50 objects 34: Bill Griffith’s work on prisons

prison1Have you been following the BBC Radio 4 series “Rethinking Clink”, about the history of prison reform? Did you know Brunel holds primary sources on this subject, in the papers of polymath Bill Griffiths?

Until his death in 2007 Dr Griffiths was active in a wide range of spheres including classical music, publishing, creative writing, medieval studies, dialect, and local history.

He was also a correspondent with, and advocate for, several prisoners. As previously described on this blog, “One of the key relationships in Bill Griffiths’s life was with the several prisoners he wrote to. He began communicating with a number of prisoners after encountering a stall with prison literature which motivated him to write and support them. Chief amongst them was the prisoner Ray Gilbert, who served time in a series of English prisons from the sixties, while protesting his innocence for a murder sentence. There are hundreds of letters in the collection that document these exchanges, focusing on the period 1996-2004, which reveal many of the daily details of prison life.

Bill Griffiths additionally campaigned to improve conditions in prisons and the appeals prison3process. Various folders in the archive contain letters that deal with his attempts to address Gilbert’s and others situation, as well as the short tracts and essays he published on the subject.”

Shown here is the cover from Griffiths’ work Star fish jail, the title inspired by the physical shape of prisons such as Wandsworth, with wings radiating from a central point and so resembling a starfish.

You can see more details of this material by consulting the finding aids on our Bill Griffiths collection page.

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His understanding of prison life reflects in other aspects of Bill Griffiths’ work; his poetry uses language forms drawn from prisoners, and he writes for the marginalised and against the establishment, using poetry as social commentary to combat injustice.

 

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50 objects 33: Norah Elliott’s autobiography

The collection of documents on Norah Elliott is number 2:242 in the Burnett collection of working-class autobiographies, held in Special Collections.

Norah was born into the Pilch family in 1903, and writes of her early life and her memories of her grandparents. Disaster struck in 1913 when her father was drowned; the family went to the workhouse, and Norah was adopted. She recalls her work as a teacher, and her life in Australia, sending food parcels home to her siblings in the UK, during the second world war.

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Norah’s poem on her Aunt Susan

 

Her file includes several handwritten workings not only of her own story, but also of substantial research by her and other family members into her family history. The writing is interspersed with maps, copies of primary sources, family trees, and poetry by Norah, and accompanied by original documents including a birth certificate, a union card, and burial records.norah2

There is a vaccination certificate, made out in 1879 for Norah’s ancestor John Pilch, in linenorah3 with the legal requirement to demonstrate that children were vaccinated against smallpox: see http://www.genguide.co.uk/source/vaccination-registers-amp-certificates/51/  for more on these records.

 

 

Another interesting aspect of this collection is the insight given into Norah’s writing and editing process: there are several drafts, with footnotes and amendments, and a few comments on the writing process. A late diary entry states “I’ve finished last night’s crossword and got up to date with this mish-mash. I don’t think I want to read what I’ve written”. She may not have wanted to, but the file is well worth reading.

50 objects 32: Poetry of the Now

Poetry of the Now is a collection of contemporary poetry and text-based work, including small press publications, chapbooks, and magazines. It was founded at Brunel University’s Centre for Contemporary Writing by Dr William Watkin and Dr Angela Brady in 2005. William Watkin is Divisional Lead, Creative Writing and English, at Brunel.  Angela Brady is now a Professor in the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary University London.

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Part of the Poetry of the Now collection

The print collection of poetry and related materials remains at Brunel and can be consulted in the Special Collections reading room, but the closely related collection The Archive of the Now is held at Queen Mary University London. Both collections aim to preserve material that could otherwise be lost, to represent the diversity of poetic practice, and to support emerging artists.

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Amongst authors represented in both these collections is Angela Brady; you can find out more about her work at her page.

Much of her work is also held in the main library collection at Brunel: search the library catalogue.

