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“Traditional” skills needed by archivists today include
arrangement, description and an understanding of the importance of original
order. Applying all three skills/theories when repackaging and cataloguing a
series can lead to issues when original order is being kept to but does not fit
with the original order of the collection (you can find out more about
collections and series and their structure here). However this can be easily
solved with some Quantum Archiving (as thought of by our Archivist). In this week’s blog we look at what Quantum
Archiving is and how this has been applied in the Royal Voluntary Service
Archive & Heritage Collection.
Quantum Archiving is similar to the second interpretation of
Quantum theory known as the many-worlds or multiverse theory; where an object
can exist in many states in a number of parallel universes. In archiving, a collection could exist in
many states: analogue; digital or a reconstructed version e.g. in a transcript
to name a few. These formats would be in different places (universes) such as a
store room, a server or a database. Over
the years we have been working on preserving and making accessible the 300,000
fragile pieces of paper which hold the hidden histories of millions of women
and men who have given their time as volunteers to WVS and WRVS between 1938
and 1996 also known as the Narrative Reports. In 2018 we started work on more
recent reports written in 1980s and 1990s however this part of the series is
very different from earlier reports.
By 1980s the geographical structure of WRVS had changed from
being organised into twelve regions following the Civil Defence Corps
organisational structure to the follow Local Authorities restructured in 1974.
This meant WRVS was split into districts rather than centres, thus fewer
reports were produced and less frequently from monthly to quarterly and finally
biannually. As well as writing monthly narrative reports areas particularly
counties wrote annual reports. These reports were usually kept separately in
the archive’s collections from the Narrative Reports however when the 1980s
annual reports for some counties and districts arrived at HQ they were stored
with the Narrative Reports for those areas.
When volunteers started working on the reports carrying out
basic preservation and giving sub series reference numbers they noticed that
sat on top were some annual reports. The team then discussed what we should do
and how they should be ordered. Should they
be classed as Narrative Reports? Should they be moved to the collection of annual
reports? It was decided that the physical order should be kept as the
original order while the catalogue record, reference and description would
reflect the order of the rest of the archive’s theoretical structure e.g.
fonds, series and files. Therefore the annual reports exist in two different states
in two different “universes”; the physical and the theoretical. To further
complicate matters the 1980s and 1990s reports are ordered differently to the
1938-1979 reports. Earlier reports are ordered by region then date then county
then centre but after 1980 they have been ordered by region then county then
centre then date. A slight difference but means that they are physically stored
in their original state but described and referenced as the rest of the series
In conclusion arrangement and description (including
reference) do not always fall in to line in archiving. Therefore a collection
can exist in two different states in a physical and theoretical/digital world. This
example is just one of many and I’m sure we will continue receiving surprises
from the Narrative Report collection which makes us look at the different ways
it can exist.
The Second World War started (in Europe) on 1st September 1939 nearly 80 years ago. WVS had been established just over a year; not long after the start of the war it was Christmas. As I was thinking about writing this blog to go out the week before Christmas Eve I wondered what the WVS were up to at this time of year. I could have chosen anywhere but one of the first documents to jump out at me was a programme of Christmas activities from Rickmansworth WVS 1939. Looking at the Narrative Reports from the area for December 1939 to 1944 you can clearly see that just because it was Christmas WVS work didn’t stop. These are just a few examples of activities in Rickmansworth, taken from the Narrative Reports.
WVS Rickmansworth, like all other WVS centres in Evacuation zones, during the war organised various entertainments for children and adults who were a long way from home just after being evacuated in September 1939. Activities included film showings, dancing, gymnastics, games, singing and parties. Over the years activities changed, in 1941 the Evacuee Club held an exhibition of needlework including clothing such as frocks, dressing gown and children’s clothes. In 1942 the WVS held two parties for under-fives which was considered a great success as you can see in the extract below from December that Year.
Of course the WVS didn’t just spend December running children’s parties they also had other duties to perform. Activities included salvage in 1941 they campaigned to collect paper from houses driving around using the loudspeaker on the WVS Van. Knitting also continued during the season of good will in 1941 47 pull overs were knitted for the Merchant Navy and members began knitting gum boot stockings for Russia. In 1942 they received an urgent request for sweaters and socks for Malta; 114lb was distributed to knitters for the job. Work with the Red Cross also continued in 1941 they had the Russian Red Cross sale for Mrs Churchill’s Fund and the WVS were able to raise £210 (c£8262.74 in today’s money). In 1942 a WVS party made soft toys and raised £59.16.8d (c£2,354.23 in today’s money) for the local Red Cross group. As you can see many activities were business as usual for WVS of Rickmansworth.
Supporting the Armed Services based in Hertfordshire was a large part of WVS Rickmansworth’s work in 1941 and 1942 with a variety of activities in December of Both Years. In December 1941 The Troops Hut was completed with electricity and lino installed. It also had a radio gram and ping pong table. The WVS opened the Hut on Christmas day for 200 men who spent the evening playing games. In Both years WVS held a concert for the RAF Benevolent Fund in 1942 they raised £18.10.0d (c£727.91 in today’s money) for the fund. Looking after the services didn’t just include the Army and RAF there was also the Home Guard to support. In Both years the Home Guard were on exercises and WVS served tea to them from a mobile canteen. Another Service provided by the WVS all year round was camouflage nets. WVS’s role garnishing camouflage nets began in the early years of the war but the scheme wasn’t official until June 1943. Rickmansworth WVS were already working on this before it became official and included other work for the services in this role as you can see from this Narrative Report Extract, December 1942.
This week’s blog has focused on WVS Rickmansworth’s work during the Decembers of 1939, 1941 and 1942. Unfortunately in our Headquarters collection of Narrative Reports there are not many for this area in Hertfordshire and we haven’t been able to look into the Christmases of 1943 and 1944. It is more than likely that these missing reports were written and one of the quadruplet copies arrived at Headquarters. However in 1970s Region 4 was heavily weeded as all regions had different rules for what was kept at that time we have less information about local offices in the Home Counties and East Anglia areas. Although this is the case for Rickmansworth you can see from just a few reports how much was going on during the Second World War and how much time the women of Rickmansworth were giving to help people keep up moral at this time of year.
From 1938-1942, our collection holds 31,401 pages of Narrative Reports. These reports were sent to the headquarters of the WVS at 41 Tothill Street, London. This allowed members at HQ to be able to keep track of all WVS activities in the country.
Due to the unique structure of the WVS, duplicate copies of the monthly diaries were also sent to our county offices, whilst keeping the original reports at the individual centres. This set up allowed each section of the organisation to monitor what was going on. It also meant that a chain of communication could be rapidly established between WVS Headquarters and WVS members throughout the country. Due to the existence of these multiple copies, an identical monthly report will occasionally pop up. Whilst it would be wonderful to have duplicates of every diary, it would rather limit our shelf space.
To handle the massive influx of Narrative Reports each month, members at headquarters tagged specific reports that were considered important enough to be read by the heads of department. By 1942, there were just over 2000 centres across the country. With each centre sending in one report per month, Tothill Street must have had one of the busiest letter boxes in London.
After the introduction of the archive in 1958, the reports were filed in brown card folders with their respective location hand written in blue and red ink. The reports are still in their original files today, but they have been repackaged in acid-free folders and placed into boxes to help maintain their condition. Unfortunately, members of the WVS probably didn’t realise how significant these documents would become so not all of the reports have survived the test of time. This is particularly stark in Region 4 (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk), as the reports were weeded to save space. As a result, Region 4 has by far the fewest number of reports.
Nevertheless, their survival is testament to the members of the WVS that decided the reports were worth keeping. A member from the WVS centre for Worcester wholeheartedly agreed with the great work happening at headquarters and consequently wrote this excellent poem.
A most exciting place to be,
I’m sure that you will all agree,
is in Headquarters, Tothill Street,
For, there, you’re almost sure to meet
With many famous people who
Are bent in seeing their country through.
The smallish muddles that arise
And cause the gov’ment much surprise;
The minor details that occur,
Apart from battles, as it were.
For instance, take Evacuation;
Who copes with urns at every station?
Who takes the children for a ride
Into the pleasant countryside?
Who kindly helps the I.C.C
To sort out each evacuee
Who has some clothing coupons owing
Because their clothes they are outgrowing?
Who interviews the under-fives
And helps to save their little lives?
