Hugh Lee Pattinson (1796-1858) was born on 25th December 1796 at Alston, Cumberland, son of Thomas Pattinson, a retail trader, and Margaret Lee. Hugh Lee Pattinson gained some knowledge of electricity and at the age of seventeen constructed some electrical devices. He also studied chemistry especially in connection with metallurgy.
He took among the first-known photographic images of Niagara Falls and the Clifton Hotel. These early photographs were known as daguerreotypes. Daguerreotypes were produced using an early photographic process involving an iodine-sensitised silvered plate and mercury vapour. This photographic method does not permit reproduction so the images are unique.
The recent Black Lives Matter protests in UK cities and across the world, have drawn attention to statues which ‘commemorate’ individuals who are thought to have profited from the slave trade. Newcastle’s major statue is Grey’s Monument. This is a Grade I listed monument to Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey who was prime minister during the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832, which set in motion the abolition of the slave trade.
The monument was built in 1838 and consists of a statue of Grey on top of a 135-foot (41 meters) high Roman Doric column. It was designed by local architects John and Benjamin Green, and the statue of Grey was created by the sculptor Edward Hodges Baily (the creator of Nelson’s statue in Trafalgar Square). It was paid for by public subscription.
After over a century of marking the top of Grey Street, the monument was hit by a bolt of lightning on 25 July 1941, which dislodged the head of Earl Grey from his body.
The Newcastle Chronicle reported the dramatic incident:
“The stone head of Earl Grey, 133 feet above the ground at the junction of Grainger, Grey and Blackett Street, crashed to the tram lines without causing any personal injuries, and was badly damaged.
“It was impossible to state whether the original head could be restored.”
The bits of head were gathered up and were reputedly placed in a nearby shop window, with the slogan “Earl Grey’s losing his head over our prices”. The statue was headless until 1947, when local sculptor Roger Hedley (the son of painter Ralph Hedley) created a new head based on the preserved fragments of the original.
Our Local Illustrations contains many representations of Grey’s Monument standing tall during the 19th Century.
In Blackberry Time was produced collaboratively by Alan Plater and Michael Chaplin. The play is based on Sid Chaplin’s book of short stories that go by the same name. Sid started to write the autobiographical book before his death in January 1986. His son, Michael Chaplin, and wife, Rene Chaplin, edited and published the book on his behalf posthumously with Bloodaxe Books in 1987.
As we can see from this first page draft of the play, the narrator establishes himself as a son of a coal miner who ‘writes what I please, always writing out of daily contact with people’. Sid was highly regarded for his depictions of North East mining and working-class communities drawing upon his experiences growing up in the coal mining community of County Durham and of work in the pit. Sid began working in the mines from the age of sixteen before moving away to be a writer for the National Coal Board’s publication Coal.
vivid portrayals of life in region Sid was an inspiration to many North East
writers. In the 1960s he became a mentor
figure to the playwright Alan Plater. When
Plater was approached by Max Roberts, the Creative Director of Live Theatre, to
write a North-East play, Plater was drawn to Sid’s work. In
a meeting with Michael it was decided that they would together adapt the latest
of Sid’s work into a play. This extract from a typescript of In Blackberry
Time was written in 1987, the same year that Sid’s final and posthumous book was published.
The play was staged at Live Theatre in 1987 and starred actors Val
MacLane and David Whitaker.
In these audio interviews you can hear Michael Chaplin’s account of his collaboration with Alan Plater. In the interview Michael claims that In Blackberry Time began his career as a writer. He has written some 30 plays for Radio 4 including the series ‘Two Pipe Problems’ and ‘The Ferryhill Philosophers’ and various single plays like ‘The Song Thief’. His work for television includes the series ‘Grafters’, ‘Dalziel and Pascoe’ and ‘Monarch of the Glen’ and films like ‘Just Henry’.
The production of In Blackberry Time was also the beginning
of a long relationship with Live Theatre.
Michael wrote another two plays for the theatre, ‘You Couldn’t Make It
Up’ (with Tom Chaplin) about the travails of being a Newcastle United fan, and
‘A Walk-On Part’, based on the diaries of ex-Labour MP Chris Mullin.
