Unravelling the Theatrical Tapestry: A Glimpse into Special Collection’s Rare Books and the Legacy of the Playbill

Written by Megan Hardiman, an undergraduate English Literature student.

Over the last few months, I have been working within the Special Collections team, focusing on material from the Rare Books collection. Here, I was tasked with collecting metadata for over two hundred playbills that advertised performances from 1819-1820 at the Theatre-Royal, Newcastle. From the Shakespearean classics of ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Hamlet’ to the forgotten plays of ‘Bamfylde Moore Carew’, each playbill offered a unique window into Newcastle’s theatre scene.

Page from Play bills and notices, 1770-1820 with the title 'Mr Young and Mrs Garrick, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'
Page from Play bills and notices, 1770-1820 [Rare Books, RB 792(4282)]

As a third year English Literature student, I am admittedly an avid theatregoer, and often find myself at Northern Stage or Alphabetti Theatre indulging in upcoming and new material, so to see experimental plays were the heart and soul of the theatre in the 1820s was a pleasant surprise. However, the very nature of the plays has changed significantly, with titles such as “Of Age Tomorrow” and “The Day After the Wedding; Or, a Wife’s First Lesson” seldom featured in contemporary theatre. After reviewing the collection, there were thirty-four different titles that had negative gendered connotations, with some performances featured several times throughout the recorded year. The attached playbill illustrates the relationship between male and female performing bodies. Both Mr Young and Mrs Garrick are advertised as featured actors from London, yet Mr Young plays Hamlet, the fallen hero in Shakespeare’s tragedy, whereas Mrs Garrick is cast as Ophelia, who is driven to suicide as a consequence of Hamlet’s control, and Maria, the principal female role in ‘Of Age To-Morrow’. The playbill, like a time-traveling portal, allowed me to witness the disparity in roles assigned to male and female actors. While Mr. Young graced the tragic heights of fallen heroes, Mrs. Garrick drew the short end of the stick, predominantly featuring in what was deemed a musical farce.

 Page from Play bills and notices, 1770-1820, with the title 'Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'
Page from Play bills and notices, 1770-1820 [Rare Books, RB 792(4282)]

Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Hamlet’ was also paired with ‘Ladies at Home; Or, Gentlemen, we can do without you’. This disparate pairing seemed strange at first, and I spent a while scratching my head as to why the company would have done this. After some deliberation, I came to the assumption that it was an opportune moment to trial the new experimental play and measure its success with a large audience. ‘Hamlet’ generally attracted a bigger reception due to its popularity, and this is evident through the notice at the bottom of the item stating, “Nothing under FULL PRICE will be taken”, which suggests that a sell-out audience was likely. This then gave way for the Farce “Ladies at Home” to be aired. Perhaps this was revolutionary, or simply a marketing technique to test the waters of a female cast, but either way the playbills have given scope for a gendered analysis.

 Page from Play bills and notices, 1770-1820, with the title 'Fazio; or, the Italian Wife's Revenge.'
Page from Play bills and notices, 1770-1820 [Rare Books, RB 792(4282)]

The relationship between the Theatre Royal and gender has inspired me to write a dissertation on the lying-in hospitals around Newcastle, by using the playbills as a portal into the comparative analysis of the presentation of performing female bodies and pregnant women. As seen in the playbill, there were benefit performances for the building of a lying-in hospital, that was completed in 1826 and built opposite the city library. As such, the playbill has become a window into the gendered expectations imposed on both actors and women during the nineteenth century, and I will use the research gathered in Special Collections to inform my third-year dissertation. 

A ‘humble feast’ for Christmas

A kitchen interior with a young maid hanging carious meats, figures preparing food beyond, oil on canvas, circle of Jan Baptist Saive, 1563
A kitchen interior with a young maid hanging carious meats, figures preparing food beyond, oil on canvas, circle of Jan Baptist Saive, 1563. Public Domain.

Are you in the midst of preparing an elaborate Christmas meal? How about some inspiration from a seventeenth-century recipe book? From turkey sauces and minced pies to gingerbread and marzipan, Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife (17th Century Collection, 17th C. Coll. 338.1 MAR(3)) contains all the recipes you’ll need to create the perfect early modern festive feast.

About the Author

Gervase Markham was born around the year 1568 into a well-connected country gentry family, although not much is known about his early life. It is possible that, like his elder brother Francis, Gervase was educated at Cambridge. We do know that later, he spent several years serving with his brothers in Ireland and was also somewhat active at court. By 1593, he appears to have settled in London, and it is at this point that he turned his attention to writing.

He penned an astonishing variety of texts spanning multiple genres including poetry, drama and prose alongside a wide range of non-literary works on topics such as horsemanship, veterinary medicine, husbandry, domestic economy and military training.

The English Housewife

First published in 1615, The English Housewife is a handbook that, as its full title suggests, contains ‘all the inward and outward Vertues which ought to be in a compleat Woman’. Markham had an extensive list of demands and expectations when it came to the early modern English homemaker. She should be, above all, ‘of an upright and sincere religion’, and ‘a woman of great modesty and temperance’. She should ‘shunne all violence of rage, passion and humour’, and always remain ‘pleasant, amiable, & delightfull’ towards her husband.

The English Housewife provides recipes, methods, and instructions to help its reader accomplish these lofty expectations by mastering a range of skills including cookery, brewing, baking, perfumery, spinning, dying, and ‘all other things belonging to an Household’. As was customary for recipe books in this period, it also includes treatments for a range of medical ailments and advice on the prevention and cure of everything from the plague to bad breath.

It is worth noting that the contents of the text are not entirely original. Markham specifically credits an unnamed Countess as the source for many of the recipes in the text, and it is likely that many others had been in circulation in manuscript form or communicated orally for many years.

Nevertheless, the handbook remains an invaluable resource offering rare insight into the practicalities of early modern life. It was enormously popular, going through nine editions and at least two additional reprints by 1683. The edition currently held at Newcastle University’s Special Collections and Archives dates from 1649, several years after Markham himself had died.

Whilst not explicitly festive, The English Housewife contains recipes for early versions of many of our holiday favourites. Below you’ll find recipes for minced pies, turkey sauce, gingerbread and ‘marchpane’: everything you’ll need to complete your ‘humble feast’, which, according to Markham, should consist of ‘no less than two and thirty dishes, which is as much as can stand on one table’.

