Dame Stephanie Shirley – STEM pioneer

11th February is International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which celebrates the vital role that women and girls play in science and technology. To mark this important day we are showcasing some of the material from the collection of Dame Stephanie Shirley CH.

Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley is an IT entrepreneur, successful businesswoman, and philanthropist. After arriving in the UK as an unaccompanied child refugee on the Kindertransport in 1939, Dame Stephanie developed a remarkable drive and energy that led her to follow a career in mathematics and computing at a time that was unusual for girls and women. She went on to lead a hugely successful software and programming company that focussed on providing employment opportunities for women, especially those with dependents.

Dame Stephanie then dedicated her time and resources to projects that she passionately believed in – advocating for women in the workplace and in technology, researching autism and supporting families of autistic children, and developing projects in computing and information technology.

In 2019 she donated the archive of her charitable foundation – The Shirley Foundation – to the University of Kent to establish the UK Philanthropy Archive.

Dame Stephanie is a STEM pioneer – and an inspirational figure to girls and women who are passionate about STEM subjects. This blog provides some information about Dame Stephanie, her early life and career and her many lifetime achievements, illustrated by items from the Shirley Foundation archive collection in the UK Philanthropy Archive.

Arrival in the UK

Dame Stephanie was born in Germany in 1933 as Vera Buchthal. At the beginning of the Second World War, her parents sent her and her sister to safety in Britain on the Kindertransport. They arrived in 1939 as unaccompanied child refugees and were placed in foster care in Sutton Coldfield. She adopted the surname of her foster parents and became Stephanie Brook.

Dame Stephanie received this commemorative cover (collectable envelope) after it was released in 1999 on the 60th Anniversary of the Kindertransport. It was designed by Stanley Kacher and has a special Liverpool Street postmark.

Decorated commemorative cover (decorated envelope) with a sketch of a train with children arriving on the platform, and 4 stamps, and special postmark stamp. Text reads Operation Kindertransports 60th Anniversary 1939-1999

Commemorative Cover produced for the 60th Anniversary of the Kindertransport in 1999

Career in mathematics and computing

At school, Dame Stephanie began to show a talent for mathematics and took some extra lessons a local boy’s grammar school. She decided not to go to University, instead taking a role at the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill, north-west London, in 1957. She worked as part of the team that developed ERNIE (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment) an early computer which selected the Premium Bond numbers. She took extra evening classes to achieve an honours degree in mathematics. She then worked at CDL Ltd, the designers of the ICT-1301 computer.

This image shows one of Dame Stephanie’s copies of a research report on the work carried out by the team working on ERNIE (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment)– note her name Miss VS Brook, on the top right corner.

Front cover of a text report showing the text "Post Office Engineering Department, Research Report no 14108, ERNIE - Mathematical work" with the name Miss VS Brook in the top right hand corner

Research Report on the ERNIE project c1957

 

Dame Stephanie on the far left with two male colleagues look at the screen of a piece of computer equipment in approximately 1957

Dame Stephanie and colleagues with the ERNIE equipment c1957

Freelance Programmers

After experiencing sexism, increasing discrimination against her gender, missed promotions and sometimes dealing with unwanted sexual advances, Dame Stephanie decided to run her own software company. With £6 initial investment, she founded her company Freelance Programmers, initially running from her dining room table. She employed a network of mainly female staff skilled at mathematics and programming. Freelance Programmers focussed on providing flexible working opportunities for women, especially those with dependents. This was especially important for Dame Stephanie and her husband Derek Shirley, after their son Giles was born in 1963.

While fairly successful, the company was still experiencing difficulty in attracting work. Dame Stephanie changed her name to “Steve” Shirley, used this name on her business correspondence, and achieved a vast improvement in success. Dame Stephanie became known as ‘Steve’ from this point onwards.

Freelance Programmers was later known as FI, then Xansa, and was later acquired by Steria now part of the Sopra Steria Group.  In 25 years as the Chief Executive, Dame Stephanie developed the company into a leading business technology group which pioneered new work practices and changed the position of professional women along the way.

The Shirley Foundation archive also contains annual reports and papers from the development of Freelance Programmers and its transition to FI Group Plc – including these distinctive annual reports from FI Group.

Three annual reports showing front covers only for the FI Group Plc. The first has multicoloured letters FI in the centre of the page and the text underneath is The Art of Partnership. The central report has a black background and several regular shapes in different colours . The final report on the right has a blue background and a green sound wave type image and the text "We recognise everyone is individual".

