All posts by townshendj

Chamberlain and trout fishing

To mark the start of the new coarse fishing season today, we are featuring extracts from 80 year old correspondence between Neville Chamberlain and Joseph Ball which was recently ‘discovered’ in the Conservative Party Archive, testifying to their shared love of fishing.
The letters, between Chamberlain and the Director of the Conservative Research Department date from May-October 1934 and ostensibly concern the formation and progress of the committee set up by Chamberlain to re-invigorate the National Government, then still led by Ramsay MacDonald, with policy ideas to take forward as Government policy for the 1935 General Election.
While the exchange between the two certainly make reference to the Cabinet Conservative Committee, as it was known, much of the content focusses on trout fishing on the rivers Test in Hampshire and Lugg in Herefordshire.
Under the guidance of Chamberlain and Ball, the Cabinet Conservative Committee continued its deliberations until July 1935. The series of memoranda and reports it produced helped ensure a Conservative and National Government victory at the general election in November 1935. The result of the election, which saw MacDonald lose his seat and Baldwin replace him as Prime Minister, confirmed the dominant position of the Conservative Party within the National Government. Chamberlain himself took over the helm from 1937.
Chamberlain’s love of fly-fishing was well known. Amidst the public adulation with which he was greeted after his return from the Munich Conference after having pacified Hitler over Czechoslovakia in September 1938, Downing Street was inundated with gifts, including several fishing rods and numerous salmon flies.

‘A delicate attention’ from the suffragettes?

This entry from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt describes the discovery of a bomb hidden in a tree at his Oxfordshire home Nuneham Park in 1907. Harcourt was the First Commissioner of Public Works in the Liberal government of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. He was strongly opposed to the extension of the electoral franchise to women. Writing in his journal, Harcourt reasoned that the planting of the bomb was probably ‘a delicate attention to me from the Female Suffragists.’

Entry from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt, 23 February 1907.

Entry from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt, 23 February 1907.

Entry from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt, 23 February 1907.

Entry from the political journal of Lewis Harcourt, 23 February 1907.

Nuneham Park was the object of another Suffragette attack in 1912. By that time Harcourt had been promoted to the Cabinet and was serving as Colonial Secretary in H.H. Asquith’s government. Asquith, a regular visitor to Nuneham, also opposed votes for women. Both men were eventually reconciled to female suffrage in 1916. Harcourt recorded in his journal the following discussion at a Cabinet meeting on 9 August 1916:

‘P.M. says his opposition to female suffrage is vitally affected by women’s work in the war. I said the only logical and possible solution is Universal suffrage (including women). This upset most of the Cabinet, but the P.M. agreed with me.’

Lewis Harcourt’s political journal, along with further political papers, are currently being catalogued. Extracts from Harcourt’s political journal will be on display in the Bodleian Libraries’ forthcoming exhibition The Great War: Personal Stories from Downing Street to the Trenches.

-Matthew Neely

The Bodmer Archive

Julia & Walter Bodmer

Julia & Walter Bodmer

The catalogue of the archive of human and medical geneticists Sir Walter Bodmer and Lady Julia Bodmer is now available to researchers, which you can view here. The project to catalogue the papers comes under our Saving Oxford Medicine initiative, which aims to record key sources for the recent history of medicine in Oxford. The Bodmer archive has been catalogued during a time of wider national effort by archivists to preserve the documentary heritage of genetics and genomics, and has been generously supported by the Wellcome Trust.

Comprising over 2200 boxes, the archive makes for a comprehensive and fascinating resource, particularly for historians of science and medicine. The archive documents Sir Walter’s path to becoming one of the leading international experts in population, human and cancer genetics, and represents his full career, from school days in Manchester in the early 1950s; Stanford University (1961-69); Oxford University (1970-79); Imperial Cancer Research Fund, London (1980-1996) and back to Oxford as Principal of Hertford (1996-2005). The papers also include material relating to his more recent work at the Immunogenetics Laboratory at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford, which he jointly headed with his wife, Julia Bodmer. The collection additionally documents Walter Bodmer’s contributions to national science policy, international cooperation in science and extending public interest in science, and papers include extensive correspondence, administrative records and papers reflecting his major responsibilities, which included his presidency of HUGO, chairmanship of the Board of Trustees of the Natural History Museum, chairmanships of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Radiological Protection Board, and trusteeships at Sir John Soanes Museum and the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance. (His mother, Sylvia Bodmer was a notable dancer, teacher and choreographer).

