Digging for gold in our community collections: Round Three!

Yep- it’s time for another one of these posts where I pick out some of our lovely community collections to show you again.
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This time, I’ve chosen to tell you about a collection that is very special to me, as it was the first-ever collection that I catalogued! It is the York Penitentiary Society collection (PEN). And just in case you’re thinking ‘what is ‘penitentiary’’? like I was when I was first handed this collection, fear not- I will explain! The York Penitentiary Society was established in 1822 with the aim of reforming girls who were thought to have ‘sinned’ through work and religious instruction. To give you a bit more of a flavour of what the society was all about, here are their rules and an agreement that girls had to sign before entering the Penitentiary:


It seems that those signing the agreement promised to remain in the Penitentiary home for two years, and abide by some very strict rules!

 
Another personal highlight amongst the collections I have worked with is a bundle of letters written by artist William Powell Frith to his sister, Jennie. These feature in the Raine family collection (JAR). Frith was a Victorian artist, who painted wonderful scenes of Victorian life. A favourite of mine is the Railway Station (1862), which- as hinted at by its title- depicts a station platform scene at London’s Paddington Station. Amongst the bustling platform are a bridge and groom presumably setting off on their honeymoon, a thief being arrested by the police, and even the artist himself surrounded by his family.

Anyway, enough of me going off on a tangent! What makes these letters so fantastic is the way in which they really give you an insight into the life of the artist behind the paintings. He writes of exhibitions, his progress on painting and even more mundane aspects of life. These little treasures are well worth a read!

Letters from Frith to his sister, based in York

Letters from Frith to his sister, based in York

A collection I have catalogued more recently that caught my eye was the Allen family collection. The Allens were clearly keen history researchers, and their collection contains these lovely volumes…


They contain detailed notes on ‘antique and armourial collections’, and beautiful sketches accompany them. What a fantastic way of combining artistic talent with historical research! This lovely collection will be searchable on Explore’s online catalogue from next week onwards.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little snippet of our community collections. Once again, if you have any particular favourites from our community collections then please let us know about it! Tweet us @YorkArchivesUK using #voicesofthearchives, or drop me an email at jennifer.mcgarvey@exploreyork.org.uk.

Digging for gold in our community collections: Round Two!

Just like last week’s blog post, this post focuses on some individual items from our wonderful community archive collections (and yes, I am biased- but I hope you’ll soon see why I think they’re so wonderful!). Don’t forget- you can click on any of the images in this post to see a larger version of them!
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A collection I’ve been focusing on a lot at the moment is the York Scouts collection (BSA). It is a lovely collection and features lots of camp log books, like the one pictured below. These detail excursions, activities Scout members took part in, and even what food they ate! This one in particular features this little hand-drawn camp map…

BSA

A Scouts log book, complete with this colourful hand-drawn map! (BSA)

You may have heard us mention the York Cemetery Company collection (CEM) in previous posts, as it’s a collection that our volunteers worked away at earlier this year. It is predominantly made up of bulky volumes, but the volume I want to show you is one that particularly stood out…

This volume, titled ‘Designs for Sepulchural Monuments’, contains plenty of intricate drawings of gravestone designs. Whilst cemeteries may not be the nicest topic, this volume certainly sheds some light on what it is like to design and produce gravestones.
More favourites of mine are these photographs, taken from the Cundall family collection (CPP). They show women (some presumably from the Cundall family) climbing a glacier in the Swiss Alps.

What I love most about this photo is how the women are dressed- in skirts and shoes that look rather impractical (and chilly!) for climbing, let alone climbing a glacier! Whilst the collection provides no background information on this particular photograph, I like to imagine the back story behind it; were this women climbing the glacier for a cause, or just as a fun holiday excursion?

Those are my highlights for this week! I’ve decided to make blogs posts showcasing what I like to call community collections ‘gems’ a regular thing, so expect to see similar posts over the next few months!Picture2

If you’ve come across something from our community collections that you think is particularly special, whether you’ve seen it in our Archives Reading Room or on our social media sites, we’d like to hear about it! Tweet us @YorkArchivesUK using #voicesofthearchives or email me at jennifer.mcgarvey@exploreyork.org.uk. Don’t forget- you can head over to our Pinterest page to see more community collections, or even book into our Reading Room and take a look for yourself!

Digging for gold in our community collections…

Working with Explore’s diverse community collections is fantastic. We manage collections not only from local community groups, but from families, individuals and businesses too. No collection is the same, and that is what makes them so special.

What is even more exciting is when you come across an item in a collection that really stands out. Cataloguing a collection can be, admittedly, a fairly monotonous task but finding hidden gems is what makes it so exciting. It’s like we’re digging for gold, and when we find it we can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Showing off our community collections on our Pinterest board... https://www.pinterest.com/yorkexplore/

Showing off our community collections on our Pinterest board… https://www.pinterest.com/yorkexplore/

This blog post does exactly that. I’ve picked out some of my personal favourites from our community collections, and I hope you’ll see why!

