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Guest Post: The Barbiers and the French Army

After completing her work on the Barbier archive, our CUROP intern Katy Stone shares her final, fascinating discoveries about life in the French army at the end of the nineteenth and turn of the twentieth century.

For my final blog about the Barbiers I’d like to share some contrasting discoveries about Cardiff-born Georges and Jules Barbier’s experiences of military service with the French Army, revealed through their heartfelt letters written from 1898 to 1904. As shown in a blog by last year’s CUROP student Pip Bartlett, all of the Barbier brothers – due to their dual nationality – completed mandatory national military service with the French Army well before the First World War, with both Georges and Jules subsequently remaining ‘poilus’, or ordinary field soldiers.

Georges Barbier and the comfort of letters in Le Mans

In 1899 Georges Barbier was deployed to the 26th Artillery in Le Mans and many of his letters support Pip’s previous insight that, out of all the family members who went to war, he undoubtedly suffered the loneliest military experience. In one letter dated 3 February 1899, he paints a dark picture of the stark living conditions within his regiment, describing his barracks as a “dirty shack” and expressing gratitude to his brother, Paul Barbier fils, for writing to him – “it is such a blessing to receive letters in this hole”. Georges was clearly unhappy in his regiment and their frequent exchange of letters was not only a source of comfort, but also a channel for escapism. To make things worse, he appears to have found it difficult to fit in with his peers – “all those who sleep in the same room as me are vagabonds, so I have no luck at all”. Hard work was, surprisingly, a blessing in disguise for Georges and I was struck to find him striving for more – “The work is very hard, but that I don’t mind in the least for when I have plenty of work I have not time to worry, which is a very good thing for me”. This eagerness throws light on the mental challenges faced by many soldiers on a daily basis – he was “completely disgusted with life” and would “rather do hard labour than be controlled by a lot of morons who can’t read”.

Scan 1

Barrack detail from a letter dated 20 Februray 1899

Other letters give an insight into his basic military diet – “I live on bread and cheese and once a week I eat meat, on Sundays”. It was also surprising to learn that Georges had to pay for his military meals out of his own pocket, and that his limited financial means meant there was no spare money for any luxuries – “I find that I eat very little here. I have no appetite, and not only that but I have to pay for everything I eat”. A letter to his mother, Euphémie, dated 31 January 1899 reinforces the daily struggle faced by the majority of his peers – “I was so ashamed to buy for so little that I nearly broke down, when there was a lot that could not do as much”. Life was tough in the French Army and although stress and anxiety may have been accountable for his poor appetite, the demands of the physical work also contributed to his struggles with mental and physical health. In his letters he complains of toothaches, headaches and sore feet, yet despite “suffering a great deal”, he avoids going to see the doctor because he “would have to stop work, not only that but I would be unable to go out in the evening”. Another letter sheds light on his perception of being treated differently to his French peers due to his British identity – “You know I have been very sick and had to get treatment in town because the major refused to recognise me … I believe it’s because I’m English”.

Scan 2

Insignia of the Soissons Regiment, 1899

Jules Barbier “far from being miserable” at Soissons

Jules Barbier seems to have experienced a far less despondent national service with an infantry in Soissons. He recalls being “received very kindly” at the barracks, and remarks that “there are some nice boys” and “all the officers have been very kind”. In contrast to the discrimination faced by Georges at Le Mans, Jules mentions that his captain remarked “it was very nice of me to come and do my service from England”. This would have no doubt boosted his enthusiasm and spirits, enhancing his military experience and possibly reinforcing his bond with his French heritage. The Barbier Archive gave me the impression that Jules, to some extent at least,  enjoyed his work in the French infantry, often describing his activities in a buoyant tone – “Yesterday I was taught to salute and about different ranks of officers. I was given my rifle, and tomorrow we will exercise”. This is in stark contrast to the more physically demanding and draining responsibilities encountered by Georges.

Scan 3

Self-portrait of Jules E. Barbier in a letter to his mother, 5 August, 1899

Like Georges, however, Jules often reported that money and food were particularly scant, referring to himself as being “as poor as a church mouse”. In one letter dated 11 February 1899, he feels ashamed for having to borrow 15 francs from a friend, alluding that money was a lingering concern. All his money was solely spent on necessities – “I’m just eating, I’m always hungry”, suggesting that there was no such thing as disposable income in the French Army. Despite having a more positive experience than his brother, Jules’s time in the military was also hampered by illness; “I am in the infirmary. Last bed. I was taken ill with a fever and also with my throat in fact. I have got an abscess there and it is very painful”. But the fact that he was admitted to the infirmary, and a promise that his captain “would come to see me in the hospital”, suggests that the quality of pastoral care was far superior to that experienced by Georges. In one letter Jules announces “I am far from being miserable” and is eager to return to his duties – “Time passes very slowly here in the hospital. I would be pretty eager to go back to the barracks”.

Early colour printing of a barracks scene, 1899

When I embarked on my summer placement with the Barbier Archive at Special Collections and Archives, I did not expect to discover such contrasting personal accounts of life in the French Army through the eyes of the sons of Cardiff. Sometimes harrowing, often spirited, but always heartfelt, this fascinating archive paints a vivid picture of everyday life at a time when the world was on the cusp of one of its most turbulent periods. It has been an absolute indulgence to be able to tease out yet another remarkable story in Cardiff’s history.

 

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Guest post: Conserving the Collingwood Archive

This post comes from Devin Mattlin and Joanne Hoppe, MSc Conservation Practice students at Cardiff University, and conservation volunteers at Glamorgan Archives. Both have been working on the Collingwood Archive conservation project as student conservators thanks to the generous support of the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust

Earlier of this year we had the fantastic opportunity to help conserve a collection of diaries and sketchbooks from the Collingwood Archive held at Special Collections and Archives, Cardiff University. The Collingwoods were a world-famous family of remarkable artists, archaeologists, and writers from the Lake District. W. G. Collingwood was John Ruskin’s secretary and biographer, and a friend of Arthur Ransome, author of Swallows and Amazons and a suspected double agent. The archive spans 60 boxes and comprises a treasure trove of distinctive materials largely inaccessible to research and the public – thousands of letters and correspondence dating from the 18th century (including letters from E. M. Forster and Beatrix Potter), diaries, sketches, personal recipe books, photographs, illustrated story books and outstanding landscapes of the Lake District.

