The importance of oral history


When we talk about recording history we tend to think about historical documents such as house deeds, wills, maps or census records, about drawings or photographs, and perhaps about personal letters or memoirs. However, since the second half of the last century, another form of historical record has begun to make its mark, namely oral history. When it became relatively easy to make recordings of personal reminiscences without having to go into a purpose-built studio, then it was possible to build archives of recordings that could add a new dimension to our local history.

So, with this in mind, Forncett History Group invited Ruth Tolland, the Chairperson of the WISE Archive, to talk to us at our April meeting about the role of oral history and how the WISE Archive go about making their recordings. The archive was established by an enthusiastic group of volunteers in 2005 with a focus on recording the working-life stories of Norfolk (and occasionally Suffolk) people. Ruth explained how they go about making the recordings, transcribing and editing them.

Much of the Archive's work is carried out on request and as part of particular projects, the most recent of which was "Water, Mills and Marshes" in collaboration with The Broad's Authority and the National Heritage Lottery Fund. Almost 100 stories were recorded for this project and a book of the project "Water, Mills, Marshes. Life and Work on the Broads 1920-2020" was published in October 2020. 

They have also done major projects on iconic Norwich organisations such as Colemans. The Archive now has hundreds of recordings that you can listen to by going to their website .

To finish the evening with a Forncett flavour we then listened to three short clips of recordings made by men, all of whom spent their formative years in Forncett. The first was of Edward Thurston (1910-1991) who lived at Corner Farm, Forncett End and who was recorded by his daughter at Christmas in 1990. You can listen to some of Edward's stories at . The second clip was from a recent recording of Alan Womack talking about his boyhood living in the Town Houses (now demolished) near Forncett St Peter school. The final clip was of Peter Thrower who was born in one of the cottages now known as Kingsmuir, next to the Steam Museum. 

Oral histories offer a unique and invaluable insight into life here in Forncett and we hope that we can collect more recordings from Forncett residents in the future.