Rediscovering Herbert Read

Photographic portraits of Herbert Read
Image credit Leeds University Library

Recent cataloguing work has highlighted undiscovered gems in the Herbert Read archive.

Sir Herbert Edward Read (1893-1968) was an art historian, poet, literary critic, philosopher and anarchist. Born in Yorkshire, he lived at Stonegrave House near York for much of his life. He maintained a strong connection with the University of Leeds up until his death in 1968.

Special Collections acquired Read’s extensive library and much of his archive during the 1990s.  A lot of the material has been catalogued, but a series of files remained unlisted.

We were recently able to record this material due to generous support from the Strachey Trust.  An inventory of the contents of 84 boxes of archives was created, with records now available online.

The material discovered in this collection is exceptional. Letters, manuscripts and photographs show the extent of Read’s influence on artistic and literary life over many years.

Files cover key literary and artistic figures of the 20th century.  They include letters from people as diverse as E.M. Forster, Leonard Woolf & the Hogarth Press, T. S. Elliot, and Jon Silkin. There is also correspondence with artists Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Hans Richter and Naum Gabo.

The collection indicates how Read helped shape artistic and literary sensibilities at home and abroad. Letters from Peggy Guggenheim show Read encouraging her to bequeath her collection to the Tate, while correspondence with publishers highlights Read’s influence as an editor. A long series of letters from Bonamy Dobree (Professor of English Literature at Leeds, from 1936 to 1955) show Read’s prominence in the development of Gregory Fellowships at the University.

The Dobree correspondence covers the years 1925 – 1968 and is an important record of their relationship. The letters demonstrate, in great detail, their collaborative work on the London Book of English Verse (1953): evidence of the creation of a national literature in action.


Our invaluable volunteers

Objects before conservation
Leeds School of Medicine objects before conservation work. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Leeds School of Medicine objects before conservation work. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Our Conservation Officer, Sharon Connell, talks about the contribution of volunteers in Special Collections.

Volunteering is a key element in making our collections accessible for research, teaching and public enjoyment. The Collections Care and Conservation Team has a longstanding commitment to welcoming volunteers with the skills, dedication and goodwill they bring.  Volunteers help us deliver projects as well as carrying out routine work, such as cleaning and repackaging collections.

Our volunteers have diverse backgrounds and a variety of experience and interests. This can make for lively interaction and has inspired some volunteers to explore further potential avenues of research and study based on the collections they have been working on. Some have gone on to work in conservation.

Apart from being lovely, community-minded people, united by a passion for history and heritage, why do they do it? Generally speaking, they want to build new skills or apply their existing ones in a new way, learn about what happens ‘behind the scenes’ in conservation or just meet like-minded people.

Recently, volunteers have been helping with our Medical Collections Project. Once soiled and difficult to access items are now clean and rehoused. Gone are the weird and wonderful packaging solutions of yesteryear like manila envelopes and ancient Kapok stuffing material, which were damaging the collections. Thanks to our volunteers these have been replaced with beautifully crafted paper wrappers and boxes, each made bespoke for particular items.  Medals, for example, are nested in inert foam in boxes and wrapped in archival quality acid free tissue.

Not only are the collections more stable and protected as a result of these simple actions but we all derive great satisfaction seeing how well cared for they now look!

Objects after conservation
Objects from the Leeds School of Medicine Collection after repackaging. Image credit Leeds University Library

“I was happy with the repackaging of the medals because I felt it paid tribute to all the medical staff who had received the awards”, Helen Utting, retired Senior Lecturer, Leeds University School of Healthcare, and conservation volunteer

Anyone can become a volunteer – no experience is necessary as training in handling and basic conservation techniques is given. Look out for roles, usually advertised as and when they are available, via Twitter @LULGalleries or Volunteer Connect.

Caring for orphan works

Jodie Double, our Digital Content Team Leader, outlines how the Library cares for orphan works through risk management.

The Library is approaching a milestone of 1 million digitised images and as our digital collections grow our processes and procedures are evolving to include risk management for material still in copyright.

The Library’s approach to digitisation for inclusion on the Library website has been based upon two principles:

  • only digitise material out of copyright
  • digitise where we have permission from the copyright holder to make items available through Special Collections Search.

This approach means a large percentage of books and archives are not available digitally because they are orphan works.  We are now introducing a risk managed approach for orphan work digitisation that will increase the amount of content available to the world.

So briefly what are orphan works and how do they affect decisions for collection digitisation?

According to “Orphan works are creative works or performances that are subject to copyright – like a diary, photograph, film or piece of music – for which one or more of the rights holders is either unknown or cannot be found.”

