Cataloguing the Harris Tweed industry

Me (Victoria Woodcock, Project Cataloguing Archivist) with some of the Harris Tweed Authority records

Me (Victoria Woodcock, Project Cataloguing Archivist) with some of the Harris Tweed Authority records

Hello! I wanted to write a post for the Tasglann’s blog to introduce myself and the project that I’ll be doing over the next nine months.

I’m Victoria, and I previously worked at the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery – part of the University of Glasgow – where I co-ordinated the move of their records and library into the refurbished Kelvin Hall (http://www.gla.ac.uk/hunterian/about/thehunterianatkelvinhall/). Prior to that, I was employed at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh and the Geological Society in London, after completing my Masters degree in Archives and Records Management at University College London (UCL) in 2013. My career highlight so far came when I discovered an early version of the first geological map of a nation ever made, dating from 1815, which led to meeting Sir David Attenborough at an event to celebrate its anniversary!

Me with Sir David Attenborough, at the Geological Society of London

Me with Sir David Attenborough, at the Geological Society of London

Two weeks ago I started work here at Tasglann nan Eilean at Lews Castle on the Harris Tweed Authority archive project. This is being funded by the National Cataloguing Grants Programme, which is a scheme run by The National Archives awarding money to archives around the UK to catalogue specific collections of records. Tasglann nan Eilean is one of eight archives to receive funding in this round of the Programme (the full list of projects can be found here: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/finding-funding/cataloguing-grants-programme/successful-applicants/).

In the next nine months I’m going to be working with records relating to the Harris Tweed industry since the formation of the Harris Tweed Association in 1909 – and possibly even earlier. In 2012, during the original Tasglann nan Eilean Siar project, the Harris Tweed Authority (which replaced the Harris Tweed Association in 1993) donated a large collection of records to the archive. There are over 20 boxes of material, but at the moment it is not easily accessible. There is a rough list of what is in each box, but it’s not organised, and it would be difficult for a researcher to know where to start. I will be going through these records to find out exactly what’s there, deciding what should be kept, and eventually producing an online catalogue.

What’s more, I will also be arranging the transfer of Harris Tweed Authority records currently held at the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness. The majority of this material relates to a large court case that took place in the early 1960s, which debated whether a group of tweed manufacturers were entitled to call the cloth they were producing Harris Tweed, when it was only the weaving part of the production process that was taking place in the Outer Hebrides. The Western Isles didn’t have an archive service in the 1990s when Highland Archives acquired these records, but now Tasglann nan Eilean exists, it’s possible to reunite this material with other Harris Tweed-related items, store it all in appropriate conditions, and make it available to researchers.

Sample book at the Harris Tweed Authority offices in Stornoway Town Hall

Sample book at the Harris Tweed Authority offices in Stornoway Town Hall

In my first few weeks I’ve been having a look at the lists of records that already exist, as well as researching Harris Tweed and the history of the industry. I’ve mainly been reading Francis Thompson’s Harris Tweed: The Story of a Hebridean Industry and the more recent The Islanders and the Orb, by Janet Hunter, as well as other books and online material. I’ve also paid a visit to the Harris Tweed Authority offices in the Town Hall, which was a great opportunity to see what records are there, as well as checking out their beautiful Harris Tweed furniture!

I’m looking forward to really getting to grips with the Harris Tweed records, and working on a subject so integral to the islands, and significant to a lot of people’s family history. I also can’t wait to get out and about and explore the Western Isles at weekends. I’ll be keeping everyone updated on the project via regular posts on this blog, so look out for more news soon!

 

 

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