Women and warfare

A couple of days ago, on Tuesday 14 May, we were delighted to host the launch of the new Templeman exhibition, Wild Woman to New Woman: Sex and Suffrage on the Victorian Stage.This has been curated by Alyson Hunt and brings together the Mary Braddon Collection of Canterbury Christ Church University, costumes from the Gulbenkian costume store and parts of our own Victorian and Edwardian Theatre Collections.

wildwomen1The launch was started with a lecture by Professor Kate Newey from the University of Exeter, who spoke about the subtle protest in suffragette parlour dramas and the deliberate inversion of the female stereotype by campaigners for womens emancipation. The event then moved to the gallery space in the Templeman Library, where everyone enjoyed this rare opportunity to see such different collections side by side.

In the course of preparing for this exhibition, Alyson discovered a few treasures in our own archives – such as a copy of Ibsen and the Actress inscribed to George Bernard Shaw by playwright, actress and activist Elizabeth Robins, as well as Robins’ own, annotated copy of Both Sides of the Curtain

wildwomen2This exhibition really is an intriguing and entertaining look at the way in which perceptions of women and society as a whole were being challenged a century ago and is only on until 31st May, so please do come and have a look around when you’re next in the Templeman.

HB lecture pub001


Not content with supporting this new exhibition, Special Collections also has the last in its annual series of lectures next Thursday, 23 May. Keeping the theatrical theme, our focus changes as Dr Helen Brooks discusses Theatre of the Great War (1914-1918), her initial findings in a research project which will span the centenary of World War One. Much of Helen’s work thus far has focussed on our very own Melville Collection, looking at rarely used and sadly undiscovered materials. Do join us to find out more!

The talk will start at 6pm, with refreshments provided from 5.30 in the Templeman Library, TR201. All are welcome – please note that visitors can park in the University car parks for free after 5pm.

We hope to see you there!

Going on a Summer Holiday 7: Christmas in Rome

It seems like the summer was so long ago – and the discovery of William Harris’ letters from his trip around Europe. Even so, I’m still finding these letters intriguing – I hope that you are too!

By December 1821, William and his four friends – all architects – had reached Rome. Two of  them had set out from Dover in June; they had acquired new friends as they journeyed through France, to Geneva, then south through Italy before arriving in Rome for the winter. Although William and his architect friends had hoped to go on to Greece to sample architecture of the classical style, the Greek War of Independence (from the Ottoman Empire) meant that travel there was too dangerous to contemplate. Instead, William, Mr Brooks and Mr Angell had decided to remain in Rome for three months, when they would journey on to Sicily.

William's second letter to Rome

William’s second letter to Rome

While we may think that the winter can be bleak in Britain, Rome in a nineteenth-century December, according to William, was not exactly exotic. He wrote again to his father on 10 January, ‘very much disappointed in not having received a single letter from London’ since the beginning of November. Whether it was homesickness, the distance from his family or simply the discomfort of the winter, William’s tone is unusually dismal – but still full of intriguing snippets. Since we’re coming up to Christmas, I thought William’s experience of the Roman festivities might be of interest.

A tiara bearer

A papal tiara bearer, from ‘Rome’ by F. Wey, 1875

Evidently a staunch Protestant of the Church of England, William conceded that the Catholic ceremonies were ‘very splendid’. He visited the Pope’s chapel on the Quirinale Hill, where the Papal palace was used from the 16 century until around 1870. His first visit was on Christmas Eve, at a Mass which ‘was performed…with much grandeur’. On Christmas morning, William returned to the chapel for Mass, writing ‘I never witnessed a religious ceremony so nearly approaching a piece of acting as this’. Evidently he had been brought up in a rather more plain tradition.

The cardinals wore scarlet robes with white fur capes and a scarlet skull cap and were each attended by a tiara bearer in a purple robe. They rose to receive each other as they arrived and took their seats in a line with their attendant tiara-bearers on a seat below them. The Pope entered soon after, clothed in a long robe of white silk embroidered with gold, the triple crown on his head and followed by a numerous retinue of priests and the senators of Rome. He was immediately seated, the triple crown removed and a silk embroidered mitre substituted. The pontifical robes being changed he was conducted to the throne covered with white silk and gold and a canopy of crimson velvet… On the throne he received the homage of the cardinals – who approached one by one to kiss hands – and also of the senators – who wear a wig and robes something like those of our serjeants at law, excepting the colour, which is scarlet.

