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!

Can You See in 3D? Stereographic Images of York

Remember those Magic Eye pictures that were all the rage in the 90s? They were patterned images, that when stared at for long enough, revealed a hidden 3D shape. What about View-Masters where you looked through a pair of binocular like lenses at a reel of 3D images?

Sawyer Model View-Master

Sawyer Model G View-Master. Photo credit: Wikipedia


Holmes Stereoscope. Photo credit: Wikipedia








Although a seemingly recent invention, both had their origins in the late 19th and early 20th century, where stereographic images of scenery were a popular means of entertainment. Magic Eyes, View-Masters and stereographic images all rely upon the same principles to create the illusion of a 3D image.

After a nosy around our digitised archives last week I stumbled across a collection of stereographic images of places in York like Micklegate and Bootham Bar (see below). These images formed part of a series of “Stereoscopic views of English and Foreign Scenery” which would have been viewed using a stereoscope. Much like View-Masters they allow each eye to see a slightly different angle of the same image, producing a 3D effect. This is exactly how we see in three dimensions (or stereo) every day. Here is an explanation of how it works from the Getty Museum.

Micklegate Bar

Bootham Bar

Above stereographic images of Micklegate Bar (top) and Bootham Bar (bottom) from our Imagine York collection

But… it is possible to train your eyes to see stereoscopic images without a stereoscope! Have a go by staring at the images above and allowing your eyes to relax and cross over – can you see our York images in 3D?

If you need some help doing this, have a look at this guide.

Still finding it tricky? Here is what they should look like when you view them in 3D (without the movement), courtesy of the New York Public Library’s Stereogranimator Project. These are flashing images.

To see more, explore our Flickr album of Stereoscopic Images of York from our Imagine York collection.

More stereographic images can be found via the NYPL’s Stereogranimator Project website by browsing the New York and Boston Public Libraries’ Collections in the drop down list. You can even create your own – share these with us on twitter @YorkArchivesUK or on Facebook!

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.

Happy 1st Birthday CMH Blog!

Worldwide distribution of hits to this blog in the past year.

Worldwide distribution of hits to this blog in the past year.

I logged into WordPress today to be met by a little icon of a trophy in the dashboard, “ooh, what’s that?” I thought, well I clicked on it to find out and it seems that this blog is a year old this week. Cool. Time flies! Let’s dig a bit deeper into what we’ve been up to together this past year.

Part of the fun of running a blog is checking your statistics to see if anyone out there is a reading it. As of right now this blog has received 10324 hits. That’s clicks rather than users, so if someone finds the site and clicks around a few pages (which is good because it means they’ve found something of interest!) then that shows as 3 hits. That might not sound a massive amount in a year by interweb standards, but it’s still pretty good by archive standards – that’s thousands of people interacting with and learning about this collection that otherwise might not have done so.

That particularly applies to online visitors from overseas, who we wouldn’t expect to just pop in and visit us in person. I love checking the country stats, and wonder who is sat behind a computer or mobile at the other side of the world looking at this page. It’s just so great the way the internet brings people to your virtual door through search engines, twitter links or facebook friends. In total I’ve had visitors from 81 countries. Here’s the top ten:

Top ten countries by visitor numbers

Top ten countries by visitor numbers

Also fun and interesting to observe are the search terms people  typed into Google which led to us popping up in the results. Some are highly specific – people looking for this project, this archive, or me. Others are more general history and archive queries, and it’s great to get these because it shows that my blog is a useful resource for a wider audience than just those interested in York.

My most popular search term is “archives” which is pretty exciting. It’s only responsible for 1% of my hits but if people are typing that into a search engine and coming across our little corner of the web then we must be doing something right! Other archive specific terms include “more product less process” “history of strongrooms”  “functional vs structural” and “archive shelves.”

Then there’s the local search terms which include things like: “old photos York” “chamberlain’s books city of York” “history projects in York” and of course our perennial favourite “floods in York”! It’s good that people with questions about the history of this city are making their way here and hopefully finding something useful, because that’s exactly what the archive is here for in the first place.

Then there’s the random ones that always make me crack a smile; “woman broom cobweb basement” “military moustaches 1880s” (and many other moustache queries) “swans paddling furiously image” and most weirdly… “firebird aquilegias”. I have absolutely no idea how that one led somewhere here… Any guesses? 

Soldier from thought to be from Strensall barracks on a motorcycle. From a page in a scrapbook belonging to a lady from Strensall.

Soldier thought to be from Strensall barracks on a motorcycle. From a page in a scrapbook belonging to a lady from Strensall. I love this image.