You can find the Archives of Michael
Chaplin and Sid
Chaplin here at Newcastle University Special Collections and
Archives. You can also find material in our Live Theatre Archive including Max
Robert’s copies of draft script for In Blackberry Time and production
This is an online version of the exhibition Letting in the Light: The Leonard Evetts Archive, which was on display in the Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms, Newcastle University prior to the closure of the Library due to the current Coronavirus situation.
Many thanks to creators Cathleen Burton and Paul Campbell, our placement students in Special Collections last year (2019) as part of Newcastle University’s Career Development Module. Working on the recently acquired Leonard Evetts archive, they helped to catalogue, re-package, and research this fascinating collection. The collection and its catalogue was scheduled to be open to the public by the end of 2020, and this unfortunately may now be delayed, but in the meantime here is Cathleen and Paul’s exhibition…
This exhibition showcases the archive of world renowned artist and designer Leonard Evetts (1909 – 1997), whose archive has been donated to Newcastle University Special Collections. A designer, painter, calligrapher, author, and teacher, Evetts is perhaps best known as a master in the design of stained glass windows. The most prolific English church window designer of the 20th Century, he created over 400 works of stained glass in his lifetime.
Evetts firmly believed that windows should ‘let the light in’ and
disliked the dark effect of the traditional Victorian windows found in many
English churches. He conceived his
windows to show the play of light and shade at different times of day, with the
different shifts in the weather, and even the seasonal changes in the trees and
foliage surrounding his windows.
On receiving a tentative criticism that ‘all the other windows look so dark in contrast to yours’ Evetts replied ‘Oh well, I don’t mind that as long as you’ve noticed the difference!’
Born in Newport, South Wales,
Evetts spent most of his working life in the North East – working at Newcastle
University for 37 years where he was latterly the Head of the School of
Design. Although he was commissioned by
churches throughout England, many wonderful examples of his work can be found
locally in the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland as well as the surrounding
of Evetts’ work was commissioned within the UK, in the late 1950s and 1960s
Evetts designed the windows for All Saint’s Church in Apia, Western Samoa.
Communication (by unreliable postal service!) was difficult during the project. Several setbacks occurred, including Evetts falling ill with influenza, delays in the receipt of important information, and one case of stained glass arriving damaged. However, the windows were eventually completed, combining images of saints and symbols of Samoa. Two of the windows were later chosen for special edition Christmas stamps on the island.
Although most known for his glass work, Leonard worked in many media and was a skilled watercolour artist. These examples from the archive show how he retained his distinctive style in these works, making skillful use of colour, line and atmosphere to bring out the true essence of the scene.
Leonard Evetts saw himself as a designer, and this is reflected in the range and scope of his work. As his wife Phyl Evetts commented “each commission was of equal importance to him, whether designing an amusing milk carton or a crozier for a bishop. He loved a challenge and nothing was too small or too mighty for him to tackle.”
Proposed Alter Frontal, Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1989.
Leonard Evetts’ connection with Newcastle University was longstanding. After a period lecturing for the College of Art in Edinburgh, Leonard Evetts began working for King’s College Newcastle in 1937, lecturing in art and teaching students to design and produce stained glass pieces. When in 1963 Kings College became Newcastle University, Evetts became head of the School of Design and remained in the post until retiring in 1974.
The shield of arms was first used by Kings College in 1938, and became the shield for Newcastle University when it became independent in 1963. This 1964 letter from G Ashley, Assistant Registrar, thanks Evetts for his help preparing the Shield of Arms.
This exhibition was designed by Cathleen Burton and Paul
Campbell, 2019. Cathleen and Paul were
Special Collection placement students, whilst undertaking Newcastle
University’s career development module.
Many thanks to both for their dedication and hard work.
Today marks the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale (12th May 1820) – famed for her work improving sanitation and reforming nursing. Her importance to modern health is still recognised. To coincide with this anniversary the World Health Organization named 2020 the international year of the Nurse and Midwife. Roles we are certainly celebrating in the current pandemic today.
Much of the discussion of Nightingale relates to her work in the Crimea and the improvements she made to nursing – you can read more about her role in this previous treasure. However she was also instrumental in influencing sanitation improvements within the military more widely.
