Action Stations

Karen Mee and Remi Turner from our Reading Room team give an update on Special Collections’ annual Action Week.

The end of August saw the completion of another successful Action Week. Teams from Special Collections, Customer Services and enthusiastic volunteers work to conserve and care for, sort and label, reorganise and re-shelve the valuable collections housed in the library’s stacks and storage areas.

The reading room and conservation studio were bases for volunteers and staff to clean and repackage. In total staff cleaned and rehoused 38  Liddle museum objects and textiles including an armoured vest and a flag so large it took 3 people to hold, as well as 16 boxes from the Philips of Hitchin antique dealers archive.

Staff removed oversized maps in the Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society archive to the reading room and unrolled them fully so they could log information such as weight, dimensions and fragility before relabelling. Some maps are wrapped in a protective material called Tyvek and all are reshelved with up-to-date location data, much to the reading room team’s delight.

The stacks were a hive of activity with a lot of re-organising and shelf pitching. The Whitaker map collection was removed from shelves, the shelves cleaned and items with loose or damaged bindings tied with conservation tape. The maps were re-sequenced and re-shelved to make retrievals easier and safer for staff. Very large and heavy atlases were stored on lower shelves and smaller items higher up. This reconfiguration also gained 11 shelves of space – always a good outcome in a library.

Re-shelving activities
Re-shelving the Quaker Collection

The Quaker collection comprises bound and boxed items and was rearranged to ensure it was stored together in a clearer sequence, requiring lots of shelf repitching and box passing.

In the processing room a constant stream of helpers sorted, tidied, relabelled and re-shelved the Freemantle music collection.  This was a large project that took all week to complete. Lots of different tasks were going on in the Brotherton Room, including  sorting through a scientific archive, reordering books in the cabinets and replacing book ties on items in the Herbert Read library. The Feminist Archive North sorted through some of their collections too.

Work going on in our offices included checking and relabelling the Coin Collection, a welcome break from the physical demands of clearing and re-shelving books and boxes. Interest in this collection has increased so it is important to make it more accessible to staff and researchers. Photographs of the collection are available on our website.

Action Week is very thirsty and hungry work and everyone involved is sustained by the treats brought in to share at communal break times. One of the highlights among this year’s selection has to be a most impressive batch of home-made doughnuts. After all the hard work is done and everything is tidied away ready for re-opening after the Bank Holiday, the team celebrate on Friday with a traditional visit to the pub.

team photo
The team relaxes with well earned drinks at the end of Action Week

This year was also a celebration of our colleague John Smurthwaite’s last action week and retirement. For some of us it is also the time to start planning next year’s action week.


Unlocking the Winchester Cabinet

Coin cabinet
The Winchester coin cabinet

Third year history student Emma Herbert-Davies writes about her Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship project: cataloguing one of the University’s coin collections.

The Winchester Cabinet is a collection of over 3000 coins, medals and tokens dating from Ancient Greece to the eighteenth century. It was compiled by a barrister named William Eyre who bequeathed the cabinet to Winchester Cathedral on his death in 1764. The collection remained in the Cathedral for almost two hundred years until it was purchased by the University of Leeds in 1954. It is impressive in both the variety and quality of its coins and is a rare example of a complete eighteenth-century collection. Last year I was awarded a research scholarship and my project brief was to catalogue the contents of the cabinet and create a digital exhibition.

Beginning the project initially felt quite daunting as I had no experience of numismatics (the study of coins) and so I knew that it was going to be a steep learning curve. Each coin has to be identified, weighed, measured and both sides photographed. Identification can take time, especially if the coin is worn. I have spent many hours surrounded by volumes of reference books, peering through a jeweler’s loupe at part of an elbow or beard on a coin trying to identify it correctly. Challenging, but a great feeling when I finally pinpoint the coin! The details are then entered onto a database so that all the information can be made available as a digital catalogue.

