Wednesday 3 August 2011

On being an Archive Addict

I love archives. This is a Good Thing, as when I have my other hat on - not the one that says 'Danger - Romantic Novelist', but the one that says 'Trainee Academic', I spend a lot of my time in them. They are a world of their own - where the pencil is mightier than the pen, no sharp objects are allowed and you have to leave all your possessions outside the door. It's a world that is becoming a lot more familiar to a lot more people these days, with the current fascination with exploring the family tree, fostered by all those TV programmes with celebrities finding out about their ancestors. If you visit any archive these days you will usually find someone exploring the census or military records in search of Great Uncle Arthur. (You know - the one that the family doesn't talk about.:) )

National Archive - Kew
I don't do family history. Not yet anyway. I know the bug will get me one day.  My interest at the moment is local councils during the second world war. Yes, I know, people keep telling me I need to get out more. But I find it fascinating. Just the look of the old volumes, leather bound, embossed, curling a bit at the edges, with a lovely soft pillow to support them and their share of decades-old dust - and I never remember to make sure I have a handkerchief. (See above, about leaving all your possessions outside.) There are stories in there, if you look- and have a vivid imagination. Two of the councils I've been studying were planning celebrations for special anniversaries in late September 1939. Fireworks, parades, floodlighting the Town Hall. Of course, I knew that the war would intervene. And sure enough, there were the sad little entries cancelling or curtailing the celebrations. And they'd put so much effort into them.
Then there were the deckchairs. The Parks Committee of Cardiff Council wanted to buy deckchairs for use in the summer in the municipal parks - somewhere for people to sit while they listened to the brass band. After the ritual tussle with the  Finance Committee, who didn't want to part with the cash, they got half of it - which, if they were good negotiators, was probably what they had planned in the first place. They got their deck chairs - and a few months later those same deckchairs turned up again, being used in the first-aid posts and air-raid warden stations for the volunteers to sit on as they waited for the air-raid sirens.
This is what fascinates me about archives- the stories - but then, I'm funny that way.

1 comment:

  1. I do genealogy, Evonne, and have been to the NA at Kew lots of times - it's a wonderful place! I was able to handle and look at old muster lists from the 1790's for example, when one of my ancestors was fighting on a plain in India whose name I can't pronounce. And once, I got to touch a 400-year old will (another ancestor) - it was just magic! I'm with you, archives are great :)