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.

Guest post: Deciphering the indecipherable in the Janet Powney Collection

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


As a scholar of book inscriptions, what really frustrates me is when a mark of ownership has been thoughtlessly removed from a book. Often, all that is left is a jagged tear line acting as evidence of the bookplate or prize sticker that once was affixed to the endpapers. This careless act of erasure silences voices of past generations and with them, a wide range of social networks, thoughts and feelings that offer new perspectives on life in a particular time period and sociocultural context.

Yet what angers me even more is when an inscription is left in the book but has been scribbled through, almost taunting the reader with its partially obscured information. This is often the work of a later owner who deliberately seeks to stake their own claim to the book, giving no thought for people like me who spend their days researching them! Nonetheless, with a little time and patience, the indecipherable can become decipherable, as I found out last week when working on the Janet Powney Collection.

Towards the end of the day, I picked up a beautiful 1873 edition of Aesop’s Fables. It was custom-bound in dark green full calf leather boards with raised bands on its spine and embossed with a gilt armorial typical of non-state school prize books in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. The armorial on the book’s cover was framed by the abbreviation ‘SCHOL: DIG: SOC: BRAS’ and ‘JACOBO HICKSON FUND’ with the date ‘A.D. MDCLXXXVII’ underneath.

Unlike the working-class prize books of board schools, which were bound and decorated in-house by publishers, prize books for middle- and upper-class children typically arrived at a local bindery unbound and were subsequently custom-bound according to each school’s requirements. In contrast to working-class prize books, far greater attention was also paid to their internal properties. As can be seen in this copy of Aesop’s Fables, the paper is of a higher quality and endpapers are marbled. As grammar and boarding schools considered it important to uphold tradition, it was no coincidence that books such as this one were made to resemble the fine bindings of the eighteenth century.

 

 

Turning to the front endpapers to consult the prize sticker and discover which school awarded the book, I was horrified to find that it had been completely defaced. An attempt had been made to remove the sticker and when the resistant glue had put up a fight, the previous owner had resorted to scribbling through all the information in black ink, totally obscuring the writing below. I had a challenge on my hands that I was determined to overcome!

Using my rudimentary Latin knowledge, I was able to make an educated guess that the abbreviated ‘SCHOL’ was school (schola), while the ‘SOC’ was society or association (societatus). The other two abbreviations posed more of a problem. Although the full name of the awarding institution was printed on the prize sticker, the act of vandalism had made the words almost indistinguishable. Using a magnifying glass, I was able to identify ‘DIG’ as ‘dignif[?]’, which was enough information to help me roughly translate the word as ‘dignified’ or ‘worshipful’. The last word was more difficult. It looked like it read ‘Brasiatorium’. However, the only translation of this word that could be found in Latin dictionaries was ‘brewery’ or ‘malthouse’.  Curioser and curioser…

After feeding various combinations of words into Google, I came across the Worshipful Company of Brewers (WCB). The WCB is one of the oldest Livery Companies of the City of London and received its first charter from King Henry VI in 1438. Could this be our ‘societatus’ and if so, what did the school part mean?

The next clue I decided to chase was the ‘Jacobo Hickson’ behind the fund that was presumably used to purchase the book and award it to its recipient. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was not uncommon for rich entrepreneurs to leave money in their will to fund books for children. Could Jacobo Hickson be one of them?

After a number of unsuccessful searches for Jacob Hickson, rare books cataloguer Christine Megowan had the clever idea of translating ‘Jacobo’ into its English equivalent: ‘James’. Immediately, this brought up a wide range of results, all of which confirmed that James Hickson was indeed a brewer. Born in 1607 in Melton Mowbray, Hickson moved to London as a young man, became a brewer and was later elected an alderman of the City of London. He was one of the three main benefactors of the WCB, along with Richard Platt and Dame Alice Owen.

Hickson used his fortune to carry out philanthropic work. He built and endowed almhouses in South Mymms and bequeathed money in his will to Dame Alice Owen’s School in Potters Bar and Aldenham School in Elstree. Both schools still exist and to this day, they receive Beer Money, in the form of a commemorative coin, from the Master of the WCB. Was it possible then that the ‘schola’ mentioned in the prize sticker was either Dame Alice Owen’s or Aldenham?

