Lucky Dip #8 – Infectious Diseases Notification Register

Today I’m back with an ole favourite, a Lucky Dip post. Lucky Dip posts are an experiment of mine where I grab a random record then try to prove how *any* document, however unlikely, can be fascinating.

This Lucky Dip was not picked out by me in the usual way, but was noticed by a work experience volunteer recently. It caught both our eyes (and nearly caused back injury) because it has an all-metal binding. Not just the spine, but the boards as well. How intriguing… definitely worth looking closer.


Infectious Diseases Notification Register 1960s- Acc 157/389

It’s certainly an impressive beast. It is labelled on the front ‘Infectious Diseases Notification Register’. I’m not sure what type of metal it is made out of, other than that it is heavily pitted (though not rusted). Has anyone come across these before and can tell us more?

Brass doesn't rust which is why we also use it for archival paperclips.

Brass doesn’t rust which is why we also use it for archival paperclips.

The hinges appear to be made of brass. They have a lovely chunky feel and smooth action.  Inside there is a pasted label from the supplier, where we find out that this is a ‘Kalamazoo’ binder. Apart from the comedy value of the name, there is further info on the label. Firstly, that the binder was bought in the 1930s, though the earliest entries in it date from the 1960s. Secondly, that it was guaranteed for 7 years – I find this quite surprising, due to the substantial nature of it, you would expect a much more ambitious promise, such as 50 years! A different marketing culture to today perhaps… It looks like an expensive bit of stationery invested in for something consciously intended for permanent value, which we still assess it to be today.

Stationer's labels often have interesting quirks to share.

Stationer’s labels often have interesting quirks to share.

Ok, let’s delve inside the physical object to the information within. As I learnt whilst researching council functions, many individual activities of local government came about as the result of very specific pieces of central legislation. When regulatory changes occurred, central government sent out circulars to inform local government of their new or amended responsibilities.  Where new committees have been formed due to an Act of Parliament, or a particular record required like this register, you often find a copy of the legislation tucked or pasted at the front of the record series. Useful context for both the original creator, and the user today.

Collected useful circulars and letters on changes to regulations were included at the front of the record.

Collected useful circulars and letters on changes to regulations were included at the front of the record.

This binder is divided into sections, with one each for the different diseases that required a return. Reporting incidences of infectious diseases is quite a long term function in local government, which became expanded with numerous Acts and regulations. The list of diseases covered by this register is quite large, and includes many ‘nil’ returns for what we think of as more ‘historical’ diseases such as cholera, leprosy and ‘plague’ *phew!*

For the government or NHS to know the levels of disease, every local area has to report it somehow. No leprosy here!

For the government or NHS to know national levels of disease, every local area has to report it somehow. No leprosy here!

Others are far more prevalent, such as measles which is the busiest part of the register. Most cases relate to children, and were compiled on a daily basis, giving the name of the child, their age, address and school. In this register you can therefore see the illness spreading through a school very easily, or you could extract the data and display a distribution on a map of York. This is why the record was created, to gather such statistical data and ‘notify’ it upwards to a central authority.

It's important that I cover up the names and house numbers in this photo, as the information in this register relates to living individuals, and so must be treated in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.

It’s important that I cover up the names and house numbers in this photo, as the information in this register relates to living individuals, and so must be treated in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.

When archivists appraise a record, we always look to see if the information in a record is duplicated elsewhere, and then preserve the efficient ‘compilation’ version instead of the bulky low level paperwork. So, we’d keep a register like this instead of every single scrap of paper sent to the person who compiled it. (This is a generalisation of a nuanced process, but a guiding principal nevertheless). This register is a great example of where very fine level detail (names, addresses and sickness relating to individuals) has been brought together in a clear compact high-level compilation. A definite ‘must keep’.


A rough draft of an annual report, the final copy will be recorded in another series in the archive.

In addition there are some annual summaries of diseases which compile at an even higher level – listing numbers for diseases in a year. Even better maybe? Well, not necessarily, as we would expect the data to be published formally by the Medical Officer of Health or in the council minutes, and so would advice someone to consult the published version as the easy to use, most authoritative source for that particular level of detail.


Immunisation information for each person.

The register also records whether the child had been immunised for measles or not. This was added in a different colour pen and precisely included the date of immunisation, so another source must have been consulted later to build up this picture. It’s surprising to me, knowing nothing about epidemiology, how many of these children had been immunised but caught measles anyway. Why is that different today? What changed? Did statistics gathering on a local level, fed up to a national level, lead to more investment in research and development into measles? Or was it simply that the disease was more common so you were more likely to be exposed to it?

I don’t know! But now I know that I don’t know, and this chance encounter has given me an avenue to explore, a learning experience to follow, not proscribed by a course of study, or broadcast by the media, but personally triggered from just from having a nosy and trying to understand one individual civic record.

‘Using archives’ is simply taking information that someone has recorded or expressed for a purpose, then using or appreciating it in either a) the manner it was intended, or b) some way completely new!

So, we could map the spread of measles in one street in a week, compare the proportions of diseases between cities or decades, or find out how statistics were collected by central government. The record doesn’t care, it just is. Part of why we preserve archives is because we know that we don’t know the full extent of their value, and that value will be uncovered as our own and future generations dig deeper.

Zooming in to tiny detail, or out to the macro level, gives us new insights into our past, based on the raw stuff of recorded history, these individual records.

Lucky Dip #7 – Debtors’ Account Books

It’s time for another Lucky Dip! Aisle 7 contains various types of court records, which have been catalogued under the “F” class. Court records are not part of my cataloguing project, but have a place in the new structure that they will be put into later. I selected this box off the shelf… “Debtor’s Prisoners Account books.”

1 box of records - debtors prisoners' accounts

1 box of records – debtors prisoners’ accounts

At first glance I assumed it would be accounts for the running of the debtors prison, but as the label says, it is the accounts of the prisoners themselves. When debtors were taken to court for defaulting (in York this was either at the Guildhall or the Castle) their business accounts were inspected as part of the process. As you can see, they were not always returned!

We have several boxes of these accounts, which are a window into the everyday dealings of business folk in York. This box is from the 1830s. They were not created as civic records, but entered the custody of the council as evidence in the legal process.

Out of the pile of books, I picked the top left one to look at in more detail to see what these records have to offer us.

The notebook is around modern A5 size

The notebook is around modern A5 size

This is the cash book of Henry Holmes, Miller, 1836-1838. Physically it is very different from the official corporate records we have had for most Lucky Dips.  You can see that is a small notebook of paper pages, card boards, a parchment wrapper and a nice little clasp, that has the options of three different holes to use as the notebook expands in use.

The plate with the holes on has come off, but was still slipped in the cover, so I put it back to show what it would have been like

The plate with the holes on has rusted off, but was still slipped in the cover, so I put it back to show what it would have been like

It has been annotated on the back by the court, like all these notebooks, with the name of the debtor (some of the others also have the date of their court appearance). I don’t know how I’d feel about the court scrawling all over my nice notebook, they even wrote upside down!

The label added by the court - Henry Holmes' case was at the Castle, not the Guildhall

This writing was added by the court – we learn that Henry Holmes’ case was at the Castle, not the Guildhall

Inside, the book lists all the orders of the miller – who and what he is selling to individual customers. From this page you can see the  types of grains that he milled and sold by the imperial bushel: wheat, barley, oats .This is a great primary source for his trade in this period.


A double page spread of orders, grouped by customer

However, what’s even better is that as well as his customers, he also kept in this book the bills that he paid to others (or not, if he ended up in court for debt!) These have been kept in a little pocket in the book. I tipped these out and looked through to see what I could find.

Who can resist filling a pocket in a notebook with receipts!

Who can resist filling a pocket in a notebook with receipts!

There is a whole mixture of transactions recorded here, from hay and coal deliveries to the purchase of a coat, and repairs to the leather belts that drove his mill. The bills and receipts vary from pre-printed forms to barely legible jottings from other tradesmen.

Here are the tiny folded receipts - the open one is for a new coat.

Here are the tiny folded receipts – the open one is for a new coat.

This bill, for lengthening a leather mill strap, has been "settled" - paid - and so wasn't the reason why he was up in court.

This bill, for lengthening a leather mill strap by three feet, has been “settled” – paid – and so wasn’t the reason why he was up in court.

Just by using this one book as a historical source, you could piece together a picture of how this miller ran his business and interacted with the city around him. Using all these books in this series together allows a more complex picture to be built up of local trading networks.

Part of this work has already been done at the archives. This particular collection, part of accession 203, has been listed at item level by volunteers, and a database of customers with over 4000 entries has been created. Some have also been cross referenced with entries in the York Herald. This is exactly the kind of highly detailed information that we have about some parts of our collection, that has been gained over time by close study, but is currently hidden away.

acc 203 debtors lucky dip 7

So, at the moment we have a detailed list and database, but a user walking into our searchroom has no easy way of knowing that these account books exist at all unless they ask someone who happens to know! That is why this project is necessary, because it will place individual records in a bigger picture, or map, of the collection, and make them easier to find.

Once a user knows individual series exist, then they can make use of the hundreds of detailed lists that we already have, and get the benefit of research by staff and volunteers over the decades. It’s the perfect example of why archival cataloguing needs to start at the general before moving to the specific, why we need to share the gist of the whole before focusing on the parts.

Lucky Dip #6 – Micklegate Strays

Morning, and welcome to Lucky dip #6. I recently researched the strays whilst working on my authority files so when I saw this cluster of boxes marked “Micklegate Strays” I picked one out in order to see what original records survive. I found that this box refers chiefly to exactly how the 1907 Act of Parliament came about.

Micklegate Strays boxes - I picked the top left "misc" one out!

Micklegate Strays boxes – I picked the top left one out as “misc” always appeals!

The strays were originally the ancient common lands. Following inclosure, the strays were vested in the corporation in 1763 in trust for the freemen. Each freeman had the right to graze so many animals, known as a gate or gait. This right could be rented out to other freemen (or later, non-freemen) if you didn’t want to use it yourself.

Working notes on current price of gaits

Working notes on current price of gaits when this bill was going through.

After municipal reform in 1835, rights to the strays were the only concrete benefit that the freemen had left. In the nineteenth century, tensions between the historic rights of a minority (York freemen) and the benefits of the wider community (York residents) grew. In 1907 the corporation sought to end the ambiguity by formally transferring  the strays of the Micklegate freemen to the corporation by Act of Parliament in return for compensation.

Opening the lid I find a scruffy pile of dirty papers, oh dear… As I went through them, however, patterns began to emerge and details fitted together to show fascinating insights into the mechanisms for how the strays were transferred from the freemen to the corporation and the controversy that caused.

The papers that first caught my eye were the working documents of the people involved in the laborious process of getting a local Act through Parliament. Lots of the records in the box are drafts and notes, not created to be part of the permanent record, but which ended up in here anyway.

Notes to the legal counsel assisting the bill.

This one stands out: “notes to counsel” that were given to the lawyer. They include facts, detail and instructions. However, towards the end there is a nice extra, a personal note about the personalities involved  (very clearly marked as such!)

At the end of the several pages of notes, there is a more personal one...

“The town clerk has been subjected to considerable insult…”

Another nice example of a behind-the-scenes process document is this envelope full of letters. They were written by a York MP of the time, written on House of Commons Library stationery, sending real-time information back to the council in York.


Envelope of letters sent from Parliament to York

This letter says that the bill was read that day but the committee stage was unknown yet. I like this letter as it hints at the excitement and worry of trying to get a local Act through Parliament, and how different communications were in 1907.

So that’s the process detail, what about the bigger picture, the context? The whole point of this Act was to take control of the strays of the Micklegate freemen, which included the Knavesmire (with its racecourse). The corporation and freemen came to an arrangement of £1000 per year to be paid in compensation, to be divided amongst the freemen and freemen’s widows. They signed an agreement on that basis following lobbying and publicity on both sides, including this printed letter by one group of freemen persuading others to support the plan.


Printed publicity material explaining the bill.

However, when the bill went to Parliament, the Charity Commissioners objected to straight cash being paid out indiscriminately. This threw a bit of a spanner in the works, and appeared in the regional papers in April.


My fingers are not usually that grubby – this box of records was presumably kept in the Guildhall basement and are filthy. I had to wash my hands frequently to avoid spreading dirt from the outside of papers to the clean insides.

In the end, it was agreed for the money to be distributed via educational grants and other specific funds for needy freemen, as opposed to all freemen. This was agreed, and the bill passed on those terms.

I enjoyed reading through this box after so recently researching the strays using secondary material as I can see where historians have drawn their facts and opinions from. The mix of formal legal papers and ephemera and correspondence shows so many angles of what was a historically significant moment in the history of York freemen. It shows the actual negotiation and development of the relationship between the freemen, who historically had been the corporation, and the post-1835 corporation which represented residents. It shows how local democracy is not a clear cut path of progress, but an ebb and flow between different groups in a community.

An archival postcript: You might have noticed that there are no catalogue references or accession numbers on the boxes. They are an artificial series put together sometime in the later twentieth century. This wasn’t done by the archive, but by the council, as a working legal compilation of reference documents about the strays. This highlights how the civic archive is a working business archive, containing many records: legal, architectural, environmental, that are vital to the running of the modern city. A record can be both a working document and a historical archive at the same time. In my new catalogue they will remain in this series, respecting this provenance, but they will be given the specific identity references they currently lack to control them.

Lucky Dip #5 – Chamberlains’ vouchers 1799-1801

Archive boxes on shelves with temporary labels

It’s snowing outside, not that you can tell.

Time to kick off the new year with a brand new lucky dip. Aisle 5 now, which consists of documents packaged in archive boxes, rather than loose on the shelves (hurrah)!

Here’s the one I picked, with a mysterious temporary label that says “CV – Vouchers 1799-1801.”

Lucky Dip #5

Lucky Dip #5

It's like Christmas in January...

It’s like Christmas in January…

Opening it up, we see bundles of paper receipts, in years from 1799 to 1801. They are in neither original nor modern preservation grade packaging, but bear the distinctive labels of material processed in Giles’ era (c.1900). These bundles are listed (by year, not in detail) in the Giles catalogue under C class.

So what have we got here? Let’s dive in and see! I picked the bundle already opened so as not to wrestle with century-old string.

Note the non-archival quality brown paper wrapping. This will have to be repackaged.

Note the acidic brown paper wrapping. This will have to be repackaged.

Inside we find small pieces of creamy18th-century rag paper, consisting of receipts and invoices. Whilst the accounts in Lucky Dip #4 record transactions in a formal way, these are the actual bills and invoices written by those providing goods and services to the council, often in their own hand, with additional notes by the Chamberlains that payment was made, and sometimes even with receipts of payment glued onto them.

They are in date order, let’s have a look what was happening in the winter of that year.

Invoice for banquet with printed decoration

Banquet invoice from Thomas Walker

The reverse of the invoice, with authorisation on one end, and Chamberlain's note on the other.

The reverse of the invoice, with authorisation on one end, and Chamberlain’s note on the other.

One that caught my eye was this printed bill, which is for catering some kind of event – drinks, food and servants. Turning it over, a note is written that it is for the Sessions dinner and it has been authorised by three members of the Corporation including the mayor, just like we would expect modern expenses claims to be authorised.

Other items are less visually impressive but reveal insight into city history. I noticed a few mentioning New Walk, which was the riverside walk opened up as part of an attempt to beautify the city and encourage visitors in the 1730s. You can read about it in the VCH here.

Three invoices for labour on New Walk

Three invoices for labour on New Walk

It clearly took upkeep to maintain as in this bundle there are regular invoices for labourers’ wages working on New Walk – a chilly job at this time of year! The invoices are all written by one hand, a foreman representing or employing several labourers. It doesn’t say what work specifically they were doing but lists their names and the days they worked.

Opened out invoice with itemised charges for labourers

Opened out invoice with itemised charges for labourers

To find out more, I kept looking to see what other supplies might be required and  lo and behold we have an invoice for the purchase of elm trees in December from a man of Telford. I wonder if these were to replace trees which had died or been damaged since the 1730s, or for an extension.

Bill for elm trees

Bill for elm trees – like the others, this bill was folded and labelled by the chamberlains.

Bill for elm trees supplied or two dates. I wonder how large is "large" and how they transported them here.

Bill for elm trees supplied on two dates. I wonder how large is “large” and how they transported them here.

These records of business transaction on the micro level, are authentic unique sources of the little actions that go into maintaining and developing a city like York over the centuries. I could happily sit for hours and read through this box, and the great thing is that so could anyone. They are written in English, the handwriting is cursive but generally straightforward and there is no reason at all why you couldn’t order up a box and browse through for leisure, or to look for specific information on certain types of expenditure.


Pink tape – an archive weed!

