“Those wonderful women in black” – the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry

Archives Hub feature for February 2020

Established in 1971, the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry was a pressure group set up to assist members of the Jewish community in the Soviet Union wishing to leave the country but denied permission. The term “refusnik” was coined to describe these individuals. On hearing the news that thirty five-year-old librarian Raisa Palatnik from Odessa has been arrested for distributing samizdat, banned literature, a small group of women decided to hold a protest outside the Soviet embassy in London. From these modest beginnings grew the campaign on behalf of the refusniks.

MS 254 A980/5/4/1 A selection of badges: large ones with the text “Campaign for Soviet Jewry 35's”; small ones with the text “35s".
MS 254 A980/5/4/1 A selection of badges: large ones with the text “Campaign for Soviet Jewry 35’s”; small ones with the text “35s”.

Whilst other groups also campaigned on this issue, the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry (affectionately known as the 35s due to the average age of the group) was the only one set up and led exclusively by women. Many of the founder members were middle-class, Jewish housewives from North West London who had no previous experience of activism or campaigns. They nevertheless proved themselves to be a formidable force, conducting a tireless campaign to heighten public awareness of their cause.

The group existed in the era before social media and it was a campaign that used the medium of the letter. It organised mass letter writing campaigns to garner support for the cause and also engaged in correspondence with the refusniks whose cases it supported. The archive contains, for instance, an extensive series of correspondence to Members of Parliament from the mid 1970s until the late 1990s, ranging alphabetically from Diane Abbott to George Young, with others such as Betty Boothroyd, Harriet Harman and Margaret Thatcher in between. An equally extensive parallel series of correspondence exists for Members of the House of Lords. The MP Greville Janner was a major supporter of the cause, acting as chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Committee for the Release of Soviet Jewry and later as President of the National Council for Soviet Jewry. The Women’s Campaign archive contains much material relating to his work.

MS 254 A980/1/4/12 Souvenir menu for a banquet to celebrate the formation of the All Party Committee for Soviet Jewry at the House of Commons, 1972.
MS 254 A980/1/4/12 Souvenir menu for a banquet to celebrate the formation of the All Party Committee for Soviet Jewry at the House of Commons, 1972.

Whilst Raisa Palatnik was the catalyst for the group’s inception — and it was to assist many refusniks over the course of its existence — probably the most well-known individual on whose behalf it campaigned was Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky. At an event in 2018 Sharansky paid tribute to the efforts of both the Women’s Campaign and to Greville Janner in the struggle for Soviet Jewry.

MS 254 A980/1/4/12 Natan Sharansky with Rita Eker, Martin Gilbert and Lynn Singer, 1980s.
MS 254 A980/1/4/12 Natan Sharansky with Rita Eker, Martin Gilbert and Lynn Singer, 1980s.

Effective at utilising publicity, the Women’s Campaign produced considerable quantities of material that highlighted the cases of the individual refusniks. There were biographical profiles for each refusnik that publicised and detailed their treatment by the Soviet Union often in graphic detail. Campaigners and supporters also wrote to individuals and their families in the Soviet Union and the archive contains many of the letters sent or received in return. This is supplemented by personal photographs and related material of visits made to the Soviet Union by members of the group to meet with refusniks.

MS 254 A980/4/22/178/3 Demonstration outside Wembley Arena, 1980.
MS 254 A980/4/22/178/3 Demonstration outside Wembley Arena, 1980.

The Women’s Campaign throughout its years of activity was to prove itself to be both highly effective and highly imaginative in its demonstrations and publicity. One such publicity gimmick was sweeping outside the Soviet embassy in London on behalf of the refusniks. As well as organising protests outside venues where Soviet groups — such as visiting athletics teams or ballet companies — were appearing, they became adept at disrupting audiences within the venues. Members secretly wearing campaign t-shirts were strategically placed in the auditorium of a ballet performance, for instance, and would stand as part of a coordinated protest displaying the t-shirts or waving banners. The group have noted that they were viewed as unlikely activists and so were able to circumvent security at venues and smuggle in campaign t-shirts under their clothing.

MS 254 A980/5/1/3 Red t-shirt with the text “USSR Free Federov, Mendelevich, Murzhenko” on the front.
MS 254 A980/5/1/3 Red t-shirt with the text “USSR Free Federov, Mendelevich, Murzhenko” on the front.

The demonstrations that the group organised also displayed a dramatic flair: Sylvia Becker, who was one of the founder members, recalls dressing as a ghost when she took part in a protest at Highgate Cemetery in 1974 against a visit by Soviet dignitaries to Karl Marx’s tomb. Costumes such as pyjamas that looked like a gulag uniform and shackles or handcuffs — the latter sometimes used by an activist to chain themselves to railings — were items utilised at various rallies. It is said that after attending one of their demonstrations the Prime Minister Harold Wilson urged them to continue their activities.

MS 254 A980/5/4/3 Handcuffs used at demonstrations.
MS 254 A980/5/4/3 Handcuffs used at demonstrations.

The spring exhibition in the Special Collections gallery at Southampton on the subject of protest and protest groups features material of the Women’s Campaign, including t-shirts, a large banner, handcuffs and badges. The exhibition opens on 17 February and will run until May. Further information can be found on the Special Collections website.

Karen Robson
Head of Archives
Hartley Library
University of Southampton


Papers of the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry, 1970-1993

Browse all University of Southampton Special Collections descriptions available to date on the Archives Hub.

Previous features on University of Southampton Special Collections:

100 years at Highfield: stories from Southampton’s University Archives and Special Collections

The Basque Child Refugee Archive

60 years of faith and conflict

All images copyright University of Southampton Special Collections. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

The Herschel archive at the Royal Astronomical Society

Archives Hub feature for January 2020

On the evening of 12 January 1820, a group of men dined together at the Freemason’s Tavern in London, and resolved to establish the Astronomical Society of London, now known as the Royal Astronomical Society.  One of its founding members was John F. W. Herschel (1792-1871). His father, William Herschel (1738-1822), was the Society’s first president, and his aunt, Caroline Herschel, (1750-1848) was one of the first women whose scientific achievements were recognised by the Society.  Thanks to the generous donations of the Herschel family in the 20th century, the Royal Astronomical Society is the custodian of a significant collection of the astronomy-related papers of William, Caroline and John Herschel.  At the beginning of the bicentenary year, we reflect on the Herschels’ relationship with the Royal Astronomical Society and the family’s contributions to astronomy.

Caroline Herschel.
Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750-1848), German- born British astronomer, in 1847, pointing at the orbit of a comet on a map of the solar system. The map shows all the planets out to Saturn. Uranus had been discovered in 1781 by William Herschel, but was at first thought to be a comet. Neptune was discovered in 1846. The map also shows the asteroids Ceres (discovered in 1801), Pallas (1802), Juno (1804) and Vesta (1807). Caroline was the sister of William Herschel, and worked with him in England. She discovered eight new comets between 1786 and 1797. After her brother’s death in 1822, Caroline returned to Hanover, where she died at the age of 98. This artwork shows Herschel in Hanover in 1847, the year before she died.

