There were fifteen seminar members who had travelled on a bitterly cold though sunny day from various parts of the country, even as far away as Preston. Five who had enrolled had been unable to make it through sickness or bad weather. Twelve had had to be refused because all places had already been filled. After coffee, Miss Joan Gibbs began her talk by identifying six reasons for the present interest in the archival material of (women’s) religious orders: – changing roles since Vatican II which have necessitated a good hard look at original founding documents. – centenaries and jubilees of different kinds, together with the demand for commemorative exhibitions and publicity. – movement of archives to/from General/Provincial level. – promotion of Causes for beatification. – growing number of requests for information from outside the Orders. – contemporary interest in the role of women in history.
She stressed the importance of practising archivists setting down their systems in some way so that another can take over, of their being au fait with what is going on in current administration, so as to benefit from any identification tools others may be discarding, of their establishing priorities within their work – priorities which will be forever shifting! The archivist’s basic task was identified as accessioning, arranging, listing, indexing. Miss Gibbs underlined her point by referring to the seventeenth century gentleman who identified the four great archival hazards as fire, water, rats and misplacing.
The question of conservation was raised more than once in the course of the day.
Sr. Winifred Wickins SHCJ gave the second lecture and speaking (with great feeling) from experience, laid bare with disarming simplicity some of the mistakes she had made and some of the lessons she had thereby learned. The imperatives were underlined – LABEL, LIST, INDEX – and we heard such pearls of wisdom as “Get on with the job rather than aim at perfecting” “Make sure your rough notes are legible and full” “Don’t hurt people’s feelings when you are offered potential museum items.”
At which point we broke off for lunch but discussion continued round the tables and was in fact a most valuable and much appreciated part of the day.
At 2 p.m., we set out with Miss Elisabeth Poyser for Archbishop’s House and the Westminster Archives. This visit proved to be the climax of this most rewarding day.
It wasn’t simply that we saw stacks, shelves and boxes, all labelled; or that we heard Miss Poyser’s account of her almost twenty year’s work at Westminster; or that we saw indexes and lists, correspondence, folders, piles of books, busts and portraits; it wasn’t even the thrill of seeing in the heavy, bound Guard Books the consultation in c.I509 “about the dowry of Catherine of Aragon settled in her marriage with Arthur Prince of Wales” or papers relating to the martyrdom of St.Edmund Campion in 1581 or the letter from Mary,Queen of Scots to Elizabeth I – it was the cumulative effect of all this plus so much more which was intangible, something indefinable which would possibly be described differently by each one.
Back then to Carlisle Place for tea and literally a round table forum! Discussions ranged over storage materials, binding, use of computers, school logbooks and hospital records, contacts with Local Record Offices and Museums.
Evaluation of our experience led to discussion of possible future venues. We had all found London convenient of access but we wondered whether others might be attracted if seminars were to be held in the North, West or Midlands. This was recommended to Sr.Marguerite-Andree’s attention as an avenue worth pursuing but whatever the outcome of that idea, the members of this “exchange of experience seminar” dispersed grateful and enriched by the support of renewed contacts, the professionalism of the input and the sheer joy of the experience.
Sister Campion McCarren FCJ
A further seminar was arranged for June 22nd when thirteen members including the honorary secretary and the honorary treasurer met at St. Vincent’s, Westminster, and over a welcome cup of coffee renewed or made acquaintance. The numbers attending were smaller than anticipated because five members who had enrolled were prevented from coming by sickness or pressure of work.
After coffee, an interesting, informative and helpful talk in two parts was given by Miss Joan Gibbs and Sister Winifred on the subject of setting about one’s task as an archivist. The first speaker dealt with the assembling and conservation of archive material (a term which is sometimes extended to cover artefacts – though the line should be drawn at tea-cosies!); the second outlined the labelling, listing and indexing that are virtually indispensable for the effective arrangement and retrieval of documents. A small display of ‘literature’ relating to these matters was on view throughout the day.
Although a few minutes were allowed for a buzz session between the two parts of the talk, it was mainly during the lunch break that experiences were shared informally.
The afternoon was given over to visiting the Westminster Diocesan Archives under the guidance of Miss Elisabeth Poyser and Miss Joan Gibbs. This was quite a thrilling experience and left one with a keen desire to see more of these remarkable traces of Catholicism in England under the Vicar’s Apostolic and the first Archbishops of Westminster.
It so happened that the date of the seminar coincided with the celebration at the Cathedral of the 50th anniversary of the canonisation of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More. Although unable to attend this celebration, we did get the feel of it, and were able to look at the commemorative booklet published in connection with this anniversary.
From Archbishop’s House we had a cup of tea over which little more information sharing took place before we went our separate ways to Ealing, Camden Town, Tunbridge Wells, Chelmsford, Bedford, Kenilworth, Prinknash and Newcastle!
Sister Anne Marie Davies