Nightingale did this by using her experience and knowledge to influence those with the responsibility for making decisions on military policy. This letter below (CET/2/30/1) from the Charles Edward Trevelyan archive, dated 3/11/38, is one of a file of correspondence from Nightingale to Charles during his roles as Governor of Madras and financial member of the Indian Council at Calcutta. In the first, Nightingale tells Charles that she is ‘anxious to do a little “jobbing”’, meaning that she intends to turn her influence for gain, although rather than gains for herself, Nightingale ‘”jobs” for the army + for my enemies’. The letter offers to share ‘facts’ with Trevelyan which may influence decisions made in relation to military policy. Visit CollectionsCaptured see larger images of the letter.
Like others of my kind, I am anxious to do a little “jobbing” but I “job” for the army + for my enemies – While “jobbing” is usually either for oneself or one’s friends – that is the only distinction I presume to make.
Like others of my kind, I am anxious to do a little “jobbing” but I “job” for the army + for my enemies – While “jobbing” is usually either for oneself or one’s friends – that is the only distinction I presume to make.
You are all powerful at the Treasury. We often want the Treasury no, I mean in our Army Reform.
I think I could sometimes tell you facts, not opinions, which might influence your judgement. Of course I do not suppose that my opinion would influence yours.
Things are coming before the Treasury now with reference to us. (“us” means the troops + me).
I venture to send you a copy of my Report to the War Office – which is really as it imports to be, “Confidential” (and I am sure you will keep it so).
It is in no sense public property.
I do not suppose that you will have time [even] to look into it. But I should esteem it a very great favor + proof of confidence (which I should keep inviolably sacred) if, at any time, when “our” matters come…
Nightingale’s influence on health in the British Indian Army continued. In the 1860s she collected information for The Royal Commission on the Sanitary State of the Army in India. In addition to the publication of the Commission’s final report in 1863, Nightingale published her own response, which can be viewed online.
The file of correspondence from Nightingale to Trevelyan also includes a copy of printed notes on the official report’s recommendations by the principle inspector general of the Medical Department, Dr J McClelland (Trevelyan, CET/2/30/10). Nightingale has annotated these, highlighting inaccuracies and providing additional information, likely with the aim of influencing Trevelyan’s actions (see below – find larger images on CollectionsCaptured).
Trevelyan, and the role of British colonialism in India are controversial and contested histories. Nevertheless, while governor of Madras Trevelyan did instigate improvements in local sanitation, possibly as a direct result of Nightingale’s influence opinion would influence yours.
Thank you to Universities at War volunteer (and retired member of Library staff!) Alan Callender for this blog piece and for all of the hours of painstaking research behind it.
The University of Durham Roll of Service, produced in 1920, lists 2,464 staff and students who had served in World War One from the various Colleges that made up Durham University at that time. These include men and women from Armstrong College and the College of Medicine at Newcastle upon Tyne, predecessors to Newcastle University.
Only four of our female graduates appear in this book, but this hides the fact that many of our female staff and students, particularly our medical graduates, did serve in military units. These women, usually categorised as serving under “unofficial” women-only military units, were denied the criteria for the Roll of Service which required them to belong to a unit which appeared in the “official lists of the Navy Army or Air Force”. This article is intended to honour the women whose wartime stories deserve recognition.
Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service
The Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Services (SWH) was founded in 1914. The SWH was spearheaded Dr Elsie Inglis, as part of a wider suffrage effort from the Scottish Federation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and funded by private donations, fundraising of local societies and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and the American Red Cross. As voluntary all-women units, the Scottish Women’s Hospitals offered opportunities for medical women who were prohibited from entry into the Royal Army Medical Corps. By the end of the War 14 medical units had been outfitted and sent to serve in Corsica, France, Malta, Romania, Russia, Salonika and Serbia. Over 1,000 women from many different backgrounds and many different countries served with the SWH.
We have found six graduates from
the College of Medicine who served under the SWH:
Dr Ruth Nicholson (M.B., B.S. 1911) served as Surgeon and Second in Command at the Royaumont (France) Unit from 1914-1919.
Dr Lilian Mary Chesney (D.P.H. 1908) served as a doctor in the Kragujevac (Serbia) Unit 1914-1915 and the London (Russia and Serbia) Unit from 1916-1917. Thanks to the research of John Lines whose great aunt, Margaret Box, also served with the SWH, we have evidence that by October 1918 Dr Chesney appears to be running the hospital in Skopje (Serbia) for the SWH. Margaret refers to Dr Chesney in several of her wartime letters and calls her “our chief”.
