were labelled. We set the volunteers off checking items in the boxes against the list. The complexity of the records and the list meant this was slow going and we all started to feel like we were never going to get anything done! Families, properties and business were all mixed up together, often in poor condition, with many items not appearing at all on the original list.

So we needed a new approach. The work the volunteers had done so far had given us a good idea of the types of records and their condition but it wasn’t sustainable to keep working at such a detailed level.

Our new system was to first come up with an arrangement for the collection. We printed out the names of 67 families as well as 15 properties and businesses and set the volunteers the challenge of matching up the boxes to the names. Once all the boxes had been assigned a name, this gave us a starting point for writing catalogue entries. We chose to keep the descriptions brief as almost all of the collection consisted of the same types of legal records.

The volunteers, who by this time had a lot of experience using the collection, recorded the key details about the items including covering dates and a brief description of the documents.

We also set our volunteer Richard the task of discovering more about each family. The information he found was especially important as some of these families have played a key role in the history and development of the local area.

In just 4 weeks…that’s 80 hours…we had gone from a un-usable collection to one full labelled and searchable on the online catalogue. Without the support of our volunteers it would have taken one member of paid staff over 2 weeks to complete the collection…and that’s without them working on anything else!

The now organised Wares Solicitors collection. Searchable on the online catalogue at Ref no. WSC

The now organised Wares Solicitors collection.  Ref no. WSC

We learnt a valuable lesson on this project, that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to tacking an archive cataloguing project, and it’s something we’ll take forward to the rest of the archive team as we build a lasting legacy to the Gateway to History project.

The full collection will be searchable via the online catalogue w/c 21st September with the reference no. WSC For further information about this collection please email jennifer.mcgarvey@exploreyork.org.uk.

The 2015 series of Mint Yard lectures is here!

Firstly, a big thank you to everyone who attended the Mint Yard Lecture Richard III weekend at York Explore – it was great to see so many people there! Whilst that was going on, I have been putting together the new series of lectures for this autumn. My ultimate aim is to produce an annual brochure for the lectures but I have to admit I’m not completely there yet! The big news is that now the York Explore refurbishment is complete, the lectures will be returning to the city centre on a permanent basis from September. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any Mint Yard Lectures in branch libraries any more – we will continue to host extra lectures in venues around the city. More information on those lectures will follow in due course.

Mint Yard map

The Mint Yard Lectures were named after the Mint Yard, on which York Explore now stands.

I am now very happy to say that tickets for the new series of lectures are now on sale from Explore libraries, or by calling Archives and Local History on 01904 552800. Tickets for the September lecture are also available on the Inspire website (www.feelinginspired.co.uk) and if you prefer to book online tickets for the others will also be on there shortly.

The first lecture in this year’s series takes place on 30th September and features a screening of local films from the Yorkshire Film Archive (YFA) collections. This is a great opportunity to join us as YFA bring past events and experiences back to life, and to enjoy reliving shared memories of childhood, home and working life in Yorkshire as captured on film throughout the decades. Who knows, you may even spot yourself or a family member in the clips!

Yorkshire Film Archive image

The Yorkshire Film Archive features lots of images of families and local businesses.


The Yorkshire Film Archive also has film relating to Rowntrees.

The archive also holds films relating to Rowntrees.

On 28 October Dr Peter Addyman will speak about the forthcoming York volume of the British Atlas of Historic Towns (due to be published this autumn). Work started on the volume, part of a pan-European scheme for atlases of all Europe’s historic towns and cities, 43 years ago. Since then a team of archaeologists, historians, cartographers and editors have assembled data on all York’s important historic buildings and sites, shown on a base map of 1852 and in 10 development maps showing the city from AD200 to 1836. If you have an interest in historic maps, this is the lecture for you!


Historic Towns map

The new York volume of the British Atlas of Historic Towns shows historic features on modern maps.

In November Dr Kaley Kramer will be uncovering York’s printing heritage into the 18th century. York’s history of printing began with the arrival of migrant Dutch printers in the late 15th century and continued right up to the present day. The city hosted King Charles I’s printer during the turbulent summer of 1642; became a northern hub of Puritan and Quaker printing during the Commonwealth and was home to one of the earliest regional newspapers – the York Mercury – founded in 1718. Join Kaley as she takes the story into the 18th century and beyond.

Our last lecture of 2015 will be held on 9th December and is unlike anything I have certainly seen before. Dr Sarah Fiddyment of University of York will be discussing her role in a pioneering study of medieval parchment DNA. Parchment (made from animal skins) was the medium of writing in medieval Europe and thousands of these skins still survive today in our libraries and archives, holding an untapped reservoir of evidence. Underneath the pictures and words lies a hidden layer of biomolecular information waiting to be read. In this fusion of history and science, the University of York project has been able to uncover what animals were used to make parchment, where they might come from and much more. Get your tickets now for what should be a very enlightening lecture about how 21st century science is retelling the story of medieval history.

I am so pleased to have such a varied programme of interesting topics, with such good speakers and featuring a wide variety of types of archives. All lectures start at 7pm at York Explore and tickets are £6 each (£5 for Yorkcard holders and all including tea and coffee) so why not pop down to your local library and get yours now? We’ll look forward to seeing you there!


Finding inspiration in the archives…

A nice part of my job is when I feel inspired by an archive collection that I am working on. This happened most recently when I was cataloguing the Ebor Cycling Club collection (ECC), and what a gem their archive collection turned out to be! I have enjoyed cycling ever since I was a child- but this collection has inspired me to get back into it, and here’s why…

Ebor Cycling Club badges and logos (ECC/4/3)

Ebor Cycling Club badges and logos (ECC/4/3)

The Ebor Cycling Club collection contains the usual club minutes, finances and correspondence that most community group collections include, but what stood out to me were the operational and publicity records of the Club. They include runs cards that detail where the Club cycled to and from on various days; record cards showing who cycled where and in what time, and descriptions of trophies and prizes awarded to members for exceptional rides during competitive races. But it seems that the Club was not just serious about cycling, but enjoyed a thriving social life as well.

The collection offers a glimpse of their annual dinner dances and weekly social nights, and shows a club that fostered strong friendships and provided plenty of good times. What a fun club to be a part of!

I imagine Ebor Cycling Club members wearing their badges with pride as they competed in events, or even when they were out for their regular Wednesday night rides. I have visions of them celebrating their successes, and rallying around one another to offer support during competitive events. It seems that there was a real camaraderie amongst the members of the Ebor Cycling Club, and it only took me a day’s worth of work organising the collection for me to want to have been a part of it.

Lawrence Street Sunday School Cycling Club in about 1890 ( law_gre_42).

Lawrence Street Sunday School Cycling Club in about 1890 ( law_gre_42).

York is undoubtedly a cycling city, and has been for many years. These records offer an exciting glimpse of York’s cycling history, and really bring to life the joy that the sport has given to people throughout the years. It is for that reason that the Ebor Cycling Club collection (ECC) has quickly become one of my favourite community group collections, and I urge you all to come and take a look at it, and feel as inspired by it as I am!