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(or an archivist by any other name would still be an
Very recently there has been a lot of discussion about what
an archivist is and how they identify themselves within the world of heritage
and history. The most recent term to be used is the Hybrid Archivist. They are defined as an archivist who manages
hybrid collections (mix of analogue and digital) but also bring traditional and
new skills together, but isn’t this what every archivist has been doing, even
since Jenkinson and Schellenberg’s time?
The rapid changes in technology, culture and society through
the twentieth and twenty-first Centuries have meant archivists have had to
adapt new ways to conserve archives such as film, cassette tapes, CDs and
photographs. Looking after a collection does not just mean preserving it archivists
should have IT, communication, volunteer management and social media experience
to name a few examples. Thus again I will point out that archivists should be
whatever their collections need them to be to balance preservation and access. They
should not be trying to identify themselves to fit with new terms or
Here at the Royal Voluntary Service we use a range of skills
every day for example this was all the different tasks we completed last Monday.
08:00 – arrived at the archive on foot, I could not be
bothered to get the bicycle out of the shed. Checked emails for enquiries had
none and proceed to start my “favourite” job labelling. Our Archives Assistant
also arrives and sets up the digitisation equipment to begin photographing more
Narrative Reports written between 1943 and 1945.
09:00 – first volunteers arrive one is working on sorting a
photograph collection, the other is writing a blog we have a quick discussion
about this and other jobs which can be done today.
10:30 – the blog is finished and ready to be posted, my
labelling is abandoned for a while I lay this up, post it online, send out
update to mailing lists and prepare social media posts. In this time two more
volunteers have arrived they are repackaging and have a question about the
reference for Radnorshire it is RAD.
11:00 – discussion with volunteer who is working on a local
office collection about how to create labels for the boxes. Also talk about Continue
with my own labelling. Man arrives to check the fire alarms.
12:00 - an enquiry has arrived as I have chosen to answer
any enquiries today I work on this. The enquirer wants to know if we have any
images for Carshalton WVS making Chess Pieces out of Cotton reels in World War
II we do, which is a nice surprise and I ask them to fill in a copyright form.
Also help volunteer who is working on the photograph collection to identify
what is happening in each image and where they belong in the collection.
1:00 – Lunch time conversation turns to The Silk Worm and
Strictly Come Dancing
2:00 – back to work on the labelling for the afternoon as well as the odd administrative task.
"The archivist is dead long live the archivist"
Last week I attended my first
Archives and Records Association (ARA) Conference in Manchester, where the main
theme appeared to be how we identify ourselves as Archivists and how the heritage
sector is changing. Ideas ranged from the definition of appraisal, search room experience,
community engagement and skills. However the main topic of discussion was the
role of the Archivist.
There appeared to be a move away
from the traditional archivist protector of records and preserver of history
with a set of core skills which stood them apart from the museum curator. In their
place stands the postmodern archivist who is all things to all men, a heritage professional,
throwing open the doors of the archive, engaging with the community and letting
go of their control. By this they mean allowing others use the archive how they
want and not be told how it should be used or how they can access it.
Looking into the theory is all
well and good but what about the practicalities of being an archivist, how are
these ideas applied.
Let’s put this into the context
of the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection and a more practical
definition of an archivist. In my career I have worn a few different guises as
a cataloguing coordinator, project archivist and deputy archivist and have
moved from traditional to sort of post-modern to somewhere in-between. Most of
what was said at conference applied to local record offices who are becoming
destinations for tourists like museums and facing different situations to a
Here the role of an archivist is
to preserve the history of the WVS, WRVS and Royal Voluntary Service and to
make sure it is accessible now and in the future through cataloguing,
digitisation, and a remote enquiry service and through working with colleagues
managing our services. The Archivists are also there to support the work of the
charity. It is not yet time for us to let go but we can still be innovative e.g.
Voices of Volunteering and Hidden history of a million wartime women. These
were projects which came from and where directed by the archives but upheld the
values of the postmodern archivist and did them well; including community
engagement (local, national, global) and providing access to records and
information about the charity. We also hold what might be deemed a museum
collection of objects and uniform but we care for them as archivists. We don’t
yet have exhibition space to display these items but make them accessible
through remote outreach such as our timeline. In this archive we are a mix of
the two perhaps we should be called revisionist archivists not quite in the
time of Jenkinson but pragmatic enough to change and develop when necessary. Essentially
we don’t prioritise preservation or access but try to balance them out.
