Explore Your Archive: A Week in Pictures
This year, Coventry Archives participated in #ExploreYourArchive week! This is a national social media campaign aiming to raise awareness about the treasures that can be found in archives, special collections and record offices. Far from being dusty, neglected places, archives are constantly growing and evolving – whether that’s through research, digitisation or new donations. In the case of Coventry, our collections document a unique, dynamic city with history dating back to the medieval era.
The Explore Your Archive ‘Focus Week’ ran over 9 days, from the 28 November to the 6 December, with a different theme for each day. We delved into our collections, discovering everything from the personal photo album of a suffragette, to Belgrade Theatre programmes. In case you missed our social media updates, we’ve listed them all in this blog post, along with reference numbers so that you can explore the items yourselves.
Maps and Plans - Monday 28 November
For the first theme, maps and plans, we’re touching on Coventry’s unique and tragic history.
We recently marked 82 years since Coventry was bombed during the Blitz, on the 14 November 1940. This was the single most concentrated attack on a British City in WW2.
This map from our collections shows the extent of the damage – with areas shown in red either partially or completely destroyed.
Reference Number: CCD/AP/1/62/2
Time - Tuesday 29 December
You’d have no trouble telling the time in nineteenth-century Coventry thanks to the booming watchmaking business. By the 1880s, there were over 3,500 watch workers in the city. They had workshops called ‘topshops’ situated on the top floor of their houses.
This document is a Freeman’s Oath for James Fenton, a watchmaker living in Bishop Street Ward in 1814. You could become a Freeman if you had completed a 7-year-long apprenticeship. This earned you special rights to land, trading and defending the honour of the city.
You can search our microfilm Freeman’s Register here at Coventry Archives!
Reference Number: BA/C/17/23/3
Beards - Wednesday 30 November
When you search ‘beard’ in our catalogue, the top result is an 1875 photo album that once belonged to Annie Fridlander. Annie was a women’s suffrage activist, and the daughter of Alfred Fridlander, a watchmaker and founder of the Jewish Synagogue.
We do not know who the bearded men are in these photographs, but perhaps they knew Annie personally. The photo album is decorated with beautiful gold foliage around its edges and a buckle. Who knows what you may discover in our archives?
Reference Number: PA1861/3/24/1
Throwback - Thursday 1 December
Did you know: from 1894, part of Coventry Archives was kept in the ‘Muniment Room’ at St Mary’s Guildhall?
This was purpose-built to hold council records, and was used up until 2009 when all of our collections were permanently moved to the Herbert Art Gallery. You can visit the Muniment Room in the beautiful, newly renovated Guildhall just a few doors down from us!
(photo from Coventry City Council, via flickr)
Party - Friday 2 December
For today’s #ExploreYourArchive theme of ‘party’ we think there’s no better location than Coventry, with our annual Godiva procession. This has been a tradition since the seventeenth century, and in 1951, there was an extra special celebration as part of the Festival of Britain.
100 applicants tried out for the role of Lady Godiva, and the spot went to Ann Wrigg, a TV and theatre actor. Find out more in our Discovering Godiva gallery!
Reference Number: PA2137/6
News- Saturday 3 December
Today’s #ExploreYourArchive theme of ‘news’ is well-represented in our collection of newspapers, available as originals, microfilm or on the British Newspaper Archive database. Our oldest newspaper is the Coventry Mercury, starting from 1747.
More information about the Coventry Mercury can be found here.
Languages – Sunday 4 December
For the #ExploreYourArchive theme of ‘languages’, we want to celebrate Coventry’s diversity. This 1984 pamphlet is an educational guide to Panjabi, the second-most spoken language in the West Midlands.
The guide uses pictures to familiarise learners with Panjabi words and scripts – can you spot the Coventry elephant?
The author, J. N. Nagra, calls this guide ‘an exciting intellectual adventure’. Why not see what else you can learn in our extensive pamphlet collection?
Reference Number: PA2600/2/15
Humour - Monday 5 December
Here’s a bit of humour – a programme for ‘Half in Earnest’, a musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy. This was performed in 1958 for the grand opening night of the Belgrade Theatre.
Find out more about the Belgrade’s history in our dedicated Research Guide.
Reference Number: PA2275/2/1
Your Archive - Tuesday 6 December
#ExploreYourArchive week has come to an end. We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing sneak peeks of our collections, which range from the medieval Borough Archives to the online Coventry Digital. For our final post, here is Archive Assistant Francesca’s favourite section – the George Eliot collection.
Eliot was an author born in Nuneaton in 1819, and lived in Coventry for several years. These beautiful first editions date from 1860.
What’s your favourite part of Coventry Archives?
Reference Number: GE (George Eliot Collection)
Exploring Our Archive
The posts above show just a miniscule fraction of the thousands of documents we have stored in our archive – three basements worth! While some of these items we featured in the Focus Week were already known to us, others were completely new, showing that archives are always full of surprises. Any of these items can be requested and viewed in our Research Room free of charge. We just ask that you book an appointment and let us know at least 24 hours in advance of your visit which materials you would like to see.
We are open every Wednesday to Friday, from 10:30 – 3:30. You can browse our catalogue here and book an appointment by emailing email@example.com. And if you’d like to see even more behind the scenes, we hold guided tours of the reading room, research room and the underground archive space! These are available to book here for £5 per person.