Gloucestershire’s archives revealed (5)

A top hat, a cane and 10 gallons of petrol please

The band Madness once sung a song about how much they enjoy driving in their car. It wasn’t quite a Jaguar, but it didn’t matter, as they were satisfied that it got them far.

I enjoy driving in my car too. It also isn’t quite a Jaguar. It’s a Hyundai. Which is nothing like a Jaguar in reality. They both have a steering wheel I suppose, and four wheels. But it gets me to work and back, and other places I choose to be at, in sufficient comfort and convenience.

And that is half of what cars are all about. Convenience. Cars can also be status symbols, of course. But getting you from where you are to somewhere else, when you choose to do it, and not having to rely on timetables, connections or cancellations is one of the main reasons for car ownership.

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Gloucestershire’s archives revealed (4)

Flash bang wallop – I’ve just broken my back.

Photography these days has become easy. With the advanced technology available to anyone who can afford it, pointing and pressing a shutter normally results in a perfect picture. Thanks to many intelligent auto settings on the camera doing all the work, even I can get a semi-decent shot of my chosen subject.

And when one of my pictures does accidentally come out frustratingly blurred, I’ll pretend that I meant it and enter it into the Turner Prize. So far, I’ve been beaten to the award by a dead cow, a used bed and an empty room, so I need to concentrate on worsening my work considerably before I’m successful.

But back in the Victorian era, photographers couldn’t just go around taking happy snaps wherever and whenever they liked. The time it took to expose the photographic plate and then develop it certainly wasn’t instant, as it is today. Photographers were skilled technicians and chemists who didn’t waste their precious negatives on images of twerking chimney sweeps or the workhouse Master’s avocado lunch. Continue reading

Blogging a Building (14)

by Heather Forbes, County Archivist.

Why did Genie visit the Archives?   Read on and find out more.

CF01

“It’s like watching concrete dry…” is a phrase normally associated with something exceptionally boring. But we all found the concrete pouring and polishing exercise particularly interesting.

CF02

We knew that the concrete pouring was going to be a long job – the contractors notified us and the neighbours that work would start at 7.30am on Friday morning and continue into the small hours of Saturday..  This was because the foundations of the three new strong rooms needed to be poured as a single job.   Initially a large concrete pump with a contraption like an elephant’s trunk pumped concrete into the metal mesh.

CF03

We were then surprised to see several workmen in wellies walking in it with rakes to level it off.   Later on they used hand-held hovercraft-like contraptions (parafloats) to smooth the surface.  Finally sit-on parafloats were used to polish and seal the surface.  I think several of us secretly wanted to have a go on these but we refrained – this was a job best left to experts!

CF04

35 trucks, 500 tonnes of concrete, and 19 hours later the strong room foundations were completed.   Next step – the walls and roof.

So why did Genie visit the Archives?   Because it’s a telescopic  forklift truck for loading the ¾ tonne parafloat onto the concrete slab.   We were particularly taken with this truck as it shares its name with our genealogical database (Genie), now accessible via Ancestry.  And we always welcome genealogists on site, whatever form they take!

 

Gloucestershire’s archives revealed (3)

Model me a railway, Eric

Apart from qualified train drivers, how many of us have, in fact, driven a train? Maybe that question should actually be: how many of us want to drive a train?  I would – for the unique driving experience and the challenge of keeping hundreds of people simultaneously on track (excuse the pun) for their appointments.

The desire to drive trains is normally heightened if the train happens to be pre 1948, the year that saw the nationalisation of Britain’s railways. Regrettably, most of us could only drive one of these vintage vehicles if we visited a heritage railway line or, failing that, pretend. And by ‘pretend’ I mean building a model railway, rather than sitting on a chair making choo-choo and chuff-chuff noises. Continue reading

Gloucestershire’s archives revealed (2)

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. Continue reading

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!

By Anthony Phillips and Jenny Rutland, Archives Support Officers

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.