Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Spurn Lifeboat Station 1908-1911: Three turbulent years

Today I would like to share a number of architectural plans – found amongst the un-catalogued Conservancy records in C DPD – illustrating the Victorian cottages, school, and lifeboat house built for the Humber Lifeboat Station at Spurn Point. Why are these plans among the records of the Humber Conservancy Board (HCB)?

The HCB was formed by an Act of Parliament in 1907. The Act replaced the Humber Conservancy Commissioners, and also transferred all responsibilities connected with navigation on the River Humber from Hull Trinity House to the new Board. This inheritance included the Lifeboat Station at Spurn Point, which had been established in 1810. This transfer would lead to three years of uncertainty and difficulty for the Lifeboat Station and its crew.
Detail from plan no.2 of proposed cottages at Spurn Point
The chief difficulty was the fact that the Humber Station was manned by a paid full time crew, a situation which was unique at the time and remains so to this day; the isolated nature of Spurn Point makes a full-time crew a necessity. The Conservancy Board members saw themselves as primarily running a commercial operation, and were unhappy about expending a large sum of money on what they considered to be a philanthropic concern. They therefore decided that they would either close the Station, or pass responsibility for it on to another body. The 1907 Conservancy Act had made the HCB responsible for the Humber Lifeboat Station, but had not included any legal compulsion for the Board to maintain it. Thus its future was placed in jeopardy!

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) was approached by the HCB as the appropriate body to operate the Station. However, the RNLI was reluctant to assume responsibility for a full-time paid lifeboat crew. Many bitter arguments would follow with the Conservancy often threatening to abandon the station!

Detail from plan no.3 of proposed cottages for Spurn Point
In May 1910 the situation reached a critical point when Constable Settled Estates issued Trinity House with one year’s notice to quit Spurn Point. Trinity House leased the land for the Lifeboat Station at a nominal rent for lifesaving purposes on a yearly rolling basis, but had permitted the Admiralty and Lloyd’s to utilise some of this land for other purposes. Constable Settle Estates had not been informed of this arrangement, and once made aware of the fact issued notice to quit. Following the 1907 Act the HCB was effectively sub-letting from Trinity House. If the HCB desired to continue to operate the Station a new lease would need to be negotiated.  This development provided the pretext for the HCB to announce its intention to close the station; the Board could now claim legitimately to have no choice in the matter.

Plan of proposed Lifeboat House, 23 October 1854

The potential loss of the Lifeboat Station, and the impact this could have on shipping in the Humber was a serious concern to shipping interests. The Board of Trade, which had for some time been attempting to mediate between the HCB and the RNLI, stepped up its efforts to find a solution.

Finally, after three difficult years it was agreed that the RNLI would take over the station on 1 May 1911. The future of the Humber Lifeboat Station was assured, and the HCB’s brief involvement with lifeboat operations came to a close. Over one-hundred years later, the RNLI continues to operate this Station for the purpose of saving lives at sea.

Detail from plan for proposed school at Spurn, October 1890
Further reading:
Roy Benfell Spurn Lifeboat Station–The First Hundred Years (Hull, 1994)
Barry Herbert Lifeboats of the Humber (Hutton Press, 1991)
Nicholas Leach Lifeboats of the Humber: Two centuries of gallantry (Amberley Publishing, 2010)

All of these titles can be consulted here at the History Centre, and are available to be borrowed by library members - see details on how to apply for library membership.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Roots and Routes: Settlement, Removal and the Parish

Settlement and removal were court settled processes that formed part of the Old Poor Law system which operated in the UK from the early modern period until 1834. Under the Poor Law system, each person had a parish of settlement which was usually determined by the following considerations: where you were born; where your husband or father was born or had served an apprenticeship; or where you husband or father rented property worth £10 a year. 

A person who had moved away from their parish of settlement could be sent back (removed), if they ever fell on hard times and had to apply for parish relief. Removal was ordered for those who had become, or were likely to become, a liability on the parish such as unmarried pregnant women. Vagrancy was also a problem that fell to the parish to deal with, so vagrants were also widely subject to removal orders. Such orders were issued through the Quarter Sessions courts, whose Justices of the Peace (or magistrates) would first determine the proper parish of settlement for an individual by issuing a settlement order, before then issuing an order for their removal to that parish. Removal could be ordered to anywhere in the country, or it could be to the next parish.  

