Archives can be more than just documents, books, paper records and the like. Today we investigated two boxes of “woodworking tools”.
We found some beautifully crafted instruments, tools for carving and shaping wood. Each item was carefully wrapped in newspaper dated August 1940, just weeks after the death of Percy Powell-Cotton. It was also in the middle of the Battle of Britain when the skies over Kent were crowded with hostile bombers and Spitfires.
We know that both Percy and his father Horace were practical men who enjoyed working with materials. A paper inside one of the boxes, in Percy’s hand, reads “H.H.P.C. tools”. He is telling us that the tools belonged to his father, but it is likely he used them as well.
During the crisis of the war much of the contents of Quex House were packed up. Precious items were sent to a bank in Tunbridge Wells, some were hidden below the floors. Percy’s widow, Hannah, lived for a time with his sister Ida in Sussex. The tools it seems were never used again.
The wrapping paper tells us of life in August 1940. Some is quite normal – the Proms season begins. It is Sir Henry Wood’s 46th and ‘farewell’ season. Holiday hotels are advertising, although several emphasise the safety of their location away from the areas under attack. But there are dramatic photographs of people who have lost their homes to bombing and of an airman rescued from the sea after crashing. Other headlines catch the eye “Doctor ‘Horrified’ by Fortified Bread” (white bread with added calcium and vitamin B1) and “300 Women Raid ‘Gloom Talker’” (in Leeds women attacked a man alleged to have spread “false and dispiriting rumours” – it is not said how…).
Why is all this of such interest to us in the Archives? Well, it tells us something about Percy and his family, confirming the practical interests he and his father had. The newspapers they had to hand – ‘The Observer’ and the ‘Daily Mail’ illuminate daily life of the time. Archive work is often like doing a huge jigsaw puzzle. Today we have found a few more tiny pieces.