William grew up in Hanover in Germany and followed his father and older brother Jacob by joining the band of the Hanoverian Guards.  When Hanover was occupied by French soldiers in 1757, William and Jacob were sent by their father to England as refugees from war. William settled in England and made a living as an itinerant musician in the North of England, before taking a post of organist in Bath in 1766. From the late 1760s he developed a serious interest in astronomy, eventually constructing his own telescopes in order to achieve the precision he desired for his observations. The largest of his telescopes was 40 feet in length, supported by a large wooden apparatus. A self-taught astronomer, he did not regard the stars as a mere fixed backdrop to the orbits of the planets like most of his peers. He was fascinated by the stellar universe and devised a systematic observation programme. Because he methodically observed every star of a certain magnitude, on 13 March 1781 he noticed a bluish disc-like object which did not look like an ordinary star. At first he identified this new object as a comet, but once enough data was available to calculate its orbit, it became clear that William Herschel had discovered a new planet. Originally named Georgium Sidus after George III, the planet is now known as Uranus. William was appointed astronomer to the King and continued his astronomical work, not only making new discoveries such as the moons of Saturn now known as Enceladus and Mimas, but also contributing to understanding of the structure of the heavens. His expertise spanned observation, instrument making, and theoretical astronomy.

William Herschel’s discovery of Enceladus on 28 August 1789
William Herschel’s discovery of Enceladus on 28 August 1789 (RAS MSS Herschel W. 3/1.8).

William Herschel’s achievements depended in large part on the assistance of his sister Caroline. The youngest of the ten Herschel siblings, she appeared destined to providing domestic assistance to her mother in Hanover, until William offered her the choice of moving to Bath in 1772 to train as a singer and manage his household.  Caroline Herschel’s musical career as a soloist showed early promise, but by this time William was becoming preoccupied with astronomical work and increasingly relied on his sister for assistance with his observations. However, Caroline Herschel developed as an astronomer in her own right, as well, making numerous discoveries of comets and nebulae. From 1787, she received an income from the King, making her one of the first women to be paid for scientific work. She was the first woman to receive the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1828 in recognition of the enormous contribution she had made by completing a catalogue of 2,500 nebulae. She became one of the first female honorary members of the RAS, at the same time as Mary Somerville in 1835.

Caroline Herschel’s 1789 observations of the comet now known as Comet Herschel-Rigollet
Caroline Herschel’s 1789 observations of the comet now known as Comet Herschel-Rigollet (RAS MSS Herschel C. 1/1.2).

John F. W.  Herschel initially pursued a career in law, but followed in the footsteps of his father, and was also strongly influenced by his aunt Caroline. He was a polymath who carried out significant work in other subjects such as mathematics and chemistry. As an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge he made friends with Charles Babbage, and both of them were among the founders of the Astronomical Society of London in 1820. One obstacle during the early days of the Society occurred when the Duke of Somerset was dissuaded by from taking on the Presidency of the Society by Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society. In the end, William Herschel agreed to be the first President, on the understanding that he should not be called upon for active service due to his advanced years. His son John Herschel would go on to serve as President of the Society three times. He dedicated himself to continuing and expanding upon his father’s programme of observations. From 1834 to 1838, he lived in South Africa with his family and catalogued the stars, nebulae and other celestial bodies of the southern skies, publishing his observations in Results of astronomical observations made during the years 1834, 5, 6, 7, 8, at the Cape of Good Hope […](1847).

John Herschel’s drawing of 30 Doradûs, also known as the Tarantula Nebula
John Herschel’s drawing of 30 Doradûs, also known as the Tarantula Nebula (RAS MSS Herschel J. 3/6. Monographs. 30 Doradûs.)

On John Herschel’s return to England, he became involved in photography, not only coining the name of this new technology (as well as the terms ‘positive’ and ‘negative’), but by inventing processes such as the cyanotype process, and providing leadership and support to other practitioners in the field. The RAS archives holds a positive print of one of his experimental photographs of his father’s 40-foot telescope, taken shortly before it was decommissioned in 1839; the structure of this instrument lives on in the Royal Astronomical Society’s gold medal and seal.

John Herschel’s photograph of his father’s 40-foot telescope.
Herschel’s 40-foot telescope, circular glass plate photograph. The telescope’s wooden scaffolding is seen here on 9 September 1839, at Observatory House in Slough, England. It was photographed by the astronomer John Herschel (1792-1871) before its demolition. The telescope was designed by John’s father, the German-born British astronomer William Herschel (1738-1822). The tube was 40 feet (12 metres) long. The first observations with this telescope were carried out 50 years earlier on 28 August 1789, when two new moons of Saturn (Enceladus and Mimas) were discovered. 50 years later, by 1839, John Herschel and W H Fox Talbot had invented the process we now know as photography. This is one of the earliest surviving glass plate photographs.

The Royal Astronomical Society is not the only repository of Herschel family archives; other holding institutions are signposted by the William Herschel Society http://www.williamherschel.org.uk/herschel-resources/. As part of the celebrations of the Royal Astronomical Society bicentenary,  from February to December 2020 an exhibition focused on John Herschel’s observations of nebulae will take place at the Herschel Museum in Bath, the former home of John Herschel’s father and aunt.

Dr Sian Prosser
Librarian and Archivist
Royal Astronomical Society


Browse all Royal Astronomical Society Archives descriptions available to date on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright Royal Astronomical Society Archives. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

The Dorset House Archive

Archives Hub feature for December 2019

Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy, the first School of Occupational Therapy in the UK, opened on New Year’s Day 1930, but the inspiration for the School can be traced back to a festive morning in a hospital ward.  Dr Elizabeth Casson (1881-1954), the School’s founder, was working in a psychiatric hospital when she realised the therapeutic benefits enjoyed by patients who were presented with tasks and activities rather than mere convalescence:

“When I first qualified as a doctor …I found it very difficult to get used to the atmosphere of bored idleness in the day rooms of the hospital. Then, one Monday morning, when I arrived at the women’s wards, I found the atmosphere had completely changed and realised that preparations for Christmas decorations had begun. The ward sisters had produced coloured tissue paper and bare branches, and all the patients were working happily in groups making flowers and leaves and using all their artistic talents with real interest and pleasure. I knew from that moment that such occupation was an integral part of treatment and must be provided.”

Quoted in The story of Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy 1930 – 1986

Elizabeth Casson, aged 21
Elizabeth Casson, aged 21

This Road to Damascus experience was reinforced by Dr Casson’s dealings with Dr David Henderson, who had established a small Occupational Therapy department at Gartnaval Hospital, Glasgow and visits to American hospitals – notably Bloomingdale Hospital, New York and the Boston School of Occupational Therapy – in the mid-1920s.

