The Magic Attic - based at Sharpe's Pottery
Monday 7-9.30pm, Tuesday 2-5pm,
Thursday 2pm-5pm and 7pm-9.30pm,
The Magic Attic is a fascinating Archive of Burton Mail newspapers, historical documents and over 20,000 photographs
relating to Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Leicestershire, housed in the Sharpe's Pottery buildings, 23 West Street, Swadlincote, Derbyshire DE11 9DG.
This popular organisation is a project partner of the Sharpe's Heritage and Arts Trust Ltd, but it wasn't always so. This is the story of how the Attic began:
The Archive Rescue Initiative
Rumours circulated in 1987 of a possible loss to the community of the Burton Mail archives when the newspaper office was being relocated. This prompted action from a group of local enthusiasts: Nutty, Chalky, Joe and Keith, from the Church Gresley and South Derbyshire Historical Research Society, who had been using the newspapers for local book research. "We ought to do something!" was the exclamation, over a pint of real ale brewed in nearby Burton on Trent. They decided to ensure the safety of the files by arranging their permanent loan and custody, and accommodation in the roof space above South Derbyshire Snooker Centre on Market Street, Swadlincote until Christmas 2002 when the archive was transferred to the Sharpe's Pottery site.
A triumph of communal effort
Graham Nutt (Nutty) described the removal of the original collection of archives, then dating back to 1898 and weighing about twelve tons: "Word was put around that we could do with a hand on the Sunday morning fixed for the move. Thirty to forty people arrived with vans, cars and trailers. They formed a chain down the stairs at the Mail office, then a convoy to the Snooker Club where the doors had been removed for ease of access; they carried the volumes through the Club and up the stairs into the attic - in just three hours!"
For some time, the group had been thinking of a name for their Archive when a local fellow climbed the rough wooden stairs to the low-beamed den of antiquity and said, quite spontaneously: "This is the magic attic!" 'That's it', the group agreed.
Since its exciting inception, the archive has grown, becoming more widely known and used by individuals, educational establishments, religious groups, charities, businesses, historians and authors. Not only are Derby and Burton newspapers dating back to 1782 held, but also unique local documents, old letters, maps, photographs, catalogues, business records, census returns and videos (1950s onwards).
Although strongly South Derbyshire, East Staffordshire and North West Leicestershire orientated, enquiries and visitors arrive from many countries of the world, researching family history or particular topics such as the Gresley family or the Fauld Explosion of 1944.
Since the late 1990s, countless letters have been received describing the excitement of discoveries made and expressing thanks to the committed, helpful and patient volunteers for their investigative research. Assistance has been given to the British Library in London on several occasions.
The Magic Attic Archive, which runs mainly on enthusiasm and goodwill, is funded chiefly by donations from the public and is operated by a group of slightly eccentric volunteers who have a keen interest in local history.
The Magic Attic Archive and volunteers moved to the Sharpe's Pottery site in January 2003. Their well organised collection grows and work is proceeding for various displays. You can visit The Magic Attic website for details of the archive, or contact the Attic by email.
Other sites which may be of interest:
Birmingham and Midland Society for Genealogy and Heraldry -
for the counties of Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire.
Derbyshire Family History Society
Staffordshire Archives - includes facilities at Stoke on Trent, Burton on Trent, Stafford and Lichfield.