News from A2SN

News for 2017

Next conference –  “Interpretations of the Past”

21 & 22 April 2017


Sir Richard Arkwright’s Cromford Mills, Mill Lane, Cromford, Matlock
Derbyshire, DE4 3RQ

Front Cromford

Click here for a full size pdf 

This A2SN conference will be hosted by The Arkwright Society at the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Derwent Valley Mills; the scene of major developments in the first industrial revolution.
This conference sets out to explore our understandings of the past and the methods by which we interpret them to a modern audience in educational and community contexts. As ever at A2SN conferences we will be bringing together a wide range of specialisms and interests as we seek to expand collaboration between enthusiasts, archivists, museum professionals and academics. The event aims to prompt an awareness of the diverse activities of these groups and to begin a dialogue which leads to co-operation in preserving and using archives and artefacts.
Please put the date in your diary.




Last conference –  “Shipping the Goods in more ways than one – and more” – 9 & 10 September 2016 – National Waterways Museum and Archive, Ellesmere Port 

This really exciting A2SN Conference was held on 9th and 10th September, 2016 at the National Waterways Museum and Archive, Ellesmere Port.  It explored  some of the stories behind archives and artefacts at this wonderful repository, as well as the more general narratives behind historic freight and our usual mix of other topics.

Papers included Museums and Archives: Belligerent bedfellows or cooperative colleagues”, John Benson and Margaret Harrison, “LNWR Coal Tank No 1054 – Research, Writing, Overhaul & Archaeological Dig,” by Pete Skellon, Bahamas Locomotive Society,    “The role of Bills of Lading in evidencing maritime and especially coastal trade”, John Scott, “From a drawing in the NWA archives to the Mahmoudie Canal, Egypt, via the River Shannon.” Brian Goggin,  “Exploring changes in freight at Lancashire ports via TNA” –  Jonathan Pepler”,   “Improving records through a study of their background based on artefacts and records at Ellesmere Port” –  Joseph Boughey, and  “Graces Guide – Objectives, Methods and Management”, Andrew Tweedie, Editor

We were blessed with wonderful weather which added to everyone’s enjoyment of this superb site.


National Waterways Museum. Photo Steve F. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license


Exploring Archives – A2SN in Reading

Hayley Du-Buisson, Heritage Lottery Fund Libaries and Archives Trainee with Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council gives her view of the workshop which she attended with her colleague Sophie Kembury

Sophie and I went on a trip to Reading for The Archives and Artefacts Study Network (A2SN) conference entitled ‘Exploring Archives’. A2SN was established by Keith Harcourt and Roy Edwards, as a network for like-minded people to share information, for the benefit of research and engagement.

The conference was spread across two days and held at different venues.

Day One 

The first day was held at the Museum of English Rural Life or what is affectionately known as MERL. The Museum is currently undergoing a major redevelopment and will not be fully open to the public until 2016, but the Library and Archive are still available for public use.


Guy Baxter – ‘Museum of English Rural Life, Refurbishing Collections’

Our first talk of the conference was given by Guy Baxter, who is one of the Archivists for the University of Reading and MERL.

He explained how MERL is a University Museum, which also houses the University of Reading’s Special Collection. MERL’S collection of objects, books and archives provides a comprehensive history of food, farming and the countryside.

The Grade II Listed building that houses the collection, is known as Palmer House. It was originally the home of Sir Alfred Palmer and his family, who were involved with Huntley and Palmers Biscuits. The conference took place in the former bedroom of Palmer. Before MERL took over the building, it was also a hall of residence for the University of Reading.

Ollie Douglas, the Assistant Curator of MERL, took us on a tour of the building and explained the vision for the redevelopment. The project ‘Our Country Lives’, aims to transform the views of rural heritage for a new generation.


Ollie explained how the work is being carried out around many of MERL’s largest items. As the collection contains large, farming machinery, it has been impossible to move them without incurring huge costs.


The keynote speaker of the conference, Dr Jonathan Brown, also gave a talk about MERL’s extensive archive and research, before taking us on a tour of the facilities. He is an Honorary Fellow of MERL and an expert on their engineering and photographic collections. In 2008, he was funded by the Museum Association’s Monument Fellowship to pass on his expertise and to improve access and use of the collections.


