An Historical visit

Just so that you know, tomorrow, Thursday 9 May, Special Collections will be hosting a visit of the local Canterbury branch of the Historical Association, to show off some of our local history – and some of our just exciting – materials. This means that the reading room will be closed from 1pm tomorrow in order to set up.

The visit will take place from 5-6pm; if you are interested in coming to see what sort of materials we have, please do feel free to drop in.

Even better, we are delighted to be hosting the Historical Association’s lecture at 7pm on the 9th May, which will be given by Dr Sally Dixon-Smith, Curator of the Tower of London, on Royal Beasts: the menagerie at the Tower of London. This will be held in TR201, on level 2 of the Templeman Library. All are welcome to attend; admission is free for students and HA members, all others are asked for a contribution of £3.

Loving Lyly: talk on 25 Feb

We may have gone a little quiet about our annual Special Collections & Archives and Cathedral Library lecture series, but rest assured, we have been thinking on it!

The second lecture of the series will be given by UoK’s very own Dr. Andy Kesson, who is also a guest lecturer at Shakespeare’s Globe. Andy’s research focusses upon literature, performance and cultural theory, particularly in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. He will be talking about one of Canterbury’s early modern playwrights, in a lecture entitled:

Loving Lyly; or, why does Canterbury not celebrate its most successful writer, John Lyly?

The talk will take place on Monday 25 February in the AV Suite at the Cathedral Lodge, within Canterbury Cathedral precincts. Refreshments will be available from 6pm, and the talk will start at 6.30. All are very welcome to join us, from within the University or as a member of the public.

The first lecture in our 2012/2013 season was given in November by Dr James Baker, who spoke about his research into the literary creation of Dr Syntax by Thomas Rowlandson and George Coombe. The British Cartoon Archive has recently acquired a major collection relating to this nineteenth century cultural icon. If you haven’t been able to see our Dr. Syntax exhibition yet, do come up to the Templeman Library Gallery before the 18 March to take a look.

The third and final lecture in this season will be delivered by Dr. Helen Brooks, who will be using the University’s extensive theatre collections to investigate Theatres of War, prior to the start of major research coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

We do hope to see you there.

Enthusing archives

I thought I would let you all know that the new Special Collections and Archives Lecture Series was launched with great enthusiasm last night. Thanks to everyone who came along and enjoyed the lively talk – we were thrilled to see so many of you there.

Hewlett Johnson c. 1900

Hewlett Johnson at University in Oxford, c.1900

John Butler talked about his experience of using the Hewlett Johnson Papers to write his book The Red Dean: the public and private faces of Hewlett Johnson. It was intriguing to learn about his ‘three star’ (with exclamation marks for extra special items) system which he used to identify key items while trawling through this vast archive when it was still in the very early stages of organisation. I think that Johnson himself would have been proud of John’s oration, particularly his recreation of Hewlett’s Maddison Square Gardens speech as he read out Alistair Cooke’s first Letter from America. John also outlined his contact with a Russian academic, Ludmilla Stern, who has been instrumental in bringing invaluable information about the shadowy Soviet organisation VOKS to Western researchers and his use of the National Archives to explore Johnson’s MI5 files. We are hugely grateful to John for taking on this daunting task of opening the new lecture series and hope that all of the rest of our lectures will be as enthusiastic and interesting.

The exhibition, Canterbury at War: the Red Dean’s life and times 1939-1945, is now open in the Library Gallery space (left through the cafe in the Templeman Library, just outside the British Cartoon Archive). It will be running until January 31st during normal library opening hours and has already we’ve has some really positive feedback. Please do take the opportunity to have a look and let us know what you think.

It has been a challenge to set up the lecture series and the exhibition, but it’s been well worth the effort. Several thanks are due; firstly to Chris and Hazel for all of their hard work on the exhibition itself and to Nick and Jane of the Cartoon Archive for all of their advice and assistance with putting the exhibition up. Fran Williams and Angela Groth-Seary from IS Publishing have given us a huge amount of support in the printing and mounting of the display and also produced the publicity. Robin Armstrong-Viner and Karen Brayshaw were very willing volunteers on the night and we’d like to thank them for all of their help.

