Category Archives: Collections

Ordinary people – exceptional lives

Hillingdon Literary Festival takes place on Friday 6 – Sunday 8 October 2017, with a theme of Ordinary people – exceptional lives. There’s a whole weekend of activities planned, and Special Collections will be playing a part on Saturday 7 October with a workshop on life writing and Special Collections.

We’ll be exploring life writing using autobiographies from the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography. You can explore other creative writing ideas using Special Collections in other posts on this blog.

You can book your place here on any of this weekend’s workshops.

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National Sporting Heritage Day 2017

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.

 

Freedom poems inspired by the collections to celebrate National Poetry Day 2017

Today we’re celebrating National Poetry Day by being part of a range of events. Emma Filtness, Lecturer in Creative Writing, teamed up with Special Collections at Brunel to encourage the writing and sharing of new, original poems on this year’s National Poetry Day theme, “Freedom”.

Items from the collections that resonated with the theme were offered as inspiration for participating poets. The featured items were:

Have a read of the selected entries below – enjoy!

A Woman’s Guide to Travel

by Simi Abe

Woman, you are origami first and foremost; born as cold pressed stars, water-shy boats, and flightless cranes. Age taught you how to undo your form, now you can be everything and anything. You were made to accommodate and occupy small spaces. This comprehensive guide will show you how to do so when in transit.

How to Sit on the Train

Next to a man made up of wide angles

Alter your shape to mimic his outline. Fold your knees to one side then crease your ankles against the train floor.

Between two men with sharp intrusive corners

Make unassuming angles of your violent, womanly curves. Gather your legs onto your seat; keep your knees pressed against your chest and arms neatly tucked in.

When a man fails to acknowledge your form

 If a man ever sits on you by mistake, collapse your ribs to accommodate the brute force of his spine. Compress your organs for the betterment of his comfort.

If you’re caught next to the precipice of his knee

Learn to invert your body. Hook a leg over your shoulder and scrunch the other beneath you. Press an arm behind your back and drape the second one over your head.

Simi Abe is currently studying Creative Writing in London. She uses her unique perspective on the world to examine the female experience and identity within her work. She draws inspiration from the playfulness in surreal art and beautiful film cinematography which help her create strong visual images. She especially enjoys experimenting with surrealism because it is an excellent way of pushing creative boundaries.

19:52 to Paddington

by Kirsty Capes

The sea seems far gone now, the tide tugged away
by a cancer-moon and
I am placing narrow feet into high-heeled shoes on
the station platform. Smells brittle,
like industry, like metal in blood,
something aged but nascent. Something
emerging from the womb.

When the train arrives, there is a
you are far too pretty to be travelling alone and then:
bile. Stinging the throat, the mouth, the back of the nose.
The guard says thank you,

thank you ever so much.

There is no time to read. Someone in the
next carriage is chain smoking;
face obscured. I imagine
the thing inside me growing stronger.

The imprint of a puckered mouth, coated with
chili-coloured lipstick,
smeared on the windowpane.
Outside, dusk is the yolk of an egg,
spooned out and split.

We are sorry to announce
the Circle Line is closed for engineering works.

Kirsty Capes is a postgraduate research student and teaching assistant on the Creative Writing programme at Brunel University London. Her poems have previously been published in Rising, Roulade and Astronaut magazines. She writes at femalefriendshipinfiction.wordpress.com and tweets at @kirstycapes

 

In the air

by Marina Cicionesi Jansson

encapsulated in the airplane,
out of reach of coming down
she´s resting in the blue seats,
a calming blue she has come to know
in the middle of going and coming,
from home to home through terminals
once, London was new;
a thousand red buses dissed her in the roundabout
the first time she came up from the underground
a vibrancy of the unknown shook her into being new
who do you become when always being in the in-between?
in one landscape you come to play a role,
in another you´re not the same
she learnt to leave, leave and leave
as each day is a chance of re-awaking
each time a take off she lets go
of her old self in the known
waving to the past,
to who she knew her self to be
each landing is a new start,
opening the eyes seeing blue
yet she´s lingering, in this comfortable encapsulated blue
unwilling to leave the non-gravity moment,
its transparent air, this above-perspective
revealing all her directions simultaneously
a looking glass of a make believe,
awakening those limitless capacities
shaking her like turbulence,
this eagerness!
arising like watered sprouts to the sun  
if I only could bring this certainty to the ground!
she will remember it in things that are blue
once, in the unknown coming,
she´ll blossom in blue

Marina Cicionesi Jansson is currently studying an English with Creative Writing BA at Brunel University London and moved to London in early 2015 from Sweden. As she is still living between the countries, and travelling when not studying, the feeling of being in the “in-between” strongly influences her writing. She also works as a photographer and art director with the focus on social and environmental challenges: http://marinacj.se

