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Aerospace Bristol is a new industrial heritage museum and learning centre being developed at Filton, to the north of Bristol. It will tell the story of the region's world-class aerospace industry - past, present and future. The Aerospace Bristol project is being run by the Bristol Aero Collection Trust.

Archive blog

Bristol Aero Collection Trust’s collection embraces objects and archives relating to the Bristol Aeroplane Company, its predecessor and successor companies (the ‘Bristol family’ of companies) and its workforce. Hear all about our news and discoveries. 

Ninth Month of the Project: International Archives Week

Martha Lewington

We are now into the ninth month of the project – time seems to be flying!

3rd – 9th June was International Archives Week, with the theme of 21st Century Archives. We celebrated here by allowing school students visiting during the week to get a sneak peak of the archive and to get an idea of how an archive works and what material we hold here. Archives can sometimes be seen as a little intimidating or closed off, or something reserved for only the most serious researchers, but hopefully by showing school students that an archive can be much more inclusive than that we might have inspired a few potential future 21st century archivists.

(Photographs in picture, credit BAE Systems)

(Photographs in picture, credit BAE Systems)

We arranged a selection of documents showing the range of material in the archive, as well as some of the tools used in the reading room to keep archive material safe and showed the students around. Surprisingly the smash-hit of the sessions were the snake weights (seen on the map above), and the fact they are a lot heavier than they look.

The students raised plenty of interesting questions. Some wondered why Concorde didn’t fly on all of the routes on the map above (it was due to most option holding airlines at the time the map was produced backing out by the time Concorde entered passenger service), some wondered what the strange orange marks were on one of the pieces of paper (rust marks from old staples) and some wondered why the people on the photos above wore such bright uniforms (they were Singapore Airlines staff testing the Concorde route to Singapore). It was refreshing to hear which parts the students found surprising, and I hope the students found the sessions interesting!

Some of the images on display for the students will also be on display for this month’s archive open afternoon, on the theme of Concorde: The World Shrinker. We will have material on early ambitions for Concorde routes, and the plans for the high-speed flights to many locations around the world to bring the world together. If this sounds interesting, please feel free to pop in on Thursday 27th June between 1:30 and 3:30pm. Normal museum admission applies, but no extra ticket is needed to enter the archive.

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Eighth Month of the Project: “I am, Gentlemen, your obedient servant”

Martha Lewington

We are now in the eighth month of the project, with only two series of material now left uncatalogued!

Though work is continuing on the monthly Concorde 50 themed archive open afternoons, this month’s blog will be highlighting something different from the archive – a specific sign off (or ‘valediction’) found in earlier correspondence throughout the archive, “I am, Gentlemen, your obedient servant”. This can be found ending most business letters in the earliest part of the archive, up until around 1930 or so, where it becomes less common.

While it seems a little unusual to a modern mind to see it on an average business letter, it seems even more unusual to see it on a letter of complaint – two particular examples that come to mind are a terse letter, angry that equipment had been improperly packed, and the other is the letter below:

Most Interesting Find of the Month

This month’s most interesting find is a letter of complaint, advising the Bristol Aeroplane Company that they would not be reimbursed by the Air Ministry for work done, in an unimpressed tone, but then finished with “I am, Gentlemen, your obedient servant”.

(Image credit: BAE Systems)

(Image credit: BAE Systems)

After researching this phrase, it becomes clear that this is a brief closing compared to even earlier examples: while our archive only dates to 1910 at the earliest, 18th century letters can be found using variations on the phrase that are even lengthier (some taking several lines)! It is difficult to imagine ending a business email today with “I am, Gentlemen, your obedient servant”, but this seems to have been standard practice in the early part of the 20th century.

Though the most obvious area of study related to the archive is aircraft and the physical aspects of aircraft production, it would be interesting to see how the boxes upon boxes of business correspondence could be used to study business practice within the aircraft industry in the earliest part of the 20th century.

But to skip ahead half a century, this month’s archive open afternoon will be focussing on supersonic flight, looking at some of the earlier test aircraft that came before Concorde, as well as some of the ideas for what would have come after. It will be on Thursday 30th May from 1:30-3:30. Normal museum admission applies, but no extra ticket is needed to enter the archive.

Archives Revealed

Seventh Month of the Project: Opposition to Concorde

Martha Lewington

We are now entering the seventh month of the project, and the open afternoon for this month will be focused on the opposition to Concorde.

It has been interesting to learn throughout the project about the kind of opposition faced by Concorde during its development and the early years of flight.

Most of this opposition seemed to focus on issues of noise, pollution and cost or even fears of structural damage brought on by sonic booms and the documents we hold regarding opposition to Concorde are a mix of material circulated by the Anti-Concorde project and documents regarding the hearings on Concorde and flight into JFK, as well as documents regarding the sonic boom tests in Oklahoma City that caused many of the initial fears about the effects of sonic boom.

Most interesting find of the month

Which brings us to the most interesting find of the month

Concorde

(Credit BAE Systems)

This document is not so much an example of the opposition documents we hold, but rather an example of something caused by them. This image comes from an annotated draft version of a document produced by BAC, giving commentary on whether the photographs chosen for the piece are appropriate or not. The text reads “This is now a bad “pollution” picture. Any clear ground shot would be better” showing that there was an awareness of what kind of images may be fuelling those opposed to Concorde and that fears about pollution caused by Concorde would not be improved by seeing smoky images of 002.

If any of the above sounds interesting, please pop by the archive for the open afternoon between 1:30-3:30 on Thursday the 25th of April to see these documents on display. Normal museum admission applies, but no extra ticket will be needed to enter the archive.

Archives Revealed

Sixth Month of the Project: Happy Birthday Concorde!

Martha Lewington

The sixth month of the project marks the midpoint of Concorde’s two birthdays, falling right between 001’s first flight from Toulouse on the 2nd of March 1969, and 002’s first flight from Filton on the 9th of April.

The archive open afternoon this month falls on Thursday the 28th of March, and we will have documents regarding the prototype aircrafts 001 and 002 on display, with information about their development as well as their eventual retirements.

One such document is also this month’s most interesting find of this month.

Most interesting find of the month

Credit: BAE Systems

Credit: BAE Systems

Credit: BAE Systems

Credit: BAE Systems

This document was re-unearthed whilst searching for information on the prototype aircraft and the first flight in particular and is a release to the press informing them of what to expect on the day of the first flight from Filton.

Though they caution that it will be difficult to predict the exact date of the flight in the document, a likely date was given “in the week after the holiday [Easter]” (7th-13th April 1969). The 9th of April falls right in the middle of that week, so the prediction was quite accurate!

Other documents about the early Concorde prototypes (001 and 002) will be on display on Thursday the 28th of March from 1:30-3:30, so please do come along. Usual museum entrance applies, but no extra ticket needed for entry to the archive.

Archives Revealed

Fifth month of the project: Planning for Concorde and the Airlines

Martha Lewington

We are now in the fifth month of the project, and progress is ongoing! The series on Bristol Type aircraft is almost complete and work is beginning on the Airbus series, as well as continuing on the material for Concorde 50 archive open afternoons.

Last month’s open afternoon was themed around the development of Concorde, which allowed for a lot of very early Concorde documents to be put on show, and this month’s will be on one of my favourite aspects of the Concorde archive material – Concorde and Airline sales pitches. On display will be a number of documents from the late 1960s and early 1970s showing the attempts to sell Concorde to various worldwide airlines.

Which brings us to the most interesting find of the month!

Most interesting find of the month:

The items this month are two I came across again while planning material for the upcoming open afternoon.

The first item is from a booklet of “Concorde Facts” and highlights some of the advantages of Concorde. This graph comparing a flight to the US on Concorde and a flight to the US in a subsonic jet shows how the difference in flight time actually splits up into in-flight activity for the passenger.

(Image credit: BAE Systems)

(Image credit: BAE Systems)

Whereas this booklet shows how different airlines’ Concorde liveries might look.  (Image credit: BAE Systems)

Whereas this booklet shows how different airlines’ Concorde liveries might look.

(Image credit: BAE Systems)

This material allows a look into what might have happened if every airline with an option on Concorde had gone through with their purchase, and gives an interesting look into the “what if” scenario.

Finally, if the sound of the Concorde and the Airlines open archive afternoon sounds intriguing, please come along! Your normal museum ticket will cover entry and the archive reading room will be open from 1:30pm until 3:30pm on Thursday the 21st of February, so drop in any time in that window to see material on display for that afternoon only.

Archives Revealed

Fourth month of the project: Concorde, menus and unusual routes

Martha Lewington

Credit: BAE Systems

Credit: BAE Systems

We’ve now entered the fourth month of the project and cataloguing the Bristol Types series is well underway, but the nature of the project also means returning to the Concorde material for digitisation and for planning events.

