Going on a Summer Holiday? 9.2: in the shadow of the mountain

In the last post, I split William’s letter from Syracuse in two, since he (and I) had spent so much time talking about the delights of Taormina and the ‘original characters’ he discovered en route. As I mentioned, there was more than a little daredevil in these Georgian travellers, and the rest of William’s ninth letter is taken up with his ascent of Mount Etna. It seems this was one of the things which intrepid travellers tended to do at this period, but William has such an evocative writing stlye, I thought it would be a shame to cut the post short.

The shadow of Etna, stretching along in two distant lines meeting in a point might be plainly traced in the tranquil bosom of the ocean and slowly and majestically erecting itself in air, appeared embodied on the vapours and clouds suspended between earth and heaven, as the glorious luminary sank into the horizon.

Illustration of 'Etna Chestnut trees'

Illustration of ‘Etna Chestnut Trees’ from ‘Picturesque Europe’, p.200

As I mentioned last time, William had a journal with him, the entries from which he transcribed in his letter to his father – which we have in our collection. It’s unusual in that it offers a rather blow-by-blow account of the trip, including the specific dates. So we know that the group set off on 31st May 1822 at noon, having left Taormina for Nicolosi the day before. At this point, the group passed through a rather desolate area beneath a clear sky; finding that the sparse trees had been rather mutilated and were not particularly ‘fine’. Comparing the mountainside to the ‘Cultivated Regions’ lower down, which William had been singularly unimpressed with, he now considered those wooded regions ‘a paradise’. After meeting the obligitary mountain goats and being entertained with music from their herder, the group continued on:

The ascent gradually became more rapid and the keenness of the air became more sensible. Continuing our way through a country – perhaps ages long past smiling and fertile but now the empire of gloom and desolation, we finally lost all trace of vegetation and found ourselves every moment envelopped in the mist and clouds, which hastily swept along the sterile surface until they attained the loftiest ridgeof Etna, when they were instantly hurled away by a stronger and continuing wind to the mountain plains below, to commence another attempt equally futile to pass the forbidden ridge. The summit of the mountain (the grand crater) was occasionally visible through the clouds crossing each other in various directions. It was casting forth huge volumes of thick white sulphureous smoke.

Not to be put off by the obvious danger, nor the sudden cold and snow, the group went on to the ‘Casa Inglese’, a small house constructed, apparently, by a subscription of British officers in 1811. One can only assume that the ascent of Mount Etna was part of the package tour even in the early 19th century! Compared with today, however, the accomodation was basic:

It contains 3 chambers, the door opening into the centre room. Here the floor was covered with thick ice and in a closet was a mass of frozen snow at least 3 feet in height. We were lodged in one of the side rooms which had been divested of such benumbing companions and found a good charcoal fire which our avant-courier had prepared.

Leaving a man to prepare their dinner, William and his friends then went walkabout, to see the sunset and also marvel at the mysterious ‘Philosopher’s Tower’;

Some suppose it to have been erected for the reception of the Emperor Hadrian, when he visited this mountain; others imagine it to have been the mausoleum of some capricious being who wished his remains to be deposited in a place far remote from the haunts of man, but nothing is known with certainty.

Extract from Stockdale's 'Geography'

Extract from Stockdale’s ‘Geography’, published in 1800 and perhaps an inspiration for William’s travels.

On their walk, it became clear how recently eruptions had been taking place; craters from the 1669 eruption were visible near Nicolosi, while the route to the Case Inglese was marked by a stream of lava from 1787, less than 50 years prior to William’s visit. The effect of the white snow alongside this ‘rich brown hue’ offered ‘a scene at once grand and perfectly novel’. The last eruption prior to their visit, it seems, was in 1819, but the dangers clearly did not concern the travellers as they enjoyed the scenery:

That side of the crater towards the Casa Inglese has two horns or points with a deep valley between them running down the side of the crater and partly filled with snow. In our lofty position we were the last human beings to whom the sun lent his rays in the same longitude and we were deprived of them a considerable time before they bad a short adieu to the towering pinnacles above. The shades of evening gradually stole along the plains till every remote object became indistinct. The clear silver moon shone in silent majesty and seemed to give token “of a goodly day to-morrow”. The air now became so piercingly cold, that we were glad to take shelter and close around our fire.

After a brief meal, and after the mules had been sent to the lower ground (to be watched over, presumably, by local guides), William and his friends tried to sleep. Using their saddles as pillows and wrapping themselves in their cloaks, in spite of all their adventuring spirit, did not work well. In any case, they rose at daybreak on the 1st June but found thick clouds swarming around the summit, so were unable to start the climb until 6am. In fact, William seems to have felt it rather less of a struggle than he had anticipated; ‘deceived by various exaggerated accounts we imagined it to be an Herculean task’, so losing the good weather they might have enjoyed had they begun the previous evening.

It took around an hour for the band of intrepid travellers to reach the summit, which was covered in thick smoke, with the cloud having rolled back in so that they ‘could distinguish only a few yards around us’. Reaching the ‘ne plus ultra’ seemed rather an anti-climx:

…thick vapourous smoke from every part which has so suffocating an effect that I scarcely hoped to be enabled to remain a single minute but on changing my position and thus getting to windward of it, the difficulty of breathing immediately left me. In some parts the ground was so hot under our feet it was impossible to remain there long. The sulphurous vapours were so dense and copious in the water, we could merely discern it had a rapid declination and judge of the distance by listening to the protracted noise occasioned by masses of stone rolled into it by the guide.

Of course, being men of the Enlightenment, it was not just the views which they had come to see. At the height of the volcano, they noticed a ‘varied grandeur of effects’, including the speed with which the clouds passed by, wrapping the little band in thick fog, unable to see one another while the land below was drenched in sunlight. From the summit, it also seemed as though the ocean ‘appeared to rise to our own level’.

We here observed a very curious effect produced by the sun beams, when now and then they shone through the clouds. Our shadows were cast on the vapours of the water and each of us saw his own enriched by a faint Iris of the hues of the rainbow and eccentric rays darting from it. We had observed a similar effect, but no Iris, from the shadow of the mountain on the vapours of the preceding evening, that is to say the eccentric rays alone.

1930s postcard of Mount Etna

1930s postcard of Mount Etna, on which the volcano is described as “past all desription – BEAUTIFUL – early in the morning – with a blue sky & almond blossom”. From the Hewlett Johnson Collection.

After two hours in the thin air and cold, the band descended to reach the Casa Inglese in half an hour, but were far from finished with the mountain. They decided to return to Nicolosi via the Valle di Bove so that they could see ‘the celebrated Chestnut of a Hundred Horse’ – the oldest known chestnut tree in the world. The cloud remained heavy during the descent, when they found themselves walking over the remains of two earlier eruptions – 1811 and two month long eruption of 1819, which had destroyed a significant portion of farmland. This area, William wrote, was ‘covered with ashes and wrapt in silence’, with the going hard, each footstep sinking them ‘a foot deep’ – ascent via this route was impossible, but the sights seem to have been worth the struggle. They passed a stream of lava from the latest eruption which were still smoking with sulphur. A little further on, the group paused to admire the view (and no doubt to get their collective breath back), but the guide warned them:

not to loiter on – as the masses of strata are apt to detach themselves and roll into the narrow valley below

After four hours, they came in sight of their goal, and another hour brought them to the Chestnut of a Hundred Horse – an impressive but apparently not entirely impressing sight.

It consists of 5 distinct trunks all very much decayed…but however one might be inclined to believe these several huge masses to have been formerly united (each…forms a noble tree) it required a greater degree of reliance on the tradition than we could summon…to feel convinced of such an apparent impossibility.

In spite of William and his companions doubting, the several thousand years’ old tree is apparently still connected to a single root system below ground, even though the trunks are now seperated above ground.

After their ‘day of contrasts’, William and his friends found lodgings in a nearby village for a well-earned rest, although they discovered their host ‘a profligate steward of our purses’ after presenting the extravagant bill. On returning to Nicolosi, their host was delighted to hear of their exploits and advised them that ‘our excursion…had never been undertaken by foreigners in his recollection’. From Nicolosi, the group journeyed on the Catania, then to Syracuse, where William and fellow architect Thomas Angell went back to their favourite task of measuring, this time the local Temple of Minerva and an ancient Greek theatre.

Illustration of 'Syracuse, from the Greek Theatre'

Illustration of ‘Syracuse, from the Greek Theatre’ from ‘Picturesque Europe’.

William closes his letter with an assurance that his expenses fall well within his allowance, and a plea for news from ‘Old England’. One of their number, Mr Butts, had returned to England earlier and William asked for news of his friends to be passed on, recalling their trip across the Mer de Glace at Chamonix and commenting that climbing Etna had been much easier. Perhaps he had become used to the excitement and hardship of travel, after a year roaming the Continent. From Syracuse, William and his friends journeyed on across Sicily, looking for adventure. I suspect that what they found was not what any of them were expecting… But that’s a tale for another time, and with three letters still left in this series, hopefully I’ll finish the story before it’s actually taken the length of William’s long trip!

