Special Collections and Archives highlights: 2023 edition

2023 has been a year of challenges and delights, we’ve amassed new collections, colleagues and knowledge, and – as is tradition – we want to use this post to share some of our highlights with you.

Karen (Special Collections and Archives Manager)

2023 has been another exciting, as well as challenging, year in Special Collections and Archives. We’ve seen a number of changes in our team. In the summer we said goodbye to two members of our team, Rachel who worked with us as a part-time project archivist for the UK Philanthropy Archive and Matt who was our Digital Lead. While in May we welcomed Daniella to the role of Project Archivist – Daniella’s post is externally funded and she is working to make two of our collections accessible and discoverable. If you follow us on our social media channels you’ll already know something of what she gets up to but there is more in her section below. In July we also welcomed Sam to the team. Sam is working on the Laurie Siggs Archive, purchased earlier this year with support from the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and Friends of National Libraries. The collection includes, original artworks, rough sketches and sketchbooks as well as notebooks and correspondence. 

Beth has had an amazingly busy year; working with me on funding applications, completing a survey of artworks around campus as well as all the things she mentions in her piece. One of the highlights for me was the amazing exhibition commemorating 100 years since the publication of T. S. Eliot’s Wasteland.  It was a great example of collaborative working with our academic colleagues. It proved to be a great attraction and we had many visitors to the gallery. Beth and I were delighted when Faustin Charles contacted us about his archive. Beth shares more about Faustin below but what you may not know is that he is the author of The Selfish Crocodile – a fantastic book for children. Clair has had great fun working on some of our collections and I know she especially enjoyed working on the Mark Thomas collection. Thanks to her excellent efforts you can now enjoy it too through our online catalogue or by visiting our collections. 

Exhibition poster for 100 Years: TS Eliot’s The Waste Land.

Christine has gone from strength to strength in developing her skills and talents as our Coordinator. She has finished cataloguing her first book collection, of which you can learn more about below and the Childrens Book Collection has so many lovely books for us all to enjoy. Christine also helped to develop the sessions for Discovery Planet in Ramsgate, working with our academic colleague Stella, and our whole team. I hope we can do more to these amazing sessions in the coming year. Mandy continues to beaver away making sure our cuttings collection is kept up to date. At the same time she has been working on digitising the original art works of Hector Breeze. Hector’s cartoons were published in Private Eye, Punch, Evening Standard, and other popular Daily newspapers. Jacqueline completed cataloguing the Carl Giles books, and moved on to catalogue Arnold Rood’s collection (he had a very attractive bookplate) and Jack Reading and Colin Rayner’s collection. Jacqueline has uncovered some real treasures, which I’ve enjoyed seeing. We’re looking forward to seeing what she uncovers next year! Our colleagues Stu and Matthias have been working with us one day per week and have made great progress in dealing with our British Cartoon Library backlog as well as our Shirley Toulson Poetry Collection, making them available to everyone.  

Display of Special Collections and Archives materials at Discovery Planet, Ramsgate.

Our volunteer projects this year have been hugely successful, and we continue to be amazed by the talented people that come to support us in our work.  

Looking forwards to 2024, we have some recently acquired collections that will be announced very soon. One I can mention though is a beautiful collection of Caribbean literature, donated by one of our former academics. We plan to start work on this collection in 2024 alongside some work to process a collection of African literature including works in the African Writers Series. Keep an eye on our social media channels for updates. And if you are not already following us do have a look at the Special Collections and Archives Advent Calendar – it’s on X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram @UniKentArchives. 

Beth (University Archivist)

2023 has been full of highlights and it is hard to pick out a few special things to represent such a busy year!

With the University Archive collections this year I focussed on the archives of the Colleges. At the beginning of the year I started a huge (and still ongoing) project to sort and catalogue the enormous Eliot College archive. This has now been un-boxed and arranged in a logical way, and cataloguing is on-going. This is a huge step forward in preserving the history of these important institutions within the University, and there are many fascinating records coming out of this.

We also received a brilliant collection of literary manuscripts from alumnus Faustin Charles, a storyteller and poet, originally from Trinidad and who studied at the University of Kent from 1977-1981. Faustin is an important voice in Caribbean poetry and storytelling, and his collection of manuscripts and correspondence will provide a fascinating insight into his work.

The archive collection of Faustin Charles, Caribbean storyteller and poet, being catalogued at the University of Kent Special Collections and Archives.

With the UK Philanthropy Archive collections we have continued to build and expand this growing collection receiving a new collection from the Hilden Charitable Trust in the last few weeks! We have been involved with two great events to showcase the wider philanthropy collections and begin to share information about the content and its importance for research. In April we held a mini-display of material at the Understanding Philanthropy conference, and then later in November we helped organise the 15th Anniversary Colloquium for the Centre for Philanthropy, Philanthropy: Past, Present and Future, which included our 3rd annual Shirley Lecture. This year we were delighted to welcome Orlando Fraser KC, the Chair of Charity Commission of England and Wales, who delivered an interesting lecture of the role of philanthropy in the charity sector. We were able to showcase the UK Philanthropy Archive collections at this event, giving tours of the collections talking to participants about their value for research.

Display of philanthropy related items for the Centre for Philanthropy’s 15th Anniversary Colloquium in November 2023.

Our exhibition schedule has been jam packed this year beginning with the 100 Years: TS Eliot’s The Wasteland which was on until April, after which we installed the Migrating Materia Medica exhibition in collaboration with colleagues in the Schools of English.  In August we added a fabulous short term exhibition on zines and zine making, called “Zines Zines Zines!” which explored the history of this popular genre of self-publishing and allowed us to display some of our zine collections, modern poetry and artist books, and also a loaned collection of zines from the Queer Zine Library.

The zine we made to support the Zines Zines Zines exhibition this year.

We have ended the year by installing our new exhibition – which has been curated by a fab team of volunteers to kick off our celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the British Cartoon Archive at the University. The first cartoons arrived at Kent in 1973 and the Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature opened in 1975 – which later developed into the British Cartoon Archive. Between 2023 and 2025 we are running a programme of events and activities to mark this significant anniversary. The 50/50 Project, where our volunteers have selected 50 cartoons reflecting the 50 years of the British Cartoon Archive, was the first of our celebratory activities and was launched in October. The exhibition will be on display until the end of February so do come along and see it if you can.

