Clent History Society contributes to National Archives project

Last year committee member Margaret Hathaway, enjoyed a reception at the House of Lords, a reception held to recognise the success of a project which involved cataloguing correspondence, to the Poor Law Commissioner, held at the National Archives, Kew, with a view to making the information more readily available and more easily accessible. (Members will already know something of this project from their newsletters.)

The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 led to parishes being grouped together and made provision for assistance to the poor to be delivered via a workhouse where the conditions were intended to be such that application for relief would be a last resort. The National Archives holds the correspondence which gives a very complete picture of all that went on but, up until now, it has been very difficult to access and use. The only way it could be used was for people to attend Kew in person and call up volumes with no more than the name of the union and the dates covered. Then they could battle, at length, with the handwriting of the letters to the Commission and the scribbled annotations and drafts of the replies.

Volunteers from 22 unions from Northumberland to Cornwall and from Wales to Norfolk have worked to make the 126,000 pages of an initial 105 volumes, key word searchable*. Clent is a part of Bromsgrove Union, who were lucky enough to be part of the project.

Local historians can now sit at home and search the Kew archives from their own computer. You can, for example, search for names of people or places, or maybe explore diet, prices paid for goods, standards of medical care, deaths, schooling, the nail industry and/or anything of interest. If it looks interesting you can then call up a digitally scanned image of the original document (Access to the images is free). If it is not what you were looking for then you can move on to the next one. All of this from the comfort of your armchair! No ordering of volumes. No worrying about train times. No expensive trips to Kew!

Margaret hopes to be able to demonstrate her work at the next history day in 2012 but in the meantime why not begin your own exploration of the National Archives?

If you are fired up with enthusiasm you might also consider volunteering to assist with the cataloguing. The initial project has now run out of funding but the British Association for Local History was so excited by the amazing resources unlocked by this work that they are working with the National Archives to bid for further monies to cover more work for the midlands area! Please contact us and we will keep you informed of developments. It is hoped that a meeting might take place in August.

[*A key word search brings up each document in which that word appears, together with a description of the item and a summary of its contents.]

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