Hello from a combination of my desk facing the wall (and just able to see the wooden sculpture being worked on, and the mosaics being installed) and Strongroom 11, which houses the bulk of the Dowty archive and where I seem to spend most of the time I’m not at my desk.
It is now 6 months since the project to work on the Dowty project formally started, which means I am a quarter of the way through – which is actually quite scary. But I’ve been working on it a bit before that too, and can finally say that I’m fairly up to speed with various engineering terms I had never heard about before, as well as the Dowty company structure, locations of its various offices and factories all over the world, and some key people within the Dowty group whose papers I am working on.
Dowty Rotol rugby sevens team from the 1950s
For those of you who don’t know, the Dowty archive takes up about 1500 boxes’ worth of space on our shelves. That’s a huge number of records, and my approach has been to work on the archive semi-systematically. When I first started, I spent quite a lot of time in the strongroom labelling boxes and noting what was in them, which had been roughly done on the outside anyway, and also opening up each transfer packet (the transfer packets tend to be stored out of boxes on the shelves, and probably take up about 1/3 of the space) and noting down in further detail what was in each packet. Once I’d finished that, I then went back to the beginning to work on the transfer packets as a proper listing project (rather than noting files down) and also to open up the boxes and list and package the material in those. The semi-systematic approach was a deliberate ploy to keep myself on my toes, as I had quickly realised that listing a lot of the same types of record would get quite dull! So I decided to work on a bay – 20 boxes – at a time and then moved on to some transfer packets for another 20 boxes’ worth, then back to the original boxes. Given that the first 78 boxes in the collection were very small files of correspondence relating to patents from the 1960s-1980s, this allowed me to step away from the world of patents and into the world of audits, or accounts, or legal files, before becoming tired of them and being able to surround myself in patents again.
At the time of writing, I have now listed, numbered and repackaged 173 boxes and 200 transfer packets, and the pace is quickening – depending on the material inside the box, I’m able to do between 3 and 8 boxes a day, but the first 80 boxes were very slow as there was so much in them, and this is now out of the way. I decided to repackage the items as I went along, and give them temporary numbers (the box number and a sub-number) so that when I come to The Big Sort towards the end of the project, all I will have to do is write the permanent catalogue numbers on the documents rather than fiddle around with folders and archive tape as well, which will also save time.
My aim is to have 500 of the 750 standard archive boxes of material listed and repackaged by the beginning of April next year, and 700 of the 1100 transfer packets. This means that the second half of the project will involve less listing and more sorting, and will also give me more time to tackle the photographic material and electronic material which is housed in our special photographic strongroom, which volunteers are starting to list now but which will need more careful packaging and storage, taking up more of my attention.
I have 5 on-site volunteers currently, and a further four who are involved in oral history interviews and work on our website, which has been taking shape and is really being populated after its launch at the end of August. I am about to welcome another volunteer and as I work on the material I keep finding tasks for volunteers to do. Two are working on patents, two (and the new volunteer) on photographs and one on site plans. I am really looking forward to volunteers getting bogged down in listing apprentice records and doing some social history research using the brochures and newsletters.
If you’d like to look at the website, the web address is www.dowtyheritage.org.uk. If you have any photographs or stories to share about the Dowty company, then the website is an opportunity to do that. It would be great to hear more stories and see more pictures from peoples’ time working for this massive company.