In addition to all of this – a particular highlight for me this year was in organising and delivering our Telling Our Tales series of workshops, held in June, in the run up to Refugee Week. This series of creative workshops related to our project and exhibition in 2022, Reflections on the Great British Fish and Chips. The workshops explored the ways in which we tell, share and preserve stories of migration and movement. Working alongside our amazing colleague Basma El Doukhi, we invited speakers to run artist-led workshops where participants learned about sharing migration stories and how these can be expressed and recorded through portraiture and photography. We held an In Conversation event between Basma and Rania Saadalah, a Palestinian Refugee, who shared her photography work where she lives in the refugee camps in Lebanon. Our final workshop was with Paul Dudman from the Living Refugee Archive at the University of East London, who talked about how to preserve stories of migration and the lived experiences of migrants living in Britain.

The workshops were all thoughtful and impactful events, that encouraged us to challenge stereotypes, build better relationships with people in our communities, and foster a spirit of understanding and compassion for others. This sentiment seems particularly important to highlight at this time of devastation and suffering in the ongoing war between the Israeli and Palestinian people. It remains vital that the stories and experiences of refugees and those with lived experience of migration are heard, shared and preserved to ensure their voices do not go unrecorded.

Poster for one of the Telling our Tales workshops, held by Paul Dudman and Beth Astridge.

Clair (Digital Archivist)

Once again, it’s been an incredibly busy year for Special Collections and Archives, and if you can excuse the cliché, it has really flown by! There’s been lots of enjoyable projects along the way, but I’ve chosen just three to talk about in this year’s round-up.

Firstly, we’ve had a bumper year for volunteering! Volunteers bring so much to our service, and help us achieve more than we could ever do alone with our small team. We’ve had the pleasure of working with over 20 individual volunteers this year on various tasks and projects. In particular, we’ve run two volunteer projects related to the British Cartoon Archive (BCA) this year. The first was the 50/50 project where volunteers were asked to research, select and curate an exhibition of 50 items from the BCA to celebrate 50 years since the founding of the collection. The second was the Cartooning Covid-19 project, where volunteers supported us in making over 400 cartoons published during the Covid-19 pandemic available to the public via our catalogue. It’s been such a pleasure working with all of our fantastic volunteers this year, and we hope to continue to work with some of them again in the next.

Our 50/50 volunteers.

In terms of cataloguing, I had a blast sorting and cataloguing material from our Mark Thomas Collection in the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive (BSUCA) this year. The Mark Thomas Collection has been part of BSUCA since its very beginnings, with the earliest set of records being deposited in 2013, and we were delighted to receive an accrual to his collection in 2020/21. This new batch of records contained notebooks, publicity, audiovisual material, and material related to his radio and TV work. In addition to this cataloguing, I also had the help of two work experience students in sorting and cataloguing the significant ‘100 Acts of Minor Dissent’ series. Records can be viewed on our catalogue now: https://archive.kent.ac.uk/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=BSUCA%2fMT

100 Acts of Minor Dissent: Act 61-63 – the BASTARDTRADE logo (designed by Greg Matthews) is trade marked and was created as a symbol of bad corporate behaviour (BSUCA/MT/3/8/26).

Finally, in the first half of this year I was lucky enough to take part in the National Archives’ peer mentoring scheme. I really enjoyed the experience of being a mentee and benefited from having a very knowledgeable, kind and supportive mentor. The scheme was the perfect opportunity for me to take the leap in creating a Digital Asset Register for our digital collections. Having a Digital Asset Register in place is important as it enables us to have control over our digital objects (both born-digital and digitised) and helps keep us informed of the file formats we hold so that we can make decisions about any preservation actions we may wish to take. It’s a huge step forward in improving our digital preservation maturity, so that’s definitely something to celebrate!

Computer Laboratory, Nov 1977 (UKA/PHO/1/1014)

Daniella (Project Archivist)

2023 has been an exciting year for me as I joined Special Collections & Archives as a Project Archivist, working on two cataloguing projects – Craigmyle Consultants UK Ltd’s archive and the “Oh Yes It Is!”: Cataloguing the David Drummond Pantomime Collection project, funded by Archives Revealed a partnership programme between The National Archives, The Pilgrim Trust and the Wolfson Foundation.

Donated by the collector David Drummond, the collection contains materials relating to a range of pantomimes, such as Cinderella, Puss in Boots, and Sleeping Beauty, as well as ephemera and photographic materials showcasing Principal Boys and Principal Dames. There are also gorgeous costume designers by prolific costumer designers, such as Wilhelm and Archibald Chasemore. Positive steps have been made with the cataloguing and, so far, I have catalogued in draft materials relating to Florrie Forde, Albert Chevalier, Godfrey Tearle, and David Wood. My latest cataloguing work package has focused on items relating to the pantomime Aladdin, started to coincide with this year’s pantomime performance at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury. Watch this space to see these be added to our catalogue! Fantastic work is also being done by a wonderful group of volunteers who sorted and have been listing programmes and flyers for the pantomime Cinderella – they have made amazing progress and we can’t wait to share this with researchers.

Aladdin materials in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection.

Linked to the above, an absolute highlight of working on the David Drummond Pantomime Collection was going to the local pantomime at the Marlowe Theatre to watch Aladdin with my colleagues. We had an absolute blast watching the Dame strut her stuff whilst dodging the oncoming water guns!

Craigmyle’s archive is very different to the David Drummond Pantomime Collection and provides a different perspective to fundraising. It is interesting because the collection shows how this organisation, which was set up in 1959, helped charities across the United Kingdom fundraise. They work with a variety of clients ranging from Cancer Relief Macmillan to cathedrals and parish churches. Schools and education fundraising is of particular importance to Craigmyle. In fact, the company’s earliest focus was on this sector, with initial clients including The King’s School Ely, Tonbridge School, St John’s College Durham and Wycombe School. The project is well underway, and I have scoped what there is and begun to appraise and weed to select what we will be keeping for permanent preservation.

Working on Craigmyle’s archive has also given me the chance to meet staff in the Centre for Philanthropy, and Beth and I had the exciting opportunity to work with Professor Beth Breeze and Dr Karl Wilding to organise the Philanthropy Past, Present and Future colloquium. We had over 80 people register and attend, and has fantastic talks from Michael Seberich and Orlando Fraser, Chair of the Charity Commission for England and Wales. It was also a great chance to get the Craigmyle collection out and engage participants with what research can be done with this archive.

We’ve had an exciting end to the year by appointing two Archive Assistants, Cassie and Farradeh, who have joined me on the project to catalogue Craigmyle’s archive. We’re thrilled for Cassie and Farradeh to be a part of the team and they are sorting, listing, and repackaging appeal literature that forms a part of this collection. They have made an amazing start and have the following to say about their experience on this project so far:

Cassie: “I’ve only been working on the project for a couple of weeks so far but I already feel like I’ve learned so many new things about working in archives, and about the philanthropy sector. It’s been fascinating working through the new Craigmyle collection and I can’t wait to see what else we find and discover the ways in which this material can contribute to the UK Philanthropy Archive”.

