PAGES THROUGH TIME

What do Jack Hobbs, Lewis Car­roll, Lady Jane Grey, Barnes Wal­lis, Gertrude Jekyll and Wil­liam Gilpin have in com­mon? Steve Roberts goes be­hind the scenes at The Sur­rey His­tory Cen­tre, which cel­e­brates its 20th an­niver­sary this year, to find out

Surrey Life - - From The Archives - PHO­TOS: Mark Lewis

glass pan­els de­pict­ing his­tor­i­cal and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sub­jects, with ex­plana­tory text. The Heather D. Hawker Room has a col­lec­tion of O.S. maps, plus books, jour­nals and pam­phlets, with ta­bles and seat­ing for 24 re­searchers, plus mi­cro­film read­ers. There is a Sur­rey-wide data­base of tithe records, plus county, mano­rial and en­clo­sure maps, which are free to use.

The cen­tre’s out­ward-look­ing and in­clu­sive ethos was summed up for me by Lau­ren Stevens, the cen­tre’s events of­fi­cer. “We want to en­gage with our res­i­dents, but also with our di­verse com­mu­ni­ties, who’ve all con­trib­uted to Sur­rey’s his­tory,” she says. “We ac­tively en­gage with our lo­cal com­mu­nity, hold­ing events such as LGBT His­tory Cof­fee Evenings, Ro­many Day, our an­nual Show­case, and chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties in school hol­i­days. His­tory is for ev­ery­one and the range of ac­tiv­i­ties we pro­vide re­flects that.”

Han­nah Pot­ter, who has an ar­chae­ol­o­gist’s trowel and crit­i­cal eye, also likes to catch them young, with bud­ding ar­chae­ol­o­gists as young as four pitch­ing up. For Han­nah, ar­chae­ol­ogy is more multi-lay­ered than I had imag­ined. “It’s partly about the ca­ma­raderie. Our vol­un­teers love be­ing with like-minded peo­ple on the digs, and feel­ing that they’re con­tribut­ing to some­thing worth­while, such as the ex­ca­va­tion at Wit­ley Mil­i­tary Camp. We’re lucky to have this pur­pose­built build­ing, and to have ar­chae­ol­ogy and ar­chives un­der the same roof, which is so un­usual, but in­valu­able, as we work closely to­gether. Most of our finds go to lo­cal mu­se­ums, but some are added to our col­lec­tions here, which can be in­spected,

for ex­am­ple, by PHD stu­dents. We have a ‘Marvel of the Month’ at the cen­tre, and we like to see an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal find fea­tured!”

Men­tion of Camp Wit­ley fo­cused my mind on the First World War and the cen­te­nary of the end of that war, which we’ll soon com­mem­o­rate. Imo­gen Mid­dle­ton project of­fi­cer for the Sur­rey in the Great War: A County Re­mem­bers project, says: “Our aim is to dis­cover and share the sto­ries of peo­ple and places con­nected to Sur­rey, on the Home Front. Mem­bers of the pub­lic, vol­un­teers and re­searchers have un­earthed some won­der­ful sto­ries for us, all avail­able to ex­plore on our project web­site. We’ve al­ready re­ceived ma­te­rial from fam­i­lies whose an­ces­tors fought in the war, in­clud­ing trin­kets and pho­tographs from as far afield as Tur­key and In­dia. This re­flects how in­ter­na­tional the war re­ally was, as Sur­rey’s ser­vice­men and women found them­selves all over the world: Africa, the Mid­dle East and In­dia. We’ve even had de­scen­dants of Sur­rey sol­diers, and Bri­tish Red Cross nurses, con­tact us from Aus­tralia and Canada.”

Of course, all this ma­te­rial needs stor­ing. County Ar­chiv­ist Mike Page joined in 1989, when the Record Of­fice was in Kingston, and has the heady re­spon­si­bil­ity of lead­ing the cat­a­logu­ing, con­serv­ing and car­ing for the wealth of ar­chives. “We re­ceive around 250 new ac­ces­sions a year, which can be any­thing from a sin­gle doc­u­ment to a van load,” he says. “One of our re­cent ac­qui­si­tions was a set of let­ters from Lady Mary Wal­lis (née Blox­ham), the wife of Barnes Wal­lis, the bounc­ing bomb in­ven­tor, who lived in Eff­in­g­ham. We prob­a­bly have space for an­other 10 years of ac­qui­si­tions, al­though that could change if we have too many lorry loads rolling up! Hav­ing re­ceived all this valu­able ma­te­rial, our chal­lenge is to strike a balance be­tween con­ser­va­tion and ac­cess for the many peo­ple want­ing to see it.”

If you fancy look­ing your­self, The Great Sur­rey Her­itage Show, a free drop-in event will be held at the cen­tre on Sat­ur­day Oc­to­ber 20 from 10:30am to 3:30pm. As well as a 70th an­niver­sary ex­hi­bi­tion, there’ll be the chance to go be­hind the scenes to see those miles of shelv­ing.

Web: sur­r­eycc.gov.uk/her­itageevents. Tel: 01483 518737

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