Category Archives: Collections

International Nurses’ Day

12 May, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, is International Nurses’ Day, when people around the world celebrate the contribution that nurses make to society. We thought we would join in by sharing a story from our Special Collections about nurse training in the past.

A few of the autobiographies in our Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies recount experiences of nursing, including that of a male nurse in the 1930-50s, plus women who worked as nurses and housemaids at different times in their lives. This post will focus on Winifred Relph, who was born in 1912.

Winifred worked firstly as a housemaid after leaving school, then as a nurserymaid. She tried applying for nurse training at several London hospitals, but was told that her education wasn’t good enough, and advised to try small, provincial hospitals instead. Eventually she was accepted for training at Todworth General Hospital on the borders of Kent/Sussex.

As a probationer nurse she earned a salary of £20 a year and also had to supply much of her uniform, including:

  • 14 linen aprons
  • 6 stiff linen collars
  • 6 stiff linen cuffs
  • black woollen stockings
  • flat laceup black shoes

She lived on-site in the Nurses’ Home and shared a room with another probationer. Nurses’ rooms were inspected by the matron and expected to be kept as neat as on the ward. In the evenings the senior nurses played the piano and sang in the nurses’ sitting room.

She describes some of her typical tasks, such as starting each day with making thirty beds, with 90 seconds allowed for each bed (including removing the patient from it and putting them back again!). Nurses worked 12 hour shifts, including two hours off each day and three meal breaks. After six months of learning practical skills on the wards (Winifred worked on both the Children’s and Men’s wards) lectures on nursing theory were started, but unfortunately Winifred never got this far, as she became ill with acute rheumatism and was unable to carry on nursing.

Nursing only forms a small part of Winifred’s autobiography. You can find out more about different aspects of her life and writing at Writing Lives. Find out more about our other autobiographies on this blog.

 

Using Special Collections for your dissertation

Why use Special Collections?

You’ve chosen your dissertation topic because it’s something you’re really interested in discovering in more detail. Then delving into the sources in Special Collections can take your dissertation to the next level by making it more original, as well as helping you to develop your research skills.

Recent topics that people have researched using Special Collections include:

  • Politics under Churchill and Attlee
  • The beginnings of child protection in sport
  • London during the First World War
  • Communists in the 1920s and 1930s
  • Clothing of the poor
  • Perceptions of fascism in the inter-war period
  • Feminism under Thatcher
  • Colonial and post-colonial writers at the BBC
  • Presentation of women in the media
  • Feminism in the US in the 1950s

and the Burnett Archive of working class autobiographies has been featured in Radio 4 programmes about the history of friendship and the lives of working people during the industrial revolution.

Find out about our collections:

Special Collections is home to a huge array of material that can support your research. You can find out more by using our A-Z list of collections, or consulting our Special Collections guide, where we’ve highlighted collections of particular interest to English or History students.

You can search our collections by subject or keywords – use the library catalogue for printed material and the archive catalogue for manuscript.

Browse the Special Collections blog, you can use the tags to find posts on particular themes, such as the First World War or trains.

Contact the Special Collections Librarian, or your Subject Liaison Librarian for help.

If you are looking for collections beyond Brunel you will find a list of resources on our guide.

Using Special Collections

Our collections are kept in closed access, so you will need to make an appointment to come and see them. If you haven’t used Special Collections or archival material before there is a guide on our blog.

 

50 objects 47: Dennis Brutus’ poems on Solomon Mahlangu

Dennis Brutus (1924-2009) was a poet and human rights activist who grew up in South Africa. He taught in a high school until he was dismissed for activism against apartheid, and he became instrumental in the movement against racism in sport. He was imprisoned and, on release, forbidden from teaching, publishing his writings, continuing to study law, and attending political meetings.

His poems reflect his frustrations and sadness at the political environment, and are frequently concerned with the sufferings of fellow black or mixed-race people.

One poignant set of poems on this topic is In Memoriam: Solomon Mahlangu, published in 1979. Solomon Mahlangu was a South African who was hanged by the apartheid South African government in 1979 after a controversial verdict finding him guilty of murder, and despite the intervention of the UN. The deaths were caused by another man, who was not considered fit to stand trial, and Mahlangu was found guilty on the understanding that he had had a “common intent” with the other man. The booklet begins, and ends,

“Singing
he went to war
and singing
he went to his death”.

The copy of this collection held at Brunel has a handwritten dedication to Brutus’ wife and children.solomon

Another published booklet of poems held in the Dennis Brutus Collection is Thoughts Abroad, by Dennis Brutus but published under the pseudonym John Bruin in order that it could be published in South Africa, where Brutus’ work was banned. This copy has been updated to attribute the work correctly and explain more about Brutus and his work.

There also handwritten poems and drafts by Dennis Brutus, and various works by other poets. The copy of Restless Leaves, a booklet of poems by Mark Espin, is dedicated to Dennis Brutus in thanks for the inspiration he provided.

