Cataloguing the Thackray Museum of Medicine Archive

Archives Hub feature for March 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Curphey
Thackray Museum of Medicine


Descriptions of other archives held by Thackray Museum of Medicine can be found on Archives Hub here:

All images copyright Thackray Museum of Medicine. 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.

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.

William Speirs Bruce Archive in the National Museums Scotland Library

August marks the 150th birthday of naturalist and Antarctic explorer, William Speirs Bruce, who was born on 1 August, 1867.

Part of the Bruce archive is held in the library collections of National Museums Scotland, with other Bruce archive collections being held by the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Cambridge. You can browse the Archives Hub for various collections relating to William Speirs Bruce.

Cartoon of Bruce originally published in a Buenos Aires newspaper
Cartoon of Bruce originally published in a Buenos Aires newspaper.

As a teenager, Bruce attended a vacation course in biology at a marine station in Granton, studying under Patrick Geddes, which proved to be an influential experience. He went on to assist John Murray at the Challenger Office, and would help with dredging on the Forth or Clyde whenever there was an opportunity.

Bruce’s first Antarctic voyage was on the Balaena where he worked as a surgeon on the Dundee Antarctic Whaling Expedition. He went on to work as a biologist on the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition, and then on the Coates Arctic Expedition. Bruce was then invited to make hydrological and biological surveys on trips to Spitsbergen.

Bruce’s best known expedition was on the Scotia where he was the leader of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition during 1902 to 1904. This expedition set out to conduct hydrographic work in the Weddell Sea, and survey the South Orkney Islands and study their wildlife.

Bruce continued to make expeditions, and travelled to Spitsbergen several more times between 1906 and 1919.

The archive at National Museums Scotland holds a range of records that show the breadth of Bruce’s work over the years.

List of equipment and stores made by Bruce for an expedition to Spitsbergen
List of equipment and stores made by Bruce for an expedition to Spitsbergen.

The planning that was required to undertake a scientific voyage is evident from the many records held for ordering goods to take on board, and packing lists for specific parts of a voyage. Lists include everything from basic requirements such as food, to survival equipment, to specialised scientific apparatus.

The archive includes scientific data gathered on Bruce’s voyages. There are examples of scientific log books, oceanographic measurements of temperature and water density, and lists of specimens found in trawls.

Cuthbertson drawings of an Atlantic lizardfish and the head of a Shag
Cuthbertson drawings of an Atlantic lizardfish and the head of a Shag.

Scientific data is accompanied by scientific drawings and sketches of the flora and fauna collected and described as part of the expeditions. The artist of the Scotia was William Cuthbertson, and his artwork shows the array of wildlife that was observed by the scientific team.

Cuthbertson painting
Cuthbertson painting.

Cuthbertson also painted landscapes and seascapes as the crew travelled, and the archive has a collection of these, often showing the beauty of the environment that was encountered on the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition.

Sketch by William Martin of Emperor Penguins
Sketch by William Martin of Emperor Penguins.

The archive includes many illustrations and descriptions of penguins, including this sketch by William Martin. Their behaviour was noted by Bruce and his colleagues during the Scotia expedition, and specimens were collected for scientific study.  Some of these specimens are part of the collections at National Museums Scotland, and still available for study. However, penguins and their eggs were also valued as food for the voyage, with black throated penguins being found the most palatable. Penguin was regularly served with fried onions, in soup, or as curry to those on board the Scotia.

William Speirs Bruce’s attempt to draw a pig in ‘Livre de Cochons’
William Speirs Bruce’s attempt to draw a pig in ‘Livre de Cochons’.

Despite the amount of scientific work undertaken during expeditions, Bruce and his colleagues did have leisure time to fill. Time would be spent singing songs, with each person doing a turn to entertain, Bruce being known for his rendition of ‘Two Blue Bottles’. The archive collection contains a notebook filled with attempts to draw a pig while blindfolded, which serves as a keepsake from the voyage, as well as evidence of the kind of games that would keep boredom at bay. The page shown is William Speirs Bruce’s attempt.

Sketch by William Martin of a cove at Gough Island
Sketch by William Martin of a cove at Gough Island.

The landscapes and living conditions experienced by those on the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition were captured by William Martin in a sketchbook that is also held in the National Museums Scotland archive. The sketch shown is of a cove at Gough Island where the Scotia stopped to collect specimens, and more images from the sketchbook can be found online

The Bruce papers also contain the diary of A Forbes Mackay who was a colleague of Bruce. Mackay reached the South Magnetic Pole on January 16th 1909, along with T.W. Edgeworth David, and Douglas Mawson. The diary tells of the difficult conditions as the men made the journey on foot over challenging terrain. Mackay also describes the pressure put on their relationships as a team, as the leadership passed from David to Mawson because David was no longer considered capable of leading.

You can find more about the archive collections at National Museums Scotland by visiting our webpage where you can access our library catalogue and archive listings.