Dr Sophie Bangham Jackson (M.B., B.S. 1904 and M.D. 1906) served as a doctor in the Ajaccio (Corsica) Unit 1916-1917.
Dr Margaret Joyce (M.B., B.S. 1898) served as a doctor in the Royaumont (France) unit in 1915.
Dr Elizabeth Niel (M.B., B.S. 1907, M.D. 1909, D.P.H. 1910) served as a doctor in the Sallanches (France) Unit 1918-1919.
Dr Grace Winifred Pailthorpe (M.B., B.S. 1914 M.D. 1925) served as a doctor in the America (Serbia) Unit 1916.
Women’s Hospital Corps
Under the leadership of militant
suffragists Dr Flora Murray and Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson, the Women’s
Hospital Corps (WHC) ran a military hospital at the Claridge Hotel in Paris and
then at Wimereux, for the French government (their proposals having been
rejected by the British authorities). In 1915 however the War Office asked the
WHC to set up a military hospital in London entirely staffed by women. It became known as the Endell Street Military
Hospital. Open from May 1915 to December
1919, its doctors treated 26,000 patients and performed over 7000 major
Co-founder and Surgeon Dr Flora Murray undertook her medical training at the London School of Medicine for Women and was a registered student at the College of Medicine in Newcastle 1900-1902 from where she graduated M.B., B.S. in April 1903 and M.D. in April 1905.
Dr Florence Barrie Lambert (M.B., B.S. 1906) served as Chief Medical Officer for the WHC until 1916 and was then appointed by the R.A.M.C. as Inspector of the Electrical and Massage Departments for the British convalescent camps.
Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.) Hospitals
Although not “official” military hospitals, in reality V.A.D. Hospitals often became auxiliary hospitals to larger military hospitals.
Dr Grace Harwood Stewart Billings (M.B., B.S. 1898) served as Medical Officer of the St Martin’s V.A.D. Hospital in Cheltenham. This is from the final report of the Red Cross Gloucestershire, 1914-19: “St. Martin’s Hospital was opened in June 1915 at Eversleigh, Bayshill, with accommodation for 40 patients. It was entirely staffed by former pupils of the Ladies’ College, Cheltenham. At first it was only intended to be a convalescent hospital, but in a very short time this was altered and patients came direct from the front the same as to all the other hospitals in the town.” The Chief Officers are listed in this report as:
Commandant: Miss Donald
Medical Officer: Dr Grace S Billings
Superintendent: Miss Wintle A.R.R.C.
Royal Army Medical Corps Units and the British Army
In fact some female medical graduates did serve as doctors
within the British Army during the War, despite the British authorities’
The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), re-named in 1918 the Queen Mary’s Auxiliary Army Corps (QMAAC), was set up in 1917 as a voluntary unit under the British Army. It eventually employed 57,000 women in a range of occupations. For female qualified doctors there were opportunities here to serve alongside their male counterparts, although they were never allowed to serve officially under the Royal Army Medical Corps.
A second route came in 1916 when an acute shortage of male doctors
led to a change in policy. To fill the
gap the War Office decided to hire a number of women doctors as ‘civilian
surgeons’ who were to be attached to RAMC units serving in Malta, the main
hospital base for the Mediterranean Theatre of War. In total 85 women doctors were hired.
We have found three medical graduates who served in the British Army via these routes:
Dr Stephanie Patricia Laline Hunte Taylor Daniel (M.B. 1917, B.S. 1918) served as Medical Official in the QMAAC, stationed at Catterick Camp, from 1917-1919.
Dr Ethne Haigh (M.B., B.S. 1913) served as a Civilian Surgeon under the RAMC, and was stationed at Floriana Military Hospital (Malta) 1916-1917 and No. 65 General Hospital in Salonika 1917.
Dr Ida Emelie Fox (M.B., B.S. 1902) served as a Civilian Surgeon under the RAMC and was stationed at No. 65 General Hospital in Salonika, 1916-1918.
Nurses for the British Army
Two of the women who appear in the Roll of Service were graduates
or students of Armstrong College who during the War served as nurses for
hospital or ambulance services registered under the British Army, thus meeting
the criteria of the Roll of Service.
