Preserving ceramics – a work placement project

We welcomed three university students to the archives earlier this year to work on ceramic objects in our Holt Bairnsfather Collection and Graham Thomas Collection. The students were joining us on work placements as part of their studies, and were asked to complete a number of tasks to help us preserve, catalogue and make accessible these collections:

  • Reviewing: Carrying out a condition report for each item in the collection and photographing each item
  • Cleaning: Using conservation materials to gently clean the items to ensure they are free of dust and grime
  • Repacking: Creating custom enclosures for each item using plastazote and ‘Really Useful Boxes’
  • Listing: Creating descriptions for each item in a spreadsheet that will be imported into Calm, our Collection Management System

You can find out more about these collections on our catalogue:
Holt Bairnsfather Collection
Graham Thomas Collection

Harvey (Canterbury Christ Church University)

Working on the Bairnsfather Collection has been my first experience working as a part of an archival team. It has been an amazing experience and has taught me a lot about not only how working in an archive works but also about a part of history that I did not know a lot about before starting my placement here.

The work I did as part of the team was cataloguing, filling out condition reports, and packaging the items that were to be added to the collection. When cataloguing and completing condition reports it was vital to note down every important detail which people might find important when looking to study these items. Fully assessing the condition was also important as it could be that a detail that someone wanted to look at is damaged, or it could help the archival team know what needed to be handled with a little extra care. When looking into the items to write up their description I learned a lot about not only the items themselves but also about the history surrounding them. This was history I was unlikely to look into myself as I am more of a medievalist.

The beginnings of packaging being constructed

The process of creating protective packaging for the items was a very interesting one as it was not something I had considered as a part of working in an archive before this point. It was one of the reasons for which I applied to do my placement at the Kent Special Collections and Archives department. The way I created the packaging for the items changed throughout my placement.

The figure of President Wilson, depicted holding an ammunition shell.

At first I took measurements at every new layer of plastazote (the main material used in the creation of the packaging). However, by the end, I would measure the first layer and then use that as a template for the rest of the layers. Using scraps of the foam was also a way in which I could make layers on particularly unique shapes of items as it was easier to use the smaller, already-cut pieces than it would be to cut out new ones.




Overall, I found my time working with the Bairnsfather Collection to be very rewarding. The skills and history I learned are invaluable and I look forward to going back and helping out again.

Nirvanna (Canterbury Christ Church University)

This post is dedicated to commemorating the University of Kent’s Special Collections and Archives department and their continuative effort to make unique historical collections available to the benefit of wider society. This department houses and stores over one hundred and fifty collections which range from materials including memorabilia, ceramics, and publications. Throughout the duration of my time working alongside this department, I assisted with the archival processing of the Graham Thomas Collection.

The Graham Thomas Collection

This collection was gifted to the University’s Special Collections and Archives Department by the former lecturer in politics Dr Graham Thomas, after he passed away in April 2023. Dr Graham Thomas was an active participant in the founding of the British Cartoon Archive in the early 1970s. His addition to the Archives consists of the personal items he acquired throughout his lifetime, relating to theatre and cartoons, including the political and cartoon ceramics that will follow in this post.

F.C.G “Toby” Jugs

Fig 1. Pictured is the F.C.G “Toby” Jug Collection depicting seven of the eleven allied war leaders, President Woodrow Wilson depicted in navy blue to the left, Marshall Foch in the centre and David Lloyd George on the right.

A large part of this collection is the political memorabilia collected by Dr Thomas in the form of ceramics. An example of this is the F.C.G “Toby” series pictured in figure 1. This collection represents the full series created by political cartoonist Sir Francis Carruthers Gould in 1917, depicting eleven allied war leaders as decorative ceramic toby jugs. These figures include Winston Churchill (pictured in figure two below) and President Woodrow Wilson (pictured in figure one above), both of whom were widely influential during World War I.

Figure two: pictured Winston Churchill Soane and Smith Toby Jug, 1918, © University of Kent Special Collections and Archives

The accumulation of this series has proven to be a rarity as, upon research, only a limited number of each character toby jug was produced by the makers, Wilkinsons Ltd. Accompanying the figures of the Toby jugs is documentation explaining the release of this toby series as pictured in figure three below. The documentation briefly states that during the time the series was released, there was an increase of demand leading to a ‘reserve list’ for subscribers enquiring after these unique pieces, which consequently required buyers to pay a high price for them. With their existence being in demand from consumers it prompted the producers Soane and Smith to destroy the moulds after their creation so that others could not attempt to replicate them.

Background of Political figure ceramics

The use of ceramics to depict images has been historically significant to convey wider societal opinions on specific subject matters. For modern-day political artists, ceramics and cartoon depictions will be created with the intention to capture the common thoughts and reactions to the affairs of political leaders. The narrative behind these creations has followed the attempt to admonish their audience using satire to question political thought and encourage subversion in the public.

Fig 3: Documentation of a poster promoting the release of the F.C.G “Toby” Series © University of Kent Special Collections and Archives.

The importance of archiving and housing records of such suggestive ceramics is so that there is an inclusive record of public opinion. Not only the fact of historical events, but the lasting effect of politicians on public lives. Many of which, during their time period, did not have a voice to change or challenge governmental authority on their own.

Concluding thoughts

In credit to the Special Collections and Archives department, the artefacts they collect continue to increase the exposure of unknown stories to the wider public. Thus, allowing the general public to access resources that sustain the education of past culture for current and future generations.

Further Reading

Books: Edith Garcia, Ceramics and the Human Figure, (A&C Black Visual Arts, 2012).

Open Access Articles: Deniz Onur Erman, ‘Ceramics and Humour,’ Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences, Vol. 51, (2012), p 413.

Dan Thompson – zines and artist books collection

We’ve recently been very lucky to receive a fantastic collection of almost 300 zines and artist books from artist, maker and collector, Dan Thompson.

Dan lives in Ramsgate and runs a studio out of Marine Studios in Margate. He works nationwide on projects centred around people and places. Below is his story about this fantastic collection. You can browse the collection here:

A photograph of 8 publications, their covers facing the viewer.

A selection of Dan’s publications in the collection, 997-2022 (DTC/ART/01)

“I’m a collector. I have collected since I was a child (my mum is a collector, too, with a love of the 1920s and 1930s – my dad had collections of stamps and of cigarette cards – and my uncle was an antique dealer). I have collections connected to the First and Second World Wars, to the printing industry, of studio pottery, of 7” soul singles.

But sometimes, collections creep up on you.

A photograph of 3 issues of Gay Christian zine, each photocopied on to pink paper.

Gay Christian zine, 1983-1984, found by Dan Thompson discarded at the British Juggling Convention, Ramsgate in 2022 (DTC/ZIN/02)

Back in the 1990s, I worked with a number of bands – and knew many more – who were on the fringes of Britpop.

Britpop retrospectives always feature two iconic magazine covers, Select with an image of Brett Anderson from Suede and Vanity Fair with a photo of Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit under a Union Jack duvet.

But the bands that originally made up the scene were better represented in Fantasy Y Fronts, a thick photocopied zine made by two fans, Mel and Sal. (There were lots of zines around back then, and the best ones were made by women.) Who remembers S*M*A*S*H, These Animal Men, Tiny Monroe, Thurman, Compulsion, Mantaray and co? I do, and they’re all in here.

I used to correspond with Fantasy Y Fronts, in the days when you had to write and post a letter. Finding the best bands, and being part of the scene, took time and commitment.

I kept a couple of copies of Fantasy Y Fronts as a souvenir of that time (I wish I’d kept the correspondence, too), and they’re the foundation this collection is built on.

Photographs of the covers of two issues of Fantasy Y-Fronts zine, balck and white photocopies with images of bands alongside text and logos.

Two copies of Fantasy Y-Fronts in the collection, 1994 (DTC/MUS/02)


Added to them are thirty years of things I never consciously collected.

It includes more music zines, including a small collection given to me a few years ago by the manager of Welsh band 60 Ft Dolls. There are political zines and pamphlets, including copies of Occupied Times from the Occupy movement that echo 1960s publications like International Times.

There are things made by artists I’ve known and worked with, like Charles Tolfree and Alice Angus. I’ve curated exhibitions and programmed events across England, so these come in geographical clusters: Brighton and Worthing, where I lived, then Margate, and Stoke-on-Trent where I have worked since 2014.

