This has been a busy year for new acquisitions of oral history recordings at Wessex Film and Sound Archive (WFSA), prompted by lots of activity in the county. I will highlight some of the more exceptional projects, followed by a brief mention of the others, although that does not mean the latter are any the less important or interesting.
Hampshire Showpeople: this has been a major project, led by Dr Jo Ivey and supported by the HLF in conjunction with the Hampshire Archives Trust, to record the lives and memories of travelling fairground families and to create a better understanding of this tight-knit community, their way of life and their contribution to the economy and life of Hampshire. The project team worked with members of the showpeople community, volunteers from the wider population and local schools to gather a picture of showpeople’s culture and history. The materials collected will be preserved and made available for all to discover and enjoy at WFSA and Hampshire Record Office (HRO). The archive includes 36 recordings, including members of the famous Cole and Wall families, and over 1,900 fairground photographs collected by fairground enthusiast, Ken Wise, during the course of his lifetime and donated to the Record Office by Steve Bailey, himself a descendent of the Bartlett fairground family of Blissford and Fordingbridge. A DVD and a book resulted from the project and may be obtained from HRO.
Open Sight: this is the largest charitable organisation in Hampshire working with people who have, or who are at risk of developing sight loss. Its trustees wanted to record the memories of older people with sight loss, in order to show the difference in their experiences of this condition earlier in their lives and now. The Vision of the Past project, aided by the HLF, reveals how changing attitudes and legislative amendments have transformed the way that blind and partially-sighted people live and work, as well as asking the question whether, in 90 years, VIPs (as they are known) have truly achieved equality despite social and political reform. All these story-tellers describe the devastation of loss, courageous new beginnings and the aspirations, challenges and achievements of leading normal lives in exceptional circumstances. The resulting book, audio book and exhibition will now tour clubs, care settings and schools across the county, whilst the original recordings are preserved and made accessible by WFSA. For more information, see http://vision-of-the-past-opensight.org.uk/.
New Forest Remembers – untold stories of World War II: as a spin-off from this major project to record and make accessible sites in the New Forest associated with World War Two (of which there are many), oral history recordings were made with people who remember that period. There is a wealth of untapped information about this period and of activities in the memories of those who were living in the New Forest at the time, whether they were evacuees, local residents, or military personnel from this country or from abroad. Organised by a dedicated team from the National Parks Authority, volunteers are now transcribing over 70 recordings, which are due to be deposited with WFSA in November. In the meantime, you can learn more about the project at www.newforestww2.org/.
Reflections of entrepreneurs with heritage from Asia and the Caribbean: showcasing the cultural heritage of business people in North Hampshire from Asian and Caribbean backgrounds. This HLF project has worked with support from Hampshire County Council’s Archives Service to create and preserve 20 oral histories collected from entrepreneurs. The oral history recordings and accompanying booklet reveal the hidden cultural heritage of entrepreneurs from Asia and the Caribbean who have contributed to the local social and economic area in North Hampshire over the past 50 years. Many of the early business people from the Caribbean and Asia have now retired or returned to their overseas home. An exhibition resulting from the project is currently on display at the Willis Museum, Basingstoke and there has been educational work in local schools and colleges. Click here to listen to some of the interviewees: www.acehants.org.uk/the-entrepreneurs/
The Culture of Kerala in Hampshire: this HLF project documents the traditions that the people of Kerala in India brought to Hampshire when they settled in the area and what traditions they had to leave behind. The project also took the heritage of the traditional classical and folk dances of Kerala (Kathakali) through practical workshops, lectures and performances, plus a very colourful exhibition of Kathakali costumes at Winchester Discovery Centre. The oral histories of the people from Kerala living in Hampshire are retained by WFSA in the form of an edited DVD and booklet. A full Kathakali Company of major artists from Kerala will be touring England from September to December this year (see tour dates: www.kathakali.net/ ) with support from the Arts Council of England.
Other oral history acquisitions were received from Basingstoke Talking History, East Woodhay local history group, Macmillans publishing company and the Russell-Cotes Museum and Art Gallery (which was a valuable taped interview made in 1993 with Mrs Lee-Duncan, grand-daughter of the museum founders). We have also recently had deposited a copy of Padmini Broomfield’s project to record workers at the Ford Motor Co. plant at Southampton, just prior to its closure – see her report for more details.
Jocelyn Goddard & Manda Gifford
Telling Whitstable’s Story community memories group
Cushing at 100! at Whitstable Museum & Gallery: Telling Whitstable’s Story gave a special twist to the centenary exhibition celebrating the town’s most famous resident and star of Hammer Horror and Star Wars, Peter Cushing, by recording memories of him from townspeople and those closest to him. The Cushing listening post now forms part of a very popular redisplayed area of the main museum.
The group is currently busy undertaking an audit of all the previous local community oral history projects it has conducted, dating back over the past 15 years, to ensure that all are copied across to current media and can be used to inform the programme of audio-visual redisplays in the Museum. The latest addition to the displays shows silent footage of the oyster harvest in the early 1900s alongside current interviews with a contemporary whelk-fishing family business based at Whitstable Harbour.
Herne Bay Community Memories Group
At the start of 2013, the group contributed invaluable oral memories and sourced stunning images for an exhibition at Herne Bay Museum & Gallery marking the 60th anniversary of the momentous East Coast Storm of 1953.
Herne Bay Community Memories Group is celebrating its 10th anniversary with another chance to see one of its earliest exhibitions at Herne Bay Museum & Gallery: Herne Bay Sporting Lives. The exhibition focusses on the town’s most iconic sports such as sea rowing and swimming, fishing, and the truly terrifying roller hockey! This time the exhibition will be enhanced by the addition of audio memories on a listening post, involving re-editing early recordings which pre-date the acquisition of a listening post.
