Darn unigryw o hanes Du Cymru ar gael i’w lawrlwytho am y tro cyntaf o Brifysgol Caerdydd

 

Cyhoeddodd William Hall, caethwas a ddihangodd o America, hanes ei fywyd o Gaerdydd ym 1862.

Mae darn hynod o brin o hanes Du Cymru wedi’i gyhoeddi ar lein am y tro cyntaf.

llaw yn dal pamffled 'Slavery in the United States of America, a Personal Narrative' gan William Hall

Cyhoeddodd William Hall hanes ei fywyd o Stryd Bute ym 1862

Ym 1862, cyhoeddodd William Hall ei “Naratif Bersonol”, sy’n olrhain hanes brawychus ei enedigaeth mewn caethiwed, a’i daith hirfaith o Dennessee i Gaerdydd. Ynddo, mae Hall yn disgrifio cael ei werthu i berchnogion planhigfeydd, yn manylu sut y ceisiodd ddianc caethwasiaeth ar amryw o achlysuron, a’n trafod ei brofiadau yn cwrdd â chaethweision eraill.

Mae’r ddogfen dan ofal Casgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau Prifysgol Caerdydd, a credir mai dyma un o ddau gopi sydd wedi goroesi yn fyd-eang.

Ysbrydoli’r Genhedlaeth Nesaf o Ymchwilwyr

Mae’n bamffled bychan, bregus – ac o heddiw ‘mlaen, mae ar gael ar lein i unrhyw un ei ddarllen a’i lawrlwytho.

Medd Tracey Stanley, Llyfrgellydd Prifysgol Caerdydd: “Mae’r ddogfen unigryw yma’n rhan mor bwysig o hanes Du Caerdydd, a Chymru, a ro’n ni eisiau ei gwneud ar gael i bawb.”

“’Dyn ni’n dal i ddarganfod mwy am fywyd William Hall – rydym ni’n gobeithio y bydd cyhoeddi’r ddogfen ar lein yn ysbrydoli cenhedlaeth newydd o ymchwilwyr, fydd yn parhau i archwilio hanes pobl Ddu yng Nghymru.”

Rhannu Gweithiau Prin gan Awduron Du

Fe noddwyd y ddogfen yn wreiddiol gan fynychwyr capel Wesleaidd yng Nghaerdydd, sy’n taro goleuni ar y gefnogaeth oedd i’r mudiad Diddymu Caethwasiaeth yn y ddinas ar y pryd.

Oherwydd natur fregus y ddogfen, fe fyddai’n cael ei darllen fel rheol dan amodau arbenigol yng Nghasgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau’r Brifysgol. Mae’r cyfnod clo wedi peri sialens i ymchwilwyr sy’n defnyddio llyfrau prin – a mae technoleg ddigidol wedi golygu y gall peth o’r gwaith hwn barhau.

“Mae ein staff wedi bod yn gweithio’n galed i gefnogi myfyrwyr ac ymchwilwyr yn ystod y cyfnod anodd hwn. Yma yng Nghasgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau, mae hyn wedi golygu rhoi rhai dogfennau unigryw ar lein, a allai fod yn rhy brin neu fregus i’w hymchwilio yn y cnawd ar hyn o bryd.” meddai Alan Vaughan Hughes, Pennaeth Casgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau Prifysgol Caerdydd.

“Mae gweithiau hanesyddol gan awduron Du – fel gwaith William Hall – yn haeddu cynulleidfa ehangach, a ‘dyn ni’n falch o allu rhannu’r gwaith hwn gyda phawb trwy’r Internet Archive. Rydym ni hefyd yn ddiolchgar iawn i’r Athro William Jones a Dr David Wyatt am eu gwaith yn ymchwilio a chodi ymwybyddiaeth o’r ddogfen werthfawr hon.”

Gallwch ddarganfod mwy am hanes William Hall, a’r mudiad Diddymu yng Nghaerdydd yn Canu Caeth, a olygwyd gan Daniel G Williams.

Copi llawn o Naratif Bersonol William Hall i’w lawrlwytho:

https://archive.org/details/williamhall

A unique piece of Wales’ Black history from Cardiff goes online: William Hall’s Slavery Narrative

William Hall, an escaped slave and resident of Cardiff, published his life story from Bute Street in 1862

An extremely rare piece of Wales’ Black history has been published online for the first time.

hand holding a pamphlet named 'Slavery in the United States of America, a Personal Narrative'

William Hall’s ‘Personal Narrative’ – one of two known copies in the world. The other is believed to be in Chicago.

Published on the city’s Bute Street in 1862, William Hall’s “Personal Narrative” is a shocking and graphic account of his birth into slavery in Tennessee, and his arduous journey to Cardiff. Hall describes being sold to various plantation owners, detailing multiple attempts to escape his captors, as well as his encounters with other escaped slaves.

Now held in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives, it is believed to be one of two surviving copies in the world.

Inspiring the next generation of researchers

It is a small, fragile and unassuming pamphlet – and from today, it will be available online for anyone to read and download.

Says Tracey Stanley, Cardiff University Librarian:

“This unique document is such an important part of the Black history of Cardiff, and Wales, and we wanted to make it available to everyone.”

“We’re still discovering more about William Hall and his life thanks to ongoing research. By publishing this work online, we hope to inspire a new generation of researchers who will go on to explore Black history in Wales.”

Sharing rare works by Black authors with a wider audience

The document was originally funded by people attending Cardiff’s Wesleyan chapels, and sheds light on historic support for the anti-slavery movement in the city.

Due to its rare and fragile nature, the pamphlet would normally be handled under specialist conditions at Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives. The lockdown period has made accessing rare books a particular challenge for researchers – and digital technology is providing a way for this work to continue.

“Our staff have been working hard to support students and researchers during this difficult lockdown period. Here at Special Collections and Archives, that includes bringing some unique texts online, that may be rare or too fragile to handle.” says Alan Vaughan Hughes, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University.

“Historic works by Black authors – such as William Hall’s work – deserve a wider audience, and we’re proud to be able to share this with the public today through the Internet Archive. We’re also grateful to Professor William Jones and Dr David Wyatt for shedding light on this significant document through their research.”

Discover more about William Hall, and Cardiff’s pro- and anti- abolition movements in Canu Caeth, edited by Daniel G. Williams.

Download William Hall’s ‘Personal Narrative’ in full:

https://archive.org/details/williamhall

Guest post: Book inscriptions and family history research

Following on from the success of the recent Family History Show at UWE Exhibition and Conference Centre, Dr Lauren O’Hagan shares some of her top tips for using book inscriptions as an entry point into family history research.


Most of us have dusty, old books tucked away in our attics, cupboards or garages that once belonged to our parents, grandparents or distant relatives. These books are an unexpected and useful resource for carrying out genealogical research. Inscriptions provide us with the names and addresses of unknown ancestors, or they can also offer personal information not found elsewhere about their daily lives and hobbies.

Here’s a guide on how you can use book inscriptions in your family history research:

1. Family Bibles
Considered the ‘life blood’ of Christian families, Bibles were once used to record births, deaths, marriages, and significant life events, such as a child’s illness or a son going off to war. Civil registration was not introduced until 1837 (in England and Wales) and was made compulsory in 1874: Bibles are therefore a useful way to trace your family roots without having to trawl through parish records.

2. Birthday Books and Daily Scripture Books
Popularised in the mid-nineteenth century, these gift books contained printed content and blank spaces to record birthdays. Many owners also used them to document deaths, marriages, funerals, christenings, new jobs, moving house and world events. They are an important way to explore a family member’s social networks.

3. Autograph Books and Confession Books
These books shed light on ancestors’ wit, humour and irony because they required owners, and their family and friends, to answer pre-written questions on their personality, tastes and interests, such as: What is your idea of happiness? What are your favourite qualities in a man/woman? Who is your favourite author?

4. Ownership Inscriptions
This is the most basic form of inscription, consisting of the owner’s name, and may also be accompanied by their address and date of inscription. This information can be essential when starting out on the journey into your family history. Sketches, poems, newspaper clippings, comments and even curses to protect books from theft can also appear alongside an ownership inscription, all of which can help make your ancestor come to life as a person.

5. Gift Inscriptions
Books inscribed as presents from one person to another can show links and relationships between people that may be harder to discern from more official records.

6. Author Inscriptions
These inscriptions are often written by the author to the recipient at a book signing or event, and can give an insight into your ancestors’ reading tastes and interests.

7. Prize Inscriptions and Prize Stickers
Awarding books as prizes for attendance and good behaviour was common across schools, Sunday schools and clubs in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Books containing prize stickers are a real treasure trove because they contain comprehensive details of the awardee, their address and the specific institution that they attended. This can supply information on their religious denomination, and help focus local archive searches of school and Sunday school records.

8. Bookplates
Bookplates are small, decorative labels used to denote book ownership. Traditionally, bookplates were used only by the upper classes who commissioned artists to custom-design ciphers, rebuses or armorials with heraldic symbols relating to their lineage. These symbols can be identified fairly easily using resources such as the College of Arms database. By the early twentieth century, most bookplates were pictorial and showcased images that reflected anything from an owner’s favourite sport or literary character to their religious or political beliefs. These bookplates offer a whimsical way of discovering the person behind your ancestor’s name.

9. Marginalia
These marks or comments made in the margins of books can give us a sense of our ancestors’ thought process and how they engaged with their books.

10. Booksellers’ and Binders’ Labels
Many books from the Victorian and Edwardian eras feature booksellers’ or binders’ labels, which tell us the specific location that a book was purchased or bound. These labels can often be cross-referenced with the ownership inscription to aid initial census searches.

Hopefully, these handy tips will encourage you to search your house for old books and get starting on your family history research! Enjoy!

No learning-lockdown here!

Our doors may be closed, but whether from our attics, bedrooms, or desks-under-the-stairs, we are still here to support your learning, creativity, and well-being during these unprecedented times.

No rest for the wicked, nor the self-isolated: we’ve been busy preparing a guide to free, digital primary sources from heritage organisations all over the world over on our website. But as well as the big hitters, there are a whole host of blogs and online research projects for those of you who can’t currently acquire all the sources you may need for your studies (or are just plain curious or bored).

Here’s a list of just a few that may help bridge that gap:

The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine

 

Feeling peckish? I for one have a more severe case of the munchies now that I’m consigned to binge-reading and Netflixing for the foreseeable future, and this site is an excellent way to satiate it without heading out for non-essential M&Ms. As the website states, it’s an international collaborative research project where scholars interested in the history of recipes explore the weird and wonderful ways that recipes – for magical charms, cosmetics, food, and remedies – offer a unique window into the past. It’s full of interesting posts, sources, and more importantly for those growling stomachs – recipes, so most definitely worth a look, especially, and there’s no judgement here – we’re all getting by as best we can – this medieval Russian hangover cure. Check out their Additional Resources too.

Dr Alun Withey

What this fabulous and funky historian of early modern medicine and social history does not know about the strange, superb, and hairy aspects of early medical practices and facial grooming, quite frankly, is not worth shaving for. Packed with fascinating posts spanning a huge array of themes that encompass our medical and social past, from ‘polite’ hands, roasted mice, pigeon cures to bloodletting and beard sculpting, you could lose yourself for hours in Dr Withey’s blog. There’s even an abusive parrot in there. Well, I guess we’ll all be ‘talking to the cowing birds’ before long.

Medieval Manuscripts blog

When in doubt, check out the British Library’s website – this blog on their medieval and earlier manuscripts is well worth a look. As well as publicising their digitisation projects and other activities, this blog contains a wealth of interesting posts on the people, collections, and details relating to their unique manuscript collection. From digitised Middle English manuscripts to Greek papyri, this will satisfy all your manuscript needs. In addition, its generous visual content and links to other related materials could give you the illusion that you are actually sitting in the British Library, manuscript rather than TV remote to hand. Medieval Manuscripts is the perfect way to illuminate and chill!

15cBOOKTRADE

This completed project on the history of the book trade during the fifteenth century by Oxford University considers the thousands of surviving books from the invention of modern printing by Gutenberg in c. 1450, to 1500 as material and unique documentary evidence of one of the most important developments in our cultural history. With the aid of a rare, unpublished ledger of a Venetian bookseller in the 1480s, which records the sale and prices of some of 25,000 printed books, the project addresses five fundamental questions relating to the introduction of printing in the West: Distribution, use, and reading practices; The books’ contemporary market value; The transmission and dissemination of the texts; The circulation and use of illustrations; and Visualisation – a database that helps us to visualise the circulation of the books and the texts they contain, over space and time. How amazing is that? Everything you need to know, and see, about the very start of the printing and book trade, without having to leave your house! Bonus points during these current times, and an absolute hat-trick for anyone interested in the history of literacy, printing, and the book trade in the second half of the fifteenth century.

Curious Travellers

For all of us in need of a bit of virtual travelling, we can explore Snowdon and any other eighteenth-century Welsh tourist hot spot without worrying about social distancing, by simply visiting this website. This four-year AHRC-funded research project, launched in September 2014 and jointly run by the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) and the University of Glasgow, looks at Romantic-period accounts of journeys into Wales and Scotland. The writings of the Welsh naturalist and antiquarian Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) provide the main focus, and a range of other materials will help satisfy any Welsh (and Scottish) wanderlust we may be harbouring during our home-stays.

There are some nifty, freely-available research tools, including a database of Pennant’s extensive and scattered correspondence, and a searchable online corpus of some 60 (previously unpublished!) Welsh and Scottish Tours. led by Dr Mary-Ann Constantine of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies  (CAWCS) and Professor Nigel Leask of the University of Glasgow, Curious Travellers goes well beyond your traditional Rough Guide.

On History

This blog provides access to all the news, articles and research from the Institute of Historical Research (IHR). Check out their reviews of the latest historical publications via the Reviews in History series; see all their open access initiatives and links to other blogs and resources such as the Royal Historical Society’s Historical Transactions Blog, and New Historical Perspectives – the latest book series for early career scholars; or read extracts from the Camden Society publications, some volumes of which are available through British History Online. BHO is a digital collection of over 1,280 volumes of primary and secondary sources on the history of Britain and Ireland primarily focusing on the years 1300-1800. All transcribed content on the site has now been made freely available online until 31 July 2020! There is plenty of online content, news, and historical features to keep you going for months.

History Past and Present

The University of Nottingham has a series of lively and informative blogs written by students, staff and academics on a wide range of subjects across multiple disciplines. The Arts and Humanities section posts on a range of topics including popular culture, cultures, language and area studies, and even Bringing Vikings back to the East Midlands – hopefully they respect social distancing and anti-bac-wipe their axes on a regular basis! The History Past and Present blog offers a wide range of instructive and motivating posts on academic articles, publications, key historical events, themes and topics.

So plenty to keep studious, curious, and jaded minds going throughout the current lockdown. Consider this your virtual-learning comfort blanket – and don’t forget to check out our new guide to digitised primary sources.

Until we see you again: stay indoors, stay safe, and read a blog – over and out!

The Family History Show, South West

A report from research associate, Dr Lauren O’Hagan, who ran a stall on ‘Book Inscriptions and Family History Research’ with civic engagement officer, Sara Huws, at the Family History Show at UWE Exhibition & Conference Centre, Bristol on 8 February.


People were already queuing in their hordes when I arrived at the UWE Exhibition and Conference Centre early on Saturday morning. Some with notepads and pens, some with cameras, some with flasks and packed lunches, some even with camping chairs. “I just can’t wait to see him in the flesh,” one woman exclaimed as I made my way to the entrance. No, we weren’t at a concert awaiting the arrival of Ed Sheeran or Drake; we were at the Family History Show, the biggest genealogical event in the South West of England, where dozens of avid amateur researchers had braved the rain to talk to experts in genealogy.

The Family History Show is the brainchild of Discover Your Ancestors magazine who first launched the show in York in 2011. Since then, its popularity has been growing steadily and, now, shows are run annually in York, London and Bristol, attracting hundreds of visitors from all across Britain. Judging from the crowd outside, today’s event in Bristol looked like it was going to be a big one!

As I entered the exhibition hall, I was met with four long rows of stalls featuring everything from dating old photographs and exploring historic maps to tracing ancestors in British India and discussing ethical dilemmas in genealogy. There were also opportunities to attend lectures on DNA testing, house dating and historic clothing, as well as to purchase postcards, books, folders and other genealogical paraphernalia.

