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  • Writer's pictureMary Allen

A year in blog posts

Updated: May 20, 2021

2020 was, to say the least, a strange year for everybody, thanks to the global pandemic. For the British Jesuit Archives it meant closing our doors in March with the announcement of the first lockdown, and we are yet to reopen officially to researchers. Staff began cautiously to return to the Archives over the summer, allowing us to keep on top of enquiries and check on conditions in the storage areas, but due to lockdown 2.0 and the tier system, staff time in the Archives once again became minimal in the latter part of 2020. Remarkably, and despite the limited access to our collections, we have managed to publish a ‘From the Archives’ blog post every other week, as per our normal programming. This is due, in equal measure, to onsite visits to the Archives, the 6 years’ worth of content already produced, and, of course, some creative thinking.

As with most years, 2020 brought with it some important anniversaries, and in January we remembered the 80th anniversary of the first full year of the Second World War by examining various resources to discover what life was like for the Jesuits at home during that time. At the novitiate at Manresa House, Roehampton, war economies meant meatless lunches, no liqueurs, and reduced consumption of beer, wine, cider, and cigarettes. Baths were limited due to water shortages and publications hard to get hold of. Many faced real danger during the Blitz and several bombs fell close to Jesuit communities in London, including one that hit the Juniorate at Manresa House, Roehampton on 10 October 1940, killing Robert Howarth, just one day before his 20th birthday.

Air raid alerts recorded in the Heythrop Minister’s log book, November 1940 (ref. OX/8)

Other anniversaries included 125 years of St Ignatius College, Enfield, which was celebrated with a special service at Westminster Cathedral in January, and 175 years since the Governor of Malta invited the Society to open a College on the island in March. There was also the anniversary of the Battle of Britain and we remembered Fr Bernard Vaughan’s ride in a military biplane in 1915, making him the first priest to fly in an aircraft. October saw the 50th anniversary of the Canonisation of the Forty English and Welsh Martyrs and the accompanying blog post gave a brief history of the Cause of the Martyrs, the archives of which have been deposited with us.

Pages of a recipe book covering pickling and preserving reused as flyleaves (ref. A/241)

Over the last 18 months or so, our Assistant Archivist Lucy has been getting to grips with our collection of over 1,500 rare books and has been making great progress in cataloguing them, ready to be imported to our cataloguing software so that they will eventually become searchable to the public. This prompted two blog posts. The first coincided with World Book Day on 5 March and was inspired by the books in the collection that contain re-used materials, such as the 17th century volume of Counter-Reformation tracts pictured below. The flyleaves, which were inserted at the time of binding, come from a handwritten recipe book. Recipes ‘To preserve quinces’, ‘To make a marmolet of Apricots,’ and ‘To pickell quinches’ can be found at the front of the book, while at the back are recipes ‘To preserve green plums’ and ‘To preserve peaches’. In Lucy’s second blog post she traces the history of a copy of The Flaming Hart or the Life of the Glorious S. Teresa, printed in 1642. The presence of several inscriptions and bookplates allows us to trace the fascinating journey of this book over several centuries from the 17th century to the present day.

Inscriptions in ‘The Flaming Hart or the Life of the Glorious S. Teresa’, 1642 (ref. A/245)

One of the real positives to come out of the first lockdown was the instigation of an oral history project, carried out by two Jesuits in formation who spent part of their lockdown at St Beuno’s Spirituality Centre with four of the older members of the Society. The resulting conversations ranged over 70 years or more of experiences and were similarly wide ranging in themes. The interviewees talked at length about matters from how their days were ordered when they were novices in the 1950s through to profound transformations in Society and the Church and the global pandemic. A collaborative blog post in August reported in the project and included an introduction to oral histories, a discussion on transcription, and quotes from interviewers and interviewees. You can listen to short excerpts of the interviews, which make up ‘Jesuit Memories’, at the Jesuits in Britain SoundCloud.

Another collaborative blog post came together in June for International Archives Day for which each of the Archives team answered the burning questions our friends and family have always wanted to know about being an Archivist. Be sure to visit this blog post if you have ever wondered what an Archivist’s average day is like, what skills an Archivist should have, and the best and worst parts of the job.

We could not, of course, have gone through the year without some reflection on how the pandemic and resulting lockdown has affected the Archives. At the end of May, Archives staff had been working entirely from home for two months. We were unable to access the collections that we manage and care for, and that we usually consult and handle on a daily basis. We were forced to work in an entirely new way. In her blog post, Lucy describes some of the valuable work that lockdown afforded her, that perhaps wouldn’t have been achieved if life had carried on as normal, such as reaching out to rare book specialists, preparing for future projects, transcribing oral histories, and calendaring a volume of 18th and 19th century documents which had been digitised.

Lucy’s desk

The Archives team wish everyone a happy New Year and, whatever it entails, we look forward to continuing our output of blog posts in 2021.

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