A postscript: You see the pale pink tape that ties this bundle? Pink  legal tape was used to tie up bundles of records and makes archivists shudder because the dye is unstable and runs if it gets wet. I havn’t seen it quite so faded before though, perhaps this was caused by flooding? Paper and ink from this period could survive a wetting, but maybe the pink dye leaked out in one of the flooding incidents in the 19th century. This is pure speculation, but another reminder of the avenues of exploration you can find yourself in by looking at physical records!

Lucky Dip #4 – Chamberlains’ account books 1666-1679

Aisle 4 contains some of our older civic records. Let me introduce you to Lucky Dip #4 – Chamberlains’ account books 1666-1679 [CB 26].

Chamberlains' Account Book Volume 26 1666-1679

Chamberlains’ Account Book, Volume 26, 1666-1679 [CB 26]

The Chamberlains kept the official City accounts, and the post goes back at least as far as 1290 in York. We have two major series of their records, known as the Chamberlains’ books and Chamberlains’ rolls.

The rolls (1398-1835, with gaps) are the “official” audited accounts, and were signed off once a year, whereas the books (1446-1835, with gaps) were everyday records and contain more detail and bits and pieces such as receipts and bills.

Lucky Dip #4 records money in, money out, savings, investments and charity accounts of the City of York during part of the reign of Charles II. It’s so information-rich that any page is fascinating, but here are a couple to show a range of transactions.

In order to spend money, the City had to first receive money. Listed on this page are some of the “casual receipts” for miscellaneous income in 1668. These include interest on bonds, and one resident’s payment to become a freeman.

"Casual Receipts"

“Casual Receipts” – click to get to the massive image you can zoom into

If the City chose you to be an officer, like Sheriff, you either had to accept the appointment or pay hefty fine to avoid it. As being an officer was not only a faff but could cost a lot of your own money (which you may or may not manage to claim back), many people paid the fine to avoid it. This was a substantial amount of income for the City, who sometimes took advantage of it by targeting their nominations to those they knew would prefer (and could afford!) to pay up.

In March 1668 they managed to get an impressive total of £60 off two candidates in the space of a week! That was a lot of money, and such fines for exoneration from office were a substantial portion of city income for centuries.

Close up of text

The fines were sometimes fixed and sometimes varied – for some reason John Paylin paid twice as much as Andrew Hessletine to get out of being a Sheriff!

So what did they spend it on? Like today, part of the money was spent on setting up young people in apprenticeships, another portion paid the people who kept the public administration running, such as the mayor, common clerk, cook, baker and caretaker:

Quarterly salaries paid for the running of the common chamber including the mayor and caretaker.

Daily expenses were varied, seen below for the month of January 1668/69. Payments went to a messenger delivering a letter, a lawyer for drawing up a petition, a porter for carrying coal to the council chamber, and slightly worryingly, “To the tipstaves [sherrif’s officials] for whipping people openly and privately” – presumably to do with the corporation’s responsibility for crime and punishment.

Payments made in January 1666/67

Payments made in January 1668/69

But not all the money could be spent on local matters. York had national responsibilities to send money up to the king. Lucky Dip #4 has several examples of these taxes, particularly for wars, via the expenses claimed by the sheriffs for collecting it.

Close up of text

Entry for paying the sheriffs’ expenses to collect the royal assessment for war funds.

So that’s the content of the record, but what happened after it was no longer in current use? All physical objects have a history of their own, and a significant point for these accounts was the flood of 1892 when the records came to the attention of William Giles. As well as writing his catalogue he also sorted and arranged the records (just like I am doing 100 years later, albeit differently) and sent some to be conserved and rebound at the Public Record Office in London.

The codex we are looking at would not have been familiar to its original authors as it has been altered in the 19th and 20th centuries. The volume is actually made up from a number of smaller volumes, which have been bound together with a new PRO binding and titlepages.

Open volume with modern title page

Can you see the different sized quires bound together into one composite volume?

You can easily see where books of different sizes have been put together. We are lucky they didn’t cut them down to fit and look neater which sometimes happens!

We see Giles as a bit of a hero, but his actions were not purely beneficial. Whilst he arranged for the records to be professionally conserved by experts of the day,  some of their methods of conservation proved damaging in the long run.

We can see it here where some of the pages have been discoloured to a dark yellow.  This page isn’t too bad as the text is dark but for some pages in our older records it is almost impossible to read what’s written.

Open volume with one yellow page and one white page

The page on the left was conserved in Giles’ time and has gone yellow since.

Modern conservators now follow a principle that all work should be reversible. Parts of Lucky Dip #4 were conserved again, to modern standards, using high quality acid free paper to stabilise the pages and make it clear which bits are original and which are additions. It was attached with starch-based glue so it can be removed with water if required.

Page with modern conservation repairs with white paper.

Modern conservation paper stabilisation of a fragmented page.

I’m really fascinated by the journey of physical items, on top of the informational value they contain. It really is like archaeology; you search for clues and look at different layers to put a story together. Nowadays we help out our successors by keeping records about our records, recording exactly what we have done to an item “on our watch”.

As I re-catalogue the archives I will give them new reference numbers, but the older ones will still be recorded on the catalogue entry. This means old and new references will still match up and this chapter is only one of many in the 350 year old chain of custody (all within the City of York Council) from the clerks who wrote them, via Giles and his contemporaries to us in the early 21st century and beyond.

Lucky Dip #3 – Emergency Feeding Committee 1941-1946

Welcome back to the blog and part three of my lucky dip experiment, thanks for your feedback – I’m glad they’re proving a hit. Onto aisle three, this time my eye was caught by a scruffy, hand-inked red spine labelled “Emergency Feeding”. This sounds suitably bizarre, so here we go.

Minute books on shelves

The slim red volume in the middle stands out as different to it’s neighbours, we’ll have to find out why…

It is another minute book, (we are still in that section of the strongroom,) this time for the Emergency Feeding Committee, November 1941-October 1946 [BC 76]. Those dates provide a clue to the purpose of the committee, which was set up to provide off-the-ration canteens, called “British restaurants” to feed people displaced by air raids, and also the wider workforce, during WW2.

BC 76 – a not very exciting front cover

At the start of this minute book, the committee were running several canteens in York, in buildings requisitioned for war purposes. Food during wartime is a fascinating topic, that usually centres around ration books and home life – but here we see a different side, mass catering for hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of people a day, and the logistics that went into making that happen.

It’s a great source for the disruption to every day life experienced on the home front in York. However, it also has familiar glimpses of normality in the complex relationship and tensions between committees, the council, the government and residents.

One of my favourite entries is near the beginning. The committee has asked the council if one of the staff, Mrs Sachs, could live rent-free in the property next to the canteen she supervises. The answer comes back, no, she must pay a rent of 5s a week.

Extract from document

However, they seem to have got round it without disobeying the council: they decide to rent one room of the house  back off Mrs Sachs as an office, which just so happens to be for the sum of 5s!

Extract from document

Whilst you didn’t have to spend rations to eat at a canteen, the food available obviously reflected wartime shortages. In the summer of 1942, LNER workers refused to pay full price for their meals saying that they were not good enough.

“They specially complained of the continuous serving of peas and beans, that the beans were rarely cooked sufficiently; that the rice pudding tasted mouldy and the fish cakes were ‘high’.”

So, the committee investigated one of these LNER canteens, and the report is amusing, especially the observation by one canny workmen that the committee must have given advance warning of their visit because the food was notably better than normal!

Typescript report on LNER canteen inspection

You can click on this, or any other image, to get a better view where you can zoom in and read the text more easily.

The realities of war were never far away: just two pages later the committee is seeking new premises for one of its canteens “owing to the Leeman Rd emergency feeding centre being damaged beyond repair by enemy action.”

When the war ended, the British Restaurants were closed down and properties given back to their owners, but councils were encouraged to setup their own “municipal restaurants” instead. We now know of course that food troubles continued for years after the end of the war, with some rationing continuing until 1954. The York committee were very keen on building their own restaurant and went ahead even before enabling legislation had been enacted.

They had some trouble trying to find a location.  Suggestions included the art gallery, 35 Fossgate and the Merchant Taylor’s hall. The art gallery was put forward as the best option, having ground floor access and a large hall. The committee wasn’t too impressed with this as a permanent option (and I imagine neither were the art gallery!) so instead they bought a prefabricated hut from the Ministry of Food which they erected (after some argument with the Markets Committee) in Gill Garth.

Neatly written report on various options for restaurant premises

Here you can see the analysis of the different options available – they make interesting reading!

I’ll finish on some little details of the new civic restaurant, which was officially opened in May 1946. The committee were very concerned that it should be a success. They wanted to make it look nice, and asked the Parks department for flowers for the tables. They also tipped one Mr Pilmoor the painter £5, “who had so successfully executed mural paintings in the restaurant”.

The make do and mend ethic was still strong: after rejecting samples of hessian for curtain material they decided to try bleaching blackout material to a different colour instead. They did acquire the fabric but the bleaching may not have gone to plan as they authorised “coloured braid [to be] sewn on the curtains for decoration” instead – a lovely image!

Extract about curtains

That’s it for lucky Dip #3, I’ve run out of space before I ran out of material! Minute books are not the dry tones I always assumed that would be, and have something to offer even a casual peruser. Which has been the most interesting so far, do you think?

Lucky Dip #2 – Fire Service and Licensing Committee 1965-1974

Hello and welcome to Lucky Dip #2 – after the success of Lucky Dip #1 I have high hopes for this next one. Now, aisle 2 is also full of minute books like the first. As we had an older record last time, I looked for something a little more recent.

City of York Fire Service and Licensing Committee minute volumeHere we are: Fire Service and Licensing Committee minutes 1965-1974. Sounds promising? Not especially, but that’s why we’re looking at it!  Let’s see what I can find…

Large heavy modern City of York minute volume
Well, the reason this volume caught my eye was the distinctive binding – its of a type that I haven’t  come across before. It’s very heavy and robust for its size, and has the title in gold on the front and printed on the spine. The physical presence of the book says that this is something that was intended for permanent preservation and is imbued with authority from the logo on the front.

Index open at "D" in modern City of York minute volume

Here the index is open at “D”

Inside, the volume begins with alphabetical index pages which have been manually filled out by hand. However, as the little paper note below says, the index was never completed. This is both common and frustrating for a researcher – and is probably because manual indexing is so time consuming that the effort tails off!

Note sellotaped into modern City of York Minute volume

Here a note has been sellotaped in stating that the index only goes up to page 99. Look at the grotty brittle yellow tape – this is why you shouldn’t ever use normal adhesive tape in photo albums or scrapbooks as is “goes off” very quickly and can damage the paper beneath

So what exactly did the councillors on the fire and licensing committee discuss? As well as the running of the fire department, it also had responsibility for things like petrol stations, taxi licences and charity street collections.  One of my favourite entries is on page 106, where they authorise the purchase of “17 dozen pairs of firemen’s socks” – a wonderful image! This level of operational detail would be very unusual for a committee today.

Resolution to buy fireman''s socks from Leicester
What really caught my eye leafing through, were the fairly frequent trips of committee members to private showings of films, like “How to undress in public without due embarrassment”(p18) in 1965  and the controversial Swedish sex education film “Language of Love” in 1971 (p218). After viewing the films, the committee then decided whether to approve the film for showing locally, and at what certificate. The first was approved at 18, in accordance with the BBFC, the latter was refused.

The committee disallows the film being shown in York

An example of local cinema censorship in 1971.

Now I was surprised the local council was doing this in the 1960s and 1970s as I knew the British Board of Film Classification (originally Censorship)  is older than that, so here I turn unapologetically to the power of Wikipedia from which the below derives.

Apparently, it all goes back to the 1909 Cinematograph Act which required local councils to licence public cinemas. This was designed to introduce fire regulations in order to reduce the number of accidents occurring from the dangerous combination of ad hoc pop-up cinemas and flammable early film.

However, councils added their own conditions when issuing these licences, such as reserving the right to determine opening days. These additions stretched the purpose of the Act, and were challenged in court in 1910. The cinema lost and licence conditions became more common, especially for vetting individual films. To try and gain some consistency nationally, the film industry setup its own censorship body, the BBFC, in 1912 attempting to regain some control over the situation for it’s members. The BBFC did not have any power in law, but it gave councils something to follow to save the bother of checking every film.

In 1985 the BBFC gained statutory powers over recordings such as videos or DVDs, but surprisingly (for me at least), local councils still have the final say to decide what certificate a live screening of a film has and whether it can be shown in their area. In this minute book we can see that the councillors often chose to simply follow the  BBFC certification, which presumably is the method applied today. However, councils still sometimes use their power to prevent films being shown or altering their certificate – typically for the most controversial of horror films.

Another minute book, another mini voyage of discovery. Let me know what you think and stay tuned for next time!