Researching local history can sometimes be a bit hit and miss. It can either lead to a fruitful abundance or leave you with nothing! This happened to me several times whilst doing my research, so I thought I would share how I found a solution.
I knew our village was a straw plait village. I had anecdotal evidence, the names were recorded in the census records, but there was nothing written down! My local archive had nothing for our village, so I felt like I was going to have to give up on a significant part of our village history of the Industrial Revolution. I started reading books and studies on the area, hoping to glean something, but the information was no different to what I already knew. I was almost going to give up hope when I decided to do a local newspaper search. I struck gold. I found myself researching crimes linked to the plaiting, details of the plait school contravention of the 1867 Factory Act, as well as a push towards a revival at the end of the nineteenth century. It became a very different story to the one I was going to tell originally, it gave me more depth and understanding. I have recently used this information to create a ‘Meanwhile, Nearby…..’.
Newspapers are a fantastic source of information. I use them all the time. They also reflect the different newspaper owners, very much like today. Some comparisons between how one paper reports to another is fascinating. Just as they are used today in teaching law and politics, they also have a place in the history classroom, vitally important if you are teaching local history.
Pre-Masters, whilst I was still doing my History degree, I was tasked with researching Emergency Planning. This involved a visit to the archive for a search of the Parish Council Minutes for WWI and WWII. It turned out to be a complete waste of time, there was barely any mention of the wars, except for complaints about the RAF men and the local village dances! I explained to the archivist what I wanted, and he didn’t seem surprised at all that my search had been fruitless! He suggested the Parish Magazines, disappeared and come out with two huge piles. As I went through them a new project started to take hold. The War Memorial was the only information that we had for those that served in WWI. Reading the Magazines I managed to get the names of more than 300 men that served. In most cases I also had details of which theatre of war they served in. It was also an almost complete history of the home front. Sadly, the magazines stopped in mid 1918, but the information prior to that was fantastic. I created a blog, with the plan of adding in WWII as well, but never quite got around to it. I researched some of the topics so I could understand better how the village’s home front fitted in with a more national picture. The site does need updating, though it does show how a project could work within a school. http://wingatwar.org
Parish Magazines first started in 1859, with the Rev. John Erskine Clarke, the Vicar of St. Michael’s in Derby. By the end of the Victorian era they were widely used in dioceses across the country. The insert was generally mass produced and could contain anything from stories to recipes. In WWI and WWII, they also included information on air raid precautions and wartime recipes. The outside pages were devoted to the Parish. This was whatever information the person/s writing it wanted to include. Generally, this was parish news, connected to the church and school, births, deaths and marriages. Ours also included information about the local gentry, the Dispensary, and anything else the Vicar was involved in or had friends involved in. I am currently transcribing them so we can see the Victorian alterations of our Church ahead of works to repair, all painstakingly detailed in the magazines, as well as cost.
If you are struggling to find that piece of information, it is always worth asking the local records office if they have the Parish Magazines, you never know what it might lead to!