Category Archives: Modern

Oxford and the Birth of Reading University

The origins of Reading University have been described as being that of a “University of Oxford extension college”. However, to really understand what this means and the nature of the relationship between the two institutions, it’s necessary to first understand Oxford’s push towards “University Extension” in the 1800s, what that term signifies, and the motivating ethos behind it.

The idea of “University extension” was essentially to make a University-level education more affordable and accessible to a greater number of people. The idea first started to gain traction in Oxford in the first half of the nineteenth century, when both the Low and High-Church parties within the University became interested in opening up the University to potential clergymen from poorer backgrounds. The debates about how best to increase access to University-level education rumbled on throughout the century, until they culminated in a meeting, held in Oriel College in 1865 to “consider the question of the Extension of the University”. Many of the resulting sub-committees looked at options for Oxford itself (such as new colleges or permitting non-collegiate students). However, some of the sub-committees investigated how to provide such an education “outside the walls” of Oxford, responding to a national swell in demand from the country’s growing towns and cities. Although difficult to imagine now, Oxford was one of only nine universities in the UK in 1860.

The result of these investigations came in 1878, with the formation of a Standing Committee of the Delegacy for Local Examinations to provide “lectures and teaching in the large towns of England and Wales” (reconstituted as a separate Delegacy, the Delegacy for the Extension of Teaching Beyond the limits of the University, in 1892). The aim of this committee was not to create outposts of Oxford across the country, but an outreach programme, encouraging the growth of local centres managed locally, which would provide high-quality educational opportunities.

Extract from Extension Lectures: Lecturers’ and Examiners’ Reports. 1885-1939

Extract from Extension Lectures: Lecturers’ and Examiners’ Reports. 1885-1939 showing the first class held by the Delegacy at Reading (OUA/CE 3/28/1)

Reading was one of the earliest such Extension Centres, starting life in 1885. The first lectures, held in the evenings and aimed at a mature audience, focused primarily on English Literature. Looking at other such initiatives in the Reading area, it’s unsurprising that the Delegacy’s work began so early in Reading. There was a clear thirst for adult education in the town. Classes in “the Arts” (which we’d now refer to as the Humanities), run by the Science and Art Department (a subdivision of the Government’s Board of Trade) had been operating from West Street, Reading, since 1860.

Yet, the idea of building to house these lectures, and provide a focus for adult education in the town came not from the Government, nor from Oxford. Instead, Walter Palmer, a local biscuit manufacturer and President of the Reading University Extension Association in 1891, made the suggestion. This local initiative clearly demonstrated the town’s commitment to the cause, and the academics in Oxford involved with the delegacy were keen to support the scheme. After a little “behind the scenes” campaigning, Christ Church College (home to many of those involved with the Extension Delegacy) wrote to the Reading Association, offering the services of H J Mackinder (an academic at Christ Church, specialising in Geography) “with a view to giving system and completeness” to the work of the Reading University Extension Centre and “for the advancement, the co-ordination and the deepening of study.” The offer was unanimously accepted in Reading, and when the doors of “The University Extension College in conjunction with the Schools of Science and Art, Reading” was opened for the first time in September 1892, Mackinder was its principal.

Photograph of the first site of the University Extension College – rooms and the vicarage on Valpy Street

Photograph of the first site of the University Extension College – rooms and the vicarage on Valpy Street “bounded on the south by the churchyard of St Lawrence”. Image courtesy of University of Reading, Special Collections, (MS 5305)

In its first year alone, the College had 658 students. No students were full-time, but instead classes were arranged to accommodate the needs of the working populace of the town, being hosted in the evenings or on Saturdays. The space afforded to the classes allowed them to increase in range. The Oxford Delegacy and the Government Science and Art department continued to offer a variety of courses such as chemistry, biology electricity, mathematics, and art but these were supplemented with more overtly practical and vocational courses, such as Pitman’s Speed Certificates in typing and classes in machine drawing and wood carving. This variety reflected Reading’s aim to design a curriculum that would “fuse university training (producing thinkers) with technical training (producing the adept).”

This successful novel approach from Reading, of bringing together different locally run initiatives within a central hub, fast attracted other participants. For example, by 1893, the College offered training approved by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. However, a core issue remained in that, under the legislation of the time, as a local college, Reading had little power to issue its own qualifications. Thus, when Reading made its biggest gain to date – a new department of agriculture, supported by the surrounding County Councils and the Board of Agriculture – it was unable to offer an accompanying recognised qualification.