Settlement and removal was a significant tool of the Hull Bastardy Courts to rid the town of the 'financial drain' of single mothers and their illegitimate offspring. Removals in the early nineteenth century were mainly of pregnant single women. Illegitimacy was increasing in the early nineteenth century and was regarded as a social and moral problem. There was a belief that the Old Poor Law encouraged single women to bear illegitimate children in order to gain increasing amounts of parish relief. They were considered by the officers of the parish to be ‘immoral’ and 'costly' women. 

The records of the Hull Quarter Sessions can tell us much about this process, not least the names of individuals who were unfortunate enough to be part of it. Pregnant and single, Ann Whiteley was removed to Otley, West Yorkshire, in July 1813 [CQB]. Single mother Sarah Hilton, along with her illegitimate 7 week old child James, was removed to Bowby, Lincolnshire, in October 1816 [C CQB]. The story of Hannah Taylor is interesting, and shows that prevalent beliefs about such women were not necessarily true. Finding herself a single mother, Hannah had managed to support herself and her illegitimate child Mary for a few years. She then became a mother to a second illegitimate child, William. At this point she couldn't cope and had to apply for parish relief. She was ordered to be removed from Hull to Leeds, along with her children Mary (now 5 years old) and William (now 6 months). 

Settlement and Removal Order [C CQB]

Not all removals were of a longer distance, indeed some were for the removal of individuals over very short distances, often from one Hull parish to another. This can be seen in the case of Ruth Griswood who, unmarried and pregnant, was removed from Holy Trinity to Sculcoates in 1808. Such instances illustrate the infighting between parishes over who was to foot the bill for the welfare of the poor. In 1834 the Poor Law was revised, becoming known as the New Poor Law, and the same practices were occasionally carried on. For example, in 1851 the Hull Magistrates Court removed single woman Ann Gardener (a pauper) and her child.

When looking at settlement and removal under the Old Poor Law, there are high incidences of removal of women in general. Such cases involved not only women with illegitimate children or pregnant single women, but also other ‘problem’ women. These women might be widows or deserted wives who had become chargeable to the parish after the loss of husbands who had previously supported them and their children. Women classed as 'lunatics' were also removed as they required care under the system. Thus, in one respect, the process of settlement and removal can be considered as a way of getting rid of social undesirables, or those causing financial strain on the parish. In this analysis, vulnerable women in poverty were treated as social outcasts to be moved on.

To find out more, why not visit us to have a look through the Quarter Sessions records [C CQB] here at the History Centre.

Joanne Chilman, Archive Assistant

Friday, 19 May 2017

Experimenting with Digital Collections with the British Library

Last Friday we travelled to Sheffield Hallam University’s Art & Design Research Centre, who are working in partnership with the British Library Labs. This workshop focused on how the British Library’s digital collections team is making their data accessible to researchers, and the opportunities and challenges involved.

So far in this traineeship our focus has been on how to preserve the data, but recently we have been thinking about what to do with the data once it’s been stored. Archive records aren’t much use if nobody can read them, so how do you allow researchers to access these digital records, and what tools will they need to use it? For the British Library, the solution was to make datasets on the collections freely available through BL Labs, and allow researchers, developers and artists to reinterpret the collections in new ways.

A mixture of archivists, librarians, designers and artists at the start of the workshop.
A lot of the research has been in finding ways to automate the process of identifying what is in each collection. One starting concept was to take an ordinary face-recognition algorithm and pass it over scanned pages from 19th Century books to find drawings of people. This simple concept has been developed and expanded into the Mechanical Curator, a program which automatically identifies illustrations within the text, identifies the content and posts a random selection of pictures online. Similar algorithms can perform similar functions, such as teaching an Optical Character Recognition program to spot long-forgotten Victorian poetry in digitised journals.

The biggest point that came from this was less the technical aspect, but the human aspect. It is important to ask questions about exactly what researchers want to find, and how to help them find it. Digital collections can easily contain thousands or millions of files, and good search tools are key to letting users filter through stacks of data to get to what they want.

