The Black Feather Falls: A Comic Book Series of Interwar Mysteries, Crime and the 1920s

The front cover of comic book, Lindner, E. The Black Feather Falls, book one 2013, Wylie 741.5 LIN (used by permission of Soaring Penguin Press), Wylie (Terry) Comic Books, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Ellen Lindner’s The Black Feather Falls is part of the recently-acquired collection of comic books that were formerly owned by Terry Wiley.

The Black Feather Falls was originally published in three volumes that were collected and published as a single-volume graphic novel under the same title in 2015. The series is set in the 1920s and features as its main character Tina Swift, a young American woman, who has recently moved to England and works in a dress shop in London. The street outside the shop becomes a murder scene where Tina discovers a black feather – a clue to the crime, but one that the police dismiss. Tina decides to solve the crime herself with the help of Miss McInteer, a stenographer at the local paper, which leads her back into the past, to events of the First World War. The series was nominated for the Ignatz award for Outstanding Series in 2014; the awards recognise outstanding achievements in cartooning and comics and are held annually in the United States.

Page 21 of comic book, Lindner, E. The Black Feather Falls, book three 2014, Wylie 741.5 LIN (used by permission of Soaring Penguin Press), Wylie (Terry) Comic Books, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

This work is of particular significance for its blending of literary genres. The interwar mystery that comprises the action of the plot relates to the interwar ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction that occurred both in Britain and the United States. Lindner’s choice of a main character that is both a professional woman, working to live independently, and amateur detective also relates to the growing number of women embarking on careers in this period. The artwork for this series demonstrates a use of limited colour palette and strong outlining to characters and scenes, showcasing Lindner’s distinctive style whilst detailing many aspects of the 1920s setting such as the clothing fashions and interior designs. The appearance of cosmetic items such as lipstick and compacts, along with ‘flapper’ style dresses of a looser fit and shorter hairstyles with cloche hats relate to the specific context of the 1920s that saw these changes in dress styles, accessories and millinery.

The Wylie (Terry) Comics are currently being catalogued. These three volumes are part of a collection that spans several decades of comics and graphic novels, and many artists, authors and cartoonists. These are not the only examples of the use of crime and mystery genres; there are also many volumes of Paul Grist’s Kane series about a detective working in a precinct of a fictional American city and works set in previous decades and fantasy worlds are also well represented. Special Collections and Archives also has many items relating to independent publishers, including the archives and collections of Iron Press, Bloodaxe Books and Flambard Press, and of illustrators including satirical prints, such as those in the James Gillray Collection, and children’s books.

The Roots of Vaccination – 300 Years of Variolation in England

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole pamphlet on CollectionsCaptured.

Crawhall: Family History

Joseph Crawhall, Morpeth, 1865 , JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.

‘The accompanying letter from the late John Hodgson, the Historian of Northumberland, to Mr. Thomas Sopwith having only been partially answered, induced me to prosecute further enquiry into our family history, & the result of such enquiry, with the authorities will be found in this volume’.

Joseph Crawhall II is perhaps best-known as a wood engraver of idiosyncratic illustrations which adorned books published by, among other, local printer Andrew Reid and London-based Andrew Tuer at his Leadenhall Press in London.

With a great interest in local history, folklore, and traditions, Crawhall seized upon the opportunity to research his own family after reading clergyman and antiquary John Hodgson’s queries to local mining engineer Thomas Sopwith, for whom he was carrying out family history. Crawhall, with both the time and resources to do so, began gathering together a large selection of family historical material. This is now referred to as the Crawhall Genealogical Scrapbook (JCII-8).

The Crawhall Geneaological Scrapbook open at a page about Joseph Crawhall II’s brother Thomas, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.

The c.150-page volume is a treasure trove of family history collected by Crawhall. Its contents include notes and family trees transcribed by Crawhall, sketches and paintings of family members, family photographs, newspaper cuttings, sale catalogues, letters. The historical material is drawn from a range of sources including Hodgson’s extensively-researched History of Northumberland, where the Crawhall family is traced back to the Twelfth Century (where the name is spelled ‘Crauden’, ‘Craweden’, or ‘Crawenden’). The 16th Century Crawhaws lived at Crawhall near Thorngrafton in Northumberland and were responsible for governorship of the Middle Marches “From Hexhamshire to the Water of Irdin (Irthing) on both sides of the Tyne”, near Hawteswell (Haltwhistle).

Page from the Genealogical Scrapbook with transcriptions by Crawhall from Hodgson’s History of Northumberland, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.
Heugh Crawhaughe, Commissioner for Enclosures upon the Middle Marches, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive , Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186

The majority of the material traces the history of the Crawhalls after the family was established in Allendale, Northumberland. Joseph II’s grandfather, Thomas was a lead mining agent, and married Ann Bownas in 1771. Their son, Joseph Crawhall I, (born in 1791) was apprenticed at a Newcastle ropery to learn the trade and eventually bought the St. Anne’s Ropery near the Newcastle Quayside. The company earned a commendation at the 1852 Great Exhibition for ‘Improved Patent Rope Machinery’.

Commendation awarded to St. Anne’s Ropery at the Great Exhibition 1851, JCII-8,Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive , Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.

A shrewd business man, Joseph I held shares in the family’s lead mine at Rotherhope, near Allendale and, in his spare time, was a keen amateur artist. He eventually became mayor and sheriff of Newcastle. Joseph I lived (and died) at Stagshaw House, near Corbridge, with his wife Margaret.

Sketch of Thomas Crawhall by Joseph II, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.
Sketch of Stagshaw Close House by Joseph II, 1852, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.
A watercolour painting by Joseph II(?) of his birthplace, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.

Joseph II was born at West House, St. Anthony’s, Newcastle, on 16th May 1821 and quite early on exhibited a talent for art which he was able to pursue throughout his life. An adept, skilful draughtsman and watercolourist with a distinctly Northumbrian sense of humour, he is now best-known for his wood engravings in the chapbook style.

Watercolour and engraved cards by Joseph Crawhall II, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.

His work was not restricted to paper – a certificate in the scrapbook was awarded to Crawhall for commended work in an 1873 exhibition of paintings on china for the Art-Pottery Galleries in London.  

Certificate awarded to Joseph Crawhall II for painting on china, JCII-8, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.
A china plate painted by Joseph Crawhall II, Crawhall (Joseph II) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections & Archives, GB 186.

More information about the Genealogical Scrapbook and other Crawhall items can be found in our collections.

Gertrude Bell and the 1921 Cairo Conference

March 1921 marked a key milestone in the history of the Middle East and Iraq, and one in which Gertrude Bell played an important role. The key event was the Cairo Conference, where British officials met to discuss the political situation and agree on the future political makeup of the region.

Photograph of riders on camels with the Sphinx and pyramids in the background.
Photograph of Gertrude Bell and group on camels involved in the Cairo Conference (1921) GB/PERS/F/002

The conference took place between the 12th and 30th of March in Cairo, Egypt. Key attendees included (Sir) Winston Churchill (at the time Secretary of State for the Colonies), T.E. Lawrence (Special Advisor to the Colonial Office), Sir Percy Cox (High Commissioner of Iraq) and Gertrude Bell herself who had previously been appointed as Oriental Secretary for the High Commissioner of Iraq. Gertrude Bell already had a working relationship with Percy Cox dating back several years to their time spent together in Basra and Baghdad during the First World War where she worked under him using knowledge gained over the preceding years of the local tribal populations and their politics to advise the British leadership.

We know a great deal of Gertrude’s thoughts, opinions and involvement in the conference and middle eastern politics thanks to the letters she wrote throughout her life to family members which were retained, and then passed to Newcastle University after her death in 1926. The university also holds several thousand photographs and diaries chronicling her time travelling and working overseas, often in a great deal of detail. 

Gertrude’s letter of the 12th of March 1921 includes detail of her arrival in Cairo and the Semiramis hotel, and her first evening spent reacquainting with some of the other attendees at the conference:

T.E. Lawrence and others met us at the station – I was glad to see him! We retired at once to my bedroom and had an hour’s talk after which I had a long talk with Clementine while Sir P. [Sir Percy Cox] was closetted [sic] with Mr Churchill. The latter I haven’t seen yet, for he was dining out. I had Gen. Clayton to dinner and a good talk, with an amusing evening afterwards.

