Skip Navigation|Home|News|Contact Us|Help

TWAS Review 2004-2005

  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

The annual review reveals another busy year for the archives service. The service has now almost completed the first phase of the Best Value action plan and information on Best Value targets is given throughout the report, where appropriate. An implementation plan for the remaining recommendations is appended. A major plank of the review was the investigation of alternative accommodation for the archives service, and this has been achieved this year through the submission of a substantial PFI bid by South Tyneside Council on behalf of the archives service. The result was awaited at the end of the year.

2 Searchroom and other public services

The number of personal visitors to the archives service saw a slight fall again this year, from 7751 to 7668 or 1% down.

70% of visitors gave an address within Tyne & Wear. This was a slightly smaller percentage than in previous years, indicating either that most of the drop in numbers has occurred amongst local visitors, or that we have been more successful in attracting visitors from a distance. 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 Sunderland exceeded the target, 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
















16.5% of visitors gave addresses in Northumberland or County Durham and a further 6% elsewhere in the north. Visits from overseas increased from 72 last year to 138 this year, the largest growth in percentage terms. Overseas visitors came from 14 different countries including Spain, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Japan, Italy, France, Belgium and Papua New Guinea as well as the more typical English speaking countries.

Family history enquiries both from personal visitors and by post were up on the previous year, possibly due to the effect of the popular BBC series Who do you think you are?

This was the first full year of Saturday opening, and although Saturdays have generally been quieter than weekdays, the service has enabled new users who have previously been unable to visit during the week. The December Saturday was particularly busy as it coincided with BBC Family History Weekend. An open event together with a family history fair in the Discovery Museum Great Hall drew in a large number of first-time visitors. Further information on this event is given below.

Numbers of postal/e-mail and telephone enquiries were roughly the same as the previous year. Some 69% of remote enquirers now choose to contact us by e-mail rather than traditional post.

We carried out 237 hours of paid research, 30 hours more than last year. In addition we assisted with about 475 miners’ respiratory disease claims against British Coal, mainly received through solicitors who paid a £20 fee for each one. This was down from 1200 last year as most claims are now dealt with by the Department of Trade and Industry’s contractors to whom we also provided 282 post mortem copies, compared with 196 last year. As the deadline for submission of claims is now past the number of these enquiries is beginning to drop off, though not as steeply as we had anticipated.

3 Access to Archives

The work of making our catalogues available over the Internet continued. The percentage of our catalogues available electronically and online increased from 21.28% to 75.47%, just exceeding the target of 75%. Through participation in the Access to Archives (A2A) scheme all catalogues of a suitable standard should be available online within the next year, greatly increasing potential usage of the website, the catalogues and the archives themselves. Many enquirers now state that they have found items of interest in the online catalogues.

Availability of the catalogues of miscellaneous small accessions (DX) online has made them much more useable as they were only really previously findable through card indexes on site.

Percentage of catalogues available on line







All new catalogues are created electronically. Our staff completed 139 new catalogues (compared with 87 last year) and added new records to a further 25 (16). Catalogues created included the work of the externally funded archivists on the Ashington to Zanzibar and Research Resources in Medical History projects.

Among the more interesting or significant catalogues completed were Andrew Leslie’s plans of the Calais Douvres Ferry 1876, a petition from the citizens of Newcastle to the leaders of the Scottish Army 1640, John Knox Presbyterian Church, Newcastle, Bede School, Sunderland, Axwell Park Approved School (formerly Newcastle Ragged School), and Rutherford School, Newcastle. The latter three (all significant catalogues) will be added to the A2A website as part of the regional Bell, Book & Candle project.

The number of individual computer records created by regular staff (representing individual items) was just above the target at 4872.

Number of catalogue records created in the year







The actual number of new catalogue records created was 27,124.  The majority of these have been excluded from the above figure because they were:

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

The externally funded projects were the completion of phase 2 of the Wellcome Foundation funding for improving access to Research Resources in Medical History (RRMH), which tackled records relating to public health, 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.

The Heritage Lottery Funded project to improve access to shipbuilding archives (ARK) was part way through at the end of the year. On completion in August 2005 this will report at collection level on the scope and content, as well as the needs and potential use of the shipbuilding collections. No cataloguing is being done at this stage, but knowledge of the content of the collections has improved greatly, enabling more effective handling of enquiries as well as other work.