A Sauce for Roast Turkey

Roast turkey will no doubt be the centrepiece on many of our tables this festive season. Take a look at this recipe for an accompaniment for this Christmas staple:

Extract for 'a Sauce for roast turkey' recipe
‘Sauce for a Turkey’ extract from The English Housewife (1649)
Extract for 'a Sauce for roast turkey' recipe
‘Sauce for a Turkey’ extract from The English Housewife (1649)

Take fair water, and set it over the fire, then slice good store of Onions, and put into it, and also Pepper and Salt, and good store of the gravy that comes from the Turky, and boyle them very well together: then put to a few fine crums of grated bread to thicken it, a very little Sugar and some Vinegar, and so serve It up with the Turkey: or otherwise take grated whitebread and boyl it in white Wine till it be thick as a Gallantine and in the boyling put in good store of Sugar, and Cinamon, and then with a little Turnesole [turnsole] make it of a high murrey colour, and so serve it in Saucers with the Turkey in manner of Gallantine.

A Recipe for A Minced Pie

These minced pies are quite different to the ones we can buy in supermarkets today. They were more savoury than sweet, and combined meat with dried fruits, sugar and spices. They also were rectangular, rather than round, and were baked into a self-standing pastry known as a ‘coffin’.

'A mince't pie' recipe
‘A minc’t pie’ recipe from The English Housewife (1649)

Take a legge of mutton, and cut the best of the flesh from the bone, and parboyl it well: then put to it three pound of the best Mutton suet, and shred it very smal: then spread it abroad, and season it with Pepper and Salt, Cloves and Mace: then put in good store of Currants, great Raisins and Prunes clean washed, and picked, a few Dates sliced, and some Orange pils [peels] sliced; then being all well mixt together, put it into a coffin, or into divers coffins, and so bake them: and when they are served up, open the lids, and strow [strew] store of Sugar on the top of the meat, and upon the lid, And in this sort you may also bake Beefe or Veale, onely the Beefe would not be parboyld, and the Veale will aske a double quantity of Suet.

A Recipe for Gingerbread

What Christmas would be complete without gingerbread? Here you’ll find a recipe for spiced gingerbread made with liquorice, aniseed and cinnamon:

'To make gin-gerbread' recipe
‘To make gingerbread’ recipe from The English Housewife (1649)

Take Claret wine and colour it with Townesall [turnsole], and put in sugar and set it to the fire, then take wheat bread finely grated and sifted, and Licoras [liquorice], Aniseeds, Ginger and cinamon beaten very small and searsed [sieved] and put your bread & your spice altogether, and put them into wine and boyle it & stir it till it be thick: then mould it and print it at your pleasure, and let it stand neither too moist nor too warme.

A Recipe for ‘Marchpane’

Marchpane was early version of marzipan. Like modern marzipan, it was made using ground almonds and sugar. For the Tudors and the Stuarts, no banquet was quite complete without it. It could be carved into elaborate shapes and covered in gilding to create a glamorous centrepiece. According to Markham, it should have ‘the first place, the middle place, and the last place’ of a banquet. For our last recipe, take a look at the work that went into preparing this luxurious dish:

'To make the best Marcpane' recipe
‘To make the best Marcpane’ recipe from The English Housewife (1649)

To make the best march-pane, take the best Iordan [Jordan] Almonds, and blaunch them in warm water, then put them into a stone morter, and with a wooden pestel, beat them to pap, then take of the finest regined sugar, well searst [seived], and with it Damaske Rose-water, beat it to a good stiff paste, allowing almost to every Iordan Almond, three spooneful of sugar: then when it is brought thus to a paste, lay it up a fair table, and strowing [strewing] searst sugar under it, mould it like leaven, then with a roling pin role it forth, and lay it upon wafers washt with rose-water; then pinch it about the sides and put it into what form you please; then strow searst Sugar all over it; which done, wash it over with Rose-water and Sugar mixt to gether, for that will make the Ice, then adorn it with Comfets, guilding, or whatsoever devices you please, and so set it into a hot stove, and there bake it crispie, and so serve it forth. Some use to mixe with the paste, Cinamon and Ginger finely searst, but I referre that to your particular taste.

Further Reading

Steggle, Matthew. “Markham, Gervase (1568?–1637), author.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Best, Michael R., (ed.), Markham G., The English Housewife. Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014.

Historic UK – The history of mince pies

The Past is a Foreign Pantry – Marchpane: 1615

Food52 – Tudor(ish) Marchpane Cake recipe

Splashing About: Aquariums as Urban Design Projects

The month of October marks both World Architecture Day and World Cities Day (2nd and 31st October 2023 respectively). Not only that, but The Deep Aquarium at Hull is celebrating its 20th year of operation. With this in mind, Farrell project staff wanted to present some interesting features about aquariums that were built, imagined designs that never materialised and the ways in which they contribute to urban planning around the globe, based upon the material available within the Sir Terry Farrell collection.

Because who doesn’t love an aquarium?

The Deep, Hull (1999-2003)

The aquarium provided the central focus of Terry Farrell and Partners wider masterplan for the city of Hull. The objective of the project was to provide a catalyst for the economic regeneration of the city and the location for the aquarium occupied a former shipyard.

In the final design, the building rises at an acute angle to form an angular point directly above the spit of land between the River Hull and the Humber Estuary. Exterior finishes were chosen for their ability to season over time whilst looking aesthetically pleasing. Cladding choices consisted of marine-grade aluminium and reflective ceramic tiles, suggesting fissured rock plates.

The Deep, Hull by JThomas CC-BY-SA 2.0 <a href="http://http://<https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>

Visitor circulation within the building was also carefully controlled. Visitors entered the building and were elevated to the top floor before zig-zagging down in a continuous ramp through the various aquariums and interactive exhibits. The Deep stands out as a personal favourite Sir Terry Farrell and Partners attributed project.

But the real question is… does it look like a shark, a ship or an iceberg?

Biota Silvertown – London (1997-2009)

Whilst you may be lucky enough to visit The Deep, there is also material in the Sir Terry Farrell archive of aquarium designs that didn’t get the go ahead.

One of these proposals was the Biota! Silvertown Quays redevelopment, part of the Thames Gateway redevelopment region adjacent to Royal Victoria Dock, London. It formed one of the main public attractions on this site, which also included the Silvertown Venture Xtreme sport and surf centre.

Section and impression drawings of Biota! Item refs: TF-03798 and TF-03799

Biota was intended to be an aquarium based entirely on the principles of conservation, with each of the four biomes representing an entire ecosystem. The eventual building was given planning permission in March 2005 and was expected to be completed in 2008, but was unfortunately cancelled in 2009.

Pacific Northwest Aquarium – Seattle (1999-2001)

Moving across the Atlantic, pausing to marvel at what these man-made aquariums represent, we land at the design concepts for the Pacific Northwest Aquarium.

The Pacific North-West Aquarium sits on the waterfront at Elliott Bay in Seattle. It has occupied the site since 1977 and in 2000 Terry Farrell and Partners were invited to present a scheme with local partner architect Mithun to redevelop the aquarium across two pier arms numbered 62-63. The aquarium straddled two of the pier extensions, with one arm focusing on operational and administrative elements of the aquarium, whilst the other was used for public exhibits.

Sketches and working drawings of the proposed Pacific North-West Aquarium design. Item Refs: TF-08066/1

The shape of the aquarium was to resemble an open basin and contain a microcosm of ‘Puget Sound.’ It was intended to be an iconic structure in the Seattle landscape and hold a revamped exhibition programme. There appears to have been community opposition to the scheme due to its view-blocking appearance and future schemes did not involve Sir Terry Farrell and Partners.

Any Sir Terry Farrell archive related enquiries can be made to jemma.singleton@newcastle.ac.uk. Hope you make it to an aquarium near you soon for the buildings as well as the fishes.

Sir Terry Farrell’s archive has been generously loaned to Newcastle University Library and is currently being catalogued. A catalogue is due to be made available to the public at the end of 2023. All rights held by The Terry Farrell Foundation. 

Let’s Get Digital: Working with Born-digital Objects

As a part of my Museum Studies MA student placement, I spent the summer semester of 2023 working with Newcastle University Special Collections. My work focused on the Sir Terry Farrell Archive, using born-digital materials from the collection to create an online exhibition. I chose to focus the theme of this exhibition around the redesign and restoration of the Great North Museum, formerly the Hancock Museum, which was completed in 2009.

Graphic of southern view of GNM. Copyright: TF-2022-11-22-015, SOUTH LIGHTING VIS 02.jpg, Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186, kindly loaned by The Sir Terry Farrell Foundation.

What’s in an Archive?

When someone mentions archives, you might imagine famous library scenes in films, such as Nicholas Cage plotting to steal the Declaration of Independence in National Treasure or Rachel Weisz playing an adventurous librarian at the Cairo Museum of Antiquities in The Mummy. While normal archival research doesn’t typically lead to the more action-packed moments featured on the big screen, it can uncover new and surprising information.

Archives are collections which contain documents, pictures, and other small historic artefacts. Born-digital materials are documents that are created digitally. As technology advances, they are being added to archival collections alongside physical collections. This includes emails, document scans, and even digital artwork/renderings. The Sir Terry Farrell collection includes both physical and born-digital items. Having worked with physical collections in the past, I was excited to use this opportunity to explore the digital materials available and see how working with born-digital objects compares with physical ones.

Kara working at the Special Collections Research Reserve. Photograph taken by Jemma Singleton.

Sir Terry Farrell & the Collection

In 2021 Newcastle University Special Collections began a two-year project to catalogue the extensive archive of the postmodern architect and urban planner Sir Terry Farrell. Sir Terry Farrell grew up and studied in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he received a degree in Architecture from King’s College (now Newcastle University).

Farrell’s collection, which he gave as a long-term loan to the university, includes thousands of items relating to the creation of his iconic designs such as the MI6 Building in London, the Embankment Place development above Charing Cross station, and the Beijing South Station in China. While part of this collection is made up of physical objects and documents, it also includes a significant number of born-digital items including digital photographs, project documentation, and online correspondence.

Drawing of GNM long barrel section view. Copyright: TF-2022-12-05-005, LONG SECTION barrel.jpg, Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186, kindly loaned by The Sir Terry Farrell Foundation.

Working with Digital vs. Physical Collections

Born-digital archives contain all sizes and types of documents. In architectural collections, such as the Sir Terry Farrell Collection, physical blueprints can run large. I’ve seen blueprints that, when fully open, take up the length of nearly a whole conference table. With so many design variations, there can be multiple versions of the same blueprints for a single site. Digital files allow researchers easier ways to see these documents while also showing the more detailed aspects of the documents and taking up less physical space.

Physical archives can remain safely in storage and be maintained through conservation. Digitized files require periodic updates to keep them accessible for viewing. Some documents can’t be adapted if they were created on older versions of software. If they can be converted, they may not appear in their original format. Those that can’t are at risk of being lost forever.

Special Collections Research Reserve. Photograph taken by Kara Anderson.

Physical archival documents can be fragile and need protection through conservation. Digital files don’t need conserving in the same way as physical documents. There is no need to patch up tears or glue things back together, but they do require file format transformations to be kept accessible. CAD drawings (Computer-Aided Designs) often use proprietary software. The use of proprietary software in files, like CAD drawings, can make them inaccessible once archived and require specialist software to access them. They will also need to have copies kept for preservation in the form of jpg/tiff/pdf files. These transformations can take up significant amounts of storage space. For archivists, this may be problematic as their future work will require them to make sure that files are always up to date. For researchers, such as myself, it may mean that there is a limit to what we can access. At the rate that technology is improving, digital collections will have to be constantly maintained to preserve them for future use.

Aerial digital rendering of GNM from Claremont Rd side. Copyright: TF-2022-12-05-005, aero02_no pattern.jpg, Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186, kindly loaned by The Sir Terry Farrell Foundation.