A quick initial stroll around the hall made it clear that England was very well represented (with stallholders from the local Bristol area, as well as Devon, Cornwall, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and beyond), but we were the only stall representing Wales. This meant that not only did we have the task of promoting book inscriptions and family history research, but also the added pressure of flying the flag for Wales and all other heritage industries in the country!

We quickly set up our stall (a good central location!), adorning it with a selection of prize books, laminated inscriptions and pamphlets, as well as freebie tote bags and pencil crayons. If we couldn’t lure visitors with books, at least we could lure them with giveaways! But as it turned out, we didn’t need to worry about that.

At 10:00 on the dot, a loudspeaker announcement declared the opening of the show. And so the floodgates were opened and dozens of men and women piled in.

From the outset, our stall seemed to attract a lot of attention, setting the pace for the day ahead. For the next six hours, Sara and I barely had a moment to rest!

Visitors seemed genuinely fascinated to hear about my novel way of approaching family history research and were keen to take away a copy of the two-page pamphlet I had produced with ‘top tips’ for using book inscriptions to explore ancestry.

As people browsed through the selection of inscriptions on the table, they seemed temporarily transported back to their childhood and opened up, sharing their own family memories and stories. It was genuinely touching to hear personal perspectives on inscriptions and what they meant to individuals. Many of these stories concerned family Bibles and prayer books and how they were passed down from generation to generation until the present day. Most admitted that they had never read the books, but they would never get rid of them because they were such a tangible link to their ancestors. Some, on the other hand, confessed that they had binned the books but steamed off the prize labels to keep because to do otherwise would be “to erase history.”

My favourite stories of the day include the simple tale of how one woman’s great-grandmother saved up to buy a copy of The English House for her great-grandfather, a builder, as well as the moving story of how one pocket prayer book survived World War One with bullet holes through its cover. I was also fascinated to hear the number of stories about inscriptions as first-hand evidence of national events. One lady recalled how her great-aunt had witnessed the transportation of Queen Victoria’s coffin from Osborne House to mainland Britain and documented the event in an inscription. In it, she had described how the sun shone off the jewels on top of the coffin, something that “you would never get from official records.” As she told me, marks like these made you realise that “Queen Victoria was nobody special; she was just one of us.” These examples really show how inscriptions and books can offer personalised versions and, thus, new perspectives on national events.

One of the most positive things for me was the way in which my research seemed to stimulate people’s own interest and curiosity in book inscriptions. Many stated that they couldn’t wait to go back home and start rummaging around to find what old books they had. Several people even noted down my email address so that they could send me their own examples to add to my dataset. It was also encouraging to hear people say that I had changed their way of thinking and that they would now look at their books in a new light. One man informed me that my research had “a lovely way of humanising ancestors” and “bringing the past to life.”

Being the only Welsh presence at the Family History Show, we also received a surprising number of visitors who were interested in investigating their Welsh ancestry. Sara dealt expertly (in both English and Welsh) with a barrage of different questions about all aspects of Welsh identity, from religion and language to sports and jobs, and even skillfully handled a tricky debate on nationalism. She even convinced a few people to start learning Welsh. Result!

Feedback from visitors showed that most people were unaware that Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives existed, let alone that it was open to the general public and not just students and academics. After informing visitors of the types of records held there, many expressed an interest in visiting. We were also able to send a fair few people Glamorgan Archives’ way (you can thank us later, guys!). Many visitors also had no previous knowledge of Archives Hub, an excellent website for searching across archive collections held in the UK, so we were able to promote the resource too.

A key factor that seemed to unite all stalls across the event was the connection between the past and present and the idea that we are really no different to our ancestors. This theme came up time and time again, whether in the examples of postcards showing Edwardians ‘foodstagramming’ their meals at a table, confession books where friends and families took part in ‘clean copy challenges’ or bookplates which people used as ‘status updates’ and ‘selfies’. Just like now, people laughed, cried, worried and cared about similar things to us. Tangible objects like book inscriptions or photographs remind us of this and bring us back in touch with the human side of our ancestors, making them more than just a name on a census record.

The day just flew by and before we knew it, it was 4:00 and time to wrap up the show. Naturally, the show ended in the only way that a Family History Show could end: with a Tannoy announcement that somebody had left a copy of the 1933 electoral register on the Somerset & Dorset Family History Society stall. You wouldn’t get that anywhere else!

So, all in all, we had a brilliant day out and thoroughly enjoyed talking to different people, hearing fascinating stories and promoting the value of book inscriptions for family history research. I even received two public speaking invites and generated interest in my forthcoming exhibition and book (stay tuned for both!). And as a scholar of Edwardian book inscriptions, I was delighted to pick up a free copy of the latest edition of Discover Your Ancestors featuring who else but King Edward VII himself standing regally on the front cover looking over his subjects.

My first experience of a family history show but definitely not my last!

DCDC19: Navigating the digital shift – practices and possibilities

A report from archivist Alison Harvey, who attended Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities (#DCDC19), a collaborative conference series hosted by The National Archives, Research Libraries UK, and Jisc, 12-14 November at Birmingham Conference and Events Centre.


Introducing the Library of Birmingham 


Exterior view of the Library of Birmingham

Library of Birmingham

This year’s DCDC19 featured the option to attend one of three pre-conference workshops based at different cultural institutions around the city. I have to admit to selecting the one hosted in the Library of Birmingham, based solely on wanting time to explore this impressive building during my stay. It was under construction the last time I’d been in the city, and while I’d seen photos of its modern and stylish design, nothing prepared me for the sheer scale. Inside, the ground floor was vast, bright and airy, stretching away in every direction. 

I looked up as I ascended the escalator, eager to see what was coming next, and had a sudden sense of vertigo as I caught a glimpse of the ceiling – nine floors and 200 feet above. I passed through floors dedicated to language learning, small business start ups, and quiet study. Each floor was shielded from the escalators by an inner wall lined with dimly-lit runs of old journals on black bookshelves, decked with twinkling fairy lights. 

Bookshelves lining the Library of Birmingham

Bookshelves lining the Library of Birmingham

The higher I climbed, the feel of the space shifted, from airy and modern, to more intimate, magical, and full of possibility. I recognised the same sense of excitement that I’d felt about libraries as a child – a place where I would be left unaccompanied for hours, with the freedom to pick any book I wanted, and travel to imaginary worlds. The final escalator dropped me at the entrance to the archives department. I hesitated, but to my surprise, nobody stopped me for ID or asked me to deposit my bag. The front area is full of general reference works, catalogues, maps, and microfilm, which anyone can use without security checks or restrictions about food and drink, and this phased approach to access made the whole department feel more welcoming. 

From here, I took a lift even higher to reach a roof garden that wraps around the building, and offers views of the city stretching for miles. Another trip in the lift took me all the way to the top floor, and the Shakespeare Memorial Library.

Shakespeare Memorial Library

Shakespeare Memorial Library

This had been carefully dismantled from its former home, and lovingly restored by architects in a specially-designed gold rotunda, topping the library building. The collection itself has outgrown its former accommodation, and the books now held in the oak cabinets are there mainly for decorative purposes alongside interpretation panels. The bulk of the collection is held in environmentally controlled storage back on the archives floor. Nevertheless, the room was busy with international tourists, even on a wet Tuesday morning in November. The Library hosts wine receptions and even has a licence for weddings. By now I was definitely ready to find out more – fortunately it was the subject of that afternoon’s workshop.


Workshop: Speaking of Shakespeare – and the Modern City, Tom Epps, Cultural Partnerships Manager, Library of Birmingham and Ewan Fernie, Director of the ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project, University of Birmingham 


Everything to Everybody homepage

The University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council are using a £32,700 Heritage Lottery Fund development grant to prepare a £1 million bid to revive the city’s Shakespeare Memorial Library over the next four years. The oldest and largest Shakespeare collection in any public library, it holds content in 93 different languages: 40,000 volumes, plus production photographs, music scores, production posters, performance programmes and playbills. It holds the only First Folio in the world to be purchased by a public library to support working class education. I found all this astonishing, as I’d never heard of the collection. I soon found out why.

