Graduate Trainee visit to PRONI

PRONI 2Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Public Records Office Northern Ireland in Belfast. As I am from Northern Ireland this was to enable me to visit the repository that holds archives for my local area. PRONI provided me with an excellent tour that covered the wide of variety of work that they carry out as the official repository in Northern Ireland for official and private records.

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Over 3 million records are currently held at PRONI, ranging from the archives of government departments, court records, church records, and those of businesses, such as Harland and Wolff, and estates, such as the Londonderry Papers. I was able to view the stores, search room and reading room as well as discuss topics such as cataloguing, preservation and digitising archives. This provided me with an insight into how a large national archive is run and how they deal with issues that are specific to their organisation.

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Snapshot of the Archives: There’s been a murder!

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‘The Trial of James Stuart, Esq. Younger of Durnern’ 1822 AA/DC/44/2/3/12

Our snapshot today is a legal trial that gripped the nation in 1822.  James Stuart, Younger of Dunearn, was accused of the murder of Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck. Stuart, a keen supporter of the Whig movement and a member of the Society of Writers to the Signet, fatally wounded Boswell (a Baronet, ex-MP and poet) in a duel. The challenge of a duel was laid down by Stuart as the result of finding out that Boswell was the author of slanderous articles, including the ‘Whig Song’ (see images below,) that were published by Glasgow Sentinel.

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Lyrics of the ‘Whig Song’, written by Alexander Boswell and published in the Glasgow Sentinel. AA/DC/44/2/3/12

The Glasgow Sentinel had a history of insulting Stuart who was a supporter of the Whig movement. This led to Stuart taking a libel case against both the Glasgow Sentinel and the Beacon, which was based in Edinburgh. When this song, however, was published Stuart was keen to find out who was responsible for this and managed to get manuscripts of the articles which showed that Boswell was the author. Stuart demanded that Boswell either  apologise for or deny writing this defamatory song. Boswell refused and so to protect his honour Stuart challenged Boswell to a duel.

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Lyrics of the Whig Song published in the Glasgow Sentinel, written by Alexander Boswell. This was the cause of the duel. AA/DC/44/2/3/12 

Neither party was planning for this duel to be deadly. Sir Boswell, who aimed the pistol in the air, fired to miss. Stuart, however, was not trained to use a pistol and so did not aim, thus hitting Boswell through the neck and shattering his collar bone. (See image below) The injury was fatal and Stuart fled the scene to Paris where he handed himself in.

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Charge against James Stuart, includes description of the injuries sustained by Sir Alexander Boswell. AA/DC/44/2/3/12

James Stuart was found not guilty for the murder of Sir Alexander Boswell as the jury ignored the illegality of duels. This volume is able to provide insight into the political climate of the time as well as the processes of the law that allowed Stuart to go free.

Prestwick Burgh Online Catalogue

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Extract of Matriculation of the Arms of the Burgh of Prestwick to add the motto ‘Loyalty, Vigilance, Foresight’ 1955 (BP/1/5/1)

The catalogue for the Burgh of Prestwick is now available online. This is the first Burgh catalogue to be made available online by Ayrshire Archives and has been extensively restructured and extended by the Archives team.   This has enabled us to provide access to 1832 items that were previously unavailable to the general public. Prestwick is one of the earliest Burghs of Barony dating from at least 1174 but potentially as early as 983. The oldest document we have in this collection dates from 1446 (BP1/1/1) which is a notarial instrument regarding royal letters to Sir John Walas of Cragyne discussing the wrongful occupation of the Burgh’s common and property. The collection covers 1446 to 1975 when the Police Burgh was abolished under the terms of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and became part of Kyle and Carrick District and Ayr Sub-region of Strathclyde.

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Prestwick Town Council Minute Books (BP/1/3/1-73)

This collection contains a range of document types including official minutes of the Town Council, legal documents, accounts and correspondence. These give an overview of how Prestwick Burgh operated and what problems were faced. BP/4, Town Council Correspondence, is full of interesting cases that show the range of people’s experiences. The theft of vegetables is a recurring theme! BP/4/13/142 details the case of Agnes Lymbarer and Mr and Mrs Mathieson who were accused of stealing cabbages and green kale plants from John Smith and selling them in Ayr. Disputes could escalate into violence and intimidation, with many depositions and witness statements recorded in BP/4. BP/4/5/58 contains a deposition of two weavers who challenged each other to a ‘duell’ on the shore after the manhood of one was questioned by the other. BP4/5/181 documents the complaint by George Miller that he had been threatened by James Nesbit, after Miller refused to play his fyfe. This led to an effigy of Miller being made and burnt. The accounts and receipts give insight into the everyday life of those in Prestwick, including multiple receipts for food and drink consumed by the Freemen and regular accounts from John Dodd and his son, Adam, for catching moles.

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Receipt for payment to John Dodd for catching moles in Prestwick (BP/4/6/239)

Graduate Trainee trip to University of Glasgow

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As part of my position as graduate trainee I have the opportunity to visit other archive services. On Monday 27 February the assistant archivist and I visited the University of Glasgow Archives situated on Thurso Street. This is the repository for the official records of the University of Glasgow as well as the Scottish Business Archive, which contains collections of important Scottish businesses such as House of Fraser and Stoddard-Templeton. We were given a tour of the archive centre including the search room, offices and stores. The duty archivist provided a very thorough and interesting tour which provided us with the knowledge and understanding of how a higher education archive is run and how that differs to working with in a local authority context.

The afternoon consisted of an event on digital preservation run jointly by the Digital Preservation Coalition and the University of Glasgow. This enabled multiple organisations to get together to discuss how they are dealing with digital preservation as well as what the future of digital preservation is. The programme included talks from JISC, BBC Scotland and Glasgow School of Art. This allowed us to see how other companies and archives were using technology in order to provide access as well as preserve digital archives. This is an increasingly important topic as archives will increasingly be ‘born digital’ and the digitalisation of paper archives is being used in order to prevent damage to fragile or important documents. These reasons mean that digital records will be increasing and we have to understand how this will impact the way we look at the storage of archives.