“Our Letters Keep Us Very Busy.” 19th-Century Family Newspapers and How to Make Your Own

The mainstream news circles endlessly around the covid-19 pandemic. Our own movements, interactions, and activities are severely limited. Sometimes the days just seem to roll into one. So how can we find ways to delineate the hours and keep track of them? Is there a way to share our news with friends and family beyond exchanging text messages? How do we create personal records of this unprecedented time?

Perhaps we should begin by reconsidering what constitutes news: start celebrating small triumphs, seek inspiration from within our limited surroundings rather than looking beyond them. Making family newspapers can help your children tune out of the barrage of bad news and focus instead on the little things that so often fail to be recorded.

Copyright: George Charles Beresford

In the 1890s, ten-year-old Virginia Woolf began working on a family newspaper called ‘Hyde Park Gate News’. This collaborative production featured family news, jokes, poems, riddles, fictional letters, stories in serial form, and reports of visits to concerts and plays.  

Anyone with a family WhatsApp group may be inundated with jokes and riddles already. But with the speed of modern communication, these often tend to get lost. (Depending on the quality, you may consider that a good thing!) Could your own young journalists start recording these jokes or, even better, come up with their own? If screen time is increasing, perhaps they could take on the role of Family Media Critic, writing down their favourite quotes and providing star ratings on what they watch. We may not be attending concerts or plays, but the National Theatre is providing free YouTube screenings of their productions every Thursday night at 7PM. Who knows? You might have a budding theatre critic amongst you!

Family Newspapers in Yorkshire

 

Long before the precocious Virginia Woolf launched her writing career, the Gray children were already producing their own family newspapers. Looking through their archive, we found newspapers from the 1820s containing letters addressed to various family members, daily accounts of activities, and features on topics such as “Apple Gathering”, “Plumbs” (plums), “Fox”, “Asses” (the donkey kind), and “Hens”. In the “Measures” section we discovered a simple but ingenious method for keeping children occupied: “Papa made each of us a Yard-Wand … and we measure everything. The church is 22 yards, 2 feet, 5 inches long.”

 

As the young Gray journalists reveal, there is news to be uncovered everywhere. Sometimes they simply look to the sky and take notes on the moon and stars (“Wednesday: the moon being three weeks old presented an appearance”). Entire sections are devoted to pets, food, and outdoor activities. If your children have been helping in the kitchen perhaps they could include some recipes. And our exercise time is the perfect opportunity for gathering content. Did they do any running races? Perhaps they can try identifying the trees and flowers they spot on their walk. Did they meet any dogs today? Was there any drama with York’s increasingly audacious geese? If your children are learning crafts or engaging in new hobbies, they can record their progress with this too. There are so many options! They might even publish their newspaper by sending it to friends and relatives in the post.

 

 

How to Make a Family Newspaper

As the BBC Great Creative at Home Festival continues, there’s never been a better time to think about creating your own family newspapers! 

One of the best ways to make your own newspaper is to produce a zine. These are easy to make, you can print multiple copies from one original, and they are small enough to send to friends and family in the post. The small format also helps if your children are struggling to produce lots of content, as they can easily fill the pages with pictures or just a few lines.

All you need is an A4 piece of paper, a pen, scissors, and something to write about. If you want to get creative you can make more elaborate zines by cutting out pictures to make mini collages. You can also use colourful paints, add stickers, or copy any of the other techniques in the video below. Have fun! And if you want to share your newspapers with a wider audience, we would love to see pictures of your creations on Twitter and Facebook! Don’t forget to use the hastag #GetCreativeAtHome! 

Zine Tutorial

Archives Under Quarantine: 5 Ways to Explore Yorkshire’s History without Leaving Home

In times of worldwide upheaval, it can be comforting to focus on our surroundings. Even better if you can find a way to step into history and retreat from the news for a while. Now that archives and museums are temporarily closed, it might feel like our portals to the past have vanished. But there are so many ways to explore Yorkshire’s history online. Here are five sites to get you started.

Explore York Images  

Did you know that we have a new website? There are thousands of images to explore and you might be surprised by what turns up. Elephants in York? Surely not…    

York Museums Trust

The York Museums Trust has online collections on various themes, including Social History, Geology, Decorative Arts, Costume and Textiles, and Archaeology. Once you select a theme, you can refine the results to only include items with images.

Take inspiration from the collections. Could you make your own games for self-isolation, like this cup and ball or this board game from the early 1800s?

 

Yorkshire Film Archive at the BFI

The Shambles might be unrecognisably empty today, but what did they look like 100 years ago? Footage from the Yorkshire Film Archive takes us on a monochrome tour of York, starting at the busy railway station, winding through the city’s streets and into the Yorkshire School for the Blind (where we find children playing skittles!). Then onward to the crowded marketplace, the Shambles, and finally the River Ouse: the constant thread that runs between York then and now.

BFI Footage of York

Yorkshire Film Archive

Art UK

Many of York Art Gallery’s collections can be found on Art UK. You can browse paintings by William Etty (a York-based artist), depictions of York itself, and many more artworks from around the world.

Stay at Home VE Day 75

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day this Friday, Explore York Libraries and Archives has assembled a Stay at Home resource pack to help you mark this special occasion. Click here to find links to archival footage of VE day celebrations in Yorkshire, information about screenings, recorded testimonies, and educational tools for children.

You can also participate in York’s Stay at Home celebration by sharing your images of any VE day celebrations held over the last 75 years. Share your memories on Twitter with the hashtag #VE75York and on Facebook. We would love to know how you plan on spending your Stay at Home VE Day!

Trainee Thursday: Bridging the Digital Gap.

© City of York Council / Explore York Libraries and Archives Mutual Ltd.
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https://images.exploreyork.org.uk/

In 2018, The National Archives launched the first cohort of Bridging the Digital Gap (BDG) trainees. The traineeship was developed to address a skills gap in the sector, but also to contribute to something more ambitious: the vision of a disruptive digital archive. Established archival practices have naturally been shaped by the physical records they aim to protect. Rather than digitally simulating these practices, The National Archives aims to “fundamentally rethink archival practice from first principles”. They intend to create a second-generation digital archive that is “digital by instinct and design”.

BDG trainees are effectively an embodiment of this disruption. None of the trainees are archivists; we have no practices to unpick. We all entered archives (some for the first time) with diverse backgrounds but two things in common: digital experience and an interest in archives. Everything we learn is built on the foundation that digital preservation is an essential archival practice.[1] Even if an archive only holds physical records, the archivists are using computers to catalogue, engage users, and correspond with depositors. Whether you can read this blog in years to come will essentially depend on digital preservation (including generous appraisal). We are all, to some degree, digital archivists. But Bridging the Digital Gap doesn’t just draw connections between archives and digital preservation. It makes archiving instinctively digital; it collapses the gap by design.

© your123 / Adobe Stock

In October 2019, the second group of BDG trainees entered the archives. Four in London and four in Yorkshire. I am fortunate to count myself amongst this cohort, and I am doubly fortunate to be seconded to York. (How can you fail to feel blessed when your commute involves riverside cycles or medieval walls?) I studied English Literature at the University of York a few years ago and will always associate York with that period of growth. But Yorkshire was never just a backdrop to an academic experience. It unlocked it. Knotty paragraphs unravelled as I ran along the Ouse. Ideas landed on long rambles through fields. Dissertation panic dissolved in a euphoric cycle down Rosedale’s Chimney Bank and an agonising ride (on ancient/broken bikes) between Scarborough and Robin Hood’s Bay. I dived into Yorkshire and surfaced revived. I learnt that often all we need is an alternative perspective, an opportunity to engage with obstacles differently.

We are typically encouraged to conceive of technology (and most other things) in a binary and oppositional way. Paperbacks versus Paperwhite. Letters versus emails. Man versus robots. And yet, Kindle didn’t eradicate books, nor did Audible. They just enabled more people to read. Likewise, digital archives don’t threaten physical ones, they just consolidate their content and extend their reach. Technology, when used effectively, is exceptionally good at improving access: a fundamental archival principle.

Similarly, for the archive sector to be open and adaptable, it requires alternative access points. A master’s qualification might unlock entry for one person, whilst creating an insurmountable barrier for another. I glimpsed into the archival world when researching the Hogarth Press. But I couldn’t find a way into the workforce. I couldn’t afford a master’s in Archives and Record Management and I couldn’t see another way in. I started working as a freelance writer and learnt about SEO. I built rudimentary websites and tried teaching myself code. I stopped being fearful of digital technology (I am an old soul millennial) and recognised its potential. Two years later, I encountered this traineeship, and everything connected. I crossed the bridge into archives, and I brought my digital experience with me.

