Lost Legacies

Last week, I attended the annual Black History Month event at County Hall and have previously blogged about the first speaker, Paul Crooks, who “pioneered research into African Caribbean genealogy during the 1990s and is credited with an upsurge in the interest in Black and British ancestry” (ref: www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk).

Like Paul, the second speaker, Dr Gabriella Beckles-Raymond (Senior Lecturer in Womanist Theology, Philosophy and Culture at Canterbury Christ Church University) talked about several women who have made significant contributions to social and racial justice in the UK, but none of whom the audience had heard of.

Gabriella conceives history in very much the same way I have come to:

“History is not in the dates, but in the stories and in the lessons we learn”.

Again, like Paul, the black women Gabriella showcased were ordinary people, of black women living their own lives and making a difference to the lives of others along the way.  All the heroes and legends we remember started out as ordinary people.  People like Rosa Parks, (remembered and honoured for her symbolic ‘stand’ in December 1955 of refusing to give up her seat on the bus for a white passenger) were once just “ordinary”.  However, as Gabriella pointed out Rosa Parks was one of many women who made the same “stand” and were arrested for doing so – including Irene Morgan in 1944, Lillie Mae Bradford in 1951, Claudette Colvin in 1953, Aurelia Browder in April 1955, Susie Macdonald and Mary Louise Smith in October 1955, and Jeanette Reese.  All these women contributed to the cause, and some directly participated in the landmark case (Browder vs. Gale) that ended legal segregation in the United States.  But, Gabriella says “change agents do not appear from nowhere”, Rosa Parks had been involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for over 20 years and was a civil rights activist for the rest of her life:  it is “small actions that lead to big changes” – the social butterfly effect.

Gabriella talked about the strategic, structural and personal lessons we all must learn in order for progress to be made and quoted the title of Angela Davis’ 2016 book “Freedom is a Constant Struggle”.  A struggle represented in the lost legacies of the three women she went on to discuss;-

  • Born in Guyana where she was a teacher at the most prestigious school in the capital, Georgetown, Beryl Gilroy arrived in the UK as part of the Windrush generation and became the first black headteacher in the country.  She went on to write children’s books, pioneering the reflection of black British life in literature, and later novels for adults too.
  • Olive Morris was born in 1952 in Jamaica and arrived in the UK aged 8.  Olive died aged just 25 (from non-Hodgkin Lymphoma), but achieved so much as a black feminist and nationalist in just a few years, as well as campaigning for squatters rights.
  • Recently made a Dame, Elizabeth Anionwu was born in Birmingham to an unmarried Irish mother and Nigerian father in 1947.  Having started her nursing career aged 16, she has made significant contributions to understanding and improving the disparities in healthcare provision for black and ethnic minority communities, particularly with regards to Sickle Cell Disease which is mostly found in people of African descent.  Dame Elizabeth also established the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice and was responsible for the first UK memorial statue to a black woman: to Mary Seacole at St Thomas’ Hospital unveiled in June 2016.

The real lesson of Gabriella’s talk was not necessarily these women in themselves, but the fact that none of us in the room, including those from the BME community groups, had heard of them:  “history is something we all need to be taught”, to learn and discover because (as with all history) “the danger of not knowing black history is that history will repeat itself”.  A point brought into sharp focus by the fact that both Gabriella and a member of the audience explained that they have started writing their own children’s books because the books their children were reading at school again failed to include a reflection of themselves – an issue that had inspired Beryl Gilroy over 40 years ago.

Of course, the legacies of these and other black women are not lost, just a little concealed.  “Legacies are far more complicated than we realise”:  Gabriella is a part of Beryl Gilroy’s legacy as she was a pupil at Beckford School when Beryl was the headteacher.  “We are all a legacy of everything that has come before us”, and we will all leave a legacy to everything that comes after us.  Nowhere is this more true than in the work we do at the record office, in collecting and preserving the evidence of who we all are and what we all achieve, or sometimes fail to achieve, and then in providing access so that stories and legacies can be remembered.  We deal in “histories, not a single narrative”, and Black History Month encourages us all to remember that  stories are there to be found, shared and preserved now and for the future.

All quotes from Dr Gabriella Beckles-Raymond’s presentation unless otherwise stated.

The future history of the school admission register

SBloomer
I’m recycling this image of Steve Bloomer’s school admission record (blog posts passim.), and throwing in a question: have you used our admission registers on Find My Past in your research? And do you think historians a century from now will have the same level of interest in us? Old-style admission registers like this are very largely out of use in today’s educational system, in which schools use pupil management software to record the same types of data. I wonder what effect this will have on historians whose specialist period is Britain of the late 2010s.

It’s not merely a rhetorical question (but what’s wrong with rhetorical questions?) because I have a genuine need to gauge future demand based on present use. As a records manager I have a role in helping to shape the advice the council gives to schools on retention of records. Our current recommendation is that admission and withdrawal records should be transferred here to the record office – but what should we say to schools that don’t produce actual registers?  Are historians so reliant on these sources that we should ask schools to use their software to create an annual “snapshot” of admissions and withdrawals for posterity? Would anyone ever use it?  It’s very hard to say whether this would be an efficient use of resources, because for all we know historians will have other digitally-preserved resources at their disposal – like the central government’s national pupil database, perhaps… Oh, and bear in mind that the present-day admissions process doesn’t capture interesting titbits such as parental occupation (like Steve Bloomer being the son of a blacksmith).

If you have an interest in this subject, whether frivolous or scholarly, I should like to hear from you.  Please leave a comment below, or write in to records.management@derbyshire.gov.uk.

On This Day: ‘Advertisements’

From the Derby Mercury, 20th November 1767:

Advertisements.

INOCULATION

BELLINGHAM the Elder, is come from Coventry, and proposes residing for some Time at Derby, to attend all proper Subjects that offer for Inoculation of the Small Pox, in the New Method.

He has already given Proofs in this Town, that this once dreadful Disorder may be now got over without the least Confinement, or Shadow of Danger.  

He is at present at the Saracen’s-Head in Derby, and all Letters directed there will be punctually answered.

Mr. and Mrs. DENBY,

Take the Liberty to acquaint the PUBLIC,

THAT as their House in St. MARY-GATE, proves too small for the continuation of their Boarding School for young Ladies, they shall at Christmas next remove to a larger, and more convenient House in All-Saints Church Yard; where, those Ladies committed to their Charge shall, with the utmost Care and Tenderness, be instructed in the following Articles of Learning.

READING, all Sorts of NEEDLE-WORK, and so much of GEOGRAPHY as will illustrate and promote the Reading of History; together with their Board at Sixteen Pounds a Year, and a Guinea Entrance.

MUSIC, DANCING, WRITING, DRAWING, and FRENCH, taught by able Masters.

The County Local Studies Library holds the Derby Mercury – just ring to book a microfilm reader.

Derbyshire Literature Festival May 2012

May was a busy month for our outreach team as this was the first year that the Record Office took part in the Derbyshire Literature Festival. This was the 7th Derbyshire Literature festival organised by Derbyshire County Council which takes place every two years, and this year’s programme was exciting as ever, with more than 65 events happening in libraries and other venues across the county.

The Record Office contributed 3 events to the programme:

                                   ‘Ask the Archivist’

Glapwell Deed from 13th Century

An open day for those interested in historical research, whether it was advice on how to get started or how to get to the next step.  We had a great display of original material from our collections for visitors to read and we were very keen, as in all our events, to give people the opportunity to get hands on with the documents.  In this display we included material showing the range of material we hold, from prisoner records to a letter from Florence Nightingale, and our oldest records (we think!) a deed dating c. 1115.

‘Melbourne in the Archives’

Reading a 19th century Phrenology report out aloud from the original manuscript

An exhibition of historical records from the John Joseph Briggs collection (an author, poet, naturalist & historian from Melbourne) with the chance to read aloud from a selection of material from the exhibition and discuss and talk about the material. 

The exhibition featured letters, extracts, books, poems & illustrations concerning Melbourne local history.  The originals were on display and used during the read aloud session, which was enjoyed by all, and led to a relaxed and interesting group discussion.

Illustrations from a scrapbook found in the Briggs collection

 

 We received some lovely comments:

‘The event was excellent.  The staff were warm & friendly & knowledgeable; it was a privilege to see original documents; the readings were a special treat as was meeting local people’

 

 

 

‘Reading and Writing from the Archives with Sara Sheridan’

Looking at a late 19th century Asylum record to inspire creative writing or historical fiction

This session focused on how writers might use archive material as inspiration for creative writing and comprised of a full day of workshops, talks and activities.  We took along a large amount of original material, which provided examples of how you might use archives for writing, whether that was for characters or events, for accuracy, or what was like to live at that time – archives enabling writers to be authentic and true to the period. 

Participants were encouraged to use the documents to answer questions on how they might use the material and how to interpret them. We also had activities including guessing a mystery document, and using images from Picture the Past to inspire ideas for stories or poems. 

Following the Record Office session we had a workshop by the author Sara Sheridan who had come down from Edinburgh for the event.  Sara gave an extremely engaging talk on how she used archive material in her writing, and gave advice to the participants (most of whom were writing their own works) about how to write effectively for publication.

More information about Sara’s writing can be found on her website: http://www.sarasheridan.com/

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School Sports Day, 1924

Some while ago, we mentioned the acquisition of some photographs of the 1924 sports day of St James CE School in Derby (D6560/6/5/6).  You can see all the photos in the search room (just ask for CD187), but here are just a few of them.

[2018: Images have been deleted from this post, in order to save space for new posts.  If you would like to see them, please contact us and ask to use CD/187]

Smedley, Duesbury and the football

[2018: images from the “Thank You For Your Letter” project have been deleted to make space for new posts.  The images have been retained within Derbyshire County Council’s internal records system so that we may re-use them in the future.]

D6808/3/1: St Andrew’s Middle Class School, Derby, April 14th, 1882

[Pupils who fell foul of this school’s laws had to submit written apologies to the headmaster – here are two, about the same incident]

Dear Sir,

Somebody told me that Sharp had a ball, so I asked him to put it down.  Smedley then said if he did, he (Smedley) would throw it over the wall.  Continue reading

George Bernard Shaw and Heanor Grammar School (2)

[2018: images from the “Thank You For Your Letter” project have been deleted to make space for new posts.  The images have been retained within Derbyshire County Council’s internal records system so that we may re-use them in the future.]

I hope you all – the whole 18 of you – will in future improve your own handwritings instead of bothering about mine.  I am very old (91) and have to write slowly and carefully, like a child.  Continue reading

New accession of educational records

Two new accessions that might interest anyone into educational history: the minutes of the Marston Montgomery School Board from 1888 to 1903, and the Sudbury District Education Committee from 1918 to 1923. School Boards were abolished after legislative changes in 1902, and the County Council decided to disband the Sudbury committee in 1923, so each volume covers the terminal phase of the body’s history. They are public records but had found their way into private hands, as sometimes happens. Happily, the historically-minded person who came across them donated them to us, so they are back in the public domain. They are yet to be catalogued but will have references D7413 and D7414.