Category Archives: Social Sciences

Updated Catalogue: Conservative Central Office – Organisation Department

We are pleased to announce the launch of our revised and expanded catalogue of Conservative Central Office Organisation Department material, with an array of new material now available to readers for the first time. The catalogue contains papers of the Conservative Party’s Organisation Department and its successors from 1911-2000, including papers of the Director of Organisation, campaigning and elections materials spanning from the 1940s to late 1980s, reviews of the Party organisation, training files for agents, and files from the component sections of the Department. Amongst the newly added material is correspondence of politicians as far back as the 1930s, including Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and Rab Butler, as well as publicity and campaigning materials, and monitoring of other political parties. Since this catalogue is so expansive, covering material from all aspects of the work of the Organisation Department and spanning almost a century, this blog will highlight just a handful of interesting areas, demonstrating the catalogue’s significant value for historians of British politics and anyone with an interest in the Conservative Party.

Publicity and Campaigning, 1946-1989

A first highlight of the revised catalogue is the substantial amount of publicity and campaigning material, created by the Party during General Elections, By-Elections, and European Elections through the mid to late twentieth century. These files, within the ‘Campaigning and Elections’ series of the catalogue, give a great insight into both the behind the scenes creation of these campaigning materials, including early drafts and correspondence, and the final printed and published leaflets, posters, and pamphlets. Included within these files are artwork designs and leaflets created by Ronald Bell, who worked throughout the 1980s to organise and create national artwork used both between and during election campaigns. This image gives an example of such material, comprising correspondence sent to Bell in the late 1980s outlining the need for publicity promoting the benefits of the Community Charge to Asian families, and a translated leaflet created by Bell to achieve this. This file includes many examples of his artwork, as well as numerous drafts and early ideas for leaflets.

Correspondence and a draft leaflet relating to the Community Charge and the Asian Community, 1988 – CPA CCO 500/61/10

European Campaigning and Elections, 1957-1989

One of the largest areas of new material within the Organisation Department catalogue is European Campaigning and Elections. In addition to publicity files similar to those outlined above, such as posters, leaflets, and correspondence, this sub-series includes files on conferences, visits to the European Parliament, and press conferences. A particularly interesting event covered within this material is the 1975 referendum which asked whether or not the UK should remain a member of the European Communities. Over 67% of voters voted to remain, potentially swayed by posters such as these, campaigning for voters to choose to ‘Keep Britain in Europe’.

Keep Britain in Europe Posters, 1975 – CPA CCO 500/31/33

General Election Reviews, 1950-1970

General Election reviews were carried out by the Organisation Department following each General Election and reviewed every aspect of the Party’s campaign and organisation. This catalogue contains these reviews from 1950 to 1970, providing thorough analyses of campaigns and the organisational efficiency of the Party – potentially a very useful resource for historians interested in these Elections. This example from 1966 highlights the types of factors assessed in these reviews, from morale of workers to the following of election law.

Summary of General Election Reports, 1966 – CPA CCO 500/24/213

Correspondence, 1937-1967

A particular highlight of the new additions to this catalogue is the correspondence of various politicians between 1937 and 1967. These include letters on an assortment of topics, from Conservative Party policy and prospective Conservative candidates for Parliament, to Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s public image and The Convention on the Political Rights of Women. Also included are a handful of letters written by Sir Winston Churchill, mostly during his years as Leader of the Opposition from 1945-1951 and written to Lord Woolton, Chairman of the Conservative Party. The example below illustrates Churchill’s irritation at the lack of canvassing in the lead-up to the 1951 West Houghton by-election, which the Labour candidate won by over 60%, giving an insight into Churchill’s involvement and interest in these elections and his opposition to the ‘essence of defeatism’ described in his letter. Another letter written by Churchill, also within this file, shows his consideration of a proposal in 1946 to create ‘The Union Party’, comprising Unionists from across the political parties, as a ‘united Party against Socialism’, providing another insight into his thoughts and plans during this time.

Letter from Sir Winston Churchill to Lord Woolton concerning the West Houghton by-election and Gallup Poll results, June 1961 – CPA CCO 500/65/1/4

Political Parties (Monitoring), 1947-1983

A final area of the catalogue which has been widely expanded is the monitoring of other political parties, including the Labour Party, Liberal Party, SDP, and Communist and Far-Left Parties. These files largely consist of reports on the activities of these parties, copies of their leaflets and other campaigning materials, and newspaper articles concerning their actions and policies. This example of a report on SDP activities from the 1980s demonstrates the type of work carried out by the Organisation Department to monitor their opponents, including information on key figures within the SDP, rallies and major public meetings organised by the Party, and a list of defectors from the Conservative Party to the SDP.

