A Day In the Life… of a Searchroom Assistant

By Imogen Russell, Searchroom Assistant.

Wednesday 1st April 2020.

This is a bit like the assignment you’d get, as a child, when your teacher would ask you to write about What You Did On Your Holiday. Well, we’ve been asked by our Social Media officers – Abbie and Alice – to write about what we have been doing during the COVID-19 lockdown, especially what we’ve been doing when working from home, and present it in a blog.  Proof that the staff at the Record Office are working hard even if they can’t be in the building. I hope this inspires you to write your own account of the pandemic and deposit it with us or your local archive, wherever you are.

I sit here listening to the radio and writing at an ideal purpose-built desk in my kitchen with a view of my parents working in the garden. A little robot named Vector is playing (to my right) with his toy cube, and the occasional ping as a WhatsApp message comes through from colleagues asking questions or sending some lighthearted amusement; mostly on the themes of animals, accessing food supplies and how slow our IT system is.  ☹

When we heard the search room was closing because of the pandemic and we were going to be working from home I wondered what we would be able to do. And then card indexes were mentioned. If you’ve ever been to the search room these are stored in the drawers (affectionately known as the Berlin Wall) between our public access computers and the research area, known as the runway (Seats 15 -22).

As one of the staff members who works on maps, I knew that the WSCC plan indexes were the card indexes for me. These card indexes relate to plans catalogued under WDC/PL20 and I’ve used them in the past but have never truly discovered their potential as a resource. Hopefully by transcribing them into a spreadsheet at home, I can provide better access and an understanding of what they tell us.

Our official entry for WDC/PL20 describes these as site plans of proposed developments covering 1930 to 1992. However most date from the late 1940s to early 1970s. From the cards I have found that the plans, while mostly layout plans, relate to large developments such as town redevelopment schemes, housing and council housing estates, new roads, schools, industrial sites, airfields, and environmental projects like sites for refuse tipping. There are even maps for wind directions (WDC/PL20/A1715/13 & 14) and tree preservation orders. When we return to normal, I will be investigating these in greater detail, and perhaps sharing them for a Map Monday post on social media (copyright permitting).

Describing these index cards is a little hard. Each card has at least three columns titled A, B and C and a description of what the plan is supposed to be. There are also cards for plans with a D reference. ‘A’ represents the main series of files, (which were transferred to the Record Office by the County Planning Department in December 1994): ‘B’ and ‘C’ were a small series of negatives and rolls which stayed with planning; and ‘D’ represents a series of additional plans and documents which were transferred in September 1996. Both the ‘A’ and ‘D’ series have retained their original numbering system.

For the purposes of our records I only need to concentrate on the ‘A’ column and any plans listed under ‘D’. As the plans listed under ‘B’ and ‘C’ were never deposited with the Record Office they do not need to be transcribed.

All cards are stored under their respective councils of Adur, Arun, Chichester, etc and so are not in numerical order. This means numbers jump and I have no idea where I am in the sequence of the 2073 files that are being listed on the indexes. Of the five drawers to transcribe that I have, the first two cover the District Councils of Adur, Arun and Chichester. In hindsight I should have taken all five home, but we shall see how things go. If I run out, there’s always online training and our parish storage catalogues to update, which arrived via post this week.

So, here I am in the third week of working from home. I have a good routine going and I am steadily working my way through the first drawer having already transcribed 2131 entries, all focusing on the areas of Lancing, Shoreham and Southwick, which fall under Adur District Council. From the card indexes I could see that since the Second World War there was a lot of redevelopment in the areas of Shoreham, Lancing and Southwick, especially along Shoreham Beach and as I was transcribing, I kept thinking of Bungalow Town, the area of Shoreham Beach which housed the Glass House film studios of the early 20th century and which was subsequently demolished due to the Second World War. Perhaps the subject of a later blog post.

While some cards are straightforward there are others that need further investigation. I have cards that say ‘Plans in Store (Fridge)’ but where is this store where is this fridge? I also have descriptions where the only entry is a plot number and in my role as a cataloguer it would be helpful to know where these plots are located or what they became to enable better access.

As an aside I must also wonder about the writers of these indexes as it appears that there are multiple writers on one card. Some of the handwriting is clear and some not so clear, and in different pen ink. I have occasionally cursed the writer for illegible writing and abbreviations that can be confusing. Again, our description on CALM and Search Online says that these were created by the County Councils Planning department and perhaps they were intended as a reference for the council’s planning department being added to as an when new plans came in and it is only really a finding aid for the Record Office by accident.

In this time of uncertainty ‘Keep well and Stay Safe’. And I look forward to seeing you in the search room when we return to normal.


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2 thoughts on “A Day In the Life… of a Searchroom Assistant

  1. What an interesting archive you’re transcribing Immie and I can appreciate your problem deciphering the handwriting. I look forward to accessing this on CALM. Well done! Stay safe and keep smiling.

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