Sunday, 12 October 2014

A2SN in Belfast

Jayne Hutchinson of PRONI with John King
 of the RCHS at the reception in the opulent
surroundings of the SS Nomadic
On 8th September, 2014, A2SN’s first one day workshop was hosted by The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), based in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast. We are delighted to have been able to work with PRONI. Meeting in one of Ireland's foremost public archives and having outside, not one, but two, major municipal transport artefacts was a double first for the A2SN series of workshops.

We aimed to bring together people from a range of interests and backgrounds as we could and share the ideas, archives and techniques we have in common. As I said in my introduction to the day, We will learn much that we did not know and, if this workshop goes as our others have, make connections and find synergies in disciplines and subjects we have not dreamed of before. The breadth achieved was indeed excellent and the result was a fascinating workshop. 

Dawn Livingstone – CEO of Waterways
Ireland addressing the workshop
37 people attended including three delegates and two speakers who travelled from the mainland. Topics covered were the development of an interactive archive for Waterways Ireland, the use of tar in road building with actual tar boiling machinery on display outside the building, the social and political history to be found in Railway Records, an introduction to the Short Brothers’ Photographic Archive held at PRONI, the development of Belfast Corporation Transport from trams via trolley buses to buses, the history of the SS Nomadic and the use of archives in business history.  Colin Divall, Professor of Railway Studies from York University, closed the presentations by providing an excellent keynote which tied together the whole theme of transport and its uses by us as consumers.

The imposing front elevation of The
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
The bow view of SS Nomadic in the in
Belfast’s historic Hamilton Dock
, only a few
yards from PRONI.
The workshop was really friendly and relaxed. The exciting buzz of conversation at each break held promise of links being made.  Dawn Livingstone, Chief Executive of Waterways Ireland, sought me out towards the end to say that she and her colleague had made a large number of useful contacts. Dr Kevin Tennent of the York Mangement School made links with Belfast City Transport Department and they are hoping to run a research project based on the City Transport Archive. At the end of the workshop I was approached by a delegate Robert Davison, the Liaison Officer of the British Transport Police History Group and we are busy forming networking links, which I think will be most useful to A2SN. 

After the workshop The SS Nomadic Charitable Trust hosted a drinks reception and a wonderful tour of their ship. The Nomadic was the tender to the Titanic and is the last remaining White Star Line ship in the world. She has been restored to her original glory and sits in Belfast’s historic Hamilton Dock; only a few yards from PRONI.

Professor Colin Divall and Grahame Boyes, Vice President of the
RCHS examine the Tar Boiler and Shelvoke and Dewrey Lorry
owned by Peter Johnston
The workshop was the culmination of months of work by staff from our hosts PRONI and ourselves in A2SN. We particularly have to thank Jayne  Hutchinson from PRONI who worked tirelessly to ensure that the workshop was a success. We also must thank PRONI for sponsoring the tea and coffee for the workshop.  We are extremely grateful to Cearuillin ni Luachrain and her staff from the SS Nomadic for allowing us to use their historic vessel for the reception.
Dr Peter Rigney of the Irish Railway
 Record Society speaking at the workshop.
The stern view of SS Nomadic in the in
Belfast’s historic Hamilton Dock.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Industrial Fabric of Leeds - A2SN Conference 16 – 17 May 2014

This was the third of what is rapidly becoming an annual event and was attended by 45 delegates over the two days.  The venue this year was the Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills, situated between the River Aire and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Housed in what was once the world's largest woollen mill, Leeds Industrial Museum houses a wealth of gems located in a beautiful riverside setting.  Collections cover the industrial history of Leeds from manufacturing textiles and clothing to printing, engineering and locomotives, all of which the city is world famous for.

“The Industrious Fabric of Leeds” to give it its full title was a packed two days, with some excellent speakers as I hope this blog will show.  Forgive me if it is a little longer than normal but I want to do justice to everyone.

The first speaker was Daniel Martin from the Industrial Museum and the title of his talk was “An Archive without Archivists”. This presentation made those of us who have them very grateful for volunteer archivists and bespoke premises. When he moved to the museum Daniel inherited a large floor in the mills which has a diverse amount of artefacts, drawings, archive material etc. from various closed factories around Leeds. He ably recounted the difficulties of trying to come to terms with a large amount of priceless but uncatalogued material.

John Scott of the Postal History Society related a rags to riches story running from how poor people used to collect rags to sell for the making of paper through to the entrepreneurs who used the paper. As John said, “When you open a letter, at least in those glorious days before the advent of the envelope enabled the recipient to throw half the story away immediately, you may be lucky enough to stumble across a sample of the actual fabric produced all those years ago.  Because it has been shut away from light ever since it was made, the colours and the texture can be as pristine as the day they were made.”  With the help of his wife Claire he passed round actual samples of cloth from the nineteenth century which had survived in many cases pinned to letterheads, hence they were filed with other business correspondence. To hear about, see and handle these artefacts was a really great experience.
The following presentation linked neatly in to the experience of having handled 19th Century textiles.  Steve Toms of Leeds University, gave a really interesting business orientated view of “Cotton Textiles in the British Industrial Revolution.”  Discussing “How profitable were the firms?” Steve noted that much of the economic history research into textile firms of this era had been done on a relatively small set of data. Some six or seven company’s records had survived intact and it was upon these that much of the research had been based. He also covered child labour, laissez faire doctrine, free trade, technology and innovation. The presentation showed how these issues were inter-related and how archival evidence can be used to resolve conflicting interpretations. Steve also discussed the impact of hours worked in the mills on the profits returned.  He concluded that the working week could have been restricted to 58 hours whilst still maintaining an adequate (i.e. greater than 10%) rate of return on capital while having led to around a 3.5% increase in unit costs. However, contrary to the claims of some 19th century pundits, when analysed objectively, unit labour costs in Britain were 36% lower than continental Europe, hence the threat of foreign competition was not so great at that time.

The Leeds Locomotive Industry was next and we heard from Don Townsley. The start of locomotive production in Leeds was Blenkinsop’s and Murray’s locomotive in 1812 for the Middleton Colliery Railway which was the first commercially successful locomotive in the world.  This was beginning of a process where numerous firms were to build 11,000 Steam and 19,000 diesel locomotives in Leeds. Locomotives that started life in the city reached railways from the Urals to the Cape, the Andes to the Antipodes, and from 15,000 feet above sea level to two miles below ground.  Don concluded that some 60 per cent of the Leeds’ locomotive production was exported. The history of any large engineering district is always complex and companies are inter-related because people from one move to another, or leave and found their own.  The district of Hunslet became a hub where in 1837, one of Murray's former apprentices, Charles Todd, had formed a partnership with James Kitson to create a locomotive factory, later known as The Railway Foundry, in Pearson Street, Hunslet with financial backing from David Laird, a wealthy Scottish farmer.  Todd, Kitson & Laird's first order was for six locomotives for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. The most famous of the six was ‘Lion’ for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway 1839 aka ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’ and now with Liverpool Museum.  The industry continued to develop and consolidated around E.B. Wilson’s Railway Foundry, however this too passed out of existence in a shareholder’s dispute of 1858.  From the remains of the Railway Foundry rose the Leeds Locomotive Industry in the form in which it is best currently remembered, comprising the firms of Manning Wardle & Co., Hudswell Clarke & Co., John Fowler & Co., Kitson & Co., The Hunslet Engine Co.  and Greenwood & Batley Ltd.  Eventually all these companies were acquired by The Hunslet Engine Co (as Hunslet Holdings plc.) at intervals up to 1980. Don concluded “…in 1987 the Leeds Locomotive Industry in the form of Hunslet Holdings plc. ceased to be a family run concern and became part of an international group.”

Derek Rayner, President of the Leeds and District Traction Engine Society, spoke on Leeds built Road Steam Engines. Derek agreed with Don that the engineering industry in Leeds and indeed via the movement of people to and from it, elsewhere had its roots in the “Round Foundry”. He mentioned some world famous names, who had served apprenticeships or worked there, Richard Peacock of Beyer Peacock; David Joy of the valve gear fame, Benjamin Hick of Bolton stationary engine manufacturers Hick Hargreaves and the Krupp brothers from Germany.  E.B Wilson and Company built the first “Road Steam Engine” in 1849. Designed by Robert Willis, “The Farmers’ Engine” as it was called went from farm to farm coupled to a small trailer, hence looked a bit like a railway engine.  Interestingly at this date there had been no steam powered haulage engines on the road, but big steam carriages had appeared ten years before built by Gurney, Hancock and others, in order to carry passengers. Another road steam engine was built by Joseph Whitham & Son of the Perseverance Iron Works, Kirkstall Road, Leeds and trialled in Leeds on 17th September 1859, subsequently being exported to California.

Probably the best known of the various traction engine manufacturers in Leeds was John Fowler who was a Quaker.  However, when Fowler came on the scene in 1852, his inventions in respect of agricultural improvements, including windlasses and drainage ploughs, required the construction of his design of steam ploughing engines and until he established his own works in Leeds in 1862/3, early engines to his design were built for him by Robert Stephenson & Company in Newcastle, Clayton & Shuttleworth of Lincoln and in Leeds by Kitson & Hewitson.  Fowler’s Steam Plough Works turned out their first engine around 1862/3.   As a result of stress coming from the setting up of the factory, Fowler himself suffered something of a nervous breakdown and was advised to move to the country.   He did this in mid-1864, to Prospect House, Ackworth and he took up country pursuits.  He was out hunting in the November, fell from his horse, caught tetanus and subsequently died - aged only 38 – later the same year.  There are many more traction engine companies that Derek mentioned and illustrated. I commend you to his paper in the Proceedings when they are published.  The links within heavy engineering in Leeds are fascinating and it was good to get such a clear picture of just how intertwined the rail and road engine manufacturers were.

Anthony Coulls from The National Railway Museum reinforced Don Townsley’s point that much of the heritage of Leeds railway manufacturers is perhaps more important in the international context. He noted “It would be difficult to look internationally at every location where a Leeds built vehicle remains, but by accident of circumstance, I have been involved with the preservation of a quantity of Leeds equipment in West Africa and thus felt it appropriate to look in a bit more detail at the Sierra Leone story. Leeds and the railways of that country have been inextricably linked since 1896.”

The railways of Sierra Leone were surveyed by English engineers and constructed and opened in 1897, the very first locomotives being six wheeled tank engines built by Hunslet in Leeds. As the line extended, the six wheeled locomotives were relegated to shunting or use on the steeply graded Mountain Railway. In 1906, the first Hunslet 2-6-2 tank locomotives were built, of a basic design that was to serve the railways of Sierra Leone until their eventual closure almost 70 years later. Other British manufacturers also supplied locomotives and rolling stock.  In the 1950s the last steam locomotives were ordered from Hunslet and Hudswell Clarke began to supply diesels. Other Leeds built equipment was also hard at work underground in the gold, diamond and iron ore mines. Anthony has been advising Sierra Leone’s own National Railway Museum which has gathered rolling stock that survived the civil war. The SLNRM opened to the public in 2005 after a year’s hard work by locals and Colonel Steve Davies, then serving in Sierra Leone as part of a team settling the country after the conflict. Of the vehicles in the museum, six of the locomotives are Leeds built – two steam and four diesels, a very significant legacy of a very long tradition. Anthony also showed some wonderful pictures to illustrate this story

Our keynote speaker was Alan Kinlay from Newcastle University who spoke on “Banking, bureaucracy and the career.”  Alan had a fascinating tale of bank clerks, who were exclusively male until the 1950s. These young men were not allowed to marry without the permission of the bank, which took a view that they required a salary of £200 per annum to do so. The expectation of the bank was that they would reach this point in their careers at some point between 26 and 28 years of age. The banks made secret appraisals of the clerks which were written in ledgers.  Good entries were penned in black and bad in red. Because the entries were in ledgers they survive in business archives where Alan had found them.

Having laid out the employment conditions for bank clerks, Alan went on to illustrate how these impacted on the individual, focussing particularly on the case of William Notman and his attempt to get married, which included going to the managing director of the bank and pleading to be allowed to do so, but failing. William, determined not to be so caged went ahead and married the lady of his choice only to have his employment immediately terminated. He desperately sought work for three years, then took the bank to court and won £1000 damages, though he never again worked in a bank. As Alan said, “Mr Notman’s experience speaks of how the bank sought to make a specific type of man, not just an employee.  The timing, even the possibility, of full manhood was dependent upon the bank’s sanction.”  The employment of females in banks came much later and this was also discussed, reaching the conclusion that: “For most of the 20th Century men and women occupied the same organisations, but remained in quite distinct internal labour markets.”

This was a fascinating keynote which made me think of employment conditions generally. The railways, for example, did not initially have workers, they were railway servants and were required to live at an address approved by the railway.  Not quite as draconian as a marriage bar, but not entirely dissimilar.

The workshop sessions over many of us repaired to an excellent pre-ordered meal at the Aire of the Dog situated on Cardigan Fields Complex just off Kirkstall Road.  An good time was had by all as the photos show. Many thanks to Ann Martin, the Manager of the pub and her staff for their excellent service.

Day 2 began by continuing the railway theme from the previous afternoon.  The Workshop heard from Ian Drummond and Jonathan Stockwell, the authors of a book on the Derwent Valley Light Railway which was opened in 1913 and operated for 80 years from Layerthorpe in York to Cliff Common. It did some top secret work during WW11 and was never nationalised. Part of the line is retained as part of the Yorkshire Museum of Farming at Murton.  Only 3 coaches owned by the railway that ever ran on it were 4 and 6 wheelers, though it experimented in 1924 with a pair of Ford Railbuses. This amazingly little railway owed its survival to its flexible attitude to business, taking whatever railway traffic presented itself where and when it could and investing in more land than it really needed so that it had a “land bank” which could be let out or sold as circumstances demanded.  The book gives a company history and many photographs and maps; highly recommended!

Jane McCutchan from the Museum of English Rural Life gave us a very interesting talk on her journey through attaining her PhD at Reading. In 2009, The Museum of English Rural Life had advertised a scholarship for someone to undertake a three year investigation into the steam mechanisation of agriculture, 1840-1920, leading to the award of a PhD. Jane applied and won the chance to go for it. Funding for the project was given by a benefactor, ‘Enthusiast’, and owner of a ‘portable’ engine, who felt the topic was under-estimated by academics and the general public. The major purpose of Jane’s research was to examine the spread of steam ploughing engines during the period 1860-1930 to identify what was governing the rate of adoption of steam-based agricultural machinery and if the extent of diffusion was reasonable. She spoke very knowledgably but also practically.  Here was a PhD candidate with a purpose who was not afraid to travel huge distances, spend a large amount of time with enthusiasts and others who understood steam engines and to get her hands dirty.  Jane has shovelled coal, dismantled engines and cleaned smoke boxes. She showed a practical as well as an academic understanding of her topic and had the twinkle in her eye of someone who loved her subject

Paul Jordan gave a fascinating paper on tracing the history of “Criollo”– a 2-4-0 inside cylinder side tank railway locomotive situated and seemingly built in Uruguay. Paul discovered that Criollo appeared to have been designed by Allan Darton and completed  in June 1895 at the workshops of the North Western of Uruguay Railway (NWUR), a British company. Thought to be the first South American built locomotive, she was in regular service until the 1930s and not finally withdrawn until 1949. Criollo was first preserved by a Uruguayan novelist in his garden. Later she was moved to a museum but still sits outside rusting and now stripped of most of her fittings. The Uruguayan Government asked the British Uruguayan Society for help in restoring her hence Paul became involved. In a welcome development, Criollo was declared a national monument in 2012.
Research at the NRM in the UK led Paul to learn more about 19th century locomotives. A genealogist friend gave him references to Allan Darton from the 1861/71 censuses and the transatlantic passenger records. Allan Darton was educated at Ackworth School, a Quaker boarding school and Wilson Wordsell, later to become locomotive superintendent of the North Eastern Railway from 1890 to 1910, was his contemporary at the school. Allan also had an illustrious career, reaching the General Managership of the NWUR before he retired. 

Paul having retired from university teaching in 2009 had more time to research Criollo and discovered that she was probably a NWUR rebuild of a contractor’s locomotive originally shipped out from England to build the railway. Amazingly, at heart, Criollo appears to be a Hunslet locomotive possibly built in Leeds in 1873. Detective work is still ongoing and the fascinating story so far will appear in the Proceedings.

Tamara Thornhill, Corporate Archivist of Transport (TfL) for London spoke of how, since the last conference, (London 2012) they had been working with HMRS in sharing information on London Underground trains. The TfL Archive is a department within Transport for London which protects the corporate memory of the organization. It holds more than 18,900 boxes, with more than 137,000 records dating from 1556 to 2013. The TfL Archive is staffed by professionally qualified Archivists and volunteers and is open to the public. Encouraged by contacts made via A2SN with HMRS, an educational charity which is one of the definitive sources of information on Britain’s long and varied railway history, Tamara paid the HMRS Archive a visit.

The HMRS Archive is open to the public, but being volunteer run asks that prior arrangement is made. It holds some 400,000 historic railway engineering drawings, including the Metropolitan Cammell Railway Carriage and Wagon Company (major railway rolling stock manufacturers from 1837 – 1989) drawing collection. Workshop copy drawings from the Derby Museum Collection, including the Derby Works collection are also held by HMRS. Recently some 250,000 microfiche drawings from many different railway stock builders were added to the collection in a single gift. Enthusiasts too have placed their personal research and drawing collections with the Society. 28,410 of the above drawings have been catalogued and are available on the HMRS website. The Archive also has 1620 railway working timetables, 370 sets of rules and regulations, 530 operating instructions, 200 accident reports, 100 vehicle diagram books and a large collection of British Railways’ files.

Such is the depth of the collection that heritage railways, preservation enthusiasts, historians and modelers all use it both in the UK and elsewhere. In the last two years the HMRS has been able to supply the Railway Preservation Society of Japan with drawings of the first railway carriages to run there which were made by Metropolitan Cammell.

Tamara found the Metropolitan Railway and Underground drawings fascinating. There followed what she described as a “Light Bulb Moment.” In order to ensure that these and other drawings reached the widest audience, if HMRS  were to provide metadata for relevant records and TfL were to extract the metadata relevant to determining interest; then TL could standardise metadata according to internationally accepted criteria. The data could then be included in the TfL catalogue. Agreement rapidly followed and the metadata is being continually updated by HMRS volunteers. Tamara is hopeful that it will be available on line via TfL and hence the Archives Hub by the end of the year. A really great example of a Corporate Archive that is willing to think “outside the box” and as a result benefit itself and a charity.

John Arkell, HMRS Private Owner Steward, spoke of his research into reconstructing companies. Having attended the London conference last year he was very interested in the presentation by Dr Simon Mollan and Dr Kevin Tennant who were explaining the way they researched companies when no company records remain. As he listened to them the thought crossed his mind that this was exactly what he had been doing for at least fifteen years whilst researching the coal trade in SE England for model making purposes. John is a model maker with a particular interest in those private companies who operated their own wagons on the railway prior to nationalisation in 1948. Over time he has refined his questioning on companies owning wagons looking at who owned wagons, what stations they were based at, when and for how long the company was in business, numbers of wagons owned, liveries carried, sources of supply and what effect business failures or take-overs had? His best direct evidence came from original photographs as many of the wagons carried not only company names but also addresses. Aside from these records of wagon registrations as well as Railway Clearing House records, wagon builder’s order books as well as commercial and amateur recorders’ sketches have also been of use. Local Directories and Newspaper advertisements, The London Gazette archives, The Colliery Year Book and Coal Trade Directory as well as the Coal Merchant and Shipper magazine held at the British Library also yield good source material.

It was obvious that John’s research had travelled far into business history, but he had not stopped there.  Tracking the names of companies he strayed into genealogy. He finished this excellent session by saying: “One family I visited still has the company’s ledger books going back to 1862 and the founding of the firm. I advised them of the rarity of this information and urged them not to put anything into a skip but to donate it to a record office.” John is publishing a book on his research, hopefully later in 2014.

Coal continued as a topic with Coal Stories from Scotland’s Coal Mining Oral History Collections by Helen Foster the education officer for The Scran Trust which  aims to provide educational access to digital materials representing our material culture and history. The Scottish Coal Collections Group (SCCG) was established by representatives from over 30 organisations who hold material relating to coal mining in Scotland.  It exists to gather collection level descriptions for as many of these collections as possible and has created a website to provide a single point of reference for researchers interested in this important aspect of Scotland’s industrial past, as well as for professionals working with coal mining collections.

Coal Stories, an initiative of SCCG, aims to take this a stage further and has set up a mechanism to host and make accessible digitally recorded oral history material about Scotland’s coal mining heritage.  A pilot phase has been developed by partners from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), the National Mining Museum Scotland (NMMS) and East Lothian Museums Service in collaboration with Scran ( Coal Stories is looking to source relevant digital oral history material held by institutions and individuals with coal collections across Scotland.  The partnership nature of the initiative creates the potential to showcase a multiplicity of voices and give a full representation of the complexity of the coal mining industry and its heritage.  The material will be hosted by Scran with links to contributing institutions, and will be promoted as a valuable educational resource. Scran, a digital service of RCAHMS, is a learning website offering cross-searchable access to a vast library of images, videos and sounds from museums, libraries, galleries, archives, media and private collections.  The service is already used by teachers and students in primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities.  Access is also available through a large number of Scottish local library authorities. Helen gave fascinating examples of actual oral history as well as demonstrating its power as an interdisciplinary resource and showing how Scran wanted to extend Coal Stories and to embrace the oral histories of other aspects of Scotland’s industrial heritage.

Keith Harcourt, HMRS Academic Liaison Officer, closed the conference with a paper on Passengers, Freight and Containers 1830 – 1959. Keith looked at the beginnings of railways in the United Kingdom driven by a need to move freight and how their traffics developed. He discussed the ways in which the customs and practices of the people of the country drove the commercial development, the explosion of railway use and the unitisation of freight.

Keith also showed how government intervention and the development of road haulage impacted on the development of railways. The concept of gathering freight together and in the technical sense “unitising” it was developed as a response to commercial pressures.

Our thanks go to Keith who organised the weekend alongside Roy Edwards. Look out for publicity soon on both the 2015 Conference which will be held in Ironbridge at the end of May and a Workshop which will be in Reading at a location which will be confirmed soon. I can assure you of a good weekend at both.

Margaret Garratt – Secretary of the HMRS

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Industrious Fabric of Leeds: The A2SN workshop 2014

A Workshop of Exploration

16 & 17 May, 2014

This workshop, organised by A2SN, is supported by the Historical Model Railway Society, the Business Archives Council and the Postal History Society. It is the third in a series which began in 2012.

The Workshop seeks to explore and expand co-operation between volunteer-led societies involved in business history fields and the academics, archivists and museum professionals working in the same areas. The events aim to prompt an awareness of what these various groups are doing, and to start a dialogue between the enthusiast and academic which may lead to co-operation in preserving and using collections, and furthering our understanding of the past and its relevance to the future.

Leeds developed as an industrial hub, where the technologies of fabric manufacture, the development of transportation technologies, and the creation of businesses came together. We are extremely fortunate to have been able to book Armley Mills Industrial Museum as a venue on this occasion as it showcases the development of the industrious city. Whatever your passion, we aim to give you new opportunities, avenues of exploration and fresh insights.


Day 1

09.30 – 10.15: Registration and Coffee
10.15 – 10.30: Introduction - Welcome - Keith Harcourt and Roy Edwards, Di Drummond and Daniel Martin.
10.30 – 11.00: Daniel Martin - Archives without archivists
11.00 – 11.30: Hugh Feldman - The Thrills and Frustrations of researching US Post Office Department Records
11.30 - 12.00: John Scott - Rags to Riches
12.00 - 12.30: Professor Steve Toms - Cotton Textiles in the British Industrial Revolution

12.30 – 14.00: Lunch + Tours of the Museum

14.00 – 14.30: Don Townsley -The Leeds Locomotive Industry
14.30 – 15.00: Ian Drummond and Jonathan Stockwell - Researching The Derwent Valley Light Railway
15.00 - 15.30: Anthony Coulls – Rail Vehicles of Leeds their National and International impact
15.30 - 16.00: Refreshments
16.00 - 17.00:  Keynote - Professor Alan McKinlay - 'A Clerical romance?: Banks, Marriage and Marriage Bars, c. 1900-1974'

Optional Drinks and Dinner – Venue to be Advised

Day 2

10.00 - 10.30: Registration and Coffee
10.30 - 11.00: Derek Rayner Leeds Built Road Steam Engines
11.00 - 11.30: Jane Mccutchan - Agricultural Steam Mechanisation, 1860-1930
11.30 - 12.00: Paul Jordan - Tracing the history of Criollo

12.00 - 13.00: Lunch + Tours of the Museum

13.00 - 13.30: Tamara Thornhill - Transport for London and the HMRS - Standards for Discovery
14.00 - 14.30: John Arkell - Reconstructing Companies - The Modelmaker's Perspective
14.30 - 15.00: Helen Foster - Coal Stories: a Digital Showcase for Scotland’s Coal Mining Oral History Collections
15.00 - 15.30: Di Drummond - Leeds: Railway Industry and Empire
15.30 - 15.45: Conference Close
A brilliant two days - definitely not to be missed, whatever your historical interest… 

A brochure and application form can be found here. Book early to avoid disappointment!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Michael Ventris, architecture and ancient languages

The idea of using research in one academic field to inform work in another - something that A2SN looks to promote - is not new by any means. Michael Ventris was the ultimate enthusiast of this sort of cross-disciplinary work. Born in 1922 in Hertfordshire, his family soon moved Switzerland for the health benefits of the air - Ventris had chronic bronchial asthma as a child. At the age of eleven he returned home and won a scholarship to the Stowe School, where he learnt Latin, Classical Greek and, somewhat serebticiously, whatever he could about Linear B - an ancient signs script which at that point was not deciphered and the origin of which was unclear. At the age of sixteen his father died and in 1939 his mother became destitute; she was a wealthy immigrant landholder from Poland, meaning she lost everything when the Germans invaded. Ventris soon lost her to clinical depression, and then an overdose of barbiturates.

A Linear B Tablet
Ventris resolved to study architecture and enrolled in the Architectural Association School of Architecture. The war put his studies on hold. He was drafted in 1942 and went into the Royal Air Force, where he became a navigator. Ventris was always good with languages, eventually learning twelve, and while in Canada training he learned Russian. This would determine his post-war posting, he served on the ground in Germany, although his duties are unclear. In 1948 Ventris completed his education, and thereafter designed schools for the Ministry of Education. At this point he also stepped up his work on Linear B, and revealed to the world in that it was Greek. Between 1951 and 1953 he set about deciphering it, and as a result was awarded an OBE in 1955 for "services to Mycenaean paleography." Sadly, just as his lifetime work was coming to fruition, he died suddenly. Driving home late at night he collided with a parked truck. His death was ruled an accident, but many have suspected that he committed suicide.

Ventris dipped his toe into many fields; using what he had learnt in one to inform another. As Emmanouil Stavrakakis, a PhD candidate with the Architectural Association, will explain in a talk, Ventris' work on the decipherment of Liner B was directly informed by his architectural training. The talk will occur on at the Architectural Association, 34-36 Bedford Square, London on 19 February 2014 at 6.30pm. All are welcome.

If you are interested in such cross-disciplinary work, perhaps the A2SN workshop 2014 will also interest you. Entitled 'The industrious Fabric of Leeds', the Wworkshop seeks to explore and expand co-operation between volunteer-led societies involved in business history fields and the academics, archivists and museum professionals working in the same areas. A brochure and application form can be found here. Book early to avoid disappointment!