Georgia Rogers
National Museums Scotland Library


Explore the William Speirs Bruce papers on the Archives Hub.

Browse the National Museums Scotland Library collections on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright the National Museums Scotland Library and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.



The D’Oyly Carte Archive

Archives Hub feature for October 2016

Browse collections relating to libretti on the Archives Hub.

Browse collections relating to opera on the Archives Hub.

Original painted promotional panels by H.M. Brock, featuring characters from The Yeomen of the Guard, The Pirates of Penzance, H.M.S. Pinafore and Iolanthe.
Original painted promotional panels by H.M. Brock, featuring characters from The Yeomen of the Guard, The Pirates of Penzance, H.M.S. Pinafore and Iolanthe. Ink on card, ca. 1913-1914. Archive reference: THM/73/29/3/2

The D’Oyly Carte Archive is one of the jewels in the crown of the V&A Theatre and Performance collections, and is one of the most significant archives in the world relating to the operas of librettist W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911) and composer Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) and their production and management by composer, theatrical agent, impresario and hotelier Richard D’Oyly Carte (1844-1901).  Their partnership resulted in some of the most memorable comic operas ever produced, and ranks as one of the most prolific and successful theatrical collaborations of all time.

Signed note written in Gilbert's hand concerning the formation of the Gilbert & Sullivan partnership with D'Oyly Carte at the Opera Comique, signed by all three.
Signed note written in Gilbert’s hand concerning the formation of the Gilbert & Sullivan partnership with D’Oyly Carte at the Opera Comique, signed by all three. Ink on paper, ca.1880. Archive reference: THM/73/2/1

Given to the V&A by Dame Bridget D’Oyly Carte (1908-1985), the grand-daughter of Richard D’Oyly Carte, we acquired the archive in several tranches.  Our curator of popular entertainment spent many long days at the Savoy Hotel (home both to Dame Bridget and the materials), listing and boxing them up prior to the first acquisition. The archive covers the span of the working relationship between the three. Boasting materials spanning over a hundred years it is one of the most eclectic in our collections, with materials covering all aspects of the workings of the company and including some items you might not reasonably expect to find in your average theatre company archive: Crimean battlefield relics and a box once containing a marzipan pirate’s hat immediately spring to mind!

Souvenir box and artwork designed by Peter Goffin (1906-1974).
Souvenir box and artwork designed by Peter Goffin (1906-1974). The box was one of many, each containing a marzipan pirate’s hat, presented at a party to mark general manager Frederic Lloyd’s (1918-1995) 27th birthday. Ink and pencil on card, 1963. Archive references; Artwork: THM/73/29/3/5 /; Box: THM/73/34

The collection also includes prompt scripts, correspondence, photographs, original costume and set designs and promotional artwork, legal documents, business books, cuttings albums, music sheets and related ephemera and objects concerning D’Oyly Carte’s production of operas by Gilbert and Sullivan and other composers and librettists, and his general business affairs.

Born in London, Richard D’Oyly Carte was a musician who started his career working in his father’s music publishing and instrument manufacturing business, and had his own operatic and concert agency by 1874.  It was as the manager of the Royalty Theatre in 1875 though that D’Oyly Carte began his association with Gilbert and Sullivan, commissioning Trial by Jury from them for the theatre, having seen their first work Thespis, or the Gods Grown Old at the Gaiety Theatre in 1871.

Pages from an Iolanthe prompt book, marked with text corrections and movement diagrams by stage manager J. M. Gordon (1856-1944).
Pages from an Iolanthe prompt book, marked with text corrections and movement diagrams by stage manager J. M. Gordon (1856-1944). Ink on paper, ca. 1922-1939. Archive reference: THM/73/18/22

In 1876 D’Oyly Carte formed the Comedy Opera Company in order to produce more work by Gilbert and Sullivan. The Sorcerer, their first full opera in collaboration, opened in 1877 at the Opera Comique, leased by D’Oyly Carte for the production. Following this came H.M.S. Pinafore (1878) which was such a success that it prompted the three to form a new partnership, eventually known as the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. The success of the production and their desire to combat unauthorised productions of their work in the USA brought about the Company’s first American tour. Their following two works; The Pirates of Penzance (which premiered in Paignton, New York in 1879 prior to its London opening in 1880) and Patience (1881) were the final operas staged at the Opera Comique.

Costume designs for Utopia, Limited, by Percy Anderson (1851-1928).
Costume designs for Utopia, Limited, by Percy Anderson (1851-1928). Watercolour, gouache and pencil on paper with fabric swatches, 1893. Archive reference: THM/73/21/12

In 1881 D’Oyly Carte built the Savoy Theatre which opened with a transfer of Patience from the Opera Comique. Subsequent Gilbert and Sullivan operas premiered at the Savoy; Iolanthe (1882), Princess Ida (1884), The Mikado (1885 – the profits of which funded the building of the Savoy Hotel), Ruddigore (1887), The Yeomen of the Guard (1888), The Gondoliers (1889), Utopia, Limited (1889) and The Grand Duke (1889). The duo’s operas became known as the Savoy Operas.

