The Royal Foundation of St Katharine have very kindly allowed me to write a guest blog regarding their project to arrange and appraise their archive material. I approached the Foundation of after seeing their advert for a professional archivist. They wanted somebody to work on arranging and cataloguing their substantial collections of fascinating historical documents, photographs, artwork and plans. These had long been hidden away in the basement of the Foundation’s complex in Ratcliffe, but the Foundation’s wish was to make these collections accessible to the public. This was to fully realise their potential value in terms of historical and cultural research, for historians both of the Foundation itself and for the wider East London and Dockland areas.
To achieve this, the collection would need to be examined in order to see exactly what it contained. The records would then need to be listed and ordered into series to give a clear idea of the relationships between records, and a catalogue would need to be created for them so that they could be more easily searched. It would also need to be determined what material could be disposed of, either because of lack of research usefulness or duplication of material. Once this had been completed, the records would then be loaned to Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, where they would be subject to archival-standard preservation conditions and would be available for perusal by researchers.
I am a very recently-qualified archivist, and in fact this project was my first archivist role after completing my postgraduate course in Archives and Records Management at University College London. I was very excited to be able to immediately put my newly-learnt skills and knowledge to the test. I began the project by interviewing members of staff to find out what kinds of functions the Foundation performed, and what records were produced by these functions on a regular basis. For example, one of these functions was “secretarial”; the records produced would be minutes of meetings of various department and committees within the Foundation, such as the Court. I could then these functions as a basis to determine where I could assign the historical records to – for example, human resources, financial, secretarial and operational records, engineering and maintenance plans, and promotional literature.
The next step was to “box-list” the collection. This meant going through every box, listing its contents and noting their format, extent and condition, for example “Register of Services, book, one volume, some torn pages”. When this had been completed, I went through my lists and assigned each item or batch of records a function, so for example the above Register came under “Operational (i.e. one of the core functions of the Foundation as a religious organisation)”. These two processes took a substantial amount of time, and I had only one month to complete the project. Therefore, rather than catalogue every single item in the collection, which would have taken a far longer period of time, I decided to further arrange these functions into series and sub-series. This would provide order for when the collection was transferred to Tower Hamlets archive and also be more achievable within the required time-frame. So, in the “secretarial” function for example, I organised minute records into series by type of meeting and by date, e.g. “Minutes of Meetings of the Court 1948-1952” and “Minutes of Sub-Committee Meetings 1954-1956”.
The contents of the collections is varied and covers a time period of over two hundred years. It ranges from eighteenth-century deeds, nineteenth-century Service Registers, plans of the site, photographs of visits by Patrons such as the HM The Queen Mother, and correspondence relating to key events in the Foundation’s history, such as the move back to Ratcliffe in 1948 and the site extension in the early 2000s. Most notably, it includes the personal papers of Father John Groser, a key figure for the Foundation in the twentieth century, and an original written history of the Foundation by Andrew Coltée Ducarel. It is an important collection and it will be fantastic for it to be made extensively available for the first time. I would like to thank the staff at The Royal Foundation of St Katharine for their support and interest in the project, and look forward to seeing the collections in the archive!
Robin Sampson (Freelance Archivist)