A statement from Rob Eyre, Senior Archivist at the WCRO –
|It doesn’t seem possible, but it must be five years ago since we were approached by
members of the Healey family about acquiring family papers that had been in the
possession of Geoff Healey (and subsequently his widow Margot). One of my colleagues
was invited to survey the material on site and based on his report we decided to tentatively
begin negotiations for purchasing the collection.
Warwickshire County Record Office collects , preserves and makes available records relating to the County of Warwickshire. We are probably associated most closely (if at all!) with records that people use for family history or for being the custodians of many of the archives of Warwickshire’s landed estates such as Warwick Castle. In fact our collections are far more wide ranging than that. We keep many historical records for Local Government as well as Public Records, which have great evidential as well as historical value. We also have a growing collection of business records, for example we had recently acquired the archive of Willans and Robinson, a large engineering firm from Rugby specialising in turbines. So the archive of a local car company fitted well with this collecting policy.
We also established pretty quickly that the family were only offering this collection as a whole to us. The record office is about 15 minutes’ walk from the location of the original Cape Works, a site that is now occupied by Healey restorers JME , a site which some of you will be familiar with no doubt. We are also about the same distance in the opposite direction from Healey Court, a residential accommodation now located on the site of the Healy HQ during the sixties. A site perhaps most famous for the experimental works hidden at the back; the birthplace of the Healey SR et al.
It became apparent fairly early in the process that this was going to be a bit different to any other collection that we had purchased. The interest in the Healey Marque is far reaching and everyone in the Healey community has a strong opinion and an emotional investment in the cars and by association all aspects of its history. We are used to dealing with people that have a passion for their particular historical field but this has been far reaching.
Something else different though not completely unique about this collection is the extent to which it has fragmented. For a start it is not just about the information on paper there is a ready market for collecting Healey memorabilia and of course the cars themselves. We are largely interested in archives, letters, reports, ledgers, plans etc and also the photographs. We do not claim to be custodians of the whole of the Healey history, there is of course a marvellous museum in the Netherlands and the production records for the Austin-Healey period are held at the British Motor Museum. Additionally, other archive material has exchanged hands long before we came on the scene and continues to surface, meaning that there are many private collections big and small. This is out of our sphere of influence however and we can only be satisfied that we have preserved at least some of the history of this fascinating company for its home town of Warwick.
As a local authority run organisation we don’t of course receive a budget for purchasing collections. For small amounts of money, we turn to the Friend’s of Warwickshire County Record Office but for a project like this we also turn to external funders. We managed to raise in the region of £100,000, which was enough to purchase the collection, employ an archivist and conservator and run the project. Our biggest funders were the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries, the Arts Council (PRISM fund), Henry VIII Trust, Warwickshire Industrial Archaeological Society. Additionally, financial support and promotion also followed from within the Healey community, for example the Association of Healey Owners, the Austin Healey Club, Midget and Sprite Club, Healey Drivers Club and Ahead4Healeys. There were also generous donations from many individual contributors and letters of support and advice. We have met a great many people within the Healey community at a variety of events in Warwickshire most recently at the Sprite 60th anniversary at Wroxall Abbey. The project would not have been possible without the help of so many of you, some of whom will have attended the Healey Open day at the record office in 2016 and the launch of the catalogue and thankyou event in 2017. It is difficult to pick out individuals as so many of you have been supportive in one way or another, but I would make a special mention to David Matthews whose wide-ranging contacts and knowledge of all things Healey has been extremally helpful.
The catalogue was produced by Gary Collins, an experienced cataloguer of business archives. It can be searched online in a database called Warwickshire’s Past Unlocked details of how to get the best out of it can be found via the record office website. About six months ago we added thumbnails of the photographic part of the collection to improve remote access. To add a further dimension to the collection we decided to run an oral history project and have collected interviews with a variety of people connected to the company in one way or another, including former employees, associates and drivers. A team of dedicated volunteers has worked tremendously hard to co-ordinate, record and transcribe these interviews. About half of them can now be read online with another batch to appear shortly. We are happy to continue running this part of the project whilst there are still memories to capture.
So what is the legacy of the project? Well the most important aspect is that the collection is secure and available to use. We receive a lot of enquiries about individual cars, alas only some are mentioned specifically but you can use the online catalogue to search for a registration number if you want to. The collection has been used for Healey related articles of various kinds and at least two books yet to be published have drawn upon the collections content. It will remain here for future research yet undertaken, accessible to anyone who wishes to view it.
A selection of exhibition banners were produced to tour the county and a talk using the collection and oral history interviews has been delivered and will continue to be part of our talks offer. It will next be presented as part of the Warwick Words Festival on the 2nd October. Our colleagues that work with local Warwickshire Schools have now added a workshop to their programme inspired by Donald Healey, specifically focussing on his experiments with generating electricity through wind power, which ties in with the current drive to inspire youngsters’ interest in Science and Technology.
Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to Nick for his willingness and enthusiasm to promote the collection via the Healey Bulletin over the last year. This has been entirely his inspiration and has helped to extend the promotion of the Healey archive across the Healey Universe; I hope that some of you will be enthused enough to pay us a visit one day.
Warwickshire County Record Office
Heritage & Culture Warwickshire (HCW)
Photos from the Healey Archive ‘Open Day’ 04/09/2016