In addition, the Best Value Review set a target for documents newly made available through conservation, microfilming or digitisation. We failed to meet the target set, partly because the microfilm camera was faulty for much of the year.

Number of documents made available through conservation, microfilming or digitisation







4 Accessions

We received 93 new accessions of records during the year. Some of the more significant included:-

  • souvenir books of the Hawthorn Leslie & Co Ltd Summer camps for apprentices at Scremerston, Northumberland from the 1920s
  • 5 albums of photographs of fishing vessels at North Shields, taken as a record of the declining fleet, 1980s
  • papers relating to political activism including Northern Survivor - Nuclear free North East & Cumbria, Tyneside Anti Nuclear Campaign, Druridge Bay Campaign, Charlotte Press/Tyneside Free Press Workshop, Days of Hope Workshop etc 1970s onwards
  • New Silksworth Junior School records 1870s-1992
  • Common Features Films Limited (formerly Trade Films) records
  • Additional papers of Thomas Bewick 1776 – 1878 (purchased)
  • Yes 4 the North East campaign papers 2004
  • Additional records of the Sunderland Jewish Community 1870-1996

All accession records are now on the computer system, and enable searching of uncatalogued records by staff. In some cases items that should have been incorporated into catalogues have been identified, and where possible the catalogues have been updated.

5 Conservation

The conservators have been working on the long term plan 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 programme of phase-boxing has been given added impetus by the possible move from Blandford House, as it will be much easier to move collections that are properly packaged and protected.

Work on the Wood and Bell collections has also continued, the former involving much painstaking traditional repair work. General repair and refurbishment work has also been targeted on the top 100 most used items.

The conservators also digitised and framed a group of photographs of Newcastle criminals from the 1870s, and architectural drawings from the Ashington to Zanzibar project, which formed the basis of exhibitions, further detailed below.

6 Education & Learning

In the course of the year the Learning & Outreach team worked with 74 groups involving 1396 people. These included schools at all levels, teacher training, universities, and adult leisure and educational groups. We continued to participate in the Northumbria University module on children in history, and also worked with university students of the built environment and museum studies as well as general historical studies. All three universities used the service. Other more unusual group work included students with disabilities from Heaton Adult Education Centre researching for a play on east Newcastle, a look at sources for crime with North Tyneside Magistrates (the Deputy Clerk to the Justices commented “was rather surprised to find that nothing really changes!”), a session on Grimaldi the clown for performing arts students from Prudhoe High School, Northumberland and a visit from the Friends of Doxford Engine to see the relevant archive sources. We linked into the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War with a number of Lost Luggage evacuee activity days, School Gates family learning activities with Sunderland Creative Partnerships and the redesign and relaunch of the Westall’s War website. The learning & outreach manager also worked with Churchill College to produce a website for study of the Castle Garth area of Newcastle. This was funded by the Historical association and NEMLAC.

Children from Westerhope First School particularly enjoyed talking to a former evacuee and making their own gas masks:-

I am writing to you to say thank’s for the fantastic time…I liked making the gas mask’s because I enjoyed art and I learned what a evacuee took in a carrier bag.

It was very intresting talking to the evacuee. I lernd that the choclet bar was for the foster pernts. Making the gas masks was my favrit part of the day.

One of the things I learnt was that you were ownly alowed to take one toy with them when they were sent away from the city.

I am writing to you because I would like to thank you for a brilliant time….I liked the part when the lady showed us a baby mask…..I liked the bit when we made the real gas masks.

I hope I will be able to come one day with my mum and dad, because your workshop is so good I think my mum and dad will be interested.

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







A breakdown of these figures by district is given in the appendix.

Having achieved 100% of groups receiving a talk either satisfied or very satisfied last year, the target has been amended to count only those very satisfied. The target was 79% very satisfied and 78.88% was achieved.

Percentage of groups receiving a talk very satisfied with the talk







7 Outreach

This year we have greatly expanded the range of our outreach activities, thanks to the appointment of an Outreach Development Assistant, who has been seconded from her regular archives assistant post.

She has established a series of workshops for new and more experienced users of the service, delivered by staff and volunteers, and has set up a volunteer programme and a mentor scheme. These were all actions identified in the Best Value Review of the archives service.

