Gertrude Bell’s Letters: Looking beyond her words

Our Gertrude Bell website (link: features transcripts of thousands of Bell’s letters and diary entries, alongside over 7,500 of her photographs. Thanks to a generous donation from the Harry and Alice Stillman Family Foundation we have been able to digitise and catalogue the letters Bell wrote to her family, her diaries and photographs to modern day archival standards and this process has allowed us to uncover details beyond what has previously been recorded in the transcriptions.

The homepage of the current Gertrude Bell website

Original transcripts of Bell’s letters and diaries were created in the 1990s and published online in the early 2000s. While these provide an excellent resource for exploring their content, cataloguing and digitisation has revealed new details and insight into how Bell communicated with her family, how those letters reached home, and the early 20th Century world she lived in.

When travelling in the Middle East, as she did on several prolonged trips in the 1900s and 1910s, Bell often used her letters to chronicle her journey. She regularly continued writing the same letter for several days, adding a new section each day and posting it when passing through a town. The original transcripts of Bell’s letters treat each day’s addition as a separate page on the website, however cataloguing and digitisation has revealed how often Bell wrote the same letter over multiple days, and sometimes, how rarely she passed civilization and an opportunity to post a letter.

Envelope of a letter posted by Gertrude Bell to her step-mother from Turkey in July 1907, including stamp, postmark, a changed address and later annotations.

The envelopes Bell’s letters were posted in also provide clues about their journey after they were posted home. Her father, a wealthy industrialist, and her step-mother lived between their family home at Rounton Grange in North Yorkshire and Sloane Street in London. Bell would choose one or the other address to post the letter to and if the letters arrived at the address the intended parent was not at they would be forwarded on by crossing out the address and adding the correct one. This was not unlikely when postage from the Arabian Desert to Rounton could take several months! Indeed, the envelopes or letters themselves often contain hand written dates telling us when a letter was received by her family, providing an insight into the speed and efficiency of inter-continental postage of the day.

As records of their journey back to Britain the envelopes also have stamps affixed, postmarks, and during the First World War had stickers applied to signify that they’d been passed by a censor. The stamps provide a small insight into the countries Bell was posting her letters from and their changing political landscapes. This is particularly the case for the time that Gertrude lived and worked in what is now Iraq, during and after the First World War, where the changing face of the British occupation is reflected in the stamps on the envelopes of Gertrude’s letters home.

The front and reverse of an envelope from a letter written by Gertrude Bell to her step-mother in November 1916. The envelope has had a red stamp on its front and label on its rear indicated it has been opened by a censor. A pencil note also shows that this letter was not to be included in the later published work of Bell’s letters.

The letters also reveal clues as to how they’ve been used and managed in the time since Gertrude’s death in 1926. Following her death, Gertrude’s step-mother compiled and published two books containing text from many of Gertrude’s letters. The process of deciding what was and what wasn’t included is seen by the crossing out in pencil of sections of letter, or marking on the envelope that a letter was not to be copied. These are often sections where Gertrude talks about family matters or where Gertrude offered her (typically forthright) opinions of the people she met and worked with. Sometimes brief instructions were scribbled on the letters or envelopes themselves, particularly if a letter was not to be copied. 

Letter written by Gertrude Bell to her father in March 1903. The letter includes a section which has later been crossed out in pencil and a postscript which Gertrude added after signing the letter.

Thus, the process of cataloguing and digitising Gertrude Bell’s rich archive of letters allows us to explore facets of Bell’s life and her letters that are not immediately obvious from their content alone. Marks which help us understand how she lived and communicated with her family, how the political and cultural landscape of the lands that Bell lived in changed, and how Bell’s family managed her letters can all be explored through the newly digitised and catalogued archive.

Thanks to project funding from the Harry and Alice Stillman Family Foundation a brand new Gertrude Bell website in early 2023. This will make the digitised images, transcripts and a new archival catalogue available alongside each other, providing a step-change in access to this internationally important archive.

