Meeting our public

I hope I don’t seem too self-satisfied at reporting on another very successful Special Collections event – lots of people put in lots of really hard work, so I’d like to thank them all by making the success public!

Earlier in the term, we ran our first ‘Meet Special Collections’ event, for members of the History staff. This was the brainchild of Steve Holland, and the whole team worked brilliantly to pull together various items in our collections which we hoped would engage the interest of some of our academic staff. The event went down well (as did the canapes and wine, I think) and we agreed that we should go ahead with a second session aimed at History postgraduates, and those members of staff who weren’t able to come to the first event.

Well, following the exhibition, first Special Collections lecture and a very busy term, we pulled out all of the stops to put on a (quiet and very careful) Meet Special Collections event for History postgraduates in the reading room last Wednesday. A lot of hard work and planning went into this; from discussing areas of interest with Katie Edwards, Liaison Librarian for History, investigating our collections to pull together relevant material and clearing, cleaning and decorating the reading room to give it a really festive feel. Nick Hiley, Head of the British Cartoon Archive, kindly loaned us some flat, table-top cases, to avoid any accidents with wine and rare books/archival material: once we’d found the relevant keys, we were away!

We focused on three main areas: war (since UoK’s History department has undergraduate and postgraduate courses specialising in the history of war), rare books and manuscripts (for historians of Medieval and Early Modern periods) and, of course, a Christmas themed table.

We were aided in our efforts by the re-discovery of part of a collection in the library stores: photographs of soldiers (presumably at the front) from the second world war (more to come on these in the New Year). We also used elements of the Hewlett Johnson and Bernard Weatherill Collections to illustrate twentieth century warfare, with some books and copies of the Illustrated London News for the Crimean War. Our manuscript documents from the 15th-17th centuries took pride of place on the second table, along with some of the beautifully written manuscript books on science (mostly astronomy and physics), from the Maddison Collection, which are written in anglicana and secretary hands. This table also hosted sample of the materials in Jack Johns’ Darwin Collection and our pre-1700 books section. The third table, focusing on all things seasonal, displayed some of the Melville theatre materials – pantomime scripts, flyers, books of words and images. A selection of books about Christmas carols, traditions and some of the seasonal material in our Charles Dickens Collection completed the festive theme.

We were delighted to welcome so many members of the History department to Special Collections, and to be able to introduce ourselves and our materials. It was a great opportunity to discuss materials which would be useful for teaching and in research – some of the materials were being seen for the first time by the department. It was also helpful for us to be talk to the historians to get an idea of the types of materials which might interest them, which should be prioritised and acquired by Special Collections. Steve was also able to give the Special Collections Review document – which he has spent months preparing – its first outing to the School.

Following the event (other than the tidying up), we’ve been encouraged by such enthusiasm and interest from the department. We really hope that researchers will be encouraged to look at the wealth of resources which we have in Special Collections and use them to their best advantage. So that’s something to look forward to – with great anticipation – in the New Year. Many thanks to the History department for coming in such numbers and showing such enthusiasm. If your department would like to arrange to ‘Meet Special Collections’, please do get in touch.

2011 has been a very busy year for us all and overall it’s been amazingly successful. There have been some changes and we know there are lots more changes to come. We hope that these will help us to provide  better and more efficient service to every researcher. I’m sure there will be lots of challenges (brief timescales for a Dickens exhibition in February have already been noted) but if next year is anything like this one, I’m sure we’ll look back on it with satisfaction and some bewilderment as to how we managed to cram quite so much in!

We look forward to seeing you when we reopen on 4th January.

From all of us in Special Collections, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012.


Completely Googled

While doing some research for a query which seems to be getting increasingly hopeless, I tried using Google to give me some inspiration.

The query in question is about a cutting depicting Hewlett Johnson carrying a suitcase marked with ‘Havana’, ‘Peking’ and ‘Moscow’, with a tag line something like ‘Some Deans stay at home, while there are others who roam’. After some talks with Nick Hiley, Head of the British Cartoon Archive, we suspected that if this cartoon was published in Punch, then it would be part of ‘The Big Cut’ series in the journal. So, in an attempt to find out more, I typed ‘The big cut hewlett johnson’ into the search engine and didn’t even have to wait for the results, now that Google updates as you type.

