Category Archives: Collections

Life vs fiction research seminar

The Brunel Centre for Contemporary Writing (BCCW) presents a session on the relationship between fiction and autobiography inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies held in the Special Collections of Brunel Library. Philip Tew will discuss writing about his relationship with his working-class father in his new novel, Afterlives, and Nick Hubble will talk about the relationship between working-class autobiography and proletarian autobiografiction revealed by his British Academy-funded research on the Burnett Archive.

This event will feature Brunel MA Creative Writing students opening the evening with readings from their work, as well as complimentary refreshments and free admission – please register here.

It will be held in Bannerman Centre 226 (in the library) Wed 20 March 2019 17:30.

Philip Tew’s debut novel, Afterlives, published in February 2018, is about university lecturer, Jim Dent, who, nearing retirement, is inspired by the death of a friend known in the 1970s, writer Sue Townsend, to review various premature deaths over the past fifty years of others once close to him, and recollect their lives. They include a school-friend, his working-class father, and other talented chums all denied their creative potential. Among scenes featured are his work with Sue on a local arts magazine on her stories of Nigel (later, Adrian) Mole, and a trip with an oddball scholar of the Beats to interview poet, Basil Bunting. Afterlives is no old man’s lament, rather a poignant and yet comic narrative of eccentric, talented people whose lives are celebrated. Commenting on the novel, Fay Weldon said “The father’s episode is a fine and moving piece of writing.”

Nick Hubble’s latest book The proletarian answer to the modernist question is out this month in paperback from Edinburgh University Press.

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Anniversary of the publication of A Christmas Carol

175 years ago this month Charles Dickens’ book A Christmas Carol was first published – it sold out by Christmas Eve! We are celebrating the anniversary in Special Collections by holding a drop in on the anniversary itself, 19 December (12 noon – 2pm), where you can encounter Dickens’ works for yourself. This is free to attend and open to all.

“superstitious pies and porridge, ransacking pots, robbing ovens, and stripping spits”

DSC00429 - CopyYou will be able to see an account by Charles Dickens of the time when Christmas was banned in England. As well as writing A Christmas Carol, Dickens published articles on the history of Christmas in England and made observations on the traditional ways in which Christmas was celebrated around the world. He published these in All The Year Round, a literary  magazine founded and owned by Dickens. In Special Collections we hold every edition published between 1869 and 1979 (part of our Rare books and periodicals collection).

The December 1870 edition of All The Year Round included a piece on the prohibition of the celebration of Christmas in the 17th century and the methods by which the Puritans attempted to enforce this ban. During the first half of the 17th century England was ruled by a Puritan parliament, headed by Oliver Cromwell, who put huge amounts of time and effort into reforming the moral and spiritual character of the country. The festival of Christmas came into their firing line as it was not seen as a Christian or religious festival for two main reasons

  • it was a time of feasting, drinking and extravagance, whilst the Puritans advocated fasting and sobriety
  • it was a Catholic festival, and Catholicism was viewed as an heretical strain of Christianity by the Puritans. In 1642 the Puritan parliament abolished Christmas and ordered that it should instead be “observed as a day of fasting and of humiliation”. (Dickens, All the Year Round Vol. 5, December 1870 p. 101).

“Holly, ivy, mistletoe, bay and rosemary were accounted branches of superstition. To roast a sirloin of beef, to touch a collar of brawn, to bake a pie, to put a plum in a pottage-pot, to burn a big candle, or to lay one log more upon the fire for Christmas’ sake was enough to make a man be suspected and taken for a Christian and punished accordingly.”

DSC00430 - CopyDickens describes the measures the Puritans would take to enforce this ban and what actions they considered as breaching their legislation. He writes that on Christmas Day officials would search the entire city of London, looking for “superstitious pies and porridge, ransacking pots, robbing ovens and stripping spits” (ibid.), believing that these things were wicked and against Christianity. Religious observance was equally unacceptable and all churches were ordered to close over Christmas, with anyone who tried to preach or give a sermon served with an arrest warrant.

Despite all this, the people of England found means to celebrate and make merry, one way or the other. It might be a small personal rebellion, such as making a Christmas pudding or singing a carol. Sometimes there were larger, public, rebellions. Riots would break out, mobs would form and attack the officials working for the Puritan parliament. Dickens describes an incident in 1647 involving forbidden festive decorations and how they were fiercely fought for by the people in the local area. He tells us that Cornhill conduit had been dressed in evergreens, holly and ivy, rosemary and bay were set on top of the tall building. The city marshall and his men were set to pull down the decorations, but the decorated building was defended by local lads, who attacked the marshall and caused his men to flee for their lives. Although some men were seized and sent to prison for the day, there was still a feeling of triumph as the Christmas decorations remained upon the building. (Dickens, All the Year Round Vol 5, December 1870 p. 101).

Also on display will be illustrations of Christmas festivities from 1870s England:

1870 Ill London News

to 1950s America:

Santa's Cooky shop LHJ

and you can discover when the Christmas tree first came to England.

ILN xmas tree

 

Armistice centenary

Today we are commemorating 100 years since the signing of the Armistice that ended the First World War by launching our new topic guide to the war. This is intended to help students to find material from Special Collections relating to the war – do let us know if there is anything you would like to discover more about.

Some highlights from the guide are featured below, and there is also a chance to see them in person by visiting Special Collections (BANN 328) on Tuesday 13 November between 12 and 2pm. This event is free and open to everyone.

William Belcher – naval diaries

Serving in the navy between 1903 – 8 and 1914 – 19, Belcher was then an electrician from 1919 onwards. Much of the interest in his autobiography lies in the supporting documents that accompany his notebooks: his school certificates, shorthand qualifications and his naval career record. His autobiography is part of the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies (BURN 1:53)

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John Hammerton & Herbert Wrigley Wilson, ed. The Great War: the standard history of the all-Europe conflict (London: The Amalgamated Press, 1914-19).

