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UCL Special Collections


Updates from one of the foremost university collections of manuscripts, archives and rare books in the UK


Becoming an Historian at Kelmscott Secondary School

By Vicky A Price, on 17 December 2021

The Outreach programme at UCL Special Collections delivers free projects for schools and community groups in Camden, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Waltham Forest.

We have recently completed an after-school programme with a group of talented young historians at Kelmscott Secondary School in Waltham Forest. While learning how to ‘become an historian’ they decided the following skills were essential:

A Great Historian…

1) Uses multiple sources
2) Is aware of bias at all times
3) Is thorough and looks outside the box
4) Enjoys the process
5) Reads between the lines
6) Takes great care of primary sources.

These are certainly wise words, and they set themselves a high bar, doing everything they could in a short period of time to follow these principles.  Here are the fruits of their labour, in their own words – participants chose collection items to research and interpret on this blog:

The Trevelyon Miscellany (MS Ogden/24)
By Mary, Jasmine, Delphi, Rosa

While studying the Trevelyon Miscellany at our school’s history club, organised by the Head of Outreach at UCL Special Collections, we have learnt a lot regarding the 17th century manuscript. It’s believed to be created and published by Thomas Trevelyon around 1603. It consists of a variety of information, such as the dates of various monarchs’ births, deaths and accessions since William the Conqueror, as well as historical events, recent inventions of the time, biblical stories, charts of roads and portraits of rulers. It also includes nice patterns at the back.

We were drawn to it by the interesting illustrations and illuminations, one of which is shown below.

A close up from a manuscript. Elizabethan illustration of hay with the words 'dangers of hay' above.

A close up of part of a page in the Trevelyon manuscript.

Before coming into the UCL’s collection the Miscellany was owned by Charles Kay Ogden. We were intrigued by letters written to Warden Lock in Oxford in the 20th century about the item. They were written by a H. A. Wilson, R. L. Poole and ‘Allen’. They show an interesting and unique perspective into the thoughts and historical beliefs of the time. For example, a letter from H. A. Wilson to Lock details all the correct and incorrect dates of monarchs’ deaths, births and ascensions in the Miscellany. Speaking of unique thoughts, after much research we still have no idea what the ‘dangers of hay’ are.

Interviews with young apprentices in a House of Correction, Cold Bath Fields from 1837 (Chadwick 3/2/1)
By James

My item was commissioned by Edwin Chadwick, who wanted to know what it was like in a house of correction at the time and to work out why so many children were there. Inmates consisted of both genders at all ages.

A slightly faded page of neat handwriting.

A page from the Chadwick archive item.

While researching the item, I discovered a mortality record of Cold Bath Fields which was a ‘house of correction.’ I decided to study this item because I wanted to see what it was like in a workhouse because I visited one that was made into a museum when I was in primary school on a school trip.

I found out that during the years, 1795 – 1829 there were 376 deaths. Something very interesting I found out is that there were 15 child deaths during that thiry-four year period.

Here are two quotes I found from a writing about this place by Thomas R. Forbes. This is about what they had to go through on a day to day basis. They “picked old hemp ropes into oakum or separated stiff fibres of coir from outer shells of coconuts”.

This one is about the conditions that were in the workhouse: “The dungeons were composed of brick & stones, without fire or any furniture but straw, and no other barrier against the weather but iron gates”.

Something quite interesting is that 85 out of the 376 deaths (22.6%) were female. This may mean that most people there were male or that women were treated differently (better) from men back then.

This is where I got a lot of my information.

Fragment of a copy of Euripides’ Medea (MS Frag/Gre/1)
By Cameron

A tiny fragment of a manuscript revealing early hand written Greek.

UCL Special Collections’ oldest item – a Greek manuscript fragment from the 4th or 5th century.

I decided to study Euripides as he is someone I had heard of before and wanted to learn more about.

Medea is a play written in 431BC by Euripides, a Greek playwright who was the son of Mnesarchus and his wife Cleito. His writing continued to influence literature well into the 12th century.

Early life
He came from a well-off family and was a pupil of Aristotle.

Once Euripides had grown up he went into playwriting and poetry. Sadly he didn’t gain too much popularity as he was always outshone by Sophocles.
He also ran into some trouble with Kleon who prosecuted him for blasphemy after he disrespected the “immortals” however no evidence has been found of the outcome of this trial

Euripdes sadly passed away around 485 BC

Medea is only one of his famous plays – he wrote quite a few over his lifetime, and if you would like to I’m sure there’s info you can find on certain websites. I even encourage you to as I find his work very interesting.

