Tag Archives: Common Ground archive

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