Tag Archives: History

Papers of Sir Norman Lockyer – Now Available Online

University of Exeter Special Collections are pleased to announce that the papers of Astronomer, Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer are now available to consult online as part of Wiley Digital Archive’s British Association for the Advancement of Science Database (Collections on the History of Science: 1830-1970). Students at University of Exeter (and other institutions with the relevant subscription) can access the digitised material through their institutional login. A free trial subscription is also available at https://www.wileydigitalarchives.com/british-association-for-the-advancement-of-science/

Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer (1836-1920), astronomer, was one of the pioneers of astronomical spectroscopy and became one of the most influential astronomers of his time. His main interest was sun spectroscopy, which led him to discover helium independently of Pierre Janssen, a scientist who posited its existence in the same year. He was born in Rugby in 1836, the only son of a surgeon-apothecary, Joseph Hooley Lockyer and was educated privately in England and he also studied languages on the Continent. At the age of twenty-one became a clerk in the War Office, and married Winifred James in the following year. He developed interests in astronomy and journalism, and in 1863 began to give scientific papers to the Royal Astronomical Society. He proceeded to push back the frontiers of spectroscopy and science, discovering the theoretical existence of helium (a chemical not then known on Earth), and was awarded a medal by the French Academy of Sciences in the same year for developing a new technique to observe solar prominences at times other than eclipses.

Sir Norman Lockyer as Science Editor of The Reader

In 1869 Lockyer founded the journal ‘Nature’, which he edited until a few months before his death, and which remains to this day a major resource for international scientific knowledge. In 1870 he was appointed secretary to the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction, which over the next five years reported on scientific education and resulted in the government setting up a laboratory of solar physics at South Kensington. To further this work, Lockyer was transferred from the War Office to the Science and Art Department at South Kensington in 1875. Here he organised an international exhibition of scientific apparatus, as well as establishing the loan collection which eventually formed the nucleus of the collections of the Science Museum.

Throughout this period, Lockyer continued to be active in astronomical observations and in spectroscopic studies in the laboratory of the College of Chemistry; he also wrote several books on astronomy and spectral analysis. Lockyer also studied the correlations between solar activity and weather, and developed interests in meteorology. In 1878 he was given charge of the solar-physics work then being carried out at South Kensington, being made Director of the Solar Physics Laboratory. Lockyer also became a lecturer in the Normal School Science in 1881, and became the first professor of astronomical physics in 1887, a post which he held until 1901. (In 1890 the School was renamed the Royal College of Science, which later became part of the Imperial College of Science and Technology). Lockyer continued his work as Director of the Solar Physics Laboratory until the laboratory moved to Cambridge, with the original laboratory site being used in part in the building of the Science Museum.

Kensington Telescope at Hill Observatory

After retiring to Devon with his wife, Lockyer established a solar observatory at Sidmouth on the suggestion of Francis McLean, the son of the astronomer and philanthropist Frank McLean. This observatory, begun in 1912, was set up for astrophysical observations, and was originally called the Hill Observatory. Following the completion of building work at the site at Salcombe Regis, near Sidmouth, Devon, solar work commenced in 1913 using the Kensington telescope which had been brought from the observatory in South Kensington, London. The Observatory was officially established as a charitable trust in 1916, and was renamed in Lockyer’s honour by his family after he died in Salcombe Regis, Devon, in August 1920. The Lockyer family continued to play an important role in the running of the observatory. Following a generous endowment from Robert Mond, the Observatory was established as a centre of astronomical excellence, and later became The Norman Lockyer Observatory Corporation of the University of Exeter (University College of the South West of England until 1955). The principal telescopes were donated by Lockyer and by Francis McLean, who had originally suggested the building of the observatory. A further telescope was donated by Robert Mond in 1932. The observatory is still running today. 

