Results of the 2018 student digital experience insights survey

Jisc aims to understand more about the student experience and student needs as part of its mission within UK higher and further education. The recent digital experience survey offers some useful findings about how students feel when it comes to digital skills and the digital experience.

37,720 students across 83 higher and further education institutions (HE and FE) are included in the data, equivalent to approximately 16% of colleges and 30% of universities in the UK.

Key findings are:

  • Students – regardless of setting – are positive about the quality of their institution’s digital provision, as well as digital teaching and learning on their course.
  • Over a third of all students want digital technologies to be used more on their course, although this does imply that the majority do not share this view.
  • Only 50% of FE and 69% of HE students think digital skills are important for their chosen career, and few agreed that their course prepares them for the digital workplace. This implies that there are many students who do not think digital skills are essential.
  • Many students bring their own devices to their institution but can’t use these to access subject-specialist software or online learning content. This indicates a lack of flexibility and interoperability.
  • One in five students use assistive or adaptive technologies, with 8% of HE and 6% of FE students considering these vital to their learning needs
  • About eight in ten students used a smartphone to support their learning, which is no surprise, and shows the importance of ensuring that sites are mobile-friendly
  • Around 10% of FE students rated Google search as their number one app or tool, compared with just over 1% of HE students. HE students on the other hand were twice as likely to cite Google Scholar as they were to cite Google on its own as a search tool. HE students also used a wider range of tools for online research, including online journals and journal catalogues.
  • A third of all students turned first to their fellow students when looking for support with digital devices or skills. A third of FE students turned first to their lecturers in comparison with only 8% of HE students. A third of HE students turned to online information in comparison with only 14% of FE students.

It appears that students feel there should be greater opportunities to work more flexibly, both in terms of device use and learning spaces, but overall the responses are generally positive in terms of the digital experience and there are high levels of overall satisfaction with institutional provision (FE: 74%, HE: 88%) and the quality of teaching and learning on students’ courses (FE: 72%, HE: 74%).

Read the full report:


The Imogen Holst archive: papers of a passionate and open-minded woman musician

Archives Hub feature for November 2018

Last year the Britten-Pears Foundation completed a project, funded by the National Cataloguing Grant programme, to catalogue Imogen Holst’s archive held in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, at The Red House, the former home of composer Benjamin Britten and his partner the singer Peter Pears.

Imogen Holst (1907-1984) was the daughter of composer Gustav Holst, best-known for The Planets. Holst, herself a composer, is perhaps best-known today as Britten’s musical assistant, but she also had an exceptional, wide-ranging but lesser known career as, amongst other things, educator, conductor and music traveller for CEMA, the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, work which put her at the forefront of the development of music education and community music-making in England in the twentieth century.

Every Tuesday afternoon in Stories from the Archive a member of the Foundation’s collections team gives a short talk to Red House site visitors focusing on an item from the holdings. I chose to share with visitors my enthusiasm for an item from Holst’s papers: her 1932 to 1934 scrapbook. This is the sixth of ten large scrapbooks she started as a student at the Royal College of Music in 1926, and continued until 1941, in which she pasted letters, postcards, programmes, press cuttings, photographs, tickets, drawings and other ephemeral material, writing captions next to the items. These volumes represent a colourful social record of cultural and musical life in pre-war England as well as telling the personal story of a passionate and open-minded woman musician.

Holst’s scrapbook, 1932-1934 (ref no. HOL/2/7/6)
Holst’s scrapbook, 1932-1934 (ref no. HOL/2/7/6)

Holst left the RCM in 1930, having received the Octavia Travelling Scholarship for composition, a prize of £100 which she spent travelling round Europe, returning home in May 1931. In this sixth scrapbook we see Holst at the start of her career – using her talents as composer, arranger, piano accompanist, conductor, public speaker, teacher, writer and organiser, as well as her immense enthusiasm, to earn a living. All the threads are already here that will run through the rest of her life, echoing through her entire archive – skills she continued to use, and passions she followed, whilst teaching at Dartington Hall, Devon, after moving to Aldeburgh in 1952 and in her role as artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival from 1956 to 1977.

Early in 1932 Holst joined the staff of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. She was passionate about the preservation and spread of our folksong and dance heritage and her scrapbook is full of press cuttings and programmes documenting her travels throughout the country lecturing, teaching, conducting and playing as accompanist for the Society, as well as her work arranging traditional folk tunes for amateurs and professionals to play and sing.

Holst’s bookplate reflecting her enduring passion for folk music and dance (ref no. HOL/2/20/1/81)
Holst’s bookplate reflecting her enduring passion for folk music and dance (ref no. HOL/2/20/1/81)

This sixth scrapbook epitomizes Holst’s enthusiastic and lifelong work on amateur and community music making, and the important role she played in the democratization of music. We see her as a keen supporter of the newly formed Pipers’ Guild, which encouraged people to make and play their own musical instruments. Items in the scrapbook document Holst lecturing on the making and playing of bamboo pipes, arranging old English airs for performance on pipes as well as composing original tunes for both beginner and more advanced players.

Holst with her Burford choir at the Abingdon Festival, 1933 (ref no. HOL/2/7/6/109)
Holst with her Burford choir at the Abingdon Festival, 1933 (ref no. HOL/2/7/6/109)

Almost a decade later Holst’s passion and gift for working with amateurs led her to work, from 1940 to 1942, under CEMA, a forerunner of the Arts Council, as a music traveller to boost home morale during the war by encouraging musical activities in rural communities. Holst was allocated the south west of the country and travelled the wartime countryside, often cycling or walking between villages, to keep people singing, dancing and playing while the bombs fell. The reports Holst filed whilst working in this role were digitised as part of our cataloguing project and can be read in full from the Britten-Pears Foundation’s online catalogue. They illustrate the central role played by women in the crucial task of morale-boosting on the home front during the war.

Imogen Holst’s continuing enthusiasm for writing for and working with amateurs made her a much-loved part of the music scene in Aldeburgh and more widely in Suffolk.

Holst’s music manuscript for Badingham Chime for 12 handbells, 1969 (ref no. HOL/2/1/1/99)
Holst’s music manuscript for Badingham Chime for 12 handbells, 1969 (ref no. HOL/2/1/1/99)

This enthusiasm emanates from the scrapbook page recording a Gustav Holst Concert on which is pasted programme and press cuttings from a concert held in Carlisle on 12 Feb 1933 featuring first performances of new works by both father and daughter. Imogen Holst’s composition, a suite for brass band entitled The Unfortunate Traveller, was dedicated to St. Stephen’s Band – the group of amateurs giving the work its first performance. Here Holst crossed social and cultural barriers, not only by writing for brass band, – the News Chronicle article reports on ‘the first occasion on which an original brass band work by a woman composer has been publicly performed’ – but also by conducting the performance herself. Holst is quoted in The Daily Mail review ‘This is the first time, so far as I know, that a woman has conducted a brass band at a public concert’. We see Holst as a pioneer, composing throughout her career for instruments such as brass band, pipes, recorders and hand bells, bringing these instruments into the art music or cultivated music worlds.

Holst conducting a military band, 1948, photographer: Nicholas Horne (ref no. HOL/2/11/4/6)
Holst conducting a military band, 1948, photographer: Nicholas Horne (ref no. HOL/2/11/4/6)

Imogen Holst pasted into this scrapbook one of the last letters she received from her father, in May 1934, the month he died. Her papers represent the most significant father-daughter relationship in 20th century British music and culture, one that added immeasurably to the democratization of music during this period, as both Holsts spent their lives and careers dedicated to the task of encouraging amateur music-making. The archive tells the story of the shared ideals, interests and talents of father and daughter – as composers, conductors, music educators, ethnomusicologists and community musicians – however we see from Gustav’s letter that he did not share his daughter’s enthusiasm for pipes!

Letter from Gustav to Imogen, May 1934, congratulating her on the publication of her Five short airs on a ground (ref no. HOL/2/7/6/223)
Letter from Gustav to Imogen, May 1934, congratulating her on the publication of her Five short airs on a ground (ref no. HOL/2/7/6/223)

Holst’s scrapbooks encapsulate, in a wonderfully lively and colourful way, what a remarkable, gifted, pioneering, energetic, generous and busy woman she was. Her papers form part of the Britten-Pears Foundation Archive which documents the lives and work of Britten and Pears, as well as their wider collaborative relationships through the papers of librettists, singers, producers, designers, musical assistants and organisations with whom they worked.

Judith Ratcliffe
Britten-Pears Foundation Archive


Imogen Holst archive

Browse all Britten-Pears Foundation collections on the Archives Hub

Britten-Pears Foundation online integrated catalogue

Holst Archive cataloguing project blog

The Holst archive project website gives an overview of the collection, details of digitised items available, list of works and further resources for researchers.


Imogen Holst: A Life in Music, revised edition, edited by Christopher Grogan, Woodbridge: Boydell, 2010 (first published 2007)

All images copyright the Pears-Britten Foundation and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

The Calvin Wells Palaeopathology Archive

Archives Hub feature for October 2018

Calvin Wells examining a human skull in his office
Calvin Wells examining a human skull in his office at White Horse Cottage, Hapton, Norfolk, c.1970. The University of Bradford, Bradford [Catalogue no. CAL/11/32].
Calvin Percival Bamflyde Wells (1908-1978) was a pioneer in the study of disease in archaeological skeletal remains, otherwise known as palaeopathology. A qualified medical doctor who spoke several languages Wells’ publications continue to be cited by researchers and academics working across a range of disciplines, including bioarchaeology, anthropology and the history of medicine. In 2017 the University of Bradford received a Wellcome Trust Research Resources grant to catalogue Wells’ archive of writings, research material and correspondence. One of the most significant parts of the collection relate to Wells’ skeletal reports, which document his analysis of excavated human remains from archaeological sites around the world.

Archaeological skulls featuring typically male and female traits, c.1970.
Archaeological skulls featuring typically male and female traits, c.1970. The University of Bradford, Bradford [Catalogue no. CAL/11/18].
Upon his retirement from medicine at the age of 55 Wells started to study palaeopathology full-time, and soon became the United Kingdom’s leading authority on the subject. Working out of his cottage in rural Norfolk Wells received specimens by post which he examined on his kitchen table, or weather depending, garden. A consummate professional Wells offered an efficient service though insisted that he was paid for his reports, and preferably published in a noteworthy journal. Among Wells’ clients were many distinguished archaeologists, such as Glyn Daniel, Sonia Chadwick-Hawkes, Cecil Hackett, and Charles and Barbara Green. Aside from his first and most impactful book Bones, Bodies and Disease, Wells’ most influential work remains the 120 skeletal reports he produced between 1965 and 1978. A biography of Wells in the Global History of Palaeopathology notes that:

“Calvin Wells’ skeletal reports are remembered for two reasons: the data presentation is meticulously executed and useful to bioarchaeologists today, and his interpretation for the evidence of disease are fascinating and creative, if not necessarily scientifically supported”

The extent of Wells’ dedication to the scientific method is revealed in the archive material, which includes handwritten notes, tables and graphs alongside photographs and radiographs of bone specimens. Almost paradoxically Wells combined a clinical approach to palaeopathological examination with an imaginative, if eccentric, manner in interpreting causes of injury and death in ancient people. For those familiar with Wells’ skeletal reports it would not be surprising to learn that he wrote a considerable amount of short fiction in his spare time. A fascination with the romantic and tragic bled into Wells’ skeletal reports, which has since left an indelible mark on his scientific bibliography.

Extract from a skeletal report 'Report on some Bronze Age human remains, Methwold', c.1955.
Extract from a skeletal report ‘Report on some Bronze Age human remains, Methwold’, c.1955. The University of Bradford, Bradford [Catalogue no .CAL/1/1/1/31].
One example among many which show Wells’ imaginative reading of skeletal remains is a 1963 report title The Human Skeleton from Cox Lane, Ipswich. The report contains Wells’ scientifically sound analysis of male skeleton in his early thirties with six injuries caused by blunt force trauma. It is only when Wells’ attempts to “deduce the probable sequence leading to the man’s death” that he veers into the realms of fiction. In this instance Wells concocts a scenario wherein the victim is pulled from horseback by two assailants before being gruesomely stabbed by a third. Wells concludes that the victim was:

“A young, vigorous energetic man who had probably led a not unadventurous life and finally died in some blood foray fighting desperately and it would seem not ingloriously”

While intriguing, this narrative does not hold up to scientific scrutiny, and there are many similar instances of Wells subjugating objective facts and the historical record to salacious invention. In consideration of these various faults, to what extent are Wells’ skeletal reports valuable for contemporary researchers in bioarchaeology?

Research slides from Wells' research on Paget’s disease, c.1970
Research slides from Wells’ research on Paget’s disease, c.1970 The University of Bradford, Bradford [Catalogue no. CAL/11/1].
As with all pioneers in unexplored disciplines, Wells was prone to deviation and false starts on his journey to new discoveries. For example Wells was among the first palaeopathologists to undertake serious examination of cremated skeletal remains, revealing that it was possible to ascertain age, sex and, in some cases, pathological change with some degree of certainty in charred bone. Wells was also the first to introduce the important concept of pseduopathology, which states that the appearance of disease may be caused by other factors such as bacteria, soil erosion, wildlife and the excavation process itself. Additionally Wells authored several significant reports which examined leprosy, Paget’s disease and Harris lines in archaeological human remains. Wells is also credited for reintroducing the use of radiography in palaeopathological examination.

Selection of research material from Calvin Wells' collaboration with the pioneering archaeologist Gerald Dunning, 1964
Selection of research material from Calvin Wells’ collaboration with the pioneering archaeologist Gerald Dunning, 1964 [Catalogue no. CAL/6/4/24].
The fact that citations of Wells’ bone reports in scientific and academic journals have increased in the forty years since his death are a testament to their enduring value. In the process of cataloguing his archive we have discovered the depth of research and preparation Wells invested in every single skeletal report. As a result of the cataloguing project, contemporary researchers can now access Wells’ original research material providing an opportunity to form improved or revised conclusions about the specimens he examined. In addition to unlocking the research potential of Wells’ archive, the cataloguing project has unveiled a lot about the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Palaeopathology’s’ enigmatic life and personality. Although forthright and resolute in his opinions, Wells by no means thought himself as completely infallible. As he was keen to remind scholars attempting to diagnose disease in the remains of the past:

 “When we remember the many ways in which a pseudopathological appearance can be produced – or a genuine lesion obscured – it no longer seems extraordinary that palaeopathologists occasionally make a wrong diagnosis. The wonder is that we ever make a right one”.