Farradeh: “It’s really exciting to see what goes on behind the scenes at an archive, and have an active part in the formation of a new collection. It has made me see archives in a different light, understanding the thought and care archivists put into their craft, and appreciating the level of nuance that goes into executive decisions”.

Cassie and Farraday working on the Craigmyle Archive.

Outside of my collections work, Karen and I contributed to Dr Suzanna Ivanic’s module The Early Modern World: Conflict & Culture, 1450-1750. I gave a lecture about the recordkeeping revolution and archives between the sixteenth century and mid-eighteenth century. I also supported Karen and Christine in delivering the seminars for this module, during which students were able to examine and handle some of the spectacular early modern printed texts in the collection, including editions of William Lambarde’s Perambulation of Kent, William Somner’s Antiquities of Canterbury, and indentures ranging from the reigns of Henry VI to Elizabeth I that are found within the Ronald Baldwin collection.

Christine (Special Collections and Archives Coordinator)

This has been my first full year working as the Special Collections and Archives Coordinator, and it’s been a real opportunity to increase my knowledge of our collections and support a variety of digital and in person engagement activity – in the Autumn term alone, we engaged 177 UG and PG students through seminars, not to mention individual readers, school groups and prospective open day students.

Earlier this year I did a #FacsimileFridays series on Instagram to shine a spotlight on what is often underprized and overlooked – for facsimiles are copies, not originals. However, they increase the circulation potential of unique items and thereby fulfil an important place in telling the history of the book. The knowledge I gleaned from many of these items also became pertinent to my teaching of a seminar on Chaucer this December for third year School of English students, in which we were considering very early manuscripts and print technology.

Produced between 1330-40, the Auchinleck manuscript gives an idea of reading practices pre-Chaucer: it consists principally of romances (think Arthuriana) along with other secular tales and religious pieces. Chaucer died in 1400, just before the advent of the printing press, and no copies of his works survive from his lifetime. The most famous of 15th-century manuscript versions of his work is undoubtedly the Ellesmere Chaucer, which became the authoritative example for organizing the Canterbury Tales. It’s written in the hand of a single scribe, and is incredibly grand both in its use of blank space and famous miniature illustrations of the Canterbury pilgrims. You may even be familiar with one of these, for its portrait of Chaucer is blown up on the side of the former Nasons building in the Canterbury high street! Now in the Huntington Library, our monochromatic facsimile still gives us access to the scale and content of the original. The first printing of the Canterbury Tales was William Caxton’s 1476 version, and the earliest printed version of Chaucer that we hold dates to 1598. With ‘Dorothy Smallwood’ inscribed on the title page, we know this copy once had female readership and it is also fascinating for its marginalia showing just how much its readers relied on a glossary to make sense of Chaucer’s language just 200 years after it was first circulated. William Caxton was also responsible for bringing Mallory’s Morte D’Arthur to an English audience, and we are really lucky to have a facsimile of this work because only one and a half of Caxton’s original version survive to date. Given the depth of the book, and the pressure reading puts on the spine, this is not surprising – original copies would literally have been read to pieces.

The Ellesmere Chaucer (F PD 1865 Classified sequence).

Le morte d’Arthur (Q PD 2040 Classified sequence).

From the history of books to the art of books, I have had several opportunities this year to appreciate the variety of forms books can take and really get to grips with the non-textual components of books which is crucial to special collections cataloguing. In cataloguing our Children’s Literature Collection, I had to give condition and provenance notes as well as a physical description of each book, noting such varied features as illustrated fly-leaves, dust jackets, fold-out maps, pages of publisher’s advertisements, volvelle frontispieces and pop-up engineering. Children’s books are a joy to handle because they are so self-conscious of being tactile interactive objects, and they have proved inspirational – alongside our artist books – when displayed at book-making workshops led by Dr Stella Bolaki at Discovery Planet, Ramsgate. It has been a particular privilege for me to accompany our collections to a different venue off campus and engage different audiences, notably children, and witness them transpose their awe for special collections into creative responses.

This year : next year (PZ 8.3 DEL Children’s Literature Collection).

Les grotesques : en quatre tableaux (PZ 8 Children’s Literature Collection).

Mandy (Special Collections and Archives Assistant)

Over this past year I have been digitalizing our Hector Breeze collection, they are very interesting to scan and the way that they have been drawn.

HB0005, Hector Breeze Collection.

HB0011, Hector Breeze Collection.

I have also been scanning our cartoons collection, to see how they have changed over the last few years is so interesting, changes in the government also.

Sam (Project Digitisation Administrator)

In my first year as an official member of the Special Collections team, I have been cataloguing and digitising the charmingly offbeat world of Lawrie Siggs (1900-1972), a cartoonist who worked for various publications (including Punch, John Bull and Lilliput) for 35 years.

Here are a few examples to set the tone.

Pinch Me, SIG0307.

No He Doesn’t Talk, SIG0319.

Jacqueline (Curation and Discovery Administrator)

The theatre designer Edward Gordon Craig described himself as “fond of print.” His designs for theatre stage sets and scenery surpassed possibility in his time and he turned to typography and woodcuts. I have spent this year with the collections of three men who can all be described as fond of print. Arnold Rood’s collection is centred around Gordon Craig and his circle. It includes Craig’s woodcuts in print. I began the year at the end of Carl Giles’ collection (the cartoonist Giles) where I found a set of Puffin Picture Books from the 1940s-50s, their design and illustrations redolent of a return to delight in books after austerity. After Rood, I’ve been cataloguing the periodicals in Jack Reading and Colin Rayner’s collection; they were thorough collectors who focussed on theatre and literature. Last week amongst odd issues I came across a complete set of The Masque, a small and pretty journal of 9 issues each one on a theme. Issue 5 is The Masque of Christmas, presenting dramatic JOYS of the season to you.

The Masque, Reading-Rayner Literature Collection.

Stu (Curation and Discovery Administrator)

Over 90 titles added to British Cartoon Archive Library this year. Most memorable was probably the stunning cold war era illustrations in, Drawing the curtain : the Cold War in cartoons / Althaus, Frank.

Also Daily Mirror reflections : being 100 cartoons (and a few more) culled from the pages of the Daily Mirror. [Vol. I] / Haselden, W. K. (William Kerridge), 1872-1953, formerly owned by prime minister Stanley Baldwin.

Quite moving and of current topical interest, A child in Palestine : the cartoons of Naji al-Ali / ʻAlī, Nājī.- This collection of drawings chronicles the Israeli occupation, the corruption of the regimes in the region, and the plight of the Palestinian people. The images have bold symbolism and starkness to them.

