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Covid-19 Collecting and the University of Bristol Community

Like me, you might well be sick of the phrase that we are living through interesting times, though it could be argued that living through a Covid-19 lockdown and trying to work/study from home, is ‘interesting’.

As this is the case, and as we like to collect contemporary materials which may go into a future archive relating to the coronavirus and how it has affected the University of Bristol Community, we are proposing a collection of Covid-19 related materials.

We are well aware that this is a stressful and sensitive situation for all, and that many of you are more busy than usual; trying to adapt to new situations; working to care for people and develop strategies to combat the pandemic; and suffering losses of loved ones. However we would appeal to you all as part of your busy day to consider what is happening around you, and if you think it could be relevant to how people in the future will study how we coped with the Covid-19 pandemic, do please get in touch with us.

We should receive archives of committees and the like due to our current collecting of archives of the University of Bristol, but there are many other strands that will be of interest.

-Webpages and SharePoint sites: The University Coronavirus web pages and share point sites for students and staff

https://www.bristol.ac.uk/students/coronavirus/current-students/

https://uob.sharepoint.com/sites/coronavirus

The work with the Community to help, support, and discover

The work of the Uncover team

We have created our own SharePoint site so people can upload material and submit it to us. This is new to us, so let us know if there are any problems with it.  It is now available here: https://uob.sharepoint.com/teams/grp-Covid-19-collecting

-Press and media: Our academics and students are busy engaging with many forms of media, (we are aware of the public relations web pages and thank them for being supportive)

-Social Media: Blogs, twitter, Instagram, twitter, facebook, yammer. All of which may show a more informal side of what is happening

-Emails: From colleagues/managers/schools to students/staff/individuals giving support and laying down new regimes/suggestions

-Talks and interviews: Such as staff addresses and talks from individual academics.

-Photographs: Images of your working at home desk/study area. Your new co-colleague pets and family. Rainbows, teddy bears in the windows of houses around you. Signs in shop/business/domestic windows. Graffitied messages of support

-Objects: When we go back to campus keep the signs put up to record that a building/library was closed. Did you sew a face mask? Did someone you know create PPE using school 3D-printers or sew scrubs? Did you get involved in volunteering in the community in many different ways? If you don’t want to give up the actual object we would be happy to have a photograph.

 

-Writing: Some people are writing diaries, finding solace in poetry, reading more (or less). The Brigstow Institute has supported diary projects, Mass Observation is collecting diaries on 12 May, and we would love to see your work (but only if you are happy to share).

https://www.bristol.ac.uk/brigstow/projects/re-imagining-diary/

http://www.massobs.org.uk/write-for-us/12th-may

Our Request

We are going to concentrate on the University as a community, be that student, staff, or alumni. We are interested in your story, whatever faculty you are based in (not just the arts) and whatever your job title or course of study.

We are conscious that there is a lot of collecting already going on. For instance the MShed in Bristol is collecting; as are multiple archives, libraries, museums, and organisations.  Collections may be physical or digital, or a mixture of the two.  The Wellcome Trust is also giving some good guidelines about the ethics of current collecting, which we are very anxious to follow.  So if you would like to talk to us that is brilliant, but if you have already offered your materials to another organisation that is equally fine (we are a bit late in asking).

We also realise how busy everyone is and though we seem to be entering the next stage of the pandemic after 7 weeks of lockdown, we would rather that you save something and get in touch in the future, when you have time to process what you are living through.  As I write this on 11 May 2020, the Government and University authorities, and the wider community are talking about what the next stage will be for us all to cope with what we are experiencing.  It is a rapidly changing situation, and we would love to record this as it is happening.

Do get in touch with us at

grp-Covid-19-collecting@groups.bristol.ac.uk or special-collections@bristol.ac.uk

We would love to hear from you, and thank you for your time.

Special Collections Web Page: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/library/special-collections/

Hannah Lowery on behalf of the Special Collections Team

11 May 2020

(images all Hannah Lowery)

The Feminist Archive South and Women’s Liberation Music Archive at Special Collections

Firstly may we take the opportunity to wish you and yours all the best in these very difficult times. We also wanted to reassure you that though Special Collections Staff are now working at home and away from the archives and books, our collections and buildings are also being regularly checked, and are safe. At the moment we are not able to access the archives to answer individual queries, but do get in touch and we will see what we can do to help. Special-collections@bristol.ac.uk

 For our students (and non University of Bristol students)

We know that students working on the Feminist Archive South were some of the last people to be working in our Reading Room as lockdown developed around us. You are probably being ingenious, finding other ways to approach your research, talking to your supervisors, and subject librarians, but remember to get in touch with us, we may be able to help

For our academics (and non University of Bristol academics)

We’ve met some of you or we’ve worked together before. During the Summer term 2019 we held several seminars for University of Bristol academics, using the Feminist Archive South and Women’s Liberation Music Archive. Many issues now arise, such as: planning seminars for this term; looking ahead to teaching sessions for 2020/21, in whatever shape or form it takes; thinking about your research during Summer 2020; advising your students about accessing the archive?  So many questions, do get in touch, we may be able to help.

