Artist brings fresh perspective to stories from the archive

This story was published 11 October 2021

The experiences of men who appealed against conscription in the First World War are examined from a fresh perspective in an exhibition at Pickering library.


The Long Walk Home is the first of several art exhibitions that will form Unfolding Origins, an artist in residence project created in partnership between North Yorkshire County Record Office and Chrysalis Arts Development.

Unfolding Origins supports the creation of new artworks inspired by North Yorkshire’s archival collections and develops exciting ways for the public to engage with this resource.

There are three artists in residence: Carolyn Thompson in Ryedale, Lynn Setterington in Selby and Nick Jordon and Jacob Cartwright, who are collaborating in Richmondshire. 

In Ryedale, Carolyn has completed the residency and an exhibition of her work is now on show in Pickering library.

She said: “I began my research at the archive in early 2020 and became fascinated by the WWI appeal papers of men who had appealed against conscription, due to being exempt because they made their living from the land, but were subsequently sent to war and did not return.”

The artist undertook six walks through Ryedale during autumn 2020 and spring 2021 to mark the anniversaries of the deaths of these men. The walks took the routes that would have led each man from the nearest train station to their last place of residence. The drawings and sound works in the exhibition have been created from recordings collected during these walks. 

In Selby and Richmondshire, the artworks are still being developed and workshops are taking place with local schools and young people’s groups.

County Councillor Greg White, Executive Member for the Record Office and libraries, said: “The archive of the County Record Office tells an amazing story of the people and places of the county over many centuries. This exhibition brings just a handful of those stories to life in a new way and it’s great to see it displayed in the community hub of the library.

“I urge anyone who can to visit the exhibition for a fresh insight into the opportunities offered by the Record Office.”

Phillip Spurr, Programme Director of Place and Resources for Ryedale District Council, said: “Ryedale District Council is happy to have supported such a poignant art exhibition that reflects the sacrifice of many in Ryedale.” 

The exhibition runs until Tuesday 16 November 2021. Visitors are advised to take a smartphone and earphones to access the sound works, which have also been transcribed.

Original WWI appeal tribunal papers are on display alongside Carolyn’s work.

The Military Service Act of 27 January 1916 introduced conscription for the first time in Great Britain for men aged between 18 and 40. More than 6,000 appeals were dealt with by the North Riding Appeal Tribunal between 1916 and 1918. In 1921, the Ministry of Health ordered the destruction of all papers relating to cases of exemption from conscription or National Service during the First World War.

However, during the 100th anniversary of the First World War, the North Yorkshire County Record Office discovered that the North Riding Appeal Tribunal case papers had survived. Sometime after 11 November 1918, the papers were packed in brown paper parcels and stored in one of the strong rooms in County Hall, Northallerton. 

Events are taking place to support the exhibition:

  • Artist Talk & Walk with Carolyn Thompson – Saturday 23 October 2021, 1pm to 3pm – Meet the artist at the library for an informal chat about her work, followed by a short walk in the area where she will explain her process.
  • Family Friendly Botanical Drawing workshop, with MakeMoreArts – Tuesday 26 October, 10.30am to noon or 1.30pm to 3pm. Suitable for 7 years+ and an accompanying adult.
  • The Talk & Walk and workshops are free but booking is essential – please contact the library.