“And then 1914, obviously the First World War is declared and she came back to England, and she’d been working as a surgeon. She offered her services to the War Office and the War Office accepted her and said yes and then she got her kit together and turned up at Victoria Station in London to join her group to go out to France to the military hospital out in France and the doctor in charge said I’m not having a woman. I’m not taking her.“
The Universities at War project is a volunteer project based in the Special Collections Department at the Philip Robinson Library. Its aim is to tell the stories of the staff and students of Newcastle University who fought in the First World War.
In 2015 Sam Wagner, an archaeology student in her final year of study at Newcastle University, joined the Universities at War project as part of her Career Development Module. For her final project, Sam chose to conduct an oral history interview, and that is where our story starts …
Ruth Nicholson, Rosemary Nicholson and Sam Wagner
Rosemary Nicholson had previously contacted the Universities at War project to tell us about her husband’s aunt, Ruth Nicholson. Ruth was a Newcastle University medical graduate who worked under the direction of the French Red Cross throughout the First World War, as a surgeon in a military hospital in France.
A female medical graduate?
A military hospital staffed entirely by women?
And why the French Red Cross?
Sam’s exhibition is the result of her own historical research and interviews with Rosemary – capturing her memories of family stories about Ruth, as told through Ruth’s sister, Alison, who was still alive when Rosemary married into the family.
Panel on the Royaumont women in the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry, stitched by Andrea Cooley.
It is the fascinating story of an amazing woman, passed on by the women in her family who wanted her story to be told.
“ I felt she never got the credit she should have had, or the recognition she should have had, or Alison. People don’t know about them, I mean I write to everybody. I heard the programme on Women’s Hour about the women’s hospital in London and I rang right in to them saying, you know, What about Royaumont?! It was a matter of pride! ”
Royaumont Hospital, image kindly provided by the Imperial War Museum.
All images in the exhibition have been kindly provided by the Nicholson family or other priviate owners, for the purposes of exhibition only.
The exhibition took place in the Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms, Newcastle University, 28th October 2016 – 15th January 2017.
Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born on 14 July 1868 at Washington New Hall in County Durham, the daughter of Sir Hugh Bell and Mary Shield, and the granddaughter of eminent industrialist, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell. Elected Lord Mayor of Newcastle in 1875, Sir Isaac owned several iron, steel and aluminium works and factories throughout the country, and was also the director of the North Eastern Railway and the Forth Bridge Company. His success meant that the Bells were, at the time of Gertrude’s birth, the sixth richest family in England. In 1870, Hugh, Mary and Gertrude left Washington Hall to set up their own home at Red Barns in Redcar. Gertrude’s younger brother Maurice was born here in 1871, but the family’s happiness was short-lived, as Gertrude’s mother Mary died shortly after his birth. In 1876, Sir Hugh married the Parisian Florence Oliffe, to whom Gertrude would gradually become very close.
For a young woman in the late nineteenth century, Gertrude’s education was extremely privileged. From the ages of fifteen to seventeen, she attended the exclusive Queen’s College School for girls in London’s Harley Street, established in 1848, and the first institution in Britain to offer the opportunity for girls to gain academic qualifications. In 1886, shortly before turning eighteen, Gertrude became one of the first women to be admitted to Oxford Universityand, just two years later in June 1888, she became the first woman to gain a first class honours in Modern History from Oxford.
Travel and Mountaineering
In May 1892, Gertrude embarked on her first major voyage to Persia (now Iran), beginning a lifetime of travel that encompassed two round-the-world trips (1897–8 and 1902–3), and numerous journeys to the Middle East, which continued until her death in Baghdad (1926). She was enchanted by the Persian surroundings and people, writing in a letter to her cousin Horace Marshall, ‘Isn’t it all charmingly like the Arabian Nights! but that is the charm of it all and it has none of it changed.’ In December 1897, Gertrude set off with her brother Maurice on the first of two round the world journeys, and from 1902–3 she undertook her second round the world trip with her half-brother Hugo. During this period (1899–1904), Gertrude also became a keen mountaineer, climbing regularly in the Alps, and summiting the Meije, Mont Blanc, and the Matterhorn. In 1901, Gertrude became the first person to summit seven of the nine peaks of the Engelhörner range in Switzerland, and in recognition of her achievement one of the peaks, Gertrudespitze, was named after her.
Archaeology, Photography and Cartography
Gertrude’s interest in archaeology was initially sparked on a holiday in Greece (1899), during which she first met David Hogarth – an established archaeologist, and a key figure in Gertrude’s later experiences during the First World War. Her fascination with archaeology grew during her journey to Jerusalem (1900), but was cemented with her journey through the Syrian desert to Asia Minor (1904-5), during which she explored the Binbirkilise, a region in the modern Karaman province in Turkey that is known for its multiple Byzantine church ruins.
Gertrude’s account of her travels from Syria through to Asia Minor was published as the popular travelogue The Desert and the Sown (1907) . She returned to the same region with archaeologist Sir William Ramsay (April 1907), to continue work on inscriptions in the ancient churches that she had first discovered towards the end of her previous visit. Gertrude and Sir William Ramsay published their findings in the co-authored book The Thousand and One Churches (1909). She returned to the East again in 1909 without Ramsay, to explore the Roman and Byzantine fortresses and churches along the banks of the Euphrates in Mesopotamia. Her primary objective of this trip was to reach and explore the large castle of Ukhaidir, which lay on the west bank of the river some 120 miles south-west of Baghdad at Ukhaidir, and of which there was no detailed historical or archaeological record in existence. Once she reached the palace, in March 1909, she spent the limited time she had (four days) sketching the huge structure.
During these journeys, Gertrude became a skilled photographer, documenting her travels and archaeological explorations through her images as well as through her writing. She became a member of the Royal Photographic Society, which enabled her to develop her films professionally. Gertrude carried two cameras with her at all times, and took panoramic shots of entire horizons by combining multiple photographs (see image on left).
The photographs she took during her excavations of various ancient sites, such as image shown the left left, are invaluable to archaeological knowledge and research, particularly because many of the sites have since been looted or vandalised.
Also significant and fascinating are her photographs of the local people she encountered on her travels, for example (see image on left).
As well as archaeological work and excavation, Bell was also interested in mapping the uncharted regions through which she travelled. To aid her in this, she undertook a course in survey methods and map projection at the Royal Geographical Society (1907), and returned to the East to travel a route that curved round the Druze mountains from Damascus to Hail, mapping and surveying the area as she went (1913). Bell’s journey of 1913 has since been highly praised, not least by David Hogarth, former President of the Royal Geographical Society, who, in April 1927, stated to the society that this particular journey of Bell’s ‘was a pioneer venture which not only put on the map a line of wells, before unplaced or unknown, but also cast much new light on the history of the Syrian desert frontiers under Roman, Palnyrene, and Ummayed domination.’
He also gives some hint of the importance of Bell’s work to wartime efforts and military strategies, arguing that:
‘Her information proved of great value during the war, when Hail had ranged itself with our enemy and was menacing our Euphratean flank. Miss Bell became, from 1915 onwards, the interpreter of all reports received from Central Arabia.’
After meeting in 1907, Gertrude and Dick kept in touch, having discovered in each other a mutual love of the culture and history of the Middle East. In the spring of 1912, the two met in London when Dick arrived, without his wife, to take up the position of director-in-chief of the Red Cross relief organisation. During this brief period, Gertrude welcomed Dick into her circle of friends, and regularly took him to the theatre, to music halls, and to dinner. After this, the correspondence between the two intensified both in frequency and in passion. When Gertrude went travelling, she sent Dick full diaries of her journeys, such as the one of her journey to Ha’il. The depth of emotion in Gertrude’s letters to Dick in comparison to those she sent to her family becomes most evident during the First World War. Where she sent her family relatively short, largely factual missives designed, apparently, not to worry them, to Dick she poured out her heart and her fears concerning the conflict. For example, in a letter to her father written on 30 December 1914, when Gertrude was working in the Red Cross Office for the Missing and Wounded in Boulogne, she wrote of ‘the immense sacrifice we had to make to retake the trenches the Indian troops had lost’ (see image below).
In contrast, the language she uses in her letter of the same day to Dick is full of emotion, signifying the closeness between them:
‘When our men have to relieve them, they must go into trenches which offer them no shelter, nor pay in lieu of their neglect. Its not worth it. Oh my dear, my dear, the horror of it all, & then the shining courage, this devotion – yes, I know the more I talk of it, the more you long to be brave’ (image below).
Gertrude was willing to let only Dick see the pain and sadness she so often felt, and the deep depression that the war triggered within her. Though their affair remained unconsummated, the strength of their love for each other is overwhelmingly evident in their letters, and their relationship is focal point of Werner Herzog’s recent biopic of Gertrude, Queen of the Desert (2015), starring Nicole Kidman as Gertrude, and Damian Lewis as Dick.
Doughty-Wylie’s Death at Gallipoli
On 26 April 1915, the second day of the Gallipoli campaign, Charles Doughty-Wylie was shot and killed instantly by a sniper during a successful attack organised and led by him and another officer, Captain Garth Walford (who was also killed)
Unaware of his fate, Gertrude continued to write to Dick, only learning of his death when she visited London (June 1915). The letters to her parents during this period are sparse, but their brevity signals her heartbreak, in particular the short note sent on 11 June 1915, days after she had learned of Dick’s death:
‘Dearest Mother. Thank you and Father for your letters. I haven’t anything to say that’s worth, or at any rate worthy of saying, and therefore I don’t write. Your affectionate daughter Gertrude’.
The image above is to show the envelope that was returned to Gertrude Bell containing her letters to Dick following his death. Dick was buried where he fell at Gallipoli, and towards the end of 1915, a mysterious, veiled female visitor was seen visiting his grave (image shown below), thought to have been the only woman who landed during the Gallipoli campaign. Who this woman was has never been confirmed – possibly it was Dick’s wife, but, equally possible, it was Gertrude.
Red Cross in London and Boulougne
Hospital Work at the Outbreak of the First World War
In November 1914, following
the outbreak of the First World War, Gertrude began work in a hospital at the
house of Lord Onslow in Clandon Park, Surrey, which was filled primarily with
wounded Belgian troops. However, much to her dismay, Gertrude’s role was purely
administrative, and involved none of the nursing she longed to do. In a letter
to her mother on 15 November, she complained:
However, a mere two days later, Gertrude was sent for by the Red Cross to work in their Boulogne office, helping to trace missing and wounded soldiers, and by 25 November, she was already hard at work in Boulogne.
The Boulogne Red Cross
Upon her arrival at the Red Cross Office for Missing and Wounded in Boulogne, Gertrude was faced with a chaotic and ineffectual system for recording the missing and wounded. She took it upon herself to reorganise the entire office, and to put in place new indexing systems, writing to her mother that (8th January 1915),
Gertrude felt strongly that the Red Cross should be as sensitive as possible when informing families of the loss of their sons, fathers and brothers, and explained this to her mother (12th January 1915):
In March 1915, Gertrude agreed to move to the headquarters of the London Red Cross in London, to continue her work recording missing and wounded soldiers, and informing their families. Determined to do the job well, Gertrude found herself once more frustrated with the lack of adequate facilities, and most of all with the lack of space, writing to her mother that (20th August 1915):
In October 1915, Gertrude wrote about the vital work of the Red Cross Inquiry Department for The Times (see Item G). By November 1915, however, after less than four months at the British Red Cross Headquarters in London, Gertrude was called to Cairo by the Foreign Office.
Cairo, Delhi & Basra
In November 1915, David Hogarth, who had known Gertrude since 1899, enlisted her to come and work at the newly established Arab Bureau in Cairo, a British intelligence organisation dealing with Middle Eastern affairs. T.E. Lawrence – better known today as Lawrence of Arabia – also worked for the Bureau alongside Gertrude, and the two became close friends (see image to the left). Gertrude was employed by the Bureau in Cairo to interpret reports from Central Arabia, as well as to document ‘Arab tribes, their numbers and lineage. It’s a vague and difficult subject which would take a lifetime to do properly’. On New Year’s Day (1916), Gertrude wrote to her mother from Cairo reflecting on the past year of war:
When Gertrude arrived in Basra in March 1916, she stayed in the home of Sir Percy and Lady Cox until she could find a place of her own. Letters she wrote to her mother talk of her frustration at the impermanent, transient nature of her work. Nevertheless, Gertrude gave her full attention to the number of tasks at hand, which included classifying tribal material, a process in which her own prior knowledge from her travels. Gertrude also had strong views on the political situation in the Middle East, and was frustrated with what she perceived to be Britain’s mishandling of it:
Gertrude was appointed to the paid position of Official Correspondent to Cairo (June 1916), and also head of the Iraq branch of the Arab Bureau as an officer of the Indian Expeditionary Force D. She became increasingly influential, providing the Intelligence Department with summaries of recent Arabian history, and writing memoranda about British-Arabian relations, such as, ‘The Nomad Tribes of Arabia’ (pages 16 and 17 are shown below).
In January 1917, Gertrude was appointed Oriental Secretary by Sir Percy Cox, and continued as head of the Arab Bureau (Iraq). Gertrude left Basra for Baghdad (April 1917), following the British occupation of Baghdad (11 March 1917).
Gertrude was passionate about the future of Iraq, and wanted to ensure that the best was done for both the country and its people. On 30 October 1918, eleven days before the ceasefire of the First World War, the Turkish government signed the Armistice of Mudros with the Allied Forces. Gertrude’s work intensified in the months following the end of the war. She was heavily involved in decision making regarding Iraq, and while she felt strongly that the British administration needed to act in the best interests of the Iraqi population, she also had her own very clear ideas about what those best interests were. She was, for example, frustrated with calls for an Arab Amir to lead the country instead of Sir Percy Cox as British leader. For Gertrude, the only viable option was British rule in the Middle East:
The consequences of such views held by Gertrude and her colleagues, and the extent of British involvement in reshaping the Middle East following the First World War, continue to be powerfully felt today.
Bell’s Role in the Formation of Iraq
In the years following the end of the First World War, the British Government’s attentions turned to determining the lines along which the borders of the new Iraq would be drawn, and Gertrude was heavily involved in the decision making process.
She attended the Paris Peace Conference as the representative of the Arab Bureau (1919), and later attended the ten-day Cairo Conference (March 1921), which was organised by Winston Churchill with the objective to work towards an independent Arab Government. To that end, Bell was instrumental in the selection of Prince Faisal as the new King of Mesopotamia (crowned July 1921 – see image to the left). While she became a close friend to King Faisal, and worked closely with him for the rest of her life, she found the process of nominating and publicising a potential king strenuous, writing to her father shortly after Faisal’s coronation that ‘you may rely upon one thing – I’ll never engage in creating kings again, it is too great a strain’.
Perhaps most famously, however, Bell was central in drawing the borders of Iraq during this period. In a letter to her father (December 1921), she writes, ‘I had a well spent morning at the office making out the Southern desert frontier of the Iraq […] One way and another, I think I’ve been succeeded in compiling a frontier’. After the coronation of King Faisal, the drawing of these borders, and the establishment of the new Iraqi Government, Bell refocused her efforts back into archaeology and historical research, and was appointed the Honorary Director of Antiquities for Iraq (October 1922). Bell initiated the Iraq Museum (October 1923), the first room of which opened in June 1926, just one month short of Bell’s death from an overdose of sleeping pills (12 July 1926). Four years after her death, a commemorative bronze plaque was unveiled by King Faisal, and a bust of Bell was erected to identify the Gertrude Bell principle wing of the Iraq Museum.
Find out More
Transcripts of most of Gertrude Bell’s letters and all of her diaries, together with digital copies of her extensive photograph albums, are available to browse at the dedicated Gertrude Bell website.
A student-curated exhibition based on work for a module on Radical Children’s Literature of the Early Twentieth Century. Curated by Rebecca Goor and Sam Summers, June 2014.
The period between 1900 and 1949 is one curiously overlooked when it comes to the history of children’s literature. It has been viewed as ‘an age of brass between two of gold’, referring to the two so-called golden ages of Victorian children’s literature that began with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and post World War II writing by figures such as Alan Garner, William Mayne, Rosemary Sutcliff and Mary Norton. Books from this period have drawn criticism for their apparent ignorance of the changes occurring in the world around them, and for refusing to widen their focus beyond carefree middle-class children at a time when the struggles of the working class were increasingly a concern.
The writers and illustrators featured in this exhibition, however, were responsible for texts which, while not as well-known as the more conservative works of the period, tackled controversial themes, endorsed radical political views and thrived on aesthetic innovation.
