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.

Hello there! Introducing Explore’s Newbie…

Hello there! I am Jenny McGarvey, the latest newbie here at York Explore (when I say “newbie”, that’s not technically correct. You might recognise me from my previous blog post, “Getting to Grips with Criminal Histories…”, posted back in March when I was a placement student here, but I am delighted to be back as a member of staff!).

Cataloguing at the end of my first week as Community Collections Assistant

Cataloguing at the end of my first week as Community Collections Assistant

I am the new Community Collections Assistant and I am very excited to be working on the fabulous York: Gateway to History project. My role is to work with Sarah to help her deliver different aspects of the project; from winding up the Archives Roadshow and cataloguing the collections though to helping deliver the Gateway to your Archives workshops and our Community Collections volunteering programme.


Some of our volunteers working hard cataloguing some of the community collections.

Some of our volunteers working hard cataloguing some of the community collections.

One aspect of the project that I am very excited about is the creation of an art installation that will reflect the different views of the local community on the question “What should York remember?”. This is the question that has been put to you, the general public, during our Archives Roadshow sessions that have taken place across all of York’s local libraries over the past few months. A local artist will be using your responses to create an installation that will be displayed in the first floor landing at York Explore.

I went along to my first Archives Roadshow session on Monday afternoon at Strensall library, which made for a very interesting first day! We also went along to Dunnington Library yesterday evening for our final stop in the Archives Roadshow journey. It was clear that local history is a popular passion in both Dunnington and Strensall, and it was lots of fun chatting to local residents about the things that they think are important to York’s past. I cannot wait to see the final outcome of the art piece, and how it reflects the huge range of responses we have had about what we should remember about York’s history.


“What should York remember?” - some responses given at Strensall library Archives Roadshow.

“What should York remember?” – some responses given at Strensall library Archives Roadshow.

I am also very much looking forward to being involved in the Gateway to your Archives workshops, where we will be encouraging local community groups to develop and manage their own archives. The workshops have been a fantastic success so far and they are an amazing opportunity for us to meet lots of local community group members and help them enhance their archival skills.


One of the Gateway to your Archives workshops.

One of the Gateway to your Archives workshops.

Today I have been busy doing my first bit of cataloguing which I am thoroughly enjoying. It has given me the opportunity to have a quick nosey at some very interesting documents and learn how to actually organise a collection logically. I am getting to know the catalogue system and finding it easier each time I log a new entry! I can tell already that I am really going to enjoy this aspect of my job.

You’ll certainly hear a lot more from me over the next few months on our outreach and cataloguing work as part of the Gateway to History project here at York Explore, as I’ll be keeping you updated on our latest events and progress through the blog as well as Twitter, Pinterest and Flickr.

Our new Community Collections Pinterest board: The highlights so far…

Over the past few weeks, the Explore team has been busy at the main library preparing the archive for when we open on the 5th of January. Me, Georgie and Sarah have been getting stuck into the Community Collections by organising, cataloguing and re-boxing them so that they can be easily navigated and used by everyone. Up until now, I have been doing this without actually seeing any of the archives themselves. But how? I hear you cry! Well thanks to the dedicated work of previous volunteers and archivists we have managed to use many of the existing lists to put entire collections on our CALM catalogue system, some of which will be searchable online when we reopen.


Our York Conservative Association collection (YCA), re-boxed and ready to go!

Since we opened up our first archive box a few weeks back, I have finally been able to set eyes on our collections for the first time and it is amazing just how diverse and visually impressive they are in the flesh! You can see some of our favourite items that we have discovered so far on our new Community Collections Pinterest board.

One of my personal favourites has been the York and District Boy Scouts Association collection, chock full of amazing scrapbooks containing drawings, photographs and memories from scout life like outings, events and cuttings like this one.

Then there is the Yorkshire Musical Festival collection which contains beautifully printed tickets and programmes from the 19th Century as well as a list of what was worn by attendees of the Fancy Ball, which we tweeted about last week.

On top of this, another highlight has been our York Mystery Plays collection which contains stunningly painted set designs, costume sketchbooks and annotated scripts from the 1960s and 1970s. But this only scratches the surface!

Over the course of 2015, we will gradually be able to make more collections available for you to have a rummage through and hopefully make some amazing discoveries of your own.

Make sure you stay tuned to the Community Collections Pinterest board for more archive sneak peeks in the near future!

The Community archive collections are coming!

January 5th is fast approaching and the whole team is busy preparing York Explore for opening. Right now a team of library and archive staff are hard at work stocking the shelves and preparing archive collections.