Costume sketch for Rose Maybud in Ruddigore by W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911).
Costume sketch for Rose Maybud in Ruddigore by W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911). Ink and pencil on paper with fabric swatch, 1886. Archive reference: THM/73/20/9

The partnership disbanded in 1890 following a legal dispute between Gilbert and D’Oyly Carte over the payment of maintenance costs for the Savoy Theatre. Sullivan sided with D’Oyly Carte, who went on to produce Sullivan and Julian Sturgis’s opera Ivanhoe (1891) as the inaugural production for his newly built Royal English Opera House. Gilbert and Sullivan were reconciled in 1893 and wrote Utopia, Ltd, and their final collaborative work was The Grand Duke (1896).

Without D’Oyly Carte’s diplomacy, tact, business acumen and financial skill it is doubtful whether the collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivan could have started again after Thespis, or lasted so long. Without the brilliance of the operas, D’Oyly Carte would not have been able to build the Savoy Theatre in 1881 to stage their hugely successful works, or the Savoy Hotel he built on the adjacent site in 1888, or the Royal English Opera House, now the Palace Theatre that he opened in 1891.  The collaboration of the three men resulted in worldwide success, the foundation of a British style of comic opera, and a remarkable archive that is catalogued online and can be consulted by appointment at the archives of the V&A’s Department of Theatre & Performance.

Veronica Castro
Assistant Curator, V&A Theatre and Performance Collections
The Victoria and Albert Museum


Explore the D’Oyly Carte Archive (ca.1850s-1980s) collection on the Archives Hub.

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

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

The London to Istanbul European Highway

Browse descriptions on the Archives Hub relating to cars and motoring.

Archives Hub feature for December 2015

Drawing: The handsome blue car, by Margaret Bradley.
The handsome blue car, by Margaret Bradley. ‘With apologies…this being a rough sketch…made somewhere in the middle of no mild channel’

The National Motor Museum Trust Motoring Archives

The National Motor Museum Trust Motoring Archives contain approximately 300 collections, which relate to numerous aspects of motoring history, including speed records, motor sport, businesses and famous personalities. Material is held in support of the National Motor Museum’s wider Collections, and is well used as part of the Research Service.

The archival collections are varied; subjects range from motoring personalities, motor sport, and companies, to road safety, alternative fuels, and vehicle design. Some highlights include:

  • Bluebird Collection – records relating to the various Blue Bird cars with which Malcolm Campbell took on the World Land Speed Record; and also the Bluebird cars and boats with which Donald Campbell took on the World Land and Water Speed Records;
  • Carless, Capel and Leonard Collection – clippings, account books, company records and advertisements for the distilling and oil refining business, dating from 1875-1950s;
  • The personal papers of motoring personalities such as Malcolm and Donald Campbell, Peter Collins, Henry Segrave and Morna Lloyd Vaughan.

The Bradley Collection

There may be airways and railways and steamers, but only a car will take you bag and baggage from the very heart of London to that core of oriental splendour, Istanbul, whilst you sit in the same seat. I nearly said magic rug and recalled the famous bewitched travel, for there is modern magic in that long highway which runs through nine different countries, demands that you should speak, or – what is more important – make yourself understood in nine consecutive languages, and pass airily through eight frontier stations. But in exchange for this is adventure, interest, pleasure and excitement that only motoring will give.

Margaret Bradley, 1933

The Bradley Collection contains material relating to a survey of a transnational road from London to Istanbul. The collection includes a promotional booklet published by the Automobile Association (AA), and all of the original artwork produced by Margaret Bradley during the trip.

The London to Istanbul Highway

Drawing: Figure drawing by Margaret Bradley whilst in Bulgaria.
Figure drawing by Margaret Bradley whilst in Bulgaria.

In the early 1930s, the AA commissioned a survey for a Transcontinental Highway, an initiative that was proposed by the Alliance Internationale de Tourisme (AIT). This was to be a road allowing motorists to travel quickly and easily across Europe with ‘no more complications than booking a seat at the theatre.’ It would cross France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary, what was Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Turkey. The road, extending for almost 2000 miles, was intended to continue onwards east to India and south to Cape Town.

Drawing: ‘Picking a way through a flock of geese’. By Margaret Bradley.
‘Picking a way through a flock of geese’. By Margaret Bradley.

In 1933, the renowned correspondent William Fletcher Bradley did the driving for the epic trip, with his daughter Margaret as the ‘official artist and navigator.’ The journey was made in a ‘handsome blue’ Siddeley Special open tourer with Vanden Plas (England) Ltd coachwork. This was at a time when, as Margaret Bradley said in 1985, roads ‘were more often than not just fields!’. Her father wrote in 1933: ‘not that the road is bad anywhere, but much of it is suggestive of the leisurely traffic of fifty years ago.’

The resulting booklet published by the AA and all of the original illustrations from the booklet are held within the Motoring Archives, having been donated by Margaret Bradley in the mid-1980s. Bradley also drew numerous sketches of their adventures and the characters that she and her father met en route.

Drawing: Hounds.
‘Some rather fierce hounds mistook us for a mechanical hare… & enjoyed themselves!’ By Margaret Bradley.

Our wheels strike a modern highway where normal speed can at last be resumed. We are approaching the end of our long journey. Suddenly we pass from the darkness into the light and overflowing life of a great city. Domes and minarets, electric signs and primitive shops, tramways and pack mules, a seething crowd…We have reached the Golden Horn. We have traversed the great International Highway. 

William Fletcher Bradley

Drawing: Istanbul arrival.
Sixteen days after setting off, they reached Istanbul. By Margaret Bradley.

A final word from Margaret Bradley:

‘The world is indeed a great place when you’re a motorist!’


The Bradley Collection is available to view on Archives Hub. More information about the Motoring Archives can be found on our Archives Hub contributor’s page, or on our website.

Helen Sumping
National Motor Museum Trust, Beaulieu


Browse the collections of the National Motor Museum on the Archives Hub.

All images copyright the National Motor Museum Trust and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

Exploring British Design at the Europeana AGM 2015

I’m just back from another enjoyable and useful Europeana Network Association event where I gave a four minute ‘Ignite Talk’ on our recently completed ‘Exploring British Design’ project that Pete and Jane worked on. As it was such a short talk, I wanted make sure I got the timing right, so actually wrote the talk out. I think it gives quite a good summary of the project, as well as mentioning our connection with Europeana, so I thought it would be worth posting it here along with a link to the slides:

“Hello, my name is Adrian Stevenson and I’m a Senior Technical Coordinator working for Jisc in the UK.

[Introduction slide]

Today I want to briefly outline a one year project we’ve recently completed called ‘Exploring British Design’ which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The technical work and front-end interface for Exploring British Design was developed by the Archives Hub based in the UK. The Hub aggregates archival descriptions from about 280 institutions in the UK, from the very large such as the British Library to the very small such as the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, making these archives available to be searched through our website, APIs and findable on Google. For some institutions, the Archives Hub provides their only web presence, so it’s an important service for the archives sector in the UK.

For ‘Exploring British Design’ we collaborated with one of our enthusiastic contributors, the Brighton Design Archive, based at the University of Brighton. We used the ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition from 1946 as a focal point because the Archive has rich collections relating to this exhibition.

So what’s the connection with Europeana? The Archives Hub is in the process of contributing data to the Archives Portal Europe. The plan is that the portal data will be available through Europeana at some point in the future.

[Home page slide]

So lets have a look. This is the home page of the website. You can see that we take people, i.e. the designers and architects, their organisations, and the events they were involved with, such as the exhibition as the starting points, i.e. not the archive records as such.

What’s unique about this project is that we’re going beyond the record as being about about one person, one organisation and having one focus. The reality is that archives are about the connections between all sorts of people, places, and events, such as exhibitions, and much of this information is effectively ‘locked in’ the archival records. This is what we’re trying to draw out.

The idea is that anything can be a primary focus:  people, organisations, places, events or archive collections. Some of you may recognise this as an idea relating to linked data, and indeed this is loosely the approach we took for the under the hood implementation. We also looked at an archival name authority standard called EAC-CPF to help with this.

[Designer slide]

You see here how we’ve tried to emphasise the relationship types, such as ‘friend of’, ‘collaborates with, ‘colleague of’ and so on. Researchers are most interested in people, events, etc. not in archives per se.

[Exhibition slide]

This is a view of the exhibition page, focussing in on it as an event in its own right with a location, related people, etc. This sort of information hasn’t historically been captured all that usefully in archival descriptions.

[Visualisation slide]

We included visualisations, but these actually fall far short of the complexity of the relationships. It’s quite hard to get these to work effectively, but they give a sense of the relationships between architect Jane Drew and Le Corbusier, or even Croydon High School for Girls.

So hopefully you can get a sense of how we’ve tried to present researchers with more flexible routes through the connections we created, helping to surface relationships between people, organisations and events that were effectively hidden in the more traditional document-based way of presenting information.”

There was an excellent reception in the evening at the Rijksmuseum where we were lucky enough to get a private view of the ‘Gallery of Honour’. It was a great opportunity to get a picture by Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ so we made the most. Thanks again to Europeana!

