Musings from the Museum 10

U3A Shared Learning Projects with the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society

Dr Mandy Topp

The Spalding Gentlemen’s Society holds some thirty plus boxes of documents relating to Sir Joseph Banks and the Stanhope family who inherited his Revesby estate. Over the last few months members of Sleaford U3A have been working with the SGS, in a Shared Learning Project, to catalogue the contents. The SGS provided training in how to handle, catalogue and describe documents. Then the SLP members set to the task. The ultimate aim is to develop a comprehensive inventory of the boxes’ contents so that it can be cross-referenced and made available to aid researchers.

These boxes are proving to be a wonderous mixture of regional, estate and personal documents covering almost two hundred years of the Revesby estate history. Everything from detailed records of Lincolnshire’s canal network and eighteenth-century drainage improvements to very personal items such as school textbooks and even love letters. Some mirror national historical events, such as the setting up of a powered weaving factory in Louth for which Banks sought advice from ‘Mr Arkwright’. While others deal with very local issues, for example the exchange of letters between Edward Banks-Stanhope and the neighbouring vicar as to how a hare came to be shot on Revesby land. This fascinating project has even produced some significant finds. For instance, a copy of the second act for the building of the Sleaford Canal. As this act failed, copies of the act were discarded making this a rare and important document.

Signature of Sir Joseph Banks

From this wealth of material each cataloguer has their personal favourites. These include the documents about local elections in Lincoln and Boston which include an affidavit swearing that one of the candidates had been seen to have raised a glass to ‘The King Across the Water’. The long list of curiosities including ‘exploding glass balls’ and ‘jumping frogs’ but sadly no explanation as to how or why the list was made. The magistrate records showing Sir Joseph Bank’s involvement in the planning and organising of the ‘transportation of felons to Botany Bay’ and that some wives opted to go with their husbands. A very personalized cartoon about a recent local election drawn for Banks-Stanhope by a house guest.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 crisis means that the project has had to be put on hold for the time being. The U3A members were sad to have to stop so jumped at the chance to join the SGS in an online Shared Learning Project in the form of the Stukeley Memoirs Project. This involves the transcription and annotation of the SGS’s five unique volumes gifted by William Stukeley. These slender notebooks offer a personal, first-hand account of the Royal Society from 1740 to 1750. This project is proving to be just as fascinating and simulating. A great way to pass the lock-down.

Leave a Reply