Each year the Mountain Heritage Trust takes on one or two work experience students for a short placement. In December 2017 Hepzibah Hill came to the Trust for two weeks. She describes her experiences here:
I stopped an old man with a dog to check I was going the right way. As his dog leaped at me eagerly, he pointed upwards and I followed his hand to a collection of white buildings nestled into the hillside in the distance. As I walked up the hill, sheep stared at me and my excitement at working in an archive for the first time began to be matched with a slight degree of fear – what if I accidentally ripped one of Chris Bonington’s letters? What if I was slated for not knowing more about mountaineering than I do?
I was not slated, but instead warmly welcomed, and in my two weeks here I have learnt a great deal both about archives and about mountaineering. Kelda Roe, the Collections Manager, began by showing me around the Archive Store, explaining how it has been constructed to best preserve documents. She showed me how to monitor conditions in the store, and demonstrated how placing objects in archival boxes helped stabilise the temperature and humidity. I also carried out a monitoring check for pests, checking pest levels were sufficiently low and identifying the few pests we did find.
The Mountain Heritage Trust is currently preparing its next exhibition at the Keswick Museum, ‘Man and Mountain: Chris Bonington, Cumbria and Beyond’. Starting with almost no knowledge of Chris Bonington, I have come to greatly admire him. Through inventorying shelves and shelves of his papers, I learned about him not just as a mountaineer, but as a great organiser and planner, as a writer, and as a family man. Having finished the inventory, I searched through his papers to look for particular items needed for the exhibition, such as a letter written by Joseph Guarts to Chris Bonington’s mother, Helen in 1961. This letter, which promises that Guarts will pray for Chris when he climbs the North Face of the Eiger in 1961, will be used to illustrate the part of the exhibition about this climb.
I also searched through the Mountain Heritage Trust’s object collection, looking for examples of 1950s climbing equipment to demonstrate the kind of clothing Chris Bonington would have worn when first starting out as a mountaineer. I was particularly interested by a candle lantern I found, previously owned by Colonel John Hunt, the leader of the successful 1953 Everest expedition.
After this, Kelda took me to see the Mountain Heritage Trust’s current exhibition at Keswick Museum, ‘British Women Climb’, showing me how documents and artefacts from the Trust’s collection have been combined with written panels, film, and objects lent from other collections to create a historical narrative interesting to the general public.
While at the Mountain Heritage Trust, I have also assisted in their project to catalogue the piles and piles of mountaineering magazines that have been donated to them, giving these accession numbers, filing them in order, and cataloguing them. I have also catalogued book collections donated to the Trust by George Band and Giggleswick School.
In between these activities, Kelda has given me lots of advice about archiving, advising me about possible work experience I could do next, and suggesting possible traineeships and Masters programmes I could apply to. I have very much enjoyed this work experience placement, and it has definitely encouraged me to become an Archivist once I graduate from university.