Digging into the past

The last three weeks have been a whirlwind of research visits and workshops.  Our intrepid band of volunteers have explored the area from Castle to Quay by foot, through camera lenses, through museum visits and old documents, and by talking to local residents, uncovering a wealth of fascinating stories.

We started with a photography workshop with Jonathan Bean, whose encouragement to look at the world differently helped us spot many local treasure we’d missed.

A tour of Lancaster Castle with guide James Houghton gave us a great introduction to the stories of the court and prison buildings that dominate both the hill and Lancashire’s history.

At the Lancaster Maritime Museum, manager Rachel Roberts introduced us to the life of Lancaster slaver Dodgson Foster and participants got to peek at the surprisingly banal details he recorded in his diary.

We braved the snow with Dr Andrew White, who took us on a fascinating walk from Castle to Quay, sharing stories and his expertise with us, and really bringing the history of the area to life.

We’re very grateful to the museum service for opening The Cottage Museum for us out of season. And what a gem it is.  Guide Mary Dodd, who has worked there since 1978, kindly came along and shared her knowledge and memories of the cottage with us.

At the Lancashire Archives we got a fantastic introduction to how to use the service from archivist Vicci McCann. We also got a glimpse of some of the archive’s treasures from its store of more than 900 years worth of documents relating to Lancashire life. Several participants got stuck into research straight after the session and all were inspired to return to use the service again.

In workshops, participants have shared stories with each other as they’ve researched them, discussing leads and research difficulties and pooling skills and expertise. The focus has been on events from ordinary people’s lives and we’ve all been inspired and excited by the kinds of material participants have discovered and the range of historic periods people are researching.

On Saturday, we pulled everything together in a creative nonfiction workshop with Kate Feld, who really helped participants to explore how they can tell the true stories they’ve researched in an engaging way.

This week we’re adding to the pot by recording and filming stories. We had a brilliant audio recording session with sound artist Shaun Blezard and director Emma Rucastle, in which volunteers helped create a soundscape from historical documents they’ve come across during the project. Tomorrow, we’ll be filming a treasured employee of 67 years at local tea and coffee shop Atkinson’s, and on Wednesday we’ll be back to film at the Cottage Museum with Tally Kapedia from Morph Films.

And then it’s onwards to making our exhibition, with designers Hayley Alter and Sarah Pickard, who will be working with us to share the stories with the residents of Lancaster.


Claire Massey

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