Tag Archives: Explore Your Archive

Creative responses to First World War archives: a letter to my dear Sister

 

As part of 2018’s Explore Your Archive campaign and following on from Monday’s blog post, another creative response from the Creating Writing workshop was inspired by the letters of Elizabeth Cadbury (MS 466 FN:466/433 (1916)).

 

 

 

Margaret Hale wrote the following:

January 1915

My dear Sister,

I am writing this letter to you while sitting nearly on top of the fire, that is  because the weather here is so very cold and it is trying very hard to snow.

Our new home, which we moved into before Christmas does not seem as warm and friendly as the old one, but I am having a large number of friends visiting probably to be inquiring in a nosey sort of way to tell me their news.

Mrs Freda Smythe called yesterday to tell me that Mr and Mrs George Brown’s son Frederick George Brown, do you remember him? He was at school with our cousin Michael Arthur Jones, they were at Upton together was killed last week. Then Mrs Ursula Thomas came to tell me that her daughter Mary, who you remember married Simon Albert Hall, also at Upton with Michael has had a baby daughter Flora Mary.

I have had a very busy week apart from all the visitors I have been asked to help Chair the Woodlands committee for helping the wounded, Mrs Duncan Cadbury is the Deputy Chairman and the Lord Mayor and the Bishop of Birmingham are also on the committee. The first one was on Monday morning and Mrs Cadbury had to leave us early because her son Edward had come home on sick leave and she wanted to be with him.

At church on Sunday the preacher was the new Curate, the Rev Gordon Harvey-Jones quite an elderly man for a curate I thought, his sermon was good but quite short so John and I walked home in the wintery sun.

John is very busy at the factory going in most days, he had to go to the Ministry in London, and unfortunately the train was slow and late. I think he is missing going to Torquay this year. Our Cousin Ada and her husband Victor, you know the one who talks a lot, wrote to say that the weather is dreadful and most of the hotel has influenza and she was not enjoying it.

I am thinking about colours for the morning room, I have been to Worcester and picked some china that I like and I think it looks quite nice on Mother’s old side board.  Do you remember how we were forbidden to open the drawers and cupboards?

I am still writing Christmas replies as the move has taken up so much time. I have written to our cousin Sarah in Calcutta, her husband Roger Michael Cadwell is now in charge of the plantation and they now have four children, Mollie, Olive, Walter and Freda. It must be lovely to be warm all the time. I have heard from Aunty Beatrice and she says that her sons, Andrew, Arthur and Albert, are all away at war.   Victor, her husband, thinks the War will be over by Christmas this year.

I went to a Concert by the London Symphony Orchestra which was nice, but some people did not stay till the end.

I do hope that you will be able to come and stay with us at Easter, and we can see the spring flowers together in our new garden. I hope that you will be able to have some time off from the hospital.

Your ever loving sister.

Advertisements

Creative responses to First World War archives: Men Beat the Walnut Trees

On Friday 14th September 2018, here in Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, we held a Creative Writing workshop using First World War archives.

This was a free hands-on Creative Writing session hosted by Birmingham historical novelist and biographer, Fiona Joseph, and Corinna Rayner, the Archives & Collections Manager. Archive material at the Library of Birmingham had been specially selected by Fiona and Corinna to inspire the writers, and it provided a unique opportunity to explore some of the many archival treasures themed around Women at War (Home Front, Industry) and Conscience at War (Quakers, patriotism and pacifism). We had so much material out, including family letters, photographs, posters, postcards, news items and memorabilia from the period which participants could use as a springboard for their own creative responses. Writers at any level, including beginners, were welcomed. For this year’s Explore Your Archives week we thought we’d share some of the wonderful creative responses to the archives which were produced as a result of this session.

First up is Men Beat the Walnut Trees by Lindsay Martin, inspired by a photograph of women working in a munitions factory from MS 4616 War Collection (Local Studies) and a collection of letters in the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends archive (SF) from Birmingham Quakers about their varied experiences during the First World War. You can listen to a recording of Lindsay’s piece here and the transcript is available here.