Medieval Manuscripts are excellent examples of low risk orphan works held in many collections around the world, for example the Breviarium ad Usum Parisiensem held at Leeds.  Did you know this work is still in copyright and will be until 31 December 2039 under the terms of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988? We are digitising material like this for the public to engage with, due to it being low risk as determined by the web2rights risk management calculator.

BC MS 2 Breviarium ad Usum Persiensem. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Developing a risk managed approach requires implementing safeguards, procedures, staff training and policies.  One step the Library has taken is to have a visible takedown policy so a potential rights holder can get in contact if they see an image online that they believe they hold rights to.

Using this risk management approach enables us to care for orphan works by digitising them, thereby reducing damage caused by handling and importantly increasing the amount of content available for research and study.

As more material goes online there are increasing layers of protection and care behind the scenes for digital content.  A future blog post will cover digital preservation and the actions the Library is taking to care for digital collections now and for the future.

New digitisation for the Kathleen Raven Archive

Today marks 107 years since the birth of Dame Kathleen Annie Raven (1910-1999), an influential nurse whose archive is held at Special Collections.

Kathleen Raven Report
MS 1721/3/4/1 Kathleen Raven Archive: Report on experimentation with various techniques in the prevention and treatment of pressure sores. Image courtesy of The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

The new Kathleen Raven Archive catalogue was launched earlier this year, and we’re pleased to announce that parts of the collection have been digitised and are now available online. This digitisation was supported by the AHRC project Exploring Histories and Futures of Innovation in Advanced Wound Care at the University of Leeds.

The digitisation focused on items related to the treatment of wounds and skin in the collection. This has included a number of Raven’s notebooks from her period of nurse training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, which have gone online for the first time. These cover various medical-related topics, such as dietetics, surgery, gynaecology, obstetrics and midwifery, as well as a focus on skin.

Kathleen Raven's notebooks
MS 1721/2/2, 4: Lecture notebooks written by Kathleen Raven during her nurse training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Image credit: Leeds University Library

In addition to the notebooks, we digitised documents from a project experimenting with methods for treating pressure sores, undertaken by Raven during her time as Matron at the Leeds General Infirmary.

The experiment ran at the Infirmary between July 1956 and August 1957. They investigated whether applying new barrier creams, rather than the usual practice of a soap and water massage, would help better prevent pressure sores in patients. They found that it was the frequent turning of the patients which had the most impact, rather than any particular topical cream.

Pressure ulcers are still a common healthcare problem today, and can be severely debilitating or even lead to life-threatening complications.

Explore the digitised items in the Kathleen Raven Archive

Some of these items, and other material in Special Collections relating to the history of nursing and wound care, will be on display at the upcoming event Nurses on the Frontline of wound care: from Passchendaele to pressure ulcers. It is being held on Friday 17th November, and will commemorate the life of the nurse Nellie Spindler during Stop Pressure Ulcer Week.

The event has been organised as a partnership between the University of Leeds and the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, and is supported by funds from the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Charitable Trust and Gateways to the First World War.

The Time Travelling Circus

Layla Bloom, Curator of The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery writes about an exciting new artistic installation in the Brotherton Library.


A new arrival has appeared on the RECENTLY RETURNED shelf of the Brotherton Library Enquiries Office. The Time Travelling Circus: A Dossier Concerning Pablo Fanque and the Electrolier revised to include the Electrolier’s Accession and other variations by Katrina Palmer has been tagged and positioned for willing readers in the Library.

Reading will not be a passive experience.  The reader will become an audience member of the TTC (Time Travelling Circus), following the stories of Pablo Fanque, pioneering 19th century circus proprietor and his ill-fated wife Susannah. Reflections by the Ring Mistress, and notes by the Special Collector and Admissions Officer punctuate and propel a narrative across time and space – the space of the Brotherton Reading Room. The giant electrolier hanging in the centre of the round room takes on a life of its own, becoming a performer within a circus ring. As the construction of time and the fabric of the Library begins to disintegrate, the reader will sense the danger, but be compelled to stay.  The dossier follows the bodies to their graves in St George’s Fields, located on the University campus. Silent tears will be shed.

Katrina Palmer is an artist who uses words. Words are spoken, printed and sculpted into multi-dimensional journeys in time and space. The Time Travelling Circus is the result of her research into Fanque and St George’s Fields whilst she was in Leeds working on her exhibition The Necropolitan Line for the Henry Moore Institute (2015). Previous books include The Dark Object (2010), The Fabricator’s Tale (2014) and End Matter (2015), published by Book Works. End Matter, commissioned by Artangel and BBC Radio 4, was set on Portland, and was accompanied by a radio play, The Quarryman’s Daughters, and an audio walk around Portland, The Loss Adjustors.