The bottle / Cruikshank, George, 1792-1878, – This is a really interesting little pamphlet promoting temperance through a cautionary tale of the downfall of a family brought about by the evils of drink. No publication date but probably late 19th century.

Matthias (Curation and Discovery Administrator)

I have been working on the Shirley Toulson Collection this year, a collection of over 400 poetry books from the estate of the late author and poet Shirley Toulson. Handling a writer’s private library felt very special and personal. The books, many of them rare editions by small presses, often had personal notes and handwritten dedications by the authors. Often I found postcards or letters inserted between the pages. My personal highlight was a handwritten, seemingly unpublished poem by Shirley Toulson I found inside a W.H. Auden poetry volume.

Collected shorter poems 1927-1957, PR 6001.U4 AUD Shirley Toulson Poetry Collection.

Our reading room will be closed from 16th December 2023 and will reopen 16th January 2024 – we hope you all have a very happy and peaceful break.

Outreach with Special Collections and Archives – combatting loneliness and isolation

On Saturday 25th November we had the fantastic opportunity to participate in another book-making workshop led by Dr Stella Bolaki at Discovery Planet, Ramsgate, and share our collections with the local community and reach audiences we wouldn’t usually reach, notably children. The day became a creative celebration of individuality as well as bringing people together, and we were able to showcase collections which spoke to these themes – read on for more details!

With the arrival of pantomime season, this was prime time to explore the story of Cinderella, the classic rags to riches fairytale, in which the heroine moves from a state of loneliness to a sphere of belonging, by virtue of her individuality. Poor Cinders, she is maligned and mistreated by her family, and is made to work like a servant. However, her isolation is also what sets her apart, for she is the only one whom the glass slipper fits, and she consequently becomes the one and only girl with whom the Prince falls in love. Perrault’s classic 17th-century tale has notable predecessors and has itself been adapted over and over across forms as diverse as ballet and animation. We are lucky in our David Drummond Pantomime Collection to hold a variety of story-book versions as well as programmes and theatre paraphernalia relating to Cinderella. I find it fascinating to trace the aesthetic development of theatre programmes through history, from the single folded sheet war-time programmes that insist the show will go on even during air raids to the activity-filled bumper programmes of the 1990s aimed to keep children entertained with wordsearches, quizzes and spot-the-difference puzzles. The undisputed star however, was Roland Pym’s illustrated peepshow book of Cinderella, a beautiful feat of paper engineering that relates the story theatrically via a series of popup scenes that the reader peeps into.

Picture of the front cover of Roland Pym's Cinderella, depicting the heroine in rags holding a broom.

Roland Pym, Cinderella. David Drummond Pantomime Collection.

Picture of Roland Pym's Cinderella, a peepshow book open to display the finale scene where Cinderella reclaims her glass slipper.

Roland Pym, Cinderella. David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Another inspirational figure in our collections is undoubtedly Josie Long, who started performing stand up comedy at the age of sixteen and owned her own comedy club in Camden called ‘The Lost Treasures of the Black Heart’. Josie incorporated a lot of audience participation in her stand-up, which has resulted in an eclectic collection including t-shirts, teddy bears, and even a shrivelled orange! On one occasion she asked her audience to envisage themselves as super heroes, draw an accompanying portrait and list their special traits and catch phrases, rather in the manner of a Top Trumps card. This was a great way to celebrate individuality within a collective environment. Another way Josie did this was by gathering audience submissions on the theme ‘favourite small thing’ and subsequently binding these unique – sometimes peculiar – thoughts into a zine of multiple voices.

Picture of an audience character drawing named mosquito-to, featuring a drawing and listing characteristics of strength, intelligence, charisma, speed, special move, and catchphrase.

Anon, Audience character drawing. British Stand-Up Comedy Archive – Josie Long Collection.

Image of the front cover of Josie Long's zine called favourite small things, featuring a photograph of a cat.

Josie Long, Favourite Small Things zine. British Stand-Up Comedy Archive – Josie Long Collection.

Similarly to Josie Long, Special Collections and Archives ran a collective project in 2018 with artist Dawn Cole, inviting individual submissions to participate in an act of national remembrance, on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the Armistice. The submissions consisted of personal diaries about the individual’s day on 11 November 2018, many incorporating photographs, illustrations, collage and poetry. What I consider particularly special about the collection that ensued, is the capturing of children’s voices.

Picture of the front cover of Kaya Clark's diary, featuring her drawing of a cross with poppies, and titled we will remember them.

Kaya Clark, We will remember them. Diaries of the Here and Now.

Picture of Ben Thurston's untitled diary, open at a page which features a drawing of a clock showing the time of 11am, with a descriptive sentence stating 'we did the two minute silence. It made me feel sad.'

Ben Thurston, Untitled. Diaries of the Here and Now.

Having catalogued our Children’s Literature Collection this year, I have been fascinated by the way in which they differ from other books in terms of their intended audience. Whilst reading is usually an isolated activity, children’s books in particular seem intended to be read together. This is often how children first encounter stories (by having them read aloud) and how they learn to read (by reciting from the page to an adult). Illustrated books help children to follow a story before they can read and some books insert images or symbols into the text to act as prompts, for instance, our hieroglyphic Bibles. These examples date to 1786 and 1866 respectively, but remain almost identical in format, with an abridged text at the bottom of each page in order to supplement the hieroglyphic versions intended to support literacy and, obviously, spiritual development in the committing of key Biblical verses to memory.

Image of a hieroglyphic Bible, open at the start of Genesis, featuring symbols inserted into the text.

Hieroglyphic Bible, 1786. Children’s Literature Collection.


Image of a hieroglyphic Bible, open at the start of Genesis, featuring symbols inserted into the text.

Hieroglyphic Bible, 1866. Children’s Literature Collection.

Alphabet books also connect letters and sounds with pictures, and we are lucky to hold a variety of facsimile versions in Special Collections and Archives that also show the innovative forms books can take, from teeny-tiny treasures that fit in your palm to concertina books that fold out dramatically. These examples show the vastly different aesthetic styles that bookend the nineteenth century, from satirical caricaturist George Cruikshank to sentimental children’s book illustrator Kate Greenaway.

Image of the front cover of Kate Greenaway's alphabet, showing an illustration of a mother and child engaged in reading together. The book sits in the palm of a hand and measures 7cm.

Kate Greenaway’s Alphabet. Children’s Literature Collection.

Image of A comic alphabet, which is a concertina book, extended.

George Cruikshank, A comic alphabet. British Cartoon Archive Library.