The early twentieth century was a time of landmark political, military and social events which changed both Britain and the world at large forever. Two world wars, the depression, and the end of empire dislodged the United Kingdom from its seat of global power, and confronted the public with an acute awareness of the horrors humankind was capable of inflicting upon itself. At the same time, left-wing political ideals were gaining momentum with both the advent of communism in Russia and the steady rise of socialism in Britain.
In the wake of these large-scale cultural shifts, radical authors created a body of literature which challenged earlier notions of what a children’s book could be. They depicted a more diverse range of characters than the typical white, middle-class children of their predecessors, while also engaging their readers politically. Their books were more socially aware than those that had come before, challenging authority and questioning the dominant views of the day rather than deferring to them. Meanwhile, writers and illustrators whose work was not as thematically radical as some of their contemporaries were nonetheless creating aesthetically innovative books, with some incorporating modernist techniques into their writing and others displaying the influence of avant-garde movements in their artwork. The goal of many of these creators was to provoke change, by encouraging young readers to act on the ideas raised in their books to secure the future of the next generation of leaders and artists.
This exhibition highlights work from across the spectrum of radical children’s literature. It is divided into four sections: ‘Reacting to War’, ‘The Soviet Effect’, ‘Real Lives’ and ‘Artistic Innovation’. The examples are a reminder that across this time of cultural upheaval some children’s writers and illustrators were helping to prepare young readers to help bring about what they believed would be a more just, equitable, healthy and rewarding world for all.
Reacting to war
During the fifty year time period that this exhibition covers, war played a huge part in changing the social and political landscape not only in Britain but worldwide. Whilst the First World War (1914-1918) and the Second World War (1939-1945) were undoubtedly the largest conflicts during this period, other crises such as the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) contributed to the atmosphere of political instability. The relationship between war and Western children’s literature is often remembered as one that saw books inspire young readers to support the war effort by presenting life in the military as heroic and adventurous. However, as this exhibition aims to show, there were alternative works of children’s fiction between 1900 and 1949 that treated child readers as agents of political change, rather than as cogs in the war machine.
Many of the radical texts of this period were influenced by Socialist ideas, but other pacifist publications included those circulated by the religious group the Quakers and by progressive schools that believed in empowering children by inspiring leadership skills and independent thought. Whilst the left-wing literature movement in Britain was not strictly organised and consisted of various strands, some publications had significant followings; The Left Book Club, created by Socialist publisher Victor Gollancz, had a readership of 20,000 in 1936, increasing to 57,000 in 1939. The Junior Left Book Club encouraged children to read Socialist literature, demonstrating the power that reading held in inspiring new ideas in the younger generation.
The four texts in this section include a non-fictional pamphlet, illustrated stories and even a rule-book for toy war games, demonstrating the range of opposition to militaristic children’s literature from this period, much of which has been forgotten in history. The earliest text of the collection, Little Wars (1913) by H.G. Wells, draws upon the child’s instinct to play to oppose militaristic values and expose the horrors of war. 20 Years After (1934) is a non-fictional pamphlet, providing a realistic depiction of the death and destruction caused by war, helping to counteract heroic, militaristic children’s stories that sentimentalise war.
The collection also features two American publications, which show that anti-war messages were being communicated in America as well as in Britain. Johnny Get Your Gun (1936), the title of which plays upon the call often used in battle to rally troops, exposes the human costs of war through the paralysation of its soldier protagonist. The Story of Ferdinand (1936) carries a similar pacifist message, and despite its specific relevance to the Spanish Civil War, it extols opposition to fascism, which led to the book being burned by the Nazis. The range of texts in this exhibition exemplify the work of radical writers during this period that opposed the use of children’s literature for wartime propaganda, informing child readers about the horrors of war and presenting pacifism as a heroic alternative to militarisation.
Putting a stop to war games
Little Wars (first published 1913) by H.G. Wells is a set of rules for a table-top war game for children. Often considered the first popular handbook for war gaming in the English language, it can be said to have prefigured the later rise in miniature gaming and role-play, and even more recent developments in digital military games such as Call of Duty. The game includes rules for deployment, combat, movement and objectives, each of which is described in detail. The book’s full title is Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books. Whilst this title reveals the book to be a product of its time in terms of gender stereotypes, Little Wars was radical during the time of its production due to its pacifist stance and universal message.
The book discusses the ‘death’ and ‘blood’ involved in warfare, but it does so as a way of opposing large-scale war in the real world. Wells distinguishes between the make-believe of the game and the reality of warfare asking, ‘How much better is this amiable miniature than the Real Thing?’ He capitalises on children’s instinct to play and compete in order to deliver his pacifist message, though the wide age range established in the full title suggests that these lessons were addressed to an adult audience.
H.G. Wells was an outspoken socialist and sympathetic to pacifist views, and this is reflected in much of his work for both adults and children. Paradoxically, Wells eventually supported British involvement in the First World War on the grounds that it
would be “The War That Will End War”. In other words, he felt it was necessary to resolve a range of tensions and areas of competition in order to create long-lasting peace and unity.
Wells’ socialist outlook as well as his then opposition to war is apparent in Little Wars. The game instructs players to use inexpensive materials, meaning that the book is suitable for children from all social and economic backgrounds. Little Wars, along with its predecessor Floor Games (1911), which similarly provided cheap role-playing games for boys and girls, widened the audience for children’s literature and toys, the majority of which still had a strong middle-class focus during the early twentieth-century. The universal message of the text suggests that in order to overcome militaristic and imperialistic values, people of all social classes must work together to create a more just society.
Like other texts in this section, Little Wars does not construct war as heroic but rather highlights the gore and suffering caused by warfare. Wells combines playful storytelling, hands-on play and a serious message to provide young boys (and possibly girls) with an opportunity to satisfy their competitive streaks without being manipulated into sacrificing themselves to the true horrors of war. Considered in hindsight alongside the horrific trench warfare that was to begin a year after the publication of Little Wars, the text is poignant in its attempt to educate potential soldiers about the truth behind the fictionalisation of war.
This image (above) was taken from a news article about the book with the caption ‘H.G. Wells, the English novelist, playing an indoor war game’. It shows Wells, a famous and respected literary figure, reduced to the level of his juvenile readers, reflecting his desire to educate them on their own terms.
Exposing the truth behind World War I
20 Years After! (London: Marston Printing Co., 1934) is a left-wing propagandist pamphlet written twenty years after the start of World War I and in the shadow of what was to become World War II. It exposes the largely unreported aspects of the first global conflict and rails against the injustice of the capitalist system in which a few individuals profited from the war to the detriment of the suffering masses. Socialist in outlook, the pamphlet was produced by the Youth Council of the British Anti-War Movement and distributed amongst left-wing groups with the aim of encouraging adolescent readers to oppose future war and fight against fascism.
The pamphlet attempts to engage young readers politically with its critiques of capitalism and fascism. It claims to expose ‘the real story’ of war and suggests the British Government is concealing the truth. Using facts and statistics to verify its claims, it tells a story of capitalists benefitting from industries facilitated by war whilst thousands lost their lives and suffered. These facts are simple to read, making the pamphlet accessible to the youth of all social classes, even those who were not experienced readers. Furthermore, 20 Years After! includes horrific photographic images that document the realities of war. One photograph features the mutilated face of a soldier and so underlines the shocking physical suffering and life-time disfigurement caused by the war. As a whole it suggests that readers would do better to band against war than to enlist.
The pamphlet gives the example of the USSR and its First Five-Year Plan as a way to counter war and fascism. Readers are told that the USSR has happier workers because of the increase in wages and investment in farming and therefore has no need for war. The implication is that following the USSR’s example would encourage peace. Furthermore, opposing fascism and war is portrayed as an international effort, through examples of other foreign congresses such as the Paris Youth conference in 1933. The pamphlet encourages British youths to become part of a worldwide pacifist movement, and urges them to understand that young people can influence the future of the world.
The pamphlet was published in 1934 and sold prior to the Sheffield Youth Congress with the aim of encouraging young people to join the anti-war movement. The realistic image of the tank reflects the aim of the pamphlet to expose the ‘real’ story and human costs of war.
The final page of the 20 Years After pamphlet invites child readers to become actively involved in pacifism by signing up to the anti-war movement. This approach is reflected in other radical children’s literature, in which the child is treated as an agent of change rather than a vessel for adult ideas.
Peace in the face of Fascism
Written in less than an hour by American author Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, The Story of Ferdinand (1936) remains one of the world’s best-loved children’s books. Before beginning his career as a children’s author – during which he wrote over 40 books – Leaf worked as a secondary school teacher in schools that were part of a progressive, student-centred form of education that encouraged leadership skills and independent thinking. Later, Leaf gave ‘Chalk Talks’ in schools across America, including lectures about world peace. Of all his activities it was this work of children’s fiction that provided the strongest and most enduring pacifist message.
At a time when much children’s literature served as war propaganda, The Story of Ferdinand features Ferdinand, a bull who refuses to fight in the bull ring. Although written during the escalating violence that lead to the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939), Leaf’s pacifist message has a more universal significance and was burned by the Nazis due to its anti-fascist sentiments. The story’s peaceful yet rebellious hero, Ferdinand, prefers to sit alone and smell flowers rather than fight with his fellow bulls. When he sits on a bee however, Ferdinand startled reaction is mistaken for aggression and his is taken to Madrid to be the star of the bull ring. The illustration of the bull-ring parade, with its flags and music, clearly references the collective passions associated with war rallies. Ferdinand challenges militaristic and masculine values when he refuses to fight in the ring, angering the Matador, whose thirst for blood is caricatured. Ferdinand’s gentle nature prevails, and at the end of the book he is able to return to his mother, and the flowers that he loves. Munro Leaf’s use of a bull – typically a more violent animal than those usually featuring in less radical children’s fiction – creates a challenge to authority that encourages child readers to obey their own instincts rather than blindly follow wartime hysteria.
Robert Lawson’s illustrations are perhaps surprising for a children’s book, as the realistic black-and-white images lack the sentimentality associated with much children’s literature. In particular, the use of vultures creates a motif of death throughout the story that is not discussed in the textual content. The images provide greater depth to the narrative, whilst the discussion of such serious issues within children’s literature does not patronise children or shield them from reality. This radical text remains popular worldwide due to its universal celebration of peace and individuality.
The red front cover provides the only use of colour in this otherwise black and white text. In the later Disney adaptation of The Story of Ferdinand, the use of red survived, helping the cover to achieve international status as a pacifist symbol.
This image (above) exemplifies the wider motif of vultures throughout the text: something that is not discussed in the actual words of the story. Placing Ferdinand next to a height chart, with a vulture closely watching, explores the theme of death in a franker way than more conservative children’s literature. It is perhaps significant that Ferdinand avoids the final stage of death by refusing to fight in a military-like way.
Pushing past the propaganda
Johnny Got His Gun is an anti-war novel written for children over the age of 12 in 1938 when the approach of World War II was giving rise to widespread propaganda designed to persuade young men to enlist to fight for their country. The novel contrasts dramatically with more traditional pro-war children’s literature that has for long been associated with youthful enlistment. Dalton Trumbo’s radical – and powerful – novel questions the convention that soldiers are fighting for freedom. It also questions related constructions of liberty and the tendency to characterise the First World War as a game of ‘follow the leader’.
Johnny was radical as it challenged established ways of depicting war and military service and so undermined the conventions of traditional war stories for children. In such books men (and boys) who went to war were put on a pedestal and treated as heroic figures. Trumbo, however, opposes this image of a valiant figure fighting the enemy and instead confronts readers with the figure of Joe Bonham, who has had his arms and legs amputated and his face blown off on a WWI battlefield. His helplessness is reminiscent of a baby’s vulnerability, which contrasts with the strong and powerful image of men as depicted on propagandist posters. Trumbo wanted to represent the realities and horrors of war to prevent his young readers blindly following the previous generation to the front line. Like WWI, which saw many under age youths become soldiers, the novel blurs the division between childhood and adulthood by exposing young readers to the grim realities of war. As readers of this novel, they are treated as socially significant and rational beings, capable of deciding whether or not to join the war effort on their own.
Trumbo is far from subtle in his suggestion that fighting for freedom is a lost cause. Joe is anything but free in the novel, epitomising the ultimate enslaved man as he is trapped within his own body. He is unable to talk, walk, or even move; his injuries have made his body as helpless as a baby’s but he has the frustrated mind of a grown man. Joe’s injuries are extreme because Joe embodies the collective injuries of all of the soldiers. Surviving the war with injuries is presented as a fate worse than death. This highlights Trumbo’s views on the destructiveness of war. A soldier might never come home, or might come home injured, but neither situation conforms to the glamorised fantasy of war provided by propaganda.Throughout the text Trumbo contrasts the fantasy of war with the harsh reality of its horrors. Joe had a family and a lover waiting for him at home, as did so many other soldiers. There is no home or future for him on his return. This moving way of illustrating the consequences of war for many soldiers drives home the extent to which large numbers of people were devastated by the terrors and tragedy wreaked by World War I. In conveying his opposition to war in its every facet so unflinchingly, Trumbo breaks the conventions of war stories and encourages readers to think about the realities of war rather than accepting the myths generated around it.
The simplicity of the front cover reflects the book’s frank treatment of the injuries sustained by soldiers at war. Unlike government propaganda released around the time of the book’s publication in 1938, there are no images of heroic men to pressurise readers into sacrificing themselves to the war effort.
The Soviet effect
Between the two world wars, those involved in creating radical children’s literature were keen to engage young readers with the vast social experiment that was taking place in Soviet Russia. If it succeeded they believed the new social model being piloted there would offer a cure for the booms, busts and inequities of capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy that had disenfranchised and oppressed huge numbers of people around the world, and which many blamed for the series of wars that had punctuated the first decades of the twentieth century. Radical children’s books treated events in the USSR as “The most exciting adventure in the history of the world” (An Outline for Boys and Girls and Their Parents, 1932) and depicted the emerging Soviet society as an ideal world in the making where children, childhood and youth were valued and given important roles.
There were two principal ways in which radical children’s books introduced young readers to images of the Soviet Union. The first was through novels and fictionalised travel-writing by Anglo-American writers; the second was by translating and publishing some of the highly innovative picturebooks that had been published in the USSR. The six texts in this section represent both forms. Geoffrey Trease’s Red Comet: A tale of travel in the U.S.S.R. (1936) was written during a five-month residency in that country. Like Marjorie Fischer’s Palaces on Monday (1936), Trease’s novel features two children from the Depression-era West who have the opportunity to travel across the USSR. They visit parks of recreation and culture with their impressive facilities for children and admire the new ways of working and organising society. Both books are particularly concerned to tell their young readers about the egalitarian nature of Soviet society: divisions based on wealth, class, sex, race, ethnicity and even age are shown to be things of the past. Pearl Binder’s Russian Families (1942) also features many different aspects of the Soviet Union and gives an optimistic vision of how those who had previously been oppressed – peasants, women, and ethnic minorities – are thriving and contributing to their new nation.
Picturebooks from the Soviet Union were remarkable for their stylistic and artistic innovation. Most of those translated for British children were written by Samuil Marshak and illustrated by Vladimir Lebedev. Yesterday and Today (1925) develops one of the themes most popular with the Soviet authorities. It compares the old-fashioned way Soviet citizens were living just a short time ago with the modern lifestyles achieved under the First Five-Year Plan. The Circus (1925), presented as a series of posters featuring different acts and artists, emphasises the dynamic and internationalist ethos of Soviet society. The influence of these books in Britain is evident in the last book in the section, Peggy Hart’s The Magic of Coal (1945).
Although disillusion with the Soviet Union set in as information about the shortages, famines, show trials and purges of the Stalin years became known, these books recall a time when radical children’s books in Britain were invigorated by both the aspirations of Soviet society and the artistically exciting children’s books created during the first years of the Soviet regime.
Bringing Soviet styles to Britain
This 1945 Puffin picture book entitled The Magic of Coal is an example of a wave of non-fiction picture books which entered the UK market for children’s literature in the 1940s, thanks to the efforts of Noel Carrington and Penguin Books’s Allen Lane. Influenced by the new Soviet ‘production books’ (books that told young readers about how everyday items are made and celebrated workers), these texts concentrated on themes such as farming, mining and other industries. Production books were part of the offical Soviet strategy to educate children about the advantages of their new communist society and the valued place of workers in it; children were central to Soviet policy and there are many examples of children’s literature being used to establish a public base for policies and plans. The Magic of Coal is the British equivalent of a Soviet production book in its focus on how things are made, its heroic treatment of miners, and its representation of a modern society in which social divisions are being eradicated.
