Letting in the Light: The Leonard Evetts Archive

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!’

Proposed design for a Memorial Window to Lieut. Hugh Walton-Wilson, Church of St John, Snod’s Edge, Northumberland
Proposed design for a Memorial Window to Lieut. Hugh Walton-Wilson, Church of St John, Snod’s Edge, Northumberland, circa 1939.

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 countryside.

Plan for repair of East Window, Church of St Edmund, Sedgefield
Plan for repair of East Window, Church of St Edmund, Sedgefield, 1970.
Proposed Figure of Christ in Majesty, St Bede’s Church, Town End Farm Estate, Sunderland
Proposed Figure of Christ in Majesty, St Bede’s Church, Town End Farm Estate, Sunderland, 1968.
Proposed West Window, Church of Our Lady and Saint Oswain, Tynemouth
Proposed West Window, Church of Our Lady and Saint Oswain, Tynemouth, 1994.
Design for Newcastle General Hospital Chapel
Design for Newcastle General Hospital Chapel, 1979.

While much 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.

Photograph of the construction of the church, 1952, sent to Evetts before design began
Photograph of the construction of the church, 1952, sent to Evetts before design began. Evetts would create stained glass for the windows in the background.
Photograph of the stained glass window above the Alter, Evetts’ interpretation of the Last Supper
Photograph of the stained glass window above the Alter, Evetts’ interpretation of the Last Supper.
Christmas Stamps
Christmas Stamps, 1972

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.

Quick sketch of trees
Brinton, 1994
Sketch of a castle
Sketch of a castle, no date.
Sketch of Cruck Barn, Lydham
Cruck Barn, Lydham, 1970.

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, Church of St George, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne
Proposed Alter Frontal, Church of St George, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1988.

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.

‘Soliloquy for Assiduous Grozer’.  This short poem was written by Evetts in the 1960s.  It was to tease a student who often did not cut his glass correctly, and needed to “groze” the edges to reduce its size.
‘Soliloquy for Assiduous Grozer’. This short poem was written by Evetts in the 1960s. It was to tease a student who often did not cut his glass correctly, and needed to “groze” the edges to reduce its size.
Newcastle University Shield of Arms
Newcastle University Shield of Arms.

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.

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.

Window design, Church of Our Lady and Saint Oswain, Tynemouth
Window design, Church of Our Lady and Saint Oswain, Tynemouth, 1994.

Contemporary Poetry Collections: Poets and their Archives

To coincide with ‘Transformations: Newcastle Poetry Festival 2019‘, which ran from 1st-4th May 2019, Special Collections and Archives showcased Contemporary Poetry Collections: Poets and their Archives, using material from our recently acquired and catalogued contemporary poetry archives. Material from the archives of poets Sean O’Brien, Jack Mapanje, Selima Hill, Peter Bennet and Moniza Alvi were on display to provide an insight into the varied voices of contemporary poetry and literary archives held by Newcastle University Special Collections. Contemporary Poetry Collections exhibition poster

Poets from the exhibition are highlighted below;

Moniza Alvi

Moniza Alvi was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and came to England when she was a few months old.  She grew up in Hertfordshire and studied at the Universities of York and London.  After working for many years as a secondary school teacher, she is now a freelance writer and tutor.

Alvi’s poetical career was launched after winning the Poetry Business Prize in 1991, a prize she won jointly with fellow poet Peter Daniels.  Her first independent collection, The Country at My Shoulder (1993), was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Poetry Award. She has since published seven further collections of poetry with Oxford University Press and subsequently Bloodaxe Books.  Alvi received a prestigious Cholmondeley Award in 2002.

The themes of Alvi’s work are often those of duality, division, identity and feminism.

An Unsafe Subject.  Trauma is the central theme of ‘Europa’, Alvi’s 2008 collection, in particular the trauma of rape.

This is explored in Alvi’s re-imagining of the Greek myth of the rape of the beautiful Europa by Zeus (chief of gods).

Following the publication, Alvi was asked to write the foreword to Feminism, Literature and Rape Narratives.  Here, Alvi considers how rape is still often considered a taboo subject and explores whether this is a result of rape being primarily considered a women’s issue.

Front cover of 'Europa'. Bloodaxe Books Collection, 821.914 ALV

Front cover of ‘Europa’. Bloodaxe Books Collection, 821.914 ALV

Poetry in Progress.  Pages from Alvi’s notebook and draft typescript provide an insight into Alvi’s writing process of ‘At the Time of Partition’ (2013). This was Alvi’s first new poetry book since her T.S. Elliot Prize shortlisted collection ‘Europa’ (2008).

Pages from notebook containing notes, poetical sketches and drafts, poetical ideas and suggestions for the creative process. Alvi (Moniza) Alvi, ALV/5/1

Page from a manuscript draft of ‘At the Time of the Partition’ including comments. Alvi (Moniza) Archive, ALV/1/1/1/2

Peter Bennet

Peter Bennet was born in Staffordshire in 1942. He won a scholarship to King’s School Macclesfield before attending Manchester College of Art and Design where he studied art.  He then went on to teach art in secondary schools.

Later, Bennet worked with around 1000 redundant steelworkers following the closure of Consett Steel Works.  The job was to teach basic English, which evolved into exploring literature. This exploration and experience was to kick start Bennet’s writing career.

Bennet has published poetry collections with Bloodaxe Books and Flambard Press. He has received major awards from New Writing North and Arts Council England, and has won numerous poetry competitions.

Bennet’s themes include folklore, legend and transformation – inspired by living off-grid in the ‘Wilds of Wanney’, Northumberland, for thirty-three years. Below are some items from the Bennet (Peter) Archive.

Inspired by the Landscape.
Much of Bennet’s work was inspired by his surroundings. “Snow at Fourlawshill Top” references the Wanney Hills, which was Bennet’s home for many years.

Hareshaw Linn is one of Northumberland’s most spectacular waterfalls.  It is also a Site of Scientific Interest for its rare ferns and lichens.

Notebook containing Drafts of Poems, 1985 Bennet (Peter) Archive, PB/1/5-3

Pages from notebook containing Drafts of Poems, including drafts of Hareshaw Linn, 1985. Bennet (Peter) Archive, PB/1/5/1

‘Sir John Fenwick’s Skull’ – Award Winning Poem.
Early versions of ‘Sir John Fenwick’s Skull’ poem give a snapshot of how it evolved into the winner of the Basil Bunting prize.

Sir John Fenwick’s skull and helmet, the inspiration for the poem, were returned to Hexham Abbey following his death at the Battle of Marston Moor (1644).  The skull is currently on display at Hexham Old Gaol.

'Sir John Fenwick's Skull' - Final version, 1987. Bennet (Peter) Archive, PB/6

‘Sir John Fenwick’s Skull’ – Final version, 1987. Bennet (Peter) Archive, PB/6

Jack Mapanje

Jack Mapanje was born in Malawi in 1944.  He worked as a secondary school teacher before moving to the University of Malawi, first as a lecturer and then as Head of English.

Mapanje began writing poetry out of despair at the political situation in his homeland, an authoritarian one-party state.  His first poetry collection, Of Chameleons and Gods, was published in the UK in 1981, winning critical acclaim around the world.  It was ‘withdrawn from circulation’ in Malawi by the governing dictatorship in 1985.

He was arrested in 1987 and detained without charge or trial. During his incarceration, Mapanje continued to compose poetry, but denied access to pen and paper, he crafted most of these poems in his head.  On occasion, Mapanje was able to write poems on toilet roll, soap packets or similar scraps – which were then smuggled out of prison.  After numerous international campaigns, Mapanje was finally released after 3 years, 7 months and 16 days with no explanation.

His next two volumes of work, The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison (1993) and Skipping without Ropes (1998), were largely composed during his time in prison.

Poems from Prison.  The majority of poems in the Mapanje (Jack) Archive were composed during his incarceration.  As pen and paper were forbidden, these poems were mainly created and crafted in Mapanje’s head, often coming back into his consciousness after his release. Letters and poems were often also written on toilet paper, such as the below letter from Jack Mapanje to David Kerr.

