The Open University Archive: An Introduction

Archives Hub feature for February 2024

About Us

Established on the official granting of a Royal Charter in 1969, The Open University turns 55 this year and remains a world leader in distance learning – it is the largest university in the UK by student number. The Open University Archive is housed within the Betty Boothroyd Library on the main university campus at Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, and operates to serve staff, students and external researchers alike.

Photograph showing The Open University Charter document, with a large red wax seal attached.
The Open University Charter, granted 1969.

The collections of The Open University Archive largely delineate into three categories:

Teaching Materials. Due to its distance learning remit, unlike many other academic institutions The Open University is in the rare position of being able to retain copies of all the teaching material offered to students since the first courses were launched in 1971. This includes: physical module books and units; the original Home Experiment Kits which were issued through the post along with the teaching material; historic audio-visual content originally broadcast on the BBC and other platforms; and most recently the teaching websites on which content is now accessed by students.

Historical Open University Material. This category covers a wide variety of content – some of it concerned with the governance of the university such as committee papers, and other collections more relevant as social history like the regular newspapers produced for both staff and students. We also retain university serials – both for internal and external publication – a vast photographic archive, and a complete set of OU prospectuses. Outputs from many of the research groups which have been based in the university’s faculties are also retained in our Academic Archive.

Special Collections. These are collections which have come to us via donation and are usually either focused around unique projects, or are the papers of significant Open University figures. We worked with former OU Chancellor Baroness Betty Boothroyd to accession a collection of her papers, largely covering her time as Speaker of the House of Commons. We also have the papers of Lord Perry of Walton (Walter Perry), the university’s first Vice-Chancellor, and Baroness Lee of Asheridge (Jennie Lee), who as Minister for the Arts was instrumental in the formation of The Open University.

Baroness Lee of Asheridge, standing behind a microphone stand, with a foundation stone in the background.
Jennie Lee

The Open University Digital Archive

The Open University Digital Archive was launched in 2015 in order to make audio-visual and other historic material available (where possible due to copyright and intellectual property restrictions). It contains a growing number of OU television and radio programmes, along with images, texts and graduation ceremonies. Where the content cannot be – or has not yet been – made available, there is usually a metadata entry at least in order to aid researchers, who may be able to arrange to come in to the Archive and view them in person.

There are currently around 1,500 audio or video files publicly-accessible on the Digital Archive, including some of the very earliest Open University TV broadcasts, and around 800 images.

Alt text: Black and white photograph of a television studio. A presenter is being filmed, with camera crew and equipment in the foreground. Cables and lighting are visible.
Open University filming.

The Digital Archive can also act as a ‘shop window’ for Open University projects, events and people from the past 55 years, and contains both short ‘Featured items’ and longer ‘Exhibitions’ which tell specific stories about the university and related partners using video and audio clips from elsewhere in the collections. For instance, one popular exhibition covers the full life of Jennie Lee – before, during and after her involvement with the OU.

A reasonably recent addition to the Digital Archive is the Sampson Low Collection (selected content is also collected in an exhibition). This collection features over 200 digitised letters from two volumes of letters written to – and kept by – the Victorian bookseller Sampson Low (1797-1886). It includes letters by clients and friends, amongst them Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale and the Duke of Wellington. Our Digital Archive Developer has created an application which allows readers to view the original digitised letter alongside a text transcript of the content.

Photograph of the Sampson Low Collection, comprising two volumes of over 200 letters. There is a closed book with a black and brown 
leather cover entitled Autographs. This is overlapping with another volume that is open to display one of the letters.
Sampson Low volumes


There is not really any ‘standard’ working day in The Open University Archive. Incoming queries can take us in any direction and it is difficult to predict what researchers are going to ask for permission to see. We do have a dedicated Research Room which allows any in-person researchers to spread the materials out, or refer to content on any number of legacy formats or devices. In most weeks the Archive team has at least one pre-arranged researcher appointment in the calendar, and it can often be several.

Although the variety of requests is wide, the Jennie Lee papers are one of our more frequently-requested collections, and we field a regular amount of Open University alumni asking for information about the content of modules they may have studied in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

We are a small but busy Archive – when we’re not fielding enquiries or helping researchers, we are usually to be found digitising material or cataloguing new collections.

Colour photograph of the interior of The Open University Archive reading room.
The Open University Archive reading room.

Matthew Taylor
Digital Archivist
The Open University


The Jennie Lee Collection, 1906-1995

The Walter Perry Collection, 1926-2003

Descriptions of other archives held by The Open University can be found on Archives Hub here:

All images copyright The Open University. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

The Hallé Archive and Philanthropy in Manchester

Archives Hub feature for January 2024

Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Hallé Concerts Society have the opportunity to interrogate and share their archive collections in ways never before possible. One of those ways is through research and talks. With a generous audience of concert-goers, patrons, members and more, the appetite to learn more about the orchestra they love is ravenous. That got the project archivist, Heather Roberts, thinking. There are so many people who give to the Hallé and so much that the Hallé gives in return. What have been some of the most surprising philanthropic moments in its history? Heather turned to the archive to find out.

Black and white illustration of Ancoats Brotherhood programme cover, featuring inscription 'Peace on earth, goodwill towards men'.
Ancoats Brotherhood programme cover.

Through minutes, photographs, letters, memos, newspaper articles, programme notes and more, the recurring themes of giving are: time and talent, fundraising concerts and awareness raising concerts, instruments, buildings, memories and personal treasures, and sponsorship. But of course, in this modern age, fundraising and the Arts and all that jazz require business support and financial assistance and all sorts. Many businesses have registered charitable status to receive certain funds and to operate within certain spheres of financial and strategic areas. It’s no surprise then, that the Hallé Concerts Society has a large education and community ensembles team – it’s par for the course that community engagement is essential for the modern Arts organisation.

Colour image of publicity leaflet for Hallé gift vouchers. Cream coloured with green text and border, titled 'Give a Musical Christmas Present'.
Christmas giving 1930s.

The spirit of giving in the Hallé however, did not start from a strategic business imperative. According to the archive, it started with the man himself, Charles Hallé. An impresario, pianist, conductor and educator of international reputation, his death in 1895 led to large public mourning for the loss of such a generous social staple with 73 wreaths being sent to his grave from admires across the country. So much so, that his obituary in the Guardian is almost one-third filled with anecdotes of his giving nature – not just in financial aid but in using the orchestra and his humanity to support others of greater need such as fundraising concerts for the Railway Servants Orphanage for Fatherless Children, ensuring there were always more affordable seats at any concert to balance out the access to music between those with more and less means etc. This spirit of philanthropy persevered, so much so that when Hallé died, his friends and supporters were quick to gather around and preserve his orchestra and its service to the people of Manchester, creating the Hallé Concerts Society to continue his work supported by guarantors.

