Accidental archives

We are now into the fourth month of the Past Caring Project and 2017 is shaping up to be a busy year getting York’s healthcare and poor law records sorted and catalogued. In a few months’ time we will be joined by a professional conservator, who will have the job of ensuring that all these fabulous records are repaired, cleaned and ready for use when the collections are open to the public in 2018.

In the meantime, I have been busy cataloguing the collections of the York Poor Law Union (1830s-1950s) and thought I would share some of the accidental archives I have been discovering as I go through the records.

The phrase ‘accidental archive’ is by no means a recognised term in the archival profession (a more technical term is ephemera), but I think it aptly describes the chance survival of the scraps of notes, letters and other records that I have been finding between the pages of the official Poor Law Union records. The majority of these bits and pieces of paper were inserted into official registers by the Victorian clerks and other officers who worked for the York Poor Law Union. They acted as reminders, references, or simply page markers. Most of these notes and letters were certainly not intended to be kept and placed in a 21st-century, environmentally-controlled archive store! However once inserted between the pages of official records, these notes were forgotten and so have survived by chance.

Most of these chance survivals are not going to result in ground-breaking research papers, but I think these records have a charm all their own – not least because they provide a glimpse of the working processes and daily grind of the officials that staffed the Poor Law Union. And in some instances these accidental archives do contain significant and quite fascinating details not recorded elsewhere.  But perhaps the best way to describe them is to show you some examples, which you can see below.

     Notes and letters found in an Application and Report Book, 1842

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In the image above you can see the various bits of paper found in the front of this Application and Report Book. These books were the official records of the York Union Relieving Officer, who recorded details of individuals applying for relief (welfare)rough-draft-of-applications2-1842.

The scrappy notes placed in the front of this book include: a letter from someone asking for money, a note to send another individual to the Vagrants’ Office of the workhouse, and a rough working list of applications for relief (see left image).

I found this rough list of particular interest as its shows the working processes of the officer; it is also a reminder that those lovely neat official records from this period are often the final version of very rough drafts in rather illegible handwriting!

 

Invoice for stationery from between the pages of an Application and Report Book, 1842

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Above you can see another example of the chance survival of a working record of the  Relieving Officer.  This invoice (see close-up image right) lists the various items necessary for his daily work including foolscap paper, pen holders, blotting paper, and – something that every self-respecting Relieving Officer would not be without – copies of the Poor Law Act.

The items were ordered from a stationer’s store on Pavement, and the invoice not only tells us the name of the Relieving Officer (Mr Leafe), but also reveals that the store was run by a woman, Mary Moxon, who styles herself as ‘Printer, Bookseller, Stationer, and Genuine Patent Medicine Vender’.

 

Correspondence inserted into a Vaccination Register, 1899

 

vaccination-letter-rev-morrissyVaccination registers were maintained by the York Union’s District Medical Officers. A number of the registers that survive include letters, often from the parents of the child being vaccinated, supplying some reason why vaccination should be delayed or not carried out.

In this example (see left image), the Medical Officer has received a note from a Rev Morrissy in Cork, Ireland, stating that William Waterhouse (the father of the child to be vaccinated) has gone to South Africa and that he has no knowledge of the child being vaccinated. I was slightly puzzled why a York Medical Officer was receiving correspondence from Ireland about child vaccinations, but all became clear when I checked the entry in the Vaccination Register itself. The entry told me that William Waterhouse was  a private in the York and Lancaster Regiment. It seems he left York after the birth of his child, was stationed in Ireland for a time, and then went to South Africa with his regiment, which took part in the Second Boer War (1899-1902). So you can see how this short piece of routine correspondence helps to fill in some important details for the life of William Waterhouse, and his child. It also shows extent to which the Medical Officers chased up people in their effort to improve vaccination rates.

I could go on, but hopefully the above examples give you a flavour of just some of the accidental archives emerging from the York Poor Law Union records.

Something to do with everything

Well, here we are at the end of my eighth week on the Past Caring project. It has been a busy time, with my first few weeks spent meeting lots of new people, getting to grips with project goals, and getting my head around a new set of collections!

