Author Archives: Annie Price

Sir Harold Harding’s Chunnel Vision: A new Special Collections exhibition

Case with four shelves displaying items from the Sir Harold Harding papersThis year marks the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Channel Tunnel and Special Collections is pleased to announce a new exhibition relating to investigations and studies in the 1950s-1960s for a channel crossing. The display case is located on Level 1 of the Forum Library, near the entrance from the staircase. This exhibition has been created by Special Collections staff with the assistance of student volunteer Vanessa Wong and features items from the papers of the civil engineer Sir Harold Harding, including reports, publications, articles and photographs. The exhibition is open to everyone and is expected to remain on display until summer 2024.

History of the Channel Tunnel

The tunnel, sometimes also referred to as the ‘Chunnel’ opened in May 1994, with the first freight train running in June and the first passenger service running in November 1994. It is the longest underwater rail tunnel in the world and is the only fixed link between the island of Great Britain and the European mainland.

A crossing between France and Great Britain was first proposed back in 1802. In the more than 150 years that followed, studies and plans for a crossing – including for a bridge, a railway tunnel, and combined rail and road tunnels – were regularly put forward, welcomed on both sides of the channel, but then abandoned due to disagreements.

In 1957, the Channel Tunnel Study Group was formed from English, French and American interest. Its purpose was to research the engineering and economic possibilities of a Channel Tunnel. The British civil engineer Sir Harold Harding was one of the key consultants to the Group. He and his French counterpart Rene Malcor led the investigations, which included boreholes on land, a geophysical survey, and pumping out and examining the experimental shaft at Sangatte in 1958, as well as an investigation of seabed conditions by Wimpey Central Laboratory in 1959. The Channel Tunnel Project was abandoned in 1975, but interest in a fixed cross channel link continued. The final deal was legally agreed in 1986, and the Channel Tunnel was officially opened in 1994.

Biography of Sir Harold Harding

Sir Harold John Boyer Harding was born in Wandsworth, London, on 06 January 1900. He qualified as a civil engineer and his early work concentrated on underground railway development in and around London, notably the reconstruction of Piccadilly Circus Station (1926-1929).

During the Second World War, he was responsible for defence works and emergency repairs to underground damage in London. From the late 1950s until 1978, he worked as a consultant and arbitrator, including to the Channel Tunnel Study Group (1958-1970), and he was a member of the Aberfan disaster tribunal (1966-1967).

Harding was an active fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, serving as president in 1963-1964. He was the founder chairman of the British Tunnelling Society (1971-1973). In 1981, his autobiography ‘Tunnelling History and my Own Involvement’ was published by Golder Associates.  He died in Topsham, Devon, on 27 March 1986.

The Sir Harold Harding papers

The Sir Harold Harding papers are thought to have been originally donated to the University of Exeter’s Engineering department by Harding in c 1980, and they are now looked after by the University Library’s Special Collections. The collection of papers includes reports, documents, lantern slides, photographs, and prints relating to exploratory works mainly concerning the Channel Tunnel and Piccadilly Circus. The Sir Harold Harding papers are available for everyone to access – for research, enjoyment, or interest – in the Ronald Duncan (Special Collections) Reading Room in the Old Library. Find out more about visiting the Reading Room in our online guide.

For more information about the Sir Harold Harding papers, see our online archives catalogue at EUL MS 337 and EUL MS 337 add. 1.

‘It was an amazing experience to handle books that have been used for centuries before me!’; Reflections on volunteering with Special Collections by Viktor Speredelozzi

Example of mirror writing in ‘Processionale’ [EUL MS 262/1, f. 128v]

Over the past year, student Viktor Speredelozzi has been volunteering with Special Collections. Viktor used his knowledge of Latin and the medieval period to analyse medieval manuscripts in the Syon Abbey Collection and identify details – such as historiated initials and marginalia – to add to the notes section of the already existing catalogue descriptions for each manuscript. Below Viktor shares some of his impressions and reflections on the experience. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Viktor for his excellent work and wish him every success for the future.

For the 2022-2023 school year I was privileged enough for the opportunity to volunteer at the University of Exeter’s special collections. My duty was cataloguing Syon Abbey’s mediaeval manuscripts. Syon Abbey belonged to the Bridgettine Order. It was the only Bridgettine house for women in England. It was really fascinating to work with these manuscripts, piece together how they were made, and how they might have been used by the nuns.

