Willans Works catalogue goes online

The catalogue for the Willans Works archives at Warwickshire County Record Office (WCRO) is now available online via the Warwickshire’s Past Unlocked web page.

Funding for the two-year Boaters & Bright Sparks project to sort, list and conserve the material ended in August 2015, but because of delays some of the work continued after this date. One of the main reasons was the donation of two further accessions in 2014 from the Willans Works site at Rugby. This was a good ‘problem’ to have as it meant that this material could be included in the final catalogue and be dealt with during the project, rather than later on.

The numbering of documents and labelling of boxes has started but because of the delays this process will not be complete until early 2016. As a result there may be delays in retrieving items requested.  Although the catalogue is live, it will be tweaked during the next few months as further information is added – it currently holds over 5,000 entries. This is because the hardy band of volunteers (including some who have been working on the Willans records since before the project began in 2013) are still involved and will continue to list certain items in more detail. Their work means that some of the catalogue entries have links to spreadsheets giving these details – examples include the indentured pupils volumes from the late 19th and early 20th century and a register of workmen (1898 – 1902) produced by the works’ time office. They will also carry on extracting information from the Willans Works’ photo department log books to help identify negatives and photographs.

There have been other outcomes because of the project. Good links have been made with organisations that hold related material such as Rugby Art Gallery & Museum (RAGM), the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester (MOSI), and the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick. These records highlight the often complicated history of engineering and power generation that the Willans Works has been part of. The records from Rugby show the change from private company Willans & Robinson to its take over by Dick, Kerr & Co. and subsequent merger into larger groups such as English Electric, GEC and Alstom. This story continues because GE took over the power generation divisions of the Alstom group in November 2015 so the Willans Works will once again have to change its sign!

Links were also made with other externally-funded projects that have been involved with cataloguing related archive material. Examples include the GEC Traction archives cataloguing project at the National Railway Museum and the Ruston & Hornsby digitisation project at Lincolnshire Archives. The archivist working on the GEC Traction records spoke at one of the two events held at WCRO and RAGM to publicise the project, as did an archivist from MOSI. The WCRO event also heard about the Marconi collection at The Bodleian Library, Oxford which also contains related material.

Items that were part of the Willans collection but only related to the former Trafford Park engineering site in Manchester that used to be part of the same company were transferred to MOSI, and some duplicates from the collection were transferred to RAGM to join existing material there. Duplicates have also been kept by the Record Office for use in outreach activities.

So thank you to all of those who helped with the project: the funders (the National Cataloguing Grants Scheme, the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, the Friends of Warwickshire County Record Office, the Warwickshire Industrial Archaeology Society, the individual donors); the staff at the Record Office and Heritage & Culture Warwickshire; the volunteers; the supporters; staff from the Willans Works site; and people working for organisations holding related material.