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 (http://snaccooperative.org/), 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


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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 data.archiveshub.ac.uk.  Our next step this time round is likely to be embedding schema.org 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.org 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 data.swiss initiative. In 2014 they built their first ‘aLOD’ prototype – http://alod.ch/

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. http://data.ge.alod.ch/id/archivalresource/adl-j-125

They also developed a new interface http://alod.ch/search/ 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

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

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Personal diaries in the archive of The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre

Archives Hub feature for April 2018

Captain Richard Greville Thonger, Italy, 1895
Captain Richard Greville Thonger, Italy, 1895 [TNG/2]
In 2017 the Salvation Army International Heritage Centre purchased the diary of a British Salvation Army officer serving in Switzerland in 1883 from a rare book dealer [TNG/1]. The cost of the purchase was covered by a grant from the Friends of the National Libraries. Lieutenant Richard Greville Thonger was one of the first group of Salvationists to arrive in Switzerland in 1882 and his diary records the opposition faced by The Salvation Army, including his own imprisonment. You can read more about the diary and its author on our blog.

This diary joins many others already held in our archive, including the diaries of The Salvation Army’s founder, William Booth, and those of members of his family. Among them are three volumes written by his daughter-in-law, Florence Booth (nee Soper), in which, alongside accounts of her evangelical work and raising a young family, are details of her involvement in the campaign to raise the age of consent to 16 via the passing of the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 1885.

Just as Thonger’s diary gives a detailed account of the work of The Salvation Army in Switzerland, several other diaries in our archive look at the work of other Salvation Army ministers (known as ‘officers’) from all over the world. To take just three examples, we hold diaries written in Sri Lanka, Italy and Indonesia.

Captain John Lyons’ diary, 1 January 1893
Captain John Lyons’ diary, 1 January 1893 [LYO/2]
Captain John Lyons (1860-1940) was originally from Donegal in Ireland but was appointed to India as a missionary officer in 1886. At this time Salvation Army missionaries adopted Indian names and John Lyons became Dev Kumar. He was then transferred to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1888 and the 3 diaries we hold date from this period. At the end of 1893 he returned to Britain with his “health broken” and his diary for that year records his mixed feelings about Ceylon. Lyons shows a deep affection for the country, writing that “with the tall coconut trees […] shading this lovely spot […] my heart is drawn out to God for His goodness & His wonderful works to the children of men.” However in moments of frustration he writes of “all the trouble to our work here in Ceylon” and that “I am sure it must be an abomination to God when He looks down upon this lovely island of ours.” However, his regret at leaving is palpable in the entry for Christmas Day: “I was far away in Ceylon last year in that sunny land; here I am among the cold of England. Everything seems so very strange, few people I know, all seems so changed. I went and seen Captain Stone who has been home from India about 12 months. He loves India as ever.” In 1945 The Salvation Army published one of its series of ‘Liberty Booklets’ about John Lyons written by Arch Wiggins and called ‘Lyons in the Jungle.’

Extracts from the diary of Adjutant Raffaelo Batelli, 1895-1896
Extracts from the diary of Adjutant Raffaelo Batelli, 1895-1896 [DAR/1/2]
We hold copies of manuscript extracts from the diaries of Adjutant Raffaelo Batelli (1870-1941?), an officer with The Salvation Army in Italy (called l’Esercito della Salvezza in Italian). These extracts include details of his early life in Florence and recount that Batelli, originally a Catholic, encountered The Salvation Army on 16 June 1895 and was immediately converted (“conosco l’Esercito della Salvezza e mi converto. Alleluia!”). He befriended Major (‘Maggiore’) John and Elizabeth Gordon who lived in Italy and who had become Salvation Army converts in the 1880s. Batelli referred to himself as their “spiritual son” and regularly travelled with them to Britain in the late 1890s.

Funeral of Major John Gordon, Edinburgh, 1902
Funeral of Major John Gordon, Edinburgh, 1902 [DAR/1/1]
When John Gordon died after a tram accident in Edinburgh in 1902, Batelli accompanied Margaret to the funeral in Scotland. The extracts are in Italian and the original diaries are believed to have been destroyed.

Brigadier Leonard Woodward’s diary, 3-6 September 1945
Brigadier Leonard Woodward’s diary, 3-6 September 1945 [LHW/1/4]
Lt-Colonel Leonard Woodward (1883-1950) became a Salvation Army officer in 1903 and, after serving in the UK and Ireland, went to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) as a missionary in 1916. His diaries cover the period from 1927 to 1950, during which time he and his wife, Maggie, were stationed in Java and Celebes (now Sulawesi). The early diaries include reference to many days spent on horseback riding between villages in the highlands of Sulawesi, often “very hot [and] hungry”. The diaries also record the years Leonard and Maggie spent in the Kampong Makassar civilian internment camp in Java after the Japanese invasion in 1942. The couple were separated and Leonard alleviated his daily forced labour (‘corvée’) by practicing his language skills: writing a diary in Uma, producing a concordance of New Testament names in Malay and discussing Toraja languages with an interned philologist.

Brigadier Leonard and Margaret Woodward, Java, 1930s
Brigadier Leonard and Margaret Woodward, Java, 1930s [LHW/3]
Leonard and Maggie were released in September 1945 and, when they were reunited he wrote “M. looked very thin and aged, wrinkled and scraggy, which was just the impression she got of me.” They returned to the UK in 1949, bringing with them a large collection of ethnographic objects from Celebes, some of which are now held by the National Museums Scotland.

Salvation Army International Heritage Centre
William Booth College, London


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Salvation Army International Heritage Centre website

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The Legacy of Ahmed Archive and the Courage and Inspiration of his Mother

Archives Hub feature for March 2018

In 1986 Ahmed Iqbal Ullah was murdered by a fellow pupil in the grounds of his high school in Manchester. Very quickly, Ahmed the boy disappeared behind the story of his tragic death. The story of his family and of his mother’s bravery and fortitude similarly became obscured.  The Legacy of Ahmed Archive held in the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre at the University of Manchester Library was collected through a Heritage Lottery Fund project across 2015-16, leading up to an event commemorating the 30th anniversary of Ahmed’s death in 2016. In creating this archive and curating the exhibitions that have emerged from it, we have tried to restore Ahmed the boy and to reveal the extraordinary and positive developments led by his mother Fatima Nehar Begum. We want to share her story again for International Women’s Day.

“[Ahmed] had a strong sense of justice and a soft heart. After he died lots of people came to me – I didn’t even know them. They said ‘He was my best friend’… He gave his life for pride, honour and dignity and I would like people to remember him.”

Fatima Begum, Ahmed’s mother (GB3228.19.1.5)

Ahmed was 13 years old. He was tall for his age and often defended smaller children from bullies. He enjoyed sports, particularly playing football with friends. He liked reading and regularly visited the library. His favourite author was the sci-fi novelist Isaac Asimov. The summer before he died Ahmed started to write a novel about a Third World War set in Western Europe. He spent time researching the war in Vietnam and writing out the lyrics to Paul Hardcastle’s record ‘19’.

Ahmed’s written copy of the lyrics to ‘19’ by Paul Hardcastle (GB3228.19.6.2)
Ahmed’s written copy of the lyrics to ‘19’ by Paul Hardcastle (GB3228.19.6.2)

Ahmed was one of six children in a close-knit family. His parents settled in Britain during the 1960s. His mum, Fatima Nehar Begum was one of the first Bangladeshi women to live in Manchester.

Family photograph, Ahmed third from left (GB3228.19.6.1)
Family photograph, Ahmed third from left (GB3228.19.6.1)

Ahmed’s death and the way it was handled by the ambulance service, the police, the school, Manchester City Council and the press caused fear and outrage. The shock of the murder reverberated across Manchester and the whole of Britain. Ahmed’s family and the local community demanded an independent inquiry into the murder and the circumstances around it. Young people took to the streets to protest against racism. In 1987 Barrister Ian Macdonald conducted an Inquiry into racism and racial violence in Manchester schools. The Macdonald Inquiry report ‘Murder in the Playground’ was published in 1989 (we also hold the papers of the Macdonald Inquiry in our archive).

“I think Ahmed Iqbal Ullah’s murder was in a way a catalyst and a watershed … people woke up to the fact that this could happen and why.”

Nurjahan Ahmad, former Ethnic Minority Achievement Service teacher (GB3228.19.1.19)

Fatima Nehar Begum was part of a small community of Bangladeshi women who felt impelled to become better organised. They created Ananna, the Manchester Bangladeshi Women’s Organisation in 1989. For its founding members, Ahmed’s death was a catalyst that brought women together, highlighting the need for greater cooperation and an organised response to discrimination. Addressing inequalities within the education system was an initial priority.

Since 1997 Ananna has been based in the Longsight area of Manchester, welcoming women from all cultures. During weekly advice sessions staff help those in need to access practical and emotional support. Regular classes in English and information technology help women to develop new skills and improve their employment opportunities. Other courses such as childcare, yoga and dressmaking encourage women to increase their confidence and have fun. Ananna also organises lunch clubs, social events, outings and a crèche. The organisation is today a cornerstone of the local community. We hold the Papers of Annana collection in our archive, which tells the story of this remarkable organisation.

Ananna flyer for International Women’s Week celebrations 1990 (GB3228.58.3.1)
Ananna flyer for International Women’s Week celebrations 1990 (GB3228.58.3.1)

Fatima Nehar Begum was determined that something good would come out of death of her son. Through a community fundraising campaign in Manchester and with land donated by her family, she built a school named in Ahmed’s memory in her home village of Sylhet, in Bangladesh. She supervised the building work in meticulous detail, counting the bricks to ensure they were all accounted for. She interviewed and recruited all of the staff. The Ahmed Iqbal Memorial School opened in 1996 with just four classrooms and a head teacher’s office.

Fundraising leaflet from the campaign that helped to raise the initial £7000 building cost (GB3228.19.5.2)
Fundraising leaflet from the campaign that helped to raise the initial £7000 building cost (GB3228.19.5.2)

By 2016 the building had 14 classrooms and provided secondary education for nearly 1000 young people.  Fatima is President of the school and continues to be intimately involved with its development, still supporting it with her own money. Literacy rates in the school catchment area have risen to around 98% and graduates now work in a wide range of professions including banking, the police service, medicine and education.  Fatima’s efforts and commitment are an inspiration.

“We may have lost Ahmed but we feel that Ahmed is with us all the time, because of the school. We can never forget him. He will always be remembered as our son, brother, grandson…and we believe the benefit is enormous.”

Committee member, Ahmed Iqbal Memorial High School (GB3228.19.5.3)

Jackie Ould , Co-Director
Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre and Education Trust


Legacy of Ahmed Project Archive, 1984 – 2016

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All images copyright Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holders.

How the Exploring British Design project informed the development of the Archives Hub

Back in 2014 the Archives Hub joined forces with The University of Brighton Design Archives for an exciting new project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, ‘Exploring British Design’ (EBD).

The project explored Britain’s design history by connecting design-related content in different archives, with the aim of giving researchers the freedom to explore around and within archives.

You can read a number of blog posts on the project, and there is also a video introducing the EBD website on You Tube, but in this post I wanted to set out how we have learned from the project and how it has informed the development of the new Archives Hub.

Unfortunately, we may not be able to maintain the website longer term, and so it seemed timely to reflect on how the principles used in this project are being taken forward.

Modelling the Data

A key component of EBD was our move away from the traditional approach of putting the archive collection at the centre of the user experience. Instead, we wanted to reflect the richness of the content – the people, organisations, places, subjects, events that a collection represents.

We had many discussions and filled many pieces of paper with ideas about how this might work.

rough ideas for data connectivity
Coming up with ideas for how EBD should work

We then took these ideas and translated them into our basic model.

model of data for EBD
Relationships between entities in the EBD data

Archives are represented on our model as one aspect of the whole. They are a resource to be referenced, as are bibliographic resources and objects. They relate to the whole – to agents, time periods, places and events. This essentially puts them into a whole range of contexts, which can expand as the data grows.

Screenshot of EBD homepage
Homepage of Exploring British Design: People are foremost.

The Exploring British Design website was one way to reflect the inter-connected model that we created.

We have taken the principles of this approach with the new Archives Hub architecture and website, which was launched back in December 2016. Whilst the archive collection description stays very much in the forefront of the users’ experience, we have introduced additional tabs to represent themed collections and repositories. All three of these sources of information are, in a data and processing sense, treated equally. The user searches the Hub and the search runs across these three data sources. The model allows us to be flexible with how we present the data, so we could also try different interfaces in future, maybe foregrounding images, or events.

screenshot of Archives Hub search results
Search for ‘design industry’ gives results across Archive Collections, Themed Collections and Repositories


The EBD project had a particular focus on people. We opted to combine machine methods of data extraction – data taken partly from our already existent archive descriptions as well as from other external sources – with manual methods, to create rich records about designers. This manual approach is not sustainable for a large-scale service like the Archives Hub, but it shows what is possible in terms of creating more context and connectivity.

screenshot of a person page from the EBD website
EBD website showing a person page

We wanted to indicate that well-structured data allows a great deal more flexibility in presentation. In this case the ‘Archive and Museum Resources’ are one link in the list of resources about or related to the individual. We could have come up with other ways to present the information, given how it was structured.

