Tag Archives: Archives

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: ‘Second Nature’ and ‘Holding Your Ground’

During the first six months of the Common Ground archive cataloguing project, I examined and briefly described the material I found in each file within the archive to create a comprehensive box list. This new box list now provides me with a good overview of the contents of the archive, which – I hope! – will vastly facilitate the cataloguing process. Keen to finally get down to some proper cataloguing, I decided to tackle the archive material relating to two of Common Ground’s early projects: ‘Second Nature’ and ‘Holding Your Ground’.

EUL MS 416/LIB/1 – Books: ‘Second Nature’ (1984) and ‘Holding Your Ground (1987)

The ‘Second Nature’ project concerned the publication of a collection of essays and artwork. 42 writers and artists were invited by Common Ground to ‘express their feelings about Britain’s dwindling wild life and countryside’ (‘Second Nature’, 1984) and contribute to this anthology through prose, poetry or art. The book was edited by Richard Mabey with Sue Clifford and Angela King – the three founders of Common Ground – and published by Jonathan Cape in 1984. Three public seminars at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) took place in October and November 1984 to discuss the themes explored in the book. The artwork featured in ‘Second Nature was exhibited at the Newlyn Orion Gallery in Penzance in 1984, and subsequently travelled to other venues.

EUL MS 416/PRO/1/1/1 – Small cards with names of contributors, presumably used to plan the layout of ‘Second Nature’

One year after ‘Second Nature’ was published, Sue Clifford and Angela King co-authored and published a second book together: ‘Holding Your Ground: an action guide to local conservation’. It was first published by Maurice Temple Smith in 1985, and a revised edition was published by Wildwood House in 1987. The book provides information on how to care for your locality, reasons why local conservation is important, case studies of local initiatives, and advice on who to contact for help and support. The book includes a foreword by David Bellamy, artwork by Tony Foster and Robin Tanner, and photography by Chris Baines, Ian Anderson and Ron Frampton.

EUL MS 416/PRO/2/1/1 – Comb-bound typescript draft of ‘Holding Your Ground’ (1983)

These early projects highlight the two strands of Common Ground’s work which informed the projects that followed; firstly, collaborating with artists and writers to reflect on our relationship with nature, and secondly, encouraging people to take action in looking after their local environment. Using the arts to celebrate local distinctiveness, encourage people to emotionally engage with their surroundings, and consequently interest them in conservation at a local level would become the cornerstone of Common Ground’s work.

EUL MS 416/PRO/2/2/3 – File of research material relating to ‘Parish Initiatives’ for the ‘Holding Your Ground’ project

In addition, many of the relationships Common Ground forged with artists and writers at this very early stage would prove to be longlasting and influential. For example, the artist Andy Goldsworthy, who provided five photographs of his artwork for ‘Second Nature’, completed a residency on Hampstead Heath supported by Common Ground in the winter of 1985-1986, and would go on to work with Common Ground on various other projects, including ‘Trees, Woods and the Green Man’, ‘New Milestones’, and ‘Rhynes, Rivers and Running Brooks’. Other artists and writers who worked with Common Ground again after collaboration on these early projects include: Norman Ackroyd, Conrad Atkinson, John Fowles, David Nash, James Ravilious, and Tony Foster.

EUL MS 416/PRO/1/4 – Files relating to projects with the artist Andy Goldsworthy

Material in the ‘Second Nature’ section of the archive includes: correspondence with artists and writers; papers concerning the production of the book; papers relating to the seminars held at the ICA; papers concerning the exhibition of artists’ work; and several files of papers relating to Common Ground’s collaboration with artist Andy Goldsworthy, in particular: his residency on Hampstead Heath and exhibitions of his work. The ‘Holding Your Ground’ section of the archive comprises drafts of the book ‘Holding Your Ground’, book reviews, correspondence and research material. All of this material has now been catalogued and descriptions of the files and items are available to browse online via our archives catalogue.

Catalogue entries for ‘Second Nature’ (reference number: EUL MS 416/PRO/1) and ‘Holding Your Ground (reference number: EUL MS 416/PRO/2) on the Special Collections online archives catalogue

Having now completed the cataloguing of two relatively small sections of Common Ground’s project work in the archive, I’m giving myself a slightly bigger challenge to catalogue next: material relating to the Parish Maps project. The Parish Maps project was launched by Common Ground in 1987 to encourage people ‘to share and chart information about their locality as a first step to becoming involved in its care’ (Common Ground leaflet, 2000). The project output included two exhibitions, several publications, and thousands of maps created in various forms by individuals, groups, schools, councils, communities and organisations – so I will certainly have my work cut out!