A Cautionary Tale

by Emma Filtness

I am the girl with hair the shade of Mother’s copper pot / the girl with freckles that develop over time like rusting iron / with eyes the colours oak leaves turn in autumn / the girl who wears a hooded cloak steeped in madder root / who carries a basket of dark rye bread and heady honey-wine / the girl lured by the sweet rot of the after-harvest / who snatched up the last of summer’s flowers / stems snapping and paper-leaves rifling / the girl who looked with longing into the dark of the under-canopy / whose pulse throbbed hot at the first grey glimpse of pelt / the girl who sighed as she met the amber gaze of wolf / the girl who did not listen to her mother

Emma Filtness lectures in Creative Writing and English at Brunel University London as well as leading community Creative Writing sessions. Her poetry, short fiction, reviews and articles have appeared in magazines and journals such as Popshot and Writing in Education. Find out more: https://emmafiltness.wordpress.com/

Victoria, Siempre

by Jonathan Pizarro

In the eastern breeze you navigate
Your mother’s veins,
That ran through roads unexplored
By her mother’s mothers.

Transcendent,
And keeping with the pump of
Lungs
That drew breath
On different words.

In knots measured
A challenge,
Sails full for those lands
Bombed by yonder enemy,
Yet feeling the magnificence

Of possibility,
While a city burns around you.

The guilt,
It turns with each passing bus,
It hangs on the sleeves
Of the nuns who give you
The taste of gasping
Knowledge.

What a fountain
What a rebirth,
What a beautiful sensation
Of paper turned and ignorance
Forgotten.

And then to return,
To silent revelry.
To the turning of
Beads
Until you get to the
Cross,
Decades again repeated.

But never wanting,
Never tied.
Always those sweet breaths
Of memory,
The black and white film
Of when you ran
Free.

Jonathan Pizarro is a mild-mannered English Literature/Creative Writing student and writer. In particular, he explores horror and speculative fiction in relation to his hometown, Gibraltar. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @pizarrofiction and check out his blog.

To read more “Freedom poems” check out the National Poetry Day website.

We are delighted to announce that the winner of our creative writing competition is Simi Abe, for her poem A woman’s guide to travel. Congratulations Simi! Your prize is a library bookbag, Waterstones gift card and some writing-related goodies. We’ll be in touch to get them to you.

First passenger hovercraft

55 years ago today the world’s first passenger hovercraft entered service. The very first service ran across the Dee Estuary between Rhyl in North East Wales and Moreton Beach, Merseyside.


The first hovercraft was invented and patented by Christopher Cockerell in 1952, although several other inventors before this had experimented with technology along similar lines. The Patent Office was initially unsure whether to class the new invention as an aircraft or a boat, and the hovercraft seemed like a sci-fi dream come true when it first appeared. In 1959 one crossed the English Channel to huge enthusiasm from the public. Sir Christopher was knighted for services to engineering in 1969.

The crossing of the Dee Estuary was revolutionary, as previously the journey, by road, had taken more than two hours. The new hovercraft passenger service was scheduled to make 12 trips per day, taking 30 minutes per trip, at a cost of £2 for a return ticket. The hovercraft involved, a Vickers VA3, weighed 12 tons, and was run by British United Airways.


Unfortunately it soon ran into problems, despite launching in the summer, weather problems meant it only operated for 19 days out of a scheduled 54, and rarely managed the proposed 12 trips a day. Eventually disaster struck and the engines failed halfway through the journey. Passengers were taken off and attempts made to moor the hovercraft, but it broke free and drifted out to sea, eventually smashing into the promenade wall at Rhyl.

If you want to find out more about the invention of hovercraft, design, construction and their impact on passenger transport then our Transport History Collection is the place to look!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Close your eyes and think of Yorkshire? Working class women and sexuality in early twentieth-century Yorkshire

By Claire Martin

When she was ten years old, May Owen (b. 1895) moved with her family to a small mining village near Sheffield, in South Yorkshire. In an autobiographical letter she wrote some seventy years later, she still vividly remembered her initial shock at a particular custom in the community: “If a woman misbehaved herself,” she wrote, “the colliers used to perform a certain act. They would take a large barrow, build an effigy of the woman and wheel it round the parish, and stones and mud would be thrown.” 

Leeds Mill Girls, 1890, http://www.leodis.net/
Leeds Mill Girls, 1890 (Image via Leodis: A Photographic Archive of Leeds).