Photograph of showing extract from handwritten list of guarantors on lined paper. Names are in alphabetical order, all beginning with the letter H. Some names are crossed out in red ink.
Guarantors list extract, surnames beginning with H.
Photograph of showing extract from handwritten list of guarantors on lined paper. Names are in alphabetical order, all beginning with S. Some names are crossed out in red ink.
Guarantors list extract, surnames beginning with S.

In the first 15 years of the Society, 172 people were listed as guarantors, each pledging £100 of their own money against the society to ensure any financial disaster could be swiftly mitigated. This shows a level of trust and faith that seems ludicrous today, equating to roughly £10,000 of personal funds per person. This was especially helpful in the First World War.

The great, the good and the forgotten are named as guarantors but some of the most interesting represent that Mancunian spirit which welcomed and inspired Hallé in the first place. T.C. Horsfall (founder of the Manchester Art Gallery), James Aikman Forsyth (founder of the Forsyth Brothers music shop), Charles E. Lees (Oldham MP, philanthropist and founder of the Gallery Oldham), Margaret Gaskell (founding governor for Manchester High School for Girls), C.P. Scott (journalist and owner of the Manchester Guardian) and more, ensured that the public interest purpose of the orchestra grew and never strayed from its responsibility to the people of Manchester. Most influential was the conductor employed by the Society to carry on Hallé’s work – Hans Richter.

Black and white photograph of Hans Richter, seated with his hands clasped and resting on a table, looking directly into the camera. He is wearing a pale shirt, waistcoat and jacket, with a hat. He also has a cigarette in holder held to to side his mouth.
Hans Richter.

Friend of Wagner and Elgar, internationally respected conductor and pushed boundaries of orchestras and composers throughout his working life. His lesser-known contribution to musicians and their audiences however, was the establishment of the Hallé Pension Fund almost immediately upon his appointment. Akin to the also recently established Mancunian institution, the Musician’s Union, the Fund was a subscription-based service run by the musicians of the orchestra which ensured a pension pay out upon retirement. In the days when there was no state pension, a financial security for musicians administered by musicians was a radical life saver for many.

As well as subscriptions, the orchestra programmed Pension Fund concerts to supplement the pot which were incredibly successful. Donations were sent specifically as gifts for the Pension Fund, to be spent directly on the musicians. For instance, in 1916 the minute book shows £500 (approx.. £30k) was bequeathed by Ida Freund for the players, in memory of her uncle L. Straus, a previous Hallé player; and in 1925 £1000 (approx. £41k) was bequeathed to the fund by Catherine Hankinson in memory of her music teacher and original Hallé musician Sigfried Jacoby. During World War Two, public donations and bequests to the fund increased from £25 6s 6d in 1940, to £299 4s in 1941 and then a huge leap in post-war contributions such as £7241 3s in 1953.

The incredible lifeline of such funds saved families, offered security and inspired loyalty alongside a public recognition of the value of the musicians and their services. And true, while money isn’t everything, it certainly helps.

Letter to ticket holders for a Hallé Children's Charity Carol Concert, including appeal for children's Christmas presents, from the Concert Organiser. 1960s.
Charity concert 1960s.

Other resources that have been given to the Hallé has been in the form of instruments and equipment such as the 1695 Stradivarius violin gifted to the city of Lincoln by a private owner with the explicit instruction that it can only be played by the Leader of the Hallé Orchestra; a building gifted to Charles Hallé by Charles E. Lees in 1893 for his music school the Royal Manchester College of Music; decades of sponsorships and equipment to tour the orchestra all over the world; the Hallé Club run by audience members and fans of the Society’s concerts in 1945 to offer the option for smaller contributions to the Hallé Endowment Fund for those who cannot afford to be Guarantors; free lecture series (now our free pre-concert talks) with musicians about the repertoire to offer musical and historic insight into the performances.

Black and white photograph of the exterior of the Royal Manchester College of Music building.
Royal Manchester College of Music building.

As Heather discovered, the loyalty and love for the Hallé and of the Hallé has manifested in philanthropy both large and small for its entire history. The inspiration continues with an increased number of archival donations of memories and treasures as the archive project continues, people giving their love of the Hallé and entrusting their memories to the archivists. Thanks to the philanthropy of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, they are able to do these memories and gifts the respect they very much deserve.

Heather Roberts
Project Archivist
Hallé Concerts Society


Hallé Archive Collections, 1858-present

Papers of Thomas Coglan Horsfall (held at University of Manchester Library)

Editorial Correspondence of C.P. Scott (held at University of Manchester Library)

Royal Manchester College of Music Archives, 1893-1973 (held at
Royal Northern College of Music Archives)

All images copyright Hallé Concerts Society. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Perseverance and Progress: The Women’s Aid Federation of England Archive 

Archives Hub feature for October 2023

The Women’s Aid Federation of England Archive is housed in the University of Leeds Special Collections and is currently being arranged, catalogued and preserved as part of a Wellcome Trust funded project. This is an incredibly significant collection, documenting the charity’s approaches to tackling domestic abuse from its radical beginnings in the 1970s right through to modern day.  

Our three-year project aims to increase public awareness of the work of Women’s Aid and to provide long-term preservation and access to this unique collection. The work will culminate next year with the completion of an online searchable catalogue that opens up this important history – just in time to celebrate 50 years of the Women’s Aid movement. 

Women’s Aid postcard. MS 2265/4/6/8.

Who are Women’s Aid? 

The Women’s Aid Federation of England is a domestic abuse charity that works as the national co-ordinating body for local refuges and domestic abuse services around England. They provide information, training, and resources, as well as lobbying and campaigning for women’s rights and legislative changes, both in England and further afield. 

Women’s Aid was founded in 1974 as the National Women’s Aid Federation, before splitting into separate federations for Scotland in 1976 and England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 1978. Emerging out of the Women’s Liberation Movement, they formed as a female-led, activist collective, and were often met with scepticism and suspicion, if not outright aggression.  

Press cuttings from 1979 and 1981, showing the opposition refuges often faced. MS 2265-9-1. 

As the decades pass, we see a narrative of perseverance and progress. The number of refuges affiliated to Women’s Aid rose at an incredible rate, proving the dire need for women’s services. The Federation gets organised: sending out newsletters, holding national conferences, and building a network of supporters around the country. Today, the Federation is well-established and respected for its expertise, conducting original research, and acting as a consultant to government officials, legal figures, and academics.  

What can you find in the Archive? 

The Women’s Aid Federation of England Archive documents the history of the organisation, from its origins as the National Women’s Aid Federation through to present day. The Archive consists of both analogue and digital records, including paper, photographic, textile, audio-visual, and born-digital records. It covers a range of subject areas with a wealth of research potential. 

More than anything, the Archive is a major resource for understanding the formation, development and running of Women’s Aid. It charts the decisions that shaped the development of the organisation, and how these were communicated and coordinated throughout its national network. For example, the national conference series shows the annual meetings that brought staff, volunteers, and service users together from around the country to debate current issues within Women’s Aid and the wider women’s rights movement. 

Examples of topics discussed at the 1980 Women’s Aid Conference in Birmingham. MS 2265/2/1/13. 

Our run of newsletters stretches from 1974 to the 2010s, offering an amazing visual timeline of the development of the organisation through the decades. In the early years especially, they formed a vital line of communication on upcoming campaigns and rallies. The newsletter collection also gives insight into the characteristic wit and humour of the organisation with poems, songs and cartoons peppering the pages. There are also examples of puzzles and colouring pages to help entertain the children who end up moving into refuges with their mothers. 

Our digitised collection of posters, postcards, calendars, and badges have recently gone live on our online catalogue. Often brightly coloured, eye catching and extremely emotive, these items were used to spread the word about domestic abuse, signpost where women could get help, and work to change public opinion. The 1970s calendars are prime examples, showing a range of engaging content brought together by women running, volunteering with, or using Women’s Aid services. Posters from Women’s Aid campaigns highlight the different approaches the organisation has taken over the decades to stand up and be heard, such as working with the police, BBC, and a plethora of celebrities.  

Women’s Aid Calendar 1979. MS 2265/4/5/3.

How can you explore the material? 

The examples shown above just scratch the surface of what has already been catalogued in the Women’s Aid Archive, and with the project stretching into 2024 there are still boxes to be catalogued and made available online. Researcher interest has already proven that the Women’s Aid Archive is an invaluable source for learning more about the organisation itself and its role in the domestic abuse movement, but also its contribution to wider health and society, changes in the law, and cultural shifts in attitudes towards domestic abuse.  

As we come towards a celebration of 50 years of Women’s Aid, we look forward to the archive being used to explore what accomplishments have been achieved, and what is still yet to be done. 

You can find the Women’s Aid Federation of England Collection Guide on the University of Leeds Special Collections website. It provides information on key series in the archive and on how to search the catalogue and request the material. The collection level record for the archive is live and is increasingly being populated with more catalogued material. The catalogue will be complete in 2024.

Holly Smith

Archivist, University of Leeds Special Collections & Galleries

Project Archivist, Women’s Aid Federation of England Archive


Descriptions of other archives held by University of Leeds Special Collections can be found on Archives Hub here:

All images courtesy of Women’s Aid Federation of England.

Come Fly With Me: The Archives of Sir Freddie Laker

Archives Hub feature for August 2023


The summer months of June, July and August were prime flying season for Laker Airways – though significant discounts were offered to operators in the off-season, too. The man behind this pioneering budget airline was Sir Freddie Laker who recognised the inaccessibility of air travel for the general public, and identified a gap in the market dominated by British Airways and Pan Am. He subsequently founded Laker Airways and its multiple subsidiaries, which allowed tens of thousands of people to fly transatlantic for the very first time. His legacy paved the way for Ryanair, Virgin, and easyJet and today we take the ability to get cheap plane tickets for granted. Now, the archive documenting the rise and demise of the airline is available to the public at West Sussex Record Office.

Sir Freddie Laker’s passport, 1967-1977. The passport is full of entry stamps of countries across the world. Laker 1/2/5.
Sir Freddie Laker’s passport, 1967-1977. The passport is full of entry stamps of countries across the world. Laker 1/2/5.

What’s in the archive?

The archive consists of around 700 files including correspondence, financial records, reports, publicity, and photographs. The other significant part is the vast amount of press cuttings, in fact 135 files of them, spanning 1974 to 1983. These records document the core activities of not just Laker Airways but also its many subsidiaries including the famous Skytrain Holidays and various other business ventures of Sir Freddie’s such as Aviation Traders, TeleTix, and Jaffcom.

But the archive doesn’t just concern Sir Freddie’s core business activities, there are a significant number of personal papers concerning his family, his home, and the management of Woodcote Stud – an animal breeding venture which bridged a hobby and a business for Sir Freddie.

Sale Particulars for Woodcote Stud, 1980s. Laker 4/7/1/3.
Sale Particulars for Woodcote Stud, 1980s. Laker 4/7/1/3.

Perhaps for many the most interesting items in the archive relate to the demise of Laker Airways in the early 1980s. There are numerous financial reports, forecasts, legal papers and affidavits concerning the landmark anti-trust lawsuit brought by Laker against British Airways (BA), Pan Am, TWA, Lufthansa, Air France, Swissair, KLM, SAS, Sabena, Alitalia and UTA.

Sir Freddie Laker and Laker Airways

Sir Freddie began his career in the aviation industry in his early twenties by founding Aviation Traders, a business established in 1947 which traded in surplus aircraft and parts which were plentiful after the end of the Second World War. In 1951 he acquired the airline Air Charter. Not content with just that, Sir Freddie also established Colrich Audio Ltd with his wife Joan around the same time, a company which manufactured records in stereo sound.

Air Charter and Aviation Traders were ultimately absorbed into British United Airways (BUA), of which Sir Freddie became its very first Managing Director when it was founded in 1960. By the time BUA was sold off to Caledonia Airways in 1970, Laker Airways had been established for four years. The archive attests to Sir Freddie’s tenacious approach to identifying opportunity during this period.

Skytrain check-in desk at Gatwick Airport, c1977. Laker 2/6/27.
Skytrain check-in desk at Gatwick Airport, c1977. Laker 2/6/27.

Initially, Laker Airways worked as a charter airline, meaning that they rented aircraft and recouped the money by selling fares for seats. They acquired their own fleet of planes a little later on. But Laker Airways was the foundation for the most lucrative but most short lived of Sir Freddie’s aeronautical ventures – Skytrain Holidays.

The Skytrain plane was iconic during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Announced in 1971, Skytrain was a wing of the main company and was created to market cheap transatlantic flights between Gatwick and JFK Airport in New York. The archive includes a press release given at the Savoy Hotel in London, along with a press list. However, it took several years to get permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to operate and it wasn’t until 1977 that the first Skytrain flight took place. Sir Freddie understood the importance of branding and publicity, and the archive has many examples such as a tiny souvenir model Skytrain DC-10, model kits of Skytrain A300s, gaudy summer brochures, and a commemorative certificate for the first Skytrain passenger flight.

