To Protect and pre(Serve)

A sneak peek at some conservation work undertaken by the Medical Collections Project Assistant.

Over the past year, there has been a lot of activity centred on the Leeds General Cemetery Company Archive. After completing the mammoth task of digitally capturing the Burial Registers, work continues to preserve the physical materials within the archive.

There are myriad things that go on within the project and it has been a great experience in multi-tasking; cataloguing, digitisation and conservation. Since we are over half-way through the project, what better time to share a glimpse into the inner workings of the Medical Collections Project.

One aspect of my role on this project is to preserve and/or conserve at risk materials. After digitisation, carrying out preservation treatments would be the next big task I am responsible for. I really enjoy my time at the conservation studio working alongside the Conservation Team who have a wealth of knowledge I can consult and learn from.

So what exactly do I work on in the conservation studio?  Paper repairs, surface cleaning, box making, repackaging to list a few as well as a fair amount of surveying.

As with all materials that make their way through the conservation department, the first job is to do a full assessment of each material. There are a variety of remedial practices and conservation treatments available however the right option most often will be influenced by the fragility, value and use of the materials.

Here is an example of some manuscripts that I have created dust jackets for. These volumes have deteriorating leather bindings (red rot) and unfortunately, once damage has taken place, the only thing we can do is try to limit the damage caused by handling.

Bespoke archival box

Another preventative method to protect fragile materials is creating bespoke boxes. Here, I have made a little coffer to hold a receipt book that has collapsed on itself due to a lack of back board. To compensate this, I created a ‘dummy’ to lift and support the remaining text block, which is then housed into the archival box.

The remaining 8 months of the project are sure to present yet more challenges and I look forward to these opportunities to deepen my preservation skills and knowledge.

I’ll be blogging more about my work, so keep an eye out for more updates on this project.


Tony Harrison at 80

This Sunday (April 30th) marks the 80th Birthday of Tony Harrison, whose literary archive is held in Special Collections.

Tony Harrison, one of the UK’s most celebrated (and sometimes controversial) poets, was born in Beeston, South Leeds, in 1937. He won scholarships to Leeds Grammar School and then to the University of Leeds, where he studied Classics and Linguistics. He was a student here from 1955 to 1960. 

Also known as a playwright, film maker and librettist, Harrison has said that ‘poetry is all I write, whether for books, or readings, or for the National Theatre, or for the opera house and concert hall, or even for TV’.

Harrison continues to write poetry, and his work is recognised nationally and internationally. A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature since 1984, he has been awarded the Faber Memorial Award, the European Poetry Translation Prize, and a UNESCO fellowship. He won inaugural PEN/Pinter prize in 2009, the European Prize for Literature in 2010, and was awarded the David Cohen Prize for Poetry in 2015.  

Special Collections was able to acquire his archive in 2007. It is an incredibly rich collection, with over 250 notebooks documenting every aspect of his creative work up to the present day. The archive is one of the highlights of our modern literary collections, and is a magnet for researchers from around the world.  

Several events and broadcasts are planned to mark Harrison’s birthday. 

 BBC Radio 3 broadcast a profile of Harrison on 23rd April (see: and will host the world premiere of his new play ‘Iphigenia in Crimea’ this Sunday, 30th. 

 A British Council Conference ‘New Light on Tony Harrison’ will be held in London on  Thursday 27th & Friday 28th April. 

Harrison will be celebrating his birthday on Sunday 30th with a Poetry Reading at Salts Mill, Saltaire. Details are available at:



Digitisation – What have the studio team been up to?

Since our last blog 6 months ago the team have been very busy.

We have produced over 45,000 images for Special Collections customer orders, internal staff requests for publicity and marketing, alumni office requests and of course, images for Treasures Gallery exhibitions, The majority of the images produced are for our programmed work making sure that collections are online and accessible to all. We are slowly working through the Special Collections medieval manuscripts collection, digitised various years from 1930-2007 of the  University calendars,  and over 39 hours of Audio tapes of oral history recollections from the Liddle Collection.  We have also digitised a substantial amount of Leeds Student newspapers.  We’re currently working on the 2000’s.

Creating a digital image of Adolphus a mascot belonging to M. Le Blanc Smith

Other ongoing projects include digitising the cellulose nitrate negatives from the Godfrey Bingley Collection in order to capture the information before the negatives degrade. This has to be done in controlled conditions to protect staff from the potentially harmful fumes that can be emitted from the negatives themselves.