Firstly, I’ll start with the Gray family newspapers (GRF/4/4/7). These special finds were mostly created by children of the Gray family, and include lovely colourful drawings that enhance stories of local and family news. What an adorable way of keeping the whole family in the loop! (Don’t forget- you can click on the images to see a larger version!)

Another ‘gem’ is the ‘first astronomical journal’ (GPP/3) found in the Goodricke and Piggott collection, which tells of exciting astronomical sightings! Detailed illustrations and diagrams have often been included to further explain the sightings, like this one below:

First Astronomical Journal (GPP/3)

First Astronomical Journal (GPP/3)

Find out more about the Goodricke and Piggott collection on Francesca’s blog post, or by checking out our online catalogue.

For an art-lover like me, the Knowles collection (KNO) is naturally one of my favourites. J. W. Knowles was a stained glass window manufacturer, and the collection contains lots of artwork for window designs, like those shown here:

Want to see more of our community collections highlights? We’ll be starting up a #voicesofthearchives Twitter campaign this week to get you talking about our beautiful community collections. Follow us on Twitter @YorkArchivesUK and keep an eye out for photos of collection highlights, and don’t forget to share your thoughts!

If you can’t wait until then- head over to our Pinterest page. Don’t forget- you can search for any of these items on our online catalogue and book into Explore’s Reading Room to take a look for yourself.

Popping into Poppleton’s History!

Calling all history-bods, archive boffins and Poppletonians! There’s a new display at Poppleton Library and you must go and see it!

Having fun setting up the Poppleton History Society display with Secretary, Julian Crabb

Having fun setting up the Poppleton History Society display with Secretary, Julian Crabb

I’ve recently been working with the Poppleton History Society (PHS) to create a display showcasing some items from their wonderful archive collection. Their collection first became publicly available in 2014 as part of Explore’s Gateway to History project, and is located in Poppleton Library.


PHS has been a thriving society since 1989 and publishes publications, holds social events such as their bi-annual banquets, and takes part in local archaeology.

For their first library display, PHS Secretary Julian and I decided to focus on the theme of ‘Recreation in Poppleton’, and have selected various records that demonstrate the huge range of recreational activities that the people of Poppleton have been and still are getting involved in. From tennis and football to socialising down by the river- they certainly know how to have fun! We’ve taken copies of original documents and used these for the display.

'Recreation in Poppleton: A display of the PHS archive collection'

‘Recreation in Poppleton: A display of the PHS archive’

Creating the exhibition alongside the Society’s Secretary, Julian, has been great fun, and it’s been lovely to explore their archive some more- previously knowing very little about it myself. Their collection consists of a huge range of material- from photographs and publicity to oral history recordings and transcriptions produced as part of their oral history project. If you’re a local Poppleton inhabitant looking for a starting point to conduct your local history research- then look no further! Poppleton History Society’s archive collection is fantastic, and you can find a box list of their items on the Explore website.

The PHS archive in Poppleton Library- open for public access!

The PHS archive in Poppleton Library- open for public access!

So what are you waiting for?! Head down to Poppleton Library and take a look for yourself!

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.

Experiencing a ‘Gateway to Your Archives’ workshop for the very first time!

Last Thursday I went along to my very first ‘Gateway to Your Archives’ workshop. It was a wonderful day and it was clear from the feedback we received that it was enjoyed by all. I thought I’d share my experiences with you, being new to the workshops myself!

The day started the way any day should start- with tea and coffee upon arrival! Whilst everyone sipped away, we handed out our ‘Gateway to Your Archives’ packs. These include worksheets for the day ahead, a useful guidebook on storing and managing your own archives, and some extra little freebies!

Our 'Gateway to Your Archives' packs

Our ‘Gateway to Your Archives’ packs

After a short introduction delivered by Sarah, Laura led a fabulous tour of our archives services. During the tour, Laura explained the uses of the different rooms; from the Local History Room and the Family History Room, through to the infamous Pod, and finally the Reading Room. It was a great way of helping our guests to get to grips with the uses of the different rooms and informing them about the various types equipment we have to offer, such as the microfilm reader and book scanner. This sort of equipment is something people often get very excited about, as it can come in very handy for local history groups or individuals who are conducting their own research.

 

After taking part in a short activity on the theme of ‘What Should York Remember?’, I led the group back down to the Marriott Room; our main base for the day. More tea and biscuits were consumed, and then Sarah launched into her introduction to archives and cataloguing, asking and answering some fundamental questions such as “what is an archive?” and “what is the point in keeping an archive?”. These questions certainly get you thinking in greater depth about archives and the need to keep them.

Getting into the "What types of records should you keep?" activity

Getting into the “What types of records should you keep?” activity

A discussion then ensued about what to keep and what to throw away when keeping an archive, and this led perfectly on to our next activity- where we tested our guests on their thoughts as to what should and should not be kept. This activity came with useful warnings about how to throw away archive waste and what records can and can’t be made accessible to the public.

Next it was time to ‘create a catalogue’! This activity is aimed at encouraging our attendees to think logically about how to actually store and file their archives, and is really helpful in teaching them how to approach an archive.

Learning how to create a catalogue

Learning how to create a catalogue

It was then time for lunch! In came the sandwich and cake platters, and the room was quickly filled with chatter about the day. One thing that is often mentioned in the feedback is that the workshops offer a fantastic opportunity for attendees to network and get to know people from other local societies and groups- and lunch is the perfect time for this!

After lunch it is time to talk about digital records, a hot topic that is often met with confusion that we aim to minimise! It was soon clear that digital records, once handled in the right way, can be straight forward and as easy to manage as any other type of archive record.

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Introducing our guests to some storage solutions, from boxes and shelving to fire doors and flood management!

Next: storage solutions! This is where we talk about the practical side of managing your own archives, from the type of storage space used through to minimising fire and flood risks. Finally, after another tea break to liven everybody up again, we talk about how you, as a community group or society, can actually benefit from your archive, and how you can take your archives into your local community to encourage further engagement with history. This prompted lots of apt discussion, as many local societies were able to advise others on how to engage with different segments of their communities.

The final part of the day is often people’s favourite… being given a ‘Gateway to Your Archives’ certificate! It was lovely to catch people on their way out and hear their thoughts on their day spent with us. It was also extremely rewarding coming in the following morning to emails thanking us for such an enjoyable day!

20150715_133402If our ‘Gateway to Your Archive’ workshops are something you or your community group are interested in, then don’t fret- we still have spaces available on our Thursday 24th September and Saturday 24th October workshops! Please get in touch by emailing Sarah Tester at sarah.tester@exploreyork.org.uk for more information. We look forward to seeing you there!

Community Collections Spotlight: the Goodricke and Pigott astronomical archive

Forecasts for this Friday’s partial solar eclipse may be disappointingly cloudy, but did you know that you can still get your astronomy fix in the archives at York Explore?

As you may have seen in a recent article by the York Press our Goodricke & Pigott astronomy collection (collection code: GPP; 1760-1815) is now available. It is full of  measurements, drawings and descriptions of astronomical phenomena inclduing wonderfully detailed observations of solar (and lunar) eclipses seen from the UK and Europe. So even if you don’t get the chance to see the partial eclipse on Friday, this collection might just make up for it!

The collection contains of the journals of York astronomers, and neighbours, John Goodricke (1764-1786) and Nathaniel Pigott (1725–1804) who together famously observed the strange flickering of a star named Algol. It was Goodricke who later became the first astronomer to describe what may have been going on – that Algol was being eclipsed by ‘a large body’. He wasn’t far off – we now know that Algol is in fact made up of three stars orbiting around each other. This creates an effect of regular brightening and dimming that happens each time one passes in front of the other.

Pigott wrote about how the clouds often hindered his observations of eclipses

His discovery was so important that it was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and he was also awarded their Copley Medal. We not only have some of those original letters sent to the Society here in our collection but we also have the very journal where he first wrote down his observations of Algol.

Goodricke’s contribution to astronomy is an extraordinary feat considering he made many of his observations from a modest telescope at his family home in Treasurer’s House, York. It becomes even more impressive when you discover that he did all this before his death from pneumonia at the age of 21 and that from a young age he lived with being profoundly deaf. The John Goodricke collection is an important one. Pigott himself described Goodricke’s death as “a loss to astronomy” and it is not hard to imagine just what else he might have gone on to discover had he lived longer.

York Explore is home to the original letters written by John Goodricke and Nathaniel Pigott to the Royal Society

As well as containing the astronomical papers of Nathaniel Pigott, the collection also includes those of his son Edward (1753 – 1825), both of whom studied the night sky from their purpose-built garden observatory in Bootham. In his early life, Nathaniel moved around Europe with his wife and children before returning to England and at one point became settled in Caen, France, where he made many of his observations.

Nathaniel was especially noted for his observations of the transits of Venus and Mercury, as well as that of eclipses and comets. The latter of which also interested his son Edward who discovered a comet in 1793 and was subsequently named after him. Interestingly, Edward even wrote in his journals about seeing the northern lights (from London!).

As you can see from some more highlights of their collections below, the archive is as much a work of art as it is a record of their scientific achievements.

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Search our online catalogue to discover more from the collection or pop in and see it for yourself at York Explore Library during our usual archive service opening hours.