The Gertrude Bell website can be found at

Find out more about the Gertrude Bell and the Kingdom of Iraq at 100 project, and the archive on the Newcastle University website here:

Cartoons and Caricatures

Newcastle University is currently in the process of cataloguing the Sir Terry Farrell Archive, a collection of professional practice material from renowned architect, planner and urban designer Sir Terry Farrell. In amongst all the plans, correspondence and reems of project based material you would expect from an architecture firm there are also some more whimsical items. Namely caricatures and cartoons of urban features, people and the natural world.

Caricatures of employees often crop up in the collection. These caricatures entitled ‘The Tycoon Twins’ were intended to be hung in the company offices. They were created by Sir Terry depicting Stefan Krummeck and Gavin Erasmus, Directors of Farrells, Hong Kong. The correspondence note reads ‘I think the side by side pictures made them look as though they are arguing or not speaking, with the original option, one above the other, they look as though they are working together.’ The side-by-side option was clearly seen as being more effective.

Photograph of a selection of 4 items from the Sir Terry Farrell Archive, including a typed memo, notes and two drawing of caricatures of side portraits.
Memos and presentation options for ‘The Tycoon Twins’ (uncatalogued collection).
Two caricatures side-by-side, contained within 2 circles are side portraits of people, titled 'The Tycoon Twins'.
‘The Tycoon Twins,’ by Sir Terry Farrell 2008 (uncatalogued collection).

Other caricatures are less formalised and are dotted throughout the concept and design sketches, possibly as a moment of distraction or procrastination.

Stylised drawings also make an appearance in some project work. Here are some sketched images showing the historical development of the Hungerford Bridge District, London from 1669 at Hungerford House and the construction of the suspension footbridge in 1845. These were also displayed in the company offices.

Photograph containing 5 sketches of the development of the Hungerford Bridge from 1669-20th century.
Stages of development of Hungerford Bridge from 1669 – 20th century (uncatalogued collection).

Sketching on the move is a common theme that runs through this collection. Caricatures form some of the material presumably produced by Terry when he was on his various travels. These images were located in a peculiar folder titled ‘Train portraits’. Maybe someone you know has been unwittingly sketched by Sir Terry.

Aside from buildings and people, there are also some beautiful drawings of elements of the natural world which have been anthropomorphised. These trees form a series of artworks titled ‘The Old Men of Maytham,’ and include an Oak, a Beech and a Spanish Chestnut.

2 sketches of trees titled' Old Men of Maytham'. One is a sketch of an oak tree and the other a Beach tree.
‘The Old Men of Maytham,’ by Sir Terry Farrell, April 2010 (uncatalogued collection).
Sketch of a Spanish Chestnut tree, titled 'Old Men of Mayhem'.
‘The Old Men of Maytham,’ by Sir Terry Farrell, April 2010 (uncatalogued collection).

Material has been used with permission of Farrells. 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. 

Celebrating 50 Years of Pride

July 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the UK’s first Pride march, held in London on 1st July 1972. The first Pride saw around 2,000 participants marching together. Over the past 50 years that number has grown considerably, with the 2019 London Pride seeing 1.5 million people taking part to celebrate LGBTQ+ rights.

Photograph of London Pride 1987 showing a group of people carrying a banner with 'LESBIAN + GAY PRIDE '87' written in bold letters on it.
Photograph of London Pride 1987 (Tyneside Campaign for Homosexual Equality (Tyneside CHE) Archive, CHE/03/02/01).

The official theme for this year’s march was #AllOurPride, uniting the collective past, present, and future of Pride for all members of the LGBTQ+ community. After a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s London Pride Parade took place on Saturday 2nd July, beginning at Hyde Park, where the first Pride march in 1972 ended.

Photograph of a display celebrating Gay Pride Week 1979.
Photograph of a display celebrating Gay Pride Week 1979 (Tyneside Campaign for Homosexual Equality (Tyneside CHE) Archive, CHE/03/07/02).

