27 Nov

When the Big Tin Box was Opened We Found People and Stories

Archive, Norman Mowatt

The Raiders of the Lost Archive project started to come to life for me when Robin came to speak for a few minutes before a meeting of the Kintyre Antiquarian and Natural History Society. In the short time he was allotted his enthusiasm was apparent and what he managed to show by way of presentation intrigued me. After that night there was what felt like a long time before a date appeared on notices and emails and a first meeting was announced. But the day did come along and off to the Town Hall I went to see what I could find out.

Allanna has written in her most recent article about the room full of people that gathered on that day and her feelings on how she managed to get through until she was hooked by the documents on display. From my point of view it was encouraging that so many people had come along. The voices introducing themselves round the table spoke of interest in the project and curiosity in what might be discovered. A number of people had skills and experience that sounded useful in the understanding of documents and their contexts and in exploring ideas that might present themselves. A few people were in a similar situation to myself in that they were retired early and were interested in giving some of their time to a useful and interesting project and in meeting new people. Since that initial meeting the number of people declined but the core group has remained constant and I have enjoyed the their company and friendship.

Right from that first meeting two books caught my interest. The Shareholders Ledger and the book of Share Certificates. Often on visiting museums and galleries you will come across names and in the best of museums you will get some sort of feeling for the names as people and perhaps be given some insight into where and how they lived their lives. Here we were with a chance to find out these things for ourselves and to share what we might find out. That appealed to me. I have some experience of researching my own and my wife’s family trees and in the process have made contact with people across the world who are distantly related and with whom I have shared information and stories and photographs of places. The sharing is always one of the best parts. Making a connection with a very distant relation or perhaps making a connection for someone else who can add to their history has added to the enjoyment. I hoped we might be able to do that sort of thing with the content of the archive and in doing so help preserve the archive, make it available to study, and give it some life.

Our next experience in a meeting was to be introduced to the methods and software that is used in recording materials within an archive. I have experience of using, training users, development, and Project Management in enterprise scale database management systems in the NHS from my former career so I was very interested in this phase of the project. Using an item of our own we went through the process of allotting a code number, making an image, and entering the object information in the database used by museums for cataloguing archives. Then we practised amending records, retrieving data, and so on. In sessions to come we would, as a group, make the first pass through the archive material from the Picture House and make the lists that were used to do the recording of the archive. So, we saw and handled the documents and books and papers and in the process our ideas of how we might want to develop our own directions emerged and were encouraged enthusiastically all the way through.

From those early meetings the members of the group have worked together and individually to produce some quite remarkable material, stories, and articles. Should you have taken the time to look around the website you may have seen that there is a section full of biographies of the People of the Picture House which sits alongside the blog articles we have written as we have gone along. The blog articles have ranged across our interests too and include the first films that people in Campbeltown saw, how the films themselves rapidly developed in content and range, social history of attitudes in film, local history, the lives of shareholders, and the lives on those artists and performers who came to Campbeltown before the cinema arrived. I have spent some time on a few of these areas.

I was intrigued as to who the people from far away were who bought shares in a cinema here. So, using family history sources added to some detective work with online searches I found out about the people and the lives they lived.

I wanted to know what films were first shown, and with the help of documents with cinema adverts and the microfilm records of local newspapers in Aquilibrium I was able to put together some lists of films I and find out about them online. Then I could see how very short films soon changed to a diet of long serials with episodes designed to bring film goers back time and time again before the rapidly evolving technologies brought along the colour and talkies which are more familiar to us.

Before the cinema came along people had come to town to entertain. So, when that was raised as a topic of interest for us to look at I thought it would be another area where family history might come to the fore again and I set to work. I found out about some truly amazing characters. People who were the first of the re inventors of themselves long before the music artists of today who come up with ways to change their image every few years. These were people who took the risks to leave their early lives in a society where status was often fixed by low paid employment. They became singers, musicians, stage actors, magicians, hypnotists, formed touring companies, became entrepreneurs, and travelled continents and across the oceans. My favourite of them all was Andrew Garrioch Omond who became Dr Ormonde of the Great Sunflower Coterie. He had come with his parents from Orkney to Edinburgh and worked as a maker of combs before taking to the stage and becoming very well known across Scotland, Ireland, and as far as the USA and Canada where some of his family settled after his death. In one of those wonderful opportunities to share I even managed to contact a descendant in Canada who had photographs of the great man he sent to us and in reciprocation though a number of emails I have helped him develop the Orkney part of his family tree.

Dr Ormonde of Orkney, Edinburgh, and citizen of the World !

As the time approaches for the Picture House to reopen the possibility of continuing what we have been doing in some form or another has been proposed. I for one will hope to be involved and that our group will want to carry on and that the number of people involved might even increase. I have enjoyed the research. I like what has appeared in our names online on this website. I hope those of you out there looking in have enjoyed reading and seeing the images, More to come perhaps …

Image Credits

1.) Dr Ormonde, full length studio portrait with the kind permission of Thomas Ormonde, Canada.

Venturing into the mystical art… November 27, 2017 There’s no “I” … November 28, 2017