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.

Time

Aspects of the virus checking and file transfer process can feel like lost hours, as they are out of your control once the computer processes have been initiated. The most significant factor to consider is how long it can take to transfer quantities of large files from a local-offline environment to a shared networked workspace at the end of a digital preservation session. For this session there was a total of 3851 files requiring 38 minutes to transfer over. Knowledge of the length of time that different parts of the digital preservation process can take will come with experience and the confidence to conduct other workplace activities alongside digital preservation. Top tip – save enough time to do the offline to online file transfer at the end of the day, especially if you have a bus to catch, or a dentist appointment, or post-work fun times.

Digital Preservation Day Reflections

It is a positive step to begin implementing the long-term working strategy for born digital files from the Sir Terry Farrell archive, in line with the existing processes of Newcastle University Special Collections. It also felt good to create solutions to working obstacles that cropped up along the way. Future steps for this collection will be to formally catalogue the digital files and make access copies for users, along with incorporating regular digital preservation sessions into the cataloguing activities.

It was noted that much of the intellectual content of born digital materials transferred as part of the Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive already exists as a physical copy within the collection. This has raised a wider question about how many copies of an item should be kept and in which format? A preference for physical collections is space hungry but relatively stable to store, where-as born digital material is physically economic for space, but cost over time to host and maintain on a server. Then there is the umming and aaahhing about how an appropriate strategy is resourced and organised for the long-term accessibility of born digital materials that increasingly form the records of any modern organisation, and, specific to this blog, archives dealing with late twentieth/early twenty first century material. But that may need to wait for another time: protect your bits and Happy Digital Preservation Day.

Sir Terry Farrell’s archive has been generously loaned to Newcastle University Library and is currently being catalogued. Once catalogued it will be made fully available to the public.  All rights held by The Terry Farrell Foundation. 

Frederick Douglass: From Enslavement to Abolitionist

Frederick Douglass, photograph by an unidentified artist, c.1850, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.80.21

Frederick Douglass’ story as a black American started in the same way as many others of his era, born into slavery. Thanks to his determination and good luck he was able to escape the lifelong toil that many of his fellow black Americans endured, educate himself and then tell his story highlighting the plight of fighting for the rights of black Americans. The story of his life includes a journey to the UK, and Newcastle, where he would meet a local family that had a lasting impact on his ability to live a free life in America.  

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 on a plantation in Talbot, Maryland. His father was white, and possibly the ‘owner’ of his mother. He was removed from his mother as a young child, and only had limited contact with her prior to her death, while Douglass was still a child. After being a slave for a number of years he escaped from his owner in Baltimore on the 3rd of September 1838 and travelled to New York. Once there he set about educating himself and eventually telling his story through an autobiography.

In 1845 ‘The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave: written by himself’ was published. This detailed his early life, escape from slavery, and new life as a free manAcross the Atlantic and during the early years of Douglass’ life, the Whig government in Britain (led by Earl Grey II who hailed from Northumberland) passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. This act would make owning a slave in much of the British Empire illegal by 1840.  

In August 1845 Frederick Douglass sailed across the Atlantic to Great Britain to promote his cause. A review of his book was published in July 1846 in the Newcastle Guardian. The review highlights in critical terms, the American ‘institution of slavery’ and introduces his story and selected quotes from his work.

 Excerpt from pg5 of Review of the Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, written by himself, 19thCentury Collection 942.8 REV The full review can be found at https://cdm21051.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p21051coll23/id/96/rec/15
Plaque at 5 Summerhill Grove, Newcastle upon Tyne commemorating Frederick Douglass and the anti-slavery activists with whom he stayed whilst in Newcastle

During his 19 month stay in Britain he toured the country giving public lectures detailing his life, slavery in America and promoting abolition. This included a short stay in Newcastle, at the home of Henry and Anna Richardson and their sister-in-law Ellen. They were Quakers who lived in a house on Summerhill Grove near the city centre. His stay, and the impact the family had on Douglass’ life is commemorated by a plaque on the house. He made such an impact on the Richardson’s that they set about raising £150 and instructed a lawyer in America to formerly buy Douglass’ freedom from his former enslaver in late 1846. 

Near the end of his tour of Britain Douglass was invited to give a farewell speech at the London Tavern on the 30th of March 1847 by the Council of the Anti-Slavery League.  They later published a transcript of the speech he gave, a copy of which forms part of Special Collection’s Cowen Tracts Collection, collected by Joseph Cowen, a 19th Century reformist MP from Newcastle. You can read more about the life of Joseph Cowen here

In his speech at the London Tavern Frederick Douglass covers a number of topics. He covers the American constitution, the slave keeping system and references the abolition of slavery in Canada which had been enacted by Earl Grey’s government.

Caption: Excerpt from Farewell Speech of Mr Frederick Douglass previously to Embarking on Board the Cambria, upon his Return to America March 30, 1847, pg14, Cowen Tracts, Vol.17, No.12, https://collectionscaptured.ncl.ac.uk/digital/collection/p21051coll85/id/58/rec/1 

He went on to talk about the purchase of his freedom by the Richardson’s saying:  

… As to the kind friends who have made the purchase of my freedom, I am deeply grateful to them. I would never have solicited them to have done so, or have asked them for money for such a purpose. I never could have suggested to them the propriety of such an act. It was done from the prompting or suggestion of their own hearts, entirely independent of myself…. (Cowen Tracts, Vol.17, No.12, pg16) 

Later in his speech he went on to recount his feelings and experience of the 19 months he spent in Britain, contrasting it with the conditions he encountered in Boston before he boarded the Cambria and travelled across the Atlantic: 

… I say that I have here, within the last nineteen months, for the first time in my life, known what it was to enjoy liberty. I remember, just before leaving Boston for this country, that I was even refused permission to ride in an omnibus. Yes, on account of the colour of my skin, I was kicked from a public conveyance just a few days before I left the “cradle of liberty”. (Cowen Tracts, Vol.17, No.12, pg19) 

He also recounts his experience of being refused entry to churches in Boston and not being permitted to “even to go into a menagerie or theatre, if I wished to have gone there” (Pg 19) and that “I was not granted any of these common and ordinary privileges of free men.” (pg 20).  

He concluded his speech by explaining his hopes and plans for his return to America saying: 

…I go, turning my back upon the ease, comfort, and respectability which I might maintain even here, ignorant as I am. Still, I will go back, for the sake of my brethren. I go to suffer with them; to toil with them; to endure insult with them; to undergo outrage with them; to lift up my voice in their behalf; to speak and write in their vindication; and struggle in their ranks for that emancipation which shall yet be achieved by the power of truth and of principle for the oppressed people… (Cowen Tracts, Vol.17, No.12, pg21) 

The speech he gave at the London Tavern gives us a valuable insight in Frederick Douglass’ own words of his experiences of slavery, how he valued the time he spent in Britain and the people that met and supported him while here. It also demonstrates that though he was now free himself he saw his future in helping his enslaved brethren, using his platform to promote their cause and work towards their emancipation, even if that meant experiencing the racial prejudices of 19th Century America.  

