Monday, 23 December 2013

Digitising Larkin - part 1

A significant portion of my job at the Hull History Centre relates to digitisation – that is, the production of high-resolution digital images of archival materials. We do this broadly for two closely related reasons; preservation and accessThe creation of a digital facsimile means that a fragile item, otherwise unsuitable for handling by the public, is still available for consultation. This in turn also facilitates greater access in the form of outreach, the creation of research materials and public displays. 

Whilst I have undertaken numerous digitisation tasks, the largest and perhaps most significant relates to the workbooks of Philip Larkin, poet and University of Hull Librarian from 1955 to 1985. The workbooks (Ref U DPL/1/2-8) contain the drafts of poetry written by Larkin between March 1950 and July 1982, offering an extraordinary insight into the working practices of one of the best-regarded writers of the 20th century. 

The History Centre houses seven of these workbooks. The earliest, covering October 1944 to March 1950, was donated by Larkin to the British Library as part of a SCONUL initiative to keep the working papers of British authors in this country at a time when many manuscripts were being purchased by affluent American universities. So acute was the issue that Larkin suggested that the conference in which he addressed SCONUL was akin to ‘a conference of barn door closers’. 

One of the Larkin workbooks under the (cold) lights 

The project to digitise the Larkin workbooks has been carried out with extensive consultation of the image specifications recommended by the British Library.
We are fortunate at the History Centre to have a bespoke 100 megapixel camera scanner built by Solar Imaging (see above), running Silverfast Ai Studio software, as well as working in a purpose-built building which lends itself well to photography (level flooring, little in the way of vibrations).

With this is mind, I was afforded the opportunity to attend a digitisation training day held at their Preservation Advisory Centre on November 13th 2013 and I will post my reflections on this event in the new year.

Riki Stansfield
Archives Assistant

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Geography isn’t my strong suit, but…..

One of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of our work within the University Archives team at Hull History Centre is preparing and giving workshops for undergraduates and postgraduates about archives relevant to their subject.  These have two main objectives:  to give students a good grounding in the broad range of skills and knowledge needed to undertake research using archives; and to introduce them to the kinds of documents that they might be using in their research. 

For those students who haven’t used archives before it is difficult for them to envisage how they can enhance their research, how they add to the knowledge that students gain through reading books or journals. But as soon as they encounter documents for the first time, whether official minutes and accounts or personal letters, they are immediately interested and engaged.

We have been holding workshops for students in History and English for several years, but this semester, for the first time we were asked to provide a workshop for Geography students.  The students were studying a module called Geography and Empire, which looks at “the complex relations between geographical knowledge and European imperialism and colonialism, c.1830-1945” and “the extent to which geography was a political resource that played a series of crucial roles in cultural, social, political and economic affairs in the period”.

I knew that we would have some relevant material within several of our collections. Within landed family and estate archives there are papers of individuals such as Sir Charles Chichester, involved in colonial administration and military campaigns; and there are files relating to colonialism and foreign policy within papers of politicians such as Sir Patrick Wall and pressure groups such as the Union of Democratic Control. 

It was a challenge for me to focus on material that had particular relevance for the study of geography rather than history, but I it was fascinating to look at familiar archive collections from a different point of view.  

I found a wonderful range of material and a few documents in particular that gave a powerful illustration of the complex relationship between geography and history.  Highlights include an illuminated invitation to a Maori reception in Rotorua, New Zealand from Lord Wenlock's world tour as lord-in-waiting to the Duke and Duchess of York in 1901; and a catalogue from Isaac Walton's, tropical outfitters of Ludgate Hill, 1930.

One of several maps in the collection relating to the Sykes-Picot agreement (Ref U DDSY2/4/78/3)
The most striking records came from the papers of Sir Mark Sykes, who travelled in the Middle East in the years before the First World War and negotiated the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 and featured in a recent episode of the BBC's Making of the Modern Arab World .   There is a letter from the office of Thomas Cook and Son in Jerusalem to Mark Sykes, regarding travel arrangements for a trip 1902, including costs for numerous donkeys and their handlers. 
There are maps of Turkish lands in Syria, and Western Persia  - some showing  railways, roads, military dispositions, oil and submarine bases; and some with shading or lines drawn across to show different proposals for the division of territory in the secret agreement between Britain and France for the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.   Maps, like pictures, can be worth a thousand words.

