Egham by Runnymede History Society


Jill Williams - Honourary President

Jill William is Honorary President of The Egham by Runnymede History Society where she has been a member for 30 of its 52 years existence. The society was originally set up in response to the redevelopment of the High Street in the 1960s as an attempt to document some of the historic buildings being demolished.

The Society exists to encourage interest in the local history of Egham, Egham Hythe, Englefield Green, Thorpe, Thorpe Lea, Virginia Water and the Surrey part of Sunningdale. The area includes Runnymede Meadows, site of the Magna Carta signing. The archive contains organizational documents, archaeological and historical reports, members research on buildings, newspaper clippings, audio recordings of local history talks and over 550 of the Society’s newsletters.

Jill talks about the challenges of managing an archive for a volunteer-run society with no support from a larger parent organization. Providing staff and coping with the demands of researchers at the society’s shared office and preserving the wide variety of archaic media formats present particular problems for unpaid volunteers without formal archive training.

Jill discusses successes and disappointments when engaging with local schools and building relationships with other heritage and educational organisations. She explains why, for her, the most interesting items in the collection are the ones she is working on right now.

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 Max 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 Jill Williams no relation honorary president for the Egham by Runnymeade History Society Jill would you like to introduce yourself and talk about your role in the society yes indeed um as i say my name is Jill Williams currently the honorary president and i've been a member of the Egham by Runnymeade History Society for over 30 years we still have i think one founder member from the start of the society 52 years ago and the role of the society we because we're a society we don't possess that many archives other than our organisational ones which are minutes accounts agm reports which we have from the beginning but our main archive would be our newsletters that have been produced from a very early stage in society and which cover archaeology reports local history reports on research on buildings on people events and also cover current news of the day such as planning applications that might be concerned with conservation of buildings the society was actually founded with an archaeological interest because Egham high street was being developed in the 1960s and this meant that many historic buildings were going to be demolished and there was a drive and an interest to see what was going to be lost what could be gained from this loss and then after the archaeology of course came the local history research that would encourage the context of the building and we've sort of gone from there so we we have collected um a number of archives and say principally our newsletters which on i think we have just over 550 in hard copy form and apart from these we have things like indexes the memories of our members many of whom are long-standing residents of the area which we've expanded over the years to include not only Egham but dinglefield green virginia water and thorpe and of course the association with runnymede and magna carta we also have some of our local history talks which have been recorded they're currently on two cassette tapes but this is something that we can convert into a more modern format and our newsletters are currently available if people can call into our research room which is in a grade 2 like a grade 2 listed building in Egham high street called the literary institute but we are limited for opening hours because we are as a society all unpaid volunteers so we only have a limited amount of time um that we can actually be there but we can of course take um inquiries via our website and our email address so i hope that puts into [Music] the public domain what we are trying to do um and then perhaps we can discuss what we're doing currently is that okay yeah how many people are who form up the society then we have between um 80 and 120 members and a committee of 10 i think at the moment um who are generally the more active members but anybody can contribute um you know any and a lot of our members do do respond to articles in our newsletter and often we appeal to them for their background knowledge because none of us knew everything when we started we've all had to learn and we try and make the fullest use of any resources we can whether it's memory um other archives such such as museums the surrey archive and wider archives like the national archives so we try to use as much of our resources and of course the fact that much of it is now online does make it easier in some respects but we also find that our inquirers almost think we can pick stuff off the shelf and hand it to them and to do some in-depth research can take quite a time we don't charge for our research inquiries we do that for free as a public service you have quite close links with uh the Egham museum right yes we did we we as a society founded the museum in Egham but some 10 years ago they split themselves off to function as a separate organization so we are now entire two entirely separate groups although we meet on the same premises and therefore there are quite close links and the society is is still a patron of the museum what kind of information do you have in your newsletter then you've been printing it for quite some time yes um there are there's material um some one of one of our earlier researchers were really considered that anything after the tudor period was modern and was a great um in had a great interest in very early medieval history so we we perhaps get batches depending on what the members interest is batches of work on certain families as to say sometimes on houses or other properties in the area and these are usually the two main areas that we get inquiries about people whose families came from the area and they would like to find out more more than just their births marriages and deaths perhaps where they lived sometimes we can supply a photograph of the house or the road at least that they came from and with people spreading wider and wider across the world we get inquiries you know from from all different parts of the world um one on one occasion i actually had two Australian chaps knock on my door saying one of the local shops had said this lady can help you and their um ancestor had emigrated back in the 1880s and by communicating what we had we were able to fill in some background for them so that's the type of thing that we do sometimes it's on local industries many of which have gone but people said you know i worked for this company when i was 20 and i've moved away what happened to it so that's the type of um inquiry that we we try to help with you i mean you mentioned in medieval history probably the most famous event in the area is is the signing of the magna carta do you have any involvement in that kind of research um we we do yes um we in fact the whole meadow of runnymaid has a much greater number of events that happened on it as well as magna carta magna carta is sometimes quite difficult to to talk about to get into the modern day mind the what the medieval ideas would be and of course the national trust who are currently in charge of the site do organize events um down there so that sometimes we just fill in the background um we do do talks about it but not just magna carta because nobody knows exactly where it was signed and it's quite difficult then to say well it was somewhere here um but we can't say precisely where and of course with the number of um the mass of people that would have been there not just king john and the barons but all the attendant courtiers and horses and servants it would have been quite a quite a large gathering and so it may have been in several places across this very big open meadow but over more recent times it was also the site of a race course which flourished for about 150 years and it's also of course close to the River Thames with the attendant um traffic where things would have gone by boat rather than the the rather doubtful roads at the time so the whole area is interesting not just from magna