Thursday, 30 November 2017

Digital Archives – working with depositors

On this, the first International Digital Preservation Day, we here at the University of Hull working on the City of Culture Digital Archive project are thinking about our experiences of some of the earlier stages of digital preservation: working with depositors to share expectations from both sides, fact-find and prepare records as fully as possible for their transfer to the archive early in 2018. There will be a range of artist and participant depositors but the bulk of the archive will be received from the Culture Company which was founded to deliver the year’s activities. There are currently in the region of 100,000 digital records in scope for this project. 


The Culture Company’s Asset Bank which contains thousands of image and video files
One of the key differences between this project and others I have worked on is the immediacy. As archivists working with “traditional” records we often expect a delay of some years between records being created and used and then becoming “archival”.  In this project our intention is to capture the activities of a single year and once that year is over to process them through Archivematica and provide public access to what we can as soon as possible. 

There are some huge advantages to this approach. We know that working with digital archives can present a complex set of issues surrounding ownership, software, file types and beyond. We’re in the brilliant position that where there is doubt we are able to approach the record creators directly and seek clarification. I have been able to sit down with members of different teams to talk to them about how they create, store and share records. 

The City of Culture team are extremely busy delivering a packed programme of cultural events and activities. Whilst they are very supportive of the development of the archive, on a day-to-day basis they often have limited time to engage in the administrative activities that would help make processing the archive at a later stage easier. This means that in some cases, records that should be on the team SharePoint or Asset Bank sites are liable to linger on personal drives and that files are stuck with meaningless titles or are stored in labyrinthine folder structures. 


The Culture Company’s team SharePoint site where they store and share records
Whilst for archivists this is hardly a new phenomenon, we have been grateful to receive support in tackling this from the senior management team at the Culture Company who have declared one day in December “Archive Day”. 

On Archive Day no meetings will be allowed and everyone will be asked to concentrate solely on sorting out their digital files. This will help the Culture Company as much as it helps us as it will help to ensure that staff don’t leave at the end of their contracts with important records still saved locally and will also give them the opportunity to flag any records with commercial or other sensitivity that we, without that insiders’ perspective, may not immediately recognise. It makes sense for the people who know the records best to do this work.

Hopefully by the time the next International Digital Preservation day rolls around we’ll be in a good position to talk about some of the technical components of digital preservation. In the meantime my tips for the early stages of a digital archive project are:

  • Be prepared to encounter a small amount of jitters from depositors – I’m sure we’d all be a little daunted at the prospect of all our records suddenly being made public! Reassure them that this is not the case and come prepared with a good knowledge of the legal landscape in this regard. Encourage questions.
  • Advocate for the digital archive at a high level within the organisation you are collecting from – they are the ones with the authority to ensure that records are managed well!
  • Get out there and talk to digital preservation colleagues at other institutions – we’re all in a great position to learn from each other.

Laura Giles, City of Culture Digital Archivist
l.giles@hull.ac.uk

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The sinking of the SS Neptun, Part 2

In a previous post  I narrated the events which led to the loss of the SS Neptun on 27 June 1936. I also informed you that the owners of the vessel – J. Lauritzen – held the Humber Conservancy Board (HCB) responsible, and sought compensation in the Admiralty Court. It is now time to reveal the outcome of this case.

The trial was heard on 3 November 1937 by Mr Justice Langton. A copy of The Times Law Reports dated 10 December 1937, found amongst the records of the Engineer’s Office, outlines the details of the case.

The plaintiff’s argued that the loss of the Neptun was due to one or more of the following: breach of contract, breach of duty, breach of warranty, and/or negligence on the part of the Board.

They argued that through the publication of charts and plans indicating a minimum depth of three feet at low water in the Whitton Channel, the HCB had represented or warranted (unless notices were issued to the contrary) that such a depth existed at the deepest point. The Board counter argued that the Humber was a tidal estuary with a bed of sand subject to constant change and thus such a representation was not possible; a fact well known to those familiar with the Estuary. The positions of the Middle and Lower Whitton lightships had been altered on the fateful day, and notices issued alerting mariners of the change. Furthermore, all the Board’s charts bore a disclaimer alerting mariners that the Board accepted no responsibility for any inaccuracies. It was therefore concluded that the HCB had given no such representation or warranty.


Upper Whitton Lightship

The next charge by the plaintiff’s was that by taking dues from vessels using Humber Ports, the HCB entered into a special relationship with the owners of these vessels to maintain the navigation of the Humber to a certain standard. The grounding of their vessel represented a failure to meet this obligation. 


Establishing the Board’s responsibilities was a vital part of the case, but Langton found the Board’s attitude to be ‘vacillating, obscure and unsatisfactory’. The Board’s representatives had claimed that the obscurity of the various Acts of Parliament which conferred upon it the duties of a beaconage authority made it impossible to place any definitive responsibilities upon it. The HCB had been operating more than thirty years, and the Judge found it difficult to believe that they had not at any point sought to understand the extent of their obligations. The Elder Brethren of Trinity House were therefore called upon to define them, and outlined these minimum responsibilities as follows:

  • To find the best navigable channel via sounding.
  • To signpost such channels with sea marks (buoys, floats, lightships etc.).
  • To illuminate sea marks at night.
  • To re-sound the channel as and when the opportunity presents itself.
  • To keep a vigilant watch on any changes to the river, and adjust marks accordingly.
  • To maintain records of soundings and alternations to sea marks.
  • To publish further supplementary information and guidance.
The Judge ruled that the Board was therefore not responsible for maintaining the Humber channels to a certain standard, but was instead responsible for marking the safest known route and removing obstructions.

Humber Conservancy Board Wreck Marking System

The final charge made by the plaintiff was that the HCB had been negligent in taking soundings of the channel, and in positioning the Middle and Lower Whitton lightships on the day of the accident. The Judge having consulted expert advice, considered the resources of the Board, and taken into account its prompt response to the accident, concluded that the Board ‘had not been guilty of any want of reasonable care in the discharge of their obligations’.


The Judge had no responsibility for uncovering the circumstances behind the accident. But, with the view to the possibility of an appeal, offered the following explanation ‘that the pilot was a man of cautious habit who made a deliberate choice on the information available to him at Blacktoff, but that in this case his calculations were based on too small a margin of safety and upset by circumstances beyond his control’. In the Judge’s opinion, the accident was caused by ‘a combination of poor judgement and misfortune’.

The judgement was delivered on 29 November 1937; the case was dismissed with costs awarded to the HCB.

Neither the HCB nor the Neptun’s owners claimed that the pilot or crew was responsible, or had acted in any way improper. The ship was a victim of the unpredictable and shifting sands which characterise the Humber to this day.

Robert Astin, Project Archivist

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Tell The World: Ebenezer Cobb Morley, Founding Father of the Football Association - The Hull Connection

The 2017-2018 football season is well under way with all the usual excitement and tensions that the game brings, but without the Hull connection and a man from humble beginnings, the Football Association (FA) as we know it, may never have been formed.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley (1831-1924), widely recognised as the founding father of the Football Association, was born at 10 Garden Square, Mason Street, Hull on the 16 August 1831.

Houses in Garden Square showing numbers 2-5 [L 402]

Princess Street showing gates leading to Garden Square, c.1930 [L 405]

His father, Reverend Ebenezer Morley was an independent minister at the Holborn Street Chapel, and it was here that he was baptized in September 1831. He was named Cobb after his mother Hannah’s maiden name. Unfortunately we know little else about his early life in Hull except that, despite not being educated at a public school, he became articled to a solicitor and qualified in law in 1854. He went on to practice as a solicitor, and had chambers at 3 King’s Bench Walk, Temple, London. 

Morley was an all-round sportsman and, after settling in Barnes in South West London, he joined the London Rowing Club. It was with friends and colleagues from the rowing club that he founded the Barnes football club. His nonconformist background and schooling appear to have had a great influence on him and this, together with his passion for the game, led him to believe that football should have rules.

He wrote to Bell’s Life suggesting that rules should be imposed on the game, as had occurred in cricket. This led to a meeting of representatives from a dozen London and suburban clubs, which meeting was held at the Freemason’s Tavern in London on the 26 October 1863. It was at this meeting that the Football Association of England was formed. Morley himself drafted the thirteen original laws of the FA at his home in Barnes.

We can only imagine how violent the game was before the laws were introduced as number 13 stated: 'No player shall wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha [a form of natural rubber introduced to the west in 1843] on the soles or heels of his boots'. A dangerous game indeed!

Cobb Morley was elected the first Honorary Secretary of the F.A. in 1863, a post he held until 1866. He then became the second president of the F.A. (1867-1874), and even scored the first goal in a representative match between London v Sheffield on the 31 March 1866.

Morley, a remarkable man in every aspect, lived life to the full and died at the grand age of 93 years. He died from pneumonia on 20 November 1924. By this time, the original Wembley Stadium had been open for eighteen months, and football as we know it had become a more structured and ordered tournament game, both locally and internationally. We should therefore celebrate with pride our city's connection to Ebenezer Cobb Morley and all he achieved.

If you want to find out more about this remarkable man, his family and life, please see our research guide available on the History Centre Website.

Carol Tanner, Collections and Access Manager (Hull City Archives)

Monday, 23 October 2017

Tell the World: The Mole Behind the TV

The 23rd October is celebrated by chemists as Mole Day – 23/10 reflects the 6x1023 atoms in one mole, the mass of an element equal to its own atomic weight.

In this blog we’ll be looking at chemistry in Hull, including one piece of research that helped create the modern digital world – the development of Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) at Hull University.

Liquid crystal research at Hull took off in the 1950s under the supervision of George William Gray and Brynmor Jones (future Vice-Chancellor and namesake for the university library). As head of the Liquid Crystal Research Group (LCRG), George W. Gray led the university’s pioneering research throughout the next 40 years. His 1962 book, Molecular Structure and Properties of Liquid Crystals was the first English-language book published on the subject.

Professor George Gray promoting liquid crystal technology, 9 Apr 19179 [U PHO/C4544]

Liquid crystals were of particular interest because of how they changed colour under an electric current, potentially leading to better electrical displays. The breakthrough came in 1973 when the team worked out how to synthesise crystals in the cyanobiphenyl group, liquid crystals that were stable at room temperature and could be used in electronic systems.

This breakthrough led to a whole new wave of electrical devices, from aircraft computers to pocket calculators, and eventually to modern LCD computer and television screens. There’s a good chance you’re reading this on an LCD screen right now!

Hull University continues George W. Gray’s research into visual technologies through the expanded Liquid Crystals and Photonics Group (LCPG).

Microscope footage of liquid crystals forming [U DLCR/11/10] 

Chemistry in Hull isn’t confined to the university labs. Many industrial chemical companies have set up factories in the city, taking advantages of Hull’s docks to import raw materials and export finished products.

Perhaps as many as ten paint manufacturers were active in the Hull during the 19th Century, of which the Sisson’s Brothers are probably the most well-known today. Thomas Sissons started as a whale oil merchant before opening a paint factory around 1803 – since good-quality paint was made from whale oil, this step was just cutting out the middle-man.

A more colourful side to Hull’s chemical past is found in along Morley Street in Stoneferry. One of the many business set up by local pharmaceutical giants J. Reckitt & Sons Ltd was a synthetic ultramarine factory, creating hundreds of tonnes of bright blue dye from 1884 onwards. After German dye imports were halted by the First World War, it became Britain’s biggest ultramarine manufacturer, a title which it held until its closure in 2007.

Industrial plants across Stoneferry, North Hull, C.1930s [C TDP/2/1/3]

More information about Hull’s chemical industries can be found in the Hull History Centre, starting with the Trade Directories from 1834 onwards.

The History Centre also holds the records of the Liquid Crystals Research Group (U DLCR), including some of the original lab equipment and test samples, as well as the Queens Award for Technology shield, awarded to the university in 1979.

Tom, TNA Digital Archives Trainee