S is for Scutage

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Berkshire Records Office Receptionist (BROR):What are you looking for?

Wendy: Um….history… …nothing in particular… …just browsing….  …um…….what have you got that’s good?

BROR: We’ve got lots of maps, even before the Ordnance Survey started

Wendy: Oh! that sounds good, I like maps, I’ll look at the maps

Large filing cabinates skirt the windows of the records office. Microfiche’s mount rows of dustless, grey, formica tables against the windowless walls. A large table holds the map-drawers down in the middle of the room. Can you tell I was getting a bit excited by it all?

At University in 1983 we had to book time using one of the 3 Microfiche machines – grubbied from thousands of sparingly washed students fingers.  Here there are sparkling rows of them, unused! My gleeful gawping was quickly interrupted

BRO librarian: what are you looking for?

Wendy: I’d like to just browse, your colleague suggested maps…   ….Reading’s Quaker history is interesting too…

The librarian looked disconcerted, I was getting disconcerted. He latched onto my Quaker suggestion and pointed me to the local records subject index filing cabinates. The drawer made a pleasing, heavy, swish sound as he opened it. He suggested looking under “Q” for Quakers or “S” for Society of friends. No hint of my ancient PhD on finding files in electronic filing systems had seeped into this librarians awareness. I smiled and resisted the urge to raise his awareness.



(The sound of my brain spasming within my cranium confines)

Index cards. Hand-typed in courier-font. Lined cards where the typing didn’t sit on the lines. Cards where one card is the index for multiple items – so it’s expensive to add new stuff in the right order. Thrilling!  The colour returned to my face with a big smile.   I didn’t need to find anything, this card system was enough to keep me happy for hours, days, possibly years if they don’t upgrade it. I wonder if they have any part time or volunteer jobs…..

The librarian noticed my smile and politely took his leave to help another lady, who was clutching a handful of cards.  I tucked into the “S“s – Settlement, Scutage, Sheriffs, Slavery, Suffragettes…

The Librarian returned about an hour later.  My hands still deep in the yellowing index cards

BRO librarian: are you doing ok?

Wendy: Oh yes! YES! I’ve found out lots of lovely stuff. I’d never heard of Scutage, Quietus or Lugg before now!

He beamed a lovely smile and grew quietly animated as he showed me how to use the index card reference numbers to track down the physical location of an item in a herd of big folders. To practice I picked a card titled “Services, Personal” where in 1396 a married couple had sold themselves in return for the things they needed to live – a home and a place to keep their sheep

The afternoon slip-slided away on paper cards labelled with “S”

An adult version of Sesame Street “S”exploration

S is for Suffragettes

S is for Scutage
rate wendys scribble

4 bits of lovely banter on “S is for Scutage”

  1. nick writes:

    A typewritten card index entry? My goodness, you must have been tempted to pass on this amazing discovery via one of those new-fangled dial-operated telephonic devices.



    wendy writes

    talk more mechanical technology to me, yummy!



  2. Dave writes:

    I love libraries! All through childhood I would spend time in the library (WHY?! was Lovecraft in the children’s section??) When I started college, I sat and read the old copies of Bell Labs Technical Journal, just because they were there. I got a degree in Information and Computer Science. Note the “Information” part–learning to use and organize a library was a big part of that. The university got rid of that after I graduated. Card catalogs bring back sweet memories.

    I despair over the state of the public libraries here in the States these days.



    wendy writes

    Hello Dave, great to have you drop by with stories of your own research… …especially all the way from the USA. Welcome!



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