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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.
Royal Voluntary Service, ,
About a month ago we left Miss Yellowley as the Mauretania entered
the Suez Canal; the ship sailed along the canal for 2 days before reaching the
Gulf of Suez and then the Arabian Sea. The days’ activities and nightly dances
or picture (film) showings continued as did their journey until the Mauretania
arrived in Bombay.
Saturday getting near our sea journeys ending,
feeling very sad at leaving all the friends we’ve made on the ship, still doing
last minute sewing and clothing for the boys. By 5 o’clock we can just see
Bombay. At 6 o’clock the ship anchored and disembarking for the troops begins. We
were supposed to be having a farewell dance and cabaret from 8 to 11 but owing
to changing money and posting orders being read out it didn’t begin until 10:15
so it was rather disappointing.
Sunday 4th 18 of the party including
myself are disembarking in the morning for Calcutta, the other 11 will stay in
Bombay for 1 night. The ship looks bare now most of the troops are off now. We had
a little sing song in the evening.
Monday 5 we were called at 4:30 and breakfast 5:15,
at 6:45 we were put on the tender and as we pulled out looked up at the
Mauretania, she looked beautiful. The journeying had been done in 13 days and 5
hours sailing including the time we stayed at Big Britain Lake and Tewfik [Suez
Port] and they certainly broke the record. When we got to the key side we were
herded into army trucks and taken to the station where we got the 10:10 from Victoria
terminus to Calcutta a distance of 18,000 miles. We’re on a military troop
train and own compartments were very comfortable but not too clean. There was 6
of us in our compartment and heaps of room to move about in, much bigger than
our own trains. There was great exciting times as we got going, we were all
thrilled to bits, native children running alongside the trains … some were
dreadful sights. We stopped at various stations for meals and we had sing songs
on the platform, and it was very amusing when the boys were getting the native
children to sing and dance to us. There was so much to see on the journey we
didn’t get time to be bored and it went over very quickly. We arrived at
Calcutta on Wednesday 7th November about 4:30. We were met by some WVS
members and taken to “Barrackpore” 17 miles out of Calcutta where we had baths,
dinner and off to bed. There was a letter from Sue waiting for me and wasn’t I pleased,
it is grand to get a letter from home when you are so far away …
The Services Welfare Officers spent a few days in Calcutta and then Miss Yellowley and two other women were posted to Rangoon they were very busy and as a result Miss Yellowley was unable to write for a few months.
I’m afraid I have been very lazy in keeping this diary up to date, it is now the 10th march and this is the first time I have looked in my diary since I arrived in Rangoon. I have had a grand time up to now. Spent most of my time with Alec, dancing, on the lake, swimming, tenis, table tennis and trips in a jeep and how I have enjoyed them all, the best I think was to Pegu on 17th February. It is 55 miles from here and Pegu is a very interesting place with the Reclining Buddha. We went swimming in the lake on the way back and then I left Alec and came to our Boat Club dance which I attend every Sunday evening. I have worked at the boat club since I first arrived in Rangoon. Babs and Nora have been posted to Singapore and I heard last week that Nora had broken her leg. I have two very dear pals whom we all share a room Mrs Penman (Penny) and Mrs Joy Rydon. Joy is leaving soon as she has to see a specialist in England, Penny and I will miss her terribly as we have got very attached to each other. Alec went home on 61 days leave. He left by plane on the 22nd February, it is 16 days since he left but it seems like 16 years. I knew I would miss him but I never dreamt I would miss him so much as I do. I haven’t had a letter from him yet but keeping my fingers crossed. It is terribly hot now but my work at the Boat Club is very pleasant and I enjoy every minute of it. NAAFI have taken over this club and very soon our contracts will be transferred to NAAFI if we wish …
In our next instalment Miss Yellowley and two companions continue to have adventures manageing the NAAFI Club where the entertainments
include cinema, bands, whist, concerts, games, table tennis, fishing and hot
“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.
Wednesday 8th March is International Women’s Day which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women across the world. Royal Voluntary Service was founded in 1938 by one of the twentieth century’s most influential but seldom celebrated women Lady Reading; a woman who inspired others to make changes to British Social welfare even after her death in 1971. There isn’t simply enough time in a weekly blog to mention the millions of women who have been bold and changed Britain, with hundred even thousands of activities, but what we will focus on is how they have improved the welfare of psychiatric patients over the years.
It all began in 1946 when members of WVS Headquarters in London made investigations into helping people with mental illnesses in psychiatric hospitals. Once again WVS was one step ahead of everyone else. In 1948 the organisation was officially asked by the Board of Control to assist in hospitals providing much needed services. It became the mission of volunteers to improve the lives of patients and provide them with a connection with the outside world. In 1959 the Mental Health Act was passed it abolished the distinction between psychiatric units and other hospitals while encouraging the development of community care. This allowed the WVS to establish more occupational centres, providing training especially to help patients find occupations after being discharged. Over the years WVS/WRVS ran a number of services in psychiatric wards which ran in general hospitals and other wards which you can find more details on in our Health and Hospitals Factsheet. However their main project was to build social centres for patients and visitors.
Thirty Social Centres were established in the 1960s including St Francis Hospital Hillingdon, Friern Barnet, St Luke’s Middlesbrough St John’s Bracebridge Heath. St Francis was the first to be opened in 1961 by Princess Maria of Kent. The site was purpose built with kitchen, shop, canteen, lounge and entertainment space. It added a new dimension to hospital life as patients could assist WVS with their work and spend money how they liked in the shop building confidence. This inspired the 30 other projects which were funded through loans and repaid with the profits from the canteens and shops, though St Francis was the most pioneering. A few years after it’s opening there was a parliamentary debate discussing the lack of volunteering opportunities for young people. Lady Reading, then a member of the House of Lords, proposed that St Francis needed a swimming pool to benefit patients and staff which led to an International Volunteer Camp in 1966. Hundreds of young volunteers from Mid-Sussex and Europe met to dig the swimming pool. Once again WVS/WRVS had been a force for change which continued into the 1980s.
Although these schemes were mainly setup in the 1960s, in 1989 there was a fire at Bromham Hospital in Bedfordshire, the WRVS shop and canteen was destroyed. However Barbara Statham Bedfordshire Hospital Organiser and her team rebuilt the shop despite some adversities, here is her story: