Posted on 28 February 2021
The Retreat’s Harbour Lights magazine, March 1936: Contains sections of an article 'A Retreat Pepys', on the diary of Alfred Smith, a patient at the Retreat (for original diary see RET/6/19/1/157) [RET/1/7/1/60, a digitised copy of the magazine is linked at the page]
As we begin a new month you may already have begun to notice the early signs of Spring in the air! We’ve been sharing a few of our nature themed archives via our social media channels for Explore Your Archives, an initiative which runs throughout the year with a different theme for each month. You can read about the green spider in the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust archive, the herbarium from the James Hornby archive, or a 1547 will which makes a charming reference to the testator’s beehives next to a border of rosemary.
Keeping in touch via our social media is even more important to us at the moment as we remain closed to the public. You can read about the remote services we are still able to offer via our website. While we await further information about when it might be safe for us to re-open, we’ve been busy making plans for other kinds of emergencies with some disaster planning refresher training. If that sounds dramatic, fear not, the Borthwick (fortunately) does not have many disasters but our Conservation team have to be prepared for all eventualities. This includes keeping our disaster plan up to date, replenishing our ‘disaster stock’ and making sure staff know exactly what to do if something happens. The most common threats to our records and storage facilities come from things like water, mould and insects.
In February Conservator Catherine Firth led a zoom workshop for Borthwick staff to talk us through what we should do when faced with a potential disaster - from who to call to what supplies to choose from our disaster stock. The Borthwick has ample supply of rubber gloves, plastic sheeting, masks, various absorbent materials and other items which were previously put to use in 2000 when staff helped York residents recover items from the dramatic York floods. Scroll down at the link to see our former Keeper of Archives Chris Webb in his famous pink gloves! Or for more practical advice, read our flood advice for what to do if you face your own archival disaster, or watch conservator Catherine demonstrate how to deal with spills at home.
We accepted two new accessions in February. The first, which will be added to our York Covid-19 Archive, comprises volume three of a York resident’s ‘lockdown diaries’ which use a sentence and an accompanying image to describe their daily experience of the pandemic. We also accepted a new addition to the Yorkshire Gardens Trust archive concerning planning requests in 2020 and 2021, bringing the archive right up to date! Both accessions are digital, meaning we can accept them immediately into our digital archive and do not have to wait until it is safe to physically receive the items. You can read more about digital deposits in the Frequently Asked Questions section on our website.
Number of archival descriptions on Borthcat on 1st March 2021: 78,300
Over the past month the searchroom team have been continuing to add the full catalogues of more of our parish record collections to Borthcat. You can find them under our Parish records tag. New additions include the full catalogue for the parish of York, Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, which begin in 1559 with a set of churchwardens’ accounts, a year into the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The parish church of Holy Trinity is no longer used for worship but it remains open to the public under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust and features the only original box pews to survive in York. You can read an account of the parish’s lady ‘sextoness’ Grace Green on the Borthwick Blog. Her story encompasses both the parish records and the records of Lady Conyngham’s Trust, a charity for the poor in the city of York, and together give a valuable insight into the choices available to women in the early nineteenth century.
If you’re a subscriber to the Local Historian, the journal of the British Association for Local History, you might have spotted a mention of the Borthwick in the recent January 2021 edition. It features a review of ‘Letters from Ellen Tollet to Annabel Crewe’ (2019), a collection of letters from our very own Milnes Coates Archive, edited by Peter and Mavis Smith. The reviewer Margaret O’Sullivan writes that the letters offer a rich source for local and national historians, revealing otherwise hard to find evidence of informal networks of association.
The Borthwick was also briefly mentioned in a recent Yorkshire Post article on the announcement of a new college at the University of York to be named after Anne Lister, the lesbian diarist and Yorkshire landowner whose story is told in the BBC drama series ‘Gentleman Jack’. The Borthwick holds several items relating to Anne’s life and loves, includng a copy of Anne’s will, as well as the parish records of Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, mentioned above, where Anne unofficially married Ann Walker in 1834. The new college will open to students in September and you can read our entry on Anne Lister in the Borthwick’s research guides on our website.
Finally our Borthwick podcast, ‘Out of the Archives Box’, was featured in York Explore’s round up of archives and local history resources to enjoy at home. Resources include local history themed education and colouring packs for children, palaeography and genealogy guides, historic photographs of York and, of course, podcasts by both York Explore and the Borthwick.
The main library of the University of York is named after a key figure in the development of the university and of twentieth century York, John Bowes Morrell. The collection was begun in the early 1960s (the university was founded in 1963) and this archive comprises various interesting documents found inside books donated or purchased for the new library.
Have you ever used a document as a bookmark? Or tucked a letter or other item inside a related book for safe keeping? This fascinating collection is made up of just these kinds of items, all found inside books in the Morrell library and transferred to the Borthwick to be safely kept in the strongrooms. Items range from a 1659 map comparing the English and Bohemian civil wars to the correspondence and family papers of Helen Darbishire, a principal of Somerville College, Oxford. Many have strong links to other Borthwick archives. A manuscript poem about the Backhouse family of York in 1896; letters about the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield; letters to William Beveridge from the Unemployment Assistance Board; and even some stray Morrell family correspondence.
Others offer tantalising glimpses into very different lives. An 1857 letter by the art critic and writer William Michael Rosetti, brother to Dante Gabriel and Christina Rosetti and a founder member of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, discusses an exhibition of paintings. A 1942 letter to ‘Snowball’ by Ashley Dukes, founder of the Mercury Theatre and husband of Marie Rambert the influential founder of the Ballet Rambert, looks forward to the end of the war; and correspondence by botanist W.J. Hodgetts discusses work on South African algae in the early twentieth century. There is even a nineteenth century bill from Birmingham taxidermist, Montagu Brown, author of ‘Practical Taxidermy’, one of the most popular books on the subject. While so many archives are interesting because they largely tell the story of a single person, family or organisation, ‘Letters and papers found in books in the J.B. Morrell Library’ is fascinating because of the sheer variety of letters, press cuttings, maps and other documents found in the most unexpected of places.
Have a lovely March everyone!