The collection that has been digitised includes the personal correspondence and some of the research papers of Sir Norman Lockyer. The ‘Marconi telegram’ is also included, notifying Sir Norman Lockyer of the first Atlantic transmission using Ether waves, sent from Marconi at Mullion, Cornwall, to Sir Norman Lockyer of the Solar Physics Observatory, South Kensington, London, 12 January 1903, with copy telegram on reverse to Marconi from Norman Lockyer confirming receipt. Amongst the research papers are two boxes of eclipse notebooks 1870-1911, lecture notes 1870-1898, notes about articles, papers relating to the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction 1871-1877, papers relating to the transfer of the Solar Physics Laboratory to Cambridge 1911-1912, and other papers relating to education, lectures and addresses. Other personal papers include those arising from his being awarded honorary degrees and his attendance at public functions.

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: Orchards and Apple Day

Cataloguing Update

Following the announcement of a national lockdown in March, the physical work involved in cataloguing the Common Ground archive had to be temporarily put on hold. Attempting to catalogue an archive from home without access to the physical material was challenging, but I was able to draft out arrangements for the final sections of the archive, and use box lists to create file level descriptions. However, important processes such as repackaging and removing harmful fasteners, as well as labelling and moving files, had to wait. As a result, much of my focus between March and August shifted to promoting the archive, which included the creation of an online guide to the Common Ground archive, which I hope will be a useful resource for users to navigate the archive.

Thanks to an extension to my contract (which had been due to end in July 2020), action was able to return to the Common Ground archive in August! The past two months have been ‘fruitful’ indeed, with two further sections of the archive – relating to Common Ground’s Orchards project and Apple Day project – now catalogued.

Orchards

In 1987, Common Ground began work on the Orchards project, also known as the Campaign to Conserve Old Orchards and Plant New Ones. The Co-Directors of Common Ground, Sue Clifford and Angela King, first became aware of the sharp decline in orchards in the UK whilst conducting research for the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project. They realised that, in addition to the ecological impact, this decline also signified a loss of associated cultural practices. The Orchards project aimed to promote the ecological and cultural importance of orchards, to campaign for orchards to be conserved and planted, and to revive interest in local fruit varieties.

Common Ground’s Orchards project involved a number of different campaigns and initiatives, including ‘Save our Orchards’, ‘Community Orchards’, ‘Apple Day’ and ‘Orchard Observances’. In addition to its own initiatives, the charity also supported other orchard initiatives around the UK. As part of the Orchards project, Common Ground also organised events and exhibitions, and commissioned artistic works, including photographs and sculptures. Several publications relating to orchards were produced by Common Ground, including ‘Orchards: a guide to local conservation’ (1989), ‘The Common Ground Book of Orchards’ (2000), and ‘The Community Orchards Handbook’ (2008).

Publications and promotional material produced for the Orchards project (EUL MS 416/PRO/6/3/9)

Material in this section of the archive comprises: files of assorted material relating to the administration of the Orchards project; material relating to Orchards projects and events; files of correspondence relating to orchards; research material about orchards; press clippings and papers relating to publicity; and photographic material.

The section of the archive relating to the Orchards project was the most challenging to catalogue due to its very large size, as it consists of material stored within 61 lever arch files, 43 box files, 30 ring binders, 23 boxes and 14 magazine files! The number of records that Common Ground compiled during this project reflects how wide-ranging it was and how much it captured the imagination of Common Ground and of the public. Despite being one of the smallest, my favourite initiative created by Common Ground is ‘Orchard Observances’. In 1994, Common Ground circulated a call out to owners and users of orchards in the UK to keep a diary about their orchards, and in particular to make a note of the orchard’s location, age, cultivation, management, tree varieties, and resident and visiting wildlife. The archive contains three files relating to this initiative, including many diary entries sent to Common Ground, which make for fascinating reading.

Apple Day

Apple Day was an initiative to create a new calendar custom based on the apple. The very first Apple Day was organised by Common Ground in the Piazza of Covent Garden on 21 October 1990. In the 20 years that followed, Common Ground took on an advisory role, supporting the increasing number of local organisers around the UK in promoting their Apple Day events, whilst also keeping a record of the development and success of the initiative. In 2010, Common Ground decided that Apple Day had become so well established as a custom that it was capable of continuing without extra support from the charity. Apple Day continues to be celebrated on and around 21 October each year. You can find out more about Apple Day in my previous blog post: Apples and Archives: Getting to the ‘core’ of Apple Day in the Common Ground archive.

