Logs and blogs: uncovering Westonbirt’s history of recording events

Posted: September 16, 2010 at 09:16 am Author: Katrina Podlewska

In the last few weeks I have been exploring the log books of W.J. Mitchell, Westonbirt Arboretum’s first curator. These books have been incredible to read, and offered fantastic quotes and stories of life at Westonbirt from the 1920s to the 1950s.

As quirky quotes, tales of extreme weather and the annual task of autumn colour have been uncovered, I’ve found it entertaining to be writing about Mitchell’s logs and speaking to people at BBC Points West and BBC Radio Gloucestershire from the same room in which they were written in Keeper’s Cottage, now Westonbirt’s marketing office.

The hand-written diaries were loaned to Westonbirt by Mitchell’s grandson, John Earley, who still lives nearby and used to visit Keeper’s Cottage as a child in his holidays. Mitchell lived in the cottage between 1927-50. Whilst the pages of Mitchell’s log books have been scanned onto Westonbirt’s database and transcribed by a volunteer, Mr. Earley still holds the original leather bound copies with great pride.

Showing real emotion through his intricate handwriting, Mitchell charts weather patterns and his attempts to predict autumn colour – something Simon Toomer, Westonbirt’s Director says is still an entertaining annual activity at Westonbirt.

After nearly 10 years of keeping the log and trying to predict the weather patterns conducive to autumn colour, Mitchell also admitted this task can be full of surprises and wrote:

“As to what these conditions are, it is difficult to say with any certainty, up to this year I have always thought a wet and sunless summer not conducive to good colouring, but after this summer and autumn I shall modify this opinion.”

Mitchell wrote at least two of these log books and we aim to have the second transcribed shortly. We then hope to make these wonderful stories available to people online – perhaps turning yesteryear’s logs into today’s blogs.