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Chester lives in Cheshire Life

PHOEBE HAMPSON explains an ambitious project to digitise the UK’s most successful county magazine, with an associated conference and exhibitions



In a recent groundbreaking initiative, English lecturers at the University of Chester are embarking on an ambitious project that seeks to immortalise and celebrate the extensive and illustrious history of both Chester, and the county of Cheshire as a whole, through the digitalisation of the lifestyle magazine, Cheshire Life.


The project aims to transform decades of print from the magazine – currently celebrating its 90th anniversary -  into a digital archive. Launched in May 1934, Cheshire Life is the longest-running and most commercially successful county magazine in the UK, yet few complete hard copies of the magazine can be accessed by the public. They can currently be accessed in the reference sections of the Chester-based Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, the Storyhouse Library at Chester and Macclesfield Library.

 

A valuable digital resource

Cheshire Life captures the region's rich cultural and social life, dedicating pages to everything from local events and advertisements, to rural life and grand estates. The magazine, to many, is an important part of Cheshire’s history and has, since its creation, amassed a series of historical photographs, articles, and documents.

Such history, however, has remained largely in print form, therefore prompting the beginning of the University of Chester’s project.


The digitisation of Cheshire Life is part of the ‘Changing Chester’ project, headed by Dr. Matt Davies, which aims to explore how Chester has been represented through time, based on the written word and visual media such as tourist guides, advertising and publications such as Cheshire Life. The digitisation of the magazine involves scanning and converting thousands of pages into high resolution images. These will be uploaded to an online archive, eventually comprising a searchable database for specific themes, genres, people and places. 

 

‘Place and the Periodical’ conference

A range of events are linked to the project, including exhibitions in Cheshire libraries and museums, and an academic conference called ‘Place and the periodical: An international conference on the regional magazine’, hosted at the University of Chester on 25-26 June 2024.


Conference organiser Dr Naomi Walker told me: “We have collaborated with Cheshire Life historian Dr Andrew Hobbs from the University of Central Lancashire to bring together speakers from around the world who research regional magazines. We’re really excited as the conference includes a round table discussion with the editor of Cheshire Life, Joanne Goodwin, who has been on board with the project from the start. And our keynote speaker is Professor Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel from the University of Geneva, leader of the Visual Contagions project, who will be providing insights from a global visual analysis of early 20th Century periodicals. Other talks range from changing advertising trends in county magazines, to the role of Viz magazine in representations of Newcastle in the late 20th Century”.


Dr Walker explains how she became interested in the project: “I was researching a writer called Beatrice Tunstall, who is a little-known Cheshire writer, but she was actually a very successful novelist…She then started to write a column for Cheshire Life. She wrote about all the different villages in Cheshire and little myths and legends and superstitions and interesting facts about murders and things that went on there…This was in her later years, so leading up until when she died.”

 

Preserving Cheshire Heritage

The ‘Changing Chester’ project is a significant step forward and an example of the preservation of not only Chester’s history, but history in general. By digitising Cheshire Life, the University of Chester is actively making the past more accessible to future generations and ensuring that the history of one of the most successful regional magazines in the UK is preserved, celebrated and shared.


“Pop into one of the exhibitions,” urged Dr Walker, “It’ll be really good to see what people think about it.”

 

For more information regarding the project and its events, please visit its page on the University of Chester website: https://www.chester.ac.uk/research/cestrian-english/ or the exhibition website: https://www.storyhouse.com/whats-on/cheshire-life/ 

 

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