The 15th April 1912 was a dark day in maritime history. RMS Titanic sank during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City, after hitting an iceberg. The Titanic was built at Harland and Wolff, Belfast and was the largest passenger liner in the world at the time. The accident resulted in the loss of over 1500 lives.
News of the tragedy spread around the world and the sinking was huge news in the media. Punch included a dedication to those who drowned.
“Tears for the dead, who shall not come again Homeward to any shore on any tide! Tears for the dead! But through that bitter rain Breaks, like an April sun, the smile of pride.
What courage yielded place to others’ need, Patient of discipline supreme decree, Well may we guess who know that gallant breed Schooled in the ancient chivalry of the sea! O.S.”
People wrote of the Titanic’s sinking in their diaries and in letters. The M. P., Charles Philips Trevelyan wrote to his daughter, asking if Miss Clarke had told her of the accident.
The letter reads,
“Has Miss Clarke told you the dreadful story of the ship-wreck of the Titanic? It struck on an ice-berg and went down and hundreds of people were drowned.”
His wife, Mary Trevelyan, known as Molly, wrote in her diary of the tragedy,
“The last week has been overshadowed by the most terrible shipping disaster that has ever happened. There are two giant White Star ships, The Olympic and The Titanic, the biggest liners afloat. The Titanic with 2,200 on board, started on her maiden voyage at the end of last week and on Sunday night, just before midnight, she struck an iceberg, 600 miles from the American coast and sunk in 2.5 hours. All the women and children were saved, but hardly any men. There were 13 lifeboats full, and overfull. The titanic marconied for help, and the Carpathia came under full steam, and arrived at dawn to fill the boats but no Titanic. The accounts are heartrending, and one could hardly read them without tears.”
The former Professor of Classics at Armstrong College, John Wight Duff, wrote of how the disaster was mentioned in the Church service he attended at Croft, on 21st April 1912.
The diary entry from 21st April 1912 reads,
“The Rector’s sermon was on Exod. [Exodus] XV. 5. “The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone” and touched on “the week of eclipse when it was dark at noonday” and shadowed with the gloom of the loss of the Titanic on an ice field and the drowning of over 1400 passengers and crew.”
The journalist and author Frederic Whyte, mentions the event in a letter to his then future wife. Included are cuttings about another passenger who perished, the journalist W. T. Stead being aboard the ship, as well as information of a special service held in his memory.
There has always been a lot of interest in the Titanic, partly as it was known as the “unsinkable” ship. The wreck of the Titanic was eventually discovered in September 1985, when it was discovered to have split into two., but due to deterioration the ship has never been raised. There have been further expeditions to the wreck to recover items, leading to various exhibitions about it around the world.
Many books, fiction and non-fiction including Clive Cussler’s Raise the Titanic and films, including James Cameron’s Titanic.
In recent years a Titanic Quarter has been developed in Belfast which is proving to be a popular visitor attraction and ensuring that the name Titanic lives on.
We are proud to announce that David Constantine, the award-winning English poet, translator and literary figure has chosen to entrust his personal papers to Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives. Born in Salford Lancashire in 1944, he is a key contemporary writer and his career of over forty years has placed him at the heart of British literary culture. The archive, which is currently being catalogued, gives a unique opportunity to access his work and influence.
“Coming to the North East in the autumn of 1969 to take up a job as Lecturer in German at the University of Durham, I very soon realized my good fortune. I had been writing poems and stories – badly – for some years by then, and in Durham, where we lived, and in Newcastle, there was a lively literary scene. At readings (Colpitts, Morden Tower, the two Universities) and in conversations with other writers, I began to find my own way and get one or two things published, in Jon Silkin’s Stand, for example. But the big event and greatest encouragement was getting to know Neil Astley, who founded Bloodaxe Books in 1978, and published my first collection three years later. I knew at once that was where I wanted to be, and there I have been ever since. Poets who were my friends and whose work I admire – Ken Smith and Helen Dunmore, for example – have died along the way, which saddened me but further deepened my gratitude and loyalty to Bloodaxe, our shared publisher. Altogether, although I moved to Oxford in 1981 and have gained much from being there, I felt a strong allegiance to the North, especially once Ra Page founded Comma Press in Manchester (2002) and began to publish my fiction. My roots are in the North, in Salford, a good deal of my writing (though by no means all or even most of it) has dealt with Northern places and people. So that, in brief, is why I wanted my archive to go to Newcastle and I am grateful it has been accepted there.”
In 1980, Constantine’s poetry collection A Brightness to Cast Shadows was one of the first to be published by Bloodaxe Books, and he has remained with them as publishers of his poetry. Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives also houses the Bloodaxe Books archive. Find out more about Constantine’s connection to Bloodaxe Books here; https://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/category/david-constantine.
In 2020, Constantine was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He has published fifteen collections of his own work and several in collaboration with other poets. His work in translating poetry from German has twice won him the Poetry Society’s European Poetry Translation Prize, once in 1996 for his collection of the poems of Fredrich Hölderlin and again in 2003 for Hans Magnus Enzenberger’s collection Lighter than Air.