Engraving of a cardinal

Engraving of a cardinal, from ‘Rome’ by F. Wey, 1875

The Pope himself, Pius VII, seems to have impressed William; ‘Pius VII is a dignified old man of a very benevolent character’. Having become Pope in 1800, by 1821 Pius VII had reached the grand age of 79; it was hardly surprising that he was ‘too infirm to walk without assistance’. One of the ceremonies, William considered undignified: ‘the degrading ceremony of kissing the Pope’s toe was actually performed (at least on the shoe) by the priest who officiated at the altar.’ Other aspects of the Mass were more familiar, but still left William missing his customary style of worship;

The chaunting was most musical…but it falls far short of our cathedral service in this respect. The singing was fine enough but wanted the solemn organ to give fullness to the anthems.

The Mass was not the only unusual Christmas custom which William encountered in Rome

In the church of Ara-Coeli supposed to be built on the site of the temple of Jupiter on the Capitol – was exhibited an assemblage of wax work called here a ‘Presepio’ representing in size of life the Virgin with the infant – Joseph on his knees – the shepherds etc. etc. In the background was the manger, with real hay and above, groups of angels among the clouds.

The church appears to have been Santa Maria in Aracoeli, on the Capitoline Hill, previously a temple to Juno Moneta.

An engraving of the steps to the Ara-Coeli

The steps leading up to the Ara Coeli from ‘Rome’ by F. Wey, 1875

This ‘presepio’, as you may have guessed, is a nativity scene, apparently largely unknown, at least in this larger incarnation, to William. These displays reached their apogee in the 19 century Kingdom of Naples – just a little earlier than William’s visit. Nowadays, we are used to these scenes – Canterbury Cathedral sets up its life-size model every year – but to William, this apparently Catholic practice was shocking:

This disgraceful puppet show has remained open several days and is visited by crowds who throw money into pewter platters placed to receive it in the centre of the stage.

It’s comments like this that make you realise how much things have changed in the last 200 years – and how Victorian our Christmas celebrations are now! In 1821, these festivities seem not to have impressed our English tourist, but he still had hope:

the gayest ceremonies they say are a fortnight before Lent at the carnival and during Easter week when St Peter’s is illuminated by a single cross suspended under the dome covered with innumerable lamps.

In spite of the season, there were still a number of English people in Rome. At the Mass on Christmas Eve, William met ‘Captain Grover of Norton Street’ – a neighbour back in London, I assume – while a number of English artists mingled at trattorias where William passed his time. At the Christmas Day Mass the congregation was finer still, with Cardinal Consalvi (Gonsalvi, in William’s letter), minister of the Papal States, and the Queen of Etruria, Marie Luisa of Spain who had been overthrown by Napoleon in 1807, in attendance.

Illustration of the Roman Forum, from ‘Le antichita romane’ by Luigi Rossani, 1829

If the celebrities were shimmering, however, the weather certainly was not. Another particularly British trait which William possessed was a fascination with the weather and, while this had been fine when they arrived in Rome, by early January he complained: ‘lately there has been nothing but rain’. He went on:

The streets are…often overflowed near the banks of the Tiber and in some places almost impassable from streams of water pouring down from the roofs of the houses, each almost sufficient enough to drown the unfortunate passengers

All was not lost, however, since they still managed to ‘see a great deal and to sketch and measure a little’.

It may have been the weather, the season or his apparent isolation from his family, but in this letter, William seems to have been preoccupied with the morose. One paragraph begins ‘most of the funerals here are by torch-light’. I thought that the ostentatious fascination with death was a product of Queen Victoria’s reign, but the travellers evidently found the funeral traditions of Rome fascinating.

A very grand one [funeral] passed our lodgings the other night. There must have been a train of upwards of 300 monks and priests who chaunted as they moved along in their slow procession. In the centre was the bier gorgeously adorned, carried on the shoulders of penitents who wear long white dresses and a mask to conceal their countenances. On it lay the body of an Italian Marquis – not in a coffin but wrapped in funeral robes, the face, hands and feet uncovered while the crowd of torches shed a pale yet brilliant light on the ghastly scene.

In spite of his morose moments, William was entranced with the city of Rome. He had been told that that disappointment was the most common feeling on the part of tourists on seeing the city and was ‘agreeably surprised at finding much more scope for admiration’. Even without historical interest, William considered the city superior, designed on its seven hills to improve the aesthetic impact on the viewer. Even its outskirts were ‘graced with magnificent villas and the horizon bounded with fine chains of mountains the most lofty summits capped with snow during winter’. The only problem with the city, he wrote without premonition was ‘that dreadful scourge malaria. Thousands are said to have been laid up during the heats of summer in the last season.’

Urging his father to write soon, William signed off with love to his mother, sister and brother in law – and a request to send a watch and two books to Rome, in a packing case of fashionable clothes which Mr Brooks was having delivered from England. After all, a nineteenth century gentleman could not be seen measuring ancient monuments in last season’s coat.

I hope you’ve enjoyed following the blog and all of our activities this year. It seems like just a few weeks since the first post of the year, when I wrote about the broadcasting of Restoration Man. Our year of Dickens has been eventful, productive and exciting. We look forward to welcoming you to the site, the collections and our events of 2013 – and also following William’s journey to its end, taking in Roman horse racing, Sicilian adventures, Mount Etna and an international scandal.

All the best wishes for the festive season!


Through the camera lens

It was a few weeks ago that we had a phone call from the BBC asking whether researchers could come to look at some of the Hewlett Johnson papers in preparation for a documentary on the Cold War. It’s always nice to hear that people are interested in exposing our collections to a wider public than we can reach, although we’re aware how a huge amount of research is often distilled down into two or three minutes on screen. So we booked in an appointment, gave some advice on how to search the catalogue and were delighted when an email came through detailing specific incidents and periods which the researcher was interested in.

Johnson's manuscript notes

Johnson’s manuscript notes

When it came to it, the director of the programme came to do the research and found herself confronted with half a dozen large archival boxes, albums of photographs, a diploma for a prize and two boxes of newspaper cuttings! With staff on hand to answer specific enquiries about Johnson, his work and the archive, the director managed to wade through this material in slightly less than a day, recording all of the materials which she thought would be of use to the programme. These spanned from Johnson’s sermon notes (at present a sadly underused resource) to sections of the Dean’s autobiography in which he recorded his meetings with (in)famous individuals like Stalin and President Truman.

The filming itself took place on Monday (12 November) in the picturesque surroundings of the Deanery and the Cathedral Library, in the Precincts. A member of staff was needed to transfer the materials and to monitor their use – to step in if any damage was likely to be caused. The programme is presented by historian Dominic Sandbrook who, along with the director, was enthusiastic about the Dean, discussing his beliefs and his reasons for supporting the Communist cause so much longer than many of the other fellow travellers did.

Hewlett Johnson in the DeaneryIt was a privelege to film in the Deanery, with a protrait of Johnson on one wall and his bust on another, bringing his radical sermon notes back to the room in which they were probably written. This series, unlike Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip or Restoration Man, two other programmes which have featured Special Collections and Archives, was scripted, with room for improvisation and improvement during the day. This meant several rehearsals to get the shot right and the word flow working, then a few takes and some close ups. What never ceases to amaze me is the amount of time it takes to film sequences which often turn out to be only a small section of the programme. Stiff Upper Lip spent most of the day filming the Special Collections reading room for a section of the programme which lasted about 3 minutes. Monday’s BBC crew spent all day in and around the Cathedral, filming sources in the Deanery and the beautifully restored Cathedral Library, for what will probably amount to no more than 3 or 4 minutes of screen time.

So is it worth it? Even once the filming is complete, there are copies to be sent, references to clarify, copyright procedures to double check and often queries right up to the final edit. It’s an ongoing process which can run over several months for us (although much longer for the production company!) Yet despite this, I think it’s always worthwhile for our materials to be involved in television productions or articles. There’s the obvious bonus for us of publicity, but the broadcasting of materials we hold means much more than this. It enables the collections to be analysed and used alongside other, perhaps dispersed materials, and illuminate a far wider debate – whether it’s the British character or attitudes towards Communism during the mid twentieth century. It’s a pleasure to meet such enthusiasm about how apparently inert materials, perhaps insignificant on their own, are part of a much wider tapestry of national and international heritage.

'Searching for Light' manuscript

‘Searching for Light’ manuscript

In a few months time, I hope that Dominic and the team will be ready to share this and their wider research on the Cold War with all of us – I’ll let you know as soon as I hear any more.