I truly enjoyed my time at the Special Collections Reserve. This project was a great way to learn more about working with born-digital materials in addition to learning more about archival research. I have seen how archivists are handling the addition of born-digital archives to their collections and what it means for how they’re preparing to accommodate future collections. How to best preserve these digital archives is still a concern, but they also present a new challenge for archivists and researchers in how they will approach collections work as future technology develops.

This blog post and accompanying digital exhibition, Making a Museum: Creating the Great North Museum (Hancock), have been created for Newcastle University Special Collections by Kara Anderson as part of the Newcastle University Museum Studies MA placement programme. Images used in this blog post have been used with the permissions of Farrells and uses material kindly loaned by the Sir Terry Farrell Foundation.

Career Development Placement at the Farrell Archive

I began my career placement module with the Sir Terry Farrell archive collection in December 2022. Having never visited an archive before I was initially unsure what to expect. The image in my mind was a labyrinth of imposing metal shelves and dusty manuscripts veiled within grey boxes, untouched by human life for years. This image would prove to be somewhat of an exaggeration; over the course of my placement I would learn to navigate this dense realm of crumpled documents, confusing cataloguing formats and incessant repackaging. In doing so I learnt a lot about my degree, the workplace and the utility of archives.

The Terry Farrell archive is held in Newcastle University’s Special Collections as part of their larger Team Valley Research Reserve. I was tasked with helping the project team catalogue and store a vast array of documents encompassing the architectural legacy of a man’s entire working life. Having been introduced to the cataloguing process by members of staff I set about working through various item formats. I initially started out with the tubes, primarily focusing on Farrell’s work as master-planner for the Greenwich Peninsula, London (2000-2004). I sought to systematically catalogue each item, likening my efforts to a factory line churning out a belt of catalogued and repackaged documents at a consistent rate. This formulaic approach would soon fall apart as I opened the tubes and began to peer through their contents. Each tube contained a varying quantity of documents encompassing a diverse set of forms. There were sketches, planning diagrams, photographs and concept drawings amongst others. I soon realised that each tube would drastically differ in the time it took to process and the types of information that could be catalogued about each. Focusing on each tube as an individual unit ensured that the detail of my cataloguing improved.

Example of drawing plan repackaging with original plan packaging.
Example contents of architectural plan drawings.

Having spent half my placement cataloguing tubes I moved on to the slides. These were 35mm photographs depicting various projects worked on by Sir Terry within the Terry Farrell Partnership. The projects included Seven Dials (Comyn Ching), (1978-1985) and early iterations of Vauxhall Cross (1989-1994), both in London. Working with a consistent medium that was much easier to analyse and repackage I found myself working through the slides at a much more consistent rate, more akin to the formulaic approach I had tried previously. However, this consistency did not make the task mundane. I familiarised myself with the light-box, allowing me to properly see the content of the slide. The slides were a fascinating medium because they were visually interesting, and they allowed me to see Sir Terry’s projects as they were conceived of in the real world rather than through the abstract sketches and drawings of the tubes.

Ching Court, Copyright: No Swan So Fine, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Example of original slide packaging.
Example of repackaged and catalogued slides.

I found working in the archive useful as it gave me an intricate look into how archives are organised and processed. As a second-year history undergraduate I have started planning my dissertation which will require extensive time in the archives hunting for primary material. I am already planning some other archive visits as a result of this placement. Experience with the Sir Terry Farrell archive has familiarised me with their inner workings which will no doubt aid me in my own research.

The Sir Terry Farrell collection itself is highly useful for anyone interested in researching architecture. As someone with a layman’s understanding of the field, I learnt a lot about the discipline and was fascinated by the archive’s diverse contents. For anyone studying architecture or wishing to conduct research it represents an opportunity to analyse the works of one of Britain’s most prolific and celebrated architects.

Experience of an exhibition placement student

Written by Ella Fothergill, Listen to this Story! an exhibition about Children’s Books and Black Britain exhibition placement student (September-November 2022) – this was a joint exhibition with 7Stories, across 2 sites (Newcastle City Library and the Philip Robinson Library).

It is no secret to those who know me that I love children’s literature. My reasons for being passionate about this genre (and why I dedicated my postgraduate degree to studying it) would make for a very long list. But, in a nutshell, I find that children’s books are so fascinating because of the large role they play in shaping young people’s perceptions of the world. In other words, what we learn when we are young profoundly influences our understanding of the world and everything in it and, as such, children’s books have significant power over what beliefs, biases and ideas we harbour as adults.

Given this, I was very excited to see a student placement opportunity which focused on children’s works and Black British publishing – the two subjects which have been the centre of my Masters research. Specifically, this placement offered the opportunity to work with archived children’s works within Newcastle University Special Collections, curating a city-wide exhibition that would highlight the literary work done by Black British people. After reading the job advertisement, I applied immediately and … a few weeks and one interview later, I was offered the position!

Listen to this story! exhibition in situ, showing a tall banner with text in the middle and 6 staggered exhibition cases behind each other to the left and right of the banner.
Listen to this story! From History to Our Story exhibition in situ in the Special Collections Exhibition space in the Philip Robinson Library

Now, three months down the line and my internship is almost over. I have learned a lot along the way and have met many creative, talented people. Here is a summary of my internship highlights and responsibilities:

  • Before the opening of the exhibition, I was responsible for writing a caption to go alongside each exhibited work. I really enjoyed this because it involved handling the archived children’s texts myself, some of which were up to two hundred years old. I particularly loved flicking though the first few pages of each book where there was often a handwritten note or an old library stamp.
'British enslavement, rebellion and abolition' case used in the Listen to this story! exhibition. Case includes a backing panel with title, text and images with a glass exhibition space in front, with 5 archival items (mainly books) and accompanying paper text captions.
Example of the layout of an exhibition case with accompanying captions.
  • I have also had the opportunity to meet and work with graphic designers, authors, archivists and architects. I especially enjoyed meeting the children’s author and illustrator, Ken Wilson-Max, at the exhibition’s opening at Newcastle City Library. He hosted a brilliant talk about “Navigating the World of Children’s Publishing”. 
Photograph of Ken Wilson Max laughing, in front of a projection at his talk 'Navigating the World of Children's Publishing'.
Ken Wilson Max, at his talk ‘Navigating the World of Children’s Publishing’ at the opening of the 7Stories exhibition at City Library
  • Following the opening of the exhibition, I have also been involved in a few post-launch activities. These included writing a questionnaire for any exhibition visitors, writing tweets to promote the exhibition on social media, writing blog posts (such as this one and the Listen to this Story! blogpost) and conducting visitor tracking to observe visitor behaviour in the space.
Hand drawn image of the Special Collections exhibition space, with 3 slanted rectangles to the left of the page and 3 slanted rectangles to the right (representing the exhibition cases). There is then an orange dotted line with Xs and arrows showing when visitors stopped and looked at the cases, and the direction in which they navigated the space.
An example of visitor tracking in the exhibition space.