Janet C. Brown (Armstrong College) served as a nurse for two military hospitals during WWI, 1st Southern General Hospital (Birmingham) 1916-1917 and 1st Northern General Hospital (Newcastle upon Tyne) 1917-1919.
Clementine Mary Hawthorn (Armstrong College A.Sc. 1903, B.Sc. 1904) served as a nurse in the 1st Northumberland Field Ambulance 1914-15.
The Wounded Allies Relief Committee
Dr Olivia Nyna Walker (M.B., B.S. 1911) served as Assistant Surgeon at the Hospital Anglais, Lycée de St-Rambert, L’Ile Barbe, Lyon, France. This was a temporary French military hospital which operated 1914-1916 under the direction of the Wounded Allies Relief Committee.
At a time when newspapers were taxed, broadsides were vehicles for popular culture which were just affordable by the working class (the average cost of a broadside was a penny, with some ballads costing a ha’penny.) Typically, broadsides were single sheets, printed on one side only. Some communicated public information; many were printed for entertainment. They were ephemeral – cheaply printed for distribution among the lower and middle classes by chapmen, hawkers and street criers, or, for pasting onto walls by way of reaching wider audiences. In the Nineteenth Century, machine-press printing helped to bring about a proliferation of this street literature. It is remarkable that any broadsides have survived and yet almost 850 have been catalogued and digitised from Newcastle University Library’s Special Collections.
One of the many themes to be treated in broadsides, is crime. The end of the Eighteenth Century/beginning of the Nineteenth Century saw increases in both crime and poverty, with the majority of criminal acts being property offences. More goals were being built but there was also a move away from harsh punishment, with transportation replacing execution for some serious crimes and more lenient sentences, with attempts at rehabilitation, replacing harsh sentences for petty crimes. The first police force was introduced in 1829 and there would not be an organised police force until 1856 and so it was that prosecutions were usually brought about by private individuals; usually the victims of the crimes. Prosecution associations were community organizations whose members were citizens that paid dues to cover the costs of private prosecutions. Sometimes, they provided a form of crime insurance. Broadsides 5/1/355 Guineas Reward is evidence that these prosecuting associations also covered the costs around soliciting information: printing reward notices and contributing reward money.
University Library’s Special Collections has several reward posters that were
printed under the auspices of the North Shields and Tynemouth Association for
Prosecuting Felons. Like the hanging ballads, these reward posters were
formulaic, made use of stock woodcuts and were cheaply printed. They were
moralistic, casting criminals as “evil disposed” persons that carried out their
deeds “maliciously” even though the crime might have been the theft of food to
feed the family.
example from 1818, Monkseaton farmer John Crawford has suffered criminal damage
to a gate, two ploughs and a railing. He has put up three guineas (roughly
£180.90 today) as a reward for information leading to successful prosecution
and the prosecution association has increased the reward by two guineas
(roughly £120.60 today).
Calendars of Prisoners, like Broadsides 5/3/1, are lists of prisoners awaiting trail. They are formal documents, typically providing the names, ages, trades and offences of the accused as well as the names of the Magistrates that committed them.
example lists the prisoners awaiting trial in Newcastle, in August 1825. The
prisoners range from Mary Simpson (age 17) who was accused of stealing fabric,
pillow cases, books and brooches to Robert Scope (age 80) accused of assault
and theft. Some of the printed entries have been annotated by hand to record
the verdict after trial. There is also a section for convicts at the end of the
document: those prisoners to have been found guilty at trial and which have now
been sentenced. They include Mary Ferguson (age 71) who was sentenced to gaol
and given four months’ hard labour, such as working the treadmill.
Broadsides 5/2/12Execution of George Vass, is an example of a hanging ballad, or execution ballad. In the Nineteenth Century, public executions attracted large crowds of spectators and one of the ways in which people experienced public executions was through broadsides and ballads. Hanging ballads would be sung at executions and the ballad sheets sold by the singers. They were formulaic but combined news from local reports with sensational, moralistic accounts of the crimes committed. The audience could expect to learn about the crime, the behaviour of the prisoner, an account of his/her last words, a description of the execution and a warning against leading a similarly criminal life lest the audience end their days at the gallows too.
was 19 years old when he became the last person to be executed by public
hanging in the Carliol Square gaol, Newcastle upon Tyne, at 08:00 on 14th
March 1863. He had been found guilty of the rape and murder of Margaret
Docherty on New Year’s Eve 1862. Margaret lies in the cemetery of All Saints
In the Nineteenth Century, crime was never far from the common people and, through broadsides and other publications, knowledge of criminals and their crimes became well-known; often sensationalized.
