Rural idylls

Some of you may remember that a few months ago, we started work on the last uncatalogued section of the Donald Muggeridge Collection, comprising photographs of rural objects dating from 1933 to 1943. I am pleased to announce that the cataloguing and digitising of these negatives is now complete. The images and the supporting information are now accessible and searchable via the Special Collections website.

Signpost in Norton Lindsay, Warwickshire

Signpost in Norton Lindsay, Warwickshire

As well as a keen interest in windmills, Donald Muggeridge inherited his father’s passion for recording the subjects of a fast fading form of rural life. Following on from William B. Muggeridge‘s photographs dating from the first decade of the twentieth century, these images record the rural landscape of pre-war Britain, which has now largely vanished. Accomodating objects from columbariums to stocks and lock-ups to whipping posts, these images offer a glimpse into a world which seems very distant to many of us in the modern day.

I’d like to give a special thanks to Chris Ward and Mandy Green for cataloguing and scanning the negatives and completing work on the Muggeridge Collections.

If you would like any more information about this collection, please do contact us.

Another term over…

It feels like time is rushing by more and more quickly: suddenly we’ve come to the end of another term! In some ways, it’s been a long time since Christmas – one exhibition, one lecture, several seminars, a new microfilm service and new plans hatching for the next academic year. Looking back on it all, as ever, I begin to wonder how we managed to fit it all in!

Title page of a script for Barnaby Rudge by Charles Selby, 1841

Title page of a script for Barnaby Rudge by Charles Selby, 1841

Well, we’re very proud of the Dickens exhibition – if you haven’t been do make the effort and let us know what you think by writing in the comments book. Webpages for the Dickens Collection are still under construction – their progress is being slowed a little by other commitments, but they’re getting there! The Dickens display case in the entrance hall has now been refilled with Rudyard Kipling materials; do take a look at this if you get the chance. We have several first editions of Kipling’s work in our Modern First Editions Collection, including the pamphlet containing two previously unpublished Christmas letters from Kipling to young readers, generously donated by David Alan Richards through Dr. Kaori Nagai.

It was a great pleasure to welcome the University’s Melodrama Research Group into Special Collections this term and to discuss the possibilities of future research projects based on the Melville and Boucicault Collections. Lecture two in our three part series, given by Dr. Charlotte Sleigh at the Cathedral, was well attended and thoroughly enjoyed by all – we hope to purchase Dr. Sleigh’s new book ‘Frog‘ for the collection.

Image of a church porch from the W.B. Muggeridge Collection

Image of a church porch from the W.B. Muggeridge Collection

Of course, the day-to-day work is continuing apace, with the invaluable support of our small team of volunteers who are investigating various collections in our care. One of these is the Hendrie Collection, research notes by Andrew Hendrie, who completed his PhD ‘Coastal Command, 1939-1945 : the Cinderella service‘ at the University in 2004 and later published this as a book. The collection is full of interesting and moving anecdotes from Second World War pilots across the world, and we have just begun to catalogue it. More news on this soon, we hope! Work on the Renfrew Collection is gradually edging towards public access, too and we hope to complete some cataloguing on the Donald Muggeridge Rural Collection in the next few months.

On top of that, there are some germs of ideas including colloqia, Twitter feeds and online payments which we will be investigating throughout the next year. Still to come, of course, are two more Dickens exhibitions and no doubt a summer getting involved in research while hopefully carrying on with our cataloguing and digitisation plans.

So that’s all for the next term, and the next year. For the time being, as we await the launch (in our very own reading room) of sixteen books self-published by the sixteen students of The Book Project module, we would like to wish you all a very happy, peaceful and relaxing Easter.

As ever, if you have any queries, please do get in touch.


Windmills and warfare

Two slightly unrelated topics, except that they have formed a large part of our work over the last few months, which has just been made public.

I won’t go on about it, but as you probably know, our C. P. Davies Collection was used by the Restoration Man team to uncover the history of Reed Mill, the first restoration of the new series. The episode is available through Channel 4 on Demand.

That’s the windmills; the warfare is our Canterbury at War exhibition. Although the exhibition has a few more weeks to run (it officially closes on 31st January), we have now made the exhibition website live. To get a taster of the exhibition, or to follow the storyline once the exhibition has closed, have a look at the exhibitions section on our website.

We’ve also put together a new display in the Templeman foyer about Murder in the Cathedral – T.S. Eliot’s play, commisioned for the Canterbury Festival in 1935, which depicts the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, on 29th December 1170. If you happen to be passing, do take a look!

New for this term is an exhibition about Charles Dickens and the theatre, drawing on our extensive Victorian and Edwardian Theatre Collecitons – so watch this space for developments throughout 2012…

Melodrama and Silliness

Some of you may have noticed that, in the last couple of days, images have been appearing on some of the theatre records on the Special Collections website. This initial digitisation has allowed us to put up all of the smaller sized playbills from the Britannia Theatre which are held in the Bigwood Collection. This is all thanks to Chris Hall, who has been volunteering with Special Collections two and a half days a week. Not only has he made a start on this long-awaited digitisation, but he even agreed to write a blog post to keep us up to date.