All of these experiences have been both valuable and enjoyable for me. This internship has also allowed me to witness the extraordinary talent and effort that goes into creating an exhibition as well as helping me to understand the world of children’s publishing more fully!

Conservation: You don’t want to screw it up.

This year World Architecture Day falls on 03 October 2022, and, as one of the cataloguers of the Sir Terry Farrell archive it seems fitting to write another blog where we can revel in some of Sir Terry’s interactions with listed buildings and the conservation process.

If you spend a small portion of your day indulging in architecture news to keep abreast of current trends… just me then… a key theme that crops up is a concern, maybe an aversion, towards redesigning listed buildings. The reasons for this aversion include, but are not limited to, the protective legislation around listed buildings of various grades and the extent to which, or how, they can be extended and modified. Restrictions may relate to the types of materials used, styles emulated, and building techniques required, not to mention which local authority is involved. It’s a heady mix to comprehend, regardless of if you are an architect wanting to demolish a listed staircase, or a member of the public who wants to refurbish their home.

Never-the-less, architects willing to engage with the listed building planning and application process do exist and Sir Terry Farrell was one of them. He appears to have been very engaged with the redevelopment opportunities afforded by listed buildings, and developed innovative solutions to satisfy building inspectors, local planning authorities, clients and contractors. Sir Terry Farrell appears to have had logical reasons for preserving listed buildings: if a building is still serviceable, why destroy it. The reasons are also sentimental: architects should respect rather than erase what they find on the ground because buildings are containers for lived experience and memory. By repairing and modifying the original fabric of the building, as an architect you contribute to the tapestry of living history.

Grey Street – Newcastle-upon-Tyne

To start, something a bit local to Central Newcastle; the refurbishment of Grey Street. 52-78 Grey Street was designed by John Dobson for Richard Grainger in the 19th century (c. 1836) and is currently situated within the Central Newcastle Conservation area with a Grade II listed status. In 1995 Newcastle City Council approved a scheme by Terry Farrell & Company Architects in which Numbers 52-60 were restored and extended to the rear and the facade of Numbers 62-78 was retained to provide a frontage to a new open plan office space. Early planning applications included an archaeological survey, and the Sir Terry Farrell archive holds an array of earlier material detailing historic research and early building use plans. There are also some examples of pre-existing interior detailing that are not just random pieces of wood.

Example of historic floorplan (c1920-1925) detailing use areas along Market Lane and Pilgrim Street.
Examples of interior joinery details and associated photocopies of joinery profiles for 52-78 Grey Street.

Most of the external façade of Grey Street had to be retained during the redevelopment; however, the internal reconfiguration was extensive, improving access throughout 52-78 Grey Street and redesigning the courtyard spaces between High Bridge Street and Market Lane. So, whilst the external appearance of Grey Street looks unaltered, the internal layout has been greatly changed. Just something to consider next time you are off on a stroll from Grey’s Monument.

The Royal Institution – Albermarle Street, London

Axonometric Impression drawing detailing key improvements to the Royal Institution.

The Royal Institution was founded in 1799 and is based in a row of houses designed by John Carr and built in 1756. A later façade was added to the front of the terrace in 1838 by Lewis Vulliamy.  The rooms behind remained largely in their original layout; they were poorly connected and, by the 1980s, were also run-down and confusing to visiting members of the public. Rodney Melville and Associates were initially tasked with conducting an Impact on Heritage Assessment which influenced the refurbishment plans based upon the Grade I listed status of elements of the building. These listed elements included the external façade, main staircase, lecture theatre, and ‘Conversation Room.’

Terry Farrell and Partners were selected as architects for the redevelopment of the Royal Institution project which ran from 1999-2008. In the final design, circulation routes were reinvented and the difference between public and private spaces clearly demarcated. The aim was to create clear horizontal and vertical connections and, at the same time, re-allocate what had become a jumble of different functions to logical defined spaces. The result was a ground floor of interconnected public spaces, with a basement level public exhibition space largely focused on the Young Scientists Centre, a first-floor lecture theatre and library suite, whilst third floor offices and laboratories were located on the top floor. The director’s flat was changed from the second floor to the fourth floor, replacing the caretaker’s flat. The listed ‘Sad’ staircase nearer the rear of the building was refurbished and extended to the lower ground floor.

Key to the straightforward zoning was provided by a rehabilitated rear courtyard of workshops which formed an atrium, and a new central lift component was installed and glazed over. This project demonstrates how extensive structural changes can be made within a listed building whilst appreciating its existing fabric.

Tobacco Dock Shopping Village – Wapping, London

This project comprised the restoration and conservation of a significant historic Grade 1 listed dockside building dating from 1818, representing part of the early 19th century expansion of London docks.  The project lasted from 1985-1990 and was completed in 2 parts; the first being the restoration of the original building fabric, and the second part involved the insertion of shopping and entertainment facilities and rebuilding the original dockside.

Restoration methods included the repair and the replacement of missing sections of the warehouse structure with fragments of the same type from buildings of adjoining sites which were threatened with destruction. Material from the archive demonstrates how remnants of industrial heritage around London influenced the finished appearance of the Tobacco Dock, and provide minutely detailed instructions for the refurbishment of salvaged material.

Instructions and photographs for the refurbishment of salvaged telephone boxes to use at Tobacco Dock.

There is also evidence of the ingenious decisions made to protect the existing structure of the building, such as retaining sub-soil moisture to prevent timber supports from drying out by discharging rainwater pipes below the basement floor.

