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.


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.


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!


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!


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

Coming soon to a library near you…

This year we’re pleased to announce that we’re taking archives and local history out across Explore’s branch libraries in our first ever Archives Roadshow.

We’re thrilled with our new archive service at Explore York but we know that for many of you, the local library is still the heart and soul of your community. That’s why Francesca and I will be touring all branch libraries during 2015, giving you a chance to discover more.

We've had all our publicity professionally designed so you'll know what to look out for in your branch

Seen these leaflets around? It’s all Gateway to History!

Expect to see shiny pop up banners and leaflets advertising the Gateway to History project and the Gateway to Your Archives training workshops; discover how to use the archive catalogue; see copies of items from our community archives; ask us all about the new archive service and share your local history stories with us.

But we’d like you to get involved as well. Throughout 2015 we’re asking you, What should York Remember? We want your thoughts on the people, places, events and memories that have shaped our city and the way we live.

We launched this event at Residents Festival in York Explore on 31st January and we got some facinating responses including ‘The remarkable lives of ordinary people’, ‘the smell of chocolate’ and ‘disability rights in York’. We had some truly inspirational discussions and even some children popped in to draw us a picture of York Minster!

Examples from our activity at Residents Weekend 2015

Examples from our activity at Residents Festival 2015

If you’d like to have your say and learn more, the first 3 dates of the Roadshow are:

Tang Hall Library – 17th February 2015
Clifton Library – 25th February 2015
Acomb Library – 26th February 2015

Expect to see us at each branch library at least twice throughout 2015 and we’ll be advertising more dates throughout the year. Keep a look out for this eye catching poster in your local library to see when we’re next coming to you!

Look out for this poster in your local library!

Look out for this poster in your local library as it will include dates for each branch

From April 2015, you’ll also get a chance to see our popular WW1 pop-up banner exhibition as it tours the branches. Its currently upstairs in the foyer at York Explore Library so if you’re popping in, take a look. Check with your local library over the coming months and discover when its coming to you.

Our WW1 banner exhibition - coming soon to a branch near you!

Our WW1 banner exhibition – currently on the landing at York Explore

We look forward to meeting you all as we travel around the city and discover what York should remember!

Exhibition extra! More local stories from the First World War in York

This week we launched our new First World War pop-up banners at the York Picture house to be displayed alongside the York Alternative History Group’s WW1 film season. Running until late November, our exhibition gives people a sneak peek into the York Explore archive collections and highlights documents relating to the impact the First World War had on York.


You may have read in my last blog post that I was just beginning to pick out documents to display in the exhibition. This was a tough job as our archives contain so many interesting stories that it was very hard narrowing down the final documents to be displayed. However, I thought that if I could not fit them on to the banners, I would give them a blog post of their own! So here are a few exclusive exhibition extras…




1. Intriguingly titled “Muffins Business” this set of documents includes a letter from Reverend W.O.F. Campbell who asks the York Citizens Committee to help Misses Amelia and Annie Baker who owned a muffin and crumpet shop in Friargate. They were soon to be put out of business by the Food Restriction Orders which would ban the production of muffins and crumpets. Unfortunately, the Committee refused to help, fearing that if they put the case before the government they would be told that “the ladies must adjust the nature of their business to the new circumstances”.




2. Here is a very telling newspaper article from our conscientious objector collection. It tells the story of a man “found drowned” after failing to obey military orders and later refusing to take part in work at the Home Office on conscientious grounds. Described by his fiancée as “extremely depressed” his story demonstrates the immense psychological and legal struggles objectors often went through to stand up for their beliefs.



3. Letters were sent to the Lord Mayor thanking him for sending serving men from York a box of chocolates for Christmas.postcard2 The letters came from a variety of locations and even included those at German prisoner of war camps like this postcard from Christopher Bridgewater, interred at Salzwedel Detention Camp in North Germany. The “Geprüft” stamp means that it was passed through censors whose job it was to check that letters did not contain compromising information.

You can have a sneak peek at other documents in our First World War collection on our pinterest board.

The Explore Archives First World War exhibition is displayed alongside The York Alternative History Group’s season of films which runs until November 24th at the York City Screen. Tickets can be booked on the York City Screen website.

The new series of Mint Yard lectures is finally announced!

I realise I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog recently, but don’t worry – I’ve been working away behind the scenes. Over the last few weeks I’ve been spending a lot of my time pulling together the new autumn programme for the Mint Yard Lectures. The lectures offer members of the public the opportunity to learn more about the history of Yorkshire from nationally-recognised experts, and form part of our contribution to the council’s Inspire programme.

Mint Yard map

The lectures are named after the old Mint Yard, which stood on the land now occupied by York Explore.

There has been a lot to do – I’ve had to track down speakers, write the content for a leaflet and poster and have them designed, write a press release and put together the content for the council’s Inspire website (as well as writing this blog!). I’ve also had to work out the logistics of how to get the right numbers of chairs, tea and coffee to the right places in time, so it’s been all go!


Mint Yard lecture leaflets and posters

The new Mint Yard lecture leaflets and posters arrive on my desk.