Over the last few weeks I have also been deeply immersed in the York Poor Law Union and Workhouse collections, which form the first tranche of records in the project. I am now more or less conversant with the intricate administrative workings of York’s Board of Guardians (who headed the Union), and their underlings, such as the Relieving Officers and District Medical Officers.  Researching these records has led me to the realisation that, like Dickens’ Circumlocution Office, the Poor Law in the nineteenth century really had ‘something to do with everything’.  Infectious diseases, schooling, rate collection, mental health, sanitation, and welfare – the Guardians’ rather extensive remit touched on most people’s lives in one way or another.

If you have been following me on Twitter you will know that I have been carrying out a detailed survey of the Poor Law collections over the last fortnight or so. And given this survey is now complete, I thought I would share some of my findings in a little more detail.

Having worked in a number of local authority archives, the first and most striking impression I had of the York Union records is their sheer variety. And this impression has only been confirmed by the survey. Vaccination records, title deeds, registers, minutes, indoor relief, outdoor relief, staffing records, correspondence, statistics, rate books, medical relief books, invoices – the list goes on. And the possibilities for using various combinations of these records to answer all sorts of research questions seem virtually endless at the moment.

Another feature of the York Poor Law records, and one that is probably common to many Poor Law Union collections, is the extent to which these records relate to and complement collections held at other institutions. To get the most out of these records many researchers will need to visit other archives in order to trace the administrative flow of information between, for example, the Union and the various hospitals in the region, or the Union and the central Poor Law Board. Like assembling a jigsaw puzzle that has been dispersed, information from various sources can then be put together to provide a fuller and more nuanced picture of the past.

Certain records in this collection are also striking for the snatches of often disturbing details they provide on individual lives. One series of records, known as Application and Report Books, records the circumstances of paupers receiving ‘outrelief,’ which could be any form of relief, such as money, food, clothing or medicine, granted to poor people outside the workhouse. Reasons for applying for relief were many and varied, ranging from ‘lunacy’ to ‘disabled from childbirth’, or simply ‘want of work’.  In the image below you can see an entry from 1838 in which the 13-year-old Bradley Hawkswell, illegitimate, deserted by his mother and with his putative father recently dead, applied for relief as he has been ‘partially disabled from a blow on the head’. This is more than just a run of extraordinary bad luck, but the setting out of a string of conditions that probably condemned Hawskwell, through no fault of his own, to a life of poverty and dependence.

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1838 Application and Report Book

I’m afraid however that my survey of the poor law records has also confirmed the poor physical state of some of the records. Many of the volumes in the collection are suffering from an advanced case of red rot, a form of deterioration that affects vegetable-tanned leather, and which causes the covers to disintegrate into a fine powder. When working with the collection for any length of time I have to get fully kitted out in protective clothing, including gloves, coat and face mask (a somewhat alarming vision for any visitors to the archive!). Help will soon be at hand however when we are joined next year by a project conservator whose job it will be to halt the advance of the red rot, thereby ensuring that future researchers will be able to use these records without getting covered in a fine cloud of red dust!

For more images of the collection and updates on my progress don’t forget to follow our project Twitter account.

Thanks for reading, Julie-Ann

New season, new staff member, new project

project-archivistHello everyone

Autumn is well and truly upon us and for Explore York Libraries and Archives the new season brings with it an exciting new project, and me, the latest staff member to join the team. I’m Julie-Ann and over the next two years I will be researching and cataloguing the poor law and healthcare records of nineteenth- and twentieth-century York under the banner of the Past Caring Project.

This means, I’m afraid, that my official title is Project Archivist (Past Caring) – best to get that out of the way early on! I should point out that the pun is actually intended, as the title refers not only to the historical provision of healthcare, but also to attitudes towards the past and to the records that constitute our historical memory.

The Past Caring project has been made possible through a generous grant of £156 560 from Wellcome, the world’s largest charity supporting research into health and wellbeing. Over the course of the next two years we will be cataloguing and conserving the records of the York Poor Law Union and Workhouse, the York Medical Officer of Health, the Department of Health, and the Department of Housing and Environmental Health. All of these bodies struggled in various ways to alleviate and improve the welfare and health of York’s population, and the records in these collections offer a compelling glimpse into the poor standard of living endured by some individuals and communities. You can find out more about the project by visiting our dedicated pr page above.

