Written by Ella Fothergill, Listen to this Story!an exhibition about Children’s Books and Black Britain exhibition placement student (September-November 2022) – this was a joint exhibition with 7Stories, across 2 sites (Newcastle City Library and the Philip Robinson Library).
It is no secret to those who know me that I love children’s literature. My reasons for being passionate about this genre (and why I dedicated my postgraduate degree to studying it) would make for a very long list. But, in a nutshell, I find that children’s books are so fascinating because of the large role they play in shaping young people’s perceptions of the world. In other words, what we learn when we are young profoundly influences our understanding of the world and everything in it and, as such, children’s books have significant power over what beliefs, biases and ideas we harbour as adults.
Given this, I was very excited to see a student placement opportunity which focused on children’s works and Black British publishing – the two subjects which have been the centre of my Masters research. Specifically, this placement offered the opportunity to work with archived children’s works within Newcastle University Special Collections, curating a city-wide exhibition that would highlight the literary work done by Black British people. After reading the job advertisement, I applied immediately and … a few weeks and one interview later, I was offered the position!
Now, three months down the line and my internship is almost over. I have learned a lot along the way and have met many creative, talented people. Here is a summary of my internship highlights and responsibilities:
Before the opening of the exhibition, I was responsible for writing a caption to go alongside each exhibited work. I really enjoyed this because it involved handling the archived children’s texts myself, some of which were up to two hundred years old. I particularly loved flicking though the first few pages of each book where there was often a handwritten note or an old library stamp.
I have also had the opportunity to meet and work with graphic designers, authors, archivists and architects. I especially enjoyed meeting the children’s author and illustrator, Ken Wilson-Max, at the exhibition’s opening at Newcastle City Library. He hosted a brilliant talk about “Navigating the World of Children’s Publishing”.
Following the opening of the exhibition, I have also been involved in a few post-launch activities. These included writing a questionnaire for any exhibition visitors, writing tweets to promote the exhibition on social media, writing blog posts (such as this one and the Listen to this Story! blogpost) and conducting visitor tracking to observe visitor behaviour in the space.
All of these experiences have been both valuable and enjoyable for me. This internship has also allowed me to witness the extraordinary talent and effort that goes into creating an exhibition as well as helping me to understand the world of children’s publishing more fully!
Written by Robinson bequest student Becky Sanderson
Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives currently houses 972 transcripts which contain the detailed radio transmissions of day-to-day stories and science told by the members of the British North Greenland Expedition (BNGE) 1952-1954. The BNGE traversed north Greenland, exploring the great white landscape from Dronning Louise Land in the east, to Thule in the west. The team undertaking this feat ranged from glaciologists and geophysicists to naval wireless operators and naval medical officers. Within the team, familiar scientific names jump out including Stan Paterson, Colin Bull, Malcolm Slessor, James Simpson, and Newcastle University’s own Hal Lister.
Hal was an undergraduate student at Newcastle before, and an academic staff member after the expedition. Hal was also a member of many Antarctic missions and potentially one of the first people to overwinter in both Greenland and Antarctica. While on the expedition, he maintained his links to Newcastle University when applying for a Shell Studentship. Hal needed the reference of a senior academic at his institution and reached out to Professor Henry Daysh (head of the Department of Geography, now School of Geography, Politics & Sociology, up until his retirement in 1966).
My interest in the archive is driven through my love of glaciology. I am currently undertaking my PhD within the Physical Geography department at Newcastle University focusing primarily on Antarctic research. Therefore, my knowledge of the archive was very limited until reading the 1957 book ‘High Arctic’ by Mike Banks (one of the expedition members) and delving further into the archive. I was given the opportunity to transcribe and order the transcripts through the Robinson Bequest Bursary. Before I begin, my understanding was that I would be trawling through hundreds of pages of scientific reports and findings. However, much to my delight, not only does the archive contain scientifically important datasets, methods and polar expedition logistics, but the archive also contains heart-warming Christmas messages (Fig. 1), birthday messages, notifications of the birth of family members, requests for alcohol and cheese and many jokes about how cold the temperature is in the Arctic.
