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TWAS Review 2003-2004

  1. Introduction
  2. Searchroom and other public services
  3. Access to Archives
  4. Accessions
  5. Conservation
  6. Education
  7. Outreach
  8. Records Management
  9. Northern Region Film & Television Archive
  10. Conclusion

1. Introduction

This year for the first time the Annual Review includes information on targets set by the Best Value Review of the Archives Service. These are given throughout the narrative where appropriate.

2. Searchroom and other public services

The number of personal visitors to the archives service saw a slight fall this year, from 7933 to 7751 or 2.29% down.

72% of visitors gave an address within Tyne & Wear in line with the usual figures. Following the Best Value Review we were assigned targets for visitors from each of the districts, as a percentage of their total population. Visitors (including groups) from South Tyneside and Sunderland exceeded the targets, while the others were slightly below target.

Number of visitors to the Archives service from each district as a percentage of the total population










North Tyneside



South Tyneside












16% of visitors gave addresses in Northumberland or County Durham and a further 4% elsewhere in the north. Visitors from overseas were down from 117 last year to only 72, although researchers staying for several weeks or months often give a local address. Overseas visitors came from 12 different countries including Spain, Norway, Austria, Botswana, Brazil and Saudi Arabia as well as the more typical English speaking countries.

The percentage pursuing family history fell again this year, from 66% to 62%, but visits from people who classed themselves as undertaking research rose from 21% to 26%.

In February we opened on a Saturday for the first time, and will continue to do so on the first Saturday of each month. The new hours have attracted a few new users unable to come at any other time, but as yet have not been as busy as weekdays.

Following a large increase in the number of enquiries received by e-mail last year, these have now levelled out, but telephone enquiries increased by 37% perhaps partly explained by the installation of a new telephone system enabling enquirers to get through more easily.

We carried out 207 hours of paid research, less than last year but representing more individual enquiries as they were charged in a different way. In addition we assisted with about 1200 miners' respiratory disease claims against British Coal, mainly received through solicitors who paid a £20 fee for each one. We also provided 196 post mortem copies to the Department of Trade and Industry's contractors. The DtI unilaterally assigned a fee of £10 per case which was contested by a number of archives nationally, including ourselves, without success.

3. Access to Archives

The main achievement in access this year came with the unveiling of our electronic catalogues on our website. All the catalogues which we have available in electronic form are now fully searchable via the internet from anywhere in the world.

Although only a percentage of our catalogues are yet available electronically we exceeded our target by 2.78%, and at the end of the year 21.28% of catalogues were available. This percentage is increasing all the time thanks to participation in externally funded projects, particularly Access to Archives (A2A). Catalogues submitted under this scheme are converted to electronic form and can then be uploaded to our own website.

Percentage of catalogues available on line







All new catalogues are created electronically. Our regular staff completed 87 new catalogues and added new records to a further 16. The actual number of individual computer records created (representing individual items) was just below the target at 4616.

Among the more interesting or significant catalogues completed were Tyneside Golf Club; Gosforth, Gateshead and other Methodist churches and circuits; the Lithosian Society of Newcastle upon Tyne; records of a number of building trades unions and various branches of the Order of Good Templars.

Number of catalogue records created in the year







The actual number of catalogue records created was 22357. The majority of these have been excluded from the above figure because they were:

  • Records created as part of externally funded projects 4238
  • Records imported as part of the A2A retroconversion project 13503

The externally funded projects were the completion of phase 1 of the Wellcome funding for improving access to Research Resources in Medical History (RRMH) and of two catalogues of church architects' records through the Heritage Lottery Fund Ashington to Zanzibar project. The latter was a partnership with Durham University Archives and Special Collections. Work also started on phase 2 of RRMH which is tackling public health records. This is due to be completed in October 2004.

Funding was also secured from Heritage Lottery Fund for a project to improve access to shipbuilding archives (ARK). This is due to start in 2004/5.

In addition, the Best Value Review set a target for documents newly made available through conservation, microfilming or digitisation. We exceeded the target set.

Number of documents made available through conservation, microfilming or digitisation







4. Accessions

We received 104 new accessions of records during the year. Some of the more significant included:-

  • additional 18th century records of the Newcastle Sadlers Guild
  • records of the Addison Male Voice Choir from the 1940s to 2003
  • construction photographs of the Swan Hunter Derbyshire class ships (previously held back for Board of Trade investigation)
  • papers of the Weeks family of Ryton from 1815 onwards
  • additional papers of Royal Naval Reserve Tyne Division from World War 2
  • papers of Dr Finn Orbeck relating to Doxford Engines
  • records of the Incorporated Company of Butchers, Newcastle upon Tyne from the 17th to 20th centuries
  • records of the Royal Television Society North East and Border Centre.

By the end of the year we had computerised the records of 93.82% of all accessions (compared with 36.84% at 31 March 2003). These records are not accessible to the general public but enable staff to search uncatalogued records more easily.

