A Grand Day Out: Tips on Getting the Most Out of A Visit to the Archives

A Nice Find
A Nice Find

A few months ago I was in a meeting with colleagues and one of them said that:  “I always seemed to be blessed by the archive fairy.” In short, it always appeared that I managed to find good quality archive material with the minimum of effort. It seemed, however fancifully,  that their was a friendly sprite that sprinkled fairy dust on my library card whenever I booked an appointment. It is true that my recent PhD, and publications, utilised material that  had not been accounted for fully in the historical record. Indeed, my ongoing research has produced some fruitful searches. So, is their a friendly sprite lurking in my library membership? Unlikely. Here are a few tips, from the practical and common sense, to the more free thinking that may help with your own searches.

Over the last ten years  I have had disappointment, frustration and more than my fair share of surprising finds. At the end of the blog post I have listed the primary sources I used in my PhD, ‘Slate-Grey Rain and Polished Euphoniums’: Southern Pennine Brass Bands, the Working Class and the North, c. 1840-1914 (Ph.D Thesis, University of Huddersfield, 2014) Here is what worked for me:

A Big Pile of Archival Research
A Big Pile of Archival Research

Get Organised

In a non-digital archive the visit should fall into three distinct, and separate, areas. I have found that it is best to stick to these areas and not be distracted by false leads, dead ends and ghosts of documents. Find it, catalogue it and then collect it. Do not get distracted. The research areas are: the reconnoitre, the list making and the collection. First of all, however, you need to organise. In all your dealings with archival staff be polite, be professional, be punctual and be clear in what you require. In every of the three stages of research follow this agenda:

  1. Is the archive open when you want to visit? Check, check and check again. When you have checked, check again. Is it too far? Will you need to book accommodation? Do they charge a fee? Have you got enough pencils? Do they allow laptops? Do I have to join, and what identification will I need? Is there a membership waiting list.? Can I afford it? Can I get there?
  2. Once you have said yes to all these points book an appointment. First of all email the staff outlining the purpose of your visit and your general area of research. Make it clear that this is  the reconnoitre stage. You may have the luxury of an online catalogue. Nevertheless, a card-index system can bring interesting results. Book a time, get a contact name and phone number, and diarise your visit. Do this at least two weeks in advance. Remember to check that the site will be  open over the lunch period. Two days before you visit confirm the appointment. Confirm what time you will be arriving and that they will be open. If they are closed when you arrive , have a back up plan. Where is the nearest local studies library?

The Reconnoitre

This is an information gathering exercise. Do key-word searches, and think outside your search area. Don’t just think, for example, brass bands or music. Think about hobbies, parks, birthdays, celebrations, fairs and so on. In my music-making searches I found considerable material in solicitors’ correspondence, works’ absence and wages’ books, park superintendents’ reports, council meetings and police records. Bands did not just play music , they created substantial and official paper trails. In your searching be thinking ‘the paper trails that emerge from relationships and social networks.’ Often crime, love, desperation, want, sadness and happiness. Get human. Get emotional. Get boring. This search method really works well with digitised archives. Try, for example, ‘bandsmen: court cases.’

The List Making

When you have a list of material, with the description of the document, and its reference number, make a list of manageable documents to view in a day. Always type out and catalogue your document descriptions and reference numbers, together with the archive name. No writing things on beer mats, fag packets or train and bus tickets. Treat these references like valuable possessions. You do not need the hassle of re-finding the reference when you are writing up.  Email the list to the archivist and go through the same confirmation process. Be prepared for the documents to go missing or be taken away for conservation. It will happen. Be prepared for the archive to be closed, when they should be open. It will happen. Always have a back-up plan . Are there other documents (where is your big list?) Is there a local studies library  nearby? (Often goldmines of archival material themselves.) Never knowingly waste a day, and never catalogue a list on a on a beer mat.

The Collection

This is  the fun part. You get to buy pencils and notebooks. Remember, confirm your visit and the documents you need to view. The key to collecting is just to gather the information. No analysis at all at this point. It leads to distraction and bad time management. Make additional keywords that you come across. This can lead to new material and you can start the  process again.

Key Skills You Need

Good organisation, planning, diary and cataloguing abilities

Good people skills, together with clear communication skills

Patience and stoicism

Being able to work for long periods of time. largely unsupervised, and in isolation

To be happy with your own company

The ability to deal with disappointment and frustrating situations, that are out of your control,  in a professional way

Good luck, and happy searching

Indicative List of Primary Sources for my PhD

In my research I found a  wealth of material about Southern Pennine Brass Bands. Note that much of the material is found in the external press and in local studies libraries.

