3. Of Networking and Newspapers: Reflections of a Bumper Week

Hello, my name is Mark Lambert, I am in the third year of a PhD at the University of Nottingham which, broadly speaking, is focussed on railway heritage between 1948 and 1975 (why railway museums were established, what was put in them and where they were put) and I am the Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society’s Postgraduate Forum. Here is an account of a hectic week which encapsulated the core activities which I have undertaken during the course of my studies- working in the office, attending conferences and undertaking archival research. Usually these activities are, to some extent, spaced apart, but this week they were all mixed together.

Unlike the Bangles, my Mondays are rarely particularly manic, and this one was no exception. It largely consisted of me sitting at my desk in Nottingham, both writing my latest thesis chapter and also undertaking tasks relating to both my role on the Postgraduate Forum and as co-editor of the Department’s newsletter (in fact I spent much of the morning working on a quiz to go inside it- not sure if this was an entirely productive use of my time…). It was, in short, a normal, uneventful day, right down to the arguments with the non-responsive printer.

After completing various, relatively random menial tasks- getting my hair cut, recycling a light bulb and cleaning the bathroom (with the obligatory pit stop for coffee in between)- during the morning, much of Tuesday afternoon was spent travelling down to Brighton for the Historical Geography Research Group’s (HGRG) Practising Historical Geography conference. This was a nigh-on four hour trip from Beeston (where my student house is located, on the outskirts of Nottingham) to the South Coast, with a change at London St Pancras from the East Midlands Trains service on the domestic platforms to a Thameslink service from the subterranean concrete box underneath the station. This was my first time on a Thameslink service and I wasn’t impressed by its slowness, with the train seeming to sit at stations for an eternity and then progress at what seemed like walking speed through South London. But the journey did at least allow me to read one-and-a-bit academic papers (‘Network Ruins and Green Structure Development: An Attempt to Trace Relational Spaces of a Railway Ruin’ by Mattias Qviström and ‘Crafting the Region: Creative Industries and Practices of Regional Space’ by Nicola J. Thomas, David C. Harvey and Harriet Hawkins). Train journeys are in fact one of the few times that I am able to read journal articles. Moreover, the man opposite me for much of the journey to Brighton chewed and sucked his way through almost an entire bag of Lots of Lollies, which I found inexplicably amusing.

After struggling from the station to my hotel- the Travelodge on Brighton Seafront, not quite the ideal location as it turned out- with my large suitcase I almost immediately went out to the beach in order to look at Brighton’s derelict West Pier. A relatively keen birdwatcher, I was hoping to catch sight of the Starling murmuration, which is where a huge flock of starlings comes into roost, performing feats of aerial acrobatics as they do so. Brighton’s West Pier is famous for this, but I think that I was perhaps too late as the sun was about to set. Thus my patient vigil on Brighton beach, binoculars in hand, was not rewarded. Later that evening I headed out to the pre-conference meal at a branch of Bill’s in Brighton, which was a fantastic opportunity to both meet up with old acquaintances and make a few new ones as well.

Brighton_-_starlings_over_the_Palace_Pier_at_dusk_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1174349

Starlings over Brighton Pier (Ian Cunliffe/Wikimedia Commons).

The next morning, after making the most of the Travelodge breakfast, I trudged back up to the station to make the short journey to Falmer, the suburb where the University of Sussex is based. Just about managing to board the correct train (there were two leaving at exactly the same time). By chance I met Dr Iain Robertson, the HGRG’s Membership Officer, on board the train, and we unsurely made our way to the conference venue. I haven’t space to go into the detail here (I have written a report of the conference for the HGRG’s newsletter) but suffice it to say that it was a great day, with a series of diverse lectures and workshops on a variety of topics- there were sessions on the temperance movement in Victorian times, 20th century artist John Latham, the documenting of extreme weather events in personal journals and the organisation of domestic space and domestic labour in the middle-class houses of the British Empire during the 19th century. It was a great opportunity for networking and the sharing of advice too (this year Dr Jake Hodder of the University of Nottingham filled the ‘Postgraduate Voices’ slot). Although, as is always the way with these events, there will be some people whom I may never see again, there will be others who I can contact in the years ahead.

Following the conference I made my way to my family home of Grays, in Essex (Falmer to Brighton, Brighton to London Bridge, walk to Fenchurch Street station, cheeky Burger King then another train to Grays). The next morning I was up bright and early (or perhaps just early) in order to visit the National Archives, which are unfortunately in Kew in west London, on the opposite side of the capital to my house. The National Archives are open longer on Tuesdays and Thursdays than on other days (until 7 rather than 5) and I wanted to take advantage. The journey necessitates a trip from Grays to Fenchurch Street (having been kindly dropped off at the station by my dad), before traveling on the London Underground’s District Line from Tower Hill (around the corner from Fenchurch Street) to Kew Gardens, making sure that one gets on the right train to start with (i.e. a District Line to Richmond, rather than a Circle Line train or a District Line train to Ealing Broadway or Wimbledon). In all, the journey takes between an hour and a half and two hours each way, with about forty minutes of travelling apiece on the heavy rail train from Grays to Fenchurch and the Underground from Tower Hill to Kew Gardens. On this occasion I looked at correspondence relating to the Museum of British Transport at Clapham in South West London- open from 1961 to 1973- which is one of the topics of my thesis. The letters were largely to and from the Curator of the Museum, Mr John Scholes, and his boss Eric Merrill, the Controller of Public Relations and Publicity at the British Railways Board. The correspondence was of great interest, forming both a useful addition to the third chapter in and of itself and providing useful leads to follow up. For instance, I learnt of an art exhibition at the Museum held in 1969, featuring the work of Graphic Design students from St Martin’s School of Art. If I can learn more about this and perhaps locate artworks or a catalogue from this exhibition, this would be a great addition to the thesis.

The National Archives, Kew

The National Archives (Mike Peel/Wikimedia Commons).

Finally then, it’s Friday at the end of a long week, and I undertook the rather shorter journey to the British Library (just a quick trip on the Metropolitan or Circle from Aldgate (round the other corner at Fenchurch Street) to King’s Cross). As it transpired, the day was rather frustrating: copies of the Wiltshire Advertiser from 1962, which I was looking at in order to view reports of the opening of the Great Western Railway Museum in Swindon in June of that year, were rather less descriptive about this event than I might have hoped, whilst looking for letters about railway relics, or stories about the opening of the Clapham Museum, in what was then termed the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post from the 1950s and 60s proved to be akin to finding a needle in a rather fiddly haystack (I am still relatively inexperienced in handling microfilm, and a lot of the information I need seems to be towards the end of particular months, necessitating the reeling through of many newspapers). The day was capped off by some sort of security alert in the locker room, which prevented me and everyone else from getting their belongings for several minutes. As is ever the case, some days simply go better than others…