The Magic of Coal introduces readers to the admirably technical and industrious world of coal mining. It not only tells how coal is produced but makes miners emblems of Britain – note the tatoo depicting St. George and the Dragon on the chest of the miner who appears on the cover. In doing so, the text and its illustrations point towards the political goal of making Britain a less class-riven, more equal society. To this end the book focusses on the production process rather than around any one character. Each role within the mine is shown through illustrations and accompanying text, implying that there is something for everybody. Every individual has a skill set to offer in the production of coal and is a valuable cog in the machinery of the mine. A sense of a community at work is created, and when combined with impressionist illustrations of tiny black figures and miners whose faces are blurred or have their backs to the reader, this sense of community solidifies into the socialist theory of collectivism. There are no visible owners or bosses and so it seems that the miners are working not in the service of capitalism but independently, for the benefit of the nation.
Improvements to working conditions also feature in this book which represents mining as a clean, modern, technologically advanced industry. The text informs the reader that the miners can attend the ‘pitbaths’ after work and rather show miners not begrmed with coal but looking rather like an office worker. Mention is also made of miners’ lives outside of work which include membership of societies, theatre visits and higher education. The Story of Coal, then, shows miners as lynchpins in a coal-fueled modern society, but also as respectable citizens with good standards of living and a thirst for culture. Miners are as important as the ‘treasure’ they dig up.
The battered state of the copy of Red Comet: A tale of travel in the U.S.S.R., which is missing its dust jacket, is typical. Few copies survive of either the 1936 edition published in the Soviet Union by the Co-operative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers or the UK and US editions that appeared the following year. The fact that it was first published in the Soviet Union no doubt contributed to the positive image of that country it paints.
First published in the UK in 1937, the image here is of the Palaces on Monday, Puffin edition published towards the end of the Second World War. It shows the three children with their backs to readers as they stare at the approaching coast of the country which represents their future. While the book emphasises Soviet building programmes the skyline shows tradition onion-shaped domes and tall spires.
Pearl Binder was closely tied to the Soviet Union and travelled there extensively. The illustrations in Russian Families, which she drew herself, give a sense of cheerful energy that matches her portrait of the country and its people.
The themes of this popular Yesterday and Today book capture the spirit of post-Revolutionary Russia. It celebrates ‘today’ in the form of the modern world while remembering the efforts of those who lived in the more difficult time represented as ‘yesterday’. The change is symbolised by the clothing and outdated objects of yesterday, drawn in black and white to contrast with the bright colours and modern equipment of today.
The images in The Circus book take the form of circus posters. Text and images both emphasise the international nature of the circus, with acts from many countries and people of different races and ethnicities all contributing to the performance.
The first half of the twentieth-century is often considered to be a period of ‘retreatism’ in terms of children’s literature, and it is certainly the case that much mainstream children’s literature did maintain the status quo through its portrayal of white, middle-class families living comfortable lives unaffected by conflict or financial exigency. Radical texts, by contrast, acknowledged alternative ways of living and exposed child readers to poverty and the changing political landscape in Britain.
The period that this exhibition covers saw the emergence of the British welfare state, beginning with a basic National Health Service and Unemployment Insurance. The 1942 Beveridge Report, an enquiry into the best way to provide welfare in Britain, concluded that security should be provided for British people ‘from cradle to grave’. Legislation based on the report included The Butler Act of 1944, which referred to education, the 1945 Family Allowance Act and the 1948 National Health Act. Although social problems remained, these policies recognised the need to support working-class families and those living in poverty.
The earlier of the two texts in this section, The Children Who Lived in a Barn (1938), was written before the Beveridge Report and it demonstrates the need for increased governmental support through the analogy of incapable parents and adults who fail to provide for the children in the text. Child characters, on the other hand, are depicted as intelligent and self-sufficient. They show awareness of real-life issues such as money management, fear of eviction and loss of parents. By creating independent child characters, Eleanor Graham (the first editor of Puffin Books) foregrounds the role of the children’s writer as a figure that inspires children to engage with social problems and different ways of living, rather than one that aims to shield young readers from reality.
Whilst The Children Who Lived in a Barn exposes child readers to different characters than the middle-class protagonists often portrayed in children’s literature, Come In (1946) by Olive Dehn subtly raises questions about middle-class life and the consumer trend to build ‘ideal homes’. When asked to give an account of her day by her husband, who doesn’t understand why she complains about her life, Mrs Markham – a suburban housewife – tells a story of rigid routine, stress and dissatisfaction. Unlike in much children’s fiction, this picturebook does not present the middle-class home as a domestic ideal. By documenting the routine but demanding life of a middle-class housewife, Olive Dehn suggests that all is not well in suburbia.
By exploring issues such as poverty, the role of the state and gender politics within children’s literature, these radical authors encouraged young readers to seek solutions to the problems facing modern Britons. They refused to protect child readers from reality, encouraging them to question the world around them and strive for progress. Within radical children’s texts, children become central to achieving social change, meaning that they must receive contemporary information about the society that they live in. As this exhibition shows, radical children’s books were a key source of such information.
An unconventional adventure
Eleanor Graham’s The Children Who Lived in a Barn was the first Puffin Story Book. Like most books from the increasingly respected Puffin imprint, Graham’s book rapidly reached a wide readership and was admired in its day. Exciting and comic by turns, the story of the Dunnett children as they attempt to cope on their own after their parents’ disappearance is more than just a light-hearted adventure story. Graham fully describes the challenges her young characters face: being evicted, having to work and study and care for their new home (a barn) at the same time, and fending off social criticism and coming to terms with the increasingly distant possibility of their parents’ return. The story captures some of the tribulations of premature independence and heavy responsibility, themes that were shortly to come to prominence for many young evacuees in wartime Britain.
The emphasis and insistence on the children’s independence is striking in the text. Adults, who in children’s books are generally portrayed as a force of stability and security, are here largely presented as destabilising factors and even threats. The village women and District Visitor who aim to send the children off to orphanages are depicted as nuisances, and the landlord who evicts them is the clear villain of the story. Even the parents are not spared from criticism; they missed their airplane because they were buying stamps, forcing them to take a non-commercial plane which crashes. Their actions initiate the children’s troubles. It is in part due to such subversive thoughts that the book was published anew in 2001 by Persephone Books. In removing the original brightly illustrated cover and replacing it with a simple grey jacket, the new edition presents The Children Who Lived in a Barn as a modern text not just for children but for adults as well.
Whilst at first glance the cover of the text (see image above) is reminiscent of more conservative children’s fiction depicting tame countryside adventures, the children can be seen carrying their belongings as they begin to live unsupervised by parents. Even the youngest child, Alice, can be seen carrying pots and pans, emphasising the independence of the child.
The modern cover (published 2001) of the text is much simpler than the original and showcases the status of the text as an established classic that does not need flamboyant graphics. The seriousness of this cover also reflects the social message of the story and the potential for children’s writers to hold positions of authority in terms of child welfare.
The housewife speaks out
Olive Dehn’s superficially amiable book Come In (1946) in fact raises questions about the lives of suburban housewives and children in post-war Britain. The representation of a typical middle-class nuclear family in this picturebook emphasises some of the tribulations that came with being a mother at the time and the restraints on children’s ability to explore and experiment. Dehn was a life-long anarchist who lived a life very different from that of her characters.
Come In follows Mrs Markham, the mother, who complains about her dull life and is asked by her husband (an actor) to write an account of her day, so that he ‘could read exactly how dull it was’ (p. 2). Throughout the day the reader bears witness to the unending list of chores and challenges that Mrs Markham undertakes. She is the cook, cleaner and nanny, and appropriately is illustrated wearing an apron, and a black and white outfit that resembles the traditional uniform worn by maids in earlier generations. The whole text is punctuated by illustrations of, and references to, clocks. These show how regulated Mrs Markham’s day is, implying a machine-like routine, though without the order expected of a mechanised environment.
Mrs Markham is permanently in demand, hardly gaining a minute’s peace, whether it’s because her children and husband are continuously asking ‘where’s Mummy?’ (p. 7), or, because the phone or door-bell is ringing, there is another chore to be done, or somebody has had a minor accident. Whilst perhaps suggesting to young readers that they should appreciate their mothers’ efforts, there is also a slightly satirical tone, which perhaps only the adult reader would detect. References such as: ‘it’s time somebody began to think about getting dinner ready’ (p. 13), seem to be a wink to the mothers reading, as if to say, ‘I wonder who that might be?’ The book’s penultimate image is of the artist, who Mr. Markham has invited to draw the events of the day. As she walks away from the sleeping household she lights a cigarette and the two actions give a sense of independence and escape that the mother cannot attain. There is also an implicit sense that just witnessing the day is stressful enough to make the artist require a cigarette at the end of it.
Dehn challenges the expectation that being a 1940s housewife was a happy and rewarding role, and encourages her readers, whether children or adults, to see that new ideologies around home-making and child-rearing were highly restrictive. Just as their mother’s life is controlled by routine so too the children are shown as governed by a schedule and confined within clearly delimited spaces. Come In is less of an invitation than a threat; such a critical view of domestic life was highly unusual in children’s books of the period and so Come In sows the seeds of change radical change at the domestic level.
The inclusion of clocks in many of the illustrations emphasises how regimented the mother’s routine is. She runs like clock-work in an automated fashion, enforcing the idea that her life is composed and dominated by the time and everyone else’s separate routines.
The beginning of the twentieth century saw an aesthetic shift in both literature and fine art, including works aimed at children. The widespread social and economic change brought on by the Industrial Revolution and the First World War led to a rejection of traditional artistic values, particularly the nineteenth-century penchant for realism, which modernists and others involved in avant-garde activities regarded as outdated, limited and false. The modernist movement in literature saw the rise to prominence of authors whose work experimented with literary form resulting in texts which questioned the conventions of what a book could and should be. In the art world, expressionism championed the subjective over the figurative while surrealism revelled in the fractured logic of dreams, each challenging the notion that art must represent the physical world naturalistically.
These attitudes and ideas were taken up by children’s writers and illustrators in the first half of the last century. While often fantastical in their plots and settings, the majority of children’s books of the first ‘golden age’ presented their material realistically, with earnest prose and representative artwork. There were significant exceptions (notably Lewis Carroll’s Alice books), but the radical books produced during the period covered in this exhibition saw children’s literature pushing aesthetic boundaries in ways not previously seen.
This section includes two picturebooks in which the illustrations reference modernist styles and movements. The Pirate Twins (1929) by William Nicholson and Blue Peter (1943) by the Polish émigré graphic artists who worked under the name Lewitt-Him incorporate elements of contemporary artistic movements including modernism, surrealism and expressionism. Both books play with the relationship between words and pictures in the manner of collage and sometimes giving rise to gaps and contradictions that open up new intellectual spaces in writing for children.
Also featured in this section is Stephen King-Hall’s collection Young Authors and Artists of 1935, a compilation of stories, poems, articles and artwork created by children themselves. In publishing the collection, King-Hall challenged the conventional relationship between the authors and readers of children’s literature, giving children free rein to write stories they would want to read rather than passively receiving work created by adults. Their work at times also displays modernist tendencies – which was in line with the modernists’ view that like primitive people children naturally saw the world in fresh and original ways. These three texts, then, together serve as an indication of the breadth of aesthetically innovative work being undertaken by those involved in producing radical children’s literature during the early twentieth century.
Created by taking over 93,000 still photographs of her cardboard silhouette characters and tinting each frame with colour, Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed is the oldest surviving animated feature film. Her experimental style and enormous ambition are typical of the innovative spirit of the era.
One of the first modern picturebooks, Millions of Cats combined a simple, albeit surprising violent, narrative with fantastical images which blend the titular cats with the scenery to the point that they become difficult to distinguish.
Originally penned as a letter from Joyce to his grandson in 1936, The Cat and the Devil is a retelling of a French folk tale was posthumously published as a picture book first in 1964 and again in 1981. While the story is a straightforward fable, a far cry from the radical innovation of his adult-oriented work, this nonetheless shows a prominent modernist author interacting with the world of children’s literature.
Redrawing the picturebook
The Pirate Twins (1929) by English illustrator William Nicholson was among the first wave of children’s picture books to employ modernist artistic styles and experiment with the relationship between words and pictures. Nicholson was a noted graphic artist, illustrator and engraver known for his visually innovative works; together his two picturebooks, The Pirate Twins and Clever Bill (1926), helped to change accepted ideas of what picturebooks could be. The Pirate Twins tells the story of Mary, who finds the titular twins on a beach, takes them home, and tries to teach them how to behave, only to find that they have little interest in learning.
Coming at a time when most picture books used illustrations decoratively rather than as part of the storytelling process, Nicholson’s books were innovative at the levels of both story and style. Neither its text nor its images can stand alone and thus turn what had been picture books into the interdependent picturebook in which words are incorporated into the pictures themselves, the colour of the text is changed to add emphasis to certain words, and the images sometimes depict important events unmentioned in the text. The Pirate Twins and Clever Bill demand a degree of interaction from their readers, asking them to read the words and the images in tandem and piece the story together themselves, rather than having it told to them in clear detail.
The portrayal of the anarchic, uncivilised twins hints at an anti-colonialist as well as a modernist agenda. Try as she might, Mary cannot ‘civilise’ the twins, and they eventually sail back to their home. This is seen as a happy ending, suggesting that people of other cultures cannot and should not be remoulded into the white British ‘ideal’. The twins’ spontaneity and original way of seeing the world also reflects modernist appreciation of ‘primitives’.
In this image, depicting the Pirate Twins alongside their friend Mary, highlights the stark difference in their depiction; the over-simplified, non-naturalistic aesthetic used to illustrate the twins marks them out as not only different but primitive when compared to the girl.
Blue Peter uses a children’s picturebook to tell a tale of marginalised minorities at the time of its production during the World War II. Jan Lewitt and George Him were both Polish and Jewish, meaning that they had personal insights into the Nazi persecution of minority groups. The pair found themselves in London at the onset of war; there they discovered a network of artistic émigrés. Lewitt-Him as they styled themselves became known for their innovative use of strong colour, imaginative abstraction and symbolic surrealist graphics.
Their use of bold colour and minimalistic graphics can be seen in Blue Peter, as the titular dog is immediately recognisable as a minority through the visual contrast between the white fur of his mother and siblings and his own blue coat. Since the colour of his fur also informs his name, there is a suggestion that his colour constructs his identity. His mother even tries to bleach him white through fear that he will not be accepted by their master. However, the characterisation of Peter as a loveable puppy allows the reader to sympathise with his plight, and as is true of several of the texts in this exhibition, individuality is celebrated rather than condemned. Sailor Jeff adopts the abandoned puppy, stating that he has ‘always wanted a blue dog’, and giving rise to a series of adventures that sees Blue Peter become a hero.
Lewitt-Him’s illustrations take an expressionist approach to conveying the emotions of their protagonist; that is, instead of presenting the reader with an objective reality, the images are distorted for sympathetic effect. For example, in addition to highlighting Peter’s otherness in relation to his fellow characters, his blue coat is shown to reflect his state of mind; he is sad, or indeed ‘blue’. For readers of the book it is significant that Peter is colourful while his surroundings and the other characters are rendered drained of colour and variety. Sailor Jeff stands out because his shirt is also coloured blue.
The book’s innovative use of modernist graphics and surrealist elements departs from both the didactic tendencies of some politically radical writing for children and conservative works which shied away from including experimental artwork. Nevertheless, a socialist ideology of acceptance and unity prevails in the text, whilst the use of a minority figure as a heroic protagonist encourages children to embrace their individuality and carries a deeper political message at a time when the fight against fascism was a daily reality.
The expressionist bent in Lewitt-Him’s illustrations can be seen in these images, with Peter’s blue colouring contrasting with his monochrome surroundings, reflecting both his emotional state and his position as an outsider.
Children write back
Stephen King-Hall’s Young Authors and Artists of 1935 is one of a very few examples of writing for children produced by children. The book is a collection of stories, poetry, articles, and illustrations written and created by children and collected by Stephen King-Hall, who at that time had been a presenter on the BBC’s current affairs program Children Hour for five years. At the beginning of the book, King-Hall writes a foreword explaining that in his capacity as Editor of MINE, a magazine for children, he was sent many stories, poems and other kinds of writing by his young readers. This volume comprises the works he saw as displaying the most talent.
