Easter already! And some bank holiday closures

What a term it’s been…and we haven’t even finished it yet! However, although term won’t finish until Friday 5 April, Special Collections will be closed over the Bank Holiday, from Thursday 28 March. We will reopen at 9.30 am on Tuesday 5 April.

Looking back on the last post I created in February, I am rather ashamed to note that I wrote it over a month ago. Many apologies for staying so out of the loop, but the time has gone so quickly that we really have had very little time to sit at our desks!

So what has been keeping us so busy? Well, our main business this term has been working with the lovely second year students of Dr. Helen Brooks’ theatre history module. We have worked on this in the past, but this year was the first time that Special Collections took such a major role in the teaching of the course. Over nine weeks, we have hosted seminars for the students and helped them to discover many of the gems in our theatre and performance archives from the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

Exhibition posterFor the final assessment, the students curated an exhibition of our materials on topics of their choice, brought together under the banner of ‘A Night at the Victorian and Edwardian Theatre’. These include such diverse themes as crime, characters, theatregoing and pantomime. For the first time, this year, we’ve used the public gallery space on level 1 of the Templeman, behind the cafe, for their display. Not only was the exhibition more public than ever before – demanding such skills as framing and spraymounting – but the students were also charged with the organisation of the whole process, including linking the exhibitions into one coherent whole and organising the launch.

As ever, the students created a fascinating and visually stunning exhibition, as well as a launch event, last Tuesday, which was enjoyed by everyone who attended. This included a ten minute pantomime, written for the occassion, and some painstakingly prepared snacks of cucumber sandwiches! As the culmination of the module, it was a lovely event to celebrate the success of the term.

Getting ready for the panto

Getting ready for the panto

If you happen to be in the Templeman, do come and have a look – but the exhibition won’t end when the materials come down in May. This is because the students also created digital exhibitions, so that their work will be available to look at in years to come. Take a look at their work on the Exhibitions Page. You can also take a look at some of the earlier years’ exhibitions by following the links.

Of course, we have more excitement planned and discoveries to make before the end of term – and then beyond – so do keep an eye on the Blog for updates.

And if you’re intrigued by the sound of this module – or theatre history in general, do come along to the third in our series of annual talks, which will be given by Helen Brooks on theatre during the First World War on 23 May 2013.

For now, have a great weekend and we look forward to seeing you next week.

Caption Competition!

Well this year has certainly started with a bang (and not just the merry sound of workmen on the roof!) So far, among other things, 2013 has brought us theatre historians, plans for the new layout of the collections in the Templeman Extension and a closer relationship with the British Cartoon Archive. With all that going on, I’m very sorry to say that I’ve not had a chance to look at William Harris in 2013, but I will be getting back to him shortly.

In the meantime, a bit of a plug for a related blog: the Melodrama Research Group, with which Special Collections is closely involved. We have very strong collections relating to melodrama in the Victorian and Edwardian era, notably the Boucicault and Melville collections. We’re taking part in the research group with an eye to supporting new research and encouraging work on our own collections, here at Kent.

So, if you’re feeling inspired, have a go at the (melodramatic) caption competition!

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.

 

A theatre manager’s arsenal

Following on from my earlier Melvillodrama post, we have one brief typescript reminiscence of Walter Melville of the dangers of weapons on stage which I’m desperate to share (0599807/19). I often get this out for seminars, but I think most people don’t get around to reading it, which is a shame because it shows all the trademark humour and eccentricity of the Melville family.

‘A Melodrama would be lost without a scene in which a dagger, revolver or gun is used’, according to Walter. In order to legally use a weapon on stage, a licence had to be granted; in one case, Walter ran up against problems due to the fact that a named person had to be granted the right to carry a revolver. Since Walter himself was not playing the part, and could not be sure that the same actor would be in that role on every night, the imaginative ‘…Inspector of police…decided to grant a licence…in the fictitious name of the villain in the play. Thus a non existing person possessed a licence to carry a revolver’.

Discussing the dangers of weapons on stage, Walter relates the tale of a faulty prop, which, unknown to the Property man  ‘continually misfired’ and so was

‘loaded…until the charges came to the mouth of the barrel. This gun…exploded with wonderful effect – it put out every gas light in the Theatre.’

Although it seems a fitting drama for a melodrama, you wonder whether the people nearby thought it was a wonderful effect!

Publicity postcard for The Worst Woman in London

Publicity postcard

Disasters with weapons didn’t always involve blood or explosions, however. During an 1899 production of ‘The Worst Woman in London’, the gun with which the villianess was supposed to kill her elderly husband failed to go off,

‘…and the man in the wings who is supposed to safeguard this happening, for some reason of another did not fire the deputy shot. The Villainess realising the old man’s death was desirable for the good of the Show, crossed to the bedside and stabbed him with the end of the revolver. The old gentleman seemed perfectly satisfied with the change in the method of his murder and spoke his usual line – “I am shot”.’

Walter’s story of how he came to be in possession of a revolver of his own is a real-life melodrama;

An acquaintance of mine, not in the Theatrical business, got himself into some difficulties and decided that the only way out of the scrape was to shoot himself. He came along to my office and making up his mind very suddenly – he pulled out this revolver, fully loaded, and said to me – “Goodbye Walter” Acting on the spur of the moment, I brought my fist into play and knocked the revolver out of his hand, telling him that if he claimed to be a friend of mine not to do this dirty business in my office, but to go into the Street and do whatever he liked to himself there.

Of course, the others of the Melville family seem just as unusual as Walter. Walter once mentioned to his ‘Brother’ (presumably wither Fred or Andrew II) the necessity of having a licence for his firearms, pointing out that he had none and owned ‘100 rifles, 30 revolvers and 3 machine guns’, a sizable arsenal for a theatre manager. When this brother finally asked for a licence, in a provincial town,

‘the Inspector told him he was only in the position to licence one article and as he was in possession of an armoury, he had better get out of the office and do what he liked in the matter’.

I look forward to discovering more of the dramatic life and times of the Melvilles as I continue to get out parts of the collection for researchers!