Julia Bodmer was also a successful geneticist, playing a key role in the discovery and definition of the HLA system of genetic markers, gaining an international reputation in her work. Throughout her career Julia made significant contributions to the genetics of Hodgkin’s disease, Burkitt’s lymphoma and testicular cancer. While she collaborated throughout much of her career with Walter Bodmer, she headed up her own Tissue Antigen Laboratory at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London (now Cancer Research UK). Although smaller, her archive is nevertheless substantial, and includes not only her scientific papers and records of her professional activities, but also her personal diaries that give an insight into her social world. Julia Bodmer’s papers therefore contribute an important resource to a growing field in the study of the history of women in science.

Highlights of the catalogue include:

  •  Professional and scientific correspondence, featuring the most notable names from the world of science and genetics;
  • Comprehensive sequences of laboratory notebooks and supporting papers;
  • Conference and Histocompatibility Workshop papers;
  • Over 600 boxes relating to the various societies and organisations, universities and medical schools with which the Bodmers were involved;
  • Photographs, slides and poster material;
  • Administration and teaching papers representing the full career of the Bodmers, including grant applications;
  •  Working papers of publications and correspondence with publishers.

The papers are available to researchers in the Special Collections Reading Room of the Bodleian Library. You can view some highlights from the collection in previous posts on this blog.

Opposites Attract: Science and Archives

Following on from last year’s successful conference on women in science, hosted by London Metropolitan Archives, we were delighted to present a paper at this year’s ‘Opposites Attract: Science and Archives’ event.

During the day we heard from a mix of speakers on quite varied topics relating to science in the archives. We were particularly interested to hear from Anita Hollier from the CERN archive, and she spoke about the overall objectives and scope of her work at CERN, including selection of records for permanent preservation, digitisation projects and the challenge of electronic records, which we all face as archivists. Anita also provided examples of some of the fascinating archives held at CERN, including Nobel Laureate, Wolfgang Pauli. Felicity Henderson then provided a fascinating window into the life and work of Robert Hooke in 17th century London. We heard about the social conditions that enabled the development of science in the 17th century, and how Hooke was able to gather and pass information between the Royal Society and the commercial networks he penetrated in London’s coffee houses. These were frequented by bookmakers, seafarers, merchants and alderman, and through Hooke, provided the link between the Royal Society and the wider world. Caroline de Stefani , Conservation Studio Manager from London Metropolitan Archives then provided an interesting and visual presentation on the archive’s conservation work carried out at the LMA in order to make the fire and water-damaged Great Parchment Book (a survey commissioned by Charles I) accessible to researchers. You can see their work here.

We then spoke about our work on the collections development aspects of Saving Oxford Medicine and also the challenges associated with preserving and cataloguing modern science collections. You can view our presentation slides here.

Anne Barrett closed the day with a presentation on global linked data catalogues in the history of science. Saving Oxford Medicine would like to thank conference organiser Howard Benge for an enjoyable and thought-provoking day.

From Downing Street to the Trenches: First-Hand Accounts from the Great War, 1914-1916


From Downing Street to the Trenches: First-Hand Accounts from the Great War, 1914-1916

2:00pm | Monday 24 March 2014 | Bodleian: Convocation House | Tickets £11 | details

Mike Webb will be talking about his book to be published alongside the Bodleian Libraries Exhibition, The Great War: Personal Stories from Downing Street to the Trenches, 1914-1916 which runs from 12 June to 2 November 2014

step-into your place-poster


The ‘wiggish’ tradition in British politics?

You expect to find many things in modern political archives: letters from constituents, ministerial diaries, speeches, policy papers, even photos and hard drives – but human hair?

Unknown woman's hair in the Roy Jenkins archive, [c.1950s]

Unknown woman’s hair in the Roy Jenkins archive, [c.1950s]

These mysterious coils of brunette and ash blonde hair arrived with the archive of the politician and peer Roy Jenkins (1920-2003) wrapped in a paper bag from Bourne and Hollingsworth Ltd., one of London’s great (lost) department stores; a feature on the corner of Oxford Street and Berners Street from 1902-1983.

