Tag Archives: Archives

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 January 2023.

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Climate and Weather in the Middle East

The extremely high temperatures recorded in Britain at the start of this week have pushed the reality of climate change to the forefront of public debate, with many people making comparisons UK weather patterns and those in hotter regions such as the Mediterranean and the Middle East. People living in Britain have long been accustomed to a moderate climate, and therefore infrastructures and working conditions that are not designed for extremes of either hot or cold.

Photograph of man standing in desert surrounded by sand dune

A photograph taken in the Algerian desert by explorer and geographer W.J. Harding King. He undertook scientific experiments into the movement and formation of sand dunes, but his books ‘In Search of the Masked Tawareks’ (London: Smith, Elder, 1903) and ‘Mysteries of the Libyan Desert: a record of three years of exploration in the heart of that vast and waterless region’ (London: Seeley, Service, 1925) contain some intriguing descriptions of rainfall, water supply and unusual weather patterns in North Africa. (EUL MS 11/19)

For many of those living in the SWANA region – South West Asia and North Africa, or what has commonly been termed ‘The Middle East’ – temperatures of over 40°C, dry arid conditions and low rainfall have long been familiar.  Architectural styles – such as thick stone white-painted walls, covered courtyards and wind towers (used since at least 1300BC to provide a form of air conditioning) – are designed to keep the heat out of buildings, and working hours often incorporate time for a قَيْلُولَة (Qayloulah), or ‘siesta’, during the hottest hours in the middle of the day.  However, the region is looking extremely vulnerable to threats from climate change, with supplies of fresh water, agriculture and food production, all being affected, not to mention the growing frequency of extreme weather conditions – Iraq has been battered by a series of massive dust storms this year, large tracts of previously usable land are undergoing desertification, Oman was hit last year by the first tropical cyclones to be recorded in the Gulf, and – if current models are to believed – many of the cities in the UAE could become uninhabitable by the end of the 21st century due to increases in temperature and humidity.

While scientists continue to analyse these patterns, and politicians and public health officials continue to debate policy changes to mitigate the impact of global warming, they are able to draw on the latest meteorological data and other metrics compiled using cutting-edge technology such as isotope analysis, satellite imagery, salinity levels and microscopic study of minute changes in zooxanthellae algae living on coral reefs.

Colour photograph of camels and herdsmen walking in scrubland, while tall buildings and a burning oil well are visible in the distance

What does the future of fossil fuels mean for the landscape, environment and climate of the Gulf? Photograph of Kuwait in the early 1970s. John Wilton archive, EUL MS 264

What about the past, however? Although we may think of interest in this data as being a relatively recent development, our historic collections in both the archives and the Arab World Documentation Unit (AWDU) contain a considerable amount of information on weather patterns, rainfall and climate in the SWANA region. For merchants and travellers planning long journeys, a knowledge of water resources was literally a matter of life or death, and devising methods of storing and distributing large quantities of water became increasingly important during the decades of rapid urban growth during the 20th century. The falaj system of irrigation used in Oman was the subject of years of study by John Craven Wilkinson, whose archive (EUL MS 119) contains many papers on not only the falaj tradition, but also on climate and meteorology.

Handwritten weather notes

Handwritten notes on meteorological data from the archive of John Wilkinson (EUL MS 119/3/10)

Typed records of temperature changes in Oman. EUL MS 119/3/10

Going even further back in time, we have a book  in Special Collections (Reserve Collection 916.12 LYO/X) by Captain George Francis Lyon, A narrative of travels in northern Africa in the years 1818, 19, and 20 : accompanied by geographical notices of Soudan and of the course of the Niger (1821), which includes a few pages with daily climate data for 1819 – temperature, humidity and wind direction.

