Special Collections and Archives highlights: 2021 edition

Just like last year, 2021 has been unusual, interesting and busy in equal measure. The Special Collections & Archives team have been working from home, then in a hybrid style, then back to home again as the year has progressed. As the weather takes a turn for the cold and lights turn on ever earlier, we thought we’d use this end-of-term feeling to continue one of our favourite traditions: our highlights of the year!

Karen (Special Collections & Archives Manager):

At this time of year I am always amazed to look back and consider just how much my amazing team have achieved in the past twelve months. We may be in the grip of a pandemic but it has done nothing to impede their dedication and enthusiasm for our collections and the service we run.  Well done Team! This year has been one of changes – we have changed the way we work and now operate in a hybrid way dividing our time and our tasks between home and office. There has been a change in the make-up of our team -we were sad to say goodbye to Tom Kennett, University Archivist for over three years but delighted to welcome Beth Astridge, our Project Archivist for the UK Philanthropy, to the post. We also changed our digitisation capability with the arrival of our new digitisation equipment – thank you to UKRI AHRC Capability for Collections funding – you will be able to see the results of this in 2022. 

One of the huge advantages of hybrid working is that people have been able to take advantage of working from home to spend time on processing digital collections and digital preservation. The fruits of this labour are highlighted below by Rachel, Alex, Emma, and Mandy. We now have many of our great photographs catalogued and available online (shh don’t tell anyone… but my favourite is Bag Puss in his cap and gown!) and the University’s audio collections are being digitally preserved for posterity. Steve Bell’s digital cartoons are being catalogued from Emma’s home office and they are taking her back in time to the world BC (before Covid). Clair has taken full advantage of our new way of working and has catalogued a hybrid collection while hybrid working. The Meredith papers are now available via our online catalogue and they are definitely worth investigating. 

Peter Firmin and Bagpuss in the Cathedral getting an honorary degree

UKA/PHO/1/1488: Peter Firmin and Bagpuss in the Cathedral getting an honorary degree

It has also been great to be working on campus again and Jo and Christine (our Honorary SC and A assistant) will be telling you about the exciting things they have been getting on with including developing new seminar sessions and researching and selecting unique costume designs from the Drummond Pantomime collection for display in the Templeman Gallery. Beth has spent most of this year consolidating the work she has been doing in developing the UK Philanthropy Archive and will continue to oversee the collection development in the coming year.  And speaking of the coming year, we will be working on plans for 2023 when we will celebrate 50 years since the first cartoon collections arrived at the University – watch this space…! 

Rachel (Metadata Assistant, Collections Management):

“This year I embarked upon the enormous task of cataloguing the thousands of official University of Kent photographs in our University Archive, all of which are digitised and being added to the website as I catalogue them.

As a former student here at Kent and a member of staff for seven and a half years it’s been really interesting to see how the campus has changed from the mid sixties to the present day, but my favourite thing about these images is researching the people in them, and finding out stories of former staff and students (and admiring old hairstyles and fashions).

Queen signing the University visitor book when she and Philip came to open the Cornwallis extension (the Octagon)

UKA/PHO/1/1465: Queen signing the University visitor book when she and Philip came to open the Cornwallis extension (the Octagon)

Professor Peter McGill

UKA/PHO/1/1370: Professor Peter McGill who identified himself when I asked if it was him and gave me other names

Identifying staff is difficult so I am indebted to the former staff network and those academics I have contacted directly who have supplied me with names and job titles when I’ve needed them, but also with extra information about old university structures, events and even on one occasion golf handicaps! I’ve still got several thousand to keep me busy next year, and I’m looking forward to it!”

(Clockwise L - R): UKA/PHO/1/620: Stour River tours!, UKA/PHO/1/122: Duchess of Kent leaving the first graduation ceremony in Eliot Dining Hall, complete with page boy, UKA/PHO/1/140: Snow around the original Library

(Clockwise L – R): UKA/PHO/1/620: Stour River tours!, UKA/PHO/1/122: Duchess of Kent leaving the first graduation ceremony in Eliot Dining Hall, complete with page boy, UKA/PHO/1/140: Snow around the original Library

(Clockwise L - R): UKA/PHO/1/1157: 70s college bedroom, AKA Paddington Goes to University, UKA/PHO/1/807: Standing in the railway tunnel after the collapse beneath Cornwallis, UKA/PHO/1/747: Demolition of the corridor between Gulb and Cornwallis following the collapse of the railway tunnel

(Clockwise L – R): UKA/PHO/1/1157: 70s college bedroom, AKA Paddington Goes to University, UKA/PHO/1/807: Standing in the railway tunnel after the collapse beneath Cornwallis, UKA/PHO/1/747: Demolition of the corridor between Gulb and Cornwallis following the collapse of the railway tunnel

Jo (Senior Library Assistant – Special Collections & Archives):

“For me, 2021 has been a lesson in appreciating my role and the many opportunities I get to introduce students to our beautiful collections. We welcomed groups back into our seminar room from September and gosh I’ve missed facilitating these sessions.

Colourful Victorian children's literature books in our stores!

Colourful Victorian children’s literature books in our stores!

Particular highlights include the energetic reactions of Drama undergraduates when looking at material from our British Stand-Up Comedy Archive (“this is SO COOL! I’m having an out of body experience!”) and working with students from Canterbury Christ Church University for the very first time. The latter involved finding material from our collections relating to Victorian children’s literature which was honestly such a treat for me.

A tiny book found in our Victorian Children's Literature collection, containing a poem for every day of the year

A tiny book found in our Victorian Children’s Literature collection, containing a poem for every day of the year

I’ve also been leading on supporting University Open Days for the School of English, where we meet prospective students (and their parents), get them interacting with our material and chat about what it’s like to study at Kent. We’ve had some really positive feedback for these events and I’m looking forward to supporting Applicant Days next term for both English and History students.

Display of SC&A items for potential University of Kent English students, October 2021

Display of SC&A items for potential University of Kent English students, October 2021

On a non-outreach note, I’ve been working with Clair and our Marketing Team this year to design and update the SC&A website which should be going live in the near future. This has involved a huge range of work, from making the site a lot more visual to rewriting outdated biographies and creating new areas for our digital resources. It’s been a lot of fun and we can’t wait for you to see the results soon!”

 Alex (Digital Imaging Assistant – Collections Management):

“Despite the Pandemic and subsequent Lockdowns, I have been able to set up an effective Audio Cassette Digitisation Station at home. So, throughout these strange times, both at home and in the hybrid working environment, I have continued to digitise the University’s collection of recordings made on vulnerable analogue magnetic audio tape. I’ve now completed the digitisation of the entire series of University Open Lectures, T.S. Eliot Memorial Lectures and Keynes Seminars. This totals almost one thousand individual recordings dating back to the late 1960s.

Alex's Hybrid Working setup

Alex’s Hybrid Working setup

Following on from this I have moved on to the Audio Cassette recordings which form part of the British Cartoon Archive. These mainly take the form of unique interviews with cartoonists (ranging from Charles Schulz to Steve Bell) carried out by Keith McKenzie and Peter Mellini.

New photographic equipment being set up!

New photographic equipment being set up!

In addition, with grateful thanks to a generous external grant, we now have a recently installed photographic reproduction rig equipped with a state-of-the-art high-resolution camera. This set-up will enable us to digitise both flat artwork and 3D objects within the archive collections to an optimum level. I have been working with my colleagues Matt and Clair to develop efficient digitisation workflows with this impressive new equipment.”

More shiny new photographic equipment in its new home

More shiny new photographic equipment in its new home

Matt (Digital Imaging Team Leader):

“[Following on from our AHRC grant. which enabled us to invest in amazing new reprographics hardware] we have been progressing with testing the new Phase One digitisation equipment.

