Tag Archives: archives

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.

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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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Tall Trees, Ancient History

Working with Special Collections means I’m never short of inspiration. Frankly, it’s hard to move for the stuff. However, recent encouragement has stemmed from much further afield…

… all the way from Offa’s Dyke to be precise. Having read about Robert McBride’s  project of recording and authenticating the ancient trees along this early earthen boundary, I was struck by two thoughts. Firstly, what an ‘ah-mazing’ job – second only to rummaging through old books (though I should point out that McBride’s efforts are voluntary); secondly, how crucial this work is, today especially.

The history of trees is often overlooked yet they are essential elements of our historical and cultural landscapes. Forests and woodlands were initially seen as forbidding and wild terrain, a symbol of the uncivilized. It is no coincidence that the word ‘savage’ derives from the Latin silva, meaning forest or wood. Since prehistoric times, human advancement hinged on the clearing and consumption of these woods, a recurring process throughout the Roman and Saxon eras, where woodlands were felled to make way for human settlements and pastureland. By the end of the 17th century, with the growing need for industrial fuel and building materials, only around 8% of England and Wales remained covered by forest. Some saw this a sign of progress. For contemporaries a ‘wilderness’ did not refer to a stark wasteland, but rather a dark, untamed wood. See, for example, how definitions of ‘forest’ and ‘wood’ in Edward Phillips’ The New World of Words (London, 1671),  are understood as something ‘wild’ and ungodly!

E. Phillips The New World of Words title pages

Edward Phillips, The New World of Words: or, a General English Dictionary,  (London, 3rd edition, 1671). First published in London in 1658, this was the first folio English dictionary and featured many unusual, foreign and specialist words.

Forest definition E. Phillips The New World of Words (London 1671)

Phillips’ definition of a forest, 1671: ‘…abiding place for Deer, or any sort of beasts, that are wild…’

Wood definition E. Phillips The New World of Words (London 1671)

Explanation of the term wood, 1671: ‘that signifies mad, or furious.’

Sylva or a Discourse of Forest Trees 1664 1

Title page of John Evelyn’s Sylva: or a Discourse of Forest Trees and the Propagation of Timber (London, 1664)

Nevertheless, attitudes were shifting towards a consideration for conservation and planting. Not necessarily a new development in itself, but with the economic demands of building a Royal Navy, and the growth of iron and glass manufacture, organized attempts at planting were becoming more evident. The work of John Evelyn is indicative of this. Sylva, published in London in 1664 is a study of British trees, designed to promote the planting and repair of the country’s forests and saplings for the ‘Glory of His Kingdom’. ‘Him’ being Charles the II who, incidentally, found sanctuary in an English oak during the final battle of the Civil War.

Change was afoot socially too. Whereas wooded territories were primarily cultivated for wild beasts and deer for hunting purposes, these deer parks and Royal forests were increasingly appreciated for their aesthetic and distinctive qualities. The gentry could distinguish themselves physically and socially in a country house set in a landscaped park, whilst fashionable society could parade itself in the open setting of city parks and gardens. The great tree-lined avenue became a familiar aristocratic feature, and trees were increasingly planted purely for their visual charm.

Austen A Treatise of Fruit Trees illustration detail

Engraving by John Goddard from Ralph Austen’s A treatise of fruit trees: shewing the manner of grafting, planting, pruning and ordering of them in all respects, (Oxford, 2nd edition, 1657), showing the ‘enclosed’ garden as well as gardening tools and a planting plan.

Hence by the eighteenth-century, any landlord worth his salt planted trees on his land. The following notebook for example, lists the different trees planted on an estate in North Wales, details of trees given to tenants, where they were planted and their history.

Trees also held a sacred and magical significance. The Yew, for example, generally understood to be the longest living tree in Britain, is found in most churchyards. Wales appears to have the world’s largest collection of ancient yews. The most famous is the Llangernyw Yew in the grounds of St Dygain’s Church, Conway, North Wales, believed to be over 4,000 years old! The old Welsh saying ‘gorwedd dan yr Ywen’, ‘sleeping under the Yew’, when referring to one’s demise, suggests that they were seen as a symbol of immortality and sanctuary for the dead. The existence of a holy well or spring near such trees also suggests their sacred origins. Ffynnon Digain (St. Digain’s Well) lies about a mile outside of Llangernyw, whilst in Carmarthenshire the Ffynnon Gwenlais yew grows above the source of the Gwenlais stream, and was noted by both Edward Lhuyd in the late seventeenth century, and Richard Fenton in 1804. The Welsh custom of tying rags to the branches of trees growing near a holy well, whereby the rag is ‘offered’ to the Saint or to God as a healing ritual also reflects their sacred qualities.

