Oxford House in Bethnal Green: An Archive of London’s East End

Archives Hub feature for June 2024


Oxford House was founded in 1884 as a ‘settlement house’ for graduates of the University of Oxford volunteering in East London. To celebrate our 140th anniversary, Oxford House has been working for two years on a National Lottery Funded Project to celebrate this anniversary, ‘Through the Lens: Women Pioneers, Youth Social Action and Celebrating Our Somali Community.’ This has involved zine-making with local students, running local photography exhibitions, recording new oral histories with community members who have contributed to the history of the house, and the mammoth task of cataloguing and digitising our archive.

While some of our material is still housed at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives,10,000 pages of archives are now accessible on our new website, available to the wider public for the very first time. This material ranges from our Victorian arrivals book, documenting the movement of students in and out of the building, to 1970s campaign posters created by activist groups who used Oxford House as their base to advocate for change and propose innovative and groundbreaking social schemes. Alongside these are a rich photographic archive which documents the heart of Oxford House throughout its lifetime – its people.

Our Founders

Black and white photograph, dated circa 1890, showing the Founders of Oxford House from Keble College, Oxford. Group of eleven men, forming two rows, with the exterior of Oxford House in the background.
Founders of Oxford House from Keble College, Oxford. Oxford House, c.1890. I/OXF/A/6/2/1 (Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive)

Though, as ‘settlement’ implies, there was indeed an undeniably strong vein of paternalism to educate the lower classes, the reformist social movement sought to provide practical support to the community of East London, such as legal advice and labour exchanges. Our archive is flush with records that set out the early aims for the house – ‘to provide a centre for religious, social, and educational work among the poor of East London.’ One of the most evocative items from our early collection is our arrivals and departures book. Dated from 1910-1938, this was where many from Oxford and beyond noted their comings and goings. It captures the energy of not only the house but of the interest in the wider settlement movement from both a national and international audience, with entries from visitors hailing from New York, Copenhagen, Zurich, and Port of Spain Trinidad.

Black and white photograph, dated circa 1910, of the register recording the our arrivals and departures at Oxford House. The book is open, showing handwritten entries.
Register of Arrivals and Departures. Oxford House, c.1910s. OH/8/1/1 (Oxford House)

World War Two

Our records from the WWII era are especially poignant. Located in heavily bombed East London, Oxford House acted as a shelter for up to 300 members of the local community at the height of the Blitz. Away from the East End, Oxford House organised the evacuation of local children to free boarding schools in Wales and Herefordshire, where many city-born children visited the countryside for the first time. While there are few photographs from the inside of the house during this period, Annual Reports from our archive capture the spirit of the time. ‘The House and all that for which it stands shall not die, but shall blossom in the future from the new life which has been born in it during this year of suffering,’ wrote Chairman Walter H. Moberly in 1941.

Black and white photograph, dated 1940, showing a crowded air raid shelter during World War Two. Men, women and children are almost all seated, some at tables, holding teacups and making paper chains. In the background are bunk beds and a staircase leading up.
Bomb shelter in Second World War. Oxford House, 1940. OH/9/7/1 (Oxford House)

During this time, Oxford House continued to run clubs and events for members of the community who remained in East London – from sport activities to dance evenings. Significantly, it was during this period that women became an increased presence within the public life of the house. Women have always played a role at Oxford House, yet our early archive often records them only as unnamed domestic servants under ‘housekeeper’ or the like. Molly Clutton-Brock, a campaigner and the wife of the Head of House, Guy Clutton-Brock, took a lead on establishing clubs for women and girls during the war. This was a marked change as Oxford House transitioned post-war from a male-dominated settlement house to a community centre model.

Post-War Social Action

Some of our most dynamic archival records date to the post-war period, when by the 1970s, the East End was buzzing with community spirit and activism. Oxford House was home to many campaigns and social groups, and our archive has a wealth of photographs and posters from this era – as pictured, for example, a health stall hosted in our Cafe where the community could come to receive health advice and information. The Oxford House Social Club and the Oxford House Youth Club were both set up in this era, and our archive once again has a fantastic collection of photographs of activities, events and festivals hosted in and beyond Oxford House.

