All posts by charlotte

Gwyn Macfarlane’s research on Alexander Fleming is now available

(Robert) Gwyn Macfarlane [by Jmcperth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons]

(Robert) Gwyn Macfarlane [by Jmcperth (own work), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

The catalogue of a small archive of the working papers of Gwyn Macfarlane (1907-1987), haematologist and biographer, is now available online, released as part of the Wellcome-Trust funded 75 Years of Penicillin in People project.

Macfarlane compiled these papers while researching his book Alexander Fleming, the Man and the Myth (1984). The book re-evaluated the work and reputation of the man whose paper on Penicillium mould inspired the development of the antibiotic drug penicillin by the Oxford University scientists Howard Florey, Ernst Chain and Norman Heatley. The archive includes revealing correspondence with people who were connected with the development of antibiotics, including members of Fleming’s family, nobel laureate Dorothy Hodgkin (whose archive we hold), Norman Heatley (archive at the Wellcome Library) and Edward Penley Abraham (we also hold his archive!).

Macfarlane himself was a clinical pathologist at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford and also held a chair in clinical pathology at the University of Oxford, focusing particularly on the treatment of haemophilia. During the second world war, he worked alongside members of the penicillin team, who did war work with Oxford’s blood transfusion service, and later became friends with Howard Florey. He wrote two biographies during his retirement, this biography of Fleming and a biography of Florey, Howard Florey: the making of a great scientist (1979).

Macfarlane was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1956. His FRS biography is Robert Gwyn Macfarlane, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, G.V.R. Born and D.J. Weatheral, Volume 35, 1990. You can find more about Macfarlane’s scientific career at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required), or, of course, at Wikipedia.

Bug busting heroes

On the 14th of March, I went with a small group of grad students and research scientists from the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology to Windale Primary School in Oxford to teach three groups of 9 to 10 year olds as part of Windale’s Science Week. The event was part of the Wellcome Trust-funded ‘Pencillin in People’ project which is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the development of penicillin at the Dunn School with a programme that also includes archival cataloguing, exhibitions and oral history.

Alexander Fleming's petri dish of Staph and Penicillium mould

Alexander Fleming’s petri dish of Staph (the white dots) and Penicillium mould (the big blob). Can you spot what’s happened?

This was the second of two identical events, the first hosted in the Dunn School Library on the 22nd of February for children from Pegasus Primary School in Oxford. The theme of the day was ‘Penicillin – From Mould to Medicine’, and the children circulated between three workstations, spending 20 minutes apiece exploring bacteria in a “Meet the Bacteria” session and then being introduced to the “Bug Busting Heroes” Alexander Fleming, Howard Florey, Ernst Chain and Norman Heatley and then, to finish, a session on “Making a Medicine” and the production of the penicillin drug.

They were asked to peer into a microscope to see a flea in the flesh; to see if they could spot what Alexander Fleming noticed in his famous petri dish of Staphyloccocus and magical mould; and to experience penicillin in action by bursting a “bacteria” balloon. They learned all sorts of new things (an embarrassing amount of it new to me too) including scientific terminology like bacterium and micro-organism and DNA; the variety of shapes bacteria take; and the amazing things these Oxford scientists achieved with salvaged equipment like bedpans and biscuit tins. They also learned what antibiotics do and what antibiotics don’t do, which is ever more important in a world of antibiotic-resistant bugs.

The plan for the day was to teach the children about this particular, awe-inspiring historical moment, a world-changing medical breakthrough that happened right here in their city – but we also wanted to inspire them with the wonder of discovery and, ultimately, to encourage them in the direction of science. Time will tell!

Percy Manning catalogue

The new catalogue of the Percy Manning collection is now available online.

Percy Manning centenary poster

Manning centenary

Percy Manning was a historian, folklorist and archaeologist with a special interest in Oxfordshire. When he died in 1917 he bequeathed his extensive collection to the Bodleian Library, the Ashmolean Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum. It includes not only his own research notes and books on Oxfordshire history but also his personal collection of everything from medieval manorial records to watercolour paintings by established artists to actual archaeological finds (the archaeological papers went to the Ashmolean, and the artefacts to the Pitt Rivers). It’s a fascinating collection, full of hidden and forgotten histories as well as beautiful paintings and drawings of buildings and views across Oxfordshire which date back to the eighteenth century.

Created with the financial support of the Marc Fitch Fund, this new finding aid brings together all our existing descriptions of the Percy Manning archive, which were previously scattered across a variety of book, manuscript, map and even music catalogues. It also allowed us to do something new: to list all the Oxfordshire places that are named or referenced in the collection, whether it’s a manorial map of Bladon, or a snippet of folklore from Bicester. If you live in Oxfordshire, try searching for your town, village, or city, and see what you can find!

Oxford is celebrating Percy Manning’s centenary this spring with an array of events and activities including (but not limited to!) an exhibition in the Weston Library, a study day on 18 February at the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education, a lecture at the Weston on 22 March, a museum trail at the Pitt Rivers Museum, an Ashmolean showcase of Percy Manning’s archaeological finds and a City Museum exhibition on Mummers and Maypoles. Other events include the unveiling of a blue plaque, family activities, music workshops, and a Centenary Celebration Concert with Magpie Lane and the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers. Full listings are available at the Folk in Oxford website.