King-Hall was a radical thinker who was involved in politics, standing as an independent MP between 1937 and 1945. His political interests may have affected his selection of material, but evidently at least some children too were interested in topical issues. This can be seen, for instance, in the piece entitled ‘The Ruin of the Countryside’ which laments the pollution of the English country and ends with a dystopian glimpse into what the future might look like if the lack of environmental concern continues. Such examples of socially engaged pieces in the collection encourage readers to be socially aware and forward-thinking, and also to write about these social concerns and to make a change in society themselves.
The child authors show themselves to be alert to the conventions associated with material usually classified as children’s literature. For instance, one contribution reworks the well-known story of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ so that instead of porridge the bears eat fruit salad and at the end of story the whole thing is dismissed as nonsense because, of course, ‘bears don’t talk’. This rejection of traditional stories as well as the privileging of children as makers of their own literature functions as a form of ‘writing-back’ on the part of the contributors.
The illustrations in Young Authors and Artists were also created by children and are expressive, diverse and engaging. They disregard romantic childhood images produced by adults — for example sweetly innocent children playing nicely in pastoral settings and often make use of unusual visual devices such as the white silhouette in ‘A Midnight Gallop’. Together the works in the volume show the young contributors to be actively engaged in thinking about the world around them and innovative in terms of how to represent it.
The piece “A Midnight Gallop” (right) by an 11 year old girl contrasts the images of the foreground: the horse, bushes and the moon, with the dark background of the night. The polar opposite to a silhouette, these objects in the foreground are white instead of black.
The following students on the module ‘Radical Children’s Literature of the Early Twentieth Century’ contributed research and content to this exhibition:
Isabel Ashton, Ruth Bader, Louise Bartlett, Olivia Bland, Roderick Briggs, Sarah Bryan, Charlotte Burt, Lucy Campbell-Woodward, Hannah Carty, Salome Choa, Phoebe Clark, Alice Commins, Sarah Cripps, Rachel Davidson, Louise Dubuisson, Georgina Forshaw, Amy Fox, Ruby Gullon, Emily Hattrick, Jack Hawkins, Clara Heathcock, Michael Holden, Hannah Hunter, Esther Knowles, Imogen Lepere, Charles Lynch, Caroline Mackrill, Kerry Marshall, Alice Medforth, Heather Nicol, Francesca Nuttall, Helen Overton, Lucy Pares, Catherine Parkinson, Rebecca Pratt, Constance Richardson, Emily Seymour, Jennifer Smethurst, Angela Stone, Sam Summers, Jennifer Thynne, Rebecca Goor
Gillray’s work was almost unprecedented for the caustic way in which it decried the royal family. Although caricaturing the monarchy was not invented by Gillray, he brought the act to a daring and personal level.
His depictions of the hapless King George III are among his most humorous and famous works. Gillray exploited George III’s reputation for austerity and miserliness unbefitting of his status. Moreover, the King’s bouts of madness and his reputedly ugly and dull wife, Queen Charlotte, were a gift to the Georgian caricaturist. Gillray made full use of his skills in exaggerating her goggling eyes and pointed chin.
In contrast, their son, the Prince of Wales, detested his parents and their lifestyle, and lived a life of debauchery and excess. This was equally a source of ridicule in Gillray’s work.
However, following the beginning of hostilities with France in 1793, Gillray moderated his attitude towards the royal family. Although the English nation was represented most frequently by the fictional John Bull, George III occasionally stood in a proxy, portrayed in a simple, yet affable and harmless manner as ‘Farmer George.’
Not only was Gillray concerned with political events of the time, he was also enthralled by the absurd antics and follies of the Georgian aristocracy. In particular, the fops and society figures who frequented the area of London around Bond Street and St. James. Gillray lived in the area and found it captivating to observe this foolish behaviour and recreate it in ludicrous images in his own inimitable, ruthless style. His subjects, in a suitably egotistic manner, were more than eager to purchase the unrelenting prints.
James Gillray: The Man Behind the Mischief…
James Gillray (1756 – 1815) was a caricaturist of unparalleled popularity and international repute during and after his lifetime. Active during the tempestuous ‘Age of Revolution’, he built on the tradition of visual satire and himself revolutionised the art of personal caricature, skewering the recognisable elite and everyday with his acerbic and sometimes controversial craft and wit.
Born into a strict Moravian home in Chelsea, James Gillray’s early life was joyless and austere. His artistic skill, however, become clearly visible from a very early age. He gained an apprenticeship as an engraver and in 1778 was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in London. Although initially attempting to distance himself from the ‘low’ form of satirical art, the monotony of ‘serious’ artistic work and the public appetite for the bawdy drew him to the style that would define (and be defined by) him.
These works of satire often depicted scenes which could be described as vulgar and somewhat pornographic in nature, showing perverse scenes in and around seedy, low-life establishments. He was also gifted material in the political strife and aristocratic melodramas of the times on both sides of the Atlantic. His personal, instantly recognisable caricatures of ‘celebrities’ such as Napoleon, King George III, William Pitt the Younger, and the symbolic figure of John Bull were a particular forte.
Working with several London publishers, Gillray’s more popular images were housed and sold by Hannah Humphrey, with whom the artist lodged and was reputed to have had a personal involvement with. She became the exclusive seller of his prints from 1791.
His personal character, perhaps fuelled by memories of his severe upbringing, was, in stark contrast to his art, morose and solitary, exacerbated by an excessive drinking habit. His health became affected, impacting on the quality and quantity of his output, and by about the end of 1811 he sank almost into imbecility. He died on 1st June 1815 aged 58 years old.
A Voluptuary under the Horrors of Digestion
Gillray here depicts an obese George, Prince of Wales and later Prince Regent and George IV. A man renowned for his self-indulgence and wantonness, he reclines in his dining chair having gorged himself on a huge meal. Previously regarded as possessed of striking good looks, the Prince’s corpulence and greed as he approached 30 is mercilessly satirised; his waistcoat barely fastened over his distended stomach as he rudely picks his teeth with a fork.
The scene is set amid obvious symbols showing the detritus of debauchery: the overflowing chamber pot covering lengthy unpaid bills; emptied flagons of wine peeping out from beneath the tablecloth; dice thrown on the floor next to debtors’ notes and ‘The Newmarket List’, highlighting his penchant for gambling.
On the wall to the right, we see the Prince of Wales’ coat of arms parodied by the introduction of a crossed knife and fork and the candles held in a wine glass and decanter. Beneath this rests a stand holding jelly glasses, amongst which is placed a small pot labelled ‘For the Piles’ , another with a tag ‘For a Stinking Breath’, and a tub of pills and a decanter etched with ‘Velnos Vegetable Syrup’, all of which would indicate that his grossly unsavoury lifestyle had led to unpleasant health problems.
A Connoisseur examining a Cooper
Gillray depicts King George III examining Samuel Cooper’s famous miniature portrait of Oliver Cromwell. The King was a great supporter of the Arts and had, in 1768, given his signature to the foundation of the Royal Academy of Arts, contributing drawings, books and antique casts from his own collection to the Royal Academy Schools. He considered himself a connoisseur and favoured the flamboyant style of Allan Ramsay and the Neo-classicism in the work of Benjamin West.
Already prejudiced against Gillray for his political prints and satires of the royal family, the King was said to have blithely and dismissively declared after examining some of the satirist’s sketches, “I don’t understand these caricatures!”
Gillray duly sought his revenge in this print. The profiled figure of the monarch scrutinises the instantly recognisable image of Cromwell by candle-light; the most famous of the English Monarchy’s adversaries. Although painted by Cooper “warts and all” at his own insistence, Cromwell by Gillray’s hand appears almost regal in contrast to the oafish visage of the King peering on. Designed to question his connoisseurship, the context of the monarchy fearing a new English Revolution sparked by events in France would equally not have been lost on a contemporary audience.
Even the candle is intended as a jibe at the King, held as it is in a ‘save-all’ candlestick. This was a device designed to use up the last fragments of a candle by collecting the melted wax. The witticism here refers to the notorious frugality of the King and his household.
With his adult life spanning the four decades between the American Revolution and the Battle of Waterloo, Gillray lived in a time well suited to the development of his craft and ‘maturation’ of his political satires.
During the 1780s and 90s, the artist was mainly preoccupied with domestic politics. The party divisions were embraced by Gillray, who regularly attended the House of Commons with small sketch cards to refine his portrayal of certain political figures. Whigs such as Charles James Fox and reformist Francis Burdett, or the Tory Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, were gifted orators and committed to their respective causes. More importantly for Gillray, they also had easily caricatured habits and appearances.
However, any overt allegiance to one political stance seems motivated by commercial interests. In 1797, when The Anti-Jacobin magazine was launched by future Tory Prime Minister George Canning, aimed at discrediting the opposition, an annual pension to Gillray of £200 for submissions earned the Tories a temporary loyalty. Speaking to a friend who had commented upon his apparent disdain for the Whig party, Gillray responded that “they are poor, they do not buy my prints, and I must draw on the purses of the larger parties.”
With the death of two of his great subjects Fox and Pitt in 1806, followed closely by the decline of Lord Grenville’s ‘Ministry of All the Talents’ in 1807, Gillray’s enthusiasm for politics waned. Many of his later works turned back towards social and moral satire rather than depicting the high drama of English politics. These were consistent only in their championing of virtue through the denunciation of vice, excesses of those in authority, and sympathy with the victims of oppression.
The Revolution will be Satirised
From the outbreak of the French Revolution until the end of his career in 1810, much of Gillray’s output was propagandist, being concerned with the momentous events across the channel. Like many, Gillray appears to have been initially in sympathy with the leaders of the French Revolution, but quickly grew disillusioned as events grew bloodier with the Jacobin extremists in late 1792; especially as it seemed France might increasingly pose a threat to British security. As a result, Gllray’s Frenchman were quickly turned into his stereotypically sub-human sans-culottes; depraved, malnourished, hairy, child-eating and with teeth and nails filed to points.
The central focus of Gillray’s sarcasm and ire eventually found a home in Napoleon. Although Gillray had never seen him in the flesh, he conjured up an iconic and instantly recognizable recurring figure, taken up by many of Gillray’s contemporaries and immortalised as ‘Little Boney.’ As his threat to Britain increased, Gillray reduced Napoleon’s physical stature accordingly.
John Bull Taking a Luncheon
This print celebrates the victory of the British navy at the Battle of the Nile in August 1798, with Gillray exalting their achievements with nationalistic fervour.
The main figure depicted is John Bull, a regular in Gillray’s work used to personify England. Here, appearing as Old Grumble-Gizzard, Bull sits at a table spread with cannons, battered ships and side dishes including gun-boats, complaining ungraciously about the excess of victories on offer.
Opposite Bull, Lord Horatio Nelson offers a main course of Fricassée à la Nelson, while a List of French Ships Taken Burnt and Destroyed hangs from his pocket. A variety of further dishes are proffered by other heroic British admirals symbolizing previous naval triumphs. A large frothing jug of True British Stout on the floor decorated with the Royal Arms further reinforces the exaltation of British superiority, while, outside the window, members of the opposition, including Charles James Fox, are seen in flight .
The New Dynasty; – or – the little Corsican Gardiner planting a Royal Pippin Tree
This print depicts Napoleon planting new dynasties in his expanding Empire with the help of his his Minister of Foreign Affairs Talleyrand. The Pippin Tree represents the genealogy of Lord Moira, who was seen as a Whig overly sympathetic to the French and boastful of his own supposed royal lineage. The “”Royal Oak”” of British constitutionalism is hacked at by supposed domestic sympathisers; fellow Whig MPs Lord Howick, Lord Grenville, and the Marquis of Buckingham.
Details shown below;
The Royal Pippins
The royal pippins behind Napoleon, which have already been planted and have taken root, forming the ‘Imperial Garden.’ Already grafted are the rulers for Etruria, Wurtemburg, Saxon, Holland, and Italy—Napoleon’s Empire at the time of publication.
The Royal Pippin Tree
The Royal Pippin Trees itself bears the crowned head of Lord Moira and the brances and roots bear derogatory memorials of his ancestors, including William the Norman Robber (William I) and Crooked backed Richard (Richard III). Gillray implicates Lord Moira as a Whig overly sympathetic to the French and boastful of his own supposed royal lineage.
‘Grafts of King Pippins’
Gillray highlights the potential future nature of Napoleon’s threat to Britain as on the ground we see a basket labelled ‘Grafts of King Pippins for Brentford, Wimbledon, and Botley’, and carries the crowned heads of prominent reformists (all charged with treason) Horne Tooke, Cobbett, and Burdett.
Napoleon planing a new Royal Pippin Tree
Gillray satirizes the direction of Napoleon’s ambitions by showing him planting a new Royal Pippin Tree to create new royal dynasties himself. Napoleon achieves this with the help of his Corsican Grafting Knife; a poke at his own, less grand lineage.
Talleyrand, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Napoleon is assisted by his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Talleyrand, a skilled and influential diplomat, who digs the hole for his Emperor. In his pocket, a piece of paper reads ‘projet pour aggrandiser les Jardins Imperials’, roughly translated as project to aggrandise the Imperial Gardens.
Lord Howick, the Marquis of Buckingham
The oak is being hewn by Lord Howick, the Marquis of Buckingham, and Lord Grenville; representing some of the ‘Ministry of All the Talents’, founded upon the death of Pitt. Grenville has a crucifix hanging from his back and wields a Catholic Cleaver, indicating his unpopular support for Catholic Emancipation.
Chopping down of the Royal Oak
Meanwhile, the Royal Oak is being chopped down. Representing the British monarchy, it also bears the fruit of ‘Protestant Faith, Integrity of the Lords, Liberty of the Press and Independence of the Commons’, thereby also symbolising the British constitution.
From the streets of Sunderland to the steps of Whitehall: Origins of the role of chief medical officer
The outbreak of cholera in Sunderland in 1831 brought about the catalyst for the UK Government to begin thinking seriously about the health of the nation.
Public health champions with local connections (including one of the first and most famous alumni of Newcastle University) brought scientific approaches to preventing disease and raising awareness of the hazardous conditions the majority of the population lived in. It was these breakthroughs that led to the first Public Health Act of 1848 and the first Chief Medical Officer to advise the Government on Public Health issues in 1855.
King Cholera enters England via Sunderland
Prior to 1829, “Cholera Morbus” epidemics had been isolated to India and Asia, killing hundreds of thousands, including British soldiers posted abroad.
It is now known to be a bacterial disease caused by contaminated food and water supplies. Because of its major ports and trade centres, as well as poor sanitation and living conditions, it was the North East that first experienced Cholera in this country, which went on to kill an estimated 55,000 nationwide.
The first victim died on 23 October 1831 in Sunderland and it quickly reached Gateshead and beyond. Because of a lack of local or even central disease control, the causes of cholera were largely misunderstood even with the establishment of Local Boards of Health in badly affected areas and its spread was not properly addressed. The reign of “King Cholera”, became a call to action for the Government and medical profession to work together in order to protect the health of the population.
Cleaning up towards a public health act
Through the culmination of the pioneering Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain in 1842 by philanthropist and civil servant Sir Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890) and a fresh outbreak of cholera in 1848, claiming 52,000 lives, poor sanitation in England became the focus of the Government’s efforts to curb disease epidemics. These were sound assumptions; sewerage, water supplies and housing were largely inadequate and “nuisances” such as refuse and animal waste in the streets, made the lives of the general population hazardous and short. The average life expectancy was 40 in the 1850s and as low as 26 in some urban areas.
Chadwick himself was instrumental in the passing of the first Public Health Act in 1848; a major milestone. Its aims were to improve sanitation through the creation of a General Board of Health and provision for Local Boards of Health to oversee reforms. These could be imposed by the General Board if death rates in an area exceeded twenty-three in a thousand. Although these institutions were largely overworked and underfunded and had little remit beyond sanitation, they succeeded in bringing the true plight of the working people of England to the attention of the policy makers.
Chadwick himself was instrumental in the passing of the first Public Health Act in 1848; a major milestone. Its aims were to improve sanitation through the creation of a General Board of Health and provision for Local Boards of Health to oversee reforms. These could be imposed by the General Board if death rates in an area exceeded twenty-three in a thousand. Although these institutions were largely overworked and underfunded and had little remit beyond sanitation, they succeeded in bringing the true plight of the working people of England to the attention of the policy makers.
A first class answer to cholera
The roots of the cholera epidemic can be traced back to the North East, but so can the solution to its cause and prevention.