As the above projects demonstrate, the archive of Sir Terry Farrell is full of material detailing how listed buildings can be sensitively repaired, retained and modified for their overall improvement. Unfortunately, there is no time to share evidence of the extensive communication that occurs with the planning application process of a listed building or conservation area. However, if you are interested in research matters relating to building conservation or other architectural interests within the Sir Terry Farrell archive you can contact the cataloguing project team, either Jemma Singleton at jemma.singleton@newcastle.ac.uk or Ruth Sheret at ruth.sheret@newcastle.ac.uk who will be happy to assist.

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

The archive of poet David Constantine – March 2022

We are proud to announce that David Constantine, the award-winning English poet, translator and literary figure has chosen to entrust his personal papers to Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives. Born in Salford Lancashire in 1944, he is a key contemporary writer and his career of over forty years has placed him at the heart of British literary culture. The archive, which is currently being catalogued, gives a unique opportunity to access his work and influence.

Photograph of David Constantine.

“Coming to the North East in the autumn of 1969 to take up a job as Lecturer in German at the University of Durham, I very soon realized my good fortune. I had been writing poems and stories – badly – for some years by then, and in Durham, where we lived, and in Newcastle, there was a lively literary scene. At readings (Colpitts, Morden Tower, the two Universities) and in conversations with other writers, I began to find my own way and get one or two things published, in Jon Silkin’s Stand, for example. But the big event and greatest encouragement was getting to know Neil Astley, who founded Bloodaxe Books in 1978, and published my first collection three years later. I knew at once that was where I wanted to be, and there I have been ever since. Poets who were my friends and whose work I admire – Ken Smith and Helen Dunmore, for example – have died along the way, which saddened me but further deepened my gratitude and loyalty to Bloodaxe, our shared publisher. Altogether, although I moved to Oxford in 1981 and have gained much from being there, I felt a strong allegiance to the North, especially once Ra Page founded Comma Press in Manchester (2002) and began to publish my fiction. My roots are in the North, in Salford, a good deal of my writing (though by no means all or even most of it) has dealt with Northern places and people. So that, in brief, is why I wanted my archive to go to Newcastle and I am grateful it has been accepted there.”

David Constantine

In 1980, Constantine’s poetry collection A Brightness to Cast Shadows was one of the first to be published by Bloodaxe Books, and he has remained with them as publishers of his poetry. Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives also houses the Bloodaxe Books archive. Find out more about Constantine’s connection to Bloodaxe Books here; https://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/category/david-constantine.

In 2020, Constantine was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He has published fifteen collections of his own work and several in collaboration with other poets. His work in translating poetry from German has twice won him the Poetry Society’s European Poetry Translation Prize, once in 1996 for his collection of the poems of Fredrich Hölderlin and again in 2003 for Hans Magnus Enzenberger’s collection Lighter than Air.

Often using a metaphysical poetics, Constantine’s poetry has been described as possessing “rare lyric intensity” and “confessional intimacy” (https://poetryarchive.org/poet/david-constantine/). Constantine asserts that he uses his poetry as a “utopian demonstration” of “what true freedom would be like” (ibid). He suggests that poetry “helps keep hope alive […] [and] incites us to make more radical demands” (ibid). His most notable works include Watching for Dolphins (1983), A Pelt of Wasps (1998), Nine Fathoms Deep (2009), Elder (2014) and Belongings (2020). Watching for Dolphins won the Poetry Society’s Alice Hunt Bartlett Award in 1984 and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize in 2002.

Page from typescript of Watching for Dolphins.

Constantine has also published six short story collections including Under the Dam (2005), The Sheiling (2009), Tea at the Midland (2012) and In Another Country (2015). In 2010, Tea at the Midland, “a masterful story, pregnant with fluctuating interpretations and concealed motives,” won the BBC National Short Story Award (theguardian.com/books/2012/dec/14/tea-at-midland-david-constantine-review). In the same year, The Sheiling was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and Tea at the Midland went on to win this in 2013. In 2015, the short story In Another Country was adapted into the acclaimed and successful box office film 45 Years. The Guardian reviewed it as “supremely intelligent and moving” and Charlotte Rampling was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress (theguardian.com/film/2015/aug/27/45-years-review). See more about 45 Years here; https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3544082/.

Constantine’s body of work also contains two novels, Davies (1985) and The Life Writer (2015). Both explore themes of uncovering the past through traces and memories, and the archive gives a unique opportunity to discover how Constantine engages with these dynamics. Davies is a fictional realisation of the life of a notorious habitual petty-criminal David Davies (1849-1929). In response to Constantine’s newspaper advert requesting memories of Davies, the archive reveals the wealth of information he received in the form of letters. One elderly woman remembers that the mystery behind a missing stolen bottle was solved when it was found years later by her aunt. Below a section of the finished typescript reveals that Constantine builds this fragment of memory directly into his narrative and that he uses the character of the ‘Master’ to voice his own pride in having revealed this intriguing detail.

Page from typescript of Davies.

Constantine has also worked at the heart of British literary culture and the archive evidences his commitment to its promotion and production. His editorial work ranged from the grassroots development of the Oxford Magazine to the international stage of Modern Poetry in Translation and the canonical reach of The Poetry Book Society Anthology.

Front cover of The Poetry Book Society Anthology 1988 – 1989.

He was chief judge for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize and in 2004, he brought his contribution to contemporary debates on poetic theory to Newcastle University with a lecture series in association with Bloodaxe Books. This series was published as A Living Language and sought to evaluate the functions of poetry, asking what it must do to achieve lasting worth and value. Find out more about this series here; https://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/a-living-language-797.

For further information about David Constantine’s work and to hear some of his recordings, use this link to access the online resource Poetry Archive; https://poetryarchive.org/poet/david-constantine/.

Mel Tuckett

No viruses or check-sum inconsistences at the Digital Preservation Party please: validating, verifying and transferring born digital architecture records.

To acknowledge Digital Preservation Day, staff at Newcastle University Special Collections wanted to share some of their recent experiences in accessioning born digital material. The practical part of the digital preservation process has been on pause since the start of the pandemic, but now we are back in the office, interacting with our colleagues and scrutinising all the data involved in protecting the longevity of the bit stream.