Letter written on toilet paper tissue by Jack Mapanje to David Kerr whilst a prisoner in Mikuyu Prison in Malawi

Extract from a letter written by Jack Mapanje to David Kerr whilst a prisoner in Mikuyu Prison in Malawi. Mapanje (Jack) Archive, MAP/6/3/43

During his time in prison, Mapanje wrote his second collection of poetry, ‘The Chattery Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison’ (1993), and much of his third, ‘Skipping without Rope’ (1998).

Page from a typescript draft of 'The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison', which includes drafts of two poems included in the collection. Mapanje (Jack) Archive, MAP/2/8/3

Page from a typescript draft of ‘The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison’, which includes drafts of two poems included in the collection. Mapanje (Jack) Archive, MAP/2/8/3

Selima Hill

Selima Hill was born into a family of painters in 1945 and grew up in rural England and Wales.  She later attended boarding school before winning a scholarship to study Moral Sciences at Cambridge.  After marrying and starting a family, Hill published her first collection of poetry, Saying Hello at the Station (1984).

She has won the Cholmondeley Award and the Arvon International Poetry Competition.  Her collection Violet (1997) was shortlisted for three British poetry awards, and Bunny (2001) won her the Whitbread Poetry Award.

As well as writing poetry, Hill has worked on a variety of multimedia projects including collaborations with the Royal Ballet, Welsh National Opera, Science Museum and Imperial War Museum.

Hill has also taught creative writing in hospitals and prisons, and was Writer in Residence at the Royal Festival Hall.

Hill’s themes include mental health issues, sexual abuse and family conflicts, often written in a surrealist style.

The Hill Method (Hill (Selima) Archive, SH/8/4). This was a creative way Hill invented to write a poem – it’s definitely worth a try! Her notebooks, like many of the poets featured here in this post, give an insight into Hill’s creative process – often including notes, drawings, collages and personal reflections.

Page from a notebook containing poems, notes, drawings and personal reflections. Hill (Selima) Archive, SH/4/10

Page from a notebook containing poems, notes, drawings and personal reflections. Hill (Selima) Archive, SH/4/10

Pages from notebook containing notes relating to draft poems. Hill (Selima) Archive, SH/4/91

Pages from notebook containing notes relating to draft poems. Hill (Selima) Archive, SH/4/91

Sean O’Brien

Sean O’Brien was born in 1952 in London.  He grew up in Hull and was educated at the University of Cambridge.

O’Brien is a poet, critic, anthologist, broadcaster and short fiction writer.  He has also written for television and radio.

He has won numerous poetry awards including the Eric Gregory Award (1979), the Somerset Maugham Award (1984) and the Cholmondeley Award (1988).  O’Brien is only one of two poets to have won both the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Poetry Prize for the same collection of poems – The Drowned Book. (2007)

He was Writer in Residence at Newcastle Live Theatre between 2001 and 2003 (which he held jointly with the late novelist and poet, Julia Darling) and was Vice President of the Poetry Society.  He is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University.

O’Brien’s themes include social history, politics and class – written with a mix of detailed realism and dark surrealism.

The Frighteners was published in the aftermath of one of Britain’s most divisive events, the year-long miners’ strike of 1984-85.  Not only was there a North–South divide, communities all over the country were torn apart.  In this interview, O’Brien discusses his thoughts and experiences of the time and how it influenced The Frighteners.

Front cover of 'The Frighteners'. Bloodaxe Books Collection, 821.914 OBR

Front cover of ‘The Frighteners’. Bloodaxe Books Collection, 821.914 OBR

Development of poems in ‘The Frighteners’These hand written and annotated versions of the poem Cousin Coat, gives a small insight into O’Brien’s thought process.  The words come and go, crossings out made and annotations drawn, highlighting how the poem evolved into the final published version for inclusion in ‘The Frighteners’.

Page from a draft of Cousin Coat, a poem by Sean O'Brien - a hand written manuscript draft of a poem for inclusion in Sean O'Brien's poetry collection 'The Frighteners'. O'Brien (Sean) Archive, OBR/1/1/2/4

Page from a draft of Cousin Coat, a poem by Sean O’Brien – a hand written manuscript draft of a poem for inclusion in Sean O’Brien’s poetry collection ‘The Frighteners’. O’Brien (Sean) Archive, OBR/1/1/2/4

Page from a draft of Cousin Coat, a poem by Sean O'Brien - a hand written manuscript draft of a poem for inclusion in Sean O'Brien's poetry collection 'The Frighteners'. O'Brien (Sean) Archive, OBR/1/1/2/4

Page from a draft of Cousin Coat, a poem by Sean O’Brien – a hand written manuscript draft of a poem for inclusion in Sean O’Brien’s poetry collection ‘The Frighteners’. O’Brien (Sean) Archive, OBR/1/1/2/4

The exhibition was planned, designed and curated by an MA Art Museum and Gallery Studies placement student.


Find other Literary Archive collections available online on our Collections Guide.

Listen to oral histories with depositors behind our Special Collections and Archives via Collected Voices. These recordings give a privileged insight into creators, collectors and significant figures with close links to the personal and professional activities, borne out through these unique research resources.

Also, explore the Bloodaxe Books Archive and creative responses to it in a variety of innovative ways, online here.

Letting in the Light: The Leonard Evetts Archive – June 2019

Our summer exhibition at the Marjorie Robinson Library showcases the archive of world renowned artist and designer Leonard  Evetts (1909 – 1997), whose archive has been donated to Newcastle University Library 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.

Our exhibition features works which span his range of expertise.  From some of the beautiful windows we can find locally here in Newcastle to examples of his work overseas, and including glass work, textile work, watercolours and letters from his time as Head of Design here at Newcastle University.

The exhibition was designed by Cathleen Burton and Paul Campbell, who for the past year have been undertaking a placement in Special Collections as part of Newcastle University’s Career Development Module.  Working on the recently acquired Leonard Evetts archive, they have catalogued, re-packaged, and researched this fascinating collection.

Archivist Ruth Sheret will now be pulling all of Paul and Cathleen’s hard work together and will be finishing work on the final catalogue, which is scheduled to be open to the public in 2020.  Meanwhile the exhibition is on display in the Marjory Robinson Library from July 2019 – March 2020.

Window design, Church of Our Lady and Saint Oswain, Tynemouth, 1994.

Proposed design for a memorial window to Lieut. Hugh Walton-Wilson, Church of St John, Snod’s Edge, Northumberland, circa 1939.

Proposed Alter Frontal, Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1989.

Design for Newcastle General Hospital Chapel, 1979.

In-Tract After all These Years

Cheque found in ‘Mr Mill’s Subjections of Women’, from Joseph Cowen to the London Society for Women’s Suffrage (Cowen Tracts, V.40 n.2)

As students of the Museum and Heritage Studies Masters course at Newcastle University, we recently undertook a 30-day work placement with the Special Collections team at Newcastle University Library. The main focus of this placement was to research and develop a temporary exhibition showcasing some of the archival material held in Special Collections.

This year marks the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which granted some women the right to vote in this country for the very first time, and we decided to take this as our inspiration for the exhibition. Entitled, ‘The North’s Forgotten Female Reformers’, the exhibition celebrates the involvement of Northern women in movements which fought for various causes, including female suffrage, education, homosexual equality and foreign policy.

Researching the exhibition has allowed us to explore a range of archives held in Special Collections but to begin our research, we read some of the printed pamphlets contained in the Cowen (Joseph) Tracts to provide some context and understanding of the attitudes the British public had regarding women’s suffrage and their place in society. Whilst looking for one particular pamphlet entitled, ‘Mr Mill’s Subjection of Women’, we made an interesting and unexpected discovery.  Nestled in the first page of this pamphlet – perhaps to mark the page – was a receipt for a cheque for one guinea made out to the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage (LNSWS) from Joseph Cowen himself.

‘Mr Mill’s Subjection of Women’ (Cowen Tracts, V.40 n.2)

The LNSWS was formed in 1867 and was one of the earliest Suffrage societies. Cowen is remembered as a well-known politician and MP for Newcastle upon Tyne who was interested in the social, educational, economic and political issues of his day. The discovery of his cheque is tangible evidence that he was an active supporter of women’s suffrage.  The discovery of this item in a volume of Tracts adds further significance, as this collection of  tracts was Cowen’s own collection of pamphlets and articles which reflected his personal interest in the social, educational, political and economic issues of the day, including foreign policy, women’s rights, religion, education and public health.

Cowen’s cheque can be seen in the exhibition, ‘The North’s Forgotten Female Reformers’, curated by the two Museum and Gallery Studies students, alongside many other treasures from Newcastle University’s Special Collections and Archives. The exhibition is on show on Level 2 of the Robinson Library from Monday 6th of August.

Written by two Art Gallery, Museum and Heritage Studies Masters students, Katie Cumming and Mariance Spence, whilst undertaking a 6 week placement to create ‘The Norths Forgotten Female Reformers’ exhibition.

The Blaydon Brick: Joseph Cowen

Joseph Cowen exhibition poster

Newcastle University Library’s Special Collections holds pamphlets and books that were formerly owned by Joseph Cowen Jnr. (1829-1900). Joseph Cowen was an M.P. for Newcastle upon Tyne, he supported cultural institutions in the region. The family brickworks was inspired by his nickname, ‘the Blaydon Brick’.

The below material are highlights from the ‘Blaydon Brick: Joseph Cowen‘ exhibition which was on display in the Philip Robinson Library, Newcastle upon Tyne. It draws upon the pamphlets and books as well as portraits, speeches and cartoons from other collections, to explore Joseph Cowen’s political career.

The Cowens

The Cowen family moved from Lindisfarne (Holy Island) in  Northumberland to Stella on Tyneside soon after the Reformation and dissolution of the monasteries. Looking for a safe haven, the Catholic Cowens found themselves in the shelter of the prosperous Tempest family of Stella Hall, near Blaydon. Eventually, after establishing his family and various successful businesses around Blaydon Burn, Joseph Cowen Senior would buy Stella Hall…

The Cowens found work at Sir Ambrose Crowley’s steelworks at Winlaton. Crowley was an exceptional employer for that era, providing free schooling for the children of the village, and paying for a doctor to treat his employees and their families. He also established a fund to support workers forced to stop working due to age or disability. Crowley’s practices clearly had an impact on the Cowens. The factory closed in 1816.

Photo of Crowley tombstone.
From M. W. Flinn, Men of Iron: The Crowleys in the Early Iron Industry (1962) (338.273 FLI, Philip Robinson Library)

Joseph Cowen Senior (1800-1873) was born at Greenside, near Blaydon, and
worked as a chain maker in Ambrose Crowley’s factory. Interested in the social conditions of his fellow workers, he became a member of ‘Crowley’s Clan’, the tightly-knit group of Crowley’s employees protecting workers’ rights.

By 1850, Joseph Cowen Senior had become a successful businessman and bought Stella Hall, the former home of the Tempest family which had offered his ancestors a refuge during the Reformation.

Stella Hall was essentially an Elizabethan house with 18th century additions. The last member of the Cowen family, Jane, died in 1948 and the house was demolished in 1953. The only remaining part of the Hall is now known as the Grade II-listed Stella Hall Cottage.

Cowen bookplate. The Library of Reason
Most of the books in our Cowen Tracts contain his engraved booklate, showing a Bewick-like view of Stella Hall with the spire of Newcastle’s St Nicholas’ Casthedral in the background.

In 1853 Cowen was elected to the Newcastle Municipal Council and became Liberal MP for the city in 1865.

His son, Joseph Cowen Junior (1829-1900) was born at Blaydon Burn House, Blaydon. After private education in Burnopfield, he attended Edinburgh University, where he became interested in European revolutionary political movements, influenced by his teacher, Scottish preacher Dr. John Richie. Richie was a fearless radical and fiery orator and influenced Joseph’s social conscience.

Joseph Cowen portrait

Portrait of Joseph Cowen Junior (1829–1900)

The Blaydon Brick

In 1828, Cowen Senior went into business with his brother-in-law Anthony Forster to manufacture fire bricks, under the company name Joseph Cowen & Co. The business quickly developed, helped by the superior quality of the local fireclay.

On returning from Edinburgh, Joseph Junior took a very active role in the family business and workers’ conditions. His developing interest in domestic politics and revolutionary European politics was also evident; his views were much stronger than his father’s.

Cowen Junior became a frequent speaker at workers’ trade clubs and mechanics’ institutes, reputedly speaking at every colliery village in Northumberland and Durham. His skills as an orator were widely recognised later in his life when he became an MP. He himself built up an extensive library of speeches by others, and his own speeches were collected in various volumes.

From the Nineteenth Century, industrial development expanded rapidly along the Blaydon Burn to include a number of industries related to the processing of coal. The supply of cheap local fuel and good transport links led to the development of coke works, steelworks, iron foundries, and brickworks, making Blaydon Burn one of the most industrialised parts of the region.

Cowen bricks, made from the superior clay found in the area, can still be found in parts of Blaydon Burn Nature Reserve. They are easily recognisable, with the prominent ‘COWEN’ stamp.

Cowen brick walkway at Roche Harbour, San Juan Island, Washington, USA

Photograph of the Cowen brick walkway at Roche Harbour, San Juan Island, Washington, USA Cowen bricks were exported all over the world and can still be seen in many locations.

Short in stature and uncouth in appearance, Cowen spoke with a distinctive Tyneside burr. When he entered Parliament in 1874, after the death of his father, his manner initially shocked members of the House of Commons. Eventually, his genuine eloquence established him as one of the best-known politicians in the country. He became known as the ‘Blaydon Brick’ – a reference to his physical appearance, attitude, and, of course, the family business in Blaydon.

This satirical cartoon (below) shows Cowen astride his political ‘support’ – various bricks named after his extensive business interests (bricks, fire clay, the Tyne Theatre, and the Newcastle Daily Chronicle).

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)

Cowen and Domestic Politics

Cowen, a formidable political force in the North East, represented Newcastle upon Tyne as its Liberal MP from 1874–1886. In 1858 he established the Northern Reform Union and, in 1867, was Chair of the Manhood Suffrage Committee. These organisations shared a common ambition to bring about reform, particularly through extended enfranchisement (the right to vote). On Tyneside particularly, Cowen helped to politicise the miners and to bring reformers from the middle and working classes together. (He counted Robert Spence Watson, a social and education reformer from Bensham Grove in Gateshead, among his friends.)

Cowen encouraged political debate and persuaded communities to participate in local, national and even international political struggles. His independence, and his support of an Irish Parliament and Home Rule, brought him into conflict with the Liberal caucus and split the party into radical and moderate factions.

The death of the incumbent MP, Joseph Cowen Snr., occasioned a Newcastle upon Tyne by-election on 14 January 1874.

The by-election was won by the Liberal candidate, Joseph Cowen Junior, who defeated the Conservative, Charles Frederic Hamond, with a majority of 1,003. This cartoon depicts the scales of justice weighing the votes, with Hamond tying casks of beer to the
Conservative scalepan in a bid to tip the balance.

This is significant because the Liberals (led by William Ewart Gladstone) were not united: the education policies upset nonconformists; trade union laws and restrictions on drinking upset the working-class; and the party was divided over Irish Home Rule. Parliament was dissolved just nine days after the Newcastle by-election, prompting another contested election. Again Cowen won but, this time, those supporting a more moderate faction of the Liberal party supported Thomas Emerson Headlam. Despite winning the popular vote, the Liberals lost the general election to the Conservatives (led by Benjamin Disraeli). Newcastle upon Tyne was one of few constituencies to remain under Liberal control.

‘Weighed in the balance and found wanting’

‘Weighed in the balance and found wanting’
[A volume of printed ephemera, broadsides, posters, cartoons,
referring to elections in Northumberland, Newcastle and Tyneside
divisions, 1826–1931] (RB 942.8 ELE Quarto, Rare Books Collection)

In the Nineteenth Century, the word ‘caucus’ was widely used, particularly in reference to the highly-structured system of management and control within the Liberal Party. The Liberal caucus was vilified by socialists and trade unionists who found their route to parliamentary representation blocked by the party’s management structures.

In this cartoon (below), the caucus is depicted as a group of insignificant people who want their candidates to think and speak as they do. The caucus is backing another Liberal candidate, Ashton Wentworth Dilke, but is prepared to offer Joseph Cowen a role as Dilke’s colleague. The people of Tyneside, however, are firmly and loudly behind Cowen. Cowen’s oration, 1 February 1880, is a rejection of Gladstone’s Liberalism in favour of the pursuit of radical principles.

'Master Joseph offends the caucus...' 

‘Master Joseph offends the caucus…’ 
[A volume of printed ephemera, broadsides, posters, cartoons,
referring to elections in Northumberland, Newcastle and Tyneside divisions, 1826–1931] (RB 942.8 ELE Quarto, Rare Books Collection)

Gladstone was anti-imperialist, whereas Cowen was an imperialist who supported the Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s foreign policy. Cowen was returned to Parliament in the 1880 election (Cowen 11,766 votes; Dilke 10,404 votes; and the Conservative candidate Hamond 5,271 votes). When the 1885 general election was held Cowen, still popular on Tyneside, campaigned and won without the support of the Liberal caucus. However, his clashes with the Liberal Party would soon cause him to retire from politics.

Cowen and International Politics

In the wider political sphere, Cowen was an ardent supporter of European revolutionary movements. He championed their causes in Britain through the press and fundraising campaigns, and directly assisted their movements by smuggling propaganda and clandestine material into Europe in consignments of bricks. He counted many of the key revolutionaries of the time as his friends, and organised their visits to Tyneside.

Despite his radical views, Cowen was also a supporter of British imperial ambitions. As with his domestic politics, his views on imperial policies caused considerable tension between him and the Liberal Party. The Russian Empire in particular was seen by Cowen as being not only a threat to the British Empire, but also to the freedom of other European peoples.

Cowen delivered a speech in the Town Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne (1880) titled ‘The Foreign Policy of England‘ (M082 PAM Sundries III, John Theodore Merz Collection) This speech by Cowen highlights his antagonism towards the Russian Empire and his call for freedom for peoples oppressed by the Russians, particularly the Poles.

Cowen helped Polish-Hungarian refugees who had arrived in the country in 1851, including a group who settled on Tyneside. He organised public meetings, speeches, and collections for Polish exiles. Cowen was also involved in more clandestine activities, such as assisting the efforts of the Polish Democratic Society, a radical political organisation, by arranging for funds, arms, and propaganda to be smuggled to Eastern Europe. He destroyed much of his correspondence with the revolutionaries in order to obscure his involvement in their affairs.

Cowen came under attack within the Liberal Party over his imperialist views. For example, he supported the Tory government’s pro-Ottoman stance during the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78), as the Ottomans were a useful counterweight to Russian power. However, the Liberals strongly campaigned against Ottoman support due to atrocities committed in Bulgaria by Ottoman forces.

In this Liberal cartoon (below), the ‘Russian Bear’ ridicules Cowen for his apparent hypocrisy as ‘Freedom’s Priest’. The Bear remarks that, while Cowen may comment on the Russian treatment of the Poles, Cowen supported ‘the Jew’ to ‘rob and murder little Afghan’. The Bear was referencing Jewish Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80).

Birds of a Feather

‘Birds of a Feather’
[A volume of printed ephemera, broadsides, posters, cartoons, referring to elections in Northumberland, Newcastle and Tyneside divisions, 1826–1931] (RB 942.8 ELE Quarto, Rare Books Collection)

Cultural Activities: The Route to Citizenship

Cowen’s desire for an expanded franchise (right to vote) also manifested itself through the facilitation of cultural activities. Cowen believed in the necessity of an educated democracy and saw participation in cultural activities as pathways to full citizenship. He thought that self-improvement, through intellectual activities and enjoyment of performing arts, would lead to an expanded democracy.

Cowen served on the committee of the Arts Association of Newcastle upon Tyne and took leading roles in the founding of the Tyne Theatre and Opera House and Newcastle Public Library Service. By the early-Twentieth Century, the working-class had a prominent culture in Newcastle.

Joseph Cowen recognised that the press could be an effective way of promoting his radical brand of politics. He bought the Newcastle Chronicle in 1859. The newspaper was already well-established as a political vehicle, with a middle-class readership and influence over the Whigs. (The Whigs were a political party that, by the Nineteenth Century, drew support from emerging industrial interests and supported the supremacy of Parliament over the monarchy, free trade, Catholic emancipation, the abolition of slavery and extending the vote.) He invested heavily in the paper, including a new rotary press, and re-launched it as the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle.

The repeal of tax on advertisements, duty on paper, and stamp on news led to the increased production of newspapers and Cowen took full advantage. Sports reports, serialised literature, and features on mining communities and co-operatives attracted new readers: by 1873, daily sales exceeded 40,000. But Cowen was on a mission to inform and educate his readers and kept them up to date with issues such as the Polish struggle against Russian oppression and with the fight for Home Rule in Ireland.

Cowen used the newspaper to: garner support for the establishment of a College of Science in Newcastle; sell the benefits of his Co- Operative Union; publicise the take-up, by prospective employees, of shares in the Ouseburn [engineering] Works; highlight the plight of female agricultural workers; subsidise the Italian revolutionary general Garibaldi; and, generally, to promote radical causes. The Chronicle press allowed him to influence public opinion significantly.

The ‘Carrion Chro’ verse (below) plays on the word ‘crow’ to make a derogatory statement about Cowen’s Chronicle. Carrion crows are noisy birds that perch on vantage points and beat their wings slowly but deliberately. They actively harass predators and competitors and can engage in mobbing behaviour. Carrion crows are scavengers. In making this comparison, the author of the poem accuses Cowen of running stories that feed on a festering underlife: ‘Manslaughters & murders, elopements & rapes, / Divorces & scandals …. quack med’cine & betting’. The Chronicle, says the poem’s author, is Cowen’s vehicle for engaging ‘the mob’.

‘The Carrion Chro’

‘The Carrion Chro’
[A volume of printed ephemera, broadsides, posters, cartoons, referring to elections in Northumberland, Newcastle and Tyneside divisions, 1826–1931] (RB 942.8 ELE Quarto, Rare Books Collection)

Joseph Cowen co-founded the Tyne Theatre and Opera House. Thomas Forster (solicitor) and George Stanley (an actor-manager that ran the Tyne Concert Hall on Neville Street) wanted to build a theatre in Newcastle that would satisfy public taste for spectacle. When the city magistrates denied Stanley a licence to stage drama, Cowen was incensed, went into partnership with Stanley and financed the building of the Tyne Theatre and Opera House on Westgate Road. The money and, possibly, the building materials, came from Cowen’s Blaydon Brickworks.

The theatre opened on 23rd September 1867 with Dion Boucicault’s Arrah-Na-Pogue: a melodramatic tale of  misadventure, villainy and romance, set during the Irish rebellion of 1798. The play’s theme – the struggle for Irish independence – is aligned with Cowen’s support of Irish nationalists. It played to full houses.

Stanley managed the theatre with a stock company until 1881. During this period, and in the decades to come, the theatre became a venue for staging bold, socially-motivated dramas, as well as functioning as a forum for controversial debates. Richard William Younge managed the theatre in the 1880s and provided free shows for poor children and members of the bird conservation society, the Dicky Bird Society.

