Walter Garstang (1868-1949) was Professor of Zoology at the University of Leeds from 1907 to 1933.  A pioneer in marine biology and fisheries research, the University’s Garstang building is named after him.  In February we acquired an interesting collection of Garstang’s literary works and lectures.

play programme
Programme for ‘The Student’s Opera’ by Walter Garstang. Image credit Leeds University Library

These include ‘The Student’s Opera: A Burlesque Adaptation of the Song-Cycle of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera to themes of Modern University Life’ by Garstang.  The programme announces that the play was performed to celebrate the ‘Jubilee of the Yorkshire College of Science and the Coming of Age of the University 1924’.  Garstang’s humour is evident in the names of the dramatis personae which include ‘Susie Socket – a realist’ and ‘Professor Flickem – a Dean of Faculty’.

Garstang was passionate about the University of Leeds.  His poem ‘The Red Sphinx’ is about the university’s icon the gryphon.  Another praises ‘The White Rose’ on the institution’s arms.  Garstang wrote many poems about nature and biology.  His poetry collection ‘Larval Forms and Other Zoological’ verses was published posthumously in 1951.

We’ve also received a fascinating series of letters written by Private Arthur Barker from Birstall, West Yorkshire, to his wife Alice.  Arthur (1881-1918) was conscripted in 1917.  He sent over 100 letters to Alice from 1917-18 while training and on active service.  Other items in his collection include an embroidered card sent by Alice to ‘My dear husband’, a pocket diary, two poems and a New Testament.

Arthur joined the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and was sent to Hedon near Hull. In his letters he discusses his training and the possibility of getting leave.  A talented singer, Arthur mentions being commended by an officer for singing in a concert.  Alice and also friends sent Arthur parcels containing items such as cream crackers, gingerbread and cigarettes and he writes warmly thanking them.

Letter from Private Arthur Barker to his wife Alice, 12 March 1918. Image credit Leeds University Library

Some of Arthur’s letters from Hedon were written on YMCA letter headed paper.  Within the first two weeks of war being declared in 1914 the YMCA had set up 250 social centres or ‘huts’ for troops.  Some were in England and Wales, others at the front line in France.  The organisation provided troops with writing materials to help them keep in contact with family and entertainment so they could temporarily forget the hardships of war.

Arthur was transferred to 1st Northumberland Fusiliers on arrival in France in March 1918.  Within a few days of arriving he was wounded.  Arthur describes to Alice being sent to a convalescent hospital and later starting work in the camp shoemaker’s shop at Bayeux which he hoped would become a permanent job.  However by 17 June Arthur was with his battalion on front line duties such as ration fatigues and wire carrying.  He died from wounds on 23 August.

Arthur Barker’s collection is of particular interest because of the number of letters it contains and their continuity.  His strong religious faith as a Methodist is evident throughout the correspondence.  The archives are in Special Collections’ Liddle Collection.