The hair arrived in a box-file of miscellaneous objects and papers dated from roughly the 1920s to the 1960s which also included the signature stamp used by Roy Jenkins’ father, Arthur Jenkins (M.P. for Pontypool) and a ceremonial key to St. Louis, Missouri given to Roy Jenkins himself.

The Victorians were especially fond of keeping locks of human hair for sentimental reasons and in remembrance, and the Bodleian Library contains many examples, including a necklace made from Mary Wollstonecraft’s hair and a ring containing John Keats’ hair but it’s uncommon to find hair in a post Edwardian collection. It’s not even clear whose hair it was: a woman’s, almost certainly. Jenkins’ mother, perhaps? Hattie Jenkins died in 1953 – could this be her hair?

Hair for remembrance, hair for sentiment, hair for a wig, hair for jewellery? Who knows. The Bodleian will be preserving it: maybe one day we’ll find out.

The earliest reference to a boiler?

A ledger in the Townesend family archive contains a reference to a Robert Johnson being paid for six days work ‘laying sume stepts & hang the Boiler in the Kicthing’ at Christ Church.

MS. Don. c. 210, fol. 92 - The installation of a boiler in the kitchens at Christ Church, Oxford, February 1718

MS. Don. c. 210, fol. 92 – The installation of a boiler in the kitchens at Christ Church, Oxford, February 1718

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a boiler as ‘a vessel in which water or any liquid is boiled’ and cites Daniel Defoe’s 1725 publication A New voyage round the world, by a course never sailed before as the first use of the word. The reference in the Townesend archive dates from February 1718 [new style]. Could this be the earliest reference to a boiler?

Scientists of the Future: Tim Berners-Lee

As mentioned in a previous post, Sir Walter Bodmer’s correspondence and research papers feature some of the most notable names from the world of science, and previous posts have drawn attention to just a few of those, including James Watson and Francis Crick. Yet, a particular strength of the archive is that not only does it contain papers relating to prolific scientists who were Bodmer’s contemporaries – and those active in an earlier age who inspired him – but also those starting out in their careers, the scientists of the future.

Both Walter and Julia Bodmer kept comprehensive administrative and research records relating to all researchers who passed through their laboratories at the Department of Genetics in Oxford (1970-1979), Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) in London (1979-1996) and more recently the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford. As such, the papers provide a paper trail of ‘future’ scientists.

A particular highlight has been uncovering a file of correspondence with none other than the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee. From 1970-1979 when Walter Bodmer was first Professor of Genetics at Oxford University, and it was in 1975 that he received a letter from Berners-Lee, who was interested in gaining some computing experience in the Department of Genetics. The young Berners-Lee had joined Oxford University in 1973 as a physics student at Queens College (graduating in 1976). Accordingly, he joined Walter Bodmer’s Genetics Laboratory for a brief spell of ‘vacation work’ carrying out some computer programming for Bodmer. Berners-Lee indeed built his first computer while he was at student at Oxford.

Letter from Bodmer to Berners Lee

Letter from Bodmer to Berners-Lee

The correspondence file of Berners-Lee in Sir Walter’s archive contains several items of correspondence and annotated notes, mostly relating to Bodmer acting as referee. He later wrote to Bodmer in 1976, thanking him for the time spent working in the Genetics Laboratory, of which he said, ‘apart from being interesting at the time, it’s been a useful experience in choosing what I want to do (and probably getting the job eventually)’. Tim Berners-Lee went on to receive a knighthood in 2004 ‘for services to the global development of the internet’.

The masons who rebuilt Oxford

In 2012 the Bodleian Library acquired a major new source for the study of the architectural history of Oxford. The Townesend archive documents the work of three generations of Oxford’s leading family of master-masons: John Townesend I (c.1648-1728), his son William Townesend (1676-1739), and his grandson John Townesend II (1709-1746). The archive was in private hands until its acquisition by the Bodleian and has only been seen twice by architectural historians, who did not make extensive use of it, since the 1920s. It is the only known archive of a major family of Georgian builders to have survived intact.

