Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Archives as a writing resource

Leicester University is an amazing local resource for writers. With one of their research library tickets (free of charge as long as you’re happy to research on site) you can enter the most amazing worlds, research the most obscure areas, discover the most exciting things.

Yesterday I attended a session run by Simon Dixon and Selina Lock from the Leicester University Library Archives. The aim was to encourage writers to use archive materials to inspire their writing. There were many tables of fascinating items for us to look at, handle and hopefully write about. 

A note about the furniture: The chairs in the Archives Department were older than some of the exhibits and they made their presence known... loudly! They came from the original University College, shown in the photograph on the left as it was in the 1920s. It is now the Fielding Johnson Building. The chairs were rickety, creaky and provided a continual source of distraction and amusement which we were happy to overlook in deference to their age!

Following my earlier post about the decommissioned church of St Peters in Belgrave, I now have a mission to read up about leper windows in general and the leper window at St Peters Church in particular. With this in mind I chose to begin the session at the table with local history books. Burton’s History of Leicester published in 1622 told me nothing that I did not already know about the Burton Lazars leper colony and nothing at all about the church at Belgrave.

I temporarily dismissed my mission and threw myself into the session proper. I became absorbed by an account of a highwaywoman, called Jenny Fox, who choked, bound and robbed her victims mercilessly. She was even recorded to have committed the same “handsome frolick” on her husband. She was finally caught in 1655, was sentenced to hanging but poisoned herself and died a terrible death. Cheerful stuff!

There were exhibits from Joe Orton's archives and from Sue Townsend's, but the final table that I chose to work at had a rare copy of the Wicked Bible on display. This book provides such a fascinating story that I will save it for a whole blog post of its own. But an equally fascinating event happened at this table. I found myself sitting next to a woman who, it turned out, is a Friend of St Peters Church. One of her co-members knows quite a bit about the leper window and she is arranging for me and my co-researcher friend to be allowed into the decommissioned church. How’s that for synchronicity?


  1. creak creak. Soundtrack to thinking. Sounds like a lot of fun and very interesting. And it was fate for you to be there and meet this person. I love how things work out.

  2. How I love university libraries - the smell of old books, students sitting on the floor, and all those treasures lurking on the shelves!

  3. The British Library is the same.... unlimited resources and free to join. And they have an excellent cafe on site. When researching the history of my site for our Ton Green Public Inquiry, they provided me with a cope of the 1925 Housing Act...fascinating reading. I noted at the inquiry that our Town Council, who were contesting the application, had the cheek to photocopy it!

  4. Hi Ros ..I've been away down west .. what a fascinating post - some not so successful, yet we always find something of value everywhere ... keeping positive leads us to those synchronous moments in life - how wonderful that will be fascinating to hear more about.

    Cheers Hilary