Thanks for reading – until next time!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

Click here to browse the section ‘Second Nature’ via the online archives catalogue.

Click here to browse the section ‘Holding Your Ground’ via the online archives catalogue.

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.

Theatre through the lens: the photographic archive of Nicholas Toyne

Nicholas Toyne worked as a photographer for the Northcott Theatre from its first production until the mid 1980’s; capturing thousands of beautiful photographs from the first two decades of performances. His archive of negatives, donated to Special Collections, has now been fully catalogued as part of the Northcott Theatre Archive cataloguing project. The clips below share some of Nicholas’s reminiscences of his work at the Northcott in his own words.

Negatives from the Nicholas Toyne Archive (EUL MS 383)

Having worked as a stationary rep in London, Nicholas Toyne’s photographic business began when he moved to Devon with his wife Shan. Shan had previously worked for the BBC on schools broadcasts with Tony Church who was to become the first artistic director of the Northcott Theatre, and who offered her a job as Theatre Secretary. When the Northcott began looking for photographers Shan suggested that her husband should be part of the auditions and in the clip below Toyne describes a blind audition taking photos of a dress rehearsal for the Northcott’s first production “The Merchant of Venice” in 1967.

 

The process of photographing the Northcott Shows could be extremely demanding. In the early days Toyne often attended a number of rehearsals in order to identify the best scenes and positions for a shot but competing time pressures eventually meant he was forced to take photos during dress runs. In the clip below Toyne talks about his process of taking photographs and the fun of working with Tony Church.

 

Often staying in the theatre until midnight to get photos from the final dress run, Toyne’s job was then to process the photographs ready for display on the first night and use by the press. Below Toyne talks about the challenges of processing the images overnight in time for display for the first night of each production.

 

After an almost twenty year run as photographer for the Northcott, Toyne began to concentrate his photography business on other clients, such as his aerial photography for the National Trust, and the last negatives in the archive date from 1986. Despite the late nights and gruelling time frames Toyne remembers his work at the Northcott with fondness, and his enjoyment is clear from the beautiful images he achieved.

Keep your eyes peeled as work continues on our Northcott Theatre Cataloguing Project as we will be digitising a number of these negatives and making these fascinating glimpses of local theatre history available online for the public to view. You can explore the Nicholas Toyne Archive using our online catalogue here

Bob Hoskins in the Caucasian Chalk Circle (1971)

 

Tracing the ‘roots’ of Tree Dressing Day in the Common Ground archive

In December 1990, the arts and environmental charity Common Ground introduced a new annual custom which it called ‘Tree Dressing Day’. ‘Tree Dressing Day’ was envisioned by Common Ground as a day for people to decorate and celebrate trees in their local area. It was to be held on the first weekend of December of each year, neatly coinciding with the already existing National Tree Week. As the first weekend of December 2018 approaches, I delve into the Common Ground archive to find out how it all began…

Promotional material in the archive relating to ‘Tree Dressing Day’

Common Ground started work on its ‘Trees, Woods and the Green Man’ project in 1986. In a leaflet preserved in the archive, the charity explains the meaning and purpose behind the project:

They [trees] have been our friends through the ages and they have helped us make sense of the world. They are important economically, socially and ecologically and they are deeply part of many cultures. They need our help now, not just in the tropical forests, but here in the street and down the lane…Common Ground’s work around Trees, Woods and the Green Man is trying to give information and ideas to help you to look at the trees around you and think of ways to involve yourself and others in celebrating and caring for them. Make every tree a wanted tree. (Reference: EUL MS 416/PRO/4, File 2.1)

The project resulted in a variety of activities and events, including publications, exhibitions, and artistic commissions. It was also from the ‘Trees, Woods and the Green Man’ project that the new calendar custom ‘Tree Dressing Day’ emerged.

‘Tree Dressing Day’ files in the Common Ground archive

Early research by Common Ground into the custom of dressing trees revealed that it had existed for centuries in many different forms all around the world. This inspired the charity to launch its own ‘Tree Dressing Day’, providing advice and encouraging people to decorate trees in their neighbourhoods. The first ‘Tree Dressing Day’ was celebrated in 1990, and the custom has proven to be sustainable, with celebrations continuing to the present day. The success of the initiative and Common Ground’s enthusiasm for it are indicated in a report dated February 1993, in which Common Ground writes:

There is excitement among us that we may have begun the reinvention of a tradition in which young and old, professional and amateur, all cultures and places city and country can share. And in which the seeds of the social and public celebration of trees…becomes an easy first step to long term shared commitment and care. (Reference: EUL MS 416/PRO/4, Report on Tree Dressing Day in 1992, File 1.4)

The Common Ground archive contains a significant amount of material relating to ‘Tree Dressing Day’, including correspondence, reports, press releases, photographs, research material, promotional material and press clippings. It even includes some decorations that were used to dress trees! This section of the Common Ground archive will be catalogued in the course of the next two years, making this exciting material much easier to discover and access.

Archivist Annie showing Sue, one of our volunteers, decorations in the Common Ground the archive that were made by the UK Asian Women Conference for ‘Tree Dressing Day’ (c 1992 or 1993)

Find out more about ‘Tree Dressing Day’ on the Common Ground website, which also includes some lovely images.

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online catalogue today? Simply search ‘Common Ground’ or the reference number ‘EUL MS 416’.

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Apples and Archives: Getting to the ‘core’ of Apple Day in the Common Ground archive

Warning: may contain puns

Every year on and around the 21 October, apples and orchards are celebrated in the UK as part of a custom known as Apple Day. Indeed, Apple Day has become so firmly entrenched in the British calendar that it could easily be believed to be an ancient tradition. However, Apple Day has only officially been celebrated on 21 October in the UK since 1990, when the arts and environmental charity, Common Ground, initiated its very first ‘fruitful’ – in all senses of the word – celebration of apples in the Plaza of Covent Garden in London.

The Common Ground archive, which has been in the care of Special Collections at the University of Exeter since 2013, contains a significant amount of material created and collected by Common Ground throughout the course of the Apple Day project. The richness of this material offers a tantalising opportunity to delve into the archive and explore the history behind the ‘fruits’ of Common Ground’s labour – and as I am currently in the process of surveying the archive before the cataloguing begins, that is exactly what I did.

Author’s own photograph of apple varieties on display, taken at Killerton Apple Festival in Exeter, 2018

In 1987, Sue Clifford and Angela King at Common Ground became aware of the sharp decline in traditional orchards in the British Isles since the 1950s whilst conducting research for the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project. They recognised that this decline not only had an ecological impact on the British landscape, but also signfied a loss of associated cultural practices. Not only would we lose regional fruit varieties, local distinctiveness, and richness of wildlife, but knowledge of recipes, stories, songs, and skills such as planting, grafting and pruning would also diminish. To raise awareness of this issue, the charity launched its Save Our Orchards and Community Orchards campaigns, which sought to encourage and ‘a-peel’ to people to protect traditional orchards, as well as create new community orchards.

Realising it was ‘crunch’ time for orchards, in 1990, Common Ground introduced a new initiative to further protect and promote the ecological and cultural importance of orchards – a calendar custom which it named Apple Day. The charity hoped that demonstration and celebration of the apple – with its thousands of varieties, and rich history and symbolism – could raise awareness of the orchards in danger of being lost, as well as inspire real positive change in the way that people source food and engage with their local environment. The first Apple Day celebration was organised by Common Ground with forty stalls in Covent Garden in 1990.

Apple Day promotional material and apple-related publications produced by Common Ground in the archive

Common Ground initiates and manages projects that inspire people to care for and forge meaningful connections with their local environment through the arts, and which – perhaps most importantly – are sustainable. In this vein, having piloted Apple Day in London with great success in 1990, in the following year the charity encouraged people nationwide to organise their own apple-related events on and around 21 October. The initiative soon ‘bore fruit’ and Common Ground took on an advisory and promotional role towards Apple Day, supporting the increasing number of local organisers in co-ordinating their own events. This continued until 2010 – the 21st Apple Day and year the custom officially ‘came of age’ – at which point Common Ground considered the day to have so firmly ‘taken root’ in the British calendar that it was capable of continuing without extra support from the charity. In addition to supporting local organisers, Common Ground published several books relating to apples, including: ‘The Apple Source Book’ (1991, 2007) and ‘Apple Games and Customs’ (1994) in the course of the project.

Apple Day events have been organised across the length and breadth of the country by villages, community groups, councils, historic houses, museums, arts centres, pubs, restaurants, agricultural colleges, hospitals, schools, wildlife trusts, tree nurseries, markets, farms, and commercial and community orchards – phew! – and from its inception has risen from one to hundreds of events nationwide every year. An Apple Day event can incorporate all kinds of different activities, such as displays, identification, and pressing of local varieties of apple; sampling and sale of orchard produce; tours of and talks about orchards; as well as music, crafts and games, including wassailing, apple bobbing, and the longest apple peel competition.

The Apple Day material in the archive is currently organised into clearly labelled folders

The recent survey I conducted of material in the archive relating to Apple Day provided me with a good overview of the contents and order of this section. The material in this section of the archive is generally well-organised (always ‘apple-easing’ sight for an archivist!) into files arranged by year and record type, and comprises correspondence, newsletters, promotional material, photographs, press clippings, reports, research material, and notes. The papers that I personally found most interesting were those sent between Common Ground and Apple Day organisers between 1991 and 2010, which include letters, event information forms, and feedback forms. When studied together, these papers provide fascinating insight into the development, success, and geographic distribution of Apple Day events across the British Isles. Other items that I found particularly delightful were examples of crafts made at Apple Day events, which include an apple crown made by schoolchildren and a felt finger puppet in the shape of an apple.

An apple finger puppet found in the Common Ground archive

Exploring the history of Apple Day in the Common Ground archive has been ‘apple-easure’, and I’m already looking forward to cataloguing this section and making it more accessible for researchers via our online catalogue.

In the meantime, I hope you have a very happy Apple Day this year and every year – may it continue ‘apple-y’ ever after!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online catalogue today? Simply search ‘Common Ground’ or the reference number ‘EUL MS 416’.

You can also find out more about Common Ground and the archive in our first blog post about the cataloguing project: ‘Introducing the Common Ground archive’.

Introducing the Common Ground Archive

An exciting new season of cataloguing is underway here at the University of Exeter Special Collections! Three archival collections are now in the preliminary stages of being catalogued as part of the ‘21st Century Library Project’, due to be completed by July 2020. These include the Middle East Collections, the Northcott Theatre Archive, and the Common Ground Archive. In this blog post, the Common Ground Archive cataloguing project is introduced by project archivist, Annie Price.

Promotional material in the archive relating to Common Ground projects

Having fondly waved goodbye to the Syon Abbey archive (now neatly organised into boxes and described in the online catalogue), in August I embarked on a new cataloguing project: to catalogue the archive of Common Ground, an arts and environmental charity (reference number EUL MS 416).

Common Ground is an arts and environmental charity that was founded in May 1983 with a mission to encourage people to emotionally engage with their local environment through the arts. For over three decades, Common Ground has been collaborating with local communities, artists, writers and composers to celebrate the ordinary – and not just the extraordinary – in our localities and, in doing so, encourage conservation at a grassroots level. Projects initiated and developed by Common Ground, and which have had a considerable impact on the cultural geography of Britain, include: the ‘Parish Maps Project’, the ‘Campaign for Local Distinctiveness’, and ‘Apple Day’. The output from the many projects has included artistic commissions, performances, exhibitions, conferences, and publications.

Common Ground publications in the archive

One of the aspects I most enjoy about being an archivist is the opportunity to learn something new and develop expertise in the most unexpected areas. Every archive offers new knowledge as well as new challenges, and I knew the Common Ground archive would be no exception. Over the past month I have been conducting a survey of the archive to gain an understanding of how it was used and organised by Common Ground, and to identify any potential issues. The archive comprises a range of material, from correspondence, notes, financial papers, reports, press clippings, and research material, to photographs, audio recordings, sheet music, publications, and promotional material (which even includes t-shirts and tote bags!). The archive also contains some different types of media such as cassette tapes, CD-ROMs, VHS tapes, and floppy disks. Dealing with these different formats and making them accessible for use now and in the future will be a new and very different kind of challenge to those I faced on my last project, but one that I am looking forward to tackling.

Box files in the Common Ground archive

The Common Ground archive has rich potential for interdisciplinary research on geography, literature, visual arts, sustainability, sense of place, the relationship between nature and culture, and the British landscape and culture. Although the archive is already roughly organised according to the various projects, over the next two years, considerable sorting, repackaging, and basic preservation will be required to ensure the records are in the best condition possible for long-term access. In addition, the archive will be described at least down to file level, and will be searchable via our online archive catalogue. And as with my last project, I look forward to sharing highlights from the archive and keeping you updated on my progress via this blog and our Twitter account.

I hope you’ll join me again soon!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

Cataloguing the Syon Abbey Archive: Project Completed!

Annie with the archive

In November 2016, I began my new role as the project archivist working on the Syon Abbey archive, and immediately recognised that I faced a daunting but exciting task. The archive was large, complex, created over six centuries, and there was no discernible order into specific management groups. Nineteen months and 152 repackaged boxes (in addition to outsize material on shelves and in three plan chest drawers) later, the cataloguing project has been completed, allowing the archive to be more easily searched online and accessed in our reading room. You can view and browse the new archive catalogue here.

 

The archive has been arranged into 24 sections to reflect the different functions and activities of Syon Abbey, and to provide context for how the records were used. The sections are listed below with their reference numbers.

