‘Kent, its Regiments, and the First World War’

The Queen’s Own Buffs, The Royal Kent Regiment Collection was given to the University of Kent by the Regimental Association of The Queen’s Own Buffs in 2017, and is cared for as part of Special Collections & Archives. It consists of mainly printed and published material from the 19th century to the present, along with some archival material.

New and Old Colours of the 1st Battalion, The Buffs, from The Dragon March 1892

Over the past year we have undertake a year-long project, funded by the Regimental Association of the Queen’s Own Buffs Royal Kent Regiment, to catalogue the Collection and selectively digitise some of the regimental journals held in the Collection.

To celebrate this project we are launching a new exhibition in the Templeman Gallery, ‘Kent, its Regiments, and the First World War’, and Professor Mark Connelly will give a lecture entitled ‘The East Kent Regiment, Canterbury and the Great War’ to launch the exhibition at 2.30pm on Monday 29th October 2018. The talk will explore the links between Canterbury and the Buffs during the First World War. It will show how the city and surrounding region maintained a great interest in the actions of its local regiment, even after conscription led to great changes in its demographic. Home and Fighting fronts are often thought of as very distinct and separate entities, but this lecture will highlight the degree to which they were inextricably linked and that communication between the two was continual. This lecture is open to all, with tickets bookable via eventbrite. Attendees are welcome to visit the exhibition afterwards, which is held in the Templeman Gallery and will be running from 29 October 2018 to 4 January 2019.

Men of the 1st Battalion, The Buffs at Bois-Grenier, winter 1914

During this event, we will also be launching our new project ‘Diaries of the Here and Now‘, where we are inviting everyone to record their experiences of 11 November 2018 for future generations, and deposit their diary with Special Collections & Archives.

Diaries of the Here and Now

‘Kent, its Regiments, and the First World War’, Templeman Gallery, 29 October 2018 – 4 January 2019.

Diaries of the Here and Now: diaries will be available to collect in the Templeman Library from the 29 October until 11 November, and need to be returned by 25 November 2018.

Re-Engineering History: A Playful Demonstration

Here’s a fun fact for you: one of the world’s first computers was constructed out of Meccano! Built in 1934, engineer Douglas Hartree created the Differential Analyser for about £20 (which seems like a bargain to us).

A young Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in action. Maybe.

Very excitingly, next week Special Collections & Archives are going to be hosting a reconstruction of this ground-breaking machine in our Reading Room! PhD student Tom Ritchie is the man behind this brave challenge, and he’s going to be hosting a very special event to explore the Differential Analyser next Tuesday (9th October). Intrigued? Why not come along and learn more?

The best thing to happen in Special Collections & Archives since we changed our Reading Room hours

As an added bonus, you’ll be able to view related material from our wonderful collections on the day too. This will include items from our recently-explored Maddison Collection, which charts the history of science from the 16th century to (almost) the present day. What more could you want on a Tuesday evening? Tea, coffee, and wine? Well we’ve got that covered too! (Just not near the books)

Like table football, but more useful

‘Re-Engineering History’ takes place between Monday 8 – Thursday 11 October. The seminar, demonstration and Q&A is being held on Tuesday 9 October at 5.30pm in Special Collections and Archives. 

Because the author of this blog is in no way a scientist, please visit the IS Science Team’s blog here and Tom Ritchie’s excellent explanation here to find out more about this very exciting project.


New (academic) year, new opening hours!

Graphic displaying details of the new opening hours for the Special Collections & Archives Reading Room, set against a background of a book from the Maddison Collection

Special Collections & Archives 2018: now available for you 5 days a week. Windmills at the ready!

Is there anything better than the start of a new term? Everyone is back (and so far, deadline free), the gorgeous campus is turning shades of autumnal yellows and reds, and there’s something pretty awesome about that new-pencil-case start of year fresh-leaf-of-paper type feeling.

In answer to that question: yes, there is something better: new opening hours for Special Collections & Archives! Following on from the extensive Templeman Library refurbishment, we’re delighted to be able to extend our service to five days a week. We are going to be open three full days – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between 9.30 – 4.30 – and two half days, Monday afternoon and Friday morning.

These opening hours begin next Monday (24th October), and we’ll keep reminding you telepathically (or via social media / our website / normal channels) about the change for the next month or so.

We’re really excited about being able to open more consistently during the week, and hope that the general lack of Wednesday afternoon classes will enable more of you to come and visit us (as well as allowing you a lie-in on Monday – not us, sadly).

Let us know what you think of the new opening hours, and as ever – any questions, do get in touch.