James Neill
Project Archivist – Calvin Wells Collection
Information Services
University of Bradford


Bones, Bodies and Disease by Calvin Wells (London: Thames & Hudson, 1964)

‘Pseudopathology’ by Dr. Calvin Wells ‘Diseases in Antiquity: A Survey of the Diseases, Injuries, and Surgery of Early Populations’ Edited by Don Brothwell Springfield, Illinois: C.C. Thomas (1967)

‘Calvin Percival Bamfylde Wells (1908–1978)’ by Charlotte Roberts and Keith Manchester ‘The Global History of Paleopathology: Pioneers and Prospects‘ Edited by Jane Buikstra and Charlotte Roberts New York, NY: Oxford University Press (2012)

‘Crooked Timber: The life of Calvin Wells (1908-1978)’ by Tony Waldron in Journal of Medical Biography (May 2014)


The Calvin Wells Palaeopathology Archive, 1953-1984

Browse all University of Bradford Special Collections on the Archives Hub.

Previous features by University of Bradford Special Collections Archives:

The Nuclear Disarmament Symbol Sketches, March 2017

The PaxCat Project: bringing peace archives to life, 2010

All images copyright The University of Bradford and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Uncovering censorship in the V and A Theatre and Performance Archives

Archives Hub feature for September 2018

On the 9th July 2018, the V&A Theatre and Performance Department opened a new display in our galleries titled Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50The display commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Theatres Act, which abolished state censorship of the British stage. As well as tracing the broader 300-year history of stage censorship, the display also looks at the censorship of music, film and print in the UK.

Uniquely for one of our displays, much of the material is taken from our collection of almost 500 named archives that form the V&A Theatre & Performance Archives. A significant portion of these are catalogued on the Archives Hub website, and all can be consulted by appointment in our Reading Room at Blythe House in London.

Poster for The Arts & Censorship gala at the Royal Festival Hall, 1968.
Poster for The Arts & Censorship gala at the Royal Festival Hall, 1968.                              Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [Museum no. S.2054-1995].
Telling a story of censorship

Censorship is a story shaped by legal documents and correspondence. Its battles were often fought on paper and were won and lost through Parliamentary Acts.

Patent for Theatre Royal Drury Lane, issued by Charles II to Thomas Killigrew, 1662.
Patent for Theatre Royal Drury Lane, issued by Charles II to Thomas Killigrew, 1662. Credit: On loan from the Really Useful Theatres Group. Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, courtesy of Really Useful Theatres [Museum no. LOAN:USEFUL.1-2000].
This meant that the core of the display had to be taken from the rich resource of company, theatre and individual archives which are comprised of these letters, licenses and administrative records.

Curatorially, we considered the challenges of presenting archives carefully:

  • We wished to avoid overwhelming the visitor with paperwork;
  • To select key documents which could communicate both a specific example and the overarching narrative of censorship;
  • Balance a paper-driven aesthetic with colour and innovative exhibition design

We carried out rigorous research, and found fantastic theatre designs, posters and photographs which equally contributed to the narrative of the display. We were also lucky to work with political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, who created a special commission for the display, as well as leading graphic designers Barnbrook who conceived the display design concept.

Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50 display, Theatre and Performance Galleries, Copyright V&A Images.
Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50 display, Theatre and Performance Galleries, Copyright V&A Images.

There were obvious important examples of censorship that we wanted to include, such as the play Saved by Edward Bond. This was performed as a private ‘club performance’ at the Royal Court Theatre after it was banned by the Lord Chamberlain for its violence and profanity.

In the English Stage Company / Royal Court Archive, it was fantastic to find correspondence from Edward Bond to the Lord Chamberlain refusing to make alterations, as well as a handwritten note written by a theatre staff member recording a conversation with a police officer who came to investigate the illicit performances.

Lord Chamberlain’s alterations to Saved by Edward Bond, 1965.
Lord Chamberlain’s alterations to Saved by Edward Bond, 1965.  Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [Archive ref: THM/273].
There were also surprising discoveries within named archives. Joan Littlewood of Theatre Workshop had directed a semi-improvised play You Won’t Always Be On Top in 1958. She was prosecuted for producing a show which did not have a script for inspection by the Lord Chamberlain.

We discovered a letter in the Vivien Leigh Archive which Littlewood had written to the actress to ask for her public support. Leigh and husband Laurence Olivier were vocal supporters of the removal of censorship, and Littlewood was successfully defended in court. As well as this letter, we were also generously allowed to display photographs of the production from the Theatre Royal Stratford East Archive.

Letter from Joan Littlewood to Vivien Leigh, 1958.
Letter from Joan Littlewood to Vivien Leigh, 1958.  Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [Archive ref: THM/433].
The display also features a section on OZ magazine, which was the subject of a notorious obscenity trial in 1971 for the publication of its Schoolkids Issue. This was edited by children and featured a depiction of Rupert the Bear in a sexually explicit scenario. The successful defence of the magazine’s editors was a ground-breaking testament of an increasingly liberalised culture.

The acquisition of the Felix Dennis / OZ magazine archive in 2017, with the assistance of the Art Fund, provided with us with fascinating material for display. Not only tracing the creative process, including paste-up boards by Martin Sharp, the archive also contains a wealth of material relating to the trial and the magazine editors’ supporters, including flyers for benefit concerts, badges and a fundraising record by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

‘God Save Oz’ charity record by Apple Records, 1971.
‘God Save Oz’ charity record by Apple Records, 1971.  Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London [Archive ref: THM/497].
As well as these examples, we also drew material from our core collection of Production Files, and images from our extensive photographic collections, including the Douglas Jeffery Archive. The Arts Council of Great Britain Archive also provided valuable documents relating to recent productions that had been the target of protest or loss of funding.

Production photograph of The Romans in Britain, National Theatre, 1980.
Production photograph of The Romans in Britain, National Theatre, 1980.            Credit: Douglas Jeffery. Image copyright: © Victoria and Albert Museum [Archive ref: THM/374/1/2283/5].
This a small selection of the fascinating stories uncovered in the archives and now on display. Visit in person to listen to a playlist of banned songs, hear interviews from leading practitioners and cultural critics, and contribute towards the debate ‘what is censorship?’.

Censored! Stage, Screen, Society at 50 is open until 27th January 2019.

Harriet Reed, Assistant Curator
V&A Theatre and Performance Department
Victoria & Albert Museum

Browse all V&A Theatre and Performance Archives collections on the Archives Hub.

Previous features by V&A Theatre and Performance Archives:

The D’Oyly Carte Archive, October 2016

Curtain up! The Theatre and Performance Collections at the V&A, 2011

All images copyright the Victoria and Albert Museum and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Archives Hub Survey Results: What do people want from an archives aggregation service?