As with many things there is no definite
definition of an archivist because it depends on many factors including where you
work and the collections you work with. The Archivist is whoever we or our
collections need us to be.
This week we bring you another Heritage Bulletin Vlog, the script can be seen below.
Hello and welcome back to another Heritage Bulletin Vlog we’ve been very busy over the last few months with lots of exciting projects like the launch of our Narrative reports on our online archive.
In 1950 a report called WVS Work in Hospitals, said that “the effect of a cup of tea is magical” and looking at the many objects which represent tea and its importance to the organisation is like looking down a rabbit hole, you never know what you might find. Here in front of me are just a couple of examples of the mugs and tea pots we have produced over the years.
Providing tea and food during World War II was a main feature of WVS work so I thought I’d share a tea related story with you this week called Caravan Canteen.
“A hospital train pulled into the siding. Stretcher-bearers clambered out. They set their stretchers down and the casualties came to life and converged upon us. We were surrounded. “Coffee? Tea? Soup?”
The soup came out of the tap in a reddish gush into the white mug. An aged man conspicuously labelled fractured femur sniffed at it with the sagacity of an ancient foxhound. “Tomato soup”, I improvised. “Or would you rather have tea?” fractured Femur nodded. I drew off a mugful from the other urn. It swirled into the mug with a deep and greenish look, as if from the dark backward and abysm of time.
“WVS colours, huh?” said a voice in the crowd”. But they drank up, and after the first urn was emptied the tea came out a better colour."
That’s all we have time for but you can read the full story by clicking on the link below.
WVS Bulletin March 1940 page 7
As the Deputy Archivist I am constantly looking at ways to make our collections more accessible. At Royal Voluntary Service we have run a small number of digitisation projects and opened an enquiry Service (running since 2013) but there are large parts of our collection which remain uncatalogued and only accessible to the Archives team. One way of tackling this is to create finding aids; they are defined as a document containing detailed information about a specific collection of papers or records within an archive. Finding aids are used by researchers to determine whether information within a collection is relevant to their research. Thus over the years we have used collections to create a number of fact sheets to help researchers gain an understanding of different services we have provided since 1938.
The fact sheets on our main site cover a number of topics including:
Health and Hospital Work 1938-2013 – this is a comprehensive look at the work of WVS and WRVS in hospitals since it was founded. Research to compile this document included Central Registry files, publications local office collection accessions and Narrative Reports.
Roll of Honour and History of the Roll of Honour – the former document is a colour copy of the beautifully illustrated book which contains the names of 245 WVS members who were killed during the Second World War. The latter explains its history and compilation, providing you with access to the history of this very important Roll of Honour.
WVS Uniform – on our website you can choose two ways to learn about the history of our uniform and how Royal Voluntary Service has chosen to represent itself. There is the more traditional factsheet containing a number of pictures of wartime uniform with descriptions and it uses publications to provide details on the costs. There is also a video which explores all uniforms from WVS for ARP to Royal Voluntary Service a quick guide with images, publications and uniforms all with video commentary to help you move from Green and red to orange and purple and then back to green and red.
There are also fact sheets on:
• The origins of Meals on Wheels
• Darby and Joan Clubs
• One in Five
• Salvage on the Home Front
• Story of WVS Bristol
• Origins of WVS
• Narrative Reports
• Books on WVS and WRVS
And copies of documents
• Ten Years Work (1938-48)
• WVS Housewives Service
There are also some shorter one page factsheets on our Voices of Volunteering schools resources pages which can help researchers to understand a topic before going to look at the online catalogue for more information about their chosen subject. These factsheets include:
• Books on Wheels
• Clothing Depots
• Darby & Joan Clubs
• Good neighbours
• Hospital canteens
• Lunch Clubs
• Meals on Wheels
• Psychiatric Hospitals
• Services Welfare
All our factsheets aim to provide you with source material which isn’t available or easily accessible in other forms. We hope you will take a look, absorb the information and perhaps start some research of your own into our history. If you have any specific questions get in touch with our remote enquiry service.
