In April 2023 the KEVI Foundation archive team doubled in size when a Project Archivist joined the Foundation Archivist to help catalogue the extensive archive. With records dating from the present day back to the 14th century, the archive contains a wide range of records relating to the Foundation schools, including deeds, plans, registers, photographs, digital news segments and objects. It is a fantastic resource for family, local, social and educational history; however, the only catalogue for it is an outdated paper list, meaning it isn’t very searchable for staff or researchers. Our aim is to catalogue each school’s collection and make it freely available online so that staff and researchers anywhere in the world can find records that we hold.
As King Edward’s School (KES) is the oldest, largest, and probably most varied collection we hold, that is where we started. We went through each box and created an entry for each document or file in Excel, giving it a title, description, date and quantity, then noting which series (or group) the record should be part of. Each school collection will be divided into series to reflect the activities of the school. KES has 25 series including: buildings and facilities, student records, exams, extra-curricular activities, and the Old Edwardians Association. The structure we use for the KES collection will be used as a template for the other schools, to ensure consistency in how the catalogues are presented and searched.
Listing records is time-consuming; the Project Archivist spent four months listing the KES archive, but physically going through each box meant we re-discovered some very interesting and unexpected items, like a gargoyle head! This is an actual piece of the KES building that was on New Street from the 1830s to the 1930s. When the building was demolished, an Old Edwardian salvaged the gargoyle, and it spent the second part of its life as a garden bird feeder! Understandably, it was looking a bit worse for wear, so we’ve had him professionally cleaned by a Conservator, who used lasers, detergent and brushes to remove nearly 200 years of grime.
One of the first KES items to be listed was a scrapbook kept by Francis (or Frank) H. Viney, OE 1890-1901 and later Bailiff and Governor of the school. The scrapbook is a wonderful compilation of both private and public elements of Viney’s time at school and his involvement with it later in life. It’s a great introduction to the types of records you can expect to find in the wider collection, all in one hefty volume. It includes Viney’s school reports, membership booklets for sports and other extra-curricular societies, photographs, and programmes for various events, including the laying of the foundation stone at the Edgbaston site, which Viney did in 1938 as Bailiff, amongst other records.
A record that provided us with some laughs during cataloguing was, ironically, the Prefects’ punishment books. The “offence committed” could be a simple “TIP”, (talking in prayers), but sometimes Prefects were a bit more creative in how they described an offence, or less discerning in what they deemed an offence. For example, in the 1960s one boy’s offence was an “irritating nosetwitch”. As punishment, Prefects dished out essays on a topic of their choice, and as you can imagine some of the topics were very tedious, e.g. “The use and abuse of pavements”.
Once the entire KES collection had been listed in Excel, we were able to finalise the catalogue structure and then rearrange the records to fit it, firstly in Excel and then physically. We’re now in the final stage of repackaging records and renumbering them, so that they all have a unique reference that matches up with the catalogue entry. Once we’ve finished this, we will import the Excel sheets to our new online catalogue, Epexio. At this stage, all our work will become publicly searchable, and we’re hoping that lots of different people find it useful. When the online catalogue is up and running, we’ll be sharing links to it on the Foundation website and our Twitter account (@KEVIBhamArchive), before we start the cataloguing process all over again with the King Edward VI High School for Girls collection. We’re looking forward to uncovering and sharing more unusual items and stories as we go.