Goodbye from a trainee

After nearly two years as a graduate trainee archivist, I’m flying the nest to complete my Master’s degree and be a fully-fledged archivist instead. I wanted share some thoughts about my preconceived notions about what exactly an archive is and what it does, and how I think now after working at Gloucestershire Archives.

Tools of the trade: Archival tape, scissors, pencil, labels, folder

Before I started working in an archive, here’s what I thought happened:

  • Everything vaguely ‘historical’ needs to be kept and preserved.
  • Everything in an archive should be digitised and put online so people can read them from home.
  • Archives are mainly used by and meant for historians and academics doing research.
  • If you are determined enough you can have everything in your archive tidily catalogued and put away during your time working there.
  • Looking for a document shouldn’t take too long.

Do you agree with any of these? Do these statements sound familiar to what you think? Here’s how things actually happen (from my trainee perspective):

  • If we kept everything ‘vaguely historical’ we’d have no room left on the planet for anything else (it’s not very eco-friendly!)
  • Even if you had all the time and money to do this, it still wouldn’t be useful for everything. Things can easily be missed in a digital scan and you’d need resources to transcribe all the material as well. Digital material also needs digital storage space – we’d have to pay to store something both physically and digitally, and digital preservation has lots of its own risks. Paper has been around in some form for hundreds of years but digital formats become obsolete in a few years.
  • Whilst historians do rely a lot on archives, all sorts of people use our search room. I’ve found lots of people come to use our documents to prove/disprove land boundaries or discover more about their family history.
  • If you go in with this mindset, you WILL become disheartened, which will make it difficult to do anything at all. Instead, you have to look at what you CAN DO, and break it down into manageable projects that will have the greatest impact on people. Eventually, it will all be catalogued, but by then they’ll be a completely new system anyway. And so on!
  • Erm, sure – if you only have 1 box in your collection! Gloucestershire archives have millions of records, in thousands of boxes, in nearly 20 strongrooms, and each strongroom has about 300 bays, and each bay has at least 6 shelves….you get the picture.

If you have any assumptions about archives, comment below – are they different to mine? It was amazing how much I didn’t know, and how wrong I was about pretty much everything.

My favourite thing about working here (apart from the best team you could wish for) is the eureka moment when a collection makes sense to you. As a colleague told me: ‘where is the material telling you it wants to go? What is it telling you about how it wants to be arranged?’ After sifting through a box of papers and material that has no previous arrangement, you start to see patterns and links which tell you the most logical way to arrange it, so that people will be able to search for and find it again. I feel like a gold-panner, sifting through until I find that golden nugget which explains what I’m looking at.

I’ve had the best time working here and will miss it immensely.

And for everyone I work with – you can use my trolleys now, they’re empty and waiting for new documents to carry!

-Laura Cassidy

Blue sign with black text reading: Collections management, graduate trainee, don't tap on the glass, they are easily startled!

Women’s History Month – Naomi Patterson

For our last post during women’s history month we’ve taken our information from the Barton and Tredworth community heritage site. This was set up during one of our community partnership projects, looking at the lives of local people. Read below for an insight into Naomi’s life and follow this link to listen to audio clips of her describing her experiences:

Naomi Patterson came to Gloucester from Jamaica in the 1960s. She came to join her husband William who had travelled to the UK several years earlier to work at Gloucester Foundry. After her long trip, one of Naomi’s clearest memories upon arrival is remarking to her husband about how many factories there were in Gloucester, not realising that she was in fact looking at the terraced housing of Barton and Tredworth.

She also clearly recalls the first meal William made her when she arrived – freshly cooked mackerel and a glass of stout! Naomi and William lived with family in Barton and Tredworth before getting their own home, and in this collection of audio clips, Naomi recalls some of her experiences and her memories of the area from the time of her arrival. (Click on the link above to listen)

Since coming to Gloucester, Naomi has had several different jobs, raised three children and now volunteers at her church, the United Reform Church and also the Black Elders’ Luncheon Club. ‘Mrs P’ is still very much a part of her local community and a well known personality in Barton and Tredworth.

Naomi Patterson 1
Naomi Patterson

Women’s history month – Quarter sessions

The Quarter Sessions is a collection of accounts regarding mostly petty everyday crime. Last year we went through and picked out various cases that mentioned women, which you can read here:

There’s plenty more material to look through though, such as the case in 1741 concerning Mary Smith. It’s a settlement case, meaning they were trying to find out where she belonged and which parish was responsible for looking after her. According to her statement, she was

‘about 63 and was born in Shaftesbury in Dorset. She married Jeremiah Smith forty years ago and lived with him for twenty eight years. They travelled the country with earthenware as their living. She has gained no parish of settlement since her husband died.’

