In 2017 the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre purchased the diary of a British Salvation Army officer serving in Switzerland in 1883 from a rare book dealer [TNG/1]. The cost of the purchase was covered by a grant from the Friends of the National Libraries. Lieutenant Richard Greville Thonger was one of the first group of Salvationists to arrive in Switzerland in 1882 and his diary records the opposition faced by The Salvation Army, including his own imprisonment. You can read more about the diary and its author on our blog.
This diary joins many others already held in our archive, including the diaries of The Salvation Army’s founder, William Booth, and those of members of his family. Among them are three volumes written by his daughter-in-law, Florence Booth (nee Soper), in which, alongside accounts of her evangelical work and raising a young family, are details of her involvement in the campaign to raise the age of consent to 16 via the passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 1885.
Just as Thonger’s diary gives a detailed account of the work of The Salvation Army in Switzerland, several other diaries in our archive look at the work of other Salvation Army ministers (known as ‘officers’) from all over the world. To take just three examples, we hold diaries written in Sri Lanka, Italy and Indonesia.
Captain John Lyons (1860-1940) was originally from Donegal in Ireland but was appointed to India as a missionary officer in 1886. At this time Salvation Army missionaries adopted Indian names and John Lyons became Dev Kumar. He was then transferred to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1888 and the 3 diaries we hold date from this period. At the end of 1893 he returned to Britain with his “health broken” and his diary for that year records his mixed feelings about Ceylon. Lyons shows a deep affection for the country, writing that “with the tall coconut trees […] shading this lovely spot […] my heart is drawn out to God for His goodness & His wonderful works to the children of men.” However in moments of frustration he writes of “all the trouble to our work here in Ceylon” and that “I am sure it must be an abomination to God when He looks down upon this lovely island of ours.” However, his regret at leaving is palpable in the entry for Christmas Day: “I was far away in Ceylon last year in that sunny land; here I am among the cold of England. Everything seems so very strange, few people I know, all seems so changed. I went and seen Captain Stone who has been home from India about 12 months. He loves India as ever.” In 1945 The Salvation Army published one of its series of ‘Liberty Booklets’ about John Lyons written by Arch Wiggins and called ‘Lyons in the Jungle.’
We hold copies of manuscript extracts from the diaries of Adjutant Raffaelo Batelli (1870-1941?), an officer with The Salvation Army in Italy (called l’Esercito della Salvezza in Italian). These extracts include details of his early life in Florence and recount that Batelli, originally a Catholic, encountered The Salvation Army on 16 June 1895 and was immediately converted (“conosco l’Esercito della Salvezza e mi converto. Alleluia!”). He befriended Major (‘Maggiore’) John and Elizabeth Gordon who lived in Italy and who had become Salvation Army converts in the 1880s. Batelli referred to himself as their “spiritual son” and regularly travelled with them to Britain in the late 1890s.
When John Gordon died after a tram accident in Edinburgh in 1902, Batelli accompanied Margaret to the funeral in Scotland. The extracts are in Italian and the original diaries are believed to have been destroyed.
Lt-Colonel Leonard Woodward (1883-1950) became a Salvation Army officer in 1903 and, after serving in the UK and Ireland, went to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) as a missionary in 1916. His diaries cover the period from 1927 to 1950, during which time he and his wife, Maggie, were stationed in Java and Celebes (now Sulawesi). The early diaries include reference to many days spent on horseback riding between villages in the highlands of Sulawesi, often “very hot [and] hungry”. The diaries also record the years Leonard and Maggie spent in the Kampong Makassar civilian internment camp in Java after the Japanese invasion in 1942. The couple were separated and Leonard alleviated his daily forced labour (‘corvée’) by practicing his language skills: writing a diary in Uma, producing a concordance of New Testament names in Malay and discussing Toraja languages with an interned philologist.
Leonard and Maggie were released in September 1945 and, when they were reunited he wrote “M. looked very thin and aged, wrinkled and scraggy, which was just the impression she got of me.” They returned to the UK in 1949, bringing with them a large collection of ethnographic objects from Celebes, some of which are now held by the National Museums Scotland.
