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.