Nettles and broken gramophone records, just a couple of the things we don’t search for very often in the collection however this month both cropped up in our Twitter and Facebook accounts. Both were collected by WVS during the war, nettles for medicinal purposes as much needed herbs and gramophone records for recycling; at the time they would have called this salvage. Inspired by our social media posts and some comments from our followers I decided to embark on some research in the collection. I wanted to find out about Royal Voluntary Service’s relationship with nettles and gramophone records. This is what I found
If you type in the word nettle or nettles into the catalogue you will find 3 mentions in the Bulletin between 1943 and 1969.
In 1942 WVS started to collect much needed herbs for medicinal purposes to assist with the war effort. In that year, nationally, they collected 60 tons of the herbaceous perennial flowering plant. Along with dandelion leaves, burdock leaves/roots and elder flowers to name a few it was considered to be of secondary purpose but I’m sure they were collected with just as much enthusiasm as rose hips or valerian root. Nettles along with some other herbs don’t really get a mention after the war however they are referred to in the Bulletin in August 1960.
The article A London Herb Garden written by a Bon Viveur describes in detail the plans for a garden at a decrepit Georgian house in Blackheath. Part of the article discusses what the herbs they grow will be used for. This includes Cumberland and Westmoreland herb puddings a recipe which includes bistort and “nettles of course!” Today, I don’t think we always associate nettles as being useful or something we would consume and of course they can always feature in a well told story like MUM’S STAND-IN from March 1969.
[I] hoped that the recipients would tolerate my inexperience and help me out, which of course they did and if they felt any surprise that their regular helper wasn't there they never expressed it and perhaps enjoyed initiating a young stranger in the rituals of delivering Meals on Wheels. First problem-to find the right door-at No. 5 . . . Place. The slippery brick path lies between nettles on one side and rows of dustbins on the other side and the latch of the gate round the bend to the left is held by string, but the peeling kitchen door is ajar and the matches actually are behind the Ajax, and Mrs. D. seems really pleased to see the steaming steak and kidney pie going into the oven and the fruit and custard on a plate on the table. … But it is very hard to get away quickly from the flats for Mrs. F. is giving the baker's roundsman a cup of tea and she hurries to find another cup for me, but eventually reconciles herself merely to pressing two peppermints into my hand to help me on the way. Bang goes my diet!
This segment from an Oxford Narrative Report mentions broken gramophone records being collected for salvage. According to other sources this was for recycling into new records. However a quick search for gramophone records in the collection shows the WVS didn’t just collect broken ones for salvage. Those in Good condition were obtained for troop canteens, book depots and a Gramophone lending library at Scottish Headquarters.
You can read the rest of the Article from the Bulletin September 1944 online.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this odd assortment of stories about two completely unrelated topics and perhaps you’ll be inspired to conduct your own search of the online catalogue. Happy hunting!
Recently I have been cataloguing the Circular Notices which were produced by WVS and WRVS between 1938 and 1974. It is interesting what is contained within these files and what they tell us about the inner workings of WVS and WRVS. One such notice I came across was related to the General Election in 1945. Royal Voluntary Service, even when it was a Crown Service, has never been a political organisation and in this week’s blog we will discuss that neutral status as well as the circular notice I discovered.
The origins of the WVS are slightly complicated and it is unclear whose idea it was to start an organisation to recruit and train women in ARP roles in 1938. What we do know is that it was Lady Reading founded an organisation which would continue to grow through the Second World War in number and scope. In the beginning it was suggested that work with the Home Office; it originally operated as a Crown Service with a grant of around £15,000 a year from Government. However WVS was not a political organisation and Lady Reading aimed to keep it as independent as possible from Government.
In its first seven years WVS worked under a coalition Government, the General Election which was due in 1940 was not held because of the Second World War. However in 1945 Churchill called a General Election which he and the Conservatives lost to Clement Atlee and the Labour Party. As mentioned above WVS was not a political organisation and in Circular Notice CN.A.9/45 Position of WVS members to Political Work 14.5.45 Headquarters sent out the following information to members.
