Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Flax of the Matter

We have enjoyed another busy and insightful week at South Somerset District Council’s Community Heritage Access Centre, (CHAC) near Yeovil. One of the highlights was receiving the news from the Arts Council of a successful grant application of £500 towards de-humidifiers in our store.
One of our volunteers is presently completing an audit of our store. This involves noting the description; accession number and location of each item – so we know the ‘who, where, what, how and why’ of an object and just as importantly, recording those objects that do not have this information and trying to discover any further details.
This process has naturally highlighted some ‘mystery objects’, which when our volunteer shows us individually, we often respond ‘where did you find that’ and our volunteer naturally responds ‘on the shelf’.
This reflects the fact that we are promoting CHAC and our collections, maintaining or raising our profile through visits and our website, answering enquiries and leading guided ‘introductory’ tours, so we tend not to focus on individual objects; what they are used for; or how they are made. We have a selection of objects which we use to illustrate stories for tours, but it is pleasantly surprising how many objects come across ‘as new’ to our eyes.
The two illustrated here are a tool from the flax industry called a ‘Swingle’ for beating the flax and a letter parcel balance used by Yeovil Rural District Council.
The interesting balance with the audit is to make brief accurate detail but also record any notable features, which can also be added to our existing database records for each item – which is a rewarding role, both for the volunteer and staff.

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Curtain Up!

This week we have enjoyed another prioritising and thought-provoking week at South Somerset District Council’s Community Heritage Access Centre, Yeovil.

We have recently received several enquiries from researchers, with World War One and World War Two themes around ARP wardens and the early years of Westland Aircraft.

One of our main partnerships this year is helping with the research to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Johnson Hall and Octagon Theatre. This is a Heritage Lottery Funded project.

At this early stage, researchers wished to see and examine the ‘theatre’ and ‘Johnson Hall’ related items and photographs in the CHAC collection for three main reasons. Firstly, to build up an understanding of the overall theatre history in Yeovil and the various groups that have contributed to this story; secondly to select programmes and images for an exhibition and thirdly oral history film recordings will be made, some of which will then be shown during the live performance next year and they will become part of the archive too.

Amanda Boyd, a researcher on the project, visited us recently to look through theatre programmes and photographs that illustrated the change and development from the Johnson Hall to the Octagon Theatre. Finding the requested items underlined the significance of accurate documentation and storage and our new object and photograph database.

With the old database, we would often print out pages of objects for people to look through. With the new system, researchers are able to suggest a simple word search like ‘theatre’; we can check and make a subset of the results and then crucially, send these results as a PDF document by email for the researcher to highlight and send back to us – all of which saves valuable time and the environment.

The next step is actually finding the physical items and photographs themselves, which really reflects the importance of clearly recording locations and also putting objects back in the same place for use on another occasion – a simple point which can be overlooked. However, if a location is recorded with a date when the object was placed there and within an accessible database, this solves the problem of the ‘single curator’ with all the knowledge in an ‘individual’ as everyone should be able to find the object, or at least know when the object was last in that location. On an even simpler level, many of the items were in a ‘leisure and theatre box!’

From the researcher’s point of view this also helps with their time, especially if they only have an hour to spend – therefore with an appointment everything is ready to go when they arrive.

With the specific theatre request, we located theatre productions, including The Marian Players at the Princes Theatre, Yeovil, changes in design of theatre programme, Thelma Parish (mother of well-known actress, Sarah) and an intriguing insight into treading the boards!

The other interesting aspect to emerge is never assume the knowledge of your researcher; as during Amanda’s visit we established the critical point of why the Johnson Hall was called the Johnson Hall in the first place; Mr Johnson giving money for a public hall in Yeovil; hence the Johnson Suite in the present Octagon Theatre.

There will be a live show at the Octagon Theatre next year bringing all the project’s research together.

So, a thoughtful morning on two grounds; a ‘spotlight’ on all things theatre in Yeovil and on our procedures – so for the next time, metaphorically ‘Curtain Up!’


Researcher on the Octagon Theatre 40th Anniversary Project, Amanda Boyd examines some of the theatre programmes in the Community Heritage Access Centre Collection.

Amanda Octagon Project

The Jolly Passenger

A busy round of displays, saying goodbyes and donations since our last posting.

Our most recent donation came in today and included a notable selection of small black and white photographs related to Bruttons Charringtons Beers, once based in Princes Street, Yeovil.

They relate to the donor’s relative that was a soldier in the Winchester Regiment during World War Two with the 8th Army Deserts Rats. Upon ‘de-mob’ and leaving active service, they took up a post with Bruttons Charringtons driving the lorries to deliver beers to local pubs.

The photographs show their ‘jollies’ or works outings and ever-present on each trip was the coach and a barrel of Bruttons finest beer (the ‘jolly passenger’)- with a helpful tap at one end! There are even bottles of beer in one photograph.

The images are significant for illustrating another chapter in the life of a local industry; the changing life of one of that company’s workers and how we no longer have ‘a jolly passenger’ on works ‘jollies!’

Two of the photographs illustrating Bruttons Charringtons Works Outings of the 1950s. The location is not presently known.

Bruttons Charringtons 2853 Bruttons Charringtons 1852

Value the Victory

Another intriguing and varied week at South Somerset District Council’s Community Heritage Access Centre, Yeovil, Somerset.

We recently received a ‘timely’ reminder in the form of the ‘W.J. Sherriff’ Clock from Preston Road Methodist Church, Yeovil. This week’s blog is timely for another reason. Literally, in the last hour, we have received a photograph of a Victory in Europe (VE) Day Party at Western Terrace,            St. Michael’s Avenue, Yeovil with the 70th Anniversary of VE Day on Friday 8th May.

Once again, this highlights the poignancy of photographs ‘capturing’ a particular moment and the importance of accurate documentation. For those generations separated by time from the ‘global conflict’ or accustomed to images of war relayed on 24 hour news, the significance and impact of Churchill’s speech announcing cessation of conflict (though Victory in Japan VJ Day would come later) may be difficult to imagine.

Something of the feeling of the time is captured in the faces of the children and their parents, especially with the request to attend in fancy dress. With rationing still in force, some imagination seems to have gone into the costumes – perhaps ‘make do and mend’ becoming ‘make do and imagine’. The smiles and number in the group also reflect the momentous nature of the event. Many of the children may also have attended the local Pen Mill School, suggesting this was either part of the school day or a special weekend occasion. The majority of adults in the image are ladies, which may give some indication.

Timely and accurate documentation is also key to record at the time of donation, any one known in the photograph. This was certainly the case, with members of the Trask family (mineral water fame) being identified. This can also help if we ask for further information through a press release – as not only are people able to identify unknown ‘faces’ but also confirm existing details and can share memories of the time.

The strange and perhaps sad point, inevitably, is what lies ‘behind’ the image, with losses on both sides. Perhaps the point remains and is strengthened further, especially with Thursday 7th May’s General Election, is the freedoms we enjoy and owe to previous generations – “For our tomorrow, they gave their today” – with our celebrations tempered by the suffering experienced but also the choice we now have, and consider how we ‘value the victory.’

Victory in Europe Party, Western Terrace, Yeovil 8th May 1945 with the Methodist Church in the Background.

VE Day Party Swain844