2022 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Tyneside Campaign for Homosexual Equality, a branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) which was established in Lancashire in 1964 and grew to have local groups throughout the country. The archive for the Tyneside CHE contains documents relating to the group’s many campaigns for equal rights. For example, the archive covers the fight for the age of consent for same-sex couples to match that of heterosexual couples, and campaigns against Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 Section 28 legislation banning local authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality’ by discussing LGBTQ+ issues in schools. As well as campaigning, CHE also provided a social and support network for gay men and lesbians.

Within the Tyneside CHE archive, it is possible to look back at Pride marches across the past five decades. The first Pride march in 1972 took place 5 years after the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which decriminalised sex between gay men over the age of 21 in England and Wales. At the time of the first Pride, however, the LGBTQ+ community still faced much discrimination – for example gay marriage was not legal, and gay and bisexual people were banned from joining the armed forces.

CHE Broadsheet, April 1978, article highlighting that this was the first year Pride saw support from allies in meaningful numbers
CHE Broadsheet, April 1978, article highlighting that this was the first year Pride saw support from allies in meaningful numbers (Tyneside Campaign for Homosexual Equality (Tyneside CHE) Archive, CHE/02/02).
Close-up of CHE Bulletin 1978 central article
Close-up of CHE Bulletin 1978 central article ( Tyneside Campaign for Homosexual Equality (Tyneside CHE) Archive, CHE/02/02).

The Pride movement was influenced by the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York. The riots were a response to a violent police raid at the Stonewall Inn gay bar and were a catalyst for LGBTQ+ equality movements worldwide. The significance of Stonewall is reflected in the Tyneside CHE archive, as the marches of 1979 and 1989 commemorate the 10th and 20th anniversaries of this watershed moment in the LGBTQ+ liberation movement.

Stickers from Pride 1979 commemorating 10 years since Stonewall
Stickers from Pride 1979 commemorating 10 years since Stonewall (Tyneside Campaign for Homosexual Equality (Tyneside CHE) Archive, CHE/03/07/02).
Pride 1989 Annual Newspaper/Programme
Pride 1989 Annual Newspaper/Programme (Tyneside Campaign for Homosexual Equality (Tyneside CHE) Archive, CHE/03/07/02).
Pride 1989 Annual Newspaper/Programme
Pride 1989 Annual Newspaper/Programme (Tyneside Campaign for Homosexual Equality (Tyneside CHE) Archive, CHE/03/07/01).

Throughout the years, Tyneside CHE organised annual trips to the London Pride marches. A coach was arranged, and ticket prices were ‘related to people’s earnings, so everyone can afford to come down on our bus’. Pricing tickets in this way promoted inclusivity and ensured LGBTQ+ people from across the socio-economic spectrum could participate in Pride.

Tyneside CHE Newsletter front page article advertising the organised trip to London Pride and the sale of coach tickets, June 1988, Issue 213
Tyneside CHE Newsletter front page article advertising the organised trip to London Pride and the sale of coach tickets, June 1988, Issue 213 (Tyneside Campaign for Homosexual Equality (Tyneside CHE) Archive, CHE/02/01).

The London march was not the only way to celebrate Pride, however, with the CHE Tyneside newsletter from 1987 outlining that some events were planned in Tyneside itself.

CHE Tyneside Newsletter promoting Pride, June 1987, Issue 201
CHE Tyneside Newsletter promoting Pride, June 1987, Issue 201 ( Tyneside Campaign for Homosexual Equality (Tyneside CHE) Archive, CHE/02/01).

The Tyneside CHE archive also contains paraphernalia from Pride festivals across Europe, including from the very first EuroPride. EuroPride is a pan-European festival hosted by a different European city each year. The first EuroPride took place in London in 1992 and was attended by over 100,000 people. Not only does 2022 mark 50 years since the first Pride, but it also marks the 30 year anniversary of EuroPride.