Judy Burg
University Archivist

Friday, 13 December 2013

Linking the collection and the researcher

George De Boer (Ref U DDB/3/1) taught 
at the University between 1947-1985 
I find it hard not to get involved with the collections I catalogue. I want to grab people and tell them all about what I’ve ‘found’. I realise this can be annoying colleagues in the Cataloguing room so I try to control myself! I’ve worked with multiple collections and not met one yet that hasn't had something special about it. Sometimes it may take a little searching out and may not be what you thought it would be, but it’s there and that’s why we preserve it.

There was no need to look very hard in a recent collection, George de Boer. A Hull-born lecturer in geomorphology at University of Hull, he also wrote numerous papers and books and was Chairman of Spurn Management Committee. It’s proved a challenge creating a structure that not only makes it accessible to researchers, but also reflects the importance of the collection. It’s been possible to see how well liked and respected he was and I’ve had to take a step back and not allow my personal opinions influence how I tackle the material. 

I’m now working on another collection (which will remain nameless!) that has provoked the opposite reaction. I started off liking them, but the more I learn the less sympathetic I feel and it concerns me that this will influence the type of descriptions I provide, possibly misrepresenting a collection because of my own feelings. This is a problem commonly faced by archivists.

Young grey seal, Donna Nook reserve
(Ref U DDB/2/1/3)
It’s difficult to tread the path between being informative without being sensationalist. How do we promote the material in our care to as many people as possible without restricting our audience by the choices we make? We need to encourage users to think outside of the expected, search out those gems of information hidden in surprising corners of collections. This could be as simple as being aware of the language we use, ensuring we don’t exclude, bamboozle or mislead. Lydia’s previous blog about caged seals came to mind when cataloguing George de Boer’s slides. I think mine is cuter!

As archivists we are the link between the collection and the researcher. We have to tell people what we hold and signpost how it could be utilised. At Hull History Centre we have produced source guides, especially for newly catalogued material, to give a flavour of the wider uses of a collection (see the George de Boer source guide).

As a project archivist I am aware that I will be moving on to the next job and no-one may ever have the same understanding of the collection that I do, so feel it’s important to capture that in the entries I write. I’ll admit I’m more a throw everything in kind of cataloguer in an attempt to appeal to as many researchers as possible and spark the same excitement I feel when I make my ‘discoveries’. 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Cataloguing grant award - Francis Johnson archive

The University Archives, based at the Hull History Centre, have just secured an award of £32,729 from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme administered by The National Archives. (The award was one of 15 see the list of successful projects)

The archives of the architects Francis Johnson and Partners, contains material relating to over 2000 projects dating from 1954 to 1996. The bulk of this material remains in their original paper files wrapped in an unrelated building plan (see right).
Just some of the files awaiting to be catalogued,
re-packed and boxed ready for public access

Francis Johnson, (1911-1995) was born in Bridlington and studied at the Leeds School of Architecture. After working for a firm in Hull for a few years he began his own practice in 1937, based in Bridlington where he worked for nearly 60 years and where the firm is still based. 

The archive reflects the range of commissions that Francis Johnson & Partners have undertaken including private houses, especially country houses, both new or restoration projects, including;

Hardwick Hall (for the National Trust); Maister House, Hull; the Orangery at Sledmere House; Burton Agnes Hall; Houghton Hall; Everingham Hall; Sunderlandwick Hall and Merchant Taylors Hall, York
New churches in East Yorkshire and Scarborough
Material relating to restoration of churches, church inspections and the conversion of churches into private dwellings
Other buildings including St Chad’s College (Durham), railway cottages, public houses, an office block in Driffield, dog kennels, a swimming pool and a cricket pavilion
Individual pieces of furniture for British embassies in Washington, Tokyo and Oslo and a pair of wooden candlesticks designed for HM Queen
Spread of files relating to Burton Agnes Hall (Ref U DFJ/18)
The files include correspondence relating to the design, planning and approval processes; listed building consent; invoices, accounts, bills of quantities, tenders and receipts; there are discussions relating to the use of materials and sketches, drawings and plans of architectural details, eg wrought iron-work, fireplaces, bookcases, chairs, pew-ends and front-doors.

Simon Wilson, Senior Archivist said ...”The funding will allow us to employ an archivist to undertake the cataloguing but we also hope to recruit a small team of volunteers to assist with the project. We would also capture geographic co-ordinates for each property as part of the catalogue entry to allow us to create a map-based access point into the collection.”