And who persuades the very aged
A dang’rous war is now being waged
And they could better serve the nation
By going to some safe situation?
Who manages the Clothing Centres?
And laughs at all such misadventures
As parcels of damp frocks and jackets?
Or books in ladies’ clothing packets?
Or take the case of Demolition!
Who gets the canteens in position?
And helps to feed with buns and tea
The men who labour constantly
To make the place “as safe as houses”?
And who is it the police arouses
Whenever any help is needed
Knowing the always have succeeded?
The noble wears-out very slowly!
And may they be successful wholly
How good they are, p’rhaps you guess!
Our grand H.Q., WVS!
One of WVS’s main wartime activities was
salvage; many of the WVS Centre Organisers kept fairly extensive notes on
their salvage activities. Their activties were usually described within the monthly Narrative Reports. Occasionally however, some of the
original reports written by WVS Salvage Officers which influenced those reports were retained and sent to Headquarters.
The Salvage Officer for Melton Mowbray (in Leicestershire) is just one example as many of her monthly accounts have been kept
in the Archive & Heritage Collection alongside the monthly Narrative
Reports they accompany. These reports provide a detailed account of the salvage
activities Melton Mowbray during the Second World War. Lets take a closer look at some of those reports.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, January 1942 (Page 4)
It is clear from this report that Melton Mowbray had improved its salvage activity compared to the previous year. This was largely due to the fact that the town engaged in creating salvage awareness. Equally impressive, was the collation of information regarding local businesses and their methods of paper disposal. This would have allowed the WVS to have access to a greater amount of paper that could be salvaged and consequently re-pulped. The efficiency of Salvage Organiser is not to be underestimated.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, April 1942 (page 10)
This report illustrates how the WVS in Melton Mowbray contributed to persuading the nation of the importance of salvage. For example, members of the WVS visited Nottingham University to listen to a well-attended lecture on salvage activities. After listening to the speech, they set up their own series of lectures within local schools. This was to help facilitate the Cog Scheme, which encouraged children to participate in salvage collection. These talks proved to be highly successful, as salvage collections in every borough began to increase significantly. After these early accomplishments, the WVS introduced rewards to continue to encourage children to help with the collections. For example, badges representing a cog-wheel was an excellent way of rewarding the most enthusiastic children. Melton Mowbray’s Salvage Organiser was also highly keen on winning the regional waste paper competition.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire October 1942 (page 24)
Despite having a population of only 12,000 citizens, Melton Mowbray had managed to collect 14cwts of bones in the month of September In today’s terms, this works out as 711kg. This figure was considered to be a considerable achievement by the WVS in Melton, because bone collection had always been the most difficult of all the salvageable materials to obtain. This was partly due to the fact that people did not enjoy the smell and general unpleasantness surrounded by food waste. To counteract this problem, the WVS responded accordingly by introducing bins for bones that would contain the odour issue.
Overall these reports illustrate the importance of salvage to Melton Mowbray and the effort WVS went to during the Second World War to boost moral and reach targets for collecting salvage. The stories told from the point of view of the salvage office have been retained and survived for over 70 years. They have been digitised and published online, you can go to Archive Online and search for them or use our handy Guide to Archive Online page. Hopefully you will discover many more stories about salvage.
The Archive & Heritage
collection was formed in 1958, the year before WVS’s 21st
Anniversary as the Archives and Central Records Department. The members of this
department’s first purpose was to search through files for important original
reports, letters, etc. to find those of historical interest and importance. I
truly sympathise with having to assess twenty years’ worth of material and
having to take key decisions which would affect future generations
understanding of the WVS.
The department started out with a
number of part-time works all with different tasks to complete and a Head of Department
to oversee them. It is funny how very little changes in 60 years, although a
little different with a full time Deputy Archivist and Archives Assistant
(working on the Hidden History of a Million Women Project), there is still an
Archivist and a team of volunteers who help out with the collection anywhere
from two hours to a whole day every week.
We don’t know very much about the
thoughts of the women first involved in bringing this invaluable collection
together, even though they knew there was ‘a real need for such a department’
in 1958, apart from what is written in the Annual Reports. However occasionally
when sorting through the collection something catches your eye; though it wasn’t
shinny and it didn’t look particularly interesting while repackaging the
collection of General Publications on Friday afternoon I came across WVS/WRVS Archives Notes for Guidance
1973 (there are also copies for 1975 and 1981).
