Monthly Archives: April 2016

50 objects 17: Meet the Dragon

Bill Griffiths (1948-2007) was, amongst other things, a scholar of medieval literature. For more information on him and his wide-ranging work in other areas, see this post . You can see a description of Brunel’s whole Bill Griffiths collection via the archives catalogue.

The material held in Special Collections here includes his work on Old English poetry, notably on the epic Beowulf in which the hero slays two monsters and a dragon. The section on Beowulf features research notes including translations and articles, and related material such as MJ Weller’s Beowulf Cartoon (Writers Forum, 2004) for which Griffiths wrote an introduction.

Dragon drawn by MJ Weller as part of his Beowulf Cartoon.

Dragon drawn by MJ Weller as part of his Beowulf Cartoon.

Meet the dragon: an introduction to Beowulf’s adversary (Heart of Albion Press, 1996) arises from

Meet the Dragon cover

Meet the Dragon cover

the author’s study of Beowulf but delves into the history of dragons in a much broader way. The history of dragons, beginning with ancient Egyptian and Sumerian beasts, and their development into the later winged, fire-breathing animals we think of today, is outlined, and references are made to named dragons and dragon-slayers from various cultures, from the Norse legend of Sigurd and Fafnir  to the Hindu mythology of Indra and Vritra.

The work also covers the etymology of the name “dragon”, and the relationships between dragons and other mythical beasts such as griffins and wyverns. There are sections covering benevolent and protective dragons, and discussing the dragon as a representation of negative human characteristics, notably greed.

It is intriguing to read this pamphlet alongside the research notes and correspondence underlying it, to see the evolution of Griffiths’ ideas and the process of editing.

Handwritten letter from "John" to Bill Griffiths dated 16th January 1991, discussing roots of the word dragon.

Handwritten letter from “John” to Bill Griffiths dated 16th January 1991, discussing roots of the word dragon.

A selection of Griffiths' notes on dragons.

A selection of Griffiths’ notes on dragons.

Annotated typescript draft of part of Meet the Dragon.

Annotated typescript draft of part of Meet the Dragon.

50 objects 16: Student newspapers and magazines

A post by Library Assistant (and former Brunel student) Oliver Thompson.

Fascinating snapshots of the history of Brunel over the past thirty odd years from the perspective of students themselves can be found within the pages of Brunel University student newspapers and magazines, which Special Collections hosts an archive of, with the oldest available issues dating back to February 1984.

Frequently candid and uncensored in scope and tone, Le Nurb has provided a platform for students to openly express their points of view on student life and the world at large, and each issue in the collection offers the curious reader glimpses of the student experience of the time, as well as a unique insight into the developing history of Brunel through the years. For Alumni they offer a warm feeling of nostalgia as one may recognise the names and faces contained within.

academyThe articles tell the history of many different aspects of the student experience, and often sought to encourage students to fully engage with the myriad of opportunities available to them during their time at Brunel, including coverage of various groups and societies, student union activities, the radio station, and guides to campus facilities such as the athletics centre and various bars.

The earliest issue in the collection is dated Thursday 2rd February 1984, containing articles on a2 feb 1984 Student Union Presidential candidate being disqualified for overspending on his promotional materials, features on important topics of the day such as animal experimentation and human rights, and reports on sports results from local fixtures (including Brunel beating Old Isleworthians 5 : 0 at hockey and Brunel 1st X1 beating Reading 1st X1 5 : 3 at football).

Some key moments for Brunel covered in later issues of Le Nurb include the one day strike that occurred on 15th January 1986, protesting the Government’s cuts in funding for Higher Education, the theft of £25,000 from the Midland Bank on campus that occurred in March 1986, and a 1988 visit by Labour’s then Education Equality 13th Nov 1986spokesperson Jack Straw, and the opening of the Athletics Centre in 2005. Other content in the magazines includes photo montages of students celebrating nights out at the Academy, lists of degree results for graduating students, reviews of concerts that occurred at Brunel, and letters from students debating topics such as politics, Student Union policies and tuition fees. Adverts for Brunel events evoke a sense of nostalgia, such as the 1984 Christmas Ball boasting music from reggae group Aswad and impressions from Rory Bremner.

Le Nurb was rebranded as Route 66 magazine between 1997 and 2005, and these issues are also in the collection. Since reverting back to the title Le Nurb, in recent years the student newspaper has expanded and established its own website which hosts more recent issues of the printed newspaper, and also maintains a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

50 objects 15: Library Then and Now

Brunel University Library: Through the decades

A post by Graduate Trainee Becky Tabrar.

We’ve had a rummage through our Brunel Library archive and found some intriguing photos of the Library through the decades. We decided to recreate the images in the present day for a side by side comparison, and in doing so, realised how the unique brutalist architecture of the building (a form popular between the 1950s and mid 1970s) has characterised and identified the library through its forty two years of operation. The open dome through the centre of the Library has watched over Brunel undergraduates since the Library’s opening, and likewise, our concrete bench on the second floor has been used as a study space by Brunel students for four decades.

Of course, however, the interior of the library has continuously evolved over the four decades, as is evident in the images. The entrance to the Library is no longer on the first floor, and following suit, the Help Desk has also relocated to the ground floor. Though, the most obvious change is the rise of the computer.

The furnishings and layout may have changed, but over the past four decades, the Library’s ethos, of supporting Brunel students to the best of our means, has remained the same.

We hope you enjoy having a look through the photos.



50 objects 14: Ships

Amongst Brunel’s Special Collections are artefacts relating to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ship-building career.

SS Great Britain, launched in 1843, was Brunel’s second ship, innovative in a number of ways. She was the first ship to be propelled by a screw, and the first ocean-going iron ship.

Fragment of wood thought to be from SS Great Britain

Fragment of wood thought to be from SS Great Britain

She served as a passenger ship to Australia and later as a freight vessel; her working life ended in 1933, and in 1970 she was salvaged and brought home from the Falkland Islands to Bristol, where she had been built. After expert conservation, SS Great Britain is now open to visitors.

Within Special Collections is a piece of rust-stained wood thought to be a fragment of the original timber, taken from SS Great Britain at Bristol.
SS Great Eastern, begun in 1854 as a passenger liner, was the biggest ship there had ever been, and her building and launch presented a number of engineering problems for Brunel and his colleagues to solve. After suffering a number of mishaps and contributing to the bankruptcies of more than one company, Great Eastern was converted into a cable-laying ship.

Cable alleged to be from that laid by SS Great Eastern

Cable alleged to be from that laid by SS Great Eastern

A previous attempt had been made to join England and North America by cable, but the cable had failed after connection. Great Eastern, the only vessel available that had the capacity to carry the whole of the transatlantic cable, laid the successful cable in 1866. This enabled almost instant communication between Europe and the USA, with far-reaching economic and political effects.

Amongst the artefacts held at Brunel is a short section of cable thought to be from the remnants of this cable, the first of several laid by SS Great Eastern.

References and further reading:

(all websites accessed 6 April 2016)

Emmerson, George S., The Greatest Iron Ship: SS Great Eastern (London: David & Charles, 1981),1440,The_first_transatlantic_cable