Friday, 14 February 2014

A Rumney Romance

In September 2013, we received a donation of papers found in a chest of drawers bought at an auction. Among them were eight letters. They were sent between June 1886 and May 1887 from Miss Jessie Rowland aged 16 of Grimsditch Hall, Lower Whitley to her 27 year-old cousin, Charlie Rumney. They begin in a friendly way, thanking him for his letter after the death of Jessie’s father, Samuel. But by April 1887, ‘Dear Charlie’ is ‘My dear Charlie’ and by May of 1887, ‘My Dearest Charlie’. 
Clearly, Jessie’s affections were reciprocated as in the last of the letters (17 May 1887) she ‘cannot understand you loving such a little insignificant thing like myself … but I can understand anyone loving such a darling as you’ and signing it with ‘Hundreds of kisses’. Though she thinks his letters could be longer!

A glance at the census return for 1891 reveals that all ended well and Jessie and Charlie are married and living with her mother at Grimsditch with a one year old daughter, Nora and eight month old Samuel. They had married at Lower Whitley church on 26 July 1888. Jessie and Charles continued to live at Grimsditch Hall until their deaths and the Hall remained in the family until the death of their third child, Kathleen Joyce Rumney who died there in 2004.

Our reference for the collection is D 8474.

Explore Your Archive - our box and its travels!

We first made our box available at our regular Saturday opening on 16th November. A sample of the contents were also made available online. There is often excitement as researchers handle and investigate original historic documents – but this was a different kind of enthusiasm as visitors could pick what caught there eye, quickly switch between documents, pass documents to other visitors and not have to know what to request.

We had discovered early on a wonderful coincidence. The Haygarth Lecture, an annual Public Health event at the University of Chester, was taking place on the Monday evening of campaign week. How could we not make a special appearance, this time with an original patient register on display to welcome the 100 or so delegates? Ben Page CEO of Ipsos MORI spoke of the power of public opinion and data in influencing health behaviour change. Caryn Cox, Director of Public Health for Cheshire West and Chester Council introduced him, remarking on her experience of archives, that you cannot move forward without understanding the past.

Tuesday found us in Ellesmere Port Civic Centre at a ‘Self Care Day’ organised by West Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group with Chester Voluntary Action who told us about their upcoming centenary. We arranged a meeting about using the collection we hold to celebrate their long history of community support. We met the Snow Angels and rifling through the medicine chest gave them the idea of using replica documents to help their volunteers engage vulnerable older people with modern health messages. The same day a box was delivered to the Countess of Chester Hospital where it was left to its own devices for a week, moving between the staff canteen and the main foyer.

An archivist was on duty in Warrington Library on the Thursday, and box came too. With the help of the local studies staff, the archivist the week before had set up an exhibition of material we had selected from Warrington’s collections – including public health notices and records of payments in rum to William Boon to transport typhus fever patients and whitewash infectious dwellings!

Friday and back to the Countess for a lunchtime session at the Oasis Café. Archives with food and drink! Not to mention a kind and interested audience from contractors to canteen staff, clinicians and their patients to a Chief Executive!

Sheena Cumiskey, Chief Executive, Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Friday evening, and one last drop off at Halton Lea Library – from where the box would journey to Widnes and back over the following week.

Its travels did not end with the November campaign. Still in demand it has recently been visiting the Riverside Museum. It is hard to tell how many people have taken a look inside, but we have had to fit one set of replacement doors, which has to be a good sign!

Our thanks to staff at Warrington Livewire and Halton libraries, the Countess of Chester Hospital, Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Chester. 

And for our talented, resourceful and creative staff, we are the Archives and Local Studies service, so the only appropriate thanks was cake.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Explore Your Archive - an idea takes shape

Our plans for joining the new national Explore Your Archive campaign took shape in an archivists’ meeting. We could certainly aim to create a story box, recruit archive ambassadors and join in the national campaign week in November, but at the same time staff and outreach resources had been committed to our key summer events ‘Helping Cheshire Remember the First World War’. With this in mind our story box would need to be self-contained, self-explanatory and closely targeted to a new audience.

We quickly found our local hero, Dr John Haygarth, who not only innovated isolation wards for fever patients at the Chester Infirmary in 1784 but carried out statistical analysis of the health of Chester’s population. His work had been of regional and national significance. We knew that the infirmary’s patient registers had been used within the past year in talks to introduce the new Clinical Outcomes unit at the Christie hospital in Manchester (Haygarth and his colleagues had been collecting state of the art patient outcome data in the 18th century!). One of our parent council’s new Public Health director had visited our searchroom to consult Medical Officers of Health reports from when public health had last been the responsibility of local government. So we had prospective ambassadors to champion our archives. A chance encounter at a staff meeting gave us a contact with Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust who could perhaps help us with the kind of venues we were after. But they needed to know more about the format of the box …

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Explore Your Archive - a box takes shape

Work had begun to identify and digitise the records that would tell our story. We wanted to produce authentic copies to get as close as you can to exploring archives without the need for supervision. It had become obvious that our box should be a medicine chest, so we set out to find a portable (and cheap) storage solution.

After, fitted with custom-made cabinet doors to add to the excitement! 

The five drawers gave us the structure to develop key themes around John Haygarth’s work, Chester Infirmary, vaccination and fever, with a drawer left over to add leaflets and badges. We also needed a variety of formats and items so that there would be something for everyone, wherever the box might be. As the plans, photographs, pamphlets, patient register pages, hospital management minutes came together the joy of unpacking a ‘Jackdaw’ file came back to me – it might have been 40 years ago but I could remember the hands-on documents experience of primary school history. A potential 'just me then'. What would our audiences make of it?