Where primary sources and books cannot be found in the British Library collections I have listed the locations using the following key:

Accrington Local Studies Library (ALS)

Bacup Local Studies Library (BLS)

Bolton Archive Service (BOAS)

Bradford Local Studies Library (BRLS)

Burnley Local Studies Library (BULS)

Bury Archive Service (BAS)

Halifax Local Studies Library (HXLS)

Haworth Brass Band (HB)

Huddersfield Local Studies Library (HLS)

Lancashire Record Office, Preston (LRO)

Leeds Local Studies Library (LLS)

National Brass Band Archive, Wigan (BBA)

Rawtenstall Local Studies Library (RLS)

Salford Local Studies Library (SLS)

Todmorden Community Brass Band (TCBB)

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Bradford (WYASBR)

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (WYASCD)



Primary Sources:



(The date ranges of newspapers, magazines, periodicals and journals include dates of those consulted)

Accrington Free Press (June 1875 to April 1878)

Accrington Gazette (June 1875 to April 1878)

Accrington Times (June, 1875 to April 1878)

Bacup and Rossendale News (April to May 1876)

Bacup Times (September, 1870 and April to May 1876)

Bolton Chronicle (February-March, 1861)

Bradford Daily Argus (June, 1906)

Bradford Daily Telegraph (June-July, 1906)

Bradford Observer (June-July, 1906)

Bury Times (June-July, 1899)

Daily Mail (15 August, 1898, 16 August, 1898, 10 October, 1898)

Daily Telegraph (18 July, 2007)

Derbyshire Evening Telegraph (24 September, 2007)

Eccles and Patricroft Journal (September-December 1883)

Halifax Daily Guardian (Canada) (WYASBR) (24 November, 1906)

Halifax Evening Courier (10 December, 2004)

Haslingden Chronicle and Ramsbottom Times (July-August, 1901)

Haslingden Gazette (July-August, 1901)

Haslingden Guardian (July-August, 1901)

Hebden Bridge Evening News (January-February, 1909)

Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser (14 June, 1851 and February 1856 to May 1872)

Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (February 1856-May 1872)

Huddersfield Daily Examiner (January-February, 1904)

Huddersfield Weekly Examiner (13 February, 1904, 13 October, 1909)

Huddersfield Weekly News (8 November, 1887)

Leeds Mercury (8 November, 1887)

Liverpool Mercury (26 September, 1887)

Manchester Guardian (5 September, 1893)

Manchester Times (5 June, 1886)

Middleton Guardian (8 June, 1889, 23 July, 1889, 14 September, 1889, 18 October, 1890)

Rossendale Free Press (22 November, 1884, 1 May, 1886, 27 November, 1901)

Observer (19 September, 1937)

Slaithwaite Guardian and Colne Valley News (12 January, 1897-17 April, 1898, 30 September, 1898, 12 February, 1904)

The Times (11 July, 1860, 17 February, 1885, 30 September, 1911, 24 November, 1972, 11 October, 1974)

Todmorden and District News (January-February, 1909)

Brass Band Journals:

Brass Band News (1 July, 1901, 1 November, 1901, 1 December, 1901, 1 February, 1905, 1 December, 1905, 1 February, 1908)

British Bandsman (September, 1887, April, 1888, August, 1888, 15 March, 1903, 4 April, 1903, 11 April, 1903, 18 April, 1903, 25 April, 1903, 23 May, 1903, 20 June, 1903, 4 July, 1903, 27 June, 1903, 4 July, 1903, 8 August, 1903, 15 August, 1903, 10 October, 1904, 2 January, 1907, 3 August, 1907, 3 August, 1907, 7 September, 1907, 9 November, 1907, 18 April, 1908, 2 May, 1908, 3 April, 1909, 19 June, 1909, 20 November, 1909, 7 January, 1910, 11 June, 1910, 20 April,1912, 27 April, 1912, 17 January, 1914, 31 January, 1914, 14 February, 1914, 28 February, 1914, 7 March, 1914, 14 March, 1914, 18 April, 1914, 1 January, 1915)

Cornet (15 January, 1895, 15 December, 1896, 15 April, 1898, 15 October, 1898, 14 January, 1899, 15 February, 1900, 19 April, 1900, 15 February, 1901, 15 October, 1901, 14 March, 1903, 15 February, 1904)


Music Journals:

British Minstrel and Musical and Literary Miscellany (January, 1845)

Campanology (16 September, 1896)

Magazine of Music (April, 1892, June, 1892, July, 1892, March, 1896, October, 1896)

Minim: A Musical Magazine for Everybody (January, 1898)

Monthly Musical Record (1 July, 1872)

Musical Herald (2 October, 1893, 1 November, 1895, 1 November, 1907, April, 1918)

Musical Opinion and Trade Review (March, 1901)

Musical Standard (6 August, 1881, 28 July, 1900)

Musical World (13 November, 1886)

Tonic Sol-Fa Reporter (1 August, 1884)

Yorkshire Musician (1 January, 1887, October, 1889)


Journals and Magazines:

All Year Round (12 November, 1859)

City Jackdaw: A Humorous and Satirical Journal (3 March, 1876)

Gardener’s Magazine (May, 1829)

Good Words (November, 1900)

Household Words (11 May, 1850)

John Bull and Britannia (30 May, 1857)

Leisure Hour (24 December, 1870)

Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction (May, 1829)

North of England Magazine and Bradshaw’s Journal of Politics, Literature, Science and Art (February, 1843)

Outlook (27 January, 1900)

Pearson’s Weekly (December, 1896)

Spectator (27 October, 1838 and 5 November, 1910)

The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review (September, 1892)

Yorkshireman (January 1880, April 1880, April 1883)



Archival Records:

Brass Band History Booklets:

Anon, Irwell Springs (Bacup) Band (Bacup, 1914) (RLS)

Anon, Life and Career of the Late Mr. Edwin Swift, a Self-Made Musician, Bandmaster and Adjudicator: Trainer of Many of the Leading Bands in the North of England, (n.p. 1904) (HLS)

Anon, Milnrow Public Band, 1869-1969 (Milnrow, 1969) (BBA)

Anon, Slaithwaite Band: Golden Jubilee Year Souvenir (Huddersfield, 1975) (HLS)

Anon, Stalybridge Old Band, 1814-1914 (Stalybridge, n.d.) (BBA)

Bythell, D. Banding in the Dales: A Centenary History of Muker Silver Band (Muker, 1997)

Bythel, D. Water, A Village Band, 1866-1991 (Water Band, Rossendale, Lancashire, 1991) (RLS)

Carrington, R. (Ed.), The Centenary Chronicle of Rothwell Temperance Band, 1881-1981, A Tribute to Those Who Have Gone Before (Leeds, 1981) (BBA)

Hampson, J. N. The Origin, History and Achievements of Besses o’ th’ Barn Band (Northampton, 1893) (ALS)

Hartley, E. A. Brindle Band: A Social and Cultural History of a Lancashire Brass Band, 1868-2000 (Preston, 2000) (LRO)

Hesling White, J. E. Our Village Band (Bramley, 1905) (LLS)

Hesling-White, J. E. A Short History of Bramley Band From Its Inception to The Present Time. With Glimpses of Old Time Doings in Bramley (Bramley, 1906) (LLS)

Hume, J. O., Souvenir of St Hilda’s Band (n.p.1929) (BBA)

Leech, I. Reminisces of The Bacup Old Band, Which Appeared in the Columns of the Bacup Times in 1893 (Bacup, 1893) (RLS)

Lord, S. The History and Some Personal Recollections of the Whitworth Vale and Healy Band (Rochdale, 2005) (RLS)

Massy, R. Meltham and Meltham Mills Band 1846 -1996, 150 Years of Music, Commemorative Booklet (n.p.1996) (BBA)

Rogerson, B. ‘A Touch of Brass’, Eccles & District Historical Society Lectures (1977-1978) (SLS)

Walker , M. The History of Farnworth and Walkden Brass Band: A Brief History of Brass Bands in the Bolton District (n.p., 2007) (RLS)

Local History Pamphlets:

Baldwin, A. Crompton, M. Hargreaves, I. Simpson, J. Taylor, G. The Changing Faces of Rossendale: Production Lines (Halifax, n.d.) (RLS)

Architectural Plans:

Clifton Subscription Brass Band-Plan of Proposed Band Room, Clifton (11 May, 1898) (WYASCD), catalogue ref CMT6/MU: 24/42

Brass Band Minute Books:

Haworth Brass Band Minute Books, 1900-1904 (HB)

Minute Book of The Christian Brethren Brass Band, Cleckheaton, 1886-1899 (WYASCD), catalogue ref, K131

Heap Bridge Brass Band Minute Books, 1898-1914 (BAS), catalogue ref, RHB/1/1

Helmshore Brass Band Minute Books, 1889-1922 (ALS)

Brass Band Tutor Books and Instrumental Methods:

Arban, J. B. Grande Méthode Complète de Cornet à Pistons et de Saxhorn (Paris, 1864) (BBA)

Curwen, J. The Brass Band Book for Tonic Sol-Fa Pupils, Containing Instructions for the Cornet, Bugle, Tenor, Baritone, Euphonium, Bombardon, Trumpet, Trombone, Ohecleide and French horn (London, 1864) (BBA)

Wright and Round’s Amateur Band Teacher’s Guide and Bandsman’s Adviser (Liverpool, 1889) (BBA)


Concert Programmes:

G.U.S. (Footwear) Band 1867-1967, Centenary Year Concert Programme (12 November, 1967), catalogue reference, RC785G00 (RLS)


Music in Greenhead Park Concert Programmes (1901-1922) (HLS)

Contest Entry Forms:

Contest Entry Forms for the Belle Vue Contest, Manchester, from 1901-1904 (BBA)

Contest Results:

Database of Contest Results from 1900-Present (BBA)

Correspondence and Reports:

Correspondence re Bury Recreation Grounds, 1895-1905 (BAS), catalogue ref, ABU2/3/7/1

Park Superintendent’s Reports on Bands, 1812-1913 (BOAS), catalogue ref, AF/6/125/2



Documents Relating to Oats Royds Mill Brass Band, 1864-1897 (WYASCD), catalogue ref, JM857: Band Uniform Brass Tunic Buttons

Newspaper Cuttings With Regard to John Foster and Sons, and Local Events in Bradford and Queensbury (WYASBR) catalogue ref, 6195/9/1/1

Peacock M. R. Haworth Public Prize Band Poem (September, 1912) (HB)


Financial Records, Personnel Records and Receipts:

Bradford Brass Band Account Book, 1854-1858 (WYASBR), catalogue ref, DB16/C31

Bradford Borough Council, Town Clerk, Papers Regarding Peel Park, Including Financial Agreements, Correspondence, Minutes, Plans, Reports and Subscriptions, 1851-1864 (WYASBR) catalogue ref, 1D82

John Foster and Sons, Director’s Minute Book, 1891-1920 (WYASBR) catalogue ref, 61D9521/1

Documents Relating to Oats Royds Mill Brass Band, 1864-1897 (WYASCD) catalogue ref, JM857:

Engraving receipt 253a, 31 December, 1869, receipt, 254a, 31 December 1870

Estimate for band clothing

Instrument and band membership lists, 1864-1884

Settled Accounts in the Winding up of Oats Royd Mill Brass Band (11 November, 1890)

Helmshore Brass Band Leger Books, 1901-1914 (ALS)

Heap Bridge Brass Band Trust Deed for Instruments and Other Property, 21 December, 1885 (BAS), catalogue ref, RHB 2/1

Register of Staff Absences, With Time Off, and Cause, to Playing in Black Dyke Band, 1864-1880 (WYASBR), ref 61D95/ 8 box 1/ 4

Watson and Son and Smith, Solicitors, Bradford, Records (Idle and Thackley Brass Band Papers, 1898-1943 (WYASBR), catalogue ref, GB202

Todmorden Old Brass Band Ledger Books, 1900-1910 (TCBB)


Anon, Recreation for the Working Classes on Temperance Principles (Dublin, 1857)

Parliamentary Acts:

Uniforms Act 1894, Office of Public Sector Information, <http//www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1894/pdf/ukpga18940045_en.pdf>


Trade Directories:

Halifax and Huddersfield Mercantile Directory, 1863-64, (London, 1863) (HXLS)

Kelly’s Directory of the West Riding of Yorkshire, 1897 (London, 1897) (HXLS)

Trust Deeds, Rules and Regulations:

Clifton Brass Band, Declaration of Trust, 1882 (WYASCD), catalogue ref, KMA: 1850

Cliviger Prize Band Rules and By-Laws, 1908 (BULS), catalogue ref, LT641

Haworth Public Band Agreement (6 December, 1876) (WYASBR) catalogue ref, 80D/92

Idle and Thackley Public Brass Band, Rules and Regulations (30 July, 1898) (WYASBR) catalogue ref, 540D/1/5

The Shipley Brass Band Trust Deed (7 March, 1894) (WYASBR), catalogue ref, 41D/84/49

Unpublished Manuscripts, Diaries and Reflections:

James Law Cropper, Memories, typewritten transcription of interviews (n.d.) (RLS)

Moses Heap, An Old Man’s Memories n.d. (typescript, 1970) (RLS)

Moses Heap of Rossendale, My Life and Times (1824-1913) (transcribed by John Elliot, 1961) (RLS)

Diary of Willie Jeffrey, 1906 (Queensbury Historical Society) photocopy, held in (BRLS)



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