Jo & Devinstudy of English costume

Study of English Costume, possibly by one of the Collingwood children, c. 19th century

 

Jo & Devin diary before conservation (002)

Diary of Dora Collingwood (1886-1964), before conservation work

In 2017, Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives was awarded their second successive grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust to conserve key items from the archive, and we were delighted to be selected as part of our MSc Conservation Practice course to give them a hand. This was a great opportunity to learn new skills in paper conservation and to work with Lydia Stirling, an Accredited Conservation-Restorer, at Glamorgan Archives. The objects in question dated roughly from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries and consisted of several diaries, sketchbooks and a recipe book. The ultimate goal of the conservation work was to stabilise the objects for responsible and appropriate display, and allow access to researchers and the public in the Special Collections and Archives Reading Room.

A Sketchbook of British Costume

One of the first objects we treated was a sketchbook of British Costume (c. 19th century) written in iron gall ink which, if left untreated, can rust through paper. This was confirmed with iron (II) indicator paper, as seen in the figure below – the paper turns a pink colour if iron (II) is present.   After removing the dirt from the surface using a smoke sponge the pages were labelled in pencil and the threads used to originally sew the pages together were removed. To stabilise the iron gall ink, the pages were placed into four different water baths for 10 minutes each: water, calcium phytate, water, calcium bicarbonate. The calcium phytate reacts with the iron to form iron phytate compounds, which progressively slows down the iron corrosion. The calcium bicarbonate bath stabilises the paper by reducing its acidity, because as paper ages it becomes more acidic and thus more brittle. After the last water bath the wet pages were placed between blotter paper to dry. Once the pages had dried flat, the book was rebound using waxed linen thread.

Jo & Devin iron gall ink testing (002)

Iron gall ink testing showing a positive result

Jo & Devin iron gall ink treatment

Joanne stabilising the iron gall ink in various water baths

Collingwood Diaries

Many of the Collingwood diaries were falling apart and needed repairing due to the broken metal staples that were used to bind the pages together. To treat this type of damage we first removed the staples with a spatula, cleaned the surface and numbered the pages (once unbound, the sequence of the pages could be lost). Treatment of the holes involved shaping a piece of Japanese repair paper to the size of the hole by placing the original page on a light box with a sheet of plastic and the repair paper on top. The repair paper was then shaped to match the hole by using a needle and was then applied to the hole with wheat starch paste. A layer of thin Japanese tissue was then applied over the repair which was also treated with wheat starch paste to make it stronger. Tears in the paper were also repaired in the same way. Once all the repairs were done, the diaries were rebound, and the covers were reattached by adding mull (a type of bookbinding cloth) to the edge where the spine attaches and then adhering the repaired cover to that cloth strip.

Jo & Devin lifting leather

The boards are revealed under the original leather cover

However, one of the diaries could not be treated in the same way because it had a leather cover, unlike the others, which were paper. The spine on this diary had almost completely fallen off, so we made the decision to authentically restore it using new leather. First, the original cover was cut and lifted to expose the boards underneath. The repair leather was then shaved with knives to make it as thin as possible, so it would bend easily and fit under the original leather. Once the piece was sufficiently thin enough, it was saturated with wheat starch paste and then fitted onto the spine and under the lifted original leather. The original leather was then adhered on top.

Jo & Devin Spine Repair

Finished spine with the repair leather

 

The Collingwood Celebratory Conference

After we had completed the work we were delighted when the project team invited us to talk about our experience at the Collingwood Archive Celebratory Conference. Here we were given a fantastic platform to present our journey with the archive to a large audience of over 40 delegates from across the world, and share what conservation is and how archives are cared for. We were so grateful to the project team for this opportunity to communicate with many different heritage stakeholders, an essential skill that will be invaluable as we embark on our careers in conservation.

Jo & Devin conference talk (002)

Devin and Joanne sharing their conservation experiences at the Collingwood Archive Celebratory Conference, April 2018

We would like to thank Lydia Sterling, Alan Vaughan Hughes and the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust for the opportunity to work with such a unique collection. Through this experience we practiced our paper conservation, bookbinding, and communication skills. It was also interesting to see beautiful artwork and to get a glimpse into the lives of the Collingwood family and the Victorian era. Our favourite items had to be an article pasted into the recipe book discussing how onions are so underrated, and a Cadbury’s advert from 1881!

International events in the Barbier archive: from the Dreyfus Affair to the Boer Wars

In this guest post, Katy Stone, who has been cataloguing the Barbier archive as part of a CUROP student intern project, keeps us up to date with some more fascinating insights into the Barbier family, and what their archive can tell us about key international events at the end of the nineteenth century.

In this update I’d like to share with you my discoveries about international events as revealed through the eyes of the Barbiers. Over the summer I have delved through boxes of intriguing letters dating from 1898-1904 and these have shed light on various international controversies, tensions and conflicts that shook the world during the family’s time in Cardiff. Of all the Barbier sons, the archive suggests that Georges took the most interest in international current affairs, noting he would “very much like to be more up to date”.

Portrait

Georges Barbier

The Dreyfus Affair

Dreyfus

In 1898, Georges often writes about the Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal which divided the French Third Republic from 1894 until 1906. The controversy centred on the question of guilt or innocence of a Jewish army captain, Alfred Dreyfus, convicted of treason for selling military secrets to the Germans in December 1894, but finally pardoned on 19 September 1899. French citizens were torn between those who supported him (Dreyfusards) and those who thought he was a traitor. Georges presents the situation in France as “very bad”. His letters reveal that he clearly supported Dreyfus, referring to those who condemned him as “pigs”, and adding that if Dreyfus’s innocence could be proved, he would not complete his military service, revealing his disgust with the army who took an anti-Dreyfus position. Euphémie Barbier also referred to the scandal in a letter dated 1898, hoping that “spirits will calm, and we won’t have a war”. Isabelle Bornet placed high hopes in the new French President, Émile Loubet, writing in 1899 that “France will soon be rid of this affair which it has suffered for a long time”.

 

The Spanish-American War

Georges also wrote in some detail about the Spanish-American War, fought between America and Spain between 21 April 1898 and 13 August 1898. Hostilities began after an explosion sank the American battleship USS Maine, which was sent to protect US citizens and property after anti-Spanish rioting in Havana Harbour in Cuba that led to US intervention in the Cuban War of Independence from Spain, which began in February 1895. The conflict ended Spanish colonial rule in the Americas and the US acquired territories in the western Pacific and Latin America.  I was struck by his personal perception that England supported America simply because they were the “same race and origin”. Considering this, Georges’s support for the Spaniards and his proclamation that “it would be a great pleasure to see them [the Americans] receive a good beating”, surprised me. Perhaps Georges’s support for Spain stems from his European heritage. Euphémie was also supportive of the Spaniards, describing them as “patriotic”, after telling of one civilian who sold everything he had to support the war effort, later receiving an honourary title. Again, her opinions may be biased due to the Barbier family’s European roots.

Euphemie2

Euphémie Bornet

Anglo-French relations preoccupy Paul Barbier fils in his letters dated around 1898. He discusses the Fashoda Incident, which was the climax of imperial territorial disputes between Britain and France in Eastern Africa: “The question of Fashoda seems rather serious, although it is probably less serious than it looks”. I was fascinated by his thoughts about the attitudes of the press in London, and especially the Daily Mail, which he implies was perhaps not the most reliant source of information regarding the conflict and its “apparent gravity“. Later, he states it was obvious there would be war “if England insists on the pure and simple reminder of the Commanding Officer to precede all negotiations”, demanding his father to “ask the Consul in all cases what is my duty in this case, if it is absolutely the same as in the case of war with Germany, i.e. my immediate return to the regiment”. Paul’s offer to step in suggests that he was frustrated by the unwillingness of the Commanding Officer to take a leading role in negotiations. Perhaps to reassure Paul, his mother Euphémie related that his father believed “the Fashoda affair will calm itself”.

Other letters reference the Second Boer War, particularly the Siege of Ladysmith in Natal between 2 November 1899 and 28 February 1900. The Second Boer War was fought between the British Empire and the two Boer states, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, over the Empire’s influence in South Africa. In a letter of 1900, Marie mentions demonstrations in Cardiff for the relief of Ladysmith, which occurred during nightfall on 28 February 1900, when the siege was lifted. Marie notes somewhat ironically, that “all the young people at the Docks have a break this afternoon”. This perhaps reflects a feeling of antipathy towards those protesting. I would be interested to see how much contemporary documentation exists about this demonstration beyond the Barbier archive, if any.

Circle portrait

Marie Barbier

In short, some material in the Barbier Archive makes compelling reference to international affairs, contributing greatly to our understanding of tensions throughout the period by unveiling contemporary interpretations that may be missed by history textbooks, particularly as perceived in Cardiff. I found the parallels between the reporting on current affairs at the time, and current affairs today including concerns over the neutrality of reporting, particularly interesting. I was most drawn however to the human elements within the text, and the family connections strengthened through these letters as they kept each other up to date with ongoing affairs.

Guest Post: The Barbier Family in Victorian Cardiff

Yet another fascinating post on the Barbier family courtesy of Katy Stone, who is discovering much about this exceptional family, and life in Victorian Cardiff, by working her way through their archive as part of a CUROP project to catalogue this unique resource.

In this blog post, I’d like to share my discoveries about life in Cardiff during the Victorian era (1837-1901), as seen through the eyes of the Barbiers. Since I started working with the archive earlier this summer, I have sifted through boxes of letters from 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1903 and 1904, and they have given me a fascinating insight into daily life in the Welsh capital during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Sadly, the letters reveal that poor housing conditions, outbreaks of infectious disease and premature death were not uncommon in Cardiff. Much of the archive in this period is dedicated to correspondence from Euphémie Barbier to her son Paul Barbier Fils. In one of her letters I discovered that a servant of the De Guélis household fell ill with diphtheria due to unsatisfactory sewage arrangements in the house. I have also found repeated reports of influenza, particularly during 1898 and 1899, and in one unfortunate case the family’s milkman died very suddenly, showing how the epidemic could lead rapidly to pneumonia. Euphémie’s letters also highlight poor dental health. The younger Euphémie Barbier (known as Phémie), suffered terribly from neuralgia (intense pain along a nerve, especially in the head or face). One letter from 1898 recounts how her mother had called the doctor as her daughter’s hands and face were “twitching”. I was particularly struck by Euphémie’s explanation of how she tried to bribe the doctor with cups of strong black coffee to encourage her to visit again, underlining the high demand for access to medical care. Her letters also mention a variety of other disorders including brain tumours, lumbago, ringworm and chicken pox. Victorian Cardiff’s poor sanitary conditions are boldly summed up by Georges Barbier’s stark description of the city as a “dirty hole”.

The Barbier letters also reveal stories about the widespread use of curious medicines during this era. In a letter from 1898, Euphémie Barbier advised her son to take “rhubarb pills” or “Epsom salts” to help alleviate the deafness in his ear. Another example from 1898, tells of the application of cocaine to treat an abscess on Isabelle Barbier’s mouth, which surprised me given it’s illegal today! More often than not though, simply taking a bath was recommended to relieve the painful symptoms of various ailments and illnesses. In one letter, Georges Barbier even recommends mixing disinfectant into bathwater in order to kill germs, which sounds a bit extreme to me!

1 Barbier Victorian Cardiff

The poor quality of public health appears to have put a strain on family finances as contemporaries were often forced to take time off school or work to recover. I quickly noticed from the letters that there was a daily struggle to make ends meet. Euphémie’s lists of household spending usually included only basic commodities, highlighting that luxuries were rare. Opportunities to go out or travel were often missed, and Euphémie remarked that it was “unfortunate” to have to live like that on a daily basis. In fact, as the mother of the Barbier Family, her letters are often preoccupied with money worries, describing the pressure to pay taxes as “tormenting”.

