Rural idylls

Some of you may remember that a few months ago, we started work on the last uncatalogued section of the Donald Muggeridge Collection, comprising photographs of rural objects dating from 1933 to 1943. I am pleased to announce that the cataloguing and digitising of these negatives is now complete. The images and the supporting information are now accessible and searchable via the Special Collections website.

Signpost in Norton Lindsay, Warwickshire

Signpost in Norton Lindsay, Warwickshire

As well as a keen interest in windmills, Donald Muggeridge inherited his father’s passion for recording the subjects of a fast fading form of rural life. Following on from William B. Muggeridge‘s photographs dating from the first decade of the twentieth century, these images record the rural landscape of pre-war Britain, which has now largely vanished. Accomodating objects from columbariums to stocks and lock-ups to whipping posts, these images offer a glimpse into a world which seems very distant to many of us in the modern day.

I’d like to give a special thanks to Chris Ward and Mandy Green for cataloguing and scanning the negatives and completing work on the Muggeridge Collections.

If you would like any more information about this collection, please do contact us.

Special Collections on TV

As a welcome back after the Christmas break, we have some exciting news!

You may remember that back in June last year, Special Collections and the Cathedral Library were involved in filming for the series Restoration Man in an episode about  Reed Mill in Kingston, which has now been restored as a home. Parts of our C. P. Davies and Muggeridge Mill Collections were used in the filming, and we’ve since supplied several further images for the show.

This episode will be shown on Thursday 5th January at 9pm on Channel 4 and will launch the new series. I hope that you can watch it and enjoy it – we are certainly looking forward to seeing the finished product.

If you would like any information about our Mills Collections, please take a look at our website.

For more information about the restoration, please contact R J Gibbs & Sons Ltd.

Melodrama and Silliness

Some of you may have noticed that, in the last couple of days, images have been appearing on some of the theatre records on the Special Collections website. This initial digitisation has allowed us to put up all of the smaller sized playbills from the Britannia Theatre which are held in the Bigwood Collection. This is all thanks to Chris Hall, who has been volunteering with Special Collections two and a half days a week. Not only has he made a start on this long-awaited digitisation, but he even agreed to write a blog post to keep us up to date.

A few months ago, I was speaking with my friends on the subject of great British playwrights. We came up with the usual names, Marlowe, Shakespeare and Jonson for the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, Sheridan, Shelley and Coleridge for the Romantics. Then we skipped roughly 80 years and listed Wilde and Shaw as the major figures of the late 19th Century stage. But what of the mid Victorians, who were their great playwrights? To be honest, I still can’t think of one, but there is a reason for that, because in the mid-Victorian age, something rather bizarre, yet very entertaining, happened to British theatre, and it is codified by the Bigwood collection of playbills from the Britannia Theatre.

Front page for 'After Dark Galop'

Scene from Boucicault's 'After Dark'

Most people would have heard of melodrama, but probably in a different context. When we think of melodrama, we think of melodramatic actors delivering their lines with overemotional abandon – think Brian Blessed playing Hamlet. However, the root of melodrama is slightly different to how we know it now. The root of the word is simply melos from the Greek for music, and the French drame, which needs little explanation. Essentially then, melodrama is musical drama. Not in the sense of it being a musical, instead music was often used to underscore the dialogue in order to raise the emotions, a technique used so much in modern film and theatre that we barely even notice it. It is this style of theatre which dominated with mid 19th Century, as well as high and low comedies and adaptations of Shakespeare. These were big productions, with full scale orchestras, evil villains, courageous heroes and fainting damsels, who were probably tied to railway tracks on a fairly regular basis. With this conception of melodrama in mind, we can begin to picture the spectacle of a play performed in the 1860s.

Playbill from Britannia Theatre, 25th November 1867

Playbill from Britannia Theatre, 25th November 1867

The Britannia Theatre in Hoxton, London, was one of the most glamorous and capacious theatres in the city at that time. The most famous version was constructed in 1858, with the previous building being classified as a saloon, rather than a theatre. Unlike many theatres of that time, The Britannia took the relatively modern approach of providing drinks and food in the auditorium, possibly setting a standard for what we now take for granted when we go to the theatre. Sarah Lane, wife of the theatre’s founder, Samuel Haycraft Lane, was the manager and also performed in many productions as a dancer. However, the collection that this blog entry is about was amassed by George Bigwood, who gathered the playbills, largely from the 1860s. The playbill is a valuable resource in researching theatre culture in the 19th Century. Many of them display a melodrama of their own; the print is large and bold, not too far removed from the typography seen in modern tabloids. One bill alone promises such titles as ‘THE KING’S DEATH-TRAP’ described as: ‘A New Historical Drama (never before acted)’ and the familiar name of ‘RIP VAN WINKLE’.