We’ll share another contribution with you on Wednesday!

Catalogues and curiosity

Paris quadrifolia. Illustration from Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, 1885, Gera, Germany

There are many ways to explore Archives. Sometimes you set out with a destination in mind and a carefully planned research route. Sometimes that works well and the desired information is found; sometimes you meet with difficulties – missing records, indecipherable scripts, records too fragile or damaged to consult – so the route and destination have to change.

Then there are the ‘lucky dip’ explorations where you’re not quite sure what to expect! Here follow a few examples –

Using the Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham online catalogue, I tried some random words in the search box, just to see what appeared. In alphabetical order:

Campanile: 1 reference, to a will of Anna Brown of Campanile Cottage, Canonbury Road, London, 1872. [MS 857/11]

Duckling: 2 references to ‘Ugly Duckling’ in the John English Archive, a playscript and a theatre programme, 1958 [MS 2790/1/17/1 and MS 2790/2/2/14/1]

1 reference to ‘Duckling brand bedding brochure, 1948’ in Hoskins and Sewell records. [MS 1088/4/4/2]

Emerald: 2 references, both to jewellery of Mary Anne Boulton (Matthew Robinson Boulton’s wife), 1819 and 1826. The 1826 one was to ‘a gold serpent ring with emerald eyes’ [MS 3782/15/25/56]

Parrot: all references but one were to this as a surname. The one as a pet, owned by Fred Jordan of Shropshire, was in the Charles Parker Archive. [MS 4000/5/3/5/5/11]

Shell: 46 references, from spectacle frames to shell boilers in Boulton & Watt, chocolate shell eggs to ammunition shells, tortoise- shell and pearl shell – for buttons, boxes etc., and an advert for Babcock Power Ltd., Shell boiler division.

Whisky: 11 references appeared – all from the Charles Parker Archive [MS 4000]. Interesting to note the connection between whisky and folk song!

Continue reading

Seals

The Conservation themed highlight for today is…seals!

Seals from the Elford Hall Collection. [MS 3878]

Seals were historically most often impressed in sealing wax (often simply described as “wax”). In the Middle Ages, this generally comprised a compound of about two-thirds beeswax to one-third of some type of resin, but in the post-medieval period the resin (and other ingredients) came to dominate. Typical damage you see to seals is bits that have broken off and are lost forever.

In the past, on some of our seals, beeswax has clearly been used to attach two broken pieces back together again. These days, practices have changed (not least because of the obvious risk of applying hot wax to wax seals!). Each piece of a broken seal would now be carefully packaged separately so as to protect it from further damage.

Letters Patent of Queen Elizabeth to John Bowes, knt., granting to him all rights pertaining to the office of Sheriff of co. Staff., to which he has been appointed. Great Seal. 25 November 1588. [Elford Hall 143]

Parchment

To continue the theme of Conservation for this year’s Explore Your Archive week, today’s blog is all about parchment and features some of our parchment documents.

The Guild Book of Knowle. An illuminated parchment manuscript dating from 1451 – 1541. [MS 3000]

Parchment is made from specially prepared, untanned skins of animals which are mostly sheep,  calves and goats. Vellum is a higher quality skin made from a young calf. Without scientific analysis, however, it is very difficult to determine what animal the membrane is from and how old it is.

To make parchment, the original animal pelt needs to be dehaired. The pelts are soaked in water for about a day to remove all blood and grime. It is then taken out and put into a dehairing bath to remove the hair. This usually lasts about 8 days but in winter this can last up to 2 weeks. The dehairing liquor was originally made of rotted, or fermented, vegetable matter but by the Middle Ages, this included lime. The pelt would be stirred with a wooden rod in a stone vat about 2 – 3 times a day.