Winter brochure, 1981. Laker 2/6/32.
Winter brochure, 1981. Laker 2/6/32.
Air stewards for the Skytrain service, c1977. Laker 2/6/27.
Air stewards for the Skytrain service, c1977. Laker 2/6/27.

Fast forward to 1981, and Laker Airways was suffering under the recession. Along with the recession and some poorly constructed financial forecasts, the final blow was the sudden drop in fare prices by competing airlines including BA and Pan Am. Laker Airways collapsed in 1982 and was declared bankrupt. It remains one of the biggest corporate failures in Britain. What followed was a landmark lawsuit through which Sir Freddie accused several of the biggest airlines of predatory pricing, but it was settled out of court.


The archive preserves the legacy of Sir Freddie Laker and Laker Airways, two significant aspects of British cultural heritage and the history of aviation. The archive has previously been used by authors writing books on Sir Freddie and Laker Airways, and it is hoped it will continue to inform researchers at its new home at West Sussex Record Office.

Alice Millard
Project Archivist
West Sussex Record Office


Sir Freddie Laker, 1950-2015

Browse all West Sussex Record Office descriptions available to date on Archives Hub.

Previous Archives Hub features on West Sussex Record Office collections

A polymath’s archive: the Edward-Heron Allen Collection at West Sussex Record Office

The Anna Eliza Bray archive at West Sussex Record Office

All images copyright West Sussex Record Office. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Vergangenheitsbewältigung and the case of Emmrich Menzer

Archives Hub feature for July 2023

Duden’s Lexicon adopts the classic British proclivity for the understatement in its definition of Vergangenheitsbewältigung: “public debate within a country on a problematic period of its recent history…”. The fact is, however, that the term is commonly understood to mean Germany’s coming to terms (or not) with the Holocaust both collectively and on an individual basis.

There has been a proliferation of literature on the subject in the last couple of decades so much so that the Wiener Holocaust Library (WHL) has a whole section dedicated to it. Publications include scholarly analyses of guilt and shame in entire communities at one extreme to personal memoirs detailing how individual families wrestled with the role of their forbears. No doubt the lapse of time since the events themselves has facilitated this dialogue – in many cases initiated by 2nd , 3rd and even 4th generation Germans.

Whilst WHL holds a number of primary source materials from the point of view of the perpetrator, these take the form of published memoirs and diaries of prominent Nazis and reprinted testimony from defendants and witnesses in war crimes trials. The overwhelming majority of the library’s original manuscript diaries letters and personal documents stem from the families of the victims of Nazi persecution.

Emmerich Menzner, SS Oberreiter: letter from Poland (1942), first page.
Emmerich Menzner, SS Oberreiter: letter from Poland (1942), first page.

A rare exception is one letter unearthed amongst the Wiener Library holdings almost 20 years ago. The very recent discovery of it via a description on the portal, Archives Hub, has immersed the family of the author in an intense period of soul-searching .

What was for years considered an orphan work bereft of information regarding provenance and custodial history has now been identified as the letter of someone’s father. The full import of the contents sent a shockwave through the  family.

Front of envelope, containing letter from Poland (1942), sent by Emmerich Menzner, SS Oberreiter.
Front of envelope, containing letter from Poland (1942), sent by Emmerich Menzner, SS Oberreiter.
Reverse of envelope, containing letter from Poland (1942), sent by Emmerich Menzner, SS Oberreiter.
Reverse of envelope, containing letter from Poland (1942), sent by Emmerich Menzner, SS Oberreiter.

Notwithstanding the absence of any contextual information the letter and its envelope always seemed genuine. The extraneous elements bear all the hallmarks of authenticity: the abbreviated regimental markings, the Sütterlin Schrift, even the paper seem to fit. Then when you read the content one is left with little doubt that this is the real thing.

The letter is written by a teenage rank and file member of an SS cavalry regiment temporarily holed up in a medical facility in an unidentified part of Poland in March 1942 to one of his pals in a town called Rückwerda near Litzmannstadt (Lodz). It is essentially a chatty communication, keeping a friend up to date with what’s going on in his life and referring to mutual acquaintances etc. So far, so unremarkable. Then at the end of the first paragraph the author nonchalantly mentions that whilst he was able to get some rest in the hospital, the experience has had its disadvantages, namely:

Yesterday I missed out on a really great thing. The company raided 3 villages and shot a whole bunch of Polacks

He immediately resumes recounting the banalities of his daily existence without a pause for breath.

The statement is shocking on a number of levels not least the casual way it is woven into this chatty catch-up communication: the perjorative term he uses for Poles and the collective noun not appropriate for humans (original German: eine ganze Masse von Polacken) indicates a derisive, superior attitude; the raiding of villages suggests non-combatants; the fact that he regretted missing out on the event; the absence of any empathy for the victims; the naivity of the admission; and the sense that his attitude appears not to be untypical all contribute to  the portrayal of a mindset at variance with what one would expect in a civilised society.

Emmerich Menzner, SS Oberreiter: letter from Poland (1942), second page.
Emmerich Menzner, SS Oberreiter: letter from Poland (1942), second page.

When I catalogued this letter all those years ago, with the help of a colleague we transcribed and translated it. We also attempted to locate the place (Radau?) with the assistance of an academic who has subsequently published a study of SS Cavalry Brigade:

The item has been available to readers ever since.

Then out of the blue a couple of months ago I was contacted by the husband of a cousin of the author’s son, who had spotted the catalogue description online. Since the name is relatively rare, Emmerich Menzer [i](subsequently corrected to Emmrich), he felt sure that it was his wife’s relative. I sent him a copy of the original and the transcript – they struggled reading the Sütterlin script.

Once they had fully digested the contents my correspondent reported back:

The transcription you sent us yesterday has shocked all of us and […….] [ii] in particular he finds it hard to believe that his caring, loving father was able to utter his regret for having missed ‘a really big thing’ which involved shooting tens, if not hundreds of innocent civilians…”.

On reflection, he observed how it wasn’t uncommon for perpetrators to lead parallel lives: behave like normal, loving family members and at the same time perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity- one only has to look at the role of concentration camp guards and commandants.

I asked him to supply biographical details and he duly obliged:

I assume Emmrich grew up in a very conservative to nationalistic household and was certainly influenced very much by his father (the one who bought the weekly NPD newspaper every Saturday after the war). Already in 1934 as a Hitlerjugend member Emmrich was promoted to “Jungzugführer” at the tender age of 9, so joining the Waffen-SS seems to have been the logical path. As you know he was a founding member of the local NPD chapter after the war so he probably still agreed with the Nazi ideology although he didn‘t mention anything to his children. Perhaps he was ashamed of his actions during the war or the felt his attitude would not be welcome in post-war Germany and just shut up. But this is just speculation.