Of course the most innovative books that we hold are from our Prescriptions Artist Books Collection, which toy with the nature of what a book can be and how it can be read. From texts composed of textiles to scrolls wrapped around syringes, from manipulated books to feats of origametry, this collection forms artistic responses to physical and mental illness, and many deal with the emotion of loneliness and experience of isolation. Two particularly moving examples are Sally Chinea’s What do I do now you’r gone and Karen Apps’ Losing Touch, that speak respectively of grief and abandonment. Sally Chinea’s work of delicate voile cubes that piece together a portrait tells the story of a very personal friendship and constitutes a tribute to Cindy March who died of breast cancer in 2015. Karen Apps’ work is inspired by the Foundling Museum and documents the separation of mother and child, using a carved piece of soap as a metaphor for the erosion of that maternal bond. It also, like the story of Cinderella, celebrates the story of the orphan, and inspires us to consider how our individuality can become our strength.

Image of voile cubes within a cylindrical box, which forms Sally Chinea's artist book, and shows a partial portrait of Cindy March

Sally Chinea, What do I do now you’r gone. Prescriptions Artist Books Collection

picture of Karen Apps' Losing Touch, which takes the form of a concertina book inserted into a box alongside a pair of white gloves and a partially eroded sculpted soap bar.

Karen Apps, Losing Touch. Prescriptions Artist Books Collection

Participants of the workshop were inspired by the collections to create their own books using a variety of techniques, from folding to stitching, and were brought together by crafting. They had the opportunity to create stories envisioning themselves as heroes, and many used the workshop to create a book as a gift for someone else. It is through these acts of self-empowerment and generosity that the workshop thus fulfilled its objective, and combatted isolation and loneliness in a genuine and hands on way.

The Theatre of War: Interpreting the First World War in Pantomime

This blog post follows on from the recent post ‘What Did You Do In The War?’ and focuses specifically on the souvenir edition for the performance of Dick Whittington that took place in Salonika during Christmas 1915. In contrast to the First World War programmes for Bluebeard/Gluebeard and the flyer for the pantomime Aladdin, which was performed during the Second World War, which featured in the previous blog post, the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington provides readers with the opportunity to follow the story of the pantomime, examine the dialogues and songs, and see how what troops were experiencing during the First World War became incorporated into the story of the pantomime. In this souvenir edition, Dick Whittington is divided into 3 acts and each section of the blog post focuses on a few examples to demonstrate how the experience of the First World War in Salonika became integrated into this well-known tale.

As well as being a form of humorous and slapstick entertainment, pantomime served as a means of addressing social issues, providing a satirical commentary on serious topics. The pantomime also generally touched upon aspects of everyday life and the experiences of the troops where they were stationed. It is not surprising, then, to see references to the ongoing reality of the First World War within this souvenir edition of Dick Whittington, as well as the context around the First World War more broadly.

Act 1

The below section from Act 1 rather comically refers to the efforts of the 85th Field Ambulance to put on this pantomime in the first place, commending themselves on providing entertainment. Rather than overtly refer to themselves, they cast themselves as ‘Karno’s Ambulance’, who the character Jack says have been conferred by the King ‘the distinction of wearing a scarlet ribbon upon the shoulder in recognition of their valuable services in amusing the other troops’.

Extract from Act 1 – Alderman Fitzwarren’s Store in Chelsea from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

Whilst not overtly stated, calling themselve’s ‘Karno’s Ambulance’ may also be nodding towards the comedian of slapstick and theatre empresario Fred Karno, who was known for his chaos on stage. In fact, disorganised troops of soldiers referred to themselves as ‘Fred Karno’s Army’ during the First World War, perhaps to reflect the chaotic situation in which they found themselves.

The above example also addresses the sorry taste of tea, which Jack complains about to the character Fitzwarren, who tells Jack that it’s the same tea that is sold to the Army. Tea was a staple in the trenches during the First World War and was regularly drank to mask the taste of water, which was transported in petrol tins. Perhaps the tea drank by those in Salonika was not as tasty or as much of a luxury!

Attitudes around recruitment and joining the Army during the First World War are also present, with the character Horlicks attempting to persuade both Fitzwarren and Dick to sign up and ‘pull together’ and ‘rally round the flag and so forth’.

Extract from Act 1 – Alderman Fitzwarren’s Store in Chelsea from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

There were many reasons that men joined the army during the First World War and this idea of patriotism and peer pressure resonates in this discussion between these 3 characters. Like recruitment posters of the time (very much thinking about the 1914 Lord Kitchener Wants You poster), this dialogue taps into the sense of fighting for one’s fatherland and emotional ties to the war, particularly about everyone doing their part towards the war effort.

Blockades causing food rations and shortages – both on the Allied and Axis sides – were a tactic frequently employed during the First World War and hunger was used as a deadly weapon. For example, ships going to Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey, were blockaded by the British and French, causing malnutrition and starvation even after the end of the war. Dick Whittington offers a snippet into this reality from the British perspective in the below dialogue between Fitzwarren and Sir Joseph, blaming the gritty texture of jam, which now has ‘hard and sharp pieces’, and its manufacture within Britain because Germany had successfully blockaded their ports.

Extract from Act 1 – Alderman Fitzwarren’s Store in Chelsea from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

Act 2

Whilst this performance of Dick Whittington took place in Salonika, other areas where fighting took place during the First World War are also referenced. As seen in the below exchange between Dick and his love interest Alice in Act 2, Dick refers to his time in Flanders and ‘the awful ear-splitting stuff’ that he put up with whilst there.

Extract from Act 2 –On Board The Good Ship “Passover” from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

Between 1914 and 1918, Flanders suffered heavy bombardment and saw largescale destruction and death, with important cities and villages completely demolished. Notable battles occurred in Flanders, such as the Battle of Passchendaele between July and November 1917, which saw the loss of roughly 275,000 men on the British side and at least 220,000 German soldiers. Dick’s comment may only be a passing reference but still nods towards this devastation.

Interestingly the 85th Field Army are again referred to as ‘Karno’s Field Ambulance’, highlighting the contributions that they made ‘Out of England, with heart aflame,/ For a job “somewhere in France”,/At the dawn of 1915’ and their recognition as ‘Glorious Karno’ by ‘everybody’. Even beyond Flanders, in areas such as Mont Noir, the successes of ‘Glorious Karno’ are showcased.

Extract from Act 2 – On Board The Good Ship “Passover” from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

Act 3

Linked to the discussion about Flanders with the section of this post focusing on Act 2, Ypres is specifically mentioned in the chorus marking the finale of Act 3 and the end of the pantomime.

Extract from Act 3 – Outside Fitzwarren’s Canteen – In The Mists, In The Mountains, “Somewhere In Greece” from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

The first verse is particularly striking and again reflects societal attitudes about joining the war effort. Reminiscent of Jessie Pope’s poem Who’s For The Game, joining the war was treated as a game by the men, who were not scared of ‘dud German shells’. This of course is far from the futile reality of war but again shows how this pantomime performance made recognisable and provided commentary on general attitudes of the context in which it was created.

Even the traditional location of Dick Whittington has been influenced by where the 85th Field Ambulance found themselves during the First World War. Not only are various places in which troops fought mentioned throughout the performance, but, rather than maintain the setting of London for performance of Dick Whittington, as would normally be the case, the pantomime has moved to Greece where the troops have found themselves. This location change was made clear from the very opening of Act 3, in which we see that Fitzwarren’s Canteen is located “Somewhere In Greece”.

Opening of Act 3 – Outside Fitzwarren’s Canteen – In the Mists, On The Mountains, “Somewhere In Greece”, from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

The myth of Dick Whittington stemmed from the streets of medieval London but, in this performance, it is very much the present and the experience of life in Salonika during the First World War that informs the vision, environment, and trajectory of the pantomime.


Themes and issues relating to life at the front and along the Home Front permeate this performance of Dick Whittington. A ‘Ration Song’ was included and there is even a character called Maconochie, no doubt called this because of the tinned food that troops ate, such as Maconochie beef and vegetable stew. Pantomime did not just provide entertainment and a distraction but, also, allowed troops to deviate from traditional stories and devise a setting in which they should share, laugh about, and understand the world in which they found themselves. These are only a few examples from this souvenir edition but there are many more – come visit us at Special Collections & Archives to check it out to learn more about the First World War and remember the experiences and lives of those who fought during the Great War!

What Did You Do In The War?

‘What Did You Do In The War?’ is the title of Clarkson Rose’s comic song written in 1919, and follows the experience of a father recounting to his son what he did during the Great War. The song addresses various themes and elements of life that contemporaries of Clarkson Rose would have been familiar with and able to relate to. These include the experience of food controls and the rise of prices of food items like ‘marmalade and jam’, as well as the joining up of men to fight in the Great War, such as Clarkson Rose’s ‘Comic singer’, who joined the Army Service Corps. The experiences of women are also addressed, who, like the boy’s mother, ‘used to sew some socks for all the soldiers out in France’, as well as those who undertook employment, working in munitions factories for example.

First page of Clarkson Rose’s comic song ‘What Did You Do In The War?’, written in 1919.

Clarkson Rose’s comic song, however, is not the only item within the David Drummond Pantomime collection to epitomise what life was like during the First World War, particularly with regard to the experience of soldiers at the front. What we also see within this collection is the familiarity with and exposure that soldiers had to pantomime during the First World War, helping us to better recognise the key role of pantomime and performance in boosting morale during the First World War. Examining these materials strengthens our understanding about how both watching and participating within pantomime was part of what troops did during the Great War.

Theatre and performance were vital in distracting servicemen from the horrors of the theatre of war, not just on the Western Front but in other areas too, notably the Macedonian Front. This blog post specifically shows examples of programmes for pantomimes performed in Salonika, now modern-day Thessaloniki, which was also ravaged by the brutality of war. This blog post also demonstrates how what was happening during the First World War was incorporated into pantomime and provides a commentary on this period of history.

Pantomime and Performance on the Macedonian Front: Christmas in Salonika

One of the things that is particularly interesting about the material found within the David Drummond Pantomime collection that relates to the First World War, is the spotlight this collection places on enjoyment and entertainment beyond the Western Front. Many of us will have heard a lot about the Western Front, with the focus on what occurred along the French and Belgian border being ubiquitous in popular culture. It seems, however, that the other areas in which fighting occurred is less well-known and it must be remembered that along the Macedonian front, British troops were part of a multi-national Allied force that fought against the Bulgarians and those who supported them in the Balkans, including Turkish forces, German forces, and Austro-Hungarian forces.

Various companies performed pantomimes during the First World War and the examples of entertainment at Salonika within the David Drummond Pantomime collection displays the involvement of different companies. For example, the following souvenir edition for the pantomime Dick Whittington shows that a performance of this pantomime was produced by members of the 85th Field Ambulance and took place in Salonika in December 1915.

‘Foreword’ written by Major C J Briggs in the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington performed at Salonika during Christmas 1915. The ‘Foreword’ was written at Headquarters of the 28th Division on 24th February 1969 and features the Major General’s signature.

The ‘Foreword’ written by the Major General C J Briggs is particularly revealing and emphasises just how important pantomime was for raising optimism and for ‘all hearts [to be] gladdened’.  The author of the souvenir edition, Frank Kenchington, goes one step further than the Major General. He stressed that in being asked by the Major General that a performance of Dick Whittington should be performed for ‘the whole of the troops in the Division’, those who contributed to organising this pantomime had been ‘given the privilege of their share, in their small way, to enliven the dull and uninspiring monotony of a winter in the mountains of Greece’. As well as entertainment, undertaking this performance was also a means of commemoration, of ‘[reviving] memories of many an old friend and many a half-forgotten chapter in this Campaign’.

The souvenir edition of Dick Whittington also gives an insight into the individuals that made up the company of actors, who provided their comrades with entertainment, amusement, and delight.

Synopsis of scenery, list of creative team, and cast members in the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington, written by Frank Kenchington, and performed at Salonika during Christmas 1915.

Troops used whatever they had to hand to co-ordinate and craft their pantomime, and this souvenir edition shows just what materials were used to make costumes for this performance of Dick Whittington.

Extract from the ‘Introduction’ of the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika during Christmas 1915.

As we see from the ‘Introduction’ to this souvenir edition, army pants became the tights of the Principal Boy and ‘hospital pyjamas, Army shirts, blankets and old sacks’, as well as ‘a deflated Rugby football’ were used for costumes. Parts of everyday army life and a typical soldier’s uniform were transformed to make the pantomime performance happen. Even haggling was involved and from the above we see the efforts that were made to ensure there was music within the pantomime.

Pantomimes continued on to the final year of the First World War and the below programme for a performance of Bluebeard, whilst slightly out of season, provides further evidence that entertainment and pantomime was a regular feature of Christmas for troops fighting during the First World War. As you can see from the annotation made on the top right-hand corner, this version of the pantomime Bluebeard was written by Private G G Horrocks and was performed by members of the 28th Division in March 1918.

Front cover of the programme for the pantomime Bluebeard by Private G G Horrocks, performed in Salonika in March 1918 by the 28th Division.