Black and white photograph, dated circa 1970s, showing two women and one man in conversation. In the background a covered table is visible with the sign stating Health Stall hanging above it.
Health Stall. Oxford House, c.1970s. OH/9/2/9 (Oxford House)
Black and white photograph, dated 1974, showing a poster titled They Shall Not Pass, produced by the Tower Hamlets Movement Against Racism and Fascism. The poster includes a poem and details of a poetry reading event taking place on the 4th November that year. The event is to 'celebrate the East Enders victory over fascism October 1936'.
They Shall Not Pass! The Tower Hamlets Movement Against Racism and Fascism. Oxford House, 1974. OH/8/3/2/1 (Oxford House)

Our archive also holds the records of many social action campaigns from the late 20th century to present – such as the Tower Hamlets International Solidarity campaign (THIS) 1981-1988 collection, the Families Unit 1977-1981 collection, and the Somali Projects 1985-2023 collection. East London’s Somali community has played a long-standing significant role at Oxford House, with the establishment of Somali Week Festival and the Somali Arts Project designed to platform the creativity and culture of refugees and migrants who came to the East End.

Black and white photograph leaflet, dated circa 1990s, titled A Centre for Somalis, and featuring the image of a man and woman, either side of a smiling child.
A Centre for Somalis leaflet. Oxford House, 1990s. OH/5/12/7 (Oxford House)

Our NHLF project and 140th Anniversary celebration is culminating in an exhibition, History House. Items from our archive throughout the decades will be exhibited for the first time to share untold stories of the house and those who have worked here and called it home throughout time. We would love for you to visit.

Emily Hughes
Archivist, Oxford House in Bethnal Green

History House is open 6th June – 20th December 2024, Monday to Friday 10am-5pm, at Oxford House in Bethnal Green, E2 6HG. Our archives are open by appointment, please email OHarchive@oxfordhouse.org.uk.


Oxford House Archive, 1898 to present day

Images copyright Oxford House and Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archive. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Refugees in the public eye: World Refugee Year 1959-60 in the Humanitarian Archive

Archives Hub feature for May 2024

In 2022, the Humanitarian Archive at the University of Manchester Library received one of its first collections. This archive, which was launched in 2021, aims to collect papers relating to humanitarianism, particularly from individuals or small organisations, or which relate to topics, points of view and events which are generally underrepresented in archives.

This collection consists of a small box of ephemera, memorabilia and papers concerning World Refugee Year 1959-1960, donated by Peter Gatrell, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Manchester. This collection, built up by Professor Gatrell over the course of writing his book Free World? The Campaign to Save the World’s Refugees, 1956-1963, gives a fascinating insight into how the general public (particularly in the UK) interacted with this international campaign and the topic of the refugee crisis more broadly.

World Refugee Year was set up as an international response to raise money for and awareness of refugee crises happening around the world. The birth of the idea came from a group of British journalists who had previously reported on this topic: Timothy Raison, a journalist for the Picture Post and the New Scientist, Trevor Philpott, Colin Jones and Christopher Chataway, a journalist and former Olympic athlete and the first winner of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in 1954. The plan gained momentum, sparking interest among representatives of UNHCR, the World Council of Churches and the UK Foreign Office. The resolution to support World Refugee Year was passed by the UN in 1958, with the intent of encouraging financial contributions from ‘Governments, voluntary agencies and the general public’, and ‘to encourage additional opportunities for permanent refugee solutions, through voluntary repatriation, resettlement or integration, on a purely humanitarian basis and in accordance with the freely expressed wishes of the refugees themselves’[1]

At an international level, one of the biggest fundraising campaigns was the production of commemorative stamps across several different countries, as a ‘manifestation of world solidarity’.[2] Those who took part were required to include a World Refugee Year logo somewhere in their design, but aside from that they could interpret the theme how they wanted. Publicity regarding the campaign was broadcast through print and screen media, including planned magazine articles on Yul Brynner’s collection of them (Brynner was an advocate for World Refugee Year who became a special consultant to UNHCR in 1959).[3]

A stamp album and a collection of first day covers in the World Refugee Year collection show how diverse these interpretations were. Some countries chose a simple design, simply foregrounding the logo.

Colour photograph of the interior of a stamp album displaying World Refugee Year Stamps from Afghanistan and Nicaragua. Four stamps framed with text in French and Spanish (dated 1960).
World Refugee Year Stamps from Afghanistan and Nicaragua. World Refugee Year Collection, WRY/1/11, The University of Manchester Library.
Colour photograph of the first day cover for Luxembourg's World Refugee Year stamp, featuring biblical imagery and text in French (dated 1960). World Refugee Year Collection, WRY/1/6, The University of Manchester Library.
The first day cover for Luxembourg’s World Refugee Year stamp. Two stamps on cream card, with a postal stamp dated 7 April 1960. World Refugee Year Collection, WRY/1/6, The University of Manchester Library.

