By Claire George
You can get your hands on history and help the soap opera of Victorian life unfold before the eyes of the world in a colourful corner of West London. That’s the offer being made by Uxbridge Central Library, which is seeking volunteers to help with the Heritage Builds Bridges project.
The national lottery-funded scheme is built around a website that brings together major heritage collections from Brunel University, the British and Foreign School Society and the London Borough of Hillingdon. “The collections were united because they present a unique and complementary picture of Hillingdon – its people, its industries, its geography and how Hillingdon is developing,” said the project manager, Mandy Mordue of Brunel University.
The combined collections also document the history of education in Hillingdon schools and at a national level. The BFSS holds one of the world’s leading research resources for 19th-century elementary education and teacher training. Brunel University’s archives contain records from two teacher training colleges, and illustrate the fight to raise the status of women teachers.
“The website has two main strengths, the breadth of the collections and its usefulness as a teaching tool,” said the Central Library museum curator, Clara Pereira.
Heritage Builds Bridges has worked closely with local teachers to tailor the website to suit schoolchildren. The schools section uses old photographs, prints and collection artefacts to take youngsters on an evocative tour of 19th-century childhood, industry and trade. It also employs characters and games to teach children about the differences between life then and now.
But the aim is to reach much beyond the immediate locality. “We were careful not to make it too local, so teachers in other parts of the country can use it,” said the assistant archivist, Paul Davidson.
But this is a big job, beyond the scope of the paid staff, so the Central Library is asking for volunteers to assist with the cataloguing of 17,000 historic photographs. It is skilled work that calls for careful use of catalogue terms. Nevertheless, “there is no need for volunteers to have prior experience or to know how to use a computer,” said Davidson. “We are happy to sit with them while they are learning the ropes.”
Davidson added that volunteers are also needed to catalogue miscellaneous documents held in store at the library. The documents date from the 18th century to the present day, and include records relating to elections, trades and the grisly Denham murders (PDF) of 1870.