Written by Dalia Aizi, a MA Museum, Gallery and Heritage studies student, whilst on placement in Summer 2019.
Early on in our placements at Special Collections, whilst doing research for a new exhibition, we came across a beautifully illustrated book titled European Butterflies and Moths. Upon seeing the plates and reading the texts, we were inspired to create ‘The Beauty of Science: Seeing Art in the Entomological World’. We decided to create an exhibition which celebrates the artistic aspects of science books, which are often overlooked.
life of W.F. Kirby
Leicester in 1844, Kirby found a deep interest for butterflies at a very young
age, which continued into his adult life. After his father’s death and the
family’s move to Brighton, he became more involved in the entomological world,
joining the Brighton and Sussex Entomological Society before he moved to Dublin
in 1867. While there, he became an established and famous entomologist after
his book, A Synonymic Catalogue of diurnal
Lepidoptera was published.
European Butterflies and Moths
In 1882, Kirby finished and published European Butterflies and Moths (19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll. 595.78 KIR), which gives a comprehensive guide into the world of the Lepidoptera. 137 years later, the book is still easily read even for novice readers such as us, which he writes about in his preface, stating that the book is ’designed to provide entomologists and tourists with a comprehensive illustrated guide to the study of European Macro-Lepidoptera’.
February 2020 marks 200 years since the birth of the illustrator and political
cartoonist, Sir John Tenniel. Although he is best known for his illustrations
in Alice in Wonderland, for many years he was also one of the cartoonists for
the magazine, Punch. He was knighted for his work in 1893.
skills in drawing were largely self-taught. He did secure a place at the Royal
Academy of Art but left dissatisfied after just a few weeks and joined the
Clipstone Street Art Society. Here he
studied all aspects of drawing, copying exhibits from the British Museum and
wildlife from Regent’s Park. However, he tended to draw from memory rather than
from life. He also studied Fresco technique and worked on wood.
exhibited artwork from the age of 16, and his first published illustration was
in Hall’s Book of British Ballads in
Hall, Book of British Ballads (19th
Century Collection 821.04 HAL)
Tenniel obtained a commission to paint a fresco in the Upper Waiting Hall in
the Houses of Parliament after entering a contest. Part of the commission was
to study fresco drawing in Munich with the other successful artists. His entry,
a sixteen-foot high cartoon The Spirit of
Justice, was noticed by the editor of Punch, Mark Lemon, who offered
Tenniel a job as joint cartoonist in 1850.
first illustration in Punch was
published on 8th February 1851, depicting Lord John Russell and
Tenniel became the political cartoonist for Punch and remained working for the
publication, as well as illustrating in books until he retired in 1900.
Tenniel met Lewis Carroll. It was suggested by his publisher that Carroll used
a professional illustrator on his recently written children’s story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Tenniel
supplied 92 illustrations for this, as well as Carroll’s later publication Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. However, the
relationship became strained and Tenniel never undertook literary illustration
For all his
life John Tenniel lived in London. His poor eyesight as the result of a fencing
accident as a child, eventually led to blindness in later years.
His knighthood was a first for an illustrator or cartoonist and brought a respectability to the profession, his legacy, the 2000 images published in Punch and 92 illustrations in Lewis Carroll’s much-loved fairy tale.
Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives holds over 1,800 letters written by Gertrude Bell to her family. One in particular was written on the 12th January 1920, where Gertrude Bell writes to her stepmother describing her concerns about the delicate political situation in the Middle East, her hopes for resolution and how she seeks to contribute. Through this and her other writing she demonstrates a depth of knowledge and involvement which contributes significantly to our understanding of early 20th Century politics in the region.
Gertrude’s journey to becoming an important figure in Middle
Eastern politics began when she was born into a wealthy family at Washington
New Hall in 1868 where she also spent her childhood. After studying at and
graduating from Oxford University she was able to travel widely in the first
years of the 20th century and developed a deep interest in the Arab
region and people. Her knowledge of the region led to her being involved with
the British Intelligence Service during the First World War and by 1920 she had
been appointed as Oriental Secretary to the British High Commission in Iraq.
Throughout her time in the Middle East she regularly
corresponded with her family in Britain, updating them on her life, travels,
and thoughts about her work and the political situation in the Middle East. She
wrote one such letter on the 12th of January 1920 to her stepmother,
A transcript of part of this letter is below:
“You say that when you open the papers the world seems tempestuous – one does not need to open the papers to realize that here. The Turks to the north of us, exasperated and embracing Bolshevik propaganda, destructive Bolshevism which is all the Turks are capable of – or the Russians either, for that matter, up to the present; the Kurds ready to anyone who holds out the hope that the massacres of Christians shall go unpunished, as in justice they should not, but we’re powerless to enforce justice; the Arab Syrian state to the east of us, feeble and angry, bound to founder in financial deeps, if not in any other, and yet determined not to accept the only European help offered, namely that of France. And then Egypt, turned into a second Ireland largely by our own stupidity; and this country, which way will it go with all these agents of unrest to tempt it? I pray that the people at home may be rightly guided and realize that the only chance here is to recognize political ambitions from the first, not to try to squeeze the Arabs into our mould and have our hands forced in a year – who knows? perhaps less, the world is moving so fast – with the result that the chaos to north and east overwhelms Mesopotamia also. I wish I carried more weight. I’ve written to Edwin and this week I’m writing to Sir A. Hirtzel. But the truth is I’m in a minority of one in the Mesopotamian political service – or nearly – and yet I’m so sure I’m right that I would go to the stake for it – or perhaps just a little less painful form of testimony if they wish for it! But they must see, they must know at home. They can’t be so blind as not to read such gigantic writing on the wall as the world at large is sitting before their eyes.“
there! I rather wish I were at Paris this week.
“I’ve telegraphed to Father saying I hope he’ll come. I would love to show him my world here and I know if he saw if he would understand why I can’t come back to England this year. If they will keep me, I must stay. I can do something, even if it is very little to preach wisdom and restraint among the young Baghdadis whose chief fault is that they are ready to take on the creation of the world tomorrow without winking and don’t realize for a moment that even the creator himself made a poor job of it.
I’ll go to Blanche for a month or 6 weeks in the middle of the summer.
We have no news yet who our new G.O.C. in C. is to be. It’s rather a disaster at this juncture to have a new man who does not know the country, but I expect that’s what it will be.
In this letter she describes the political situation in the region, her concerns and hopes about how the British Government might seek to resolve the situation and details how she hopes to play a part in setting the future direction for the Middle East.
The following year she was present at the conference held at
the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo in March 1921 alongside others including T.E.
Lawrence and Winston Churchill. Here, the British Government met to discuss the
future political shape of the Arab region and it was decided that the choice
that Gertrude advocated, Faisal I bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashemi, would become
the first king of the newly formed Kingdom of Iraq. The events of the Cairo
Conference are also documented in the letters she sent to her family in Britain
and are part of the archive.
The Gertrude Bell Archive is one of the most important and widely accessed within Newcastle University Library’s Special Collections and Archives. It contains over 1,800 letters, 8,000 photographs, diaries and other papers including lecture notes, reports and newspaper cuttings. Together they document her life and travels and form an important record of the archaeology, culture and political landscape of the Middle East in the early decades of the 20th Century. The archive has been recognised for its significance, including the insight it gives into political developments in the Middle East and the formation of Iraq in 1921, through its inclusion on UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register (a press release regarding UNESCO’s recognition of the archive in 2017 can be found here).
Most of her letters have been fully transcribed and can be
browsed and searched on our dedicated Gertrude Bell website.
Additionally the photographs she took can also be seen on the website. These
photographs, digitised in the 1990s, document many of the archaeological sites
that particularly interested her, as well as the people and places she
encountered on her earlier travels.
As the photographs are now over 100 years old, and the
historic negatives are now unstable and fragile, a project is currently underway
to re-digitise the collection to bring it up to current day standards,
revealing hitherto unseen detail, and preserving the photographs for future