Friday 22 October 2021

Archive Horrors!

It’s nearly Halloween, and here at Cheshire Record Office we have lots of archives and local studies material about witches and ghosts. But spooks and ghouls are not the only things to beware of – there is plenty in the day job of looking after archives that can give us nightmares. Read on to see seven scary scenarios! 


The search room at Cheshire Record Office is strictly Pencil Only, to avoid accidental damage to our archives and local studies material. Even neat pen marks will bleed through paper over time - this can be seen on a heavily marked notebook from the 1630s, where red pen was used to make notes. Ink is difficult to remove - sometimes impossible - so pens must stay locked away! 

Sticky tape 

Sticky tape doesn’t age well – it can discolour and degrade paper. Our Conservators removed a huge amount of tape from these newly deposited documents before storing them. It will help prevent future damage so the documents can be preserved for longer. 

Dust and Dirt 

Some of our collections have been stored in less-than-ideal conditions before reaching us. You certainly need a pair of gloves sometimes – to protect your hands, as well as the documents! This Sheriffs' File from the 18th century is covered in sooty surface dirt and is in very poor condition. Removing the dust and dirt is an important first step in conservation: it not only makes the documents difficult to read but can also be abrasive and acidic, and cause damage to the paper. Worse still, it can be a source of food for insects and encourage mould growth. Yikes! The documents below were similar, but have had a visit to our conservation studio where they've been cleaned and repaired. 


All our documents are carefully packaged before being stored, and environmental conditions in our strong rooms are monitored regularly. But before arriving at Cheshire Record Office, these documents were damaged when a heavy downpour caused a drain to fail, resulting in a basement flood. Parchment and water do not mix. You can see below that extensive flood damage has caused the parchment - which is made from animal skin and mostly formed of gelatine - to turn glue-like when wet, and as it has dried the pages have stuck together. They were unfortunately beyond repair. 

Destruction of documents 

Many people have a fear of mice and rats, but our furry friends (or enemies!) are definitely frightening for archivists and conservators. Centuries-old paper must make a tasty snack or nest-lining, and rodents can have a devastating effect on archives if they get hold of them. 

The damage to this 1882 Rate Book was caused by water after a flood in a basement, the perfect environment for mould to grow. But if mould damage wasn’t bad enough, some little critters, thought to have been mice, have gorged on the paper and it is now sadly beyond repair. (NB – the damage occurred before the document arrived at Cheshire Archives!) If not treated promptly, mould spores can spread and wreak havoc on old documents. And other little pests like bookworms, silverfish and booklice can cause plenty of damage too.  It may look cute, but the '
bookworm' (actually the larvae of the Varied Carpet Beetle, known as the Woolly Bear) is responsible for the patterns on the pages here.

Missing documents

Storing archives carefully isn’t just to protect them from animals and environmental damage. Imagine what would happen if you took out a document but didn’t put it back properly? If we take an item out of storage (and remember our documents are stored on around 11 kilometres of shelving!) we use a strict tracking system to look after it. Triple carbon slips are filled in with the document reference number, its location, and when and by whom it has been moved. 

The pink layer must stay with the document, whether it is going to our search room to be viewed by a member of the public; used by a staff member for research or copying; or being treated in our conservation studio. The yellow layer remains in the storage box, and the white copy can be taken away by the person using it. When the item is returned, the pink and yellow slips must match, and are put back together and recorded. Accuracy is paramount, and only very occasionally do we get the shock of finding a yellow slip in a box instead of a document. 

Rest assured that at Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, we take extremely good care of the documents entrusted to us. Our strict tracking system means missing documents are very rare. 

Techniques from the past 

Our Archivists and Conservators do an excellent job of preserving and conserving the documents in our care. But archives trends and techniques have changed over time, and what is seen as best practice now can be quite different from what used to happen. Two sets of documents sadly spring to mind to illustrate this. 

The first is a pamphlet from the English Civil War, dated 1642, but it’s covered in 20th century ink stamps from the library where it used to be kept. It is obviously important to catalogue and label archives material but nowadays a soft pencil is used instead. 

This is an original letter from King Charles I to the Mayor of Chester, also written in 1642 (ref: DCC 47/41). The letters and other records in this collection have all been glued onto mounts – aargh! This happened in the 1950s and it certainly wouldn’t be stored in this way today. 

And whilst we’re sure whoever laminated these asylum records intended to preserve them, these days the documents would be stored differently. They’d be kept acid-free folders and, if additional protection was needed, they’d only ever be sleeved in non-plastic removable pockets. They’d never be sealed in. You can see from this image that laminated documents are difficult to photograph too! 

These are our seven scariest scenarios when working with archives. If you’d like to read about the witches, ghosts and Halloween customs of Cheshire – even a story of mummification – click here to read our 2019 blog: Happy Halloween!

Friday 15 October 2021

Story Swap: Discovering and Remembering Stories of Migration and Refuge

On the 4th October, CHAWREC (Cheshire, Halton & Warrington Race & Equality Centre), Cheshire Archives & Local Studies, and staff from the University of Chester organised ‘Story Swap: Discovering and Remembering Stories of Migration and Refuge.’

People who have experience of crossing borders came together with historians of migration to share their stories, their food, and their research into the lives of people who have made Cheshire their home.

To complement this event, we are working to develop a photo display at the Unity Centre. We need your help to make this happen.

