St Peter’s College, Oxford
In January 2015, five members of The Arts Society Oxford (previously Oxford DFAS), Gillian, Lisa, Nina, Richard and Sara, joined at various stages by Katherine, Rachel and others, volunteered to help the archivist at St Peters College Oxford. The task was simple, to help preserve all the student records held between 1929 and 1970s, removing the paper clips, staples etc and replacing them in re-labelled archival quality envelopes – simple but monumental as that amounted to hundreds of envelopes, thousands of very rusty staples and paper clips and an almost infinite number of pieces of paper.
It fair to say it was a relatively mindless task, for which the team was possibly over qualified, but sitting and chatting for a couple of hours every Friday morning was a gentle and enjoyable exercise and we felt committed to see the project through to completion. Initially we worked with Sean the Archivist but he left to take up a post in Scotland, and so we were then directed by Richard the Archivist, whose job it now is to find space for all the many archival boxes we have filled. Both had the tedious job of checking all the old empty manila envelopes to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind, but we were never reprimanded, only supplied with coffee and biscuits and a very fine cake and glass of prosecco when we finally finished 15 months later.
The records are of course confidential but it was hard not to notice some of the comments made by tutors and other college staff and over the period of the project we came across the records of some who went on to successful and varied careers, including a senior policeman, a renowned film director and even someone who left to run a Columbian emerald mine. There were many sad and sometimes amusing stories of university life, young men who died in the Second World War or through tragic accidents, one described as “the most capable student ever encountered” and some who failed to live up to expectations, possibly enjoying student life a little too much. The original mission of the college, to offer places to promising students of limited means, was clearly shown, many in the earlier years being from families of the clergy and from the 1940s onwards the applicants were largely educated at the grammar schools. As we tackled the 1970s records, we even found a handful of women and one of our more memorable moments was Richard declaring triumphantly “I’ve got a woman” when the first such record was found. The introduction of photographs on the UCCA forms in the late 1960s was a reminder of how truly awful hairstyles were at that time but it was good to see all the young and eager faces.
So much of life is recorded digitally these days but St Peters will keep student records on paper as well, hopefully stored with brass paperclips in archival paper envelopes. Helping to preserving these past student records was quite a task but one we were pleased to have completed, just don’t count on us when the same needs doing for the records from 1980s, 1990s, 2000s………
The Glass Slide Project at Harris Manchester College is now complete and images taken from the slides have joined those produced by Oxford University in a mobile photographic exhibition which has been mounted in community centres in the city. Our volunteers got a special mention and thanks in the University bulletin.
Still in Harris Manchester College, our volunteer team has now moved on to a project to catalogue an archive of letters to George Saunders, a distinguished Unitarian minister, who left his papers to the college. The letters span a lifetime and deal with many of the issues of the day in the 19thC, for example the Emancipation of the Catholics and Christian Non Conformist groups. Our volunteers are reading through the letters, often in almost indecipherable spidery handwriting, writing a short resume of the content of the letters so that the information collected can be digitalised to become an internet resource. One volunteer has also been working to fold and store an archive of maps that the college has in its collection.
Historic Garden Recording
To celebrate the Tercentenary of Capability Brown’s birth in 2016, there is a nationwide initiative, supported by Lottery grants, to record and update existing records on the gardens and parks designed by Capability Brown. Our team of approximately 20 volunteers will be working with volunteers from the Oxfordshire Gardens Trust to record all the CB gardens in Oxfordshire.
The following photographs were taken on a visit to Nuneham Park, Nuneham Courtenay, on 31 January, 2015. Joanna Matthews of the Oxfordshire Gardens Trust, with whom we will be working on this project, showed us round , pointing out the CB features. It was cold and windy, there was a scattering of snow on the ground but the snowdrops were out and we had a lovely morning
From Joanna Matthews’ extensive knowledge, we have learned a great deal about the history of the house and gardens on this walk. Joanna is going to take us on a visit to Radley College, which also has CB designed gardens, towards the end of February. During our visits to these gardens, Joanna points out typical features of a CB designed garden and shows us how we can begin to recognise and identify CB landscapes and non-CB features in the landscape. We will also build up knowledge of tree recognition (what species did CB plant and what did gardeners living in other centuries plant?), how to read plans and maps and how to research archives held by landowners or libraries such as the Bodleian. After the Radley visit, we will organise ourselves into groups and each group will take a different garden (Kidlington, Rycote, Adderbury, Radley, Nuneham Courtenay etc) and start the recording process.
The Capability Brown Tercentenary (CB300) Heritage Volunteers getting to know the CB landscape at Radley College on February 28th
For more information on Heritage Conservation generally go to the The Arts Society, Heritage Volunteering