Preparing the archives has been a process that Francesca, Georgie and I have been working on since August and we were all so excited when we got a huge scale delivery from Deepstore two weeks ago. It was the first time since I started my job back in January that I had actually seen the community collections I manage.

The archives arrived from Deepstore, who are based in the salt mines in Cheshire

The archives arriving from Deepstore from the salt mines in Cheshire where the archives have been kept safely while we built our strongroom.

We had around 300 boxes delivered, most of which were Civic records to be processed by Justine but it also included some previously inaccessible community collections. We haven’t had everything sent back as we are doing this gradually to make sure that the collections we make accessible are catalogued and properly packaged.

The first of the community collections safely on shelves in the strongroom

The first of the community collections safely on shelves in the strongroom

Due to the hard work, and a real team effort, we’re pleased to announce that so far we have 15 community collections ready for researchers to use when our doors open.  Justine is hard at work making sections of the Civic archive ready, which will form the bulk of the archives ready for use.

Here’s a taster of what community collections you’ll be able to discover:

  • The York Art Society
  • York Rugby League Club
  • York Musical Theatre Society
  • Boy Scouts Association York
  • York Educational Settlement
  • Cundall Family Papers and Photographs

The Boy Scouts collection is full of exciting finds including loads of troop photographs and log books!

All of the collections we have available will be searchable via the Library catalogue and we’re currently working on a programme of work which will allow us to continue making collections accessible gradually throughout 2015. We’re creating a Pinterest board to showcase these collections, similar to the one we have for our First World War material. We’ll also be sharing collection updates via our website and here on the blog.

Finally, I just wanted to say a huge thanks to Georgie who is a Reading and Learning Advisor at York Explore. She came across to this project on secondment to gain archive experience and she has been responsible for half of the collections we’re making accessible in January. You’ll probably see Georgie around the library as she is returning to her previous role and will be working in all areas of the library and archive service.

Georgie, complete with high viz working on one of our collections

Georgie complete with high viz working on one of our collections

Francesca has been responsibe for the other half of the collections and you’ll also see her and myself around as she’ll be working with me throughout 2015 to deliver outreach activities. I’ll be blogging shortly with more details about what you can expect to see from the Gateway to History project next year.

We’ll see you in January!

Something new is coming to Poppleton…

I’ve been quiet for a while on the blog, but we’ve had some fantastic posts from Francesca and Georgie,  keeping us all entertained!

Our new archive facility at York Explore Library will open on the 5th January, but how does this affect our branch libraries? I’m pleased to announce the launch of our latest pilot project with Poppleton History Society (PHS) which is  giving  us the opportunity to share archives and local history through our branch libraries in collaboration with a community partner.

The project started with PHS  approaching us and requesting to store and make accessible their archive collection in Poppleton Library. Initially there were concerns around whether we would have enough space, as Poppleton is one of our smaller branch libraries. The Society had purchased two filing cabinets to house their archive material and we agreed to put the cabinets in the Library asking them to  select items of local interest to go inside.

The Filing cabinets are in a great location in the library

The Filing cabinets look great in Poppleton Library!

We tasked PHS with cataloguing their own collection, as we felt they knew more about it than we did. I provided them with a box list template to make sure they captured the most important information. It was great to see them rise to the challenge and enjoy the process! They enjoyed it so much that three members of the society have been the first to book onto the Gateway to Your Archives  training workshops running next year (details to follow shortly).

PHS will be creating a display of their archive to spark visitors interest.

PHS will be creating a display of their archive to spark visitors interest.

We had no idea what material they had stored away in the garages and attics of their members but we were thrilled with what they came back to us with. The collection contains a wealth of information on the history of Poppleton especially relating to local schools and historic buildings, including the Tithe Barn. It also includes information on events and projects the Society have been involved with, in particular the themed historical banquets they run every year. The Society are currently transcribing a series of oral history recordings, and these will be made available as part of the collection over the coming months.

Justs a sample of the treasures waiting to be discovered in the archive

Justs a sample of the treasures waiting to be discovered in the archive

We held a fantastic launch event for this project a couple of weeks ago, everyone was so positive and pleased to see a new resource being made available in their local library. You can see all the photographs from the event on our Flickr page.


Sarah at the launch event thanking PHS and Debbie, manager at Poppleton Library for their hard work on the project

This pilot is part of the HLF Gateway to History project and demonstrates new and innovative ways of sharing archives and local history with our branch libraries. We’ve now got a fantastic working relationship with PHS which will enable us to work more with them in the future.