Printed page of meteorological data from a book printed in 1821

Meteorological statistics for Libya in 1819, from Captain George Francis Lyon, ‘A narrative of travels in northern Africa in the years 1818, 19, and 20’ (1821)

More recently, we have a three-volume work in AWDU on Meteorological data from the ‘Report on the Water Resources of the Trucial States (1969), compiled by the engineering firm of Sir William Halcrow. It includes a wealth of data on rainfall, climate, irrigation systems – including Omani aflaj – as well as maps and statistical tables on what was shortly after renamed the United Arab Emirates.

Rainfall table

Meteorological data from the ‘Report on the Water Resources of the Trucial States’ (1969)

Meteorological data from the ‘Report on the Water Resources of the Trucial States’ (1969)

The discovery of oil in the Gulf transformed the economy of the region and brought in massive amounts of foreign investments into geological exploration, drilling and infrastructure. Business on such a scale requires to monitor everything that might affect its activities, and in 1953 the Oil Companies Weather Coordination Scheme (OCWCS) was established as a network to share weather data being gathered by different oil companies working around the Gulf.  We have a small collection of OCWCS publications in AWDU that contain data and guidelines about weather conditions.

While meteorologists working for the OCWCS or other scientific bodies are studying the natural world around them, the contributions of human actions should also be taken into account. Much of the water shortages in Iraq have been caused by the construction in Turkey of dams on the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, which have greatly diminished the waterflow downstream in Syria and Iraq. Severe and widespread structural damage to water supplies caused by coalition forces during the Gulf Wars and then subsequently by ISIS forces, have only compounded the problem. Deforestation is another issue: Iraq was once famed for its 30 million date palms, which produced hundreds of varieties of the fruit and was a source of pride, particularly in southern Iraq around Basra and the banks of the Shatt al-Arab. The vast majority of these were cut down in the 1980s and 1990s, which – coupled with the reduction of freshwater flowing from the north, and the resultant encroachment of salt water coming upstream from the Gulf – has had a devastating effect on the environment. The lack of trees is a major factor in the dust storms, as the soil dries up and has no roots in its upper layers to hold it together.

Postcard showing thick plantations of date palms by the river in Basra

Dense plantations of date palms along the rivers of southern Iraq – sadly, only a fraction of these remain

(It is slightly beyond the scope of this post, but we have a huge amount of material on the history and development of Iraq’s irrigation network and dam-building projects both in AWDU and in the archives, especially in the Jonathan Crusoe archive, as well as publications by the Kurdish Human Rights Project on the Ilisu Dam Campaign and the effects this dam bin Turkey has had on the water supply in Iraq.)

Another example of environmental damage undertaken by the Ba’athist regime is the draining of Iraq’s southern marshes, which was mostly done for political reasons. Saddam Hussein believed the Maʻdān, or Marsh Arabs, had been disloyal during the war with Iran (1980-88), and began a campaign against them (there are some papers on this in the Crusoe archive.) After the failed uprising in 1991 in which the Maʻdān,  Shi’ites, Kurds and others had taken part, many of these groups joined military deserters in taking refuge in the marshes to escape the reprisals that followed. To punish the Maʻdān, render the marshes uninhabitable and deny a hiding place for the refugees, Saddam’s forces constructed embankments to divert the flow from the Tigris and Euphrates away from the marshes, while drainage channels – with ‘patriotic’ names such as the Mother of Battles Canal and the Loyalty to the Leader Channel, were opened up to drain water away to the south. This was not just a form of genocide, but also an ecological disaster on a massive scale, an ‘ecocide’, or destruction of an entire ecosystem. While there was a clear political motive for these actions, it was in fact building on suggestions made by British irrigation engineer Frank Haigh in 1949, reflecting previous attitudes towards marshlands that saw them as inconvenient, inaccessible and unproductive areas of water-logged land. Contemporary concern over the loss of the marshes of southern Iraq reveal how these attitudes have changed, now that so much more is known about the fragility of ecosystems, the delicate balance of biodiversity in these rare habitats, and the close relationship between vegetation, land use and climate. In addition to the environmental damage, changes in climate and weather patterns place heritage sites at risk due to the increased likelihood of natural disasters such as flooding and wildfires.