Dorset House, Bristol
Dorset House, Bristol

With the seed sown, Dr Casson requested and received a loan of £1,000 from her actor brother, Sir Lewis Casson, and bought the first Dorset House in Clifton, Bristol.  The School began life as part of a nursing home for the treatment of patients suffering from neurotic and psychotic disorders. Consequently, for the first three years the bulk of the clinical experience offered to the students was psychological. Dr Casson, though, never lost sight of the physical aspects of OT and by 1939 she was able to open an Occupational Therapy Department at Bristol General Hospital, offering ward work and treatment for patients with cardiac conditions. For the students, clinical practice was obtained largely with Dr Casson’s own patients. Therapy at this time would invariably cover such diverse activities as netball, country dancing, theatre, gardening and picnics, alongside the more traditional crafts so often associated with OT, such as weaving and needlework.

Weaving exercise for a stiff knee
Weaving exercise for a stiff knee

Then came the War.  Bristol became the target for German bombers and the School was forced to literally go underground, with classes moving into the cellars. Finally, it became impossible for the School to carry on in its present location, and the School moved to Barnsley Hall Hospital, Bromsgrove, which had been created as part of the Wartime Emergency Medical Service.  One major development at this time was the establishment of Auxiliary courses. The Ministry of Health was keen that the School should run training courses to ensure a rapid supply of workers for other hospitals. Some training was offered to established professionals (nurses, teachers, physiotherapists). Other candidates without qualifications were offered brief courses to enable them to act as Auxiliaries to better-qualified colleagues. One of the highlights of the Bromsgrove years was the visit of the Princess Royal, who met with Dr Shepherd, Medical Superintendent of Barnsley Hall, and the students. With the end of the War, so came the end of Dorset House at Bromsgrove. The EMS Hospital was to close and the expanded School had outgrown its old Bristol premises. Once again, Dorset House was on the move.

HRH the Princess Royal, Dr Shepherd, and guard of honour
HRH the Princess Royal, Dr Shepherd, and guard of honour

In 1946 Dorset House moved into hutted premises situated in the grounds of the Churchill Hospital, Oxford.  The move to the Churchill site was far from easy. With the War only recently ended there was no labour available to carry out the necessary refurbishment of the huts, which had until recently been used to house Italian Prisoners of War. Removing pin-ups and graffiti was all part of the moving process! Because OT had more than proved its worth during the War, the need for therapists continued to grow and demand out-stripped supply, so the School restructured its courses to allow for two intakes per year.  Further changes took place in the curriculum when the Association of Occupational Therapists revised the syllabus to provide a new qualification in 1954.

Nissen huts in the grounds of the Churchill Hospital, Oxford
Nissen huts in the grounds of the Churchill Hospital, Oxford

By the end of the ‘fifties it was obvious that the School could not continue with its current accommodation. Cracks were appearing in the (temporary) huts and weather-proofing was starting to prove impossible.  Then, in 1961, a property on the London Road, Oxford, came onto the market and the School purchased it for £25,000. The money for this (and the necessary alterations) was raised by an appeal which saw donations from past students, local industry and the local public, who flocked to fund-raising events such as a poetry reading by Sir Lewis and Lady Casson (Dame Sybil Thorndike).  The new School was officially opened in 1965 by HRH The Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent.

In 1992, the School became part of Oxford Polytechnic (located just down the road from Dorset House), which was conferred with university status later the same year – and renamed Oxford Brookes University.  With the School came the Dorset House Archive, which is now held in the University’s Special Collections and Archives.

The Dorset House Archive includes papers relating to Dr Casson and the Dorset House Principals, administrative and exam papers, photographs, ciné films, and scrap books created by those who taught and studied at the School.  The Archive has been made accessible thanks to a generous grant from the Elizabeth Casson Trust, which has enabled book stock to be catalogued, the scrapbooks to be conserved, and primary sources to be digitised.  2020 marks the 90th anniversary of the School and we look forward to celebrating Elizabeth Casson’s legacy through the archival record.

Special Collections Team
Special Collections and Archives
Oxford Brookes University


Papers of the Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy, 1919-2005
Held by: Oxford Brookes University Special Collections and Archives

Records of Gartnavel Royal Hospital, Glasgow, Scotland, 1811-2002
Held by: NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives

Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson Archive, 1865-1971
Held by: V&A Theatre and Performance Collections

Browse all Oxford Brookes University Special Collections and Archives descriptions available to date on the Archives Hub

All images copyright Oxford Brookes University Special Collections and Archives. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

The Archive of Paul Oppé: A Pioneer in the Field of Art History

Archives Hub feature for November 2019

The Paul Oppé Archive is the most significant acquisition in the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art’s history.  It was allocated to the Centre under the government’s Acceptance in Lieu (AiL) scheme in 2017 and therefore – as part of the AiL process – has been assessed by a panel of experts and identified as having both national importance and pre-eminence in its field.  The Centre began collecting Archive material in 1970 and today is the leading UK repository for Art Historian’s papers: the Paul Oppé Archive is an extraordinary resource for study in the field.

Material from the Paul Oppé Archive
Material from the Paul Oppé Archive

Adolf Paul Oppé (1878-1957) was a British art critic, art collector and museum official.  Perhaps most importantly, he was an art historian – a pioneer in the field, working at a time when the discipline was just emerging in the UK.  He wrote many catalogues on English drawings in the Royal Collection at Windsor, as well as monographs on key 18th Century artists, including Alexander Cozens, William Hogarth and Paul Sandby.  Most significantly, he was responsible for establishing the study of British drawings as a scholarly pursuit.  Oppé’s collection of over 3,000 drawings (dated 1750-1850) was acquired by Tate in 1996.

Photograph of Paul Oppé, c1950
Photograph of Paul Oppé, c1950

The Oppé Archive documents the professional and private life of one of the most important scholars in the field.  Alongside material that reflects his work as an art historian, critic, museum official and art collector, it also includes a significant volume of correspondence with, and between, family members.

An Archivist was appointed to catalogue the collection in July 2019 and although the project is not due for completion until April 2020, it is already clear that the material will greatly enhance an understanding of the field.  One of the largest sections of the archive comprises Oppé’s research material on individual artists.  This material reveals much about how he developed his expertise: his knowledge was gained through constant correspondence with a large network of scholars and collectors, complemented by regular trips to see works in galleries, private residences and auction houses.  Accordingly, the collection contains a huge volume of letters.  It also includes many exhibition and auction catalogues which Oppé evidently used as notebooks – liberally annotating them with corrections, new findings and his own personal impressions.  Similar notes, hastily jotted down whilst visiting a private collection or exhibition, are also found on scraps of paper.  These include not only the objective, material qualities of the works such as the physical dimensions or techniques used by the artist, but also details of composition, topography and colour palette.  Some include a sketch of the work itself.  All of this incredibly detailed information was used to correctly attribute and document works, and fed into the descriptive prose utilised in his many monographs.

