Preserved, Assessed and Surveyed

You might have noticed that we were closed for much of last week; if you’ve wandered past the door to the reading room between last Tuesday and Thursday, you might have seen the sign on the door saying that we reopened on Friday morning. This closure was so that the team could focus on starting on two Preservation Assessment Surveys, which will guage the level of care needed in the future to maintain our collections.

The Preservation Assessment Survey was created and is administered by the British Library, which provides the tools for the job, plus endless expertise, encouragement and support. The idea behind the survey (and based on complicated equations) is that a reasonably random sample of around 400 items in a collection can give a snapshot into the preservation needs and state of a collection. Once the statistics have been gathered, the Preservation Assessment Survey team take the data and create a report highlighting issues which need to be addressed.

For our surveys, we also asked to include a measure of whether items were ready to be moved into the new basement store which will be opening with the Templeman extension. This will give us a really good idea of the work which we need to get done in the next couple of years, as well as the next few decades.

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

Script of Barnaby Rudge by Charles Selby, 1841

Because our collections are quite diverse, we decided to do one survey for our books and bound items, and another for our archival items. Of course, this wasn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds. We spent some time trying to decide whether published play scripts counted as books and unpublished play manuscripts are archival (answer, for the purposes of this survey: yes), which survey maps should come under (answer: books) and then classifying shelves as archival or book so that we could get our full sample! Thankfully, with help from Julia Foster of the Preservation Assessment Centre, we got the sampling done in just a day and made a start on the survey itself last week.

For each of these 800 items (two surveys of 400 items each, if you were wondering) we have to answer 15 questions on preservation, which include considerations of environment,usage levels and whether or not the item needs boxing. There is then a further set of questions, which detail the condition of the item and whether it has been damaged (by pests, dirt, poor handling etc.). As you can imagine, this provides a pretty comprehensive set of requirements for each of the items, and requires some consistency in answers, since the assessment of damage is quite subjective, and depends on the state of the last item you saw!

It took us a day or so to find our rhythm, working in two teams to start off our survey in the Special Collections Store and the British Cartoon Archive Store respctively. Archives, it turns out, take far longer to survey than books, since they have to be removed from (and returned to) boxes, and the questions take a little more imagination to answer than they do for bound items with titlepages. By the end of the first full day, we were proud to have completed surveying 60 archival objects and 47 books! (In fairness, those 47 books represented to total input of bound items from the British Cartoon Archive, which was quite an achievement).

By the end of the second full day, we had completed around 160 books and a similar number of archival items. Having started intesively, we’re now going to be carrying out the odd hour or so of surveying here and there (without closing the reading room!) to keep up the momentum until the closure of the data gathering section of this project, which should be around the end of August. Then, with our full set of 800 results, we’ll send the information off to Julia at British Library and await the report with great anticiptation.

Dion Boucicault's Deed Box

Bouciault’s deed box forms part of the collections

It really has been an interesting process so far (and we’re not even halfway through!) For one thing, it puts the size of collections into perspective. We ended up sampling just one item from the combined Fawkes and Calthrop Boucicault Collections, which makes up one of only two major collections on the Victorian playwright in the world. In comparison, we sampled several items in our Wind and Watermills Collections, which are used less intensively, perhaps due to the fact that the photographs can all be viewed online.

It has also been great to get to know the book collection slightly better. We still have a fair way to go, but already we’ve picked out some wonderful and occasioanlly eccentric items, amidst the rare editions and the early printed books. One particularly interesting section in our collection is about dialect; as Steve and I were going through the books, we came across a two volume set on The Craven Dialect (London, 1828), an area in North Yorkshire, which seems to have a lot of words specific to cows and their illnesses! Not much further on, I came across a book on Kentish Dialect by Parish and Shaw (Lewes 1888) which ranged from words which are now very familiar:

Blunder (vb) To move awkwardly and noisily about

to the very unfamiliar:

Mabbled (vb) Mixed; confused

This Kentish dialect dictionary has been interleaved with blank pages on the right hand side (recto), on which at some point someone has jotted down their own dialect discoveries, with their meanings, from time to time. It all goes to much our language has changed, even over just 100 years.

I’m sure that we’ll make many more discoveries as we carry on with the survey, which will, in the end, give us a much better understanding of our collections as a whole, and their needs. So thank you for your patience during those closure days; it really was helpful to get a chunk of the survey under our collective belt!

And I’ll let you know how it goes…(with running updates on Twitter – @UoKSpecialColls).


