Category Archives: Modern

Newly available: Recollecting Oxford Medicine oral history project

Born digital material from the Recollecting Oxford Medicine oral history project has been donated to the Weston Library since the early 2010s, and the project is still active today with further interviews planned. A selection of interviews from the project are now available to listen to online,  via University of Oxford podcasts.

The Recollecting Oxford Medicine oral history project comprises interviews with Oxford medics, which provide individual perspectives of both pre clinical and clinical courses at the Oxford Medical School, medical careers in Oxford and other locations, and give an insight into the evolution of clinical medicine at Oxford since the mid 1940s.

The interviewees have worked in a range of specialisms and departments including psychiatry, neurology, endocrinology and dermatology to name a few. In episodes 11-12 we can learn about Chris Winearls – a self proclaimed ‘accidental Rhodes Scholar’ from medical school in Cape Town – his journey into nephrology and how he later became Associate Professor of Medicine for the university.

Listen to the Recollecting Oxford Medicine oral history podcast series online at https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/recollecting-oxford-medicine-oral-histories

In episode 1, John Spalding,  interviewed by John Oxbury  in 2011, discusses working under Hugh Cairns, firstly as a student houseman at the Radcliffe Infirmary during the second world war.  Spalding also recounts his experience of the initial conception of the East Radcliffe Ventilator, first being devised for use in treatment of Polio. In episode 13 we can listen to Derek Hockaday’s interview with Joan Trowell, former Deputy Director of Clinical Studies for Oxford Medical School, which amongst other topics covers her experience of roles held at the General Medical Council.

The majority of the interviews were undertaken by Derek Hockaday, former Oxford hospitals consultant physician and Emeritus Fellow of Brasenose College. The cataloguing and preservation of the oral history project is supported by Oxford Medical Alumni. The library acknowledges the donations of material and financial support by Derek Hockaday and OMA respectively.

Listeners may also be interested in the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology Oral Histories, of which the archive masters are also preserved in the Weston Library.

E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia

E.F. Benson (1867-1940) was a prolific author who published over 93 books in his lifetime, including novels, short stories, horror stories, reminiscences, and eight biographies. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Queen Lucia, the first of Benson’s ever-popular Mapp and Lucia books.

One of a talented brood of siblings, Edward Frederic (‘Fred’) was born in 1867, the third son of Edward White Benson (1829–1896), headmaster of Wellington College and later Archbishop of Canterbury. After studying Classics at King’s College Cambridge, Fred headed abroad to work as an archaeologist for the British School of Archaeology in Athens between 1892 and 1895. His first novel, Dodo: A Detail of the Day, was published to some acclaim in 1893. Like many of his novels, it was a social satire of modern society. In 1895, after working for the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies in Egypt, he moved to London to focus on his writing.

E.F. Benson by Lafayette, whole-plate film negative, 1 August 1926, NPG x37036 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

From 1918 onwards, Benson spent most of the year at Lamb House in the coastal town of Rye, Sussex. Lamb House had previously been the home of the novelist Henry James, who had lived there from 1897 to 1914 (it was also later the home of the author of Black Narcissus, Margaret Rumer Godden, who lived there between 1968 and 1973). Benson settled in Rye, becoming a Justice of the Peace as well as serving as Mayor between 1934 and 1937. He was appointed an OBE and, in 1938, became an honorary fellow of Magdalene College Cambridge (his elder brother, Arthur Christopher Benson, was Master of Magdalene College from 1915 until his death in 1925). E.F. Benson died on 29th February 1940, having just sent off a copy of his autobiography, Final Edition, to his publishers.

Photograph of Lamb House, Rye by Jim Linwood 19 June 2008 and originally posted on flickr (Creative Commons CC BY 2.0)

Today, Benson is probably most famous for his Mapp and Lucia novels of social manners. Contemporary fans of the series included Noel Coward, W.H. Auden, and Nancy Mitford. The series included six novels: Queen Lucia (published in 1920), Miss Mapp (1922), Lucia in London (1927), Mapp and Lucia (1931), Lucia’s Progress (1935), and Trouble for Lucia (1939). Benson also wrote two short stories, ‘The Male Impersonator’ and ‘Desirable Residences’, set in the same fictitious world. The books focus on the social snobbery and one-upmanship of the upper-middle class society of the time, predominantly following the lives of the social-climbing Emmeline ‘Lucia’ Lucas and the formidable Elizabeth Mapp.

