Hello, Clío and Max here! We are postgraduate students at the University of Manchester (studying MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies and MA History respectively). We have been assigned a placement at the John Rylands Library in which we will be helping to study and preserve the history of the Wood Street Mission, one of the oldest charities in Manchester.
The charity was established in April 1869 by the Methodist minister Alfred Alsop, who sought to address the widespread poverty and destitution that engulfed Manchester in the nineteenth century. To tackle poverty in the city, Alsop realised that charitable movements needed to spread more than just an evangelical message. As a result, the Mission set out to alleviate the suffering of working families in Manchester and Salford by helping to provide them with shelter, clothing, and food (whilst also delivering a religious message). Shelter was provided for the homeless, soup kitchens were established to provide free meals, and free clothing was distributed to children and families.
However, the Mission provided much more than the material day-to-day necessities. The charity also provided many children with toys and from the 1880s onwards began organising trips to Southport and Blackpool for children who otherwise would not have had the chance to visit the seaside. The charity expanded upon its campaigns to improve the physical welfare of children in Manchester in the twentieth century. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Wood Street Mission helped to establish youth clubs and sports facilities in the centre of the city. This proved extremely popular and gave opportunities for everyone in the area to get involved in sport. Whilst the Mission today remains committed to providing basic family necessities, the charity now primarily focuses upon organising education and literacy projects which aim to improve children’s opportunities. Despite the shifts in focus that have taken place over the years, the Mission’s head office is still located on Wood Street (and is conveniently right next door to the John Rylands Library!)
Last year was the 150th anniversary of the Wood Street Mission and Des Lynch (the charity’s manager) sought to expand the already extensive records of the charity’s long history to commemorate this. A project was carried out (led by Rebecca Rees, University of Edinburgh) to interview former staff members, and service users. It was hoped that these audio records would supplement the paper archive adding a new dimension to the story of the Wood Street Mission. After the completion of this audio project, these new audio records, along with a further donation of paper records (4 large boxes and a tin trunk) were deposited with the John Rylands to be catalogued.
That’s where we come in! Over the next few months, we will be examining and organising these materials and helping to integrate them into the Wood Street Mission archives. Our placement will involve sorting, box listing, and preserving old paper records. However, another key task will be to create the metadata for the audio records that were produced in the 2019 project. We will also be editing these oral reminisces, creating inventories of the topics covered in the interviews and trying to find links between the oral histories and the stories documented in the paper archive.
Managing audio files in this manner and working within archives is something that is brand new to us, so the placement offers a great chance to learn new skills in a historic institution. The work that we will be doing in the next couple of months will allow us to explore the fascinating history of the Wood Street Mission, the important work that this local institution continues to carry out, and the experiences of the individuals who have worked with the Mission in the past. Through our work we will be able to study the experiences of families who faced terrible conditions of poverty and how the Mission and its workers addressed and viewed these issues. We are both fascinated to learn about local history and the ways that charitable causes have been pursued in Manchester, and we are sure that you are too!
As we undertake this work, we will be updating this blog with any interesting information that we come across. We will also be creating a Twitter page where we will post the most informative sound clips that we find in the audio sources (a link will be provided to this in our next blog). Make sure to keep an eye out in the upcoming weeks to see what we have discovered about the Wood Street Mission, we can’t wait to get started!