Historiated initial showing the Virgin Mary in ‘Horae’ [EUL MS 262/2, f. 69v]

I’ve been able to look at a lot of mediaeval manuscripts during my studies at Exeter. I’ve looked at manuscripts online and in person at the Exeter Cathedral, Oxford, Stockholm, and Munich. Manuscripts commonly have red rubrication to mark paragraphs. However, Syon Abbey is unique in its use of yellow ink for rubrication. This collection is also special in its use of charming little human profiles on some of the letters. It’s always a treat to find one!

EUL MS 262/1 is one of the manuscripts I catalogued. It is a processional and contains an example of mirror writing on folio 128v. No other catalogues mentioned that was in the manuscript, so it was really cool to find something that others had missed.

EUL MS 262/2 is small, but the art is still incredibly detailed. It contains many historiated initials of the Virgin Mary and an unidentified woman (possibly Mary Magdalen?), calling attention to the fact this manuscript was made for and used by nuns. The Virgin Mary and the other woman both wear beautiful clothes with gold embroidery. The colours are still incredibly vibrant despite being made centuries ago.

Obit of Sister Alice Langton in ‘Horae’ [EUL MS 262/2, f 3r]

The archives welcome classes of students to come see the manuscripts. During one class, Professor Catherine Rider pointed out Sister Alice’s obituary to me. On folio 3r, of EUL MS 262/2 the calendar documents Sister Alice Langton (one of the nuns) died in 1491. This is just one example of how the nuns used the manuscripts. Perhaps Sister Alice’s fellow nuns added her name in this manuscript because it was one of her favourites as a way to celebrate her life.

I really enjoyed cataloguing seven of Syon Abbey’s manuscripts this school year. It was an amazing experience to handle books that have been used for centuries before me!

 

‘It was almost like time-travelling…’: Reflections on a week of work experience in Special Collections

We were delighted to be joined last week by Year 12 student Jack for a week of work experience in Special Collections. Below Jack shares some of his impressions and reflections on the experience. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Jack for his excellent work and wish him every success for the future.

I began my work experience week in Special Collections with a tour of the Old Library, which is in some ways quite maze-like, but I found that around every corner there was something interesting to look at or read. I was pleasantly surprised at how huge some of the strongrooms were and the sheer amount of literature that was in each one. I also met some members of the Special Collections team who were all very welcoming and kind. In the afternoon I helped to set up a literary visit for the Exeter U3A (University of the Third Age) and then supervised the event with one of the Archivists, my Supervisor, Annie and one of the Special Collections Team Leaders, Sarah-Jayne. At first I found the event quite daunting as I did not know much about the source material they were showcasing. However, it was inspiring, in a way, to see so many people so enthusiastic about South-West writers and I found it easier to talk with the visitors about some aspects of the literature on display. 

Theatre Royal (Exeter) playbills collection (EUL MS 202)

On Tuesday, my day began with a tour of the Digital Humanities Lab who work closely with Special Collections. I was able to choose a model to be 3D Printed and even helped take some high quality photos of old Exeter Theatre Royal Playbills. It was interesting seeing the digital side of archiving, which is becoming more extensive as time goes on. In the afternoon I began my cataloguing task (which was introduced to me during my tour of the Old Library on Monday) in which I was typing up the index of Rowland Glave-Saunders’ ‘Book of Reminiscences’. As I went through the index and read some of the sections of his book, I gained quite an understanding of the type of person he was and his views on some subjects. He wrote of Exeter’s experience of the Blitz, evacuees and much more, reading it was almost like time-travelling. I took a break from the cataloguing task to take a look around the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, which is in the same building as Special Collections. 

Books in the Syon Abbey Library

I was not able to go to work experience on Wednesday, but on Thursday, the day began with myself and Annie stocktaking in the strongroom. We were taking stock of the Syon Abbey Library, one of several collections on loan. This too was interesting as I noticed how the books changed overtime. In the afternoon I was given an introduction to managing the Reading Room and resumed my cataloguing task, which I was able to finish. I then talked with Annie (as I was able to with various members of the team throughout the entire week) about her role at Special Collections. 

On Friday morning, I talked to the other Special Collections Team Leader, Angela, about her role at Special Collections. She introduced me to box listing, which is a way that archivists break down what is in an archive they may receive. I was also able to look through various photos and letters connected to John Lloyd who was a Lecturer and Librarian at the University of Exeter and learnt about himself and some of his relatives through reading the university’s old registers. In the afternoon, I began a second cataloguing task involving letters by the writer Flora Thompson. There were nine letters and it was my task to type short descriptions of them as well as record their date. Even reading the short nine letters, I gained a small insight into the sort of person Flora Thompson was and some of the hardships she experienced. I took a break from this task to learn about the DAME project which stands for the Digital Archive of the Middle East. This involved digitising the Middle East archives held in Special Collections, which consist mostly of 20th Century works including diaries, letters and photos. It was interesting seeing a more modern side to the archives as oppose to the much older Syon Abbey library I had been stocktaking on Thursday. I ended the day by finishing cataloguing Flora Thompson’s letters. 

