New year, new Special Collections and Archives website!

Happy January everyone! It’s still relatively early into 2022 but we are already excited to show you something we’ve been working on for over a year now – the new look Special Collections and Archives (SC&A) website! In this post, we’ll show you around the new site and answer some questions about its creation, how we’ve designed it and what this means for you as users.

Why did the SC&A website need changing? 

Screenshot of the new SC&A homepage. It is much more visual and core links to search our collections are front and centre of the page.

Screenshot of the new SC&A homepage. It is much more visual and core links to search our collections are front and centre of the page.

Short answer to a question we could discuss for hours: the old SC&A website looked, well, old. Whilst we worked really hard to keep all the information updated, including pages for new collections as they were acquired, the University has switched to a much more modern design of website in the past couple of years and our web pages needed to fit that new template. There are a lot of advantages to the new site: it’s incredibly visual, should look better on mobile devices, and is much easier for staff to keep updated behind the scenes.

For the SC&A team, the new website format has also allowed us to complete some work we’ve been planning for a while: making a single website for all of our collections, including the British Cartoon Archive. We’ve transferred over all the information from previous pages, and where that hasn’t been possible we’ve kept all the old site information working. It’s also been a great chance for us to tweak some of the things that didn’t work so well on the old site and to highlight information that’s previously been somewhat hidden.

What content on the updated website is new?

Screenshot of the collections showcase section of the new SC&A homepage, highlighting some of our core collections.

Screenshot of the collections showcase section of the new SC&A homepage, highlighting some of our core collections.

There’s so much new content on the SC&A website that it’s hard to narrow it down, but a couple of sections really stand out for us. Firstly (as you can see above), the homepage has a brand-new Collections Showcase section, highlighting some of the fantastic material in our care. We’ll be changing this up to tie in with key events, anniversaries and exhibitions – so do keep checking back.

Screenshot of our new Digital Resources page, which collates all our learning, teaching and events resources in one place.

Screenshot of our new Digital Resources page, which collates all our learning, teaching and events resources in one place.

Secondly, we’ve added a new page for all of our digital resources that we create as part of our Education and Engagement work! This page includes links to videos of past events, introductions to using our collections, and even some films of items we look after to give you an idea of what we hold. The digital resources listed here are accessible to everyone and we’ll be updating the page when we add more content.

Screenshot of the SC&A homepage showing links to search our collections.

Screenshot of the SC&A homepage showing links to search our collections.

We’ve also done a lot of work with our wonderful Library Systems colleagues to ensure searching our collections is easier than ever before. Our homepage now has a dedicated searchbar for SC&A material in LibrarySearch (no more typing your terms into the main catalogue and filtering by location), and there are links to the British Cartoon Archive catalogue and the SC&A archive catalogue too. These search links are the first thing you’ll see on our new homepage.

Do you still have pages for all your collections?

Screenshot of our new look Collections A-Z page.

Screenshot of our new look Collections A-Z landing page.

Yes, and (we think) it’s better than ever! For the first time, you can directly search all our collections pages and see which main collection they’re a part of. This is particularly useful for our bigger ‘parent’ collections such as the British Cartoon Archive and the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive which contain many different individual collections within them.

Screenshot of the David Low Collection page on our new website with a famous Low cartoon as its background.

Screenshot of the David Low Collection page on our new website with a famous Low cartoon as its background.

As you can see in the example above, we’ve also added pages for all of the British Cartoon Archive collections individually for the first time so it should be a lot easier for you to understand what we hold and how to access it.

Screenshot of the collections page for the David Drummond Pantomime Collection.

Screenshot of the collections page for the David Drummond Pantomime Collection.

Some of our old Collections pages held a lot of information so in some cases, we’ve transferred this into documents or into catalogue listings where appropriate. If you can’t find something please just ask us.

Have any URLs or links changed during the move to the new site?

Yes and no! Our main homepage address has changed from to to come in line with the Library’s URLs which changed last summer. However, we’ve been working with our IT colleagues to ensure that all the old addresses should redirect to the new ones where needed. This work will continue over the next few weeks so if you don’t see the new site yet, don’t panic!

I can’t find [X page] or [X information] any more, where is it?

We’ve worked really hard to ensure that all the content on the old site has been migrated safely (ncluding making lots of backups of pages), and we’ve tested the site with colleagues a lot, so hopefully this shouldn’t be the case. However if you do have trouble locating any information please do send us a screenshot with details to and we’ll look into it ASAP.

We hope you enjoy exploring our new site! We’d love to hear your thoughts on the refresh so do get in touch with us if you have any comments.

Special Collections & Archives is now on Instagram!

