Parliamentary Archive

Today was our group London trip. On arrival after a welcome cup of tea and a biscuit (thank you Laura), Mari arrived to take us to the Acts room in Victoria Tower. The tower was designed specifically to hold records and is still used for that purpose today. It is currently at about 80% capacity so the acquisition policy is an important management tool in terms of not only quality and diversity but also quantity.

The medieval Palace of Westminster burned to the ground in 1834 and all of the House of Commons documents went up in smoke or were severely water damaged. The records of the House of Lords, stored off site were safe and have been housed in the tower since the new parliament building was completed around 1870 having taken around 30 years to complete. The Acts Room is a visual treat and this time, although outside our time frame by some considerable years we had the opportunity to look at documents relating to Henry VII and Henry VIII. Having learned much about Henry VIII at school, seeing his signature on a document felt very significant. His ideas and actions were so radical and far reaching they still effect us today.

The team at the Parliamentary archive had things prepared, the original Land Tax Act had been unrolled to the Norwich section. The other documents in the search room related to civic matters, petitions for the building of roads, bridges, the introduction of gas lighting. The names of our commissioners can be found in the Acts granted for these petitions, with four of them having had a hand in the building of the Foundry bridge in Norwich, which can be found at the bottom of Prince of Wales Road which many Norwich residents walk, drive or cycle over on their way to the train station.

There were also plans for a rather ambitious Navigation Cut to join the River Wensum and the River Yare, making a navigation channel available for shipping between Norwich and Lowestoft. Granted Royal Assent it was never built perhaps due to the fast advance of railway engineering and building. The train journey to Lowestoft from Norwich is simply lovely across marshes. In the search room we discussed how such projects would come about. Our commissioners were very likely to be spending time in London, hearing or engaging in conversations about other ambitious civic projects such as road building. With a desire to improve Norwich, whilst also considering the likely returns from their own financial investment their legacy can be seen around plenty of sites in Norwich today.


Patricia’s Diagrams

Ahead of our trip to London tomorrow I have been reviewing some images and I came across these photographs I took last Thursday. They show the work of Patricia, one of the History Detectives. The commissioners in this project were first investigated some years back and Patricia was one of the original group. She has been exploring the life of Michael Bland and has recorded the information on a series of diagrams.

I think it’s one of the most useful ways of presenting research information as it allows for adaptions, alterations and crossings out. These diagrams can be used as the basis for a piece of text, an article or book but as you can imagine I am most fond of the diagram just as it is, visual and open to how it is read, processed and understood.

It was last year that I watched Marcus de Sautoy’s The Beauty of Diagrams programmes, each week a different diagram was explored including Florence Nightingale’s Rose diagram and visualising DNA. The programme, presented by a mathematician clearly demonstrated the ability of the diagram to cross professional disciplines and make the information easier to understand. There are short clips of the programmes available here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00w5675/clips

Another interesting resource well worth a look is the book Information is Beautiful by David McCandless. It covers a whole host of subjects and ways of using visual terms to describe information. http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/

It’s perhaps an obvious point but I’m taken by how both of these people are considering beauty in relation to disseminating or recording. I want to create a map of the research to date to help me plan the artwork, there is lots of information so it may take some time.



Last Friday I went to London to visit the Parliamentary Archives at Westminster. I had the opportunity to look at documents which relate to our five Norwich commissioners. I will be going back with the group tomorrow to explore the documents in more detail.

This commission is a Connecting Communities and Arts in Parliament project and as such it explores the relationship between the documents held in the two archives (through the research and production of an artwork). The Parliamentary Archives hold information relating to things which needed Royal approval (called Royal Assent I think) which includes things like roads, canals and the introduction of gas lighting for example. Our commissioners were civically very active in Norwich but their names can also be found in the Parliamentary archives supporting innovation in terms of petitions for roads and such like.

I hope we happen across new things which may help us to view the commissioners in a new light.


Cafe stop before Elm Hill

During our coffee break at Expresso on St Andrews Street, I asked about Archives and their boundaries. Mari spoke about items in the Parliamentary Archive and how they are catalogued in relation to the context of the archive. For example I had been searching the on-line catalogue for our commissioners but it came back showing no results, that is because items are catalogued according to Act or Petition for example. It’s not to say they don’t feature in the archive its simply that to catalogue all the information and make it searchable is a huge task and not likely to happen anytime soon, if ever. It means having to look physically at documents and reading them, the old fashioned way. The digital age has given us greater access than ever to search for things but with historical research it regularly comes down to looking at things directly and discovering for ourselves.

The last stop on our walking tour was Elm Hill. In some ways De Hague has become a favourite commissioner, he worked as an attorney with his father at number 5, across the road he was church overseer and then warden at St Peter Hungate. He seemed to do good work, was interested in art and literature but also in the care for the poor. A little way down the hill he lived at number 18 as drawn by Henry Ninham. I had identified Crown Court also on Elm Hill as a place to look at but could not recall the reason why. It was, now I have checked my own and one of the groups set on notes, where the United Society of Friars met for their discussions of art, literature and the soup kitchen provision they set up. Elm hill is one of Norwich’s best known historical streets which narrowly avoided being demolished in the 1930’s slum clearances.

The afternoon was spent back at NRO, where we looked at the wills for the 5 commissioners. I found the handwriting very difficult to read, the group did much better and we learnt something of the generosity of the commissioners and of course the fact they had money to bequeath.

These interconnected people, places, groups and events unite these 5 men and in some cases their extended family to each other. How I approach the construction of this piece (‘the art work’) is something I am going to consider on Monday.


Part 2 of the walking tour – Anglia square

On my way to meet the group at Anglia Square yesterday I walked along Botolph Street, as Thomas Bland (father of one of our commissioners Michael) lived in this road in 1783 according to the Chase directory. Sovereign House is now one of the areas more infamous landmarks, built in the 1960’s its a fantastic brutalist building which I am hoping can be re-invented rather than demolished. Of course the longer the debate goes on the more the building degrades, its now a well used canvas for graffiti artists. The construction materials of the 1960 are fairing less well than the stone and brick work of earlier times. I look out on the building from my studio and I rather enjoy its imposing nature.

An email inquiry I sent to St Augustine’s church, was kindly forwarded to a local historian, Stewart McLaren who has written the church guidebook. Stuart met us at the church and spoke to us about Elisha De Hague, and his connection with the parish. De Hague was an overseer at another church on Elm Hill and later a church warden so why was he buried at St Augustine’s. His father, also Elisa (which has led to some complications when researching) has a tomb there, in which our Elisha also lies.

From the church we made the short walk along Gildengate to the Quaker Burial Ground. It is a beautiful place with an avenue of trees. There were gravestones within the ground but records show that Gravestones were not considered to be appropriate. We are yet to discover why and what shift occurred as there are gravestones to be seen which date from more recent times.

St Andrews Hall was next on the list and we went to look at the civic portraits. St Andrews and Blackfriars Halls house the largest collection of civic portraits (some of which should be in the guildhall by all accounts). Alas our characters were not represented there and it was suggested they could be in storage, in restoration or even on tour. Will get in touch with the Castle Museum to find out more.