The 2018 Archives Hub online survey was answered by 83 respondents. The majority were in the UK, but a significant number were in other parts of Europe, the USA or further afield, including Australia, New Zealand and Africa. Nearly 50% were from higher or further education, and most were using it for undergraduate, postgraduate and academic research. Other users were spread across different sectors or retired, and using it for various reasons, including teaching, family history and leisure or archives administration.

We do find that a substantial number of people are kind enough to answer the survey, although they have not used the service yet. On this survey 60% were not regular users, so that is quite a large number, and maybe indicates how many first-time users we get on the service. Of those users, half expected to use it regularly, so it is likely they are students or other people with a sustained research interest. The other 40% use the Hub at varying levels of regularity. Overall, the findings indicate that we cannot assume any pattern of use, and this is corroborated by previous surveys.

Ease of use was generally good, with 43% finding it easy or very easy, but a few people felt it was difficult to use. This is likely to be the verdict of inexperienced users, and it may be that they are not familiar with archives, but it behoves us to keep thinking about users who need more support and help. We aim to make the Hub suitable for all levels of users, but it is true to say that we have a focus on academic use, so we would not want to simplify it to the point where functionality is lost.

I found one comment particularly elucidating: “You do need to understand how physical archives work to negotiate the resource, but in terms of teaching this actually makes it really useful as a way to teach students to use a physical archive.”  I think this is very true: archives are catalogued in a certain way, that may not be immediately obvious to someone new to them. The hierarchy gives important context but can make navigation more complicated. The fact that some large collections have a short summary description and other smaller archives have a detailed item-level description adds to the confusion.

One negative comment that we got maybe illustrates the problem with relevance ranking: “It is terribly unhelpful! It gives irrelevant stuff upfront, and searches for one’s terms separately, not together.” You always feel bad about someone having such a bad experience, but it is impossible to know if you could easily help the individual by just suggesting a slightly different search approach, or whether they are really looking for archival material at all. This particular user was a retired person undertaking family history, and they couldn’t access a specific letter they wanted to find. Relevance ranking is always tricky – it is not always obvious why you get the results that you do, but on the whole we’ve had positive comments about relevance ranking, and it is not easy to see how it could be markedly improved.  The Hub automatically uses AND for phrase searches, which is fairly standard practice. If you search for ‘gold silver’ you will probably get the terms close to each other but not as a phrase, but if you search for ‘cotton mills’ you will get the phrase ranked higher than e.g. ‘mill-made cotton’ or ‘cotton spinning mill’.  One of the problems is that the phrase may not be in the title, although the title is ranked higher than other fields overall. So, you may see in your hit list ‘Publication proposals’ or ‘Synopses’ and only see ‘cotton mills’ if you go into the description. On the face of it, you may think that the result is not relevant.

screenshot of survey showing what people value
What do you most value about the Archives Hub?

All of our surveys have clearly indicated that a comprehensive service providing detailed descriptions of materials is what people want most of all. It seems to be more important than providing digital content, which may indicate an acknowledgement from many researchers that most archives are not, and will not be, digitised. We also have some evidence from focus groups and talking to our contributors that many researchers really value working with physical materials, and do not necessarily see digital surrogates as a substitute for this. Having said that, providing links to digital materials still ranks very highly in our surveys. In the 2018 survey we asked whether researchers prefer to search physical and digital archives separately or together, in order to try to get more of a sense of how important digital content is. Respondents put a higher value on searching both together, although overall the results were not compelling one way or the other. But it does seem clear that a service providing access to purely digital content is not what researchers want. One respondent cited Europeana as being helpful because it provided the digital content, but it is unclear whether they would therefore prefer a service like Europeana that does not provide access to anything unless it is digital.

Searching by name, subject and place are clearly seen as important functions. Many of our contributors do index their descriptions, but overall indexing is inconsistent, and some repositories don’t do it at all. This means that a name or subject search inevitably filters out some important and relevant material. But in the end, this will happen with all searches. Results depend upon the search strategy used, and with archives, which are so idiosyncratic, there is no way to ensure that a researcher finds everything relating to their subject.  We are currently working on introducing name records (using EAC-CPF). But this is an incredibly difficult area of work. The most challenging aspect of providing name records is disambiguation. In the archives world, we have not traditionally had a consistent way of referring to individuals. In many of the descriptions that we have, life dates are not provided, even when available, and the archive community has a standard (NCA Rules) that it not always helpful for an online environment or for automated processing. It actually encourages cataloguers to split up a compound or hyphenated surname in a way that can make it impossible to then match the name. For example, what you would ideally want is an entry such as ‘Sackville-West, Victoria Mary (1892-1962) Writer‘, but according to the NCA Rules, you should enter something like ‘West Victoria Mary Sackville- 1892-1962 poet, novelist and biographer‘. The epithet is always likely to vary, which doesn’t help matters, but entering the name itself in this non-standard way is particularly frustrating in terms of name matching.  On the Hub we are encouraging the use of VIAF identifiers, which, if used widely, would massively facilitate name matching. But at the moment use is so small that this is really only a drop in the ocean. In addition, we have to think about whether we enable contributors to create new name records, whether we create them out of archive descriptions, and how we then match the names to names already on the Hub, whether we ingest names from other sources and try to deal with the inevitable variations and inconsistencies.  Archivists often refer to their own store of names as ‘authorities’ but in truth there is often nothing authoritative about them; they are done following in-house conventions. These challenges will not prevent us from going forwards with this work, but they are major hurdles, and one thing is clear: we will not end up with a perfect situation. Researchers will look for a name such as ‘Arthur Wellesley’ or ‘Duke of Wellington’ and will probably get several results. Our aim is to reduce the number of results as much as we can, but reducing all variations to a single result is not going to happen for many individuals, and probably for some organisations. Try searching SNAC (, a name-based resource, for Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, to get an idea of the variations that you can get in the user interface, even after a substantial amount of work to try to disambiguate and bring names together.

The 2018 survey asked about the importance of providing information on how to access a collection, and 75% saw this as very important. This clearly indicates that we cannot assume that people are familiar with the archival landscape. Some time ago we introduced a link on all top-level entries ‘how to access these materials’. We have just changed that to ‘advice on accessing these materials’, as we felt that the former suggested that the materials are readily accessible (i.e. digital), and we have also introduced the link on all description pages, down to item-level. In the last year, the link has been clicked on 11,592 times, and the average time spent on the resulting information page is 1 minute, so this is clearly very important help for users. People are also indicating that general advice on how to discover and use archives is a high priority (59% saw this as of high value). So, we are keen to do more to help people navigate and understand the Archives Hub and the use of archives. We are just in the process of re-organising our ‘Researching‘ section of the website, to help make it easier to use and more focussed.

There were a number of suggestions for improvements to the Hub. One that stood out was the need to enable researchers to find archives from one repository. At the moment, our repository filter only provides the top 20 repositories, but we plan to extend this. It is partly a case of working out how best to do it, when the list of results could be over 300. We are considering a ‘more’ link to enable users to scroll down the list. Many other comments about improvements related back to being more comprehensive.

One respondent noted that ‘there was no option for inexperienced users’. It is clear that a number of users do find it hard to understand. However, to a degree this has to reflect the way archives are presented and catalogued, and it is unclear whether some users of the Hub are aware of what sort of materials are being presented to them and what their expectations are. We do have a Guide to Using Archives specifically for beginners, and this has been used 5,795 times in the last year, with consistently high use since it was introduced. It may be that we should give this higher visibility within the description pages.