After the coffee break, professors from Sheffield Hallam’s ADRC shared some projects they have worked on, using new technology in new ways to display data and curate exhibitions. We saw some work by the meSch project into new concepts for presenting information. It can be all too easy for the presentation to overtake the content - the meSch project aims to develop museums technology which doesn’t interfere with the visitor experience.

A prototype guide for Sheffield General Cemetery, resembling a memorial book.
Visitors use the bookmarks to play audio recordings on different themes.
Throughout the workshop, we saw how not just how new technology can be used to engage with the museums and archive sector, but the importance of working directly with users to provide the tools they want or need to use. We’ll be keeping these lessons in mind as we continue to develop the Hull History Centre’s digital collections.

Tom & Francisco, Transforming Archive Trainees

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Roots and Routes: They Come and Go...

This issue of the City of Culture: Roots and Routes blog looks at Hull as a route to a new life following the experience of WWII.

Theodor Plaut (1898-1948) is representative of one of the many academics fleeing Nazi oppression during WWII. He fled to England and came to work at Hull’s University College for a time. During this period he was helped by the Academic Assistance Council (AAC), later the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning (SPSL). This image, part of a form held at Oxford’s Bodleian Library (reference number MS. SPSL 237/2, fol. 33), is from the records of the SPSL. This sort of information was collected by the society when trying to find academics like Plaut a post. It records that he had been dismissed from his post in Germany because he was 'not considered politically reliable as of Jewish faith’. 

Part of the application form of Theodor Plaut, 1935 [C DJC/4/1/11]

The work of the former SPSL continues today as CARA, the Council for At-Risk Academics. It helps academics around the world who are being persecuted or who are caught up in conflict, for example those in Syria and Iraq.

In the late 1930s, meetings were held in the UK to protest against what was happening in Germany. Consideration was given to how best to help those wishing to leave the country at a time when extra restrictions were being put into place by the UK government. One of the biggest and latest projects was that of the Kindertransports. This was a scheme to bring to Britain by boat some 10,000 Jewish children without their parents, many of whom would later die in the gas chambers. The local Jewish community in Hull, as well as fund raising for the scheme, provided homes to some of these children.

Robert Rosner and Rudolph Wesseley were two such children. Rosner escaped from Vienna and was adopted by Leo Schultz (later a Lord Mayor of the city) and his wife, Kitty. Wesseley was born in Prague and was sent out on the last Kindertransport. Coming to Hull, he attended Riley High School, and would later fight for his newly adopted country in the Royal Navy.

Rudolph in service with the Royal Navy, c.1943-1945 [C DJC/4/1/11]

Just a few months after their escape from Germany, many of these children were rounded up and, along with adults, interned as enemy aliens on places such as the Isle of Man, although most were released after a few months. Two Jewish trainee midwives working in Hull were required to leave the area and return to London. They were classified as aliens and were therefore unable to stay in Hull, which was considered to be a restricted zone.

Hull City Council Reports, 1939 [C TCR/1/9/5]

The end of the war saw further arrivals in Hull, more people using the city as a route to a new life. With the headline ‘Frauleins meet ex-soldier sweethearts in Hull’, the Hull Daily Mail on Friday 14th March, 1947, reported on the arrival of 46 German women at the Alexandra Dock. Sailing on the SS Bury, these young women were to become the brides of British ex-servicemen whom they had met whilst the servicemen were on active service.

German brides arriving by boat, 14 Mar 1947 [Hull Daily Mail]

If these stories have piqued your interest, you can delve further here at the History Centre and uncover more stories, perhaps as yet undiscovered...

Paul Leaver, Archivist (Hull City Archives)

Friday, 5 May 2017

Into the Unknown: Exploring the un-catalogued records of the Humber Ports

The best part about exploring an un-catalogued collection for the first time is that you never know what you are going to find next. The downside is also that you never know what you are going to find next. The Records of the Humber Ports can be divided into two parts: a catalogued part and an un-catalogued part. We cannot provide access to the collection without a comprehensive catalogue, so it is very inaccessible in its present state.  My task over the next fourteen months will therefore be to bring the catalogue into line with modern professional standards while incorporating this additional material.

