Friday, 26 August 2016

'A Month in the Archives' - an account of a work experience placement

Recently we have put up two great posts (here and here) that were written and researched by Chris Rouse, a work experience student who joined us for a hundred-hour placement this summer. Before he departed, Chris also wrote us an account of his time here, which gives an insight into the wide variety of work an archive service undertakes:

At the end of 2015, I sent a hopeful, rather vague email as a hopeful, rather vague history undergraduate to the archives department of Worcestershire County Council. I was in my final year, and beyond knowing that I wanted a career where I could indulge my love for history, I didn’t have a strong idea about what exactly I wanted to do for a living. Several talks at university on jobs in heritage and the historical sector had repeatedly stressed the necessity of experience and insight. Archival work especially seemed to entail a career ladder with many rungs; entry required a specialist degree, which itself needed a large amount of prior work in the area. So, hoping to dip my toes in the sector and gain a bit of experience, I sent an enquiry about volunteering, expecting maybe a week of shadowing, a bit of database grunt work, and tea making. What I ended up doing was so much more.

When I heard back, what emerged was no week of cliché work experience tasks (I only ended up making three cups of coffee, and they were for myself), but rather a month long, hundred-hour placement. These regularly run placements, which cover the various branches of the Hive’s Archive and Archaeology Service, offer a rigorous and extensive demonstration of all aspects of life in archives. As well as the hands-on work with the sources themselves, there are the vital User Services and Outreach teams, who are integral in helping the public engage with their local or family histories.

After the organiser of the placement established what I wanted to do and get out of the placement, I started with a tour around the facilities and offices, including the Hive’s seven strong rooms. Monitored for temperature and humidity, these contain twelve miles of records and a rich assortment of treasures including royal seals, beautiful antique maps, and what every archive should hold: a set of teeth. The sheer volume of documents –deeds, letters, electoral registers, plans, all manner of written information related to Worcestershire– was quite staggering. Processing, monitoring and utilising it all seemed a daunting, though gratifying, task. Over the weeks, I picked up how this was done, having insights into the forms, databases and processes relating to matters like copyright, deposits, cataloguing, prioritisation and retrieval. This struck me as the beating heart of archival work, and I was thrilled and privileged to be allowed a look inside. I learned early on that working in archiving is not itself a research job, but rather a role where the research done by others is facilitated- this is a highly rewarding position to be in.

There is also a lot more involved in the sector. I spent a few very pleasant mornings down in conservation (envied by others, especially in the summer, as the only well air-conditioned area) listening to Radio 4, drinking coffee and doing various jobs. Some –like cleaning documents with the oddly textured, aerated-rubber-like conservation sponges– were quite straightforward and I was able to get a lot done. Other activities, like making cases for old books using acid-proof card and the biggest guillotine I’ve ever seen, exposed my lack of coordination but were good fun nonetheless.

Although archival work is not a research job, I was lucky enough to be let loose on a variety of historical projects. An alarming number of my family have worked in education, so I was interested to hear an older perspective on working in schools when I transcribed the oral history interview of a teacher formerly of a primary school in Redditch. Although some details change, the highs and lows of the job seem to be a constant. It was the first time I’d done any transcription from an oral source, and I worked at a heroically slow pace, though this did pick up towards the end. It was a very interesting hour and twenty minutes to listen to, and I felt like I was developing a useful skill.

I also transcribed some letters from World War One for use in a local group’s presentation. Written by members of local families, including a pair of brothers from Evesham and a ward sister based sometimes in the south coast, sometimes in France, these were insightful, funny and poignant in equal measure. The ward sister, Rachel, emerged from her letters as a thoroughly forthright and witty individual, decrying “hags” and “fishy eyed” trades unionists, while also requesting a true Worcestershire aid package of asparagus, which “doesn’t keep- we’ve tried!”. The traditional British stiff upper lip and aversion to informality were evident in one of the Evesham brothers. His war experience seemed largely to comprise touring Egypt and India; getting wounded; and convalescing around the world, all relayed to his parents with barely a trace of passion. He signed his letters “Your affectionate son, Cyril E. Sladden”, presumably to distinguish himself from any brothers also called Cyril.

