Thursday, 16 July 2015

Training by the trainee

Sarah is our Skills for the Future trainee on a 15 month placement here at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service.  We introduced Sarah back in December 2014, and in April she blogged about the Infirmary Workshop she was creating, which went really well - but what else has she been up to?

This has been an exciting traineeship. It is far from over but some of my projects are coming to an end now, and I just handed in my last assignment for the postgraduate certificate at University of Worcester. So now seems a good time to look back, on what I have done and what I have learnt during my traineeship, especially my favourite bits when I get to pass on my knowledge to other people.

Sarah with the Reader Printer Guide she produced to help customers

At the archives I get to help customers, teach digital champions, conduct inductions for new users, and support volunteers.  I love helping customers with their enquiries and I even get to do little bits of research, as I learn more about the archives all the time.  I help on the Explore the Past desk when the original archive area is open, in the self-service area with inductions on the days the archives are closed, and by email when people contact us for help.  I have taught the Digitial Champions to use the microfilm printer, having written a guide to help people use. I always smile when customers are using my guide, because it's nice to be helpful, even secretly.  And I have been supporting volunteers on a transcription project.  This is what I wrote about for my last assignment for our university course but the project will be ongoing probably until the end of my traineeship.  I recruited a group of volunteers then showed them how to transcribe the absent voters lists from 1918. These will be updated on the WAAS website when finished, but also available on

With the other trainees I have been attending university, sharing skills and organising an exhibition, and writing blogs about all my adventures. The university course has now come to an end, with our last assignment handed in at the end of June.  Outside of our university course and normal work duties, we also attend training, which includes the opportunity to train each other.  I have learnt about wrapping books for storage at the cathedral library, and evaluating an exhibition at the Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery.  Then I shared my skills at conservation work, showing the other trainees how to sew past and clean documents. Now we are working hard to organise an exhibition as part of the Worcester Festival.  This has been a great opportunity to find lots of lovely documents and show them off to the ladies from the WI. The exhibition will be in Reindeer Court in August and the documents the ladies chose will be on display in the hive, but also featured on future blog posts, so watch this space.

I am still enjoying my traineeship every day, and as you can see, by far my favourite tasks involve passing on my knowledge to other people.  I really don’t want the traineeship to end, but I hope when I find my next job I can find one where I still get to share my love of history and archives, and to help people do their own research.

By Sarah Ganderton

Monday, 13 July 2015

Explore The Past: Bromsgrove, People & Places

The Sound Domes on Level 2 at The Hive contain clips of oral history interviews, edited by Julia Letts, that are activated to play out when people walk underneath them. The Domes have recently been updated to include new excerpts from interviews about Bromsgrove. As part of the District Council's Townscape Heritage Initiative, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service recorded around 70 short audio stories from 19 local people who shared their memories of the shops, cafes and pubs along Bromsgrove's High Street from the 1940s onwards. Justin Hughes, one of our Project Officers, worked with Bromsgrove Library and local students from the Bromsgrove School to train them in how to carry out interviews. Four of the 11 students were also interviewed to provide a comparisons between the generations. Interviewees remembered details about life in the town before and after the High Street was pedestrianised. There were discussions on the High Street's former alehouses, the hallelujah lamp, mods and rockers, and bakeries and butchers. Bromsgrove Library and The Bromsgrove Society were also heavily involved in supporting the project, going into the School to help facilitate the interviews and publicising the project.

The sound domes contain a sample of 24 clips to listen to on the 3 domes, which you can do by standing under them, as demonstrated by Justin. We hope that some of these will be available online soon, but in the meantime there are six clips already here on our blog, which were included as one of our Worcestershire Treasures. You can also hear interviews here.  There are CDs including the interviews available to purchase from Bromsgrove Library.
You can find out more about the Townscape Heritage Initiative here
Do you have memories of Bromsgrove High Street that you would like to share with us too? Comment below or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Now booking: Behind the Scenes tours at Explore the Past

Late 16th Century German stoneware jar

The annual Festival of British Archaeology is about to start, and as part of this we are offering another of our Behind the Scenes tours here at Explore the Past, where you will be able to go into our Finds Room and handle a selection of artefacts discovered in the county. Our Treasure Box might not contain gold or silver but does contain real examples of pottery, tiles and other objects found locally which help tell the story of the county.

