Gloucestershire Archives Revealed

Dig this, dude

It’s fair to say many of us would like a go on a digger.  Perhaps not a prominent desire, but the thought of moving large piles of earth at the touch of a joystick or smashing concrete into oblivion with a deft swipe of the controls is quite tempting.

Sadly, it must remain a wish and not become a reality, for us at least – because the joy of excavating massive holes would lead to a temptation to lift things that shouldn’t be lifted, like people or cars, or even other diggers. That’s a very good question: can a digger lift another digger?  Well, for as long as we’re not allowed to play with diggers, we won’t find out.  We think it probably could though.

So why all this talk about construction machinery?  Well, it’s because we’re awash with it at our Alvin Street premises in Gloucester: diggers, excavators, dump trucks and all manner of large and powerful machinery that we are (sensibly) banned from having a go on.  But we have fun watching them in our breaks, seeing them go about their destructive and constructive business to create new facilities for Gloucestershire Heritage Hub and build three more specialist storage rooms for the Archives’ collections.  You’ll probably know all about this if you’ve been following our Blogging a Building posts or visited recently.

Unfortunately, none of the machinery on our site is made by the old Gloucester firm, Muir Hill Ltd, which moved from Manchester to Gloucester in 1962.  The firm was based at the site of the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company on Bristol Road and specialised in the manufacturing of dumpers, loaders and shunters.  Gloucestershire Archives holds a significant amount of this firm’s business records: collection D4557 contains photographs, slides, publicity material, artwork, administrative, financial and property records; and D14248, a smaller collection, contains similar items.

Muir Hill machinery 1

Looking through some of the Muir Hill catalogues, and judging by the range of dumping tractors featured in them, it seems dumping was a popular activity. The company also manufactured high lift shovels, tractors, scrapers and, surprisingly, standard gauge locomotives used for light shunting work.  The locos are notable for being pre-diesel machines, powered by petrol or paraffin.  They were advertised with the same advantages over steam power as diesel and electric locos (though the latter two came along years later): “instant operation and always ready for duty” – just like the Archives’ staff.

Muir Hill machines were exported around the world.  One of the sales information sheets quotes an Australian distributor calling the firm’s 161 model “This Beaut Tractor” and ends with the conclusion “there seems to be no doubt that the 161 is a far better tractor than the existing big yanks”.  This could be a comparison to another type of tractor, or confirmation that Gloucester engineering was far superior to anything the US could produce at the time.  We think the latter and, regardless, it’s nice to have some Aussie praise.

One of the photographs in the collection shows a peculiar high lifting shovel machine, rather like a rickety wooden shed on tracks, with a window and protruding lifting arm. Intriguing!  Especially since most of Muir Hill’s machinery was manufactured from far sturdier material.  Perhaps the boss was away when this quirky contraption was produced, leaving the workers free to knock something together quickly on the Monday and spend the rest of the week betting on horses or getting to know the local bar staff?  Thankfully not – a closer look at the photo reveals the words ‘Ruston and Bucyrus’, the name of a rival manufacturer, painted down the shaft.  Evidently they didn’t produce such quality machinery.  It’s certainly a relief to think the engineering designers of Gloucester didn’t expect a worker shovelling heavy boulders, coal and soil to be protected from a stray falling rock (and almost certain death) by a few thin strips of processed tree.  Instead, they thoughtfully encased them in the safety of metal – so the descendants of these operators can say “Thank you, Muir Hill people”.

Rickety tractor

Many of the machines produced by Muir Hill seem similar to the tractors and dumpers used today, so it’d be great to compare them and see if the old Gloucester technology could match today’s efforts. Could a Muir Hill pick up a JCB, for example?  Or could it go faster?  And which would be best at lifting tractors?  If there are any Muir Hill digger, dumper or shovel owners out there, we’d love to host a competition to find out (who knows, if we promise to operate the shed on wheels carefully, the site manager might even allow it!).  We could all wear high vis jackets and give the machines a fluorescent makeover – it’d become a high vis historic digger race off.  Imagine that!

 

…and we wonder why we’re banned from building sites.

Anthony Phillips and Jenny Rutland, Archives Assistants

New arrivals in our strongrooms (2)

May 2017

It’s been another busy time for new arrivals. We’re really grateful for all these new donations and deposits, many of which have been hidden away in homes and offices for years. If you’re planning on bringing items to offer to the Archives, please get in touch before you visit so that we can make an appointment for you.

