Thursday, January 25, 2018

A year in archives: collection highlights from 2017

Each year the document collection at Sheffield City Archives grows in size.  Last year we received around 600 boxes of archival material dating from 1669 to the present day including photographs, architectural plans, glass negatives, ancient deeds, oral histories, minute books and digital files.  Each item reveals a bit more to us about Sheffield’s history.  What follows is a brief look at some of the collection highlights from 2017...

As we look ahead to 2018 and the centenary commemorations of the end of World War One, we are able to reflect on the impact of war on ordinary Sheffielders by the letters, diaries and photographs that were left behind.  Last year we received a diary kept by Lance Corporal Sydney Staley (1897-1991) and letters written from the front by Lance Corporal Frederick Powell Walton (1897-1968) and Private Edward Guite (1884-1918) - the latter were found in an attic in Sheffield, and give a somewhat harrowing account of his experiences.  The papers of Frederick Powell Walton came to us in quite unusual circumstances.  Sheffield resident, Neil Woodall, stumbled upon an old cardboard box lying discarded beneath a hedge in his back garden on Edgedale Road in Nether Edge. Lifting the lid on the box, Mr Woodall found inside a fascinating assortment of photographs of First World War soldiers and various papers relating to the Home Guard in Sheffield during the Second World War.  He is baffled as to how the box of records ended up abandoned at the bottom of his garden. On the day he found the records, rain was falling and dripping through the hedge onto the flimsy cardboard box lid. The records would doubtless have been damaged beyond repair and lost forever had he not spotted them in the nick of time.

At the end of 2017, The Star newspaper moved from its historic home at Telegraph House on York Street to new premises on Pinfold Street.  This raised the question of what was to happen to its vast subterranean archive.  The Archivists headed underground to take a look, and it was agreed that The Star would donate all of its historic volumes to the City Archives.  After months of heavy work, we finally got the entire archive over to Shoreham Street just before Christmas.  The collection includes big dusty newspaper volumes dating back to the 1700s, glass negatives which contain images that haven’t been seen for decades and other material (including negatives and photographs) which will eventually get added to Picture Sheffield for all to see.  The material is currently being conserved and packaged by our Conservator and Preservation Assistant which may, in itself, take most of 2018!

Two interesting collections of oral histories were also donated to the City Archives in 2017 by community groups.  The Abbeydale Picture House Oral History Project has been busy interviewing people about their recollections of the old picture house and we now have a fascinating set of interviews conducted with Allan Jackson, D. Butler, H. Burgess, J.D. Andrew, Jean Muir, Mary Marsden and Mick Humble which can be listened to at the Archives.  We were also pleased to receive copies of the Sheffield Feminist Archive Project’s interviews conducted with female activists in Sheffield.  Discussions cover trade unionism, work place equality, the Sheffield Film Cooperative and the film making industry, education, feminist campaigns, Greenham Common, sexism, the LGBT scene and many other topics.  So far, the group have interviewed Kate Flannery, Pat Bairsto, Chrissie Stansfield, Nell Farrell, Melissa Wright and Katie Edwards with further interviews currently in the pipeline.  The work that these groups do is of great importance to our broad historical understanding, as they give voice to the stories, emotions and opinions that are often omitted from the official record.

A few items of local interest turned up in London last year which we were able to repatriate to Sheffield.  These included a diary belonging to Thomas Staniforth of Darnall (later a prosperous merchant and Mayor of Liverpool) in which he writes (during August 1799) of his colliery interests in Sheffield, his visits to the Cutlers’ Hall and the Sheffield Infirmary and about how he must ‘keep a watchful eye on his fields and the haymaking’ - clearly a man of diverse business interests!  The diary offers a short but interesting snapshot of life for the Sheffield gentry in 1799.  The second item was an account book of the Surveyors of the Highways, Handsworth.  Surveyors were appointed to view the roads, fixing days for statutory labour, and collecting ‘compositions’ from parishioners (i.e. payment in lieu of labour).  The volume dates from 1793 - 1825 and details all payments made including: wheelbarrows, levelling the road, making a road to a quarry and getting out stone, clerks’ fees, labourers' wages etc.  It is unclear where these items have been for the best part of 200 years, but we are pleased they are back in the Sheffield and now part of the city collections in perpetuity.

We also took in public records from Sheffield Magistrates’ Court, HM Coroner and the NHS.  Records were also deposited by Sheffield City Council, the Diocese of Sheffield, the Feoffees of Ecclesfield (dating back to 1669), local businesses, community groups and private individuals.
A full list of archives received by Sheffield City Archives (and other archives around the country) is published by The National Archives each year:
You can also search Sheffield City Archives' online catalogue here: