A day in the life of an Essex Sound and Video Archive volunteer

Andy Popperwell shares his experiences volunteering for the Essex Sound and Video Archive

Photograph of volunteer smiling at camera

Nineteen (boxes) times fifty-six (tapes) is a thousand and sixty four.  That’s an awful lot of open reel tapes, even if they’re five-inch ones.  This is the estimated number of remaining tapes to be processed from a collection of 79 boxes, formerly the property of the late Chris Bard, who presented Sunday morning programmes on BBC Essex for many years (Accession Number SA459).

My name is Andy Popperwell and I’ve just become a volunteer in the Sound Archive at the Essex Record Office.  My task is to review these tapes and help to decide which ones should enter the Archive and which ones shouldn’t.  The key criterion is whether they have relevance to Essex.  Some do; some don’t. 

I’ve made a start, and the range of material is fascinating.  Everything from Polish Christian radio stations after the fall of communism to ecumenism in Essex villages.

Photograph of an open reel tape on player

Learning the archive protocols was the first step. I spent many years as a Studio Manager (Sound Engineer) in the BBC World Service, working on high-speed current affairs in 40 languages, where the pressure was to get the interviews edited as quickly as possible and into the live programmes, 24 hours a day.  Here, in the calm atmosphere of the Archive, it’s a question of treating each tape reverently, making sure that temperature and humidity are appropriate and learning how to do a ‘library wind’. This means that, after listening carefully and making notes about the content, each tape is wound back at slow speed so that it’s neatly positioned on the spool and there’s no chance of physical damage.  

Photograph of volunteer working at tape player

It’s great to be learning new skills while at the same time using my previous experience to help with the work of the Archive.  I’m also a volunteer at Copped Hall, on the edge of Epping Forest.  It’s a 1750s mansion which was destroyed in a huge fire in 1917, and we’re restoring it.  Apart from general labouring, I’m setting up Copped Hall’s own sound archive, trying to record the lives and stories of those who have worked over the last 25 years to rebuild the old place.  Do come and visit us on one of our regular Tour Days – third Sunday in the month.

Both these volunteering opportunities are feeding into my other big interest: I’ve returned to being a student, doing a Masters by Research at London South Bank University.  I’m interested in what Essex in general and Copped Hall in particular sounded like in past times.  I hope that, as well as expanding my brain, it will be possible to use my research to recreate the soundscapes of the past, and specifically the 1750s, when the Hall was built.  The Essex Record Office has a huge quantity of fascinating material to help with my research, including, for example, little pieces of paper with rhymes and poems which the Conyers family, owners of Copped Hall, wrote for each other in the middle of the eighteenth century (Catalogue Reference D/DW Z3).  Handling these documents is a real privilege, and a unique connection with the past.

ERO’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Old St Paul’s Cathedral

Archivist Lawrence Barker has added a new item to our Cabinet of Curiosities. Read on to find out more about one of the antiquarian treasures in our Local Studies Library.

At the end of January, we celebrated our Local Studies Library moving into the 21st century when we added the book catalogue to Essex Archives Online.

So, for the next document featured in our Curiosity Cabinet, we thought we would choose one of the antiquarian treasures in the Library, our copy of Monasticon Anglicanum compiled by William Dugdale, originally published in Latin in 1655 but republished in 1718 in an abbreviated English version. 

Image of the front page of text Monasticum Anglicanum

One of the most intriguing features of the book is the inclusion of engravings of cathedrals and collegiate churches as they appeared at the time, including old St Paul’s Cathedral in all its medieval glory ten years before the great fire of London destroyed it.  From 604, when Mellitus was made first Bishop of London, up to 1846 when it transferred to the Diocese of Rochester, Essex was part of the Diocese of London.  So, St Paul’s was the cathedral of Essex for well over a thousand years.

Drawing of the north side of exterior of old St Paul's Cathedral

A view from the book of the north side of the cathedral (above) shows the eastern half still sporting its Decorated Gothic windows, featuring early Geometric plate tracery dating from the second half of the 13th century.  The view of the east end (below left) shows that there was once a fine rose window echoing those of the transepts of Notre Dame in Paris.

In contrast, the western half (above) shows the radical transformation carried out at the hands of Inigo Jones, who was commissioned by James I in the 1630s to carry out a restoration using an early Classical style.  A view of the west front (below right) shows that Jones had even added a classical portico.  Even at the time, the overall effect was thought a little incongruous alongside the Gothic style of the rest of the building!

If you had walked under the portico and through the west door into the cathedral, however, you would have entered into the original Norman nave.  Construction of the cathedral began in 1087, at the end of William I’s reign. The view of the nave from the book (below left) reveals the cathedral’s provenance, as the arrangement of clustered columns in the arcade with the large tribune above resembled the nave of William’s Abbaye-aux-Hommes in Caen, Normandy (below right).

The Abbaye-aux-Hommes was William’s final resting place – that is, one of his thigh bones remains there; the rest of his bones were scattered during the French Wars of Religion in 1562. But St Paul’s ended up being a good deal larger than the Abbaye-aux-Hommes. By the time it was completed, Old St Paul’s was one of the largest churches in Christendom.  It was nearly 600 feet long, a length only exceeded by the enormous abbey at Cluny in Burgundy, and 100 feet wide.  It also had a spire of 489 feet, about 80 feet taller than that of Salisbury, but this caught fire and crashed through the roof of the nave in 1561.

As the book’s title suggests, the Monasticon is primarily a history of the monasteries in England and Wales, and, as such, provides a useful starting point for a study of the various monastic institutions in Essex.  Of course, at the time it was published, most of those monasteries had been suppressed during the Reformation.  To find out more about Essex’s experience of the dissolution of the monasteries, come to Ken Crowe’s talk on the dissolution in south west Essex (focussing on Barking Abbey and Stratford Langthorne Priory) at our upcoming ‘Essex on the Edge’ conference on Saturday 18th May.

Find out more about our ‘Essex on the Edge’ conference and book tickets.

The Monasticon Anglicanum book – open at the page showing the image of St Paul’s – will be on display in our Searchroom until the end of May.