‘I feel the only thing you can do about life is to preserve it, by art if you’re an artist, by children if you’re not’ (PAL, letter to Monica Jones)
The 9th of August 2022 marks the centenary of the birth of poet and librarian Philip Arthur Larkin.
His approach to life as represented in the above quote will resonate with anyone involved in archival work and research. It speaks to the core function of the archivist in preserving the surviving evidence of past thoughts, beliefs and events.
Although not born in Hull, Larkin was intimately connected with the city. Appointed to the post of Librarian at the University of Hull in March 1955, he spent half of his life in the area, living first in Cottingham, then in Hull’s Pearson Park, and finally in the well-to-do area of Newland Park near the University. Some of his most famous works were inspired by the experience of living in, travelling from and returning to the city. During his time at the University, he guided the library through a period of significant development, helping to transform it from a small operation in a series of makeshift spaces, to a purpose built and sector-leading academic library. Through his collaboration with academic colleagues, he promoted the growth of Hull University Archives from a small selection of manuscripts to an internationally significant repository for archive collections. So, it is fitting that his surviving archive is held at Hull as part of the University Archives.
Creative process of a poet…
‘[T]o construct a verbal device that would preserve an experience indefinitely by reproducing it in whoever read the poem’ (PAL, definition of the purpose of a poet, from Required Reading)
One of the most important of the Larkin related collections held at Hull is his personal archive which contains, amongst other things, his manuscript poetry workbooks.
Written in pencil, they contain manuscript drafts of poems written by Larkin, and provide evidence that he drafted and redrafted individual poems over several days or weeks, even returning to them months later. The pages sometimes feature small doodles or comments, giving us an insight into his feelings and state of mind in a given moment. Thus, the workbooks are a vital and unique record of Larkin’s creative process.
Capturing a view on life…
‘I feel the only thing you can do about life is to preserve it, by art if you’re an artist, by children if you’re not’ (PAL, letter to Monica Jones)
Aside from writing poetry, Larkin was a keen and skilled amateur photographer and the evidence is preserved in his photographic archive [RefNo. U DLV]. Having shown an interest in photography from a young age, Larkin was given a camera to use by his father, a Houghton-Butcher Ensign Carbine No.5. In a letter dated 1947, addressed to a childhood friend, he notes that he has spent a large amount of money on a camera of his own, believed to be a Purma Special. From this point there was no looking back, and later on he became known for his use of a professional quality Rolleiflex camera with timers, lenses and filters.
His approach to photography seems akin to that of his writing. His photographs skilfully capture the experience of everyday life according to fundamental principles of photographic composition. His subjects regularly include self-portraits, rural landscapes, church yards, and the friends, family and women in his life. His surviving photographs often show evidence that he marked up prints for enlargement to create a better composition.
Communication is key…
‘Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can, And don’t have any kids yourself’ (PAL, This be the verse)
In an age of emails, texts and social media, we perhaps forget how important letter writing was to communication in the mid-20th century. Larkin was a prolific letter writer, maintaining contact with friends, acquaintances, and family on a regular basis. There are many collections of his correspondence at Hull.
Highlights include letters sent to Monica Jones, his life-long partner [RefNo. U DX341], which reveal their close and frank relationship, along with aspects of Larkin’s character and life views. Another highlight is the correspondence between Larkin and his childhood friend James Sutton [U DP174 and U DP182]. The two friends discuss home life, friends, jazz music, and their current creative endeavours, which provides opportunity to explore Larkin’s formative years at home, school and university.
In this centenary year we’ve been busy working to enhance access to the Larkin collections, improving catalogue descriptions, producing a new source guide and creating an online exhibition.
June’s Archives Hub feature is the result of animated discussions between members of Academic Libraries North (formerly Northern Collaboration) Special Interest Group for Special Collections and Archives. We chose Global Change as an overarching idea and asked group members to pick a collection that spoke to this theme. Far from being a random assortment of disparate collections with no common ground, the resulting list revealed linked collections with great research potential for those interested in political history, social history, activism, immigration and emigration, technological and design innovation – and even railway engineering.
University of Bradford – Peace Pamphlet Collection
This collection comprises thousands of peace pamphlets gathered by Commonweal Library from their rich network of connections in protest campaigns worldwide. They present an incredible resource for researchers and illustrate the ideas and activities of British peace movements from the First World War to the present day. Significant publishers include the Peace Pledge Union, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. They also offer a fascinating visual record, with many well-known artists contributing designs.
Durham University – Malcolm MacDonald Papers
Son of Ramsay MacDonald, Malcolm MacDonald was elected Labour MP for Bassetlaw 1929. He held the seat until 1935, and was National Labour MP for Ross and Cromarty 1936-1945. He held ministerial office in the Dominions & Colonial Office 1931-1940, and was British High Commissioner to Canada, 1941-1946. He was Governor General of Malaya, his responsibilities subsequently extended to cover all S.E. Asia. In 1955 he became High Commissioner for the U.K. in India and in 1960 was appointed co-chairman of the international conference on Laos. The final part of his administrative and diplomatic career was spent in Africa as Governor and Commander in Chief and later High Commissioner for Kenya 1963-4.
