In Focus: North East Wales Archives

For this month’s ‘In Focus’ blog, Sarah Roberts from North East Wales Archives joins us to highlight their Women Rediscovered project.

Explore Your Archive was always going to be different in 2020 and once our staff at North East Wales Archives realised that there would be no “usual” events to plan we started to think about what else we could do whilst working from home with limited access to the collections.

Actress, Lowri Jones, portraying the story of two mothers’ experiences of post-natal psychosis

In Wales, archive services have access to Archives Wales marketing support grants which are funded by Welsh Government. Every year, in time for Explore we have the opportunity to apply for a grant to help us to deliver events and projects linked to the national campaign. In September last year we decided to apply for money to cover the costs of a creative project to take stories from our collections to people at home by dramatising accounts of real people from our collections.

We couldn’t deliver this project alone so we set up a meeting with a creative engagement associate at a local regional arts centre and producing theatre, Theatr Clwyd, to discuss a possible partnership. During the initial discussions, it was decided that monologue style films would be the most suitable format, not least because the style of filming really lends itself to social distancing. Theatr Clwyd were excited about the project and the writer, Emyr John, was enthusiastic to get started.

Actress, Caitlin Drake, portraying the famous Marged ferch Ifan aka Peggy Evans, Queen of the Lake

We chose the stories by first looking at the type of collections we wanted to highlight and it soon became apparent that the stories were leaning more towards a female inspired project. We had chosen the story of a teacher, a mother, a widow and a woman of many talents including being a renowned wrestler, boat-maker, hunter and shooter! And so it was born, Women Rediscovered, a project covering stories of strong and inspirational women spanning three centuries with sub-themes such as mental illness and LGBT+.

Luckily, our grant application was accepted to cover all of our chosen stories and we went on to commission the theatre to write the scripts and deliver our project, which they did. The director, Eleri B. Jones, said working with the archives made her feel like “a kid in a sweet shop” and “A lot of history is recorded by men and also by the upper classes who had the time and the ability to write their stories down, I feel there is a huge gap in working class everyday people who were just as extraordinary in their own way.”

The films and the collections and stories they are based upon can be seen on our blog posts, as follows;

A headmistress who devoted herself to education;
A widow of miner killed in the Gresford colliery disaster;
A mother reflecting on postnatal psychosis;
The famous Marged ferch Ifan, “an extraordinary female who was the greatest hunter, shooter, and fisher, of her time” as written about by Thomas Pennant.

Actress, Kerry Peers, portraying a teacher, Miss Harris Jones

The filming took place during Explore Your Archive week and the films were launched weekly throughout January 2021 as part of a #MonologueMonday series. So far, we have had great feedback and comments on the films;

“Phenomenal acting … Absolutely loved the raw, gritty performance”

“Wow this is powerful and thought provoking, really took me out of my comfort zone!! Lowri [the actress] is amazing and gives a real insight to the whole story and history of North Wales Hospital which is difficult to watch (I had to have a break) because it’s real”

“Delivered like this means we can learn from the past and hopefully treat people especially women better in the future! Hopefully this work can also go into our schools in some format to learn and debate our history!”

“I have just watched your You Tube film on Gwyneth / Ann, based on the admission of Ann Owen to the lunatic asylum in 1875. What a fantastic piece of theatre – bringing to life, so well, the story of Ann Owen. Fantastic work, and very inspiring in so many ways, not least in terms of giving a voice to this person from 1875. Loved it!”

Actress, Courtney George, portraying a widow of a miner killed in the Gresford Colliery Disaster in 1934

We are hoping the project will mark the start of a great working relationship with our local theatre and we will go on to work on more projects with them in the future. For me, personally, it has been exciting to work on something so different and creative, especially when our normal working life has been so disrupted over the last 12 months.

You can follow North East Wales Archives on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Sarah Roberts, North East Wales Archives

All images copyright of Dafydd Owen @Ffotonant, freelance photographer and filmmaker working on the Women Rediscovered project.

In Focus: Apna Heritage Archive at Wolverhampton City Archive

Archival photo. A family group of Pubjabi descent stands outside a sandstone building. In the centre, the bride and groom wear traditional silk flower garlands.

For this month’s ‘In Focus’ blog, Heidi McIntosh of Wolverhampton City Archives joins us to introduce the Apna Heritage Archive.

Working from home during lockdown has meant staff of Wolverhampton City Archives have been working away from the physical archival material. On the plus side, this has forced us to work more on our digital collections. One of these is the Apna Heritage Archive.

Archival photo. A woman of Punjabi descent sits in an armchair, She is looking at the knitting she holds in her hands and smiling broadly. A younger woman sits on the arm of the chair and has her arms affectionately around the older woman. She is also smiling broadly.
DW-222/1/3: Sally and Suraksha Asar at home in Woodcote Road, Wolverhampton, 1980.

In 2016, Black Country Visual Arts (BCVA) received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards this project. The aim was to build up a collection of over 2000 historic photographs relating to Punjabi migration to Wolverhampton from 1960 to 1989, resulting in an exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Not only did the project win the “Best New Group” award at the Community Archives and Heritage Group (CAHG) conference in 2017, it was also featured in the National Archives publication “A Year in Archives” the following year. The physical collection is now housed in a dedicated archive space at the Guru Teg Bahadur Gurdwara in Upper Villiers Street, Blakenhall. Children from a local primary school, where around 50% of the school population is of Punjabi origin, visited us and created their own school archive as a result. The digitised images have been deposited with Wolverhampton City Archives.

Archival photo. A family group of Punjabi descent stands outside a sandstone building. In the centre, the bride and groom wear traditional silk flower garlands.
DW-222/6/55: The wedding of Raj Kumar and Nirmal Devia Bhatia at Ealing Registry Office in London, 1985.

