Going on a Summer Holiday? 10: long distance shopping

This series is now one of the longest serving on our blog; I wrote several posts ago that I hoped it would not take as long to reveal as the journey which William Harris undertook around Europe between 1821-1823. Well, I have a feeling that I may have already broken that record, but at least it’s given us all a sense of the length of time which this journey from Dover, through France to Italy and then to Sicily actually took!

William continued to number his letters for his father.

William continued to number his letters for his father.

In the last post, William had just scaled Mount Etna with his band of architect friends, and found the undertaking rather easier than he had expected. By August 1822, however, William was lodging in the Franciscan convent of S. Vito, near ‘Grigenti’, alone. From my initial reading of this letter, I got the impression that William had been ill, but a second look shows little evidence of this. The group had intended to stay at a monastery before, at Taormina, but their plans were foiled when they discovered it to be full of priests awaiting the election of the new superior. So the fact that he was alone at a convent could simply be that it was a suitable location for his exploration of the ‘pure’ architectural remains of Sicily. In any case, perhaps he would not like to tell his father, so far away, that he was ill. After all, William Harris Snr., back in Norton Street, London, would wait months to receive the letter and then be unable to do much to help his son.

Of the remaining members of William Junr.’s group (two had left before the ascent of Etna), one certainly was ill: Brooks (who I described in an earlier post as the comedy partner) seems to have had bad sea sickness after the crossing from Catania. Thomas Angell and Mr. Atkinson were, however, made of sterner stuff, and had set out to explore Malta. William’s delight in the architectural remains in Sicily had been his reason, he told his father, for remaining alone. In any case, the friends were expecting to reunite, William thought, around the 21 August.

I suppose one of the other reasons why I suspect that all may not have been well with William is the brevity and directness of this letter. In the past, he had written very eloquent descriptions of places he and his friends had visited, and offered opinions on local habits. This letter, however, offers no description of his surroundings, nor of any of the ‘architectural’ (probably archaeological) sites which he visited.

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

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

Instead, the letter focuses on news from home, in London, which he had left more than a year earlier. We have already established that William’s mother did not enjoy the best of health; William considered that his parents’ removal to Peckham (at this time outside of London) would offer ‘cheerful society and a change of air’ which he was sure would be ‘very beneficial’. As well as his parents, William had a sister, Margaret, married to another architect, Thomas. In an earlier missive, he had learned that, for reasons of economy, they were removing from their home in order to let it. Because of this, he opens his letter having enclosed a letter for them, too, since he did not know where they could be reached. Again, the realities of the distance between William and his family, in terms of both time and miles, must have been playing on his mind. It had been 16 weeks prior to his sister’s letter since he had heard any news from ‘Old England’, having had no reply from his previous letter (no. 8, from Rome). Of course, he writes, his father may have replied to Naples, expecting William to be there, but the change in his plans meant at least a two month stay at Gingenti, rather than returning straight to Italy.

In spite of his desire to hear from home, time was obviously pressing: “As post time draws nigh I will now proceed to business and fill up the leisure if any remains afterwards”. This business consisted of a shopping list of materials and supplies, which William asked to be sent out to Sicily. Including pencils (from Brockman and Langdon’s, Bloomsbury), paper and watercolours, William explained that such drawing materials were ‘not to be obtained of even tolerable quality on the Continent’. Aside from these artists’ supplies for his sketching of classical ruins, William also requested that his father send out ‘a 2 feet parallel rule’, recalling that he had left it ‘either in my library table…or in the lower closet of the study’, paper ‘for memorandas’ and, from his brother-in-law Thomas, ‘tracings of the Temple of Theseus at Athens’. Finally, he asked for ‘4 day shirts…as those I have with me are nearly worn out.’ Unlike his friend Brooks, who had insisted on trunks of the latest fashions being sent out to Rome, William seems to largely have made do with that he had taken with him. Architecture and adventure seem to have been a much higher priority, for him, than clothes and supplies!

William's shopping list.

William’s shopping list.

