Archiving Morris Memorabilia

As far as Stafford is concerned there are five sets of memorabilia:

1.     The Log Books: (50+ years or records, 99% hand-written by Peter Stephens)

2.     The Scrap Books: (50+ years of large books, plus a number for special events)

3.     Paperwork: (Dance instructions, Books, Minutes, Attendance sheets, etc.)

4.     Digital Media: (CDs and DVDs, digital photos, video, web pages, Facebook, etc.)

5.     Artefacts: (Items bought by or donated to the club – tapes, tankards, pictures, models etc.)

Most Morris clubs will have something similar occupying lots of space in the homes of many people, probably with little or no security in the event of fire, flood, burglary, or other disasters. The fact that the items are distributed, to some extent eases the security element of losing the whole lot, but you cannot insure against the loss of the heritage.

We woke up to the problem last year when one of our elderly members moved into sheltered accommodation. Having taken what he needed, his family were instructed to clear his house, which regrettably included the total loss of our library of books, music and tapes.

So what do you do?

It would be wonderful to have a searchable computerised archive of all these things, but in most cases technology has not reached that level yet. As most documents are not standard size and are mostly hand written, the only way of recording this lot in a sensible time is photographic.  If nothing else you will have something for the computers of the 22nd century to get to grips with other than a box of sodden paper.

So how do you do it? A few ideas:-

1. Log Books

A few years ago our log books were photographed page by page and put on to CDs, which are held by several members of the club. (Incidentally, the CDs then need archiving under items 4 or 5, so you know where they are.)

We tend to think that we have done that, but the last few years still need to be added to the CD, as this is a never ending task. Hence, it is necessary to have some sort of updating schedule, which should probably be an item on the AGM agenda.

Because most log books are quarto or A4, scanning these directly into a computer is also a possible method of digitizing them. However, that needs careful electronic filing and file naming to ensure that they can be retrieved in the right order. Digital photographs generally have a date and time code, which make that chore unnecessary and, with the upgrade in resolutions, the quality is similar and the time to produce them rather less.

Typing all the handwritten stuff into a word processor would be a valuable contribution to making things searchable, but again it is very daunting. OCR Software is nowhere near good enough to deal with the foibles of multiple handwriting styles. The only way I have been able to enter such documents is by voice recognition software, a technology that is constantly improving.  I have done the first bit of the log books using this method, but as soon as you say “er”, “um” or “what the – is that word” the software curls up and dies.

My wife failed to understand that reading aloud the first six chapters of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to my computer was a necessary precursor to this exercise. Fortunately, recent software, like the free extra on Windows 7, works much better and needs no bedtime stories before it starts working.

2. Scrap Books

These are probably the most difficult and the principal reason for this article.

Some four boxes (30 x 40 x 40 cm.) each weighing around 30 lbs. comprise our collection. That’s about a hundredweight to lug up and down stairs to take them to feasts etc., to say nothing about the space required to store them. Sadly, none of our members live in stately homes! The ultimate aim is to reduce the books to a manageable size, make them widely available, and then consign them to the County Record Office for safe storage, (if they will have them).

Our books vary in size from 38x25 cm (portrait) to 25x35 (landscape) with lots in between and varying from 30 to 80 pages. Quite a mixture!

I have had valuable correspondence with several Morris sides that have embarked on such projects and welcomed their advice. However, multiple scans on an A4 scanner, with the ensuing computer jigsaw puzzle, were beyond both my time and temper, if not my technical skills.

Therefore I started to try alternatives.

·       Put the books on the floor and hand hold the camera = not enough light and fuzzy images.

·       Use a tripod and add lighting = OK images, but turning pages and trying to secure embedded books and leaflets takes time and rapidly results in backache.

·       Put the books on a table = better lighting, but tall tripod and operator both required.

·       Check the internet for ideas = lots of high tech advice using A2 scanners etc., but just one gem of inspiration the magic words “45 degrees”.
(Like all good ideas, everyone wonders why they did not think of that obvious solution.) The gent concerned was into welding frames and camera holders, but I ignored that bit.

·       Hence the Heath Robinson structure courtesy of some bits of plywood and some 55 x 40 cm. Conti-board with a lot of input from Mr Pythagoras.
The support is hinged, as it is a bit of a lump and will need to be put away; soon I hope.

