London Borough of Barnet


Hugh Petrie - Heritage Development Officer

Hugh Petrie has been Heritage Development Officer at the London Borough of Barnet since 1999.

Hugh talks about the formation of Barnet as an administrative area in 1963, and the historical nature of the areas and archives it took on. He then goes on to describe the four sections that the physical archive covers: a reference section (mostly now online); the council minutes and reports; artifacts specific to the area from the former Church Farmhouse Museum; and the library's local history collection started back in 1927.

Hugh also takes us through his four areas of work: preparing materials for heritage use; dealing with inquiries; managing the collection; and digitization. Working in archives from the early days of digitization, Hugh is an enthusiastic advocate for the benefits of digital content and discusses changes that have occurred over that time. He explains how digitization has helped the archive to reach a wider audience, facilitating production and dissemination of YouTube videos and learning materials.

With a keen eye on a sustainable legacy, Hugh shares how digitization helps to preserve the material and how it allows archivists to become research facilitators and guides rather than just "porters" ferrying the physical boxes back and forth.



Youtube: Until the 1960s you could travel by train from Finsbury Park to Edgware via Highgate and Finchley. This video recreates that journey using historical pictures from the Alan Lawrence Collection (Barnet Local Studies)

Youtube: A guided tour of High Barnet in the 1860s by balloon, using the 1860s 1:2500 ordnancy survey, and old pictures, and newspaper cuttings from the Local Studies Collection of the London Borough of Barnet Library Service.

Youtube: Barnet VE Day

Youtube: Finchley Common a History.

The Local Studies Centre has over 10,000 photographs and postcards dating from circa 1900, as well as a small collection of paintings and illustrations from the 19th century. Hundreds can now be viewed at:

Please Note: This is an automated, machine-generated transcription. We have presented this 'as is' and have not undertaken any editing.