Collage of images from the University of Exeter Special Collections

This work experience has been extremely helpful and insightful. I was given tours and introductions to practically every side of Special Collections as well as the parts of the University that work with them. It has also been amazing knowing that the work I have been doing will actually be contributed towards various projects and archives. During the week, the Special Collections Team have also been extremely welcoming and ready to provide any help, either with the various tasks I have been doing or just finding my way around. The experience has definitely opened up a career which I previously knew very little about and made it one which I may want to pursue. 

Reflections on a week of work experience in Special Collections

We were delighted to be joined last week by Year 10 student Rosalia for a week of work experience in Special Collections. Below Rosalia shares some of her impressions and reflections on her experience. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Rosalia for her excellent work and wish her every success for the future.

Over this last week, I have been doing my work experience in Special Collections which I have found fascinating as it allowed me to learn more about rare books and manuscripts, as well as helping me broaden my experience and widen my knowledge of history, a subject I love.

Map of Devon from an atlas of the counties of England and Wales [Atlas of the counties of England and Wales]

On the first day, I arrived at 9:30 and was given a tour of Special Collections by Annie, where I saw the strong rooms and the office. Afterwards, I had the handling training, when I looked at several old books and manuscripts, including a a 1579 hand-painted Atlas of the counties of England and an medieval manuscript with beautiful illuminated letters and illustrations. Later the same day, I attended a presentation from the archivist for Middle Eastern studies, which was fascinating. Afterwards, I stayed in the reading room, where I learnt how the room operated and looked at an old manuscript from Syon Abbey, which detailed the history of the Abbey and the duties of the nuns. I had to transcribe the headings of the different sections in order to improve the cataloguing of the manuscript which was very enjoyable and the contents of the manuscript were a fascinating record of the abbey and the life of the nuns who lived there. I also had a talk with Caroline, the Head of Heritage Collections, about the role of Special Collections within the university and the wider community and the collections and archives held here.

On the second day, I was given the task of searching through the library catalogue to find books relevant to Crediton, as some of the Special Collections team are going to Crediton Local History Day to do a presentation. Within the collections is the Crediton Parish Library, which contains many old books and a wide range of 17th century pamphlets. When I had found all the books and pamphlets I was interested in on the catalogue, I filled out request slips for each of them (59 in total) and then the next day Annie and I retrieved them from the strongroom.

Crediton Parish Library

On the third day, I looked through the pamphlets and books and photographed any that would be relevant or interesting for Crediton Local History day. This took most of the day, although I also spent about an hour watching a display being put up in the Forum Library.

On the fourth day, I spent the morning in Digital Humanities with Hollie and Lisa from Special Collections, where we had a tour of the labs and a talk about what Digital Humanities do. We also had the chance to 3D print a Lewis chess piece each, which was very exciting and interesting. In the afternoon, I finished cataloguing the Syon Abbey manuscript and got some more of the books and pamphlets from the strong rooms. At the end of the afternoon, I had a talk with Jamie, the Middle East archivist, about his role in digitising and preserving manuscripts and books and also with Jon, the Digitisation Assistant, about how digitising the images and documents for the DAME project works.

On the final day, I photographed the remaining few pamphlets and books and had a look round the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum for about forty minutes, which is a fascinating insight into the history of cinema and film.

Overall, the week was very enjoyable and fascinating, and I learnt a lot about rare books and manuscripts and the general running of the Special Collections department.

Collage of images from the University of Exeter Special Collections

A new exhibition: Poirot in the Archive 

Agatha Christie exhibition in the Old Library

To mark Agatha Christie’s 132nd birthday, we are pleased to announce a new exhibition in the Old Library! The exhibition is open to everyone and can be viewed by entering the Old Library on Streatham Campus via the main entrance and walking straight ahead through the barriers. The display cases will be situated to your left. 

In this exhibition we delve into the archives to explore a range of responses to the character Poirot from individuals including Agatha Christie, Edmund Cork and Harold Ober (literary agents at Hughes Massie and Co. Ltd), publishers, film producers, and actors. 

This exhibition features items from the University of Exeter Heritage Collections. On display are letters and documents from the business papers of Agatha Christie’s literary agents; books from our Special Collections; and items from the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum collections. 

Agatha Mary Clarissa Mallowan (née Miller), the novelist known as Agatha Christie, was born in Torquay, Devon, on 15 September 1890. She became, and remains, the best-selling novelist of all time. She died on 12 January 1976 at her home in Winterbrook, Oxfordshire. 

Hercule Poirot, the famous fictional Belgian detective with the egg-shaped head, made his debut in Agatha Christie’s first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920. In total, he appeared in 33 novels, two plays, and more than 50 short stories. He made his final appearance in the novel Curtain, written in the early 1940s but not released until 1975, the last novel published by Agatha Christie before her death.

The exhibition is expected to remain on display until 06 March 2023.

Continue reading

‘This direct contact with history was unlike anything I had ever experienced before…’: Reflections on work experience in Special Collections by Alice Dunn

We were delighted to be joined last week by Year 12 student Alice Dunn for a week of work experience in Special Collections. Below Alice shares some of her impressions and reflections on her experience. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Alice for her excellent work and wish her every success for the future.

My name is Alice Dunn, and I have spent a week in a work experience placement with the special collections and archives department of the University of Exeter. I am a year 12 student at King Edward VI Community College in Totnes, and very luckily for me the special collections team have been kind enough to facilitate my fascination with literature and history, and by extension with the vast collections kept here! 

Map of Devon from an atlas of the counties of England and Wales [Rare books B 1590/SAX/XX]

My placement began on Monday with an introduction to the collections and the work done regarding them, including their preservation and conservation. I measured the temperature and humidity in each of the rooms archives were stored in, and recorded these daily observations to ensure these conditions were optimum; extremes of either temperature or humidity can damage the items. What was particularly exciting was learning to handle the materials – there were a number of different items with which I was able to practice, including a 1579 hand-coloured Atlas of the counties of England, produced by Christopher Saxton! I learned that the best way to handle these materials is not, in fact, with gloves (with the exception of photographs), as their role in reducing dexterity increases the risk of tearing pages, but instead with clean hands. This direct contact with history was unlike anything I had ever experienced before; while I have learned about these time periods in history, or read new editions of texts, to handle materials which are hundreds of years old brings a sense of connection with the past that I do not think I could have otherwise felt. Down to the very knowledge that the ink on that page was handwritten by someone who experienced the things I have learned about from books, or to read the annotation of readers, like me, who annotated books they read, but in the 16th century (not like me!), my experience with archival materials has allowed a cohesion of my knowledge, ensuring enrichment in my future learning. While looking around the collections, I was also fortunate enough to be shown materials such as a sheet from a 1478 Caxton print of Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’, and Golding’s handwritten manuscript of the first draft of The Lord of the Flies, (though, due to its fragility, handling is avoided), both of which resulted in vast amounts of excitement on my part!  

Bills relating to elections in Devon, 1835, and to a concert in Exeter, 1858 [EUL MS 269]

Over the next few days, I was given a few projects to work on. On Tuesday, I sorted through letters to, from, and regarding, Agatha Christie, (some of which were handwritten by Christie herself!), selecting those that were relating to Poirot for an exhibition to go alongside a talk on him. After this experience I feel I am justified in stopping anyone from criticising my handwriting again, or else admitting that Christie, despite her literary genius, may not have been popular among teachers or A-Level examiners! I also looked at a collection of political bills from 1835 and researched the context behind these to aid the writing of a social media post about them, and the information I learned from this seems since to appear in my day-to-day life with astonishing frequency (namely in Middlemarch, which is active in its discussion of 19th century politics!). Throughout the week, I also accompanied team members in receiving and unpacking new materials that had arrived in the post, learning about the process of ‘accession’ before cataloging, and how to write titles and descriptions for these so that they can be best found by researchers. As part of this, I studied a recently received item which has not yet been cataloged, creating resources like a map on which all the places mentioned are flagged, as well as using university records to find out more about the individuals mentioned. This will ensure the item is better understood, so that when it comes to cataloging it can be organised in the collection more easily, and so that its description will be as accurate as possible, making it more accessible to researchers.  

Archives in the strongroom

In aiding retrievals to accommodate researchers’ requests, and reshelving after the resources have been used, I also came to learn about the organisation of the archives themselves. The breadth of the collections means the system in place is integral to ensuring they can be fully utilised by others, and thus learning about the system of cataloging here, and the differing one in the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum where I was fortunate enough to be able to get a tour and speak to staff, has given me a much deeper understanding of the day-to-day process of keeping archives.