Research Notes written by Paul Oppé concerning work by Thomas Rowlandson (Archive Ref: APO/1/13/5)
Research Notes written by Paul Oppé concerning work by Thomas Rowlandson (Archive Ref: APO/1/13/5)

The Archive reveals some important stories too.  The artist Francis Towne (1739-1816) was largely unknown when Oppé became acquainted with members of the Merivale Family in 1915. The Merivale Family were descendants of John Herman Merivale, a friend and student of Towne. Oppé learned that Towne had left a large body of work to Merivale and that it had remained with the family. Upon visiting them, Oppé uncovered a treasure trove of British art.  As a collector, he must have been thrilled to find unknown works of this quality, but first and foremost he was a scholar and his motivation was to bring these works to the attention of the art-historical community.  This he did in 1919 with an article published in the Walpole Society journal (Oppé, A.P. (1919) Francis Towne, landscape painter. The Walpole Society, 8. The Walpole Society: Oxford, pp. 95-126. Available in the Paul Mellon Centre Library).   We can see all of this story unfold in the archive and the research he carried out – captured in many letters and research notes – still forms the backbone of studies of the works of Towne to this day.

Francis Towne, Entrance to the Grotto at Posilippo, Naples (1781)
Francis Towne, Entrance to the Grotto at Posilippo, Naples (1781)
Letter from Judith Merivale to Oppé dated 4 February 1920 (Archive Ref: APO/1/16/2)
Letter from Judith Merivale to Oppé dated 4 February 1920 (Archive Ref: APO/1/16/2)

The next stage of the project will look at Oppé’s notebooks.  Oppé was a compulsive note-taker writing simultaneously in a pocket diary, a daily diary, and in his “black books” – which contain a strange mixture of personal and professional musings. He also maintained detailed auction notes and inventories of his renowned collection of prints and drawings, many of which are now at Tate.  From this extraordinarily complete set of records it is possible to work out more or less precisely when, where and for how much, he bought all the items in his vast collection.  The material also illuminates how the drawings market operated in London in the first half of the last century.

Finally, the collection contains a large set of personal papers.  The Oppé family were wealthy Jewish immigrants who lived through the most turbulent years of the twentieth century and the material – in particular the extensive correspondence exchanged with various family members – offers an astute perspective of the social history of the period.

The catalogue of this incredible Archive collection is due to be completed in April 2020 and will be launched online shortly afterwards.  The Centre is also planning a series of events which will celebrate Oppé and his legacy.  These include a small display featuring highlights from the Collection. They also include a workshop and conference exploring the study and display of British drawings.   The range and depth of the Oppé Archive offers a perfect starting point for such discussion.  The material gives us an insight into a period in which the work of many British artists was discovered and in which art history was an emerging academic discipline.  Due to the diligent note-taking and letter writing of Oppé and his contemporaries, the Collection offers an unparalleled resource in the field.

Anthony Day, Paul Oppé Project Archivist
Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art


Browse all Paul Mellon Centre collection descriptions available to date on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Pioneering women’s education at Bedford College

Archives Hub feature for October 2019

170 years ago this month, Bedford College was opened in central London, becoming the first higher education college for women of its kind in the country. It was the brainchild of Elizabeth Jesser Reid, who said it had been her dream since childhood to found a college for women. Her aim for the college was to open up higher education so that women could study at the same level as men and study subjects which at the time were thought of as masculine and not suitable for ladies. These subjects; including the sciences, maths, and Greek, all appear on early timetables for the College’s classes. Elizabeth Jesser Reid’s papers are held within the Bedford College archive and reveal her connections with other prominent women of the time including Jane Martineau, Florence Nightingale, Eliza Bostock and Anna Swanwick.

Elizabeth Jesser Reid, n.d.
Elizabeth Jesser Reid, n.d.

The early years of the College were difficult financially; the student numbers were not as high as Elizabeth Jesser Reid had hoped and there were complaints from the lecturers that students were ill prepared for their classes. This prompted Reid to found a school in the same building to better prepare the students for higher education. Initially the lecturers were all male but Reid stipulated that women should be on the council, and four of the nine members were female. These women were part of the group of Lady Visitors who acted as chaperones to the students attending lectures, ensuring decorum in the classroom. They also helped with the organisation and running of the College, as there were very few administrative staff when it first opened, and their influence was felt throughout the College.

Chemistry lab at York Place, c.1900
Chemistry lab at York Place, c.1900

The early students often lived at home and travelled into college each day to attend classes, and in the first few decades it wasn’t unusual for women to attend one or two classes a week, rather than taking a full time course. It wasn’t possible for the students to obtain degrees until 1878 when the University of London first allowed women to graduate, the first university in the country to do so. Although Reid wanted to provide academic courses rather than being a training school for governesses, the College did offer teacher training from the 1890s and many of the students went on to teach, as it was deemed a suitable career for a woman at the time.

Scene from Iphigenia in Tauris, 1887
Scene from Iphigenia in Tauris, 1887

The teaching of Greek at Bedford resulted in performances of Greek plays put on by students to external audiences. These were a way to prove that women were capable of mastering the language and, with an all-female cast, were turning the tradition of an all-male cast on its head. Bedford’s teaching also included drawing classes, attended by Charles Dickens’ daughter Catherine, which allowed women to study life drawing from real people; again demonstrating the institution’s forward thinking approach to women’s education, as it was more usual for women to study life drawing from statues.

Art studio at York Place, c.1900
Art studio at York Place, c.1900

In the 1890s the College began to offer courses in public health and hygiene, which was a precursor to social work, and led to alumnae of the course going into health inspection. One of these women, Hilda Martindale, went on to become one of the first female government factory inspectors and spent her life campaigning for better working conditions for women and children. This course resulted in Bedford College setting up an international public health nursing course in conjunction with the League of Red Cross Societies and the College of Nursing in 1921. The course attracted students from all over the world including Japan, India, and countries across Europe. This section of the Bedford College archive was digitised and catalogued in detail with funding from The Wellcome Trust and is available to view online: Nursing and Public Health at Bedford College.

International nursing students with the Duchess of Kent, 1936
International nursing students with the Duchess of Kent, 1936

Bedford College grew from its small beginnings in a townhouse in Bedford Square and moved to larger premises in nearby York Place in 1874. In 1913 it moved again to Regent’s Park where it stayed until it merged with Royal Holloway College in 1985, except for a short evacuation to Cambridge during World War Two. The arrival of male postgraduates in 1945 and male undergraduates in 1965 changed the make up of the College but its history as a pioneering women’s institution is still celebrated today.

