On the Beat Exhibition 2014

Police the Records with us!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

One of our biggest and exciting up-and-coming projects at the museum is our WW1 Police Records project ‘On the beat: Stories from 1914-1918’. We’ve been discussing it on Twitter for a while, but we wanted to let you to know a little more about what is going on, and what is coming up!

On the 16 January our Curator, Sarah, gave a brilliant free lecture about the project along with Nick Connell from Hertfordshire Archive and Local Studies (HALS). We are working in partnership with HALS on this project. The lecture was a great success and many of those who attended were really excited at the prospect of volunteering and getting involved with research.

But what exactly is the project all about?

Well basically the whole project centres around an amazing a collection of police records from the local area dated between 1841-1919. HALS acquired some of these records back in 1992 in rather tragic circumstances; the records had been left on the doorstep of Harlow Museum in the rain and were severely water damaged (not to mention suffering from mould and pest infestation….). In 1996 Bishops Stortford Museum then acquired the rest of the documents, which were in a similarly poor condition. The whole collection now totals 102 volumes and thirteen bundle of loose papers and miscellaneous documents.

Police records from the collections (Image Copyright 2012 HALS)

The collection is truly amazing as it includes all manner of documents such as occurrence books, incidence logs, charge sheets and constables’ journals. A set of records like this, which gives a true picture of life in Bishops Stortford and the surrounding area during the period, is extremely rare. We believe that only West Sussex Record Office has a comparable collection of documents covering the First World War, so we are really lucky to hold such a rare insight into life in the town from before, and during, WW1.

Because this material is so special, we want to make sure we can use it to its fullest and make it accessible to everyone. Our first major problem however, is the state of the records themselves. Being left in the wet really took its toll on them, as you can see below, so before we can use them, they need to be conserved.

Record showing the damage caused by wet conditions (Image Copyright 2012 HALS)

The conservation project for these records, funded by the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and The Radcliffe Trust, has meant that the conservation team at HALS have been working tirelessly on almost 20,000 leaves of paper from the records in order to get them stable enough to be digitised and uploaded online in the future.

You can read more details about the conservation of the police records on the Herts Memories site. It is clearly painstaking work but is very important and interesting and the work is nearly complete.

Conserving and stabilising the records means that they can then be digitised without further damaging them. Once this process of digitisation has happened we can begin our second project: to make the records accessible to everyone. This project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) . Our team of volunteer researchers will start to pick out the really interesting stories of life and policing in Bishop’s Stortford in WW1, which is definitely what we are after!

Plus, digitising the records means that every single one of them can be uploaded to our specially made HLF-funded website. This will mean that it is not just those at the museum and HALS who can access the information, everyone with access to the web can!

It is also our intention to hold an exhibition in 2014, illustrated by students from the department of illustration at Middlesex University. The exhibition will examine policing in Bishop’s Stortford in WW1, based on the stories we find within the records. With tales of suicide, suspected spies, escaped criminals and of course…stolen pears(!) we fully expect to have an extremely interesting view of community and police life during the period.

On the Beat Exhibition 2014 (Image Copyright 2013 Bishop's Stortford Museum)

As well as this rare-view of life during the period, we will also be able to look at how policing has changed since World War I. We are working closely with Hertfordshire Constabulary Historical Society ,the Hertfordshire Constabulary Great War Society, and the regional branch of the National Association of Retired Police Officers (NARPO) to record oral history interviews and the stories of retired policemen and women who served in the region. This should be really interesting and we are looking forward to hearing about those stories not written down on paper!

We want everyone to benefit from this brilliant project, so as well as the exhibition in 2014 and the HLF-funded website to be uploaded with all the records, we have loads more going on. As well as sharing stories on the Herts Memories website, we are hoping to re-create a tour of a WW1 policeman from stories we find using a mobile phone app, which would mean you could “walk the beat” with one of our past policemen. We are also going to get some of our stories and interviews up as webcasts, so you can hear first-hand accounts. There is even a play and a potential book based on research on the cards; so watch this space!

The whole project will tie-in as a fitting tribute for the centenary of the commencement of the First World War in 1914 and we hope will bring a different perspective to people’s experiences during the war period. Not only that, the entire project will be contributing to the preservation of the history of the war, and of Hertfordshire Constabulary. We truly are excited for the coming year, it’s going to busy but rewarding!

If you would liked to be involved in a hands-on way with this amazing community project; researching stories, digitising records or conducting oral history interviews- please get in touch. We have lots of training opportunities available, and we can definitely find a role for everyone. If you are interested please contact the Bishop’s Stortford Museum on 01279 651746 and ask for Project Officer Emma Steed, or e-mail museum@rhodesbishopsstortford.org.uk.

You will also be able to follow the progress of the project on Twitter @pastpolicing, Facebook and here on the blog, so keep checking in for more information!




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