Finally, an ongoing project has been based on the 1914, 1915 and 1916 volumes of the national Register of Habitual Criminals. This involved collating references to offenders born or convicted in Worcestershire, whom I then followed up using The Hive’s free access to Ancestry.co.uk and the local papers which are available on microfilm. This threw up some oddly amusing stories and an unexpected mystery, which can be read elsewhere.

I’d like to finish by expressing my gratitude to everyone involved in the archives at the Hive, and by wholeheartedly recommending the placement to anyone interested in a career in this area. I’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable time, have learnt so much, and have gained much needed experience to help me follow a career based in history. As a hopeful and now rather less vague graduate, I look forward to seeing where pursuing a career in archives will take me.

By Chris Rouse

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Crime, punishment and mystery in Edwardian Worcestershire: Part 2

Here is the second instalment of a piece researched by our recent work experience placement, Chris Rouse. You can find the first post here

In an earlier piece, I wrote about research I’d been doing into the habitual offenders of Edwardian Worcestershire. Most cases seemed simple: a crime was committed and the perpetrator was easily identifiable. One man, however, proved far trickier to pin down.

What originally leapt out was the crime – sacrilege. Combing through the 1914-1916 volumes of the Register of Habitual Criminals, this was conspicuous by its rarity, appearing just once in Worcestershire. The 1914 register showed that, on the 21st  of October 1913, Reginald Stanhope Forbes (aliases Charles Styche, Gerald Buxton and Francis Jarroll), a cinema operator born in New Zealand in 1880, had been convicted of such a crime. I was intrigued to see what his sacrilege had entailed, so went to follow it up in the local papers, finding accounts in the 25th of October 1913 editions of Berrows Worcester Journal and the Worcestershire Chronicle.


Expecting some public bouts of blasphemy, or desecration of a cathedral, I was a little underwhelmed to discover that his ‘sacrilege’ comprised breaking into a Kempsey church’s alms box. The reportage was amusing enough, largely for the apparently lacklustre nature of Forbes’ defence. The prosecution had matched a fragment of a blade found in the alms box to the accused’s penknife. Forbes claimed he had been at Worcester Cathedral at the time of the crime and had found a handkerchief with a broken knife underneath his bench. As with the Kildare horse thieves, the small issue of witnesses rebutted this defence.


Now the story started to become more interesting. The prosecutor noted that forty alms boxes had been broken into around England, several in Worcestershire, and the defendant had been linked to many of these crimes. The judge, denouncing Forbes for fuelling a “selfish, idle, worthless and dishonest life” by stealing money meant for the poor, sentenced him to twelve months’ hard labour. 


As well as this spree of breaking into churches, Forbes’ personal life was raised. He had, reported the 1913 newspapers, worked for two insurance companies in London and in Bristol, and as a dock labourer. He had a wife and children in Southend-on-Sea whom he left destitute in August 1911. He had also lived with a young woman in Bristol having claimed he was divorced; he left on the 4th June 1913 while she was pregnant. While in Bristol, he was arrested for stealing a postal order from the people he lodged with. If the 1913 dictionaries needed an illustration for their definitions of ‘bounder’ (even, whisper it, ‘cad’), then Reginald Stanhope Forbes was surely a prime candidate.


What’s more, his sacrilegious tour of the country continued over the years. A copy of the Police Gazette from the 4th of July 1923 showed Forbes was unrepentant and was still breaking into churches a decade later.   Here, the sense of mystery around the individual really started to develop. 


The Gazette, in recording his further exploits, says he was born as ‘Maurice Clifford’ in New Zealand and had worked as a ‘theatrical artist’. He had been convicted for larceny and sacrilege, including larceny and embezzlement at St Albans (as Maurice Clifford), Bristol (as Charles Styche), Malvern (as Reginald Stanhope Forbes), and Hailsham (as Charles Sydenham Rebbeck Styche). Here was a clutch of names and aliases to pursue further. Who was this man?


This question was made easier through establishing that Francis Jarroll, Gerald Buxton and Reginald Stanhope Forbes were pseudonyms with no firm basis in reality. No census, no birth certificate, no marriage register, no document of any kind seemed to exist for any of these three names.


