Special Edition 18 June 2020 Staffordshire Archives & Heritage Update

Staffordshire Archives and Heritage

Welcome to this special edition of the Staffordshire Archives and Heritage newsletter. Photography is our theme this week with a look at the work of Uttoxeter photographer Gerald McCann. 


Getting the McCann Collection Online

Gerald McCann

Gerald McCann in his shop at 27-29 High Street, Uttoxeter, 1957 (Image courtesy John Woodward)

In and between other work, Chris, Mel and Helen from the Museum team have been adding item level descriptions of the McCann photograph collection to CALM and Gateway to the Past.  This is the largest collection we have, with over 12,000 images, and it is of national importance.  So far we have created around 3,000 records since lockdown began.

The McCanns were three generations of Uttoxeter photographers, but it was Gerald McCann who gained a national reputation as a photographer of agriculture, livestock and rural life between World War 1 and the mid 1960s, a period of enormous technological and social change in farming.  Gerald was also meticulous in documenting the images he took, enabling us to discern his patterns of work.

What strikes you is the amount of travelling he did.  During World War II he was in much demand from magazines such as Farmer & Stockbreeder and Farmer’s Weekly, and also from regional agricultural colleges and the county War Agriculture Executive Committees (‘War Ags’), who were responsible for increasing agricultural production.  He was busy photographing new ways of farming to encourage farmers to use new methods during war time and to help train a workforce of men and women fresh to farming.

Tractors at Hamstall Ridware

Transforming marginal land for arable production during wartime: two International tractors, both with caterpillar tracks, pulling out tree stumps at Rough Park, Hamstall Ridware, 2 July 1942

He generally worked alone using Kodak and Zeiss cameras, and he used a car to travel about the country.  He certainly racked up some miles.  For instance, in the summer months of 1942 he worked in Shropshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Denbighshire, Westmoreland and Cambridgeshire, as well as on farms in Staffordshire.  It says something for his reputation that the organisations and individuals who commissioned his work were prepared to pay for his time, petrol and expenses during wartime.  In and between his travels, he was still managing to find time to develop and process his photographs, and to carry out work more typical of a town photographer: weddings, portraits, celebrations and events.

Richard Nichols Senior Conservator

Richard working in the Conservation Studio

The Team in Lockdown

This week we meet another member of the Archives and Heritage Team. Richard Nichols, Senior Conservator, is based at the Staffordshire Record Office in Stafford. We asked him about his role. 

What does your role involve?

My work is to preserve and conserve the County’s archives for both our present Readers and for future generations. It can range widely in scale, for instance, I remember once rescuing a collection from a damp cellar that was encrusted with wonderful mould formations! We set up a cleaning station in a garden and spent the day in PPE with brushes and conservation vacuum cleaners. At the other extreme, it is a privilege to work on unique and delicate structures such as rare medieval bindings, you must understand its construction in order to preserve it.

When did you start working with Staffordshire Archives & Heritage Service?

I joined the Service in 1991 having worked at London Metropolitan Archives for nine years and in Hertfordshire and Derbyshire Archives before that.

What made you choose this career?

At my Secondary School I was lucky enough to study Bookbinding, Printing and Calligraphy through to ‘A’ level, it seemed a natural progression to take this further by studying Archive Conservation at Camberwell College of Art.

What is your favourite object, document or photograph from the collection?

Some of my favourite items are the ‘springback’ pattern books of the pottery companies in our Stoke City Archives collection. They have beautiful original artwork produced in the design studio, they also have dreadful wear and tear and splashes of slip gained from a rough life on the factory floor.

What is your most memorable moment about working for the Service?  

My most memorable times have been in supporting and training conservators. For example, we had two grant funded projects, one focussed on the Bradford collection and one on the Minton collection; in addition to doing a lot of useful work for the service both young conservators moved on to permanent posts, one at the British Library and one at the Oxford Conservation Consortium.

Away from work, do you have a hidden talent or special skill?

Outside work I like to do something less focussed on minutiae! I do running, mountain marathons, cycling and play squash. 

From the Collections

Recipe for Chocolate Cakes

Staffordshire Vintage Bakeoff

As lockdown has given lots of people time to try new things, or more time for their hobbies we found that many people have been baking and cooking. So we have delved into the collections and pulled out some vintage recipes to try at home. If you’d like to show us your creations, email melanie.williamson@staffordshire.gov.uk or tag us on Twitter or Instagram with #StaffordshireVintageBakeoff

This week is a classic chocolate cake recipe from ‘Tommy Homepride’s Book with Recipes, Articles, Stories, Pictures.’ From the 1940’s. Don’t forget to look up the measurement conversions if you need them. It suggests cooking this cake at gas mark 3 or 325.F, in a modern electric oven this is 150.C.



Photography Crossword

Photography Crossword Clues


1 A traditional format for taking photographs (5,5,8)

2  A 19th century form of photograph often collected or given to friends (6,2,6)

3  Famous camera and film manufacturer

4 One of Gerald McCann's favoured brands of camera 

6 One of the chemicals used in the photography process (6,7)

10 Photographer's stand


5 Get this right to avoid a blurred image

7 Modern format for photography

8 Apeture

9 Fragile and expensive process of photography developed by French pioneer, 1840s

11 A popular and affordable early 20th century camera (3,7)

12 Created from a negative

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