A photograph of 7 issues of Happy Hood zine, their covers facing the viewer.

Happy Hood zine by Laura Graham and Paige Taylor, 2017-2018 (DTC/PLA/04/01)

There are publications like Happy Hood, halfway between a zine and a local magazine, produced by my friend Laura Graham in Northampton.

There are all sorts of things, from all sorts of places, in all sorts of formats. There’s poetry and photography, and creative writing and cartoons.

A photograph of the cover of GirlFrenzy zinie, blue cover with a drawn image of a woman playing a guitar

GirlFrenzy zine, 1998 (DTC/MUS/11)

It’s a mismatched collection because I never set out to collect zines. These are souvenirs of projects, reminders of places I’ve been, gifts or exchanges with people I know – a collection of moments in time. They all originally belonged to other loose collections but a few years ago, I realised that if I took those collections apart (Britpop, or Things About London, or …) the constituent parts made a new collection, of what could be loosely termed artist’s books, zines, and small press publications.



A photograph of the cover of a zine, featuring a portrait of an older man.

Cummerbundery (Vol 1): The collected tweets of Brandon Cummerbund, 2010 (DTC/ART/08/06)


As an artist, I like this reshuffling of knowledge, this reframing of things in different ways. And that’s why I am pleased to be handing the collection, well over a hundred assorted items, to the University of Kent’s Special Collections, where it will be a cornerstone of their growing collection of zines and artist’s books. Because it’s a pack of cards that can be shuffled many ways, and I look forward to seeing who shuffles it and what they turn up.”


Wood would: The forgotten campaigner

Few people know who Sir Howard Kingsley Wood was, or what he did. A century, after all, is a long time in which to forget. But recent work by historian Hugh Gault, researching for a biography on Wood, has brought this little known and unassuming man into the light. To celebrate the new biography, Special Collections & Archives is curating an exploring the early part of his life: ‘A Thoroughly Modern Man? Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, 1881-1924’.

Wood in his mid 20s, a recently qualified solicitor

Wood as recently qualified solicitor, pictured in ‘The Methodist Recorder’ in 1905

Born in 1881, Wood’s lifetime saw a huge number of changes; from the First World War to the successful provision of Votes for Women, and this exhibition charts the formative influences on his life.

Wood was a politician, lawyer and a Methodist: all of these aspects of his life combined to make him a key player in significant political and social changes happening in Britain one hundred years ago. In fact, many of the issues which the turn of the century government was dealing with were not so different to those of today; health, tax, welfare and housing to name but a few.

With his background in insurance, Wood was key in setting up National Insurance; working as a Poor Man’s lawyer, he successfully prosecuted a number of employers for death and injuries at work. Standing up for the weakest in society was one of his core values: he championed pensions and other benefits for widows, orphans and relatives of soldiers fighting in the First World War. He also saw first-hand the appalling conditions in which many lived and was determined to improve them. In proposing a Ministry of Health in 1918, Wood set in motion the best of the welfare state, aiming to provide good homes, prevent disease and support the disabled. Many of his proposals are still with us today in the guise of the National Health Service and laws protecting employees from exploitation.

Wood giving a speech as Secretary of State for Air in 1938

Wood giving a speech as Secretary of State for Air in 1938

Later, Wood would continue his mission as Postmaster General, Minister for Health, Secretary of State for Air during the Second World War and finally Chancellor of the Exchequer.

This exhibition focusses on Wood’s formative years from his training as a solicitor, his experience of elections and insurance, and his role as a London County Councillor during the First World War. Come along to the Templeman Gallery (next to the Library Café) from 22 May to the 20 June to find out why this man is worthy of remembrance.

For more information about the materials in the Kingsley Wood Archive at Kent, take at look at our Collections pages. For a flavour of some of the items in the collection, see previous blog posts ‘The antiquity of new politics‘ and ‘Flu a hundred years hence‘.

The exhibition coincides with the publication of Hugh Gault’s book, the first part of a new biography of Kingsley Wood, Making the Heavens Hum: Kingsley Wood and the Art of the
Possible, 1881-1924
(Gretton Books, 2014).