We are intending to introduce names pages to the Archives Hub, which will then more clearly echo the EBD approach. They will largely have been created through automated processes, as we needed to create them at scale. They will generally be quite brief, without the ideal structure or depth, but the principle remains that we can then link from a person page to a host of related resources. The Hub website will have a new tab for ‘Names’ and end users will be able to run searches that take in collections, themes, repositories, people and organisations.

The EBD project allowed us to explore standards used for the creation of names data. It was our first experience of using Encoded Archival Context (Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families) (EAC-CPF), so we could start to see what we could do with it, as well as discover some of the shortcomings of the standard, as our data went beyond what is supported. For example, we wanted to link images to people and events but this was not covered by the standard. It was useful to have this preliminary exploration of it, and what it can – and can’t – do, as we look to adopt it for names within the Archives Hub.

Structured Data

One of the things the project did reinforce for me was the importance of indexing. On the Archives Hub we have always recommended indexing, but we have had mixed reactions from archivists, some feeling that it is less useful than detailed narrative, some saying that it is not needed ‘now we have Google’, some simply saying they don’t have time.

Indexing has many advantages, some of which I’ve touched on in various blog posts – and one at the top of the list, is that it brings the advantages of structured data. A name in a narrative can, in theory, be pulled out and utilised as a point of connectivity, but a name as an index term tends to be a great deal easier to work with: it is identified as a name, it usually has structured surname, forename content, it usually includes life dates and may include titles and epithets to help unambiguously identify an individual.

EBD was all about structured data, and we gave ourselves the luxury of adding to the data by hand, creating rich structured records about designers. This was partly to demonstrate what could be done in an interface, but we were well aware that it would be problematic to create records of that level of detail at scale. However, as we start to grapple with expanding name records in the Archives Hub, we have EBD as a reference point. It has helped us to think more about approaches and priorities when creating name records. If we were to create an EAC Editor (similar to our EAD Editor) we would think carefully about how to facilitate creating relationships. For example, the type of relationship – should there be a controlled list of relationship types? e.g. ‘worked with, collaborated with, had professional connection with, influenced by,  spouse of’ – these are some of the relationships we used in EBD, after much discussion about how best to approach this. Or would it be more practical to stick to ‘associated with’ (i.e. not defined), which is easier, but far less useful to a researcher. Could we have both? How would one combine them in an interface?  Another example – the potential to create timelines. If we wanted to provide end users with timelines, we would need to focus on time-bound events. There are many issues to consider here, not least of which is how comprehensive the timeline would be.

The vexed question of how to combine data from name descriptions created by several institutions is not something we really dealt with in EBD, but that will be one of the biggest challenges for us in aiming to implement name data on the Archives Hub.

The level of granularity that you decide upon has massive implications for complexity, resources and benefits. The more granular the data, the more potential for researchers to be able to drill down into lives, events, locations, etc. So including life dates allows for a search for designers from 1946; including places of education allows for exploring possible connections through education, but adding dates of education allows for a more specific focus still.

Explaining our approach

One thing that struck me about this project was that it was harder than I had anticipated to convey to people what we were trying to achieve and what we could achieve. I tended to find that showing the website raised a number of expectations that I knew would be difficult to fulfill, and if I’m being honest, I sometimes felt rather frustrated at the lack of recognition of what we had achieved – it’s really not easy to combine, process and present different data sources!  It is ironic that the more we press forwards with new functionality, and try to push the boundaries of what we do, the more it seems that people ask for developments that are beyond that!  You can try to modify expectations by getting deep down and technical with the challenges involved in aggregating and enhancing data created over time, by different people, in different environments (we worked with CSV data, EAC-CPF data, RDF and geodata for example), with different perspectives and priorities.  But detailed explanations of technical challenges are not going to work for most audiences. End users see and make an assessment of the website; they shouldn’t really need to be aware of what is going on behind the scenes.

Originally, in our project specification, we asked the question: “How can we encourage researchers, archive and museum professionals, and the public, to apprehend an integrated and extended rather than collection-specific sense of Britain’s design history?”  Whilst we did not go as far to answer this question as we had hoped, the work that we did made me feel that it might be harder than I had envisaged. People are very used to the traditional catalogues and other finding aids that are out there, and it creates a certain (possibly unconscious) mindset. I know this too well, because, as an archivist, I have had to adjust my own thinking to see data in a different way and appreciate that traditional approaches to cataloguing and discoverability are not always suited to the digital online age.

Data Model

The hierarchical approach to data is very embedded among archivists, and this is what people are used to being presented with.  Unless archivists catalogue in a different way, providing more structured information about entities (names, places, etc) then actually presenting things in a more connected way is hard.

image of hierarchical folders
A folder structure is often used to represent archival hierarchy

A more inter-connected model, which eschews linear hierarchy in favour of fluid entity relationships, and allows for a more flexible approach with the front-end interface to the data relies upon the quality, structure and consistency of the data. If we don’t have place names at all we can’t provide a search by place. If we don’t have place names that are unambiguously identified (i.e. not just ‘Cambridge’) then we can provide a search by place, but a researcher will be presented with all places called Cambridge, anywhere in the world (including the US, Australia and Jamaica).

A diagram showing archives and other entities connected
An example of connected entities

The new Archives Hub was designed on the basis of a model that allows for entities to be introduced and new connections made.

Archives Hub Entity Relationship diagram
Entities within the Archives Hub system

So, the tabs that the end user sees in the interface can be modified and extended over time. Searches can be run across all entities; it is not solely about retrieving descriptions of archives. This approach allows for researchers to find e.g. repositories that are significantly about ‘design’ or repositories that are located in London. It allows us to introduce Themed Collections as a separate type of description, so a student doing a project on ‘plastics’ would discover the Museum of Design in Plastics as a resource alongside archive collections at repositories including Brighton Design Archives, the V&A and the Paul Mellon Centre.

screenshot of Archives Hub search results
Search for ‘plastics and design’ shows archives and themed resources

Website Maintenance

One of the things I’ve learnt from this project is that you need to factor in the ongoing costs and effort of maintaining a project website. The EBD website is quite sophisticated, which means there are substantial technical dependencies, and we ended up running into issues with security, upgrades and compatibility of software, issues that are par for the course for a website but nonetheless need dealing with promptly. Maybe we should have factored this in more than we did, as we know the systems administration required for the Archives Hub is no small thing, but when you are in the throws of a project your focus is on the objectives and final output more than the ongoing issues. We cannot maintain a site long-term that is not being regularly used. EBD does not get the level of use that would justify the resources we would have to put into it on an ongoing basis.


When we were creating the model for the Archives Hub, we thought as much about flexibility and future potential as anything else. This is one thing that we have learnt from running the Hub for 25 years and from projects like Exploring British Design. You need to plan for potential developments in order to start to work with cataloguers, to get the data into the shape that you need it to be. We wanted to be able to introduce additional entities, so that we could have names, places, languages, images, or any other entities as ‘first class citizens‘ of the Hub. We wanted to be able to enhance the end user’s ability to take different paths, and locate relevant archives through different avenues of exploration.

We need to temper our ambitions for the Hub with the realities of cataloguing, aggregation and resources available, and we need as much information as we can get about what researchers really want; but this is why it is so important to encompass potential as well as current functionality. We may not be able to introduce everything we have envisioned or that users ask for right now; but it is important to understand the vital link between approaches to cataloguing, adherence to data standards, and front end functionality. We created visualisations for EBD and we would love to do this for the Hub, but it was not an easy thing to do, and so we would need to consider what the data allows, the software options available, whether the technical requirements are sustainable over time, and the effectiveness of the end result for the researcher.

Visualisation showing connections to Elizabeth Denby
Visualisation for Elizabeth Denby

When we demonstrated the visualisations in EBD, they had the wow factor that was arguably lacking in the main text-based site, but for serious researchers the wow factor is a great deal less important that the breadth and depth of the content, and that requires a model that is fundamentally rigorous, sustainable over time and realistic in terms of the data that you have to work with.