Other talks on the first day included:

  • Brian Goggin – ‘Steam, the Shannon and the Great British Breakfast: Digital and Online Archives’

With a background in economics, not history, Brian has become an expert on Irish Waterways and is currently researching steamers on the River Shannon. Brian does much of his research online and encourages Archives to make their collections accessible.

  • Keith Harcourt – ‘International Intermodal Containers – What, Where, When, Why and How?’

Keith is a transport historian, co-founder of A2SN and has much to do with the Historical Model Railway Society. His research into containers, highlighted how 90% are now built in China.

  • Catherine Taylor – ‘The Rothschild Archive and its Use in the Garden and the Wider Waddesdon Estate’

Catherine is lucky enough to work on the Waddesdon Estate near Aylesbury. The Manor was built in the style of a French Chateau and sits on beautiful grounds. The Rothschild family built, decorated and furnished Waddesdon in a decadent style, as a way to entertain. The Archives are held in a purpose-built facility on the estate, where there was once a dairy farm.

  • Dr Helen Blackman – ‘Exmoor Society Archiving Project – Setting up a volunteer run catalogue’

The Exmoor Society are a charity, who work to protect and enhance the beautiful landscape of Exmoor. They brought in Dr Helen Blackman to write a collections policy and to help establish their Archive. After a couple of years, Helen will hand over to volunteers from the group, who will continue to manage the collection.

There was also a talk by Elizabeth Trout – ‘A Virtual Tour of the Mills Archive Trust. Water, Wind etc’. The archive was established in 2002, as people were worried about the fate of milling documents. Originally, there were only 4 collections, but this has now increased to 178!

In the early evening, after our conference meal, Elizabeth kindly offered to take us to the Mills Archive, which is housed in the beautiful Watlington House. The Grade II listed building is owned by a charitable trust, who aim to help other charities and local community groups, by allowing full use of their facilities.


Day Two

The second day of the conference was held at the University of Reading, which was also open that day for prospective students. Seeing the students buzzing around brought back many memories for me, even though I went to Lancaster University. I remember it being an exciting, yet nerve-wracking time!

Our first talk of the day was by Dr Michele Blagg – ‘Gold Refining in London’. She discussed how London was the centre of the financial world in the 1800s and the families that were involved. The Rothschild family were dominant in London and it was interesting to learn how gold refining secrets were passed down through the generations.


Other talks included:

  • Hugh Feldman – ‘Researching US Post Office Department Records’

Hugh began his interest in postal history through stamp collecting. His enthusiasm continued and led to his work about the London postal service being published. His current research has led to the discovery of letters from American steamboats, with their stamps displaying the name of the sailing vessel that they were posted from.

  • Dr Wendy Freer – ‘Women and Children on the Cut’

Wendy’s talk focused on families who lived and worked on canal boats. Travelling made it impossible for the children to go to school. Missions and school boats were established for basic education, but many saw this as an interference to their way of life. As the work on the canals ‘dried up’, many of the workers went into service or factory work. It must have been difficult adapting from travelling, to staying in one place.

  • Ian Montgomery – ‘Public Record Office of Northern Ireland – Business Records in PRONI’

Based in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, PRONI has numerous business records relating to the textile industry (mostly linen) and for companies such as Harland and Wolff. It also houses a number of public records, but they are predominantly 20th century (creation of Northern Ireland 1921).

  • Robert Davison – ‘The Work of the British Transport Police History Group’

Robert worked for the British Transport Police for a number of years and is now part of the History Group, who are preserving the history of railway, dock and canal policing. They are busy trying to gather material and bringing it together to make a workable collection.

There was also a talk by Antony Penrose – ‘Creating and Running the Lee Miller Archive’. Antony Penrose is the son of Lee Miller, who was known for being a model and photographer. His father, Roland Penrose, was a Surrealist artist and the biographer of Pablo Picasso. With such interesting parents, Antony has dedicated a large part of his life to researching his parents and their artist friends. He actually started his working life as a dairy farmer, but is now a lecturer, author, photographer and the co-founder of the Lee Miller Archive.


The Lee Miller Archive began when letters, photographs and other documents were found in the attic of the farmhouse where Lee died in 1977.

