Snow in the archives: exploring the big freeze throughout our collections

Hello from a very wintery Canterbury! The SC&A team have been battling up the hill this week as 2018’s infamous ‘Beast From The East’ lands upon Kent.

Inevitably, this cold weather got us thinking about how snow has been represented throughout history, and it’s almost no surprise that the British fascination with bad weather spreads its icy tendrils through our collections (not literally, though!)…

Special Collections & Archives is known for our extensive archives of windmill photos from the 20th century, particularly the collections of the Muggeridges and C.P. Davies. Here, Muggeridge finds the ideal winter shot: a model of a post mill in Sussex that’s mostly buried by the white stuff…

UKC-MIL-MUG-BW.540246, ‘Black and white negative and print made from it of a model of a post mill with roundhouse in Outwood, Surrey, in Camelsdale, Sussex, taken on 22nd December 1938, showing a side view covered with snow’, Muggeridge Collections

Our Modern Firsts collection of poetry contains verses in almost every format and theme imaginable, and it’s there that some of the most interesting ideas about weather come to light. In his 1997 work ‘Snow has settled (…) bury me here’, Peter Riley explores memories of place from a starting point of cold weather. The way that snow changes landscapes so completely is simulataneously refreshing, exciting and alien. Snow is also (in Britain at least) a hugely memorable event: we can all recall snow days, which are increasingly rare, particularly when we were young.

MOR.I526 POETRY (057119600), Peter Riley: ‘Snow has settled (…) bury me here’, 1997, Shearsman Books

MOR.I526 POETRY (057119600), Peter Riley: 'Snow has settled (...) bury me here', 1997, Shearsman Books

MOR.I526 POETRY (057119600), Peter Riley: ‘Snow has settled (…) bury me here’, 1997, Shearsman Books

The dramatic elements of cold are frequently used in fiction to express mood, so it’s no surprise that the shock of the snow is also popular for playwrights. In 1862, Bristol’s Theatre Royal put on a multi-show performance that included an entertainment called ‘The Angel of Midnight, or, the Duel in the Snow’ set in Munich in 1750:

UKC-POS-BRSROY.0592650: Playbill advertising PEEP O’DAY and THE ANGEL OF MIDNIGHT at the Theatre Royal, Bristol, 21 April 1862

Our Pettingell collection is full of popular entertainments and melodramas from the Victorian era – you can see from the scripts why winter weather was a popular theme for audiences. Through the magic of scenery, audiences could be transported to far-off places like Russia or the Alps, where the characters were less familiar but the villains remained the same:

PETT B.53 SPEC COLL (059016100), 'The snow storm; or, Lowina of Tobolskow : a melodramatick romance', W. Barrymore, 1818

PETT B.53 SPEC COLL (059016100), ‘The snow storm; or, Lowina of Tobolskow : a melodramatick romance’, W. Barrymore, 1818

The Victorians were well known for developing stage effects. The lure of seeing spectacles frequently drew crowds to theatres long before movies, TV and the internet. What could be more exciting than seeing an avalanche live on stage?

PETT MSS.U.10 SPEC COLL (059872400), ‘Under the snow: in three acts’, J.C. Griffiths, 1877

PETT MSS.U.10 SPEC COLL (059872400), 'Under the snow: in three acts', J.C. Griffiths, 1877

PETT MSS.U.10 SPEC COLL (059872400), ‘Under the snow: in three acts’, J.C. Griffiths, 1877

PETT MSS.U.10 SPEC COLL (059872400), ‘Under the snow: in three acts’, J.C. Griffiths, 1877

Cartoonists, too, can use the weather to reflect goings-on in society. In 2016, Brian Adcock imagined what a certain blonde Republican presidential candidate would have to say…

BAD0244, ‘”If I was president I would have a total and compete shutdown of snow entering the United States”‘, 25 Jan 2016, The Independent

Because we all need a laugh more than ever when struggling with leaving the house, the job of a cartoonist becomes vital during the winter months. In the digital age, it’s probably easier for artists to email scans of their work in, but before that – spare a thought for Carl Giles:

GAPH00137, Black and white photo of Giles in the snow at Hillbrow Farm handing packaged artwork to helicopter pilot [Rob Flexman of Aeromega Helicopters], 17 Jan 1987, Express Newspapers

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we leave the job of summing up our feelings towards snow to the early 20th century cartoonist W.K. Haselden: it’s mighty pretty to look at but perhaps slightly less fun when we get stuck in it – literally…

WH2559: ‘Snow in poetry and reality’, 18 Jan 1926, Daily Mirror

All snow-related material described here can be found through either LibrarySearch, the Special Collections & Archives website or the British Cartoon Archive catalogue; all are welcome to come and explore weather-related adventures in our snow-free Reading Room.