Report on SDP activities since approximately 1st July 1981 – CPA CCO 500/25/12/1

All the material featured in this blog post is now available, see Collection: Conservative Party Archive: Conservative Central Office – Organisation Department | Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts (ox.ac.uk) for the fully-searchable list of items within this catalogue.

Conference Report: IIPC Web Archiving Conference 2021

This year’s International Internet Preservation Consortium Web Archiving Conference was held online from 15-16th June 2021, bringing together professionals from around the world to share their experiences of preserving the Web as a research tool for future generations. In this blog post, Simon Mackley reports back on some of the highlights from the conference.  

How can we best preserve the World Wide Web for future researchers, and how can we best provide access to our collections? These were the questions that were at the forefront of this year’s International Internet Preservation Consortium Web Archiving Conference, which was hosted virtually by the National Library of Luxembourg. Web archiving is a subject of particular interest to me: as one of the Bodleian Library’s Graduate Trainee Digital Archivists, I spend a lot of my time working on our own Web collections as part of the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive. It was great therefore to have the chance to attend part of this virtual conference and hear for myself about new developments in the sector.

One thing that really struck me from the conference was the huge diversity in approaches to preserving the Web. On the one hand, many of the papers concerned large-scale efforts by national legal deposit institutions. For instance, Ivo Branco, Ricardo Basílio, and Daniel Gomes gave a very interesting presentation on the creation of the 2019 European Parliamentary Elections collection at the Portuguese Web Archive. This was a highly ambitious project, with the aim of crawling not just the Portuguese Web domain but also capturing a snapshot of elections coverage across 24 different European languages through the use of an automated search engine and a range of web crawler technologies (see their blog for more details). The World Wide Web is perhaps the ultimate example of an international information resource, so it is brilliant to see web archiving initiatives take a similarly international approach.

At the other end of the scale, Hélène Brousseau gave a fascinating paper on community-based web archiving at Artexte library and research centre, Canada. Within the arts community, websites often function as digital publications analogous to traditional exhibition catalogues. Brousseau emphasised the need for manual web archiving rather than automated crawling as a means of capturing the full content and functionality of these digital publications, and at Artexete this has been achieved by training website creators to self-archive their own websites using Conifer. Given that in many cases web archivists often have minimal or even no contact with website creators, it was fascinating to hear of an approach that places creators at the very heart of the process.

It was also really interesting to hear about the innovative new ways that web archives were engaging with researchers using their collections, particularly in the use of new ‘Labs’-style approaches. Marie Carlin and Dorothée Benhamou-Suesser for instance reported on the new services being planned for researchers at the Bibliothèque nationale de France Data Lab, including a crawl-on-demand service and the provision of web archive datasets. New methodologies are always being developed within the Digital Humanities, and so it is vitally important that web archives are able to meet the evolving needs of researchers.

Like all good conferences, the papers and discussions did not solely focus on the successes of the past year, but also explored the continued challenges of web archiving and how they can be addressed. Web archiving is often a resource-intensive activity, which can prove a significant challenge for collecting institutions. This was a major point of discussion in the panel session on web archiving the coronavirus pandemic, as institutions had to balance the urgency of quickly capturing web content during a fast-evolving crisis against the need to manage resources for the longer-term, as it became apparent that the pandemic would last months rather than weeks. It was clear from the speakers that no two institutions had approached documenting the pandemic in quite the same way, but nonetheless some very useful general lessons were drawn from the experiences, particularly about the need to clearly define collection scope and goals at the start of any collecting project dealing with rapidly changing events.

The question of access presents an even greater challenge. We ultimately work to preserve the Web so that researchers can make use of it, but as a sector we face significant barriers in delivering this goal. The larger legal deposit collections, for instance, can often only be consulted in the physical reading rooms of their collecting libraries. In his opening address to the conference, Claude D. Conter of the National Library of Luxembourg addressed this problem head-on, calling for copyright reform in order to meet reader expectations of access.

Yet although these challenges may be significant, I have no doubt from the range of new and innovative approaches showcased at this conference that the web archiving sector will be able to overcome them. I am delighted to have had the chance to attend the conference, and I cannot wait to see how some of the projects presented continue to develop in the years to come.