Have a great term, everyone, and we look forward to seeing you soon!

A brief history of alchemy; or, My Alchemical Romance

First performed in 1610 by the King’s Men, the acting company to which Shakespeare belonged, Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist is a satire centred around three con artists who use subterfuge, guile and wit to relieve targets of their belongings. Jonson makes no attempt to conceal his low opinion of alchemy and its practitioners, with the titular alchemist an obvious fraud and this makes it a useful springboard into thinking about alchemy in its historical context. The Templeman Special Collections and Archives holds a copy of Jonson’s First Folio from 1616 in its pre-1700 collection which contains the play and so in order to demonstrate how the Maddison collection could be useful for study and research beyond the history of science, we are going to use The Alchemist as a framing device for this week’s blog post.

Title page from 'The Alchemist' by Ben Jonson in Jonson's First Folio of 1616.

Jo says we are not allowed to have favourites because it makes the other books sad. The Jonson Folio (Q C 616 Jon) is Philip’s favourite. Don’t tell Jo. Or the other books.

‘Alchemy is a pretty kind of game, / Somewhat like tricks o’ the cards, to cheat a man / With charming.’ (2.3.180-182, The Alchemist)

To the uninitiated, alchemy can seem a vague art form that seems to cover a range of random topics. Whilst researching for this post we read about people trying to turn base metals into gold or silver, about some trying to create a source of eternal life and others searching for ways to raise the dead. Alchemy has spanned a large number of fields in its history from supernatural and spiritualism to medicine and early chemistry but what many fail to realise is that alchemy was in fact an early science intent on answering many of the same questions we strive to answer today. It was only in the 1700s that a strong distinction between ‘alchemy’ and ‘chemistry’ was established; prior to this time that the study of both subjects was much more fluid.

A pictorial diagram of the four base elements in a cross. Each element is represented by a creature. Clockwise from top: fire (ignis) is an angel; earth (terra) by a bear; water (aqua) by a dragon-looking creature; air (aer) is a long-necked bird.

The dragon-demon-sea monster thing is our spirit animal.


Alchemy has a long history, dating back to  antiquity and it is possible to track its early modern evolution through the Maddison Collection in the form of dedicated volumes, notes and annotations, and handwritten recipes.The roots of Western alchemy are founded in the classical idea of the basic elements – fire, water, wind and earth – and it is primarily this Eurocentric alchemy which is covered in the Maddison Collection. Variant forms of alchemy have been practiced across the globe, particularly in the Middle East, China, and India. It is the various cultural and religious influences which make each strain of alchemy unique.

A taoist philosopher, alchemist, medical writer and poet, Ko Hung was the originator of first aid in traditional Chinese medicine.

A taoist philosopher, alchemist, medical writer and poet, Ko Hung was the originator of first aid in traditional Chinese medicine.

These aforementioned roots of alchemy are derived from the classical world and continued to evolve through the ages in Western Society by adopting and discarding knowledge from various influences. However, the core of alchemy always reflected its origins through its continued use of classical mythology as a communicative device. In multiple volumes within the collection the reader is able to see various illustrations utilised to express a concept or recipe in relation to alchemy, but to those unversed in identifying these alchemical signs these illustrations appear to be merely depictions of ancient myths and folklore.

Colour illustration of a peacock in the vase of Hermes

This peacock is serving all kinds of fabulous perfection.

‘Nature doth first beget the imperfect, then/ Proceeds she to the perfect.’ (2.3.158-9, The Alchemist)

There were alchemists working across Europe through the medieval period into the early modern. The collection’s earliest works on alchemy come from Agrippa, a German polymath, legal scholar, physician and theologian,who was an important alchemist in the early sixteenth century. He is an interesting man to study, as during his career he turned away from the occult and focused much more his theological work, rejecting magic in his later life.

Just look at all those instruments! Agrippa’s getting the band back together.

Just look at all those instruments! Agrippa’s getting the band back together.


Paracelsus is another influential figure in alchemical circles, also well represented. A respected physician, alchemist and astrologer during the German renaissance, Paracelsus is known as the father of toxicology, as well as being one of the first medical professors to use chemical and minerals in medicine. John Dee, Robert Boyle and Elias Ashmole were also important names in the history of alchemy and all of these alchemists have works related to them within the Maddison collection.


Guess who’s back, back, back. Back again, Boyle’s back! Tell a friend.

Guess who’s back, back, back. Back again, Boyle’s back! Tell a friend.