There have been many challenges throughout the course of this project, but there have been an equal number of (if not more) pleasures. With such a large archive, one would expect (as initially did I) that I would have a favourite section or one that I would particularly dislike, but this has simply not been the case. In each of the sections I have found records that have intrigued, moved, gripped or amused me; through each of them I have learnt what makes religious communities, and Syon Abbey in particular, unique, but also identified the many things we share in common; and while sorting through the material I’ve considered a multitude of different avenues of exciting research that could be – and I hope will be – pursued, now that the archive is more searchable and accessible. Nevertheless, I did want to share a very small selection of my favourite items with you, which you can view in the slideshow below.

 

As with all things, this project would have been much harder and less joyful if I had gone it alone. Fortunately, I am part of a wonderful team of colleagues who have supported me throughout, and I am very grateful for their kindness and expertise. A special thanks to Angela Mandrioli for her help in interpreting Latin documents and cataloguing papers relating to history and research; and to Sophie Morgan, our student volunteer, who did fantastic work in cataloguing 100 community diaries and 155 vows at item level.

Volunteer Sophie Morgan with eight boxes containing the 100 community diaries she catalogued

So that just leaves me to say goodbye for now! I have so enjoyed working on this project, which has been my very first cataloguing project as a newly-qualified archivist. The skills I have developed (for example, I can now proudly claim to be capable of making a four-flap folder), the new knowledge I have acquired, and the people I have met through it, have made this project very special to me and I will miss it greatly. However, I am pleased and excited to be continuing in my role as archivist at the University of Exeter’s Special Collections, where I will soon be embarking on a new project.

Photomontage of records in the Syon Abbey archive

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Syon Abbey archive (which I hope you are!), why not check out the new online catalogue, revisit previous blog posts about the Syon Abbey archive, or take a look at our tweets about the archive on Twitter. And don’t forget – in addition to the archive, we also look after the Syon Abbey manuscripts and printed books from the Syon Abbey library, as well as several other Syon Abbey related collections. For more information, please contact us at libspc@exeter.ac.uk.

I hope you enjoy your journey of discovery into Syon Abbey!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

The Abbess in the Archive: the records of the ‘Mothers’ of Syon Abbey

One of the great joys of using archives is the unique opportunity to get to know people from the past on as personal a level as possible (without the help of time travel). We can gain insight into their personalities from their recorded thoughts, their manner of expression, their handwriting, and even their style of recordkeeping. I have been working as an archivist on the Syon Abbey cataloguing project for just over a year and, having now examined most of the material in the archive, I consider myself to be fairly well acquainted with several of the sisters from across six centuries. However, of all the sisters in Syon’s long history, those whom I feel I know best are the abbesses. The abbess – at Syon Abbey most often referred to as the ‘Lady Abbess’ but frequently also as ‘Mother’ – was an elected sister responsible for the management of the abbey, who had final authority on all matters. A large majority of the records throughout the archive were created by or for the abbess, so it is therefore unsurprising that it is abbesses of Syon Abbey who we get to know the best.

Syon Abbey postcard featuring Abbess Mary Peter Wallace (elected in 1964), c 1954 [EUL MS 389/PUB/3].             Provided for research and reference only. Permission to publish, copy, or otherwise use this work must be obtained from University of Exeter Special Collections (http://as.exeter.ac.uk/heritage-collections/) and all copyright holders.

So how can you go about discovering more about the lives of these women and their role as abbess? A good place to start off your exploration is a manuscript volume entitled, ‘The Annals of the English Bridgettines’, which was completed between 1880 and 1909 and includes a history of the community from 1415 to 1880, annal entries for the years 1878 to 1886, and diary entries for the years 1887 to 1895 (EUL MS 389/HIST/1). The annals reveal more about the challenges faced by the community, particularly during its exile, and the actions taken by the abbesses of Syon that enabled the brothers and sisters to remain together and continue their religious practice.

Title page of ‘The Annals of the English Bridgettines’ (EUL MS 389/HIST/1)                                                                         Provided for research and reference only. Permission to publish, copy, or otherwise use this work must be obtained from University of Exeter Special Collections (http://as.exeter.ac.uk/heritage-collections/) and all copyright holders.

Following on from the annals are the 100 community diaries, dated between 1890 and 2004, many of which were kept by the abbess. Several of the diaries, particularly between 1920 and 1970, are extremely detailed and provide a rare insight into daily life in an enclosed religious community. You can browse the Syon Abbey diaries via the online catalogue, where each of the diaries have been described individually (EUL MS 389/ADM/5).

Syon Abbey community diaries (EUL MS 389/ADM/5/1-100)

If you would like to learn more about the abbesses day-to-day management of the abbey, a good place to look is the ‘Administration’ section of the archive, where amongst other records, you will find minute books of the Chapter (EUL MS 389/ADM/1) and minute books of the Council (EUL MS 389/ADM/2) of Syon Abbey. These record the decisions made by the abbess with the agreement of the community concerning all kinds of matters, including, as you will see below, the purchase of a jersey cow!

Notebook entitled ‘Minutes of the ‘Discreets’, 1898-1907 (EUL MS 389/ADM/2/2)                                                               Provided for research and reference only. Permission to publish, copy, or otherwise use this work must be obtained from University of Exeter Special Collections (http://as.exeter.ac.uk/heritage-collections/) and all copyright holders.

The Syon Abbey archive contains vast quantities of correspondence regarding all manner of things, and the majority of letters, postcards and telegramms are addressed to the ‘Lady Abbess’. The archive also includes many drafts or copies of letters sent out by the abbess. The correspondence highlights just how important the role of the abbess was, not just within the community, but also externally as the representative of the community. The archive includes correspondence regarding spiritual matters; financial, property and legal matters; relics and treasures; manuscripts and books; and history and research (just to name a few!).

Envelopes from correspondence with other Bridgettine houses (EUL MS 389/HOU/1)

In addition to her many responsibilities regarding the management of the abbey, one of the most important tasks of the abbess was to ensure peace and order within the community. There is much evidence in the archive of the love and respect felt by the sisters towards their abbesses, but the greatest indications of this are the little homemade gifts given by the sisters to the abbess, usually on birthdays or anniversaries. They include poems, songs, and booklets containing spiritual verses. Below are two images from a booklet entitled, ‘Bridgettine Breviary Bouquet’ (EUL MS 389/PERS/JOCELYN), a compilation of extracts from the Bridgettine Breviary which was given to Abbess Teresa Jocelyn by seven sisters in 1923. The inscription reads: ‘To our dear Mother on her Bridal-day…from her loving and grateful children’.

 

This and much more is now available for you to explore – why not visit our online catalogue today to find out what you can discover about the abbesses of Syon Abbey!

Click here to search the Syon Abbey archive via the online catalogue.

 

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Thoughts of a GBP intern: my internship in Special Collections

From January to March 2017, we were very lucky to have Emma Burman working with us as an intern on the University of Exeter’s Graduate Business Partnership scheme. Now Emma looks back at her internship and reflects on how working in Special Collections has helped her on her chosen career path…

 

My name is Emma and I worked as a GBP (Graduate Business Partnership) intern in the University of Exeter’s Special Collections for three months from January to March 2017. GBP is a scheme designed to help get graduates into paid internships in organisations usually based in the South West. Before you ask, ‘isn’t an internship just slave labour?’, the answer is no; the best part of these schemes is that you truly are valued. You gain paid work experience, and you are assigned a job role with its own projects and responsibilities. So they really are the perfect opportunity for any graduate!

I graduated from the University of Exeter in July 2016 with a BA honours degree in History. I had known that I wanted to work in the heritage sector for a couple of years, and I had already gained voluntary experience within several museums and heritage organisations. However, after completing my university degree I found it really difficult to find a job. Most roles required relevant work experience, but in the typical catch 22 scenario, the only way to get the experience was by securing one of these jobs. As a result I ended up working part-time in customer service, trying to gain more work experience by volunteering, whilst also applying for countless jobs.

As a recent graduate of the University of Exeter, the Career Zone had regularly sent internship opportunities to me. They were generally science, geography, marketing or student services related roles, which didn’t suit my interests. However, one day I saw an advert for two heritage and museum roles. They looked perfect, so I applied for them both in the hope that this could be my chance to get some paid experience. Lo and behold, I was offered the role of Heritage Collections Support Officer, working within the University’s Special Collections team.

So for three months I worked full-time within a heritage organisation – my dream come true! And it really has been a wonderful experience. My main role when I arrived at Special Collections was to update the Heritage Collections website with information about various collections from the archives. I really enjoyed this project as it required a lot of in-depth research into the collections, and it provided me with the opportunity to look at and handle archival material. I also used social media and other forums, such as articles for the Arts and Culture Magazine, to advertise these updates and the work I was doing for Special Collections.

The updated Collection Highlights on the University of Exeter’s Special Collections website

My final project was to design, research and curate an exhibition on the Norman Lockyer collection, which went on display in July as part of the International Astronomical Union symposium at the University of Exeter. It was a real honour to be entrusted with the responsibility of independently curating the exhibition for this event.