Annual Reports for the FI Group plc

Philanthropy

Dame Stephanie’s philanthropy focussed on her professional and personal interests: IT due to her skills and career in software and computing, and autism research due to her personal experiences after her son Giles was diagnosed with autism in 1966.

She decided early on in her philanthropic career that she wanted to support funding and research during her lifetime, and structured the Shirley Foundation with the aim to spend all of its funds, which was achieved in 2018 having made more than £67million in grants.

This included funding residential care homes and developing schools that more specifically met the needs of children and adults with autism. This focus continued after Giles sadly died in 1998. Dame Stephanie also focussed on funding research into autism, and improvements in practice relating to autism, to benefit autistic people and their communities.

Dame Stephanie also supported many IT and computing projects, and work that supported the role and development of women in STEM subjects.

An avid art collector, Dame Stephanie donated her entire collection of contemporary art and sculpture to the charity Paintings in Hospitals and to Prior’s Court School.

Lectures, Awards and Achievements

Dame Stephanie has delivered thousands of talks and lectures over 50 years about her work in computing and mathematics, the development of her business, her focus on flexible roles for women and motivation for and focus of her philanthropy. One example is this speech on Women in Data Processing – delivered in June 1980 while she was Vice-President of the British Computer Society.

Text page of a speech on Women in Data Processing June 1980

Women in Data Processing – speech delivered by Dame Stephanie Shirley in June 1980

Over her lifetime, she has achieved many awards and public recognitions of her achievements as a leader in the IT sector.

In 1980 she received an OBE – for her services to Industry. In 1992 she was elected as the first women Master of the IT livery company, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, and was also the first women President of the chartered Computer Society. She was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2001. In the millennium honours Dame Stephanie was awarded with a DBE for services to IT, and then in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 2017 she was awarded the prestigious Order of Companions of Honour (CH) for services to IT and to philanthropy.

DBE medal in a boz with silk lining. The medal has a red and grey ribbon, a blue star, and a silver star emblem

DBE awarded to Dame Stephanie in 2000

Text letter addressed to "Dear Dame Vera" from the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood welcoming Dame Stephanie Shirley to the Order of Companions of Honor. Lying on top of the letter is a dark blue folder with gold leaf titled Investiture at Buckingham Palace ,

Letter to Dame Stephanie Shirley welcoming her to the Order of the Companions of Honour – 21st July 2017, and the details for her investiture at Buckingham Palace

Certificate on cream paper with red and black lettering which reads "In accordance with the Royal Charter and Statutes The Royal Academy of Engineering elected Dame Stephanie Shirley OBE Fellow this ninth day of July 2001"

Certificate of Fellowship for the Royal Academy of Engineering – July 2001

Text cover for the menu and guest list Dame Stephanie Shirley's first Livery Dinner as Master of The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists

Menu and Guest List for Dame Stephanie Shirley’s first Livery Dinner as Master of The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists

For further information about using the archives of Dame Stephanie Shirley, or the Shirley Foundation, please contact us at specialcollections@kent.ac.uk

For more information about Dame Stephanie Shirley herself – please see her website: https://www.steveshirley.com/

James Friell a.k.a. Gabriel a.k.a. Jimmy Friell a.k.a. Field pt.2

Earlier this year Special Collections & Archives hosted two student interns with the generous support of Kent’s Work-Study scheme. Becca and Emily worked on our James Friell collection from the British Cartoon Archive, helping to sort, repackage and list this large collection of cuttings and original artworks. In this second of two posts written by Becca and Emily, they give an overview of their time with us:

Introductions

Hello! We are two interns, working with the Special Collections and Archives, as part of the Work-Study scheme.

I am Becca, a final year Classical and Archaeological Studies undergraduate student. Although my interests are mainly in a far earlier period than is covered by the Friell collection, I’ve found the cartoons both interesting, funny, and in some cases, still relevant – they clearly stand the test of time!

I am Emily, a final year History undergraduate student. The Friell collection has been fascinating to work with, largely my historical interests and expertise surrounds modern political history, as such the collection has helped me with my studies and vice versa.

The Collection

The Friell collection primarily contains newspaper cartoon cuttings and original artwork of the late political cartoonist, James Friell, also known by his ​Daily Worker ​pen name, Gabriel. The University of Kent has one of the biggest cartoon archives in the UK and the pieces in their Friell collection easily numbers in the thousands. The collection also features personal items such as small biographies written by Friell himself, personal greetings cards sent to friends, and rough sketches. It’s fantastic to work with a collection as complete as this, where we can read about Friell’s life in and outside of cartoons, and see not only the published work, but the original concepts and artwork, too.

The Task

Before and after: the original folders and boxes for the cuttings are on the right, and the repackaged on the left.

Our first task with the collection was to sort through the thousands of cartoon clippings from both ​The Daily Worker ​and The Evening Standard. ​This involved date ordering the clippings and repackaging the collection to conservation grade standard. Our next task was to then research the original artwork in order to date the pieces, as well as cross referencing with the cartoon clippings we had previously worked with, to organise the artwork and make it accessible for readers.

What were the main challenges with working with this collection?

Newspaper cutting from the Friell collection

One of the biggest challenges of working with the Friell collection was also one of the best parts: it is completely uncatalogued and little work had been done on it until we began. Whilst this meant that we had a mammoth task of sorting the collection from scratch, it was also great to know that when we finished the project, we would’ve been responsible for sorting and caring for an entire collection from start to finish.

The biggest challenge came from working with the original artwork within the collection. Whereas with the cuttings, the date was often written on the cartoon or printed on the newspaper, the majority of the original artwork was both undated and in no discernable order – cartoons from ​The Daily Worker ​in 1948 mingled freely with those from 1957, where Friell had begun signing his work with his surname, rather than the familiar Gabriel. The only way we had to date these artworks was to search through the cuttings to find the corresponding date that the cartoon had been printed. When faced with thousands of cuttings and thousands of original artworks, you can forgive us if there were tears! Nevertheless, we powered on and in just a few weeks, had the majority of the original artwork listed, dated, and linked to their corresponding newspaper cutting.

What has been the best thing about working in Special Collections & Archives?

Our Templeman exhibition cases in the Templeman Gallery

We have loved the variety. Whilst caring for and sorting the Friell collection was our primary project, we had the opportunity to help install the Our Templeman exhibition in the Library’s Gallery space, including cases dedicated to the Maddison collection and David Drummond Pantomime collection. This not only taught us the practical handling and displaying skills necessary for exhibition work, but also gave us the opportunity to work with varied collections outside of Friell.

David Drummond Pantomime exhibition case

The whole experience has been fantastic, the Special Collections & Archives team are so lovely to work with and the feeling of completing a task the size of the Friell collection was amazing. Most of all, this internship has provided us with invaluable experience, which has meant that we both have either secured a place in further education or a graduate role within the archive sector, something that seemed unattainable without this role.

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.

Happy New Year!

With the last days of Christmas coming to a close, we hope that you all had a restful and enjoyable festive season. Special Collections & Archives is now open as usual again and we look forward to seeing you in 2016.

If you’ve been getting involved in social media over the festive period, you might have seen our very own celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas via @UoKSpecialColls. With only 140 characters in which to celebrate our wide range of collections, we had to be brief, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you more about some of the items we featured.

The first day of Christmas: an ancient Greek vase

Perhaps one of our most enigmatic items, this Greek vase has been part of Special Collections for a long time, and represents those stand alone items which are not part of any collection, but are unique, rare or valuable within their own right. Although the provenance of the vase is unknown, information with the item does suggest that this is an ancient treasure.

The second day of Christmas: two pantomime clowns

Still a staple of the festive season, pantomime was an important part of the theatrical tradition throughout the Victorian and Edwardian periods. The clowns were, of course, an early part of the pantomime genre, which evolved from the Italian comedia dell’arte. These two comedians are Dick Henderson and George Jackley, who regularly collaborated with the Melville family in their annual pantomimes. This image is from the 1923/24 production of Jack and the Beanstalk at the Lyceum Theatre.

0600662

Information about the Theatre Collections.

The third day of Christmas: three cute koalas

3714This lovely image is of Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury Cathedral from 1931-1963. A contraversial figure in his lifetime, owing to his stalwart support of Communist regimes including Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China, Johnson travelled widely. This photograph is from an album celebrating Johnson’s visit to Australia in 1950 as part of a global tour giving speeches at Peace Rallies. Having travelled via Rome, Karachi and Calcutta, Johnson then visited Sydney and Darwin, arriving in Melbourne on 15th April. The photograph was taken at  Lone Pine Wildlife Sanctuary, Brisbane in Queensland.

Information on the Hewlett Johnson Papers.

The fourth day of Christmas: the voyaging Beagle

The Jack Johns Darwin Collection includes a wealth of early and rare editions of Charles Darwin’s work, including a first edition of the ‘Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s ships Adventure and Beagle, between the years 1826 and 1836‘. Johns became fascinated with Darwin while volunteering at the museum of the Darwin family home, Down House in Kent. This 1839 edition comprises four volumes: two written by Fitz-Roy, the captain of the Beagle, one by Philip Parker King, the naturalist on the voyage, and the third volume by Charles Darwin, whose official role on the voyage was as companion to the Captain. Following Darwin’s later fame, later editions of The Voyage of the Beagle comprised just this third volume.

Information about the Jack Johns Darwin Collection.

The fifth day of Christmas: five Portuguese windmills

F184298The Muggeridge Collections include a variety of photographs of mills and other rural subjects, which date from 1904 onwards. William Burrell Muggeridge and his son Donald were fascinated by the vanishing rural life in Britain and across the wider world. Donald’s role in the Second World War gave him the unlikely opportunity of photographing mills across Europe, and he later supplemented this collection on family holidays. The set of images of mills in Portugal were taken in April 1966: this photograph is of a group of tower mills at Abelheira near Esposende. As well as documenting lost architecture and ways of life, the Muggeridge father and son were also innovative in their use of developing photographic technology.

Information about the Muggeridge Collections.

The sixth day of Christmas: six Stand-Up comedians

Stand-Up_LogoSince the autumn of 2014, the University of Kent has hosted the nascent British Stand Up Comedy Archive, which was founded with the deposit of materials from comedians Linda Smith and Mark Thomas. This archive includes a wealth of audio visual materials and is growing rapidly. Alongside the collections of another four comedians, materials include records of venues, interviews with comedians and some magazines relating to the early Stand Up Comedy scene.

Information on the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive.

The seventh day of Christmas: seven bad girls of the family

Melodrama was a hugely popular genre on the stage throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. One of the last series of hugely popular melodramas were the so-called ‘Bad Women’ dramas written and produced by the brothers Fred and Walter Melville, during the first two decades of the 1900s. These included such evocative titles as ‘The Girl Who Wrecked His Home’ and ‘A Girl’s Cross Roads’. One of the novelties of these productions were the use of female villains, usually with a male counterpart, who often had dubious morals and plotted to ruin the heroine. Although Walter Melville was acused of being a ‘woman hater’, these roles would have offered the actresses in the company an unusually rich character to portray. This publicity postcard comes from a set for ‘The Bad Girl of the Family’, produced around 1909 at the Adelphi Theatre, London.

M699937e

Information about the ‘Bad Women’ Dramas.

The eighth day of Christmas: eight Melville children

The Melville Collection contains gems from a theatrical dynasty which started with George Robbins (1824-1898), who alledgedly ran away to join the theatre, changing his surname to Melville. His son, Andrew Melville I continued the theatre tradition, and had eight children with his wife, Alice, all of whom went on to become performers, playwrights, theatre managers and owners. Of the eight, Jack died young, but the four daughters went on into the profession and married performers. Fred and Walter became successful theatre managers in London, owning the Lyceum Theatre and building the Prince’s theatre in 1911, which is now the Shaftesbury. Andrew Melville II was an actor and manager outside London, with the Grand Theatre in Brighton on his circuit. It was the widow of Andrew Melville II’s son who donated the collection to the University.

M600671Information about the Melville family.

The ninth day of Christmas: nine worthy women

IMG_2012Alongside our archival collections, Special Collections also holds a number of rare books. Written by Thomas Heywood, this 1690 edition of The exemplary lives and memorable acts of nine the most worthy women of the world does not include the woodcuts present in the Cathedral Library’s copy. Considering the lives of ‘three Jews, three Gentiles and three Christian’ women, Heywood includes the Biblical Deborah, Judith and Esther, before considering three ‘heathens’, one of whom is Boudicca, called ‘Bonduca’ in this text. The three Christian women are ‘Elphleda’, daughter of Alfred the Great, Margaret of Anjou, queen of Henry VI, and, of course, Queen Elizabeth. Bringing together this range of women shows just how diverse Early Modern precedents for behaviour and virtue could be.

Information about the rare book collections.

The tenth day of Christmas: ten tins of talc

The British Cartoon Archive celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015. Alongside the many cartoonists represented within this still growing collection, the well loved Giles artwork is a perennial favourite. As cartoonist for the Daily Express, Giles produced satirical political cartoons, but it is for his eclectic family of characters, including the mischevious children and irascible Grandma which he is most commonly known. This cartoon was published on 29th December 1964, proving that the post-Christmas sale is no new thing! Alongside the published version, the Archive holds the artwork and it was also included in the 1964 Giles annual. These annuals are still produced each year, with materials from the Giles Collection at the Cartoon Archive.

