Tag Archives: Arts

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: ‘New Milestones’ and ‘Flora Britannica’

Since my last cataloguing update, I’ve been working on two further sections of the Common Ground archive. They relate to the New Milestones project and the Flora Britannica project – two very different, but very interesting projects run by Common Ground in the 1980s and 1990s. Read on to find out more about these projects and the material relating to them in the Common Ground archive.

New Milestones

The New Milestones project was launched by Common Ground in 1986 to explore ‘what places mean to the people who live in them, and…how to express that meaning in an imaginative and accessible way through sculpture’ (‘New Milestones: Sculpture, Community and the Land’, 1988, p. 15). The aim of the project was to support local communities in commissioning a sculpture to celebrate and draw attention to an aspect of their local landscape. The project involved close collaboration between Common Ground, local communities and sculptors to create permanent works of art with significance for present and future inhabitants.

Publications and promotional material for the New Milestones project (EUL MS 416/PRO/3/2/6)

The pilot phase of the project took place in Dorset, where five sculptures were produced by Christine Angus, Andy Goldsworthy, John Maine, Peter Randall-Page, and Simon Thomas between 1985 and 1988. Later, the project was extended to Yorkshire, where a series of sculptures were produced by Alain Ayers and Richard Farrington. The last sculptures commissioned as part of the New Milestones project were produced by Michael Fairfax in Somerset. A conference and exhibition about the New Milestones project was held at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester between 16 July and 3 September 1988. In addition, a book by Joanna Morland (Project Officer) with an introduction by Sue Clifford and Angela King (Co-Founders and Co-Directors of Common Ground), entitled ‘New Milestones: Sculpture, Community and the Land” was published in 1988.

Material in this section of the archive comprises project administration files, including correspondence with local communities and sculptors; printed material relating to promotion and publicity of the project; and photographic material, including photographs of the sculptors at work. You can find the full catalogue description for the New Milestones section here or by clicking the image below.

Flora Britannica

Flora Britannica was a project launched by Richard Mabey with the support of Common Ground, which ran from 1992 to 1996. The project sought to discover the diversity and distribution of plantlife in Britain, as well as to record and explore the historical and contemporary associations and uses of plants, including information about customs, stories, recipes, remedies, and games. It had two aims: to produce a major book concerning the cultural flora of modern Britain, and to start a process of popular interest and activity at the local level, carried out by people all around the country. Invitations for people to share their knowledge of local plants were circulated on television and radio, as well as in newspapers, magazines and local newsletters. Common Ground and Richard Mabey received thousands of responses.

Publications and promotional material for the Flora Britannica project (EUL MS 416/PRO/7)

The major output of this project was Richard Mabey’s encyclopedia of wild plants of the UK, which was entitled ‘Flora Britannica’ and published by Sinclair Stevenson in 1996. Richard Mabey incorporated the information sent in by people from across the country. Other related publications published in the course of this project include two pamphlets entitled ‘Flora Britannica: The Handbook’ (1992) and ‘Local Flora Britannica’ (1995), as well as a Flora Britannica newsletter named ‘Woodbine’. In addition, throughout 1994, 1995 and 1996, Common Ground encouraged people to reinforce and renew their affections for everyday plants through initiatives the charity named ‘local floras’, which included a pilot project in Northamptonshire.

Material in the Flora Britannica section of the archive comprises project administration files; correspondence; papers relating to the pilot project in Northamptonshire; papers relating to publications and promotional material; and press clippings and publicity material. You can find the full catalogue description for the Flora Britannica section here or by clicking the image below.

A particular highlight of the archive material relating to the Flora Britannica project are the thousands of letters about local flora from people around the country. These letters contain fascinating details about biodiversity and the cultural connotations of plants, and the correspondents often enclosed related material, such as photographs or pressed flowers. Common Ground originally organised this correspondence alphabetically within office transfer spring files, which were stored vertically. This is not suitable storage for these papers, so for preservation purposes, these files have now been repackaged into 66 acid-free folders within 10 boxes, and all rusty fastening have been removed. In doing so, I hope this valuable resource will be available for people to consult in years to come. You can see the repackaging process in the photographs below.

Photographs showing the repackaging process of correspondence in the Flora Britannica section of the archive

The cataloguing of these sections of the archive were completed between November and December 2019, and descriptions of all the files are now available on our online catalogue – do go and have a look! Since January I have been cataloguing material relating to Common Ground’s Orchards project and Field Days project. Pop by again soon for the next update on the cataloguing project!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

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

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

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 1982 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