Tuesday, December 20, 2011


It is sad to lose an important member of our community. Mike Oliver goes to be Head of the Senior School in Epsom College Kuala Lumpur, where he will be working from January. During his leaving do in Main Hall I was looking at the magnificent Christmas tree and remembering past Christmases, especially in Main Hall. Once it was called the Refectory, and was the setting for the most Dickensian occasion I know of at the College.
Pensioners each occupied one set of rooms out of four in each of the houses in the Asylum (the Terrace), one each side of the stairs on the ground floor and the same on the first floor. They were initially expected to buy and cook their own food, and facilities were provided for each of them. They had to promise that they each had an income of £50 a year, but it soon became obvious that several did not. In 1857 £10 per year was given towards the wages for a servant approved by the Headmaster, who also acted as Warden for the Pensioners. The Headmaster was also the Chaplain of the Pensioners, and took these duties seriously, especially the policing of who the Pensioners may have living with them. Their children may stay, up to the age of 15, when boys must leave. Girls stayed on to nurse their ailing parents. Pensions were stopped if permission was not asked for relations to stay, as they were if a Pensioner was absent for more than two or three weeks.
By 1857 Pensioners were often extremely poor. Despite being allowed £10 a year for 'servants' in fact they often had as little as £15 a year for food and expenses. Mr. Propert appreciated this and did all he could to raise their pensions over the next few years, but in 1858 life was very hard for many of them.This was the setting at Christmas, when John Propert personally invited all the Pensioners to Christmas dinner in the Refectory. Mr. Propert paid for this from his own pocket and gave them a thoroughly good time. There is and account of the occasion in one of the carefully conserved scrapbooks in the Archive, which I hope soon to publish.
The plan is to create a website for the Archive, concentrating first on the 19th Century. A large number of photographs are already organised, and this blog will form part of the finished product. I am concentrating first on updating the Alex Paxton part of the site that already exists, then I will start on the 19th Century, parts of which should be published over the next term. I have in mind to publish the records of all 19th Century Epsomians, their applications for Foundationerships and the applications for Pensionerships. I will also include as many of the pieces from the Scrapbooks as I can mount in the time available. I will probably have to move on with the 20th Century before everything is truly finished, but the website will gradually fill out to provide a facility both for those with specific enquiries and for those who simply want to browse. Hopefully this will stimulate discussion and further donations of archive items.

Meanwhile, Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year to all my readers!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Finding People

One of the joys of being an Archivist is the many requests for information about past Epsomians. Just this morning I replied to a request for information about Sir Pendril Varrier Jones, founder of the Papworth Village Settlement and therefore of Papworth Hospital, Cambridge. These requests often require a hunt through the records and photographs to make sense of what we have and it is satisfying to be able to do this. However, other requests involve much deeper research, and recourse often has to be made to public databases and newspaper archives. A very good start can be made by refering to the National Newspaper Library at Colindale. This is part of the British Library and has lately established an excellent internet facility: http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ where for a small fee you can download newspaper pages. The search facility is so thorough that it is easy to generate thousands of 'hits', so be careful to define your enquiry closely. I was also interested to find out that, through membership of my local library (Surrey) I could gain free access to the remarkable 'Ancestry' database, which is so widely advertised. This includes access to Birth, Death and Marriage certificates and huge numbers of other references to family history resources. You can buy personal membership at http://www.ancestry.co.uk/ . I find this rather a large and diffuse archive of documents for which it is difficult to narrow the search effectively enough to save time. Therefore I prefer the facility offered by S&N Genealogy Supplies of Salisbury, who offer a competitive service with their Diamond deal. This gives complete access to Census, Birth Death Marriage, Roll of Honour, Landowner, Parish, Non-Conformist, Military, Electoral, School, College, Will, Newspaper etc. records at £119.45 per year. The advantage being that one can access everything from home or office, paying just once. At present there is an offer at: http://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/14day/ which gives a 14 day trial.

So, for those of you out there with a wish to find out who you are, this seems to be the way forward. Happy researching over Christmas!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Archive Plans

It is some time since I last posted a blog. Family problems, retirement and the need to reorganise the Archive have left little time. However, now I am able to devote more attention to this and to other aspects of Archive policy and the Archive website.

The last months have been particularly busy. It was very pleasing to see the interest shown on Founder's Day in the Archive display and talk. the O.E. part of the day was a resounding success, with an excellent turnout of O.E.s and their families. Many did come on to the Archive talk, to the extent that we will have to find somewhere larger next year. the highlight were short films, shot in the late 1940s, by John Gaisford and his friends. These were remarkable, not just for the 'blood and thunder' form of the plots, but for the quality of shooting and the way they showed life at Epsom in those days.

Among the highlights of the last few months have been the details of William Wills Robinson's career in New Zealand and the piecing together of his life and achievements. He seems to have introduced Rugby Football to Aukland, New Zealand and appears in the very first teams for cricket here. Gradually the early sports history of the College is coming into focus, even though we have no real records before 1870 ourselves, If anyone knows more, please let me know.

Again I have found out that we have at least one O.E. who was a victim of the Nazi holocaust. I will explain more about this later in the year, by which time my research should have moved on. Obviously it is a particularly sad story, and I hope to write about it in next year's O.E. News. Remembrance Day brings a number of sad stories with it each year. I am trying to record stories about O.E. experiences in the Second World War, partly to use in school on Remembrance Days. Nowadays we have a Field of Remembrance, with each cross named, and researching the details continually brings up sad stories. If you have something to contribute, could you E-mail me the details? Unfortunately research is adding to the death toll from year to year at present, sometimes just confirming deaths, but sometimes finding new ones. If you know of any O.E. who has died in the services since the Second World War, I would be particularly pleased to hear from you.

These absorbing researches have rather taken my eye off the need to build up an Archive website, but now I am focusing on that. I hope to make real progress over the next few weeks and have something to show by Christmas. Initially I will be concentrating on photographs, but other features will follow as quickly as possible. I was pleased to see that Archie Paxton's website was used by our local newspaper, the Guardian, for copy on Remembrance Day - if you have not seen this small website about Archie, who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, do look it up: http://archive.epsomcollege.org.uk/paxton/

Monday, January 10, 2011

Archive at a Crossroads

During the last few months since my last entry, a lot has happened at the Archive. While my helper, Max, continues to work away at sports results, I have been considering the future of the Archive in several different ways. One important change is bound to happen - that is my retirement from teaching in July. I hope to continue as Archivist, but nothing is yet settled. I would enjoy keeping a real link with the College and helping in different ways, but retirement would actually give me time to deal with the second change - to make the Archive more completely digital.
The intention, for some time, has been to build a large website for the Archive. This has been delayed by a number of circumstances, not least that technology has been advancing so fast that it's difficult to keep up with the possibilities. Now it should be possible to include scanned from all our wonderful scrapbooks, lists of holdings, lists of drama, sports results, biographies of the great and good and much else. We should have areas made up just of photographs and, of course, we should have a link into this blog!
The important recent development is that the College has decided to organise access to the biographical information held by the Educational Trust, which should allow us to work together to provide accurate records of OEs and add in the interesting information that comes to me from day to day. Readers of a technical bent will realise that this will allow me to formalise the records of names of past pupils, allowing accurate data retrieval - a huge boon to the Archive - which will eventually open up huge possibilities for cataloguing.
On another matter, I must thank my correspondents, especially Tony Brewis, for their recent contributions of reminiscences about Epsom during and after the Second World War. Such contacts considerably enliven the record, I find!