The rig setup for our new reprographics equipment

The rig setup for our new reprographics equipment

We have been practicing use of the equipment using material in various formats and have been collating questions to discuss with our contact at Phase One in the coming weeks. We will continue to develop our workflow, ready to begin our first large scale project (the Beaverbrook Collection) in 2022.”

Beth (Project Archivist: UK Philanthropy Archive, January – November and University Archivist, November – present):

“It is always a bit of a treat to look back at the year just passed and celebrate all the achievements and exciting things that have taken place, and 2021 has been no different. It turned out to be a very busy year for the UK Philanthropy Archive! A key achievement was that we were able to host the inaugural Shirley Lecture in May (delivered online) – where Dame Stephanie Shirley CH delivered a fascinating lecture giving us an insight into her life and how it influenced her philanthropy.

Annual reports from the FI Group - the software company started by Dame Stephanie Shirley

Annual reports from the FI Group – the software company started by Dame Stephanie Shirley

I was able to spend some time listing and cataloguing both the Shirley Foundation collection, and the collection of Amanda Sebestyen – both the catalogues will both be available in early 2022. Amanda Sebestyen is a human rights journalist and activist, and looking deeper at her archive has revealed a fascinating collection relating to her family settlement trust and the challenges of closing it down in order to donate the proceeds to ethical charitable causes in Australia.  Some great research potential there!

Postcards and press release from a project called 'Sea of Hands' in Australia funded by the family settlement of Amanda Sebestyen as part of her focus on supporting native and indigenous people

Postcards and press release from a project called ‘Sea of Hands’ in Australia funded by the family settlement of Amanda Sebestyen as part of her focus on supporting native and indigenous people

We were really pleased to receive the archive collection of the Marc Fitch Fund in September. The fund was set up in 1956 by Marc Fitch with a focus on supporting publishing work on local history, genealogy and heraldry, and we are cracking on with getting this interesting collection catalogued and available for use.

Coat of Arms for the Marc Fitch Foundation - awarded in 1979 in recognition for their support for heraldry and genealogy research

Coat of Arms for the Marc Fitch Foundation – awarded in 1979 in recognition for their support for heraldry and genealogy research

Close up of the Marc Fitch Fund Coat of Arms

Close up of the Marc Fitch Fund Coat of Arms

In November I was delighted to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the John Ellerman Foundation. It was brilliant to hear all about the ongoing work of the Foundation and the research taking place to explore their history. We have been working with the Foundation and have supported a project to translate 200 letters written in Afrikaans by John Ellerman as part of their history project, and we are looking forward to further collaboration in 2022!

At the end of this year I was also delighted to accept the post of University Archivist within Special Collections & Archives, so I can now look forward to continuing work on the philanthropy collections as well as the wider University Archives, so 2022 looks like it will be just as busy as 2021.”

Emma (Metadata Assistant, Collections Management):

“The British Cartoon Archive, housed in Special Collections and Archives, is a unique and ever expanding collection. Steve Bell, a well-known cartoon satirist, has produced cartoons for the Guardian for many years. Steve has deposited many digital copies of his cartoons with us and I have recently begun cataloguing these.

Sometimes it is hard to remember life before Covid, but I have suddenly been hurled back to the pre-Pandemic political arena of 2018 and it has been a welcome break from the issues we face at the moment. Steve has specific ways of characterising his political figures and I have had fun learning who is who. Teresa May always wears leopard sprint shoes and appears dressed as a clown and Donald Trump often has the top of his head in shape of a toilet seat!

SBD1892: French PM Macron riding on Theresa May

SBD1892: French PM Macron riding on Theresa May
Copyright Steve Bell 2018/All Rights Reserved

Describing the events satirised within each cartoon involves using the subject hints Steve has embedded in his metadata (thank you Steve) to investigate what was happening in politics that day.  This cartoon of Teresa May and Emmanuel Macron is one of my favourites so far.”