Introducing Digital Preservation

Before we dive into what we have been doing, we thought it would be good to introduce our understanding of digital preservation, what it is and why it is considered increasingly important for archival collections. For those of you au fait with the theory of born digital material feel free to skip to the next section.

Digital preservation can be defined as a structured set of activities designed to ensure continued access to born digital materials for as long as it is deemed necessary. This includes maintaining the availability of compatible hardware-software relationships, trained practitioners, and appropriate workflows to select, transfer, ingest, and access ‘born digital’ files.

There are no rigid workflows for a successful digital preservation strategy that are applicable for all organisations, but there are widely used software, helpful resources and models to aid you when formulating your own managed set of activities which can be tailored towards your own institution. See here for a handy guide introducing you to the technical jargon.  The presence of born digital materials held in archival collections is becoming increasingly paramount, especially when cataloguing and providing access to late twentieth century material. Therefore, it follows that the knowledge and skills to preserve and provide access to them is also being increasingly highlighted.

Digital Preservation within Newcastle University Special Collections

A department wide digital preservation strategy has been in place within Newcastle University Special Collections since 2019. This includes full workflows to accession, process and catalogue, access, and preserve born digital materials within the wider aims of facilitating research, encouraging collection transparency and maintaining a pathway to providing long-term access to heritage collections. Following these steps users of special collections can now access digital material held within the Bloodaxe and Donaldson, (Sir Liam) collections.

Newcastle University has recently become the recipient of the Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive, and one of our next priorities is to process the collection. You would expect a substantial architectural collection to contain voluminous quantities of physical building plans, and this collection is no exception. However, the archive also contains a substantial amount of born digital material in the form of CAD and drawing files, along with the quantities of reports and contractual documentation involving the professional practice of Sir Terry as leading architect over the course of his professional life. These digital records are predominantly contained within CD-R’s and the occasional floppy disc.

A box of CD'R's from the Farrell, (Sir Terry) Archive.
The born digital materials, demonstrating that great things come in small packages.

Fresh from ‘Novice to Know-How’ training prepared by the National Archives, Senior Archives Assistant, Jemma Singleton set about actioning the existing digital preservation strategy for this material. It was a way of testing out new-found knowledge in a practical way, and to explore the applicability of conducting regular digital preservation as a parallel exercise to more traditional archival cataloguing. The second part of this blog post details what we did, challenges we faced, how we creatively solved these challenges, and what we learned during the process.

Accessioning Born Digital Architecture Files

The items selected for digital accession and file transfer involved Sir Terry Farrell’s work for the refurbishment of the Royal Institution, along with some video interviews. The item containers (eg: the CD-R) had already been physically catalogued, but the contents needed to be virus checked, validated and transferred. The following working practice, supported with in-house demonstration and advice by Archivist, Ruth Sheret, is detailed below.

  1. Assign a parent-code file ID and keep daily log of activities up to date for steps (2-5).
  2. Run each disc through virus checking software (Malwarebytes Premium), using an un-networked quarantine computer, and note the results.
  3. Validate digital item using DROID to check for encrypted files, unexpected file types, file structures, or files that are not wanted, and note the results.
  4. Transfer files to a local area, using checksum SHA-56 on the material, once prior to transfer and once it has been transferred to the local area. Check they match.
  5. Refile physical item and repeat for all desired material.
  6. Transfer files from local area to shared access area once computer is connected back to the network (but only if it remains virus free!).
Jemma at a computer doing conducting born digital material checks.
The feeling you want to have when everything checks out.

Challenges and Workaround Solutions

Appropriate Equipment in the Right Location

The Farrell (Sir Terry) Archive is stored separately from the majority of Newcastle University Special Collections. The process of acquiring and setting up an appropriate virus checking computer is currently delayed with the IT department at Newcastle University. This meant that identified born digital items within the collection were transported to the main library where an established quarantine computer was used. Although it would be ideal to have the appropriately set up IT systems in the right location, transporting items where there are adequate digital preservation resources may prove to be an adequate long-term work around. This solution had the serendipitous consequence of enabling other colleagues (Rachel Hawkes, Literary Archivist) working on other collections with born digital material to engage in training, enhancing the digital preservation skill set of the wider team.

Ruth and Rachel engaged in virus checking and check-sum validation.

Appropriate Software

As we hadn’t used this computer for a while, one of the first things required was an update for all the software we use for transferring born digital material. One of our tools (DROID) was glitchy in the morning and so we decided on an alternative work around – either hold off on the validation process for a later date, or make manual checks. This was an easy decision to make for the material we had, Ruth checked the material and quickly decided that manual checks would be reliable and not very time consuming. It was decided to harvest the metadata at a future stage in whole digital preservation process.

Checksum Inconsistencies

This session was a virus-free party and special care was taken to make sure the hardware was always unplugged from the network. However, some checksum results pre and post transfer were not exact. This was often due to an inbuilt folder within the portable hardware storage device, acting as a secondary digital container but not a relevant digital record. Nevertheless, this required an in-depth, manual check of files transferred from its physical format onto the local system.


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

Digital Preservation Day Reflections

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

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

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

“People don’t know about them…”

The story of Dr Ruth Nicholson and the women of Royaumont Military Hospital

Panel on the Royaumont women in the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry, stitched by Andrea Cooley

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

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

Three Women

Our story starts with Rosemary Nicholson, a local Newcastle woman who contacted the Universities at War project to tell us about her husband’s aunt Ruth – a Newcastle University medical graduate who had worked as a surgeon in a military hospital in France throughout the First World War, under the direction of the French Red Cross.

A female medical graduate?

A military hospital staffed entirely by women?

And why the French Red Cross?

The story caught the eye of Sam Wagner, an archaeology student in her final year of study at Newcastle University, who had joined the Universities at War project in 2015.

A combined image of Ruth Nicholson, Rosemary Nicholson and Sam Wagner
Ruth Nicholson, Rosemary Nicholson and Sam Wagner

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.

It is the fascinating story of an amazing Newcastle woman, whose story had been almost forgotten – passed on by the women in her family who had never forgotten and who wanted her story to be told.

The College of Medicine – Newcastle upon Tyne

Ruth Nicholson completed her high school education at Newcastle upon Tyne High School and registered as a student at the College of Medicine in 1904.  After graduating in 1911 she worked in a dispensary in Newcastle before going to Edinburgh where she became an assistant to Dr Elsie Inglis in the Bruntsfield Hospital.  As Rosemary states, she then worked in Palestine before returning to England at the outbreak of the First World War.

Ruth (seated far left) with her brother and five sisters

“There were seven of them all together, one brother and Ruth the eldest.  This was taken at Newton Vicarage where they lived later on in their father’s life. Their father was a vicar.

Their mother was rather a remarkable woman I think for her time because she wanted all her children to get professional qualifications regardless of whether they were men or women … So Ruth qualified as a doctor in Newcastle, and then the youngest, Wyn, also qualified as a doctor.  The only one who didn’t get special qualifications is Alison. She was always rather a joke in the family. She had a lover in Romania and that’s what distracted her!”

Ruth’s Graduation photograph, 1909.

“That picture’s Ruth in 1909 when she qualified … she qualified as the only woman in her year.  And I think that she probably was quite a convinced suffragette. I don’t know whether she was a suffragette or a suffragist but you know Newcastle was a centre for a quite militant suffragette movement … Newcastle had some quite militant women!

It was quite difficult I think for women to get work as doctors in England. She went to work briefly in Edinburgh with a very distinguished woman doctor called Elsie Ingles and then she went to work out in Palestine in Gaza, which was before the First World War.”

The start of the First World War

“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”.

So she was very, well according to the family, she was terribly terribly angry and upset. And she went back to Elsie Inglis in Edinburgh … she’d [Inglis] started a 100-bed hospital entirely with women, it was called the Scottish Women’s Hospital and she had also offered her 100-bed hospital to the War Office but the War Office said – I’ve forgotten what it is exactly they said – something like “Go home and sit down”.

She didn’t like that!”

Elsie Inglis, image kindly provided by the Imperial War Museum

Rosemary’s family stories appear to be entirely correct.  Research by the National Archives confirms that Inglis was told by an official “My good lady, go home and sit still”.  In her 1928 book, The Cause, Ray Strachey found evidence of accounts that suggested the commanding officers had told Inglis they “did not want to be troubled with hysterical women”.

The Hospital at Royaumont

“ So they offered the hospital to the French in London – the French Ambassador and he said “yes please” the French would like them, because apparently the French, this is again just through the family myth probably, the French were very aware of the deficiencies in their medical services and they were worried when the war was declared.

The president of the [French] Red Cross found them Royaumont, but Royaumont, the abbey hadn’t been inhabited for quite a long time; been used as stables and it had no, I don’t think it had electricity and it didn’t have any lifts, which they found really really difficult for dealing with stretchers and trolleys and things like that when they opened the abbey.  The abbey was full of nuns, they were kind of helping out, but it was an empty shell of a building and it was in a terrible state. So, quite how they managed to get it open by 1915, I don’t know what they did.”

Royaumont Hospital, image kindly provided by the Imperial War Museum

Royaumont was the largest continuously-operating voluntary hospital in France at the end of the First World War – over 10,000 patients were treated at Royaumont and its mortality rates were better than its army-run equivalents.

Frances Ivens at Royaumont, by Norah Neilson Gray, image kindly provided by the Imperial War Museum.
Royaumont – by Norah Neilson Gray, image kindly provided by Helensburgh Public Library.

“ They started with 100 beds and by the end or at some stage, they had 600 beds. You probably know that, and some of the wards had 100 beds in them… I mean, I just don’t know how they coped, I don’t know how they did it…They were tough, I think, really tough.”

“ Unfortunately, I never met Ruth because she lived in Devon and she died in 1963, and my husband and I got married in 1962 and I never met her… but I knew Alison because she lived locally [Ruth’s sister Alison had also served in the Royaumont hospital, as an orderly, from September 1916 – March 1919].  I knew her quite well. And she used to talk about it all – they went on having Royaumont reunions right on until the sixties, the middle sixties, you know, which is a long time, you know… She talked about how traumatised people were, nightmares, they continued to have nightmares about it and things.  And the doctors too, I think.  I think it must have been awful. Really awful.”

“ I make it sound all gloom … but obviously in the First World War they had times of terrible crisis and awful fighting and then other lulls and really not much happening.  And apparently, the nursing staff and the doctors, I supposed they were very used at home to providing their own entertainment and things and they would put on shows … Well Ruth, apparently had learnt how to do, while she’d been in Palestine, Dervish Dances, I think she called them her scarf dances!  I think the patients liked them a lot!”

The Scottish Women’s Hospitals depended on an extensive network of fundraising, much coming from the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) whose London units provided an x-ray van.  Newnham and Girton colleges in Cambridge provided both money and volunteers, as did women in the USA and around the world.

Frances Ivens was the first foreign-born woman to be awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honour, and thirty of her Royaumont colleagues were awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Ruth (standing far left) and Frances Ivens (seated) receiving their Croix de Guerre medal.
Frances Ivens, image kindly provided by the Imperial War Museum.

“ And then at the end of the war, these are some of the doctors who got French medals. They got the French Criox de Guerre. This is Frances Ivens … she was the first non-French person ever to get the Legion d’Honneur.”

“ There were two surgeons, Ruth of course, second in command of the hospital I think they called her, and the boss was called Frances Ivens. She was … the rather inspirational woman in charge … I think it’s incredible that quite a lot of the women who came out to be ambulance drivers actually brought their own cars, and had them slightly transformed I think! So, quite a lot of quite rich, I think, young women who could provide their own vehicles. ”

After the War

After the war Ruth specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology and became Gynaecological Surgeon and Clinical Lecturer at the University of Liverpool and was one of the earliest Fellows of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. She became the first woman President of the North of England Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and played a prominent part in the Medical Women’s Federation. Dr Ruth Nicholson died in Exeter on 18 July 1963.

Staff of Royaumont, Francis Ivens is Centre, with Ruth to her right.
Ruth’s sister, Alison Nicholson, who went to the Royaumont Hospital in 1916 to serve as a nurse.

“ 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!”

Ruth later in life, thought by her family to have been taken when she lived in Liverpool.