Posted by: kbenoy | August 29, 2012

ARC Article

This month’s ARC magazine, the magazine of the Archives and Records Association features and article about the Taking Account of Our Past project.

ARC Article page 1

The story of this collection began in the 1980s when Liz Rees, the then Borough Archivist, enquired about the records of the Queen Square Syndicate, property developers who had funded the rebuilding of a shopping arcade in the centre of the town in 1907. The accountants were known to have been appointed as liquidators for the Syndicate and they still had all the records. It turned out that the accountants had a large volume of other records stored at their office, relating mostly to local businesses and families and this collection was deposited in various accessions between the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Over two decades later, the collection remained uncatalogued and, apart from a basic list of the Queen Square Syndicate material, a fairly unknown quantity. An application was made to the National Cataloguing Grants Scheme and funding was secured to hire a Cataloguing Archivist for 18 months to fully catalogue the collection. The funding bid included the use of a team of local volunteers to assist with the project and the creation of a project blog to publicise the work on the project.

As little was known about the content of the collection, the starting point was to create a box list to get some idea of the content and location of the records within the collection. It took a few weeks to list the contents of all 200+ boxes, but once this was complete it became clear that a quite complex cataloguing structure would be needed to make sense of the collection. The collection contained three clear sets of records; the internal records of the accountants themselves; records of client businesses; and records of client families or personal clients. The records were further divided through a flexible classification scheme used in house for business collections down to item level.

This collection is unusual as it contains records of a wide variety of businesses offering a snapshot of 20th century business history. The range of businesses represented in this collection includes small local businesses such as butchers, locksmiths and garages to national associations such as the British Wrought Iron Association and everything in between. The range of trades represented and the variety in types and sizes of business make this collection fascinating, and the volume of information available to researchers shows why this collection was deemed to have national importance.

ARC Article page 2

Volunteers were recruited from the Friends of the Archives, through volunteering networks and from the University of Wolverhampton, to assist with this project. The volunteers have provided knowledge and skills to assist with the research required to produce administrative histories for the 50-60 business represented within this collection. The sheer volume of work undertaken, over 1,000 hours so far, has added great value to the catalogue entries by providing in depth histories for the businesses. This work has supported the cataloguing by allowing the records to be viewed in context.

The volunteers have also supported other aspects of the project, including helping to physically rearrange and organise the collection during our closed fortnight. This was a huge undertaking as the records had never been sorted and had just been boxed as they came in, so they required finding, identifying, reboxing and labelling before being returned to the strong room in a more usable order. The volunteers have also been helping with some basic conservation tasks, mostly cleaning and packaging to prepare the more delicate records for cataloguing.

This project has been very lucky to receive some additional funding from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust to help pay for the conservation work required to make the collection fully accessible. Some of the records had been stored in damp conditions before being deposited at the Archive and as a result are in a very bad state. Many volumes have required extensive repair work to ensure they will be usable in the future.

A blog has been created for the project and is updated weekly with information on the project, the businesses represented, events, the work of the volunteers and conservation work. The blog seems to have been successful in offering a way of disseminating information about the project and in making a wider range of people aware of the records being catalogued. Enquiries have been received regarding some of the records being catalogued as a direct result of the blog. The blog also works as a project diary and has been a great way to track the stages of the project.

This collection is a fantastic resource for the Archive, containing as it does the details of a changing society and the changing nature of business over the 20th century. It has highlighted the importance of collecting records of local businesses within a Local Authority Archive and this has helped to strengthen depositor relations and encourage deposits from local businesses.



  1. Hi,
    Any chance there were records relating to THOM and CUTHBERTSON? I know my gt gf James Thom had a shop in the Arcade around 1907.

    • Hi Derek, I’m not aware of any records relating directly to Thom and Cuthbertson but the collection contains the minutes of the meetings of the Directors of the Queen Square Syndicate regarding the management of the Arcade so they may reference your relative. The catalogue entry for the Minute Book can be found here . Other options to research the business would include looking in Trade Directories, which are available to to peruse in our Searchroom.

  2. Many thanks Kimberley. I’ll try to follow it up. I may well end up depositing what little I have on the business with Wolverhampton Archives one day. I did locate a letter head on the BCH website.

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