In-Tract After all These Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sopwith Diaries

Newcastle University Library Special Collections and Archive hold the Thomas Sopwith Diaries covering the period 1828-1879.

Thomas Sopwith (1803-1879), as well as being a successful engineer who contributed extensively to the Victorian railway and mining industries, Thomas Sopwith was the author of a set of diaries that now live in the Special Collections archives.

Born in Newcastle in 1803, Sopwith discovered his love of writing as a teenager, and from the age of 18 kept a careful account of his every move in a series of pocket-sized hardback diaries. With only a few breaks, at times when he was really busy, he continued to write for the next 58 years, creating 168 volumes in total.

Sopwith was passionate about his work, and his dairies are a fastidious account of his meetings, projects and professional engagements. From 1845 to 1871 he was the chief agent of Allenheads lead mines in Durham and felt it would be imprudent to discuss the finer points of his role, reserving his diaries for more personal news.

Before his move to Allenheads, however, he worked as a kind of engineer-about-town, surveying railways, giving evidence in mining enquiries and touring the country with his renowned 3D models of the Forest of Dean coalfields. And documenting it all in often absurd levels of detail in his diaries.

One of the most striking things about the diaries is the sheer number of prominent Victorian figures who make an appearance. Sopwith was good friends with William Armstrong and George and Robert Stephenson and must have known nearly all the major names in science and engineering at the time. One week he might be staying with the Brunel family, the next he’d be dining with the King of Belgium, before travelling round the Norwegian fjords with Robert Stephenson. Sopwith was full of praise for almost everyone he knew and was a man who really valued his friendships.

Page from Sopwith’s diary dated April 1828 (Thomas Sopwith Diaries, TS/1/1)

When he wasn’t hobnobbing with the great and the good, Sopwith spent time at home with his large family. Married three times and widowed twice, Sopwith had eight children (two died in infancy) and doted on them all. His wayward eldest son Jacob caused him a great deal of worry and – spoiler alert – the diaries contain a fair few deaths, often prompting pages of reflection by Sopwith on religion and fate.

Many of his descendants went on to prominent careers themselves; one daughter married an MP, one grandson became the Archdeacon of Canterbury and another was an aircraft designer whose son was a racing car driver.

The diaries are littered with pencil and watercolour sketches and Sopwith often pasted in newspaper cuttings or even a menu from a banquet he attended in Belgium. The handwriting is immaculate and Sopwith’s use of symbols for days of the week, abbreviations and explanatory diagrams shows his love of efficiency.

 

Page from diary dated 24th April 1828, depicting a watercolour sketch of Abbotsford (Thomas Sopwith Diaries, TS/1/1)

Sopwith’s diaries also give a charming account of middle-class life in Victorian Newcastle. Sopwith was a frequent guest at Mr Donkin’s dinner parties in Jesmond and in the 1840s lived in a house he had had built on St Mary’s Place, nowadays part of Lloyds Bank. He maintained an interest in his family’s furniture-making business and was most indignant to discover that a railway viaduct was to be built right next to his workshop on Painter Heugh, blocking the natural light – a rare case of opposition to the railways.

Pedantic to the extreme, Sopwith’s exacting nature seeps through the pages of his diary in a surprisingly charming manner. From the intricate contents pages and indexes of the volumes themselves to his use of a telescope to make sure the children at Allenheads school turned up on time, Sopwith was nothing if not meticulous.

Index to the notebooks from no.1-no.33, 1829-1842 (Thomas Sopwith Diaries, TS/1/1)

Why did Sopwith keep such detailed diaries? He seems to have really enjoyed the process of recording and reflecting on his daily activities, and frequently mentions his joy in re-reading old passages and remembering old friends.

The diaries are so detailed that it’s hard not to get sucked in to the soap opera of Sopwith’s life. The sometimes dry accounts of his engineering work and academic interests – one diary includes a 13 page report from a lecture on fattening cattle – is always balanced with anecdotes from his family life or his fussy musings on the state of modern society.

Reading the whole set of diaries might be a tall order, but dipping into a volume or two opens up a window onto one of Victorian Newcastle’s most notable figures.

