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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Somerset

Work in Progress 1

This is a new series of blogs which we will update every six months. The aim is to share what we are working on. This will provide some insight into what archivists get up to when they are not busy supervising visitors and responding to enquiries.


Archivist Rebecca:

When I haven't been kept occupied re-shelving the archives reference library, a task left over from the refurbishment work two years ago, or dealing with the many other 'normal' tasks that are part of managing the archives, my main task has been investigating what material relating to the Second World War period exists in the British Jesuit Archives. This research is for a project undertaken by Jesuit European Archivists which will result in a book The Second World War through Jesuit Archives: the case of Europe (1939-1945), which it is hoped will be published later this year. I also have the privilege of co-editing this book, a new experience for me and another reason why this project has taken up so much of my time lately.

Typescript sheet with two hole punches on left and black background. Title on page is Chaplains' Weekly October 22nd 1939
Chaplain's Weekly 22 Oct 1939

It has been interesting to conduct research on a fairly narrow time frame and to see what material has survived, especially in relation to the Jesuit chaplains, but also more widely to see what resources can shed insight into the lives of British Jesuits during these war years. In my opinion, Chaplains' Weekly is the richest resource, and it is a pity that the letters sent by chaplains, from which this often quotes extracts, have not been kept. As much as I have enjoyed studying this episode in the British Jesuit history, I hope that I am nearing the end of this project as there are plenty of other tasks awaiting my attention including a long-term cataloguing project.


Mary Allen, Deputy Archivist:

When I’m not dealing with enquiries, I can often be found cataloguing. A long-term project I have been working on has been to catalogue the archives of the Martyrs’ Cause office: a fascinating collection, spanning the mid-19th century up until the closure of the office in 1984, it contains the papers created and collected by the individuals involved in the Cause of the Forty English and Welsh Martyrs of the Reformation, who were canonised in 1970, and also in the beatifications of a further 85 English and Welsh martyrs in 1987. They include research files, correspondence including about the promotion of the Cause, news bulletins, and financial documents. It is perhaps one of our largest collections, and while much of it is fairly well organised, there are many boxes of a more miscellaneous nature. I began work on this collection c2016 but have only recently been able to return to it after various lockdowns, refurbishments in the archives, and maternity leave. Smaller cataloguing projects that crop up, such as Jesuit personal papers that are opening, have also slowed my work on the Martyrs’ Cause, but are a quick win in terms of getting more collections searchable online.


I currently work two days a week in the office, and on Wednesday mornings I supervise one of our fantastic volunteers. Over the last few weeks we have been cataloguing a collection together. Although this can be time-consuming, it is rewarding to pass on a skill and see them be able to work more and more independently. I also work from home once a week and use this time to work on things I simply wouldn’t have time to in the office, such as transcribing oral history interviews, and working on our authority files (records that provide biographical information on Jesuits and other individuals that are searchable on our online catalogue). I am also working on two upcoming exhibitions, for the 175th anniversary of Farm St Church and for a visit from the Hopkins Society, which I can work on both at home and in the office. So there is always plenty to keep me busy! My aim over the coming months is to have uploaded the first part of the Martyr’s Cause catalogue and have it repackaged – check back for our next update in September to see if I manage it!


Lucy Vinten, Assistant Archivist and Rare Book Cataloguer:

The last six months have been a busy period.  Back in September I was at a conference together with Rebecca at Campion Hall in Oxford celebrating 400 years since the  foundation of the English (now British) Province in 1623.  We put on an exhibition of highlights from the archives, in conjunction with Stonyhurst Collections. Our exhibition went well, and the arrangements we had made for transporting the exhibits from Mount Street in London to Oxford and back all worked smoothly. We also were privileged to listen to 26 papers delivered on British Jesuit history, the majority of them based on research undertaken in our Archive. 


Once back in the office, the main area of work I have been doing is the listing and cataloguing of the Antiquarian Books. All the pre-1700 books now have a basic listing and a reference number assigned to them. As part of the listing process I have been noting the provenance marks in individual books, and have been using these to start to tease out the book collecting policies of the Jesuits over the centuries. I have been developing a website to share the findings of the Jesuit Book Provenance Project (as I am rather grandly calling it!) which has just gone live.


A row of 7 books of varying description
Books printed in 1623

The eighteenth and nineteenth century books are even more numerous than the pre-1700 books, and we are making a start with listing these too.  I am supervising one of our lovely volunteers who spends her Wednesday mornings adding the books to our spreadsheet, and we assign them reference numbers and check their provenance marks too.  We also measure them so bespoke boxes can be made for them. They are in a very fragile state and this will help preserve them for the future. The post 1700 books are an entirely unknown collection and its great to be making a start on them, but it’s a dauntingly big task.  


When I’m not working on the Antiquarian books, I am either doing day-to-day archival tasks such as answering enquiries and supervising visitors, or occasionally doing more unusual one-off activities. In December I drove to a former Jesuit school, St John’s Beaumont in Berkshire, and collected a large number of architectural plans and drawings and brought them back to the Jesuit Archives in London.  While there I got a tour of the school and a cup of tea.  I felt I had had a fun day out rather than a day at work.


In the next six months I expect I will have spent more time on the Antiquarian Books, have had (hopefully constructive) feedback on the new website, and I hope to have made a return to cataloguing an archival collection which has been on a back burner recently. 

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We hope you enjoyed discovering a bit about the work we are currently engaged with. Please contact us if you would like to know more about any of these areas of work.

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