When I acquired the Bill Lawrence collection on New Year’s Eve, I was taken by surprise. I wanted to ask questions, so I whipped out my phone and started recording to capture information. I find that when making notes with pen and paper, I always miss chunks of information, especially at family gatherings where there are many distractions.
Audio recording is not a quick short-cut. It takes a lot longer to make sense of a recording than of written notes. The environment in which this recording was made was less than ideal. There are multiple simultaneous conversations, and the conversation wandered off topic to take-away orders and gossip that might be libelous if repeated here. In a recording of 33 minutes, just over 7 minutes relate to Bill’s collection and life.
So, I needed to extract the relevant parts and transcribe them. Stories Matter is free open source software built for oral history. It includes audio clipping and basic transcription functions.
Listening to yourself asking questions can be revealing. I had not realized that I interrupted Gill a couple of times, which probably limited the information she was giving me. In the following clip, I was good and just listened:
How much of that did you get? I have the advantage of having been present and knowing the voices of my parents, aunts and uncle. Here is the transcript:
GILL: That school that Bill went to, Ron, d’you remember Gilbert Harding?
GILL: He was at the same school
VAL: At the same time?
DOROTHY: Uncle Harry was as well, wasn’t he?
[talking over one another]
DOROTHY: Not at the same time
GILL: Cuz I remember them talking..
DOROTHY: Oh, I thought it was called an orphanage, because it was for children who had lost a parent or..
GILL: Yeah, but it wasn’t in the sort of normal way, every kid had lost both parents
DOROTHY: No, no, it was a school, but it was a boarding school, and they took in children that had lost parents
GILL: Yeah, and err.. Cuz, apparently when she [Bill’s mother] came back here her brothers said, you know, you must find some work to do and that, so she put Bill in there. But he was telling us and showing us this book and he was saying it was that bloody cold at night in this dormitory. An, you know, they used to get out of the dormitory at night. And the headmaster used to grow vegetables, so they’d go and pinch some carrots and eat ’em straight out of the ground, unwashed, cuz they were so hungry.
In just 1 minute and 16 seconds, this conversation raises a number of questions:
- Who was Gilbert Harding, and why should Ron remember him?
- What was the name of Bill’s school?
- Was it a school or orphanage? Why the confusion?
- Who was the ‘Uncle Harry’ who also attended the school?
- What book did Bill show when talking about his school?
With a little digging I have made progress on the first three questions, but will need to ask Dorothy and Gill for clarification on Uncle Harry and the book.
Gilbert Harding (1907-1960) was a radio and TV personality in the 1950s, which is why Ron remembered him. Gilbert attended the Royal Orphanage of Wolverhampton, also known as the Wolverhampton Orphan Asylum and the Royal Wolverhampton School at periods before and after his time there.
The school was open to children between the ages of 7 and 15 who had lost one or both parents. So, Bill, born in 1915, would have been an eligible age between 1922 and 1930, and Gilbert Harding between 1914 and 1922. So, Bill could only have been contemporary with Gilbert in 1922.
The Children’s Homes website gives insight into the social standing of children granted admission. Admission was granted to “orphans of professional men, principals engaged in agriculture, manufacture, commerce, or trade, or of mercantile or other clerks, or otherwise respectably descended”, but “orphans of journeymen, artisans, labourers, and domestic or agricultural servants, or child with a stepfather” were not eligible. The admission policy is not what we typically expect for an orphanage, which could account for the confusion over the status of the institution. It was both an orphanage and boarding school.
© Sue Adams 2016