The Sea Full Stop.

The work Books to Sea, on display at Hull History Centre is part of a larger exhibition that spans across various venues in Hull. The exhibition shows the works made during my residency at the Maritime Historical Studies Centre (MHSC, based at Blaydes House) part of the University of Hull. The residency has been funded by a grant by the Leverhulme Trust.  

During my time in Hull I had access to the collections and archives of the MHSC, the Maritime Museum and the HHC. These collections and the very few visible remnants scattered across the city (what is left of the old docks, yards and factories) were my main window into the industry of over 200 years ago. I focused mainly, but not exclusively, on books concerned with the whaling period of the city, approximately 1776 to 1867.

Ocean Passages for the world
Narratives abound. They range from the prosaic and anecdotal descriptions of the voyage and the vicissitudes of the hunt, to more philosophical reflections about life at sea. I feel as if the boundaries between fact and fiction, truth and legend are intricately entwined. I purposely tried not to get too entangled on individual stories. Not because I wanted to remain detached but perhaps I worried that it would be too seductive a path and it would stop me from trying to explore the bigger picture. I was more interested in a sort of ‘texture’ of it all: the texture of the sea and of whaling as viewed from a distance. Distance can act as an inverted lens that turns something really large into a manageable miniature, easier to explore. In this case, time was the distancing agent. And each logbook or journal became a miniature model of the whole period.

I love old books, especially the ones that show their age, the decaying grandeur of their leather covers and gold embossing. I like the contradiction between the assertiveness of their information, they exhale an air of inherent truth and the fact that in many cases that information is obsolete, incorrect or incomplete. One of my favourite books is Ocean Passages for the World. – the full stop is actually embossed on the cover. The book contains a list and description of all ocean routes between different parts of the globe. This particular edition is from 1923 and it is at the MHSC library. That particular full stop says to me “this is it, these are all the ocean passages there will ever be”, like reassuring an ultimate authority and timelessness.

I have spent long periods of time in the library perusing through all these books, about whales, whaling and the ocean. Seduced by the elaborate covers I started taking pencil rubbings of the embossed titles and designs, an art technique also known as frottage. I thought of the book as a ship in which to sail through the whaling past. Perhaps too obvious a metaphor, I know, but from the cosiness of a library is the only way we can ever board those extinct whaler ships. The described seas are but a mental place of the past, the whalers and their prey mere ghosts. But that is the funny thing, the sea in these books is all the more powerful because it is a reflection of the sea still out there, as inhospitable, unfixable and unknowable today as it was then, despite our inexhaustible attempts to fix it or map it, despite any full stops insinuating the opposite. The same impossibility of ultimate knowing applies to our understanding of whales. Physical up-close encounters with living whales are certainly scarce. For most of us on shore, whales will remain endlessly fascinating but forever out of grasp.

Some of the panels on display in the History Centre arcade
Progressively, my attention was drawn away from the figurative embossed designs on the books and towards the textured covers. They suddenly reminded me of the sea glimpsed from a plane window: a static sea, opaque, solid and impenetrable as mountains. The sea from the pages somehow had filtered out to the outer skin of the book. In some respects however, this literary sea is in constant flux, as much as the physical sea is. Because despite having been set in print, the text is exposed to our interpretation today, and those interpretations change it and make it flow. I see the surface of sea as a metaphor of history, a fluid and unstable layer separating two great substances (water and air in the case of the sea, past and present in that of history). Past and present are intangible concepts held in a delicate balance, which is constantly being rewritten.

The rubbings of the covers appear to me as topographies of these sea-skins, book-ships. Sometimes the rubbings revealed features I had not noticed before on the books, their scars emerged. Hull Whaling Relics is a small booklet from the collection at the HHC. In its pencil rubbing the signs of ageing, institutional stamps and cataloguing tags are the only features of an otherwise uniform surface. This particular work can act perhaps as a poignant reflection of the position of whaling heritage within Hull cultural landscape, obscured and hidden in archives and libraries as oppose to visible and celebrated alongside the fishing heritage.

The works at the HHC show scaled-up prints of the pencil rubbings. I wanted to experiment with changing the scale, to accentuate the surface details and evoke even more an idea of the book as a physical place (another book is brilliantly titled The Physical Geography of the Sea, and its Meteorology). They are an invitation to the viewers to get up-close and after exploring the surface, perhaps venture into the whaling section of the library and allow themselves to get entangled in those captivating narratives from not so long ago. 