Two names were in the historical record, though. I found a birth certificate from New Zealand, 1880 for Maurice Clifford, and also a birth certificate from Acton, Middlesex, 1880 for Charles Sydenham Rebbeck Styche. I was lulled into supposing a relatively simple solution. Given that each record pertaining to the man known in Malvern as Reginald Stanhope Forbes listed his birthplace as New Zealand, I assumed the criminal in question was Maurice Clifford. He had come from Australasia, met Charles Styche at some point, and then for whatever reason assumed his identity periodically after committing a sacrilegious crime. That Clifford had listed, in the 1923 Police Gazette, ‘Charles Sydenham Rebbeck Styche’ (a fairly uncommon name in its entirety) as an alias meant this was unlikely to be a coincidence where Clifford had plucked a name out of thin air.


However, it swiftly became far more complicated than this. Many documents emerged referring to Charles Sydenham Rebbeck Styche. The 1911 census has him married and working as comedian in a music hall. He served as a marine from 1903 to 1907, then re-enlisted in 1916. Overlap appears in the details of the conviction of the man, whatever we may call him, in St Albans in 1915. Here, he appears as Maurice Clifford, with his aliases listed. His profession is ‘comedian’; this, given the other corresponding details, is probably not a coincidence.


Then I found Charles Styche in the 1912 Gloucestershire prison records. Here, he is a surveyor, apparently born in London. He was convicted in Bristol for stealing a postal order, just as the Worcestershire papers recorded when reporting about ‘Reginald Stanhope Forbes’. Again, this seemed simple; this, I thought, was Maurice Clifford serving prison time under someone else’s name, though claiming here to have been born in London.

Further investigation into Charles Styche’s life led to fresh uncertainties. In the 1911 census, he is married to Helen Styche and lived with their three children in Prittlewell, a district in Southend-On-Sea: the town where ‘Reginald Stanhope Forbes’ is meant to have left a wife and children destitute. By the time Charles re-enlisted in 1916, he was apparently not married; the form lists his prior marine service, and the signature is the same as that in the 1911 census, so they are almost certainly the same Charles Styche.


The ‘unmarried’ Charles Styche’s signature in his enlistment form, 1916. 
(Image reproduced from Ancestry.co.uk. British Army WWI Service Records, 1914-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.)


However, Helen Styche died in Rochford, Essex, in 1921, near to where they earlier lived as a family. The ‘unmarried’ Charles Styche who enlisted in 1916 is not a widower. Could this be the man who left a wife and children destitute in Southend-on-Sea as Berrows Worcester Journal records, albeit there as Reginald Stanhope Forbes? Or could it be that Maurice Clifford stole not just a man’s name, but also his less than pleasant life story?

One issue is why the Worcestershire papers omit the man’s comedic and military careers. Perhaps he neglected to tell or they neglected to say; either option raises further questions. The myriad different jobs, the fluctuation between them, and their selective recording in various documents, remain a mystery.


Who, then, is the ‘original’? Did a New Zealander assume many of the details of Charles Styche’s life? Did Charles Styche take the name of a New Zealander, citing his place of birth for the 1914 register? For the man who was either a cinema operator or a music hall comedian, and quite possibly both, was his life one long amusing story, embellished with the details of others’? This could explain the constantly changing details in each conviction, the farcical defence in the Kempsey case, the homage to a famous artist, Stanhope Forbes, in one alias.


I believe it is likely –though far from certain- that the man arrested in Worcestershire for sacrilege and recorded in the Register of Habitual Criminals as Reginald Stanhope Forbes was born as Charles Sydenham Rebbeck Styche in Acton, Middlesex, who at some point met and ‘borrowed’ details from a New Zealander of a similar age called Maurice Clifford. The abandoned family, the 1912 conviction, and the repeated emergence of ‘comedian’ as a career all point this way – unless, of course, Maurice Clifford embellished his own back story using Styche’s life. 


With the available sources, it may well be impossible to unpick all the tangled threads and wrap up the loose ends. The biggest, most answerable question is ‘why?’. Why did this man, wherever he was born and whatever his ‘true’ name was, assume so many aliases? If he were Charles Styche, what made him take the name and place of birth from Maurice Clifford? If he were Maurice Clifford, why did he assumed so many of the details –name, family, careers- from Charles Styche? 


In trying to answer these questions and understand this complex character, we can only look at words on a page, often written by someone else and always within the constraints of a certain type of document. We have no diaries, no letters, no personal insights into the man behind the names; we have only snapshots of the lives he led or claimed to have led. While we can speculate no end about each man and the relationship between, this will always remain no more than conjecture. But what information we have presents a fascinating, tantalising collage of a man of many crimes, many names, and many lives.