One of the more interesting parts of this project so far has been learning unusual facts about Concorde, and the lesser known pieces of trivia. Searching through boxes for items in need of digitising is when these stories truly come to light, and one that has during this process was the existence of a short lived Braniff Concorde route between Washington and Texas. The route only stayed in service between 1979 and 1980, and Braniff didn’t own a Concorde of their own, so it was perhaps not the most iconic of routes, and since it flew overland it presumably couldn’t fly supersonically. Despite all of this it is a well-documented route within the archive.

Most interesting find of the month:

And on that note, the most interesting item of the month is a menu from one of these Braniff flights. While we have several Concorde menus in the archive, most are from the more iconic routes. It was exciting to find we also have a menu from a less iconic, more unusual route.

News:

As this is the first blog post of 2019 it seems a good time to introduce some of the events in the pipeline for the coming year. Over the year, to celebrate Concorde 50, the archive will be open on set afternoons to highlight and display archive material related to various aspects of Concorde’s development and early flights. The first of these afternoons will be held on Thursday the 31st January, in the archive reading room from 1-3:30pm. Hopefully you’ll be able to join us in celebrating Concorde with original documents on display – many for the first time!

Access to the Archive Reading Room is free with your standard admission ticket, simply come along between 1-3.30pm on Thursday 31st January. The Archive Reading Room is located inside the Concorde Hangar.

 
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Third Month of the Project: Finishing up Concorde

Martha Lewington

We are now three months into the project, and cataloguing the Concorde material is complete! The Concorde series is the largest of the project, totalling 106 boxes, so having it finished before Christmas puts the project in a good place for entering 2019. The next series of material will be Bristol Types, with material dating all the way from early Bristol Scout documents, to the Brabazon and Britannia.

When working with archive material it is always interesting to see the stories that present themselves rather than having to be pieced together. With the Concorde material several stories came through:

Concorde as The World Shrinker – a lot of early marketing material heavily pushed the time saving element of Concorde as a way of shrinking the world and connecting people.

Caption: Booklet credit: BAE Systems

Caption: Booklet credit: BAE Systems

Concorde controversies – Concorde wasn’t without its detractors, and the archive contains material documenting both sides, with the opposition to the noise levels and environmental effects of Concorde shown through transcripts of the 1975 public hearing in New York regarding whether or not Concorde should be allowed to land in JFK airport.

Concorde and optimism – the initial plans for Concorde and the optimism from a healthy set of options held by airlines during the late 1960s and very early 1970s show in sets of sales documents and route maps from early in Concorde’s development.

During 2019 we will be highlighting Concorde in the archive, with several events and drops ins over the year to celebrate 50 years since the first flight, so watch this space!

Most interesting find of the month:

Seeing the estimated time savings and predicted routes are some of the most interesting aspects of the World Shrinker material, and this booklet has it all!

This diagram is a popular style from World Shrinker marketing material - a larger map overlaid by a smaller map (a world that Concorde has shrunk) was a very common motif, and with the bright oranges this is a bold example.

And that’s it for 2018 in the project blog. See you in 2019!

 
Archives Revealed
 

Second month of the project: Events, processing and maps

Martha Lewington

We are now into the second month of the Archives Revealed cataloguing project and things are moving along well. This month has been a mix of cataloguing and holding the first archive drop in session and talk of the project, as well as putting in the groundwork for future events and drop in sessions.

On the 9th of November we held the first archive drop in, and hopefully it will be the first of many. This session was focussed on the Bristol Scout and the Bristol Fighter during the First World War, with archive documents and photographs on display for one afternoon to be browsed by anyone who would like to see them.

The display included a mix of documents from letters about leaky engines to photographs of the Bristol Fighter that was interned in Holland and given Dutch paintwork during the First World War

The display included a mix of documents from letters about leaky engines to photographs of the Bristol Fighter that was interned in Holland and given Dutch paintwork during the First World War

Similar events will be held in the future, so watch this space for information about upcoming archive drop in sessions!

Although this month hasn’t solely been cataloguing, it is still where the majority of the time for the project is spent. One of the more satisfying tasks when processing archives (a personal favourite, anyway) is rehousing material and making sure it is suitably stored in something to preserve the documents in their current state and not put the documents at any risk of degradation. Usually that will mean placing documents inside an acid free box that can be sealed, or placing loose documents within acid free folders. These booklets, for example, had been housed within an old cardboard box with no lid, leaving them at risk.

An old cardboard box isn’t the ideal condition for archive documents

An old cardboard box isn’t the ideal condition for archive documents

But now the documents have been moved to an acid free box, with a lid:

Low-acid surroundings should help preserve the documents in their current conditions, the lid should help keep out anything we wouldn’t want in there, and then the box will be stored in the sealed and environmentally controlled archive store. Nice and secure!

Low-acid surroundings should help preserve the documents in their current conditions, the lid should help keep out anything we wouldn’t want in there, and then the box will be stored in the sealed and environmentally controlled archive store. Nice and secure!

Most interesting find of the month

This month’s most interesting document has become a fast favourite. It is a Concorde route map from the late 1960s, estimating where and how often Concorde would be flying by the 1990s.

This map doesn’t represent the reality of what happened, but it’s a nice opportunity to see what the hopes for Concorde were.

Map credit: BAE Systems

Map credit: BAE Systems

One route of particular note seems to be the Tokyo – Honolulu route, which had been planned for 49.5 round trips per day!

Map credit, BAE Systems

Map credit, BAE Systems

And finally, on the 6th of December we will be opening up the archive as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s #ThanksToYou campaign for National Lottery players, thanking the lottery players who help make the Heritage Lottery Fund’s grants to museums and heritage institutions possible. Bring along a lottery ticket or scratch card to gain entry to the archive, where we will be displaying material about Bristol’s early aviation ventures and early plans for Concorde (including plenty of planned route maps and bright, shiny sales booklets). Entry will be over several 15 minute sessions on a first come, first served basis throughout the day, see the What’s On page for more information. Please note that a standard museum ticket is still required in addition to a National Lottery ticket

Archives Revealed logo

The first month and boxes of Concorde

Martha Lewington

We’re pleased to welcome our new Project Archivist who has joined Aerospace Bristol on a one year cataloguing post funded by The National Archives and The Pilgrim Trust’s Archives Revealed programme. The aim of this project is to increase both our knowledge of what we hold in the archive by cataloguing a series of archive boxes and to increase engagement with the archive by holding discovery sessions and events. By next September an extra 326 boxes will have been fully catalogued, hopefully revealing some interesting and useful pieces of aviation history, which will be shared monthly via this blog.

This first month has primarily been focused on getting familiar with the collection, and planning where to begin with 326 boxes to tackle.

Each box has a legacy label which generally works as a good starting point for identifying what is inside - so whilst you may not know exactly what documents will be in the box, you can generally identify a theme or aircraft. The largest run of boxes within this section is focused on Concorde, with a total of 106 of the 326 boxes, and with the approaching 50th anniversary of Concorde’s first flight it made sense to begin there. As of mid-October just over 50 boxes of Concorde material have been catalogued, including technical reports, in-flight material, internal memoranda, transcripts from public hearings on sonic booms and the list goes on!

 
Just one section of archive shelving.

Just one section of archive shelving.

An example of a booklet, this one produced for Scandinavian Airlines, from box BAE ET3/3/2

An example of a booklet, this one produced for Scandinavian Airlines, from box BAE ET3/3/2

Most interesting find of the month:

Every month our new Project Archivist will be sharing the most interesting document or box from the past month, and this month we wanted to highlight 14 specific boxes of Concorde material.

This is just 1 of 14 boxes that contain booklets from 1968-1979, largely centred around pitching Concorde to different airlines. There are 304 of these booklets, and they cover topics such as estimated costs, potential flight route plans, possible seating arrangements and information about sonic booms, providing a wonderful opportunity to see what the plans for Concorde had been if every airline who had an option did purchase the aircraft.

Finally, a reminder that the first event is approaching! On the 2nd of November we will be hosting talk by local historians John Penny and Clive Burlton. Please see the What’s On page.

Archives Revealed logo

Introducing ‘Out of the Aircraft Hold’: The History of Aerospace Companies Archive Project

Martha Lewington

This exciting one-year project has been generously funded by Archives Revealed.

A hugely significant part of the archive which comprises hundreds of technical records, historic advertising brochures and fascinating correspondence and notes, will be catalogued by the Project Archivist and made available for use for the first time.

A letter praising the Bristol Fighter aircraft 1917.

A letter praising the Bristol Fighter aircraft 1917.

The Project Archivist will also run discovery sessions for visitors and researchers to uncover the wealth of material within the archive as part of Aerospace Bristol’s learning programme. The first event will be a talk by local historians John Penny and Clive Burlton on 2 Nov, more details will follow nearer the time.

Bristol Pegasus engine brochure

Bristol Pegasus engine brochure

Please check back regularly for updates from the new Project Archivist and follow their exciting discoveries in the archives over the next year.