Following the creative processes in archive collections (new staff introductions – Part Two!)

My name is Rachael and this is my first blog as one of the new Archive Assistants at Heritage Quay. My duties include processing collections that have arrived at the archive to ensure they will be accessible to researchers, and one of the main tasks relating to this is cataloguing. This means data about the records is input into our database, which you can try browsing through yourself through our online catalogue here:

In this blog I wanted to focus on one of the joys of working with archives- getting to study the creative process. I recently catalogued composer Catherine Kiernan’s papers which primarily includes musical scores (you can view the listing here). However, the item that caught my eye was a script and score for a play named ‘The Clan’. This file contains draft versions allowing you to see how the script was adapted as the play developed. The script features handwritten notes. For example, one note proposes where a song might be played and crossing out delineates where lines have been changed. These adaptations tell the story of how the play was adapted as the creators continued to work and provides insight into their evaluation process as they edit.

Extracts from the Catherine Kiernan Archive (CKN)

There is a handwritten description of costumes, including the style and material that needs to be adorned for a Scottish clansman look. A note at the bottom explains that whoever wrote this did research about traditional Scottish dress by reading Peter Cochrane’s Scottish Military Dress. This is informative about the research process by highlighting what resources might be used as the play is being prepared. Clearly this individual found a history book valuable as inspiration for the costume design. This also tells us that historical accuracy was important for the creators and that they were trying to reproduce authenticity through the costumes.

Studying the unpublished archival items allows you to see a process, rather than just a final product. Providing a glimpse into how a work of art or literature transforms from an idea. Examining others creative processes can inspire artists own and provide greater insight into the creator, helping the researcher comprehend the artwork. Archives are one of the only places where these items, e.g. an artist’s sketchbook or a poet’s notebook, can be discovered and, thus, exploring the creative process is one of the many bonuses of working with archives.’

That Monday Feeling

“Amongst the 10,000 records in our nationally significant British Dance Band Collection are a number of unissued recordings including this one by the Nottingham=based band directed by Billy Merrin.   Most of the “top” bands  were London-based but Merrin managed to get a national following (and good recording contracts) without having to be based in the capital.   A photograph of his band (known as the Commanders) recently came to light and is included in this link to a sound-file of their 1933 recording of  an amusing little ditty entitled I’ve Got To Get Up And Go To Work…….”

Connecting with Collections (and new staff introductions! – Part One)

My name is Liz Pente and I am one of the new Archives Assistants at Heritage Quay. Having recently completed a PhD in History at the University of Huddersfield, I am delighted to join the archive team.  As a public historian, I am passionate about the value of preserving the past, so that it may be accessible to people in the present and future.

The collections at Heritage Quay are extensive – over 135 that are ready for researchers to explore! Getting to know these vast collections is part of my new role here. One of my favourite aspects of exploring the past is  encountering unexpected connections. Connections between the past and the present, connections between places, connections between documents and materials themselves, and even personal connections to archival materials.  This is a little story about one such connection…

I was doing some work on the Leonard Smith Collection related to Unitarianism.  According to The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, Unitarianism ‘is an open-minded and welcoming approach to faith that encourages individual freedom, equality for all and rational thought’. They highlight some prominent Unitarians including Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, Thomas Jefferson and Joseph Priestly – who is the namesake of one of our buildings here at The University of Huddersfield!

The Leonard Smith Collection includes 323 volumes of printed books relating to Unitarianism from 1840-2013.  These are available to search in our catalogue here.

The materials I was working on included a later accession to the collection, the details of which have yet to be catalogued.  The materials are wide-ranging, from volumes of the Transactions of the Unitarian Society Journal, to Unitarian event programmes, church and congregation histories to lecture and sermon pamphlets.The dates of the materials range from the 1800s-2010s, but it was one item from 1986, which caught my eye.

Among the lecture pamphlets was an item from a series called Truth, Liberty, Religion – Essays Celebrating Two Hundred Years of Manchester College, edited by Barbara Smith. The booklet was the first in the series, titled 1. The Unitarian Background by R. K. Webb of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

‘Truth, Liberty and Religion’, (1893), ed. by Barbara Smith

Have you heard of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, otherwise known as UMBC? No? Well, not only have I heard of it, but it is where I completed my Master of Arts in Historical Studies, with a concentration in Public History. Not only that, but UMBC is where I had my first foray into archives, serving as an intern in the Albin O. Kuhn Library’s Special Collections department, working within the Center for Biological Sciences Archive

Robert K. Webb (1922–2012) was a distinguished American scholar of British history studying from the 1780s through to the nineteenth century,  focusing on ‘the relative stability of the British state during a period of revolution in France’ and religious dissent. Sandra Herbert, writing for the American  Historical Association  in November 2012, describes his work on the Unitarians:

‘In Webb’s subsequent work he explored the British tradition of religious dissent. He was interested in studying the British non-conformists on their own terms. He also saw their movement as providing a safety valve for releasing social tensions. In this Webb’s work was congruent with that of the French historian Élie Halévy. As an indication of his high regard for Halévy, Webb translated his Era of Tyrannies: Essays on Socialism and War into English (1966). Among the English nonconformists Bob Webb settled on the Unitarians for his own work. He was drawn to them by a shared sense of the value of rational enquiry and because he noted the prominence of Unitarians among social reformers in 19th-century Britain, as,for example, in the Martineau family.

Webb’s biography of one ofthe members of that family is still a standard work on the subject: Harriet Martineau: A Radical Victorian (1960).  Over the course of the next 40 years, Bob published extensively on the English Unitarians, including numerous individual contributions to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  Bob’s last public lecture, again touching on the Unitarians, was a talk he gave in 2010 entitled “The Very Long Eighteenth Century: An Experiment in the History of Religion.” Bob’s contributions to the field of British history were honored in 1992 by the volume Religion and Irreligion in Victorian Society: Essays in Honor of R. K. Webb edited by R. W. Davis and R. J. Helmstadter.’

Webb was along-standing member of the UMBC community, and the university established the annual R.K.Webb Lecture, which I attended during my time there. This was quite an unexpected connection!

This pamphlet is just one of over 130 items being added to the Leonard Smith Collection, and this is one small connection between my experiences at those institutions, and learning more about Unitarianism through processing this collection, which I hope will help inform my knowledge of this type of collection more broadly.

I am excited to see what new connections emerge as I continue getting to know the remarkable collections here at Heritage Quay.  What connections will you make with our amazing collections?  Come explore, and see what you discover!

If, like me, you too have made an unexpected connection whilst conducting research in our archives, we would love to hear your story!  Tweet us @Heritage_Quay 

Catalogues a plenty at Heritage Quay!

There’s been a deluge of new catalogue descriptions added to the Heritage Quay catalogue this week! This is great news for researchers as it means you can get more detail on the content of some of our collections! Here’s what’s been added:

– RFL Tape Collection – Lots of detail on the tapes in the RFL collections, of games, instructional videos, and the history and execution of the game.
– Cricket Research Centre Collection – The centre collected lots of materials relating to the history of cricket as part of a funded project and exhibited these locally.
– Continuum Ensemble – The working papers of the Continuum Ensemble, a musical company dedicated to bringing neglected 20th century music to modern audiences.
– Wombwell and Oxford Authentics – Records of both the Oxford and Wombwell cricket clubs and the Oxford University Indian cricket tour of 1902.
– Open College Networks – Publications and papers relating to the beginning of the open college networks.
– Mikron Tapes – The addition of oral history, research interviews and audio cassettes to the Mikron collection.
– George Glew Archive – The research reports, lecture slides and papers of this food scientist, who completed research on refrigeration and worked at the Universities of Leeds and Huddersfield.

All of these are searchable at our online catalogue at

Australian historian admires Uni’s Mechanics’ Institute heritage

Publisher Jim Lowden from Victoria was hosted on his visit by the University’s Dr Martyn Walker, who is an expert on the 19th century Mechanics’ Institutes

THE Mechanics’ Institutes that burgeoned in 19th century Britain left a legacy that includes modern educational institutions such as the University of Huddersfield. They also had equivalents around the English-speaking world, including Australia, where institutes were often vital to life and learning in remote communities.

Jim Lowden and his daughter Bronwen and the Mechanics’ Institutes of Victoria

Now, a man who has played an important role in preserving and promoting the heritage of Australia’s institutes has paid a fact-finding visit to the University of Huddersfield, where he was fascinated by its archives and impressed by the way they are preserved and made accessible to the public.

“Huddersfield has demonstrably shown a commitment to explore the history, heritage and ongoing development of the Mechanics’ Institute movement,” said publisher Jim Lowden, following his tour of the town, the University and its Heritage Quay archive.

His home town is Kilmore in the state of Victoria, and its Mechanics’ Institute was established in 1854 by English and Scottish settlers who had had experience of the UK movement.

The Kilmore institute was demolished in the 1970s, but in the 1990s a legal dispute over ownership of its land was the catalyst for the creation of a state organisation named the Mechanics’ Institutes of Victoria. Mr Lowden is a life member and serves on the committee. His daughter Bronwen edits its magazine and manages its website.

Huddersfield’s Dr Martyn Walker and the Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institution minutes book

At the University of Huddersfield, Principal Lecturer in Education and Research Dr Martyn Walker is an expert on the 19th century Mechanics’ Institutes and his publications include a book on the subject. He has also lectured internationally and when he presented the keynote address at a conference in Melbourne, he met Jim Lowden.

“I discovered that it was a group of English and Scottish tradesmen who came over with their families and copied what was going on Britain, setting up institutes in the colonies.”

Later, when he heard that Mr Lowden was planning a visit to the UK, Dr Walker invited him to come to Huddersfield, to see the town, the University – including its Ramsden Building, an ornate Mechanics’ Institution of the 1880s – and the archive collection.

“I was privileged to see the first extant Huddersfield Mechanics’ Institution Minute Book and ‘scrapbook’,” said Mr Lowden.

“A quick scan indicated the 1850s Huddersfield MI was a model for technical and further education and cultural development. Clearly, it was needs driven, but there were wider goals, which included teacher training, language and creative skills, industrial research and community wellbeing.”

Most of Australia’s 3,500 institutes were formed on the British model, by British émigrés, but in vastly different circumstances, said Mr Lowden.

“In many cases, an institute was the first needs-based public building in a community, financed largely by community fundraising with an occasional government grant tied to the establishment of a library.

Mechanics’ Institutes of Victoria Australia

“These buildings became temporary churches, schools, court houses, council chambers, lodge rooms, professional consulting rooms, bank branches, music centres or whatever until purpose-built premises were erected. Unlike in the UK, Mechanics’ Institutes continued to provide community library services even into the 1980s,” said Mr Lowden.

Today, the surviving institutes – mostly serving as community halls – face a range of challenges – and their sites are often earmarked for redevelopment.

“To survive, each institute has to find its own niche within its own community and the wider region,” said Mr Lowden.

Just as several Mechanics’ Institutes in Britain – such as Huddersfield’s – evolved into universities, several of their equivalents in Australia took the same route. Jim Lowden said there are plans for a 2021 conference for representatives of such “Mechanics’ Universities” around the world, to celebrate the bicentenary of Heriot-Watt University, established in 1821 as the Edinburgh School of Arts.

At the University of Huddersfield, Dr Walker agrees that there is plentiful scope for research collaboration between institutes around the world who went on to become universities.

Originally published on the University of Huddersfield News page:

Students recount tales from the archives

Now the end of the academic year is approaching, our student placements for 2016/7 have been completing their projects with us in Heritage Quay. We’ve had four placement students this year who have come to us as part of their courses, three from History (Colette, Todd and Jessica), one from English (Daniel). They’ve been working on a diverse range of collections from politics to music to Rugby League. They’ve also helped us on a special research project to investigate ways we might continue to host our exhibitions in the digital world once we’ve changed over the physical cases in Heritage Quay to the next exhibition! But more on that in the next few months!

To round off their time we’ve us, we’ve asked them each to sum up their experiences working with Heritage Quay – What they’ve done, what they’ve enjoyed and what has surprised or interested them. Here are their responses:

I consider my time on placement at Heritage Quay as invaluable. Over the months that I was there, I contributed to the organisation of the Labour Party collection which needed sorting and cataloguing. The collection was wide ranging in the types of document and information it held, and I found this very interesting and helped keep me engaged in the topic. Not only was this work intriguing for me on a personal level, but it also provided me with skills that I could transfer into my studies as a history student. The staff at Heritage Quay are what made my experience there so positive and enjoyable. They were always eager to help and provide extra information about areas of the collection, and it is through their enthusiasm that pushed me to consider a role within an archive environment as a pathway after my graduation.

As part of my work placement in Heritage Quay I wrote descriptions for all of the scrapbooks in the Rugby League Tom Longworth collection. The descriptions that I wrote were then added to the online catalogue for the public to view. The work was quite repetitive but there were moments when I found some quite entertaining articles in the scrapbooks. For example, there was one that stated that a woman ran on to the pitch and started beating some players with her umbrella because they were fighting ‘her players’. The article included a photograph of her being dragged away by the police and a comment that she had previously run on to the pitch wielding a handbag! I also worked with some school groups that came in for outreach events which is something I didn’t expect in an archive. These events were fun to take part in and the children seemed to really enjoy them.

When most people think of an archive they would imagine a dark dingy space filled with old books and documents that sit there collecting dust being guarded by an old professor who keeps it locked away from the rest of the world. While this may be the case on a very small scale (personal archives) it cannot be said to be true of the large majority of British archives, certainly not of Heritage Quay! During my time as an archive volunteer at Heritage Quay I was able to gain an understanding of how the archive runs and I can confirm it is a place of wonderment – constantly progressing – using the latest technology to help conserve our history and finding new ways to engage the public. During my work placement, I personally worked on the British Music Collection (BMC) which was a vast collection focusing on British contemporary music. The collection includes music scores, (vinyl) records, audio recordings, music programmes, VHS tapes, and much more! During my allotted 75 hours I helped to put together a reliable database for the BMC VHS tapes, catalogued various other items such as composer files, added new items to the collection, repackaged items so that they were well conserved and helped out on a public event. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and it has helped me to consider a career in archiving as it provides a vast path of choices- there is always something to do!

As part of their research project, we asked them to provide some extra content for our campus trail, which is due to launch shortly with community group Discover Huddersfield. You can view their HistoryPin tour below, and Daniel uses his blog to discuss how useful a tool HistoryPin is for showcasing archives and the built environment:



I have taken care of three places for the online exhibition: Joseph Priestley’s building, St Paul’s Hall and the University Entrance. During the years these have changed significantly, be it in their use or in their looks. It is important to save these changes for the knowledge-hungry people and Historypin was our tool to go during that endeavour. It has a multitude of fancy and interesting options and is really easy to use. Have you ever wondered how did the university build itself over time? With Historypin you can see which buildings are the oldest.

If you’re a student at the University of Huddersfield, keep your eyes open for more adverts for student placements next academic year on the e-placements website!