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

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