King's College School Wimbledon


Lucy Inglis - Archivist

Lucy Inglis, School Archivist for King's College School Wimbledon, talks about her role in preserving and collecting the history of the school.

With many Alumni feeling a close connection to the College, the archive provides a valuable resource of photos, programs and past Chronicles. Lucy discusses her ideas for opening up the archive to a wider audience and engaging current students in learning about those who came before them.




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 orcas and collections my name is faith williams and i'm joined today by lucy inglis school archivist for king's college school wimbledon hi lucy would you like to introduce yourself and tell us about how you came to be in your position yes hi thanks faith um so i started working at uh kings in the school archive a couple of years ago now um i actually have only relatively recently trained or qualified as an archivist my background is actually in art history um but i grew up in wimbledon so so i know the area well and i actually knew a bit about the history of the school so i'm only the second actually qualified archivist that they've had at the school and my predecessor wasn't actually here for that long and before then the archive was managed by members of staff generally once they'd retired so there were people who knew the school incredibly well but probably had a different approach to what it meant to take care of an archive so they might research aspects of the school's history that they were particularly interested in or they would just gather new records to be transferred to the archive by going around to colleagues and asking them for stuff so although it was pretty well organized to to an extent there weren't sort of the maybe the normal policies and procedures that you would expect to be in place if you go into a lot of archives um there wasn't necessarily the kind of the collections care there and certainly there wasn't really any proper cataloguing that had been done um but there was an awful lot that had been kept and there you know there was an awful lot of love there and a huge amount of say research that had been carried out which was very very helpful i think when you come into a role like this where it's it's slightly different i think to working in a more public-facing archive um that we do exist primarily it tends to be alumni who are very interested in our records or their families if they're people who are researching family history for the school for their use as well um so i think people do expect it's not just that you're going to make the records accessible i think that they do also want you to act as pro you know custodians of that history and those stories and be aware of what they are and be able to tell them um so a lot of what i've been doing over the last couple of years since i've been here has really been about trying to also as i say just establish some sort of archival practices alongside continuing to be there as a point of contact um for people who are interested in the history of the school and to introduce that history to new audiences as well to whoever they may be whether it's just members of the public or to current pupils and staff you know things that they might not know about um about the school so what kind of i mean obviously some stuff like registers and things everyone went to school so we know roughly what kind of paperwork there is but is there more sort of unusual things in your collection you might not expect well yeah in a way actually there probably aren't all the things that you might necessarily expect um just to explain so the school was founded um in 1829 as the junior department of kings college on the strand and it so until 1897 the school was located in the basement effectively of somerset house um on the strand in london um and it moved to wimbledon say in 1897 really because i think it wasn't viable as a london day school any longer if it didn't have outside space i think increasingly people were expecting parents were expecting there would be facilities for sport so the headmaster convinced the council of kings college to buy this what was effectively it was just a very large house domestic residence but with a good-sized garden it had seven acres of land and it was flat land so it could be converted for use as rugby and cricket pitches um and at that day the school was still connected to the college and then in 1911 it became independent of king's college and so a lot of the kind of official records you might expect to find in the archive actually don't sit here they're still with king's college in their archive um we do though yeah have the entrance registers going back but then those sort of stop at a certain date so it's other than things like the governing body minutes things like building and finance committee minutes which we do have and they are kept somewhere secure the rest of it is it's a bit of a mixed bag it's a bit ad hoc as to what's being kept by whom almost i think more by accident than design is what's there um there was also a fire at a certain point so the beginning of the 20th century and quite a lot of records unfortunately were destroyed then so yes so we do have things like entrance registers we also have as you might expect quite a lot of items with uniform um but it's funny how a lot of the current pupils really like looking at especially because once upon a time the boys used to wear straw boaters in the summer um and it was even a request when six more people wanted to try on some of their headwear which was fine because we've got quite a few examples of various pieces um we have we've got a lot of photographs um mainly things like team sports teams photographs or prefects again whole school photographs got lots of those but we do also have things we'll have photograph albums from school trips um just more sort of informal photographs that were taken or of um theater productions that sort of thing um there are bits of chemistry equipment and i think this is mainly because uh one of the kind of caretakers of the archive for quite a long time was a former teacher called brian stokes who's been head of chemistry so we have different old-fashioned weighing scales which i mean they're absolutely beautiful objects and i would love one day to have a sort of a a show-and-tell maybe at lunch time with some of the pupils to show them what it was like in a in a pre-digital era um we have lots of press cuttings we have books um tend to be we tr which i'm trying now to keep it really just to books that either are written by alumni or former members of staff or do have you know a slightly stronger connection to the school than some of the things um that we inherited but we also have among the books a collection that were produced by the school in the 1950s and 60s the school had its own art press and the books they created as part of this are truly beautiful and i mean they are now a lot of more collectors items um because they just had this very talented um art teacher there who realized that it wasn't given much time within the curriculum or much status um so he just acquired these printing presses and the boys loved it and um and they used it too as a way i think by selling the books to to purchase reproductions of works of art because i think this is his idea too that then if they could actually see good artworks it might make them kind of appreciate art a bit more so those are lovely we also have quite a large collection of films that were made by the school's film unit and this was sort of a similar time to the art press this moment where clearly this kind of extracurricular activity was very very strong in the school um it was the film unit was set up by another science teacher called jack smith and he it was part of i think of a movement at this moment in time just believing that it was important for children to learn these skills in television i was just recently reading an article about it um and i don't think that this organization education you know film and television still necessarily exists in the same way for school-age children um so it's quite incredible really these films that these children produced that they would come up they would help devise the plot you know really write out quite detailed lists about um how it was going to be shot the camera angles sorting out kind of this musical score that would accompany them and in fact one of them got funding from the british film institute to be made and then went on to win i'd never heard of this that the amateur um society or something could give out oscars but anyway it won an oscar for that so i certainly hadn't anticipated that there'd be anything like that in the school archive um so it's yeah it is quite a mixed bag we've got programs from a lot of former school productions we've got lots of school lists and let's say we've got pretty much a full run of all the school magazines which are probably one of the most important sources for us in terms of getting a sense of the overall history of the school because they start in the 1870s um and pretty much go through apart from a few years where we don't have copies um to the present day so you mentioned um alumni and family of alumni are accessing the collection but who else does it do you do a lot of work with the current students and things like that um the current students not so much so we do get so in terms of inquiries that we get yes yeah it is alumni and or the fact they're families we quite often just get people who are writing a book or you know doing some sort of research into somebody with a connection to the school either because they taught here or they were people here and they're interested in their time here they're sort of again there's more of that than i had expected because kings isn't somewhere that's got a huge number of people you know especially when you go further back who were particularly families and they produced you know just went on to have very good careers and they would do well kind of as clergymen or lawyers or doctors but in terms of the pupils it's something that i'd really like to develop that they can use it as a resource and i did um some work it unfortunately couldn't happen this year because of covert but last september i found out that the year threes who i think are seven um go every year for a visit to the national archives and i thought wow that's amazing that seems quite young but this is great so i asked if i could go along as well and and they very kindly said yes you can so i then got a sense of what they were being introduced to in terms of an understanding of what an archive is how we need to take care of it what we consider to be archival documents and how we can use them you know how you might look at a photograph to try and ascertain certain information or facts or piece different things together and then i knew that they were studying the history of the school so after that visit um i sort of got out some bits and pieces from the archive and then some some things they were allowed to handle themselves but a lot were just copies so i knew that they'd seen the um the outside of the great hall which was the first building to be erected once the school moved to wimbledon and as i say and it before that it was literally just quite a large house um and so they got from that the dates um when i think i think it was 1899 was when the the great hall um was officially opened um but of course that wasn't actually when the school moved to wimbledon so i showed them one of the photographs we have of children basically and what was at that point a big garden with with a big house behind them and they looked at it and they didn't really understand what it was and then you show them the next photograph where it's also then got the great hall and of course they recognized the great hall so then they could see oh wow that's what's missing from the first photograph and so to piece together and understand oh so we know that when they first came here there was no great hall well we know the great hall was here in 1899. and then just use some other documents um for them to be able to kind of piece together that moment of when the school moved to wimbledon and why it moved here um and it was really lovely doing them because they got incredibly enthusiastic about it much more so than i thought they might um and they seem to really enjoy that element of detective work of just using the archive in that way to to understand a little bit more about the school's past and then we also looked at the school rules for the junior school from 1946 and they compared them to the sort of the code of conduct if you like that they would have today and we went through with them thinking about did they think that these rules were similar so what's expected them today or different and what was interesting was that i went to three different classes and it was three completely different responses overall as to how they you know their judgment their assessment of um of the past and how it compares to today so i'd really like to be able to use the archive more in that way obviously we have a lot here about personal experiences of fighting in both the first world war in the second world war and i think it's a good way maybe for pupils for it to make it i don't know it just is a different way isn't it of approaching that sort of that big history to think about it in terms of maybe slightly more relatable you can think this person went to this school in the same way that i did and to actually be able to read some of their letters or the family's letters to the school explaining what had happened to them and then recently the there's a blogging club and because of covid they are interested in writing um sort of a history of health at the school and they were asking if there was anything in the archive to do for example with spanish flu or polio or tb and what was fascinating in a sense was that there isn't that going through the school magazines for that whole sort of period 1918-20 and there is no mention whatsoever that there is this worldwide kind of epidemic pandemic going on and i don't know if it's because the the first world war was so much had such a bigger impact on their lives because that is still something that's being mentioned a lot um i didn't have much a chance to look at it but i did find for them the health report for wimbledon that was published at that time to just get a sense to whether it was just not something that was particularly prevalent um in this area i don't know um but i think that is one of the it's one of the challenges of this job is to is to make the archive more visible to the school community um the current school community and make it relevant to them as a as a resource and to find ways to do that but as you say i think it's it's good for people to relate historical events to their own lives they kind of see that they people who went to their school and and the families of you know people like their parents they got through and spanish through flu and things like that and they still had to wear uniform and silly little things like that and it's a good way to engage them in primary historical sources that are also relevant to them nowadays yeah i definitely think so i mean it's difficult i think sometimes when you're someone who's interested in history to constantly remind yourself not everyone is um but i do there's one aspect of history that i do find really interesting is this a lot of stuff changes but certain things don't change that much and you're saying to understand that and in a way that i do think if it's if it feels more connected to you and your own lived experience as well that maybe that makes it more real than if you're just reading something in a textbook or someone else telling you that all these sources that seem quite separate to you and your life um we'll see yeah that's pretty interesting what would you say the challenges you have working at this school archive in particular um i mean i think the biggest challenge in a way that i have is a lack of time i'm only here three days a week i was that's only quite recent i've gone to three i was here two days a week and it's trying to get that balance between making sure to say that that the material is is properly cared for that it is repackaged properly and it survives a lot of it this long but it is some of it is quite fragile because there are old documents so making sure i keep on top of that keep on top of the cataloging so that we actually i know what we've got because in a sense you can't use it and you can't really help people in inquiries if you don't know what's there um making sure i think a big challenge is that we there are processes in place so that the records that have been created now by the school are transferred across to the archive it's the school's a very different place now to it when it was as i say when you had teachers taking care of the archive but the teaching staff is so much bigger um we don't have sort of like a central record space even just for the administrative records you have to go to various different people depending on which meeting minutes you want um and so i think it is just really really important that we get something in place that everybody knows this is what needs to end up in the archive to be preserved permanently and part of that is goes hand in hand with this challenge of just sort of making the archive more visible and um and that is starting to happen but when you you know you've got to realize it at a school their primary function is not preserving records it's educating children it's getting them through this system it's something you know this school is very academic um it also has an awful lot going on in terms of its extracurricular activities and staff are very busy and i'm always mindful to be honest with you whatever context i think when essentially what you're doing is asking people to have quite good records management skills to you know to comply with retention schedules whatever it might be that's quite a big ask actually and you do need to make systems as easy as possible for people to follow and to go along with so it's trying as i say to balance all that stuff that i really think needs to be in place with also trying to make sure that it has a life you see what i mean and that it gets used and that it means something to people because there's also that aspect of why are we keeping all this stuff unless you find ways in which to engage people with it um so it's trying to develop more of an online presence for people who can't visit or as i say to to develop projects with pupils um which i hope they would just find interesting so that it goes beyond just they might learn something more about the history of the school or broader um you know social cultural political history that they might also gain certain skills you know whether that's because they do a research project with me and it's it's understanding how to use archive archival sources or an oral history project so they're learning just interview techniques as much as anything else there's stuff that i'd like to do around the film collection that we have so these films that were made in the 50s and 60s um and again that doesn't need to really be that you've got any interest in the past or in history that's about can you creatively work with these older films to somehow make them engaging the current audiences so i think that's it it's really just how do you manage to do all of it when it's one person three days a week other than just being patient i think and accepting that it will it will take a bit of time to get there and that it you know it does you do every you know you look back and you think wow you know 12 months ago this wasn't in place and that wasn't and we are there now so it's just a matter of um just keep going i suppose there