Making Connections: Work Experience at Sutton Archives


During July we are usually fortunate enough to host a work experience student for a week. This year we had two girls, one from local grammar school Nonsuch and the other from Carshalton High School for girls. Each of the students we have hosted has been kind enough to write about their experiences, which is great for us, as it allows us to see what they have taken away from their time here, and also to see how this material relates to a younger generation. It also gives you a bit more of an insight into the kinds of jobs our regular volunteers undertake for us on a daily basis.

Today, we hear from Emily from Nonsuch about her experience of working with us in the archives during the first week of July.Emily Bird

” This week I was fortunate enough to help Sutton Archives in their ‘Past on Glass’ project and help with the preparation for their exhibition in late July…

On my first day I was instructed how to carefully clean the glass plates with distilled water and cotton wool, without damaging the fragile images. This was an amazing experience as I had never undertaken something like this before. Being the first to open up and take these glass plates from 100 years ago from the delicate original envelopes was the most exciting part, as I was able to get an insight into the lives of 19th century civilians living in Sutton.

Every glass plate unlocked a new past and new story, with each providing their own connection with me especially when seeing their elaborate dresses, their statement jewellery and their formal hair dos. I was really fascinated with a particular glass plate, showing a large family of approximately 20 members, each in their Sunday best. The family probably included three generations of families with children, adults and grandparents. It was like the picture came to life when I held the image up to the window, which allowed light to beam through the image.

DKW_35643_Cook_LI also connected with an image of a World War One soldier, who I later researched on Ancestry and Free BMD, with the help of a volunteer. I discovered that Lieutenant Frank Eaden Cook was a soldier during WW1, who had enlisted in the 20th PSBN Royal Fusiliers on 1st September 1914 and was commissioned on the 24th October 1916 in the Manchester Regiment. He was born in Huddersfield in about 1890 and had lived with his parents Fredrick Lilley Cook and Eleanor Beatrice Cook until he was enlisted. I really connected with the soldier when I discovered that both he and his younger brother John Eaden Cook were killed in action, with Frank on the 20th October 1918 and John in July 1916 during World War One at a very young age.

In addition to researching and cleaning I was able to work on an Excel Spreadsheet, editing and changing the data about all the scanned Glass Plates. For example I looked at the scanned images and saw if they had double exposure, whether the picture was taken in the Studio (known as a Studio Portrait) or if it was taken outside and whether it was edited by the photographer in any particular way. While cleaning and handling the glass plates I saw a number of particular methods the photographer used to make the pictures perfect. These included the image being retouched with a pencil or pen and also using a paper mask around the image of the person to give the picture more structure and shape. These unusual and peculiar methods fascinated me as the world of photography during that time period was a whole new experience for me.

Another one of my favourite parts of working in Sutton Archives was helping them in preparation for their exhibition on the 22nd July. I helped a volunteer carefully put numerous printed photos into wooden frames. This was also a thrilling experience, as I was able to see the process of their preparation for the exhibition and how the photographs came from glass, had been scanned and printed and then become real life images in photo frames.

My week here has not only been an insight into the world of work but an insight into work that has been enjoyable to me and has allowed me to consider possible work in Archives in the future. I am really grateful to everyone that has helped me this week being able to experience new things and jump into the ‘Past on Glass project’. I would be happy to spend another week in summer working here!”

Emily Bird – Work Experience Volunteer

Emily was also kind enough to undertake a further piece of research for us which will feature in a later blog.  With thanks to Emily for all her help and good work during the very busy run up to the exhibition opening. You are welcome back any time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s