Often using a metaphysical poetics, Constantine’s poetry has been described as possessing “rare lyric intensity” and “confessional intimacy” (https://poetryarchive.org/poet/david-constantine/). Constantine asserts that he uses his poetry as a “utopian demonstration” of “what true freedom would be like” (ibid). He suggests that poetry “helps keep hope alive […] [and] incites us to make more radical demands” (ibid). His most notable works include Watching for Dolphins (1983), A Pelt of Wasps (1998), Nine Fathoms Deep (2009), Elder (2014) and Belongings (2020). Watching for Dolphins won the Poetry Society’s Alice Hunt Bartlett Award in 1984 and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize in 2002.
Constantine has also published six short story collections including Under the Dam (2005), The Sheiling (2009), Tea at the Midland (2012) and In Another Country (2015). In 2010, Tea at the Midland, “a masterful story, pregnant with fluctuating interpretations and concealed motives,” won the BBC National Short Story Award (theguardian.com/books/2012/dec/14/tea-at-midland-david-constantine-review). In the same year, The Sheiling was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and Tea at the Midland went on to win this in 2013. In 2015, the short story In Another Country was adapted into the acclaimed and successful box office film 45 Years. The Guardian reviewed it as “supremely intelligent and moving” and Charlotte Rampling was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress (theguardian.com/film/2015/aug/27/45-years-review). See more about 45 Years here; https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3544082/.
Constantine’s body of work also contains two novels, Davies (1985) and The Life Writer (2015). Both explore themes of uncovering the past through traces and memories, and the archive gives a unique opportunity to discover how Constantine engages with these dynamics. Davies is a fictional realisation of the life of a notorious habitual petty-criminal David Davies (1849-1929). In response to Constantine’s newspaper advert requesting memories of Davies, the archive reveals the wealth of information he received in the form of letters. One elderly woman remembers that the mystery behind a missing stolen bottle was solved when it was found years later by her aunt. Below a section of the finished typescript reveals that Constantine builds this fragment of memory directly into his narrative and that he uses the character of the ‘Master’ to voice his own pride in having revealed this intriguing detail.
Constantine has also worked at the heart of British literary culture and the archive evidences his commitment to its promotion and production. His editorial work ranged from the grassroots development of the Oxford Magazine to the international stage of Modern Poetry in Translation and the canonical reach of The Poetry Book Society Anthology.
He was chief judge for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize and in 2004, he brought his contribution to contemporary debates on poetic theory to Newcastle University with a lecture series in association with Bloodaxe Books. This series was published as A Living Language and sought to evaluate the functions of poetry, asking what it must do to achieve lasting worth and value. Find out more about this series here; https://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/a-living-language-797.
Each year the last weekend of January is time for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ (RSPB) annual Big Garden Birdwatch. It’s a time when we’re all encouraged to go and count the birds we see – maybe in your garden, from a balcony or window, or in a local park, and submit the results online. The initiative helps monitor the bird population in the UK.
There’s lots of opportunities to spot birds and other wildlife in the North East of England, and our archives and rare books reflect people’s interest with the natural world across history. One example of these is this fabulous bird illustrations from our Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive.
Joseph Crawhall II (1821-1896) was a businessman, artist and patron of the arts. His artistic achievements including wood engraving, watercolours and contributions to Punch magazine. The pursuits of himself and his family contributed to the thriving cultural environment of 19th Century Newcastle.
However, the illustrations we’re highlighting here were not created by Joseph. They are pages from illustrated diaries and sketchbooks attributed to his brother, George Edward Crawhall (1821-1896). This generation of Crawhall siblings were all artists – George and Joseph but also brother Thomas and their sister Jane. George’s legacy is not as celebrated as his brother Joseph’s, but he also contributed to some of Joseph’s most famous works, including the Compleatest Angling Booke, for which George contributed the trout tail which features at the end.
These diaries/sketchbooks reveal George’s travel in England and Scotland between 1867 and the 1890s. Many of the images depict scenes from the North East, such as the image below of a coot and moorhen fighting in Brandling Park – just around the corner from the Philip Robinson Library, home to Newcastle University’s Special Collections and Archives.
The diaries record many of scenes of hunting and fishing, alongside natural history studies. Birds feature heavily, although frequently under the gaze of armed hunters.
The beautiful circular designs featured in this blog post each showcase a different bird native to the UK, and were likely intended to appear on decorative plates.
Will you see any of these birds in this year’s Birdwatch?
You can read more about the Big Garden Birdwatch and sign up to participate on the RSPB’s website.
You can read more about the fascinating Crawhall family history and their relationship with the North East in this blog.
Bonfire Night is synonymous with the name Guy Fawkes and the failed plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Fawkes was one of the five main conspirators, but not the leader. This was Robert Catesby, and another eight men were recruited later. Another of the main conspirators was Thomas Percy, second cousin once removed from the 9th Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy.