Lancaster University – Socialist Pamphlets
A significant item in this collection is ABC of votes for Women by Marion Holmes (nee Miller) 1867-1943, printed in 1913. Marion was a suffragette, a freelance journalist and writer. She was on the committee for the Society of Women Journalists and established Margate Pioneer Society. In Croydon she was the President of the local Women’s Social and Political Union and a member of the Women’s Freedom League and the first female election agent in Keighley. This work covers the importance of women having the ability to vote.
The Leeds Russian Archive, established in 1982, comprises around 650 collections of manuscripts, photographs and other archival material related to Anglo-Russian contacts in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Archive contains papers of members of the British community in Russia, as well as travellers and diplomats, governesses and soldiers, including the papers of writers such as Leonid Andreev (1871-1919); Nobel prizewinner Ivan Bunin (1870-1953), as well as the papers of the Russian railway engineer Yuri Lomonossoff (1876-1952).
Monsignor James Nugent, better known as Father Nugent, was a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Liverpool. He was a passionate social reformer, appalled by the state of the homeless living in the squalor of Victorian England, he dedicated his life to the education and rescue of destitute children. Father Nugent was also an early pioneer of children’s emigration. In 1870 he took the first group of 24 children to Canada on 18 August 1870 on the SS Austrian; this was probably the first organised emigration of its kind.
Liverpool John Moores University – Stafford Beer Archive
Professor Stafford Beer (1926-2002) was an inspirational thinker, teacher and writer in the field of management cybernetics. A polymath and credited as the founder of Management Cybernetics, he was appointed Honorary Professor of Organisational Transformation at LJMU in 1989. He is probably best known internationally for his work on Project Cybersyn, a Chilean attempt to develop a cybernetic approach to the organisation and control of the economy in the 1971-1973 under the socialist government of President Allende.
Richard Badnall (d 1842) and his collaborator Richard Gill patented the design of an “Undulating Railway”, an eccentric invention which caught the interest of many prominent people, including George and Robert Stephenson and the Directors of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The collection, comprising mainly of correspondence, has been fully digitised.
Sheffield Hallam University – Festival of Britain Collection
The 1951 Festival of Britain was a showcase of British contributions to art, design and industry and a chance to celebrate and raise the nation’s spirits after the austerity of the war years. In the 1970s Sheffield Hallam University acquired a box of Festival items including press releases, letters and some official guides, but this has been enhanced through acquisition of a wider range of Festival literature and commemorative ephemera – such as postcards, teapots, toys, glassware and medals.
Dennis Brutus (b. 1924) is best known for founding the South African Sports Association (SASA) whose essential aim was the elimination of racialism in South African sport. The South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SAN-ROC), with Brutus as its president, had considerable success: not only with the exclusion of South Africa from the Olympic Games in 1968, but also with the withdrawal of many African competitors from the 1976 Olympics. Forced into exile in 1966, Brutus left South Africa for England, where he worked for the International Defence Aid Fund. In 1971 he moved to the United States and died on 26 December 2009.
Browse more collection descriptions for these institutions on the Archives Hub:
The human race has always wanted to fly, and the National Aerospace Library’s collection shows how we have pursued those dreams to conquer and then perfect flight; from aeroplanes to hovercraft, air travel to satellites, and missiles to man carrying kites. Our earliest book, from 1515, looks at how objects travel through the air and we are still collecting material on cutting edge aero engineering.
The NAL is unusual for an institute collection. Rather than specialising in a single profession, the library follows its parent organisation, the Royal Aeronautical Society, by covering all the sciences and arts connected to travel above the ground. From designing aircraft to insurance and law, from flying eighteenth-century balloons to airport operations and from aero medicine to aerial warfare.
Social historians can find a wealth of information within our four walls. For example, we have three interesting collections from women who were captivated by flight during the interwar period, with the collections of The Flying Countess, Cathleen Countess or Drogheda, and two pioneering women who tried to fly across Africa, Delphine Reynolds , who reached as far as Sierra Leone in early 1931, and Peggy Salaman who reached Cape Town later that year. The collection of Wilfred Parke gives an insight into the pre-World War I world of air racing.
Flying has always captured the imagination and has been recorded in prints, posters, photographs and paintings. We care for over 100,000 Images showing early balloon lithographs from the eighteenth century, the stylish design that accompanied air travel in the 1930s, glass slides explaining scientific concepts, plus tens of thousands of images showing aeroplanes. Many of these images are available via the Mary Evan Picture Library’s corporate licencing and merchandise sites.
Aeronautics is also a business and our collections cover how the world of science, government, warfare and business collide. This is best shown through the records of Britain’s aviation trade organisation – the Society of British Aircraft Constructors , also known as the SBAC. Starting during the First World War, these minute books chronicle seventy years of thinking of those high up in industry. We also have the wartime records of the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company with its digitised minute book appearing on our Heritage website and the Broke-Smith Archive contains some interesting material on military aviation before the First World War.