The position of WVS members in regard to undertaking work for the political parties was recently considered at a conference at Headquarters at which representatives from all the regions were present. It was the opinion of the conference that members of the WVS playing any part in Party Politics and Local Government Elections must do so in a private capacity and not in uniform and this is the general ruling which has been adopted.
CN.A.9/45 Position of WVS members to Political Work 14.5.45
It is, of course, of first importance that the Non-Party character of WVS should be maintained, and the following questions and answers have been framed to give guidance on political points which may arise. Each member is asked to observe the regulations laid down, but, more than that, it will depend on the good judgement and taste, and personal integrity of every member whether Non-party character of the WVS can be preserved in the spirit as well as in the letter, when elections take place in this country.
The Questions and answers included the following:
Q.3. Can a Candidate who is elected resume her WVS work?
CN.A.9/45 Position of WVS members to Political Work 14.5.45
A. No. It is in the in the interests of the nation that she devotes herself to her Parliamentary duties.
Q.8. Can WVS members who are doing political work during an election wear their uniform or badge?
A. During an election period WVS members may wear their uniform and/or badge when they are doing their WVS work, but neither uniform nor badge must be worn while doing political work or attending meetings.
Q.2. What is the position regarding WVS offices etc., in premises belonging to political parties?
A. These offices should be vacated and others found to replace them as soon as possible.
If you would like to know which other questions were included please contact our enquiry service.
The similar information was produced in the Bulletin in October 1951 another election year.
Over the years WVS and WRVS continued to promote it's non-party status to members. In 1992 WRVS became a Charity it was no longer a Crown Service and began to find ways to fundraise for itself, it also remained politically neutral. Today Royal Voluntary Service as well as providing services for older people also works on a national level to raise awareness of the issues older people face. We do this through our media campaigns and research.
Part of an archivist role is to allow access to the archives
they care for, one way of doing this is through outreach work. As many of you
will know here we run a remote enquiry service and cannot allow the public
physical access to our records however we still manage to provide outreach
through online educational resources. Over the years I have found that a lot of
archive outreach programmes focus on history but if in theory we don’t keep
archives for historical purposes why should we only promote them in teaching
that subject? Last year we launched the Voices of Volunteering School Resources; they aim to provide learning materials for educators teaching a
variety of subjects and skills.
Using our resources can actively help pupils to take part in
volunteering and learn how to be good citizens and improve society. Firstly
pupils learn about the role of Royal Voluntary Service today caring for older
people through the memories of volunteers recorded in oral histories. The other
resource discusses how in the 1990s WRVS moved from a Crown Service to a
Charity and how volunteers started to fundraise in their local areas. They aim
to encourage pupils to raise money for the charity in schools. It also uses
some recipes from the Bulletin, volunteers and Civil Defence Cards to inspire
ideas. Both resources focus on Citizenship, English and volunteering using
archives and teaches skills such as planning, collaboration,
problem solving, advocacy, campaigning and evaluation.
The second set of lesson plans encourages students to get involved in debates surrounding
volunteering and citizenship by using oral histories to highlight volunteers
opinions and experiences. The debates include:
- Why do people volunteer?
- What are the benefits of volunteering?
- How has it evolved in over 75 years?
You might be thinking these resources just give students
basic comprehension skills listen to a few short clips and then answer some
questions. However they are more exciting than that; they allow pupils to interpret,
discuss and debate helping them to form their own opinions on how we can
For example we have one resource titled “How does volunteering enhance your life as a volunteer?” This uses volunteers'experiences of working in different WRVS services including Meals on Wheels and Hospital Canteens. Using
these archives pupils on the roles of different types of active or potential volunteers:
They then debate the following topic:
Afterwards pupils reflect on the different interpretations
of the situation and come to a conclusion about how volunteering can enhance people's lives. Using oral histories in this way teaches:
KS3:To describe the roles played by voluntary groups in society, and the ways in which citizens work together to improve their communities
KS4: To describe the different ways in which a citizen can contribute to the improvement of his or her community
GCSE AQA English
To respond to the questions and views of others, adapting talk appropriately to context and audience.
As you can see Archives can be used in
different ways in outreach programmes in a verity of subjects and not just to
answer set questions.
You can see how we’ve used archives to teach secondary
school and further education students about a other topics including: PHSE,
drama, volunteering and history on our Voices of Volunteering resource site.
It’s interesting what you find when researching for an enquiry even if Lincolnshire and the Women’s Liberation movement are two different things. Finding the Bulletin article below got me thinking about Feminism and WVS/WRVS.
Feminism first appeared in the mid nineteenth century focusing on the promotion of equal contract, marriage, parenting, and property rights for women. It moved on to focus on women’s suffrage and rights which continued into the Twentieth Century. However by the time WVS was founded in 1938 the first wave of feminism had died down; possibly calmed by the role many women played in factories and other traditional men’s roles in World War I and some women obtaining the right to vote in 1918. In my mind WVS/WRVS was never a feminist organisation but a women’s organisation. It never really suited the definition of the ideological and political movement but it was one which used women’s skills to improve the lives of everyone in Britain. During the War WVS took roles in Evacuation, Hospital Supplies, Make do and mend, knitting and many others which used skills traditionally taken on by women in their homes. However some roles such as fire watching had been assigned to the ARP whose reluctance to include women in a way led to the establishment of WVS.
These less traditional roles appeared only to last as long as the War; the re-emergence of Civil Defence in the late 1940s early 1950s didn’t lead to a revival for WVS who took on the Welfare section. Some services they provided were different such as training in what to do if there was a nuclear attack or driving in the Food Flying Squad but they weren’t promoting a political ideology or actively campaigning for women’s rights. In a way WVS did more without having a political cause because they actively changed people’s lives through their actions and gave women a voice through volunteering.
The second wave of feminism came along in the 1970s along with the Women’s Liberation movement campaigning to make women equal to men and give them more control over their lives. WRVS at this time was still striving to make British society a better place for all. The Organisation focused on offering care to those who needed it either on a regular basis or during an emergency. They were also providing children with the opportunity to go on holiday when they might never have got the chance; patients in psychiatric hospitals were also benefiting specially designed canteens/shops to help rehabilitate them in the outside world and those with disabilities were given the chance to progress in the world of work with occupational therapy. However one member must have felt inspired by this new wave as she wrote an article in the WRVS Magazine; though as she says it was an unorthodox contribution.
WRVS Magazine No.377 June 1971
In short although WVS/WRVS wasn’t known for being a feminist or political organisation in its own special and of course unique way it strived to make everyone equal. Today Royal Voluntary Service continues working to help create a society where everyone feels valued and involved whatever their age.
“What is this I hear about Sir Samual Hoare wanting us women to help the menfolk at their ARP?”
“Funny” said the friend “I was thinking about the same thing. You know I think Sir Sam has got his head screwed on the right way. What sort of missus has he got? If this ARP business should become a serious affair, I guess we women folk will have to lend a hand if it’s ever going to be any sort of a success.”
two women from Wedmore 1938.
It’s funny that after working here for nearly five years I
still discover new, interesting and exciting documents in the collection. The
quote above comes from a booklet The
Women of Wedmore; Wedmore is a village in Somerset but the booklet was in a
file for Gloucestershire which is probably why I haven’t noticed it before and
I was actually looking for information on Blood Donners. This village was part
of Axbridge Rural District and the services provided by its Wedmore members
included: canning jam, camouflage netting, clothing and the rural pie scheme. However
the booklet describes the Housewives Service as their main focus.
The object of the Housewives Service was to equip housewives
with the knowledge to deal with first aid in an emergency. In 1942 30 women
joined the Housewives Service in Wedmore, many stayed the course and were
presented with a blue window card; the head housewives received a red one. After
their training the women of Wedmore did not just sit around waiting for an
emergency they were extremely active. Activities included monthly meetings, full
blown invasion exercises, lectures on Gas, high explosive bombs, fire-fighting
etc, jumble sales for Wings Week, collecting books and magazines for convalescents
and towards the end of the war preforming as the Housewives’ Players. Indeed
the Head Housewife was so busy she had to upgrade from walking everywhere to a bicycle
and then a “lordlylike progress into a bath-chair (broken leg); this progress
was achieved at the cost of much muscular power on the part of many pushing
The women of Wedmore continued to deliver WVS services after
the war. In January 1952 the Mercury and Somersetshire Herald reported that 100
Wedmore WVS members ran a rest centre exercise taking “evacuees” from a “bombed
out Bristol”. It was still a very active area in the 1960s providing
refreshments at a Darby and Joan Club rally for 500 club members from all over
Somerset in 1963. In the 1970s due to changes in the WRVS’s administration the
village of Wedmore was absorbed into the Mendip district office. However, the
district as a whole continued their important work into the 1980s with services
such as Books on Wheels, hospitals, Meals on Wheels, Lunch Clubs and Clubs for
Older People to name a few. They even rehomed Budgies, the district Organiser
remarked that “if it had been green … I’d have asked him to sign an enrolment
card. There are often a few times when I would find a pair of wings useful”.