The social-media savvy amongst you may have spied something new for Special Collections & Archives recently: we have an Instagram account!

Special Collections on Instagram

Instagram is a website and app that allows users to share photos and short videos. Users can post photos, follow other accounts and ‘like’ images. It’s a very visual platform – quite different to our other social media home on Twitter.

Musical books from our stores

We are particularly keen to use Instagram to share both material within our collections and the work that SC&A staff do to offer a ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse of the archives. We’ve also been using it recently to promote events we’ve been involved in, such as this year’s MEMS Festival:


What’s been interesting so far is seeing which other special collections, archives and library teams are using Instagram. Our wonderful Library colleagues also started an account recently (you can find them here), but a lot of Instagram users are American libraries. It’s great to engage with an international audience, and we’re really looking forward to developing these connections more.


It’s still early days with our Instagram feed, but we’re really enjoying it so far. If you use Instagram, please do follow us – and let us know what you’d like to see on our feed over the next few months!

More Dickens Digitised!

After lots of hard work by a number of volunteers, I’m delighted to announce that we have now digitised almost all of our playbills for productions of works by Charles Dickens.

Although the bicentennial of Dickens’ birth was back in 2012, we have continued to work on this collection and, over the last few years, some very committed volunteers have made a wonderful contribution to this work.

Playbill advertising 'A Christmas Carol' at the Royal Victoria Theatre, December 1862

Playbill advertising ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Royal Victoria Theatre, December 1862

Christopher Hall and Marjolijn Verbrugge spent a significant amount of time digitising all of our smaller playbills, which are now visible on our website. More recently, Elizabeth Grimshaw, who is completing an MA in Dickens Studies here at the University, has spent hours cataloguing our Dickens ephemera, and digitising the remaining (rather large) playbills as well as some illustrations. The digitisation involved Elizabeth painstakingly reconstructing the complete playbill in digital form from several digitised pieces, matching sections carefully to create an almost seamless effect. Matching up text and ensuring that the angles are correct is difficult at the best of times, and even more challenging with Victorian playbills and their miniscule text. Although a handful of the last playbills were digitised on the newly working oversize scanner, the majority of the credit for this work must go to our hard working volunteers!

The Dickens Collection has been assembled over many years and includes bibliographic gems, such as the nineteenth century part issues of Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839), pieces of ephemera, such as some twentieth century ‘Pickwick’ playing cards, and illustrations. Amongst this assembly is a significant collection of Dickens theatrical material, particularly Victorian and Edwardian programmes, postcards and playbills.

Playbill for Oliver Twist, 1838

Playbill advertising ‘Oliver Twist’ at the City of London Theatre, 11 December 1838, staged while the serialisation was ongoing.

Dickens was something of a sensation in his day (to put it mildly) and it wasn’t long before theatre managers decided to cash in on the popularity of his serialised works. Borrowing heavily from the books, the unofficial productions of lengthy works such as Oliver Twist included tableaux taken from the published illustrations and adapted the stories to suit their needs. In fact, the craze for all things Dickens was so great that hack playwrights, such as Edward Stirling and William Moncrieff, would make up their own endings for serialisations which had not yet been completed. With a lack of copyright protection, or an ability to police every theatre in Britain (never mind the spin-offs put on stage in America), there was little which Dickens could do about these plagerised versions but rail against them in prose.

In any case, the risks paid off for the theatre managers in early years, with Dickens’ first full length works immensely popular on stage. Around the time of Martin Chuzzlewit’s appearance, appetites for Dickens on stage appear to have abated somewhat, perhaps due to the fact that productions of Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickelby and The Old Curiosity Shop were all still being performed, as well as A Christmas Carol, which was published in December 1843, part way through Chuzzelwit’s serialisation. Of course, even limited success for performances of Dickens’ work on stage still proved profitable, with Dickens later cashing in to produce ‘official’ versions of his works in an attempt to limit plagerism. Even today, with television largely occupying the space which the Victorian Theatre filled, adaptations of Dickens’ works are widely popular.

We’re delighted that such an important section of the Dickens Theatrical Collection is now available on our website, with full zoom functionality, and would like to thank our volunteers for all their hard work.

If you’d like to learn more about performances of Dickens’ stories, take a look at our Dickens on Stage index.



Going out with a launch

So here we are at the end of another term – the time seems to go by so quickly (and no doubt more quickly when you have a deadline or two!) As I said in my last post, it really has been a busy and exciting term for us in Special Collections. As well as sharing the enjoyment of the Night at the Victorian & Edwardian Theatre exhibition launch last week, yesterday we were able to celebrate student success once again.