It was in such cases, as well as running extension classes, that Oxford could provide direct and meaningful support to the College, by offering oversight and university-backing, leading to recognised qualifications. Although the University, at that time, did not offer its own degrees or diplomas in Agriculture, there were those in Oxford with expertise in this area, such as the holders of the Sibthorpian Chair of Rural Economy. Thus, Mackinder was able to advocate for Oxford’s backing of the Agricultural Diplomas issued by Reading, reporting to the Extension Delegacy in 1894 that the Reading College Council would “much prefer this University as Examining Authority, to any other body”. His arguments clearly resonated, as later that year Oxford’s Convocation (the University’s body of MAs and higher degree holders) passed a decree, authorising the issuing of Agricultural Diplomas at Reading by a Joint Committee, made up of representatives of the Oxford University Extension Delegacy and the Reading College Council. These were to be Reading’s first full-time students.

Sketch of the British Dairy Institute, as it opened its new building in Valpy Street

Sketch of the British Dairy Institute, as it opened its new building in Valpy Street, following its move from Aylesbury to Reading in 1893-1894. Image courtesy of University of Reading, Special Collections, (MS 5305)

Again, Reading’s innovation provided a template for further success, as in 1895, the British Dairy Farmers Association agreed to move the Dairy Institute to Reading. This was placed under the aegis of a different Joint Committee – this one made up of representatives of the British Dairy Farmers Association and the Reading University Extension College.
This collaborative relationship continued to operate well for a period of time. Oxford clearly recognised contributions of key individuals in Reading, for example, by conferring the Honorary Degree of MA on Herbert Sutton, Chairman of the Reading College Council. It also demonstrated its understanding of the educational achievements offered by Reading when, in 1899, Convocation voted to grant Reading College “affiliate status”. This status, offered to select universities and colleges in the UK and around the world, gave special privileges to alumni of these institutions when they came to Oxford, recognising that their prior academic achievements could exempt them from certain Oxford requirements (such as first year examinations and so forth).

However, there was evidence of growing tension between the two institutions from the late 1890s onwards. It became clear that were those in Oxford who were resistant to the developing interconnection. In 1898, again at the instigation of Mackinder and the Extension Delegacy, Hebdomadal Council (the “cabinet” of the University) proposed the introduction of an honour school of Agricultural Science. Crucially, this degree course would be open to students at Reading, Reading would provide some of the teaching, and Reading would have a say in the curriculum. However, certain individuals within the University campaigned against the involvement of “foreign bodies” in the core business of the University, and this proposal was rejected in Congregation by 47 votes to 45.

Extract from Reports by H. J. Mackinder on the progress of the University Extension College, Reading

Extract from Reports by H. J. Mackinder on the progress of the University Extension College, Reading; 1895-6, 1896-7, 1897-8, 1898-9. Courtesy of Christ Church Archives (GB xvii.c.1)

There was, likewise, a growing sense of frustration and of being constrained in Reading, as Oxford degrees were not open to Reading students, largely owing to Oxford’s requirements that all students were to live within a mile and a half of Carfax Tower. WM Childs (a tutor, then Vice-Principal (1900), then Principal (1903) of Reading) wrote “Oxford had always been kind to us; she had helped us, and was still helping us… But her rules of residence, the corner-stone of her system, debarred her from admitting to degrees students attached to a university college twenty-six miles from Carfax”. As such, the only degree courses open to Reading students were those offered by London University, who offered an external degree system to colleges across the country. However, the syllabus and examinations set for these were entirely governed by London, and Reading resented these confines.

Even the pre-existing collaborative work between Oxford and Reading became the subject of scrutiny. From 1900 the Extension Delegacy had worked with Reading to issue the Reading “Associateship Diploma in Letters or Science”. The Diploma was the result of an extensive period of study – requiring students to attend no fewer than 72 lectures and classes in Science subjects, or 24 lectures and classes in Arts subjects, and pass final examinations in each subject. The examiners were a joint board made up of external examiners from Oxford Delegacy and internal examiners from Reading. Once having obtained a diploma, students could attend a ceremony (akin to a degree ceremony) at Reading, and thus become Associates of the College. The diploma was particularly popular with students at Reading training to be teachers, as the examinations could be counted towards their qualification by the Department of Education. However, in 1905, Reading received correspondence from the Government Board of Education stating that, following their review of teacher training regulations, they would no longer accept the Diploma examinations in lieu of standard teacher training examinations. The crux of the issue appears to have been that the Board of Education saw the diplomas as being issued by the Delegacy and not by the University. Childs appealed to the University’s Hebdomadal Council, writing that “no examination conducted by the Delegacy can meet the present difficulty… the only course which can relieve us of our present difficulties, and satisfy the Board of Education, is that an Examining Board of the University should be appointed”. Thus, in May 1905, Oxford University’s Convocation had to issue a decree clarifying that this was an examination done in partnership with the University (as opposed to solely by the Delegacy) and that the syllabuses were to be approved by Convocation.

