With the anniversary of the start of World War I upon us, like many heritage institutions around the country, the Conservation Team at Derbyshire Record Office have been working to preserve and conserve documents from the first world war era. Particular priority has been given to those documents which will be used the most by the public, and at the moment we have decided to work on electoral registers from the period 1914-1919.
Electoral registers are useful for research as they provide a list of persons entitled to vote, usually including their full name, their residence, and the property on which they qualify to vote. Derbyshire Record Office holds electoral registers for Derbyshire between 1832-1999. Unfortunately some of these registers are in poor condition, particularly those for the war years. This is due to some previous damage by mould, and degradation of the very acidic paper used to create these large volumes. Some sections of the registers are deteriorating rapidly, as the paper has lost all its strength and is flaking away, and they are in need of urgent repair so that people can look at them safely.
Our collection includes registers from 1914-15 and 1918-19, as no registers for 1916 and 1917 were ever produced, perhaps for such reasons as saving money, time and effort during the war. By 1918 they needed to hold a general election in Britain, and as the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed on 6 February (which extended the franchise to include women over 30 years of age) there was a specific requirement to update the electoral register.
We will also be carrying out conservation work on the registers of ‘Absent Voters’ from 1918. For the 1918 general election in Britain, anyone who was still overseas in the armed forces, or whose work was officially recognised as being connected with the war (St. John’s Ambulance brigade or British Red Cross) could vote by post or by proxy in their home constituency. Their names were added to a register of ‘Absent Voters’ or ‘Absent Voters List’. This included the full name of the person, their qualifying premises, and a description of their service, ship, regiment number, rank or rating.
As the election was held in the final year of conflict, most people who registered for an absent vote did survive the war, however, sadly some names do also appear on war memorials, and the registers do contain notes regarding those killed in action or missing.
As the Conservation Team continue with work on these registers we will update the Blog and keep you posted on our progress. The first task is to give them a clean and then make digital copies, which will be available to view by the public while conservation work is carried out.