In front of the 'Night Watch
Adrian Stevenson and others in front of Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

The Wallace Collection Archives

Archives Hub feature for September 2015

In 1897 Lady Wallace died and bequeathed the contents of the ground and first floor of Hertford House, her art-filled London residence, to the nation. This included paintings by Rembrandt, Reynolds and Canaletto, the finest collection of Sèvres porcelain in the world and nearly 2, 500 pieces of arms and armour. These items were collected by the first 4 Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess.

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 18th century art, princely arms and armour and the history of collecting.

The Hertford and Wallace family archive paints a picture of the lives of the founders and how their art collection grew over the course of the 19th century. The archive holds a number of inventories revealing the contents of properties owned by the collectors on their deaths; these include objects in the collection today and items which were not included in Lady Wallace’s bequest.

The inventory taken on Sir Richard Wallace’s death in 1890 reveals that Lady Wallace’s bed was ‘a 6ft carved and gilt Parisian bedstead, stuffed head, and footboard covered in blue silk’ costing £200 (over £12,000 in today’s money). We know that Lady Wallace was a fan of Fragonard’s The Swing as it was one of the 15 paintings she chose to adorn her bedroom.

Image of The Swing, 1767.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing, 1767, © The Wallace Collection

The inventory shows that Richard Wallace had 8 horses, with names ranging from the more common Rodney to the clearly art-inspired Rembrandt, and 12 carriages for himself and his wife. Plans in the archive reveal that what were once the stables and coach house are now the arms and armour galleries. A mezzanine level was in place between the ground and first floors, where the stable boys and coachman’s family slept; the stable boys directly above the stables and the coachman’s family in a flat above the coach house.

Image of inventory, 1890
Extract from the 1890 inventory showing the names, ages and values of Sir Richard Wallace’s horses, © The Wallace Collection

Following Lady Wallace’s death a government enquiry determined that the Collection should remain in Hertford House and it was bought for the nation from her heir and former secretary, John Murray Scott. A large amount of building work was required to make Hertford House more suitable to display the Collection. For example, the mezzanine level above the stables was removed to create higher ceilings.

The Wallace Collection opened to the public on June 22 1900. John Murray Scott was appointed the first chairman of the Board of Trustees; he remained chairman until his sudden and dramatic death in 1912. Trustee minutes in the museum archive reveal that: ‘Sir John Scott was taken ill in the Boardroom about 12:30pm on Wednesday 17 January. At the moment of his seizure he was conversing on the history of the collection, and giving the Keeper notes on various objects contained in it. He died little more than an hour later.’

Photo of Underground Railway store at Paddington
The Post Office Underground Railway store at Paddington, © The Wallace Collection

On the outbreak of the First World War the Trustee minutes record that fire extinguishing equipment was purchased in case the Wallace Collection took a direct hit in aircraft raids. In 1916 the Collection was closed due to a lack of staff and in 1917 the decision was taken to evacuate the collection to the Post Office Underground Railway at Paddington – the move was completed in October 1918, one month before the Armistice. Various government departments used Hertford House during the war and it wasn’t until November 1920 that the Collection was able to re-open.

The archive reveals that the Collection was well-prepared for the Second World War, with planning for the possible evacuation of the Collection starting as early as 1933. Meetings were held on a regular basis throughout the mid-1930s and when the Munich Crisis occurred in 1938 the rarest Sèvres and majolica objects in the Collection were packed as a precaution. Priority lists were drawn up and practice drills held so when on August 23 1939 the Home Office gave the word ‘GO!’ to all the national museums and galleries to evacuate, the Wallace Collection was ready.

Photo of storage at Hall Barn
Part of the Collection in storage at Hall Barn during World War II, © The Wallace Collection

In fact they were so prepared that when Sir James Mann, the Director of the Museum at the time, returned from the continent on August 28 he found ‘Hertford House practically empty’. Between August 24 and September 4 the vast majority of the Collection was transported in 28 lorry journeys to Hall Barn and Balls Park. As with most national museums and galleries, the Collection remained outside London for the duration of the Second World War.

Hertford House itself had many lucky escapes during the Blitz; on the night of September 18/19 1940 a high explosive bomb fell in the front garden but did surprisingly little damage. Incendiary bombs fell on the roof in November 1940 and May 1941 but museum staff put the fires out before more than slight damage to the woodwork was caused.

Image of exhibition catalogue, 1942
Artists Aid Russia (1942) exhibition catalogue, signed by Sir Winston Churchill, © The Wallace Collection

Hertford House was not completely empty during the war as it was made available for temporary exhibitions, including the Arts and Crafts (1941) and Artists Aid Russia (1942) exhibitions. Below is a catalogue for the latter exhibition signed by Sir Winston Churchill; it was auctioned for Mrs Churchill’s Aid for Russia fund and presented to the Wallace Collection by Sir Alec Martin in 1942.

Information about most of our collected archives can be found on our Archives Hub contributor’s page, further descriptions including those for the family and museum archives will be added in due course.

Carys Lewis
Archivist & Records Manager




Browse the collections of The Wallace Collection on the Archives Hub.


