Tag Archives: archive


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



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).



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)

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.