The Bedford College archive contains a wealth of material about the running of the college and the women and men who studied and worked there. As well as the more formal institutional records, it contains student magazines and photograph albums which give a sense of what it was like to study there. Our personal papers collections include those of prominent academics from Bedford College including Professor Caroline Spurgeon, a Shakespeare scholar who was involved in the International Federation of University Women.

Annabel Valentine
College Archivist
Royal Holloway, University of London


Elizabeth Jesser Reid papers, 1786-1965

Nursing and Public Health at Bedford College, 1896-1980s

Bedford College Papers, 1849-1985

Papers of Professor Caroline Spurgeon, 1890-1936

Browse all Royal Holloway Archives and Special Collections, University of London descriptions available to date on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright Royal Holloway Archives and Special Collections, University of London and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

100 years at Highfield: stories from Southampton’s University Archives and Special Collections

Archives Hub feature for September 2019

Part of an ambitious expansion plan by the University College, Southampton, the first developments at the Highfield Campus were completed in 1914, shortly before the start of the First World War. The College decided to remain in its City Centre base and the Highfield buildings were used as a War Hospital. When the College moved to Highfield in the autumn of 1919, many of the buildings bore “honourable scars” from their service as a hospital and the accommodation was supplemented by the wooden huts added to provide additional wards.

MS1/Phot/39 ph3211 Highfield site with huts
MS1/Phot/39 ph3211 Highfield site with huts

Traces of the hospital origins of some of the additional accommodation – such as the inscription ‘dysentery’ on the door of the staff refectory – were to remain for some time. And for the Principal, Kenneth Vickers, who was appointed in 1922, a priority was not only creating halls of resident for students but improving the buildings on campus. Vickers noted: “On my first day in College I was waylaid by the Professor of Physics who was alarmed at the dangerous condition of his first floor lecture room, which was showing signs of subsiding […]” Vickers, alongside the President, Claude Montefiore, were two of the notable individuals responsible for the development of the College during the 1920s.

Whilst the 1930s were a bad time for the College, amongst developments was the creation of a new library, remedying the most serious lack in facilities since the move to the Highfield campus. Made possible by a substantial donation from Margaret and Mary Turner Sims, the Turner Sims Library was opened in October 1935 by the Duke of York (later King George VI). Described as having a “commodious reading room”, the Library also boasted a stack room for 12,000 volumes and six seminar rooms and was to prove an attractive space for students.

The Second World War was a period of both anxiety and opportunity for University College, Southampton. The decision not to evacuate the Highfield site allowed the College to play a full part in wartime training and education and in research related to the war effort, but meant that students and staff were potentially at risk from enemy action.

MS310/43 A2038/2 Students in front of sandbagged protected University College buildings, 1939
MS310/43 A2038/2 Students in front of sandbagged protected University College buildings, 1939

Student Nora Harvey noted of the air raid precautions: “We have elaborate sheets of cardboard up at Highfield windows which are fixed up with strips of wood slipping into slots at the side… In air raids we are going to congregate in one of the downstairs corridors. It is awfully safe apparently as there are two cement and steel floors above us there and rooms all round and no windows at all.”

Wartime brought other restrictions on student life with all male students on full-time courses required to join the Senior Training Corps or University Air Squadron, student societies forced to close due to pressure of time and travel difficulties affecting sporting fixtures. Entertainment continued as far as possible, although dances were forced to end at 8.30pm, causing “considerable feeling” amongst the student body.

In 1952 Southampton became the first university to be created in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, receiving its royal charter on 29 April of that year. The University of Southampton Act received its Royal Assent on 6 May 1953 and on 3 July the ceremonious installation of new Chancellor, the Duke of Wellington, took place at the Guildhall in Southampton. As part of these celebrations, a message was carried in relay by members of the Southampton Athletics Union from the Chancellor of the University of London to be presented to the Duke.

MS 1/7/291/22/4 Peter Holdstock of the Athletics Union presenting the message from the Chancellor of the University of London to the Duke of Wellington, 3 July 1953
MS 1/7/291/22/4 Peter Holdstock of the Athletics Union presenting the message from the Chancellor of the University of London to the Duke of Wellington, 3 July 1953

The “swinging sixties” were a decade of significant growth and expansion for the university. Key to the development of the Highfield site was architect Sir Basil Spence who had been charged with creating a “master plan” for the Highfield Campus and all the major buildings of this period were designed by him.

The Highfield campus has been the focus of much development in the subsequent decades as the University has expanded to meet growing demands and changes within the higher education sector. Significant for the Special Collections was the development of the Archives Department from 1982 to house the newly acquired papers of the first Duke of Wellington and the creation of new archival facilities as part of a 2002-4 expansion of the Hartley Library.

From the formality of the earlier decades of the twentieth century – even in the 1950s “it was still an era when all students were required to wear a black academic gown at dinner in the evening” – student life has developed to reflect the concerns and interests of its times. The 1960s saw the beginnings of student protest. These varied from a boycott of the refectory about the quality of the food to support for national and international causes. In later decades, student protests have encompassed a wide range of issues, including opposition to the introduction of loans.

MS1/Phot/19/263 No loans protest, 1989
MS1/Phot/19/263 No loans protest, 1989

Sporting endeavour has been a constant throughout the history of University life: from a relatively modest number of sporting societies in the early student days to everything from Aerial Sports to Zumba covered in 2019. Another constant has been the annual RAG, traditionally a highlight of the Winter term. In earlier decades this featured a procession of decorated floats on lorries through the city centre. During the 1950s “the Engineers were always very prominent during Rag … often accompanied by their human skeleton mascot ‘Kelly’.”

MS310/23 A1048 Rag day procession, 1957
MS310/23 A1048 Rag day procession, 1957

For more on Highfield 100, see the Special Collections monthly posts charting the progress of the University decade by decade since 1919: https://specialcollectionsuniversityofsouthampton.wordpress.com/?s=highfield+100

Karen Robson
Archives and Manuscripts
Hartley Library
University of Southampton


Papers of K.H.Vickers, 1920s-1958

Papers of C.J. Goldsmid-Montefiore, 1885-1935

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

Previous features on University of Southampton Special Collections:

The Basque Child Refugee Archive

60 years of faith and conflict

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

Unlocking the Asylum: Cataloguing the North Wales Hospital Archive

Archives Hub feature for August 2019

The North Wales Hospital collection is one of the most popular at Denbighshire Archives. It attracts a variety of different service users including family historians, history students, and academics. The collection is one of the top search terms, and in the top ten performing web pages on the services website.

HD/1/452: The architect’s impression of the hospital, dated 1845.
HD/1/452: The architect’s impression of the hospital, dated 1845.