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End of a poem written by Dennis Brutus during a UN hearing

 

Further reading on Dennis Brutus:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/dennis-brutus

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/feb/23/dennis-brutus-obituary

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Dennis-Brutus

 

 

50 objects 46: register of parcels going through Padstow station

Everyday administrative records can give valuable insights into aspects of life in the past, and often become more interesting with age. This book is a register kept as part of the standard records at Padstow station in Cornwall, from 1921 to 1952.

This station, the terminus at the western end of the North Cornwall Railway, was opened by the London and South Western Railway in 1899. As railway companies changed and merged the station changed ownership, and when it closed in 1967 it was owned by British Railways. The station was served by the Atlantic Coast Express, which ran direct from London Waterloo.

As the port at Padstow sent out a great deal of fish, the station had a separate fish loading platform. This was closed in 1950s as the trade in fish declined. This website gives more details on the freight trains, including the dedicated fish service running to Nine Elms.

The register’s full title is “L. & S. W. Ry – Register of traffic forwarded or received unentered account to follow: [blank] station”, and each page comes with instructions and ready-labelled columns to complete. This was a standard printed LSWR book issued to their stations. “Padstow” has been filled in on some pages of this one.

padstowbig

The register keeps note of parcels or goods being sent by train for which there is some anomaly or for which a payment is due. The information filled in by hand or stamp for each individual transaction varies in detail and legibility, and the precise directions are not always followed, but the entries as a whole give snapshots over a thirty-year period of the range of goods being sent, the stations to and from which they were sent, and the costs involved.

Many of the entries are for fish or other foodstuffs, but there is also an entry for a corpse, sent in December 1940 to Stepps in North Lanarkshire: perhaps a fallen soldier? Kept in the pages for 1940 is a loose memo, written in pencil and dated 20th September 1940, concerning a delayed delivery and noting that “during the current emergency” (that is, during World War Two, owing to the disruption to rail services) the special charges for fish sent to London Waterloo would also apply to fish sent to Paddington.

fishnote1

 

50 Objects 44: Chris Wookey’s railway photographs

Chris Wookey was born in 1957 and was a student at Brunel University from 1975 to 1979, graduating with an honours degree in applied biochemistry. He went on to teach chemistry at a school in Walton-on-Thames until his untimely death in 1989.

Chis entered fully into student life, a writer for the student newsletter Le Nurb under the pen name “Big K”, an active member of the Christian Union, and captain of a five-a-side football team. His other great interest was railways, and his football team was named “Locomotive Brunel”. He was chairman for two years of the Brunel University Railway Society, and was a keen railway photographer.

kings-lynn-1980

King’s Lynn station

 

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Brundall signal box

 

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Brundall Gardens station

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1989 Chris Wookey’s railway photographs and notes were given to Brunel University Library by his widow and parents, to form a lasting memorial. The collection comprises photographs of British railway stations and signal boxes, mainly from the 1970s, and research notes with diagrams of railway routes. It provides a unique record of operations and the lineside scenes at this time.

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Diagram from Wookey’s research notes

Chris Wookey was a meticulous and knowledgeable worker, and his photographs are very clearly labelled and referenced. There are hard copy finding aids to this material: for more information please contact us.

Readers wanting to learn more about his activities while at Brunel should consult the University Archives, which may have relevant documents.

50 objects 43: Travellers’ Aid Society poster

Special Collections at Brunel holds a range of material useful for studying the changing role of women in society, and for more general women’s history. One item giving a window onto women’s lives in a different time is this framed poster warning women to make sure they have respectable, safe, accommodation before travelling to a new town – advice still relevant for everyone today.

travellersaid

The Travellers’ Aid Society was set up in 1885 by the Young Women’s Christian Association in collaboration with organisations such as the Girls’ Friendly Society and the National Vigilance Association. The aim was to have accredited workers meet female passengers on arrival at stations, to help them travel safely and find safe accommodation and work. The Society could vet potential employers or accommodation providers on request. At this time there was a constant stream of young women travelling from rural locations to London to seek jobs in domestic service, many of them vulnerable to exploitation.

From 1939 the Society was run by the National Vigilance Association, and it was wound up in 1952.

For other records of the Travellers’ Aid Society and the National Vigilance Association, contact The Women’s Library which is based at the London School of Economics.

50 objects 42: William Belcher’s Navy service

One of the Burnett collection of working-class autobiographies held at Brunel is that of William Belcher (1884 – 1961).  He served in the Navy 1903 – 8 and 1914-19, and was an electrician from 1919 onwards. Much of the interest in his autobiography lies in the supporting documents that accompany the notebooks: his school certificates, shorthand qualifications, and his naval career record.

Here are a selection of the documents in question, giving insights not just into Mr Belcher’s history but into the history of education and into the record-keeping of the Royal Navy.

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