historical archival research

Archival Researcher Website Update

Over the last few weeks I have taken a break from the archives to work on a website update my and consolidate several projects by undertaking some research organisation and analysis. As we researchers all know, the analysis has been to done before getting too much material through archival digital photography.

My website has had a few different pages added to the research services section on the top bar on the welcome to archival researcher page. Many of my clients have provided some feedback that searching for the type of research that they wanted to explore often involved making several different enquiries into a search engine such as google. I have updated my site so that the different research services that my clients said they were searching for are represented.

For those thinking of maintaining their own website, I use the WordPress system. It comes well recommended by this researcher. It is relatively easy to use and gives a clean finish to the pages. A word to the wise, however, it can take a little more time than you would expect to update a web page. It has become increasingly more common for people to access a website through a smartphone rather than a desktop or laptop. This means that one has to check all formats whilst updating. Sadly, what looks good on one device does not look so good on another.

The new pages offering different services are historical researcher, independent researcher, archival digital photography, military historian and research organisation and analysis. It is so important for me to acknowledge what the current trends are for those seeking to appoint a researcher and save people some frustration clicking on link after link after link by making my way up those search engine rankings. Nonetheless, it is still going to be some task to jump up the ratings on different search engines with terms such as “historical researcher”. My mind is made up to be patient.

It remains for me to say that I hope you find the new site easy to navigate. Please contact me if you would any more information on how I can help you with your new case, project or enquiry. I shall be waiting for you with great anticipation and enthusiasm, as always.


Researching in London

It is around ten years since I began researching in London regularly to conduct historical research at the different libraries and archives. My first few times at the National Archives were the most challenging as I got firmly to grips with the catalogue.

This time was precious because I had to travel to – or commute across – London. It remains for me to publically thank those friends that could put me up. All of this was in time taken from annual leave from my full-time career that I longed to leave for one that involved historical research.

At the time I remember working to improve the time it took to get to London. Car, coach and train have all since been fully evaluated.

There is no doubt that I would use the train more if I had a firm idea of when I needed to travel. Alas, I never really know when I will be researching in the capital so it proves difficult to obtain those more economical tickets.

One can still get some work done on the coach. However, I often find that unless you get the seat next to the fire escape that has a wide aisle it is difficult to get my laptop lid fully open. The biggest drawback is the additional time from central London out to the National Archives in Kew.

Despite not having any time to do any work on the way there,  the car does let me leave when I have finished and get me home a little faster on some occasions. On others, the traffic defeats you and there is nothing you can do.

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough was starting to use a laptop to make notes rather than a pencil. This might sound strange. Ten years ago laptops were, however, rather more expensive than a desktop, and did rather less. Plus the keyboards were smaller and I have wide fingers.

The other bonus has to be the camera system at the archive that allows you to take photographs that you can then download afterwards. It was good when digital cameras began to get better at storing many pictures as needed at times. Nonetheless, I sometimes felt worried that my data card might fail or that perhaps I would lose my bag and therefore all my work. With the archive system this worry was taken away. The big plus is that one can spend the time in the archive just talking photos when you know the files are the ones you want.






Sounds of the Cultural Quarter Update

The winter period has seen me busy in the archives as usual. People have really been motivated to follow up the history of the First World War since the anniversary had been highlighted in the media.

Over the last few weeks I have been helping with getting copyright of the sounds that I collected so that the project team can get an app together. This had been interesting because the it seems clear that there are certain sounds that have really fitted well with the aims of the project.

When I have heard more about how the app works I shall keep you all informed of course. I don’t know what they have in mind on how it will work. I do know that the Roman app for Leicester included a tour around some of the most important sites in the city which would be great for the Cultural Quarter too I think.

In the meantime, I must return to my research duties which are thankfully indoors. Over the coming weeks I shall be on my travels throughout the United Kingdom. Having just returned from the National Archives in London,  it is working closer to home for the coming week at Leicestershire Record Office in Wigston.

Then, however, I am making my first visit to the National Gas Archives in Warrington. This should be a fantastic opportunity to expand my knowledge in an aspect of British industrial heritage that I have not had a great deal of experience with.

The topic of gas was coincidently brought up at a dinner party recently. A friend works in the industry and said that it was likely that over the coming years we would see a gradual reduction in the use of the gas towers. My mind was instantly drawn to the backdrop to many sporting events where you could see the gas towers grow throughout the duration of a game. This, it seems, might be something of a thing of the past. That said, they are not the most beautiful things but certainly quite ingenious in the way they work I hope you will agree.


The Sounds of the Cultural Quarter in Leicester

Over the last few months I have been gathering some recordings for the Sounds of the Cultural Quarter project which is exploring the hidden post-industrial history of the area. It was brought to my attention by my former colleague Colin Hyde from the East Midlands Oral History Archive which is attached to the University of Leicester.

The Affective Digital Histories series will hold an exhibition, launch event and some apps in the near future of all the recordings they have collected of people’s work, home and leisure environments.

For me this meant being poised with my digital recorder for a few weeks to make some recordings of the area I live in. A first port of call was the hair salon Hair@1RD at 42-44 Rutland Street where proprietor Robin Dignall kindly let me record him and his staff at work. On the street I captured music at the summer festival and the ambience of chattering people using the Curve Theatre. In my flat I recorded the gate of Alexandra House closing among many other household noises.

It gave me much pleasure contacting some old friends from my days as a nightclub DJ to get some recordings from the Dielectric and Junction 21 venues during the 1990s. A big thank you to those that also helped me track them down which proved to be more difficult than I thought. Now there are hopefully going to be some snippets of hardcore and house music to add to the many other contributions that will all go to show that there has always been culture of one kind or another in the Cultural Quarter in Leicester.



In 2013 I was very pleased to be selected as a Research Associate at the department of History at the University of Nottingham on a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board ‘Trade and Traffic on the Trent c. 1850-1970’.  Working under Richard Gaunt and Philip Riden, my duties were to visit the archival sources at the National Archives and the National Waterways Museum Archives at Ellesmere Port. While I was rather familiar at working at the National Archives, it was my first foray to the Wirral for research. My contract ended with the project in April 2014 and with nearly six-months passed – and the change of the seasons – I thought it apt to reflect on the year past.

As many of you will know the archive at the National Waterways Museum has recently centralised material on British waterways from a number archives across the United Kingdom. The consequence for the staff has been to merge all the different collections and it is very evident that they are adapting well to the task. Every day one can see the staff working diligently whilst directing a network of enthusiastic volunteers who are helping enrich the descriptions of documents and photographs in the catalogue.

Researching at the National Waterways Museum is not only refreshing because of the surroundings but because the visitors and archivists work in the same space. This creates a lively environment where expertise and passion for transport history oozes into the atmosphere. It is common to share all the breaks together as the archive closes and we all retreat to the museum café. Over the months that I was visiting the archive it became clear to me that there is a strong community ethos at Ellesmere Port that I found a warm welcome within. I would like to thank all the staff and volunteers for their help and friendship.

Most importantly was that the primary source research material at the archive was far richer than I anticipated. Every era that was being investigated had great variation of material in great quantities. In fact it may take several years to fully go through all the material collected. There were well over 10,000 photographs taken for the research team to analyse and disseminate. Because I was there so long they reported on my research activities on their website: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/news-and-views/blog/curious-canal-objects/a-busy-start-to-2014

Thankfully this future task will be one that will be enriched with the help of our community partners the Newark Heritage Barge CIO. Along the whole course of the project it has been my pleasure to have worked with them because of the wealth of knowledge on their subject which is second to none. The research frequently needed their input to be more fully understood through several group meetings on their barge in Newark. Yet they were also impressed with the material that we were able to find on the subject of the waterways in the East Midlands.

Collaboration was one of the factors that I was most looking forward to as a research associate because my doctoral and private work I had conducted was largely on my own. As I look back over this year it will be one of my fondest memories that I will take me. Those that I worked and researched with have led me to new destinations and broadened my mental horizons. But I don’t think this will be contained to this year alone.



As an independent archival researcher working in the United Kingdom it is quite exciting when the surroundings in which we work change. I have been visiting the research facilities at the Imperial War Museum over the last decade. The first time that I had the pleasure of researching there was during my doctorate on the role of the British military authorities in dealing with refugee crisis that was presented to the Allies during the occupation of Europe following World War Two. There was an amazing array of primary sources at my disposal. First, I accessed some written diaries of officers and units that dealt with the refugees in the early stages of contact to see how the initial phase of controlling movement and providing emergency assistance was carried out. Next I listened intently to the oral history recordings of those involved in the more shadowy world that emerged in Italy regarding the way in which many suspected or guilty of assisting the Axis cause were masquerading as refugees in camps to try and evade justice for their actions during the war. All of this was in the top of the museum in a wonderful library under the turret one can see from the entrance. Finally, I was rather interested in the ways refugees were portrayed in the media of the time which led me to the annex to view those wonderful black and white newsreels.

Since then I have got rather used to those surroundings but things have changed. The IWM has had a re-fit as many of you will know. Plush shop, café and red toilets are not the only additions. A new research room located on the upper floors is rather lovely too. It has a small locker area outside before one enters a crisp and light room. There are around four clean white benches that stretch across beside a clinical bookshelf packed with volumes of military history. Some things have not altered, however, namely efficient staff delivering the files that I needed. On a more solemn note, the material I view here is often very moving. In my view, war is a subject that I research to seek to understand more fully because it is probably the most extreme form of human activity. Clients usually seek my services to find out what experiences their ancestors went through that led them to act so radically differently from before they left for active service. Silence between many service personnel and their loved ones regarding what occurred is a common occurrence that curiosity often pursues to break. Given the impetus behind my work, these new conditions at the research room provide an apt setting for me to focus.    

A number of interesting projects recently

Over the last few months I have been undertaking a number of interesting projects and working at the National Archives and elsewhere. As you might expect there has been much interest in matters relating to World War One from far afield. It has been particularly moving reading the personal correspondence of soldiers that lost their lives which have been archived. Researching the post-war settlement has proved very challenging owing to the amount of material that one has had to go through. Most recently I have been researching aspects of the diminishing role of Britain in the commonwealth.

I just had to comment on the conference that I attended at the University of Leicester’s College Court centre in the Clarendon Park area of the city on the 19 of May. The centre used to be a halls of residence but has been wonderfully converted into a series of meeting rooms with an airy dining hall and a bar on the ground floor. Fortunately the weather was good so we could all enjoy the courtyard outside after a very appetising lunch. It was a great pleasure to meet a wide range of people from universities located largely in the Midlands.

There were a range of speakers in the morning session that explored the possibilities for post-doctoral study including para-academic careers. The latter was particularly interesting for me as I have combined my time as a research associate and an independent archival researcher. Perhaps the most salient point for those about to graduate was that it is unlikely that all will be able to enter lecturing owing to the fact that they are more in number than posts available. Nonetheless, it was highlighted that a number of universities were adopting partnerships with corporations that were yielding a greater number of opportunities for collaboration. The afternoon session split to discuss a range of more practical problems in gaining a foothold in the post-doctoral world.

From the organisational point of view there are no complaints here. Perhaps the only problem during the day were a number talking as the main speakers undertook their duties. As one would expect with a new centre, all of the visual aids were high quality. It was equally good because as the conference was in Leicester and I could walk home in the spring sunshine.

Talking about the Trent

I tweeted last weekend before and after I spoke at the Nottinghamshire Local History Association annual general meeting to thank those that invited me to speak and those that listened to me. Philip Riden spoke expertly before me about the wider aims of the project and, after lunch, Dr Wendy Freer brought the working conditions for those on the river to life. Finally, Les Reid of the Newark Heritage Barge took the audience through the history of his floating heritage centre; one of the last working Trent barges named ‘Leicester Trader’.

Some weeks ahead at the National Archives in Kew

There is no substitute for the anticipation of researching on some new projects at the National Archives. It is my pleasure to finally catch up with the zeitgeist of research and examine records from the First World War. Elsewhere, I will be indulging my passion for migration history from Eastern Europe. But first I have to submerse myself in a large series of colonial records from Asia.

Packing has begun in earnest; data sticks, my magnifying glass, charged battery and eye drops. Another important item is my oyster card that will permit me to glide more cheaply from my base in Richmond to Kew, I hope. On Wednesday, it will take me further into the interior, as I visit close friends in Notting Hill. No doubt I will cast my mind back to the carnival in the very same streets last August. According to the weather, I will also be bringing  the sun with me again.