[ii] The whole document is not available for free public access, but a text-only version of the section relating to our man of many names is available at http://www.lastchancetoread.com/docs/1923-07-04-the-police-gazette.aspx

By Chris Rouse

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Crime, punishment and mystery in Edwardian Worcestershire: Part 1

This summer Worcestershire Archive Service was lucky enough to host the talented and enthusiastic Chris Rouse on one of the hundred-hour work experience placements we offer. During his time with us he had the opportunity get involved with a wide variety of the sort of jobs one might encounter in the archive profession, including some work on the Registers of Habitual Criminals held here at The Hive. Here, Chris tells about some of his findings:

A hush fell over the courtroom as the judge cleared his throat to deliver the verdict on the gang of six before him. Watching the events with special interest was a local innkeeper, Harry Alfred Jones of Alfrick, near Malvern in Worcestershire – the location of the trial. Jones had welcomed the six, now on trial for larceny, into his inn some time previously, later finding that they had stolen one of his precious belongings. 

A search with the local constabulary ensued after a witness attested to having seen one of the six with the item in question under some cloth, which at the time was assumed to have been a baby. The hunt ended with the recovery of Jones’ property, which was eventually found in a beanfield. 

In the courtroom, three of the perpetrators were found not guilty. George Williams, a twenty-five year old labourer, had admitted prior convictions and was blamed as the ringleader of the operation.

