Pantomime: performance, interpretation and the importance of the popular at Special Collections and Archives, University of Kent

Archives Hub feature for December 2017

As winter rolls in and Christmas looms around the corner, it’s fascinating to reflect on how nostalgia shapes this most memorable of seasons. When it comes to British festive traditions, one stands out more than most: pantomime.

Pantomime is a uniquely British institution – it’s always fun trying to explain it to international friends! Here at the University of Kent, we’re incredibly lucky to be celebrating the arrival of one of the largest collections of historic pantomime material in the UK: our David Drummond Pantomime Collection. We’re working in partnership with our local museum and art gallery, The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, and one of the most famous producers of pantomime in Kent – The Marlowe Theatre. Between November 2017 and February 2018, all are welcome to come and view material from our newest collection in a very exciting exhibition called ‘Oh yes it is!’, a free display hosted at The Beaney art gallery in Canterbury city centre.

Jack and the Beanstalk poster, undated, David Drummond pantomime collection

Jack and the Beanstalk poster, undated, David Drummond pantomime collection

The David Drummond Pantomime Collection explores the development of pantomime from its 17th century origins in Italy, to its critical period of transformation and popularity in the Victorian era, to the celebrity-filled extravaganzas we know and love today. The collection itself is a goldmine of beautiful illustrations, rare playbills and posters promoting shows and wonderful ephemera including an entire box filled with pantomime badges. Whilst exploring the collection in preparation for The Beaney exhibition, SC&A staff were struck by just how many galleries we could fill just from one collection alone.
What’s equally fascinating to us here at Kent, however, is how well the David Drummond Pantomime Collection complements our existing theatre collections. Rather than spoiling our newest acquisition for you, we thought we’d take a look at how pantomime is explored through our extensive archives of Victorian and Edwardian theatre…

Melville Collection: Walter, Fred and the Lyceum theatre

The Melville collection is the archives of a dynasty of thespians: the Melville family. Spanning two centuries and several generations, there was barely an area of theatre that the Melvilles left untouched: they owned theatres (notably the Prince’s and the Lyceum – now known as the Shaftesbury – in London), wrote and produced plays and acted in productions.

Whilst Walter and Frederick Melville shared an intense sibling rivalry, they are well known for collaborating on moral melodramas about women, widely referred to as ‘the Bad Women plays’. However, they were equally well known in the early 20th century for their elaborate pantomimes they produced at the Lyceum theatre, which the brothers shared ownership of. Their pantomimes were long – with up to 19 scenes and 4 tableaux in a single performance, audiences certainly got their money’s worth!

Cinderella takings books, Melville collection

Cinderella takings books, Melville collection

The takings books held in the Melville collection show how popular pantomime was, running throughout the Christmas season well into the following year. The exception to this was during the winter of 1916 – 1917, when the popular war drama ‘Seven Days’ Leave’ was such a hit with Lyceum audiences that the brothers skipped the pantomime for that year. The takings books show how much money was generated each week through performances, and the Melvilles certainly did well out of popular theatre – when Fred and Walter died in the early 1930s, they left a fortune of £519,000 – about £19 million in today’s terms.

Cinderella rates, Melville collection

Cinderella rates, Melville collection

The other items in the Melville collection provide a unique insight into the theatrical profession: we hold cast lists and playscripts for pantomimes, many photographs of the theatres, the family and the actors, correspondence and promotional programmes.

Pettingell Collection: from Arthur to Frank via Drury Lane

Some of the scripts for the Melville pantomimes can be found in another collection we hold: the Pettingell collection of theatre playscripts. The playscripts in this collection, which total over 4400, show the extent and variation of theatre during the Victorian period. The Pettingell collection has two distinct owners: Frank Pettingell, the collection’s namesake, was an actor who performed in many plays and theatres during the mid-20th century. He acquired his collection of theatre scripts from the son of Arthur Williams, who was a popular comedian during the Victorian-Edwardian era.

Aladdin page, Pettingell

Aladdin page, Pettingell

What makes the Pettingell collection unique is the annotations added into each text by Williams, who either saw, was involved in, or had heard about the plays.  The majority of additions take the form of typescript cast lists, but there are also manuscript annotations to be found. Some plays are entirely written in manuscript, providing evidence of how texts were edited as they were rehearsed, and we also have ‘parts’ of plays too – copies given to actors for their individual role.

The Pettingell collection is fascinating because it provides a comprehensive snapshot of what types of theatre were popular with Victorian audiences beyond the Shakespearean type theatre we often think of. There are many versions of Dickens’ novels transformed into dramatic versions relatively quickly, showing how popular he was during the time. Plays by the melodrama writer Dion Boucicault (whose archives we also hold) are well represented – evidence of how audiences would flock to see spectacles on stage. In a time well before the moving picture, the power of the visual still held strong.

Clock on the Stairs, Pettingell

Clock on the Stairs, Pettingell

Of course, the Pettingell playscripts have an entire section of pantomimes; unlike the majority of plays in the archive, they are bound together to create multiple volumes of works. This decision alone shows how popular pantomime was for Victorians; no other genre of plays in Pettingell gets its own distinct category. The collection includes scripts of famous pantomimes written by E.L. Blanchard performed in London (notably at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane). Our overview of pantomimes in the Pettingell collection demonstrates how popular some pantomime stories were during the late 19th century. Unsurprisingly, the well-performed titles are the same fairy tales we use in pantomime today: Aladdin, Dick Whittington, Sleeping Beauty, Jack and the Beanstalk and Robinson Crusoe.

Reading Rayner Collection: biography, memoir and theatre today

How do we account for the success of pantomime during the Victorian-Edwardian era? The answer may well be found in our extensive array of theatre books and programmes donated to us by Jack Reading and Colin Rayner. The collection primarily covers 20th century performances, but the origins of modern theatre are well accounted for, including biographies of actors and histories of theatres.

The Theatre Royal at Drury Lane is the subject of several publications as writers sought to explore the success of pantomime due to its 1880s-1890s manager, Augustus Harris. Harris exploited the Victorian love of spectacle by creating lavish processions on stage, employing several hundred people for any single show. The risk paid off, and most of Harris’ productions ran for over 100 performances each season.

The Sketch Drury Lane

The Sketch Drury Lane

The Reading-Rayner collection provides a different look at pantomime through secondary sources; it is interesting to note how pantomime is, once again, described separately from the rest of theatre history. It also offers us a look at the world through actors’ eyes as there are many memoirs from performers in the collection. Through Jack Reading’s extensive collection of theatre programmes, we can also chart what plays remained popular from Victorian times to the late-20th century.