The archive also reveals Victorian attitudes to education, with a letter written by Uline Barbier featuring an illustration of a boy wearing a ‘dunce’ hat drawn by Paul Barbier Fils. Pupils who were slow at learning were made to stand in a corner wearing a tall pointed hat decorated with a letter D or sometimes the word ‘dunce’, while the teacher and their peers mocked them. Nowadays this seems harsh, but contemporaries believed that all pupils were capable of learning and that a slow or backward pupil was being deliberately lazy or reluctant to learn. I was stunned by a criticism made by Phémie’s geography teacher, Joan Reynolds; “I know that your mental capacity is not great, in fact we all know that you have not much brain power”.

4 Barbier Victorian Cardiff

Victorian Cardiff is certainly portrayed as a close-knit, vibrant community by the archive, with many letters uncovering a wealth of clues about the social activities of the Barbiers during this era. They often dined with family friends, danced, listened to music and played chess, for example, and generous gifts like brandy, chocolates, sweets and even chickens, were often received. Personally, I think this shows how much the Barbier Family were truly valued and respected by their friends and the wider Cardiff community.

I also noticed references to a number of monuments to civic pride in Cardiff during this period. Phémie writes about an exhibition for the stores of Cardiff to promote their businesses to the public at Park Hall, a theatre and cinema that was situated along Park Place, for example. Dances were also held in places such as Aberdare Hall, a residence for female students established in 1883 by the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, which now stands a Grade II-listed Gothic revival hall of residence belonging to Cardiff University.

Overall, the Barbier Archive offers colourful insights into many aspects of life in Cardiff during Queen Victoria’s reign. It has been particularly fascinating to discover a series of health epidemics, and the pessimistic outlook people held towards potential learning difficulties. I look forward to sharing further discoveries that emerge from the extraordinary range of materials I have encountered whilst working on this magnificent archive, which holds great potential for future researchers.

Guest Post: Barbier Archive Launch

This guest post is courtesy of Katy Stone, an undergaduate with the School of Modern Languages who is currently working through the fascinating Barbier family archive as part of a CUROP project to catalogue this unique resource.


Following a year of study abroad at l’Université Savoie Mont Blanc, France, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to participate in an 8-week placement with the Cardiff University Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP). My responsibility during the eight weeks is to pursue the efforts made by Pip Bartlett, last year’s CUROP student, in scoping the Barbier archive under the supervision of Professor Hanna Diamond, a 20th century French historian, and Alan Hughes, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University. So far this has involved organising, archiving and describing materials from the archive, using my language skills to translate and interpret the sources. I have been cataloguing the information into a spreadsheet for future researchers. Thus far, I have completed boxes 1898, 1903 and 1904, which have revealed fascinating details about this period.

Soon after commencing my placement, I participated in the official launch of the archive and unveiling of a special commemorative plaque in honour of Jacques Vaillant de Guélis, a Barbier family member, on Wednesday 6th June, the 74th anniversary of the D-Day landings. I thought it would be fitting to offer an account of the event for my first blog post.

Katy2

The afternoon of celebration took place at the Temple of Peace in Cathays Park. The Special Collections team had put together a small exhibition about the history of the Barbier family, Jacques Vaillant de Guélis and the archive. The display showcased some treasures of the rich and extensive archive, including a framed letter from Prime Minister David Lloyd George discussing Belgian refugees in Cardiff.

Guests included members of the Franco-Welsh Barbier family, some of whom had come specially from France to attend the events. It was clear to me that for many of them, some of whom had not met for many years, the event was an opportunity for a family reunion. Owing to the family’s bicultural identity, in some cases, I witnessed first-time meetings between those based in France and relatives who hailed from Paris and elsewhere in France, with others coming from UK destinations such as Devon and Marlborough, Wiltshire.

I found the introductory presentations by Hanna Diamond and Alan Hughes extremely illuminating. They highlighted the extraordinary range of materials in the archive including an abundance of diaries, letters, newspaper cuttings and photographs. I was particularly struck by the significant extent to which the 19th century Frenchman influenced Cardiff’s society through his involvement with local cultural societies like ‘La Société Franco-Britannique de Cardiff’, and his personal commitment to preserving the Welsh language. As a consequence, it is clear that the archive boasts an important array of sources on social history. I would be curious to mobilise the archive to discover more about what life was like for people in Victorian Cardiff during the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Mrs. Delphine Isaaman, granddaughter of Paul Barbier who donated the archive to the University along with her cousin Paul Barbier, also spoke about how her interest in her family’s story grew after finding family documents. This led to her spending around a decade researching in order to fill in the gaps, and resulted in the development of the archive. Delphine had actually stored and catalogued much of the archive before it arrived in Cardiff University Special Collections. In her talk, she shared tales from the archive, such as tips from other family members on bringing up babies, much to the amusement of the audience. This particular story demonstrated Hanna Diamond’s earlier statement that “the archive holds vast research potential for people working on the role of women in World War One”.

06.06.18 mh Barbier Jacques Guelis Archive Launch 29

To celebrate the life of Paul Barbier’s nephew, Jacques Vaillant de Guélis, the talks were followed by a swift relocation to his birthplace at 3 Museum Place, at the heart of the University campus. During the Second World War, de Guélis played a crucial role as a spy in the secretive Special Operations Executive due to his Franco-British background. A Blue Plaque to honour his remarkable achievements was unveiled by Professor Colin Riordan, President and Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, together with Claudine Ripert Landler, the Cultural Counsellor of the French Embassy in the United Kingdom. As a historian and a linguist, it was thrilling to see the war hero’s efforts formally recognised, and the pure elation upon the faces of those who came to witness it. Thanks to the former spy’s bilingualism, he was able to go unnoticed behind enemy lines, fighting with the French Resistance on the ground and contributing to the liberation of Nazi-occupied France. For me the event therefore highlighted the value and importance of learning foreign languages. One monolingual member of the Barbier family who I talked to teased that he was envious of his sibling’s bilingualism. I am optimistic that the plaque will promote Jacque’s story, and I hope that it might inspire others to engage in learning a language.

