Archives and History News: First World War commemorations and child abuse cover-ups in the archives

Of all the First World War commemorations happening at the moment, this is the loveliest: a sea of 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for every British soldier killed in the conflict, pouring of of the Tower of London.

Commemorative art installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’

There’s also a giant column of light going on in London, but I don’t really approve of that. Sure, it’s all modern and groovy and interactive, but it’s too reminiscent of Albert Speer’s ‘Cathedral of Light’ at Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies, and also makes me think uncomfortably of alien invasions or batman. I don’t think it’s a very appropriate way to commemorate war. Mind you, the official speeches have given us plenty of wittering about those who died for our freedom, which is a total joke – the whole tragedy of the First World War was that it was completely pointless, and pretending it was all about ‘freedom’ is just trying to minimise the horror.

‘Spectra’ – even the name sounds sci-fi

For people who want some education with their commemoration, The Imperial War Museum has also just re-opened it’s shiny new First World War galleries.

If all this war and killing isn’t making you gloomy enough at the moment, there have been some awful things going on in the archives. The recent operation Yewtree, prosecuting celebrity child abusers from the 1970s including Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris, has opened a whole can of worms about historic child abuse cases. The BBC delves into case files in the National Archives, showing how little concern those in charge had about abuse in care homes in the past. 

Nobody actually wears gloves to take a box off a shelf, but never mind…

More recently, during the 1980s, MP Geoffrey Dickens handed a file about a possible child abuse ring at Westminster to the Home Secretary Leon Brittan. Apparently it has since been ‘lost’ or destroyed. I think this shows how seriously the Home Office took their duty to protect the most vulnerable members of society from horrific crimes, versus how seriously they took covering their asses. In fact, 114 files relating to historic child abuse have been ‘lost’ or destroyed by the Home Office.  Meanwhile,in Jersey, an investigation into historic child abuse has been hampered because records were destroyed ‘to make space’.  

Yes, it IS rather difficult to illustrate this story…

It’s impossible to know whether this is a cover-up, spectacular mismanagement of the records, or just lack of transparency. The Guardian article says most of the missing files “appear to have contained correspondence from MPs either asking about government policy or on behalf of constituents [...] these would normally have been destroyed after two years under the file destruction policy of the time.” In other words, they were ephemeral correspondence files that were quite correctly destroyed in accordance with a sensible records retention schedule. But the fact that the’re not really sure, and that some historical allegations appear not to have been followed up, casts doubts. This shows how important it is to be scrupulously careful about record-keeping, especially on sensitive subjects. Blogger Lawrence Serewicz expresses this eloquently in a post about parallels between the Shaw report into historic child abuse in Scottish care homes and the Jimmy Saville case, saying: “Without archives, our collective memory will become captive to the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable.” Amen to that.

Happy one-year blogoversary to me!

Today marks one year since I started this blog!

Happy birthday to!

Thanks to everyone who’s been following my ‘rather peculiar blog’, in the words of one reader.

In case you missed them, here are my ‘greatest hits’ from the past year:

Mysteries of the Mind 1: Mesmer’s Miraculous Magnetism

Animal Magnetism

Mysteries of the Mind 2: Mesmerism Mania in Britain - hundreds of people have read these posts. I suppose that’s because mesmerism is really wierd and fascinating!

Heroes of History: Grace Darling - this post is read by about a hundred people a month – I suspect they’re all GCSE students doing their research. I hope they get a good mark!!!

Image from the RNLI museum

How to Get Admitted to a Victorian Lunatic Asylum – again it’s the darker side of history that people love, and this was my chance to set the record straight on all those myths about asylums.

V0029708 Photograph: portraits of three female


Archives and History News: Glastonbury Festival, women in the First World War, and sound recordings!

Glastonbury festival has gradually moved from from hippy counter-culture to mainstream middle-class staple. The V&A now keeps an archive about Glastonbury, the final nail in the counter-culture coffin. Glastonbury is dead. Long live Glastonbury!

An image from the V&A’s Glastonbury archive

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Heroes of History: Thomas Wakley

Have you ever gone to hospital for an operation and wondered whether your surgeon had any kind of training? Ever wondered whether your baby’s food is poisonous? Ever wondered whether coroners actually know anything about the causes of the causes of death, or whether they just make something up? No?? Say thank you to Thomas Wakley – boxer, surgeon, editor, coroner, MP, and one of the nineteenth century’s greatest heroes!!  Continue reading

Archives and History News: Andy Warhol, Sinn Fein, Jeff Beck, Aboriginal photography, Mussolini and the LAPD!!

Digital art by Andy Warhol

The archives world is very concerned with digital obsolescence. This may seem like an obscure topic, but it’s one that’s increasingly going to affect our lives. In 1985 Andy Warhol created some digital artworks and saved them on Amiga disks. After a painstaking 3-year project, they’ve now been recovered from that obsolete data format. That’s not a problem you have to worry about with art on canvas. Continue reading

News: genealogy and gin

I have an article out in the June issue of Family Tree Magazine, all about eighteenth century hospital records, specifically maternity records, and how to use them in genealogy research. It’s a great issue, with features on Victorian fatherhood, tracing your police ancestors, the bawdy courts, asylum handicrafts, the First World War, and more!

Yes - I am drinking a gin cocktail from a shoe!

Yes – I am drinking a gin cocktail from a shoe!

Last Wednesday I went on an incredible Gin Journey with a company called Shake, Rattle and Stir. For the princely sum of £50 we were taken on a chauffeur-driven tour of five fabulous and hard to find London bars, tasted 5 samples of artisanal gin, and drank five incredible gin cocktails, while learning all about the history and production of this wonderfully English spirit. Much of that knowledge has mysteriously faded away from mind… but I can tell you that gin is simply vodka flavoured with juniper (and other botanicals), and that a mere ten gin and tonics will be enough to prevent you getting malaria!

The ultimate gin and tonic - exclusive to the Gin Journey!

The ultimate gin and tonic – exclusive to the Gin Journey!

Archives and History News: Beer, Einstein’s mistakes, vegetarians and justice for Jewish families.

Here’s what you’ve all been waiting for: the which archivist are you? quiz. If you can find a more obscure quiz, let me know!

Archives – perfectly represented by an acid-free box

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