Kettle’s Yard Archive

Archives Hub feature for September 2014

Image of Kettle's Yard House
Kettle’s Yard House, University of Cambridge

Kettle’s Yard – A Way of Life

Kettle’s Yard is a unique and special place.  It is so much more than a house, a museum or a gallery, and it invariably leaves a lasting impression with those who visit.

Between 1958 and 1973, Kettle’s Yard was the home of Jim and Helen Ede. In the 1920s and 30s, Jim had been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London. It was during this time that he formed friendships with artists and other like-minded people, which allowed him to gather a remarkable collection of works by artists such as Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miro, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.  Ede also shared with many of his artist friends a fascination for beautiful natural objects such as pebbles, weathered wood, shells or feathers, which he also collected.

Jim carefully positioned artworks alongside furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects, with the aim of creating a perfectly balanced whole. His vision was of a place that should not be

“an art gallery or museum, nor … simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.”

Image of Jim Ede's bedroom table
Jim Ede’s bedroom table – Kettle’s Yard, 
University of Cambridge. Photo: Paul Allitt.

Jim originally envisaged making a home for his collection in quite a grand house, but unable to find a suitable property, he opted instead to remodel four derelict 19th century cottages and convert them into a single house.

Kettle’s Yard was conceived with students in mind, as ‘a living place where works of art could be enjoyed . . . where young people could be at home unhampered by the greater austerity of the museum or public art gallery.’  Jim Ede kept ‘open house’ every afternoon of term, personally guiding his visitors around his home. This experience is still faithfully recreated as visitors ring the bell at the front door, and are welcomed into the house.

Image of Jim Ede
Jim Ede at Kettle’s Yard – Kettle’s Yard, 
University of Cambridge

In 1966 Jim gave the house and its contents to the University of Cambridge, though he continued to occupy and run it until 1973. In 1970, the house was extended, and an exhibition gallery added to ensure that there would always be a dynamic element to Kettle’s Yard, with space for contemporary exhibitions, music recitals and other public events.

The archive

If Kettle’s Yard is the ultimate expression of a way of life developed over 50 years and more, the archive adds an extra dimension by documenting the rich story of how that philosophy evolved.  At its core are Jim Ede’s personal papers, which chart a wide range of influences throughout his life, from his experience of World War I, through the ‘open house’ the Ede’s kept in Hampstead through the late 1920s and early 1930s and the vibrant set who attended their parties; the weekend retreats for servicemen on leave from Gibraltar at the Ede’s house in Tangier at the end of World War II; the ‘lecturer in search of an audience’ who travelled to the US in the early 1940s; the prolific correspondence not just with artist friends, but figures such as T E Lawrence; and the development of Kettle’s Yard and its collections.

Thanks to the support of the Newton Trust, we are now half way through a 2-year project to improve access to the archive and support research by producing a digital catalogue of the collections, putting in place proper preservation strategies, and establishing procedures for public access. This work builds on the foundations laid by the dedicated archive volunteers, who continue to work with us.

We have started out by publishing a high-level description of the Ede papers on the Archives Hub [], to which we will add more detail over the coming year.  The catalogue already includes detailed descriptions of c.120 letters Jim Ede received from the artist and writer David Jones between 1927 and 1971, and c. 200 from the collector and patron Helen Sutherland, from 1926 to 1964.   We will soon be adding correspondence with the artists Ian Hamilton Finlay and Richard Pousette-Dart, and the museum director Perry Rathbone; papers relating to Jim Ede’s lifelong mission to promote the work of Henri Gaudier Brzeska, and the establishment and running of Kettle’s Yard; and other small collections such as Helen Sutherland’s letters to the poet Kathleen Raine.

In another exciting development, Kettle’s Yard has now received backing from the Arts Council England Capital Investment Programme Fund to create a new Education Wing and carry out major improvements to the exhibition galleries.  The plans [] include a purpose-built archive store and dedicated space for consulting and exhibiting archive material.

One recent addition to the archive is a letter that Jim Ede wrote in 1964, in response to a thank you note from an undergraduate who had visited Kettle’s Yard.  In typical style, Jim expresses concern about whether he really is providing pleasure to others through his endeavours at Kettle’s Yard, and draws strength from the expression of gratitude.  He ends the letter ‘Do come in as often as you like – the place is only alive when used’.

Image of letter from Jim Ede
“the place is only alive when used” – Kettle’s Yard Archive, University of Cambridge

This is very true of the house, but equally true of the archive – and hopefully everything we are doing to improve physical and intellectual access to the archives, and integrate it into all aspects of the Kettle’s Yard programme, will ensure that it is well used.

Frieda Midgley, Archivist
Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge

All images copyright Ketttle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

Arrive in Wonder, Leave in Wisdom!