The Library was internationally recognised as the definitive resource for Shakespeare studies until the 1960s, but collection use declined through the 1970s and 80s as council funding shifted to activities considered less ‘elitist’. By 2015, the library had no remaining special collections staff, and only 7 collection items were used all year. All this had remarkable parallels with the fate of the rare book collection formerly held by Cardiff Public Library – very nearly dispersed at auction after decades of neglect, until it was saved for the city by Cardiff University and Welsh Government in 2010. Tom and Ewan explained that the extremely valuable collection was only protected from sale during its decline due to its designated status – an Arts Council scheme which does not extend beyond England.

A lack of staff in recent decades meant that the catalogue, part-typed and part-handwritten, has never made it online. Visitors have to make an appointment to see the catalogue volumes, then another appointment to see collection items. The project team mentioned their concern that the highly specialist bibliographic jargon used in the catalogues is impenetrable to all but academics, and are looking at ways of improving the accessibility of this information. 

Everything to Everybody workshop

Everything to Everybody workshop

The ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project seeks to revive awareness of this cultural resource, and ensure its accessibility and relevance to everyone in 21st century Birmingham and beyond. The workshop discussed the opportunities and challenges of bringing community voices to online catalogues and other digital documents, and all participants were invited to share their priorities, experience, and recommended practice.

The project team have employed the Collections Trust’s Revisiting Archive Collections methodology, which is aimed at helping cultural organisations understand the significance and meaning of their collections in a contemporary context, by encouraging community engagement and interpretation. They are keen to see the library become a living collection – consumed and remixed for any purpose imaginable – and to have these reinterpretations folded back into the collection for its future enrichment.

How to reach communities effectively? Partnerships. The project team appreciated that the city is already packed with cultural heritage organisations, schools, and charities with far better connections to and understanding of the communities they serve than the team could hope to access by working alone. The project team sought to connect with these groups, then further connect with wider communities. They marketed structured offers of engagement with the collection at speed dating-style events. Organisations could consider and select from a range of onsite and offsite options, with different levels of co-design and support from the library. 

Shakespeare Memorial Library

Shakespeare Memorial Library

Onsite options include: tours and education workshops; family days; community curated exhibitions; and volunteering opportunities (assisting with archive research, conservation, digitisation, social media, public engagement, and education). Offsite, the library is offering support for: teachers wishing to develop Shakespeare-themed events or visual arts activities within schools; venues seeking to host the First Folio as it tours around Birmingham; neighbourhood Shakespeare productions; and the opportunity to showcase work, exhibitions and performances at an international festival in 2022, when Birmingham will host the Commonwealth Games.

In terms of digital content, the team wants ‘to give it away and get something else back’ – to offer their images for re-use and re-mixing by anyone, for any purpose. Delegates highlighted a number of examples of good practice, such as the British Library’s Off the Map scheme. This challenges full time UK students in higher or further education to make videogames, digital explorable environments, or interactive fiction based on digitised British Library collection items. Girls Who Code was identified as a group that may be interested in transforming raw catalogue data into new forms. The Museum of London’s Fire of London website was named as an example of an innovative online exhibition, which features educational games and support for Minecraft. It was also suggested that the library could ensure complete support for digital scrapbooking and interoperable image sharing by ensuring adherence to the International Image Interoperability Framework.

The project team will hear if their HLF bid has been successful in the next few weeks. Follow them on Twitter to keep up with the latest developments!


Keynote: Navigating the digital shift through the lens of arts and culture, Tonya Nelson, Arts Council England


Tonya Nelson, Arts Council England

Tonya Nelson, Arts Council England

Tonya’s keynote began by stating three major digital challenges facing society, each illustrated with examples of digital art and culture works aimed at addressing them:

  • Making sense of the vast quantities of information now available to us: Anna Ridler’s Mosaic Virus, which draws on the history of the 17th century tulip boom to make sense of bitcoin; Refik Anadol’s Black Sea data sculpture; and Lumen prize winner Resurrecting the Sublime, a video installation aimed at capturing the sense of smell. 
  • Transforming information into power (using archives to change society): Cleveland Museum of Art’s open access policy, which encourages artists and developers to remix; the British Library’s Imaginary Cities, an exhibition which remixed images and data from the library’s digital collection of historic urban maps into fictional cityscapes; and Justice Syndicate, an immersive theatre and courtroom simulation in which the audience play the part of a murder trial jury confronted with a wealth of conflicting information, and challenges how this can be navigated without bias.
  • Supporting new forms of authorship and ensuring its capture for future generations: Tonya mentioned the need for conversations around ethics and intellectual property in relation to machine learning. Choreographer Wayne McGregor trained a machine to learn from an archive of his own dance videos in order to generate new work in his style using AI – to what extent can he claim intellectual or artistic ownership over this output? How can archives manage this kind of training data, and ensure that it is transparent and free of bias?

Tonya’s key message was that the time for heritage institutions to be passive providers of information is over: libraries, archives and museums must become laboratories for the processing of information, ensuring that it remains meaningful to each generation. They must drive change, become platform innovators: developing online tools to facilitate the manipulation of existing information to create new works. 

Culture is Digital reportTo meet this new challenge, she acknowledged a need to build skills capacity in the sector. As an output of the 2018 government report Culture is Digital, a Digital Maturity Index is being launched to encourage heritage organisations to adopt a focused strategy that is relevant to their needs. There is no need for every institution to attempt everything – it is for each to decide where they are now, and where they would like to be. To support this, Arts Council England have employed Tech Champions, digital specialists based outside the sector, who can offer advice and training in their areas of expertise: data analytics, websites, digital marketing, social media, search engine optimisation, and e-commerce. Tonya spoke frankly about the need to review current Arts Council funding models, which can make it difficult for organisations who are already struggling to deliver a core service, to take innovative risks and embrace change.


Panel: Developing Digital Platforms


Eating the elephant: tackling the Express & Star photograph archive one bite at a time, Scott Knight, Business Development Manager, University of Wolverhampton and Heidi McIntosh, Senior Archivist, Wolverhampton City Archives

Scott and Heidi spoke about the partnership of the Express & Star newspaper, the University of Wolverhampton, and Wolverhampton City Archives to digitise, catalogue, preserve and make publicly available their archive of photographs of 20th century daily life in the West Midlands.

The Express & Star is currently the largest regional newspaper in the UK, and their photo archive is very much a working collection. It remains held on site in the newspaper offices and is accessed by employees several times a day. I was interested to hear how Heidi managed the logistical challenge this presents – removing small sections in batches for cataloguing, digitisation, upload to the newspaper’s website, then transferring the originals for archival storage.

Express & Star photo archive homepage

Express & Star photo archive

Funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, they spoke of the value of their HLF mentor, who helped define expectations of what the project could realistically deliver. Principally, to understand the complexities and true costs of mass digitisation, and managing risk around copyright. The archive totals 1 million images, but it became apparent that once the costs of equipment, image storage and hosting was factored in, their HLF grant only stretched to digitising 3,000 images. A team of volunteers has helped to sort 65,000 further photos into categories to aid retrieval, and while this work continues, further funding is being sought to continue digitisation activity, as well as support for digital preservation, which was not costed into the initial project.

Many of their initial assumptions were challenged, such as the expectation that they could generate match-funding by selling images. There proved to be no viable market for this, and they abandoned this approach in favour of sharing content freely on social media. This generated publicity rather than income, which they now appreciate to be of greater long term value for their institutions.

 

The GDD Network: towards a Global Dataset of Digitised texts, Paul Gooding, Lecturer in Information Studies, University of Glasgow

Paul spoke about the growing need for a central resource to address uncoordinated digital activity in the UK. Many research libraries are undertaking mass digitisation programmes, but there exists no single discovery platform for discovering either single texts for reading, or large corpora for digital scholarship. 

The AHRC-funded GDD Network (British Library, National Library of Wales, and National Library of Scotland) addresses the feasibility of creating a global dataset of digitised texts through collaborative outputs. These include a prototype dataset of digitised texts, and expert workshops to inform a study of the impact of a global dataset. 