On the 4th of April Frederick Douglass embarked the Cambria to travel across the Atlantic back to the United States. On boarding he was informed that the birth he had booked was occupied and that he would not be allowed to mix with the other passengers on account of his colour. After returning to America he would go on to spend the next 50 years working and campaigning for the rights of black Americans and women. He died in Washington DC, aged 77 in February 1895. Newcastle University’s Frederick Douglass Building, close to where he stayed during his time in Newcastle, is named in his honour.  

Excerpt from Farewell Speech of Mr Frederick Douglass previously to Embarking on Board the Cambria, upon his Return to America March 30, 1847, pg14, Cowen Tracts, Vol.17, No.12, https://collectionscaptured.ncl.ac.uk/digital/collection/p21051coll85/id/58/rec/1 

Di Great Insohreckshan by Linton Kwesi Johnson

“Writing was a political act and poetry was a cultural weapon…” 

So stated the renowned Jamaican dub poet, recording-artist and activist Linton Kwesi Johnson (b. 24 August 1952). Based in the United Kingdom since 1963, in 2002 he became the second living poet, and the only black poet, to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series. 

In the Bloodaxe Books Archive, Special Collections holds a set of proofs for Linton Kwesi Johnson’s 1991 poetry anthology Tings an Times which accompanied an album of the same name. Amongst the proofs resides this draft typescript of Johnson’s great dub poem Di Great Insohreckshan which he famously wrote as a response to the Brixton Uprising which took place 40 years ago this year, in April 1981. The poem first featured on his album Making History in 1983.   

Typescript draft of Di Great Insohreckshan by Linton Kwesi Johnson prepared for his anthology Tings an Times published by Bloodaxe Books (Bloodaxe Books Archive, BXB-1-1-JOL-1-3-1&2) 

Dub poetry, a term coined by Johnson himself, was a form of performance poetry of West Indian origin, written to be spoken out loud against a backdrop of reggae music. 

Watch Linton Kwesi Johnson performing Di Great Insohreckshan.

The Brixton Uprising, also referred to as the Brixton Riots, took place 10-12 April 1981. It was the first large-scale racial confrontation between black British youth and white British police.  The rioting was sparked by decades of injustices experienced by black people in the UK. 

Next month will see the fortieth anniversary of the publication of the Scarman Report, commissioned by the UK government in response to the Brixton Uprising. Amongst other conclusions, the Report found there to be unquestionable evidence of the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of ‘stop and search’ powers by the police against young black people and placed the Brixton Uprising into the context of the racial disadvantage faced by them. 

Linton Kwesi Johnson’s poetry is deeply political in its nature, dealing mainly with the experiences of being an African-Caribbean in Britain. Written and spoken in Jamaican Creole English, Di Great Insohreckshan railed against the injustice and oppression which brought about the tensions leading to the Brixton Uprising, giving full vent to black people’s anger and highlighting the government’s political failure. 

When first performed, Di Great Insohreckshan grabbed and demanded the attention of those who heard it, with its intense, urgent, streetwise and intellectual delivery. Forty years on the poem is held to stand alongside TV and radio archive as a primary source in its own right, helping future generations understand the cultural and political upheaval that led to the Brixton Uprising of 1981. 

Pilgrim Street, Roads and Robert Burns Dick

Newcastle seems to be experiencing an endless period of building and regeneration. The Evening Chronicle recently reported that a ‘run-down corner of Newcastle city centre is currently being redeveloped to bring new office buildings, a public square, shops, bars, and restaurants. ‘Pilgrim Place’ is currently being built in an area on the eastern side of Pilgrim Street, after the scheme was approved by Newcastle City Council’s planning Committee in July 2021. 

As a main route into (and out of) Newcastle, Pilgrim Street has been the centre of many similar schemes in the past. When construction of the Tyne Bridge commenced in 1925, the lower end of Pilgrim Street was cleared of many historic buildings dating back to the Sixteenth Century. 

Two pages from a Charles Philips Trevelyan family album, dated 1925. They feature photographs of the bottom of Pilgrim Street, which was being cleared for the construction of the Tyne Bridge. The note informs us that ‘Some houses there were dated 1575’. CPT/PA/12, Trevelyan (Charles Philips) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

When the Swan House roundabout was built between 1963 and 1969, more buildings were demolished, including the ‘revered’ Royal Arcade which many people still mourn, even though it was never a commercial success and had fallen into disrepair due to its location outside the main shopping area of the city. 

A view up Pilgrim Street in the Nineteenth Century. The Royal Arcade is the large building on the right. ILL-11-268, Local Illustrations, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
Interior view of the Royal Arcade. ILL-11-270, Local Illustrations, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

The imposing Pilgrim Street police, magistrates court, and fire station building, the work of local architectural firm Cackett, Burns Dick & MacKellar, is a central landmark in the new development. Built between 1931 and 1933 to replace a previous station, it was Grade-II-listed in 1999 and is earmarked for conversion to a five-star hotel. 

Thomas Cackett & Robert Burns Dick contributed greatly to the appearance of Pilgrim Street; further up the road, they were responsible for the design of the stately Northern Conservative Club at 29 Pilgrim Street, near the Paramount cinema (later the Odeon). This was later demolished to make way for one of the city’s most-disliked buildings, Commercial Union House. Blame T. Dan Smith!

Robert Burns Dick enjoyed a larger-than-life reputation in his adopted home town of Newcastle. Born in Stirling in 1868, his family had moved south when he was very young and Burns Dick always regarded himself as a Geordie. 

Family portrait of the Dick family, showing Robert (Seated third from left), his siblings, and his mother. His father and a brother are present in the two framed photographs. RBD-1-1-3, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

After attending the Royal Grammar School and art school, he moved through various architectural firms before entering into partnership with another Scot in Newcastle, Thomas Cackett. Burns Dick provided the creativity while Cackett looked after the business. The company went on to design many of Newcastle’s most important buildings, including the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle University Students’ Union building, the Pilgrim Street police and fire station, the Bridge Hotel, and the extension of the Northumberland County Council offices, now the Vermont Hotel. Away from Newcastle, Burns Dick was the man behind Whitley Bay’s recently-reopened Spanish City buildings and Berwick-upon-Tweed’s old police station (regarded by many as the model for the Laing Art Gallery). An advocate of the Garden City movement, in the 1920s he helped design west Newcastle’s low-rise, low-density and landscaped Pendower housing estate.  