Salvation Army International Heritage Centre William Booth College, London
In 1986 Ahmed Iqbal Ullah was murdered by a fellow pupil in the grounds of his high school in Manchester. Very quickly, Ahmed the boy disappeared behind the story of his tragic death. The story of his family and of his mother’s bravery and fortitude similarly became obscured. The Legacy of Ahmed Archive held in the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre at the University of Manchester Library was collected through a Heritage Lottery Fund project across 2015-16, leading up to an event commemorating the 30th anniversary of Ahmed’s death in 2016. In creating this archive and curating the exhibitions that have emerged from it, we have tried to restore Ahmed the boy and to reveal the extraordinary and positive developments led by his mother Fatima Nehar Begum. We want to share her story again for International Women’s Day.
“[Ahmed] had a strong sense of justice and a soft heart. After he died lots of people came to me – I didn’t even know them. They said ‘He was my best friend’… He gave his life for pride, honour and dignity and I would like people to remember him.”
Fatima Begum, Ahmed’s mother (GB322.214.171.124)
Ahmed was 13 years old. He was tall for his age and often defended smaller children from bullies. He enjoyed sports, particularly playing football with friends. He liked reading and regularly visited the library. His favourite author was the sci-fi novelist Isaac Asimov. The summer before he died Ahmed started to write a novel about a Third World War set in Western Europe. He spent time researching the war in Vietnam and writing out the lyrics to Paul Hardcastle’s record ‘19’.
Ahmed was one of six children in a close-knit family. His parents settled in Britain during the 1960s. His mum, Fatima Nehar Begum was one of the first Bangladeshi women to live in Manchester.
Ahmed’s death and the way it was handled by the ambulance service, the police, the school, Manchester City Council and the press caused fear and outrage. The shock of the murder reverberated across Manchester and the whole of Britain. Ahmed’s family and the local community demanded an independent inquiry into the murder and the circumstances around it. Young people took to the streets to protest against racism. In 1987 Barrister Ian Macdonald conducted an Inquiry into racism and racial violence in Manchester schools. The Macdonald Inquiry report ‘Murder in the Playground’ was published in 1989 (we also hold the papers of the Macdonald Inquiry in our archive).
“I think Ahmed Iqbal Ullah’s murder was in a way a catalyst and a watershed … people woke up to the fact that this could happen and why.”
Nurjahan Ahmad, former Ethnic Minority Achievement Service teacher (GB3126.96.36.199)
Fatima Nehar Begum was part of a small community of Bangladeshi women who felt impelled to become better organised. They created Ananna, the Manchester Bangladeshi Women’s Organisation in 1989. For its founding members, Ahmed’s death was a catalyst that brought women together, highlighting the need for greater cooperation and an organised response to discrimination. Addressing inequalities within the education system was an initial priority.
Since 1997 Ananna has been based in the Longsight area of Manchester, welcoming women from all cultures. During weekly advice sessions staff help those in need to access practical and emotional support. Regular classes in English and information technology help women to develop new skills and improve their employment opportunities. Other courses such as childcare, yoga and dressmaking encourage women to increase their confidence and have fun. Ananna also organises lunch clubs, social events, outings and a crèche. The organisation is today a cornerstone of the local community. We hold the Papers of Annana collection in our archive, which tells the story of this remarkable organisation.
Fatima Nehar Begum was determined that something good would come out of death of her son. Through a community fundraising campaign in Manchester and with land donated by her family, she built a school named in Ahmed’s memory in her home village of Sylhet, in Bangladesh. She supervised the building work in meticulous detail, counting the bricks to ensure they were all accounted for. She interviewed and recruited all of the staff. The Ahmed Iqbal Memorial School opened in 1996 with just four classrooms and a head teacher’s office.
By 2016 the building had 14 classrooms and provided secondary education for nearly 1000 young people. Fatima is President of the school and continues to be intimately involved with its development, still supporting it with her own money. Literacy rates in the school catchment area have risen to around 98% and graduates now work in a wide range of professions including banking, the police service, medicine and education. Fatima’s efforts and commitment are an inspiration.
“We may have lost Ahmed but we feel that Ahmed is with us all the time, because of the school. We can never forget him. He will always be remembered as our son, brother, grandson…and we believe the benefit is enormous.”
Committee member, Ahmed Iqbal Memorial High School (GB3188.8.131.52)
Jackie Ould , Co-Director Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre and Education Trust
The project explored Britain’s design history by connecting design-related content in different archives, with the aim of giving researchers the freedom to explore around and within archives.
You can read a number of blog posts on the project, and there is also a video introducing the EBD website on You Tube, but in this post I wanted to set out how we have learned from the project and how it has informed the development of the new Archives Hub.
