Paula, who is volunteering to help with the Archives Revealed project on Cupar’s history tells us about her experiences.
I have lived in and around Cupar for nearly 35 years (although I am currently based in Perth) and I have been heavily involved with Cupar Heritage for a number of years. This interest in local history has encouraged me to return to further education and I am currently in my 3rd year of a 4 year BA Hons in Scottish History with the University of the Highlands & Islands (UHI) at their Perth campus. I am intending to focus on Cupar for my dissertation so was very keen to be involved in the Hidden Burgh: Restoring Cupar’s place at the heart of Fife project.
I have been working specifically with the Cupar project at the University of St Andrews since mid-December, assisting Christine Wood who is the project archivist. There are two on-site volunteers – myself and a University of St Andrews student, Sidney Wilson. Our main job, at the moment, is to clean and flatten documents, removing the dust, dirt and rusty staples (which will help them last a lot longer) before they are catalogued.
At first glance, some of the items look like the dullest, most boring, and pointless documents ever (footpath letters, anyone?), recording minor every day details. However, the more I see of them the richer they become with information. The Town Council documents which I have been cleaning of late have turned up some absolute treasures for anyone with an interest in history, local or otherwise. A few weeks ago, I was cleaning some documents relating to roads maintenance and came across some incredibly interesting leaflets from the Second World War era. The leaflets contained instructions to councils on various wartime activities, such as removing road signs from as early as spring 1940. Another folder contained detailed information for the local constabulary on what to do if they found a deserter, along with lists of all the different nations’ British liaison headquarters’ contacts in case the deserter was from elsewhere.
There are so many stories which develop as you go through council letters, such as disputes between the various councils. A Fife County Council road had bad drainage and flooded a Cupar Town Council road. The correspondence being sent between the Councils argues about who should pay for the clean-up and shows just what minute detail can be uncovered about the way they operated 80 years ago.
One of the more unusual items I cleaned was from Cupar Police Court detailing an interesting case about a man who had found a one pound note but had not handed it in to the police. They came knocking on his door a few days later at which point he suddenly remembered it. In his letter to the Court he explained how he had been distracted by family problems at the time and it had slipped his mind. He duly handed the note over to the police but was still summoned to Court where he was fined £2!
With little gems like this cropping up there is always something to keep it interesting. For example, a random sheet of paper tucked in the back of a folder was a telegram to the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret congratulating her on her wedding. Very random but thrilling too – I’m loving finding little pieces of history like this.
There is just so much information to be found in what, at first glance, would be far too specific documents. When I was researching my own family tree it never occurred to me to look at council documents, but they are jampacked full of information for future historians. I am now working on minor warrant applications with plans attached – another delight!
Paula Ann Milne
Volunteer, Archives Revealed Cupar Project