Screenshot of Hub page on using archives
Guide to Using Archives

What we will do immediately as a result of the survey is to link this into our page on accessing materials, which is linked from all descriptions, so that people can find it more easily. We did used to have a ‘what am I looking at?’ kind of link on each page, and we could re-introduce this, maybe putting the link on our ‘Archive Collection’ and ‘Archive Unit’ icons.




It is particularly important to us that the survey indicated people that use the Hub do go on to visit a repository. We would not expect all use to translate into a visit, but the 2018 survey indicated 25% have visited a repository and 48% are likely to in the future. A couple of respondents said that they used it as a teaching tool or a tool to help others, who have then gone on to visit archives. People referred to a whole range of repositories they have or will visit, from local authority through to university and specialist archives.

screenshot of survey results
I have found material using the Archives Hub that I would not otherwise have discovered

59% had found materials using the Hub that they felt they would not have found otherwise. This makes the importance of aggregation very clear, and probably reflects our good ranking on Google and other search engines, which brings people into the Archive Hub who otherwise may not have found it, and may not have found the archives otherwise.



Quaker Bankers and their Archives at Barclays Group

Archives Hub feature for August 2018

Barclays Group Archives has just posted a collection-level description for the records of Jonathan Backhouse & Co. of Darlington, one of the three principal partnerships that combined in 1896 to form the modern Barclays, which by the mid-20th century became the largest domestic clearing bank in Britain. The Hub entry for Backhouse bank complements descriptions previously posted for the other two principals in the merger, Barclays of Lombard Street and Gurneys of East Anglia.

Signed agreement for the amalgamation of Barclays, Gurneys and Backhouses, 1896
Signed agreement for the amalgamation of Barclays, Gurneys and Backhouses, 1896

The 1896 merger was described by The Economist at the time as ‘the largest of its kind that has yet taken place.’ It signalled the end of a long tradition of private banking, both in London and the provinces, the culmination of a process by which most of the private banks had converted themselves into, or been absorbed by, joint stock companies, during the previous 70 years.

Measured by total customer deposits, the three banks ranked as follows:

  • Barclay, Bevan, Tritton & Co., Lombard Street (est. 1690)                             £8,589,530
  • Gurney & Co., Norwich (est. 1775)                                                                    £6,931,521
  • Backhouse & Co., Darlington (est. 1774)                                                           £3,303,293

One of the distinctive features of all three was their origin in Quaker business enterprise. In both Gurneys and Backhouses the Quaker influence remained noticeable well into the 19th century, and another press comment on the 1896 merger referred to it as a combination of those ‘well-known Quaker firms’.

Although by 1896 few of the partners directly involved in the amalgamation were still practising Friends, they were content to claim a heritage that looked back to the Quakerly qualities of frugality, prudence and trustworthiness that had been so attractive to customers, and which had contributed to the remarkable growth of the banks in their early decades.

The reasons why so many Friends entered the business world in the first place are long acknowledged. Exclusion from mainstream professions and occupations led many to establish their own businesses, relying on their hard work and moral code to become trusted and respected figures within the mercantile community.

The historic core of the modern Barclays traces its origins from John Freame and Thomas Gould, two Quaker goldsmith bankers who in 1690 started a business in the heart of the City. The partnership was one of the most successful amongst the early bankers, pioneering the discounting of provincial bills of exchange. This success sprang at least in part from what has been described as ‘Quaker competitive advantage’.

They financed Quaker traders in the American colonies and helped to finance the Pennsylvania Land Company; they were actively involved in Quaker-dominated enterprises such as the London Lead Company and the Welsh Copper Company. The latter produced silver as a by-product, which Freame and Gould then sold to the Royal Mint. They were also the closest thing the Quakers had to an official banker, holding the Society of Friends’ central funds.

By the mid-1700s the partners were amassing fortunes which may have seemed at odds with the Quaker principles of simple and plain living; on the other hand, a Quaker who went bankrupt was liable to be disowned by the Society. While the fear of bankruptcy may have spurred the Barclays on to ever greater profitability, they still had not lost sight of other Quaker virtues.

David Barclay the younger (1729-1809), epitome of the successful Quaker businessman and philanthropist
David Barclay the younger (1729-1809), epitome of the successful Quaker businessman and philanthropist

David Barclay the younger, who became a partner in the Bank in 1776, remained an active Friend throughout his career. A keen supporter of the emancipation campaigner William Wilberforce, he used his influence to persuade other Quakers to take a stronger stand for the abolition of slavery. Later, David Barclay found himself the owner of a plantation in Jamaica in settlement of a debt. His decision to free the slaves and transport them to Philadelphia cost him £3,000.

The country banks, too, sprang from the original business of their founders. In the case of both Backhouses and Gurneys this was textiles, though the former also had interests in shipping, coal mining and railways. One of the most eye-catching documents in the Backhouse archives is a signed and sealed agreement (currently on loan to Tyne & Wear Archives as part of the Great Exhibition of the North), between the subscribers for the construction of the pioneering Stockton-Darlington railway. The signatories comprise a roll-call of Quaker business families, including bankers who would, decades years later, come together in the modern Barclays: Backhouse, Pease, Barclay, Leatham, Gurney, and Birkbeck.

Forged £5 note, 1817: the Darlington bank was a victim of a gang of forgers in that year.
Forged £5 note, 1817: the Darlington bank was a victim of a gang of forgers in that year. The Backhouse archives contain extensive correspondence documenting the case and inquiries into the utterers, with physical descriptions of suspects including Richard Armstrong alias ‘Dick of the Hole’

Jonathan Backhouse junior (1779-1842), grandson of the founder, argued in favour of a railway during a public meeting at Darlington town hall in 1818, stressing its commercial advantages over those of the conventional option, a canal. The first track was laid in May 1821, and the completed railway opened on 27th September 1825. Jonathan served as the company’s first treasurer until 1833. In 1811 he had cemented a significant Quaker banking alliance by marrying Hannah, daughter and co-heir of Joseph Gurney of Norwich: “of crucial importance…..this dynastic alliance in itself transformed the prospects for transport improvement, especially when the Backhouses allied themselves with the Quaker Pease family of Darlington in the raising of capital.” [M W Kirby, ‘Jonathan Backhouse’ in Dictionary of National Biography ] The Backhouses were also connected with the Barclays by marriage. After 1833 Jonathan left the business in the hands of his son Edmund, in order to devote himself full-time to the Quaker ministry.

Meanwhile the Gurneys of Norwich were establishing themselves as one of the leading commercial families in England, and came to be connected by marital, social and business ties with other Quaker banking families, including Barclay, Birkbeck, Buxton, Backhouse and Pease. Notable Gurneys in the bank’s history include Joseph John (1788-1847), religious writer, Quaker minister, anti-slavery campaigner and, like his sister Elizabeth Fry (nee Gurney), also active in prison reform; Hudson (1775-1864), scholar, member of parliament and philanthropist; and Samuel (1786-1856), philanthropist and partner in the Norwich bank for nearly forty years. Notable partners in the Norwich bank from the other families included Henry and William Birkbeck, Thomas Fowell Buxton, and Henry Ford Barclay. By 1838 the Gurneys were said to be ‘exercising an influence and a power inferior to that of no banking establishment in Great Britain – that of the Bank of England alone excepted.’