Going on a summer holiday? 3: Turbulent times

This summer, we’re following young architect William Harris’ trip around Europe, which began in 1821. He left Dover in the company of two friends and travelled to Calais, where he witnessed the celebrations for Corpus Christi. From there, he and Mr Brooks took a leisurely route to Paris. Although William arrived in the city early in July, he only had time to send a quick note to his father to assure him that they were well. We catch up with him on 23 July, when he’d found time in his busy schedule to write a longer letter home.

After the note he sent home on 2 July, William Harris began to feel ‘no little anxiety’ that he had not heard from his father for a full 15 days, nor from his sister for 14 days. The long awaited missive arrived on 15 July, delayed, apparently, by his father’s equally busy schedule! ‘Really, my dear Father, you must endeavour to spare time to let me hear from you a little more frequently’ William admonished, eager to hear ‘any news from Old England’. Sadly, we don’t have any of William Harris Senr.’s replies to his son in the deed box, but this letter is only the third of twelve, so there’s still a long way for William (and for us) to go!

Once he had settled into his lodgings in Paris, William began his errands in the city which, he said, possessed ‘so many points of attraction’. One interesting ‘commission’ he was sent with was to locate a mysterious ‘Madame Crowe’ on behalf of one Mr Jackson. The information relating to this woman in the letter is sparse, except that she was a married woman and probably ‘not residing in furnished lodgings’. In any case, William reported with some disappointment that he had been unable to locate her, concluding

“In all probability therefore, Madame Crowe does not wish her whereabouts to be discovered as she had given no number in a street a full half a mile long.”

Considering the upheaval in France from the fall and two exiles of Napoleon, with the involvement of the European Coalition to restore the Bourbon monarchy, Paris was perhaps one of the easiest places in Europe to stay hidden at this time.


Le Temple de ‘Amour, Malmaison (HJ PC:301)

Aside from commissions from friends and acquaintances, William’s main reason for travelling through Europe appears to have been to take in objects of art and architecture, for which the small group visited Malmaison on 19 July. This chateau was ‘a favourite retreat of the late Emperor’s and the Empress Josephine’; Josephine had bought the estate while Napoleon was in Egypt, with the expected proceeds of that campaign. She spent years and a small fortune restoring the chateau and its gardens as well as creating a menagerie which roamed free through the grounds. After her divorce from Napoleon in 1810, Josephine kept the chateau until her death in 1814. William recalled his father often telling him:

“the frowning of Paris on the very mentioned of which [Malmaison] is infamous…”

Of course, it wasn’t just France which was going through difficult times politically; there was a good reason why William wanted all of the news from old England. He noted his whereabouts on 19 July 1821 for a good reason: it was the date of King George IV’s coronation, after the death of the mad King George III in 1820. George IV had been Prince Regent during periods of his father’s incapacitating illnesses, although he had largely left the role of governance of the country to his politicians. While the coronation of the new King appeared didn’t appear to threaten any crisis, there was drama on the day due to George IV’s difficult relationship with his wife.


Coronation banquet of George IV by an unknown artist, c.1821

Having been married in 1795, reluctantly, to Princess Caroline of Brunswick, the Prince Regent’s marriage quickly ran into difficulty. After the birth of their only child, Princess Charlotte, the royal couple separated in 1796. Queen Caroline went to live on the continent in 1814, but at her husband’s coronation in 1821 she decided to return to London to assert her rights. William noted:

We hear that everything went off quietly in London with the exception of a few broken windows and that the Queen applied for admission at the doors of the [Westminster] Abbey and was refused”

George refused to recognise Caroline as Queen, and made efforts to ensure that European monarchs did likewise. Although he tried to divorce her and later to annul the marriage, these efforts proved unpopular with the public. In the end, the marriage ended quietly: Caroline became ill on the day of the coronation and died on 7 August, with some rumours that she had been poisoned. William’s brief note of the incidents on coronation day suggest that he, at least, had little interest in the quarrels of the royal family. In any case, his excitement about his trip around Europe was far more important.

News of the coronation reaches William in Paris

William was not the only architect who had left Britain to experience the culture and art of the rest of Europe; as well as his friend Mr. Brooks, with whom he had travelled from Dover, a Mr Angell joined them on their onward journey from Paris to Rome. William wrote:

“He is a young man of good sense and possesses a zeal for his profession without which something is a mere dead letter.”

The band of architects sound more like serious professional scholars than a gap year party, but then it’s likely that William would have wanted to impress the seriousness of his enterprise onto his father who was paying his bills.’Living at Paris and travelling expenses are so much higher than I had at all imagined’ he complained in his letter;

“and with every endeavour to keep [expenses] as low as possible, I find that they have exceeded my proposed expenditure a full third”

Even so, he assured his father that the costs would drop once they left the capital, although ‘the French are always on the alert to overcharge an Englishman’. It was not, he insisted, the pursuit of luxury which had cause this spending;

“nor do I imagine I could spend a single franc less consistent with any thing like comfort or respectability were I to recommence my journey tomorrow’

William’s letter from Paris

William evidently thought of his family at home frequently during his time away; his father, mother, sister, Mr Evans and ‘Jane’ are mentioned in every letter. This letter also mentions another member of the family;

“I am sorry to hear poor Dick has been obliged to undergo an operation.”