hello and welcome to the maps communications 2020 podcast a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections my name is faith williams and i'm joined today by hugh featuring heritage development officer for the london borough of barnet hi here would you like to introduce yourself then tell us about how you came in to be where you are today my name is hugh petrie i work for the london bar of barnet as their heritage development officer in hendon so what kind of um collections are you dealing with in your role um we have a number of different kinds of collections in the physical in physical terms we have four collections we have essentially we have the uh reference section which is just a small section now um because a lot of that is now digitally available online so things like victoria county history license environments of london and all those useful histories for local history people they're they're pretty much taken care of and online and they they've just sit in a reference stop in the main section of the library um the second section is probably the um is definitely a council minutes and reports um since the 1970s those have been um stored with us because basically the councils need to give access to them and as a consequence we were used to facilitate that but as they go back um into the late 19th century uh they're actually very interesting and useful historical documents as well but combined with them it's also all the subsidiary materials like uh airaid precaution uh material and things of that nature then there's the uh history uh collection from the former church farmhouse museum uh the local history collection which was uh objects associated with london borough of barnet so that includes things like um things like aerated proportion helmets and blouses which have you know the the local authorities uh badges emblazoned on them as well as locally manufactured objects and you know little bits and pieces that have you know come our way which are of local interest and value we don't collect generics so insurance plaques and things like that we don't we don't deal with it all now um it has to be specific to the area and then finally there is the uh local library or the the public libraries um local history collection which has been going since about 1927 and uh through to 29 when hendon library first opened uh was being sought off and first opened and i suppose our very first um our very first local history librarian is is sort of mid-30s 1930s a woman called isabelle pie um she's she was my far-off ancestor you know in terms of the role um so it's it's that's the broad base of the types of collections and within the local history collection library history collection there's photographs thousands of photographs hundreds of maps lots and lots of old documents from 18th century deeds all the way through to i think our most recent acquisitions was the finnish leader from synagogue collection and also um you know photographs of one of the large houses interiors exteriors that house called cromwell house um which is uh not far from not far from where i'm sitting right now actually so it's it's full of diverse objects within a local history collection it's it includes a great deal of material a very various material so barnett is north london how old is that as a constituency well barnet um as a constituted object uh is not actually very old it's only about 60 years old 55 years old actually it was founded under the local government acts of 1963 as as a london borough and which it became over a period really between 1964 and 1965 up to about 1970 odd when it finally consolidated as one object prior to that it was barnett finchley hendon and edgware um and a lot of little places like gold's green and charles hill and and so on and so forth within that western frying barnet of course not that's the fry barnet so that's that's what constituted london barabani because it's got quite a lot of um open spaces and things like that doesn't it it's actually quite a remarkable place in that in that regard although it's the london borough about a quarter of it is actually fields um or maybe less than that maybe a fist um it it's quite a lot um only if you can imagine it's sort of the conurbation is sort of shaped like a you um we're running from edgeware to uh down to charles hill and then from charles hill up to barnet that forms the kind of u-shape but there are areas in mill hill totteridge barnet uh north interhadley which are essentially fields and then there are of course a large number of recreational spaces from belonging to the corporation of london like the uh these and and holders hill uh goldusthill house um i was at the goldfield park um and also places like scratch wood moatwood um moat mount um hadley woods and so on so it's it's very green borough you must have a different collect what type of collection than some of the city center bars then well i think the the main principal differences are our ancestor population if you like and i like to talk with them as the ancestor population is very very small by comparison our only real conurbation prior to about 1850 is barnet um and everything else is either small villages calling themselves towns like edgeware but everywhere else is really village and some of them are tiny chinese and then um so really we don't have a large population of people historically we've only really acquired our our historical you know our large populations in the 20th century that's when we we really start to grow and in that sense we have a very different kind of collection um it's it's a lot a lot of the material it's associated with large landowners and the like so it's it's not it's not so hot if you're a lo if you're a family historian um who else accesses the collection then if you don't cater so much to families family historian family history family history is is is in decline at the moment um pretty much because once a family tree has been done by your uncle also or somebody then it's being done there's very little reason to revisit it unless you're very very keen so we did see a large number of people using the unit for family history back in the 2000s particularly in the early 2000s but gently since about 2009-10 it's been slowly dwindling down uh and um it thought but it's also because there's a large amount of material now available online through fine you know find my past and um ancestry so we don't tend to cater for them as much as before they still constitute about one in six of our users but there was a time when they were one in two um most of our users are professional researchers doing desk-based archaeological surveys and also local historians either informally those who want to know histories of their houses and things like that or more formally in local societies who are doing projects for their own you know their own magazines and what have you we do a large amount of research and writing as well for the council so we have um a an exhibition space for um showing off our collection in the town hall at hendon currently we're doing world war two