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

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

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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.

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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.

Reading at War – WW1 commemorations and Flickr

By Hayley Whiting – Digital Content and Online Engagement Officer

A key theme of the Reading Connections project is Reading at War. The University of Reading holds in its archive a volume put together to commemorate those servicemen and women who fell during WW1 who were connected to the then Reading University College. It contains photographs of many of those listed on the war memorial built on the London Road Campus and those images have now been digitised and made available on Flickr.

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At team of volunteers, myself and Ceri our intern have researched the service history, personal details and connections with the College for all those listed in the memorial book. This information, with the photographs, is now available on a dedicated Flickr site. The aim is for others with connections to these servicemen and women to add any information they have and the process will be one where others can gain from our research and us from them! All the information will be transferred to our online catalogue.

There are so many fascinating stories behind the photographs and the research has revealed that the College had connections with war poets, Wildred Owen and Ernest Denny, artists, eminent mathematicians, teachers and more. Each name in the volume reveals a huge sacrifice and the research has been heart-wrenching at times. There are some names for which we have not been able to discover the connection to the College, such as Francis Edward Bradshaw-Isherwood, the father of the writer Christopher Isherwood, and the Flickr site provides a way of reaching those who may be able to add vital information to aid our research.

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The end result of this project will ensure that the contribution of those connected with the University of Reading who lost their lives in WW1 will not be forgotten.  Explore the Reading Connections Flickr site to learn more.

Internship Blog Post – Sarah Beattie

I am just over halfway through my internship at Reading Museum, and I’m really enjoying the experience so far.  Having always loved history, and particularly the way that objects are able to bring it to life, I am hoping to make my career in museums, and the experience I have gained at Reading has been invaluable.

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My main role is helping Sophie, Project Officer, with the digitization of the Berkshire Chronicle collection. As Sophie mentioned in her previous post, she has selected over 2000 images highlighting key themes in the collection, and we have spent the last month scanning these and adding the images to our internal database. This in itself has been valuable for the museum, as now these photographs can be viewed without having to touch the delicate glass plate negatives, but I am very excited to move into the next phase: shortlisting the most interesting images and researching the stories behind them, with the aim of making them accessible to the public in an online catalogue. We will be scouring microfilm copies of the Berkshire Chronicle to match the photographs with their stories, as well as conducting wider research on the people and places of Reading, and I’m really looking forward to finding out more about the images we have been working with.

As well as great images of evacuees and landgirls, local events ranging from school sports days to galas at the Town Hall, and famous faces such as Enid Blyton and Alec Guinness, there have also been lots of images of the quirkier side of Reading life – a cow on the loose in a shoeshop, nuns performing synchronized exercises and Father Christmas arriving by helicopter, to name just three!  It is amazing to be part of making these images, many of which have not been seen for over 50 years, available to the public. The online catalogue should be a great resource for anyone interested in the history of Reading, or 20th century history in general, and I’m sure Sophie will keep you up to date with progress on the project.

When I am not helping with the Chronicle project, the staff at Reading Museum have been incredibly helpful and generous with their time in letting me get involved with many aspects of museum work, from leading store tours for Heritage Open Day to helping with the installation of the museum’s upcoming portrait exhibition ‘Making Faces: Tudor to Modern’. I have developed skills in marking objects, store cleaning and environmental monitoring, handling and packing objects and working with the museum database, which I’m hoping will be really useful in my future career.

 

 

The Chronicle Collection

Sophie Fitzpatrick – Project Officer

One strand of the Reading Connections project is to create a web resource, in which material from the collections will be made viewable online. I am working largely on the Chronicle Collection belonging to Reading Museum; a photographic collection impressively boasting over 20,000 images taken between 1938 and 1962 for use in the Berkshire Chronicle Newspaper – now the Reading Chronicle.

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A large and interesting collection, the Chronicle’s content is diverse and covers a wide range of subjects such as war and peace, school, dance, theatre, religion, fetes, weddings, monuments and statues, sport, railways, trams and trolley buses, road accidents, floods, work outings, pubs, agricultural shows, Royal visits and famous visitors (including authors, politicians, theatre performers, film stars, sports men and women, musicians, artists, singers and variety show personalities), all centred in Reading and its surrounding geographical areas.

I have spent the last few months carefully selecting 2,000 images from the collection for the online resource which will essentially create a ‘shop window’ into the diversity and scope of the images the Chronicle Collection has to offer.

Whilst the photographs selected will reflect the varied nature of the collection, ‘war’ and ‘peace’ are particularly strong themes and link to the 2014 ‘Reading at War’ exhibition at Reading Museum. I have therefore selected a moving image from 1939 of a child being fitted for a gas mask to share with you.

Many of the images selected for the online resource are in the form of glass plate negatives which are currently in the process of being digitised using specialist scanning equipment. As this strand of the project evolves, I’ll be sure to keep you updated of my progress.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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)

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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.