For our friendly activists, artists, trustees

Special Collections, the Feminist Archive South, the Women’s Liberation Music Archive, and allied collections are not just open for academic study, they are open for inspiration, for activism, and for a wider perspective on the past/present/future. Along with other feminist archives, such as our sister Feminist Archive North at the University of Leeds, and many more, we try to preserve the history of the past to make it relevant for the present. We have worked with you in many different ways, so get in touch and see if we can help now.

News updates

British Library Exhibition

You may know that we were going to lend five items from FAS to the ‘Unfinished Business’ Exhibition at the British Library from 24 April to August 2020. This exhibition has been postponed until October 2020-February 2021, but check out the British Library’s blog for activities which are going on now.

For instance you can listen to an excellent Mary Wollstonecraft birthday podcast or follow  @BL_ModernMSS on twitter to find out more.

‘Unfinished Business’ Exhibition at the British Library, London. Photograph by Hannah Lowery, 29 February 2020.

Monica Sjoo Artist

A group of people are working together to curate an exhibition of the art work of Monica Sjoo.  There is an international angle to their work, and we are happy to put you in touch with people.  Check the online archive catalogue for a description of the rich archive we hold.

‘Still I Rise’ exhibition, Arnolfini, Bristol. Photograph by Hannah Lowery, September 2019.

Hatpins to Hashtags and the Politics and Protest Exhibition

Looking back to 2018 and the wonderful work which the Feminist Archive South did in their Hatpins to Hashtags Government funded workshops Special Collections recently helped exhibit the Politics and Protest banners in the University of Bristol Life Sciences Building. This was the first time that we managed to display these in the University of Bristol. Thanks to everyone involved.  It was a good opportunity for different generations of activists to get together, some who had attended celebratory meetings in Oxford so celebrate fifty years of the first Women’s Movement Conference. Current conditions mean the next planned loans of the exhibition won’t be able to go ahead, but the messages of the posters are as relevant today as they were in the recent past, so we would love to spread the word. Many volunteers were also involved in workshops in 2018, which led to crowd cataloguing of some of the thousand plus posters. The posters now are mainly onsite in ASSL, and we need to have further discussions to see if we can carry on the crowd cataloguing of the digitised posters, do get in touch if you want to find out more.

Politics & Protest exhibition banners in the University of Bristol Life Sciences Building.

Politics & Protest exhibition banners in the University of Bristol Life Sciences Building. Photograph by Hannah Lowery, March 2020.

SPAN Project

The SPAN Project (Single Parent Action Network), based at the Barton Hill Settlement, has been a collaborative project with AHRC funding, organised by Professor Josie McLellan, University of Bristol History Department, and others.  A project archivist and volunteers have been working on the archive, which, as soon as it is possible, will be housed in Special Collections, as an adjunct of the Feminist Archive South. We look forward to receiving the thirty or so boxes and catalogue. Thanks everyone.

Spare Rib

Last year, extra funding from the University of Cambridge allowed us to get an archivist colleague in Bristol to do some extra work on the Spare Rib Archive held in the Feminist Archive South.  So thank you to Lucy Delap and Jayne Pucknell for making that happen. This means we have a much better idea of the holdings and also can better provide access to the materials, as they are sensitive in their content. Thanks too to the many others involved in this project.

Whilst talking about Spare Rib, don’t forget that digital copies can be found here. However they are not complete due to copyright issues, and we look forward to having access again to our physical copies in the near future.

We would also like to remind you about recent acquisitions of archives relating to Asphodel Long  (DM2767) and Daniel Cohen (DM2966). Kind volunteers have helped us to start improving access to these collections, and we hope to be able to do more work on this in the future. For the moment these catalogue entries are not available.

Online Archive Catalogue

Link to Major Collections: Feminist Archive South: Choose Advanced Search then drop down menu Major Collections: Feminist Archive South.

FAS: DM2123

WLMA: DM2598

Our web page

Collections Strength Webpage

Feminist Archive South Website

Women’s Liberation Music Archive

Special Collections also tweets at @BrisUniSpColl, and you may well find mentions of the Feminist Archive South quite frequently.

Finally our version of a sound cloud listing some of the recent research topics in the Archive. It is an amazing resource, do ask and we will try and help make it accessible to you.

Dora Russell’s Peace Caravan; male anti-sexism newsletters; domestic violence; menstruation; Greenham Common; self care in times of protest; first Women’s Liberation Conferences in Oxford, 1970; women in the manual trades; suffragettes; peace movements; Spare Rib; Virago Publishing; Monica Sjoo.

A big thank you to everyone who has helped make the Feminist Archive South and allied collections develop since they were first deposited in Special Collections in January 2008.  A lot of important anniversaries and additional archives have happened since that time. We raise a glass to you then, now, and in the future. Cheers

Hannah Lowery

7 May 2020

Hidden treasures in the University of Bristol Brunel Collection

Emma Howgill is a project archivist at Special Collections, University of Bristol. She has recently completed the cataloguing of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s S.S. Great Eastern letter-books and here writes about her work on part of DM1306.