Unfortunately, we may not be able to maintain the website longer term, and so it seemed timely to reflect on how the principles used in this project are being taken forward.
Modelling the Data
A key component of EBD was our move away from the traditional approach of putting the archive collection at the centre of the user experience. Instead, we wanted to reflect the richness of the content – the people, organisations, places, subjects, events that a collection represents.
We had many discussions and filled many pieces of paper with ideas about how this might work.
We then took these ideas and translated them into our basic model.
Archives are represented on our model as one aspect of the whole. They are a resource to be referenced, as are bibliographic resources and objects. They relate to the whole – to agents, time periods, places and events. This essentially puts them into a whole range of contexts, which can expand as the data grows.
The Exploring British Design website was one way to reflect the inter-connected model that we created.
We have taken the principles of this approach with the new Archives Hub architecture and website, which was launched back in December 2016. Whilst the archive collection description stays very much in the forefront of the users’ experience, we have introduced additional tabs to represent themed collections and repositories. All three of these sources of information are, in a data and processing sense, treated equally. The user searches the Hub and the search runs across these three data sources. The model allows us to be flexible with how we present the data, so we could also try different interfaces in future, maybe foregrounding images, or events.
The EBD project had a particular focus on people. We opted to combine machine methods of data extraction – data taken partly from our already existent archive descriptions as well as from other external sources – with manual methods, to create rich records about designers. This manual approach is not sustainable for a large-scale service like the Archives Hub, but it shows what is possible in terms of creating more context and connectivity.
We wanted to indicate that well-structured data allows a great deal more flexibility in presentation. In this case the ‘Archive and Museum Resources’ are one link in the list of resources about or related to the individual. We could have come up with other ways to present the information, given how it was structured.
We are intending to introduce names pages to the Archives Hub, which will then more clearly echo the EBD approach. They will largely have been created through automated processes, as we needed to create them at scale. They will generally be quite brief, without the ideal structure or depth, but the principle remains that we can then link from a person page to a host of related resources. The Hub website will have a new tab for ‘Names’ and end users will be able to run searches that take in collections, themes, repositories, people and organisations.
The EBD project allowed us to explore standards used for the creation of names data. It was our first experience of using Encoded Archival Context (Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families) (EAC-CPF), so we could start to see what we could do with it, as well as discover some of the shortcomings of the standard, as our data went beyond what is supported. For example, we wanted to link images to people and events but this was not covered by the standard. It was useful to have this preliminary exploration of it, and what it can – and can’t – do, as we look to adopt it for names within the Archives Hub.
One of the things the project did reinforce for me was the importance of indexing. On the Archives Hub we have always recommended indexing, but we have had mixed reactions from archivists, some feeling that it is less useful than detailed narrative, some saying that it is not needed ‘now we have Google’, some simply saying they don’t have time.
Indexing has many advantages, some of which I’ve touched on in various blog posts – and one at the top of the list, is that it brings the advantages of structured data. A name in a narrative can, in theory, be pulled out and utilised as a point of connectivity, but a name as an index term tends to be a great deal easier to work with: it is identified as a name, it usually has structured surname, forename content, it usually includes life dates and may include titles and epithets to help unambiguously identify an individual.
EBD was all about structured data, and we gave ourselves the luxury of adding to the data by hand, creating rich structured records about designers. This was partly to demonstrate what could be done in an interface, but we were well aware that it would be problematic to create records of that level of detail at scale. However, as we start to grapple with expanding name records in the Archives Hub, we have EBD as a reference point. It has helped us to think more about approaches and priorities when creating name records. If we were to create an EAC Editor (similar to our EAD Editor) we would think carefully about how to facilitate creating relationships. For example, the type of relationship – should there be a controlled list of relationship types? e.g. ‘worked with, collaborated with, had professional connection with, influenced by, spouse of’ – these are some of the relationships we used in EBD, after much discussion about how best to approach this. Or would it be more practical to stick to ‘associated with’ (i.e. not defined), which is easier, but far less useful to a researcher. Could we have both? How would one combine them in an interface? Another example – the potential to create timelines. If we wanted to provide end users with timelines, we would need to focus on time-bound events. There are many issues to consider here, not least of which is how comprehensive the timeline would be.
The vexed question of how to combine data from name descriptions created by several institutions is not something we really dealt with in EBD, but that will be one of the biggest challenges for us in aiming to implement name data on the Archives Hub.
