Tag Archives: local authority archives

“Computer discs aren’t archives, are they?”

 Well yes, they can be.

 Many people think of archives as dusty old manuscripts, parchment deeds and sepia photographs. It’s certainly true that an awful lot of the records we hold at the West Yorkshire Archive Service fit that description (apart from the “dusty”- our Conservation team work very hard to ensure that doesn’t happen!).  The truth is, though, that history doesn’t ever stop.

Old parchment document

One of the oldest documents we hold – a notification of a grant of land at Ripley from before 1157 (Ref: WYL230/165, WYAS Leeds)

As new technologies emerge the format in which records are created has always changed.  The glass plate negative gave way to 35mm film; the quill pen gave way to the fountain pen, then the biro and the typewriter; parchment gave way to paper and wet letter books disappeared with the rise of carbon copies. 

The mission of the West Yorkshire Archive Service has always been to collect, preserve and make available the county’s documentary heritage, for legal purposes and historical research.  The documents and records which were once produced on paper are now being created on computer and even though the email has replaced the letter and financial ledgers have been replaced by spreadsheets we still have a responsibility to ensure the records being created today are preserved for future generations to access.

Computer records

Some of the computer records we hold in the archives already

So what are we doing about it?

Well today is a Day of Digital Archives as archivists across the world tell people about the work they are doing to help preserve the digital age,  so it seemed like the ideal opportunity to tell you all.

Our Digital Archives Policy is available on our website and sets out our commitment to exploring the ways in which we can best meet the challenges of preserving digital materials.  These challenges include the physical deterioration of digital storage media, rapid changes in hardware and software which mean we may lose the ability to access older records (remember 3 ½ inch floppy discs, anyone?) and developing the resources we need to collect, process, preserve and make available digital records.

We’ve got a special computer, which is isolated from our main network, where we can check digital records deposited with us for viruses and use tools to gather the technical information we need to preserve alongside the digital records themselves so they can be accessed in the future. We have dedicated server space to store the digital records once they have been processed.  We’re talking to our colleagues in the IT department about how we can make these digital records available to our researchers.

We’re developing training materials and advice for all our staff to help them deal with digital records and we’re taking part in wider training opportunities like this National Archives web-archiving pilot study .

If you want to know more about what we’re doing, think you might have some digital records you’d like to deposit with us for future generations, or maybe just want some advice on where to look for help in caring for your own digital “stuff” so your children and grandchildren can enjoy all those digital photos you’re taking, feel free to contact us for help, information and advice.

Follow us at @wyorksarchives or follow #digitalArchivesDay for more information about the Day of Digital Archives.


Take flight!

November marks the launch of the 2009 Archive Awareness campaign. The theme this year is “take flight!”

On the theme of flight here is a short article by Tish at our Bradford office about some interesting entertainments in Peel Park, Bradford. The images are from Bradford Borough Council, Town Clerk, papers regarding Peel Park, 1D82.

Advertisement for acrobatic entertainer Signor Farinelli enclosed with letter dated 31 May 1856 from Charles Henry Brown explaining that Mr Coxwell will not be able to make an ascent from Bradford and that William Stewart could make the ascent with a new balloon, and suggesting an ascent by Madame Rossini or Signor Farinelli. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Bradford: 1D82/3/4

Peel Park was the first publicly owned park in Bradford. Sir Robert Peel died in 1850 and a meeting was held in Bradford to discuss how he could be commemorated; it was agreed that a park would be a fitting memorial. A Central Committee of the Bradford Public Park Movement was set up which in turn organised District Committees. Land for the park was purchased during the 1850s but it took twelve years to pay off the debts incurred in buying the land and laying it out as a park. A donation of £1,500 was made by the Government and donations of £1,000 were received from Milligan, Forbes and Company and from Titus Salt. There were also numerous private subscriptions and some of the documents in this collection refer to the need to canvass for subscriptions.

In addition galas were held at the Park to raise money for the Park Fund; various attractions were ‘hired’ by the Committee and some of the letters and agreements in this collection refer to entertainers and to a proposed balloon ascent by Mr Coxwell. The agreements also made provision for indoor venues in case of inclement weather (poor summers are obviously nothing new!).


Newspaper advertisement for Madam Rossini’s act enclosed with a letter from Charles H Brown dated 2 Jun 1856 regarding Madam Rossini's performance at Peel Park. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Bradford: 1D82/3/5

Firework displays were also a feature of the galas; unfortunately in 1863 the promised “Eruption of Mount Vesuvius and Fall of Herculaneum” was a great disappointment and produced very little light. As the park had a lake there were also aquatic displays and one entertainer was pulled across the lake in a washtub drawn by geese. He also arranged for some nymphs to be pulled across the lake by swans but apparently the accompanying fireworks smoked so much that the nymphs could not be seen (one of the letter books in this collection contains a reference to a request for two swans).

The profits from the gala held in 1863 finally wiped out all the debts and the park was handed over to the Bradford Corporation. However the galas continued to be held (profits were given to Bradford Hospitals) and some of the letters in this collection refer to negotiations with railway companies for excursion trains and special fares for visitors to the galas. The final gala was held in1936; by that time people were able to travel further afield for their entertainment.

You can find out more about the archive awareness campaign at http://www.archiveawareness.com/

Cataloguing Projects @ WYAS

 Cataloguing is just part of the work the Collections Team does; amongst other things we are involved in improvements to our online catalogue, producing guides to our collections, encouraging new deposits and working with volunteers. However, cataloguing is an important aspect of our work.

 The Collections Team undertakes cataloguing work which benefits WYAS’s 5 offices (Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, Wakefield). The team currently focuses on material from public sector organisations, such as council records, hospital records, and police records. At the moment, we are working on the archives of the West Riding County Council (1888-1974).

Our cataloguing work involves a number of stages

With a large collection, initially we look to see whether parts of the collection have already been catalogued and then we will “box-list” all the uncatalogued records so we have an overview of what a collection contains. We might also do some tidying up – removing duplicates, blank pieces of paper etc – at this stage (part of what archivists call “appraisal”). We may also need to do further research into the history of the collection which could involve looking at not only the records themselves but books, websites, accession paperwork (the documentation which is completed when a collection is deposited) from which we can draw up detailed administrative histories and flow charts.

Once we know more about the collection and the way the records relate to each other we can decide how the records should be structured in the catalogue. If the records have already been listed in the past sometimes the Collections Team may need to also “retroconvert” old paper lists lists onto our cataloguing database. These lists often need to be restructured to make them easier to use and to conform with modern cataloguing standards.

Once the structure is decided records are organised in our cataloguing database and the records can be marked up in pencil with a collection reference number which matches the number it has been allocated in the catalogue. It may also be appropriate to repackage some or all of the collection, for example, by putting items in acid-free folders or removing rusty paper-clips.

To give a flavour of what the Collections Team do here is some of the material that the team has worked on in the past few years:

Town Clerk’s Department records for Bradford Borough, Batley Borough, Leeds, West Riding County Council, Morley Borough, Huddersfield County Borough

Leeds and Bradford Police records

Calderdale township records and local authorities including: Hebden Royd Urban District Council, Hebden Bridge Urban District Council and local board, Mytholmroyd Local Board/Urban District Council, Hepton Rural District Council, Todmorden Rural District Council (including Todmorden Rural Sanitary Authority), Halifax Borough and records relating to Brighouse, Elland, Halifax, Heptonstall, Ripponden and Sowerby Bridge

Hemsworth Board of Guardians

Leeds local authorities including: Pudsey Borough, Calverley Urban District Council and Farsley Urban District Council

Stanley Royd hospital records