Before investigating this thread further, I wanted to get to the bottom of the coat of arms. It clearly did not match that of the WCB (three kilderkins between three pairs of barley garbs). Could it belong to Hickson? Avidly flicking through an online version of an old heraldic dictionary for the surname Hickson, I was thrilled to find that the Hickson coat of arms was described as “two eagles’ legs, erased à la quize, sa., in saltire sable, the dexter surmounted of the sinister, or and sable” or in plain English, two eagles’ legs, upper-part shown only, crossed over, right on top of left, gold and black. Bingo!

As if all of this information was not enough to prove that the book was given by the WCB using money allocated in the bequest of James Hickson, a name at the bottom of the prize sticker confirmed this. Underneath the scribble, the name E.N. Buxton could be roughly made out with the title ‘Soc Bras [?]’ next to it. Consulting the records of the WCB, I found that an Edward North Buxton was the Master at the time that this book was awarded. Edward North Buxton (1840-1924) was a conservationist and Liberal Party politician. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and became a partner in the London brewing firm of Truman, Hanbury, & Co. It was through his work with this brewery that he obtained the position of Master of the WCB in 1875.

To determine once and for all the school with which the WCB was linked, I turned to the other name underneath the scribble at the bottom of the prize sticker: Herbert Williams, schola magister (school master). Scanning through census records, I found that Herbert Williams (1826-1903) was a Church of England clergyman who went on to become the “headmaster of a brewer’s company school” in 1871. Aldenham School being for boys and Dame Alice Owen’s School being for girls, I was able to state with confidence that Aesop’s Fables was awarded to a pupil of Aldenham School by its headteacher, Herbert Williams. Aldenham School was founded in 1597 by Richard Platt, Master of the WBC. The WBC were its appointed governors and remain its trustees today.

The final piece in the puzzle was the pupil himself: R.W. Russell. This inscription was the perfect example of yet another pet peeve of mine – inscribers who only use initials for first names! This can make it incredibly challenging to track down the person. After several hours of trawling through census forms and consulting school records, I found a Robert William Russell who was born in St Alban’s, Hertfordshire and attended Aldenham School from 1871-1877. He then went on to study at Oxford University. Unfortunately, no census records have been found for Russell after this date, which may suggest that he moved abroad.

—–

Despite the numerous challenges posed by inscriptions such as these, with a bit of perseverance, it is possible to decipher them. Thanks to a combination of digital and traditional methods, I have been able to unlock the history of the WCB, one of its benefactors (Jacob Hickson), masters (E.N. Buxton), brewer’s school (Aldenham School) and pupils (Robert William Russell).

How, after Russell’s death in 1934, the book passed to a female grocer’s assistant in Penarth, Wales – Dorothy Davies of 16 Hastings Avenue (according to the defaced inscription at the top of the prize sticker) – is perhaps a mystery worth unravelling some other day…

Guest Post: Lest We Forget: In Search of the Forgotten Voices of World War One

Yet another fascinating post from recent PhD graduate Lauren O’Hagan on her poignant discoveries in the Janet Powney Collection of Children’s Literature.

Thursdays have become my new favourite day of the week. Why? Because I get to spend the day in Special Collections and help catalogue the Janet Powney Collection – the fantastic assortment of Victorian and Edwardian children’s literature. Every week, the Collection brings a new surprise or delight. In recent weeks, I have come across such unique treasures as a copy of What Katy Did Next mysteriously inscribed two years before its actual publication date and a beautiful 1871 edition of Hetty’s Resolve hand-bound and gilded by a devoted husband to his wife. I may have also accidentally uncovered a nineteenth-century insurance scam involving the arson of a pub (but more about that another time!). But something that has remained a bittersweet constant over the past few months has been the fact that, hidden in most of these books, are some of the forgotten voices of World War One.

John's adventures

John’s Adventures by Thomas Miller, London, c. 1897. Prize awarded to young Albert Stopher.

The Swan's Egg

The Swan’s Egg by S. C. Hall, London, c. 1895. Awarded to a very young George Stopher in 1905.

Behind the beautiful pictorial covers of these treasured Sunday school prize books lie the tragic tales of many of the working-class men who marched off to war to fight the Germans just a few years later. Beguiled by the notion of adventure or the ‘Great Game’, as Kipling put it, many would never return. I would like to use the blog space this week to share the story of two incredible brothers. In doing so, I hope to show how book inscriptions may offer a new way to explore and explain the War, keeping alive the stories of soldiers for future generations now that the conflict only exists outside of human memory.