Going on a summer holiday? 9.1: what William did next

The last time I posted on this topic, I’ve discovered, was back in April last year. It’s been more than a year now, and I do feel that I have neglected poor old William Harris, having left him in Rome at the Carnival of 1822. That’s not to say that my Wm Harris Syracuse d sealenthusiasm for discovering more about his journey has diminished; in fact, the other day I was idly glancing through a holiday brochure and saw a package tour around Sicily, covering Mount Etna, Palermo, Siracusa and Taormina and got a bit over excited. No, this isn’t my planned holiday for this year (not at that price!) but this does follow the journey which William and his friends took nearly 200 years ago. In fact, it looks like William was part of the team which undertook some of the earliest work on these now very popular tourist destinations.

For anyone who is new to this series, some time ago (longer than I care to admit) one of our volunteers discovered some correspondence in an uncatalogued tin box which turned out to be letters written by one William Harris Junr. to his father, in Norton Place, during the 1820s. William (the younger) was an architect who had set off around Europe to discover the classical knowledge which was key to his profession, and undertook something of what we’d now call the role of art historian and archaeologist during his trip.Having crossed from Dover to Calais, taken in Paris, Geneva and the towns of northern Italy, William and his friends reached Rome in the autumn of 1821. From there, because of the ongoing wars in Greece, they set out for Sicily, where the journey eventually reached its thrilling conclusion.

If you’re new to this series, do take a look back at the other posts; if you’ve been following the story so far, I do hope that the long delay in this installment hasn’t put you off!

An image of William's letter

William’s letter from Syracuse

While the tourist brochure I was looking at provides much the same route as William took, the early nineteenth century experience of such tourism was rather different to our own. For one thing, the roads were more dangerous; our little group of travellers has already experienced the threat of robbery and kidnap, storms in the mountains and the threat of pestilence at Livorno. In addition, whether it’s particularly true of this group, or whether this applies more widely to travllers at this time, there seems to have been a fasination with getting close to danger. I’ve already related how William descended into a crater, tied to a piece of rope, but found that the heat of the (volcanic) earth scorched through his thick bootsoles in a few minutes. I imagine that, given the dangers inherent in travel, there had to be an element of the daredevil in you to set out on these journeys at all. This letter proves no exception: in June 1822, William and his friends decided to climb Mount Etna.

The missive is one of the longest in the series – not overwritten but put down in tiny handwritng on a large, unfolder sheet. Perhaps this was some of his drawing paper, requisitioned for the purpose, but in any case, for the sake of sanity, I’m going to have to split this letter into two. So, before they got as far as Etna, he and his friends took in the sights of Taormina, learned about local history and ran afoul of a Superior-General’s election.

Of course, being drawn to danger did not necesarilly mean embracing discomfort: William found the lack of roads in Sicily deplorable, claiming that this was a detriment to ‘commerce and improvments of almost every kind’. Apparently, the English had earlier tried to build roads on the island, but their imposition of tolls on the populartion failed, since ‘the toll houses were destroyed in the night’. Since the roads couldn’t support a carriage of any kind, William noted the use of a ‘settiga’ in the locality, which he described as ‘a whimsical sort of horse-sedan…. It resembles somewhat the form of a “Vis-à-vis”…but in the style of a …hackney coach.’ This rather confusing description leads to all kinds of stretching of the imagination, but does show how alien William and his friends found the customs of this country which we now consider only a couple of hours’ distant.

William describes the 'vis-a-vis' contraption

William describes the ‘vis-a-vis’ contraption

Despite the intrigue of the settiga, donkeys were the made method of conveyance for the small band of architects as they set out from Messina on foot. At Palermo, the small group was joined by a Mr. Atkinson, ‘a well informed and agreeable man, about 30’. This gentleman had studied law, but had given up the profession and spent the previous four years travelling the Continent. As you may recall, the rest of William’s travelling companions were all architects (which has led me to wonder whether Europe was awash with young English architects at this point, or whether they just travelled in packs), but Atkinson need not have felt left out. William explains that Atkinson had spent the time travelling with two architects, friends of Thomas Angell, who had joined the group in Paris. The longest serving member of the group, besides William, seems to have been something of the comedy partner. Mr. Brooks arrived late in Dover, so that William considered leaving without him, insisted having packing cases of fashionable clothes sent out from England and appears to have let William add notes to his own letters to assure his family that he was safe. This trek from Messina to Taormina proved no different:

Brooks – who likes to get through the world easily – mounted a donkey at the end of the first 12 miles

The rest of the group, however, continued on foot, reaching Taormina only to discover that their timing had been somewhat unfortunate. While they had hoped to stay at the Benedictine Convent, they found that ‘the place was so full of priests’; 300, in face, who had assembled for the election of a Superior-general. Having reached their goal, the travellers were determined to make the best of it, and lodged at ‘a dirty inferior ‘Locanda’…into a room so filthy that after the first night we determined on sleeping at a tolerable inn 2 miles off and close to the sea shore’. This extra distance appears to have paid off, at least in terms of comfort, but did mean that the architects had to start the ascent to Taormina’s Greek ampitheatre before sunrise, to avoid the ‘fatigue of 2 miles of steep ascent’.

Once a part of the kingdom of Syracuse, the settlement of Taormina was well established by the time the Romans arrived in the third century BC. The town provided plenty ‘antiquities’, and was already popular with antiquarians when William and his friends visited. The theatre proved a point of particular interest for William;

The situation of this theatre is magnificent; placed on the ridge of a fine chain of mountains which run out to the sea, it commands scenery of the grandest description… Angell and myself…determined on measuring it – it proved a work of tedious duration from the difficulty of attaining dimensions, being much ruined

A modern view of the theatre at Taormina

A modern view of the theatre at Taormina

Of the other antiquities in the town, William proved less enamoured, adding that they were ‘generally much dilapidated.’ Perhaps the same could be said of the official to whom they were introduced in Taormina; ‘we immediately found he was an original character’, since he quickly showed them a bundle of materials he was looking to publish when he learned about the reason for their visit. They had further evidence of his status as ‘an original character’ that evening:

he gave us an invitation to attend his public lecture in the ancient Greek theatre in the evening. Several of his friends were present and a young man read aloud his chapter on that monument of antiquity which he interrupted “ever and anon” by his own personal explanations, given with great emphasis and in a strong nasal tone.

On 30 May, the group left Taormina for Nicolasai, where they found the widespread use of lava in buildings and the burnt soil made the place ‘sombre and uninviting’. The better sort of buildings met with more approval from the architects:

the cornices are of black lava and the walls covered with white plaster, a most singular contrast; one may almost call it architecture in mourning.

From there, they learned that a local physician and professor was in the habit of putting up travellers intent on climbing the mountain and, in spite of a rather English mix up over a lack of letters of introduction, William and his friends were welcomed to rest before their ascent the following day. Here, his letter breaks off to explain to his father that he will transcibe directly from his notebook – if this is the case, then he has a wonderful turn of phrase even when busy climbing a mountain!

William’s narrative is so illuminating and detailed that I think it’s best to leave this until another post – or else you’ll be here for another hour at least. But I promise I’ll do better, this time, to finish the tale in good time so that we can take in the last few stops on William’s journey at a leisurely pace. One thing you can be sure of – it won’t be a dull holiday, and there are probably more ‘original characters’ to come!

 

‘Nothing Changes, Nothing Ever Will’

While volunteering at the University of Kent’s special collections, I was cataloguing the C. P. Davies Collection of Mill Memorabilia and the collection threw up many surprises. One, which I was not prepared for was how some of the documents were earlier versions of things that we often think of as exclusively modern. By modern I mean post-war. However, it was genuinely surprising to see a personalised pencil from the late 19th century, recorded post, a picture from a sport’s work day, letters about everyday life as a tenant and the fascination with family history. These things, I believed, were quite modern creations (especially the personalized pencil) but by finding them in this 19th/ early 20th century collection, it made think how different are we really to people of just over 100 years ago? How different are our priorities, our cares, our worries? Obviously, we are so unlike in many ways: technology, general attitudes, work, shopping… There are so many developments to name! However, sometimes, we get a glimpse into how similar we are to past generations. A chance to take people from the past and make them more than just a memory, but empathise and understand their world that little bit more. It is this idea that makes me love history. I have called this piece after a lyric in Les Misérables as I thought that not only does it show the closeness between ourselves and a past generation, but also I hope that people in the future will be able to look back at us and seem the similarities of our everyday life to theirs.