posters from the area um which we have a good collection um but we also do things like youtube's uh we've got about four or five youtubes up at the moment um and we produce teaching packs and all sorts of things i also go into schools and do talks for local groups and things of that nature so our work is half archival and half heritage um so the people who access the collection is broadly speaking researchers but also counselors wanting answers to questions and you know the other stuff is that the bulk of your role then i'm answering people's queries i wouldn't say that i think the bulk of my work is four things one of them is that we prepare materials for heritage use that's interpretation of the material in various ways we also provide answers to inquiries and facilitate people doing research but we also all you know my times also spent organizing the collection accessioning material indexing material and generally looking after getting it into good order [Music] we have been through a number of moves in the last few years and the result is that we're we're having to sort of reorganize the collection in the light of that you know it it if you move collections they they can get a little bit out of sync and things like that there's so there's there's that side of it and i suppose the the last one is digitization which now takes a large amount of time um it's not a bad thing at all because in the long run it saves time so we have been working on for example our council minutes our historical council minutes for the last uh few years what with volunteers and myself um and we've done nearly all of hendon and we've done nearly all of finchley of the sort of five main constituent parts um and that's proved very very useful you know in as much as it by doing that we save ourselves the time of going and getting the volumes and bringing them down and putting them out and booking people in if somebody wants to research a particular volume i can actually just we transfer the volume to them which is a enormous time saving but also if i need to search a range of volumes um it's quite easy to do with because they're in pdfs and if you hold them in a folder you simply press ctrl shift and f and you can browse around for the folder and then you can put in a keyword and search and it'll bring up every instance within the volume um or within the pdf of the volume or where that word is so it's that in itself is one of the big parts of the job now because what i'm tempting to do what we're attempting to do is to build up a large enough amount of material that is digitized and searchable that we save large amounts of times for the organizational interpretive and so on how big is your team then it's me ah well it won't be fine i have i have one man who comes in james comes in once a week but generally speaking it's just me we do have volunteers we haven't had some any volunteers recently for obvious reasons um but last year we had three volunteers and they were very good very hard working um i tend to find that mature people are the best volunteers because they can give the time to the job younger volunteers are usually on their way somewhere professionally sometimes they're very very good but a lot of the time they're with you for a few months they work quite hard but then of course you've trained them up and they go um so i found best of all as a as a mature people who have been with me for years um and you know worked very hard and a lot of the digitization was their steady work i think the the the best of the digitization jobs that came out was um was from jack richardson uh unfortunately died a few years back who digitized our entire collection of index cards he he scanned them all which enables me to search for things for example i'm at home now because we're all you know working from home and i can look through our index cards because they're all jpegs that was a very good job and you know that's that's been very good also the maps and the pictures as well being digitized of course the large maps i had to be done had to be done by max communications but the the small maps were done and that was a very good job as well it means that everything is to hand which is wonderful so we we have it to hand and we can use it in youtube's and we can we can really make the most of it it's a digital object in a way that the the original can't be used um that really helps us to extend ourselves out into the digital space which of course is where most people are these days so when we make our youtube for example i'm doing i'm i'm doing uh youtube's at the moment based on the maps collection a very specific match which actually comes into the last question of the day which is your favorite um you know your favorite object and and with i chose my favorite object which is the first edition of the county series of ordnance survey are color colorized ones the ones they hand tinted and the beautiful details within them and i've been using those on youtube to tell the story of where places were what places were like in the 1860s and without that sort of bulk of work going on in the background where with people um helping to scan material and the like we wouldn't be able to bring those photographs and the little bits and pieces together and do the research um in quite the same way you know so that's how how effective it is to have a nice group of volunteers working with you but for the most serious stuff like um you know organizing the collection accessioning and things of that nature that's just me um i didn't motor the inquiries as well so volunteers are really making a difference in making their local heritage accessible to others yes they do and um yes pretty much um we we had a team originally of four people uh or four full-time posters five people back in 2009-10 and we were gradually scaled back um to one um and to take you know take up take up some of that we we had to digitize and use volunteers so digitizations saved some of the labor and using volunteers was very very useful and also very efficient surprisingly efficient um you know i was i was very pleasantly surprised by their dedication what are your hopes for the future of the archive then well i think we are in a transitional stage um it's ironic but actually i don't think we would really want to have many people coming in we only really expect people to come in if um you know if they actually needed to see the original object either because of its aesthetic value or because the digitization hadn't quite worked properly and the the you know the more people who are coming in is is almost an expression of your failure or my failure to actually put the material out into the public space well i think we're transcending towards that and i think that you know one day i'm going to retire um which will happen you know i'm not a young man now um i'm not fast approaching retirement but it is now on the horizon if you know what i mean um probably in about 10 years time in this interim time i would like to get it to the stage where the role had changed for being a facilitator rather than a pause at the moment a lot of the job in in local authority archives is fetching things and bringing them to the desks and then putting them away again and as you can imagine that's ex that that extends a large amount of time and really what you want is the people are able to access it for themselves online without the intervention of an archivist or heritage office or whatever they're being called and you know that they can that the question about who access it to your archives is almost redundant it's whoever's using it um you know that that's where i would like to get to it's a stage where people can just come into a space as it were virtual space click on something have the material and be satisfied with what they receive um i think that's that that's the stage i would like to be at and the archivist or whoever is there simply to bring material in digitize it as it comes in uh platform it and then give advice where necessary and i think there is still a role even at the digital world i think this is true throughout the digital world whether it's education or the arts or or sciences or anything there's still a need for a human being at some point um there you know that and that's that will be true within the archive setting as well so you you know you will always need somebody to explain the you know um i'm just trying to bend the name a bit offhand but uh uh you know a small district which has a funny name for example and uh a cuckhold haven in east benchley for example is now called redline hill um so if somebody says well my ancest was in capcom save and have no idea where it was then you'll still need somebody to say well it's over there you'll still need somebody with some background knowledge and also somebody who knows the collection well enough to say well yeah the index don't show it but if you look in this set of documents you will fear it um you know this and this sort of thing may interest you it'll be less of an organizational role and much more of a facilitating role and much you know it'll be less of a of of moving objects around the place and getting them out for people which actually is not good for them you know a lot of these documents are unique there aren't seconds of the most thirds of them a lot of these documents are you know delicate because they're old and in many respects you don't want to be producing them and with that you also have a a population of users the majority of whom don't really want to come to hendon to come into our reading area and have to spend time with me bringing things out putting them away again so you know that's how i see the future that's what i would hope for the future is that that we we can realize some of the promise of digitization um in a in a fuller way in a full way we are getting there slowly but surely but it's it's still even it's remarkable because i started this job in 1998 um actually it was 1999 june 1999 and one of the questions was uh in my interview was what do you think the implications of computers in archives is and i remember having to say well trisby sold having read around him rapidly at the time because basically i'm not an archivist i'm a historian um you know basically the the the the um nobody really knows um it's been used a few times to you know to to sort of shove around uh data about social history things you know how many people were born in the paul or area and things like that um but it hasn't been it hasn't been really used for digitization in a in a full sense um there aren't any real collections and digital materials yet so it's very new and i i think we're going to be learning from here on in and i have spent the last 20 years learning from there on in all all sorts of different things about that and i think it's been a project that was recognized within the service and and i think we will eventually get there hopefully before i leave i hope to be able to leave it to someone in a state where they go wow that's what we needed to enhance how far along the journey are you how much do you have to tie so far i think we've done we've done very well in terms of capture um we have a remarkable amount captured we have all our electoral registers all our directories um many of our ordinance survey maps nearly all of ours in these elderly survey maps were done by max communications a lot of our rarer memorial maps were done by them as well we have uh about i would say we're about halfway through our council minutes uh up to 1965 and a large amount of um other materials as well that's been just digitized on the way the photographs for example we have about twelve thousand photographs digitized or twelve um no it's actually up to expression is twelve thousand it's it's probably about five or six thousand in real terms i've never looked but it's a significant number all our postcard collection is now digitized and routinely if i get pictures or um documents in i routinely uh try and digitize for now although that's quite a handful to do as well you know so that side of it's good the capture is good um platforming is still quite a tricky area we've got our photographs platformed through um boro photos nothing like the amount i would like in there but i'm sure that i'll be increasing that over the next couple of years or three significant at the moment is about 1500 in there i would like to include everything that's permissible by copyright in that in that section um we're looking at ways of of uh platforming there particularly the council minutes and the and the ordinance survey first editions the ones that aren't available on the scottish uh like national library of scotland's website for example which actually includes quite a lot of the second and third editions and uh all of the first editions in our area so that's um that's roughly where we stand there's a huge amount still to be done though most of our things like uh um deeds and uh rare documents of that nature haven't been scanned and digitized yet but i can see a time and they will be um it's i think we've passed the point i'm now past the point where i'm going yeah that's a lot to capture yeah i'm going to be close on 80 000 objects um we're getting through to the point where i'm going yeah i can see this being done to a point where it will be the norm to expect it to have been digitized let's put it that way but the platforming for um a lot of it is stuff that we're still working on you remember earlier your favorite item is ordinance survey maps and that you've done a youtube video on them what kind of things are you talking about on your youtube channel well i'm looking at um essentially it's it's using it as a sort of starting point uh we have first the odd of these maps in the collections that you're forty of the original um colorated ones and one of the one of the tasks that i have is is producing histories of the area and i thought that actually what we should be doing is bouncing these histories off the material so actually what we should be saying is look at this material and this will tell us something as a history so um i'm using the thing i find wonderful