 For the last nine months, I have been working on cataloguing a small section of DM1306, the Personal Papers of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, specifically dealing with Brunel’s final project, the SS Great Eastern.  The largest ship for almost half a century after her launch, the Great Eastern was packed with technological innovations including a double skinned hull and a compartmentalised bulkhead system that allowed her to remain afloat even if the hull was damaged, and with a novel combination of both screw propeller and paddle wheels.  The series of papers relating to the Great Eastern (DM1306/11) include a detailed record of Brunel’s correspondence relating to the ship’s construction, evidence of the research he carried out when designing the ship, correspondence relating to the fixtures and fitting out of the ship, as well as inventions offered for inclusion on the ship and a large selection of letters from the general public offering help and advice during the protracted launching process over the winter of 1857-1858.

As well as highlighting Brunel’s energetic working and management style, the papers also reveal the wide-ranging public interest in the project. There is correspondence from all over the world and offers of a range of inventions, with many writers hoping to make their fortunes by enlisting Brunel’s support for their inventions or ideas or their inclusion in his magnum opus, as well as letters of interest from harbours as far apart as Portland, Maine and Melbourne, Australia all hoping to boost their profile by becoming a docking point for the ship.

These papers are being catalogued in detail for the first time, and will soon be listed on our online catalogue, allowing anyone, anywhere, to identify items of interest. Some of the papers have a wealth of information to tell us about life on board a nineteenth century ship, or Victorian business practices; others offer mysteries to be solved by future researchers, while still more allow us to tease out threads between personalities and events.  In my recent cataloguing work, I have come across examples of all three…

DM1306/11/17/4 offers us an insight into not only government procedure, but also life as a government-sponsored emigrant on board ship on the way to a new life. At first glance, the blank/unfilled in form seems to offer little in the way of informational value. However, this form ‘Government form D No 12: Tender for Passage Accommodation and Diet of Persons Embarked for …. Under the authority of Her Majesty’s Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners’, to be filled out by any ship-owner wishing to carry government sponsored emigrants to various colonial destinations, contains a wealth of information for anyone wanting to learn about life on board a nineteenth century emigrant ship.

Rather than leaving emigrants to fend for themselves, the form suggests that the government paid considerable attention to the care and safety of emigrants particularly those whose passage was being sponsored by the government. The form details the conditions by which ship owners had to abide, including the need to allow government inspection of the quality of the ship and the need to provide religious instruction and medical care for all passengers as well as schooling for every child passenger.  But possibly the most interesting part lies in the listing of rations to be provided for every person, from the amount of bread and meat, to the quantity of water per passenger per day, as well as the list of medications and medical supplies to be carried on board the ship.

From this simple, apparently boring government form, we can build up the beginnings of an idea of life as a government sponsored emigrant in the 1850s.

Other elements of the collection are perhaps more immediately interesting but also more mysterious, for example DM1306/11/21/7/7, a letter from W.L.E. McLean, of the Lancefield Forge company, to Brunel’s assistant Bradford Leslie.

Letter from W.L.E. McLean to Bradford Leslie about the crank shaft of the Great Eastern. DM1306/11/21/7/7.

Letter from W.L.E. McLean to Bradford Leslie about the crank shaft of the Great Eastern. DM1306/11/21/7/7.

The letter is part of a long-running series of letters between Brunel, his assistants, and Lancefield Forge, a Glasgow-based iron foundry, which undertook the herculean task of forging the enormous crank-shaft for the Great Eastern’s engines.  The task proved so enormous that it took several attempts to complete a flawless shaft. However, the particular interest of this letter lies not in the letter itself, but the fact that the page has been reused as drawing paper.

A pencil sketch by an unknown artist on the back page of a letter from W.L.E. McLean to Bradford Leslie. DM1306/11/21/7/7.

The back page has been used for a pencil sketch of a river scene with three ships, all showing evidence of masts and rigging and the nearest two also carrying paddle wheels.  The size and shape of the nearest ship might suggest that this is a sketch of the SS Great Eastern, although it is unclear whether the sketch shows the ship under construction, in the ‘fitting out’ phase, or if it is an idealised image of the completed ship. The sketch is unsigned and this creates additional mystery. Is this a sketch in Brunel’s own hand showing his interpretation of the completed Great Eastern, is it a sketch of the Great Eastern under construction or is it the work of a bored clerk, idly doodling the view outside his window?  Can the author of the sketch be identified? Perhaps future researchers may identify artist and subject and may even find out why the sketch was created. For the moment, the sketch, its author and its subject are a mystery, leaving us to imagine the circumstances of its creation.

The final treasure uncovered during the recent cataloguing connects two of Bristol’s heroes and some of their lesser known projects.

First page of a letter from Samuel Plimsoll to the Directors of the New River Company. DM1306/11/21/5/4.

Last page of a letter from Samuel Plimsoll to the Directors of the New River Company. DM1306/11/21/5/4.

DM1306/11/21/5/4 has no direct connection to the Great Eastern but may have been part of Brunel’s research process for the ship identifying the best type of coal to power the mighty engines. The letter comes from a coal merchant, boasting to the Directors of the New River Company of the extraordinary benefits of his brand of coal and it is the letter’s author who is of particular interest.

