X Close

Special Collections, Archives and Records

Home

Menu

Transparency can be tricky. Conserving UCL’s iconic buildings plans and drawings.

AngelaWarren-Thomas29 June 2018

Written by Laurent Cruveillier on June 29, 2018

The College Plans, belonging to the Records Office Collections within UCL Special Collections, Archives and Records Department, are housed in part at the National Archives and in part at UCL. They are architectural plans and drawings of several landmarks of the UCL campus, such as the Cruciform, the Rockefeller Building of the “New” Chemistry building.

If most of these plans and drawings, dating from the end of the 19th and early 20th century are in stable condition, some show conservation pathologies that prevent their usage by students, scholars or the public, or would impede their handling for digitization and cataloguing purposes.

They present naturally occurring conditions in working documents, such as pin holes, folds, dirt and smudges, creases… but these objects are also often torn, cockled, warped, and bear historic repairs, many of which are made with pressure-sensitive adhesive tape that needs to be removed. Those conditions are worsened by the fact that most paper substrates are brittle, particularly the different kinds of tracing paper.

A conservation campaign was then launched to stabilize as many records as possible. The work started with surveying 485 items of the collection, and identifying the unstable ones.

The plans and drawings were prioritized according to their state and their relevance for the curators of the collection, and were treated according to a protocol aiming at stabilizing them with minimal intervention:

  • Setting of tears using wheat starch paste
  • Repairs and consolidation of regular paper objects using different thicknesses of remoistenable repair tissue prepared with wheat starch paste and methylcellulose.
    Some of the tissue was toned with black acrylic paint for the repairs over black media on the recto of objects.
  • Repair and consolidation of tracing paper using remoistenable tissue prepared with Isinglass: a fine protein adhesive prepared using swim bladders of sturgeon fishes.
  • Adhesive removal using poultices prepared with methylcellulose and ethanol, or heated spatulas and other solvents.
  • Structural infills
  • Photographic and written documentation:
    Condition and treatment records
  • Housing in polyester pockets.

These interventions were carried out by paper conservators at UCL Special Collections Conservation Department, and also involved the participation of UAL – Camberwell College MA Conservation intern students, who were given the opportunity to add working collection objects treatments to their portfolios while learning and practicing different techniques, such as preparing Isinglass, removing adhesives or repairing tracing paper.

Priority was given to stability for handli

ng purposes, also respecting the nature of each substrate. For instance, repairs on tracing paper were done with extremely thin tissues to avoid being visible by transparency. Due to their aesthetical value, some objects were nevertheless given extra care, with the usage of toned tissues for repairs and infills. One plan with a large lacuna even received an infill digitally produced to minimize the visual impact of interrupted lines.

In the images, one can see the detail of record Ref. Nº ROC 86, a drawing for a decorative swag of the Board Room in the Rockefeller building before and after conservation. It was extremely rewarding for the conservators to discover that the ornament was still in place. As recommended in writing on the May 1907 document, the sculptor hadn’t “adhered” exactly to the drawing, but his execution of the motif still allowed super-imposing the final result with architect J. Carmichael’s vision.

UCL Special Collections Presents…

HelenBiggs21 May 2018

We’re excited to announce UCL Special Collections Presents… – a day of talks and displays in UCL’s South Junction Reading Room on Tuesday, June 5th.

Join our team of friendly archivists and librarians at the South Junction Reading Room to hear about some of their favourite Special Collections items in an informal setting. Come face to face with exquisite treasures, learn about the work of our conservators, and discover which curious tomes our volunteers have been studying.

We are running a range of sessions throughout the day, including:

11am-11:30 and 11:30am-12pm:
Protest songs for equal pay
A balloon’s eye view: historical maps of London
Maps from the Jewish Pamphlets collection

12-12:30pm and 12:30-1pm:
A history of the book
“Confessions of a Down and Out in London and Paris”: gems from George Orwell’s archive

1-1:30pm and 1:30pm-2pm:
UCL’s student disruptors
Small Press magazines on vinyl

2-2:30pm and 2:30-3pm:
Jeremy Bentham and Lord Brougham, social reformers
Enid Blyton’s Teacher’s Treasury

3-3:30pm and 3:30-4pm:
Medical and Scientific Manuscripts and Rare Books
A 14th Century Haggadah, and other Jewish and Hebrew treasures

When: Tuesday, 5th June, 11am-4pm

Where: South Junction Reading Room, Wilkins Building, University College London, WC1E 6HJ

Book your free tickets now!