When the first School of Medicine and Surgery opened in Newcastle in 1832, which the University as we know it emerged from, one of the eight students was a John Snow (1813-1858), an apprentice to a surgeon in Benton. He attended to the poor during the cholera epidemic, witnessing the disease first hand; an experience that was to define his medical legacy.
In 1849, Snow published the groundbreaking work On the Mode and Communication of Cholera theorizing that it was in fact a waterborne infection. He built on this through statistical experiments which proved that an 1854 cholera outbreak in Broad Street, London was caused by contamination of the water pump. Snow’s scientific research techniques into evidence, patterns and prevention identify him as one of the fathers of Epidemiology; the cornerstone of Public Health medicine.
Branching out: evolution of the Chief Medical Officer
The value demonstrated by Sir John Simon in the role has made the post of Chief Medical Officer an enduring one to date, but also one of the most difficult and misunderstood. For over 150 years, those charged with protecting the Nation’s Health have overseen multiple health crises, scientific medical breakthroughs, the birth of the NHS, and a more parental attitude towards the population’s well-being.
Through these challenges, they spoke as the head of the medical profession, chief independent advisors to the Government on all medical matters, but, above all, the Chief Medical Officers had to act in the interests of the public’s health.
Sir Liam Donaldson was born in Middlesbrough in 1949 into a medical family. His father Raymond “Paddy” Donaldson (1920-2005) was himself a Public Health champion and a local Medical Officer for Health in Rotherham and later Teesside. Like the first Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam initially opted for a career in surgery, gaining a Masters degree from the University of Birmingham in Anatomy.
After 2 years as a Surgical Registrar and teaching and research posts in the Midlands, gaining his Doctorate in 1982, Sir Liam changed his speciality to Public Health so his work could impact on populations rather than just individuals. He honed his skills and understanding of the discipline as a General Practitioner, but continued to be a force in academic medicine, including becoming Professor of Applied Epidemiology at Newcastle University in 1989.
A Chief Medical Officer in the making
It was in the North East that Sir Liam was able to gain the vital experience in Public Health Management that would ready him for the top job as Chief Medical Officer.
In 1986 he became Regional Medical Officer to the Northern Regional Health Authority, progressing to become Regional General Manager and Director of Public Health. He continued in these roles when the Northern and Yorkshire Regional Health Authorities merged in 1994, becoming responsible for the health needs of some 7 million people.
During this period, he responded to high profile local crises which received national media coverage, such as the Cleveland Child Abuse scandal. Sir Liam formative years also gave him the opportunity to develop the health agendas that would define his career.
A firm believer in the importance of high clinical performance, he is credited with the invention of Clinical Governance as a means of constant improvement in health care standards. He also successfully reduced waiting lists and created strategies for improving the health care and quality of life for local people.
Sir Liam’s initiatives during his 12 years in the North led to him to become the leading candidate to be Chief Medical Officer for England when Sir Kenneth Calman stepped down in 1998.
Without fear or fervour: the 15th Chief Medical Officer for England
Sir Liam’s time at the Department of Health was one of major reactive and proactive reform shaped by his vision of improving the health of the population.
Among his many achievements were the ban on smoking in public places, regulated stem-cell research, improvements to infectious disease control, and new systems to prioritise patient safety in the UK.
Acting as the bridge between Government and medical practitioners, he responded to high profile criticism of his profession through better safeguards. His trailblazing annual reports and significant campaigns meant he was also able to further his own health agendas for action on poor lifestyle choices, high quality health care and patient centred medicine.
The fire fighter: responding to crises
When a public inquiry in 1999 revealed that a large number of hospitals, notably Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and Bristol Royal Infirmary, had retained patient’s organs and tissues without family consent, Sir Liam was charged with leading the Government response. He commissioned a census to determine the scale of the problem and made significant recommendations for reform. These led to the Human Tissue Act 2004 to ensure the wishes of the deceased and their relatives came first.
A parallel crisis which similarly damaged public confidence in the medical profession was the murders carried out by Dr Harold Shipman. Sir Liam first established, through an audit of Shipman’s clinical practice, that he was likely to have been responsible for between 200 and 300 deaths. His response was to target how doctors were regulated and continually assessed. His recommendations formed the basis for changes to the General Medical Council and complaints procedures.
As early as 2004, Sir Liam had predicted the inevitability of a new strain of influenza becoming pandemic.
His work established the Health Protection Agency to lead responses to such outbreaks and those caused by bioterrorism. His extensive preparations and awareness campaigns proved well founded when in 2009 the H1N1 ‘Swine Flu’ virus became pandemic. Sir Liam put his plans to step down as Chief Medical Officer on hold to coordinate the response and was commended for his key role in lessening the potential impact.
The communicator: on the sate of the nation’s health
Annual Reports had been used to highlight the nation’s health issues since Sir Johns Simon’s first in 1858. Sir Liam aimed to write more accessible reports for a wide audience targeting the most serious problems with clear action points. These 9 influential reports led to considerable media coverage and both policy and legislative change.
Sir Liam’s repeated call for smoke-free public places and workplaces led to legislation being passed on 1 July 2007 with this outcome for England; a true public health landmark. By 2009, all cigarette products were also required to carry explicit health warnings.
He also continually drew attention to the damaging effects of poor lifestyle choices, such as obesity. He promoted the need for regular physical activity, which led to major policy changes and awareness campaigns on diet and well-being.
Similarly, Sir Liam produced guidance on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people in 2009 based on scientific research in an effort to change the way families view and use alcohol. His call for minimum pricing on alcohol was rejected by the Government in the same year; a move they were heavily criticised for. The fact it remains a policy agenda is testament to the value of Sir Liam’s tireless campaigning for the good of the Nation’s Health.
The Reformer: New Branches
As Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam wasted little in time in developing his concept of Clinical Governance; this means of measuring and continually improving on the performance of medical practioners and excellence in health care. His publications paved the way for the establishment of National Clinical Assessment Authority to monitor competency and, through statutory reforms, the NHS was required fot the first time to continuously improve the quality of their services.
At the heart of this like much of Sir Liam’s work, was the safety of patients where poor standards meant unnecessary risks. He identified the deficiencies in reporting, investigation and learning from mistakes as key to the problem. In 2002, the National Patient Safety Agency was created to collect data and encourage such reporting in order to prevent accidents happening again. Through reforms, the UK became a world leader in patient safety.
Under Sir Lian’s leadership, the scientific community also benefitted when he reviewed and made recommendations for less restrictive stem cell research. After consultation, he concluded that the potential to develop new tissues for a wide range of diseases and disorder through theraputic cloning was warranted. This laid the foundations for amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Emryology Act 1990, making regullated stem cell research legal and the UK to again become a world leader in this field.
Advancing health: an enduring legacy
Sir Liam retired from the post of Chief Medical Officer after 13 years in May 2010. He left England a world leader in patient safety, infectious disease control, and stem cell research and empowered the public to be more aware of the health risks they could help prevent. Like many of his predecessors, he acted without fear or political fervour and is recognised as one of the great Chief Medical Officers.
Sir Liam’s Public Health campaigns were not just a national call to action but a global one. The World Health Organization recognised the innovative work done in the UK on patient safety during Sir Liam’s time as Chief Medical Officer. He proposed a World Alliance for Patient Safety in 2003 to adopt global standards and support member states in this field. This was establishment a year later and, as a champion of patient safety, Sir Liam was chair from the inception.
Among the far reaching programmes developed here were collaborative networks for reporting and learning from mistakes in health care and the Global Patient Safety Challenge which generated commitment from governments covering 78% of the world’s population to reduce harm to patients.
Continuing this work, in July 2011 Sir Liam was named the World Health Organization’s Envoy for Patient Safety. His current role is to mobilise political support to address patient safety at international levels and propose strategic actions for collaboration.
The Public Responds: Awards and Recognition
Sir Liam set up the Public Health Awards in 2009 to acknowledge those who had made a strong impact in the field. Among many other honours, recognition of his own significant impact came when Sir Liam received a Knighthood in 2002 with his wife Brenda and parents “Paddy” and June in attendance.
It was of great privilege that Sir Liam accepted the invitation to become Chancellor of Newcastle University in 2009; recognition of his local roots and international achievements. He commented:
“Nothing could give me greater pride than taking up the post of Chancellor in such a great city and in a university fit for the challenges of the 21st Century.“
Sir Liam Donaldson, 2009
In his first act as Chancellor, Sir Liam showed recognition to some of his personal heroes with honorary degrees, including surgeon Lord Ara Darzi, who he worked closely with on National Health Service reforms, and Newcastle United footballing icon Alan Shearer.
King Edward’s Chair, or, The Coronation Chair, is the throne on which the British monarch sits during their coronation. It was commissioned in 1296 by King Edward I to contain the coronation stone of Scotland, the Stone of Scone, which he had captured from the Scots. The chair was named after Edward the Confessor and was kept in his chapel at Westminster Abbey. Since 1308, with only a few exceptions, anointed sovereigns of England have been seated in this chair at the moment of their coronation. It is the coveted ‘throne’: fought for, and sought by, so many claimants over the years. To sit upon it was to be made monarch.
Throughout history there have been a huge number of claimants to the English throne. Some have posed more serious threats than others and some have even successfully usurped reigning monarchs. Thus, over the centuries, those in power have kept a close eye on their rivals and potential heirs to the throne.
Female claimants, whilst rarely considered as posing as significant a threat as their male counterparts, have arisen over the years. Queen Elizabeth I was herself accused of trying to overthrow Queen Mary I in 1554 and, when Elizabeth was Queen, she was so fearful that Mary, Queen of Scots planned to usurp her, that she eventually had her executed in 1587.
Women have been watched especially with regard to their choice of husband in fear that a wisely-chosen matrimonial union could have strengthened their claims to the throne. Although some claimants never showed any desire to become Queens, their very existence was considered threatening.
This exhibition looks at five women throughout history who came close to the English throne but whom, through war, death, imprisonment or bad luck, never became crowned as Queen. Had any of these women ascended to the throne English history could have been quite different and the modern royal family unrecognisable …
Empress Matilda (1102-1167)
Matilda of England was born in 1102. Matilda and her younger brother were the only children of King Henry I and Matilda of Scotland to survive to adulthood. The death of her brother, in 1120, made Matilda the last heir from the paternal line of her grandfather, William the Conqueror.
At twelve years old, Matilda was married to Henry V, the Holy Roman Emperor. After his death she returned to England and, in 1128, married Geoffrey of Anjou with whom she had three sons. Before Matilda’s father died in 1135 there were several contenders for the throne: Robert of Gloucester (the illegitimate son of Henry I); Stephen of Blois (Matilda’s cousin); Stephen’s older brother, Theobald; and Matilda (Henry’s only surviving legitimate child). Henry named Matilda as his heir and made the barons of England swear allegiance to her. Stephen was the first to do so but, when Henry died, he seized the throne, claiming that Henry had changed his mind on his deathbed. Stephen gained the support of the majority of the nobles as well as that of the Pope and his early reign was peaceful. Matilda then began military campaigns to re-claim her birthright.
Matilda’s half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, campaigned for her in England and she invaded in 1139. In 1141, her forces defeated and captured Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln. He was effectively deposed and she briefly ruled. Matilda went by the title ‘Lady of the English’ and planned to become Queen. She lost support when she refused to reduce taxes and the citizens of London re-started the civil war.
Stephen was freed in exchange for the captured Robert of Gloucester and, a year later, the tables were turned when Matilda was besieged at Oxford. She escaped by fleeing across the snow in a white cape and crossing the frozen River Thames. She also later escaped Devizes in a similar manner, by disguising herself as a corpse and being carried out.
By 1148, after many failed attempts, Matilda accepted that she would never be Queen. Her eldest son, Henry, took up her cause and repeatedly invaded England. This led to the Treaty of Wallingford in 1153, in which Stephen agreed to name Henry as his heir. Matilda died in 1167 and is buried in Rouen Cathedral, where her grave is marked by the epitaph below:
The Ladies Catherine (1540-1568) and Mary Grey (1545-1578)
When King Edward VII lay dying, he nominated his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor to prevent his catholic sister, Mary, becoming queen. Jane ruled for nine days in July 1553 before Queen Mary I seized the throne that was rightfully hers according to Henry VIII’s will. Jane was imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed, along with her father and husband in 1554. The ladies Catherine and Mary Grey were the younger sisters of Lady Jane Grey and cousins to Queen Elizabeth I. After Jane’s execution they both had claims to the throne as granddaughters of Mary Tudor, the younger sister of King Henry VIII. (Their parents were Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk and Lady Frances Brandon.) Neither Catherine nor Mary were as religious as the fervently Protestant Jane and this probably saved them from becoming the focus of Protestant plots whilst Mary I was on the throne.
Lady Catherine Grey was born in 1540. She was married to Henry Herbert, in 1553 (on the same day her sister Jane married Guilford Dudley). When Elizabeth I came to the throne, in November 1558, Catherine’s availability as a possible heir came to the fore. At one point the Queen seemed to be warming to Catherine and it was rumoured that she was considering adopting her. As Catherine was a possible heir to the throne, Elizabeth had to consider a suitable marriage for her. The best match would have been one that would not threaten her reign, but could bring some political advantages to England if Catherine were indeed to succeed her. A union between Catherine and the Earl of Arran (a young nobleman with a strong claim to the Scottish throne) was envisaged.
In December 1560, Catherine secretly married Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford. Not having the Queen’s official permission to wed proved disastrous. Elizabeth had decided to send Edward on an educational tour of Europe. Catherine, who had fallen pregnant before Edward left, managed to conceal the marriage from everyone. However, in her eighth month of pregnancy she knew she would have to ask someone to plead for her with the Queen. She first confided in Bess of Hardwick, who was frightened about the consequences of knowing such a secret and refused to listen. Catherine then secretly visited Lord Robert Dudley, in his bedroom in the middle of the night and told him her story, but the next day he reported everything to Elizabeth. Elizabeth was furious that her cousin had married without her permission and thus thwarted plans for her to marry the Earl of Arran.
The unmarried Elizabeth feared that Catherine would give birth to a son and start a rebellion. Thus Catherine was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where Edward joined her on his return to England. The Lieutenant of the Tower permitted husband and wife to secretly visit one another and, as a result, they had two sons: Edward Seymour, Lord Beauchamp, born in 1561 and Thomas Seymour, born in 1563. In 1562 their marriage was declared invalid and their sons illegitimate. After the birth of their second child, the Queen ordered their permanent separation. Catherine was moved from one location to another under house arrest, eventually ending up at Cockfield Hall in Yoxford, Suffolk. There, she died in 1568, at the age of twenty seven, from consumption.
Lady Mary Grey was born in 1545. She was reportedly slightly deformed and was described by her contemporaries as the smallest person at court. Like her sister Catherine, Mary angered Queen Elizabeth I by marrying without royal consent. Her marriage to Thomas Keyes, the Sergeant Porter, in 1563 resulted, two years later, in her imprisonment in the Tower of London. (The marriage had surprised many since Keyes was an unusually large man whose height contrasted with that of the tiny Mary.) It is possible Mary thought that by marrying someone of such lowly rank, Elizabeth would see her as no threat.
When Catherine died, Mary was brought to prominence as the last surviving grandchild of Mary Tudor. Since Catherine’s children were considered to be illegitimate, some people regarded Mary as heiress presumptive to the English throne. She remained under house arrest until 1572 and was permitted to attend Court occasionally. In spite of the intrigue surrounding her, it does not appear that Mary ever made a serious claim to the throne. Rather, it seems her life was ruined by her royal blood. She died childless and in some poverty, in 1578, at the age of thirty three.
Lady Arbella Stuart (1575-1615)
Lady Arbella Stuart (sometimes spelled Arabella) was born in 1575 and was considered a possible successor to Queen Elizabeth I. The only child of Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox, and Elizabeth Cavendish, Arbella was a direct descendant of King Henry VII. Through the paternal line, she was the great-granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister. Both Arbella’s parents died before she was seven and she was raised by her grandmother, Bess of Hardwick.
Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558. As a woman, a Protestant, and having been declared a bastard after the execution of her mother, Anne Boleyn, in 1536, there were many who felt her claim to the throne was weak and as a result she always felt insecure and at risk from rebellions. Although Arbella’s claim to the throne was even weaker, Elizabeth feared her as she did all potential rivals, and kept a close eye on her throughout her life. It is likely that she preferred the idea of Arbella succeeding her rather than being succeeded by her Catholic cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. However, towards the end of her reign her close advisor, William Cecil, convinced her that Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, who had been raised as a Protestant, should be her successor. There is no evidence that Arbella ever challenged this.
Towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign, there were reports that Arbella intended to secretly marry Edward Seymour. Arbella denied having any intention of marrying without the Queen’s permission. She was interviewed about her plans in the Long Gallery of Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, in 1603.
Arbella found herself in trouble again when King James VI of Scotland ascended to the English throne and a plot was devised to overthrow him and replace him with Arbella. The main plot was devised by Arbella’s cousin, Lord Cobham, and Sir Walter Raleigh was among those involved. However, when Arbella was invited to participate by agreeing to it in writing, she reported the plan to James, thus escaping possible imprisonment herself.
In 1610, Arbella secretly married William Seymour, Lord Beauchamp, who later succeeded as 2nd Duke of Somerset. William Seymour also had royal blood as the grandson of Lady Catherine Grey. For marrying without royal permission, King James imprisoned them: Arbella in the custody of Sir Thomas Perry and Seymour in the Tower of London. The couple had some liberty within their prisons and were able to plan their escape.
In June 1611, Arbella dressed as a man and escaped to Kent. A proclamation issued on King James’ behalf stated that they had committed “great and heinous offences” and called upon all persons not to “receive, harbour or assist them in their passage” but to try and apprehend them and hold them in custody. However, it also stated that their intent was to “transport themselves into foreigne parts“. Thus, James must have known that Arbella posed no real threat to his throne and simply wished to escape to be with her husband. William did not arrive at the meeting place and so Arbella set sail for France without him. He had, however, escaped and was on the next ship to Flanders. By this time the alarm had been raised and ships sent after them. Arbella’s boat was within sight of Calais when she insisted upon stopping and waiting for William. This fatal pause allowed her captors to catch up to her and she was forced to surrender whilst, unbeknownst to her, William escaped. Arbella was returned to England and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
When Arbella fell ill in the tower in 1614, it was suspected she was faking illness either in order to escape or to gain sympathy. However, she refused both food and medical attention and was said by some to be delusional towards the end, believing William was coming to rescue her. When she eventually died in 1615 a post-mortem had to be carried out to rule out poisoning. It found that she had died slowly of starvation caused by her own negligence. It has been suggested that Arbella had porphyria, the disease George III and Mary, Queen of Scots are believed to have suffered from. This would explain both her physical and mental symptoms: porphyria can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, seizures and paranoia. She never saw her husband again and is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Princess Charlotte (1796-1817)
Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales was born in 1796. She was the only child of George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV) and Caroline of Brunswick. As the only legitimate grandchild of George III, she would have become Queen if she hadn’t died in childbirth in 1817, at the age of twenty one.
Charlotte’s parents disliked each other and separated soon after Charlotte’s birth. Prince George left Charlotte’s care to governesses and allowed her only limited contact with her mother. As Charlotte grew to adulthood, her father pressured her to marry William, Hereditary Prince of Orange, but after initially accepting him, Charlotte soon broke off the match. This caused much upset between her and her father, including him placing her under house arrest for several months. He finally permitted her to marry Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.
The wedding took place in 1816 and huge crowds attended. It is believed that Charlotte suffered two miscarriages in quick succession after the wedding but, by early 1817, she was pregnant again and it seemed to be progressing well. Her pregnancy was the subject of much public interest, with people placing bets on the sex of the child. Charlotte’s contractions began on 3rd November, but the labour lasted for two days and she eventually gave birth to a stillborn boy on 5th November. Charlotte took the news calmly, stating it was the will of God. She seemed to be recovering but not long after the birth she began bleeding heavily and died soon afterwards.
After Charlotte’s death, there was a huge outpouring of public grief and the whole country went into deep mourning. Linen-drapers reportedly ran out of black cloth and the country shut down almost entirely for two weeks, including the banks and courts. With the loss of his only heir, Prince George was inconsolable and unable to attend Charlotte’s funeral and Princess Caroline fainted in shock when she heard the news. However, it was Charlotte’s husband of just over a year who felt the greatest loss – he was said to be utterly devastated at the deaths of both his wife and son. Many elegies and poems were written about Charlotte, lamenting the loss of the heir to the throne and hope for the future.
It wasn’t long before people looked for someone to blame for the tragedy. Although the post-mortem was inconclusive, many blamed Charlotte’s physician, Sir Richard Croft, and three months after her death, he killed himself. This led to significant changes in obstetric practice, with intervention in long labour becoming more commonplace and acceptable.
Princess Charlotte was buried, with her son at her feet, in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 19th November 1817. A monument was erected, by public subscription, at her tomb. People lined the streets along the funeral route from Claremont to Windsor to pay their respects to her. The mass public mourning is comparable with the outpouring of grief witnessed when Princess Diana died in 1997. With a mad king on the throne and an unpopular Prince of Wales, many had looked forward to Charlotte’s ascension to the throne and the new uncertainty about the succession accentuated the sense of grief felt by the British public.
What if they had been Queen?
Empress Matilda As her son, Henry, acceded to the throne after Stephen, Matilda’s being Queen wouldn’t have changed the succession. However, if she, as a woman, had become a reigning monarch in the Twelfth Century, then it is possible that we may have seen another queen before Mary I in 1553. Also, if Matilda had been a successful queen then perhaps future kings, such as Henry VIII, would have been less concerned with the need to provide a male heir to the throne.
Lady Catherine and Lady Mary Grey Although there was a good chance that either Catherine or Mary would become Queen, neither of them aspired to the throne and after the failed attempt to make their sister, Jane, Queen they could not count on a great deal of support from nobles who had no desire to lose their heads. Furthermore, neither of them was deeply Protestant, like Jane, and therefore they weren’t a viable alternative to the Catholic Mary I. As it turned out, neither of them lived long lives and it is likely that even if they had ruled, the reign would have been brief and relatively insignificant.
Arbella Stuart It is difficult to say whether or not Arbella desired to be Queen. On one hand she never made any attempt to seize the throne but she had been raised as royalty and her romantic assignations suggest ambition. Even if she had been named as Elizabeth’s heir, James would almost certainly have tried to claim the throne himself and, as a man and King already, would have garnered considerable support. If James had died young, his son, Charles would have eventually tried to take the throne. As her claim wasn’t as strong as theirs, it would have made for a very unsettled reign for Arbella.
Princess Charlotte Charlotte’s death left the king without any legitimate grandchildren and his other sons were urged to marry. George III’s fourth son, Prince Edward, dismissed his mistress and proposed to Leopold’s sister, Victoria. Their daughter, Princess Victoria of Kent, born in 1819, became heir and then Queen. Her uncle Leopold helped arrange her marriage to his nephew, Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. If Charlotte had not died then Victoria may never even have been born, and our current royal family would be descended from Charlotte instead.
26th November 2010 marked the bicentenary of the birth of Lord Armstrong. William George Armstrong, Baron Armstrong of Cragside (1810-1900) was a scientist, engineer, inventor and businessman. His work and achievements brought him world renown and fixed Newcastle and the North East of England firmly on the science and engineering map.
This exhibition examines aspects of the life of Lord Armstrong, the contributions he made, and the legacy he created, using resources held in the Philip Robinson Library’s Special Collections and Archives.
With thanks to Mr. Robert Sopwith for his kind permission to reproduce quotations and images from Thomas Sopwith’s journal and the photograph of Armstrong with Thomas Sopwith, and to Henrietta Heald for supplying digital copies of those images.
Our Talented Young Townsman
William George Armstrong was born on 26th November 1810 at Shieldfield in Newcastle upon Tyne. He was the only son of William Armstrong, a corn merchant and local politician. Abiding by his father’s wishes, Armstrong pursued a career in Law upon leaving school, taking articles under the wealthy Newcastle solicitor and family friend Armorer Donkin. Armstrong was a good solicitor, but his passion lay elsewhere.
From an early age he had possessed a fascination with all things scientific and mechanical which remained with him into adulthood, culminating in the establishment of W.G. Armstrong & Co. and seeing him develop from being an amateur engineer conducting experiments in his spare time to a member of the science and engineering establishment, becoming a fellow of the Royal Society at the age of only thirty-five and a celebrated figure in his home town.
The Newcastle solicitor Armorer Donkin was a key figure in Armstrong’s life. Donkin had been a close friend of Armstrong’s father, William Armstrong Senior, since before Armstrong was born. Recollections of holidays spent as a child at Donkin’s country home near Rothbury in Northumberland would inspire Armstrong in later life to build his own home, Cragside, there.
As an apprentice solicitor Armstrong took articles under Donkin, becoming his partner in the firm, Donkin, Stable & Armstrong, in 1835. Donkin supported Armstrong’s engineering ambitions, allowing him to pursue his scientific research while practising as a solicitor with the firm. When Armstrong decided that the Law was not his true vocation, Donkin supported his decision to resign and instead went into business with him. When Donkin died in 1851 he left Armstrong his considerable fortune.
A turning point in Armstrong’s life came in 1835 when, during a fishing trip in Yorkshire, his attention was captured by what he recognised to be an inefficient use of water in a water-wheel. Over the next ten years, he devoted his spare time to developing the effective use of water as a motive power, and his tireless work culminated in his demonstration, to great applause, of a model hydraulic crane at the Literary and Philosophical Society (or Lit & Phil) in Newcastle in December, 1845.
Armstrong convinced the local council to allow him to convert an existing crane on the quayside for the use of hydraulic power and, in 1846, established the Newcastle Cranage Company in partnership with Armorer Donkin and others to manufacture machinery using his hydraulic technology. In 1847, the partners formed W.G. Armstrong & Co and founded the Elswick Engine Works later the same year. Armstrong finally resigned from his solicitor’s job shortly afterwards.
An account of Armstrong’s demonstration of his hydraulic crane at the Lit & Phil was published in this pamphlet, which recorded that:
“A beautiful model representing a portion of the quay of this town with a crane upon it, adapted to work by the action of the water in the street pipes, was placed upon the floor, and several diagrams… were exhibited on the walls.”
The Whittle Dean Water Company
Armstrong was also the driving force behind the Whittle Dean Water Company which was formed in 1845 to supply Newcastle and Gateshead with a fresh water supply from newly-created reservoirs at Whittle Dean, about a mile north west of the village of Horsley in Northumberland.
From there, the water would flow along pipes through Wylam, Newburn and Lemington to Newcastle and Gateshead. Water would be supplied directly to every house and building, dispensing with the need for pumps and communal stand-pipes and ensuring a supply of water to every house. Armstrong became Secretary to the company and Donkin, Stable & Armstrong acted as its solicitors.
The Company’s prospectus was published early in 1845 with the purpose of attracting potential shareholders. In addition to outlining the way in which the proposed system would work, the Prospectus also listed its potential benefits; in addition to the relief of poor families from carrying water at a distance, the Company asserted that the new water supply would have the added advantage of being:
“the means of preventing those promiscuous assemblages of young persons, while waiting for the water where it is sold, of which the demoralising tendency is severely commented upon in the evidence published by the Health of Towns Commission“. 1
This copy of the prospectus carries a manuscript annotation directing prospective shareholders to apply to Donkin, Stable & Armstrong and contains a plan of the proposed line of pipes and reservoirs, accompanied by a sketch of the comparative levels of the reservoirs above Newcastle.
The Armstrong Effect
During this early period of his career Armstrong’s imagination was also captured by an aspect of science which would become one of his greatest loves: electricity.
When in 1840 workers at Cramlington Colliery in Northumberland began to experience electric shocks from steam escaping at high-pressure from a boiler, Armstrong applied his capabilities to establishing and describing the cause of the phenomenon, later named The Armstrong Effect in his honour. He published a series of papers on the effect and developed a spark-inducing hydroelectric machine which he exhibited at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle to an audience so large that he had to enter the lecture hall through a window! His discovery led to him being elected a fellow of the Royal Society in May 1846.
The ballad, The ‘Lectric Leet, written in Tyneside dialect by an unknown composer and published in 1851, describes what appears to have been an experiment producing electric light. It is thought to have been written in response to one of Armstrong’s demonstrations of his hydroelectric machine2 and certainly illustrates the extent to which electricity was capturing the popular imagination in Newcastle at this time, thanks chiefly to Armstrong. The first two verses of the ballad read:
Aw heer’d a greet buz, an’ seed sic a bleeze, Aw rushed awa’ oot, an’ gat sic a squeeze As myed me just twee inches langer, begox! Didn’t aw suffer wiv the greet hevy knocks! The new fangled leet, the dazzlin’ leet, It vary nigh carried away ma eye seet.
When aw luiked aboot, aw seed sic a leet, Abuv the full muin it shined oot sae breet, Aw rubbed maw eyes, man, an’ swore that the day Had com’ back aghen afore neet went away. The new fangled leet, the dazzlin’ leet, It vary nigh carried away ma eye seet. 3
Robert Spence Watson, the local reformer, politician and writer, and an associate of Armstrong, remarked that, by this period, the local papers of the day referred to Armstrong as “Our talented young townsman”.4 Indeed, just a few years after the establishment of the Elswick Works he was held in high esteem in engineering and industry circles, attending important events and fraternising with other prominent local figures.
A list of toasts from a dinner held for the Chairman of the Coal Trade, held at the Assembly Rooms in Newcastle on 22nd October 1850, shows that Armstrong was in attendance at the event and was given the honour of addressing one of the after-dinner toasts, to the Railway Interest. Armstrong would have dined well that evening, for the dinner menu confirms this to have been a lavish affair, suggesting something of the lifestyle to which, by now, Armstrong would have been becoming accustomed.5
The Great Elswick Works
The newly-formed W.G. Armstrong & Co. began production at the Elswick Works on 1st October 1847. Their first order came from Jesse Hartley, the engineer at the Albert Dock in Liverpool and, as the hydraulic technology was adapted to other types of machinery, the business grew from strength to strength. The firm’s contracts included manufacturing hydraulic mining machinery for the lead mines at Allenheads in Northumberland and a hydraulic engine for operating the printing press at the Newcastle Daily Chronicle. 6
Orders were received from all over the country, and then from all over the world. The business evolved through many incarnations over the decades, continuing to manufacture hydraulic machinery but also entering the field of armament production and, later, ship building, becoming widely-known as “The Great Elswick Works”.
Elswick’s Early Days
This detail from a map dated 1849 shows the Elswick Works two years after their establishment. The Works were set in 5.5 acres of land on the estate of Elswick near to the village of Scotswood, just to the west of Newcastle.
At the time of the factory’s establishment the area was a spot of great natural beauty, encompassing green fields and open spaces leading down to the banks of the Tyne. The centre of the river opposite the works was occupied by King’s Meadows island upon which, amongst other things, was situated a public house, the Countess of Coventry.
Growth & Expansion
In this map from 1898, two years before Armstrong’s death and over fifty years since the Elswick Works were first founded, the expansion of the factory site can be clearly seen, along with its effects on the surrounding area, with the appearance of densely packed rows of workmen’s houses and the disappearance of King’s Meadows island, which was removed by the Tyne Commissioners to allow the passage of large ships to and from the Elswick Works and other factories.
The Armstrong Gun
In the 1850s, Armstrong moved into the field of armament production when he developed a revolutionary new type of field gun in response to the high loss of life experienced during the Crimean War and was subsequently commissioned to supply the War Office with the new gun. The Armstrong Gun carried crucial innovations, including the ability to breech-load and the use of elongated lead projectiles instead of cast iron balls as ammunition.
Armstrong carried out the testing of his gun on the moors at Allenheads in Northumberland where his close friend and fellow engineer Thomas Sopwith was the chief agent for W.B. Lead Mines. Sopwith’s journal accounts (available on microfilm) are a valuable window onto some of the key events and moments in Armstrong’s life.
Of his friend Sopwith wrote:
“I have had many opportunities of witnessing his devotion to Science and his marvellous aptitude in adapting the power of natural forces to any required mechanical purpose”. 7
Sopwith’s journal includes an account of the Armstrong Gun Trials, and he accompanied his account with a lively watercolour sketch of the occasion.
