Around and about
In historical and archive circles there is an accepted convention that researchers must place themselves within the era and context of the document being explored. This probably helps to mitigate against feelings of shock and horror about how things were (for example living and working conditions). In the group on Thursday, Wendy spent time reading about the major occurrences in Norwich, and beyond during, 1821 and some years either side. George IV’s coronation was in this year (most famous perhaps in creative and architectural circles as the person who commissioned the extension and decoration of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton).
At this time there was a proliferation of literature with Shelley, Keats, Scott and Byron all active with Constable producing the Hay Wain depicting a rural idyll. However in contrast 1821 was a time of agricultural difficulty. In the Norfolk Annals covering this year, there are records of petitions to Parliament being discussed about the harsh agricultural situation. Practically, there were moves to introduce gas lighting to Norwich and further afield the Manchester Guardian and the Sunday Times were founded in 1821 and 1822 respectively.
How such information finds its way into the artwork I will produce is unknown to me at this point. This is how it should be, as the process of working with the group, uncovering information and mapping it all is essential before the editing and construction processes of the artwork begins.
While some of the group were exploring The Friars Society, one of the history detectives, Patricia and Laura from the Parliamentary archive explored a series of documents related to Michael Bland. Bland has been described in some notes compiled by the Parliamentary Archive as being ‘a Quaker, a brewer and businessman. He was at the cutting edge of business, showing an interest in the newly emerging South American opportunities of the 1820’s’.
The current Quaker meeting house in Norwich was built in 1826 and may form part of our walking tour of Norwich that we will undertake later in October.
The Friends are described on the Norfolk Quakers website as having ‘absolute standards of probity and fairness in business brought many of them wealth and influence and their identity with scientific and medical research was matched by their concern for social reform and education’ which links them with the activities of the Society of United Friars but it seems that Herring wasn’t a member, but I’ll probably need to check this.
There were some comments from the group that Bland is not the most exciting of characters but there are indications that he wasn’t that active in Norwich at the time we are exploring so perhaps there may be further information in the parliamentary archive which we will visit at the end of the month.
We gathered again last Thursday at the Norfolk Record Office to further explore documents from the strong room. Each document is related to the Land Act Tax and the five selected commissioners who were selected to be explored in further depth. The five commissioners we are exploring are Michael Bland, Elisha De Hague, John Harrison Yallop, Phillip Meadows Martineau and William Herring. Some of these names are very familiar around Norwich.
All the commissioners were involved in civic duties as elected Aldermen, Sheriffs and some as Mayors. Two of the group De Hague and Herring also belonged to the Society of United Friars. Elaine, one of the History Detectives spent the day exploring this quasi monastic group which met for the promotion of intellectual culture and social fellowship. Taking visual and procedural processes from monastic orders each member of the group would adopt the dress from a specific order. Initially formed in 1785, it later expanded its focus to include large scale charitable relief in the form of soup kitchens. The ‘books of transactions’, records of committee and conclave meetings regularly feature De Hague’s name and later Herring also.
The notes are fascinating and the group were interested in both local and national developments in the arts and literature but also in progressive social reform. There is an entry which details information about the Robert Owens developments at New Lanark. His advanced systems of factory management and balancing of profitable business practices with workforce care, providing opportunities for education and development were innovative to say the least. These types of developments must have been of interest to the group in Norwich given the variety of factories within the city at the time. http://www.newlanark.org/robertowen.shtml
Meeting the History Detectives
This commission is a Connecting Communities and Arts in Parliament project. In 2009 a group of people from Norwich came together under the name of the History Detectives to explore the Land Tax Act of 1821 and specifically five of the commissioners from Norwich responsible for the administration of the tax. This project brings some of those original researchers back together with some new members to re-visit documents, refresh memories and reconsider the documents in both the Norfolk Record Office and Parliamentary Archives.
So yesterday we met one another in the first group session of the project. I gave a brief introduction to my work focusing on the projects where I have used historical research as a starting point. This will be the first time I have worked with images of material from this date.
The group are very enthusiastic and thoroughly enjoyed looking at the documents we ordered up in advance from the strong room. To start the visual process I asked the group to work on a timeline, mapping the historical material. We will add to this map each week and it will form the basis for me to develop the final digital artwork.
I’m looking forward to next week when we look at further documents and start to plan site visits around Norwich.
I have taken a number of photographs of the marks on the documents and in the books I have been looking at.
Ownership, catalogue classification and references have been recorded in different ways over time, each offers a different aesthetic. The punched logo is my favorite by far but I can take an educated guess that this practice is no longer used. I always thought it was a shame when the library introduced automated book issue and stopped stamping books with return dates. The record of how many people have borrowed a book is no longer visually present.
Art practice takes me places I can never predict, admittedly seeing Horatio Nelson’s signature wasn’t on any to do list but nevertheless I felt very privileged as I unfolded a letter written by him and read its courteous content (about being offered the freedom of the city of Norwich) and viewed his beautiful handwriting and signature.
With this in mind I was looking through a copy of Creative Review the other day and found a rather wonderful project: Hand Written Letter Project, which is about just that, the importance of hand written letters in the age of digital communication. Check out the website for examples and if you want to send your own letter to the projects originator there is an opportunity to do so.
I am being diligent and now have a recording method for information about each photograph I take, so I know which document the image is of. This will likely be very useful when I come to work on the final digital artwork that I will produce at the end of the residency.