‘We used to correspond’: the letters of Barbara Pym and Philip Larkin

A reading of the letters of Philip Larkin and Barbara Pym by Oliver Ford Davies and Triona Adams, with an introduction by Anthony Thwaite, OBE.

Date: 10 December 2016, 6.00pm – 8.00pm

Venue: Blackwell Hall, Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BG

When Philip Larkin first wrote to Barbara Pym in 1961 it was the minor poet approaching the celebrated novelist. While their literary fortunes were to change dramatically the correspondence and the friendship remained steady over nearly 20 years. Highly entertaining, fascinating and often deeply moving, the Pym-Larkin letters tell the story of an extraordinary relationship between two very different characters united in their passion for the written word and of fall and rise of a literary career.

Tickets cost £20, including refreshments.

To book please contact the Friends of the Bodleian Administrator on 01865 277234 or at fob@bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

Further details at http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/friends/fob-events/2016/we-used-to-correspond

Norman Heatley Lecture, 2016

On the 1st of November, Jeremy Farrar, the director of the global medical research charity the Wellcome Trust and a former professor of tropical medicine at the University of Oxford, came to the Weston Library to deliver the annual Norman Heatley Lecture which this year celebrated the 75th anniversary of the first clinical trials of penicillin in Oxford in 1941.

Norman Heatley (and cat) with one of his original ceramic penicillin culture vessels

An older Norman Heatley (and cat) with one of his original ceramic penicillin vessels – a modified bed pan. Image from penicillinstory.org.

In those very early days penicillin was enormously difficult to make, both unstable and finicky to extract. So difficult, in fact, that the patient in one of the very first clinical trials, a policeman called Albert Alexander, died when they ran out of the drug only five days into his treatment. It was Norman Heatley, who worked at Oxford’s Sir William Dunn School of Pathology alongside Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, who was the practical genius who invented the tools and techniques which made it possible to extract and purify penicillin in a large enough quantity to reliably use on humans.

In this year’s Norman Heatley Lecture – “1941 to 2041– a changing world” – Jeremy Farrar focused on the astonishing advances in global health care in the 75 years since the development of penicillin, but also on some of the challenges that we now face. Those challenges include ever more antibiotic resistance; the greater likelihood of global pandemics as more people travel further, more quickly; and the sharp increase we’ve seen in the amount of time it takes to get from the research stage to a workable, useable drug.

Technicians making penicillin in the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, using Norman Heatley's modified bedpans, 1941.

Two technicians extracting penicillin in the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford, using Norman Heatley’s modified bedpans, 1941.

To accompany the lecture a small display in the Weston Library’s Blackwell Hall featured items from the Bodleian’s important collection of documents from the early years of antibiotics, including this photograph of two of the “pencillin girls” (Ruth Callow, Claire Inayat, Betty Cooke, Peggy Gardner, Megan Lankaster and Patricia McKegney) who were recruited to make enough of the drug for clinical trials.

New catalogue: The Past & Present Society

the Past & Present Society website

The Past & Present Society website

The catalogue of the archive of the Past & Present Society is now available online. The Oxford-based Society was founded in 1952 in order to publish the history journal Past & Present, which it continues to do, while also running its own history book series and conferences, and appointing two post-doctoral fellows every year.

The archive covers the period 1952-2011 and mainly comprises peer review comments on submitted articles, as well as papers relating to books published by the society and the organisation of annual history conferences and research seminars, plus administrative papers for the Society itself and for the journal. The archive will be most relevant to researchers interested in twentieth-century historiography and academic publishing.

 

Foot-men

Statues from Villa dei Papiri in Ercolano. By Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011). Wikicommons.

Statues from Villa dei Papiri in Ercolano. By Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011). Wikicommons.

20 September 1720

“Yesterday was a great foot-race at Woodstock, for 1400 libs, between a running footman of the duke of Wharton’s, and a running footman of Mr. Diston’s, of Woodstock, round the four mile course. Mr. Diston’s man being about 35 years of age (and the duke’s about 45) got it with ease, outdistancing the duke’s near half a mile. They both ran naked, there being not the least scrap of anything to cover them, not so much as shoes and pumps, which was looked upon deservedly as the height of impudence, and the greatest affront to the ladies, of which there was a very great number.”

–A transcript from “Reliquiae Hearniane, ii. 112″ in Percy Manning’s volume of notes on sports and pastimes in Oxfordshire (Weston Library, MS. Top. Oxon. d. 202).

 

This blog post is written as part of our project to increase the accessibility of the Bodleian's Percy Manning holdings in the run up to the centenary of Manning's death in 2017. We are grateful to the Marc Fitch Fund for its generous support of this project.

Hot air ballooning

Here’s how you make a hot air balloon:

Take 23 yards of red and white persian silk, and sew them together in alternate strips.

Then mix:

Boil for about an hour over a slow fire, strain when cool, and mix with an ounce and a half of spirits of turpentine.

Use this mixture to varnish and seal the seams of the balloon.

