Hammersmith & Fulham archivist Kath Shawcross is the toast of her profession after being awarded a top gong by the Society of Genealogists for her work.
A delighted Kath – based in the borough’s local studies centre on the first floor of Hammersmith Library in Shepherds Bush Road – said she was ‘really chuffed and absolutely gobsmacked’.
“This is a wholly deserved award for Kath,” said Cllr Wesley Harcourt, H&F Cabinet Member for Environment. “She is a dedicated and faithful custodian of the borough’s history and a superb manager of our many loyal volunteers. Congratulations.”
In the citation, the Society said its Recognition Award was for ‘raising the profile of genealogy and archives’ in H&F and Sutton, where she used to work.
“The award is all about supporting family research and working with volunteers,” she explained. “This service couldn’t function without its volunteers, and each brings their own strengths.”
H&F’s archives are open to all interested in family and local history research. A good start point is to browse the archive online.
Kath, 65, has been the borough’s archivist since June 2017, after 22 years’ work at Sutton. She grew up in Canada, moving to England after completing a degree in anthropology and history.
After spells working in bookshops and as a typesetter, she trained at Westminster’s archives and studied archive admin at UCL. Following stints with Amnesty International, CND and the Geological Society, she became Sutton’s borough archivist.
The Society of Genealogists’ Recognition Award, for outstanding work in the field of family history, will be presented to Kath at a formal ceremony in December.
The archivist, who lives in south London, works in the early part of the week at H&F’s archives; a building blessed with magnificent stained-glass windows, far removed from the classic image of gloomy basements.
“Before I came to H&F, I’d only ever been to a few pubs in Hammersmith,” she said. “But it really is a beautiful borough, and it’s particularly gorgeous down by the river.”
Backed by a team of 15 volunteers, Kath not only manages the archives and local studies collections, but is also responsible for an art collection and museum collection. “That’s been a learning curve for me, and one of our drawings has recently returned from Tate Britain where it was featured in the recent Van Gogh exhibition,” she said.
When Kath isn’t archiving, she’s archiving! A film buff, she spends her Fridays volunteering at the London Screen Archives.
Past in Glass
It was during her time at Sutton that Kath masterminded the ‘Past in Glass’ project, harnessing the work of 40 volunteers and winning more than £200,000 of lottery funding to restore, conserve and research an extraordinary collection of 10,000 glass negatives, dating back to before the First World War, discovered in the basement of a shop.
The discovery of a forgotten cellar full of the glass negatives of Victorian photographic pioneer David Knights-Whittome – many of young soldiers about to head to the trenches – sparked a huge restoration project which has excited researchers around the world.
“Some of the plates were in terrible condition; they’d been there since 1918 and included pictures of European royalty, country house parties and soldiers who had enlisted to fight in the First World War,” she said. “It is now an important collection, nationally and internationally.”
The research by Kath and her volunteers led to the patient tracing of relatives of many long-gone soldiers. Kath has also recovered other Knights-Whittome glass negatives in private collections, and even on sale on eBay, which have now become part of an exquisite and haunting collection which can be viewed online.
The local studies material is open access and you can visit the centre on Monday and Tuesday from 10am-5pm. Access to the archives must be booked at least a week in advance.
For more details to make a booking, call 020 8753 3850 (Monday and Tuesday) or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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