Penybont and District History Group Notes February 2015 Main Topic: “Oral History – A Practical Guide” Judith Dennison

Geraint welcomed another full house to the first meeting of 2015. There was just one new member:
Geraldine King from Hundred House came to the area 19 years ago. Since her retirement 5 years ago she has been researching the history of her house.
Geraint drew attention to the excellent Abbeycwmhir book which has a number of contributors to the social history of the village including Roger Coward.
Derek mentioned that Sister MacDermot, who is now in her nineties, had come to the Shop with one of her daughters. This triggered some very positive memories of both Sister MacDermot and her role on the community as a Midwife and of her three daughters.
Geraint then introduced Judith Dennison who he still remembers as a 7 year old!? And as a folk singer with shades of Joan Baez.
Judy started by setting out her aims:
• Oral History – What is it?
• My Experience
• To enthuse members to record their and their and their family members experiences.

1. Oral History – What is it?
Oral histories are not new and have existed in all communities as a way of passing information from one generation to another. This was particularly important before there were books in which to record information. Even gossip plays a role but the more recent examples such as George Lewis’s 2 Books that have been referred to in previously are better examples. The many Millennium projects undertaken by local communities such as Dolau and Abbeycwmhir were also excellent examples.
To demonstrate the process of recording an interview Judith then played a three minute section of an interview she had made with Ruby Griffiths. There were 11 people in Ruby’s family including 7 brothers. The ‘clip’ focused on a section when Ruby talked about making bread. “Once a week, on a Monday, the family got a 72 lbs bag of Spillers flour, this was tipped into a zinc bath along with water and yeast. She described how this was mixed a kneaded before allowing it to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The family had a brick oven that took 5 foot wooden stakes as fuel. The heat of the fire would be tested by rolling up your sleeve and putting your elbow in the oven. When it was too hot to leave in the oven the oven was ready. 12 loaves were cooked in tins but some went onto the floor of the oven. The bread would last a week; it was satisfying bread, much more so than today’s bread.” Judith gave Ruby three copies of the recording, one for each of her daughters, this made Ruby very happy.
2. Judith’s Experience
Judith got most of her experience from participating in the 2012 Food Stories Project that was supported by the Transition Town Group in Llandrindod and by Ashfield Community Enterprise at Howey. As part of the project she received training from British Libraries, and she interviewed 3 people. In the end the project did not manage to collate the information fully but the interviews were very successful. It is surprising how much material one gets from an interview and how long it takes to transcribe it. One of Judith’s memories that had surprised her at the time was that while she was aware that bacon was a regular part of the local diet, she had not appreciated that pork was the mainstay of the diet.
3. Guide to conducting interviews yourself
Judith then took us through the key items covered in her training for the Food Stories Project:
Consent: It is critical to get permission from the interviewee about how you can use or archive the recording. Judith had been given permission by Ruby to share the content of her interview and this is the only reason she has been able to share clips of Ruby’s interview with us today.
Role: Interviewing is not simply having a conversation. Your role is to ‘prompt and encourage’. Your aim is to try to keep to the agreed topics and to be responsible for the recording apparatus. Judith played another short clip from Ruby’s recording: “Who did the milking? (prompt – Judith ) My mother skimmed milk from the cream in a separator. She then had to get it up to speed. Once a week the soured cream would be put into a butter churn where it would be churned by hand for half an hour to turn it into butter. The butter would then be patted and shaped.” So from one simple prompt Ruby was set to tell the story of how her mother made butter every week.
Preparation: It is important to create a relaxed atmosphere so consideration of where it is best to hold the interview (at home might be the best place but it might be subject to interruptions); the time (some older people can be tired after seven in the evening); the timing of the interview can also be affected by life events,, e.g. a bereavement would clearly have an impact on the ability of the person to proceed. Quite simply the person needs to be in the ‘mood’ to participate. Noise, even the ticking of a clock, can impact on the interview and the recording. Visitors sometimes turn up and it is best to stop the interview and to rearrange a more suitable time.
Recording: Machines are very simple. You press go and it does the rest.
Transcript: As a rule of thumb it will take about 10 hours to transcribe 30 minutes of recording. Of course you not have to transcribe the interview, you can keep the recording. You will however need to transcribe it if you want to archive it.
Practical: Things that need to be considered before starting to conduct an interview include:
• What is the content to be used for?
 Exhibition
 Book
 Research
• Where will it be kept?
• What recording system are you using?
The Radnorshire Museum has an Archive including a number of cassettes with interviews of local people. Unfortunately it has proved to be impossible to obtain transcripts as the equipment is no longer available.
Theme: It is usually helpful to have a theme such as; “Life in the village”; or “Living on the Farm”. Having a range of topics can make it easier for the interview to flow. Judith then played another extract from her interview with Ruby. She asked Ruby about the preparation of pigs.
A pig was killed each year for bacon and pork. The bacon beenwas kept for 12 months having salted with a strong salt that came in a 2 ft x 1 ft block. The salt had to be cut with a strong knife and ground into a powder. The pork was left on a salting stool for 6 weeks before being hung on a wooden rack on the ceiling. It was then cut into the different cuts.
Records: It is important to keep basic records so that when the interview is needed it can be located and referenced. The basic facts that need to be kept include:
• Name
• Date
• Where interviewed
• Subject discussed
• Length of interview
• Restrictions on use
• Transcript details
Transcript: It is important to remember that the people who want to reference the transcript in 20 years’ time won’t know the person who has been interviewed. The transcript should not be a verbatim account. It is best to make modifications so that the transcript becomes more readable. It is vital that the transcript is marked up with timings in seconds where any modifications are made. In this way the person reading the transcript can go to the right point on the tape to find what was actually said. An example that occurred on Ruby’s recording was the way she moved her arm when she talked about gauging the temperature of the bread oven with her elbow. This would not be on the tape but it can be included in the transcript.
More Practical Considerations:
It is worth reflecting on the scope of the project. How many interviews can you manage? Should the project be open – life in Penybont; or be narrower – Life on the farm in 1947. It is always worth doing some background research to get a feel for the topic and the questions you might ask. However it is not appropriate to prepare the interviewee. You can however introduce something like a photo or an object as an aide memoir or prompt, this can be very helpful.
Always interview the person on their own, do not be tempted to interview couples. Some of the reasons for this are:
• It can be difficult to know who said what
• You will get contradictions
• One or the other can be inhibited
• One may talk for the other person
Caution: It is worth remembering that memories can be unreliable, and that what you are being told may be quite different to what actually happened. Opinions also change over time and the persons attitudes will change with this. This might prompt: “At the time I did not think about it that way.”
Technology: Systems for recording are constantly changing and it can be difficult to decide on the best format to use.
Overall: Judith encouraged members to get involved as these recordings can be an invaluable record of what has gone on in our community.
Geraint thanked Judith for her excellent talk and invited questions:
Marion commented on how important the story of bread making was to gaining an understanding of the role of Women, and the significance that bread has had to the diet of ordinary people. The sheer volume of bread being consumed shows up the limited resources that people were living on. The fact that bread was shared with visitors, and ovens were often used communally, tells us a lot about the social dynamics within the area and the sense of community that existed.
By chance a number of members had listened to the Radio 4 programme; the Food Programme, this week and the discussion they had had on ‘wheat’. They had identified that the type of wheat had changed dramatically in recent years giving rise to gluten intolerance and celiac disease. The old wheat did taste better but was better for us than the modern wheat.
In an answer to a question Judith referred to:
Editing and Recording: It is important to assure interviewees that if they are unhappy about any of the content it can be edited out. Sometimes people do want material to be available within their lifetime or within the lifetime of someone mentioned on the tape. They can request that it is locked for 100 years to cover these concerns.
A member had had a problem with transcribing in the past as the recording machine always went back to the beginning of the tape. This made transcribing very tedious. Judith said that you could get a Free programme called ‘Audacity’ which allowed you to move the recording onto a computer and then you can pause and move on.
Gwen took us back to bread-making and the skills in the local community. The very hot oven was too hot for bread so they would use this heat for tarts and cooking with produce in season. The fat of the bacon was put into the cooling oven. Delicious!
There followed a discussion about the potential of running a project to collect the stories of some our more senior citizens before we lose them. Geraint encouraged Judith to develop such a project with a few members. The value of recording these stories could be used in schools, in simply remembering loved ones and times gone by. There could be lots of other benefits such as lie in the therapeutic value of telling a personal story; in giving people with short term memory problems a way of making a valued contribution. Mary wondered what happens to the interviews carried out by school-children, it was agreed to investigate this source of material that might already have been carried out.
Judith agreed to take a lead in this and there was some discussion about how best to proceed and who might be asked to give interviews bearing in mind their age, and how family members might help. It was felt that interviewing young and old people could be very interesting as it would then be able to focus on how things have changed.
Briefly members went on to talk about milk rounds and Gwyneth told us about 4 generations within her family who had milked the cows, bottled the milk and then took it around Llandrindod to deliver it to people in the town. Actual bottles only started to be used in the 1950’s and John remembered delivering milk from a churn, ladling it into jugs in 1938, but Miah was still delivering milk from a churn in 1957. It had been reported in the papers during this last month that the last milk round in London had been stopped.
Geraint thanked everyone and especially Judith for her excellent presentation.
Next Time: 2nd March 2015 – Mary Davies will lead the session on: Penybont C.M. Chapel 1822-1989

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