Mandy (Library Assistant – Digital Imaging):

“I have had the great job this year scanning photos of Canterbury from the Blitz to the City wall.

Canterbury being rebuilt after the Blitz! Canterbury Photographs Collection, LH/CANT/PHO

Canterbury being rebuilt after the Blitz! Canterbury Photographs Collection, LH/CANT/PHO

It has been so interesting [to see] how Canterbury has changed over the years.”

More post-war building work. Canterbury Photographs Collection, LH/CANT/PHO

More post-war building work. Canterbury Photographs Collection, LH/CANT/PHO

Christine (Library Assistant – Learning Environment):

“‘Tis the season to be jolly –

The pantomimes I grew up with were a garish, bolshy composite of slapstick, sequins and sweeties, a night of misrule where hyperactivity was encouraged, Schadenfreude was permitted, and a happy ever after was guaranteed. I remember sets designed like candy shops, and ‘dames’ trussed up in ridiculous frocks. I remember catching a toffee tossed to the crowd, and ‘he’s behind you’ being yelled out. There was something magical about lines that rhymed, and watching a show well past bedtime!

Costume design for Robin Hood, David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Costume design for Robin Hood, David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Costume design for Maid Marion in Robin Hood, David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Costume design for Maid Marion in Robin Hood, David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Now that I’m older, magic is harder to find, but these pantomime costume designs from SCA’s David Drummond collection come pretty close. From 1880s-1950s, this collection holds examples by Archibald Chasemore, Antonio Comelli, C. Wilhelm and Doris Zinkeisen (amongst others). The collection also represents important aesthetic and cultural shifts that played out in the theatre, from the imperial appropriation underpinning the exotic spectacles of the late Victorian stage to the fanciful historicism of the mid-20th century, where medieval romance or Rococo chic transported the audience to a bygone realm. Just consider the bizarre Chinoiserie dominating Wilhelm’s 1889 Aladdin, and the contrasting merry olde England of Zinkeinsen’s Babes in the Wood (1956).”

Costume designs from Aladdin, David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Costume designs from Aladdin, David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Costume designs from Aladdin, David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Costume designs from Aladdin, David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Clair (Digital Archivist):

“It’s been another year of change and adaptation for many of us. Whilst at times challenging, we’ve also seen some positive outcomes of this change in Special Collections and Archives. A personal example of this positivity for me was the opportunity to catalogue a hybrid collection (by which I mean a collection of both physical and digital materials) of research papers related to the Meredith Family of Leeds, in Kent, called the ‘Sir William Meredith Research Collection’. Working both on campus and from home, the nature of this hybrid collection provided the opportunity to carry out this work in both locations.

Miriam Scott, a retired teacher and family historian, was inspired to research the Meredith family after admiring the Meredith Memorial at St Nicholas Church near her home at the time in Leeds.

Meredith memorial, MER/1/2/32-D

Meredith memorial, MER/1/2/32-D

Scott used documents and books from a number of libraries and records offices during her research, including the Public Record Office (now The National Archives), the British Library, and Leeds Castle Archives. The research led to an article being published in the Friends of the National Archives magazine entitled ‘Sir William Meredith, knight. A gruff Welsh voice in London’. Professor Catherine Richardson in the Department of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS) at the University of Kent, supported the deposit of the research papers.

Sir William Meredith ([1560?]-1605) was a knight and Treasurer at War during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James. His family lived at what was Leeds Abbey in Kent, from around 1608-1758.

Leeds Abbey historic view, 1719

Leeds Abbey historic view, 1719

The Abbey was built on the site of the former Leeds Priory, which was left in ruin after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the early 1500s. Sadly, nothing remains of the Priory buildings today, and the only remains of the Abbey are the ruins of the pigeon house and the Slype. The site is located near Leeds Castle.