These playbills are a vital part in the study of the history of British theatre, and helps fill a gap between the plays of the late 18th Century and the fin de siècle. While this was not theatre designed to be great art, it does not lessen the importance of the plays in 19th Century culture. The writers of this era were not the jobbing playwrights of Shakespeare’s time, who were immersed in, or possibly constrained by, classical education. Indeed, they were men of the people, writing for the people. Of course, with Sarah Lane as manager, it wasn’t just men delivering this entertainment. As such, this collection represents a vibrant, if a little silly, period of theatre. But there’s nothing too wrong with a bit of melodrama and silliness from time to time.

Chris Hall

Larger playbills from the Britannia in this collection need to be scanned on a large overhead scanner which is currently experiencing some technical problems, so we’re awaiting developments there. Next, we intend to digitise the Britannia playbills in our general playbill collection, so keep watching the website!

Restoration Filming

I’m afraid it’s been a while since I last blogged and, although I do have an interesting piece about the Maddison Collection and Joseph Priestley almost completed, every time I sit down to finish it, something else comes up! In the meantime, however, I thought it would be interesting to share yesterday’s events with you.

Reed Mill in 1934

Reed Mill in 1934

Way back in March, we were contacted by researchers from the Channel 4 programme The Restoration Man. They were looking at the restoration of Reed Mill in Kingston, just outside Canterbury, in Kent. We have a small amount of material on this particular mill, mostly from the C.P. Davies collection, although  there are a couple of images of the mill in its dilapidated state in the Muggeridge Collection as well. It turns out that C.P. Davies’ notes (listed on our webpages under Kingston) hold some important clues to the origin and dating of the original Reed Mill, which the programme makers were keen to include. Unfortunately, our reading room is not particularly photogenic but after a visit to the Cathedral’s archives the researchers were keen to do some filming there. Although it took several months to organise, we finally arranged for the transfer of the relevant University’s Special Collections material down to the Cathedral Library and Archive for the filming, which took place yesterday afternoon.

Reed Mill in 1940

Reed Mill in 1940

I was lucky enough to be in charge of our material during the course of the shoot, which meant that I could watch the work as it was going on. The Cathedral Library, for those who don’t know, is not normally open to the public, unlike the Archives Search Room, which meant that the crew could wander around and do multiple takes under the watchful eye of the Cathedral Librarian, Karen Brayshaw. I had heard (and seen) some horror stories about TV crews working with rare books and archival materials, but everyone working on Restoration Man was very sensitive to the materials and to the environment in which they were working. They were also quick to ask Karen or myself before they moved or touched anything. We have some other TV researchers looking at some of our materials at the moment, and I have to say that if they are all like the Restoration Man crew and researchers, then I will have absolutely no qualms about allowing them to use materials which we hold.

And the results of the research? Well, you will have to watch the programme, which will hopefully be coming onto our screens in January, to find out. All I can say for sure is that both Karen, myself and the crew had a great time filming!

If you are interested in our mills collections, have a look through our webpages to find out more about them.

If you or someone you know is involved in restoring Reed Mill, please do get in touch and let us know how it is going; we would love to add contemporary materials and information to our existing records on this mill.

Where to begin…

Welcome to the new Special Collections blog, from the University of Kent Special Collections team.

Having worked in Special Collections for a few months, now, it’s hard to know where to begin. But, as ever, the best place to start is at the beginning.

Special Collections aka Rare Books aka Specialist Collections and Academic Archives has a long history at the University. Librarians have come and gone, leaving monumental collections and card catalogues in their wake. At present, we have a variety of collections and plenty left to catalogue. Most of the cataloguing of collections in the recent past has been undertaken as part of projects, such as the digitisation and cataloguing of the Muggeridge Windmill Collections, which was completed at the end of 2009 as part of the VERDI project. However, we continue to add to the accessible items in a small way on a day-to-day basis. Work is continuing on the Hewlett Johnson Collection, the theatre and cinema programmes of the Bigwood Collection and on the Weatherill Collection.

The first months of 2010 have seen some significant changes for our small department. Firstly, Mrs Sue Crabtree, Special Collections Librarian, retired in December after long service to the Collections. Somehow we have managed to carry on, although many of her webpages have been vital in providing information that you will find on the new website. Secondly, we have a new Special Collections website. This has been a huge amount of work, combining the project to update the Library’s websites with the VERDI project, which has resulted in the searchable catalogue of our collections which you see today.

The Special Collections reading room has also had a bit of a face lift, with a spring clean and the delivery of comfortable (and matching) blue chairs that have been very popular with researchers and staff members alike! With the new layout and the appointment of Steve Holland as Head of Specialist Collections and Academic Archives, 2010 is looking to be a year of continuing changes for the department.

We aim to continue to offer an accessible and helpful service for all researchers to use our collections. If you would like to explore the collections, please take a look at the website. Email to make an appointment, and have a look at the access and opening hours before you come, to make the most out of your visit. If you are unable to visit in person but would like access to items from the collections, please email us and we can consider the provision of electronic or paper copies for your requirements.