Photograph of Tyne Theatre

Photograph, Tyne Theatre, Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, c.1900 (008908, Newcastle City Libraries)

In 1870, Dr Henry Newton took up his late father’s campaign for a public library. Joseph Cowen’s commitments to democracy and to educating the people motivated him to take a leading role in supporting the cause, especially through the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle. The lending library was temporarily housed in the Mechanic’s Institute until the opening of the first public library building in Newcastle, in 1880. This library was built on New Bridge Street West and was later extended with the construction of the Laing Art Gallery.

Newcastle was late in establishing a public library. The Public Libraries Act had been passed in 1850, with The Royal Museum and Public Library in Salford being the first to open in the UK, in 1850. Philanthropists (people that perform deeds for public good, or ‘dogooders’) seeking to ‘improve the public’ campaigned for public libraries in the face of opposition from the Conservatives, who feared the cost implications and the potential for social transformation.

Engraving depicting Newcastle Library in the 19th century (ILL/11/198, Local Illustrations)

Newcastle’s Library of the Literary and Philosophical Society had been established as a conversation club in 1793 but it has always been a subscription library. When it opened, the rate of membership was one guinea (roughly £58.83 in today’s spending worth). This was beyond the financial reach of working people. In 1855, the rate for using a public library was one penny and, in 1919, reform of the public libraries made them free to use.

Joseph Cowen was the first person to borrow a book from the new library. The book that was issued to him was On Liberty by J.S. Mill, 1859 (M323.44 MIL, John Theodore Merz Collection) in which the philosopher J.S. Mill sets out his ideas on the relationship between authority and liberty. It was a hugely influential work that continues to underpin liberal political thought today.

Cowen’s Legacy

Cowen could be said to have advanced the primacy of urban environments. He saw the concentration of people as a strength because larger populations were less vulnerable to being oppressed by the elite. Industrialised cities, he said, brought the benefits of economic growth, science and medicine and the possibilities of liberty and social elevation to everyone.

As the MP for Newcastle upon Tyne, he represented the town and then city (Newcastle became a city on 3 June 1882). However, in  campaigning for better housing and social welfare reform, in championing workers’ unions and in encouraging self-improvement through the provision of Co-operatives, libraries, places of learning, mining and mechanics institutes and public entertainment, he arguably embodied the spirit of Newcastle.

Cowen’s Library

Books and pamphlets that were owned by Joseph Cowen were given to Newcastle University in 1950. Almost 2,000 pamphlets from his private library have been kept together in Special Collections, in a collection called the Cowen (Joseph) Tracts.

Pamphlets were an effective form of public debate because they could be widely distributed and their authors could hide behind anonymity. The Cowen Tracts discuss such issues as: Irish politics; foreign policy; women’s rights; education; and public health.

These tracts, like all of our Special Collections holdings, can be used by anyone that has an interest – even if they are not a member of the University and its library. The books, many being literary works, were dispersed across various collections as well as the general holdings of the University Library.

Lifelong Learning Centre

Joseph Cowen lends his name to the Joseph Cowen Lifelong Learning Centre, in Newcastle. The Centre has changed its location several times over the course of its existence. In the 1960s, it was based at Barras Bridge, in the building seen on the right of the photograph below.

Today, the centre has charitable status and aims to provide opportunities for lifelong learning across the North East. It achieves this through a programme of talks, workshops and visits (called Explore) that are open to all adults, irrespective of their knowledge and qualifications.

The link between Cowen and education is a strong one: he had been Chairman of the Education League in Newcastle; and advocated for the availability and quality of education for all, most notably for non- Sectarian education and extending education beyond primary school for working class children. He donated money to support Mechanics’ Institutes, reading rooms and libraries. He also played a role in the establishment of a College of Physical Science in Newcastle (now Newcastle University).

Photograph of Barras Bridge, Newcastle

Photograph of Barras Bridge, Newcastle (c.1965) (Newcastle University Archives)

Joseph Cowen Chair of English Literature

The first Chair of English Literature was established at Newcastle University (then it was known as the College of Physical Science) in 1898. It is an endowed chair, founded by the family of Joseph Cowen. Ever since 1909, it has been officially called the Joseph Cowen Chair of English Literature.

Peter Ure held the Joseph Cowen Professor of English Language and Literature at Newcastle University 1960–1969.

Joseph Cowen bookplate

Ex Libris bookplate for the Peter Ure Collection

Electoral Reform

Cowen demonstrated his commitment to democracy by being a staunch advocate of electoral reform, particularly in 1867 when he was heavily involved in the campaign for the Second Reform Bill. He was also a vocal supporter of women’s suffrage at the time of the 3rd Reform Bill. He played a leading role in securing an amendment to the Bill when it was discovered that it disadvantaged miners who could not meet the complex property qualifications for the vote.

‘Nottingham election: the hustings in the Market-Place’

‘Nottingham election: the hustings in the Market-Place’ in The Illustrated London News (May 19, 1866) (19th C. Coll. 030 ILL Folio, 19th Century Collection)

Community Relations

Cowen fostered harmonious relationships between local people and ‘minorities’ who settled in the region (most notably the Irish community who experienced extreme prejudice and hostility in many other British towns and cities – Liverpool, Glasgow and London, for example). He challenged the various Irish Coercion Acts in the House of Commons in the early 1880s and pledged his support for Irish Home Rule long before Gladstone presented it as official Liberal policy. His attitude to migrants remains a cornerstone of the region’s reputation for fairmindedness and tolerance.

‘The division in the House of Commons on the Irish Home Rule question’

‘The division in the House of Commons on the Irish Home Rule’
question’ in The Illustrated London News (June 12, 1886) (19th C. Coll. 030 ILL Folio, 19th Century Collection)

Statue of Joseph Cowen

Cowen is commemorated by a bronze statue in Newcastle city centre, which can be found opposite the Tyne Theatre, at the junction of Westgate Road and Fenkle Street. The statue was erected in 1906 and was funded by public subscription. It was created by renowned Scottish sculptor John Tweed.

Statue of Joseph Cowen

Statue of Joseph Cowen

We would like to thank Dr Joan Allen for her contribution to this

‘A Lilliputian Miscellany’ an exhibition by Brian Alderson

‘A Lilliputian Miscellany’ now open to the public June – August 2017.
Level 1, Philip Robinson Library, Newcastle University

Curated by Brian Alderson, ‘A Lilliputian Miscellany’ celebrates the gift of the Alderson Collection to Newcastle University and Seven Stories. Read more about the children’s book collection in the Vital North Partnership blog. It shows some of the less usual children’s books and manuscripts in his Collection and relate many of them to Brian’s career as writer, translator, and editor.  What a commingling will be seen as the Brothers Grimm rub shoulders with Charles Kingsley, or a tribute is paid to those Northumbrian figures of Thomas Bewick illustrating Mother Goose’s Melody and Joseph Ritson with his Gammer Gurton’s Garland.

Brian Alderson is one of the pioneers of children’s literature studies in Britain and a distinguished author, reviewer, translator and collector. In 2016, Brian Alderson was awarded an honorary degree by Newcastle University, recognising his work on the history of children’s books. Find out more about Brian and his work on the Brian Alderson website, or view the items from Brian’s collection that have already been catalogued on Newcastle University’s Library Search.

Brian Alderson at home in front of his book collection

Brian Alderson has written the text himself and some of the highlights from the exhibition are shown below, but there are many more wonders to see in the exhibition in the Philip Robinson Library. An accompanying exhibition catalogue is also available, which provides more detail about the items.

Boreman and Newbery

For well over a hundred years the eighteenth century bookseller John Newbery in St Paul’s Church-Yard has been the cynosure of the collecting fraternity. It was he who established a steady output of children’s books sufficient to prove to the trade that this could be a new and profitable line of business.

While Newbery’s most famous books are rare they are probably less so than his important predecessor, Thomas Boreman, who’s Gigantick Histories began to come out a year or two before any of Newbery’s books. I had never thought to own one of these tiny volumes which stand at the true beginnings of the regular children’s book trade, but Thomas Boreman’s Curiosities of the Tower of London, came to me through an extraordinarily lucky purchase from a bookseller’s catalogue at a price whose modesty I found unbelievable.

Curiosities of the Tower of London

The prelims include Boreman’s celebrated rhymed puff on the theme that ‘Tom Thumb shall now be thrown away’ in favour of ‘something to please and form the mind’ which is followed by a 14-page list of ‘Subscribers to this Work’, reprinted from the first edition of the same year. The illustrations, barring one of the defeat of the Spanish Armada, are extremely attractive cuts of some of the animals housed in the Tower of London’s menagerie.

Title page from ‘Curiosities in the Tower of London

The Story of Goody Two Shoes

One of the many series of miniature coloured booklets that were issued early in the Second World War for reading in air-raid shelters etc.

Front cover of ‘The Story of Goody Two Shoes

Nursery Rhymes

I first met Peter Opie round about 1967 when we were forming what was to become the Children’s Books History Society. Subsequently we went several times as a family to Westerfield House (now Mells House) when book treasures were revealed to me while the children enjoyed the historic toys that were demonstrated in the room that Peter and Iona Opie called ‘the Museum’.

With an Opie-inspired interest in the history of nursery-rhyme publishing, it led me to the following interesting editions appearing in the collection.

Tom Thumb’s Play-Thing, being a new and pleasant method to allure little ones into the first principles of learning; with cuts well adapted to each letter in the alphabet. As brought into easy verse for the instruction and amusement of children.
No date [ca. 1810]

The prodigious title belies the extreme simplicity of the two chapbooks, the first consisting simply of the two alphabets ‘A was an Archer’ and ‘A was an Ape’, the second a series of six couplets (‘The Sun shines bright, / The Moon gives light.’ etc.) followed, alas, by a 5-page catechism and a story on the rewards of learning to read which commends: ‘Robinson Crusoe and Goody Two Shoes which are sold, with many others, as well instructive as entertaining, in gold covers, embellished with a variety of pictures, at the same place as this…’ Although not including any rhymes from Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book Volume II these chapbooks may well draw upon the contents of the lost first volume.

Pages 8 and 9 from ‘Tom Thumbs Play Thing

Mother Goose’s Melody; or, sonnets for the cradle. Containing the most celebrated songs and lullabies of the old British nurses. Embellished with many beautiful pictures.
No date (Watermarks 1809 and 1810)

It has been suggested that this important collection of 51 rhymes was first planned by John Newbery just before his death in 1767 but the first edition, perhaps from his papers, did not appear until 1780, published by his successor, Thomas Carnan, who added sixteen poems by ‘that sweet Songster… Master William Shakespeare’. The earliest surviving copy, a facsimile of which is exhibited alongside this book, was published soon after Carnan’s death in 1788 by his brief successor, Francis Power. He revised the production process, dropping Shakespeare and aligning the book to the new fashion for hand-coloured picture books in a square format.

Title page from ‘Mother Goose’s Melody

Folk Tales

It was an interest in ballads, dating back to undergraduate days that encouraged my attention to the oral qualities in children’s literature and especially in the transmission of folk tales, which have no definitive text but are rooted in the told story. It seemed to me of primary importance to judge the printed forms of these old familiar narratives, either those native to an English, Scottish or Irish tradition or, especially, those translated from their original sources by the degree of their adherence to natural speech.

A fundamental influence on both theory and practice came when, in 1968, I was sent The English Fairy Tales edited by Joseph Jacobs.

ANDREW LANG, Brian Alderson illustrated by John Lawrence
The Blue Fairy Book

Joseph Jacobs was the inspiration for the editorial work that I undertook in ‘refurbishing’ this famous collection; I think too that he would have shared my misgivings as to its first editing which was largely the work of Mrs Lang and assorted friendly ladies. With Patrick Hardy’s (editor at Kestrel Books) encouragement, I attempted a wholesale revision (fully explained in my Preface and notes) in an attempt to bring the volume more closely towards the folk tradition at the root of ‘fairy tales’. At the same time, a decision was made to replace the (often very strong) illustrations by H. J. Ford with a contemporary illustrator and John Lawrence, who undertook the task, was asked to look at Ford’s work and attempt to replicate its notable position in ‘the black-and-white’ tradition (this occurred very successfully with later illustrators too).

Front cover from ‘Blue Fairy Book

Hans Christian Anderson

Where Hans Christian Andersen is concerned an entirely different critical regime is required for the (often unrecognised) reason that his canon of 156 stories is that of an independent author whose texts do not share the multivalency of those from folk tales. They are crafted works of literature (which all too often suffer from abridgment or adaptation) and – importantly – many of them draw directly upon Andersen’s own voice as storyteller.

The items give merely a glimpse of the challenge and enjoyment of the chase of collecting Hans Christian Andersen’s stories.

Wonderful Stories for Children

Published for Christmas 1845, this first English translation of the Eventir advertises ten stories on the contents page. Thus, right at the beginning, we find liberties taken with poor old Andersen’s texts. Leaving aside the misspelling of his name on the title-page, we also find a story called ‘A Night in the Kitchen’, which proves to be a passage excerpted from ‘The Flying Trunk’, one of Andersen’s funniest stories. At least it is taken from the Danish, unlike most of its immediate successors and it is perhaps understandable that, being the first to attempt the job, Howitt has not the ear to catch the fluency of the author’s unusual conversational lightness.

Title page from ‘Wonderful Stories for Children

The Ugly Duck of Hans Christian Andersen

A little book with a complex parentage. Its author was the brother of its publisher (who was Bookseller to the Queen) and in 1837 he published a versification of Southey’s The Three Bears. In 1840 that was jokingly joined by a versification of the Grimms’ Wolf and the Seven Little Kids (probably based direct on the German version) and in 1841 the two stories were joined with a third on ‘The Vizier and the Woodman’. We do not know why it took George so long to catch up with Hans Christian Anderson, for The Ugly Duckling was among the favourites of the 1846 tranche of translations.

Pages 6 and 17 from ‘The Ugly Duckk of Hans Christian Anderson


It could be argued that if nobody had ever written poetry to be read primarily by children the children would not be very much the poorer. The mass of anonymous popular versifying enjoyed by everyone, which would include nursery rhymes, makes a foundation for the child’s love of rhythmic speech and, as many an anthology will prove, there is a mass of poetry written primarily for adults which can be equally enjoyed by the young. A Blake, a Lear, a Stevenson, and others can justify the genre and this section points up some of its rarer or less usual manifestations.

The Butterfly’s Birth-Day, St. Valentine’s Day. And Madam Whale’s Ball, poems to amuse and instruct the rising generation.

Three sets of verses, the first signed ‘A. D. M.’, preoccupied, as with the founding party-poem, with crews of animals attending first the butterfly’s birth, bursting out of its chrysalis, second pairs of creatures on a Valentine’s parade and third various sea creatures aiming to emulate the (earlier published) ‘elephant’s rout’. Mechanical stuff, although it is good to know that some little fellows got to the birthday:

From Chester and Stilton, by waggons and stages,
Trav’ling snug in old cheeses, by land and by sea,
Congregations of Jumpers and Mites of all ages,
Fast arrived at the spot the new marvel to see.

Title page from ‘The Butterfly’s Birth-Day, St. Valentine’s Day. And Madam Whale’s Ball, poems to amuse and instruct the rising generation’

A Book of Nonsense

I have loved Lear from childhood on (as who could not?). This third edition seems to be rarer than one might expect (the collector William B. Osgood Field only knew it through owning Lear’s proof copy!) and it is important as including 46 hitherto unpublished limericks and being illustrated with wood engravings rather than the previously hand-drawn lithographs.

The collection holds most of the later nineteenth century editions and many twentieth-century ones whose re-illustration, with the exception of the work of Edward Gorey and John Vernon Lord, are deplorable.

