It was a grim morning at the start of August when I arrived at the Silk Mill Derby, with flushed cheeks and damp clothes. Greeted with an endless supply of tea and biscuits, excited anticipation drifted between staff and volunteers. Photographs and a Romany gypsy doll offered a tiny insight into bygone Normanton life. From that introductory session I learned the area once housed three theatres, Portland Street was home to the legendry footballer Steve Bloomer, celebrity chef Sat Bains is a Normanton lad and have a listen to ‘Ey Up Me Duck by Kevin Coyne’. The projects potential was clear, enthusiasm oozing from everybody, overflowing buckets of ideas to seek and tell a story without rose tinted glasses of the unique way of life that is Normanton.
Volunteer training sessions have now taken place: objects on the move, oral history interviews and archival research. They were informative, fun and a chance for everybody involved to get to know each other better. Unfortunately work commitments prevented me attending the ‘objects on the move training’ where accompanied by more downpours, the project took to Normanton and Peartree Road seeping up the atmosphere. Next was ‘oral history interview training’ It was fascinating to hear an early recording of Florence Nightingale giving a speech in support of the Light Brigade Relief Fund dated 30th July 1890. Watching a mock up visual oral history interview highlighted suitable environments and demonstrated the role of the person behind the camera as well as in front of it; volunteer Kal Singh Dhindsa was a model interviewee. Open ended questions and somewhere quiet for the interview to take place was the simple advice.
And finally ‘archival research training’ an image of heads bent in dusty books and dark libraries furnished with floor to ceiling bookcases, the smoked aroma of ancient wood filling the air (heaven to a freelance writer albeit a little cliché). In reality Derby Local Studies Library is light and spacious, the public study room home to surprisingly only a sparse scattering of books, of course bound gold is safely tucked away, pulled out only when required. The role of the archival researcher is to retrace steps refining and expanding, exhausting every avenue, note taking is helpful and stringent record keeping is essential. The modern researcher now has a vast range of tools to chip into the past often at the tap of a button. And when us eager volunteers sat down in front of the computers we quickly began to find news stories and photographs of Normanton. Beware of using filters as they can close the door on a mine of precious material. I discovered photographs of Prince Charles visiting various religious groups in Normanton back in 1981. Mark Young – library manager sourced four folders of photographs dating back to the 60s, filled with images of transport, businesses, pedestrians, workers and residents.
These snapshots of life now past are the backbone of this project, a developing story of Normanton past. Over the coming months we will dig deep, speak to many come rain or shine (this is England after all) and discover a local study called This is Normanton.