Moreover, their magical traits are evident in the medieval Welsh poem Cad Goddeu – the Battle of the Trees. Preserved in the 14th century manuscript Llyfr Taliesin (The Book of Taliesin), the poem refers to Gwydion’s enchantment of the trees of the forest where they rose up as warriors against the forces of Arawn, king of the underworld. ‘Rush, ye chiefs of the wood’, reads one line, while the rest of the poem describes, amongst others, the ‘Alders, at the head of the line’, the Yew at ‘the fore’, and ‘The Ash… exalted most’.  Does this scene Ring any bells? Ring(s) being the operative word! For whilst this particular story inspired Tori Amos’ song, Battle of the Trees, and John Williams’ composition ‘Duel of the Fates’ for Star Wars: Episode 1, I can’t help wondering if Cad Goddeu was also the source of inspiration for the Battle of Isengard in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings?

Cruben yr Ellyll

Image of Cruben yr Ellyll from E. Salisbury’s scrapbook on Meirioneth, c. 19thC

Through all ages then, and worlds, our trees have provided physical emblems of our historic and cultural heritage. Some, like the Pontfadog Oak, where it’s believed the Welsh Prince Owain Gwynedd rallied his army before defeating the English at the Battle of Crogen, or the Cruben yr Ellyll,  The Hollow Demon Oak,  where legend has it the body of Hywel Sele was interred by Owain Glyndwr, have a historic worth, while others have been a source of wonder, like the Crooked Oak of Pembrokeshire which inspired the Welsh poet Waldo Williams to pen ‘Y Dderwen Gam’ – ‘The Crooked Oak’. Some have even survived great battles! And so the moral of this blog post is to never underestimate the importance of our ancient trees. They truly are blooming marvelous – pun intended!

 

Discovering the Edward Thomas archive: a student perspective

This guest post comes from Sarah Murray, a final year English Literature undergraduate. Sarah recently worked on a project in Special Collections as part of the Poetry in the Making module led by Dr Carrie Smith. The students were tasked with exploring the Edward Thomas archive, to find items to inspire short films. These would present arguments about Thomas’ life and work, with reference to primary sources. An extract from one of the films is featured below.

During our first visit to Special Collections, we worked closely with archivist, Alison Harvey, who collected a huge range of material from manuscripts of poems to Thomas’ personal diaries, to flower cuttings, to personal items, such as his clay pipes.

We were able to spend time looking through this material, and quickly realised that the diversity of materials the archive has to offer meant that there was a huge scope for creativity in the upcoming project.

Manuscripts, transcripts, diaries and flower cuttings - a typical scene at our table.

Manuscripts, transcripts, diaries and flower cuttings – a typical scene at our table.

My group was struck by the regular communication between Edward Thomas and fellow poet Robert Frost, and decided to concentrate on the profound impact Frost had on Thomas’ birth as a poet. Armed with more material than it was possible to process, we visited the archive regularly, pouring over the correspondence between Thomas and Frost.

The calming atmosphere of Special Collections made a welcome change from the rest of the Arts and Social Studies Library, and if it was not for the fact that I would be eternally thirsty, I would do all of my writing in the archive! (It’s funny how the moment you know you can’t have something, that’s immediately all you want in the world.)

After much research, constructing our arguments and a lot of video editing, the four groups in our class each created and submitted a ten minute film as part of the module assessment and it was surprising how different each one was. Almost as if we had sat down and allocated different approaches to take.

Uniquely, the work we produced was showcased to the English Literature department. Although slightly embarrassing to watch and listen to ourselves on the big screen (there was a lot of face covering and even a quick exit), the opportunity to share our videos with members of the department who were interested and surprised by the originality of our arguments, made the project seem incredibly worthwhile.

litmodulestudentsFor me, the experience was eye opening as it provided us with the thought processes and concerns that preceded the published versions of Thomas’ eloquent poetry. I hadn’t really considered the apprehension that a poet may experience when writing, perhaps having been consumed by the Romantic idea that inspiration for a complete product is found while sitting peacefully at the top of a hill. The ability to immerse ourselves in the material that led to the publication of Thomas’ poetry enabled us to understand the man and consequently, the poet and his poetry in a deeper sense.

Samantha Palen, third year English Literature and Journalism student, adds: “As an amateur poet myself, I had long ago rejected the Wordsworthian / Romantic idea of writing poetry, if purely for the fact that British weather means that writing anything whilst strolling through the countryside proves nearly impossible. However, I was surprised to learn the range of materials in the archive that fed into the final published poems; classically you imagine that a poem is written, edited through various manuscripts and then published, bish, bash, bosh. What I didn’t take into account was all of the materials that fall outside of this process, the photographs, the diaries, the correspondence with friends and family, which arguably have a greater impact on the creation of a piece of poetry. All of this took some time to get my head around and the sheer amount of information available seemed incredibly daunting, but all of the archive staff were incredibly helpful in making this an incredibly enjoyable experience!”

All in all, this project was definitely more challenging than anything else I have been required to do as part of my degree and was a welcome change to the thousands of words of essay I have written across nearly three years of reading English Literature. I greatly enjoyed the time we spent in Special Collections. Cardiff University is very lucky to have such a rich collection of historical and literary archives and the opportunity to make use of this material enriched my knowledge of a subject I am passionate about. Finally, I am very grateful to Carrie for providing us with this new and exciting academic opportunity and to Alison for her time and commitment to supporting us throughout the project.

Edward Thomas’ In Pursuit of Spring: the lost photographs

The story started here: while undertaking the cataloguing of the Edward Thomas archive – the slow and careful process of examining, describing and categorising one man’s belongings – I came across a small, slightly battered envelope marked ’53 prints, Edward Thomas’.envelope

The photos were of locations Thomas had visited over 100 years ago, taken during a cycle ride from London to Somerset, via the cathedral towns of Winchester, Salisbury and Wells over Easter weekend, 1913. The journey was to provide inspiration for his prose work, In Pursuit of Spring – a celebration of nature, Spring and the English landscape in the months prior to the devastation of the First World War.

It is not yet spring. Spring is being dreamed and the dream is more wonderful and more blessed than ever was spring. What the hour of waking will bring forth is not known, catch at the dreams as they hover.

Mapped: locations photographed along the route

Mapped: locations photographed along the route

Landscape photographer Rob Hudson visited Special Collections and Archives this time last year, with a general interest in finding out more about the contents of Edward Thomas archive. I showed him notebooks, poems drafts, and letters from the poet, which are the usual objects of interest, and as an afterthought, considering his interest in photography, brought out the little packet of photos. Some had locations pencilled on the reverse, and as we peered and puzzled over the names, I could tell Rob had been struck by inspiration. He placed an order for the photos to be digitised, and produced this fantastic blog post. The post was shared widely across his network on Twitter, and the photos were introduced to the world.

Turner's Tower, Hemington, Radstock, Avon.

Turner’s Tower, Hemington, Radstock, Avon.

Later that year, Little Toller, described by The Independent as ‘a small but discerning press’, were trying to make a decision. Edward Thomas’ centenary was approaching: should they publish The Icknield Way or In Pursuit of Spring? Stumbling across Rob’s blog post while researching online, an idea grew. What if In Pursuit of Spring could be reprinted, fully illustrated with the snapshots which had inspired its author? Images of a lost, almost car-less England, full of empty roads and paths, speaking of travel, motion and hope.

Castle Street, Bridgwater

Castle Street, Bridgwater

Following discussions with the Edward Thomas Estate, permission was granted to publish the photos in print for the first time, in a brand new edition of the work. Little Toller’s handsome edition of In Pursuit of Spring went on sale on 3 March, Edward Thomas’ birthday, and sold out in just four weeks. Another print run has just taken place, and it is just as well, given that the work has caught the attention of the national media. The Guardian has run an excellent feature which compares the historic images with photos taken in the same locations in the modern day – readers can use the blue sliders on each image to compare then and now.

In Pursuit of Spring was to be one of Thomas’ last prose works. He is now better remembered for his poetry, such as In Memoriam, written only two years later, at yet another Easter, in 1915:

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.

In his post, Rob Hudson writes:

That is the final connection with Easter for this story; the Easter 1913 when he set out, in pursuit of Spring; the Easter Monday 1915 of In Memoriam; and Easter Monday 1917, at Arras where he died. Easter, of course, is when we traditionally celebrate the Resurrection, and it is perhaps fitting that Edward Thomas’ words and now his photographs outlive him.

Special Collections and Archives would like to thank Rob Hudson and Little Toller for their role in enabling these images, and Thomas’ work, to reach and be enjoyed by a new generation of readers. All photographs can be viewed on our Pinterest board.