The North Wales Hospital was originally known as the North Wales Counties Lunatic Asylum, it opened in October 1848 in response to the growing concern of the treatment of the mentally ill in North Wales. As there was no public institution in North Wales, the mentally ill were often inadequately cared for by families, sent to a union workhouse, or sent to an English asylum. In response a group of landed gentry, clergyman, and businessmen met at Denbigh General Infirmary, to call attention to the need for a hospital for the mentally ill. From the outset the group were keen to distance themselves from the typical image of a Victorian Asylum, where patients were locked away or where mechanical restraints were used. They believed that these should be replaced by kind management and moral discipline, provided to patients in their own language, an ethos which stayed with the hospital throughout its life.

HD/1/81: The minute book of the founders of the hospital, discussing the principles of kind treatment and moral management, dated 1842-1848.
HD/1/81: The minute book of the founders of the hospital, discussing the principles of kind treatment and moral management, dated 1842-1848.

After nearly 150 years the hospital closed in 1995, during this time thousands of patients had passed through its doors. The hospital existed at a time of important developments in the treatment of mental health, and was often at the forefront of new experimental treatments, including Electro Convulsive Therapy, Leucotomy procedures, insulin shock therapy, and pharmaceutical advancements designed to treat neurological diseases such as schizophrenia.

The collection is extensive, it includes management records such as minutes and annual reports, building records including some relating to the initial foundation of the hospital, financial records including annual accounts, and staff records including wage books. As well as records reflecting the administrative side of the hospital, the records also reflect the more social and recreational side of hospital life and include records of patient and staff social clubs, sports teams, music, and cinema showings.

HD/1/443: An exercise class for female patients in the recreation hall, c1950s.
HD/1/443: An exercise class for female patients in the recreation hall, c1950s.

There are numerous patient records including case files dating from the opening of the hospital in 1848, admission, and discharge registers, ward reports, registers of deaths, and a large number of patient reception orders. One of the most exciting features of the collection is the series of 30,000 patient files which date from after the formation of the National Health Service in 1948 and run up until the hospitals closure. They are regarded as being uniquely important, in that, they are a complete collection of mental health records that cover the same geographical area of a fairly static population over a long period of time, making them ideal for comparative study.

Whilst records containing sensitive or personal information are closed to the public for 100 years, they will be available for academic research to those belonging to an academic institution. The records are a vital resource for academics and medical professionals, not only do they track the development of institutional psychiatric care and treatment during an exceptional period of innovation in mental health treatments, they also provide intimate details about the lives of the patients and the world they lived in. The records provide a great deal of detail about the patients, with background information provided by the relatives. This social context produces a rare insight into the lives of those not usually given a voice in the historical record.

Previous work carried out on the collection had been met with an enthusiastic response from service users. It was felt that further projects were needed to completely catalogue the collection to make it more accessible, and to build on the keen interest shown. A scoping survey carried out in 2015 confirmed that if the collection was accessible it would be one of the best and richest research resources for medical humanities in North Wales.

In 2017 Denbighshire Archives received a grant from the Wellcome Research Resources Award to finance the Unlocking the Asylum project. During the two year project the collection has been fully catalogued, repackaged, and assessed for conservation needs. Additionally the series of 30,000 post 1948 patient case files have been fully indexed and repackaged, making them more accessible for academic research than ever before. The patient file index has extracted key details from each file including date of birth, address, admission and discharge dates, dates of death, diagnosis, details of treatments, number of admissions, and details of any supporting documents such as outpatient notes, social work notes, letters, poetry or artwork produced by patients, and reports of court proceedings.

An example of one of 30,000 patient files before and after repackaging.
An example of one of 30,000 patient files before and after repackaging.

The completed collection catalogue will be available via the Denbighshire Archives website and the Archives Hub at the end of the project. Further details on how to access and use the collection will be available on the Denbighshire Archives website at the end of the project in October 2019.

Lindsey Sutton
Project Archivist (Unlocking the Asylum)
Denbighshire Archives


North Wales Hospital, records of (1848-1995)

Browse all Denbighshire Archives collections on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright Denbighshire Archives and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Pilgrimage and Patronage: The Medieval Collections of Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library

Archives Hub feature for July 2019

On Saturday 6th July 2019 Canterbury hosted the fourth annual Medieval Pageant and Family Trail, commemorating the pilgrimage of King Henry II (r. 1154–1189) to the city in 1174. To mark the occasion, we are highlighting the medieval records relating to the Canterbury Cathedral Priory and the city held in our collections today.

The earliest surviving Canterbury city charter, witnessed by Thomas Becket as Chancellor of England and sealed by King Henry II, dated c. 1155 (CCA-CC-A/A/1)

Anglo-Saxon Canterbury

The Cathedral records date back to the ninth century and tell the story of the Church and community in Canterbury. Some 20 Anglo-Saxon charters are the oldest possessions of the Cathedral, predating the Norman Conquest of 1066 and any of the buildings standing today. These charters concern properties in Kent and across south-eastern England, containing unique evidence of the medieval history, topography and language of the area. A fine example from the collection is the so-called Godwine Charter, composed in c. 1020 (CCA-DCc/ChAnt/S/458).

Written in Old English, the charter details the sale of a swine pasture at Southernden (Swithraedingdaenne) by a certain Godwine to Leofwine the Red and is witnessed by Lyfing, Archbishop of Canterbury and others. This charter was the upper-half of a ‘chirograph’, a legal document written out twice on a parchment sheet with the word +CYROGRAPHUM+ between the text copies and cut through. This meant that both parties could have a copy, and the authority of the agreement could be proven at any time by matching the two record halves.

The Godwine Charter is a fine example of an Anglo-Saxon chirograph, dated c. 1020 (CCA-DCc/ChAnt/S/458)

Lives of the Saints

As well as charters, the medieval Cathedral Priory (Christ Church) produced and housed a rich collection of illuminated manuscripts. The pre-Reformation Cathedral held over 6,000 manuscript books in its collections, more than any other medieval institution in England. In the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Cathedral’s own scriptorium wrote and decorated works in the Romanesque style of art, including a multi-volume Passionale (Lives of Saints). Originally seven volumes, in the 1570s and 1580s following the Dissolution the Passionale was dismembered for use as binding waste and covers for church court proceedings.

Depiction of the martyrdom of St Vincent, from a twelfth-century Passionale (CCA-DCc/LitMs/E/42, f. 9r)

The remains of the Passionale survive today across several collections, with 60 leaves remaining in Canterbury (CCA-DCc/LitMs/E/42). The surviving leaves are an outstanding example of Romanesque art, featuring elements such as narrative decoration. The narrative of the text is placed within the body of the initial of the opening word, at the beginning of texts. This can be seen at the beginning of the life of the Spanish martyr St Vincent (d. 304). The initial ‘P’ contains a depiction of St Vincent’s death, being flayed by his pagan persecutors. The animated figures and bright array of colours capture the viewer’s attention, as well as the intricate foliate interlacing and animal forms.