This is the first instance of William requesting a significant amount of material from home, although he had previously mentioned in passing the cost of his travels, particularly his own frugality when living off his father’s allowance. Evidently, William had been able to spend some free time looking at his father’s responses, as he adds:

I now subjoin a list of the bills I have drawn on different bankers as they do not appear to agree with the memoranda you forwarded me

Lady Elizabeth Foster (1787)

Lady Elizabeth Foster (1787), Duchess of Devonshire 1809-1824

Although far from home, William clearly moved in circles of society which spanned the whole of Europe. Having previously visited contacts professional and personal, he asks for a letter of introduction from a mutual friend for the Duchess of Devonshire who was to stay in Rome over the winter. This was Elizabeth Christina Cavendish, who had married the fifth Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, in 1809 and retained the title of Duchess after the succession of his son to the title in 1811. The fifth Duke had been married to the celebrated Georgiana, but Elizabeth had lived with them since 1782, having separated from her husband Lord Foster, mystifying polite society. Elizabeth certainly had two children by the Duke prior to their marriage, and some whispered that she was lover to both the Duke and Duchess. In any case, she developed a love for the continent, even accompanying Georgiana during her exile designed to hide her illegitimate pregnancy from polite society. Following the death of the Duke, Elizabeth moved to Italy and developed an interest in antiquities, even financing the excavation of the Forum for eleven years. It is likely that this interest in classical architecture, and the circles in which she moved, were the main draw for William’s hopes of an introduction, but there must still have been a touch of scandal around this 65-year old widow as well.

The tone of this letter seems, to me, to be one of stocking up, preparing to start work again after a period of inactivity. Rather than tell his father about his exploits, as in previous letters, William is anxious to make sure he has the necessary materials to continue his adventure, but is also eager to hear more from home. He mentions ‘Jane’ once more, whom his father had removed from his house in the previous autumn, noting that he had given her the key to the drawer in which his shirts were kept. Perhaps the answer to this mystery is than Jane was a servant, presumably a long term and respected servant, since William had been sorry to hear of her departure. Thinking of home also led William to think of the horses: a favoured mount, Dick, had undergone an operation in the summer of 1821. ‘Pray let me know if Dick has recovered his lameness’, William writes in his closing paragraph.

William had plenty of recourse to bankers during his trip - including to collect his post!

William had plenty of recourse to bankers during his trip – including to collect his post!

In spite of the time it took to journey around Europe in the early 19th century, it was evidently not an insurmountable exercise – at least not for those with the funds to support it. Postage, bankers and even letters of introduction to the seemingly web-like networks of society brought together like-minded individuals right across the Continent. But even with those modern developments, the distance from home could indeed feel great, and leave the intrepid traveller in danger of isolation. Yet William’s thirst for adventure took him still further in his discoveries – right into one of the biggest antiquarian scandals since the exploits of Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin, at the beginning of the century.

A happy 2015 to you all; perhaps this year will see the closure of William Harris’ adventure!

A busy new year

Another year comes to an end already…I’m not sure where 2014 went, but once again it’s been full of excitement and events for Special Collections & Archives.

Along with our regular lecture series, and the annual teaching of Victorian & Edwardian Theatre history, 2014 witnessed the publication of the first part of a biography of Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, by historian Hugh Gault, based heavily on the scrapbooks held in our collections. Alongside this, and our normal duties, we have been preparing to move all of our collections: next spring, we will be setting up the service in the new Templeman extension. This has really been taking shape over the last few weeks, and we have been lucky enough to pop over to see the new reading room, offices and stores. We can’t wait to be in there, but first there’s just the small matter of moving all of our collections from one end of the building through to the other, over 3 weeks, along one corridor. Look out for more news about this in the new year!

The so-called 'zebra book'; or, an example of the difference a clean makes.

The so-called ‘zebra book’; or, an example of the difference a clean makes.

In preparation for the move, we have been working closely with a stalwart team of 15 volunteers who have been cleaning our rare and special book collections, packaging the fragile bindings and helping with collections care. This means that the books, which take up several hundred metres of shelving, can be carefully moved without risking any damage. On Wednesday 17 December, we had a special volunteers’ event to mark the end of this project, but I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all of this term’s volunteers for their hard work, enthusiasm and commitment, which has enabled us to get over 150 metres of books clean and ready to move.

Also this term, we’ve delivered more than 20 taught sessions and workshops with members of the University community and beyond, including a hugely popular event at the Marlowe Theatre to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. As ever, it’s been great to see people getting so enthusiastic about archives – whether it’s a book signed by Alfred Russell Wallace, acting out the thrilling conclusion of the melodrama Maria Marten or discussing Shakespeare’s Welsh connections.