Like other successful Quakers, some of the Gurneys found it difficult to reconcile faith with wealth. Joseph John chose to become a ‘plain Friend,’ dedicating his life to his bank, his religion and good causes. In 1837 went on a three-year mission tour of the West Indies and America, giving away one third of his share of the bank’s profits for the duration. He was a renowned Quaker author, and his 1824 work, ‘Observations on the Religious Peculiarities of the Society of Friends’ was reprinted several times. His attitude is exemplified by his statement that “I suppose my leading outward object in life may be said to be the Bank. While I am a banker the Bank must be attended to. It is obviously the religious duty of a trustee to so large an amount to be diligent in watching his trust.

The history of the Quaker banks reveals all sorts of connections. For example, it’s no coincidence that the Backhouses used Barclay & Co. of Lombard Street for their London clearing agents in the 19th century. Both Backhouses and another Quaker country bank in the 1896 merger, Bassett & Harris of Leighton Buzzard, commissioned one of the renowned Gothic revival architects of Victorian England, Alfred Waterhouse, who was also from a Quaker family, to design new banking houses for them in the 1860s – the result being two remarkably similar buildings. Waterhouse also designed at least three country houses for the Backhouses in county Durham.

Darlington, High Row, early 1900s, designed by Waterhouse for Jonathan Backhouse & Co. and still a Barclays branch today
Darlington, High Row, early 1900s, designed by Waterhouse for Jonathan Backhouse & Co. and still a Barclays branch today

The Backhouse and Gurney archives each contain papers about the partners’ activities as Friends. For example, a Backhouse bundle from 1776-79 includes brief reports on the state of the various Meetings in Ireland visited by  James  Backhouse  on  his mission tour. Amongst the Gurney archives are papers concerning the old Friends’ burial ground at St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, and a scarce contemporary print showing John Gurney, ‘the Weavers’ Friend’, with a printed testimonial following his speech before parliament on behalf of the Norwich weavers in 1720.

‘Itinerarium Hibernicum’: map of Ireland annotated to show routes taken on James Backhouse’s mission, 1777
‘Itinerarium Hibernicum’: map of Ireland annotated to show routes taken on James Backhouse’s mission, 1777

Although the bulk of the surviving records document the partners’ banking and business activities, there are also many items of wider interest in the collections listed on the Hub. Amongst the Gurney papers is a series of letters written during the 1850s-80s, between John Henry Gurney (bank partner, sometime Liberal M.P. and amateur ornithologist), his son of the same name, and various naturalists of their circle including Alfred Russel Wallace, mainly about birds and their classification. In the same archive is an eye-witness account of the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755 by Benjamin Farmer, member of a mercantile family connected with the Barclays.

Letter from Alfred Russel Wallace to J H Gurney 1863, asking about various species of hawk
Letter from Alfred Russel Wallace to J H Gurney 1863, asking about various species of hawk

At least three of the smaller banks in the 1896 merger also had Quaker founders or partners, and in due course their archives, too, will be described on the Hub: Sharples, Tuke, Lucas & Seebohm of Hitchin; Fordham, Gibson & Co. of Royston; and Bassett, Son & Harris of Leighton Buzzard.

Nicholas Webb
Barclays Group Archives


Jonathan Backhouse & Company, Darlington, 1615-1916

Browse all Barclays Group Archives collections on the Archives Hub.

Previous features by Barclays Group Archives

Barclaycard: 50 years of plastic money – the story from the Archives, June 2016

Barclays Group Archives, January 2014

All images copyright the Barclays Group and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Silt, sluices and smelt fishing – The Eau Brink Cut and the Bedford Level Corporation Archive

Archives Hub feature for July 2018

Cambridgeshire Archives is privileged to hold the records of the Bedford Level Corporation. This significant archive, which includes records of Commissions of Sewers dating as far back as 1362, documents, arguably, the greatest land reclamation seen in the country’s history; the drainage of the Fens.

2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the commencement of work on one of the more controversial and problematic drainage projects undertaken; the Eau Brink Cut.

The Great East Swamp

Piecemeal attempts to drain the Fens (commonly referred to as the Great East Swamp and described by William Elstobb as the “deep and horrible fen”) enabling more land to be brought in to use for summer grazing began in medieval times. The swampy conditions were due to the constant tidal flooding of the Ouse, Nene and Welland which would overspill their natural banks causing widespread crop damage and creating an ideal environment for diseases such as malaria, known locally as Fen ague. Yet, this watery landscape also provided a livelihood peculiar to Fen dwellers who were unwilling to give up a traditional way of life trapping eels and fish and shooting wildfowl.

In 1630, despite local opposition, Francis 4th Earl of Bedford contracted with a number of landowners to drain, within six years, the area of the Southern Fen afterwards known as the Bedford Level. Sadly, the records of the work carried out over this period were stored in the Fen Office at the Inner Temples Chamber and largely destroyed during the Great Fire of London.

The Society of Adventurers and Cornelius Vermuyden

After the Civil War, Francis’ heir, Sir William Russell, 5th Earl of Bedford  with some of the original ‘Adventurers’ and other interested parties, picked up the work again, this time with the aim of  making the Bedford Level ‘winter ground’ capable of growing crops which could sustain cattle over the winter months. Under the Pretended Act of 1649 they came to be known as the Bedford Level Company or the Society of Adventurers. The Dutch engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden, who had been commissioned by Charles I in 1626 to drain Hatfield Chase in the Isle of Axholme in Lincolnshire, was appointed Director of Works. 

Articles of agreement for the appointment of Cornelius Vermuyden as Director of Works, 1650
Articles of agreement for the appointment of Cornelius Vermuyden as Director of Works, 1650 [R59/31/X/51/1]
That same year, Jonas Moore took up office as Surveyor to the Bedford Level Corporation and was charged with producing ‘one general Complete Map of the whole Levell of the fennes with the Adventure Land and lott devisions.’ It was to become the finest map of the Bedford Level ever published but Moore did not live to see its release in 1658.

Cartouche from Moore’s Mapp of the Great Levell of the Fenns re-printed in 1706
Cartouche from Moore’s Mapp of the Great Levell of the Fenns re-printed in 1706 [R59/31/40/13/1]
The Great Levell of the Fenns…drained

One of the many projects directed by Vermuyden was the construction of the Denver Sluice near Downham Market intended to ‘’force the tidal waters in a straight course up the Hundred Foot river, instead of allowing them to flow in their natural and more circuitous channel up the Ten Mile, or Ouse River.’  It was a heavily criticised undertaking, blamed, ironically, for causing flooding in the South Level of the Fens and the build-up of silt and sand downstream which proved injurious to navigation in the port of King’s Lynn. After a particularly high tide ‘blew up’ the sluice in 1713, merchants in the towns enjoying unobstructed navigation campaigned, unsuccessfully, against its reinstatement and it was reconstructed in 1748 by Charles Labelve.