Remains of the pigeon house, MER/1/2/8-D

Remains of the pigeon house, MER/1/2/8-D

Remains of the pigeon house, MER/1/2/8-D

Remains of the pigeon house, MER/1/2/8-D

The Merediths were a well-established family of Denbighshire, Wales, with a branch of the family remaining there until at least 1901. The research includes information regarding the history of Leeds Abbey, the families of Sir William Meredith’s children (including the Cottington and Wyche families), as well as his connection to family in Denbighshire, North Wales. If you’d like to see any of the material, please let us know at specialcollections@kent.ac.uk.”

Meredith family tree, MER/1/2/27-D

Meredith family tree, MER/1/2/27-D

The SC&A team wish you a very happy Christmas and New Year; we hope you can rest and spend time with loved ones. We’re closed for Christmas from Friday (17th December) and will be back in the office from Tuesday 4th January 2022. Our Reading Room will reopen at the start of term (week commencing 17th January 2022).

Exploring Early Modern Kent in the Archive (Part 1): An Introduction to the Ronald Baldwin Collection

SC&A are delighted to present the first of a series of blog posts by one of our volunteers, Dr. Daniella Gonzalez.

Having finished my doctoral studies and eager to get back into the archives to kick-start my career in the archival sector, I began to volunteer at Special Collections & Archives (hereafter SC&A) at the University of Kent in February 2020. There is nothing I like more than uncovering the mysteries that lie in the records before me. It is these materials that tie us back to the past and to the people who lived it. We get an insight into their experiences, thoughts and those they interacted with, as well as the processes that governed their everyday lives. In this piece I want to tell you a bit about what I’ve been doing and what I’ve learnt.

Ronald Baldwin in 1986

As a volunteer at SC&A, I had the fantastic opportunity to work with the early modern indentures that form part of the Ronald Baldwin collection, a selection of pre-1900 material that focuses on the county of Kent and which was collected by Baldwin, a local historian. The items in this part of the collection span the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, informing us about the lives of those that lived in the county of Kent under the Plantagenet kings of England up to the first Georgian monarch. My task was to sort and list the documents into a spreadsheet so it could be uploaded into the online catalogue; to transcribe and translate the documents; and to repackage them into archival quality enclosures to ensure their long-term preservation.

As soon as I laid eyes on the documents I would be working on I knew that this was the perfect project for me. Opening the box was the familiar sight of vellum, parchment and paper, as well as the script that is typical of early modern legal documents – to my delight there was even a late medieval document dating to 1 July 1425!

Indenture dated 29 May 1609 RB/DOC/IND/9

Those utilising these records will also notice that some are written in Latin and others in English. Some, like in the document below, produced on 10 February 1645, whilst Charles I was still king, are even written in both (as you can see the document is divided into two section, the Latin section, which is a preamble of sorts is at the top, and below the document continues in English), so be ready to put your Latin skills to the test!

Indenture dated 10 February 1645 RB/DOC/IND/15

Several of these items are in relatively good condition seals that have been slightly damaged and some slight staining of particular records.

Indenture dated 14 July 1718 RB/DOC/IND/19

As part of my introduction to the project, the University Archivist explained to me how archive catalogues are structured as a hierarchy, with different levels representing different aspects of the collection. Whilst I’ve had my fair share of visits to archives, I’d never realised that there is a catalogue hierarchy of sorts.

Knowing this was key in order for me to carry out my work on the early modern legal records I had before me. Thanks to the introduction, I knew that when cataloguing material, archivists need to capture several key bits of information, such as the level of these records – in this case ‘item’ – the repository they are held in, the collection they belong to and their reference number, which uniquely identifies these records as particular items. Other essential information to include are the date they were produced, the language they were written in, the condition of the record, what type of record it is and a description of the records that describes its content.

Detail of indenture dated 22 May 1626 RB/DOC/IND/10

Whilst sorting them into chronological order and cataloguing these records has been the central part of this project, I have also been able to put my palaeography skills to the test. Palaeography is the study of old handwriting and, whilst a medievalist by trade and having studied palaeography previously, some of the early modern handwriting was a little tricky at times. Totally worth it though when you encounter such beautiful illustrated initials like that on the right, dating to the reign of Charles I!

