Evacuee archive now available

The Evacuee archive (ref D EVAC) has now been catalogued and the majority of the collection is available for consultation in our reading room.  Some parts of the collection are closed to the public, because of Data Protection issues.  Please contact us if you would like to know more about this.

It is a fascinating collection and is already being used by a PhD student, and Laura Farrell, one of the Reading Connections project interns  has been researching the collection, which will form the basis of a piece by Dr Teresa Murjas for the project. There will be a blog post about this very soon.


IMAG0098 watermarked 500px

A pair of moccasins, probably from an evacuee who was evacuated to Canada, although there are no details with them ref D EVAC K/2

Zoe Watson

Reading Connections Project Manager

Internship blog post – Evelyn Williams

I have been volunteering at Reading Museum since 2010 first as part of the Reminiscences Project, then Historypin and most recently Revealing Reading’s Hidden History. Through the internship, I have the opportunity to work full time for a period and see a lot more of how the Museum works. I hope to become more professional, efficient and effective in museum related activities and tasks. The role will also contribute to my own personal development. Working with colleagues from MERL adds a stimulating dimension to this project.

Research on the Reading Chronicle Collection continues and I am working with Project Officer Sophie to prepare information relating to the images that have been selected for an online catalogue.

My time is split between Reading Library where the microfilm copies of the Berkshire Chronicle are available to look at, and Reading Museum where I add to the data and information already held about the image.

Berkshire Chronicle has transported me back to the Reading of 1939 just before and just after the outbreak of the Second World War as it reports on how the outbreak of war affects life in the town. Some familiar local places, people and events crop up but I am learning all the time about Reading’s history.

Some stunning images have been selected to be showcased online covering the length and breadth of life in Reading. From these I have selected an image from June 1939 of the staff of the Berkshire Chronicle before they set off on their annual outing. The scene is in Valpy Street outside the Berkshire Offices and alongside Reading Museum, with Blagrave Street in the background, everyone is dressed up and ready to go.

 

s1307188(watermarked)

 

Evelyn Williams

Project Intern, Reading Museum

 

The word spreads about ‘Reading at War’… even Tony Blackburn’s talking about it!

At this time of year many of us will reflect on those who have fought for their country and, in particular, on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

As we approach Remembrance Day,  the local press have taken a keen interest in the Reading at War aspect of the Reading Connections project, part of which aims to highlight the stories of the 146 individuals who feature in Reading University College’s Memorial Bookall of whom tragically lost their lives in the First World War. We are delighted that the Reading Post and BBC Radio Berkshire have been keen to focus on some of these incredible stories.

During their visit, two reporters from The Reading Post met myself and project volunteer, Jeremy Jones, and were shown the Memorial Book. They were introduced to some of the individuals who feature in it and explored the project’s designated flickr site. The flickr site is a fantastic resource as it not only allows people to view those individuals but it also contains, where known, further biographical details about them and their connections to Reading University College. These details are just the tip of the iceberg and, of course, we are appealing for anyone who has more information about, or photographs of, any of the individuals to get in touch.

Although we were unable to take the Memorial Book with us for our BBC Radio Berkshire broadcast, it was still very much the main focus of our discussion.

Tony Blackburn

Phillippa Heath, Tony Blackburn and Jeremy Jones at the BBC Radio Berkshire Studio  

There, Jeremy and I were interviewed as part of  Tony Blackburn’s show. Tony was incredibly enthusiastic and interested in the work we are carrying out. Not only was it a fantastic opportunity to promote the project, but it also brought to the fore the heart-wrenching stories of some of those students who gave so much.

If you missed the broadcast, it should be possible to ‘listen again’ at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01jryvj (the interview took place at 10.50 am on 07/11/13). All being well, the project will also feature in the Reading Post on 8th November, and a short edited video about the project will feature on their website. Our media coverage of the project will continue on Sunday, 10th November at 9 am when Guy Baxter, University Archivist, will also be interviewed on BBC Radio Berkshire about the Reading at War project.

 

Phillippa Heath

Reading at War Project Officer, Museum of English Rural Life

Berkshire in The First World War History Project visit to MERL

Danni Mills (Reading Connections Digitsation/Data Officer) and I recently hosted a visit from Berkshire in The First World War History Project group .  They were keen to see the sort of archives we have here relating to the First World War.  At first I thought we might be a bit limited on material, but once we started looking at the online database we started to find a few interesting items including  the War Memorial Book and material from Suttons Seeds Ltd, Huntley and Palmers, and the books Berkshire and the war : the “Reading Standard” pictorial record 1917-1919

Group visit_2

There was also a PowerPoint presentation of local images for World War I from the Collier Collection and Sulham House Collection.

Group visit_4

There was interest in this image from the Collier collection of Reading Football Club.  There is a chance we might be able to identify more people as a result of expertise in the visiting group.  Hopefully we will be able to add information to our catalogue on this photograph, and the group will be able to find further information here to add to their research.