Front cover from ‘A Book of Nonsense

Humphrey Milford, OUP and The Water Babies

On the day that I bought H.R.Millar’s The Dreamland Express it was borne in upon me that more was going on at the London office of Oxford University Press (OUP) than I had bargained for. I began to look out more regularly for books with the Henry Frowde or Humphrey Milford imprints, conjoined usually with Oxford University Press, in catalogues and at book fairs.

The Little Old Woman of X
No date [?1916]

Humphrey Milford (later Sir Humphrey) took over from Henry Frowde at the London office of Oxford University Press in 1916 and I suspect that string-bound volumes, sometimes in little slip-cases, may have been in production before that time.

Front cover from ‘The Little Old Woman of X’

Another interest of mine is in Charles Kingsley’s famous but barmy story, which led me to collect variant editions of The Water Babies which now number about sixty. My mother read it to me as a child and I held in my memory recollections of Samber’s illustrations from the most frequently reprinted edition of the story and my aim in forming the collection was (and still is) a desire to compile a critical account of the failure of almost every illustrator to cope with the demands of Kingsley’s text.

The Water-Babies; a fairy tale for a land-baby

Front cover from ‘The Water-Babies; a fairy tale for a land-baby’

Below are 2 holograph fine line drawings by Harold Jones for pages 33 and 107 of the edition edited by Kathleen Lines (1961). The first drawing coloured by Harold Jones for a selling exhibition, where I bought them. The quality of Jones’s drawing is ruined by both the printing and the paper of the published edition.

2 holograph line drawings by Harold Jones for pages 33 and 107

The Water Babies [2-colour vignette]
No date [ca. 1936]

An (expensive) catastrophe, being not only one of the ugliest books in my collection but one which has nothing to do with Charles Kingsley and his story. Still – it looks nowadays to be quite a scarce volume.

Front cover from ‘The Water Babies

Cataloguing the Collector: The life and career of Frederick Charles Pybus

Exhibition now open to the public March – August 2017.
Level 1, Philip Robinson Library, Newcastle University. 

The text and images below are from the exhibition, ‘Cataloguing the Collector: The life and career of Frederick Charles Pybus’. Items within this exhibition are taken from the Frederick Charles Pybus Archive.  

Exhibition talk: ‘The Life of the Collector: Frederick Charles Pybus



Date: 29th March 2017
Time: 5.30-7pm
Location: Room 152, Level 1 of the Philip Robinson Library

A talk on the exhibition will be given by our archivist Alex Healey hosted by the Friends of the University Library.


Frederick Charles Pybus is arguably best known for his collection of historic medical books, held here in the library. However, items from his personal archive reflect his medical career and personal interests, demonstrating that collecting was only one aspect of his personality.

Pybus the Surgeon


Surgery team including Pybus ready for theatre in the Fine Arts department at Armstrong College, 1st Northern General Hospital, c. 1915 (Professor Frederick Pybus Archive, FP/1/3/9)











At the start of the 20th century, medical developments relating to antiseptics and anaesthesia allowed surgeons to perform more elaborate and lengthy procedures on their patients.

Frederick Charles Pybus entered the profession, registering as a medical student in 1901 and graduating in 1906. He was to remain associated with the medical profession for over 50 years, until his retirement in 1961.

Pybus not only witnessed the development of surgery in this period, but himself conceived and undertook experimental processes on his patients, contributing directly to the development and improvement of surgical procedures, including tonsillectomies and the removal of cysts.

With the exception of a brief stint in London after his graduation, Pybus’ career both as a student and a practitioner was spent working in medical institutions here in Newcastle, including the Royal Victoria Infirmary, the Fleming Hospital for Sick Children and the Newcastle General Hospital.

Pybus the Veteran

The Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) were responsible for the wellbeing of all military personnel during the First World War. As well as serving overseas, members of the RAMC worked on the home front. Suitable buildings were requisitioned as hospitals to accommodate the huge number of wounded soldiers returning from the trenches.

Pybus received his papers placing him on reserve duty in 1910. When war arrived four years later, he helped requisition Newcastle University’s Armstrong College for use as the 1st Northern General Hospital.

Over 1000 operations were performed by Pybus at the 1st Northern, at least some of which were performed in what had been the Fine Arts department. Many surgeries were attempts to correct the damage caused by gun-shot wounds and it was during this period that the field of plastic surgery was developed.

Image included in patient notes for removal of a bullet from Private J. Shrubb of the Inneskilling Fusiliers, Sept 1914 (Professor Frederick Pybus Archive, FP/1/3/3)

Image included in patient notes for removal of a bullet from Private J. Shrubb of the Inneskilling Fusiliers, Sept 1914 (Professor Frederick Pybus Archive, FP/1/3/3)















Pybus and Children’s Medicine

After the First World War Pybus was appointed Assistant Surgeon at the Fleming Memorial Hospital for Sick Children, located at what is now Princess Mary Court in Jesmond.

The early 20th century was a period of change for children’s hospitals, in which their status was shifting from being seen as the last resort of impoverished families, to places in which modern medical techniques, tailored to the needs of children, were delivered by skilled practitioners.

During this period, Pybus’ publications and research interests became focussed on the treatment of children. This culminated in the publication of his book The Surgical Diseases of Children: A Handbook for students and practitioners in 1922. The book was published in England and North America, and was received favourably by the medical press.

The Surgical Diseases of Children: a handbook for students and practitioners, 1922 (Pybus J.I.11)

The Surgical Diseases of Children: a handbook for students and practitioners, 1922 (Pybus J.I.11)

Pybus and Cancer Research

At the start of the 20th century improved understandings of the causes of cancer caused this long known illness to become a focus of public debate. The understanding that environmental factors could directly cause cancer made the illness a social issue as well as a medical one.

As a result of this, research into the identification of carcinogens became increasingly popular as the 20th century progressed. Having spent some time at cancer specialist hospitals early in his career, Pybus established a Cancer Research Institute in Newcastle in 1925.

The Institute used animal testing to research bone tumours and was one of the first to suggest that atmospheric pollution could be a major contributing cause.

Pybus the Collector

Arguably, Pybus’ most well-known legacy is the Pybus Collection of historic and rare medical texts. He became interested in such books after an encounter with a ‘really handsome book’ at the first meeting of the Association of Surgeons in the early 1920s. He later recalled that this encounter with the ‘magnificent’ plates of a Vesalius folio ‘wetted his appetite with a vengeance’.

Frontispiece from 'De humani corporis fabric' (Fabric of the Human Body) by Andreas Vesalius (Pyb.N.v.10)

Frontispiece from ‘De humani corporis fabric‘ (Fabric of the Human Body) by Andreas Vesalius (Professor Frederick Pybus Collection, Pyb.N.v.10)

Despite offers from book dealers and American universities to purchase parts of the collection, Pybus donated it in its entirety to Newcastle University Library in 1965, where a dedicated reading room was established in the old library. The collection is now held by Special Collections here in the Philip Robinson Library, and is included on the library catalogue.

Pybus the Person

Photograph of Professor Pybus, c. 1913

Photograph of Professor Pybus, c. 1913 (Frederick Charles Pybus Archive)

Much of Pybus’ life was taken up with his medical career and hobby of collecting medical texts. His archive demonstrates that these were the dominating aspects of his life. Nevertheless, there is evidence of other interests.

Other items in the archive hint at Pybus’ other interests. These include involvement with lecture societies, membership of Masonic organisations and an attempt to resurrect the historic Company of Barber Surgeons and Tallow Chandlers of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Other Resources

Interested in Pybus’ book collection. Find out more about the Professor Frederick Pybus Collection.

More about Pybus our blog:

Captured, In Flight: An Officer and a Private on the Western Front

Exhibition poster

The below images are taken from the items in the Thomas Baker Brown archive and the Sir Lawrence Pattinson archive. To view these items and many more, please visit the exhibition on Level 1, Philip Robinson Library, Newcastle University.

The exhibition is open to the public from November 2016 – February 2017.

Wars and Rumours of Wars

On 28th July 1914 World War I broke out. It was thought that the war would only last a few months, and the troops would be home for Christmas. A large proportion of men eagerly volunteered to join the forces in the spirit of pride and honour. Some saw it as a way out of unemployment, and others were obliged to go by their employers. Conscription, where men deemed fit and able to go to war were signed up by the nation, was not needed until 1916 when the number of volunteers dwindled.

Thomas Baker Brown and Sir Lawrence Arthur Pattinson both served during World War I and documented their experiences through their correspondence with their families back home. Material below is taken from their archives which have kindly been donated to Newcastle University Special Collections.

Thomas Baker Brown

Thomas Baker Brown was born on the 22nd December 1896 in Tynemouth and later moved to North Shields with his family, where he attended Kettlewell School, and then went on to work as a clerk.

On the cusp of his 19th birthday, Brown joined the H.M. Army at the Scottish Presbyterian Church Hall in Howard Street, North Shields on Friday 26th November 1915.


Photograph of Thomas Baker Brown in uniform wearing an ‘Imperial Service Badge’

Sir Lawrence Pattinson

Sir Lawrence Pattinson, born on 8 October 1890, had military aspirations long before the outbreak of war. Both he and his brother Hugh Lee IV attended Stubbington House School (considered to be a stepping stone into the forces). Hugh Lee IV studied successfully for the Army Entrance to Sandhurst, but Sir Lawrence failed his exams for the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. As a result, Sir Lawrence went on to study at Rugby and then Cambridge.


Photograph of Sir Lawrence Arthur Pattinson

Hugh Lee IV

It wasn’t until the outbreak of World War I that Sir Lawrence was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the 5th Durham Light Infantry as part of the Territorial Army. However, his brother, who was now on the front line in the Army, warned him of the dangers of becoming a soldier. On his brother’s recommendation, Sir Lawrence Pattinson enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps.

Unfortunately, shortly after warning his brother of the dangers of being a soldier, Hugh Lee IV was killed in action . He was just one of the 908,371 British fighters to die in World War I.

Pilots and Tommies

Scarcroft Schools

By the 5th December 1915, Thomas Baker Brown 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.


First letter sent home from Thomas Baker Brown to his mother following joining the army. The letter describes his trip from Newcastle to a training camp in York, and being put into the ‘Clerks Platoon’. Written from 9th Platoon, ‘C’ Company, 6th Northumberland Fusiliers, Scarcroft Schools, York (TBB/1/1/1/1/1)

Aviator’s Certificates

By 20 March 1915, Lawrence Pattinson had received his Aviator’s Certificates. He graduated at the Central Flying School and awarded his Wings on 5 July 1915. By 14 October 1915, he was promoted to Flight Commander RFC Temporary Captain of the Royal Flying Corps.

Letter from Lawrence Pattinson to his mother. Pattinson relates his first experiences flying alone, admitting he was 'desperately nervous' but did 'fairly well', and that it made him appreciate flying with an experienced pilot. Written from The Kings Head hotel, Harrow on the Hill, London (LAP/1/2/1)

Letter from Lawrence Pattinson to his mother. Pattinson relates his first experiences flying alone, admitting he was ‘desperately nervous’ but did ‘fairly well’, and that it made him appreciate flying with an experienced pilot. Written from The Kings Head hotel, Harrow on the Hill, London (LAP/1/2/1)


In Flight

Scouts, photographic reconnaissance and bombing

On 3 June 1915, Sir Lawrence was awarded a Military Cross for his fighting as a scout-fighter pilot, and on the 13 June 1915 he was promoted to Officer Commanding No. 57 Squadron on the Western Front. Sir Lawrence remained with the squadron for just under three years, during which time he led scouts, photographic reconnaissance and bombing.

Airplanes played a very important role in military strategy. Sir Lawrence spent a large proportion of his time on duty flying over the landscape to gather information about enemy lines. At the start of the war, this was done by sight only. As technology improved, pilots would take photographic equipment on the flights.

Pages 3 & 4 LAP/1/2/12

LAP/1/2/12/3 and LAP/1/2/12/4 – Pages 3 and 4 of a letter from Lawrence Pattinson to his mother, Mary Pattinson. He describes his morning spent doing mixed patrol and photography, during which time his propellor broke and he was confronted by German planes known as “”two tails””. He states ‘We went on taking photos and being shelled like mad’. He includes detailed drawings and annotations of the “”two tail”” planes.

Acting Lieutenant Colonel

March 1918 saw Sir Lawrence become Officer Commanding No. 99 Squadron, and during September 1918 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Later that year, in October, he was promoted Acting Lieutenant Colonel and command of 41st Wing, then 89 Wing in France, for the last few weeks of the war.


Military Medal

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’.

Newspaper cutting of Thomas Baker Brown being awarded a Military Medal

TBB/1/2/1 – Newspaper cutting relating to Thomas Baker Brown being awarded the Military Medal, alongside his photograph in uniform.


Brown visited the front line tranches many times over the following months, and remained uninjured, but on 21st March 1918 he was taken prisoner by German soldiers on the Arrasfront at Bullecourt. He was taken to Germany where he was placed into a prisoner of war camp in Dülmen and then transferred to Limburg by April 1918. Here, Brown worked at the Pit North Star, a coal mine in Herzogenrath.


TBB/1/1/3/2/4 – postcard from ‘Agence Internationale des Prisonniers de Guerre, British Section’. Letter states that Thomas Baker Brown has been included on a list of British prisoners despatched from Berlin on the 18/04/1918, taken prisoner unwounded, and interned at Dülmen on 21/03/1918.



Here at last

On the 17th November 1918, on witnessing the command of the German camp breakdown, Brown and a party of five other men walked out of the gates. They made their way to Holland and boarded the S.S. Arbroath, arriving in Hull on the 8th December. Finally, he was able to take a train to a reception camp in Ripon, the last stop before his journey home.


TBB/1/10/1 – Letter from King George V to release British Prisoners of War.














Years later, in the 1930s Brown was blinded for five years, which specialists attributed it to his time in the prisoner of war camp working in poor mining conditions. He never recovered his sight and as a result was rejected to fight in World War II and served on the home front instead.

After 11 November 1918, Sir Lawrence remained in France until March 1919 to demobilize squadrons. In June 1919, Sir Lawrence was awarded his Distinguished Service Order and granted a permanent commission as Squadron Leader RAF. He was sponsored by the RAF to study at the Staff College, Camberley. Following his studies, he became Chief of Staff at RAF Cranwell where he educated officer cadets of the army. In 1933, Sir Lawrence was appointed Air Aide-de-Camp to King George V. He died on 28 March 1955.


LAP/1/4/1 – Letter from Archibald Sinclair to Sir Lawrence. Sinclair thanks Sir Lawrence, on behalf of the King, for his long and valuable service in the Royal Air Force.















Education Outreach

Thomas Baker Brown World War I Comics Anthology

Thomas Baker Brown World War I Comics Anthology


Newcastle University Library’s Education Outreach Team worked with Comic Artist Terry Wiley, Lydia Wysocki from Applied Comics Etc and groups of secondary school students from four local schools to tell Thomas Baker Brown’s wartime story through the medium of comics.

Comic artist Terry Wiley created a comic telling of Thomas’ wartime story. Students from four secondary schools took part in a workshop at Newcastle University Library where they explored the Thomas Baker Brown archive. Students then learnt how to make comics using material and research gathered from the archive for inspiration.

Their comics were brought together into one anthology: The Thomas Baker Brown World War I Comics Anthology.

Click here for more information and to browse the comics online.

People don’t know about them…

This is a poster version of the exhibition People don’t know about them…, which was on display in the Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms, Newcastle University, 28th October 2016 – 15th January 2017.  The exhibition was the result of a collaborative oral history project based in Newcastle University Libraries.

Many thanks to the creators of the original exhibition, Sam Wagner and Rosemary Nicholson.