The level of granularity that you decide upon has massive implications for complexity, resources and benefits. The more granular the data, the more potential for researchers to be able to drill down into lives, events, locations, etc. So including life dates allows for a search for designers from 1946; including places of education allows for exploring possible connections through education, but adding dates of education allows for a more specific focus still.
Explaining our approach
One thing that struck me about this project was that it was harder than I had anticipated to convey to people what we were trying to achieve and what we could achieve. I tended to find that showing the website raised a number of expectations that I knew would be difficult to fulfill, and if I’m being honest, I sometimes felt rather frustrated at the lack of recognition of what we had achieved – it’s really not easy to combine, process and present different data sources! It is ironic that the more we press forwards with new functionality, and try to push the boundaries of what we do, the more it seems that people ask for developments that are beyond that! You can try to modify expectations by getting deep down and technical with the challenges involved in aggregating and enhancing data created over time, by different people, in different environments (we worked with CSV data, EAC-CPF data, RDF and geodata for example), with different perspectives and priorities. But detailed explanations of technical challenges are not going to work for most audiences. End users see and make an assessment of the website; they shouldn’t really need to be aware of what is going on behind the scenes.
Originally, in our project specification, we asked the question: “How can we encourage researchers, archive and museum professionals, and the public, to apprehend an integrated and extended rather than collection-specific sense of Britain’s design history?” Whilst we did not go as far to answer this question as we had hoped, the work that we did made me feel that it might be harder than I had envisaged. People are very used to the traditional catalogues and other finding aids that are out there, and it creates a certain (possibly unconscious) mindset. I know this too well, because, as an archivist, I have had to adjust my own thinking to see data in a different way and appreciate that traditional approaches to cataloguing and discoverability are not always suited to the digital online age.
The hierarchical approach to data is very embedded among archivists, and this is what people are used to being presented with. Unless archivists catalogue in a different way, providing more structured information about entities (names, places, etc) then actually presenting things in a more connected way is hard.
A more inter-connected model, which eschews linear hierarchy in favour of fluid entity relationships, and allows for a more flexible approach with the front-end interface to the data relies upon the quality, structure and consistency of the data. If we don’t have place names at all we can’t provide a search by place. If we don’t have place names that are unambiguously identified (i.e. not just ‘Cambridge’) then we can provide a search by place, but a researcher will be presented with all places called Cambridge, anywhere in the world (including the US, Australia and Jamaica).
The new Archives Hub was designed on the basis of a model that allows for entities to be introduced and new connections made.
So, the tabs that the end user sees in the interface can be modified and extended over time. Searches can be run across all entities; it is not solely about retrieving descriptions of archives. This approach allows for researchers to find e.g. repositories that are significantly about ‘design’ or repositories that are located in London. It allows us to introduce Themed Collections as a separate type of description, so a student doing a project on ‘plastics’ would discover the Museum of Design in Plastics as a resource alongside archive collections at repositories including Brighton Design Archives, the V&A and the Paul Mellon Centre.
One of the things I’ve learnt from this project is that you need to factor in the ongoing costs and effort of maintaining a project website. The EBD website is quite sophisticated, which means there are substantial technical dependencies, and we ended up running into issues with security, upgrades and compatibility of software, issues that are par for the course for a website but nonetheless need dealing with promptly. Maybe we should have factored this in more than we did, as we know the systems administration required for the Archives Hub is no small thing, but when you are in the throws of a project your focus is on the objectives and final output more than the ongoing issues. We cannot maintain a site long-term that is not being regularly used. EBD does not get the level of use that would justify the resources we would have to put into it on an ongoing basis.
When we were creating the model for the Archives Hub, we thought as much about flexibility and future potential as anything else. This is one thing that we have learnt from running the Hub for 25 years and from projects like Exploring British Design. You need to plan for potential developments in order to start to work with cataloguers, to get the data into the shape that you need it to be. We wanted to be able to introduce additional entities, so that we could have names, places, languages, images, or any other entities as ‘first class citizens‘ of the Hub. We wanted to be able to enhance the end user’s ability to take different paths, and locate relevant archives through different avenues of exploration.
We need to temper our ambitions for the Hub with the realities of cataloguing, aggregation and resources available, and we need as much information as we can get about what researchers really want; but this is why it is so important to encompass potential as well as current functionality. We may not be able to introduce everything we have envisioned or that users ask for right now; but it is important to understand the vital link between approaches to cataloguing, adherence to data standards, and front end functionality. We created visualisations for EBD and we would love to do this for the Hub, but it was not an easy thing to do, and so we would need to consider what the data allows, the software options available, whether the technical requirements are sustainable over time, and the effectiveness of the end result for the researcher.
When we demonstrated the visualisations in EBD, they had the wow factor that was arguably lacking in the main text-based site, but for serious researchers the wow factor is a great deal less important that the breadth and depth of the content, and that requires a model that is fundamentally rigorous, sustainable over time and realistic in terms of the data that you have to work with.
In 2018 a project will commence to restore and enhance Canterbury Cathedral’s organ, due for completion in time for the 2020 Lambeth Conference, when Anglican bishops from all over the world assemble in Canterbury. The first organ was installed at Canterbury in the 12th century although it is believed that unlike its modern counter part, it was not viewed as a musical instrument, rather “a producer of cheerful though fairly random noise.” The current organ was built in 1888 and underwent a number of renovations in the twentieth century. To mark the commencement of the Organ Project, funded through the Canterbury Cathedral Trust, here is an enticing overture of musical collections held by Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library.
Music in the Aisles
There has been a tradition of music as an integral part of worship at Canterbury Cathedral since its foundation over 1,400 years ago and there is evidence of this in both the fabric of the Cathedral itself and the collections it holds. The Cathedral’s medieval archive was added to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register in 2016. This outstanding nationally significant collection includes over 8,000 charters, 30 of which date from before 1066. The collection of medieval music of the Cathedral is principally made up of fragments of music manuscripts from the 11th century onwards. This is partly as a result of the practice of music manuscripts being reused when the music became obsolete during the Middle Ages, and then later due to the Cathedral’s service books being mostly destroyed, dismantled or given away after the Reformation. A number of music fragments were re-used to bind later manuscripts, such as the fragment of 14th or 15th century antiphonal music pictured below, which was re-discovered in 1937 as part of the cover of a Court Book (CCA-DCc/AddMs/128/9).
A number of missals are also included in the collections held by the Cathedral Archives and Library. The Plumptre Missal is a particularly fine example of a Sarum Missal containing all the text and music required to celebrate mass and the variations for feast days (CCA-U53/1). Illuminated throughout this mid fourteenth century missal was written at the request of the Stathum family, lords of Morley, Derbyshire, presumably for use in Morley Church. The missal included in the collection of records from St Augustine’s College, a Canterbury based missionary college, is believed to have originally been used by All Saints’ Church, Woodchurch in Kent (CCA-U88/B/6/1). The missal, which is in two columns in red and black ink, with simple illuminated initials in blue and red and a small number of further illuminated borders for certain feast days, is extravagant for a parish church and possibly the gift of a wealthy donor. It shows evidence of having been heavily used since the time it was written circa 1430.
Records relating to the Cathedral Choir are a significant part of the Cathedral’s collection of music. The archive holds the various part books used by the choir from the seventeenth century to the present day (CCA-DCc/MusicMS). These manuscripts include service settings and anthems for contratenor (alto), tenor and bass voices and comprise music for the choir, the organ and, occasionally, other instruments. The records of the Canterbury Cathedral Choir School (CCA-U166) contains accounts, administration files, records relating to pupils and performances and a wonderful series of photographs dating from 1881 onwards. This archive provides an insight into all aspects of the life of a chorister, including worship, musical practice and performance, study and leisure.
Music in the Streets
In addition to the religious music one would expect in a Cathedral archive the collections also contain a surprising range of secular music and music ephemera as part of the wide range of collections held on loan. Examples include handbills and programmes for musical and theatrical performances in the collection of personal diaries, notes and memorabilia of Alfred E. Johnson, a Canterbury based sugar-boiler (CCA-U520/6), and a collection of music hall patriotic song sheets held as part of Furley Solicitors Records (CCA-U51/44), both from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Most notable are the records of the Canterbury Catch Club, a musical members’ only society formed in 1779 (CCA-CC-W/7). The members met every Wednesday evening between October and March until it disbanded in 1865 to indulge in music making, alcohol, tobacco, and a considerable amount of merriment. While all members were expected to participate in the performance of amusing ‘catches’, the more technically challenging ‘glees’ were left to those more adept which would have included musicians employed by Canterbury Cathedral. Further music was provided by an orchestra funded out of the subscription fees, and occasional visiting musical celebrities. The minute books of the society along with volumes of music performed by the Catch Club form part of the City of Canterbury’s large and varied archive which is housed at the Cathedral.