was one item in the collection um you could choose to highlight what would it be what's your favorite i'm never very good at favorites when it comes to anything because seriously one of the things that i love most about working in archives is i genuinely believe that almost everything has an appeal to somebody and it can be you know it could have a significance 10 different people in 10 different ways we know whether someone would just find it fascinating because of the information it contains or someone else it might be the typography so i really do i i love it i love all of it i think that you'll just come across unexpected items the whole time just accessioning some material that was deposited with us from someone who was here in sort of the 40s and 50s and there was a letter sent home from the school to parents basically trying to give them some advice on how to manage that period where the boys enter puberty and it's just it's just kind of fascinating the way that it gives you an insight to the language that was used and you know the attitudes of that period of time um but also say i do have i have an art background so i love the art press design work i think that is incredibly beautiful but then i have i don't know why i really love menu cards there's something to me that's totally wonderful about seeing that shift that happens around food and drinks at formal events and what that kind of you know has just says about i think a lot of ways like britain and england and how our food has has come on i think i found one the other day it can't have been a sharian melon party but it was something like that and you just think yourself seriously that was your idea of being a great party was just to have sherry and some melon balls um but it really would be in terms of if there there's only one thing that i could have in this archive i mean it is the school magazines just because they are such a rich resource not only in terms of revealing what it was like well giving a glimpse possibly into what it was like to to be here over the years but also they will give hints as i say to that sort of that wider social history you know going back to thinking about the second world war and it's not just about when it started and people going off and fighting and it was even the lead up to it in the 30s because they always had an annual trip to germany and seeing that change and them going there and noticing the differences in germany and then it gets the point in july 38 where they can't go because the political situation is such that it's just deemed it's too unstable um and lots of things like that or there might be a sort of a a commentary or they'll get a guest speaker or those sorts of things that i think make you realize that again with most archives yes primarily they're telling you about the history potentially of that organization um or personal you know whatever that archive relates to but they do also always connect outwards and they'll tell you something about just the context in which those records were produced um and something you know broader in terms of that sort of social history which i think is is possibly what i'm most interested in sorry i was a terrible answer to your question wasn't it because it's like i'm basically saying i like all of it no i think if i when i think back to my school i you're right i do really like the school chronicles kind of seeing teenagers past and things like that is really interesting and again it goes back to what you're saying it's about relating to people who have come before you yeah and i think that's it really is that although it's i find it amazing in a way how this school the site so the physical site has developed over the years so when you start and it's it's just a house and a big garden so how it is now um it's even that i think i find more interesting it's not like it's it's not the architecture that's particularly interesting about that i think it just tells you an awful lot about the the finances of the school at certain moments in time what was expected and does that have an impact as well on how people you know treat the school almost or behave there their perception of it because of does the built environment have that kind of impact on us i think for me it does tend to always come back to people to people's stories i think that's often what's so great about archives is that that's what we're doing aren't there we it's often said of them they are they are our kind of collective memory and collective identity and that's so much what it's about it's about actual individuals being here and navigating being at the school and and it's one of the things i really treasure about my job here my role here is that there are you know there are people who were here sort of in the 50s and 60s who still feel very connected to their childhood to their days here and the school has understandably and perfectly naturally changed since that time and the archive is this one place where their version of the school still can remain you see what i mean yeah um and and it's really nice because they know that there is somebody here who's making sure that all of that stuff everything they did house kings operated then the teaching stuff all of it it will all be recorded and remembered somewhere yeah it sounds like an absolutely charming archive i think it's it's great that the school has taken the initiative to have that resource and i really hope you managed to get the kids more involved in it and things like that and you as you say it teaches them interdisciplinary skills and things like that so yeah i think it's great work it sounds like what you're doing and all the photographs and it sounds like an advanced school you're always looking to do new things um i should probably just try and rain it in a bit just stick to doing the cataloging um but no it is it's exciting i mean everywhere does that's the thing i think any archivist you talk to would say there is so much scope to do stuff with their collections it's just it always it takes time it takes resource um and it's just trying as i say to get to get that balance right between knowing that you know one of your primary functions is to take care of the collection um but also to think in new and kind of slightly maybe more creative ways about about how you can use things so that it does go beyond simply being a resource that's there for people doing quite specific research yeah well great work it sounds like it's your enthusiasm is paying off dividends thank you so much for speaking to us today lucy it's been a real delight it's my pleasure thank you for inviting me of course all right cheers