According to the 2011 census, over 30% of Wolverhampton’s population were of non-white or mixed ethnicity. Our role as Wolverhampton City Archives is to be fully representative of the communities that we serve, and we are a long way off that point at present. Collections such as the Apna Heritage Archive will move us towards redressing that balance.

Archival photo. A family of Punjabi descent stand by a hospital lift with an older white woman, who holds a newborn baby in her arms.
DW-222/20/111: Harjinder S. Kalsi and family at New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, after the birth of Pradeep S. Kalsi, 1981.

The photographs themselves are wonderful. Whilst some of them document key life-changing moments and rites of passage, such as births and weddings, many of them show everyday life. Because of the time period covered, a large proportion are in colour, making them rich and vibrant and varied in their nature. There are posed school portrait photos alongside more relaxed shots of family groups on the sofa. There are photographs taken in Wolverhampton, but also of day trips and holidays, such as to Lichfield or London, as well as photographs of India.

Archival photo. Two men in their late teens wear traditional Punjabi clothing,
DW-222/8/11: Rawinder Chonk performing a dance with a friend at Dunstall Primary School, Wolverhampton, 1986.

There was some discussion as to whether we should weed these photographs – after all, as a general rule of thumb, we don’t usually collect people’s holiday snaps and family occasions, unless they are particularly significant individuals. However, that is partly what makes these so beautiful and interesting, as you get a real insight into the lives of the local Punjabi community. They have a wider relevance, too, as they are so evocative of that period in history.

These photographs are currently being added to our online catalogue. The ones that are completed are available to view here, and more will be added all the time: Apna Heritage Archive.

Head to Twitter to follow the Apna Heritage Archive and Wolverhampton City Archives, or check out the website. Applications are currently being taken for an AHRC-funded PhD project based around the collection – find out more here.


The College and Castle today. The windows of the archive may be seen in the bottom left hand corner of the castle building

History and development

Clongowes Wood College SJ, near Clane in Co Kildare has a long and rich history of education in Ireland since it was founded in 1814 by Fr Peter Kenney SJ. It was the first work of the Society of Jesus worldwide following its restoration that year after 41 years of suppression; indeed the Irish operation predated the lifting of the order of suppression by several months. The college was located outside of Dublin to avoid affront to the British authorities as the Penal Laws remained in force and constraints on Catholic Education were many. The founding fathers had spotted something of a gap in the market; they had decided to educate the sons of the middle class, who previously had the choice of sending their boys to England (with its uncertain religious background) or mainland Europe (which posed difficulties of finance, language, culture and distance). Daniel O’Connell acted as advisor to Fr Kenney, and encouraged him to purchase land that had been confiscated as, with such a property, one could prove title. Richard Reynell, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas under Cromwell, had been granted the castle and surrounding lands in 1667 and the estate was confirmed to him by letters patent of Charles II. Reynall sold the castle and 1,000 acres to Thomas Browne, a Dublin barrister and a Catholic, for £2,100. Browne changed the name to Castle Browne, by which it was known until 1814 when it was changed back to Clongowes by the Jesuits.[1]

The chosen location was a historic one as it was on the line of The Pale and there had been castles on the site since 1450. The new school occupied the relatively modern 18th century version with the entire community of Jesuits and students living in the same building. The Jesuits began to expand the campus almost immediately with the addition of a refectory and a study hall (still in use today) and the buildings continued their march to the south and west over the next two centuries with the addition of dormitories, classrooms, an infirmary and swimming ‘baths’ (the oldest indoor pool in Ireland). Development continues apace in the 21st century with the addition of modern science, art and technology facilities, a large sports hall and a new swimming pool. The college includes a working dairy farm as well as 150 acres of land dedicated to playing fields and recreation space, including rugby and soccer pitches, tennis courts and a golf course and is home to some 450 boys from Ireland, the UK, Europe and further afield.

The front of the castle (the original school) today

Notable past pupils

For more than two centuries, the college has produced many notable alumni including leaders in business, politics, social justice, sport and the arts. Graduates of the college have gone on to become leaders in Ireland and the Jesuit project was encapsulated in one man in 1914, when Old Clongownian, John Redmond was on the brink of becoming the first Prime Minister of Home Rule Ireland. Other prominent past pupils range from the author James Joyce (part of whose novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is set in the school) to Michael O’Leary of Ryanair by way of rugby international Rob Kearney, Taoiseach John Bruton, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Fr Peter McVerry SJ, champion of the homeless.

The Archival Collection

The collection, which has been built up over more than two centuries since the Society of Jesus purchased the property in 1814 from the Wogan-Browne family, comprises papers, visual materials and artifacts relating to the history of Clongowes since its foundation. There are bound volumes of handwritten records from the 19th and early 20th centuries as well as school attendance and examination records, books of account and diaries that were kept by the Rector and Prefect of Studies[2]. There are also copies of various prospectuses as well as some journals and magazines. These include all issues of the school annual, The Clongownian (a valuable historical resource which has been published since 1895) and other occasional school publications since its earliest days. There are photograph albums, VCR tapes, DVDs, maps and floor plans/sketches for building projects.

A 19th Century Line Drawing of the Castle and College. Courtesy of the Clongowes Wood College Archive

The collection includes the Exemplification of Title granted to Thomas Browne by Charles II (1682) and various deeds of title for lands and other legal documents (all parchment). There are materials from the collections of previous owners, when the buildings and grounds were in private hands (most recently those of the Wogan-Brownes) as well as items donated by various Jesuits and Old Clongownians. There are also some artifacts of both a religious and a personal nature including an original school uniform and some school caps (c.1850), sundry medals, a chalice, a monstrance, original glass plates of overhead photographs taken from a kite, a Papal Hat (Pius XII), a Rugby International Cap, a penknife belonging to Liam Mellows and a Ceramic Poppy from the Tower of London commemorating World War I. The material is stored in a secure room in the castle, with some of these items on rotating display in a gallery that links that building with the school. 