On the topic of the marshes, AWDU holds various publications, such as maps, environmental reports by AMAR (‘Assisting Marsh Arabs and Refugees’), humanitarian studies, material in the Gulf Information Project documenting the impact of the 1990-91 Gulf War on Iraq’s land and people, books on the Marsh Arabs, modern Iraqi history and pamphlets from the Ministry for Irrigation, as well as a number of documents in the Crusoe archive.

Two maps comparing water levels in the marshes of southern Iraq, showing the changes between 1972 and 1993

Two comparative maps of the marshes, showing the dramatic changes between 1972 and 1993. Gulf Information Project, Box 19

More generally, we have documents and reports published by organisations such as the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zone and Dry Lands (ASCAD), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). There are also various books in both Special Collections and AWDU that provide histories of specific regions or countries, and which often include descriptions of weather, climate at various times of year, and sometimes even meteorological data – such as the rainfall records for the years 1885-1920 found in the Naval Intelligence Handbook on Tunisia (1945) – as well as specific compilations of climactic data from Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait from the 1970s and 80s.

AWDU also contains a large amount of material on water resources in Yemen, donated by Christopher Ward, author of The Water Crisis in Yemen: Managing Extreme Water Scarcity in the Middle East (2014), and including detailed reports and rare documentation on water resources. There is also some North African material relating to Tunisia and irrigation schemes at Sidi Bouzid and elsewhere. Many of these contain statistical data on precipitation, annual rainfall data and other relevant information.

Exeter University is at the forefront of climate change research, with over 250 researchers working across a range of disciplines.  It’s an exciting, dynamic and ever-evolving area of research, and one for which support might readily be found for new project exploring the historical geography of the Middle East, perhaps looking at changes in attitudes towards seasonal fluctuations, or the awareness of travellers about the importance of ecosystems and the connection between environment and weather.

‘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

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 donated by the Rees Family 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

Transcribing the Letters of John Jarmain: reflections on a remote internship project

Earlier this year, Special Collections launched its first remote internship for University of Exeter students. Unable to run our usual in-person work experience programme, and knowing that another lockdown at the start of 2021 was highly likely, we were pleased to offer an opportunity for students to gain valuable archive experience whilst working from home.

The collection we chose for this remote internship was the Letters of John Jarmain (EUL MS 413). William John Fletcher Jarmain (1911-1944) was a novelist and poet. He served throughout the Second World War as a gunnery officer with the 51st Highland Division during their campaigns in North Africa and Sicily. He took part in the D-Day landing and was killed in action on 26 June 1944. The collection comprises 120 manuscript letters that he sent home to his wife Beryl between June 1942 and November 1943. 

EUL MS 413/1/66 – Aerogram dated 10 March 1943

Digitised images of all of the letters are available to view online through our Digital Collections website, making them ideal for our interns to access and transcribe from home. Once proofread, the transcripts produced by the interns on this project will be uploaded to the website to sit alongside the digitised letters, enabling letters of interest to be more easily identified, accessed and understood.

We would like to take this moment to thank our interns, Beth Howell and Ruby, for their hard work, diligence and enthusiasm for this project. Through a combined effort, they recently completed the transcription of all 120 letters – an amazing achievement! Below you can read their reflections on the project.

Reflections by Beth Howell

Transcribing the letters of a person is always a very involved experience, and working on John Jarmain’s war-time correspondence has proven to be no exception. However, perhaps because Jarmain was so engaged with the process of writing, (often demonstrating himself to be an almost obsessive editor of his own poetry), he always seems to write with a real sense of how his words might be read and interpreted in the future, making his letters a real privilege to read. Though most of his correspondence is addressed to his wife, Beryl, he often appears to imagine a reader beyond her, documenting the world around him with a real sense of capturing the present moment. His letters are therefore not only interesting because of what they reveal about his poetic practice, but also the landscapes he found himself in, the relationships he fostered, and his hopes and anxieties for a future after the war.