George Stopher and Albert Stopher
When the Stopher brothers, George and Albert, received The Swan’s Egg and John’s Adventure from St John’s Church of England Sunday School for attendance, good conduct and progress in 1905, little did they know that some years later, they would be dressed in military uniforms and sent off to battle in France.

George and Albert came from a working-class family in Saxmundham, Suffolk. Born just one year apart in 1896 and 1897, respectively, the boys grew up at White House Farm Cottages, with their parents, Herbert (a farm labourer) and Lydia, and six other siblings.

When George and Albert left school, they quickly found work as gardeners. However, the job was precarious and poorly paid. As a result, both boys enlisted quickly in the Suffolk Regiment of the army upon the outbreak of World War One in 1914. George served in the 8th Battalion and Albert in the 11th Battalion. After completing training in Ripon, Yorkshire and Salisbury Plain, George landed in France in July 1915, while Albert arrived in January 1916 – both ready for action on the Western Front. Shortly after his arrival, George became wounded and spent some weeks recuperating in hospital before returning to action.

George Stopher inscription

Inscription recording the award of The Swan’s Egg to George in 1905.

During their time in France, George and Albert regularly corresponded with their families and sweethearts. There is a wonderful surviving archive of their letters hosted at Suffolk Record Office in Ipswich. The letters vividly describe their experiences of war. In August 1916, George was hospitalised once again for shellshock. A surviving letter to his mother poignantly states that sending him back to the front line would be like “sending a rat to catch a dog.” It is surprising that it got past the censor.

On 9th April 1917, the Battalions began the Arras offensive, advancing slowly to attack German defences near the city of Arras. The next day, both George and Albert took place in the First Battle of the Scarpe, which involved a series of attacks that pushed the Germans back north and south of the Scarpe river. Tragically, Albert was shot by an enemy and died immediately. He was just 19 years old. His body was never recovered. Today, he is remembered on the Arras Memorial at the Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery.

George continued on in what must have been harrowing circumstances. He successfully took part in the Second Battle of the Scarpe (April 1917), helping to capture part of the Hindenburg position and push the Germans to the Drocourt-Quéant line south of the River Scarpe. However, during the Third Battle of the Scarpe (May 1917), which involved a general offensive by all three armies astride the Scarpe to secure better defensive positions, he was badly wounded. George held out for nine days in a field hospital before succumbing to his wounds and dying on May 19th 1917 at 21 years old. He was buried in the Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery at Saulty.

Tragically, Herbert and Lydia Stopher had to deal with the loss of two sons, just over one month apart from each other.

Today, George and Albert’s medals are on show at the Suffolk Regiment Museum. Their names are also commemorated on a War Memorial in Saxmundham Parish Church. In recent years, Rachel Duffett, a lecturer at the University of Essex and a member of the Everyday Lives in War Centre, has painstakingly attempted to retell their stories using the letters held at Suffolk Record Office. She plans to write a book on the subject and work with local seamstresses to recreate some of the local landscapes where the Stopher brothers grew up.

Albert Stopher inscription

Inscription recording the award of John’s Adventures to Albert in 1905.

With its unique range of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century prize books, I already found the Janet Powney Collection to be exceptional. Now knowing some of the stories that are lingering like shadows between the colourful covers of these volumes, I feel even more appreciation for the Collection. While buildings no longer stand, communities have passed on and grass on the bloody battlefields grows once more, these books keep alive the memories of many of the brave men and women who gave their Today for our Tomorrow. They stand as a testimony of the unsettling victory of material objects over the temporality of the people that once owned them and the places in which they formerly dwelled.

“The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.”

Guest Post: The Inscriptions of Herbert Scylla Mallalieu

Today’s guest post comes from Lauren O’Hagan, who has been diligently cataloguing the Janet Powney Collection of Children’s Literature.

When asked why I have dedicated the last ten years of my life to investigating book inscriptions, I always answer with the same response. No, it is not because I am an admirer of old handwriting (although I am!) or even that I am nosy (well, maybe there is an element of that!); rather, it is I am fascinated by the fact that they act as thousands of threads which, together, weave the tapestries of life. Book inscriptions have an ability to stop time, to bring an emotional immediacy to the people who once walked this earth, to transform the book from a commercial object into a personalised item that forms the life soul of families…

Those of you who have been following my guest blog posts will know that for the past four years, I have been researching and helping to catalogue the Janet Powney Collection – a wonderful assortment of Victorian and Edwardian children’s books in Cardiff University’s Special Collections. While each book stands out for its beautiful covers and stunning illustrations, it is the inscriptions inside that most intrigue me. And last Thursday, I came across a real gem.