University of Kent
In 2014/15, the University of Kent celebrates its 50th anniversary. A range of projects and activities are planned, including the gathering of information about its history. Led by the School of History, the History Projects aim to document and archive the University’s past. This work is being undertaken by students as part of a new module focusing on real world research skills. For example, the Disability at Kent project will explore the changing experiences of disabled students and staff at the University of Kent over the last 50 years. Those carrying out research on this project will primarily use the oral histories of disabled students, alumni and past and present members of staff, as well as some archival sources, to highlight the changes to attitude, policy and provision toward disabled people at the University.
Information taken from the University’s website: http://www.kent.ac.uk/planningfor50/projects/historyprojects/index.html
Surrey History Centre has two Tascam DR40s which can be borrowed by Surrey groups (but not individuals) interested in developing community oral history projects. Surrey recorders have been used for the following projects:
Early this year a small team of volunteers from Mickleham and Westhumble Local History Group began work on a project to record village memories and stories of the village shop. Their recordings show how the village has changed over the past few decades with tales of the past 50 years centred on how the use of the village shop has changed as new people move, children buy different items (not just sweets and comics) after school or in their lunch time, and what role the village shop plays in the community now. It’s proving to be a fascinating glimpse in to the life of what was once a very small rural village in Surrey.
Surrey History Centre has a very large collection of archived documents from the Mental Health Hospitals that were once scattered across the County. As a result there are still significant communities of people who were once staff or patients at the hospitals. And as a consequence Surrey History Centre has developed a long-standing interest in working with these communities. Past projects have included oral history recordings many throwing a new light on the documented histories. More recently supporters of Epsom Mental Health Week have been interviewing visitors to the events held over the week who have been taking part in some of the many activities. This has been their first experience of taking recorded interviews and it is hoped that it may lead to a project with a more formal structure and funding.
Oral history will be taking a significant role in a Surrey landscape project but we’re waiting for the results of an HLF bid before getting too excited about that!
Look out for more developments next year as further projects currently being discussed begin to produce what looks like fascinating work.
The past year has seen the usual inquiries and requests for advice and training from those applying for HLF or other funding. Several recent projects have focused on the collection of oral testimony for use in art and performance projects.
On a personal note, I am now working freelance after nearly 20 years at Southampton City Council, first at the Southampton Oral History Unit (SOHU) and then on the exhibitions team of the new SeaCity Museum. The archival recordings from the SOHU archive continue to inspire and be re-used in a variety of new formats.
SeaCity Museum: Opened in 2012 the museum’s two permanent galleries, Southampton’s Titanic Story and Gateway to the World, make use of oral testimony from the SOHU archive. A powerful audio-visual installation uses first-hand accounts from survivors of the events leading up to and following the sinking of the Titanic, while audio posts play memories of those describing the impact on the local seafaring community as the news reached the town. The story of post-war migration through the city’s port is told through artistic interpretations of memories of seafarers and present-day communities.
Between Wind and Water Touring Theatre Production: This one-hour play, written by Deborah Gearing and directed by Emma Golby-Kirk of Now Heritage, is inspired by oral testimony of shipbuilding, dockwork and seafaring from the SOHU archive and new recordings. Performed by a cast of professional and amateur actors, the show toured shoreline venues along Southampton Water during summer 2013. Itis the culmination of the ‘My Ship of Dreams’ theatre project, led by Now Heritage and funded by the Arts Council England, Hampshire County Council and Southampton City Council. For more information visit: bwaw-play.tumblr.com and www.nowheritage.org/
Bedford Place Map Project: This collaboration between Now Heritage and artist and animator Alys Scott Hawkins uses stories and reminiscences of local traders and residents to produce a hand-drawn map of the Bedford Place shopping area of Southampton. The map will function as a visitor guide, promotional tool for businesses and a link for the diverse local communities. The project, supported by Southampton Solent University, and funded by transnational European project VIVID, involves students in the research, interviewing, editing and creation of visual documentation. The audio and visual material collected will also be used to produce animated and other interactive products. For more information visit: http://bedfordplacemap.tumblr.com/
Showpeople of Hampshire: This project, led by Jo Ivey and funded by the National Lottery Fund and the Hampshire Archives Trust, documented the little known history of the travelling showpeople of Hampshire. Using archival research, family photographs and life story interviews, the project produced a book, a mobile exhibition and an educational DVD. The project also included work in two schools with children from showpeople families on their roles. For more information: http://www3.hants.gov.uk/archives/showpeople.htm
Los Niños: child exiles of the Spanish Civil War: Following the successful completion of this project with the publication of our book Here Look After Him: Voices of Basque Evacuee Children of the Spanish Civil War (pub. University of Southampton), the oral testimonies we collected inspired an animated documentary film, To Say Goodbye, which uses the original voices (www.izarfilms.com/news.html).
Ford Southampton Heritage Project: My most recent project was recording interviews with employees at the Ford Transit Assembly Plant in Southampton before it ceased operations at the end of July. Over 8 weeks in the run-up to closure I recorded 53 interviews, averaging 1.5 hours each, on site with a cross-section of the workforce representing the different departments, job roles, hierarchy, lengths of service, ages, gender and diverse communities. The interviews, deposited at the Southampton Archives and at Wessex Film and Sound Archive, provide a comprehensive picture of the working practices, changes in technology, economic pressures, camaraderie and the impact of the closure of the plant. The project was part of a wider documentation project led by the Hampshire Solent Alliance Partnership.