So, what next? Well, aside from the usual, we’re not finished with Johnson yet, as we plan to make the exhibition website live by Christmas – I’ll let you know how we get on with this. And, of course, there are two more lectures to go: Magic toads and twitching frogs: two natural history books from the seventeenth century which will be held in the Cathedral precincts and Doing damage from a distance: the art of British political cartooning which will be held in TR201 in the Templeman Library.

So our task of brining our collections out into the light of day has received an excellent boost – but we’re not finished yet!


Canterbury at War…starring Hewlett Johnson

'Canterbury at War' flyerLast time, I announced the exciting news that the Templeman Library Gallery will be hosting an exhibition of materials from the Hewlett Johnson Papers, called ‘Canterbury at War: the Red Dean’s Life and Times, 1939-1945‘. The exhibition will open at 5.30pm on 22nd November and at 6pm John Butler, author of ‘The Red Dean: The Public and Private Faces of Hewlett Johnson‘, will talk about his experiences of mining the archive and show some of the gems which he found along the way. Everyone is welcome, and we would be delighted for you all to experience some of our exciting collections.

Well, with that advertisement completed, I can give you an update about all of the work we’ve been doing to prepare for this exhibition since last week. As you will have noticed (and our team cannot escape it), it’s only one week until we unveil our first major exhibition using Special Collections material for two years. So, with a little panicking and nervousness along the way, we are now in the final stages of putting the exhibition together.

The first thing which we had to do was put together a narrative. This was ably provided by Steve Holland, Head of Special Collections, after close reading of John’s book. The exhibition will explore Canterbury’s experience of the second world war through the eyes of the Johnsons, tracing the isolation and alienation which Hewlett experienced during the late 1930s (including the infamous Canons’ letter to The Times), through the Canterbury Blitz of May 30th-June 1st 1942, encountering more cheerful events such as the enthronement of William Temple as Archbishop in April 1942 and concluding with VE day in 1945, which Hewlett spent in Russia.

Canons' letter to the Times, 1940

Canons' letter to the Times, 1940

Armed with Steve’s captions which pick out key events during this period, Chris, Hazel and I have trawled the archive to find relevant sources which can illustrate the Johnsons’ family and public life throughout this time. The first and most obvious sources were the wartime letters which Hewlett and his wife Nowell sent to each other. During the war, Nowell and their daughter Kezia were evacuated to Harlech; their second daughter, Keren, was born in Harlech in 1942. They usually wrote at least once a day, often more, and their letters vividly illustrate the challenges not only of living in Canterbury during this time but also of being so far apart. Their correspondence was especially heartfelt at Christmas, with Hewlett writing to Nowell ‘Kez will be playing with her doll and cradle now and tomorrow will be asking for more Christmas!’ on Christmas day of 1941. A year later, on 26th December 1942, Hewlett wrote ‘Christmas Day is over and I’m glad’.The wartime correspondence also gives some excellent descriptions of the bombing raid of May/June 1942, life in the bombed out Deanery and the food parcels which were sent from Wales to Kent and vice versa.

Removal of the stained glass from Canterbury Cathedral

Removal of the stained glass from Canterbury Cathedral, 1939

With Chris exploring and transcribing the wartime letters (Hewlett’s handwriting can be challenging at the best of times), we have also been looking at visual statements of Canterbury during the war and its aftermath. Perhaps most dramatic are the images of preparation for war in 1939, when all of the stained glass was removed from the Cathedral windows and tonnes of soil spread over the nave and quire to protect those sheltering in the crypt from bombing raids. It’s also staggering to see the extent of the damage which Canterbury sustained during the ‘Canterbury Blitz’: one image shows the entire High Street in ruins, with the only feature still recognisable today being St George’s clock tower.

Now that we have all of our materials selected, the major task is to digitise, frame and prepare for exhibiting. We hope to put larger copies of the photographs on the walls, and to frame some of the cuttings, correspondence and other materials. We have 8 cases to play with, and are now in the final stages of confirming the layout.

All in all, there’s still lots to get done, but everyone I’ve mentioned it to (an I’ve mentioned it quite a lot, believe me) has been intrigued – none more so than those standing by the printer when the photographs are printed out! So we look forward to showing off one of our most personal and important collections and hope that you will all enjoy exploring the archive as much as we have enjoyed putting this exhibition together.

I wonder how we will cope once it’s all over….