GreatWar1

The first volume of this work was published in 1914, and sets the tone with the first sentence: “The greatest war of modern times, and perhaps in the whole history of the human race, was begun by Germany using the crime of a schoolboy in Bosnia as her excuse” [Volume I, page 3]. The work claims to be “a standard history” but, written so soon after the individual events it narrates, cannot give a truly balanced view as there was no way for the authors to be in possession of all the facts surrounding them.

The great interest of this work lies in its immediacy. It shows what the general public in Britain knew about the war during the war, and what they were encouraged to think. The tone and content reflect the attitudes and social structure of the time, as when prominence is given in lists of casualties to those men who were related to peers. Naturally the text is full of patriotic language – chapter titles make frequent use of words such as “glorious” and “triumphant” – and admiration for British troops’ bravery and skill, and for the design of their ships, planes, and weapons; but recognition is made of the German forces as a formidable enemy with admirable qualities.

Title page from Volume I

The volumes are, as the title-page indicates, “profusely illustrated”. There are maps and plans to show defences and strategy; photographs of events and of key people; diagrams of submarines; illustrated spreads on forces joining the war from overseas; and, most poignantly, drawings of battlefield scenes based on sketches sent by eyewitnesses.

As well as the narrative of the war itself, there are chapters on broader topics including “Influence of the war on English Literature” [volume XII], and “Marvels of the British Transport Service on the Western Front” [volume VIII], to address wider and longer-term issues.

This series is part of the Rare books and periodicals collection.

Through the Dardenelles

On the 26th March 1915, J. T. Haskins was first informed of the mission that would earn him a Distinguished Service Medal. He worked as the leading Stoker on the E.14 submarine, the first submarine to steer through the Dardanelles to the Sea of Marmara and back again. They went through enemy subs, torpedoes, minefields just to get to there.

His diary (part of the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies) tracks the whole mission. The diary starts with him receiving orders “to prepare for long trip” all the way to the end of the mission and hearing about the Distinguished Service Medal.

The Dardanelles is a dangerous narrow strait in northwest Turkey that connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. It separates Europe from Asia and, on a side note, also holds the site of ancient Troy. This mission was part of the Gallipoli Campaign of World War I. It was first conceived by Winston Churchill as a way of supplying the Russians through the Black Sea. In the same swoop Churchill intended to drive the Ottoman Empire out of the war. Unfortunately it was a loss.

The Campaign has now become one of the Ottoman Empire’s greatest victories and a major defeat for the Allied forces. Yet the success of Haskins’ Sub shows a glimmer of triumph for them leading Haskins to end his entry on the 19th May 1915:

“I was with the E.14 through the Dardanelles”

When corpses fell from the Nottinghamshire sky

One of our autobiographies from the Burnett Archive  featured in the Independent’s series on A history of the First World War in 100 Moments. When corpses fell from the Nottinghamshire sky  is based on the account of Lottie Barker, who worked in a munitions factory in Beeston, Nottinghamshire during the war. She was one of the ‘Canary Girls’, who made shells in the factory and for whom repeated exposure to toxic chemicals turned their skin orange-yellow like a canary.

On the day of the explosion she wasn’t on shift, but was at home washing up, and felt the house move and saw a huge column of smoke. The explosion caused the loss of 134 lives, although the full extent wasn’t made clear at the time as the news was suppressed. Lottie’s account includes details of the aftermath of the explosion.

National Sporting Heritage Day 2018

Today it’s National Sporting Heritage Day and we’re blogging about one of our collections which is particularly relevant to this theme.

Dennis Brutus Collection

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Dennis Brutus was a South African human rights activist, sports campaigner against apartheid, and poet. He is perhaps best known for his campaign to have apartheid South Africa banned from the Olympics. In the 1960s there were issues surrounding participation in the Olympic Games by teams from apartheid South Africa, where athletes were racially segregated and had to compete in separate trials. South Africa was banned from the 1964 Games, but controversy resurfaced concerning involvement in the 1968 Games in Mexico City. Various athletes threatened a boycott if the team from South Africa was allowed to compete, and South Africa was eventually banned from the Games and from the Olympic movement, not reinstated until 1990.The Dennis Brutus collection held at Brunel is a valuable resource for the study of this controversy.

Dennis Brutus (1924-2009) was a founder of the South African Sports Association in 1961 and of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC) in 1963, of which he became president. He was refused a passport and later imprisoned; other members of SANROC suffered similarly, but the organisation was revived in London in 1966, when Brutus managed to move to Britain. Pictured above are a range of documents on the Olympic boycott.

 

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.

Looking for inspiration?

for Hillingdon Literary Festival’s creative writing competition? This year’s theme is Outer limits: hidden lives and in Special Collections you’ll find some collections that mark the perfect jumping off point for your creative writing on this topic.

Bill Griffiths would probably have identified himself chiefly as a poet, but he was also an academic, small press publisher, local historian, linguist and scholar of English dialect. For some of his life he lived locally, on a houseboat not far from the campus here at Brunel. After a fire he relocated north where he became an advocate for prisoners, an organiser against council schemes and an unearther of things on the edge of mainstream culture. His archive, housed here in Special Collections, showcases this diversity, containing hundreds of examples of his work and correspondence, along with the sources, research notes and labour behind them.

23.2.14

Read an earlier blog post about Griffiths’ research into dragons.

Another series of hidden lives well worth investigating is our Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies. These highlight the lives of ordinary people, for example Alice Collis’ account of a strike in a printing firm in 1911 or the lives of servants.

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