The key needs identified were to avoid duplication of effort, provide a single point of access, and ensure that data is both trusted (with traceable provenance) and interoperable. A holdings analysis by Hathi Trust aimed to data match digitised texts across catalogues, but met with limited success due to the inconsistent use of OCLC and ISBN numbers. Machine learning was subsequently attempted, by training a Support Vector Machine classifier – with the conclusion that cross-institutional duplicate detection is ‘very difficult’.

 

Manchester Digital Collections, John Hodgson, Head of Special Collections, University of Manchester Library and Ian Gifford, Digital Library Applications Development Manager, University of Manchester Library

John and Ian spoke about their collaboration with Cambridge University Library to deliver a new Digital Image Viewer to showcase the University’s digital collections.

Manchester Digital Collections homepage

Manchester Digital Collections

The presentation ended with a demonstration of the viewer, but focused mainly on the challenges of working collaboratively with an institution that operates within a very different context, and the lessons learnt by both parties:

  • Governance: Manchester University Library has limited autonomy: decision-making is collaborative, largely driven by researcher demand, and tends towards risk aversion. Good communication with Cambridge was essential to avoid misinterpretations and false assumptions based on cultural differences, with partners meeting face-to-face as much as possible. Establishing a project board helped to coordinate stakeholders and encourage their input. Interestingly, Manchester’s collaborative approach has caused Cambridge to rethink their dependence on key individuals for decision-making.
  • Technology: Cambridge have a dedicated digital team, with bespoke development activity matching the personal interests of its members. Conversely, Manchester have struggled to get their IT team involved with digital projects, due to their many other commitments, and library staff have had to upskill to fill the gap. However, a very positive and collegial dynamic has developed between the new library digital team and the IT team.
  • Content: Cambridge’s dedicated team develops its digital content systematically through funded projects, while Manchester had large quantities of legacy content digitised in a variety of formats, with inconsistent quality standards and metadata. Ingest was impossible to automate in this context, and staff were not sufficiently skilled to upload content manually. A project role was created, solely to manage and organise the preparation and upload of legacy content. Manchester are reviewing their current processes and rethinking workflows around image capture and cataloguing, in an attempt to match the more orderly creation of data achieved by Cambridge. They are consolidating and standardising practices, formats and tools for the preparation of content, and staff are being trained in the Text-Encoding Initiative to ensure future proofing.

Moving forward, Manchester has decided to continue to prioritise improvements and integrations that support researcher requirements, like online exhibitions, collaborative development via Open Source, and partnerships with other institutions.


Keynote: Liz Jolly, Chief Librarian, British Library


Liz spoke about the various initiatives that the British Library is supporting to get its content out beyond London:


Panel: The digital workforce: navigating the skills shift


The everyday (digital) archivistJo Pugh, Digital Development Manager, The National Archives

Jo reported on a large scale digital survey of the sector carried out with Jisc, and discussed The National Archives’ digital capacity building strategy, Plugged In, Powered Up, formulated in response. This includes:

  • the development of new ‘Novice to Ninja’ digital preservation guidance, and intensive courses for archive staff in collaboration with the Digital Preservation Coalition. 
  • A new network, Digital Archives Learning Exchange, which will meet at locations around the UK.
  • ‘Archives School’, a free taught digital preservation programme delivered at Kew.
  • Supporting the British Library and Birkbeck, University of London, to develop a postgraduate certificate in Computing for Cultural Heritage.
  • Applications for new Digital Engagement Grants are opening in January.
  • Future work includes a peer mentoring scheme for archivists looking to engage in more extensive digital work, a leadership programme for senior managers, and an engagement toolkit for digital storytelling and audience development.

 

Keepers of manuscripts to content managers: navigating and developing the shift in archival skillsRachel MacGregor, Digital Preservation Officer, University of Warwick

Rachel spoke about the perceived barriers to developing digital skills – a lack of time, resource, IT support, confidence and subject knowledge. However, since spending time working in research data management, she has noticed many similarities between archives and data – perhaps the gap is not as large as we think? She highlighted the SCONUL report on Mapping the future of academic libraries, which discusses the development of AI and machine learning, datafied scholarship, and the increasing pressure on libraries to provide support for these areas of research.

 

Archives West Midlands: New skills for old? The shift from analogue to digitalJoanna Terry, Head of Staffordshire Archives & Heritage and AWM Trustee and Mary McKenzie, Shropshire Archives Team Leader and AWM Trustee.

Joanna and Mary discussed the work of their regional network, Archives West Midlands (AWM) launched in 2016 as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO). AWM has been successful in delivering two grant funded projects focused on digital preservation. The first project established ‘digital preservation readiness’ across member services in the West Midlands. Their goal is that everyone does something towards digital preservation, with an aim to reaching NDSA (National Digital Stewardship Alliance) Level 1. The second project built on this to establish model policies and guidance to enable members to navigate the skills shift from analogue to digital. 


Workshop: Digital scholarship and the modern research library: Judy Burg, Head of Collections, Durham University; Siobhán Convery, Assistant Director, Collections Strategy, University of Glasgow; Anna Grigson, Head of Content and Discovery, LSE; Lorna Hughes, Professor of Digital Humanities, University of Glasgow.


The workshop discussed what collections-led research might look like in the digital future, and what this means for collections.

We discussed the impact of AI, machine learning, disruptive tech like VR, robotics, data mining and normalisation. We asked, how can archivists and librarians enable their collections to thrive in the digital future? Do we have the skills as professionals to meet that challenge? If not, how do we get ready? Who might we need to partner with? What research processes and structures do we need to be a part of, and what impact might this have on our spaces, digital and physical?

Our discussions led to several conclusions:

  • we need to identify and learn from sector leaders and best practice.
  • we need to accept that outside influence is needed to develop skills; there is little point in us only talking to each other.
  • we as individuals don’t need to possess all the skills – just know where to find people who have them.
  • we should open the sector and pull people in: not everyone who works in an archive needs to be an archivist.
  • collaborative working was offered as a solution to how HEIs can afford to pay a developer when they are able to earn so much more in the private sector. If HEIs work together, they can share the costs to buy in this expertise, rather than each institution paying for the same knowledge individually.
  • what is being taught on archive courses is not fit for purpose, and has created a situation where increasingly self-taught ‘digital archivists’ find they have more in common with systems developers than with other archivists. 

Keynote: A reckoning in the Archives: America’s scrapbook, Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, University Archivist, University of Maryland


I don’t think I would be alone in stating that Lae’l’s keynote was the highlight of the conference. She spoke eloquently and passionately about black American archival silences, asking us to imagine being a member of a family that routinely removes you from photos, despite making every effort to prove yourself. She spoke movingly of how this persistent cultural erasure, this inability, from early childhood, to find characters like herself in books, or experiences she could relate to, left her asking ‘am I alive, am I really here, am I a ghost?’ 

Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, University of Maryland

Lae’l Hughes-Watkins, University of Maryland

Later in her education, she would scour archives in the hope of finding these stories, but was all too often defeated in these efforts. She decided that she wanted to stop searching in the scrapbook of American history, and start creating it, by becoming an archivist herself. Her stories of working with donors with an intense mistrust of heritage institutions were fascinating – her efforts to call every week or so to exchange the latest family gossip, to join them at church, and even check that their driveway was clear when it snowed – in a keen attempt to try and rebuild these damaged relationships. 

Following a discussion of the difficulties, both practical and ethical, of capturing social media activism, Lae’l ended her keynote with a call to arms. She urged archivists to abandon neutrality in favour of social justice. Our work is not neutral – a collection development policy is not neutral. It decides what is important now and in the future. She asked us to consider, which of us has the arrogance to decide this easily?


Workshop: Transcription in the age of machines


As a not-very-secret geek, I was over the moon to have the opportunity to play with Transkribus, a free platform for handwritten text recognition (HTR). It has the potential to automate text recognition for any collection containing large amounts of manuscripts written by the same person, such as correspondence or diaries. I had heard about the software being used to support the Transcribe Bentham project, and was keen to learn more. 

Users can upload up to 500MB of images at one time, more via FTP. A range of file formats are accepted, including pdf, tif, jpg and png. There are no restrictions on image quality, but 300 dpi images are recommended for best results. The software analyses each image, and segments it into lines. Then it’s over to the user to transcribe each line exactly as it appears – every spelling error, hyphen, abbreviation and symbol. The user is telling the machine what letter or symbol is being represented by each mark on the page. It is completely language independent, because the machine is reading shapes, not words.

