This summer, we were delighted to welcome Paramjit Sehmi and Helen Nethaway to work at The Blue Coat School on the Santander SME Internship Scheme in partnership with the University of Birmingham. The ten-week project was co-funded by the School and Santander bank for the purpose of working on the School archives, ordering, cataloguing and preserving them for future  generations.

The work they have done and some of the fascinating items they have found will be on display at Blue Coat’s “Peek into the Archives” event on Saturday 22nd September at 5pm in the School Hall. This will be a chance to peruse some of the schools archives and to find out more about this exciting project. We look forward to seeing you there! Please sign up here if you would like to attend.

Pam and Helen were faced with a room piled high with boxes in differing degrees of order and they have done a fantastic job in sorting through several hundreds of photos, sometimes delving deeper to research particular pieces and to build up a story about their origin. It is still a ‘work in progress’ but has given the School a headstart in identifying pieces for an exhibition to mark the
School’s tercentenary.

We caught up with Pam and Helen over the summer to find out how they were getting on:

Q: What were your first thoughts when you saw the task in hand?

H: What a lot of boxes! But the task became so exciting when we began to discover items that had not been touched in hundreds of years.

P: Seeing the sheer amount of boxes it was certainly clear that we weren’t going to be running out of work anytime soon! But, in following that thought, I was excited by the task and the possibility
of finding some hidden gems.

Q: Have you identified anything of particular interest that you have started to research further?

H: I uncovered a First World War commemorative plaque. I’ve begun to trace some of the names on the plaque at the Birmingham Library, locating birth certificates, war records and census details for those from Blue Coat who served in the war. I have also found reading accounts of Old Scholars’ lives at the School fascinating.

P: As a History of Art Master’s graduate, I have been particularly interested in a Victorian Wall-Hanging in the School’s collection. In recent years, this beautiful piece came into the School’s possession in 1987 via the family of former Governor, Samuel Groves. It was displayed in the new Centenary Building during Mr Bissell’s headship. A lot of the information about the wall-hanging has been passed down through the School and is self-admitted hearsay. Some believe that it was made by female students and Governors’ wives in the 1800s. I contacted Dr Clare Rose, having read her article on ‘intarsia patchwork’ on the V&A website. I discovered other images of wall-hangings which looked strikingly similar to ours. Dr Rose told me there are very few surviving examples of this intricate work, and she hopes to research it further when time permits. This object is starting to appear even more precious as the days pass!

Q: What is left to do now?

H: There is still a lot left to do, particularly in regards to researching artefacts further. Future project aims would be to digitalise a lot of the archives so that we can share these online via the Old Scholars’ Portal and provide wider access to items that can only be currently seen on visiting the School. I understand that the children in Pre-Prep study a history of the school module; now that we have sorted through the majority of the archives we have the opportunity to really bring the School’s history to life for them. We have discovered several written accounts by formal pupils but it would be wonderful to capture some video diaries too. Ideally if we had more time we would love to meet up with some of the Old Scholars to identify people in photographs, hopefully this is something that can be carried over to the next project and in the meantime we can use the opportunity to talk to Old Scholars at the “Peek into the Archives” event on 22 September.

P: Something which I have learnt is that archival work never truly ends! But in terms of the goals for this project we are continuing with organising and storing the objects so as to preserve them correctly for future generations to enjoy. I still think there will be items that we are not able to fully identify and research due to time restrictions, for example we have spent a lot of time on photographs but there are still many trophies and cups that need cleaning and identifying, as well as uniform and other objects. We’d love to be able to come back again and carry on our work!

Mrs Dredger