We were delighted that the Friends of Gloucestershire Archives helped us to purchase a small but significant group of architectural plans relating to Gloucestershire’s early mental hospitals (then called ‘lunatic asylums’). These iconic buildings at Coney Hill and Horton Road in Gloucester survive in very changed forms today. Continue reading

Blogging a Building (11)

 

FullColour_Landscape

Since April, the Heritage Hub site – both outside and in – has been a hive of activity.

Externally, we’ve been creating firm foundations.  The 26 tonne piling rig shown in the images below arrived on the back of a lorry from Devon.  It drilled 87 piles 10 metres deep to underpin our new strong rooms in a matter of days.

Internally, the temporary forest of scaffolding poles is disappearing as the new Hub area develops.   Surprisingly, it’s due to be ready for us to move into in early October 2017.  We are keen to set up our new home quickly, ready for visitors.  And volunteers who are setting up Gloucestershire Family History Centre and Gloucestershire Police Archives @ the Hub are thinking the same.  So it’ll be a case of ‘all hands on deck’ as soon as we get the keys!  The Archives research room will be closed whilst we do this and we reckon it’ll take just two weeks to get everything done and dusted.  We’ll keep you updated with the latest news, including the opening date for the Hub, via this blog and our website gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives

The images above show the state of play as it is now.  You can hover your mouse over them for captions if you’ve visited our premises in the past and are struggling to get your bearings.

Our move won’t be the end of the journey for Hub building works.  These will continue for a further six months, creating a new main entrance, foyer, training suite, strong rooms and community garden.

FullColour_GAFullColour_GFHSFullColour_GPA

JS ID photo 2016

Jill Shonk

Access & Learning Leader

Ab initio – or from the get go

So when was the first record office established in Gloucester? 1930s? 1940s? 1950s? Well, thanks to a chance conversation a year or two back I think I now have a more radical, and surprising, answer. I was chatting to Giles Standing, then The National Archives Transforming Archives trainee at Gloucestershire Archives (and now working for the Diocese of Lichfield). It transpired that we had both studied Roman archaeology, and had both been involved in publishing. Moreover, Giles was editing for book publication the collected essays of his former tutor at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, an eminent scholar of Roman Britain, Mark Hassall (whom I then only knew by reputation). And, since I still operate as a small publisher in my spare time, would I be interested in publishing Mark’s work?

Yes, of course! And now, two years later, I find myself typesetting Mark’s essays (meticulously edited by Giles), which happen to include a paper on ‘The Tabularium in provincial cities’. The Latin word tabularium means record office (or to put it in modern parlance, ‘heritage hub’!) and Mark had assembled evidence from Roman sites in continental Europe about what archives such an office might contain. He prefaces his remarks with the caveat that there is hardly any evidence from Britain itself, but that (because Roman bureaucracy was pretty standardised) what he describes is very likely to have existed in the cities of Roman Britain, and especially in the coloniae, of which Gloucester (Glevum) was one of three.

He then goes on to list the categories of archives, and they begin to sound eerily familiar. There would have been the city charters and constitutions, lists of magistrates and councillors, minutes of council meetings, decrees (perhaps the equivalent of our local byelaws), maps and surveys, contracts and leases. By analogy elsewhere, the Roman record office would have been a room or office attached to the basilica (or town hall) and presided over by the tabularii publici curator, the city archivist.

As a young man Mark was involved in archaeological excavations in Gloucester and Cirencester, and his tabularium essay was originally published in a tribute volume to an archaeologist whom he had worked under in Gloucestershire, John Wacher. Although his paper does not mention it, Mark would know well that in Gloucester the site of the basilica was excavated in the late 1960s and is now occupied by Marks & Spencer. The Emperor Nerva, who in 97 AD was apparently responsible for founding the colonia of Gloucester (and presumably therefore for instigating the first city archivist to look after its first charter) sits astride his horse nearby. I walk past his statue every day – from now on I’ll treat him with a little more respect.

 

John Chandler

VCH Gloucestershire

New arrivals in our strong rooms

April 2017

IMG_20170531_092145180

Tree planting on Leckhampton Hill in the early 1970s (among records of R W Paterson architect of Cheltenham, catalogue reference D3867 Accession 14388)

Each month new archives arrive at Gloucestershire Archives – either as gifts or as deposits on indefinite loan. We regularly process between 25 and 35 new batches (or ‘accessions’). All are logged into our collections management database and stored securely.

We know from users’ feedback that it can be difficult to pick out these new arrivals from among the thousands of entries  in our online catalogue. So for those of you keen to find out what’s new, this is the first of a regular blog.

If you’d like more details of any collection listed below, click on the link in the left hand column which takes you to the online catalogue. No link means there’s no more description ready as yet.

