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. 

Pilgrim Street, Roads and Robert Burns Dick

Newcastle seems to be experiencing an endless period of building and regeneration. The Evening Chronicle recently reported that a ‘run-down corner of Newcastle city centre is currently being redeveloped to bring new office buildings, a public square, shops, bars, and restaurants. ‘Pilgrim Place’ is currently being built in an area on the eastern side of Pilgrim Street, after the scheme was approved by Newcastle City Council’s planning Committee in July 2021. 

As a main route into (and out of) Newcastle, Pilgrim Street has been the centre of many similar schemes in the past. When construction of the Tyne Bridge commenced in 1925, the lower end of Pilgrim Street was cleared of many historic buildings dating back to the Sixteenth Century. 

Two pages from a Charles Philips Trevelyan family album, dated 1925. They feature photographs of the bottom of Pilgrim Street, which was being cleared for the construction of the Tyne Bridge. The note informs us that ‘Some houses there were dated 1575’. CPT/PA/12, Trevelyan (Charles Philips) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

When the Swan House roundabout was built between 1963 and 1969, more buildings were demolished, including the ‘revered’ Royal Arcade which many people still mourn, even though it was never a commercial success and had fallen into disrepair due to its location outside the main shopping area of the city. 

A view up Pilgrim Street in the Nineteenth Century. The Royal Arcade is the large building on the right. ILL-11-268, Local Illustrations, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
Interior view of the Royal Arcade. ILL-11-270, Local Illustrations, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

The imposing Pilgrim Street police, magistrates court, and fire station building, the work of local architectural firm Cackett, Burns Dick & MacKellar, is a central landmark in the new development. Built between 1931 and 1933 to replace a previous station, it was Grade-II-listed in 1999 and is earmarked for conversion to a five-star hotel. 

Thomas Cackett & Robert Burns Dick contributed greatly to the appearance of Pilgrim Street; further up the road, they were responsible for the design of the stately Northern Conservative Club at 29 Pilgrim Street, near the Paramount cinema (later the Odeon). This was later demolished to make way for one of the city’s most-disliked buildings, Commercial Union House. Blame T. Dan Smith!

Robert Burns Dick enjoyed a larger-than-life reputation in his adopted home town of Newcastle. Born in Stirling in 1868, his family had moved south when he was very young and Burns Dick always regarded himself as a Geordie. 

Family portrait of the Dick family, showing Robert (Seated third from left), his siblings, and his mother. His father and a brother are present in the two framed photographs. RBD-1-1-3, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

After attending the Royal Grammar School and art school, he moved through various architectural firms before entering into partnership with another Scot in Newcastle, Thomas Cackett. Burns Dick provided the creativity while Cackett looked after the business. The company went on to design many of Newcastle’s most important buildings, including the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle University Students’ Union building, the Pilgrim Street police and fire station, the Bridge Hotel, and the extension of the Northumberland County Council offices, now the Vermont Hotel. Away from Newcastle, Burns Dick was the man behind Whitley Bay’s recently-reopened Spanish City buildings and Berwick-upon-Tweed’s old police station (regarded by many as the model for the Laing Art Gallery). An advocate of the Garden City movement, in the 1920s he helped design west Newcastle’s low-rise, low-density and landscaped Pendower housing estate.  

The Burns Dick (Robert) Archive 

Our Burns Dick (Robert) Archive was collated after a 1984 exhibition about the architect, held by the Royal Institute of British Architects Northern Region. Although instrumental in the design of some of the area’s best architecture, it was felt that Burns Dick had been ‘forgotten’. The archive comprises photographs of Burns Dick and his family, two University dissertations about him, and a collection of press cuttings about Burns Dick and the exhibition. These provide a good overview of his life and outline some of his ambitious plans for Newcastle. 

Copy photographs of Robert Burns Dick and his wife Margaret. RBD-1-1-4, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.
Photograph of Millmount, the Dick residence in Cowgate, Newcastle upon Tyne. The house was designed by Robert Burns Dick with a large garden which was drastically reduced when the Cowgate bypass was built in front of it in the 1960s (hence the metal fence). RBD-2-1-1, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

In 1924 Burns Dick was a founder member of the Newcastle upon Tyne Society to ‘Improve the Beauty, Health and Amenities of the City’. He advocated a green belt around Newcastle and drew up a list of city centre historic buildings to be saved from any future demolition or decay.

Newcastle’s pre-eminent Victorian architects, Richard Grainger and John Dobson, had created an architecturally beautiful city but its roads were designed for horses and carriages. Burns Dick, although appreciating the pair’s work, said,

‘Is not Newcastle still trading on the brains of Grainger and Dobson and Clayton? . . . It has done nothing since worth mentioning in the same breath.’

He drew up plans for new roads to accommodate the arrival and proliferation of motor vehicles in the city, including a development of his partner Cackett’s 1905 plan for a south to north axial road running from the new Tyne Bridge to Barras Bridge to the east of Northumberland Street, and then to his proposed civic buildings on a site near Exhibition Park.

One of the articles shows a 1936 proposal for a new town hall and office space in the Haymarket. This appears to be in the space now occupied by offices over Haymarket metro station. RBD-3-1-6, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Had Newcastle Council not suffered a funding shortage and a change in political power, Burns Dick’s plan for roads, and his grand entrance arch at the northern end of the Tyne Bridge, may have gone ahead. The arch would, of course, have led onto Pilgrim Street, which became the Great North Road (later the A1).

Article from The Journal, 1 November 1982, showing Burns Dick’s plan for a grand archway entrance into Newcastle upon Tyne, dated 1925.RBD-3-1-5, Burns Dick (Robert) Archive , Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Maybe as compensation, Cackett & Burns Dick were handed the contract to design Newcastle’s new fire, police station and courts.

Burns Dick eventually moved to Esher, Surrey, and died there in 1954. His body was returned to Newcastle and he was buried in Elswick Cemetery.

In Newcastle, the city’s 1960s planners sat and planned a new north-to-south road running to the east of Northumberland Street. This was eventually opened in 1970 and named after one of the Newcastle’s Victorian architects, John Dobson.

T. Dan Smith, Leader of Newcastle City Council from 1960 to 1965 and the city’s ‘bogeyman’, is often credited with the destruction of Newcastle’s historic buildings and their replacement with ugly concrete blocks, even though much of what he is held responsible for was built after his period in office.

Grey’s Monument struck by lightning – July 2020

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

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

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

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

The Newcastle Chronicle reported the dramatic incident:

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

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

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

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

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

Aurelia Musso – The Exchange, Newcastle – December 2018

One of the very special images we have within our ‘Local Illustrations’ collection is this picture: Exchange by Aurelia Musso.  Unusually for the prints that remain of this artist, it is a picture of a civic building, the Exchange on Newcastle Quayside (now known as the Guild Hall).

‘Exchange’, by Aurelia Musso and dedicated to David Landell, c. 1783 1793 (Local Illustrations, ILL/11/165). The Exchange is located along the Newcastle Quayside, now known as Guild Hall.

 

Aurelia Musso was a prolific artist, and highly regarded within Newcastle society in the late 18th Century.  Born in Piedmont in Italy in 1758, she moved to Newcastle in 1783 with her husband, fellow artist Boniface Musso, and their two children.  The early history of the Musso family is fairly scant, but Aurelia (nee Grezzini) appears to have had family links in Newcastle, with various members of the Grezzini family involved in wood carving trades and the making of high quality toys in the City.

Axwell Park by Aurelia Musso, commissioned by the Clavering family of Gateshead. Original held at Newcastle City Library and kindly reproduced with their permission.

Jesmond Mill by Aurelai Musso, commissioned by the Brown family of Benton. Original held at Newcastle City Library and kindly reproduced with their permission.

Aurelia Musso specialised in prints and her work was highly valued among the wealthy and powerful in Newcastle.  She was commissioned by several prominent families, including the Clavering family of Axwell Park, (Gateshead), John Bigge of Carville Hall (Wallsend), William Lamb of Ryton Hall (County Durham) and Ralph Carr of Dunston Hall (Gateshead), and often Musso’s images remain the earliest prints of these family estates and houses.  She appears to have been very much a part of this elite circle and was certainly a very fashionable artist during this period.