Lee Miller was born in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1907. She became a successful fashion model in the 1920s and later established herself as a photographer. With the outbreak of the Second World War, she became a war correspondent for Vogue and covered events such as the Blitz, the liberation of Paris and concentration camps.

Her photographs are often cited as being the most credible images of the war, as she was not on the payroll of the Army. However, the horrors of war had a lasting effect on Lee and it is believed that she suffered from post-traumatic stress.

Antony explained how his mother never spoke of her experiences and that he had to learn stories from other people. Apparently a colleague found Lee destroying a large number of negatives and there are apparent gaps in the collection where the images have been too horrible to share. Antony explained how his mother just wanted to save enough evidence to show what happened, but could not bare the sight of some of her images.

The Archive is funded by tours of the farmhouse where the family lived, use of photographs, lectures and exhibitions. The next exhibition will be:

As you can see, the A2SN conference varied in content and style. Sophie and I were made to feel welcome and we picked up many useful contacts.

 A2SN “Exploring the Project Based Economy” at Ironbridge

By Dr David Turner

The 29th and 30th of May saw the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust (Coalbrook, Shropshire) play host to the A2SN workshop ‘Exploring the Project-based Economy: Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, 1650-1900.’ What a wonderful event it was, with speakers and delegates coming from a host of locations and from many and varied backgrounds. There was resounding agreement that with such a diversity of delegates in attendance that the workshop was a testament to A2SN’s unique and rapidly developing ability to bring together volunteer-led societies, academics, archivists and museum professionals with an interest business history. Indeed, for the first time ever A2SN welcomed some guests from across the Atlantic Ocean. One of these was Professor Albert Churella from Kennesaw State University, Georgia, who was sponsored by his university to attend and is noted for having recently published The Pennsylvania Railroad, Volume 1: Building an Empire, 1846-1917 (available from the University of Pennsylvania Press).

Kevin Tennent addresses the delegates

The keynote on the first day was given by Dr Kevin Tennent of The York Management School. He suggested that when enthusiasts and academics come together the exchange of ideas, viewpoints and information can greatly aid in advancing our knowledge of business history. Enthusiasts’ commendably dogged approach to researching subjects, that may occasionally seem esoteric, give the business historian a rich vein of evidence that can be put to academic use. The relationship is two-way though, and the business historian can help give the curious enthusiast a new, perhaps dispassionate understanding of their topic of interest. In essence, Kevin’s keynote summed up the spirit and the purpose of A2SN – to bring individuals interested in business history together.

The first panel session of the day was about business networks. Helen Bates’s (University of Leicester) subject was John, Second Duke of Montagu’s instigation and development of commercial enterprises between 1720 and 1750. He was responsible for the expansion of the iron ore industry in Furness and had links to other companies in the iron industry and ironmasters around the nation. John Scott of the Postal History Society then talked about the impact of the postal reforms in 1839-40, which included a reduction in the cost of post. This made mailing for commercial purposes viable for the first time, but it also led to the development of the phenomenon of junk mail.
The final session of day one featured Stephen Murfitt (University of York) who looked at the patent system and English railway technology during the Industrial Revolution. He revealed how Britain’s patent system was one of the oldest in the world, which meant that by the 1770s if you submitted a patent it had to be quite detailed to be approved . This was a system where detailed technical knowledge was vitally important. The final speaker of the day was Shane Kelleher, who is Museum Archaeologist at the host organisation of the workshop, the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The Ironbridge Gorge was for him a ‘project based landscape.’ In the eighteenth century, under the stewardship of four generations of the Darbys, the industrial landscape of area developed, with their ironworks business developing many features that can be found in modern industrial concerns.The theme of networks continued in the second session. Ivor Lewis of the Historical Model Railway Society talked about the importance of networking in the Industrial revolution (1750-1850), and how in the period problem solving was the was the cause of communication between likeminded pople. Personal status did not enter into it. He was followed by Carolyn Dougherty (University of York) who spoke on the development of engineering networks in the early railway era. Amongst her many interesting statements was that George Stephenson was behind the curve in terms of his general engineering knowledge, but his image was reinforced by his protégés so as to bolster their own standing.