Cover

Publisher’s binding of The Poetical Works of Mrs Felicia Hemans.

After a long session of cataloguing, I picked up the final book of the day: an 1894 edition of The Poetical Works of Mrs Felicia Hemans. As I turned to the front endpapers, I came across a lovely inscription in black ink stating, “Herbert Mallalieu A birthday gift from his loving sister Pollie.” “September 1896” had been added in pencil below. The unusual surname immediately struck me. That would surely be easy to track down in census records! And indeed, it was! But what I didn’t expect was the sheer amount of ‘hidden history’ that it would unlock about Herbert and his family.

Herbert Scylla Mallalieu was born in 1879 in Coventry, England. He was the son of William Mallalieu (1845-1927) and Margaret Smith (1846-1919). Herbert had two older brothers, George (1873-1948) and William (1884-1937), and a younger sister Pollie (née Mary, 1880-1944). Herbert came from a family of professional actors and comedians. His parents were famous stars of the Victorian music hall. They also brought up their younger children to perform with them. For a reason that is sadly now lost to time, Herbert was the only member of his family not to join them on the stage. Census records show that he was not “deaf, dumb, blind, lunatic, imbecile or idiot,” so we can only assume that it was a personal choice on his part.

Inscription1

Mallalieu’s ownership inscription on the front fly-leaf.

This meant that Herbert spent most of his childhood on his own lodging throughout the UK with a wide range of strangers, while the rest of his family constantly moved around and performed. The 1891 census records him as living with the Wall family in Wells, Somerset and attending the local cathedral school. It was during his time in Wells on the occasion of his 17th birthday that he received The Poetical Works of Mrs Felicia Hemans from his sister Pollie. Meanwhile, his family were based in Bath where they regularly took the stage at the Theatre Royal. Reviews in the Western Daily Press praise the Mallalieus’ talent, particularly young Pollie who stood out as a child star.

Pollie caught the eye of Lewis Carroll after seeing her perform in The Silver King in Brighton in October 1891. From this date on, he struck up a regular correspondence with Pollie’s parents. A surviving letter dated June 22nd 1892 that recently sold at auction asks Pollie’s mother whether he can take Pollie to the New Gallery, luncheon at a friend’s house and German Reed’s entertainment. We know from Carroll’s diary records that he did indeed take Pollie out and that he thought she was “a lovable child, ladylike and speaking good English.” Pollie also stayed at Carroll’s house in Eastbourne on several occasions and he even paid for a custom-made pair of boots for her.

By the time of the 1901 census, William Mallalieu had set up his own acting company in Leicester. The company was incredibly successful and brought much fame and fortune to the family. The company’s location may explain why Herbert is also based in Leicester on the 1901 census, although he is living alone in a boarding house run by Elizabeth Fox and working as a “land agent clerk.” Herbert’s brother George, on the other hand, known by the stage name Aubrey Mallalieu, had now found success on the stage in Australia and New Zealand. He would later go on to appear in hundreds of films throughout the 1930s usually as a respectable elderly gentleman of the establishment. He was described as having a “Dickensian appearance” with combed-over white hair and spectacles. Herbert’s other brother, William, left acting in 1901 and joined the Cheshire Regiment. He saw active service in the Anglo-Boer War and the First World War.

While Herbert’s parents and sister are recorded as living in Heston, London on the 1911 census, Herbert cannot be found with them. An inspection of emigration records shows that he moved to New York in the early 1900s for business purposes before returning to the UK where he married Elsie Blythe, a dairy maid, in 1913. The newly-weds then moved back to the USA, this time to Orange, New Jersey, where she gave birth to a son, Herbert Blythe Mallalieu (1914-1988). Herbert Blythe Mallalieu went on to serve in the Second World War and gained renown as a war poet. Julian Symons described him as “one of the best known of the younger British poets before the Second World War.” He published several poetry collections in his lifetime, including Letter in Wartime (1940) and On the Berlin Lakes (1988).

Inscription2

A second enigmatic inscription, dated 33 years after the first.

Unfortunately, Herbert and Edith’s marriage did not work out. Just a few years later, Herbert returned to the UK with his son and filed for a divorce. In 1923, he got remarried to Edith F. Curteis, a grocer’s cashier. On July 5th 1929, Edith gave birth to a little girl, Paula. Sadly, Paula was stillborn. In a remarkable yet sad twist of fate, the event is recorded in Herbert’s poetry volume. As I flicked through the pages, I was astounded to come across an inscription tucked away on the flyleaf clearly added by Herbert 33 years on from his sister’s original message: “He never smiled again pg. 128 July v/29.” Turning avidly to page 128, I discovered that it was a direct quote from a poem in the collection about King Henry I’s grief over his son William’s death. Clearly, Herbert had remembered the quote and drew parallels with his own tragic situation. Feeling so upset about the premature death of his only daughter, he recorded the date in his poetry book alongside this quote. The book he had kept since he was given it as a young boy by his estranged younger sister had now become embedded with a new inscription that marked this important event in Herbert’s life.

Herbert and Edith never had any further children. They lived a quiet life together in Croydon, Surrey until his death in 1957. Herbert outlived all of his other family members.

——

Behind the two seemingly insignificant inscriptions in The Poetical Works of Mrs Felicia Hemans lies the untold story of Herbert Mallalieu and his family. In just a few written words, we can learn so much about his life, his loves, his losses. It is stories like this that make me so thankful for the work I do and the opportunity I have to keep these memories alive for future generations.

Dathlu 50 mlynedd o Innovate Trust: Cartref Cefnogol cyntaf y DU

Mae Innovate Trust yn dathlu eu pen blwydd yn 50 eleni. Mae’r elusen annibynnol hon wedi newid bywydau nifer o bobl anabl ar draws y byd – a dechreuodd y cwbl yma, ym Mhrifysgol Caerdydd. Eleni, mae gwirfoddolwyr sy’n anabl wedi bod yn chwilota yn hanesion cynnar y sefydliad, i’w rhannu mewn arddangosfa newydd.

Swyddogaeth Innovate Trust yw i gefnogi oedolion gydag anableddau dysgu, anableddau corfforol, nam ar synnwyr neu gyflwr iechyd meddwl. Mae’n nhw’n cyflenwi gwasanaethau cartrefi cefnogol, yn ogystal â hyfforddiant, cyfleoedd gwaith a chyfleoedd i gymdeithasu.

Dechrau’r daith ar gyfer yr elusen oedd fel prosiect o’r enw ‘Cardiff Universities Social Services’, ac ers ei sefydlu, mae wedi datblygu i fod yn gorff yn hynod o ddylanwadol, sydd wedi brwydro dros hawliau ac urddas pobl anabl.

 

Dyddiau Cynnar 1967 – 1973

Ym 1967, penderfynodd grwp o fyfyrwyr o Gaerdydd herio’r drefn. Roedd ganddyn nhw ddamcaniaeth, y gallai pobl anabl ffynnu a byw’n annibynnol, petaent yn cael cefnogaeth addas.

Roedd cyfyngu pobl ag anableddau dysgu i ysbytai yn gyffredin iawn yn y cyfnod hwn. Roedd ‘sgandal Ysbyty Trelai’ yn y 1960au wedi datguddio bod gofal pobl anabl yng Nghaerdydd yn wael, ac yn gallu bod yn greulon. Damcaniaeth y myfyrwyr oedd y gallem ni, fel cymdeithas, wneud yn llawer gwell – a gyda hynny, ganed prosiect C.U.S.S..

Gweithiodd gwirfoddolwyr C.U.S.S. gyda 25 o oedolion gydag anableddau dysgu oedd yn byw yn Ysbyty Trelai. Darparodd y prosiect dripiau dydd, cyfleon hyfforddi, a chyfleon i gymdeithasu.

Llun du a gwyn o ddau ddyn, eu dwylo'n cyffwrdd. Mae'n nhw'n gwenu ac yn edrych yn hapus

Prof Jim Mansell, CBE, un o hoelion wyth y prosiect, gyda John O’Brien (1953-2011). John oedd un o’r bobl gynta i ymuno â chartref cefnogol CUSS. Yn Ysbyty Trelai, roedd ganddo enw drwg fel dyn ifanc byr-ei-dymer, a fyddai’n ‘creu trwbwl’. Mae ei ffrindiau a’i gyd-weithwyr yn Innovate Trust yn ei gofio fel dyn addfwyn ac amyneddgar, oedd yn meddu ar synnwyr digrifwch hoffus.