ICHRE Summer Conference, 21-22 June 2017

HelenBiggs14 June 2017

images from the IOE student union archive

What: A free, two-day conference, held by the International Centre for Historical Research in Education, in association with the Friends of Newsam Library

Where: Cruciform Building, UCL

When: Wednesday 21st and Thursday 22nd June

This year’s ICHRE conference will cover a variety of themes and topics, including the social histories of universities and the history of education in China and East Asia.

Three members of UCL Libraries’ Special Collections, Archives and Records team will be taking part in the conference:

  • Colin Penman, Head of Records, will be delivering the conference’s keynote speech on Redundant women: UCL’s place in the history of women’s higher education
  • Jessica Womack, IOE Archivist, will be speaking on Socialising the IOE: the Student’s Union, and beyond the lecture theatre
  • Kathryn Hannan, IOE Archivist, is taking part in a panel discussion on Teaching history of education through primary sources.

To find out more about this event, and to register for your free place at the conference, click here.

Beethoven, Orwell and more on display – Tuesday 6 June, 12-4.30pm

TabithaTuckett26 May 2017

You are warmly invited to this year’s Treasures Of The Written Word on Tuesday 6 June, 12 to 4.30pm, in the Roberts Building Foyer. The event is open to all, and booking is not required: just drop in.

This annual event is a chance to see some of the treasures held in the library’s Special Collections, Archives and Records, and to talk to the staff who work with them. This year we’ll also have students and volunteers talking about their Connected Curriculum projects with the collections, and our popular conservation demonstrations. See below for the full programme.

poster

Highlights will include a letter by Beethoven, George Orwell’s notes for his novel 1984, miniature children’s books from the 1700s, one of the first printed anatomy text books with pop-up diagram from the C16th, illuminated Mediaeval manuscripts in Hebrew and Latin, some of the earliest European music notation to survive, model furniture belonging to archives on the history of school education, documents on the history of UCL itself, radical design from rare C20th magazines, newly discovered Bentham manuscripts describing a dramatic prisoners’ escape, and selections from the fascinating Huguenot Library.

volunteers with Bible

You’ll also be able during the first session to ask our students to look up your favourite words in early dictionaries, or find out whether your favourite area of London was anything more than fields in our C18th London maps. In the second session you can have a go at transcribing Jeremy Bentham’s handwriting, or at other times during the event hear how digitising rare materials can aid research.

Timetable

12 – 1.30pm

  • Rare printed books
  • Mediaeval manuscript fragments
  • Institute of Education rare books
  • History of UCL
  • Digitising rare materials

1.30 – 3pm

  • Orwell collections
  • Educating children – archives from the Institute of Education
  • Hebrew and Jewish collections
  • Bentham manuscripts
  • Transcribe Bentham

3 – 4.30pm

  • Mediaeval and Renaissance books
  • Archives and manuscripts
  • C20th poetry and small-press collections
  • Huguenot Library
  • Digital collections

12-4pm

  • Live conservation demonstrations

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Special Collections, Archives and Records team.

How egalitarian were UCL’s founders?

ColinPenman28 February 2017

On 9 February, I delivered a UCL Lunch Hour Lecture entitled ‘The youth of our middling rich’: how egalitarian were UCL’s founders? It was a reflection on research I have been carrying out over the past year on UCL’s much-touted radical and egalitarian credentials, particularly the claim that is often made that it was the first English university to admit students ‘regardless of race, class, religion or gender’.

It’s easy to forget that, in 1825, no university had been founded in the British Isles in over 200 years, and there were only two universities in England, where – at least if you wanted to take a degree – you had to be a member of the Church of England.  This created a problem for the growing portion of England’s population that didn’t belong to the established church, such as Jews, Catholics and dissenting Protestants. These people could go abroad, if they had the money.  There were academies for dissenters in England – but they weren’t universities.  Or there were Scotland’s five universities, which had no religious tests for students, and that’s the path many took, including many of UCL’s founders.