As I was transcribing the letter, I thought that sounded interesting; who was Dick? Probably not a member of the immediate family, but perhaps a servant or someone close enough to the Harris family that they had ensured he got the operation which he needed? Leaving aside the difficulties of nineteenth century surgery, I thought that this would give an intriguing insight into a gentleman’s relationship with his dependants. In some ways, it does, but not quite as I was expecting. William goes on:

“It would be perhaps be as well to avoid taking him over the stones as much as possible. He is an excellent little horse but tis a pity he has not a lighter vehicle to draw…”

So there you go, the Harris family were very close to their horses! William goes on to advise his father on how to deal with Dick’s lameness, with as much interest as if he was a long-term servant of the family.

“[I’m sorry to hear that] poor Dick has been obliged to undergo an operation”

The small band of architects intended to leave Paris on 31 July and continue their journey via Compiegne, Rheims, Dijon, Lyons, Nismes and then reach Geneva. The itinerary was not fixed;

“at the first mentioned places our stay will be uncertain and will be regulated by the interest they excite.”

And while he was racing around Europe, William was eager to stay in touch with his friends and family at home;

“If yourself or my sister could possibly find time to write to me immediately on the receipt of this by the very next bag…”

“…by the very next bag…”

Sending off his tightly packed, overwritten letter back home, William presumably went off to enjoy his last week in Paris, and to gather some more anecdotes to tell in his next letters. It’s just a lucky coincidence that these letters have survived nearly 200 years so that we can share his excitement today.

William’s letter from Paris and related archival materials will be on display in the Templeman foyer for a limited time only! Pop in to have a look and learn more, including why Lord Byron was causing a stir in Paris in 1821.


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.


Turbulent Times

So, I have finally been able to do some research on one of the indentures which we discovered earlier in the year and I thought you might like to know the results…

1657 document

This particular document is from the ‘thirtenth day of July'(sic) 1657, and records William Wiseman mortgaging the lands of his family in the parish of St Mary’s and Allhallows, including the manor of St Mary’s Hall, in the hundred of Hoo, Kent. One Robert Wiseman, ‘Doctor of the Civill Lawes’ (sic) is to pay £1,000 for these lands, and to pay an annual rent of one pepppercorn on the feast of St Michael the Archangel (otherwise known as Michaelmas, on 29th September) for the term of one thousand years until 16th July 1661, by which time William Wiseman or his heirs agree to have paid back £1,240.

William Wiseman's signature and seal

William Wiseman was the second son of Sir Thomas Wiseman of Rivenhall in Essex, referred to in this document as ‘Esquire’ but he later became baronet, on 15th June 1660. William was born around 1630 and became the MP for Maldon; the baronetcy was created specifically for him and became extinct on his death (without heirs) in 1688. The timing of his elevation to the peerage is informative; it seems likely that Sir William had made a good impression on  Charles II, who returned to Britain in May 1660 to be restored as monarch eleven years after his father’s execution. Gathering more information on Sir William will take some time, especially because the Wiseman family had several titled branches in Essex, including the baronetcy of Canfield Hall and Thundersley, and because William appears to have been a popular Wiseman family name.

Robert Wiseman, it transpires, was rather more influential than his brother. The seventh son of Sir Thomas, he matriculated from Cambridge as a pensioner in 1628 and purchased muskets and ammunition during the early period of the civil war for Trinity Hall; these weapons were later confiscated by Cromwell. Robert progressed through Trinity Hall until 1653 and became a judge and jurist. He was warranted as an advocate in the Court of Arches in 1640 and in 1656, he published The Law of Lawes, or, The Excellency of Civil Law above All Other Humane Laws Whatsoever, championing the use of civil law. He became advocate-general on 15th June 1660 (intriguing since his brother became a baronet on the same day), was knighted in 1661 and reached the height of his career when he was appointed Dean of  the Arches, in 1672, effectively presiding over Doctor’s Commons. He was married twice; his second wife, Elizabeth North, was the daughter of the fourth Lord North and went on the marry William Paston after Sir Robert’s death. Sir Robert also died without leaving heirs, in 1684, leaving his wife as the executor of his will.

Robert Wiseman of Doctors Comons London doctor of the Civill Lawes

In total, there are three documents: the indenture referred to above, on parchment, and two smaller documents (almost A4 sized) on paper, both of which refer to the ‘Indenture or deed indented’. These smaller documents appear to be a receipt for the sum of £1,000 received by Sir William and an agreement to pay Sir Robert £2,000 if Sir William or his heirs default on the arrangement. These  documents does not include any signature or mark by Sir Robert Wiseman, but all three documents related to this transaction are signed by Sir William Wiseman. One of them even looks as though it was written by him.

There are three other names recorded on these documents as witnesses: Francis Clarke, Alington Payneter and Geo. (possibly George?) Gaell.Although I haven’t had much time to research any of these names in detail, it looks as though there are relatively straightforward links with the two Wisemans.

A Sir Francis Clarke of ‘Ulcombe, Kent’ gave consent for his daughter, aged 22, to marry in 1682 and entertained Charles II on the eve of his restoration at his house in Rochester. While I could find no immediate mention of Alington Payneter (perhaps due to spelling differences), it appears that one George Alington requested permission to alienate lands he held in Gillingham, Rainham, Chatham and Breadhurst (Brodehurst) in 1621, prior to the marriage of Elizabeth Alington and William Payneter: this may be a clue to some of Alington Payneter’s ancestors. So these two, it appears, were men local to the lands in north Kent which were to be mortgaged.

Witnesses to 1657 document

The third, presumably George Gaell, may be the George Gaell who died in 1667 at the age of 1663 and whose memorial records his position as Procurator in Curia de Arcubus: Procurator of the Court of Arches. Presumably, this man was known to Sir Robert.

There is one more thing that is interesting in the indenture. As part of a security clause, it is stated that this agreement is binding in spite of any ‘Order of Orders Ordinance or Ordinances Act or Acts of Parliament or other supreme authority’. This mortgage was signed on 13th January 1657, in which it was agreed that Sir William would pay Sir Robert in six-monthly installments, beginning on 16th January 1658 and ending on 16th July 1661. During this time, the Commonwealth collapsed; following Oliver Cromwell’s death in September 1658, his son Richard was installed as Lord Protector but was unable to maintain control of the army or its generals. Charles II returned to London on 29th May 1660 and was crowned in April 1661, a matter of weeks before the last installment of  William Wiseman’s payments was due. This simple mortgage agreement therefore covers a major turning point in British history, from Commonwealth to monarchy.

It is probably over-enthusiastic to suggest that the reference to the decisions of ‘Parliament or other supreme authority.’ is anything more than a product of the uncertainty of everyday life at this time, since the beginning of the Civil War in 1642. Although the men involved in this agreement all appear to have been closer to Royalist than Parliamentarian in their sympathies, it is highly unlikely that any of them could have foreseen the return of the king two years before the event. However, with Oliver Cromwell taken ill early in 1658, it is possible that the Wisemans were concerned about further political social and political upheaval, and took every precaution to ensure that this document was binding in every eventuality. Whether they hoped for the restoration of the monarchy which appears to have benefited both brothers is something that we will probably never know.

There you go; that’s just one of the recently discovered documents that gives a fascinating insight into the lives of people living through some of the most turbulent times of British early modern history.

Have a look at these links to see transcriptions of the texts:

Mortgage agreement between William Wiseman and Robert Wiseman

Receipt of payment

Agreement of payment

Latest news

Well, having promised updates I’m afraid I got carried away with the work. Transcription is never more exciting than when you realise that the ink was drying at a time when Henry VI’s uncles were getting their infant nephew the crown of France, or just a month after Oliver Cromwell had been confirmed Lord Protector in 1657 (three years before the monarchy was restored, in 1660).

However, my transcription of these indentures is now finished, and it only remains to translate and check out the background of the people and places involved. This could be a lengthy process, and will hopefully involve people far more expert than myself, but I hope to be able to share the information we gather through the blog.

Your Canterbury‘s Florence Tennent broke the news this week; her article can be found on page 5 of this week’s issue.

A slight correction is needed to the last post – although we thought that Charles Dickens was writing to Sir Charles Darley, further investigation (and the eagle eyes of Angela Groth-Seary) suggests that the gentleman in question was Sir Charles Pasley. There is a substantial amount of Pasley-Dickens correspondence extant, and the signed note we discovered would tie in to the exchanges between them during 1855, while Dickens was resident at Tavistock House. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, after 1855, Pasley devoted much of his time to re-editing his published works. This may offer a clue to ‘the enclosed’, the subject of the note, which Dickens ‘read…with much pleasure’ but which has been seperated from this note and is now almost impossible to identify.

While the vast majority of these items appear to be of small significance in political or national terms, it appears that there is still plenty to learn from them about life in Kent and Essex over the last 600 years.

This time, updates will follow!