Category Archives: Collections

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

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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’

International Nurses’ Day 2018

Blog post by Anne Carey, Special Collections placement student from UCL’s Dept of Information Studies.

Brunel Special Collections is joining in on the support for International Nurses’ Day. On 12 May, we celebrate the dedicated and passionate people who commit themselves to providing excellent health care service. This year the theme focuses on health as a human right, and through this healthcare should be accessible by all, no matter the location or the setting

As the nursing profession and healthcare services have grown, nurses have become an important part of the healthcare systems by providing support to colleagues and patients. It’s impossible to imagine healthcare without nurses, but the care people have received throughout history has not always been like it is now – and it is still difficult for some to access, either financially or physically.

Looking in the Collections

Looking back into the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies here in Brunel Special Collections, we can gain an insight into the way working class people accessed health care in England, Scotland, and Wales between 1790 and 1945. This massive timeline covers significant periods in British history, from the Victorian Era to WWII. Particularly around the mid-late 1800s nursing really came into its own. This was due to the influential work done by Florence Nightingale, which is why we celebrate International Nurses’ Day on her birthday each year!

Frith nursing
Around this time, an un-official nurse and midwife named Susan Mary Firth dedicated her life to caring for others. We are lucky enough to have her personal diary in the Burnett Archive. She kept this diary during her 30 year career, between 1912 and 1942. Though never fully qualified, Susan nursed dozens of people in her community back to health, delivered their babies, and mourned losses with them. Susan often travelled to the homes of those in need, and dedicated her time to their care. Once there, she would usually spend at least a month with each patient and sometimes up to a year. In the best of times, Susan would celebrate the birth of a healthy baby as if she were part of the family or celebrate someone’s return to good health. In worse times, she would stay and mourn the loss of her patient with their family and loved ones. Compassion and empathy for patients is a characteristic of nurses that continues to shine through, and this makes them such a valuable part of health care.

Susan’s patients knew that they could rely on her in a time of need, often calling on her in a time of distress and uncertainty. She continued to provide care to the members of her community, and embodied the fact that healthcare it should be accessible to all no matter the location or situation. While she lived in a very different time, Susan’s passion for her patients remains very much a part of nursing today.

Don’t forget to show your support for International Nurses’ Day on 12 May, 2018, and share your own story. #ThisNuse

If you’re interested in reading Susan’s diary or any of the other items in the collections, they can be found in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies at Brunel University London Special Collections.

Shakespeare Week

This week we’re celebrating Shakespeare Week on campus with a variety of events and displays.

In the Eastern Gateway building you will find on display of books from Special Collections Shakespearean collections alongside elaborate costumes made for Sir Mark Rylance’s play I am Shakespeare. On this blog you will find images from books that didn’t make it into the display, and can also read previous blog posts about the collection.

Baconiana

Baconiana is the oldest book in Brunel Library’s collection, and featured as one of our 50 objects in 2016.

 

 

 

First Folio and Bendy

Here, our facsimile copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio is being read by our mascot, Bendy Brunel, as part of our blog post on How to use Special Collections.

 

 

 

Preserving our collections

A major part of our work in Special Collections is to ensure that our materials will still be available to future generations of scholars and visitors. Many of the objects we hold are made of sturdy stuff, our rare 18th century books will probably outlast us all, but other items such as our photographic collections are more fragile, and even stable materials can become vulnerable over decades. To this end we spend a lot of time making sure materials are stored in optimal conditions to extend their life and usefulness. This week we are participating in the ALA Preservation Week by celebrating all things preservation and giving you an insight into the activities we undertake. You might even pick up a few tips on how to preserve your own special items!

IMG_0480

Blue blinds and ultraviolet filters

Where and how you store different materials can have a big impact on their lifespan. We try to store collections in a space that has a consistent temperature and humidity all year round. This is because extremes of temperature and the presence of moisture in the air can induce a harmful reaction in different materials. For instance, paper can be vulnerable to mould in hot and wet conditions or older colour photographs can decay in high temperatures.

This year we have installed some rather snazzy blue blinds to prevent sunlight artificially warming our facility, with the addition of ultraviolet filters to prevent yellowing of paper and fading of inks. We also monitor the temperature and humidity of our collections with some basic digital indicators to give us a warning of problems.

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Digital temperature and humidity monitors

Additionally, we keep our eyes peeled for any pests such as silverfish that might take a fancy to our materials for food or accommodation. We use pest traps to monitor any nuisance visitors, and if we find any try to modify the environment to discourage their visits.

Other environmental factors should also be considered. This might include dust, or pollution if you live in a built up area. One way to mitigate these is to store

IMG_0482

Pest trap

materials in an enclosure like a box that will prevent light and particles from accessing the item. This is a simple way to preserve heirlooms or keepsakes, although you do have to check on them occasionally to make sure there is nothing happening inside the box itself.

Interestingly, a common way materials become damaged is just through poor handling. To try and minimise handling and stress we use book supports to cradle our printed materials when they are being viewed. We also add a protective layer of Melinex to items like photographs or paper to prevent them from being damaged by constant use. At home, something as simple as washing your hands before handling rare materials can limit environmental pollutants.

IMG_0481

Book rests to support texts

With these safeguards in place we hope our collections will be available for years to come.If you would like more information about Preservation week visit the ALA webpages for advice and insights.

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