Julian Crabb, Secretary of PHS shares his experiences working with Explore on this project

Julian Crabb, Secretary of PHS shares his experiences of working with Explore on this project

The Poppleton History Society Archive is now available in Poppleton Library for anyone to view. The collection is still owned by PHS so if you have any questions about the history of the village or the collection you can contact Julian Crabb, Secretary,  at  johnjcrabb@gmail.com.

Watch our website over the coming months as the catalogue for the PHS archive will be made available on the Poppleton Library page. Why not head over to Poppleton Library and take a look at the archive for yourself?

Where Do You Think You Are? A Community Collections Tour of York Part 1

Hello, I’m Georgie. I’m a Reading and Learning Advisor, usually based at York Explore Library. Since August, I’ve been seconded to our Archives & Local History department working on the Community Collections Project, alongside Sarah Tester and Francesca Taylor.

Community collections consist of non-civic records belonging to individuals, families, businesses and community groups. I was assigned 40 collections of Family and Personal Papers to research and begin to list on CALM, which is the archives management system we use.

I’ve come across some really fascinating stories in the past three months. I was familiar with some of the names – such as the Morrell family and William Etty, but others were new to me. Many of the people who created these collections (which include letters, personal financial records, and diaries) were not particularly famous, but the papers they left behind offer a fascinating insight into not only their personal, family, and professional lives, but also into life in York and Yorkshire from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.

While walking in York one day, I spotted a plaque near Treasurer’s House, commemorating York astronomer, John Goodricke.

Plaque commemorating John Goodricke, near Treasurer's House

Plaque commemorating John Goodricke, near Treasurer’s House

This spawned the idea to look around York for other plaques, statues, and buildings connected with the people behind the collections I’m working on. I did a little research online, and then spent the afternoon of Tuesday 7th October walking around the city, locating sites connected with the people behind some of our Community Collections.

I have divided my tour into three segments which I will share on this blog over the next few weeks.

This week’s post focuses on two York families whose legacy can still be seen around the city today.

The Morrell Family:

One of the collections I’m working on  consists of the personal and household accounts of the Morrell family of York. These papers mostly relate to Robert Morrell and his wife Anna Morrell (nee Wilson). Robert and Anna had a son, William Wilberforce Morrell, who married Lydia Hutchinson in 1869 and had two sons – Cuthbert, born in 1872 and John Bowes, born in 1873.

Cuthbert and John were co-founders of the York Conservation Trust which still cares for several of York’s oldest buildings. John played a key role in the movement to establish a university in York, and the ‘JBM’ Library at York University is named after him. He also served as Lord Mayor of York. He became Director of Rowntrees when he was only 25 years old.

Apart from the JBM Library, there are two other locations in York commemorating the Morrell brothers and their importance to the city.

One is this beautiful timber-framed 14th century house located at the bottom of Walmgate, the Bowes Morrell House.

Plaque from Bowes Morrell House

Plaque from Bowes Morrell House

 Bowes Morrell House, 111 Walmgate

Bowes Morrell House, 111 Walmgate


There is also the Cuthbert Morrell House, at 47 Aldwark, which was formerly part of the Blue Coat School

Plaque outside Cuthbert Morrell House, 47 Aldwark.

Plaque outside Cuthbert Morrell House, 47 Aldwark.

The Gray Family:

Another family whose name is still recognized in York today is the Gray family, who were solicitors in York from at least 1695. Several of the collections I’m working on relate to either Gray’s Solicitors or to the family’s personal life. William Gray was born in Hull in 1751. In 1777 he married Faith Hopwood. In 1788, he bought the property that became known as ‘Gray’s Court’, near Treasurer’s House. The Gray family lived there until 1945. Today, it is a luxury hotel, located between Chapter House Street and Ogleforth:

Gray;s Court Hotel, formerly the residence of the Gray family (1788-1945)

Gray’s Court Hotel, formerly the residence of the Gray family (1788-1945)

Gray's Court

Gray’s Court

William became a solicitor, and was a partner in the firm of Graves & Gray. By 1843, the firm had become simply ‘Gray’s Solicitors’ and successive generations of the family were partners. The firm was later joined by partners William Henry Cobb and Ernest Ralph Dodsworth.

In 1897, Gray’s  moved  from their offices at 75 Low Petergate to Duncombe Place.

Gray's Solicitors. The firm moved to this premises on Duncombe Place in 1897.

Gray’s Solicitors. The firm moved to this premises on Duncombe Place in 1897.

These collections won’t be available when we open in January as there is  still need to do some processing work we need to do. We can’t get started on this until we have the new archive open, but we’ll be gradually making collections available throughout 2015 and will let you all know as soon as they are ready.

Next week, I’ll share some images relating to another well-established York legal firm, and to one of York’s most influential businessmen and politicians.

A Library Girl in the Archives

Hello, I’m Georgie. This is my third week of a three month secondment to the York: Gateway to History Project as a Community Collections Assistant. I’ll be working alongside Francesca  and Sarah to research and catalogue our community collections archives and explore how these can be used in future projects to engage local communities with our Archives.

At the end of my first week!

At the end of my first week!

Community collections are the records of groups, organizations, families and individuals who played a role in the city’s past. The project also involves engaging with a wide range of current community groups to help them make decisions about how to preserve their own archives for future generations.

I have actually worked for Explore York Libraries and Archives for ten years, as a Reading and Learning Advisor. I worked at our central branch on Museum Street up until it closed for refurbishment in June 2014. After that I was based at our Acomb branch, and although I enjoyed working there, I missed my daily contact with our Archives and Local History department. I was very excited to be offered the opportunity to be seconded to the Gateway to History project, and to get the chance to work in an archives environment.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks researching some of our community archives, particularly focusing on those of families and individuals. I have come across some fascinating and quirky records and I hope to share some of these in future blog posts.

A new opportunity: transforming the card catalogue

Today marks the start of our exciting new volunteer project to transfer the contents of our local history card index onto the library catalogue. The card index was created between the 1960s and 2008 and contains details of all the books, pamphlets and journal articles in the local history collection – and a lot more besides. Whilst the catalogue itself is incredibly useful, up until now it could only be accessed by people visiting York Explore. By transferring the information to the library catalogue we will make the information about our local history collection available to a much wider audience for the first time.

Piles of cards

Some of the cards after they have been sorted.

The project has taken quite a bit of planning, and given the size of the index (we think it contains around 150,000 cards!) I decided early on in the process that the best way to tackle it was by dividing it up into categories depending on the type of material the cards relate to. As our main priority is to have the local history book stock on open access when York Explore reopens, I decided that the first phase of the cataloguing project would concentrate on the cards relating to books. The work to sort the index began at Tang Hall Library last week, and is being carried out by staff as they have extensive knowledge of what the index contains.

Once a batch of cards has been sorted at Tang Hall, they are being transferred to Sycamore House Reading Cafe in central York for the cataloguing work to commence. Volunteers are adding the information from the cards to our library management system, Workflows, under the watchful eyes of our apprentices, Kelly and Alice, who are supervising the project on my behalf.

Volunteer working at computer.

One of our volunteers inputting details from the cards onto the library catalogue.

The great thing about working from the cards is that we don’t have to move large numbers of books around whilst York is closed – we can just match up the books with their catalogue entries when we come to re-shelve the collection later in the year. As a result, all the entries we are creating at the moment are ‘shadow entries’, and each one will only be made live once the book is ready to go back on the shelf.

Local History book stock

Some of our Local History book stock.

Today is the first of many we’ll have to commit to this work, and it will take us a significant amount of time to complete the transfer, however the end result will be a collection with much greater accessibility that there has been in the past.

We are looking to put together a dynamic team of volunteers to work on this project over the summer at Sycamore House, so if you are interested in helping us make our local history collections accessible to the public please let me know (Laura.Yeoman@exploreyork.org.uk). Full details of the role can also be found on our website.

Creating a legacy for York’s Veterans

Today is the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, and with this in mind I wanted to share with you a new project we’re running as part of the Gateway to History project.

You may have seen on the news today that there are a lot of anniversary ceremonies and services taking place out in Normandy. Veterans from across the UK are attending, including those from York,  remembering the heroic role they played in D-Day 70 years ago.

This anniversary is a particularly important one, as it is the last one that most of our veterans will see. The national organisation, Normandy Veterans, exists to support veterans up until the 70th anniversary, so this year also marks the end of this official organisation. For the members of the York Branch, the organisation is a social support network; allowing individuals to regularly get together, fundraise and arrange visits to Normandy. The York branch will carry on from 2014 as a social group for as long as it is needed.

Last month, a fundraiser for the group who is responsible for making the York Veteran’s visit to Normandy happen this year, approached the Archive service. The veterans were concerned about their legacy and future of their archive collections. It was a moving conversation and by acting now we can preserve the records of the group and the individual stories they represent.

I’m thrilled to announce that over the coming months we’ll be running a Normandy Veterans York Legacy project to collaboratively catalogue the archives of individual York veterans, and the official archive of the Normandy Veterans: York Branch. We’ve recruited two fantastic University of York Public History MA student volunteers who, as part of a 4 week project, will work with the veterans to create a catalogue of their archives. They will be  recording  information that could otherwise be lost such as the names of people in photographs and the acts of bravery behind their medals.