Publications and promotional material produced for the Apple Day project (EUL MS 416/PRO/8/4/3)

Apple Day grew out of the Orchards project, but perhaps because Apple Day became such a significant project in its own right, Common Ground arranged the records into two different sections within the archive. Material in the Apple Day section of the archive includes: files of assorted material relating to the administration of the Apple Day project; material relating to the planning of the first Apple Day in 1990; material relating to Apple Day events between 1991-2012; press clippings; promotional material; and photographic material. You can find the full catalogue description for the Apple Day section here or by clicking the image below.

This year marks 30 years since the very first Apple Day was organised by Common Ground in 1990. To celebrate the anniversary, I have filmed a short video featuring some of the Apple Day material in the archive. I hope you enjoy it!

 

The next section of the archive to catalogue is material relating to the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project. If all goes well, cataloguing should be completed by the end of October and my next blog post should appear soon after. I look forward to writing another update for you soon!

By Annie Price, 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.

Apples and Archives: Getting to the ‘core’ of Apple Day in the Common Ground archive

Warning: may contain puns

Every year on and around the 21 October, apples and orchards are celebrated in the UK as part of a custom known as Apple Day. Indeed, Apple Day has become so firmly entrenched in the British calendar that it could easily be believed to be an ancient tradition. However, Apple Day has only officially been celebrated on 21 October in the UK since 1990, when the arts and environmental charity, Common Ground, initiated its very first ‘fruitful’ – in all senses of the word – celebration of apples in the Plaza of Covent Garden in London.

The Common Ground archive, which has been in the care of Special Collections at the University of Exeter since 2013, contains a significant amount of material created and collected by Common Ground throughout the course of the Apple Day project. The richness of this material offers a tantalising opportunity to delve into the archive and explore the history behind the ‘fruits’ of Common Ground’s labour – and as I am currently in the process of surveying the archive before the cataloguing begins, that is exactly what I did.

Author’s own photograph of apple varieties on display, taken at Killerton Apple Festival in Exeter, 2018

In 1987, Sue Clifford and Angela King at Common Ground became aware of the sharp decline in traditional orchards in the British Isles since the 1950s whilst conducting research for the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project. They recognised that this decline not only had an ecological impact on the British landscape, but also signified a loss of associated cultural practices. Not only would we lose regional fruit varieties, local distinctiveness, and richness of wildlife, but knowledge of recipes, stories, songs, and skills such as planting, grafting and pruning would also diminish. To raise awareness of this issue, the charity launched its Save Our Orchards and Community Orchards campaigns, which sought to encourage and ‘a-peel’ to people to protect traditional orchards, as well as create new community orchards.

Realising it was ‘crunch’ time for orchards, in 1990, Common Ground introduced a new initiative to further protect and promote the ecological and cultural importance of orchards – a calendar custom which it named Apple Day. The charity hoped that demonstration and celebration of the apple – with its thousands of varieties, and rich history and symbolism – could raise awareness of the orchards in danger of being lost, as well as inspire real positive change in the way that people source food and engage with their local environment. The first Apple Day celebration was organised by Common Ground with forty stalls in Covent Garden in 1990.

Apple Day promotional material and apple-related publications produced by Common Ground in the archive

Common Ground initiates and manages projects that inspire people to care for and forge meaningful connections with their local environment through the arts, and which – perhaps most importantly – are sustainable. In this vein, having piloted Apple Day in London with great success in 1990, in the following year the charity encouraged people nationwide to organise their own apple-related events on and around 21 October. The initiative soon ‘bore fruit’ and Common Ground took on an advisory and promotional role towards Apple Day, supporting the increasing number of local organisers in coordinating their own events. This continued until 2010 – the 21st Apple Day and year the custom officially ‘came of age’ – at which point Common Ground considered the day to have so firmly ‘taken root’ in the British calendar that it was capable of continuing without extra support from the charity. In addition to supporting local organisers, Common Ground published several books relating to apples, including: ‘The Apple Source Book’ (1991, 2007) and ‘Apple Games and Customs’ (1994) in the course of the project.

Apple Day events have been organised across the length and breadth of the country by villages, community groups, councils, historic houses, museums, arts centres, pubs, restaurants, agricultural colleges, hospitals, schools, wildlife trusts, tree nurseries, markets, farms, and commercial and community orchards – phew! – and from its inception has risen from one to hundreds of events nationwide every year. An Apple Day event can incorporate all kinds of different activities, such as displays, identification, and pressing of local varieties of apple; sampling and sale of orchard produce; tours of and talks about orchards; as well as music, crafts and games, including wassailing, apple bobbing, and the longest apple peel competition.

The Apple Day material in the archive is currently organised into clearly labelled folders

The recent survey I conducted of material in the archive relating to Apple Day provided me with a good overview of the contents and order of this section. The material in this section of the archive is generally well-organised (always ‘apple-easing’ sight for an archivist!) into files arranged by year and record type, and comprises correspondence, newsletters, promotional material, photographs, press clippings, reports, research material, and notes. The papers that I personally found most interesting were those sent between Common Ground and Apple Day organisers between 1991 and 2010, which include letters, event information forms, and feedback forms. When studied together, these papers provide fascinating insight into the development, success, and geographic distribution of Apple Day events across the British Isles. Other items that I found particularly delightful were examples of crafts made at Apple Day events, which include an apple crown made by schoolchildren and a felt finger puppet in the shape of an apple.

An apple finger puppet found in the Common Ground archive

Exploring the history of Apple Day in the Common Ground archive has been ‘apple-easure’, and I’m already looking forward to cataloguing this section and making it more accessible for researchers via our online catalogue.

In the meantime, I hope you have a very happy Apple Day this year and every year – may it continue ‘apple-y’ ever after!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Cataloguing Update

This section of the archive was catalogued in October 2021. You can find the full catalogue description for the Apple Day section here. You can find out more about the cataloguing process and the Apple Day archive material in our blog post: Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: Orchards and Apple Day.

 

Cataloguing the Syon Abbey Archive: Project Completed!

Annie with the archive

In November 2016, I began my new role as the project archivist working on the Syon Abbey archive, and immediately recognised that I faced a daunting but exciting task. The archive was large, complex, created over six centuries, and there was no discernible order into specific management groups. Nineteen months and 152 repackaged boxes (in addition to outsize material on shelves and in three plan chest drawers) later, the cataloguing project has been completed, allowing the archive to be more easily searched online and accessed in our reading room. You can view and browse the new archive catalogue here.

 

The archive has been arranged into 24 sections to reflect the different functions and activities of Syon Abbey, and to provide context for how the records were used. The sections are listed below with their reference numbers.

There have been many challenges throughout the course of this project, but there have been an equal number of (if not more) pleasures. With such a large archive, one would expect (as initially did I) that I would have a favourite section or one that I would particularly dislike, but this has simply not been the case. In each of the sections I have found records that have intrigued, moved, gripped or amused me; through each of them I have learnt what makes religious communities, and Syon Abbey in particular, unique, but also identified the many things we share in common; and while sorting through the material I’ve considered a multitude of different avenues of exciting research that could be – and I hope will be – pursued, now that the archive is more searchable and accessible. Nevertheless, I did want to share a very small selection of my favourite items with you, which you can view in the slideshow below.

 

As with all things, this project would have been much harder and less joyful if I had gone it alone. Fortunately, I am part of a wonderful team of colleagues who have supported me throughout, and I am very grateful for their kindness and expertise. A special thanks to Angela Mandrioli for her help in interpreting Latin documents and cataloguing papers relating to history and research; and to Sophie Morgan, our student volunteer, who did fantastic work in cataloguing 100 community diaries and 155 vows at item level.

Volunteer Sophie Morgan with eight boxes containing the 100 community diaries she catalogued

So that just leaves me to say goodbye for now! I have so enjoyed working on this project, which has been my very first cataloguing project as a newly-qualified archivist. The skills I have developed (for example, I can now proudly claim to be capable of making a four-flap folder), the new knowledge I have acquired, and the people I have met through it, have made this project very special to me and I will miss it greatly. However, I am pleased and excited to be continuing in my role as archivist at the University of Exeter’s Special Collections, where I will soon be embarking on a new project.

Photomontage of records in the Syon Abbey archive

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Syon Abbey archive (which I hope you are!), why not check out the new online catalogue, revisit previous blog posts about the Syon Abbey archive, or take a look at our tweets about the archive on Twitter. And don’t forget – in addition to the archive, we also look after the Syon Abbey manuscripts and printed books from the Syon Abbey library, as well as several other Syon Abbey related collections. For more information, please contact us at libspc@exeter.ac.uk.

I hope you enjoy your journey of discovery into Syon Abbey!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

The Abbess in the Archive: the records of the ‘Mothers’ of Syon Abbey

One of the great joys of using archives is the unique opportunity to get to know people from the past on as personal a level as possible (without the help of time travel). We can gain insight into their personalities from their recorded thoughts, their manner of expression, their handwriting, and even their style of recordkeeping. I have been working as an archivist on the Syon Abbey cataloguing project for just over a year and, having now examined most of the material in the archive, I consider myself to be fairly well acquainted with several of the sisters from across six centuries. However, of all the sisters in Syon’s long history, those whom I feel I know best are the abbesses. The abbess – at Syon Abbey most often referred to as the ‘Lady Abbess’ but frequently also as ‘Mother’ – was an elected sister responsible for the management of the abbey, who had final authority on all matters. A large majority of the records throughout the archive were created by or for the abbess, so it is therefore unsurprising that it is abbesses of Syon Abbey who we get to know the best.

Syon Abbey postcard featuring Abbess Mary Peter Wallace (elected in 1964), c 1954 [EUL MS 389/PUB/3].             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.

So how can you go about discovering more about the lives of these women and their role as abbess? A good place to start off your exploration is a manuscript volume entitled, ‘The Annals of the English Bridgettines’, which was completed between 1880 and 1909 and includes a history of the community from 1415 to 1880, annal entries for the years 1878 to 1886, and diary entries for the years 1887 to 1895 (EUL MS 389/HIST/1). The annals reveal more about the challenges faced by the community, particularly during its exile, and the actions taken by the abbesses of Syon that enabled the brothers and sisters to remain together and continue their religious practice.

Title page of ‘The Annals of the English Bridgettines’ (EUL MS 389/HIST/1)                                                                         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.

Following on from the annals are the 100 community diaries, dated between 1890 and 2004, many of which were kept by the abbess. Several of the diaries, particularly between 1920 and 1970, are extremely detailed and provide a rare insight into daily life in an enclosed religious community. You can browse the Syon Abbey diaries via the online catalogue, where each of the diaries have been described individually (EUL MS 389/ADM/5).

Syon Abbey community diaries (EUL MS 389/ADM/5/1-100)

If you would like to learn more about the abbesses day-to-day management of the abbey, a good place to look is the ‘Administration’ section of the archive, where amongst other records, you will find minute books of the Chapter (EUL MS 389/ADM/1) and minute books of the Council (EUL MS 389/ADM/2) of Syon Abbey. These record the decisions made by the abbess with the agreement of the community concerning all kinds of matters, including, as you will see below, the purchase of a jersey cow!

Notebook entitled ‘Minutes of the ‘Discreets’, 1898-1907 (EUL MS 389/ADM/2/2)                                                               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.

The Syon Abbey archive contains vast quantities of correspondence regarding all manner of things, and the majority of letters, postcards and telegramms are addressed to the ‘Lady Abbess’. The archive also includes many drafts or copies of letters sent out by the abbess. The correspondence highlights just how important the role of the abbess was, not just within the community, but also externally as the representative of the community. The archive includes correspondence regarding spiritual matters; financial, property and legal matters; relics and treasures; manuscripts and books; and history and research (just to name a few!).

Envelopes from correspondence with other Bridgettine houses (EUL MS 389/HOU/1)

In addition to her many responsibilities regarding the management of the abbey, one of the most important tasks of the abbess was to ensure peace and order within the community. There is much evidence in the archive of the love and respect felt by the sisters towards their abbesses, but the greatest indications of this are the little homemade gifts given by the sisters to the abbess, usually on birthdays or anniversaries. They include poems, songs, and booklets containing spiritual verses. Below are two images from a booklet entitled, ‘Bridgettine Breviary Bouquet’ (EUL MS 389/PERS/JOCELYN), a compilation of extracts from the Bridgettine Breviary which was given to Abbess Teresa Jocelyn by seven sisters in 1923. The inscription reads: ‘To our dear Mother on her Bridal-day…from her loving and grateful children’.

 

This and much more is now available for you to explore – why not visit our online catalogue today to find out what you can discover about the abbesses of Syon Abbey!

Click here to search the Syon Abbey archive via the online catalogue.

 

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Exploring Christmas at Syon Abbey

My name is Sophie and I am currently a third year student at the University of Exeter, studying for a BA joint honours degree in History and Archaeology. In September I began volunteering at the University’s Special Collections, allowing me to gain valuable work experience, as I hope to pursue a career in the heritage sector. I have spent my time as a volunteer working with the Syon Abbey archive. My main role has been cataloguing the 100 diaries of the community from the late nineteenth to the twenty-first century at item level. I have enjoyed this task as it has provided me with a detailed insight into the daily life of the community.

Sophie with a sheet of 1950s Christmas wrapping paper found inside one of the diaries in the Syon Abbey archive

References to Christmas in the Syon Abbey diaries

As Christmas is fast approaching, I wanted to share some details of the celebrations that are recorded in the diaries. Many of the diaries mention the sisters’ festive decoration of the Abbey. For example, in a diary kept in 1955, an entry states that ‘the sisters’ gifts were hung on a large Xmas tree gaily decorated and illuminated with colourful lights’ and that ‘all danced around the tree and sang the Jubilee song’ [EUL MS 389/ADM/5/54]. This heart-warming image of the community is particularly festive and is one of my favourite entries from the diaries.

The sisters gave gifts as a sign of their love and affection for each other, especially during the Christmas period. The diary for 1906 contains a beautiful handmade paper snowflake, given to the abbess as a gift [EUL MS 389/ADM/5/12]. The community’s enthusiasm for gift giving can also be found in the diary for 1954 which records the gifts given to the Abbey’s gardeners and farm hands. The presents included: an electric kettle, socks, tobacco, biscuits, cake, pudding, butter, tea, and a hen [EUL MS 389/ADM/5/52]. This particular diary contains many more festive references, and even an inserted piece of 1950s Christmas wrapping paper. It also contains a lovely anecdote about how the Abbess ‘thoroughly enjoyed herself’ when she carved the Christmas turkey!

Elsewhere in the Syon Abbey Collection…

In addition to the diaries that I have been working with, the Syon Abbey Collection (which includes the archive and collections of printed books and manuscripts from the Syon Abbey library) contains further material relating to the celebration of Christmas. For example, within the Medieval and Modern Manuscript Collection is a Syon manuscript entitled ‘A Discourse or Entertainment for ye sacred time of Advent’, written by the abbess in 1657, containing spiritual exercises for the nuns to undertake during Advent [EUL MS 262/add2/5].

 

A particular favourite of mine in the Syon Abbey archive is a box containing small illuminated prayer cards with detailed calligraphy and hand drawn images relating to Christmas [EUL MS 389/CRE/3]. These beautiful pieces of art were created by Sister Mary Veronica during her religious life at Syon Abbey between 1933 and 2008.

EUL MS 389/CRE/3 – A Christmas prayer card created by Sister Mary Veronica Kempson, c 1933-2008.
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.

The Syon Abbey Medieval and Modern Manuscript Collection contains an illuminated transcript of the words and musical notation for ‘In Vigilia Nativitatis’ (which translates to ‘On Christmas Eve’) from the Roman Martyrology [EUL MS 262/add1/111]. This is a proclamation of the birth of Christ and would traditionally have been chanted or recited on Christmas Eve. It also contains a note on the back which details that the ‘Syon melody’ was originally taken from the Lisbon book and was handed down orally with some alterations. This ‘Christmas Martyrology’ was created in 1952 by Sister Mary Stanislas, of whom more artwork can be found in the Syon Abbey archive.

EUL MS 262/add1/111 – ‘In Vigilia Nativitatis’, created by Sister Mary Stanislas in 1952.
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.

To close…

The Syon Abbey Collection contains an array of fascinating material, including many insights into how the community celebrated Christmas. To find out more about the Syon Abbey Collection click here, or head to the Special Collections website to search our online archives catalogue. For those feeling festive, why not take a look at our Twitter account, where we are posting images from across the collections in our very own virtual Advent Calendar.

By Sophie Morgan, Volunteer

Cataloguing the Syon Abbey archive: project highlights

Eight months have elapsed since I began working on the Syon Abbey archive cataloguing project, and since then I have been cheerfully cataloguing my way through a multitude of fascinating records. You can find out what has already been catalogued via our online catalogue here.

As I reach the halfway point, with a further eight months still ahead of me, I take a look back at some of my highlights of the project so far…

 

Profession papers

A very special collection of records within the archive are the profession papers, which I first looked at in January 2017. The profession papers record the vows made by novices when they officially entered the order (often referred to as ‘simple’ or ‘temporary profession’) and the renewal of these vows at a later period (often referred to as ‘perpetual’ or ‘solemn profession’). The handwritten profession papers in the Syon Abbey archive date from 1607, when the community was living in Lisbon in Portugal, to the late twentieth century, when the community was settled at South Brent in Devon. It is clear that these documents were of great importance to the community, not only because we know they were kept in a safe at Syon Abbey before they were deposited at the University of Exeter, but also due to the very great care that was taken in creating them. The vows have all been lovingly transcribed and signed, and a large majority of the vows have been beautifully decorated, illuminated and illustrated. Below are four examples of vows illustrated by one of the Syon nuns, Sister Mary Stanislas, in the 1920s. I’m looking forward to cataloguing the profession papers soon as part of the ‘Community’ section of the archive.

 

History of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland conference

A great highlight of the project for me personally was the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the History of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland (H-WRBI). H-WRBI is a research network which encourages research of women religious, and includes academics, archivists, students and others interested in the history of women religious. This year the conference took place in June at the University College Dublin and the theme was: ‘Sources: Archival, Oral, Visual, Material, Digital’. I gained new knowledge and insight into current research from the fascinating series of papers, which has proved invaluable in understanding the context of the records I have been cataloguing. The conference also impressed me with the sheer variety of research interests and the different ways in which archives have been used and interpreted by those engaged in the study of women religious. I therefore left Dublin feeling inspired and excited to continue cataloguing the Syon Abbey archive, to ensure the archive is as usable as possible for future research and innovation.

You can visit the website of H-WRBI here.

The O’Brien Centre for Science at the University College Dublin, where the conference took place.

What the Abbey Cat Saw

Whilst creating a box list of some unlisted boxes in the archive in December 2016, I came across a pamphlet with the rather delightful title ‘What the Abbey Cat Saw’. I was pleased to have another opportunity to look at it in May this year, when I catalogued it as part of the section ‘Syon Abbey publications and printed matter’. This pamphlet was published in 1957 and written by Abbess Mary Magdalen Nevin. Written from the perspective of Punch, the Abbey cat, it describes daily life at Syon Abbey, providing insight into the structure of a Syon nun’s day and the different personalities within the community, as well recounting some humorous incidents involving the cat! You can find the pamphlet in our catalogue under the reference number: EUL MS 389/PUB/2/1.

 

Finding a fragment!

In August 2017, I catalogued the financial records in the archive, including a large number of account books. Within one account book I was startled to discover a fragment of parchment that appeared to be from a medieval manuscript! There was significant fire damage to the fragment; however, it was still legible and had a lovely decorated initial in blue and red ink. In addition to the Syon Abbey archive, the University of Exeter’s Special Collections also looks after Syon Abbey’s medieval and modern manuscript collection. Within this collection (reference EUL MS 262) is a folder containing fragments of manuscripts that were found c 1990 in the attic of Syon Abbey in South Brent, Devon. Upon looking through the folder, I was thrilled to find a fragment that corresponded to the newly discovered fragment in script, decoration, and fire damage. The newly discovered fragment has now been removed from the account book (a slip of acid-free paper marks the page from where it was removed) and has been placed with the other fragments in EUL MS 262/fragments. The discovery of this fragment and the reunification with its other half was a very exciting moment. It just goes to show that exciting things can be found in the most unexpected of places – especially in archives!

Detail from a newly-discovered manuscript fragment in EUL MS 262/fragments.

Looking ahead to the next eight months…

Over the next eight months until the project completion at the end of March 2018, I will continue cataloguing the Syon Abbey archive and making the description of the records available for you via our online archives catalogue. I also hope to carry on promoting the archive in a variety of ways, including via this blog, on Twitter, and at conferences next year. At the end of the project I hope to leave behind an archive that is much easier to search and use, as well as some new highlights to share with you!

 

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

 

 

Exploring daily life in the twentieth century at Syon Abbey

What was life like for the community at Syon Abbey in the twentieth century? What did the nuns and sisters do during the day? And did major world events have an impact on life in this enclosed community? These questions and more can now be explored through recently-catalogued material in the Syon Abbey archive.

Photograph of the community in 1961. From ‘The Poor Souls’ Friend’ 1960-1, p. 178.

Community Diaries

A valuable archival resource for exploring daily life at Syon Abbey are the 100 diaries, kept by the community between 1890 and 2004. These diaries provide details relating to spiritual matters, such as prayer, feast days, and religious ceremonies, but also offer greater insight into the intricacies of day-to-day life in a religious community. These include references to: recreation; visitors to the Abbey; growing crops and raising livestock; construction and repairs to buildings; correspondence sent and received; and observations about the weather. The diaries also reveal that the Syon nuns were aware of national and international news outside of the enclosure, including the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the death of Joseph Stalin. Furthermore, the diaries indicate that global events, such as the First and Second World War, did have an impact on the community. For example, the diarist writes much about the Belgian refugees living in the local town of Chudleigh between 1914 and 1916, as well as the American soldiers who in the 1940s were encamped on land belonging to Syon Abbey. Finally, the diaries also bring to light the personalities and interactions within the community through several light-hearted as well as heartfelt entries.

The community diaries can be searched in our online catalogue here.

Syon Abbey Community Diaries (Ref: EUL MS 389/ADM/5)

Diary 1947-1950 (Ref: EUL MS 389/ADM/5/47) The entry for the 26 April 1947 reads: ‘1st annivers:[ary] of Lady Abbess Consecration – day opened with a chimney on fire in Presbytery – sung mass – tea & happy recreation.’

The Book of Customs

Another useful document for gaining insight into the daily routine at Syon Abbey is the so-called ‘Book of Customs’ or ‘Customs Book’, which provides guidelines on community life, both spiritual and secular. It includes instructions on conduct in the choir, where and when silence should be kept, and how often different types of laundry may be washed. The Book of Customs also contains details of the duties of the different offices the nuns could hold, such as those of the cellaress (responsible for food and drink), the sacristan (responsible for church furnishings), and the infirmarian (who nursed the sick). There are a number of manuscript copies of the ‘Book of Customs’ in the archive, transcribed into notebooks and dating from the late nineteenth century to approximately the mid-twentieth century. Several notebooks contain handwritten amendments, indicating that the Book of Customs was revised regularly.

Material relating to customs can be searched in our online catalogue here.

The Book of Customs (Ref: EUL MS 389/RUL/4)

Minutes of the Chapter and the Council

The minute books of the Chapter (all the sisters in solemn vows, as well as the sisters in temporary vows who had been professed for three full years) and the Council (a small group of advisors to the abbess) shed light on a broad range of matters regarding the management of Syon Abbey. The Conventual Chapter generally discussed and voted on matters such as the election of abbesses and councillors, new admissions to the Order, and any sister wishing to make her vows. The Council would meet with the abbess to discuss issues on a wide variety of administrative matters relating, for example, the appointment of staff, revisions to the constitutions, and the management of the estate. The minute books of both the Chapter and the Council provide fascinating insight into the day-to-day administrative challenges of managing a monastery in the twentieth century.

The Minutes of the Chapter can be searched in our online catalogue here.

The Minutes of the Council can be searched in our online catalogue here.

Notebook entitled ‘Minutes of the ‘Discreets”, 1898-1907 (Ref: EUL MS 389/ADM/2/2)

On a personal note…

As an archivist with little knowledge of religious orders and women religious prior to embarking on the Syon Abbey archive cataloguing project, these records were invaluable in gaining an understanding of the community and the day-to-day operation of a monastery. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist