RSPCA Archives at Horsham, UK

A review of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Archive, Horsham, West Sussex, United Kingdom.

In the fall of 2011, I visited the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) Archive in Horsham, West Sussex, United Kingdom as part of the preparation for my dissertation research on animals and technological supplantation. The goal of this first visit to the archive was to acquaint myself with the location, facilities, and documents for my return research trip in 2013. The archive contains a wide-range of interesting primary documents including the RSPCA’s magazine entitled The Animal World, the annual minutes and financial reports for the organization, lists of animal welfare educational publications and pamphlets as well as poetry and fiction supporting animal welfare, documents on prosecutions for animal cruelty, accounts of wartime activities by the organization and its members, and documents relating to current animal welfare activities such as Freedom Food and the Animals in War memorial in Hyde Park.

The archive is located at the RSPCA Headquarters; the address is Wilberforce Way, Southwater, Horsham, RH13 9RS, United Kingdom. The headquarters, like the archive, is open from 9:30 am – 5:00pm, Monday through Friday. It is closed December 24-January 2 for the holiday season. Transportation to the archive was relatively hassle-free; on this trip, I purchased train tickets from RailEurope.com. My train left from Victoria Station with a destination time of approximately 45 minutes. Once at the train station in Horsham, you can take a taxi, public transportation, or walk to the RSPCA archive. Being new to the area, I shared a cab with another traveler, who happened to be on his way to the archive, on business. The train station is three miles from the RSPCA archive on Wilberforce Way. The best way to the archive is to take North Street, south from the train station, and turn right onto Albion Way. From there you will turn left on Worthington Road, to Blakes Farm Road, before turning onto Wilberforce Way. The travel time by car is about 10 minutes compared to 30 minutes for public transportation or an hour by foot. Though I did not walk to the archive, I later took a stroll downtown and thoroughly enjoyed the walk and the site-seeing while I waited for my departing train to London. To find more information about the RSPCA headquarters and its archive, I suggest that you visit its website.

When planning my research trip to the RSPCA archives in Horsham, first, I contacted the archive director to set up an appointment; in the fall of 2011, the archive director was Mr. Chris Reed. You can email him or you may contact via telephone at +44 0300 1234 555. I also sent him a letter of introduction, in which I discussed the specific types of primary sources that I was interested in viewing during my visit. Upon arrival to the RSPCA Headquarters, I was given a guest badge and led to the archive room, which was on the second floor. I was shown to a desk, where I found a stack of my requested items already waiting for me. I worked with the assistant archive director to uncover other important documents to add to my list of sources to view during the next research trip in 2013. The archive does not possess a public, online catalog for researchers; however, the archivist and his staff are more than willing to help you find potential research material through their private catalog. You are allowed to take photographs of the documents as well as photocopy them. I was asked to make a donation to the charity, should I plan to make numerous copies; this donation was to cover the cost of toner and copy paper. There is no set donation amount for use of the Xerox machine; I chose to donate a couple of pounds for the ten or so copies that I made on this specific research trip. There is no limit on the amount that one can reproduce; however, I would suggest that one might consider donating an amount equal to the amount of work. The RSCPA is a not-for-profit charity that has limited resources for activities other than their main goals and objectives.

As previously stated, my main objective for this brief excursion was to familiarize myself with the sources and resources of the archive. I spent much of my research pouring over the RSCPA magazine, The Animal World, the annual reports for the organization from 1913-1920, and documents regarding the creations of animal war memorials in London since 1920. My doctoral research focuses on the veteranization of British war horses during the Great War; thus, I explored the major activities and fundraising of the organization during and immediately following the war, in hopes of discovering the RSCPA’s role in the conversion process. The annual reports contain important yearly information regarding the Animal Rescue League, Animal Sunday events, speeches presented at the annual meeting, pamphlets for both children and adults, donations and legacies made within a given year, the organization’s educational work, lists of members in the organization, patrons and committee members, and publications issued by the RSPCA during the year. The Animal World was a monthly magazine produced by the RSPCA beginning in the 1870s. Each publication contains poetry, short stories, educational articles, as well as organizational branch news. The magazine has been grouped by year within the archive, with the average length of the yearly volume of 200 pages. For example, in the ninth volume of the magazine (1914), the magazine discusses topics ranging from cruelty to animals in Egypt to decrepit horse traffic to prayers for British animals during the war. Finally, I examined documents that discussed the construction of the animal memorial in Kilburn and the Animals in War memorial in Hyde Park. I used this information to compare and contrast the goals and the construction process for these two specific memorials in London.

The archive in Horsham is relatively small compared to archives at the Imperial War Museum or at the National Archives in Kew. The sources are organized on bookshelves by subject and then chronologically. For example, the archive has shelves for the RSPCA’s Animal World magazine from the 1870s to the 1970s as well as shelves for the organization’s annual reports from 1824 to the present. For loose-leaf documents, the archive organizes the sources by subject in folders to be filed. The best example of this type of organization is the archive’s folder in animals in memorials. In this folder, I viewed documents concerning the establishment of the RSPCA memorial plaque in Kilburn as well as the Animals in War memorial in Hyde Park. The folder contained documents regarding calls for the erection of war memorials to war animals, the funding activities to commission the memorials, and the construction process and the dedication of these two specific monuments.

The archive offers an in-house cantina; the buffet exclusively uses products from the Freedom Food project including meat and produce. I also was able to purchase à la carte items like sandwiches and soda. I thoroughly enjoyed the buffet during my visit and would recommend it to anyone researching in the archive. Horsham itself has a wide variety of restaurants and eateries to satisfy most travelers:  one is able to choose from traditional English cuisine, Italian, Indian, pub food, French cuisine, and major American fast-food chains.

After I completed my research at the RSPCA archive, I chose to explore downtown Horsham. I visited the Horsham Museum as well as the Old Town Hall and St Mary’s Church. Along with visiting these local sites, I suggest that visitors should view the Horsham Heritage Sundial and the beautiful Shelley Fountain. The sundial incorporates images from regional history such as dinosaurs, the influence of the Romans, and the Carthusian Monastery; the sundial is approximately five feet in diameter and very detailed in design. The Shelley Fountain was erected in 1992 to commemorate the bicentenary birth of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The movements of the fountain are almost hypnotic as its sphere rises and falls with the release of water. Horsham also offers numerous parks and walking trails throughout the town, each with beautiful sculptures and flora to admire. A few of the lesser-known attractions, though they were very fascinating for me, were the old Metropolitan Cattle Troughs in Horsham, many of which have been repurposed for gardening.

In general, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals archives in Horsham possess a very friendly and helpful atmosphere with staff, who are enthusiastic to aid you in your research endeavors. The staff is very accommodating and goes above and beyond when it comes to helping the researcher investigate obscure information. The archive is a little compact regarding work space; however, it is well organized and contains an abundance of resources for an ambitious researcher. The RSPCA archive in Horsham is truly a hidden gem within the British archive network. This archive is recommended for any research interested in the history of the organization or in the history of animal welfare in Great Britain.

Chelsea Medlock
PhD Candidate
Oklahoma State University
chelsm@okstate.edu

 

Image: Animals in War memorial, London. Photograph by Iridescenti, Wikimedia Commons.

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