My favourite element of Jarmain’s writing, though, was probably the way in which he balanced larger concerns with little details. His ability to find joy in the spaces around him, even though the vision of those landscapes necessarily meant his separation from home (and, of course, were imbued with the ever-present anxieties of potential battles), is really heartening and beautiful to read. He loved birds, and many of his letters are preoccupied with identifying species from a little bird book he bought and carried around with him. (Though I have to say that deciphering rare specimens from his sometimes quite hastily-scribbled writing presented a few challenges- I had certainly never heard of a rufous warbler before!)

EUL MS 413/1/85 – Letter dated 30 April 1943, in which Jarmain writes about birds, including the rufous warbler (highlighted)

I also admired his confidence in informing his wife that he had fallen in (platonic) love with various women during his time in service- including Yone May, the subject of one of his poems. Jarmain presents a tangible picture of contemporary technologies (or quite the opposite), which affect his writing in a very material way- he finds himself scribbling in pencil, writing by candlelight in the wee hours, hastily penning an aerogram when he knows the post is leaving soon. He laments his ability to construct suitable diagrams of views and barracks, continues to marvel at unexpectedly quick postal deliveries, and to agonise when the opposite proves to be the case. His letters are a fascinating and absorbing insight into his life away- checked only by the knowledge that his observations would be tragically cut short. Jarmain died, killed by a fragment of mortar shell, on Saturday 26th June, 1944.

EUL MS 413/1/19 Letter dated 11 October 1942, next to transcript by Beth Howell

Reflections by Ruby

It hardly seems right to call this internship “work”. Work refers to something laborious, something that has to be done, but I found transcribing John Jarmain’s letters delightful. It saddens me that the World War II poets don’t receive the same attention as the World War I poets. Jarmain, though brilliant and sensitive, is far from a household name and does not even have a poetry collection currently in print. This is what makes me so genuinely honoured to have been involved in this project, typing up his letters, so that we can start to make Jarmain’s literature more accessible for more people. I hope that, going forward, people will read these letters and be touched in the same way that I was. 

This internship has shown me that there is a big difference between reading for pleasure and reading to transcribe. Transcribing Jarmain’s letters has forced me to read them carefully, sensitively and attentively. I have had to pay attention to punctuation, names and form which I might not otherwise have paid much attention to. When I’ve read letters from authors in the past, I don’t tend to focus on people who are off-handedly mentioned (cousins, distant friends, colleagues etc.), and only really focus on those they are closest to. However, when writing up these letters I had to pay attention to every name — zooming in to make sure that I got every surname right — and, in doing so, I noticed certain people who popped up time and time again (his friend, Harry, for example). Jarmain’s handwriting also means that it’s easy to mistake a semicolon for an exclamation point. At first glance, his semicolons can look like exclamation points, but when you look more closely, they’re usually not. If I were reading these letters at a glance, I would think that he was just heavy-handed with exclamation points, but this project showed me that he is not, and that he actually uses exclamation points quite sparingly. Over the course of the internship, I became more familiar with Jarmain’s writing style and more attentive to quirks in his handwriting. For example, when writing “a”, he tends to attach it to the word in front (i.e. if he says “a ship”, he will write “aship”). This led to some tenuous guessing at the start of the project; however, I was familiar with this by the end, and found transcribing his letters much easier. 

EUL MS 413/1/14 – Aerogram dated 28 September 1942, mentioning his friend Harry (highlighted)

The internship showed me how important it is to read letters attentively and slowly — to savour them and their images and their kindnesses. This is what Jarmain’s wife, Beryl, would have done, and so we perhaps get closer to the experience of these letters when we read in this way. Having to read Jarmain slowly was probably my favourite part about and, as a consequence of having done this, I feel like I know him better than I otherwise would have done. 