5. Conservation

In the course of the year the Conservation Manager has been working to improve the storage of the collections, both to ensure their long term preservation and to make better use of the limited space available.

The other conservators have prioritised two collections, identified for their importance and their conservation needs. A full analysis of the Wood collection of theatre bills revealed about 90 years of work required, but a start on some of the more badly damaged and more popular topic areas has been made. We hope to digitise some of this collection at a later date.

The other priority collection has been the Bell collection of 18th and 19th century plans. There is great demand for these, especially now the catalogue is fully searchable, and some plans have suffered damage from poor storage and over-use over the years.

The conservators also digitised and framed a group of photographs of the Mauretania which formed the basis of an exhibition.

6. Education

In the course of the year the Education Officer worked with 78 groups involving 1273 people. These included schools at all levels, teacher training, universities, and adult leisure and educational groups. University courses included childcare (for which we continued our specially developed module on children in history), the built environment and museum studies as well as general historical studies. Amongst other topics the Westall's War project continued to dominate the individual enquiries received from schools.

Number of schools using the service as a percentage of number of schools in Tyne and Wear







Percentage of groups receiving a talk either very satisfied or satisfied with the talk







Gateshead 1871, a teaching pack produced jointly with Gateshead Library Service, focussed on two contrasting families - the comfortable middle-class Swinburnes and the poor Lawsons. The pack was distributed to every Gateshead primary school.

Saturday opening began in February with the Education Officer working with Tyne & Wear Museums to present Lost Luggage, a living history event for families. Visitors to both services were given the opportunity to meet and question evacuees from the region. We offer our special thanks to Agnes Conway and Eileen Salter who retold their adventures with gusto. Over 100 adults and children attended, giving very positive feedback.

The Education Officer secured a NEMLAC strategic Grant on behalf of NERAC to investigate the role of archives in schools in the region and recommend a strategy for improving outreach resources. The consultant will report during the summer of 2004.

The Hearts and Heartache CD-Rom, produced as the region's contribution to Archive Awareness Month, September 2003, was distributed free to all schools in the region

7. Outreach

The Archives Service participated in a number of outreach activities over the year. Exhibitions and displays included Out of One Eye - photographs by Jimmy Forsyth which toured Blandford House, Gateshead Library, Benwell Library and the Winships Gallery, Ovington; Mauretania - Pride of the Tyne which showed at Blandford House and will tour; a Christmas exhibition at Blandford House; Brewers & Boozers which toured Blandford House and Gateshead and Blaydon Libraries; Tracing the History of Your House which showed at South Shields and Jarrow libraries and Tender Loving Care at South Tyneside District Hospital. A special display was also prepared for the 100th anniversary of Coquet Park School, Whitley Bay.

The biggest event we took part in this year was the Great North Fair at Gateshead Stadium, a major family history fair that attracted stalls and visitors from all over the country. This took place during Archive Awareness Month and the regional CD-Rom Hearts & Heartache was launched on the same day. The archives service led this project on behalf of the North East Regional Archive Council.

We also took a stall in April 2003 at Yesterday Belongs to You, another major family and local history fair run every two years by Durham County Council. At this event we were approached by the editor of The Family and Local History Handbook who asked us to write an article about the service for the 8th edition. Carolyn Ball contributed a three-page article highlighting our services and some of the more important collections.

The Education Officer has successfully written a bid to secure HLF funding for a major cultural diversity outreach project. This aims to raise awareness of the function of the Archives Service amongst black and other minority ethnic groups in Tyne and Wear and encourage use of the service and the deposit of records. A project officer will be appointed during the summer of 2004.

8. Records Management

The building work in the records centre was completed and we were able to take on two additional local authority clients.

This is in line with the move towards a more strategic approach and away from the service to private clients recommended by the Best Value Review.

Strategic input has been helped by active participation in the Tyne & Wear Data Protection & Freedom of Information Forum, a group of officers from each of the authorities as well as Tyne & Wear Connexions who are working in various ways on implementation of this legislation.

9. Northern Region Film & Television Archive

The Northern Region Film & Television Archive was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee in December and the new board was due to receive a consultancy report on the future of the archive in May.

On a practical level development of the archive has been hampered by the departure of the Director in October. Because of the uncertainty over the conclusions of the consultancy and the funding from Northern Film & Media it has not been possible to appoint a successor.

Nevertheless the Access Officer based at Tyne & Wear has continued to work with depositors and users of the archive. Among acquisitions during the year have been 29 films from Northumbrian Water, 11 Mining Reviews transferred from Lancashire Record Office and 15 films transferred from the National Film Archive under the HLF/Getty programme.

The major access project during the year was a Tyne Tees Television series When we were kids which was subsequently made available as a retail video.

10. Conclusion

Last year's priority was to make progress with some of the issues raised by the Best Value Review and this has been achieved, particularly in the area of outreach and improvement in access to the collections.

Less good progress has been made with the much larger issue of the archives service's accommodation, which remains a major concern. The coming year will hopefully see positive outcomes from discussions with South Tyneside Council about a partnership project.