After the emotions of the plaque unveiling, the afternoon closed with a drinks reception in the foyer of the School of Modern Languages, at 66 Park Place. This was a final chance to exchange with the family and other interested parties. It was a valuable opportunity to get to know the family, and I even managed to practise my French with some relatives from Paris! I very much look forward to conducting oral interviews with Hanna Diamond to capture the life stories of Paul and Mary Barbier in July. Flowers were also laid on Jacques grave in Cathays Cemetery by his cousin and the Friends of Cathays Cemetery, a touching tribute to the brave man and a moving end to such a special day.

Barbier relative at Cathays

Overall, it was a humbling experience, and a pleasure to finally put some faces to names. I look forward to immersing myself in the project, with the ambition to help unlock the incredible story of this French Cardiff family and especially their role in Cardiff during the Victorian era.

Exhibition: Collingwood Archive

This exhibition explores the lives of the Collingwood family: four generations of influential artists and writers based in the Lake District. Their passions included art and art history, photography, archaeology, architecture, aviation, Icelandic studies, and philosophy.

Launched on the first day of our Collingwood conference, the exhibition celebrates the archive and the year-long project to catalogue it. Thanks to funds received from the National Cataloguing Grant (UK National Archives) and the National Manuscript Conservation Trust to open up the archive through cataloguing and conservation, the exhibition will be the first time many of the magnificent items from the Collingwood Archive will be available for public viewing.

The exhibition will run until the Autumn – highlights are available online.

Guest post: From rookie researcher to amateur archivist: my year in Special Collections

This guest post is from recent English Literature graduate Anna Sharrard. Anna took part in modules closely aligned with Special Collections throughout her final degree year, and is now volunteering with us over the summer, creating our first Edward Thomas online resource.


My first introduction to working in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives was in the autumn term of my third year studying English Literature.  I studied Dr Julia Thomas’s module, The Illustrated Book, which hosted all of its seminars in Special Collections. Over the course of the module, we were given access to numerous examples of illustrated novels, journals, and newspapers from the archive’s extensive collection, aiding our understanding of the history of the illustrated book from the late eighteenth century to the present. My personal highlights included studying Special Collections’ copy of the Moxon Tennyson (surely every Pre-Raphaelite lover’s dream), handling the unconventional and intriguing artist’s books, and carving our own designs into lino blocks to attempt relief printing for ourselves! (Safe to say, I don’t think we would have made the cut to be professional engravers any time soon…)

Practising linocut with the Illustrated Book class.

Practising linocut with the Illustrated Book class.

I was excited by the prospect of returning to the archive in the spring term while studying Dr Carrie Smith’s module, Poetry in the Making: Modern Literary Manuscripts. In order to give us practical experience of working with literary manuscripts, several weeks of the module were conducted in Special Collections, engaging with the material held in the Edward Thomas (1878-1917) archive. Part of the assessment required us to create a group video presentation exploring an item of interest from the archive. Here’s a clip from one of the student films:

Despite the words ‘group presentation’ usually striking fear into the hearts of most students, the filmed assessment was what had initially attracted me to the module. To have a practical element to an undergraduate English Literature module is unusual, and it stood out as a unique opportunity, allowing students to develop and showcase a different set of skills to future employers.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Special Collections’ Edward Thomas archive is expansive, holding the world’s largest collection of his letters, diaries, notebooks, poems, photographs, and personal belongings. Alison Harvey, archivist at Special Collections, selected a wide array of material from the archive for us to explore, and in our groups we assessed which items would form the focal point of our presentations. Being tasked with working with archival material was certainly a new experience, and it proved very interesting but also challenging. Almost all the texts I had encountered during my three years studying English Literature had been published documents, written in standardised print with titles, page numbers, and footnotes. It was therefore challenging studying the manuscript form of Edward Thomas’ poems, diary entries, and correspondence, because the layout of the text on the page did not always follow a chronological pattern. Amendments and notes could have been added at different stages of the document’s history, and we felt like detectives trying to figure out the chronology of the documents. At the beginning we also struggled with some of the seemingly indecipherable handwriting, but both Carrie and Alison were extremely patient with us, and with practice, it became easier to interpret the handwriting and read the material.

Telegram to Helen, notifying her of Edward's death in combat.

Telegram to Helen, notifying her of Edward’s death in combat.

I think the rest of the group would agree how surprisingly evocative they found the experience, especially handling the telegram sent to Helen Thomas relating the news of her husband’s death, and reading the condolence letters sent to her by Edward’s comrades and friends. I think these documents produced a strong emotional reaction among the group, because holding correspondence of such a personal nature felt intrusive to some extent. It was possible to imagine the moment Helen received the telegram, and the devastation this would have caused her and their three children.

The practical experience of working hands-on with the archive material and filming for the presentation made an invigorating change from the usual essay assessments, and the module was an excellent introduction to working in an archive. It also sparked a personal interest in Edward Thomas, drawing in all the elements of his life as a literary critic, a novelist, a poet, a soldier, and also as a husband and a father. I was able to delve further into his life and works by attending the Edward Thomas Centenary Conference that was held at Cardiff University in April 2017, hearing leading researchers of Edward Thomas speak, and meeting fellow fans of his work. On one of the days of the conference, I participated in a student panel hosted by Dr Carrie Smith, answering questions from the attendees about our experience of using the archive, handling the material, and producing a video presentation as an assessment, which was understandably identified as an unusual feature of an undergraduate module.

Edward Thomas 100 exhibition

Edward Thomas 100 exhibition

Special Collections also launched its Edward Thomas 100 exhibition to coincide with the Centenary Conference, and it was fantastic to see the collection showcased to the public in such a visually appealing and accessible way. Much respect to Alison for engineering such a wonderful display whilst also fending off frequent queries about the Edward Thomas archive from our course group as deadlines loomed! The exhibition is on display in Special Collections until October, for any of those who are inspired to come and have a gander.