Written by special guest, Mark Sleightholm

Janet

Stored in the Bloodaxe archive in the Robinson Library there is a note written in the margins of the manuscript of Ken Smith’s poetry collection, ‘The Poet Reclining’ from 1977, one of Bloodaxe Book’s first publications:

‘pity Janet, you’ve done it again!’

References to ‘Janet’ continue to appear frequently in the editorial marginalia, minutes and notes. As part of her practice-based PhD research, Kate Sweeney has decided to build a ‘Janet’ – from traces of administration ephemera found in the archive. An amalgamated, chimerical idea of a ‘Janet’ from paper. From the margins, notes and minutes, but mainly from the post-its – a part of the archive and Apart from the archive – much like Janet herself…

‘Treasure of the Month’

This month’s treasure is Janet. Janet seeps through on post-its pressed upon other people. A part and apart, her stickiness is temporary, her yellow glow fleets over faces. She is deeply disposable unless undetected – then, she slips off her sheet, off her box and into the archive…

Image: Post-it note attached to material in The Bloodaxe Archive, contained in BXB/4/5/1 and stored in Special Collections at The Robinson Library.

Special Guest Blog: History of the Courier

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As the voice of Newcastle University students, The Courier has always been an expression of student news, views, and opinions relating to campus life and how the University operates.

The Courier archive has been digitised and you can now search and browse over 65 years of reporting from the first edition in 1948, when the University was still known as King’s College. View the Courier Archive online.

Courier alumni Mark Sleightholm has begun documenting the history of our student newspaper on a dedicated Courier History site. This gives a fascinating insight into reporting trends, recurrent stories and issues, and profiles of the different sections through the ages.

In this Courier guest blog series, we have added to this site’s content and illustrated it with images from the digitised Courier archive.

We are kicking off this Courier guest blog series with:

1948-55 The early years

In 1948 what is now Newcastle University was known as King’s College and formed part of the federal University of Durham. Early in the year several Durham students established the Palatinate newspaper, and in October one member of the editorial team, Allan Marsh, decided to set up a paper for the Newcastle campus. Anyone was invited to help produce the paper, “regularly or spasmodically”, while Stuart Shaw was appointed editor. The first issue of King’s Courier came out on 18 November.

First issue of the Courier, 18th November 1948

First issue of the Courier, 18th November 1948

The early papers were generally eight pages long and came out once a fortnight. They focussed on such riveting topics as meetings of student societies and the opening of new buildings on campus, but also reported on University sports matches and reviewed books, art, theatre and – on some daring occasions – films and music.

New Science Block drawing, 14th December 1948

New Science Block drawing, 14th December 1948

Film criticism, 19th May 1949

Film criticism, 19th May 1949

There were few photographs, although there was generally at least one on the front page, and several cartoons and illustrations, drawn by Courier staff, appeared, alongside an occasional crossword.

'HECTOR and NECTAR' cartoon, 3rd November 1949

‘HECTOR and NECTAR’ cartoon, 3rd November 1949

There was humour, too – for 1952’s Christmas issue the staff produced a four page supplement called King’s Scrouier, which parodied many of the Courier‘s contemporary news stories, reviews and even adverts.

The King's Scrouier, 16th December 1952

The King’s Scrouier, 16th December 1952

The letters page became a forum for discussion, with some debates continuing for months. Particular controversy came in 1953 with a series of articles by Stanley Brodwin, an American student at King’s, and an aspiring playwright. His candid style and criticisms of British customs prompted fierce replies in the letters page, with his plays attracting similar outrage.

'I'll dig you later in the U.S.A.' by Stanley Brodwin, Friday 16th October 1953

‘I’ll dig you later in the U.S.A.’ by Stanley Brodwin, Friday 16th October 1953

At this point the students’ union was split between two institutions: the Students’ Representative Council, which dealt with politics, representation and societies, and the Union itself, run by the Union Management Committee, which ran the union building and organised social events. The Courier was overseen, and eventually funded, by the SRC, but was always (at least in theory) editorially independent of both SRC and Union.

Stay tuned for more Courier Special Guest Blogs…

Special Guest Blog – The Great North Museum: Hancock Library

Interested in using archives and rare books? Newcastle University Library’s Special Collections isn’t the only local resource with rich unique and distinctive material to support original research.