Playbills in the Spotlight: theatre needs you!

After a busy summer preparing our collections for their big move back to our new basement stores, SC&A is back for the new term with a host of new projects and – excitingly – we need your help.

Next Thursday (28th September), SC&A are hosting a workshop in conjunction with the British Library to trial their new crowdsourcing project. ‘In the spotlight’ seeks to gather information about the extensive playbill collection held at the British Library, and we get to see the project first!

As you may be aware, we are no stranger to playbills – we hold over 2000 in our collections, and they’re a fantastic source of information about how theatrical and popular performances were advertised in the 19th – 20th centuries. (They also have some utterly brilliant examples of typography, and it’s really interesting to see how plays were described to the public…) The British Library are particularly interested in what we think about their project because some of the first playbills they’re exploring are from Margate – just down the road from us.

So, if you’re free next Thursday afternoon, why not come to our workshop and discover more about how you can help with the project? There will be talks from British Library staff, and the SC&A team will also be on hand to answer any questions you may have.

Interested? Book a place today by emailing specialcollections@kent.ac.uk. We look forward to seeing you there!

 

Women on Stage and in Society : 1850 – 1915

part of the British Theatre History exhibition

part of the British Theatre History exhibition

On Wednesday 6th April the yearly exhibition by second year students of the British Theatre History module launched. Whilst this has been an annual event for several years, this time the students faced a bigger challenge than ever: the size of the Templeman exhibition space. This is only the second exhibition to be held in the new space, and asking first time exhibition makers to fill it was initially concerning, but the students rose to the challenge admirably.

Playbill for Society at the Prince of Wales

Playbill for Society at the Prince of Wales, currently on display

This module offers students the opportunity to learn about a hugely varied period of theatre history in Britain, ranging from Victorian pantomime through to suffragette plays. What’s unique about this module in particular, is that the student use Special Collections and Archives material to really come to terms with the time period, utilising Kent’s extensive Victorian and Edwardian theatre collections. The students look at a range of original material, such as playbills, play-scripts and theatre documentation, to learn about this exciting time.

The British Theatre History student exhibition

A section about living as an actress

This year was different than previously in other ways too. Firstly, the students usually work in groups to produce sections of a general exhibition on British theatre history. This time,

The exhibition launch

The exhibition launch

however, the students were challenged to work individually, and they did not disappoint! The other difference is that this time the students worked on a very specific theme: women. Within this theme the students looked at gender roles in pantomime, the representation of women in melodrama, influential female playwrights, theatre managers and actresses, and theatrical women as a political force. The result is a very well rounded, coherent exhibition, which catches the eye and the interest of passers-by.

Dick Whittington from the Melville Collection

Dick Whittington from the Melville Collection

 

The module draws heavily from theatre collections housed here at Kent. Firstly, the Melville Collection, which tells the story of a theatrical dynasty of actors and theatre managers. The Melville’s owned many theatres around the country, but particularly the Lyceum in London, from which we hold music, takings books, and administrative documentation concerning productions put on there, as well as publicity material and scripts.

A lithograph showing a scene from the Octoroon

A lithograph showing a scene from the Octoroon

 

 

Secondly, the students use the Boucicault Collections. Dion Boucicault was a playwright and actor who worked both here and in America in the 19th century. He was particularly well known for his melodramas, most famously the Octoroon, a controversial play concerning race and slavery. One student has produced a detailed section concerning this play.

Photograph of Nellie Farren, from the Milbourne scrapbook

Photograph of Nellie Farren, from the Milbourne scrapbook

 

 

Many of the students use sections from the Milbourne scrapbook. This scrapbook contains photographs (and some signatures) of famous actors and actresses of the time period, and also accurate depictions of costumes worn in theatrical productions. The costume images were originally black and white, but the scrapbook’s owner attended the productions featured in it, and faithfully coloured in the images to represent what was being worn on the stage.