Extract from Extension Lectures examination papers 1900-1901

Extract from Extension Lectures examination papers 1900-1901 showing the special papers set by the Delegacy for the Reading Diplomas (OUA/CE 3/26/10)

These areas of tension occurred simultaneously with a period of growth at Reading. The College had relocated to a new site on London Road, donated by Alfred Palmer, which would allow for expansion. Construction on the College buildings began early in 1905. As a growing, mature, and successful institution, being fettered by requirements for external interference in both syllabuses and examinations must have been increasingly irksome, and it is clear that Reading began to plan for long-term independence. Some of the changes made to establish Reading as an institution that could operate independently were directly drawn from the Oxford pattern – a tutorial secretary was appointed, a tutorial scheme for teaching students was introduced, internal examinations (called “collections”) were scheduled, as were termly meetings between individual students and the college principal. When Childs succeeded Mackinder as principal of the college in 1903 (thus removing one of the strongest ties between Oxford and Reading), plans for Reading to obtain its own University Charter gathered pace.

Letter from the Registrar of Reading College, to the Dean of Christ Church College

17 November 1903 – Letter from F. H. Wright (Registrar of Reading College) to T. B. Strong (Dean of Christ Church College). Courtesy of Christ Church Archives (GB xvii.c.1).

The letter pictured above is from the Registrar of Reading College, to the Dean of Christ Church College, following Childs’ appointment as Principal of Reading. The first Principal, Mackinder, had been a member of Christ Church, but Childs was not. Thus, Childs’ appointment reflects one of the many examples of Reading’s increasing independence in this period.

Childs wrote “The College had now passed beyond the stage permitting direction from Oxford. That arrangement no longer enabled the Principal to discharge his responsibilities comfortably to himself, or to others” and that if Reading were to become a University “we should be released from the fetters of external examinations, and we should be empowered to shape our own curriculum”.

Preparation for University status, nevertheless, took some time to come to fulfilment. The College had to ensure it had sufficient accommodation for both sexes. In 1905 the College opened St George’s Hostel for female students and in 1908 it opened its new accommodation hall for men (Wantage Hall), which could accommodate 76 students.

An undated photograph of Wantage Hall

An undated photograph of Wantage Hall, modelled on the traditional college quadrangle arrangement. Image courtesy of University of Reading, Special Collections, (MS 5305)

The College also began to focus on the make-up of the student body in preparation for University status, by giving preference in admission to students reading for degrees (offered via the University of London) or those taking other higher courses of study. In 1909, it reorganised its governance constitution to enable members of the Academic Board of the College to be better represented on the Council of the College, and thus more closely resemble the constitution of other universities. However, one of the key issues to resolve was that of funding, and for that, Childs turned to local supporters. To set out his case, and garner support, he published a pamphlet called Statement of the Case for University Independence in January 1920. The pamphlet enumerated the objections of the College to continued “subjection to disabilities born of accident” making clear Reading’s lack of control over the subjects it taught: “A university is one thing; a college is another. A university, for example, grants degrees and controls the curriculum and examinations leading to those degrees. A college can do neither…” Childs’ arguments were clearly met by a receptive audience, and over the next five years, sufficient funds were accumulated to sufficiently endow a new University, with a notable donation by George William Palmer, grandson to the man who had first suggested a college at Reading in 1891. On the 17 March 1926, Reading received its Royal Charter as a University.

Following the award of the charter, Childs published another pamphlet, titled The New University of Reading: Some Ideas for Which it Stands. The pamphlet concludes “And my readers will understand why I mentioned with particular gratitude the kind letters we have received from the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and from the Dean of Christ Church; for to Christ Church and to Oxford we are proud to be able to trace the original impulse of our own foundation”. Whilst Childs’ acknowledgement is perhaps fair, in that the work of the Oxford Extension Delegacy may have provided an impulse, it is clear from Reading’s history that the sustained work and innovative initiatives that led to Reading’s success really came from the local area. Perhaps a more telling acknowledgement of Reading’s achievements and the “direction” of the debt owed can be found in a form of words that appear in the minutes of the Oxford Extension Delegacy when discussing the development of another centre “suggests the consideration of… the method adopted in the case of Reading”.

