Mysteries in the Archives

The way we view the contents of archives change and evolve over time as they are examined, arranged and catalogued. As we unpick the contents of boxes (and do some research!) we discover connections and relationships we didn’t know about before. But occasionally – especially with older collections – there may not be any paperwork, or it cannot be discovered anymore, so all we have is the collection. The papers or objects in it may or may not tell their story easily. Today’s collection is just one of those archives. It’s called the Glass Plate Negative collection and is full of slides taken by someone who has travelled extensively through the United Kingdom and Europe. Some annotations on each slide suggest there may be a connection to Methodism, but we don’t really know! We do see a journey through Europe before the scars of two world wars marked the landscape, and even after the First World War – exploring landscapes, natural features, tourist locations, the lives of ordinary people and great events, like the coronation of George V.

Our student helper Michael has painstakingly sorted, repackaged and catalogued this fragile format, to ensure researchers can discover these wonderful images in future.

Collections week January 2019

During termtimes it can be hard for the team to carry out work on new collections which means that they are available for researchers to use.  During quiet periods, in common with many other archive services, we therefore close the research room usually for around a week and keep the time free of other activities such as teaching and meetings so that we can focus on big collections.  As well as having plenty of space to spread them out if a lot of physical work is needed.

During January 2019 we were closed from Wednesday 2nd – Friday 11th inclusive to work on two big collections: the Colin Challen (MP) Archive and the Sir Patrick Stewart Archive.

The Challen Archive had been boxed (around 80 boxes) on its arrival at Heritage Quay  but because of the quantity of material no other work had been done since it was transferred by Colin Challen in November 2017.  During Collections Week the team were able to survey the material and to sort it into key series, mostly corresponding with Challen’s various roles and offices as a member of the Labour Party.  The archive was also listed, and a small project identified for further detailed listing of the miscellaneous consitutency Labour parties in CHN/8 (planned for 2020). 

The catalogue is available on the Heritage Quay online catalogue at and also on the Archives Hub/Archives Portal Europe.  This part of the work took around 18 person-days and involved 6 members of the team.  More details in a later post!

We had undertaken some work on the Patrick Stewart Archive in a previous collections week, and took 6 person-days this time to expand and complete some of the work previously started.  The catalogue for the Patrick Stewart Archive is at – and again, more details to follow!

Poulomi Desai, Artist in Residence – Leverhulme Trust

The University of Huddersfield’s Archives at Heritage Quay hosted a unique residency with multi-media artist and musician Poulomi Desai, funded through the Leverhulme Trust. For 80 days during the academic year 2016/7 Poulomi immersed herself in the heritage collections stored at Heritage Quay and in the life of the Service, its staff and users. As well as investigating the boxes which hold the archive materials and which are kept in the archive repository when not in use, she also engaged with people attending our events, the researchers pursuing their own interests in the archives, general visitors to Heritage Quay, and staff and volunteers who work here. She also made connections and visits with other artists and groups within the area, and delivered workshops including at European Researchers Night, a University-wide free event in September 2017.

Poulomi produced a series of artworks based on her encounters with the people, collections and broader themes in her residency. One set of these artworks is available at Heritage Quay, the other is in London at Poulomi’s arts space Usurp; the works will be exhibited and performed further.

The artworks include
“stories in saris” two silk sari artworks, “S360” and “SE148163” each 5770mm x 3700mm, and made to be worn. The designs are based on Poulomi’s research into three small collections held at Heritage Quay, and listening to idiosyncratic music works in the British Music Collection that reference Indian musicology. The silk was printed in the University’s textile printing department.

“Memento mori” – new photographic glass plates which combine contemporary portraits with motifs from old photographic glass plates, lantern slides and book covers from the main collections of art, rugby league and literature. These celebrate people born in Yorkshire who have broken conventions and challenged prejudices.

“Unmuted” – a film which contrasts the location of Heritage Quay and its collections with the local landscape of the Yorkshire moors.

Performance pieces – two pieces, one for the Archives Assistants in Heritage Quay and the other for anyone handling “Made in Huddersfield” (see below). Both pieces enact rituals of opening, uncovering and displaying the contents of the box – the artworks created during the residency.

“Made in Huddersfield” – a version of the standard archive storage box created in stainless steel and produced by local firm Morley Brothers. These boxes, made of archival quality acid-free cardboard with non-corroding brass fastenings, are used throughout the repositories in Heritage Quay for the preservation and easy handling of the collections. The stainless steel, riveted, version contains and preserves Poulomi’s artworks created through the residency (listed above), and also is central to one of the performance pieces.

Poulomi describes her time in Heritage Quay as providing “unexpected and surprising opportunities” artistically. For the team of staff and volunteers at Heritage Quay, as well as our researchers (both from the University and not) and visitors, Poulomi’s responses to the collections give insights in the past but also reflect on how our management and research processes determine the future.

For more information on the residency, please see

Our thanks to the Leverhulme Trust for their generous support of the residency.

All images copyright Poulomi Desai

Archive drifting

The weekend of the 9-10 September 2017 saw the return of the 4th World Congress of Psychogeography to Heritage Quay. As well as being a lot of fun, more importantly it was the last event to take place as part of our Heritage Lottery-funded Heritage Quay engagement project. As I reflected on the past three years of engagement work I realised that the Congress, and the session I ran at it this year (Archive Dérive), was a microcosm for the way that we’ve tried to work at HQ.

So, how does me running a session called Archive Derive at the 4th Congress of Psychogeography sum us up?

0.5) What is Psychogeography?
Psychogeography has a few definitions, which include “the study of the influence of geographical environment on the mind or on behaviour” or “the geographical environment of a particular location, typically a city, considered with regard to its influence on the mind or on behaviour.” For the lay person, it’s an approach to the world around us that, using the tools of psychology, sociology, art, philosophy etc, makes us look at the familiar through new eyes.

1) Local connections and collaboration
The idea for the Congress came from another event we ran back in 2016 and was the result of something that Huddersfield is great for – connections and contacts. In January 2016 we ran a historic Maps Day and as part of the planning I was put in touch with some local psychogeographers. Although what they did didn’t fit with the planned day we decided it was worth doing something together. This small group of four became the committee for the Congress. The HQ project has been really interested in creating communities of interest around our collections, particularly regarding local history, music and rugby league and this seemed like another community we could support.

2) The Congress as an alternative Heritage Open Days event
Throughout the HQ project, we have tried to be as experimental and interesting as possible (!) and the Congress fits that bill. HODs is about opening up spaces and telling stories about the historical built environment, offering free experiences you can’t get at any other time. What do you do when you already offer free entry and behind the scenes tours? My solution was to take the same parameters but approach them in a very different way – through psychogeography.

3) The Archive Dérive
I am fascinated by the connections between collections and created a session which explored this idea, working with psychogeographical ideas. A Dérive is a alternative method for travelling through a space, often with random or arbitrary rules. Of course, we couldn’t let the public roam around the archives so I did a derive of my own, plotting a map of places I’ve lived onto a plan of the main strongroom.

I then selected objects based on those points – following my instincts to select things. Because I was doing the workshop twice I moved the results slightly to end up with two different selections. This is what I ended up with:

On the Saturday of the Congress I asked two groups of psychogeographers to assemble in the searchroom. Each group was given a box of collections and asked to use them to create a (fictional psychogeographer’s) life story. We worked together to interrogate the archival objects and documents and used them to populate a timeline. It was a lot of fun! I encouraged the groups to be as creative, silly and imaginative as possible and they made some very entertaining connections. Who knew you could link a dating service with snails and Tibetan monks?

These were the results:

David Bollinger

Fenella Brandenberg

The workshops were lots of fun, with mystical and dramatic ideas added together to create some tall tales. At the same time, previously unconnected collections were brought together and linked, by non-specialists, into something greater than the sum of their parts. Which when I think of it is what we always want to do.

And now the end is near…

As 2014 draws to a close and we prepare to begin delivering all the rest of the exciting projects we’ve got planned for the next four years of the HLF project, we thought it might be nice to look back on 12 of our important numbers during this year, in a 12 days of Christmas style.

In the 12 months since last Christmas we have opened Heritage Quay!  A new HLF-funded archive, with exhibitions and technology. (Ok, don’t panic, that’s the last of the rhyming!)

… 11 events a month is about the number we’re hosting in our new exhibition and group spaces.  These range from university open days, to public lectures, or seminars for students and private tours for local community groups.  Check the Events calendar for details, but you could attend a special workshop like this one that ran during the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.

… 10 new volunteers have worked in the archive in 2014, joining our small band of regular volunteering stalwarts.  Their contribution in listing, surveying and cleaning records prior to our move cannot be under-estimated!  They have been amazing.

… 9 groups of students from different courses and years have come into the archive this year for an ‘Introduction to Archive Skills’ course and a chance to look at some of our materials.  We hope this might then inspire return visits to connect archives to coursework and dissertation topics.

… 8 research themes are the basis of our decision making on what collections we take on.  To re-cap, these are Education, Women, Sport, Music, Politics, Health, Industry and Non-conformity.  If you want to know more about who we are and where we’re going, visit the About Us page on the website.  You can even read our collecting, preservation and access policies in the Plans, Policies, Performance and Projects box.

