Tag Archives: Burnett Archive

75th anniversary of the first V2 bombing

Written using research undertaken by Crystal Prescod, summer project volunteer 2019.

In the dying days of the Second World War Germany sought to place the Allies on the back foot. In an attempt to reverse the course of the war by shaking Allied confidence and wreaking havoc on the British population Germany launched its Vergeltungswaffen or “revenge weapons”- the V2 rockets.

On the 8th of September 1944 the first of these rockets were fired at Paris and London. The attacks resulted in the deaths of approximately 9000 civilians and military personnel.

History often neglects to note the effects of major events on the lives of the common man. The Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies includes accounts that relate the lives of a few of the civilians who were affected by the air raids of the Second World War.

You can find out more using our World War Two topic guide, which highlights particular accounts from this collection. If you would like to see the autobiographies for yourself, please contact us to make an appointment.

It is ironic that these weapons of war which created so much devastation were later used as the foundation for the rockets which would take mankind into space.

Image from Picasa and shared using a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-SA 3.0). No changes have been made to the image.

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The Cowkeeper’s Wish

We’re always delighted in Special Collections to hear about how researchers have used our collections. So we were very pleased when Kristen den Hartog, who had used our Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, got in touch to say that the book written by her and Tracy Kasaboski, had already been published in Canada, and was due to be published in the UK in March 2019.

hThe Cowkeeper’s Wish follows the story of the descendants of a young cowkeeper and his wife who arrive in 1840s London, having walked there from the Welsh coast with their cattle. They are hoping to escape from poverty and find themselves plunged deeper into it. The books tells the story of those descendants moving in and out of slum housing, workhouses and asylums. Nearly a hundred years later, their 3 x great-granddaughters in Canada begins to piece together their story and the path they trod to Canada.

Congratulations to Tracy and Kristen on the publication of your book!

Do get in touch and tell us about your research in Special Collections. You can see other examples of research done using our collections on our blog.

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.

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

National Storytelling Week 2018

We celebrated National Storytelling Week in Special Collections between 27 January and 3 February 2018. Groups of students with an interest in creative writing were introduced to items from our collections as a source of inspiration, and encouraged to write a story for reading aloud with help and support from their tutor, Emma Filtness.

National Storytelling Week

The students sought inspiration from some of our unique and distinctive collections

Some of the items they looked at our highlighted in this post, and they also made extensive use of our Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

Ladies Home Journal 1948 edited

Advertisement from Ladies Home Journal 1948

You can hear recordings of some of the students’ stories here:

Alex Bond

Sam Green

Stories from the Special Collections

Earlier this year, postgraduate students from Brunel University London’s Creative Writing and Creative Writing: The Novel masters courses did some work in the Special Collections section of Brunel Library. This was part of a module called ‘Writers at Work’ (EN5540) which explores creative writing projects in education and in the community, giving students the skills needed to design, run and evaluate writing workshops and other activities, as well as exploring the opportunities that exist for writers in educational and other contexts, such as archival research and residencies. The module is taught by Tony White, author of novels including Foxy-T (Faber and Faber) and visiting lecturer at Brunel. White has also been writer in residence at the Science Museum and Leverhulme Trust writer in residence at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

Brunel Library’s Special Collections is located on the top floor of the library, and is home to a varied range of collections, used by undergraduate and postgraduate students and to support teaching. They cover a wide range of subject areas, including transport history, the Channel Tunnel, poetry and dialect, equality and advocacy and South Asian literature, art, theatre and music. You can read descriptions of them on the Collections page.
For ‘Writers at Work’, the creative writing postgraduates focused on the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies, which contains,

over 230 autobiographies. […] The criteria for inclusion were: the writers were working class for at least part of their lives; they wrote in English; and they lived for some time in England, Scotland or Wales between 1790 and 1945.