As half the gang breathed a sigh of relief, the punishments were delivered. Williams, and two other unnamed individuals, were each sent to prison for three months for orchestrating the theft of a joint of ham. 


~~~~~~~~~~

This high stakes, high octane case was reported in the 18th of October 1913 edition of Berrows Worcester Journal, a local paper which every week offered accounts of life, death, crime, commerce and politics to the people of Worcestershire. As well as providing a fascinating insight into local journalism and life in the Edwardian period, the paper also shows how easy (and absorbing) it can be to pull on one interesting thread and unravel a whole spool of historical information.

I had originally delved into the Hive’s extensive collection of microfilm, housed in the ‘Explore the Past’ area, to investigate a different line of enquiry. I had been working through the 1914, 1915 and 1916 volumes of the Register of Habitual Criminals, compiled by the Metropolitan Police force’s Criminal Record Office.


Registers of Habitual Criminals registers held by Worcestershire Archive Service on behalf of the West Mercia Police

These weighty tomes took their form and function from the 1871 Prevention of Crimes Act, which stipulated that all people imprisoned for at least a month should be registered, with extra sentences meted out for repeat offenders.  Recorded details included prisoners’ appearance; any aliases; their birthplace; and the nature of their crime, and the books are excellent sources for researching local or family history through the murky lens of crime and punishment.

Having gone through three nationwide volumes to log any details of offenders either born or tried in Worcestershire, I set out to pursue any interesting looking cases; I’m not sure what it says about the county that the majority of cases were either fraud or some kind of animal theft.


An extract from a Register of Habitual Criminals.











I discovered the case of the missing ham (a novel in waiting, if ever there were one) while searching the local contemporary press for details of John Summers, who leapt out of the 1914 register for his large number of aliases, including Charles Hemming, Frederick Hewlett and Arthur Tulip. Berrows Worcester Journal and the Kidderminster Shuttle were silent over this multitude of names, but did record a bout of cattle rustling which, in the defending counsel’s own words, was not intentional larceny but an “idiotic semi-drunken freak”. 

This lawyer, a Mr Riley Pearson, had experience in cases of slightly inept animal stealing. As I worked through the 1914 register, it emerged that two individuals, both from Kildare, had been convicted in Stourbridge of horse theft on the 30th of October 1912. This piqued my interest- was this a case of a sophisticated gang of Irish horse thieves, conducting their operations in Worcestershire? In short, no. Sidney McDonald and Thomas Moran, alias Thomas Henry Hands, wandered into a field and stole a pony belonging to a Mr Martin of Amblecote. When spotted, they claimed they were returning the animal after two other men let it loose. The several witnesses to the crime begged to differ and, despite Mr Riley Pearson’s efforts, the Irishmen were sent down.

These crimes from the early 1910s seem light, almost farcical, in their bucolic ways. They, and the manner in which they were reported, make a poignant contrast to what would strike Britain, Europe and the world only a short time later.

They are also, looking back now, rather open-and-shut. They could not be more dissimilar to another case, the further into which I delved, the murkier and more mysterious it became…


We will bring you the second part of Chris' findings next week!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

A mammoth discovery

Just before Easter, our archaeologists were called out to investigate the discovery of a mammoth tusk at Tarmac's Clifton Quarry, just south of Worcester.
The tusk was spotted by a sharp-eyed excavator driver at the site: realising the importance of what he had uncovered, he reported it to the quarry management. Tarmac immediately suspended operations in the vicinity of the tusk. Having worked with us on other archaeological investigations in the quarry, they contacted us straight away.
Within 24 hours Field Supervisor Graham Arnold, and Field Archaeologist and animal bone specialist James Spry, were out on site recording and lifting the tusk ready to bring it back to the archaeology offices at The Hive. Despite having been well-embedded into the underlying gravel and sand for thousands of years, it was remarkably well-preserved, but also extremely delicate. Graham and James examined the find spot and surrounding geology for clues about how and when it was deposited, and then carefully recovered it in one piece.
Archaeologists Graham Arnold and James Spry recover the mammoth tusk

An initial specialist assessment of the find confirms it to be the remains of a tusk from a Mammuthus primigenius, or Woolly Mammoth. These impressive creatures once roamed the Worcestershire countryside around 50,000 years ago alongside our Neanderthal ancestors, during a period of the human past called the Palaeolithic. The size of the tusk suggests that it was from a young male animal, which could have grown up to eleven feet height at the shoulder and weighed up to six tonnes.


Reconstruction drawing by WAAS illustrator Carolyn Hunt of mammoths in Worcestershire
Thanks to Tarmac's support, the tusk has been painstakingly dried out and stabilised by specialist conservator Nigel Larkin. It's on temporary display this summer at Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery in Foregate Street, Worcester. The museum is open Monday to Saturday 10.30am – 4.30 pm, and entry is free.
The conserved tusk in its new home at Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery
Senior Archaeological Project Manager Robin Jackson said: "Thanks to the very prompt and responsible actions of the quarry staff we've been able to recover this very interesting find from Worcestershire's distant past. Discoveries of mega fauna (giant animal) bones in Worcestershire are rare and therefore this find is an important one which will hopefully inspire people to learn more about Palaeolithic Worcestershire."
Nick Atkins, estates manager at Tarmac, said: “We’re excited that such a significant discovery has been made at our site and are very keen to see what else we can find out about it. It’s fantastic to discover something like this which is so well preserved and will help us and the specialists find out more about the creature and its history.”
Deborah Fox, Curator of Archaeology and Natural History at the museum has said: "We're delighted to be able to display this wonderful specimen and would like to pay tribute to Tarmac for their swift action and care of this important discovery, and to Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service's professionalism and expertise. It's been many decades since a specimen like this came into the City Museum and we're very pleased to have it here."

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Holding History - Monday 15 August

Come along to The Hive this August and experience history first hand with us.

On Monday 15 August from 11am-2pm, you will have the opportunity to hold items from the archives collections. History is not just about reading documents, these are real items with fascinating stories, and holding these helps connect people to the past.
 
Seal of Elizabeth I

As many of you know we have over 12 miles of archives on the shelves but people only usually encounter items they've ordered, so we have organised a selection of items to bring out:

  • ·         Discover the stories in the archives.
  • ·         Examine a Great Seal and find important clues about how a monarch wished to be seen by her subjects.
  • ·         Handle pottery and other finds from the Lich Street dig.
  • ·         Find out if your street existed in Worcester in 1886.
  • ·         A set of teeth! Find out the intriguing reason they can be found in the archives.
  • ·         Have a go at cleaning old documents under supervision from our conservator.

 
False teeth - what are they doing in the archives???

People use what we have in many ways, and people can be inspired when coming face to face with the real thing. There will also be activities for children. The event is free, so just drop in on the day.

Angie Downton, Senior Archive Assistant, said: "We have a wealth of fascinating items, and there is nothing quite like holding history in your hands, it captures your imagination. This is a great opportunity for people to come and experience what we have to offer."