Unsurprisingly, considering how much I’ve been banging on about Hewlett Johnson lately, the first result to come up was the blog post I wrote about John’s talk a few weeks ago. The second result, however, looked much more interesting:

Canterbury at War…starring Hewlett Johnson…. These were big productions, with full scale orchestras, evil villains, courageous heroes ….. At midnight, still cutting their way through the jungle, they had a narrow escape

Perhaps it is just me, and just because it’s Monday morning, but that seemed worth sharing with everyone!

Sad to say, it’s actually a conglomeration of several different posts from this very blog. No, Johnson didn’t have a play or film produced about his life (I’m not sure whether he would have been the evil villain or the courageous hero), nor did he go on any midnight excursions into the jungle, as far as current research has shown. But I suppose it just goes to show how many exciting stories we have here in these archives, just waiting to be uncovered.

And, let’s face it, the moral of the story is don’t take results from Google literally!

By the way, if anyone has any thoughts on the Hewlett Johnson cartoon I mentioned above, please do let us know!

Jewel in the Archive

The last few weeks have been so busy that there hasn’t been time for any posting! Long term project ideas are beginning to take up the slack left by the end of term, including an effort to inventory all of our Collections to ensure that they are properly stored, labelled and catalogued. However, thanks to the hard work of Chris and Hazel on this, I’ve managed to find a few spare moments to write a little bit about one of our major collections which I feel is very underused.

The Weatherill Collection consists of working papers, letters and photographs gathered over the lifetime of Bruce Bernard Weatherill (1920-2007), known to his friends as Jack. During the Second World War, Jack Weatherill was stationed in India. Every time I look at one or two items in this section of the collection, I find hidden gems. For this post, I’m just going to focus on two letters which Jack wrote home to his parents and sisters, but there are many more to be investigated.

Jack's signature

Jack’s letter from Dehra Dun, dated 18-20 July 1942

On 6 September 1939, Jack enlisted in the army from his apprenticeship at the family firm, Bernard Weatherill Ltd., Sporting Tailors of Saville Row. In December 1940 he was commisioned as an officer but it wasn’t until 15 April 1942 that he set sail from Liverpool on the SS. Orbita for India. After two months, Jack arrived in Mumbai on 7 June and was attached to the 2nd Gurkha Rifles in Dehra Dun. Unfortunately, the postal system took some time to catch up with him; he wrote to his family on 18 July that ‘Your long awaited letter arrived on Tuesday…posted on the 23rd April’. Nevertheless, these letters were presumably the only contact which Jack and his family in England had with each other during his post abroad.


Weatherill’s described Dehra Dun favourably as ‘plenty doing and a pleasant climate, although the rains have set in now and when it rains there is no half measure about it’. The Indian weather caused ‘chaos’ during Jack’s posting near Poona in October that year, when ‘a hurricane …descended upon the camp on Saturday night’. He went on:

Inside the chappa

Inside the chappa

It was raining pretty heavily; when, suddenly, this wind descended with a roar. I just had time to grab the tent pole on my side of the tent, in an effort to keep it upright before a sudden gust lifted the tent like a parachute and deposited it some twenty yards away, together with our tables and odd belongings. I was still clinging onto the pole. The rain was so strong that it was impossible to see more than two yards in any direction, and the only thing to do was to flatten and wait for it to stop, which it did in a short time. The chaos was pretty terrific. Nearly every tent was flat and everyone rushing around madly trying to salvage their belongings… Surprisingly little has, in fact, been lost…”

Kiledar Khan, the bearer

Kiledar Khan, the bearer


Along with the drama of extreme weather, Jack wrote home of the culture which he found himself immersed in. In October, he wrote of a Regimental holiday being declared to mark Eid ul-Fitr, the local holiday marking the end of Ramadan. In the same letter, he remarked on ‘a Rajput Festival yesterday – I forget the name – at which a goat is sacrificed to the Goddess of War’. There was clearly a concerted effort to introduce the men stationed in India into the culture, including monthly exams in Urdu. After his first exam, Jack wrote ‘I now join the ranks of those form this unit who crack at it monthly…in the 46th everyone has to take it every month irrespective of standard. At any rate, it means at least one week-end in Town each month.’