I’m pleased to say that my hard work has just about paid off, and tickets for the new series of lectures are now on sale from Explore libraries. The first lecture takes place at Haxby Explore Library next Wednesday (3rd September) and will be by Professor Mark Ormrod from the University of York, so book now to avoid disappointment! Mark’s lecture is entitled Immigrant Communities in medieval Yorkshire, and in it he’ll consider attitudes towards the many thousands of people from continental Europe who made their lives and livelihoods in Yorkshire during the period of the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses. It sounds a brilliant subject so I’m really pleased that he has agreed to kick-start the new autumn programme.

On 9 October the series moves to Dunnington Reading Rooms, which will play host to an examination of the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, the final victory of Harold Godwinson, last Anglo-Saxon king of England. The speaker, Chris Rock, is co-founder and current Chairman of the Battle of Stamford Bridge Society and will discuss the reasons for the battle, its course, consequences and its wider role in history. Chris has previously spoken at Acomb Library, so I’m really happy he’s agreed to present another lecture for us.

Battle of Stamford Bridge poster

Chris Rock of the Battle of Stamford Bridge Society will lecture on the battle in October

In November it’s time to get on your bike with Jim McGurn, Chief Executive of Get Cycling, as he discusses the history and future of the bicycle. We know cycling is practical, sociable, egalitarian, ecological, healthy and fun, but why is it also so divisive? Join Jim at Rowntree Park Reading Cafe on 6 November to find out what the bicycle is: technically, intellectually and socially.

The final lecture for 2014 will be Esther Graham’s Remember Scarborough, which will be held at Acomb Explore on 3 December. As the centenary of the 1914 attack on Scarborough by the German navy approaches, Esther, who is Project Officer for Scarborough Museums Trust’s Remember Scarborough project, will discuss the impact of the bombardment on the town and the Museum Trust’s commemoration of the event.

Whilst it has been a lot of work pulling everything together for the programme, I’m happy we have a good range of subjects on offer and four fantastic speakers. All lectures start at 7pm and tickets are £5 each (including tea and coffee) so why not pop down to your local library and get yours now? Alternatively you will shortly also be able to purchase them through the Inspire website (www.feelinginspired.co.uk). I’m looking forward to seeing you there!


An archaeologist in the archives

Hello! I’m Francesca – the new Community Collections Assistant working on the York: Gateway to History project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. For the next six months I will be working alongside Sarah (Community Collections and Outreach Archivist) where I will be making a start on cataloguing our community archive collections whilst also identifying where these can be used for outreach and engagement projects in the future.

Me at the end of my first week at Explore!

Me at the end of my first week at Explore!

Before coming to explore I worked at the Borthwick Institute for Archives, designing and delivering outreach projects such as Who Were the Aero Girls? – so I look forward to using my experience to promote Explore’s fantastic collections!

Firstly I have a confession to make – although having worked with archives, I’m not an archivist. I’m really an archaeologist by training, so my interests mainly lie in reconstructing the everyday lives of people in the past by using the objects they left behind. But archives fit into this really well. Rather than being hunched over in a muddy trench in torrential rain, I now get to ‘dig’ through archives containing historical papers, correspondence, books, photographs (and more) to reconstruct past lives instead. It’s every bit as interesting but a little more comfortable!

One of my first tasks here at Explore is to help create a WW1 pop-up exhibition in partnership with the York Alternative History Group to accompany their autumn film programme at the York City Screen. It is my job to dig up some interesting local stories that will highlight the effect the war had on the people of York themselves.

Me and Gary Craig from the York Alternative History Group exploring our collection at Yorkcraft. Here we are looking through our collection on conscientious objectors which includes photographs, postcards and other correspondence.

Me and Gary Craig from the York Alternative History Group exploring our collection at Yorkcraft. Here we are looking through our collection on conscientious objectors which includes photographs, postcards and other correspondence.

Yesterday I met with Gary Craig from the York Alternative History group to have a rummage through our collections and uncover some of these stories. It was fascinating to see how much of a ‘war’ was being fought at home as well as on the front lines. There are numerous accounts of people losing their livelihoods due to rationing and new legislation, or losing their homes as a result of the Zeppelin raids. There are also records about conscientious objectors, in particular William Varley who was imprisoned as a result of his refusing to obey military orders. Some of these stories we hope to tell in our pop-up exhibition.

I will keep you updated with my progress on the exhibition and other projects I will be working on at Explore so stay tuned to the blog and our twitter feed – I look forward to updating you soon!

The York Alternative History Group’s Remembering World War I film season runs from August 4th – November 24th at the York City Screen. For more information see the flyer below. Tickets can be booked on the York City Screen website .

CityScreen Flyer

The First World War in our archive collections


2014 marks the start of the centenary commemorations for the First World War which will be taking place over the next four years. Locally there is a lot of activity in York marking this occasion, including a major new exhibition at York Castle Museum and a wide variety of community group projects such as the Poppy Road Poppy Project

So what about us? As the city archives we hold original archive material created during that period. However, you don’t find archives on a theme such as this conveniently labelled in a box all together as a collection, you have to do detective work amongst all your collections to draw out the individual treasures within.

This is what our MA placement student Lauren Bray did earlier in the year. As part of her MA programme placement at the Institute of the Public Understanding of the Past at the University of York, we set her on a resource discovery exercise to produce a guide to our collections, so we can highlight what original material we hold that can aid research and interest in the First World War. Instead of simply producing a paper booklet, she decided to trial creating a Pinterest board as a showcase. The Pinterest board is now live and available at


You don’t need a Pinterest account to see it, but if you do you can repin, comment and like individual pins.

As access to our archive collections is currently closed during the building work, we hope this can act as a shop window and taster of what types of material we have, and can be viewed in person when we reopen at the end of the year. The nature of our collections (focused on the civic archive and the archives of community groups) means that the archives relate as much to home life, as to military activity abroad. The records show how the city had to adapt quickly to the outbreak of war to solve practical issues locally, without the centralised instructions more familiar from the Second World War.


The ‘Chocolate Letters’ written by serving soldiers to the Lord Mayor in thanks for boxes of chocolate sent to the front are well known, having provided the inspiration for the play ‘Blood and Chocolate’ and are appearing at exhibitions all over the city. However, individual documents scattered over disparate collections can provide unique windows onto the local experience of the First World War in York and are important sources despite their relatively small size and number.

Did you know?

  •  Conscientious objectors in York such as William Varley were tried and incarcerated for refusing to follow military orders, such as wearing uniform

William Varley

  • Teenage Sea Scouts from York served on coastguard duty after the coastal bombardments?

 Sea Scout

  • Your house might have been hit in the Zeppelin raid in May 1916 and there might be records of a claim for war damages?


We hope you come along and see the records and our First World War exhibition once we are setup with our new facilities at York Explore, and you can get stuck in in the meantime and find out something new about the war in York by visiting and sharing our Pinterest Board.

Delving into 150 years of local Primary School history

The Gateway to History project has launched its first pilot volunteer led community research project. We’re working with Lord Deramore’s Primary School in Heslington to help them understand their history so it can be interpreted for pupils in the classroom as part of the 2014-15 curriculum.

Selected items from Lord Deramore's School Archive including a local history publication for Heslington

Selected items from Lord Deramore’s School Archive including a local history publication for Heslington

Lord Deramore’s Primary School is the one of the oldest state primary schools in York and opened in 1856. For over 150 years the school have maintained their own archive based in the original grade 2 listed building. Sadly the building is no longer suitable for the school’s requirements and the school is set to be moved to a new building on the same site. Although this move has not taken place yet, building work is underway. The original building will remain in place and its future use is currently being discussed.

The school’s head teacher, Mrs Sheena Powley, got in touch with the City Archives to get some support with the research into the history of the school to help bring it to life for the school children and local community. Gateway to History is all about engaging with all local communities and this project is a chance to work with schools and encourage children to explore their local heritage and engage with their community.

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

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

Myself and our three volunteers went along to an initial meeting at the school in February and we were overwhelmed by their enthusiasm. Since then our volunteers have been meeting every Friday at the school to create a fascinating chronology of the school’s history, packed full of unique stories ready to be transformed into classroom activities!

The volunteers have been discovering some fascinating facts about the school, including how the staff and pupils responded to local, national and international events. Between them they are all working on slightly different aspects of the school’s history and here’s a little taster of how they are getting on!

“The school logbook for 1914-1918 shows that the Great War was clearly much in the minds of the teachers and the children, with references to a Zeppelin air raid, fear of spies, food shortages and the gathering influenza pandemic. The logbook is also a work of art, written in beautiful clear ink handwriting, with delightful grammatical accuracy including the entirely appropriate use of the endangered apostrophe!” – Phil Batman


“I’ve been working on life at Lord Deramore’s during the headship of Mr Percy Bostwick including the Second World War years. Some of the material gives you quite a dramatic insight into the context of the times. For example during the war Mr Bostwick was unable to continue working at the school because he couldn’t find accommodation for his family, which brings home what the national housing shortage meant locally. The little details all combine to make a fascinating picture.” – Roger Barham


“It’s fascinating to see the changes in outlook through the years; earlier times being concerned with absences due to harvests, bad weather and contagious diseases, to more recent entries like in 1962; “Children excited today, American spaceship in orbit” a reference to John Glenn.” – Alan Bollington

The headteacher is thrilled with the results so far and is going to be using the First World War information to inspire her staff at the next school training day. She’s planning to transform one of the school’s classrooms into how it would have looked during the war complete with desks and costumes! The information about the school will help to teach about life during the war, and children will be contacting local people to learn more about how their school has changed through time.

Our volunteers have also been approached by several local people in Heslington who are keen to get involved with the project and share their memories of the school. Over the coming months our volunteers will be recording some of their memories and using the information to supplement the facts they’ve found in the archives. If you have anything you’d like to share with the team we’d love to hear from you!

Everyone is welcome to post their memories as a comment on this blog or feel free to send us an email at  sarah.tester@york.gov.uk.

We’ve already had some local press coverage of this project. Read the article here.