Transkribus software

Transkribus software

Once around 50 pages, or 10,000 words have been transcribed, the fun really starts. Users can take this data, known as ‘ground truth’ – images and their matching transcriptions – and use it to create a machine learning model which can automatically transcribe documents written in the same hand. The output can be edited and corrected, then fed back into the model to improve its accuracy even further. The final transcripts can be tagged, exported and searched. The software is available for download, and a lite version is available in browser.


Conclusions

DCDC19 left delegates in no doubt that there is a digital shift, and that we must act now – as individual practitioners, leaders, and institutions – to ensure that we are not left on the wrong side of it. The key message of the conference was the importance of partnerships. Upskilling and continuing professional development is one approach that we should all take, but at the same time, we need to work smarter, using resources already available to us. Skills of communication, negotiation, and collaboration are ones we already possess – half the battle in addressing the digital skill gap is identifying the right people to talk to, and understanding how to talk to them respectfully and effectively.

There are tools and partnerships we could use to help us on this journey, critically those provided by conference organisers Jisc and RLUK, but also at the regional and city-wide level. Taking a more strategic approach – asking ‘where are we now, and where do we want to be’ – and making the answers honest and realistic, is preferable to panicking and putting our heads in the sand. As individuals, and as institutions, we do not need to be all things to all people. By working together, by being open, by sharing our content, as well as our skills and resources, we are all in a stronger position to navigate the digital shift.

“Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?”: A Halloween Tale

This guest post comes from Dr Lauren O’Hagan, sociolinguistic researcher of Edwardian material culture and class conflict.


The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade, first published in 1861, was a bestseller of the Victorian era. Critically acclaimed as one of the greatest historical novels in English, it tells the story of Gerard Eliason and his struggle to balance obligations to his family and the Church. So, when cataloguing the 1906 Collins Clear-Type Press edition held in the Janet Powney Collection, I was more than a bit surprised to discover a series of handwritten satanic references written within.

From the outside, the book is fairly ordinary to look at; it doesn’t boast the bright illustrations, gilt lettering or art nouveau patterns associated with Edwardian covers. Its inside is just as unstartling, consisting of thin, poor quality paper typical of early twentieth-century reprints. Its endpapers, decorated with advertisements for The Home Library series, also hint at its cheap production cost and low retail price. Nonetheless, its inscriptions and the treasures they hold are priceless.

The book’s front flyleaf bears the fairly innocent ownership inscription “James Hooper xxvii August 1906.” However, hidden away on its back flyleaf are the notes of a man intrigued by demonology.

The early twentieth century saw a growing interest in spiritualism and the occult, with famous figures like Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Balfour and Annie Besant all publicly advocating communication with the spirits of dead people. Demonology also attracted increased attention from scholars who were keen to explore demons from a Christian perspective using the Bible, its scriptures, religious texts from early Christian philosophers and associated traditions and legends from other beliefs.

What immediately struck me about this intriguing inscription in The Cloister and the Hearth was the first sentence: “Devil’s best tunes”. It sounded like the name of some heavy metal band’s greatest hits album! Naturally, that is exactly what a quick Google search threw up: Sympathy for the Devil by Rolling Stones, Running with the Devil by Van Halen, Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden, Am I Evil? by Diamond Head. A fantastic soundtrack of songs, but definitely not what I was looking for in the context of 1906!

So, I decided to move onto the list of page references, flipping to the associated numbers (p. 369, p. 16, p. 115, p. 77) within The Cloister and the Hearth in the hope that they would reveal something more about the inscriber’s mindset. But as I expected, given the dates alongside (1880, 1881 and 1882), they weren’t referring to passages in the book. What, then, could they be referring to?

Changing tack, I took a look at the next line: “In W. Scott Demonology (p. 163 Morley’s ed. attributes the saying to Whitfield). Hmm. Taking an educated guess that W. Scott was the famous author, Walter Scott, I entered his name into Google alongside the key word ‘demonology’. Immediately, this brought up hits for Letters of Demonology and Witchcraft, written by Walter Scott in 1830.

Reading on, I discovered that Walter Scott had a keen interest in demonology and witchcraft. To pass the time when recovering from a stroke, Scott decided to write a small volume on the subject for Murray’s Family Library. The book took the form of ten letters addressed to his son-in-law, J.G. Lockhart, surveying opinions on demonology and witchcraft from the Old Testament period to the present day.

Letters of Demonology and Witchcraft was an immediate success and went through several reprints and new editions throughout the course of the nineteenth century. One of these reprints was published in 1884 by George Routledge and Sons, containing an introduction by Henry Morley. This find solved the mystery of ‘Morley’s ed’ in James Hooper’s inscription.

Consulting the 1884 edition of the book on www.gutenberg.org, I did a quick keyword search for ‘Whitfield’ within the text. This brought up one result. On page 163, just as the inscription said, was the line: “Thus the Church secured possession of many beautiful pieces of scenery, as Mr. Whitfield is said to have grudged to the devil the monopoly of all the fine tunes.” There it was again. The word ‘tunes’.

Whitfield, of course, referred to George Whitefield (1714-1770), the English Anglican cleric and evangelist who was one of the founders of Methodism and the evangelical movement. But what exactly did that sentence mean? Reading the preceding paragraph, it became apparent that Scott’s argument was that the Church protected beautiful things by assigning saints to them as guardians (e.g. St Dorothy, patron saint of gardens). But protecting these things left other things open for the devil to appropriate, such as songs.

This mysterious statement became much clearer to me when I found it reused in an 1882 speech by William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, delivered before a crowd in Worcester. He asked, “Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?” Booth said this in reference to the fact that he had come across many young people on the streets singing lewd tunes that they had heard in music halls. In a bid to attract these people to the Church, he began to encourage religious leaders to use these tunes but set new lyrics to them. This proved an effective way to increase the attendance of young people at church. Viewed in this context, Hooper’s ‘devil’s best tunes’ was starting to make more sense.

My next step was to look for hymn books or song books that matched the dates mentioned in the inscription (1880, 1881, 1882) to see whether I could find anything to support my theory. After some time, I discovered The Methodist Hymn-Book, which was published in November 1880, and reissued in January 1881 and January 1882, just as the inscription said. What’s more, the book claimed that all its hymns were composed from popular tunes. The Methodist Hymn-Book seemed very likely to be exactly what James Hooper was referring to, particularly as he had also quoted Whitfield, a key figure in Methodism.

Now when I flipped to the page references using the online versions of the hymn book, things started to make much more sense. I learnt that ‘Keep Thyself Pure! Christ’s Soldier, Hear’ was set to the tune of ‘Keble’; ‘I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath’ to the tune of ‘Dresden’, ‘Oh Come and Mourn With Me Awhile!’ to the tune of ‘St Cross’ and ‘None Other Lamb, None Other Name’ to the tune of ‘Rossetti’. Perhaps these were the book owner’s favourite songs.

The final words in the inscription “Xenodochium 598” were a simple reference to pg. 598 within The Cloister and the Hearth when the Xenodochium – a hospital for pilgrims – is mentioned. In the early Middle Ages, Xenodochia provided treatment for people suffering from physical and mental illness, the latter believed to be caused by demonic possession at the time. Whether its specific mention here was because the owner had an academic or personal interest in the concept or simply because he had not come across the unusual word before will forever remain a mystery.

Having more or less deciphered the inscription, my final search concerned the owner himself. Frustratingly, James Hooper is a very common name. Furthermore, apart from the date of inscription, he left no other clues regarding his address, profession etc. Unable to use my faithful tools on http://www.ancestry.com, again, I turned to a general internet search trying various combinations of his name and keywords.

Finally, I found a potential candidate. In a book from 1934 entitled Psychic Phenomena of Jamaica, the author Joseph Williams has reprinted a letter from July 15th 1899 from a scholar of demonology named James Hooper. His location is noted as “Harwich”, but it is hard to know whether this is Harwich in Essex, UK or in Massachusetts, USA. In his letter, Hooper writes about obiism, or serpent worship, and discusses the etymology behind the word and its Biblical links with demonology. This letter made me relatively sure that I had indeed found the correct James Hooper.