He had also made the observation that whilst only 17 when he wrote the letter, he was already Oberreiter ie a rank above Reiter which suggests that he had been with the unit for some time. He makes the further point that the riding lessons he is supposed to have undertaken- which he also mentions in the letter – must have been specific to the requirements of the cavalry as he was already an accomplished horseman.

This exceptionally rare survival of an admission to these heinous crimes committed by a Waffen SS Cavalry unit is evidence above all of the power of Nazi ideology on someone who had effectively been groomed from a young age to be one of Hitler’s willing executioners.

Howard Falksohn, Senior Archivist
The Wiener Holocaust Library

[i] Note this article was written with the consent of the Emmerich Menzer’s relative. All other names have been omitted.

[ii] Name withheld.


Menzner, Emmerich, SS Oberreiter: Letter from Poland (1942)

Browse all The Wiener Holocaust Library descriptions available to date on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright The Wiener Holocaust Library. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Healthy Minds and Active Bodies: cataloguing the YMCA and YHA Archives

Archives Hub feature for June 2023

In 2020 the Cadbury Research Library was successful in our application for funding from the Wellcome Trust to catalogue the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and Youth Hostel Association (YHA) archive collections. We were awarded £235,791 for a two-year project called ‘Healthy Minds and Active Bodies: the promotion of health and wellbeing by UK youth movement’. Both archive collections provide a fantastic body of material regarding work with young people and their physical and mental health, from the development of gymnasiums and outdoor activities and pursuits to educational and vocational courses.

The project employed two Project Archivists, an Archives Assistant, and a part time Project Manager with the aim of producing an online searchable catalogue, and to undertake preservation activities, for both collections. Work started in July 2021 after our previous Wellcome Trust funded project, on the Save the Children archive, was completed. After two years we are delighted to announce the completion of the project and the launch of the collections’ online catalogues during June which will be found here

The YMCA collection

YMCA ‘character logo’ for the 150th anniversary of the start of the YMCA movement.
YMCA ‘character logo’ for the 150th anniversary of the start of the YMCA movement. Ref YMCA/2/4/SSE/3.

The National Council of YMCAs’ archive collection dates to the foundation of the YMCA in 1844 and continues to the 21st century covering the various facets of work undertaken during the charity’s long history. The archive primarily concerns the YMCA National Council which was formed in 1882 to support the work, and act as a national voice, of the growing network of local YMCA associations. The archive contains committee minutes and governance papers, project papers, publications and magazines, photographs and slides, and audio-visual material and objects.

The collection also contains a vast range of material regarding YMCA local associations across England, Wales, and Ireland, including prospectuses, programmes, publications, and photographs.  Affiliated and associated organisations are also represented within the collection including the YMCA Women’s Auxiliary, formed at the end of the First World War, the YMCA Secretaries Association, and publications from the YMCA World Alliance.

A pencil drawing ‘Doggy Expressions’ by A. Bishop during his time with the Totterdown YMCA Boys’ Club, 1930-1931. Ref YMCA/2/3/BRIS/6/3
A pencil drawing ‘Doggy Expressions’ by A. Bishop during his time with the Totterdown YMCA Boys’ Club, 1930-1931. Ref YMCA/2/3/BRIS/6/3

The archive documents the YMCA’s various activities to support young men’s, and later also young women’s, spiritual, mental, and physical health. Their early activities ranged from bible classes, lectures, and educational classes on history, science, and religion.  Physical activity was also important with the creation of gymnasiums and sporting competitions, and in America the YMCA invented basketball. The YMCA also prioritised recreational activities and created holiday centres and hosted classes and clubs for drawings, drama, and debating. The YMCA also supported training and employment initiatives, including British Boys for British Farms’ programme, training colleges and Youth in Industry schemes.

Black and white photograph of a group of military inpatients posing for a photograph in front of the Sphinx and Great Pyramid of Giza, 1914-1918. Ref YMCA/4/1/1/C/28.
Black and white photograph of a group of military inpatients posing for a photograph in front of the Sphinx and Great Pyramid of Giza, 1914-1918. Ref YMCA/4/1/1/C/28.

Perhaps the most well-known aspect of YMCA’s history has been their work with the armed forces, and in particular the support they provided during the First and Second World Wars. The YMCA created hundreds of canteens and huts to support the welfare needs of troops, munition workers, civilians and Prisoners of War during the First World War. The archives document this work through the ‘Green Books’ series of photographs which have been digitised and are available to view via the catalogue. During the Second World War the YMCA canteen vans were a common sight providing refreshments, including tea and cake, behind the front lines and on the Home Front during the Blitz.

The YMCA has evolved and adapted over its 179-year history to support the needs of the young people it is trying to help and today supports hundreds of thousands of children, young people, and parents every year.

The YHA collection

The YHA (England and Wales) was founded in 1930, following in the footsteps of the world’s first youth hostel association which was founded in Germany in 1909. The movement was set up ‘to help all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside, particularly by providing hostels or other simple accommodation for them on their travels’. From its initial foundation, the YHA expanded rapidly. By the end of 1931, there were 73 hostels open to the 6000 members of the YHA. By 1939, membership had reached 83,000.

YHA rectangular green and white cast iron objectives sign, 20th century. Ref YHA/OB/3/5.
YHA rectangular green and white cast iron objectives sign, 20th century. Ref YHA/OB/3/5.

Although the national council and committees had overall oversight and handled high-level decision making, much of the day-to-day management of the hostels and membership fell to regional groups. The YHA archive includes national and regional governance records, including an almost complete sequence of national council and committee minutes. As well as recording the development and management of hostels and membership, these records chart YHA’s work in countryside management, outdoor education, and the development of city hostels.

The collection also includes a large section of printed material, including YHA handbooks, guides, maps, and posters and leaflets, a large photograph collection, and property records charting the history of individual hostels, of the day-to-day management of the hostels and membership fell to regional groups.

Black and white photograph of volunteers at Southend-on-Sea Carnival, 1954. Ref YHA/LG/2/ALL/3.
Black and white photograph of volunteers at Southend-on-Sea Carnival, 1954. Ref YHA/LG/2/ALL/3.

In addition to these official records, the YHA archive includes personal papers and objects collected by YHA staff, wardens, and hostellers, including diaries, hostel log books, and YHA merchandise. These records compliment the other papers in the archive and provide a more personal view of the YHA and its impact on 20th century society.

Matthew Goodwin
YMCA/YHA Project Archivist
Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham


Archive of the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), 1838-1996

YMCA Unofficial Papers: Papers of Sydney L. Vinson relating to the First and Second World Wars, early-mid 20th Century

Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales), Records of, 1929-2018

Browse all Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham descriptions on Archives Hub.