I have also been putting my palaeography skills to good use and producing transcriptions for researchers and the general public alike, which will be made available soon!

I’ll be producing some posts about my archive experiences with SC&A, so watch this space for more on early modern indentures and the daily lives of Kent’s early modern communities!

The catalogue entries for this collection are now live and can be viewed here: https://archive.kent.ac.uk/TreeBrowse.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&field=RefNo&key=RB%2fDOC%2fIND

 

Tiffin Scrapbooks

Jon Shepherd, Assistant Archivist in Special Collections & Archives until December 2017, writes:

The Tiffin Scrapbooks is a small collection of scrapbooks containing several hundred black and white and coloured images of windmills and cuttings mainly from around the county of Kent but also elsewhere in the UK and even from further afield in Europe.

The first scrapbook is titled ‘Windmills In Kent-past and present’ including photographs from the villages of Aldington in Mid Kent to Worthin East Kent.

This card is pasted into the front of MILL/TIFF/2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secondly there is a miscellaneous scrapbook which contains newspaper and magazine cuttings and postcards dating from the 1930s and covering the following English counties; Kent, Sussex, Essex, Yorkshire, Surrey, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Yorkshire, Bedfordshire, Suffolk, Oxfordshire as well as Anglesey, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Germany, USA and Mykonos.

Articles from Tiffin scrapbook MILL/TIFF/3

Scrapbook three again covers the Windmills of Kent and was assembled in around 1935. It includes cuttings, photographs, maps, poems, lists, postcards, typescript text and cartoons. It includes items on windmills from the villages of Acrise in South Kent to Yalding in West Kent, as well as images of some other subjects.

This image is pasted into Tiffin Scrapbook MILL/TIFF/3

The fourth scrapbook contains a photographic record of all of the windmills in Kent that remained standing in the year 1931 taken by A. W. Tiffin This includes examples from the Kent villages of Ash in East Kent through to Woodchurch in South Kent.

The last scrapbook is known as the Lancaster Burne Album and includes 261 pages of cuttings, postcards, adverts, photos and manuscript notes regarding windmills that can be found from Argos Hill to Zoandam. It includes windmills in Kent, West Sussex, East Sussex, Surrey, Holland, Belgium and France.

The collection can be browsed via the online catalogue via https://archive.kent.ac.uk/TreeBrowse.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&field=RefNo&key=MILL%2fTIFF.

If you would like to take a closer look at any of these five items and their fascinating images of windmills then please get in contact with us on specialcollections@kent.ac.uk or +44 (0)1227 82 3127.

Political History is Not My Forte; or, How to Learn History Through Political Cartoons

Many sides of Stalin – as drawn by Cummings

Starting work on new collections is always fun. For a start it means you’re decreasing the number of items that need working on, but you also get to go through something that’s completely new to you. Most recently, I have started cataloguing artwork by cartoonist Michael Cummings, who worked mainly for the Daily Express for a period of nearly fifty years. This particular selection of artwork dates from the early 1950s, a time that seems to be far away in the past, at the beginnings of the Cold War.

Now my first reaction was something along the lines of ‘oh no, I’m not going to know who anybody is’. As it turned out I was wrong. I recognized Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill and Stalin. This didn’t really give me a lot to go on. The 1950s are not exactly my strong point. I enjoy my history, but I enjoy my history quite a lot earlier than that. When I turned to the very first image and had literally no idea what was happening:

My first Cummings cartoon

My first reaction was, ‘this must be a Tory,’ based entirely on the caption. I had one other thing to go on, as somebody had very kindly written on the back of the artwork when the cartoon was published, and even what page it appeared on. As I knew all students and staff at Kent have access to UK Press Online, I decided to hop along and find the appropriate issue of the Daily Express. The cartoon was precisely where the artwork said it was, which was great. What was less great was the fact that there was nothing surrounding the image, no helpful arrows saying ‘this man is so-and-so’, and no articles relating to the image, as far as I could see, anywhere in the issue. So I hit a dead end. Extremely early on. Now what?

Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, Google searching ‘Conservative 1950s NHS’ didn’t get me very far. I had a look on Lexis Nexis but even narrowing down the date range produced more results to check than was feasible. I was almost on the verge of taking a photo on my phone and seeing if my Dad knew who it was, when I decided to check copies of the Express from the surrounding time period. This turned out to be the right thing to do – I came across a cartoon head of the very same man, this time with a caption telling me it was Aneurin Bevan.

Ok, so I basically got everything wrong. Bevan was a well-known Labour Politician, and at the time of the cartoon Minister of Health. At least I knew what the greenhouse was…

Getting the dimensions – featuring my tape measure, Colin

Establishing who people are in each of the cartoons is probably the hardest aspect of cataloguing them, for me. When I’m cataloguing I look out for specific information every time. First we need the basics: a title, artist, publication, date and size. Next comes recording anything that’s written in the cartoon, which we refer to as embedded text. This text and the image itself provides us with the information to assign subject matters to the item. This would be relevant political parties, or any celebrity and sporting news, or government policy mentioned. Other subjects can include setting, items or animals in the picture or emotions you think the people depicted are feeling. And then comes the time to add the people themselves to the record. This is also significant for the subjects; you can’t add the Chancellor of the Exchequer unless you know he’s actually in the picture.

When I first started cataloguing political cartoons, around two and half years ago now, I began with the more modern items. Part of our collections here at the British Cartoon Archive include the newspaper versions of cartoons that appear in the daily papers. This means our collection grows every day, and it’s partly my job to keep on top of this. I won’t pretend that I’ve ever had much of an interest in politics, (I knew next to nothing when I started), but I’ve definitely learnt a lot working here. I could at least recognise most of the Labour and Conservative politics, but my first big stumbling block was Danny Alexander. I think I found him by searching for ‘ginger Liberal politician.’

‘This is a Coalition Budget’ by Peter Brookes

In current cartoons, the colours actually plays a surprisingly large role in identifying who people are. It’s fairly obvious what party a politician is from based on what colour their tie is, (this is obviously a problem for women). This doesn’t work in artwork from the 1950s, which is done in black ink, with a blue wash which would appear grey in the published version. Another clue could be who the person is interacting with and how. If two politicians are having an argument about something it’s likely (although not definite) that they are from opposing parties. This also didn’t help me initially, as Aneurin Bevan was the only person in the first cartoon I catalogued, but it’s certainly helped along the way.

Once you get to know who someone is, there’s usually characteristics that most cartoonists exaggerate when they’re depicting them. For example, Theresa May is always wearing leopard print shoes, whilst Boris Johnson is mainly made of hair. Back in the 1950s, Winston Churchill always has a cigar. This wasn’t strictly speaking helpful, after all if you don’t know what Churchill looks like, where exactly have you been since the start of the 20th century?

….and Strachey

Gaitskell…

Noses and eyebrows are also quite often notable. Aneurin Bevan always has large black eyebrows paired with his neat white hair. Emanuel Shinwell, (“Who on earth?” – me about a month ago), has a very prominent, bulbous nose. Unfortunately, John Strachey and Hugh Gaitskell seem to have the same long, pointy nose, so initially I had to check which hairstyle any pointy-nosed men had to establish who they are. Here the differences seem obvious, but when you don’t know who they are and their images aren’t next to each, it’s not so easy.

There is an odd enjoyment in all this hunting for people and discovering who they are, even though I often sit there in mild despair when all my methods have failed. I wonder if Poirot ever felt like that.

This brings us to my favourite Cummings cartoon:

‘The New Elizabethans’ by Cummings

I love this for two reasons. 1. It is genuinely a fabulous cartoon. I love the detail and the period costume. Elizabethans are much more my style. 2. The published version of the cartoon has a key that tells you who everyone in the picture is. That was a happy moment for me.

