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
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