The Eau Brink Cut

 There is a wealth of material to be found in the Corporation’s archive, correspondence, reports, minutes and plans, for anyone wishing to trace the long and contentious struggle to come up with an effective and affordable means of improving the Ouse near King’s Lynn.

The eventual cost of obtaining the first Eau Brink Act, in 1795, was nearly £12,000. Further delays ensued so it is this year, 2018 which marks the 200th anniversary of the actual commencement of work on the Eau Brink Cut, a two and a half mile straight channel dug between St German’s Bridge and Lynn to provide an alternative route to the existing six mile bend in the Ouse.

Copper plate etched with a plan of the River Ouse between St Mary Magdalene and King's Lynn, showing the proposed Eau Brink Cut, c. 1818.
Copper plate etched with a plan of the River Ouse between St Mary Magdalene and King’s Lynn, showing the proposed Eau Brink Cut, c. 1818. This would probably have been printed onto card, as promotional material for the project [BLC/7/4/19/1]
Detail from a Plan of the Eau Brink River and part of the River Ouse with the proposed New Bridge, Public Roads and Drains communicating therewith", 1819. 
Detail from a Plan of the Eau Brink River and part of the River Ouse with the proposed New Bridge, Public Roads and Drains communicating therewith”, 1819.  [R59/31/40/130]
 Shifting sands

 The construction of the Eau Brink Cut, under the aegis of engineers Thomas Telford and John Rennie, took nearly 4 years then, in April 1822, only a few months after the new cut was opened, they submitted a report recommending the channel be widened since a bank of sand and mud had already formed extending about 400 feet upwards from Denver Sluice.

Report on the Eau Brink Drainage and Navigation, 1822
Report on the Eau Brink Drainage and Navigation, 1822 [R59/31/X/7]
The humble petition of John Owen

 John Owen blamed the Eau Brink Cut for the destruction of his smelt fishery and having leased fishing rights in the Hundred Foot River for almost 40 years, petitioned the Corporation for a reduction in his rent so he could afford the £200 needed to invest in new nets and other equipment. Thousands of other memorials and petitions presented to the Corporation, all individually catalogued, now help document the personal impact of the monumental endeavour which was the draining of the Fens.

Petition of John Owen, 1834
Petition of John Owen, 1834 S/B/SP1449

Sue Sampson
Public Services Archivist
Cambridgeshire Archives


Records of the Bedford Level Corporation, 1630-1920

Browse all Cambridgeshire Archives collections on the Archives Hub.

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

The Wallace Collection Archives: material on our founder Sir Richard Wallace

Archives Hub feature for June 2018

The Wallace Collection is a national museum which displays works of art and arms and armour collected by the first four marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the presumed son of the 4th Marquess. The collection was bequeathed to the nation in 1897 by Lady Wallace, Sir Richard Wallace’s widow and the museum opened on June 25 1900. The Wallace Collection Archives consist of papers relating to the founders, records of the museum’s history and activities, and discrete archive collections relating to our subject specialist areas of French eighteenth-century art, princely arms and armour and the history of collecting.

2018 is a special year for the museum as it marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Richard Wallace and there is a series of special events throughout the year, including an exhibition highlighting Richard Wallace’s contributions to the main collection. This will be held in the newly expanded exhibition space and will include some archive material.

Picture of Richard Wallace published in L’Illustration in 1872 © The Wallace Collection
Picture of Richard Wallace published in L’Illustration in 1872 © The Wallace Collection.

Richard Wallace was actually born Richard Jackson in July 1818 and was the son of Agnes Jackson and most likely the illegitimate son of Richard Seymour-Conway, from 1842 the 4th Marquess of Hertford. Although his paternity was never acknowledged by the 4th Marquess or Wallace himself, in the absence of more conclusive information this seems likely to be the case. In about 1825 he was brought to Paris by his mother who went there to visit Lord Hertford, and shortly after that he lived in an apartment with his grandmother Maria (‘Mie-Mie’) Fagnani, 3rd Marchioness and her younger son Lord Henry Seymour, to both of whom he became close. He had himself baptised as Richard Wallace in April 1842, (Wallace was the family name of his mother). The reason for this change of name is not known, but perhaps he was considering marrying Mademoiselle Julie-Amélie-Charlotte Castelnau, who had given birth to his son Edmond Richard in 1840. However, it may be that the 4th Marquess did not approve of this relationship, because they did not marry until 1871, after his death.

Certified copy of certificate of Baptism for Richard Wallace, 7 August 1843 © The Wallace Collection.
Certified copy of certificate of Baptism for Richard Wallace, 7 August 1843 © The Wallace Collection.

Richard Seymour-Conway became the 4th Marquess in 1842, and from then on Wallace was his personal secretary and acted as his agent at auctions, buying many works of art on his behalf as well as developing his own taste in art. By 1857, Wallace had assembled a collection of his own. However, he had got into debt through speculating on the stock market, and although the 4th Marquess paid of some of this debt, Wallace had to sell his collection in 1857.  Wallace was also present at Mie-Mie’s bedside when she died in 1856 in Paris, and cut a piece of her hair. The 4th Marquess wrote this:

A lock of hair cut by Richard Wallace on the death of the 3rd Marchioness Maria Fagnani, with a note and envelope, 4 March 1856 © The Wallace Collection.
A lock of hair cut by Richard Wallace on the death of the 3rd Marchioness Maria Fagnani, with a note and envelope, 4 March 1856 © The Wallace Collection.

The 4th Marquess died in 1870 and in a codicil to his will he left Wallace all of his unentailed property: the art collections in London and Paris, the apartment in the rue Laffitte, the château of Bagatelle, 105 Piccadilly in London and a large estate in Northern Ireland. Not long after Lord Hertford’s death the Siege of Paris started, as a result of which Wallace became quite well known throughout France and Great Britain, not just for his art collection and unexpected inheritance but also for his very generous donations to several philanthropic causes. He gave £12,000 for the equipment of a field hospital to be attached to the army corps in which his son was serving and he became Chairman of the British Charitable Fund. In 1871 when the Siege ended, Wallace was awarded the Legion of Honour, and on 23 August Queen Victoria created him a baronet, after which he moved a large part of his collection to London. That same month he paid a deposit of 300,000 francs for the collection formed by Alfred-Émilien comte de Nieuwerkerke who, as Surintendant des beaux-arts under Napoleon III, had been the most powerful figure in the official French art establishment during the Second Empire. This purchase significantly increased the quantity of arms and amour in the main collection, which is still on display today.

Receipt from the comte de Nieuwerkerke to Wallace for 300,000 francs being half the payment for Wallace’s purchase of his collection, 19 August 1871 © The Wallace Collection.
Receipt from the comte de Nieuwerkerke to Wallace for 300,000 francs being half the payment for Wallace’s purchase of his collection, 19 August 1871 © The Wallace Collection.

Before the Wallaces moved into Hertford House, the building needed to be extended to house the works of art, so a large part of the collection was lent to the newly established Bethnal Green Museum (now the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood) and the exhibition was opened by the Prince of Wales on June 24 1872. It remained open until 1875 and was visited by just over 2 million visitors.

