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A study in ink

Our regular readers may remember that last year we raised £27,724 on Kickstarter to digitise 28,000 documents telling the story of a million war time women. The work began in September and since then we have uncovered interesting, unusual and sometimes very short stories which are regularly posted on Twitter and Facebook. As well as these stories we have also discovered a number of different ink colours, styles of handwriting and spills. This sometimes makes the documents difficult to read but there are skills that can be used to help us interpret and identify them.

Palaeography is the study of ancient and historical handwriting, how it was formed and changed overtime rather than the contents or the meanings of the words themselves. It is also useful alongside the study of diplomatica for dating documents; luckily most of the Narrative Reports are stamped or dated. There are several different types of handwriting studied on Archive courses but modern historians and our team would find the study of secretary and italic more useful than anglicana or gothic. However it could be argued this does not really apply at the time covered in the digitised reports especially those produced on a typewriter. Furthermore standardised handwriting appears to be disappearing at this point (1938-1942); there are many different variations within the collection which you can see in the images throughout this blog. Although in some writing you can still see the use some identifiers of italic. The Centre Organisers were usually middle aged women who were probably taught italic in school. We use these skills to try to read and transcribe documets like the one below or Emma Yellowley's Diary.

                                                                                           

Can you decipher this text? I will provide an answer at the end of next weeks blog. Though perhaps you are more interested in the different colours used in the Narrative Reports.              

We’ve probably all seen the beautifully illuminated documents of the medieval era and may not associate this with modern records; however another thought-provoking study of these documents is the different ways centre organisers or their secretaries chose to write or illustrate these documents. This includes small drawings, poetry or the use of different coloured inks. So far our archives assistant has encountered black and blue as you would expect but also purple and green. This doesn’t only apply to the handwritten documents but those typed on a typewriter. This wouldn’t help us to date or read the documents as coloured inks and dyes have been around for 1000s of years even though they were more expensive and less readily available before the twentieth century. On the other hand the typewriter’s (first invented in 1557) design was standardised by 1910. Though a typed document is easier to read and doesn’t require palaeography skills it can still be used to tell us where a document originated as every typewriter is individual. In our collection of reports there are some centres which continually use a typewriter that punches holes when the o or e key is used. A keen eye may also be required to read slightly blurred type or those which are fading which is why our Kickstarter project is extremely important.

I hope that I have given you some food for thought this week while also providing a challenge. The History of a million wartime women hasn’t only brought a new insight into the role of women on the Homefront but some different perspectives on the look and feel of the documents themselves. It also highlights how significant handwriting and the ability to read it is for archivists offering access to their collections and unlocking them for future generations. Finally, for those of you who know me yes I have been reading Sherlock Holmes novels again and that’s where the inspiration for the title came from.  

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 03 April 2017.

Labels: Ink, , Palaeography, , Narrative Report, , Kickstarter, , WVS, , war

What the does the Deputy Archivist get up to on Wednesdays?

Sometimes on social media (usually Facebook or Twitter) you see posts which say “you know you’re a … when you …”. Last week I had a, “you know you’re an archivist when the brass paper clips arrive and you get over excited about it” moment. I realise there has been some posts recently on Archives NRA (JiscMail Mailing list) concerning the oxidisation of brass paper clips and the damage they can cause to documents but in my opinion they are so much better than the nasty rusty staples I see in our documents. Anyway I am going to move on now and this week I thought you might like an insight into one of the projects I have been toiling over.

Since September I have been working with our large and varied collection of publications. Over the course of nearly 80 years Royal Voluntary Service has been producing publications to advertise their services and appeal for volunteers. Some Archivists may see this as ephemera but for a charity a leaflet, poster, bookmark or other such item is evidence of day to day activities and business transactions so they have earned their place as an archival document. A few years ago the collection had been sorted into acid free envelopes and listed on and Access Database; it was time for them to be appraised, repackaged into acid free boxes and catalogued to archival standards.

I began with repackaging, appraising and referencing which involved sorting through duplicates, removing them from the collection and then giving each publication a unique reference number. WVS and WRVS publications were created by the different departments within the organisation for many years thus they have been catalogued in their original order under each department for example Children, Health and Hospitals, Old Peoples Welfare and Prison Welfare. They were catalogued at Item level each with a short description.

Once all 1,368 items were repackaged and catalogued (one Wednesday a week, except over Christmas of course) they were placed on the shelves in neatly labelled boxes. This makes finding them for enquiries extremely easy. If you’re interested in testing my theory please send us an enquiry about our publications through the online enquiry form. While most of the publications live on the shelves there are also a number of large posters which wouldn’t fit in a standard archive box and needed a bit more TLC.

Before they were catalogued they were kept folded up with the rest of the collection. As you can see from this image this wasn’t doing them any good but now they have been found and catalogued they could be properly preserved. I have in the past carried out some basic conservation to ripped documents. Sometimes a terrifying moment when you have to consider the damaged you might cause. I really don’t know how conservators carry out those more complex jobs. Even cleaning documents which I had a go at on a number of work experience placements was a bit nerve racking; I have never used a rubber so gently in all my life. Anyway this task was a bit less petrifying...

As they are awkward and won’t fit into the standard boxes they must go in our plan chest. Therefore they required some protection and the first job was to place them in polyester sleeves, archival standard of course. Secondly they needed to be supported by mounting board which was measured out and then cut to the right sizes. A steady hand on the Stanley knife was required and long arms as it is fairly difficult to cut a piece of card almost the same length as yourself. Finally the posters were then attached and the reference number written on below. Job done! They now live happily ever after in the plan chest, except when we need to access them or hopefully digitise them in the future.

There you have it my Wednesday project, though now I will have to find something new and I am sure just as interesting. Our online catalogue will be updated over the next few months so watch this space or email us and ask to be added to our mailing list.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 27 March 2017.

Labels: Royal Voluntary Service, , WVS, , WRVS, , Publications, , Archive, , Cataloguing

My trip to the SEAC with WVS: the Diary of Services Welfare member Miss Yellowley

This week we return to the Mauretania and the adventures of Miss Yellowley on her way to the South East Asia Command.

We rocked all night and all day of Monday the 22nd most of the party were sick, I stayed in bed all day living on two day biscuits and an apple.

Tuesday 23rd nearly everybody feeling better got out of the bay and in the straits it’s a lovely day sun shining beautiful and feels quite warm we are all up on deck enjoying the sun at 11 o’clock we shall be having lifebelt drill. The time has been put on 1 hour and already we can feel the difference in the weather we are passing the coast of Spain and can see the hills in the distance. After lunch sunbathed until time to dress for dinner, the food here is excellent. After dinner we went to an open air concert on the deck it is a glorious moon light night and the deck is floodlit and everybody sitting around on their life saver. Babs sang two songs for the troops and quite a number of chaps sang and various other things it was very good and we enjoyed it very much. While we were listening to the concert we had passed by the rock of Gibraltar about 9o’clock it was all lit up but I was very sorry I hadn’t seen it, we are now in the Mediterranean.

Wednesday 24th it is a lovely day the sun is shining beautiful and it is getting quite hot. Everybody on deck is gradually getting into shorts and sun bathing and the sea looks divine, we are on deck sewing for the troops, the piles of sewing are gradually getting bigger and it looks as though we’re in for a good time. We can see the Libyan coast and we have come in quite close to Algeria, we had really good views of these places. In the evening there was a concert and dance for the troops on the lower deck, it was jolly good and ended another grand day.

Thursday, a lovely day we did the usual things sitting about and sewing etc. passed the island of Pantelleria off the Sicilian Coast. In the afternoon we passed Malta not very close to it and that will be the last land we shall until we reach Port Said on Friday morning. In the evening we went to the pictures and saw Sonja Heni in “Wintertime” enjoyed the skating scenes very much but the story was poor, after the pictures there was a dance and concert in the officers lounge and that was very good and I had a good time at midnight the clocks were advanced one hour, now we are two hours ahead of British time.

Friday we all woke up feeling tired but got up on deck and the skies were very grey. Soon after it started to rain and we went inside and squatted down anywhere we could find a spot. After lunch the sun was shining again and we were on deck until dinner, there was a grand concert in the Officers Lounge for the troops and the girls were invited it was very good indeed. At midnight the clocks were again advanced one hour, that is 3 hours since we left England. Saturday about 9o’clock we were just at the entrance of the Suez Canal, it was a glorious sight …

We will join Miss Yellowley again in a few weeks when she travels through the canal and there is more sewing to be done.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 13 February 2017.

Labels: WVS, , Services Welfare, , SEAC, , Mauretania, , Suez Canal, , diary