"10 miles of shelving, 800 years of Bristol history " - Welcome to the Archive

8 Sep 2023
Anne Lovejoy

Our latest free exhibition, Homemade by Bristol Women, opened on 4 September and  explores our cultural heritage through people, places and good food!

We're lucky that Bristol Archives (who house all our records from 1764-1946 in the 'Theatre Royal Collection') have kindly loaned us some special objects for display that tie into the themes we're exploring. 

To celebrate the launch of the Homemade exhibition, we caught up with Anne Lovejoy (Senior Archivist at Bristol Archives) and Ellie Hassler (Paper Conservator at Bristol Museums) who helped us prepare the objects for display…

Ellie Hassler

What is your role at Bristol Archives?

Anne: I am the Senior Archivist, which means I manage the customer-facing side of our work: working with community groups, schools, and partner organisations who want to use archives in their activities; and most importantly, managing the very excellent searchroom team who help members of the public every day with their research or consult documents on behalf of remote users all over the world who email us with enquiries.

Ellie: My role is Paper Conservator to all the Bristol Museums and Archives. So that's five museums and the Archives; Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, M Shed, Georgian House, Blaise Museum and Red Lodge.

What is your favourite item in the Theatre Royal collection and why?

Anne: Hmmmm. This is a tricky question!  I re-catalogued the Theatre Royal collection a few years ago so it feels a bit like choosing a favourite child. But amongst all the treasures were the correspondence between various organisations and individuals trying to secure the future of the Theatre Royal building in the early 1940s. 

A lot of the material in our collections (playbills, deeds etc.) was collected by those individuals to put on display in the theatre’s foyer once it reopened in 1943 – it’s a sort of echo from the past of the work we do today with BOV -  using archive material to display in the new foyer and pit exhibition spaces. (But they Sellotaped parchment deeds to the walls, we can at least be sure no Sellotape will be used in the Homemade exhibition).

Original documents sellotaped to the foyer walls in 1943

What needs to be considered when loaning items?

Anne: There is so much to consider – how the documents will be packaged and transported, how they will be mounted and lit, how long the exhibition will run for etc. We also want to make sure that material we look after is appropriately interpreted and understood by the exhibitors – we want the public to see our stuff but we also want them to understand what it is they’re looking at!

Ellie: I look for whether the items are fit for display and whether we can get them stable and safe. The most important thing is to get the items out there in the safest way possible, because there's no point having everything in boxes.


Are there any other spots around the city where audiences can view items loaned from Bristol Archives?

Anne: M Shed has quite a bit of material from Bristol Archives on display. The temporary exhibitions at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery often incorporate archive material where relevant. Most recently archive material from the British Empire and Commonwealth Collection has been displayed at BMAG in the We Were Everywhere exhibition. Other than that you’ll probably see digital reproductions of our material in all sorts of signage, posters, displays around the city or online made by lots of different groups and organisations.


What’s the weirdest fact you’ve learnt working in the archives?

Anne: I’m scratching my head with this question. We look after so much stuff – 10 miles of shelving covering over 800 years of Bristol history – that almost every day we turn up something odd or unusual or interesting. It’s not weird but the most important fact about archives is they’re not dusty! And we don’t wear white gloves! There are quite a few people here wearing cardigans though…


What’s the most famous piece of paper you’ve worked on?

Ellie: That was my previous job so it's not Bristol related, but I worked on Darwin's letters from when he was on the Beagle. That was really good. I never want to know the value of something but when I was working on these letters the curator let it slip when he was doing one of the tours, and I was like oh my ‘oh my God, I just gave that a wash’!

What’s your favourite pickle recipe (if you have one…)? 

Anne: Right now I have 10kg of plums in my freezer from this year’s garden glut. It can’t be jam again for Christmas presents, so I’m on the lookout for some kind of plum chutney/pickle recipe. If anyone has any recommendations?

Ellie: So I think I'm a bit of a pickle addict so I can't have that many in the house because I just eat them all. But I’ve made gherkins, probably quite boringly English ones. Just a bit of sugar and malt vinegar. But things like pickled herring, like I will just eat that like a penguin! 

Homemade is on display in the Pit Passageway at Bristol Old Vic, from 4 September 2023 – 3 Mar 2024. It is free and there is no need to book so come and have a look! Find out more