Such a short statement for such a long life lived. By the sounds of it, she travelled all over the country and would have met a much wider variety of people than most others did, especially women who would be expected to stay in or near their home most of the time.

White document with black inked handwriting

Other records follow the same themes of settlement, theft, and assault against women. There are rarely happy stories in the petty sessions, this was after all where crimes were heard.

In 1738, Andrew Phipps of Berkeley accused Daniel Pick of assaulting his daughter Martha and tearing her apparel on Dursley Fair day. Q/SD/1/1738 A year later Mary Jagger stated she was

‘travelling from Minchinhampton to Cirencester on her husband’s business with Laurence Chidsley, a barber of Tetbury, as her guide. Chidsley pulled her off her horse, violently assaulted her and stole a silver pair of buckles which he still has’.

Neither case goes into much detail and it’s difficult to find further examinations that might tell us how the cases were closed.

White document with black inked handwriting
White document with black inked handwriting

Without a doubt the most common way a woman appeared in the quarter sessions was in cases of bastardy. Women would be hauled in front of the courts and told to name the father of her unborn (in some cases already born) child, so that he would be charged for their welfare instead of the parish. Such is the case in 1738 when Elizabeth Thorn appears. The case states that she is 28 and born in Cowley and has had no settlement since birth. It goes on to say

‘She is with child by Francis Tomlinson with whom she has cohabited for two years. She has sometimes begged but mostly got her livelihood from travelling about selling phisick.’

This one is interesting as it gives a bit more detail, and rarely are the women in these cases said to be living out of wedlock with the fathers for any length of time, which begs the question why weren’t they married? Where was her family? It also mentions she travelled around ‘selling phisick’ – so she did try to fend for herself in some way, and had enough knowledge of herbs and plants to make a living out of it. Who taught her this knowledge – was she particularly skilled? Of course, she isn’t asked any further questions than who the father of her child is, so we’ll never know.


The marginalised voices of women in the justice system hint at so much history yet to uncover, waiting in the archives to be discovered.

Women’s history month – Fielding and Platt workers

In the second week celebrating women’s history month, we’d like to highlight some local women in the workforce.

One of our partner projects was all about Fielding & Platt, an engineering firm from Gloucestershire started in 1866. You can see all about the company and the lives of the people that worked there here:

Black and white photograph of the women working at Fielding & Platt, Second World War

One particular page we’d like to highlight today though is this one about the woman who worked there, see here:

Daphne Collier was one of these women. To listen her memories of working at the engineering firm, check out the link below:

Daphne Collier

Women’s History Month – U. A. Fanthorpe and R. V. Bailey

To kick off woman’s history month in the UK, every Friday in March we’ll be bringing to light women in Gloucestershire, often overlooked or under appreciated.

This week’s new arrival for our local studies collection was ‘From Me to you – Love poems’ by U. A. Fanthorpe and R. V. Bailey. The authors were a couple who lived together in Wotton Under Edge until Fanthorpe’s death in 2009.

From Me to You, Love Poems

Ursula Fanthorpe was a teacher at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and went on to run the English department there. She later left that job to work in a hospital and started publishing her own poetry in 1978.

Rosemarie Bailey met Ursula when she was also working in the English department at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. Later, she worked as a University lecturer in Bristol.

They first lived together in Merthyr Tydfil, before moving to Wotton Under Edge in Gloucestershire. Both have spoken about their faith in the Quaker community, and how accepted they felt in it, which features in this book. Neither indicated which poem was written by whom, calling it a kind of ‘comic modesty’.

We think it’s fitting that Gloucestershire Archives should hold a copy of this book for future generations to peruse and learn about the life and love between these two women which inspired these poems.

You can find it by searching in our local studies collection, under B739/60038GS.

Finding the White Swan Inn

Recently we received an inventory relating to the White Swan, a pub in Westgate Street, Gloucester (reference D15916). When we came to log details into our online catalogue, we realised we were missing an important detail- precisely where was it?  This pub no longer exists, and we have only 3 other records in the archives that mention it, GBR/L20/2/1914/52, D3117/4568 and D3117/4158A.

So, where to start?

Well, one of the first places to look for lost buildings is old maps. This is only really useful if you have a vague idea of where the building was, and luckily we know this pub was in Westgate street. For many locals who know the city, Westgate street is actually quite a big place to start looking. So, to pinpoint whereabouts we then looked at the other documents, to see if they gave any clues. D3117/4158A mentions a right of way dispute that involved the Old Spa House, hinting the buildings must have been very close. A quick search for ‘old spa house’ in our catalogue comes up with a lot more hits than the pub. D3117/4156 lists number 95 Westgate Street, known as Old Spa House in the description. We have a number! What next?