After being involved in the conference, I approached Alison to see if I could be of any assistance in volunteering my time to Special Collections over the summer. She proposed a project to digitise sections of the Edward Thomas archive. The plan was to focus on the photographs, poems, and letters held in the collection, which were used so heavily as an educational resource every Spring by Dr Carrie Smith’s Poetry in the Making group. Since July, I have been tasked with digitising, editing, uploading and organising images on a freely available online resource (Flickr), where they can be viewed and navigated through easily. The resource allows images to be downloaded for re-use at a variety of resolutions.

The new Edward Thomas online resource

The new Edward Thomas online resource

Once uploaded to Flickr, I attach the full metadata to each image to assist with citations, add tags (so that images can be found by users searching keywords) and a location pin (if applicable). Finally, I group related images into albums for ease of navigation.

I began by tackling the extensive collection of photographs, beginning with those solely of Edward Thomas, and then moving onto the wider family, including ones taken years after Edward’s death. It was necessary for me wear gloves to handle the photographs, (completing the stereotypical image of an archivist in style I might add), as the oils from the skin can easily damage the surface of the prints.

Edward's children (r-l): Bronwen, Myfanwy and Merfyn.

Edward’s children (r-l): Bronwen, Myfanwy and Merfyn.

It has been pleasing to see the Flickr account fill up with photographs of Edward, his wife Helen, and children Merfyn, Bronwen, and Myfanwy. The images really help to flesh out their lives outside of Edward’s publications and literary career. You get a sense of character through photographs that it can be difficult to find from a sheet of paper, no matter how personal someone’s handwriting can feel. It was also enjoyable to see the progression of Edward and Helen’s three children growing up as the number of photos on the resource accumulated.

Early drafts of Edward Thomas' poems

Early drafts of Edward Thomas’ poems

I encountered one of the more challenging aspects of working with archival material when I moved onto digitising Edward’s poems. The manuscript poems held at Special Collections date between 1914-1917, and the pages are noticeably thinner and more delicate than other material in the archive. This is because paper quality severely declined during wartime, and its high acid content makes surviving material extremely friable. The availability of digital surrogates will help conserve these vulnerable originals.

To get a representative sample of the hundreds of letters stored in the archive, I focused my attention next on Edward’s letters from poet Robert Frost and those sent to writer Gordon Bottomley. The letters which I chose to upload from Gordon Bottomley date from 1902-1905, and reveal evidence of Edward’s continuing struggle with depression. Though mostly containing discussion of literature and Edward’s review-writing, there is often a pervasive tone of despair to Edward’s letters. The letters sent to Edward written by Robert Frost date from 1915-16, and are saturated with the outbreak of the war, revealing insecurities arising from the pressure of enlisting and needing to prove one’s worth. On pages 3-4 of a letter from 6 Nov 1916, Frost writes:

Letter from Robert Frost.

Letter from Robert Frost.

“You rather shut me up by enlisting. Talk is almost too cheap when all your friends are facing bullets. I don’t believe I ought to enlist (since I am American) […] When all the world is facing danger, it’s a shame not to be facing danger for any reason, old age, sickness, or any other. Words won’t make the shame less. There’s no use trying to make out that the shame we suffer makes up for the more heroic things we don’t suffer.”

Edward’s own desire to prove his worth is evident in a letter he wrote to his daughter Myfanwy. Dated 29 Dec 1916, whilst Edward was situated in Lydd, Kent, he confesses:

Letter from Edward to his daughter, Myfanwy, aged 6.

Letter from Edward to his daughter, Myfanwy, aged 6.

“I should not be surprised if we were in France at the end of this month. I do hope peace won’t come just yet. I should not know what to do, especially if it came before I had fully been a soldier. I wonder if you want peace, and if you can remember when there was no war.”

Another extensive sequence of Edward Thomas’s correspondences held in Special Collections is between Edward and Helen Thomas (nee Noble). These letters run from 1897 (before their marriage), until Edward’s death in 1917. Of the hundreds of letters, I selected the last letters Edward wrote to Helen, and worked my way backwards. I thought this would provide a useful contrast to the early Bottomley letters, also identifying that the descriptions of Edward’s experiences in the army, and his subsequent posting to France, would be of great interest to researchers of Edward’s life.

The letters Edward writes to Helen during the years he is studying at Lincoln College, Oxford (1898-1900), whilst Helen is at their family home in Kent, are interesting because they disclose the domestic side to Edward’s life. These letters may consist of comparatively mundane subject matter to researchers, as they consist of everyday conversations, mainly including practical matters and financial arrangements between the couple. However, much of the early correspondence resonated with me. One particular letter (25 May 1900, pp. 5-7) contains Edward’s dejection over getting a bad mark in a university module and worrying about disappointing his parents.

Letter from Edward to Helen, while a student at Oxford.

Letter from Edward to Helen, while a student at Oxford.

“I have been wickedly idle this last year (except in the vacation), and father will be angry when he sees the class list in July: for I shall get a 3rd at most.”

Every student at some point has gone through the angst of being convinced they were going to fail a module. It’s reassuring that this was also the case for the last century’s students too.

Another letter from a month later, (8 Jun 1900), consists of Edward expressing his misery at being apart from Helen, but her not being able to visit him because of financial constraints and having nowhere for her to stay. Despite these letters being over 100 years old, it is remarkable just how relevant they still are to students, and to my own experience of being in a long-distance relationship. In our age of instant communication, we can forget how much further distances just within the UK would have felt when you had to wait on a letter to bring news of your loved ones: “I have no time for a letter but I can’t help expecting to hear good news from you. The absence of it is distracting. My health is getting bad and my eyes almost // failed me today. I don’t see how you can come down. You can’t afford it and I don’t know where you could stay.”

In creating this resource, I have become privy to so many more aspects of Edward Thomas’s life that I didn’t have time to appreciate during the seminar hours of Poetry in the Making. My hope is that this resource will allow future students on the module to spend time going through the collection at their own leisure, unrestrained by the archive’s opening hours or the limited number of seminars held in the archive. Having the images freely available to use on Flickr will reduce the number of times the documents will be handled each time a group needs to take a photograph, helping to conserve the originals. This will free up time during the seminars for the groups to discuss the content and argument of their presentations, and also guarantee high quality photographs for every group. For those rushing things last-minute, (as there inevitably will be), they will be able to check a reference number or a date quickly online, rather than having to pull out and go through all the boxes of material in search of one photograph or a letter they forgot to write down the catalogue number for!

