Author Archives: youngpeoplesarchive

Stories from the Mill

I used to think I had the best job in the world, education & outreach officer at Birmingham Archives & Heritage; a sublime mix of delving into the past through archival documents and photos and working with young people and community groups to document their lives and our changing city.


Then in January I answered the call for volunteer millers at Sarehole Mill.  Suddenly every waking thought was about millstones and wheel revolutions, about chutes, tuns, hoppers and damsels and I found myself in a new world of the old.  Now of course it all makes sense; a seamless path from researching and recording stories about Birmingham’s history to real life hands on experience.

I am part of a team of volunteers learning how to operate the mill following it’s major  £450,000 restoration and refurbishment project.  Sarehole Mill is one of only two surviving working watermills in Birmingham ( the other is New Hall Mill) and there have probably been millers doing what we have started to learn to do since the Tudor period, although our existing building has only (!) been here since about 1750. 


Standing alongside the wheel pit, feeling the fineness of the flour as it descends the chute from the stones above, recording the highs and lows of the milling day, at the same desk that the miller recorded his own log, puts you in touch with millers of the past (though we can only look on in admiration at their production  in comparison to our paltry offerings).


I like to think that millers from the past had the same rush of excitement I feel, each time the inner sluice gate opened and the water flooded onto the wheel with a loud roar, to power the stones and the grain hoist and remind everyone that there is proper business at work in the mill.

But it is the stories in the mill that are my greatest joy: Standing by the flour chute or next to the hopper, watching the grain feed into the stones, you are an open invitation for people to chat to you about what they see and feel and remember.  This has been a powerful and fascinating experience.  Many people have recollections of the mill from long ago; stories of playing there, wading up the stream to it, and of the derelict building.  I have spoken to a woman visibly moved by the renovation and the actual working of the mill and heard stories of a man’s grandfather’s mill in India producing chapati flour.

Sarehole Mill is an immersive archive experience.  The archives have been essential in the mill restoration, in developing a team of millers who appreciate the history of this particular mill, and in inspiring and enthusing a new audience.


Guest blogger: Archive DIY – The Paganel Story

Everyone in year 5 went to the archive in town. We had to put on gloves when we were holding things (because things were very old and easily broken).  Now we have our own archive of the school and our local area and all the people here.

  Young Archivist at Paganel Primary School

Yr5 discovering archives at Library of Birmingham Archives

Yr5 discovering archives at Library of Birmingham Archives

This tells the story of the creation of Paganel Primary School Archive, the first ARCHON registered repository archives in a UK state primary school.

Over the past two years we have been working with Library of Birmingham Outreach and Archive service to collect, record, archive and catalogue the history of our school and our community and to make it accessible for this community. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund this is a two year partnership project, working with Weoley Castle Ruins, BMAG, Library of Birmingham, Sellywood House Residential Home and Weoley Castle Community Library.

Oral testimonies have been crucial to bring to life heritage, and we have completed over 100 interviews on a range of local related topics.  These oral testimonies and the value we place on them by documenting, cataloguing and referencing to existing heritage sources, validates the contribution of people in Weoley Castle and inspires learning in the school.

Interviewing a parent for the archives

Interviewing a parent for the archives

Cataloguing and labeling in Paganel Archives

Cataloguing and labeling in Paganel Archives

Weoley Castle, in which Paganel Primary School is located, is a unique interwar housing estate built to enable slum clearance in Birmingham, built within a rural community and around a medieval castle.  The lives of people in the school and community represents the social and cultural changes of our times and have not been well documented.  Schools have a very particular and important role within our community and are in a unique position to both document social life and engage children, parents and local community in our rich heritage, across all generations.

Over the past two years we have worked with the whole school to create and develop the archive and Yr 5 children have had a special role in designing the archive room in conjunction with set designers from the Rep. With the support from Library of Birmingham, Archives and Heritage, we have also established an Archives After-School Club – a unique after-school club of pupils which meets every week to interview people, catalogue, and organise and manage the Archives and will continue after our project has finished.

After nearly two years of hard work, on 28th June 2013 2:00 Paganel Archives will be officially opened.  It is quite an achievement, but the real achievement of Paganel Archives, is putting heritage at the heart of it’s community.

Marcus Belben
Project Coordinator

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