Rather than search through huge and delicate rolled up maps, we use a fantastic online resource called ‘Know your place’, here:

This website was developed in Bristol and now covers other counties, including Gloucestershire. It holds digital copies of some of the maps we keep, and it’s a great place to start looking. After setting the base map to 2019, we started going through the comparison maps and scrolled up and down Westgate Street looking for our pub. All we had so far was the name ‘White Swan Inn’, ‘Old Spa House’ and the number 95 for a rough location. Unfortunately, numbers of buildings changed over time as they were built on, over, divided up etc. especially after World War II.

After 10 minutes or so – bingo! On a map from 1852 made for the local board of health, we found it! It’s on the extreme western end of Westgate street, which in 1852 was on White Swan Lane and is now swallowed up by Westgate Street parking. Where the building itself stood is now a block of flats. You can see two buildings along is numbered 95, which in 1852 was named ‘The Newfoundland’. 

All subsequent maps on Know Your Place have the building shown, but just the letters ‘P.H’ written, which mean ‘public house’. So we know a pub was still here in 1947, but was gone by the end of the 1960s when development plans in the city turned it into a car park.

Now what?

Well, the inventory discovered gives us a very vivid picture of a pub in early 20th Century Britain. It is dated 1933, so in the inter-war period. Everything is listed, every chair and table, what state it was in, what room it was in. Take the bar for example, arguably the most important room in a pub. You might have sat down with a metal mug, at a mahogany pembroke table, on a Windsor chair. You might have played with dice to pass the time, or perhaps chess or a game of quoit. The décor included a stuffed drake, dog and squirrel, a stag’s head and antlers, and a framed picture of Tom Sayers the famous boxer. A rubber stamp and pad is listed ‘for glasses stolen from the Swan’. Some traditions never die!

More details are given about the taps, the linoleum floor, hooks on the door and every basin, jug and pewter measures are listed. Anyone wishing to create an accurate film set for the time period has their research done for them! Inventories tells us not only what the trends were, but sometimes mention a local business that there remains no other trace of. We know in the bar they used a Gledhills patent cash till, which was a business at the time in Halifax. Further down, the staircase has a clock listed by ‘Mollinews, Painswick’ which doesn’t come up with any immediate hits online. Local names appear, such as in the private sitting room which has a portrait of ‘Mr Clutterbuck’.

What came in as a small booklet on a chance find turned out to give us a wealth of information about pub life in 20th century Gloucester.

So- now it’s your turn. What can you discover?

UPDATE 25/01/2022: One of our search room team was able to look up the demolition date of the pub in an index, which tells us it was demolished finally in 1972.

Penny for the Guy?

Do you still put a ‘Guy’ on your bonfire? Children displaying their homemade ‘Guys’ and asking ‘penny for the Guy?’ is thought of as an iconic British tradition.

Most people know that after King James I survived an attempt on his life by Guy Fawkes and his conspirators, bonfires were lit around London to celebrate. This continued across the country and gradually became part of tradition to commemorate the event.

The holiday is often been associated with violence in one way or another, not least because of the dangerous nature of fire and fireworks. It’s associated with Protestant ideals, and as such is used for anti-Catholic sentiments. Nowadays the politics of the celebration isn’t celebrated, but it is used as an excuse for a social gathering to observe the winter months coming on.

In the 18th Century children began to create their own ‘Guy Fawkes’ effigy to burn on the bonfires, carrying around their homemade guy and asking for money. In the 1960s however, the City of Gloucester Headteachers Association petitioned to not only stop the practice, but make it an offence. This petition was unsuccessful, as it was a seasonal practice and not considered threatening. It was also pointed out to them that what they were concerned about (children begging) was already covered under the Vagrancy Act of 1824.

Whilst children were allowed to continue begging a penny for the Guy, the teachers might like to know that the practice has now almost totally vanished. Instead, we’ve seen the rise of trick-or-treaters on Halloween who ask for sweets rather than money. Would they have shown similar disdain and anger towards this? The answer is: very likely.

Typed letter from the Town Clerk

Reference: GBR/L7/1/1/1/5

Maligned, Marginalised and Misunderstood Blog #5

In our fifth and final blog post we look at what makes up the most cases in the Quarter Sessions: theft. Theft of sheep, ducks, waistcoat, shirts, porridge bowls and just about any household item you can think of.

In 1761 we hear the voice of John Millet of Iron Acton, a victim of theft when clothes were stolen from his washing line. He immediately had his suspicions about who was responsible and started searching through the local pubs until he got to the Rose and Crown in Rangeworthy (still a pub today). There he met William Hall (a stranger) who he charged with stealing the items having ‘found two shirts and one cap upon him’.


Stealing what we would today consider small and trivial items tells us about their value to those people. Possessions like shirts were valuable assets whether they were sold to buy the next meal, or stolen to use or barter.