The advantage of this arrangement is that the books are supported on a small shelf and you can put bulldog clips around the edges to keep things flat. Photos are fine, but newspapers, posters and leaflets have a mind of their own.

Ideally a camera with a decent optical zoom, optional flash and hand focus, as well as the ability to use a tripod, is required. I know iPhones can do everything, but they are not good at this. Other considerations are a mains power supply for the camera and as the Fuji Finepix HS10 has an HDMI output, I used a TV screen instead of squinting at the small led screen on the camera. It’s easy for a few hours, but this is a long term project.

 I eventually realised that I should have bought a special SD card for the project, rather than getting the images all mixed up with my holiday snaps. I have just bought an 8 GB card, which should suffice, because very high quality images are not needed. The originals are not going to be destroyed; so if anybody really needs more detail or plans to print posters from these books they can get to them.

The reason for the zoom is for small items like birth announcements or club badges. It is better to take bigger optically zoomed pictures, since the images tend to break up with large digital magnification.  Flash seems to help with weird colours, like blue writing on red paper, or faded handwritten material.

I have made a point of photographing the front and back covers of the books, so the location of any faulty or missing images can be found and the photo retaken. Also, anyone looking for the originals has a bit of help in finding the relevant book.

It is not necessary to be an expert photographer, as the images will be processed before release, at least to the extent required by most users. This system will probably cause dismay to professional archivists, but it should suit most Morris dancers. Having the results on their TV, tablet computer, or phone in a reasonable time will be better received than waiting years for conservationist grade preservation.

So what do you do with this mass of images on your SD Card?

First you must load it on to your computer. You can work directly on the SD Card, but I prefer to keep that unprocessed, just in case. Picasa will immediately load images to the right place, normally catalogued by date taken. If you wish you can put them into albums just like the original books.

I use Picasa by Google for this project. It is a free editing and filing programme, which is quick and easy to use. If you have an Ethernet connected TV or tuner, the Network option will probably allow the display of Picasa files. If you sign up to Google+ or various Android Apps like “Gallery”, they are integrated and make it easy for the uploaded images to be seen on various devices. On some, enlargement will enable more details to be found.

Picasa has several editing features that assist this project.

Crop allows you to get rid of extraneous parts of the image, from parts of the room, bulldog clips, blank pages, to scruffy edges. It also allows you to select bits of a page, (such as a newspaper article in several pieces), to put them together. However, this requires a bit of thought, as the sections have to be saved several times, then reunited.

Straighten is invaluable if your camera and lectern are not properly aligned, or if items have not been stuck in straight. However, beware that this may remove some details on the edge of the image, so it may be necessary to re-take the photograph.

Fill light is an amazing facility, which can reveal details of dark pictures that make them far better than the original. It can also be used to brighten up dark pages.

There are many image adjustments if you have the time and talent to use them, but I found the coward’s button called “I’m feeling lucky” very useful. 90% of the time it applies corrections, which quickly makes the image acceptable. Be sure to use this after using Crop so it will optimise the cropped image not the whole thing.

Once you have processed the image to your satisfaction, be sure to click “Save”, or Picasa will keep the original image. You can get back to the original if needed, but don’t forget it will still be on your SD card.

Finally, you must upload the albums to the free Google web space and decide who can view them. In most cases Morris Scrapbooks will be full of already public information, or items of no current interest to outsiders. However, you can restrict it to yourself; to your circle of friends on Google+; to anyone with the link that you send them; or open to anyone.

I have put some of the early Stafford Scrapbooks ‘open to anyone’, so if this article is of any use to you, you can see the results using the link at the end of this article. I make no claims that this is the best or the only method. However, it has been relatively quick and I have, so far, completed 8 of the 54 scrapbooks.

I look forward to soon having another 7 cubic feet of available office space.

3. Paperwork

Books are probably best left alone in a library, so club members can borrow them as required. Unless you have first editions etc. they are not likely to be very valuable and should not be taking up too much space. It is important that the content of any library is easily available to club members. Books that never see the light of day might just as well be thrown away or given to somebody who really wants them. EBay demonstrates this quite well and is not only a source for books, but a means of disposal which does not involve destruction.

Music is probably best photo-copied on to A4 paper for ease of filing. It can then be scanned into a computer file and issued for reprinting by potential users, but beware of copyright issues.

