Thursday, 14 October 2010

Chamber of Secrets……


I am currently cataloguing the records of the Cardiff Chamber of Commerce, set up to support its members and to promote issues connected with trade for the port of Cardiff, and its surrounding areas. The collection includes material from a number of member organisations which played important roles in the development of the shipping and coal trade in South Wales.
The collection is less ‘Chamber of Secrets’, and more ‘Chamber of Interesting Subject Files’ (although you don’t need to be a Harry Potter fan to see that wouldn’t be as catchy a title). It contains secretary’s files on matters concerning Cardiff docks and related trades (coal, shipping, railways etc). It also contains papers which cover other contemporary matters, such as education, post war reconstruction, development of civil aviation municipal aerodromes and commercial broadcasting and television. The long term secretaries of the Chamber provided secretarial services for many of its member associations, including Cardiff and Bristol Channel Ship-owners Association and the South Wales Coal Exporters Association.
The quality of a secretary’s record keeping often makes a big difference to the process of cataloguing a business collection.  If a secretary had filing systems and kept well labelled folders, rather than random files of miscellaneous papers, it makes the archivist’s job of arrangement a lot easier.  Although there were no obvious filing systems used by the Chamber secretaries, the subject files are mostly clearly labelled (and the labels mostly reflect the contents of the file), and their context is usually evident (i.e. from which association they were created).
The secretaryship of the Chamber was very much a family affair, with three generations serving the Chamber for almost a century.  Newspaper cuttings, reporting the resignation of ‘Cardiff’s busiest docksman’ Willoughby R Hawkins, give biographical details of two of the secretaries;
Willoughby R Hawkins was born in Cardiff in 1860. He worked as a telegraphic clerk with the Dowlais Iron Company before joining his father as assistant secretary to the Chamber in 1883.  When his father died in 1893 Willoughby became secretary. He was also an honorary joint secretary of the South Wales Coal Shipment Advisory Committee and a member of the committee of the Hamadryad Seaman’s hospital. In his younger days he was a prominent athlete. He retired from the secretaryship of the Chamber and the Cardiff and Bristol Channel Shipowners Association at the end of 1931, although he remained available in a consultative and advisory capacity. He was also secretary for the Cardiff Shipping Federation, the Coal Exporters Association and the Pitwood Importers Association.
Vernon Willoughby Hawkins succeeded his father Willoughby on his resignation. He was educated at Cardiff High School with intentions to study medicine, but gave up his studies to work with his father at the docks. In 1923 he was commissioned in the 53rd Welsh Divisional Signals (TA) in 1923 and later commanded a unit in that regiment. During the 1940s his assistant secretary took over his duties, whist the War took him away from his day job. He remained secretary of the Chamber and the Shipowner’s Association until 1970.

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