Most of the cases heard at the Quarter Sessions concerning theft often involves food, such as a sheaf of wheat or a loaf of bread. In 1737 Anne Hole was seen ‘at one or two in the morning milk[ing] a cow in Arnot’s grounds’, and it’s funny to imagine her running off in the middle of the night with a bucket of milk. This was no laughing matter to the owner though, as milk was money and a source of income and food for his family. These petty crimes also tell us about the small communities people lived in; everyone knew everyone and could say where you would be most of the time.

The Quarter Sessions “informations and examinations” are available for anyone to look at in our online catalogue, thanks to the dedication of the volunteers who transcribed them. You can follow up any of the cases mentioned in the blog posts, and hear more of someone’s story! It’s easy to take the Session as a point of reference and dive in, looking at where they lived, places mentioned, what their trade was, and what might have happened to them. The Sessions go beyond simple data such as name, age and occupation. They tell us how people communicated, how they viewed each other, and what they valued in life. And uniquely the statements and accounts from those involved in each case let us hear the voices of people who are otherwise silent in the official record.

Find out more:

Use the search reference ‘Q/SD’ to get started.

Maligned, Marginalised and Misunderstood Blog #4

In our fourth blog post, we’ll hear from people involved in conflicts.

In 1731, according to Stephen Yearsley, a yeoman of the Leigh, more than twenty people rioted at Leigh turnpike. Turnpikes were put up to charge people the use and upkeep of the roads which angered locals who had, for generations, used it for free. Yearsley states that the rioters destroyed the gate and threatened if he restored it, it ‘would be the worse for those who kept it’. Riots like this happened all over the country in response to the turnpikes, and it clearly shows us people’s needs and priorities. Road access was vital to trade, so it follows when that access was restricted, there was major pushback. This happens today, for example when public footpaths are blocked or shut off.

Extract taken from the Gloucester Journal concerning turnpikes, 1759, P157-MI-1

A little later, in 1746 Richard Heaven of Minchinhampton, a broadweaver says that John Harris (also a broadweaver) told him ‘he should go with him to stand up for the “ends and thrums”’. They convened on Hampton Common, and Robert Wetmore of Rodborough, a cloth worker, states that he heard them declare that ‘before the ends and thrums were taken from them, they would pull down Hawker’s house and beat out his soul’. The ends and thrums were the ends of material left on a loom after use and we can probably guess that these were left freely for the workers to take, probably to use for making small items of clothing or rugs. New rules either stopped them from doing this or charged them for it. Either way, the result was unhappy workers who obviously felt cheated in some way.

Public mistrust in authority figures is always present when change happens, or happens too fast or too slowly. The people who cause these disturbances often did so more out of desperation than a need to cause destruction. Punishments were much harsher in those days, and although the population was growing, it wasn’t fast enough to grant perpetrators the safety of anonymity.

Maligned, Marginalised and Misunderstood Blog #3

In this third of our blogs featuring “informations and examinations”, we‘ll focus on the unheard voices of women. Even women who were born into rich families were not always given an education, so their voices remain largely unheard.

In 1735 Elizabeth Ayleworth tells how she was sexually assaulted after a man ‘endeavoured to put his hand under her petticoat’. Afterwards, he kicked her in the street and she was bedridden for three days. Even today, women who find the courage to speak out risk having their reputation called into question, so Elizabeth may have been a woman with some level of respect and social standing who felt her version of events would be believed.

In 1751 we hear from Jane Harrison of Woodchester, singlewoman, who accuses two men of poisoning her drink with Spanish Fly. This is a beetle which produces a toxic chemical called cantharidin, believed to be a sexual stimulant but is actually highly toxic. The two men accuse each other, then back track and one of them says they tried to reduce the amount. Their punishments are not given in the statement.

It’s easy to believe that women were regarded as totally unimportant, the property of their fathers or husbands. However the Quarter Sessions records include many cases where women come forward and publicly name and shame the men who abused them. This is one of the places where we can say that women were listened to.

In 1736 Anne Fox of Tytherington comes forward and accuses her husband of domestic abuse: ‘she is afraid he will kill her unless some means may be found to prevent him doing her further harm’. The court had previously fined him for this but it’s unclear whether the deterrent worked. We don’t know how Anne Fox ended up. Was she safe? Did she leave? We are left wanting to know the end of her story.

Many cases of bastardy appear because the parish wanted to determine who was financially responsible for the child. In 1745 Sarah Baker of Cirencester Stow, single woman, states ‘that William Banet had carnal knowledge of her body in the cloister at Gloucester’ and her child ‘when born is likely to be a bastard chargeable to the parish’. Her statement also specifies that she is saying this ‘voluntarily without compulsion’. This suggests there must have been women who were forced to come forward, even if they didn’t want to.

Attitudes towards women and issues affecting women shift back and forth, but some of the cases above will certainly resonate today.