Roll Up Roll Up for Open Cuture!

image of open culture banner

I arrived at the Open Culture conference just in time to grab a cup of tea and dash along to hear Malcolm Howitt’s talk on Axiell. He focussed on Axiell Arena,
software, a new content management option. It provides for a more interactive experience, complete with tag cloud and the ability to add comments.  It looked pretty good, very much in line with where things are going in terms of these kinds of websites. However, from our point of view as an aggregator what we are keen to see is an API to the data to enable others to engage with it more flexibly, something that has yet to happen on CALM. Maybe this raises the whole issue of the challenge of open data to commercial suppliers – it does rather appear to threaten their business model, and I can see that this would be of concern to them.

The second presentation I saw was from Deep Visuals on ViziQuest, ‘a new way to explore digital collections’. They used natural language processing to extract the concepts from the text.  So the system uses existing metadata in order to enable semantic browsing.  The idea is to provide a different kind of search experience, where the user can meander through a collection of images. You can flip over image to find metadata about the image, which is quite neat.

Deep Visuals have worked with the Scott Poloar Research Institute, one of the Hub contributors, and there are some wonderful images of expeditions. For some images, the archivist has recorded an audio and there are also some film clips  – I saw a great clip on board a ship bound for the arctic.  Currently the software is only available for users within the institute, but it may be made available through the website. You can see a small demo here:  In addition, ViziQuest have taken some expedition diaries and recorded some audio with actors.

The morning was rounded off with a talk about Culture Grid. The importance of Culture Grid being part of national and international initiatives was emphasised, and there was reference to RDTF (now UKDiscovery) and the whole HE agenda, which was good to hear.

Currently Culture Grid contains about 1.65 million item records, mostly referring to images. There are also about 10,000 collection records and 8,000 institution records. We were told that ‘Cuture Grid site and search is not a destination in itself.’  This slightly surprised me, as I did think that this was one of its purposes, albeit only one and maybe not the primary one.

I was impressed by the way Culture Grid is positioning itself as a means to facilitate the use of data by others. Culture Grid has APIs and we were told that a growing range of users do take advantage of this. They are also getting very involved in developer days as a means to encourage innovation. I think this is something archives should engage with, otherwise we will get left behind in the innovative exploration of how to make the most of our data.

Whilst I am very much in agreement with the aims of opening up data, I am not entirely convinced by the Culture Grid website. It does appear to prioritise digital materials – it works much better where there are images. The links back to resources often don’t work. I did a search for ‘victorian theatre’ and first of all the default search was ‘images only’, excluding ‘collections’ and non-images based materials. Then, two of the first four links to resources I clicked on got an internal server error.  I found at least six links that didn’t work on the first two pages of results. Obviously this is not Culture Grid’s fault, but it is certainly a problem. I also wonder about how intuitive it is, with resource links going to so many different types of websites, and at so many different levels of granularity. Quite often you don’t go straight to the resource: one of the links I clicked on from an item went to the Coventry Council homepage, another went to the ‘how do I?’ page of the University of Hull. I asked about the broken links and didn’t feel that the reply was entirely convincing – I think it should be addressed more comprehensively.  I think if the Hub was to contribute descriptions to Culture Grid one of my main concerns would be around updating descriptions. I’m also not sure about the need to create additional metadata. I can’t quite get the reasoning behind the Culture Grid metadata, and the way that the link on the title goes to the ‘resource’ (the website of the contributor), but the ‘view details’ link goes to the Culture Grid metadata, which generally provides a cut down version of the description.

The afternoon was dedicated to Spectrum, something I know only a little about other than that it is widely used as a framework by museums in their collections care. Spectrum is, we were told, used in about 7,000 institutions across Europe. Nick Poole, the CEO of the Collections Trust, emphasised that Spectrum should be a collaborative venture, so everyone needs to engage in it.  Yet maybe it has become so embedded that people don’t think about it enough.  The new Spectrum 4 is seen as providing an opportunity to re-engage the community.

There was an interesting take on Spectrum by the first speaker as a means to actually put people off starting museums…but he was making the important point that a standard can show people what is involved – and that it is a non-trivial task to look after museum collections. I got the impression that Spectrum has been a way to get curators on board with the idea of standards and pulling together to work more professionally and consistently.

Alex Dawson spoke about the latest edition of Spectrum in her capacity as one of the co-editors. Spectrum is a consensus about collections management procedures, about consistency, accountability and a common vocabulary. It is not supposed to be prescriptive; it is the ‘what’ more than the ‘how’.  It has 21 procedures describing collections management activities, of which 8 are considered primary. We were told that the link to accreditation was very important in the history of spectrum, and other milestones have included the introduction of rights management procedures, establishing a clear link between procedures and policy and greater recognition of the importance of the knowledge held within museums (through Spectrum Knowledge).