Overall, the BNGE was a huge success. The research findings and data collected on the expedition (Hamilton, 1958 and references within) have contributed to long term quantification of ice sheet change studies (Paterson and Reeh, 2001) and generated scientific questions that are still relevant for those researching the ice sheets today. The way scientific findings were communicated through the transcripts vary from detailed glaciology reports (Fig. 2), to the self-proclaimed “trilling instalment” of direct measurements of scientific information (i.e. ice thickness: Fig. 3). Not only this, but throughout the expedition, the team built up strong international collaborations with the Americans, Danes, French, Australian and the Icelanders. By doing so, they were able to share and gain information on safe passage, weather reports or general advice. The successful logistic operation of the expedition is worthy of note. The partnership between those on the ice and the RAF worked effectively and efficiently. The RAF provided support from the air throughout the two years on the ice. The relationship flourished so well that the RAF dropped a Christmas hamper for those at main base in the first year.
I have mentioned the huge success of the expedition, however, most polar exploration does not go without a few hiccups. For those on the BNGE expedition, there were certainly a few hiccups. Polar expeditions are often highly dangerous and the challenges that the team faced is highlighted throughout the transcripts. Although no specifics are recorded, the transcripts detail the gratitude of the family for the support they received after the death of Danish team member Captain Hans Jensen. Hans was the only fatality, however, there were several other “lucky escapes”. Weasels (snow tractors) often broke down in the middle of the ice sheet, exploded or fell into crevasses (Fig. 4). There were other incidents of fires breaking out in the engine room of their huts and bases. However, one of the most notable disasters was the “Ice Cap Crash” of 1952, that even made BBC news at home in the UK. Video footage of the crash site and drop operation was captured in this Ice Cap Men Return From Greenland (1952) video.
A large portion of the transcripts detail the rescue plans and effort of the members on the ice, the RAF and the collaborators at the American base in Thule. The rescue took eight days, the three injured members of the aircraft crew made a full recovery in the hospital in Thule.
The BNGE was one of few scientific polar expeditions that took place in the mid-20th century and can be viewed as the inspiration for many internationally important scientific and geophysical investigations that followed. The knowledge and experiences gained by those on the expedition has moulded our understanding of the physics of ice sheets. It has also shaped the way that I view my own work, the incredible challenges that the team faced in the field are often now taken for granted because of technological advances. It has been a privilege to read through the personal accounts of each members experiences and the uplifting messages that they were able to send home.
‘A Very Pretty Little Christmas Carol’ from A Garland of Christmas Carols (Chapbooks 821.89 GAR)
Chistmas day is growing near so here’s a little carol to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
This carol is from A Garland of Christmas Carols chapbook, which consists of many other Christmas Carols. A Chapbook is an early type of popular literature. They were produced cheaply, were commonly small paper-covered booklets that were usually printed on a single sheet and folded into books with 8, 12, 16 and 24 pages.
Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle from ‘Illustrated London News, Christmas Supplement’, 1848 (19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll, 030 ILL)This illustration from the December 1848 Christmas Supplement to the Illustrated London News, shows the royal family gathered round a christmas tree at Windsor Castle. When this image first appeared in the Illustrated London News, it attracted a huge amount of attention. The upper classes had been decorating trees for some time, having been introduced by Queen Charlotte in the 18th century, but this image spread the fashion to the rest of society.
Decorating a tree with candles and gifts was a German tradition that was enthusiastically enjoyed by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. This image of the royal family, which depicts children, parents and grandmother, all enjoying themselves around the tree was influential in promoting Christmas as a family occasion. By the end of the 1840s, Christmas had become a festival celebration of the Victorian calendar.
Kissing Couple from ‘Impresses Quaint’, 1889 (Joseph Crawhall II Archive, JCII/7/96)
Is kissing under the mistletoe a Christmas tradition for you?
