From the Archives: ArchI’ve Explored

POST BY MAllen

In October, the Archives team was joined for a week by Sophie, a recent graduate with an interest in a career in Archives. As well as the usual tasks of calendaring, indexing, and transcribing, Sophie was able to explore the Archives by helping to prepare and select pieces for our annual exhibition, which coincides with the national Explore Your Archives campaign. Read Sophie’s blog post to find out about her experience:

As I’m interested in pursuing a career in archives, volunteering at the Jesuits in Britain Archives has been a wonderful opportunity for me to gain valuable experience working in an archive containing remarkable historical records.

Beginning my week-long placement, I had the opportunity of taking part in a workshop on relics, which was incredibly interesting. I was able to learn about the objects kept at the archive and how to catalogue them, as well as methods of conservation. A notable item from this was the bound volume of drawings and descriptions of the relics called Notes and Letters of Relics of the English Martyrs, which is a valuable guide for understanding the relics held and their history.

Page from MSB/83 Notes and letters on relics of the English martyrs

One of my first tasks during my placement was calendaring a volume of correspondences from the 19th century, which involved noting the date, author and a brief description of the contents of each letter. Although this was a challenging task since the handwriting is often very difficult to make out, I was struck by the beauty of the 19th century script and therefore was encouraged to persevere!

I also undertook the task of indexing a selection of the beautifully handwritten Blandyke Papers. The journals include many thoughtful essays written on subjects such as scientific theory, philosophy, literature and theology. The purpose of writing such essays is eloquently described in the Editorial of October 1890 issue: ”A thought spun out into two paragraphs, a letter detailing a difficulty, or explaining one, a few verses describing a situation, those are the aids we particularly solicit. Study means thinking; and thinking, for most men, means writing.” As a History of Art graduate, I was particularly interested in the sketches and diagrams in the Blandyke Papers. But what was equally wonderful to come across was a detailed report about the 1890 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. In it, the writer not only talks specifically about individual works of art, but he also discusses the opinions of gallery visitors and critics. For example in this extract, he discusses the thoughts of a writer of the St. James Gazette:

“It may be said that fresh art is always interesting; and if it be true, as we are assured by a great authority, that “mere colour, unspoiled by meaning and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways,” it is equally true that colour – the material poetry of Creation, used with intelligent meaning, and connected with concrete objects, can, and does, speak to the heart of man in ways innumerable. Granting, as we are compelled to do, that no one picture of the collection will ever be regarded as a work of genius, we may at the same time be thankful that such an exhibition is possible in this land of ours.”

In addition to calendaring and indexing, I transcribed some of the Chaplains’ Weekly newsletters from 1915. Whilst reading and deciphering the fading script, I learnt about the various events and activities of the time, such as the stealing of grapes by youths at Whinney House and Fr. Cortie’s lecture in which he dramatically described the solar eclipse. This apparently prompted a member of the audience to have a “fit of hysterics” due to the impressive accompanying slide of the solar corona. It was also particularly poignant to read about the Solemn Requiem’s for those killed in the war.

During my time at the Jesuits in Britain archives, I helped choose items to be exhibited during the ‘Explore your Archive’ launch week. Inspired by the daily hashtag themes of the campaign, we found a variety of unique items.

Out of all hashtags, we were most drawn to #ArchiveAnimals, #ReligiousArchives, #MusicArchives, #SportingArchives and, in honour of Movember,  #HairyArchives. It was particularly easy to find items for the animal hashtag using the online archive catalogue and we came across many photographs of Jesuit priests with their pets including Fr. Charles Plater and his pet bulldog, Jimmy and Fr. Robert de Trafford washing his dog, Trixie. We were amused to find a postcard De Trafford had written to his dog, from the point of view of her sister, Nettle. As well as finding an abundance of pet photographs, we discovered an extraordinary account of Fr. Henry Widlake’s encounter with a crocodile, which we felt would certainly make for a compelling read for visitors of the exhibition. Additionally, we decided to display diagrams of insects, birds and frogs in the Blandyke Papers.

Postcard from Nettle the dog to her sister, Tatters (SJ/PH/317)

Fr Widlake's encounter with a crocodile, c1952 (SJ/68/1)

 

As well as the online catalogue, I was able to search through the archive’s index cards for material relating to St. Ignatius Loyola, to explore the history of the Jesuits. Using this method, I found a beautiful ink portrait drawn by a late 17th century artist. Stored alongside the drawing, I discovered an Ignatian Centenary Magazine made in 1956 by the novices of Harlaxton, which contained elaborate and beautiful script. Although there are some written documents in the exhibition, most of the materials chosen are either photographs or drawings because of their visual impact. Moreover, I thought it was important not to overwhelm the viewer with too many long texts. After collecting the items, I wrote exhibition labels for the pieces chosen and had the chance to learn a little more about the specifics of each item through my research. I learnt a great deal from my experience working on the exhibition, namely the various ways to search, discover and stumble across items in the archive; but also the importance of selecting material that tells a story and therefore might be of interest to visitors to the exhibition.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Jesuits in Britain delving into the archives. Thank you to Rebecca, Mary and Alex for their help and support!

Sophie Gilmour

If you are interested in any of the items mentioned in this blog post or the work of the Jesuits in Britain Archives in general, or if you are interested in gaining work experience with us, please contact the Archives.