50 objects 31: South Africa and the 1968 Olympics

This Friday, the 2016 Olympic Games open in Rio. As well as promoting excellence in sport, the Olympic movement has a much wider remit to seek friendship and fair play worldwide.  The IOC states “The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

Sometimes that ideal has been hard to reach. In the 1960s there were issues surrounding participation in the Olympic Games by teams from apartheid South Africa, where athletes were racially segregated and had to compete in separate trials. South Africa was banned from the 1964 Games, but controversy resurfaced concerning involvement in the 1968 Games in Mexico City. Various athletes threatened a boycott if the team from South Africa was allowed to compete, and South Africa was eventually banned from the Games and from the Olympic movement, not reinstated until 1990.

The Dennis Brutus collection held at Brunel is a valuable resource for the study of this controversy. Dennis Brutus (1924-2009) was a South African-born poet and human rights activist who spearheaded a successful campaign to ban apartheid South Africa from international sport competitions, including the Olympics. He was a founder of the South African Sports Association in 1961 and of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC) in 1963, of which he became president. He was refused a passport and later imprisoned; other members of SANROC suffered similarly, but the organisation was revived in London in 1966, when Brutus managed to move to Britain.

Pictured are a range of documents on this topic from the Dennis Brutus collection.

 

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For more on Dennis Bruits and his human rights activism, see for instance http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/dennis-brutus.

 

 

50 objects 30: Railway Regulations

rules3aAmongst our collections on transport history are numerous books of rules and regulations for railway staff. We have a range from different railway companies across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the British Railway rule book of 1950 which pulled these together and superseded the regulations set out by individual companies.rules1a

The different editions of the same company’s rules show changes over time, and some volumes are annotated or have extra sections pasted in, showing how an individual copy of the rules was used and updated by its owner. It’s also interesting to compare the rules across companies; differences may reflect differences in the work, or organization, of particular companies.

rules2aRegulations tell us a great deal about life on the railway, such as the type of work that was done; the equipment that was used to do it; the duties and responsibilities of different types of staff; the difficulties caused by bad weather; the dangers staff and passengers could be exposed to if things went wrong; the necessity of having synchronized time across the railway network.

 

Here is a selection of excerpts from various rule books.

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Many editions of these books were designed for issue to individual staff members, and contained a declaration to be signed showing that the worker understood, and agreed to abide by, the rules therein. Here is an agreement from the front of the Eastern Counties Railway rules and regulations of 1857, signed by John Mason. He has incorrectly had his name entered in the space for his job title.

 

 

In addition to these general-purpose books, we hold a few more specialized examples, including instructions from Great Western Railway to its staff who worked with horses. There are standard rules such as the requirements for staff to be on duty when rostered and to maintain their uniform in a good condition, and in place of instructions for maintaining the engines or signals in good working order, there is the insistence on proper cleaning and drying of harness and collars.rules4a

The welfare of the horses themselves was of course paramount, and there are detailed instructions on the care of the animals; the need to report illness, lameness, or unsatisfactory feed; the need to ensure good working conditions by limiting the amount one horse should pull, and by covering slippery ground with gravel; the instruction that horses at work must be kept “in a cool and quiet state”.

In addition this collection holds regulations concerning the telegraph system, the traffic around a shipping port, and other aspects of railway life.

50 objects 29: Poems of Sir Walter Raleigh

raleigh5Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1552 – 1618) is well-known for his connections with the court of Queen Elizabeth I and for his voyages of exploration, and is popularly credited with introducing potatoes and tobacco to Britain. He was, less famously, a scholar and poet. In 1813 his poems were published with a critical introduction; Special Collections at Brunel holds a second edition of this work, which was transferred to Brunel from the Shakespeare Authorship Trust.

 

This copy of the book is of great interest not simply for the texts it contains, but also for the light it can shed on the past; on the way it was used, and on the ways in which former owners interacted with the text.

 

The work is bound in a nineteenth-century Raleigh3gold-tooled leather binding, with more modern repairs, together with an edition of the poems of Robert Southwell which was printed separately in 1817. The binding would have been done on the orders of an early owner of the works, and may reflect his or her taste and budget as well as current fashions.