As those of you who contribute to or use the Hub will know, we went live with our new system in Dec 2016. At the heart of our new system is our new workflow. One of the key requirements that we set out with when we migrated to a new system was a more robust and sustainable workflow; the system was chosen on the basis that it could accommodate what we needed.
This post is about the EAD (Encoded Archival Data) descriptions, and how they progress through our processing workflow. It is the data that is at the heart of the Archives Hub world. We also work with EAG (Encoded Archival Guide) for repository descriptions, and EAC-CPF (Encoded Archival Context, Corporate bodies, Persons and Families) for name entities. Our system actually works with JSON internally, but EAD remains our means of taking in data and providing data out via our API.
On the Archives Hub now we have two main means of data ingest, via our own EAD Editor, which can be thought of as ‘internal’, and via exports from archive systems, which can be thought of as ‘external’.
When we started work on the new system, we were aware that having a clear and well-documented set of requirements was key. I would recommend having this before starting to implement a new system! But, as is often the case with software development, we didn’t have the luxury of doing that – we had to work it out as we went along, which was sometimes problematic, because you really need to know exactly what your data requirements are in order to set your system up. For example, simply knowing which fields are mandatory and which are not (ostensibly simple, but in reality this took us a good deal of thought, analysis and discussion).
2. The scope of the EAD
EAD has plenty of tags and attributes! And they can be used in many ways. We can’t accommodate all of this in our Editor. Not only would it take time and effort, but it would result in a complicated interface, that would not be easy to use.
So, when we created the new Editor, we included the tags and attributes for data that contributors have commonly provided to the Hub, with a few more additions that we discussed and felt were worthwhile for various reasons. We are currently looking again at what we could potentially add to the Editor, and prioritising developments. For example, the <materialspec> EAD tag is not accommodated at the moment. But if we find that our contributors use it, then there is a good argument for including it, as details specific to types of materials, such as map scales, can be useful to the end user.
We don’t believe that the Archives Hub necessarily needs to reflect the entire local catalogue of a contributor. It is perfectly reasonable to have a level of detail locally that is not brought across into an aggregator. Having said that, we do have contributors who use the Archives Hub as their sole online catalogue, so we do want to meet their needs for descriptive data. Field headings are an example of content we don’t utilise. These are contained within <head> tags in EAD. The Editor doesn’t provide for adding these. (A contributor who creates data elsewhere may include <head> tags, but they just won’t be used on the Hub, see Uploading to the Editor).
We will continue to review the scope in terms of what the Editor displays and allows contributors to enter and revise; it will always be a work in progress.
3. Uploading to the Editor
In terms of data, the ability to upload to the Editor creates challenges for us. We wanted to preserve this functionality, as we had it on the old Editor, but as EAD is so permissive, the descriptions can vary enormously, and we simply can’t cope with every possible permutation. We undertake the main data analysis and processing within our main system, and trying to effectively replicate this in the Editor in order to upload descriptions would be duplicating effort and create significant overheads. One of our approaches to this issue is that we will preserve the data that is uploaded, but it may not display in the Editor. If you think of the model as ‘data in’ > ‘data editing’ > ‘data out’, then the idea is that the ‘data in’ and ‘data out’ provides all the EAD, but the ‘data editing’ may not necessary allow for editing of all the data. A good example of this situation occurs with the <head> tag, which is used for section headings. We don’t use these on the Hub, but we can ensure they remain in the EAD and they are there in the output from the Editor, so they are retained, but not displayed in the Editor. They can then be accessed by other means, such as through an XML Editor, and displayed in other interfaces.
We have disabled upload of exports from the Calm system to the Editor at present, as we found that the data variations, which often caused the EAD to be invalid, were too much for our Editor to cope with. It has to analyse the data that comes in and decide which fields to populate with which data. Some are straightforward – ‘title’ goes into <unittitle> for example, but some are not…for example, Calm has references and alternative references, and we don’t have this in our system, so they cause problems for the Editor.
4. Output from the Editor
When a description is submitted to the Archives Hub from the Editor, it is uploaded to our system (CIIM, pronounced ‘sim’), which is provided by Knowledge Integration, and modified for our own data processing requirements.