Sources: Encyclopedia.com, which contains information from David Kovac’s Euripides.

Euripides and Feminism
By Isabella

I have chosen to focus on Euripides’ thoughts on women because by appreciating the modern concepts in Euripides plays we can understand the impact they would have had in Ancient Greece. The fragment we have is from Medea which is an important play for women because Medea is a girlboss; she is a multi-layered character who has her own opinions and ambitions.

“We are women, quite helpless in doing good but surpassing any master craftsman in creating evil”

While Medea could be considered a bad person and maybe didn’t represent women in the best light she still subverted the stereotypes women were expected to obey in Ancient Greece. They definitely weren’t supposed to murder their children.

Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes

The New Curators Project 2022 is Open for Applications!

By Vicky A Price, on 15 December 2021

The New Curators Project is an annual programme run by UCL Special Collections and Newham Heritage Month. It offers 10 young adults in East London the chance to develop the skills and experience needed to start a career in the cultural heritage sector.

Apply now!

Three young adults stand in front of pop-up banners in a library. They are smiling and look proud.

Three participants from 2021’s The New Curators Project stand in front of the exhibition they created in East Ham Library.

What is Cultural Heritage?

The cultural heritage field is an area of work focused on preserving history and culture and making it available to the general public. Among other things, it includes:

  • Museums.
  • Arts organisations and charities.
  • Libraries and Archives.
  • Historic Buildings and heritage sites.
  • Archaeology.

What will the project entail? 

Successful applicants will receive training from industry experts in key areas such as: 

  • Carrying out historical research. 
  • Using archives. 
  • Creating an exhibition.  
  • Running events. 
  • Communications in the cultural heritage sector. 

Participants will gain real work experience by creating an exhibition for Newham Heritage Month using historical material from UCL Special Collections, the Archives and Local Studies Library in Stratford and beyond.

The programme also offers employment support such as advice on applying for jobs, writing applications and being interviewed.

Participants will receive a £200 bursary, paid in instalments, to support their attendance.

Who can apply?

Applications are open to people who:

  • Are aged 18 to 24 at the time of making their application.
  • Are living, studying or working in Newham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.
  • Are not a university graduate or currently studying at university.
  • Have less than 6 months paid experience in the cultural heritage sector.

As this project is a part of Newham Heritage Month, there are 5 places available to individuals who live, work or study in the borough of Newham. The remaining 5 places are available to those who live, work or study in Tower Hamlets, Hackney or Waltham Forest.

When and where is it happening?

Workshops will be on Tuesday evenings from 6pm to 8pm, beginning on 8th March 2022 and ending 28th June 2022. They will take place face to face (Covid-19 restrictions allowing) in an accessible building in Canning Town, with some additional online calls.

Do applicants need to have any specific A Levels or GCSEs?

Absolutely not. We want to recruit participants who have a passion for local history, regardless of their qualifications.

How do I apply?

You can apply online via our online form. If you have difficulty using the form, please send us an email and we can find an alternative way for you to apply.

The deadline for applications is the 28th February 2022.

A student looks for resources in a library. Shelves laden with colourful books line the edges of the photograph as she reads a book.

Part of The New Curators Project will entail carrying out research to create an exhibition.

Happy Hanukkah

By Sarah S Pipkin, on 6 December 2021

Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of light, takes place this year from the evening of 28th November through to the evening of 6th December. We have put together eight Hanukkah-related videos showing items from our collections, one for each night of the festival.

1. Title page of Mocatta Mahzor.

The Mocatta Mahzor (MS MOCATTA/2) is an Italian illuminated manuscript containing prayers for the whole year, including Hanukkah.


2. Prayers for Hanukkah

This video shows the prayers for Hanukkah from the Mocatta MahzorItalian mahzorim generally include not only prayers for the major festivals like Passover but also minor ones like Hanukkah, as well as ordinary weekdays and sabbaths 

3. Piyyutim

Some prayerbooks contain piyyutim (liturgical poems) for special sabbaths, including the one(s) in Hanukkah – here’s one from the Mocatta Mahzor. 


4. Hallel psalms

The Hallel psalms (Psalms 113-118) are recited on most festivals including Hanukkah. These are the Hallel psalms from the Mocatta Mahzor. 


5. Binding of a 17th century Ḥumash 

On the festival of light you can see how the light reflects off the binding and gilt edges of this Ḥumash (a volume containing the Five Books of Moses), which was printed in Amsterdam in 1665 or 1666. It has a fine binding of Dutch morocco, with gilt gauffred edges (STRONG ROOM MOCATTA QB 12 TAR c1) .