Once it is removed from the dehairing solution, the skin is then soaked in clean water so the skin can be ‘worked’. The skin is then stretched on a frame, which would be as simple as a wooden frame with nails stretching the skin. This would be left open to the air so they could be scraped with a knife to remove the last bits of hair and get the skin to the right thickness. As the animal skin is made from collagen, this would form a natural glue whilst it was drying so the skin would keep its stretched form once removed from its frame.

To make the parchment more aesthetically pleasing or more suitable for the scribes, special treatments were used. One treatment included rubbing pumice powder into the flesh side of parchment while it was still wet on the frame was used to make it smooth and to modify the surface to enable inks to penetrate more deeply. Powders and pasted of calcium compounds were also used to help remove grease so the ink would not run. To make the parchment smooth and white, this pastes (starch grain) of lime, flour, egg whites and milk were rubbed into the skins. This is why parchment will have a rough and a smooth side.

Our oldest document in Archives Collections. [[DV 14d Outsize] 435324]

Unsurprisingly, the oldest document we hold in our archives is recorded on parchment. This is [DV 14d Outsize] 435324 – Agreement between Simon, Bishop of Worcester, and Waleran [de Beaumont], Earl of Worcester, settling various differences which had arisen between them. We believe the document dates from between 1139 and 1143, based on the names that appear in it, despite the date 1160 being recorded on the actual document!

Coroner’s Court Roll

You may have seen yesterday’s post getting Explore Your Archives Week off to a great start with an account of an event we held in Archives & Collections on Saturday. One of the items out on display was one of our newest acquisitions – the Coroner’s Court Roll, which was actually conserved by Birmingham Archives staff in the 1970s.

Conservator, Lucy, showing off the Coroner’s Court Roll

Although it looks like parchment at first glance, the court roll is actually made of paper. The wooden case it is housed in is not ideal, as wood emits volatile organic compounds which can damage the document. However the casing forms part of the item and so it will be kept in it and stored in suitable environmental conditions to preserve it long-term.

The role of coroner has existed from around the 12th century. The position of Birmingham Coroner is a relatively new one, having been in existence from around 1838, when the newly created Birmingham Corporation sought to establish their own Quarter Sessions and as a result of this, the position of Coroner. Note that prior to around 1838, inquests for deaths in Birmingham would have been held in Warwickshire, as Birmingham reported to the Warwickshire Quarter Sessions. The role of the Coroner’s Court is:

  1. to investigate sudden or suspicious deaths which are reported to him/her,
  2. to deal with applications to transport a body to another country for burial or cremation
  3. to investigate cases of Treasure Trove (the discovery of buried coin or other valuables)

Archives & Collections are lucky in having an almost complete holding of the inquests held in Birmingham over the whole period there has been a Birmingham Coroner. The Coroner’s Office has recently deposited the original “roll of the inquests” covering 1838 – 1875, a microfilm copy of which is available to view in the Heritage Research Area. The roll records very little detail on the cases, giving names, address, cause of death and verdict. There are no further details relating to the death and on the whole, the entries do not tell you any more than you would find on a death certificate.

As I’m sure you will appreciate, this is not an item that will be served in the Wolfson Centre – for conservation reasons!

Explore Your Archive 2017


 

Explore Your Archive week is here!

Each year, here at Archives & Collections, we like to get involved with the Explore Your Archives campaign to raise awareness of the work that the archives does. You may remember the past couple of years, we opened up our collections to visitors through pop-up exhibitions.

This year, the theme is conservation and preservation and on Saturday, we welcomed members of the public on a tour of the archives. Starting in the Wolfson Centre, our Conservator, Lucy, talked about the items we had out on display and explained a little about the types of material they were made of. The turn out was fantastic and everyone really enjoyed having the chance to look behind the scenes in our archives storage areas.

Members of the public enjoying their visit to Archives & Collections as part of Explore Your Archives 2017

We are running the event again on Friday (which is now fully booked) and so SPOILER ALERT as throughout this week, we will be featuring some of the items that were on display. We hope you enjoy!

For other events happening around the country, please visit the Explore Your Archive website.