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.

Time

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.

Cabinet of Curiosities: a new way to inspire research in Special Collections

Stuck for an original research proposal?

From a letter written by Mary Shelley to a pair of socks that were presented as evidence in a Scottish murder trial, the drawers of our new Cabinet of Curiosities reveal the great range of materials we hold and the ways they can inspire and inform your research. Hover over the cabinet drawers to open them. Learn about the items and how they came to be in our collections as well as contextual information and suggested avenues for related research.

If you find something that piques your curiosity, why not consider using Special Collections’ archives and rare books as evidence in your essay or dissertation? You can head over to our research planner which will guide you through the process of using primary sources in your work.

The new Cabinet of Curiosities.

Jim Beirne and the Live Theatre – April 2021

For Jim Beirne, MBE, April 2021 marks a 21 year career milestone as he steps down as Chief Executive of Live Theatre. 

Back in 1973, Live Theatre were a touring company presenting new material to new audiences in non-theatre venues. They toured the North East performing in social clubs, community venues and schools and offered what Emeritus Creative Director Max Roberts describes as “an authentic working-class experience that [he’d] never encountered in the theatre before”. A shift towards new writing started in the early to mid-70s when the company moved from its initial home in Gateshead to join Amber Films on the Quayside. Around this time, they started working with writers like Tom Hadaway, a fish-merchant and writer, from North Shields who started to write plays for the Company. Live Theatre moved away from creating their own work and became writer-led in their approach to theatre. Tom Hadaway was the first of many esteemed writers to become a Writer in Residence at Live Theatre, the ranks of which include C.P. Taylor, Lee Hall, Julia Darling and Sean O’Brien.

By 2000, Live Theatre excelled in supporting new writers, but its financial future was uncertain. Jim Beirne joined the company in 2000, and his time as Chief Executive saw him develop a ‘new vision, new direction and a new business model’ for the theatre, and oversee ‘an outstanding programme of work that celebrates and is dedicated to presenting new stories with a strong social and political focus’ (https://www.live.org.uk/blogs-resources/jim-beirne-steps-down-live-theatre-chief-executive-after-21-years-helm). Beirne saw the theatre undergo a full refurbishment which was completed in 2007, and the opening of a series of new developments including St Vincent’s café and The Broad Chare pub, as well as The Schoolhouse, Live Works, Live Tales and Live Garden to create the Live Quarter in Newcastle Quayside. In 2011, Jim received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Northumbria University and in 2012 he was awarded an MBE for his service to theatre. This month, Jim Beirne leaves Live Theatre as a cultural institution with an international reputation as a new writing theatre; known for producing new plays and nurturing creative talent.

More details on our Live Theatre archive, which includes play scripts, photographs, correspondence, and papers relating to the growth and development of the Theatre at their Quayside location, can be found here.

Live Theatre programme for The Night of the Snapped Suspender by Leonard Barras

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

Japanese Paper Balloon Bombs – January 2013

Diagram of a Japanese Fire Bomb from Japanese Paper Balloon Bombs:
Diagram of a Japanese Fire Bomb from Japanese Paper Balloon Bombs: The First ICBM
Henry Morris, Bird and Bull Press, 1982 (Rare Books, RB623.451 MOR)

Necessity is often said to be the mother of all invention. Sadly, with war, this often came in the form of scientific advances devised to kill and spread panic with more efficiency and devastation. During World War II, Germany’s most important technical achievement was the development and use of the V-2 missile; an unmanned, liquid propellant rocket capable of reaching overseas targets and the first known man-made object to enter space. Completed by July 1944, they were responsible for the death of 2,754 civilians in England alone and had an even greater propaganda value as a weapon coveted by the allies and feared by citizens at risk. However, they were not the only Axis power to launch such terrible initiatives, with Japan even outdoing the V-2 in terms of spanning continents to become the first truly inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), albeit in a less successful, more rudimentary way…

This annotated sketch, enclosed in a book explaining the history behind them, depicts a prototype fire bomb or füsen bakudan, which Japan developed during World War II as a means of spreading terror, starting fires and inflicting casualties on North American soil. After the disastrous defeat of their Navy at the battle of Midway (4 – 7 June 1942), the Japanese Military were intent on causing a similar psychological victory over the U.S. Over the next two years, the Imperial Japanese Army’s elite Noborito Laboratory, staffed by over 1000 of the country’s top scientists, engineered and tested incendiary and anti-personnel devices attached to 32 foot balloons made of Japanese handmade paper. These were capable of travelling on the trans-Pacific upper wind currents or ‘jet streams’ over the Pacific Ocean.

Considerable research was carried out to allow the balloons to maintain the minimum altitudes needed during the estimated 60 hours and over 6,200 miles it took to reach America. An aneroid barometer detonated explosives to release sandbags when they descended too far. When all these ballasts had dropped, the weapon was presumed to be over its target and the bombs were released. Rubberized silk was trialled for the balloons, but found to be much too heavy, whereas the light but exceptionally strong paper was more successful.

From November 1944 to April 1945, more than 9000 füsen bakudan were launched. It is estimated 1000 reached America; roughly the success rate of 10% predicted by Japan. However, the U.S. authorities, fearful of the panic they would spread and not wanting the Japanese to know how successful they had been, ordered radio stations and newspapers to give no publicity to such incidents. Although damage was minimal, six Americans, a pregnant Pastor’s wife and five Sunday school children did lose their lives in Oregon on 5th May 1945 when they investigated a downed balloon and the still attached bomb exploded; the only deaths due to enemy action to occur on mainland America during World War II. Ironically, this tragedy took place on land owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company, who were papermakers.

This diagram and the accompanying book was one of only 375 copies printed at the Bird and Bull Press, Pennsylvania, founded by Henry Morris, a printer and papermaker, in 1958, specializing in the art, craft, and history of papermaking.

Grimms’ Fairy Tales – December 2012

Fairy tales by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm; illustrated by H. E. Butler, c.1910
(Burnett Collection, Burnett 20)

The first collection of folk tales compiled by the brothers Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm was entitled Kinder-und Hausmärchen or Children’s and Household Tales. Published 200 years ago, on 20th December 1812, they were based on German folk tales, which were widely-known in oral tradition but had never been written down as a complete collection. The brothers’ aim was to gather the traditional folk tales of the common people together and for them to be accepted and read by the rising middle classes. However, they have been criticised for changing characters and meanings in order for the stories to appeal to an audience that valued hard work, patience and obedience. Kinder-und Hausmärchen was the second most popular book in Germany during the Twentieth Century, second only to the Bible.

These images are from an early twentieth-century edition of the original tales. The illustrations were completed by Herbert Edward Butler (1861-1931). Butler trained at the Royal Academy, where he also exhibited in 1909. He and his wife, Sophia, lived in Polperro, Cornwall where he had a painting school. He specialised in large oil canvases, although after the First World War he began painting smaller watercolours and illustrating books.

Despite their misleading title, Grimms’ fairy tales were not originally intended as stories for children. It became increasingly popular for parents to read them to children, and the tales were revised in order to make them more morally acceptable, often removing references to sex and violence. The sanitised stories we assume Walt Disney was responsible for creating, were in fact products of the Grimm Brothers themselves who set about ‘cleaning-up’ the tales. Below are some of the most interesting changes that have taken place in the classic fairy stories since their first publication in 1812:

  • The first-edition versions of Snow White and Hansel and Gretel featured the children’s birth-mothers as the villains, but this was later changed to the step-mothers, possibly to mitigate the violence of the stories.
  • In Rapunzel, her relationship with the Prince was sexual as, after his evening visits, she noticed her clothes getting tighter; she was clearly pregnant. In this edition it is not included but their sexual relationship is still alluded to as the Prince discovers her living with their twins at the end of the story.
  • In Snow White, the original tale ends with her step-mother, the wicked Queen being forced to put on red-hot iron shoes and dance until she fell down dead.
  • In Cinderella the sisters cut off parts of their feet in order to make the slipper fit and trick the Prince into marrying them. In the end they get their eyes pecked out by pigeons.

The re-writing of fairy tales has been constant and continues today. In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries the idea of Christian meritocracy was introduced into fairy stories, particularly in Britain and the US. God was portrayed as being on the side of the hero and religious paraphernalia was incorporated into illustrated editions of the fairy tales, such as bibles placed on bedside tables. In Nazi Germany, traditional folk tales were considered to be holy and sacred and were promoted by the government from 1933 onwards. The Nazis said that Kinder-und Hausmärchen was a book that every household should own and used the stories to create feelings of nationalism. They embraced the traditional folk ideals of purity, loyalty, maternal sacrifice and male courage and used the stories to socialise children. It can be argued that the close association of the Nazis with the traditional fairy tales was the cause of the accusations of anti-Semitism that plagued Walt Disney during his lifetime.

In February this year many of the national newspapers ran stories claiming that parents are no longer reading fairy tales to their children. Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood were considered to be too scary; Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was seen as inappropriate because of the use of the term ‘dwarves’ and Goldilocks and the Three Bears for condoning stealing; and Cinderella apparently sent an outdated message about women being responsible for doing housework. Conversely, fairy tales have been popular for 200 years and the habit of reading them to children is well-established. The common themes of growing-up, familial struggles and fear of the unknown continue to make the stories relevant today. In addition they teach children important lessons about not trusting strangers, obeying their parents and loyalty. Will fairy tales die out? It’s doubtful, after all everyone loves a happy ending…

Fairy tales by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm; illustrated by H. E. Butler, c.1910
(Burnett (Mark) Collection, Burnett 20)

Robert Spence Watson – February 2011

Image of Robert Spence Watson

2nd March 2011, marks the centenary of the death of Robert Spence Watson (1837-1911). This image of Spence Watson is pasted into the front of a copy of one of his publications, The Reform of the Land Laws (1905), contained in the Spence Watson/Weiss Archive (SW 10/9).

Robert Spence Watson was born in Bensham on the outskirts of Gateshead. His family’s house there, Bensham Grove, remained his home for all of his life. Born into a Quaker family and a lifelong Quaker himself, Spence Watson was aware from an early age of the presence of injustice in the world and the efforts made by those who strove to redress the balance. His father, a solicitor, was a campaigner for the first Reform Bill, an advocate for Catholic Emancipation, and northern secretary of the Anti-Corn Law League, and at the age of seven the young Robert reportedly heard the famous Quaker radical and Liberal statesman John Bright speak from the hustings at Durham.

Although he became a solicitor by profession, Spence Watson’s interests were many and varied and his work and achievements in the spheres of politics, social reform, philanthropy and education gained him a position of great influence and esteem in his native Newcastle and beyond. His entry in the Dictionary of National Biography states that he “represented the Quaker tradition of public action at its sturdiest”.

He was passionately interested in education and saw it as a means of improving an individual’s social condition. Amongst his many accomplishments in this area, he was Chairman of the first Newcastle school board and a pioneer of the Newcastle Free Public Library, ran working men’s Sunday classes and pioneered a system of adult schools. He was heavily involved in the foundation in 1871 of the Durham College of Science, later Armstrong College, which eventually evolved into Newcastle University, becoming its first President in 1910. He also served over a period of many years as Honorary Secretary, Vice President and later President of the Literary & Philosophical Society (Lit & Phil) in Newcastle.

A founder member and later President of both the Newcastle Liberal Association and the National Liberal Federation, Spence Watson was a lifelong adherent of the Liberal Party. Although he had no desire to enter the House of Commons, he was one of the most influential Liberal figures outside parliament. He had many high-profile political friends, many of whom he and his wife Elizabeth entertained at Bensham Grove, including the local Liberal MP Joseph Cowen, the afore-mentioned John Bright, Earl Grey and William Ewart Gladstone.

Spence Watson also cared deeply about the causes of those living under oppressed regimes. In particular he supported Russian political exiles in England, including Stepniak and Kropotkin. He was also well known in the North of England for his work as an arbitrator in trade disputes, which he undertook voluntarily, while he possessed a keen interest in literature and the history of the English language, and wrote a biography of his friend the pitman poet Joseph Skipsey.

One of his most high-profile acts of public work came in 1870 when he was appointed by the Society of Friends (the Quakers) as one of the commissioners of its War Victims Fund, travelling to Alsace-Lorraine to oversee the distribution of relief to non-combatants in the French-Prussian War, many of whom had been left homeless, destitute and bereaved by the ravages of war in the region. When he returned to France in 1871 to carry out similar work for the French Government, he wrote this touching letter home to his four-year-old daughter, Ruth. In the letter, which is held in the Spence Watson/Weiss Archive (SW 3/10), he told Ruth of his work in France. Although he wrote with the gentle tone of a father to his daughter, it was clearly important to Spence Watson that his children were aware of the hardships suffered by those less fortunate than themselves, just as he himself had been aware as a child. The first page of the letter is shown below. He wrote:

“Dear little Ruth
I promised to write you a letter whilst I was in this beautiful place, & now I begin in such a large office, far larger than that which I have at home, and close to the place where we are going to put the clothes and food for the poor people. We have a soldier with a gun & sword walking up and down before our door, but he is very kind to me, & says “Bon jour Monsieur” whenever he sees me… you would like to see the wonderful dolls in the shops, dolls which walk & talk, & do many other funny things. But you would be sorry to see so many ladies all dressed in black, & to hear how many little children died here during the long cruel siege… I want much to get home to dear Mamma & you, but I cannot come until I see that their clothes & food have reached here quite safely.”

Letter from Robert Spence Watson to Ruth Watson
Letter from Robert Spence Watson to Ruth Watson (Spence Watson/Weiss Archive, SW 3/10)