With thanks to our colleagues in the Special Collections Service at the University of Reading, especially Sharon Maxwell and Guy Baxter, for their assistance and insight.

Further Sources
Childs, W. M. Making a University : An Account of the University Movement at Reading. London: J. M. Dent, 1933.
Childs, W. M. The New University of Reading : Some Ideas for Which It Stands. Reading, 1926.
Goldman, Lawrence. Dons and Workers: Oxford and Adult Education since 1850. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995.
University College, Reading. Statement of the Case for University Independence. 1920.

The records of the Delegacy for the Extension of Teaching Beyond the limits of the University are held by the Oxford University Archives, as part of the records of the Department for Continuing Education. Please contact enquiries@oua.ox.ac.uk for more information.

If you are interested in researching particular individuals who attended Reading in its early days, Reading Special Collections holds the following sources. Please contact specialcollections@reading.ac.uk for more information:

Annual reports and accounts … / University College, Reading.
Holdings: 1892/3-1900/1 – 1924/25.
Journal
Format: Print journals

Calendar and general directory / University Extension College, Reading.
Holdings: 1892/3 – 1897/8.
Journal
Format: Print journals

Calendar / University College, Reading.
Holdings: 1902/3 – 1925/6.
Journal

New catalogue: Archive of John Hungerford Pollen and the Pollen family

The archive of John Hungerford Pollen and the Pollen family has now been fully catalogued and made available to readers. The catalogue is available to view online via Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts.

The collection contains a wide range of correspondence, including letters sent between John Hungerford Pollen and John Henry Newman. While most of these letters relate to the creation of Newman’s University Church in Dublin, they also bear testament to a lifelong friendship. Other notable correspondents in the collection include Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Evelyn Waugh, and the poet and artist David Jones.

The archive also contains many visual pieces such as numerous sketchbooks belonging to John Hungerford Pollen and various photographs, including a portrait of John Hungerford Pollen by the renowned early photographer Julia Margaret Cameron as well as family photographs of home life at Newbuildings.

Photograph of the Pollen Family (John and Maria Hungerford Pollen with their ten children)Photograph of the family of John Hungerford Pollen (with beard, standing centre), unknown photographer, Archive of John Hungerford Pollen and the Pollen Family, Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 17906 Photogr. 3.

Personal records in the collection include: an account by John Hungerford Pollen’s wife Maria of the aid she and her daughter Margaret gave to Italian police to recover some stolen Burano lace; a transcript of the diary of Anne Pollen between 1870 and 1881 detailing her life prior to becoming a nun at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton; and the wartime diaries kept by her sister Margaret between 1914 and 1919.

More information on the collection and Pollen family can be found in a series of blogposts posted in November 2020 to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen’s birth.

-Rachael Marsay

Photographic material in the Zoology Archive: H.N. Moseley, the Challenger Expedition and early panoramas, 1872-1876

The Zoology Archive is a collection of research, lecture and laboratory notes, illustrations and papers from Oxford Zoologists and the Department of Zoology, dating from the late 19th century to the 1990s. One of the eminent Oxford Zoologists whose papers are included in the archive is the naturalist Henry Nottidge Moseley (1844-1891). Moseley, with much experience in research and laboratory work abroad, had in 1871 accompanied the English Government Eclipse Expedition to undertake observation of the total eclipse from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India on 12 December 1871. Although Moseley’s papers contain some photographs of this journey, including the equipment and expedition staff in-situ at the observation station in Baikur, India [1], it is the collected photographs of the four year Challenger Expedition voyage which predominate in his photographic albums.

H.M.S Challenger embarked December 1872 to conduct global oceanic research; the expedition  is seen as the foundation of modern oceanography. Five years after returning to England’s shores in May 1876, Moseley would succeed George Rolleston as the Linacre Professor of the Department of Human and Comparative Anatomy (now, Zoology). These photographic albums comprise copies from the glass plates selected for Moseley’s collections and feature Moseley’s contemporary captions alongside the photographs. An entire list of photographs and holding collection information for Challenger Expedition photographs can be found in Brunton, E.V.  (1994) ‘The Challenger Expedition, 1872-1876: A Visual Index.’ The Natural History Museum, London. [2]

[3] ZOO MA 200 (Challenger 2) Panorama of Kyoto, Japan. [1872-1876].