 

“Creu Trwbwl” – neu ddysgu sgiliau newydd?

Roedd y prosiect yn llwyddiant, a roedd nifer o drigolion yr ysbyty yn teimlo’n fwy hyderus ac annibynnol. Un diwrnod, penderfynodd dau ddyn ifanc oedd wedi bod yn rhan o’r prosiect, eu bod am fynd i nofio – a gadael yr ysbyty gyda’i gilydd i ymweld â’r pwll lleol.

Fe welodd nyrs nad oedd ar ddyletswydd nhw yn cerdded, a dychwelodd nhw i’r ysbyty, ble cawson nhw bryd o dafod. Yn dawel bach, roedd gwirfoddolwyr prosiect C.U.S.S. yn falch iawn o glywed bod y ddau ohonynt wedi cyrraedd mor bell ar eu pennau’u hunain.

 

Cartref Cefnogol Cyntaf Prydain – 1974

Wrth astudio effeithiau’r fenter gyntaf, teimlai’r myfyrwyr y gallent wneud mwy i wella ansawdd bywyd pobl ag anableddau dysgu.

Wedi cryn baratoi, lansiwyd y Cartref Cefnogol cyntaf yn y DU, gyda chefnogaeth gan Gyngor Caerdydd ac Ysbyty Trelai. Symudodd pump o oedolion ag anableddau dysgu o Ysbyty Trelai a thri o wirfoddolwyr oedd yn astudio ym Mhrifysgol Caerdydd i gartref yng Ngerddi Rhuthun yng Nghathays. Yn ystod y dydd, byddai’r tenantiaid yn mynychu canolfan hyfforddiant yn Nhrelai a byddai’r myfyrwyr yn mynychu eu darlithoedd.

Gan eu bod wedi eu cyfyngu i ysbyty am flynyddoedd, roedd angen cefnogaeth gychwynnol ar yr oedolion anabl, i’w galluogi i fyw yn annibynnol. Yn Ysbyty Trelai, doedden nhw byth yn cael cyfle i ddewis beth i fwyta, neu beth i wisgo – ond ar ôl cyfnod o addasu, dechreuodd yr oedolion arwain bywydau hapus, llawn, fel aelodau o gymuned.

Llun du a gwyn o ddyn ifanc gyda Syndrom Down's yn gwenu.

Alan oedd un o drigolion cyntaf y cartref cefnogol yng Ngerddi Rhuthun. Cafodd ei gyfyngu i ysbyty pan oedd yn fachgen bach. Trwy ei gyfraniad ef at y prosiect cartref cefnogol, fe dorrodd gwys newydd ar gyfer cymaint o bobl anabl, gan alluogi iddynt fyw bywydau llawn, hapus.

 

Y Stori yn Parhau – o Ysbytai i Gartrefi

Camau nesaf y prosiect oedd i’r myfyrwyr godi ymwybyddiaeth o lwyddiant y Cartref Cefnogol, trwy gyhoeddi adroddiadau ac ymchwil, a rhannu eu gwaith gydag awdurdodau lleol, ysbytai a phrifysgolion. Wrth i’r elusen dyfu yn ei maint a’i henw da, symudwyd y Cartref Cefnogol i leoliad sefydlog ar Ffordd y Brenin yn Nhreganna, ac agorwyd rhagor o gartrefi tebyg, wedi’u hariannu gan y Swyddfa Gymreig.

Ym 1977, agorodd yr elusen Ganolfan Gofal Seibiant i oedolion gydag anableddau dysgu oedd yn byw gyda’u rhieni. Roedd y ganolfan yn darparu seibiant i bobl anabl a gofalwyr, a mae dal ar agor heddiw.

Ym 1981, agorodd Gyngor Caerdydd adran newydd, er mwyn dyblygu ac ehangu y model ‘Cartref Cefnogol’, gan agor nifer o gartrefi tebyg. Erbyn 1983, lansiodd y Swyddfa Gymreig ‘Strategaeth datblygu gwasanaethau i bobl gyda handicap meddyliol ar gyfer Cymru gyfan’. Roedd yn ymateb i’r adroddiadau am gam-drin yn Ysbyty Trelai yn y 1960au – a’r adroddiad yn cymell awdurdodau lleol i atal rhag cyfyngu pobl anabl i ysbytai, ac i ddefnyddio model Cartref Cefnogol C.U.S.S. yn ei le.

