Our slowly increasing band of volunteers met last week in the aptly named Volunteer Inn in Harold Street, Hereford. We took over an inside corner of the pub, which was already filling up with dogs and humans by 4.45pm. The atmosphere was genial and I felt heartened that so many people had turned up.
The project historian, Dr Kate Lack, gave an engaging introductory talk about how to approach historical research. Much of our research will involve accessing County records such as the Bishop’s Register and Parish Records, and most of the volunteers have never done anything like this before. Kate demonstrated (with the aid of an eider duck drawing) some basic principles in processing and recording information as our research progresses. The male eider duck has unwittingly become a motif for the Past in Mind project. Since his appearance (photographically) at the volunteer Taster Day in Bromyard, he has ventured into many conversations and demonstrations. If I learn nothing else from this project, I hope that I shall be able to distinguish an eider duck from a mallard.
Hereford Records Office is a short walk from the Volunteer Inn. I have never been there before and was excited at the prospect of being amongst so many ancient documents. Once inside, it was as if we had entered an Argos store in the middle of Diagon Alley. Now I know where Harry Potter really bought his “Magical Drafts and Potions” text-book for Hogwarts school..
This Victorian warehouse is stacked with documents, maps and historical records. I could lose myself there quite happily and emerge in twenty years time. We were given a talk about how the records are stored and what types of documents are kept. So much history: so much to discover.
We came across a Record book relating to Brockhampton, which detailed all the different occupations of residents from the mid 1800’s until 2004. In beautifully scripted handwriting the entries slowly changed from wagoners, farm labourers, millers and the odd butler – to motor vehicle drivers (1920’s) and computer analysts (post 2000). This was an incredibly rich source of social history. For me the thrill was intense.
Some volunteers were mesmerised by antiquarian maps of the Brockhampton area. Everyone was starting to find their personal preferences as regards research. I felt really at peace in the Records Office. When you’re standing amid centuries of historical records in one sense you feel very mortal and quite vulnerable, yet in another you feel grounded. It is strangely comforting to feel so insignificant and so human.
The historical research for the Past in Mind project will be carried out by five different groups under Kate Lack’s supervision. Having studied Classics in the past I have agreed to assist with translating the Latin entries in the Bishop’s Register. I am so glad I still have my Lewis and Short dictionary from the days of yore.. Although I have not done any serious translating for over twenty years, I can feel a rush of adrenalin at the thought of being reunited with Latin text (albeit Medieval). In all seriousness, I never thought I would be translating again. It is both daunting and exciting.
The other groups will be studying records and documents from the Medieval, Tudor and Victorian periods. And finally, one group will concentrate on historical maps.
It is amazing to think that this is just one aspect of the project. Already I can feel it gathering momentum. Today Hereford and Worcester Radio’s Andrew Easton interviewed our Project Manager Jenny McMillan, and the Senior Archaeologist Ian Bapty. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00sqc35/Andrew_Easton_06_06_2012/
BBC Hereford and Worcester will be covering Past in Mind’s official Launch this coming Saturday. Anyone interested in registering as a volunteer or in finding out more, is welcome to attend the Launch which will take place from 10.30am – 4pm at the Brockhampton Estate (situated on the A44 near Bromyard).