In a letter Margaret Harcourt Williams, Archivist at IACR-Rothamsted has told us how the letters came to be written...
Dear Mrs Spinks
Sir (Edward) John Russell was the Director of Rothamsted Experimental Station (now IACR-Rothamsted) from 1912-43. As well as expanding the scientific work of the Station he aimed to make it a centre of research into the history and development of agriculture and also to inform the public about agricultural matters.
One of the ways he did this was by BBC radio talks. He gave several series of Science in the Countryside and Science in Farming broadcasts in the early 1930s (Must Britain Starve?, The Conquest of the Soil, etc) and in late 1932 he planned a series for 1933-4 called 'What the Counties Do' with 'a few letters from either schoolchildren or classes in schools, describing their daily life and work' which he proposed reading on the days he was speaking about a particular area 'so as to give some local colour'.
There are two large bundles of original letters from rural schoolchildren in a number of counties in the IACR-Rothamsted Archives (Russell boxes 11 and 12). There is also a very little administrative correspondence from which it seems that Sir John Russell approached local school inspectors for suggestions of schools to contact. There is no evidence that he subsequently used them for any research purposes or that he ever had any intention of so doing. There is nothing obvious in the archives about his BBC lectures after about 1934-5.
The IACR Rothamsted archivist felt that the letters would be of interest to local historians and so decided to test the level of interest by offering copies of all the relevant letters to one county, namely Worcestershire. Photocopies were given to the Worcestershire county archives in 1999 together with some information about IACR Rothamsted, to be kept with the photocopies. The photocopies were a gift to Worcestershire archives but copyright in both the photocopies and the original letters remains with IACR Rothamsted, as does the ownership of the letters.
It is possible that some of the writers of the letters are still alive, so the implications of the Data Protection Act should be considered before the letters are reproduced further in any way. This Act was not law when the photocopies were given to Worcestershire archives.
Margaret Harcourt Williams
The copies of the letters at the Worcestershire Record Office are filed as Vale of Evesham (WRO BA 12 821 Ref: 989.9:1258).
The letters are copyright and must not be reproduced elsewhere without permission. Enquires should be directed to Liz Allsopp, Librarian, IACR-Rothamsted, Harpenden, Herts AL5 2JQ UK.
As far as possible we have endeavoured to contact the letter writers who are still alive and seek their agreement to their reproduction on this website. We apologise in advance to any we have missed and would be pleased to rectify this.
Copyright © IACR-Rothamsted 2001