Going on a summer holiday? 3: Turbulent times

This summer, we’re following young architect William Harris’ trip around Europe, which began in 1821. He left Dover in the company of two friends and travelled to Calais, where he witnessed the celebrations for Corpus Christi. From there, he and Mr Brooks took a leisurely route to Paris. Although William arrived in the city early in July, he only had time to send a quick note to his father to assure him that they were well. We catch up with him on 23 July, when he’d found time in his busy schedule to write a longer letter home.

After the note he sent home on 2 July, William Harris began to feel ‘no little anxiety’ that he had not heard from his father for a full 15 days, nor from his sister for 14 days. The long awaited missive arrived on 15 July, delayed, apparently, by his father’s equally busy schedule! ‘Really, my dear Father, you must endeavour to spare time to let me hear from you a little more frequently’ William admonished, eager to hear ‘any news from Old England’. Sadly, we don’t have any of William Harris Senr.’s replies to his son in the deed box, but this letter is only the third of twelve, so there’s still a long way for William (and for us) to go!

Once he had settled into his lodgings in Paris, William began his errands in the city which, he said, possessed ‘so many points of attraction’. One interesting ‘commission’ he was sent with was to locate a mysterious ‘Madame Crowe’ on behalf of one Mr Jackson. The information relating to this woman in the letter is sparse, except that she was a married woman and probably ‘not residing in furnished lodgings’. In any case, William reported with some disappointment that he had been unable to locate her, concluding

“In all probability therefore, Madame Crowe does not wish her whereabouts to be discovered as she had given no number in a street a full half a mile long.”

Considering the upheaval in France from the fall and two exiles of Napoleon, with the involvement of the European Coalition to restore the Bourbon monarchy, Paris was perhaps one of the easiest places in Europe to stay hidden at this time.


Le Temple de ‘Amour, Malmaison (HJ PC:301)

Aside from commissions from friends and acquaintances, William’s main reason for travelling through Europe appears to have been to take in objects of art and architecture, for which the small group visited Malmaison on 19 July. This chateau was ‘a favourite retreat of the late Emperor’s and the Empress Josephine’; Josephine had bought the estate while Napoleon was in Egypt, with the expected proceeds of that campaign. She spent years and a small fortune restoring the chateau and its gardens as well as creating a menagerie which roamed free through the grounds. After her divorce from Napoleon in 1810, Josephine kept the chateau until her death in 1814. William recalled his father often telling him:

“the frowning of Paris on the very mentioned of which [Malmaison] is infamous…”

Of course, it wasn’t just France which was going through difficult times politically; there was a good reason why William wanted all of the news from old England. He noted his whereabouts on 19 July 1821 for a good reason: it was the date of King George IV’s coronation, after the death of the mad King George III in 1820. George IV had been Prince Regent during periods of his father’s incapacitating illnesses, although he had largely left the role of governance of the country to his politicians. While the coronation of the new King appeared didn’t appear to threaten any crisis, there was drama on the day due to George IV’s difficult relationship with his wife.


Coronation banquet of George IV by an unknown artist, c.1821

Having been married in 1795, reluctantly, to Princess Caroline of Brunswick, the Prince Regent’s marriage quickly ran into difficulty. After the birth of their only child, Princess Charlotte, the royal couple separated in 1796. Queen Caroline went to live on the continent in 1814, but at her husband’s coronation in 1821 she decided to return to London to assert her rights. William noted:

We hear that everything went off quietly in London with the exception of a few broken windows and that the Queen applied for admission at the doors of the [Westminster] Abbey and was refused”

George refused to recognise Caroline as Queen, and made efforts to ensure that European monarchs did likewise. Although he tried to divorce her and later to annul the marriage, these efforts proved unpopular with the public. In the end, the marriage ended quietly: Caroline became ill on the day of the coronation and died on 7 August, with some rumours that she had been poisoned. William’s brief note of the incidents on coronation day suggest that he, at least, had little interest in the quarrels of the royal family. In any case, his excitement about his trip around Europe was far more important.

News of the coronation reaches William in Paris

William was not the only architect who had left Britain to experience the culture and art of the rest of Europe; as well as his friend Mr. Brooks, with whom he had travelled from Dover, a Mr Angell joined them on their onward journey from Paris to Rome. William wrote:

“He is a young man of good sense and possesses a zeal for his profession without which something is a mere dead letter.”