On Thursday, the staff at special collections had arranged for me to visit the closely interlinked Digital Humanities Lab at the University. I was given a tour of the building, and was fascinated to learn the role technology can have in the study of humanities, both in relation to archival materials and not. Due to the fragility of many of the items, including wax figurines and skulls, many objects will have 3D printed copies made to enable hands-on interaction. The intersection between archives and photography was something I had never thought about, but constitutes much of the work done by the Digital Humanities Lab – they have two purpose-built photographic studios, enabling photos to be taken in such high-quality, flakes of paint can be seen on the surfaces of pages. The Exeter Book (a book of Old English riddles from the 10th century, some of the oldest surviving pieces of English literature today) is owned by Exeter Cathedral, and while it is not linked to the university nor their collections, it was recently photographed and digitised by staff at the Digital Humanities Lab using their specialist photographic equipment. Having attended seminars and lectures with universities on the poems and riddles in this book, the accessibility created by technology is of importance to me, and thus it was fascinating to discover the work that is done to aid this.  

While I was initially most attracted to this work experience placement from more of a researcher perspective – I’m always fascinated by materials which can tell me more about my areas of interest – it has resulted in a better understanding of what it means to be an archivist, and, as a consequence, an interest in the role for its own sake; whether or not the collections I have looked at in my placement have been relevant to what I want to study in the future, they are intriguing in themselves, and not because they relate to what I already have knowledge of. I have had the most enjoyable week learning new skills and information – I don’t think I could’ve found another placement that so well supported my interests, while expanding my knowledge of everything! A big thank you to the Special Collections and Archives team for being so accommodating! 

Collage of images from the University of Exeter Special Collections

New Resource: A transcript of the letters of John Jarmain (1942-1943)

EUL MS 413/1/147 – Aerogram dated 09 October 1943

The University of Exeter Special Collections is pleased to announce that a full transcript of the wartime letters of John Jarmain (EUL MS 413) to his wife, Beryl Jarmain, is now available to browse on our online Digital Collections platform. This transcript will enable enhanced access, including full-text search, to this collection of unique and deeply personal letters.

We would like to take this opportunity to express our thanks to our student interns, Ruby and Beth, who transcribed the letters; and to Janet Coward, the daughter of John Jarmain, for kindly granting permission for the transcriptions. We are committed to providing access to our collections in many different ways, and hope this new resource will faciliate discovery, use and enjoyment of this archival collection.

The transcript is free to access by everyone here on our Digital Collections platform.

Find out more about students interns Beth and Ruby’s experiences of transcribing the letters of John Jarmain in the blog post: Transcribing the Letters of John Jarmain: reflections on a remote internship project

 

Behind the Scenes at Special Collections: A Week of Work Experience

The new display outside the Ronald Duncan Reading Room

We were delighted to recently welcome Rosie and Scarlett, two Year 12 students from Colyton Grammar School, for a week of work experience at Special Collections. Their task for the week was to create a new display focusing on the Syon Abbey Collection, which involved handling, researching, digitising and curating a selection of rare books and archival items.

The new display is open to everyone and can be found by entering the Old Library on Streatham Campus via the main entrance, turning right at the barriers and walking down the corridor towards Seminar Room A/B. The display is located on the right outside the Ronald Duncan Reading Room.

Scarlett and Rosie have kindly sent us their thoughts and impressions of their week of work experience in Special Collections, which you can read below. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Rosie and Scarlett for their excellent work and wish them every success for the future.

Scarlett’s impressions:

Rosie and Scarlett handling books from the Syon Abbey Library

When I first started work experience at Special Collections, the only time I had seen books older than two hundred years was behind a glass case but by the end of my time I had handled plenty of rare, old books safely.

During my time there I had the opportunity to research extensively and explore their Syon Abbey collection and helped develop a display on it with the other work experience member.

To start with, we began to research Syon Abbey and looked into the vast history of the abbey, its community and the nuns there. As one of the oldest English Catholic communities to continue meeting throughout the Reformation there was much to cover and explore and our research was well aided by the vast collection of such treasured books that brought to life the history of Syon Abbey in our hands.

We also learned how to handle old and delicate books and spent time making sure we would treat them correctly whilst researching. Well accompanied by our book snakes and cushions – tools that help support particularly old books – we began our research.

Installing the new display

To find a starting point, we searched for inscriptions made by the nuns in their books and made note of them. At times handwriting was indecipherable but that difficulty was rewarded with the satisfaction of seeing one nun’s distinctive handwriting or name in multiple books. Their inscriptions ranged from jokes regarding piety, descriptions of nieces getting married or just their own names.

