Frankie Drummond Charig shares with us a recent visit to the Westminster School Archives as part of the Archives Trainees Group meeting.
The Archives Trainees Group met most recently at the beginning of February to visit Westminster School Archives. A group of about twenty of us were welcomed by Charlotte Robinson, current Archives Assistant and Elizabeth Wells, the Archivist and Records Manager of Westminster School.
Charlotte gave an introductory presentation to the group about the history of the school and archives. The school was first founded by Henry VIII, but then re-founded by Elizabeth I in 1560 – it is this year that is acknowledged as their official founding date.
As a school with such a long history, the collections are rich and have been amassed over time to contain much varied material. Charlotte illustrated to us the different types of material the archives contain, some of which one would expect to find in a school archive, as well some items one might not! Administration records, photographs, school publications, rare books, audio-visual material, oral histories, an impressively complete run of pupil records, trophies, portraits, maps and plans, and other objects (such as a cricket bat gifted by one ex-pupil a few months ago) all make up the archives.
What was interesting to learn was the many ways in which Elizabeth and Charlotte promote the archives to audiences both internally and externally. They collaborate with other school departments to provide displays at school events as well as providing a termly-changing display in the library display case. This display they try to tie into current affairs, to keep the students engaged and aware of the varied topics covered by the school archives. Being located in the school itself, the archives are a wonderful resource for history lessons. Also Charlotte described how she has in the past brought material to lessons for teachers to educate their pupils. Elizabeth also runs an optional class for sixth form students which allows them to grapple with some of the theory behind keeping archival records as well as learning good handling practice and research techniques. The pupils also have an opportunity to volunteer in the archives.
Engagement with ex-pupils, parents and the general public is also encouraged through various platforms, including a number of online projects. Westminster School has a YouTube Channel , where videos about the history of the school as well as films and oral histories from the archive are posted. There is also a website dedicated to ‘Westminster School and the First World War ’, and a transcription project which is serialising one of the more unique series in archives – the Town Boy Ledgers – thereby making them accessible online.
It is impressive to see how much Charlotte and Elizabeth do with just the two of them, and how integrated the archives seem to be in the daily life of the school – which of course is how it should be.
Elizabeth is also responsible for managing the flow of current records, some of which will eventually make it to the archive. And after Charlotte’s introduction, Elizabeth spoke to us about her role as Records Manager, which occupies roughly thirty percent of her time. She was pleased to hear how many of us in the group had experience of records management in our current trainee positions and we noted that this is a growing change for the good in the recordkeeping training process.
The last speaker of the afternoon was lecturer Sarah Higgins of Aberystwyth University, who spoke to us about the benefits of doing the Aberystwyth course. The group of attendees to the afternoon event was made up of a mixture of trainees who were either already studying, had applied for a course or were still deciding which course to choose. It is always helpful to hear about how different courses are run at these meetings, even when one no longer has to make that choice, as it is good to know what other courses are doing. It also gives an opportunity to ask questions and the group certainly had lots of questions for Sarah!
After the last talk, Charlotte and Elizabeth split us into two groups and whilst Charlotte showed us the main store, archive office and reading room, Elizabeth had some rare book material out for the other group to feast their eyes on in the library. Of course, we then swapped over. My favourite item was a rare book from the collection that has recently been conserved in such a way that the phase box contains a compartment for the book’s previous binding, so that one can still see what the original binding looked like before conservation.
All in all, the visit was a very enjoyable and useful one. Most of us had not visited Westminster School Archives before, and it is always beneficial to see how different archive repositories operate and what they hold. For those trainees who have not attended one of these group visits, or not been in a while, I highly recommend them as a fantastic way to meet others at a similar point in their career development, learn more about different archives and leave feeling motivated and excited about the recordkeeping profession to which we belong.
If you would like to attend the Archives Trainee Group meetings, please email Erin Lee: firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest.