Tag Archives: Books

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 Price, 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 

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.

Discovering Sister Catherine ‘Kitty’ Witham in the Syon Abbey Collection

You may have seen that the Syon Abbey archive was in the news recently! On Tuesday 12 March 2019, an article was published in The Times concerning a letter written by Sister Catherine ‘Kitty’ Witham to her mother in 1756. The letter, which is part of the Syon Abbey archive, vividly describes the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 and its consequences for the nuns of Syon Abbey. The University of Exeter’s press release about the letter can be read here.

There were several reasons why we wanted to raise awareness of Sister Kitty’s letter in the archive. Extracts from the letter have been published before, so it is not a new discovery as such, but until now it appears to have only been examined as an account of the earthquake. What we thought made this letter doubly interesting is the vivid description of the earthquake and the information we can glean from it about the lives of Sister Kitty and the Syon nuns.

Signature of Sister Kitty Witham from a letter (EUL MS 389/PERS/WITHAM)

Sister Kitty seemed a particularly interesting nun to focus on. In 1749, at the age of about 32, Sister Catherine Witham made her vow of profession as a choir nun at Syon Abbey in Lisbon, where she died 44 years later in 1793. Apart from these bare facts, we would know very little of Sister Kitty, had she not written the letter about the earthquake, inscribed six manuscripts, and added her notes in several of the printed books in the library. Not only do we learn details of her religious and personal life from these records, but also an indication that she enjoyed (and I would argue, had a talent for) writing. As Sister Kitty’s presence can be found across the three main parts of the Syon Abbey Collection – the archive, the library, and the medieval and modern manuscript collection –  she seemed the ideal person through which to highlight and raise awareness of the wider collection.

This blog post will explore some of the items in the Syon Abbey Collection that relate to Sister Kitty, allowing us to discover more about this remarkable woman and her life at Syon Abbey. It also includes details about a second letter from Sister Kitty, a copy of which surprisingly found its way to us following the publication of the article in The Times – so do keep reading for more information!

Sister Kitty in the Archive

The first item to explore is, of course, the letter of Sister Kitty Witham regarding the Great Lisbon Earthquake. Dated 27 January 1756 – almost two months after the initial earthquake on 1 November 1755 – Sister Kitty writes to her ‘dear[e]st Mama’ from ‘Poor Sion Houes‘, with a paragraph at the end of the letter addressed to her ‘Dear[e]st Aunt Ashmall’. In the letter, Sister Kitty describes the earthquake which ‘began like the rattleing of Coaches‘ and resulted in the walls ‘A Shakeing, & a falling down‘. She also gives an account of the destruction of the city of Lisbon – ‘them that has seen Lisbon befor this dreadfull Calammety & to see itt Now would be greatly Shockt the Citty is Nothing but a heep of Stones‘ – and the fates of various of its inhabitants, including the President of the English College.

But what do we learn about the nuns of Syon Abbey? Firstly, we gain insight into their morning routine. Sister Kitty sets the scene: ‘that Morning we had all been att Communion, I had done the quire & then went to gett Our Breakfasts, which is tea & bread & butter when tis not fasting time, we was all in diferent places in the Convent, some in the Refectory, some in there Cells, Others hear & there; my Lady Abbyss her two Nices Sis[te]r Clark & my Self was att Breakfast in a little Rome by the Common which when they had done they went to prepair for Hye Mass, which was to be gin att ten a Clock. I was washing up the tea things, when the Dreadfull Afaire hapend‘. We also learn that all the nuns of Syon Abbey survived the earthquake, which killed thousands of others in Lisbon, as Sister Kitty writes, ‘so Blessed be his holy Name we all mett together, & run no further neither had we Any thoughts of runing Aney futher, we was all as glad to See One another Alive & well as Can be Expresst‘. Describing the aftermath of the earthquake and the many aftershocks, Sister Kitty explains that the community first slept under a pear tree (‘for Eeight days, I & some Others being so vere frighted Every time the wind blode the tree, I thought we was A going‘), then later a ‘little place with Sticks & Coverd with Matts‘, before moving into a ‘Woden houes Made in the garden‘.