One particularly striking part of Jarmain’s letters is just how little he refers to the actual events of war. He hardly talks about what his troops are doing, and any danger they might be in. Rather, he documents domestic experiences — for example, how he spent his time on leave, or how he goes swimming in the morning before starting work, or a joke told by one of the men. Jarmain separates himself from his identity as the “soldier” and presents himself as a real man, the same husband to whom Beryl waved goodbye. Though this is humbling to see, it also points to the separation between war and home which he documents in his poem ‘El Alemein’. The separation between Jarmain as husband and soldier in these letters makes the dramatic irony of his death all the more upsetting. Reading the letters, I knew that he would never come home and safely settle back into domestic life. In one of his last aerograms (EUL MS 413/1/153), he writes of the Christmas presents he plans to give them, clinging to the possibility that the war will end soon and he will be home with Beryl and Janet-Susan. When the letters abruptly stop, there is no warning and, since he was so secretive about his life as a soldier when writing to Beryl, it seems strangely incongruous that he could have been killed in war. 

EUL MS 413/1/33 – Aerogram dated 8 December 1942: draft of poems ‘For Alamein’

Possibly my favourite parts to transcribe were his descriptions of nature — and, in particular, his descriptions of Italy in his final aerogram (EUL MS 413/1/154): “Away to the right, tier upon tier lit in streaks of sun and shade and clotted with white clustering towns, were the hills of Italy across the strait. In England you cannot imagine such beauty, such a scene”. You can feel the wonder in his voice here and the sheer extent of the view he relays. These nature descriptions are occasionally shown in his poems, but only fleetingly, and I enjoyed reading this different writing style from him. It is also so illuminating to see the poems embedded within these letters because the poems will often refer to images he’s already described for Beryl. For example, in letter one (EUL MS 413/1/1), he writes that he “was struck suddenly by willows, English willows, how they stand in rows like thick-handled powder-puffs, grey-green in the evening”. Then, in a poem in letter two (EUL MS 413/1/2), he writes that the train “Passed willows greyly bunching to the moon”. In this, we can see his poems as snapshots of real, personal experience. Indeed, the fact that they are embedded within letters shows just how intimate and personal they are, which can and should encourage us to read them contextually in new ways. 

Ruby has very kindly recorded herself reading John Jarmain’s first letter (EUL MS 413/1/1). Click on the play button below to listen to the recording. 

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Arrival of the Nursing Ethics Heritage Collection

We are delighted to have recently welcomed the Nursing Ethics Heritage Collection into our Special Collections at the University of Exeter.

The heart of the collection is the personal research library of Professor Marsha Fowler. In 1977, Professor Fowler began collecting books to support her research into the development of nursing ethics and the American Nurses Association code of Ethics for Nurses. Many of these key texts were not available to consult in academic libraries. Professor Fowler later gifted the collection to the International Care Ethics (ICE) Observatory at the University of Surrey and, in 2016, the collection was accepted by the University of Surrey for inclusion within its Archives and Special Collections. The Archives and Special Collections team collaborated with Professor Fowler and Professor Ann Gallagher to develop the collection by acquiring further publications and materials concerning nursing, the history of nursing, bioethics, women, religion and health, with titles leading up to the present day. You can find out more about the collection and its development in this blog post by the University of Surrey’s Archives and Special Collections.

Books in the Nursing Ethics Heritage Collection

The decision was made to transfer the collection from the University of Surrey to the University of Exeter due to Exeter’s more wide-ranging courses and specialist research interests in relation to nursing and ethics. In Exeter, the collection will also enhance educational provision and research opportunities in the Academy of Nursing under the leadership of Professor Ann Gallagher (Head of Nursing and Editor-in-Chief Nursing Ethics). In addition, it will complement existing books on nursing and the history of nursing in the Hypatia Collection. You can find out more about the transfer of the collection in this blog post by the University of Surrey’s Archives and Special Collections. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Archives and Special Collections team at the University of Surrey for their care and development of the collection, and for the safe transfer of the collection to its new home.

A full catalogue of the collection had already been compiled by the Archivist at the University of Surrey. With both organisations using the same cataloguing software (CALM) it has proven to be a fairly simple process to transfer over the existing records into Exeter’s online catalogue. This was a great time saver, meaning that the collection was searchable online just a day or two after its transfer and minimising the time that it was inaccessible to researchers. The online catalogue for the collection can be found here under collection reference EUL MS 472/NEHC. The six main sections of the collection comprise:

EUL MS 472/NEHC/1 – Texts from the nursing ethics heritage period, 1860s-1965

EUL MS 472/NEHC/2 – Texts relating to Bioethics

EUL MS 472/NEHC/3 – Texts and audio visual material relating to nursing bioethics

EUL MS 472/NEHC/4 – Biographical records relating to nurse ethicists

EUL MS 472/NEHC/5 – Histories of nursing ethics

EUL MS 472/NEHC/6 – Contextual publications for medical practice, nursing and ethics

EUL MS 472/NEHC/7 – Codes of ethics for nurses

The collection comprises almost 500 books, periodicals and articles, including works dating from 1888 to editions of ‘Nursing Ethics: An International Journal for Health Care Professionals’ published as recently as 2017. Many of the books contain the names of former owners inscribed within, as well as annotations and underlined words in the text, highlighting their importance in shaping the study and work of nurses. Though predominantly consisting of English-language works, it is wonderful to also find texts in Italian, Dutch, Hungarian, Russian and Japanese within the collection. Some images of items in the collection can be viewed on the slideshow below.

 

Items from the Nursing Ethics Heritage Collection are now available to consult in our reading room by advance appointment. We hope this wonderfully rich collection will support and inspire research into the study of nursing ethics, both here at the University of Exeter and by visiting researchers.

Enquiries about this collection can be made by email to: libspc@exeter.ac.uk.

Cataloguing the Common Ground Archive: Project Completed!

I’m very pleased to announce that after two years and four months (extended due to the coronavirus pandemic), the project to catalogue the Common Ground archive has now been completed. The new catalogue descriptions will allow this extensive archive (measuring approximately 125 linear metres!) to be more easily searched, accessed and used. The archive has been arranged into sections, series and files, and descriptions are available for all to browse via our online catalogue. You can explore the new archive catalogue here.

 

Common Ground is an arts and environmental charity, which was established in the early 1980s (founded in 1982 and charitable status gained in 1983) with a mission to link nature with culture and use celebration of the everyday as a starting point for local action. The charity has raised awareness of a variety of environmental issues through its innovative projects, which have involved public participation; the commissioning of new artistic works; the organisation of exhibitions, events and conferences; the launching of new calendar customs; and the publication of books, pamphlets, newsletters, leaflets and postcards. Many of the projects – in particular, ‘Parish Maps’, the ‘Campaign for Local Distinctiveness’ and ‘Apple Day’ – have proven to be highly sustainable, continuing long after Common Ground’s active involvement in them ceased.

The Common Ground archive comprises a wide range of material created and collected by the charity in the course of its activities between 1982 and 2013, including project planning papers, correspondence, reports, financial papers, research material, press clippings, photographs, promotional material, and publications. The largest section of the archive concerns Common Ground’s work on its various projects. These files are organised into sub-sections according to project, reflecting the archive’s original order and the use of the material by Common Ground. However, as many of the projects overlapped chronologically and thematically, some sub-sections relate to more than one project. It is therefore worth browsing the archive both via the hierarchical tree, as well as through an advanced search of the entire archive (enter EUL MS 416 followed by a * in the ‘Ref No’ field and enter a keyword e.g. Parish Maps in the ‘Any Text’ field.

 

For me personally, the aspects of Common Ground’s work that really shine through the archive are project conception, public participation, and engagement through the arts. For each project there are project proposals and project planning notes, which reveal the thought processes and creative ideas behind Common Ground’s projects. The excitedly scribbled questions and ideas on pages of lined paper are particularly wonderful! All of Common Ground’s projects involved public participation to a certain degree, but my favourites are those that invited members of the public to share their own knowledge and experiences. Thousands of letters from people around the UK (and, in some instances, around the world) relating to projects such as the Flora Britannica, Orchard Observances and Parish Maps provide fascinating insight into the relationship between people and the environment. And finally, the archive contains correspondence, photographs and publications relating to Common Ground’s collaboration with artists, sculptors, craftspeople, photographers, writers, poets, playwrights and composers. The directors of Common Ground understood that the arts are an effective means to engage and excite people about their local environment, and made a special effort to work with a wide variety of practitioners, including Peter Randall-Page, David Nash, James Ravilious, David Wood, James Crowden, and Karen Wimhurst.

The Common Ground archive has the potential to be used for research in a wide range of areas, including environmental studies, geography, literature, visual arts, cultural studies, sociology, and business studies. The archive may also be of general interest to anyone keen to know more about environmental issues, arts, culture, or their local area (the archive includes material relating to thousands of towns, cities and villages across the UK). We hope that this cataloguing project will enable the archive to be more easily and effectively accessed and used for research, teaching and pleasure.

To find out more about the different Common Ground projects and the archive material relating to them, you can browse the past project blog posts, or visit our online guide to the Common Ground archive. The online guide has been designed to help you to navigate the archive catalogue, provide guidance on access and copyright, and answer some of your questions. You are also welcome to contact Special Collections by email at libspc@exeter.ac.uk for more information about the archive.

So that just leaves me to say goodbye for now! However, I am delighted to be continuing in my role as project archivist at the University of Exeter Special Collections, where I have already embarked on my next cataloguing project…

By Annie, Project Archivist

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: ‘Trees, Woods and the Green Man’ and ‘Field Days’

The Common Ground archive cataloguing project is now nearing its end and the final two sections of project material – relating to the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project and the Field Days project – have been catalogued. Read on to find out more about these projects and the archive material relating to them.

Trees, Woods and the Green Man

Common Ground started work on the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project in 1986. The aim of the project was to raise awareness of ‘the importance of trees by exploring their aesthetic, spiritual and cultural value as well as their ecological importance’ (King, A and Clifford, S (eds),’Trees be Company’ (1989), p. xi). Throughout the project, Common Ground commissioned works by sculptors, artists, writers, poets and playwrights to explore themes around trees and woods. In 1989, Common Ground won the Prudential Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts for its work on the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project. Common Ground used the prize of £25,000 to commission further sculptural works, including works by Peter Randall-Page. Common Ground also collaborated with sculptors and artists to produce exhibitions about trees and the arts, including ‘The Tree of Life: New Images of an Ancient Symbol’ in 1989 and ‘Leaves’ by Andy Goldsworthy in 1989-1990. Furthermore, the project generated new campaigns and initiatives, such as the campaign to let fallen or damaged trees recover after the ‘Great Storm’ of 1987, and the initiative to develop a new calendar custom called Tree Dressing Day (you can find out more about Tree Dressing Day in our blog post: Tracing the ‘roots’ of Tree Dressing Day in the Common Ground archive). Common Ground produced several publications as part of the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project, including ‘Trees Be Company: An Anthology of Poetry’ (1989 and 2001), ‘In a Nutshell: A manifesto for trees and a guide to growing and protecting them’ (1990), and a special edition broadsheet newspaper ‘Pulp! with contributions from actors, authors, artists and cartoonists (1989)’, as well as a range of leaflets and postcards.

Promotional material relating to the Tree Dressing Day initiative (EUL MS 416/PRO/4/4/1)

Material in this sub-section of the archive includes:

  • files of assorted material relating to the administration of the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project by Common Ground;
  • material relating to the Tree Dressing initiative;
  • material relating to Trees, Woods and the Green Man arts initiatives (including artistic commissions, literary commissions, exhibitions, and events), which include papers relating to Common Ground’s work with artists such as Andy Goldsworthy and David Nash, amongst others;
  • material relating to Trees, Woods and the Green Man publications and promotional material produced by Common Ground, including ‘Trees Be Company’, ‘In a Nutshell’, and ‘Pulp!;
  • press clippings and material relating to publicity of the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project;
  • research material, including general research material about trees, reports and publications produced by governmental and environmental bodies, and research material concerning the Great Storm of October 1987;
  • and photographic material.