Simon Mackley

A pirate’s life?

Oil painting of the HMS Resolution, a third-rate Royal Navy ship of the line, sailing in a gale, c. 1678 [by Willem van de Velde the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The HMS Resolution, a third-rate Royal Navy ship of the line, c. 1678 [by Willem van de Velde the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

A mysterious, unsigned, undated copy letter in the Clarendon family archive describes a sailor’s discovery of an inhabited island.

The mysteries are: who was the sailor, where was the island, and when was it “discovered”? But before all that: is this letter even real, or a fantasy?

A helpful, scrappy note that accompanies the letter, also unsigned and undated, makes a suggestion:

A letter written in Ld Cornbury’s hand but whether from a Mr. Ja[me]s Hyde son of the Chancellor who was a Sailor or who else does not appear

Lord Cornbury (d. 1753), who this note speculates is the copyist, was the son of Henry Hyde, 4th Earl of Clarendon (1st creation), and would have been the 5th Earl if he hadn’t died before his father, which made the Clarendon title temporarily extinct. I have to respectfully disagree with the note, however. I think the handwriting belongs to Thomas Villiers (1709-1786), who succeeded to the Clarendon title as the 1st Earl of Clarendon (2nd creation). If the identity of the copyist is not necessarily reliable then, what about the identity of the original author?

James Hyde (d. 1681) was the son of Edward Hyde, the original 1st Earl of Clarendon, who was Lord Chancellor to Charles II. James Hyde died aged only 31 and I haven’t yet been able to find evidence that he was a sailor but let’s assume that this is family knowledge and take the note-writer at his word. Early modern sailors started their careers extremely young, which means that if this really is a letter James Hyde wrote, it dates, roughly, to the 20 years between 1661 and 1681.

‘Honoured Father’, the letter begins:

Continue reading

Advancing and expanding access to our archives

Helping to navigate the Bodleian Libraries’ vast archives.

I am thrilled to be working on a major initiative by the Bodleian Libraries to prepare for the introduction of an online circulation system for the Bodleian’s vast collection of archive and manuscript materials. I grew up in a family avid about history and I went on to study history at university—so it’s an incredible privilege to be able to contribute to this work which will benefit readers, researchers and members of the public from all around the world.

My role at the Weston Library includes barcoding all the material stored there, uploading this information into our online systems, and contributing to the conservation and re-housing of collections. The work underway behind the scenes is a very significant project that will contribute to widening access to the Bodleian Libraries’ Special Collections. It’s energising to think that I am contributing to making all this material more accessible for as wide an audience of readers and scholars as possible. I am conscious that archival material is meaningful, powerful, and sometimes contested, and I am motivated by the idea I am contributing to a project which will allow a greater number of people to provide rigorous, progressive and exciting views of the past and its influence on the present.

One of the main privileges of my job is that I have the opportunity to work with all the collections in the Library. As I scamper around the Library’s many compartments to barcode the collections held there, I encounter material from all the Weston’s collections—medieval manuscripts, music archives, modern manuscripts, rare books, and maps from around the world. In the above photo, you can see me (please forgive the scruffy lockdown hair) preparing to put labels on each of the shelves in the Weston Library. I did this as the staff at the Weston came back to Library after the most recent lockdown, and the aim was to help my colleagues and I navigate the Library’s compartments to find materials—it can get quite labyrinthine! The coronavirus pandemic affected the Bodleian Libraries’ workings significantly, but through it all the Library always strived to “keep Oxford reading”. The project to which I am contributing was inevitably delayed by the pandemic because it involves a lot of work which can only be done onsite, but now a number of colleagues in the department are contributing to the project to catch up lost time and get it done!

Hopefully this has provided you with a glimpse of the daily inner-workings of the Bodleian and how we are working to make things accessible!

New Conservative Party Archive releases for 2021

Conservative Research Department (CRD) briefings on the poll tax, the Gulf War, and the UK’s entry into the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), plans and correspondence surrounding publicity of the poll tax, preparations for local elections and by-elections, and think tank research notes on a range of important topical issues, are among newly-available Conservative Party Archive files released by the Bodleian under the thirty-year-rule.

