historical archival research

Talk at the Newark Heritage Barge

Last Saturday it was my pleasure to give a presentation to a meeting of the Friends of Newark Heritage Barge aboard their floating meeting place, the Leicester Trader. The content was derived from research material recently gleaned from the National Waterways Archive at Ellesmere Port.

What excites me about these meetings is that the expertise of those in attendance – many of whom have spent their professional and personal lives on the river – tease out an extra-dimension in the material. On this occasion it was a diary of a voyage of a steam launch across the canal network in the 1890s that nearly attracted as much attention as the fine lunch provided.

As I have been travelling widely around the country this winter, it was impossible to ignore the flooding. The level of water against the Leicester Trader certainly appeared higher than normal as I stood with a few others to be photographed for an article due to appear in the Newark Advertiser.

National Waterways Archive in Ellesmere Port

It was very pleasant to return to the National Waterways archive at the National Boat Museum in Ellesmere Port. For those that have not had the chance to visit the museum it provides an opportunity for you to see the boats in their natural environment among some working locks. Volunteers play an important role and many were working on a plethora on different areas. As usual I took a quite a considerable amount of space on tables in the main reading room with all of the documents that I had pre-ordered. My picture was taken with the mountain of records, which, I was told, would be featuring on their blog. It would be prudent, then, to thank Linda Barley and all the other staff and volunteers for having me for the week.

Research material examined varied greatly. During the first day a number of old adverts from carrying companies caught my eye because of the quite wonderful designs on many of the covers. Thumbing through some thick manila envelopes I came across the mortgage certificates for a number of vessels that were working prominently on the river after the First World War.

It was then time to get stuck into some of enormous ledgers owned by a number of carrying companies that were operating on the River Trent. Along the side of the ledger one could see the highly detailed marbled patterns of red, blue and green that allowed one to see if any pages had been torn out. The thick maroon leather spines left their potent dye on the white covering upon my copy stand. It was apt in this case to compare the cover with their contents as they will provide enthusiasts of the River Trent valuable insights into the local businesses interacting with the larger companies that were overseeing the carriage of materials in the immediate post-war years.

Even this researcher has to comment that the trip north provided me with an opportunity to go back to Parkgates for fish and chips with a memorable view through the low-lying mist over the marshes to my native Wales. During  in a long overdue visit to Chester I noticed that the hot topic of conversation locally were the vastly improved visitor figures since the cathedral stopped charging for admission. Alas, as I arrived in the evening, I did not have the chance to look inside nor walk the famous city walls. The centre was busy enough for a Tuesday evening though.



It has been an exceptionally busy period over the last few months as the momentum of the Trade and the Trent project grows and grows. There were some 10,000 digital images taken after thoroughly rewarding research trips to the archives in Ellesmere Port, Leicestershire County Record Office and the Nottingham City Library. From these images we are preparing to create a new list of the vessels using the River Trent for over 100 years from an intricate system developed to ascertain the condition and carrying capabilities of each craft. To do this has meant the use of advanced optical recognition software to scrape over 7,000 entries from primary sources.  This researcher had truly forgotten how nice good old fashioned eye-drops are to counter those blurry eyes from all that cut, copy and pasting…


Nonetheless, an early seasonal gift was the Connected Communities conference held at the impressive campus centre at my old stomping ground De Montfort University in early December. The airy halls on the third-floor allowed the conference to occupy an expansive space to sit as well as mingle among the exhibits. This was particularly evident throughout those periods when the fine refreshments were put out to the horror of those delegates hoping to save themselves for festivities later on in the month.


Mr Philip Riden oversaw the first session of the conference and was kept busy. It seemed to me that every speaker could have been easily exceeded their allocation of fifteen minutes. What was most pleasing was the mixture of those talking about individual projects as well as others tackling the dynamics of inter-relations between academic institutions and community groups. Regarding the latter, I was thrilled to witness Hes Kapur voicing that the association between the University of Nottingham with the Newark Heritage Barge is one where the reciprocal exchange of information is beneficial to both parties’ long-term aims.


Most striking are the digital developments that are transforming the way in which people are presenting history to wider audiences. Easily the best visually impressive demonstration was the showcase from a group of undergraduate students from De Montfort University that have named themselves Pudding Lane Productions. Why you ask? Because these fine individuals have re-created a historically accurate digital representation of London in 1666 using technology from the engine of a software programme that is designed to make video-games. The engine allowed the students to transpose the map of a certain section of London surrounding Pudding Lane beyond the level of individual buildings to include details such as bunting and barrels on the streets. Superb.


Mobile technology also opens doors for historians to reach out to the local community. Two applications were demonstrated that allowed people to conduct their own history tours. The first, based in Wolverhampton, took advantage of global positioning software in locating the blue-badge heritage signs in the West Midlands. More close to home was the application designed to permit users a Roman overview of modern Leicester city centre. As you can imagine the flexibility of these applications for the public makes them highly desirable for many projects to develop.

Trade and Traffic on the River Trent, 1850 to 1970

Aside of my freelance work, I am a Research Associate at the University of Nottingham on the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project ‘Trade and Traffic on the River Trent and associated Waterways, 1850 to 1970.

This research has so far taken me to a number of repositories including the National Archives and the David Steel Archive at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port. Many documents relating to the Trent Navigation Company form a key part of the project.

One of the most exciting dimensions has been collaborating with Friends of the Newark Heritage Barge who have outstanding knowledge on the working of the river itself and the changes over the last fifty years.

The project will yield a number of publications that will be forthcoming over the course of 2014.







Welcome to Archival Researcher

Welcome to my new website www.archivalresearcher.co.uk that seeks to satisfy the archival research requirements of whoever may require them. This has been a step in my career that I have been very excited to take because it will allow me to do what I enjoy most and meet a wide-range of new people. Archival research is my passion in life as it is where so much history lies waiting to be unearthed and then displayed to a wider audience.

This love of the archives started when I began working on post-war immigration to Britain as a postgraduate. I graduated with a Ph.D. in history from the University of Edinburgh in 2011 having researched the topic of the European Voluntary Workers that were recruited to work in the United Kingdom from the refugee camps in Allied-occupied Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War.  My thesis was published early in 2013 as a monograph and is available from Lambert Academic Publishing.

If you would like a committed professional researcher for any project you may be considering then please do not hesitate to get in touch if you think that I may be able to help you. I am looking forward to hearing from you.