More info about the residency is at

Monday, 25 November 2013

Rugby League and Hull

Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th November were two days of celebrations of what Rugby league means to the city and people of Hull. A display of material from the archives included a scorecard from the first match between Hull FC and Hull KR (in 1899), match day programmes and items relating to the construction of the grounds.  The Hull History Centre sent out an appeal to Rugby fans to come in and share their memories with other fans and also help to bridge gaps in the centre's archives by depositing items of their written memorabilia into the archives for posterity.

Left to Right: Professor Tony Collins with legends Colin Hutton, Johnny Whitely
and Allan Burwell and Victoria Dawson
The centre hosted a question time style discussion with local rugby league legends, Colin Hutton, Johnny Whiteley and Allan Burwell - chaired by rugby league historian Professor Tony Collins.
Fans found out more about items of memorabilia they brought in and shared memories of infamous matches such as the 1980 Challenge Cup Final.

During one poignant remark, Colin Hutton said "I congratulate myself for making the decision many years ago to move from where I was born, in Wigan, to Hull.  I had the warmest welcome and I've stayed here ever since".

The day was rounded up with our VIP rugby league guests enjoying a tour of the Hull History Centre and they were greatly impressed by the wealth and significance of its historical records.

The second event was a rare screening of Mitchell and Kenyon Early Rugby League silent films at the Ferens Art Gallery.  Once again, Professor Tony Collins compared the event and gave an insightful commentary on the social, cultural and sporting heritage of the city in Edwardian times. The films were accompanied by an improvised musical score performed by silent film pianist, Cyrus Gabrysch.

The film presentation and also the event on Saturday, were both extremely well received by all those who attended and the weekend of celebration events may well form the beginning of a trend by local residents who wish to participate in creating a more comprehensive record of Rugby League material at the Hull History Centre for present and future citizens of Hull to learn from and enjoy - if you have items you wish to donate - please contact us. The centre is also looking to work closely with the national Rugby League archive based at the University of Huddersfield. 

The events were the Centre's contribution to the national Explore Your Archive campaign. 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Lest we forget

Next year will see the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, a conflict which is rightly seen as one of the defining moments of modern history. What has come to be called the Long Nineteenth Century came to a cataclysmic end which, it’s probably true to say, changed everything about western civilisation. It’s right that the conflict is commemorated nationally, regionally and locally.

Hull has its own First World War history. Many of the themes will be familiar, including the sacrifice of the Hull Pals, the Zeppelin raids and the anti-German riots. However the stories of the local people whose lives were changed by the war are less well known.

Detail from scrapbook (Ref C DIAH/1) with the report
from 2 June 1916 that J. Hirst was wounded
Here at the History Centre we hold some records about the activities of local people and organisations during the war. But we are aware that these don’t come near to telling the full story. For instance the remarkable scrapbook which City Architect Joseph Hirst assembled, of news cuttings and other documents relating to his son Captain Joseph Hirst of the East Yorkshire Regiment, tells only one story among many.

In the run-up to the start of the commemoration, we’re hoping that people with archival material relating to ancestors who served in the First World War might consider depositing them with us, so that they can be preserved and made accessible for future generations. 

‘Lest We Forget’ is not just a reminder of remembrance on a war memorial. It is also the best reason I can think of for preserving the records of the ordinary people of Hull who fought in that terrible conflict.

If you do have material that you would like to deposit with us please contact us.

Martin Taylor
City Archivist

Saturday, 5 October 2013

The discovery of rare ‘caged’ seals

U DDLA/36/1 before cleaning
Whilst conserving some documents from the Hull University Archive collections I came across one of special interest among the papers of the Langdale family (Ref U DDLA/36/1). 

It is a settlement document dated the 12th July 1415 which has been written on parchment in iron gall ink and has two small pendant wax seals.  

What is unusual about these seals is that they are known as ‘caged’ seals, and it is very rare to find them. 

‘Caged’ seals are only found on documents created during the 15th century and the ‘cages’ are generally made from twisted reeds or straw, which are inserted into the wax whilst it is still quite soft. We do not know the reason why these seals were made like this, but there are two main theories for their use. 

One is that it is to prevent fragile seals from breaking, and the second is to prevent the surface image from being abraded once the document had been folded up. 

Detail of the seal after cleaning
The second theory is probably the most likely as small wax seals like these are relatively solid and are far less fragile than the larger sized seals, but the surfaces are soft and easily abraded and so far ‘cages’ have only been found on smaller sized seals like these. 

The document itself has been badly damaged by mould causing discolouration and giving much of the document a purple hue colour. There are missing areas and  tears, and at some point some paper has been pasted onto the back of the document to strengthen it, and the adhesive used has also caused considerable damage making the parchment to become stiff and brittle as well as creating further staining. 

The seals were intact, which is very unusual as very often they become damaged and detached and are lost, and all that was required was for them to be cleaned, which shows that this method of protecting the seals has worked, as the document required much more conservation work!

Lydia Stirling
Assistant Conservator 

Friday, 20 September 2013

Creating Order From Chaos

Did you know that before you as a researcher can use new collections here at Hull History Centre our archivists have to get busy behind the scenes sorting these collections?
When collections come to us they often arrive in a state of chaos and it is our job to make them easy to use. Before we can do that we need to make sense of them ourselves. This is because part of the archivist’s work is to determine if the creator of a collection kept it in any kind of order, and if such an order is present we must seek to preserve it and reflect this in our catalogue. 

By doing so we can tell something about the way an organisation or individual managed their records and through this see their ways of working. Now, in some cases this job is easy as collections are neatly packaged up and labelled prior to being brought to us. However, more often we find that we have our work cut out.

Me amongst a pile of boxes during the sorting process
A case in point is the papers of socialist barrister John Platts-Mills. Now, when we started this collection we thought ‘a barrister has to have a logical brain to be good at his job so his papers should be in good order’…little did we know!

What we initially thought would be a 6 week project turned out to be a 2 and half month slog. When we opened the boxes to complete a first list of the material in the collection we found a bomb site. The remains of correspondence files were loose in boxes, bundles of papers were kept together in plastic shopping bags, and multiple part files were scattered throughout the collection.

Before we could begin to preserve Platts-Mills’ original order we had to work out what that order might have been. In such cases our work takes on the role of the detective looking for clues.

As we worked through the boxes it became apparent that our barrister had used a system of subject based filing to order his professional papers. We could tell by the file names he had used and the common themes observable in bundle of gathered papers. It also became apparent that he had made a distinction between his legal case work and his personal files which seemed to bear the prefix of ‘p’ or ‘personal’ before the subject title. Thus we could begin to determine a structure for the collection.

Sorting the correspondence
The next challenge was to tackle the loose correspondence. Whilst most of it appeared to be in unbound clumps ordered by year some of it was grouped into subjects and cases. Here we had to make a decision, order the correspondence chronologically by year but in doing so loose the evidence of the second filing system, or did we take another approach. We opted for the latter. We decided that it was best to re-integrate the grouped correspondence into the main subject files where possible and that any remaining homeless correspondence would be kept together in its existing groupings and we would create subject files to reflect Platts-Mills’ own ordering system.

With this intellectual chaos sorted we could now turn our attentions to the physical chaos. This task involved reuniting separated parts of files, re-integrating loose items into subject files, sorting correspondence into chronological files and repackaging into archival folders. After this was accomplished our last task was to put the folders into the order determined in our catalogue. As you can see from the photos this was the fun part and we might have made a box fort or two in the process!

The collection is now catalogued, see the source guide or search our online catalogue

Claire Weatherall
Project Archivist

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A volunteer's perspective

Last week Hull City Archives were awarded the Archives and Records Association Volunteering Award for 2013 for its Second World War project. At the ceremony one of the volunteers, Mike Covell, spoke about what it meant to him and what it meant to him and with his permission we have repeated it here in full:  

My name is Mike Covell and I am a volunteer with the Hull History Centre’s WWII project. As far back as the days of a separate local studies department, archival unit, and Hull university archival unit I was researching Hull’s history, so when the Hull History Centre opened I made sure I was one of the first to visit, and certainly one of the first to write a review of what the centre had to offer and keeps on offering.

Since it opened in 2010 I have taken part in several courses, researched here, and even lectured at the centre. So when I heard about the WWII project I got very excited to say the least. I had seen an advertisement in The Hull Daily Mail for volunteers and on one of my next research trips I registered my interest with the staff so that I could become part of what I believe is a very important project.