A Site of Pilgrimage

Canterbury became a major centre of pilgrimage in the later twelfth century after the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Becket. He was murdered in the Cathedral on 29 December 1170, by four knights from the court of Henry II. Becket was canonised three years later, and pilgrims flocked to his shrine to pray for miracles and cures for ailments. Visitors to the city stayed in inns and hospitals, charitable institutions that offered shelter, food, spiritual and physical care. One such institution was the Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr, Eastbridge, founded in the late twelfth century.

Grant by the widow Avicia to the Eastbridge Hospital, dated c. 1200 (CCA-U24/4/A/12)

The Eastbridge Hospital received grants and donations from the Cathedral Priory and wealthy members of the city. One charter dated c. 1200 is a grant from a widow named Avicia to Eastbridge of property in Jewry Lane, All Saints’ parish. The grant includes Avicia’s seal. Such charters provide useful evidence for the role of medieval women in Canterbury, and the city’s strong Jewish community during this time. Open to the public today to visit, Eastbridge recently featured in the ‘Plantagenet Canterbury’ episode of Britain’s Most Historic Towns shown on Channel 4 and presented by Professor Alice Roberts of the University of Birmingham.

The Canterbury Magna Carta

The dispute between Church and Crown continued into the thirteenth century, culminating in the issuing of Magna Carta (a Latin term meaning Great Charter) in 1215. Sealed by King John at Runnymede, Magna Carta made the King subject to the law, protected the rights of freemen and established the freedom of the Church in England. There are four known surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta today, including one charter held in the British Library that has been identified as Canterbury Cathedral’s copy of the Great Charter (London, British Library, Cotton Charter XIII 31A). Professor David Carpenter of King’s College, London uncovered the connection between Canterbury and the charter as part of the Magna Carta project that concluded in 2015, the 800th anniversary of the charter’s issue.

The opening of the transcription copy of the 1215 Canterbury Magna Carta, dated 1290s (CCA-DCc/Register/E, ff. 46v-48v)

Professor Carpenter studied the text of a transcription made in the 1290s of the 1215 Magna Carta held at the Cathedral (DCc/Register/E, ff. 46v-48v), revealing unique readings of the text only present in the British Library charter. This exciting rediscovery confirms the survival of the Canterbury copy of the Great Charter, and strengthens the links between the Cathedral and the story of Magna Carta. Furthermore, Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, was chief negotiator between the King and barons during the meetings at Runnymede in 1215, and probably involved in drafting the text of the charter. In 2016, the pre-Reformation archive of the Cathedral was added to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register, thus gaining recognition as one of the most important collections of its type.

For more information on the Medieval Pageant and Family Trail on 6 July 2019, see the webpage for more information:  https://www.canterburybid.co.uk/canterbury-medieval-pageant/

Discover more about collections on the Canterbury Cathedral webpage: https://www.canterbury-Cathedral.org/heritage/archives-library/

Alison Ray, Assistant Archivist
Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library


Records of the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral, c800 – [ongoing]

All Canterbury Cathedral Archives collections on the Archives Hub.

Previous features on Canterbury Cathedral Archives Collections:

Heavenly Harmony: Music in the Collections of Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library

 All images copyright of the Chapter of Canterbury and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

The Archives of the Trevelyans of Wallington

Archives Hub feature for June 2019

In 2018 Newcastle University Special Collections published an updated catalogue for the archive of Sir Charles Philips Trevelyan on the Archives Hub. A socialist MP, anti-war campaigner and member of the first two Labour cabinets, Sir Charles is known for twice resigning his cabinet seat in protest against government actions as well as donating the family estate of Wallington to the National Trust. The Archive has been held at Newcastle since the 1960s, and a previous catalogue created in the 1970s listed documents relating to Sir Charles’ professional life and political career.

The project to produce the new digital catalogue has made a substantial quantity of previously uncatalogued and inaccessible content available alongside this material. This content sheds light on the other characters in Sir Charles’ family – in particular his wife, Mary Katharine Trevelyan, but also their children, staff and extended families.

The Trevelyan family, 1910 (CPT/PA/5)
The Trevelyan family, 1910 (CPT/PA/5).

Mary Katharine Trevelyan, known as Molly, was born Mary Katharine Bell in 1881. Her parents were author Florence, Lady Bell and industrialist Sir Hugh Bell. The family, including Mary’s half-sister, the famed explorer and diplomat Gertrude Bell, lived in Redcar, North Yorkshire. The newly catalogued correspondence offers the chance to understand Mary’s early family life through letters written to her parents. They include accounts of her childhood at the family home Red Barns, her education and visits to Europe with her sister Elsa.

Mary Katharine Bell, 1903 (CPT/PA/1)
Mary Katharine Bell, 1903 (CPT/PA/1).

Mary ‘came out’ in society in 1899, and the four years between this and her engagement with Charles are recorded in her personal diaries. The diaries reveal the whirl of pre-war society enjoyed by affluent young people. In 1902 Mary was courted by three young men, including Charles. Her memoirs written in the 1960s recall that ‘At a dance in Mansfield Street one young man asked me to marry him; a second would have done the same if I had not checked him before it happened – and the third who held my heart in thrall, sat back and laughed (The Number of my Days, 1962, M K Trevelyan, Newcastle University, Rare Books Collection, RB 942 TRE). In 1903 Charles proposed again, and Mary accepted. The pair were married in January 1904, and their correspondence features lengthy discussions about arrangements for their big day, as well as their first home together at 14 Great College Street, Westminster.

Election ephemera, c.1906 (CPT/1/3/4)
Election ephemera, c.1906 (CPT/1/3/4).

The couple had six children between 1905 and 1920, five of whom survived into adulthood. In the early years of their marriage Charles and Mary were often apart, with Charles attending parliament in London and Mary caring for the children (alongside domestic staff) at their home at Cambo House on the Wallington estate. They wrote to each other every day that they were apart, resulting in over 50 files of letters between the two for this 15 year period alone. They wrote love letters, apologised for arguments and discussed their reading. Charles expresses misgivings at his performance in Parliament and Mary her frustration that they are so often apart. The tone of the letters ranges from incredibly intimate to extremely practical.

Bundles of Trevelyan family correspondence prior to repackaging
Bundles of Trevelyan family correspondence prior to repackaging.

The newly added material also features substantial content relating to the development and education of the Trevelyan children; Pauline, George, Kitty, Marjorie, Patricia and Geoffrey. The collection features their letters home from boarding school. The Trevelyans chose to send their older children to the co-educational Sidcot – a Quaker school in Somerset. Their correspondence continues into adulthood and includes content regarding their own marriages and the lives of their children. Letters from their adulthood reflect their fascinating and diverse lives, featuring (amongst other things) solo hikes across Canada, working as shepherdesses, life in Hitler’s Germany and aeronautical engineering.

Extract of letter from Kitty Trevelyan to her parents, 1920(CPT/4/4/14/14)
Extract of letter from Kitty Trevelyan to her parents, 1920 (CPT/4/4/14/14).