Thomas Percy was a tall and “wild” man whose conversion to Catholicism calmed him. It was said by Gerard that he was a bigamist having one wife in London and another in the provinces.
He was employed by his relative, Earl of Northumberland to collect rents, and later became Constable of the Castle in 1596.
Percy despised King James for the continued persecution to Catholics, despite verbal reassurances to the contrary. In 1604 he became the fifth member to join Catesby in the Gunpowder plot. His role was to rent a property in Westminster and obtain a lease underneath the first floor of the Houses of Parliament. Guy Fawkes was “appointed” as a “servant” to the property.
When the gunpowder and Guy Fawkes were discovered, it was Thomas Percy’s name given on the first arrest warrant, as Fawkes declared he was Thomas’s servant.
When the plot was discovered most of the conspirators escaped from London, however Thomas Percy and Robert Catesby were killed at Holbeche House, Staffordshire. Their bodies were later exhumed, and their heads displayed outside Parliament House.
Henry Percy became Earl of Northumberland after his father’s suicide in the Tower of London in 1585. Although a protestant, the Earl was a Catholic sympathizer and sent his cousin Thomas on missions to glean any information from the King about being more tolerant to the Catholics.
After the failed Gunpowder Plot, Henry Percy was arrested as it was thought he knew about it, as he had met with Thomas on 4th November. As it couldn’t be proven either way as Thomas was killed on 7th November, Henry was charged with lesser offences and imprisoned in the Tower of London and fined £30,000 where he remained for 16 years.
The legacy of this event is the annual celebration through the lighting of fires and fireworks which takes place on 5th November.
To acknowledge Digital Preservation Day, staff at Newcastle University Special Collections wanted to share some of their recent experiences in accessioning born digital material. The practical part of the digital preservation process has been on pause since the start of the pandemic, but now we are back in the office, interacting with our colleagues and scrutinising all the data involved in protecting the longevity of the bit stream.
Introducing Digital Preservation
Before we dive into what we have been doing, we thought it would be good to introduce our understanding of digital preservation, what it is and why it is considered increasingly important for archival collections. For those of you au fait with the theory of born digital material feel free to skip to the next section.
Digital preservation can be defined as a structured set of activities designed to ensure continued access to born digital materials for as long as it is deemed necessary. This includes maintaining the availability of compatible hardware-software relationships, trained practitioners, and appropriate workflows to select, transfer, ingest, and access ‘born digital’ files.
There are no rigid workflows for a successful digital preservation strategy that are applicable for all organisations, but there are widely used software, helpful resources and models to aid you when formulating your own managed set of activities which can be tailored towards your own institution. See here for a handy guide introducing you to the technical jargon. The presence of born digital materials held in archival collections is becoming increasingly paramount, especially when cataloguing and providing access to late twentieth century material. Therefore, it follows that the knowledge and skills to preserve and provide access to them is also being increasingly highlighted.
Digital Preservation within Newcastle University Special Collections
A department wide digital preservation strategy has been in place within Newcastle University Special Collections since 2019. This includes full workflows to accession, process and catalogue, access, and preserve born digital materials within the wider aims of facilitating research, encouraging collection transparency and maintaining a pathway to providing long-term access to heritage collections. Following these steps users of special collections can now access digital material held within the Bloodaxe and Donaldson, (Sir Liam) collections.
Newcastle University has recently become the recipient of the Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive, and one of our next priorities is to process the collection. You would expect a substantial architectural collection to contain voluminous quantities of physical building plans, and this collection is no exception. However, the archive also contains a substantial amount of born digital material in the form of CAD and drawing files, along with the quantities of reports and contractual documentation involving the professional practice of Sir Terry as leading architect over the course of his professional life. These digital records are predominantly contained within CD-R’s and the occasional floppy disc.
Fresh from ‘Novice to Know-How’ training prepared by the National Archives, Senior Archives Assistant, Jemma Singleton set about actioning the existing digital preservation strategy for this material. It was a way of testing out new-found knowledge in a practical way, and to explore the applicability of conducting regular digital preservation as a parallel exercise to more traditional archival cataloguing. The second part of this blog post details what we did, challenges we faced, how we creatively solved these challenges, and what we learned during the process.
Accessioning Born Digital Architecture Files
The items selected for digital accession and file transfer involved Sir Terry Farrell’s work for the refurbishment of the Royal Institution, along with some video interviews. The item containers (eg: the CD-R) had already been physically catalogued, but the contents needed to be virus checked, validated and transferred. The following working practice, supported with in-house demonstration and advice by Archivist, Ruth Sheret, is detailed below.
Assign a parent-code file ID and keep daily log of activities up to date for steps (2-5).
Run each disc through virus checking software (Malwarebytes Premium), using an un-networked quarantine computer, and note the results.
Validate digital item using DROID to check for encrypted files, unexpected file types, file structures, or files that are not wanted, and note the results.
