When I came into the Mills Archive today, every surface was covered in books, boxes of books, bags of books and when Ron showed me his car, it too was bursting at the seams with books. This is because on Saturday 7th March, the SPAB are holding a Mills Section all-day meeting involving presentations, updates and the Mills Archive bookshop.
Each year the bookshop is set up at the SPAB meetings so that SPAB members can buy various books to add to their collections. A lot of time and research goes into preparing for the bookshop; Ron told me that he has to research how much the books are sold at on websites such as Amazon, in order to price the books. Some books are free so it is a great opportunity for SPAB members to have a look at some of the new things and explore other collections they might be interested in.
I was surprised when Ron told me that they only sell about 10% of the books but this is simply because the bookshop contains so much choice and variety, many of the books they bring are taken back again because there are just so many in the first place! Ron says they have about 4 new books because another reason why not as many books sell is because members have already got them and are always looking for new books to add to their collection, so it is important to keep up-to-date.
Ron explained to me that some books are more expensive than others because there is a limited number of them, for example, one collection of books I saw consisted of 5 volumes and Ron explained that the truck carrying copies of the 4th volume caught fire, causing there to be a limited number of volume 4 books, so therefore the complete set of volumes is priced higher because it is now much more rare and valuable.
So on Saturday, Ron will be up at 5.30am along with Guy, Liz, Nataliya and Mildred, all heading to London for the SPAB meeting. Not only are they setting up the bookshop but Ron and Guy are giving presentations. Ron’s presentation is called ‘Access to Memory’ and he will be talking about our amazing new catalogue and the people who have made it happen. This new resource just shows how much progress the Mills Archive has made since it was first established in 2002 with 4 collections. It has now got 111 collections and is expanding every day with the help of all the staff and volunteers who contribute to securing all the collections on to the new catalogue. Ron will also be talking about the differences between museums, libraries and archives, highlighting the importance of context when looking at a document in an archive and how it is integral to the collection it is a part of.
Guy Boocock, a fellow volunteer, is also giving a presentation called ‘Discovering the Holman Story’. Guy will be telling the story of how he, along with Elizabeth and Mildred contributed to the completion of a book that was started by Geoff Holman and left unfinished after his death. Geoff Holman’s collection dates all the way back to 1869 and his widow was able to finance the rebinding and restoration of the collection to be donated to the Mills Archive. The book Geoff started was called ‘Holman Bros, Millwrights of Canterbury, A History’ and it contained his family history. In his presentation, Guy will be talking about how he, Elizabeth and Mildred wrote the rest of the book and validated Geoff’s sources through months of intensive research. Guy researched stories involving war records, criminal records, diary entries and letters which bought the people of the company to life, all expanded from Geoff’s original research. Elizabeth started the oldest family history, with Guy taking over to do the later family history, and Mildred wrote the Canterbury Windmills section.
I don’t want to ruin Guy’s presentation but he told me the funniest story about one of the windmills Mildred wrote about and I have to tell it! Thomas Holman and his brother were employed by Sir Moses Montefiore to erect what is now known as the Montefiore Windmill in Jerusalem in 1857 and it is reported in Thomas’ obituary in The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, that he contracted a deadly unknown Syrian fever while on an inspection in Joppa. His brother Charles, was instructed to obtain some mustard as soon as possible and so he took a boat to an English vessel in the bay where he took the mustard which then saved his brother’s life. So, note to self, if paracetamol isn’t enough, maybe try a bit of good old English mustard?!
This is just a snippet of some of the exciting discoveries found here at the archives and I hope that Ron and Guy’s presentations are a success this weekend (from what I’ve seen so far, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!) and hopefully Ron’s car won’t be weighed down by as many books on the return journey! As I always say, and want to reiterate, the dedicated staff and volunteers here work so hard to present their findings to the public in new, accessible ways, such as the new catalogue and the bookshop and I hope that I am managing to make the work they do here relevant to everyone! You don’t have to be a mill enthusiast to take pride in researching family histories and taking an interest in the wide range of collections they provide here.