I’m going to let you all into a little secret now. One of the reasons I have particularly been enjoying my work with the Cummings Collection is that it’s a nice break from cataloguing the cartoons of today. Sometimes working on this kind of material can get a little wearing. Recently there’s been a lot of cartoons focusing on terror attacks, and a lot about Brexit and the US presidential elections, and for the most part these cartoons aren’t overly positive. This is because the cartoonists genuinely believe what they’re depicting, and the whole point of them is to draw your attention to things that they consider need changing. But it can get very repetetive, so the 1950s is like a little holiday in history for me.

Now obviously terrible things happened in the 1950s. The Korean War and the Cold War for a start, and Stalin certainly did some terrible things. But it’s strange how the distance of time can weaken the effects of this in the present day. If it wasn’t something you lived through, or even something your parents lived through, it’s very difficult to get a proper grasp on how it must have felt at the time. If it does affect you, then you know you’ve just come across a powerful cartoon.

So far, this has happened to me only once whilst cataloguing this collection, when I came across the cartoon on the left. Published in early 1953, initially I didn’t have a lot to go on. It was obviously the shadow of a soldier, and that was enough for me to know if was referencing World War II. I don’t know how common this is generally, but in my head the 1950s and World War II are very, very separate. Even though I knew that 1953 was only eight years removed from the end of the war in Europe, and rationing was still ongoing. Even though I knew that war criminals were being tried, it never really occurred to me that this was something I would come across working on this collection. And that’s what this cartoon is depicting, the trial of men accused of taking part in the massacre of the village of Oradour.

For once the published cartoon actually stood alongside a relevant article in the newspaper, which allowed me to identify what it referenced easily. I had not heard of Oradour before, so I had to read the article to establish what exactly happened. I also used the internet to read more about it, and I was shaken. It wasn’t news to me that this sort of atrocity took place, but I wasn’t prepared for finding it amongst the cartoons.

I do think it’s extremely important that this cartoon, and others like it, exist. Sometimes images can convey more than words, particularly at a distance of seventy years, and cartoons certainly have their place amongst records of history, alongside sources like written accounts and photographs.

But it’s also important to keep things light. So here’s Churchill dressed as a goose:

A Politician’s Panto

All cartoons (c) Express Syndication Ltd, except Peter Brookes, (c) News UK

Upcoming Exhibition: Treasures of Rochester Cathedral Library

I am very excited to announce a one-off opportunity for you to get up close to some of the most beautiful, unique and culturally significant books from Rochester Cathedral Library.

After some months of cataloguing these books, as part of a collaborative project between Rochester Cathedral and the University of Kent (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund), I am thrilled to be able to share these books with you for the very first time!

Register to join us on Monday 7 March 2016 at the Drill Hall Library, Chatham Maritime

Book of Hours

15th century illuminated ‘Book of Hours.’

This guided exhibition will give you the opportunity to explore the treasures of the library and find out more from experts who will be on hand to answer any questions on the day. The books and manuscripts being exhibited date from c. 1150 to the 18th centuries, with highlights from the collection including:

  • Tudor Bibles (such as Henry VIII’s ‘Great Bible’ (1539), the Geneva Bible (1584) and the Bishop’s Bible (1568))
  • an excellent example of a John Reynes Tudor binding with royal armorial decoration
  • a fifteenth century illuminated Book of Hours
  • manuscript items including an 11th century St Augustine’s ‘De Consensu Evangelistarum’ and the 13th century Lombard’s ‘Sentences’
  • early modern maps of Kent

So come along and join us for this one-time opportunity to discover more about the collections and Rochester Cathedral, and to speak to members of the project teams from the Cathedral and the University of Kent.

Please register for this free event via Eventbrite at www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/treasures-of-rochester-cathedral-tickets-21555859155.

Geneva Bible

Geneva Bible, 1584