Like the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington, this programme for the pantomime Bluebeard reflects what life was like during Christmas in Salonika. It shows the involvement and interaction that soldiers had with the art of pantomime to put on a show for their brothers-in-arms.

Pages listing the cast and creative team for the pantomime Bluebeard by Private G G Horrocks, performed in Salonika in March 1918 by the 28th Division.

A full cast list is included, showing a range of ranks – Private, Corporal, and Sergeant – within the 28th Division, as well as the creative team, who were responsible for creating costumes and the scenery, and an outline of the acts. The programme even showcases who was responsible for crafting the musical numbers and who played the music, informing audiences that the ‘Orchestra was composed of the regimental bands of the Division by the kind permission of their Commanding Officers’.

The programme shown below for the Christmas production “Glue-Beard”, further demonstrates the enduring power of pantomime at the very end of 1918, even after the Armistice had been signed on 29th September 1918 at the General Headquarters of the Allied Army of the Orient at Salonika. This Armistice was signed between the Allies and Bulgaria, and came into force at midday on 30th September 1918.

Programme for a performance of “Glue-Beard”, A burlesque, with music in a prologue and two acts. Performed at the Base M.T Depot Concert Party in Salonica during Christmas 1918. The production was presented by The Spare Parts.

Despite the ceasefire and the signing of the Armistice, troops continued to stay in Salonika. During the First World War, the British army that was in Salonika was known as the British Salonika Army. Whilst this was disbanded in November 1918, the units that remained were renamed as the Army of the Black Sea and, as seen from the above programme, those who stayed in Salonika continued the tradition of performing pantomime as entertainment for troops at Christmas. The performance was produced by Second Lieutenant Jack Morrison and was presented by the Spare Parts at the Base M T Depot Concert Party, ‘by the kind permission’ of the Lieutenant-Colonel F W Beall, A S C. Like the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington and the programme for Bluebeard, we can see which soldiers starred in the performance and the roles that they played.

Cast list for a performance of “Glue-Beard”, A burlesque, with music in a prologue and two acts. Performed at the Base M.T Depot Concert Party in Salonica during Christmas 1918. The production was presented by The Spare Parts.

Like the above items, the performance of pantomime seems to have been taken quite seriously and we can see that the professional positions of General Manager, Musical Director, Electrician, as well as individuals who took on the roles the responsibility of scenery design, costume design, and organising stage properties (props), was undertaken by the following soldiers: Captain R C Syme; Private F A Taylor; Corporal J Tomlinson; Privates Maxwell, Justice and McCoss; Sergeant Benton; and Privates Jones and G Pollocco.

Back cover of the programme for a performance of “Glue-Beard”, A burlesque, with music in a prologue and two acts. Listed are the roles of General Manager, undertaken by Captain R C Syme; Musical Director, undertaken by Private F A Taylor; Electrician, undertaken by Corporal J Tomlinson; Scenery by Privates Maxwell, Justice, and McCoss; Stage Properties by Sergeant Benton; and Costumes by Privates Jones and G Pollocco. Performed at the Base M.T Depot Concert Party in Salonica during Christmas 1918. The production was presented by The Spare Parts.

The Second World War and the Entertainments National Service Association

The immense impact that pantomime and entertainment had on morale during times of hardship and destruction is further reinforced by the creation of the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) upon the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Created by Basil Dean and Leslie Hensen, both prominent figures in the entertainment industry who had been active in organising theatre and performance during the First World War, ENSA was an organisation that was founded to specifically provide enjoyment for troops and operated as part of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (N.A.A.F.I).

ENSA and N.A.A.F.I’s role in continuing the delivery of pantomime to troops at Christmas time is seen in the flyer below. This is a flyer for the ‘Grand XMAS Pantomime’ Aladdin at the (Somewhere in France) Theatre. The flyer lists the cast and provides a breakdown of the acts and scenes. They spared no effort, incorporating scenery designs by Dennis Wreford that were painted by the Drury Lane Studios, and had a proper Business Manager, E A McKalla, Stage Manager, Frank Woolf, and Producer, Stanley Brightman, involved.

Flyer for a performance of the pantomime Aladdin at (Somewhere in France) Theatre. This was performed at Christmas time at some point during the Second World War and was organised by ENSA and N.A.A.F.I. Some terms used in this record reflect contemporary attitudes and language used during the period. All such terms are used in the interest of historical accuracy, as altering them would risk falsifying the historical record. This language does not reflect the views or opinions of the University of Kent, Special Collections & Archives or our staff.

Interestingly, the flyer makes a direct link to ENSA’s co-founder, Leslie Hensen, demonstrating the key role he played in delivering entertainment during the First World War. The flyer informs audiences that this performance of Aladdin was adapted by Arthur Rigby from the original played by Leslie Hensen to the British Expeditionary Forces at the Nouveau Theatre in Lille during 1918. It’s a great example of the enduring legacy of entertainment during both World Wars and the importance of entertainment as part of the war effort.


Not only were troops fighting along the frontline but, from the above examples, we see that time was dedicated to providing entertainment and enjoyment for their comrades. Soldiers actively took part within the performance as key characters, as well as ensuring that materials needed to set the staging and deliver the pantomime were gathered and made. Clarkson Rose’s comic song ‘What Did You Do In The War?’ is an excellent reminder and social commentary on post-war feeling and the various experiences that people, particularly on the Home Front, had during the First World War but, also, it is important to remember other elements of life and the solace that troops found in a moment of profound delight, where the troubles of the Great War could be forgotten.

The Terrifying Tale of The Silver Curlew

Halloween is all about terrifying tales and The Silver Curlew by the English author Eleanor Farjeon perfectly fits the bill. First performed at the Liverpool Playhouse in December 1948, and directed by John Fernald, The Silver Curlew is a retelling of the classic Norfolk tale of Tom Tit Tot, the English version of the European folklore Rumplestiltskin. In this retelling, which is also set in Norfolk, Poll, the main protagonist, teams up with Charlee Loon to save a silver curlew, and, later in the tale, save Doll, Poll’s sister, who marries King Nollekens. King Nollekens believes that Doll has exceptional skills as a spinner as a result of a boast by Doll’s mother, Mother Codling. However, this could not be further from the truth as Doll cannot spin – rather than having woven twelve skeins of cloth, Doll had actually eaten twelve dumplings! Doll ends up at the mercy of Tom Tit Tot, a notorious imp who offers to spin flax for her so that Doll may be able to impress her husband but who asks this at a price!

Front cover of The Silver Curlew by Eleanor Farjeon. This text of the play was published by Samuel French Limited in 1953.

