Going out with a launch

So here we are at the end of another term – the time seems to go by so quickly (and no doubt more quickly when you have a deadline or two!) As I said in my last post, it really has been a busy and exciting term for us in Special Collections. As well as sharing the enjoyment of the Night at the Victorian & Edwardian Theatre exhibition launch last week, yesterday we were able to celebrate student success once again.

A display of the new writers' work

A display of new writing

This time, it was the turn of students of the School of English, who had taken Simon Smith’s Book Project module. This very popular module includes a visit to Special Collections to investigate our Modern First Editions collection, particularly looking at self-publication and small presses. The module culminates in the creation of a piece of original creative writing, which the students then publish themselves using online software to design every last detail of the physical book. This in itself is an exciting achievement, but to celebrate the occasion, Special Collections hosted the book launch for all of these writers to talk about their work, perform readings and generally share their enthusiasm.

Enjoying the event

Enjoying the event

Among the guests were friends, family, academic and library staff, and all enjoyed hearing these new writers read their prose and poetry, each unique and with their own, clear style. With subjects ranging from the experiences of a 20-something, family and identity, conformity, disability and mystery, we were entertained over two hours by the students’ talent, vision and their ability to engage the whole audience.

A reading

Engaging the audience…

A reading

… and sharing the story

Once the books have been marked and moderated, copies will be deposited in Special Collections, so that we can showcase the talent which this University has inspired. This module also ran last year, and we are currently in the process of transferring the completed books from 2012 into our collections.

Celebrations and events aside, this term has seen us make great strides with our collections, thanks to the hard work of regular staff and a committed core of volunteers. The sermon notes of Hewlett Johnson have now been completely catalogued and are searchable on the Special Collections website. Similarly, a large chunk of the new B. J. Rahn Collection of twentieth century theatre programmes has been catalogued and added to the website. Work is also ongoing on our deed boxes of legal materials relating to Dion Boucicault and on the significant research papers of Andrew Hendrie, a UoK student whose PhD researched the Coastal Command during the Second World War.

Suffice it to say, the work here is always varied!

We have plenty planned out for the next few weeks, when the reading room and all of our services should be running as usual, from 9.30-4.30 Monday-Friday. Expect new collections, new discoveries and more to blog about as we head into (what I hope will be) the summer. In early May, we’re looking forward to a new exhibition to mark the changing attitudes towards women, which we hope will incorporate materials from UoK Special Collections, the Gulbenkian Theatre costume store and Christ Church Canterbury University Special Collections.

So as I sign off for another term and wish everyone a good Easter vacation, I’d just like to remind you to come and take a look at our current exhibition, curated by students from the School of Drama. Or if you can’t make it in person, try the digital exhibition, accessible via the website and let us know what you think.

Through the camera lens

It was a few weeks ago that we had a phone call from the BBC asking whether researchers could come to look at some of the Hewlett Johnson papers in preparation for a documentary on the Cold War. It’s always nice to hear that people are interested in exposing our collections to a wider public than we can reach, although we’re aware how a huge amount of research is often distilled down into two or three minutes on screen. So we booked in an appointment, gave some advice on how to search the catalogue and were delighted when an email came through detailing specific incidents and periods which the researcher was interested in.

Johnson's manuscript notes

Johnson’s manuscript notes

When it came to it, the director of the programme came to do the research and found herself confronted with half a dozen large archival boxes, albums of photographs, a diploma for a prize and two boxes of newspaper cuttings! With staff on hand to answer specific enquiries about Johnson, his work and the archive, the director managed to wade through this material in slightly less than a day, recording all of the materials which she thought would be of use to the programme. These spanned from Johnson’s sermon notes (at present a sadly underused resource) to sections of the Dean’s autobiography in which he recorded his meetings with (in)famous individuals like Stalin and President Truman.

The filming itself took place on Monday (12 November) in the picturesque surroundings of the Deanery and the Cathedral Library, in the Precincts. A member of staff was needed to transfer the materials and to monitor their use – to step in if any damage was likely to be caused. The programme is presented by historian Dominic Sandbrook who, along with the director, was enthusiastic about the Dean, discussing his beliefs and his reasons for supporting the Communist cause so much longer than many of the other fellow travellers did.