You can find the full catalogue description of the Trees, Woods and the Green Man section here or by clicking the image below.

This section of the archive may be of particular interest to anyone researching Common Ground’s collaborations with sculptors, artists, writers, actors, poets and playwrights, as the project involved a large number of commissions. The material relating to the commissions includes correspondence, press clippings, photographs and – in some cases – interviews with sculptors about their work.

There were several personal highlights for me in this section of the archive. I particularly enjoyed a file containing questionnaires completed by local authority tree officers, which gave insight (and some amusing anecdotes!) into common perceptions and complaints from the public about trees. The archive material relating to the Tree Dressing initiative is also fascinating, and includes correspondence, reports, and a large number of beautiful photographs of Tree Dressing events held around the UK in the 1990s. And I was excited to recognise some famous names in this section of the archive! Files concerning Common Ground’s special-edition newspaper ‘Pulp!’ include letters from those invited to contribute to the newspaper, including Victoria Wood, Martin Amis and Germaine Greer.

Field Days

The Field Days project was launched in 1995 to highlight the historical, cultural and social importance of fields, to celebrate their contribution to local distinctiveness, and to encourage people to take a more active role in their conservation. A variety of publications were produced by Common Ground as part of the Field Days project, including postcards, leaflets, pamphlets, and a book entitled ‘Field Days: An Anthology of Poetry’ (1998). A major initiative of the project was to highlight and uncover the variety of field names in the UK, and to encourage people to research, restore and celebrate the field names in their local areas. In July 1996, Common Ground was commissioned by the Department of the Environment to produce a laminated panel exhibition on the subject of Field Days for the Royal Agricultural Show, which was subsequently available for hire. In addition, Common Ground launched a Field Days poetry competition in partnership with Blue Nose Poetry, and collaborated with theatre groups, writers, poets, artists, craftspeople, photographers, and local communities to explore different ways of engaging with the diverse stories a field might tell.

Publications and promotional material produced for the Field Days project (EUL MS 416/PRO/11/2/7)

Material in this sub-section of the archive includes:

  • assorted papers relating to the administration of the Field Days project, including correspondence, project outlines and project planning papers; project reports; funding applications; papers relating to Field Days publications produced by Common Ground, including drafts; papers relating to field names; papers relating to field events; and research material press clippings, and notes;
  • promotional material and publications produced by Common Ground for the Field Days project, including flyers, postcards, leaflets, press releases, pamphlets and books, as well as papers concerning the content, design and printing of publications;
  • papers relating to the Field Days panel exhibition, which was first displayed at the Royal Agricultural Show in 1996 and subsequently went on tour and was available for hire;
  • papers relating to the Field Days poetry competition in 1997, which was organised by Common Ground in collaboration with Blue Nose Poetry;
  • material relating to arts initiatives concerning fields and the Field Days project, including responses from artists interested in being involved in the Field Days project and wishing to be added to Common Ground’s ‘of visual and performing artists, craftspeople and photographers who are interested in expressing and celebrating / documenting the cultural significance of the field in the British landscape’;
  • press clippings and material relating to publicity of the Field Days project, including promotional material, summaries of press coverage, correspondence, and two cassette tape audio recordings of radio interviews;
  • research material relating to fields, including field names and scarecrows;
  • and 18 slide storage sheets containing 35mm photographic slide transparencies relating to the Field Days project.

You can find the full catalogue description of the Field Days section here or by clicking the image below.

In the final few weeks of the cataloguing project, I’ll be looking to make the Common Ground’s general papers relating to administration, correspondence, finance and research more accessible. And I will look forward to writing to you again soon with my final blog post of the project!

By Annie, Project Archivist

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts