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Research techniques are crucial to any and all writers, whether novice or well published, and this article outlines the importance of such techniques to uncover the most unlikely facts and figures inall of your materials developed towards future publication. This is just one of my more unusual projects.
Historical research can arise in the most unusual circumstances. A recent Christmas present was a magnificent book outlining all the research that had taken place in the 1920s around the discovery of the tomb of Pharaoh King Tut, and including a range of facsimile documents produced around that time. Tutankamun is the one Pharaoh that we all know, although he was comparatively a much lesser ruler than some of Egypt’s other pharaohs.
But his desire for immortality was achieved through the treasures discovered in his tomb, which had been untouched for nearly 3000 years. At the present time there have been exhibitions of some of these treasures taking place around the museums in theUK, and Ancient Egypt remains a prominent period of world history in our minds.
Included amongst the documents within this book are two copies of pages taken from Howard Carter’s diaries written during November 1922 and February 1923. The diaries themselves could indeed be the forerunners of the popular slimline pocket diaries that are so popular today,and had been printed by the long established diary publishers Letts. Produced in a practical, no-nonsense format,the diaries bear the description “LettsNo. 46 Indian and Colonial Rough Diary” followed by the year date. The original concept for the Letts Diary belonged to John Letts, who in 1816 published “Letts diary or Bills Owed book and Almanack”, which was the first commercially produced diary. His son Thomas took over the family owned company in 1835, developing dozens of differently printed and bound annual publications, in numbered sequences. It is recorded that the writer William Makepeace Thackeray ‘preferred a No. 12 diary’ and there is evidence that archaeologist Howard Carter preferred the No.46 diaries to record his excavations and findings at the tomb of King Tutduring 1922-1923. The original Letts public limited company was formed in 1870, but was liquidated in 1885. Thomas’ son Charles reformed the company privately as Charles Letts & Co; the company still trading today. HowardCarter’s diaries themselves carry only sparse entries, but in these two instances are the relevant dates to the opening and publicising of the tomb and its treasures.
So where does Brierley Hill in England,come into all this? The covers of the diaries display a range of advertising material, obviously the way companies in England advised ‘the Colonies’ of their services at that time. Whilst the majority of these adverts related to companies based in London, the only one from outside of the capital is sited on the front cover of both year books, and is a company based at that time in Brierley Hill!
The advert outlines the services of Hill and Smith Ltd, Constructional Engineers, based in Brierley Hill, Staffordshire,England. The company offered a rangeof construction services – steel framed buildings; bridges; structural steelwork; forgings; gates; railings and other types of castings. The prominence of the advert on the front of these diaries caught my eye immediately, giving the impression, all these years later, that this must have been a prominent company in the engineering field at that time, presumably undertaking contracts within the various countries within the ‘Empire’ around the world.
My immediate thought was to wonder whether this local company was ever aware that their advert, so strategically placed on the front of these diaries, was being carried around in the pocket of the man who at the time was responsible for discovering and bringing to world attention one of the many amazing examples of 5000 year old constructional engineering for which Egypt is renowned. Curiosity then leads to the thought – just what could the ancient Egyptian engineers working on Tut’s tomb at the time of his burial, have done with the services of Hill and Smith Ltd, back then? I wanted to know more about this local company whose advert had such prominence on the cover of these diaries. Who were they? Are they still in existencet oday, after all there are companies that exist for many decades, even centuries, so is Hill and Smith Ltd around today? An initial check of the regional telephone directories revealed no information showing current existence in the area, but then, companies expand, merge, change their names etc., so I moved to other sources for information. The loca lweekly regional newspaper at that time would have been the County Express,which has archives dating from 1888, so perhaps Hill and Smith advertised their services through them? The company was also a Limited company, so presumably would be registered within the archives of Companies House. So the Internet was my next research tool.
Companies House has a register of all Limited Companieswithin the UK and has a webcheck site where you can find all the current companies listed in alphabetical order. This soon showed that Hill and Smith Ltd is not still in operation, at least not under that name. However, you can email the enquiries office at Companies House, so this was my next step – a request for information from their archive section. I briefly explained what I was looking for and why, and received an immediate response that my enquiry had been passed to the relevant department and I would receive further communication from them within a two day working period. So at least a step closer to finding out who this company was. A few days later, and a very helpfu lresearcher at Companies House, Miss Rhian Bennett forwarded details of thecompany registration. Hill and Smith Ltd had the Company Number of 104531 and had been incorporated around 1909. Unfortunately however, there are now no records available as the company was, to quote Companies House records, “Dissolved & Destroyed” over 30 years ago.Even so, it appears that our intrepid company had survived into the 1970s.
Sadly,as there are no records on file, I am no nearer to finding out the exact location of their premises, and of course, Brierley Hill has undergone such change and development in recent years, especially with the growth of the Merry Hill retail complex on its doorstep, that many of the then derelict buildings have been swept away, so is there much chance of finding the exact location of Hill and Smith Ltd at this point in the new century? Perhaps it would have been close to the steelworks for which the area was once so well known at Round Oak? As a company well known for its steel fabrications, this could have been a logical location for them, close to the source of their raw materials. But the construction of the Merry Hill complex swept away the old Round Oak works and potential other small company premises that were located nearby.
Local Ordnance Survey maps would be the next source of information maybe? A map from 1888 shows Brierley Hill as part of Staffordshire, right on the edge of the county as it was in those days. The map notes that the area is rich in mineshafts, collieries and iron works. Perhaps a little before the time of Hill and Smith Ltd, but nevertheless a map of the area as defined by their address 30 odd years later. As the company appears to have come into existence around 1909 a later map would be of more use, but as there is no record of their actual address there will need to be more research in order to find a more clearly defined site. Local history becomes a fascination, so perhaps further research findings on this company may come to light. There may be some of you reading this, who may know where Hill and Smith Ltd, was based in Brierley Hill; you may have had relatives who worked for them; or perhaps may be relativesof the people who ran the company; there may be pictures and photos of the premises, or the work force, out there in family photo archives. If the company only ceased operations around 30 odd years ago, there could well be lots of people who can fill in the gaps. Between us, perhaps we can make further discoveries about the history and operational life of this company, and bring it back to life in the same way that Howard Carter resurrected Tutankamunafter his 3000 year slumbers.
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