I decided to take a walk again this morning for the 10 am appointment I had arranged at Westminster City Archives. Despite the heavy drizzle, which seemed to get worse as I headed away from the hotel, I enjoyed the walk which took me through the West End theatre district and past Westminster Abbey. I had briefly toured the area earlier in the week so I was not so much in awe of nearby Houses of Parliament and Big Ben on the River Thames…but still a little bit.
The Archives is part of the Westminster Libraries and Archives service, which consists of 13 libraries and includes a music library, home library service and a self service library in a sports centre.
Judith Bottomley, Local Studies Librarian met with me. She has quite a varied role including the handling of reference queries, enquiry desk shifts, collection management, website updates, social media updates, special projects and more. She was exited to tell me about a project which launched today; The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, which is an historic recipe project to explore 150 years of culinary history, and recreate the tastes of Georgian England in your own kitchen!
In 2011 the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster City Councils agreed to the tri-borough proposal to create an integrated libraries and archives service. This is about maintaining and improving libraries whilst making savings by organising the management and administration of the service across a wider geographic area. See more information on the Tri-Borough here.
The archives has the usual items expected in a collection such as this; including books, pamphlets and directories, rare prints and drawings of Westminster, maps and plans, local government records, parish registers, business archives and local newspapers. Special collections include theatre programmes and playbills, sketch books of Gillow furniture makers and private estate records.
Judith was very kind to pull out some specific records to show me especially. These included an interesting large map of bomb incendiaries noted in the area during World War 2, accompanied by a photo album of sites with captions. This amazing resource was included in the West End at War project in 2010, as part of activities organised by the Archives with funding to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the London Blitz.
I was also shown a large scrapbook consisting of pieces of ephemera such as photos, news clippings, letters, correspondence and broadsheets relating to the Haymarket and theatre district.
Of particular interest was the original 1846 diary of Nathaniel Bryson, which was blogged last year as the Life and loves of a Victorian clerk. This project was immensely popular amongst the community with many contributing to additional independent research into many of the people named within the journal. Among other outcomes of the project was a visit by one of Nathaniel’s descendants to the Archive to view the original diary.
The public can access the services of the Archives free. Finding Aids are available as hard copies in the library as well as online. Sirsi Dynex is used for their library management system and Calm for the separate archive collection.
I also met with conservator Georgia Vossou who is not only passionate about the conservation process to preserve items for the future but also opening the collection to the community. She strongly believes that archives play a significant role in local history and lead the People’s Record Project by the Westminster City Archives; a project developed to provide a record of the 2012 London Olympic Games. She has written about the project on her blog London Museums Group. Part of the project included showcasing items from the Archives collection relating to the 1948 London Olympics; collecting memories of these games from Londoners and athletes who were involved. Georgia told me about her visit with a 1948 Olympian cyclist who is 92 years old – and still rides his bikes!
Georgia continues with community engagement activities including running “Collections care training” for adults in libraries as well as a similar program for children, which includes activities such as sewing a book.
There is currently a project to review, conserve and catalogue the huge theatre program collection and Georgia supervises volunteers who also assist her in this process. For example, metal staples are removed from the centre of all programs.
It was a real pleasure to visit the Westminster City Archives and in particular learn about some of the projects they have instigated to highlight items in their collection and make them more accessible and interesting to a wider community.