Monthly Archives: March 2016

Praise for Preservation

A busy and involving week since our last posting from South Somerset District Council’s Community Heritage Access Centre, near Yeovil.

This week staff received an insight from the Yeovil University Centre Students, which they suggested to share on the CHAC Weekly BLOG.

Our Experience at Yeovil’s Community Heritage Access Centre

“History is a continuous process of interaction between the present and the past”– Edward Carr

As third year degree students, it is thrust upon us to venture out into the professional world and dabble in some voluntary work to help us establish where we will move on to from the student bubble after graduation. As a student studying history, the prospect to be able to get up close and personal to artefacts and historical documents is just too good to miss. My peers and I were able to grasp this opportunity and have an enriched experience with the wonderful Clare and Joseph at the Community Heritage Access Centre in Yeovil.

Our CHAC experience opened our eyes at just how much time and effort is put into the maintenance, restoration and pro-longing the life of items and documents behind the scenes within the archives. Our journey started with the ‘simple’ idea of documenting items and recording documents within the accession register. “That’s pretty easy and straight forward” you would think. That is what we thought at the start of the session, surrounded by pretty photographs of the local area; scenes of fields, buildings and roads with the odd bustle of crowds in-between. Oh how wrong we were! When documenting an item such as a photograph, the whole scene has to be depicted. Here are just a few fundamental things one has to think of when doing so: What road could that be? Which building is that? Has that been replaced? Has it changed? If so, how? Where would that collection of fields be? (Wait, those fields look like the fields on the other end of town, so surely that building isn’t that building after all?) Who made the frame? What are its dimensions? Has it got a date? If so, when? Any damage at all? Any finger marks? Any dust? The list of possible questions could go on and on. The same applies for documents: When? How? What? Who? This then has to be documented and then written within the accession register. It was shocking how just a few pictures took up the whole session, and gave just a small insight into the running and up-keep into this particular element of the centre.

Another session which was eye-opening was the general care and maintenance of the artefacts themselves. The time, patience and up-keep of the individual items to extend their life really was astonishing. Clothing is vacuumed with a unique vacuum designed specifically for the conservation of clothing and materials (this can either be a tedious task or a therapeutic one). Ceramics are cleaned with a single cotton bud to ensure nothing is damaged (again, this is up to the individual whether the task is tedious or therapeutic) and metals are kept dust-free with specific cleaning agents. On top of all this for the artefacts themselves, the store is kept at a consistent temperature with the humidity being monitored closely to ensure mould is at bay.

It doesn’t end there. The staff and the volunteers in the access centre then prepare exhibitions, talks, appointments and show groups around the archives. On top of this, we were throwing around ideas for events in the local area to promote CHAC in all its glory. To many, the process behind the preservation of local history won’t cross their mind. Indeed, I was also naive and was not in any way prepared to learn how many hours, dedication and just pure passion for history has gone into the conservation of the archives for us to enjoy, love and learn our local history.

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Some of the work completed by the Yeovil University Centre Students.

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A Stitch in Time

We have enjoyed a busy and exciting week since our last posting from South Somerset District Council Community Heritage Access Centre, near Yeovil.

Staff enjoyed a Managing Photographic Archives Course at The Dorset History Centre, Dorchester on Monday, followed by our Volunteer Day on Wednesday with a talk to The Good Fellows Society on Thursday with a Touring Exhibitions Course in Exeter to follow on Friday.

One of our recent, intriguing donations were three photographs illustrating a moment in the life of Clothier and Giles Glove Company based at Park Street, Yeovil. The first two photographs were of a gloving demonstration at the Royal Bath & West Show in the early 1950s with a member of the Giles Family operating a large gloving press and the donor of the photographs operating a sewing machine in the foreground – for the ‘fancy’ patterns on the gloves.

The third photograph showed a Clothier and Giles Christmas Party, but in an unknown location. This is a large hall with a number of tables laid out. We would be grateful if anyone knows the setting of this Clothier & Giles Christmas Party, which like the first two photographs, dates from the early 1950s.

Staff have also started to document the significant donation of gloves from the lady glove designer for Southcombes Ltd. This has involved assigning the unique museum number and group number, completing a template object record sheet and writing a fabric label for each glove – for so far 53 gloves!

A stitch in time, ‘saving nine’ in both cases.

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Mainline Attraction

We have enjoyed a busy and eventful week since our last posting from South Somerset District Council’s Community Heritage Access Centre.

Our week started at a new, exciting event in the form of the first “South West Learning Symposium.”

The Symposium was held at the rather grand West of England Academy of Art in Bristol. We enjoyed talks from the Director of the Academy on the ‘Happy Museum’ initiative; a key contact from the Museum of East Asian Art on working with paid facilitators for special projects and the latest work of the South West Heritage Trust, based in Taunton, Somerset.

After lunch, staff were divided into groups to share in smaller ‘break out’ sessions on subjects including reminiscence with senior participants and safeguarding of staff for children’s activities.