It is unsurprising that Boyle engaged in alchemy alongside his more conventional scientific research. Many regarded alchemists as great experimentalists, who engaged in complicated experiments, which they then documented and amended. Cleopatra the Alchemist was a Greek Egyptian alchemist from the 3rd century whom focused on practical alchemy and is considered to be the inventor of the Alembic, an early tool for analytical chemistry. She along with other alchemists such as Mary the Jewess focused on a school of alchemy which utilised complex apparatus for distillation and sublimation, important techniques still in use in the chemistry lab today. Cleopatra the Alchemist’s biggest claim to fame is as one of only four female alchemists who were supposedly able to produce the Philosopher’s Stone.

This was one method of distillation being utilised in 1653, which looks very similar to a modern day distillation technique! On a large drum sit 2 identical vessels, and in between them is a ventilation shaft allowing smoke to escape. The two vessels on the drum are connected by long thin spouts to two conical flasks,designed to receive the run off liquor.

This was one method of distillation being utilised in 1653, which looks very similar to a modern day distillation technique! On a large drum sit 2 identical vessels, and in between them is a ventilation shaft allowing smoke to escape. The two vessels on the drum are connected by long thin spouts to two conical flasks,designed to receive the run off liquor.

‘I am the lord of the philosopher’s stone.’ (4.1.156, The Alchemist)

Twenty-first century readers may be more aware of alchemy than they realise. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone placed alchemy front and centre in contemporary culture. Other references in popular culture include manga and anime Fullmetal Alchemist and fantasy video games, World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy, amongst countless more. F. Sherwood Taylor points out the misconception of alchemists as ‘magicians or wizards’ that is common to these modern representations, writing that ‘as far as we know the alchemists sought to accomplish their work by discovering and utilizing the laws of nature […] never […] by “magical processes”’ (p.1, The Alchemists: Founders of Modern Chemistry, F. Sherwood Taylor). The Philosopher’s Stone was one of the primary goals of alchemy. Supposedly the catalyst needed to turn base metals such as mercury, tin or iron into the noble metals, gold and silver, it was also theorised to cure illnesses and extend lifespan. Alchemists disagreed on just about every aspect of the stone; from what it symbolised to how it was created. What all alchemists did agree upon was that the Philosopher’s Stone was a tangible possibility and someone had managed to make and use it in the past. During our research we discovered a series of images related to transmutation that may be related to the Philosopher’s Stone. You can see those, with added captions, as part of the Adventures series here

Image of A New Light of Alchymie book

J K Rowling’s Half Blood Prince anyone?

‘If all you boast of your great art be true; / Sure, willing poverty lives most in you.’

(1-2, Epigrams VI, “To Alchemists”, Jonson)

The fortunes of alchemy and its practitioners waxed and waned through the centuries. Renaissance alchemist and thinker, John Dee is a prime example. A key adviser to Elizabeth I, after James I succeeded the throne Dee was accused of being a ‘Conjurer, or Caller, or Invocator of Divels, or damned Spirites’ and died impoverished.

John Dee books in the Maddison Collection

Maddison Collection and it’s not Boyle! What a shock!

Most other alchemists did not suffer quite so dramatic a reversal of fortunes, but the legality of alchemy was dubious and throughout history it was often concealed in coded language or symbolic imagery. Renaissance legal scholar, Sir Edward Coke, wrote on its illegal status in The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England (1644), citing the 1404 Act Against Multiplication, which forbade ‘multiplication […] That is, to change other metals into very Gold or Silver’ (Institutes, p.74). Robert Boyle campaigned to overturn this law and it was repealed in 1689.

As the eighteenth century wore on and the scientific method took hold, alchemy became increasingly discredited and chemists, wanting to distance themselves from alchemists, succeeded in separating the disciplines.The decline of alchemy in Europe was in conjunction with the rise of modern science, which placed a high significance on quantitative experimentation and which regarded the “ancient wisdom” so highly prized in alchemy as redundant and useless.

Starting with gold? I thought we were trying to make it! This is alchemy for the 1%.

Starting with gold? I thought we were trying to make it! This is alchemy for the 1%.

Did alchemy work? Mostly not, but it was the forerunner to modern chemistry. Advancements in technology have now made some alchemical feats possible. For instance, it is now possible to turn lead into gold. It takes a chemist who knows what he is doing and a lot of time, energy and money, but changing lead to gold has been done. The method of doing so is nothing like what is recommended in the various alchemy books within the collection but the once scoffed at dream is now a possibility.

