Archive Volunteer Diaries: Everything in its Right Place

Back once again, it’s me Jennifer, here to talk about my volunteer work at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive (SLHLA).

One of the many reasons that I enjoy working in archives is that it appeals to my sense of order and organisation! In this post, I’m going to home in on one of the goals for my Press Cuttings Cull project, which I introduced in the last edition of this series, and that is reconciliation. Basically, this means that I’m keeping a careful eye on the contents of each folder as I sort through them, to make sure that the right articles are filed away in the right place.

When you open one of our filing cabinet drawers full of press cuttings, you’ll see that there are lots of different headings for each of the folders. It may seem random, but everything is classified using the Dewey Decimal System, same as libraries. So if you’re looking for a particular topic related to Southwark’s local history, you can start your search at one of our handy subject guides, which will tell you the number under which your topic has been filed.

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There are SO MANY fascinating topics (that Ghosts folder was a fun read!)

I like to put myself in the shoes of a careful local history researcher who has come to SLHLA to uncover a key piece of information on their favourite topic, say Christ Church on Blackfriars Road. What if the one key piece of information that this researcher is hunting for has instead been filed in the folder for Christ Church, Bermondsey? Maybe another researcher was looking at both folders and the bits and pieces got mixed up, for example. Or what if a researcher wants information on one particular St Mary’s church, when there are lots of different St Mary’s around the borough?

I read through each press clipping to confirm that it is indeed the correct location, and if it needs to be moved, I pull out the other appropriate folder, and refile it there. That way, our researchers can know that when they grab a folder on their topic, that it has been checked to ensure it contains the correct info that they need.

Delightful Discoveries

Speaking of that Ghosts folder that I mentioned above, here are some of my favourite discoveries from those press clippings. Did you know that there were two reported poltergeists in Peckham? This spooky story describes how, in the late 1950’s through to the early 1960’s, a ghost appeared at a home in Peckham around Easter each year, “a greyish, fluorescent column of vibrating lights about as tall as a man.” And this ghost would light fires in around the home, or snatch objects from the homeowners’ hands.

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In another article, dating from 2002, reporters tell the story of the Peek Freans ghosts: production lines in the biscuit factory stopped running in the 1980’s, but “lights and machinery frequently turn themselves on and off for no reason.”

And lots more good ghost stories in this “Ghost Hunter of Camberwell” article from 2014.

Archive Volunteer Diaries: Volunteering at Southwark Local History Library & Archive

Hello readers! This is Jennifer, and I’m a volunteer at the Southwark Local History Library and Archive.

Back in April, having worked on some projects for a non-profit arts foundation that involved researching old theatre records, I was inspired to seek out some new opportunities to get more involved in archiving. Given that my day job is just a short walk away on the South Bank, I thought that volunteering here would be a nice chance to give back to my “work neighbourhood,” while also giving me a great opportunity to embed in the craft of archiving and lJennifer 1ots of fascinating local history. I reached out to the lovely folks here to get involved, and they have kindly welcomed me into their family as a volunteer.

 It’s an amazing facility, full of resources like historic maps, local records, films, terminals with access to online databases, photographs of all sorts of places around the borough, and folders full of press clippings and pamphlets all related to the goings-on around Southwark, past and present. I’ve been popping in for a few hours on an almost weekly basis since early May, and in this Volunteer Diaries series, I will be sharing some of the stories and discoveries that I uncover.

Delightful Discoveries

Here was one of my early first Delightful Discoveries from the collection. The very first folder that I opened for my volunteer work contained a press cutting with a story featuring our own Archivist Patricia Dark! And what a neat story, all about how a passerby spotted “a big box of old Victorian documents, some from 1885, left out for bin men on Borough High Street” in 2016, a treasure trove and “really fantastic addition” for SLHLA.

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Other discoveries: Did you know that a life-sized stuffed polar bear disappeared from the Horniman Museum in 1948? This 2006 story in the museum’s press cuttings folder describes how the bear may have been loaned to a department store for a “flamboyant Christmas window display” in 1948, or perhaps it was sold to a dealer at that time. “The fate of the polar bear has long been of interest to us,” said the museum’s director, who was working to track it down. The article jokingly offers some hints as to where the polar bear could have ended up, taking the opportunity to roll-up a series of bear and snow-related locations around Southwark, including Bear Lane, Snowsfields in Borough, and Bermondsey’s Winter Lodge.

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From the Bermondsey Abbey folder: Did you know that Southwark was spelled as Sowthewerke in the days of Henry VIII?

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And finally, fans of street art will appreciate this historic nod to the craft in the Bermondsey Abbey press cuttings folder, describing how medieval graffiti was found during excavations of the abbey site.

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