Wednesday saw staff and volunteers take a display for a Great Western Railway event. This was held at the Ninesprings Café in Yeovil Country Park. Our initial understanding was for a display and artefacts related to the G.W.R for regional railway groups to enjoy when they visited the café in three groups. As it turned out on the day, delegates were attending a two-day conference with an evening meal at the Manor Hotel and the main conference at Yeovilton Fleet Air Arm Museum, the following day. A particular highlight was seeing each group of delegates appear outside the cafe as they completed their walk of the old track bed up from their arrival at Pen Mill Station.

Our display was a combination of the traditional 3-panel blue board and actual main collection objects and documents. The board featured close-up maps showing the former  Hendford Halt and Town Stations together with the remaining Pen Mill and Yeovil Junction Stations. We then placed photographs of the old Town Station building and events that had happened at each station alongside the maps. These included First World War Soldiers leaving Pen Mill Station to join the front.

The objects were housed in three resin cases and featured a G.W.R porter’s cap; a G.W.R porter’s collar band and eight G.W.R brass buttons together with intriguing documents like a ‘mustering card’ for railway employees that were also part of the Home Guard and a reference for a G.W.R employee requesting a reference for a council house! We also had details of a railway accident at Pen Mill in 1913, but as many people had arrived by train at Pen Mill Station– this was available ‘on request!’

Our 2-6pm time was also a different experience for our volunteers from regular documentation work!

Staff completed the week with a visit to a gentleman and his wife in Yeovil as they had responded to our press release on glove irons. They had both worked for a local glove company. They also let us know of the World War Two rear bomber gunners who got so cold that they could not operate the guns on the aircraft- and these were the first of the crew to be killed by enemy fire as they were able to hit the faster fighters. Yeovil (and other centres of glove production) came to the rescue (literally) by making fur-lined gloves with heated elements that could plugged into the cockpit – like an electric blanket. Staff would very much like to find a pair!

Part of our display for (and at!) Ninesprings Cafe, Yeovil Country Park for the Great Western Railway Community Rail Conference 2016.

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(Courtesy of Yeovil Tourist Information Centre)

 

Fourchette Me Not

A busy and exciting week since our last posting from South Somerset District Council’s Community Heritage Access Centre, near Yeovil.

Last Friday we enjoyed the company of a lady glove designer. The meeting was arranged to  discover the fascinating story when the lady worked for Southcombes of Stoke sub Hamdon as the company’s only female glove designer. Southcombes are perhaps best known today for producing fire-retardant gloves for the fire brigade, as well as a range of ‘dress’ leather gloves.

We were expecting an informative interview, which would provide valuable background ‘working’ detail of an actual South Somerset gloving factory. This is always useful to enhance our gloving tools ‘on the shelves’ in the store. This went very well indeed, with superb insights into the everyday experiences of a family-run business and some of the colourful designs.

With the notes taken (in an individual form of shorthand!) we came to the two large carrier bags, placed at the end of our table. We had expected a few pairs of gloves to be donated, to illustrate the lady’s intriguing life story, but not around 80 pairs. Moreover, our designer wished to explain the thoughts that went into each design; the significant development represented by each design and the market each glove was designed for.

We were so grateful for this; not only for such a key donation, but also for wishing to take such a degree of time and effort to explain the context of each design. We often have the case where people do not have the time to explain the significance of the items they donate, particularly the connection to family and place.

The explanation was central in this case; for the simple reason that the lady designed many, if not all of the gloves and Southcombes made them; often in some cases, only making an individual sample.

The only problem, on a practical level, was actually how to record the level of detail on 50 pairs of gloves laid out and numbered on our Research Room table. Fortunately, we used the ‘film’ option on our digital camera to record each numbered glove and the associated information – which was useful to keep both together for future reference.

Our gloving week continued with our visit to Chester Jefferies Glove Factory Ltd at Gillingham, near Shaftesbury, Dorset. This was a great experience, as staff were provided with a guided tour of every aspect of the process. This illustrated all the aspects we had spoken of on the Friday and essentially helped staff to confirm exactly what certain gloving tools were called and how they were used.

Chester Jefferies was founded in 1936, but due to competition rules, another company could not be set up within 100 miles. Therefore another site was chosen in Westbury, Wiltshire and then in 1963, Gillingham, Dorset, continuing the tradition of finely made, leather gloves, where individual customer requirements can be achieved.

We were fascinated to actually see how a glove is made, using traditional tools and the many Yeovil connections. These included gloving webs made by Hallett’s of Yeovil and the main press made by Ashley’s of Yeovil. We were also fascinated to confirm the difference between  quirks and fourchettes in a finished glove and discover a framed photograph of “The Oldest Glover in Dorset” using a sewing machine made by Moffatt’s of Yeovil!

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A busy morning at Chester Jefferies Ltd, Gillingham, Dorset.

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And a Yeovil Connection!