As a student with an interest in history (hoping to go on to studying this at university), I chose the archives as the ideal work placement for my year 12 work experience. With this in mind I applied to the Derbyshire Record Office in Matlock and have been spending a week here observing the work that is done.
On Monday morning I began my week of work experience at 9 o’clock starting with a tour of the record office itself (including archives and local studies). I was surprised by the amount of resources available especially in terms of the number of documents kept at the record office; with almost five miles of shelving to boast of throughout one can only imagine the amount of information available. Then there are the documents themselves. It was amazing to see the original and unique documents kept at the record office as well as how well they have been preserved. My first afternoon was spent in conservation, something I was eager to see; as well as being made aware of the different dangers posed to the documents kept at the record office (including temperature, humidity, insect damage, wear and possible fire damage) and how these risks are managed (for example through carefully monitoring the environment), I was also shown the different methods of repairing documents that have been damaged. I was even able to try a preservation technique for myself in the form of cleaning some documents.
On my second day I helped in a year five school session, in order to complete a project on local history they wished to use the facilities at the record office. The areas of interest included John Smedley, the hydros of Matlock, and begin to look at how leisure has changed from the industrial revolution. In order to fulfil this a session had been planned in which the children would look at documents relating to John Smedley, use documents to create their own exhibition on hydros, and create a timeline of leisure activities which had been sourced from the information available from the archives. There were two groups of students; those who weren’t at the record office were taken into Matlock in order to see how the town has changed from past photos to the present day. I found it enjoyable to work with the children and see how enthusiastic most were about the activities that had been planned for them. They seemed pleased to be able to use primary sources to find out more about figures they had studied (such as John Smedley).
Wednesday morning was spent in local studies which houses books relating to Derbyshire and also has computers where people can begin to research their family history. I was given a tour of the facilities offered then using Ancestry.co.uk was able to look at different types of census data (for example how the census changed between 1911 and 1841). Then, using the available facilities, I was given an example enquiry and had to find information about the given person – this included looking at their family through different censuses and finding baptism records to place approximate dates of birth. Although I did attempt some family history the fact that my surname is so common made it difficult. After lunch the project work began and my first task was re-cataloguing documents relating to Derbyshire sent from Sheffield Archives, this was a rather broad collection (ranging from a deed from 1386 to accounts). Admittedly some of the text was difficult to read (especially the older documents), however it became much easier over time to provide a description and locate a date. The information will soon be input into the online catalogue. The documents also needed to be numbered so that they worked with the system employed at the record office. Part of what I enjoyed most about the placement was the fact that I was able to get so close to the original documents therefore the project work was some of my favourite that I completed over the week.
Another part of the record office I experienced on my placement was the search room, this was on Thursday morning. After a tour and introduction to the services offered (including how specific documents could be found), I was able to order recipe books so that the second project could begin. This involved typing up the contents of recipe books which would then be available on the online catalogue. Whilst some of the recipes were familiar to me (including Bakewell pudding and gingerbread), others were not for example the extraordinary variety of wine. As these had been hand written it was often difficult to decipher exactly what the recipe was of, especially due to the fact that multiple authors were sometimes involved, although eventually the meaning could be found resulting in a lovely sense of accomplishment. The afternoon was then spent with ‘Picture the Past’, a project involving Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Derby City and Nottingham City aiming to digitise original photographs of the areas. These could be from libraries sent by the local authority or donated by the public and, as a result, there are photos of most areas on the website. Work here included checking links on the website and discussing how the services offered by ‘Picture the Past’ could be used in schools. To see the work done by the ‘Picture the Past’ project please see http://www.picturethepast.org.uk/. From searching the area in which I live I was able to see images of the railway and factories that had been present. It was fascinating to see how much the local area has changed even if there was some sense of familiarity in the landscape.
On my final day at the record office I continued with the work sent from Sheffield Archives (as several boxes were to be catalogued). Handling the documents myself made me aware of the huge amount of information held by the record office not only including legal documents but also personal letters and pedigree charts.
My week spent at the record office has been a truly interesting one, I have been fascinated by the documents I have seen and also the amount of resources that the record office and local studies offers to the public. As a result of my interest in history it has been remarkable to view and touch the documents that have evident historical importance.