THERE must be something in the air in York. Because we have some brilliant local historians: volunteers who dig into the city's past and tell people all about it just for the sheer love of it.

There are local history groups in just about every corner and suburb of the city. Last year, on the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, many of them produced moving tributes to the young men from York who went away to fight and never came home.

They produce books, hold exhibitions - and, of course, develop their own websites.

Last July, one group - the Clements Hall Local History Group, which researches the history of the South Bank Area - won a national award for its website from the Community Archives and Heritage Group. And it has just gone and done the same thing again - picking up a 'highly commended' award for its website from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.

You only need to make a quick visit to its site ( to see why. It is packed with fascinating stories and photographs about the people and events from South Bank's past. There are great sections on the history of the Bishopthorpe Road, Nunnery Lane and Scarcroft Road shops - and a particularly good section about the history of the First World War. “Our website includes stories and discussion about the impact of the Zeppelin attack on the area, how the war affected the local school, how local conscientious objectors came from a number of perspectives and backgrounds to war, how the local churches impacted on recruitment, and the role of women in wartime," says group member Susan Major.

The group also proved it is up with new technology, using social media to promote its blog posts and events, and working with local documentary filmmaker Chris Maudsley to create a video.

We asked the group to provide us with a few images from its website, to give a flavour of the work the volunteer historians have been doing. Here is what they came up with...

1. Women munitions workers at TE Cooke's in Bishophill in the First World War.

"We did some work on munitions workers at Cooke's in Bishophill because we had discovered a song written by one of them," says Susan (the song can, incidentally, be heard on the 'women at war' section of the group's website). "The photo shows them making reels for mekometers at T E Cooke’s in 1916." Mekometers, in case you were wondering, were a type of range-finder...

2. Betty Stevenson, who was a YMCA driver during the First World War.

Betty was born in York in 1896 - according to a census her father Arthur, who was to become a solicitor, was a boarder at 53 Nunthorpe Road. Both her parents were active members of the YMCA, and Betty herself became involved. At the age of 16, she was part of a group who travelled to London to bring Belgian refugees to Yorkshire. In 1916, Betty's aunt went to France to set up a YMCA canteen. Betty, at 19, was considered to young to go - but paid her own expenses and went anyway. She enlisted as a YMCA driver and in April 1917 was stationed at Etaples. In May 1918 the village came under repeated German attack. On May 30 Betty and a group of other women were retreating from Etaples when they were caught on the road in an air attack. She was killed by a bomb.

3, 4 and 5: Postcards showing street parties held in the South Bank area in 1919 to celebrate the end of the First World War the year before.

Photos 3 and 4 show the party that was held in Millfield Road. The group have been unable to identify the South Bank street shown in photo 5, however. Do any readers recognise it?

6. A programme for the 1914 play The Man Who Stayed At Home by JG Harold Terry, the brother of Noel Terry.

During the course of its research, the history group discovered that Noel Terry's brother Harold had written a play about a British agent posing as a man who had 'evaded service' so as to expose some German spies living in a seaside boarding house. "It was quite successful at the time, and was filmed twice and adapted as a novel," Susan says. One of the characters is a German governess, Fräulein Schroeder, who turns out to be a spy. "We identified a German governess who was living a few doors away from JG Harold Terry on the Mount, in the house of a military man, a Brigadier General, and suspect it might have given him the idea," Susan says.

Stephen Lewis

  • Visit the Clements hall Local History Group website at