Exhibition of items of works of art from the Richard Wallace collection exhibited at Bethnal Green during the adaptation of Hertford House for the purpose of displaying the collection, June 1872. © The Wallace Collection.
Exhibition of items of works of art from the Richard Wallace collection exhibited at Bethnal Green during the adaptation of Hertford House for the purpose of displaying the collection, June 1872. © The Wallace Collection.

The Wallaces moved into Hertford House in 1875, and visitors could come and see his collection and would sign a visitors’ book displayed in the Great Gallery. From this we know a great variety of notable people visited during Sir Richard and Lady Wallaces’ lifetimes, such as Benjamin Disraeli, Auguste Rodin, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Thomas Hardy, Princess Victoria (later Empress Frederick of Germany), and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first female qualified doctor in Great Britain.

The Hertford House Visitors Book, showing the signature of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson who visited in 1883 with her father, husband and daughter Louise Garrett Anderson © The Wallace Collection.
The Hertford House Visitors Book, showing the signature of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson who visited in 1883 with her father, husband and daughter Louise Garrett Anderson © The Wallace Collection.

Wallace also took an interest in his Irish estate in Counties Antrim and Down, building a house in the main town Lisburn, and giving a public park to the town. In 1884 he became a Trustee of the National Gallery in London, and he lent generously from his collection to exhibitions. He became more reclusive in his later years, particularly following the death of his only son in 1887, and spent longer periods in Paris. Richard Wallace died in 1890 at Bagatelle, his residence in the Bois de Boulogne on the outskirts of Paris, he was later buried in the Hertford mausoleum at the Père Lachaise Cemetery. He left everything to Lady Wallace, who in turn bequeathed the wonderful art collection on the ground and first floors at Hertford House to the nation in her will.

Morwenna Roche
Archivist & Records Manager
The Wallace Collection


Explore all Wallace Collection Archive collections on the Archives Hub.

Previous feature by The Wallace Collection Archives.

All images copyright The Wallace Collection and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

Is Linked Data an Appropriate Technology for Implementing an Archive’s Catalogue?

Here at the Archives Hub we’ve not been so focussed on Linked Data (LD) in recent years, as we’ve mainly been working on developing and embedding our new system and workflows. However, we have continued to remain interested in what’s going on and are still looking at making Linked Data available in a sustainable way. We did do a substantial amount of work a number of years back on the LOCAH project from which we provided a subset of archival linked data at  Our next step this time round is likely to be embedding markup within the Hub descriptions. We’ve been closely involved in the W3C Schema Architypes Group activities, with Archives Hub URIs forming the basis of the group’s proposals to extend the “ schema for the improved representation of digital and physical archives and their contents”.

We are also aiming to reconnect more closely with the LODLAM community generally, and to this end I attended a TNA ‘Big Ideas’ session ‘Is Linked Data an appropriate technology for implementing an archive’s catalogue?’ given by Jean-Luc Cochard of the Swiss Federal Archives. I took a few notes which I thought it might be useful to share here.

Why we looked at Linked Data?

This was initially inspired by the Stanford LD 2011 workshop and the 2014 Open initiative. In 2014 they built their first ‘aLOD’ prototype –

The Swiss have many archive silos from which they transformed the content of some systems to LD and then were able to merge. They created basic LD views, Jean-Luc noting that the LD data is less structured than data in the main archival systems, an example of which is e.g.

They also developed a new interface with which they were trying for an innovative approach to presenting the data such as providing a histogram with dates.  It’s currently just a prototype interface running off SPARQL with only 16,000 entries so far.

They are also now currently implementing a new archival information system (AIS) and are considering LD technolgy for the new system, but may go with a more conventional database approach. The new system has to work with the overall technical architecture.

Linked data maturity?

Jean-Luc noted that they expect that in three years born digital will greatly expand by factor of ten, though 90% of the archive is currently analogue. The system needs to cope with 50M – 1.5B triples. They have implemented Stardog triple stores 5.0.5 and 5.2. The larger configuration is a 1 TB RAM, 56 CPU and 8 TB disk machine.

As part of performance testing they have tried loading the system with up to 10 Billion triples and running various insert, delete and query functions. The larger config machine allowed 50M triple inserts in 5 min. 100M plus triples took 20min to insert. With the update function things were found to be quite stable.  They then combined querying with triple insertions at the same time, and this highlighted some issues with slow insertions with a smaller machine. They also tried full text indexing with the larger config machine. They got very variable results with some very slow response times with the insertions, finding the latter was a bug in the system.

Is Linked Data adequate for the task?

A key weakness of their current archival system is that you can only assign records to one provenance/person. Also, their current system can’t connect records to other databases, so they have the usual silo problem. Linked data can solve some of these problems. As part of the project they looked at various specs and standards:

BIBFRAME v2.0 2016
Europeana EDM released 2014.
EGAD activities – RiC-CM -> RiC-O based on OWL (Record in context)
A local initiative- Matterhorn RDF Model.  Matterhorn uses existing technologies, RDA, BPMN, DC, PREMIS. There is a first draft available.

They also looked at relevant EU R&D projects: ‘Prelia’, on preservation of LD and ‘Diachron’ – managing evolution and preservation of LD.

Jean-Luc noted that the versatility of LD is appealing for several reasons –

  • It can be used at both the data and metadata levels.
  • It brings together multiple data models.
  • It allows data model evolution.
  • They believe it is adequate to publish archive catalogue on the web.
  • It can be used in closed environment.

Jean-Luc  mentioned a dilemma they have between RDF based Triple stores and graph databases. Graph databases tend to be proprietary solutions, but have some advantages. Graph databases tend to use ACID transactions intended to guarantee validity even in the event of errors, power failures, etc., but they are not sure how ACID reliable triple stores are.

Their next step is expert discussion of a common approach, with a common RDF model. Further investigation is needed regarding triple store weaknesses.

Cathlin du Sautoy and Hermione Blackwood: personal papers at the Royal College of Nursing Archives

Archives Hub feature for May 2018

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.

Du Sautoy and Blackwood with nursing colleagues and Victor and Yvette at Blerancourt 1921. Copyright the Royal College of Nursing 2018.
Du Sautoy and Blackwood with nursing colleagues and Victor and Yvette at Blerancourt, 1921. Copyright the Royal College of Nursing, 2018.

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.

Yvette, Blackwood, Du Sautoy and Victor Dec 1926. Copyright the Royal College of Nursing 2018.
Yvette, Blackwood, Du Sautoy and Victor, Dec 1926. Copyright the Royal College of Nursing, 2018.

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.

Du Sautoy and Blackwood with nursing colleagues and Victor at Vouziers, Feb 1920. Copyright the Royal College of Nursing, 2018.
Du Sautoy and Blackwood with nursing colleagues and Victor at Vouziers, Feb 1920. Copyright the Royal College of Nursing, 2018.

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.

Du Sautoy in her ARP warden's uniform 1944. ,Copyright the Royal College of Nursing, 2018.
Du Sautoy in her ARP warden’s uniform, 1944. Copyright the Royal College of Nursing, 2018.

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


Papers of Cathlin Du Sautoy, 1904-2007

Explore all Royal College of Nursing collections on the Archives Hub.

Royal College of Nursing exhibition: Hidden in plain sight: celebrating nursing diversity

All images copyright Royal College of Nursing Archives and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.