Cinderella 1931

Cinderella 1931

Pantomime as a tradition is certainly not (quite) as popular now as it was in the 1890s, but the University of Kent’s extensive collections evidence that shift. By exploring theatre through the eyes of the audience, the actors and the producers, archives can offer us a unique glimpse of the past that proves how much more there is to pantomime than dames, celebrities and songs. Not that we’d deny, of course, that that’s all part of the fun too – long may it continue!

Joanna Baines
Senior Library Assistant
Special Collections, Templeman Library
University of Kent

Explore on the Archives Hub:

Melville Theatre Collection, c.1800-1987

Victorian and Edwardian Playbills, c.1756-c.1950:

Dion Boucicault Collections, 1813-2002:

Browse on the Archives Hub:

All University of Kent Special Collections and Archives collections

More pantomime collections

More Hub features about Theatre archives

The D’Oyly Carte Archive

The Association of Performing Arts Collections

Variety and Music Hall, National Fairground Archive

Curtain up! The Theatre and Performance Collections at the V&A

All images copyright  University of Kent Special Collections and Archives and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

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Anniversaries in Contemporary Music at University of Huddersfield Archive Service

Archives Hub feature for November 2017

BMIC advert, 1968, 'Composer', Composers Guild of GB Journal.

BMIC advert, 1968, ‘Composer’, Composers’ Guild of GB Journal.

The University of Huddersfield Archive Service at Heritage Quay is the home of two significant contemporary classical music collections, the British Music Collection (BMC) and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival archive (HCMF), both of which are celebrating exciting anniversary years in 2017.  Sound and Music, owner of the British Music Collection, are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the collection in its original form, as the British Music Information Centre.  2017 also marks the 40th edition of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, which is the UK’s largest international festival of new and experimental music.

The British Music Collection

The British Music Collection (BMC) is the music library and other records of the British Music Information Centre (BMIC).  The British Music Information Centre (BMIC) opened in London on 7 November 1967 as a place for musicians, composers and the general public to see and hear new classical music. When it closed in 2004 it had collected thousands of scores and recordings and hosted hundreds of performances.  It had been founded by the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain at a time when similar centres were opening around the world. Composers and publishers donated works to make a huge library of British classical music. This library was used by students, composers and performers for inspiration or to select new works for performance. The BMIC also hosted and organised concerts to help promote British artists.

Photograph of the BMIC, c1967.

Photograph of the BMIC, c1967.

The BMIC’s role was to collect and provide access to cutting edge work by British or British-based composers. Therefore, the collection tells the story of the development of composition and performance in this country during the 20th and 21st centuries. It features both published and unpublished materials, including things that are not stored anywhere else. The collection features famous composers such as Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan-Williams but also more obscure people ready for rediscovery.

Following the closure of the BMIC in 2004 the collection was split into three parts. The whole collection was deposited at the university by Sound and Music, the national organisation for new music. Archivists at Heritage Quay reunited the three parts and fully catalogued the collection which is now available for researchers again. The collection continues to add exciting contemporary works through Sound and Music’s New Voices project.  This large collection features over 80,000 scores and recordings of 20th and 21st century classical music.

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival Archive

Poster: Iannis Xenakis - Contemporary Music Festival, Huddersfield

Poster: Iannis Xenakis – Contemporary Music Festival, Huddersfield, 27 November 1982.

hcmf// is an annual event celebrating new and experimental music. Since the first festival in 1978 it has hosted some of the most important names in contemporary music, including Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. hcmf// also supports young and up-and-coming composers and performers and inspires local people through its Learning and Participation programme.

The archive covers the history of the festival from its beginnings as a long weekend of performances in October 1978 to its current 10 days in November. During the 2009 Festival, the hcmf// archive was transferred to the University to enable public access and research into this collection.

The archive features a wide range of materials including programmes, posters and administrative records that tell the story of the Festival’s development. It also contains financial and marketing records, performer contracts, musical scores and audio-visual recordings of concerts.  These records chart the exciting history of hcmf// from its modest beginnings to an internationally renowned event on the contemporary music stage.

These collections not only cover the histories of these important institutions. They also reflect the much bigger story of the local, national and international development of new and experimental music throughout the world in the 20th and 21st centuries.   Music forms one of the University archives significant research themes alongside Education, Politics, Art and Design, Theatre and Sport.

Lindsay Ince
Assistant Archivist & Records Manager

Related content on the Archives Hub

Please note: Collection descriptions for the British Music Collection and Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival Archive are due to be added to the Archives Hub shortly – we’ll add the links to this feature as soon as they become available.

Browse Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield collections on the Archives Hub.

Previous feature by Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield : ‘Scrum, Ruck and Tackle: Rugby Football League Archive‘.

Related Links

Sound and Music – The national charity for new music in the UK, and formerly the home of the British Music Information Centre (BMIC), a collection now deposited with the University of Huddersfield.

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival – The website of the festival, which takes place in Huddersfield every November.  Includes a guide to the current festival’s programme, and associated public events.

Google Cultural Institute Exhibitions – Exhibitions curated by current composers looking back at the organisational archives.

Related Publications

Gottchalk, Jennie (2016) Experimental music since 1970.  Bloomsbury.  ISBN 978-1-62892-247-9

Metzer, David (2009) Musical Modernism at the turn of the Twenty-First Century.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.  ISBN 978-1-107-40280-5

Rupprecht, Philip (2015) British Musical Modernism, The Manchester Group and their Contemporaries.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.  ISBN 978-1-316-64952-

Steinitz, Richard (2011) Explosions in November. University of Huddersfield Press, Huddersfield. ISBN 978-1-86218-099-4

All images copyright Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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Raymond Williams papers at the Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

Archives Hub feature for October 2017

Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language”– Raymond Williams, ‘Keywords’ (1983).

Photograph of Raymond Williams. Image reproduced by courtesy of the family of Raymond Williams.

Photograph of Raymond Williams. Image reproduced by courtesy of the family of Raymond Williams.

A collection level description of the Raymond Williams Collection has been available on the Archives Hub for several years but in recent weeks the entire catalogue has been exported from our CALM database and made live. This is one of the outcomes of Archives Wales Catalogues Online, a collaborative project between the Archives and Records Council Wales (ARCW) and the Archives Hub to increase the discoverability of Welsh archives. This project was supported by the Welsh Government through its Museums Archives and Libraries Division, with a grant to Swansea University, a member of ARCW and a long-standing contributor to the Hub.

The papers of the renowned cultural critic and writer Raymond Williams (1921-1988) were catalogued courtesy of funding from the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust, the College of Arts and Humanities and Information Services and Systems at Swansea University. The collection has been extensively used by researchers from the UK, Japan and America since it was catalogued, it is hoped that the inclusion of item level descriptions on the Archives Hub will promote its potential use further and wider.

