Day in the life of an archive volunteer

Claire Young, who has been volunteering at Winterbourne for over a decade, gives us an insight into her work, from her very first day to the present.

I’ve been a volunteer in the archive group at Winterbourne for over ten years, joining the original team when extra help was needed to transcribe several of Margaret Nettlefold’s travel diaries. The first notebook I worked on covered the period from 1898 -1907. There were a variety of journeys; sometimes social, sometimes work-related, and sometimes to take the children away from Birmingham to recover from illness.

There are notes about the annual family holidays, using the railways to visit rented houses in Norfolk, Suffolk or Devon. These trips often lasted up to six weeks, although John Nettlefold might travel back to Birmingham during the week. The family’s nannies also travelled with them and often stayed on longer with the younger children:

1899 Sheringham

Left home June 1

Self & John, 2 nurses, 3 children

C/o Mrs …, Jervis House

Small lodgings – very clean – nice woman, but cooking very poor.

Weather glorious & spent almost all time outside on the shore.

Children had their bathing suits & spent several hours sitting in the warm pools of the sand.

I stayed 3 weeks – but the children stayed 5.

Margaret and John also took annual winter or spring journeys to a number of different areas of Europe, and Cooks travel services were mentioned several times. On a trip to Sicily in 1901, they went by train from Birmingham to London to connect with the boat train to France. Another train took them from Paris to northern Italy where they joined a steamer to Naples and Palermo. More train travel was experienced in Sicily, with many early starts to visit the ancient Greek sites:

The “Segesta Day” at last. A ghastly early getting up at 4.30. The beauties of a big hotel, we missed getting any café’ au lait to start on, but partook of a sandwich & wine in the train instead. Left Palermo (Lolli) at 5.45. Sun about rising – cold & grey- cloud hanging about the mountains all day – passed through Il Conco di ‘Oro, behind Monte Pellegrino, through very rich cultivated coast country with steep crags behind. Reached Castellamare on the sea shore at 8 & found our pack horse carriage waiting for us, with amiable driver & friend in attendance. Lovely view of gulf of Castellamare as we wound slowly up the hill & inland. Sun shone out bright & warm. Drive of 2 hrs inland to Temple of Segesta. Most stony road I ever saw.

Friday April 5

These diaries provided information and photographs about the Nettlefold family for an exhibition – ‘Child’s Lives’ – based at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (2012).

The Winterbourne archive has recently become the home of the University’s historical Herbarium. At the moment, I’m transcribing a notebook from a local man, Donald Mathews, who kept notes of his observations of wildflowers and birds in the Redditch area from 1870 to around 1910.

During May 1878 he listed 82 different plant species, mainly around Rowney Green, Ipsley, Lickey, Beoley and the banks of the River Arrow. Most are noted as ‘frequent’ or ‘abundant,’ but hart’s-tongue fern, black-stalked spleenwort, grass vetch, corn gromwell, and Venus’ comb are listed as ‘rare’. The handwriting can be difficult to decipher and some of the Latin names have changed as plants and birds were reclassified over time. At the end of the notebook there is an undated entry:

Frost all the week … Birds dying already, found a Lark, Starling, Hedge Accentor dead. A Robin comes regularly to be fed at the breakfast window accompanied by a colony of Sparrows. The Sparrows feed freely & fast but the Stupid Robin picks up a crumb now & then devoting most of its time to fighting the sparrows. The Sparrow shows much more intellect, perching on the spot while something alarms him, but before going away always snatches one of the largest pieces carrying it away to a retreat, on the other hand the Robin never carries anything away, the Accentor never carries anything away but does not fly away when the sparrows do at the least alarm, but remains feeding until he is actually disturbed.

November 2

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