Descriptive List

The collection is divided into eight series. The first chronicles the history and involvement of the Jesuit Community both in the school and its hinterland from the earliest days through the changes in the management structure in 1971 to today’s much smaller population of priests and brothers. The second comprises materials relating to the purchase of the castle and grounds and the subsequent development, repair, extension and maintenance of the many other buildings that have arisen as the school has developed. The third series contains documents pertaining to the governance of the college and the Jesuit Community therein and reflects the changing nature of both as the school population has expanded and the Jesuit community dwindled leading to almost exclusively lay control. The fourth is concerned with the Jesuit Ethos in the school, how it has been and continues to be manifest in the pastoral activities of the pupils and the changing emphasis as its custody moves from Jesuit hands to those of their lay colleagues.

Ratio Studiorum

The changing nature of education in the school from the initial classical approach of the Jesuit Plan of Studies – the Ratio Studiorum – via the modernising effect of the Intermediate Education Act of 1878 to the modern points based system is traced in the fifth series, while the sixth comprises materials pertaining to the many indoor co-curricular activities such as debating, drama, music and academic presentations, which are fundamental to the original Jesuit plan and still core to the school. The seventh series contains materials relevant to the many outdoor co-curricular activities including athletics, football, cricket, tennis and golf as well as the history of some pursuits that are now extinct such as ‘The Stonyhurst Game’ of gravel football. The final series relates to the financial stewardship of the school from income in the form of fees, government grants and bequests to capital and current expenditure.

Access arrangements

It is the intention of Clongowes that the collections in the archive be made as available as possible in line with the principles of access espoused by The International Council on Archives and the profession’s presumption of openness. This approach also falls in line with that of the Irish Jesuit Province to make known the existence of all archives under its control and its proactive approach to access.

The archive in Clongowes Wood College is available to researchers by appointment (045 -868202). Access is normally granted on Tuesdays and Thursdays (09.00-17.00) during the academic year, but other days (and times of year) are possible by arrangement. Records of past pupils are in high demand from relatives researching family history – in particular from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Well known past pupils such as Thomas Francis Meagher, James Joyce, John Redmond and Kevin O’Higgins attract attention from researchers, who may visit the archive in person. Visitors are accommodated in a spacious research room, which also contains a library of history and reference books relevant to the history of the college while further reading material may be sourced from the Jesuit Community Library in the castle.

Note on access during COVID19

The archive is currently unavailable to visiting researchers due to the prevailing pandemic. In practice this makes little difference, as actual visits are normally few with the majority of enquiries being submitted remotely by mail or email. In response the archivist does the research and mails or emails the results to those making enquiries and this facility continues to be available during these straitened times.

Declan O’Keeffe

Assistant Archivist and College Historian; Editor, The Clongownian

June 15, 2020

[1] Brendan Cullen, A Short History of Clongowes Wood College, 2-3.

[2] Prior to the institution of the office of Headmaster / School Principal in 1971, the college was managed by a Rector with the assistance of a Prefect of Studies (both Jesuits). The former was head of the Jesuit Community as well as Headmaster of the School while the latter combined the roles of Assistant Headmaster / Deputy Principal with that of Head of Boarding.

Dublin City Council Archive – A city response to Covid-19

Back in March, when the pandemic took hold in Ireland and the first lockdown was introduced, it was clear that we were living through unprecedented times. In Dublin City Library and Archive, we were keen to collect and preserve Dublin’s experience of the pandemic for posterity.

We put out a call through the press and via our social media channels, and were bowled over by the response we received! People submitted photographs of empty streets and got in touch with personal stories and diary entries. We received pieces of creative writing inspired by the pandemic, as well as school projects and drawings by children. We heard from businesses impacted by the restrictions, and from older people who were cocooning. People got in touch with photos of socially distanced weddings, and with stories of not being able to get home to other countries to see loved ones.

We are now processing the material that we’ve received, and as part of Explore your Archive week, we wanted to put together a short video to showcase a small selection of the material that was submitted.

We’re really grateful to the people of Dublin who have helped us create this collection, which will doubtlessly be of interest to researchers of the future.

Stephanie Rousseau – Dublin City Archive

Featured Archive – The University of Stirling Archives and Special Collections

The University of Stirling Archives and Special Collections (ASC) moved from our lovely loch side reading room to computers hastily set up in our homes among the houseplants back in March, much like everyone else. In the usual run of things we keep the institutional memory of the University itself and collect around the University’s key research interests. Over the years this has made us the permanent place of deposit for the NHS Forth Valley records and had us collect around Film & Media, African History, Aquaculture and Politics to name but a few. In recent years we’ve also had a particular focus on Sporting Heritage collections, creating the Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive and receiving support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to kickstart a Scottish Boxing Archive too.

We work with staff, students and external researchers, teach classes, lead tours and even host the occasional cake sale!

Our Grand Bake Sale in November 2019 used a cook book produced in 1925 to raise money for the new Falkirk & District Royal Infirmary.

We love working closely with colleagues across the campus, facilitating research visits to the Scottish Political Archive and collaborating with the University Art Collection on exhibitions and events. Our own exhibition Hosts and Champions has displayed treasures from our Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive all over Scotland since it opened in 2015 – even making it all the way to the Gold Coast Games in 2018!