A display of the new writers' work

A display of new writing

This time, it was the turn of students of the School of English, who had taken Simon Smith’s Book Project module. This very popular module includes a visit to Special Collections to investigate our Modern First Editions collection, particularly looking at self-publication and small presses. The module culminates in the creation of a piece of original creative writing, which the students then publish themselves using online software to design every last detail of the physical book. This in itself is an exciting achievement, but to celebrate the occasion, Special Collections hosted the book launch for all of these writers to talk about their work, perform readings and generally share their enthusiasm.

Enjoying the event

Enjoying the event

Among the guests were friends, family, academic and library staff, and all enjoyed hearing these new writers read their prose and poetry, each unique and with their own, clear style. With subjects ranging from the experiences of a 20-something, family and identity, conformity, disability and mystery, we were entertained over two hours by the students’ talent, vision and their ability to engage the whole audience.

A reading

Engaging the audience…

A reading

… and sharing the story

Once the books have been marked and moderated, copies will be deposited in Special Collections, so that we can showcase the talent which this University has inspired. This module also ran last year, and we are currently in the process of transferring the completed books from 2012 into our collections.

Celebrations and events aside, this term has seen us make great strides with our collections, thanks to the hard work of regular staff and a committed core of volunteers. The sermon notes of Hewlett Johnson have now been completely catalogued and are searchable on the Special Collections website. Similarly, a large chunk of the new B. J. Rahn Collection of twentieth century theatre programmes has been catalogued and added to the website. Work is also ongoing on our deed boxes of legal materials relating to Dion Boucicault and on the significant research papers of Andrew Hendrie, a UoK student whose PhD researched the Coastal Command during the Second World War.

Suffice it to say, the work here is always varied!

We have plenty planned out for the next few weeks, when the reading room and all of our services should be running as usual, from 9.30-4.30 Monday-Friday. Expect new collections, new discoveries and more to blog about as we head into (what I hope will be) the summer. In early May, we’re looking forward to a new exhibition to mark the changing attitudes towards women, which we hope will incorporate materials from UoK Special Collections, the Gulbenkian Theatre costume store and Christ Church Canterbury University Special Collections.

So as I sign off for another term and wish everyone a good Easter vacation, I’d just like to remind you to come and take a look at our current exhibition, curated by students from the School of Drama. Or if you can’t make it in person, try the digital exhibition, accessible via the website and let us know what you think.

Easter already! And some bank holiday closures

What a term it’s been…and we haven’t even finished it yet! However, although term won’t finish until Friday 5 April, Special Collections will be closed over the Bank Holiday, from Thursday 28 March. We will reopen at 9.30 am on Tuesday 5 April.

Looking back on the last post I created in February, I am rather ashamed to note that I wrote it over a month ago. Many apologies for staying so out of the loop, but the time has gone so quickly that we really have had very little time to sit at our desks!

So what has been keeping us so busy? Well, our main business this term has been working with the lovely second year students of Dr. Helen Brooks’ theatre history module. We have worked on this in the past, but this year was the first time that Special Collections took such a major role in the teaching of the course. Over nine weeks, we have hosted seminars for the students and helped them to discover many of the gems in our theatre and performance archives from the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

Exhibition posterFor the final assessment, the students curated an exhibition of our materials on topics of their choice, brought together under the banner of ‘A Night at the Victorian and Edwardian Theatre’. These include such diverse themes as crime, characters, theatregoing and pantomime. For the first time, this year, we’ve used the public gallery space on level 1 of the Templeman, behind the cafe, for their display. Not only was the exhibition more public than ever before – demanding such skills as framing and spraymounting – but the students were also charged with the organisation of the whole process, including linking the exhibitions into one coherent whole and organising the launch.

As ever, the students created a fascinating and visually stunning exhibition, as well as a launch event, last Tuesday, which was enjoyed by everyone who attended. This included a ten minute pantomime, written for the occassion, and some painstakingly prepared snacks of cucumber sandwiches! As the culmination of the module, it was a lovely event to celebrate the success of the term.

Getting ready for the panto

Getting ready for the panto

If you happen to be in the Templeman, do come and have a look – but the exhibition won’t end when the materials come down in May. This is because the students also created digital exhibitions, so that their work will be available to look at in years to come. Take a look at their work on the Exhibitions Page. You can also take a look at some of the earlier years’ exhibitions by following the links.

Of course, we have more excitement planned and discoveries to make before the end of term – and then beyond – so do keep an eye on the Blog for updates.

And if you’re intrigued by the sound of this module – or theatre history in general, do come along to the third in our series of annual talks, which will be given by Helen Brooks on theatre during the First World War on 23 May 2013.

For now, have a great weekend and we look forward to seeing you next week.