 

Handwritten names and notes throughout the book show that there have been several former owners or users; two people with the same surname added their names, indicating that perhaps the book was given or bequeathed by one family member to another.

 

Some of the notes are simply correcting the text, commenting on it, or marking passages of particular interest to the reader. One of the most intriguing additions is a lengthy Raleigh quotation, copied out, and captioned “Quoted by the father of a missing pilot, 1941”.

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The source for this is a letter written by the said anonymous father to The Times, hoping the quotation would bring comfort to others as it had to him.  The book’s owner, under the quotation, has added “This is supported by the conclusions in psychotherapy as expanded by Marcus Gregory”, and has made notes elsewhere about psychotherapy, showing another of his or her interests as applied to Raleigh’s works.  Marcus Gregory published several  works on psychotherapy in the 1930s; it is not clear which one is referred to here.

 

One former owner studied a place where Raleigh lived, and added pencil sketches to this copy of the poems. The drawings are of Myrtle Grove, a house near Youghal in Ireland, and of yew trees in the garden there. Raleigh lived at Myrtle Grove in the 1580s and legend has it that the first potatoes in Ireland were planted there.raleigh11

The drawing of the garden seems to be copied from a print in The Illustrated Guide to Sir Walter Raleigh`s House by Samuel Hayman (Youghal, 1861), shown here; further research on the annotations in the edited poems could reveal more about the interests of former owners, and about the information they had access to.

This post gives a taste of the kinds of information that can be gleaned from a study of the book as a physical object. Many books have more secrets waiting to be discovered.

50 0bjects 28: The Ladies Home Journal

A post by Graduate Trainee, Becky Tabrar

The Ladies Home Journal was an American monthly lifestyle magazine which was established in February 1883. By the turn of the century it was the leading women’s magazine in the US, and reached one million subscribers in 1903. Within our collection we hold editions spanning from 1939 to 1961, and studying the Journal allows us an insight into the attitudes and opinions of the time.

Persistent themes can be seen throughout the editions we hold; the most prominent of which is sexism. Advertisements frequently urge women to look their best for their husbands, as seen in an advert for Lady Esther cosmetics in the July 1939 edition, which states ‘the wrong shade of powder can turn the right man away’. Women are also advised on the best methods of keeping an orderly home. An Annual Report to Housewives, featured in the July 1961 edition, advertises the newest domestic appliances available, but exclusively addresses women. The article advises the reader to ‘ask a user what service she gets before you buy’; the assumption being that only women will ever use the domestic appliances. Moreover, adverts for domestic products universally feature women, and even when only a hand is shown, nail polish is used to ensure femininity is represented.

Another frequent theme is consumerism. Since the late 19th century, shopping had been changing from a functional role for women, to a leisured and respectable activity. Companies began to see women as the ‘chief purchasing power’ for households and the adverts seen in the Ladies Home Journal reflects this. In fact, the journal itself was enforcing the link between women and consumerism, which was further strengthen by technological inventions in the domestic sphere, allowing women to spend less time on the household and more time shopping. The most frequently advertised items in the Ladies Home Journal include new domestic appliances, make up products and cleaning products.

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However, apart from tracing overarching themes through the editions, we can also gain information on the reaction of the American public to specific historical events. An article in the July 1945 edition documents the shocked reaction of the American public to the discovery of extermination camps following the collapse of the Third Reich. It claims that a cynical world, which has lost morality, and is obsessed with power, was to blame, and urges the world to return to religion. Similarly, reactions to the signing of the United Nations Charter can be seen in the September 1945 edition, whereby an article surmises that the agreement signed at San Francisco will not eradicate greed, but ‘can keep the peace when the inevitable threats of war arise again’.

Though attitudes differ, the special features of the Journal are still recognisable in today’s magazines. Each month a novel segment was included, and Eleanor Roosevelt, like celebrities today, was a regular columnist, answering queries from financial woes to the most fashionable hairstyle. Similarly, interviews with Hollywood celebrities were a frequent trend, along with fashion segments. In later editions, ladies could receive advice from a medical column, and letters of readers were published within the magazine.

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