There has been an acknowledgement that Spectrum started to become more cumbersome and information could get buried within this very large entity, it was also starting to get out of date in certain areas. I can see how Spectrum 4.0 is an improvement on this because it contains clear flow diagrams that bring out the processes much more obviously and shows related procedures. It also separates out the procedural and information requirements.  The advisory content has been stripped out (and put into online Spectrum Advice) in order to concentrate on procedural steps through flow diagrams.

The consultation on Spectrum 4 was opened up via a wiki:

The main day of the conference included some really great talks. Bill Thompson from the BBC was one highlight.  He talked about ‘A Killer App for Culture’, starting with musings on the meaning of ‘culture’. He talked about digital minds in this generation, which may change the answers that we come up with and may change the meaning of words. Shifting word sense can present us with challenges when we are in the business of data and information. He made the point convincingly that the world is NOT digital, as we often state; it is reassuringly still organic. But digital DATA is everywhere. It is an age in which we experience a digital culture, and maybe the ways that we do this are actually having an effect on the way that we think. Bill cited the book ‘Proust and the Squid’ by Maryanne Wolf which I would also throroughly recommend. Wolf looks at the way that learning to read impacts on the ways that we think.

Matthew Cock from the British Museum and Andrew Caspari from the BBC presented on A History of the World in 100 Objects.  We were told how this initiative gradually increased in scale to become enjoyed by millions of people across the world. It was a very collaborative venture between the BBC and British Museum. There were over 2.5 million visits to the site, often around 40,000 in a week when the programme was not on air.  It was interesting to hear that the mobile presence was seen as secondary at the time, but probably should have been prioritised more. ‘Permanent availability portable and for free’ was absolutely key said Andrew Caspari.

It was an initiative that really brought museums together – maybe not surprising with such a high profile initiative.  The project was about sharing and a different kind of partnership defined by mutual benefit, and most importantly, it was about closing the gap between public engagement and collection research. It obviously really touched people’s imaginations and they felt a sense of being part of something.  It does seem like a very successful combination of good fun, entertainment and learning. However,  we were told that there were issues. Maybe the digital capacity of museums was overestimated and longer lead in times were required than the BBC provided. Also, the upload to the site needed to be simpler.

Cock and Caspari referred to the way the idea spread, with things like ‘A history of the world in 100 sheds’. Should you be worried that this might trivialize the process, or should you be pleased that it caught on, stirred imaginations and controversy and debate?

David Fleming of National Museums Liverpool followed with an equally absorbing talk about museums and human rights. He said museums should be more aware that they are constructs of the society they are in. They should mirror society. They should give up on the idea of being neutral and engage in issues.  He is involved in the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, and this is a campaigning museum. Should others follow suit? It makes museums an active part of society – both historical and contemporary. Fleming felt that a visit to the museum should stir people and make them want to get involved.

He gave a number of examples of museums where human rights are at the heart of the matter, including:

District Six in South Africa: – very much a campaigning museum that does not talk about collections so much as stories and lives, using emotion to engage people.

The  Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide Victims in Cambodia, a building that was once Pol Pot’s secret prison. The photographs on this site are hugely affecting and harrowing. Just seemingly ordinary portrait shots of prisoners, but with an extraordinary power to them.

The Lithuanian Museum of Genocide Victims . This is a museum where visitors can get a very realistic experience of what it was like to live under the Soviet regime. Apparently this experience, using actors as Soviet guards, has led to some visitors passing out, but the older generation are passionate to ensure that their children understand what it was like at this time.

We moved on to a panel session on Hacking in Arts & Culture was of particular interest to me.  Linda Ellis from Black Country Museums gave a very positive assessment of how the experience of a hack day had been for them. She referred to the value of nurturing new relationships with developers, and took us through some of the ideas that were created.  You can read a bit more about this and about putting on a hack day on Dan Slee’s blog:

What we need now is a Culture Hack day that focuses on archival data – this may be more challenging because the focus is text not images, but it could give us some great new perspectives on our data. According to Rachel Coldicutt, a digital consultant, we need beanbags, beer, pizza, good spirit and maybe a few prizes to hand out….. Doesn’t seem too hard. ….oh, and some developers of course :-)

Some final thoughts around a project at the New Walsall Art Gallery: Neil Lebeter told us that the idea was to make the voice of the artist key. In this case, Bob and Roberta Smith. The project centered around the Jacob Epstein archive and found ways to bring the archive alive through art – you can see some interesting video clips about this process on YouTube:

I found Open Culture was billed as a conference meeting the needs of museums, libraries and archives, but I do think it was essentially a museums conference with a nod to archives and maybe a slight nod to libraries. This is not to criticise the conference, which was very well presented, and there really were some great speakers, but maybe it points to the challenges of bringing together the three domains?  In the end, they are different domains with different needs and interests as well as areas of mutual interest. Clearly there is overlap, and there absolutely should be collaboration, but maybe there should also be an acknowledgement that we are also different communities, and we have some differing requirements and perspectives.