A few months ago, I was speaking with my friends on the subject of great British playwrights. We came up with the usual names, Marlowe, Shakespeare and Jonson for the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, Sheridan, Shelley and Coleridge for the Romantics. Then we skipped roughly 80 years and listed Wilde and Shaw as the major figures of the late 19th Century stage. But what of the mid Victorians, who were their great playwrights? To be honest, I still can’t think of one, but there is a reason for that, because in the mid-Victorian age, something rather bizarre, yet very entertaining, happened to British theatre, and it is codified by the Bigwood collection of playbills from the Britannia Theatre.

Front page for 'After Dark Galop'

Scene from Boucicault's 'After Dark'

Most people would have heard of melodrama, but probably in a different context. When we think of melodrama, we think of melodramatic actors delivering their lines with overemotional abandon – think Brian Blessed playing Hamlet. However, the root of melodrama is slightly different to how we know it now. The root of the word is simply melos from the Greek for music, and the French drame, which needs little explanation. Essentially then, melodrama is musical drama. Not in the sense of it being a musical, instead music was often used to underscore the dialogue in order to raise the emotions, a technique used so much in modern film and theatre that we barely even notice it. It is this style of theatre which dominated with mid 19th Century, as well as high and low comedies and adaptations of Shakespeare. These were big productions, with full scale orchestras, evil villains, courageous heroes and fainting damsels, who were probably tied to railway tracks on a fairly regular basis. With this conception of melodrama in mind, we can begin to picture the spectacle of a play performed in the 1860s.

Playbill from Britannia Theatre, 25th November 1867

Playbill from Britannia Theatre, 25th November 1867

The Britannia Theatre in Hoxton, London, was one of the most glamorous and capacious theatres in the city at that time. The most famous version was constructed in 1858, with the previous building being classified as a saloon, rather than a theatre. Unlike many theatres of that time, The Britannia took the relatively modern approach of providing drinks and food in the auditorium, possibly setting a standard for what we now take for granted when we go to the theatre. Sarah Lane, wife of the theatre’s founder, Samuel Haycraft Lane, was the manager and also performed in many productions as a dancer. However, the collection that this blog entry is about was amassed by George Bigwood, who gathered the playbills, largely from the 1860s. The playbill is a valuable resource in researching theatre culture in the 19th Century. Many of them display a melodrama of their own; the print is large and bold, not too far removed from the typography seen in modern tabloids. One bill alone promises such titles as ‘THE KING’S DEATH-TRAP’ described as: ‘A New Historical Drama (never before acted)’ and the familiar name of ‘RIP VAN WINKLE’.

These playbills are a vital part in the study of the history of British theatre, and helps fill a gap between the plays of the late 18th Century and the fin de siècle. While this was not theatre designed to be great art, it does not lessen the importance of the plays in 19th Century culture. The writers of this era were not the jobbing playwrights of Shakespeare’s time, who were immersed in, or possibly constrained by, classical education. Indeed, they were men of the people, writing for the people. Of course, with Sarah Lane as manager, it wasn’t just men delivering this entertainment. As such, this collection represents a vibrant, if a little silly, period of theatre. But there’s nothing too wrong with a bit of melodrama and silliness from time to time.

Chris Hall

Larger playbills from the Britannia in this collection need to be scanned on a large overhead scanner which is currently experiencing some technical problems, so we’re awaiting developments there. Next, we intend to digitise the Britannia playbills in our general playbill collection, so keep watching the website!

Perpetual exhibitions

Well, today is the last official day of the British Theatre 1860-1940 Exhibition, curated by the 18 drama students of model DR575. Aside from the task of taking everything down and ensuring that it all ends up in the right place (especailly the captions and extra ‘dressing’ that the students provided themselves), that’s it until April. It will be very strange to have an open reading room again!

Interest in the exhibitions has led to a respectable number of visitors, including the entire drama department staff, all of whom have been impressed by the skills and knowledge (not to mention the sources) on display. From Monday, the exhibition will only exist in electronic form, on a new section of the Special Collections website which we have just completed, and on the websites which the groups put together to accompany their work. All of the students put a lot of time and effort into constructing their websites and we’ve linked these to the Special Collections pages to make it easy for anyone to have a look at the investigations which each of the students carried out.

If you didn’t manage to get to the Templeman to see the real thing, why not have a look at the webpages; there are links from the Special Collections homepage menu.

Of course, this exhibition was only the beginning. After all of the positive feedback we’ve had, there’s no doubt that student curated exhibitions using Special Collections material will become a fixture of the academic year. In fact, the next DR575 module starts on Monday 17 January, and we hope to open another student curated exhibition to the public on Thursday, 7 April, based on topics chosen within the broad theme of British theatre 1860-1940.

So all that remains is to say a big thank you to Helen Brooks, who teaches the module and came up with the idea for the exhibition, and the 18 students who spent (what probably seemed like endless) hours in Special Collections trawling through sources and produced such excellent work: Kelci, Olivia, Abaigael, Bryn, Jonathan, Katie, Amy , Rebecca, Daniel, Alexander, Charlotte, Stephanie, Richard, Rachel, Jade, Robin, Rebecca and Monique.

Watch this space for the next exciting exhibition…