As in previous years, many of our new releases are drawn from our collections of CRD files, including policy briefings prepared for Members of Parliament, opposition monitoring files, publicity for the poll tax, and preparations for local and by-elections. This year we will also be releasing research notes from the Progress Trust think tank, available to consult for the first time, as well as correspondence, papers and meeting notes from Conservatives in the European Parliament and the Women’s Organisation of the Conservative Party.

This blog post will briefly examine some of the highlights included in the newly-released files, illustrating their value for researchers of the Conservative Party and historians of British political history.

Conservative Research Department Briefings, 1990

This year’s releases under the thirty-year rule include a wide range of policy briefings prepared by the Research Department. These briefings, generally prepared for Conservative MPs and Peers ahead of parliamentary debates, provide an important insight into the Party’s thinking and their strategy when dealing with key issues of the day. Notable subjects covered by the briefings being released this year include the poll tax, the short-lived entrance of the UK into the ERM, and the Gulf War. Among these briefings are also those written by David Cameron as Head of the Political Section of the CRD from 1989 to 1992 (see file CRD/B/23/10 for his Political Information briefs, including handwritten annotations).

A selection of CRD briefings from the Environment file, covering the Community Charge, including answers to topical questions, explanations of the safety net, rebates and transitional relief, and criticisms of Labour policy – CPA CRD/B/11/9.

Other topics included in the briefs from 1990 include the economy, environment, education, foreign and home affairs, and transport, all valuable resources for those studying specific or general aspects of the Thatcher era.

CRD briefing from the Environment file entitled ‘Global Warming and World Climate Change’, including quotes from a speech made by Margaret Thatcher to the United Nations – CPA CRD/B/11/9.

Poll Tax Publicity

The introduction and fall-out from the widely criticised Community Charge (commonly known as the ‘poll tax’) dominated the late Thatcher years, and as a result this year’s de-restrictions contain many files discussing it, providing a fascinating insight into how the Party responded to criticisms and tried to combat the negative electoral impact of the new tax. These files include not only the comprehensive briefings mentioned above, but also Research Department preparation for advertising and party-political broadcasts to promote and provide more information on the poll tax. File CPA CRD 5/10/3 includes various drafts of a proposed local government advertising campaign which was tested using research groups, in the form of propositions with supporting facts. The image below shows an annotated copy of a plan for this campaign, giving historians of this era a useful insight into how the Party viewed misinformation as a key factor in the discontent surrounding the tax, and the methods they used to try and tackle this.

Annotated copy of a proposed local government advertising campaign to combat the negative public opinion of the poll tax – CPA CRD 5/10/3.

Also among newly-available files highlighting the poll tax as a high priority issue during local election campaigning, file CPA CRD 5/17/2/4 comprises drafts of a script for the Local Government Party Political Broadcast on 2 May 1990. The script involves a husband and wife dispelling numerous misconceptions about the poll tax, for instance the husband saying “I thought the whole idea was everybody pays the same” and his wife explaining “That everybody who can pay, pays something, yes. But not all the same. I mean students like young Tom get 80% off their poll tax”.

Local Elections and By-Elections Papers and Briefings

A particularly strong area in this year’s releases are Research Department files on local elections and by-elections in 1990. These files include large briefing packs for local elections, briefings and papers for by-elections, and various correspondence. Such files would be particularly useful for any historians of the specific locations of these by-elections, including Bradford North, Bootle, and Eastbourne, as well as anyone studying the policies of the Thatcher era in general.

Further, the image below demonstrates how these files can give an interesting insight into how the Party prepared for elections in Labour strongholds.

Briefing on ‘Lines to Take’ in the event of different election outcomes, Bradford North By-election file – CPA CRD/5/21/6.

Ebury Research Notes, 1989-1990

A further highlight of the releases this year are the Ebury research notes produced by the Progress Trust think tank. These research notes should prove to be a highly useful resource for historians of the period, with a vast range of topics covered.

The images below give an insight into the types of topics covered by these notes. With the House of Commons being first broadcast to the public in November 1989, the research note on the right gives suggestions as to how MPs should and shouldn’t behave, concluding “In short, forget the traditions of the House of Commons; forget that it used to be your place of work. It is now a place where you are on show. Bad luck.” This file (CPA CTT/PT/4/6/1) also includes notes on a whole host of further topics, such as the poll tax (with research notes on the reasons for unpopularity, possible remedies, and ideas for reforming the poll tax), the popularity of Thatcher, the environment, education, and the economy.

Ebury Research Notes on Nigel Lawson’s Resignation and Televising Parliament – CPA CTT/PT/4/6/1.

These notes also comprise interesting information on relations with Europe, another highly contentious issue of the day. The images below show a research note on the issue of Britain’s membership of, and relationship with, the European Economic Community (EEC), a useful source for anyone studying the history of Britain’s, and the Party’s, relationship with Europe.

Ebury Research Note on Britain’s membership of the EEC – CPA CTT/PT/4/6/1.

Ebury Research Note on Britain’s membership of the EEC – CPA CTT/PT/4/6/1.

All the material featured in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2021. The full list of de-restricted items will be published shortly on the CPA website, where past de-restriction lists from previous years are also available.

Protest in the archives: The history of anti-black protest in Oxford’s History

The thing that drew me to this internship was the opportunity to redefine and recapture black history at Oxford. A part of a joint project with the Museum of Oxford, the internship allowed me to explore the varied history of political activism in anti-black discrimination. It also gave me the chance to reinstate black political actors into the conversation of anti-racism and recognise their work and importance in the progress we have made so far and how they have inspired us to continue this work.

THE UK IS NOT INNOCENT, MS. 18592/13, item 6

THE UK IS NOT INNOCENT, MS. 18592/13, item 6

For my research I focused on the idea of ‘Protest, Power and Posters’, identifying how the art and cultural medium of posters and other types of ephemera highlight and capture contemporary race issues. Furthermore, how certain themes and messages in these ephemera have sustained and been reproduced throughout Oxford’s history of protest all the way to the present. I was able to look through the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) archives, the Joint Action Commission Against Racial Intolerance (JACARI) archives and Rhodes Must Fall 2.0 posters from this summer.

A theme that I also wanted to highlight within my research was British complicity in the mistreatment of black individuals.

The poster above, created for a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Oxford, details black British individuals who have had their lives taken by violence and institutional brutality. I was particularly drawn to this poster, as it forces us to recognise a global issue or an ‘American’ issue as a national and local one as well, instead of painting Britain as a society where anti-blackness doesn’t exist.

JACARI Lunchtime Meetings poster, John Johnson Collection, Oxford Union Societies box J5

JACARI Lunchtime Meetings poster, John Johnson Collection, Oxford Union Societies box J5

An episode of Oxford’s race history that really interested me was the ‘Colour Ban’ in the 1950s and 1960s, enacted on POC (people of colour) Oxford students. This was brought to the public’s attention as JACARI, the largest student organisation at that time, published a report in 1963. This report featured the statistic that 62% of landladies had stated that they would not lodge African/Asian students. The poster on the right advertises a lunchtime discussion group to discuss this matter alongside other issues associated with race relations such as Fascism in Britain. Both of these posters highlight the need to continue to address Britain’s own race issues as part of global anti-blackness and not cast them aside as an American problem.

 

 

Xaira Adebayo, Summer Intern 2020, Bodleian Libraries and Museum of Oxford

Common Threads: From Past to the Present

The race and diversity narratives project with the Bodleian Libraries and the Museum of Oxford allowed me to explore a crucial aspect of the city of Oxford and its inhabitants. For my research I looked at the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) archives, dating back to the 1960s, directly in correlation with the contemporary Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) 2.0 protests from summer and the global Black Lives Matter movement.

MSS. AAM 607. Reproduced with the permission of the Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives Committee.

MSS. AAM 607. Reproduced with the permission of the Anti-Apartheid Movement Archives Committee.

It was fascinating to trace the common elements between these two historical protests that the city of Oxford has witnessed. The simple but powerful Black Power Fist signifies just how connected the movements are. A poster from the 1980s for ‘End Repression in South Africa’ depicts a man raising his fist and can be directly compared with a picture from 2020 RMF movement and a protestor using the same powerful symbol.

Beyond significant symbols, the city as a space, the involvement of the students and city dwellers together, all become a part of the continued common history.

‘Rhodes Must Fall’ in Oxford, June 2020.

‘Rhodes Must Fall’ in Oxford, June 2020.

The AAM archives hold several letters and correspondences between the local chapter and the national one, between AAM and Oxford citizens who want to be more involved and supportive of the movement, minutes and proceedings of Oxford City Meetings and AAM meetings. The call for protests above is similar to the calls we send out today, the method of dissemination might have evolved, the sentiment remains the same – to unify and stand together.

One particular incident that stood out to me was the boycott of the Apollo Theatre during the Christmas of 1987 because the theatre starred Marti Caine, an actress who said: ‘The best thing we can do for the blacks is send them back into the jungle to recover their culture.’ The protest and the boycott led to Caine issuing a public apology and signing the AAM petition. Caine and Rhodes, Apollo Theatre and Oriel College, these are not the same issues, but similar in how spaces and people come to represent ideologies, often extremely problematic ones, but simultaneously how a unified stand against such ideas brings them down.

The idea of common elements or ‘threads’ between the two protests, for me, reflects how the fight for racial equality is an ongoing conversation and struggle but it has multiple sides to it. While the positives show that the people of Oxford have time and again stood up against the injustice, the counter-question becomes why have these injustices continued well into the 21st century? A critical exploration of archives at the Bodleian relating to the city of Oxford allowed me to ask these questions while contributing to and continuing the conversation. It is perhaps in these historically extending common threads across the decades that the meaning of ‘a movement and not a moment’ truly shines through as minority identities continue their struggles against historical and contemporary injustices.

MS. 18592/3, item 6.

MS. 18592/3, item 6.

Devika
Summer Intern 2020, Bodleian Libraries and Museum of Oxford
MPhil Modern South Asian Studies (2019-2021), St Antony’s College, University of Oxford

 

#WeMissiPRES: A Bridge from 2019 to 2021

Every year, the international digital preservation community meets for the iPRES conference, an opportunity for practitioners to exchange knowledge and showcase the latest developments in the field. With the 2020 conference unable to take place due to the global pandemic, digital preservation professionals instead gathered online for #WeMissiPRES to ensure that the global community remained connected. Our graduate trainee digital archivist Simon Mackley attended the first day of the event; in this blog post he reflects on some of the highlights of the talks and what they tell us about the state of the field.

How do you keep the global digital preservation community connected when international conferences are not possible? This was the challenge faced by the organisers of #WeMissIPres, a three-day online event hosted by the Digital Preservation Coalition. Conceived as a festival of digital preservation, the aim was not to try and replicate the regular iPRES conference in an online format, but instead to serve as a bridge for the digital preservation community, connecting the efforts of 2019 with the plans for 2021.

As might be expected, the impact of the pandemic loomed large in many of the talks. Caylin Smith (Cambridge University Library) and Sara Day Thomson (University of Edinburgh) for instance gave a fascinating paper on the challenge of rapidly collecting institutional responses to coronavirus, focusing on the development of new workflows and streamlined processes. The difficulties of working from home, the requirements of remote access to resources, and the need to move training online likewise proved to be recurrent themes throughout the day. As someone whose own experience of digital preservation has been heavily shaped by the pandemic (I began my traineeship at the start of lockdown!) it was really useful to hear how colleagues in other institutions have risen to these challenges.

I was also struck by the different ways in which responses to the crisis have strengthened digital preservation efforts. Lynn Bruce and Eve Wright (National Records of Scotland) noted for instance that the experience of the pandemic has led to increased appreciation of the value of web-archiving from stakeholders, as the need to capture rapidly-changing content has become more apparent. Similarly, Natalie Harrower (Digital Repository of Ireland) made the excellent point that the crisis had not only highlighted the urgent need for the sharing of medical research data, but also the need to preserve it: Coronavirus data may one day prove essential to fighting a future pandemic, and so there is therefore a moral imperative for us to ensure that it is preserved.

As our keynote speaker Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures) reminded us, the events of the past year have been momentous quite apart from the pandemic, with issues such as the distorting impacts of social media on society, the climate emergency, and global demands for racial justice all having risen to the forefront of society. It was great therefore to see the role of digital preservation in these challenges being addressed in many of the panel sessions. A personal highlight for me was the presentation by Daniel Steinmeier (KB National Library of the Netherlands) on diversity and digital preservation. Steinmeier stressed that in order for diversity efforts to be successful, institutions needed to commit to continuing programmes of inclusion rather than one-off actions, with the communities concerned actively included in the archiving process.

So what challenges can we expect from the year ahead? Perhaps more than ever, this year this has been a difficult question to answer. Nonetheless, a key theme that struck me from many of the discussions was that the growing challenge of archiving social media platforms was matched only by the increasing need to preserve the content hosted on them. As Zefi Kavvadia (International Institute of Social History) noted, many social media platforms actively resist archiving; even when preservation is possible, curators are faced with a dilemma between capturing user experiences and capturing platform data. Navigating this challenge will surely be a major priority for the profession going forward.