At the time of our last blog we were updating our studio equipment. We now have the use of a new extra copystand, thanks to our new studio manager Ken which enables us to produce more content. We also have a new member of staff temporarily with us to cover a secondment so we welcome Riza to our team. 

Very soon we will be digitising collections to replace some of the items on display in the Treasure Gallery’s permanent exhibition later this year. Here’s some behind the scenes photos to give you a clue as to what they may be.

Rare cookery pamphlets contain intriguing recipe suggestions

As our thoughts turn to chocolate at this time of year we might want to spare a thought for the post-Second World War child given Mock Pineapple

A recent donation of promotional cookery pamphlets from the 1930s to the 1960s includes many fascinating period pieces.  These pamphlets were not ‘published’ in the conventional sense, so they are now rarities. The owner saved up coupons from the products get many of the pamphlets from the manufacturers.

21 easy recipes with Spa gelatine‘ offers such post-Second World War austerity delights as Mock Pineapple. This is cubed marrow, flavoured with pineapple essence and set in jelly. Butter Extender involves mixing butter with margarine and jellied milk, to make it go further.

Take a can of John West‘ (1967) is a collection of recipes using canned fish products. You might like to try Crab with Bananas, a mixture of tinned crab, cheese, cream and assorted sauces, which is baked and topped with fried bananas.

Woman pocket weight controller‘ (about 1960) is for the obsessive calorie counter. At the end of the booklet is a dial, with a pointer which you can turn to keep track of your calorie intake. Ann Seymour’s suggestion in ‘Simple slimming‘ (1950s) of a cigarette to relieve the dieter’s hunger pangs would be frowned upon today.

Perhaps unsurprisingly there is little evidence that the pamphlets were actually used!

New accessions – March 2017

From the teaching of genteel behaviour to the making of mousetraps. Once again our new accessions cover a wonderful breadth of subjects.

Francois Nivelon was a French dancer who performed on the London stage for many years. Later he started a dancing school at Stamford. In 1737 he published ‘The rudiments of genteel behaviour‘, a manual of deportment which promises to teach ‘the method of attaining a graceful attitude, an agreeable motion, an easy air, and a genteel behaviour’.  A series of plates illustrates the appropriate postures for walking, greeting, bowing, and dancing the minuet. These are demonstrated by elegant ladies and bewigged gentlemen. The accompanying texts describe the postures in minute detail.

Isabella Ormston Ford (1855-1924), a Leeds Quaker, was active as a socialist, feminist, suffragette, trade union organiser and writer. Somehow she also found time for music. We have acquired her copy of Schubert’s ‘Sonates pour piano‘, with her ownership inscription (1876) and markings.

The archives of the Ransome-Grant Literary Club consist almost entirely of the club’s minute books, but these are rich in detail. The club was founded in 1889 as the Ransome Literary Club, for conversations and discussions of selected literary works. Its first President was Cyril Ransome, Professor of History at Yorkshire College, father of the somewhat more famous Arthur Ransome author of ‘Swallows and Amazons’. The members began by reading and discussing ‘Othello’.

Gradually the club expanded its activities to include dinners, picnics and excursions. Dinner menus and cuttings of members’ obituaries are pasted into the minute books. Excursions are described in some detail, including on occasion who arrived by what mode of transport! There are also some charming photographs of the members at various beauty spots around Leeds. So the student of late 19th /early 20th century leisure, social networks, literary tastes and fashion will find the archive a valuable resource.

Andrea Hetherington’s ‘The history of Procter Brothers Ltd‘ (2016) tells the story of a Leeds company, founded in 1875 and still going strong. Procters made wire products. These included many domestic items such as fireguards, pan scourers, fly-swatters and, above all, the Little Nipper mousetrap, patented in 1898. More recently the emphasis has been on factory machine guards, fencing and street furniture.

White Rose Libraries Digital Scholarship Event

Last week I attended an event in Sheffield that brought together colleagues from across the White Rose consortium (Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York) to explore developments in Digital Scholarship. Whatever that might be…

Indeed, several speakers throughout the day drew attention to potential problems of terminology – the other common descriptor is Digital Humanities – with Ben Outhwaite in his keynote differentiating between the plain scroll and the later codex to illustrate that technology has always facilitated new methods of analysis and that digital technology isn’t qualitatively any different. Digital Humanities is simply humanities research driven by the opportunities offered by new media.

Anne Horn, University Librarian (Sheffield), conversational in her introduction, provided a preliminary definition and elicited perspectives from the audience. Anne emphasised interdisciplinary collaboration, with the Library as an active participant – a theme that recurred throughout the day – and suggested that communities coalesce around both technology and processes as well as content and datasets. She talked about the challenges of building and sustaining the broad range of knowledge and skills required, an area in which the Library has a clear role.