Photograph of Mermaid Street, Rye, East Sussex by David McKelvey 22 April 2013 and originally posted on flickr (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the novels, Mapp and Lucia both live at some point at Mallards, which was based on Benson’s own Lamb House, in the small seaside town of Tilling (likewise modelled on Rye). The Bodleian Libraries hold E.F. Benson’s original draft manuscript of Mapp and Lucia, dated 1930, in the Archive of the Benson Family, which includes many of E.F. Benson’s original manuscripts. The novel, which was published in 1931, was originally given the title of ‘The Queen of Tilling’ and is the first novel in the series to feature both Elizabeth and Lucia.

Front cover and first page of E.F. Benson’s manuscript draft of ‘The Queen of Tilling’ [Mapp and Lucia], 1930, Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Benson adds. 2/1-2

The novels remain in print today and have been made into several radio adaptations and two television adaptations, bringing the stories and characters to a larger audience. A ten episode television series adaptation by Gerald Savory on Channel 4 was broadcast in 1985 and 1986, and starred Geraldine McEwan as Lucia, Prunella Scales as Mapp, and Nigel Hawthorne as Georgie. More recently, in 2014, the BBC broadcast a television dramatization starring Miranda Richardson as Mapp, Anna Chancellor as Lucia, and Steve Pemberton as Georgie.

Two societies were set up to celebrate the life and work of E.F. Benson. The E.F. Benson Society was founded in London in 1984 and produces a yearly journal, The Dodo, named after Benson’s first published novel. The Tilling Society was set up in 1982 and was active until 2006. The Archive of the Tilling Society was generously donated to the Bodleian in 2012 and 2014. More about the Tilling Society archive can be found in an earlier blog post.

-Rachael Marsay

Academic dress in the Oxford University Archives

Of the many Oxford University traditions that have survived to the present day, one of the most visually distinctive and recognisable is the ‘academic costume’: the gowns, caps and subfusc worn today by students and officials during examinations and ceremonies. Yet despite the long presence of academic dress in the University’s history, the University Archives hold surprisingly little material relating to it. This is perhaps because until the mid 20th century, its exact nature appears to have been fairly fluid, constantly evolving, and on occasion subject to change that was not authorised by the University. It was not until 1957 that academic dress was fixed in its current form, with the publication of Academic Dress of the University of Oxford by R.E. Clifford and D.E. Venables. This illustrated guide includes precise descriptions of each element of the academic dress, and although this book has been republished and revised, very few alterations have been made to the rules it lays out.

The oldest item relating to this topic in the University Archives is this small book, which dates from 1716 and contains numbered engravings of different forms of academic dress. An example of every official and student is shown, from the Vice Chancellor and the Bedels to the Bachelor of Arts, the Master of Arts and many others.

Title page, with the Phillipps shelfmark. Reference: OUA NW 1/10*

Bachelor of Arts

Vice Chancellor

Doctor of Theology, wearing a ‘toga coccinea’ (red cape)

These images are in fact cuts from David Loggan’s 1675 engraving Habitus Academici, part of his Oxonia Illustrata series of engravings illustrating Oxford University and its environment. The original engraving is a black and white single sheet, but here they are coloured, bound in a small volume with a new title page: ‘Habitus Academici in Universitate Oxoniensi Anno 1716’, and they are likely to be the earliest coloured representations of Oxford University academic dress. The shelfmark written at the bottom of the title page, ‘Phillipps MS 24809’, shows that it appears to have made its way into the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps, one of the most important book collectors of the 19th century. It was ultimately donated to the University Archives by the Keeper of the Archives 1927-45, Strickland Gibson.

Not only are these illustrations some of the earliest of academic dress in the University Archives, but they are some of the only visual representations we hold. Most other records on this topic concern attempts to regulate academic dress, and how these rules were broken.

Although the exact nature of academic dress pre-20th century is hard to pin down, attempts were nevertheless made to regulate it as early as the 17th century. In the Laudian Code of 1636, which was the first coherent set of Oxford University regulations, Statute Tit. XIV De vestitu et habitu scholastico laid down rules for how academic dress should look and be worn, and required models of the various outfits be made. The original 1636 ‘Codex Authenticus’ of the the Laudian Code is held in the University Archives, as seen below with the seals of the University, Archbishop Laud and Charles I.

The ‘Codex Authenticus’ of the Laudian Code. Reference: OUA WPγ/25c/1

At this point in time, academic dress was not worn for just ceremonies and examinations, but in University members’ everyday lives, including when they were out and about in the city. As a result, rules on academic dress were also rules about the everyday physical appearance of university members. §1 of Stat. Tit. XIV in particular describes how no member’s hair should be ‘[in] curls or excessively long’, and lays out the monetary penalties and corporal punishment that could be expected for disobeying this rule.

Stat. Tit. XIV, §1 in the Codex Authenticus

As the centuries passed, University members were required to wear their gowns less and less, and so the surveillance of their everyday appearance began to relax. Nevertheless, there were still plenty of instances of students bending or breaking the rules, and during the 20th century the University Archives begin to show more evidence of how exactly rules were disobeyed. This Proctor’s memorandum from 1945, shown below, gently reminds students of the correct situations in which academic dress should be worn, in particular noting that ‘it is an offence to smoke in academic dress’.

Proctors memorandum. Reference: OUA PR 1/8/1/1

Similarly, this notice from around the 1920s-30s, sent from the Vice-Chancellor and the Proctors to the college authorities, emphasises the importance of candidates for degrees being suitably dressed. According to this note, those taking degrees recently had been doing so ‘in torn gowns, in brown shoes, in light grey suits, in flannel trousers, and even in a form of jumper or ‘pull-over’.

Vice Chancellor and Proctors notice. Reference: OUA PR 1/5/6/1

The University Archives’ most recent holding relating to academic dress dates from 1956, just before the publication of Academic Dress of the University of Oxford in 1957. The ‘Register of Colours’ created by Shepherd and Woodward, an outfitter to the University based in Oxford, contains samples of the correctly dyed fabric to be used on each item of dress, with descriptions of the precise material and hood shape to be used.

The Register of Colours. Reference: OUA WPγ/28/15

The register is still occasionally updated by Shepherd and Woodward today, as it is relied upon by the Vice Chancellor’s Regulation 1 of 2002, which states that robes, gowns and hoods should conform to the standards ‘prescribed in the Register of Colours and Materials of Gowns and Hoods for Degrees of the University of Oxford… deposited in the University Archives.’

The topic of academic dress is one which illustrates well the relationship between the University Archives and the University itself. Our material relating to academic dress is limited to that which was considered practical to record at the time. This is why regulations for academic dress and punishments for not obeying these are represented more so in the Archives than any precise picture of exactly what was worn and how it changed over the years. Thus the Archives preserve the history of the University, but only as far as the University recorded this history at the time.

To find out more about Oxford University Archives and our holdings, please contact us.

Further Reading

Brockliss, L. W. B., ‘Students and Teachers’, The University of Oxford: A History, OUP 2016

Clifford, R. E.  & Venables, D. E., Academic Dress of the University of Oxford, Oxford 1957

Franklyn, C., Academical Dress from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, Hassocks, Sussex 1970

‘Youth’s Funeral’ by Rupert Brooke

One of the earliest donations of literary manuscripts to the Bodleian Library via the Friends of the Bodleian, founded in 1925, was a fair copy manuscript of Rupert Brooke’s poem ‘Youth’s Funeral’, published as ‘The Funeral of Youth: Threnody’ (shelfmark MS. Don. d. 1). According to the Summary Catalogue, the poem was donated by Mrs G.F. Brooke in 1926.(1)

Fair manuscript copy of Rupert Brooke’s poem, ‘Youth’s Funeral’, 1913, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Don. d. 1.

Today, Rupert Brooke is possibly best known as a War Poet and is included on the Poets of the First World War memorial in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, alongside fellow poets, Wilfred Owen, Edmund Blunden, and Siegfried Sassoon. ‘The Funeral of Youth’, however, was written in 1913, before the war. In the published version, the poem is described as a threnody, a memorial lament, and is an epitaph for bygone days of youthful innocence. In Fatal Glamour: The Life of Rupert Brooke, Paul Delany suggested Brooke’s inspiration was Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘God’s Funeral’, meditating on the death of belief, which had been published in the Fortnightly Review in 1911. (2) Brooke had met Hardy in Cambridge at a performance of Milton’s masque Comus by the Marlowe Society in 1908 (as well as producing the play, Brooke had played the Attendant Spirit).

Rupert Brooke was born on 3 August 1887 at 5 Hillmorton Road in Rugby, Warwickshire, to William Parker Brooke (1850-1910) and his wife, Ruth Mary Brooke (née Cotterill), the second of three sons. His father was classics tutor and later housemaster of School Field at Rugby School, which Rupert himself attended after studying as a day boy at Hillbrow preparatory school. At Rugby, he won a prize in 1905 for his poem, ‘The Bastille’, and excelled at sport. Brooke went on to read Classics at King’s College, Cambridge between 1906 and 1909. During this period, Brooke embraced various Cambridge groups, including the Apostles (an exclusive discussion group) and the Fabian Society. He also became one of what his friend Virginia Woolf would later call the ‘neo-pagans’, embracing outdoor exercise, vegetarianism, and alternative lifestyles, and having a strong interest in socialism.

Portrait of Rupert Brooke © IWM Q 71073 (IWM Non Commercial Licence)

After he completed his degree, he lived in nearby Grantchester continuing his academic studies and writing. His father died in January 1910 and Rupert went back to Rugby to cover as Deputy Housemaster for a term. His first volume of poetry, entitled Poems, was published in 1911. The following year, he helped Edward Howard Marsh (then Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary) publish the first of his Georgian Poetry series.(3) Brooke contributed several poems to Georgian Poetry 1911-1912, including one of his most famous poems, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, which he had written while away in Berlin.

During 1912, however, Brooke had a nervous breakdown, part precipitated by his complex web of chaste and sexual relationships, and (potentially) confusion over his own sexuality.(4) Early in 1913, Brooke wrote ‘Youth’s Funeral’ whilst staying with his friends, Francis and Frances Cornford, in Cornwall. Later in the year he earned his longed for Fellowship at King’s College and then travelled abroad in order to restore his health, visiting the United States, Canada, and the South Sea Islands. A collection of prose essays of his time abroad was published posthumously as Letters from America in 1916 with an introduction by Henry James.

Rupert returned to England in June 1914 and, soon after war broke out in August, enlisted in the Royal Navy. Though he was at the siege of Antwerp, he saw little action. Shortly after this, he wrote his famous war sonnets, including ‘The Soldier’, which were published in New Numbers in December 1914. Having joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in February 1915, Brooke sailed for Gallipoli, but he died at sea on 23rd April after contracting septicaemia from a mosquito bite. Winston Churchill paid tribute to him in The Times and Lascelles Abercrombie’s obituary in the Morning Post (27 April 1915) quoted from Brooke’s ‘The Funeral of Youth’.(5) Later that year, Brooke’s 1914 and other Poems (including ‘The Funeral of Youth: Threnody’) was published posthumously; his Collected Poems were edited by Edward Marsh, his literary executor, and published with a memoir in 1918.

Binding by Douglas Cockerell for manuscript of Rupert Brooke’s poem, ‘Youth’s Funeral’, 1913, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Don. d. 1.

As with many of the early Friends of the Bodleian deposits, the manuscript of ‘Youth’s Funeral’ has been finely bound in brown Morocco, in this case by the renowned bookbinder Douglas Cockerell and is encased in a bespoke wooden box. Interestingly, Cockerell was appointed adviser on printing to the Imperial War Graves Commission and he oversaw the printing and binding of the registers of the dead for each war cemetery.(6) Whilst Brooke is commemorated as a war casualty, the circumstances of his death meant he was buried in an isolated grave on the island on Skyros. His friend and fellow solider Denis Browne described Brooke’s burial place as ‘one of the loveliest places on this earth, with grey-green olives round him, one weeping above his head’.(7)

In his introduction to Letters from America, Henry James described Brooke as ‘young, happy, radiant, extraordinarily endowed and irresistibly attaching’. Along with the patriotism of his 1914 sonnets, the image of an innocent young poet tragically killed in the course of war prevailed for many years, an image which was carefully maintained by his friends and literary trustees. In reality, Brooke was a more complex character and, though they made him famous, his war poems only account for a small proportion of his work.

– Rachael Marsay


Footnotes

  1. A little research has shed no light on the identity of Mrs G.F. Brooke, though she was presumably a relation of Rupert’s (there are no candidates in his immediate family, all Rupert’s siblings had died unmarried by the date of the deposit). The Archive of Rupert Brooke is held at King’s College, Cambridge.
  2. Paul Delany, Fatal Glamour: The Life of Rupert Brooke (Montreal/Kingston 2015), p.126-127.
  3. See Great Writers Inspire podcast (University of Oxford), ‘Georgians and Others’ by Dr Stuart Lee.
  4. By this time, Brooke had been romantically involved with Noel Olivier, Katherine (‘Ka’) Laird Cox, Phyllis Gardner and the actress Cathleen Nesbitt. An oral history interview of Cathleen Nesbitt, which touches on her relationship with Rupert Brooke, is available on the Imperial War Museum website.
  5. Quoted in ‘Rupert Brooke (3 August 1887-23 April 1915)’ in Patrick Quinn (ed.), British Poets of The Great War: Brooke, Rosenberg, Thomas: A Documentary Volume, Dictionary of Literary Biography vol. 216, Gale, 2000, p. 5-97.
  6. A. Crawford, ‘Cockerell, Douglas Bennett (1870–1945), bookbinder’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004, online).
  7. Rupert Brooke and Edward Howard Marsh, The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke : With a Memoir (1918).

 


Please note that following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are now closed until further notice. Please check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

Archiving web content related to the University of Oxford and the coronavirus pandemic

Since March 2020, the scope of collection development at the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive has expanded to also focus on the coronavirus pandemic: how the University of Oxford, and wider university community have reacted and responded to the rapidly changing global situation and government guidance. The Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive team have endeavoured (and will keep working) to capture, quality assess and make publicly available records from the web relating to Oxford and the coronavirus pandemic. Preserving these ephemeral records is important. Just a few months into what is sure to be a long road, what do these records show?

Firstly, records from the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive can demonstrate how university divisions and departments are continually adjusting in order to facilitate core activities of learning and research. This could be by moving planned events online or organising and hosting new events relevant to the current climate:

Capture of http://pcmlp.socleg.ox.ac.uk/ 24 May 2020 available through the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive. Wayback URL https://wayback.archive-it.org/2502/20200524133907/https://pcmlp.socleg.ox.ac.uk/global-media-policy-seminar-series-victor-pickard-on-media-policy-in-a-time-of-crisis/

Captures of websites also provide an insight to the numerous collaborations of Oxford University with both the UK government and other institutions at this unprecedented time; that is, the role Oxford is playing and how that role is changing and adapting. Much of this can be seen in the ever evolving news pages of departmental websites, especially those within Medical Sciences division, such as the Nuffield Department of Population Health’s collaboration with UK Biobank for the government department of health and social care announced on 17 May 2020.

The web archive preserves records of how certain groups are contributing to coronavirus covid-19 research, front line work and reviewing things at an extremely  fast pace which the curators at Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive can attempt to capture by crawling more frequently. One example of this is the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine’s Oxford Covid-19 Evidence Service – a platform for rapid data analysis and reviews which is currently updated with several articles daily. Comparing two screenshots of different captures of the site, seven weeks apart, show us the different themes of data being reviewed, and particularly how the ‘Most Viewed’ questions change (or indeed, don’t change) over time.

Capture of https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/ 14 April 2020 available through the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive. Wayback URL https://wayback.archive-it.org/org-467/20200414111731/https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/

Interestingly, the page location has slightly changed, the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that the article reviews are now under /oxford-covid-19-evidence-service/, which is still in the web crawler’s scope.

Capture of https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/ 05 June 2020 available through the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive. Wayback url https://wayback.archive-it.org/org-467/20200605100737/https://www.cebm.net/oxford-covid-19-evidence-service/

We welcome recommendations for sites to archive; if you would like to nominate a website for inclusion in the Bodleian Libraries’ Web Archive you can do so here. Meanwhile, the work to capture institutional, departmental and individual responses at this time continues.

Frankenstein Revisited at the Bodleian Libraries

The Abinger Papers (manuscripts of the Shelley and Godwin families, including drafts of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) can undoubtedly be counted among some of the greatest treasures of the Bodleian Libraries and, last year, I was invited by the Bodleian Libraries’ Education Team to take part in three study days bringing the text of Frankenstein to life (as it were).

The Bodleian Libraries held two successful Frankenstein Revisited study days for KS4 and KS5 pupils from local schools in November 2019, building upon the success of three study days originally held in 2018 as part of the bicentenary celebrations of the publication of Frankenstein. Due to popular demand, a further study day was held in January 2020, but in a slightly different format. The study days were funded by the Helen Hamlyn Trust and, in total, 163 students from seven local state schools attended. The format of the days was designed to be varied and tie in with the curriculum for English Literature.

The November study days included two half-hour university style lectures (for the KS5 pupils) and a contemporary theatrical performance (‘The Two-Body Problem’ by Louis Rogers, performed by Martha Skye Murphy) followed by three ‘hands-on’ sessions when the students were split into smaller groups: one with live demonstrations of historical artefacts at the History of Science Museum, one looking at original Shelley-Godwin family manuscripts at the Weston Library, and one textual editing session focussing on the original manuscript of Frankenstein.

The creature comes to life: page from Mary Shelley’s manuscript of Frankenstein, with annotations by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. Abinger c. 56, fol. 21r

I led the half-hour sessions with the original family manuscripts to small groups of students: though this meant running the same session several times back to back, the students all got the opportunity to get close-up to the manuscripts. Once the groups had settled down, I began a roughly chronological journey through the manuscripts charting the life of Mary Shelley: beginning with the last notes from her mother Mary Wollstonecraft to her father William Godwin on the day of her birth, through to the journals chronicling her elopement with Percy Bysshe Shelley and the death of their first child, the manuscript of Frankenstein and finishing with Percy Shelley’s ‘drowned’ notebook.

I tried to get the groups to think about the nature of a manuscript and what they thought were the major differences between a copy of the printed text and the manuscript written by Mary Shelley. I also raised the question of manuscript survival and the memorial nature of many of the items, reverently kept in turn by surviving members of the family. Percy Shelley’s water-damaged notebook also raised questions of the physicality of items: the groups were generally able to surmise what had caused the damage to the notebook and some of the older pupils were able to second-guess before I explained that it was on board Percy’s boat when he died.

Overall, the sessions were successful and we received lots of positive feedback from the students including: ‘Fascinating to see Mary Shelley’s more personal thoughts and the original, unedited tale’. The students wrote that the sessions made them ‘feel more engaged to the text’ and found it ‘amazing to be close to the story so physically’. Perhaps most importantly, it was ‘surreal and completely different to school’.

– Rachael Marsay

More information about items in the Abinger and Shelley collections can be found via Shelley’s Ghost, the Bodleian Libraries’ online exhibition, Digital Bodleian, and also The Bodleian Libraries Podcasts (BODcasts).

A longer version of this blog post was originally published on the Archives for Learning and Education Section of the Archives and Records Association’s blog on 10th April 2020.

Please note that, following guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England, the Bodleian Libraries are closed until further notice. Please check the Bodleian Libraries website and Bodleian Twitter for the latest information.

‘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 

Lost Leader: The Archive of Mick Imlah

The catalogue of the archive of the poet Mick Imlah is now available online.*

Michael Ogilvie Imlah, better known as Mick Imlah, was born with his twin sister on 26th September 1956 in Lewisham Hospital to James and Bathia Imlah. Whilst James and Bathia both originally came from Aberdeen, the Imlah family relocated from Bromley in Kent shortly after the twins’ birth to Milngavie near Glasgow, where Mick attended the local primary school.

After a decade or so, the family moved back to Kent and Mick attended Dulwich College from 1968. Whilst at Dulwich he wrote poems as well as a short stories for the school magazine The Alleynian, one of which was inspired by Kafka. His early notebooks, started around this time, were (like his later ones) full of ideas and drafts for verse alongside copious notes about cricket scores and teams.

Mick went on to read English at Magdalen College, Oxford in 1976 where his tutors included John Fuller and Alan Hollinghurst. At Magdalen, he also indulged his love for sport, playing in both rugby and cricket college teams. After graduating with a first in 1979, Mick embarked upon a DPhil on Arthurian myth in Victorian Poetry; though this was never completed, he held junior lectureships at the college until 1988.

Whilst at Magdalen, Mick continued to write poetry and his first pamphlet of poems, The Zoologist’s Bath and Other Adventures, was printed by Fuller’s Sycamore Press in June 1982. In the title poem, a dramatic monologue, an eccentric Victorian evolutionary theorist is convinced that mankind will return to its origins – the sea – and therefore refuses to get out of the bath, having convinced himself that he is developing a fin. Imlah was a perfectionist and his poems in particular would undergo revision after revision as demonstrated by the multiple notes and drafts of poems in the collection (he later admitted, ‘I revise, much too much’).

In 1983, following in the footsteps of Andrew Motion, Mick became editor of the Poetry Review (a post shared at first with Tracey Warr) until 1986. The same year, Mick resurrected the publication of Oxford Poetry. From 1987 to 1990, Mick took an editorial post at the luxury travel magazine Departures (ironically, having previously never travelled very far).

Birthmarks, Mick’s first main collection of poems, was published in 1988. He left Magdalen for London that same year and became Poetry Editor at Chatto & Windus in 1989, a post he held until 1993. His income was supplemented by writing reviews of fiction, non-fiction, television programmes, and films for the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent on Sunday among others. His reviews were written out long-hand in his neat handwriting, ready for the fax machine.

Mick Imlah’s drafts for the poem ‘Birthmarks’, c.1988, MS. 12919/1. With kind permission of the literary executors of Mick Imlah.

After Birthmarks, poetry took somewhat of a back seat until 1992, when the Times Literary Supplement commissioned Mick to write a poem on the centenary of Tennyson’s death, ‘In Memoriam Alfred Lord Tennyson’. This would go on to become, along with ‘B.V.’ (a poem about the poet James Thomson), the sequence ‘Afterlives of the Poets’ in his final collection of poems.

In 1992 he joined the staff of the Times Literary Supplement and in 1995 succeeded Alan Hollinghurst as Poetry Editor, a post he held until his death. Having generally avoided word processing until now, Mick was finally forced into using a computer for this role.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Mick also worked on biographical entries for The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry (published in 1994); wrote an introduction to Anthony Trollope’s Dr Whortle’s School (1999); co-edited with Robert Crawford The New Penguin Book of Scottish Verse (2000), which also had a profound effect on his own poetry; and published a selection of verse by Alfred Lord Tennyson for Faber and Faber’s ‘Poet to poet’ series (2004). He published a number of new poems in Penguin Modern Poets 3 in 1995 and the Clutag Press printed Diehard in 2006, a taster of poems for his final collection of poems, then still work in progress.

In autumn 2007, Mick was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. His second – and final – collection of poetry, The Lost Leader, which had been at least 10 years in the making, was published in 2008 and won the Forward Prize for best poetry book of the year. Drawing heavily upon his Scottish roots, Mick also paid tribute to his partner and daughters. Mick died in early January 2009, aged 52, and was buried in Ayrshire after a funeral service at Magdalen College.

The archive contains many drafts of verse and prose: much of the material in the archive (especially the notebooks) demonstrate how the different strands of Mick Imlah’s work (poetry, prose, criticism and review) and interests (particularly cricket) were inextricably entwined. Similarly, there is evidence that Imlah’s notes written at college and university were re-used and re-cycled throughout his career.

– Rachael Marsay

A recording of Mick Imlah reading his poem ‘Muck’ (from The Lost Leader), recorded in 2008 as part of the Archipelago Poetry Evening at the Bodleian Library, can be heard as part of The Bodleian Libraries (BODcasts) series.

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

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.

 

The Composer who Defied the BBC

Robert Simpson. ©Robert Simpson Society

Robert Simpson (1921-1997), was an English composer and writer on music and, from 1951 until 1980, a well-respected BBC producer and broadcaster. His pioneering and popular radio programme ‘The Innocent Ear’ ran for many years introducing the British public to music of lesser-known composers. As well as his work for the BBC, he published a distinguished body of music, including 11 symphonies, 15 string quartets and other chamber music. He was a highly regarded composer and was even afforded the unusual honour of having a society founded in his name during his lifetime (https://robertsimpson.org.uk/). As a particular expert on Beethoven, Bruckner and Carl Nielsen, he wrote extensively and illuminatingly on these and other composers.

Robert Simpson’s contract with the BBC, dated 1953 (MS. Simpson 21).

Housed in the Bodleian’s Weston Library in Oxford, the Simpson collection brings together the archive of the Robert Simpson Society and additional material gifted by the late Angela Simpson, the composer’s widow, and others.