The Burns Dick (Robert) Archive 

Our Burns Dick (Robert) Archive was collated after a 1984 exhibition about the architect, held by the Royal Institute of British Architects Northern Region. Although instrumental in the design of some of the area’s best architecture, it was felt that Burns Dick had been ‘forgotten’. The archive comprises photographs of Burns Dick and his family, two University dissertations about him, and a collection of press cuttings about Burns Dick and the exhibition. These provide a good overview of his life and outline some of his ambitious plans for Newcastle. 

Copy photographs of Robert Burns Dick and his wife Margaret. RBD-1-1-4, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
Photograph of Millmount, the Dick residence in Cowgate, Newcastle upon Tyne. The house was designed by Robert Burns Dick with a large garden which was drastically reduced when the Cowgate bypass was built in front of it in the 1960s (hence the metal fence). RBD-2-1-1, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

In 1924 Burns Dick was a founder member of the Newcastle upon Tyne Society to ‘Improve the Beauty, Health and Amenities of the City’. He advocated a green belt around Newcastle and drew up a list of city centre historic buildings to be saved from any future demolition or decay.

Newcastle’s pre-eminent Victorian architects, Richard Grainger and John Dobson, had created an architecturally beautiful city but its roads were designed for horses and carriages. Burns Dick, although appreciating the pair’s work, said,

‘Is not Newcastle still trading on the brains of Grainger and Dobson and Clayton? . . . It has done nothing since worth mentioning in the same breath.’

He drew up plans for new roads to accommodate the arrival and proliferation of motor vehicles in the city, including a development of his partner Cackett’s 1905 plan for a south to north axial road running from the new Tyne Bridge to Barras Bridge to the east of Northumberland Street, and then to his proposed civic buildings on a site near Exhibition Park.

One of the articles shows a 1936 proposal for a new town hall and office space in the Haymarket. This appears to be in the space now occupied by offices over Haymarket metro station. RBD-3-1-6, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Had Newcastle Council not suffered a funding shortage and a change in political power, Burns Dick’s plan for roads, and his grand entrance arch at the northern end of the Tyne Bridge, may have gone ahead. The arch would, of course, have led onto Pilgrim Street, which became the Great North Road (later the A1).

Article from The Journal, 1 November 1982, showing Burns Dick’s plan for a grand archway entrance into Newcastle upon Tyne, dated 1925.RBD-3-1-5, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive , Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Maybe as compensation, Cackett & Burns Dick were handed the contract to design Newcastle’s new fire, police station and courts.

Burns Dick eventually moved to Esher, Surrey, and died there in 1954. His body was returned to Newcastle and he was buried in Elswick Cemetery.

In Newcastle, the city’s 1960s planners sat and planned a new north-to-south road running to the east of Northumberland Street. This was eventually opened in 1970 and named after one of the Newcastle’s Victorian architects, John Dobson.

T. Dan Smith, Leader of Newcastle City Council from 1960 to 1965 and the city’s ‘bogeyman’, is often credited with the destruction of Newcastle’s historic buildings and their replacement with ugly concrete blocks, even though much of what he is held responsible for was built after his period in office.

The Roots of Vaccination – 300 Years of Variolation in England

Title page to A Dissertation on the method of inoculating the small-pox … (1721) Medical Tracts v1(7), Medical Tracts, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186

While we are all familiar with vaccination, its predecessor variolation is less well known. The goal is the same – to use a medical procedure to induce immunity to a disease. Before the invention of vaccination, variolation was the only preventative against smallpox available. This pamphlet, from our Medical Tracts Collection, is one of many English publications on the subject from 300 years ago in 1721. A translation of a Portuguese pamphlet by Jacob de Castro Sarmento, it outlines the variolation process ‘as it is practised in Thessaly, Constantinople and Venice’. The process is relatively simple – warm pus from someone suffering with smallpox is applied to a freshly made incision on the variolation patient. This triggers an immune response in the patient, which renders them less susceptible to future infection.

1721 was a key year in the history of variolation in England. While the practice had been taking place in Asia and Africa for some time, in the early 18th Century its adoption in England was cause of much debate. Since the 1710s the Royal Society of London had explored and discussed its use, but the high level of risk involved had prevented it from being introduced to English society. Arguments for and against the process continued to be published. Then in 1721, several events took place which contributed to its greater acceptance in England.

In April of that year, a smallpox epidemic led Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an aristocrat and writer, to have her daughter Mary “engrafted”. Montagu had first encountered the procedure while in Turkey some years earlier. She had written about it to friends and had her son undergo the process whilst there. Back in England, Mary’s inoculation was observed by three members of the Royal College of Physicians, becoming the first documented inoculation in England. After the successful inoculation of her daughter, interest in variolation rose sharply amongst her aristocratic friends (which Montagu strongly encouraged. It came to the attention of Caroline of Ansbach, then Princess of Wales, who wished to inoculate her three children.

It was felt that more evidence of the safety and effectiveness of the procedure was required before risking the health of the heirs to the British throne, and so in July, the royal physicians finalised arrangements to conduct variolation trials on inmates at Newgate prison in London. Seven inmates were offered the choice of participating in exchange for their sentence of transportation to the Americas being remitted. Those who accepted (which was all of them) underwent “engrafting” on the 9th of August 1721. The initial procedure was heavily attended by observers and the participants’ progress was discussed in newspapers and pamphlets.

Watercolour drawings of the left arm showing smallpox inoculation (variolation) on verso and cowpox inoculation (vaccination) on recto. Wellcome Library number WMS 3115. Reproduced under Creative Commons.

The Newgate trial was deemed a success, with all the participants recovering well and displaying immunity. One of the participants, Elizabeth Harrison (originally sentenced to death for the theft of 62 guineas), was taken to a school which was suffering a smallpox outbreak to demonstrate her immunity. The royal children were eventually inoculated, but not until April 1722 after further trials on orphan children had taken place. While debate continued around the safety and effectiveness of variolation, these events contributed to its increased acceptance and by the 1740s, charitable inoculation hospitals were being established. It became common practice to use variolation to reduce the impact of smallpox outbreaks in rural areas. Variolation continued to be used in England until the invention and introduction of the safer vaccination process eventually led to the Vaccination Act of 1840. This entitled everyone in England to smallpox vaccination free of charge and banned the use of its riskier predecessor.

Read the whole pamphlet on CollectionsCaptured.

Remote Access and your Dissertation

We’ve posted before about how to use Special Collections and Archives for your dissertation, and shared suggestions of collections we hold that could provide the basis for a fantastic dissertation.

Of course, this year has been a bit different, and while we hope to welcome you all back to our reading room soon, in the meantime you might be interested to know you can still access our content using our Virtual Reading Room service.

However we appreciate that you might find it easier just now to work from resources which are remotely accessible, and so we wanted to highlight the following content from our collections, all of which is available online.

In addition to the resources below, you may want to explore our main online portal for digital content, CollectionsCaptured, or our range of dedicated online resources.

If you have any questions about these resources, or using Special Collections and Archives more generally, you can get in touch with us using Library Help.


Remotely Accessible Dissertation ideas #1: Gertrude Bell Archive

Photograph of a group of riders on camels with the Pyramids in the background.
A group of attendees at the 1921 Cairo Conference on camels, including Gertrude Bell, Sir Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence. (GB/PERS/F/002)

Gertrude Bell was an archaeologist, explorer and diplomat in the early 20th Century. Bell initially travelled in the Middle East to support her interest in archaeology, and gained substantial knowledge of languages and Arab cultures. This led to British Intelligence asking her to support their work with her knowledge of the region and the people who lived there during the First World War. After the war, Bell continued to work in a diplomatic position, and was extremely influential in the establishment of Modern day Iraq. 

Bell frequently wrote to her family at home, as well as keeping extensive diaries and taking many photographs. Copies of the photographs and transcripts of the diaries and letters are freely available on a dedicated website.

Visit the Gertrude Bell website to explore her diaries, letters and photographs.


Remotely Accessible Dissertation ideas #2: Broadsides

Poster illustrative of items in the Broadside Collection.
Poster advertising the Annual General Meeting of the North Shields and Tynemouth Association for Prosecuting Felons in 1816 (Broadsides 5/1/9)

‘Broadside’ is a term applied to cheaply printed, single sided sheets of paper. Often used to convey news or political opinions, they are a valuable insight into popular culture. Special Collections and Archives has a substantial collection of mostly 19th Century Broadsides, most of which are digitized and available to view and search online. The majority of them were produced here in the North East, and provide a fascinating insight into contemporary concerns and local events, but also how information was communicated. As well as electioneering ephemera and propaganda, the broadsides include reward notices for the capture of criminals, announcements of events, and entertainment in the form of comic and tragic songs, known as ‘Broadside Ballads’.

Visit CollectionsCaptured to search and browse our Broadsides. 


Remotely Accessible Dissertation ideas #3: Jane Loraine’s Recipe Book

Handwritten page from Jane Loraine's recipe book.
A page from Jane Loraine’s Recipe Book including recipes for clotted cream and almond cream (MISC.MSS 5 pg 13)

Dating from the 1680s this manuscript (handwritten) recipe book includes recipes for food and medicinal products. The handwriting suggests multiple authors, but the majority has been attributed to Jane Loraine, a member of the Loraine family from Kirkharle, in Northumberland. The value of recipe books as sources for subjects beyond food history is still being explored, but it provides opportunities to explore subjects as diverse as gender issues (as examples of women’s writing) and empire (exploring ingredient availability).

Jane Loraine’s Recipe Book is available in full on CollectionsCaptured, but has also been adapted into a searchable digital edition which provides transcripts, contextual information and signposts wider reading.

Visit the Digital Edition to explore the recipe book in more detail.


Remotely Accessible Dissertation ideas #4: Local Illustrations

Hand drawn illustation from the Local Illustration Collection.
Illustration of the interior of Newcastle Central Station dating from the 19th Century. (ILL/11/240)

Our Local Illustration Collection brings together engravings and other illustrations from the 18th and 19th Century which depict landmarks and landscapes from the North East. They offer the opportunity to explore changes in the region during a period of vast technological change, but also how urban and rural landscapes were depicted. Insights into contemporary society can also be taken from the figures which appear in the images.

Visit Collections Captured to browse the images in this collection.


Remotely Accessible Dissertation ideas #5: Trevelyan Family Albums

Album page containing photographs of cats, a newspaper clipping and ticket for an event.
Page from one of the albums of Charles Philips Trevelyan including photographs and ephemera collated between 1904 and 1906. (CPT/PA/3 pg. 27)

The Trevelyan family were based at Wallington Hall Northumberland, now a National Trust property. The property was donated to the Trust by Sir Charles Philips Trevelyan, a Member of Parliament, Education Secretary and campaigner against Britain’s involvement in World War I. Trevelyan’s wife Mary Trevelyan (nee Bell – half-sister of Gertrude Bell), kept family photograph albums and scrapbooks from the late 19th Century until her death in 1965. They provide an insight into the life of a politically active landed family in the North East in the early 20th Century. The albums offer the opportunity to explore gender roles and childhood in the aristocracy, travel and empire (through albums depicting Charles’ ‘Grand Tour’ to North America, the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand) and the activity of collecting and memorialising family life.

Many of the photograph albums can be browsed and text searched on our Page Turners platform, and cover nearly 70 years of family life.

Visit our webpages for direct links to each album on Page Turners.


Remotely Accessible Dissertation ideas #6: Bloodaxe Books Archive

Front cover of a book.
Front cover of When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List Of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen, published in 2019 by Bloodaxe Books. (BXB 811.6 CHE)

Newcastle University acquired the archive of Bloodaxe Books in 2013, an archive dating back to 1978 and the beginnings of this internationally important poetry publisher. The Poetics of the Archive offers innovative ways to explore digitised content from this archive. Through BOOKS, you can browse a library of Bloodaxe’s titles and a wealth of digitised poetry in process towards its final published form. WORDS uses the text of the digitized items to suggest links, whilst SHAPES allows you to view or interact with the shape poems make on the page. DATA takes you beyond this archive to discover where else Bloodaxe authors have been published. In the GALLERY and RESEARCH sections you will be able to link to new works that animate and respond creatively to the archive (interviews, films, photos, artwork, texts).

Visit the dedicated website to explore this resource.


Remotely Accessible Dissertation ideas #7: Courier Archive

Front page of an issue of The Courier Newspaper.
Front page of The Courier (an independent newspaper produced by Newcastle University students) published on 7th July 2014. (Courier/2014/07/07 pg. 1)

The Courier Archive is a website containing over 70 years of back issues of Newcastle University’s student paper, The Courier. All the issues are text searchable and downloadable as PDFs. They provide the opportunity to explore campus life at the University, but also to track wider social change.

Visit the Courier Archive website to explore this resource.

Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin – February 2021

The book Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin was one of the first English-language children’s book to discuss male homosexuality and inadvertently played a significant role in one of the most difficult and controversial episodes in the history of the struggle for equality for LGBT people in the UK.

Written by Danish author Susanne Bösche and first published in Danish in 1981, the book was published in English in 1983 by Gay Men’s Press, intended to help reduce anti-gay prejudice and to be a resource to facilitate discussion with children about homosexuality.

Front cover of the Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin book.
Front cover of Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin (Gay Men’s Press, 1983). (Alderson (Brian) Collection, Alderson Collection BOS JEN)

Special Collections’ copy of Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin is held in the Alderson (Brian) Collection of children’s books, and demonstrates how a book may become politicised owing to its content and the context in which it is viewed, in this particular book’s case, having become a weapon in a war over the teaching of sexuality in schools.

