ASC Youth Panelist, Phoebe, blogs about first ‘Stamback in Time’ Session
When we arrived at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), we were ushered into a large, bright room. I instantly noticed rows of neatly arranged historical documents and photos laid out on the tables pushed to the perimeter of room. Most of them appeared to date back to WWII, giving a strong clue that we would be looking at Winston Churchill.
We were introduced to Tom Furber from the LMA, who was friendly and well informed about the archives. After receiving a quick briefing of the day’s timetable, the Tom asked us to give the definition of the word, ‘archive’. After selecting some people with their hands up, the group reached the consensus that an archive was an old and historical document. And we were correct. Tom elaborated by informing us about the material used; parchment. This was shocking not only because I discovered parchment was animal skin but moreover because it was not paper, like we initially thought would be used.
We quickly relocated into a dimly lit room about forgotten London. The room was really cool. The dark lights gave an eerie vibe and the multiple corners meant there were always new dimensions to explore. All the information was implanted on the walls creating a seamless appearance. Everything was about buildings that once existed but had since been destroyed or demolished. We were given a task to go to pick one of the buildings that stood out to us and feed back to the group. I was excited because it was an opportunity to present to a group plus any passers-by that happened to be listening in. Personally, I was fascinated by the Devil Acre, a notorious slum, close to Westminster Abbey. The conditions were so vile the slum was discussed in the Charles Dickens book ‘Household Words’. The area later became the focus of a new movement of social housing that displaced the slum with social housing estates, which still exist today.
We passed through the library and were informed of the strict regulations in using historical documents, archives. These documents were not allowed to be used outside the LMA and users had to fill in a ticket, which separated into two copies. One for the individual using it and another placed in the position of shelf from which the archive was removed. This ensured the archive was returned to the right place. Tom likened it to the catalogue system in Argo’s. Unlike Argo’s, however, the archives would not be taken home.
We went down a multitude of stairs and locked doors until we arrived at what felt like the bottom floor. It was where all the archives were stored. The room was cool, which was a vast difference from the sweltering heat upstairs. The room was clean and organised with archives arranged in ceiling-high shelves. There were many rooms like this, filled with shelves of archives. So much so that if all the archives were lined up horizontally it would be the distance of London to Brighton. We had lots of opportunity to ask questions along the way. I inquired about how the archives were preserved and whether any chemicals were used in the process, especially since some documents were close to 1000 years old. Tom said the archives were preserved by storing at optimal temperatures and humidity, as well as monitoring pest levels with sticky traps. There were few windows to minimise sunlight. This was because sunlight contained aging UV lights would effectively quicken up the disintegration process.
Lunch was sandwiches and salads from Pret a Manger. Plus, nibbles like biscuits and fruit. During lunch, we talked about everything from University to the World Cup and everyone felt included. After lunch we returned to the same large, bright room as before to do the last couple of activities. We were split into groups of four each and had to arrange facts about Winston Churchill in order of year and date. It required team work, positivity and good analysis of the data provided (especially for cards with the same year but different months). Despite some of us not having a history background, my team were triumphant in the end. Some of the cards were related to speeches given by Churchill, which we then watched on YouTube. It was very fascinating to hear this great auditor speak. Zain pointed out the interesting fact that Churchill did not stammer in any of his speeches.
We finally got a chance to look at the archives laid out on the table. Much of which were from the WWII era. We looked at everything from ration books, evacuation orders, maps of bomb destruction areas, to a poster illustrating the dress code of a ‘Nippy’ waitress. A few of us, were surprised at the happy-go-lucky language used in the evacuation orders. For example, “smile, smile, smile”, which contrasted greatly with the bleak reality of that time period. There were archives that rung familiar to me, such as the photo of hundreds of soldiers lined up at Dunkirk, a story recently converted into a 3-time Oscar-winning film by Christopher Nolan.
In closing, we returned to the PowerPoint used in the briefing. It showed the journey had only begun with plenty more famous people and historical figures with a history of stammering to learn about. For example, King George IV, Ed Sheeran, Ed Balls and Emily Blunt. There was more exciting news when we were apprised of the possibility of some these famous people coming to future meetings. The day was wonderful. It was different from the usual meeting in the Tonic offices and reminisced of those fun school trip memories that everyone has.
by Phoebe of the ASC Youth Panel
Stamback in Time is funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund, in partnership with the London Metropolitan Archives. For more information on the project please visit our Stamback in Time page.