For me, there are two standout reasons why this project is important: first, these collections document and give a voice to sections of society that are otherwise largely absent from the historical record; second, we will be approaching this material in a thematic way rather than looking at individual collections in isolation; that means we will be exploring links between the various offices dealing with poverty and health in York, as well as researching connections with other health archives held in the region. I like to think of it as a holistic approach rather in the vein of Dirk Gently – and like Dirk we are interested in the ‘interconnectedness of all things’!

There are a couple of ways to keep up to date with the project: I will be posting to this blog about once a month; but you can get more frequent updates by following our new twitter account dedicated specifically to the project.

Over the next few months I will be working with the records of the York Poor Law Union and Workhouse, so there should be plenty of interesting material cropping up!

Thanks for reading,

Julie-Ann

A great start to 2016!

I know I’ve been really quiet on the blog recently, but rest assured I have been working away behind the scenes. One of my big pieces of work at the end of last year was the creation of our 2016 Access Plan. The Access Plan will become an annual piece of work, letting you know what we are planning to do over the course of each calendar year. It includes details about our overall strategy, as well as information about partnership projects, funding bids and our cataloguing priorities. The plan will be published annually on our website (you can find the 2016 plan here), and we will update you quarterly on how things are progressing.

Which leads me on nicely to the fact that I’ve just published the first of our 2016 quarterly Access Plan updates (available on our website here). We’ve had a brilliant start to the year, with an increase in both the number of researchers we are hosting and the quantity of documents we are producing in the archives reading room. The plan contains details of a new partnership project we have formed with History and English students at York St John’s University, who have been helping us with some of our collections processing work. You can also find out more about our current projects – including some digitisation work and our Wellcome Trust bid – and some of the outreach events that we have hosted. I honestly can’t believe how much work we have achieved over the last three months. We really couldn’t have done this without the hard work and dedication of all the staff and volunteers at York Explore.

If you haven’t been into the Archives and Local History Service recently, then you won’t yet have had a chance to look at our new signage. We’ve improved our shelf signage, created some new banners for the stairwell and improved the appearance of the staff desk. We really hope you like the new look as much as we enjoyed creating it.


Next time you are in York Explore also keep an eye out for our new archives display case in the foyer. Over the coming months we will be creating a number of mini-exhibitions to coincide with local events and to promote the archive collections. Let us know if there is anything in particular you would like to see!

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Farewell from your Community Collections & Outreach Archivist

The time has come to reflect and officially bring to a close the York: Gateway to History project. It has been an incredible two years and we at Explore have come together as one Library and Archive service.

My role on the project is also coming to an end this week and I can’t believe how far we have travelled since that first week. So here is my personal journey on the project. Enjoy!Sarah with HLF project plan

January 2014 – The activity plan strand of the project gets underway when I started as Community Collections & Outreach Archivist. I was daunted by the challenge but excited to get started!

February 2014 – We got straight in and worked with Lord Deramore’s Primary School in Heslington to unlock the history of the school and discover it’s place in the local community. We worked with three fantastic volunteers who wrote a whopping 17,000 word resource and presented it to the school.

Our three experienced and dedicated volunteers hard at work at the school. From left, Alan Bollington, Phil Batman and Roger Barham

June 2014 – By now I’m travelling all over the city by bus, car and on foot to meet all kinds of different community groups. By the end of 2015 we had created a network of 170 individuals from 78 different community groups. You can see where I went during the project on this handy map!

We also started working with the York Normandy Veterans Association on a project to record their memories and preserve their archives for future generations. In 2015 we hosted a celebration evening for the Veterans and created a special short film about the project.

July 2014 – To help manage over 400 community archives and to support outreach activities in 2015, Georgie and Francesca came onboard as Community Collection Assistants!

CCA staff

October 2014 – We launched the Poppleton History Society archive in Poppleton Library with an event to showcase the collection and network with members of the local community.

