Today I went to a talk at NRO: Urban areas and their archives: Whose stories do they tell? Susan’s talk is connected to the current photographic exhibition by Chris Skipworth http://www.chrisskipworth.com/. The exhibition explores the NR3 area of Norwich, which most of us know as Anglia Square, Magdalene Street, St Augustines and so on in Norwich. The work captures everyday scenes from work carried out creating a new gyratory road system, pretty much just outside the building that houses my studio.
Susan spoke about one of the changes during her time at NRO. When she started over 30 years ago they turned away photographs as they were not considered to be suitable as archive material. Today obviously things are very different and we see photographic sources are incredibly valuable. One of my favorite photographic collections is the work of Paul Trevor who documented the Whitechapel area. www.vads.ac.uk/collections/EEP.html
The talk explores the differences between rural and urban archives, with the latter being more extensive, due to urban areas being subject to more rapid change, and these changes being recorded. The uneven picture of archives was also discussed and the question about whose stories do they tell. This relates to my earlier post about The Blue Plaque scheme, with only eminent people being considered – what about everyday people? The everyday is a reoccurring theme in my practice investigations, I’m always interested in everyday events and the objects associated with their lives. Susan showed some images from a personal diary, demonstrating the details of both personal and perhaps newsworthy items combined in one document.
Towards the end of the talk Susan spoke about Administrative processes + an event = a document. It was also mentioned how archives don’t have tidy boundaries and that by coincidence is a topic for discussion on tomorrows walking tour which we start, again coincidentally in Anglia Square.
Those historical plaques, the round ones, yes usually blue but sometimes grey, brown, maroon seem to be everywhere. Briefly describing information about people, usually of some social standing. They are informative, physical, no Internet connection required, low tech and therefore immediate. They also relate to the context in which they are found, they are all about location and activities. I quite like them and of course Gavin Turk’s classic work Cave http://gavinturk.com/artworks/image/10/ is well worth a look as well.
The plaques vary in colour, text, design and size and are a number of different schemes, some local, some national. They build on historical traditions of marking places and buildings, like the one found on Norwich University College of the Arts Building in George Street. Where as this plague would have been installed when the building was completed the circular plaques are later additions.
I had no idea how old ‘The Blue Plaque’ scheme was until I looked at the English Heritage website. In fact the first plaque was maroon with a highly patterned border. First proposed in 1883, the premise was to make a link between building and person http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-p… . There is a comprehensive procedure for proposing a plaque and focuses on the person being an ‘eminent figure (as considered by members of their own profession or calling), having made an important positive contribution to human welfare or happiness’ and so the list goes on. It takes between four – six years from initial proposal to its installation (if successful) but anyone can make a suggestion.
I’m unsure what scheme the Henry Ninham plaque belongs to, but its located on a building on Chapelfield North Road. In a book Wendy was looking at last week at NRO, A Prospect of Norwich by George Nobbs there is a work by Henry Ninham of 18 Elm Hill, which was described as the home of Elisha De Hague. Our information shows he lived at number 5, we shall investigate tomorrow as we will go that way on our walking tour part 2.
Arriving at St Peter Mancroft we went inside to seek out the Yallop memorial. This is the first time I have been in this church, its full of tablets, memorials, mayoralty shields and dedications. Its the biggest church in the centre of Norwich – I am imagining you would need to have certain credentials to be buried or mentioned here. The memorial tablet near the door describes Yallop as a person of ‘few pretensions and many merits’. He is buried with his brother-in-law Nathaniel Bolingbroke and possibly surprisingly not with his wife but Sophie Ann Goddard whom he was once engaged to but due to her untimely death at aged 25 did not marry. Where his wife was buried is unknown.
After the walking tour, back at NRO everyone seemed to undertake separate activities, looking at Land Tax Assessment Records, gathering visual sources from the search room library and exploring documents held in the National Archives. I made a list of the National Archive documents and have downloaded copies of the wills relating to each of the commissioners. From first glance they might be difficult to read so I will get the files printed for Thursday’s session so we can look at them after we have undertaken part 2 of the walking tour.
From the Friends Meeting House we walked to the former Bethel Hospital. Opened in 1713 as the first purpose built lunatic asylum in the country and the sole public facility for the mad or insane of Norwich. William Herring, one of our commissioners was a Governor there and also lived nearby. Before we made our way to his former house we went round the Chapelfield North to see the house of Yallop. Before we got to his house we passed a plaque dedicated to Henry Ninham, painter and printer, part of the Norwich School. Both seemed to have owned property in this area at the same time. Yallop’s house is without doubt one of the grandest houses in the row, an impressive residence.
Many sources attribute Yallop living at the Chapelfield address but it seems from Land Tax records he may have rented it out to his brother in law. Round the corner from Yallop’s property we find Herrings home, the former YMCA building which has recently been extended. Again this is a very grand house, large and imposing, taller that those either side of it, a striking red brick. His home was close in proximity to the Bethel Hospital and I wonder how it must have felt to leave his own comfortable home to walk the short distance to the serviceable yet likely basic accommodation of the hospital.
Herring was Mayor in 1797, so would have spent time in the Guildhall just a short walk away. It was during Herrings time as Mayor that Nelson presented his sword to the city. It was for a long time kept at the Guildhall but now resides at City Hall.
After Herrings house we headed off to St Peter Mancroft, again a short walk away.
Walking offers clues
We spent the morning in Norwich City Centre. Walking around a collection of sites relating to the 5 commissioners we are looking at allowed for further thinking about proximity, wealth and status.
We started the tour at Davey Place where Yallop was a partner at a Goldsmiths and Lottery Agent, we took a guess albeit an educated one that the current City Bookshop could have been the place we were looking for. Much of the street is comprised of relatively contemporary architecture, so we went for the only Georgian looking building on the street. Patricia went inside to ask if they knew of Yallop. A short time later someone who works at the book shop came out and told us a brief history of Davey Place and the building itself. We couldn’t work out definitively if this was the building we were seeking but felt happy at such a positive start to the walking tour.
When we arrived at the Guildhall, Ann went and asked for the keys so we could look around. http://www.heritagecity.org/index.htm . We gained access to the Council Chamber where, up until the completion of City Hall nearby in 1938, all civic matters were discussed. Three of our characters, Yallop, Herring and De Hague would have used these rooms. The Guildhall itself was also used as a collection point for taxes. Would the Land Tax have been collected door to door or would people have to go to the guildhall to pay over their money at quarterly intervals? The building itself is beautiful, however the Council Chamber rather empty. The walls should be covered with civic portraits which I believe at Blackfriars Hall / St Andrews Hall which we hope to visit next week.
One of our commissioners is Michael Bland and sites to visit in relation to him are thin on the ground. From the Guildhall we went to the Quaker Meeting House in Upper Goat Lane, Bland was a Quaker and we thought perhaps he may have spent time in the meeting house when he was in Norwich. In an earlier session with the group it had been revealed that gas lighting has been introduced into Norwich, we wondered if the light over the gateway might have been powered this way.
I was interested in how a walking tour can add to the historical research process. I asked the group and Mari who came along from the Parliamentary Archive for their responses: cementing what we have already found out, the visual impact of seeing a house or site prompts extra clues and thoughts about what to look at next in the archive.