Magazine from the first EuroPride, showing a photograph of 2 dogs wearing t-shirts
Magazine from the first EuroPride, London 1992, published by the Lesbian and Gay Pride Organisation (Tyneside Campaign for Homosexual Equality (Tyneside CHE) Archive, CHE/03/07/01).

Looking through the Tyneside CHE archive it is clear that a lot of progress has been made since the first Pride march 50 years ago. However, with 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ people in Britain experiencing a hate crime, and with conversion therapy still being legal in the UK, there is still a long way to go to achieving true equality.

Pride 1987 Festival Programme, showing an illustration of 2 people holding a love heart
Pride 1987 Festival Programme (Tyneside Campaign for Homosexual Equality (Tyneside CHE) Archive, CHE/03/07/01).

CHE materials are used by kind permission of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.

We have sought to ensure that the content of this blog post complies with UK copyright law. Please note however, that we have been unable to ascertain the rights holders of some of the images used. If you are concerned that there may have been a breach of your intellectual property rights, please contact us with the details of the image(s) concerned at and we will have the specified image(s) taken down from the blog post.

Building Expectations with Architectural Archives

The cataloguing project for the Sir Terry Farrell archive is just over one year old and although we’ve only scratched the surface of what the archive has to offer, we thought now would be a good moment to share some of the gems that we’ve found so far… inbetween cataloguing thousands of architectural plans.

My name is Jemma Singleton, and I am the Senior Archives Assistant assigned to the Sir Terry Farrell collection along with Archivist, Ruth Sheret. Working within Newcastle University Special Collections team, our jobs are to catalogue, re-package, and promote the collection so that it can be publicly accessible and used as an excellent resource for teaching, research and exhibition purposes. As the Farrell collection is so large, it is currently being stored at Newcastle University’s off site research reserve facility. 

Archive Context

The Farrell Collection holds the retained records of professional practice for Sir Terry Farrell through all the iterations of his working life. There is also a small assortment of work from Sir Terry’s student days and from his working life prior to setting up his own architecture firm. If you would like to know for example about the working relationship between the Terry Farrell Partnership and Ove Arup during the years 1980-1987, or the many revisions to details on projects like Alban Gate, then this archive is a great place to start!

When the collection was deposited with Newcastle University, we knew very little about the plentiful and detailed content contained within it, as it arrived uncatalogued.  Our role is to work through the many boxes we received, mainly organised by project prior to us receiving them.  Over the remaining 18 months of the project we are going to systematically work through each box, catalogue the detail contained within, with the aim of creating a searchable catalogue for the collection and making it a usable resource for all.

A portion of a grey breezeblocked room divided into rolling stacks of 5 bays, 10 shelves. Each shelf contains cylindrical and triangular architectural tubes. Image demonstrates an example bay of an archive store.
One aisle of the archive store.

Plans and All Revisions herein.

Within the Farrell collection there are over 1000 tubes of drawings that represent projects from the initial tender stages of design through to contract and construction drawings, including the many revisions for each of these.  They are mainly divided by building project and can contain anywhere between 10 and 70 drawings. There could be upwards of 40,000 individual planning drawings within the collection.  The number of drawings retained for a project varies greatly across different designs, for example Alban Gate has over 500 individual drawings, whereas the Royal Institution project has around 200.

One of the activities for us when working with the architectural drawings is to repackage them into appropriate tubes for long-term storage purposes, enabling them to be appropriately conserved and available for years to come. We check for damage to plans, split the contents of tubes up if they are over-filled, and then repackage them into resilient archival standard tubes.

An A2 sized piece of transparent paper laid flat on a wood effect table with rectangular map weights at each corner.  The designs on the paper contain rear elevation sketches of a 4 storey house. The image is to demonstrate an example of drawings found within an architectural collection.
An example of a working drawing from Jencks House consisting of rear elevation sketches.