As you can see the story of the Women of Wedmore, Axbridge
Rural in Somerset is a very interesting one which was focused on helping people
in the community. Today the Royal Voluntary Service in Somerset assists older
people in their community with older people's welfare and hospitals.
While this is a very modern collection there is still an
amazing variety of material held within the store rooms. On several occasions
in the recent past I have come across an assortment of maps from those detailing
the different regional boundaries of the WVS Regions to a hand drawn map of
Cardiff showing the locations of Lunch Clubs. This week I’d like to take you on
a journey using this iconography to explain what they tell us about Royal
Voluntary Service and how maps can be used to complement other historical
Inside the Roll of Honour is a beautifully illustrated map of the British Isles divided
into the 12 WVS Regions created for the purpose of Civil Defence. Neatly written on each region is the location
of the Regional Office including among others Edinburgh, Newcastle-upon-Tyne,
Nottingham, Reading, Bristol and Cardiff. However it doesn’t tell us the individual
centres, we must rely on the Narrative Reports and the Statistic Books
1943-1945 to give us this information. The map allows us to visualise their
location within the organisational structure of WVS during the War. It also
tells us that at some point after the War there was a change to the organisational
structure, Region 5 (London) became Region 12 (Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex
and Surrey) because although on the Map London is Region 5 in the Narrative Report Series it comes under Region 12. Unfortunately we don’t know when this
happened and there are no more maps for this time period however we can show you
other changes in the 1970s and 1980s.
In 1974 the WRVS reorganised itself along Local Authority County
boundaries and setup district offices replacing some of the centres or making
them into local offices. However, a few years earlier Cardiff WRVS decided to
have its own reorganisation as demonstrated in the hand drawn map accompanying this
article. In 1969 the city was divided into six areas where WRVS volunteers
would work with other local organisations to run services for older people. The
map shows that there is an all-day centre in each division providing a base for
the area organisers. It also shows where Social Clubs, Lunch Clubs and Old People’s Homes were based within the different divisions. It also gives us an
idea of the area run by Cardiff WRVS and where the volunteers were working. Although
we might have to compare it with an official map or the rest of the Regional
office papers it lives with to find the names of the places and services but
what it does show is how much effort volunteers put into their services and the
different ways they visualised their organisation.
In 2012 another map made its way into are collection all be
it on an unusual canvas; a hand painted china plate by Muriel Humphrey. It was
presented to Lady Elizabeth Toulson on her visit to Cambridge in 1994. It
depicts the different services including: toy libraries; hospital trolley shops; clothing and Meals on Wheels. In the centre is a map of Cambridgeshire in the Home
Counties Division which was created in 1980 to align with changes to Local Authorities.
Other maps in the collection show these new divisions and areas for the whole
of Britain. These new divisions replaced the regions mentioned above moving
from twelve to nine: North West, North East, Midlands, Home Counties, South East,
South West, London, Scotland and Wales. Using both maps and the Narrative
Reports helped me to work out the plate which in its small map outlines five
districts within Cambridgeshire part of Area 1 in the Home Counties. The
districts are Peterborough, Fenland, East Cambridgeshire, South Cambridgeshire
and Huntingdonshire. The city of Cambridge is also included and slightly
Sadly our journey, traversing the maps of the Royal Voluntary Service Archive & Heritage Collection is over. I trust that I have
shed light on how important these alternative drawings of our nation are in telling
the story of an organisation in a very visual sense. Hopefully you will
continue your journey to learn more about the history of Royal Voluntary
Service by regularly visiting this blog until next week adjure.