We’ve had several new members join us the team this year: our new archivist, Ann MacDonald, who is curating the University of Kent Archive, and Rachel Dickinson, Metadata and Special Collections Assistant, who has been cataloguing materials right across the broad spectrum of the collections. You can take a look at Rachel’s thoughts about her experiences getting started in the collections on the blog. Another exciting development has been the appointment of an archivist and a digitisation assistant to the nascent British Stand Up Comedy Archive for a year; again, more news to follow in 2015! Finally, stalwart member of the British Cartoon Archives Team Jane Newton has gone part time, so we now have Joy Thomas working as the other half of the post of Special Collections & Archives Curator.

So as we look forward into 2015, we know there will be some major changes and a considerable amount to organise. But we’re looking forward to settling into our new spaces and continuing to work with researchers to discover rare and exciting materials in the unique Special Collections & Archives here at the University of Kent.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas and a happy 2015!

Beyond the trenches

On 11 November 2014, Armistice Day, Special Collections & Archives was involved in an outreach event which explored the themes of the First World War through the theatre of the time, going beyond the trenches to discover how theatre can tell us more about the past. Starting off with the sources (as we always do), we then had a great opportunity to explore the theory and get to see some World War One plays of various kinds. This event was a new and exciting opportunity for us to talk to researchers, from school age to retirees, interested in all kinds of disciplines.

The event’s leader, Dr. Helen Brooks, tells us more:

“It is easy to get bogged down (excuse the pun) in the Battles of Trench Warfare, but now I see that plays of the time are an insight into the culture of the time, which to me is equally as important in understanding the reasoning behind the Great War. This new insight has opened up a whole new perspective”.

Lindsay Kennett, who wrote these words in an email to me last week, was just one of the 30 plus participants who took part in our public study day on First World War theatre, on Tuesday, 11 November at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury. The aim of the day was to raise public awareness about how looking at theatre can shed new light on ideas about, and responses to the war: for Lindsay and the many other participants who echoed her sentiments in their feedback, it was clearly a great success.

SONY DSC Over the course of the day we got stuck into a diverse range of activities, all of which were facilitated ably by a team of fantastic student, and ex-student helpers from the Drama Department in the School of Arts – Rebecca O’Brien, Rebecca Sharp, Kinga Krol, and Charlotte Merrikin. Beginning with a brilliant workshop run by Jane Gallagher, from Special Collections at the Templeman, participants had a chance to get ‘hands on’ with sources from Special Collection’s archives (including newspaper clippings, scripts, programs and playbills) and to interrogate them in order to answer questions such as ‘how did the theatre “do its bit” for the war effort?’, SONY DSC‘what impact did the war have on the theatre industry?’, ‘in what different ways was the theme of war treated in performance?’, and ‘how did audiences change during the war?’. This last question then led us into Professor Viv Gardner’s (University of Manchester) stimulating talk about audiences during the war. Reminding us that audiences were made up of diverse groups and that their responses changed depending on the context of the performance, Viv also drew on some moving stories about individual spectators which brought to life the experience of theatre-going during the war.

After a delicious lunch, courtesy of the Marlowe, and an opportunity to chat to each other about our diverse interests and backgrounds (participants included students from the Langtons schools, members of the Western Front Association, and local historians, to name but a few) the afternoon began with rehearsed readings of three First World War one-act plays: The Devil’s Business by J. Fenner Brockway (1914); God’s Outcasts by J. Hartley Manners (1919); andSONY DSC A Well Remembered Voice by J.M. Barrie (1918). It was quite something to see these plays brought to life, the first two quite probably for the first time ever. The actors, including three current Drama students, Zach Wilson (PhD) , Alexander Sullivan, and Louise Hoare, all did an excellent job, especially as the plays were quite distinct in tone and style, and as the actors had only had two and a half days rehearsal in total. After a stimulating discussion about the plays, with some excellent insights from audience members, the day was then rounded off nicely with a thoughtful talk by Dr Andrew Maunder (Reader at University of Hertfordshire) about his own experience of staging ‘lost’ WW1 plays, and in particular A Well Remembered Voice.