Infused with elements of British folklore, this tale is wonderful, magical, and terrifying all at once. Whilst originally created as a stage production to be performed at Christmas time for children, and turned into prose as a children’s story in 1953, many of the characters within The Silver Curlew would make anyone’s hair stand on edge on All Hallows Eve!

In the David Drummond Pantomime collection, we have materials relating to The Silver Curlew, including some spinetingling costume designs by the designer Paul Mayo. To tie in with the fabulous and spooky costume inspiration shared by staff from Special Collections & Archives on our social media platforms, we’re going to keep giving you some treats this Halloween by sharing some extra ghastly and ghoulish costume designs of things that go bump in the night from this scary story!

The Queer Thing

Central to the story of The Silver Curlew, are the ‘queerest [creatures]’ that Poll had ever seen and these creatures definitely get a 10/10 for getting their creepy vibe on this Halloween. Known as the Queer Things, these creatures are fantastical and would certainly stop you in your tracks if spotted on Halloween night!

Costume designs for The Queer Thing by designer Paul Mayo. These costume designs are dated 1948.

Costume designs for The Queer Thing by designer Paul Mayo. These costume designs are dated 1948.

If their names weren’t already strange enough – Trimingham, Gimingham, Knapton and Trunch, and Northrepps and Southrepps –  these colourful ‘Queer Things’ vary in appearance with some boasting some rather devilish looks, with razor sharp claws and horns. Others are more anthropomorphic and arthropod-like, with costumes appearing rather like the exoskeletons of insects or creatures. In the play, they’re described as ‘uncouth’ and ‘[rising] and [breaking] into a wild capering dance’ – not hard to imagine from Mayo’s strange designs and certainly what one would expect out and about on Halloween!


Lots of uncanny creatures feature in Eleanor Farjeon’s tale, including everyone’s favourite spooky season creature, bats. Bats have had a long association with All Hallows Eve and tend to have a creepy reputation, so we couldn’t miss this opportunity to share Paul Mayo’s truly bat-tastic designs to celebrate this spook-tacular holiday!

Paul Mayo’s designs for ‘Bats’. These are original sketches, with the sketch on the right providing details about how parts of the costume, like the mask and wings, should be fixed.

Drawing upon typical features of the bat, such as their great wingspan and their large ears, Mayo brings this magical mammal to life through his stunning costume designs. The masks for the bats are especially sinister and eerie, and when darkness falls on Halloween I wouldn’t want to see this popping out of the shadows!

Rackny The Spider Mother

Halloween is also the season of the witch and Paul Mayo does not disappoint in his representation of the witch Rackny The Spider Mother, who in Farjeon’s fairy tale is found within the Witching-Wood over her bubbling cauldron and singing her song:

Ho! Ho! In they go.

The best of savoury stews

Is serpents’ eggs

And spiders’ legs

And the muddy dregs of the Ouse!

The image of Rackny mixing her stew gives some real ‘double double toil and trouble’ vibes and this witchy persona is spectacularly captured by Mayo. With her pointed hat, large cloak, and dress decorated with cob webs, she embodies the fearsome, wraithlike, and mysterious traits of the traditional witch that many of us have grown up with.

Costume design by Paul Mayo for the character Rackney the Spider Mother, played by Elizabeth Gray. This costume design is signed by Mayo and dated to 1948.

Fairies and folklore

Not as scary, but just as magical, are Paul Mayo’s fairies. When thinking about Halloween, you may not immediately think of fairies as spooky but they were feared by the Celts on Samhain Eve, a historic Gaelic holiday that marked the transition between 31st October and 1st November. Whilst fairies were considered to be ‘good folk’, on this particular night when the lines between the living and dead were blurred, Celts feared their presence.

Luckily for Poll, Doll, Charlee Loon, and the other characters of The Silver Curlew, Eleanor Farjeon’s fairies are the good kind. In the tale, the Morning Fairy, Noontide Fairy, and Midnight Fairy act as Godmother to Doll and King Nollekens’ baby, bestowing loving gifts that are blessings.

Costume designs by Paul Mayo of the Midnight Fairy, the Morning Fairy, and the Noontide Fairy.

Mayo expertly captures their etherealness in his costume designs, highlighting their magical qualities and stressing their soft features. He draws on well-known ideas of what a fairy looked like, drawing these as small-sized, winged women – very Tinkerbell-like for anyone who’s familiar with Disney’s Peter Pan! They are dainty and, in distinction to Rackny, for example, are painted in brighter colours and are clothed differently – they provide a real contrast to Rackny’s dark, gloomy wardrobe. Mayo’s fairies are fair folk who use their magic for good. If dressing up as a fairy this Halloween, will you be the good kind or will you be tormenting poor souls out to trick or treat?

Tom Tit Tot

The creepiest creature of all in The Silver Curlew may just be the tale’s antagonist, Tom Tit Tot! Drawn from the German fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin, the story of Tom Tit Tot derives from Suffolk folklore and was first recorded by Anna Walter-Thomas, who contributed the story to the Ipswich Journal in 1878, recreating it from the story she had been told by her nurse. The story was later included by Australian folklorist and publisher of English folklore Joseph Jacobs within his English Fairy Tales, published in 1890. Just like Rumplestiltskin, the name-guessing game is a trick of Tom Tit Tot’s.

Costume design by Paul Mayo for the character Tom Tit Tot, who was played by Mr Harold Goodwin. This costume design is signed by Mayo and dated to 1948.

Jacobs’ Tom Tit Tot was devised to be even scarier than Rumplestiltskin and Paul Mayo’s costume design for this character, who was played by Mr Harold Goodwin, certainly draws upon traditional folklore to design a truly horrifying character! Tom Tit Tot is an evil character, surrounding himself with the Queer Things, and, took pleasure in bringing in misery to others. He bargains with Doll, agreeing to spin flax for her, asking in return that ‘In twelve months Doll is mine, mine, mine!’. In the European tale of Rumplestiltskin, he agrees to spin straw into gold for a miller’s daughter, who, like Doll, marries the king of the land. However, in contrast to Tom Tit Tot, Rumplestiltskin asks in return for her first-born child, rather than she herself, only agreeing to allow her to keep her child if she can guess his name.

Like Jacobs’ Tom Tit Tot, Mayo’s costume design has long, webbed, outstretched hands with gnarled fingers and a whirling, horned tail. His grotesque and impish facial features also hint at his suspicious and malevolent nature. If you’re ready to scare this All Hallow’s Eve, dressing up like Tom Tit Tot will do the trick!

Whilst there are several costume designs by Paul Mayo for The Silver Curlew, including the silver curlew and our main protagonists Poll and Charlee Loon, those included within this blog post are certainly the creepiest in the collection and sure to give anyone a fright on Halloween night!