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TWAS Review 1999-2000

  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

1999/2000 has been another busy year for the archives service, with developments on many fronts, both within the service and in a wider context.

2. Searchroom and other public services

1999/2000 has once again proved to be the archives service's busiest year ever for visitors following a slight dip in numbers last year. This year 7711 people used the archives, a 10% increase on last year. The last two months of the year were particularly busy, seeing an average of 38 people per day in March, and 41 in April using the searchroom, compared with a highest figure of 35 last year. The average over the year was 31, compared with 29 last year. Actual attendances on some days were much higher, and the microfilm readers are increasingly fully booked well in advance. It has not yet been necessary, however, to turn away any potential users of original documents although the situation has been close.

Chart showing user numbers for the last
six years

This year approximately 70% of our personal visitors were family historians, a 5% increase on last year. As we have not acquired any new type of records to explain this increase, it appears to be due to the continuing growth in popularity of the hobby generally, encouraged by sources available on the internet and publicity in newspapers, magazines and on television.

Chart showing purposes of visits and
postal enquiries

Approximately 75% of visitors were from Tyne & Wear, a slightly higher percentage than usual. Of those, 45% gave an address in Newcastle, 20% Gateshead, 18% North Tyneside, 9% Sunderland, and 7% South Tyneside.

Chart showing the Metropolitan
District of residence of visitors from Tyne and Wear

The remaining 25% of visitors were made up as shown in the following graph.

Chart showing the residences
of visitors from outside Tyne and Wear

As well as helping personal visitors, staff have also answered 768 postal or e-mail enquiries and 1691 telephone enquiries. Both of these figures were lower than the previous year, by 27% and 5% respectively, but the amount of paid research carried out was up by 29%, to 225 hours.

3. Access to Archives

The most important development with regard to access during the year has been the further implementation of the CALM 2000 Plus cataloguing system. As well as using it for new material coming in to the archives, an attempt has been made to enter some of the backlog. A temporary assistant has been entering data relating to accessions, and has now completed all accessions since 1995, approximately 950. In addition over 100 collection level entries have been made in the catalogue. The system has not yet been made available for public searching but we hope to do so in the near future, now that there is a sufficient accumulation of data to make searches worthwhile.

We had hoped to increase the resources available for cataloguing through the bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for cataloguing shipbuilding records. Unfortunately this was not successful, but we hope to resubmit a revised bid shortly.

A national development called Access to Archives (A2A) has also opened an opportunity for electronic conversion of some of our old catalogues to make them available on the CALM system. We hope to participate in a collaborative regional bid from all four record offices in the north east during the coming year.

Records which have been made available through the microfilm programme during the year have included Methodist and United Reformed Church registers, as well as those from Roman Catholic churches which have been released from the embargo period since the original batch of filming. The programme of microfilming cemeteries records begun last year was completed, and copies of the films made available in local libraries as well as cemeteries departments.

4 Accessions

116 new accessions have been received during the year.

Perhaps the most significant was the deposit of the records of Vaux and its subsidiary breweries, following its closure. Records of a number of small breweries, throughout the country are included, and will form a significant resource for the study of the industry, once catalogued. Records of the Newcastle brewery of Ridley, Cutter and Firth, which had previously been deposited at the Northumberland Record Office, were transferred to join the main series.

Also relating to Sunderland were some records, including a birth register, of the Sunderland Hebrew Congregation. These had found their way to London Metropolitan Archives, but were repatriated in July.

A very large quantity of records known as the Marine Maps was transferred from the Board of Trade through the Public Record Office. These show works close to the foreshore, affecting the Crown interest, and include significant 19th century plans relating to docks, lighthouses, railways etc.

A further large batch of records relating to former Presbyterian churches was received from the United Reformed Church History Society at Westminster College in Cambridge. These included some early, eighteenth century, records relating to religious developments and disputes, particularly in Newcastle. Richard Potts, retired Principal Archivist has been working with the Society to disperse the records it had collected to the correct places, and Tyne & Wear Archives Service agreed to act as a clearing house for the records of the northern province. We sent out relevant records to Northumberland, Co. Durham, Teesside and Cumbria.

Other early religious records were received from the Society of Friends. We had previously had the opportunity to microfilm many of these records, so they have been available for research for some time. However, it is good to be able to ensure the preservation of the originals.

Although the survey of sports club records has long been forced into abeyance by the pressure of other work, we did accept some records relating to Tyneside Golf Club at Ryton. These dated back as far as 1879. Further records of the Northumberland and Durham Amateur Swimming Association, which did form part of the survey, were also deposited.

Several interesting collections of personal papers were received. Of particular significance are the travel journals of Sir William Hutt MP, of Gateshead from the 1820s to the 1870s. Some of his travels were diplomatic missions, while others were tours of the continent with his wife. All of the journals include descriptions of the places visited as well as political and other comment. The period covered includes the Franco-Prussian War and the rise of Garibaldi in Italy.

Other personal papers related to individuals' work in the region, including H V E Beck, developer of oil seals for George Angus & Co. Beck was a German, interned as an enemy alien in the war, and killed when the ship on which he was being transported to Canada was torpedoed. His case also features in the wartime files of the Newcastle City Police. Some excellent photographs are included among the papers of James Geddie, who was chief assistant engineer on the building of the Tyne Bridge, and of Henry Hay Wake, chief engineer to the River Wear Commissioners.