Hewlett Johnson in the DeaneryIt was a privelege to film in the Deanery, with a protrait of Johnson on one wall and his bust on another, bringing his radical sermon notes back to the room in which they were probably written. This series, unlike Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip or Restoration Man, two other programmes which have featured Special Collections and Archives, was scripted, with room for improvisation and improvement during the day. This meant several rehearsals to get the shot right and the word flow working, then a few takes and some close ups. What never ceases to amaze me is the amount of time it takes to film sequences which often turn out to be only a small section of the programme. Stiff Upper Lip spent most of the day filming the Special Collections reading room for a section of the programme which lasted about 3 minutes. Monday’s BBC crew spent all day in and around the Cathedral, filming sources in the Deanery and the beautifully restored Cathedral Library, for what will probably amount to no more than 3 or 4 minutes of screen time.

So is it worth it? Even once the filming is complete, there are copies to be sent, references to clarify, copyright procedures to double check and often queries right up to the final edit. It’s an ongoing process which can run over several months for us (although much longer for the production company!) Yet despite this, I think it’s always worthwhile for our materials to be involved in television productions or articles. There’s the obvious bonus for us of publicity, but the broadcasting of materials we hold means much more than this. It enables the collections to be analysed and used alongside other, perhaps dispersed materials, and illuminate a far wider debate – whether it’s the British character or attitudes towards Communism during the mid twentieth century. It’s a pleasure to meet such enthusiasm about how apparently inert materials, perhaps insignificant on their own, are part of a much wider tapestry of national and international heritage.

'Searching for Light' manuscript

‘Searching for Light’ manuscript

In a few months time, I hope that Dominic and the team will be ready to share this and their wider research on the Cold War with all of us – I’ll let you know as soon as I hear any more.

The Press, the Petition and the Priest

Following on from the excitement of the Dickens Exhibition, we’re now back to our everyday work of cataloguing, organising and assisting researchers in the reading room. But don’t assume that this is a boring part of the job: it’s in this way that many of our discoveries happen! How about this, for example, about the Red Dean?

A few weeks ago, we were contacted by John Drew a former King’s School, Canterbury pupil. He asked about a petition in the archive, signed by boys at King’s School, which called for Hewlett Johnson, the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, to condemn the Russian invasion of Hungary. Johnson had been – and remained – a stalwart supporter of Stalin’s regime throughout the twentieth century. Imagine our delight when John told us that he was the co-instigator of the petition, and the first signatory. He has very kindly given us permission to reproduce his recollection of the events.

Hewlett Johnson c. 1930s

Hewlett Johnson c. 1930s

In all the penny newspapers I was quite shocked to see
A long harangue against our Dean, professedly signed by me.
But I swear I didn’t sign it, this article obscene,
This vile and cheap attack upon Our President, the Dean.

Are God and Russia then at strife and crypto-communists?
Surely in all this universe some compromise exists
Where God can keep his court amid cold, swirling, darkling mists
And leave a little outpost here where tolerance persists?

He’s Our Dean, the Red Dean, and when the R.D. dies
I hope to see a thousand tears well from a thousand eyes
For one who held his principles through venom and the lies
Of the obscurantist leaders in the Councils of the Wise.

 –         David Buchan, Grange House, 1956.

A recent biography of the Red Dean of Canterbury makes one of those slips of pen that bedevil all who write. It mentions that in November 1956 300 boys at the King’s School,Canterbury, signed a petition deploring the refusal of the Dean, Chairman of the School Governors, to condemn the Russian invasion ofHungary. Actually 186 boys signed.  The slip is so minor it would not be noticed – except perhaps by someone who had tramped round the Cathedral Precincts to get the signatures.

