Lost voices of Lancashire life are to be heard again

A fascinating archive of interviews with people born in the Red Rose county from the 19th century onwards has been painstakingly restored and made public

Thursday, 17th May 2018, 11:51 am
Updated Thursday, 17th May 2018, 11:56 am
Typewritten transcripts from the 1980s, created using carbon paper. The new digitised versions will give much improved access to one of the most remarkable twentieth-century oral history archives from the UK.

A team from the Regional Heritage Centre (RHC), based in the History Department of Lancaster University, has led the project to digitise the Elizabeth Roberts’ Working Class Oral History Archive – which will be accessible as a fully searchable, largely open access, online resource.

Now the creation of a website to host the transcripts of the archive is almost complete and a team is putting the finishing touches to the digitisation of two oral history projects covering memories of Preston and Lancaster during the period from 1890 to 1940.

The transcripts of a third project in the archive, which covered the same locations for the period 1940-1970, will be added to the website as soon as their digitisation can be completed.

Elizabeth Roberts of Lancaster's Elizabeth Roberts Working Class Oral History Archive

The dedicated website hosted by the RHC, featuring the transcripts, will be launched at a special oral history conference at the University on Saturday (May 19).

This archive was created during three pioneering 
research projects undertaken at Lancaster University in the 1970s and 1980s, which sought to capture the history of working class communities in north west England, focusing particularly on the experience of people in Preston, Lancaster and Barrow-in-Furness between 1890 and 1970.

Dr Sam Riches, from the RHC, explains: “It is hailed as one of the most important 20th century oral history 
archives in the UK, allowing us to hear the voices of 
people born in the late 19th century. Thanks to the degree of skill and sensitivity shown by the two interviewers, Elizabeth Roberts and Lucinda McCray Beier, the veracity and impact of the material are unusually high.

“The impact of the archive will be transformed once it is digitised and made accessible worldwide.”

Dr Elizabeth Roberts 
(inset), who lives in Lancaster, was a postgraduate student when she undertook her first oral history project, ‘Social Life in Barrow and Lancaster, 1890-1925’ in the mid-1970s. Later in the same decade, while working at Lancaster University, Dr Roberts undertook a second related project, ‘Social Life in Preston, 1890-1940’.

It is these archives which form one of the most important collections of oral history testimonies collected in the 1970s when oral history was a relatively new form of data collection.

In the 1980s Dr Roberts undertook the third oral history project, working with Dr Beier on a project entitled ‘Family and Social Life in Barrow, Lancaster and Preston, 1940-1970’. The archives formed the basis for Dr Roberts’ ground-breaking work on working-class life in industrial towns, which has been published in various forms, including books and articles, including A Woman’s Place: An Oral History of Working Class Women, 1890-1940 and Women and Families 1940-1970. Dr Beier has also published For Their Own Good. The Transformation of English Working Class Health Culture 1880-1970.

In the future, organisers are also looking to 
create an online exhibition for presentation alongside the transcripts, as a result of a community history project developed in collaboration with archive offices at Barrow and Preston.

This will involve volunteers gathering historic photographs of the locations, occupations and activities described in the interviews, and perhaps photographing relevant artefacts.

They aim to deliver this part of the project later in 2018.

The archive comprises 548 reel-to-reel interviews and contains the oral testimony of more than 260 respondents.

Long-term preservation of the original reel-to-reel tapes is assured as they are now held in the sound collections of Lancashire Archives.

The archive contains typed transcripts of the interviews, subject indexes and biographical details of each respondent.

Many of the transcripts are now poorly legible and required retyping, not scanning, to create digital copies.

The RHC sourced £45,000 worth of funding to enable the digitisation to take place.

For full information about the conference and to book places please visit: www.lancaster.ac.uk/users/rhc/events/details/2018/OralHistoryintheNorthWest