So, in the end, after all that intrigue, I hadn’t come across some mad Satanist or a rebellious atheist. Nonetheless, James Hooper’s perplexing inscriptions within an important religious book provided me with the perfect spooky Halloween entertainment.

Using census records to trace the owner of a birthday book… with an unexpected twist!

This guest post comes from Dr Lauren O’Hagan, sociolinguistic researcher of Edwardian material culture and class conflict.


In 1798, statistician John Rickman wrote an article stressing the need to conduct a census in Britain. He argued that “the intimate knowledge of any country must form the rational basis of legislation and diplomacy” and “an industrious population is the basic power and resource of any nation, and therefore its size needs to be known.” Two years later, the Census Act was passed in Parliament and in 1801, the first ever detailed, national survey was carried out. Since this date, a census has been conducted in Britain every ten years.

While the census can help the Government to develop policies, plan public services and allocate funding, for researchers, historians and genealogists, it is an incredibly valuable tool for discovering the lifestyles and characteristics of past generations. Census records provide official evidence that enables stories of individuals to be pieced together, retold and preserved for the future. When working with book inscriptions, these records are particularly useful in solving provenance mysteries. Indeed, I have the census to thank (partially) for unravelling a mystery I encountered in the Janet Powney Collection last week.

The mystery concerns a beautiful pocketbook, bound in brown cloth boards and published by Ernest Nister in the late nineteenth century. The book was entitled The Poetical Birthday Book and as the title suggests, it features a short poem per day by such popular poets as Tennyson, Longfellow and Wordsworth, with a blank space alongside where family, friends and acquaintances of the book owner could mark their birthdays.

Birthday books were a Victorian invention, which grew in popularity in the 1860s as a result of increased popular interest in graphology, personalisation and celebrity culture. For the increasingly literate population, they were seen as status symbols and were particularly used by middle-class men and women to map their expanding social circles.

Throughout my research, I have come across many birthday books and the owner’s name is usually inscribed somewhere on the front endpapers. However, the endpapers of this book were surprisingly bare. Always enthusiastic about a provenance challenge, I decided to track down the owner by researching the other names inscribed in the volume… all with the help of the trusty census, of course!

I began by making a list of all the names in the book. There were twenty-three in total, of which seventeen were women and six men. Given the social taboos of the time about women socialising with men, I started with the assumption that the book’s owner was likely to be a woman.

Next, I grouped the names together according to surnames. This resulted in nine Murrays, two Goldsmiths, two Taylors, two Watts, one Grange, one Sewell, one Collings, one Hallam, one Humphrey, one Dickinson, one Armstrong and one Pakeman. The large number of Murrays suggested that the book’s owner may also be a member of the Murray family.

Without any knowledge of the address or location of these individuals, I decided the best way to start researching would be to look up the people who had included their middle name when inscribing their birthdays in the book. The inclusion of a middle name drastically narrows down results and can make all the difference when trying to pinpoint the correct person in a record. Of course, in this case, having the specific day and month of their births was also incredibly useful.

I started by inputting the name George Cameron Murray (January 19th 1892-1978). Luckily, this only brought up one result. Bingo! The 1911 census confirmed that I had the right George when I learnt that his sister was Winifred Hannah (December 23rd 1885-1935), his brother was Norman Ramsay (July 29th 1882-1945), his father was Patrick (September 14th 1849-1919) and his mother was Hannah (April 18th 1851-1925). All of these names and birthdays were also inscribed in the birthday book. This evidence gave me my first possible clue that either Winifred or Hannah may be the owner.

The census records informed me that Patrick Ramsay was a bank manager who was born in Rothbury, Northumberland, but had moved to Cambridge as a young man and then later to London. From 1891 onwards, he and his family lived in Chiswick – an area on the outskirts of the city that became popular amongst the upper-middle classes in the late nineteenth century. His daughter Winifred was a physiotherapist, his son George was a bank clerk, while his son Norman was a solicitor. Norman was an interesting character; immigration records show that he settled in Australia in 1908 and became involved in various cases of fraud and bigamy. He appears regularly in the Adelaide police gazettes throughout the 1910s and 1920s and even served four years in prison for his crimes.

Next, I turned to Sarah Hall Murray (March 7th 1880-1974). I decided to limit my searches to either Rothbury, Northumberland (Patrick Murray’s place of birth) or Chiswick, London (Patrick’s current address). This proved fruitful. I immediately found her in Rothbury and confirmed that she was the daughter of Patrick’s younger brother, George. I was also able to establish that the other Murrays in the book (Ada, Thomas, Evelyn and A [Anne]) were other nieces and nephews of Patrick. Again, this indicated that either Hannah or Winifred was the book’s owner.

As I began to research the other names in the book, I quickly established a trend. Like Patrick and his family, most lived in Chiswick and were linked to the banking trade. Matilda Humphrey (May 9th 1865-?) and Katie Goldsworth (July 7th 1864-1933) were wives of bank managers, while Kate Pakeman (June 21st 1863-1911) was the wife of the manager of a financial firm. These facts now started to make me lean more towards Hannah Murray as the book’s owner. Perhaps the wives of these bankers socialised regularly with one another?

Then, I found the name Duncan ‘Dodo’ Goldsmith (July 4th 1895-1915), the son of the aforementioned Katie Goldsworth, also recorded in the book. Being of a similar age to Hannah’s own children, Duncan may have socialised with them or attended the same school. The affectionate nickname ‘Dodo’ certainly suggests some level of intimacy with the family. Equally, Beatrice Madeline Grange (October 30th 1885-1969), recorded as ‘Madeline’, was found to have been a schoolfriend of Winifred, as were Birdie Dickinson [née Cooper] (May 21st 1885-?) and Louisa Hallam [née Halt] (May 27th 1885-?). Seeing the amount of young girls the same age as Winifred in the book, I now began to think that she was the book’s owner and not her mother.

Of the remaining names, most were found to be located in the Chiswick area. Hilda S. Armstrong (August 17th 1884-?), Julia Taylor (July 12th 1899-?) and her sister Ann E.F. Taylor (July 24th 1818-1896), as well as Elizabeth A. Watts (May 24th 1856-?) and her daughter Emma Watts (March 1st 1882-?) all lived in the same street as the Murrays at one time or another. Unfortunately, Harry Collings (August 25th) was too common a name to be traced with certainty in the records, while A.F. Sewell (October 18th) was too vague.

So, after five hours of extensive research, I had narrowed the owner down to two possible candidates: Hannah or Winifred.

I decided to take a break from researching to photograph the little volume. As I set the book up on the supportive cushion, I noticed that its two front pages were stubbornly stuck together. I carefully pulled them apart and you would not believe what I found underneath… an inscription hand-written in black ink: “To dear little Wynnie Murray as a well-earned prize June 1893.” Argh! So, after all that effort, the book had contained an inscription all along; it was just buried under years of stiff pages from non-use. Despite this frustration, I still felt pleased with my Holmesque detective work and that the book’s owner had finally been determined. However, I also vowed to myself never to make such a simple mistake again!

Guest post: Behind the Night-light: A Forgotten Bestseller

This guest post comes from Dr Lauren O’Hagan, sociolinguistic researcher of Edwardian material culture and class conflict.


“He is not quite a cow, but a little green bull
He lives in a large field where there is no up and no down
He always wears beautiful trousers
You may like him at first, but you will soon get tired of him
He is very pretty, but oh, so good!
He collects nothing”

Read the above lines and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they came from one of Quentin Blake’s nonsense verses or a lost Dr Seuss book (minus the rhymes!). In fact, they are taken from Behind the Night-light, a 1912 book that captures the poetic musings of a three-year-old girl, Joan Maude. Back in December of last year, I shone a spotlight on another Edwardian child star: Daisy Ashford and her successful novel The Young Visiters. Like The Young Visiters, Behind the Night-light was also a bestseller in its day, only to have faded into obscurity over time. I’d like take the blog space this week to acquaint unfamiliar readers with this delightful and forgotten book.

