Welcome to the January 2024 edition of the Heritage Hub e-newsletter
The Power of Archives
Just before Christmas I had the holiday of a lifetime in Barbados based on a remarkable document held in Gloucestershire Archives. The document itself is rather grim. It is a, song, or work chant, sung by enslaved people working in the sugar plantations in Barbados in the late 18th century (document reference D3549/13/3/27). Its survival is truly remarkable as it is the earliest surviving Bajan music and is also most unusual in capturing the voices of the enslaved.
The document's international importance was recognised when it was inscribed onto UNESCO's Memory of the World register in 2018.
The chant was heard by William Dickson, secretary to the Governor General of Barbados. He in turn shared it with Granville Sharp, a prominent abolitionist. The fact that Sharp was also an accomplished musician able to write down the tune onto musical staves, and that one of the Sharp family later married into the Lloyd-Baker family of Hardwicke in Gloucestershire, who like the Sharps were very good record keepers, were all factors helping this music survive.
Whilst in Barbados my friends and I had the privilege of meeting amazing people such as the Chief Archivist and her team, the Deputy Museum Director, a plantation owner and several Bajan artists. The profound impact of the music was best summed up by The Mighty Gabby, a much revered Bajan Calypso singer and cultural ambassador. He commented that the song is ‘perhaps one of the most important things I have come across in my life. The moment I saw that song I didn’t just see a piece of paper with some words written on it, I saw my whole ancestry.’
Slavery is of course a very challenging topic that needs to be handled extremely sensitively, but with the help of our new contacts in Barbados we hope to do that. I look forward to seeing the artistic interpretations arising from the song and associated research by Rider Shafique and Vanley Burke, together with Callum Chaplin’s film/s later this year.
Also in this edition, we say a fond farewell and happy retirement to our esteemed colleague, Kate Maisey. Not only is Kate an accomplished archivist who has achieved so much in her long career at Gloucestershire Archives, but a very good team player and friend to us all so she will be much missed.
Heather Forbes County Archivist
Kate with Clive Andrews, chair of the Friends of Gloucestershire Archives, at the Memory of the World awards in 2018
Kate celebrates son Tom's Oscar success with husband Nick and daughter Florence, March 2023