Previous Archives Hub features on the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham collections:

Comic strips and seaside holidays: unexpected stories from the Save the Children Archive

All images copyright Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Seven years of achievement from Archives of IT

Archives Hub feature for May 2023

The beginnings of Archives of IT

Archives of IT (AIT) began when entrepreneur Roger Graham saw the need to interview the founding generation of the IT Industry and save their stories for the future. Up to this point, heritage work was happening to save the history of computers, hardware and games but little was being done to preserve the social and oral history of the people behind the technology.

Founder Roger Graham (copyright AIT).
Founder Roger Graham (copyright AIT).

Archives of IT was registered as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) in 2015, with the aims of educating the public on the history of IT, particularly through the provision of a digital archive, accessible at AIT is governed by trustees, chaired by communications specialist John Carrington, and has a small number of part time staff and a team of volunteers who manage the acquisition of materials, the website and the production of blogs and education resources.

Trustees From L to R: Roger Graham OBE (Founder), Tom Abram (Director), Patrick Chapman, Tola Sargeant, Iain Mitchell KC (WCIT Liaison), John Carrington (Chair) (Copyright AIT).
Trustees From L to R: Roger Graham OBE (Founder), Tom Abram (Director), Patrick Chapman, Tola Sargeant, Iain Mitchell KC (WCIT Liaison), John Carrington (Chair) (Copyright AIT).

Initially, the focus for interviews has been on early post-war pioneers of IT that were at the forefront of this new industry – the intention to save those stories before time ran out. However, as time has passed interviews have become more contemporary, capturing more current trends in the IT sector, and taking in diverse topics such as women in STEM, infra-red technology, cybersecurity, venture capitalists and wearable health devices.

Oral history interviews

Much has been achieved in AIT’s first seven years, including more than 220 oral history interviews recorded, transcribed, and uploaded to the website for people to view. The first interview was published on the website in 2017;  David Potter CBE discusses his life in academia in computer simulation, then his move to the business world establishing Potter Scientific Instruments, or Psion. They invented the world’s first personal digital assistant – the Psion Organiser – in 1984 and advising Nokia in the 1990s as mobile telephone technology began to take off.

Other oral history collection highlights include:

Education resources – Schools

AIT logo

As part of its charitable aims to contribute to IT education in the UK, AIT have produced primary school learning and careers resources for teachers in collaboration with The Institution of Engineering and Technology. Key Stage 1 and 2 lesson plans have been developed and are available to download on the website. Key Stage 3 and 4 careers advice to encourage pupils to consider a job in IT are also available.

A recent school competition to design a logo for FIFA World Cup 2026 was successful, with nearly 100 entries from UK Schools. This latest competition was linked to the national curriculum by encouraging schoolchildren to use technology purposefully to create, organise, store, manipulate and retrieve digital content to accomplish a given goal.

It also involved history by looking at events beyond living memory that are significant nationally or globally and art, to use drawing to develop and share their ideas, experiences and imaginations and develop a wide range of design techniques using colour, line, shape, form, and space.

Education resources – Research projects

AIT is working with several partners to produce research based on its collections. Published research can be read here on topics ranging from the post Second World War IT Industry to 60 years progress of women working in IT.

Dr Elisabetta Mori with an Olvetti Elea 9003. Photograph by Armin Linke.
Dr Elisabetta Mori with an Olvetti Elea 9003. Photograph by Armin Linke.

The most recent piece of research commissioned is by Dr Elisabeth Mori on the development of human-computer interaction over the past 70 years. Dr Mori will use existing AIT content and conduct new interviews to bring together the story of human computer interaction (HCI) in a unique and comprehensive way.

A small number of publications have been donated to us by supporters and interviewees, and digitised versions of them can be viewed on our website, alongside other databases and websites hosted independently by people involved in the early years of the IT industry, that may be of use to researchers browsing our website.

The Archives Hub

AIT is a new archive, and non-traditional in that it has no geographical location and is digital only. As it develops, AIT is focusing on improving discovery of its collections on the internet.

As part of these plans, in 2022 we contributed an online resource description to the Archives Hub. This description is intended as a guide to AIT’s website, and it is hoped its presence on the Hub will increase the website’s use by academics and university students. The aim is to contribute a multi-level description of AIT’s collections to the Hub soon.

Further information

Stephanie Nield
Archivist, Archives of IT


Archives of IT: Oral Histories of IT and tech, 2015 onwards (Online Resource description)

Photograph of Dr Elisabetta Mori by Armin Linke. All other images copyright AIT. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Artificial intelligence and Archives Seminar

Municipal Archive of Girona, Thursday, April 27, 2023

Yesterday I checked out some of the ‘Artificial Intelligence and Archives Seminar‘ hosted by the Municipal Archive of Girona “within the framework of the Faber-Llull Residency (Olot, Catalonia) and the project InterPARES Trust AI of the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada), and with the collaboration of the Society of Catalan Archivists. There were some useful things discussed in this still quite new area of AI, so thought I’d share my notes.

Promo image for the seminar

InterPARES Trust AI Project (, Muhammad Abdul-Mageed

The Trust AI goals are to:

  1. Identify specific AI technologies that can address critical records and archives challenges
  2. Determine the benefits and risks of using AI technologies on records and archives
  3. Ensure that archival concepts and principles inform the development of responsible AI
  4. Validate outcomes from Objective 3 through case studies and demonstrations

Muhammad focussed on trustworthiness as an issue for Archives. They are looking at using AI to assess and verify the authenticity of Archives through time. The essential research question: Can we develop artificial intelligence for carrying out competently and efficiently all records and archives functions while respecting the nature and ensuring the continuing trustworthiness of the record.

He noted that a fundamental difference between analog and digital records is the fact that analogue materials can be proven and verified on face value and rarely need extrinsic evidence. However for digital materials, extrinsic elements such as metadata are needed. They rely on ‘circumstantial’ evidence such as the integrity of the hosting system as well as the politics, procedures and technology surrounding the digital record.

Muhammad suggests that off-the-shelf tools are not well suited to archives, so within the Archives profession we will have to develop the systems ourselves. We are the only ones who know what to do because we are the professionals. Developers need to talk to archives professionals to find out what they want and design appropriate AI tools for them. The tools need to respect the trustworthiness of the records. The project is looking to influence the development of responsible tools.

The project looks to provide a wealth of tools and code. A very important aspect of the project is training the community. Muhammad suggested that the Archives profession will have to do a great deal of training to engage with AI tools and its possibilities.

Linking AI to Archives and Records, Peter Sullivan

The aim of the talk was to look at combining archival concepts and principles with AI. Peter used the lens of Diplomatic to consider AI solutions and how AI may interact with different components of the record including the context, act, persons, procedure, form and archival bond. Which parts of the archival record are impacted by AI and how does this inform the design of AI tools that respect diplomatic theory?

The most important component is the ‘archival bond’ which covers how aspects of records are related to each other. AI may be poor at looking at records in context of other records, and may not be able to respect the archival bond. Also, AI may not respect the context of the creation of the records and may not be aware of different levels of appraisal used.

AI may be helpful where there are different variations of names and fuzzy matching can be used to reconcile names. This aligns with the Archives Hub Names project. Dealing with records in aggregate may be somewhere AI is able to help, using topic modelling and clustering techniques. This is a use case we have identified ourselves and something we are looking at with the Archives Hub Labs Project. Finally he mentioned the interesting question of how we will archive the artefacts of AI developments themselves.

Model for an AI-Assisted Digitisation Project, Peter Sullivan

Peter talked about how AI is being used to help with the archiving of audio recordings, providing AI generated metadata enrichment. He noted this is very time-consuming to do by hand. Different types of recordings create very different challenges to AI to analyse . For UNESCO audio they are using four models, one for language translation and three for text extraction and text summarisation.

AI and Archives: Basic Requirements, Pilar Campos and Eloi Puertas

The project is aiming to provide a resource for archive professionals to assess AI solutions to help guide decision-making and create recommendations. They will provide a check list to assess AI tool performance. The rationale behind this is that there is a huge amount of interest and concern regarding AI, but a scarcity of implementation examples, along with a lack of knowledge of AI solutions for the professionals in the archives domain. There is also a degree of mistrust of the results of AI.

The expected results of the project are to provide AI knowledge in the archive domain and a list of potential risks for archivists. A SWOT analysis about AI from the Archives viewpoint will be provided, along with an assessment of the balance between our expectations of risk.

Automated Transcription: Palaeography and AI, Thiara Alves and Leonardo Fontes

The talk was essentially about using AI for automated transcription. The speakers talked about using Transkribus for transcription of text from images of documents. They found that most algorithms weren’t good at detecting old versions of Portuguese and Spanish words. The speakers felt that the context provided by the archivist was necessary for the transcribers transcriptions to be useful.

First Steps and Main Expectations from CRDI’s Experience of AI, David Inglésias

David talked about a project looking at being able to search images that haven’t been catalogued, so they don’t have metadata unless it is created by using AI. This ability is very useful for a photographic archive. They work with the Europeana Kaleidoscope project to attempt to provide archival context for images.

AI also allows for innovative new approaches to presenting photographs in addition to the standard historical ways of doing so. AI can be used for clustering photos that appear to be similar or related in someway. This could be something that the Archives Hub could look at also.

The full seminar is available on Youtube.

ChatGPT advice on Archival Research

I imagine many of you have tried asking ChatGPT questions like these, but we thought it was worth providing this blog, for those who haven’t tried it out. For anyone who has managed to avoid the headlines around this technology, ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI and released in November 2022.

First of all, we wanted to try a question that focussed on using one archive, so we asked:

Can you give me advice on how to write a dissertation on Stanley Kubrick using primary sources or archives?

ChatGPT answered:

Certainly, here are some tips for writing a dissertation on Stanley Kubrick using primary sources or archives:

  1. Choose a research question: The first step in writing a dissertation is to identify a research question that you want to explore. This could be anything from analyzing Kubrick’s use of color in his films to examining his working methods and creative process. Make sure that your research question is focused enough to be manageable within the scope of your dissertation.
  2. Identify relevant primary sources and archives: Once you have a research question, you need to identify primary sources and archives that are relevant to your topic. This could include Kubrick’s personal papers, scripts, storyboards, correspondence, and production notes. You can also look for archives and collections related to Kubrick’s collaborators and contemporaries, such as other film directors, writers, or actors.
  3. Conduct a literature review: Before diving into primary sources and archives, conduct a thorough literature review to see what has already been published on your topic. This will help you identify any gaps in the existing research and refine your research question further. It will also give you a sense of the debates and issues within the field that your dissertation will need to address.
  4. Plan your research visits: Before visiting archives, you need to plan ahead and make sure that you have enough time to access and review the materials you need. Some archives have strict access requirements or limited opening hours, so check this in advance. Make a list of the specific documents or materials you need to examine, and plan your research visits accordingly.
  5. Analyze and evaluate primary sources: Once you have access to primary sources, you will need to analyze and evaluate the materials carefully. Make notes of important details, such as dates, locations, and people involved. Look for patterns, themes, and connections in the materials, and identify any contradictions or inconsistencies. Keep in mind the broader research question you are trying to answer, and look for evidence that can support your argument.
  6. Write your dissertation: Once you have reviewed and analyzed your primary sources, you can start writing your dissertation. Make sure to frame your analysis within the broader context of existing scholarship, and use primary sources to support your arguments and interpretations. Use quotations and examples from primary sources to illustrate your points and make your argument more convincing.

Writing a dissertation on Stanley Kubrick using primary sources and archives can be a rewarding and challenging task. Make sure to plan ahead, conduct thorough research, and use primary sources effectively to support your arguments and interpretations.


We then wanted to see how well ChatGPT would summarise the role and value of Archives Hub, so we asked:

How do I use Archives Hub to help with my research?

ChatGPT answered:

The Archives Hub can be a valuable resource for researchers who are looking to explore archival collections held in institutions across the UK. Here are some tips on how to use Archives Hub to help with your research:

  1. Search the Archives Hub database: Start by using the search bar on the Archives Hub homepage to search for keywords, names, or locations that are relevant to your research topic. This will bring up a list of archives and collections that match your search terms. You can then click on each archive or collection to view more detailed information, including a description of the materials held, contact information for the holding institution, and links to related collections.
  2. Refine your search: You can refine your search results using the menus on the left-hand side of the page. These menus allow you to narrow your search by institution, keyword, date range, or subject. Use these filters to focus your search on the most relevant materials.
  3. Contact the holding institution: Once you have identified an archive or collection that seems relevant to your research, contact the holding institution to confirm the availability of the materials and to arrange a research visit if necessary. The contact information for each institution is listed on the Archives Hub website.
  4. Plan your visit: Before visiting an archive, make sure to plan ahead and think about what materials you want to examine. Familiarize yourself with the archive’s policies on access and handling of materials, and bring any necessary equipment, such as a camera or laptop. Make sure to take detailed notes during your visit, as well as copies or photographs of any relevant documents or materials.
  5. Follow ethical guidelines: When conducting research in archives, it is important to follow ethical guidelines and practices. This means properly citing your sources, respecting the privacy and confidentiality of individuals mentioned in archival materials, and obtaining permission to use any copyrighted materials. This will help to maintain the trust and cooperation of archival repositories and their staff.