The exhibition of material from the Normal Lockyer archive for the International Astronomical Union symposium

Through these projects I have learnt a lot more than just the basics. As an intern, everyone on the team has offered me the opportunity to learn about their role. I have learnt skills such as cataloguing, website maintenance, and copyright procedures.

Helping an archivist to catalogue material from the Syon Abbey archive

I was even invited on a trip to the South West Film and Television Archive in Plymouth by one of our archivists to research and listen to reel to reel tape recordings from the Ronald Duncan Collection, and I became a bit of an expert on using the machines! As a result I have gained many new and different skills that are really useful in this profession.

Using a reel-to-reel tape recorder at the South West Film and Television Archive

I think the GBP schemes are invaluable as they offer university graduates the opportunities that many employers ordinarily might not be able to. They give them a chance to get their foot in the door, gain new skills, learn about the working world, and earn a good salary. I feel the importance of these schemes is evident in the fact that since being employed by the University, I have been offered a job in a heritage institution and I now feel optimistic about the future. So for any graduates, my best piece of advice would be to apply for a GBP scheme internship, because the skills and experience you will gain from it will really help you to pursue your career and achieve your goals.

Click here to find out more about Graduate Business Partnerships at the University of Exeter.

Click here to view some of the collection highlights held at the University of Exeter’s heritage collections.

Cataloguing the Syon Abbey archive: project highlights

Eight months have elapsed since I began working on the Syon Abbey archive cataloguing project, and since then I have been cheerfully cataloguing my way through a multitude of fascinating records. You can find out what has already been catalogued via our online catalogue here.

As I reach the halfway point, with a further eight months still ahead of me, I take a look back at some of my highlights of the project so far…

 

Profession papers

A very special collection of records within the archive are the profession papers, which I first looked at in January 2017. The profession papers record the vows made by novices when they officially entered the order (often referred to as ‘simple’ or ‘temporary profession’) and the renewal of these vows at a later period (often referred to as ‘perpetual’ or ‘solemn profession’). The handwritten profession papers in the Syon Abbey archive date from 1607, when the community was living in Lisbon in Portugal, to the late twentieth century, when the community was settled at South Brent in Devon. It is clear that these documents were of great importance to the community, not only because we know they were kept in a safe at Syon Abbey before they were deposited at the University of Exeter, but also due to the very great care that was taken in creating them. The vows have all been lovingly transcribed and signed, and a large majority of the vows have been beautifully decorated, illuminated and illustrated. Below are four examples of vows illustrated by one of the Syon nuns, Sister Mary Stanislas, in the 1920s. I’m looking forward to cataloguing the profession papers soon as part of the ‘Community’ section of the archive.

 

History of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland conference

A great highlight of the project for me personally was the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the History of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland (H-WRBI). H-WRBI is a research network which encourages research of women religious, and includes academics, archivists, students and others interested in the history of women religious. This year the conference took place in June at the University College Dublin and the theme was: ‘Sources: Archival, Oral, Visual, Material, Digital’. I gained new knowledge and insight into current research from the fascinating series of papers, which has proved invaluable in understanding the context of the records I have been cataloguing. The conference also impressed me with the sheer variety of research interests and the different ways in which archives have been used and interpreted by those engaged in the study of women religious. I therefore left Dublin feeling inspired and excited to continue cataloguing the Syon Abbey archive, to ensure the archive is as usable as possible for future research and innovation.

You can visit the website of H-WRBI here.

The O’Brien Centre for Science at the University College Dublin, where the conference took place.

What the Abbey Cat Saw

Whilst creating a box list of some unlisted boxes in the archive in December 2016, I came across a pamphlet with the rather delightful title ‘What the Abbey Cat Saw’. I was pleased to have another opportunity to look at it in May this year, when I catalogued it as part of the section ‘Syon Abbey publications and printed matter’. This pamphlet was published in 1957 and written by Abbess Mary Magdalen Nevin. Written from the perspective of Punch, the Abbey cat, it describes daily life at Syon Abbey, providing insight into the structure of a Syon nun’s day and the different personalities within the community, as well recounting some humorous incidents involving the cat! You can find the pamphlet in our catalogue under the reference number: EUL MS 389/PUB/2/1.

 

Finding a fragment!

