Explore Your Archives! 19th November

Explore Your Archive is a joint campaign delivered by The National Archives and the Archives and Records Association across the UK and Ireland. It aims to showcase the unique potential of archives to excite people, bring communities together, and tell amazing stories.


So we’re going to spend the next 9 days telling you about some aspects of Mary Gillham’s archive! There will be a new blog each day written by members of the Mary GIllham Archive Project team – staff, volunteers and Steering Group members and so it should make for a varied and interesting read, just like the archive.

Today we’re spending the day at the the National Museum Cardiff as part of their Explore Your Archive: Wonder Women! event. If you are reading this on Saturday 19th November and you fancy a trip into Cardiff we will be showcasing a range of items from Mary’s archive, displaying photographs and chatting continually about the work we are doing between 10am and 4pm – come along!

If you are unable to come then I’m going to take this blog to give an overview of what comprises Mary’s archive, then as the week progresses we have blogs about Mary’s travels, her writing style, the people she worked with and more! Plus we’ll be tweeting and posting to Facebook some more visual components of the archive – we hope you enjoy!

Mary left a variety of materials which the project is working to digitise. The two main aims of the project is to mobilise some 150000 wildlife records from Mary’s documents and to tell the stories of her and her colleagues’ lives… and there is no shortage of material to do either.

The bulk of the archive is these ring-bound folders which contain a variety of items from published papers, photocopies of books, magazine articles (which she wrote or just found interesting) newspaper clippings, wildlife notes, reports of visits and correspondence. In itself this is a mine of information but as after living through rationing and shortages caused by the war, Mary really, really didn’t like wasting paper… so on the back side of many of her documents can be found bank statements, Cardiff University memos and course prospectus’, letters and more. It has proved to be quite useful for finding out more about Mary’s life.


Alongside the files there are an assortment of wildlife diaries and notebooks which are also reminders of where she visited, how much she spent of petrol, when she vacuumed and when scrabble night was. These could only be topped by her travel journals from the four years she spent travelling and working in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa which also includes her time spent on Macquarie Island (an event we shall be returning too later in the year!).


Mary was also a keen photographer and consequently we have over 14000 slides from locations across Wales (and some from further afield) which represent a fabulous record of landscape and cultural change that took place over the latter half of the 20th Century. Not one to throw things away we are often amused by Mary’s highly organised boxes of slides separated into Keep, Seconds, Discards and Poor [quality], evidently none of them were so bad that they warranted disposal…  We have scanned all of Mary’s slides and we are nearly half way through transcribing them, an interesting and often illuminating task. As we finish transcribing a set we post them to Flickr but once they have all been completed they will get passed on to the lovely folk at People’s Collection Wales to host on their archive of Welsh history.


On top of the slides there is a whole box of printed photographs… Some of which are present in the slides, some we’re not so sure of. Let’s just say we’re still thinking about how we’re going to deal with them!


Mary was a prolific writer and subsequently published at least 21 books plus chapters in others’ books as well as contributing data and thoughts for many more. Since picking through the archive we have found at least 5 more well-developed manuscripts which we’re hoping to make available during the project (we only have paper copies though – anyone keen on typing?). One of these manuscripts is a children’s book she wrote in the early 1940s which is in a folder with the multiple rejection letters from publishers she wrote to requesting publication.


Then there are the ‘lucky dip’ boxes containing memories from the innumerable international trips she went on. In these boxes are travel journals describing the trip, the species she saw and, often, some glorious examples of outdated publicity materials [they’ll all be laughing at our quaint ways in 50 year’s time].

So, that was a whistlestop tour of the archive, pretty interesting right? The spectre that arises though can be shaped by the question “What’s missing?”. We know that Mary travelled widely but we have just a handful of photos from outside of Wales where did they go? Also, we might have expected a bit more in the way of paperwork about places she visited outside of Wales… Maybe we’ll come across it later…

On completion of the project the archive will be passed on to Glamorgan Archives for long term storage and all of the pictures will accessible via the People’s Collection website and the wildlife data will be available for searching through websites such as the NBN gateway and Aderyn.

Of course, the project is dependent on volunteers to achieve all of the tasks, if you’d like to join the heroic band of Mary Gillham Project volunteers please get in touch through this site, Facebook, Twitter, email (alan.reeve@sewbrec.org.uk)… or you can even send a letter (13 St. Andrew’s Crescent, Cardiff, CF10 3DB)!

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Many thanks to Ibrahim Kayoueche and Iain Munnery for the images and design work.

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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