 

Arloesi Gofal Lles

Dros y blynyddoedd, gweithiodd C.U.S.S. gydag awdurdodau lleol dros Gymru, i’w cefnogi wrth iddynt agor Cartrefi Cefnogol – gan roi cyngor ar sut i osod gwasanaethau newydd yn eu lle, a fyddai’n annog annibyniaeth ac urddas pobl anabl.

Newidiodd yr elusen ei henw i ‘Innovate Trust’ yn 2001, a mae’n parhau i arloesi heddiw: gan ddatblygu asiantaeth recriwtio arbennig i bobl anabl, creu busnes arlwyo i greu cyfleon gwaith i bobl anabl, a rhaglenni hyfforddiant ar gyfer pobl anabl sy’n diddori mewn gwaith amgylcheddol a threulio amser yn yr awyr agored.

Yn 2017, gweithiodd yr elusen ar y cyd â NESTA, i archwilio sut y gallai technolegau clyfar gael eu defnyddio i gefnogi pobl ag anableddau dysgu. Gwobrwywyd y prosiect, ac arweiniodd yr ymchwil at ddarparu technoleg clyfar i 197 o unigolion sy’n derbyn cefnogaeth gan yr elusen ar draws de Cymru.

Ffotograff o arddangosfa gyda phaneli a gwrthrychau mewn cesys

Mae 50 Mlynedd o Innovate Trust yn archwilio hanes cudd gofal lles. Mae’n olrhain stori grwp bychan o bobl anabl a myfyrwyr yn y 1960, a symbylodd newid byd, yn sut y mae’r sector feddygol a chymdeithas yn trin pobl anabl.

Diolch i gefnogaeth Cronfa Dreftadaeth y Loteri Genedlaethol, gweithiodd gwirfoddolwyr gydag amrywiaeth o anableddau dysgu i archwilio hanes anhygoel yr elusen – gan ymchwilio dogfennau, recordio cyfweliadau a sefydlu cofnodion parhaol mewn archifdai lleol. I gydnabod gwreiddiau’r prosiect ym Mhrifysgol Caerdydd, rhoddwyd archif gynnar ac adroddiadau’r prosiect i Gasgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau Prifysgol Caerdydd, ble gall unrhyw un ddod i’w darllen.

Mae’r arddangosfa ’50 mlynedd o’r Innovate Trust’ i’w gweld yng Nghasgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau Prifysgol Caerdydd, Llyfrgell y Celfyddydau a’r Gwyddorau Cymdeithasol, Rhodfa Colum, CF10 3EU. Os hoffech chi siarad yn uniongyrchol ag aelod o Innovate Trust, cysylltwch â Kieran Vass.

Diolch i Innovate Trust am gyflenwi lluniau ac ymchwil i greu’r blog hwn.

Celebrating 50 years of Innovate Trust: the amazing history of the UK’s first supported living home

Innovate Trust celebrates its 50th birthday this year. This independent charity, which has changed the lives of disabled people across the world, started right here, at Cardiff University. This year, volunteers with disabilities have delved into the charity’s humble beginnings, and are sharing its story through a new exhibition.

Innovate Trust – which started its life as ‘Cardiff Universities Social Services’ – works with adults with learning disabilities, mental health conditions, physical disabilities or sensory impairments in South Wales. They provide supported living services, as well as careers training, opportunities for work and socialising.

Starting as a trailblazing student project known as ‘C.U.S.S.’, it has since become one of the most influential charities of its kind – setting the standard world-wide for providing dignity and agency to people with learning disabilities.

 

Early Days 1967 – 1973

In 1967, a group of students at Cardiff University decided to challenge the status quo. They believed that, with the right support, people with learning disabilities could lead independent lives.

A lifetime of hospitalisation was a common occurrence for people with learning disabilities at the time. The ‘Ely Hospital Scandal’ had revealed that adults with learning disabilities in Cardiff were subject to poor care and cruelty. The students set out to prove that, as a society, we could do better – and the C.U.S.S. project was born.