Part of a letter written by Gertrude Bell on the 12th March 1921. GB/LETT/1921/3/12

Busy with conference proceedings, and a visit from her father who had travelled to Cairo to see Gertrude, her next letters were written after the end of the conference whilst travelling back to Baghdad. In a letter to Lieutenant Colonel Frank Balfour Gertrude writes of the conference:

Mr Churchill was admirable, most ready to meet everyone half way and masterly alike in guiding a big meeting and in conducting the small political committees into which we broke up. Not the least favourable circumstance was that Sir Percy and I, coming out with a definite programme, found when we came to open our packets that it coincided exactly with that which the S. of S. had brought with him. The general line adopted is, I am convinced, the only right one, the only line which gives real hope of success. We are now going back to find Baghdad, I expect, at a fever pitch of excitement, to square the Naqib and to convince Saiyid Talib, if he is convinceable, that his hopes are doomed to disappointment – it’s a disappointment which will be confined to himself. But I feel certain that we shall have the current of Nationalist opinion in our favour and I’ve no doubt of success.

First page of a letter from Gertrude Bell to Frank Balfour, 25th March 1921. GB/LETT/1921/3/25
Second page of a letter from Gertrude Bell to Frank Balfour, 25th March 1921. GB/LETT/1921/3/25

As Gertrude suggests in her letter written on the 25th of March, the plan that was agreed for the future of Middle East and in particular the formation of the country of Iraq aligned closely with her own vision and ideas including the appointment of Faisal I bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashemi as the first king of Iraq. Indeed a month later on the 17th of April, when back in Baghdad, Gertrude wrote to her father saying “I’m happy in helping to forward what I profoundly Bellieve [sic] to be the best thing for this country and the wish of the best of its people”. In the same letter she also described her role in the arrest and subsequent exile of Talib al-Naqib who had objected to the British plan for Iraq and threatened a rebellion.

While the extent to which her input influenced the eventual solution can be debated, that the solution she advocated closely reflected the outcome of the conference is reflected in her writing from the time of the conference and the preceding months and years.

Gertrude Bell achieved much as a woman in the early 20th Century, including exploits in mountaineering, travelling and recording middle eastern culture and archaeology, enabled greatly by her privileged upbringing which allowed her the time, finances and social connections to develop her interests. Despite her many remarkable achievements in spheres dominated by men, she was also a prominent anti-suffrage campaigner. This aspect of Gertrude Bell’s life has been explored through an online exhibition curated by a student studying an English Literature ‘Exhibiting Texts’ module and can be found here.

Transcripts of Gertrude Bell’s letters and diaries, and the digitised versions of Gertrude Bell’s collection of photographs can be found on our dedicated Gertrude Bell website by clicking here.

Other blog posts focussing Gertrude Bell and her archive include a post featuring a letter written in 1920 including her thoughts on the Middle Eastern political situation at the time, found here, and a longer post exploring Gertrude’s involvement in the the First World War, found here.

Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin – February 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shelf mark: Alderson Collection BOS JEN

The ‘first women’ of the Newcastle College of Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Our first female medical student 1892

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Lillian Mary Chesney was born in Harrow in 1869.  Following her graduation from Newcastle she registered as a medical practitioner on 31 July 1899 and subsequently set up a practice in Harley Street. Later in life Lillian moved her practice to Sheffield and then to Palma de Majorca in Spain.  During the First World War Lillian served as a doctor in the Kragujevac (Serbia) Unit 1914-1915 and the London (Russia and Serbia) Unit from 1916-1917. Thanks to the research of John Lines whose great aunt, Margaret Box, also served with the SWH, we have evidence that by October 1918 Dr Chesney appears to be running the hospital in Skopje (Serbia) for the SWH. Margaret refers to Dr Chesney in several of her wartime letters and calls her “our chief”. Lillian died on 20 December in Mallorca, Spain. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Haunting of Ballechin House – October 2020

It wouldn’t be Halloween without a ghost story, and this month’s treasure provides just that. The Alleged Haunting of B— House was published in 1899 and compiles first-hand accounts of events perceived by guests, staff and tenants at Ballechin House, Perthshire, in the 1890s.

Title page from The Alleged Haunting of B--- House, 1899
Title page from The Alleged Haunting of B— House, 1899 (Clarke Miscellaneous Collection, Clarke Misc. 437)

In 1892 Ballechin came to the attention of The Marquess of Bute via a priest who had experienced sleepless nights there, having been disturbed by unexplained noises. Bute had an interest in the occult and was part of the Society for Psychical Research (S.P.R.). Five years later, Bute leased Ballechin to enable members of the Society and selected guests to visit as part of an investigation to record any perceived phenomena for a sustained period. Ada Goodrich Freer, another member of the S.P.R., arrived at Ballechin with a friend on the 2nd of February 1897. She and other visitors maintained journals and wrote letters during their stay. These first-hand accounts, made between February and May 1897, along with reflections from the editors (Freer and Bute), make up the core of the book.