The story describes a few days in the life of five-year-old Jenny, her father, Martin, and his partner Eric who lives with them. Jenny’s mother Karen lives nearby and often visits. It covers their various day-to-day activities, including going to the laundrette together; playing a game of lotto; preparing a surprise birthday party for Eric; and Eric and Martin having a minor argument and making up. There is also a conversation with a passer-by who expresses homophobic disgust when meeting the family in the street, the subject of a later discussion between Eric and Jenny.

Page 29 of Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin containing text from the story and a photograph showing a young girl sat between two men at a table.
P.29 of Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin (Gay Men’s Press, 1983). (Alderson (Brian) Collection, Alderson Collection BOS JEN)

That the 1980s was a time of rising negative sentiments towards homosexuality in the UK is well-documented. In 1986 a copy of Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin was made available by the Inner London Education Authority in a teachers’ centre specifically for the use of teachers who wanted to know more about gay or lesbian parents. In response to this, various national newspapers inaccurately reported that the book was being made available in school libraries.

The ensuing controversy, including the condemnation of the book’s availability by the Secretary of State for Education, resulted in fear that the book was being used as “homosexual propaganda”, and made a major contribution towards the Conservative Government’s subsequent passing of the controversial Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which forbade the promotion of homosexuality by local government and in schools in England, Wales and Scotland.

Attitudes towards sexuality and sexual minorities have shifted a great deal over the decades since the passing of Section 28, which was reviled by many far beyond the gay community itself. Now largely held to have been an unnecessary and unjust assault on civil rights, the legislation was repealed in 2003, and in 2009 the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron apologised publicly for it.

Page 32 of Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin containing text and a large photograph of two men walking down a street with a young girl between them.
P.32 of Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin (Gay Men’s Press, 1983). (Alderson (Brian) Collection, Alderson Collection BOS JEN)

Bösche, Susanne. Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin (Gay Men’s Press, 1983)

Shelf mark: Alderson Collection BOS JEN

The ‘first women’ of the Newcastle College of Medicine

This blog was inspired by the simple question of ‘who was the first woman to gain a medical degree from the College of Medicine at Newcastle?’  In fact not so simple a question! The history of women’s medical education in Britain is a complex, fraught, and litigious one as women were forced to fight separately for access to medical education; for access to the medical profession; and for access to various closed branches of medicine. Rather than one ‘first woman’ there are therefore a group of several ‘first women’, as the College of Medicine at Newcastle expanded the award of its medical degrees firstly to women who had already received a medical education at non-degree awarding women’s medical colleges; then opening it’s medical programme to women, and finally admitting women to the various higher medical degrees and specialisms.

Thank you to research volunteer (and retired member of Library staff!) Alan Callender for this blog piece and for all of the hours of painstaking research behind it. Information was gathered using our collection of student registers and medical college class lists (Newcastle University Archive) together with information kindly given through family research.

Women’s access to the medical profession in the Nineteenth Century

By the mid-19th Century there were two significant barriers to British women becoming doctors – firstly access to a medical education, and secondly access to the registration process that enabled them to practice.

In 1834 when the ‘School of Medicine and Surgery at Newcastle’ was established, women were barred from a British medical education.  However, until the middle of the century it was possible to gain a medical education abroad and return to practice in Britain without registration.  The gradual opening of medical education to women in both Europe and the USA during this period increasingly made this route viable (for those with money to travel).

1858 Medical Act – The Creation of the Medical Register and a new barrier for women.  This Act sought to professionalise medicine by formalising the educational requirements to practice medicine in Britain.  However, by placing registration in the hands of those institutions who already prohibited women’s medical education, it acted as an insurmountable barrier to British women wishing to practice medicine.  In 1865 Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917) used a loophole to force the Society of Apothecaries to grant her registration.  The society promptly closed this route and with it any options for women to legally practice medicine in Britain.

1869 the ‘Edinburgh Seven’ attempt to gain a medical education at a British University.  In 1869 a group of seven women led by Sophia Jex-Blake (1840-1913) gained admittance to Edinburgh University and were allowed to attend some medical classes and take some medical examinations. As they progressed controversy grew as various sympathetic supporters (including much of the public press) pitted against opponents to the idea of women doctors.  The fight was long and complex as Sophia Jex-Blake fought to access various routes, whilst the University responded each time by trying to close these routes.  Eventually in 1873 the women lost their campaign.  Despite having completed their medical degree courses the High Court ruled that Edinburgh University could not be forced to award medical degrees to women.

Image of the Edinburgh Seven
The Edinburgh Seven, re-produced under Creative Commons c/o Edinburgh Museums

1874 The first British Medical College for Women is established.  In 1874 Sophia Jex-Blake and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson founded the London School of Medicine for Women. Finally women had access to a medical education.  However the College could not award degrees, and for students of the college the bar on medical registration still remained. 

Image of Sophia Jex-Blake
Sophia Jex-Blake. Photographer: Swaine, re-produced under Creative Commons c/o Welcome Collection
Image of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Photographer: Swaine, re-produced under Creative Commons c/o Welcome Collection

1877 A route to the registration of female doctors is established.  In 1876, the ‘Enabling Act’ was passed which stated that the nineteen British medical examining bodies were permitted to accept women candidates but were not compelled to do so. In 1877, the King and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland became the first British medical qualification body to admit women for examination.  In the same year, an agreement was reached with the Royal Free Hospital that allowed students at the London School of Medicine for Women to complete their clinical studies there.

The 1870s and 1880s and the growth of women’s medical schools.  Once a route for both the education and registration of women had been established, three further colleges of medicine for women were established: 1886 Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women; 1888 Medical College for Women Edinburgh; 1890 Glasgow School of Medicine for Women (Queen Margaret College).

1880s and 1890s Women begin to access University education. Meanwhile, in 1867 the establishment of the North of England Council for Promoting Higher Education for Women had started the movement for opening university lectures to women, and by the 1880s and 1890s women were increasingly allowed to study at British universities. However, despite gaining admittance, and even passing university examinations, women were not allowed to be awarded degrees.  This was significant for women wishing to study to medicine, as the refusal to award a degree meant an effective bar to the profession.  In 1878 the University of London finally granted a supplementary charter to enable the admission of women to degree programmes, followed in 1895 by Durham University (the College of Medicine at Newcastle having by this time become a college of Durham University).

1890s and 1900s The growth of regional co-educational medical education. The opening of degrees to women in British universities did not necessarily mean that these women were allowed access to medical courses.  In fact the University of London, the first University to grant women access to its degrees, did not admit women to its Medical Faculty for a further 39 years.  Interestingly however, Durham started to accept women onto their medical degrees immediately.  And in line with Durham various other northern universities also began to open their medical schools to women in the early 1900s. Equally significantly, most did not create a separate medical school for women as the early Scottish colleges had done.  For women this was the start of a trend towards both co-educational medical training for men and women, and the growth of the role of regional universities in providing women with medical training.

Many other barriers were to present themselves over the next century, but we’ll stop there for now!  And celebrate our pioneering medical graduates:


Our first female medical student 1892

The first female student – Edith Blanche Joel – appears on the student register at the College of Medicine. She appears again during the academic years of 1893/4 and 1894/5. However, at this time she would not have been permitted to graduate.

Our first women MBBS’s (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery), 1898 and 1902

In 1896 three students from the London School of Medicine for Women, unable to graduate from this institution, registered at the College of Medicine at Newcastle to complete their medical degrees: Grace Harwood Stewart, Margaret Joyce, and Claudia Anita Prout. All three take their medical examinations and graduate in 1898. In 1896 Mary Evelyn De Russett also appears on the student register as a first year.  In April 1902 she became the first female medical student to graduate who had undertaken all of her medical training at Newcastle.

Grace Harwood Stewart (Billings) (1873 – 1957) was born at Portishead in Somerset, one of nine children to James and Louisa Stewart. Following her graduation from the Newcastle, she registered as a medical practitioner on 11 November 1898. Grace married Frederick Walter Billings, a builder, in 1899 and the same year established her medical practice at 3 Pittville Parade Cheltenham – the first woman to set up a medical practice in Gloucestershire.  She went on to have a remarkable career and in addition to running her own practice was also a medical officer of the Cheltenham Infant Welfare Association and, a pioneer in family planning, she eventually set up the Cheltenham Municipal Women’s Welfare Clinic. During the First World War she was in charge of the St Martin’s V.A.D Hospital and was a locum anaesthetist at the Cheltenham General Hospital. Grace retired in 1936. Her daughter, Brenda, became a GP in Cheltenham and then School Medical Officer for Gloucestershire County Council. Her son, Stewart, had a distinguished naval career, becoming a Rear Admiral. He was awarded the CBE in 1953. She died on the 13 June 1957 at the Douro Nursing Home in Cheltenham aged 84. A great biography of Grace with some fabulous details about her amazing life can be seen here.

Image of Grace Billings
Grace Billings, image kindly provided c/o the King and Billings families.

Margaret Joyce was born in Blackfordby, Burton-on-Trent in 1873. Following her graduation from Newcastle she registered as a Medical Practitioner on 18 November 1898.  Margaret was in practice in Burton-on-Trent, and then became House Surgeon at the New Hospital for Women in London.  She was subsequently in practice for many years in Liverpool and then Ashby-de-la-Zouch.  Margaret died on 28 August 1966 at Syston in Leicestershire.

Claudia Anita Prout Rowse (Bell) was born in Hackney, London in 1873, one of five children. Following her graduation from Newcastle she registered as a medical practitioner on 15 November 1898. Claudia married Hubert Bell, a shipping agent in Chinkiang, China in 1910. The marriage register states that Claudia had been resident in China for 12 years at this point. Claudia died on 30 October 1950 at Reigate, Surrey.

Claudia Anita Prout Rowse, taken circa 1934. Image kindly provided by family researchers.

Mary Evelyn De Russett (Howie) was born in Blackheath c.1872, although the family later moved the Tynemouth. Following her graduation from Newcastle, she registered as a medical practitioner on 9 May 1902. Mary married a doctor in 1902, John Coulson Howie, and together they ran a practice in Glasgow. After John’s death in 1912 the family moved to Newport. In 1920 she was appointed Maternity and Child Welfare Medical Officer for Durham County, a post which she held until her retirement. It should be noted that this post was open to her only because she was a widow, the Civil Service Marriage Bar prohibiting the employment of married women until it was abolished in 1946. Mary died in the Leazes Hospital in Newcastle on 7 September 1946.


Our first Women MDs (Doctor of Medicine), 1903 and 1906

An MD is a higher doctorate or research doctorate. In 1903 Selina Fitzherbert Fox, became the first woman to graduate with an MD from Newcastle.  Selina had undertaken her initial training at the London School of Medicine for Women before transferring to Newcastle to complete her MBBS in 1899 and then proceeding to her MD. In 1906 Sophia Bangham Jackson became the first woman to gain her MD who had undertaken all of her medical training at the Newcastle College.

Selina Fitzherbert Fox was born in 1871. After her graduation from Newcastle she registered as a medical practitioner on 10 May 1899.  Selina worked as an Assistant Medical Officer for the Zanana Bible and Medical Mission between 1900 and 1901 but returned to Britain because of ill health.  She settled in Bermondsey and worked at the Church Missionary Society’s medical centre until it closed.  As there was still the need for medical care for women and children in the area, Selina founded the Bermondsey Medical Mission in 1904 and was awarded an M.B.E for her work as its founder and director on 1 January 1938.  Selina died at Bermondsey Medical Mission Hospital on 27 December 1958. A family blog about Selina and the campaign for a Blue Plaque to honour her can be seen here and here.

Group photograph
Selina Fitzherbert Fox. Image c/o her family who found this picture with the words Selina Fitzherbert Fox written on the back. They believe that Selina is seated in the middle, front row.

Sophia Bangham Jackson (Smith) was born in Finsbury Park in 1877.  Following her graduation from Newcastle she registered as a medical practitioner on 12 November 1904.  Sophie practiced in Thornton Heath, Chingford and then Selsden.  She married Frederick B Smith in 1939 and died on 18 January 1952 at Selsden.


Our first women to be awarded a Bachelor of Hygiene, 1902 and 1909

In September 1902 Emeline Da Cunha, who had gained her Licence in Medical Surgery from Bombay University in 1894, became one of two ‘first women’ to be awarded a Bachelor of Hygiene from the College of Medicine at Newcastle.  Joining her was Esther Molyneux Stuart who had undertaken her initial medical training at Edinburgh University. The first woman to be awarded a Bachelor of Hygiene who had completed all of her undergraduate training in Newcastle was Gertrude Ethel O’Brien who gained her MB in 1908 and subsequently her Bachelor of Hygiene and Diploma in Public Health in 1909.

Emeline Da Cunha was born in Panjim, India in 1873 and was awarded her initial Licence in Medicine and Surgery at Bombay University in 1894, funded by the Medical Women for India Fund.  She later graduated from Newcastle with a B.Hy in 1902 and registered as a medical practitioner in England on 30 September 1901.  From entries in the Medical Register it would appear that Emeline then returned to India to continue her career.

Esther Molyneux Stuart (Parkinson) was born in Liverpool on 19 January 1877.  Esther registered as a medical practitioner on 4 August 1899 following her graduation from Edinburgh University, and in 1902 graduated from Newcastle with her B.Hy. She married Thomas Parkinson in 1903 and died on 19 September 1912 at Benton in Northumberland.