carta's um perspective but from the the others and the memorials of course that are on it the uh the american bar association memorial the kennedy memorial overlooking it of course is the raf memorials so there is a is a great deal to see in this area not just magna carta but all these other events that went on so that sort of tries to put it into a wider picture do you as a society have i mean you've mentioned the local museum and do you have links with the national trust there's um the university of London up the road um there's uh Holloway sanatorium do you have links with them well we do yes um particularly um my husband worked for royal Holloway for many years before retiring so that we do have links and we're we still as a couple are involved in their heritage day events which take place normally in September sadly cancelled this year of course but we would normally do tours of the college the particularly the founders building the historic areas of the college and of course they have their own picture gallery with its attendant curators so that yes we are involved with that the sanatorium uh has now been converted to um housing so that's much more limited but it is it has been in the past open on heritage day as well and two or more of our members have been down there to actually attend to visitors and to talk to them about the history of the sanatorium itself how much material do you have in your collection um you mean as a society yes yes um it's quite difficult to say actually um because we have um files of cuttings um say as our newsletters as indexes um what our own personal research um areas are so um it's actually quite quite a tricky thing to answer actually um because you can't go along the shelves easily and measure it i would say perhaps um several large floor-to-ceiling bookcases that sort of thing it's not all um readily available some has to be stored in in boxes um in another rooms because we are always chronically short of room like most archives we also have um limited um opening hours um normally because we're volunteers um we would normally only be available in person perhaps two days a week and it would be different people on different days and not always the same people it's quite a fluid position but we do communicate between one another either by email or simply by by leaving notes for one another post-it note system um would you say that the the lack of volunteers is probably the biggest challenge in in the running of the society yes um i think you know highlighted is the challenge of making it interesting to other people who may not have considered it as as basically what is a very interesting hobby and i think this is um something that we we've been conscious of since the knockdown has of how can we try and extend our reach to interest people into not only coming out to our monthly talks that we have but also of becoming more involved and carrying the society forward into the into the future because the challenges that faces are making sure that our the archives that we have or we can use are continually updated i mean when we started it hand written notes that it was typewriter then the early computers and we've been through floppy disks um cds memory sticks hard drives you know each time you you're trying to cope with a system and making sure it can still still be relevant in the future and accessible in the future and that that's quite difficult if you're not um a trained archivist with the whole backing of an organisation behind you so that's one of our challenges similarly when we started you would be taking prints or photographic prints or slides now it's digital images and it's a question of this continual awareness of how do we update it and how do we find the people to help us to update it which is why we would dearly like to attract some younger members who are perhaps more technically savvy than than many of our older members although i wouldn't say that any of them are lacking we it's surprising what older people can and are achieving but nonetheless it would be nice to feel that we were always fit to update the information we have and make it more readily available and how do we perhaps begin to put some of this um out online so that some of the challenges that we are considering at the moment do you have links with uh local schools and maybe the university um no we leave that more to the museum to deal with because they they have a program where they they are dealing with schools and our borough museum at chertsey also has um the um very strong links with the local schools they they actually excuse me they actually have um a regular program of school visits uh this is to the museum at chertsey and i know that the museum at aegon also is trying to attract younger visitors with um daily uh with events that are carrying on um normally during the week on Saturdays so um the society has in the past tried but it's sometimes quite difficult to interest the schools you really rely on one motivated teacher we used to actually run a competition and the last one was on magna carta for children just to visualise what it would be like and only one class in one school sent in entries which was rather disappointing but the entries we had were wonderful there were 30 of them some had even singed the paper that they'd written on so that it looks like a medieval document with the frayed edges so there was a great deal of imagination but the the lack of interest um from that point of view was was disappointing and we haven't done anything for a number of years perhaps it's something we should be considering do you think um online resources of the future for getting people engaged then um i think there's certainly a good a good place to start because most people will turn to the internet from for their first sort of dabble i think what a lot of people don't realize is that so many things are not on the internet but require um sort of a personal search for so i think yes things on the internet and particularly i think how you can access some of the sources and where they might be sort of a brief synopsis of what archives you do hold and we're currently trying to update the index to our newsletters so that that could be put online and then people could request a particular page because now we've had the the newsletters um digitally copied we could send out a relevant page if the person who wants it knows what it is that they can find from it so i think that's possibly um a project that we should be getting down to in the near future is is actually giving an idea of what we have and um how it might be obtained finally what in your opinion not not saying any of the other members your opinion is your most interesting item that's a really difficult question because um i would always say it's the document i'm working on at the moment because that's the one that's holding my interest at this very minute um i think the human stories are are always interesting and um i think yes i i think it's the one that you know i'm currently working on but um i know that we produced a large number of publications and the very popular section are our photographs with a paragraph of history attached and when you can actually perhaps take two or three unrelated episodes and put them all together in one one paragraph and tie it all together when you fitted all the pieces of the jigsaw together that's the most interesting item that you've got at the moment that's the real wow i'm really pleased with that time it's a very honest answer i think yeah there's really something in that it's what you're working on now you're working on it for a reason yes that's correct thank you very much for agreeing to speak to me today it's been very interesting hearing about your work i'm very sorry that uh covert 19 has interrupted your series of events i hope you'll get back to them soon yes i don't we have no future um thing but we are going to try and um perhaps have some online events which will be a whole new learning curve for us but that's very good for our brains and so we we hope that we can meet this current challenge by perhaps um putting a little more out there which we wouldn't have considered up until now so the future you know has got some interest for us and we're going to do our best to try and um you know meet the challenge i look forward to seeing what you come up with for sure right okay thank you very much thank you