Others took this further, featuring biblical and Christian imagery, as with Luxembourg’s design.

Colour photograph of the interior of a stamp album displaying the World Refugee Year Stamps from Guatemala and Guinea. Ten stamps. on cream card. World Refugee Year Collection, WRY/1/11, The University of Manchester Library.
World Refugee Year Stamps from Guatemala and Guinea. World Refugee Year Collection, WRY/1/11, The University of Manchester Library.

Others, like Guatemala, took the opportunity to commemorate a contemporary humanitarian organisation, by involving the red cross in their design.

Oxford, London and Cambridge punt race souvenir programme. Black text and illustration on cream paper, showing figures punting as part of the design. Dated 4th and 5th March. World Refugee Year Collection, WRY/1/7, The University of Manchester Library.
Oxford, London and Cambridge punt race souvenir programme. World Refugee Year Collection, WRY/1/7, The University of Manchester Library.

The UK notably, did not submit a design. A letter from Ernest Marples of the UK Post Office to Lady Elliot in the House of Lords states that the occasion does not fit with their usual criteria for issuing stamps, and that ‘we are constantly being bombarded with requests to issue stamps to assist this or that good cause’, and if they agreed to do this it would be impossible to ‘draw the line’.[4]

Despite being an international campaign, World Refugee Year focussed on engaging the general public. Many local and school committees were set up in the UK to run events, and a variety of organisations took the opportunity to get involved. The University of Cambridge held a ‘Fiesta’ day to coincide with an Oxford, Cambridge and London punt race. Other events on this day included plays, music, punt jousting, a tug of war and (quite jarringly considering the light-hearted nature of the other events) a display of ‘Authentic Refugee Huts’ in King’s College, Cambridge.

World Refugee Year aimed to capture the attention and efforts of children in particular. Schools were encouraged to set up committees and run events, and items to buy, and collect were produced, like the stamps, and the badge seen on the right below.

The World Refugee Year Collection in the Humanitarian Archive does not go into great detail about the planning of the campaign (this information is held by the UN archives in New York), but it does show something more personal. They give a glimpse into how the UK public engaged with the issue, with the events, and publications that were produced to commemorate it.

Flora Chatt
Humanitarian Archivist
University of Manchester Library


To find out more about the Humanitarian Archive at the University of Manchester, please visit our subject page.

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

Previous Archives Hub features on The University of Manchester Library collections

The Christian Brethren Archive

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.

[1] World Refugee Year | UNHCR

[2] Aide-Memoire, A Special United Nations Stamp Plan, MHCR/126/59, WRY/1/8, World Refugee Year Collection, University of Manchester Library

[3] Joint UNHCR/UNRWA stamp project: Information Services memorandum. WRY/1/8, World Refugee Year Collection, University of Manchester Library

[4] Letter from Ernest Marples to Lady Elliot of Harwood in the House of Lords, 19 March 1959. WRY/1/8.

Cynefin and the school collections at Carmarthenshire Archives

Archives Hub feature for April 2024

Work has begun on re-cataloguing the school and education records held by Carmarthenshire Archives.  The collection consists of the records of over 120 elementary schools, as well as school plans, photographs and minutes of various education authorities. Progress has been steady, and we aim to have the catalogues available on Archives Hub by the end of the year.

The work on re-cataloguing the collections also ties in with the planned development of an archive service for schools and colleges in the Carmarthenshire area.  The new Curriculum for Wales was introduced in 2022 and core to the humanities programme is a sense of “cynefin”.

“Cynefin” as defined by the new Curriculum for Wales is “the place where we feel we belong, where the people and landscape around us are familiar, and the sights and sounds are reassuringly recognisable.  Though often translated as ‘habitat’, cynefin is not just a place in a physical or geographical sense: it is the historic, cultural and social place which has shaped and continues to shape the community which inhabits it”.

The new curriculum allows learners of all ages to experience a range of stimuli that enthuse and inspire them to imagine and be curious, and to explore, discover and question through a range of opportunities.  This includes visits to libraries, archives and museums; engaging with structured enquiry and cooperative learning; to use artefacts and texts of historic and religious significance; and to work with individuals, experts, groups and organisations that have particular potential to provide stimulating contexts for learning.

The result has been an increase in schools requesting workshops linked to their locality and a good place to start is always with the school records, particularly the logbooks and admission registers.

Dating back to the 1870s in most instances, the school log books in our collections can help tell the story of a local community and illustrate the way an area responds to national events such as the two world wars as well as local events such as bad weather, harvests, and epidemics.