You will also go into our Conservation Studio to find out how our Conservator cares for and repairs precious documents and books in the collections, and see some of the highlights of the archives in one of the strongrooms. These will include Shakespeare's marriage bond, medieval royal seals and a letter from the Titanic.

The tours take place here at The Hive at 2pm on Tuesday 14th July and cost £5. Book your place online now!

Severn Valley Ware jar

You can also find out about other archaeology events in Worcestershire and around the country at

If you would be interested in booking a tour for your own group or society please email

Friday, 3 July 2015

Stray gnashers in the archives

Today we bring you another post inspired by the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. A story which has been picked up elsewhere is the somewhat grisly one about 'Waterloo teeth', which serves as a stark reminder of just how far we have come with dental practices today. The story goes that in response to a growing need for replacement teeth, thanks in large to an increase in sugar consumption; scavengers descending on the site of the battle of Waterloo took not only money and jewellery from the dead, but also extracted their teeth so that they could sell them on. 

For many years there has been suspicion that a set of false teeth we hold in our archive collections are actually Waterloo teeth, but we have never been certain.

One of the dentures we hold in our collections - not your usual find in an archive!

The dentures came to us many years ago when one of our archivists went over to Tenbury to see a solicitor who had just bought a new practice. He had two rooms full of records and said we could take what we wanted, having no real idea himself of what was there. After having a quick look we said he could keep the one room, full of records which fell outside of our Acquisitions and Collections Policy, but that we would take the other. We arranged for those boxes to come back to Worcester, and two students helped us to go through the boxes, and it was they who came across the teeth! We also found a pistol, but as well as not coming under our collection policy we were not licensed to keep firearms, so we had to pass that on to the Museum.  

The teeth are currently housed in a display cabinet in one of strongrooms and can be seen by visiting tour groups

It was suggested at the time of discovery that the teeth could be Waterloo teeth, due to the documents they were found with dating from the same period; however, there was never anything to prove this. At the time we knew little about the appearance of Waterloo teeth. With the recent anniversary we did a bit of investigating, and have been able to compare our own to a number of sets online and in books. Upon further inspection ours do not appear to match, and look to date from a later period. Although we now know they are nothing to do with Waterloo, we still do not know why a pair of dentures were ever stored with the archives!

Have you ever come across an old pair of dentures like this before? Can you tell us when these may date from? 

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Henry Martin and the Battle of Waterloo

Following on from our previous post about the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo we have come across a letter at the Hive from a soldier who was at the battle.

Local man Henry Martin was an officer with the 2nd Battalion 44th Regiment of Foot (East Essex) and seems to have served in both the Peninsula and Waterloo campaigns.  Henry was keen to let his family know he was in good shape after the Battle of Waterloo and put them in the picture as to his role in events, so he penned a quick letter to his father dated 29th June 1815.  His father in turn copied the letter out for Henry's brothers at Oxford to see his account in his own words.  It is the contemporary copy that we have, not the original. 

First page of Henry Martin's letter 

In his letter Henry explained his Division had been bought up to support the Prussians on the 16th June.  'We were fighting from about 4 o Clock till dark, during which time we were repeatedly charged by french Quirassiers, but who were repeatedly repulsed with great loss.'  This might be a description of the battle of Quatre Bras as the 2nd Btn of the 44th were badly knocked about at that encounter with the French on the 16th.

As for the Battle of Waterloo itself on the 18th Henry summarised events very succinctly saying 'the french attack'd us at ten o Clock.  The fight continued the whole day & about 7 at night were gaining a little ground on the right, the Prussians (who were expected before) made their appearance, which decided the day.  The French ran in great confusion, & our cavalry & the Prussians made terrible havock among them.'

Henry's account of Quatre Bras and Waterloo

Henry was one of the few officers in his regiment to survive both battles unscathed.  He apologised for his writing explaining he was writing the letter on top of his cap and that 'there are four or five officers waiting around me for the Pen, w[hic]h bad as it is, I believe is the only one amongst us.' 

Readers of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels will recall that some of the South Essex Regiment's exploits in his books are in part based on the 2/44th's actions around this time. 

For further information about the 44th East Essex and the Battle of Waterloo generally see:

You can also check Ancestry's database for details of those who received the Waterloo Medal, which included Henry Martin. The original list is at the National Archives.