Transfer files to a local area, using checksum SHA-56 on the material, once prior to transfer and once it has been transferred to the local area. Check they match.
Refile physical item and repeat for all desired material.
Transfer files from local area to shared access area once computer is connected back to the network (but only if it remains virus free!).
Challenges and Workaround Solutions
Appropriate Equipment in the Right Location
The Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive is stored separately from the majority of Newcastle University Special Collections. The process of acquiring and setting up an appropriate virus checking computer is currently delayed with the IT department at Newcastle University. This meant that identified born digital items within the collection were transported to the main library where an established quarantine computer was used. Although it would be ideal to have the appropriately set up IT systems in the right location, transporting items where there are adequate digital preservation resources may prove to be an adequate long-term work around. This solution had the serendipitous consequence of enabling other colleagues (Rachel Hawkes, Literary Archivist) working on other collections with born digital material to engage in training, enhancing the digital preservation skill set of the wider team.
As we hadn’t used this computer for a while, one of the first things required was an update for all the software we use for transferring born digital material. One of our tools (DROID) was glitchy in the morning and so we decided on an alternative work around – either hold off on the validation process for a later date, or make manual checks. This was an easy decision to make for the material we had, Ruth checked the material and quickly decided that manual checks would be reliable and not very time consuming. It was decided to harvest the metadata at a future stage in whole digital preservation process.
This session was a virus-free party and special care was taken to make sure the hardware was always unplugged from the network. However, some checksum results pre and post transfer were not exact. This was often due to an inbuilt folder within the portable hardware storage device, acting as a secondary digital container but not a relevant digital record. Nevertheless, this required an in-depth, manual check of files transferred from its physical format onto the local system.
Aspects of the virus checking and file transfer process can feel like lost hours, as they are out of your control once the computer processes have been initiated. The most significant factor to consider is how long it can take to transfer quantities of large files from a local-offline environment to a shared networked workspace at the end of a digital preservation session. For this session there was a total of 3851 files requiring 38 minutes to transfer over. Knowledge of the length of time that different parts of the digital preservation process can take will come with experience and the confidence to conduct other workplace activities alongside digital preservation. Top tip – save enough time to do the offline to online file transfer at the end of the day, especially if you have a bus to catch, or a dentist appointment, or post-work fun times.
Digital Preservation Day Reflections
It is a positive step to begin implementing the long-term working strategy for born digital files from the Sir Terry Farrell archive, in line with the existing processes of Newcastle University Special Collections. It also felt good to create solutions to working obstacles that cropped up along the way. Future steps for this collection will be to formally catalogue the digital files and make access copies for users, along with incorporating regular digital preservation sessions into the cataloguing activities.
It was noted that much of the intellectual content of born digital materials transferred as part of the Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive already exists as a physical copy within the collection. This has raised a wider question about how many copies of an item should be kept and in which format? A preference for physical collections is space hungry but relatively stable to store, where-as born digital material is physically economic for space, but cost over time to host and maintain on a server. Then there is the umming and aaahhing about how an appropriate strategy is resourced and organised for the long-term accessibility of born digital materials that increasingly form the records of any modern organisation, and, specific to this blog, archives dealing with late twentieth/early twenty first century material. But that may need to wait for another time: protect your bits and Happy Digital Preservation Day.
Sir Terry Farrell’s archive has been generously loaned to Newcastle University Library and is currently being catalogued. Once catalogued it will be made fully available to the public. All rights held by The Terry Farrell Foundation.
Frederick Douglass’story as a black American started in the same way as many others of his era, born into slavery. Thanks to his determination and good luck he was able to escape the lifelong toil that many of his fellow black Americans endured, educate himself and then tell his story highlighting the plight of fighting for the rights of black Americans. The story of his life includes a journey to the UK, and Newcastle, where he would meet a local family that had a lasting impact on his ability to live a free life in America.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 on a plantation in Talbot, Maryland. His father was white, and possibly the ‘owner’ of his mother. He was removed from his mother as a young child, and only had limited contact with her prior to her death, while Douglass was still a child. After being a slave for a number of years he escaped from his owner in Baltimore on the 3rd of September 1838 and travelled to New York. Once there he set about educating himself and eventually telling his story through an autobiography.
In 1845 ‘The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: written by himself’ was published. This detailed his early life, escape from slavery, and new life as a free man. Across the Atlantic and during the early years of Douglass’ life, the Whig government in Britain (led by Earl Grey II who hailed from Northumberland) passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. This act would make owning a slave in much of the British Empire illegal by 1840.
In August 1845 Frederick Douglass sailed across the Atlantic to Great Britain to promote his cause. A review of his book was published in July 1846 in the Newcastle Guardian. The review highlights in critical terms, the American ‘institution of slavery’ and introduces his story and selected quotes from his work.
During his 19 month stay in Britain he toured the country giving public lectures detailing his life, slavery in America and promoting abolition. This included a short stay in Newcastle, at the home of Henry and Anna Richardson and their sister-in-law Ellen. They were Quakers who lived in a house on Summerhill Grove near the city centre. His stay, and the impact the family had on Douglass’ life is commemorated by a plaque on the house. He made such an impact on the Richardson’s that they set about raising £150 and instructed a lawyer in America to formerly buy Douglass’ freedom from his former enslaver in late 1846.
Near the end of his tour of Britain Douglass was invited to give a farewell speech at the London Tavern on the 30th of March 1847 by the Council of the Anti-Slavery League. They later published a transcript of the speech he gave, a copy of which forms part of Special Collection’s Cowen Tracts Collection, collected by Joseph Cowen, a 19th Century reformist MP from Newcastle. You can read more about the life of Joseph Cowen here.
In his speech at the London Tavern Frederick Douglass covers a number of topics. He covers the American constitution, the slave keeping system and references the abolition of slavery in Canada which had been enacted by Earl Grey’s government.
He went on to talk about the purchase of his freedom by the Richardson’s saying:
… As to the kind friends who have made the purchase of my freedom, I am deeply grateful to them. I would never have solicited them to have done so, or have asked them for money for such a purpose. I never could have suggested to them the propriety of such an act. It was done from the prompting or suggestion of their own hearts, entirely independent of myself…. (Cowen Tracts, Vol.17, No.12, pg16)
Later in his speech he went on to recount his feelings and experience of the 19 months he spent in Britain, contrasting it with the conditions he encountered in Boston before he boarded the Cambria and travelled across the Atlantic:
… I say that I have here, within the last nineteen months, for the first time in my life, known what it was to enjoy liberty. I remember, just before leaving Boston for this country, that I was even refused permission to ride in an omnibus. Yes, on account of the colour of my skin, I was kicked from a public conveyance just a few days before I left the “cradle of liberty”. (Cowen Tracts, Vol.17, No.12, pg19)
He also recounts his experience of being refused entry to churches in Boston and not being permitted to “even to go into a menagerie or theatre, if I wished to have gone there” (Pg 19) and that “I was not granted any of these common and ordinary privileges of free men.” (pg 20).
He concluded his speech by explaining his hopes and plans for his return to America saying:
…I go, turning my back upon the ease, comfort, and respectability which I might maintain even here, ignorant as I am. Still, I will go back, for the sake of my brethren. I go to suffer with them; to toil with them; to endure insult with them; to undergo outrage with them; to lift up my voice in their behalf; to speak and write in their vindication; and struggle in their ranks for that emancipation which shall yet be achieved by the power of truth and of principle for the oppressed people… (Cowen Tracts, Vol.17, No.12, pg21)
The speech he gave at the London Tavern gives us a valuable insight in Frederick Douglass’ own words of his experiences of slavery, how he valued the time he spent in Britain and the people that met and supported him while here. It also demonstrates that though he was now free himself he saw his future in helping his enslaved brethren, using his platform to promote their cause and work towards their emancipation, even if that meant experiencing the racial prejudices of 19th Century America.
On the 4th of April Frederick Douglass embarked the Cambria to travel across the Atlantic back to the United States. On boarding he was informed that the birth he had booked was occupied and that he would not be allowed to mix with the other passengers on account of his colour. After returning to America he would go on to spend the next 50 years working and campaigning for the rights of black Americans and women. He died in Washington DC, aged 77 in February 1895. Newcastle University’s Frederick Douglass Building, close to where he stayed during his time in Newcastle, is named in his honour.
“Writing was a political act and poetry was a cultural weapon…”
So stated the renowned Jamaican dub poet, recording-artist and activist Linton Kwesi Johnson (b. 24 August 1952). Based in the United Kingdom since 1963, in 2002 he became the second living poet, and the only black poet, to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series.
In the Bloodaxe Books Archive, Special Collections holds a set of proofs for Linton Kwesi Johnson’s 1991 poetry anthology Tings an Times which accompanied an album of the same name. Amongst the proofs resides this draft typescript of Johnson’s great dub poem Di Great Insohreckshan which he famously wrote as a response to the Brixton Uprising which took place 40 years ago this year, in April 1981. The poem first featured on his album Making History in 1983.
Dub poetry, a term coined by Johnson himself, was a form of performance poetry of West Indian origin, written to be spoken out loud against a backdrop of reggae music.
The Brixton Uprising, also referred to as the Brixton Riots, took place 10-12 April 1981. It was the first large-scale racial confrontation between black British youth and white British police. The rioting was sparked by decades of injustices experienced by black people in the UK.
Next month will see the fortieth anniversary of the publication of the Scarman Report, commissioned by the UK government in response to the Brixton Uprising. Amongst other conclusions, the Report found there to be unquestionable evidence of the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of ‘stop and search’ powers by the police against young black people and placed the Brixton Uprising into the context of the racial disadvantage faced by them.
Linton Kwesi Johnson’s poetry is deeply political in its nature, dealing mainly with the experiences of being an African-Caribbean in Britain. Written and spoken in Jamaican Creole English, Di Great Insohreckshan railed against the injustice and oppression which brought about the tensions leading to the Brixton Uprising, giving full vent to black people’s anger and highlighting the government’s political failure.
When first performed, Di Great Insohreckshan grabbed and demanded the attention of those who heard it, with its intense, urgent, streetwise and intellectual delivery. Forty years on the poem is held to stand alongside TV and radio archive as a primary source in its own right, helping future generations understand the cultural and political upheaval that led to the Brixton Uprising of 1981.
Newcastle seems to be experiencing an endless period of building and regeneration. The Evening Chronicle recently reported that a ‘run-down corner of Newcastle city centre is currently being redeveloped to bring new office buildings, a public square, shops, bars, and restaurants. ‘Pilgrim Place’ is currently being built in an area on the eastern side of Pilgrim Street, after the scheme was approved by Newcastle City Council’s planning Committee in July 2021.
As a main route into (and out of) Newcastle, Pilgrim Street has been the centre of many similar schemes in the past. When construction of the Tyne Bridge commenced in 1925, the lower end of Pilgrim Street was cleared of many historic buildings dating back to the Sixteenth Century.
When the Swan House roundabout was built between 1963 and 1969, more buildings were demolished, including the ‘revered’ Royal Arcade which many people still mourn, even though it was never a commercial success and had fallen into disrepair due to its location outside the main shopping area of the city.
The imposing Pilgrim Street police, magistrates court, and fire station building, the work of local architectural firm Cackett, Burns Dick & MacKellar, is a central landmark in the new development. Built between 1931 and 1933 to replace a previous station, it was Grade-II-listed in 1999 and is earmarked for conversion to a five-star hotel.
Thomas Cackett & Robert Burns Dick contributed greatly to the appearance of Pilgrim Street; further up the road, they were responsible for the design of the stately Northern Conservative Club at 29 Pilgrim Street, near the Paramount cinema (later the Odeon). This was later demolished to make way for one of the city’s most-disliked buildings, Commercial Union House. Blame T. Dan Smith!
Robert Burns Dick enjoyed a larger-than-life reputation in his adopted home town of Newcastle. Born in Stirling in 1868, his family had moved south when he was very young and Burns Dick always regarded himself as a Geordie.
After attending the Royal Grammar School and art school, he moved through various architectural firms before entering into partnership with another Scot in Newcastle, Thomas Cackett. Burns Dick provided the creativity while Cackett looked after the business. The company went on to design many of Newcastle’s most important buildings, including the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle University Students’ Union building, the Pilgrim Street police and fire station, the Bridge Hotel, and the extension of the Northumberland County Council offices, now the Vermont Hotel. Away from Newcastle, Burns Dick was the man behind Whitley Bay’s recently-reopened Spanish City buildings and Berwick-upon-Tweed’s old police station (regarded by many as the model for the Laing Art Gallery). An advocate of the Garden City movement, in the 1920s he helped design west Newcastle’s low-rise, low-density and landscaped Pendower housing estate.
The Burns Dick (Robert) Archive
Our Burns Dick (Robert) Archive was collated after a 1984 exhibition about the architect, held by the Royal Institute of British Architects Northern Region. Although instrumental in the design of some of the area’s best architecture, it was felt that Burns Dick had been ‘forgotten’. The archive comprises photographs of Burns Dick and his family, two University dissertations about him, and a collection of press cuttings about Burns Dick and the exhibition. These provide a good overview of his life and outline some of his ambitious plans for Newcastle.
In 1924 Burns Dick was a founder member of the Newcastle upon Tyne Society to ‘Improve the Beauty, Health and Amenities of the City’. He advocated a green belt around Newcastle and drew up a list of city centre historic buildings to be saved from any future demolition or decay.
Newcastle’s pre-eminent Victorian architects, Richard Grainger and John Dobson, had created an architecturally beautiful city but its roads were designed for horses and carriages. Burns Dick, although appreciating the pair’s work, said,
‘Is not Newcastle still trading on the brains of Grainger and Dobson and Clayton? . . . It has done nothing since worth mentioning in the same breath.’
He drew up plans for new roads to accommodate the arrival and proliferation of motor vehicles in the city, including a development of his partner Cackett’s 1905 plan for a south to north axial road running from the new Tyne Bridge to Barras Bridge to the east of Northumberland Street, and then to his proposed civic buildings on a site near Exhibition Park.
Had Newcastle Council not suffered a funding shortage and a change in political power, Burns Dick’s plan for roads, and his grand entrance arch at the northern end of the Tyne Bridge, may have gone ahead. The arch would, of course, have led onto Pilgrim Street, which became the Great North Road (later the A1).
Maybe as compensation, Cackett & Burns Dick were handed the contract to design Newcastle’s new fire, police station and courts.
Burns Dick eventually moved to Esher, Surrey, and died there in 1954. His body was returned to Newcastle and he was buried in Elswick Cemetery.
In Newcastle, the city’s 1960s planners sat and planned a new north-to-south road running to the east of Northumberland Street. This was eventually opened in 1970 and named after one of the Newcastle’s Victorian architects, John Dobson.
T. Dan Smith, Leader of Newcastle City Council from 1960 to 1965 and the city’s ‘bogeyman’, is often credited with the destruction of Newcastle’s historic buildings and their replacement with ugly concrete blocks, even though much of what he is held responsible for was built after his period in office.
Ellen Lindner’s The Black Feather Falls is part of the recently-acquired collection of comic books that were formerly owned by Terry Wiley.
The Black Feather Falls was originally published in three volumes that were collected and published as a single-volume graphic novel under the same title in 2015. The series is set in the 1920s and features as its main character Tina Swift, a young American woman, who has recently moved to England and works in a dress shop in London. The street outside the shop becomes a murder scene where Tina discovers a black feather – a clue to the crime, but one that the police dismiss. Tina decides to solve the crime herself with the help of Miss McInteer, a stenographer at the local paper, which leads her back into the past, to events of the First World War. The series was nominated for the Ignatz award for Outstanding Series in 2014; the awards recognise outstanding achievements in cartooning and comics and are held annually in the United States.
This work is of particular significance for its blending of literary genres. The interwar mystery that comprises the action of the plot relates to the interwar ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction that occurred both in Britain and the United States. Lindner’s choice of a main character that is both a professional woman, working to live independently, and amateur detective also relates to the growing number of women embarking on careers in this period. The artwork for this series demonstrates a use of limited colour palette and strong outlining to characters and scenes, showcasing Lindner’s distinctive style whilst detailing many aspects of the 1920s setting such as the clothing fashions and interior designs. The appearance of cosmetic items such as lipstick and compacts, along with ‘flapper’ style dresses of a looser fit and shorter hairstyles with cloche hats relate to the specific context of the 1920s that saw these changes in dress styles, accessories and millinery.
The Wylie (Terry) Comics are currently being catalogued. These three volumes are part of a collection that spans several decades of comics and graphic novels, and many artists, authors and cartoonists. These are not the only examples of the use of crime and mystery genres; there are also many volumes of Paul Grist’s Kane series about a detective working in a precinct of a fictional American city and works set in previous decades and fantasy worlds are also well represented. Special Collections and Archives also has many items relating to independent publishers, including the archives and collections of Iron Press, Bloodaxe Books and Flambard Press, and of illustrators including satirical prints, such as those in the James Gillray Collection, and children’s books.
The story of Dr Ruth Nicholson and the women of Royaumont Military Hospital
This is an online version of the exhibition People don’t know about them…, which was on display in the Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms, Newcastle University, 28th October 2016 – 15th January 2017. The exhibition was the result of a collaborative oral history project based at Newcastle University Library, and part of the Universities at War programme.
Many thanks to the creators of the original exhibition, Sam Wagner and Rosemary Nicholson.
Our story starts with Rosemary Nicholson, a local Newcastle woman who contacted the Universities at War project to tell us about her husband’s aunt Ruth – a Newcastle University medical graduate who had worked as a surgeon in a military hospital in France throughout the First World War, under the direction of the French Red Cross.
A female medical graduate?
A military hospital staffed entirely by women?
And why the French Red Cross?
The story caught the eye of Sam Wagner, an archaeology student in her final year of study at Newcastle University, who had joined the Universities at War project in 2015.
Sam’s exhibition is the result of her own historical research and interviews with Rosemary – capturing her memories of family stories about Ruth, as told through Ruth’s sister, Alison, who was still alive when Rosemary married into the family.
It is the fascinating story of an amazing Newcastle woman, whose story had been almost forgotten – passed on by the women in her family who had never forgotten and who wanted her story to be told.
The College of Medicine – Newcastle upon Tyne
Ruth Nicholson completed her high school education at Newcastle upon Tyne High School and registered as a student at the College of Medicine in 1904. After graduating in 1911 she worked in a dispensary in Newcastle before going to Edinburgh where she became an assistant to Dr Elsie Inglis in the Bruntsfield Hospital. As Rosemary states, she then worked in Palestine before returning to England at the outbreak of the First World War.
“There were seven of them all together, one brother and Ruth the eldest. This was taken at Newton Vicarage where they lived later on in their father’s life. Their father was a vicar.
Their mother was rather a remarkable woman I think for her time because she wanted all her children to get professional qualifications regardless of whether they were men or women … So Ruth qualified as a doctor in Newcastle, and then the youngest, Wyn, also qualified as a doctor. The only one who didn’t get special qualifications is Alison. She was always rather a joke in the family. She had a lover in Romania and that’s what distracted her!”
“That picture’s Ruth in 1909 when she qualified … she qualified as the only woman in her year. And I think that she probably was quite a convinced suffragette. I don’t know whether she was a suffragette or a suffragist but you know Newcastle was a centre for a quite militant suffragette movement … Newcastle had some quite militant women!
It was quite difficult I think for women to get work as doctors in England. She went to work briefly in Edinburgh with a very distinguished woman doctor called Elsie Ingles and then she went to work out in Palestine in Gaza, which was before the First World War.”
The start of the First World War
“And then 1914, obviously the First World War is declared and she came back to England, and she’d been working as a surgeon. She offered her services to the War Office and the War Office accepted her and said yes and then she got her kit together and turned up at Victoria Station in London to join her group to go out to France to the military hospital out in France and the doctor in charge said “I’m not having a woman. I’m not taking her”.
So she was very, well according to the family, she was terribly terribly angry and upset. And she went back to Elsie Inglis in Edinburgh … she’d [Inglis] started a 100-bed hospital entirely with women, it was called the Scottish Women’s Hospital and she had also offered her 100-bed hospital to the War Office but the War Office said – I’ve forgotten what it is exactly they said – something like “Go home and sit down”.
She didn’t like that!”
Rosemary’s family stories appear to be entirely correct. Research by the National Archives confirms that Inglis was told by an official “My good lady, go home and sit still”. In her 1928 book, The Cause, Ray Strachey found evidence of accounts that suggested the commanding officers had told Inglis they “did not want to be troubled with hysterical women”.
The Hospital at Royaumont
“ So they offered the hospital to the French in London – the French Ambassador and he said “yes please” the French would like them, because apparently the French, this is again just through the family myth probably, the French were very aware of the deficiencies in their medical services and they were worried when the war was declared.
The president of the [French] Red Cross found them Royaumont, but Royaumont, the abbey hadn’t been inhabited for quite a long time; been used as stables and it had no, I don’t think it had electricity and it didn’t have any lifts, which they found really really difficult for dealing with stretchers and trolleys and things like that when they opened the abbey. The abbey was full of nuns, they were kind of helping out, but it was an empty shell of a building and it was in a terrible state. So, quite how they managed to get it open by 1915, I don’t know what they did.”
Royaumont was the largest continuously-operating voluntary hospital in France at the end of the First World War – over 10,000 patients were treated at Royaumont and its mortality rates were better than its army-run equivalents.
“ They started with 100 beds and by the end or at some stage, they had 600 beds. You probably know that, and some of the wards had 100 beds in them… I mean, I just don’t know how they coped, I don’t know how they did it…They were tough, I think, really tough.”
“ Unfortunately, I never met Ruth because she lived in Devon and she died in 1963, and my husband and I got married in 1962 and I never met her… but I knew Alison because she lived locally [Ruth’s sister Alison had also served in the Royaumont hospital, as an orderly, from September 1916 – March 1919]. I knew her quite well. And she used to talk about it all – they went on having Royaumont reunions right on until the sixties, the middle sixties, you know, which is a long time, you know… She talked about how traumatised people were, nightmares, they continued to have nightmares about it and things. And the doctors too, I think. I think it must have been awful. Really awful.”
“ I make it sound all gloom … but obviously in the First World War they had times of terrible crisis and awful fighting and then other lulls and really not much happening. And apparently, the nursing staff and the doctors, I supposed they were very used at home to providing their own entertainment and things and they would put on shows … Well Ruth, apparently had learnt how to do, while she’d been in Palestine, Dervish Dances, I think she called them her scarf dances! I think the patients liked them a lot!”
The Scottish Women’s Hospitals depended on an extensive network of fundraising, much coming from the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) whose London units provided an x-ray van. Newnham and Girton colleges in Cambridge provided both money and volunteers, as did women in the USA and around the world.
Frances Ivens was the first foreign-born woman to be awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honour, and thirty of her Royaumont colleagues were awarded the Croix de Guerre.
“ And then at the end of the war, these are some of the doctors who got French medals. They got the French Criox de Guerre. This is Frances Ivens … she was the first non-French person ever to get the Legion d’Honneur.”
“ There were two surgeons, Ruth of course, second in command of the hospital I think they called her, and the boss was called Frances Ivens. She was … the rather inspirational woman in charge … I think it’s incredible that quite a lot of the women who came out to be ambulance drivers actually brought their own cars, and had them slightly transformed I think! So, quite a lot of quite rich, I think, young women who could provide their own vehicles. ”
After the War
After the war Ruth specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology and became Gynaecological Surgeon and Clinical Lecturer at the University of Liverpool and was one of the earliest Fellows of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. She became the first woman President of the North of England Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and played a prominent part in the Medical Women’s Federation. Dr Ruth Nicholson died in Exeter on 18 July 1963.
“ I felt she never got the credit she should have had, or the recognition she should have had, or Alison.
People don’t know about them, I mean I write to everybody. I heard the programme on Women’s Hour about the women’s hospital in London and I rang right in to them saying, you know, “What about Royaumont?!”