Thursday, 26 August 2010

Angus Archives turns 21

From TayRoots:

This year’s Angus and Dundee Roots Festival will include a very special occasion – the 21st anniversary of the establishment of the Angus Archives, home to 800 years of documentation relating to the people and places of Angus.

The Angus Archives came into existence at the start of October, 1989, with the appointment of Fiona Scharlau to the newly-created post of Angus Council archivist. “Up until then, collections of irreplaceable historical documentation were kept in libraries, museums and council offices across Angus,” said Fiona. “My job was - and still is - to collect, catalogue, preserve and make available the written and photographic heritage of the county, which covers everything on paper about Angus or anyone from Angus.”

Fiona - who is now Angus Council’s senior archivist and works with the archive team at the Angus Archives - explained that, having initially been based in an office at Montrose Library, so many documents and photographs had soon been gathered together, the Angus Archives required their own premises. “Several years earlier, the Graham Hunter Foundation had built a private library in the grounds of Restenneth Priory to house the collections of Graham Hunter, a wealthy New York historian and genealogist whose ancestors had owned land in Restenneth in the 1690s.

“Angus Council was offered the chance to use this building for the Angus Archives so we moved our collections into this self-contained, purpose-built library, making them available to anyone interested.”

Fiona mentioned that another significant development over the last 21 years has been the introduction of a first class IT system which, after the laborious task of cataloguing every item was completed, has made it considerably easier to access the documents held by the Angus Archives. “For example, with the 100th anniversary of the Forfar Baths fast approaching, I’ve had a few requests for information about the swimming pool’s early days. Not so long ago, this would have involved spending days going through our collections but now the information is available at the touch of a button.”

To celebrate 21 years of the Angus Archives, a party is being held at the Angus Archives at Restenneth, just outside Forfar, on Monday, September 27. “We have great plans for our birthday bash,” said Fiona. “As well as free Deceased Online taster sessions - and birthday cake, fizz, tea and coffee – members of the archive team will be digging out 21 of their favourite treasures from the Angus Archives collections.

“At the moment, we’re mulling over which items should be featured but three possibles are the £5 note a Brechin schoolboy never spent, the ‘Hairy’ Books and the medieval Arbroath Abbey books, which were written by the monks before the reformation.”

One item which will definitely be on display at the Angus Archives Birthday Bash is a photo album and typed account of a horse-drawn caravan holiday from Forfar to Deeside in the 1930s. “This wonderful memento of a family holiday was donated to us by the actress Thora Hird, whose husband, James Scott, was from Forfar,” explained Fiona. “His father wrote the account of the holiday and also took the charming pictures, which provide a wonderful glimpse of days gone by.”

The Angus Archives 21st Birthday Bash is on Monday, September 27, from 10am until 4pm, and entry is free. To find out about other ancestral and local history events taking place during the Angus & Dundee Roots Festival, which runs from September 23 until September 27, the programme is now available in libraries, Access offices, museums, tourist information centres and visitor attractions across Angus and Dundee, and also online at

Comment - I spent a great afternoon at the archive last year where Nick Barratt and I were given a tour following a Deceased Online launch at Glamis Castle (see this blog post). It's a beautiful archive, a real gem - and make sure you pop down to the old medieval priory behind it if you're going along!

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