We usually run a well utilised volunteer programme with some long standing volunteers we’ve worked with for years and some shorter term volunteers who stay with us for a year or a semester to learn some new skills and we’re so proud of the volunteers we have who go on to do archives qualifications themselves! We’re missing our volunteers very much throughout lockdown, like I’m sure many services are so we’re happy to be redesigning some of our regular projects for remote users so that we can welcome back some volunteers and help a new round of folk develop their skills in the near future!

Sporting Treasures from our Tales from the Ring project.

During lockdown, we have continued to process enquiries as much as we can with the digital resources available to us – some of them the product of our wonderful volunteers! We have also tried to find new and remote ways of encouraging users to explore our archives! Every Thursday lunchtime 1-2pm we host a #CollectionsInColour hour where we explore our collections through a specific theme. Previously these hours were dedicated to #BrigInColour as we launched the digital archive of the University of Stirling’s student newspaper Brig. You can search these hashtags to find all of the amazing content already out there – supplemented by the Art Collection and the Scottish Political Archive and join us for future themes every Thursday on our Twitter and Facebook pages. We have playlists, we have colouring in sheets, we have jigsaws and we have a heck of a lot of cool archives to show you! Recent themes have included fashion, 70 years since Scotland first hosted the Commonwealth Games and travel.

Like many other archive services, we launched a Covid-19 collecting project during lockdown which is ongoing. As we hold the archives of NHS Forth Valley and will one day receive their records relating to this period, we hoped to build an archive of personal and local stories that complemented this. So we put a call out for videos of the weekly Clap for NHS/Clap for Carers/Clap for Key Workers; for images of local communities in Forth Valley and how lockdown and/or coronavirus had altered the landscape, impacted on services and shaped people’s daily lives; and we asked participants who were willing to keep a reasonably regular lockdown diary. It is never too late to take part in this project, you can send us any videos you may have previously taken of the Thursday night clapping, images you may have taken out and about during lockdown or start a diary now. We hoped when we launched the project that these activities would be a creative and cathartic outlet during a frustrating time and that they might improve mindfulness and foster good mental health and we encourage participants to only engage in the project if this is the case for them! There is no pressure to produce content or to continue once you have started if doing so becomes burdensome or stressful. A gallery of some selected lockdown images can be seen here – we’ve loved seeing Forth Valley through the eyes of our project participants.

Excitingly, the time has come for our Archive Service to reopen. As the University Library launches a click and collect service, we’ve opened the doors to our reading room once more – with some changes, of course! All the information on using the service now we have been reopened can be found here – we’re still hoping to deal with many enquiries remotely with custom digitisation and by completing research on your behalf but the option to visit us is now possible, just remember you have to book an appointment!

Our Commonwealth Games Scotland Archive got the red carpet treatment at Team Scotland’s annual awards ceremony in 2019. Our red carpet is waiting for you from 3rd August!

ArchI’ve Discovered – Manage Your Collections

I will never forget my very first experience of working in an archive and feeling the excitement at cataloguing a small collection into CALM and then seeing the finished description online. If I wasn’t already pretty set on my future career path, that settled it for me; I was hooked and ready for more. Working with archives is an immense privilege and whilst I will always get slightly giddy at seeing original, historic documents, providing access to these collections through arranging and describing them has been a primary driver throughout my career. I don’t just want to experience the awe of them for myself; I want the widest possible audience to know they exist and that they are there for use and research.

Although I no longer work with collections directly anymore, I am still just as passionate about providing access to collections through description and happily get to continue this work in my current role as Digital Development Officer at The National Archives. Working in the Archives Sector Development department, I help to facilitate access to and support for our web-based collections publishing tool, Manage Your Collections (MYC). Launched in 2017 and used by over 230 archives so far, MYC allows archives the ability to add their collection descriptions to Discovery, a union catalogue of The National Archives and other UK archives, which comprises over 33 million record descriptions (one-third of those from UK archives). Discovery gets on average 20,000 hits a day from researchers and so by adding collection descriptions to Discovery, exposure to collections is amplified to an international audience.

Training session with Clevedon Pier & Heritage Trust community archive on archive cataloguing and Manage Your Collections

The digital age we find ourselves in today, with information seemingly at our fingertips, is a real boon for archives. Collections information can be published in online catalogues, archive services can be found on YouTube and Instagram, and Archives Twitter is the reason why I haven’t yet deleted my account. The content is just too enticing – the Sainsbury’s Archive recent 1980 Yoghurt World Cup being just one example. However, although there’s a lot we see, I am also very aware of what we don’t see. There are many, many archives out there who don’t have any way to get their collection descriptions online due to resourcing – money, time and people are all constraints on the work that archives, particularly community archives, can undertake.

This, however, is where I see MYC being of particular benefit to community archives. Over the last couple of years as we have rolled MYC out, we have had opportunities to work with some community archives, to learn about the challenges they face and the obstacles they need to overcome to be able to publish collections online. We’ve been able to shape guidance, like our Cataloguing archive collections webpage, where we introduce what archival cataloguing looks like to those dedicated volunteers who find themselves at the helm of caring for community collections without formal training in archival management. We have also developed training in how to describe collections and how to apply that knowledge in order to use MYC. Happily, we have also been able to celebrate with community archives as they have published collections to Discovery, including a recent addition of the Spratton Local History Collection.

It can feel overwhelming thinking about how we can take boxes on shelves and turn them into neat descriptions, particularly as ISAD(G), the international cataloguing standard for archives, can seem like learning a new language to the uninitiated. To help demystify the process a little and to give real world examples from community-based organisations who use MYC, we have published case studies showing how each archive has developed processes for describing and publishing their collections online for the very first time.

Collections that reside with community and heritage groups have just as much use and research potential as those that reside in larger, better-resourced archives. Discovery has the potential to surface marginalised voices and histories and to allow us to build a more representative national narrative than any single catalogue could do on its own. If we want to reach more and diverse audiences, we need people to know archives exist. One of the fundamental drivers of this connectivity is access to resources that will enable the provision of online access to collections. MYC and Discovery can play a key role in this by providing a platform that is free to use and that allows archives to take full control of their content. What’s more, MYC provides the training and support needed for community archives to feel like they can confidently tackle the task.  

For more information about MYC, please feel free to hop on over to our webpages or email us at

Caroline Catchpole, Digital Development Officer

ArchI’ve Campaigned

The Archives and Records Association, Scotland’s social media campaigns: #ArchiveZ and Instagram

I think it is safe to say that this year is a little different than most, no matter what part of the archives and record keeping sector we work in. With everything going on in the world just now, so many of our colleagues working from home, and being away from our collections, social media has been a great way to stay connected to one another, and to feel connected to our beloved archives, even from a distance.

We’re now 12 weeks into the 2020 #ArchiveZ ARAS campaign, which we are running on all three of our social media accounts – Twitter, Facebook, and our latest addition, Instagram. With a new letter of the alphabet as the ‘theme’ each week, the campaign is more relaxed than some of our other campaigns, where archivists and repositories can contribute as much or as little as they like and can include almost anything you can think of from your collections, so long as they match the weekly theme – no matter how tenuous!

Instagram: the latest addition to the ARAS social media family

We set up the ARAS Instagram account in 2019, with two aims: the first was to expand our social media engagement with ARA Scotland members and the wider public; the second was to create a space to amplify the voices and contents of our Scottish collections, giving the opportunity for institutions which already have a social media presence, as well as those who are just beginning to explore the possibilities that Instagram provides. Instagram is quickly becoming a key platform for reaching a younger demographic worldwide, and as it is image-focused, creates an ideal space for allowing the public to gain an insight into life within the archive, highlighting the repositories, archivists, special projects, and the collections themselves in a new way.

The first content on the Instagram account was during last year’s #Archive30, showing items from the collections from the ARAS committee members that fit the daily themes, as a way to test the waters for the new platform. In June, we hosted our first Scottish Archive Highlight, sharing the collections of the University of Dundee archives. Since then, in addition to posts relating to ARAS events, social media campaigns, and providing information to our followers, we have been hosting monthly highlights of different Scottish archives from university, business, and local authority archives. As every archive is entirely unique, each month’s archive highlight has been a completely different experience, despite the same basic themes being explored each month. In a post each day, featured archives introduce the repository, most popular collections, staff highlight, volunteer or community highlight, and a wildcard or event announcement to the account followers.

Instagram: Tips & Tricks

Based on experiences running the ARAS Instagram over the past year, as well as my own personal experience using Instagram, Below are some tips and tricks specific to creating content for Instagram, although they apply to other platforms as well.

1. Keep it simple

There is no right way to run any social media account, but the best way to keep your activity sustainable is to keep it simple, and make it something that YOU know about, and are interested in talking about—it makes it so much easier to write the content if you care about the topic, and it helps you answer any questions from your followers!

2. Use lots of visuals to share your archive stories

Visuals are always important on social media—a picture really is worth a thousand words, which is particularly important when you have a character limit! Instagram’s character limit is substantially larger than Twitter’s, but your audience may not always be inclined to read an essay of a caption. If you can grab their attention with a captivating visual, however, they may be more interested in learning more about what they are seeing. In addition to still images, video clips provide a great way to portray the scale of an item, or to engage with it in a more dynamic way. This is particularly useful just now, with so many of us working from home and without public access to our physical collections, as it allows for more meaningful digital engagement with our archives.

3. Vary your content, but stay consistent

I realise that this may seem like a contradiction—particularly when first starting an Instagram account, I think it is important to experiment with the types of content you share with your followers, but it is equally important to share your content consistently. What is your target audience? What messages do you want to share with that audience? Questions like these should be used to help you decide the best time of day to post, and what types of content you want to share. Once those questions have been answered, plan out a schedule of when you are posting—even if only once per month, make it so each post goes out at the same time. Making a schedule is particularly helpful if more than one person is contributing to the account, making sure that there are not inadvertent long periods without content to share with your followers.

4. Jump in with existing campaigns or start your own!

Keep an eye out for local and sector-wide social media campaigns that you can adapt to items from your collections. While each platform has its own community, campaigns and hashtags travel well across platforms. Twitter is an absolutely fantastic place to keep up to date with upcoming social media campaigns and themed days—each month @ArchiveHashtag posts a really useful run through of the month’s themed days, giving plenty of time to schedule content, and any campaigns run by ARA or ARAS will be shared through our member lists, and our social media accounts.

5. Use content across platforms

If you are already using other social media platforms, there is no reason why not to use the same content on Instagram too, potentially with a few minor tweaks. If you are used to posting on Twitter, then Instagram may appear slower paced, but that can work to your advantage. As mentioned above, Instagram’s caption length limits are much higher than Twitter’s, meaning that if you are putting out a thread of content on Twitter with associated visuals, the thread can be condensed into a single Instagram post, with up to 10 pieces of media (including videos up to 0:59 seconds long). Posts can be published directly to both an Instagram and Facebook page through the Instagram app, and both are compatible with scheduling programs such as Hootsuite.

Since beginning on the new platform a year ago, the ARAS Instagram account has become a central part of our engagement channels; we have successfully attracted over 560 followers and have highlighted twelve archives across Scotland. During feature weeks the account receives an average of 2000 impressions on Instagram, with an additional audience through Facebook, where posts are also shared. Our feature week posts have encouraged the public to engage with collections and their repositories, often asking questions either about the collections and content shared, or else for more specific information for their own research. We have really enjoyed watching Instagram become more popular amongst archives across Scotland, and are looking forward to seeing what the next year brings!

Ravana Eagleheart – Communications Officer ARA Scotland


Facebook @scotlandara

Twitter @ARAScot

Instagram @ara_scotland

Accidental Travel

In the UK, before Covid-19 many of us travelled with relatively little thought – whether by private or individual means, or public transport. But during lockdown our habits largely changed – certainly in terms of travelling any distance. As lockdown eases we’re being urged to avoid public transport where possible – and transport workers have paid a high price for their jobs. Bus staff have one of the highest mortality rates, for example, by occupational group. It’s a valuable reminder that whilst travel can be liberating for passengers, it relies on the labour of staff to make possible – and with it come risks.

The ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’  project is looking further back in time, at accidents and ill-health amongst British and Irish railway employees, between approximately 1889 and 1939. We’re a collaboration between the National Railway Museum, the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick and the University of Portsmouth, working with The National Archives of the UK. We have small, but dedicated, volunteer teams transcribing and researching the accidents contained within documents held at each of the archives – and we’d particularly like to thank them, as without them, nothing would happen. Collaboration and co-production are at the core of our approach, with our volunteers and with people who are making use of project resources.

We are making the transcriptions freely available via our website, to try to improve awareness and use of this invaluable resource. So – we’re working with physical archives, to create a type of digital archive! To date we’ve made available around 6,500 cases covering 1901-1923, but we’re working on an estimated 70,000 further cases across our period. Details come from accident investigations produced by state-appointed inspectors, railway companies and trades unions. They tell us all sorts about staff working practices, workplace hazards and the individual impacts of accidents in one of the UK’s most hazardous industries.

A graphic representation of the data in our first dataset, covering 1911-15. We have since expanded our coverage.

How does all this relate to travel? Well, in all sorts of ways! As noted, passenger travel would not have been possible without the staff running the railway system. Then, as now, they’re easy to overlook – one of our hopes is to make the working lives and experiences of railway employees more visible. Whilst generally you won’t find passenger travel accidents in our archive, of course staff crewed the trains that were involved, so they do fall within our remit – as in the Reading 1914 accident discussed here . We also encourage guest blog posts, and sometimes they touch upon passenger experiences, as in this example .

A posed warning from the Caledonian Railway in 1921 about the dangers of leaving the footplate when the engine was moving.

Staff travel sometimes appears in the records. Sometimes it was more conventional than others. We know that on 11 May 1911, at around 9.20 in the evening, eighteen-year old Caledonian Railway Company signal lighter (someone employed to keep the lamps on signal alight) G Gray was travelling in carriage near Gourock, in Renfrewshire. He leant out to check whether a signal was lit, but the carriage door flew open and he fell from the train. Fortunately for him, he survived, suffering only scalp wounds. Our database is a litany of staff injured or killed on the move: oiling locomotives whilst running, riding on the outside of wagons, thrown from wagons they were travelling in – even one case in which an employee had his leg, ankle and foot injured when three hogsheads of beer fell on him as he was working in a wagon being moved!

A 1924 London, Midland and Scottish Railway image cautioning about dangerous use of trollies.

It isn’t just the obvious railway travel which features in our data. The railways at this time had substantial interests in all forms of travel, including road transport. We have accidents involving carts and lorries, both staff and non-staff – plenty of people had reason to be working on and near the railways, like coal merchants, carters and farmers. Porters had to move trollies around stations, often across railway lines, and track maintenance staff used trollies to travel to their point of work, sometimes falling from them. This happened on 15 April 1914, when Thomas Hall and William Turner fell from the trollies they were riding on between Chilham and Wye in Kent, injuring their legs. Hydraulic hoists in stations injured or killed staff who were riding in them against the rules – as in the case of Jane Horner, at Stockton station, County Durham, in 1913 (and discussed further here ). And of course, walking was a key means of travel for workers and is found in our project as a part of the accidents staff experienced.

Staff had to travel to or from work, as well. Sometimes this might involve them getting from the immediate point of ‘clocking on/off’ to where they needed to be – as in the case of Midland Railway temporary goods porter TH Narey, at Shipley in Derbyshire. On 23 February 1911 he was walking on the railway when travelling from the goods warehouse where he worked; he was hit by a train, losing an arm and some teeth. The investigation records that he didn’t exercise ‘necessary care’ but also hadn’t been properly supervised; it seems it was common for men to walk along the line here, tacitly being accepted by the foremen.

Not all danger warnings used images – some were stark, like this 1930 LMS poster.

These, and sadly plenty more cases like them, all came about – directly or indirectly – as a result of travel. What do they all tell us? By finding out more about the individuals who had accidents on the railways, we can see the true costs of the industry – and travel, of passengers and goods. We can see how work was carried out, often including why staff acted in seemingly counterintuitive ways that exposed them to danger.

What are the next steps for the project? We’re always keen to see where staff accidents appear in the holdings of archives beyond those we’re presently working with – we’ve recently been put on to what looks to be an interesting clutch of compensation records at Doncaster Archives, for example. Finding records like these takes some sneaky searching – and the expertise of the archivists, who might have encountered the sorts of things we’re looking for but which are either yet to be catalogued in detail or where accidents feature incidentally to the main purpose of the record.

A simple geographic breakdown of the 1911-15 data – we’d like to take it right down to individual locations, with an interactive map.

In terms of our immediate work, there are an awful lot more records to transcribe! We’re working on that, as well as researching as many cases as possible beyond the records we’re handling. In the longer term, we’d like to produce an interactive map of the cases, to provide a much more easily visualised and accessible entry point. We’re keen to move beyond the records of the formal railway industry – we want to link our material to other records, to make it possible to build a life-story of the individuals involved: newspaper reports, births, marriage and death records, autobiography, and family history. We’d like to build a tool to allow anyone to submit the records they are aware of, including details or stories from within their family. All of this will mean we can piece together a much greater picture of the impacts of staff accidents, and will really improve awareness, understanding and use of the records. Watch this space!

And if you fancy getting involved – in transcription, once we’re able to get back into the archives and photograph records, a guest blog post, to alert us to archives we should know about or something else, please just drop us a line. We’d be delighted to hear from you!

Karen Baker, National Railway Museum

Mike Esbester, University of Portsmouth

Helen Ford, Modern Records Centre

More information on the project is available from the dedicated website ( and via our Twitter feed (@RWLDproject). You can contact us on

Affection, architecture and football in and beyond the archives: Archibald Leitch’s stadium plans in Art of Ayresome

Teesside Archives’ collections feature a range of items relating to the area’s sporting heritage spanning club records, oral histories, plans, photographs and programmes.  

Amongst the highlights on the sporting collections are a number of Ayresome Park football stadium plans by world-acclaimed stadium designer Archibald Leitch, recently digitised and currently on show as part of the Art of Ayresome online exhibition. Bringing together work from acclaimed architects, cartoonists, illustrators, painters, photographers and sculptors, Art of Ayresome features numerous historic items and explore the story of Ayresome Park in a creative, engaging and unique way.

‘Engineering Archie’

Archibald Leitch, born in Glasgow in 1865, was the most famous architect and engineer of football stadiums in the early twentieth century and has been described as ‘the world’s first ever specialist designer of football grounds’.[1] ‘Engineering Archie’ was responsible for designing a number of Britain’s iconic football grounds including Arsenal’s former Highbury home, Glasgow Rangers’ Ibrox Stadium and Manchester United’s Old Trafford. In 1903, Leitch’s Glasgow practice was commissioned to design Boro’s new ‘Ayresome Park’ home as the club made plans to leave the Linthorpe Road Ground. Leitch’s designs for Ayresome Park that have survived and can be found in Teesside Archives form part of a wider collection of plans that chronicle the initial construction of the stadium in 1903 and subsequent enhancements and redevelopments over the decades.

Archie’s Ayresome on show

The Art of Ayresome online exhibition, hosted on the Middlesbrough FC website, features Archibald’s Leitch’s original 1903 plans for Ayresome Park and are the oldest works in the exhibition. The plans provide the visitor with an architectural introduction to Ayresome Park and a detailed, unique perspective on Middlesbrough Football Club’s move to their new home at the beginning of the twentieth century. The plans allow the visitor to explore in minute detail – down to the very foundations – the place that became a central part of life for the club, town and hundreds of thousands of Teessiders.

The plan of the new Grand Stand, received by Middlesbrough Corporation’s Borough Engineer on 21st March 1903, details some of the key features of a typical Archibald Leitch Grand Stand that are evident in Ayresome’s standout feature. In his Engineering Archie, author Simon Inglis describes the new main stand as ‘straight from the pattern book of the firm with which Leitch often worked, the Clyde Structural Iron Company of Glasgow.’ Complete with its barrelled roof, arguably the most notable feature of the new stand was the iconic Leitch semi-circular roof gable, which many fans will remember was adorned for many years with an advertisement for McEwan’s 80/-.[2]

In their detail of the new facilities that formed part of the new ground, the Leitch plans give an indication of the investment and ambitions for the club that underpinned the construction of a new stadium. As Shaun Wilson notes in the ‘Ayresome Memories’ project, Leitch provided a ‘new ground in keeping with Boro’s growing stature.’[3] Costing a total of £11,857, the stadium was a vast improvement on the facilities at the club’s former Linthorpe Road home. The Athletic News reporter ‘Vulcan’described the new, modern facilities in detail ahead of the ground’s inaugural 1903/04 campaign:

The directors, with great faith and equal enterprise have fitted up their new ground at Ayresome Park in accordance with the most modern requirements. Altogether, well over £6,000 has been spent over the equipment of the enclosure, and £3,000 of this has been devoted to the erection of a new grand stand to seat 3,000 persons, from the designs of Mr. Archibald Leitch, of Glasgow. Underneath this there is a well-appointed gymnasium, a billiard room, offices for the secretary (Mr. J. Robson), a boardroom for the directors, baths and retiring rooms for the home and visiting teams, a referee’s room, and other useful accommodation…With the exception of the sixpenny end where it is terraced with earth ashes, there are stands practically all round the field, and the total accommodation provided is for 32,000, so that the North Yorkshiremen are ready for big business.[4]

The Leitch plan of the Grand Stand – initially disapproved by the local authority and subsequently tweaked – detail the features of this ‘big business’ outlook and the state-of-the-art accommodation of the pavilion in miniscule detail, including the specifications of the terraces to the location of urinals in the changing rooms.

A rare insight into the Linthorpe Road Ground

As well as affording an insight into the design of Boro’s attractive new stand, Leitch’s work in Art of Ayresome also provides a rare insight into the club’s old Linthorpe Road Ground, for which there are no known photos showing the inside of the stadium. The June 1903 plan of the old Linthorpe Road Grand Stand – which would become Ayresome’s early South Stand – provides detail absent from photographs of the stand in situ at Boro’s ‘new’ stadium. When compared with Leitch’s textbook Grand Stand creation, the old Linthorpe Road structure appears primitive and lacks the elegance and grace of the Glaswegian’s creation. Nevertheless, the old stand went on to serve the needs of Boro fans for over three decades until a new Dorman Long constructed stand replaced it in 1937.