Create gas to fill your balloon by combining 19 pounds of iron filings, 40 pounds of concentrated vitriolic [sulphuric] acid, and five times as much water in a barrel which is connected by a copper siphon to another barrel that is nearly filled with water. Connect that barrel to the balloon itself by a long metal tube.

(Avoid fire at all costs. And beware explosions.)

Continue reading

Oxfordshire folklore

A hedgehog

A very lean hedgehog, by erinac@eus – own work, Public Domain

Did you know that the fat of a hedgehog can cure deafness? Or that killing a black beetle brings on rain? Or that you should spit on the ground if you pass a pair of grey horses? Or that you can cure cramp by tucking some brimstone under your pilow?

So say the people of Oxfordshire, as recorded by Percy Manning, an antiquarian and archaeologist, in the early twentieth century.

These charms against illness and bad luck are from a series of folklore notes  which cover topics ranging from animals to ghosts, omens, weather maxims and witches, altogether a wonderful compendium of wit, wisdom, magical thinking and superstitions in Oxfordshire.

If you’d like to read them for yourself, they can be found in the Percy Manning archive at the Bodleian Library at MSS. Top. Oxon. d. 190-192.

This blog post is written as part of our project to increase the accessibility of the Bodleian's Percy Manning holdings in the run up to the centenary of Manning's death in 2017. We are grateful to the Marc Fitch Fund for its generous support of this project.

Executions in Oxford

Another snippet from the Percy Manning archive, this time from his ‘Oxford Collections’ scrapbooks which contain notes, newspaper clippings and assorted ephemera on topics ranging from Academic Halls to Earthquakes to Knucklebone Floors, to Lady in the Wall to …. Well, it’s wonderfully diverse!

This one is a simple clipping from the Oxford Times of 21 July 1888, and a chilling reminder of where the saying ‘you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb‘ comes from. A compendium of executions carried out in Oxford between 1778-1888, it lists 44 men and their capital crimes, which range from murder to… sheep-stealing.

A list of executions in Oxford, 1778-1888, from MS. Top. Oxon. d. 180, fol. 69.

Executions in Oxford, 1778-1888, from MS. Top. Oxon. d. 180, fol. 69 – click to enlarge

John Grace, John Cox and Richard Cox were executed on the 27th of March 1786 for stealing sheep (joined at the gibbet by Miles Ward, whose crime was robbing Magdalen College, Oxford); Jessie Wiggins was executed for stealing sheep on the 24th of March 1801 and Richard Wiggins (a relative?) on the 2nd of August 1818. There are five horse thieves too, the last of whom was executed as late as 1827, after which the list of crimes men are executed for narrows sharply to highway robbery, arson and murder.

It’s perhaps interesting that no women were executed – it’s likely that they were transported instead – although one woman is listed, poor Mrs. Barmister, whose husband James was executed for her murder on the 10th of July 1815.

The list also includes Thomas White, who robbed Blenheim House (Palace?), and Charles Walter Wyatt, the postmaster of Witney, whose crime was stealing money from his customers’ mail. They were executed together at Oxford Castle on the 6th of August 1787 in front of ‘a prodigious assemblage of spectators’. Manning’s scrapbook includes a description of their deaths copied from Gentleman’s Magazine.

A description of the execution of Thomas White and Charles Walter Wyatt, from MS. Top. Oxon. d. 180, fol. 68.

The execution of Thomas White and Charles Walter Wyatt, from MS. Top. Oxon. d. 180, fol. 68 – click to enlarge

These two particular deaths were notable because they were executed

…according to a new mode, the more sensibly to affect the prisoners who were made spectators of the melancholy catastrophe

Literally spectators – their fellow prisoners were compelled to stand near the gallows and watch. And then

the cords were fixed, the caps pulled over their faces & in little more than 2 minutes having themselves requested dispatch, the platform sunk & the unhappy wretches were launched into eternity

Unfortunately though, it looks like the Oxford Times list of 1888 is incomplete. The Oxfordshire History Centre has a fuller list here (taken from Oliver’s City of Oxford Almanack, 1929) and it adds more sad detail, including more sheep and horse thieves like Joseph Wren, aged only 17, who was executed in March 1783 for stealing a horse, bridle and saddle. And William Bowler, aged 23, executed in the same month for stealing a single sheep. Yes. Just one.

Using the Oxfordshire Record Office list for the period 1778 to 1836, I tallied:

  • 1 execution for forgery
  • 2 for arson
  • 5 for murder
  • 14 for stealing a horse or sheep
  • 16 for every other kind of theft, including burglary and highway robbery

After 1836 people were executed for murder alone, 13 more executions up to 1921. 18 murders in 144 years seems like quite a small number, somehow (perhaps I’ve been watching too much Morse). Then again, nobody in these lists is being executed for manslaughter or any other killing offence. In Oxford’s courts, it seems, ending somebody’s life really did mean less risk to your neck than nicking that proverbial lamb. Grim.

This blog post is written as part of our project to increase the accessibility of the Bodleian's Percy Manning holdings in the run up to the centenary of Manning's death in 2017. We are grateful to the Marc Fitch Fund for its generous support of this project.