In this guest blog, our heritage partners shine a light on their collections.

Great North Museum: Hancock Library

The Great North Museum: Hancock has a unique Library that is located on the second floor of the Museum.  It is open to everyone and free to use and the collections contain a wealth of fascinating information on the history, natural history and archaeology of the northern region and beyond.

It is a fantastic resource for Newcastle University students and anyone else who would like to pay us a visit.

The Great North Museum: Hancock Library has four unique collections that were brought together under one roof when it opened in 2009. Further information about these are as follows:

The Library of the Natural History Society of Northumbria

The Natural History Society of Northumbria was established in 1829 and the Library has been housed in the museum since it was opened in 1884. It contains one of the largest collections of specialist natural history material in northern England. The collection focuses on the wildlife of the northern region and contains over 10, 000 books and around 500 journal titles.

It has books on zoology, botany, ornithology, geology, biodiversity and ecology. It contains the entire Collins New Naturalist series.

A wide range of rare and important books form part of the collection, including first editions of books published in the 16th – 18th centuries. Some examples of these include William Turner’s “A New Herbal” published in 1551, and Pierre Belon’s early ornithological work “Histoire de la nature des oyseaux” published in 1555. The library is also proud to possess a first edition of Charles Darwin’s seminal work “On the origin of species”.   One of the strengths of the collection is the beautiful images contained in a number of books, including Edward Lear’s ”Illustrations of parrots” published in 1832.

Natural History Society of Northumbria Archive

The archives hold the Society’s own records dating from its foundation in 1829, including the history of the Hancock Museum.  Also available are manuscript letters, diaries, notebooks and other material relating to renowned northern naturalists such as Abel Chapman.  A nationally important and unique collection of original watercolours, drawings and proof engravings by the famous wood engraver and naturalist Thomas Bewick form a key part of the collection.

The collection contains many impressive images of the natural world, including beautiful watercolour drawings of British and foreign shells by the local artist George Gibsone.

The archive material is available to view by appointment only. Please contact the Library for details of how to do this.

Further information about the NHSN Library and Archives can be found by using the following link http://www.nhsn.ncl.ac.uk/resources-overview.php

 

Cowen Library

The library of Newcastle University’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology is named after John D Cowen, an eminent amateur archaeologist who donated his personal library to the University in 1976.  The collection was moved to the Great North Museum: Hancock Library in 2009 and consists of around 9000 books and a range of specialist journals. The main subject areas include archaeology, ancient history and classics. Areas of particular strength are Roman Britain, local archaeology,   archaeological history and methodology and the Byzantine Empire.

Also available are a wide range of archaeological excavation reports and books on all aspects of Hadrian’s Wall and other regional antiquities. The library contains material from the 18th century to the current day, including a first edition of John Warburton’s “Vallum Romanum” published in 1753.

This impressive collection is complemented by the Library of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

 

Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne Library

The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon TYNE is the oldest provincial society of its kind in the UK. Established in 1813 the Library of the Society is a wonderful resource for anyone with an interest in the history and antiquities of the northern region. The Library contains 10.000 books, 300 journal titles and 1700 tracts on local history, architecture and archaeology with a particularly strong collection of material on Hadrian’s Wall and Roman Britain.  The Library has many books dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries and includes treasures such as Henry Bourne’s “The History of Newcastle” published in 1736,

And the 19th century Newcastle artist Joseph Crawhall’s beautifully illustrated “Chap book Chaplets” published in 1883.

Primary source material including local directories and Poll Books dating back to the late 18th Century can also be viewed.

Further information about the Society’s Library can be found at the following link

http://www.newcastle-antiquaries.org.uk/index.php?pageId=293

 

A great place to study

The Great North Museum: Hancock Library is a terrific place to study, especially for Newcastle University students.   Full details of all the books and journals are available on the University’s online catalogue, Library Search  http://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/resources/library-search/

There is a dedicated online catalogue in the Library, as well as three computers that can be used by Newcastle University students to access their accounts. The University’s wifi service is available as well as a free public wifi service.

The Library is open during term time from 10 – 4, Monday to Friday and on the same days during vacations from 1 – 4.

We hope to see you at the Great North Museum: Hancock Library – please drop in when you get the chance.