So that’s random visitors, what about regulars? Well 66 of you follow me by email, hello subscribers! I can’t see those who follow directly through a blog reader, but hello to all you good folk too! The numbers keep going up, rather than down, so hopefully that’s a good sign. Then, we have the VIP visitors – those of you who not only stumble upon, or follow the site, but actually join in and contribute to it by commenting. A massive thanks to all of you, you turn this blog into more than me just spouting off into the ether. A special shout out to two regulars, Dick and Aiudrey – one local, one international, who I enjoy hearing from so much and hope you all do too. Thanks to Aiudrey for sharing her reminiscences of when she used to live in York, and Dick for proving that at least one person out there doesn’t mind me talking about archival theory – therefore giving me the permission to do so!

It’s been a big learning curve this year, running a blog on my own, but it’s been a really worthwhile experience so far. Together we’re mapping the story of this project, exploring the collection and building an information resource that will stay on the web, open to anyone with internet access (and via a local library if you haven’t!) whether searching deliberately or stumbling fortuitously.

As a little postscript, the art gallery move was completed yesterday so as soon as I get my hands on the photos I’ll do a writeup here. It all got very physical at the end with door frames being taken out and holes put into walls, but the archive spaces have now been finally handed back to the art gallery and the records are in storage. Next job, building a new repository!

Full steam ahead

Image of Schoolboys on model train (1927)courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales

Image of schoolchildren on model train in Sydney (1927) courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales

Since I got back from my holiday everything has speeded up. I’ve now moved offices to the offsite storage location, and am working there 4 days a week. On Fridays I’m back at the art gallery or hot-desking in the new council building West Offices, to catch up with my line manager and plan the week ahead.

Big news of the day is the first delivery of civic archive material from the art gallery to me takes place on MONDAY, courtesy of an 18-tonne lorry.  Wow. After the archive team has spent weeks of packing and prepping and barcoding, records are starting to move, ready for evacuation of the building.

Actually I have two lots of big news. I’ve also started the final cataloguing into CALM (our software)! As I haven’t got any records to hand yet, my first job is retro-cataloguing the Giles catalogue into CALM, which is going quickly and well. Series and items are slotting into the structure perfectly, and all the authority files that I created are ready to be linked with just a couple of clicks. So satisfying that months of preparation and planning are paying off.

Opening screen of CALM - it can be used for tracking all sorts of info, from locations to conservation work. It's used by museums as well as archives.

Opening screen of CALM – it can be used for tracking all sorts of info, from locations to conservation work. It’s used by museums as well as archives.

CALM is essentially lots of linked databases, and its interface is dry and not very sexy. Even though it’s new for us, CALM has been around quite a long time, which shows a little in the design and quirkiness of some of its operations. Don’t judge a book by its cover though as underneath it’s great and does pretty much everything we need it to. A brand new completely overhauled version is in development at the moment, and I went along to one of the user groups a few months ago to contribute our views about what we like and don’t at the moment.

This is what CALM looks like on the back end. The public side is different, so this isn’t what the catalogue will look like in use.

Screenshot of CALM - Ignore the FindingNo field - that hasn't been tweaked to it's final form yet.

Screenshot of CALM – Ignore the FindingNo field – that hasn’t been tweaked to its final form yet.

On the left you have the tree view, which shows the hierarchical structure of the catalogue, just like windows explorer. You can see the tree is constructed from my functional map of the council over time. Every level has a catalogue record, but only the bottom level represents an actual record or record series.

This how hierarchical description following the international cataloguing standard ISAD(g) works. There is a specified list of minimum information you should provide at each level plus many optional fields, which you can see a few of on the right, waiting to be filled in. There’s a bit of judgement involved in working out how much detail to go into and what information is most important for users, especially when trying to adopt a More Product Less Process mindset.

The structure is sparsely populated at the moment, but will grow to many thousands of civic records, all held within my 13 subfonds. One of the best things about it is that you can alter and change it at any time. This is why I’ve decided to not make the “Reference Number” the permanent ID number for citation and so forth. I know I bang on about it all the time but think it’s important to accept that no catalogue is perfect and static, but will need to be adapted, and so build that potential in from the beginning for sustainability.

Unlike Giles who published a linear list, my main contribution is the structure and records I populate into it – which will organically grow and change over time. Starting with a mostly blank CALM install is both scary and exciting, when my role finishes I’ll be able turn round and see exactly what I’ve done, but from that point it takes on a life of its own and hopefully keep getting bigger and better.