Copy of original petition text

Copy of original petition text

There was a great deal of concern everywhere in Europe as the Russians sent their tanks into Hungary in the autumn of 1956 to depose the reform Communist leader, Imre Nagy, and so many Hungarians, having bravely fought to stop them, poured over the Austrian border. Oliver [Ford] “Orf” Davies, the well-known actor, drafted the text of a petition that was put together by several sixth-formers in Linacre House (neighbouring on the Deanery). I still have that draft, with amendments suggested (I believe) by the Headmaster, “Fred” Shirley, since (having rewritten it in clearer handwriting) it was I who, with Paul Niblock, had to collect the signatures and deliver it to the Dean.We got a good response to our petition until we reached the Grange, where we were rather nonplussed to run into quite a number of boys who refused to sign.  Grange was something of a warren of dissidents (though the avant-garde composer Cornelius Cardew had left by then) and it was typical that when the History Master, Ralph Blumenau, wrote a somewhat impassioned editorial for the Cantuarian at the end of term beginning: Hungary bleeds… and dealing with the rape of Hungary, the Grange House Newsletter came back with a parody: Grange House bleeds… bewailing the theft of the house bath plugs.

Facetiousness aside, at the time of the petition David Buchan spoke for others in Grange (and perhaps elsewhere in the school) when he wrote the poem celebrating the dear old Dean and excoriating those who did him down. David was perhaps the one boy who could out-face Fred during daily Assembly in the Chapter House (Fred later spoke of the way that while all the other boys had their heads bowed in prayer or prep or a penny dreadful, David alone stared unflinchingly ahead). David saw better than I did that the petition was as much the outcome of a battle going on between Fred and the Dean as between the two sides in the Cold War.

I was naively unaware of Precincts politics and was actually nervous of missing Sunday Matins in the Cathedral, as Paul and I had to on account of delivering the petition to the Dean. The Dean was charming and, with his wife Nowell in attendance, sat us down to a salutary lesson in 20th century history, spiced with personal reminiscence. He did regret that the situation in Hungary had come to an armed intervention but he reminded us that, as we spoke, Britain and France were still acting in a 19th century imperialist style by attackingEgypt inSuez. The Dean left us with plenty to think about and ended by regretting, in a memorable metaphor, that an Iron Curtain had been erected between him and the boys at the King’s School.

I soon had more to be nervous about. My father was News Editor of Beaverbrook’s Sunday Express and, after I had told him that the boys were upset by the Dean’s refusal to condemn the Russian invasion of Hungary, he had sent a reporter down to the school on the Saturday to find out what was happening. An (accurate) report of the petition appeared in the paper the next day (November 18th) under the banner headline: BOYS OF THE UPPER SIXTH REBUKE THE RED DEAN.

Copy of Sunday Express article

Copy of Sunday Express article

I went out on a family exeat to Folkestone that day, blissfully unaware that reporters from every national newspaper except the Daily Worker were descending on the Precincts to follow up the story, eleven accounts appearing on the Monday (with a couple in local papers later in the week). I returned in the evening to hear that Fred wanted to see Paul and I. Fred appeared to be furious, though I now suspect (apart from snobbery about the gutter press) he was only rattled not to be in total control of a scenario that was (in fact) unfolding much as he would have wanted it to.

Shirley and Johnson on Speech day, 1962

Shirley and Johnson on Speech day, 1962

Paul and I returned from the dressing-down by Fred to face our tall, bespectacled and slightly gawky house-master at Linacre, Humphrey Osmond, and apologize to him for the disturbance to his day he had experienced. To our surprise, dry as he usually was, he said it had all been rather fun. Good old Humph, bless him.

Fred got Miss Milward, his secretary and very much right-hand woman, to write a stinker to my father for dragging the name of the school through the press in a way likely to put off prospective  parents from choosing the school. My father replied, repudiating the charge with his usual aplomb and good humour. His schooling had been in the world of newspapers and he could respect, without deference, both the Headmaster and the Dean. He recognized that King’s had been transformed under Fred – academically, aesthetically and athletically – and he also had a healthy regard for the Red Dean’s take on Christianity, often referring to his work in Manchester and his record of being one of the first to go and take a look at Red Russia and Red China.  [I have a picture of him talking with the Dean on the Green Court the following summer].