© City of York Council / Explore York Libraries and Archives Mutual Ltd.
© your123 / Adobe Stock

In the following posts, I will be recounting my time as a BDG trainee and ruminating on the realm of digital archives. I’ll release my posts on Thursdays, for the sake of alliteration, but not every week. (Adaptability being a core principle of digital preservation!) For now, I want to thank York for having me and The National Archives for reconnecting us. Of the many things I’ve learnt on this traineeship, one thing underlies them all: access and connection are vital. I am so grateful for being granted both.  

Frances Bell @inawildflower


[1] The terms digital preservation and digital stewardship tend to be used interchangeably. ‘Digital stewardship’ draws from the environmental movement to embed the idea that archives collect, hold, and evolve records for future generations. I am using ‘digital preservation’ because the term has more widespread use. However, it is worth keeping the values of stewardship in mind when discussing this practice.

Read about some of the fascinating research being carried out on our recently catalogued  Poor Law records…our guest blogger from Clements Hall Local History Group tells us about their project.

 

Relieving officer

What was it like to be poor in 19th century York?  Clements Hall Local History Group is using recently catalogued Explore York Poor Law records to better understand how poverty was experienced – and to give a voice to the poor themselves.

The focus is on one parish – St Mary’s Bishophill Junior, an area both inside and outside the city walls. Researchers are looking at records of three periods: 1839-43, 1859-63, and 1879-83. The project aims to identify a sample of individuals, and attempt to track them through their lives. It is hoped to assemble a number of life stories which detail contact with the relief system, including any periods in the workhouse.

To claim relief a person had to have the right of settlement in a parish administered by York Poor Law Union. Settlement was conferred by various means including birth, marriage, residence in an area for a particular time, employment, and through various property qualifications. The project is interested in anyone applying for relief for whom St Mary’s Bishophill Junior was responsible. For example, in 1837 Joseph Spink (40) was an unemployed whitesmith living in the Shambles. A widower with four children – George, Joseph, Mary Ann and Henry – he was awarded eight shillings relief. The 1851 census records Henry as fifteen, a servant, living in Bishophill with his grandparents John and Mary Tempest.

The project aims to place an individual’s experience in context: how did the parish deal with its poor, and how much did it spend? Was a child on relief more likely to grow up to be an adult on relief ?  How did a large family – or bereavement – affect reliance on relief?

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Explore has one of the best collections of post-1834 out-relief records in the country. Out-relief allowed people to receive relief in their own homes, rather than enter the workhouse. Application and Report Books (PLU/3/1), catalogued by ecclesiastical parish, offer a wealth of data for research: name of claimant plus address, age, marital status, occupation (e.g. charwoman, soldier’s wife; shoemaker) and any disability. They also give the reason for seeking relief, whether relief is temporary or permanent, and details of relief from other sources such as charities. Where relief is in cash, the value and length of period of relief is noted. If in kind – for example, flour, tea or candles – quantities and period are recorded.

Outdoor Relief Lists (PLU/3/2) are also being mined. These name paupers, and total relief received weekly, plus amounts received per quarter and half year. The Lists  have statistical columns; for example, for gender, marital status, children and vagrants.

These sources are supplemented for project research by other Poor Law Union records such as Board of Guardian minute books. The role of the Relieving Officer can be explored by a 19th century Manual for Relieving Officers. (PLU11/5/4/9) Census data, birth, marriage and death registers, and Ordnance Survey maps for 1836, 1852 and 1889 are among other useful sources.

Project volunteers have benefited from training from archivist Julie-Ann Vickers who  also prepared a series of useful short guides to Poor Law records. Further training was provided by Kate Gibson, University of Sheffield.

For further details of the project contact e: enquiries@clementshall.org.uk

The Clements Hall project coincides with a three year University of Leicester/The National Archives (TNA) research project is examining poverty across England and Wales. ‘In their own write: contesting the New Poor law 1834-1900’ will use a sample of thousands of letters written by paupers to give their own point of view.

You can read about the project at https://intheirownwriteblog.com/page/2/

Thanks for reading

Action packed boxmaking

Hello all,

As we near the end of conserving the Poor Law Union and Workhouse Records, I have been busy completing the final lot of repairs to especially damaged material and creating bespoke boxes. Today I thought I would share how I’ve been making the enclosures.

Bespoke enclosure for Poor Law Union volume

Around fifty of the Poor Law Union volumes are too large, too damaged, or otherwise poorly suited to fit inside our standard archive boxes (or would rattle around our next standard size). In creating bespoke enclosures, I was looking for a design that would be:

  • Simple to make
  • Create a minimum of waste board or card
  • Did not require rivets (to avoid purchasing materials and equipment we didn’t already have).