When a ‘tache was for life, not just for Movember

It’s that time of year again when family members, colleagues and friends cast aside their regular grooming habits in aid of mens’ health charities and grow a moustache for Movember. This spectacular seems to be growing in popularity every year, offering men carte blanche to experiment with their facial hair without scaring off their nearest and dearest.

My dad has gone back to his trusted David Seamen tache from the 80s’, but looking around you can see a variety of styles, many evocative of a particular place or historical period.

So for today’s post I’m going to share with you a collection of moustaches from our fair city of York from 1880s-1920s. It’s interesting to see from the group photos when moustaches were ubiquitous, and when they were more about personal taste and expression.


Close-up from group Police photograph, c.1888

Let’s kick off with this recently re-discovered gem from the archive, which appears to show members of the York police force around 1888. Facial hair was most definitely “in” ! This is a wonderful photo, hopefully we will be able to be identify some of the individuals by cross referencing the numbers on their collars with other records we have in the civic archive.


Aldermen Dodsworth, Sheriff of York 1897

Here we have another York character, Aldermen Dodworth, Sherriff of York at the time. Complementing his chain of office he has cultivated a snazzy moustache as benefited a civic gentlemen.


Moustaches were not just for police and officials, here we have a great photo of workers from the Terry’s confectionery factory taken sometime in the early 1900s.  A couple of them are clearly too young to “Mo”.

Terry’s workers from the packing department at Clementhorpe, early 1900s


York has a strong tradition of amateur dramatics – these gents are dressed as royalist civil war soldiers for the 1909 historical pageant.

This is a bit of a cheat! It’s clearly not a photo of actual civil war royalist soldiers, but was taken at the highly successful 1909 York historical pageant. Clearly moustaches were seen as part of the necessary costume – I can’t quite tell which are real and which are fake (click to zoom in) but there seems to be a mixture.


Edward, Prince of Wales and the Lord Mayor in May 1923.

The ultimate accessory for both casual and formal scenarios, this image shows the Lord Mayor, a jeweller, dazzling Edward Prince of Wales with his majestic mo. I love how the Lord Mayor is taking up the red carpet, so the Prince has to walk along the edge!

That’s it for the archives this Movember, and remember you’ve just two days left to snap a picture of the mo’s around you this month to record for posterity before they disappear on the 1st of December. Let’s see if we can confuse historians of the future…

Finding yourself in the archives

One of the joys and challenges of researching archival sources is going beneath the skin of a physical item and transporting yourself back to the moment when it was created, whether fifty or five hundred years ago. Sometimes working out what a record is about, or whom, can be a slow and difficult process requiring in-depth historical knowledge, painstaking research and a deliberate approach.

But sometimes it isn’t.

A few months ago, Victoria (my boss, the civic archivist) gave an introductory talk about the archives at York Explore. She took along a slideshow presentation showing various images of records to indicate the types of things we have in our collection.

This was one of the photos, a black and white school photo taken at Mill Mount School in 1927.

Mill Mount School photograph 1927

If you click on the image you can see it properly in full or zoom right in to see the detail.

For me, and maybe for you, the 1920s is simply one of the various conceptual historical chunks that lives in my head as a way of arbitrarily dividing up the past.

But for a lady in the audience that day, it wasn’t just a generic historical source representing 1920s education; it was her school photo, capturing her childhood in York and the people she shared it with.

“That’s me!”

After pointing out herself, seventh from the left in the front row, the lady said she knew the names of other people in the photo. After the talk, we sent her a copy and she recently sent us back a list of all the girls and teachers she could remember. This will be cross-referenced with the catalogue entry so in the future, a user researching a person associated with that school in that year may for the first time be able to put a face to a name.

Mill Mount School photo detail

Can you see the girl seventh from the left in the front row? She is now 97 and still lives in York!

Instead of a silent picture, we now have one more piece of the interconnected web of York life with its communities of friends and neighbours, colleagues, hobbies and gossip.

Archivists can’t catalogue everything in minute detail because a) we were not there and b) we can’t be experts on every period of history! Our expertise lies in protecting, preserving and making accessible the raw stuff of history so that YOU (or your mother or your great-great-great-great-great grandchild) can get in amongst it and make your own discoveries.

Archives are not just windows into the past, they are the authentic creations of individual people who lived before us and, as this shows, still live among us. They are archaeology that was never buried.

Every record was created for a purpose at a point in time, and whatever other purposes we use them for (such as evidence of our ancestors or primary sources on the wider themes of history) their integrity is based on their original identity, their true purpose. In this case, a photo taken as a visual memento of a group of girls at school is once more serving this true purpose 70 years later for one of the last, or perhaps only, surviving person it still can.