The online catalogue will also tell you whether you can access the records now or whether they are closed for any reason. If this is the case you may be able to arrange to see them by appointment.

Reference
Title Description
D14375 Local cricket clubs, 1949-1957 Gloucester Thursday Cricket Club scorebook, 1953-1957; Bream Cricket Club scorebook, 1949-1954 (2 volumes)
GCC/ENV

Accession 14377

Gloucestershire County Council: County Surveyor’s Department c.1955 Publicity for a new accounting machine installed to calculate wages and the costs of all projects undertaken, c.1955. Includes photographs of machine operators  (1 volume, 4 photographs)
D14378 Samuel Bradley & Son, builders of Frampton-on -Severn, 1907-1959 Business accounts, 1907-1949 (3 volumes); estimates books, 1937-1959 (3 volumes)
D14379 Frampton-on-Severn deeds, 1843-1939 Fernleigh, Prospect Cottage, Tom Clarke’s Cottage; Tamaris Cottage, the Street, 1909-1939 (1 bundle);  Severnthorpe and the Mechanics’ Institute, The Green, 1843-1939 (1 bundle); other property on The Green, 1939 (3 bundles)
D14380 War Invasion Committee for Corse, Staunton and Hartpury, 1941-1945 Air raid precaution records formerly belonging to A G Compton, Chief Air Raid Warden for Corse, Staunton and Hartpury. Include a log book of events,  1941-1945, and an Invasion Committee war book, 1944-1945 (5 volumes, 1 bundle, 3 items)
P377

Accession 14381

Woolstone with Gotherington and Oxenton Parochial Church Council PCC minutes,  1984-1996 (1 volume)
D1180

Accession 14382

Company of Proprietors of the Stroudwater Navigation, 1936-[1950s], Plans of trows ‘Elizabeth’, ‘Palmerston’ and unnamed vessel, undated, [1950s] (3 documents); plans of trow ‘Alma’, 1952 (2 documents); Port of Gloucester handbook, used as a working copy by boatman on the Stroudwater Canal, 1936 (1 volume)
D14383 [Hulbert’s] builders of Marshfield, 1786-1871 Accounts showing charges for various goods and services, 1786-1798, 1797-1815, 1815-1818 and 1856-1871 (4 volumes)
GCC/LEG Accession 14386 Gloucestershire County Council: Legal Sealed orders for Public Rights of Way and Highways, 2016-2017 (1 box)
GDR Accession 14387 Gloucester Diocese, 2016 Faculties relating to properties in the Diocese, 2016 (52 items)
D3867

Accession 14388

R W Paterson of Gloucester and Cheltenham, architect, 1903-1991 Include photos of Paterson’s architectural projects, 1940s-1950s; Leckhampton Court Estate sale particulars, 1912, and water supply, 1956; papers about Ashmeade Lodge, 1910-1949,  Tower Lodge (1938)-1989, and the development of Leckhampton Hill, 1970s-1980s (8 bundles, 2 volumes)
D14389 Gotherington in 2012 Gotherington and Area Local History Society’s text and photographic survey of houses in the village, 2012
D14390 Marshfield Reading Room, 1887-1947 Minutes and accounts, 1887-1947 (1 volume)
D12550

Accession 14391

The Nailsworth Society, 2012-2015 Group leaders’ annual reports delivered at annual general meetings, 2012-2015 (4 files)
D10943

Accession 14392

English Association of Male Voice Choirs (based in Gloucestershire) Committee attendance register, 1983-1999; accounts, 1983-2013; minutes and correspondence, 1992-2001 (3 files, 1 volume)

This isn’t the whole story as we also take into our Local Studies Collection a wide range of publications and printed items relating to Gloucestershire. They include newsletters, journals, reports, programmes and leaflets produced by organisations across the county. Too many to list here, but April gifts also include:

  • A draft MLitt (University of Bristol) thesis by John R Howe, 1977 titled “Political history of the Parliamentary constituencies of Cheltenham, Gloucester, and the Cirencester and Tewkesbury divisions of Gloucestershire, 1895-1914” (catalogue ref JF5.36GS)
  • Photographs of Gloucestershire Cottages presented to the Library Service by Miss Harriet C Fawkes in 1942 (catalogue ref J3.238GS).  Not all the images are identified.
  • Good Man and a Brave Man, The story of a Gloucestershire soldier, Cecil Thomas Packer, 1885-1916 by Alan Gaunt, 2017 (catalogue ref B733/57715GS)

We’re looking forward to having space in the new Heritage Hub to display new publications!

 

 

 

Blogging a Building (10)

There are aliens and strange structures just metres from my desk. But don’t be alarmed.  I haven’t been beamed from Starship Enterprise to a parallel universe!  The strangers are just asbestos removal experts – back for a second visit.  This time they’re making the under-floor spaces for the new Heritage Hub safe, ready for remodelling work.  And it’s all happening behind closed doors – so there’s no danger.

Meanwhile, Archives staff have been celebrating some good news. The Local Government Association has awarded us £15,000 to develop online customer registration arrangements and streamline our online document ordering system.  These improvements should make it quicker and easier for everyone to access original documents and minimise any queuing times at the new Heritage Hub reception.  Well done to our Digital Preservation & Access Officer, Claire Collins for leading the way on the successful bid!

JS ID photo 2016

Jill Shonk

Access & Learning Leader

Gloucestershire’s archives revealed (1)

There are countless hidden gems in Gloucestershire Archives’ collections.  These range from beautifully illuminated medieval manuscripts to nuggets of priceless information and funny facts, often concealed in ordinary-looking documents.  These treasures are usually uncovered in the Archives’ research room, either by visitors using our collections or by Archives staff that handle them as part of our access arrangements.

It seems a shame to keep these special finds a secret so we thought we’d set up a new blog series to share them with you, beginning with a post we’ve written ourselves.  Here it is:

Have you ever felt like eating Hens’ Turds?  We have, but we were put off by their unappetising appearance.  Mind you, it turns out they aren’t meant to be eaten raw, as they taste as bad as they look in their uncooked state – quite acidic with astringent qualities. But they do become edible with processing…

Before we go any further, we should explain that Hens’ Turds are actually a variety of apple: a cider apple native to Gloucestershire and listed as critically rare in 2000. We’re guessing this is still the case – so you’d be more likely to find half a hen’s tooth in a field of haystacks.

We know about this unusual species thanks to a book in our collections: one that a recent visitor wanted to look at. It’s called ‘Native Apples of Gloucestershire’ by Charles Martell (ref. B544/56497) and contains a detailed inventory of all known indigenous varieties of Gloucestershire apples.  Before checking it out, we thought we’d test our apple knowledge by listing the names of as many apples as we could. And we came up with a total of ten (listed as ‘the magnificent ten’ below).  None of them were from Gloucestershire, though. Maybe you can do better?

Well, how did you get on? More than ten types of apple is good.  More than twenty is even better.  And a whopping fifty would be seriously impressive.  But the prize fund is reserved for anyone with a list of over 190 varieties, because that’s the number listed in the book as native to Gloucestershire alone.

Martell set out to create his definitive account because many varieties of local apples were gradually disappearing. And his findings are useful for conservation and reference purposes. So if you want to identify an apple as being of Gloucestershire origin, or you’ve stumbled across a new example of Belchers Pearmain, this is a marvellous book to consult. Browsing its contents, we discovered: the last record of a Captain Kernel tree was before 1960 in Tibberton; there aren’t any Dainty Maids left in Cam; Rissington Redstreak has also been lost; and, sadly, there are only two Hard Knock trees remaining in Oxenton and only one Old Tankard in Westbury-on-Severn.

This trend reflects the ever decreasing acreage of traditional orchards in the County – currently around 3,000 acres, considerably less than the 15,000 estimated in the mid-1800s. Fortunately, Martell is propagating some of the lost and rare varieties of local apples, and these now form the National Collection of Gloucestershire Apples.

Interestingly, according to local legend, there’s also been an apple-linked manslaughter. Apparently, the Kill Boy apple came by its name after an Oldbury-on-Severn man became so fed up with the foolish antics the boys collecting fruit one harvest time that he threw an apple at one of them, hitting him on the head. The apple was so hard that it killed the boy. ‘Nasty weapons, those apples.

Finally, we thought we’d mention that our Alvin Street premises have an apple related link too.  The site was once home to Wheeler’s Nursery, which supplied apple trees to Queen Victoria.  Sales particulars of the nursery in 1853 (ref. D3269) advertised that it consisted of 2000 apple and pear trees.

Well, that’s it from us for now.  We really need your help to find and share more fascinating facts from our collections.  So please let us know if you’ve an interesting story to tell and would like to write a blog article about it!

PS For those who are interested, here are our magnificent ten apples: Braeburn; Royal Gala; Cox; Cameo; Bramley; Jazz; Zari; Pink Lady; Golden Delicious; and Granny Smith.

Jenny Rutland and Anthony Phillips, Archives Assistants