Photograph of notes about the theory of culture. Image reproduced by courtesy of the family of Raymond Williams.

Photograph of notes about the theory of culture. Image reproduced by courtesy of the family of Raymond Williams.

Raymond Williams is probably best known for his notion that culture is ordinary. Through published works such as ‘Culture and Society’ (1958), he was one of the leading academic figures undertaking research and publishing works that explored and redefined ‘culture’. Other seminal works written by Raymond Williams included ‘The Long Revolution’ (1961), ‘The Country and the City’, ‘Keywords’ (1976), ‘Towards 2000’ (1983). As a major intellectual figure of the twentieth-century, Williams is recognized worldwide as one of the founding figures of Cultural Studies.

As well as his productive academic career, which included becoming the first professor of drama at Cambridge University (1974-1983) and the ten works published, Raymond Williams also published seven fictional works. The first was ‘Border Country’, which was set in the landscape of his childhood, in the rural area between England and Wales. Originally published in 1960, it was re-issued in 2005 by Parthian as part of the Library of Wales series, with Dai Smith, his biographer, claiming it to be ‘the Greatest Welsh Novel’.  Other fictional works include the two volumes of ‘People of the Black Mountains’ which were prepared for publication by his wife, Joy Williams, following his death.

The prodigious writing ability of Raymond Williams went beyond academic works and novels. He wrote weekly book reviews for ‘The Guardian’, reviews for other publications, as well as a regular column in ‘The Listener’ which revealed his keen interest in television and film. Raymond Williams also wrote newspaper type publications to explore and convey ideas, such as ‘The Cambridge University Journal’ when he was at university, and ‘TwentyOne’, the weekly newspaper of the 21st Anti-Tank Regiment that he edited and contributed to during his active service during World War Two, under the name of Michael Pope and other aliases.

Photograph of timetable of studies. Image reproduced by courtesy of the family of Raymond Williams.

Photograph of timetable of studies. Image reproduced by courtesy of the family of Raymond Williams.

The collection held in the Archives shows the full range of Raymond Williams’ creativity:

  • manuscripts and typescripts of draft and final versions of novels, dramatic works, poetry and academic writings
  • newspaper articles and reviews
  • professional correspondence
  • personal and family papers (including his diaries)
  • talks, lectures and debates

This comprehensive collection is illustrative of how he could explore and express ideas in many formats and on many subjects; culture, drama and literature, politics, communications and media, sociology, language, technology, history, war and ‘The Bomb’, class, education, region and geography.

The breadth and depth of ideas within the archives mean that the Raymond Williams collection can be used in a multitude of ways. For example, groups of undergraduate and postgraduate students have used items within the collection as part of their courses studying World War One, the General Strike, World War Two, the Cold War and nuclear disarmament, as well as culture, literature, education and social policy. It is a ‘go to’ collection for material to display for VIPs and other visitors.

Photograph of student group in the reading room.

Photograph of student group in the reading room.

This collection has been the catalyst for fascinating conversations in the Reading Room about Raymond Williams as a writer, researcher, teacher, as well as discussions about some of the questions posed by the archive: challenging handwriting, apparently random notes and half-finished texts, who wrote what – was it Raymond or was it his wife, Joy?

We look forward to receiving more enquiries about the collection and seeing this valuable archival material being used for to its full potential.

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing” ― Raymond Williams, ‘Resources of Hope’ (published posthumously in 1989).

Dr Katrina Legg
Assistant Archivist
Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University

Related:

Explore the Raymond Williams Collection on the Archives Hub.

Browse Swansea University Archives collections on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright Swansea University / family of Raymond Williams and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

 

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A potted history of Conway Hall Ethical Society

Beginnings

Rev. Elhanan Winchester

Rev. Elhanan Winchester (1751-1797) from Stone’s Biography Boston Mass 1836, from Conway’s Centenary text 1893.

The story of Conway Hall Ethical Society dates back to 1787 and a nonconformist congregation, led by Elhanan Winchester, rebelling against the doctrine of eternal damnation. This group of freethinking individuals, based in a small chapel on the eastern edge of London (Parliament Court Chapel), was the beginnings of what was to become a society of radicals and social and political reformers, devoted to freethought.  There is no other Society in the United Kingdom, possibly the globe, that has such a long history dedicated to creating a fairer, more equal world through free religious thought and ethical enquiry.

It has had many names, being known as the Philadelphians (or Loving Brothers), Universalists, Society of Religious Dissenters, South Place Unitarian Society, South Place Society, Free Religious Society, South Place Religious Society, South Place Ethical Society and now Conway Hall Ethical Society.

Throughout its early history as a religious institution, the Society’s ministers led the congregation through various spiritual quandaries, including the rejection of the Trinity, which lost the Society many of its members. It weathered the loss, however, surviving and flourishing after many similar erosions of membership on the progressive journey from universalism and unitarianism to the present humanist position, which the Society had reached by the end of the nineteenth century.

William Johnson Fox (1786 – 1864)

William Johnston Fox

William Johnston Fox

Notable leaders of the Society include renowned orator William Johnson Fox who became minister in 1817. His popularity, resulting in an increase in the congregation, led to the construction of their first purpose built home, South Place Chapel in Finsbury, into which the congregation moved in 1824. Among the congregation and its close kin was a circle of radicals and progressive thinkers who stood for various political and social causes, including women’s rights, suffrage and education for all. These included women’s rights advocates Sophia Dobson Collet and Caroline Ashurst Stansfield, poet Robert Browning, philosopher John Stuart Mill, social theorist Harriet Martineau as well as adherents of William Lovett and Chartism.

Fox himself was an early supporter of women’s rights, campaigning in regard for women’s rights respecting infant custody, marriage and divorce and for freedom of the press. He was also a Member of Parliament where he was renowned for his impassioned speeches against the Corn Laws and stringent support of the Lancastrian system of education, which ultimately resulted in the opening of board schools and free education.

Fox remained minister until 1853 during which time he led the congregation toward a more rationalist outlook reflecting the freethinking nature of both himself and the circle of intellectuals that surrounded him both within and without the congregation.

Dr. Moncure Conway (1832 – 1907)

Moncure Conway and a baby

Moncure Conway and a baby.

The most outstanding of Fox’s successors was an American, Moncure Conway, after whom the Society‘s present home is named. He settled at the South Place Chapel from 1864 until 1897, excepting a break from 1885 to 1892 during which he returned to America and wrote his famous biography of Thomas Paine. Conway had adopted an uncompromising anti-slavery position at home, despite having two brothers serving in the Confederate army, and came to England in 1863 on a speaking tour. The same year he helped his father’s slaves escape to freedom in Virginia at the start of the American Civil War.