[4] ZOO MA 207 (Challenger 10) pp.12-13. Two panoramas of the harbour in Bahia, Brazil, c.1873.

The first panoramic camera was not invented until 1898, so for those interested in capturing overviews of an entire landscape, like Moseley, it was a case of manually arranging photographic plates of two landscapes together to create the perspective of a panorama. The content of the photographs collected by Moseley also shed light on how the natural history of his environment piqued his interests. Moseley, appointed expedition botanist, was said to always be the last one to return from shore to ship, such was his zeal for the natural history and landscapes in their location [5].

[6] ZOO MA 204 (Challenger 8) Panorama of Levuka, Ovalau Island, former capital of Fiji until 1877. There is a tangible line where the plates (and then, prints) have been joined together to create an unbroken panoramic effect. [1872-1876]

As well as early photography, modern photographs relating to Oxford and Zoology in the archive include Zoology department photographs, 1960s, and photographs of the opening of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund [ICRF] Laboratory, 1987.

Retro-conversion work is currently being undertaken on the Zoology Archive, including enhancement of file and collection level cataloguing descriptions, re-housing and a publication of a new online catalogue to be made available in the coming months of 2022.

  1. Bodleian Libraries, ZOO MA 199 (Challenger 3)
  2. Department of Zoology archive copy available at ZOO MA 198b
  3. Bodleian Libraries, ZOO 200 (Challenger 2)
  4. Bodleian Libraries ZOO MA 207 (Challenger 10) pp. 12-13
  5. Moseley, H.N. entry in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19389
  6. Bodleian Libraries, ZOO MA 204 (Challenger 8)

Second cataloguing project of the Philip and Rosamund Davies U.S. Elections Campaigns Archive

The Vere Harmsworth Library houses the Philip and Rosamund Davies United States Elections Campaigns Archive, collected and donated since 2002. I am halfway through the exciting project of processing the accessions donated between 2011 and 2021. Tasks include sorting, listing, rehousing material and recording box level metadata which will eventually form a full updated version of the current archive catalogue, presently available at Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts.

To overestimate the depth and breadth of the archive collection would be near impossible: the material, ephemeral in nature, covers all levels of elections from grassroots and interest groups and political parties, to Presidential. Formats currently being catalogued in the archive include printed literature, posters, audio visual material, buttons and objects such as items of clothing, mouse mats, flip-flops, socks, emery boards, calendars and dolls. The origin of the material is also wide ranging, including state and national party conventions, circular mail, caucus events and rallies. The campaign material allows researchers and those with an interest in American politics, history and culture to observe variations in the approach and style of political campaigns, and the shifting priorities of the electorate of the United States.

Literature including pamphlets and flyers disseminated during the state of Utah midterms and local elections, 2018, including leaflets related to Prop 3 [Proposition 3 on the expansion of medicare]. Material from MSS. 21407 uncat.

Fascinating finds in this second cataloguing project include insights into movements which exerted social and political influence over a period of time such as the Women’s Temperance Movement, established 1874, and nuclear disarmament movements such as Freeze Nuclear Weapons campaign for the 1984 elections. A more recent example is material relating to Rock the Vote.  Founded in 1990, Rock the Vote is a non-profit and non-partisan organisation aimed at empowering young, new voters to register and use their right to vote. The 2012 material relating to Rock the Vote comprises snappy and digestible literature such as stickers, postcards and leaflets disseminated, as well as a Democracy Lesson plan which forms part of RTV’s established high school civic education programme and guidance for teachers.

Rock The Vote material, MSS. 21400 uncat.

I have also been rehousing much of the collection as I sort and list, whether that be measuring for oversize kasemake boxes to store large campaign posters and window or yard signs, or deciding how best to house the many campaign buttons (there is a deluge of campaign buttons in the material!).

A box of buttons a day keeps the archivist at play. Featuring a reworked Rosie the Riveter for the successful Bill Clinton- Al Gore 1992 Presidential campaign (Al Gore was Clinton’s running mate and VP candidate). Material from MSS. 21395 uncat.

Watch this space for more tasters of more U.S. election campaign material being catalogued in the next couple of months!

Her Majesty’s stationery

When I came across a large tranche of letters from Queen Victoria to one of 19th-century Britain’s longtime Foreign Secretaries, George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon (in office 1853-58, 1865-66, 1868-70), I didn’t expect to find one of the most striking things about them to be the queen’s writing paper.