The updated archive catalogue is complimented by the online publication of the family photograph albums, via Newcastle Special Collections’ Page Turners resource. Photographs of the family playing at home or visiting relatives sit alongside newspaper cuttings about their careers. Correspondence can therefore be cross referenced with the relevant album, revealing more information about the people who appear in the images and the family’s activities.

Labour Party Election Leaflet, 1929 (CPT/1/3/19/7)
Labour Party Election Leaflet, 1929 (CPT/1/3/19/7).

In the same year the new catalogue was published, the Trevelyan’s family home Wallington Hall, celebrated 50 years of being open to the public as a National Trust property. Improved access to the archive enabled Newcastle University to better support the celebrations, providing guidance on relevant archive material and digital images for use on promotional materials. As part of the celebrations, a performance and panel discussion titled ‘Gifted to a Grateful Nation?’ was prepared jointly by Newcastle University, performing arts company the November Club and the National Trust, held at Newcastle University Kings Hall. Chaired by Dr Tom Schofield and featuring academics, actors and members of the Trevelyan family, the event explored the motivations behind Sir Charles’ decision to donate Wallington the National Trust, and the legacy of this bequest.

The Trevelyan (Charles Philips) Archive is a rich research resource for a range of subject areas, including twentieth century politics, socialism, landed families, childhood and women’s history. It is available for public consultation at Newcastle University Special Collections, with requests to be made in advance. The catalogue can be found on the Archives Hub. Digitised versions of the family’s photograph albums, which form part of the collection, are available on Special Collections’ Page Turners resource, and a selection of other digitised content can be accessed via Newcastle University’s Collections Captured website.

Alexandra Healey
Project Archivist
Special Collections, Newcastle University


Trevelyan (Charles Edward) Archive, 1807-1886

Trevelyan (Charles Philips) Archive, 1761-1965

Trevelyan (George Otto) Archive, 1838-1928

Trevelyan (Walter Calverley) Archive, 1797-1870

Bell (Gertrude) Archive, 1874-1938

Browse all Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives descriptions available to date on the Archives Hub.

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




Carter Vincent archives and the Kneeshaw family papers

Archives Hub feature for May 2019

Carter Vincent archives

Carter Vincent was a prominent and family run firm of solicitors at Bangor, North Wales. The early family members were clerics but the solicitor profession soon took over. The Carter Vincent Archives held at Bangor University Archives and Special Collections span over 350 years and comprise the papers which the firm generated as part of its own business, as well as the records that they held by or on behalf of clients. The papers (currently numbering in excess of 5000 items) consist of draft and copy leases, conveyances, mortgages, abstracts of title, property deeds and other documents relating to properties and families in the old Welsh counties of Anglesey, Caernarfon, Denbigh, Flint, Merioneth and Montgomery, as well as the English counties of Hereford, Lancashire, Somerset and Devon. They also include personalia, including financial papers, letters from clients, notices and various other documents. The firm’s clients included prominent figures in the locality and it acted for the Penrhyn Estate and the Diocese of Bangor. The firm is still trading in Bangor in 2019, under the name Carter Vincent LLP.

Cataloguing the papers began in the 1950s when the firm deposited over 3000 items. A further set of papers followed in 1969 and then a third in the 1990s – all of which have been catalogued and are available to research in paper format in the Archives. However, we are aware of the need and demand to make these catalogues available online and work has already begun to input the data onto our online catalogue. As a research resource their potential is immense; providing rich evidence for analysing issues such as estate management, land use and tenure, ownership patterns, building history, changes in local topography and community structures. The Archives are fully committed to ensuring that the incredible research, teaching and outreach potential of the collection is fully unlocked.

Additional documents have been received since and are currently being sorted and catalogued by one of our volunteers, Lionel, a local solicitor himself. Our submission to Archives Hub this month focusses on a letter and patent specification discovered by Lionel in a bundle of papers relating to the Kneeshaws, a prominent family in North Wales and a significant client of Carter Vincent.

Kneeshaw family papers

Wilfred Shafto Kneeshaw was the only son of Henry Kneeshaw of Penmaenmawr (JP, Deputy Lieutenant, Sheriff of Caernarvonshire). He began his military career as a Private with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (later Lieutenant) and later became a Captain in the 66th Training Reserve of the Welsh Regiment.

He was badly wounded in August 1915 and, whilst recovering, spent his time researching and inventing a rifle stand, an idea which possibly came from his direct experience of warfare in the trenches.

Letter from W.S. Kneeshaw to ‘Trevor’ [Mr Trevor of Carter Vincent, Solicitors, Bangor] regarding an invention he intends to patent
Letter from W.S. Kneeshaw to ‘Trevor’ [Mr Trevor of Carter Vincent, Solicitors, Bangor] regarding an invention he intends to patent. Included is a photograph of a prototype and the specification (below).
Photograph of a prototype of the invention by W.S. Kneeshaw.
Photograph of a prototype of the invention by W.S. Kneeshaw.
Page one of the specification by W.S. Kneeshaw.
Page one of the specification by W.S. Kneeshaw.
Page two of the specification by W.S. Kneeshaw.
Page two of the specification by W.S. Kneeshaw.

He took out a Patent for his invention in March 1916 – whether this design made it to the trenches or not is unknown:

“Patent: 101,441. Machine rests for.-Consists of a rifle stand for use when firing a rifle grenade. The stand comprises a front support 11 having at the top a pivoted fork 13 for the forepart of the rifle, and an inclined trough or guideway 15 for the butt of the rifle. The butt rests on a padded shoe 19 adapted to be adjusted along the trough 15, which may be graduated, by a handle 26. The shoe can be clamped in position by a screw and nut 22, 24”

Cited from: European Patent Office, GB101441 (A) – Rifle Stand for Use when Firing a Rifle Grenade, Application number: GB19160004302 19160323,   https://worldwide.espacenet.com/publicationDetails/biblio?FT=D&date=19160921&DB=&locale=&CC=GB&NR=101441A&KC=A&ND=1# [Accessed April 2019].

Patent for Kneeshaw's 'Rifle Stand for Use when Firing a Rifle Grenade', Bibliographic data: GB101441 (A) ? 1916-09-21. European Patent Office.
Patent for Kneeshaw’s ‘Rifle Stand for Use when Firing a Rifle Grenade’, Bibliographic data: GB101441 (A) ? 1916-09-21. European Patent Office (European Patent Office website screenshot, April 2019).

Lynette Hunter
Bangor University


Carter Vincent Manuscripts, 1597-1943

Carter, Vincent & Co., Additional Papers, 1570-1857

Browse all Bangor University Archives descriptions available to date on the Archives Hub.

Previous features on the Bangor University Archives collections:

The Welsh in Patagonia

Sentimental Journey: a focus on travel in the archives

All images copyright Bangor University Archives and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.