Years later, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, I was appointed British Council lecturer in British Studies at ELTE, theUniversityofBudapest. Among other things, I organized a lecture series at the university whereby distinguished Hungarians who fledHungaryin 1956 and became British citizens, told their stories based on the theme of being Inside Two Cultures. By then, having visited Plot 301, the grave of Imre Nagy, I had a far greater appreciation of Hungarian history and understood that, while the 1956 refugees feared the return of a Rakosi-style Communist reign of terror, the Dean was haunted by the even more dreadful oppression of the Fascist thugs in 1944. Each day inBudapestI waited for my bus home across from the building where, in their District XIV HQ, the Arrow Cross mashed in the faces of those who had bravely hidden Jews. The events of 1944 and 1956 are as alive today inHungaryas are those of the 1848 uprisings R.W. “Duffy” Harris made central to his lectures to us on European history.

If you want to find out more about Hewlett Johnson, or any of our collections, have a look at our website. Please contact us with any enquiries which you may have.

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…

Meeting our public

I hope I don’t seem too self-satisfied at reporting on another very successful Special Collections event – lots of people put in lots of really hard work, so I’d like to thank them all by making the success public!

Earlier in the term, we ran our first ‘Meet Special Collections’ event, for members of the History staff. This was the brainchild of Steve Holland, and the whole team worked brilliantly to pull together various items in our collections which we hoped would engage the interest of some of our academic staff. The event went down well (as did the canapes and wine, I think) and we agreed that we should go ahead with a second session aimed at History postgraduates, and those members of staff who weren’t able to come to the first event.

Well, following the exhibition, first Special Collections lecture and a very busy term, we pulled out all of the stops to put on a (quiet and very careful) Meet Special Collections event for History postgraduates in the reading room last Wednesday. A lot of hard work and planning went into this; from discussing areas of interest with Katie Edwards, Liaison Librarian for History, investigating our collections to pull together relevant material and clearing, cleaning and decorating the reading room to give it a really festive feel. Nick Hiley, Head of the British Cartoon Archive, kindly loaned us some flat, table-top cases, to avoid any accidents with wine and rare books/archival material: once we’d found the relevant keys, we were away!

We focused on three main areas: war (since UoK’s History department has undergraduate and postgraduate courses specialising in the history of war), rare books and manuscripts (for historians of Medieval and Early Modern periods) and, of course, a Christmas themed table.

We were aided in our efforts by the re-discovery of part of a collection in the library stores: photographs of soldiers (presumably at the front) from the second world war (more to come on these in the New Year). We also used elements of the Hewlett Johnson and Bernard Weatherill Collections to illustrate twentieth century warfare, with some books and copies of the Illustrated London News for the Crimean War. Our manuscript documents from the 15th-17th centuries took pride of place on the second table, along with some of the beautifully written manuscript books on science (mostly astronomy and physics), from the Maddison Collection, which are written in anglicana and secretary hands. This table also hosted sample of the materials in Jack Johns’ Darwin Collection and our pre-1700 books section. The third table, focusing on all things seasonal, displayed some of the Melville theatre materials – pantomime scripts, flyers, books of words and images. A selection of books about Christmas carols, traditions and some of the seasonal material in our Charles Dickens Collection completed the festive theme.

We were delighted to welcome so many members of the History department to Special Collections, and to be able to introduce ourselves and our materials. It was a great opportunity to discuss materials which would be useful for teaching and in research – some of the materials were being seen for the first time by the department. It was also helpful for us to be talk to the historians to get an idea of the types of materials which might interest them, which should be prioritised and acquired by Special Collections. Steve was also able to give the Special Collections Review document – which he has spent months preparing – its first outing to the School.

Following the event (other than the tidying up), we’ve been encouraged by such enthusiasm and interest from the department. We really hope that researchers will be encouraged to look at the wealth of resources which we have in Special Collections and use them to their best advantage. So that’s something to look forward to – with great anticipation – in the New Year. Many thanks to the History department for coming in such numbers and showing such enthusiasm. If your department would like to arrange to ‘Meet Special Collections’, please do get in touch.

2011 has been a very busy year for us all and overall it’s been amazingly successful. There have been some changes and we know there are lots more changes to come. We hope that these will help us to provide  better and more efficient service to every researcher. I’m sure there will be lots of challenges (brief timescales for a Dickens exhibition in February have already been noted) but if next year is anything like this one, I’m sure we’ll look back on it with satisfaction and some bewilderment as to how we managed to cram quite so much in!

We look forward to seeing you when we reopen on 4th January.

From all of us in Special Collections, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012.