In August 2017, I catalogued the financial records in the archive, including a large number of account books. Within one account book I was startled to discover a fragment of parchment that appeared to be from a medieval manuscript! There was significant fire damage to the fragment; however, it was still legible and had a lovely decorated initial in blue and red ink. In addition to the Syon Abbey archive, the University of Exeter’s Special Collections also looks after Syon Abbey’s medieval and modern manuscript collection. Within this collection (reference EUL MS 262) is a folder containing fragments of manuscripts that were found c 1990 in the attic of Syon Abbey in South Brent, Devon. Upon looking through the folder, I was thrilled to find a fragment that corresponded to the newly discovered fragment in script, decoration, and fire damage. The newly discovered fragment has now been removed from the account book (a slip of acid-free paper marks the page from where it was removed) and has been placed with the other fragments in EUL MS 262/fragments. The discovery of this fragment and the reunification with its other half was a very exciting moment. It just goes to show that exciting things can be found in the most unexpected of places – especially in archives!

Detail from a newly-discovered manuscript fragment in EUL MS 262/fragments.

Looking ahead to the next eight months…

Over the next eight months until the project completion at the end of March 2018, I will continue cataloguing the Syon Abbey archive and making the description of the records available for you via our online archives catalogue. I also hope to carry on promoting the archive in a variety of ways, including via this blog, on Twitter, and at conferences next year. At the end of the project I hope to leave behind an archive that is much easier to search and use, as well as some new highlights to share with you!

 

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

 

Introducing the Syon Abbey Archive

Hello everyone, and a very warm welcome to this blog.

My name is Annie and I joined the team in November 2016 as the project archivist for the Syon Abbey Archive.

Syon Abbey was a monastic house of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour (also known as the Bridgettines), and the only English community of religious to have existed without interruption since before the Reformation. The house was founded directly from the Mother House in Vadstena in Sweden in 1415, and the community followed the Rule of St Bridget of Sweden. This enclosed Bridgettine community – comprising both nuns and monks and governed by an abbess – was renowned for its dedication to reading, meditation and contemplation. In the course of Syon Abbey’s almost 600-year history, the community faced great upheaval and demonstrated remarkable strength. In the wake of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, the community split into smaller groups and continued their religious practice, with some remaining in England whilst others sought refuge abroad. Although Syon Abbey was restored in England under the Catholic rule of Mary I, following the accession of Elizabeth I and the return to Protestantism, the community went into exile. The community then spent over half a century wandering through the Low Countries and France, experiencing, at times, extreme poverty and hunger, and along the way encountering rioters, war, and even pirates. The community eventually found a new home in Lisbon, Portugal in 1594 and remained there until 1861, at which time the sisters (the last brother of Syon Abbey having died in 1695) were able to return to England, initially residing in Spetisbury, Dorset. Following a further relocation in 1887 to Chudleigh, Devon, the community finally settled in South Brent, Devon in 1925. 86 years later, in 2011, on account of the decline in numbers and age of the remaining community, the decision was made to close Syon Abbey.

Photograph of the community in 1961. From ‘The Poor Souls’ Friend’ 1960-1, p. 178.

Of course, the archive – deposited for safekeeping with the University’s Special Collections in 2011 – has many more fascinating stories to tell from Syon Abbey’s extraordinary history than have been briefly summarised above. It currently spans around 114 boxes and comprises material from the 16th to the early 21st century, although the majority of records date from the 19th and 20th century. The archive is large and complex, containing a range of different records relating to daily life; worship; religious rule; the management of land, property and finances; relations with other religious communities; and much, much more. Once catalogued, the archive has the potential to be a rich and powerful resource, particularly for anyone interested in the history of women religious, ecclesiastical history, and women’s studies.

When I arrived, my first priority was to look at different material from the Syon Abbey archive and to learn as much as possible about the community and its history. This understanding then enabled me to draft out a hierarchical structure for the archive that reflects the main functions and activities of the community and provides context for how the records were originally used. Although an original order can be identified in several of the boxes in the archive – for example, some related papers have been kept together in chronological order – in other boxes the records are a little more jumbled up. Consequently, the arrangement of the archive that has existed up to now has meant that it would be difficult for both users (you!) and the archivist (me!) to find the information we are looking for within the archive and to understand how one record relates to another. My job as archivist on this project, therefore, is to arrange and describe the archive in a way that will make the records easier for you to search, find, understand and use.

Over the next year I will be re-boxing, cataloguing and promoting the archive, with an aim to make it more discoverable and accessible, and to encourage its use in teaching, learning, research and innovation. By the end of March 2018, the archive should be catalogued to at least file level, and be searchable using the online catalogue. I hope you will join me on this exciting journey as I share my progress, as well as highlights from the archive, with you via this blog and on Twitter @UoEHeritageColl.

Talk to you again soon!

Click here for more information on the Syon Abbey archive and other related collections.

Click here to search the University of Exeter’s archival collections via the online catalogue.

 

By Annie Price, Project Archivist