The Townesends were responsible for much of Oxford’s architectural transformation between the late seventeenth century and the mid-eighteenth century. Work for the University and Oxford colleges formed the mainstay of the family’s business. Work at nineteen Oxford colleges, ranging from major contracts such as the construction of Queen’s College Library to minor jobs such as repairs to chimneys, is documented in the archive. Other major University and college commissions recorded in the archive include the construction of Peckwater Quad at Christ Church, the Codrington Library at All Souls College; and the Radcliffe Library (Camera). The family’s work also extended beyond Oxford. The ledgers of John Townesend I record him supplying stone to St Paul’s Cathedral, 1687-1694, and Hampton Court Palace, 1689-1691, and his work at Blenheim Palace in 1706. His son William was commissioned by Allen Bathurst, 1st Earl Bathurst, to remodel Cirencester House, Gloucestershire, 1725-1726.

Abstract for the digging and walling of the foundations of the Radcliffe Library, 1737

Abstract for the digging and walling of the foundations of the Radcliffe Library, 1737

Although the archive contains no architectural drawings, it offers a wealth of information concerning the costs and transportation of building materials, wage rates for labourers and stakes in quarries.

The catalogue of the Townesend family archive is now available online.

The Admission of Foreign Paupers – a reminder from 1892…

With the UK due to open its doors to Romanians and Bulgarians from 1st January, 2014, we look back to 1892, when an earlier wave of immigration was causing consternation and became an election issue for the Conservative Party.

Lord Salisbury’s Conservative Government had been in power since 1886 when this 7-page election pamphlet was published on the subject of immigration during the General Election campaign in June 1892:


The majority of the destitute immigrants referred to in the pamphlet, were Russian and Polish Jews fleeing the pogroms of the Russian Empire, which had been going on since 1881.

By the late 1880s, the widespread British sympathy initially expressed towards the Jewish refugees was giving way in some quarters to hostility, as the immigrants tended to concentrate in the East End of London, contributing to overcrowding and insanitary conditions, and increasing competition for jobs:

‘The mode of living of these immigrants is wretched in the extreme. Their food is of a poor nature, and they are able to maintain existence on much less than an English workman. They are for the most part an inoffensive race, and moral in their habits. In physique they are, as a rule, undersized, but their health is not bad, and they are capable of hard work. They are very industrious and work long hours for low wages’.

Although statistics at the time were unreliable, an estimated 12,062 foreign immigrants had arrived in the UK through the Port of London alone during 1888. Of these, about ‘one-third are poor, and about one-sixth absolutely destitute, without any baggage, and clad in the most wretched manner.’ By 1891, the total number of immigrants had reached 28,000.

Salisbury, as Prime Minister, had appointed a Commission of Inquiry under the chairmanship of the Conservative MP Sir John Colomb, in 1888, to look into the problems of unrestricted immigration into the UK.

Colomb reported in 1889 and, although he acknowledged that native English workers’ conditions had deteriorated as the result of foreign workers’ willingness to work for less pay, and that there was over-crowding with resulting insanitary conditions in Tower Hamlets, Mile End and Whitechapel, he was unwilling to recommend restricting the immigration of foreign paupers.

The following year, a House of Commons Select Committee found the immigration of foreign paupers to be a contributory factor in the notorious ‘Sweating System’, whereby paupers were forced into virtual servitude by their destitution, though it too was sympathetic to the suffering of foreign pauper immigrants in their journey from Russia:

‘On arriving here they are quickly despoiled of any little worldly goods they may have brought with them, and have to depend for immediate support upon friends and have, as slaves, to work for those who have given them shelter, until six months’ residence qualifies them for relief from the Jewish Board of Guardians’.

Any money they might have is ‘very soon cased by the loafers, and touts, and runners, that hang about the docks for the purpose of trying to show them lodgings, or a place to rest themselves for the night’. Testimony from the Rector of Spitalfields, subsequently the Bishop of Bedford, stated that some paupers were to be found working 19-hour days in sweat shops in return merely for shelter.

As the result of these various Inquiries, proper lists of immigrants arriving at ports around the UK were ordered to be kept for the first time.

Similar increases in numbers of immigrants were being reported in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull and Newcastle, although it was noted that as many as were staying in the UK were moving on to the United States, Brazil and Argentina.

On May 6th 1892, Balfour stated in Parliament that the Government was considering legislation to deal with the problem, but although the Conservatives won the general election that July, they failed to secure a majority and Salisbury’s government was defeated within the month.

Immigration of foreign paupers continued to be an issue for British politics and what was probably the first restriction on immigration into Britain eventually came onto the Statute Book with the Aliens Act of 1905.