What surprised me most about my project was learning just how valuable coins are as primary sources. As I worked my way through the cabinet, from two-thousand-year-old Roman denarii to the siege pieces of the seventeenth century, I realised that the artwork on ancient coins reflected changes in history and culture. Each one was designed to pass on a particular message or construct a carefully designed image of a ruler. I was particularly struck how the portraits on coins could be compared today’s use of social media such as ‘selfies’. In an era without any form of mass communication, coins were ideal for spreading information as currency was something that most people used. Not only was I learning numismatics, I was discovering new ways of interpreting the past.

To share my research I created a Twitter account for the Winchester Cabinet that has been quite successful. It has enabled me to make connections with numismatists, curators and students worldwide and I have been asked to give talks on the collection. With the help of the Special Collections team I am designing virtual and physical exhibitions for this autumn. Perhaps the most lasting legacy of the project for me is the discovery of numismatics – a subject that I hadn’t even known existed – but which has developed into what will probably become a lifelong passion. The Winchester Cabinet forms only one small part of the University’s substantial coin collection, but unlocking its contents has opened many doors for me.

The Leeds General Cemetery burial records: a wealth of knowledge

As the summer draws to a close and September rolls in, our interns, Imogen and Kelsie, reflect on the findings of their project researching the Leeds General Cemetery burial registers.

Throughout July and August Kelsie and I have completed two student internships, which were a partnership between the School of History and Special Collections. The internships were funded as a result of Dr Laura King’s AHRC Leadership Fellowship, Living with Dying: Everyday Cultures of Dying within Family Life in Britain, c.1900s-1950s.

With this project we have returned to the Leeds General Cemetery Burial Registers Index, launched in November to great acclaim. Kelsie and I have produced a number of resources to help researchers use this collection. We have also investigated the research potential of the Index and asked, what can we learn from these burial registers?

In short, the answer is… a significant amount! The Index truly is a fantastic resource for genealogists, the study of medical history, death studies and other branches of social history.

Leeds General Cemetery Interns, Kelsie and Imogen
Project Interns, Kelsie and Imogen

Our internships kicked off with a week-long boot camp that trained us in statistics and the use of the software RStudio to analyse quantitative data. Kelsie and I are both Arts and Humanities students so we found this week challenging but ultimately really useful. We then applied our new techniques to the 97,121 entries in the Leeds General Cemetery (LGC) Burial Registers Index. Our report on the statistical analysis will be available shortly on the Living with Dying project blog.

Next we created a glossary of medical terms used within the burial registers. Many of the causes of death recorded in the registers have archaic terminology. For example, ‘consumption’ is the most common cause of death in adults in the LGC. Our glossary explains unfamiliar terms and gives the historical context of the registers’ main causes of death. It will be made available as website text to supplement the Index in future.

Finally, using census, birth, marriage and death records we have researched the history of ordinary families buried in the LGC. Special Collections already has some information about notable burials. We wanted to discover more about the cemetery’s role in the everyday lives of people in Leeds.

One family who used the cemetery extensively was the Frankland family. At least 25 people in the family were buried there between 1846 and 1963 in 6 different plots. To see biographical information about the Franklands and how they are all related, we’ve created a family tree.

Illustration of a Family Tree, by Imogen
Illustration of a Family Tree, by Imogen

Additionally, this timeline displays the chronological order in which these people entered the cemetery, and the different plots in which they were buried.

We have been writing up our research findings in a series of blog posts scheduled to be released in intervals in the forthcoming weeks. Do check these out to learn more about our research. We discuss the top ten causes of death in the registers, religion and class in the cemetery and the stories of families who used the cemetery. We also provide resources to assist with further research of the cemetery including our reports and Kelsie’s undergraduate dissertation on the LGC.

Do explore the rest of the Living with Dying project website. The Fellowship includes collaborations with a group of family historians, an artist and Leeds City Council in exploring experiences of dying and remembering the dead.

Kelsie and I would like to thank our project leaders Laura, Louise and Tim for all their guidance, help and support with this varied project. We would also like to give a shout out to the School of History, all the staff in Special Collections, our Systems Officer, Jonathan, the Library data repository team and all those involved with the Q Step Programme.


100 years of nurse training in Leeds

The Leeds General Infirmary Nurse Training Registers.
The Leeds General Infirmary Nurse Training Registers (MS 1656)

A new catalogue is now available for our collection of Nurse Training Registers, which record 100 years of training nurse probationers at the Leeds General Infirmary.