While perhaps no substitute for meeting in person, #WeMissiPRES nonetheless succeeded in bringing the international digital preservation community together in a shared celebration of the progress being made in the field, successfully bridging the gap between 2019 and 2021, and laying the foundations for next year’s conference.

 

#WeMissiPRES was held online from 22nd-24th September 2020. For more information, and for recordings of the talks and panel sessions, see the event page on the DPC website.

‘On behalf of the Strike Committee’: MS. Top. Oxon. c. 523

“The vales, the streams, the meadows, hamlets of Cotswold stone—they make a pretty picture for your second family home. But they hide away a story of labour, toil and skill of the children, men and women in the Cotswold textile mills.”
Andy Danford, “The Ballad of Bliss Tweed Mill”.[1]

With nearly 56,000 references, the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts showcases the wide diversity of archival material held by the Bodleian libraries, and that is one of my favourite aspects of working on this project. Today, I have chosen to explore yet another side of the catalogue: local history. When I worked on the retroconversion of MS. Top. Oxon. c. 523, I was quite fascinated to learn that this particular box held papers relating to a strike that happened in 1913-1914 in an Oxfordshire factory. My knowledge of British labour history was mainly focused on Northern regions and on earlier decades, so I was curious to check out the manuscript. It starts with a note written by the historian Sir George Norman Clark, who compiled the papers.

The papers in this file were put together in 1919: they are all that I could find on this subject in my possession. It does not seem that many can be missing. I first heard of the strike at the end of February, when I came back from Italy where I had spent the winter. Lady Mary Murray, on the day before the police-court hearing of the charge of riot against Shepard (sic) and others, told me that the strike was in progress and asked me to go over and see what happened at the police-court. I went with [George Douglas Howard] Cole and these papers give the rest of the story as far as it concerns me, except that I told the strike committee at a meeting at Selincourt’s house that they must drop the scheme for a new factory. They agreed, but with great regret. 

G. N. Clark.

MS. Top. Oxon. c. 523 contains the story of the strike that took place between December 1913 and June 1914 at Bliss Tweed Mill in Chipping Norton, about 20 miles North of Oxford. If today the factory building has been converted into residential apartments, at the time of the strike it was buzzing with around 400 workers. About two thirds of these workers (237) took part in the strike, amongst whom a slight majority of women (125).

Bliss Tweed Mill

The Bliss family had been active in the cloth sector in the Chipping Norton area since the middle of the eighteenth century when they upgraded their site to a large-scale fully steam-powered factory in the nineteenth century. By 1870, according to Mike Richardson, Bliss mill employed up to 700 people.[2] This growth is the evidence of the prosperity of the business the Bliss family had established. They specialised in tweed, one of the trading strengths of the region since the middle ages.

However, in 1872, a fire caught and destroyed part of the mill, along with three human casualties. The factory had to be rebuilt and the owner, William Bliss, had to borrow a large sum of money from the bank. This, along with a decrease in product sales, plunged the company into recession.

In 1896, the Bliss family left Chipping Norton, and a man called Arthur Dunstan was appointed as managing director. A few chosen lyrics from Andy Danford’s “Ballad of Bliss Tweed Mill” show how the employees felt towards the man: “Some called this man a tyrant …, some called the providence to send him to his grave.”[3]

What led to the strike?

The strike at Chipping Norton was decided for local reasons, but happened in the midst of a larger national period of unrest. Strikes flourished in the years 1910-1914, so much so that the journalist and historian George Dangerfield called the era “the workers’ rebellion”.[4]

At Bliss Tweed Mill in November 1913, Arthur Dunstan discouraged his employees from joining the local branch of the Workers Union, threatening them with the loss of their jobs should they choose to syndicate. Bliss Tweed Mills workers had indeed many reasons to join the union: Dunstan’s style of management was harsh, as the lyrics quoted above show; he was hated by his employees for keeping wages low and working conditions poor. In his 2008 article, Mike Richardson states that over 230 workers joined the union regardless of their boss’ threats.[5]

In December 1913, three employees, who were very active union members, were sacked. Their co-workers tried to negotiate with the hierarchy to get them reinstated, but negotiations failed and as a result, on 18 December 1913, 237 workers stopped their work. Their strike would last six months.