International arms dealer
When in 1862 the government ended its contract with the Elswick Works, Armstrong went on to sell armaments indiscriminately to foreign countries. Although this seemed controversial to some, Armstrong felt justified in doing so. He reasoned that:
“it is in our province, as engineers, to make the forces of matter obedient to the will of man; and those who use the means we supply must be responsible for their legitimate application”.8
Many agreed and appreciated his achievements but Armstrong’s contribution to developing the tools of warfare would cast an inevitable shadow over his otherwise bright memory. Upon his death in 1900, the Newcastle Daily Chronicle remarked:
“There is something that appals the imagination in the application of a cool and temperate mind like Lord Armstrong’s to the science of destruction.” 9
Although later in its existence Armstrong took less of a personal involvement in the day-to-day running of the business, he was fiercely proud of the Elswick Works and what he had achieved there. During the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Newcastle in 1884 he stated that:
“an inspection of our places of industry which omits a view of the Elswick Works is rather like the play of Hamlet, with the part of the prince left out”.10
Armstrong the employer
As the business flourished and grew, Armstrong became an important employer on Tyneside. He took his responsibilities as an employer seriously and concerned himself with the welfare of his workers, founding a Literary and Mechanics Institute for them as well as a school. However, workers at Elswick joined with workers from other factories in the Nine Hours’ Strike in 1871, campaigning for a shorter working day. In common with other employers, Armstrong took a firm stance against the striking workers, and was viewed by many as being a cold, remote figure who was out of touch with his workers.
In a pamphlet published by the Nine Hours’ Movement, which details the dialogue between the employers, represented by Armstrong, and their workers during the strike, some of Armstrong’s letters to the workers are reprinted in full. In one such letter, Armstrong wrote:
“However desirable a reduction in the hours of labour may be, the decision of the question must rest on commercial, and not sentimental considerations.” 11
In 1876 the river passage was opened up further when the River Tyne Commissioners demolished the old stone bridge over the Tyne, which had been too low to allow the passage of large ships, and replaced it with a swing bridge which could pivot around on a central pier to provide access for ships when required. The mechanism was powered by Armstrong’s own hydraulic technology and, despite the bridge weighing 1450 tons, was reported in a contemporary account to move around “as quietly and apparently as easily as a parlour door upon its hinges” and was described as being “one of the sights of Newcastle.” 12
The guns manufactured at Elswick gradually grew in size, and eventually were large enough to arm war ships. A defining moment in the history of the Elswick Works, and one which confirmed its greatness, was the shipping of one of Elswick’s immense 100-ton guns from Elswick to Italy on the Italian ship Europa in 1876. The ship was the first vessel to pass through the channel of the new swing bridge, which in turn was the first bridge of its type in the world.
The ship was carrying the largest gun in the world which, upon its arrival in Italy, was hoisted by an Elswick-manufactured 180-ton hydraulic crane, the largest in the world of its type.
As Armstrong amassed great wealth from his engineering successes, he became a great benefactor to his native Newcastle. His contributions, however, were not just financial, for he also applied his ideas and expertise, and donated his time and effort, for the greater good of the inhabitants not only of his native Newcastle, but also of the North East region and beyond.
Saviour of Hartley Steam Coals
When in 1854 the British Government opted to cease using coal mined at Hartley in Northumberland for powering its naval ships in favour of Welsh coal, on the grounds that Hartley coal produced too much smoke, Armstrong was instrumental in investigating and disproving these claims.
He formed part of a three-man team in charge of awarding a £500 premium offered by the Steam Collieries Association of Newcastle for the best method of preventing smoke in the combustion of the coal. The experiments carried out in the process proved effective methods for eliminating smoke entirely and the results were published in a series of three reports published from 1857-58. The reputation of Hartley coal was thus saved, which carried significant implications for the local economy at a time when the British Empire was expanding and the merchant steam navies along with it. 13
In 1880, Armstrong presented the landscaped park of Jesmond Dene as a gift for the benefit of the inhabitants of Newcastle, with an additional gift of land in 1883.
The park, known initially as Armstrong Park, was officially opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales during their visit to Newcastle in 1884. A special volume was published to commemorate the royal visit, carrying a striking coloured plan of the park and bearing a dedication to Armstrong in gratitude for his “princely gifts” to the town’s inhabitants.
Armstrong made numerous and generous financial donations to charitable institutions in and around Newcastle, including the Northern Counties Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, the Hospital for Sick Children, The Royal Victoria Infirmary and the Prudhoe Memorial Convalescent Home. This subscription list for the Prudhoe Convalescent Home records a donation of £2000 made by Armstrong. In today’s money, this would amount to in the region of £100,000.
Lit & Phil
In 1859, Armstrong contributed £1200 (in the region of £50,000 in today’s money) for the construction of a new lecture theatre for the Lit & Phil Society in Newcastle. He, and his father before him, had had a long association with the Lit & Phil and he served as its President for many years. Given his generous contributions to the provision of its lecture facilities, it is perhaps not surprising that Armstrong held strong views on how they were used. In 1883 he wrote to the committee of the Society, expressing his displeasure at the subject matter of a recent lecture on an economic issue:
I am quite at a loss to understand how the Committee of the Society can have been induced to grant the use of the Lecture room for a discourse on such a subject as the “Unearned Increment”. It appears to me that they might just as well have permitted a lecture on the proper functions of the clergy, or on the disestablishment of the church, or on the progress of rationalism, none of such subjects would have been more calculated to stir up disaffection in the Society than that which has been countenanced by the Committee & expounded by an ecclesiastic member of the Society.
I would fain hope that the action of the Committee in this case has arisen from inadvertence but as President of the Society I must be allowed to say that I most strongly deprecate the introduction of lectures upon any controversial subjects which are neither literary nor philosophical in their nature. 14
College of Physical Science
Armstrong provided substantial financial and practical support towards the foundation in Newcastle of a College of Physical Science, ultimately to evolve into Newcastle University. He acted as Chairman for the College’s executive committee, made generous subscriptions to the College fund and put his influential name to the subscription appeal, winning the support of his fellow local industrialists.
Armstrong laid the foundation stone of the new college building in 1887 and ten years later he presented it with the equipment which he had used to conduct his experiments into electrical discharges; the valuable equipment formed the nucleus of the Electrical Laboratory in the Physics Department of the College. After his death in 1900, the college fund became the Armstrong Memorial Fund, and it was agreed to rename the college Armstrong College in his honour.
In this letter from Robert Spence Watson, who acted as the College’s legal advisor, to Armstrong, Spence Watson discusses with him matters relating to the purchase of lands for the College and the raising of subscriptions to the fund, in reply to a letter from Armstrong on the subject:
I have forwarded your letter to Professor Garnett & have asked him to write direct to you upon the subject. There can be no question that we have no money whatever to spend on speculation but if I understand the matter rightly we should be able at this site to have two acres for the price at which we could have one acre at the Singleton House site… We have not yet made any applications for subscriptions. We have one other promise of £1,000 as well as a promise of £50 a year but these have been made without any application being put out. The Council considered that we could not apply for subscriptions until we had definite plans to lay before the public. 15
In this letter from Robert Spence Watson, who acted as the College’s legal advisor, to Armstrong, Spence Watson discusses with him matters relating to the purchase of lands for the College and the raising of subscriptions to the fund, in reply to a letter from Armstrong on the subject:
“I have forwarded your letter to Professor Garnett & have asked him to write direct to you upon the subject. There can be no question that we have no money whatever to spend on speculation but if I understand the matter rightly we should be able at this site to have two acres for the price at which we could have one acre at the Singleton House site… We have not yet made any applications for subscriptions. We have one other promise of £1,000 as well as a promise of £50 a year but these have been made without any application being put out. The Council considered that we could not apply for subscriptions until we had definite plans to lay before the public.”15
Visions of the Future
Another important and enduring contribution made by Armstrong was through his ability to look ahead to the future, especially in relation to the efficient production and use of energy. His preoccupation with this area of concern, along with his pioneering work in the field of hydraulic and hydroelectric power, has resulted in him being a more significant figure than ever today.
During his inaugural address as President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at its meeting in Newcastle in 1863, he spoke about the issue of finite coal reserves and the energy potential of solar power. This important lecture was reprinted the following year in the volume The Industrial Resources of the Tyne, Wear & Tees.
The 1887 Exhibition
At the Newcastle upon Tyne Royal Mining, Engineering and Industrial Exhibition, which was held in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and to showcase Newcastle as “the Metropolis of the North of England”, one of the principal exhibits was a full-size model of a 110-ton Elswick gun, described in the exhibition guide as being “the largest gun ever made in this country and… the most powerful piece of ordnance in the world”.
The model was positioned so as immediately to face the visitor upon entering the exhibition hall and was considered the crowning glory of the exhibition.
East or West, Hame’s Best
In 1863, Armstrong purchased land near Rothbury in Northumberland and began there the construction of a country residence. His new home, Cragside, would become the place where he increasingly spent his time as he retired from the day-to-day running of the business. These later years of Armstrong’s life saw him indulge his passion for hydraulics and hydroelectric power, and re-kindle his old love-affair with electricity.
The construction of Cragside was completed by 1869. Its grounds were landscaped and five artificial lakes were created at a height to provide water pressure for the house’s water supply, generating electricity and powering the house’s hydraulic appliances which included lifts and a roasting-spit in the kitchen.
Cragside was the first house in the world to be lit using hydroelectric power and the first to be lit by Joseph Swan’s newly-invented incandescent light. It also played host to the Prince and Princess of Wales during their visit to the area in 1884, on which occasion Armstrong lit up the grounds with 10,000 small glass lights and a similar number of Chinese lanterns.
The mantelpiece above the huge fireplace in the dining room bore the motto “East or West, Hame’s Best”, conveying, perhaps, the extent to which Armstrong saw Cragside as a place of comfort, contentment and retreat from the hectic life of running his business.
In this letter written by Joseph Swan, the inventor of the incandescent light bulb, to the local photographer and friend of Armstrong, John Worsnop, Swan recalls the installation of electric lighting at Cragside:
“Yes so far as I know his house at Cragside was the first house in England properly fitted with my electric lamps – I had greatly wished that it should be & when I told him so he readily assented. There had, previously to the introduction of the incandescent lamp into the house been an arc lamp in the picture gallery – that was taken down & my lamps were substituted, & it was a delightful experience for both of us when the gallery was first lit up.” 16
An old passion rekindled
These later years of Armstrong’s life saw his love-affair with electricity re-surface. He reprised his earlier lectures on electricity when he delivered a lecture and demonstration to the Lit & Phil, to mark its centenary in February 1893, on the novel effects of the electric discharge. During the lecture he made reference to his thirty-year tenure of the Presidency of the Society and recalled his demonstration of his hydroelectric machine forty-nine years earlier. In this letter from Armstrong to Robert Spence Watson, written the previous month, Armstrong is seemingly gathering facts for inclusion in the lecture:
“I dare say that from your knowledge of the history of the Lit & Phil you can readily tell me what was the date of my lecture to the Society on the electricity of steam & also the date of the lecture at which I exhibited a model of the hydraulic crane. Please also tell me at which date I was first elected President of the Society“. 17
Further experimentation with electricity led to Armstrong’s publication of the volume Electric Movement in Air and Water, containing a set of striking photographic images of electric discharges taken by the Rothbury-based photographer and friend of Armstrong John Worsnop.
A Life of Achievement
Armstrong was raised to the peerage as Baron Armstrong of Cragside in June 1887. In this photograph, taken by John Worsnop in c. 1897, Armstrong appears to be content, satisfied and self-assured, understandably so when the sheer scope and significance of his achievements is considered.
Armstrong died at Cragside on 27th December 1900, and was remembered as having been a towering figure of the Victorian era.
Exhibition co-curated with Dr. Annika Bautz and Dr. Melanie Wood, in association with The British Association for Romantic Studies Biennial Conference ‘Romanticism’s Debatable Lands 28-31 July 2005, University of Newcastle upon Tyne
This exhibition contains Special Collections holdings which relate to the border region at the end of the Eighteenth and the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. It also records the appropriation of the borders and its myths in the writings of Romantic period poets and novelists.
The Romantic Movement was partly defined by its interest in the workings of Imagination, Passion, Nature, the Beautiful, the Picturesque, and the Sublime, as constituents of a reaction against the strict rules and rational thought of the Enlightenment. Romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Burns and Blake attached new values to ‘primitive’ culture, including the ‘Border ballads’. Border ballads – short stories in verse – tell of the lives of the people in the border region, which was marked by continuous warfare.
The heroes, the feuds, the raids, continued to be sung about for centuries after the border feuds had come to an end. History and historical imagination, too, became a new focus of attention in the Romantic Period, especially after Scott began writing his immensely popular historical novels, the first of which, Waverley, was published in 1814.
The exhibition takes place in conjunction with an international conference held at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, 28th-31st July 2005, on “Romanticism’s Debatable Lands”. Delegates will visit the home of the Newcastle-based artist and wood-engraver Thomas Bewick, as well as Wallington Hall in Northumberland, home of the influential Trevelyan family (their papers forming a major collection at the Robinson Library). Special Collections materials pertaining to Bewick and the Trevelyans have been included in the display.
Ballads are narrative verse and those borne of the border regions celebrate lives and events from both the Anglo and Scottish sides. As James Reed points out:
“The Borders is not a line but an area, in many respects historically and traditionally almost an independent region, certainly so in the eyes of the inhabitants who gave us the Ballads”1.
Most ballads date from the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries but continued to be sung for hundreds of years and are being revived today. Many tell of real incidents, others give folklore stories a local setting. They belong to a popular art form, and thus for many centuries to an oral tradition, and are sung or spoken in either Scots or North-East dialect.
Until the Nineteenth Century, no one regarded border ballads as something that could be taken seriously, or even as something that merited interest – either for their own sake, the culture they told of, or their art. Few therefore existed in print.
The Romantic Movement occasioned an increased interest in folk art, antiquarian and ‘primitive’ poetry, the lives of ordinary people, and history. Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770) wrote his ‘Rowley’ poems in the late Eighteenth Century, which purported to be the works of a fifteenth-century poet and which were believed to be such even by the likes of Horace Walpole; James Macpherson (1736-1796) wrote epic poems that he passed off as translations of an epic in Gaelic by ‘Ossian’, supposedly dating from some vague period of early Scottish history, and widely accepted as such.
Poets such as William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) wrote about common life, most recognisably in Lyrical Ballads (1798). Walter Scott (1771-1832) was the first to attach cultural-historical significance to the border ballads.
He produced a collection of them in Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-3), stating in his introduction that with these volumes he wanted to:
“contribute somewhat to the history of [his] native country; the peculiar features of whose manners and character are daily melting into those of her sister and ally” 2.
The popularity of this publication testifies to Romantic readers´ tastes for the local and the historical, as well as for a ‘primitive’ art form.
The influence of border ballads on local society and traditions is variously attested to.
They were sung to the whole family.
Thomas Bewick recalls how, in his childhood:
“the winter evenings were often spent in listening to the traditionary tales and songs, relating to men who had been eminent for their prowess and bravery in the border wars” 3.
They became integral to regional culture. The names of the border families are still to be found in the region today, those such as Armstrong, Graham, Robson, Elliot, Fenwick, Rutherford, Noble, and Reed. Words specific to the ballads and the lives they depict became part of local dialect, and often still are.
In The Fray Of Hautwessel, for example, the verb ‘to reave’ is used, which locals still use for ‘to rob’:
“The limmer thieves o´ Liddesdale Wad na leave a kye in the hail countrie; But an we gie them the caud steel, Our gear they´ll reive it a´ awaye; Sae pert they stealis I you say: O´ late they came to Hawtwessyll, And thowt they there wad drive a fray, But Alec Rydly shotte tae well.”4 A main characteristic of border ballads is thus their local setting and impact on local culture.
1 Reed, p. 10. 2 Minstrelsy, 1821 ed., p. cxxxvii. 3 Thomas Bewick, A Memoir (published posthumously in 1862) p.10; here quoted from Reed, p.13. 4 The Fray Of Hautwessel; An Ancient Border Ballad, (Newcastle: Richardson, 1842), p.7.
Although the border between England and Scotland was mostly agreed in 1237, disputes over some stretches continued for centuries. The border land on either side remained unstable and dangerous, with little enforcement of law and order. Apart from the major battles between the English and the Scots, such as the battles at Otterburn (1388) and at Flodden Field (1513), minor border feuds continued to be fought vehemently. On both sides of the border there were powerful combative clans such as the Armstrongs, on the Scots side, and the Grahams on the English. People owed allegiance first to kin and laird and only then to the authorities in London or Edinburgh.
Family feuds and fierce hatred led to continuous warfare, against which laws could avail little. After the union of the crowns in 1603 and the union of parliaments in 1707 border raids slowly came to an end.
One area in particular continued to be contested after 1237: a stretch in the west, between the Rivers Esk and Sark, which came to be known as the ‘Debatable Land’. Both England and Scotland claimed it, but neither had any jurisdiction over it, so that border warfare continued unhindered.