Six workshops were held during the year covering topics as diverse as Lost in Latin and Genealogy on the Internet. Almost all were fully booked and some will be rerun in the coming year alongside other new topics. Feedback from those who attended was overwhelmingly positive; a sample is included below.

  • Excellent presentation – inspired to do more
  • I intend to get online asap
  • The room was cold
  • Very enjoyable indeed
  • Start earlier – give out free sandwiches before the session
  • Useful to get insight to sources at TWAS
  • More workshops on similar topics please
  • Excellent use of interaction with audience
  • Advanced course perhaps?
  • More please!

Two major exhibitions were put together during the year: A Rogues’ Gallery based on photographic criminal records, which was extremely popular, and Ashington to Zanzibar arising out of the Lottery funded cataloguing project. This used images from the collections at Tyne & Wear and at Durham University, which was a partner in the project. These and a number of existing displays were toured round venues as diverse as the Buddle, Wallsend, various Sunderland libraries, South Tyneside General Hospital, HMS Calliope and St Nicholas Cathedral.

For the second year, we took part in the Great North Fair at Gateshead Stadium in September. This was a very popular event, with stalls from all the major archives, libraries and museums in the region and beyond, as well as family history societies and commercial enterprises.

Participation in the BBC Family History weekend in December, tied in to the “Who do you think you are?” series introduced the archives service to many new users. 61 people visited the searchroom (which was open for our regular Saturday), compared with a daily average of about 30. 105 visitors looked at a display of documents in the education room and talked to staff there, 51 took tours behind the scenes and an unknown number visited the BBC-arranged fair in the museum Great Hall. 12 people completed feedback forms, of whom only two had visited an archive before, and several said that they were interested in researching their family history.

The Heritage Lottery Funded Cultural Diversity project started in the autumn and will run for two years. The worker has established contacts with a large number of groups and individuals and run a series of popular open days. Few of those attending had known anything about the archives service previously but the introduction is already establishing further links, including with a creative writing group Identity on Tyne and a film maker who is working with the South Shields Yemeni community.

Photographs from the Diversity North East project have been deposited with the archives service, and a surprising number of items relating to cultural diversity have been identified from the existing collections. A postcard pack to publicise the project, now called Legacy, has been produced and a website is being created.

Another action recommended by the Best Value Review was the creation of a Development Trust for the archives service. This would replace the existing Users Group, and have a wider remit. At the end of the year the terms of reference and a list of possible members of the Trust had been agreed.

8 Records Management

The Best Value Review recommended that the service take a more strategic approach to records management, and move away from the service to private clients.

In line with this several additional local authority clients are now using the service, although the service to the private sector continues for the time being.

Interest in records management from the constituent authorities has increased with the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act in January 2005. Three have now appointed their own records managers, who are a valuable point of contact for the archives service but who will lessen the need for strategic advice from us.

The archives service did carry out a strategic consultancy for Gateshead, assessing the council’s level of compliance with ISO 15489, and also assisted with the records manager appointments.

Some enquiries relating to records management advice have resulted in additions to the archive collections, where it was clear that the records were of continuing value and could be made available for use straight away under FoI.

9 Northern Region Film & Television Archive

The consultants appointed by Northern Film and Media reported at the beginning of the year, but it was felt that their projected business plan did not offer a realistic way forward.

Agreement was reached between the archives service and Teesside University that the former director would be seconded back part-time from his academic post to oversee the professional side of the archive, and a business manager would also be seconded by the university.

On an operational level a further two members of staff at Teesside work alongside the Access Officer based at Tyne & Wear.

Although this arrangement has not been entirely satisfactory it has enable the archive to continue its work, and it is still hoped that a better long-term solution might be arrived at.

The archive is not alone, however, among regional film archives in experiencing difficulties as the national reallocation of funding through the Film Council has been felt badly in most regions.

10 Conclusion

The major achievement of the year has been the preparation and submission of the PFI bid for new premises for the archives service in South shields, but good progress has also been made with all of the other Best Value targets as well as the general work of the service.

Priorities for the coming year will include:-

  • Continuing work on the funding package, business plan and design of new premises
  • Work on the existing collections to prepare for a possible move
  • Increased digitisation of content once 100% electronic access to catalogues has been achieved
  • Continuing work on electronic archives and liaison with local authority records managers
  • Work towards measurement of the archives service as part of the culture bloc inclusion in Comprehensive Performance Assessment.