about these maps is that they they set up questions in themselves so anybody looking at these maps yeah will wonder well what's that about oh i can see my favorite street the one i have done so far i've done one i'm in the middle of doing the second one i've done they're done in the way i've set it up was i did it as a balloon trip with a balloon that flies over the map so there's a victorian balloon looking down at 18 uh 1860s map and as it flies along it stops and we look at something which i highlighted a little red red triangle and i just speak about that and it i did barnet chipping barnett um and we were talking about things like how the town hall the first town hall barnett's first town hall in union street got to be there how union street street became named um using 1860s photographs to look at the the church of saint john the baptist um to look at middle row and these antique places no longer exist to show exactly where they are um now to tell people where they are now to tell people why uh you know where the famous barnet market was uh in the 1850s and where it had been and and things of that that nature and just explaining what they're looking at on the map and the history at that time and a little bit before and a little bit afterwards but not much um so they fly around on this balloon and blue turns around and you know you get you know it points in another direction and things like that i'll put a link in for you yeah that would be great um but i also um i'm working on at the moment the welsh harp which is um we share is a big reservoir um that we share with brent it's actually called the brent reservoir but everybody knows it as the welsh heart and it calls it worthwhile it's too long too long a word uh phrase um and at the moment i'm working on that which is a really fascinating history in the 1860s because it's all about william perkins warner's welsh heart pub and his his super fantastic fun days where thousands tens of thousands of londoners would turn out to spend some time in the reservoir and to drink in the pub of course but be entertained was absolutely everything from uh race horse race things through to old i mean it goes on you'll have to watch it when it comes out when it comes out i'll let you know well but it's it was a way of using this fantastic material to you know to actually say well it's more than just a i wasn't just applying that it's uh you know this is something from which all sorts of things leap and that's why i love it i love it because it gives you that it gives you a wonderful moment uh uh in in history a wonderful period in history which can really tell you about what you know the history of the area in in its pla you know in yeah i'm not doing very well there i think i dropped that yeah that sounds really fascinating to kind of give people an idea of a snapshot in time and everything that was going on at that moment in the local area yeah and also we pro we provide a link to the map with the youtube how many sites are your images and all that are things hosted on is it all on the borough website no it's it's not we use youtube we use boro photos with max communications um we use a number of different uh we those are the principal ways we we look look after increasingly it's um about social media i'm involved with three um well there's four but one of them's quite quiet um facebook pages which enable me to actually sort of put things up periodically and say have a look at that you know and the great thing about facebook and instagram and like but particularly facebook in this particular regard is that you can place things up and you know you're you're placing into an audience so rather than being having in a situation where you have to bring the audience to you somehow you know book a church hall have an exhibition space um get people into the archives again this is not you know it's you don't want people to come into the archives in the reading room you want to be able to get it in front of them where they live and where they're enjoying themselves and where they feel comfortable you know where they're not thinking about gosh when am i going to get my cup of tea and oh i've done the injuries that are going to need to lure in a while you know it getting beyond all that so they can because you know they can reach it at their own time and pace and you know places like facebook pages like uh eventually down memory lane has closed on 7 000 members or more now i should think um last time they posted up the members it was very high i could never wish for an audience you know i could never possibly dream of an audience that size so social media is very important i think growing importance in in terms of accessibility um it also enables people they know who i am um you know although i don't sort of you know i don't sort of put on airs on the site as such um against occasional discussions but you know i'm not boris about it but they knew who i am and people will just simply post up something like does anyone know why such and well cold favorite is called cuckold's raven and i can face yeah it's named after brian barnett family called kakhold which is not a good name but um yes you're based in hendon library don't visit you you should check out the digital resources first well i think that's an ideal and that's an ambition at the moment and until we've got the platforming sorted out until we've you know able to deliver people will have to come in and i am sorry about that um i'm repeatedly asked by people why don't you digitise it and put it online which yeah we would love to but that's not as easy as it sounds very easy thing to say very difficult thing to do we will put links to your website address on the page so people can check out everything that you've digitized so far yeah or just to be able to get in contact with me so i can if people need things i can i can pass them on to them if you know if we've got them digitized it's probably close to the mark at the moment but as i say we are working hard on this yeah it's wonderful to hear how forward-thinking you are with this i hope that you reach your goal sooner rather than later yes apart from anything else it makes the whole business of research and writing so much more interesting and so much more fruitful if you're not having if you're not having to run around after books and things but you have them in front of you you can actually build connections as well which you wouldn't normally do in the old-fashioned way of research although there is something to be said for ordinary research keyword searches is not the only way through actually just going through trawling through material digitized or undigitized is still a very good way of finding out things and hearing stories that you might not have come across there's a lot to be said for that it is indeed it sounds like you have a wonderful collection for which people can do that through yes we do thank you so much for speaking to me today here it's been a delight hearing about all the big ideas you have good and i'm very pleased to join you thank you very much