The CIIM framework allows us to implement data checking and customised transformations, which can be specific to individual repositories. For the data from the Editor, we know that we only need a fairly basic default processing, because we are in control of the EAD that is created. However, we will have to consider working with EAD that is uploaded to the Editor, but has not been created in the Editor – this may lead to a requirement for additional data checking and transformations. But the vast majority of the time descriptions are created in the Editor, so we know they are good, valid, Hub EAD, and they should go through our processing with no problems.
Data Ingest from External Data Providers
1. The nature of the EAD
EAD from systems such as Calm, Archivist’s Toolkit and AtoM is going to vary far more than EAD produced from the Editor. Some of the archival management systems have EAD exports. To have an export is one thing; it is not the same as producing EAD that the Hub can ingest. There are a number of factors here. The way people catalogue varies enormously, so, aside from the system itself, the content can be unpredictable – we have to deal with how people enter references; how they enter dates; whether they provide normalised dates for searching; whether entries in fields such as language are properly divided up, or whether one entry box is used for ‘English, French, Latin’, or ‘English and a small amount of Latin’; whether references are always unique; whether levels are used to group information, rather than to represent a group of materials; what people choose to put into ‘origination’ and if they use both ‘origination’ and ‘creator’; whether fields are customised, etc. etc.
The system itself will influence on the EAD output. A system will have a template, or transformation process, that maps the internal content to EAD. We have only worked in any detail with the Calm template so far. Axiell, the provider of Calm, made some changes for us, for example, only six languages were exporting when we first started testing the export, so they expanded this list, and then we made additional changes, such as allowing for multiple creators, subjects and dates to export, and ensuring languages in Welsh would export. This does mean that any potential Calm exporter needs to use this new template, but Axiell are going to add it to their next upgrade of Calm.
We are currently working to modify the AdLib template, before we start testing out the EAD export. Our experience with Calm has shown us that we have to test the export with a wide variety of descriptions, and modify it accordingly, and we eventually get to a reasonably stable point, where the majority of descriptions export OK.
We’ve also done some work with AtoM, and we are hoping to be able to harvest descriptions directly from the system.
2. The scope of the EAD
As stated above, finding aids can be wide ranging, and EAD was designed to reflect this, but as a result it is not always easy to work with. We have worked with some individual Calm users to extend the scope of what we take in from them, where they have used fields that were not being exported. For instance, information about condition and reproduction was not exporting in one case, due to the particular fields used in Calm, which were not mapping to EAD in the template. We’ve also had instances of index terms not exporting, and sometimes this had been due to the particular way an institution has set up their system. It is perfectly possible for an institution to modify the template themselves so that it suits their own particular catalogues, but this is something we are cautious about, as having large numbers of customised exports is going to be harder to manage, and may lead to more unpredictable EAD.
3. Uploading to the Editor
In the old Hub world, we expected exports to be uploaded to the Editor. A number of our contributors preferred to do this, particularly for adding index terms. However, this lead to problems for us because we ended up with such varied EAD, which mitigated against our aim of interoperable content. If you catalogue in a system, export from that system, upload to another system, edit in that system, then submit to an aggregator (and you do this sometimes, but other times you don’t), you are likely to run into problems with version control. Over the past few years we have done a considerable amount of work to clarify ‘master’ copies of descriptions. We have had situations where contributors have ended up with different versions to ours, and not necessarily been aware of it. Sometimes the level of detail would be greater in the Hub version, sometimes in the local version. It led to a deal of work sorting this out, and on some occasions data simply had to be lost in the interests of ending up with one master version, which is not a happy situation.
We are therefore cautious about uploading to the Editor, and we are recommending to contributors that they either provide their data directly (through exports) or they use the Editor. We are not ruling out a hybrid approach if there is a good reason for it, but we need to be clear about when we are doing this, what the workflow is, and where the master copy resides.
4. Output from Exported Descriptions
When we pass the exports through our processing, we carry out automated transformations based on analysis of the data. The EAD that we end up with – the processed version – is appropriate for the Hub. It is suitable for our interface, for aggregated searching, and for providing to others through our APIs. The original version is kept, so that we have a complete audit trail, and we can provide it back to the contributor. The processed EAD is provided to the Archives Portal Europe. If we did not carry out the processing, APE could not ingest many of the descriptions, or else they would ingest, but not display to the optimum standard.
