Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Women In Industry - St Ives Archive

I was recently given the chance to visit St Ives archive and attend their Hidden Histories: Women in Industry event. As a trainee, visiting other archives is important because it not only allows you to make links locally but it is also a chance to learn more about the different kinds of archives that are out there.

St Ives would be best described as a ‘community archive’, which means it is predominantly run by volunteers and does not employ a trained Archivist. defines these archives as ‘groups of evidence brought together by people sharing an interest in finding out about their community and how it developed’.  They are effectively run by the community, for the community, without which some aspects their history would have been lost. This kind of archive is a considerable contributor to the sector as ‘30,000 volunteers are estimated to be actively engaged with community archives throughout the UK’.

St. Ives Archive

St Ives archive is currently working with The Hypatia Trust as part of the History 51 project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to highlight and celebrate the role of women in Cornwall’s history and the focus of this Hidden History: Women in Industry event was on the almost forgotten years of thriving textile industry that were once here.

There were four major textile companies located in Downalong, between the 1930s and 1970s; Crysede, Flawns (owned by John Lewis), Hamptons, Berketex and Fryers, all of which had a predominantly female workforce.

Beautiful example of Crysede clothing
Many former employees were invited along to join in the celebrations and it was a great opportunity to record their memories as part of an oral history initiative. There were also detailed, informative displays with a slideshow of images of the factories from the archive to help trigger memories. This was accompanied by examples of camouflage net making as these were produced in the factories during WWII.

One of the many interesting displays

Photographs from the archive alongside examples of camouflage nets and textiles explains that ‘enthusiasm is the lifeblood of community archives’ and this was the thing that really drove this event and made it a success. It was clear the volunteers had worked incredibly hard to put this all together and bringing to light this history was a real service to their community.
One lady kindly offered to teach me to knit using the original wooden needles and pattern!

It got me thinking about the importance of community events for archives more widely. St. Ives archive had donations made on the day and they received excellent local press coverage, with even the mayor making an appearance, which only helps to increase local awareness of an archive. They also invited Judy from the John Lewis Archive, who brought along records which filled some gaps in the information held in their archives and, most strikingly, the locals and former employees felt their heritage was valued.

Local involvement is something that does not have to be exclusive to community archives and in the past the Archive and Special Collections, here at the Penryn campus, have had very successful events that were open to the public. For example last year’s Public History Day, which you can read about on Grace’s blog, was an event where the people who had connections with Tremough House were invited to revisit. Unexpected donations were made on the day and CAVA (Cornish Audio Visual Archive) carried out interviews to capture memories of the estate.

With this in mind, the success of this Hidden Histories event has really emphasised to me the importance of these outreach initiatives. On the train home my mind was reeling with ideas, such as whether we could expand this further with archive events for former employees of Dartington College of Arts or an event for past and present members of Kneehigh and Wildworks to capture moments in history before they are lost. The possibilities are endless…