2018 BAC Cataloguing Grant Winner

The judging panel were pleased to see an increase in the number of applications for this year’s grant and were impressed with the variety of archives represented from across the UK. After individual scoring and joint deliberation, they decided to present the award to the Clevedon Pier and Heritage Trust Ltd (CP&H Trust Ltd). The Clevedon Pier Archive is a good example of a complex business archive collection, reflecting the Pier having been owned by several businesses and other organisations, both private and public over the course of its existence since its beginnings in 1864. Its changes in fortune and ownership over nearly 150 years provide a valuable insight into the social and economic shifts affecting Clevedon, and Victorian seaside towns more generally.

Almost thirty years after high winds and heavy seas led to the destruction of a partially constructed Pier in 1837, a new development scheme was accepted, and The Clevedon Pier Company was formed by Sir Arthur Elton, Richard Godwin, Samuel Ransford and John Maynard. Construction work began in July 1867 and the official opening was held on Easter Monday in March 1869. Until the opening of the Severn Railway Tunnel in 1886, Clevedon Pier provided a fast route to South Wales by steamer.

After various alternations and renovations, the popularity of the Pier was boosted in the late 1950s and early 1960s by the installation of a jukebox in the pierhead dancehall, which introduced a generation of teenagers from Clevedon and the surrounding area to Elvis Presley and other pop stars. However, further decline in the latter years of the 1960s resulted in the disastrous collapse of the last two pier spans during routine load testing in October 1970. In 1980, following extensive local campaigning, the Pier was saved from demolition. After successful fundraising and varied setbacks, the Pier was finally reopened in May 1998. Today it has the honour of being the only Grade 1 listed pier still in use in the UK.

The archive is made up of six tranches, corresponding to the six organisations involved in the running of the Pier over its lifetime. The first belongs to the Elton family and relates to The Clevedon Pier Company: these records will be digitised and some funds from the BAC grant will be used to produce a summary listing of these records which will then be transferred to the Somerset Record Office (with CP&H Trust Ltd. owning the digital collection). The other five tranches are owned by the CP&H Trust Ltd. and will be fully catalogued with the professional overview of an archivist and with volunteer assistance.

As well as making the archive more accessible to researchers, the project will provide an excellent legacy by equipping volunteers with archive management skills and engaging with professional bodies such as the Collections Trust, The National Archives, Business Archives Council and the Archives and Records Association.

The collection provides a comprehensive story of the Pier’s history through letters, reports, proposals, minutes, financial records, legal records and planning and public enquiry documents, drawings, photographs, and ephemera such as posters and newspaper cuttings. It charts the Pier’s construction, operational activities, periods of decline, conservation, preservation and the ongoing challenges of a heritage site.

The archive is a rich source for social history topics such as the development and decline of British seaside towns, and the value of local heritage for community. It is also of value to researchers interested in engineering, architecture, shipping and transport, and conservation and heritage management.

The panel were impressed by the Trust’s obvious commitment to preserving and sharing the story of the Pier’s changing fortunes through its archive. Links with universities already exist and volunteer engagement is high, with a commitment to further develop educational and community links. Thanks to previous funding, the archive is housed in a safe environment ensuring access for future generations. 2019 will mark the 150-year anniversary of Clevedon Pier and promotion of the archive will form part of these celebrations with a permanent, rotating display in the Pier’s Discovery Centre.

Overall, the judging panel concluded that the cataloguing project will have real benefit for the local community and provides good value for money.

Read the full report here.

For more details on the project visit the ARA Learning Blog post here.