Information about Carl Giles materials in the British Cartoon Archive.

The eleventh day of Christmas: eleven Ken Smith poems

Modern literature is well represented in the Collections, with our Modern First Editions including poetry and prose. Alongside the reconstructed library of poet Charles Olson (collected and deposited by Ralph Maud), first editions of Brideshead Revisited and a number of works by E. M. Forster, we have small print press items which are regularly used in teaching. This volume is by Ken Smith, a major voice in world poetry, who died in 2003 and whose archive is at Leeds University, which Smith attended and where he also became tutor as Yorkshire Arts Fellow 1976-78.

Information about the Modern First Edition and Modern Poetry collections.

The twelfth day of Christmas: twelve William Harris letters

William sent his letters home via his friend Mr Hunter, who lived in Paris.

As with the ancient Greek vase, this small collection of letters represents gems in the archive which do not necesserily link with a wider range of materials. As successive blog posts have shown, however, the Harris correspondence offers insight into the adventures of an architect exploring Europe in the early nineteenth century.

Information about the William Harris letters.

If you’d like to know more about any of our items or collections, do take a look at the website, or contact us.

Going on a Summer Holiday? 11: an unexpected discovery

By the spring of 1823, William Harris Junior had experienced adventure, excitement and astonishment as he journeyed through Europe on a late version of the Grand Tour, extending his architectural studies. He and his small band of architects, gathered en route, had hoped to travel to Greece to take in the antiquities there, but the continent was hardly a tranquil place in the aftermath of Napoeonic War and Greece was out of bounds. Because of this, Harris and his remaining friends journeyed next to Sicily, and on the 1st February 1823, William wrote to his father from Selinunte. This detour, however, was no disadvantage, as he explained to his father;

“The antiquities of Sicily are generally passed over much too hastily by professional men but the reason is perhaps that they mostly travel here after having visited Greece where the remains are undoubtedly of a higher class.”

Indeed, William considered it best to have visited Sicily first, believing that the studies he made there would shorten the time it was necessary for him to spend in Greece.

Image of an early 19th century map of Regent's Park and surrounds, London.

The pleasant surroundings of Norton Street (far right) were a contrast to William’s accomodation on his travels.

In spite of the excitement of the journey thus far, and the strange and intriguing practices which William had experienced since leaving London in 1821, he still found life on the road a challenge. His father lived in the fashionable area of Norton Place (modern day Bolsover Street) in London, while William was appalled to hear that his sister and her family were having to move out of the capital. During his journey, however, William had to make do with what accommodation he could find; one night on the road, the small group were forced to “sleep on mattresses only in an uninhabited palace”. On 16th December, William and his friends stayed in the Ducal palace of Castel Vetrano, “but I can assure you we have not been worse off in Sicily than on the night of our arrival”.

 

“There was no kind of inn in the town and all the accommodation the palace afforded was wretched mattresses, damp and dirty, and this on a cold winter’s night. I preferred lying down in my cloak”

The gentlemen had better luck the following evening, however, when a local man known to Mr Ingham, an English merchant they had met on the road, provide bedding to lessen the austerity of the ducal quarters.

Elsewhere, they enjoyed better hospitality; amused “by the contrast between Sicilian and English manners”, William related their attendance at a ‘conversasione’ at Castel Ternisi, with a friend of Ingham’s:

“Ladies are rarely present at these parties, the Sicilians being of a very jealous turn and in this instance their places were supplied by a row of colored French portraits of the Beauties of different nations arranged around the walls. Several of the party wore white nightcaps among others an old Sicilian Baron but this practice is very general in Sicily.”

William had a habit of discovering friends on his travels. By the time of this letter, he was still in company with Mr Brooks, with whom he had travelled since France (the gentleman had turned up late at Calais), Thomas Angell and Mr Atkinson. In addition to Ingham, the group travelled from Gingenti with a Sicilian lawyer, who “afforded us some amusement on the road”. A “very timid horseman”, this lawyer got into difficulties when fording a river:

“he allowed his beast to lie down…skipping from his back [to a stone in the river]…. The animal no sooner found himself at liberty than he began to roll and completely bathed the saddle bags while the poor man hardly thinking himself safe on his little island desperately waded to shore.”

Harris and his friends, now seasoned travellers, were evidently highly amused by this escapade.

The front of William's letter from Selinunte

As with previous letters, William crammed as much writing as he could onto one sheet of paper.

Even this far into the journey, after exploring the Mer de Glace of Mont Blanc and scaling Mount Etna, William still found new sights awe inspiring:

“About an hour before arriving at Palermo the heights command a fine view of the rich plains in which the city is built. A Theatre of mountains encircles it which running out into the sea form the two points of the Bay. The promenade at Palermo extends nearly a mile along the seaside. It surpasses even that of Naples and is by far the finest I have ever seen.”

Although the stay in Palermo proved short, William evidently liked the town, which abounded with convents and monasteries, many of which he described as occupying the upper stories on buildings, with shops on the lower floor. With palaces, Public Gardens and a fine promenade for both walking and driving, Palermo would have been a comfortable holiday destination, but William and his friends were seeking more adventure. Once they had their supplies, they set off for Segista: William and Atkinson on foot.

It was by damp, newly ploughed ground, that they found their way to Trapani, a town he described as ‘very singular being nearly surrounded by the sea’. It had, William added, ‘the appearance of an encampment’, due to its pyramids of salt heaped around its environment. The salt trade served William and his friends well, as one of its key merchants, a Mr Woodhouse, “received us in the most hearty manner”.

Image of quotation extract from the letter.However, it was the ruins of ancient Selinus which had been the object of all this travel, a site which William explained comprised six temples: three on one hill and three on another. The original plan had been to lodge in Castel Vetrano and journey to study the site each day, but the architects’ enthusiasm soon made them begrudge the amount of time they had to spend travelling to and from their studies. With the permission of the Cavaliere, they thus moved into a small house ‘within a stone’s throw from the temple’. It was largely unfurnished, but the Cavaliere permitted the architects to take furniture from Vetrano, and the gentlemen soon took on a cook and a servant, one to take care of the house and the other to visit the market at Castel Vetrano each day. This, William explained, enabled the gentlemen to ‘employ all our day light to the most advantage’.

These quarters were ‘not so comfortless as we expected’, perhaps in part due to their experiences thus far on their travels. In any case, William explained to his father in London, although the windows had only shuttered, having never been glazed, the Sicilian weather made this quite bearable. “By this you may see how totally different is the climate of Sicily from that of our foggy atmosphere.” And in any case, the location enabled the William, his friend Angell and the rest, to make some exciting discoveries.

According to William, there was some material published on three of the temples by an architect named Wilkins ‘who formally lived in New Cavendish Street’, but this was ‘full of errors’. The rest, nearest to the sea shore (one no more than ¼ mile from it) had, Harris stated, ‘never been published at all certainly not in England’. This, then, was an exciting opportunity for the young architects.

Ground plan of three temples (O, C and D) on the Western Hill at Selinunte

Ground plan of three temples (O, C and D) on the Western Hill at Selinunte, drawn by William Harris. From the British Museum Collections.

“They are all a heap of ruins but all the points may be form[e]d or nearly so with a little trouble. By the help of a little excavation we have able to form (I hope) tolerably correct ideas of their plans and proportions. The advantage of being on the spot has perhaps never been possessed by any travellers before.”

 

In closing the letter, William detailed the architects’ plans for the following months, begging his father for an extension to his trip – adding that Angell had already received just such a dispensation from his father. He explained: “a year’s study at the end of a tour is certainly more valuable than two at its commencement”. There was still much, after all, to see: Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum and, he still hoped, Greece. Harris intended to begin his homeward journey in the spring of 1824, via the Venetian States, to arrive in London at the end of June. By then, he would have been away from home for 3 years, and have experienced much on his journey. But these plans were never to come to fruition. In the excavations at Selinus, Harris and Angell discovered far more than they ever bargained for, and their youthful enthusiasm would result in a rather sudden journey home for just one of the pair: the other would never return to London.

In a postscript, William adds the note “I am really sorry to hear you have lost poor Dick” – this was the horse whose illness had provoked much comment in previous correspondence between father and son. Having been lamed but undergone an operation, it seemed that Dick had never recovered. William noted: “he was an excellent animal and I fear you will with difficulty find one to suit your purpose so well”.

Recently, there’s been an exciting development in this tale: drawings by Harris and Angell, deposited at the British Museum are now being catalogued and digitised. I hope you’re as excited as me about this: you can see more on the BM’s Collection Online pages.