Cardiff Universities Social Services, or C.U.S.S., volunteers worked supporting 25 adults with learning disabilities at Ely Hospital. The project provided days out, opportunities to learn new skills, and acted as a social contact.

Two men sit side by side, their hands overlapping. They are both smiling and looking happy

Prof Jim Mansell CBE, founding member of CUSS, with John O’Brien (1953 – 2011). John was one of the first people to join the CUSS group home project. In Ely Hospital, he had a reputation as short-tempered ‘trouble-maker’. His friends and colleagues at Innovate Trust remember him as a ‘patient and charming man’ with a ‘first class sense of humour’.

 

A Daring Escape

Two of the participants, emboldened and encouraged by what they’d learned through the project, decided to leave the hospital grounds on their own, to go swimming in the local pool.

When they were spotted by an off-duty nurse, the two were immediately returned to the hospital – and given a telling off. The student volunteers, however, felt secretly proud that the hospital’s residents had managed to get so far on their own.

 

The UK’s First Group Home – 1974

Following the success of the early volunteering project, the students felt more could be done to improve the lives of those with learning disabilities.

After much planning and preparation, the students worked with Cardiff Council and Ely Hospital to open the UK’s first group home. Five adults with learning disabilities from the hospital and three student volunteers moved in to a home in Rhuthin Gardens, Cathays. During the day, the group home tenants would spend their time at Trelai adult training centre, and the students attended lectures.

Black and white photograph of a man called Alan, who has Down's Syndrome. He looks happy.

Alan was one of the first inhabitants of the supported living home in Rhuthin Gardens. He had been confined to hospital since he was a young boy, and his participation in the group home project paved the way for better care for countless disabled people, enabling them to live full, happy lives.

Having been hospitalised for a number of years, each of the adults with disabilities were provided with basic support in learning to live independently. At Ely Hospital, they had not been afforded the opportunity to cook for themselves, to choose their clothes – after a short period of adjustment, the project participants found themselves leading happy, full lives as members of a community.

 

Further Development – from Hospitals to Homes

After the success of the group home experiment, the students spent the next few years raising awareness of the Group Home model – publishing research and reports, and sharing their work with local authorities, hospitals and universities. As it grew in its scope and reputation, the charity was able to relocate to a more sustainable property on King’s Road in Cardiff, and to open more group homes, funded by the Welsh Office.

In 1977, the charity also opened a respite centre for adults with learning disabilities who lived with their families. This home was used to provide a break for carers and adults with learning disabilities, and remains open to this day.

In 1981 Cardiff Council opened a new department, aimed at replicating and extending the Group Home project, opening a number of supported living homes. By 1983, the Welsh Office launched an ‘All Wales strategy for the development of Services for mentally handicapped people’. Partly a response to the Ely Hospital scandal, the strategy required that local authorities move away from the mass institutionalisation of people with learning disabilities, and adopt the supported living model developed by C.U.S.S.

 

Innovation in Social Care

Over the next few years, C.U.S.S. worked to support local authorities across Wales to implement this plan, giving advice on how to set up new services, which would offer independence, agency and dignity to people with learning disabilities.

The charity changed its name to Innovate Trust in 2001, and continued to, well, innovate: developing a bespoke recruitment service, creating a business providing employment for people with learning disabilities, training programmes for disabled people interested in environmental work and spending time outdoors.

In 2017, Innovate Trust worked with NESTA to explore how smart technology might be used to support people with learning disabilities. The award-winning project resulted in the provision of smart devices to 197 individuals receiving support across south east Wales.

Photograph of small exhibition, with text panels, and objects in cases

50 Years of Innovate Trust explores the hidden history of social care. It tells the story of how a small group of disabled people and student volunteers in the 1960s paved the way for radical change in how disabled people are treated by the medical profession, and by society at large.

Thanks to support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, volunteers with a range of learning abilities spent a year researching the organisation’s amazing history – researching documents, filming stories and establishing permanent records in local archives. As recognition of the organisation’s origins at Cardiff University, its early archives and reports were donated to the University’s Special Collections and Archives, where they can be accessed by anyone who wishes to read them.

The exhibition ‘50 Years of Innovate Trust‘ is on display at Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives, Arts and Social Studies Library, Colum Drive, CF10 3EU. If you would like to speak to a member of Innovate Trust, please contact Kieran Vass.

Published with thanks to the Innovate Trust for providing the research for this post.