Following her graduation from Newcastle Gertrude Ethel O’Brien (Bartlett) registered as a medical practitioner on 15 August 1908. She married Robert Bartlett, and died on 19 February 1953 in Barnet.


Our first women to be awarded a Diploma in Public Health, 1908 and 1909

In April 1908 Lilian Mary Chesney (M.B. Ch.B. Edinburgh University 1899) became the first Newcastle female graduate to be awarded a Diploma in Public Health. One year later in 1909 Gertrude Ethel O’Brien became the first woman who had undertaken all of her medical training at Newcastle to receive this award.

Lillian Mary Chesney was born in Harrow in 1869.  Following her graduation from Newcastle she registered as a medical practitioner on 31 July 1899 and subsequently set up a practice in Harley Street. Later in life Lillian moved her practice to Sheffield and then to Palma de Majorca in Spain.  During the First World War Lillian 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”. Lillian died on 20 December in Mallorca, Spain. 

Images of the the Kragujevac (Serbia) Unit setting up camp. Lillian Chesney was the Assistant Medical Officer at this time, although we do not have an image of her. Both images kindly provided by Nikifóros SIVÉNAS

Our first women to be awarded a Master of Surgery, 1911 and 1923

In 1911 Charlotte Purnell was awarded a Master of Surgery, having undertaken her initial training at the London School of Medicine for Women before transferring to Newcastle. In 1904 Ruth Nicholson started her medical course at the College of Medicine at Newcastle, gaining her MBBS 1909, and BHy., D.P.H. in 1911.  In 1923 she became the first woman to gain a Master of Surgery who had undertaken all of her initial medical training at Newcastle.

Charlotte Purnell was born in Dursley, Gloucestershire c1869. Following her graduation from Newcastle she registered as a medical practitioner on 13 April 1908. For most of her medical career Charlotte worked in Church Mission Society hospitals in Palestine and Transjordan.  Her work was recognised by the award of the O.B.E in 1933.  Charlotte died on 20 June 1944 in Amman in Transjordan.

Ruth Nicholson was born in Newcastle in 1885, one of six children.  Following her graduation from Newcastle she registered as a medical practitioner on 16 September 1909.  Before the First World War she practiced in Palestine, but returned to England at the start of the War, subsequently serving as Surgeon and Second in Command of the Royaumont Military Hospital in France. For this work she was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille d’Honneur des Épidémies by the French government.  After the war she specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology as Clinical Lecturer and Gynaecological Surgeon at the University of Liverpool with consultant appointments at Liverpool hospitals. She was a founder member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1929, being elevated to fellow of the College in 1931. Ruth died on 16 July 1963 in Exeter. A blog about Ruth’s fascinating life story can be seen here.

Image of Ruth Nicholson graduating
Ruth Nicholson, image kindly provided c/o the Nicholson family

You may also be interested in an accompanying blog piece by Alan discussing the largely un-credited role of our female graduates in WWI: They also served…

Black History Month – Oct 2020

Newcastle University Library’s Special Collections and Archives include several collections which contain materials with relevance to race equality issues. These are highlighted below, together with contextual resources such as blogposts and online exhibitions.

Collections

Jack Mapanje Archive

Jack Mapanje was born in Malawi in 1944, growing up in Kadango village in the Mangochi district.

Photograph of Jack Mapanje
Photograph of Jack Mapanje. Image attribution: Amnesty International, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, via Flickr

He first started to write poetry from despair at the political situation in Malawi; his first collection, Of Chameleons and Gods, was published in the UK in 1981 by Heinemann. The collection was critically acclaimed around the world, but withdrawn from circulation in Malawi in June 1985 by the government of dictator Hastings Banda. In September 1987, Jack was arrested and detained without charge or trial in Mikuyu Prison in Malawi. During his imprisonment, Of Chameleons and Gods won the Rotterdam Poetry International Award in 1988, and Jack was subsequently also awarded the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in 1990, recognising his fight for freedom of expression. Despite an international campaign by numerous writers, linguists, and human rights activists, including Harold Pinter, Wole Soyinka, Susan Sontag, and Noam Chomsky amongst others, Jack was not released until May 1991, and was given no explanation of his detention. During his time in prison, he wrote his second collection of poetry, The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison (1993), and much of his third, Skipping without Ropes (1998).

After leaving Malawi with his wife and children, Jack settled in Britain, where he has lived ever since, and has held numerous prestigious posts in universities, the first of these being a fellowship at the University of York in 1992. He was later an Honorary Visiting Professional Fellow in the School of English at the University of Leeds, where he taught a degree course between 1993 and 1996, and edited the collection Gathering Seaweed: African Prison Writing (2002) based on this course. Jack held a Royal Literary Fund Fellowship at Leeds Trinity University from 1999–2001, and has since held a post as Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and Literatures of Incarceration at Newcastle University. Most recently, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bedfordshire in 2015 and has held a Visiting Professorship post in the Faculty of Arts at York St John University.

In the Mapanje (Jack) Archive we hold material relating to his poetic works, items relating to his academic career in both Malawi and the UK, and perhaps most interestingly, correspondence written during and after his time held as prisoner of conscience.

You can find out more about his life and career in the blogpost ‘Jack Mapanje – poet and prisoner of conscience‘.

Anne Walmsley Archive

A specialist in Caribbean art and literature, Anne Walmsley is a British editor, scholar, critic and author. Anne started her career in the late 1950s when she worked as a secretary for Faber and Faber.

Typescript draft of Caribbean Dancers
Typescript draft of Caribbean Dancers [Walmsley (Anne) Archive, AW/1/2/3/5]

Anne Walmsley participated in the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM), founded in 1966 by Kamau Braithwaite, John La Rose and Andrew Salkey. In 1985 she was awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship to research CAM and in 1992 she was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Kent for her thesis on this, which was also published as a book entitled The Caribbean Artists Movement: A Literary and Cultural History, 1966-1971. 

Anne Walmsley has contributed to a range of journals, literary magazines, exhibition catalogues and anthologies. The Walmsley (Anne) Archive holds a range of material including letters and reports from her time at Longman’s, her scrapbook from teaching at Westwood, research on CAM, and research on a range of Caribbean artists.

Highlights from the collection include:

Several titles published by Margaret Busby OBE, Britain’s youngest & first black female book publisher. Titles include, And Still I Rise (2006) and CLR James’s 80th birthday lectures (1984).

Photograph of Margaret Busby
Photograph of Margaret Busby. Image attribution Andy Mabbett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The critically acclaimed debut novel, In the Castle of My Skin (1953), the critically acclaimed debut novel of Bajan novelist, essayist and poet George Lamming (b. 1927).

