Thursday 26 November 2015

Diary of a somebody - Frank Simpson's war diary part 9

Frank Simpson (1863-1942) was a prominent figure within his native city of Chester. During the First World War he was Quartermaster of the Chester Volunteers formed for home defence in 1914. One of our volunteers has begun to serialise his diaries. Our ninth installment recounts an incident that appears in the guard room diary.

Saturday, July 15, 1916
At 3.a.m Saturday, July 15th Private S. H. Bengon arrested 2 deserters from the South Lancashire Regt (T. F) and after reposting the matter to the Sergeant of the guard, he escorted them to the local hall and handed them over to the police. It appears that as a foods train was preceding along the line, furthest away from the sentry, on its way to Chester the sentry noticed two men in uniform running along just in rear of the train. He challenged them, and blew his whistle for the guard, who quickly arrived on the scene and took the men in custody, removing them to the guardroom. The men said they were looking for their camp, but shortly afterwards acknowledged they had deserted from the camp at Oswestry. They asked the guard if the rifles were loaded. The men seemed famished and some of the guard gave them food they had bought for refreshment during the night. While this was going on a Sergeant and constable of the police enquired from no 2 sentry (at the Curzon park end of the footbridge) what the whistle had been blown for and they were informed that no 4 sentry had arrested two men on the lines. They then asked if they might cross the bridge and visit the guard-room; they were allowed to do so. The Sergeant then questioned the prisoners and they acknowledged to having deserted from the military camp at Oswestry, had got to Wrexham from where they walked to Chester and to avoid passing through the city they proceeded through Curzon Park and got on to the Railway. The police then asked if the guard would hand them over so that they might be taken to the police office by doing so it would save time as they could phone Oswestry and get an escort to take them back to the camp to be dealt with by the O.C. this was agreed to. The (two) sentries which had been placed at the entrance to the guardroom with fixed bayonets were then withdrawn and the sentry who first challenged them accompanied the police and prisoners to the police office. They were young men, one having served in France where he was wounded. Strange to say these men belonged to the same regiment (Territorial) as the guard the Chester Volunteers had replaced on two days before. The men were brought before the magistrates at 11 am the same day.

Friday 20 November 2015

Archive animals

Here at Cheshire archives and local studies, our photographic collection is a collection we want to try and share with everyone. For this reason, I have been tasked with cataloguing and digitising a large portion of our slide and glass negative collection. I have recently stated working for The National Archives under their ‘Transforming Archives’ scheme, with my full time placement being here at Cheshire Archives. Over the next year I will learn a range of digitisation and archive skills and hopefully add a lot of images to Cheshire Image Bank for you the public, to view. I have now been here for a month and have come across a great number of interesting images. As today is #archiveanimals day, as part of #explorearchives week it only seemed right to share some dog images with everyone.

My favourite series of images so far have been dogs in mine cars. Amongst boxes and boxes of slides relating to Cheshire Lines Railway Company are a handful of images of a boy and his dog riding on the mine tracks. The boy appears to be dressed very elegantly for a day in the mine and the white dog looks spotless, so perhaps this is just a day out for the pair?

Looking at the images, you will notice that one of them is circular whilst the others are not. The circular image could be the result of a Kodak 1. The Kodak 1 was a small box camera which came pre-loaded with enough roll film to produce 100 images. After all 100 had been taken, the whole camera was sent to Kodak for processing and re-loading. As these cameras were in production between the late 1880s and mid 1890s it gives a rough date for the images.

These images were in a box of railway slides, mainly in the Styal and surrounding area. If you have a more specific idea of where this duo are or even who they are it would be a great addition to the archives and give us some more information on this interesting photo story.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

A Day in the Life of an Archives Assistant

I started work at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies at the tail end of June. I’ve come from a public library background (in Lancashire) where I spent a lot of time in a busy Community History department. I was therefore looking forward to the similarities (and, if I’m completely honest, to not being threatened with having to incompetently sing nursery rhymes to restless two year olds if I stepped out of line), but in truth I had little idea of exactly what to expect. The first thing I quickly learnt is that there isn’t one ‘Archives Assistant’ role, but four different, if very interconnected, ones. The four of us – Joy, Siobhán, Samantha and myself, David - are timetabled every day to be on either Reception, Enquiries, Production or Reprographics. I’ll take these roles in turn.