P DX323 PH1_E150_294 watermarked

If you are curious about the First World War or any other aspect of our Special Collections, we are always keen to welcome individuals or groups to explore our Archives. Do not hesitate to contact us on merl@reading.ac.uk.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, don’t forget to look at our flickr site which shows those people who feature in the University’s Memorial Book who fought and  lost their lives in the First World War

Zoe Watson

Project Archivist/Project Manager – Reading Connections

Historic World Objects: photography and beyond

Felicity McWilliams – Project Officer

This summer was very busy for the Historic World Objects team. By the middle of July we had pretty much put together the final shortlist of the six hundred objects from the Historic World Objects collection that will be featured on the new Reading Museum online catalogue. The next stage was to make sure there are good quality photographs of each of the objects to accompany their online catalogue records.

Photography in progress

Photography in progress at the Reading Museum store.

To this end, Greta, Ollie and I spent a significant portion of the sunny months of July and August inside Reading Museum’s remote store, an Aladdin’s cave of objects in a warehouse-style building on the outskirts of Reading. Buildings designed for objects rather than people don’t always make fantastic working environments, but the lack of natural daylight did mean we could control the light applied to the objects during photography very well! We had two days of training from the University’s photographer and used new photography equipment supplied as part of the project – a fancy DSLR camera, a pop-up illuminated background, and flash lights with soft-boxes and umbrellas. We hope that, once they’ve been tweaked during the editing process, the new photographs will really make a valuable addition to the online catalogue.

A recently photographed object from the Historic World Objects collection.

A recently photographed object from the Historic World Objects collection.

I am now moving on with the research phase of the work on this collection. A new member of the team, Adam, will also be working on this with me for one day a week. We will be carrying out further research into the objects, documentation and collectors. This research will then enable us to write short pieces of text to accompany the basic object information on the online catalogue records. Adam and I will be starting by researching some of the collection’s known collectors. These include Dr Joseph Stevens, the first curator of Reading Museum, and Robert Gibbings, an artist and wood engraver who collected objects whilst travelling in the Polynesian Islands. Last Friday Adam and I attended a Museum Ethnographers Group study day in Birmingham, entitled ‘Researching Donors of Museum Ethnography’. The day was full of really useful tips and advice, and we made some real progress researching some of the donors whose names we had taken along to the event. We hope that some of the objects in the HWO collection will be brought to life in new ways by the stories of the people who collected them and brought them to Reading.

Internship Blog Post – Ceri Lumley

I have recently begun an internship with the Museum of English Rural Life. The draw of local history, and in particular that of rural tight-knit communities, was something which as a person with strong rural welsh roots felt something of a personal pull. I jumped at the chance to continue work in the same vein as volunteering I had done at university on projects concerned with the local community. This is not to do the Museum of English Rural Life a disservice as their collections are vast and eclectic, but the chance to work for and in an archive which at its heart celebrates, remembers and commemorates the local people and area, was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

photo

Writing this, I am still in the initial stages of my time here, but already I have been introduced to a wide variety of activities and work by the friendly and knowledgeable staff and the foundations are being laid for the next couple of months. Whether I am keeping busy uploading information to the ‘Reading Connections’ Flickr site in preparation for the World War One commemorations next year, digitising glass plate negatives with the new ‘GUARDIAN’ camera or repackaging the Suttons Seeds trade records, there is always something to be done and it’s all great experience. Alongside this, I have been introduced to the reception desk and I am due to have my first session in the archive reading room, there might even be the opportunity to help with the fantastic events in the Museum’s summer program, where (at least for a couple of hours) I get a return to childhood.

What I love about this type of experience, which I hope is not only a step towards my future career, is how every now and then, often in the most unassuming box of documents, something stands out. Something unexpected is always welcome in these obviously precious, but normally everyday documents. Whether this is simply the handwriting of an old letter or, as I came across yesterday the wonderful but also slightly haunting photograph of a gentlemen in the John  Tarlton collection. I was transfixed by this man’s expression and the ability of the photographer in capturing it. I hope to come across more documents like this, and, if all goes well, this internship will help in allowing me to do so in my future career in archiving fingers crossed.

NEWS: A-Z of MERL collections launched

We are very pleased to announce the launch of the A-Z index of MERL’s archive collections which has been undertaken as part of the Reading Connections project.

This is an extremely useful resource and excellent tool for users to find out what collections are held in the archives and to learn more about individual collections. Each collection has its own page with a description of scope and content and a link to the catalogue record in our Adlib database.

The A-Z currently has links to over 200 collections. This is a work in progress and more collections will be regularly added.

This is an important milestone for the project team so well done to all those who have contributed!

Reading Connections and Craft: Baskets, corn dollies and more!

Baskets_at_MERL

The basketry collection at MERL.

One of the five themes of the Reading Connections project is craft, and this is what I’m working on when I’m not helping Felicity with the Historic World Objects work at Reading Museum. In my spare time I’m a trustee of the Heritage Crafts Association (HCA), a charity which supports and promotes traditional crafts, so I absolutely love working on anything to do with MERL’s craft collections.

MERL has a fantastic array of traditional craft products and tools in its collections, from such crafts as blacksmithing, wood turning, carpentry, lacemaking, leatherwork, pottery, stonemasonry, straw crafts, and wheelwrighting, amongst many others. My particular favourite is the basketry collection – we have over 600 tools, baskets and other basketware objects.

As part of Reading Connections I’m going to be building on the cataloguing work done on earlier projects at MERL (such as A Sense of Place) to enhance the database records for the approximately 1300 objects which are classified as ‘craft’ but have yet to be catalogued thoroughly. I’m hoping to add details about provenance, use and historical context, and all of this information will be immediately available to the public via MERL’s online database. If I get the chance, I’d also like to add more specialist information, such as details to do with materials and techniques, but this requires more research as I’m not a craft expert.

86_124_2

MERL 86/124/2. The ‘Ambridge Circle’ corn dolly made by Alec Coker.

I’ve started by enhancing the records for the Alec Coker Collection of corn dollies and other straw-work items. Personally, I’m not much of a fan of corn dollies, but I do appreciate the skills involved in making them (take a look at the Guild of Straw Craftsmen). Alec Coker developed an interest in the craft when he first saw corn dollies used as props on set in the 1930s when he worked at the BBC, and devoted his retirement from 1965 to his death in 1986 to spreading knowledge of the craft. I did get quite excited when I came across a script from a 1972 episode of The Archers in which Alec Coker appeared as a corn dolly lecturer who was asked to identify the local ‘Ambridge Circle’ – a corn dolly he then created.

I’m also going to be working on building links with craftspeople, especially from Reading and the surrounding areas, and with those whose craft we hold in the collections at MERL. I’m hoping to raise awareness of our collections and to open dialogue with local craftspeople, with the long-term aim of possibly working together in the future in events or on skill- and knowledge-sharing projects. Exciting stuff!

New gadget alert!

Written by Danielle Mills, Digitisation/Data Officer for Reading Connections

MERL have recently had an ICAM ‘GUARDIAN’ camera installed for the ‘Reading Connections’ project, funded by Arts Council England and Renaissance Strategic Support Fund. The GUARDIAN is a large freestanding piece of photographic equipment consisting of a digital camera mounted on a column with a base unit that can accommodate many different formats and sizes of documents, as well as bound volumes through the use of the book cradle which is situated under a piece of glass.

The book cradle with glass lowered and ready to photograph

Book cradle demonstration using a Ransomes engineering drawing register

 

Instead of scanning the negatives, a process that can take up to 15 minutes for 2 quarter plate (4.75” x 6.5”) glass negatives, using the GUARDIAN and a lightbox we can now digitise a box of 50 negatives in about an hour.

 

GUARDIAN with glass lowered, base insert in place and lightbox and negatives

GUARDIAN with glass lowered, base insert for flat documents in place, and with lightbox and negatives ready to go!

Photograph of a negative taken on the GUARDIAN that has not yet been inverted and flipped to a positive image

Photograph of a Collier negative taken on the GUARDIAN that has not yet been inverted and flipped to a positive image

 

I have been spending the last week getting to know our lovely new purchase and have found it really user friendly. I hope to make some good headway through the Collier collection over the next few months!

Digitising MERL’s Local Photographic Collections

Written by Danielle Mills, Digitisation/Data Officer for Reading Connections.

Local photography is one of the themes of the Reading Connections project and a large part of my role is to digitise and catalogue some of MERL’s local photographic collections. We are making these images available to view online via our catalogue Adlib to increase accessibility to these wonderful resources for local history.

I am currently digitising the Collier Collection. Phillip Osborne Collier (1881-1979) was a commercial photographer and postcard publisher working in Reading from around 1905. The collection consists of approximately 6000 glass plate negatives showing Berkshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire from 1905 to the 1960s.

The collection is split into three sections, early (1905-mid1930s), late (mid1930s-1960s) and miscellaneous plates (1905-1960s). I have scanned and catalogued the early Reading plates (P DX323 PH1/E150) and I am now making my way through the early series alphabetically by place name, from Abingdon to Yattendon. Whilst scanning Ascot negatives I noticed an image of the racecourse dated 1911-1912, and as Royal Ascot is this week I thought I’d share it!

 

 

Ascot Racecourse, 1911-1912 (P DX323 PH1/E6/10)

Ascot Racecourse, 1911-1912 (P DX323 PH1/E6/10)

P_DX323_PH1-E6-10_CROPPED_500px_WATERMARKED

Enlarged section of the image above to show spectators and police officers in more detail

Whether it’s a 1905 snapshot of the road that I drive down to work everyday, the beautiful architecture of churches and buildings in Reading, or people in Berkshire caught in front of the camera lens whilst going about their lives, each day I am coming across amazing images and I hope to share more of these with you over the coming year.