A Map of Words: stories and poems of Somerset and its residents

A Map of Words: stories and poems of Somerset and its residents

Bath Record Office has worked with local people in association with the St John’s Foundation to create a selection of poems, stories and essays based on its extensive collection of historic documents relating to the local area.

The results of the project – along with images of the archives that inspired it – can be viewed online at www.batharchives.co.uk/creative-writing-inspired-archives.

Regular creative writing classes organised by the St John’s Foundation had been taking place since July 2017, eventually building up to two fortnightly classes in Bath and one monthly class in Radstock, with a group of about 30 writers in total.

Workshop leader and author/editor Michael Loveday hoped that by teaming up with Bath Record Office, the writers would be able to engage more deeply with the history of their local community and landscape, by responding to materials from the archive.

A total of 10 workshops were designed by Michael and Bath Record Office staff, taking place in February and March 2019 in Bath and Radstock. The workshops covered the following themes: maps, weather, the Bath Chronicle, crime, retail through the ages, and mining at the Combe Down quarries.

Artefacts explored by the group included 17th-century maps of Bath and Somerset, an 18th-century weather diary by the Rector of Bath, photographs of floods from the early 20th century, Victorian crime reports and police files, copies of the Bath Chronicle from over 200 years ago, and a number of other gems from the archive.

The writers produced a wide range of responses to the project, including:

  • a poem about a mythical ‘man of Mendip’
  • a monologue by a policeman trapped in floodwater
  • stories of 18th and 19th-century shopkeepers
  • personal memories of living on Camden Crescent
  • a poem about the Blitz
  • an acrostic poem about graffiti
  • a story of refugees in southern Africa

Michael Loveday said: “This project shows what amazing results can arise from creative engagement with historic materials. We all learned things about Somerset and about the Bath Record Office that we hadn’t known before. Through responses to the writing exercises, the writers’ engagement with social and environmental history was deepened. And through engagement with archival material, the writers’ experience of creative writing was also deepened. Most importantly, as you’ll see from story titles like ‘Hamster in the Shower’, we had fun, which is a crucial part of engagement with a subject!”

Councillor Dine Romero, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, Communities and Culture at Bath & North East Somerset Council, added: “Bath Record Office contains thousands of documents from local businesses, organisations and families, all of which tell the story of life in Bath over the centuries. It’s great that the writers from St John’s Foundation were inspired to produce such a wide array of creative pieces in response to our collections.”

The project was launched this morning at an online event attended by Councillor Lisa O’Brien, Chairman of Bath & North East Somerset Council.

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