A permanent local history archive for the parish?
October 2020 & February 2021
ORIGINAL POST: OCTOBER 2020
The following letter was sent out to all households in Mixbury in early October. The issues involved are not unique to Mixbury. Where should local history information - including that about the church itself - and artefacts be kept to ensure their ongoing availability to existing and new residents, and to visitors to the church? What happens to artefacts and display boards and contents kept in people's houses when they move on or a local history society folds?
We have come across a variety of solutions, from the Washburne Heritage Centre - a substantial extension to Fewsome church, which is much more than a repository for items of historical value: through St Georges at Ivychurch which gives a home to two permanent displays: to display cases and cupboards built into Kirtlington church when it was re-ordered. Many churches accommodate temporary displays, but for those with more to offer, the Church of England itself has a website about Display Cases.
To some extent the timing of this issue in Mixbury is informed by the KIrtlington experience. Mixbury PCC is embarking on an "internal refurbishment" of the church, with aspirations for toilet facilities, a new kitchen and greater flexibility for the use of the available space. So it seems like now is the right time to think how a heritage facility might fit in. Here is the letter.
Should the parish have a permanent local history display area in the church?
Over the last few years work has gone on to research Mixbury’s history and archaeology, bringing together and building upon individual efforts from over half a century, and continuing and extending the work done by the late Adrienne Brunton. We (the history group) trialled a display of it in the church 3 years ago and since then the “history tent” has appeared at 3 fetes and 2 Shelswell History Festivals. A flavour of the content of the displays is set out at the end of this letter. Many of you have shown an interest in this work and enriched its content with questions, observations and artefacts. Thank you.
A key principle for us is that the parish’s heritage belongs to everyone, not just the history group. One problem with one-off events is that not everyone can get to them. What is more, the displays change over time as more about the parish’s past is uncovered, so unless you have seen the latest one you will be missing the most recent findings. We now have a draft book – The History and Archaeology of Mixbury – which is being updated before we take it for publishing: and there are 2 draft books about the Church in Mixbury, one pre-1900 and the other post-1900. Whilst we would like all parish households to have one of each, the current way of producing them is photocopying which is very expensive. Publishing them will aim to bring the price down. But they, too, will date as we make new findings.
A second problem is that most of the historical artefacts and display materials currently reside in my garage and study (A number of them used to live under Adrienne’s bed!). Public access to them is, on that basis, not realistic, although I am always willing to find time to show people what is to hand and to talk to them. But when Sue and I leave the village in the fullness of time, where should it all go? Banbury museum? Into someone else’s garage?
With all of this in mind we have concluded that what is needed is a place with public access where we can mount a permanent display accessible to parishioners and visitors alike. Some time ago the PCC (Parochial Church Council) agreed to accommodate a freestanding display facility in a “history corner” in the church. As the PCC approaches the “internal refurbishment” of the church, referred to in its letter to the parish in July, it seems that now is the time to revisit that idea, especially as the potential heritage contents have since grown in number! There are good examples of these sorts of facility in other churches and even the Church of England has a “Display Cases” website.
Of course, this idea will have to take its chances alongside the provision of toilet facilities a new kitchen and greater flexibility for the use of the available space (commonly known as re-ordering). Finance is also an issue, but something like this will attract grant funding not available for other purposes. The Head of Historic Environment at the Heritage Lottery has told me that a re-ordering project which drew on our 400-page report “sounds to me like it could potentially be eligible for the HLF programme called Heritage grants”. One condition of an HLF grant would be that more people became engaged with the history of Mixbury – the parish’s heritage. We will have to consider how that works at the grant stage. One important aspect we have yet to explore is how to engage the parish’s young people in project.
But all this is very presumptuous by those of us who have led the initiative to explore the parish’s roots. We would not want to give the PCC and anyone else who may be involved the headache of fitting in a history facility unless the parish was behind it. So, here’s the proposition. Do you agree that a history display/archive should be accommodated in the church as part of the proposed improvement in the church’s facilities? Or go to Banbury Museum? Or elsewhere? Attached, for ease of reply, is a slip with the same questions on it, inviting you to tick a “Yes” or “No” box, and add any comments
What goes in a Mixbury History Display?
Visual displays showing e.g. aerial photographs, maps and diagrams which indicate possible Iron Age, Romano-British and Saxon settlement in Mixbury; the ownership of Mixbury since 1066; old maps and photographs from the Victorian era; diagrams illustrating the development of the church and churchyard; information about key people from the parish’s past.
Artefacts e.g. Iron Age and Roman, and later, pottery sherds, and a carved stone most likely from the keep on the Norman castle site; a variety of things from people’s gardens e.g. an early nurse’s buckle, bottles, a WW1 bayonet handle, a Victorian nightdress trimmed with lace.
UPDATE: FEBRUARY 2021
The result of the survey of Mixbury parishioners in October 2020 was an ovewhelming majority of people were in favour of a facility in the church. The headline results were
Number of households consulted 98
Total response 61
Number for Mixbury's history display, artefacts and archive materials
-being accommodated in the church 51
-being offered to Banbury Museum or stored in
a ,private house 8
-no specific preference selected 2
Mixbury folk are practical people, and even some of those who supported the "church" option were mindful of potential problems in the building, for example the sometimes damp conditions and the need for approriate environmental conditions in display cases. There were some creative suggestions e.g. a digital display like those in doctors' waiting rooms would cut down the amount of display space needed. We are taking all comments received into account as we move forward.
An inventory of the materials we hold is being prepared which will allow us to assess what the facility might comprise. Our first thoughts are that we are looking at two small spaces to showcase "The Mixbury Story" and the history of the church up to 1900; a larger area for temporary displays - the subjects of some of these will be chosen by Mixbury people!; a small area to show off artefacts (we haven't got too many); a slot for a digital display; and underneath it all some storage space for materials not on display at any point in time. This looks a lot, but it isn't: what it really says is that we're not looking at a "one size fits all" solution. We need variety not only to show our heritage in the best possible light, but to enable us to rotate materials for the benefit of local people and visitors.
Unfortunately, whilst our aspirations for the facility remain high, our timescale has slipped. We had planned to have completed the inventory and a specification for a facility by the end of January. That has slipped to the end of February. Apologies to the PCC, who need to see the specification a s a p so they can fit it into their work on improving the church. Our ambition to have started discussions with potential funders for the project have been delayed by the strategic approach we have taken to funding generally, setting up a registered charity (See separate Article on Mixbury History Group Setting up a Charity). The Charity Commission have told us that it may not be until March that we hear whether we are successful. This does, however, give us more time to consult with museum conservators about the most appropriate display equipment.
We will issue further updates as this project progresses.
If you think you can help to answer the questions below please complete the below form.
First, if you have been involved in a project like this, what would be your top tips?
Second, does anyone have a facility like this which involves young local people across the age range and, if so, please could you tell us about it.