The Burnett Archive is a fascinating resource, and the autobiographies that it contains are rich in day-to-day detail of family lives and relationships, expressive language and dialects, and the gritty realities of poverty and working class lives in the UK during the 19th and 20th centuries. Here you might find a tale of running away to join the circus, or a grim account of institutional life and injustice that might have made Dickens blanch. The Burnett Archive provides unique source material for Brunel researchers like Claire Lynch from the Department of Arts and Humanities who has written about the lives revealed in these manuscripts. For Lynch, “the Burnett Archive is one of Brunel’s treasures, I’m impressed each year by the innovative approaches our students take to the letters, diaries and memoirs held here.” Sociologists and historians from across the UK and beyond have also drawn on the archive. One excellent example of this is the Writing Lives project by students at Liverpool John Moores University. For Tony White, the opportunity to introduce creative writing postgraduates to the Burnett Archive is also a reminder that working class and other marginalised voices are often excluded from literature and mainstream culture.
By using creative writing as their research method for the ‘Writers at Work’ module, Brunel postgraduates have been able to respond to the literary qualities of these historical texts, but also to use them as the inspiration for new pieces of creative writing, which in turn might offer opportunities to create new kinds of insights and focus, as well as finding new ways to relate the historical accounts to contemporary life. In the selection of stories offered here, Samreen Shah’s powerful ‘Madam Button Queen’ connects experiences of the 19th century textile industries to garment factory workers in contemporary Bangladesh, while in ‘Home for Friendless Girls’ and ‘Market Night’, Lucy Jane Gonzalez and Suzanne Bavington-Drew respectively offer dark tales of orphanage life, and of domestic violence in the shadows of the old Smithfield Market. Laura Brown uses the epistolary form—letters—to allow a young female character called Maggie to tell her own story of the harsh consequences of a brief love affair. Reflecting on the process, Laura writes:

Working with the archives was really interesting. Throughout my degree we’ve read fictional pieces and responded to them in creative ways, but this is the first time we’d had the chance to engage with real people’s stories, and it meant that the work we created somehow felt more personal and more meaningful. It was a great experience and I’d like to try it again in the future.

Students’ engagements with the Burnett Archive can also be irreverent and playful, as in this excerpt of a longer prose poem by Chukwunonso Ibe, a ‘joy full roasting’ inspired by Edward Baker’s untitled account of his life in the 1920s (Vol. No. 2:865):

Edward baker,
The man,
The legend.
He is here with us now
With me now,
In spirit and kind
Words that chose to grow on me.
Words I have to grow on me.
Words I want to grow on me.
Words I kinda need to grow on me.
Ed-word, I wish I could tell you this in person,
But you are dead
And all I have,
All we have, the public, are your words,
Parts of your memories you chose to share.
My thoughts of you I chose to bare,
My silent contempt disguised as care,
But not really.
I think you are a cool dead guy
and I would probably have bought you a glass of beer.
© Chukwunonso Ibe, 2015

You can read a selection of the Creative Writing postgraduate students’ stories here (all works are copyright the authors, and all rights reserved):

Lucy Jane Gonzalez, ‘Home for Friendless Girls’
The ones I love aren’t here anymore. I’d like to say they passed at the end of long, fulfilled lives, but that is not so. They were taken unjustly. As for me… [VIEW/DOWNLOAD PDF]

Laura Brown, ‘Letters from Maggie’
Joe, I miss the mornings we used to spend together. Mother says you left for a job in the city and I’m so very happy that you found employment, even if it is… [VIEW/DOWNLOAD PDF]

Samreen Shah, ‘Madam Button Queen’
My name is Nabila and I am 10 years old. I used to live in Khulna, my village, but four years ago we came to Dhaka. We came to make money. My baba says that one day… [VIEW/DOWNLOAD PDF]

Suzanne Bavington-Drew, ‘Market Night’
It was Sunday night. Johnny wouldn’t sleep. He never did, not with the racket going on outside. It was so loud he couldn’t even hear the… [VIEW/DOWNLOAD PDF]