Behind the Night-light was published by John Murray in June 1912 and went through four reprints in its first six months. It is its fourth reprint from January 1913 that graces the shelves of the Janet Powney Collection in Special Collections. Considering the way that most children’s books of the period were decorated, the book has decidedly bland black cloth covers. However, tucked within, page after page is filled with intriguing and humorous tales about an original world that little Joan Maude created from the comfort of her childhood playroom.

According to the title page, every story and poem in the book has been “described by Joan Maude and faithfully recorded by Nancy Price” (her mother). As Price explains in the preface:

“These quaint beasts who roam that delightful country ‘behind the night-light’ are the exclusive discovery of a child of three. Their names, their habits, etc., are entirely hers. My task has merely been to record them in language as near the original as possible.”

And this originality is certainly apparent in the contents page alone as we are introduced to such unique characters as the Kiddikee, Boo-Choo and Fat-Tack to the Mossip, Hitchy-Penny and Jonket. Through Joan Maude’s imagination, we learn about Bomblemass, an animal who “grows no teeth, carries a stick, wears a green plush coat and ties on his legs with black silk ribbon” or the Gott family “who all lost their ears because they wouldn’t listen.” We meet the Stickle-Jag “who has a coat made of hundreds and thousands, so that he can eat bits off of it when he can’t find the sugar basin” and the Lowdge who “collects dust and lives in the middle of it.” And so on and so forth across its fifty pages of creativity.

A key factor that influenced book sales was the fact that Joan Maude wasn’t just any little girl; she was the daughter of Nancy Price (1880-1970), a huge star of the Edwardian stage. Price had been part of F.R. Benson’s theatre company for many years, touring extensively in the provinces performing Shakespeare plays. In 1902, she caught the attention of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree who cast her as Calypso in Stephen Phillips’ production Ulysses at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. She later went on to play Hilda Gunning in Letty (1904), Mrs D’Aquila in The Whip (1909), one of the Pioneer Players in The First Actress (1911) and India in The Crown of India (1912). This meant that at the time of the book’s publication, she was perhaps as famous and recognisable as any of the big Hollywood stars today. Price would go on to establish the People’s National Theatre in 1930, as well as the English School Theatre Movement, which toured productions of Shakespeare plays to working-class children. She was awarded a CBE for services to the stage in 1950.

Upon release, Behind the Night-light was met with tremendous praise by the newspapers. The Era (8 March 1913) described it as “a collection of quaint and original animal fancies” and the Norwood News (12 December 1913) called it “a revelation of wonderful things, while The Pall Mall Gazette (8 June 1912) claimed that the monsters would have found a friend in Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

One year after the book’s publication, Nancy Price enlisted the services of Joan Maude’s godmother, Liza Lehmann, also an English operatic soprano and composer, to turn the book into a stage show. By summer 1913, Behind the Night-light was playing all across England from the Manchester Theatre Royal and Bedford Town Hall to Torquay Pavilion and Ilkley King’s Hall. Reciting the rhymes were such big stage names as Jeannette Sherwin and Guide M. Chambers, and even Nancy Price herself at one special performance in London.

Up until the late 1920s, Behind the Night-light was also a favourite musical for schools to perform. Local newspapers raved about how pupils in Sevenoaks performed the songs at the Royal Crown Hotel (Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 30 November 1917), as well as how children at Steyne School in Worthing put on a show for an enthusiastic audience at Connaught Hall (Worthing Gazette, 7 November 1923). It is also claimed by Nancy Price that many of the expressions from the book went into common use and could be heard amongst such varied people as a professor of history and a pavement artist. “Don’t be a gott” was used to describe someone with a bad temper who wouldn’t listen and “a lowdge” became a term for somebody who ran very quickly.

Being the daughter of a famous actress and finding fame herself at such an early age meant that Joan Maude was always destined for stardom. In 1921, at the age of 13, she made her stage debut in Cairo at His Majesty’s Theatre in London. By the time she hit adulthood, Joan Maude had already starred in more than twenty stage productions all across the West End. As the ‘talkies’ became popular in the 1930s and 1940s, Joan Maude made her move from the stage to the screen, starring in a wide range of comedies, dramas and romances. Perhaps her most famous role was in Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death (1946).

After some fifteen years of popularity, Behind the Night-light stopped touring, schools ended their performances of the musical and sales of the book decreased. Whether the novelty of the book had simply wore off now that Joan Maude was all grown up or whether she herself wanted to distance herself from the book that had first made her famous remains unclear. Nowadays, Behind the Night-light is practically unknown; a cursory Google search brings up just 33 results.

Looking at Behind the Night-light today, perhaps the most surprising observation is the book’s complete absence of images. With such rich descriptions of a world conjured up by Joan Maude, it is a real oversight not to have accompanied the text with vivid illustrations. This may have also secured the book’s longevity as children grew attached to such characters, remembered them more distinctly and then passed them onto their own children. 2020 will mark fifty years since the death of Nancy Price. To me, this seems like a glaring opportunity for a publisher to pick this book back up, update it, populate it with colourful imagery and introduce these charming characters to the children of today.

Guest post: Illustrating King Arthur

This guest post is from Dr Juliette Wood, School of Welsh. In it, she provides some fascinating background to an item she recently donated to Special Collections and Archives: Mary Alice Hadfield’s King Arthur and the Round Table, with illustrations by Donald Seton Cammell, Dent and Co. 1955.


Illustrated re-tellings of Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur aimed at young readers, but also marketed to a wider reading public, have been popular since the modern revival of the Arthurian legend. Alice Mary Hadfield, born in Cirencester in 1908, educated at Oxford and in the United States, was a long-time friend and correspondent of Charles Williams. An editor, writer, and librarian at Amen House, the London Offices of Oxford University Press, she wrote a biography of the poet, and with her second husband, the historian Charles Hadfield, founded the Charles Williams Society in 1976. Among her many publications is a popular re-telling of Malory published in 1953 by Dent and Co as part of their Classic Series. The book has been republished several times, and the copy now in Special Collections and Archives dates to 1955.

Hadfield’s re-telling has some unusual features. Her sources, according to the publisher’s front matter, include Eugene Vinaver’s edition of Malory, the Jones and Jones translation of the Mabinogion, Sebastian Evans The High History of the Holy Grail, and quotations taken from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. However, she injects some interesting additions to this very respectable list of sources. Incidents from Tennyson, such as finding the baby Arthur on the seashore, are integrated into Malory’s story, but the most striking addition is an entire chapter on the legend of Taliesin (spelled here Taliessin) whom she refers to as Arthur’s chief bard. None of her listed sources contain this material.

It is based on Welsh texts edited by Iolo Morganwg, and appears in Charlotte Guest’s influential nineteenth-century edition, although it was never part of the medieval Mabinogion. The adventures of Taliesin are central to Charles Williams’ poetic world, and the source of the mistranslated, but evocative, title of one of his Arthurian poems, The Region of the Summer Stars (1944). A better reading of this phrase based on a wider selection of manuscripts would be ‘Priffard kyffredin wyf J i Elffin/ am bro gynneuin yw gwlad shieruwbin’ (‘Elphin’s customary chief bard am I / My original country is the land of the Cherubim.’)

The vividly striking illustrations are by the Scottish-born artist, Donald Seton Cammell. Cammell grew up in a very Bohemian environment. His father was apparently acquainted with Aleister Crowley, and the artist’s somewhat chaotic life led to an early death in 1996. Cammell was also a filmmaker, and one of his films, Demon Seed (1977), based on a Dean Koontz novel, is a science fiction reworking of Merlin’s demonic paternity. In the film, a supercomputer eludes its creator’s attempts to shut it down and plots to provide itself with a human incarnation, which it does by trapping and ultimately impregnating the scientist’s wife.

Hadfield’s book opens with ‘The Coming of Merlin’. This includes the introduction of Christianity, its threatened loss through the coming of the Saxons, and the hubris of Vortiger’s tower. Merlin’s character conforms more closely to the image in Malory and Tennyson – but not quite. Christianity is established early in Hadfield’s depiction of Britain, and Merlin’s actions are seen in this light. The failure of Camelot is ultimately the failure of a romantic harmonious Christian world of which Charles Williams was a keen advocate. This rupturing of the social, personal and ecological interrelationships through which society and the natural world function gives this re-telling a somewhat darker quality than many of the versions of Arthurian tradition presented to readers at this time.