As one website puts it:
“Such was the trouble caused by the Debatable Land that both Scotland and England were forced into making a joint declaration that ‘all Scotsmen and Englishmen from this time forth shall be free to rob, burn, spoil and slay any person or animals or goods belonging to all who inhabit the Debatable Lands.”5
Gilnockie Tower is an example of a border stronghold. It was built in the early sixteenth century, in the Debatable Land, by the Armstrongs, still stands today and is still owned by the family.
Not until 1552 did England and Scotland agree about how to divide the Debatable Land. However, the peace which this led to was an uneasy one. ‘The Scots Dyke’, a ditch with earth thrown up on either side forming two parallel banks, still marks the boundary.
During the Eighteenth Century, travel opportunities had been limited. It had been expensive, slow, and dangerous, as well as restricted by wars. Between 1785 and 1790, routes across Britain were expanded and improved. The defeat of Napoleon and the subsequent peace achieved by the Holy Alliance (Austria, Britain, France, Prussia and Russia) at the signing of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 effectively removed many European impediments to travel.
Thus people in the Romantic Age had more opportunity to travel than ever before. The Romantics also developed new aesthetic approaches to appreciating Nature, as well as a taste for the historical and for ‘authentic’ experience. All these factors contributed to making the period one in which an increasing number of people both travelled and became enthusiastic consumers of travel accounts and journals.
Not only did European travel become more popular, but also journeys within Britain. Walter Scott’s poems and novels, such as The Lady of the Lake (1810) and Rob Roy (1818), encouraged travel northward, to Scotland. The Border region, too, became more popular as a place to visit, as numerous travel guides and journals, with such titles as A Tour through the Northern Counties of England and the Borders of Scotland (1802), or The Border Tour throughout the most important and interesting places in the Counties of Northumberland, Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk (1826), testify.
At the same time, publications like Wilson’s Historical, Traditionary, and Imaginative Tales of the Borders and of Scotland with an Illustrative Glossary of the Scottish Dialect (1804-1835) tried to capture the regional identity of the borders and point to an existing interest in its traditions.
A Local Artist: Thomas Bewick (1753-1828)
The artist and wood-engraver Thomas Bewick was born at Cherryburn, Northumberland, in August 1753, as the eldest of eight children. Early on he demonstrated his talent for drawing with an especially keen eye for nature.
At the age of 14, Bewick was apprenticed to the Newcastle engraver Ralph Beilby (1743-1817). After acquiring basic skills in engraving by first working with the hard elements of silver and copper, Bewick was employed to make cuts on wood for a number of local printers, and soon all requests Beilby received for work on wood were directed to Bewick, who eventually became his partner.
Bewick’s technique involved engraving the end, rather than the length, of the close-grained boxwood. It was a more delicate and intricate technique and could achieve much more detail than metal engraving, but large boxwood blocks were expensive. Bewick used small blocks, rarely more than four inches across.
In all woodcutting, it is the white areas that are cut away, leaving the black lines on the surface to take the ink. Bewick, however, imagined the image in white as he engraved freehand, rather than following a previously drawn image on the block. This ‘white line technique’, combined with Bewick´s eye for natural details, especially for the posture and anatomy of animals, formed the basis of his mastery. He also developed a method of slightly lowering the surface of some areas of the block to achieve more of a grey tone, giving the effect of distance. He thereby transformed a crude art into the most popular form of graphic art in Britain until the introduction of photography in the later Nineteenth Century.
Bewick provided tailpieces to other authors’ works, such as The Poetical Works of Robert Burns (1808), as well as working on his own publications. Beilby provided text to accompany the illustrations in Bewick’s first two books, A General History of Quadrupeds (1790) and A General History of British Birds (1797). Both books reveal a notable talent for rendering natural history subjects and their environments or landscapes.
As well as being something of an ‘artist of Nature’, Bewick saw himself as a tutor and moral guardian, producing books such as Select Fables (1784), a Hieroglyphic Bible (1790), The Dance of Death of the celebrated Hans Holbein (1825) and A Choice Collection of Hymns and Moral Songs (1781).
The influence of his work was long-lasting. He helped to create an interest in natural history and his depictions of rural scenes provide a record of life in Northumberland in the late Eighteenth Century. Throughout the Nineteenth Century, authors referred to Bewick in their publications, assuming their readers to be familiar with his work (since these references are often not explained). Examples are Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1801), Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), William Hazlitt’s portrait of ‘Mr Wordsworth’ (in The Spirit of the Age ), Thomas Hood’s ‘Address to Mr. Dymoke, The Champion Of England’ (in The Poetical Works of Thomas Hood ), and George Meredith’s One of Our Conquerors (1891).
Examples of works that mention Bewick:
What a creature to keep a hot warrior cool When the sun’s in the face, and the shade’s far aloof!— What a tailpiece for Bewick!—or piebald for Poole, To bear him in safety from Elliston’s hoof! Hood, T. ‘Address to Mr. Dymoke, the Champion of England,’ The Poetical Works of Thomas Hood (London: Moxon, n.d.) p. 386 Victorian Collection V827.72 HOO
“O! mamma,” said one of the little boys, “this is the very thing that is mentioned in Bewick’s History of Birds. Pray look at this goldfinch, Helena—now it is drawing up it’s little bucket—but where is Helena?—here’s room for you, Helena.” Edgeworth, M. Belinda. Ch. XII; The Macaw.
I returned to my book—Bewick’s History of British Birds: the letter-press thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could not pass quite as a blank. They were those which treat of the haunts of sea-fowl; of “the solitary rocks and promontories” by them only inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape— . . . . With Bewick on my knee, I was then happy: happy at least in my way. I feared nothing but interruption, and that came too soon. The breakfast room-door opened. Bront�, C. Jane Eyre. Vol. I (London: Nelson, n.d.) Ch. I; p. 2. Copy loaned to exhibition by Professor Claire Lamont
[Wordsworth] also likes books of voyages and travels, and Robinson Crusoe. In art, he greatly esteems Bewick’s wood-cuts, and Waterloo’s sylvan etchings. But he sometimes takes a higher tone, and gives his mind fair play. Hazlitt, W. ‘Mr. Wordsworth,’ in The Spirit of the Age.
Writers of the Romantic Period
The Romantic Age attached new values to folk art, antiquarian and primitive poetry, the lives of ordinary people, local culture, travel, and history, as well as to the individual as a subject interesting in itself and in its relationship to Nature. Not only was there an increased interest in collections of folk art and historical poetry, such as the border ballads, but early-nineteenth-century authors wrote works centring on these themes.
William Wordsworth’s (1770-1850) strong attachments to locations which particularly resonate with events allowed him, in The Prelude (1805), to chart his poetic development via naming and precise geography. He capitalises upon different environments to engage with the reader by describing a journey in such physical and metaphysical detail that it can literally be retraced, particularly those episodes which are rooted in the geography of the Lake District. His most potent responses are to aspects of the natural landscape and the impact of perpetual changes in Nature upon his understanding of place.
He is also influenced by that regional oral tradition which celebrated and chronicled the deeds of common men and which, in dialects, memorialised the names and monuments of the Border wars.
With a focus on history, Walter Scott (1771-1832) wrote poems and novels about his native Scotland (though later also about other countries), emphasising its beauties of nature and past ways of life. Real historical figures never play major parts; instead Scott writes about ordinary members of society affected by specific historical conditions. >
His first novel, Waverley (1814), describes the Jacobite rising of 1745. Its hero is the fictitious Edward Waverley, who finds himself in the midst of Civil War before he has given the rights and wrongs of either side much thought. Bonnie Prince Charlie only appears as a peripheral, though impressive, character. The novel ends with the defeat of the Jacobite army, and the destruction of the Highlands way of life. Typical for Scott is his sympathy and passion for the old ways while at the same time realising the necessity of their decline in favour of progress.
James Hogg (1770-1835) was born and lived for most of his life in Ettrick Forest in the Scottish Borders. Coming from a family who had been shepherds for generations, he became known as the ‘Ettrick Shepherd’ and is still regarded as a ‘peasant poet’.
It was Walter Scott who discovered Hogg’s poetic gift, and the two remained friends. Hogg wrote and collected poems and ballads, always in connection with Scotland and the borders, and often in Scots idiom. (He also wrote prose, most notably The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner ). The Forest Minstrel (1810) is one of his collections of poetry; The Queen’s Wake (1813) is one of his own compositions and combines the old ballad style with flights of the imagination.
Lord Byron’s (1788-1824) force of personality, life, as well as his works captured not only British but Europe’s imagination and made him infamous. He was a keen traveller and his poetry was written and set in many different places. His long and immensely popular poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818) describes the travels, experiences and reflections of Childe Harold, a pilgrim. His life and journey correspond in many aspects to Byron’s own, although he denied any such parallels.
Harold journeys to a variety of countries such as Portugal, Spain, and Belgium, reflecting on events and people, as well as on the beauties of the Alps and the Rhine.
Byron was friends with Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and his wife, Mary (1797-1851), and stayed near them at the Lake of Geneva in the summer of 1816.>
It was during this sojourn that they famously held the ghost story contest which generated Mary Shelley’s gothic novel, Frankenstein.
Large parts of Frankenstein are set in Geneva, as well as more distant shores once Frankenstein chases his creation to the end of the world.
Jane Austen (1775-1817) set her novels in rural England and wrote about the life of early-nineteenth-century gentry, yet Romantic influences feature in her works, too. There are references to Romantic poets, as when Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick discuss Scott and Byron in >Persuasion (1817). Kathryn Sutherland, in her introduction to Mansfield Park (1814), points out that:
“Fanny is a Romantic heroine, and only surprisingly so because we tend to think of Romanticism as a peculiarly masculine and poetic phenomenon, and one with which Austen had little to do. In [her] … subjectivity, … solitude, … diet of poetry, …contemplation of nature, … Fanny is formed as a contemporary of Wordsworth and Coleridge.”
Austen’s novels centre on domestic themes, but they, too, can be read as products of, and as commenting on, her literary and cultural context, including the Romantic Movement.
The Trevelyans of Wallington
Wallington Hall in Cambo, Northumberland, came into the possession of the Trevelyan family when Walter Calverley Trevelyan married Elizabeth, daughter of William Blackett, the house having belonged to the Blacketts since 1688 until Sir William’s death in 1728.
The Trevelyan Papers are one of the largest and most important archives in the Robinson Library’s Special Collections, complementing other notable collections – the Gertrude Bell, Mary Moorman and Lady Bridget Plowden papers – all of whom can be plotted on the Trevelyan family tree. The Trevelyan Papers are heavily used by a wide variety of researchers and informed the recent refurbishment of Wallington Hall.
The archive contains mostly manuscript material, including correspondence with some of the children while they were at boarding school, but also plant specimens collected by Walter Calverley, political documents and election ephemera, sketches and slides.
The Trevelyans were influential, having enjoyed active interests in politics, art, science and travel and counted several eminent people among their friends.
Jane Bewick, daughter of Thomas, corresponded with Walter Calverley, for example.
Walter Calverley Trevelyan (1797-1879) was a leading temperance campaigner, amateur botanist and geologist. He and his wife, Pauline (1816-1866) patronised Pre-Raphaelite painters and sculptors and the WCT papers include items from their friends John Ruskin, A.C. Swinburne and William Bell Scott. > One of Sir Walter’s many interests was phrenology: a number of items refer to the activities of the Phrenological Association.6
Charles Edward Trevelyan (1807-1886) spent his early career in the East India Company, living in India during the 1820s and 1830s. During this time he worked to improve the living conditions and education of the local population.
He continued to have an impact upon social reform when living in England. Not only did he serve as Assistant Secretary to the Treasury and campaign for relief during the Irish Famine but he also co-authored a report on Civil Service reform, for which he is sometimes known as the ‘father of the modern Civil Service’.
He proposed that educational standards and competitive examinations should determine entry into the Civil Service rather than continue the practice of appointing administrators from the aristocracy, who were not necessarily best-qualified to do the job.
George Otto Trevelyan (1838-1928) was an historian, Liberal M.P. and served as Chief Secretary for Ireland.
Charles Philips Trevelyan (1870-1958) had a substantial political presence and his papers reflect this. He was a Liberal and then Labour M.P. who founded the Union of Democratic Control (WWI) and who was President of the Board of Education. The Trevelyan (Charles Philips) Archive include diaries and other items from Molly (1881-1966), his wife and half-sister of Gertrude Bell.
The archive also includes letters from George Macauley Trevelyan (1876-1962), father to Mary Moorman. >
In 1942, Charles Philips Trevelyan gave the house and its contents to the National Trust. The library is currently being catalogued: “the Trevelyan family were enthusiastic readers – so avid was Macauley that family tradition relates that he would read Shakespeare while shaving and occasionally the excitement of the action – and the inattention to the other matter in hand – led to splashes of blood on the pages!”7
6 Phrenology, as defined in the OED: The theory originated by Gall and Spurzheim, that the mental powers of the individual consist of separate faculties, each of which has its organ and location in a definite region of the surface of the brain, the size or development of which is commensurate with the development of the particular faculty; hence, the study of the external conformation of the cranium as an index to the development and position of these organs, and thus of the degree of development of the various faculties.
7 ‘Cataloguing the Library,’ The National Trust North East News. Summer 2005.
‘Cataloguing the Library,’ The National Trust North East News. Summer 2005.
[Correspondence between Jane Bewick and Sir Walter Calverley and Lady Pauline Trevelyan] Trevelyan Papers WCT 88
Dixon, J.H. Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom: A Border Ballad (Newcastle upon Tyne: Richardson, 1843) Robert White Collection W821.04 LAY
Dixon, J.H. Lord Beichan: A Border Ballad (Newcastle upon Tyne: Richardson, 1843) Robert White Collection W821.04 LOR
The Fray of Hautwessell, An Ancient Border Ballad (Newcastle upon Tyne: Richardson, 1842) Robert White Collection W821.04 FRA
Haddington, W.G. Journal through the Counties of Berwick, Roxburgh, Selkirk, Dumfries, Ayr, Lanark, East, West and Mid Lothians in the Year 1817 (Edinburgh: Haddington, 1818) Robert White Collection W941.4 HAD
Hogg, J. (ed.), The Forest Minstrel: A Selection of Songs, Adapted to the Most Favourite Scottish Airs: Few of them Ever Before Published (Edinburgh: Printed for the editor, 1810) Victorian Collection V821.79 HOG
Hogg, J. The Long Pack: A Northumbrian Tale (Alnwick: Davison, [18–?]) Burman Alnwick C2 and C4
Hogg, J. The Queen’s Wake: A Legendary Poem (Edinburgh: Goldie, 1813) Robert White Collection W821.79 HOG
Hogg, J. (ed. and coll.) Winter Evening Tales: Collected Among the Cottagers in the South of Scotland (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1820) 1801-1850 Coll. 723.79 HOG
Hood, T. The Poetical Works of Thomas Hood (London: Moxon, [187-?]) Victorian Collection V827.72 HOO
Hood, T. The Serious Poems of Thomas Hood (London: Moxon, 1876) Victorian Collection V827.72 HOO
Hood, T. Whims and Oddities (London: Tilt, 1827) Victorian Collection V827.72 HOO
MacKenzie, E. An Historical, Topographical, and Descriptive View of the County of Northumberland (Newcastle upon Tyne: MacKenzie & Dent, 1825) Edwin Clarke Local Collection Clarke 1173, Clarke 1174
Map of the County of Cumberland (Greenwood, 1823) Maps 020
Map of the County of Northumberland (Shadforth & Dinning, 1856) Maps HR17
Map of Northumberland (Neele & Son, 1819) Maps 078
Map of Northumberland and the Border (Dacre, 1580) Maps 027
Mason, J. The Border Tour throughout the most important and interesting Places in the Counties of Northumberland, Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Edinburgh: Ballantyne, 1826) Edwin Clarke Local Collection Clarke 37
Memoir of Thomas Bewick (Newcastle: Charnley, 1830) Edwin Clarke Local Collection Clarke 1504
Meredith, G. One of Our Conquerors (London: Chapman & Hall, 1891) Victorian Collection V823.89
The Newcastle Songster; Being a Collection of Songs, Descriptive of Language and Manners of the Common People of Newcastle upon Tyne and the Neighbourhood (Newcastle upon Tyne: Marshall, [18–?]) Friends 32
The Noble Laird of Thornyburne: A Northumbrian Border Ballad (London: Saunders & Otley, 1855) Robert White Collection W821.04 NOB
Northern Minstrel: Or; Gateshead Songster (Gateshead upon Tyne, 1806) Rare Books RB 821.04 NOR