The Reception role involves sitting by the entrance, welcoming visitors and talking them through the way things work, producing CARN and temporary tickets, answering the phone, undertaking basic administrative tasks, signposting users – in fact just about everything you’d expect from a reception desk in a public setting. As the first port of call for visitors and enquirers, this is a role where no two days are ever the same – it all literally depends on who walks through the door and what they want to achieve from their visit.

Enquiries is somewhat similar in this regard. There is always a Duty Archivist in the search room, but the Archives Assistant is there to answer basic queries received by phone, email or letter and to be able to assist users when the Archivist is already dealing with a query. It’s enjoyable because one is able to get one’s teeth stuck into some real queries.

Production is our way of describing the role which produces documents for our visitors (and for other staff to answer queries with). We ‘produce’ them from the strong rooms for customers. It sounds exciting and it often is, but it is also very physically and mentally demanding. The physical side is more obvious – we have seven strong rooms over four floors here in Duke Street and that involves a lot of walking. But mentally as well it can be a big challenge, especially when there are many users in, all looking at lots of documents. These come in all shapes, sizes, and weights, of course - and trolleys, lifts, sore feet and aching backs (and sometimes heads) are often a feature of a production day.

Reprographics is where we are copying documents for users. This is technically the hardest part of the job, and can sometimes be very repetitive but can also be very rewarding. We copy everything, from one page of a book, through photocopied sixteenth century wills (which we’ll only copy three times in order not to damage them unnecessarily – after which we take copies of a copy) to high quality A1 photographic reproductions. No job is too big or too small. And wherever possible we’ll copy everything within 10 working days, and usually considerably quicker than that.

If we are working in the search room we are generally on site by 08:30 at the latest when we have to turn on all the lights and computers, plug in all the microfilm readers, get the float money ready for the till, and ensure all the relevant documents are ready for that day’s visitors. If one is on reception you obviously can’t leave until after the last customer has gone at 17:00. We then have to ensure everything is securely locked away in the strong rooms, balance the till, and lock and shut up shop ready for another day. Hopefully, this gives you just a little taste of what a fairly average day in the life of an Archives Assistant might just look like. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Monday 9 November 2015

Life of a nineteenth century student

Autumn sees students returning to Chester after a long summer break and graduation ceremonies begin to start taking place in the city. One of our volunteers, James, is a student at Chester University. In his latest blog post James takes a look at some correspondence of John Upton Gaskell writing home to his parents as a student at Oxford University in 1804 and compares it to modern student life. 

John Upton Gaskell, born 11th August 1804, was an undergraduate studying at Oxford. This collection of letters (DDX 462/1-13) was sent to his parents throughout his course at Oxford detailing a variety of day to day goings on back in the early 1800s.Throughout the entirety of the collection, references to living costs are frequent. The numbers that were stated in the letters, for example:
 “A gentleman an old school fellow at Dr Davies’s school called upon me this morning to have a walk with him, we went a walking he has been at college 2 years or upwards therefore he knows all about it, I took the liberty of asking him how much a young man could live upon at Oxford, he said first the same as Frank Newbold said that a man could not live respectable as a gentleman under £300 a year”
Today this seems like a foreign number to university students such as myself; we now pay roughly £14000 per year to live at university, admittedly when inflation and a change in currency is taken into account, that £300 now would likely be yet another huge sum of money, I still find it quite interesting to compare the numbers of then to now.