This special artist’s edition of The Time Travelling Circus will be available to readers in the Brotherton Library until October 2018.  Find it in the Enquiries Office during staffed hours.

A shorter version has been published by the Henry Moore Institute, and is available for sale online and at the HMI.

October’s new accessions

In October we took in a series of cookery scrapbooks beautifully compiled by Ann Sargent from the 1950s to 1980s.  They are cram-full of cuttings containing recipes and cookery advice from magazines and newspapers. Some of the recipes are snipped out from the boxes of food stuffs or advertisements.  They give the manufacturers’ recommendations of how to use products such as flour, margarine and cheese.

One of my favourite creations is the ingenious Hickory Dickory Dock cake topped with mice made out of halved pears with whiskers made of angelica and currant eyes.  Ann had wide ranging culinary interests as her cuttings cover topics such as preparing game and fish and cooking French, Greek and Indian food.  Her scrapbooks are an invaluable record of the types of food and meals eaten by families in the mid-twentieth century.

Suggested TV snack for a commercial break. Image credit Leeds University Library.

We have also received an addition to our Liddle archives.  Father and son Harry and John Downs served in the First and Second World Wars respectively.  Harry Downs was in the Connaught Rangers nicknamed ‘The Devil’s Own’.  As one of the 5th (Service) Battalion he served in Salonika, Egypt and the Western Front.  Harry’s collection includes a photograph of the Connaught Rangers, his cap and buttons and brass souvenirs.

Tank crew
John Downs on the far right with tank crew. Image credit Leeds University Library

Harry’s son, John Downs had a fascinating career in the army during World War Two and beyond.  Serving with the 86th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery he saw action in Normandy.  In October 1944 he took part in the liberation of the Dutch town ‘s-Hertogenbosch in ‘Operation Pheasant’.  After the war John continued his career in the forces working for the Intelligence Corp in Bad Driberg from 1946-47.

‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands was an important strategic point for the allies.  By 1944 the town had been occupied by the Nazis for 4 years. Its successful liberation was led by the 53rd Welsh Division with the support of 86th Anti-Tank Regiment.  In later life John attended thanksgiving reunions hosted by the citizens of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and his collection contains related archives.

During the war John may have been billeted in Gompel, Belgium with Denise Mayeur’s family, as his archives include letters and postcards from Denise who signs herself ‘votre amie belge’.  Writing in 1944-45 she frequently asks for more letters from John, suggesting Denise may have been keener on the correspondence than he was!  John’s collection also contains military documents, maps, badges and further letters.

Planning an Exhibition: Collecting Our Thoughts

Richard High, our Collections Engagement Librarian, writes about planning for our current Cookery Exhibition.

The beginning of September saw the opening of the fourth changing exhibition in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery – Cooks and Their Books: Collecting Cookery Books in Leeds. The new exhibition is based on books and manuscripts dating from the late 15th century to the present day from our Cookery Collection.

We worked with two co-curators on this exhibition, the food historians Peter Brears and Eileen White. Together they have huge experience of writing and talking about recipes, cooks and food preparation both generally and in a Leeds setting.

Beginning around a year ago, we had a series of enjoyable meetings where we mulled over the main themes of the exhibition.  We considered whether to take a simple chronological approach to the books from our Cookery Collection or maybe to follow particular recipes through time. We decided to explore collecting, that is cooks collecting recipes; individuals and their collections of cookery books; the Library’s collections.

As an introduction to the exhibition we decided to show books connected to some of the individuals behind our collections such as Blanche Legat Leigh, John Hodgkin, Alfred Chaston Chapman, and our former library colleague Anne Wilson.

We also realised that the extent of our collections allowed us to explore the broad development of cookery books. We were able to display early printed editions of classical texts; some examples from our many editions of Mrs Beeton and Hannah Glasse; and a copy of the first English cookery book published outside London.

To the delight of our co-curators, Peter and Eileen, we had three copies of the works of the 16th century Papal chef Bartolomeo Scappi to choose from.  Scappi was the private chef of Pope Pius V.  His ‘Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi‘ originally published in 1570 was the first cookbook to include extensive explanatory images.  Judging by the image below servants in the kitchen needed strength in addition to culinary skills.

Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Planning for the exhibition was an enjoyable experience which has given us the chance to widen access to our collections.  Cooks and Their Books: Collecting Cookery Books in Leeds is a wonderful opportunity for visitors to explore the broad range of recipes, social history, illustrations and individuals in our extensive Cookery Collection.

The exhibition is open until 31 January 2018. You can find out about events linked to it at the Treasures of the Brotherton webpage.