Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service recently had the pleasure of hosting a work experience placement for Charlotte Hall. During her time here Charlotte had the chance to get an insight into the wide range of roles that take place behind-the-scenes in our service. Here, Charlotte gives us her thoughts about her experiences here:
Inside the Archive: 12 miles of wonder
Having never been inside an Archive before, I was fascinated to discover what tantalising treasures I could discover behind those closed doors. I was not to be disappointed for there was a large array of tasks on offer during my three day placement so that I could discover more about the history of Worcestershire. There was so much more to explore and discover which I was not even aware existed.
My first discovery came about when I was taken on a tour of the archives and saw every nook and cranny, exploring what was on offer. Seeing straight in front of me William Shakespeare's marriage record was most exciting! It has been speculated he could have even been married in Worcester (now that is something Worcester should be proud of). He is, after all, one of the greatest, most famous writers of all time!
Crossing my A Level studies with my time spent here, I was able to look at letters and seals sent by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Charles I to the Lords of Worcestershire. Charles I sent a letter requesting an army be raised in Worcester during the English Civil War, this letter which is held in the archives made my year seven History lessons come to life. The other seals linked to my current Tudor History studies; the grandeur of Henry VIII's seal certainly mimics his reign. From these extraordinary records I received a clearer, authentic, exciting version of the history I learn out of the textbook at school. It is for this reason, it is essential the archives are conserved and kept safe to allow us to learn and analyse history of our ancestors in great detail.
An additional discovery I made was during my time in the public searchroom. It is here that people can come to The Hive and view documents from the Archive for their own personal discoveries and interests. Perhaps for a dissertation or researching family history, people will request documents to read. One enquiry came through and I was taken along to go and find it within the Archive. This ended up being some World War One letters from 1914 from a soldier to his wife back at home. The fact that these letters, written so long ago, can still be viewed and read today is unbelievable. I received a real emotional insight into the war and the effect it had on the British people with the tone of the letters and their content. I called them the 'love letters' as they were full of emotion and heartfelt words of affection. It was my favourite find of all! Sadly, 3 days after his last letter was posted he died in the war and that was the end of the sequence of beautiful writing which, though he only wrote for one, has touched many more than just her.
Police records from the 1900s and during the war have also been recently deposited at the Archives. Various charges of crimes for men during the war are contained within volumes (big, old books with crusty pages and typewriter text) One task I was given was to search through these and identify any local people from the past, who may have been recorded as criminals. This will help people to find their relatives and perhaps also gather more information as the book gave details of profession and appearance. Through analysing these books local history and heritage will become richer and it was wonderful to take part in studying them. However, there was also a rather amusing side to it as some of the crimes inputted were rather tedious. Would you like to be remembered in history for stealing a piece of ham!?
Nonetheless, not all of the profession is finding and observing historical records. I spent time learning to accession, catalogue and conserve the items when they come into the archive to be looked after. There is a vast database and numbering system in order to ensure that among the 12 miles of shelving, everything can be found without too much hassle! My time spent in conservation made me realise the importance of looking after the history of the past so that they can last many years. Extending their lifetime will allow other generations to be able to appreciate them also.
What struck me during my short time spent here; was that there is so much more to explore and discover among those lengthy 12 miles! Each day you could discover something new about the past, even perhaps about your relatives and see it in the flesh straight from 1790, 1864, 1911 or whenever. You pretty much have the pick of the draw! (Or should I say strongroom, as it would have to be a very large drawer).