In the letter (dated November 17th 1824) John makes mention of a dinner party arranged by his principal and he states
“it was a select party of the men of this Hall we were 13 of us with Mr James and a very good dinner we had.” 
In modern universities, the likelihood of being invited to a dinner party by a lecturer or dean of the university is extraordinarily slim; apart from the subject balls and one on one time with lecturers, a student will spend relatively little time with them, let alone go for walks with them like John seems to have done on numerous occasions.
One event that I found rather interesting was John’s travels to Brussels over his summer break. It seems then as now; students were still enthused at the idea of travelling and seeing the continent,
“For it will be a very great disappointment to me if I do not go on the Continent, this summer, after having long promised myself that pleasure”. 
Though on this trip the significance of visiting the battlefield at Waterloo seemed to be the main focal point of his trip, whereas now I highly doubt many students, even those that are historians, would go and visit the site at Waterloo.
Part way through the collection (October 15th 1827), there is an interesting insight into the lives of a young man in the 19th Century. John speaks of how he wishes his father to convey Hockerley estate to him; at this point in time John would be about 23 years old, yet the amount of responsibility he is asking of himself by having an estate given to him, is for me, inconceivable with the amount of work that is required by a degree level course.

Overall, there seems to be many differences when it came to day to day life of a student in the 19th Century compared to those of a 21st Century student. The pass times of the student’s, when not at university, seem to have remained relatively similar as has the final goal to get the best degree you can possibly attain with the possibility of doing a masters after graduation; it is merely the fundamentals of society that seem to have changed the most, very rarely now would students concern themselves with the matter of grand estates or interacting with the landed elites of society “hunting him with the Duke of Beaufort’s fox hounds”.

Thursday 5 November 2015

Sounding off

 “I dislike arguments of any kind.  They are always vulgar, and often convincing.”
Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

Most of us would prefer the arguments we’ve had over the years, vulgar or otherwise, to be forgotten. The majority will be, but sometimes (especially, I’m guessing in the era of electronic communication) we leave a trail of evidence behind us.  It’s something that has been going on since the dawn of time, and there are plenty of records here at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies which gives us a brief window into these minor contretemps (and greater disputes) over the centuries.

Step back 140 years and we find (DLT 5524/27/19) John Wallis, British Consul in Cairo intervening by letter in a dispute regarding a piece of engraving undertaken on Lord de Tabley's behalf.  The letter explains that Lord de Tabley had complained to Mr Borg that the cost of the job was too high, but the engraver refused to lower his price. Mr Borg suggested they have the value of the work estimated by four leading engravers in Cairo to which the engraver consented. This was done and each agreed that the price, four pounds was a fair one. In the end on being offered three pounds the engraver accepted.  Sometimes it seems an argument can be a cost effective way of doing business.

Elsewhere (DSS 1/3/263) we possess lengthy correspondence and papers from 1713-14 relating to the collection and payment to Sir Streynsham Master of certain outstanding rents and profits from the Somerford estate with Peter Shakerley.  It’s not always the riveting disputes of our time which survive two centuries and more.

ACAS may not have existed in the 17th century, but thankfully there were still people willing to step in and help. One record we have (DLT A/8/96) from 1639 states that:
 “Peter Maynwaringe of Smalwoode announces that he was apptd arbiter in the quarrel between Peter Leicester of Tabley & Thomas Wood of Netherpever concerning suit at Peters half manor of Netherpever, due from Thomas Wood and for the rent of a pair of white gloves due from him.  Judgement in favour of Peter Leicester.  Signed Peter Waynwaring.”
The local Quarter Sessions records are a fine source of legal undertakings.  In 1607 (ZQSF/55) we find an “Examination of John Cotton of Huntington, Cheshire, gent, concerning the quarrel between Ralph Jemson and Robert Foord and Anne his wife, the said Anne being the daughter of the said Ralph, concerning a cow claimed by the said Robert from the said Ralph.”  Enough said.

Finally, for this little summary of antagonism and mistrust at least, I stumbled upon (DLT 5524/28/4/3) two letters from Peter Legh in 1794 to the estates department concerning giving notice to the chapel organist, Mr Bond as a result of ‘bad behaviour’ on his part.  There is also a letter from George Leicester concerning this affair which includes a copy of a letter between Mr Legh and George Leicester.  The incident involves an altercation between Bond and Legh over Bond’s wife.  Bond apparently did not satisfactorily apologise and was therefore sacked.  If the tabloids had existed then, a two page spread with interviews and a picture or two would surely have arisen.