Overall, the sense of these letters is of the mundane, commenting on the family’s holiday in Bournemouth and exchanging news of friends and relatives at home and abroad; ‘You remember Larry Rathbone…? He is in the Middle East somewhere – lucky dog.’

Climbing precipaces

‘Hugh climbing one of the many small precipices we encountered on that little scheme. He only just made this one!’

However, in July 1942, before he was stationed briefly with the 46th Cavalry near Poona, Jack wrote home of ‘the little scheme we had on Monday last….A hardening test, it was supposed to give us experience in moving through the jungle by day, and by night.’ The photographs which Jack had to send seperately have been reunited with the letter, and illustrate the expedition. Initially, Jack, Hugh and ‘a Spaniard’ did well, completing the first, eight mile section and trekking into the hills where they ate their rations of a pound of raisins and a pound of nuts. ‘…we found this quite adequate although next time half the amount and a packet of tea would seem to be the ideal thing.’ However, as they set out on the last stage, with night closing in, things became more difficult. ‘It was terribly dark and the going across the hills and through the jungle was frightfully hard; on top of that it rained like mad.’ At midnight, still cutting their way through the jungle, they had a narrow escape ‘only just seeing a precipice in time’, at which point some of Jack’s companions decided to ‘call it a day. Unfortunately, they were the owners of the only torch.’ Those left had to spend the night in the open, with Jack commenting that ‘to give up in that manner was a pretty poor show.’

Needless to say, no-one slept a wink – no-one, that is, except Hugh, who slept soundly all night kept dry by the major portion of his neighbour’s groundsheet on both the left and the right. Actually it was very cold, and I for one was never more glad to see the daylight.

Cutting through the jungle

‘Our Gurkha knives were absolutely indispensable for cutting a path’

Although it continued to rain the next morning, Jack and his remaining companions made it back to the town in time for morning coffee. ‘Thank the Lord for instinct’, Jack wrote on seeing the terrain that they had managed to cover during the night. Unfortunately, after deciding to take a tonga for the last stretch of the journey, ‘feeling sure that no-one of importance could possibly be about at that unhealthy hour’, the group passed the Brigadier in his car, coming out of the camp!

Weatherill ends the anecdote by commenting:

“On looking back I cannot help feeling that in spite of the discomforts the whole thing was worth it, if only for the bathe we had on that Monday evening – water clear as crystal and cold as ice – straight from Nanda Devi itself it seemed; and so refreshing that even now it does one good to remember it.”

The sense of a positive outlook seems to run throughout Weatherill’s life and career.  Jack was first elected to Parliament in 1964 and subsequently re-elected for Croydon North East seven times. He undertook several offices in government, including offices within HM Household and Privy Councillor and within the Conservative Whip’s Office. From 1983  to 1992, he served as Speaker of the House of Commons and was elevated to a life peerage as Baron Weatherill of North East Croydon in 1992. During this time, he was known to be ‘a gentleman’, keeping his word even if it meant losing his own cause. The Collection contains substantial materials on his public engagements and political work during his Parliamentary career, but to me these early letters are fascinating. Not only do they show Jack Weatherill’s progress through the war, one of so many men stationed to India during this time, but they also record an Englishman’s reaction to a largely unknown culture, with some glimpses of the Indian reaction to the soldiers stationed to the far flung part of the British Empire. As a historical record and as a glimpse of discovery in an unknown world, I think that the Weatherill Collection is one of the most intriguing in our archives.

All of the material in the Weatherill Collection is available through the normal Special Collections request process. You can have a look at the website for a detailed break down of the Collection, which is fully catalogued. To request access to any materials, please email us at