 

Pettingell scrapbook, currently on display

Pettingell scrapbook, currently on display

Finally the students used our Pettingell Collection. Frank Pettingell was an English actor in the 20th century. He obtained the collection from Arthur Williams, who was an actor and playwright in the 19th century. The collection is made up of a huge selection of printed and handwritten play scripts, many of which were used as performance prompt copies. There are also a handful of theatrical scrapbooks in the collection, one of which is on display.

 

The exhibition is up until the 25th April.

More Dickens Digitised!

After lots of hard work by a number of volunteers, I’m delighted to announce that we have now digitised almost all of our playbills for productions of works by Charles Dickens.

Although the bicentennial of Dickens’ birth was back in 2012, we have continued to work on this collection and, over the last few years, some very committed volunteers have made a wonderful contribution to this work.

Playbill advertising 'A Christmas Carol' at the Royal Victoria Theatre, December 1862

Playbill advertising ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Royal Victoria Theatre, December 1862

Christopher Hall and Marjolijn Verbrugge spent a significant amount of time digitising all of our smaller playbills, which are now visible on our website. More recently, Elizabeth Grimshaw, who is completing an MA in Dickens Studies here at the University, has spent hours cataloguing our Dickens ephemera, and digitising the remaining (rather large) playbills as well as some illustrations. The digitisation involved Elizabeth painstakingly reconstructing the complete playbill in digital form from several digitised pieces, matching sections carefully to create an almost seamless effect. Matching up text and ensuring that the angles are correct is difficult at the best of times, and even more challenging with Victorian playbills and their miniscule text. Although a handful of the last playbills were digitised on the newly working oversize scanner, the majority of the credit for this work must go to our hard working volunteers!

The Dickens Collection has been assembled over many years and includes bibliographic gems, such as the nineteenth century part issues of Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839), pieces of ephemera, such as some twentieth century ‘Pickwick’ playing cards, and illustrations. Amongst this assembly is a significant collection of Dickens theatrical material, particularly Victorian and Edwardian programmes, postcards and playbills.

Playbill for Oliver Twist, 1838

Playbill advertising ‘Oliver Twist’ at the City of London Theatre, 11 December 1838, staged while the serialisation was ongoing.

Dickens was something of a sensation in his day (to put it mildly) and it wasn’t long before theatre managers decided to cash in on the popularity of his serialised works. Borrowing heavily from the books, the unofficial productions of lengthy works such as Oliver Twist included tableaux taken from the published illustrations and adapted the stories to suit their needs. In fact, the craze for all things Dickens was so great that hack playwrights, such as Edward Stirling and William Moncrieff, would make up their own endings for serialisations which had not yet been completed. With a lack of copyright protection, or an ability to police every theatre in Britain (never mind the spin-offs put on stage in America), there was little which Dickens could do about these plagerised versions but rail against them in prose.

In any case, the risks paid off for the theatre managers in early years, with Dickens’ first full length works immensely popular on stage. Around the time of Martin Chuzzlewit’s appearance, appetites for Dickens on stage appear to have abated somewhat, perhaps due to the fact that productions of Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickelby and The Old Curiosity Shop were all still being performed, as well as A Christmas Carol, which was published in December 1843, part way through Chuzzelwit’s serialisation. Of course, even limited success for performances of Dickens’ work on stage still proved profitable, with Dickens later cashing in to produce ‘official’ versions of his works in an attempt to limit plagerism. Even today, with television largely occupying the space which the Victorian Theatre filled, adaptations of Dickens’ works are widely popular.

We’re delighted that such an important section of the Dickens Theatrical Collection is now available on our website, with full zoom functionality, and would like to thank our volunteers for all their hard work.

If you’d like to learn more about performances of Dickens’ stories, take a look at our Dickens on Stage index.

 

 

Nothing new under the sun?

0594848

Playbill from Theatre Royal, Hull, 1850

Hazel has recently been working on our Pettingell Collection of Victorian manuscript prompt copies, which includes the holograph of playwrights such as Dion Boucicault, Charles Hazlewood and G. D. Pitt. Many of these prompt copies, handwritten playscripts with multiple annotations relating to staging, scenery and production, came from the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton, and are annotated by Frederick Wilton, the Britannia’s stage manager during the latter half of the nineteenth century. These copies arguably offer  more realistic evidence about what was being performed on the Britannia’s stage than the copies which were sent to the Lord Chamberlain to be passed as fit for the stage (censorship on the British stage was only abolished in 1968). These copes are now held by the British Library as the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays.

In the course of checking the status of these manuscripts, Hazel came across some overhead projector slides of playbills advertising ‘Varney the Vampire’, which led to investigation of where these should fit with the collection. As usual, in Special Collections, a straightforward task became something of a voyage of discovery; I’ve tried to summarise some of our findings here.

0596334

Illustration from 'Melmoth the Wanderer' playscript by B. West

Vampire literature became popular in the early eighteenth century, although the first real mention of a vampire in English fiction occurred in 1797 with Robert Southey’s poem Thalaba the Destroyer. During the nineteenth century, the popularity of vampire fiction was still strong; Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood first appeared as a serialised ‘penny dreadful’ in 1845 and is attributed to James Malcolm Rymer. It was of epic length; when published as a book in 1847 it had over 200 chapters and almost 667,000 words. It was this tale which provided some of the most iconic pieces of vampiric lore to later writers of Gothic fiction, for example Varney’s fangs, hypnotic powers and superhuman strength. However, Varney had no problems with sunlight, crosses or garlic. Varney also represents a creature who is a slave to his condition, finding his vampirism repellent but unable to escape it. This idea of the reluctant vampire has been echoed in fiction ever since.

0598177

Title page from Melmoth the Wanderer by C. Perkins

Varney was incredibly popular with his peers and was adapted for the stage (I can only assume in a shortened version). Another playscript which we hold (in manuscript prompt copy and printed text) is Melmoth the Wanderer, based upon Charles Robert Maturin’s 1820 novel. Although Maturin was commenting on contemporary society through this novel, it also contains some of the hallmarks of Gothic literature. In this novel, Melmoth makes a pact with the Devil to live for 150 years, and spends his life trying to find someone to make the payment for him. This, too, is an epically long tale, setting stories within stories and ranging between the New World and Europe. The connection between Melmoth and Varney? Well, it sounds a bit tenuous to me, but our manuscript copy of Melmoth has an alternative title handwritten on the cover: Varney the Vampire or the Unearthly Bridegroom.

F190285

Title page illustration from The Phantom by Dion Boucicault

The popularity of vampires in performance was closely linked to the rise of melodrama. The first staged vampire melodrama was adapted by Charles Nodier from an unauthorised sequel to John William Polidori’s The Vampyre. (Incidentally, Polidori’s tale was inspired by Byron’s entry into the now infamous 1816 ghost story writing competition which also spawned Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.) Nodier’s version was then reworked and produced at the Lyceum Theatre in 1820, as The Vampire; or, the Bride of the Isles. Dion Boucicault also wrote a contribution to the genre, first produced at the Princess’s Theatre in 1852, entitled The Vampire: a Phantasm (later renamed The Phantom).

0594190a

Title page for Sweeney Todd by George Dibdin Pitt

This interest in Gothic horror and the supernatural did not go unmarked by those in authority. On Tuesday 13 November 1888, Mr Channing reported to the House of Commons on the case of ‘two boys’ awaiting their trial for murder in Maidstone Gaol and how they

had been addicted by their own confession to reading of such books as “Dick Turpin”, “Varney the Vampire: or, the Feast of Blood” and “Sweeney Todd”…and that there was an enormous circulation of criminal literature among the young…these stories attractively written were widely circulated and read by enormous numbers of children, and instigated many of them to the commission of crime

The Times, 14 November 1888, p.6

In the end, we housed the overhead projector slide with a set of negatives of a prompt copy, entitled The Feast of Blood, which looks close enough to Varney’s original incarnation to make sense. But this little bit of research has shed a whole new light, for us, on Gothic and vampiric fiction (which no-one can fail to notice has made something of a comeback in the last few years). So it seems that maybe there isn’t anything new in concerns about the effects of popular fiction/culture on young people or in popular vampires (however reluctant).