Next, we decided on four nuns to focus on, each of us researching two in great detail for the display. This gave us a wide scope of the abbey as the nuns were from different times and fulfilled different roles for their community. We both created biographies for our nuns which gave a broad overview of what their day to day life would have been like and what they did in the abbey.

Finally, we began putting the last touches together for the display which entailed photographing documents, mounting them on boards and arranging our text and images to create an engaging display.

Rosie’s impressions:

Reshelving books!

I spent the last week with the Department of Special Collections at Exeter University for my Year Twelve work experience, and it was amazing. I was a bit nervous when on the first day, and took a lot of comfort in the fact that one of my friends from school, Scarlett, had the same work experience, but I really shouldn’t have worried. My supervisor for the week was Annie, who was absolutely lovely and so helpful, and while I didn’t speak to the other members of the department as much as they were working on their own projects, I still felt so much like part of the team.

Special Collections works with significant historical documents and manuscripts, especially from people who were connected to the South West. For example, there is an extensive William Golding archive – author of Lord of the Flies – , which contains artefacts such as correspondences between Golding and publishers and his friends, as well as the original manuscripts of some of his works, like the Lord of the Flies manuscript.

Scarlett and I, however, were working on the Syon Abbey collection, which involves a great majority of the extensive library of the nuns of Syon Abbey. They had a fascinating history originating in England, traveling around Europe due to external pressures, significantly to Lisbon, and finally returning to England, mainly based in Chudleigh and South Brent, which is where the link to Devon comes in. During our stay, we got to look at and handle books from as far back as the seventeenth century, which was an amazing opportunity. I almost couldn’t believe it! Before we were allowed to handle these precious artefacts, we were trained in the correct way to take the books out of shelves and read them without damaging the spines or the pages. There were a load of things that I had never considered, like what we called book snakes, which are soft weights to hold the pages flat while you read, while not putting oils into the pages like holding it with your fingers would.

Planning the new display

Our task for the week was to create a display about Syon Abbey, so we took quite a few old books and manuscripts out of the library to help us. We went through each book to see which nun had owned each book, and if they had written anything particularly interesting. The majority of them only had a name at the most, but the few that had more were intriguing and occasionally hilarious. My personal favourites of each were, respectively, an account of Napoleon invading Portugal and the subsequent consequences, and one joke about not being able to trick God, but by keeping a religious book she could trick her peers. We narrowed down our options of nuns to research, and chose two nuns each to focus on for the display. I chose Sister Constancia Sorrell – who recorded Napoleon invading – and Lay Sister Mary Gomes – who joked about not being able to trick God.  I think that one of the best parts of the week was constructing the actual display, and seeing the outcome of all our hard work, which I, at least, am very proud of. It felt a bit like being an interior designer, as we wanted the display to be eye-catching and visually appealing while still conveying the interesting things that we learnt in the week, and hopefully getting other people interested in the subject and the monastery. We had to establish a title for the display, and while I’m disappointed that my various nun puns were vetoed, – I was particularly fond of “Nun so Faithful”- I thought that “Her Book” was equally effective, with the reference to how they wrote their names in their books, for example, “Mary Gomes her Book” and also with the extra reference to the “Book” as the Bible.

In the end, the week was so fun and interesting, while also feeling productive and like we achieved something, and I have definitely gained a new respect both for the nuns of Syon Abbey, and for the archivists at Special Collections who work with so many precious artefacts and make them accessible to people like you and me.

I would like to thank everyone who works at Special Collections for being so helpful and welcoming, and especially Annie who made our week there so memorable.

I hope that this has encouraged anyone reading this to think about visiting or researching either Special Collections or the amazing history of the nuns of Syon Abbey.

You can find out more about the Syon Abbey Collection in our blog posts and online guide

 

‘My growing acceptance of myself as a gay man was freeing me as a writer’: A new display about the writer, David Rees

Display of items from the David Rees Collection outside the Ronald Duncan Reading Room

To celebrate LGBT+ History Month in 2022, a new display featuring items from the University of Exeter’s Special Collections has been installed in the Old Library. The display explores themes around sexuality in the David Rees literary papers and book collection, including items such as book covers, manuscript and typescript drafts, and newspaper articles. The display is open to everyone and can be found by entering the Old Library on Streatham Campus via the main entrance, turning right at the barriers and walking down the corridor towards Seminar Room A/B. The display is located on the right outside the Ronald Duncan Reading Room.

David Rees (1936-1993)  

David Rees was an author, lecturer and reviewer, born in Surbiton. Previously married with two children, he came out as a gay man in 1974. In 1968, he moved to Exeter to take up the position of lecturer in Education at St Luke’s College, which merged with the University of Exeter in 1978. He remained at the University until 1984, when he retired early to write full-time. 

Rees was a prolific writer, producing more than thirty works between 1975 and 1993. He also regularly wrote literary reviews and articles for magazines and newspapers, including Gay News and Gay Times. He is best known as a writer of novels for children and young adults.

A common theme in David Rees’ fiction is sexuality, and many of his novels are about the experiences of gay teenage boys discovering and embracing their sexual identity. These novels were noteworthy amongst other young adult books of the 1970s and 1980s in their positive portrayal of gay sex, relationships and love. The novels Quintin’s Man (1976) and In the Tent (1979) were the first books for young adults in the UK to have central gay characters.

‘The Milkman’s On His Way’ by David Rees

In 1987, The Milkman’s On His Way (1982) sparked a nationwide debate on access to gay fiction for young people, after a student complained that the book wasn’t available in their school library. The book was subsequently banned from many school and public libraries in the UK. Due to its positive and detailed descriptions of gay sex, the book was also cited in Parliament during the Section 28 debates in 1988 (Section 28 of the Local Government Act was brought in to ‘prohibit the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities’). However, the archive shows that many other people – including librarians, teachers and young people – also spoke out in support of the book.

Sexuality remained an important theme in David Rees’ later works, many of which were written for an adult audience, including Watershed (1986) and Twos and Threes (1987). In 1985, David Rees was diagnosed as HIV positive. This influenced him to write the novel, The Wrong Apple (1987), a story about a young man who discovers he has AIDS and finds love and support from a new friend. In his autobiography Not For Your Hands (1992), Rees reflected on his experience of coming out in 1974, and the positive impact this had on his personal life and writing career, stating: ‘my growing acceptance of myself as a gay man was freeing me as a writer’.

David Rees lived and worked in Exeter for most of his life, and time and again the city and its history inspired his stories. In 1978, David Rees was awarded the Carnegie Medal for The Exeter Blitz. In his acceptance speech, Rees spoke of the importance of Exeter to his writing, stating: ‘I’m drawn to it, again and again, as to a magnet…I’m glad it’s The Exeter Blitz that has won the Carnegie; it’s a tribute to that other major influence on me, the place where I live and work’. At least six of David Rees’ stories were set in Exeter, including Quintin’s Man (1976), The Ferryman (1977), Risks (1977), The Exeter Blitz (1978), The House that Moved (1978) and In the Tent (1979). 

From 1985, David Rees lived with HIV and AIDS. He continued writing and publishing until 1992. He died in 1993. 

David Rees Collection

Books by David Rees in the Reserve Collection

The University of Exeter Special Collections holds the David Rees Collection, which
includes literary papers as well as Rees’ own copies of his published works. The collection was bequeathed to St Luke’s Library in 1993. The literary papers include original manuscript and typescript drafts of his novels, short stories, poems, reviews, articles, speeches and interviews; and correspondence, reviews and clippings relating to his works.

The literary papers of David Rees have been catalogued under the reference number EUL MS 271 and can be browsed on the online archives catalogue. 

Books by David Rees are held within our Reserve Collection and are catalogued under the classmark Reserve 828.9/REE-9. You can browse the titles in the library catalogue. 

Items from the David Rees Collection are available for everyone to access, research and enjoy in our reading room.

Further resources 

You can find out more about more the David Rees Collection and other research resources relating to LGBTQ+ history held at the University of Exeter Special Collections in our online guide at: https://libguides.exeter.ac.uk/archives/lgbtq-research-resources 

Newly catalogued: the Maureen Baker-Munton collection of papers relating to Daphne du Maurier (EUL MS 462)

We are delighted to announce that recently-acquired archive material of the novelist Daphne du Maurier has been catalogued and is now available to access for research. The collection comprises literary, personal and family papers that were created or compiled by Daphne du Maurier, and which for many years had been looked after by her close friend, Maureen Baker-Munton. At an auction held at Rowley’s Auction House in Ely on 27 April 2019, items from the collection were sold, and the University of Exeter was successful in purchasing several auction lots. The acquired material complements and expands the already existing collections relating to Daphne du Maurier held at the University of Exeter Special Collections.

Archivist with items from the collection

What makes this material different to some of our other Daphne du Maurier collections are the curatorial elements added by Maureen Baker-Munton. Many of the papers are annotated by Maureen with names, memories or explanations, which not only add extra contextual information about the items, but also provide insight into the close friendship between Daphne and Maureen.