A small section of the Robert Simpson archive

Simpson’s original music manuscripts are in the British Library but the Archive in the Bodleian includes photocopies of many of the music manuscripts, often further annotated by the composer himself. The Bodleian archive also contains original correspondence and writings, broadcasting scripts, concert programmes, recordings and more. It has recently been catalogued for Archives Bodleian (https://archives.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/3681#) as part of the ongoing Music Manuscript cataloguing project. All the archival material quoted in this post can be found in a box bearing the shelfmark MS. Simpson 21.

It reveals that the 1980s were a trying time for Simpson. His disagreements with the BBC, particularly over the Proms, eventually resulted in his resignation, and his passionate hatred for the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher led him to move to the Republic of Ireland in 1986.

In 1980, tensions between various musicians, music producers and the BBC came to a head due to severe cuts in funding, which threatened the loss of a third of the BBC’s musicians and the scrapping of five of its orchestras. In fact, a strike by the orchestras caused the cancellation of 20 Proms concerts that year. Despite this, the BBC were not planning to showcase less music but to increase its output of records and foreign tapes. The Musicians’ Union stated that ‘over 60% of B.B.C. radio output consists of music but less than 5% of radio expenditure is on staff orchestras’ (such leaflets can be seen below), claiming that the BBC had therefore broken its agreement with the Union.

Material documenting the musicians’ dispute with the BBC (MS. Simpson 21)

Robert Simpson disapproved greatly of the BBC’s decision on this issue, believing Britain’s cultural integrity to be at risk. It also becomes clear from the papers in MS. Simpson 21 that the composer, always forthright in his views, was rather irritated by the BBC and those who defended it.

In a letter to Robert Ponsonby, Director of the Proms from 1974 to 1986 and Controller of Radio 3 (who died last year at the age of 92), Simpson scathingly wrote, ‘Your public support of them wins no respect…’. Regarding other people in the music profession who had written to the press in defence of a dwindling cultural life, Simpson declared, ‘I wish I could follow their example, and it is contractual duress not false loyalty that prevents me from doing so’ (12 March 1980). However, just four months later Simpson would rebel against this ‘contractual duress’.

After The Times had jumped the gun and falsely reported Simpson’s resignation on 11 July, Simpson retaliated with a response that the BBC had persuaded him to delay his resignation due to the fragile negotiations with the Musicians’ Union and their wish to avoid negative publicity. However, after the hearsay over Simpson’s relationship with the BBC he brought his resignation forward, just months away from retirement, which would have enabled him to claim a full pension.

In his letter to the editor published in The Times on 18 July 1980 he states ‘I have resigned from the BBC, for reasons wider and deeper than the current argument over the orchestras, which is only the symptom of a larger problem.’ Simpson argues that, ‘When I first joined the Corporation nearly 30 years ago it was a wonderful and promising place to be at, with the Third Programme at the height of its achievement… Since the BBC’s capitulation to the urge to compete on the lowest level with commercial broadcasting values have degenerated.’

Simpson ends this letter with a harsh testimonial: ‘I can no longer work for the BBC without a profound sense of betrayal of most of the values I and many others believe in… It is now necessary for me to be able to say what I wish to whom I wish when I wish, without the shackles imposed by that all too sinister phrase “corporate loyalty”. This is why I have resigned’.

Simpson immediately began to receive overwhelmingly supportive responses from fellow composers, musicians and admirers. Many key phrases such as, ‘courage’, ‘marvellous letter’, ‘what you said certainly needed saying’, and ‘thank you’ jump out from this correspondence, showing how much opposition there was to the BBC’s attitude and its decisions at the time.

A small selection of the responses, all dated 19-20 July 1980
One such letter, dated 19 July 1980, begins with ‘I read your letter… with some sadness as I have obtained great pleasure for many projects with which you have been associated as producer, but also with a feeling of reassurance that there are still people who are prepared to act according to their professed principles… am grateful for your example.’
After his resignation Simpson remained a vocal critic of the BBC and campaigned for music funding. He also continued his career as a composer, completing several further works. With time tensions with the BBC subsided slightly, and his compositions were once again played on BBC stations, although perhaps not as often as they deserve.

Robert Simpson suffered a debilitating stroke in 1991 which all but ended his composing career. He died in 1997, aged 76. The Robert Simpson Society continues today. 2021 marks the centenary of Simpson’s birth so do look out for performances of his music next year. It’s well worth getting to know!

Jen Patterson, Archives & Modern Manuscripts
Martin Holmes, Alfred Brendel Curator of Music, Bodleian Libraries,
and Robert Simpson Society Archivist