Anyone who has crossed the Cumberland Basin from Hotwells to Spike Island has seen or crossed the Plimsoll Bridge, named in honour of Samuel Plimsoll, author of this letter. Born in Bristol in 1824, Samuel Plimsoll embarked on a brief, unsuccessful career as a coal merchant before becoming an MP, where he championed the cause for which he is best remembered. The Plimsoll line, introduced in the Merchant Shipping Act of 1876, identified the safe loading weight for ships and its introduction may have saved countless sailors’ lives, making Plimsoll a local hero. The current Plimsoll Bridge was installed in the 1960s when it replaced the original, asymmetric swinging bridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the late 1840s as part of the rebuilding of the Cumberland Basin lock (one of Brunel’s original bridges still sits on site, crosswise under the new bridge).

So not only are the two men connected by this bridge, but the letter also reveals connections with another incident in Brunel’s long, varied career. This letter is a copy of an earlier letter which, based on the formatting of the first page, may have been written on headed paper from the Great Exhibition of 1851. Brunel was peripherally involved with the Crystal Palace in which the Great Exhibition was held, both as a member of the Building Committee overseeing the design of the original Crystal Palace and then subsequently as the designer of the enormous water towers supplying the fountains and cascades in the gardens surrounding the relocated Palace.

So maybe, if ever you cross the Cumberland Basin, stop at the Plimsoll Bridge, find Brunel’s original bridge, look down the Basin towards the SS Great Britain and consider the legacies of two of Bristol’s maritime heroes, both connected by a single letter in the University of Bristol Special Collections.

The University of Bristol Brunel Collection is stored at the Brunel Institute, a partnership between the University of Bristol and the SS Great Britain, while an online catalogue is available at https://archives.bristol.ac.uk/.

A guide to our Online Archive Catalogue and other resources

Hannah Lowery, Archivist and Special Collections Manager, has penned this guide to Special Collections resources available online.

Special Collections holds over 5km of books, archives, photographs, and artefacts dating from the eleventh to the twenty-first century.  Due to the current Covid-19 situation you can’t visit us, but here is a brief guide to viewing some of our holdings remotely.

Ceremonial key used by King George V to open the Wills Memorial Building on 9th June 1925. DM320.

Ceremonial key used by King George V to open the Wills Memorial Building on 9th June 1925. DM320.

Start with our web pages.

Use our guide to ‘collection strengths‘ to find out more.

Use the library catalogue to find out about our book holdings, though you will often have to use other sources to find physical or electronic copies of the books.

Our colleagues are bringing together lists of resources available online, so go to the Library page to find them.  Some may only be for University of Bristol people, but there is a wide variety of materials available for all.

Remember if you need advice, or want to find out more, do email us at special-collections@bristol.ac.uk and we will try and help.

Sit down for a tour of our Online Archive Catalogue, and a guide as to where you might find digitised materials, which you can investigate.

Note that when you click on a ‘thumbnail’ image at the bottom of a record in the Online Archive Catalogue, you can view a larger version. For even closer study, click on the symbol for a magnifying glass at the top right. Any text should be fully readable. To close the enlarged image, click on the ‘x’ at the top right.

University of Bristol materials

We hold the ever growing archive of University College Bristol (1876-1909) and the University of Bristol (1909 to date).  As well as papers of academics, departments and students you can find out about the buildings and much more.

Poster about Radio Wills. DM1447/2.

Poster about Radio Wills. DM1447/2.

Did you know that Winston Spencer Churchill (1874-1965) was Chancellor of the University from 1929 until his death?  A search in the online archive catalogue brings up 226 mentions of archives relating to Churchill.

For instance, DM270 contains digitised photograph albums relating to visits to Bristol by Churchill in 1951 and 1958.  Click here to find a photograph of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) being granted an honorary degree by Churchill on 14 December 1951.

DM1310 is the archive of Sir Charles Frank (1911-1998), who was a physicist.

Although the entire catalogue is not yet available on line, there is a PDF, of the catalogue. We hope to spend the coming months working on making these lists more available.

There are extensive archives relating to the University of Bristol Physics Department, including the papers of Noble Prize winner Cecil Powell (1903-1969) – for example DM517.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859)

A view of Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, from St Vincent’s Rocks, showing the piers under construction, along with chains, and scaffolding on the towers. DM216/3/4.

A view of Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, from St Vincent’s Rocks, showing the piers under construction, along with chains, and scaffolding on the towers. DM216/3/4.

Interested in Victorian Engineering and the extended Brunel family?  You are in luck! Our extensive archive relating to Brunel and his family is held at the Brunel Institute, a collaboration between the SS Great Britain and the University of Bristol.

Our online archive catalogue is where you can find descriptions of the archives and related images.  Explore Brunel’s letters, letterbooks, sketchbooks, competition drawings for the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and more.

For instance, do a search for DM162, which was the first gift from the Brunel family to University of Bristol Special Collections…

DM162/10: Letterbooks.

DM162/10/1: Letter book covering 27 May 1832-5 November 1839.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel to W L Moorsom, 9 April 1836, concerning the Cheltenham Railway.

DM162/8: Isambard Kingdom Brunel Sketchbooks and Calculation Books.  There are 63 of these, covering the period 1829-1859.  Click on the link above and you can see sketchbooks arranged by size or topic (Small, Large, Great Western, Other).