After completing several tests designs, I found a one that fit the bill. Once a workflow was established, these enclosures could be completed in about 20-25 minutes each, doing four to six at one time, as the space allowed.

I choose a four flap design, made with 1000 micron (1mm) archival laminated boxboard and tied with 16 mm unbleached cotton tying tape. I based the design on this one here, but modified slightly it avoid having the abrasive tapes directly against the books (a majority of the volumes had red rot damage which was just consolidated).

Below is a diagram of the boxboard construction and measurements.

 

First, the volume is measured using a book measuring machine, which helps ensure that any wonky books are accurately measured at their largest dimensions. These dimensions are entered into an excel file I created with the box formula (linked at the bottom of the post). It doesn’t take much time to calculate by hand for one or two enclosures, but when completing them in batches, I found this system reduced the overall making time since the measurements could be done ahead of time and boxes completed when it was convenient.

 

 

The boxes are made from three pieces of board (protector piece A, vertical piece B, a horizontal piece C ) that are cut and creased so that they fit snugly against each other. The two pieces of equipment have been helpful is a board chopper and a board creaser, which improve accuracy and speed when creating the boxes. The pieces are then rounded at the corners with a corner rounder, and then folded into shape.

 

 

I use a straight chisel to create a slot one-third of the way from the top and bottom edge of each side of horizontal piece C.  The tying tape is threaded through the slots using a piece of polyester as a needle to pull it through, this holds the tapes in place when the enclosures are tied. Pieces B and C are then adhered together with EVA and weighted down until dry.

 

Once it is tested for size, the enclosure is now complete! 

Volume in enclosure

Thanks for reading!

Tiffany

Link to the excel Four flap enclosures template.

 

 

Final thoughts…

Three months go really fast, especially when you always have something to do and you enjoy what you do. So have been my three months working at York Explore Archive: quick, but really interesting. Certainly, working with Julie-Ann, Tiffany and the volunteers who work in this project has been a wonderful experience that I will never forget.

In these months, the archive has allowed me to learn how York was between 19th and 20th centuries. It was, without doubt, a very different city from the one we know today: for example, The Shambles was not so dreamful as to open Harry Potter shops for tourists. Streets such as Walmgate or Hungate were areas where some of the poorest people of the city lived. And, of course, York was not the clean and healthy city that we know today. Nonetheless, the huge amount of documentation of the Health Committee and other institutions show that the health care was a matter of great concern to the authorities.

4398[2]

Butchers selling their wares in The Shambles in the 1890s

It would be really hard to try to explain in a few lines everything I have learned, so I think I am not going to try to!. I think it is much easier if you come to the archive and discover yourself all the possibilities it offers. So, I want to encourage all people living in York to come to this lovely centre one day to learn a bit more about this astonishing city, or even encourage them to work as volunteers on one of these projects. I can guarantee that if you come you are going to discover many of the secrets that this city hides. After all, an archive like this is a “box” where the entire memory of a city is stored, waiting for its citizens to open it up to learn.

Finally, I want to finish this post by thanking all the people who have supported me during these months to make this possible. All of you are an important part of this incredible experience.

Thank you so much everyone and thank you for reading,

Carlos Parra

Archive volunteers needed!

WP2 boxesWe have a new opportunity to volunteer with our fabulous Past Caring archives project at York Explore. You will be helping us to catalogue and conserve York’s healthcare records dating from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This is a fantastic opportunity to gain experience working with original archives in a friendly group environment.

Volunteers for this role will be listing archives onto an Excel spreadsheet as well as carrying out basic conservation measures, such as cleaning, packaging and relabeling of documents.

The work will give you a hands-on introduction to different aspects of archive work, including preservation and packaging of records; cataloguing; and team working. You will be working with a range of archive material including slum clearance records, plans, correspondence files, and photographs.

We are looking for volunteers who are able to commit either to a Thursday morning session (10.00-12.30) or Thursday afternoon session (14.00-16.30), for approximately four to eight months, starting 05 October 2017.

If you are interested in volunteering for this project please email the Project Archivist, Julie-Ann Vickers, as soon as possible, as we have a maximum number of volunteers that we can accommodate.

julie-ann.vickers@exploreyork.org.uk

You can find out more about the work of the Past Caring project on our information page

or follow us on Twitter @pastcaringyork

Julie-Ann