Joseph Crawhall II was born in Newcastle in 1821 and was the son of Joseph Crawhall I, who was a sheriff of Newcastle. As well as running the family ropery business with his brothers, he also spent his time illustrating, making woodcuts and producing books.
“We meet in China’s sunny clime, A Tea Plantation as here seen, Where plants the sloping hill-side climb, In straggling tufts of evergreen. This then as you will plainly see, Depicts the origin of Tea.”
Above transcription taken from page 1 of The Story of Cup of Tea in Rhymes and Pictures. Beautifully illustrated, this book takes you through the tea plantation, culture, gathering, drying, roasting and rolling, sorting, buying, mixing, carrying and finally drinking tea. The story ends…
“Hurrah! at length we see it here, Upon our own Tea Table placed; And soon our spirits it will cheer, From out the Urn that it has graced.
Let each and all the grateful be, And hail a welcome guest in Tea”.
Letter from Thomas Baker Brown to his father, 29th Dec 1917 (Thomas Baker Brown Archive, TBB/1/1/1/1/248)This letter from Thomas Baker Brown to his father is written from France. He describes his Christmas dinner, and remarks that there were ’30 men to a turkey’. See transcript below…
My dear Father
Just a few lines to let you know that things are all ok and going strong.
Today we had our so called Xmas diner and gee wiz it was some dinn. There were 30 men to a turkey so you can imagine how much we saw of it after the Sergt Major and the NCOs had a dig in. So I made up with Nestles Choc afterwards.
I don’t know whether I told you that the razor blade (singular) arrived all right.
I’ve had a letter from Mr Drew and he proposed drinking my health this Xmas.
Have just to move so will now pip-pip
Love to all
Your loving son
(SB) – Tommy”
Thomas Baker Brown, born 22nd December 1896, a soldier who fought in World War I. In December 1915, he was serving in the ‘Clerks Platoon’ for the 6th Northumberland Fusiliers at a training camp at Scarcroft School, York. As a soldier, or “tommy”, training would begin with basic physical fitness, drill, march discipline and essential field craft. Tommies would later specialise in a role and Brown received training in bombing, signalling and musketry. He suffered from poor eyesight and was issued with glasses. After failing to be transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, Brown was placed into the signalling section and later drafted to France alongside his brother George, as part of the 2/6th Northumberland Fusiliers, 32nd Division.
By the 1st August 1916, Brown was moved to the 21st Northumberland Fusiliers (2nd Tyneside Scottish 37th Division) and was sent on his first journey to the front line trenches. Later, in March 1917, Brown was awarded the Military Medal for his ‘heroism’ and ‘bravery’.
Prologue from ‘Round about the coal-fire: or Christmas entertainments’ (19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll 398.268 CHR)To get you in the Christmas spirit, here’s the Prologue from ‘Round about our coal fire, or, Christmas Entertainments’ “wherein is described abundance of Fiddle-Faddle-Stuff, Raw-heads, bloody-bones, Buggybows and such like Horrible Bodies; Eating, Drinking, Kissing & other Diversions…” produced in 1734.
‘The Fig Tree’ illustration from Elizabeth Blackwell’s Herbal Vol. 1
Plate 125. The Fig Tree. Ficus.
It seldome grows to be a Tree of any great Bigness in England; the Leaves are a grass Green and the Fruit when ripe of a brownish Green; it beareth no visible Flowers, which makes it believed they are hid in the Fruit.
Its Native soils are Turky, Spain and Portugal; and its time of Bearing is in Spring and Autumn; the Figs are cured by dipping them in scalding hot Lye, made of ye Ashes of the Guttings of the Tree, and afterwards they dry them carefully in the Sun.
Figs are esteem’d cooling and moistning, good for coughs, shortness of Breath, and all Diseases of the Breast; as also the Stone and Gravel, – and the small Pox and Measels, which they drive out. – Outwardly they are dissolving and ripening, good for Imposthumations and Swellings; and pestilential buboes.