The 32 registers contain details of the training each nurse received, and date between 1856 and 1956. Four of the registers are enrolment registers for the Territorial Army Nursing Service (formerly the Territorial Force Nursing Service). The new catalogue has been produced as part of our Medical Collections Project, funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The Infirmary began formally training nurses in 1868. Nurses had to spend a year training as a probationer before becoming qualified. This was upped to three years in the 1880s, and four years in 1905.

1919 was a turning point, when the nurse registration process came into action after the passing of The Nurses Registration Act. This led to the formation of the General Nursing Council and nurse examinations. That same year, the Leeds General Infirmary established a Preliminary Training School for nurses. The University of Leeds was the first university in Europe to introduce a University Diploma in Nursing, in 1921.

Leeds General Infirmary Nurse Training Registers
Leeds General Infirmary Nurse Training Registers (MS 1656)

Alongside the cataloguing, our Project Assistant Riza Hussaini has been working hard with our volunteers to care for and improve the physical condition of the registers. The registers have undergone repairs, cleaning, and many now have bespoke “book shoes” or polyester covers for added protection. This has been a big job and a fantastic achievement for the team, making sure the registers can be better preserved for the future. For more information on the preservation work Riza has been undertaking, see her recent blog post To Protect and Pre(Serve).

Explore the Leeds General Infirmary Nurse Training Collection

Cooking up a Storm in the Digitisation Studio

Rosie Dyson from our Digitisation Studio gives us an up-date on the team’s activities.

It’s all go for the Digital Content Team as preparation gets under way for the opening of the next changing exhibition in the Treasures Gallery – ‘Cooks And Their Books’.

The Digitisation Assistants have been busy creating images for a variety of exhibition purposes; preservation, marketing, design and information. Images created in the Digitisation Studio will feature on the Digital Library, walls and plinths in the Treasures Gallery and on the exhibition tablets.  The tablets are also known as digital labels and give additional supporting information. The Digital Content Team are already working with the Collections and Engagement Team to organise images for the changing exhibition that follows Cookery.

The last changing exhibition ‘Caught in the Russian Revolution’ was a great success and the Digitisation Assistants enjoyed working with curator Richard Davies to create a visual feast. It was refreshing to see items with an actual size of a 6 x 4 cm photograph blown up to the size of a wall. The team also designed the newspaper cutting collage that featured on one wall and created an accompanying map to mark significant locations.

Special Collections closes to the public from 21–30 August for the annual “Action Week”. During this time it is all hands on deck, as time is given to essential works that are difficult to carry out during open hours. The Digital Content Team plan to reorganise the Studio. This will improve workflow and allow the team to accommodate some exciting new pieces of kit – watch this space for more information! The move is being carefully planned and research has been carried out on other institutions to gain tips for best practice.

One of the next phases of work for the Digital Content Team is the busy Online Course Readings period of eligibility checking, scanning and uploading book and journal extracts to the newly revamped Minerva VLE. Last year alone the Studio alone scanned over 1000 chapters!

Training notebook
Kathleen Raven’s nursing and midwife training notebooks

Recent additions to the Digital Library include Kathleen Raven’s nursing and midwifery training notebooks and complete versions of the BC MS medieval manuscripts.

Medieval manuscript
Floral border in medieval manuscript, folio 61r.
Also known as ‘Textualis Rotunda.’

Bradford’s Bard – Alberta Vickridge

Our rare books cataloguer John Smurthwaite has a question for us. What do the following items have in common?

• A printing press
• A chair
• Two shelves of books
• Six boxes of letters and papers

The answer is that they are all connected with Alberta Vickridge (1890-1963), poet and printer. She was one of the three daughters of Albert Vickridge, a wool merchant, and lived all her life at Beamsley House, the family home in Frizinghall, between Bradford and Shipley. As a lady of leisure, she had no need of a paid job, though she did work as a volunteer nurse in World War I, tending wounded soldiers. She could have lived in conventional idleness, but she chose to devote her life to poetry.

Vickridge started writing poems at an early age. In 1905 her father had a collection of her writings printed with the title “The Luck of the Youngest”, as a present for her fifteenth birthday.

In 1926 Vickridge was crowned as a bard at the Southern Counties Eisteddfod in Torquay for her poem “The Forsaken Princess”, the story of a jilted princess who finds that her fiancé is under a witch’s spell. The princess succeeds in breaking the spell and marries her fiancé. As part of her prize Vickridge was presented with a bardic chair which now sits in the University Librarian’s office.

At this time Vickridge had become part of the coterie of poets associated with the Swan Press, a private press in Leeds run by Sydney Matthewman. She soon set up her own publishing operation using a small Albion printing press housed in the attic of Beamsley House. This press can be seen in the Brotherton Library entrance hall.

From 1927 Vickridge produced a quarterly poetry magazine “The Jongleur” which she edited, printed and published. The magazine ran for nearly thirty years. Producing “The Jongleur” on the little Albion press was a very laborious task, and in 1930 she acquired a new Peerless treadle-operated press. In addition to the magazine, Vickridge produced pamphlets of poetry by various writers. Printing and publishing must have been a full-time job for her. It was certainly a labour of love – the modest cover price of one shilling would hardly have been sufficient recompense for her time.

Alberta Vickridge’s tastes in poetry were conservative. She began her writing and publishing in the heyday of literary modernism, but the world of T.S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein passed her by. For thirty years Vickridge and her contributors resolutely continued to produce old-fashioned poems which rhymed and scanned. The final issue of “The Jongleur” appeared in 1956.

The Library has a full set of Vickridge’s own books, a complete run of “The Jongleur”, and many of the poetry pamphlets which she printed at Beamsley House for other writers. We also have a number of her poems in manuscript, and a large collection of letters to her. The collection came to us from Geoffrey Woledge, a former member of Library staff, who had married Vickridge’s sister Hilda.

Edward Clodd – a man with a talent for learning and friendship

This month we focus our attention on a new accrual of photographs.  The photographs feature the anthropologist, writer and banker Edward Clodd (1840-1930).  A talented writer Clodd was also renowned for his ability to forge lifelong, close friendships with many preeminent scientific and literary authors.

As a young man Clodd joined the London Joint Stock Bank.  After a day at work he would read and study.  Clodd was a prolific user of free libraries.  Interested in philosophic and religious debate, he attended church to listen to the arguments of leading churchmen of different denominations.  This stimulated his interest in science and in 1869 Clodd joined the Royal Astronomical Society.

Clodd’s first book ‘The Childhood of the World’ was published in 1873. This was an introduction to evolutionary anthropology for children, describing recent discoveries about prehistoric man.  Clodd went on to write further books on academic subjects for children and many publications on philosophy, science and folklore.

Photo of Clodd and Meredith
Edward Clodd with George Meredith, taken by Clement Shorter. Image credit Leeds University Library

Clodd had numerous literary and scientific friends including Sir Ray Lankester, George Meredith, Clement Shorter and Thomas Hardy.  Some of them belonged to the Rationalist Group associated with Thomas Huxley and Samuel Lang.  Clodd regularly invited friends to his home Strafford House in Aldeburgh for house parties and our photographs were taken during these events.

Special Collections holds a considerable number of letters written to Clodd by his friends and associates.  Correspondents include Thomas Hardy, George Meredith and Louis Compton Miall.  The letters show Clodd having lively discussions with his friends about reading and publishing material on philosophy, science and literature.  His opinions were evidently highly valued.  In 1910 Miall asked Clodd to read the proof of his history of biology before its publication.

Clodd’s ability to develop close friendships is indicated by the author George Meredith’s comments in a letter of 8 December 1886 ‘Your visit to the chalet marks a happy day with me … When us two touch earth I see that we are brothers’.  By 1908 Meredith addressed Clodd as ‘Dear friend’ and shared the latter’s grief at the death of his son Arnold.  James Milne the literary editor of the Daily Chronicle wrote on 10 May 1914 ‘I’d be quite content to spend the remainder of my abode in this life at Aldeburgh’.  Clodd obviously knew how to make his guests feel welcome!