And what do we find out about Sister Kitty? One of the most powerful features of the letter is Sister Kitty’s honesty about her feelings of anxiety following the earthquake. Aftershocks from the earthquake appear to have continued for several months, leaving the nuns ‘with agreat deell of fear, & Aprehension‘, and uncertain of their fates. Sister Kitty is clearly aware of her own mortality (‘if the Earthquake had hapend in the Night as itt did not thank God, we should all or Most of us been Killd in Our Beds‘) and seems convinced the end of the world is nigh, writing ‘Only God knows how long we have [to?] live for I belive this World will not last long‘. We also discover that Sister Kitty had a very close relationship with her family and friends in England, and that she appears to have remained in regular contact with them. Throughout the letter she frequently refers to and enquires after friends and family, and towards the end of the letter she sends her regards to her father, promising ‘not to be so troublesom as I have been‘.

The letter from Sister Kitty is very fragile, with some damage and evidence of historic conservation efforts. It is also slightly mysterious, as it remains unclear how this letter addressed to her mother found its way to the community and into the Syon Abbey archive. However, there are a number of early to mid-twentieth-century transcripts of the letter in the archive, suggesting the letter was in possession of the community for at least 50 years before Syon Abbey closed in 2011. What we do know is that the letter was kept in the safe at Syon Abbey, indicating how special it was to the community.

 

Another trace of Sister Kitty in the archive is her vow of profession. One of the great highlights of the Syon Abbey archive are the 296 vows of sisters recorded between 1607 and 2010 – and Sister Kitty is amongst them. Her vow is recorded in Latin in a document dated 26 July 1749, signed by ‘Sister Catherine Witham‘ and the abbess ‘S[is]ter Winifred Hill’, and decorated with a red border.

EUL MS 389/COM/2/1/4/23 – Vow of Sister Catherine Witham, dated 26 July 1749. Provided for research and reference only. Permission to publish, copy, or otherwise use this work must be obtained from University of Exeter Special Collections (http://as.exeter.ac.uk/heritage-collections/) and all copyright holders.

More than 150 years after the Great Lisbon Earthquake, Sister Kitty’s name reappears in the archive. Correspondence dated 1911 from a relation of Sister Kitty mentions a painting of the nun in their possession [ref: EUL MS 389/COR/1/1/19]. However, there is no other trace of this painting in the archive, and its whereabouts remain unknown.

Sister Kitty in the Manuscript Collection

Sister Kitty’s name appears in several of the modern manuscripts in the collection. The collection includes six manuscripts either completely transcribed by Sister Kitty, or containing inscriptions by her. Some examples of inscriptions by her include: ‘ ‘Sis[te]r Catherine de S[an]ta. Anna Witham her Book with leave‘ [EUL MS 262/add2/14] and ‘Sister Catherine Witham de S[an]ta. Anna her Book of Delight, given her by the good Sister Monica Hodgson in 1753‘ [EUL MS 262/add1/31]. The image below is from a manuscript containing a transcript of the Stations of the Cross by Sister Kitty, entitled ‘Estacao’ [EUL MS 262/add2/25]. It includes the note:

‘Sis[te]r Kitty Wit[ha]m

Her Book god giue her graes

on itt to Looke.

And when this you see I hope you

will Remember to pray for me’

EUL MS 262/add2/25 – Manuscript volume entitled ‘Estacao’. Provided for research and reference only. Permission to publish, copy, or otherwise use this work must be obtained from University of Exeter Special Collections (http://as.exeter.ac.uk/heritage-collections/) and all copyright holders.

Sister Kitty in the Library Collection

Not only has Sister Kitty inscribed six manuscripts, but her notes can also be found in several printed books in the Syon Abbey Library Collection. However, there has not yet been a survey undertaken to identify all the volumes containing inscriptions by Sister Kitty. A recently-catalogued book in the library was found to have some particularly interesting notes by Sister Kitty in its flyleaves [Syon Abbey 17–/CAT]. Entitled ‘Officium B. Mariae‘, it includes several pages of Sister Kitty’s notes, as well inscriptions of names of other nuns. Sister Kitty signs the first flyleaf ‘Sis[te]r Catherine de Santa Anna Witham her Book of Consolation‘, and the following pages contain prayers and notes. In light of the letter concerning the Lisbon Earthquake, the second flyleaf is particularly interesting: a transcript of a prayer entitled ‘in time of Earthquakes‘. The same page includes a note of the marriage of her ‘Nephew & Nece Frankell‘, again indicating a close relationship with her family in England. Images of the flyleaves of this book can be viewed in the slideshow below.