Photograph of George Lamming
Photograph of George Lamming. Image attribution: Public domain

Bloodaxe Books Archive

The Bloodaxe Books archive is considered one of the most exciting archives for contemporary poetry that exists. The material in the collection includes 592 boxes of original typescripts, editorial work, correspondence and examples of marketing, business and financial records dating from the 1970’s to the present day. These records represent authors and books that have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry, including the T.S. Eliot Prize, Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize. Bloodaxe is also known for its work with translated collections and American poetry, and have published responsively to cultural change in Britain, publishing some of the finest writers in the British-Caribbean and South-Asian diaspora. Another significant achievement is that Bloodaxe publish more female writers than any other British poetry publisher, at a 50:50 male:female ratio. The company has opened up poetry to thousands of new readers and the material held in the archive demonstrates how Bloodaxe Books has been able to achieve this.

Front cover of 'Middle Passages' written by Anne Walmsley
Front cover of ‘Middle Passages’ written by Anne Walmsley [Bloodaxe Books Collection]

Bloodaxe Books Collection

The Bloodaxe Books Collection consists of poetry, prose, translations and critical work published by the company since its inception in 1978.

Want to find out more about some of the poets that Bloodaxe Books represents? Check out ‘Contemporary Poetry Collections: poets and their archives‘ on the blog.

Front cover of ‘Europa’ writtwen by Moniza Alvi
Front cover of ‘Europa’ written by Moniza Alvi [Bloodaxe Books Collection, 821.914 ALV]

Joseph Cowen Tracts

The Cowen (Joseph) Tracts are almost two thousand pamphlets which were formerly owned by local (radical) M.P., Joseph Cowen (1829-1900). The tracts date mostly from the mid- to late-Nineteenth Century and reflect Cowen’s interest in the social, educational, political and economic issues of the day.

Political cartoon of ‘After the ballot’
‘After the ballot’ [A volume of printed ephemera, broadsides, posters, cartoons, referring to election in Northumberland, Necwcastle and Tyneside divisions, 1826-1931] (RB 942.8 ELE Quarto, Rare Books Collection)

Included in the pamphlets are subjects on abolition and the slave trade, including material relating to Frederick Douglass. Douglass was born into slavery c. 1818 on a plantation in Talbot County, Maryland, USA. He became one of the most famous intellectuals of his time. He advised Presidents and lectured to thousands on a range of causes, including women’s rights and Irish Home Rule. On 3 September 1838, Douglass escaped from slavery in Baltimore. He disguised himself as a sailor and headed north, travelling by train and boat, first to Philadelphia, then on to New York. Find out more about Frederick Douglass and Newcastle on the University’s website. You can find material from the Cowen Tracts, relating to Douglass on the library catalogue.

Black and white photograph of William Douglass
Photograph of William Douglass

Pamphlets were an effective form of public debate because they could be circulated to a wider audience than books and authors could remain anonymous. Other subjects include discussions around Irish politics, foreign policy, women’s rights, religion, education and public health and include such titles as The Union programme for 1880: constructive, not destructive, Irish legislation [1879?], Are women fit for politics?: are politics fit for women [185-] and The education of the agricultural labourer: a paper read before the Morpeth Chamber of Agriculture, on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 1870 by M.W. Ridley (1870).

2nd Earl Grey Tracts

The Grey (2nd Earl) Tracts reflect the interests of their former owner, the 2nd Earl Grey (1764-1845) whose Whig government was responsible for the 1832 Reform Act, 1833 Factory Act and the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act.

The pamphlets cover a broad range of historical, social and economic subjects including colonial policy, public finance and banking, the Corn Laws and agriculture, poor relief, slavery, Catholicism, Ireland and the Greek Revolution.

Digital Resources and Blog Posts

Martin Luther King at Newcastle University

A digital exhibition tells the story of the civil rights campaigner Dr Martin Luther King Jr., receiving an honorary degree at Newcastle University in November 1967 using original photographs and documents from the University Archives.

Photograph of Martin Luther King signing the University's visitors' book, 13 November 1967
Martin Luther King signing the University’s visitors’ book, 13 November 1967 (University Archives, NUA/052589-5)

Dr Martin Luther King Memorial Service

Dr Martin Luther was assassinated shortly after 6pm on 4th April 1968, King was short dead in Memphis, Tennessee. He was just 39 years old. This is a blog post on the memorial service for Dr Martin Luther King, held at St. Thomas’ Church, Haymarket in Newcastle, 1968.

E.M. Bettenson, “Dr. Martin Luther King,” announcement, 22 April, 1968
E.M. Bettenson, “Dr. Martin Luther King,” announcement, 22 April, 1968 (University Archives, NUA/00-7621/3/21)

Books We Forgot to Remember: the radical tradition in British children’s literature of the early twentieth century

A blog post from Newcastle University students about the radical tradition in British children’s literature of the early twentieth century. This includes the includes the book, Blue Peter, which was written to tell a tale of marginalised minorities at the time of its production during the World War II.

A member of the SA throws confiscated books into the bonfire during the public burning of “un-German” books on the Opernplatz in Berlin (image not from Newcastle University Library Special Collections and Archives)
A member of the SA throws confiscated books into the bonfire during the public burning of “un-German” books on the Opernplatz in Berlin (image not from Newcastle University Library Special Collections and Archives)
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Daguerreotypes – Hugh Lee Pattinson

With information taken from Dictionary of National Biography and Henry Lonsdale’s ‘The Worthies of Cumberland‘ (1867-75)

Hugh Lee Pattinson (image in the public domain and not part of Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives)

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.

Photograph of the Horseshoe Falls.
The Horseshoe Falls (1840) [Daguerrotypes, DAG/4]
Black and white photograph f the American Falls.
The American Falls (1840) [Daguerreotypes, DAG/3]

To view more Daguerreotypes, visit CollectionsCaptured.

Timeline

1821 Employed as clerk and assistant to Anthony Clapham, a soap boiler in Newcastle.

1822 Pattinson joined the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle.

1825 He became assay master to the lords of the manor at Alston.

1829 Pattinson discovered an easy method for separating the silver from lead ore but did not have the funds to complete his research.

1831 Appointed manager of the lead works of Mr Wentworth Beaumont where he had the opportunity to perfect his method of desilverising lead which was patented in 1833.

1834 He resigned his post and, in partnership with John Lee and George Burnett, established a chemical works at Felling, Gateshead and afterwards at Washington.

His process for extracting the silver from lead allowed the working of lead mines that had been deemed too uneconomic to run.

He also invented a simple method for obtaining white lead, and a process for manufacturing Magnesia Alba. (Patented 1841)

1838 Became vice president of the British Association, a fellow of the Geological Society.

1839-40 Visited America to investigate an offered mining speculation.

1852 Elected fellow of the Royal Society in June.

1858 Retired from business to study astronomy, mathematics and physics. Soon after this he died at his home, Scot’s House near Gateshead, and was buried in Washington.


Full text of chapter on Pattinson from ‘The Worthies of Cumberland’.

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