Karin Dannehl

Day 2 kicked off with as session on domestic cooling pots and canal management. Karin Dannehl (University of Wolverhampton) discussed the management of Hollow Ware distribution in the early eighteenth century. For the Wolverhampton producers Bristol, London, Liverpool and Gainsborough were satellite markets, but other producers had dominance over the trade in other regions. Indeed, there was competition from Newcastle, Prescott, Ruabon and Neath. After her Lucy Lead, who works at the Wedgeood archive, presented on ‘early canal development from a land perspective’. While canals were built for private benefit, to sell them to investors they had to be promoted as having public benefits. Finally, Grahame Boyes of the Railway and Canal Historical Society discussed the business of Peak Forest Canal. It is notable that this canal entered quarrying business directly and marketed its own output; an interesting and possibly unique business model for a canal at the time.

In the second session of the day Alison Kay, Assistant Archivist at the National Railway Museum, talked on the life of Timothy Hackworth and his archive which is held at the museum. Hackworth was one of the pioneer locomotive builders of the early nineteenth century and was born only four years after George Stephenson. However, his career and work have been somewhat overshadowed by that of the Stephensons, despite his acolytes continuing to defend him after his death. Elizabeth Marsh (University of York) then talked about Joseph Dodds, the disgrace of a Pioneer of the Cleveland Iron Trade. Dodds had a very colourful career, rising to become a master of the iron industry. He was active politically, campaigning for the Liberals, and was involved in over forty public organisations. But in 1889 the dream fell apart and he fled from charges of embezzlement and fraud.

Diane Deblois and Robert Harris

Our final session of the workshop started with James Wilson (University of Glasgow) who described the Portsmouth block mills. Blocks were used in pulleys, principally in battleship rigging, and the navy developed a pioneering mill in the late-eighteenth century that used all-metal machine tools to mass produce them. At the mill the navy developed something that looked a little like modern project management to improve the operation’s efficiency, and there were production volume and cost goals. The workshop’s last speakers were Diane Deblois & Robert Harris who came all the way from United States and represented the Ephemera Society of America. They presented on the first transatlantic telegraph cable that opened in 1865 (earlier attempts had failed) and argued that it was more important to businesses in the United States than those of Britain as it allowed them to tap global markets without needing an empire.

The A2SN workshop on the 29th and 30th of May was a huge success, its purpose was more than fulfilled. By bringing volunteer-led societies, academics, archivists and museum professionals together, ideas were stimulated, knowledge was exchanged, collections were discovered and our knowledge of business history was advanced. No doubt future workshops will have the same positive outcomes and should not be missed!

A2SN wants to extend its warmest thanks to Dr Matt Thompson, Senior Curator, at Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust for providing a wonderful venue and absolutely terrific support.

 A2SN “Exploring the Project Based Economy” at Ironbridge


Helen Bates, pictured above, a PhD Candidate on an AHRC funded Collaborative Doctoral Award based at  Boughton House, Northamptonshire & University of Leicester wrote the following for her supervisor, after she had spoken at the Ironbridge conference.

The Project Based Economy conference was a special conference for me.  It was the first conference I had spoken at which had invited me to participate, based purely on the content of my abstract. Although I have presented papers at other conferences, I generally knew the conference organisers who had invited me to speak due to my involvement in a particular project which was relevant to the theme of their conference. 

I delivered a paper on the commercial enterprises of the 2nd Duke of Montagu as applicable to the conference theme of ‘project based economy’.  The paper was well received and I fielded a number of questions after I delivered the presentation and also throughout the weekend.  Many people were also interested in the concept of a Collaborative Doctoral Award and I discussed this with a number of delegates.  The conference was packed full of interesting and relevant papers and they all were delivered in a very accessible and interesting way which said something about the quality of the speakers.  There are many university conferences that I have attended where the presentations are so dull or are delivered using language which is so academic that it is difficult to keep track of what the point of the paper is.   This conference made a refreshing change!

The Archives and Study Network brings together ‘enthusiasts’ generally connected to the heritage voluntary sector with academics or those working in archives and museums.  It was an ideal environment to meet other like minded individuals and there were plenty of interesting discussions all weekend about how we could work together to share our knowledge and particularly how this could be achieved through digital means.  I left the conference feeling  that I had made many links and really widened my networks.  The conference has also inspired me to think about getting involved in A2SN in a more formal way.