Friday, 28 October 2011

Mystery researcher: James Clavell Library and Archives

I've recently been to the grandly named James Cavell Library and Archives in Woolwich. It houses the  archives of the Royal Artillery and is attached to the Firepower Museum in Woolwich Arsenal. I didn't go into the Museum (it cost money) but it looked slightly rundown.
I had imagined the James Clavell Library and Archives to be housed in some splendid 18th century premises, but it turned out to be a smallish overheated room with a surprising amount of naval memorabilia, for a regimental museum, on display. The atmosphere was friendly, although not particularly quiet because the searchroom also has the library assistant's desk and a scanner.
There was supposedly space for a dozen people to work around a large table, but there were three of us researchers surrounded by records and books, so there wasn't really room for anybody else.
Admission is by appointment only. I had ordered war diaries, which were ready when I arrived. And they quickly dug out a selection of related memoirs and diaries which had been suggested by the archivist, Paul Evans, in a previous email.
There didn't seem to be any public catalogue. If you wanted to know what they had you had to ask. As is common in small archives basically the catalogue was in the archivist's head, which was great because Paul really did seem to know a huge amount about the Artillery, its history and records right up to the present day, but when he wasn't present things rather fell apart. That said he was extremely helpful, rather beyond the cause of duty, and very knowledgeable.
Photocopying is 20p a sheet which is done immediately by the library assistant. But only Paul could take the money and issue a receipt. There was a long wait while he took a long phonecall before I could pay up.

Room: 5; Staff: 8; Experience: 7; Catalogue 3

Sunday, 23 October 2011


My Tracing Your Ancestors book has been out for a few months now and has had lots of very positive reviews, which you can read at

Pen & Sword will be publishing my new guide to Tracing Naval Ancestors at the end of November. You can read about it (and order a copy) at Surprisingly it is the only book on an important aspect of genealogy currently in print.

Meanwhile Family History: the Experts (now renamed Family History: Digging Deeper) is chugging through the editorial processes at The History Press and should be available in time for the Who Do You Think You Are Show at the end of February.  

Pub History Society

I'm organising the Pub History Society Conference and Workshop which takes place on 26 November at Canterbury Halls, Cartwright Gardens, London WC1. We have speakers on a variety of subjects from freemasons to maps and plans. I will be giving a short paper on Taverns on Trains: a bizarre attempt by the newly nationalised British Railways to offer something new to travellers.  
More details are at