Chosen by Andrew Rackley, member of staff
Archives aren’t all about paper. Technology has changed significantly over the last 70 years and the Record Office has been changing with it. As records are increasingly produced solely in a digital format (‘born-digital’), the content held here increasingly goes beyond what you might think of as traditional ‘records’. The Billingshurst Oral History collection is one such example held by West Sussex Record Office. The project captured the memories of people who were born and brought up, or lived most of their lives in a village that has experienced unprecedented change and a rapidly increasing population over the last 30 years.
For a village that had seen its population increase from around 5000 in 1981 to over 8000 in recent years, the Billingshurst Local History Society undertook a project which sought to record its recent history. This project formed the basis of the collection now held by WSRO and it documented the changes observed and experienced by the local populace. The project built upon work conducted by members of the Society over thirty years ago through digitising and transcribing their original sound recordings. This allowed for a greater level of preservation for these recordings, as they are now accessible at a higher quality, and for a more secure storage of the material that assists its longevity. Finally, the collection includes the interviews with older members of the community recorded in the past few years that adds to the rich portrait of their village’s varied past.
The value of oral histories is principally as a source of local knowledge about their particular past that reveals new interpretive perspectives of local history. The interviews contained in this collection recall specific and detailed information concerning the everyday life of ordinary people that resided in the village, information which can prove invaluable to numerous groups and especially the social historian. This is largely due to the insights that more traditional research resources simply cannot reveal. This is history form the bottom-up, recounting and recording ordinary peoples’ experiences for posterity and making sense of their lived everyday lives.
This born-digital collection brings together film, sound recordings and photographs to present a fascinating picture of Sussex life during the 20th Century.
Find out more about the Billingshurst Oral History Project on the Billingshurst Local History Society website.