Currently closed to access, but most worthy of continuing preservation are the questionnaires from the study to examine the health of people living near the Monkton Coking Works, Hebburn in 1990-91. Older records such as these are already being used for ongoing health studies, and these are likely to be no exception.

5. Conservation

A major project this year has been the refurbishment and boxing of the Lloyd's Registers of Shipping which were made available for direct public access following the extensions to the searchroom. These are a valuable and much used series, but time and use has taken its toll on the earlier volumes. The conservators and archive assistants have been working together on this project, which is now complete.

A flood in one of the storerooms in September caused one volume to be completely soaked through. This gave the opportunity for collaboration with the University of Newcastle which had just acquired some specialist vacuum extraction equipment. Nearly ¼ pint of (luckily) clean water was extracted and the process documented on the Internet with a link to the Archives Service website. The volume has now been restored to its former condition.

Other non-routine work the conservation unit has carried out includes repair to extremely fragile 17th century records of the Newcastle Admiralty Court which are currently being catalogued.

6. Education

The education officer worked with 80 groups, involving 1131 individuals in the course of the year. Among the most significant work was INSET training on the Working Bairns teaching pack which was published and distributed free to all schools in Tyne & Wear. He also participated in a regional INSET day on Thinking Skills in History, delivered by Sunderland City Council, and two by Shefton Greek Museum on the Greek Legacy.

Working Bairns also attracted attention from outside the county and was supplied to Durham County literacy team and Hexham Middle School.

Last August Tyne & Wear Museums held a summer school for talented pupils, and the archives education officer was invited to collaborate. 16 pupils took part in a session on windmills.

Ongoing during the year has been work on a project based on Robert Westall's book The Machine Gunners, a fictionalized account of the second world war in North Tyneside. This project, now known as Robert Westall's War, received a prestigious award from the Department for Education and Employment for development of a website which will form a "virtual teaching pack" as part of the National Grid for Learning. Gateshead Council and individual schools, as well as North Tyneside Libraries are collaborating in this project.

7. Outreach

1999 saw the 25th anniversary of the foundation of Tyne & Wear Archives Service, and this was in part commemorated by an Open Day on 25 March which was attended by over 100 people. Tours behind the scenes of the archives service were accompanied by film shows and sessions on genealogy for beginners, identifying old photographs, "being your own house detective" and other topics.

Tyne & Wear Archives Service received an award from the Millennium Festival Fund for recording of regional songs under the title of Northumbria Anthology. The plan is to publish 20 CDs, each based on songs of a particular part of the region, as part of the Millennium celebrations. A well-known local singer has been employed under the project to collect and research relevant material, and a steering group formed including representatives of the Archives Service, Gateshead Council, Newcastle University and Folkworks as well as the commercial partner in the project. Work on the research has proceeded well, and we hope to begin recording during the summer and early autumn.

The service's other contribution to the millennium celebrations was an exhibition A Century in Photographs, which showed one photograph from our collections for each year of the century. The pictures were chosen to show the diversity of our collections as well as the developments of the century and range from home and school scenes in the 1900s through local industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining and glassmaking to packing French Bread pizzas at Findus in 1989.

Images of England, Newcastle upon Tyne published in collaboration with Tempus Publishing, also featured pictures from the archive collections. Again, the variety of pictures shows everything from the last of the River Tyne state barges, through Basque refugees in 1937 to the opening of Benwell Billiard Saloon.

8. Records Management

1999/2000 has been another financially successful year for the Records Management Service in spite of some changes to the clients. English Partnerships, the successor to the Commission for the New Towns, has now withdrawn all its records except for those selected as archives, thus ending a long relationship. Another private client has also closed its regional office, but will continue to use the service on a changed basis. It is not planned to take on any new clients in the medium term, as the service has been running somewhat over capacity for some time.

9. Northern Region Film & Television Archive

The Film Archive has continued to grow and develop towards a form of independent status. The first franchise period came to an end in the course of the year and a successful review has resulted in a further funding commitment from Northern Arts and the British Film Institute.

The archive is now consolidated on two sites with the Trade Films collection being brought in to Blandford House, alongside the company's move from Gateshead to Newcastle.

Several exciting discoveries have been made during the year, including a 1913 nitrate film of a match between Sunderland and Newcastle United. Preservation of this film has been generously supported by a £1000 grant from Sunderland AFC. Another nitrate find was an early coloured film Daughter's Choice which received a premier showing to a large audience in Berwick on Tweed and also featured on television.

The staffing of the archive was also expanded with the establishment of a part time post of Development Officer. She is working on a long-term funding and marketing strategy for the archive.

10. Conclusion

1999/2000 has been another successful year for the Archives Service. In the coming year attention is likely to focus increasingly on the Service's role within the region, as well as in increasing cross-domain working. This will be essential to meet many of the objectives placed upon the service by the government agenda.

However, at the same time it will be essential to concentrate on some of the problems facing the Service, especially that of accommodation, and to ensure that the service provided to our core users is not undermined by new initiatives. Likewise work to ensure the continuing preservation of the material, and to increase access to it will continue to be at the forefront of the Service's work.

A fundamental Best Value Review of the Archives Service will be undertaken next year and all of these issues will be properly considered.