6. Title page of the Ḥumash 

This video shows the coloured title page of the Ḥumash and part of the portion of Miḳets (Genesis 41:1-44:17), which is frequently read on the Sabbath during Hanukkah.  


7. Odekha ki anafta

Here’s another Hanukkah piyyut (liturgical poem), Odekha ki anafta. It comes from a 19th century Viennese manuscript collection of piyyutim (MS MOCATTA/25). The gory illustration is from the story of Judith, who is often associated with Hanukkah. 


8. Mocatta Haggadah

This is a bit of a stretch for Hanukkah as it’s actually from the Mocatta Haggadah (MS MOCATTA/1) for Passover. But it shows the Hallel psalms which are also recited on Hanukkah and it’s shiny and reflects the light on the festival of light! 


If you’d like to learn more about the Mocatta Mahzor, UCL’s Jewish and Hebrew Studies Subject Liason Librarian has put together a video about the Mahzor and how it came into our collection! You can view it on the Special Collections Moodle Page – just self enrole in order to access the page.

Thank you to Vanessa Freedman for choosing books from the Mocatta collection and for writing about each item!

Gavin’s book of witches

By Sarah S Pipkin, on 29 October 2021

Hidden in the Institute of Education’s Baines Archives is a small book entitled Gavin’s book of witches (BA/1/9/78).

A book cover decorated with crayons which reads Gavin's book of witches

The Baines Archives includes items related to the work of George and Judith Baines, who pioneered new teaching methods in the 1960s-1980s. The archive includes examples of student work from Eynsham County Primary School where George Baines worked as the headteacher. There are a number of small books written, illustrated, and bound by the students. One former pupil described the process:

‘A prominent memory that I have is of the book binding which not only completed a study but also became a feature. The technique is a cherished memory: the meticulous scraping of the lino block, the roller thick with sticky paint, the binding and the glue oozing out in all the wrong places, the pride of producing a book contained within a hardback.’

Gavin’s book of witches is one such example of student work. It was produced by a young pupil, probably named Gavin, who was probably still learning to write. The teacher has written the text for Gavin to copy underneath. It was then illustrated with original drawings.

Two pages. One has children's writing and is decorated with red and black crayon. The other is a drawing of a group of witches.

The book is very short – just six pages in total. A transcription of it follows:

A children's drawing of a witch on a broom with a cat.




My witch is flying. She is going to the witches party.




A children's drawing of a group of witches.



She gets there first then all these come.







A group of witches sat at a table.


The witches are singing and eating at their party.






Gavin’s book of witches is the perfect Halloween story.

If you’d like to see more examples of workbooks from the Baines collection, ‘A Book of Bones’ and ‘My Book about the Potato’ are both featured in our online exhibition ‘Word as Art: Beauty in the Archives.’

Word as Art: Beauty in the Margins

By Sarah S Pipkin, on 27 October 2021

A brown square with a banner at the top that reads ‘Library Services, UCL.’ The text in the square reads ‘Word As Art: Beauty in the Margins. October 2021-July 2022. An online exhibition featuring items from UCL Special Collections and the work of students at the Slade School of Fine Art. ucl.ac.uk/library/word-art-beauty-margins. #UCLWordAsArt.’ The square is decorated with a black and off-white floral pattern and a small drawing of a kingfisher.

Our new online exhibition, Word as Art: Beauty in the Margins, is now open!

Writing is an essential part of everyday communication. It permeates every element of our society so that it is easy to forget its prevalence. Yet every time we put words down on a page or type them on a screen, we are creating a piece of art unique to us.

Our new online exhibition, Word as Art: Beauty in the Margins, explores the permeable borders between art and writing. We examine manuscripts, printing, textiles and objects that celebrate the way in which we have embellished the word, making it far more than just a means of communication.

In addition to items from the Library collections, the exhibition includes three pieces of art by students from the Slade School of Fine Art at UCL. Their interpretations of writing and communication demonstrate that the books, manuscripts, and letters of the past continue to inform and inspire creative practices of the present.

The inspiration for the exhibition is the Slade 150 anniversary year, celebrating fine art teaching and research since 1871.

The exhibition runs from October 2021-July 2022, with plans for a physical presence in the UCL Main Library from December 2021.

To view ‘Word as Art: Beauty in the Margins’ visit our exhibitions webpage.

A two page spread decorated with gold leaf and floral patterns. At the centre of each page is two column or writing in Farsi script.