Maureen Luschwitz was born in India in 1922. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, she joined the armed forces in India, through which she met Frederick Browning (more commonly referred to as ‘Boy’ or ‘Tommy’), the husband of Daphne du Maurier. He employed her as his personal assistant and she continued working for him when they returned to England In July 1946. Maureen also became a part-time secretary to Daphne du Maurier, and from this initially work-based relationship, a close and lifelong friendship grew. In 1955, Maureen married Monty Baker-Munton (also referred to as ‘Bim’) with whom she had one child. In the 1970s, Daphne du Maurier asked Monty to be her literary executor and Maureen to be her power of attorney. They supported and cared for Daphne du Maurier until her death in 1989. Maureen Baker-Munton died on 03 January 2013, aged 90. (Source: ‘Maureen Baker-Munton (1922-2013) – a short essay inspired by the sale of her archive of Daphne du Maurier related material’ by Ann Willmore (2019), available at https://www.dumaurier.org/menu_page.php?id=147)

Over the past few months, the collection has been catalogued, with each file or item receiving a unique reference number and a contents description on our online catalogue. This will enable the material to be much more easily searched and accessed for research now and in the future. Although any original arrangement of the material was lost through its sale at auction, our collection of items seemed to naturally fall into the three distinct sections: literary papers, personal papers and family papers. You can find the hierarchy of the collection on our online archives catalogue.

The section of literary papers includes drafts of some of Daphne du Maurier’s novels, short stories and scripts. A particularly interesting item is a manuscript notebook containing plot notes for the novels ‘Le Remplaçant’ [‘The Scapegoat’], ‘The House on the Strand’ and ‘The Flight of the Falcon’. Also included in the section of literary papers is a fascinating assortment of draft poems, which include some written by Daphne du Maurier when she was in her early twenties, as well as others that she wrote in the final decade of her life. Drafts of forewords, articles and essays by Daphne du Maurier are also present, as well as a typescript draft speech written by Daphne du Maurier for Queen Elizabeth II’s Christmas Broadcast in 1957. Intriguingly, some elements of this draft appear to have been incorporated into the Queen’s Christmas message that was broadcast via television. This section also includes papers relating to the lawsuit brought against Daphne du Maurier in the 1940s due to claimed parallels between ‘Rebecca’ and a short story and novel by Edwina Lewin MacDonald. These papers complement an item from another of our collections of material by Daphne du Maurier: the ‘Rebecca Notebook’ (EUL MS 144/1/1/4), which is stamped as having been presented as an exhibit in court in 1947.

The section of personal papers mainly comprises correspondence and items of ephemera. These include a folder of 40 letters written and sent by Daphne du Maurier to Maureen and Monty Baker-Munton between 1947 and 1965. The correspondence in this file covers the period from when Maureen Luschwitz began working as personal assistant to Frederick Browning and as part-time secretary to Daphne du Maurier in the 1940s, through to 1965, by which time the relationship between the du Maurier- Browning family and the Baker-Munton family had developed into a close friendship. The letters from Daphne du Maurier concern a range of personal matters, including daily life, family, friends, travel and health.

The third and final section comprises family papers concerning or created by various ancestors and relatives of Daphne du Maurier. These include original letters from her paternal grandfather, the artist and writer George du Maurier, to his mother, Ellen du Maurier; to his future wife, Emma Wightwick; and to his friend and fellow artist, Thomas Armstrong. Also included within the section are a small number of papers of Muriel du Maurier, née Beaumont, a stage actress and mother of Daphne du Maurier. Daphne du Maurier’s maternal relatives featured very little in our du Maurier collections prior to this accession, so we are particularly pleased that this collection includes papers and photographs of Muriel du Maurier, Muriel’s mother, Emily Beaumont, and her sister, Sybil ‘Billie’ Beaumont. The family papers also include one box of photographs of Daphne du Maurier and her relatives, dating from c 1880s to 1960s.

It has been a great pleasure and a privilege for me to catalogue this collection, and especially to get to know Daphne du Maurier and her friends and family through the form of time travel that only archives enable! The Special Collections team warmly invite anyone interested in working on this collection to get in touch. We look forward to seeing how the collection will be used and the avenues of research it might open up.

Descriptions of all the material in this collection can be browsed via our online catalogue and accessed in our reading room by advance appointment (at least 48 hours’ notice). You can find more information about visiting us and how to book an appointment here. Please note that due to copyright restrictions, photography or copying of the material is not possible without prior permission from the copyright holder.

By Annie, Project Archivist