I am imagining how Aladdin felt, when he stood at the entrance to the Secret Cave and whispered those magic words: “Abracadabra!”
Only I’m not Aladdin, this is no cave I’m gawping into, and I don’t need a magic word to gain entrance to the wonders within – just the Reader’s Card which has been supplied to me, free of charge, on production of
my driver’s licence.
I am in Reception at the County Archives Office, where I have joined six other volunteers on the Great War Project. We are 6 women and
1 man – where are all the men, I wonder? Not that I’m looking for a man, you understand, having my hands more than full with Mr B, thank you very much. But you’d think, wouldn’t you, that as this project I’m involved in is all
about the Great War, there might be a few more men wanting to dabble into the history of our county and the people who lived here from 1914 – 1918?
here for a training session on how to carry out a case study. I didn’t quite know what to bring with me but, in the end, it didn’t matter because we have to stow everything away in lockers, even our handbags. That means I spend the rest of
the afternoon twiddling the locker key in my hand, hoping I won’t drop it and lose it, not having any useful pockets in which I could secrete it for the duration of our visit. We also have to have our photographs taken so that we can be issued with special
Volunteers Badges which will enable us to have free use of computers, scanners, photo-copiers and other useful gadgets available in libraries across the county as well as at the Records Office. One of my fellow volunteers disappears into the Ladies loo
for ages when she hears we have to have our photographs taken, emerging in full make-up and not a hair out of place. This hadn’t occurred to me, so my badge will carry a photo of me looking a little wild and windy having just hot-footed it along
to the Records Office from the Cathedral (see yesterday’s blog.) At least I’ll be recognisable.
Our case study training mainly consists of a “behind
the scenes” tour of the Archives Office. Did you know that there are 25 miles of documents stored there, covering 1200 years of history? They didn’t make us travel the whole 25 miles, fortunately...
Here we are in the Search Room, looking at tithe maps and early Ordnance Survey maps. One of the members of staff has a collection of soft toys on her desk which look a trifle incongruous given the surroundings. I try
to think of some historical significance attached to Shaun the Sheep but fail miserably.
Now we are moving into the Strong Room where the priceless documents are
stored. It’s much, much colder in here because of the need to preserve those 1200 years of history. We are shown treasures – beautifully bound albums of photographs of World War 1 heroes, an illuminated indenture dating back to Henry VIII’s
time, a school record book. I’m itching to turn the pages and find out more about the lives recorded therein.
Upstairs we meet the Conservator who
looks vaguely familiar. He unwraps a book which has been damaged beyond repair, all flaking scraps of dusty paper and advises us on preserving our own records. Don’t be fooled by the TV programmes, he tells us, where the Celebrity Finding His /
Her Past is made to wear white cotton gloves before touching anything vaguely historic. “Have you ever tried to turn the page of a book wearing white cotton gloves?” he challenges us, before telling us that so long as our hands are clean and we
are careful, we will do the ancient documents no harm. As we leave, he chases after me, calling my name: and I remember I did know him in my Past Life. I just can’t completely remember when, where and why so I do what I do best and bluff my way
through our conversation.
Our final session brings us back to the many records the office holds which can help us in our case studies. We all agree, fervently,
that we can’t wait to come back and get started. I travel home with a new friend, chatting away about keeping in touch, and somehow manage not to change trains as required. I end up at the wrong station, knowing that Mr B will be waiting for me, not
very patiently, at the right station.
It won’t be long before I find my way back to the Records Office again, Reader’s Card at the ready and Volunteers
Badge proudly pinned to my chest.
I can already see myself walking through the door, taking a deep breath and whispering to myself: “Abracadabra!”