Our automated workflow is working well. We have taken complete, or near complete, exports from Calm users such as the Universities of Nottingham, Hull and (shortly) Warwick, and a number of Welsh local authority archives. This is a very effective way to ensure that we have up-to-date and comprehensive data.
We have well over one hundred active users of the EAD Editor and we also have a number of potential contributors who have signed up to it, keen to be part of the Archives Hub.
We intend to keep working on exports, and also hope to return to some work we started a few years ago on taking in Excel data. This is likely to require contributors to use our own Excel template, as it is impractical to work with locally produced templates. The problem is that working with one repository’s spreadsheet, translating it into EAD, could take weeks of work, and it would not replicate to other repositories, who will have different spreadsheets. Whilst Excel is reasonably simple, and most offices have it, it is also worth bearing in mind that creating data in Excel has considerable shortcomings. It is not designed for hierarchical archival data, which has requirements in terms of both structure and narrative, and is constantly being revised. TNA’s Discovery are also working with Excel, so we may be able to collaborate with them in progressing this area of work.
Our new architecture is working well, and it is gratifying to see that what we envisaged when we started working with Knowledge Integration and started setting out our vision for our workflow is now a reality. Nothing stands still in archives, in standards, in technology or in user requirements, so we cannot stand still either, but we have a set-up that enables us to be flexible, and modify our processing to meet any new challenges.
“It’s fierce, an’ it’s wild, an’ it’s not bothered about anybody”
Towards the end of January 1968, Michael Joseph Ltd. published a novel written by Barry Hines, South Yorkshire born author and screenwriter, entitled A Kestrel for a Knave, later to be adapted as the celebrated film Kes, directed by Ken Loach.
It is the story of Billy Casper, a 15 year old boy from a mining village, his family and school life, and his passion for the kestrel which he trains and cares for. One of the most striking features of the book is its use of the Barnsley dialect, which seems to give it an enduring appeal, and it has been read and enjoyed by generations of schoolchildren, especially in Yorkshire.
In the Hines Papers, held by the Special Collections Department in the University of Sheffield Library, can be found manuscripts and typescripts of the novel (and also the film, play, radio, musical and dance-theatre adaptations that followed it), along with press reviews, correspondence, publicity material and photographs. The archive is also rich in material relating to Barry Hines’s other works – novels, films, and TV and radio plays (Born Kicking, The Price of Coal, Looks and Smiles, Threads, and many more) as well as numerous unpublished and unproduced scripts. It also includes quantities of research material as well as many personal items such as school reports, correspondence and photographs, and even Barry’s own school scarf from Ecclesfield Grammar School, which was knitted for him by his aunty because the shop-bought ones were too expensive! All of these items help to build a picture of the writer and demonstrate how his own life experiences informed his work.
Barry Hines was born in the mining village of Hoyland Common near Barnsley on 30th June 1939, and attended Ecclesfield Grammar School. One of his proudest moments was playing for the England Secondary Schools football team in 1957. His first job was with the National Coal Board as an apprentice mining engineer, but he returned to education, eventually gaining a teaching qualification at Loughborough University. He worked as a Physical Education teacher for several years, first in London and then in Hoyland Common, eventually leaving to become a full-time writer. He was Yorkshire Arts Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Sheffield from 1972 to 1974, and became an Honorary Doctor of Letters in 2010. He died in March 2016.
As well as archival documents, the collection also includes many examples of Barry Hines’s published works, and particularly notable are the many editions of A Kestrel for a Knave in a variety of different languages.
The Hines Papers are already being viewed as a valuable research resource: David Forrest and Sue Vice from the School of English at the University of Sheffield have recently published a monograph entitled Barry Hines: Kes, Threads and beyond with Manchester University Press; a PhD student is currently researching Hines’s lost works; groups of school students have visited the archive, as have members of the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership’s reading group: work created by these latter two groups has been added to the collection.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of A Kestrel for a Knave in 2018, and of the release of the film Kes in 2019, the Special Collections Team is delighted to be collaborating with academic colleagues and a local photographer and local designer on an innovative artistic project that plans to use text and images from the archive to celebrate the book and film both in the city of Sheffield, and also in the wider South Yorkshire region.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
“Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language”– Raymond Williams, ‘Keywords’ (1983).
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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)
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)
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, 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.
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 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.
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: