Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Red Cross Museum and Archives: guest post by Jemma Lee

Congratulations to the Red Cross, celebrating its 150th anniversary today.

In September, I was privileged to visit the Red Cross Library with a small group from the Ephemera Society.  I invited Jemma Lee to write a guest post and am very grateful to her for doing so. 

The British Red Cross museum and archives exist to collect, preserve and make accessible to a wide audience the history of the British Red Cross and its place in the context of the international movement. 

The collection comprises both archive records and museum artefacts which have been generated and acquired by the organisation from its formation in 1870 as the British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War, to the present day and our continuing vital contribution in society. 

In addition to official minute books, annual reports, uniforms and medical equipment, the collection contains a fascinating array of ephemera which serves to strengthen the evidence that we hold of our humanitarian work and in many cases, to provide a personal element to our story.  Medals and badges awarded by the Society demonstrate the role of the volunteer, whilst labels from collecting tins and tickets for balls and galas provide colour and context to our fundraising activities.   

Poster, 1939. (C) British Red Cross Museum and Archives

The poster collection is particularly valuable in providing a visual record of our services such as first aid and care in the home, with examples by Tom Purvis and Charles Pears often proving to be very popular with visitors.  

Other ephemeral items include Christmas cards, stamps and packaging from products sent in food and relief parcels to Prisoners of War.   The latter subject is in fact greatly enhanced by this collection, with menus, programmes and propaganda leaflets, which are a valuable addition to the authorised documents of the Red Cross and hence offer a source of unique information for researchers.  

0566/32 (C) British Red Cross Museum and Archives

The website outlines the scope of the collections and there is an online catalogue through which the museum and archives can be separately searched through simple, advanced and expert search screens, often with digitised images, exemplified in this screen shot of a search for poster in the Museum collection.

(C) British Red Cross Museum and Archives

There are also online exhibitions of photographs and ephemera, including an overview of historical posters.

Ephemera is used within the context of the larger Museum and Archive collections to promote the work of the British Red Cross internally to staff and volunteers and externally to answer enquiries.  Tours of the collection can be arranged and research space can be booked by appointment either by emailing enquiry@redcross.org.uk  or by telephoning 020 7877 7058.