Wednesday was British Museum archives day, another early trip on the tube and some chilly grey weather. We were early (by design), so after class photos we had some time to kill. I walked over to the small Australian garden that was set up on one side, and then went back over to where everyone was getting coffee and crepes at the little trucks parked out front. I got a hot chocolate (it was that or ice cream but they didn’t have vanilla), which tasted more like watery milk than chocolate. I had only taken a few sips and burnt my tongue before we had to go inside, so I had to throw it out.
We only waited for a minute or two inside for the museum’s archivist, Stephanie Clark. She definitely doesn’t’ fit the stereotype of librarian/archivist, with black hair cut in blunt bangs, cats-eye makeup, and a red and white gingham skirt with grey tights. She was also fairly young.
She led us down into the first small room of the archives, which we barely fit into. This is where all the original papers are, with Officers Reports and Trustees Minutes bound up into books. Miss Clark explained that they sound pretty dull but in fact they are very detailed records, and include things like if someone came into work drunk and whatnot. All of the older records are handwritten, and there is even an index where some poor clerk went through everything and wrote down every time a name occurred. There are transcripts of letters sent by the museum and about 5,000 photos, though each dept. keeps its own records and photos as well.
We moved into a somewhat larger aisle of the archives, and Miss Clark brought out some things to show us, including staff applications including reference letters, reading room applications (Beatrix Potter, Rudyard Kipling and others!), a deed from the 1600s, and very detailed architectural plans from the architect. One man was a footman applying to be an attendant, and he included some drawings he had made of things in the museum. For the reading room, every time a person came it was recorded, so there are a huge amount of records, from 1790 to 1970, when the British Library was built.
There were also design books from exhibitions that had been put on by the museum, with photos, paint samples, fabric swatches, tags from the items, all kinds of things that it was pretty amazing to realize had been meticulously saved.
Moving back into the first room, we shown some more things like photographs from the natural history section (which was later moved to the Natural History Museum, and then Miss Clark explained some of the problems with the archives. When she started the job, she was actually the first trained archivist that had worked there. The job is a lot of PR, trying to get people to understand what the archives are for, why it is there, what uses there are for it. There is no digitization because it would cost too much, and with the economic problems in the country even records that are born digital are not being taken care of. They are just trying to keep everything gathered and organized.
It was a very short tour but I enjoyed it, knowing that most people don’t see or even know that the archives exists.
Afterward we were left to wander the museum on our own, but I quickly lost my group and it was so crowded that after I took a few pictures and bought a couple of small things from the gift shop, I left. I stopped for a few things at the little Sainsbury’s down the street and then came back to eat.
After sitting around reading and checking some stuff on the internet, I walked down to the river and made my way over to Westminster Bridge. It was really windy. There is a sort of summer festival going on along the water, and there was a fake beach, bunches of little beach shacks that held things like art or had videos playing. There was a book seller, but I didn’t see anything I wanted.
I kept stopping to take pictures of things, lots of Parliament and the London Eye, which I had never seen up close. I finally got to the bridge. The wind was even worse up there and it was chilly, but I made it across and through the insane crowds, taking more pictures as I went.
My idea was to get over to Westminster Abby to take some photos, though I knew it cost a lot for admission. I made it around to one side, but I got a little turned around and ended up going in a weird circle, getting caught up in a big group of teens who walked so slowly and were so loud that I walked down onto the road and went around.
Eventually I got back around the front and took some more pictures, but then I had had enough of all the huge crowds and went down to the tube station. It was weird to walk down right in front of Parliament to catch the tube, and then when I got down there it was extremely crowded on the train. I only had one stop so it could have been worse.
Finally I made it back to the dorm and had dinner, and later I took a shower and called my mother. I wasn’t feeling great so I took some sleeping pills around ten, which took forever to work, but I did finally get an entire night’s sleep.
This morning I walked over to the post office and a few minutes before I got there it started to pour. I got my mail sent and then proceeded to wade my way back to the dorms, where I’ve been hoping my jeans will dry (I doubt they will). The Paris weekend trip starts loading the buses in about an hour. I don’t really know that I want to go back to Paris, but it’s a little late now. It has to be better than the botched trip seven years ago.
Three more weeks and I think I will be completely run down when I get home.