Friday, July 26, 2013

Commemoration of the First World War

The cataloguing of the Archive is moving on well and, by the time you read this, I will be confronting our mountain of photographs, which need sorting and recording. I very much look forward to this and just hope that I do not get sidetracked too often, for too long. One of my favourite photographs is of the College Cricket XI in 1862, which gives an idea of how College sport evolved.
At this stage there was no school organisation for sport, but masters and pupils joined in together to create the Cricket Club, led at this stage by Mr. Jefferys, in the centre. The original photograph is still owned by Mr. Jefferys' family, and this copy was made in the early days, when I snapped the original using a 35mm camera. How things have improved in this digital age!
I was reminded of this today when a proof copy of a pamphlet on W.W. Robinson arrived. Robinson is sitting to the right. The pamphlet tells of how Robinson introduced cricket to Aukland, New Zealand. I recommend it for an interesting read about the beginnings of colonial society. Order it from

Every spare moment has lately been used up on our First World War Old Epsomians. the commemoration is approaching, and one of the ways the Archive will mark this is by starting a long-term project to research our boys and their achievements. We have about 955 Old Epsomians known to have served, of whom 155 died in the War. this was from at school of 276 in September 1914. Therefore we particularly have something to remember and to research. Very often we do know the bare details of O.E.s' careers in the forces, but we need to know more - the achievements and the stories behind the bare records are our real targets. I hope to keep up-to-date the list on the website at:
Do have a look and register your interest in helping the research by E-mailing me. I do know that many of our Old Epsomians were doctors, but many were not - we have traced sailors, airmen, those in the ranks and senior officers. Anyone can join in, given the ubiquity of internet resources nowadays, but just be careful to record your sources of information! I will keep this blog up-to-date with the important discoveries, as they arise.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Progress in the Archive

Since my last post here, there has been much discussion of what we really need an archive for, and how this relates to what the College is prepared to pay. Even I have to admit that the prime purpose of Epsom College is teaching pupils, and that an Archive comes far down the list of priorities. However, more and more school are creating archives, manned professionally at the larger schools, and there must be some point in this.
In my view the question divides into two points of focus - how an archive benefits the pupils and how it benefits the school administration.
An archive benefits the pupils by promoting an understanding of the history of the school and the achievements of ex-pupils. This helps them value their surroundings and the tradition of the school, gaining an understanding of the privilege that they enjoy as a member of it and the values it seeks to imbue in them. A good school sees social values as an important part of its education, though these are very difficult to address directly. An understanding of the tradition of excellence, personally, academically and socially is a real requirement for future happiness and success. The Archive at Epsom supports this through providing knowledge in its support, whether it be of the meanings of windows in Chapel or the experiences of previous generations. Examples are not far to seek, whether in the careers and achievements of O.E. doctors or in the values shown by Brigadier Glyn Hughes in the direct responsibility he took for the welfare of the Jewish prisoners during the relief of the Bergen-Belsen 'horror camp'. It was our privilege to support the writing of the 150th Anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall showing exactly these values.
Institutionally the Archive is very important, and seeks to be more so. Old Epsomians and members of the public send enquiries from week to week about family history, all of which need to be answered and all of which take time to research. Members of Common Room are not born with a knowledge of the history of the College, so that maintaining a knowledge of the background of their working lives is important. What is the history of Granville House? Why is this picture important? Should this part of the College be changed? Are these pictures insured? This all takes time and is very worth while. College publications benefit from the perspective permitted through our thousands of photographs. We are a repository for things the College does not want in the way, but does not feel able to destroy. College records need to be organised and sifted, being destroyed at particular intervals to comply with data protection laws.Old Epsomians like to feel that they are remembered though, unaided by an archive, schools forget the past remarkably fast as pupils and staff change, so memories tend to be very short. Reputations rise and fall according to how they are remembered, so the Archive tends to hold a privileged place. To be the guardian of continuity is an important institutional role. As the need to raise money is always rather apparent, the Archive services the departments involved, providing the necessary background for relations with O.E.s. After all, the need to appeal for money from subscribers pre-dates the opening of the College itself.
So, for the last few months I have been submersed in the creation of an archive catalogue to improve access to those departments most directly involved. I am sure that this will be very valuable, even at the present stage, but in fact it is just the beginning of the cataloguing of the Archive as a whole, which will continue as a main aim indefinitely, improving access for all users. Benefits flowing from this will soon become evident on the Archive website and elsewhere in the life of the College.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Back to Work!

At last I am back to work as Archivist, my contract having been renewed for another year. Meanwhile the Archive has acquired mounds of new materials, and much else needs to be re-filed. I will be spending today on housekeeping and getting up-to-date with my post, my next visit being on Friday, when I will start on the new catalogue.
I am particularly pleased to see that our website has logged up nearly a thousand hits since March. This represents a thousand visits, rather than page views. It is really earning its keep. Do remember to support it with new material.
The focus of work over the next year is to re-create our catalogue on the In-Touch database system, which will allow the sharing of information with other departments and the linking of materials with particular names, places and issues. This will allow much better access to our resources, becoming less reliant on memory and more on IT, allowing the Archive itself to develop in future. More on this in other posts, as it develops.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?