He was also a supporter of women’s rights, speaking at the first recorded public meeting on women’s suffrage in 1871 at Hackney Town Hall and he was strongly anti-war. These pacifist beliefs being cemented during his experience of seeing first hand the brutality and devastation of battle whilst a war correspondent during the Franco-Prussian war.

His views seem to have been formed by his questioning outlook and by the intellectual circles he inhabited which included the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott in America and George Eliot, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin in London.

The breadth of his interests is reflected in the discourses he gave which covered such matters as slavery, religion, war, ethics and freedom of expression. It is Conway’s unquenchable curiosity about the world around him and the religion that had been his calling that was ultimately responsible for taking his rationally minded congregation towards its current humanist approach and which in 1888, under the leadership of Stanton Coit (during the seven year break of Conway’s tenure), finally lost its remaining religious trappings cemented in the change of its name from South Place Religious Society to the South Place Ethical Society.

Conway Hall

Conway Hall, watercolour by Frederick Herbert Mansford

Conway Hall watercolour by Frederick Herbert Mansford.

Conway Hall, and our previous home South Place Chapel, have witnessed many of the great and the good from the world of radical and liberal thinkers, including political activists such as Annie Besant, Charles Bradlaugh and Peter Kropotkin, suffragettes Marion Phillips and Marion Holmes, writers T. H. Huxley, Charles Darwin, William Morris, H. G. Wells, Dora Russell, Bertrand Russell and in more recent times Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Brian Cox and Jacqueline Wilson.

The story of our current headquarters, named after Moncure Conway, dates back to the beginning of the last century. By 1900 the Society realised its current home in South Place was no longer fit for purpose, and began debating whether to repair the existing building or investigate erecting a new one, potentially on the same site. At this early stage plans were drawn up by architect Frederick Herbert Mansford F.R.I.B.A. (1871–1946) for a new home. Mansford, along with his three siblings, had been a lifelong member of the Society. His brother, Wallis, advocated selling the Chapel and erecting a new building which would have a ‘swimming bath convertible into a gymnasium in winter months,’ a bookshop, separate lending and reference libraries, a labour and emigration bureau and a roof garden. Sadly, progress was halted by the outbreak of the First World War, but money raised from the sale of South Place Chapel in 1921 along with an appeal for funds finally allowed the construction of Conway Hall in 1928. F. Herbert Mansford was appointed architect.

The new building was to be a place of enlightened education and social activity, and was designed with this in mind.  Whilst funds did not allow for the extent of Wallis Mansford’s wishlist, his brother worked with the building committee to create an edifice with space to hold lectures, concerts, dances, social evenings and play-readings as well as a library and spaces for the various membership groups, such as the Ramblers’ Club and the Poetry Circle. The new headquarters for South Place Ethical Society opened officially on 23 September 1929.

Soirees

Soirees

The Society today

Today, the Society is an educational charity whose objective is the advancement of study, research and education in humanist ethical principles. Conway Hall offers a vibrant range of cultural activities including classical concerts (the longest running chamber-music series in the world), exhibitions, contemporary dance and theatre as well as free access to our Humanist Library and Archives. Through the Library and Archives we run a variety of learning activities (https://conwayhall.org.uk/learning-at-conway-hall/). These include adult education courses, talks and debates, family activities and sessions for schools covering a range of subjects linked to the heritage and ethos of our Society.

Conway Hall school art workshop

Conway Hall school art workshop.

Conway Hall Humanist Library and Archives

The Library and Archives was founded in 1886 at a time when public libraries were a rarity in the U.K. and when self education was being promoted for those without the means to access education. Free access to knowledge through books and pamphlets was seen to be the foundations of our Society which led to the creation of the Society’s free library, with a special section for children.

Today the Library houses a humanist collection covering such subjects as ethics, philosophy, free speech, education, environmental issues, civil rights, animal rights, religion and rationalism and holds rare and important journals such as The Freethinker, The National Reformer, The Republican, The Agnostic Journal, The Literary Guide and our own journal, The Ethical Record.

We hold the archives of Conway Hall Ethical Society which record our Society’s evolution from the radical dissenting congregation of the 1790s, through the nineteenth century challenges to thought and belief, to the creation of Conway Hall in the 1920s and the educational charity of today.

We also hold the archives of the National Secular Society from 1875, a campaigning organisation promoting secularism established in 1866 under the leadership of Charles Bradlaugh.

Among our collections we have treasures such as the manuscript autobiography of the Chartist leader William Lovett (1800–1877), Illuminated addresses presented to Charles Bradlaugh (1833–1891) and artefacts such as Richard Carlile’s (1790-1843) prison writing desk. You can search our collections here (https://conwayhall.org.uk/library/search-the-catalogue/)

Since 2015 we have begun the intricate task of digitising our collections. You can explore the pilot project, Architecture and Place, here (http://conwayhallcollections.omeka.net/). It has allowed us to digitise items relating to our current and former homes such as plans, leases and photographs and you will also find the files documenting the plans and procedures we have put in place for our future digitisation projects. We hope these will be useful for other organisations working on small budgets and with small teams.

Plan of Conway Hall, first floor plan of hall and library

Plan of Conway Hall, first floor plan of hall and library.

 

Sophie Hawkey-Edwards
Library and Learning Manager
Conway Hall Humanist Library and Archives

Explore Conway Hall Humanist Library and Archives collections on the Archives Hub:

Harold Blackham Archive, 1919-2009

Red Lion Square deeds, 1685-1968

Also on the Archives Hub

Subject search: Humanism

Correspondence of William Johnson Fox, 1831-1847 – part of the Robert Owen Collection at the National Co-operative Archive.

Letters from Moncure Daniel Conway, 1880s – part of the Spence Watson/Weiss Papers at Newcastle University Special Collections:

Letter from Moncure Daniel Conway to Elizabeth Spence Watson, c.1880s

Letter from Moncure Daniel Conway to Robert Spence Watson, 1885

Letter from Moncure Daniel Conway to Elizabeth Spence Watson, 1883

All images copyright Conway Hall Ethical Society and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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William Speirs Bruce Archive in the National Museums Scotland Library

August marks the 150th birthday of naturalist and Antarctic explorer, William Speirs Bruce, who was born on 1 August, 1867.

Part of the Bruce archive is held in the library collections of National Museums Scotland, with other Bruce archive collections being held by the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Cambridge. You can browse the Archives Hub for various collections relating to William Speirs Bruce.

Cartoon of Bruce originally published in a Buenos Aires newspaper

Cartoon of Bruce originally published in a Buenos Aires newspaper.

As a teenager, Bruce attended a vacation course in biology at a marine station in Granton, studying under Patrick Geddes, which proved to be an influential experience. He went on to assist John Murray at the Challenger Office, and would help with dredging on the Forth or Clyde whenever there was an opportunity.

Bruce’s first Antarctic voyage was on the Balaena where he worked as a surgeon on the Dundee Antarctic Whaling Expedition. He went on to work as a biologist on the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition, and then on the Coates Arctic Expedition. Bruce was then invited to make hydrological and biological surveys on trips to Spitsbergen.

Bruce’s best known expedition was on the Scotia where he was the leader of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition during 1902 to 1904. This expedition set out to conduct hydrographic work in the Weddell Sea, and survey the South Orkney Islands and study their wildlife.

Bruce continued to make expeditions, and travelled to Spitsbergen several more times between 1906 and 1919.

The archive at National Museums Scotland holds a range of records that show the breadth of Bruce’s work over the years.

List of equipment and stores made by Bruce for an expedition to Spitsbergen

List of equipment and stores made by Bruce for an expedition to Spitsbergen.

The planning that was required to undertake a scientific voyage is evident from the many records held for ordering goods to take on board, and packing lists for specific parts of a voyage. Lists include everything from basic requirements such as food, to survival equipment, to specialised scientific apparatus.

The archive includes scientific data gathered on Bruce’s voyages. There are examples of scientific log books, oceanographic measurements of temperature and water density, and lists of specimens found in trawls.

Cuthbertson drawings of an Atlantic lizardfish and the head of a Shag

Cuthbertson drawings of an Atlantic lizardfish and the head of a Shag.

Scientific data is accompanied by scientific drawings and sketches of the flora and fauna collected and described as part of the expeditions. The artist of the Scotia was William Cuthbertson, and his artwork shows the array of wildlife that was observed by the scientific team.

Cuthbertson painting

Cuthbertson painting.

Cuthbertson also painted landscapes and seascapes as the crew travelled, and the archive has a collection of these, often showing the beauty of the environment that was encountered on the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition.

Sketch by William Martin of Emperor Penguins

Sketch by William Martin of Emperor Penguins.

The archive includes many illustrations and descriptions of penguins, including this sketch by William Martin. Their behaviour was noted by Bruce and his colleagues during the Scotia expedition, and specimens were collected for scientific study.  Some of these specimens are part of the collections at National Museums Scotland, and still available for study. However, penguins and their eggs were also valued as food for the voyage, with black throated penguins being found the most palatable. Penguin was regularly served with fried onions, in soup, or as curry to those on board the Scotia.

William Speirs Bruce’s attempt to draw a pig in ‘Livre de Cochons’

William Speirs Bruce’s attempt to draw a pig in ‘Livre de Cochons’.

Despite the amount of scientific work undertaken during expeditions, Bruce and his colleagues did have leisure time to fill. Time would be spent singing songs, with each person doing a turn to entertain, Bruce being known for his rendition of ‘Two Blue Bottles’. The archive collection contains a notebook filled with attempts to draw a pig while blindfolded, which serves as a keepsake from the voyage, as well as evidence of the kind of games that would keep boredom at bay. The page shown is William Speirs Bruce’s attempt.

Sketch by William Martin of a cove at Gough Island

Sketch by William Martin of a cove at Gough Island.

The landscapes and living conditions experienced by those on the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition were captured by William Martin in a sketchbook that is also held in the National Museums Scotland archive. The sketch shown is of a cove at Gough Island where the Scotia stopped to collect specimens, and more images from the sketchbook can be found online http://www.nms.ac.uk/explore/collection-search-results/?item_id=737692

The Bruce papers also contain the diary of A Forbes Mackay who was a colleague of Bruce. Mackay reached the South Magnetic Pole on January 16th 1909, along with T.W. Edgeworth David, and Douglas Mawson. The diary tells of the difficult conditions as the men made the journey on foot over challenging terrain. Mackay also describes the pressure put on their relationships as a team, as the leadership passed from David to Mawson because David was no longer considered capable of leading.

You can find more about the archive collections at National Museums Scotland by visiting our webpage where you can access our library catalogue and archive listings. http://www.nms.ac.uk/collections-research/research-facilities/museum-libraries/research-library/

Georgia Rogers
National Museums Scotland Library

Related:

Explore the William Speirs Bruce papers on the Archives Hub.

Browse the National Museums Scotland Library collections on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright the National Museums Scotland Library and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

 

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University of Portsmouth Archive

In July 2017 the University of Portsmouth celebrates 25 years since gaining university status. However, the University of Portsmouth archive reveals that the roots of the institution go back much further than this, to the late 19th century.

Page from minute book

PGSSA/1/1 Page from minute book of the Portsmouth and Gosport School of Science and Art [1874].

One of the earliest items in the university archive collection is a minute book from the Portsmouth and Gosport School of Science and Art. The school opened on 1st June 1870 and offered a mix of day and evening classes, the latter aimed at local artisans. Both men and women attended the school whose main premises were in the former Crown Sale Rooms in Pembroke Street. Students could receive instruction in a range of skills including practical geometry, artistic anatomy, and architectural and mechanical drawing.

By 1908 responsibility for technical education had been taken over by the local authority. A grand new building opened behind the Guildhall to house the Portsmouth Municipal College. The building is still in use by the university today and has Grade II listed status. The college offered a mix of higher and lower courses, the higher being of university standard. The college also had another role in the wider community as the reference library on the ground floor was open to both local residents and students.

Portsmouth Municipal College building, later Park Building

PMTI/3/2.3 Plan of the second floor of the Portsmouth Municipal College building, later Park Building [1905]

The first edition of student magazine The Galleon was published in autumn 1911, shortly after the establishment of separate female and male student unions. It reported on the formation of a women’s basketball team and bemoaned the state of the common room.  Student media is a fascinating source of information on the daily life of students and many newspapers and magazines survive in the archive.

There has been a succession of name changes among the university’s institutional predecessors. Portsmouth Municipal College became Portsmouth College of Technology in 1953, before developing into Portsmouth Polytechnic in 1969. The collections chart this process of expansion – of both student numbers and buildings – through prospectuses, newsletters, annual reports and more. The university is located right in the heart of the city of Portsmouth and the range of buildings it has utilised over the decades is notable. In addition to creating new buildings of its own, sites include a former sailors home, hotel, building society headquarters, drill hall and barracks, illustrating just how closely the history of the university is related to that of the city as a whole.

College of Art later known as Eldon Building under construction

ART/3/1.1.20 College of Art later known as Eldon Building under construction [1960]

The university is also however, the result of the amalgamation of several institutions.  One of the richest collections of material in the archive is from the Day Training College, latterly the College of Education. This teacher training college didn’t merge with Portsmouth Polytechnic until 1976 and was mostly based at its own separate site in the city. The collection includes college admissions registers, correspondence and photographs of staff, students and buildings. The training college was all-female for several decades after its establishment in 1907, and is a valuable resource for women’s history.  Similarly, there is also a separate archival collection from the College of Art which maintained its independence until the 1990s.

Student hockey team at City of Portsmouth Training College

EDUC/15/3.10.21 Student hockey team at City of Portsmouth Training College [early 1940s]

In 1992 Portsmouth became a ‘new’ University, but one with a considerable heritage and a long-established connection to the local area. The university archive has an important role in helping to tell this sometimes overlooked aspect of the institution’s history.

Anna Delaney, Archivist
University of Portsmouth

Related

Browse University of Portsmouth collections on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright  the University of Portsmouth and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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Archives of the Erskine Hospital Ltd, veterans charity, Renfrewshire, Scotland

Archives Hub feature for June 2017

Erskine estate

Erskine estate

June 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the official opening of Erskine Hospital.  Located in the west coast of Scotland, Erskine was founded in 1916 as the Princess Louise Scottish Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers, a military convalescence facility for servicemen who had lost limbs in the First World War. The creation of the hospital was a direct response to the need for specialised medical facilities to deal with the unprecedented number of injured and maimed service personnel returning from the battlefields, and for the last 100 years has continued to care for ex-Service men and women.

In 2015 the University of Glasgow received an award from the Wellcome Trust to catalogue and preserve the records of Erskine Hospital. The partnership came about as part of the University’s Great War project, and as part of Erskine’s centenary celebrations. It will ensure that material is preserved and accessible for researchers and outreach projects in perpetuity.

Artificial limbs

Fitting Provisional Limbs At Erskine Hospital

The Erskine Collection is vast in its scope – ranging from items intrinsically tied to the running of the hospital, such as minute books and admissions records, to items such as silk embroidered souvenir postcards sent during the First World War, or correspondence and loose photographs, the owner or subject of which may have been a resident at some point in time.  While the administrative records are essential for documenting the running of the facility and tracing individual patients of Erskine, patient experiences, perspectives, and voices are also captured in an array of documents.

Admission Books show that by December 1917 the number of patients admitted to the hospital was 1,613, and of those 1,126 had been ‘discharged with limbs’. More than 2,145 ex-service pensioners from previous wars also attended Erskine to be fitted with new limbs or limb repairs. Between the opening in October 1916 and December 1919 over 400 major operations were performed.

The Princess Louise Scottish Hospital Rules for Patients.

The Princess Louise Scottish Hospital Rules for Patients

The Princess Louise Scottish Hospital Rules for Patients give a taste of the patient experience during the 1920s. While Erskine provided long term care and rehabilitation for many, patients were expected to follow the strict practices enforced by the hospital staff. Activities such as gambling and smoking were restricted or even forbidden, and bed and meal times were strictly adhered to. However, Erskine was always intended to be more than just a hospital. In return for their co-operation with the rules of the Hospital, patients were given the opportunity to retrain and gain new skills through onsite workshops; classes were set up in basketry, shoemaking, tailoring, woodwork, hairdressing and commercial training, ensuring the men would have the opportunity to re-enter the workforce despite their disability upon being discharged from Erskine.

After the war the number of patients entering the hospital due to amputation naturally decreased. The Executive Committee shifted focus toward providing a permanent home for ex-servicemen requiring long term care.

Patients in sunshine

Patients in sunshine

As well as being a busy functioning hospital Erskine became a permanent home for paraplegic residents unable to live independently. Additionally in 1934, a convalescent holiday scheme was introduced which allowed ex-servicemen who had been ill and could not afford to pay for a holiday to come to Erskine for a break.  In September 1946 the first of 50 cottages was built in the grounds of Erskine, allowing disabled men and their families to live near their place of work and close to the hospital facilities on which they depended.

During the 1960s and 1970s the patients of Erskine produced a magazine The Erskine Bugle. The Bugle ensured patients and staff could learn about events taking place throughout the hospital, and the poems, stories and letters submitted give a voice to those who stayed at Erskine during this period. The magazines offer a unique perspective into the community of Erskine, and serve as a worthy legacy to the patients and staff who created it.

Erskine Bugle, 1971.

Erskine Bugle, 1971

The hospital continually expanded in the second half of the 20th century, with new wings being built in 1950, 1962, 1975, and the 1990s. However it was clear the 19th century manor house was no longer equipped to deal with the demand of the busy convalescence home. In 2000 the new state of the art facility was completed to provide long term residential care for veterans.

The partnership between Erskine and the University of Glasgow is ongoing, and regular accessions are expected, ensuring an impressively full record of the activities of the hospital, its staff, and its patients is reflected in the collection, from both World Wars and the National Service era, right through to the present day.

Jimmy Quinn

Jimmy Quinn

For more information on the Erskine archive, and the collections held at the University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections, please visit:

http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/library/collections/medicalhumanities/erskine%20archive%20project/

http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/archivespecialcollections/

https://universityofglasgowlibrary.wordpress.com/category/archives-and-special-collections/

Katie McDonald
Archives and Special Collections Graduate Trainee
University of Glasgow

Related:

Explore the Records of Erskine Hospital Ltd, veterans charity collection (1916-2016) on the Archives Hub.

Browse all of the University of Glasgow Archive Services collections on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright the University of Glasgow and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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The Basque child refugee archive

Archives Hub feature for May 2017

Habana

Habana

In May 1937 approximately 4,000 children, with labels pinned to their clothes, came to Southampton on board the Habana from Santurzi/Santurce, the port of Bilbo/Bilbão, fleeing the Spanish Civil War and its consequences.

Label of the Departamento de Asistencia Social

Label of the Departamento de Asistencia Social, one for each Basque child refugee on board the ship.

The Spanish Second Republic had been established in 1931, with an ambitious agenda to eliminate deeply-rooted social and cultural inequalities. The republican programme encompassed land and education reform, improved rights for women, restructuring the army, and granting autonomy to Catalonia and the Basque Country. Threatened by far-reaching change, diverse political groupings aligned themselves in the so-called ‘two Spains’. The ensuing civil war lasted three years, with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy helping one faction, Communist Russia the other, with Chamberlain’s Britain leading a policy of appeasement among Western democratic nations. In this bitter conflict, there was a third Spain, which did not want to take up arms, but to live in peace. War, hunger, revolution, counter-revolution, denunciations, persecution, summary trials and executions, and mass repression often resulted in the disintegration of family and community life, desolating a country and forcing thousands of its people into exile.

