Posted by: Christine | November 2, 2012

Mayors and Streets

It’s been over a month since my last post, so I thought I’d better explain why.

I’ve been a bit busy – mainly because I have taken on the job of leader of Rugby Local History Research Group. I had been in charge for several months while the previous leader was in hospital. She decided to retire, so on 18th September I officially took over – to tell the truth, nobody else wanted the job! 

Now you might think that this was not a terribly onerous task, as there are only about a dozen members. The group evolved out of an adult evening class sponsored by the Workers Education Association in the early 1970s. This was held at the Percival Guildhouse in Rugby and when the classes stopped a small group of regulars continued to meet there. Over the years people have come and gone ( I joined about ten years ago) but it has remained a group of people following their own interests in the history of Rugby and when enough information has been collected, occasionally publishing a book.

We had got to a point where the group seemed to be drifting. Some of the older members turned up out of habit and the meeting would turn into a social chat – this didn’t exactly attract any new members. Those who did stay got frustrated at the lack of interest in the more modern methods of research (computers and the internet) and there was continual (friendly?) friction between techies and luddites. I am now trying to walk a tightrope – dragging the group into the 21st century without driving away the “oldies”.

My idea to achieve was to start scanning and cataloging our collection (AKA tidying the cupboard). Over the last 30 odd years we have built up a lot of photographs, book, documents etc. Various people have made lists and most things are in folders, but I decided that each week we should get out a photograph album or folder. We could then look at everything as a group, so newer members could see what we have and older members could pass on what they know. Each item would be scanned and given a number. Eventually we would end up knowing what we have and where it is – as well as having a digital copy.

It is now the beginning of November and we haven’t started. Why not?

Well – there is no point in starting a catalogue without knowing what and how you want to record. I have been thinking about this – more another time perhaps!

We have also had other things to do. In my previous position as stand-in leader, I agreed that we would put on a display in the foyer of Rugby Library during  Heritage Open Weekend. While organising this I realized that people would be asking us questions that we might not be able to answer immediately, so we invited the public to write down their questions and we would get back to them. Big mistake – we ended up with a notebook full of questions! This is what we have been dealing with for the last few weeks.

RLHRG display in Rugby Library

Most queries were about the names of houses (Hillmorton Paddox, Spring Hill House) and streets – how did they get their names? This has involved a lot of studying maps and searching the internet – yet again the online newspapers came in useful. Eventually we decided that we should be making a collection of street names – a long-term project individuals could work on whenever they had the time. I suggested that we should all start with our own estate or area. Leading from the front I thought I’d better do my own road!

I knew that the road where I live was one of several in the area named after former mayors of Rugby, but where to find details? – there didn’t seem to be any list of mayors. Several days were spent online comparing censuses, BMD indexes, google searches and, because Rugby’s local newspapers are not yet online, in the library, on the microfilmed version. It was an interesting piece of research and I discovered that all “my” mayors served between 1936 and 1944, roughly during WWII. Sometime I’ll get around to writing it all up.

At the same time, by complete coincidence, we were approached by the current Mayor of Rugby, Councillor Miss Kathryn Lawrence. She had realised that, since Rugby received its Charter in 1932, this year was the 80th Anniversary. Looking through the council documents it was discovered that they had no copy of the programme of events on Charter Day. We had a spare copy which we presented to the Mayor, together was a copy of one of our books which contained an account of the day. I also found a short film of the event 

As a result of this, the group was invited to the Mayor’s Parlour on Monday evening. We heard about what the Mayor has been doing this year and looked at some of the old visitors books and other documents, including the original Petition for the Charter. We also had a look round the council chamber, with the portraits of all the mayors around the walls.

A corner of Rugby Council Chamber with some early Mayors

Later, I also managed to get a list of the all the mayors.

But it hasn’t all been hobnobbing with mayors. Someone lent us some photographs for us to scan – on condition that we try to identify some of the subjects. They were professional pictures from the 1950/60s. We managed most, but here are a couple where we failed.

One of two pictures of a kitchen. School? Factory?

Unknown church. It should be easy to indentify, but we’ve failed – so far

At the same time as all this extra research, a couple of our earlier books needed reprinting, We took the opportunity to correct any errors. This caused a lot of discussion about whether to make major changes to the few errors or just stick to grammar mistakes. In the end we decided to add footnotes indicating facts what we thought were wrong. Correct information can go in our next book.

Yesterday I picked up a couple of box files from the previous leader, full of correspondence, odd photos etc to be sorted out.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. I haven’t even mentioned any family history research or the garden – and I think we had a few days away in Devon in September!

I am starting to wonder what would have happened if I’d turned up at that meeting on 18th September and said I didn’t want the job.

Must go now – I’ve got a Local History Christmas Party to organize.

Rugby Local History Research Group meet the Mayor

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