In the Archive and Study Centre

PETT eNewsletter 37. December 11, 2018. THANKYOU!


Craig writes:

Last Saturday was one of those exciting, rewarding days in the Archive. Let me explain.

 When I'm on the phone, I write notes, on old envelopes or A4 sheets of paper, which I reuse again and again. I duly save them as priceless records of conversations, but once off my desk they are largely meaningless even to me: phone numbers without context, names, orphaned details, dates and notes are scrawled over one another in all directions in whatever pencil or pen was handy.

 Let me also explain, that when we went from just under 4 full time people to one part- time person (me) at the beginning of 2013, the filing system irretrievably clogged. We went from four inch plumbing down to half inch overnight, with - despite the best efforts of Gemma, Chris and Matt to clear computers and files before they left - the inevitable result. To which I have since added. All those years of austerity and lone-working leading up to our 2010-2013 profusion in staffing didn't help either!

So - I am desperate to leave as clean draining a system for my successors as I can, paper and digital. And with that in mind, one of my major tasks over recent weeks - with the help of Maureen and Helen - has been to tackle that five years plus austerity-legacy build-up of "I'll file this later" paper. I've burned two large black bags of stuff already, and filled five archive boxes, and can just about see the possibility of completing. Next comes the digital; but hold those bin-bound scrawled notes in mind.

Friday: An email comes in. The daughter of a former Shotton Hall child. They've been to see it. He'd really like to see his file. They'd like to know more about Shotton Hall. She gives me his name, and I look, but there's nothing. Well, he might be in some of the photographs salvaged by some wonderful staff member from the skip, when so much else was lost; but we don't have his file. I suggest things they could do, including perhaps some oral history; but I'm deeply disappointed. It's a longish email, partly as an attempt to assuage the feeling I've let them down. I go back to sorting. More goes into the bin. I pick up one of the scrawled pages of notes - pencil -, and her father's name leaps out.

 What are the chances?

 To cut a long story short, among the names scrawled on the telephone-note paper was the Shotton old boy who had phoned me who knows how long ago; but I know it was a long phone call, because I've written just the one conversation - no overwriting -, on both sides of the A4 paper. Excitingly, there is an email address which I'm pleased to say I read correctly. I get in touch. "Good heavens" comes the reply. "He's been listed missing". I put them in contact with one another. And then the doorbell rings and Paul Griffith arrives (see "New on the website: The Final Researcher"). What a Saturday! What an archival high!


Over the past months there have been a lot of Saturdays, Sundays and evenings as we head to hand our keys in (on December 18th). There are an awful lot of threads to wind in. Among those finally completed: a months-on-months old promise to visit a Bodenham Old Boy, with promised material which might include things about him; the oft put-off visit of the man who becomes the Final Researcher; the even more oft put-off visit from Maarten Massa and Nele from Belgium, over for a short weekend, to listen to Ian Milne's "Leonard Cohen at the Henderson Hospital" recording. And then there has been 'field work' - a visit to a Henderson Hospital event in Tower Hamlets, with former residents and staff of the world-famous pioneering therapeutic community, taking some Henderson Hospital material with me.

 And Archive Weekends! - Following up Tower Hamlets, and ten years after the Henderson Hospital traumatically closed, an energetic and incredibly well-organised working party of former residents and staff spent two days with us, in an inspiring display of enduring community even among people meeting for the first time! There was also our Final Caldecott Community Archive Weekend! AND a New Barns Weekend devoted to sleeving and identifying photographs, with individual follow-up visits, followed by another full Archive Weekend Day, the last under PETT.

 There have been cross-country drives, to pick up additional archives for collections already here: A short one over the Cotswolds to pick up Claire Baron's research notes for 'Asylum to Anarchy' (see "New on the Website"). A longer one to Cambridge, for additional diaries and notebooks in the David H. Clark Collection. Another, down and across London to the inspirational Elly Jansen, and more of the extraordinary archives she holds. Taking a small van full of records back to the Cassel Hospital, which our ongoing audit showed didn't belong here.

 And more field and home work, of course: Recording the Madeleine Davis Memorial Lecture for the Squiggle Foundation in London. Spending an intense hour at the end of August glued to the computer as the Guest Host for the Archive and Records Association's monthly #ArchiveHour on Twitter, covering hybrid archives (archives with both conventional and digital collections) and charity archives all-together. Hosting a visit from Les Spencer, friend, colleague and biographer of the late Australian therapeutic community pioneer Neville Yeomans - recording many hours of fascinating and important memories. Hosting a visit from visiting PETT Fellow Carolyn Mears, over from the United States, fresh from speaking at the Windsor Conference, and reflecting on the past and future. Preparing for and taking part in the November 24th Final Community/Stakeholder Bash. Burning CDs and sending out recordings to interviewees. Driving back to Cambridge to pick up more archives, and to take part in the Quaker celebration for the life of our great friend Sheila Gatiss, as spoken about above.

 And, of course, all the preparation for a good transition which is going on here. Two meetings with John Turberville, at one of which was Caryn Onions - warm people, who care a great deal.

 Standing back, watching the massive amount of work Jen is doing as assistant archivist, using her two days a week to survey and aggregate all the collections, dealing with arising issues (e.g., mould, and mysteries and anomalies to be solved at every turn), and working the attendant documentation into its best shape, helped one day a week by the irreplaceable Debra Lyons.

 Meetings, and much much much to be done by all of us in the week that is left.

 Personally - sorting and doing everything else that needs to be done - , I am surrounded by a deep sense of gratitude for having been given the privilege over the past 30 years of initiating and helping to build a very special resource, and of meeting, knowing, and working with and for so many generous and enlivening people. To serve such a unique and continually unfolding community has been a rare gift, with special depths and surprises. Thankyou! May the archivists who come after me be so lucky!


Given the depths of relationships over the years, one of the questions I am currently fielding is "how will we stay in touch?" If you don't have my home email address, and if I get my act together, my personal website should always link back to me.

 But let me close my part in this history by saying a personal Thank You, in addition to that which is coming to you from PETT and all the PETT Team. Thank you. Thank our current Fellows, Shama Parkhe and Carolyn Mears, and their predecessors. Thank our Patron, Prof. Barbara Gold Taylor, and her belief in what we do. Thank our many Trustees over the years. Thank our many colleagues, donors, friends, researchers, communities, networks, present and gone, for all you have done and all you do. It has been a huge privilege. Thankyou!