Writing towards the end of August, I have much to report.
The last few months have been particularly busy, with a large investigation into OEs who fought in the First World War in preparation for a book by Anthony Selden, research into the origins of Crawfurd House in preparation for the reunion and the mammoth task of publishing the biographies of OE Doctors, prepared by Dr Michael Salmon (OE). I also spent time researching possible house names for Epsom College, Kuala Lumpur and on replying to a large number of enquiries.
My first involvement with archival resources came in 1979, when I wanted to teach about the First World War to the Middle Fourth, and realised that a large number of OEs would have been involved. The information was available in the Register, 1855-1955, but to count and organise I needed to use something. We had the first computer in school (made by Southwest Tech), but the only way to use it was to write our own program. Eric Huxter helped, and we tried to process the results, but it was our ignorance of how to organise the facts to be countable that finally defeated us. What did we want to count, how could information be sorted. What were the important facts? 33 years later, all these problems have been solved, so that the horror of the statistics is clear to all:

  • There were 275 boys in College in Michaelmas Term 1914.
  • 942 Old Epsomians are known to have served, the vast majority as doctors.
  • 155 Old Epsomians died, of whom we have only one still uncertain. One was a housemaster, Mr. Addenbrooke.
It does not look as though I will be available in College for Remembrance Day this year, but I hope that the College will be reminded of these statistics.
Unfortunately I have to take a couple of months away from the College, hoping to eventually be able to resume my duties. Until then, do remember that:
A school is a school is a school, until it has it's own history...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Growing Pains

The last few months have shown that nothing is predictable. At the end of last term I was looking forward to quickly adding different sections to the Archive Website, but that wasn't to be. The problem was that different parameters were changed on the College network, and at first I couldn't write to the website. Time was lost and other priorities intervened. Now I'm hoping to catch up over the next few weeks, having already added a lot of First World War information and soon to add the Old Epsomian information  so comprehensively compiled by Dr. Michael Salmon.
The section of the website devoted to Archie Paxton has produced a most interesting E-mail from Quintin Watt at South Bromsgrove High School. He has Paxton's Army Field Message Book! He has been using it for some years to motivate pupils in his own school's trips to the Somme battlefield. Now I hope to be able to swap information with him.
We look forward to seeing Old Crawfurdians on Saturday 23rd June for a reunion. I am hard at work transcribing information about Sir Raymond Crawfurd, the creation of Crawfurd House and the entries in the Crawfurd House Books which relate to the Second World War. I hope that this will interest Crawfurdians during the afternoon.
Lastly, a plea - if you like my website, do consider donating towards the digitisation of College records. I have found a firm to do the work in bulk, but I need £2,000 to start the work off, with thousands of pages to digitise at £1:00 per page. Donations through the Education Trust would be very greatly appreciated. I hope to publish more about this as time goes on.

Friday, March 30, 2012

End of Term

It seems amazing that, just a few weeks ago, we were in the depths of winter. For the last two weeks we have been enjoying unseasonably bright and often warm conditions, so that everyone seems to have decided that 'global warming' is to blame. As everyone goes home for the Easter holiday they look forward to a continuation of this barbecue weather - it's almost as though we are into exam weather already! Not so long ago, Easters were very different.
I remember myself the great excitement of getting off on Adventurous Training, either to Snowdonia or the Lake District, certain of a week or two of the snow conditions which made such expeditions truly arduous and exciting. When else did one use ice axes and crampons? This year there is no Adventurous Training - a truly sad casualty of the times - especially as it would be Dr. Huxter's last year.
If one looks further back, winters were truly cold. There are the photographs of the great Roman fort built in the snow by boys in 1916. One is on the Archive Website. It's difficult to believe that it was possible to ice skate on the flooded fields around the College quite regularly, but there is a bundle of skates hanging in the Archive Store that prove the point. Lately the Archive acquired a wonderful photograph from Wilson Steps of the scene on the field in 1963 - truly an Arctic winter. Compared to that, even a hosepipe ban seems a small sacrifice for this wonderful weather.
The Archive has had a truly busy term, but now the worst is past - the Archive Website has properly happened in so far as one can ever say. It is there, though what is there is just a shadow of what has still to evolve. I still have much to add, but the framework is in most respects complete and the additions are the work of future years. It should be possible for the Website to mirror the development of the Archive, showing something of the researches we do from year to year. Next term the website will continue to grow, but the emphasis can be on other things.
I am told that, in May, we will at last have access to the In-Touch database, created for Development and the O.E.s. This should for the first time allow us to access the careers of pupils arriving after 1955. It will open the possibility of cataloguing the Archive in concert with the work of other departments, which should be a great advantage to all of us. This will also allow us to appeal for more materials, which can now be acquired and dealt with digitally. the future is just getting a bit nearer in the study of the past.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Dom Wulstan

Do see the obituary for Dom Wulstan, who is to be buried today. The obituary is on the Farnborough Abbey blog: I thought it a wonderful obituary to an extraordinary life. Dom Wulstan visited the College at least twice in my time here and preached in Chapel with such humility and certainty in faith that I found the experience most memorable. To think he was one of our boys...
I'm still making slow progress on the Website, working on the 1920s and 1930s, which I hope to finish today. I was very pleased to be able to show the website at Headington School in Oxford, on Wednesday, where we are building a completely new Archive in the eaves of a very large teaching block. It should be open in September, and includes moveable shelving and air conditioning - truly this is out of our league. Recruiting for an Archivist is to take place quite soon, if anyone has the required skills, and a book is expected for their 100th Anniversary in 2015!
Much to do, so will sign off at this point.