The Royal Aeronautical Society was created decades before the Wright Brothers became the first men to fly a powered aircraft, and archive of the Royal Aeronautical Society is strong on how the great minds of the time worked out how to design the machines that enabled us to fly. One of our main treasures are the scientific papers of Sir George Cayley, the man dubbed the father of aeronautics, who established many of the principles flight, such as establishing that gaining lift should be separated from the propulsion system, as well as discoveries well away from aeronautics, such as designing prosthetics and geared bicycles. Other early collections include the Baden-Powell ballooning cuttings collection, Percy Pilcher’s work on gliders and Lawrence Hargrave’s photograph albums. We have digitised the Cayley Notebooks, Pilcher Drawings and Hargrave albums and they can all be viewed on our heritage website.
We also have an extensive letters collection, which includes correspondence from the Society and its leading members. The collections are especially strong in the early days of flight, with letters from the pioneers of flight, such as the Wright Brothers, Samuel Cody, Samuel Langley, Octave Chanute, Lawrence Hargrave, J.W. Dunne, A.V Roe, Lord Rayleigh, Sir Frederick Handley Page, Alberto Santos-Dumont, Gustav Lilienthal, F.W. Lanchester, James Glaisher and Sir Geoffrey de Havilland. Though we have not yet listed each letter on Archives Hub, a list of files can be found on the online and we can then use our paper indexes to find out more about each item of correspondence. Interaction with the great names in aeronautics politics and the services between 1910 and 1953 can be found in the correspondence files of the acid-tonged editor of Aeroplane magazine, C. G. Grey.
Our aero engineering archive collections move from the pioneering days into the aircraft designers and producers. The British & Colonial Aeroplane Company Collection includes design work for many post-war Bristol Aircraft, Second World War propeller developments can be found in the collection of de Havilland’s A. V. Cleaver, W. O. Manning’s work at English Electric and aeronautical papers of George William Saynor show design work at Blackburn Aircraft and Canadian Vickers, together with the designs of he and his partner, which came together in the Saynor & Bell Canadian Cub & Canadian Cub II.
Last but not least, the NAL holds the records of our parent organisation, the Royal Aeronautical Society. As well as membership records of the great and the good of the industry and day-by-day administration of a learned society, it also contains audio recordings of over four hundred of its lectures and conferences, primarily from the 1960s and 1990s onwards. The NAL has digitised most of the collection and has been slowly podcasting some of the gems over the last two or three years, including from the great names in British aero industry, such as Sir Frederick Handley Page describing the launch of Britain’s first big aircraft, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland talking about the his first few years in aeronautics, military topics such as the history of the nuclear delivery aircraft, the V-bombers, and scientific lectures such as the first 50 years of aeroelasticity.
So far, the National Aerospace Library has placed high level descriptions of just over thirty of our main collections on Archives Hub. We will be now working to fill in some of the lower level information and details that is currently stored in paper index files plus or hidden away on our library catalogue, plus add details of some of our other collections to the site.
In the meantime, we always welcome enquiries, either by phone 01252 701038/60 or email. Further to the UK Government’s guidance, the National Aerospace Library is currently closed to external visitors to ensure the health and wellbeing of staff, members, and volunteers but online services remain available.
Tony Pilmer, Librarian National Aerospace Library
Browse all National Aerospace Library collection descriptions available to date on the Archives Hub
All images copyright National Aerospace Library. Reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.
A new exhibition at the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery at the University of Leeds explores the story of a forgotten Yorkshireman whose achievements are now being reassessed.
Dr Bryan White, Senior Lecturer in the School of Music at the University of Leeds, has been researching the material collected by the Sheffield-based organist, antiquarian and collector William Thomas Freemantle (1849-1931). Dr White’s investigations have revealed a tenacious collector who would “endure martyrdom in Siberia” to acquire unique treasures for his library.
W.T. Freemantle’s musical interests extended widely and he gathered a valuable collection of manuscripts and prints. Much of this material has only recently been catalogued, and more still remains to be explored.
“W.T.” was born in Chichester and moved with his family to Sheffield in 1855. At the age of 16 he was apprenticed organist at Lincoln Cathedral and developed an interest in the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847).
Freemantle’s enthusiasm for Mendelssohn ran against the tide. At the mid-point of the nineteenth century the composer was a towering figure in the musical landscape, particularly in Britain. Mendelssohn’s reputation waned in subsequent decades, but Freemantle continued to value his music highly. Today Mendelssohn is again one of the most popular Romantic composers, and Freemantle’s collection has much to offer the researcher.
Freemantle described his metamorphosis into a collector in a lecture entitled “How I became an autograph collector and what I have got”. He tells of a visit to a Sheffield market where he stumbled upon a “rather soiled looking lot of manuscript music”. As he worked through the pile he found a Mendelssohn signature and felt “my blood had heated, my pulse had quickened” … “Oh! That bundle of music! I was now indeed an autograph collector.”
Several decades later his Mendelssohn collection encompassed 40 autograph manuscript scores, 300 letters, and hundreds of books, musical prints, concert programmes and other ephemera touching upon all aspects of the composer’s life and that of his family and colleagues. In the 1870s Freemantle began a biography of the composer, but eventually put the project aside when the extent of the surviving material overwhelmed him.
Freemantle collected music by other significant figures, and in particular committed himself to the music of Charles Dibdin (1745-1814), a prolific composer of theatre music and songs. Freemantle acquired a substantial set of Dibdin’s autograph manuscripts, working with great skill and dedication to organise and identify this very disordered material.
W.T. also took a strong interest in Sheffield history. He acquired books, pottery, painting, prints and tokens from the local area and wrote and lectured on local history. His collection of Rockingham pottery was eventually bought by the Sheffield Corporation and now resides at Weston Park Museum along with his collection of coins and seals.
Freemantle sold his Mendelssohn collection along with his entire library to Lord Brotherton of Wakefield sometime in 1927-28. The purchase was probably brokered by Brotherton’s personal librarian, J. Alexander Symington (1887-1961). Symington had oversight of the Freemantle Collection before it was formally accessioned by the University Library in Leeds, and he took the opportunity to sell significant parts of the Mendelssohn and Dibdin material to libraries and collectors in the United States. His actions played a significant role in suppressing the extent of Freemantle’s activities and his reputation as a collector.
Had Freemantle’s music collections remained intact he would be recognised as a pioneering figure in Mendelssohn studies, and more widely as a significant British collector of his era. Thankfully, the rest of Freemantle’s materials were left untouched and now form an important part of Special Collections at the University of Leeds. Now that Freemantle’s work is being reassessed, the real story of his achievements can begin to be told!
The exhibition runs from 1 March-31 July 2019 in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery at the University of Leeds.
On show for the first time to the general public are many of the Mendelssohn manuscript scores housed in Special Collections at Leeds University Library, alongside other items from Freemantle’s extensive music collections.
The Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery is free and open to all. For directions, opening times and our programme of related events see:
Get all the latest news and behind the scenes insights by following the Gallery on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – @LULGalleries
Special Collections at Leeds University Library is home to hundreds of thousands of rare books, manuscripts, archives and artworks. Our collections offer a rich resource for staff, students, and the wider research community. Start your search here:
The archive of the Royal College of Nursing is a fascinating mix of business and personal. We collect the organisational records of the College, which go back to its foundation in 1916. These include meeting minutes, premises records, RCN publications and marketing ephemera, and tell the story of the College as a professional organisation (and later a trade union) for nurses. The other half of the archive consists of a large number of personal papers collections, each relating to an individual nurse and containing a vast array of items, from lecture notes and badges to First World War scrapbooks and photographs. Some of our oldest material predates the founding of the College by 50 years. The RCN’s personal papers collection is a wonderful source for learning about the lives and professional challenges of nurses across the UK.
The personal papers collection of Cathlin du Sautoy is a perfect example of the variety shown by our collections, not least because Cathlin du Sautoy was herself a very interesting woman.
Cathlin du Sautoy was born in 1875 to John and Annie du Sautoy. Her father was a civil engineer and the family lived in Yorkshire. After three years’ study of Domestic Science at Cardiff College she was appointed as lecturing sister at Tredegar House, the training school for nurses for the London Hospital. Her teaching subject was Sick Room Cookery, Physiology, Hygiene and the Chemistry of Food. She then entered training at Guy’s Hospital for three years and was the Gold Medallist of her year. A career in nursing and nurse teaching followed, at such institutions as the Queen Victoria Jubilee Institute, the British Red Cross Society and the Ulster Medical Board. She was deeply involved with nursing in France during and after the First World War, organising Red Cross units in the UK and in France, and helping to set up an English-style District Nurse programme in Reims after the end of the war.
During the First World War, when she was in her late 30s, she met Lady Hermione Blackwood, who was a VAD in France. They would become lifelong companions, settling in the Vale of Health in Hampstead with their two adopted French children, Victor and Yvette, after the war. The couple acted as air-raid wardens during the Second World War and were active in the local area and hospital. Cathlin du Sautoy died in 1968, eight years after the death of Hermione Blackwood.
Her papers clearly show an extremely capable nurse and family-oriented woman. The two sides of her obviously fitted neatly into each other, with many photographs of Cathlin and Hermione in full nursing uniform, holding baby Victor (known as ‘Hiddy’) in France. There are letters in the collection about Cathlin’s career alongside letters from Hermione about the children’s clothes and their holiday plans. There are Cathlin’s nursing badges and medals and a copy of Hermione’s Queen’s Nursing Institute magazine. The collection is a beautiful mix of the personal and the professional and shows how, in nursing, the two often go hand-in-hand. The couple met whilst nursing and, whilst Lady Hermione Blackwood did not nurse after the war, Cathlin du Sautoy was actively involved in the management of the Royal College of Nursing and the running of the local hospital. She obviously had a deep interest in helping others, as her and Hermione’s stints as air raid wardens during the Second World War (when du Sautoy was in her 70s) show.
You can see more images of Cathlin and Hermione at the exhibition currently on display at RCN Scotland’s headquarters in Edinburgh – the couple are an important part of the exhibition, which celebrates diversity in nursing and is based largely on the RCN’s personal papers collections.
Sophie Volker, Archivist Royal College of Nursing Archives
“It’s fierce, an’ it’s wild, an’ it’s not bothered about anybody”
Towards the end of January 1968, Michael Joseph Ltd. published a novel written by Barry Hines, South Yorkshire born author and screenwriter, entitled A Kestrel for a Knave, later to be adapted as the celebrated film Kes, directed by Ken Loach.
It is the story of Billy Casper, a 15 year old boy from a mining village, his family and school life, and his passion for the kestrel which he trains and cares for. One of the most striking features of the book is its use of the Barnsley dialect, which seems to give it an enduring appeal, and it has been read and enjoyed by generations of schoolchildren, especially in Yorkshire.
In the Hines Papers, held by the Special Collections Department in the University of Sheffield Library, can be found manuscripts and typescripts of the novel (and also the film, play, radio, musical and dance-theatre adaptations that followed it), along with press reviews, correspondence, publicity material and photographs. The archive is also rich in material relating to Barry Hines’s other works – novels, films, and TV and radio plays (Born Kicking, The Price of Coal, Looks and Smiles, Threads, and many more) as well as numerous unpublished and unproduced scripts. It also includes quantities of research material as well as many personal items such as school reports, correspondence and photographs, and even Barry’s own school scarf from Ecclesfield Grammar School, which was knitted for him by his aunty because the shop-bought ones were too expensive! All of these items help to build a picture of the writer and demonstrate how his own life experiences informed his work.
Barry Hines was born in the mining village of Hoyland Common near Barnsley on 30th June 1939, and attended Ecclesfield Grammar School. One of his proudest moments was playing for the England Secondary Schools football team in 1957. His first job was with the National Coal Board as an apprentice mining engineer, but he returned to education, eventually gaining a teaching qualification at Loughborough University. He worked as a Physical Education teacher for several years, first in London and then in Hoyland Common, eventually leaving to become a full-time writer. He was Yorkshire Arts Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Sheffield from 1972 to 1974, and became an Honorary Doctor of Letters in 2010. He died in March 2016.
As well as archival documents, the collection also includes many examples of Barry Hines’s published works, and particularly notable are the many editions of A Kestrel for a Knave in a variety of different languages.
The Hines Papers are already being viewed as a valuable research resource: David Forrest and Sue Vice from the School of English at the University of Sheffield have recently published a monograph entitled Barry Hines: Kes, Threads and beyond with Manchester University Press; a PhD student is currently researching Hines’s lost works; groups of school students have visited the archive, as have members of the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership’s reading group: work created by these latter two groups has been added to the collection.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of A Kestrel for a Knave in 2018, and of the release of the film Kes in 2019, the Special Collections Team is delighted to be collaborating with academic colleagues and a local photographer and local designer on an innovative artistic project that plans to use text and images from the archive to celebrate the book and film both in the city of Sheffield, and also in the wider South Yorkshire region.
The story of Conway Hall Ethical Society dates back to 1787 and a nonconformist congregation, led by Elhanan Winchester, rebelling against the doctrine of eternal damnation. This group of freethinking individuals, based in a small chapel on the eastern edge of London (Parliament Court Chapel), was the beginnings of what was to become a society of radicals and social and political reformers, devoted to freethought. There is no other Society in the United Kingdom, possibly the globe, that has such a long history dedicated to creating a fairer, more equal world through free religious thought and ethical enquiry.
It has had many names, being known as the Philadelphians (or Loving Brothers), Universalists, Society of Religious Dissenters, South Place Unitarian Society, South Place Society, Free Religious Society, South Place Religious Society, South Place Ethical Society and now Conway Hall Ethical Society.
Throughout its early history as a religious institution, the Society’s ministers led the congregation through various spiritual quandaries, including the rejection of the Trinity, which lost the Society many of its members. It weathered the loss, however, surviving and flourishing after many similar erosions of membership on the progressive journey from universalism and unitarianism to the present humanist position, which the Society had reached by the end of the nineteenth century.
William Johnson Fox (1786 – 1864)
Notable leaders of the Society include renowned orator William Johnson Fox who became minister in 1817. His popularity, resulting in an increase in the congregation, led to the construction of their first purpose built home, South Place Chapel in Finsbury, into which the congregation moved in 1824. Among the congregation and its close kin was a circle of radicals and progressive thinkers who stood for various political and social causes, including women’s rights, suffrage and education for all. These included women’s rights advocates Sophia Dobson Collet and Caroline Ashurst Stansfield, poet Robert Browning, philosopher John Stuart Mill, social theorist Harriet Martineau as well as adherents of William Lovett and Chartism.
Fox himself was an early supporter of women’s rights, campaigning in regard for women’s rights respecting infant custody, marriage and divorce and for freedom of the press. He was also a Member of Parliament where he was renowned for his impassioned speeches against the Corn Laws and stringent support of the Lancastrian system of education, which ultimately resulted in the opening of board schools and free education.