MS. Top. Oxon. c. 523

Many documents were produced during the time of the strike at Bliss Tweed Mill. Some emanated from the workers, others from the outside, like newspaper reports. George Clarke collected all he could find, and they now form MS. Top. Oxon. c. 523. These papers tell the story of what happened in the Chipping Norton mill in 1913 and 1914 better than this blog post ever could.

Lists of the workers containing their names, marital status, job titles and wages; communications from the mill’s management or from the strike committee; cuttings… 135 items, both printed and manuscript now form MS. Top. Oxon. c. 523.



You can view the catalogue of this manuscript in the Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts interface. Once the library reopens, it will be available to request and view in the Weston Library Reading Rooms.


References:

[1] “The Ballad of Bliss Tweed Mill”, written and performed by Andy Danford, 2014, https://www.brh.org.uk/site/articles/ballad-bliss-tweed-mill/ (accessed May 2020)

[2] Richardson, Mike. ‘“Murphyism in Oxfordshire” – the Bliss Mill Strike 1913–14: Causes, Conduct and Consequences’, Historical Studies in Industrial Relations, vol. 25/26, 2008

[3] Danford, Andy. Op. Cit.

[4] Dangerfield, George. The Strange Death of Liberal England, Constable: London, 1935.

[5] Richardson, Mike. Op. Cit. p. 89

Read more:

Bliss Mill Strike 1913-1914: A week by week account of the strike in Chipping Norton 100 years ago 

Bristol Radical History Group’s online material relating to the strike 

The Economist or The Political, Commercial, Agricultural and Free-Trade Journal

A catalogue of the archive of The Economist newspaper is now available online*.

Portrait of James Wilson

Hon. James Wilson by Sir John Watson-Gordon, oil on canvas, 1858, NPG 2189 © National Portrait Gallery, London

The archive was donated to the Bodleian Library in 2017 by The Economist Newspaper Limited. The newspaper, originally called The Economist: The Political, Commercial, Agricultural and Free-Trade Journal, was founded in 1843 by James Wilson (1805-1860), a self-educated businessman, economist and Liberal politician, to campaign for free trade. It was solely owned by Wilson for the first 17 years and he was Editor until 1849. The basis of the paper was a systematic weekly survey of economic data and it quickly became invaluable as a source of trade and financial statistics. Wilson wrote much of the paper himself, assisted by Richard Holt Hutton (1826-1897) and Walter Bagehot (1826-1877). (Bagehot became Editor in 1861.)

The archive has suffered from the bombing of the newspaper’s London offices in 1941, when many records were lost. The bulk of the archive thus dates from the second half of the 20th century. It contains an incomplete set of minutes of the Board of Directors of The Economist Newspaper Limited and related papers, from its incorporation in 1929 to 2015, and correspondence and papers of Managing Directors (later CEOs), Editors, and staff of editorial departments. Other records include materials relating to property, finance, staff, production, and promotion and marketing.

In 1847, James Wilson entered Parliament as MP for Westbury. From 1848 until 1852 he served as Secretary of the Board of Control, which oversaw the East India Company’s relationship with British India. He later served as Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Paymaster-General, and Vice-President of the Board of Trade. In 1859 he resigned his offices and his seat in Parliament to sit as the financial member of the Council of India. A bundle of letters received by Wilson and other items addressed to the Wilson family, 1838-1860, was passed to The Economist by Wilson’s great great granddaughter in 2008 and now forms part of the archive. This includes letters to Wilson from Earl Canning, Governor-General of India, Jan-May 1860, during Wilson’s time in India, tasked with establishing a tax structure and a new paper currency, and remodelling the finance system. Wilson sadly died of dysentery in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in August 1860 at the age of 55. These papers complement the correspondence of James Wilson and his family, 1840-1924, concerning political, literary and family matters, acquired by the Bodleian in 1979 (shelfmarks MSS. Eng. lett. d. 468-9), containing letters from Walter Bagehot and Lord Palmerston.

The archive also contains records of the celebration of the company’s 150th anniversary in 1993, and research for The Pursuit of Reason: The Economist 1834-1993 (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1993) by Ruth Dudley Edwards. This is an engaging and well-researched history of the newspaper and the personalities behind it. Incidentally, Dudley Edwards is known not only as a historian but also as a writer of crime fiction. One of her novels features a copy of The Economist as the murder weapon!

*Please note that the collection is not currently accessible as, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please do check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.