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Oral history collection

What is oral history?

Oral history is a formal name for recorded memories or reminiscences, the importance of which has only been recognised comparatively recently. It’s different to many other historical disciplines in that it gives the views of ordinary people who don't usually have the opportunity to record history or give their versions of events. Hearing someone speaking from personal experience can bring another dimension to an existing account.

What is particularly appealing about oral history is that because even something that happened yesterday is already history so anyone can give their account of something and they don't have to be old!

Walsall’s oral history collection

Walsall Metropolitan Borough is fortunate in having a collection of hundreds of recordings made as early as the 1970s but covering memories as far back as the 1880s. Most interviews have been instigated by the Centre but increasingly additions to the collection have been donated by other bodies such as Walsall Leather Museum and New Art Gallery staff who utilize the facilities here to store and maintain all types of record. They cover a wide variety of subjects.

A few personal details about our interviewees are taken to set the historical context of a recording. An interview with someone who owned a factory is likely to have a different perspective on the history of the company to someone who has worked there! The Centre also holds arts or musical recordings of people with a local connection with the borough.

What is available?

Copies of many recordings in the form of CDs (and sometimes cassettes) are available for use by the public, schools, students and academic researchers who can either listen to them at the Centre, at home, or consult transcriptions or précis.

As with other archive and local studies sources recordings are indexed by person, place and subject. The Centre makes as much as possible available to the public so, provided it has copyright clearance, copies can usually be made for research or educational purposes.

  • Listening copies of recordings can be listened to by the public in the research room.
  • Loan copies of recordings, where available, can be borrowed free of charge from the Centre for up to three weeks.
  • Buying copies of recordings - these can be ordered for £5.00 each.
  • Reference books on the theory of oral history and on actual collections are held in our Local Studies Library.
  • Oral history loan packs are available to borrow, containing books giving advice on how to set up an oral history project and other useful information.
  • A reminiscence loan pack is available, explaining how to carry out practical reminiscence work with people of all ages.
  • Publications based on oral history such as 'I Remember Pheasey' and 'We Lived There' are available either to buy or for reference at the centre.
  • A DVD of memories and photographs called "Walsall in Recorded Memory" has been produced in-house and is available to buy.

Typical examples of oral history

“ I was born in 1907 in a small house in Willenhall, there was no water in the house only a well in the yard “

Hannah Conn,
[421/20A] recorded in 1984

Memories of family life and children's games. She attended Albion Road School. Father was a locksmith and she later worked in the lock trade herself.


“ I was born in the Punjab in 1936 and arrived in England in 1961, my father was already living here “

Bhajan Singh,
[426/53] recorded in 1987

He found it difficult to obtain any work. Later he purchased a shop in Caldmore and experienced some problems. Is now actively involved in the Guru Nanak Temple and takes assemblies in the local school. Mentions social conflict in the area, local shops and the role of Asian women.

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