This wasn’t the end though! After just a few hours break – during which it was exciting to see our pop-up exhibition on WW1 theatre in the Foyer attracting a lot of attention from audiences waiting to see the RSC – many of us were back at the Marlowe for the evening rehearsed readings. It was great to see an almost entirely SONY DSCnew audience for this. As well as a number of Kent students people came from as far as Dover to join us for this exciting performance. Three of the one-act plays we shared were the same as in the afternoon (although the performances were quite different in energy, something the actors reflected on in the questions afterwards) and we also added an unpublished short play about the Belgian experience during the war entitled There was a King in Flanders (1915) by John G. Brandon. With these four pieces we therefore covered not only the chronological breadth of the war but also a number of different responses to this world event. From The Devil’s Business (1914), a biting satire on the arms trade and its place in fuelling conflict, which was banned in London during the war; to There was a King in Flanders (1915) with its focus on a dying Belgian soldier; and finally to God’s Outcasts (1919) and A Well Remembered Voice (1918) both of which offer sharply different responses towards grief, the plays as a whole offered new insights into the diverse ways in which theatre treated the war between 1914 and 1918. And with insightful comments and an enthusiastic response from the audience, it seems there’s certainly potential to hold similar events in the future.

SONY DSC If you’d like to find out more about Theatre of the First World War, contact Dr Helen Brooks at h.e.m.brooks@kent.ac.uk. Our pop-up exhibition on Theatre of the First World War is available for free loan to theatres, schools and other public institutions. If you would like to host this exhibition simply get in touch with gateways@kent.ac.uk. There is no charge for hosting or delivery.

This study day was one of a series of events being run by Gateways to the First World War, an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded centre for public engagement with the First World War. To find out more about Gateways and how we can help you with activities, advice and expertise, visit www.gatewaysfww.org.uk.

With thanks to Leila Sangtabi for provision of photographs.

Explore your archives!

As you may have noticed from the buzz on Twitter, and the freebies in the Templeman, this week is the national Explore Your Archives week, when archives across the country put on events and invite everyone to share in the mystery and excitement of their local archives. Here at Kent, we’re running a few events and we’re putting some of the collections on display to give you a taster of the types of materials that you can explore right here on campus.explore-campaign_identityFrom panto to politics, windmills to world war one and Templeman history to tiny Bibles, the University’s Special Collections and Archives includes a wide range of rare, unique and historical materials.

You might know that we hold the British Cartoon Archive, the national collection of political cartooning which is updated every day with more artwork direct from the cartoonist.

Dion Boucicault's Deed BoxYou might have heard that we hold the archives of the University, from charters and paperwork, to student magazines and early film reels.

Perhaps you’ve heard of our wind and watermill collections, which give excellent examples of early photography in different media.

Maybe you know about the theatre and performance archives, spanning Victorian and Edwardian popular theatre and now breaking into the later twentieth century.

Even if you know about all this, chances are there are still many aspects of the wide collections for you to discover.

Did you know about our ‘ancient’ Greek vase? Or the prize which Stalin gave to a Dean of Canterbury Cathedral? Why are there doors archived as part of the Cartoon collection?

Come along to the drop in sessions this Friday, from 3-4.30pm in TR201 of the Templeman Library to learn more about the collections and to start your own investigations!

And take a look at the array of display cases in the Templeman’s Welcome Hall – just a few pieces from our exciting collections to whet the appetite!

To find out more about what’s happening nationally, check exploreyourarchive.org.

A Thoroughly Modern Man: digital exhibition

Wood in 1911 from 'Thrift'.

Wood in 1911 from ‘Thrift’.

I’m delighted to announce that a digital version of our exhibition about Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, A Thoroughly Modern Man? (1881-1924) is now live. To learn more about Wood’s early life and work, check out the Special Collections & Archives exhibition webpages.

A Thoroughly Modern Man? was our last physical exhibition in the level 1 gallery space and ran for six weeks earlier this summer. This coincided with the publication of the first part of historian Hugh Gault’s biography of Wood, Making the Heavens Hum: Kingsley Wood and the Art of the Possible, which has been significantly supported by Wood’s scrapbooks, held in Special Collections & Archives.

A Methodist, lawyer and politician, Wood had a keen eye for detail and a strong sense of moral duty. This led him to champion causes of health and insurance for the less well-off in society. His times also coincided with radical change, including the First World War, the first enfranchisement of women and the increase in state support. Wood himself was a key player in the implementation of National Insurance, and proposed the Ministry of Health in 1918.

With concerns about European relations, levels state support, the reputation of politicians and the status of Ireland, many of the issues which Wood and the Coalition government dealt with are familiar to us today. The exhibition considered this earlier portion of his life to ask whether Wood was, in fact, a modern man, despite working almost 100 years ago.

You can explore the exhibition through tabs on the website above and follow the blog tags for more posts about Wood. If you would like to know more about Wood’s scrapbooks, please take a look at our Collection pages.