My family and I had always had an interest in WWII after it was revealed my late grandfather was photographed with his family in their home after a particularly horrific raid in Hull. As the photographer passed down the street, through the mountains or rubble, he saw my family and asked how they were. My grandfather did not answer, but instead smiled, threw his thumb up, and created a piece of local history. His photograph was used as propaganda for the war effort, and to this day still gets used in books and in the local press. With this in mind, and bearing in mind what he went through, I wanted to join the WWII project.

For me the project is an important project for several reasons. It helps us to remember the past. It secures the past for future generations, and it gives us new skills and experiences that we can take forward.

Since the project began we have learned how to correctly catalogue information, how to number the information so that it is easily found and accessible, and how to clean, store, and transcribe this information so that it is available to future generations.

Every time we have a session it is a learning experience. We have uncovered families that changed their names to avoid retribution from German sounding names to names such as “Smith” and “Jones.” We have seen firsthand the destruction caused on the various air raids, and we have learned of the tragedies and heroic stories that occurred on our very streets, stories that up until now had been largely forgotten.

During a recent session transcribing WWII documents at the Hull History Centre I was blown away by the great number of cards in just one of the piles I had in front of me. I kept asking myself about the importance of the cards and the names upon them. What really hit home is that these ladies and gentlemen who gave so much between 1939 and 1945 in this “North East Coastal Town” and received very little for it, but they all had one thing in common. They were all volunteers. 

With this in mind the least we can do as volunteers is to carry on what we do and remember them for what they did.

Mike Covell 

Hull History Centre volunteer on the WW2 Project

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Life, Love and Long Distance Romance

View of a letter showing the cross-writing (Ref U DX/123
As well as cataloguing new collections, part of our work involves reviewing and updating past catalogues to current day standards. 

In doing so we often turn up gems that can be easily overlooked. Such a gem was discovered recently when I was working on a small collection of correspondence of the 19th century economic journalist and essayist Walter Bagehot (1826-1877). [If you want to read more about Walter see his entry on Encyclopaedia Britannica or Wikipedia.]

What we found was a wonderful set of letters between ‘Dearest Walter’ and his affianced ‘Dearest Eliza’, daughter of James Wilson the founder of the Economist [If you want to read more about James see his entry on Encyclopaedia Britannica or Wikipedia.]. The letters show a wonderful warmth of affection and character in each and document the six months up to their wedding in April 1858. In this time the couple were separated whilst Eliza received treatment for health problems and had to conduct a long-distance relationship – quite the modern thing! Through the loved up couple’s conversation we see the emotions, fears and hopes that any couple in the early Victorian period might have experienced.

In an ironic twist the letters show Walter to be the fanciful and emotional half of the partnership whilst Eliza appears much more sensible. We see the process of a courtship leading up to the wedding day and hear of all the arrangements that needed to be made. Throughout the whole you get a feeling of genuine respect between Walter and Eliza whose letters have allowed us a rare glimpse into the private world of Victorian romance. 

This letter (ref U DX/123/1) has Walter teasing Eliza for causing him to catch a cold in a rather unusual way
Aside from the personal aspect, these letters provide us with precious details about Victorian society in the 1850s. Details mentioned in passing show that the middle classes were using trains as commonplace methods of transport. They suggest that the business classes were making housing choices based on railway locations to provide ease of access to the capital and regional hubs such as Bristol. The detail also illustrates attitudes to medical theories current at the time through Eliza’s descriptions of her treatment at the hands of Dr Beveridge of Edinburgh.

So as research source these letters give us a fantastic picture of aspects of Victorian life. And lets face it – we all like a good love story! If you want to explore further the reference for the collection is U DX/123 with the descriptions available on our online catalogue

Claire Weatherall
Project Archivist

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Restoration Homes - Coltman Street, Hull

Working in archives we get to help a wide range of users with their research - whether it is family history, local history or academic study. Only occasionally do we get to see the results of the research and last night's episode of Restoration Homes on BBC2 was one of those occasions.

What you don't see - the camera crew in the searchroom during filing for Restoration Homes

Following Simon Kelsey's restoration of the Victorian townhouse at 114 Coltman Street in Hull. Historian Dr Kate Williams and architectural journalist Kieran Long both visited the History Centre to conduct research and the programme features a number of shots of them conducting research in the library area and the searchroom.

The programme showed the use of key sources like the census, maps and street directories can be used to discover who had lived at that address previously (see the Local History sources section of the History Centre website to find out more about these sources and how they can be used). Discovering that Christopher Pickering lived there they then explored the story of how he made his fortune through steam trawlers and became one of Hull's most philanthropic benefactors.

Simon Wilson
Senior Archivist

Friday, 2 August 2013

Fade to grey

Have you ever looked back at a receipt for that expensive purchase for an insurance claim and found it’s faded and difficult, if not impossible, to read? 

This is due to the type of paper used, that shiny stuff similar to the old Izal toilet paper. It was also used in fax machines and this presents an obvious problem for archives in how to preserve the information they contain. (If you want to know more about the history and capability of fax (Wikipedia has a fascinating article). The National Archives of Australia advises that the information on the thermal papers that faxes use can disappear in as little as 5 years which is a scary thought for a service whose aim is the permanent preservation of archival heritage.

A fax from 2001. If you can't read it -
that is the point!
I've been working on a collection of records for an action group that began its life in the 1980s and is still campaigning today. This means that their records span a number of changes in technology from the typewriter to the computer. There are a number of faxes tucked in amongst the different types and qualities of paper. Many have already started to fade with some that are already barely legible. While there is nothing we can do to stop the information vanishing taking photocopies can give us a surrogate that will endure.

Preserving the records that document our lives is essential to not only safeguard our memories, but also to provide evidence of our lives and the world around us. So check that receipt hasn't faded before you really need it.

Carol Walden 
Project Archivist

Monday, 22 July 2013

Christ between Saints Peter and Paul

A rare and beautiful early Renaissance painting has been saved for the nation by our colleagues at the Ferens Art Gallery. With the support of our own funders, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the Art Fund, Christ between Saints Peter and Paul by Sienese artist Pietro Lorenzetti has been acquired by the Ferens Endowment Fund for display in the Gallery.

As part of the City Council's Heritage section, we at the History Centre can bask in some of the reflected glow of our colleagues’ success!

Pietro Lorenzetti (active 1306(?); died probably 1348)
Christ between Saints Peter and Paul, c.1320Tempera on panel, 32.2 x 70.4 cm© Ferens Art Gallery, Hull Museums.  Photo: The National Gallery, London
Lorenzetti painted the altarpiece of which the Hull picture is a surviving part in 1320. Oddly enough 1320 is the date from which the routine records of local administration here in Hull actually survive. The Chamberlains’ Rolls – the annual accounts of the town’s two financial officers, the chamberlains – begin in this year (reference C BRF/2). The first recorded chamberlains were the merchant brothers William and Richard de la Pole, beginning a family trajectory which nearly led to the throne of England.

Visitors to the Ferens will be able to see the Lorenzetti masterpiece next year, after it has been restored at the National Gallery. But when you do go, remember that at the time Pietro was grinding his pigments in Siena, here in Hull records were being created which nearly seven hundred years later the History Centre preserves and makes available for posterity. 

Martin Taylor
City Archivist

Monday, 8 July 2013

No small print

On Thursday and Friday last week the Hull History Centre was closed whilst new digital microfilm readers were being installed. During the move to the new building in 2010 we had looked into this but the costs were too high. When we revisited this earlier this year we found that technology had improved and prices had dropped significantly! 

New digital microfilm readers with touch screen in use
With 8 new ScanPro 3000 machines it wasn't simply a case of swapping the machines - we needed to close to remove the old items, re-arrange the furniture and install the new PCs and touch screen monitors and train the staff.

The new machines not only have a smaller footprint, each can read a variety of formats including microfilm, microfiche and aperture cards removing the need to swap machines. They are all networked allowing users to print from any machine whilst digital technology allows users to rotate, flip and zoom to read the smallest of text quickly and easily. 

We have also microfilmed the last three years of Hull Daily Mail and the popular Flashback series, we have updated the list of material on microfilm on the History Centre website. With the building closed we have also taken the opportunity to make a few other improvements including bringing down into the searchroom the telephone directories for Hull (from 1937) to go alongside our collection of street directories.

We have also revamped the Centre's website home page and this blog which we hope you will find interesting. We will be reviewing and adding more content to the website in the next few months so use the feedback form and let us know what you what to see.

Simon Wilson
Senior Archivist, Hull History Centre