To this end I have spent the last couple of weeks creating a box list for this material. This is essential for planning just how this collection is to be processed, and for providing me with an idea of the scale of the challenge I have in store. It is time consuming work, but the excitement of exploring the collection for the first time more than makes up for this. 

Box listing in progress: photograph and technical drawing of the original Hull Docks grab dredger.
The vast majority of the un-catalogued papers consist of the records of the Humber Conservancy Commissioners and Board, and a large proportion of this is made up of papers from the Conservancy Engineer’s Office. We therefore have a great deal of material relating to navigational aids (e.g. buoys, lanterns, and lightships) and improvements to the Humber; a mass of correspondence, charts, and technical drawings. We are particularly lucky to have a fairly comprehensive set of correspondence files from the Engineer’s Office.

Blueprint of new Conservancy lightship showing optical apparatus. 1919.
There is however still a fair amount of material related to the Humber Ports, including maps, plans, and illustrations. This includes records from the Hull Docks Company, the North Eastern Railway (later the London and North Eastern Railway), and the Aire and Calder Navigation. However, I have to admit that I was expecting to find more. In particular, I was hoping to find more records from the original dock company. This does illustrate the fundamental importance of cataloguing.

Illustration from a souvenir guide from the opening of King George Dock in 1914
I hope to share more highlights from the collection as the project progresses, so keep an eye on this blog for future updates.

The box listing is just a first step on the road to producing a comprehensive catalogue for the entire collection. The next step will be to begin sorting and arranging some of the key record groups identified from this work.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

World Press Freedom Day at Hull History Centre

The 3rd of May marks World Press Freedom Day, an international day of awareness instigated by the UN in 1993. It is held to raise awareness of free press issues and the duty of governments to uphold Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (relating to the right to freedom of expression). The 3 May was chosen as it marks the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of free press principles issued by African newspaper journalists in 1991.

Each year UNESCO marks the day by organizing a conference of media professionals, press freedom organisations and UN agencies to discuss press freedom issues, solutions and challenges. The first was held in London in 1998 on ‘Press Freedom is a Cornerstone of Human Rights’. This year the UNESCO conference is being held in Jakarta, Indonesia.

We thought we would take this opportunity to give you a taster of some of our collections that champion the principles of free speech and civil rights.

A recently catalogued example comes from the records of former University of Hull graduate, Chris Mullin. A retired Labour MP, author and journalist, he joined the Labour Party in 1967, in part as a reaction against the Vietnam War. After university, he worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent in Asia, during which time he met and interviewed the Dalai Lama. He visited and reported on human rights issues in Vietnam, Laos, Tibet, Cambodia and China. He was a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, and editor of the socialist journal Tribune. Throughout his political career he was not afraid to speak out against even members of his own party in pursuit of truth and justice, he also served as Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. He pursued a successful campaign to prove that there had been a miscarriage of justice in the case of the Birmingham Six. He was also outspoken on the British Governments position on various international issues including military support for the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Throughout his career Mullin campaigned for a free press, without the influence of media barons and conglomerates.

Photograph showing Mullin and Arthur Scargill with others at a Tribune rally, 1983 [U DMU/1/61]

Another of the collections held at Hull History Centre records the activities of pressure group Liberty (formerly the National Council for Civil Liberties). The very foundation of the organisation was predicated on the use of media, press and their own publications to raise public awareness of infringements to civil liberties. Within the collection there are many files relating to issues of freedom of speech and censorship.

Press cutting re censorship of appeals to help Spanish civilians [U DCL/4/4]

The Campaign for Academic Freedom and Democracy CAFD), formed in 1970 by a ground of left-wing academics including John Saville, is also amongst our collections. Since its inception, CAFD has championed the rights to academic freedom and free speech. As well as advising on individual cases, the organisation promotes is work through the use of media and publicity work to highlight cases of injustice.
Minutes from AGM of CAFD [U DAF/1/1]

If you would like further information about any of these collections please see our online catalogue for details.

Claire Weatherall, Assistant Archivist (HUA)