A personal favourite of mine is in Great Western Sketchbook 10  – something we might not expect to see in an engineering related sketchbook.

We will return to Brunel in the future, but you can now view newly uploaded materials on the Great Eastern and more (See a previous blog by our colleague Emma Howgill about the Great Eastern ship).

The current change to how we work presents an opportunity to get more paper catalogue lists online, which will make them more accessible in the future.

Medieval Manuscripts

A grotesque or drollery, perhaps serving as a mnemonic, in the margin of a folio in the Cobden Book of Hours. DM832.

A grotesque or drollery, perhaps serving as a mnemonic, in the margin of a folio in the Cobden Book of Hours. DM832.

There are sixteen examples of medieval manuscripts if you search under the ‘Major Collections’ tab for medieval manuscripts in the advanced search, including:

DM104 Kingswood Abbey Deeds, Gloucestershire

The deeds cover the period 1225-1444, and include grants of land to the abbey, confirmation of grants, accounts of receipt and expenditure, confirmations of privileges, and papal letters. They are reputed to contain the oldest surviving rent rolls in England.

Go to the catalogue to find out more about the Abbey which was founded by William of Berkeley in 1139.  The fifty deeds have been digitised.  For instance here is a link to DM104/1 which is a grant of lands in Culkerton, Gloucestershire in 1225.

Two academics from British Universities have approached us about these recently, so it is nice to be able to share all of the images with everyone.

You might also want to explore DM832 Cobden Book of Hours

This is an early 15th-century Book of Hours designed for use in the diocese of Troyes, France and made on parchment, the text in French and Latin.  Watch Dr Erica O’Brien (Department of History of Art, University of Bristol) talk about its beauty and significance, currently understudied. It is beautifully illustrated, and this bird recently got people talking, what do you think it is?  (See our twitter feed for earlier discussion of a part of ff74r-77r Penitential Psalms – an image of this folio is at top of the thumbnails shown here)

DM58 Pinney Papers

We hold on deposit for the Pinney family extensive archives relating to their family, including their estates in Britain and the West Indies. If you are Bristol based, you may know that the Georgian House Museum on Great George Street, now in the possession of Bristol Museums, was once owned by the Pinney family.

Digital images of only one item from DM58 are presently available online, which is DM58/6/Pinney Miscellaneous 7.  This is a notebook covering the period 1783-1794, and includes instructions from the Pinney family to Joseph Gill their land manager, on how to manage their estate.  You can read each page separately.

We hope to do more work on this, so return if you want to find out more.

DM1031 Humphry Repton’s Red Book for Leigh Court, Abbots Leigh

Humphrey Repton (1752-1818) designed new grounds for the Miles family for their property at Leigh Court, Abbots Leigh, near Bristol, in 1814.

You can explore the drawings via the link above.  This book was loaned to the Garden Museum in London in 2018, with many other Red Books to mark the bicentenary of Repton’s death.

John Addington Symonds

John Addington Symonds on a toboggan, Davos, Switzerland. DM377.

John Addington Symonds on a toboggan, Davos, Switzerland. DM377.

John Addington Symonds, (1840-1893), lived at Clifton Hill House, Bristol, now one of the University of Bristol Halls of Residence.  He wrote on the Italian Renaissance, and had a talented and extended family, which included his daughters Madge Vaughan (1869-1925) and Dame Katharine Furse (1875-1952).

We may return to them in the future, but for the moment take time to look at the family scrapbook (DM375/1), compiled by Madge Vaughan and her daughter Janet.  Here you can explore photographs of family life in Bristol and Davos, Switzerland, where John Addington Symonds was forced to live due to health issues.  Find photographs of family groups tobogganing, of friends such as Robert Louis Stephenson (a portrait by Albert George Dew Smith), as well as artwork of flowers and alpine gardens, well-loved family dogs, and press cuttings.

We hope that this helps as a starter to the wealth of Special Collections materials available to all, and do return to find out more.  And remember to ask if you have any questions, and we will help if we can (email us at special-collections@bristol.ac.uk).

Spring is coming! Artwork by Margaret Symonds (Madge Vaughan) of the garden at ‘Am Hof’, Davos Platz, Switzerland, entitled ‘A View of my Mother’s Alpine Garden at Davos / Sketch by Myself 1897’. DM375/1.

Spring is coming! Artwork by Margaret Symonds (Madge Vaughan) of the garden at ‘Am Hof’, Davos Platz, Switzerland, entitled ‘A View of my Mother’s Alpine Garden at Davos / Sketch by Myself 1897’. DM375/1.

Photographing Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s S.S. Great Eastern

Emma Howgill is a project archivist at Special Collections, University of Bristol. She has recently completed the cataloguing of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s S.S. Great Eastern letter-books.

As a project archivist, my job is full of enjoyable moments and satisfaction. There’s the satisfaction of being one of a privileged few people who get to go through, in painstaking detail, a variety of archives. There’s the joy of getting to know someone who may be long dead, through their own words and personal correspondence and relationships. Then there’s possibly the best part of my job; the thrill of putting disparate bits of information together to make connections. These connections might be between different parts of the same archive, with material in other archives or with knowledge floating around in the back of my brain.  While cataloguing Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s correspondence relating to the S.S. Great Eastern (DM1306/11/1), I got to make all three sorts of connections.

The S.S. Great Eastern was Brunel’s last project; the third and largest of his three great ships and was dogged by misfortune throughout her life. From a fire in the shipyard and the bankruptcy of the shipbuilder, John Scott Russell, to the three months that it took to launch the ship and a disastrous explosion that blew up one of the funnels and killed several of the crew during her trial voyage from London to Weymouth, the ship seemed ill-fated. Even once in service, disaster seemed to follow the ship and eventually she was broken up in 1889, having served out her last few years as a floating billboard for a local department store in Liverpool. Yet in engineering terms, the ship was a significant achievement. At 692 feet and over 18,000 tons, the S.S. Great Eastern held the title of the largest ship ever built for over forty years.  The ship was also packed with revolutionary engineering techniques; from her double-layered iron hull to a series of bulkheads allowing compartmentalisation of the hull in case of flood or fire.  It is no wonder, with such revolutionary size and construction techniques that Isambard Kingdom Brunel wanted his magnum opus to be recorded in detail.  And that is where the connections come in.

Over a period of six months, I catalogued six volumes of correspondence, covering eight years and countless correspondents on numerous topics.  Cataloguing a sequence of correspondence like this allows themes to emerge. In October and November 1854, Brunel and his ship-builder, John Scott Russell, discuss a set of photographs that Brunel wishes to commission of the ship’s construction. This phase of correspondence finishes on 8 November 1854 with a letter from Brunel to John Yates, secretary of the Eastern Steam Navigation Company, mentioning that Brunel has commissioned a regular photographic record be made detailing the progress of the construction of the Great Eastern (DM1306/11/1/1/folio 304-305). Seven months later there is another set of correspondence about these photographs, beginning with a letter from Isambard Kingdom Brunel asking to see the photographs of the Great Eastern under construction (DM1306/11/1/2/folio 72). This set of correspondence ends with two pages of Instructions for Photographs listing exactly how Brunel wants any future photographs to be taken (DM1306/11/1/2/folio 85-86).  And just over a year and a half later, on 9 December 1856, there is a letter from Joseph Cundall of the Photographic Institute in New Bond Street, requesting payment for taking these photographs. Brunel’s letter-books, carefully showing the sequence of all the correspondence that he both sent and received about the Great Eastern allows us to trace the development of Brunel’s idea to illustrate the process of constructing his great ship, from its conception to payment.

First of page of Brunel’s Instructions to Photographers, 14 May 1855. DM1306/11/1/2/folio 85-86.

First of page of Brunel’s Instructions to Photographers, 14 May 1855. DM1306/11/1/2/folio 85-86.

This correspondence also allows us to connect our collections at the University of Bristol with those at the Special Collections of the University of Bath. The Hollingworth collection at the University of Bath contains typed transcripts of correspondence about the construction of the S.S. Great Eastern as well as copies of some photographs of the ship.  Close examination of these photographs reveals them to be the ones commissioned by Brunel from Cundall and Howlett, and in fact demonstrates that Brunel’s chosen photographers actually included many of the points made in his Instructions for Photographs of the 14 May 1855 (DM1306/11/1/2/folio 85-86).  For example, comparing the photographs shows them to have been taken from several distinct spots around the ship, so that when the photographs are arranged chronologically, it is possible to track the growth of the double-skinned hull across the months by comparing distinct landmarks incorporated in each photograph.  This echoes Brunel’s explicit instructions to ensure that the photographs are taken from comparable spots. The images also demonstrate Brunel’s wish to have the date of each photograph somewhere in the image itself, thus allowing quick and easy identification of the rate of progress, and it is possible to engage in a Victorian game of ‘Where’s Wally’, finding the date of each photograph, whether hidden on wooden beams or inscribed on the side of a watchman’s hut.

Photograph taken by Cundall and Howlett showing the S.S. Great Eastern under construction. 23 January 1856. Photograph from the University of Bath Special Collections.

Photograph taken by Cundall and Howlett showing the S.S. Great Eastern under construction. 23 January 1856. Photograph from the University of Bath Special Collections.

Now come the external connections. Joseph Cundall, the photographer writing to Brunel in December 1856 requesting payment for his work, was the senior partner in the firm of Cundall and Howlett. Cundall himself had earlier been tasked to photograph the rebuilt Crystal Palace with which Isambard Kingdom Brunel was also involved when he helped to design the steam heating system of the new Crystal Palace. Cundall’s junior partner, Robert Howlett, through this Great Eastern commission, was subsequently responsible for what may arguably be one of the most recognisable photographs of the Victorian Age. As well as photographing the construction of the S.S. Great Eastern, Howlett was commissioned by the Illustrated London News to capture the launching of the Great Eastern in November 1857.  As part of this later commission, he photographed Isambard Kingdom Brunel standing, with his ubiquitous hat and cigar, in front of the great drums of the launching chains of the Great Eastern, an image that has come to define not only Isambard Kingdom Brunel, but also Victorian engineering. Before Howlett’s untimely death in 1858, he had been commissioned by Prince Albert to photograph some of the interiors of Buckingham Palace and the works of artist Raphael, as well as being commissioned, with Joseph Cundall, to produce photographic portraits of soldiers returning from the Crimean war for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. And so this one letter from Joseph Cundall forges a series of connections within Brunel’s Great Eastern correspondence, with neighbouring archives but also with two of the early pioneers of photography and with one of the most instantly recognisable photographs of the Victorian age.

If you want to explore Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Eastern correspondence in more detail, please visit our online catalogue, or you can arrange to visit the original letter-books which are held at the Brunel Institute.

‘Darwent Revisited: Shanghai now and then’ – photography exhibition

The Historical Photographs of China (HPC) project and Special Collections present a pop-up exhibition, ‘Darwent Revisited: Shanghai now and then’, in the Foyer of the Arts & Social Sciences Library, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol. The exhibition which features photographs by Jamie Carstairs (Digitisation Officer, Special Collections) and by the Reverend Charles Ewart Darwent, minister of the Union Church Shanghai (新天安堂) from 1899-1919, coincides with the Chinese New Year, fraught as it is this year.

Jamie Carstairs was inspired by the Revd C.E. Darwent’s Shanghai: A Handbook for Travellers and Residents (1904; 2nd ed. 1920). Jamie went on a first-time visit to Shanghai in May 2011, with the idea of exploring how the city might be photographed if Darwent’s instructions in his 1904 handbook about what, where and when to photograph, were followed today. Moreover, rather than simply follow them to the letter, the aim was to photograph the city in the spirit of the guidebook’s hints – inspiration was also found in Darwent’s own photographs.

Portrait of moustachioed Revd C. E. Darwent, Eastern Sketch, vol. 1, No. 6 (1904).

Portrait of moustachioed Revd C. E. Darwent, Eastern Sketch, vol. 1, No. 6 (1904).

The Yorkshireman was a leading light in the Shanghai Amateur Photographic Society, which was active on and off, with some long off periods, between 1902 and about 1924. His handbook showcases some of his work, and until an album of his original prints came to light in 2009, annotated by the man himself, the Handbook’s grainy shots were all we had. All the prints from the album are on the HPC site. After the demolition of the Shanghai city walls, Darwent predicted, in the 1920 edition of his Handbook, ‘…as time goes on, old Chinese life will assert itself … So that, as the old life masters the new conditions, the photographers of the future may hope still to find subjects’.

A woman selling a children’s toy, Nanjing Road, Shanghai, May 2011. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

A woman selling a children’s toy, Nanjing Road, Shanghai, May 2011. Photograph by Jamie Carstairs.

This is not a definitive exhibition of contemporary Shanghai. It is a personal response to a vibrant, colourful city, informed by the hints and suggestions, as well as the confident partisanship, of a mentor from the past. Charles Ewart Darwent died in Tianjin in 1924, five years after leaving the city with which his name has become so firmly associated, and far from the town of his birth, and the city of Hull, where he had first made his name as Minister of the harbour-side Fish Street Church.

A Foochow pole junk, with a full cargo of poles, Shanghai, c.1902. Photograph by Charles Darwent. HPC ref: Da01-21.

A Foochow pole junk, with a full cargo of poles, Shanghai, c.1902. Photograph by Charles Darwent. HPC ref: Da01-21.

Darwent Revisited was first exhibited in 2013 and was funded by the AHRC and the British Academy. This blog is a close copy of one by Robert Bickers, posted in February 2013 on http://visualisingchina.net/blog/.

The current exhibition is on until Friday 31st January 2020.

新年快樂 Happy new year

General Election 12 December 2019

With the General Election having been called for Thursday 12 December 2019, we would like to appeal to people throughout the country to collect all the election leaflets and other materials distributed to them and send them to us at: Special Collections, Arts & Social Sciences Library, University of Bristol, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TJ.

  • We collect election addresses, leaflets, manifestos, and related materials such as local or national newspaper cuttings on the election (marked with the date and title of the publication)
  • We cover all political parties and independent candidates from all UK constituencies to represent the whole political spectrum
  • We welcome donations from members of the public, political parties, or parliamentary candidates. We obscure personal names and addresses on all material added to the archive
  • Please bundle up what comes through your door and send it to us after the Election with a note of where you received the material

The University of Bristol Special Collections holds the largest and longest established collection of election addresses (over 30,000) and campaign literature from all British Parliamentary Elections since 1892.  We also hold leaflets from the London County Council and European Elections, along with campaign literature from other important national plebiscites such as the 1975 and 2016 referendums on membership of the European Union.  This material is available for consultation by students, researchers, journalists, and members of the public.

A description of our political collections including our election address archive can be found at: http://www.bris.ac.uk/library/special-collections/strengths/politics/

Our online archive catalogue can be found at: https://archives.bristol.ac.uk/  Have a look at DM2734 for our holdings of the 2017 General Election.