We want to make sure that the display is developed from photos and personal items which reflect individuals’ experiences of migration.

This display is inspired by the ‘Journeys to Cheshire’ oral histories collection, which was recorded some 10 years ago and features interviews with migrants to Cheshire. If you have images, documents, or items related to any of the following themes, we would love to see them, scan them, and potentially include them in the display:

  • The emotions of travelling to Cheshire
  • The feeling of first arriving in a new country
  • Food that reminds you of home or makes you feel at home
  • Clothing and how it can help you feel connected to, or divided from, a community.
  • Weather and surroundings
  • The feeling of belonging both to Cheshire and another place.

If you have digital photos: 

Please email them to, along with a message about what or who is in the picture, when it was taken, and why it is important to you. You will receive a digital copy of a permission form, which will allow us to use your images as part of the display.

If you have physical photos: 

Please drop them off at the Unity Centre reception. There is a permission form which you will be asked to sign, and on which you can write the details of the picture(s)- for example, when and where it was taken, what is in it, and who is pictured.

If you don’t have any pictures but you would still like to help:

Please feel free to write something about one or more of these topics, or you can even share a document or object with us. Get in touch to arrange how.

If you know someone who may be interested in sharing a picture or photo with us:

Please feel free to either send them the link to this blog post, Daniel’s email address, or the flyer included on this page.

If you would more information about the project, the photo display, or how your data will be handled, please get in touch- we’d love to hear from you!

Wednesday 6 October 2021

Chester's Delightful River Dee!

Have you tried our Talking Tour of Chester? It’s a self-guided walking tour of interesting parts of the city, made from oral histories recorded around 40 years ago. It features local people’s memories of events like the famous Chester Regatta, and the opening of the landmark Queen’s Park suspension bridge - but Cheshire Archives and Local Studies holds a huge amount of material on all aspects of the River Dee, going back centuries.

Lost trades

People have made their living on the river, not only from boat hire that still runs today, but in lost trades such as traditional salmon fishing. These photographs from c.1900 and 1969 show the nets that used to be seen along the banks, and fishermen hauling in their catch.

There also used to be mills along the banks of the Dee, with some only demolished within living memory. This image from 1905 shows ‘The Dee Bridge, Castle and Mills’ and is taken from a photo album by Frank Simpson. He was an authority on the history of Chester and an amateur photographer whose work is held at Cheshire Record Office (not just his photography but also sketches, manuscripts and diaries of local events).


Tragedy on the Dee

Going back even further, we know that people used to use the river for washing. This coroner’s inquest report from 1679 describes the sad death of Mary Alson, a spinster who was swept away and drowned whilst washing clothes in the Dee.

This is just one of countless tragedies from along the river, and the coroners’ reports we hold range from the recent past back to the Middle Ages.

A well-known tragedy was the Dee Bridge Disaster, an 1847 railway accident. Train carriages fell into the river through a new cast iron bridge, killing five people and injuring nine. Cheshire Record Office holds a collection of newspaper cuttings about the inquest, where renowned Victorian engineer Robert Stephenson, who designed the bridge, was accused of negligence.

Chester Regatta

On a happier note, the river has long been used for sport and entertainment, and Chester Regatta combines both. Established in 1733, it still takes place today, making it the oldest rowing regatta of its type in the world. We hold many images of the Regatta - some of which are featured on the searchable Cheshire Image Bank- and this print shows the Regatta in 1854. 

We also hold the archives of the Royal Chester Rowing Club, founded in 1838. A jewel in this collection is a scrapbook begun in 1933 (ZCR 419/3), full of club memorabilia like race programmes, results, press cuttings and photographs. This one is of rowers on the Dee during the Chester Regatta of 1938.


The Port of Chester

We may not give it much thought today, but Chester used to be a significant British port. We have some shipping and boat records covering several centuries, such as QDN 1/5, a register of vessels entering and leaving the port of Chester, 1740 – 1769. It shows information such as the vessel and masters’ names, the destinations, and nature of goods being transported. We can see from these pages that 15 tons of cheese were bound for Parkgate on The Friendship on 21st February 1743 (below left), and that The Duke William arrived from Lisbon with a cargo of wine on 4th May 1754 (below right).

River Management

For anyone interested in the river itself, we hold archives related to the management of the Dee, like those of The River Dee Committee. The Committee was established in 1837 and its main interest was in Acts of Parliament affecting the river and water supply. The collection includes letters, petitions, reports, a minute book, plans on the improvement of the river and volumes of soundings (measurements of the depth of water, which can be used to make maps of riverbeds and nautical charts). 


No visit to Chester is complete without seeing the bridges over the River Dee, and hundreds of items about them are held at Cheshire Record Office: books, pamphlets, photographs, plans, prints and much more. These two images show the Queen’s Park Suspension Bridge that opened in 1923, and the old Queen’s Park Bridge, which it replaced.     


The big freeze!

Finally, did you know that the Dee has frozen over on occasion? This photograph of The Groves in Chester shows people ice skating and playing when the river froze during the winter of 1916-17. It happened again in 1963.

This is just a small snapshot of the wide range of material that Cheshire Archives and Local Studies holds about the River Dee. Why not try the Walking Tour, and if you’re inspired to come and see some original records, arrange your visit here!

The items listed above are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester. Living Memory: A Talking Tour of Chester is available via the Echoes app – further details can be found here.