A surprise letter from Sister Kitty!

We received a wonderful surprise in the week following the publication of the article in The Times! A copy of a second letter by Sister Kitty was kindly donated to our collections by her five-times-great-nephew. Dated 1763, eight years after the Great Lisbon Earthquake, it is once again addressed to ‘My Dear Mama‘. The contrast between the two letters is striking; the second letter finds Sister Kitty noticeably happier, without the uncertainty and fear that had gripped her while she was writing the first letter. Two passages in the letter particularly stood out to me. In the first, she reflects upon her decision to become a nun, and writes: ‘tis Certainly a most happy Life & for my part I like itt every Day better & better & rejoice for haveing made such a happy happy Choice’. In the second, she reports on her role that week as hebdomadary (person appointed for the week to sing the chapter mass and lead the recitation of the canonical hours) in the abbey. She writes: ‘my Duty this week is hebdommadarium which in there weeks Officiates the Devine Office in the quire[.] they rise the first & rings the Bells & give the Nuns Lights[.] this we have in Our turns from the Oldest to the youngest in the convent[.] I darsay was D[ea]r Mama to hear me Sing in the quire she would be much Delighted for they tell me I have a very sweet voice which I thank God for itt as its a good talent for a Nun’. Despite knowing that the convent in Lisbon was rebuilt soon after its destruction and community life continued at Syon Abbey, it is comforting to have this written confirmation that Sister Kitty found happiness and hope in life again after surviving a terrible natural disaster.

Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed discovering more about Sister Kitty Witham with me! This blog post has focused only one sister in Syon Abbey’s 596-year history; however, the Syon Abbey Collection contains many more stories of the remarkable women who joined this community. The archive, manuscripts and books are now all catalogued and available to access at the University of Exeter. For more information about the wider Syon Abbey Collection, please do take a look at our guide, which you can find here.

I would like to extend my most sincere thanks to Emma Sherriff and Connor Spence in the Digital Humanities Lab at the University of Exeter for creating high-resolution images of the letter, vow, and book of Sister Kitty Witham.

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

A summary of material relating to Sister Catherine ‘Kitty’ Witham in the Syon Abbey Collection:

EUL MS 389/COM/2/1/4/23 – Vow of Sister Catherine Witham (1749)

EUL MS 389/PERS/WITHAM – Manuscript letter from Sister Kitty Witham to her mother (1756)

EUL MS 389/COR/1/1/19 – Bundle of correspondence, W-Z

EUL MS 459 – Photocopy of a letter from Sister Catherine Witham of Syon Abbey to her mother in 1763

EUL MS 262/add1/29 – Small manuscript volume entitled ‘The Testament of the Sovle Made By S. Charles Borromeus, Card[inal] & Arch Bishop of Milan’ (1749)

EUL MS 262/add1/30 – Manuscript volume of prayers for the use of Sister Catherine [Kitty] Witham (c 1749-1793)

EUL MS 262/add1/31- Manuscript volume entitled ‘The Practice of the Spirituall Exercises of Saint Ignatius. The inscription on the flyleaf reads: ‘Sister Catherine Witham de S[an]ta. Anna her Book of Delight, given her by the good Sister Monica Hodgson in 1753’ (1753)

EUL MS 262/add2/14 – Manuscript volume marked ‘M.S. 14’ and entitled ‘Howe and why our office is to be sayd every day In the Hours’ (c 1749-1793)

EUL MS 262/add2/24 – Manuscript volume marked ‘MS 24’ and entitled ‘A Collection of Small Prayers either Daily Or Frequently said in Community. For the use of Sister Kitty Witham’ (c 1761)

EUL MS 262/add2/25 – Manuscript volume entitled ‘Estacao’ (c 1749-1793)

Please note: the Syon Abbey Library Collection includes a number of books containing inscriptions by Sister Kitty, but a comprehensive survey has not been undertaken.

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: ‘Second Nature’ and ‘Holding Your Ground’

During the first six months of the Common Ground archive cataloguing project, I examined and briefly described the material I found in each file within the archive to create a comprehensive box list. This new box list now provides me with a good overview of the contents of the archive, which – I hope! – will vastly facilitate the cataloguing process. Keen to finally get down to some proper cataloguing, I decided to tackle the archive material relating to two of Common Ground’s early projects: Second Nature and Holding Your Ground.