This small booklet with a Green
front cover shows how over 15 years the thinking in the Archive was developing
and they were getting to grips with the records they held. They were there to
collate a complete library of papers concerning policy, operational works and
records of WVS/WRVS from 1938 onwards. At the end of the booklet they list all
the documents being kept in the Archive including Annual Reports,
Bulletin/Magazine, Miscellaneous Memoranda and Narrative Reports which with
many more documents, photographs, publications and objects still reside in the
collection today. What interested me most about this booklet was what it said
about Narrative Reports:
“A complete set of Narrative
Reports form all Regions is held in WRVS Headquarters Archives.
No Narrative Reports should be
destroyed without consultation, as arrangements for keeping them vary from
Region to Region”
This might explain why the number
of reports in today’s collection varies so much from region to region.
Devizes is home to the Royal Voluntary Service Archive and Heritage Collection, it is also home to me, Ezra Bigland. I have recently started volunteering here at the Archive during my gap year and have been given use of the archive to research the local activities of Royal Voluntary Service (then known as the Women’s Voluntary Services for Civil Defence) during the 1950s in my hometown of Devizes.
The Narrative Reports – monthly records of each branch’s activities – available here at the archive demonstrate the breadth of services WVS provided, from visiting the elderly and doing their shopping to giving lessons in First Aid and holding the 1-in-5 lectures throughout Devizes and its surrounding villages. Mrs Elsie Proudman, Centre Organiser for Devizes, and Mrs Patricia Forbes, Centre Organiser for the surrounding rural communities, were the women responsible for writing these monthly reports. Mrs Proudman focused on the social activities of the centre, pouring tea and visiting the elderly, whilst in those submitted by Mrs Forbes we see her priority shift from these social aspects to a more educative campaign on issues of Civil Defence.
The 1950s represented an important and uneasy decade. On the one hand the Allies had prevailed over the Axis powers and World War Two was over, on the other, a bipolar prism of East and West had very quickly emerged with the start of the Cold War in 1949. The prospect of peace had been dashed and the immediate post-war sentiments of hope and optimism slowly gave way to new fears as a sinister new threat emerged; Communism and its aggressively expansive incarnation – the Soviet Union.
WVS played an important part in responding to these threats, with the support of the Home Office the WVS began an educational campaign teaching ordinary women basic First Aid and practical skills required to best face the unique threats that the nuclear age presented. The Narrative Reports of Mrs Forbes, specify the number of women who had witnessed the ‘One-in-Five’ talks, lectures designed to provide at least one-in-five British women with the basic skills of Civil Defence.
It may seem a strange juxtaposition to associate Royal Voluntary Service – an organisation known best today for its work with older people - with the broad international political landscape of the 1950s, yet as the monthly Narrative Reports for Devizes show, the Women’s Voluntary Services for Civil Defence played an important educative role in equipping the women of Devizes, and those around the rest of the country, with the basic skills of Civil Defence, a programme which was approved and funded by the Home Office.
WVS also maintained an important social role; working with the elderly, visiting hospitals, arranging flowers and pouring an ever-welcome cup of tea. Whilst the Narrative Reports of Mrs Forbes extensively detail the organisation’s political role, those kept by the long serving Mrs Proudman – a pillar of charitable and civic life in Devizes, after whom a street has been named –detail the social responsibilities of the WVS. Both Mrs Proudman and Mrs Forbes gave great service to the town of Devizes, the fact that Mrs Proudman focused her time on social duties and Mrs Forbes on issues of Civil Defence demonstrates the breadth of service the WVS performed in 1950s Devizes. This variety of focus demonstrates how the WVS was personally shaped by the strong leadership of ordinary women up and down the country, women with greatly differing outlooks and priorities.
On another level it seems that the WVS filled a need for a post-war recalibration of the woman’s role, whereas a decade previously the collective effort of war had redefined the working lives of women and provided a true sense of purpose, the 1950s could have easily felt an anti-climax. The work of the WVS in 1950s Devizes can therefore be seen as a continuation of this wartime spirit, the principles of charity, selflessness and service perpetuated on a new and expanding platform. This was the realisation of what Lady Reading the WVS’s founder had envisaged.
The WVS undoubtedly had a strong presence in Devizes in the 1950s, with the matriarchal leadership of Mrs Proudman and Mrs Forbes countless elderly people were visited, innumerable cups of tea were poured and unending library books were distributed. But more than these valuable and unashamedly simple acts of service the WVS brought to Devizes and its surrounding villages an educational campaign designed to equip its people against the political and humanitarian uncertainty that loomed as the century marched on.
Posted by Ezra Bigland, Archive Volunteer at 09:00
Monday, 22 August 2016.
One in Five,
More news from around the country, originally these stories
were submitted by Centre Organisers on the back of the Narrative Reports and
selected by the editors of the Bulletin for publication. These are just a few activities
from August 1949.
Centre Organiser has since 1942
collected, sorted and packed, with help, no less than 35 tons 2 qrs. 15 lbs. of
salvage, realising £169 18s. 5d. in all. Aled covers 110 square miles, and the
work was done in a shed known as the “WVS hut.” If records of the work done
previous to 1942 were available they would show a great achievement.
Outing organised by WVS car drivers;
about 80 old people, many of whom are taken to and from hospitals for
treatment, were invited to a picnic at Hassocks. Ice cream and a magnificent tea
were provided in the grounds of a private house. Each driver used his or her
own car, and everything was provided by voluntary contributions.
WVS running an Information Bureau
at a Military Camp are dealing with a number of unexpected domestic requests,
one of them being from a soldier for the loan of a pair of scissors to trim his
moustache before meeting his wife!
Over 200 cans of peaches and
goose berries were canned at the Widowers’ Children’s Home, Murrayfield,
Edinburgh, last week. The staff and older children joined in and enjoyed it as
much as WVS.
Have a cup of tea? WVS have served
at the Royal East Sussex Hospital Canteen during the last four months, 1,031
tea meals and 1,329 cups of tea.
On the occasion of the opening of
the new Danish Mission at Newcastle, WVS were asked to escort eight Danish
ladies, widows of officers and men who had died in the last war. The ladies had
a very heavy shopping list and it kept the five WVS escorts exceedingly busy to
assist in buying all the raincoats, belts, suits, cases, etc., as well as 8
lbs. of coffee and cocoa! Flowers and small
posies were purchased to carry to the Commemoration Service and after WVS had
accompanied them back to the hotel a terrific sorting of parcels took place.
They then went to the Danish Centre where WVS bade them goodbye.
suggestion of the WVS Centre Organiser there is to be a goat class at the Roos
Show, and the judge is to be another WVS Centre Organiser who is also the
Secretary of the Yorkshire Goat Society. This is the first time a goat class
has been arranged for a show in the East Riding.
WVS stepped into the breach and
presented a bride with a silver horseshoe on her parent’s behalf as they could
not be present at their daughter’s wedding and they had written to WVS for
help. The bride later came to thank WVS for its great assistance at the
Registry Office, etc., and presented WVS with a delightful bouquet of flowers.
Here at the archive much of our time is spent answering enquiries from members of the public and Royal Voluntary Service staff and volunteers, in fact we receive about 200 a year. But like London buses they all seem to come along at once.
This month we have had a small deluge of family and local history enquiries, requests from students and media companies to authors and people looking to donate material to the archive.
One of my favourite requests was from a gentleman who has donated 200 Civil Defence Welfare Section recipe cards to the archive (which as I write this have yet to arrive). Each card with a different recipe for feeding 5,000 people at a time, imagine that, the quantities are mind boggling!
We also had request for information on one of our Regional Administrators during the war, Mrs Vera Dart who looked after Region 10 (Cumberland, Lancashire and Cheshire for the uninitiated!) for an author who is publishing a book about her.
A lady rang up asking us to identify what had come in a small white cardboard box, which had “presented by Lady Reading 1940” written on the back. The answer? It was her WVS membership badge. A lucky lady to be presented with it by the Chairman!
We have also lent out this month our entire stock of wartime loan uniforms for events being held by Royal Voluntary Services around the country, they have been at the Dig for Victory Show in Bristol, as wells as other promotional events around the country from Sheffield to Hampshire, the uniforms always attracting much attention.