Similar comments apply to other bits of paper as the main problem of old items is the fact that they may be faded or damaged and in odd sizes. Most people have room for a file, but not a random heap of faded paper.

4. Digital Media

This is the latest form of memorabilia and, with the proliferation of digital cameras and clever phones; it probably generates more items than all the rest put together. It occupies little physical space and with a 3Tb hard disk now costing under £100 it is probably the cheapest to archive.

However, for it to make sense to a future historian or interested party, it demands more discipline that any of the others. 100,000 random images and videos on a disc are just too daunting for anyone to bother. Finding blank or blurred pictures, irrelevant shots, or unknown content, will all put people off and largely negate the reason for your doing the work.

This demands going through what you, (and any other contributors), have stored; classifying and dating it; as well as including locations and events. Some recent images may include GPS data but even that is time consuming to identify. Unfortunately, this is a “cruel to be kind” scenario. If an item is in any way substandard or largely duplicates others it should be deleted.

These items are liable to come in thick and fast, which could mean a lot of time spent sorting it out. I have done a bit of this, but it will be quite some time before we have a DVD with our recent club history on it. Sadly, only illness or a spell in jail will provide me will enough free time to undertake all these exercises and I do not relish either very much. If you have anybody who is computer literate in either situation please take advantage of it, but that is hardly a solution.

Other items of digital, (and some analogue), media require machines to play them before you can consider archiving them. Being a hoarder and a bit of a Luddite, I still have:

·       A 16mm projector, though it would never stand up to any Health and Safety checks.

·       A poor quality reel to reel recorder somewhere in the attic.

·       A Cassette player and a Minidisc Player, both still in use for Barn Dances, as is the USB‑output Record player, which has been in service converting old LPs and singles to MP3.

·       A decent SVHS Recorder, which will come in handy for the VHS Tapes marked helpfully “Morris”, which I have recently been given.

·       A Hi8 video camera and a DV tape digital camera are still in use.

·       I also have Cannon “Ion camera” discs, but few people will have even heard of that early type of digital camera that used 2” discs, let alone used one.

·       3½“ floppy discs still play on my old computer and I am probably the last person on the planet still using the silver paper output from the printer that came with my Sinclair ZX81.

I do not provide this list with any pride, nor am I offering any service in the use of such kit. It is only to illustrate how necessary it is to deal with changes in technology if you wish to retain the more recent heritage of your Morris Club. There are professional companies offering to convert most media to current systems, but the costs are constantly rising.

Archiving such things as club web sites is more difficult, but I have a couple of 'off line' files of code for the Stafford web site, stored just in case. For Facebook, Twitter, or other social media gems that are intrinsically ephemeral; archiving may simply not be possible. However, the occasional screen shot converted to a picture then added to a CD of club history could be of interest in years to come.

5 Artefacts

We have been around long enough to accumulate quite a lot of items that we want. We also have quite a lot residing in dark cupboards lots that we do not really want.

At best, we have tried to compile a list of who has what, but little more. Items like the original Squire’s tankard, which became full after 50 years; The Squire’s Badge, (not intrinsically valuable, but important to the club), various items of regalia, a candlestick made to mark our 40th anniversary, etc. have been photographed as important assets. However, the engraved toilet seat, the ‘flasher’ gnome, the ancient and deteriorating encapsulated sandwich, (passed between Stafford and Jockey for many years), and lots of others have not.

We hardly ever consider the matter of insurance of club property, but perhaps this archive could have merit in the event of loss from somebody’s home.

To cope with the “whatever happened to” scenario we should complete this archive if we are to have a full picture of Stafford Morris for over half a century.


In essence, there are no short cuts to recording, archiving and disseminating all this historic data for the benefit of current and future generations of dancers and scholars. Obviously, if Cecil Sharp had had the good sense to take a video camera, or a smart phone, with him on his travels instead of a notebook, we would be much better off. We should try to preserve evidence of what we currently have, even if it is boring and time consuming.

I hope this article will provide food for thought, if not actual assistance, for those club members lumbered with the unenviable task of archiving their bit of Morris history.

In ten year's time this article will seem as up to date as instructions on how to sharpen your quill pen, but we have to work with what we have.

John Edwards, (Knotty), Stafford Morris Men.

Feb 28th 2014

The link above will get you to one of the Stafford scrapbook archives.