New audiences and visitor responses

By featuring Leitch’s plans in Art of Ayresome thousands of fans have been able to enjoy the designs for the first time and learn more about the architect and Boro’s history.

Entries in the Visitor Book and Feedback Questionnaire responses reflects positively on the exhibition’s historical components. One supporter commented that “some of the earlier stuff (i.e. before my time) was fascinating. Lovely half hour spent viewing these drawings”. Another visitor commented that it was “good to see original plans”. When asked if Art of Ayresome had helped respondents learn something new about the history of Ayresome Park or Middlesbrough FC, one answer pointed to the “original plans”, another revealed they had acquired new knowledge of the “Scottish designer of the stadium”, whilst another supporter described how “the artist sketches for the original ground were interesting.”

It is evident from the responses to Leitch’s plans and the initial early feedback on the Art of Ayresome that taking the Leitch material beyond the archives has been beneficial for the exhibition and visitors alike. As a rare architectural example of Boro’s early history, the plans have featured in press coverage of Art of Ayresome. As well as helping develop new knowledge, the exhibition has also evoked positive emotional responses to the Boro’s sporting heritage. During the challenging times posed by COVID-19, Leitch’s plans have played an important role in an ‘uplifting exhibition at a difficult time for many’ and it is hoped will continue to have a positive impact for visitors and engagement with Teesside Archives’ collections and the area’s football heritage.

[1] S. Inglis, ‘Archibald Leitch’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 10 June 2020)

[2] S. Inglis (2005), Engineering Archie: Archibald Leitch – Football Ground Designer (Swindon, English Heritage), p.68

[3] S. Wilson,  ‘The Linthorpe Road Ground and Leitch’s Plans’ (accessed 10 June 2020)

[4] Athletic News, 24 August 1903

The Common Room of The Great North – Knowledge and Collection; adapting our programme during a pandemic.

In the heart of Newcastle Upon Tyne’s city centre, you will find one of the largest, most comprehensive, public collections on mining engineering in the world. Established in 1852, The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers’ core purpose was to improve safety and to alleviate the horrific impact of disasters on mining communities across the Great Northern Coalfield. Their second objective was to “establish a literary institution, more particularly applicable to the theory, art and practice of mining”.

The early presidents and members of the Institute are synonymous with North East engineering. Through their meetings, their skills and expertise were documented in transactions and then applied across the country and beyond, with their knowledge being exported across the globe.

Influential members included Nicholas Wood, the engineer responsible for the technical drawings of George Stephenson’s Safety Lamp, and Robert Stephenson, the eminent civil engineer who built on his father’s work on the railways.  These influential members, amongst others, created an engineering hub of professionals within the heart of Newcastle.

Through the commitment to preserve this practical knowledge, our archive and collection has now amassed a treasure trove of over 35,000 printed books and unique archives including photographs, manuscripts, maps, objects, underground plans and more. Other archive material include many early scientific and technical reports relating to the development of the coal industry and associated mechanical engineering, especially the early work on safety in mines. Professor Margaret Jacob, one of the world’s pre-eminent scholars of the Industrial Revolution, researched her book, “The First Knowledge Economy”, in our archive, which she describes as “one of the two most important collections in the world for the study of the birth of the Industrial Revolution”.

North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers Members Montage

 The significance of the archive and collection has been recognised by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, who have generously awarded The Common Room with a grant of £4.1 million, as part of a £7.1 million project to restore our Grade II* listed building in Newcastle, preserve and fully digitise our historic archive and to revitalise our approach to heritage engagement.

Neville Hall Building News 1872

Like many heritage organisations, our delivery and accessibility has been greatly impacted upon, due to the recent global COVID-19 pandemic. Our challenge to raise awareness and engagement of our collection through community and education outreach workshops has stopped, with a resilience strategy being adopted to ensure that our stories and archive can still be explored remotely. Last month, The Common Room launched its Explore Online programme, which encompasses a range of heritage activities that everyone can use to explore our story. Moving to digital engagement has posed many challenges around accessibility, inclusivity and impact. How can we make sure that existing and new audiences can access our website? How can we ensure that our user journey is enjoyable and informative? How can we measure our impact through remote learning? One way in which we are currently combatting this is to consult with a range of specialists within the archive, heritage, IT and digital sectors to ensure that our activity is high quality and is informed by the needs and trends of the current market.

The Wood Hall at the Common Room

Despite its challenges, our Explore Online programme has offered people the opportunity to engage with: our Graft & Glory online exhibition of North East industrial heritage; our Pioneering Minds Podcast Series, which explores the eminent engineer and member of the Institute, Charles Parsons; our weekly Common Good Challenge videos based on archival material and heritage; and our education programme, ‘What’s Beneath Our Feet?’, inspired by our vast geology collection.

Although our collection is still in the process of being digitised, we are now, more than ever, resilient in how we can preserve, present and offer our archival material, not just during this pandemic but for life post-COVID.

  •  By Emily Tench, Programme and Engagement Manager, The Common Room (

    To find out more about our archive and collections, please visit

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To contact our Library and Archives Manager, please email

  • About The Common Room

The Common Room of the Great North was established in 2017 to manage the redevelopment and refurbishment of The North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers. The Common Room of the Great North was awarded £4.1m from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, plus a further £3m in match funding, to conserve the Grade II* listed building, refurbish its ground floor reading rooms, securely house its archive and collections and enhance its conferencing facilities.