Queen Victoria wrote hundreds of letters to George Villiers over a span of 21 years, mainly about foreign policy matters, but while these letters have been partially published (in a 1907 edition which you can find in the Bodleian Libraries and digitised at Project Gutenberg) what those published transcripts don’t convey is the festive, even gaudy, quality of the queen’s headed writing paper.

Continue reading

An introduction to the Collecting COVID project

Luke Jerram’s glass sculpture of a nanoparticle of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, courtesy of the History of Science Museum.

On 4th January 2021 the NHS became the first health service in the world to roll out the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. The first person to receive a dose was 82-year-old Oxford resident Brian Pinker, who had travelled to Oxford University Hospital to receive the jab at 7:30am. This milestone event exactly one year ago today was the result of a year’s intensive work to develop a vaccine by a small team led by Professor Sarah Gilbert at the University’s Jenner Institute. As of November, over 2 billion doses of the vaccine have been released for supply to more than 170 countries, with a 3 billion target set by AstraZeneca for the end of 2021.

The project

Collecting COVID is an exciting two-year collaborative project (funded by the E P A Cephalosporin Fund) between the Bodleian Libraries and History of Science Museum. The project aims to capture the extraordinary story of the University’s COVID-19 research response and to preserve and share it with future generations.

We are inviting members of the University who have been involved in shaping this response to contribute material to a contemporary collection that will inform research on the current pandemic and aid preparation for any potential future global health emergencies.

What are we looking for?

We are keen to hear from anyone at the University who can identify any of the following for the collection…

Objects from individuals and teams across the University such as:

  • Equipment relating to COVID-19 research and clinical practice including testing, vaccination and treatment
  • Personal items, photos, artwork or ephemera relating to the impact of COVID-19 on the work and personal lives of staff

Personal digital or physical records of individuals and teams who were involved in developing the University response to COVID-19 (e.g., academic and clinical research or social policy recommendations):

  • Correspondence
  • Diaries (current and retrospective)
  • Laboratory and research notebooks
  • Working papers
  • Draft and unpublished articles
  • Photographs and videos

Websites, blogs, or Twitter feeds, which help to develop the narrative behind the University’s efforts during the pandemic can be nominated for archiving in the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive.

Personal testimonies and recollections of daily life during the pandemic from those who were directly involved in the University’s response to it (which could be in the form of a short memoir or account of experiences).

What happens next?

Once objects or records have been identified (either by submission or through direct contact by the team), we will set up a meeting to discuss the donation to ascertain its suitability for inclusion in the collection. We will then arrange a visit to survey the material before it is transferred to either the library or museum. Once on-site the material will be appraised, accessioned, catalogued and eventually made available for research and public engagement activities.

We are extremely keen to speak with individuals and teams who would like to contribute to the collection, or may be able to help us to identify important material at risk of loss. General enquiries and submissions can be sent to Michaela Garland (Project Archivist) and Tina Eyre (Project Curator) at collectingcovid@glam.ox.ac.uk

New Conservative Party Archive releases for 2022

Letter Books of David Cameron during his years as head of the Political Section of the Conservative Research Department (CRD), opinion research collected on the strengths and weaknesses of John Major as new leader of the Party, monitoring of opposition parties, including of Militant Labour MP Terry Fields, and an insight into the post and telephone calls received by the Correspondence Section of CRD, are among newly-available Conservative Party Archive files released by the Bodleian under the thirty-year-rule.

Following on from recent years, a large proportion of our new releases are from our collections of CRD files, including subject briefings, letter books of desk officers and subject specialists, and CRD files covering topics such as environmental policy, opinion research, opposition monitoring, and local and by-election preparations. Alongside these CRD files we will also be releasing papers, correspondence and memoranda from the Local Government Department of Conservative Central Office (CCO), Conservatives in the European Parliament, and the Conservative International Office, amongst other material.

This blog post will explore a number of highlights of the newly-released material, demonstrating their value for researchers and historians interested in the Conservative Party and/or British political history in general.

David Cameron’s Letter Books, 1990-1991

The first highlight of this year’s new releases are a number of David Cameron’s letter books from his time as head of the Political Section of CRD, a position he held between 1989 and 1992. Cameron was responsible for monitoring the policies and activities of other political parties, as well as assisting Central Office with the preparation of speaking campaigns, party political and other broadcasts. These letter books therefore give a fascinating insight into the early political career of the former Prime Minister, while also providing details on the Party’s process for monitoring opposition parties and preparing speeches for important figures. This first image shows a couple of examples of memoranda prepared by Cameron in early 1991, illustrating his important role in election planning in the lead up to the 1992 General Election. They reveal some of the key aspects of preparing intelligence on opposition parties, including creating profiles on opposition candidates and monitoring their media statements.

