We arrived in the land of Stafford in a shower of rain. The inhabitants of this town were hospitable and after dinner we were informed that the best entertainment in town was taking place the following morning in the chamber of the council, the body where the people send their most learned, respected and popular men in the county. There would be a debate on the future of the county’s archives. We prepared ourselves by reading the cases of both sides. This promised to be an interesting occasion as the case is evidently complicated and shifting, and we were looking forward to an illuminating discussion and the quality of the debate.
The proceedings were commenced by Rushing Larry from Essington putting the case for centralization of the archives and requesting a far-away body to pay nine tenths of the cost of new buildings. He added that there would be extra space for exhibitions, extended opening hours, and documents would be copied for public use. The present building where the William Salt papers and books were being held would be sold and the contents moved across into the new buildings. We had thought that this might be in order to save money, but were reassured by a speech from Ian Only from Stone who firmly stated that: ‘The only reason we want to vacate the building is to preserve and protect the collection’. We thought that all these points were well argued and were well satisfied.
But wait! Not all seemed right. Those against the proposal were mentioned, one even named, but none was present. Clearly they must be ruffians, and maybe kept away for the safety of the elders. Surprised Simon from the New Castle had been alarmed by the coverage in the local newspapers, and spoke of people being worried to death by the opponents of the scheme. He wanted reassurance that some of the things said in the local press were untrue. Ian Only castigated the newspaper journalists as activists rather than news reporters who love a protest and had misled the public. He said these things in great trepidation and concluded about his outspokenness that it ‘will probably get me hung!’.
In these circumstances it was maybe understandable that the elders had no idea what the opponents stood for in reality. We had read for ourselves that they did not at all oppose the principles of a more efficient and accessible service for users, and that of housing the Salt collections in better conditions. If their literature was to be believed their case related to the eradication of the William Salt library’s identity. That point was not mentioned. Indeed Mark Littlebit O’ Ferant from the Gnosall fields, who said he had never visited the Salt, but would like to do so to discover where pirates’ booty was stored, thought that objectors wanted to keep an old building going as the repository of the Salt collections. Ian Only also seemed to think that some people were proposing to spend money on the old building rather than provide modern premises. We knew that was far from his opponents’ views.
So we came away disappointed in the quality of the debate. Everyone who spoke supported the proposer, and probably had been told what to say, and not a single opposer was there to state his case. This one-sided debate and the predictable outcome is not likely to settle any arguments. I think we shall advise our new friends that the opposers need to be heard on other occasions.[Extract from a manuscript called ‘Gullible’s travels’, reportedly found in the William Salt Library]