I believe this account fits well with what most people imagine sex and gender relations to have been like in Yorkshire in the early twentieth century. Within popular imagination, Yorkshire working-class culture, with its industrial history and its mining and steel workers’ communities, conjures an image of sexual conservatism and gender antagonism. While this image may correspond to reality in some parts of Yorkshire at the time, this generalisation also obscures a great deal of variation in experiences and behaviours. Helen Smith’s recent book on same-sex desire between working-class men in the north of England in the first half of the twentieth century provides a much needed antidote to these kinds of generalising assumptions. As Smith also explained in a NOTCHES post, work, region, and class defined working-class masculinity in a way that was not incompatible with casual sex with other men.

As I was reading surviving personal stories of Yorkshire working-class women who lived in the early twentieth century (most of which came from the valuable Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies), I was faced with accounts of gender relations and sexuality that ranged from very conservative, patriarchal attitudes, to far less rigidly policed sexual experimentation. After all, ‘Yorkshire working-class women’ were in no way part of a homogeneous group, and just as their lives were shaped by their work, gender, class, and region, so too were their sexual lives. For this reason, I argue that looking at occupational patterns and cultures, and exploring their impact on gender and sexuality, can shed light on these overlooked variations and forgotten experiences, and contribute to a better understanding of working-class sexuality in the past. 

If we take the example of mining communities, as well as towns organised around heavy industry such as Sheffield or Middlesbrough, what we get is a picture of a primarily male-dominated culture. An all-male working and social environment fostered a culture of virility, which depended on the systematic exclusion of women and a patriarchal social structure. Men did not see their spouses as companions with whom they could discuss ideas, and preferred the company of their mates. In this context, it is possible, as some historians have suggested, that husbands and wives lacked the tools to communicate on issues such as birth control. And yet, this does not mean that women refrained from sexual experimentation before marriage: a young Bessie Wallis (b. 1904) once warned her older brother, “You’ll be in trouble with Pops if you land a lassie with a bairn!”, only to be answered by the fifteen year-old that, “[t]he lasses egg us on. (…) Anyhow, they like it.” 

Towns organised around mills and factories, and in particular textile towns such as Bradford and Leeds, provide an interesting contrast. While it was commonly expected that women would leave the workforce after marriage, economic necessity meant that they tended to stay longer in employment. The higher rates of female full-time employment produced a female occupational culture that shaped sexuality and gender relations in different ways. For instance, because most women worked the double-shift of wage and domestic labour, they supported access to birth control. The workplace also facilitated the creation of informal networks of information and emotional support for women. Mrs. Brown (b. 1895), from York, remembered how her mother told her that there was “[n]o need to tell girls anything,” as they would get to know all they wanted when they started working at Rowntree’s factory.

In the mills and factories, women usually worked alongside men, which created different possibilities, as well as potential dangers. Workers engaged in courting and sexual play, and remembered weddings of pregnant brides as a matter of fact. At the same time, anxieties about male predators and the consequences of sexual promiscuity also fed into this female occupational culture. Maggie Newbery, who was twelve years old when she started working in a mill in Bradford in 1913, recounted in her autobiography how “Old Harriet” warned her on her first day to be careful around machinery, and “cheeky buggers.”

Female solidarity against sexual exploitation sometimes took on extreme forms. The Bradford mill girls, in particular, were renowned for their sexual aggressiveness. The tradition of ‘sunning,’ a ritual form of sexual humiliation, was one of the ways in which these women used their sexuality to reverse the power relations which put them at risk of sexual harassment. J.B. Priestley, who lived in Bradford before the war, remembered in his memoir, Margin Released, how he felt intimidated by the crowd of loud women leaving the mill on his way home from work: “something (…) would set them screaming at me, and what I heard then, though I was never a prudish lad, made my cheeks burn. And it was still the custom (…) for the women to seize a newly-arrived lad and ‘sun’ him, that is, pull his trousers down and reveal his genitals.”

These accounts could be compared with those of farming villages in the countryside, where “everyone knew everyone else’s business,” or with port towns such as Hull, with the infamous reputation of the docks and their sailors and casual prostitutes. It would be impossible to go through an exhaustive list here, of course, but my point is that because sexuality never happens in a socioeconomic vacuum, the study of working-class sexuality can gain much from a regional approach, which allows us to get a richer understanding of these people’s concerns, opportunities, and experiences. Engaging with social history by looking at occupational patterns and cultures can be one way of producing a more nuanced account of sexual attitudes in the past.

Claire Martin is a PhD candidate in modern history at the University of Leeds. Her thesis focuses on Yorkshire working-class women c.1900-1940 and examines the relationships between knowledge and experience in relation to menstruation, sex, pregnancy, and menopause. She tweets from @claireplmartin

 

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 This post originally appeared on Notches: (Re)marks on the History of Sexuality, a blog devoted to promoting critical conversations about the history of sex and sexuality across theme, period, and region. Learn more about the history of sexuality at Notchesblog.com.

 

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.