By using the Archives Hub to identify collections and institutions that are relevant to your research, you can gain access to a vast array of archival materials held across the UK. Be sure to plan ahead, follow ethical guidelines, and take detailed notes during your research visits to make the most of these valuable resources.


Both answers are very convincing and it is hard to argue that we would have done better if we had written them ourselves, though we might want to add more information to what is there. The guide for using the Archives Hub seems to utilise text from different parts of our website, including our Guide for Beginners, access information and search help. But the text is not lifted directly – it is far more sophisticated than that. There are many examples of text that does not echo anything we have said on our website and I can’t find the text elsewhere. For example, ChatGPT refers to possible dissertation subjects for Kubrick: ‘analyzing Kubrick’s use of color in his films to examining his working methods and creative process’. There are sentences that widen the scope, for example: ‘Make sure to frame your analysis within the broader context of existing scholarship, and use primary sources to support your arguments and interpretations.’ There are sentiments that I don’t recall seeing stated in quite the same way that ChatGPT has done, for example: ‘This means properly citing your sources, respecting the privacy and confidentiality of individuals mentioned in archival materials, and obtaining permission to use any copyrighted materials. This will help to maintain the trust and cooperation of archival repositories and their staff.’

It is easy to see why ChatGPT is seen as a means to write effectively. Maybe there are questions around what is left out of the above answers, but I would certainly be happy to use them as a basis for our own guidelines.

The Christian Brethren Archive

Archives Hub feature for April 2023

About Us

The Christian Brethren Archive (CBA) is part of the John Rylands Research Institute and Library Special Collections at The University of Manchester, England.  The CBA is a world-class collection relating to the Brethren Movement and to congregations which have their roots in the Brethren tradition. This huge resource spans over 250 years and contains literature and records in many different languages in addition to English. The archive grew organically from a small collection of papers donated to the University in 1979 by the influential, evangelical scholar, F.F. Bruce (1910-90), Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at The University of Manchester. The CBA is a living archive, and today we receive communications, enquiries and gifts of material from all around the world. 

Woolpit Sunday School staff and pupils, Woolpit, Suffolk, England, c.1900.

The collection is managed by a full-time archivist whose work is overseen by an Advisory Group made up of historians and library professionals with Brethren interests and concerns. 

Many of the Archive costs are funded through the kindness of private and charitable donations, the remainder are met by The University of Manchester. 

Who Are The Christian Brethren?

The Brethren movement was formed by a group of independent Christian congregations who emerged out of Protestant Ireland in the 1820’s. Notable early members were John Nelson Darby (1800-82), Benjamin Wills Newton (1807-99) and George Müller (1805-98). Doctrinal differences caused a split in 1848 which led to the establishment of two distinct Brethren streams, the Exclusive Brethren who were led by John Nelson Darby and the Open Brethren who were led by George Müller. The Exclusive Brethren initially established themselves in Plymouth, Devon, England, giving rise to the group being known as the Plymouth Brethren. Both Brethren streams continue to flourish around the globe today. 

Lantern slide, ‘Drawing Room meetings in Dublin’ Ireland, late nineteenth century.

What’s In The Archive?

Over 7,000 manuscripts, 18,000 rare books, pamphlets, and tracts, and some 400 series of periodicals, dating from the early nineteenth century to the present. As well as photographs, films, and audio recordings.

There are personal papers relating to personalities among the Brethren, such as founding members John Nelson Darby and Benjamin Wills Newton, as well as records relating to assemblies across the United Kingdom, such as the Church of God in Belfast, Northern Ireland (1897-2018). Important organisations and events are also represented, for example Echoes International (formerly Echoes of Service, missionary support agency) est. 1872, the Devonshire Conferences of 1906 and 1907 (which discussed the terms of fellowship between gatherings of Open and Exclusive Brethren), the Christian Brethren Research Fellowship for 1962–81, and the Swanwick conferences of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

We regularly collect born digital records, many of which are newsletters and periodicals. These are stored in our digital preservation system, Preservica and made accessible via University of Manchester Collections

The Green Field, published by the Brethren Church of the Egyptian Arab Republic, 1991.

All our catalogued Christian Brethren archives, some 60 collections are available via the Archives Hub, The University of Manchester’s Special Collections. All catalogued CBA holdings can be searched via The University’s Library Search

What is the Archive’s Research Potential?

The collection provides a rich resource for many disciplines including religion and theology, human geography, culture, history, politics and gender, as well as humanitarian studies and post colonialism. 

Recent research has focussed on topics such as women and the Brethren, for example the writer and evangelist Grace Grattan Guinness (1877-1967). Grace documented her travels as she accompanied her husband, Henry Grattan Guinness, a well known orator, on a five-year preaching tour of the world whilst on their honeymoon!

Grace Grattan Guinness’s honeymoon schedule, page one, 1903.

We regularly hold events which aim to show the amazing breadth of material within the CBA. For example, using items from the George Müller archive we participated in the Histories of Care (March 2023). A collections encounter and public roundtable which reflected on the social care and experience of children throughout history and sought to understand how these histories might inform the shape of future childcare. George Müller was the founder and director of the Ashley Down Orphan Homes in Bristol, England. In his lifetime, he cared for 10,000 orphaned children.

A. E. Booth, A Chart on the Course of Time from Eternity to Eternity, originally published in 1896 by the Loiseaux Brothers, Bible Truth Depot, New York, USA.

Signs of the Times. Maps and Charts of History and Prophecy was a public talk and collections encounter (March 2023) which looked at Brethren thinking about ‘End Times’ or the end of the world and discussed texts and images of apocalyptic imagery from the 8th century to the present day. Led by historians Professor Crawford Gribben, Queen’s University, Belfast, and Dr Andrew Crome, Manchester Metropolitan University, the event provided a unique opportunity to see first-hand some of the CBA’s mysterious maps and charts of prophecy and to get an overview of their history and purpose. A selection of the maps and charts is on display in the Rylands Gallery at The John Rylands Research Institute and Library until 11 November 2023.

Some of the maps of prophecy and history on display in the Rylands Gallery.

Jane Speller, Curator, Christian Brethren Archive


Browse all The University of Manchester’s Special Collections descriptions to date on Archives Hub

The Christian Brethren Archive is located at The University of Manchester Library

John Rylands Research Institute and Library Special Collections

Library Search – search all Christian Brethren Archive resources

University of Manchester Collections – view digitised Brethren collections

Rylands Blog – read about Brethren collections

Previous Archives Hub features on The University of Manchester collections

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

A Spring in Your Step

James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth – pioneering educational reformer

Bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens

Charles Wesley (1707-88)

Robert Donat

All images copyright The University of Manchester. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.