Our new Research Assistant, Major Mel Jones, gives his first impressions of working at the Heritage Centre.
I am sat at the welcome desk of the International Heritage Centre. In front of me is a ‘peep show’ machine; behind me is a ‘magic lantern’. These Victorian artefacts look very dated now but they were state of the art when first used by The Salvation Army. To my left is the museum. Hundreds of visitors flocked to the museum during Open House London last weekend. To my right is the reading room. This book-lined room has a steady flow of researchers throughout the year. The researchers range from the interested amateur to the serious academic.
I am sat here because in retirement I work part time at the Heritage Centre. Forty years of service as a Salvation Army officer, a love of Army history and a commitment to writing a second book about Salvationist spirituality – these factors combine to make this work a joy and a privilege. Week by week, I am becoming more aware of the great riches that are available here at the Heritage Centre: handwritten letters by the Booths, sepia-tinted photographs of historic events and fascinating Victorian objects to name but a few. There are also the more light-hearted little gems that I have discovered. A book about Salvationist spirituality must surely contain such facts as a corps hall situated on All Saints Street and a corps officer by the name of Captain Evill.
As well as staffing the reading room desk there are two other main tasks that I perform. The first of these is helping to catalogue the vast amounts of material that the Heritage Centre possesses. What good are climate controlled storage rooms full of great riches if you don’t know what is in there, let alone where the precious content is located? Under the direction of qualified and experienced archivists I play my part in carefully going through the uncatalogued material. The archive system that we use is impressive and can be accessed online by the general public, but it relies on the patient inputting of information.
My other task is that of responding to the constant stream of enquiries from the general public. Many—but certainly not all—of the enquiries are related to family research. The Salvation Army has touched the lives of millions of people during its more than one hundred and fifty years of existence. I have to admit that I really enjoy the challenge of trying to resolve these enquiries. Today I received the grateful thanks of an enquirer who was amazed that I had been able to provide a photograph of their great grandfather at the turn of the twentieth century: riches indeed! I am amazed and grateful to have access to all that the Heritage Centre has to offer.