Dover Mills, Box 1, Item 75

The first and perhaps one of my favourite items in the collection is this personalised pencil of the owner of Buckland Mill, Edward Mannering. I remember having personalised pencils (both drawing and colouring) when I was younger and I suppose that I had always thought of these as an invention on the post war era. But to find one which could be traced to the late 19th early 20th century was a pleasant surprise. I loved the little flourished design either sides of his name. Moreover, you can see where the owner has sharpened the pencil with a knife. Perhaps the owner stopped in order to preserve the name and thus shows us the care people could have for their belongings, just as we have today.

Dover Mills, Box 1, Item 21
Dover Mills, Box 1, Item 21

This next photo I found fascinating because it gave a face to the ordinary men that worked in the Mannering Mill’s in 1908. A chance to see the faces of those from less well-off backgrounds in history is rare until the development and spread of the camera. This looks like a type of sports day as you can see that the spectators in the backgrounds have a rope to separate them from what could be the track. These men, stood all in flour sacks could have been taking part in a sack race. There is no hint as to whether these men worked in the mill but it could be a safe conclusion to draw. It is also unclear as to whether the mill owners would have organised this type of sports day or whether it was a general community day for all those close to the Dover mills. But again like the pencil, I had long thought that this idea of a community/work sports day was a modern invention, like dress down Fridays. However, this picture sparks many questions and ideas as to how Edwardian communities would come together, what they would do and why? It is a nostalgic ideal of a community all coming together and one of the few things in this blog that I found has unfortunately depleted throughout the years.

Dover Mills, Box 1, Item 36D
Dover Mills, Box 1, Item 36D

The recent upsurge in the interest in family history has been shown with the many adverts for genealogy history by sites like Ancestory.com. The idea of researching and presenting you past is not new (Noblemen of the Middle Ages would have wanted to show off their illustrious family tree). But some historians have criticised the idea of ordinary people collecting their family history as not really helpful for the bigger study of history – but some highlight the chance for new angles of research[1].  However, by having this research done on the Pilcher family, we have a lot of background information as to who owned various mills in Kent and their life story. Niche areas of history are becoming ever more popular and it is this type of research that is invaluable to people interested in the topic.  Moreover, the ability to trace a family from 1598 to 1952 can help in so many other regions of history. So I included this document because of its vast usefulness as a source but also to show the enduring appeal of genealogy and the continuing importance, despite some historians protests, of its use to general history.

Dover Mills, Box 1, Item 36 E

Dover Mills, Box 1, Item 36 E

Chegworth Mill,Box 2, Item 31T

Chegworth Mill,Box 2, Item 31T

The postal service has been an important part of the country for many generations and although we all have our modern gripes with the system,we still rely on it regularly to transport our letters and parcels. But for special items, we would usually get a recorded delivery so as to ensure the safe deliverance of the item. Like many, I presumed that it was only in recent years, as the country expanded and long distant relationships became more normal, did the invention of recorded post come about. But my opinion was soon changed when I perceived this ‘certificate of posting of an insured parcel’ with in the C. P. Davies Collection. I loved seeing all of the terms and conditions on the back of the note explain who was responsible for what and what would be done in case of loss or damage (and to be honest, the terms and conditions are a step that we all skip over from time to time). However, unlike today’s jargon-busting maze of terms, the sheer simplicity and openness of the regulations was something that I wish had continued from this period!

Chegworth Mills, Box 2, Item 31T

Chegworth Mills, Box 2, Item 31T

What this small slip of paper also reveals to us is that people must have cared about what they were sending and, similar to the pencil, the attachment we see to object is much like our own. Moreover, the want to ensure that something personal or important has arrived at its destination is the exact same mind-set that we have today, whether it be a birthday cheque or a return for student finance! Thus, I included this small note because of the charm I found in the regulations but furthermore, because I could identify why we would want certain things we post to be protected.

Chegworth Mill, Box 2, Item 20Y
Chegworth Mill, Box 2, Item 20Y

The next item I chose was because of its simple ability of letting us see someone’s everyday life from the earl part of the 20th century. The letters from Mrs Martin to her landlord, Mr Mannering, were among my favourite documents in the collection and reading them always put a smile on my face. From her letter, I could really paint a picture in my mind’s eye of this lady and what she was like (all from the expression of her words, the tone, and the phrases that she uses in the letters). The first picture is the end part of a letter in which she questions the rise in her rent (although in other letters, despite her protests, she does seem to have shortcoming with regards to the rent). What I found interesting was the final sentence of: “I never have anything done inside my house but the next house can have anything done they wish”. To me, not only is there a bitter jealous tone, but I sense