EUL MS 416/LIB/1 – Books: ‘Second Nature’ (1984) and ‘Holding Your Ground (1987)

The Second Nature project concerned the publication of a collection of essays and artwork. 42 writers and artists were invited by Common Ground to ‘express their feelings about Britain’s dwindling wild life and countryside’ (‘Second Nature’, 1984) and contribute to this anthology through prose, poetry or art. The book was edited by Richard Mabey with Sue Clifford and Angela King – the three founders of Common Ground – and published by Jonathan Cape in 1984. Three public seminars at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) took place in October and November 1984 to discuss the themes explored in the book. The artwork featured in ‘Second Nature’ was exhibited at the Newlyn Orion Gallery in Penzance in 1984, and subsequently travelled to other venues.

EUL MS 416/PRO/1/1/1 – Small cards with names of contributors, presumably used to plan the layout of ‘Second Nature’

One year after ‘Second Nature’ was published, Sue Clifford and Angela King co-authored and published a second book together: ‘Holding Your Ground: an action guide to local conservation’. It was first published by Maurice Temple Smith in 1985, and a revised edition was published by Wildwood House in 1987. The book provides information on how to care for your locality, reasons why local conservation is important, case studies of local initiatives, and advice on who to contact for help and support. The book includes a foreword by David Bellamy, artwork by Tony Foster and Robin Tanner, and photography by Chris Baines, Ian Anderson and Ron Frampton.

EUL MS 416/PRO/2/1/1 – Comb-bound typescript draft of ‘Holding Your Ground’ (1983)

These early projects highlight the two strands of Common Ground’s work which informed the projects that followed; firstly, collaborating with artists and writers to reflect on our relationship with nature, and secondly, encouraging people to take action in looking after their local environment. Using the arts to celebrate local distinctiveness, encourage people to emotionally engage with their surroundings, and consequently interest them in conservation at a local level would become the cornerstone of Common Ground’s work.

EUL MS 416/PRO/2/2/3 – File of research material relating to ‘Parish Initiatives’ for the ‘Holding Your Ground’ project

In addition, many of the relationships Common Ground forged with artists and writers at this very early stage would prove to be long lasting and influential. For example, the artist Andy Goldsworthy, who provided five photographs of his artwork for ‘Second Nature’, completed a residency on Hampstead Heath supported by Common Ground in the winter of 1985-1986, and would go on to work with Common Ground on various other projects, including Trees, Woods and the Green Man, New Milestones, and Rhynes, Rivers and Running Brooks. Other artists and writers who worked with Common Ground again after collaboration on these early projects include: Norman Ackroyd, Conrad Atkinson, John Fowles, David Nash, James Ravilious, and Tony Foster.

EUL MS 416/PRO/1/4 – Files relating to projects with the artist Andy Goldsworthy

Material in the Second Nature section of the archive includes: correspondence with artists and writers; papers concerning the production of the book; papers relating to the seminars held at the ICA; papers concerning the exhibition of artists’ work; and several files of papers relating to Common Ground’s collaboration with artist Andy Goldsworthy, in particular: his residency on Hampstead Heath and exhibitions of his work. The ‘Holding Your Ground’ section of the archive comprises drafts of the book ‘Holding Your Ground’, book reviews, correspondence and research material. All of this material has now been catalogued and descriptions of the files and items are available to browse online via our archives catalogue.

Catalogue entries for ‘Second Nature’ (reference number: EUL MS 416/PRO/1) and ‘Holding Your Ground (reference number: EUL MS 416/PRO/2) on the Special Collections online archives catalogue

Having now completed the cataloguing of two relatively small sections of Common Ground’s project work in the archive, I’m giving myself a slightly bigger challenge to catalogue next: material relating to the Parish Maps project. The Parish Maps project was launched by Common Ground in 1987 to encourage people ‘to share and chart information about their locality as a first step to becoming involved in its care’ (Common Ground leaflet, 2000). The project output included two exhibitions, several publications, and thousands of maps created in various forms by individuals, groups, schools, councils, communities and organisations – so I will certainly have my work cut out!

Thanks for reading – until next time!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

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

Click here to browse the section ‘Second Nature’ via the online archives catalogue.

Click here to browse the section ‘Holding Your Ground’ via the online archives catalogue.

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