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Thursday, 9 March 2017

T.A. Coward and the origins of ‘jizz’?

You know that moment when you bump into something which you thought only you had the vaguest interest in, and suddenly it all makes just a little bit more sense?  Well, that moment…

I was looking through some of our Local Studies collection relating to Birding and Ornithology when I fell upon a book by the Cheshire Naturalist T.A. Coward entitled Bird Haunts and Nature Memories (Reference 200289) from 1922. This is a handsome volume published by Frederick Warne, a collection of sometimes revised articles, many of which we are told originally appeared in the Manchester Guardian, Scotsman, Daily Despatch and Westminster Review.  Sadly which pieces appeared in which publication, and when, is not disclosed.  Many, but not all, of the articles have local interest and are focussed on Cheshire (or what was Cheshire) and the Wirral, with others relating to the North Wales Coastline.  I was initially fascinated by a lovely chapter on A Cheshire Bird (the Great Crested Grebe) as well as the rather poetic Memories of a Cheshire Moor which relates to Carrington Moss and proceeds from 1884 through 1894, 1904, 1914, ending in 1921, finishing with the somewhat unsettling sentence “Perhaps Carrington Moss was a better place forty years ago.” 



There’s also a fantastic piece (with photographs) entitled An Old Cheshire Wild-Fowler which describes the life of such an individual on the frozen Dee marshes near Sealand.  Much of this writing is very much of a different time.  In this article, Coward (a lifelong Ornithologist) resolutely defends the ‘sport’ (as he sees it) of Wildfowling.  The article even describes (in passing) the hunting of Spoonbills, which recent visitors to RSPB Burton Mere and elsewhere wouldn’t be very happy about
in 2017, I’m sure.


Anyway, we must eventually proceed to the real subject of this blog.  As a (very bad) birder with an ability to easily forget the name of something I had pointed out to me only the day before, I’ve always been interested in the birding concept of ‘jizz’.  This is a term much used on “Introduction to Birding” type courses, and in many identification books.  I’ve always understood it to mean that comprehension of the identity of a bird without having fully captured it in clear sight.  An example might be that you’re digging at the allotment and ‘sense’ a little bird hopping around waiting for you to disturb a worm.  Somehow you ‘know’ without looking at it that it’s a Robin.  That ‘knowing’ – in effect being aware of the little bird’s ‘Robin-ness’ is its ‘jizz’.  You don’t have to clearly see it to know it’s a Robin. In the early 90s (around the time Rob Hume’s Birds by Character – a Field Guide to Jizz Identification was published) I remember asking a (much better and far more knowledgeable) birding friend where the term came from (the book, which is actually really good, is very vague in defining the term’s history).  There followed lots of shrugging of shoulders and mumbling.  Nobody seemed to know.  As I went online in the mid 90s I remember looking on various forums.  The general consensus then seemed to be that it might have something to do with GISS (General Impression of Size and Shape) which is a term in use by aeroplane spotters and dates back to at least WWII.  Others argued (less convincingly to me, anyway) that it was a corruption of gestalt, a German word which roughly translates as ‘form and shape’.


Imagine my surprise and delight then when I open up this wonderful book in our Local Studies collection to find on pages 141-144 a chapter entitled ‘Jizz’.  As I read it, it clearly defines the concept, if not the origin (which Coward states only as coming from ‘A West Coast Irishman’), of the birding term: “That mental picture recorded through the eye is accurate in proportion to our familiarity with the species; the more familiar we are the less we note except the jizz.  The passing curlew may have a long curved bill, a pale lower back, a strong distinctive flight; we knew these characters were present, but we did not actually see them; we saw a curlew.  Curlew flashed into the brain without pause for mental analysis, for we noted the jizz.”  Ignoring the fact that the origin of the word is so uncorroborated (and there is little evidence from anywhere I can see that this is indeed an Irish word) these four pages provide the perfect definition of the term as it is used today proving that the word has been around for much longer than previously thought.  As I rush to the computer to announce my findings to a no doubt expectant world, it becomes apparent that I’m not the first to realise this.  Coward’s book was not a massive seller, but he was a well-known Ornithologist and Naturalist of the time, and some of his titles did sell in high numbers, although I’m unaware if he used the term in any of these other books. But others have seen this title and found this chapter.  The earliest written reference I can find to Coward’s use of the term is in David McDonald’s The Etymology of Jizz (published in Canberra Bird Notes Vol 21 No.1 1996).  The Oxford English Dictionary has updated its entry to reflect it.  Both, I think, very much underplay the way in which Coward exactly defines how the word is used today. 


As for my interest in the term, I’m not really sure if this marks the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning.  Perhaps I’ll just forget all about it for another twenty years or so.  Maybe if I could just find the original newspaper publication (if indeed there was one)…
And, finally, if you do have an interest in Ornithology, do please have a look at our catalogue http://archive.cheshire.gov.uk/CalmView/advanced.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog and see what you can spot.  As well as our varied Local Studies collection of published material, we also have some fascinating Archive items that might interest.  One of my favourites is D4643/1 which is a notebook belonging to an Arthur Lewis of 28 Arkles Lane, Liverpool (literally just around the corner from Anfield, on the edge of Stanley Park).  This is a fascinating nature notebook from the first decade of the Twentieth Century in which young Arthur records his birding finds both in Liverpool and out on jaunts to the Wirral, and into both Cheshire and Wales.  This is the kind of thing he recorded:

According to a note in the front of the book, Arthur later lived (and died) in Watergate Street, Chester.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Buzzing about books

I spent around a year working on the rare book collection as a volunteer for Cheshire Archives & Local Studies. The aim of the project was to describe all the items in detail so they could be catalogued and made available to anybody who wants to look at them.  The books themselves are varied to say the least.  There are of course a large amount of books that relate to the county of Cheshire, and so many about Chester that if you read them all you could be considered the number one expert! 

Some unusual things have also found their way into the exclusive club that is the rare book collection.  I came across ‘Clog Shop Chronicles’ by John Ackworth, containing stories about life in a fictional Lancashire village and written in 19th century Bolton dialect. My favourite book, however, has to be ‘Buzz a Buzz, or The Bees’ by W. C. Cotton (Vicar of Frodsham), complete with gorgeous illustrations and a humorous story. I admit I forgot my volunteering duties and spent a good thirty minutes reading it!

The Queen Bee                                                        Ref: 014097

It was wonderful to volunteer for such a fantastic project and getting to touch and browse the marvelous array of materials is something that I don’t have the opportunity to do normally.  However it was so much more than looking at pretty pictures, stunning maps and reading interesting facts - it was the chance to acquire new skills.  By giving up four hours of my time every fortnight I had the opportunity to acquire cataloguing skills and experience, which will help me in my future career as a librarian.

I would encourage anyone to browse the local studies catalogue for rare books and see what wonderful gems pop up that might be useful for your research, or to simply while away an afternoon reading.
by Jennifer Davies (CALS Volunteer)



Many thanks to our volunteers Jen Davies, Susan Jones, and Kathy Jones for preparing and listing over 600 items in the Rare Books Collection. The work of our volunteers is invaluable to projects like this and greatly appreciated!

The collection includes published material about Cheshire between the 16th and 20th Centuries, as well as early works by Cheshire authors such as:
             Ranulph Higden  Polycronycon (1527, 3rd edition)
John Speed  The historie of Great Britaine under the conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans (1632, 3rd edition)
John Gerard  The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes (1633, 2nd edition)
Daniel King  The Vale-Royall of England or the County Palatine of Chester  (1656)
Peter Leycester  Historical antiquities in two books… (1673)
Randle Holme  Academy of armory and blazon (1688)
John Broster  History of the siege of Chester during the Civil Wars in the time of King Charles I (1790)
J. H. Hanshall  History of the County Palatine of Chester. Parts 1-22 (1817-1823)

                                                                                                                       Ref: 227941

Friday, 9 December 2016

Discovering Deeds...and the Magic of PowerPoint for animation!

Miranda Lennon is working on a one year traineeship as part of The National Archives Transforming Archives scheme. In this blog she gives an update of her experience so far.

For the past few weeks I have been working on Cheshire Archives and Local Studies’ ‘Explore Your Archive’ campaign…my labour of love!

This project has been a big learning curve for me. It has been a real pleasure to have the creative freedom to express my ideas, and I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to utilise and develop my existing skills in art, design and I.T.  

The project brief was to create a campaign to promote Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, with a focus on the medieval deeds collection. The campaign needed to appeal to a wide audience and its purpose was to ‘Bring archives alive, inspire others’. One particular sentence in the brief stood out to me; ‘Build a story or a picture in their mind, evoke a sense of journey’.  When reading this my immediate thoughts were that there was potential to make a creative visual impact. I wanted to contribute my creative design skills to create something unique and inspiring.

The next step in the project was to gather my thoughts and to come up with some possible outcomes for the campaign. After much deliberation I decided to run with the idea of making a creative animation (at this point I hadn’t the faintest idea how to create an animation!).  I wanted to relish the opportunity to learn as much as I could, whilst making the most of the creative freedom which I had been granted!

I began by creating a rough idea for a story and then breaking this down into a storyboard for each scene. 

Storyboard showing rough slide ideas, created on PowerPoint

I pondered methods I could use for creating the animation. I was thinking that I would quite like to do something with old fashioned charm, inspired by the enchanting charm captured in many of the original stop motion animations; by pioneers like Lotte Reiniger (many of her animations are available on YouTube and the BFI Player).

I decided I would use PowerPoint due to the limited software available to me, and I ascertained that using PowerPoint software would be less time consuming than the more traditional stop motion methods involving using a camera.

I began the process by hand drawing images for my animation. I scanned the images and edited them in Photoshop to ensure the lines were visible and defined. I also used some existing images, which I edited in Photoshop.

Scan of original sketch
























I used the ‘Quick Selection Tool’ followed by ‘Refine Edge’ in Photoshop to cut out the images. I then saved the images into a ‘Save for Web’ format which deletes any white background by isolating the image. 

I inserted the images into PowerPoint slides and added animation effects to each image. I experimented with the selection of animation effects available, including ‘Entrance’, ‘Exit’, ‘Emphasis’ and ‘Motion’ effects. It is all about experimentation and timing when working in PowerPoint! You can also layer up different effects; for example I layered a slow ‘Teeter’ and ‘Fly In’ to make the characters ‘wobble’ into each scene. I used the ‘Brush Colour’ effect at a slow speed to make the text appear gradually, as if the hand was writing it. 

PowerPoint work in progress showing 'Animation Pane'



The PowerPoint possibilities are endless..!


My animation ‘Discovering Deeds’ is now available on YouTube for your viewing pleasure!

I sincerely hope it fulfills its purpose by educating, entertaining and inspiring! 










Thursday, 27 October 2016

Herons and Heronries (and a deceased Marten)

As I was walking to work alongside the canal in Chester earlier this year, just about parallel with the Shot Tower, I was surprised to see a Heron staring indifferently at me from the canal edge and this exceptional encounter made me wonder whereabouts it might normally reside? Not being a local, the only Heronry I know personally is the large one at the RSPB reserve Burton Mere on the Wirral, which now seems to house almost as many Little Egrets as it does Herons, a sign perhaps of things to come.





I thought I’d take a look and see what I could find on the birds in the Archives & Local Studies collections.  A look at the catalogue shows only three items catalogued under ‘Heronries’ (there are others, but the problem with searching for ‘Heron’ is that one also brings up all the records for individuals with that surname), but they are very interesting nonetheless.  The oldest, and definitely most fascinating, is a bound copy of a talk given by R. Newstead (the founder of the Grosvenor Museum in Chester) in 1890 and then published three years later in the Proceedings of the Chester Society of Natural Science and Literature.  It is entitled The Heron & Heronries of Cheshire and North Wales (Ref. 200315).  This idiosyncratic little book covers everything from the anatomy of the Heron’s gullet (with illustrations) to tales of Mr Stretch of Ledsham who (we never quite get to understand why, unfortunately) had a pet bird, originally procured from the Hooton Heronry, which was well on its way to swallowing a second ‘Russian Kitten’ before it was stopped.  Sadly this bird had a heavy price to pay as it was eventually killed by two of Mr Stretch’s dogs in the midst of an interrupted rat chase (I’m not making this up).  

In another section, Mr Newstead gives us some folk names of the bird including “Varn or more often Yarn” from Cheshire.  Another local, Welsh, name is given by two local (one Cheshire, one Welsh) correspondents – “Crydd Glas, or Grey Shoemaker” as the book states (This is a little odd, as I’m fairly certain ‘Glas’ is actually ‘Blue’ in Welsh?).  The reason given by one correspondent is “that the bird lost its money for a pair of boots in the brook, and has been looking for it ever since”, whilst the other states that this name arises “from the loud smacking noise that these birds make with their beaks at feeding time, which is produced by bringing together the two mandibles with terrific force – similar to that of the owl – and which closely resembles the cobbler at work with his lapstone.”
Towards the end of the book, Mr Newstead produces (from another paper delivered to the same society, this time in 1887) “A Preliminary List of the Mammals of Cheshire and North Wales.”  This includes Otter (“Common on the banks of the Dee.”), Polecat, and even a Marten (described as a ‘British Marten’ or ‘Marten Cat’).  One of these, presented by His Grace The Duke of Westminster in 1891 was shot at Eaton.  Mr Garland (Head Keeper) writes “I send you a Marten Cat which was killed here yesterday morning, coming to the Pheasants’ Field.  It is the first I have seen in Cheshire.”
There are also two rather nice Cheshire Life articles about Heronries, the bound volumes of which are available in the search room.  In the first of these, from 1942 (Ref: 012427) Sydney Moorhouse talks about some of the largest heronries in the County.  His very readable and enjoyable account also includes a description of the sounds that can emanate from the nesting Herons – “I have heard sounds like the mewing of a cat, the bark of a dog, the grunt of an old sow, and the squeal of a young porker all coming from those platforms of twigs in the trees of a heronry”.   In a discussion of the heron’s diet, A. W. Boyd – later author of A Country Parish and, incidentally, subject of an earlier blog – is quoted as reporting the Combermere herons as living mainly on “frogs, coarse fish, and newts” whilst “in the same year a young bird was seen at Eaton Hall with an eel of 21 inches, partly digested, sticking out of its beak.”  No clue is given as to how this measurement was verified. 







In the other article, from 1957, Norman F. Ellison writes about the Heron in his Naturalist’s Notebook series (Ref: 013710).  This is particularly interesting as it illustrates the enormous cost of the harsh winter of early 1947 to the breed. Two large local Heronries had the number of nests almost exactly halved between the breeding seasons of 1946 and 1947 (Tabley 57 to 29, and Eaton Hall 59 to 27).

If one is wanting more up to date ornithological data, don’t despair…the Local Studies collection holds many local items including local Annual Bird Reports and the excellent Birds in Cheshire and Wirral: A Breeding and Wintering Atlas by David Norman (Ref: 222309) from 2008.  So, the next time you see an unlikely looking creature as you wander around the County, and you fancy finding out a bit more about it, please don’t forget to check us out – you never know what we might hold here in the Record Office.  Which reminds me, I must try and find out why Heron’s Way, in Chester Business Park is so named…


Images by Charles Tunnicliffe reproduced in Tunnicliffe’s Countryside by Ian Niall (Ref: 218908)

Monday, 24 October 2016

Deeds Indeed

Miranda Lennon is working on a one year traineeship as part of The National Archives Transforming Archives scheme. In this blog she gives an update of her experience so far.

As my third week draws to a close I can reflect that the past five days have been very productive indeed.

I have adopted the role of ‘deeds detective’ by beginning work on my first project, to explore and digitise medieval deeds, including helping to trace a number of deeds back to their original locations. I have been discovering and learning more information about the deeds collection, focusing specifically on a number of deeds concerning the village of Bunbury, Cheshire. I find I am enticed by the mystery and antiquity of the documents and it fascinates me to consider the journey that they have endured over eight centuries, prior to being deposited at Cheshire Archives and Local studies. 


The deeds are indeed things of great beauty. They are inscribed with intricate Latin and French calligraphy on delicate parchment, and often have attached a splendid wax seal with a unique imprint. A number of deeds have a wavy or zag-zag indenture edge, which adds to the aesthetic appeal of these historic artifacts. 

Example of a medieval deed from the collection 
Example of one of the larger wax seals from the collection 
A lot of my week was spent familiarising myself with the reprographics equipment by photographing, editing and uploading the first selection of deeds. This has helped me to understand some of the practical and technical methods for digitising archival material, as well as giving me more of an insight into the project specifics.  I feel my previous IT and photography skills in Fashion Communication have come in handy during this first digitisation task, and I have so far enjoyed utilizing these skills within a new context. 

Another of my tasks was to link the medieval deeds project to ‘Explore Your Archive’, an annual campaign to promote archives across the UK. I have been wracking my brains to come up with an innovative and creative idea to promote the project to a wider audience, and ways in which I can use my creative background in design and fashion to contribute something fresh and different. I had a few inspirational eureka moments and all shall be revealed for the Explore Your Archives campaign launch in late November (I fear I have given myself a lot work to do!), but for the moment it is a secret I intend to keep! 

Please follow the links below to enjoy browsing Explore Your Archives and Cheshire Archives and Local Study’s Twitter and website to find out more and to keep updated about the launch week!



Thursday, 20 October 2016

A Warm Welcome

Miranda Lennon is working on a one year traineeship as part of The National Archives Transforming Archives scheme. In this blog she gives an update of her experience so far.

I will begin firstly by introducing myself! My name is Miranda Lennon and I am the new Transforming Archives Trainee at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. I will be taking over from Jessica Minshull’s great work, and I will also be working on some brand new projects during my year’s traineeship. I will be posting regular blog accounts of my exciting experiences and learning throughout the year, which I will upload here on the Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Blog. 

I have now completed the first week in my new role, and I have enjoyed my time gaining an overview of the services and meeting the team.  I received a warm welcome from my first project mentor, Archivist Adam Shaw, and at the monthly meeting on Monday morning, where I was introduced to staff working in different roles within Archives and Local Studies. 

During the week I was given an overview of the different departments within the building. I met with Local Studies Advisor Linda Clarke, who provided me with a wonderful insight into the service, and showed me some of the fascinating material held within the building, ranging from rare books and pamphlets, to lithograph prints and photographs. She kindly showed me a selection of original early 19th century sketches of people, which I found to be very inspiring! The sketches were beautifully preserved, the colours remained eye-catching, and the line work showed intricacy and technique. I was particularly in awe of the attention to detail showing the figure’s clothing, mannerisms and physiognomy; to me they resembled Dicken’s characters, full of character and idiosyncrasy!

Portrait from Local Studies Burt Portraits collection 
I received handling training from conservator Angela Suegreen, which I found fascinating and enjoyable. She gave a brief overview about the differences between paper and parchment, and about inks. We covered the handling techniques used for different materials including parchment documents, photographs, books and maps. I partook in a couple of handling exercises including manual techniques to retrieve a book from the shelf in order to minimise damage, and  setting up a parchment document using the appropriate weights and rests. 

I received Reprographics training from Archive Assistant Joy Laverty, who showed me the equipment and procedures. I had an introduction to photographing, scanning and editing material. I am very much looking forward to learning more about the equipment and about digitisation techniques, as I feel this is incredibly important when considering the future of the archive and heritage sector. 

I had an introduction to family history from Research Consultant Brett Langston, who showed me techniques for tracing ancestry using online resources. I had the pleasure of observing Brett research my own family history, which uncovered a few previously unknown details including an elopement at Gretna Green! 