Stakeholder Correspondence, Contractor information and Public Inquiry Records

Another large division in the collection is the considerable amount of correspondence between the Terry Farrell companies and other groups of contractors. It is dense material consisting of long chains of correspondence, often in email format, ordered chronologically and it is well labelled. This type of correspondence allows researchers to follow a narrative thread of the development of a building, how an invoice has been negotiated or how a snag list has been contested. You may also get a snapshot in time about what a typical business lunch consisted of in 1995!

A photograph of a circular blur plaque on a brickwork background. It states 'Ove Arup' Engineer and Philosopher was born here. This image is to demonstrate the connections that can be made between the archive and the world outside the archive.
A blue plaque in the Newcastle area related to one of Sir Terry’s professional partnerships. Bonus points if you can guess where.


A particularly appealing aspect of the Farrell collection are the architectural models. There are 90 models of various sizes held within the store. They can be small enough to carry by hand or large enough to be a logistical challenge to move. There are mock-ups of individual buildings that were used for concept design or exhibition purposes, designs for architectural installations that were never built, and large-scale masterplan models in multiple sections that connect. We have carried out an extensive condition report for all the models in the collection.  Each model requires a different level of conservation from structural repairs like mending roof struts or realigning shrubbery, through to cleaning and dusting. There is the potential for a selection of the models to be used in exhibitions, so one of the important aspects of our project is to develop model care, conservation, and transportation protocols for Newcastle University Library to support using this section of the collection.

An example of a design model for the Home Office building in Marsham Street.

Project Development Documents

Sir Terry Farrell is known as an architect with significant interest in and experience of urban design which forms a significant part of the collection. We are finding a huge range of masterplans within the collection from compact civic planning at Westoe (South Tyneside), through to regional redevelopment ideas in the Thames Gateway (London). As research tools these masterplans provide excellent historical context material for a chosen project and are an excellent distillation of his ideas about how particular sites could be arranged.

Publicity material

The collection also holds an eclectic range of publicity material for some of Sir Terry Farrell’s more landmark buildings.  This material demonstrates the weird and wonderful things that an archive, even a professional one, can contain, along with the imaginative ways that buildings enter the public consciousness. Notable examples include snow globes of the Peak (Hong Kong), and a vodka bottle from the launch of the James Bond film Skyfall, in which the Terry Farrell designed MI6 building is destroyed. There are also numerous magazine features and press cutting collections about different building projects or masterplan designs that Sir Terry Farrell has been involved with throughout his career.

A small snow globe on a polystyrene base. The snow globe has a white, green and red base with the term 'hong kong' along the base and ornamental towers along the side of the base. Inside the snow globe is a small scale feature of the Peak tower, consisting of 2 columns supporting a  wide dish building element.
One of the many snow globes initially found in the Sir Terry Farrell collection.

A Little Bit o’ This

Within a lot of project documentation there are draft drawing collections for specific buildings, along with larger design and presentation artwork. They provide interesting context to visual design and construction narrative within the rest of the collection. Additionally, there are boxes of slides which make for appealing visual aids in displaying the different states of building design. These physical materials largely disappear from the collection once these capturing processes became digital.  This type of visual content continues within the collection as born-digital objects. In layman’s terms, the drawings are still present in the collection but located on a floppy disc, or CD. This change in format has raised practical questions into how these records are going to be preserved, catalogued and made accessible for research in the future.

Access to the Archive

It may be that you have some ideas relating to the Terry Farrell collection; maybe you want to know more about masterplans in relation to urban design or enquire about some images for a specific building. Maybe full immersion into a built environment public enquiry process is more your jam. If you have a Farrell related architecture enquiry, then Ruth or I are best placed to assist you in your research efforts. Whilst cataloguing is underway much of the collection is not fully accessible and will be more available when the completed catalogue goes live at the end of the project. However, we are happy to help with research enquiries if we can, so please do get in touch using the following email address Stay tuned for future blog pieces about Sir Terry Farrell and his architectural prowess.

