Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Engineer’s Corset

A blog post by Janet Goddard, writer and director of The Engineer’s Corset.


“I wanted the genuine voices of working people of the 1840’s to play a substantial part in The Engineer’s Corset. While I love reading histories and biographies of the Brunels and spending many a happy hour trawling through old newspapers in library archives one of the most inspirational sources in terms of listening to the voices of ordinary working people and their experiences is John Burnett’s Useful Toil.

John Burnett worked at Brunel University in the 1980’s when my father, Prof Crook, was Vice Principal and he alerted me to his work for another of my writing projects. A friend then gave me Useful Toil, she having found a copy at a car boot sale. It is one of my favourite books for dipping into whatever the reason so The Engineer’s Corset has given me the opportunity to turn my leisure pursuit into my work.

Having read the book cover to cover I came to Brunel Special Collections to look in the archive of working people’s diaries and journals kept there and while I didn’t spend as long or read as many as I would have liked – there’s always a next time – the information I gleaned has gone into the play – both in the voices of the working men and in the references the maids make to a range of fabrics and textiles and the means to keep them clean and well presented.

Horror stories of household fires and swirling skirts are also a shocking reminder of the risks women took when they dressed in highly flammable, voluminous clothing and sat of an evening in front of the fire sipping gin! Keeping up appearances is also well recorded in the working people’s voices – and it’s these forgotten voices that, along with Mary Brunel, who is always centre stage, that permeate The Engineer’s Corset and the message of the play – that history is rarely recorded as it was – and fictional interpretations can be as illuminating as factual ones. A proviso in this is to start with factual information and the Special Collection, John Burnett’s archive and Useful Toil, all entirely factual, have been the best starting off point for my fictional telling of the incident involving IK Brunel and his swallowing of a gold half sovereign in The Engineer’s Corset.”

Changes this summer

BannerWe’re very pleased to announce that there will be changes to the Research Commons this summer, as we take Special Collections out of the space and bring postgraduate study provision together in the current Research Commons. Once this enhanced space is completed there will be better separation of space used for events and teaching activities, an increased number of study spaces, a relaxation of the current restrictions on food and drink, and extended opening times, with the Research Commons being linked to the main Library opening pattern.

In order to make these changes, the Research Commons will be closed for use from May 23, and the current Postgraduate Room will close at 9am on Tuesday May 26. Training Room 4 (next to the current PG Room) will be available overnight, and during the day when not being used for teaching, and there will be silent study space available on Floors…

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Romesh Gunesekera

Post by Verity Anne Jones, creative writing student doing a work experience placement in Special Collections. Been wondering what the writing process of an author looks like? Want to reassure yourself that even professional authors edit? Love Sri-Lanka born Romesh Gunesekera and can’t get enough? Look no further! Special Collections has a collection on Romesh Gunesekera, the Sri-Lankan Novelist and author of titles: Reef, The Match, Moonfish Monk, The Sandglass, Heaven’s Edge and Noon Tide Toll, waiting for you to make use of. Not only is he a novelist, Gunesekera also writes poetry and short fiction too. Gain an insight into the drafting of these pieces and into Gunesekera’s processes, through handwritten notes, sources of inspiration and draft work for his various novels. Even Gunesekera had to do drafts –

Copy of a draft

Copy of a draft. Copyright SADAA

The collection even includes bits like this handwritten gem:

“Full fathom live thy father lies, of his bones are coral made: Those are pearls were his eyes, Nothing of his that doth fade, But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange, Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell- Hark! Now I hear their Ding-Dong bell.”


Copyright SADAA

Titled “DARWIN, Ariel’s Song, written when he was researching “Reef””. Romesh Gunesekera is a British author born in Sri-Lanka, who is a novelist, short fiction author and poet. He was short-listed in 1994 for the booker prize, for his novel “Reef” and now chairs the Commonwealth Short Story Prize board of judges.