Three strands of our activities have continued over the past year on a steady basis.
Firstly, of course, we have dealt with enquiries and visits from our “customers”. Most of these were related to family history or property research although some were from authors of new books about the area under preparation. There was the usual spread of expertise ranging from the very newcomers to research who hadn’t realised that asking older family members to help construct a basic family tree would be a good start, through to the local experts who had been researching for years. We have received over 150 enquiries, a 50% increase on last year.
Secondly the work of cataloguing the Pomeroy collection has continued. This, members will recall, is a very large deposit of documents upon which small team of volunteers is working to extract the names of people and places appearing in them as well as nuggets of useful information such as occupations and relationships. This information is then recorded on a record sheet for each separate document. Terry Miller heads this group and deals with transferring the information to our computer database. Sometimes this work can be a little trying as when wading through a large sheaf of quit notices but occasionally it throws up fascinating little details of life in Wymondham’s past. The dedication of the team to this task is much appreciated.
Thirdly the indexing of the Archives collection of photographs proceeds. More than 1300 have now been added to the index with plenty more still to do. Most of the photographs have already been identified and labelled in some way but quite a few have vague or inaccurate descriptions which often leads to interesting discussions. The difficulty that a group of perhaps three people may have in recalling, from memory, where a particular shop or business used to be in the town highlights the speed at which the townscape changes these days.
Following last year’s AGM Francis began investigating how we might set up our own website and what the cost might be. He discovered that the Town Council’s site is hosted on a system aimed at small local authorities. The system is fairly basic but it costs nothing to join. As a result we have created our own site using the same template as the Town Council to continue the “corporate identity”. The system allows us to post information directly onto the site without having to involve any third party and so means we can add and amend items whenever we wish. So far we have added a number of photographs from the Archive, a list of many of the types of material we hold and a “Wanted” page where we can ask the public for their help. This last item has already one local family to have their deeds copied and given to us. If members have not as yet had a look at the site please do so. The address is http://eoe.xarg.co.uk/wymondham-archive/
A further development is currently under investigation and this involves the possibility of actually putting some of our computer database on line so that it is searchable by enquirers themselves. If this does prove possible at an acceptable price it is bound to produce requests for copies of documents which will mean we shall have to consider what staff we may need and what charges we may wish to make. However we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
At the same time as setting up our web site we have also acquired an e-mail account. I am sure that Councillors will also be pleased to hear that in keeping with the current austerity measures proposed by central government this account also costs nothing. It has already begun to generate enquiries from people as close as 100 yards from the Archive to others thousands of miles away in Australia. This may perhaps be something of a mixed blessing since the more distant enquirers clearly are not able to visit us and may create a lot more work in dealing with them. We could certainly do with another volunteer or two to help. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Having spoken about the “hardware” of our organisation I turn now to the “software” without which there would be no Archive – namely our archivists. I am sure everyone at tonights meeting will know Janet Smith but perhaps not everyone will know that she has been doing the job for more than 20 years since she retired as Wymondham’s librarian in 1989. Indeed her work recording Wymondham’s history started well before that since all the while that she worked in the library she was building up a collection of information and documents to help visitors understand their past. Thus when the Town Council invited her to sort out its records and create an archive it was a natural progression from the work she was already doing.
For many years Janet worked alone here in very cramped conditions storing the records and seeing researchers in one small room. Some 10 years later she was joined by Mary Garner. The death of Bernard Gledhill 10 years ago resulted in his family depositing with the archive a large quantity of documents and led to the formal creation of the Archive Group working under the Council to manage the Archive. Computerisation and more helpers were brought in and the cataloguing of the Gledhill collection was begun and still continues today. 4 years ago with retirement looming I too joined the regular Tuesday morning team.
Sadly after so much dedicated hard work Janet has decided that the time has come for her to retire as Archivist. We shall all miss her personal attention to every caller and the wealth of information stored in her head as well as her librarian’s eye keeping us all on track when it comes to indexing and recording. She will be sorely missed although she tells us that she will always be on the end of the telephone to answer queries and will often be helping out to cover holidays and special events such as Heritage Open Days.
I have already mentioned Mary Garner and I would like to recommend her as Janet’s successor. She has been understudying that role for 10 years now and I am sure she will work as tirelessly as Janet has done for the success of the Archive.
To fill the vacancy, John Herne, who has been working with us for some time and is as keen a historian as the rest of us, has agreed to join us on the regular team.
Finally under this heading I must record our appreciation of the unsung heroes of the Archive; those people who work ceaselessly cataloguing and computerising the documents of the archive, in particular Terry Miller and Barbara Myhill, and also the members of the Committee who collectively oversee the running of the Archive.
What of the future? Firstly and most importantly we need some more volunteers, some to undertake research, some to help with cataloguing and one or two to learn the intricacies of our computer database to help Terry Miller who undertakes this vital task single- handed at present. Please spread the word to anyone you think might be able to help. No experience is needed – just an interest in local history.
The future is clearly electronic and with the introduction of a website and e-mail, the work of the Archive will surely grow. This brings me to the final point to leave with our Councillors; where do you want your Archive to go from here? Should it grow, should it remain static, should it remain in the Council building or should it be moved elsewhere? I am sure such matters will be discussed in the coming months.
June 17th 2010
P.S. I hope any of you who shop at Waitrose have noticed that the Archive is one of the organisations selected for their Community Matters promotion. Please put your green tokens in our box.