Friday, 29 July 2016

Hopefully - a poem to commemorate the soldiers at The Somme

The 1st July was the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.  This significant historical event was marked in many ways across the country. Here in Worcester there was a vigil at 7:30am, the time the first soldiers went 'over the top', and in the afternoon there was a service at the Cathedral. The service incorporated contributions from school children from around the county through drama, singing and creative writing.


Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service supported the event by running a workshop looking at the experiences of the soldiers through sources from the archives about the Somme, including letters, diaries, regimental history, photos and films. The students then responded by writing poetry or prose inspired by what they'd read or seen, one of which would be chosen to be read in the afternoon. It was a very moving morning, and the writing produced was amazing, and it was shame only one could be chosen.
Diary of Bert Clements for 1st July 1916

The poem 'Hopefully' by Kate Emsley was chosen, and Colonel John Lowles then read it during the service. We wanted to reproduce it here so it is available for more people to read

Hopefully, I tell them,
hopefully, it will be over soon.
One big push and we’ll get there.
I’ll be home soon.

There were six of us to begin with,
six from my small town,
friends since we were children.
I’m the only one alive.

They promised us it’d be short -
a few days, weeks at most -
but the days are all stretched out
and the weeks became months.

I’ll be home soon, I tell them.
In every letter, again and again:
Remember me to others
and I’ll see you soon.

I can’t tell them the horror,
the number of bodies on the ground,
the mud, the wounds, the injuries,
people from my town.

I try to sound jolly
with my pen in my hand:
How are you? What’s life like?
Don’t worry, I’m fine.

Hopefully, I tell them,
hopefully, it will be over soon.
One big push and we’ll get there.

I’ll be home soon.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Work begins to list the records of the Bromsgrove Guild

Worcestershire Archive Service holds a substantial collection of records from the Bromsgrove Guild - a collective of talented craftsmen who came from all over the world. 

Walter Gilbert, a talented artist in design and decorative works, worked as the art master at Rugby Technical School. In 1898 he became headmaster of Bromsgrove School of Art and later that same year the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Art was formed. He hoped to develop a commercial enterprise whereby craftsmen skilled in metal casting, woodwork, stained glass and embroidery could find well-paid work.

During the following years the Guild gained an international reputation for fine craftsmanship and received commissions for plasterwork, metalwork, stained glass and woodwork. But it would be the casting of metalwork for architectural fittings that would became the Guild's speciality, leading up to the Guild's most famous commission in 1905 - the gates of Buckingham Palace. The Guild went on to receive a Royal Warrant in 1908.

Over the next few decades the reputation of the Guild continued to grow until the onset of the Second World War. After the war the Guild was still receiving commissions, but the austerity of that period took its toll and it was finally closed in 1966.

The work of the Guild is everywhere, you may walk past something every day and not realise it, such as the metal railings outside the Shire Hall in Worcester.

This collection, which is currently uncatalogued, is now being listed box by box, so that we can see what it includes and can then decide how best to catalogue the collection. The collection consists of over 300 hundred boxes of architect's blueprints, tracings and scale drawings, which in most cases relate to architectural fittings and monuments. Hidden amongst the papers there are also many hand drawn and coloured designs. These stunning drawings are works of art in their own right and show the talent that was working for the guild at that time. 

Throughout the course of the project to list and catalogue the records of the Bromsgrove Guild we will be bringing you snippets of our findings and show you the sort of gems that are hidden within this fascinating collection. 

By Angie Downton

Further Reading

For more information on the Bromsgrove Guild, see:

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Lavinia Talbot's diary 1916: Reflections on Jutland, Kitchener and the Somme

Lavinia Talbot kept a diary from her teenage years right through to old age.  The diaries provide a unique window on her daily life, thoughts and feelings from the mid 1860s through to the 1930s.  In particular Lavinia recorded her observations on the conduct of the First World War.  She had three sons serving in the forces and many of the children of her wider circle of family and friends were also serving, so she took a keen interest in what was happening.

Battle of Jutland

Lavinia's diary entries for the beginning of June 1916 were initially full of meetings and social activities such as the wedding of Pamela Maude and Capt Billy Congreve.  That quickly changed and much of her entry for 3 June was given over to the confrontation between the German High Seas Fleet and part of the British Grand Fleet opposite Jutland.  In particular Lavinia recorded the sinking of the Queen Mary, the Invincible and the Indefatigable. A family friend, Charles Fisher, was serving on the Invincible and she was concerned about his fateThis was likely to have been Lt Charles Dennis Fisher of the Royal Naval Reserve who was indeed killed in the battle as he is recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as having died on 31 May 1916.

Lavinia's diary entry recording the news of Jutland

The battle of Jutland continued to be very much on Lavinia's mind.  Her diary entry for 4 June mentioned an account of the battle by the Observer.  Her entry for 5 June focused on the missing and dead.  As well as Charles Fisher she also named other people she now knew had been killed – Spencer Portal boy, young de Carteret, Lucas, Marsden.  The 'Spencer Portal boy' was probably Raymond Spencer Portal aged 19 who also served on the Invincible.  Lavinia had been at a meeting with Mrs Spencer Portal just 2 days before.  'Young de Carteret' was probably Midshipman Philip Reginald Malet de Carteret aged 18 who served on the Queen Mary.  'Lucas' may have been Lieutenant Claude De Neuville Lucas aged 23 who served on the Indefatigable.  There was more than one person of the name Marsden who was killed in the battle so it is impossible to know to whom Lavinia was referring.