The Alchemist may treat its subject matter as a joke and its practitioners as charlatans but the tangible contribution of alchemy to scientific knowledge should not be undersold. As  Sherwood Taylor notes, ‘the hopeless pursuit of the practical transmutation of metals was responsible for almost the whole of the development of chemical technique before the middle of the seventeenth century, and further led to the discovery of many important materials.’ (x, F. Sherwood Taylor) They may not have attained everlasting life or succeeded in transmuting lead to gold, but the alchemists did pave the way for their successors to develop modern scientific theory.

Tune in for the next blog post where we will be investigating the man behind the Maddison collection, R. E. W. Maddison!


Further reading

On Alchemy

John Read, Prelude to Chemistry (London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd., 1939) [Maddison 23B1]

J. S. Thompson, The Lure and Romance of Alchemy (London: George G. Harrap & Company Ltd., 1932) [Maddison 24A14]

Sherwood Taylor,The Alchemists: Founders of Modern Chemistry (London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1951) [Maddison 24A7]

Arthur Edward Waite, The Secret Tradition of Alchemy (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1926) [Maddison 24B20]

On John Dee

Charlotte Fell Smith, John Dee (1527-1608) (London: Constable, 1909) [Maddison 13C8]

Peter J. French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972) [Maddison 13C7]

Past exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians, 2016: ‘Scholar, Courtier, Magician: the lost library of John Dee’

On The Alchemist

Ben Jonson, The workes of Beniamin Jonson (London: W. Stansby, 1616) [Q C 616.JON]

Previously in Philip and Janee’s blog posts:

The honourable Robert Boyle; or, reaching Boyle-ing point? 

Introduction; or, how do you solve a problem like the Maddison Collection?

The Honourable Robert Boyle; or, Reaching Boyle-ing Point

Hello again! Welcome to the second post in the series of our foray into the Maddison Collection. This past week has seen temperatures skyrocket but we have been staying cool in the basement of the Templeman Library, researching and caring for the treasures of the collection. Read on as we turn up the heat on this week’s topic, The Honourable Robert Boyle F.R.S.

For the record, all puns are the fault of Philip and Jo. Janee relinquishes all responsibility for them.

For the record, all puns are the fault of Philip and Jo. Janee relinquishes all responsibility for them.

One of the first things we noticed when we began working on the Maddison Collection was the sheer volume of texts on Robert Boyle. He is perhaps the collection’s best represented topic. By the time we got to the fourth shelf, of the first bay we were working on, we discovered why Maddison had collected such an immense number of books focusing on Boyle: he had written his own book on the topic, one of the first full biographies on Robert Boyle! A little more research unveiled that Maddison had in fact also written around twenty articles on Boyle, as well as a second book on the subject and had been gathering material for over twenty-five years (Maddison, The life of the Honourable Robert Boyle, viii).

There are plenty of copies. Bring your friends.

There are plenty of copies. Bring your friends.

Boyle is often considered to be the ‘Father of Chemistry’ and is most well-known for the scientific principle named after him. Boyle’s Law states that the pressure of a given quantity of gas varies inversely with its volume at constant temperature. To this day we are taught about Boyle’s Law in science classes, and so it was a surprise to find that between the mid eighteenth- and early twentieth-century there was very little academic scholarship conducted on Boyle. As Maddison notes in the Preface to his book, Thomas Birch’s volumes on Boyle, written in the eighteenth century, have ‘served as the basis of all subsequent accounts of Robert Boyle, wherever they have been published, right down to the present day’ (Maddison, viii).

We should not make too many Boyle jokes, it might get too steamy.

We should not make too many Boyle jokes, it might get too steamy.

It was only after the Second World War that there was a major shift in Boyle scholarship. One such scholar, Marie Boas was particularly well known for her research during this time period, publishing two books and a series of articles about Boyle. Boas’ work provides a detailed analysis of Boyle’s aims and achievements and both of her books can be found within the Maddison collection.

A watched pot never Boyle-s.

A watched pot never Boyle-s.

While Boas focused on Boyle’s academic achievements, Maddison had an all-encompassing interest in Boyle. Within Maddison’s biography he dedicates sections to discussing Boyle’s appearance, life and family, alongside his published writings and contributions to the scientific community. When looking through the collection it becomes clear that Maddison was able to discuss these things in depth due to his extensive research. Amongst books authored by Boyle and covering his interests, there are boxes of letter facsimiles copied from the Royal Society’s collection, an extensive, handmade Boyle family tree, and even a book that may have come from Boyle’s personal library.

Factoid: Maddison made his own miniature sundials and barometers.

Factoid: Maddison made his own miniature sundials and barometers.

The originals can be found largely in the Boyle Papers held by the Royal Society.

The originals can be found largely in the Boyle Papers held by the Royal Society.

It seems pertinent at this point to provide some brief biographical information about Boyle. More can of course be found in R. E. W. Maddison’s The Life of the honourable Robert Boyle.

Here’s your Boy-le.

Here’s your Boy-le.

Robert Boyle was born in Ireland on January 25th 1627 to one of the wealthiest families in Britain and died on December 31st 1691 in London, England. He never married, nor had any children, but he did have a number of siblings.

This was really hard to roll up again.

This was really hard to roll up again.

Of particular importance was his older sister, Katherine Jones, Viscountess of Ranelagh, with whom he lived from 1668 until her death in 1691.  Lady Ranelagh is fascinating, as her interests were similar to Boyle’s. In fact, she is thought to have encouraged him to work on questions of ethics and they would consult each other on chemistry and alchemical problems.

Lady Katherine Jones née Boyle, Viscountess of Ranelagh

Lady Katherine Jones née Boyle, Viscountess of Ranelagh.

Boyle was a founding member of The Royal Society, although he never served as its president. The Maddison collection contains many books on the Society’s history and a significant number of holdings of ‘The Notes and Records of the Royal Society’.

The Maddison Collection a.k.a The Notes and Records of the Boyle Society.

The Maddison Collection a.k.a The Notes and Records of the Boyle Society.

Boyle’s interests were far-reaching and varied. Whilst he is best known as a natural philosopher (mainly in chemistry), he diversified and covered hydrostatics, physics, medicine, earth science, natural history, Christian devotional and ethical essays, theological tracts on biblical passages and alchemy. He sponsored religious missions and the translation of the Scriptures into several languages. His most notable works include Touching the Spring of the Air and its Effects (1660), The Sceptical Chymist (1661), New Experiments Physico-Mechanical (1682) and The Christian Virtuosos (1690). This vast array of pursuits is marvellously reflected within the Maddison Collection.

RIP Robert Boyle, you will be mist.

RIP Robert Boyle, you will be mist.

Within the collection there are copies of Boyle’s most famous works, as listed above, as well as complete volumes containing some of his lesser known texts. Maddison collected books covering religious philosophy, chemistry and natural sciences, medicine, as well as alchemy and witchcraft, amongst other things. Maddison himself held a BSc in chemistry and a PhD in photochemistry and electrochemistry, but his collection shows that he, like Boyle, was capable of straddling the boundaries between disciplines. This variety results in the Maddison Collection being able to connect with subject matters beyond that of History of Science.

I guess you could say Maddison was a real fan Boy-le.

I guess you could say Maddison was a real fan Boy-le.

As a brief example, Boyle’s interest in medicine may be of interest to those studying the history of medicine or medical students joining Kent’s forthcoming medical school and wishing to know more about their predecessors. Maddison writes of Boyle’s ‘sickly constitution’ (Maddison, 219) and suggests that this prompted ‘[h]is interest in medico-chemistry [which] was further stimulated by the desire to alleviate pain and suffering of others, with the result that he was an ardent collector of recipes and seeker of new or improved remedies.’ (221)

We’re deffo going to try these.

We’re deffo going to try these.

There are ample books which could be of use to those studying early modern philosophy, history, medicine and herbalism. Others can be studied to learn more about the geography of the time, as well as the obvious link to early Chemistry and Physics. There is a strong collection of books written before 1700 within Maddison’s collection and a surprisingly large volume of books that would be of interest to religious studies scholars.

While we don’t have the time to explore all of these niches with the collection, we are able to focus on some of our personal favourites and so following in the footsteps of Maddison and Boyle, next week we will be exploring the world of alchemy. Stay tuned to learn about making your own personal philosopher’s stone!

Further Reading

Thomas Birch (1744), The life of the Honourable Robert Boyle (A. Millar), Maddison Collection (1C30)

Marie Boas (1958), Robert Boyle & Seventeenth Century Chemistry (Cambridge University Press), Maddison Collection (1C32)

Marie Boas (1962), The Scientific Renaissance 1450-1630 (Collins), Maddison Collection (19A31)

Robert Boyle (1680), The Sceptical Chymist (Henry Hall) Maddison Collection (1C1)

Mr. D*** (1688), Traittez des Barometres, Thermometres, et Notiometres ou Hygrometres (Henry Wetstein), Maddison Collection (2A5)

R. E. W. Maddison (1969), The Life of the Honourable Robert Boyle F.R.S (Taylor & Francis Ltd.), Maddison Collection (1D15)

Previously in Janee and Philip’s blog posts:

Introduction: or, how do you solve a problem like the Maddison Collection?