The man who deserves the credit for changing this was the poet Thomas Campbell who, impressed by the liberal education on offer at the recently-founded universities in Bonn and Berlin, wrote to The Times in February 1825:

The plan which I suggest is a great London University. Not a place for lecturing to people of both sexes (except as an appendage to the establishment), but for effectively and multifariously teaching, examining, exercising, and rewarding with honours in the liberal arts and sciences, the youth of our middling rich people, between the age of 15 or 16 and 20, or later if you please.  By the middling rich I mean all between mechanics and the enormously rich…

This got the ball rolling remarkably quickly: a preliminary meeting was held in April, and the first prospectus appeared in July. The land for the building was purchased in September, a Council elected in December, and on 11 February 1826 our first foundation document, the Deed of Settlement,

Deed of Settlement

was signed.  The foundation stone was laid in April 1827, and the first students arrived in October 1828.  That Deed of Settlement says the object of the university is:

The advancement and promotion of Literature and Science, by affording young Men … adequate opportunities for obtaining Literary and Scientific Education at a moderate expence.

It was to be a joint-stock company, selling shares for £100 each to Proprietors, who would elect the Council at an annual general meeting. The professors would be paid a ‘modest’ salary for three years only, as they had to support themselves directly from the students’ fees – a precarious system that lasted decades.

And students would not live on the premises, which meant fees really could be set at a comparatively modest level, giving access to university education to the sons of the new middle classes.  This occasioned the kind of mockery that appeared in John Bull magazine, where it was claimed:

Each Dustman shall speak, both in Latin and Greek,
And Tinkers beat Bishops in knowledge –
If the opulent tribe will consent to subscribe
To build up a new Cockney College.

What doesn’t appear in the curriculum, an area which Campbell deliberately avoided in his letter, is religion, which brings us back to the treasured notion of a supposed principled opposition at UCL to the teaching or promotion of theology. In fact many, possibly most, of the founders were men of faith, such as the Catholic Duke of Norfolk, and the Baptist minister Francis Augustus Cox.  They were anxious to provide some kind of religious teaching in the new institution, and planned to have professors of theology.

However, ultimately it proved impossible both to keep to the principle that there would be no religious tests or barriers, and to teach theology to the satisfaction of the different religious groups involved. Instead, the spiritual and moral welfare of the young men who didn’t live at home were to be overseen by boarding-house keepers with ‘satisfactory religious habits and morals’ who, among other things, would ensure their charges attended public worship regularly: in other words, it was a last ditch compromise, designed to keep everyone on board.

So, to go back to the title of the lecture – how egalitarian were our founders?  Well, if we measure UCL against the criteria I mentioned, that it was ‘the first English university … to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender’, we would have to say:

  • On race: no university in Britain discriminated explicitly against students on grounds of race, and we know that some non-white students did study at our universities before UCL was even thought of.
  • On class: there were certainly no barriers in terms of class, except in the sense that you needed the money to pay, and UCL was much cheaper. But you could say the same about Oxford and Cambridge – there were no actual class barriers: if you were Anglican, and could pay, you could come, and some students did have very humble origins.
  • On religion – in this context, UCL represented a revolution, making a university education available to those who were not members of the Church of England. But this was partly because the men who founded this institution cared deeply about faith and the religious and moral well-being of its students.
  • On gender – this is really part of a different story, but the answer would probably be: ‘it’s complicated’. UCL was the first to admit women to degrees (fifty years after it opened) but actually not on equal terms for a further forty years.

In these ‘post-factual’ times, I think we need to be careful about UCL’s myths (and what better way to do that than resort to our own amazing archives). The new university didn’t ‘open up’ education to everyone from the outset, and we do ourselves a disservice if we buy too much into the ‘godless’, ‘Cockney university’ image, because that would overlook the fact that this was hostile propaganda on the part of a threatened establishment.  The truth is richer and more interesting: UCL did make university education affordable and available to a much more representative cross-section of society, largely the new middle classes who had been, for the reasons I’ve discussed, excluded from it.  And it did it in new and ground-breaking ways.

We are currently digitising the Council minutes and student registers, which will enable us to do so much more, and faster. I’m particularly interested in mapping the origins and subsequent careers of our earliest students, and automating the transcription of the earliest minutes and correspondence.  So this lecture was a great opportunity to share some of my findings, but there is a fascinating story still to be told, and we’ve so far barely scratched the surface.  UCL’s 200th birthday in 2026 is fast approaching – watch this space for further developments!