Memoranda written by David Cameron for CRD, planning the monitoring of opposition parties in the run up to the 1992 General Election – CPA CRD/L/5/6/6.

Cameron’s letter books (see files CRD/L/5/6/1-11) include a large quantity of similar files, as well as correspondence with other CRD members, speeches and press releases he prepared for various members of the Party, including the Chairman and Deputy Chairman, and papers and briefings attacking the Labour Party. These should prove a useful resource for researchers, giving detailed examples of the inside workings of the Research Department in the lead up to a general election, and the processes involved in dealing with the opposition. Another example of the items included in these letter books is this handwritten note providing feedback on a series of leaflets created for local government elections in 1990, Cameron advising that the leaflets should ‘remind people that Labour opposed our reforms’, especially as ‘those reforms have proved popular!’, referring to various changes in council services, education, and the NHS.

Note from David Cameron to David Trowbridge (Head of the Local Government Department of CCO), giving feedback on a series of leaflets being prepared for local government elections – CPA CRD/L/5/6/6.

Opposition Monitoring, 1983-1991

In addition to Cameron’s monitoring of other political parties within his role at CRD, this year’s releases contain a range of other files relating to opposition monitoring, particularly of the Labour Party. As noted above, profiles were created of opposition MPs, media regularly trawled through, and opposition speeches and public meetings attended, in order to provide the Conservative Party with crucial information and ammunition. Here is an example of one of many booklets and briefings created by the Research Department which sought to undermine the promises of the Labour Party, highlighting clearly the areas where the voting record of Labour MPs had clashed with their claims.

‘What they claim…and how they voted’ booklet created by CRD to highlight the false promises of the Labour Party – CPA CRD/5/11/1/8.

Alongside the large number of files providing an insight into this opposition monitoring of the Labour Party, we have a particularly notable newly available file which focuses entirely on one MP, Terry Fields. Since CRD’s creation in 1929, few, if any, other Opposition MPs have warranted their own file being kept on them, but due to his membership of Militant, a Trotskyist group in the British Labour Party which came to the fore in 1982 when the Labour-led Liverpool City Council adopted Militant policies, Fields was the exception. As part of this group, Fields, who was Labour MP for Liverpool Broadgreen from 1983 to 1992, was closely monitored until 1991 when he was jailed for refusing to pay his Poll Tax bill and shortly afterwards expelled from the Labour Party by Neil Kinnock. Within this file, CRD/4/16/27, the Research Department kept copies of his regular press-releases, extracts from Hansard containing his contributions in Parliament, and cuttings from newspapers of all leanings, including Militant.

Article from the Daily Telegraph on 3 May 1988 about the involvement of Terry Fields in a strike of school children against the Social Services Bill – CPA CRD/4/16/27.

Post and telephone calls received by the Party, 1988-1991

A significant part of the work of CRD desk officers was receiving and responding to correspondence from the general public in response to Party policies, news headlines, or requesting answers to a whole range of questions. Amongst the newly released material for 2022 are many files illustrating the types of correspondence frequently received and the topics which most interested the general public during the late 1980s and early 1990s. 1991 was John Major’s first full year as Prime Minister, during which he announced the abolition of the deeply unpopular Community Charge, entered British troops into the Gulf War, and sought to fight off the long-lasting recession, all themes which feature in these files. A couple of files in particular, CRD/D/10/3/6 and CRD/L/5/11/1, provide good summaries of the post and telephone calls received by the Correspondence Section of CRD, the two examples below demonstrating the degree of public response to various key issues of the time, including Thatcher’s resignation, the Community Charge, Edwina Currie’s resignation over the Salmonella controversy, and low pension levels.

Summary of post received by the Political Office at the end of 1988 and beginning of 1989 – CPA CRD/D/10/3/6.

Summary of phone calls received by the Correspondence Section of CRD on 21 November 1990, the day before Thatcher announced her resignation – CPA CRD/L/5/11/1.

