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: http://blog.farnboroughabbey.org/ 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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Gradual but real progress

It always surprises me that so much of the Archivist's job revolves around IT. The last two weeks have been a good example of how computers can be both a huge boon and can cause unnecessary delays.

The huge boon is partly that the College has supplied me with Adobe Pagemaker CS5. This is a decided improvement on the 10-year-old program I was using before. It will allow me to build the website around style sheets which should eventually save me quite a lot of time. The other nice innovation has been the program that allows me to run my Archive computer from home, or anywhere else in the country! It's an advantage because I can often spend an odd few minutes making progress without needing to be here. No, I won't be working from home on Fridays because I enjoy coming into school to see colleagues and pupils. However, while I was away last week, I thought I would be able to spend some time on the website - but that wasn't to be...

The downside of technology is that one is part of a communal enterprise - others can take initiatives that you really are not expecting. I was the victim of a well-meaning transfer of all my Archive files to a new file server. So, I used my new technology to window into a blank space! Of course I had ultimate faith in Mr. Davies and didn't fear that 30 year's work could be lost, oh no! However, here I am today in College, making up the time lost, restoring the links on the catalogue and getting everything working again - but not able to work much on the website meanwhile.

But progress is being made. Even at this early stage, numbers visiting the website are climbing from week to week. Meanwhile I have added the first sections of the College history and an index for the College Register. More pages of these will become available in the next few days. The emphasis now is not really on programs but on preparing content. If anyone would like to do some scanning for me, do let me know!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Archive Website Goes Active

Old news! You may well say that I have been talking about the new website for several weeks, but at last a section of it is ready to show. You may peruse the part on  the Somme, which tells the story of the death of Archie Paxton through his letters and possessions, or you may look at 19th Century pictures. Other items will follow as quickly as I can prepare them. I am concentrating now on the 19th Century up to 1914 and will add sections of the College history and Register information, over the next week.

Happy browsing! Please tell me what you think.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The OE News

Happy New Year! I intended to write a new blog right through January, but the pressure of correspondence has been such that everything else has been put off. Mostly this has been the effect of the publication of the OE News in December. This excellent magazine is now resurgent under the editorship of Steve McCubbin and creates a good deal of comment and interest - so much so that my small part of this more than keeps me busy.
Each year we try to publish at least one photograph with something wrong or uncertain in it, asking readers to correspond  - and they do! This way we have amassed large numbers of new friends, who keep in touch on other archival matters. Though a lot of work, this is what we are here for.

This year there has been correspondence on three main matters - two of the photographs, one already published last year of the Granville dayroom in about 1960 and the other of the gigantic gym display for the 100th Anniversary Founder's Day have been particularly effective in causing discussion. The third issue was about Mr. Berridge and Hart-Smith. This has actually been an issue for many years, with murmured comments during reunions so that I already knew most people's opinions of 'Connie B'. There comes a time, however, when it is best to find out all there is to know. Mr. Berridge, housemaster of Hart-Smith in the late 1930s through to the early 1950s was a sententious and despicable person, we are told. He made a practice of 'sex talks' to boys in their dressing gowns and had recourse to using the cane on every possible pretext, often unjustly (thus 'Constant Beater'). He would certainly not be employed in a modern school, but on the other hand I have no evidence that anything particularly culpable went on. If it did, perhaps we should know?
What is surprising is that Mr. Berridge continued as housemaster for so long, certainly with the support of the College 'establishment'. I find it difficult to imagine that he retained this support without some redeeming qualities, and I am very aware that, listening only to the impressions he made on small boys, I may not have the full picture. If anyone can supply the necessary balance, I would be most obliged if you would get in touch.

Progress on the website has been brisk over the last few weeks. At present the foundations of the website are finished, as is the section on Archie Paxton and the Somme. The section on the 19th Century is my focus for today. However, nothing has appeared on the Internet, since it needs to be checked through by the IT Department. As soon as this is finished, we will publish.
The rest of the website will evolve over the next few months, as I mentioned in previous blogs.