How to get in touch:

Webpage: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/library/special-collections

Twitter: @BrisUniSpColl

Email: special-collections@bristol.ac.uk

Phone: 0117 9288014

Address: Special Collections, Arts & Social Sciences Library, University of Bristol, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TJ

European Parliamentary Elections 23 May 2019

With the European Elections having been called for Thursday 23 May 2019, we would like to appeal to people throughout the country to collect the election leaflets and other materials distributed to them and send them to us: Special Collections, Arts & Social Sciences Library, University of Bristol, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TJ.

The University of Bristol Special Collections holds the largest collection of election leaflets and related documents (over 30,000) from all British Parliamentary Elections since 1892, including the European Elections held within the UK since 1979.  This material is available for consultation by students, researchers, and members of the public.

We collect election addresses, leaflets, manifestos, related materials, and local or national newspaper cuttings on the election (marked with the date and title of the publication).  We aim to cover all political parties and independent candidates to obtain a full spread representing all sides of the political spectrum.

We collect from all UK constituencies.  There are 12 multi-member constituencies in the European Elections: South East; South West; London; Eastern; East Midlands; West Midlands, Wales; Yorkshire and the Humber; North East; North West; Scotland; and Northern Ireland.

We welcome donations from members of the public, political parties, or the parliamentary candidates themselves.  Please bundle up what comes through your door and send it to us after the Election with a note of where you received the material.  We will black out the names and personal addresses of addressees on any material added to the archive.

A description of our political collections including our election address archive can be found at: http://www.bris.ac.uk/library/special-collections/strengths/politics/.

Our online archive catalogue can be found at: http://oac.lib.bris.ac.uk/DServe/. Have a look at DM2646 for our holdings of the 2014 European Election.

How to get in touch:

Webpage: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/library/special-collections

Twitter: @BrisUniSpColl

Email: special-collections@bristol.ac.uk

Phone: 0117 928 8014

Address: Special Collections, Arts & Social Sciences Library, University of Bristol, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TJ

New Wildfilm History Archive Coming to Bristol

An exciting new Wildfilm History Archive will be coming to Special Collections in the University of Bristol Library, thanks to a grant from the Wellcome Trust.

Here’s the archive as it is now, all boxed up in storage. We’ll be unpacking, exploring and eventually making the contents accessible.

Here’s the archive as it is now, all boxed up in storage. We’ll be unpacking, exploring and eventually making the contents accessible.

The Wildfilm History Project will officially start on the 1st April 2019 and run for two years.  The project will catalogue, conserve and make available a rich, diverse and important collection of wildlife filmmaking materials which document the changing cultural context of wildlife film making and how it has shaped our historical, social and cultural understanding of the natural world, as well as the growing appreciation of conservation issues and the broad public understanding of science.

Key goals of the project will be to:

  • Create a detailed catalogue of the wide range of materials contained within the archive, including some of the most important wildlife films of the last hundred years.
  • Digitise and provide access to a prioritised selection of the archive and make this publicly available (where rights allow) through the University’s Digital Archival Management system.
  • Ensure the physical and digital archive is preserved to enable long-term access for researchers and the wider public.

The University of Bristol is home to the Centre for Environmental Humanities and from our initial discussions with researchers from Bristol and more widely there is clearly already strong research and teaching interest in the archive, as well as support from outside agencies such as Wildscreen and the BBC Natural History Unit.

“This is terrific news. Working on a project with the BBC Natural History Unit for the past few years has reinforced my conviction that there’s significant research potential for the archive from humanities and social science perspectives. Visual resources are highly valued not just by environmental and animal historians like me, but by the entire scholarly community working in the environmental humanities and the environmental social sciences.  Until now, though, insufficient filmmaking materials have been available to support research.” Professor Peter Coates, School of Humanities, University of Bristol

For more details of the Wildfilm History Project please contact special-collections@bristol.ac.uk

Fiftieth anniversary of the students’ Senate House sit-in

5 December 2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the start of a sit-in by a group of University of Bristol students, who occupied Senate House for eleven days, until 16 December 1968.  The students were campaigning for a greater say in the running of the University and for the University of Bristol Student Union to be open to students from other education establishments in the city.

Whilst the sit-in took place, other students held a mass meeting in the Anson Rooms (Students Union) calling for the sit-in to end.

The Union Council asked the 400+ students to leave Senate House and a Joint Staff Student Working Party was set up under Professor Roderick Collar.

Editions of Nonesuch (to be found in Special Collections) dating from December 1968, cover these events as do other printed and archival material.

Tony Byers, a University of Bristol student who photographed many of these events at the time, deposited his archive of photographs (DM2269) in Special Collections.  Here we share some of his photographs and press coverage.

Sue Tate and Kevin Whitson gave a talk in May 2018 on the topic for the Bristol Radical History Group.

Related resources:

DM1635: Documents and press coverage of the student unrest of 1968 and the occupation/sit-in of Senate House, including the controversy over reciprocal membership of the Student’s Union.  Includes the Complicity statement, copies of the Informal newsletter and Nonesuch, general newspaper articles, ‘conspiratorial’ publications such as ‘Open Conspiracy’, letters, minutes of meetings and statements, 1969-1969. Also, newspaper coverage of student unrest in other Universities.

DM2476, Transcript of a lecture by Gordon Strong about the University of Bristol 1968 sit-in, 16 February 2006.

All photographs are copyrighted to Tony Byers.