Chegworth Mill, Box 2, Item 7

Chegworth Mill, Box 2, Item 7

that there is a massive hint that she would like improvements done to her house, but she does not wish to out rightly say. I could empathise with this as I started to think that we all, at some point, out of politeness try to ask or hint at things that we would like in an indirect way. The next letter I picked out follows this trend of wishing for work to be done, but has less of the jealous tone, more of the ‘woe-is-me’ feel about the letter. She starts off asking for some new tiles on the roof as it is “cold and drafty” but this then snowballs into the idea that it lets “cats and rats” into her scullery. Furthermore, it has resulted in the rotting away of the woodwork of her window as ”you can pick the frame away with your fingers” (which to me suggests that she has been occupied with this problem for some time). Finally she concludes by saying that “the old place is very bad it really wants a little repairing”. The endless list of issues with the house that all seem to stem from one another gives a sense of hyperbole which made me smile while reading it. The problems she had can be so easily transferable onto our modern world, that we can really see the startling similarities to our modern reliance on councils or landlords to help fix and maintain our houses.

Chegworth Mills, Box 2, Item 7

Chegworth Mills, Box 2, Item 7

In conclusion, I hope you have enjoyed looking at some of the unique and interesting items that I found within the C. P. Davies Collection and that, just as they have done for me, they have shown you how many similarities we still have with the past (despite the general consensus that we have changed and that we are so different from our ancestors 100 years ago). These little items can reveal to us so much about everyday life, a topic which is only just being revealed to us in the past few decades. Some may not see a past generation’s everyday life as particularly exciting or interesting compared with big events like the Reformation or World War One; however these are big events that radically changed society (hence why we all have this perception of drastic change). It was nice to discover these artefacts and documents and see that, below the surface, the themes and attitudes to everyday life such as community, care of belongings, up keep of a house etc. can be seen as relatively the same as over a century ago. Of course there are some small differences between us (a shown in some of these documents) however, as the title suggests, our basic cares and worries in the world, regardless of the mass changes that happen, seem to always continue on a steady course.

By Charlotte Daynton

 

Please comment below with your thoughts on the items featured or if you have any more information about the materials covered.


[1] Tim Brennan, ‘History, Family, History.’, in Hilda Kean, Paul Martin and Sally J.Morgan (eds.), Seeing History: Public History in Britain Now, (London: Francis Boutle Publishers, 2000), p.44.

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).

Oranges, sensation and the Lyceum theatre: student exhibition

On Monday evening, we had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate a term’s worth of students’ hard work, intensive research and in depth study on some of our archival materials.

posterAll term, second year students from the Drama department, taking the British Theatre History: Victorian & Edwardian module, have been enjoying enhanced access to some of our unique and rare Theatre Archives. This access has involved two hours of teaching with the collections each week, and the opportunity to explore and research a topic of their choice independently. Their work has culminated in an exhibition curated entirely by the students, in groups, presenting their research and the materials which they have used. It’s been wonderful to see people get so inspired and enthusiastic about the materials which we’re lucky enough to hold.

Students with their orange poll

Students with their orange poll

This year, we’ve had some very innovative ideas presented, including a walk-along timeline, a reconstruction of the sensation scene from ‘After Dark’ (on a miniature scale) and an orange poll about the real orange women in the theatre. The topics covered include sensation on stage, women in the theatre, pantomime costume and characters, damsels in distress, the Lyceum Theatre and pictorialism and Charles Kean. As ever, the students’ work has been illuminating and has shown just how creatively archival materials can be used.

 ‘Very good, the costume was amazing’

The students arranged the launch, refreshments and all!

The students also arranged the launch, refreshments and all!

On Monday, we celebrated all this hard work with the launch of the exhibition, which was attended by a wide range of people who left great feedback. The students have, I think, been amazed by what they have achieved and delighted with the responses – and here in Special Collections, we’re very proud of their success!

‘Excellent work by all and very well presented’

This is the fourth year which this module has been run in conjunction with Special Collections. Each year has brought up some new success and, we hope, inspired some new theatre historians into archival work. It’s also become something of an annual tradition, and we’re delighted that this work has now become firmly embedded in the academic year. The pressure is on for our 5th anniversary next year!

‘A wonderful worth-while event and I loved the sequence of exhibits’

The exhibition will run until 8 May, in the Templeman Gallery, during library opening hours. Please do pop in to have a look, and let us know what you think!