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. 

The Alnwick Corn Exchange Archive – The William Dickson Papers

These papers were originally accumulated by the office of William Dickson, overseer of the Alnwick Corn Exchange from its opening in 1862 until 1880. Dickson, a solicitor in Alnwick and local benefactor, in fact raised the money for the building of the Alnwick Corn Exchange, and then oversaw the building of the Exchange, before then taking responsibility for its running for the next twenty years.

The Alnwick Corn Exchange Archive contains correspondence and legal agreements relating to the purchase of the site and the subsequent building programme; correspondence about similar markets in Berwick and Kelso, a Broadside announcing the opening and detailing the functions of the new Exchange, as well as accounts and correspondence for the period 1862 – 1880.

These papers are particularly fascinating as the Exchange was used not only as a market but also as a venue for entertainment, and both the accounts and correspondence files contain much information about the acts which were booked during this period.

Images below are from the Alnwick Corn Exchange Archive.

A fundraising pledge letter for the building of the Alnwick Corn Exchange, 1860. W Dixon of Warkworth pledges to take one £50 share in the Exchange building.
A fundraising pledge letter for the building of the Alnwick Corn Exchange, 1860. W Dixon of Warkworth pledges to take one £50 share in the Exchange building (ACE/01/01-1).
Official declaration of the opening of the Exchange by the Keeper of the Exchange (Robert Wardhaugh), 7th May 1862.
Official declaration of the opening of the Exchange by the Keeper of the Exchange (Robert Wardhaugh), 7th May 1862 (ACE/02/01-1).
Scale of Charges at Alnwick Corn Exchange, 1862.
Scale of Charges at Alnwick Corn Exchange, 1862 (ACE/02/01-2).
A letter from the National Opera Company to Alnwick Corn Exchange, 1876. The Managers of the Company ask if they can book the Exchange for March 10 to 15 inclusive.  They go on to write that if those nights were available they would be happy to give up the room during the day time, and that if the full six nights were not available would three or four consecutive nights be possible.
A letter from the National Opera Company to Alnwick Corn Exchange, 1876. The Managers of the Company ask if they can book the Exchange for March 10 to 15 inclusive.  They go on to write that if those nights were available they would be happy to give up the room during the day time, and that if the full six nights were not available would three or four consecutive nights be possible (ACE/05/01/02-1).
A flyer for an act playing in Barnstaple, part of correspondence making arrangements for the act to visit Alnwick.
A flyer for an act playing in Barnstaple, part of correspondence making arrangements for the act to visit Alnwick (ACE/05/01).
A mixed review for the Dunbar and Cogan Theatre Company, 1869!  The cutting accompanied a letter from William Cogan to the Alnwick Corn Exchange requesting a booking at the Exchange later in the year, "for a period of two to three weeks for theatrical performance".
A mixed review for the Dunbar and Cogan Theatre Company, 1869!  The cutting accompanied a letter from William Cogan to the Alnwick Corn Exchange requesting a booking at the Exchange later in the year, “for a period of two to three weeks for theatrical performance” (ACE/05/01/05-1).

The Sinking of the Titanic

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.”

Page from Punch magazine showing two women holding hands dressed in Roman attire with a dedication written underneith.
Toll of the Sea [Dedicated to the memory of the brave men who went down in the Titanic], dated 15th April 1912. Punch, 20th Century Collection, 052 PUN, v. 142, 24th April 1912.

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.”

Letter from Charles Philips Trevelyan to Pauline Trevelyan, 20th April 1912.
Letter from Charles Philips Trevelyan to his daughter, Pauline Trevelyan, 20th April 1912. Trevelyan (Charles Philips) Archive, CPT/4/1/9/73.

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.” 