The archive collections will be transferred to the new archive facility at York Explore library in 2015, leaving a lasting legacy for our Normandy Veterans in York.

There will be more details to follow in July/August 2014 as we begin the project.

There’s a lot going on and we’re going to be part of it!

I’ve been very busy over the past month, so here’s a breakdown in numbers of what we’ve got so far:

  • I’ve recorded and categorised 577 community groups across York;
  • Identified 129 community collections to which authority files and collection level descriptions need to be created;
  • There are a total of 54 community groups represented by the community collections currently held in the archives;
  •  Deposited community collections at Explore currently represent less than 9% of  community activity in York

In short, there’s a lot going on and we’re not part of it…yet!

I’ve used the themes I mentioned in my last post to work out what we should focus on and prioritise. In total we have over 1,000 non–civic collections so over the next 2 years we need to target certain kinds of collections and create a plan to tackle the rest. Initially we’ll be focusing on York Charities & Voluntary Organisations of which we have 129 collections.

A Wordle is a great way to represent the kinds of community records we hold in the non-civic archive!

A Wordle is a great way to represent the kinds of charity & voluntary collections we hold in the non-civic archive!

There’s also been a lot of progress in the scoping of current community activity across York, as we’re looking at how the service can represent the community as a whole through the collections and the public service we provide. Most of the contacts have been recorded using Yortime.org, which is a hub for community events and adult learning created by City of York Council. Additional contacts have been provided by the City Archivist as a result of the Heritage Lottery Fund bid consultation process.

A total of 577 community groups have been recorded in a spreadsheet and to make it easier to navigate I’ve divided groups into categories and mirrored this structure onto the community collections we hold. Groups have been categorised as follows:

  • Parish Councils
  • Residents Associations
  • Local History Societies
  • Trade Unions
  • Charities, Societies & Local Groups:
    • Business & Professional
    • Advice & Support
    • Health & Well-being
    • Social
    • Children & Young People
    • Education & Learning
    • Campaigning & Events
    • Arts, Crafts & Creativity
    • Music, Dance & Theatre
    • Sport & Leisure
    • Specialist Hobbies & Interests
    • Religion & Belief
    • History & Heritage
    • Languages & Culture
    • Places & Spaces
    • Nature & Environment
    • Animals & Animal Care

I’ve also visually represented these categories and the groups within them using Bubble.us.

Red – No records for this group in the archive
Orange – Limited records for this groups in the archive (1 box or less)
Green – Good selection of records in the archive (over 2 boxes)

Look Familiar? That’s because it’s the same mind mapping programme that Justine used for her project! Using a traffic light system I’ve been able to display visually the gaps in our collections, so we can see easily where we are strongest and weakest. I’m still working on creating a separate map for the Charities, Societies and Local groups but once complete it will be a high impact way to demonstrate our reach to support the statistics!

Whilst creating these categories I became aware that most community groups fall into more than one category, for example York Carers Forum is a ‘Health & Wellbeing’, ‘Advice & Support’ as well as ‘social’ group. The group  may also self-define themselves in another or entirely new category. So,  we’re going to be looking at ways to get community groups to engage with us in ‘collaborative tagging’ where groups will have the opportunity to choose tags to describe their functions. The aim of this is to break down the artificial structure I’ve created whilst still making information easy to find. We’re keen to use the activity and it’s outcomes to support our engagement activities, collections development and to scope a platform for displaying community group information. So keep following us to see what we develop!

So who first? With so many community groups we need to plan who to target first and I’ve chosen the following:

  • Parish Councils
  • Residents Associations
  • Local History Societies
  • Advice & Support groups and organisations
  • Health & Well-being groups and organisations
  • Social groups and organisations
  • Campaign & event organisations and groups
  • Language & culture groups and organisations

The first 3 groups are known to hold their own archives and some groups have already expressed an interest in further advice and support on their archives, so it makes sense for us to engage with these proactive groups.

The remaining groups may not have heard of or considered engaging with the archive service before, which means that there is fantastic potential to develop new relationships and to broaden access to York Explore.

I’m really excited about finally getting out and meeting local groups, as it’s a very real way of getting to know the community landscape. From these meetings I’ll be finding more out about what groups do, about their history and records and also what they need from us before we start planning our workshops and resources to be delivered in 2015.

Look out over the next couple of weeks for a post about our newly started volunteer project with Lord Deramore’s Primary School in Heslington!