The book relates sounds, visions and other occurrences experienced by occupants of Ballechin during the tenancy. The visitors engage in hypnotisms, Ouija Boards, crystal gazing and automatic writing. An appendix records nearly 100 ‘audible phenoma (see images below)’, including shrieks, groans, crashes and (less traditionally scary) ‘monotonous reading’. As editors, Freer and Bute stated that they offered ‘no conclusions. This volume has been put together, as the house at B—was taken, not for the establishment of theories, but for the record of facts’.

Shortly after the end of the tenancy, on June 8th, an article entitled On the Trail of a Ghost appeared in The Times. Written by a visitor to Ballechin, it damned the investigation, insisting that any phenomena were either noises from the plumbing or created by other inhabitants. He particularly criticizes Freer, stating that ‘simply because she is a lady, and because she had her duties as hostess to attend to, she is unfit to carry out the actual work of investigating the phenomena in question.’ The author continues to denounce the S.P.R.s methods more generally as ‘extremely repulsive’, reliant on ‘gossip’ as evidence and of ‘degrading beings whom it calls “sensitives and mediums”.

Illustration of a faceless apparition, observed by ‘Mr Q.’, a visitor at Ballechin
Illustration of a faceless apparition, observed by ‘Mr Q.’, a visitor at Ballechin, from The Alleged Haunting of B— House, 1899 (Clarke Miscellaneous Collection, Clarke Misc. 437)

Freer was disowned by the S.P.R following publication of this article. Frederic W H Myers, one of the founding members of the S.P.R. had also visited Ballechin during the investigations and ‘decided that there was no such evidence as could justify us in giving the results of the inquiry a place in our Proceedings’. Two years later, Freer and Bute still published this account of occurrences at Ballechin, including Myers’ statement in the opening pages. In the copy of the book held by Newcastle University, someone has added the name of Ballechin to the title page in pencil.

The Alleged Haunting of B– House is part of a collection created by neurologist and medical historian Edwin Clarke (1919-1996). Clarke’s collections reflect his varied interests and include books on medical history and North East England, as well as antiquarian material. This volume is from the Clarke (Edwin) Miscellaneous Collection, which brings together publications on the occult, ritual and folklore. Most of the books date from the 19th to the mid 20th Century. You can browse all of the books in the Clarke (Edwin) Miscellaneous Collection on Library Search.

The Enlightened Educationalist: Lady Bridget Plowden (1910-2000) – September 2020

“I’ve found the Chairman I want and that’s it”. The words of Sir Edward Boyle, the then Conservative Secretary of State for Education, upon first encountering Lady Bridget Plowden in 1963, which sums up in a nutshell Bridget and her innate ability to lead and influence.

Photograph of Lady Plowden at her desk
Photograph of Lady Plowden at her desk [Plowden (Lady Bridget) Archive, BP 30/4/33/15]

Wife of wealthy industrialist Edwin Plowden and mother of four, Yorkshire-born Lady Bridget Plowden (nee Richmond) became a prominent public figure later in her life. Having initially focused her energies on her children and supporting her husband’s career, at the age of 53 she was appointed Chairman of the Central Advisory Council for Education (CACE), despite her lack of experience, by Sir Edward Boyle, after wowing him at a dinner party with her knowledge and enthusiasm.

It was an appointment which surprised many, but education became a passion and personal commitment for Bridget and an area in which she wielded great influence and brought about significant transformation.

The Plowden Report

The CACE was tasked with considering and reviewing all aspects of primary school education, which was held at the time to be undervalued and underfunded. Said to have been both an inspirational and a demanding Chair, Bridget presided over the compilation of a 1200-page report, Children and their Primary Schools, published in 1967.

The report, known most often by its unofficial name ‘The Plowden Report’, was ground-breaking and reshaped primary education in the UK. It advocated child-centred approaches to Education, stressing that “at the heart of the educational process lies the child“. It reduced class sizes, introduced classroom assistants, recommended annual school reports and abolished corporal punishment.

Although not everyone agreed with all the report’s recommendations, and aspects of the report have naturally since been superseded by more recent innovations and developments over time, The Plowden Report nonetheless remains a hugely significant and transformative milestone in the history of primary school education on the UK.

Education for Roma and Traveller Children

Amongst the many findings of The Plowden Report was that Roma and Traveller children were “the most severely deprived children in the country” and that, owing to their travelling lifestyle, they had worse access to education than any other minority group.

Determined to improve this situation and demonstrating a continuing and broader commitment to primary education, Bridget helped establish The Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers (ACERT) in 1973. As the first Chair of ACERT’s steering committee, Bridget used her status and influence to create a positive environment for work towards improving the education of Roma and Travellers, shining a light on the issue and placing it firmly on the political map, benefitting huge numbers of children within the Roma and Traveller communities.

Front cover of ACERT report number 1
Front cover of ACERT report number 1 [Plowden (Lady Bridget) Archive, BP/9/9/1/1]

Broad field of interests

Bridget held a great many other public roles, including Vice-Chairman of the BBC Board of Governors (1970 – 1975) and Chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (1975 – 1980). Her broad field of interests also encompassed adult education, the care and resettlement of offenders, the role of voluntary work, young adult unemployment and training, and women and employment.

The Plowden (Lady Bridget) Archive

After her death 20 years ago this month (September 2020), Lady Plowden’s family generously gifted her archive to Newcastle University Library in 2003. An extensive and rich resource reflecting her many areas of concern, the catalogue to the archive is available to researchers via the Special Collections web pages. View the Lady Bridget Plowden Archive online.

Puffin Books – August 2020

2020 marks 80 years since the creation of Puffin Books, which are the children’s division of Penguin Books. The idea initially came about in 1939 after a meeting between Noel Carrington and Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin Books, with the creation of the company a year later.

The original idea was to publish a series of children’s non-fiction books which were a success. The first Puffin storybook was entitled Worzel Gummidge and appeared in 1941. During the early years Puffin Books encountered problems such as paper rationing during World War II and libraries still preferring hardback books rather than paperback.

Title page of Worzel Gummidge by Barbara Euphan Todd
Title page of Worzel Gummidge by Barbara Euphan Todd, illustrated by Tony Ross (OUP, 2002), text copyright © Barbara Euphan Todd 1936, reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press. (Book Trust Collection, FICTION TOD WOR)

Under its first editor, Eleanor Graham, Puffin aimed to publish 12 titles per year. During the 1950s, stories which allowed children’s imaginations to wander were published. Titles included Charlotte’s Web and C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Under the editorship of Kaye Webb, children’s publishing increased during the 1960s from 151 to 1,213 titles which included reprints of such classics as The Hobbit . New titles at this time included Stig of the Dump. A picture book list and teenage fiction began to be published as well as the introduction of The Puffin Book Club, which still exists.

Titles published during the 1970s and 1980s included The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Spot the Dog series.

Recent titles include Harry and his Dinosaurs and the Charlie and Lola series which have both been televised.  Roald Dahl’s popularity as an author has led to an annual celebration which takes place on 13th September.

Grey’s Monument struck by lightning – July 2020

Illustration of Grey Column, Newcastle, 19th Century
Illustration of Grey Column, Newcastle, 19th Century (ILL/11/218, Local Illustrations)

The recent Black Lives Matter protests in UK cities and across the world, have drawn attention to statues which ‘commemorate’ individuals who are thought to have profited from the slave trade. Newcastle’s major statue is Grey’s Monument. This is a Grade I listed monument to Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey who was prime minister during the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832, which set in motion the abolition of the slave trade.

The monument was built in 1838 and consists of a statue of Grey on top of a 135-foot (41 meters) high Roman Doric column. It was designed by local architects John and Benjamin Green, and the statue of Grey was created by the sculptor Edward Hodges Baily (the creator of Nelson’s statue in Trafalgar Square). It was paid for by public subscription.

After over a century of marking the top of Grey Street, the monument was hit by a bolt of lightning on 25 July 1941, which dislodged the head of Earl Grey from his body.

The Newcastle Chronicle reported the dramatic incident:

“The stone head of Earl Grey, 133 feet above the ground at the junction of Grainger, Grey and Blackett Street, crashed to the tram lines without causing any personal injuries, and was badly damaged.

“It was impossible to state whether the original head could be restored.”

The bits of head were gathered up and were reputedly placed in a nearby shop window, with the slogan “Earl Grey’s losing his head over our prices”. The statue was headless until 1947, when local sculptor Roger Hedley (the son of painter Ralph Hedley) created a new head based on the preserved fragments of the original.

Illustration of Grainger Street,  depicting Grey's Monument and buildings
Illustration of Grainger Street, depicting Grey’s Monument and buildings (ILL/11/261, Local Illustrations)

Our Local Illustrations contains many representations of Grey’s Monument standing tall during the 19th Century.