Friday, 21 October 2016

James Hornby: Heslington Hall Horticulturalist

BI/JHOR/4/1/4 James and Mary Hornby

Earlier this year we were gifted a very exciting archive - the archive of James Hornby, head gardener at Heslington Hall between 1870 and 1902. This small but fascinating group of records gives us some real insights into the day-to-day role of a Victorian head gardener, and well as a different perspective on life at Heslington Hall, formerly the home of the Yarburgh family and now one of the University's most iconic buildings. The archive includes many photographs and drawings of the Hall as well as portraits of James Hornby, his wife Mary and members of their wider family, letters (including one from the then Lord Deramore thanking James Hornby for putting out a fire in the Hall!) and even a medal for prize-winning pears.

However, for me, the most fascinating document in the archive is James Hornby's 'Diary of Operations' which documents the first eighteen months of his 32 year employment at Heslington Hall. It showcases the beginning of the changes in the gardens at the Hall, starting with a note dated 18th August 1870 stating ‘No peas, nor cucumbers, nor melons nor yet many vegetables of any kind’. Even over the span of time recorded in this journal, it is possible to see James Hornby, at the head of a team of gardeners, taking and shaping the gardens into both an ornamental space and a productive garden supplying Heslington Hall with fruit, vegetables and flowers.

BI/JHOR/1/1/1 Pages of James Hornby's horticultural journal

The journal records successful cultivars, harvest dates, crop yields and temperature changes, as well as practical tasks such as cleaning the glasshouses, whitewashing and even (repeatedly!) mending a lawnmower. The image of the page above shows a typical spread of entries and illustrates one of the other ways in which this document helps us to understand the role of this head gardener. As with many of the other pages, these entries include backdated annotation, often in different coloured ink, which indicate how some tasks were recorded and then amended or added to at a later date. The detail below shows and entry recording potatoes being planted out on January 31st, with a note added in purple ink to say that the first dish was collected on April 9th but that it would be beneficial to plant a crop in time for Easter Sunday instead.  

BI/JHOR/1/1/1 extract of a page of James Hornby's journal

Even for those of us who aren't keen gardeners, the journal is a really interesting record documenting as it does the rhythms of life at Heslington Hall and events in the life of the Yarburgh familyincluding visits from ‘company’ for evening events, periods when the family are away from Heslington and also the birth of George Nicholas de Yarburgh-Bateson, noted as ‘Master Nicholas’ in November 1870. With characteristic brevity, it also records events in James Hornby’s own life including frequent visits from his brother William and trips to country fairs, including one to his home-town of Gisburn. 

BI/JHOR/4/2/2 James Hornby at the rear of Heslington Hall

The catalogue, listing each item in the James Hornby archive, is now available online through Borthcat and also includes a brief biography of James Hornby himself. All of the material is available for consultation in our searchroom and enquiries can be made via 

Lydia Dean

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The nature of the job: surveying the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust archive

Most of the boxes of the YWT archive;
we've since added a few more!

So, I'm about halfway through the 12 months of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust archive project - and what a six months it's been! The time is going quickly; summer was filled with continuing the survey of deposited material, drafting and re-drafting an archival structure and finishing off my Masters in Archives and Records Management at the University of Dundee. Now the Autumn has rolled around again and the new academic year is here, I wanted to give a quick update on the progress of the project so far and what's yet to come. I'm intending to do a few related posts, which you can explore through the labels at the bottom of the page - clicking either 'Yorkshire Wildlife Trust' or 'new professional' should show all the project-related posts - that will outline the more practical side of the project. This is the first in that series and is going to look at how I, as a newly qualified archivist, have approached surveying what is a large and complex archive.
I began my project by reviewing the box lists that were supplied when the material was accessioned. This gave me an idea of how varied the material is, as well as getting a handle on its original order. I then went to have a look at it on the shelves in the strongroom (left). This really brought home what just over 3.5m3 of archive looks like! For the most part, the material had been repackaged when it arrived so it was all neatly wrapped and divided in archival folders.

Boxed and unboxed files in the strongroom.
I decided to have a look at a couple of what I thought would be key files before I started the proper survey and I selected some of the foundation papers of the organisation, including correspondence from just before and just after the Trust was established, as well as the minutes of their first meeting. I also had a look at some of the unpackaged material relating to Askham Bog, which was the Trust's first reserve. This not only gave me insight into the post-war context in which the Trust was established but also gave me key names of the founding members - among them Arnold Rowntree and Francis Terry - and an idea of how the original Council thought the organisation would be structured. Examining the reserve files was a further step in understanding not only the sort of information likely to be found in the files - from scientific recordings of the habitat and species present, to photographs, through to independent research about the site - but also how the files were put together.
Askham Bog environmental data, 1933. 
I wanted to use the survey phase of the project to achieve several key objectives. Firstly, to get a good understanding of the material and how it fits together to intellectually represent a whole organisation. Secondly, to make a note of the content of each file: the types of records it contained, key topics covered by the file, significant correspondents and covering dates which will all be useful in describing the file at a later stage of the project. Thirdly, to gain an understanding of how the file was put together: did it have an intellectual order, was it structured around physical or practical constraints such as the size of the folder or the capacity of a filing cabinet drawer, who generated or collated the material and for what purpose. Fourthly, as both a new professional and as an outsider to the Wildlife Trust, to build up my knowledge of the depth and breadth of the archive.
A page of notes from my survey of
material on Bretton Lakes
Although only eight weeks were allocated to this phase of the project in the original project plan, I decided to take a little longer to do a more detailed survey concurrently with some structuring and describing of records (more of the latter in a future post). As the project was designed to describe the archive to file level, I needed to ensure I had enough information to create a usefully detailed description which could convey the right information to researchers - information to which they wouldn't have access otherwise.

I have worked in what I suppose is a pretty analogue way, filling four notepads as I've gone along and then reappraising what I've written as I type it into a master spreadsheet. From there, I've been able to move files around and to separate different levels of the archive out for further examination. This phase of the project is coming to an end now and I will be continuing with the final tweaks to the structure of the archive and starting to describe the records in our online interface, Borthcat. Whilst it will be refreshing to move from leafing through files to adding to our online catalogue, I'll miss discovering lots of little snippets, and discussing them with my (very patient!) colleagues. I have been adding some of these to Twitter and Facebook as I've gone along, and I'm sure there'll be more to come as I finish the last few boxes this week.

Lydia Dean
Project Archivist