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Outreach at the Parliamentary Archives

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Since 2009 the Parliamentary Archives has adopted a different approach to the way it promotes its work and resources and engages with the public.  In recognition of the fact that many of our collections reflect the history of local communities, we have built relationships with regional archives and delivered activities at those venues.

Our Current Work: The De Montfort Project

The De Montfort Project is an outreach project run by the Parliamentary Archives as a strand within Parliament’s 2015 programme. Inspired by the 750th anniversary of the meeting of the De Montfort Parliament in 1265 the project consists of a series of collaborative projects with regional archive services. Our partners are:

Norfolk Record Office
Discovery Museum and Tyne and Wear Archives
Glamorgan Archives
Kent Library and History Centre
The Keep, East Sussex

This blog post is a short update about the project, focusing on where we are up to in September 2015. The project activities will end later this year, after which we will be sharing more extensive case studies on this blog.

Norfolk Record Office

The Parliamentary Archives and Norfolk Record Office worked together to co-curate an exhibition about the relationship between Norfolk and Parliament, which was on display at Norfolk Record Office until early August 2015. Ballots and Bills: Exploring Norfolk’s Parliamentary Past explored the history of Norfolk’s representation in Parliament through a series of diverse examples including electoral reform in Kings Lynn, Norwich’s involvement with the development of poor law legislation, the disenfranchisement of freemen and subsequent reform in Great Yarmouth, and the impact of Norwich’s first female MP Dorothy Jewson.
Items on display included the “Vagabond Act” which provided measures for poor relief and implemented punishment for “masterless men”. The act is notable for providing the some of the first measures for poor relief, by stipulating that Justices of the Peace were required to survey and register “all aged poor impotent and decayed persons” within their divisions. They were then to introduce a weekly tax to all other inhabitants in order to provide a small allowance to the registered poor.
The act is also notable for implementing schemes of punishment for “masterless men” including “all fencers, bearwards, common players of interludes, and minstrels (not belonging to any baron of this realm, 1or to any other honourable person of greater degree), wandering abroad without the license of two justices at the least, who were subject to be “grievously whipped and burned through the gristle of the right ear with a hot iron of the compass of an inch about.” This greatly affected travelling theatre troupes and players.

Discovery Museum and Tyne and Wear Archives
The Parliamentary Archives worked with Discovery Museum and Tyne and Wear Archives to explore the legacy of radical politics in the North East of England. Looking at a series of political figures from the 19th and 20th century, including Earl Grey, Jack Lawson, Ellen Wilkinson and Joseph Cowen, we  worked together to deliver a series of educational workshops to local secondary schools Gosforth Academy and Sacred Heart Catholic School.
Participants attended a number of workshops at both Discovery Museum and the Parliamentary Archives, where they consulted original archive sources to discover the ways in which these figures had represented their localities at Parliament. The young people, most of which were not familiar with archives before the workshops, were encouraged to explore and question the archive materials, in order to gain new understanding of and skills in archival research.



Each participant was encouraged to respond to the workshops and visits, and the results were shared at a closing ceremony at the Discovery Museum, where the schools were brought together with other community members and each other. Responses to the work included a rendition of the Parliamentary Archives’ Act room in cake format and a lego recreation of the Jarrow March, which had  been led by Ellen Wilkinson.



Glamorgan Archives

Glamorgan Archives and the Parliamentary Archives have worked together to explore the life and impact of Stephen Owen (or S.O) Davies, MP for Merthyr 1934-1972. Davies began life as a miner, before entering politics through later work as a miners’ agent and trade unionist.  We worked with a local sixth form college in Merthyr to investigate records which included correspondence, mining injury log books, speeches and Acts.

Alongside the educational workshops, we co-hosted two events devoted to exploring academic research, media footage and personal reflections about both S.O Davies and workplace compensation legislation.5

In addition to these activities our touring display, Magna Carta & Parliament, has been based at the   partner venues. It will be at Kent Library and History Centre between 15th September and 22nd October and at The Keep in Falmer between 26th October and 10th December. The exhibition booklet is available to download here.

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