Finally in this small selection, we have helped an academic who is looking at how our narrative reports might be able to help track changes in society and policy over time. This may turn out to be an exciting project for the future!
Posted by Matthew McMurray, Royal Voluntary Service Archivist at 09:00
Monday, 27 July 2015.
Region 10 ,
Lady Reading ,
For those of of you gripped with Olympic mania, I've found a little something for you from our 1948 Narrative Reports, these extracts are taken from the London area reports.
In 2012, 70,000 volunteers have been recruited to welcome and direct spectators and athletes. If you've been to London in the last week, you'll have seen someone to help at virtually street corner.
In 1948, we had WVS!
July, August, September 1948
The Olympic Games
At the request of the British Tourist and Holidays Association, WVS in the London region were asked to staff information bureaux for Olympic Games visitors who arrived at Victoria, Waterloo, St. Pancras and Liverpool Street Stations and also at Wembley Park and at the Stadium itself.
Foreigners who arrived without having booked rooms were referred to the Central Accommodation Bureau and others were told how to reach their hotels or lodgings and were given answers to a multitude of extremely varied questions. WVS received most valuable assistance from the Girl Guides and members of the WJAC who were most helpful as messengers and also over escorting strangers in a strange land to their buses or tube stations. The bureaux at Wembley Park Station and at the stadium were staffed from 10 a.m. till 10 p.m. by the local WVS every day including Sundays.
As well as undertaking this exacting job, the Wembley WVS escorted seven hundred Italians and five hundred French people to their billets in the area, many of the final journeys taking place between 2 and 3 p.m. A Stanmore WVS member got into touch with a contingent of the Swedish Lottaocerstyrelsen who were looking after members of the Swedish teams and were housed in a local school. These Swedish girls were extremely interested in the Meals on Wheels service and two of them accompanied WVS on one round, talking to the old people and taking many photographs en route.
WVS were asked to undertake mending for some of the Olympic teams were living in West Drayton, but although a large quantity of wool was collected and WVS were ready to deal with all sorts of repairs, only six pairs of socks in need of mending materialised! WVS who staffed the information bureaux and helped the foreign visitors in many ways a;; agreed that it had been a job which was well worth doing and the foreigners seemed extremely grateful and appreciative of WVS help and advice and many of them said it had made all the difference to their stay in this country.
14th Olympiad at Wembley Stadium
We had a tremendously busy time during the period of the games. Our two main stations, Wembley Park, and Wembley Central and Information Bureaus which were staffed by our members from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. including Sundays.
Accommodation was arranged, advice given, and information of all kinds were required. 700 Italian and 500 French visitors were escorted to their billets in Wembley, for which they were all very grateful. Many letters of thanks have been received from them. Although we were all tired at the conclusion of the games, it was a most interesting time.
Report on the Olympic Information Bureaux
Two Bureaux were opened in Wembley - one at Wembley Central Station and one at Wembley Park from July 26th to August 9th from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day, Sundays included.
The primary object of these bureau was to direct visitors to their accommodations but there were only about six applications for this assistance. The greater part of the work was done at the office at Wembley Park (adjacent to the Station).
Very many enquiries were dealt with, Chiefly in connection with tickets, lost property, places of interest and how to reach them and we were asked to mind a small child whilst the mother returned to the Stadium to search for a lost bag.
On Wednesday the 28th July I was approached by a French representative of a travel agency who asked us to take 250 French visitors to their accommodation in various parts of Wembley, Harrow, Pinner and Edgware. The next day was spent in sorting the vouchers into their correct districts and order. Having, a short time before this, given a talk to members of the Wembley Round Table on the work of WVS from 1939 to the present day, they were so impressed that they offered assistance at any time. I took them at their word and called upon six owner-drivers to assist in distributing this large number of French people. Only four WVS members were able to help as this work started at mid-night and ended at three a.m. and there was no means of others getting home.
On Aug. 3rd a similar party of French arrived at 9-45 a.m. This time being escorted by WVS members to their accommodation by bus and train. On Aug. 10th a party of 729 Italian visitors arrived in Wembley at 8.45 a.m. food parcels supplied by a London firm, were distributed to each visitor by WVS before being taken by coach (AWVS member in each coach as Hostess and Guide) to addresses in Wembley, Pinner, Harrow and Edgware.