On 26 April 1937, General Franco attacked Guernica and Durango, one of the first bombings of a civilian population in Europe. In the wake of this, the Basque government and the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief, co-ordinating relief in the UK, organised the evacuation of children from the north front of the war zone.  The British government had a policy of non-intervention in Spain and, whilst it permitted the children to entry the UK, no public funds were made available for the expedition, nor for the care of the children once they arrived. Their maintenance was provided for entirely by private funds and those raised by voluntary groups and organisations, under the overall co-ordination of the Basque Children’s Committee.

On arrival at Southampton, the children were sent to a hastily constructed camp at North Stoneham, near Eastleigh, which now forms part of Southampton Airport.

Camp at North Stoneham.

Camp at North Stoneham.

This was the children’s temporary home until they were dispersed to be cared for by the Catholic Church, the Salvation Army, which accommodated children in a hostel in London, or in the so-called “colonies” set up by local committees across the country.  Eventually over ninety “colonies” were established, each housing between 20 to 50 children. Ranging from stately homes to converted workhouses, the “colonies” were run on donations. When the initial funding for them began to dry up, the niños were drawn into helping raise funds by performing concerts and shows and by taking part in football matches with local teams.

Football team, Hull colony

Football team, Hull colony

The children who came on board the Habana brought very little in the way of personal possessions with them, but they brought memories of the conflict and a sense of their identity. Aside from the shows and concerts where the children dressed in national costume, sang songs or performed dances from home, publications such as Amistad, one of the newsletters produced by the children themselves, were a means for them to remember. Conceived as an informative monthly publication, the newsletter contains pieces describing life in the Basque region, the bombing of Guernica, reflections on war and the journey on the Habana.

Amistad newsletter

Amistad newsletter

The Special Collections at the Hartley Library, University of Southampton, holds archives for the Basque Children of ‘37 Association UK (MS 404), which was founded in 2002 to ensure that the legacy of the Basque children was not forgotten, together with small collections relating to Basque child refugees (MS 370) that have come from individuals. Further details on the collection can be found on the website at:

http://www.southampton.ac.uk/archives/resources/basquecollections.page

There are also a series of interviews of the niños vascos conducted as part of an oral history project undertaken by the University of Southampton:
http://www.southampton.ac.uk/archives/projects/losninos.page

Karen Robson
Senior Archivist
Hartley Library, University of Southampton

Related:

Browse the University of Southampton Special Collections on the Archives Hub.

Archives Hub Themed Collection: Open Lives. The OpenLives project documented the experiences of Spanish migrants returning to Spain after settling in the UK. Researchers from the University of Southampton collected oral testimony, images and other ephemera.

All images copyright the Hartley Library, University of Southampton and
reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

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The Editorial Correspondence of C.P. Scott in the Guardian archive

Archives Hub feature for April 2017

First edition of the Manchester Guardian, 1821.

First edition of the Manchester Guardian, 1821.

The Guardian is one Britain’s leading newspapers, with a long standing reputation as a platform for Liberal opinion, and an international online community of 30.4 million readers. Founded in Manchester in 1821, it was created by John Edward Taylor, a cotton manufacturer. In the wake of the Peterloo massacre, the paper was intended as a means of expressing Liberal opinion and advocating political reform. Over the next 100 years, the paper originally known as the Manchester Guardian would be transformed from a small provincial journal into a paper of international relevance and renown.

The Guardian archive consists of two main elements: the records of the newspaper as a business; and a very extensive collection of editorial correspondence and despatches from reporters, and was donated to the University of Manchester John Rylands Library in 1971. From April 2016-March 2017, a project entitled ‘What The Papers Say’ was undertaken to catalogue the editorial correspondence of Charles Prestwich Scott, which contains nearly 13,000 items from over 1,300 correspondents.

Charles Prestwich Scott, 1931.

Charles Prestwich Scott, 1931.

Charles Prestwich Scott (1846-1932) presided over the Manchester Guardian for 57 years, cementing the Liberal editorial philosophy of the paper, and ensuring a consistently high standard of journalism and journalistic integrity. He championed causes including women’s suffrage, home rule for Ireland, and the establishment of a Jewish homeland, and stood out against Britain’s policy in South Africa during the Boer war, and conscription during the First World War, supporting the formation of the League of Nations and negotiations for peace in Europe.

C.P. Scott’s editorial correspondence series contains letters exchanged with figures of historical importance and eminence in almost every imaginable field, from politics and economics, to history, science and the arts. These individuals often contributed articles to the paper, and met with the editor to discuss current events and affairs. Examples of correspondents include politicians including Herbert Asquith, David Lloyd George, Ramsay MacDonald and Winston Churchill, and also Marion Phillips, first woman organiser of the Labour party, and Mary Agnes Hamilton, politician and broadcaster.

Excerpt of a letter to C.P. Scott from Winston Churchill, 9th May 1909

Excerpt of a letter to C.P. Scott from Winston Churchill, 9th May 1909, on interruptions to his speeches by Suffragists.

Campaigners for women’s suffrage are represented in the correspondence by Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst, and Charlotte Despard, amongst many others.

Excerpt of a letter to C.P. Scott from Emmeline Pankhurst, 27th December 1910

Excerpt of a letter to C.P. Scott from Emmeline Pankhurst, 27th December 1910, on the death of her sister, Mary Jane Clarke.

The Liberal perspective of Scott and the Manchester Guardian can be seen in the interactions between Scott and Roger Casement, Irish nationalist, Rabindranath Tagore, poet and educationist, Emily Hobhouse, social activist and charity worker, Chaim Weizmann, Zionist, and social reformers Eleanor Rathbone and James Joseph Mallon. Scott creates a dialogue with these individuals about their fields of expertise, using the paper to provide a platform for the promotion of their views and causes.

The editors and proprietors of other newspapers are also featured in the correspondence, including William Maxwell Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook of the Daily Express, and James Louis Garvin of The Observer. Their correspondence includes discussion of current events and politics, and also expressions of admiration for Scott and the Manchester Guardian.

Literary figures also feature in the correspondence, such as George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy, William Butler Yeats, Harley Granville-Barker and Arthur Ransome. Prior to writing Swallows and Amazons, Ransome acted as a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian in Russia and Estonia, also writing a long running column for the paper on fishing.

In addition to occasional and expert contributors, there is a vast array of correspondence with members of staff of the paper, relating to editorial, technical, business and staffing concerns. These letters provide insight into the operation of a newspaper, alongside an impression of the colossal impact of events such as the First and Second World Wars.

Threaded through Scott’s correspondence, and the Guardian archive, there is also a real sense of the influence of the paper’s location in Manchester, and the significance of the Manchester Guardian in the history of the city. It can be seen in the approach to trade and industry, to the arts, and to education.

The centrality of trade and industry in Manchester meant that these subjects became a focal point of the Manchester Guardian. Such was the Manchester Guardian’s influence, that by 1920, Scott was able to employ the renowned economist John Maynard Keynes to produce a series of supplements for the Manchester Guardian Commercial on proposals for the reconstruction of Europe following the First World War.

Scott believed in the importance of producing a high quality of articles and reviews on the arts, and ensured coverage in the Manchester Guardian for literature, art, theatre and music. This would lead to a close relationship between the paper and Manchester’s resident symphony orchestra, the Hallé Orchestra. Scott would also become a supporter of the Whitworth Art Gallery, the Manchester Art Gallery, and of the production of Ford Madox Brown’s Manchester murals for the city’s town hall.

Manchester Guardian, 24th Oct 1921, p. 12.

Manchester Guardian, 24th Oct 1921, p. 12.

Scott used the Manchester Guardian to champion the importance of access to education, evident in his work as a trustee of Owens College, which would become the University of Manchester.  Scott was also one of the founders of Withington Girls School, established in 1890. This belief in the importance of education for women may be seen as an element of his more general perspective on women’s rights, which would lead to his influential support of the women’s suffrage movement.

For more information on the Guardian archive, and the collections held at the John Rylands Library, please visit:

http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/search-resources/guide-to-special-collections/atoz/guardian-archive

http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/special-collections/

https://rylandscollections.wordpress.com/

Jessica Smith
Archivist
The John Rylands Library
The University of Manchester

Related:

Explore the Editorial Correspondence of C.P. Scott collection (1821-1970s) on the Archives Hub.

Explore the Archive of the Guardian (formerly Manchester Guardian) collection (1821-1970s) on the Archives Hub.

Browse the University of Manchester Special Collections  on the Archives Hub.

Guardian News and Media Archive
The GNM Archive mainly holds records that relate to the Guardian since its move from Manchester to London in the 1960s (and some earlier records though the majority are held at the John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester).
Explore the Guardian News and Media Archive collections on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

 

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The Nuclear Disarmament Symbol sketches

Archives Hub feature for March 2017

The nuclear disarmament symbol, often known as the ‘peace sign’, is a modern icon, used by protestors and activists across the world and provoking powerful emotions.  It is ubiquitous in fashion and youth culture, to be seen on clothing, jewellery, tattoos, even toiletries.  Special Collections at the University of Bradford is home to the original sketches of this extraordinary design.

Brown nuclear disarmament symbol sketch by Gerald Holtom

Brown nuclear disarmament symbol sketch by Gerald Holtom. Image copyright: Cwl ND symbol drawing, courtesy of the Trustees of the Commonweal Collection, University of Bradford.

The symbol was designed in 1958 by Gerald Holtom, an artist based in Twickenham.  It was intended for use on a march from London to the nuclear weapons research establishment at Aldermaston that Easter.  The march was being organised by a small group of activists influenced by Gandhi’s ideas about nonviolent resistance; they had formed the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War (DAC) the previous year in response to the testing of Britain’s first hydrogen bomb.

Photograph of the first Aldermaston March 1952

Photograph of the first Aldermaston March 1952. Image copyright: March photograph Cwl HBP (rights unknown).

In creating the visuals for the march, Holtom wanted to develop a symbol for the concept of nuclear disarmament.  In a 1973 letter to Hugh Brock (editor of Peace News in 1958, active in the Direct Action Committee), Holtom remembered:

I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it. It was ridiculous at first and such a puny thing …“.

The symbol also represented the semaphore signals for the letters N and D: Nuclear Disarmament.

Holtom sketched his design to meet the need of the moment; he did not expect the sketches to be of interest or preserved years into the future, and nor did many of his contemporaries.  Among our other loans to the IWM, we see a letter from a fellow activist dated 10 March 1958; she rejected the use of the symbol, calling it ‘quite obscure’ and suggestive of ‘some Secret Society’.

Nuclear disarmament march sketch by Gerald Holtom

Nuclear disarmament march sketch by Gerald Holtom. Image copyright: Cwl ND symbol drawing, courtesy of the Trustees of the Commonweal Collection, University of Bradford.

However, the march organisers were pleased with the design and it was used extensively on DAC literature thereafter.  Reflecting huge public anxiety about nuclear testing and the arms race, the 1958 Easter march attracted much larger numbers and attention than previous protests directed at Aldermaston.  Marchers, passers-by, readers of newspapers; all saw the symbol in action, on leaflets, flyers, song-sheets and banners.  Its popularity was assured when later that year the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament asked to adopt the symbol, and it has been synonymous with nuclear disarmament campaigns ever since.  Easy to draw and to adapt, and hinting at other shapes and symbols (a missile, a tree …),  the symbol was widely adopted by 1960s counter-cultural groups and came to symbolise peace and dissent more generally.

Songs for the Aldermaston March 1958

Songs for the Aldermaston March 1958. Image copyright: March songs Cwl DAC (rights unknown).

The original sketches remained with the papers of Hugh Brock. Following his death in 1985, these materials were given to the Commonweal Library, an independent public library, which stocks resources to help activists working for nonviolent social change.  Commonweal is housed in the J.B. Priestley Library at the University of Bradford so, when the University set up its Special Collections service during the 2000s, it was natural for Commonweal to put their archival collections into the care of these specialist staff.

The sketches are among the most important objects held by Special Collections.  There are four sketches, on three pieces of paper:  two drawings of the shape and two illustrations of it in use on protest marches.  Reproduction does not do these objects justice.  In the flesh we see the weakness of the acidic paper, the cracking of the paint, and the wear and tear of storage and display.

2017 offers a rare chance to see these fragile originals on show.  ‘People Power: fighting for peace’ will be on show at the IWM London from 23 March-28 August 2017. The sketches will take their place among hundreds of objects illustrating the stories of anti-war campaigners in Britain from 1917 to the present.   Many of these stories can also be found through the Archives Hub.

Alison Cullingford
Special Collections Librarian
University of Bradford

Explore

Peace campaign archives in Special Collections at the University of Bradford, including:

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament archives, at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick:

Related features

Two-part feature from September 2006 on nuclear power and nuclear weapons:

Images copyright: Cwl ND symbol drawings courtesy of the Trustees of the Commonweal Collection. March songs Cwl DAC, march photograph Cwl HBP. Rights unknown. Article copyright: University of Bradford, shared under Creative Commons licence (CC BY-NC-SA). [Note that portions of this text have been adapted from existing blog posts and exhibition captions created by Special Collections.]

 

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