Fox remained minister until 1853 during which time he led the congregation toward a more rationalist outlook reflecting the freethinking nature of both himself and the circle of intellectuals that surrounded him both within and without the congregation.
Dr. Moncure Conway (1832 – 1907)
The most outstanding of Fox’s successors was an American, Moncure Conway, after whom the Society‘s present home is named. He settled at the South Place Chapel from 1864 until 1897, excepting a break from 1885 to 1892 during which he returned to America and wrote his famous biography of Thomas Paine. Conway had adopted an uncompromising anti-slavery position at home, despite having two brothers serving in the Confederate army, and came to England in 1863 on a speaking tour. The same year he helped his father’s slaves escape to freedom in Virginia at the start of the American Civil War.
He was also a supporter of women’s rights, speaking at the first recorded public meeting on women’s suffrage in 1871 at Hackney Town Hall and he was strongly anti-war. These pacifist beliefs being cemented during his experience of seeing first hand the brutality and devastation of battle whilst a war correspondent during the Franco-Prussian war.
His views seem to have been formed by his questioning outlook and by the intellectual circles he inhabited which included the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott in America and George Eliot, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin in London.
The breadth of his interests is reflected in the discourses he gave which covered such matters as slavery, religion, war, ethics and freedom of expression. It is Conway’s unquenchable curiosity about the world around him and the religion that had been his calling that was ultimately responsible for taking his rationally minded congregation towards its current humanist approach and which in 1888, under the leadership of Stanton Coit (during the seven year break of Conway’s tenure), finally lost its remaining religious trappings cemented in the change of its name from South Place Religious Society to the South Place Ethical Society.
Conway Hall, and our previous home South Place Chapel, have witnessed many of the great and the good from the world of radical and liberal thinkers, including political activists such as Annie Besant, Charles Bradlaugh and Peter Kropotkin, suffragettes Marion Phillips and Marion Holmes, writers T. H. Huxley, Charles Darwin, William Morris, H. G. Wells, Dora Russell, Bertrand Russell and in more recent times Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Brian Cox and Jacqueline Wilson.
The story of our current headquarters, named after Moncure Conway, dates back to the beginning of the last century. By 1900 the Society realised its current home in South Place was no longer fit for purpose, and began debating whether to repair the existing building or investigate erecting a new one, potentially on the same site. At this early stage plans were drawn up by architect Frederick Herbert Mansford F.R.I.B.A. (1871–1946) for a new home. Mansford, along with his three siblings, had been a lifelong member of the Society. His brother, Wallis, advocated selling the Chapel and erecting a new building which would have a ‘swimming bath convertible into a gymnasium in winter months,’ a bookshop, separate lending and reference libraries, a labour and emigration bureau and a roof garden. Sadly, progress was halted by the outbreak of the First World War, but money raised from the sale of South Place Chapel in 1921 along with an appeal for funds finally allowed the construction of Conway Hall in 1928. F. Herbert Mansford was appointed architect.
The new building was to be a place of enlightened education and social activity, and was designed with this in mind. Whilst funds did not allow for the extent of Wallis Mansford’s wishlist, his brother worked with the building committee to create an edifice with space to hold lectures, concerts, dances, social evenings and play-readings as well as a library and spaces for the various membership groups, such as the Ramblers’ Club and the Poetry Circle. The new headquarters for South Place Ethical Society opened officially on 23 September 1929.
The Society today
Today, the Society is an educational charity whose objective is the advancement of study, research and education in humanist ethical principles. Conway Hall offers a vibrant range of cultural activities including classical concerts (the longest running chamber-music series in the world), exhibitions, contemporary dance and theatre as well as free access to our Humanist Library and Archives. Through the Library and Archives we run a variety of learning activities (https://conwayhall.org.uk/learning-at-conway-hall/). These include adult education courses, talks and debates, family activities and sessions for schools covering a range of subjects linked to the heritage and ethos of our Society.
Conway Hall Humanist Library and Archives
The Library and Archives was founded in 1886 at a time when public libraries were a rarity in the U.K. and when self education was being promoted for those without the means to access education. Free access to knowledge through books and pamphlets was seen to be the foundations of our Society which led to the creation of the Society’s free library, with a special section for children.
Today the Library houses a humanist collection covering such subjects as ethics, philosophy, free speech, education, environmental issues, civil rights, animal rights, religion and rationalism and holds rare and important journals such as The Freethinker, The National Reformer, The Republican, The Agnostic Journal, The Literary Guide and our own journal, The Ethical Record.
We hold the archives of Conway Hall Ethical Society which record our Society’s evolution from the radical dissenting congregation of the 1790s, through the nineteenth century challenges to thought and belief, to the creation of Conway Hall in the 1920s and the educational charity of today.
We also hold the archives of the National Secular Society from 1875, a campaigning organisation promoting secularism established in 1866 under the leadership of Charles Bradlaugh.