In one of several academic viewpoints throughout the day, Mike Pidd described how the Digital Humanities Institute at the University of Sheffield is self-funded through project collaboration and supports technology R & D in the humanities with services ranging from data acquisition, data modelling and data management to data visualisation and preservation and sustainability. We learned about just a few of the projects within the HRI, like The Digital Panopticon which has brought together genealogical, biometric and criminal justice datasets held in the UK and Australia to explore the impact of different types of punishments on the lives of 90,000 people sentenced at the Old Bailey between 1780 and 1875. The scale of the project is impressive having linked records across 45 separate datasets both public and commercial (e.g. Ancestry UK) illustrating a common challenge negotiating with data providers.

Other projects are Locating London’s Past*, Old Bailey Online*, Linguistic DNA and Mark My Bird all of which are capturing and reusing data in innovative ways, backing up Mike’s statement that “data is just as important for your career as publishing books and articles”.

* Raw XML data from London Lives and Old Bailey Online is available from Sheffield’s data repository ORDA

The Library Showcases, reprised in the afternoon, were an opportunity for us to learn about digitisation projects within archives and special collections across the consortium:

The presentation from York, for example, emphasised the complexity of these types of project requiring a broad range of skills from traditional document preservation, digitisation/ingest and development of an editorial interface (the editing tool for the Archbishops’ Registers is available from github.)

Digitised excerpt from Henry VIII’s divorce from Anne of Cleves (Archbishops’ Registers)

Digitised excerpt from Henry VIII’s divorce from Anne of Cleves (Archbishops’ Registers)

High quality digital images facilitates zoom-in with no loss of fidelity

A couple of academic viewpoints spanned lunchtime with Louise Hampson from the Centre for the Study of Christianity & Culture at the University of York and Brett Greatley-Hirsch from the University of Leeds.

Louise talked about the legacy issues of migrating CD Roms to internet based resources, both practical difficulties for a small team and (re)negotiating usage rights while Brett immediately won over the room by saying that libraries should be recognised as active collaborators and not mere support services.

Brett has come to Leeds via Australia and Canada and introduced us to Digital Renaissance Editions which publishes open-access electronic critical editions of non-Shakespearean early modern drama.

The second of my Library Showcases was Sheffield’s National Fairground & Circus Archive, a “living” archive actively “contributing to the organisation and promotion of shows and festivals” and drove home yet again the broad range of skills required to curate digital material.

All of which brought us to an energetic keynote from Ben Outhwaite who described a somewhat fragmented landscape at Cambridge with various pockets of work that perhaps lack cohesion across a University where STEM subjects tend to prevail. The University is beginning to look at the area strategically however, to support their digital humanists who might be collaborating with scholars elsewhere through the Digital Humanities Network, a university funded, short-term, strategic initiative. Ben also talked us through the high profile Casebooks Project, making available the astrological records of Simon Forman (1552-1611) and Richard Napier (1559-1634) “unparalleled resources in the history of early modern medicine”.

The best projects are idea-led not technology led, according to Ben, and there needs to be a real scholarly need, a theme that came through strongly in presentations throughout the day with digital technology an integrated aspect of all projects. Digitisation, though, undoubtedly leads to more opportunities

Crucially “You can’t do anything without data, collect and look after the data rigorously“.

The Peter Robinson Archive: Cataloguing DCI Banks

Collections Assistant Rebecca Bowd gives an update on her work on the Literary Archive of Peter Robinson.

Do you like crime fiction? Have you ever read the DCI Banks books? Or watched the series on ITV? If so, you will be excited to learn that Special Collections has recently acquired DCI Banks author Peter Robinson’s archive. This is an excellent addition to our growing collection of archives of crime fiction writers.

The archive is a rich collection of notebooks, research files, press cuttings and drafts of Robinson’s published and unpublished work. It covers Robinson’s work from the 1970s through to the present day.

Highlights from the collection include notebooks and diaries written from DCI Banks’ perspective, showing Robinson’s immersion in the character of Banks.

The collection also includes typescript drafts of Robinson’s books. Drafts are often annotated and by comparing them, it’s clear how much each book has developed through drafting and re-drafting. We can also see the input that editors have on the final published content of a book.

Crime fiction is a relatively unexplored area of literary archives, and this collection will provide wonderful opportunities for research.

We hope to make the catalogue available soon.