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November 2014 – To support First World War commemorations we worked with York’s Alternative History Society to launch our pop-up banner exhibition. The banners went on display at York City Screen Cinema before being toured across all our libraries during 2015.

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January 2015 – We opened our brand new Archives & Local History service at York Explore! During 2015 we welcomed a grand total of 94,858 visitors to the service who came to look at archives, browse our local history books and research their family histories.

Archive Reading Room

February 2015 – We hosted the first of our Gateway to Your Archives workshops. In total 98 representatives from 52 different community groups attended a workshop in 2015 and 98% said they felt more supported by Explore as a result.

One of the Gateway to your Archives workshops.

One of the Gateway to your Archives workshops in progress!

If you are interested in learning about how to manage your community archive, all new resources will be launched onto the Explore website next month. Included in this will be our new training films, on YouTube now!

March 2015 – Alongside the Workshops came the Archives Roadshow. We toured all 17 of Explore’s libraries and asked people ‘What Should York Remember?’.

A grandmother, daughter and grandchildren share York memories with Explore staff and volunteers and Tang Hall Library

We gathered 600 responses to the question and even created a vox-pop short film featuring local peoples thoughts!

May 2015 – We said goodbye to Francesca and hello to Jenny as Community Collections Assistant. Jenny took over responsibility for cataloguing and supporting our outreach activities.

 

June 2015 – To help us catalogue our community archives we set up a Community Collections volunteer project. We got 8 volunteers in total who worked to catalogue 5 large collections adding up to 99 boxes, 203 volumes and 32 rolls!

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The volunteers also worked to create content for the Voices of the Archives booklet and pop-up banner exhibition. They provided quotes and unique insights into our community collections along with our community partners and researchers.

combined booklet and banner image

Group with cake_1August 2015 – We worked with York Learning throughout the project to help adult learners explore the archives and use them as a starting point for art and creative writing. Learners on an art project explored the local history of Acomb to create a piece of public art in Lidgett Grove Church and we were invited along to the launch. A local resident even made a special cake!

September 2015 – We commissioned artist Emily Harvey to interpret the 600 responses from our ‘What Should York Remember?’ activity. She created York Panorama: What York Means to Us which is a tactile representation of how York’s residents and visitors view the history and culture of the City.

Emily busy creating the panels in her studio!

It’s a permanent legacy to the project and is available on the 1st floor at York Explore Library and Archive!

...and watching people enjoy the artwork at York Explore!

November 2015 – We finished off the project by hosting a celebration event at York Explore. City Archivist Victoria Hoyle and HLF Board Member Sue Mendus gave inspirational talks to our community partners and we all shared a drink to celebrate our success!

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So here we are in March 2016 and we have completed our evaluation report and submitted it to the Heritage Lottery Fund. It was a chance to reflect on everything we have done and think about the future.

Sarah in her final week at Explore with the completed evaluation report

Sarah in her final week at Explore with the completed evaluation report

All that is left to say is thank you to everyone that has come on this journey with us! It has been incredible and we couldn’t have done any of this without your support and dedication. We at Explore have an exciting future with new projects, partnerships and catalogued collections. You can take a look at our ambitious plans in our Access Plan. If you have any questions or comments about the project please do get in touch at archives@exploreyork.org.uk

The archives team at the end-of Gateway to History project celebration event

Bye Everyone!

The time has come for me to leave Explore so I thought I’d share a few of my favourite memories with you from the last 7 months. And what an incredible 7 months it’s been! I feel very privileged to have had the chance to work on the York: Gateway to History project- I’ve met so many wonderful people, from community groups and volunteers to researchers and colleagues.

I really feel like the project has had an invaluable impact both in terms of vastly enhancing the way the archives are stored and in terms of community engagement- and to have played a part in it has been brilliant. But enough of the soppy stuff- here are some of my personal highlights…

  1. Working with the community collections volunteers

Working with the 8 regular Thursday volunteers has been an absolute treat. We were lucky enough to get a wonderful mix of volunteers that all worked really well as a team. In total, they catalogued 5 large archive collections over a period of 6 months (wait for it- that’s 99 boxes, 203 volumes and 32 rolls in total!). They really were fantastic.