Among our collections we have treasures such as the manuscript autobiography of the Chartist leader William Lovett (1800–1877), Illuminated addresses presented to Charles Bradlaugh (1833–1891) and artefacts such as Richard Carlile’s (1790-1843) prison writing desk. You can search our collections here (https://conwayhall.org.uk/library/search-the-catalogue/)
Since 2015 we have begun the intricate task of digitising our collections. You can explore the pilot project, Architecture and Place, here (http://conwayhallcollections.omeka.net/). It has allowed us to digitise items relating to our current and former homes such as plans, leases and photographs and you will also find the files documenting the plans and procedures we have put in place for our future digitisation projects. We hope these will be useful for other organisations working on small budgets and with small teams.
Sophie Hawkey-Edwards Library and Learning Manager Conway Hall Humanist Library and Archives
Explore Conway Hall Humanist Library and Archives collections on the Archives Hub:
As a teenager, Bruce attended a vacation course in biology at a marine station in Granton, studying under Patrick Geddes, which proved to be an influential experience. He went on to assist John Murray at the Challenger Office, and would help with dredging on the Forth or Clyde whenever there was an opportunity.
Bruce’s first Antarctic voyage was on the Balaena where he worked as a surgeon on the Dundee Antarctic Whaling Expedition. He went on to work as a biologist on the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition, and then on the Coates Arctic Expedition. Bruce was then invited to make hydrological and biological surveys on trips to Spitsbergen.
Bruce’s best known expedition was on the Scotia where he was the leader of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition during 1902 to 1904. This expedition set out to conduct hydrographic work in the Weddell Sea, and survey the South Orkney Islands and study their wildlife.
Bruce continued to make expeditions, and travelled to Spitsbergen several more times between 1906 and 1919.
The archive at National Museums Scotland holds a range of records that show the breadth of Bruce’s work over the years.
The planning that was required to undertake a scientific voyage is evident from the many records held for ordering goods to take on board, and packing lists for specific parts of a voyage. Lists include everything from basic requirements such as food, to survival equipment, to specialised scientific apparatus.
The archive includes scientific data gathered on Bruce’s voyages. There are examples of scientific log books, oceanographic measurements of temperature and water density, and lists of specimens found in trawls.
Scientific data is accompanied by scientific drawings and sketches of the flora and fauna collected and described as part of the expeditions. The artist of the Scotia was William Cuthbertson, and his artwork shows the array of wildlife that was observed by the scientific team.
Cuthbertson also painted landscapes and seascapes as the crew travelled, and the archive has a collection of these, often showing the beauty of the environment that was encountered on the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition.
The archive includes many illustrations and descriptions of penguins, including this sketch by William Martin. Their behaviour was noted by Bruce and his colleagues during the Scotia expedition, and specimens were collected for scientific study. Some of these specimens are part of the collections at National Museums Scotland, and still available for study. However, penguins and their eggs were also valued as food for the voyage, with black throated penguins being found the most palatable. Penguin was regularly served with fried onions, in soup, or as curry to those on board the Scotia.
Despite the amount of scientific work undertaken during expeditions, Bruce and his colleagues did have leisure time to fill. Time would be spent singing songs, with each person doing a turn to entertain, Bruce being known for his rendition of ‘Two Blue Bottles’. The archive collection contains a notebook filled with attempts to draw a pig while blindfolded, which serves as a keepsake from the voyage, as well as evidence of the kind of games that would keep boredom at bay. The page shown is William Speirs Bruce’s attempt.
The landscapes and living conditions experienced by those on the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition were captured by William Martin in a sketchbook that is also held in the National Museums Scotland archive. The sketch shown is of a cove at Gough Island where the Scotia stopped to collect specimens, and more images from the sketchbook can be found online http://www.nms.ac.uk/explore/collection-search-results/?item_id=737692
The Bruce papers also contain the diary of A Forbes Mackay who was a colleague of Bruce. Mackay reached the South Magnetic Pole on January 16th 1909, along with T.W. Edgeworth David, and Douglas Mawson. The diary tells of the difficult conditions as the men made the journey on foot over challenging terrain. Mackay also describes the pressure put on their relationships as a team, as the leadership passed from David to Mawson because David was no longer considered capable of leading.
In May 1937 approximately 4,000 children, with labels pinned to their clothes, came to Southampton on board the Habana from Santurzi/Santurce, the port of Bilbo/Bilbão, fleeing the Spanish Civil War and its consequences.
The Spanish Second Republic had been established in 1931, with an ambitious agenda to eliminate deeply-rooted social and cultural inequalities. The republican programme encompassed land and education reform, improved rights for women, restructuring the army, and granting autonomy to Catalonia and the Basque Country. Threatened by far-reaching change, diverse political groupings aligned themselves in the so-called ‘two Spains’. The ensuing civil war lasted three years, with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy helping one faction, Communist Russia the other, with Chamberlain’s Britain leading a policy of appeasement among Western democratic nations. In this bitter conflict, there was a third Spain, which did not want to take up arms, but to live in peace. War, hunger, revolution, counter-revolution, denunciations, persecution, summary trials and executions, and mass repression often resulted in the disintegration of family and community life, desolating a country and forcing thousands of its people into exile.
