The Wolverhampton Archives
To finish the amazing Heritage Week tour at Wolverhampton, I was lucky enough to view the Wolverhampton Archives which are housed at the beautiful Molineux Hotel, a building steeped in its own grand history. The tour was delivered by Heidi McIntosh, the City Archivist.
The building itself is almost 300 years old and was originally owned by the Molineux family before becoming a hotel during the 1870s. In 1979 it sadly closed due to the opening of the ring road which cut off a lot of passing trade. It then remained derelict for nearly 30 years. An arson attack in 2003 nearly completely destroyed this beautiful building, but luckily the City Council purchased it and began to restore it (it was also through the help of Prince Charles that the restoration was spurred into action after he saw the building from afar!).
So, as the building began to be restored, in 2004 it was decided that it would become the new premises for the City’s Archives. Work was completed in 2009 and opened to the public in March of that year.
The tour began in the beautiful Oak Room…
The restoration for this room focused on using the original oak panelling. There is a secret cupboard to the left of the fireplace which has been left untouched to show some of the original construction of the building. However, the fireplace is a copy of the original as the real one is in the Ironbridge Museum.
It is also interesting to note that at one point this room was used as a changing room for the Wolves footballers, as the football stadium is right behind this building! An interesting poster was also on display in this room which showed the extent of the grounds surrounding the building when it was owned by the Molineux family.
From previous research that I carried out for my studies into Aeronautics, I remember reading about hot air balloon rides that took place in Wolverhampton- it may well have been in these very pleasure grounds at the hotel! I might try and chase this up, as it would be great to find some original accounts and prints in the archives!
The next room we were taken into was the Rococo Room.
Added to the building in the 1760s, this room was a display of wealth for the Molineux family and would have been used as the Reception Room. When the building became a hotel, this room was used as a Dining Room (seen from surviving old photographs of the hotel).
Restoring this room took a lot of work. 14 layers of paint were stripped off the walls to get to the original paint colour which is present today. 3/4 of the plaster work is original and restored, whereas 3/4 of the ceiling had to be redone due to water damage. Nigel, the restoration architecture, relayed this information to us.
The mantelpiece is original (after being returned as it had been taken out and used at the Golden Eagle pub in Whitmore Reans). The glass in the windows is also special and has a lovely wave-like effect as you look through it.
We were then taken through to the staircase…
The staircase is an exact recreation of the original as much of it had been taken apart in the 1900s and then kept in storage. Because of it being so fragile, it was not able to be completely re-used apart from some pieces. These pieces can be distinguished by their darker colour and are more marked. Further up the staircase the carving changes into a much more simpler design as the servants’ quarters during the time of the Molineux family were housed on the second floor. This reflects the social order of the household!
At the foot of the stairs is an original sign from when the building was used as a hotel…
We were then taken on a ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour of the archive rooms and the conservation room.
In the conservation studio I met Jon Everall, the conservator, who carries out lots of repair work for items that make their way to the archives. His first role is to do preservation work which involves correct storage and his second role is “making damaged items looks good!” The principle enemy of documents is damp, (at this point he took a very damaged book off the side to show us how damp can affect paper, and I was quite shocked). Sellotape is also pretty evil, and the chemicals that conservators normally use to repair sellotape damage are prohibited now which makes the job harder. The archivists and conservators work together to decide what items need saving.
We then taken into the stores, which were freezing! The expansion room now allows for 40 more years worth of storage, which is good to know. The tour continued to the Public Search Room where large collections of old photographs of Wolverhamton are available, and we were also shown the Microfilm Area which is mainly used for accessing family records. The Wolverhampton Chronicle is available on microfilm and this dates as far back as the 1700s! 300 years worth of newspapers to access then!
The final room we visited was the Map Room. As well as maps the room also has some lovely display cases where little exhibitions are held throughout the year.
And that concluded the end of the tour! I thoroughly enjoyed looking around the archives and it was a great place to finish on for the Heritage Week at Wolverhampton. I shall definitely be visiting again, whether for research or another tour.