The image of the Exchange was presumably created whilst Aurelia lived in Newcastle, and can therefore be dated to between 1783 – 1893.  Not very long afterwards, in 1809, the frontage of the building was radically altered to the designs of architects William Newton and David Stephenson.  Whilst the interior and rear of the building remained intact, the old steeple and staircase were entirely taken down, and the present front was erected, with the clock placed in the front, largely obliterating the original Italian architectural style seen in Musso’s print.  The print below, dating from 1829, shows the building with its new facade, which remains to this day.

‘Guild Hall or Exchange’ 1829, William Westall (artist) and Edward Finden (engraver), held by Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The Musso family, although nowadays far less well know than during their lifetimes, play an important part in Newcastle’s history.  Aurelia’s husband Boniface was the tutor for a short time of architect John Dobson (link to profile), as well as the artist John Martin (link to profile).  John Martin moved to Newcastle initially in 1803 at the age of 14 to take up the post of apprentice to a coach-builder to learn heraldic painting.  Meeting the Musso family in 1804 however he was taken on by them, receiving classical art instruction.  After Aurelia’s death, Boniface moved with the family to London taking John Martin with him – although Martin proved to be a somewhat wayward apprentice and the apprenticeship was later terminated!

Aurelia died in 1793, only 35 years old, cause of death unknown.  She was buried on 17th September 1793 in St Andrew’s Churchyard, Newcastle.

Many thanks to Pat Halcro for her research for this piece.

The Builder’s Magazine: Designs of coloured Ornaments for Pannels – February 2010

Two ornate designs shown side-by-side for coloured ornaments for gate panels
Designs of coloured ornaments for panels from The Builder’s Magazine: or Monthly Companion for Architects, Carpenters, Masons, Bricklayers, &c.… by A Society of Architects
(London: Printed for the Authors; and Sold by F. Newbery …, 1774) (18th Century Collection, 18th C. Coll. 720.942 BUI)

The Builder’s Magazine has been kindly donated to the University Library’s Special Collections by Dr Hendrik (Hentie) Louw of Newcastle University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape.

In the preface, it is explained that “a set of Gentlemen have formed themselves into a Society to promote the improvement of Architecture” and to increase the intellectual output of the profession. Furthermore, they will take a different approach from that of other publications: “Architects, in general, have, in their publications, considered the magnificence of building, rather than its use; it shall be our task to unite both; for Architecture cannot be more grand than it is useful; nor is its dignity more to be considered than its convenience“.

It begins with an alphabetical glossary to building terms (in this volume from ABACUS to BRIDGES:

ABREUVOIR, OR ABREVOIR, in Masonry, signifies the joint or juncture of two stones, or the space or interstice to be filled up with mortar or cement.

ARAEOSTYLE, a term used by Vitruvius, to signify the greatest interval or distance which can be made between columns; which consists of eight modules, or four diameters.

Place BRICKS are made of the same earth, or worse; with a mixture of dirt from the streets; and these are often so very bad they will hardly hold together …

There then follows a series of plates, with explanations, including an elevation for a garden building of the Ionic order, designs for iron work for balconies, a plan for a town house, brick and stone arches, a section of a hospital and the coloured ornamented panels shown here.

John Carter (1748-1817) was educated in Battersea and Kennington. He started out working as an artist for his father but went on to be apprenticed under a surveyor and also to work as a draughtsman and illustrator. In the course of his career he was influenced by such important patrons as John Soane and Horace Walpole. He illustrated The Builder’s Magazine from 1774 until 1786. Commissioned by the Society of Antiquaries, he surveyed a number of ecclesiastical buildings, including Durham Cathedral, for a series of published drawings which attempted to be the first accurate, measured drawings of English religious buildings. He also contributed to the Gentleman’s Magazine which he used as a vehicle for expressing his controversial views on “inappropriate restoration” and the destruction of ancient monuments.

This particular copy of The Builder’s Magazine has the inscription of James Hedley, Meldon, Northumberland April 1st 1842 on the front pastedown and an ink drawing of a bird.