A particular corner of the School, perhaps little known to some, has been working hard over the last few years in a dual role. The Archives firstly collects and protects the School’s working records, and secondly makes its older records available for members of the School community and the wider public to learn about the School’s history.
There is no typical day for the School Archivist. I could be answering enquiries from people looking for details of their grandparents or great grandparents, writing articles for School publications, advising a school department on their record keeping, hunting down that elusive document for someone, supervising archive staff on the listing and cataloguing of the collection, accessioning new document donations, running history-based clubs for pupils, getting my head around copyright and GDPR legislation, monitoring the environment in which the documents are kept, writing policies, or helping the pupil curators mount the next exhibition in the Reception area.
So, what does the archive actually contain?
We hold something of nearly everything, from governors’ records down to the souvenirs retained by pupils through their school career, which they later donate back to the archive. We hold:
· Governors’ records
· Pupil admission records
· Records of early Masters who taught in the School
· School magazines
· Drama and music performances
· House records
· Sports achievements
· School reports on Pupils from the 1910s to the 1930s
· School inspections
· The Edward Alleyn Club
· The Junior School
· Records from Rossall
· Records of the School buildings – plans, records of construction etc
· Early accounts
The earliest records date to 1857 when Alleyn’s College divided into two schools – the Upper School and the Lower School. Alleyn’s evolved from the Lower School, and so the bulk of Alleyn’s records start in 1882.
Once we’ve stored the material, what do we actually do with it?
Some of the School’s records are confidential or covered by GDPR and they are stored until the passing of time means that they can be opened to people wishing to see them. However, most of our collection is open and can be used for research, exhibitions, lessons and pupil activities. You may have seen the permanent exhibition for Alleyn’s 400th anniversary, which is mounted on the side of EAB facing the quad. This comprises of 12 boards, with six detailing the history of the School and the other six showing life in the School today.
You may also have seen the new exhibition cabinets in Reception. The Archives runs a pupil curator’s corner where any pupil can work with the Archives staff to create an exhibition on a subject of their choosing. Do visit the current exhibition by Year 13 student, Kate, which is dedicated to Frank Howard Kirby, one of the most decorated of Alleyn’s Old Boys. If you would like to mount your own exhibition do come and tell us!
The School likes to look outward as well as in and the Archives has helped two organisations recently to realise their own projects. The Commonwealth War Graves Commissions approached us in 2018 when they found the body of a soldier who had died in WW1 and whose body was not found at the time. He turned out to be Lieut. Leslie Wallace Ablett, AOB who had been missing in action since 1917. Ablett’s School records helped to trace his descendants, and representatives of the School attended his burial in Belgium in 2021. I have already mentioned the student exhibition in Reception about Frank H. Kirby VC CBE DCM. In 2021 this AOB was awarded a blue plaque by Thame Town Council for his military service in the Boer War and WW1. Kirby spent some of his childhood in Dulwich and he attended Alleyn’s when the School was based in Dulwich Village. The School Archive was able to help with research into Kirby’s life and we lent items for the exhibition on Kirby which was held at Thame Museum.
Last but by no means least our WW1 commemoration project is still running. The Archives created a website at Alleyn's World War One Memorial Website - WW1 Alumni (alleyns.org.uk), which lists all the old boys who fought in WW1 and contains biographical details of those for whom we have such information. New information is sent in all the time from relatives who find the site. The latest profiles we have been able to add were for John Leslie Tosen of the Bedfordshire Regiment and William Oscar Lovell of the RAF. Every November the Archivist also teaches a class to Year 9 historians in which we use copies of original service records from the National Archives of Old Boys who fought in the war. The pupils have a chance to undertake real historical research into WW1 using these records, and to build up a picture of the war as lived by former Alleyn’s pupils.
Alleyn’s School Archivist