The Covid pandemic has affected us all. Last year the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre put out a call to arms, asking for contributions to a new collection that we are building; ‘Living in Lockdown: A Creative Response to Challenging Times’. We had an amazing response! A big thank you to everyone who has contacted us with material to include. It’s been exciting to look at the scope and variety of Wiltshire’s responses to the issues we face and continue to grapple with.
I’d like to share with you some of the material we have received to give an idea of not just the variety, but also to show how a collection is created, collated and preserved for the future here at the History Centre. We see our collections as the county’s treasures. The precious knowledge contained within them about you, our county’s residents and communities, and how we have faced the Covid challenge can now be discovered and studied by future generations thanks to your generosity and the facilities here at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre.
We began our collecting process by sending out details of the project Living in Lockdown via our website and social media channels, utilising the help of some of the other teams we work with, such as the communications team at Wiltshire Council. As soon as the material started to wing its way to us, we began entering it on a spreadsheet; basically an ‘accessions’ record to help us register all the material, document where it came from and where it is being stored at the History Centre. We soon built up hundreds of entries, with donations from History Centre staff and other teams within Wiltshire Council such as Wiltshire Libraries, plus local residents, groups, organisations and creative practitioners living and working in the county.
Many types of formats have been received (paper copies, digital images and documents, CDs) and types of material, from cards, booklets, local newsletters, official letters, drawings, newspaper articles, writing and poems - the list goes on…
The creativity that has come out of these dark times has been wonderful to see. From artworks to music, poetry, writing and photography – it shows how intrinsically intertwined creativity is within us as a positive response to challenge and change, and how valuable and essential culture is to us as human beings and communities. We feel honoured to play our part in this cultural experience.
The type of material will determine where it will sit within the collection. The History Centre is home to an archive and a local studies library. They have distinctive specialisms, for example on a basic level, the library deals with published material and the archive unpublished, but there are also some crossovers, for instance photographs could sit within the Local Studies Historic Photograph and Print collection but also within the archive collection too. We also have a new digital repository for born digital works. This is great for us, as it means the History Centre is well placed to welcome all sorts of material. The only items we can’t take are 3D items which are better placed in one of Wiltshire’s fantastic museums!
The next stage in the collection’s journey will be for myself as the County Local Studies Librarian and one of my Archivist colleagues to assess the collection and formally decide where everything should be placed (this is called ‘appraisal’). This usually involves a lot of excitement and quite a bit of time, as I know I always find so much of interest, but I must take a proper look at it all – we have to spend time getting it right, don’t we!
The documents and creative items will go into the archives, with the books and pamphlets that have been published finding their home in the local studies library. We have yet to make a decision on the digital material, but it is safe to say it will be stored in the most appropriate location. Anything left over after this process will make a valuable addition to the Ephemera collection in Local Studies. We usually define it as a miscellaneous collection of materials that you might often throw out, but believe me, in the future, these items will be a fantastic source of information…
One week in January I took in an accession from Colerne Church. The day after it arrived I was sorting through some of the documents in the final box. One bundle I had tentatively named “Correspondence, specifications and plans relating to the Lady Chapel and the building of the organ loft”. The very last document in the file was a yellow piece of paper entitled “Yeovil, Holy Trinity – The Organ”.
It was a report from a visit to Holy Trinity Church in Yeovil, Somerset, and the visit was undertaken in 1994, whilst discussions were in place to make the church redundant. The organ was therefore being assessed for its value “as a diocesan asset”.
I excitedly mentioned it to my colleague Steve Hobbs, who was sitting opposite me: we are both originally from Yeovil and I thought the randomness of the document would appeal to him as well as me. At first I thought this document had ended up in the wrong place, and I was all for sending it down to Somerset Record Office when it occurred to me that the organ taken from Yeovil might have been the one that ended up in Colerne. I checked back in some of the documents and there was indeed a reference to the dismantling of the organ in Yeovil.
The coincidence of finding these documents is even more astonishing when I tell you that Holy Trinity was my old parish church. I used to attend the church every Sunday with my mother. When it was closed and became accommodation, a new church was built elsewhere in the town, and Mum is still involved with the benefice. The rector, John Bennett, who is mentioned on the yellow document, was a good friend of the family and has long since moved away. My father was a church organist and played for another benefice just outside Yeovil, but occasionally played the organ at Holy Trinity for their services. When the church was closed, there was a final service and I (aged about 8) was in the choir, and I still have vivid memories of singing in the choir on that day. Dad wrote a special anthem for the service, which was played by him on that organ on that day.