The band of architects sound more like serious professional scholars than a gap year party, but then it’s likely that William would have wanted to impress the seriousness of his enterprise onto his father who was paying his bills.’Living at Paris and travelling expenses are so much higher than I had at all imagined’ he complained in his letter;

“and with every endeavour to keep [expenses] as low as possible, I find that they have exceeded my proposed expenditure a full third”

Even so, he assured his father that the costs would drop once they left the capital, although ‘the French are always on the alert to overcharge an Englishman’. It was not, he insisted, the pursuit of luxury which had cause this spending;

“nor do I imagine I could spend a single franc less consistent with any thing like comfort or respectability were I to recommence my journey tomorrow’

William’s letter from Paris

William evidently thought of his family at home frequently during his time away; his father, mother, sister, Mr Evans and ‘Jane’ are mentioned in every letter. This letter also mentions another member of the family;

“I am sorry to hear poor Dick has been obliged to undergo an operation.”

As I was transcribing the letter, I thought that sounded interesting; who was Dick? Probably not a member of the immediate family, but perhaps a servant or someone close enough to the Harris family that they had ensured he got the operation which he needed? Leaving aside the difficulties of nineteenth century surgery, I thought that this would give an intriguing insight into a gentleman’s relationship with his dependants. In some ways, it does, but not quite as I was expecting. William goes on:

“It would be perhaps be as well to avoid taking him over the stones as much as possible. He is an excellent little horse but tis a pity he has not a lighter vehicle to draw…”

So there you go, the Harris family were very close to their horses! William goes on to advise his father on how to deal with Dick’s lameness, with as much interest as if he was a long-term servant of the family.

“[I’m sorry to hear that] poor Dick has been obliged to undergo an operation”

The small band of architects intended to leave Paris on 31 July and continue their journey via Compiegne, Rheims, Dijon, Lyons, Nismes and then reach Geneva. The itinerary was not fixed;

“at the first mentioned places our stay will be uncertain and will be regulated by the interest they excite.”

And while he was racing around Europe, William was eager to stay in touch with his friends and family at home;

“If yourself or my sister could possibly find time to write to me immediately on the receipt of this by the very next bag…”

“…by the very next bag…”

Sending off his tightly packed, overwritten letter back home, William presumably went off to enjoy his last week in Paris, and to gather some more anecdotes to tell in his next letters. It’s just a lucky coincidence that these letters have survived nearly 200 years so that we can share his excitement today.

William’s letter from Paris and related archival materials will be on display in the Templeman foyer for a limited time only! Pop in to have a look and learn more, including why Lord Byron was causing a stir in Paris in 1821.


Going on a summer holiday? 2: I write in haste

It’s been a while since I updated you about William Harris Esq.’s continental exploits in 1821. As you may remember, he set out from Dover after having explored the castle and travelled to Calais in the company of two friends in June. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that he had arrived safely at Paris by the beginning of July.

William and his friend Mr Brooks were staying at a William Hunter’s residence on rue de Sevres, in the St Germain district of the city. William Harris wrote to his father on 2 July to ask that his father might ‘inform Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Brooks of the Strand’ of Mr. Brook’s safe arrival. William added

“[Mr Brooks] had been so much engaged this morning he has not had time to finish a letter he had begun but he will take care to write in a day or two”

It seems that William was the more likely of the two to write home; in any case, a swift letter was the speediest method of communication in 1821. William comments on the end of his note that he had just received his father’s “kind letter (no. 1)”: this leaves a gap of just 8 days between his sending from Calais and receiving his father’s reply. I have to say I thought this wasn’t bad by modern standards!

William's letter from St Germain

William’s letter from St Germain

Paris in 1821 was still gripped by the instability of the political swings from the Napoleonic, in 1815, to the accession of Louis-Phillippe as king in 1830. During this time, Britain had formed part of a European coalition which restored the Bourbon monarchy, by military force, to a constitutional role. The monarchy was not consistently popular and after the second fall of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815; although the government was elected to work alongside the Bourbons the two institutions did not always work together. Shifting political strengths throughout the decade of the 1820s must have made Paris an interesting place to be. The medieval city was still largely in existence, too; it was not demolished to make way for Haussmann’s vision of a modern city until the mid nineteenth century. It would have been a very different place to the modern tourist centre.

Of course, travel in the nineteenth century was never a straightforward or safe affair, as we’ll find out later in William’s journey. But for the time being, I will leave you with his brief note, in anticipation of the Parisian adventure to follow.

William's letter from St. Germain

William’s letter from St. Germain

 “I would have said more but the boy is just ready.”

Drop into the Templeman foyer to have a look at the original letter on display with a rare example of a nineteenth century passport.