… 7 (paid) student assistants have worked for us at the end of this summer.  They have diligently audited and listed our collections, moved boxes around and ticked off lots of jobs that we didn’t think we’d get to by the end of 2015, never mind 2014! They are magnificent!

… 6 new members of staff started work with us in 2014.  A majority of these are contract staff appointed as part of the HLF funding who will be working with us over the next two to three years.  They include two cataloguing archivists, two archives assistants, and two officers working on community learning and working with schools.

… 5 ways to search our new online catalogue at  New collections catalogues will be uploaded regularly from now on and you have the option to search by a title, date, reference number, person or place name.

… 4 new collections have come into the archive this year, in addition to the accruals to existing collections.  We have welcomed political collections including the Robert Blatchford and Duncan Scott collection, an additional rugby league archive in the form of the Mike Stephenson collection, and will shortly be welcoming the Mikron Theatre Archive.  We hope they will be joined by many more in 2015!

… 3 new repository spaces make up our new archival storage in Heritage Quay.  There is our main store, an outsize room for larger objects and a freezer rooms with, you guessed it, freezers to store some of the audio visual material in order to keep it cooler and more stable for a very long period of time.  If you’re interested in seeing our storerooms you can book on a public tour, or just peep through the portholes, built for that very purpose!

… 2 local societies have made Heritage Quay their base for the next year.  Whilst we’ve been welcoming a range of internal and external groups over the last few months, the Huddersfield Local History Society and Huddersfield & District Archaeological Societies have been attracting ever larger numbers of attendees.  Their programme of lectures are on their website, and are of course, open to the public!

And 1 big curvy screen!  It’s been the talk of the town, and from the youngest to the oldest visitors have been enjoying getting to grips with our collection highlights experience, lovingly known amongst us as ‘the big curvy screen’.  Objects can be selected by gesture, and items examined in close up or music samples played through the sound system to experience what the archive has to offer without having any particular research interest, as pieces are chosen from across the collections.

From all of us at Heritage Quay we wish you Happy Christmas and a prosperous 2015!  We hope it’ll be the year you come to visit us if you haven’t managed to already, and also the year that we can offer you many more exciting opportunities to get involved in using and enjoying archives!

In the meantime, as none of us can sing, we’ll leave our Chancellor to ‘sing’ us out with a festive little number:


For the love of catalogues…

Cataloguing is rarely seen as a particularly glamorous or exciting part of working in an archive service, but it underpins a lot of what we do as a whole. Creating a good catalogue is one of the most enduring ways to make a collection usable to a wide range of audiences … if you can’t find something then you can’t use it!

A catalogue should be useful and usable to someone who is using an archive for the first time, and to a seasoned user who is an expert in their subject.

Making catalogues that work for experts and beginners alike is a challenge, but that is what we are working to achieve – so we are building catalogue structures that will be accessible electronically, that link to online sources of information like Wikipedia, and that are intuitive and easy to use.

It is very exciting to know that the cataloguing work that is going on now will enable many different people to use the archives here at the University of Huddersfield – if you’re reading this then hopefully you’ll be one of them!


If you happened to be walking past the library seminar room last Monday and wondered if you were witnessing preparations to combat the Viking apocalypse Ragnarok, predicted to take place this Saturday, never fear, it was just the latest batch of Archive volunteers getting to grips with some archives in need of some basic preservation!

Whilst we keep archive collections in special repositories where temperature and humidity are controlled, we often inherit collections that have been ‘in storage’ with their creators.  Think about where your office or family keep their papers.  Attics, cellars, offsite storage.  In archives we’ve seen it all, and it usually comes complete with damp, pest damage and copious amounts of dust!! Little Britain might encourage it as an appetiser, but dust is certainly no good for your health.  Many of the old Huddersfield Technical College student registers have spent decades in storage before coming to the archive, and the folders were covered with a thick layer of the stuff.


Our current batch of volunteers come from the History, Politics and the English department and some are volunteering as part of their course, others to see if a career in Archives might be for them. They will be helping us with a variety of tasks in the run up to the move to the new archives centre, and we’re very grateful for their help. Many archives nowadays rely on the support of enthusiastic volunteers, and we are no exception, although in return we hope to provide interesting and varied work and to involve people in the range of activities going on in a modern archives centre. All of our current volunteers were attending a Volunteer Induction Day, where we talked about how their work fitted in to our strategy map, introduced the Volunteer handbook and passed on some basic preservation skills using conservation equipment. Total folders cleaned by the end of Monday = 70! A fantastic achievement that makes a real contribution to the work the staff undertake in the archive every day.

We’ve worked hard to make sure that our volunteer opportunities fit in with ARA’s (Archives and Records Association – the professional body for archivists) policy on volunteering, and if you’re interested in finding out more about a career in Archives, the guidance on this page should be your first stop!