On 26 April 1937, General Franco attacked Guernica and Durango, one of the first bombings of a civilian population in Europe. In the wake of this, the Basque government and the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief, co-ordinating relief in the UK, organised the evacuation of children from the north front of the war zone. The British government had a policy of non-intervention in Spain and, whilst it permitted the children to entry the UK, no public funds were made available for the expedition, nor for the care of the children once they arrived. Their maintenance was provided for entirely by private funds and those raised by voluntary groups and organisations, under the overall co-ordination of the Basque Children’s Committee.
On arrival at Southampton, the children were sent to a hastily constructed camp at North Stoneham, near Eastleigh, which now forms part of Southampton Airport.
This was the children’s temporary home until they were dispersed to be cared for by the Catholic Church, the Salvation Army, which accommodated children in a hostel in London, or in the so-called “colonies” set up by local committees across the country. Eventually over ninety “colonies” were established, each housing between 20 to 50 children. Ranging from stately homes to converted workhouses, the “colonies” were run on donations. When the initial funding for them began to dry up, the niños were drawn into helping raise funds by performing concerts and shows and by taking part in football matches with local teams.
The children who came on board the Habana brought very little in the way of personal possessions with them, but they brought memories of the conflict and a sense of their identity. Aside from the shows and concerts where the children dressed in national costume, sang songs or performed dances from home, publications such as Amistad, one of the newsletters produced by the children themselves, were a means for them to remember. Conceived as an informative monthly publication, the newsletter contains pieces describing life in the Basque region, the bombing of Guernica, reflections on war and the journey on the Habana.
The Special Collections at the Hartley Library, University of Southampton, holds archives for the Basque Children of ‘37 Association UK (MS 404), which was founded in 2002 to ensure that the legacy of the Basque children was not forgotten, together with small collections relating to Basque child refugees (MS 370) that have come from individuals. Further details on the collection can be found on the website at:
Archives Hub Themed Collection: Open Lives. The OpenLives project documented the experiences of Spanish migrants returning to Spain after settling in the UK. Researchers from the University of Southampton collected oral testimony, images and other ephemera.
All images copyright the Hartley Library, University of Southampton and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.
The Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers (FWWCP) was a network of community-based writing groups that stretched across the UK and, to a much lesser extent, Europe and the USA. Voluntary, community-run groups met to allow working class people to share and discuss their creative writing and facilitate community self-publication. It was the most significant working class writing/publication project of the 20th century, distributing over a million books between 1976-2007. It thrived during a period of significant social, economic and political change in the UK especially through the 1970s and 1980s, and represented a significant counter-cultural movement.
Many of the groups emerged out of local politics and campaigning, some such as Hackney’s Centerprise were a model of community cohesion, providing a bookshop, publisher, crèche, cafe and legal advice. Others still exist such as Brighton’s QueenSpark, Books, the UK’s longest running community publisher that started out of a grassroots campaign to establish a nursery school instead of a casino.
Through the medium of poetry, prose, fiction, biography, autobiography and local history, they document the changing experience of working class people over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, and much like oral history, they contain testimony about cultural history and working lives. They also reveal an emerging identity politics focused on issues of local community, immigration, race/ethnicity, gender, mental health and sexuality, with groups setting up to discuss, publish and represent those identities.
Some of the groups were involved in the establishment of community bookshops, Bookplace, Newham Books, and Tower Hamlets Arts Project (known as THAP and Eastside Books). They were important in providing an outlet for FWWCP publications and frequently provided a meeting space for writers and adult literacy groups.
The TUC Library started its collection of publications from the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers in August 2014 with a major deposit from Nick Pollard, a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University who had a long-running involvement in the Federation. This has been followed by a number of other smaller deposits over the last 18 months, from former writers, members and enthusiasts.
From London alone there are at least 11 groups represented, including: Black Ink, Peckham People’s History, Stepney Books, Basement Writers, Working Press, Tower Hamlets Arts Project, Hammersmith & Fulham Community, Newham Writers Workshop, London Voices, Age Exchange, Southwark Mind and Survivors. All published biographies, autobiographies, fiction, prose and poetry.
There are also audio recordings of meetings, performances and festivals, and some video footage of these events. The Collection contains publications from over 100 groups that were part of the Federation.
Some of the FWWCP legacy still exists in the form of The FED, a much smaller network that follows many of the FWWCP principles but uses an online presence to keep members in touch. The FED includes writing workshops and groups across the country, mostly centered in London, and like its predecessor, continues to celebrate diversity. It is holding its annual writing festival on the 4th June 2016.
The TUC Library is working closely with the University in making the most of the FWWCP Collection, and we’ve provided inductions for students from social sciences and humanities generally, we’ve also provided workshops for those from creative writing students to theatre and performance students. Students from Syracuse University taking a Civic Writing course, helped create an index to the collection. The group taught by Jess Pauszek, through Syracuse’s London Campus, at Faraday House, spent three weeks in summer 2015 and will continue work in 2016.
Having carried out a series of consultative meetings with former members London Metropolitan University and the TUC Library will be applying for funds to carry out an oral history and digitisation project.