2. Watching the ‘York Panorama: What York Means To Us’ art installation come together

As an art-lover this had to have a place in my favourite memories didn’t it?! Since I started at Explore, I have watched the art installation slowly take shape- from the initial concept into a physical installation on the first floor landing at York Explore. It has been incredible to see how the brilliant Emily Harvey took people’s personal memories of York and turned them into a vibrant panorama that accurately depicts how York residents see their city.

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3. Normandy Veterans ‘film premiere’

Explore has done a lot of work with the York Normandy Veterans Association to help them create their own archive (NVA) through the York: Gateway to History project. Most of the work on the Veterans project had already been done by the time I arrived at Explore back in June, but I did some transcriptions from oral history interviews with the veterans and learned a lot about them (and just how inspirational- yet astonishingly modest- they are!). In December, we created a short film telling the story of the Veterans and their archive.

20160126_103618We invited the Veterans to Explore to have their very own ‘film premiere’. Watching the film conjured a mixture of emotions for them- joy, pride and even a few tears. To see what the project meant to the Veterans and to have the privilege of meeting them really was a once in a lifetime experience.

4. Voices of the Archives

My latest project was Voices of the Archives- a campaign to showcase some of our community collections from the viewpoint of the people who use them most- local community groups, researchers and volunteers. We’ve collected around 30 public responses to various archive collections and used them to create a booklet and 3 pop-up banners (now on the first floor landing at York Explore).

The Voices of the Archives banners

The Voices of the Archives banners

Watching the booklet and banners go from an idea, to a rough draft, to an initial design and finally into physical objects has been a really exciting process. The feedback we’ve received about the collections whilst doing the initial crowd-sourcing has demonstrated the value placed on the archives by our local community- and that’s what a lot of my work has been about; enhancing community engagement with the archives. To see the impact of the Gateway to History project in this way has been a really great way to end my time at Explore.

The final Voices of the Archives booklets!

The final Voices of the Archives booklets!

So there you have it- four of my favourite memories from the past 7 months. I could go on and mention the York Scouts Open Weekend, creating a display of the Poppleton History Society’s archive at Poppleton Library, presenting at my first Gateway to Your Archives workshop… and so much more- but if I did that you’d still be reading this in a week’s time!

So that’s it from me on the blog. To all of you I have met through the Gateway project- thank you for making it such a wonderful project to work on. I leave Explore with lots of happy memories. Goodbye to you all!

The archives team at the end-of Gateway to History project celebration event

The fabulous archives team (and a few lovely extras!) at the end-of Gateway to History project celebration event

 

Introducing ‘Voices of the Archives’…

I’m afraid I’ve been reasonably quiet on the blog over the past month, but I’ve been working away on our Voices of the Archives campaign. And what an exciting project it’s been!

Picture4It all started off with an idea to promote some of our community archive collections- but we didn’t want to show you the collections from our point of view. We wanted the people who use them most to tell us their thoughts, and so we contacted local community groups, researchers and volunteers and asked them to tell us what various collections meant to them. The responses we’ve received have been wonderful, and from such a fantastic range of archive-users.

We’ve collected all of the responses together and compiled them into 3 pop-up banners and a booklet…

Voices of the Archives pop-up banners on the first floor landing at York Explore

Voices of the Archives pop-up banners on the first floor landing at York Explore

There was a lot of excitement in the office at York Explore yesterday as the banners arrived from the printers. I’m pleased to say they’re now up and ready for you to view on the first floor landing- so why not pop in and take a peek?!

One set of the banners will remain at York Explore throughout 2016, and another set will be touring the branch libraries- so keep your eyes peeled!

A sneak peek at our Voices of the Archives booklet!

A sneak peek at our Voices of the Archives booklet!

I’m sure there will be lots more excitement later on this week when our Voices of the Archives booklets arrive hot off the press!

For those of you reading this blog post who have contributed to Voices of the Archives, I just want to say a huge THANK YOU! Without your input we would not have been able to create such a fantastic resource. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we have enjoyed creating it!