Opinion Research, 1990-1991

A final important part of the operations of CRD was gathering information on the opinion of the public, especially when it came to important policy issues and opinion of party leaders. The latter seems to have been particularly important in 1991 as the Party sought to understand and promote their new leader after Thatcher’s eleven and a half years in office. In order to accurately understand how the general public viewed Major, particularly in comparison to the leader of the opposition, in March 1991 CCO commissioned the Harris Research Centre to undertake qualitative research to ‘examine the relative strengths and weaknesses of Mr Major and Mr Kinnock, mainly in terms of their style and personality, amongst weak Conservative voters’. The leaders were compared against a range of personality characteristics, including ‘likeable’, ‘confident’, ‘statesmanlike’ and ‘waffly’, with qualitative responses also recorded. This image shows a summary of Major’s positive characteristics which were mentioned during the survey, for instance describing him as ‘quietly powerful’ and ‘genuine’, giving the Party a good sense of public opinion and a strong position from which to promote certain characteristics and downplay others.

Results of the Harris Research Centre’s research into the personalities and styles of Major and Kinnock – CPA CRD/5/10/4.

All the material featured in this blog post will be made available from 1 Jan 2022. See the full list of de-restricted items here:        http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/archivesandmanuscripts/wp-content/uploads/sites/161/2021/12/Files-de-restricted-on-2022-01-01.pdf

A lot of pun? An early nineteenth-century book of conundrums

There are many different traditions associated with this time of year, not least the pulling of crackers on Christmas Day. And what cracker would be complete without a terrible joke?

A recent donation to the Bodleian Library included this manuscript volume, described in pencil on the inner flyleaf as containing ‘162 conundrums’ and dated as c.1814-1820. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, a conundrum is: A question asked for amusement, typically one with a pun in its answer; a riddle; a confusing and difficult problem or question.

Marbled front cover of a nineteenth century notebook

Early nineteenth-century book of conundrums, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21625

This volume contains 162 questions or riddles, undoubtedly collected for amusement’s sake. The questions or riddles are written in several different hands which suggest the volume was passed round family and friends to add their own. The questions are numbered and listed at the front of the volume, and the answers are provided in a numbered list at the back of the volume. Unfortunately, there is no clue as to the identity of any of the contributors apart from a label on the front pasteboard which suggests that the notebook was bought from Martin Keene’s book and stationery shop in College Green, Dublin.

Inside of volume showing page of conundrums

Manuscript book of conundrums, showing questions 92-98, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21625

List of answers inside manuscript book of conundrums

Manuscript book of conundrums, showing answers 40-104, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21625

Here is a selection:

Why is a drawn tooth like a thing forgotten? Because it is out of the Head.

Why is a spectator like a beehive? Because he is a beholder.

What is the Elegy of a Turkey? Its Leg.

Why are the bucks and does in Windsor forest like the Queen? The King’s own deer.

Reading through the conundrums, it is somewhat reassuring to find that the tradition of sharing terrible puns is many centuries old! I wonder if this particular volume was ever passed around the family at Christmastime?


Mystery items in the Clarendon archive

Did we just find Victorian condoms in the Clarendon archive?

Emptying out a leather wallet found with a box of mainly 1850s letters sent to the 4th Earl of Clarendon, I came across a few stray items: a bad sketch of a woman called Josephine, a scrap of newspaper [*see an important update at the end!], and some folded tissue. It’s not unusual to find scrumpled bits of tissue paper in archives, and sometimes that tissue is wrapping something precious, so it’s always worth investigating.

This tissue struck me as unusual, however – what caught my eye was the shaped and curved edge, and the tiny hint of ribbon. Was this a folded glove, perhaps?

Tubes of yellowed paper or parchment or tissue with ties of narrow blue ribbon

Folded tissue with ribbon

Continue reading

Call for contributions: Afghanistan regime change (2021) and the international response web archive collection

On 4 October 2021, the International Internet Preservation Coalition (IIPC) initiated a web archiving collection in response to recent events in Afghanistan. Colleagues at the University of Oxford, and beyond, are invited to contribute nominations for websites to be archived in the collection.

The collection theme is Afghanistan regime change (2021) and the international response. The focus is on the international aspects of events in Afghanistan documenting transnational involvement and worldwide interest in the process of regime change, documenting how the situation evolves over time.

A post on the IIPC’s blog, by the collection’s lead curator Nicola Bingham (British Library), provides further details of the background and scope of the collection.

How to contribute to the collection:

  1. Please read the Collection Scoping Document and accompanying IIPC blog post for more details on the collection and a full overview of the collecting scope.
  2. Enter nominations for websites, and a small amount of basic metadata, via the collection’s Google Form. The Google form accepts website nominations in non-English scripts.

This post is based on Nicola Bingham’s blog IIPC Collaborative collection: “Afghanistan regime change (2021) and the international response”.