Category Archives: Collection highlights

Railway pictures and posters

Volunteer

Student volunteer working with the collection

Over the last academic year we’ve been working on a project to digitise our collection of railway pictures and posters. One of our student volunteers created metadata for the collection and took images. These were then entered into our catalogue where they can all be discovered and accessed.

This means that, for the first time, this collection is easily accessible. The collection is rather diverse, including images of railway advertising, both relatively recent and much earlier:

records of achievements in the lives of railway staff, such as this first aid certificate awarded to Frederick Payne:

16 - Certificate of First Aid

First aid certificate

and the Travellers’ Aid Society poster warning to women travelling alone which has featured on this blog before.

6 - Travellers' Aid Society poster

Travellers’ Aid Society poster

To find out more about our collections do have a look on our webpages. Please contact Special Collections to arrange to view any of the above items.

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175th anniversary of the launch of the SS Great Britain

175 years ago today, 19 July 1873, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s great ship, the SS Great Britain, was launched. The Great Britain 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. Amongst Brunel’s Special Collections are artefacts relating to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ship-building career.

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.

Other collections relating to Isambard Kingdom Brunel include the Blount Archive and a collection of photographs of the SS Great Eastern.

References and further reading:

(all websites accessed 16 July 2018)

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

http://www.ikbrunel.org.uk

http://www.ibiblio.org/maritime/photolibrary/index.php?cat=1638

http://www.ssgreatbritain.org/

 

 

Industrial heritage month: urban housing

A blog post by Emma Smith, history student and Special Collections volunteer.

In light of our focus on Urban Environment as part of the 2018 Industrial Heritage theme months, we have delved into our records here at Brunel Special Collections in pursuit of details about urban housing. One common theme present throughout the majority of records is the sheer variation in accommodation: the juxtaposition of the slums and poor institutions of the penniless, and the mansions and townhouses of the affluent, accentuates the considerable difference in housing within urban localities.

Mckenzie slum to mansion

‘It was a complete transition from slum to mansion’ – extract from McKenzie 1:473

James McKenzie’s account emphasises the stark contrast between deprived and luxurious dwellings within urban London (an extract of which is shown above). McKenzie details his childhood experiences of the slum housing of Battersea adjacent to a river ‘poisoned with waste’ from surrounding factories; undoubtedly symbolising his housing conditions. Due to orphan-hood, however, McKenzie soon finds himself residing in a ‘rather weird old mansion’ in Kensington, only a stone’s throw away over the old Battersea Bridge. With its ornamental gates, fashionable Victorian drawing room and antique paintings, such a mansion was a world apart from the destitute Battersea slums, despite its geographical closeness.

Castle goal

‘More like a goal than anything I could imagine’ – extract from Castle 1:134

John Castle also illuminates another prevalent type of urban housing: the workhouse. Castle certainly harboured strong opinions toward Leighton Buzzard Union workhouse as an abode, as shown above. By producing a detailed structural plan of the workhouse, including the location of the Master’s House, Board Room and segregated living quarters of men, women and children, Castle’s memoir provides a personalised vision into the construction of one of the most recurrent, yet often ill-defined, urban living abodes throughout Britain. Emphasis on the presence of factory equipment within the institution arguably highlights the industrial nature of nineteenth-century housing and living areas.

Balne Greenford

‘Lovely leafy lanes of Greenford’ – extract from Balne 1:137

Similarly, Edward Balne provides insight into another, relatively rare, category of urban housing. Residing in a Hanwell ‘Cuckoo School’ (a Poor Law School, officially!), Balne emphasises the juxtaposition between the urbanity of this institution and adjacent ‘lovely leafy lanes of Greenford;’ highlighting the presence of both rural and industrial influences in urban living quarters. Though inferring that the School was superior in comparison to other housing, citing its swimming bath, onsite hospital and ‘large and lovely garden;’ Balne contends that it was still ‘pretty grim.’ While pupils were cramped into dormitories (ten allocated to each side of a room and another ten to the centre), their designated dormitory nurses enjoyed private ‘comfortably furnished’ cubicles. Any luxury in urban living, again, seemed to remain in the hands of those more well-off.

You can see any of these autobiographies or our other collections by contacting Special Collections to arrange an appointment

Burnett Archive
1:473 J. H. McKenzie
1:134 J. Castle
1:37 E. Balne

NHS 70th anniversary

NHS staff and balloons

Picture from the NHS7TEA party held on campus yesterday 

Today we’re celebrating the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service by focussing on some items from our Special Collections that show how healthcare has changed over the last century. Our accounts include nursing in peacetime and at war, medical procedures and the arrival of antibiotics.

Brunel University itself has played its part in the development of healthcare, including helping design and test a hearing screening device to detect hearing impairments in babies in the 1970s, which was used at Hillingdon Hospital between 1980 and 2004 (when a national screening programme was introduced). Last year a new partnership was launched, the Brunel Partners Academic Centre for Health Sciences, a partnership between the university, Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, which aims to revolutionise the way health and social care is delivered.
Frith nursing

Susan Frith was a nurse and midwife whose career spanned thirty years, between 1912 and 1942. Her personal diary covers both of the World Wars and leads up to the foundation of the NHS. She went to people’s homes and stayed with them, assisting at the births of babies and caring for those with long term health conditions or who were terminally ill. You can read more about her diary in our previous blog post celebrating International Nurses’ Day.

Jean Court’s autobiography relates her experience of family life in the 1920s. Her sister caught diphtheria when they were children, and was lucky to survive what was then a common childhood illness with a high death rate, but is now routinely vaccinated against. She also recounts experiences of her grandfather’s ill-health, particularly after he came to live with them to avoid being put in a geriatric hospital. You can find out more about Jean’s autobiography on the Writing Lives website.

Lorna Kite’s autobiography traces her experience as a nurse during the Second World War. She qualified a year before war broke out, and initially worked as a theatre sister at Millbank Military Hospital before going to France and working in casualty clearing stations, then joining hospital ships and going to Egypt. She describes medical procedures, such as removing a live shell from a Prisoner of War’s heart muscle and, in 1944, was a member of one of the first units to use penicillin.

Hilda Salusbury trained as a district nurse and midwife in Plaistow, East London. She describes her training and then first posts, including her day to day work and the poverty she saw in East London during the 1920s and 1930s.

You can see any of these autobiographies or our other collections by contacting Special Collections to arrange an appointment.

Burnett Archive
4 Susan Frith
2:188 Jean Court Living in the lane
4 L.E. Kite Mentioned in despatches: world war II seen through the eyes of a nurse
4 Hilda Salusbury Only yesterday

Explosion in a WWI munitions factory

100 years ago, on 1 July 1918, there was a devastating explosion in a munitions factory in Nottinghamshire, where shells were filled for use in trench warfare. The disaster killed 134 workers and injured many more. One of our autobiographies, part of the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, contains an eye-witness account of the explosion.

The munitions factory had been set up in 1915 at Chilwell, which had good road and rail links, and supplied over half of the shells fired during the war, including most of those used at the Somme. Lottie Barker, the author of our autobiography, had joined the factory in April 1916 with a friend, Polly. They were known as ‘Canary Girls’ because the chemicals involved in the manufacture turned their skin yellow and their hair green.

Barker canary girls 1

The explosion was the biggest loss of life during a single explosion during the First World War but was downplayed at the time, less it lead to loss of morale. At the time it was only reported in the newspapers as “60 feared dead in Midlands factory explosion”. Most of the dead were buried in a mass grave in Attenborough without being named, and a memorial wasn’t erected for fifty years. The cause of the explosion was never made public.

Barker coffin

Lottie had, fortunately, been at home doing the washing up when the explosion happened, and her autobiography describes the house shaking, and what she found when she ventured out to the factory.

You can find out more about Lottie Barker’s autobiography on the Writing Lives website and in this account in the Independent newspaper When corpses fell from the Nottinghamshire sky. There are further accounts of the canary girls in Edith Hall’s autobiography Canary girls and stockpots, also part of the Burnett Archive.

Burnett Archive
2:37 Lottie Barker ‘My life as I remember it, 1899-1920’
4 Edith Hall ‘Canary girls and stockpots’

Poetry and education

A blog post by Raphaëlle Goyeau, a student volunteer in Special Collections. Raphaëlle is a native French speaker who used poetry to help her learn English.

On 21 March, we are once more celebrating World Poetry Day. It happens that it is also, since 2016, Education Freedom day – an observance in honour of all free knowledge and educational software online. To celebrate both, let us introduce Bill Griffiths and share some of his legacy by learning a bit of Old English through his poetry translations.

The Battle of Maldon, and its beautifully bound version, tell us of the real 991 battle between Anglo-Saxon and Vikings – which does not end well for the Saxons. A large part of the poem has been lost, but what remains is now available in Modern English. Below, the original version next to Griffith’s one.

Het þa hyssa hwæne hors forlætan,   He-bade then warrior’s each horse to abandon

feor afysan, and forð gangan,             Far-away to drive  and forward to-march,

hicgan to handum and to hige godum.       To-think on hands  and on mind worthy,

Þa þæt Offan mæg  ærest onfunde,             When it Offa’s kinsman  first discovered

þæt se eorl nolde yrhðo geþolian,             That the earl would-not lack of spirit tolerate

he let him þa of handon  leofne fleogan    He allowed then from his wrists cherished to-fly

hafoc wið þæs holtes,  and to þære hilde stop;

Hawk towards the woods, And to the  battle advanced;

As you can see, several words can be used to identify where in the poem we are when looking at the translation. Other words can probably be translated through the context. Can you see what “gangan” means? What about “leofne” or “hilde”?

Phoenix

The Phoenix, on the other hand, was itself a translation when Griffiths made the Old English version into a modern alliterating text. It would be an adaptation of the Latin poem De Ave Phoenice, which tells us of the mythical Phoenix, resident of the Garden of Eden whose life cycle never ends. As in  Greek Mythology, the bird grows old, dies, but rises again from the ashes.  It appears first in the first verses at the beginning of the part two, here in Old English:

ðone wudu weardaþ                                           wundrum fæger

fugel feþrum strong,                                           se is fenix haten.

þær se anhaga                                                     eard bihealdeþ,

deormod drohtað;                                               næfre him deaþ sceþeð

on þam willwonge,                                              þenden woruld stondeþ.

And here, by Mr. Griffiths:
This is the FOREST GUARDED by a GLORIOUS BIRD
BEAUTIFUL, and brave of FEATHER “PHOENIX” is CALLED
It KEEPS its HOME HERE, in SOLITUDE
SWEETLY DWELLING; for DEATH never TOUCHES,
While TIME ENDURES that DELIGHTFUL SPOT

Some words can be more or less easily identified. For example, it seems logical that the Old English “Fenix” would have given us the modern “Phoenix”, and the modern “death” can be guessed by the shape of “deaþ”. Others, such as “anhaga”, can reaquire a dictionary, which would tell you that it means “solitary”, or “recluse”.
Having both texts in hand, could you guess the meaning of “haten”, “wudu” or “woruld”? Answers below!
From Battle of Maldon
Gangan: to go, here “to-march”
Leofne: dear, beloved, here “cherished”
Hilde: war, battle, here “battle”
From The Phoenix
Wudu – Wood, tree, here “forest”
Haten – named, here “called”
Woruld – cycle, eternity, long period of time, here simply “time”

You can find these texts and much more in our Bill Griffiths Archives

Disability: a taboo area of Britain’s past

Blog post by Joe Woodhouse-Page, student volunteer, for UK Disability History Month. This is an annual event which runs from 22 November to 22 December, covering HIV/AIDS day (1 Dec), International Day of People with Disabilities (3 Dec) and International Human Rights Day (10 Dec). Its aim is to raise awareness of the fight for equality that has been taken up throughout history by and for those whose lives are affected by disabilities

Whilst skimming through many archives you’ll find little reference to Britain’s disabled population, however, delve deeper into Brunel Library’s Special Collections and you’ll find stories of those people, stories that should not go untold.

Only in recent times have we, as a society, stopped treating disability as a taboo, when it is told in historical accounts it is often limited, masked and ultimately brushed over. Although, in Special Collections you’ll discover texts both detailing the experience of having a disability in the past and the impact that disabled people had on those around them and society.

One such text is the autobiography of Charles William Esam-Carter recounting the period of 1899-1903. Carter recounts his early childhood, when his severely disabled sister was born he was 4 years old. With a disabled sister and parents in dispute Carter felt like an outcast, displaying that the disabled were not treated as members of normalised society. Carter recounts the most upsetting aspect of the treatment of his sister; “She was dependent on us and we rejected her.” Perhaps selfishly, Carter even suggests that his childhood was ruined by the birth of his sister. The account provides evidence of the rejection of the disabled in past society and is well worth a read.

The account entitled ‘My life’ by Annie Lord also provides some worthwhile insights, dated in 1943; Lord propagates like Carter the rejection of disabled people in society. Annie Lord was deaf in one ear, although she did not discover this until she was 16, narrating; “Age of 16 years old I was taken for a different and ferocious weirdo… but they found out it was deaf,” it’s clear that Lord did feel like an outcast in society, portraying that she just had to “Carry on the best she could.” Although it has been said to be poorly written, Lord’s account gives us a rare first-hand account of what being disabled was like in 20th century society, certainly deserving of further exploration.

In Brunel’s Special Collections you’ll find details of disabled people in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, seeing how far we have come as a society in terms of treatment of disabled people over the last century is fascinating, and a great way to spend an afternoon. In addition to this archive, we also have a modern collection of transcription poems, Neglected Voices, written by a former poet-in-residence at Brunel University, Allan Sutherland. These poems were created from life-interviews which Sutherland carried out among six individuals with different disabilities. The audio recordings and the full transcriptions of these interviews are held in Special Collections alongside the poetry collections themselves. ‘Proud’ is a poetry collection based on the words of Jennifer Taylor, who has a learning disability. ‘In Memory’ is formed from an interview with Catriona Grant, whose life was affected by a stroke at a young age. The collection, ‘This Hearing Thing,’ is based on the words of Wendy Bryant who gives an account of living with a hearing impairment, and lastly ‘Dan Dare Braces’ is a collection of poems on the life of Peter Moore, a survivor of abuse.

References:

Annie Lord, My Life (1943). Burnett Archive, 2:486.

Autobiography of Charles William Esam-Carter (1946). Burnett Archive, 4.