I have greatly enjoyed my first week here and I am looking forward to starting work on the first major project involving digitising Medieval deeds, coinciding with the ‘Explore Your Archives’ campaign, which I am due to begin working on during my second week.  

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Final Remarks as a Trainee

Trainees just starting out at DCDC15. Image courtesy of Emma Stagg.
I have been working at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies for the past year as a Transforming Archives Trainee and have learnt a huge amount about archives and digitisation. Unfortunately, my time here is coming to a close.

A number of Transforming Archives Trainees have begun their traineeships this year (Cohort 2 of 3); with a smaller amount in Scotland as part of Opening up Scotland’s Archives. With two official trainee meetups throughout the year and a lot more impromptu ones, we have all supported one another while early on in our careers.
Transport used inside The National Archives' building to transport documents.

Everyone undertaking the traineeship is enrolled onto a module at the University of Dundee. This module was undertaken via distance learning and I studied an Introduction to Digitisation and Digital Preservation. In fact, Transforming Archives/Opening Up Scotland’s Archives have been so successful in ensuring the new workforce is up to speed with digital preservation, that they have been shortlisted for the Award for Teaching and Communications in the Digital Preservation Awards 2016!

With a training fund available to me throughout the year, I have been able to go to a large number of conferences and courses of my choice. Naturally, the Digital Preservation Coalition’s Student Conference, was one of my first choices as it supported my distance learning course. Other courses completed include the Care of Paper and Photographic Collections and Photographing Museum Objects: both of which otherwise I would be unable to afford.
Possible hazards to consider at the Archives as part of the Care of Paper and Photographic Collections course.

The funding has also allowed me to purchase books relating to digital preservation and preventive conservation of photographs, to improve my knowledge in these areas and support my archival career.

I have become a member of the Archives and Records Association and Institute of Conservation over the course of my traineeship post; attending both of their conferences. Additionally, I am now a member of the Association for Historical and Fine Art Photography with plans to go to their conference in November after my traineeship has concluded. A number of the trainees from all three years will also be attending DCDC16 in Salford from 10th-12th October 2016. 

Back at Cheshire Archives, I have catalogued and re-packaged over 15,000 Local Studies items. These range from 35mm slides, to prints, glass plate negatives and original illustrations. A selection of those catalogued were digitised and uploaded onto the Cheshire image bank and I have spoken about a series of these in a previous blog post.
Selection of Local Studies slides from the 80s, showing views of Cheshire and North Wales.

After working with Local Studies, Medieval Deeds was my next project. Over 350 Medieval Deeds were digitised and are all accessible remotely for our volunteers to transcribe them from their original Latin. The goal is ultimately to add both image and transcription to our cataloguing system. This will make the whole series searchable and increase the value and knowledge which can be gained from these manuscripts. This project has just been released to volunteers and will continue under the management of the new trainee.

To tie in with the Medieval Deed transcription, I organised two days of Horrible Handwriting courses to assist the public in deciphering and making sense of the English writing on old documents. This was a successful event and also helped me to improve my palaeographical skills alongside assisting those attending.

In between these main projects, smaller ad-hoc duties have cropped up. Early in the year, I produced a blog post promoting The National Archives' Explore your Archives week which runs again this year, 19-27th November. At Christmas I photographed Chester’s Christmas Markets, which was the perfect time to capture that area of Chester. Town Hall Square will soon look a lot different with the progression of the new Northgate shopping development.

More recently, I have scanned glass negatives for Twitter and even produced a variety of visuals to be displayed at Cheshire’s Tour of Britain. The sheer range of work I have undertaken here has made it a very informative year for me!
Eastgate Clock, Chester. Glowing pink just after its refurbishment. 

You can follow the work of next year’s trainees (and take a look back at this year) via the following Twitter accounts:

And you can read a bit more about my work, and how I got here on the National Archive’s blog.

For now, I hand over to my successor Miranda Lennon and wish her and the rest of the new cohort the best of luck with the year ahead.