Monday, 26 October 2009

I am now an expert in business....honest!

Since writing my post of 12 October regarding the arrangement of the archive, you will be pleased to hear that I have finally decided on a basic arrangement for the collection. I have also decided to have seperate sub-groups within the overall catalogue for the records purely associated with the subsidiary companies. Phew! Now it's time to catalogue.
During the past fortnight I have been cataloguing the corporate and share records of the company. I am reliably informed by my more expert colleague Sarah, that these two categories of records are usually quite straightforward. I, therefore, approached these records with supreme confidence until I remembered that I have absolutely no idea what debentures, share certificates and articles of association are and what purposes they serve! After a quick trawl of some reliable internet sites I was now armed to face these records with my arsenal of knowledge and renewed vigour only to be reminded that Chance are not your everyday, run-of-the-mill company. They liked to change things...a lot.
For instance, take the memorandum and articles of association, the two documents that when combined form the constitution of a company (see, my arsenal is honed and ready). Most companies tend to amend these documents rarely and there are usually only a few of these documents in a business collection. In the case of Chance, the company seems to have amended the documents at least 13 times from 1888 to 1955. To complicate things even further, there are many duplicate copies of each edition of the documents. Normally, these duplicates would be removed, however, some copies have interesting notes and attachments scribbled and stapled by their previous owners. All of these copies, therefore, must be kept to maintain these variations in the records.
After a fortnight of piecing these two puzzles together I now feel confident that I have finished cataloguing both the corporate and share records of the company and that I can move on to the more cumbersome employment and financial that another share certificate hidden under that stack of files over there.......?

Monday, 19 October 2009

By Royal Appointment

The images of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visiting bomb sites and munitions factories during the Second World War are now iconic. Due to their many morale-boosting visits they became strong symbols of national resistance as they travelled the country spreading the word that they were there for their people. In April 1940, shortly before the first bombs were to fall on the area, the King and Queen visited Birmingham and the Black Country. They visited various places during their two-day stay guessed it....the Chance glass works!

I have found various references to this visit in the collection, the first being a commemorative brochure detailing the itinerary. The flavour of the visit seems to be munitions and air services including visits to B.S.A. Guns Ltd., the Air Raid Precaution Services, The Balloon Centre, Boulton Paul Aircraft Ltd. and the School of Technical Training for mechanics, flight riggers and aeronautical engineers. Slotted in near the end of the itinerary on 19 April at precisely '1500 hours' is a tour of Chances glass works. The tour covered the Lighthouse Works, the Optical Department and the Pressed Glass Department.

Before leaving the factory, the King and Queen signed the visitors book (and their extremely legible, yet surprisingly humble signatures can be seen in the picture above). I also came across a film reel titled 'Visit of T. M. King & Queen to C. B. & Co. Ltd. April 19th 1940'. It would be lovely to see some images of the event to accompany all of the textual traces found but unfortunately, we do not have the correct equipment for projecting this film reel so we have contacted MACE (Media Archive of Central England) to give us a hand.

In the meantime, I did find an article on our microfilm here at CHAS from the West Bromwich Midland Chronicle and Free Press, 26 April 1940. The article states that at Chance, 'the King and Queen saw processes of manufacture, which despite the many factories of all kinds they must have inspected, were entirely new to them'. The writer then goes on to describe the following anecdote (and ladies, you may wish to stop reading at this point):

'The Queen took a most intelligent interest in the processes seen at the works...Mr Hugh Chance told me afterwards that when she was shown some brightly coloured glass articles she was immediately attracted, but he found that her interest in the colours was not merely a woman's interest. She realised at once that the colours had a definite purpose which was not ornamental'

Monday, 12 October 2009

Lets come to an arrangement

Now that we have a complete list of what's included in the collection it is now time to create an arrangement for the catalogue. There are two main principles that an archivist has to adhere to when arranging a collection. The first is provenance, which requires that records are listed according to the organisation that created them. The records of different organisations or departments and branches within those organisations should not be mixed. This theory also extends to the subsidiary companies of an organisation, which are separate legal entities and should be treated thus. The second principle is original order. Ideally, the records of an organisation should be arranged in the order they had when last in active use. So far, so sensible.

Yet, when these theories are applied to a real life collection whose structure has been adapted many times during the 150 year life of the company, the arrangement is not so straightforward. In the case of the Chance collection, the original order is not discernible. The records were boxed at random and have occasionally been re-arranged by members of the Chance family when researching the history of the company for speeches and publications. So, should the current grouping of records be maintained or should I attempt to re-construct the original order? The records of subsidiaries are also often combined with that of the parent company, for example, the salaries ledgers include details of workers producing rolled plate glass for Chance and workers producing submersible pumps for the subsidiary company, Sumo Pump. Should records regarding subsidiary companies, therefore, be separated from the parent company records when in other series they have been combined? Dilemmas, dilemmas!

I have decided that the most practical solution is to structure the catalogue according to a classification scheme, which sets out a clear, neutral structure for the collection according to the functions that it performed (e.g. share records, employment records, production records, etc.). I now need to decide whether I should separate subsidiary company records and the records of distinct departments, such as the Lighthouse works and the Optical division from the main company records........already, I feel a headache coming on........wish me luck!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Ledgers and red rot and dust - oh my!

Since my last post I have continued to list the contents of all the boxes and I finally completed the listing of the ledgers yesterday. Typical Victorian administration includes a huge variety of sizes of books and ledgers to record the everyday operation of an organisation and Chance are no exception. Accounts, wages, sales and statistics recording defects in glass manufactured are all recorded in books ranging in size from pocket notebooks to huge and cumbersome ledgers, which clearly appealed to the Victorian sense of grandeur.

The main problem we have with these ledgers is that they are gradually rotting away, forming a fine red powder as the tanned leather bindings degrade and crumble to the touch. This powder has a characteristic acrid smell and after prolonged exposure it can cause mild to moderate skin irritation or allegic reactions. Nice! After a few hours of listing these volumes I am often covered head to foot in this red powder and I can confirm that, unlike a St Tropez treatment, you are not left with a healthy glow.

Unfortunately, once red rot decay begins there is no way of reversing the process but it can be slowed down. We invited John Everall, the conservator at Wolverhampton Archives and Local Studies, to take a look at our volumes and suggest ways of treating and re-packaging them. He suggested that we brush off any loose dust particles on the bindings, consolidate them by painting them with a very watered down pva glue so that they hold up to being handled and then wrap the volumes in acid proof paper and boxes. He has very kindly offered to come along for a day in December to show us how to go about doing this and I am really looking forward to our preservation production line and the opportunity to finally banish red rot dust from the collection (for the immediate future at least!)