Lavinia's diary entries recording further details of the Battle of
Jutland and names of those she knew who had been killed.

Death of Lord Kitchener

Lord Kitchener (1850-1916) was a figure very much associated with the First World War.  Apart from appearing on the iconic 'Your country needs you!' poster and contributing a method of making an invisible seam in knitting (the Kitchener stitch), Kitchener served as Secretary of State for War in the early years of the conflict. On 5 June 1916 he set off on a diplomatic visit to Russia, but was killed when the ship in which he was travelling was sunk by a mine.

Lavinia Talbot was in London for a meeting on 6 June and she recorded in her diary the moment when she heard the news of Kitchener's death.  One of her fellow attendees told her that she had heard that Kitchener and all his staff had drowned.  Lavinia quickly got hold of a copy of the Evening Standard newspaper and saw the news for herself in the 'stop press'.  It's unclear whether she knew Kitchener personally, but her brother Sir Neville Lyttelton certainly did having served with him in the Sudan and South Africa.  The news of Kitchener's death seems to have affected Lavinia a great deal as she recorded that it was a day 'never to be forgotten', that she 'felt the ground giving way under me' and that people looked 'scared and moved'.

Lavinia's diary entry recording the death of Lord Kitchener

The Somme Offensive

Interestingly Lavinia's diary for the beginning of July 1916 is silent about the beginning of the battle of the Somme on 1 July, yet the papers must have been full of it in the days which followed.  It may be that because July marked the first anniversary of the death of her son Gilbert on the Western Front, the events unfolding in France and Flanders touched on such painful memories that she chose not to put down her feelings and observations on the event.  Instead her diary entries at the time were full of her visits to family and friends and cricket matches at Winchester and Harrow.  She did however comment in her diary entry for 9 July on the wounded soldiers arriving at Waterloo when she was up in London. She described it as an 'interminable procession of wounded on litters, beautifully brought out of trains, laid on platforms & wafted without a jar into countless ambulance cars – still figures, reverently & silently greeted by [the] crowd with much feeling.  Masses of young Tommies just going on watched it all without moving'. 

Lavinia's diary entry describing the wounded soldiers

Lavinia Talbot's diaries are part of the Lyttelton collection held here at The Hive. You can read further blog posts relating to this collection here.

For more information on events taking place across the county to mark the Somme anniversary check our Worcestershire World War 100 website. 

Further reading

By Maggie Tohill

Monday, 13 June 2016

Strong Rooms project: Inspiring new artistic developments through archives

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service is taking part in a very exciting regional project called Strong Rooms, linking archives with arts. Inspired by the name of the rooms in which archives are stored, Strong Rooms is a collaboration in which artists, youth groups and archivists work together to produce art which will be taken on tour to Rugby, Coventry, Dudley and Worcester. The name is also appropriate as a shipping container will be used as part of the final installation.

The Strong Rooms project is led by Archives West Midlands and is made up of partners from the archive services of Warwickshire County Council, Worcestershire County Council, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and Culture Coventry together with a team of artists, led by artist Mohammed Ali.

Exploring their local area through maps in the archives

Strong Rooms will inspire new artistic directions rooted in identity, sense of place and local citizenship and explore the following question. ‘Can collaboration with archives inspire new developments in the arts?’

Our aims are to:
  • engage new audiences (especially young people)
  • advocate for archive services, which are relatively unknown and used directly by a small number of people,
  • leave a strong and lasting impression in our communities of what archives are, how they are used and why they are relevant
  • create a legacy
The Strong Room installation will be used after the project for outreach and festival use.
Exploring the local area and what the archives can tell us about what they see

We have already started work in Worcester with young people, using archives with different groups as a basis to inspire them, and then guided by professional artists to help them produce art in response and learn new skills. A film will also explain what archives are and it will focus on engaging young people.

Many people don't know what archives are and how they are relevant, and even if they do know they often can be seen as something for just certain people. We aim to challenge that and show that they are full of amazing stories.
Inspired by the different letter styles on documents the children had a go at creating their own

The project is funded by Arts Council England, enabling artists to work with the young people. The insights from the artists, many of whom have never used archives, have been great in providing outside voices to bring a new perspective and see fresh connections and stories.

The art will be used in an installation around the regions, using a shipping container. It will be in Worcester from 8th to 15th August and we will be sharing details closer to the event. You can find out more about the project at

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Explore Archives - Quarter Sessions

People stealing acorns, roads needing repairs and families being removed from one parish to another are among the many stories contained within Quarter Sessions.

The Quarter Sessions were both a court and a forerunner of the county council. Middling crimes which didn't carry the death penalty were heard before it, and various county issues such as disputes between parishes, roads and permissions for new railways came before it. There are a host of stories contained within the boxes of papers, such as Thomas Hemmings who was charged with stealing 21 ducks, with his shoe print being used as evidence.

Thousands of people were involved across the county as victims, constables, witnesses, surveyors, and the accused. These records can be invaluable for family and local historians, potentially containing information about an ancestor or local community. However they are rarely used as many people either don't know about them or don't know how to access them. Our wonderful volunteers have helped index 200 years worth of records making them easier to search.

The next Explore Archives workshop will be looking at Quarter Sessions and will include lots of stories. It takes place on Wednesday, 22nd June from 2 to 4pm in The Hive. Tickets cost £6 and you can book your place online here.