Image showing extract from handwritten Llwynhendy School logbook, dated 4 September 1939.
Extract from Llwynhendy School logbook, 4 September 1939. Item reference GB 211 OF/E 11/1/4.

Some examples I have recently come across include the staff of Llwynhendy School preparing to receive evacuees at the out break of the Second World War in September 1939. The admission register for the same school confirms that evacuees arrived at Llwynhendy from London, Liverpool and Birmingham.

Meanwhile in Bynea School in 1941, during an air raid warning the children were dressed and equipped with their gas masks ready for a speedy escape.  Instead, the children all stretched themselves out under the desks until the alert passed.

Image showing extract from handwritten Clawddowen School logbook, dated 5 May 1899.
Extract from Clawddowen School logbook, 5 May 1899. Item reference GB 211 OF/C 8/1/1.

In 1899, the school mistress at Clawddowen School was struggling with poor attendance. The very wet weather appears to have been putting most children off attending school. Although, even when “the weather is beautifully fine for good attendance…the children are kept home to assist in gardening and harrowing”. It was a battle the school mistress was never going to win.

At Llanfihangel-ar-Arth National School in 1868, the master was having a different problem.  His opening entries in the logbook record that “the children are not progressing satisfactorily owing to their ignorance of the English Language” and “the same difficulty is expressed still with the children in the want of English”. Another entry also records that “formerly they were accustomed to be taught in Welsh and the transition from Welsh to English is accompanied with many difficulties”. Today, nearly two thirds of Carmarthenshire primary schools are Welsh medium, and there are four bilingual secondary schools and one Welsh medium school in the county.

Image showing extract from handwritten Llanfihangel-ar-Arth National School logbook, dated 14 January 1868.
Llanfihangel-ar-Arth National School logbook, 14 January 1868. Item reference GB 211 OF/G 3/1/1.

As work continues on the collections, I am certain to find more examples that will help tell the stories of our local communities.

Katie Millien
Carmarthenshire Archives


Descriptions of other archives held by Archifau Sir Gaerfyrddin / Carmarthenshire Archives can be found on Archives Hub here:

All images copyright Archifau Sir Gaerfyrddin / Carmarthenshire Archives. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Cataloguing the Thackray Museum of Medicine Archive

Archives Hub feature for March 2024

The Thackray Museum of Medicine houses an incredible collection of 50,000 objects and 25,000 books, journals and catalogues, and the collections focus on responses to people’s medical and healthcare needs – the innovation, enterprise, technology and collective effort to make us well. But it is also home to several gifted medical archives, over 200 of which have remained largely unexplored until now. Since November 2022, the Thackray Museum of Medicine has begun to catalogue its archive through appointing a qualified archivist for the first time, and with the help of volunteers, over 100 collections have been catalogued and made available on the Thackray Museum’s online catalogue.

Colour photograph showing a selection of catalogued items on display in the archive at Thackray Museum of Medicine. The items are presented on top of a large blue cabinet and a wooden desk.
A selection of catalogued items on display in the archive at Thackray Museum of Medicine.

The primary focus of the archival collections is the medical supply trade, particularly surgical instrument makers. The first items to be acquired, and the most significant, were the company archive of Chas. F. Thackray, the former Leeds-based medical supplies company, the success of which ultimately paved the way for the museum to be established in 1997. The Thackray Company archive covers the life of the firm from 1902-1990 and contains items such as trade catalogues, press cuttings, surgical instrument drawings and a unique series of notebooks compiled by Thackray representatives who travelled to countries across the world to sell medical equipment and to perform fact-finding missions into these countries’ medical capabilities.

Series of pencil drawings of surgical instrument design for Charnley’s “G Clamp” manufactured by the Chas. F. Thackray Company, circa 1950s.
Drawing of surgical instrument design for Charnley’s “G Clamp” manufactured by the Chas. F. Thackray Company, circa 1950s.
Colour photograph of a group of Thackray Company notebooks, displayed between metal bookends on a tabletop. The notebooks are of slightly varying sizes, all have dark red spines. One notebook is in the foreground, open at a report on a visit to hospital in Beira, Portuguese East Africa, in 1931.
Thackray Company notebooks, open at a report on a visit to hospital in Beira, Portuguese East Africa, in 1931.

There are two reasons the collection stands out. Firstly, the collection contains a unique series of notebooks compiled by Thackray representatives who travelled to countries across the world to sell medical equipment, and to perform fact-finding missions into these countries’ medical capabilities. It provides insight into the medical practices of different countries during the 1930s and describes their prowess in using technology. Secondly, as the Thackray Company worked with Sir John Charnley, the founder of modern hip replacements, from 1947 onwards to design instruments for hip surgery – work which helped hundreds of thousands of people around the world – this collection would be of interest to NHS communities and voices from the wider public who have had experience of hip replacements, and researchers of the subject. The Thackray Company archive is one of two large collections held in our archives; the other is that of the Oxford Knee archive, a business archive which relates to the development of the Oxford Partial Knee implant 40 years ago, the invention of which revolutionised orthopaedic surgery and became one of the most successful knee replacements in the world.

Our archive also holds a collection relating to Dr Scholl’s foot company, a company that you may have seen advertised while visiting Boots and/or shoe shops. Our collection of Scholl material includes the founder, William Matias Scholl’s certificate qualifying him as a physician and surgeon from the State of Illinois Department, and the collection also contains company magazines between 1929 and 1972 including copies of ‘The Scholl Link’ published for employees in the United Kingdom who served in the war, and a special issue commemorating ‘VE Day’ in May 1945. Other organisational collections catalogued thus far include that of the Calenduline Company – a Chicago-based company that manufactured treatments for the eye and throat; the Eschmann Equipment company, who were pioneers in making operating tables; and the Downs Surgical Limited company – a collection of material relating to a manufacturing company who were pioneers in making high-quality medical instruments, particularly those used in ear, nose and throat surgery.

As well as organisations, the museum has acquired many personal papers of local doctors, nurses and surgeons since it opened in 1997, and these have now been catalogued and made available on our website. As an example, this has included the personal papers of Pauline Sellers, who qualified as a nurse in Mirfield and then worked at the Royal Air Force Hospital at Nocton Hall. While at Nocton Hall, Sellers took part in theatre performances and joined Nocton Hall Theatre Group, playing Mrs Wagstaff in the play ‘Dry Rot’. She also accompanied Princess Alexandra on a royal visit in July 1969, showing the Princess around one of the children’s wards. Other collections of personal papers catalogued include the Leeds-based urologist Leslie Pyrah who was the first professor of urology in the United Kingdom and set up the first renal dialysis unit in the UK; the archive of Michael Martin OBE who worked for the Royal National Institute for the Deaf for 35 years; the archive of David Wilson, who worked as a consultant in accident and emergency medicine at Leeds General Infirmary, and the papers of Henry Shucksmith, who was honorary assistant surgeon to the General Infirmary at Leeds and numerous hospitals in the area including St James’s and Seacroft. As well as recording his professional articles on the topics of vascular surgery and breast cancer, I have been able to uncover unusual items in his papers, such as a nice Christmas card with a drawing of a surgeon carving a turkey on the front, sent to him by friends of his from his days serving in the Territorial Army during the Second World War.

Christmas card sent to Henry Shucksmith, circa 1940s. The drawing on the front of the card shows a surgeon carving a turkey.
Christmas card sent to Henry Shucksmith, circa 1940s.

Volunteers have helped to catalogue collections also and two of volunteers, both called Sam, catalogued the collection of Herbert Agar, a Leeds-based surgeon who specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology. They have also contributed to cataloguing prescription books, and books in our archive that contain formulas and recipes for food, drink and ailments, dating back to the 17th century. Despite not having any experience of archival work before they started, volunteers have contributed to cataloguing a dozen collections from the archive thus far, and gained skills in cataloguing, digitisation and basic conservation tasks along the way.

Display of handwritten recipe and formula books held in the Thackray Museum of Medicine Archive. The books are held open with glass weights and cords.
Recipe and Formula Books held in the Thackray Museum of Medicine Archive.

The recipe and formula books are among the most interesting items within the archives and contain recipes for all manner of food, drink and various remedies, including biscuits, Stilton Cheese, toothpaste, fish sauce and ailments for gout and headaches amongst others!

We are constantly cataloguing new collections and placing them onto the Archives Hub as well as our own catalogue regularly, and our collections would be of interest to anyone studying the history of medicine and healthcare. If you are interested in finding out more about our collections, or want to make an appointment to view them, please contact us at collections@thackraymuseum.org  

Robert Curphey
Thackray Museum of Medicine


Descriptions of other archives held by Thackray Museum of Medicine can be found on Archives Hub here: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/locations/da5db37f-9a3b-3538-8901-627a707c8623

All images copyright Thackray Museum of Medicine. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

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: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/GB-2315

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: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/GB-206.

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 https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gb1556-wl703, 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.