Ryde Social Heritage Group research the social history of the citizens of Ryde, Isle of Wight. Documenting their lives, businesses and burial transcriptions.
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Many congratulations to the members of the Ryde Social Heritage Group on winning the Most Inspirational Community Archive award for 2012. This is recognition from a national organization that is richly deserved. The Community Archive awards have considerable standing in the archive world and the competition will have been of a high quality, so this is a real tribute to everyone involved, and to the wider membership whose support and encouragement is invaluable.

Ryde Social Heritage Group has been in existence for over ten years now, and many of its members had of course been researching for even longer before the group was set up. It is the mix of local knowledge, technical skill, sheer hard work and masses of enthusiasm that bears such good results, and it is always a pleasure to see the Group’s researchers in the Record Office in Newport.

Over the years we have worked together, helping members find out information for their exhibitions and open days, for talks and walks, not least the Audio Trail through part of Ryde, which was an absolute delight to be involved with. All of this has involved going back to basics, looking for the documents and the memories that help us keep a record of what happened in the past. For the Group’s researchers the core activity has been to find out more about the lives of those people who are buried in Ryde Cemetery, and the obvious starting point here has been to look for the obituaries published in back numbers of the Isle of Wight County Press, and two Ryde-based newspapers the Isle of Wight Times and the Isle of Wight Observer. The earliest of these gets us back into the 1850s, but of course by no means everyone will appear. If the person you are researching was heavily involved in the local community or had a shop or other business then your chances of finding an obituary are quite good, especially if the person who died was a man. If however you retired to the Island and made little attempt to engage with the community then it is much less likely that the fact will be recorded. This all makes the hunt for information more of a challenge, especially when the physical location of an obituary within a newspaper seems to change on a regular basis. It would be very easy to be distracted by all the wealth of other fascinating information which is irrelevant to the task in hand, but could so easily be of use some day for some other project, and so researchers have to be very focused and well organized, and I know that they are helped in that by Ann Barrett’s lists of things to find.

I do not believe that the public who look at the Ryde Social Heritage Group’s website can have a full appreciation of the amount of work that goes into finding, copying and then placing on-line all the information that is to be found there. Although the newspaper articles are at the core of this, there is also a wealth of additional information at the Record Office that has been used so that it can be added to the personal stories, and the looking back section of the site. The old Ordnance Survey maps of Ryde tell us something about the development of the site and the town generally, while the records of the Ryde Burial Board contain the story of how the cemetery was developed on this site. A lot of work has been done to ensure that the prints, postcards and photographs for Ryde and the surrounding area are well covered. An image can sometimes tell us something that it would take a page of text to explain less vividly and so there has been a lot of work undertaken to track down as many pictures as possible that tell the story of Ryde.

There is always more information to find, which I hope is good news. Sometimes records of businesses run by the deceased survive, or there is information about the homes where people lived, or the public houses or clubs that they frequented or helped to run. The careers of those who were elected onto Ryde Borough Council or helped to provide its services can be traced, and exceptionally correspondence or a diary may give us a very personal insight into the lives of the town’s inhabitants.

I suspect that this means that the Ryde Social Heritage Group is going to have many decades of happy researching ahead of it. One of the features of the Group that attracted so much interest and positive comment from the judges was the way in which local schoolchildren were involved, and the strength of the educational offer from the group. This is excellent news as it gives hope that the next generation will be inspired to build on the excellent work carried out so far, bring new undreamt of skills to bear, and help to offer yet more to the visitor and the Island in years to come.

Richard Smout
Isle of Wight Heritage Service Manager, Culture and Partnership Development
Isle of Wight County Record Office , 26 Hillside, Newport , Isle of Wight PO30 2EB