Diary entry extract of Mary Trevelyan, 20th April 1912
Extract from Mary Trevelyan’s diary, 20th April 1912. Trevelyan (Charles Philips) Archive, CPT/2/1/13

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.”

Extract from Professor John Wight Duff’s diary
Extract from Professor John Wight Duff’s diary, 21st April 1912. Duff (Professor John Wight) Diaries, JWD/01/01/03

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.

Press cuttings on W. T. Stead in a letter from Frederic Whyte to Karin Lija, 21st April 1912
Press cuttings on W. T. Stead in a letter from Frederic Whyte to Karin Lilja (later Whyte), 21st April 1912. Whyte (Frederic) Archive, FW/2

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.

The archive of poet David Constantine – March 2022

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.

Photograph of David Constantine.

“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.”

David Constantine

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;

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” ( 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.

Page from typescript of Watching for Dolphins.

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 ( 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 ( See more about 45 Years here;

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.

Page from typescript of Davies.

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.

Front cover of The Poetry Book Society Anthology 1988 – 1989.

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;

For further information about David Constantine’s work and to hear some of his recordings, use this link to access the online resource Poetry Archive;

Mel Tuckett

Crawhall and the Big Birdwatch – January 2022

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.

Watercolour illustration of a trio of goldfinches.
Watercolour design, likely for a decorative plate, featuring goldfinches, c.1875, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive JCII/6/1/64, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

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.

Watercolour illustration of a magpie sitting in a branch.
Watercolour design for a decorative plate featuring a magpie, 17 December 1873, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive JCII/6/1/59, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

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.

Page from a diary containing three watercolour illustrations of a coot and moorhen on a pond.
Watercolour illustration showing a coot and a moorhen fighting in Brandling Park, 25th April 1888, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive JCII/6/2/10, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

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.

Watercolour illustration of a trio of bullfinches sitting in a bush.
Watercolour design, likely for a decorative plate, featuring bullfinches, c.1880, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive JCII/6/2/3, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

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.

The Gunpowder Plot: The Northumberland Connection

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.

The South East View of Alnwick Castle, the Ancestral Home of the Percy family, Earl of Northumberland, 1800–1899, Local Illustrations ILL/1/32, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

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.

Portrait of Thomas Percy, from Gerard, What was the Gunpowder Plot? The traditional story tested by original evidence, Research Reserve 941.061 GER, Newcastle University.

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 charges brought against the Earl of Northumberland, extract from Markland, J. H.  Instructions by Henry Ninth Earl of Northumberland to his son Algernon Percy, touching the management of his estate, officers &c. written during his confinement in the Tower with prefatory remarks and notes, Communicated to the Society of Antiquaries, White (Robert) Collection W942.82 PER, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
Extract about his confinement and fellow prisoners, extract from Markland, J. H.  Instructions by Henry Ninth Earl of Northumberland to his son Algernon Percy, touching the management of his estate, officers &c. written during his confinement in the Tower with prefatory remarks and notes, Communicated to the Society of Antiquaries, White (Robert) Collection W942.82 PER, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

The legacy of this event is the annual celebration through the lighting of fires and fireworks which takes place on 5th November.

No viruses or check-sum inconsistences at the Digital Preservation Party please: validating, verifying and transferring born digital architecture records.

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.

A box of CD'R's from the Farrell, (Sir Terry) Archive.
The born digital materials, demonstrating that great things come in small packages.

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.

  1. Assign a parent-code file ID and keep daily log of activities up to date for steps (2-5).
  2. Run each disc through virus checking software (Malwarebytes Premium), using an un-networked quarantine computer, and note the results.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Refile physical item and repeat for all desired material.
  6. Transfer files from local area to shared access area once computer is connected back to the network (but only if it remains virus free!).
Jemma at a computer doing conducting born digital material checks.
The feeling you want to have when everything checks out.

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.

Ruth and Rachel engaged in virus checking and check-sum validation.

Appropriate Software

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.

Checksum Inconsistencies

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.