Beyond the University, now that a large chunk of the Edward Thomas archive has been digitised, researchers all over the world are able see images of the documents described by the archive catalogue, and can easily browse through the majority of the collection held here in Cardiff. This will be a major help to many, I hope, and aid them in their research.

I’ve enjoyed my time in Special Collections very much over the final year of my degree here at Cardiff University, and I want to say a big thank you to the entire team at Special Collections for making me feel so welcome during this project. It’s been a pleasure to aid future users of the archive, and if you’re unfamiliar with Special Collections, I hope you will go for a visit after reading this!

The Collingwood Collection: an introduction to the family and the project

It’s been two months now since I joined Special Collections and Archives as the project archivist for the Collingwood Collection. During this time I have been completely immersed in the family’s correspondence and, as a result, feel like I know the family almost as well as my own! The project is generously funded by the National Cataloguing Grants scheme provided by The National Archives. My job is to create a catalogue with detailed descriptions of all the correspondence in the collection in order to make it accessible to researchers and to public scrutiny, interaction and celebration. (With this in mind, we will be running some events to showcase the collection over the coming year.)

The Collingwood Family: a potted history

The Collingwood Collection is the family archive of an extraordinary family. The Collingwoods have been described as ‘probably the most intellectually and artistically gifted family in the Lake District in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.’ The collection in Cardiff centres around W. G. Collingwood and his descendants. W. G. Collingwood (1854-1932) was an artist, author, professor of fine arts, Norse scholar, and John Ruskin’s friend and secretary. In 1883 he married Edith Mary (Dorrie) Isaac (1857-1928). Often confined to a footnote along the lines of ‘also an artist’, she was, in fact quite remarkable. While she was alive her art was commercially successful – much more so, it seems, than her husband as she was reportedly the main breadwinner in the marriage and exhibited widely both in the Lake District and in London. She was a noted miniaturist and while this is obvious from her artwork in the collection, it is also evident from the many sketches included in her letters to family and friends, such as these two sketches of her daughter Barbara.

They had four children. Their eldest, Dora (1886-1964), was another successful artist and married the notable medical doctor Ernest Altounyan. After the First World War, she moved with her husband to Syria where Ernest’s father ran a pioneering hospital in Aleppo. Ernest worked as a medical doctor in the hospital and they were both heavily involved with helping refugees in Aleppo, particularly in response to the Armenian Genocide (1915-23).  Arthur Ransome, a close friend of the family, based the Walker children in Swallows and Amazons (1930) on Dora and Ernest’s children.

Barbara (1887-1961), the Collingwood’s second child, was a sculptor. Her husband, Oscar Gnosspelius was a civil engineer who specialised in mining and railway construction in South Africa before the war and later prospected on the Coniston Fells with W. G. Collingwood. He was also a pioneering aviation expert and built hydroplanes on Lake Windermere. Their daughter, Janet (1926-2010), was an architect and historian. She was the former owner of the collection before it was deposited at Cardiff University.

The Collingwood’s third child, Robin (1889-1943) is better known as R. G. Collingwood and was an influential philosopher and historian. He was among the leading names in British Idealism and an expert in the archaeology of Roman Britain. The Collingwood and British Idealism Centre is based at Cardiff University and aims to ‘promot[e] and encourag[e] research into the life and philosophy of R. G. Collingwood’.

Their fourth child, Ursula (1891-1964), was both an artist and a trained mid-wife. She worked as a midwife in London’s East End from around 1912 to 1925 before returning to teach art at Blackwell School and later becoming a farmer.

I’ll be writing further blog posts introducing you to some of these fascinating family members over the next few months.

The beginnings of cataloguing

During the first few weeks, I concentrated on the boxes set aside as being of particular research interest. These included correspondence between members of the family and notable people such as John Ruskin, Arthur Ransome, E. M. Forster, and even a letter from Beatrix Potter, and many more gems besides.

One letter particularly which stood out to me at the time was a letter from E. M. Forster to Barbara Collingwood. Writing in 1916, he describes the effect he believes the First World War was having on him artistically and personally. Much is known of Forster’s pacifism but I have been unable to find an insight as personal the one revealed in this letter.

In this letter, Forster writes to his friend:

I don’t know… — as this war drags on to its dreary and arithmetical conclusion if to any conclusion at all, the passion in me for all that old High-life and High-art business of which I used to be rather ashamed, seems to increase and express itself less fearlessly.

Reading and cataloguing the personal correspondence of the Collingwood family is a real privilege and feeling like I am really getting to know them. It is almost like a novel unfolding with stories not yet told. I felt this particularly when I was reading the letters Edith (Dorrie) wrote to her future husband, W. G. Collingwood, when they were courting. It is not often that one gets such a personal insight into the private lives of others, especially not those from 120 years ago. A few letters have been reproduced hear but I look forward to telling the story of their courtship in a later blog post.

There is estimated to be around 4000 letters in total in the collection. I have now created item level descriptions of around 30% these. It’s been exciting uncovering stories about these fascinating people, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of these with you over the coming months.

Hidden Histories and Secret Voices by Catherine Paula Han

Join us at Special Collections and Archives on March the 8th for our free event to celebrate International Women’s Day

uni_sweetgirl

Celebrate International Women’s Day by discovering women’s hidden histories and secret voices in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives. The event will be an opportunity to explore the collections, listen to a series of exciting talks and examine some of the items before participating in a creative writing workshop.

The first speaker is Susan Morgan who will discuss the anatomical textbooks that have inspired her PhD in creative writing. Her talk will provide insight into the history and evolution of anatomical textbooks. It will also give an overview into changes in the medical understanding of women’s bodies while revealing what these textbooks tellingly omit or obscure in their representation of women.

histmed_dissectdesparties

Charles Estienne, La dissection des parties du corps humain (Paris, 1546)

After that, Stephanie Clayton, a PhD student in English Literature, will draw on her expertise in women’s manuscript cultures in order to present the diaries of Priscilla Scott-Ellis (1937-1941). Scott-Ellis’s account offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of a front-line nurse during the Spanish Civil War. Her diaries also show evidence of significant editing, a process that reveals how some women’s voices have been lost but can also be recovered.

french-fashion-ladies-treasury

Fashion detail from The Ladies Treasury

Becky Munford, a Reader in English Literature, will give the last talk about the fashion-related items from the library’s collection and present her research project ‘Women in Trousers’. She will also be launching an online archive related to her project. In so doing, she will challenge the perception of fashion as a frivolous subject and will demonstrate the significance of women’s garments to their physical, social and political freedom.

In the final part of the day, local poet Emily Blewitt will lead a creative writing workshop. She will enable you to respond to the event’s theme of women’s hidden histories and secret voices as well as the items in Special Collections and Archives.

 

Programme

2.00: Welcome

2.15: Talk by Susan Morgan

2.30: Talk by Stephanie Clayton

2.45: Talk by Becky Munford

3.00: Time to browse collections and archives

3.30: Break

3.45: Creative writing workshop

5.00: End

Date and Time

Wed 8 March 2017

14:00 – 17:00 GMT

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Location

Special Collections and Archives

Arts and Social Studies Library, Cardiff University

Colum Drive

Cardiff

CF10 3EU

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You can register for free here.

For more information please email specialcollections@cardiff.ac.uk

 

 

 

Edward Thomas 100: celebrating a poetic legacy in April 2017

Photos from the archive.

Photos from the archive.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

One of our most fascinating collections relates to the life and work of a poet – Edward Thomas, who was killed in action during the First World War, exactly one hundred years ago, in April 1917.

Edward Thomas made a living writing travel books and critical reviews. It was a combination of his friendship with the American poet, Robert Frost, and the outbreak of the First World War, which led to him beginning to write poetry in 1914, until his tragic death just a short time later, on the Western Front.

In 2017, Cardiff University, holder of the world’s largest archive of Edward Thomas’ letters, diaries, notebooks, poems, photographs, and personal belongings, will host a major centenary conference and exhibition celebrating his life and work, as well as a series of poetry events, supported by Literature Wales. A creative writing workshop on 8th April will be followed by a unique poetry performance evening on 21st April. We’ll also be taking part in #NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) by providing daily poetry prompts, to encourage as many people as possible to be inspired by his writing, and to write their own poems in response.

Letters to Edward from Robert Frost.

Letters to Edward from Robert Frost.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

Edward Thomas 100: A Creative Writing Workshop

Saturday 8th April

3-5pm

Venue: Special Collections and Archives, Arts and Social Studies Library, Colum Road, Cardiff, CF10 3EU.

Free entry, but places are limited so please book by emailing Rachel at CarneyR2@cardiff.ac.uk

Edward Thomas' pocket watch

Edward Thomas’ pocket watch.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

The Edward Thomas archive is an incredible collection of material and objects relating to his life and work, including original manuscripts of some of his poems, as well as letters, notebooks, articles and objects, such as the watch which he was wearing when he died (it is thought that the force of the blast actually stopped the mechanism at the time of his death).

You will have a unique opportunity to view items from the collection and be inspired to write your own work in response. There will also be a chance to read work produced during the workshop at our performance event on 21st April, and we will publish some of the best pieces written by workshop participants on our blog.

Read more about the workshop tutor:

Bryan Marshall is a Cardiff based poet and fiction writer. He has won first prize and publication in The Word Hut and Darker Times. He’s also had work published in Thief magazine, Postcard Poems, Prose Magazine, and The Ghastling. He regularly performs at spoken word events in Cardiff.

This workshop is free to attend, but places are limited so please book by emailing Rachel at CarneyR2@cardiff.ac.uk


Yes. I Remember Adlestrop: Celebrating the Influence of Edward Thomas on Contemporary Poetry

Friday 21st April

7.30pm (doors open from 7pm)

Venue: Little Man Coffee Company, Ivor House, Bridge Street, Cardiff, CF10 2EE.

Free entry

Edward Thomas has influenced the work of numerous writers, from Robert Frost, Thomas Hardy and W.H. Auden, to Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes. This event will celebrate the influence of his work on contemporary poetry.

Edward with his son Merfyn, 1900.

Edward with his son Merfyn, 1900.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

Lucy Newlyn (from Oxford), Jonathan Edwards (from South Wales) and Glyn Edwards (from North Wales), will read their own poems and talk about the influence of Edward Thomas on their work. Local writers will also share poems written specially for the occasion, and there will be an open mic on the same theme.

The event will also include a pop-up exhibition, featuring highlights from the Edward Thomas archive.

More about the poets:

Professor Lucy Newlyn is both an academic and a poet, having lectured at Oxford University since 1984, where she is now an Emeritus Fellow of St Edmund Hall. Her first poetry collection Ginnel was published by Oxford Poets/Carcanet in 2005, and a second collection, Earth’s Almanac, was published by Enitharmon Press in 2015. She has been literary editor of the Oxford Magazine since 2011. She has a longstanding interest in the work of Edward Thomas, and has co-edited Branch-lines: Edward Thomas and Contemporary Poetry and published other work related to his prose and poetry.

Edward and Helen Thomas.

Edward and Helen Thomas.
(c) Edward Thomas Estate

Jonathan Edwards’ first collection, My Family and Other Superheroes (Seren, 2014) received the Costa Poetry Award and the Wales Book of the Year People’s Choice Award. It was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. He works as a teacher and the poems of Edward Thomas, rich in their treatment of people, nature and time, are among his favourite to teach.

Glyn Edwards has been Writer in Residence at a number of literature festivals including the ‘Poem for October’ project at the Dylan Thomas Boathouse.  He has had work published in the Wales Arts Review, The Lonely Crowd, The Lampeter Review and a variety of other publications. His debut poetry collection, ‘Conversations’, will be published in 2018, and will include poems written in response to Edward Thomas and Robert Frost.

Please share our events on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @CUSpecialColls for regular poetry prompts throughout April.

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